Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “being the assistant of the buddha” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

II. Being the assistant of the Buddha

The bodhisattva ‘wants to be the assistant (upasthāyaka) of the Buddhas’.

1) Thus, when Śākyamuni had not yet left home (anabhiniṣkrānta), he had Tch’e-ni (Chandaka) as helper (upasthāyaka), Yeou-t’o-ye as play-mate (ahakrīdanaka),[1] Kiu-p’i-ye (Gopiyā), Ye-chou-t’o (Yaśodharā) and other women of the harem (antaḥpura) as his intimate entourage (abhyantaraparivāra).[2]

2) After he left home (abhiniṣkrānta), during the six years in which he practiced asceticism (duṣkaracaryā), he had the pañcakas as assistants (upasthāyaka).[3]

3) After his enlightenment, Mi-hi (Meghiya), Lo-t’o (Rādha), Siu-na-tch’a-to-lo (Sunakṣatra), A-nan (Ānanda), Mi-tsi-li-che (Guhyaka Malla), etc., formed his close entourage (abhyantaraparivara). (see notes on Buddha’s journey)

Notes on Buddha’s journey into North-west India and his entourage:

Many were the upasthāyakas who assisted the Buddha Śākyamuni during his public life: five according to the Traité, p. 1675F; seven according to the Commentary of the Theragāthā (Psalms of the Brethren, p, 350) and the Commentary of the Udāna, p. 217; eight according to the Vinayamātṛkā, T 1463, k. 5, p. 827c12–14; see above, p. 1675–75F note. The bodhisattva Guhyaka Vajrapāṇi does not appear in this list. If the Traité thinks it proper to add him here, it is clearly in reference to the section of the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya in which the journey into the north-west of India made by the Buddha accompanied by Ānanda and Vajrapāṇi.

Above (p. 547F), the Traité alluded to this voyage and, with the help of the Tibetan and Chinese sources, the only ones available to me (Lamotte), I tried (p. 548–554F) to retrace the grand stages. Since then, the 1948 publication, with the careful clarifications of N. Dutt, of many Sanskrit pages relating to this episode (Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part I, p. XVII to XVIII, and l. 17, 1948), I have been able to retrace more precisely the itinerary followed by the Buddha and his companions (cf. Alexandre et le Bouddhisme, BEFEO, XLIV, 1951, p. `52–158).

The subject has been entirely revived by the two monumental studies of G. Tucci dedicated to Swat: Preliminary Reports on the Italian Excavations in Swat (Pakistan), in East and West, IX, 1958, p. 279–328 (see especially the notes appearing on pages 326–328 (see also pages 61 to 64). These studies, where the great Italian master uses all his talents, abound in details of topography, geography, ethnology and literary history, politics, monastics of the north-west of India. They show the importance of the Dardes in the elaboration and transmission of the voluminous and complete Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya.

In the course of his journey in the north-west, the Buddha used three itineraries: i) an itinerary in six stages, from Hastinapura to Rohitaka; ii) an itinerary in 17 stages starting from Tāmasavana and retrunbing to Rohitala; iii) an itinerary linking Rohitaka and Mathurā.

In the first and the third, he was assisted by Ānanda; in the second, he was accompanied by Vajrapāṇi. This explains why the Traité here includes VajrapāṇI in the close entourage (abhyantaraparivāra) of the Buddha.

But at this time, Vajrapāṇi was merely a simple protector demon occasionally mentioned in the canonical sources; he was still engaged, especially in the north-west of India, in this process of becoming sublimated which transformed him successively into a beneficent spirit, into a bodhisattva, into a god and, finally, even into the supreme being (see Vajrapāṇi en Inde, in Mélanges de Sinologie offerts à Paul Demiéville, I, 1966, p. 113–159). In harmony with a very widespread Mahāyānist belief, the Traité considers Guhyaka VajrapāṇI to be a bodhisattva prevailing over all the bodhisattvas, all the more so over humans (p. 615F) and already in possession of bodhi (k. 39, p. 344a28–29).

The role played by Vajrapāṇi in the Buddha’s service does not eclipse that of Ānanda, the devoted disciple. The latter kept his official title of upasthāyaka and fulfilled his mission conscientiously during the last twenty-five years of the master’s life. The Mahāyānists have never contested the foremost position that Ānanda occupied at the Council of Rājagṛha where he recited the sūtras of the Tripiṭaka. They further wanted to include Ānanda with the great bodhisattvas such as Mañjuśrī, Maitreya, Vajrapāṇi, to compile the scriptures of the Mahāyāna (cf. p. 939–942F, n.). They know that a large number of Mahāyāna sūtras were entrusted by the Buddha himself to the care of Ānanda as well as entrusting the dedications (parīndanā) with which they end. At the time when the Traité was composed, the grand figures of Ānanda and the bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi were closely linked and mutually complemented each other. In the close entourage of the Buddha, the former represents the Hīnayāna or rather the early Buddhism; the latter embodies the Mahāyāna, but both are in the service of the Buddha and his Dharma.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Mahāvastu,III, p. 91, l. 7–9: Ayaṃ tāva Chandaka sa yeva Bhagavato kumārabhūtasya upasthāyako eteṇa sārdhaṃ kumāro abhiniṣkrānto, ayaṃ pi Udāyī purohitaputro Bhagavto kumārabhūtasya dārakavayasyo abhūsi sahapāṃśukrīḍanako. – Jātaka, I, p. 86, l. 14–15: So (Kāludāyi) kira rañño sabbatthasādhako abbhantariko ativissāsiko Bodhisattena saddhiṃ ekadivase jāto sahapaṃsukīḷito sahāyo.


Like most other sources, the Traité acknowledges only two legitimate wives to Śākyamuni: Gopiyā who was sterile and Yaśodharā, mother of Rāhula. For the women of the Buddha before his Great Departure, see above, p. 1001F foll. For Gopā or Gopiyā, whose sex has been debated, see Śūraṃgamasamādhi, French transl., p. 172–173 note.


During the six years between his Great Departure (abhiniṣkramaṇa) and his enlightenment (abhisaṃbodhana), Śākyamuni had as assistants the Wou jen ‘Five men’, two characters often used by the Chinese translators to render the Sanskrit expression Pañcakābhadravargīyaḥ (Lalita, p. 245, l. 16; Mahāvastu, II, p. 241, l. 2). These are the five individuals ‘of good family’ who helped the Bodhisattva during his six years of austerities, abandoned him when he renounced his mortifications, heard the great Sermon at Benares and became, after Śākyamuni, the first five arhats in the world (Catuṣpariṣad, p. 170). Their names are Ājñātakauṇḍinya, Aśvajit, Vāṣpa, Mahānāman and Bhadrika.