Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “ityuktaka (sayings) and itivrittaka” 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.

Eighth aṅga (member): Ityuktaka (sayings) and Itivṛttaka

The sūtras called Jou-che-yu (Ityuktaka) ‘thus has it been said’ are of two kinds:

1) The first kind are those sūtras having as their concluding phrase (kie-kiu[1]): “What I first promised to say has been said”.[2]

2) The second kind is that of the sūtras called Yi-mou (variant tchou)-to-kia, i.e., itivṛttaka ‘thus did it happen’, a type of sūtra also existing outside of (or extracted from) the Tripiṭaka and the Mahāyānasūtras. Some people call them Mou-to-kia, i.e., vṛttaka ‘event’; this name, vṛttaka, is that of texts extracted from the Tripiṭaka and the Mahāyānsūtras (see notes on itivṛttaka). And what is it then? It is what the Buddha said.

[Example of itivṛttaka]

When king Tsing-fan (Śuddhodana] forced [some of his subjects] to go forth from home (pravraj-) and become disciples of the Buddha,[3] the latter chose five hundred of them capable of fulfilling this function and of attaining bodhi and led them to Śrāvastī. Why? These young men had not yet renounced desire (avītarāga) and, if they had remained near their relatives and their village, it was to be feared that they would violate the precepts (śīla). This is why the Buddha took them to Śrāvastī and told Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana to discipline them. During the first and last watches (yāma) of the night, these people endeavored not to sleep and, thanks to their diligence and exertion (vīrya), they attained bodhi.

When they had attained bodhi, the Buddha took them back to their native country. It is a rule among all the Buddhas to return to their native land;[4] then the Buddha, accompanied by a great crowd of devas, went to Kapilavastu, in the Hermit’s Forest (Ṛṣivana) which is located five hundred lis from, Kapilavastu: it is the pleasure garden (ārāma) of the Śākyas.

The Śākya bhikṣus who, from their stay in Śrāvastī, tried not to sleep during the first and third watches of the night, found the night long and now, coming out of the Hermit’s Forest in order to go to the city to beg alms, they took into account the distances they had to travel. At the moment when the Buddha read their minds, a lion (siṃha) came to bow at the feet of the Buddha and sat down at one side.[5] For these three reasons, the Buddha spoke the following stanza:

For the person who stays awake, the night is long; [307c]
For the person who is tired, the league is long;
For the fool who misunderstands saṃsāra
The Holy Dharma is long.[6]

The Buddha said to the bhikṣus: Before you went forth from the world (pravrajya), your mind was lazy (pramatta) and you slept a lot; this is why you did not perceive the length of the night. Now that you are vigorously seeking bodhi, during the first and third watches of the night, you are reducing your sleep; this is why you find the night very long. – Previously, it was in a chariot that you rode in the forests of Kapilavastu and you did not notice the distances. Now that you are in monks’ robes (cīvara) with begging-bowl (pātra) in hand, your fatigue (śrama) is extreme and you take into account the length of the path. – Finally, this lion here, at the time of the buddha Vipaśyin, was a brāhaṃaṇa teacher. Having heard that the Buddha was preaching the Dharma, he went to the Buddha, but at that moment the great assembly who were listening to the Dharma were silent. At once the brāhmaṇa had a wicked thought (praduṣtacitta) and uttered this harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda): “How are these shaven-headed people (muṇdaka) different from animals? They are nothing but idiots (devānāṃpriya)[7] who don’t know how to talk.” As a result of this harmful action of speech (pāruṣyavāda), for ninety-one kalpas, from the buddha Vipaśyin until now, this brāhmaṇa has always fallen into animal rebirths (tiryagyoniyupatti); but at this very moment he obtains bodhi. By his foolishness, he has gone through a very long saṃsāra; however, today in the presence of the Buddha, his mind has been purified and he will obtain deliverance (vimukti). – Sūtras of this kind are called ‘extracts and reasons’. From where are they extracted? They are called extracts because they are taken from the Tripiṭaka and the Mahāyāna sūtras. Why are they called ‘reasons’? Because the three events that they tell about serve as justification.

Note on the word Ityuktaka:

The ityuktaka ‘thus has it been said’ and the itivṛttaka ‘thus has it happened’ correspond to the Pāli itivittaka. The Traité distinguishes the two forms, and Kumārajīva, in the Chinese version, translates the first as jou-che-yu-king and transliterates the second as yi-mou (var. tchou)-to kia, abbreviated as mou-to-kia. There are other ways of transliterating itivṛttaka (cf. Mochizuki, Bukkyo daijiten, I, p. 166) the best seems to have been yi-ti-yue-to-kia (cf. T 374, k. 3, p. 383c7; T 397, k. 11, p. 69c27–28).

Notes on the word Itivṛttaka:

Itivṛttaka is, in the etymological sense of the word, the story of an event, but it would be nice to know how it differs from an avadāna or a jātaka. According to Asaṅga, the itivṛttaka relates the earlier existences of the noble disciples whereas the jātakas tell the earlier existences of the Bodhisattva (Abhidharmasamuccaya, transl. Rahula, p. 132). Saṃghabhadra, in his Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 44, p. 595a, gives another explanation which E. Mayeda, in a study entitled Original meaning of irivuttaka as an aṅga of navaṅgabuddhasāsana, summarizes thus: “I have defined itivṛttaka as a ‘kind of story in the previous world that begins in the previous world and ends in the previous world’ on the ground of the explanation of Chinese A-p’i-ta-mo-chouen-tcheng-li-louen (vol. 44). In the same commentary jātaka is defined as ‘a kind of story that begins in the present world and ends in the previous world’. Owing to this explanation, we can easily distinguish itivṛttaka from jātaka… Jātaka was one kind of itivṛttaka originally. It is remarkable that we cannot find the word ‘itivṛttaka’ (or ‘itivuttaka’ with the meaning of itivṛttaka) in the Early Buddhist texts in general except in the case of navaṅgabuddhasāsana. From this reason I can suppose with certainty that the story in the previous world was avadāna.”

Neither the Mahāvibhāṣā nor the Traité entered into these distinctions. In the present passage, the Traité is content to give an example of itivṛttaka. The sacred literature abounds in sentences and stanzas attributed to the Buddha or his disciples. Often one hesitates over the meaning to give them, for one does not know the circumstances in which they were pronounced or the reasons that provoked them. The itivṛttaka takes on the responsibility of giving them a context: if the Buddha expressed himself ‘thus’, it is because the circumstances occurred ‘thus’. These events were not invented: they can be found ‘in the Tripiṭaka and the Mahāyānasūtras’. But the choice is rather difficult and it happens that the event that is told in prose gives only an inadequate and forced explanation of the stanza. The fact remains that it is ‘extracted’ from the Tripiṭaka and in that capacity it is a speech of the Buddha.

The stanza which the itivṛttaka gives here as an example is taken from the Udānavarga (I, v. 19) corresponding to the Dhammapada (v. 60). The Commentary of the Dhammapada (II, p. 1–12) suggests quite another explanation (cf. E. W. Burlingame, Buddhist Legends, part 2, p. 100–108).

Footnotes and references:


In terms of this definition, the ityuktaka strictly speaking would be a sūtra where this concluding phrase appears, or also a collection of such sūtras as, for example, the Ityuktakasūtra translated into Chinese by Hiuan-tsang under the title of Pen-che king (T 765). Nevertheless, the phrase of conclusion mentioned in the Traité is not the rule: on the other hand, all the sūtras occurring in this collection begin with the phrase “I myself have heard this ityuktaka from the Bhagavat.”

Also, in his commentary on the Vinaya, I, p. 28, Buddhaghosa calls itivuttaka the 112 suttas which begin with the formula: “This has been spoken by the Blessed One, has been spoken by the Saint: thus have I heard” (vuttaṃ hetaṃ Bhagavatā vuttam arahatā ti me sutaṃ). The 112 suttas in question constitute the collection of itivuttakas making up the fourth place in the fifth Pāli Nikāya.


In terms of this definition, the ityuktaka proper wojuld be a sūtra in which this concluding phrase appears, or else a collection of such sūtras, as, e.g., the Ityuktakasūtra translated into Chinese by Hiuan-tsang under the name of Pen-che king (T 765). Nevertheless, the phrase of conclusion mentioned in the Traité is not a rule; on the other hand, all the sūtras occurring in this collection begin with the phrase: “I myself have heard this ityuktaka from the Bhagavat”.

Also, in his Commentary on the Vinaya, I, p. 28, Buddhaghosa calls itivuttaka the 112 suttas that begin with the formula: ‘This was spoken by the Blessed One, spoken by the Saint: this is how it was heard by me’ (vuttaṃ hetaṃ Bhagavatā vyttam arahatā ti me sutam). The 112 suttas in question make up the collection of the itivuttaka occupying the fourth place in the fifth Pāli Nikāya.


On the forced ordination of 500 young Śākya men, see above, p. 176–177F n., and p. 869F, n. 1. See also Saṃghabheda, I, p. 203–204.


The Buddha’s return to Kapilavastu, his native city, is told in detail in the Mahāvastu, III, p. 101–117; the Saṃghavastu, I, p. 187 seq.; the Nidānakathā, p. 87 seq. It is represented at Sānchī (Marshall and Foucher, Monuments of Sānchī, I, p. 204–205, pl. 50a1) and on the bas-reliefs of Gandhāra (Foucher, AgbG, I, p. 459–464).


This was a brāhmaṇa who, at the time of the Buddha Vipaśyin, had wickedly (cittapradūṣanena) insulted the Community. This insult was an action ending up in animal rebirths (tiryagyonyupattisaṃvartanīya). For five hundred lifetimes, the brāhmaṇa was reborn among the lions (siṃhesūpapanna).


Udānavarga, I, v. 19 (ed. F Bernhard, p. 102) cited in the Mahākarmavibhṅga (ed. S. Lévi, p. 46):

dīrghā jāgarat rātrir dīrghaṃ śrāntasya yojanaṃ |
dīrgho bālasya saṃsāraḥ saddhram avijānataḥ ||

Dhammapada, v. 60. at the Bālavagga:

dīghā jāgarato ratti dīghaṃ santassa yojanaṃ |
dīgho bālānaṃ saṃsāro saddhammaṃ avijānataṃ ||


Hao-jen, ‘honest man’ is taken here in the pejorative sense of ‘imbecile’ or ‘idiot’. Shifts of analogous meaning are attested in many unrelated languages. On this subject, see M. Hara, A note on the Sanskrit Phrase Devānām priya, Katre Felicitation Volume, part II, p.13–26, Indian Linguistics, Vol. 30 (1969).