Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “illuminating the darkness of the intermediary worlds” 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.

Part 4 - Illuminating the darkness of the intermediary worlds

Sūtra. (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 31, l. 15–19; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 102, l. 16–104, l. 16). – Furthermore, O Śāriputra, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva must practice the perfection of wisdom if he wishes to illumine with his brilliance all the darkness of the intermediary worlds – there where neither the sun nor the moon shines – in each of the ten directions, in the universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (Punar aparaṃ Śāriputra yā daśasu dikṣu gaṅgana-dīvālukopameṣu lokadhātuṣv andhakāratamisrā yatra sūryacandrakasau na bhāsatas tāḥ sarvā avabhāsayitukāmena bodhisattvena mahāsattvena prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

When the Bodhisattva came down from the Tuṣita heaven into his mother’s womb (yasmin samaya bodhisattvas tuṣitād devanikāyāc cyutvā mātuḥ kukṣāv avakrāmati), his body emitted a radiance (avabhāsa) that illuminated all the universes (lokadhātu) and also the intermediary worlds, the places of darkness (lokāntarikā andhakāratamisrā). In the same way also, at the moment of his birth, his radiance shone everywhere. In the same way also, he emitted a great radiance when he attained supreme perfect enlightenment (yasmin samaya ’nuttarāṃ samyaksaṃbodhim adhigacchati), when he turned the Wheel of Dharma (yasmin samaye dharmacakraṃ pravartayati) and when he entered into parinirvāṇa (yasmin samaya ’nupadiśeṣe nirvāṇadhātau parinirvāsyate).[1]

In other circumstances as well, he manifests his great magical superknowledge (ṛddhyabhijñā) and emits a great radiance. Thus, when he wants to preach the Prajñāpāramitā, he manifests his great ṛddhyabhijñā by means of a great brilliance that illumines everywhere the intermediary worlds, places of darkness (lokāntarikā andhakāratamisrā). Thus is his miraculous radiance spoken of in many places in the sūtras.

Question. – But that is the power of the Buddha; why are you speaking [309a] about the bodhisattva here?

Answer. – Here it is matter of the bodhisattva “wishing to obtain this power and to practice the perfection of wisdom” for this purpose. There are great bodhisattvas who have this power. Thus the bodhisattva Pien-ki (Samantabhadra), the bodhisattvas Kouan-che-yin (Avalokiteśvara), Tö-ta-che Mahāsthāmaprāpta), Ming-kang (Jālinīprabha), Wou-leang-kouang (Amitābha), etc., have that power and their bodies emit an immense brilliance (paramāṇprabhā) illuminating in the ten directions universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges.

[Great Sukhāvatīvyūha].[2] – Thus, in the universe of the Buddha A-mi-t’o (Amita), the bodhisattvas emit a perpetual radiance (nityāvabhāsa) illuminating a hundred thousand leagues (yojanaśatasahasra).

Question. – Because of what action (karman) does the bodhisattva acquire such a physical radiance?

Answer. – He has acquired this splendor thanks to the purity of his physical actions (kāyakarmaviśuddhi).

[Pretasūtra].[3] – As is said in a sūtra, there was a preta whose head was like that of a pig (sūka) and foul-smelling insects (pūtikṛmi) came out of his mouth; however, his body was golden in color (suvarṇavarṇāvabhāsa). In a previous lifetime (pūrvake janmani), this preta had been a bhikṣu, but he insulted a stranger monk with harmful words (pāruṣyavāda). Since [as a bhikṣu] he had observed the pure precepts (viśuddhaśīla), his body had radiance; but, having uttered harmful words, stinking insects came out of his mouth.

A sūtra says that, according to the purity of mind (cittaviśuddhi), the radiance is superior (agra), middling (madhya) or inferior (avara).

The Parīttābhas, Apramāṇābhas, Ābhāsvaras [of the second dhyāna] and the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātudeva) possess a radiance because, out of the purity of their mind, they make gifts and observe morality.

Moreover, some people, out of compassion for beings, have set lamps (dīpa) in dark places; they have honored the holy images (pratimā) and shrines (caitya); they have offered shining things like pearls (maṇi), windows, mirrors (ādarśa), etc.; this is why their bodies have radiance.

Moreover, by constantly practicing the mind of loving-kindness (maitrīcitta) and listening to all beings, the mind becomes pure [and the body shines].

Moreover, by always practicing the concentration of the recollection of the Buddhas (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) and thinking about the high qualities of the Buddhas, one acquires a great bodily radiance.

Finally, the yogin who constantly practices the sphere of totality of fire (tejaḥkṛtsnāyatana) converts (paripācayati) fools (bala) and people of wrong view (mithyḥadṛṣṭi) by means of the brilliance of his wisdom.

As a result of such actions, one acquires mentally the lucidity of wisdom (prajñā) and brilliance physically. As a result of such actions, one finds the purity of physical brilliance (kāyāvabhāsaviśuddhi).

Footnotes and references:


On these four occasions, the Buddha emits a brilliance that illumines all the universes and the intermediary worlds plunged into darkness. The main source of inspiration for the Traité here is a sutta of the Anguttara, II, p. 130–131, already mentioned above, p. 1992F. For these intermediary worlds, see p. 1952F, n. 2.


Great Sukhāvatīvyūha, ed. A. Ashikaga, p. 49: Tasmin khalu punar Ānanda buddhakṣetre ye śrāvacakā te vyāmaprabhā, ye bodhisattvās te yojanakoṭīśatasahasraprabhāḥ; sthāpayitvā dvau bodhisattvau, yayoḥ prabhayā sā lokadhātuḥ satatasamitaṃ nityāvabhāsasphuṭā. – In this buddha field [of Sukhāvatī], the śrāvakas have a radiance of one armspan, the bodhisattvas have a radiance of hundreds of thousands of millions of leagues, except for the bodhisattvas [Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta] by whose light this [Sukhāvatī ] universe is constantly illuminated.


Unidentified sūtra.