Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “assuring a rebirth among humans” 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 7 - Assuring a rebirth among humans

Sūtra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 32, l. 8–9; Śatasāsrikā, p. 109, l. 20–110, l. 4). – Furthermore, O Śāriputra, in each of the ten directions, in universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, there are beings in the three bad destinies. The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who wishes that “by his power, all those beings may attain a human existence” must practice the perfection of wisdom (Punar aparaṃ Śāriputra ye daśasu dikṣu gaṅgānadīvālukopameṣu lokadhātuṣu durgatyupapannāḥ sattvās te sarve mamānubhāvena manuṣyatmabhāvaṃ pratilapsyanta iti bodhisattvena mahāsattvena prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

Question. – It is as a result of a good action (kuśaladharman) accomplished by oneself that one attains a human existence (manuṣyātmabhāva). Why then does the bodhisattva here wish that, by his power (mamānubhāvena), beings in the three bad destinies may find a human existence?

Answer. – It does not say that it is because of an ACTION of the bodhisattva that beings obtain a human existence; it states only that it is as a result of the beneficent POWER (anubhāva) of the bodhisattva that they obtain it. By the power of his superknowledges (abhijñā), his transformations (nirmāṇa) and his preaching (dharmadeśana), the bodhisattva makes beings practice the good (kuśala) and thus acquire a human existence (also see Appendix 2). See what a sūtra says:

[Mahāvedallasutta, etc.].[1] – There are two conditions (pratyaya) required for the production of right view (samyagdṛṣṭer utpādāya): i) externally (bahirdhā), the hearing of the Holy Dharma (sadddharmaśravaṇa); ii) internally (adhyātmam), right reflecting (yoniśo manasikāra).

As in the case of a plant (oṣadhi), internally there is a seed (bīja); externally there is moist (sneha) earth and only subsequently, the plant is born (utpāda).[2] [309c] Without the bodhisattva, notwithstanding their [good actions], these beings would not be born [in a human existence]. This is how we know how great is the good work carried out by the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Question. – But how does the bodhisattva make ALL the beings of the three bad destinies obtain deliverance (vimukti)? The Buddha himself would be unable to do so; how then could the bodhisattva?

Answer. – There is nothing wrong (doṣa) in that the bodhisattva wishes to do that mentally. Moreover, as many beings obtain deliverance, it is said here [hyperbolically] that ALL obtain it.

The body of the buddhas and great bodhisattvas emits immense rays everywhere (apramāṇān raśmin niścārayati); from these rays there appear innumerable emanation bodies (nirmāṇakāya) which penetrate the three bad destinies in the ten directions everywhere [i.e., among the damned (naraka), the animals (tiryañc) and the pretas]. Then, the fire is extinguished and the boiling water cools down in the hells (niraya); the beings who are there and whose minds are purified (cittaviśuddhitvāt) are reborn among the gods or among humans. – The pretas, whose hunger and thirst (kṣutpipāsa) have been satisfied, develop a good mind and they too are reborn among the gods and humans. – The animals (tiryagyoni), finding food wherever they wish (yatheccham), drive away their fears (bhaya), develop a good mind and they too are reborn among gods and men. Thus all beings of the three bad destinies obtain deliverance (vimukti).

Question. – But other sūtras[3] say that these beings “are reborn among the gods or humans” (devamanuṣyeṣūpapadyante); why does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra say here only that they “obtain a human existence” (manuṣyabhāvaṃ pratilabhante)?

Answer. – Among humans, it is possible to cultivate great qualities (mahāguṇa) and also find happiness (sukha). On the other hand, the gods are strongly attached to [heavenly] bliss and consequently cannot cultivate the Path (mārga). This is why the bodhisattva wishes that the beings of the three bad destinies “obtain a human birth” only.

Finally, the bodhisattva does not wish that beings find happiness only; he also wants them to obtain deliverance (vimukti) and the eternal happiness of nirvāṇa (nityasukhanirvāṇa). This is why he does not mention rebirth among the gods here.

Footnotes and references:


Majjhima, I, p. 294; Anguttara, I, p. 87: Dve kho paccayā sammādiṭṭhiyā uppādāya: parato ca ghoso yoniso ca manasikāro.


A comparison developed in the Śālistambasūtra cited above, p. 1152–1153F, note.


Many sūtras that say that at the dissolution of the body after death, beings endowed with good bodily, etc., actions are born in a good destiny [namely, those of gods and humans], in the heavens, in the worlds of the gods (kāyasya bhedāt paraṃ maraṇāt sugatau svarge devalokeṣūpa-padyante): cf. Pāli Concordance, I, p. 248, s.v. ariyānaṃ anupavādaka.

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