Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “attaining sambodhi on a bed of celestial robes” 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 11 - Attaining saṃbodhi on a bed of celestial robes

Sūtra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 33, l. 9–12; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 112, l. 7–15). – The bodhisattva-mahāsattva must practice the perfection of wisdom if he envisages the following: “At the time when I sit down at the foot of the bodhi tree, may the gods – from the Cāturmahārājikas to the Akaniṣṭhas – lay down a bed of celestial robes there” (Bodhisattvena mahāsattvenaivam upaparikṣamāṇena ‘kim iti me bodhidrumamūle niṣīdataś cāturmahārājakāyikā devā yāvad akaniṣṭhā devā divyavastrasaṃstaraṃ kuryur’ iti prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

Question. – But according to the sūtras, the Buddha spread out grass (tṛṇa) at the foot of the tree and sitting on that, he attained saṃbodhi. Why the does the bodhisattva wish for celestial garments (divyavastra) as a seat?

Answer. – It is in the sūtras of the śrāvakas that it is a matter of a bunch of grass (see notes below); the Mahāyānasūtras, on the other hand, refer to what beings saw: some saw him spread the grass at the foot of the tree, others saw him spread celestial mats; the visions vary according to the lesser or greater merits (puṇya) of the beings.

Moreover, the Buddhas of birth body (janmakāyabuddha) collect grass at the foot of the tree, whereas the Buddhas of body born from the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya) use heavenly robes as seat or things higher than these robes.

Finally, the Buddha realizes saṃbodhi in a deep forest, at the foot of a tree; if there are people in the forest who see him, they offer him grass; if these are noble men (kulaja) who see him, they offer him garments of high quality as seat. But in the forest there are no nobles; therefore it is a nāga and the gods who each present to him a beautiful robe as a seat.[1]

The robe of the Cāturmahārājakāyikas weighs two pala; that of the Trāyastriṃśa, one pala; that of the Yāmas, eighteen dharaṇa; that of the Tuṣitas, [310c] twelve dharaṇa; that of the Nirmāṇaratis, six dharaṇa; that of the Paranirmitavaśavartins, three dharaṇa.

The robe of the gods of the form realm (rūpadhātu) has no weight. The robe of the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātu), being made of tree-tips, has neither warp nor woof: it is like a thin skin of ice, clear with all sorts of colors, pure and of ineffable brilliance.

The Bodhisattva sits down on these precious robes spread out as as a seat and realizes supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi).

Question. – Why does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra speak only of the devas spreading out robes (vastra) and say nothing about the great bodhisattvas of the ten directions who themselves set out thrones (āsana) for the Buddha?[2] At the moment when the Buddha is going to realize saṃbodhi, all the bodhisattvas set out thrones for the Buddha. These thrones have a length of one league (yojana) and a width of one league, ten leagues, a hundred leagues, a thousand leagues, ten thousand leagues, an infinite number of leagues; and their height is also in proportion. These precious thrones come from the pure merit (anāsravapuṇya) of the bodhisattvas. They are invisible to the divine eye and all the more so, they cannot be touched by the hand. The Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha) and the three times (tryadvabuddha), their victory over Māra (māradharṣaṇa), their enlightenment (abhisaṃbodhana), their wonders (vyūha) and their Buddha deeds (buddhakārya) are seen clearly as though in a clear mirror (ādarśa). Why then does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra not speak of these precious thrones?

Answer. – The Prajñāpāramitās are of two kinds: i) those that are addressed both to the śrāvakas and to the bodhisattvas and devas; ii) those that concern bodhisattvas possessing the ten bhūmis (daśavihārasamanvāgata) exclusively. It is in this latter type that the ‘bodhisattvas setting out thrones for the Buddha’ will be discussed. Why? The gratitude (kṛtajñāna) which the devas have for the Buddha is not as great as that of the great bodhisattvas [separated from Buddhahood] by only one or two lifetimes. Why would such bodhisattvas not be able to use the power of their superknowledges (abhijñābala) to honor the Buddha? But in the present passage, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is addressed also to the śrāvakas; this is why it does not speak [of the great bodhisattvas, but only of the devas].

Notes on the gift of grass:

Saṃghabheda, I, p. 113 (T 1450, k. 5, p. 122c–23–28):

Tato bodhisattvaḥ kālikanāgarājena saṃstūyamāno vajrāsanābhimukhaḥ saṃprasthitaḥ. sa saṃlakṣayati: tṛnasaṃstare niṣadyāṃ kalpayāmīti. tasya tṛṇaiḥ prayojanam iti śakro devānām indro bodhisattvasya cetasā cittam ājñāya gandhamādanāt parvatāt tūlasaṃsparśānāṃ turṇāṇāṃ bhāram ādāya svastikayāvasikavarṇam ātmānam abhinirmāya bodhisattvasya prastād avasthitaḥ. bodhisattvaḥ kathayati: bhadramukhā dīyantāṃ mamaitāni tṛṇānīti. śakreṇa devendreṇa bodhisattvasya pādayor nipatya sagauraveṇa dattāni. tato bodhisattvaḥ svastikasyayāvasikasyāntikāt tṛṇāny ādāya devatopadiṣṭena mārgeṇa yena bodhimūlaṃ tenopasaṅkrāntaḥ; upasaṅkramya anākulam asaṅkulaṃ tṛṇasaṃstarakaṃ prajñāpayitum ārabdhaḥ.

Transl. –

Then the Bodhisattva, covered with praise by the nāga king Kālika, went towards the Diamond Seat. He said: “I am going to sit on a bed of grass.” Seeing that he needed grass, Śakra king of the gods, taking to mind the Buddha’s thought, went to Mount Gandhamādana to gather an armful of grass, soft to the touch like cotton; he changed himself into a grass-seller called Svastika and went to stand in front of the Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva said to him: “Friend, give me that grass.” Śakra king of the gods fell to the Bodhisattva’s feet and respectfully gave it to him. Then, taking the grass that Svastika the grass-seller had given him, he went to the bodhi tree by way of the path the gods had shown him. Having come there, he set about arranging the grass in an orderly way.

– The gift of grass by Svastika (in Pāli, Sotthiya) is told in many sources:

Mahīśāsaka Vin., T 1421, k. 15, p. 102c15–16; Dharmaguptaka Vin., T 1428,k. 31, p. 781a12–17.

Lives of the Buddha: Sieou king pen k’i king, T 184, k. 2, p. 470a28–b2; P’ou yao king, T 186, k. 5, p. 514c13–20; Ta tchouang yen king, T 187, k. 8, p. 587a20–b4; Yin kouo king, T 189, k. 3,. p. 639c4–11; Pen hing rsi king, T 190. k. 26, p. 773a7–20; Tchong hiu mo ho ti king, T 191, k. 6, p. 950a15–21; Pen hing king, T 193, k. 3, p. 75c25–28; Tch’ou yao king, T 212, k. 7, p. 644c11–14.

Mahāvastu, II, p. 131, l. 12; 264, l. 5–7; Lalitavistara, P. 286, l. 3–288, l. 10; Sad. puṇḍarīka, p. 421, l. 6–7.

Nidānakathā, p. 70–71.

Footnotes and references:


See detail in chapter XX of the Lalitavistara, p. 290–299: Bodhimaṇḍavyūha.


Cf. the gift of thrones related in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, French transl., p. 247–250.