Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “changing the surrounding ground into diamond” 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 12 - Changing the surrounding ground into diamond

Sūtra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 33, l. 12–14; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 113, l. 3–5). – The bodhisattva must practice the perfection of wisdom if he envisages thus: “When I shall have attained supreme complete enligtenment, may every place where I walk, stand, sit or lie down change into diamond” (Bodhisattvena mahāsattvenaivaṃ upaparikṣamānena ‘kim iti me ’nuttarāṃ samyaksaṃbodhim abhisaṃbuddhasya gacchatas tiṣṭhato niṣaṇṇasya śayānasya pṛthivīpradeśo varjramayaḥ saṃtiṣṭheta’ iti prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

Question. – Why is the earth (pṛthivī) changed into vajra ‘diamond’ where the Buddha takes up the four postures (īryāpatha)?

Answer. – 1) According to some, when the Bodhisattva comes to the foot of the bodhi tree, he sits in this place and attains supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi). At that moment, the Bodhisattva penetrates the true nature of dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā), and then there is no earth that can support him.[1] Why? For beings the earth is a deception and exists as retribution (vipāka) conditioned by previous actions (karman); this is why it is incapable of supporting the Bodhisattva. When the Bodhisattva is about to realize saṃbodhi, he has knowledge of the true nature (dharmatājñāna) as ‘body’ (kāya), and then the place where he is seated changes into Vajra.

2) According to others, the Earth (pṛthivī) rests on the Circle of gold (kāñcanamaya maṇḍala or kāñcanamayī mahī); the Circle of gold rest on the Vajra; from the [upper] point of the Vajra arises a terrace (prāsāda) similar to a lotus flower (padmapuṣpa); just above, it supports the place where the Bodhisattva is sitting and prevents it from sinking This is why the area of enlightenment [311a] (bodhimaṇḍa) where the Bodhisattva sits is called Vajra.

3) According to yet others, as soon as the Bodhisattva has realized saṃbodhi, every place where the Buddha takes up the four postures (īryāpatha) changes into diamond.

Question. – But the Vajra itself is deceptive for beings and exists as a result of actions: how can it support the Buddha?

Answser. – Even though the Vajra comes about by deception, it is much more solid (dṛḍha) than the Earth (pṛthivī) and nothing can surpass it. The Vajra plunges into the water (ap-) and there the nāga kings offer this solid substance to the Buddha and, as a result of the actions of his earlier lives (pūrvanivāsakarman), the Buddha has this solid support (supratiṣṭhitasathāna).

Moreover, the Buddha transforms the Vajra and the four great elements (mahābhūta) into empty space (ākāśa), and this Ākāśa itself is not deceptive. The wisdom (prajñā) of the Buddha is not deceptive either. [Ākāśa and Prajñā) are both alike; this is why they can support him.

Notes on the answer:

The answer is inspired by the old Buddhist cosmology.

According to the canonical sūtras (Dīgha, II, p. 107; Kośavyākhyā, p. 15), the earth (pṛthivī) rests upon the water (udaka) or Circle of waters (abmaṇḍala); the water or Circle of waters rests on wind (vāyu); the wind rests on space (ākāśa); space does not rest upon anything. – In this summary, there is no mention of gold (kañcana) or diamond (vajra).

Later scholasticism, particularly that of the Sarvāstivādins (Kośa, III, p. 138–141; Kośabhāṣya, p. 157–158) gives more details:

1) Resting on space, there arises below, by the force of the actions of beings, the Circle of wind (vāyumaṇḍala): it is 1,600,000 leagues (yojana) high, immeasurable in circumference, solid (dṛḍha) to the extent of being unable to be cut into by Vajra ‘thunderbolt, or diamond’.

2) Superimposed on the Circle of wind, the Circle of waters (abmaṇḍala), 1,120,000 yojanas high. But after a certain time, stirred by the winds that create the power of actions, the water becomes gold (kāñcana) in its upper part, just as boiled milk becomes cream (pakvakṣirī śaribhāvayogena). Then the Circle splits iinto two parts:

a. a lower part constituting the Circle of waters proper, 800,000 yojanas high,

b. an upper part, 320,000 yojanas high, called the earth of gold (kāñcanamayī mahī) in the Kośabhāṣya, p. 158, l. 13; the wheel of gold (kāñcanacakra) in the Sarvāstivādin Āgama cited in Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 148, l. 15; the Circle of gold and diamond (kāñcanavajramaṇḍala) in the Pañjikā, p. 168, l. 7. This last name, which associates vajra with gold, deserves to be remembered.

3) Differing in height, the Circle of waters and the earth of gold are equal in diameter (1,203, 450 yojana) and in perimeter (3,610,350 yojana).

4) The earth of gold supports the earth (pṛthivī), the universe of four continents encircled by the cakravāda which gives it the shape of a wheel.

Wherever the buddhas have attained or will attain saṃbodhi, the vajra which plunged into the waters, slips through the earth of gold (kāñcanamayī mahī) and comes to the surface of the earth where it forms the Diamond Seat (vajrāsana) more than a hundred paces in circumference (Si-yu-ki, T 2087, k. 8, p. 915b15–17).

For this Diamond Seat and the area of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍa) that surrounds it, see Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, French transl., p. 198–200, note; Ceylon Encyclopedia, III, p. 207 and 217, s.v. Bodhimaṇḍa and Bodhipūjā. We may add that, in a figurative sense, the expression bodhimaṇḍa simply means the complete spiritual presence of the Dharma or Dharmakāya of the Buddhas.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Kośabhāṣya, p. 161, l. 12–14: Tasya [Jambudvīpasya] madhye kāñcanamayyāṃ pṛthivyāṃ vajrāsanam abhinirvṛttaṃ yasmin niṣadya sarve bodhisattvā vajropamaṃ samādhim utpādayanti. nahi tam anya āśrayaḥ pradeśo vā soḍhuṃ samarthaḥ. – At the center of Jambudvīpa, resting on the earth of gold, the Diamond Seat where all the bodhisattvas sit to realize the diamond-like concentration. No other place, no other location is able to support the Bodhisattva [in this concentration].