Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “bringing innumerable beings to arhathood by a single sermon” 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 14 - Bringing innumerable beings to Arhathood by a single sermon

Sūtra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 34, l. 5–7; Śatasāhastikā, p. 113, l. 13–16). – The bodhisattva must practice the perfection of wisdom if he envisages thus: “When I attain supreme complete enlightenment, may there be an immense incalculable saṃgha of śrāvakas, and may a single preaching of the Dharma be enough that, in one single session, [these innumerable incalculable śrāvakas] become arhats (Bodhisattvena mahāsattvenaivam upaparīkṣamānena ‘kim iti me ’nuttarāṃ samyaksaṃbodhhim abhisaṃbuddhasyāprameya ‘saṃkheyaḥ śrāvakasaṃgha bhaved ekadharmadeśanayā cāprameyā asaṃkhyeyāḥ śrāvakā ekāsanikā arhanto bhavyur’ iti prajñāpāramitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

1) There are Budhas whose śrāvakasaṃgha is limited.

Thus, the Buddha Śākyamuni had a saṃgha of 1250 bhikṣus (ardhatrayodaśāni bhikṣuśatāni) (also see notes on the Jaṭilas).

The Buddha Maitreya will have a first assembly (saṃnipāta) of 99 koṭi, a second assembly of 96 koṭi and a third assembly of 93 koṭi of listeners.

These buddha-saṃghas, each having their limit and their determined number, are dissimilar. This is why some bodhisattvas wish, [as here],”’to have innumerable incalculable śrāvakas as saṃgha”.

2) There are Buddhas who preach the Dharma to beings [several times]. At the time of the first sermon (dharmadeśana), these beings obtain the first fruit of the Path (prathama mārgaphala), in the course of other sermons they obtain the second, third and fourth fruit of the path.

Thus when the Buddha Śākyamuni preached the Dharma to 500 bhikṣus, the latter first obtained the first [fruit] of the Path and then, on another day, they [311c] obtained the bodhi of the arhats.[1]

Śāriputra first attained the first [fruit] of the Path, then after a fortnight (ardhamāsa), he attained the bodhi of the arhats (see Appendix 3). 

When Mahākāśyapa saw the Buddha, he obtained the first [fruit] of the Path, then eight days later he became arhat (see Appendix 4).

Ānanda first obtaind the fruit of srotaāpanna, then after having served the Buddha for twenty-five years and after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, he became arhat (see Appendix 5).

Thus these arhats did not obtain the four [fruits] of the Path simultaneously. This is why the bodhisattva [here] wishes that innumerable śrāvakas become arhats in a single session (ekāsanika) in the course of a single sermon of the Dharma.

Notes on the ordination of the Jaṭilas:

At Uruvilva, Śākyamuni conferred ordination to a thousand Jaṭilas, disciples of the three Kāśyapa brothers; soon after, he repeated the ordination at Rājagṛha where he admitted into his order 250 disciples of the heretic Sañjaya, brought by Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana. In the company of these 1250 bhikṣus, the Teacher traveled through Magadha, and this invasion of yellow robes outraged the population: “The śrāmaṇa Gautama”, they said, “is aiming at bringing about the absence of children, widowhood, the extinction of the family. He has just ordained as monks the thousand Jaṭilas, then the two hundred and fifty parivrājakas of Sañjaya, and here many young people of good family in the country of Magadha are taking up the religious life under the direction of the śramaṇa Gautama” (Pāli Vinaya, p. 43; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 394; Mahāvastu, III, p. 90).

Many other ordinations were subsequently performed, but it remained understood that Śākyamuni’s saṃgha consisted of 1250 bhikṣus: aḍḍhatelasa bhikkhusata (Vin. I, p. 220, l. 20; 224, l. 6; 249, l. 13; Dīgha, I, p. 47, l. 4; 49, l. 15; Saṃyutta, I, p. 192, l. 10).

In their nidānas, the old sūtras often mention the presence of 1250 bhikṣus and perhaps this number is an index of the antiquity of these texts. It may be noted that in the assembly where the Aṣṭasāhasrika was preached there were 1250 bhikṣus (ardhratrayodaśāni bhikṣuśatāni), whereas those of the Pañcaviṃśati and the Śatasāhasrikā included 5000 (pañcamātrāṇi bhikṣusahasrāṇi).

Footnotes and references:


The three brothers, hermits wearing braided hair and worshippers of fire (jaṭila), lived at Uruvilvā: Uruvilvā-Kāśyapa, leader of 500 ascetics, Nadī-K., head of 300 ascetics, and Gayā-K. head of 200 ascetics.

By a series of miracles, the Tathāgata first converted Uruvilvā-K. and his 500 disciples. They asked to be received into the order, which makes one think that they had acquired the dust-free stainless pure eye of Dharma and that they had acceded to the fruit of srotaāpanna. The Tathāgata conferred on them (upasampad) and they became bhikṣus (cf. Vin. I, p. 33, l. 12–13; CatuṣpariUsad, p. 306).

A little later, the 300 disciples of Nadī-K. and the 200 disciples of Gayā-K. also received ordination.

Accompanied by these 1000 Jaṭilas now bhikṣus, the Tathāgata went to Mount Gayaśīrṣa, accomplished some miracles there and pronounced the famous Fire Sermon there: “Sarvam ādīptam”. Following this sermon, the minds of these thousand bhikṣus was liberated from the impurities (tasya bhikṣusahasrānupādāyāsravebhyaś cittaṃ vimuktam) by detachment, which means, in other words, that they attained arhathood (Vin. I, p. 35, l. 10–12; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 322).

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