Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “bako-brahma-sutta” 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.

Thus, for having once (pūrvanivāse) saved the life of some villagers, P’o-k’ie-fan (Bakabrahmā) obtained an immense (aprameya) incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) lifespan.

In the world of the Brahmā gods (brahmaloka), the life-span does not surpass a half kalpa;[1] and this brahmadeva [Baka] is alone in having an immense longevity. [312a] Thus he conceived a wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi) and said: “I alone am eternally subsistent (nityastha).”

The Buddha went to him and, to destroy this wrong view, told him a jātaka [from which it emerges] that Bakabrahmā is enjoying such a long life for having formerly saved a village.

Notes on the Bako-brahmā-sutta:

Bako brahmā sutta of the Saṃyutta, I, p. 142–144; Saṃyukta, T 99, no. 1195, k. 44, p. 324b3–c16; T 100, no. 108, k. 6, p. 412b7–c18; Sanskrit fragments in Mahākarmavibhaṅga, ed. Lévi, p. 34, l. 8–35, l. 14.

In Sanskrit the sūtra is entitled Bakapratyekabrahmasūtra. The interlocutor of the Buddha is Bakabrahmā, also called (in T 99) Bakabrahmadeva.

This sūtra consists of two parts, one part in prose (which occurs in Majjhima, I, p. 326) and one part in stanzas.

The following is a summary of the Pāli recension:

At that time the Blessed One was at Sāvatthi, in the Jeta forest in the garden of Anāthapiṇḍika. At that time, Bakabrahmā conceived a wrong view. He said: “Our realm is permanent (nicca), solid (dhuva), eternal (sassata), definitive (kevala), not subject to disappearing (acavanadhamma). It is not born, it does not live, does not die, does not disappear and is not reborn; apart from it, there is no exit [from saṃsāra].”

The Blessed One read his mind and in the time it takes for a strong man to extend his folded arm or to fold his extended arm, he disappeared from the Jetavana and appeared in the Brahmaloka.

Seeing the Blessed One coming from afar, Bakabrahmā said to him: “Come, O Lord, be welcome; it has taken a long time for you to come here.”

The Blessed One said to Baka: “You are wrong, O Baka; you are truly in error in claiming that your realm is permanent, etc.”

Baka – We are seventy-two, O Gotama, who have accomplished meritorious actions. We are sovereign beings (vasavattin) who have gone beyond birth and death. Our ultimate rebirth as Brahmā comes from the Vedas. Many are the people who invoke us.

The Blessed One – Brief and not long is your life that you consider to be long. I myself know, O Brahmā, that your life-span will be a hundred thousand nirabhuda.

Baka – Blessed One, if you are the “Seer of eternity” who has triumphed over birth, old age and sorrow, tell me what have been my previous vows and my good practices, which I know.

– Four jātakas describing the ups and downs of Baka during his earlier lives explain why, without being eternal, he now enjoys a long life. The jātaka to which the Traité alludes here is first in the Chinese versions of the Saṃyukta, but second in the Pāli Saṃyutta:

1) Saṃyutta, I, p. 143, l. 24–27:

Yam eṇikulasmiṃ janaṃ gahītaṃ |
amocayī gayhakaṃ niyyamānaṃ ||
tan-te purāṇaṃ vatasīlavattaṃ |
suttappabuddho va anusarāmi ||

On the banks of the Eṇī (= the Ganges), you freed a crowd who had been seized, captured and led away. This vow and this good action that once were yours, I remember them like someone who wakes up from a dream.

2) Mahākarmavibhaṅga, p. 34, l. 14–35, l. 6:

Yā eṇīkūle janatāṃ gṛhitām.

Eṇī nāma nadī | yasyā anukūle rājā kaścid gṛhītaḥ pratamitreṇa Himavantam anupraviśya | sa nīyamāna eva vadhyaṃ prāptaḥ sabalavāhanaḥ | tena ṛṣibhūtena ṛddhyā vātavarsaṃ muktaṃ | sa copāyena pratyamitrajanakāyo vibhrāmitaḥ sa rājā mokṣitaḥ |

tat te dvitīyaṃ vrataśīlavṛttam |
svapnād vibuddho ‘nusmarāmi ||
sa ca rāja Bodhisattvo babhūva ||
On the banks of the Eṇī the prisoner crowd ….

The Eṇī is a river. On its banks, a certain king was seized by his enemy who took him away to the Himavat. This king taken by force with his army and his chariots was about to be put to death. [Baka] who was then a hermit magically unleashed the wind and the rain. By this trick, the enemy armies were dispersed and the king was saved. This king was none other than the future Buddha [in an earlier existence].

3) Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 44, p. 324c1–4.

Once the inhabitants of a village (grāmaka) were captured and robbed by thieves (caura); but then you saved them all and they found freedom. On your part, this was a vow and a good action (vrataśīlavṛtta). As for myself, I remember this story (nidāna) as if I had come out of a dream (suptaprabuddha iva).

4) Saṃyukta, T 100, k. 6, p. 412c1–4:

Once there were thieves (caura) who looted and damaged a village (grāma), oppressed and tied up the inhabitants and escaped with great spoils. At the time, you manifested great bravery, saved all the people and as a result, they suffered no damage.

It is to this jātaka that the Traité is alluding here. It is told in full in the Commentary of the Saṃyutta, I, p. 210–211, of which here is the translation:

Another time, the penitent [Baka] built himself a hut of leaves at the edge of the Ganges near a forest village. Brigands descended on this village one day and went away carrying with them the furniture, the livestock and the slaves. The oxen, the dogs and the people uttered great shouts. The penitent heard them; he wondered what it was, understood that a danger menaced the people and declared that, if he were alive, these beings would not perish. He entered into dhyāna based upon the superknowledges, then, emerging from it, he created an army facing the brigands by means of a mind of abhijñā. Blue with fear, the brigands thought that the king was certainly coming to attack them and, putting down their spoils, they took flight. The penitent ordered each person to take back his own property and that was so.

– Before taking rebirth in the Brahmaloka, Baka was a Buddhist monastic. It is said in the Tsa pao tsang king, T 203, k. 3, p. 461a13–15: There was an āyuṣmat camed P’o-k’ie (Baka). Venerable Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana taught him the contents of the Dharma (dharmoddāna) and he became anāgāmin. After death, he was reborn among the Brahmadevas and had the name P’o-k’ie-fan (Bakabrahmā). When Kokālika, a disciple of Devadatta, accused Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana of misconduct, Bakabrahmā came down from the Brahmā heaven to defend his former teachers (see above, p. 807–809F)

Footnotes and references:


The Brahmā gods occupying the first dhyāna include three categories: the Brahmakāyikas, the Brahmapurohitas and the Mahābrahmās. For their size and their lifespan, see Hōbōgirin, p. 115a s.v. Bon. For the reasons just explained, Bakabrahmā was assured of an exceptionally long lifespan, but not eternal.