Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “hearing the name of the buddhas” 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.

II. Hearing the name of the Buddhas

1. As a rule, Śākyamuni saves by his preaching

Question. – The Buddha Śākyamuni also participates in the body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya) and is not different from [the other Buddhas]. Then, since he is present in the world, why are there still people who commit the five sins of immediate retribution (ānantarya), starving people (kṣudhita), thieves (caura) and other miserable people of the same kind?

Answer. – The original pact (pūrvābhyupagama) of the Buddha Śākyamuni was the following: “I came into a bad age and it is by teaching the Path (mārga) that I wish to save beings: I did not come to provide them the happiness of this world (laukikasukha), riches and honors.” If this Buddha had wanted to use his powers to give them those things, there is nothing he could not have realized.

Moreover, among people [in the bad age], the power of their merits (puṇyabala) is slight and the defilements of wrongdoings are heavy: this is why they do not find deliverance as they wish (yatheccham).

Moreover, the Buddha at present teaches only pure nirvāṇa and nevertheless, people blame and criticize him:

[Criticisms of the Māgadhians]. (see notes on criticisms of the Māgadhians) – They said: “Why does the Buddha make so many disciples and convert (nayati) the populace? That is bondage (bandhana) as well.”

When the Buddha converts just by preaching the Dharma, people already criticize him; what would they not say if he indiscriminately distributed the happiness of the world (lokasukha)?

[Criticisms of Devadatta]. (see notes on the criticisms of Devadatta) – Wanting to have the mark of the thousand-rayed wheel (sahasrāra cakra) on the soles of his feet (pādatala), Devadatta had an iron (ayas) mold made, had it heated and cauterized his feet withy it. Wounded by the cauterization, he was howling with pain. Ānanda heard him, burst into tears and said to the Buddha: “My brother is going to die; may the Buddha save him out of pity!”

The Buddha extended his hand and felt Devadatta’s body, uttering this oath of truth (satyopayācana): “If it is true that I consider Rāhula and Devadatta equal [in my affection], may Devadatta’s suffering disappear.” Immediately Devadatta’s pain disappeared. Devadatta grasped the hand [extended to him], examined it and recognized that it was the hand of the Buddha. Then he made the following statement: “The son of Śuddhodana assures his livelihood (jīvitaṃ kalpayati) by this medical trick.”[1] The Buddha said to Ānanda: “Do you see Devadatta? How could he be saved when he nourishes such feelings?” [313c]

- The people of the fortunate ages do not have such faults (doṣa), but a being like Devadatta cannot be saved by the happiness of this world (lokasukha). All kinds of stories (nidāna) on this subject have been told in full above (p. 868–878F).

2. The Buddhas do not save solely by the hearing of their name

Furthermore, the bodies of the Buddhas are innumerable (aprameya), incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) and dissimilar in aspect (nānāvidhākāra):

1) There are Buddhas who, by preaching the Dharma (dharmadeśana) to beings, make them obtain abhisaṃbodhi.

2) There are Buddhas who emit immense rays (apramāṇaraśmin pramocayanti) and the beings who encounter them obtain abhisaṃbodhi.[2]

3) There are Buddhas who, by their superknowledge of magic (ṛddhyabhijñā) and their miracles (prātihārya) direct the minds of beings, and the latter obtain abhisaṃbodhi.

4) There are Buddhas who show only their form bodies (rūpakāya) and beings obtain abhisaṃbodhi.[3]

5) There are Buddhas who emit sweet perfumes from all their hair-pores (romakūpa) and the beings who smell them obtain abhisaṃbodhi.[4]

6) There are Buddhas who, by giving food to beings, make them obtain abhisaṃbodhi.

7) There are Buddhas whom it is sufficient to commemorate (anusmaraṇamātreṇa) to obtain abhisaṃbodhi.

8) There are Buddhas who, by the sounds (śabda) made by plants (tṛṇakāṣtha), do the work of the Buddhas (buddhakārya) and lead beings to obtain abhisaṃbodhi.[5]

9) There are Buddhas whose name people hear (nāmādheyaṃ śrṇvanti) and they thus obtain abhisaṃbodhi. It is in regard to these Buddhas that the bodhisattva says here: When I become Buddha, may those who hear my name find the Way (uttāraṇa).”[6]

3. The hearing of the name alone is insufficient to produce abhisaṃbodhi

Moreover, the hearing of the name (nāmadheyaśravaṇa), by itself, is not enough to obtain abhisaṃbodhi. After having heard the name [of the Buddhas], one practices the Path and only afterwards does one obtain the way (uttāraṇa).

[Sudatta’s bodhi]. (also see Appendix 4) – Thus the eminent (śreṣṭhin) Siu-ta (Sudatta) first heard the name of the Buddha, rejoiced in his heart, went to the Buddha, heard the Dharma and thus obtained bodhi.

[Śaila’s bodhi]. (also see Appendix 5) – Also, the brāhmaṇa Che-yi-lo (Śaila) first heard the name of ‘Buddha’ at the home of the jaṭila-brahmacārin Ki-ni-ye (Keṇiya); his mind was overjoyed; he went straight to the Buddha; he heard the Dharma and obtained bodhi.

These texts say only that [Sudatta and Śaila] ‘heard the name’. The hearing of the name (nāmadheyaśravaṇa) is a cause and condition (hetupratyaya) for obtaining bodhi but is not bodhi.

4. The hearing of the name and abhisaṃbodhi are not simultaneous[322]

Question. – However, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here that one hears the name of the Buddha and that “at the same time” (saha śravaṇena) one obtains abhisaṃbodhi. It does not say that after having heard the name it is necessary to practice the Path in order to finally obtain abhisaṃbodhi.

Answer. – Here the expression “at the same time” (or simultaneously) does not mean ‘in one and the same mind-moment’ (ekacittena): it only means that there is no intermediary (antara)[7] [between hearing the name and abhisaṃbodhi]: that is what the expression “at the same time” means.

[Metta sutta].[8] – As the sūtra says: “When the mind of loving-kindness (maitrīcitta) is cultivated, the seven members of saṃbodhi (saptasaṃbodhyaṅga) are cultivated AT THE SAME TIME (sahagata).”

Objection. – But the meditation of loving-kindness (maitrīsamādhi) is impure (sāsrava), for it has beings as object (sattvān ālambate); how then could one cultivate, AT THE SAME TIME, the seven members of saṃbodhi (saptasaṃbodhyaṅga) [which themselves are pure (anāsrava)]?

Answer. – After loving-kindness has arisen, one cultivates the seven members of saṃbodhi. As there are no other dharmas [that are inserted between maitrī and the saṃbodhyaṅgas], we say that they arise at the same time (sahagata).

The expression ‘at the same time’ can have two meanings: i) it can designate strict simultaneity (samakāla); ii) it can designate posteriority in the long run, provided that no other dharma comes to be inserted between the two terms. Here, as it is a mind of maitrī and [without any other intermediary (antara)] a practice of the seven saṃbodhyaṅas, it is said that they arise AT THE SAME TIME.

5. Causes other than the hearing of the name occurring in the obtaining of abhisaṃbodhi[9]

1) Furthermore, in some beings the merits (puṇya) are ripe (pakva) and the fetters (saṃyojana) are slight (tanu); they will obtain abhisaṃbodhi. If they hear the name of the Buddhas, they will obtain it at once.

2) Moreover, it is by the power (prabhāva) of the Buddhas that they hear and find the way (uttāraṇa).

Thus when an ulcer (gaṇḍa) is ripe and there is nobody to prick it, a very small cause is enough for the ulcer to break by itself. When a fruit (phala) is ripe [314a] and there is nobody to gather it, a small breeze is enough to make it fall by itself. A new piece of cotton cloth (kārpāsa), white and clean, easily takes the dye (raṅga).[10] In regard to men, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here that by hearing the name of the Buddhas they immediately obtain abhisaṃbodhi. Another example: when a preta who has taken possession of a man hears the exorcism (mantra) of the hermit (ṛṣi), he abandons his victim and flees.

6. How is the name of the Buddhas spread?

Question. – But who then spreads the name of the Buddhas beyond universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges in a way that beings hear it?

Answer. – 1) By his miraculous power (ṛddhibala), the Buddha emits innumerable rays (raśmi) from the pores of his skin (romakūpa); on each of these rays there are precious lotuses (ratnamaya padma); on each of these lotuses there sits a Buddha, and each of these Buddhas saves beings by preaching the Holy Dharma (saddharma) and also by saying the name (nāmadheya) of the Buddhas; this is how the beings hear it. See what has been said above (p. 456F) in the chapter on Fang-kouang (Raśmipramokṣa).[11]

2) Moreover, according to their earlier vows (pūrvapraṇidhāna), the great bodhisattvas go to the places where the Dharma of the Buddhas does not exist and there they proclaim the name of the Buddhas, as has been said in the present chapter: this is how beings hear it.

3) There are also people of great merit who hear the voice of the Buddhas coming from the sky: this was the case for the bodhisattva Sa-t’o-po-louen (Sadāprarudita).[12]

4) The name of the Buddhas is also heard through the intermediary of deities, through the sounds (ghoṣa) made by the trees or in dream (svapna).[13]

5) There are also Buddhas of inconceivable power (acintyabala) who come to proclaim or pronounce it.

6) Finally, there are bodhisattvas who take the oath to save all beings. This is why they say [the following]: “When I attain abhisaṃbodhi, may beings in universes as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, as soon as they hear my name, all realize abhisaṃbodhi.” But in order to do this, they must practice the perfection of wisdom.

Notes on the criticisms of the Māgadhians:

The numerous conversions carried out by the Buddha since his first sermons did not fail to provoke displeasure and criticisms:

Pāli Vin., I, p. 43:

Tena kho pana samayena abhiññātā-abhiññātā Māgadhikā kulaputtā bhagavati brahmacariyaṃ caranti. manussā ujjhāyanti khiyanti vipācenti: aputtakatāya paṭipanno samaṇo Gotamo, vedhavyāya paṭipanno samaṇi Gotamo, kulupacchedāya pautipanno samaṇo Gotamo. idāni anena jaṭilasahassaṃ pabbājitam, imāni ca aḍḍhateyyāni paribbājakasatāni Sañjaayāni pabbājitāni, ime ca abhiññātā-abhiññātā Māgadhikā kulaputtā samaṇe Gotamo brahmacariyaṃ carantīti.

api ‘ssu bhikkhū disvā imāya gāthāya codenti:

āgato kho mahāsāmaṇi Magadhānaṃ Giribbajaṃ |
sabbe Sañjaye netvāna, kaṃ su dāni nayissatīti ||

Foucher’s translation. –

At that time, many young people of good family in the land of Magadha embraced the religious life one after another under the direction of the Blessed One. The populace murmured and became angry: “The śramaṇa Gautama aims to bring about the absence of children, to bring about widowhood, to bring about the extinction of the family. He has just ordained as monks the thousand anchorites (jaṭila), then the two hundred and fifty monks of Sañjaya, and now many young people of noble family in Magadha one after another are embracing the religious life under the direction of the śramaṇa Gautama.”

And when these people saw the bhikṣus, they wanted to quarrel with them with this stanza:

“The great śramaṇa has come
To the capital of the land of Magadha;
He has converted all the disciples of Sañjaya;
Whom will he convert today?”

– On the same subject, see also Catuṣpariṣad, p. 394 and Mahāvastu, III, p. 90.

Notes on the criticisms of Devadatta:

Here the Traité gives a version augmented by an episode told by the Mūlasarv. Vin.: Saṃghabheda, II, p. 165–165; T 1450, k. 18, p. 191c20–192a7:

Punar api devadattaḥ ajātaśatroḥ katayati: tvaṃ mayā rājye pratiṣṭhāpitaḥ: tvam api māṃ buddhatve pratiṣṭhāpaya iti; sa kathayati: bhagavataḥ cakraṅkapādatalacihnatā lakṣaṇam asti; tava tu cakraṅkapādatalacihnatā nāti iti; sa kathayati: aham cakraṅkapādatalacihnam abhinirvartayāmi iti; tena ayaskārā āhūya uktāḥ: śakṣyatha mama pādatale cakraṅkaṃ kartum? iti; te kathayanti: ārya śaknoṣi vedanāṃ ṣodhum iti; sa kathayati: kuruta, śakṣyāmi iti; te saṃlakṣayanti: balavān eṣaḥ; yady evam evāṅkyāmaḥ, sthānam etad vidyate yat pārṣṇiprahāreṇa asmān jīvitād vyaparopayiṣyati; iti taiḥ kanthāṃ chidrayitvā uktaḥ: ārya anena kanthāchidreṇa pādau praveśaya iti; tena kanthādhidreṇa pādau praveśitau; ayaskārir agnivarṇaṃ cakraṃ kṛtvā pādāv aṅkitau; sa duḥkāṃ tīvrāṃ kharāṃ kaṭukḥa, amanāpāṃ vedanāṃ vedayate; bhikṣubhiḥ kokālikaḥ pṛṣṭaḥ: kutra devadattaḥ? sa kathayati: amuṣmin pradeśe cakrāṅkapādacihnatām abhinirartayati iti; bhikṣavas taṃ pradeśaṃ gatāḥ; tair asau śruto duḥkhavedanārto vikrośan; te bhagavatsakāśam upasaṅkrāntāḥ.

Transl. –

Furthermore, Devadatta said to Ajātaśatru: “I have established you in kingship; now in turn you establish me in buddhahood.” Ajātaśatru answered: “The Blessed One has the sign of a wheel on the soles of his feet, you do not.”- Devadatta replied: “I will make one” and he called some ironworkers and asked them: “Can you make me the mark of a wheel on the soles of my feet?” The answered: “Yes, Lord, if you are able to withstand the pain.” – “Do it then”, said Devadatta, “I will withstand it.”

The ironworkers commented as follows: “This man is strong; if we mark him in this way, it is possible that with one blow of his heel, he can take our lives.” And so, having made a hole in the wall, they said to Devadatta: “Lord, put your two feet through this hole in the wall.” This Devadatta did, and the ironworkers heated a wheel white-hot and marked his two feet. Devadatta felt the sharp, violent, biting, unpleasant feeling.

The bhikṣus asked Kokālika: “Where is Devadatta?” Kokālika answered: “In a certain place, he made the mark of the wheel on the soles of his feet.” The bhikṣus went to that place and heard Devadatta who was howling with pain. The bhikṣus went to the Blessed One.

Footnotes and references:


Compare Saṃghabheda, II, p. 94: Tato Bhagavatā gajabhujasadṛśaṃ bāhum abhiprasārta gṛdhrakūtaṃ parvataṃ bhittvā … karaṃ devadattasya sthāpayitvā satyopayācanaṃ kṛtam: yena satyena yathā rāhulabhadre priye ekaputrake cittam amūnānadhikaṃ tathaiva devadatte tena satyena rujā śamaṃ gacched iti. satyopayācanakālasamanantaram eva devadattasya rujā praśantā sa … bhagavataḥ pāṇiṃ nirīkṣate …; sa saṃlakṣayati: śramaṇasya gautamansya pāṇir iti … tathāpi buddhamahātmyo-paśāntarujaḥ kathayati: śobhanaṃ te siddhārtha vaidyakam adhigatam; śakṣyasy anena jivikāṃ kalpayitum iti.

Transl. – Then the Blessed One extended his arm like the trunk of an elephant, made it pass over Vulture Peak Mountain and placed his hand on Devadatta, uttering this oath of truth: “If it is true that I have exactly the same feelings towards Devadatta as I have for my dear only son Rāhulabhadra, by virtue of this truth may the torment that Devadatta feels be pacified. “As soon as he had uttered these words of truth, Devadatta’s pain subsided. Devadatta examined the hand of the Blessed One and recognized it as that of the monk Gautama. Even though his torment had been pacified by the kindness of the Buddha, Devadatta said to him: “The medical skill, O Siddārtha, that you have acquired is marvelous; you will be able to ensure your livelihood by it.”

On the Buddha’s gesture of passing his hand across a wall or a rock face to cure Devadatta or to reassure Ānanda frightened by a vulture, cf. Si-yu-ki, T 2087, k. 9, p. 921b8–15; Fa hien tchouan, T 2085, p. 862c21–24; A. Foucher, AgbG, I, p. 497–499 and fig. 249.


See p. 456F.


Śākyamuni showed his tongue and his cryptorchidia to the brāhmaṇas Ambaṭṭha, Brahmāyu and Sela (cf. p. 275F, n. 1: 1667F) his chest and his armpits to the nirgrantha Satyaka (p. 1665–66F, and notes).


When the buddha Amitābha, in the form of the bhikṣu Dharmākara, carried out the bodhisattva practices, a lotus perfume came from all his pores of his skin and all kinds of food and drink flowed from the palms of his hands. Cf. Large Sukhāvatī, ed. A. Ashikaga, p. 25–26: Tasya sarvaromakūpebhya utpalaghandho vāti sma …; savānnapānakhādyabhojyalehyarasābhinirhārāḥ sarvopabhogaparibhogābhinirhārāś ca pāṇitalābhyāṃ prasyandantaḥ prādurbhavanti sma.


In Amitābha’s paradise, the trees shaken by the wind produce articulated sounds, sweet and enchanting, which serve as predictions. Cf. Large Sukhāvatī, p. 32: Vātena preritānāṃ ca vṛkṣāṇāṃ valgumanojñānirghoṣo niścaraty asecanako ’pratikūlaḥ śravaṇāya.


Here tou may be rendered by ‘safety’ but the translation ‘way’ or ‘passage’ is less compromising. The character tou serves to translate the Sanskrit words pāramitā and uttāraṇa: cf. G. M. Nagao, Index to the Sūtrālaṃkāra, II, p. 234a.


Adopting the variant kien.


Saṃyutta, V, p. 119, l. 3–5: Idha bhikkhave bhikkhu mettāsahagataṃ satisambojjhaṅgaṃ bhāveti || la || mettāsahagataṃ upekhāsambojjhaṅgaṃ bhāveti vivekanissitaṃ virāganossitaṃ nirodhanissitaṃ vossaggapariṇāmim. – Here, O monks, the bhikṣu [who cultivates maitrī], by that very fact cultivates the smṛtisaṃbodhyaṅga ‘going with maitrī’; he cultivates by that very fact the [dharmapravicayas, vīrya, prīti, praśrabdhi, samādhi] and upekṣā-saṃbodhyaṅga ‘going with maitrī’, dependent upon separation, detachment, destruction, and having abandonment as goal.

This sūtra is cited in summary in Kośabhāṣya, p. 146, l. 12–14. One cannot take it as an argument to assume the absolute simultaneity of maitrī and the saṃbodhyaṅgas. Indeed, maitrī marred by belief in the self is impure, whereas the seven saṃbodhyaṅgas depending on detachment from the world are pure, and the pure practices cannot co-exist with the impure practices. The truth is that the development of the saṃbodhyaṅgas follows the development of maitrī immediately and without intermediary (samanantara).

Similarly, the obtaining of abhisaṃbodhi follows the hearing of the name of the Buddhas (nāmadheyaśravaṇa) without intermediary, but is not mingled with it.


The conquest of abhisaṃbodhi comes about with the help of causes and conditions, the main ones being the merits acquired by the ascetic himself and – according to the Greater Vehicle – the grace of the Buddhas. By itself, the hearing of the name would not be able to realize abhisaṃbodhi; it is, nevertheless, the slight cleavage that makes the ripe fruit fall, the drop of water that makes the vase of merits overflow.


Seyyathā pi nāma suddhaṃ vatthaṃ apagatakāḷakaṃ sammad eva tajanaṃ patigaṇheyya: Digha, I, p. 110, 148; II, p. 43, 44: Majjhima, II, p. 145; Anguttara, IV, p. 186, 213. – Tadyathā śuddhaṃ vastram apagatakāḍakaṃ rajanopagaṃ raṅge prakṣiptaṃ samyag eva raªgaṃ pratigṛhṇāti: Catuṣpariṣad, p. 180, 233, 452, 454; Saṃghabheda, I, p. 142, 144: Divyāvadāna, p. 617.


See also p. 1352–1353F.


For Sadāpraruditā, see above, p. 1353F and 1354F, n. While he was seeking the Prajñāpāramitā and was staying in a forest, he heard a voice coming from the sky (tena … antarīkṣān nirghoṣaḥ śruto ‘bhūt) that said to him: “Go, O son of good family, to the east and there you will hear the Prajñāpāramitā”: cf. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 927; Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 27, p. 416a–b; Śatasāhasrikā, T 220, book VI, k. 398, p. 1059a26.


In the Great Sukhāvatī, ed. Ashikaga, mention is made of the pleasant voice (valgumanojñanirgjoṣa) of trees shaken by the wind (p. 32) and of beings who, by thinking even for a single moment of mind (ekacittotpādena) of the Tathāgata Amitābha, see him in dreams (svapnāntaragata) and are reborn in Sukhāvatī (ibid, p. 43).