Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of sudatta’s bodhi” 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.

Appendix 4 - The story of Sudatta’s bodhi

Note: This Appendix is extracted from the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra chapter LII (hearing the name of the Buddhas):

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.

Sudatta, better known by he name of Anāthapiṇḍada (in Pāli, Anāthapiṇdika), heard a friend pronounce the word ‘buddha’ three times, but that was not the reason that determined his conversion. He attained, not the bodhi of the arhats but the fruit of srotaāpanna, when, on the next day, the Buddha gave him the graded instructions meant for lay people.

On the conversion of this famous individual, see the Sudatta sutta in Saṃyutta, I, p. 21–212, and the Saṃyuktāgamas, T 99, no. 592, k. 22, p. 157b18–158b23; T 100, no. 186, k. 9, p. 440b2–441a26; the Pāli Vin., II, p. 154–157; the Mahīśāsaka Vin., T 1421, k. 25, p. 166b9–167b4; the Dharmaguptaka Vin., T 1428, k. 50, p. 938b20–939a27; the Sarv. Vin., T 1435, k. 34, p. 243c20– 244b15; the Mūlasarv. Vin., Saṃghabheda, ed. Gnoli, I, p. 166–170, and Śayanāvastu, ed. R. Gnoli, p. 14–18.

Having come to Rājagṛha on business, Sudatta went to his brother-in-law Rājagṛhaka and found him in the midst of preparing a fine banquet. He asked if he was celebrating a wedding or of he was getting ready to receive king Bimbisāra. His brother-in-law replied with these words: “I am not celebrating a wedding and I am not receiving king Bimbisāra; however, I am preparing a big sacrifice because tomorrow I have invited the saṃgha with the Buddha at its head (api ca me mahāyañño paccupaṭṭhito, svātanāya buddhapamukho saṃgho nimantito).”

“Did you say the Buddha?” asked Sudatta. “Yes, O householder, I did say the Buddha” (buddho ‘ti tvaṃ gahapati vadesiti. – buddo ‘t’ āhaṃ gahapati vadāmīti). This question was asked three times and three times the same answer was given. Then Sudatta ended: “The word ‘buddha’ is indeed rare in the world” (ghoso pi kho eso dullabho lokasmin yad idaṃ buddho buddho ‘ti).

But as the Traité comments here, Sudatta heard it three times but did not take immediate advantage of it. He wished to go immediately to the Buddha who was then in the Sītavana near Rājagṛha. Thinking that the time was inopportune, his brother-in-law advised him to wait until tomorrow. Sudatta was so impatient to meet the Teacher that he woke up three times during the night thinking that it was dawn.

Finally the gates of the Sītavana were opened and Sudatta saw the Buddha who was seated and who invited him to approach. Sudatta fell down at his feet. After exchanging salutations, the Teacher explained the graded teachings to him (anupūrvī kathā): he spoke to him about generosity, morality and heaven; he explained the dangers of desire and the benefits of renunciation; he ended his sermon with the four noble truths. It was only then that the dust-free stainless eye of the Dharma arose in Sudatta (virajaṃ vitamalaṃ dhammacakkhuṃ udapādi): this is the expression dedicated to designate, not accession to abhisaṃbodhi or even the bodhi of the arhats, but simply the attainment of the first fruit of the religious life, the fruit of srotaāpanna.

It does not appear that in his lifetime Sudatta ever attained arhathood. Proof of this is that after he died he was reborn among the gods: the Anāthapiṇḍika of the Saṃyutta, I, p. 51–56, speaks of a Sudatta devaputta (§ 6) and an Anāthapiṇḍika devaputta (§ 10).

Therefore, according to the canonical sūtras, it is not sufficient to hear the word ‘buddha’ in order to be settled, by that very fact, in supreme complete enlightenment.

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