Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “rikshapati-jataka” 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.

A man went to the mountains in order to cut wood. He lost his way in a violent rainstorm and. at sunset, he was hungry and cold. Poisonous insects and animals came to attack him and so he entered a cave in the rock. In this cave there was a big bear (ṛkṣa); seeing it, the man wanted to run out in fear.

The bear said to him:

“Don’t be afraid; this cave is warm, you can spend the night here.”

The rain lasted for seven days. The bear constantly offered the man sweet fruits, excellent water and provided him with fresh supplies. After seven days the rain stopped. The bear guided the man, showed him the path and said to him:

“I have been a sinner and have many enemies. If anybody asks you, don’t tell them that you have seen me.”

The man agreed. But following on his path, this man saw some hunters (lubdhaka). One of the hunters asked him:

“Where do you come from; have you seen any game?”

The man answered: “I saw a big bear but this bear has done me favors; I cannot show him to you.”

The hunter said:

“You are a human and, among humans, we must help one another. Why spare this bear? You have lost your way once; when will you get back home? If you show me the bear, I will give you the biggest share [of the meat].”

The man changed his mind, guided the hunter and showed him where the bear lived. The hunter killed the bear and offered him the biggest portion. But just when the man stretched out his hands to receive the meat (māṃsa), his two arms fell to the earth.

The hunter asked him: “What wrong-doing have you committed?”

The man answered:

“This bear treated me like a father treats his son; it is for not being grateful for his kind deeds that I suffer this punishment.”

Frightened, the hunter did not dare to eat the flesh of the bear and went to offer it to the saṅgha. The abbot (saṃghasthavira), an arhat possessing the six superknowledges (abhijñā) said to the monks:

“This bear was a bodhisattva; in his future existence he will obtain abhisaṃbodhi. Do not eat this meat.”

Then the monks built a stūpa and paid homage to the bear. Hearing about this business, the king proclaimed an edict in his kingdom forbidding ungrateful people from living there any longer.

There are many reasons to praise grateful people. They are esteemed in all Jambudvīpa and people place their trust in them.

Notes on the Ṛkṣapati-jātaka:

Ṛkṣa- or Ṛkṣapatijātaka, making up part of the stock of jātakas situated at Benares in which king Brahmadatta always appears. Like so many other fables, it contrasts the kindness of animals with the ingratitude of humans. The story has been amply illustrated in the Buddhist art and literature of both Vehicles.

Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya, Saṃghabhedavastu, ed. R. Gnoli, II, p. 104–106 (= T 1450, k. 15, p. 177a26–c18): bhūtapūrvaṃ bhikṣavo vārāṇasyāṃ nagaryām anyatamo daridrapuruṣaḥ prativasati; sa kāṣṭhāni vikrīya jivikāṃ … tadāpy eṣa akṛtajñā akṛtavedī; etarhy apy eṣa akṛtajñaḥ akṛtavedī.

Transl.: Once, O monks, a poor man was living in the city of Benares; he earned his living by selling wood. One day, having risen very early, he took his curved axe and went to the forest in search of wood. Unexpectedly a great cloud arose accompanied by showers and wind. The man who, rightly or wrongly, was trying to find another spot and went from one tree to another, but the rain got heavier and he finally took shelter in a cave in the mountain. There was a bear in this cave; seeing it, the man was frightened and wanted to flee. The bear said to him: “My child, why are you afraid? You have nothing to fear from me; stay.” Although hesitant, the man was so worried that he could not leave. Then the bear took him up in its arms, carried him into the cave and fed him with roots and fruits.

The storm lasted seven days without stopping. Seven days passed and on the eighth, the sky cleared and the cloud disappeared. The bear, having looked at the sky in the four directions of the horizon, brought the man abundant roots and fruits and said to him: “My child, the storm has passed, the sky is clear and the clouds have disappeared. Go in peace!” The man fell to his feet and said to the bear: “Father, I am leaving but I must do you a favor in return.” The bear answered: “My child, the only thing you must do for me is not to betray me to anyone.” The man answered: “Father, so be it.” He circumambulated the bear, prostrated at its feet and went away.

The man entered Benares as a certain hunter was going out to hunt. This hunter saw him and said: “Friend, here you are back again after a long time; your son and your wife are upset; they are crying because they think you have certainly been the victim of the seven-day storm or of a wild animal. Animals and birds in great numbers have perished in the storm. How did you escape?” The man told him everything that had happened and the hunter said: “Friend, show me the cave where this bear is.” The man answered: “Friend, never will I go back into the forest, no matter how my life was saved.” But the man was so beguiled by the hunter who promised him two-thirds of the meat that he finally agreed and went with the hunter to show him the way. Gradually they reached the cave where the kind bear was and then, following his cruelty and ingratitude, he declared: “Here is the cave where the bear is.” At once the hunter, whose way of life it is to take the life of others, set fire to the cave. The kind bear, its mind disturbed by the smoke and its eyes clouded by tears, spoke this verse:

“From whom did I take anything while I lived in this cave in the mountain, eating fruits, roots and water, wishing for others’ benefit?

Now at the moment of death, what should I do? But corporeal beings must submit [to the fruits] of actions, whether these fruits are desirable or not.”

Having spoken these words, the bear died.

Then the two friends cut up the animal and shared the meat. The hunter said to the ungrateful man: “Take two-thirds of the meat.” The man stretched out his hands to grab it; they fell to the ground. Then the hunter cried: “O misfortune!” and abandoning even the share that belonged to him, went away.

Having heard about this great wonder, a great crowd gathered there; the king Brahmadatta, curious, went to that place. Somewhere on the mountain there was a monastery. His eyes wide open in amazement, the king took the bear’s skin and went to the monastery to tell the community of monks about the affair. He set the skin at a pool of blue lotuses, sat down among the elders and told them the full story. The abbot of this community was an arhat. He spoke to the king thus:

“This was not a bear, O great king, but it was the bodhisattva Dyutiṃdharma. He should be honored by the three worlds and by you too, O best of men.”

The king acknowledged that it was necessary to pay homage to him. The bhikṣus said: “Lord, this is a bodhisattva of the fortunate age; his worship should be organized.” Then Brahmadatta accompanied by his wives, princes, ministers and inhabitants of the city took all kinds of scented wood to the place of the miracle. Having piled up the flesh and bones of the bear, the king said: “Sirs, build a funeral pyre of all kinds of scented wood and set it on fire with great respect.” A great stūpa was erected at this place; parasols, standards and banners were placed on it; a lamp was set in place and those by whom these works had been accomplished were promised deliverance.

What do you think, O monks? I was that bear at that time and at that era; the ungrateful man was Devadatta at that time and that epoch. Then he was an ungrateful man not acknowledging kindnesses; even now he is an ungrateful man not acknowledging kindnesses.

Mahāvibhāṣā, T q1545, k. 114, p. 592b3–29. Almost the same story but with two hunters in place of one.

Kośabhāṣaya, ed. P. Pradhan, p. 270, l. 11–12: rṣyamṛgajātakādyudāharaṇāt taking as examples of ingratitude the Jātakas of the antelope (rṣya) and the deer (mṛga): but the reading is erroneous: rṣya should be corrected to ṛkṣa ‘bear’ as shown by the Chinese and Tibetan translations of the Kośa: hiong lou teng pen cheng (T 1558, k. 18, p. 96b21) and dom daṅ ri dags sogs paḥi skyes pa (Tib. Trip. Vo. 115, no. 5591, fol. 260a7). The reading ṛkṣa appears elsewhere in the Kośavyākhyā, ed. U. Wogihara, p. 434, l. 23: ṛkṣamṛdajātakādi.

Las brgya tham pa, Tib. Trip., Vol. 39, no. 1007, summarized by L. Feer, Le Karmaśataka, in JA. Taken from nos. Jan.-Feb, Mar.-Apr., May-June, 1901, p. 51–52.

Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, T 201, k. 13, p. 332b11–12: When I was incarnated as a bear, <2340> I took pity on a man in danger. When the man whom I had saved betrayed my den to hunters, I was free of anger (transl. by E. Huber, Aśvaghoṣa Sūtrālaṃkāra, 1908, p. 383).

Lalitavistara, ed. S. Lefmann, p. 168, l. 15–18 (= T 187, k. 5, p. 566c1–2).

Transl. – When, O lord, you were a bear in a den in the mountains, you gathered up a man fearing the snow-storm, you served him fruits and roots with great goodwill. When he soon afterwards brought the hunter to you, that also you endured.

Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā, ed. L. Finot, p. 25, l. 15–16 (= T 310, k. 80, p. 462b23–24):

When I was a princely bear, a man caught in a snow-storm was sheltered by me for seven days in an inaccessible cave. When he brought a murderer to me, I made no resistance to him.

See also J. Ensink, The Question of Rāṣṭrapāla, 1952, p. 26.

Khotanese source in M. J. Dresden, The Jātakastava, 36th story, p. 438 and 451: Under the snow’s covering in winter, the man was like to die; was like to die by hunger also. You, as the bear, just as a father cares for his son, cared for him in your arms, precious as your life. This ungrateful, ignoble, avaricious man for greed spoke of you in the presence of huntsmen. Therefore they destroyed you and parceled out your flesh. For the ingratitude, at once his hands fell upon the ground.

Representations: Ajantā (cf. A. Foucher, Lettre d’Ajantā, J.A., 1921, I, p. 216): Central Asia (cf. E. Waldschmidt, Über die Darstellungen…, p. 53 and 54, fig. 164–167).