Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This is the English translation of the Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (“the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) by Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century A.D.). The book, in the form of an encyclopedia on Buddhism, is a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita (“the perfection of wisdom in five thousand lines”). Volume I describes the conditions...

Chapter IX - The Mahāsattvas

The Sūtra says: Mahāsattva. What is a mahāsattva?[1]

Answer. – 1. Mahā means great, and sattva means being or bravery. The person who is able to accomplish a great work without regressing or turning back in his bravery is called mahāsattva.

2. Moreover, he is called mahāsattva because he is the chief of many beings.

3. Furthermore, he is called mahāsattva because he feels great loving kindness (mahāmaitrī) amd great compassion (mahākaruṇā) for many beings; he establishes them (avasthāpayati) in the Greater Vehicle, he travels the great Path (mahāmārga) and attains a very high place.

4. Furthermore, he is called mahāsattva because he is endowed (samanvāgata) with the marks of the Great Man (mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇa).

The characteristics (lakṣaṇa) of the mahāsattva are described in the Tsan fo kie (Buddhastotragāthā):

Only the Buddha is the unique man, the foremost,
Father and mother of the threefold world, the omniscient one,
Among all beings he has no peer,
Homage to the Bhagavat who is unequaled!

Common people practice loving kindness in their own personal interest.
They seek a reward by making gifts.
[94b] The Buddha, in his great loving kindness, has no such goal.
He is as beneficent towards his enemies as towards his friends.

5. Furthermore, he is called mahāsattva because he must preach the Dharma and destroy the great wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) and the afflictions (kleśa), such as great craving (mahātṛṣṇā), pride (abhimāna), great attachment to the self (ātmasneha), etc., in all others as well as in himself.

6. Finally, like the great ocean (mahāsamudra), beings (sattva) are without beginning and without end (apūrvamadhyacarama). A skillful teacher of arithmetic (gaṇanācārya) who would keep track for numberless years would not reach the end of them. This is what the Buddha said to the bodhisattva Wou tsin yi (Akṣayamati): “If all the universes (lokadhātu) of the ten directions to the ends of space (ākaśa) formed a single body of water, and innumerable and incalculable beings came, each with a hair, and took away one drop of it, there would still remain an incalculable number of beings. If by thus removing a drop on the end of a hair they succeeded in completely emptying this great body of water, the number of beings would still not be exhausted.” This is why the number of beings is limitless (ananta), immense (apramāṇa), incalculable (asaṃkhyeya) and inconceivable (acintya).[2] The [bodhisattva] wishes to save them all, free them all from suffering and establish them all in the happiness of unconditioned safety (asaṃskṛtayogakṣemasukha). He is called mahasattva because he has made this great resolution to save these numerous beings.

Thus, Ngeou chö na yeou p’o yi (Āśā, the upāsikā)[3] said to the bodhisattva Siu ta na (Sudhana) in the Pou k’o sseu yi king (Acintyasūtra):[4]

“The bodhisattva-mahāsattvas do not produce the thought of supreme perfect enlightenment to save just one man alone (na khalv ekasaṃdhāraṇatayā bodhisattvānāṃ mahāsattvānām anuttarāyāṃ samyaksaṃbodhau cittam utpadyate). Nor to save just two, three, etc., up to ten. Nor to save just 100 (po = śata), 1,000 (ts’ien = sahasra), 10,000 (wan = prabheda), 100,000 (che wan = lakṣa), 1,000,000 (po wan = atilakṣa), 10,000,000 (yi = koṭi), 100,000,000 (che yi = madhya), 1,000,000,000 (po yi = ayuta), 10,000,000,000 (ts’ien yi = mahāyuta), 100,000,000,000 (wan yi = nayuta)… [and so on, each term ten times as great as the preceding, up to the 122nd term of the series 1, 10, 100, 1,000… called anabhilāpya-anabhilāpya and equal to 1 followed by 121 zeros].

They do not produce the thought of bodhi just to save a number of beings equal to that of the atoms (paramāṇu) contained in one country, or in two or three up to ten, or one hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, one koṭi, one ayuta, one nayuta up to anabhilāpyānabhilāpya countries.

They do not produce the thought of bodhi just to save a number of beings equal to that of the atoms contained in Jambudvīpa, or in Godānīya, Uttarakuru and Pūrvavbideha.

[95a] They do not produce the thought of bodhi just to save the number of beings equal to that of the atoms contained in one sāhasra-cūḍika-lokadhātu (small chiliocosm), or in one dvisāhasra-madhyama-lokadhātu (dichiliocosm, medium universe), or in one trisāhasra-mahāsāharsra-lokadhmatu (trichiliomegachiliocosm), or in two, three, up to ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, one koṭi, one ayuta, one nayuta and up to anabhilāpyānabhilāpya trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātus.

They do not produce the thought of bodhi in order to serve and honor (pūjopasthānatā) just one Buddha, or a number of Buddhas equal to that of the number of atoms contained in one country, or even a number of Buddhas equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of trisāhasramahmasāhasralokadhātus.

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to purify just one single buddhafield (ekabuddhakṣetrapariśodhana) or even a number of buddhakśetras equal to that of the number of atoms contained in anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātus.

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to assure just one single teaching of the Buddha (ekatathāgataśāsanasaṃdhāraṇa) or even a number of tathāgataśāsana equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to prevent the cessation of one single lineage of Buddhas (ekabuddhavaṃśachedanāvaraṇa), or even that of a number of buddhavaṃśa equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to know in detail just one single vow of Buddha (ekabuddhapraṇidhānavibhaktiparijñā), or even a number of buddhapraṇidhāna equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāynabhilpya of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to adorn one single buddhafield (ekabuddhakṣetravyūhāvataraṇa), or even a number of buddhakṣetra equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to know in detail one single Buddha assembly (ekabuddhaparśanmaṇḍalavibhaktyavataraṇa), or even a number of buddhaparṣanmaṇḍala equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabjilāpya number of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to remember one single preaching of the Buddha (ekatathāgatadharmacakrasaṃdhāraṇa), or even a number of tathāgatadharmacakra s equal to that of the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of tris…

They do not produce the thought of bodhi to cognize (avataraṇa)[5] the thoughts of one single being (ekasattvacitta), or the faculties of one single being (ekasattvendriya), or the succession of the cosmic periods (kalpaparaṃparā) in one single trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu.

They do not produce the thought of bodhi in order to destroy the afflictions of just one single being [95b] (ekasattvakleśasamuccheda), or even the kleśas of a number of beings equal to the atoms contained in an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya number of trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu.

But here are the aspirations (pranidhāna) of the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas. The bodhisattvas produce the thought of bodhi and realize supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi) [for the following ten purposes]:

1) in order to convert the beings of the ten directions (anavaśeṣasarvasattvavinayāya),

2) in order to serve and honor all the Buddhas of the ten directions (anavaśeṣasarvabuddhakṣetrapariśodanāya),

3) in order to purify all the buddha fields of the ten directions (anavaśeṣasarvabuddhakhetrapariśodhanāya),

4) In order to retain firmly all the teachings of the Buddhas of the ten directions (anavaśeṣabuddhaśāsanasaṃdhāraṇāya),

5) in order to know in detail all the buddha fields (sarvabuddhakṣetrabhaktyavataṇāya),

6) in order to know in depth all the buddha assemblies (sarvabuddhaparṣanmaṇḍalāvataraṇāya),

7) in order to know in detail the minds of all beings (sarvacittāvagāhanatāyai),

8) in order to cut through the afflictions of all beings (sarvasattvakleśasamucchedāya),

9) in order to know in depth the faculties of all beings (sarvasattvendritāvataraṇarāyai).

These headings are the main ones (pramukha); they summarize the hundred, thousand, ten thousand, ten millions of asaṃkhyeya rules relating to the Path (mārgadharmaparyāya) which the bodhisattva must know and penetrate. By means of this wisdom (prajñā) and knowledge (jñāna) the bodhisattvas adorn all the buddha fields.”

Āśā [also] said: “O son of noble family (kulaputra), thus would I like to have a universe (lokadhātu) where all beings are completely pure (viśudda) and where all the afflictions (kleśa) are cut through (samucchinna).”

Sudhana asked: “What is deliverance (vimokṣa)?”

Āṣā answered: “It is the banner of freedom-from-grief and of safety (aśokayogakṣemadhvaja). I know this single gate of deliverance (ekavimokṣamukha), but I am unable to understand these bodhisattvas; their great mind is like the ocean for they are in possession of all the buddhadharmas (ete bodhisattvāḥ sāgarasamacittāḥ sarvabuddhadharmasaṃpratīcchanatayā); their mind is unshakeable like Mount Sumeru (merukalpācalacittāḥ); they are like the king of physicians for they are able to cure all [the sicknesses] of the afflictions (bhaiśajarājopamāḥ sarvakleśavyādhipramokṣaṇatyā); they are like the sun for they are able to scatter all the shadows [of ignorance] (ādityakalpāḥ sarvāvidyāndhāravidhamanatayā); they are like the earth for they are able to support all beings (dhāraṇīsamāḥ sarvasattvāśrayapratiṣṭhānabhūtatayā); they are like the wind for they can strengthen all beings (mārutasadṛśāḥ sarvajagadarthakaraṇatayā); they are like fire for they can burn away the afflictions of all the heretics (tejokalpāḥ sarvatīrthikakleśadahanatayā); they are like cloud for they can make the rain of Dharma (meghopamā dharmavarṣapravarṣaṇatayā) fall; they are like the moon for the rays of their merits light up everything (candropamāḥ puṇyaraśmibhiḥ sarvālokakaraṇatayā); they are like Śakradevendra for they protect all beings (śakropamāḥ sarvajagadārakṣāpratipannatayā). The practices of the bodhisattvas (bodhisattvacaryā) are very profound (gambhīra); how could I be know them all?”

* * *

The bodhisattvas are called mahāsattva because they make the great vow (mahāpraṇidhāna), because they want to do the great work and because they want to arrive at the great place.

Finally, in the Mahāprajñāpāramitasūtra, [in the chapter entitled] Mo ho sa to siang (Mahāsattvalakṣāṇa),[6] the Buddha himself said that such and such characteristics are the characteristics of the mahāsattvas; and the great disciples such as Chö li fou (Śāriputra), Siu p’ou t’i (Subhūti), Fou leou na (Pūrṇa), etc., each have spoken about this chapter, therefore it was necessary to give it fully here.

Footnotes and references:

1.

‘Mahāsattva’ refers to the altruistic virtues of the Bodhisattva, whereas the word ‘bodhisattva’ indicates rather his personal qualities. At least this is the most current interpretation; cf. Āloka, p. 22: bodhau sarvadharmāsaktatāyāṃ svārthasampadi sattvam abhiprāyo yeṣāṃ te bodhisattvāḥ. śrāvakā api syur evam ity āha: mahāsattvā iti. mahatyāṃ parārthasampadi sattvaṃ yeṣāṃ te mahāsattvāḥ. mahāsattvaṃ cānyathā ’pi tīrthikasādhujanavat syād iti bodhisattvagrahaṇam. – The epithet ‘mahāsattva’ is rendered in Tibetan as sems dpaḥ chen po “Great hero of mind”, and in Chinese as Ta che “Great hero”, Ta tschong cheng or Ta yeou ts’ing “Great being”. Other definitions in Hôbôgirin, Mahasatsu, p. 141–142.

2.

That the number of beings is infinite (sattakāyo ananto) is an old teaching. In his note on Le Buddha éternel, Siddhi, p. 807–808, de La Vallée Poussin has brought together a few references:

Kośa, III, p. 10: Even if no new being were to appear, even if innumerable Buddhas were to make innumerable beings attain nirvāṇa, the beings of the innumerable universes would never be exhausted.

Mahāvastu, I, p. xxxiii: But, Kāśyapa objects, if so many Buddhas exist and a single one leads an infinite number of creatures to nirvāṇa, soon they would lead all beings there. Kātyāyana answers by means of the immense number of pṛthagjanas which exist following the statement of the Buddha.

Cheou tchang louen, T 1657, p. 505b: Each of the Bhagavats who appear in the world lead an incalculable number of beings to nirvāṇa. Nevertheless, beings are not exhausted because they are infinite, like space. This is the teaching of the bodhisattva Vasubandhu.

3.

The name of this upāsika, Āśā ‘Hope’ in the original Sanskrit, is transliterated in a bizarre fashion in all the Chinese translations. There is Ngeou chö na (85 and 11; 135 and 2; 163 and 4) in the Mppś, k. 4, p. 94b14. – Hieou chö (9 and 4; 64 and 8) in T 278, k. 47, p.697c7, and in T 279, k. 63, p. 342c21–22. – Yi chö na (9 and 4; 135 and 2; 163 and 4) in T 293, k. 7, p. 693b21.

Sudhana was addressed by Sāgarasvaja in the following words:

a. Gaṇḍavyūha, p. 99: gaccha kulaputrehaiva … bodhisattvacaryāyāṃ śikṣitavyam. – Go, then, O son of noble family! Here in the Dakhan there is a region called Samudravetādī where there is a park called Samanatavyūha, east of the city of Mahāprabha; there dwells the Buddhist laywoman, Āśā, the wife of prince Suprabha. Go and find her and ask her how the bodhisattva should exert himself in the practice of the bodhisattva.

Instead of Samudravetāḍi, Mitra, Nep. Buddh. Lit., p. 91, reads Samudravelatī ‘Shore of the Ocean’.

b. T 278, k. 47, p. 697c: Here in the Dekhan, there is a region called Hai tch’ao (85 and 7; 85 and 12: ‘Flow of the Ocean’), where there is a park (udyāna) called P’ou tchouang yen (Samantavyūha); it is there that the upāsikā called Hieou chö (9 and 8; Āśā ?) lives. Go and find her and ask her, etc.

d. T 293, k. 7, p. 693b: Go south from here. You will come to the region of Hai tch’ao (85 and 7; 85 and 12; Flow of the Ocean). It has a large city called Yuan man kouang (41 and 10; 85 and 11; 10 and 4): Mahāprabha). That city has a king called Miao yuan kouang (38 and 4; 31 and 10; 10 and 4: Supraprabha). East of this city there is a park called P’ou tchouang yen (Samantavyūha). The king has a wife called Yi chö na (9 and 4; 135 and 2; 163 and 4: (Āśā ?): she is an upāsikā, she lives in this forest and is engaged in the practices of a bodhisattva. Go there and find her and ask her, etc.

4.

Acintyasūtra, i.e., the Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra, a section of the Avataṃsaka. The passage quoted here occurs: i) in the Sanskrit text of the Gaṇḍavyūha, ed D. T. Suzuki-H. Idzumi, Kyoto, 1934–1936, p. 195–110; ii) in the version by Buddhabhadra, T 278, k. 47, p. 698c25 sq.; iii) in the version by Śiṣānanda, T 279, k. 64, p. 344b3 sq.; iv) in the version of Prajñā, T 293,, k. 8, p. 695c sq. The quotation of the Mppś does not reproduce any of these four versions exactly. The long list of numbers has been abridged in the three Chinese versions; that of the Sanskrit text does not correspond exactly with the list found here. The Mppś thus uses a special version of the Gaṇḍavyūha which has not come down to us.

5.

Monier-Williams: avataraṇa = descending, translation.

6.

This chapter dedicated to ‘Characteristics of the Mahāsattva’ is part of the Pañcavimśati. It is called Sarvasattvāgratācittaparivarta in the Sanskrit text (ed. N. Dutt, p. 169–172); – Mo ho sa p’in (Mahāsattvaparivarta) in Mokṣala’s version, T 221, chap. XV, k. 3, p. 19c–20a; – Mo ho sa p’in (Mahāsattvaparivarta) in Dharmarakṣa’s version, T 222, chap. XI, k. 5, p. 178–181; – Kin kang p’in (Vajraparivarta) in Kumārajīva’s version, T 223, chap. XIII, k. 4, p. 243b–244a.