Manjusri and the Cult of the Celestial Bodhisattvas[1]

Paul M. Harrison
Associate Professor, University of Canterbury

Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal
No. 13.2 (May 2000)

Copyright 2000 The Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies






  While it is clear that the bodhisattva ideal lies at the very heart of Mahaayaana Buddhist doctrine and practice, in many respects its historical development remains obscure. In an attempt to shed some light on this, the following paper examines the notion of the celestial bodhisattva.Although this notion enjoys a wide currency in contemporary Buddhist scholarship, it is appropriate to ask whether it is at all useful, or indeed meaningful, and whether it corresponds to any indigenous Buddhist category. Focusing on the first Mahaayaana suutras translated into Chinese by the Indo-Scythian Lokak.sema in the late 2nd century C.E., the paper explores the details of their portrayal of Ma~nju`srii, who may be regarded as a paradigmatic case of a so-called celestial bodhisattva. It turns out that in these texts Ma~nju`srii plays a very important part, while Avalokite`svara is a comparative non-entity. Using Ma~nju`srii as a test case, the paper concludes that the concept of the celestial bodhisattvais not a useful one, and has no clear indigenous




referent. It also offers some general hypotheses about the early history of the bodhisattva ideal, and about the cult of the great bodhisattvas, which appears on the basis of the evidence reviewed here to have been a later and secondary development.




Key words:      1. Ma~nju`srii  2. Celestial Bodhisattva  3. Mahaayaana  4. Lokak.sema






  Even Buddhist Studies, once characterized by Richard Gombrich as an intellectual backwater,[2] occasionally has its surface ruffled by the winds of academic fashion. Indeed, looking at recent issues of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies──in particular Vol. 18, No. 2, 1995──or Donald Lopezs Curators of the Buddha (1995), we can see that the storm of post-modernism has well and truly broken over it, lashing the established notions and the master narratives of the past with its rhetorical blasts and exposing their structural inadequacies to the elements. Of course this drama of deconstruction──to switch metaphors midstream──has been staged whenever a new generation of scholars has succeeded the generation who trained it, with the usual predictable Oedipal turns of plot, but nowadays the cast tends to be tricked out in much fancier theoretical costume, and the chorus is French rather than Greek. Thus Buddhist scholars, like their counterparts in other fields, have been called upon to rethink their perverse attachment to textual sources, their mistaken belief in objectivity, their compromised status as outsiders (or as insiders, when occasion arises), their suspect political motivations, and sundry other factors that supposedly render their enterprise less than straightforward. Even those unrepentant traditionalists like myself who go on doing what they have always done, do so with more than sideways glance at this feast of self-reflexivity, and they too are caught up in the constant revision of the field and its categories. After all, it does sometimes happen that the winds of change──to revert to the original metaphor──bring improvement, especially when they blow in less theoretical and more substantive directions.

  One aspect of Buddhist Studies of which this is demonstrably true is the history──especially the early history──of Mahaayaana Buddhism. The well-entrenched theories of the great masters like




Akira Hirakawa and Utienne Lamotte are now being subjected to a searching and extensive critique by contemporary Buddhist scholars, and although one can hardly speak of a new consensus taking shape, it is at least clear that certain features of the old picture are unlikely to form part of the new one. Among these features we might cite the ideas that Mahaayaana Buddhism was lay-centred, that it was predominantly devotional in orientation, that it sprang from a revolt against monastic privilege and self-absorption, that it was organizationally distinct from the Mainstream Nikaayas, that it was one single movement, and that right from the start in India it carried all before it. Recent studies by Schopen, Gombrich, Ray, Silk, Sasaki, Williams, myself and others have started to build up a picture which is more nuanced and pluralistic, more historically cautious, and more inclined to emphasize the monastic or──better still──renunciant side of things.[3] The origins of Mahaayaana Buddhism are thus no longer what they used to be.

  Part of this process involves rethinking the bodhisattva paradigm. Whatever else Mahaayaana Buddhism is──or, to be more careful, whatever the various different movements which coalesced into the phenomenon which we now call Mahaayaana Buddhism were──most would still agree that its defining characteristic is the promotion of the ideal of the bodhisattva, i.e., the belief that full Buddhahood or supreme and perfect awakening is the proper goal of human endeavour. The bodhisattva ideal is such a central feature of Mahaayaana Buddhism that it is now taken for granted. However, it too may merit critical re-examination, to see whether we are still entertaining ideas about it which have passed their use-by date.

  The bodhisattva ideal is a big topic, so I propose in this paper to confine myself to one aspect of the conventional wisdom, the notion




of the celestial bodhisattva.The extent to which this idea has become part of the Buddhist Studies canon can be gauged from the article on Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvasin the Encyclopaedia of Religion edited by Mircea Eliade. In this lengthy and informative piece David Snellgrove uses the term celestial bodhisattva,and others like divinity,” “celestial being,” “godand goddess,without ever once problematizing them. It is to be noted that he also emphasises the bodhisattvas function as saviour figure, offering compassionate assistance to others.[4]  In approaching the bodhi-sattva like this──as a heavenly saviour──Snellgrove is of course simply continuing a long tradition in Western scholarship, which, whenever it began, certainly received its first authoritative articulation in the work of Har Dayal (1932), whose ideas have since been echoed by such writers as Ling (1976), Basham (1981), Robinson and Johnson (1982) and others.[5]

  To a certain extent the two terms──“heavenlyand saviour” ──go together, and imply each other. That is to say, to characterise bodhisattvas as celestial or godlike is to emphasise their otherness and stress their saviourlike role as objects of cult and sources of assistance from on high. It cannot be denied that the cult of bodhisattvas was eventually an important part of Mahaayaana Buddhism, wherever it was practised, and that the use of the




language of divinity has a certain functional aptness, but the fact remains that such language also obscures other aspects of the bodhisattva ideal and, when not handled carefully, leads to a considerable misreading of the religion. What is more, it is ahistorical, and arguably imposes the later situation on the earlier: what the bodhisattva ideal became is taken to be its original impulse. I have already pointed out (Harrison 1987) what I consider to be a more accurate reading of the bodhisattva ideal, at least in the beginning.[6] Building on that earlier contribution, I would like in this paper to take another look at the figure of Ma~nju`srii──who, along with Avalokite`svara, is a celestial bodhisattva if ever there was one──using only the evidence of the earliest Chinese translations of Mahaayaana suutras made by Lokak.sema.[7] This evidence will form the basis for certain general hypotheses about early historical developments in this area.

  As is usually the case, others have traversed this ground before. Ma~nju`srii has already been the subject of an extended article by Utienne Lamotte in the journal Toung Pao (1960). Lamotte contrasts the rather late attestation of this figure in Buddhist iconography[8] with his early appearance in a host of Mahaayaana




suutras translated into Chinese──not the only time that a mismatch between the archaeological and literary records has been noted──and then proceeds to furnish us with a plethora of scriptural references and historical accounts──not all of them consistent──relating to Ma~nju`srii and his cult, mostly culled from Chinese sources.[9] This wealth of detail is effectively summarized in Birnbaum 1986. A more tightly focussed study is provided by Akira Hirakawa in an article in the Madras Journal of Asian Studies (1983). At the end of a useful (but not exhaustive) review of the lore relating to Ma~nju`srii in the early Chinese translations, Hirakawa concludes that these texts indicate the importance of this bodhisattva in the rise of Mahaayaana Buddhism, and hypothesizes that descriptions of him may be based on meditative experiences. Now, one might well think that Lamotte and Hirakawa ought between them to have said the last word on the subject. However, it may still prove worthwhile to take another look at Lokak.semas early Chinese translations, and ask ourselves what part Ma~nju`srii plays in them.

  Ma~nju`srii appears in 6 of the 9 translations which we can regard as genuine surviving products of Lokak.sema and his school. These are (in the order in which they will be dealt with in this paper)[10] the A.s.tasaahasrikaa-praj~naa-paaramitaa-suutra (AsPP; T.224), the Wenshushili wen pusa shu jing《文殊師利問菩薩署經》(WWP; T.458), the Druma-kinnara-raaja-parip.rcchaa-suutra (DKP; T.624), the




Lokaanuvartanaa-suutra (LAn; T.807), the Dousha jing《兜沙經》(DSJ; T.280), and the Ajaata`satru-kauk.rtya-vinodanaa-suutra (AjKV; T.626). Ma~nju`srii does not figure in Lokak.semas translations of the Pratyutpanna - buddha - sa.mmukhaavasthita - samaadhi - suutra (PraS; T.418), the Ak.sobhya-tathaagatasya-vyuuha (AkTV; T.313), or the Kaasyapa-parivarta (KP; T.350). However, he does appear in one of the two other texts which we have good reason to suppose were translated by Lokak.sema, even though his versions of them have not survived. These two are the `Suura.mgama-samaadhi-suutra (`Sgs)[11] and the text known from the single Chinese translation entitled Chengju guangming dingyi jing《成具光明定意經》(CGD; T.630), attributed to Zhi Yao 支曜, a contemporary of Lokak.sema. Ma~nju`srii features in the former but not the latter. This means, then, that 7 out of the 11 texts translated or known to have been translated by Lokak.sema make mention of Ma~nju`srii

  Ma~nju`sriis appearances in these texts range from walk-on parts in some to starring roles in others. To the former category belongs Lokak.semas translation of the A.s.tasaahasrikaa-praj~naa-paaramitaa-suutra (AsPP), the Daoxing banruo jing《道行般若經》(T.224), the sole version of this work to mention Ma~nju`srii as present during the delivery of the discourse (425c6).[12] Here Ma~nju`srii is, as it were, plugged into the frame story(Rahmengeschichte) of the text, in a way which is not matched in any other version of the AsPP, including the Sanskrit text as we now have it. The AsPP is in fact one of those Mahaayaana suutras which propounds Mahaayaana teachings in a carefully crafted Mainstream setting, putting the new




dispensation in the mouths of the great representatives of the old. Whether this scriptural camouflage reflects an earlier textual stratum is a moot point (see below). In any case, the insertion of Ma~nju`srii’s name into the nidaana of this archaic version has all the appearance of an interpolation made when the text passed through the hands of those who regarded him as an important figure.[13]

  Despite the promising title of the Wenshushili wen pusa shu jing (WWP), or the Suutra of Ma~nju`sriis Questions Concerning the Bodhi-sattva Career, Ma~nju`srii is referred to only twice, and plays no active part.  Lokak.semas translation (T.458) is the only version in existence, and is bedevilled by obscurities, but it is clear enough that it introduces our bodhisattva as a paradigmatic practitioner of the Mahaayaana.  Right at the start of the text `Saariputra asks for permission to question the Buddha, to which `Saakyamuni replies: Well done, `Saariputra, well done! You should ask your question. If you have only heard the name of the dharma of the causes and conditions of the Tathagata-career from Ma~nju`srii and have not yet fully obtained the thing itself, I shall now expound it to you. Listen carefully, listen carefully(435b5-7). The text here is not entirely unambiguous, but seems to allude to a previous incident in which `Saariputra is supposed to have heard the title of the following suutra──here dasaajie-shu yinyuan fa ming (怛薩阿竭署因緣法名) ──from Ma~nju`srii without having heard the text itself. In any case Ma~nju`srii is clearly a possible source of such a teaching. Much later in the text the Raa.s.trapaala asks the Buddha whether there is anybody in the assembly who is actually practising the Tathagata-career which is being expounded, and is told that the bodhisattva Ma~nju`srii is doing so (437b10-12), after which the exposition is taken up again. Thus, although he is only mentioned briefly twice, Ma~nju`srii is implicitly in the assembly, to be held up as an




exemplary practitioner of the Tathagata-career (i.e., the bodhisattva-caryaa), and as a font of teachings on it.

  In the Druma-kinnara-raaja-parip.rcchaa-suutra (DKP) the Buddha is on the G.rdhrakuu.ta with a large assembly of bhik.sus and 72,000[14] bodhisattvas assembled from other worlds. Lokak.semas version (T.624) lists 49 by name, the last being Ma~nju`srii (349b7).[15] But he plays no further part in the suutra, although later in the text, during an exchange between the kinnara king Druma and King Ajaata`satru on the subject of the merit generated by bodhisattvas, Druma says You, sir, have obtained two The first is the Buddha. The second is Ma~nju`srii. Through their grace the doubt arising from the unrighteous acts you committed was completely dispelled(364b12-14).[16] This is a clear allusion to the contents of another scripture, the AjKV (on which see below), and is a rare example of explicit intertextuality in a Mahaayaana suutra (cf. Harrison 1992: xvi).

  Ma~nju`srii makes a somewhat more significant appearance in the Lokaanuvartanaa-suutra (LAn), in which he plays the part of the Buddhas interlocutor. The only named member of the assembly of bhik.sus and bodhisattvas, it is he who asks the Buddha to explain the supramundane or transcendental (lokottara) nature of the Awakened Ones. In Lokak.semas version (T.807) he is referred to at the beginning and at the end (751b and 753c) simply as the bodhisattva Ma~nju`srii (Wenshushili pusa 文殊師利菩薩), in the Tibetan translation in v. 2 as mkhas pa Jam dbyangs, i.e., the Wise, in v. 4 as thugs skyes sras gces dzin mchog, i.e., (the




Buddhas) beloved (spiritual) son (Skt. aurasa), and in v. 113 again as Jam pai dbyangs or, the leader of the Buddhas sons (sras po). The rest of this short verse suutra (only 113 stanzas in the Tibetan translation) consists in the Buddhas reply, so here too, as in the AsPP, Ma~nju`srii plays his part only in the frame story. What is intriguing, however, is that the parallel verses in the Mahaavastu are spoken not by the Buddha but form part of an extended eulogy delivered by the Venerable (aayu.smant) Vaagiisa (see Jones 1949: 129, n. 5). The same figure, this time spelled Vaa.ngii`sa, re-appears later (ibid., 222-224) to recall a past life in which he was the disciple of the future `Saakyamuni. Now, although it is perfectly possible that this is the same person as the Thera Va.ngiisa, reputed author of numerous verses of praise and renowned for his gift for inspired eloquence or pratibhaana (see Malalasekera 1937, s.v.), what is curious is that Vaagii`svara (Lord of Speech) is also one of the names of Ma~nju`srii. Can this be a mere coincidence?

  In the `Sgs Ma~nju`srii is one of the great bodhisattvas listed at the beginning of the text (Lamotte 1965: 119),[17] although the role of chief interlocutor is played by D.r.dhamati. Later he is given as an example of a bodhisattva who received the prediction to full awakening after having conceived the aspiration to it (ibid., 214), comes to the fore as a seasoned traveller through other worlds (224-226), defines for D.r.dhamati the expressions pu.nya-k.setra (231-235) and bahu-`sruta (236-238), and recalls his own previous fictitious attainment of many times over as a pratyekabuddha (241-245), his feats in this regard being explained by his mastery of the `suura.mgama-samaadhi. In the same way his former appearance as the Buddha Naagava.m`saagra is recalled (260-264). Such manifestations, Ma~nju`srii points out, are an easy matter for those who understand the true nature of reality as he does. He is thus to the fore as an




exemplary practitioner of salvific magic and teacher of the bodhisattva path.

  In the Doushajing (DSJ; T.280), a short text later incorporated in the massive Avata.msaka-suutra, Ma~nju`srii plays the leading role in a grand cosmic epiphany staged by the Buddha for a huge host of bodhisattvas visiting him directly after his awakening. As the Buddha illuminates distant buddha-k.setras with his light, their bodhisattvas come flocking to him with their retinues. The first to arrive is Ma~nju`srii,[18] from the world lying to the east named *, which belongs to the Buddha *Acalaj~naana (445b16-19).[19] When all the bodhisattvas are assembled it is Ma~nju`srii who actually gives the sermon which is the centre-piece of the text, expounding the inconceivable variety of appearances and names assumed by the Buddhas in general and by `Saakyamuni in particular in response to the different capacities of the sentient beings to be saved (445c26-446a16). Here in the DSJ Ma~nju`srii is located in a specific Buddha-field, lying far to the east of Sahaa. In fact, the traditions assembled by Lamotte are by no means consistent in this regard, although the east comes up most frequently (see Lamotte 1960: 18-31). But in any case the DSJ is somewhat more specific than the DKP, which has Ma~nju`srii among the many bodhisattvas assembled from other buddha-k.setras in the ten directions, but gives no details. On the other hand the AsPP, the WWP, the `Sgs




and the LAn do not make it clear at all that Ma~nju`srii is a visitor from another world.

  Finally, the most striking text in our small group of suutras is undoubtedly the Ajaata`satru - kauk.rtya - vinodanaa - suutra (AjKV). Ma~nju`sriis importance and superior understanding of the Dharma is established right at the beginning of this text, when, in a separate location on the G.rdhrakuu.ta from where the Buddha is holding court, he outdoes his 29 companions in a kind of competitive discussion of omniscient cognition and its preconditions. His powers as a teacher are further illustrated by his conjuring up of a phantom Buddha to reveal the nature of phenomena to his audience. Joining the Buddha and his disciples, he continues to teach, with the Buddhas approval. Then comes a long narrative sequence which is little more than a panegyric to Ma~nju`srii, and has in fact has survived as a separate suutra.[20] Having accused the Buddha of ingratitude if he does not share his almsfood with him──at first blush a shocking breach of etiquette──Ma~nju`srii then outdoes the great `sraavakas in a display of magical power, after which he has his primacy vis-a-vis not only them but also the Buddha himself established by `Saakyamuni on the basis of an avadaana in which a called j~naanaraaja inducts a boy by the name of Vimalabaahu into the Mahaayaana. The concluding passage is worth quoting in full here (for convenience the Tibetan version is cited, although the Chinese is quite similar):

`Saariputra, if you should be doubtful, puzzled or uncertain as to the identity of the monk and preacher of Dharma called j~naanaraaja on that occasion and at that time, then, `Saariputra, you should not be that way. Why is that?  Because on that occasion and at that time Ma~nju`srii here was the monk and preacher of Dharma called j~naanaraaja. `Saariputra, if you should be doubtful, puzzled or uncertain




as to the identity of the merchants son called Vimalabaahu on that occasion and at that time, then, `Saariputra, you should not be that way. Why is that? Because on that occasion and at that time I was the merchants son called Vimalabaahu. `Saariputra, Prince Ma~nju`srii caused me to conceive the aspiration for awakening after giving me the almsfood, which was my first aspiration to awakening, and that is the way, `Saariputra, in which this is to be known. One should see that the greatness of a Buddha, the ten powers, the (four types of) assurance, the unhindered cognition and anything else belonging to the Realized One have all come from the instigation of Prince Ma~nju`srii. Why is that? Because omniscience has been attained on the basis of that moment of aspiration. `Saariputra, I see in the ten directions innumerable and incalculable Realized Ones who have been established in awakening by Prince Ma~nju`srii and who are called `Saakyamuni, just like me, as well as those who are called Tisya, Pusya, `Sikhin and Diiamkara, and I could go on reciting for an aeon or more than an aeon the names of all those Realized Ones who, after being established in awakening by Prince Ma~nju`srii, are now turning the Wheel of the Dharma, and still not come to the end of them──to say nothing of those who are pursuing the course of a bodhisattva, residing in the Tu.sita Realm, taking rebirth, going forth from the household life, practising austerities, or sitting on the Terrace of Awakening!  That is the way, `Saariputra, in which this is to be known, that it is about Prince Ma~nju`srii himself that they speak and teach who rightly say and teach that he is the mother of the bodhisattvas, their father, the one who shows compassion to them, and their instigator. And that, `Saariputra, is the reason and the cause, why, on account of a former favour, Prince Ma~nju`srii charged me with ingratitude.

The insistence that Ma~nju`srii takes ritual precedence here in the matter of the almsfood is of course symbolic of the fact that the spiritual achievements of the Buddha, on which the attainments of




the `sraavaka or arhat depend, are themselves premised on the existence of the bodhisattva.[21] Throughout the rest of the AjKV as well, Ma~nju`srii plays a leading role as a preacher of the message, being appointed by the Buddha as the only person able to relieve the spiritual anguish of King Ajaata`satru, as a result, indeed, of a karmic connection through countless lifetimes (see 404a-b). In helping Ajaata`satru come to terms with the evil he has wrought, Ma~nju`srii has ample opportunity to deliver many teachings on Mahaayaana themes. But as well as that, he uses his magical powers to summon bodhisattvas from another buddha-k.setra to whom he then gives lengthy discourses on dhaara.niis, on the bodhisattva-pi.taka, and on the avaivartika-cakra (the wheel that does not turn back). He also performs great miracles of transformation when proceeding triumphally to Ajaata`satrus palace. Thus not only is he an important character in the AjKV, he is at stage centre throughout most of the suutra, his status as a virtual Buddha being established explicitly (see 405a). Thus the AjKV is really Ma~nju`sriis suutra, a fact which is reflected by the title of version of it (T.627).

  We can see from this brief review that Ma~nju`srii looms very large in the Lokak.sema corpus, slightly more in fact than Lamotte suggests, since he omits the DSJ from his discussion, and deals with the AsPP and the `Sgs at other points in his paper. But Lamottes observation that Ma~nju`sriis name is to be found frequently in the earliest Mahaayaana texts available to us, despite his comparatively late appearance in artistic remains, is amply confirmed by our review, as indeed it was by Hirakawas earlier study.[22]  Of course there are problems with using a number of texts




to build up a single composite picture of Ma~nju`sriis personality, since these texts may have been composed at different times and in different places, and may therefore reflect a variety of traditions rather than just one. But this methodological caveat hardly affects our conclusion: that the texts translated by Lokak.sema reflect the emergence of Ma~nju`srii as an important archetypal bodhisattva figure by the middle of the second century C.E., be it in one milieu or in many.

  The same cannot be said──at least on the basis of these materials──for Avalokite`svara. The translation of the Sukhaavatii-vyuuhaa attributed to Lokak.sema (T.361) and cited by some as the first historical evidence for the cult of Avalokite`svara[23] is not a genuine work of his. However, it may well be that the version commonly attributed to Zhi Qian (支謙), T.362, could have been done by Lokak.sema, even though certain sections of it are unlikely to have come from his hand.[24] This leaves us with a single clear citation: the name Guanyin (觀音) appears in the list of bodhisattvas




at the beginning of Zhi Yaos (支曜) translation of the Chengju guangming dingyi jing (CGD), made in 185 C.E.[25] However, Avalokite`svara plays no further part in that text. And while his name is listed at the beginning of Kumaarajiivas version (T.625) of the DKP, as bodhisattva No. 37 (368a15), and in the Tibetan version (as No. 11, see Harrison 1992: 10), it is not given, as far as I can see, in Lokak.semas earlier translation.[26] Furthermore, its appearance at different points in the list in the two later versions is decidedly suspicious. Avalokite`svara does not appear in any of the other texts we have reviewed, not even in the PraS, where we might have expected him to be mentioned, since this text provides explicit evidence of the cult of Amitaabha. On this basis we could say that Avalokite`svara was virtually unknown to the people who produced the Mahaayaana suutras translated by Lokak.sema, or was not regarded as important by them. One can only speculate as to the reasons for this. It is possible, for instance, that stories about Avalokite`svara arose in a different geographical area from that in which the texts under review were put together.

  Let us return now to Ma~nju`srii. Having established his importance, what can we say of his status as a celestial bodhisattva?  Is the concept of the celestial bodhisattva actually attested in our sources, or is it an analytical category devised by Western scholarship?  To answer this question we must first of all ask if there is any indigenous Sanskrit term corresponding to this expression. According to some scholars such a term does indeed exist. It is the word mahaasattva, usually translated as great




being(see, e.g., Robinson and Johnson 1982: 78; Nakamura 1986: 267; Harvey 1990: 124). However, this is a mistake. It is abundantly clear in many passages in our texts that mahaasattva is simply an alternative designation or stock epithet for bodhisattva, as Edgerton maintained (see BHSD, s.v.), and thus while it is certainly applied to highly advanced beings like Ma~nju`srii, it is also applied to ordinary people pursuing the bodhisattva path who may be a very long way indeed from reaching their goal, or even from reaching the much vaunted stage of non-regression. In this respect the evidence of later versions of the texts with their fuller wording is unequivocal,[27] but we must look for proof in Lokak.semas translations themselves. Here we find that there is often no Chinese equivalent where the Sanskrit has mahaasattva or the Tibetan reads sems dpachen po, a probable sign that the semantic weight of the term was light enough for Lokak.sema, working in his usual elliptical style, to omit it. In other places, however, we find the expression bodhisattva and mahaasattva(Chin. pusa mohesa 菩薩摩訶薩) used quite frequently, in contexts which make it clear that being a mahaasattva is of no great moment. One may cite, for instance, PraS §3C (905a23-24), which mentions bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas who do not possess the abhij~naas. The AkTV, which uses the term with unusual frequency, awards the title even to someone who has only just conceived the aspiration to awakening (752a29-b6), alludes to Vinaya regulations in describing lay bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas of Abhirati who may not hear the Dharma directly from the Buddha, unlike their renunciant counterparts (758c2-9), and urges bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas in this world who are renunciants (pravrajita) to proclaim the teaching to householder practitioners or to secure copies of it from them at




all costs (763c24-764a10). In the AsPP the term is occasionally used interchangeably with kula-putra and kula-duhit.r. (e.g., 444b25-c8),[28] and even applied to people whose teaching, copying or reception of the Perfection of Insight is deficient in various respects, due to the influence of Maara (446c22-447a5).[29] Further examples could no doubt be hunted down, but the point is sufficiently established. As for the meaning of the term mahaasattva itself, it is hard to improve on the extensive discussion by Kajiyama (1982), who inter alia draws attention to its interpretation as a bahuvriihi (in line with a similar construe of the term bodhisattva): the mahaasattva, then, is not necessarily a great beingat all.

  Having seen this candidate for the position thus disposed of, one might contend with greater force that the 10th-stage bodhisattva or the bodhisattva who has one more rebirth to go (eka-jaati-pratibaddha) may legitimately be regarded as celestial,especially if they remain in a heavenly realm like Tu.sita and merely send emanations to do their work below, as those on the verge of Buddhahood are commonly held to do. Indeed, the AkTV makes explicit mention of the link between the attainment of eka-jaati-pratibaddha status (yi sheng bu chu 一生補處) and rebirth in Tu.sita (754c14ff.; cf. also 763c). In a similar vein the DKP reinterprets the practice of devataanusm.rti in a Mahaayaanist way in Section 4I (353c9-10): Their minds think always of heaven, and then enter




[the state of] one rebirth remaining (yi sheng bu chu). This is then a jewel.The implication seems to be that focussing on the deities helps one to become a bodhisattva among them.[30] In the AsPP where the Sanskrit text refers to eka-jaati-pratibaddha (Vaidyas ed., p. 215), Lokak.sema (465c21) has the term aweiyan (阿惟顏), which corresponds to the Sanskrit abhi.seka.[31] In the AjKV eka-jaati-pratibaddha appears several times with specific reference to Maitreya at 393a18-21, and is once again translated yi sheng bu chu. In the `Sgs too the connection between eka-jaati-pratibaddha, the tenth stage and abhi.seka is established, with Maitreya again presented as the paradigm case (Lamotte 1965: 258). The link between abhi.seka and the tenth bhuumi is also mentioned elsewhere in the text (166, 265); but it is not entirely clear, as Lamotte claims (280), that the tenth bhuumi is called tathagata-bhuumi (see p. 137). Although the evidential value of the `Sgs is reduced for us by the lapse of time between Lokak.semas lost translation of 186 C.E. and Kumaarajiivas extant version made sometime in the first decade of the 5th century, we know from the AsPP passage cited above that Lokak.sema was familiar with the concept of abhi.seka. The term eka-jaati-pratibaddha is also attested in the DSJ, where it is applied to the audience of bodhisattvas foregathering from other Buddha-fields at the beginning of the text (zhu pusa si (or ci) yi sheng bu chu 諸菩薩賜一生補處, 445a14), and the ten stages are mentioned too




(pusa shi daodi 菩薩十道地 at 445a28, cf. also 445b1).[32]  On the basis of these references we can say that this set of concepts had been developed by the middle of the 2nd century, although the precise extent to which the da`sa-bhuumi scheme had evolved by this time is not clear.[33]  However, these concepts seem rather more precise and limited in scope than the term celestial bodhisattva,and what is more, none of them is explicitly applied to Ma~nju`srii.[34] But even were they so applied, I think it is fair to say that the notion of the celestial bodhisattva as a distinct type is not strongly supported by the use of these terms, in our texts at least. That Buddhists believed in the existence of great bodhisattvas is another matter, and so is their obvious belief in a continuum or differential scale of spiritual attainments. But such beliefs reflect purely quantitative distinctions, of degree rather than kind, and not a qualitative distinction between two discrete categories of bodhisattva, the mundane and the celestial, between which a clear line can be drawn.

  This is, of course, to approach the problem on the level of terminology. There are other ways of coming at it. We have established Ma~nju`sriis presence in these early texts, but can we




speak of a cult of Ma~nju`srii in them? After all, the celestial bodhisattvas are commonly held to have been developed as objects of cult. But there is no evidence for it here. Should one ask what evidence of cult would look like, the answer would surely be that it would consist in explicit injunctions to worship Ma~nju`srii or his image, to bring him to mind or engage in visualization practice directed towards him, or to call on his name for help and assistance, as, for example, in the Sad-dharma-pu.n.dariika (SP), one is instructed to call on the name of Avalokite`svara.[35] In fact Lamotte deals with a number of texts in which this kind of practice with respect to Ma~nju`srii is recommended, one of the earliest of which appears to have been the so-called Ma~nju`srii (T.463, Wenshushili banniepan jing《文殊師利般涅槃經》), first translated into Chinese by Nie Daozhen towards the end of the 3rd century (Lamotte 1960: 32-39; see esp. p.38). However, there are no instructions of the type sketched above in the Lokak.sema corpus. There is, on the other hand, plenty of such evidence for the cult of the Buddha and of various Buddhas of the present (especially in the PraS and the AkTV, but also in the AsPP ), for the cult of the stupa and, most notably, the cult of the book as investigated by Schopen, and there are scattered but intriguing allusions to other aspects of Mahaayaana Buddhist cult practice, but nowhere is the cult of bodhisattvas recommended. Nor is there any mention of these figures being available to the inhabitants of this world or ready to provide them with protection, with the exception of the bodhisattva Maitreya, who as the future Buddha of this world clearly falls into a special category (see esp. AsPP,[36] AjKV,[37] DKP[38]).




Indeed, since he is held to be resident in the Tu.sita heaven awaiting his eventual promotion he might indeed merit the title of celestial bodhisattva, as we saw above.[39] Other bodhisattvas like Ma~nju`srii are in fact residents of other buddha-k.setras. While it is a terminological quibble to say that these Buddha-fields are not strictly speaking heavensin terms of Buddhist cosmology, what is really important for our purposes is whether these bodhisattvas too are available as objects of supplication and sources of help and inspiration, in the same way that Maitreya is. Although in other, later texts that is the case, it is not so in these earlier translations, where the emphasis is decidedly on the bodhisattva as saving subject, whatever his or her rank.[40] Although there are always problems with an argument from silence, our contention is supported by the fact that a number of Lokak.semas translations do advise believers that general protection will be forthcoming from various supernatural agencies (i.e., devas, etc.), but the salvific




intervention of bodhisattvas is not promised at such points (where it would be natural to expect it).[41] The silence in this regard is deafening, especially when one considers that these works are far from backward in promising supernatural protection and worldly benefits of all kinds to their devotees. However, in later versions of the same texts the situation changes. A good example is provided by §§14E-14H of the PraS, where the Sui Chinese (T.416) and Tibetan versions promise the help and assistance of bodhisattvas to those bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas (sic!) who take up the teaching, while Lokak.semas translation and the Sanskrit text do not (see Harrison 1990: 116-117, 280-282, 300). A similar case is found in AsPP 431b24-26 (cf. Vaidya ed., pp. 26-27). These instances are prima facie evidence of the influence of the bodhisattva cult in its developed form on later recensions of the suutras.

  With respect to Ma~nju`srii, then, and as far as these sources are concerned, the appellation of celestial bodhisattvais warranted neither terminologically nor functionally, and what applies to him──at least on the level of function──applies a fortiori to the other bodhisattvas who make an appearance, with the exception of Maitreya. That said, another question presents itself. If Ma~nju`srii and the others are not functioning in these early translations as cult objects, then what are they doing?  How are we to explain their role in the texts, or indeed account for their existence in the first place?  To come up with an answer I think we have to take a




different approach, one which avoids the euhemeristic dead-end rightly rejected by Lamotte (1960: 8-9) but also skirts the banal recourse to `Suunyavaada rhetoric which leads us nowhere either (cf. Lamotte 1960: 9-10, 96). The tentative solution which I propose involves considering the situation from the point of view of the people who produced the Mahaayaana suutras, and approaching the great bodhisattvas who appear in these texts as literary rather than cultic creations.

  When one starts to think about it, one sees that from the outset the writers of Mahaayaana suutras were put in a difficult position by their Mainstream predecessors. In attempting to redefine the goal of Buddhist practice and legitimate it scripturally their dilemma was as follows. Mainstream Buddhist canonical literature is not just a matter of dry doctrinal exposition, but uses narrative to convey meaning. The truths of Mainstream Buddhism, in all the canonical literature which has come down to us in the Nikaayas or Aagamas and in the Vinayas in their various translations, are illustrated and reinforced with copious references to historical persons, or persons whom we are led to believe were historical. Given the standard personality ideal of Mainstream Buddhism (arhatship and, an ideal which does not involve personal survival in the normal sense, this kind of historical anchoring produced no problems for the authors and transmitters of Mainstream Buddhist scripture. But in the process of elaborating their traditions they used up the available stock of personalities, nearly all of whom were held to have attained some grade of awakening or liberation during or soon after the Buddhas own lifetime. In fact the sheer pressure of piety would have necessitated this outcome: the Buddha was naturally such a powerful and effective teacher that he brought virtually everyone he was in contact with, except the irremediably stupid and wicked, to liberation, not only his ordained disciples──out of 500 leading bhik.sus only Aananda hadnt attained perfection by the time




Gautama died──but also most of his lay followers. As a result of this exemplary hagiographical thoroughness on the part of their forerunners, the Mahaayaanists found themselves in a difficult position, since by the logic of their new teaching they could not claim that anybody who had obtained even stream-entry had been in reality a bodhisattva. None of these figures could be cited as role models. And yet the inclusivistic approach typical of Indian religion would necessitate that the old picture (and thus the old literature) must somehow be harmonised or squared with the new, not simply erased and painted over. At the same time, the use of the pre-awakened Gautama as a model bodhisattva would probably have been of limited efficacy, because the Jaatakas were shared with Mainstream Buddhists as a whole, and might give an undesirable impression of rarity and difficulty, as well as being unsuitable as vehicles of doctrinal innovation. To glorify and exemplify the new ideal something rather different was required.

  There were, as far as I can see, three possible solutions to the impasse. The first──and arguably the earliest──was to subvert the historical record and use arhats as proponents of the new teaching, thus `sraavakas with appropriate leanings were pressed into service, the most significant cases being Mahaakaa`syapa and Subhuuti.[42] We find this approach employed in several of Lokak.semas texts, most notably the AsPP and the KP. But this method has obvious limitations: no matter how eloquently they may expound the new dispensation, these well-known arhats can hardly embody it, since they are famed for the successful consummation of the spiritual orientation which the followers of the Mahaayaana would condemn as the inferior way, the Hiinayaana.

  The second solution is to hold up as bodhisattvas real persons whose attainments were either unknown or not widely known. The




householder bodhisattva Ugra perhaps falls into this second category. He is the chief protagonist of the Ugra-parip.rcchaa-suutra (UgP), also translated into Chinese in the late 2nd century. An Ugra or Ugga appears in the Pali canon, where we find two householders of this name, Ugga of Hatthigaama and Ugga of Vesaalii (see Malalasekera 1937: s.v.), about whom the traditions seem inevitably to have become interwoven and confused. Whether the householder bodhisattva is the same as one or both of these characters is a moot point, since the UgP is set in `Sraavastii, and both Uggas are held in any case to have attained the state of an anaagaamin. It is to be hoped that Jan Nattiers forthcoming study of this text will clarify the matter. Another less problematic case is the parricide king Ajaata`satru, to whom Theravaadin canonical literature, at least, imputes no spiritual attainment. There is thus no traditional impediment to the prediction in the AjKV of his eventual attainment of Buddhahood. His character is saved for the writers of that text by the fact that his celebrated crimes precluded any previous rise to sanctity. If this is not scraping the bottom of the historical barrel, then what is?  But in any case, there is no doubt that the supply of figures like this with no known record of spiritual attainment was extremely limited. And if historical personages had failed to achieve anything under the direct influence of the Lord Buddha there were no doubt good reasons for it, which would hardly make them credible representatives of the Mahaayaana.

  The third solution was simply to make it up, to invent fictitious, non-historical figures and work them into the pseudo-historical framework, which, along with a host of other devices, was designed to impart the traditional look to the new texts, to dress them in scriptural camouflage. And this eventually became the preferred solution, with new characters cut out of whole cloth, ranging from the rather more mundane types like the householder bodhisattvas Bhadrapala and his friends (PraS) to the more magnificent figures like Ma~nju`srii, who has been the subject of this paper. But despite




the staggering array of names, one can hardly speak of differences of personality where these bodhisattvas are concerned, any more than one can in the case of Buddhas. They are little more than cardboard figures, cut from the same template. Where did this template come from? This is perhaps an unanswerable question, but I would suggest that one need not look outside the Buddhist tradition to find the answers. The models are there in the Mainstream canons, in the Aagamas, the Vinayas and the Jaatakas, which frequently celebrate the pedagogical skills, the magical powers and the self-sacrificial zeal of the Buddha and his disciples. A change of name here, an adjustment in status there, and what was, say, a story about an arhat becomes the tale of a bodhisattva, to which a slightly different moral could be attached. That there may have been external influences from such diverse sources as Iranian religion, Greek sculpture, Indian theism and so on, as has been postulated, cannot be denied, but it cannot be proved either. Indeed, given the direction in which our evidence points, such influences may well have been more literary than cultic. That is to say, Mahaayaana suutras may owe more to the literary conventions of the Puranas than they do to the ritual cult and iconography of the Hindu gods (which seems to me to invoke euhemerism once removed). But all such debts may have been incurred later in the piece.

  To opt for an internal organicmodel of development largely in terms of the Buddhist tradition itself is, of course, to state a methodological preference rather than a historical fact, since the model is little more than a hypothesis in any case. Although there are some indications of a gradual introduction of bodhisattva figures into the texts (which I take as supporting the internal model), we are hampered by what I believe is the relatively late transmission of Mahaayaana suutras to China, and the loss of evidence relating to earlier stages of development. That is to say, by the time Lokak.sema was at work, the Mahaayaana was in full swing, and




far from being in all cases its first literary products, many of his translations represent its middle period. We can never be entirely certain about what is early and what is late, which makes it harder to be sure about the original impulses behind the appearance of the great bodhisattvas. However, the important thing to see here is that in this material Ma~nju`srii and the other bodhisattva figures function as part of a web of what we might call literary strategies of legitimisation.[43] But the challenge of achieving an authentic traditional look was also to be balanced by the inspirational agenda of the literature, an agenda which eventually came to dominate, as increasing success no doubt led to greater boldness. One notes therefore that the Lokak.sema corpus appears to reflect a variety of approaches and thus, perhaps, strata in the historical development of Mahaayaana literature, from the relatively sober promulgation of the new teachings by the old guard in the AsPP, the KP, and the WWP to the full-blown magical cosmological son et lumiere of the DSJ, the DKP and the Ajkv.[44]  These last two texts are especially noteworthy for their complex and sophisticated structure and their handling of philosophical issues. But we should guard too against over-interpreting the appearance of a bodhisattva in a text, especially an early one. We quite naturally read such occurrences in the light of




the later tradition, in which the term bodhisattva summons up an image which is iconographically and mythologically loaded, to say the least. Were we to translate the relevant passages a little differently, so that they read at that point a person aspiring courageously to awakening got up from his seat . . .then they might not appear quite so different from Mainstream suutras.

  The fact remains that even in those Lokak.sema texts (arguably the later ones) in which Ma~nju`srii and other bodhisattvas take the leading roles, the cult of the great bodhisattvas──if we can dispense now with calling them celestial──is completely unattested. It is therefore quite likely that this cult represents an even later development, built on top of the aforementioned literary strategies and not underlying them or preceding them. This would explain──or reduce──the apparent gap between the textual and archaeological records to which we alluded above. While the great bodhisattvas are indeed to be found in the late 2nd-century translations of Lokak.sema, as we have seen, explicit evidence of the bodhisattva cult as such does not start to appear in the Chinese translations until the second half of the 3rd century.[45] It is the gap between these later sources and the first images of bodhisattvas (other than the one who became `Saakyamuni) which is significant, and this appears to be not so great. If there is any general conclusion we could draw from this, it would be to make the unremarkable observation that whenever there is a discrepancy between textual




and archaeological sources, we should ask ourselves if we are interpreting one of the sources (or both of them) correctly. As to the specific question of the process whereby the bodhisattva cults evolved, we might remember that even in our own time fictional characters have shown themselves quite capable of becoming the objects of cult with religious or moral overtones──one thinks of Leonard Nimoys Spock intoning the Desiderata──but when we speak of cults in this connection we are only speaking metaphorically, and such cases are trivial by comparison. The great bodhisattvas of the Mahaayaana suutras, who eventually became the objects of real cults, were from the outset figures of high moral and religious significance, conjured up by their authors and set to work in the world, just like the nirmaa.nas or emanations they themselves were described as creating within the texts. Their subsequent transmutation into saviours and guides, called upon by real people in real need, is eloquent testimony to the power of life to imitate art, and of visionary imagination to become reality.




List of Works Consulted

Basham, A.L.

         1981.      The Evolution of the Concept of the Bodhisattva,in Leslie Kawamura, ed., The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press), pp. 19-59.

Birnbaum, Raoul

         1986.      Ma~nju`srii,in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan), Vol. 9, pp. 174-175.

Dayal, Har

         1932.      The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; reprint edition Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970).

Gail, Adalbert

         1995.      Ma~nju`srii and His Sword,in K.r. van Kooij & H. van der Veere, eds., Function and Meaning in Buddhist Art: Proceedings of a Seminar held at Leiden University 21-24 October 1991 (Groningen), pp. 135-138.

Gombrich, Richard

         1990.      Recovering the Buddhas Message,in Tadeusz Skorupski, ed., The Buddhist Forum, Vol. I (London: School of Oriental and African Studies), pp. 5-20.

         1998.      Organised Bodhisattvas: A Blind Alley in Buddhist Historiography,in Paul Harrison and Gregory Schopen, eds., Suuryacandraaya: Essays in Honour of Akira Yuyama on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday (Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag), pp. 43-56.



Harrison, Paul

         1982.      Sanskrit Fragments of a Lokottaravaadin Tradition,in L.A. Hercus, et al., eds., Indological and Buddhist Studies, Volume in Honour of Professor J.W. de Jong on his Sixtieth Birthday (Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies), pp. 211-234.

         1987.      Who Gets to Ride in the Great Vehicle? Self-image and Identity among the Followers of the Early Mahaayaana,JIABS, Vol. X, No. 1, pp. 67-89.

         1990.      The Samaadhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present (Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies).

         1992.      Druma-kinnara-raaja-parip.rcchaa-suutra: A Critical Edition of the Tibetan Text (Recension A) (Studia Philologica Buddhica, Monograph Series, VII) (Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies).

         1993.      The Earliest Chinese Translations of Mahaayaana Buddhist Sutras: Some Notes on the Works of Lokak.sema,Buddhist Studies Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 135-177.

         1995a.    Searching for the origins of the Mahaayaana: What are we looking for?  The Eastern Buddhist, New Series Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 48-69.

         1995b.    Some Reflections on the Personality of the Buddha,Otani gakuho, Vol. 74, No. 4, pp. 1-29.

         1998.      Women in the Pure Land: Some Reflections on the Textual Sources,Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 26, No. 6, pp. 553-572.

Harvey, Peter

         1990.      An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).




Hirakawa Akira

         1983.      Ma~nju`srii and the Rise of Mahaayaana Buddhism,Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 12-33.

Jan Yyn-hua

         1981.      The Bodhisattva Idea in Chinese Literature: Typology and Significance,in Leslie Kawamura, ed., The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press), pp. 125-152.

Jones, J.J.

         1949.      The Mahaavastu, Vol. I (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).

Kajiyama Yuichi

         1982.      On the Meanings of the Words Bodhisattva and Mahaasattva in Praj~naapaaramitaa  Literature,in L.A. Hercus, et al., eds., Indological and Buddhist Studies, Volume in Honour of Professor J.W. de Jong on his Sixtieth Birthday (Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies), pp. 253-270.

Lamotte, Utienne

         1960.      Ma~nju`srii,Toung Pao, Vol. XLVIII, pp. 1-96.

         1965.      La concentration de la marche heroique (`Suura.mgamasamaadhi-suutra) (Brussels: Institut Belge des hautes etudes chinoises).

De La Vallue Poussin, Louis

         1915a.    Bodhisattva,in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), Vol. 2, pp. 739-753.

         1915b.    Ma~nju`srii,in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark), Vol. 8, pp. 405-406.




Ling, Trevor

         1976.      The Buddha (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976).

Malalasekera, G.P.

         1937.      Dictionary of Paali Proper Names, 2 vols. (London: Pali Text Society).

De Mallmann, Marie-Thurise

         1948.      Introduction à létude dAvalokitesvara (Paris: Civilisations du Sud).

Nakamura Hajime

         1986.      Bodhisattva Path,in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan), Vol. 2, pp. 265-269.

Quagliotti, Anna Maria

         1990.      Ma~nju`srii in Gandharan Art: A New Interpretation of a Relief in the Victoria and Albert Museum,East and West, Vol. 40, pp. 99-113.

Ray, Reginald

         1994.      Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations (New York: Oxford University Press).

Robinson, Richard H. & Willard L. Johnson

         1982.      The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction (3rd ed., Belmont: Wadsworth).

Sasaki Shizuka

         1997.      A Study on the Origin of Mahaayaana Buddhism,The Eastern Buddhist, New Series Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 79-113.




Schopen, Gregory

         1979.      The Mahaayaana in Indian Inscriptions,Indo-Iranian Journal, Vol. 21, pp. 1-19.

Silk, Jonathan

         1994.      The Origins and Early History of the Mahaaratnakuu.ta Tradition of Mahaayaana Buddhism with a Study of the Ratnaraa`sisuutra and Related Materials, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan.

Snellgrove, David

         1986.      Celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan), Vol. 3, pp. 134-143.

Williams, Paul

         1989.      Mahaayaana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge).












    菩薩理想很顯然地是大乘佛教教理與修行的核心,但是它的歷史發展在許多方面仍然晦澀不明。為了嘗試注入些許光明,本文試著檢視「神聖菩薩」(celestial bodhisattva)的概念。雖然這個用語在當代佛教學術界似乎頗為流行,但是到底它有效嗎?或真的有意義嗎?它能與佛教固有的分類相對應嗎?審視在西元二世紀末由大月氏的支婁迦讖(Lokak.sema)最早翻譯成中文的大乘經,深入探究其中描畫文殊師利的細節,而祂可說是所謂「神聖菩薩」的典型範例。研究結果,證明在這些經典中,文殊師利扮演了一個非常重要的角色,而觀世音則相對地並不存在。以文殊師利為例,本文結論認為「神聖菩薩」不是一個有效的觀念,而且也沒有一個明確的傳統對應用語。本文也針對菩薩理想的早期歷史與大菩薩崇拜做了一些推論,依本文資料證明,大菩薩崇拜是屬於稍後及第二階段的發展。




關鍵詞:1. 文殊師利 2. 神聖菩薩 3. 大乘 4. 支婁迦讖





 [1]    This is a revised version of a paper originally presented at the symposium The Ambiguity of Avalokite`svara and Bodhisattvas in Buddhist Traditions,held at the University of Texas at Austin, 25-27 October 1996.  For their kind invitation to the symposium I wish to thank the Department of Art and Art History and the Center for Asian Studies of the University of Texas, while for helpful comments on an even earlier version of the paper I am indebted to Malcolm McLean, Jay Garfield and Kate Blackstone.

 [2]    Gombrich 1990:5.

 [3]    A representative but not exhaustive listing of scholarship in this area would include Schopen 1979; Williams 1989; Harrison 1987, 1995a, & 1995b; Ray 1994; Silk 1994; Sasaki 1997 and Gombrich 1998.

 [4]    Snellgrove (1986: 143) writes: The whole bodhisattva doctrine represents a remarkable aspect of Buddhist religion, expressing a degree of compassionate concern for others that is either far less developed or lacking altogether in other Indian religious traditions.  The distinction between a Buddha who represents an ideal state still to be achieved and a bodhisattva who assists one on the way there remains fairly clear throughout the history of Buddhism.  Only rarely can a Buddha become an object of prayer and supplication.

 [5]    To be fair, one assumes that Snellgroves article is intended to be read in conjunction with Nakamuras on the Bodhisattva Path(Nakamura 1986), but this way of carving up the topic is hardly an improvement on de La Vallue Poussins more integrated approach some 70 years earlier (1915a).

 [6]    See also Harrison 1995 for a more recent statement of the possible links between buddhology (i.e.,  theories about the Buddhas person) and the emergence of the bodhisattva ideal.

 [7]    On these texts and the rationale for their use see Harrison 1993.  This paper proceeds on the methodological assumption that only what is attested in the translations of Lokak.sema has evidential value for the reconstruction of the earlier history of Mahaayaana Buddhism.  The testimony of the later Chinese and Tibetan translations or the Sanskrit versions where they exist may reflect later historical developments, and must be bracketed accordingly.

 [8]    The earliest clear reference given by Lamotte (1960: 4) is to 6th-century Chinese representations of Ma~nju`srii as he appears in the Vimalakiirti-nirde`sa. Snellgrove (1986: 142) also notes that there is very little iconographical evidence for most of the great bodhisattvas before the 6th century.  Despite more recent attempts to assert the contrary──see, e.g., Quagliotti 1990, but cf. Gail 1995──Ma~nju`srii in particular does not appear to be clearly attested in India before that date.  Of course, it is up to art-historians to clarify the archaeological record here, and I am happy to leave this task to them.  My intention in this paper is to get the textual evidence in better focus.

 [9]    Lamotte (1960: 8) also notes Ma~nju`sriis comparatively late and insignificant role in Praj~naapaaramitaa literature, which is somewhat surprising given that he is commonly regarded as the incarnation of wisdom or insight (praj~naa).

[10]    Abbreviations are followed by the Taisho numbers of Lokak.semas translations.  Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent references will be to his Chinese versions.

[11]    Now extant──except for fragments──only in Kumaaraiiiva’s Chinese translation (T.642) and in Tibetan.  For full bibliographical details see Lamotte 1965.

[12]    Maitreya is also said to be present, with countless other unnamed great bodhisattvas.  Maitreya is mentioned again as the leader of the bodhisattvas at the end of the Sanskrit version of the text, but Ma~nju`sriis name does not reappear, there or in Lokak.semas translation.  On Maitreya see further below.

[13]    Assuming that this is the case, it is, of course, rather curious; see above, n. 9.

[14]    Lokak.semas version has 73,000 (348b25), but this is almost certainly a scribal error.

[15]    Cf. The Tibetan version in Harrison 1992:12 (§1E).

[16]    For the Tibetan version in section 12G see Harrison 1992:253. Kumaarajiivas version of this section can be found at T.625, 385b10-25 (cited in Lamotte 1960:95).  Both these later versions are much more detailed.

[17]    References to the `Sgs will be to Lamottes French translation.

[18]    Incidentally, Lamotte (1960: 29) mistranslates the corresponding passages from T.278 (418b) and T.279 (58a), since Ma~nju`srii and his vast retinue betake themselves to `Saakyamuni, not to the Buddha of their home world.

[19]    The names are not certain: Lokak.sema transcribes the Buddhas name as Ashiduo 阿逝墮 (the last character is decidedly suspect), the buddha-k.setras name as Qilianhuan 訖連桓 (for which Lamottes reconstruction is most unlikely).  However, a great deal of work remains to be done on Lokak.semas transcriptions before we can be sure what their Sanskrit or Prakrit referents were.

[20]    This is T.629, the Fo shuo fang bo jing《佛說放e經》, on which see Harrison 1993: 155-156.

[21]    A similar point is made by Candrakiirti in the Madhyamakaavataara, for which see Lamotte 1960: 92-93.

[22]    However, in his discussion of the Lokak.sema corpus, Hirakawa goes into detail only on the AjKV, the `Sgs and the DSJ (but see p.27 for a summary statement).

[23]    E.g., by Basham (1980: 31), quoting Mallmann (1948: 21).

[24]    For some brief preliminary comments on this possibility see Harrison 1998: 556-557.  I hope soon to produce a more detailed and conclusive study of this question.  If T.362 is accepted as a genuine Lokak.sema translation, either in whole or in part, then this would have a significant bearing on the chronology of several aspects of Mahaayaana Buddhism.  The relevant passage in T.362 is to be found at 308b11-23 (cf. T.361, 290a14-28: at this point the two texts clearly carry different recensions of the same translation), and asserts, when describing the two great bodhisattvas of Amitaabhas realm, that people in this world who find themselves in dire straits and in terror of officials (xianguan 縣官) need only take personal refuge (ziguiming 自歸命) in Avalokite`svara and Mahaasthaamapraapta to be set free.  If this does come from the hand of Lokak.sema, then it is indeed the earliest evidence for the cult of bodhisattvas, in the terms understood in this paper.  It is curious, however, that this particular claim does not appear in the Sanskrit text of the Longer Sukhaavatii-vyuuha, or in the later Chinese translations attributed to Sa^nghavarman and Bodhiruci, which raises the possibility that it could be a Chinese interpolation.  There are several passages in T.361 and T.362 which are clearly to be explained in this way.

[25]    Cf. Jan 1981: 139.

[26]    The name at the corresponding point in the list (349s27) is Shichuxiji 視處悉吉, which does not look to me like a translation of Avalokite`svara, although the character shi may render avalokita.  Unfortunately Lokak.semas characteristic transcriptions have been replaced almost entirely by translations in the recesion of this work which has come down to us.

[27]    For example, throughout the Tibetan version of the PraS Bhadrapala and his fellow householder practitioners are regularly referred to as bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas.

[28]    This passage (beginning of Chapter 8 in T.224) is ambiguous: it asserts that people designated in one paragraph as kula-putras or and in the next as bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas who have faith in the Perfection of Insight should be regarded as non-regressing (avinivartaniiya), but it is not entirely clear in T.224 whether they should be looked upon as if they are non-regressing or seen actually to be non-regressing.  The Sanskrit version (Vaidyas ed., p.104; beginning of Chapter 10) is clearer in this respect but rearranges the terms, viz. the lady or gentleman in question should be treated as a non-regressing bodhisattva and mahaasattva.

[29]    T.224 and the Sanskrit are in agreement here, making it quite clear that it is bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas who are falling into error.

[30]    Cf. Tib. Skye ba gcig gis thogs pai byang chub sems dparjes su dran pai phyir / 1ha rjes su dran pai sems rin po che, which yields a slightly different sense.  As with the other items in this passage, Lokak.semas version implies personal realisation of the quality one is focussing upon.  Along the same lines Kumaarajiivas version (T.625, 373a21) reads: the precious thought of commemoration of the gods, in order to be fixed on the level of a bodhisattva with one rebirth to go.

[31]    Note that in the same passage the Sanskrit text also refers to bodhisattvas and mahaasattvas who have newly set out on the path (prathama-yaana-sa.mprasthitaanaa.m bodhisattvanaa.m mahaasattvaanaa.m), which Lokak.sema (465c19) translates as xin fa yi pusa (新發意菩薩) bodhisattvas who have newly conceived the aspiration.

[32]    On this section of the text cf. the brief comments in Jan 1981: 133, where it is suggested that Dousha jing stands for Sanskrit Da`sa-suutra.  This is quite plausible.  In the nidaana of later versions of the KP (including the Sanskrit), the 16,000 bodhisattvas present are also said to have come from other buddha-k.setras and to be eka-jaati-pra(ti)baddha.  Lokak.semas text has neither of these details (and gives the number as 12,000), nor does it mention the bodhisattvas again at the end (the Jin and Qin translations also lack them at the finish).

[33]    Other passages in which stages or──more loosely──key points in the career of the bodhisattva and/or Buddha are dealt with or mentioned occur in WWP (435b19-c11; 437b2-10), AkTV (754c10-755a, 761b4-12), AsPP (432a29-b9; 465c19-22), etc. Strongly emphasised are the bodhicittotpaada and the passing of the point of no-return (avaivartika-bhuumi).

[34]    We should note also that there is no trace in the Lokak.sema corpus of Ma~nju`sriis later title of kumaara-bhuuta (cf. Hirakawa 1983: 19-21).

[35]    This is in my view further evidence of the late date of the SP, so often describedwithout any real justificationas an early Mahaayaana stuura.Its first Chinese translation was made by in 286 C.E.

[36]    Although in T.224 he is mentioned in the nidaana, in the Sanskrit text Maitreya pops up suddenly as an interlocutor only at the beginning of Chapter 6 (in T.224 at the start of Chapter 4, 438a12), is then mentioned at the end of Chapter 8 and the start of Chapter 9 (in T.224, 443b23ff, the relevant passage begins Chapter 7; like the Sanskrit it refers to Maitreya as a bodhisattva and mahaasattva), re-appears in Chapter 14 in connection with Tu.sita (451b21-23; on Tu.sita cf. Also 468b19-24), again acts as exponent of the teachings in Chapter 19 (457c2-13), and is listed at the end (Chapter 32).  In the penultimate passage in T.224 (457c3) Maitreya is described as someone who danmu dang bu fo chu (旦暮當補佛處) will fill the place of the Buddha in a short time,which reflects interestingly on the stock phrase yi sheng bu chu.

[37]    In T.626 Maitreya appears at 393a17ff., 404b9ff., and most importantly, as a future provider of protection to upholders of the text from his position in Tu.sita, at 405c15-23.

[38]    See below.

[39]    We might mention parenthetically that the only beings who truly deserve the title of celestial bodhisattva are the devas who are supposed to have embarked on the bodhisattva path.  These divine aspirants to full awakening are mentioned at several points in the AsPP (e.g., 429a19-26; 431a21-23; 435a4-20).  However, their undoubted presence in Mahaayaana lore is largely irrelevant to the present discussion.

[40]    That is to say that the bodhisattvas role as saviour of suffering sentient beings is very much to the fore, but in a subjective sense.  The approach throughout is May I save others!rather than May others save me!

[41]    An apparent exception is found at DKP 15H (367a9-16), where the bodhisattva Maitreya and the bodhisattva Divyamauli are entrusted with the suutra by `Saakyamuni, and undertake to provide assistance to those who uphold the text after the of the Buddha.  The inclusion of Divyamauli here is the closest any of these texts comes to assigning a saviourrole to any bodhisattva apart from Maitreya, into whose ambit Divyamauli appears to have been drawn.  But it is reasonably clear (especially in the Tibetan version and in Kumaarajiivas translation, T.624, 388b25-4) that the assistance promised relates specifically to the transmission of the text, and not to rescue from fire, flood, sword and the like.

[42]    The choice of great disciples is undoubtedly significant, in ways which are now becoming clear.

[43]    As suggested by Robinson and Johnson (1982: 79): The strategic function of these bodhisattvas is to serve as Mahaayaana counterparts to the great arhants in the Pali Sutras.

[44]    It is also worth pointing out that in some suutras the more unusual narrative sequences featuring bodhisattvas occur towards the end of the text, and are thus even more likely to have been later additions.  The Sadaaprarudita story in the AsPP, which is already found in Lokak.semas version, is a well-known example of this.  In the WWP the first half of the text features bhik.sus like `Saariputra and Raa.s.trapaala, while the second half relates the visionary experiences of 26 braahma.nas in succession.  Lokak.semas translation of the KP, on the other hand, lacks entirely those sections (150-165 in von Sterel-Holsteins edition) in the later Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit versions of the text in which the bodhisattva Samantaaloka appears.

[45]    Robinson and Johnson (1982: 79) also observe that strangely, no Sutra preaches devotion to a celestial bodhisattva until the third century C.E., a full three centuries after these beings entered the literature.Leaving aside the issue of how one could know with such certainty when anyone or anything entered the literature, one can readily see that this begs the question in a somewhat circular fashion.  Snellgrove (1986: 135), on the other hand, asserts more straightforwardly that the full implications [of the cult of a celestial bodhisattva as a Great Being of heavenly associations] were developed from approximately the first century C.E. onward.