Mātaṅga-sūtra (Śārdūlakarṇāvadāna)

Mātaṅga-sūtra 摩登伽經


2 fasc.. T 1300. *Mātaṅgī-sūtra. Alternate title: Modengjia jing 摩鄧伽經. It is story thirty-three entitled Śārdūlakarṇāvadāna in the Divyāvadāna collection (for study and translation of the Divyāvadāna see the work of Hiraoka). This early sūtra is significant in its use of mantras, anti-Vedic polemic and encyclopedic detailing of pre-Hellenized Indian astrology (i.e., before horoscopy). Although included in the Mikkyō 密教 section of the Taishō, it is not a Mahāyāna 大乘 text. Pingree (1963, 1987) suggested the Śārdūlakarṇāvadāna was composed around the first century CE and that its contents represent an Indian adaptation of Babylonian astrology. Its internal elements indicate it was probably originally composed in Māgadha. Sanskrit manuscripts survived into modern times in Nepal (see Mitra 1882). For printed Sanskrit editions see Cowell and Neil (1886), Mukhopadhyaya (1954) and Vaidya (1959), though caution must be exercised with these. The oldest extant version of the text is a Central Asian manuscript at the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SI 1942) from around the fourth century which was written in North Brāhmī script (Miyazaki 2015). For other Sanskrit manuscripts see Bodleian Library 1091(1-8)-MS. Sansk.e.23(P), and British Library Or.15010/6, 20. For Tibetan see D 358, Q 1027, N 345, C 997, H 366, J 297, U 359.


The Chinese translation is attributed to Zhu Lüyan 竺律炎and Zhi Qian 支謙. The Zhenyuan xingding shijiao mulu 貞元新定釋教目錄 (T 2157; fasc. 3) states Lüyan translated it in Huanglong 黃龍 2 (230) under Sun Quan 孫權 (r. 222–252) in Yangdu 揚都. Early reference to it is found in Sui-era (581–618) catalogs. The Sui shu 隨書 (fasc. 34) lists a Modengjia jing shuo xingtu 摩登伽經說星圖 (1 fasc.), which is chapter 5 of the sūtra. There was another translation by Dharmarakṣa 竺法護 entitled Shedoujian Taizi ershiba xiu jing 舍頭諫太子二十八宿經 (T 1301) between 307–313 (the Yongjia 永嘉 era; see fasc. 2 of Zhongjing mulu 眾經目錄 T 2147). The Mātaṅga-sūtra displays occidental influences and editorial revisions not present in Dharmarakṣa's translation, nor in the Tibetan translation and Sanskrit (Zenba 1952). Dharmarakṣa's translation has closer readings to the Central Asian manuscript.


The following primarily details the Mātaṅga-sūtra (T 1300).


Chapter 1 (“Liberating the Licentious Girl” 度性女) relates how one morning when the Buddha was in Śrāvastī 舎衛國, Ānanda 阿難 went begging 乞食 and while returning stops by a pond to quench his thirst where a caṇḍāla 栴陀羅 girl of the Mātaṅgī 摩登伽 clan serves him water. She subsequently falls in love with him. Her mother, adept in mantras , performs magic to summon Ānanda to their house against his will. The Buddha sees this with his divine eye 天眼 and recites a mantra to save him. The Buddha explains that this mantra was propounded by the past six buddhas 過去六佛. The Buddha convinces the caṇḍāla girl to renounce the household life 出家 and she subsequently attains arhatship 羅漢道.


A similar story is found in fasc. 1 of the Śūraṃgama-sūtra 首楞嚴經 (T 945) and also alluded to in fasc. 4. The Foshuo Modeng nü jing 佛說摩鄧女經 (T 551), attributed to An Shigao 安世高 around c.151, and Foshuo Modeng nü jiexingzhong liushi jing 佛說摩登女解形中六事經 (T 552), translated in the Eastern Jin 東晉 (317–420), as short individual texts only relate similar versions of this brief story and then conclude. The Mātaṅga-sūtra and its alternate translation include the following additional chapters. However, fasc. 4 of the sūtra catalog Lidai sanbao ji 歷代三寶紀 (T 2034) lists a Shetoujian jing 舍頭諫經 (1 fasc.) translated by An Shigao 安世高 with a note mentioning an alternate title of Shetoujian taizi ming ershiba xiu jing 舍頭諫太子明二十八宿經, indicating an explanation of astrology. However, the titles here were conflated. The Kaiyuan shijiao lu 開元釋教錄 (T 2154; fasc. 13) has a comment stating the two shorter sūtras are only a single chapter of the longer versions.


Chapter 2 (“Explaining Past Conditions” 明往緣品) relates how Brahmins become upset over the caṇḍāla girl becoming a bhikṣuṇī. They report this to King Prasenajit 波斯匿王 who visits the Buddha. The Buddha explains her past life circumstances. He relates how long ago Triśaṅku 帝勝伽, a caṇḍāla king of the Mātaṅgī, was brave, wise and possessed mastery over the four Vedas 圍陀. His son Śārdūlakarṇa 師子耳 (the source of the Sanskrit title, though the figure is otherwise insignificant), wise like his father, is in need of a wife. He recalls that the eminent Brahmin Puṣkarasārin 蓮花實 has a suitable daughter named Prakṛti 本性 and goes to visit him, asking for his daughter. Puṣkarasārin is outraged and Triśaṅku replies with an anti-caste polemic, arguing that there are no differences between castes and that virtue is determined by deeds, not birth. Here astrology 占星觀月 (an art of the Brahmins) is named a misdeed, but below it is also explained in detail by Triśaṅku. Puṣkarasārin states the Vedic view of the four castes 四姓 in which the brāhmaṇa 婆羅門 is born of Brahma's mouth 口生, the kṣatriya 剎利 of his shoulders 肩生, the vaiśya毘舍 of his navel 臍生, and the śūdra 首陀 of his feet 足生. The alternate Chinese translation (T 1301) states it as the mouth, chest, navel and feet. Compare with the Ṛg Veda (10.90 – Puruṣasūkta) and Atharva Veda (19.6). This shows an early Buddhist awareness and rejection of the Puruṣasūkta, instead insisting on karma to explain human characteristics like virtue. The creation myth of the divine body comprising the heavens and earth is likewise rejected in favor of a karmic theory. Triśaṅku goes on to state that non-Brahmins are also capable of learning sacred arts, highlighting the equality of the castes.


Chapter 3 (“Revealing the Truth” 示真實品) relates Triśaṅku teaching the Buddhist path. He condemns the five sacrifices 五祠法 as cause for nirvāṇa 涅槃 and rebirth in heaven. He offers instruction on eight virtuous ways to achieve rebirth in heaven. He goes on to explain the origins of the castes as being merely nominal designations based on group activities, thus people being ultimately no different.


Chapter 4 (“Inquiries” 眾相問品) sees Puṣkarasārin now delighted and convinced before asking Triśaṅku about his background, past lives and knowledge. Triśaṅku recites mantras highlighting how even he as a caṇḍāla can know them, one of which notably appears to be the Gāyatrī mantra from the Ṛg Veda (3.62), but called the 'brahmin mantra' 婆羅門呪:


菴 浮婆 蘇婆 旦 娑婆鬪婆利茹 被瞿 提婆斯 提麼 提由 那 婆羅提那


*oṃ bhūrbhuvaḥ svaḥ tat saviturvareṇyaṃ bhargho devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt


Chapter 5 (“Explaining Uranography” 說星圖品) sees Puṣkarasārin ask Triśaṅku if he knows astrology 占星 (*nakṣatra-vaṃśa). Triśaṅku replies with a description of the twenty-eight nakṣatra-s 二十八宿 starting from Kṛttikā (the Chinese xiu 宿 are used as functional equivalents, whereas the alternate Chinese translation gives semantic translations of the nakṣatra names) including their star counts, shapes, dimensions (measured by the amount of time it takes for the moon to pass through each), prescribed sacrificial foods and activities, associated deities (compare with the Nakṣatrakalpa of the Atharvavedapariśiṣṭā) and castes plus their respective unions with the moon (being ahead 月前, behind 月後 or in direct conjunction 月俱). Compare with chapter 2 in fasc. 1 of the Xiuyao jing 宿曜經. It is significant that the sequence commences from Kṛttikā because later astronomical works commence from Aśvinī such as the Sūrya-siddhānta. The seven planets 七曜 are listed in the order of Sun , Moon , Mars 熒惑, Jupiter 歲星, Saturn 鎮星, Venus 太白 and Mercury 辰星 followed by Rāhu 羅睺 and Ketu 彗星 (this differs from chapter 7 below).


Chapter 6 (“Foreseeing Calamity and Fortune” 觀災祥品) includes several methods of astrology and divination taught by Triśaṅku:


1. Natal predictions for individuals born under each nakṣatra.

2. Predictions for cities established under each nakṣatra.

3. Predictions about rainfall amounts and other outcomes (harvests, war, deaths, infrastructure problems, etc.) based on which nakṣatra the summer moon 夏月 is in when rains commence (the monsoon rains?).

4. Predictions about disasters that will occur based on which nakṣatra the moon is in when an eclipse 日月薄蝕 occurs.

5. Prescribed activities for each nakṣatra and accompanying natal predictions, particularly with respect to personality and longevity.

6. Predictions of military uprisings 兵起 within a given number of days following earthquakes in specific Chinese lunar months.

7. Predictions of disasters based on which nakṣatra the moon is in when an earthquake occurs plus predicted harm to specific groups (king, ministers, merchants, etc.) based on the time of day or third of month when it occurs (note the time terms are Chinese).


Chapter 7 (“Explaining Time Divisions” 明時分別品) includes the following sections:


1. The lengths of day and night in given months and seasons 晝夜分數長短時節 including the equinoxes and solstices. The first day of the month is stated as the new moon 月朔, which is the amānta method of reckoning months in contrast to the pūrṇimānta method in which the month commences from the full moon. Day one of the second month marks the start of spring. This differs from the Sanskrit and Tibetan. The Sanskrit states the seasons (ṛtu) commence from the rainy season (prāvṛṭ).

2. Definition of time units: 1 kṣaṇa 剎那is the time it takes a lady to spin one xun of thread. 60 kṣaṇa equal 1 lava 羅婆. 30 lava equal one unit 一時 (muhūrta). 30 muhūrta equal 1 day and night 日夜. Converted into modern timekeeping they are as follows:

30 muhūrta (1 day) = 24 hours or 1440 minutes.

1440 minutes ÷ 30 = 48 minutes. 1 muhūrta = 48 minutes or 2880 seconds.

2880 ÷ 30 = 96 seconds. 1 lava = 96 seconds.

96 ÷ 60 = 1.6. 1 kṣaṇa = 1.6 seconds.

3. The division of daytime into 15 units (muhūrta) which are each described by the length of a shadow cast by a man on lunar 2/1 where at noon the shadow is of equal length to the man, which Zenba (1952) calculates to be at a northern latitude of 39 degrees, suggesting a Central Asian point of reference like Samarkand. This is a significant observation with respect to the origin or recension of the text. The other 15 units of nighttime are also named. 30 days equal 1 month and 12 months equal 1 year .

4. Calibration of the water clock 漏刻. 1 wink = 1 lava 羅婆. 4 lava = 1 kāṣṭhā 迦啅. 40 kāṣṭhā = 1 kalā 迦羅. 30 kalā = 1 *nāḍikā . 2 *nāḍikā = 1 muhūrta . 1 *nāḍikā of time requires 5 sheng of water be drained from a round cylinder.

5. Definitions of distances up to a yojana 由旬 (in Skt. specifically the māgadha-yojana).

6. Definitions of weights up to the Māgadhaka prastha 摩伽陀鉢悉他.

7. Medical astrology in which prescriptive sacrifices are detailed plus expected recovery times when an illness is suffered under a given nakṣatra.

8. Predictions about the number of days it will take to be released if captured under a given nakṣatra.

9. Mole reading 黑子之相 in which predictions are given about a lady and/or her husband(s) based on her moles.

10. Division of daytime in given months plus gnomonic measurements 量日中影 using a gnomon of 12 cun . Shinjō (1928) calculated an average latitude of 43 degrees, again suggesting a point of reference like Samarkand. Conversely, the Tibetan translation provides a calculated average latitude of 27.5 degrees (or if corrected 26.5 degrees), which indicates a location in the vicinity of Māgadha (Zenba 1952).

11. The metonic cycle where in a 19 year period 7 intercalary months are added. This is not present in the Tibetan or Sanskrit. The Mātaṅga-sūtra additionally states adding an intercalary month every five years 五年再閏, which is also in the Tibetan (Zenba 1952). The Sanskrit states the intercalary month is to be added at the third year (tatra tṛtīye varṣe'dhiko māso yujyate). Compare with chapter 19 (日月行品) of the *Lokasthānābhidharma-śāstra 立世阿毘曇論 (T 1644) which states two intercalary months are to be added (應兩閏月) on the third and fifth years.

12. The seven planets and their sidereal orbital periods. They are initially listed in the modern order of Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn (different from the Sanskrit and Tibetan). This is anomalous because despite the purported translation date being 230, this modern ordering first appears in Indian literature around the sixth century (Zenba 1956), though this ordering is traced back to Hellenistic Egypt around the common era (Yabuuchi 1990). It otherwise does not appear in the Chinese record until the eighth century with Amoghavajra's 不空 (705–774) works (see fasc. 2 of Fomu dakongque mingwang jing 佛母大孔雀明王經 T 982).

13. Details of who and what the nakṣatra-s preside over.


Finally, Puṣkarasārin praises Triśaṅku and offers his daughter without need of a dowry.


(Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Hirakawa)


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