Then Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī went to the Exalted One. She bowed her head at his feet and said to him: [I] hope for a long time the Exalted One will bring the ignorant and deluded to their senses, and may [his] life never be endangered!
Gautamī, responded the Exalted One, such words in regard to the Tathāgata are not appropriate. The Tathāgata [can] prolong his life-span which will not be short, and his life will never be [really] in danger[ii].
Now Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī improvised the following verses:
How [can one] revere him who is foremost, who is unparalleled
In the world? [He] is capable of removing all doubts; that is why
These words [of veneration] are uttered.
The Exalted One in turn responded to Gautamī with these verses:
Reverence for the Tathāgata implies this effort and steadfastness.
A mind that is ever more courageous and which looks upon Disciples as equals (tulya).
In reply to the Exalted One Mahāprajāpatī declared: Hence-forth the Exalted One should be revered [for his] the Tathāgata’s, insisting on regarding[iii] all living beings with a mind free from [the discriminatory concepts of] upper and lower (adhika-nyūna) [classes]. Among the heavenly beings, men … and Asuras, the Tathāgata is supreme.
The Exalted One acknowledged what Mahāprajāpatī had said, and [she] rose from her seat, bowed down… and left.
The Exalted One said to the bhikṣus: Among my disciples it is Mahāprajāpatī who is foremost[iv] in respect of broad-mindedness and extensive awareness.
Having heard the Buddha’s words, the bhikṣus were pleased and respectfully applied themselves to practice’.
[i] CBETA, T02, no. 125, p. 592, c10-28. This translation originally published as Ekottaragama XXI, Buddhist Studies Review 13.2, 1996, p 149-150. Translated from the Chinese version by Thích Huyên-Vi and Bhikkhu Pāsādika in collaboration with Sara Boin-Webb.
[ii] Cf. BSR. 12, 2 (1995), p.163 f: ‘Since the Tathāgata’s body is not reckoned an ordinary body, it is not subject to other people’s violence…’ As for the Tathāgata’s power to prolong his life-span, see D11, 103 f: E. Waldschmidt (ed). Das Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra II (Berlin 1951), 15.10, 15.13 (pp.204, 206): ākāṅkṣamānas tathāgataḥ kalpaṁ vā tiṣṭhet kalpāvaśeṣaṁ vā.
[iii] For # (592c23) read # (after 592c, n29 and Hayashi, p.159).
[iv] Cf BSR 4, 1 (1987), pp.47, 57 (n.l).