Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Indian Teacher - Aryadeva

རྒྱ་གར་གྱི་མཁས་པ། མཁན་ཆེན། 印度的祖师
(item no. 65599)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Monastic

Gender: Male

TBRC: P7401

Interpretation / Description

Aryadeva: one of the Six Ornaments of the Southern Continent, a group of the most highly regarded Buddhist sages of the Mahayana Sutra Tradition.

Miraculously born from a lotus, Aryadeva was raised by the king of his home country Sri Lanka. Once he was grown, he went to study with the renowned master Nagarjuna, eventually becoming his spiritual heir. During the same time, there also lived a very learned non-Buddhist named Matracheta who lived in Western India. Matracheta was a physician that had saved thousands of lives during an epidemic and had a large and loyal following. It was said that no man born from a human womb was able to defeat him in debate or combat. Empowered by Maheshvara, Matracheta was able to shoot fire from his forehead, utterly destroying all who challenged him in combat. He also had special advantages while debating, for Maheshvara would secretly enter his body to help him, Shiva would write answers to questions in invisible letters in the sky, a magical parrot would whisper helpful tips in his ear, and Sarasvati would come to his aid with beautiful and wise phrases. Having vast knowledge and supernatural aid, Matracheta had never been defeated and became known as "The Black Conqueror".

On a continual quest to find a worthy adversary, Matrcheta eventually arrived at Nalanda monastery along with his retinue of non-Buddhist followers. Knowing of Matracheta's power, none of the monks of Nalanda challenged him. The non-Buddhists then surrounded Nalanda and began beating a drum and declaring victory, occasionally entering the grounds to assault and humiliate the defenseless monks. While still surrounded, the abbot of Nalanda had a dream that Mahakala, a fierce protector of the Dharma, was angered by the invaders and told him to summon the famous scholar Nagarjuna from South India to challenge Matracheta. A black crow was dispatched to find Nagarjuna with a message tied to its leg. When the messenger bird delivered the abbots urgent plea, Nagarjuna was anxious to challenge Matracheta immediately, but Aryadeva held him back. Aryadeva told Nagarjuna that he was too old, but that he, Aryadeva, would gladly go in his place. Nagarjuna agreed and quickly taught his student the art of debate.

When Aryadeva arrived at Nalanda, he disguised himself as a water carrier to get past the blockade. Yet when inside the university, the monks could tell he was no ordinary servant and asked him if he was Nagarjuna. He explained that he was not, but that he was there in his place. Because he was born from a lotus and not a woman's womb, the monks were very excited to see him challenge Matracheta. The monks then all began beating their drums and preparing for the debate. Nine scholars were chosen as judges and the king himself arrived at Nalanda to witness the great battle of wits. Upon arrival, the king stated that the loser would have to cut his own tongue out. It was also agreed that the followers of the loser would convert to the side of the winner.

Before the match began, Aryadeva resolved to counter the divine aid that Matracheta usually received while debating. To do this, he placed a dirty boot near Matracheta, released a cat, spread vanishing ointment in the sky, and led a naked man into the debate area. When the debate began, Matracheta realized that Maheshvara was not entering his body to help him because the god had left in disgust once he saw the dirty boot, thus taking away his ability to shoot flames from his head. Then, as he turned to his magical parrot for guidance, the cat pounced on the parrot and killed it, as is the nature of cats. Matracheta then looked up to the sky to see Shiva's writing only to find

He then tried to get help from Sarasvati but quicky learned that the goddess had turned her back on the debate because she was offended by the presence of the naked man. Realizing that Aryadeva had blocked all his powers, Matracheta became desperate and flew up into the sky in an attempt to escape. Seeing this, Aryadeva flew after him, following close behind as the two of them traveled through space at tremendous speeds. They quickly reached the limits of existence and Aryadeva warned Matracheta that if he went any further he would pass the point of which there is no return. Matracheta did not believe him and to test the boundary, shook his long hair beyond the point. It disappeared instantly. Realizing that Aryadeva had just saved his life, Matracheta was impressed by Aryadeva's compassion and he decided to return to Nalanda monastery and accept his fate. Once they returned, all the non-Buddhists had converted, easily accepting the Buddha?s teachings. Matracheta however, was bitter and recalcitrant. He remained this way despite having to study Buddhist scripture. One day, while studying, pages of sacred verses blew in the wind and auspiciously fell to where he sat. He found them to be exquisite and beautiful and was quite impressed, but being a stubborn man, he doubted they were Buddhist. At the very moment of this thought, a fierce deity appeared and beat him thoroughly. When he regained consciousness, he re-examined the pages and realized they contained a prophecy that said he would become a great Buddhist teacher. He then admitted his errors, and according to the conditions of the debate, cut his own tongue out. As he did this, he proclaimed that if he was correct in following the Buddhist teaching, it would grow back. His tongue grew back almost instantly and he quickly attained supreme realization, going on to become a famous Buddhist master known as Ashvaghosha.

Monty McKeever 2-2006

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