Himalayan Art Resources

Indian Scholar: Aryadeva (Karnaripa)

Six Ornaments of the Southern Continent

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- Identification Key: HAR #1074
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- Six Ornaments Outline
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- Aryadeva
- Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones
- Monastics: Three Visual Types
- Patchwork Robes: Part 1
- Patchwork Robes: Part 2

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Jeff Watt [updated 2-2019]

Aryadeva, Born from a Lotus
(Abhayadatta Shri #18. Vajrasana #2)

Miraculously born from a lotus, Aryadeva was raised by the king of Sri Lanka. As a young man 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 fiercely loyal following. It was said that no man born from a human womb could 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 by using invisible ink written in the sky, a magical parrot would whisper helpful tips in his ear, and the goddess Sarasvati would come to his aid with beautiful and wise verses. 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, Matracheta eventually arrived at Nalanda monastery along with his retinue of 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 Buddhism, was angered by the invaders and told him to summon Nagarjuna from the south to challenge Matracheta. A black crow with a message tied to its leg was dispatched to find Nagarjuna. When the messenger bird delivered the 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 would gladly go in his place. Nagarjuna agreed and quickly taught his student the art of debate and then bid him farewell.

When Aryadeva arrived at Nalanda, he disguised himself as a water carrier to get past the followers of Matracheta. Yet when inside the monastery, the monks could tell he was no ordinary water carrier and asked him if he was Nagarjuna. He said he was not, but that he was there in instead of Nagarjuna. Because he was born from a lotus and not a woman's womb, the monks were very excited to see him challenge Matracheta. All of the monks began beating their drums and preparing for the impending debate. Nine scholars were chosen as judges and the king himself arrived at Nalanda to witness the great debate. The king insisted 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 debate 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. Once the debate began, Matracheta realized that Maheshvara was not entering his body 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 jumped up and killed it, as is the nature of cats. Matracheta then looked up to the sky to see Shiva's writing only to find that it was no longer there due to the vanishing ointment.

He then tried to get help from Sarasvati but quickly realized that the goddess had turned her back 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 speed. 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 that point. The long hair disappeared instantly. Realizing that Aryadeva saved his life, Matracheta was impressed by Aryadeva's compassion and decided to return to Nalanda and accept his fate. Once they returned, all of the followers of Matracheta had converted, easily accepting the Buddhist teachings.

Matracheta however, was bitter and recalcitrant. He remained this way despite having to study Buddhist scripture. One day, while studying, pages of well written verses blew in the winds and auspiciously fell to where he sat. He found them to be beautiful and profound and was quite impressed, but being a stubborn man, he doubted they were Buddhist. As he thought this, a fierce deity appeared and beat him thoroughly. When he regained consciousness, he re-examined the pages and learned they contained a prophecy that said he would become a great Buddhist teacher. Admitting his errors, and according to the conditions of the debate, he cut his own tongue out. As he did so, he proclaimed that if he was correct in following the Buddhist teachings, his tongue would grow back. Almost instantly his tongue grew back and he quickly attained supreme realization, going on to become a famous Buddhist master by the name of Ashvaghosha.

Monty McKeever 3-2006