Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “true nature, the nature of phenomena and the summit of existence” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Part 2 - The true nature, the nature of phenomena and the summit of existence

Question. – The absolute point of view is true (bhūtam satya) and, because it is true, it is called absolute; the other points of view cannot be true.

Answer. – That is not correct. Taken separately, the four points of view are true. The true nature (tathatā), the nature of phenomena (dharmatā), the summit of existence (bhūtakoṭi), do not exist from the mundane point of view, but they do exist from the absolute point of view. In the same way, individuals exist from the mundane point of view, but do not exist from the absolute point of view. Why? When the five aggregates (skandha) that are the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) for the individual exist, the individual exists. Just as when the color (rūpa), odor (gandha), taste (rasa) and tangible (spraṣṭavya) that are the causes and conditions for milk (kṣīra) exist, the milk exists. If milk did not really exist, the [60a] causes and conditions for milk would not exist either. But since the causes and conditions for milk really do exist, it too must exist.[1] Since the causes and conditions for a second head (dvitīya śīrṣa) or a third hand (tṛtīya hasta) do not exist in humans, it is out of the question (prajñapti) for them. Such characterizations (nimittanāman) constitute the mundane point of view

b. What is the individual point of view (prātipauruṣika siddhānta)? It is to preach the doctrine taking into consideration (apekṣya) the state of mind (cittapravṛtti) of the individual. The latter understands or does not understand the given subject. Thus a sūtra says: “As a result of actions of different retribution (saṃbhinnavipākakarma), one is reborn in different universes (saṃbhinnalokadhātu), one experiences different contacts (saṃbhinnasparśa) and different feelings (saṃbhinnavedanā).[2] On the other hand, the P’o k’iun na king (Phālgunasūtra) says: “There is no-one who undergoes contact; there is no-one who experiences sensation.[3]

Question. – How do these two sūtras agree?

Answer. – There are people who doubt the here-after (amutra), who do not believe in sin (pāpa) or merit (puṇya), who commit evil acts (akuśalacaryā) and who fall into the wrong view of annihilation (ucchedadṛṣṭi). In order to cut these doubts (saṃśaya), to suppress these bad practices and uproot this wrong view of nihilism, the Buddha asserts that a person is reborn in different universes, with different contacts (sparśa) and different sensations (vedanā). But Phālguna himself believed in the existence of a soul (ātman), the existence of the purusa, and had fallen into the wrong view of eternalism (śāśvatadṛṣṭi). He asked the Buddha: “Venerable One (bhadanta), who is it that experiences sensation?” If the Buddha had replied: “It is such and such (amuka) a one who experiences sensation”, Phālguna would have fallen more deeply into the wrong view of eternalism, his belief in the pudgala (individual) and the ātman (soul) would have grown and been irremediably strengthened. That is why the Buddha, when talking to him, denied that there is a being who feels (vedaka) or a being who touches (sparśaka). Characteristics such as these are called the individual point of view.[4]

c. The antidotal point of view (prātipakṣika siddhānta). – There are dharmas that exist as counteragents (pratipakṣa) but do not exist as true natures (bhūtasvabhāva). Thus hot (uṣṇa), fatty (medasvin), acidic (kaṭuka), salty (lavaṇa) plants and foods (oṣadhyākahāra) are a counteragent in illnesses of wind (vāyuvyādhi), but are not a remedy in other sicknesses.[5] Cold (śīta), sweet (madhura), bitter (tikta), acrid (karkaśa) plants and foods are a counteragent in illnesses of fire (tejovyādhi) but are not a remedy in other illnesses. Acidic (kaṭuka), bitter (tikta), acrid (karkaśa) and hot (uṣṇa) plants and foods are a counteragent for chills (śītavyādhi) but are not a remedy in other illnesses. It is the same in the Buddhadharma, to remedy sickness of the mind (cetovyādhi). Contemplation of the disgusting (aśubhabhāvana)[6] is a good counteragent (kuśala pratipakṣadharma) in the sickness of attachment (rāgavyādhi); it is not good (kuśala) in the sickness of hatred (dveṣavyādhi) and is not a remedy (pratipakṣadharma). Why? Aśubhabhāvana is the contemplation of bodily defects (kāyadoṣaparīkṣā); if a hateful man contemplates the faults of his enemy, he increases the flame of his hatred. – Meditation on loving-kindness (maitrīcittamaniskāra) is a good remedy in the sickness of hatred (dveṣavyādhi); it is not good, not a remedy, in the sickness of attachment (rāgavyādhi). Why? Loving-kindness (maitrīcitta) consists of seeking reasons for love for others and contemplating their qualities (guṇa). If a person full of attachment seeks the reasons for love and contemplates the qualities [of the person whom he loves], he increases his attachment (rāga). – The contemplation of causes and conditions (hetupratyayaparīkṣā) is a good counteragent in the sickness of delusion (mohavyādhi); it is not good, not a remedy, in the sicknesses of hatred [60b] and attachment (rāgadveṣavyādhi). Why? Because it is as a result of previous wrong contemplation (pūrvamithyāparīkṣā) that wrong view (mithyadṛṣṭi) arises. Wrong view is delusion (moha).[7]

Footnotes and references:

1.

The example of milk is repeated in Kośa, IX, p. 239.

2.

Cf.Aṇguttara, I, p. 134: Yatth’ assa attabhāvo…vā aoare vā pariyāye. – Tr. When a person is reborn, his action ripens and, when this action is ripe, he undergoes its retribution in this lifetime or another.

3.

Saṃyutta, II, p. 13; Tsa a han, T99 (no. 372), k. 13, p. 102a: phusatīti ahaṃ na vadāmi…vediyatīti ahaṃ na vadāmi. – Sanskrit fragments of the Phālgunasūtra in Kośa, IX, p. 260; Kośavyākhyā, p. 707.

4.

It is a well-known fact that in his teaching, the Buddha takes into account the intention and state of mind of his questioner. See the interview of the Buddha with Vacchagotta: Saṃyutta, IV, p. 400; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 961)., k. 34, p. 245b; T 100 (no. 195), k. 10, p. 444c.

The Buddha refuses to say to Vacchagotta whether the self exists or whether it does not exist. Ānanda asks him the reason. The Buddha explains himself by saying: If, Ānanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Does the self exist?”, I had answered him: “The self exists”, that would have confirmed, Ānanda, the doctrine of the Samanas and the Brāhmanas who believe in eternalism. If, Ānanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Does the self not exist?”, I had answered: “The self does not exist”, that would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and the Brāhmanas who believe in nihilism. If, Ānanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Does the self exist”, I had answered: “The self exists”, would that have been useful in making the knowledge arise in him that all dharmas are non-self?” – “That would not have been so, O Lord.” – “If, on the other hand, Ānanda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: “Does the self not exist”, I had answered: “The self does not exist”, would that not have had the result of precipitating the wandering monk Vacchagotta from one misconception into another greater misconception: “My self did not exist previously. And now it does not exist at all.” (Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 309–310). – Similarly Kośa, IX, p. 262–4: Why has the Bhagavat not declared that the vital principle (jīva) is the body? Because the Bhagavat takes into consideration the intention (āśaya) of the person who is questioning him. The latter understands by jīva, not an imaginary being, the simple designation of the elements, but an individual, a real living entity; and on thinking of this individual, he asks if the jīva is identical with or different from the body. This jīva does not exist in an absolute manner: it bears no relationship either of identity or difference with what is: the Bhagavat therefore condemns both answers. In the same way, one cannot say that the hairs of the tortoise are hard or soft… Why does the Bhagavat not answer that the jīva does not exist in an absolute way? Again because he takes into account the intention of the questioner. The latter perhaps is asking about the jīva with the idea that the jīva is the series of elements (skandha). If the Bhagavat answered that the jīva does not exist absolutely, the questioner would fall into wrong view. Besides, as the questioner is incapable of understanding dependent arising (pratītyasamutpāda), he is not a suitable receptacle for the holy Dharma: the Bhagavat therefore does not tell him that the jīva exists only as a designation. – LAV., Nirvāṇa, p. 118–119: “The scholastic likes to say that the Buddha varied his teaching according to the dispositions of his listeners: that some sūtras, of clear meaning (nītārtha), must be understood literally; that other sūtras, of implicit and non-inferential meaning (neyārtha) must be interpreted: a convenient hypothesis for the exegetists and legitimate in many cases. The Canon sees in the Buddha a physician, the great physician; the scholastic represents him as an empiricist. The Buddha was afraid lest the common man, reassured on the side of hell, should not commit sin; he wants the wise to learn to divest themselves of all egotism: thus to some he teaches the existence of a self and to others the non-existence of a self. In the same way the tigress carries her young ones in her jaw: she locks her teeth just enough so that they don’t fall – into the heresy of nihilism of the empirical self – but avoids hurting them – with the teeth of the heresy of self as a real thing.” The comparison of the tigress is from Kumāralābha, in Kośa, IX, p. 265.

5.

For pathogenesis and medical practices, see Hôbôgirin, Bhô, p. 249–262.

6.

Aśubhabhāvana, contemplation of the decomposing corpse, will be studied below, k. 19, p. 198c–199a. – Scriptural sources are not very numerous, e.g., Vinaya, III, p. 68; Dīgha, II, p. 296; Majjhima, III, p. 82; Aṅguttara, III, p. 323. – Pāli scholasticism: Dhammasaṅgaṇi, p.55: asubhajhāna (tr. Rh. D., p. 63, n. 2); Visuddhimagga, p. 178; Rh. D., Brethren, p. 123; Warren, Buddhism, p. 353; Aung, Compendium, p. 121, n. 6; Hardy, Eastern Monachism, p. 247. – Sanskrit sources: Śikṣāsamucchaya, p. 209 (tr. Bendall-Rouse, p. 202; Bodhicaryāvatāra, VIII, v. 63; Huber, Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 190–191; Kośa, VI, p. 149; Kern, Manual, p. 54; Przyluski, Aśoka. p. 386.

7.

The ideas expressed in this line are repeated and developed by Śantideva in his Śikṣasamucchaya, chap. XII: Contemplation of the horrible (aśubhabhāvana) is the antidote (pratipakṣa) for rāga (p. 206–212); loving-kindness (maitrī) is the remedy for hatred (p. 212–219); the analysis of dependent-arising (pratītyasamutpādadarśana) is the antidote for mahānuśaya (p. 219–228). Cf. Tr. Bendall-Rouse, p. 196–215.

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