Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “twelve causes and conditions are profound” 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 3 - The twelve causes and conditions are profound

Question. – In the Buddhadharma it is said that the twelve causes and conditions (hetuprayaya) are profound (gambhīra). Thus the Buddha said to Ānanda: “This dependent arising (pratītyasamutpāda) is profound (gambhīra), difficult to see (duṛdṛṣa), difficult to understand (duravabodha), difficult to discover (duranubodha), difficult to penetrate (duradhigamana), knowable only by a sage of subtle and skillful mind (sūkṣma nipuṇapaṇditavijñāvedanīya).[1] If a fool (mūḍha) can barely understand superficial phenomena, how could he understand profound causes and conditions? Then why do you say that the fool should contemplate the law of causes and conditions?

Answer. – The word ‘fool’ does not mean stupid in the manner of an ox (go) or sheep (eḍaka). The fool is a person who is seeking the true path, but who, as a result of wrong thoughts and contemplations, produces all kinds of wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). For him, contemplation of causes and conditions (hetupratītyaparīkṣā) is a good counteragent. But for people prey to hatred or passion (dveṣarāgacarita) who voluntarily seek pleasure or are angry with their neighbor, such a contemplation is not good, is not a remedy; it is contemplation of the disgusting (aśubabhāvana) or contemplation of loving-kindness (maitrīcittamanasikāra) which would be a good remedy for them. Why? Because these two contemplations are able to uproot the poisonous thorn (viṣakaṇtaka) of hatred and attachment (rāga).

Furthermore, there are beings attached (abhiniviṣṭa) to the erroneous thesis of eternalism (nityaviparyāsa), who are ignorant of the series of similar moments (sadṛśasaṃtāna) [that constitute a phenomenon].[2] For such people, contemplation of the transitory nature of the dharmas (lit. anityaparīkṣā) is of therapeutic order (prātipākṣika) and not of absolute (pāramārthika) order. Why? Because all dharmas are empty of self nature (svabhāvaśūnya). Thus a stanza says:

To see the permanent in the transitory,
That is a mistake.
In emptiness, in the point of the transitory,
How could permanence be seen there?[3]

Footnotes and references:


The words addressed by the Buddha to Ānanda are, rather: gambhīra cāyaṃ Ānanda paṭiccasamuppādo gambhīrāvabhāso ca: cf. Saṃyutta, II, p. 92; Dīgha, II, p. 55; Tch’ang a han, T 1 (no. 13), k. 10, p. 60b10; Jen pen yu cheng, T 14, p. 242a; Tchong a han, T 16 (no. 97), k. 24, p. 578b; Ta cen yi, T 52, p. 844b. – The more developed formula, given by the Mppś, was pronounced by the Tathāgata at the foot of the Ajapālanigrodha tree, after his enlightenment: Vinaya, I, p. 4; Dīgha, II, p. 36; Majjhima, I, p. 167; Saṃyutta, I, p. 136, etc.: adhigato kho me ayaṃ dhammo gambhīro duddaso duranubodho santo paṇito atakhāvacaro nipuṇo paṇḍitavedanīyo. – The Sanskrit phrase is longer and shows less uniformity; it occurs in Mahāvastu, III, p. 314, l. 15; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 2914–2927; Lalitavistara, p. 392; Divya, p. 492 (which is very close to the Pāli): gambhīro me dharmo

gambhīrāvabhāso durdṛśo duranubodho ‘tarko ‘tarkāvacaro sūkṣmo nipuṇapaṇditavijñāvedanīyaḥ.


In other words, they ignore the momentary nature of the dharmas (dharmakṣaṇikatva). According to the Buddhism of the Lesser Vehicle, the phenomenon perishes from instant to instant and is reborn, similar to itself, from moment to moment. It thus appears as a series (saṃtāna, prabhandha) of similar moments (sadṛśakṣaṇa). The Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhāṣika and the Sautrāntika schools debate on the duration of the kṣaṇa and on the evolution of the saṃtāna (Karmasiddhi-prakaraṇa, Introduction, p. 1–30).


Madh. kārikā, XXIII, 13, p. 460; Tchong louen, T 1564, k. 4, p. 31c10; Pan jo teng louen che, T 1566, k. 14, p. 123a6:

anitya nityam ity evaṃ grāho viparyayaḥ |

nānityaṃ vidyate śūte grāho viparayayaḥ ||