Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “what is the absolute point of view if the views are all false” 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 5 - What is the absolute point of view if the views are all false

Question. – If the views (dṛṣṭi) are all false, what is the absolute point of view (pāramārthika siddhānta)?

Answer. – It is the path that transcends all discourse (sarvadeśanātikrāntamārga), the arrest and destruction of the functioning of the mind (cittapravṛttisthitinirodha), the absence of any support (anāśraya), the non-declaration of the dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ anidarśanam), the true nature of the dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ satyalakṣaṇam), the absence of beginning, middle and end (anādimadhyānta), indestructibility (akṣayatva), inalterability (avipariṇāmatva). That is what is called the absolute point of view.[1] It is said in the Mo ho yen yi kie (Mahāyānārthagāthā?):

The end of discourse,
The arrest of the functioning of the mind,
Non-arising and non-destruction,
Dharmas similar to nirvāṇa.

Speaking about subjects promoting action (abhisaṃskārasthāna):
Those are mundane systems.
Speaking about subjects promoting non-action (anabhisaṃskārasthāna):
That is the absolute system.

Everything is true, everything is false,
Everything is both true and false at the same time,
Everything is both false and true at the same time:
That is the true nature of the dharmas.[2]

In various sūtras of this kind, it is said that the absolute point of view (pāramārtika siddhānta) has a profound (gambhīra) meaning, difficult to see (durdṛśa), difficult to understand (duravabodha). The Buddha preaches the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra to explain [this meaning].

17. Furthermore, the Buddha has preached the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra because he wanted the brahmacārin Tch’ang tchao (Dīrghanakha)[3] and other great masters (upadeśācārya), e.g., Sien ni p’o ts’o k’iu to lo (Śreṇika Vatsagotra)[4] and Sa tchö kia mo k’ien t’i (Satyaka Nirgranthīputra)[5] to have faith (śraddhā) in the Buddhadharma. These great masters of Yen feou t’i (Jambudvīpa) said that all the treatises can be refuted, all the confused affirmations (vāda) and all the twisted beliefs (grāha), and consequently, there is no true religion deserving of belief (śraddhā) or respect (arcana, satkāra).

Thus the Chö li fou pen mo king (Śāriputrāvadānasūtra) says: Śāriputa’s uncle (mātula), called Mo ho kiu tch’e lo[6] (Mahākauṣṭhila), in a [learned] discussion with his sister Chö li (Śāri), reflected thus: “My sister is not very strong; she may become pregnant with a sage (jñānin) who would borrow his mother’s mouth in order to speak.[7] If he is wise before he is even born, what will he be like after birth when he is grown up?” This thought hurt his pride (abhimāna) and, in order to increase his knowledge, he left home and became a brahmacārin. He went to southern India (dakṣiṇāpatha) and began to study the great treatises (śāstra).[8] People asked him:

[61c] “Brahmacārin, what are you looking for, what are you studying?” Dīrghanakha (Kauṣṭhila’s surname) replied: “I want to study the eighteen great treatises in depth.” They replied: “If you would dedicate your whole life to understand a single one, then how would you ever come to the end of all of them?” Dīrghanakha said to himself: “Previously, I acted out of [injured] pride because I was outshone by my sister; again today these men are covering me with shame (gurulajjā). For two reasons, I take an oath henceforth not to cut my nails (nakha) before I have exhausted the eighteen treatises.”[9] Seeing his long nails, people called him the brahmacārin ‘Long Nails’ (dīrghanakha). By the wisdom that he derived from treatises of all kinds, this man refuted (nigṛhṇāti) by every means Dharma and Adharma, compulsory and optional, true and false, being and non-being. He confounded the knowledge of his neighbors (paropadeśa). Like an enraged mighty elephant (gaja) whose raging trampling cannot be directed, the brahmacārin Dīrghanakha, having triumphed (abhibhavati) over all the teachers by the power of his knowledge, returned to Mo k’ie t’o (Magadha), to Wang chö (Rājagṛha) in the public square (naranigama). Having come to his birthplace, he asked people: “Where is my nephew (bhāgineya) now?” They said to him: “From the age of eight years, your nephew has exhausted the study of all the treatises (śāstra).[10] When he was sixteen, his learning triumphed (abhibhavati) over everybody. But a monk of the Che clan (Śākya), called Kiu t’an (Gautama) made him his disciple.” At this news, filled with scorn (abhimāna) and disbelief (āśraddhya), Dīrghanakha exclaimed: “If my nephew is so intelligent (medhāvin), by what trick (vañcana) has this Gautama succeeded in shaving his head for him and in making him his disciple?” Having said this, he went at once to the Buddha.

At that moment, having been ordained a fortnight ago (ardhamā-sopasaṃpanna), Chö li fou (Śāriputra) was standing behind the Buddha, fan in hand (vyajanavyagrahasta), fanning the Buddha. The brahmacārin Dīrghanakha saw the Buddha and having exchanged salutations with him (kathāṃ vyatisārya), sat down to the side. He thought: “All treatises can be refuted, all refutation can be confounded and all beliefs can be overcome. Then what is the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas? What is the absolute (paramārtha)? What is self nature (svabhāva)? What is the specific nature (lakṣaṇa), the absence of error (aviparyāsa)? Such questions are tantamount to wanting to empty the depths of the ocean. He who attempts them will be a long time without discovering a single reality capable [62a] of affecting the intellect. By what teaching (upadeśa) was this Gautama able to win over my nephew?” Having reflected thus, he said to the Buddha: “Gautama, no thesis is acceptable to me (sarvaṃ me na kṣamate).” The Buddha said to Dīrghanakha: “No thesis is acceptable to you; then even this view is not acceptable to you?” The Buddha meant: You have already drunk the poison of false views (mithyādṛṣṭiviṣa). Now expel the traces of this poison (viṣavāsanā).[11] You say that no thesis is pleasing to you, but this view does not please you? – Then, like a fine horse (aśva) which, on seeing the shadow of the whip (kaśācāyā), rouses itself and goes back to the proper route, in the face of this shadow of the whip that is the Buddha’s speech (Buddhavāc), the brahmacārin Dīrghanakha collected himself and laid aside (nisṛjati) all pride (darpa);[12] shameful (lajjamāna) and with drooping head (adhomukha) he thought: “The Buddha is inviting me to choose between two contradictions (nigrahasthāna).[13] If I say that this view pleases me, that is a gross (audarika) nigrasthāna which is familiar to many people. Why then did I say that no thesis is pleasing to me? If I adopted this view, that would be a manifest lie (mṛṣāvāda), a gross nigrahasthāna known to many people. The second nigrasthāna is more subtle (sūkṣma); I will adopt it because fewer people know it.” Having reflected thus, he said to the Buddha: “Gautama, no thesis is agreeable to me, and even this view does not please me.” The Buddha said to the brahmacārin: “Nothing pleases you, and even this view does not please you! Then, by accepting nothing, you are no different from a crowd of people. Why do you puff yourself up and develop such pride?” The brahmacārin Dīrghanakha did not know what to answer and acknowledged that he had fallen into a nigrasthāna. He paid homage to the omniscience (sarvajñāna) of the Buddha and attained faith (śraddhācitta). He thought: “I have fallen into a nigrahasthāna. The Bhagavat did not make known my embarrassment. He did not say that it was wrong, he did not give his advice. The Buddha has a kind disposition (snighacitta). Completely pure (paramaśuddha), he suppresses all subjects of debate (abhilāpasthāna); he has attained the great and profound Dharma (mahāgambhīradharma); he is worthy of respect (arcanīya). The purity of his mind (cittaviśuddhi) is absolute (parama).”

And as the Buddha, by preaching the doctrine to him, had cut through his wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), Dīrghanakha at once became free of dust (viraja) and defilements (vigatamala) and acquired the perfectly pure (viśuddha) Dharma-eye (dharmacakṣus). Also at that moment, Śāriputra, who had been following this conversation, became an arhat.[14] The brahmacārin Dīrghanakha left home (pravrajita) and became a monk (śramaṇa); he became a very powerful arhat. If the brahmacārin Dīrghanakha had not heard the Prajñāpāramitā preached, the powerful doctrine excluding the four alternatives (cātuḥkoṭikavarjita)[15] and dealing with the absolute (paramārthasaṃprayukta), he would not have had faith. How then would he ever have been able to gather the fruit of the religious life (pravrajitamārgaphala)? Therefore it is in order to convert the great teachers (upadeśacārya) and men of sharp faculties (tīkṣṇendriya) that the Buddha preaches the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra.

18. Furthermore, the Buddhas have two ways of preaching the Dharma: [sometimes] they take into account (apekṣante) the minds (citta) of their listeners and adapt themselves to the beings to be converted (vaineya), [sometimes] they have in view only [the object of their sermon], the nature (lakṣaṇa) of the [62b] dharmas. Here, the Buddha preaches the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra in order to speak about the true nature of the dharmas. Thus it is said in the chapter of the Siang pou siang (Lakṣaṇālakṣaṇaparivarta) that the gods (deva) asked the Buddha: “This Prajñāpāramitā is profound (gambhīra); what is its nature (lakṣaṇa)?” The Buddha replied to the gods: “It is empty (śūnya). It has as its nature existence and non-existence (bhavābhavalakṣaṇa), non-arising and non-cessation (anutpādānirodhalakṣaṇa), effortlessness (anabhisaṃkāralakṣaṇa), the true eternal innate nature (nityājātatathātalakṣaṇa), nirvāṇa (nirvāṇalakṣaṇa), etc.”[16]

19. Again, there are two ways of preaching the Dharma: 1) dealing with argumentative subjects (araṇasthāna), 2) dealing with pacifying subjects (araṇasthāna). In dealing with argumentative subjects, one will refer back to what has been said in other sūtras.[17] Here, the Buddha preaches the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra to shed light on pacifying subjects: the Prajñāpāramitā has a nature of existence and of non-existence (bhavābhavalakṣaṇa); it is both substantial (bhūtadravya) and non-substantial (abhūtadravya), with support (sāśraya) and without support (anāśraya), offering resistance (sapratigha) and not offering resistance (apratigha), lower (sottara) and higher (anuttara), cosmic and acosmic.

Footnotes and references:


For the names of the absolute, see above.


Cf. Madh. vṛtti, p. 369: sarvaṃ tathyaṃ na vā tathyaṃ…etad buddhānuśāsanam.


See below for Dīrghanakha, the monk ‘Long Nails’.


Vatsagotra, Vacchagotta in Pāli, was a parivrājaka who became arhat after being converted. He had various conversations with the Buddha, notably on the fourteen unanswerable points (avyākṛtavastu, below, k. 2, p. 74c). Pāli canon: Tevijjhavacchagotta, Majjhima, no. 71, I, p. 481–483; Aggivacchagotta, ibid., no. 72, I, p. 483–489; Mahāvacchagotta, ibid. no. 73,, I, p. 489–497; Vacchagotta, Aṅguttara, I, p. 160–162; Vacchagottasaṃyutta, Saṃyutta, III, p. 257–263. – It is odd that among the Chinese Āgamas, it is only in the Tsa a han that the above cited Pāli texts have their parallels. Thus T 99 (no. 95), k. 4, p. 26a–b, identical with T 100 (no. 261), k. 12, p. 465c, corresponds to the Vacchagotta of the Aṅguttara, I, p. 160–162. – T 99 (no. 962), k. 34, p. 245b–246a, identical with T 100, (no. 196), k. 10, 444c–445c, corresponds to the Aggivacchagotta of the Majjhima, I, 483. – T 99 (no. 963), k. 34, p. 246a–b, identical with T 100 (no. 197), k. 10, p. 445c–446a, corresponds with Vacchagottasaṃyutta of the Saṃyutta, III, p. 237. – T 99 (no. 964), k. 34, p. 246b–247c, identical with T 100 (no. 198), k. 10, p. 446a–447b, corresponds with Mahāvacchagotta of the Majjhima, I, p. 489. Thus it is established that the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama has combined into a single section all the passages relating to Vatsagotra found scattered in the Pāli Nikāyas.

It may be noted that the Pāli texts mention only the family name of Vatsagotra: he belonged to a wealthy brahmanical family of the Vaccha clan (comm. of the Theragāthā, I, p. 221; tr. Rh. Davids, Brethren, p. 101). The Mppś informs us that his personal name was Śreṇika, like that of Bimbasāra


Sa tchö kia mo k’ien t’i should be corrected to Sa tchö kia ni k’ien t’i tseu, the proper reading attested by T 99, k. 5, p. 35a, and T 125, k. 30, p. 715b. The equivalents proposed by Soothill-Hodous, p. 488b, are fanciful; they concern Saccaka Nigaṇṭhīputta. He was the son of a Nigaṇṭha and a well-known Nigaṇṭhī who, unable to win over one another in a discussion, finally were married under the advice of the Licchāvis of Vesālī (Papañca, II, p. 268). He had four sisters, Saccā, Lolā, Paṭācāra and Sivāvatikā whom Sāriputta had converted. Saccaka himself was a a great debater (bhassappavādika) and did not lack claims to pretension: “I do not see any śramaṇa or brāhamaṇa, founder of a community, at the head of a group of disciples, who, even if he passes as perfectly enlightened, would not tremble in all his limbs, would not be agitated and would not sweat in the arm-pits if he engaged in debate with me “, he said to the people of Vesālī. “Even if I engaged in debate with a post devoid of intelligence, it would tremble and be agitated. What then of a human being?” (Majjhima, p. 227; cf. Mppś, k. 26, p. 251c). That did not prevent him from being shamefully defeated by the Buddha. Reduced to quia “like a crab, the claws of which have been broken”, he acknowledged his defeat and followed the Buddha. Saccaka appears in two sūtras:

(1) Cūḷasaccaka sutta: Majjhima, no. 35, I p. 227–237 (tr. Chalmers, I, p. 162–169); Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 110), k. 5, p. 35a–37b; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 30, p. 715a–717b.

(2) Mahāsaccakasutta: Majjhima no. 36, I p. 237–251 (tr. Chalmers, I, p. 170–179.


Mahākauṣṭhila (in Tibetan, Gsus po che, ‘Big Belly’; in Chinese, Ta si, ‘Big Knees’: cf. Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1063), later surnamed the monk ‘Long Nails’ (Dīrghanakha, brahmacārin) was the son of the brāhmin Māṭhara, the brother of Śārī and the uncle of Śāriputra. He is therefore different from the Mahākoṭṭhita of the Pāli sources whose father was Assalāyana and mother, Candavatī, but who was himself also especially linked with Śāriputra (cf. Theragāthā, v.1006–8). The documents on Dīrghanakha may be arranged in three categories:

(1) The Dīrghanakhasūtra. – Pāli text in Majjhima, no. 74, I. p. 497–501 (tr. Chalmers, p. 351–353). – Fragments of the Sanskrit text discovered in Chinese Turkestan, published by R. Pischel, Bruchstücke des Sanskritkanons der Buddhisten aus Idykutsari, SPAW, 1904, text p. 814, l. 21–816 l. 7, explanations, p. 822–923. – Chinese transl., Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 969), k. 34, p. 249a–250a; T 100 (no, 203), k. 11, p. 449a–b. – This sūtra is sometimes designated as Dīrghanakhasūtra (e.g., Mahāvastu, III,p. 76), sometimes as Vedanāpariggaha (Dhammapasaṭṭha, I, p. 79; Sumaṅgala, III, p. 882; Papñca, IV, p. 87).

(2) The Dīrghanakhavadāna, telling the story of Dīrghanakha’s voyage in southern India, his discussion with the Buddha and his conversion. – Sanskrit text in Avadānaśataka (no. 99), II, p. 186–196 (tr. Feer, p. 418–430). Chinese transl., Siuan tsi po yuan king, T 200 (no. 99), k. 10, p. 255a–157a). Same story in Ken pen chouo…tch’ou kia cha, T 1444, k. 1, p. 1023a (voyage of D. in southern India to study the Lokāyata system); k. 2, p. 1028c (conversation of D. and Gautama). See Csoma-Feer, p. 152, 155. – P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 98, p. 509b–c. Ta tche tou louen, T 1509, k. 1, p. 61b–62a (full story); k. 11, p. 137c (voyage of D.; tr. Chavannes, Contes, III, p. 293–294).

(3) The Dīrghanakhaparivrājaparipṛcchā, of which there exists a Tibetan translation entitled Kun tu rgyu ba sen eiṅs kyis zhus pa, Mdo XXVIII, 2 (OKC no. 1009; Csoma-feer, p. 283); a Chinese translation by Yi tsing, entitled Tch’ang tchao fan tche ts’ing wen king, T 584, vol XIV, p. 968; a Sogdian translation entitled Brz n’y’n syns’ry wp’rs, re-edited by E. Benviste in TSP, p. 74–81. It concerns the meritorious actions of the Buddha which merited his physical marks.


The same idea in the Lieou tou tsi king, T 152 (no. 66), k. 6, p. 35b–36a, tr. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 240–244: “A young child is killed at the moment when he was about to hear the holy book of Prajñāpāramitā recited; he was reborn in the belly of a woman who, while she was pregnant, was able to recite the Prajñāpāramitā; when she was delivered, she lost her knowledge, but the son whom she brought into the world recited the Prajñāpāramitā as soon as he was born.”


According to T 1444, k. 1, p. 1023a, Kauṣṭhila went to southern India to study the Lokāyata system.


Cf. P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 98, p. 509b: Why did he keep his nails long? Thirsting for practice, he was not in the habit of cutting them. According to others, he followed the custom of the highlanders who never cut their nails and hair. Others say that Dīrghanakha, while still in the world (gṛhastha) loved to play the guitar (hien kouan); later, when he became a monk, he remained attached to his long nails and did not cut them. Yet other masters say that he was a member of those religious heretics who keep their nails. That is why he was called the brahmacārin ‘Long Nails’.


According to the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 187, Śāriputra, at the age of sixteen years, had studied the grammar of Indra (aindra vyākaraṇa).


The intention of the Buddha is to lead Dīrghanakha to abandon his opinion without adopting another. This is very clear in the Dīrghanakhasutta and the Avadānaśataka, l. c.


An allusion to a stanza of the Dhammapada, v, 144, Sanskrit Udānavarga, p. 240: bhadro yathāśvaḥ kaśayābhitāḍita…prajahati duḥkham.


The nigrahasthānas, faults against logic, were catalogued by the Buddhist logicians; see, e.g., a list of 22 nigrasthānas in Tarkaśāstra, Tucci, Pre-Diṅnāga, p. 33–40.


Cf. Avadānaśataka, p. 194: athāyuṣmataḥ ´Śāriputrasayaiṣāṃ….dharmacakṣur utpannam.


The teaching that excludes the four alternatives is that which establishes the four-branched syllogism: “Nothing whatsoever arises, whether of itself, or of other, or of both, or without any cause.” This negativity which characterizes the Madhyamaka (cf. Keith, Buddhist Philosophy, p. 237–241; LAV., Madhyamaka, p. 19) has already been presented by Śāriputra in the canonical scriptures: Saṃyutta, II, p. 112–115; Tsa a han, Y 99 (no. 288), k. 12, p. 81a–c.


This quotation is taken from the Pañcaviṃśati, T 220, k. 510, p. 604c (of vol VII); T 221, k. 11, p. 77b; T 223, k. 14, p. 325b.


The Saṃdhinirmocana, IV, enumerates a whole series of subjects leading to discussion (e.g., the nature of the skandhas, dhātus, ayatānas; the scope of the Buddhist truths). Those who debate such subjects are ignorant that “the absolute is subtle, profound, difficult to understand and everywhere has the same taste (ekarasalakṣaṇa).”