Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why does the buddha also speak about contentious subjects?” 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 6 - Why does the Buddha also speak about contentious subjects?

Question. – With his predisposition of great loving-kindness and compassion (mahāmatrī-karuṇācitta), the Buddha should deal exclusively with pacifying subjects (araṇasthāna); why does he also speak about contentious subjects (raṇasthāna)?

Answer. – The pacifying (araṇasthāna) points of the doctrine are all without nature (alakṣaṇa), eternal (nitya), calm (śānta), ineffable (avacanīya). Here, the Buddha preaches on generosity (dāna) and the other [virtues], on the transitory (anitya) dharmas, suffering (duḥkha), emptiness (śūnya), etc. All these subjects are calm (śānta) and are omitted in fruitless discussions (niṣprapañca); that is why he preaches them. People of sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya) understand the Buddha’s intention, do not stir up quarrels (raṇa). People of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya) do not understand the Buddha’s intention; grasping at characteristics (nimittagrāhi), attached to their own ideas (cittābhiniviṣṭa), they seek to quarrel with this Prajñāpāramitā. But since these dharmas are absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya), there is no subject to quarrel (raṇasthāna) with there.[1] If absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnya) could be grasped, it would not be absolute emptiness. That is why the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra is called a pacifying subject (araṇasthana), for with its twofold characteristic of existence and non-existence (bhāvābhāvalakṣaṇa), the Prajñāpāramitā is peaceful (śānta).

20. Furthermore, the dharmas are often arranged in other sūtras into three categories: good (kuśala), bad (akuśala) and non-defined (avyākṛta).[2] Here the Buddha wishes to speak about the nature of dharmas which is neither good nor bad nor non-defined; that is why he preaches the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra. It is the same for the other categories of three dharmas: 1) dharmas of the disciples (śaikṣa), masters (aśaikṣa) and those who are neither disciples nor masters (naivaśaikṣāśaikṣa);[3] 2) dharmas to be abandoned by seeing the truths (darśanaheya), dharmas to be abandoned by meditation (bhḥavanaheya) and the Dharma which is not to be abandoned (aheya)´;[4] 3) visible dharmas that offer resistance (sanidarśanāpratigha), visible dharmas that do not offer resistance (sanidarśanāpratigha), invisible dharmas that do not offer resistance (anidarśanāpratigha);[5] 4) lower, middling and superior dharmas; 5) small, great, immense dharmas, etc.

Furthermore, in other sūtras it is a question of the four applications of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) conforming to the teachings (dharmaparyāya) of the śrāvakas.[6] During this application, the bhikṣu considers (anupaśyati) the thirty-six substances (dravya) of his own body (ādhyātmikakāya) and expels the sickness of attachment (rāgavyādhi), then he considers the body of another (bāhyakāya) in the same way, and finally both his own body and that of another (ādhyāymikabāhyakāya). Here, in relation to the four smṛtyupasthānas, the Buddha wishes to preach the Prajñāpāramitā by analogy[7] (paryāyeṇa). Thus he said: “In considering his own [62c] body, the bodhisattva produces no notion of body (kāyasaṃjñā), does not grasp at the body, for the body does not exist. By considering in the same way the body of another, then both his own body and the body of another, he produces no notion of body, does not grasp at the body, for the body does not exist. In the course of kāyasmṛtyupasthāna, he considers the body without producing the notion of body: this is very difficult to do. It is the same for the other three smṛtyupasthānas, [application of mindfulness of sensation (vedanā), mind and dharmas].” It is the same for the four correct practices (samyakpradhāna), the four foundations of miraculous powers (rddhipāda), the four dhyānas, the four truths (satya) and all other groups of four dharmas.

Furthermore, in other sūtras, the Buddha spoke of the transitory nature (anitya), the suffering (duḥkha) nature, the empty (śūnya) nature and the non-substantial (anatmaka) nature of the five aggregates (skandha).[8] Here he wishes to preach the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra in analogy with the five skandhas. Thus the Buddha said to Siu p’ou t’i (Subhūti): “The bodhisattva who attributes an eternal function (nityapravṛtti) to color (rūpa) is not practicing the Prajñāpāramitā. If he attributes an eternal function to sensation (vedanā), to perception (saṃjñā), to the formations (saṃskāra) and to consciousness (vijñāna), he is not practicing the Prajñāpāramitā. If he attributes to color a transitory function (anityapravṛtti), he is not practicing the Prajñapāramitā. If he attributes a transitory function to sensation, perception, formation and consciousness, he is not practicing the Prajñāpāramitā.” It is the same for the five aggregates of attachment (upādānaskandha), the five destinies (gati), and all groups of five dharmas. It is the same for all groups of six, seven, eight or an infinite number of dharmas.

Just as the Mahāprajñāpāramitā is infinite (apramāṇa) and unlimited (ananta), so are the reasons for preaching also infinite and limitless, for such material is vast. Here we have concluded in brief (samāsataḥ) the reasons for the preaching.

Footnotes and references:


The Vajracchedikā, p. 22, expresses the same idea in different words: yāvat Subhūte lakṣaṇasaṃpat…tathāgato draṣṭavyaḥ. -Tr. – O Subhūti, where there is a seat of characteristics, there is a lie; where there is no seat of characteristics, there is no lie; that is why the Tathāgata must be defined by the absence of characteristics.


The distinction between good (kuśala) and bad (akuśala) dharmas is frequent in the Buddhist canon. The Abidharma also distinguishes non-defined (avyākṛta) dharmas which are neither good nor bad. Cf. Dhammasaṅgaṇi, p. 1; Vibhaṅga, p. 180; Nettipakaraṇa, p. 191; Milinda, p. 12. Other references in Geiger, Pāli Dhamma, p. 105–113.


Dhammasaṅgaṇi, p. 184–185; Kośa, VI, p. 231.


In Pāli: dassanena pahātabhā, bhāvanāya pahātabbā, neva dassanena na bhāvanāya pahātabbā, Dhammasaṅgaṇi, no. 1002, 1007, 1008, p. 183–183; Vibhaṅga, p. 12, 126, 97; Kośa, p. 78.


Kośa, I, p. 51.


The four smṛtyupasthānas play an important part in the canonical scriptures: Dīgha, II, p. 290 (tr. Rh. D., II, p. 322–326); Majjhima, I, p. 56, II, p. 11; Saṃyutta, V, p. 9, 1412; Aṅguttara, I, p. 39, 296; II, p. 256; III, p. 450, IV, p. 300, 457: idha bhikkhave kāye…dhammesu dhammānupassī… – Sanskrit phrase in R. Pischel, Bruchstücke des Sanskritkanons aus Idykutsari, SPAW, XXV, 1904, p. 1143. – Chinese versions, e.g., Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 98), k. 24, p. 582b; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 623), K. 24, P. 174a; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 5, p. 568a. – The smṛtyupasthānas have been studied in detail in the Abhidharma: Aung, Compendium, p. 179; Visuddhimagga, p. 239–266; A p’i t’an pa kien tou louen, T 1543, k. 29, p. 905–908; A p’i ta mo fatche louen, T 1544, k. 19, p. 1072–1074; A p’i ta mo fa yun tsou louen, T 1537, k. 5–6, p. 475–479; P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 187–192, p. 936–960; Kośa, VI, p. 158–162.


Lamotte gives ‘equivalence’. Monier-Williams gives ‘to approach from, to come near’ for the root pary-ā-yā.


E.g., in Saṃyutta, III, p. 44: rūpaṃ bhikkhave aniccam…me so attāti. Corresponding Sanskrit passage in JRAS, 1913, p. 573; in Chinese, Tsa a han, T 99 (no, 84), k. 3, p. 21c. – Other references in Rhys Davids-Stede, s.v. saṅkhāra, in fine. – According to the Vaibhāṣikas, the four aspects of the truth of suffering are: anitya, duḥkha, śūnya and anātmaka (Kośa, VII, p. 31).

NOTE: The lengthy Sanskrit and Pāli quotations have been abbreviated for convenience, the beginning and the ending given so that they may be located.