Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “explanation of the word ‘evam’” 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 1 - Explanation of the word ‘evam’

Note: In his commentaries on the Nikāyas (Sumaṅgala, I, p. 26; Papañca, I, p. 3; Sārattha, I., p. 4), Buddhagosa mentions all the possible meanings of evam along with supporting texts. This adverb can indicate comparison (upāmā), information (upadesa), approval (sampahaṃsana), reproach (garahaṇa), acceptance (vacanasaṃpaṭiggahaṇa), style (ākāra), designation (nidassana) and affirmation (avadhāraṇa). In the expression evam me sutaṃ, the adverb evam expresses manner, designation and affirmation (svāyaṃ idha ākāranidassanāvadhāraṇesu daṭṭhabbo). To the author of the Mppś, evam symbolizes the faith of the believer in the words of the Buddha that he has heard. Some manuals of Buddhism have a tendency to present Buddhism as a rationalistic system, a simple appeal to reason (E. Hardy, Buddha, Leipzig, 1903, p. 54; Pischel, Leben, p. 54). But Buddhism is also adherence to the word of the Buddha and faith plays an important, although secondary, rôle in the discipline of salvation (Kern, Histoire, I, p. 1; Manual, p. 50; LAV., Opinions, p. 132–139; Oltramare, Théosophie, p.341–342; B.M. Barua, Faith in Buddhism, BS, XII, p. 329–349).

Sūtra. – Evaṃ mayā śrutam ekasmin samaye: Thus have I heard at one time.

Question. – Why do Buddhist sūtras begin with the word evam, ‘thus’? [63a]

Answer. – 1. The Buddhadharma is a great sea (mahāsamudra); faith (śraddhā) is its entry (avatāraka), knowledge (jñāna) is its ferryman (tāraka). Evam is a synonym for faith.[1] The person whose heart is full of pure faith (śraddhāviśuddhi) is able to enter into the Buddha’s doctrine; without faith, he cannot. The non-believer says: “It is not so (tan naivam)”: that is the mark of disbelief (āśraddhyalakṣaṇa). The believer says: “That is indeed so” (evam etat). The disbeliever is like hard leather (gocarman) that cannot be folded (ākuñcita); the believer is like supple leather that can be folded for [any] use. Furthermore, it is said in a sūtra: “Faith is like a hand (hasta). Endowed with hands, the man who goes to a jewel mountain (ratnaparvata) gathers the jewels (ratna) at will. In the same way, the believer, penetrating into the Buddha’s doctrine – this jewel mountain that contains the pure faculties (anāsravendriya), the powers (bala), the path of enlightenment (bodhimārga) and the dhyānas – the believer, I say, is able to take [anything] he wishes. The non-believer is like the person without hands. Without hands, the person who goes to a jewel mountain can take nothing. In the same way, the non-believer, going to the jewel mountain of the Buddha’s doctrine, can gain nothing.” The Buddha said: “If a man has faith, he can enter the ocean of my great doctrine and attain the fruit of the religious life (śrāmaṇyaphala); it is not in vain that he shaves his head and puts on the robes (kāṣāya). If he has no faith, he cannot enter the ocean of my doctrine. Like a rotten tree (pūtika vṛkṣa) that is unable to produce either flowers or fruit, he cannot win the fruit of the religious life. He can shave his head, dye his garments, study all kinds of sūtras and śāstras, he can gain no profit of the Buddhadharma.” This is why the word evam occurs at the beginning of Buddhist texts: it refers to faith.

2. Furthermore, the Buddha’s doctrine is profound (gambhīra) and distant; it requires a Buddha to understand it. Without being a Buddha, the believer can enter into the Buddha’s doctrine by the power of faith (śraddhābala). Thus, Fan t’ien wang (Brahmādevarāja) invited the Buddha to turn the wheel of the doctrine (dharmacakra).[2] He invited him with this stanza:

In Jambudvīpa, at one time, there appeared
Many impure doctrines.
Open the gate of immortality,
Preach the pure path.[3]

The Buddha replied with this stanza:

My doctrine is very difficult to grasp,
It is able to cut through the fetters.
Those whose minds are attached to the desire of the triple world (tribhavatṛṣṇā)
Are unable to understand it.[4]

Brahmādevarāja said to the Buddha: “O Venerable One (bhadanta), in the universe (lokadhātu), knowledge is of superior, middling or inferior category. People of sensitive and upright mind can easily obtain salvation. If these people do not hear the doctrine preached, they fall into grave difficulties. It is like the lotus (utpala) in the water: some are born, some ripen, some remain within the water without emerging.[5] If they do not have sunlight (sūryaprabhā), they do not [63b] expand (vikasanti). The Buddha is like [the sunlight]: sent forth by his great loving kindness and great compassion (mahāmaitrīkaruṇā), that he might have pity for beings and preach the doctrine.” The Buddha recalled the qualities (dharma) of the buddhas of the three times (tryadvan), past (atīta), future (anāgata) and present (pratyutpanna), all of whom preached the doctrine in order to save beings: “I too”, said he, “must do the same.” After having had this thought (manasikāra), he accepted Brahmādevarāja’s and the other gods’ invitation (adhyeṣaṇā) and preached the doctrine. The Bhagavat replied with this stanza:

Now I open the gate to the immortal.
The faithful shall obtain joy.  
I preach the wonderful doctrine to men,
I do not preach in order to harm anyone.
     (see notes on the door of the immortal)

In this stanza, the Buddha does not say that it is the generous person (dāyaka) who will obtain joy, or the person with knowledge (bahuśruta), morality (śīla), patience (kṣānti), energy (vīrya), dhyāna, or wisdom (prajñā). The Buddha is speaking only of the faithful. His intention is the following: My supreme (parāma) profound (gambhīra) doctrine is subtle (sūkṣma), immense (apramāṇa), incalculable (asaṃkhyeya), inconceivable (acintya), immoveable (acala), without support (anāśraya), without attachment (nirāsaṅga) and without perceived object (anālambana). But it is not true that the omniscient one (sarvajñā) is unable to explain it. That is why, in the Buddha’s doctrine, the power of faith is primordial. It is by faith that one enters into it and not by generosity (dāna), discipline (śīla), patience (kṣānti), energy (vīrya), dhyāna or wisdom (prajñā). Thus some stanzas say:

In this world, the mind of beings is changeable.
They love the rewards of merit,
But they dread meritorious action.
They seek existence and avoid destruction.

First they listen to doctrines [drawing their inspiration] from wrong views.
Their mind becomes attached to it and they penetrate it deeply.
My doctrine is very profound.
Without faith how can it be understood?

Thus the great disciples T’i p’o ta (Devadatta),[6] Kiu kia li (Kokālika)[7] etc., not having faith in the Dharma, fell into the evil destinies (durgati). These men had no faith in the Buddha’s doctrine and were unable to discover it by their own wisdom (prajñā). Why? Because the Buddha’s doctrine is profound (gambhīra). Thus Brahmādevarāja uttered this stanza to Kokālika:

You want to measure the incommensurable doctrine.
The wise man has nothing to measure.
He who wants to measure the incommensurable doctrine
Is nothing but a dull worldling.[8]

3. Another meaning of Evam. – The person whose mind in animated by correct faith can understand the doctrine. Otherwise, he understands nothing. A stanza says:

The listener of pure and clear attention
Attentively (ekacitta) follows the discussions.
Leaping for joy, he hears the doctrine, his mind full of joy:
That is the sort of person to whom it should be preached.

4. Furthermore, the word Evam occurs at the beginning of Buddhist texts. Present happiness (ihalokasukha), future happiness (amutrasukha), the happiness of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasukha), all happiness has its roots (mūla) in very powerful faith. [63c]

5. Furthermore, all religious heretics (tīrthikaparivrājaka) imagine that their own doctrine is subtle (sūkṣma) and absolutely pure (paramaśuddha). These people exalt the doctrine that they practice and denigrate (nindanti) that of others. That is why, here below, they quarrel and argue; after death, they fall into hell (naraka) and suffer immense pain of all kinds. A stanza says:

Attached to their own doctrine,
They blame that of other people.
Even by observing moral conduct (śīlacaryā)
They do not escape from the torment of hell.

In the Buddha’s doctrine, all attachment (saṅga), all false views (mithyādṛṣṭi), all pride of self (asmimāna), is abandoned and cut; one becomes detached from them. Thus the Fa yu king (Kolopamasūtra) says: “If you have understood the sermon on the comparison with the raft (kolopama dharmaparyāya), you must abandon the holy Dharma and, a fortiori, adharma.”[9] The Buddha himself is not attached to the Prajñāpāramitā, why then would he be attached to other doctrines? That is why Buddhist texts begin with the word Evam. The intention of the Buddha is as follows: My disciples will not love the doctrine, will not become attached to the doctrine, will not have factions (parapakṣa). They will seek only freedom from suffering (duḥkhakṣaya), deliverance (vimukti), the nature of dharmas free of empty discussions (niṣprapañca dharmalakṣaṇa). Thus in the A t’a p’o k’i king (Arthavargitasūtra), Mo kien t’i nan (Mākandika) spoke this stanza:[10]

To defined (viniścita) dharmas
Various notions are wrongly applied.
Rejecting inner and outer
How will the Path be attained?

The Buddha replied:

It is not by view (dṛṣṭi), tradition (śruti), knowledge (jñāna)
Or morality (śīla) that it is attained.
It is not by absence of view, tradition, etc.,
Nor by absence of morality that it is attained.

It is by abandoning all this chatter, [64a]
By also rejecting the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’ (ātmātmīya),
By not grasping any real nature (dharmalakṣaṇa),
That the Path can be attained.

Mākandika said:

If it is not by view, tradition, etc.,
Nor by morality that it is attained,
If it is not by absence of view, tradition, etc.,
Nor by absence of morality that it is attained,
Then according to my reasoning,
It is by observing a doctrine of silence that the Path is attained.

The Buddha replied:

You are depending on wrong views.
I am aware that you are deluded about the Path.
You have not seen the deceptive notion,
Consequently you will be silent.

6. Furthermore, to say: “My doctrine is true (satya), the other doctrines are deceptive (mṛṣāvāda); my doctrine is absolute (parama), the others are wrong (abhūta)”: such is the origin of quarrels (vivādamūla). Here the term Evam designates a doctrine free of quarreling: listening to the words of others, it declares: “This man is not wrong.” That is why the Buddhist sūtras begin with Evam.

The meaning of Evam has been explained in brief (samāsataḥ).

Footnotes and references:


Faith is often compared to a boat: saddhāya tarati oghaṃ (Suttanipāta, v. 184; Saṃyutta, I, p. 214; Sanskrit Udānavarga, p. 113). The Śikṣasamucchaya, p. 62, speaks about the ship of faith (śraddhānāva) on which one embarks to go the treasure island (ratnadvīpa).


We have several versions of the invitation (āyacana) of Brahmā) to the Buddha. – In Pāli: Vinaya, I, p. 5–7 (tr. Rh. D.-Oldenberg, I, p. 84–88). Dīgha, II, p. 36–39 (tr, Rh,D., II, p. 29–33); Majjhima, I, p. 167–169 (tr. Chalmers, I, p. 118–120); Samyutta, I, p. 136–138 (tr. Geiger, I, p. 213–217; Rh.D.-Woodward, I, p. 171–174). – In Sanskrit: Mahāvastu, III, p. 314–319; Lalitavistara, p. 392–402 (tr. Foucaux, p. 326–334). – In Chinese: Tch’ang a han, T 1 (no. 1)., k. 1, p. 8b–c; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 10, p. 593a–b; Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 15, p. 103c–104a; Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 32, p. 786c–787a; Ken pen chouo…p’o seng che, T 1450, k. 6, p. 126b; P’ou yao king, T 186, k. 7, p. 528; Fang kouang ta tchouang yen king, T 187, k. 10, p. 602–605; Kouo k’iu hien tsai yin kouo king, T 189, k. 3, p. 642c–643a; Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 33, p. 803–807 (tr. Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 241–244); Tchong hiu mo ho ti king, T 191, k. 7, p. 952c–953a. – In Tibetan, see Rockhill, Life, P. 35; Feer, Extraits, p. 14–16.

These various versions show great divergence both as to the number of stanzas exchanged between the Buddha and Brahmā and the very meaning of the words pronounced. One gets the impression that the compilers and the translators only partially understood the meaning of the documents they used


Vinaya, I, p. 5; Majjhima, I, p. 168; Saṃyutta, I, p. 137: pāturahosi Magadhesu… vimalenānubuddhaṃ

Mahāvastu III, p. 317: prādurahosi samalehi…vimalānubuddhaṃ

Lalitavistara, p. 398: vādo babhūva…vimalena buddham

By replacing Magadheṣu by Jambudvīpa, the Mppś seems to have wanted to handle the Magadhan pride with care. The same preoccupation may be noticed in the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya, T 1450, k. 3, p. 126b: “Finally, now there has appeared in Magadha an extraordinary (adbhūta) and pure (śuddha) doctrine. May the one who has the knowledge of the dharmas open the gates of the immortal.” – In T 191, k. 7, p. 953a, Brahmā invites the Buddha to preach, not only because Magadha is the land of impure doctrines but because at one time unsoiled doctrines were taught there. “In Magadha in the past there appeared some stainless doctrines. Open wide the gates of the immortal, spread the doctrine and save beings.” The difference between texts is probably due to an old rivalry between Rājagṛha, capital of Magadha, and Benares, where all the Buddhas have preached their first sermon (cf. the samatiṃsavidhā dhammatā of the Buddhas in Malalasekera, II, p. 296). In the Lalitavistara, p. 402, the Buddha explains why he chose Benares in preference to other cities to give his first sermon: “I remember the ninety-one thousands of koṭis of Buddhas who once turned the peerless wheel in this most beautiful of all forests (Mṛgadāva in Benares). Because of that, I shall turn the peerless wheel in this most beautiful of all forests.”


Vinaya, I, p. 5; Dīgha, II, p. 38; Majjhima, I, p. 168; Saṃyutta, I, p. 136: kicchena me adhigataṃ… tamokkhandhena āvatā

Mahāvastu, III, p. 314: pratiśrotagāminaṃ mārgaṃ… grasitā narāḥ.

Pratiśrotam and anuśrotam should probably be corrected to pratisrotam, ‘going upstream’, and anusrotam, ‘going downstream’.

Lalitavistara, p. 397: pratisrotagāmi mārgo gambhīro… tasmāt prakāśitum.


The exact extent of the comparison between the three categories of knowledge and the stages of maturity of the lotus appears more clearly in other texts:

A. Vinaya, I, p. 6; Dīgha, II, p. 38; Majjhima, I, p. 169; Saṃyutta, I, p. 138: addasa kho bhagav …..ānupalittāni udakena.

B. Mahāvastu, III, p. 317–318: atha khalu bhagavān… lokam abhivilokayanto adrākṣit.

C. Lalitavistara, p. 399–400: atha khalu tathāgataḥ… sattvāṃs triṣu rāśiṣu vyavasthitān.


Devadatta, cousin and enemy of the Buddha. For the genealogy of this well-known individual, see below, k. 3, p.83c.


Kokālika (Kokāliya), son of a brahmin and ardent supporter of Devadatta (Vinaya, III, p. 174) allowed himself to be involved by the latter in a plot against the Buddha (Vinaya, II, p. 196, III, p. 171; Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 25, p. 164). He appears in several Jātakas (see Watters, Travels, I, p. 392; Malalasekera, I, p. 673). – Rightly or wrongly, Buddhaghosa (Suttanipāta, Comm., II, p. 473; Sārattha, I, p. 216), distinguishes him from a Cūḷa Kokālika, originally from Kokāli, who was thrown into the Padmaniraya for having criticized Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana (below, k. 13, p. 157b–c; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 1278), k. 48, p. 351b; Che song liu, T 1435, k. 37, p. 265b–c; Tsa pao tsang king, T 203 (no. 28), k. 3, p. 461a–b; Saṃyutta, I, p. 149; Aṅguttara, V, p. 171; Suttanipāta, III, 10; Jātaka, IV, p. 242 sq.). For the Mppś, these two individuals are apparently one and the same.


Saṃyutta, I, p. 148: appameyyaṃ paminanto… maññe puthujjanaṃ.

Chinese version in Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 1193), k. 44, p. 323b–c; T 100 (no. 106), k. 5, p. 411b–c. – The Mppś will cite another stanza later, k. 13, p. 157b–c.


Majjhima, I, p. 135: kullūpamaṃ vo bhikkhave ājānantehi… pag eva adhammā; Vajracchedikā, p. 23: kolopamaṃ dharmaparyāyam… prag evādharmāḥ; Laṅkāvatāra, p. 17; Tchong a han, T 26 (no. 200), k. 54, p. 764b–c; P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 97, p. 513b. – The Buddhist doctrine is often compared to a raft which must be abandoned when one has crossed over the river of transmigration: Suttanipāta, v. 21; Kośa, I, p.13;, VIII, p. 186; Siddhi, p. 616; Pañjikā, p. 413; LAV. Madhyamaka, p. 31–32; Hôbôgirin, Batsuyu, p. 62.


For Arthavargīya, see above, p. 39, n. 2.

The stanzas cited here are extracted from the Māganditasutta, Suttanipāta, IV, 9, v. 838–841; Yi tsou king, T 198 (no. 9), k. 1, p. 180. The Pāli text shows some differences.

838. vinicchayā yāni pakappitāni… paveditaṃ taṃ (iti Māgandiyo)

839. na diṭṭhiyā na sutiyā… anissāya bhavaṃ na jappe. (iti Bhagavā)

840. no ce kira diṭṭiyā na… eke paccenti suddhiṃ (iti Māgandiyo)

841. diṭṭīsu nissāya anupucchamāno… momuhato dahāsi. (iti Bhagavā)

– For the name Māgandiya, Mākandika in Sanskrit, see S. Lévi, Langue precanonique du Bouddhisme, JA, 1912, p. 498. – This person had the presumption to offer his daughter Māgandiyā or Anupamā in marriage to the Buddha. Cf. Suttanipāta Comm., II, p. 542 seq.; Dhammapadaṭṭha, III, p. 193–195 (tr. Burlingame, III, p. 31–33); Sanskrit fragment from East Turkestan described by F.R Hoernle, JRAS, 1916, p. 709 seq.; Divyāvadāna, chap. 36, p. 515–529: Ken pen chouo… p’i nai ye, T 1442, k. 47, p. 886a19–887. – This individual is probably identical with the brahmacārin Mākandika, founder of a sect which will be dealt with below, k. 3, p. 82b. – On the other hand, according to Buddhaghosa (Papañca, III, p. 209), the Māgandiya who appears in the Māgandiyasutta of the Majjhima, I, p. 501–513 (= Tchong a han, T 26, k. 38, p. 670–673) and in Milinda, p. 313, was the nephew of the preceding Māgandiya.