Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “explanation of the word ‘ekasmin’” 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 4 - Explanation of the word ‘ekasmin’

Let us now speak about Ekasmin.

Question. – In the Buddhist doctrine, the dharmas, number (saṃkhyā), time (kāla), etc., do not exist, because they are not included (saṃgṛhīta) in the list of aggregates (skandha), bases of consciousness (āyatana) and elements (dhātu) [set up by Buddhists].[1] Then why is it said: ‘at time’ (ekasmin samaye)?

Answer. – According to current usage (lokasaṃvṛti), there is ‘a’ time. It is not wrong [to express oneself in that way]. If a piece of carved wood represents the image of a deity (devapratimā) and by thinking of this deity, one pays homage to it (vandana), that is not wrong.[2] In the same way, when we speak of ‘a’ time, it is not wrong; even though this time does not really exist, it is in conformity with usage (saṃvṛti) that we speak of ‘a’ time.

Question. – It is impossible that there is not ‘a time’. 1. The Buddha himself said: “When ‘a’ man appears in the world, many men obtain joy. Who is this man? It is the Buddha Bhagavat.[3] Furthermore, the Buddha spoke this stanza:

[65a] My conduct (carya) has no master (acārya).
My resolve (chanda) is one and peerless.
By observing a single practice, I have become Buddha.
By myself (svataḥ), I have penetrated the noble Path (āryamārga).[4]

In the same way, the Buddha spoke about one-ness in many places. Therefore it must exist.

2. Furthermore, it is by association (saṃyoga) with the dharma ‘one-ness’ that a substance (dravya) is said to be ‘one’. If the dharma ‘one-ness’ did not truly exist, why does a single substance invoke the notion of one-ness, unity, and not of duality or three-ness? Why do two substances evoke the notion of duality and not of one-ness or of three-ness? Why do three substances evoke the notion of three-ness and not of duality or of one-ness? If numbers really did not exist, a single substance would be able to evoke the notion of two-ness, two substances would be able to evoke the notion of one-ness, and similarly for three, four, five, six, etc. That is why we know with certainty that a substance ‘one’ possesses the dharma ‘one-ness’ and that, by association (saṃyoga) with this dharma, this substance ‘one’ engenders the notion of one-ness.

Answer. – There is a fault both in the case that one-ness is identical (eka) with substance (dravya) and in the case that one-ness is different (anya) from substance.

Question. – If [one-ness and substance] are the same, what is the fault?

Answer. – 1. If a vase (ghata) is synonymous with one-ness, in the way that Yin t’i li (Indra) is synonymous with Che kia (Śakra), then wherever there is one-ness, there must be a vase, as everywhere where there is Indra, there must be Śakra. Henceforth all substances, cloth (paṭa), etc., will be vase and one-ness. Since the vase is one-ness, wherever there is one-ness, there must be vase, and not only vase, but also cloth, etc., because all of them being ‘single’ substance, they are not different (viśeṣa).

2. Furthermore, one-ness being a number-dharma (saṃkhyādharma), the vase also must be a number. Since the nature of the vase (ghaṭasvabhāva) involves five attributes (dharma), one-ness also will involve five attributes. Since the vase is material (rūpin) and offers resistance (sapratigha), one-ness also will be material and resistant. [However], wherever there is one-ness, there is no question of the vase. It is not necessary that the vase be one-ness, since to speak of one-ness is not to include the vase therein and to speak of the vase is not to include one-ness therein.

3. Finally, if the vase and one-ness were not different, then to speak of one-ness, one would be talking about the vase, and to speak about the vase, one would be talking about one-ness. This would be confusing.

Question. – If [one-ness and the vase] were identical, those would be the faults. But if they are different, where is the fault?

Answer. – If one-ness were different from the vase, the vase would be that which is not one-ness [i.e., it would be multiple, aneka]. If the vase were different from one-ness, one-ness would be everything that is not the vase. If the vase, united with one-ness, is called ‘one’, why is one-ness, united with the vase, not called ‘vase’? This is why we cannot say that the vase is different from one-ness.

Question. – It is because it is united with the number ‘one’ that the vase is ‘one’; but one-ness does not make the vase.

Answer. – Numbers begin with one-ness: one-ness is different from the vase; that is why the vase is not one-ness. Since one-ness does not exist, plurality does not exist either. Why? Because one-ness precedes plurality. Thus the difference or the identity [between the vase and one-ness] cannot be established. In both cases, if we look for a dharma ‘oneness’, we cannot find it and since we cannot find it, [65b] how could it be included in the list of aggregates (skandha), elements (dhātu) and bases of consciousness (āyatana)? Only so as to conform with current usage do the disciples of the Buddha speak of one-ness, but their minds do not truly cling (abhiniviśate) to it; they know that the dharma ‘number’ (saṃkhyādharma) has a conventional existence (saṃketasvabhāva). This is why, when the Buddhist texts talk about ‘a’ man (ekaḥ pudgala), ‘a’ teacher (eka ācāryaḥ) ‘a’ time (ekaḥ samayaḥ), they do not fall into the error of wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi).

We have explained in brief the meaning of Ekasmin.

Footnotes and references:


The lists of five skandhas, twelve āyatanas and eighteen dhātus.


The cult of images is authorized by virtue of the same principles in Aśokāvadāna (Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 361–362), Sūtrālaṃkāra (tr. Huber, p. 272) and Divyāvadāna, p. 363.


Text cited above, n.


Stanza pronounced by the Buddha when he met with the ājīvika Upaka (or Upaga, Upagaṇa).

Vinaya, I,, p. 2a–b, 3c–d); Majjhima, I, p. 171: na me ācariyo atthi… ’smi nibbuto.

Mahāvastu, III,p. 326: na me ācāryo asti… saṃbodhim uttamām.

Sanskrit Udānavarga,p. 263: ācāryo me na vai… saṃbodhim uttamām.

Lalitavistara, p. 405: ācaryo na hi me kaścit…. śītībhūto nirāsravaḥ.

Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 14, p. 618c8–9: “I have no master; there is no-one like me. Alone I am the flawless Buddha. Having reached cool the nature, I am free of corruptions,”

Wou fen liu, T 1421, K. 13, p. 104a: “My conduct has no master; by myself, I have penetrated the noble Path.” – Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 32, p. 787c: “By myself, I have attained awareness. From whom should I have learned it? I have had no teacher.” – Ken pen chouo..p’o seng che, T 1450, k. 6, p. 127a: “I do not derive my activity from any master. No-one is my equal… By myself I have found awareness; I do not depend on a teacher.”