Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “origin of the ashtagrantha-abhidharma and the shatpadabhidharma” 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 origin of the aṣṭagrantha-abhidharma and the Ṣaṭpādabhidharma

Question. – What is the origin of the Pa kien tou a p’i t’an (Aṣṭagranthābhidharma), the Lieou fen a p’i t’an (Ṣaṭpādābhidharma), and the others?[1]

Answer. – 1. When the Buddha was in this world, the doctrine did not meet any opposition. After the Buddha had departed, when the doctrine was recited for the first time, it was still as it was in the time when the Buddha was alive. – A hundred years later, king A chou kia (Aśoka) brought together a great assembly of five hundred (pañcavarṣapariṣad) and the great masters of the dharma debated. (see notes on the second Buddhist council) As a result of their differences, two distinct sects (nikāya) subsequently developed,[2] [each] having a name. – Finally a Brahmin monk named Kia tcham yen (Kātyāyana), wise and of keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya), completely recited the three Baskets (tripiṭaka), the inner and outer texts (ādhyātmikabahyasūtra). Wishing to explain the words of the Buddha, he compiled the Fa tche king pa kien tou (Jñānaprasthānāṣṭagrantha). (see notes on Kātyāyana) The first chapter (skandhaka) deals with the supreme worldly dharmas (laukikāgradharma).[3] Subsequently, his disciples made from it a Pi p’o so (Vibhāṣā) for people of ages to come who could not completely understand the Aṣṭagrantha (or Jñānaprasthāna).[4]

2. Some say: In the Lieou fen a p’i t’an (Ṣaṭpādābhidharma)[5] the third part in eight chapters (p’in = parivarta) is called Fen pie che tch’ou (Lokadhātuprabheda?); this is the third part of the Leou t’an king in six parts; it is the work of Maudgalyāyana.[6] In the [Abhidharma] in six parts, the first part contains eight chapters (p’in); four are the work of the bodhisattva P’o siu mi (Vasumitra) and four others the work of the arhats of Ki pin (Kaśmir).[7] The other five parts are the work of the Louen yi che (upadeśācārya).

3. Some say: When the Buddha was in this world, Śāriputra composed the Abhidharma in order to explain the words of the Buddha. Later, the T’ou tseu (Vātsiputrīya) monks recited [this work]. To this day, this is what is called the Chou li fou a p’i t’an (Śāriputābhidharma). (see notes on Śāriputra-abhidharma)

4. During the lifetime of the Buddha, Mahākātyāyana explained the words of the Buddha and composed a Pi le (peṭaka), ‘box-collection’ in the language of the T’sin. It is used even today in southern India.[8]

As all these works are commentaries on the words of the Buddha, when it is said: “The five precepts (śīla)”, [the commentary] says: some are material (rūpin), others are non-material (arūpin); some are visible (sanidarśana), others are invisible (anidarhana); some offer resistance (sapratigha), others do not offer resistance (apratigha); some are impure (sāsarava), others are pure (anāsrava); some are conditioned (saṃskṛta), others are non-conditioned (asaṃskṛta); some are with retribution (vipaka), others are without retribution; some are good (kuśala), others are bad (akuśala); some are morally defined (vyākṛta), others are morally non-defined (avyakṛta). All this is what is called the Abhidharma.

Furthermore, there are seven tendencies of defilement (anuśaya):[9] anuśaya of attachment to pleasure (kāmarāga), anuśaya of hostility (pratigha), anuśaya of attachment to existence (bhāvarāga), anuśaya of pride (māna), anuśaya of ignorance (avidyā), anuśaya of wrong view (dṛṣṭi), anuśaya of doubt (vicikitsā or vimati): these are the seven anuśayas. Some are the anuśayas of the desire realm (kāmadhātu), some are the anuśayas of the form realm (rūpadhātu), others are the anuśayas of the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu). Some are abandoned by seeing the truths (satyadarśanaheya), others are abandoned by meditation (bhāvanāheya); some are abandoned by the seeing of suffering (duḥkhadarśanaheya), others are abandoned by seeing the origin [of suffering] (samudayadarśanaheya), others are abandoned by seeing the cessation [of suffering] (nirodhadarśanaheya); the rest are abandoned [70b] by seeing the Path (pratipaddarśanaheya). Some are complete anuśayas, the others are incomplete anuśayas.

The ten knowledges (jñāna)[10] are: 1) knowledge of dharma (dharmajñāna), 2) subsequent knowledge (anvayajñāna), 3) worldy knowledge (lokasaṃvṛtijñāna), 4) knowledge of the mind of another (paracittajñāna), 5) knowledge of suffering (duḥkajñāna), 6) knowledge of its origin (samudayajñāna), 7) knowledge of its cessation (nirodhajñāna), 8) knowledge of the Path (mārgajñāna), 9) knowledge of the cessation [of the defilements] (kṣayajñāna), 10) knowledge of no further rebirths (anutpādajñāna). These are the ten knowledges. Some are impure (sāsrava) others are pure (anāsrava); some are conditioned (saṃskṛta), others are unconditioned (asaṃskṛta); some are sāsarava causes, others are anāsarava causes. Some are causes belonging to the desire realm (kāmadhātu), some are causes belonging to the form realm (rūpadhātu), some are causes belonging to the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu), others are causes belonging to no realm (anavacara). Some are acquired on the uninterrupted path (ānantaryamārga), others on the path of liberation (vimuktimārga). When the four fruits (phala) are acquired, some are attained, others are lost.

To analyze (vibhajana) all dharmas in this way is what is called Abhidharma.

There are three kinds of Abhidharma. First the main part and the meaning of the Abhidharma; the abbreviated text consists of 320,000 words. Secondly [the Abhidharma] in six parts; the abbreviated text consists of 320,000 words. Thirdly, the Piṭaka: the abbreviated text consists of 320,000 words.

We have explained the general meaning as a whole (samāsataḥ) of the expression Evaṃ mayā śrutam ekasmin samaye.

Footnotes and references:


Przyluski, Concile, p. 72, translates: ‘the Abhidharma in eight hien tou (khaṇḍa) and the Abhidharma in six sections’. Later we will see the justification for the Sanskrit titles proposed here.


For the development of the sects, W. Geiger, Mahāvaṃsa, App. B, p. 276–287; R. Kimura, Intro. to the Hist. of Early Indian Buddhist Schools, Calcutta, 1925; M. Walleser, Die Sekten des alten Buddhismus, Heidelberg, 1927; J. Masuda, Origin and Dictrines of Early Indian Buddhist Schools, Asia Major, II, 1925, p. 1–78; P. Demiéville, L’origine des sectes bouddhiques d’après Paramārtha, MCB, I, 1931–21, p. 15–64.


On the theory of the laukiāgradharmas in the Jñānaprasthāna, cf. LAV., Pārāyaṇa cité dans Jñānanprasthāna, MI, II, p. 323–327; Introd. to Kośa, p. XXX.


According to some sources, the Vibhāṣā was compiled in the course of a council held under Kaniṣka in the monastery of Kuvana near Jālandhara or at the vihāra of Kuṇḍalavana in Kaśmir. Here is a short summary of sources related to this council:

Chinese sources: Paramārtha, Vie de Vasubandhu, T 2049, p. 189a (tr. J. Takakasu, TP, 1910; – Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2098, k. 3, p. 886b–887 (tr. Beal, I, p. 151–155; tr. Watters, I., p. 270–278).

Tibetan sources: Bu ston, II, p. 997 (which tells of several different traditions); – Taranātha, p. 58–61; – Schiefner, Tibetische Lebensbescreibung, p. 310.

Works: Kern, Histoire, II, p. 392–394; Manual, p. 121–122; J. Takakusu, JRAS, 1905, p. 415; JPTS, 1905, p. 123; V. Smith, Early History of India, Oxford, 1908, p. 230; LVP., Histoire, II, p. 326–327.

This confused collection of indecisive traditions has, as its evident intention, the setting up of Kaniṣka as against Aśoka, and attributing to the Sarvāstivādins a council which would somehow serve as a match for the synod of the Vibhajyavādins presided over by Tissa Moggalaputta. As de La Vallée Poussin has said: “It is likely that Kaniṣka did not call a council and that that there was no council.” It is not unreasonable that the Mppś has made no mention of it.

In any case, if a Vibhāṣā was composed under Kaniṣka to serve as commentary for the Jñānaprasthāna of Kātyāyana, it is certainly different from the Mahāvibhāṣā in 200 rolls which has come down to us in the Chinese translation of Hiuan tsang (T 1545). The latter, in effect, tells a story of a eunuch and bulls that came, it says, “in the past”, under Kaniṣka (cf. T 1545, k. 114, p. 593a).


The Ṣaṭpādābhidharma, the title of which is attested in the Kośavyākyā, p. 466, is the Jñānaprasthāna and the six annexed treatises that are its continuation (anucāra) or ‘feet’ (cf. Kośa, I, p. 4, n. 4). There is a list of them in Sanskrit in the Kośavyākhyā, p. 9, and in Tibetan in Buston, I. p. 49 and Taranātha, p. 296: i) Prakaraṇapāda by Vasumitra (T 1541 and 1542; ii) Vijñānakāya by Devaśarman or Devakṣema (T 1539), iii) Dharmaskandha by Śāriputra according to the Tibetan sources, of Maudgalyāyana according to the Chinese sources (T 1537); iv) Prajñaptiśāstra by Maudgalyāyana (T 1538); v) Dhātukāya by Pūrṇa according to the Tibetan sources, of Vasumitra according to the Chinese sources (T 1540); vi) Saṃgītiparyāya of Mahākauṣṭhila according to the Tibetan sources, of Śāriputra according to the Chinese sources (T 1536). – Along with the Jñānaprasthāna, these are the seven treatises of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. The best study of these works is that of J. Takakusu, On the Abhidharma Literature of the Sarvāstivādin, Extract of JPTS, 1905, which is complemented by de La Vallée Poussin’s Introduction to the Kośa, p. XXIX-XLII. – For the comparison with the seven books of the Pāli Abhidharma, refer to Winternitz, Literature, II, p. 165–173; Law, Pāli Literature, I, p. 336–342; Nyanatiloka, Guide through the Abhidhamma-Piṭaka, Colombo, 1938.


This is probably the Dharmaskandha (T 1537) attributed to Maudgalyāyana by the Chinese tradition; but in Hiuan tsang’s translation, it consists of twenty-one chapters.


This is a question of the Prakaraṇapāda (T1541 and 1542) which actually consists of eight chapters: Pañcadharmavibhaṅga, Jñānavibhaṅga, Āyatanavibhaṅga, Saptapādārthavibhaṅga, Anuśayavibhaṅga, Saṃgrahavibhaṅga, Sahasraparipṛicchāvibhaṅga, Nirvedavibhaṅga. If the Mppś is to be believed, only the first four would be the work of Vasumitra.


For Mahākātyāyana and his Peṭakopadesa, see above.


The same list but with different order in Dīgha, III, p. 254; Saṃyutta, V, p 60; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 9; Vibhaṅga, p. 340, 383; Kathāvatthu II, p. 405 sq; Kośa, V, p. 3; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 490), k. 18, p. 127a28.


For the ten jñānas and connected problems: Prakaraṇapāda, T 1541, k. 1, p. 628b–c; T 1542, k. 1, p.693c–694a; Abhidharmāmṛtarasaśāstra, T 1553,k. 2, p. 974 (tr. Hôbôgirin, Chi, p. 291); Kośa, VII, p.11; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1234–1243. – Cf. the Pāli sources: Dīgha, III, p. 226–227; Saṃyutta, II, p. 57; Vibhaṅga, p. 328.

NOTE: The Sanskrit and Pāli quotations have been abbreviated, the first and last phrases only being cited.