Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why is the buddha called vidyacaranasampanna (vidya-carana-sampanna)” 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 - Why is the Buddha called Vidyācaraṇasaṃpanna (vidyā-caraṇa-saṃpanna)

He is also called Pi tch’e tchö lo na san pan na (vidyācaraṇasaṃpanna), i.e., endowed with knowledges (vidyā) and practices (caraṇa).[1] Why is he called thus?

The three knowledges (vidyā) are: 1) the memory of former existences (pūrvanivāsānusmṛti), 2) the divine eye (divyacakṣus), 3) the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya).[2]

Question. -What differernce is there between the superknowledges (abhijñā) and the knowledges (vidyā)?[3]

Answer. – The abhijñā knows the previous past existences (atītapūrvajanma), the vidyā knows the past actions (atītakarman) that are the cause. – The abhijñā knows that such and such a being will die here and be reborn there, the vidyā recognizes [in these deaths and rebirths] the unfailing result of the actions (carita) that are its cause (hetupratyaya). – The abhijñā knows that [such and such a being] has destroyed the fetters (saṃyojana), but does not know if he will be reborn again or will never be reborn again; the vidyā knows that once the impurities (āsravakṣaya) have been destroyed, one is no longer reborn. These three vidyās [are not the prerogative exclusively of the Buddha]; they are also attained by the great arhats and the great pratyekabuddhas.

Question. – If that is so, how are they different from the Buddhas?

Answer. – Although they have these three vidyās, their knowledge is not complete (paripūrṇa). In the Buddhas, the knowledge is complete: that is the difference.

Question. – What is incomplete knowledge (aparipūrṇā vidyā)? What is complete knowledge (paripūrṇā vidyā)?

Anwer. – By means of their knowledge of previous existences (pūrvanivāsānusmṛtijñāna), the arhats and pratyekabuddhas know themselves and know others in an incomplete way only. Some arhats remember one, two or three generations, [72a] ten, a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand kalpas, even 80,000 kalpas, but beyond that, their memory stops and they know no more. This is why they do not have the complete knowledge of the divine eye (divyacakṣurvidya). [Their knowledge] of future generations (anāgatajanma) likewise [is imperfect]. On the other hand, the Buddha knows the time of arising (utpāda), duration (sthiti) and cessation (bhaṅga) contained in a single moment (ekakṣaṇa), the time of arising of the fetters (saṃyojana), the time of their duration and the time of their cessation. He knows which fetters are cut during the stage of patient acceptance of suffering (duḥkhe dharmakṣaṇti) and the patient acceptance of the cognition of suffering (duḥkhe dharmakṣāntiḥ). He knows that by freeing oneself thus from the fetters (saṃyojanavimocanā), liberation of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) is obtained in such and such a place, and liberation of unconditioned dharmas (asaṃskṛtadharma) is obtained in another place, and so on up to the patient acceptance similar to the Path (mārgopamakṣaṇti) and the fifteen mind-moments of the path of seeing the truths (satyadarśanamārga).[4] All of this is unknown to the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas because their time is limited. It is thus that the Buddha knows the history (nidāna) of past beings (atītasattva) and the [moment of the] destruction of their impurities (āsravakṣaya). He knows the future (anāgata) and the present (pratyutpanna) in the same way. This is why he is said to be “endowed with the knowledges and the practices.”

By practices (caraṇa) we mean here physical and vocal acts kKāyavākkarman).[5] For the Buddha alone, physical and vocal acts are perfect (saṃpanna);[6] in all others, they present faults. He is therefore called Vidyacaraṇasaṃpanna

Footnotes and references:


Cf.Visuddhimagga, p. 202: Vijjāhi pana caraṇena ca sampannattā vijjācaraṇasaṃpanno. For the three vijjā, it refers to the Bhayabheravasutta (Majjhima, I, p. 22) and for the eight vijjā to the Ambaṭṭhasutta (Dīgha, I, p. 100). – For the dvandva vijjācaraṇa, Dīgha, III, p. 97, 98, 237: Saṃyutta, I, p. 153, 166; II, p. 284; V, p. 197; Aṅguttara, II, p. 163; IV, p. 238; V, p. 237; Suttanipāta, v. 163, 289, 442.


These are the three vidyās acquired during the three watches under the Bodhi tree: Dīgha, III, p. 220, 275; Majjhima, I, p. 22, 248; Aṅguttara, V, p. 211. The Kośa, VII, p. 108, defines them: aśaikṣī pūrve… āsravakṣayajñānasākṣātkriyāvidyā.


Acording to the Kośa, VII, p. 108, among the six abjiñās cited by these sūtras (e.g., Dīgha, III, p. 281), the last three are vidyās: the memory of previous existences, the divine eye and the destruction of the impurities.


The Path proper is the path of abandonment of the passions (prahāṇamārga). It begins with the Path of seeing (darśansmārga) consisting of the understanding (abhisamaya) of the four truths. It is composed of sixteen thoughts, four thoughts for each truth. Let us take as example the cognition of the truth of suffering (duḥkhasatya). At the first moment, the ārya takes hold of the truth of the suffering of kāmadhātu by means of a patient acceptance called duḥkhe dharmakṣānti. At the second moment, he cognizes this same truth by means of a knowledge called duḥkhe dharmajñāna. By this very fact, he cuts the possession (prāpti) of a certain category of afflictions (kleśa), then he takes possession of the destruction of these afflictions. At the third and the fourth moments, through a new patient acceptance and a new knowledge, he takes hold of and then grasps the truth of the suffering of rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu, and expels, in two times, the category of afflictions relative to them. The same exercise is repeated four times for the other three truths, which makes a total of sixteen moments, involving a total of eight patient acceptances and eight knowledges. At the sixteenth moment, the ārya obtains the fruit of entry into the stream (srotaāpatti); he is assured of arriving at liberation. But before attaining nirvāṇa, he must still travel the Path of meditation (bhāvanamārga) and destroy the passions which the seeing of the truths had not been able to extirpate. – For further details, see LAV., Note sommaire sur le Chemin, Kośa, V, p. IV-XI; Notes sur le chemin du Nirvāṇa, Bull. de la Cl. des Lettres de l’Ac. Roy. de Belgique, 1924, p. 282–296; 1925, p. 15–34; Morale, p. 93–117.


By caraṇa, the Visuddhimagga, p. 202, means: discipline (sīlasaṃvara), sense restraint (indriyesu guttadvāratā), moderation in eating (bhojane mattaññutā), vigilant zeal (jāgariyānuyoga), the seven virtues (satta saddahmmā, cf. Aṅguttara, IV, p. 3–7) and the four dhyānas of the material realm (cattāri rūpāvacarajjhānāni).


See below, k. 26, p. 247b–c: the physical, vocal and mental acts of the Buddha are preceded by knowledge and are in conformity with knowledge (sarvakāyavāgmanaskarma jñānapūrvaṃgama jñānānuparivarti). This is one of the 18 special attributes of the Buddha (āveṇika buddhadharma).