Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “omniscient buddha” 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 14 - The omniscient Buddha

Question. – You are a partisan of the Kṣatriya clan! As son of king Śuddhodana, the Buddha was called Siddhārtha. It is out of [flattery] that you are decorating him with great names and that you call him omniscient (sarvajñā). He is not an omniscient one.

Answer. – Not at all! Rather, it is you, maliciously, are jealous and slander the Buddha. The omniscient one truly exists. Among all beings the Buddha is unequaled for his beauty (rūpa), grace (prasāda) and perfection (ṛjutva). By his characteristics (lakṣaṇa), his qualities (guṇa) and his brilliance (āloka), he surpasses all men (sarvanarottama). Humble people who saw his physical marks (kāyalakṣaṇa) recognized him to be omniscient (sarvajñā) and, a fortiori, the Great Man (mahāpuruṣa).

Thus in the Fang nieou p’i yu king (Gopālakāvadānasūtra),(see notes on cow-herder rules) it is said:

The king of Mo k’ie t’o (Magadha), P’in p’o so lo, invited the Buddha and his five hundred disciples for three months. The king required fresh milk (navanīta kṣīra) and cream (sarpais-) to offer to the Buddha and the assembly of monks (bhikṣusaṃgha). He ordered the cow-herders (gopālaka) to establish themselves in the neighborhood and to bring fresh milk and cream every day. At the end of the three months, the king, out of compassion for these cow-herders, said to them: “Come and see the Buddha, and then you can go back and keep your herds.” The cow-herders, while coming to the Buddha, talked to one another along the way: “We have heard it said that the Buddha is omniscient (sarvajñā). We are lowly and humble, how could we judge if he is really omniscient? The brahmins, who love cream, always come to visit the cow-herders; they are friendly to us. Through them, the cow-herders have heard speak of all kinds of works and brahmanical texts. They have spoken to us about the four Wei t’o (Vedas) and the knowledge [73c] they contain: therapeutic (bhaiṣajya) and military arts (kṣatradharma), astronomy (jyotiṣa), sacrificial rites (yajñadharma), chants (gītā), teaching (upadeśa), dialectic (codyadharma): in brief, the sixty-four arts (kalā) in use in the world.[1] The son of Śuddhodana (the Buddha) is wise and learned (bahuśruta); if he knows these things, we cannot object to him in any way. But he has not kept cows from the time he was born [like we have]. We will ask him about the secrets of breeding. If he knows them, he is truly omniscient.”

While they were talking thus, they entered into the Tchou yuan (Veṇuvana) and saw the rays of the Buddha which lighted up the woods. They approached the Buddha and saw him seated under a tree; he was like a golden mountain in size; like a butter-lamp, he shone with great brilliance; like molten gold, he spread a golden light over the Veṇuvana. The cow-herders could not take their eyes off him; their hearts felt great joy. They said to one another:

This lion of the Śākyas,
Is he omniscient or not?
When one sees him, one is forced to rejoice,
The investigation is already conclusive.

His rays of light are extremely luminous,
His aspect is noble and grave,
His physical marks majestic, his qualities perfect.
He is saluted by the name of Buddha.

His marks are quite evident
His power is complete,
His merits and his qualities are intertwined
Those who see him are compelled to love him.

A halo (vyomaka) surrounds his body.
Those who contemplate him cannot be surfeited.
If the omniscient one exists
He must necessarily possess these qualities.

All the paintings,
Jewelry, ornaments and images
That would try to imitate this wondrous body
Are unable to equal it.

He can fulfill those who contemplate him
And cause them to find supreme happiness.
By seeing him, one has absolute conviction [74a]
That he is certainly omniscient.

Having thought thus, they greeted the Buddha and sat down. They asked him: “How many rules for the cow-herder (gopālaka) should be kept so that his herd (gogaṇa) prospers (spātīkṛ-), how many rules should he neglect for his herd to decrease and lose its prosperity (yogakṣema)?” The Buddha answered: “If he observes eleven rules, the cow-herder is able to make his herd prosper (ekādaśabhir aṅgaih samnvāgato gopālako bhavyo gogaṇaṃ pariharitum spjātīkartum). What are these eleven rules?[2] (1) He knows their colors (rūpaṃ jānāti). (2) He knows the distinctive marks (lakṣaṇāni jānāti). (3) He knows how to brush them (āśātikāḥ śātayati). (4) He knows how to heal their wounds (vraṇaṃ praticchādayati). (5) He knows how to make smoke [for them] (dhūmaṃ kartā bhavati). (6) He knows the good paths (vīthiṃ jānāti). (7) He knows what the herd needs (pīthaṃ jānāti).[3] (8) He knows the fords (tīrthaṃ jānāti). (9) He knows the good pastures (gocaraṃ jānāti). (10) He knows how to milk them (sāvaśeṣadohī bhavati). (11) He knows how to pay respect to the leaders of the herd (ye ca te ṛṣabhā gavāṃ patayas tān atirekapūjāya pūjayitā hoti). The cow-herder who observes these eleven rules can make his herd prosper. In the same way, the bhikṣu who knows eleven rules can make his good dharmas (kuśaladharma) progress (vardhayati).

(1) How does he know the colors? The cow-herder knows the black (kṛṣṇa), white (avadmata) or mottled colors [of his herd]. In the same way, the bhikṣu knows that all matter is made up of the four great elements (mahabhūta) or of matter derived from the four elements (upādāyarūpa).[4]

(2) How does he know the distinctive marks? The cow-herder knows the favorable and unfavorable marks. When his animals mix with other herds, he recognizes them by these marks. In the same way, the bhikṣu, finding in someone the mark of good actions, recognizes him to be a wise person (paṇḍita), finding in someone else the mark of bad actions, recognizes him to be a fool (bāla).[5]

(3) How does he know how to brush them? The cow-herder brushes (śātayati) them and destroys the insects (āśātikā) that drink the blood [of his animals] and aggravate their wounds. In the same way, the bhikṣu chases away the insects of perverse views that drink the blood of the roots of good (kuśalamūla) and aggravate the wounds of the mind (cittavaraṇa). When he has chased them away, there is safety (yogakṣema).

(4) How does he heal their wounds? The cow-herder, with the help of cloth (paṭa), herbs (tṛṇa) or leaves (parṇa), heals the small stings caused by mosquitoes (maśaka). Similarly, by means of the holy Dharma (read yi tcheng fa, saddharmeṇa), the bhikṣu heals the wounds inflicted by the six sensory pleasures. He does not allow himself to be stung by these bad insects called desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and ignorance (moha).

(5) Why does he know how to make smoke? [By making smoke, the cow-herder] drives away the mosquitoes (maśaka); seeing the smoke at a distance, the cows go towards his house. Similarly, the bhikṣu preaches the Dharma according to the teachings he has received (yathāśruta)[6] and drives away the mosquitoes of the fetters (saṃyojana). By the smoke of their preaching (dharmadeśana) they invite beings to enter into the abode of the non-self (anātman), of the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) and of emptiness (śūnya).

(6) How does he know the paths? He knows the good paths to be used and the bad paths to be avoided by the herds. In the same way, the bhikṣu knows the eightfold noble path (āryāṣṭāṅgika mārga) that leads to nirvāṇa; he avoids the bad paths of nihilism (uccheda) or eternalism (śāśvata).

(7) How does he know the needs of the herd? The cow-herder acts in such a way that his animals multiply and are not sick. In the same way the bhikṣu, when the Dharma is preached to him, experiences the pure joy of the Dharma (viśuddhadharmaveda) and his roots of good (kuśalamūla) increase.[7]

(8) How does he know the fords? The cow-herder knows the places easy of access, easy to cross, sheltered from the waves (taraṅga) and from nasty insects (kṛmi). In the same way, the bhikṣu goes to the wise monks (bahuśruta) and questions them on the Dharma. Preachers (dharmabhāṇaka) who know in advance if the mind (citta) of their listeners is keen (tīkṣṇa) or dull (mṛdu), if their passions (kleśa) are light or heavy, [easily] lead them to good fords and have them cross safely (yogakṣema).[8] [74b]

(9) How does he know the pastures? The cow-herder knows the places sheltered from ferocious beasts like tigers (vyāghra) and lions (siṃha) and nasty insects (kṛmi). Similarly the bhikṣu knows the safety (yogakṣema) of the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) sheltered from the wild beasts that are the passions (kleśa) and the evil māras. When he has penetrated there, he knows safety free of unhappiness.

(10) How does he know how to milk them? It is because the cow (vatsā) loves her calf (vatsa) that she gives it her mlk. Also when the cow-herder [refrains from depleting her completely] and leaves her some milk, the cow is happy and the calf is not left thirsty. The owner of the herd and the cow-herder are both benefitted each day. Similarly, when the farmers (vaiśya) and the lay people (avadātavasana) give the bhikṣu garments (cīvara) and food (āhāra), he knows how to stay within bounds (mātra) and not deplete them entirely.[9] Thus the generous patrons (dānapati) are content, their faith (śraddhācitta) remains intact, and the [monk] who enjoys their gifts (pratigrāhaka) is not wearied [by their alms].

(11) How does he know how to pay respect to the leader of the herd? Specially designated big cows watch over the herd. It is necessary to take care of them and watch that they do not get thin. The cow-herder gives them oil (taila), decorates them rings (keyūra, niṣka) and gives them an iron horn (ayaḥśṛṅga) as a sign. He brushes them, flatters them and calls them [by their name]. In the same way, as is customary (yathāyoga), the bhikṣu serves (satkaroti) and venerates (pūjayati) the high individuals of the community (saṃgha) who protect (pālayanti) the Buddhadharma, conquer (abhibhavanti) the heretics (tīrthika) and lead the eightfold community to plant (avaropaṇa) the seeds of good (kuśalamūla).[10]

When the cow-herders heard these words, they had the following thought: “[Of all these rules] we ourselves knew only three or four. Our masters themselves only know five or six. And so, hearing these words of the Buddha, we cry out at the miracle (adbhuta). If the Buddha knows the craft of cow-herding, he also knows everything else. He is truly omniscient (sarvajñā), there is no doubt about it.”

This sūtra has been recited here fully. By it, we know that the Omniscient one exists.

Question. – There cannot be an omniscient one in the world. Why? Because nobody has seen the Omniscient one.

Answer. – That is not correct. Just because one cannot see something, one cannot say that it does not exist.

1. A thing really exists, but since it is hidden (gūḍha), one does not see it. Thus the origin of the clan (gotra) of a man, the weight (gurutva) of the Himālayas, the number of grains of sand of the Ganges (gaṅgānadīvālukāsaṃkhyā) really exist but one cannot cognize them.

2. A thing does not exist and, because it does not exist, one does not see it, for example, a second head (dvitīya śīrṣaka) or a third hand (tṛtīya hasta); it is not because they are hidden that one does not see them.

Thus, because the Omniscient one is hidden, you do not see him; but nonetheless, he exists. Why is he hidden? [Because those who ought to see him] do not possess the required four kinds of faith,[11] and their minds are attached (abhiniviśate) to error. It is because he is hidden to you that you do not see the Omniscient one.

Question. – There is no Omniscient one because the things that he must know (jñeya) [to be omniscient] are numberless. The dharmas are innumerable (apramāṇa) and infinite (ananta). If many men together cannot know them, how could one single man know them? Therefore there is no Omniscient one. [74c]

Answer. – If the dharmas are innumerable, the wisdom (prajñā) of the Buddha itself is immense (ananta). It is like an envelope: if the letter is big, the envelope is large; if the letter is short, the envelope is small.

Question. – The Buddha himself has preached the Buddhadharma, but he has not spoken about the other sciences, medicine (bhaiṣajya), geography (bhūgolavidyā), astronomy (jyotiṣa), arithmetic (gaṇanā), politics (nīti), etc. If he is omniscient, why has he not spoken of all these sciences? Therefore we know that he is not omniscient.

Answer. – 1. He knows everything, but he talks about it when it is useful and does not talk about it when it is useless. If he is questioned, he speaks; if he is not questioned, he says nothing.

2. Furthermore, he has spoken of everything in general (samāsataḥ) as being of three types: (i) conditioned phenomena (saṃskṛtadharma), (ii) unconditioned phenomena (asaṃskṛtadharma), (iii) inexpressible phenomena (avācyadharma). These three categories include all the dharmas.

Question. – We know that the Buddha is not omniscient because he did not reply to fourteen difficult questions. (see also the notes on the Fourteen unanswered questions) What are these fourteen difficult questions?

(1–4) Are the world and the self eternal? Are they non-eternal? Are they both eternal and non-eternal? Are they neither eternal nor non-eternal? (śāśvato lokaś cātmā ca, aśāśvato lokah cātmā ca, śāśvataś cāśāśvatah ca lokah cātmā ca, naiva śāśvato nāśāśvataś ca lokah cātmā ca).

(5–9) Are the world and the self finite? Are they infinite? Are they both finite and infinite? Are they neither finite nor infinite? (Antavān lokaś cātmā ha, anantavān lokah cātmā ca, antavāmh ca lokaś cātmā ca, naivānantavān nānantavāṃś ca lokaś cātmā ca).

(9–12) Does the Tathāgata [or the saint freed from desire] exist after death? Does he not exist after death? Does he both exist and not exist after death? Is it false that he both exists and does not exist after death? (bhavati tathāgataḥ paraṃ māraṇān na bhavati tathāgataḥ paraṃ maraṇād bhavati ca na bhavati ca tathāgataḥ paraṃ maraṇāṇ naiva bhavati na na bhavati ca tathāgataḥ paraṃ maraṇāt).

(13–14) Is the life-principle the same as the body? Is the life-principle different from the body? (Sa jīvas tac charīram, anyo jīvo ’nyac charīram).

If the Buddha is omniscient, why did he not answer these fourteen difficult questions?

Answer. – 1. These questions are futile and that is why the Buddha did not answer them. The eternity (śāśvata) of the dharmas is unnecessary (ayukta); their cessation (uccheda) is even more unnecessary. This is why the Buddha did not answer. If it is asked how many liters of milk (kṣīra) is given by a cow’s horn, that is not a proper question and it is not necessary to answer it. Besides, the universe (lokadhātu) has no end (anavastha): like a chariot wheel (rathacakra), it has no beginning and no end (apūrvācarama).[12]

2. Furthermore, there is no advantage in answering these questions, but there is the disadvantage of leading [the questioner] into error.[13] The Buddha knows that these fourteen difficult points hide the four truths (catur āryasatya) and the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas endlessly. If there are noxious insects at a [75a] ford, people should not be invited to cross there. A place should be safe (yogakṣema) and without danger (anupadrava) so that people can be invited to cross.

3. Furthermore, some say that these questions can be understood only by the Omniscient one; since [other] men cannot understand them, the Buddha does not reply.[14]

4. Furthermore, some people call existent (sat) that which is non-existent (asat), and call non-existent that which is existent. They are not ‘omniscient’. The Omniscient one does not call non-existent that which exists, does not call existent that which does not exist; he preaches only the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the dharmas. Why should he not be called omniscient? The sun (sūrya) does not create the mountains and the valley nor does it create the plains, but it does illuminate everything uniformly. In the same way, the Buddha does not make non-existent that which exists, does not make non-existent that which does not exist. He always speaks the truth (satya) and the brilliance of his wisdom (prajñāloka) illuminates all the dharmas. He is like a unique path (ekamārga). When people ask the Buddha if the twelve-membered law (pratītyasamutpāda) was created by the Buddha or by another, the Buddha answers: “I have not created the twelve-membered law nor has anyone else created it. Whether Buddhas exist or do not exist, birth (jāti) is the cause and condition (hetupratyaya) of old age and death (jarāmaraṇa): that is the eternal and enduring law.”[15] The Buddha teaches that birth is the cause and condition of old age and death, and coming to the end [of the causal chain], that ignorance (avidyā) is the cause and condition of the formations (saṃskāra).

5. Furthermore, to reply to the fourteen difficult questions would be to commit a fault. If you ask of what type is the size or the physique of a son of a barren woman and a eunuch (vandhyāpaṇḍakaputra),[16] that would not deserve an answer, for such a son does not exist.

6. Furthermore, these fourteen difficult questions are wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), are not realities (satya). Now the Buddha is occupied only with realities. This is why he stops (sthāpayati) and does not answer.

7. Finally, to be silent and not answer is an answer. There are four ways of answering (vyākaraṇa): (i) answering in a categorical way (ekāṃśena vyākaraṇa): [this is how he answers when it concerns], for example, the Buddha, the absolute (parama), nirvāṇa and salvation (yogakṣema); (ii) answering by distinguishing (vibhajyavyākaraṇa); (iii) answering by asking a question (paripṛcchāvyākaraṇa); (iv) answering by not replying (sthāpanīyavyākaraṇa). Here the Buddha answers by not replying.[17]

You say that there is no omniscient one! Such a statement is absurd and constitutes a serious falsehood (mṛṣāvāda). In fact, the Omniscient one exists. Why? Because he has attained the ten powers (bala), he knows what is possible (sthāna) and what is impossible (asthāna), he knows the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) and the retribution of actions (karmavipāka), he knows the samādhis and the deliverances (vimokṣa), he knows the good or bad faculties of beings (sattvendriyavarāvara), he knows the various kinds of deliverances from desire (nānāvidharāganirmokṣa), he knows the innumerable lineages (sing, 38 and 5) of all the types of universes (nānāvidhalokadhātva-pramāṇagotra), he knows all the abodes (vihāra) and their paths (mārga); he knows the conduct (caryā) and the thoughts (manasikāra) [of beings] in their previous existences (pūrvajanma), he has acquired the discrimination of the divine eye (divyacakṣurvyakti), he knows the cessation of all the impurities (sarvāsravakṣaya), he distinguishes clearly between good (śubha) and bad, he preaches a supreme doctrine (agradharma) in all the universes, he has acquired the taste of ambrosia (amṛtarasa), he has found the middle path (madhyamā pratipad), he knows the true nature of all conditioned (saṃskṛta) or unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) dharmas, he has rejected forever all desire of the three worlds (trailokyarāga). It is for these reasons that the Buddha is omniscient.

[75b] So be it! The Omniscient one exists, but who is it?

Answer. – It is the supreme one (parama), the Great Man (mahāpuruṣa), the one who is venerated in the three worlds (trailokyajyeṣṭha): he is called Buddha.

Thus the Tsan fo kie (Buddhastotragāthā) say:

First-born (mūrdhaja) and king cakravartin,
The Buddha is like the light of the sun and moon.
He belongs to the noble line of the Śākyas
He is the crown prince of king Śuddhodana.

At the moment of his birth, he moved three thousand
Sumerus and stirred up the water of the ocean.
In order to destroy old age, sickness and death,
Out of compassion, he came to the world.
At his birth, he took seven steps,
His rays filled the ten directions.
He gazed four times and uttered a great cry:
“My births, he cried, are finished.
Having become Buddha, I will preach a marvelous doctrine
I will beat the drum of the Dharma loudly,
By that I will awaken beings
And the world out of the sleep of ignorance.”

In many forms, such were
the miracles (adbhuta) that appeared.
Gods and men,
Seeing them, rejoiced.
The Buddha had a body adorned with the marks.
A great light shone on his face.
All men and women
Could not get enough of seeing him.
When the child was nursed and fed,
His strength surpassed that of a nayuta of gandhahastin.
The power of his ṛddhipāda was extreme,
That of his prajñā immense.

The great rays of the Buddha
Illuminated his body outwardly.
In the midst of his rays, the Buddha
Was like the moon in its splendor.
The Buddha was criticized in many ways,
He experienced no sorrow from that;
The Buddha was praised in many ways,
He experienced no joy from that.
His great maitrī is extended to all,
Enemies and friends alike, without distinction.
All classes of intelligent beings
Know all the effects of that.
By the power of his kṣānti, lajjā, maitrī and karuṇā,
He conquers the whole world.
In order to save beings,
From age to age, he accepts the effort and the pain.
His mind is always concentrated
On doing good for beings.
He has the ten powers (bala) of knowledge (jñāna)
And the four fearlessnesses (vaiṣāradya).
He possesses the eighteen special (āveṇika) attributes
And a treasury of immense qualities (guṇa).
Such are the innumerable
Powers of his prodigious qualities.
Like a fearless lion
He destroys the heretical systems,
[75c] He turns the peerless wheel of Dharma,
He saves and delivers the threefold world.

His name is Bhagavat. The meaning (artha) of this word is immense (apramāna) and if one wanted to explain it fully, other points would have to be neglected. This is why we have spoken of it in general (samāsataḥ).

Footnotes and references:


These 64 worldly arts are enumerated in the Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Huber, p. 311–312.


I [Lamotte] have borrowed the Sanskrit equivalents of these 11 rules from the Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, p. 177. They correspond exactly to the Pāli text (Majjhima, I, p. 222; Aṅguttara, V, p. 351; only the order differs: (1) rūpaññū hoti, … (11) … atirkapūjāya ekapūjāya pūjetā hoti.


Pītaṃ jānmati, in Sanskrit, pīṭhaṃ jānati, presents some difficulties. In Pāli, pīta means drink; and Buddhaghosa (Papañca, II, p. 259) comments on this rule by saying: gopālakena… jānaitabbaṃ hoti. – In Sanskrit, pīṭha, which also means ‘water’ or ‘drink’, can also mean “time’ or ‘epoch’. At least this is the meaning Kumārajiva gives the expression in the various translations he has made of the Sūtra of the cow-herders: T 123: He knows the cows that are in heat (ngai nieou). – T 291: He knows the rule that makes the cows go into and out of rut. – T 1509: He knows what the herd needs.


Cf. Aṅguttara, V, p. 351: bhikkhu yaṃ kiñci… yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti.


Ibid., p. 351: bhikkhu kammalakkhaṇo… pajjānati.


Ibid., p. 352: bhikkhu yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ desitā hoti.


Ibid., p. 352: bhikkhu yathāgatappavedite… pāmujjaṃ. – According to Buddhaghosa (Papañca, I, p. 173) -veda, in the expression dhammaveda is synonymous with joy (somanassa).


Ibid., p. 352: bhikkhu ye te bhikkū bahussutā… kaṅkhaṃ paṭivinodenti.


Ibid., p. 352: bhikkhu saddhā gahapatikā… mattaṃ jānāti paṭiggahaṇāya.


Ibid., p. 353: bhikku ye te bhikkhū therā rattaññā… paccupaṭṭhāpati āvī c’eva raho ca.


These are the four types of faith that accompany the awareness of the Buddhist truths which are called avetyaprasāda: faith relating to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Saṃgha and the disciplines held by the saints (āryakāntāni śīlāni). Cf. Dīgha, III, p. 227; Majjhima, I, p. 37, 46; II, 51; III, p. 253; Saṃyutta, II, p. 99; IV, p. 271, 304; V, p. 343, 409; Aṅguttara, I, p. 222; II, p. 56; III, p. 212, 332, 451; IV, p. 406; V, p. 183; Avadānaśataka, II, p. 92; Madh. vṛtti, p. 487; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 6823; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 161, 327; Kośa, VI, p. 292; Kośavyākhyā, p. 605.


The first point contains the answer to the first two series of questions: “Is the world eternal, etc.”, “Is the world finite, etc.”

The first question should be rejected because it clashes with the condemnation of the viewpoints of eternalism (śāśvatadrṣṭi) and nihilism (ucchedadṛṣṭi). Cf Udāna, p. 33: ye hi keci samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā… bhavasmā’ti vadāmi. – The same text is given in the Tibetan Udānavarga XXXII, 40, p. 136: dge sbyoṅ bram ze sñed pa |… brjod par bya | – Madh. vṛtti, p. 530: Ye kecid bhikṣavo bhavena… vibhave tṛṣṇā ca.

The second question is also to be rejected because the world does not admit a limit and by that very fact avoids the categories of finite and infinite.

[By ‘world’ (loka) the universe is meant here. But Kośa, IX, p. 267, tells us that, by loka, some mean the soul (ātman), others, transmigration (saṃsāra).]


This second point concerns the fourth series of questions: “What is the nature of the life-principle?” The answer depends on the intention of the questioner. Vacchagotta, who believes in the existence of the soul, receives an answer different from Phagguna who disbelieves in it. See above.


Some Buddhists gladly confine themselves to ‘the charcoal-burner’s faith’ without trying to understand the mysteries. Cf. Saṃdhinirmocana, VII, 19, p. 200: Some beings do not understand the Buddhist formulas correctly; however, they stick to it and are faithful to it. They say: “The sermons preached by the Lord are profound… We don’t understand their meaning… But the intellect of the Buddhas is profound, the nature of things is also profound. The Tathāgata knows, we don’t know. The preaching of the Tathāgata penetrates into each being according to their various levels of faith.” – Ratnakūta cited in the Śikṣasamuccaya, p. 55: yeṣu cāsya gambhīreṣu buddhir… pravartatata iti.


Later (k. 32, p. 298a), the Mppś will return to this sūtra and will indicate the reference to it: As is said in the Tsa a han (Saṃyuktāgama), a bhikṣu asked the Buddha if the twelve-membered law had been made by the Buddha himself or by someone else. The Buddha said to the bhikṣu: “It is not I who made the twelve-membered law and nobody else has made it. Whether Buddhas exist or do not exist, this dharma-nature of the dharmas, this subsistance of the dharmas, is stable” (utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā tathāgatānām sthitaiveyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā dharmasthititā). As a result, that being, this is; by the production of that, this is produced, namely, the formations originate from ignorance; from the formations consciousness originates, and so on up to: [from birth] originates old age, suffering and moaning, sadness, grief and despair. This is the origin of this mass of suffering (yad uta asmin satīdaṃ bhavati… duḥkhaskandhasyotpādo bhavati). Conversely, that not being, this is not; from the cessation of that, this ceases, namely, by the cessation of ignorance, the formations cease; by the cessation of the formations, consciousness ceases, and so on [by the cessation of birth] old age and death, suffering and moaning, sadness, grief and despair cease. This is the cessation of all this mass of suffering (tatrāvidyānirodhāt […] nirodho bhavati).”

This sūtra, which is absent in the Pāli Saṃyuttanikāya, has its exact correpondent in the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama (Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 299), k. 12, p. 85b–c) which situates it at Kiu-lieou-cheou Tiao-nieou-tsiu-lo (Kuruṣu Kalmāṣadamyanigama). This sūtra has nothing new in it except its beginning, where the Buddha affirms that the pratītyasamutpāda has not been made by him or by any other person; the rest is an accumulation of stock phrases endlessly repeated in the canonical scriptures, both Pāli and Sanskrit. The well-known formula utpādād vā tathāgatānām … occurs with several variations in Saṃyutta, II, p. 25 (cf. Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 296), k. 12, p. 84b); Aṅguttara, I, p. 286; Visuddhimagga, p. 518; Śalistambasūtra in LAV., Théorie des douze causes, Gand, 1913, p. 73; Aṣṭāsāhasrikā, p. 274; Laṅkāvatāra, p. 143; Kośavyākhyā, p. 293; Madh. vṛtti, p. 40; Pañjikā, p. 599; Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 14. Daśabhūmika, p. 65. – L. de La Vallée Poussin (o.c, p. 109) also has found it in brahmanical sources: Bhāmatī ad II, 2, 19; Tantravārtitika (BSS, p. 163).


On this comparison, see above.


These four ways of answering a question (pañhavyākaraṇa) are mentioned in Dīgha, III, p. 229; Aṅguttara, I, p. 197; Milinda, p. 144; Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 8, p. 51b1; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 29, p. 609a. These texts distinguish ekaṃsavyākaṇiyo pañho, vibhajjavyākaraṇīyo paṇho, paṭipucchāvyākaraṇīyo, ṭhāpanīyo pañho. The Sanskrit text reproduced here is taken from the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1658–1661. – Definitions and examples in Kośa, V, p. 44–47.

NOTE: The lengthy Pāli and Sanskrit quotations have been abbreviated.