Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “enlightenment and buddhahood” 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.

7. Enlightenment and Buddhahood

Then the Bodhisattva grew up gradually and, having seen an old man, a sick man, he experienced disgust (nirveda) for worldly things. At midnight, he left his home (abhiniṣkramaṇa) and practiced asceticism (duṣkaracarya) for six years. Then he ate some sweetened milk-broth (pāyasa) of sixteen restorative qualities offered to him by the brāhmanī Nant’o (Nandā) and, under the tree of enlightenment (bodhivṛkṣa), he defied Māra’s army of 18,000 koṭis of warriors and attained supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi).

Question. – What qualities must he have to attain in order to be called Buddha?

Answer. – 1. He is called Buddha when he has acquired the knowledge of cessation (kṣayajñāna) and the knowledge of non-arising (anutpādajñāna).[1]

2. According to others, he is called Buddha when he has acquired the ten strengths (daśa balāni), the four fearlessnesses (catvāri vaiśārayāni), the eighteen special attributes (aṣtādaśāveṇikā buddhadharmāḥ), the three knowledges (tisro vidyāḥ), the [four] penetrations (catasraḥ pratisaṃvidaḥ), the three smṛtyupasthānas or equanimities (i. When one listens to the Dharma and one respects it, the Buddha feels no joy. ii. When one does not listen to the Dharma and one scorns it, the Buddha feels no sadness. iii. When one both respects and scorns the Dharma, the Buddha feels no emotion), great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā), the thirty-seven auxiliaries to enlightenment (saptatriṃśad bodhipakṣyadharamāḥ) and awareness of the general and specific characteristics of everything (sarvadharmasvasāmānyalakṣaṇa).[2]

Question. – Why is he called Bodhisattva as long as he has not attained Buddhahood and loses this name when he has acquired Buddhahood?

Answer. – As long as he has not attained Buddhahood, his mind remains subject to [91c] desire (tṛṣṇā) and attachment (saṅga); he seeks to secure anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi; this is why he is called Bodhisattva. But when he has attained Buddhahood and acquired the various great qualities (guṇa) of the Buddhas, he changes his name and is then called Buddha. Thus a prince (kumāra) is called prince as long as he is not king (rājan), but when he becomes king, he is no longer called prince. Since he is king, he is no longer called prince even though he is the son of a king. In the same way, as long as the Bodhisattva has not attained Buddhahood, he is called Bodhisattva, but when he has attained Buddhahood, he is called Buddha.

In the Śrāvaka system, the disciples of Mahākātyāyanīputra define the Bodhisattva in the way that we have just described.

Footnotes and references:


These two knowledges comprise bodhi: by means of the first, one knows in truth that the task has been accomplished; by means of the second, one knows that there is nothing further to be accomplished (Kośa, VI, p. 282; VII, p. 10). But it should not be forgotten that there are three kinds of bodhi and that only the Buddha possesses anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.


See the definition of these various attributes in Saṃgraha, p. 285–305.