Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “possession of the dharanis” 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.

Bodhisattva quality 1: possession of the dhāraṇīs

1. dhāraṇipratilabdha:

[95c] Sūtra: All these bodhisattvas possessed the dhāraṇīs, coursed in the concentrations of emptiness, signlessness and wishlessness, possessed the equalities and the patiences. (Sarvair dhāraṇīpratilabdhaiḥ śūnyatānimittāpraṇihitasamādhigocaraiḥ ).

Śāstra: Question. – Why does the sūtra then praise the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas by means of these three points?

Answer. – 1. In order to emphasize the real qualities (guṇa) of the bodhisattvas, the sūtra must praise them. It praises that in which one ought to have faith in order that one may believe in it. It praises the bodhisattvas because all beings do not believe in their profound (gambhīra) and pure (viśuddha) qualities.

2. Furthermore, in the beginning the sūtra mentioned the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas because they possessed the dhāraṇīs, the concentrations (samādhi), the patiences (kṣānti) and the other qualities (guṇa).

Question. – We understand the reason for the order followed here, but what is it that is called a dhāraṇī? What is a dhāraṇī?

Answer. – 1. In the Ts’in language, dhāraṇī means ‘capable of holding’ (dhāraṇa) or ‘capable of preventing’ (vidhāraṇa).

a. ‘Capable of holding’: Joining all sorts of good dharmas (kuśaladharma), dharāṇī ‘holds’ them (dhārayati) so that they are not dispersed or lost.[1] It is like a good vessel (bhājana) filled with water from which the water does not leak out.

b. ‘Capable of preventing’: Detesting the roots of evil (akuśalamūla), dhāraṇī prevents them (vidhārayati) from arising. It prevents the committing of evil by those who would want to commit it. That is what is called dhāraṇi.

This dhāraṇī is associated with mind (cittasaṃprayukta) or dissociated from mind (cittaviprayukta), impure (sāsrava) or pure (anāsrava), nonmaterial (ārūpya), invisible (anidarśana), not offering resistance (apratigha); it is contained in one element (dhātu), one basis of consciousness (āyatana) and one aggregate (skandha), namely, dharmadhatu, dharmāyatana and saṃskāraskandha.[2]

Nine knowledges (jñāna) cognize it [Note: it is outside the knowledge of destruction of the afflictions (kṣayajñāna)]. One single consciousness (vijñāna) is aware of it [Note: the mental consciousness (manovijñāna)]. According to the Abhidharma, this is the definition of dhāraṇī.

2. Furthermore, the bodhisattva who possesses dhāraṇī, (smṛtibala) is able to retain and not forget all the teachings that he has heard (śrutadharma) by the power of his memory,.

3. Furthermore, dhāraṇī accompanies the bodhisattva always. Like a chronic fever, it never leaves him; like a ghost, it always follows him. It is like the good and the bad disciplines (saṃvara).

[96a] 4. Furthermore, dhāraṇī prevents the bodhisattva from falling into the two chasms of the earth. It is like the kind father who rescues his son as he is about to fall into a ditch.

5. Finally, when the bodhisattva has the power of the dhāraṇīs, neither king Māra, his family nor his warriors can unsettle him, destroy or conquer him. He is like Mount Sumeru which the worldly wind cannot shake.

Question. – How many types of dhāraṇī are there?

Answer. – There are many types:[3]

1) The first is called śrutadharadhāraṇī. The person who possesses this dhāraṇī never forgets the words and the teachings that he has heard with his ears.

2) There is also the vibhajyajñānadhāraṇī. The person who possesses it knows in detail the qualities of beings, how tall they are or how short they are, how beautiful or how ugly they are. A stanza says:

Among elephants, horses and metals
Among wood, stones and garments,
Among men, women, and waters,
There are all kinds of differences.

Individuals [of the same species] bear the same name
But their values differ.
The person who possesses this dhāraṇī
Can always distinguish them.

3) Finally there is the ghoṣapraveṣadhāraṇī. The bodhisattva who possesses it hears all kinds of words and neither rejoices nor is irritated by sounds. For kalpas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (gaṅganadīvālukopamakalpa) all beings may slander him and abuse him, but he would feel no irritation.

Question. – The impurities (āsrava) are not destroyed (kṣīna) in the bodhisattva: how then can he withstand this evil treatment for kalpas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges?

Answer. – 1) We have said that here it is a matter of the bodhisattva who has acquired this dhāraṇī [and not of all bodhisattvas indiscriminately].

2) Furthermore, although he has not destroyed his impurities, the bodhisattva possesses great wisdom (mahājñāna), keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya) and is able to be attentive (manasikāra). He chases away any angry thought by saying to himself: “If my ear (śrotendriya) did not perceive sounds at such a great distance, to whom would these insult reach?”

3) Moreover, if he hears insults, he passes them by. Who would be irritated by what he does not distinguish? It is the ordinary person (pṛthagjana) who is attached to the self and who develops hatred (dveṣa) by distinguishing ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

4) Moreover, the person who knows that words perish as soon as they arise (jātamātrā nirudyante) and that ‘before’ and ‘after’ are not joined, feels no anger. He knows that dharmas have no inner guide; [under these conditions] who insults, who is irritated?

The person who hears various words from different sides [considers] some as good and others as bad. But if good and bad are indeterminate (aniyata), one does not get irritated when one is insulted. The person who knows that words are indeterminate (i.e., neither good nor bad) feels neither anger nor joy. If his friends insult him, he is not angry insulted though he may be; but if his enemies slander him, he feels animosity. If he has to undergo wind or rain, he goes back into his house or takes his coat; if the ground is thorny, he puts on his shoes; if it is very cold, [96b] he makes a fire; when it is hot, he looks for water. He looks for a remedy (pratikāra) for all these troubles without getting irritated about them. [The bodhisattva] acts in the same way with regard to insults and nastiness. It is only by loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) that he puts an end to them; he never experiences anger.

5) Furthermore, the bodhisattva knows that all dharmas are non-arising (anutpanna), unceasing (aniruddha) and empty of self-nature (svabhāvaśūnya). If anyone hates him, insults him, strikes or kills him, he considers that as a dream (svapna), as a [magical] metamorphosis (nirmāṇa): “Who then gets angry, who is insulting?”

6) Finally, if, during kalpas as numerous as the sands of the Ganges (gaṅgānadīvalukopamakalpa), beings praise him and offer him robes (cīvara), food (āhāra), flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha) and necklaces (keyūra), the bodhisattva who has acquired this dhāraṇī (read t’o lo ni instead of jen) feels no emotion, no joy, no attachment.

Question. – Now we know all the reasons why the bodhisattva does not get angry [when he is insulted], but we do not know why he feels no joy (muditā) when his qualities (guṇa) are praised.

Answer. – 1) The bodhisattva knows that all offerings and all tributes (satkāra) are transitory (anitya). If today there are reasons why people come to praise and honor him, tomorrow there will be others who will expose him to hatred, blows and death. This is why he is not joyful [when he is praised].

2) Furthermore, the bodhisattva says to himself: “They come to praise and honor me because I have qualities (guṇa) and wisdom (prajñā). It is my qualities and not my person that they praise. Why should I be joyful?”

3) Furthermore, “If this person praises my activity (kāritra) and my qualities (guṇa), it is out of desire for a reward (phalavipāka) rather than out of admiration for me. Thus, when a man plants seed-grain. waters it and cultivates it, the earth feels no joy.”

4) Furthermore, “If someone honors me and I welcome him joyfully, my merit (puṇya) will be slight and his also will be of little value.” This is why he does not rejoice.

5) Finally, the bodhisattva considers all dharmas as a dream (svapna) or an echo (pratiśrutkā). He asks himself: “Who is praising me? Who is rejoicing? I have not found deliverance (vimokṣa) in the threefold world (tridhātuka); my impurities (āsrava) have not been destroyed (kṣīṇa); I have not attained Buddhahood. Why should I rejoice in obtaining praise? If anyone should rejoice, it is only the Buddha, the unique man (eka pudgala), for all qualities (guṇa) are perfected (paripūrṇa) in him.” This is why the bodhisattva feels no joy in receiving all sorts of praise, tribute or offerings.

These are the characteristics of the ghoṣapraveśadhāraṇī. There are yet other dhāraṇīs:

Tsi mie t’o lo ni (śāntidhāraṇī), Wou pien t’o lo ni (anantadhāraṇī), Souei ti kouan t’o lo ni (bhūmyanupaśyanādhāraṇī), Wei tö t’o lo ni (anubhāvadhāraṇī), Houa yen t’o lo ni

(padmavyūhadhāraṇī), Yin tsing t’o lo ni (goṣapariśuddhidhāraṇī), Hiu k’ong tsang t’o lo ni (gaganagarbhadhāraṇī), Hai tsang t’o lo ni (sāgaragarbhadhāraṇī), Fen pie tchou fa ti t’o lo ni (sarvadharmabhūmiprabhedadhāraṇī), Ming tschou fa yi t’o lo ni (sarvadharmārthālokadhāraṇī)[4] and so on.

In all (samāstaḥ), there are five hundred dhāraṇīs. If they were all described in detail, it would be endless. That is why it is said that the bodhisattvas have acquired the dhāraṇīs (dhāraṇīpratilabdha).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Lalitavistara, P. 35: dhāraṇī pratilambho dharmālokamukhaṃ sarvabuddhabhāṣitādhāraṇatāyai saṃvartate.


For these categories, see Kośa, I, p. 30.


Among the various types of dhāraṇI, we may note:

a. Mahādharmadhāraṇī, Siddhi, p. 613–614.

b. Śruta-, vibhajyajñāna- and ghoṣapraveśadhāraṇis fully defined here and to which the Mppś will return at k. 28, p. 268.

c. Dharma-, artha-, mantra- and kṣāntilābhadhāraṇīs in Bodh. bhūmi, p. 272–273.

d. The twelve dhāraṇīs of the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 747–758.


Except for the ananta- and the padmavyūhadhāraṇī cited in the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 751 and 753, the restoration of the Sanskrit terms is conjectural.

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