Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the five superknowledges (pancabhijna)” 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 5: the five superknowledges (pañcābhijña)

5. pañcābhijña:

Sūtra: These bodhisattvas possessed all the five superknowledges (sarvaiḥ pañcābhijñaiḥ).

Śāstra: The five abhijñās are: i) magical power (ṛddhi), ii) the divine eye (divyacakṣus), iii) the divine ear (divyaśrotra), iv) knowledge of others’ minds (paracittajñāna); v) memory of former lifetimes (pūrvanivāsānusmṛti).[1]

A. What is ṛddhi or magical power?

Note: The main source is the Sūtra of the Ṛddhyabhijñā, the Pāli text of which is in Dīgha, I, p. 78; Majjhima, I, p. 34; Aṅguttara, III, p. 280; and the Sanskrit text in Pañcaviṃśati, p. 83; Kośavyākhyā, p. 654; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 211–230.

1) There are four kinds of gamana or movement:[2] i) to go by flying like a bird (yathā śakuniḥ pakṣī) without encountering any obstacles (āvaraṇa);[3] ii) to change distance into proximity (dūrasyāsannīkaraṇa) and thus to arrive without going;[4] iii) diving and emerging (nimajjanaunmajjana); iv) moving in one moment (ekakṣaṇagamana).[5]

2) Nirmāṇa or creation consists of making small what is large, making large what [98a] is small, multiplying what is singular and creating all kinds of objects (dravya). The creations of heretics (tīrthika) do not last longer than seven days whereas the mastery of creation (nirmāṇavaśitā) of the Buddha and his disciples has unlimited duration.

3) The āryaṛddhi or noble magical power consists of purifying unpleasant and impure substances (apriyāviṣuddhavastu) constituting the six classes of outer objects (bāhyāyatana) by means of a glance: color, sound, etc., or also making pleasant and pure substances (priyaviṣuddhavastu) impure. Only the Buddha has this āryaṛddhi.[6]

Ṛddhyabhijñā is the result of the development (bhāvanā) of the four bases of miraculous power (ṛddhipāda).[7] Having a material object (rūpālambana), ṛddhipāda and abhijñā are produced successively and cannot be acquired simultaneously.

B. What is the abhijñā of the divyacakṣus, or divine eye.

A pure form (rūpaprasāda) derived from the four great elements (caturmahābhūtabhautika) that occurs in the eye is called divyacakṣus. It is able to see beings (sattva) and substances (dravya) that occur in the six destinies (ṣaḍgati) of its own level and of lower levels. The divine eye is never incapable of distinguishing between a nearby (saṃnikṛṣṭa) and a distant (viprakṛṣṭa) form (rūpa), between a coarse (sthūla) and a subtle (sūkṣma) form.

There are two kinds of divyacakṣus, the one that comes from retribution (vipākalabdha) and the one that comes from practice (bhāvanālabdha). In so far as it makes up part of the five abhijñās, the divyacakusus comes from practice and not from retribution. Why? Because it is acquired by continual attentiveness (satatamanasikāra) to all types of lights (āloka). Furthermore, some say that the bodhisattvas who have acquired acquiescence in the doctrine of non-arising (anutpattikadharmakṣānti) are not limited to the six destinies (ṣaḍgati). It is solely in order to convert beings by virtue of their dharmakāya that they appear in the ten directions (daśadiś). In the bodhisattvas of the threefold world (tridhātuka) who have not yet attained the dharmakāya, the divyacakusus results sometimes from practice and sometimes from retribution.

Question. – The qualities (guṇa) of the bodhisattvas surpass those of the arhats and the pratyekabuddhas. Why praise their divine eye of lesser quality which is shared with ordinary people (pṛthagjana) and not praise their eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣus), their Dharma eye (dharmacakṣus) or their Buddha eye (buddhacakṣus)?[8]

Answer. -There are three kinds of gods (deva): i) the metaphorical gods (saṃmatideva), ii) the gods by birth (upapattideva), iii) the pure gods (viśuddhideva).[9] The cakravartin kings and other mahārājas are called saṃmatideva. The gods of the caturmahārajakāyika heaven up to those of the bhavāgra are called upapattideva. The Buddhas, the dharmakāya bodhisattvas, the pratyekabuddhas and the arhats are called viśuddhideva. These obtain the divine eye by practice and this is called the divyacakṣurabhijñā. This eye of the Buddhas, the dharmakāya bodhisattvas and the viśuddhidevas, cannot be acquired by ordinary people (pṛthagjana) who lack the five abhijñās, nor can it be acquired by the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas. Why? The lesser arhats see a sāhasralokadhātu if their intellect is small, a dvisāhasralokadhātu if their intellect is great. The higher arhats see a dvisāhasralokadhātu if their intellect is small, a trisāhasraloka-dhātu of their intellect is great. It is the same for the pratyekabuddhas.[10] – Such is the divyacakṣurabhijñā.

C. What is the abhijñā of the divyaśrotra, or the divine ear?

It is a subtle form (rūpaprasāda) derived from the four great material elements (caturmahābhūtabhautika) which occurs in the ear and which allows all the [98b] sounds (śabda) and words of the gods, men and beings in the three unfortunate destinies [the hells, the pretas and animals] to be heard. How is the divyaśrotrābhijñā obtained? It is obtained by practice (bhāvanā), by continually reflecting on all kinds of sounds. Such is the divyaśrotrābhijñā.

D. What is the abhijñā of the pūrvanivāsānusmṛti, or memory of previous lifetimes?

It is the faculty of going back in memory over the course of days, months and years as far as the period of the gestation in the womb and, finally, past existences:[11] one lifetime, ten lifetimes, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a koṭi of lifetimes. The great arhats and pratyekabuddhas can go back over 80,000 great kalpas. The great bodhisattvas and the Buddhas know an unlimited (aparmāṇa) number of kalpas. Such is the pūrvanivāsānusmṛtyabhijñā.

E. What is the abhijñā of paracittajñāna or knowledge of others’ minds?

It is knowing if another’s mind (paracitta) is stained (samala) or stainless (vimala). The practitioner first considers [his own mind] in its arising (utpāda), its duration (sthiti) and its destruction (bhaṅga). By ceaselessly reflecting on it (satatamanasikāra) he succeeds in discerning in others the signs (nimitta) of joy (muditā), of hatred (dveṣa) and of fear (bhaya, viṣāda). Having seen these signs, then he knows the mind.[12] This is the first gate of the knowledge of others’ minds.

We have finished the explanation of the five abhijñās.

Footnotes and references:


The sources for these abhijñās are numerous. See Rhys Davids-Stede, s.v. Abhiñña; P’i p’o cha, T 1545.p. 727b; Kośa, VII, p. 97–126; Mahāvyutpatti, np. 202–209; Dharmasaṃgraha, ch. XX; Pañcaviṃśati. 83–88; Daśabhūmika, p. 34–37; Madh. āvatara, p. 56 (tr. LAV., in Muséon, 1907, p. 301); Śikṣasamuccaya, p. 243; Pañjikā, p. 428; Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi, VII, 1;XXI, 48; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 58; Uttaratantra, p. 148. 180, 199; A p’i ta mo tsi louen, T 1605, k. 7, p. 691b; A p’i ta mo tsa tsi louen, T 1606, k. 14, p. 759c. – Among the works, we may mention: P. Demiéville, La mémoire des existences antérieures, BEFEO, XXVII, 1927, p. 283–298; L. de La Vallée Poussin, Le Bouddha et le Abhijñā, 1931, p. 335–342; S. Lindquist, Siddhi und Abhiññā, eine Studie über die klassischen Wunder des Yoga, Uppsala, 1935.


The Kośa knows of only three movements: movement of transport, movement of adhimokṣa, rapid movement like the mind.


See explanations of Visuddhimagga, p. 396.


This is done by the power of resolve (adhimokṣa). – Paṭisambhidhā, II, p. 209, cited in Visuddhimagga, p. 401: Sace so iddhimā cetovasippatto brahmalokaṃ gantukāmo hoti, dūre pi santike adhṭṭāti: Transl.: If this magician who has acquired mastery of mind wants to go to the world of Brahmā, he does adhiṭṭhāna so that what is far away becomes close at hand: “May it be close at hand” and it becomes close.


This displacement rapid as thought (manojava) belongs to the Buddha; cf. Kośa, VII, p. 113.


Dīgha, III, p. 112, has already distinguished iddhi sāsavā sa-upadhikā “no ariyā” (the iddhi of miracles) from iddhi asāsavā anupadhikā “ariyā” which is equanimity (upekkhā). This distinction is repeated in Kośa, VI, p. 285.


Kośa, VII, p. 123, develops this further: Because of a preparatory practice (prayoga) consisting of meditation on light and sound (āloka, śabda) – the practitioner being supported by the dhyānas – in the practitioner’s eye and ear (which are of kamadhātu) a ‘pure rūpa’ (rūpaprasāda, cf. Kośa, I, p. 13), a subtle and excellent substance derived from the great elements (bhautika) is caused, having the level of the dhyāna that had been used as point of support. This rūpa constitutes eye and ear; it sees and hears; it constitutes what is called the divine eye, the divine ear. Arising as a result of a substance (rūpa) of the level of the dhyānas, the organs are divine in the proper sense of the word.


These ‘eyes’ will be defined below, k. 7, p. 112b.


These three types of gods to which the Mppś will return later, k. 7, p. 112b, have already been mentioned in the canonical literature: Cullaniddesa, p. 307; Vibhaṅga, p. 422: Tayo devā: sammatidevā, upapattidevā, visuddhideva …. arahanto vuccanti.

Later, at k. 22, p. 227c, the Mppś will explain that there are four kinds of gods. “The nominal gods, the gods by birth, the gods of purity and the gods of native purity. The nominal gods are, for example, the king who is called T’ien tseu (Son of god, or devaputra).” According to Lévi, Devaputra, JA, Jan-Mar. 1934, p. 11, this is an allusion to the Kuṣāṇa dynasty whose princes Kaniṣka, Huviṣka, Vāsudeva, have always taken the title of devaputra. This fact is worth remembering in the matter of dating the Mppś.


Kośa, VII, p. 124. The mahāśrāvakas, wishing to see by the divine eye, put forth a great effort, see a dvisāhasra madhyama lokadhātu. The pratyekabuddhas see a trisāhasra mahāsāhasra lokadhātu. The Buddha bhagavat sees the asaṃkhya lokadhātu; he sees whatever he wishes.


Kośa, VII, p. 103: the practitioner who wishes to remember previous lifetimes begins by seizing the nature (nimittam udgṛhya = cittaprakāraṃ paricchidya) of the mind which is about to perish; from this mind, he goes back by considering (manasikurvan) the states which immediately succeed one another in the present existence back to the mind at conception (pratisaṃdhicitta). When he reaches a moment of mind of the intermediate existence (antarābhava), the abijñā is realized.


Kośa, VII, p. 102: The practitioner who wishes to know others’ minds first considers, in his own series, the nature (nimitta) of the body and of the mind: “Such is my body, such is my mind.” When he has considered his own body and his own mind, envisaging in the same way the series of another, he takes into account the nature of the body and the mind of another: in this way he knows the mind of another and the abhijñā arises. When the abhijñā is realized, the practitioner no longer considers the body, the rūpa; he knows the mind directly.