Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “skilled in teaching dependent origination” 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 14: skilled in teaching dependent origination

14. pratīityasamutpannadharmanirdeśakuśala:

Sūtra: They were skilled in teaching dependent origination (pratītyasamutpannadharmanirdeśakuśalaiḥ).

Śāstra: They are capable of teaching the twelve-membered (dvādaśāṅgapratītyasamutpāda)[1] in different ways (nānādharmaparyāyaiḥ).

Affliction (kleśa), action (karman) and basis (vastu) arise one after the other (krama) according to a continuous development (paramparaprabandha); this is called the twelve-membered pratītyasamutpāda.[2]

Three of these [twelve members] are called affliction (kleśa): ignorance (avidyā), craving (tṛṣṇā) and grasping (upādāna); two members are called action (karman): formations (saṃskāra) and coming into existence (bhava); the other seven are called bases (vastu).[3]

In general (samāsataḥ), the three categories, affliction (kleśa), action (karman) and suffering (duḥkha) are mutual and reciprocal causes and conditions (paraṃparānyonyahetupratyaya): 1) Kleśa is cause and condition for karman [because avidyā precedes the saṃskāras and upādāna precedes bhava]; 2) karman is cause and condition for duḥkha [because saṃskāra precedes vijñāna and bhava precedes jāti]; 3) duḥkha is cause and condition for duḥkha [because vijñāna precedes nāmarūpa; nāmarūpa precedes ṣadāyatana; ṣadāyatana precedes sparśa; sparśa precedes vedanā; jāti precedes jarāmaraṇa]; 4) duḥkha is cause and condition for kleśa [because vedanā precedes tṛṣṇa].[4] Since kleśa is cause and condition for karman, karman cause and condition for duḥkha, and duḥkha cause and condition for duḥkha, it is a matter of mutual and reciprocal causes and conditions.

1. Avidyā, ignorance, is all the afflictions (kleśa) of past existence (atītyajanma).

2. From avidyā there arise actions (karman) which realize fruition in a universe (lokadhātu). These are the saṃskāras, formations.

3. From saṃskāra there arises a defiled mind (samalacitta), initial cause of the [present] existence. Because it is aware in the way that a calf (vatsa) is aware of its mother, it is called vijñāna, consciousness.

4. This vijñāna produces both the four formless aggregates (arūpiskandha) [perception (saṃjñā), feeling (vedanā), volition (saṃskāra), consciousness (vijñāna)] and form (rūpa) which serves as base them. This is name and form, nāmarūpa.

5. From this nāmarūpa there arise the six sense organs, eye, etc. (cakṣurādiṣaḍindriya). These are the ṣaḍāyatanas, the six [inner] bases of consciousness.

6. The meeting (saṃnipāta) of organ (indriya), object (viṣaya) and a consciousness (vijñāna) is called sparśa, contact.

7. From sparśa there arises vedanā, sensation.

8. Within vedanā there arises an adherence of mind (cittābhiniveśa) called craving or thirst, tṛṣṇā.

9. The tendency caused by tṛṣṇā is called upādāna, grasping, attachment.

10. From this upādāna comes action (karman) which brings about the new existence (punarbhavahetupratyaya) which is called bhava, the act of existence.

11. As a consequence of this bhava, one reassumes the five aggregates (skandha) of the new lifetime (punarbhava). This is called jāti, birth.

12. The decay of the five skandhas coming from this jāti is called jarāmaraṇa, old-age-and-death. Jarāmaraṇa gives rise to dissatisfaction (daurmanasya), sorrow [100c] (parideva) and all kinds of worries (śoka); and thus the mass of suffering (duḥkhaskandhasamudaya) accumulates.

If the purity of the true nature of dharmas (dharmasatyalakṣaṇaviusuddhi) is considered one-pointedly (ekacitta), ignorance (avidyā) vanishes. When avidya has disappeared, the formations (saṃskāra) also vanish and, as a result, [all the members of pratītyasamutpāda disappear one after the other] until the entire mass of suffering (duḥkhaskandhasamudaya) vanishes. The person who, by means of these soteriological means (upāya) and by not being attached to wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), is able to teach people, is said to be skillful (kuśala). Also said to be skillful is the person who, examining these twelve causes-and-conditions, rejects any system and refuses to adhere to it so as to understand only the true nature [underlying the pratītyasamutpāda]. Thus, in the Prajñāpāramitā in the chapter entitled Pou k’o tsin (Ākṣayaparivarta), the Buddha says to Subhūti: “Avidyā is indestructible (akṣaya) like space; the saṃskāras are indestructible like space and similarly [all the members of pratītyasamutpāda] and the mass of suffering (duḥkhaskandhasamudaya) are indestructible like space. The bodhisattva should know that. The person who understands that cuts off the head of ignorance without falliong into it. The person who sees the twelve-membered pratītyasamutpāda in that way will sit on the throne of bodhi (bodhimaṇda) and will become omniscient (sarvajñā).”[5]

Footnotes and references:


In the third chapter of the Kośa, p. 60–138, there is a complete explanation of the problems related to pratītyasamutpāda, along with an abundant bibliography. The monograph of L. de La Vallee Poussin, Théorie des douze causes, Gand, 1913, is still very instructive.


Cf. Kośa, III, 68, 116.


ibid., p. 68.


ibid., p. 69.


This passage of the Akṣayaparivarta occurs in the Pañcaviṃśati; Mokṣala’s transl., T 221, ch. LXVIII, k. 15, p. 106a26–106b8; – Kumarajīva’s transl., T 223, ch. LXVII, k. 20, p. 364b10–24; – Hiuan-tsang’s transl., T 220, k. 458, p. 315c3–22.

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