Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “a metamorphosis (nirmana)” 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.

Tenth comparison or upamāna: A metamorphosis (nirmāṇa)

(manifestation, appearance)

The fourteen minds of metamorphosis (nirmāṇacitta) are: (1–2) In the first dhyāna, two minds, viz. that of kāmadhātu and that of the first dhyāna; (3–5) In the second dhyāna, three minds, viz., that of kāmadhātu, that of the first dhyāna and that of the second dhyāna; (6–9) In the third dhyāna, four minds, viz., that of kāmadhātu and those of the first, second and third dhyānas; (10–14) In the fourth dhyāna, five minds, viz., that of kāmadhātu and those of the first, second, third and fourth dhyānas.[1]

These fourteen minds of metamorphosis accomplish eight kinds of nirmāṇa: (1) reducing to the size of an atom (paramāṇu), (2) enlarging to the point of filling up space (ākāśa). (3) becoming as light as the feather of a crane (sārasaloman), (4) exercising sovereignty (vaśitvakaraṇa) by growing bigger, shrinking, lengthening, narrowing, etc., (5) possessing the Indrabala, the power that surpasses that of humans, (6) being far distant and coming close, (7) making the earth shake (kampana), (8) obtaining whatever one desires: being single and becoming many (eko bhūtva bahudhā bhavati), being many and becoming single (bahudhā bhūtva eko bhavati), passing through stone walls (tiraḥ kuḍyaṃ gacchati), walking on water (udake gacchati), walking in space (ākāśe kramati), touching the sun and the moon with one’s hand (sūryacandramasau pāṇinā āmārṣṭi), transforming the four great elements, i.e., changing earth (pṛthivī) into water (ap-) and water into earth, fire (tejas) into wind and wind (vāyu) into fire, stone (śaila) into gold and gold (suvarṇa) into stone.[2]

There are four other kinds of nirmāṇa: (1) In the realm of desire (kāmadhātu), substances (dravya) can be transformed by means of herbs (oṣadhi), precious objects (ratnadravya) and magical means; (2) beings endowed with the superknowledges (abhijñā) can transform substances by their magical power (ṛddhibala); (3) the devas, nāgas, asuras, etc., can transform substances by means of the power of retribution (vipākabala) of their [previous] lifetimes; (4) beings rewarded in a lifetime in the form realm (rūpadhātu) can transform substances by the power of concentration (samādhibala).[3]

These imaginary creatures are not subject to birth (jāti), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa); they experience neither unhappiness (duḥkha) nor happiness (sukha) and thus are different from humans. This is why they are empty and non-existent. In the same way, all dharmas are without arising (utpāda), duration (sthiti) and cessation (bhaṅga); this is why they are compared to nirmāṇas.

Furthermore, the products of nirmāṇa have no fixed substance (aniyatadravya); [105b] only insofar as they arise from the mind [of metamorphosis] do they have an activity (kriyā), but they do not truly exist. It is the same for human lifetimes; for origin, they have no cause; they come from the minds (citta, synonymous here with karman) of the past existence giving rise to the existence of the present life which is absolutely without reality. This is why dharmas are compared to a nirmāṇa.

When the nirmāṇa mind (nirmāṇacitta) has vanished, the manifestation (nirmāṇa) vanishes as well. It is the same with dharmas: when the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) have disappeared, the fruit (phala) disappears as well, for it is dependent as is the product of nirmāṇa.

Although they are empty of reality, the nirmāṇas can cause beings to experience joy (muditā), hatred (dveṣa), sadness (daurmanasya), suffering (duḥkha) or confusion (moha). In the same way, although dharmas are empty and unreal, they can cause beings to experience joy (muditā), hatred (dveṣa), sadness (daurmanasya), fear (bhaya), etc. This is why they are compared to a nirmāṇa.

Moreover, the products of metamorphosis (nirmāṇajadharma) lack beginning, middle and end (apūrvamadhyacarama); it is the same with dharmas. When the nirmāṇas arise, they do not go anywhere; when they vanish, they do not go anywhere. It is the same with dharmas.

Finally, the nirmāṇas are pure (lakṣaṇaviśuddha) like space (ākāśa); they are not attached to (sakta) nor defiled by (kliṣṭa) sins or merits (pāpapuṇya). It is the same for the dharmas, for suchness (dharmatā), the true nature (tathatā) or the summit of existence (bhūtakoṭi) is itself (svataḥ) always pure (nityaśuddha). Thus the four great rivers of Jambudvīpa, (see Appendix 2) each of which has five hundred tributaries, have their waters polluted in various ways; but when they flow into the great ocean, they are perfectly clear.

Question. – It cannot be said that the nirmāṇas are empty. Why? Because the mind of metamorphosis [on which it is dependent] comes from the development (bhāvanā) of a samādhi. It is with this mind [of metamorphosis] that all kinds of nirmāṇas are realized. Whether it is a man or a thing, this nirmāṇa has a cause (hetu) and produces an effect (phala). How can it be empty?

Answer. – We must repeat the answer that we have already given with regard to the shadow (chaya). Although the cause and condition (hetupratyaya) of the nirmāṇa exist, the result, viz., the nirmāṇa, is empty. It is as empty as the speech (vāc) that comes out of the mouth. Even though the mind (citta) and the mouth (mukha) produce this word, it does not exist by the fact of the mind and the mouth alone. The object designated (ukta) by this word may just as well exist as not exist. If we talk about a second head (dvitīya śīrsaka) or a third hand (tṛtīya hasta), we cannot say that this head or this hand exists even though they arise from the mind [that conceives them] and the mouth [that speaks of them]. Thus the Buddha said: “By examining that which does not arise (anutpāda), one is freed from that which arises; by being based on the unconditioned (asaṃskṛta), one is freed from the conditioned (saṃskṛta).” Although the non-arisen dharma (anutpannadharma) does not exist, it can play the rôle of cause and condition (hetupratyaya), and it is the same for the unconditioned (asaṃskṛta). Although the nirmāṇa itself is empty, it can itself give rise to a mind. As with the other nine points of comparison (upamāna), magic show (māyā), mirage (marīcī), etc., it can engender all sorts of minds even though it does not exist.

Furthermore, the nirmāṇa cannot be included in the six causes (hetu) and the four conditions (pratyaya).[4] As it is not associated (saṃprayukta) with them, it is empty (śūnya).

Finally, empty [things] are not empty because they are invisible (anidarśana) but because they lack true activity (kāritra). This is why dharmas are compared to a nirmāṇa.

Question. – Any dharma whatsoever is as empty (śūnya) as the ten points of comparison [used here in the sūtra]; why does the sūtra limit itself to these ten comparisons and not give as example mountains (parvata), rivers (nadī), stone walls (śailakuḍya), etc?

[105c] Answer. – Although all dharmas are empty, there are differences (viśeṣa) among them: emptiness is harder to see in some than in others. Here the sūtra compares {dharmas] the emptiness of which is hard to see [with other dharmas, e.g., magic show, mirage, etc.], the emptiness of which is easy to see..

Moreover, there are two types of dharmas: those that are the object of an erroneous judgment (cittābhiniveśasthāna) and those that are not the object of an erroneous judgment (cittānabhiniveśasthāna). Here we are using the second type in order to understand the first type.

Question. – Why are the ten points of comparison not the object of erroneous judgment?

Answer. – Because these ten points [magic show, mirage, etc.] do not last for a long time (acirasthitika) and because they arise and perish easily. This is why they are not the object of an erroneous judgment.

Moreover, there are people who know that these ten points bring about auditory and visual delusions, but who do not know that dharmas are empty. This is why the sūtra compares dharmas [to these ten points] here. If people believed in the reality of the ten points of comparison [used by the sūtra], they would not understand the various objections [raised here against the reality of dharmas] because they would hold [the magic show, the mirage, etc.] to be real. If these ten points of comparison do not fulfill their rôle [in the discussion], we would need to resort to yet other demonstrations (dharmaparyaya).

Footnotes and references:


The fourteen nirmāṇacittas are distributed in the four dhyānas according to the following principle: “The nirmāṇacitta, the result of a certain dhyāna, is the ground of that particular dhyāna or of a lower ground.” See Kośa, VII, p. 115–116.


The Mppś seems to have artificially combined a list of 16 mahāṛddhis with a list of 7 abhijñākarman.

a. The list of the 16 mahāṛddhi occurs in Saṃgraha, p. 221–222; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 58–63. It mentions the powers of making the earth shake (kampana, no. 1), of transforming (anyathībhāvakaraṇa, no. 5), of concentrating and developing (saṃkṣepaprathana, no. 7), which correspond to nos. 7, 8 sub fine, 1 and 2, of our list.

b. The list of the abhijñākarman is mentioned in more than 20 places in the Pāli scriptures (Dīgha, I, p. 78; Saṃyutta, II, p. 121; Aṅguttara, I, p. 170) and its Sanskrit version appears in Pañcaviṃśati, p. 83; Kośavyākhyā, p. 654, Mahāvyutpatti, no. 215–223, 227.

Pāli Version: So anekavihitaṃ iddhivivhaṃ paccanubhoti: 1) … 2) eko pi hutvāhutvā bahudhā hoti. 3) bahudhā pi hutvā eko hoti. 4) āvibhāvaṃ tirobhāvaṃ [api paccanubhoti]. 5) tirokuḍḍaṃ tiropākṛaṃ tiropabbataṃ asajjamāno gacchati seyyathā pi ākāse. 6) paṭhavīyā pi ummujjanimmujjaṃ karoti seyyathā pi udake. 7) udake pi abijjamāno gacchati seyyathā pi paṭhaviyaṃ. 8) ākāse pi pallaṅkena kamati seyyathā pi pakkhī sakuṇo. 9) … 10) … 11) ime pi candimasuriye evaṃ mahānubhāve pāṇinā parimajjati yāva Brahmalokā pi kāyena va saṃvatteti.

Sanskrit Version: So ’nekavidham ṛddhividhiṃ pratyanubhavati: 1) pṛthivīm api kampayati. 2) eko ’pi bhūtvā bahudhā bhavati. 3) bahudhāpi bhūtvā eko bhavati. 4) āvirbhāvaṃ tirobhāvam api pratyanubhavati. 5) tiraḥkuḍyaṃ tiraḥprākamaraṃ tiraḥparvatam apy asakto gacchati tad yathāpi nāma ākāśe pakṣī śakuniḥ. 6) pṛthivyāṃ spy unmajjanimajjaṃ karoti tadyathāpi nāmodake. 7) udake ‘bhidyamāno gacchati tad yathāpi nāma pṛthivyam. 8) ākāśe paryaṇkena kramati tadyathā śakuniḥ pakṣī.

9) dhūmayate api prajvalty api tad tathāpi nāma mahān agniskandhaḥ. 10) udakam api kāyāt pramuñcati tad yathāpi nāma mahāmeghaḥ. 11) imāv api sūryacanararamasau evaṃ mahāṛddhikau mahānubhāvau pāṇinā parāmṛśati yāvad Brahmalokād api kāyaṃ vasena vartayati.


Kośa, VII, p. 122, lists five kinds of ṛddhi: i) produced by meditation (bhāvanāja), ii) innate (upapattilābhika), iii) realized by magical phrases (vidyā or mantra kṛta), iv) by plants (oṣadokṛta), v) coming from actions (karmata).

Like other texts of the Lesser and Greater Vehicles (Avataṃsaka, Mahāyānasaṃgraha, Mahāvibhāṣā, etc.), the Mppś is aware of the transmutation of metals. On this subject, see A. Waley, References to alchemy in Buddhist scriptures, BSOS, VI, 4, 1932, p. 1102–1103. We should remember that the biographers of Nāgārjuna, Chinese as well as Tibetan, present him above all as an alchemist possessing the elixir of life and able to change stone into gold (cf. Long chou p’ou sa tchouan, T 2047, p. 184a; Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 10, p. 930a; Bu ston, II, p. 13; Tāranātha, p. 73; S. Lévi, Kaniṣka et Śātavḥahana, JA, Jan.-Mar. 1936, p. 103–107). From these references to alchemy in the Mppś, we must not conclude, as does O. Stein, References to alchemy in Buddhist scriptures, BSOS, VII, 1, 1933, p. 263, that the Chih Tu louen can hardly be earlier than the 8th century. First, it has not been proven that the author of the Mppś is identical with the Nāgārjuna to whom the Rasaratnākara, a work of the 7th or 8th century, is attributed. As does alchemy, it constitutes one of the elements of tantric Buddhism the origins of which go back further than is generally admitted. G. Tucci, The first mention of Tantric Schools, J. Asiatic Soc. Bengal, XXVI, 1930, p. 128–132, has shown that one tantric sect, that of the Kāpālikas, is at least as old as Harivarman and Asaṅga. Finally, and this is the decisive point, the Mppś was translated by Kumārajīva who lived from 344 to 413 A.D.


Cf. Kośa, II, p. 245 (six hetu); II, p. 299 (four pratyaya).

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