Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “skilled in saving beings” 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 21: skilled in saving beings

21. avatārakuśala:

Sūtra: Knowing the course (gati) of the mind and the conduct (carita) of beings, they were skilled in saving them (avatārakuśala) by means of their subtle wisdom (sūkṣmajñāna).

Śāstra: Question. – How do the bodhisattvas know the minds and conduct of beings?

Answer. – They know the minds and the actions of beings; they are like the light of the sun which shines everywhere; they know where the thoughts and acts of beings will lead and they instruct them on these subjects, saying: “Beings have two types of courses (gati): either their mind is always in search of pleasure (sukha) or their wisdom succeeds in distinguishing good from bad. Do not follow your inclinations (saṅgacitta); apply yourselves to wisdom (prajñā), redirect your thoughts. For innumerable kalpas you have accumulated actions of mixed value (miśrakarman) without stopping; you pursue only worldly pleasures (lokasukha) without understanding that they are suffering (duḥkha); you do not see that the world that covets pleasure falls into misfortune and will be reborn in the five destinies (gati). Who is able to undo what has been done by the mind? You are like a mad elephant (gandhahastin) that tramples, destroys, pillages and demolishes without allowing itself to be controlled. Who will be able to tame you? If you find a skillful tamer, you will escape the torments of the world, you will understand the impurity of the rebirths. The fetter of misfortune is like hell (niraya). If one is reborn there, it is old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), death (maraṇa), suffering (duḥkha), sadness (daurmanasya), and all kinds of confusion; if one is reborn in the heavens (svarga), one will fall back down in the threefold world (traidhātuka). There is no peace. Why do you cling to pleasures?” Such are the various reproaches (avadya) made by the bodhisattvas to them, and this proves that they know the mind and conduct of beings.

Question. – How do they save them by means of their subtle wisdom? First, what is subtle wisdom (sūkṣmajñāna) and what is coarse wisdom (sthūlajñāna)?

Answer. – Coarse wisdom is a purely mundane skill (laukikanaipuṇya); generosity (dāna), discipline (śīla), and concentration (samādhi) are called subtle wisdom.

Furthermore, the wisdom of generosity is a coarse wisdom; the wisdom of discipline and concentration (śīlasamādhijñāna) is subtle wisdom.

Furthermore, the wisdom of dhyāna is coarse wisdom; dhyāna without bliss (praśrabdhi) is a subtle wisdom. [106b]

Furthermore, it is a coarse wisdom that grasps all the characteristics of dharmas (dharmalakṣaṇa), but it is a subtle wisdom that does not accept or reject any characteristic of dharmas.

Finally, destroying ignorance (avidyā) and the other afflictions (kleśa) and discovering the nature of dharmas is a coarse wisdom; but penetrating into the true nature, incorruptible and imperishable like gold (suvarṇa), indestructible and unchangeable like diamond (vajra), untarnishable and ungraspable like space (ākāśa), is a subtle wisdom.

These are the innumerable subtle wisdoms that the bodhisattvas have acquired and which they teach beings. Thus the sūtra says that, knowing the course of the mind and the activity of beings, the bodhisattvas are skilled in saving them by means of the subtle wisdom.