Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “description of the shuddhavasika and brahmaloka gods” 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.

Act 7.2: Description of the Śuddhavāsika and Brahmaloka gods

Question. – What is meant by the Śuddhavāsika gods and the Brahmaloka gods?

Answer. – The fourth dhyāna has eight stages (bhūmi):[1] five stages are the abodes (sthāna) of the anāgāmins and are called the pure abodes (śuddhāvāsa);[2] three stages are the shared abode of ordinary people (pṛthagjana) and saints (ārya). Beyond these eight stages are the abodes of the bodhisattvas of the ten bhūmis (daśabhūmibodhisattva): these are also called pure abodes (śuddhāvāsa), [The Śuddhavāsikas] are called Maheśvaradevarāja.

The gods of the Brahmaloka have three places of birth (janmasthāna):[3] i) the heaven of the Brahmakāyikas, the birthplace of the lesser Brahmās; ii) the heaven of the Brahmapurohitas, the birthplace of the noble Brahmās; iii) the heaven of the Mahābrahmās, also called the birthplace of intermediate dhyāna (dhyānāntara).[4]

Question. – Renunciation (vairāgya) is the same [in all the Brahmās]; why do they have abodes of different quality?

Answer. – The first dhyāna [where they dwell] is of three kinds: lesser (avara), medium (madhya) and higher (agra). If they cultivate the lesser dhyāna, they are reborn as Brahmākāyikas; if they cultivate the medium dhyāna, they are reborn as Brahmapurohitas; if they cultivate the higher dhyāna, they are reborn as Mahābrahmās. It is the same for the development of loving-kindness (maitrībhāvana). Thus the teacher Miao yen (Sunetra) said: “I have preached the Dharma to people and they have all been reborn among the Brahmakāyikas; I should not be reborn in the same place as my disciples; I am going to develop a higher loving-kindness (uttarā maitrī).” (see Appendix 13: story of Sunetra) Because he had developed higher loving-kindness, he was reborn among the Mahābrahmās. Moreover, it is by virtue of a mind of supreme purity (paramaviṣuddhicitta) that one is reborn among the Mahābrahmās.

Question. – When there are four dhyānas, why do we speak here only of the first [: abode of the Brahmā gods] and of the last [: abode of the Śuddhāvāsikas] and not say anything about the second or the third?

Answer. – 1) We speak of the first dhyāna because renunciation (vairāgya), the gate to it, is difficult [to practice]; we speak of the fourth because its subtle beauty is difficult to obtain (durlabha). Nothing is said of the intermediate dhyānas because they are easy to enter.

2) Moreover, the brahmaloka is the start of the form realm (rūpadhātu), whereas the fourth dhyāna is its summit; this is why they are mentioned in particular (pṛthak).

3) Moreover, many are the people who know the Brahmā gods but do not know the other gods. This is why we speak here only of the Brahmā gods. We [123a] also speak of the Śuddhāvāsika gods who, out of compassion (anukampā) for beings, always invite the Buddhas.

4) Moreover, when the Buddha preaches, the sound of the Dharma (dharmasvara) reaches as far as the Brahmā gods. When the Buddha attained Buddhahood, these gods sent the news to the Śuddhāvasikas. This is why the first and the last [class of gods of rūpadhātu] are mentioned without saying anything about the two intermediate classes.

5) Moreover, the Brahmā gods who are close to kāmadhātu, [dwelling just above it,] and the Śuddhavāsika gods who are the chiefs of rūpadhātu should be mentioned here. Thus, when a gatekeeper (dvārapāla) knows that a guest (āgantuka) has arrived to see his master, the latter knows it also; the intermediaries being of no importance, they are not spoken of.

6) Finally, the second dhyāna is characterized by great joy (mahāprīti) and the third dhyāna by great bliss (mahāsukha). As joy and bliss imply carelessness, they are not spoken of.

Footnotes and references:


Kośa, III, p. 2.


For these five classes of anāgāmin: antarāparinirvāyin, etc., see Dīgha, III, p. 237; Kośa, III, p. 38; VI, p. 210 and especially p. 223–225.


Kośa, III, p. 2–3.


Kośa, VIII, p. 180–183.

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