Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of brahmacarya and brahmacakra” 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.

Appendix 5 - Definition of Brahmacarya and Brahmacakra

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XIV part 4:

Brahmādevarāja has eliminated all sexual desire (rāga) and all hatred (dveṣa) without residue; thus, when people cultivate the pure practice of the dhyānas and abandon sexual desire, they are said to follow brahmanic conduct (brahmacarya). And the wheel of Dharma which the Buddha put into motion is sometimes called dharmacakra and sometimes brahmacakra.”

Brahmacarya (brahmanic conduct):

The word brahmacarya is of brāhmin origin and designates in a general way the rigorous observation of prescribed rules and, in a more specialized way, the [sexual] continence imposed on the novice during his studies at the foot of the master. Cf. the Manusmṛti, II, v. 249:

evaṃ carati yo brahmacaryam avuplutaḥ |
sa gacchati uttamaṃ sthānaṃ na cehājāyate punaḥ ||

The word has pased into Buddhism with this twofold meaning. It designates the holy life, the religious life, notably in the form of the arhat: khinā jāti vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, etc. but also chastity. The latter meaning is evidenced in the Mppś, k. 8, p. 120c:

“There are beings who follow the ten wholesome courses of action (kuśalakarmapatha) but who have not yet destroyed lust. Thus the sūtra here praises those who practice the conduct of king Brahmā (brahmacarya) by cutting through their sexual desire. It is said that those who practice brahmacarya purely never smell bad (nirāmayagandha): the person who is addicted to lust has an ugly malodorous body; thus, to praise those who have cut through lust, it is said that they do not have a bad smell.”

Later the Mppś, k. 20,p. 211b, will return to this subject.:

“The gods who have cut through sexual desire are Brahmās, a term applied to all the gods of the form realm (rūpadhātu); this is why the method of cutting through sexual desirre is called brahmacarya.”

Brahmacakra (the wheel of Brahmā):

From the earliest texts on, besides dharmacakra, the expression brahmacakra occurs: Majjhima, I, p. 69; Saṃyutta, II, p. 27; Aṅguttara, II, p. 9, 24; III, p. 417; V, p. 33; Tsa a han, T 99 (no. 348), k. 14, p.98a15; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 19, p. 645b29. The Mppś, k. 25, p. 245b (tr. Hôbôgirin, Bon, p. 120), interprets it as follows:

“The wheel of Brahmā bears this name because it is pure … or else because Brahmā means vast (bṛhant); now the wheel of Dharma which the Buddha turned extends to the entire world; or again because the Buddha taught the four dwellings of Brahmā (the four limitless ones) (brahmavihāra); or also because at the start, it was Brahmā, king of the gods, who invited the Buddha to turn the wheel of Dharma; or also, in order to please those who venerate the god Brahmā.

– Sometimes the Buddha said ‘wheel of Dharma’, sometimes ‘wheel of Brahmā’. – What difference is there between these two terms? – They are synonyms. Nevertheless, according to some, the wheel of Brahmā refers to the four limitless ones (apramāṇa) and the wheel of Dharma to the four Truths (satya); or again, we say ‘wheel of Brahmā’ because the Path is attained by means of the four limitless ones, and ‘wheel of Dharma’ insofar as it is attained by other dharmas; or again,’wheel of Brahmā’ is used in reference to the four dhyānas and ‘wheel of Dharma’ in reference to the thirty-seven aids to enlightenment (bodhipākṣikadharma); or again, ‘wheel of Brahmā’ is applied to the way of dhyāna and samādhi, and ‘wheel of Dharma’ to that of wisdom (prajñā).”

Brahmacarya and Brahmacakra:

The words brahmacarya and brahmacakra are not the only signs of brahmin influence on the Buddhist vocabulary. The Mppś could also add that, according to Jīvaka, “the Bhagavat is Brahmā” (Kośavyākhyā, p. 578: eṣa hi Bhagavān Brahmety etad udāharaṇaṃ Jīvakenoktam etat), and that the term brahmabhūta ‘identified with Brahmā’ is applied sometimes to Buddha himself (Dīgha, III, p. 84; Majjhima, I, p. 111; III, p. 193, 224; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 94: Aṅguttara, V, p. 226; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 34, p. 645b24), sometimes to the arhats (Saṃyutta, III, p. 83; Aṅguttara, II, p. 206).

– According to Buddhaghosa, the word brahmā is used here in the sense of excellent (seṭṭhaṭṭhena); but the explanations of the Bodh. bhūmi, p. 385 are subtler: svayam adhigamya pareṣām apy anukaṃpayā vistareṇa …tasmād brāhmaṃ cakram ity ucyate.