Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “on the number of gatis or destinies” 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 9 - On the number of gatis or destinies

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter XV part 10.10:

“... If that is so, then the sūtra should not speak of the gandharvas or the asuras either. Why? Because these beings have already been included (saṃgṛhita) in the Preta destiny”.

In order to understand the discussion which follows, it should be noted that the ‘Questioner’ assumed here represents the side of Kātyāyanīputra and defends the theories of the Sarvāstivadin Abhidharma. The latter accept only five gati or destinies (see, e.g., the Saṃghītiparyāya, T 1536, k. 11, p. 415c); doing this, they are faithful to the canonical teachings which, with a few exceptions (Dīgha, III, p. 264) recognize only five gati (cf. Dīgha, III, p. 234; Majjhima, I, p. 73; Saṃyutta, V, p. 474; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 459); these are first the three bad destinies (durgati) – the damned (naraka), the animals (tiryagyoni) and the pretas – which must be placed among the eight akṣaṇa, the conditions in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to see the Buddha or hear the Dharma; these are the two good destinies (sugati), of the gods (dev) and of men, humans (manuṣya), where it is easy to acquire the Path.

The scholars who accept only five gati find it difficult to place the asuras. Here, our ‘Questioner’ places them, along with the gandharvas, in the preta gati, and the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 172, p. 867a–c) does the same. Others, such as the author of the Yogacaryābhūmi (T 1570, k, 4), places them among the gods. But most often the asuras belong to several gati at the same time, either the preta and the animal (Saddharmasaṛtyupasthāna, T 721, k. 18–21) or preta, animal and gods (Gāthāsūtra, cited in T 1723, k. 2), or preta, human, gods and animal (Śūraṃgamasūtra, T 945, k. 9). These references are from Hôbôgirin, Ashura, p. 42. See also P. Mus, La lumiere sur les six Voies, p. 155, 175, etc.

The position adopted by the Mppś is quite different. It criticizes the Sarvāstivādin Kātyānīputra for wanting to put into the lower destiny of the pretas an asura as pious as Punarvasu’s mother, a yakṣa as famous as Vajrapāṇi, a kiṃnara as powerful as Druma. Then it comments, wrongly it is true, that the Buddha had never fixed at five the number of the gati and that such a limitation is the doing of the Sarvāstivādin school. Finally, calling on the Vātsīputrīyas as witness, it proclaims the need for a sixth gati where the asuras and gandharvas “whose merits are many” are placed and which cannot be confused with the damned, the animals and the pretas who populate the lower gati. Returning later (k. 39, p. 280a) to this subject, it will conclude: “Previously, five gati were spoken of; today we must add the asura gati.”

Yet other texts accept six gati in place of five: an isolated passage of the Dīgha (III, p. 264); Petavatthu, IV, 11: the Andhaka and Uttarāpathaka of the Kathāvatthu, VIII, p. 360 (cf. Rh. D., Points of controversy, p. 211); the Ṣaḍgatikārikā, stanza 94, which accepts the asura gati (cf. P, Mus, Six voies, p. 282; T 726, p. 457b); the Dharmasaṃgraha, v. 135, 346, 372 (but five gati on p. 131).

It may be asked if Nāgārjuna of the Mppś, who here shows himself to be a strong partisan of six gatis, is the same as the nihilist Nāgārjuna, author of the Madh. kārikā who accepts only five (cf. Madh. vṛtti, p. 269, l. 9; p. 304, l. 4). On the other hand and contrary to the assertion of Poussin in Kośa, III, p. 11, the Nāgārjuna of the Suḥrillekha lists six gatis (cf. T 1673, p. 750c1).