Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “non-existence of the outer object” 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.

Part 12 - Non-existence of the outer object

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In this section, the Mppś argues against the realism of the Lesser Vehicle (Sarvāstivādin and Sautrāntika) which believes in the existence of rūpas or material objects. Two types of rūpa should be distinguished: 1) subtle rūpa, i.e., the atoms (paramāṇu), 2) massive rūpa or coarse matter consisting of atoms. According to the Sautrāntika, the subtle rūpa alone is real, but the massive rūpa, which does not exist apart from the subtle rūpa, is fictive (sāṃvṛta); according to the Sarvāstivādins, both rūpas are real.

The Mppś begins by attacking massive rūpa, accepted by the Sarvāstivādins who, adopting the positions of certain heretics, Vaiśeṣika and others, claim that massive rūpa (e.g., a piece of cloth) is real (a) because it bears a name (nāman) producer of an idea (e.g., the name of cloth), (b) because it is the seat of certain qualities (size and color in the case of cloth) and the result of certain causes (the thread making up the composition of the cloth). – Borrowing its refutation from the Sautrāntikas, the Mppś comments: (a) there may be a name, an idea, without a corresponding reality (we have the notion of the horns of a rabbit, while the rabbit has no horns); (b) the qualities that we find in the objects have only relative value and these objects, since they do not exist apart from the ultimate atoms of color, smell, taste and touch that constitute them, have only nominal existence.

Then the Mppś goes on to attack these ultimate atoms which, the Sautrāntikas claim, are not derived from a complex of causes and conditions like the cloth but constitute the final result of the analysis of the substance. According to the Sarvāstivādins, the atom has no extension – is just a point – and these atoms do not touch one another (cf. Kośa, I, p. 89); on the other hand, according to the Sautrāntikas, the atom, which entails spatial division (dibhāgabheda, digvibhāga), is extended, and the atoms touch one another as a result of their extension (Kośa, I, p. 89). It is this last definition which the Mppś opposes mainly; it shows that the concept of an extended atom is intrinsically contradictory,

Finally, in the spirit of the Greater Vehicle, the Mppś shows that the object, being capable of giving rise to different contradictory concepts, has only subjective value and is essentially empty (śūnya).

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