Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “debate with the realist” 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.

The Realist. – But these three things must be joined in order that there be generosity (cf. p. 663F), and now you say that they do not exist! What is meant by the perfection of the virtue of generosity (dānapāramitāparipūri) if not the presence of a material object (āmiṣadravya), a donor (dāyaka) and a recipient (pratigrāhaka)? Why do you say that these three things are non-existent? The cloth (paṭa) that is offered as a gift nevertheless really exists. Why?

1st Argument. – Since the cloth has a name (nāman), a reality, cloth (paṭadharma), exists. If the reality cloth did not exist, the name cloth would not exist either; but since the name exists, there is necessarily the cloth.

2nd Argument. – Moreover, the cloth is long (dīrgha) or short (hrasva), coarse (sthūla) or fine (sūkṣma), white (avadāta), black (kṛṣṇa), yellow (pīta) or red (lohita); it has causes (hetu) and conditions (pratyaya); it has a maker (kāraka) and a destroyer (bhedaka); it has an effect (phala) and, according to the properties it possesses, it arouses concepts. – Indeed, it is long if it is ten feet, short if it is five feet; it is coarse if its threads (tantu) are heavy, fine if its threads are thin; it has the color that the dye gives it; it has threads as cause and weaving as condition; these causes and conditions being brought together, there is cloth. For maker, it has the professional weaver, for destroyer, the person who tears it; for effect, it protects the body from cold (śīta) and heat (uṣṇa). The person who finds it experiences joy (muditā); the person who loses it experiences sadness (daurmanasya); the person who gives it as a gift gains merit that will be of profit on the Path (mārga); the person who steals it is killed, exposed in the market place, and after death, falls into hell (niraya). For all these reasons, we know that the cloth exists and we assume a dharma cloth.


Refutation of the 1st argument.

You say that the thing exists because the name exists: this is not correct (ayukta)! Why? There are two kinds of names: the kind that corresponds to a reality and the kind that does not correspond to a reality. Thus, there is a plant (tṛṇa) called Tchou li (cauri) – Caurī, in the language of Ts’in, means “thief”; although this plant does not rob, does not pilfer, and is not really a thief, nevertheless it is called “the thief”. Again, the horn of a rabbit (śaśviṣāna) and the hairs of a tortoise (kūrmaroma) are only names and have no reality. Although the cloth is not non-existent in the same way that the horn of a rabbit or the hair of a tortoise, it exists [only] as a result of the complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī) and, when these causes and conditions disappear, it no longer exists. It is the same for the forest (vana), the chariot (ratha), etc., which all have a name but have no reality. In a mannekin (kāṣṭhapuruṣa) that is, however, given the name of a man (puruṣa), human properties (puruṣadharma) cannot be found; similarly, in the cloth, that also is given a name, no reality cloth can be found. In the human mind, the cloth can produce the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) productive of a concept since, when someone finds the cloth, they are happy whereas, when someone loses the cloth, they are sad. But the cloth is only the cause and condition generating a concept [and there is no cloth in itself].[1]

There can be two kinds of causes and conditions for the arising of a concept: some concepts stem from a reality, others from a non-reality, such as the visions in a dream (svapnadṛṣṭa), the moon reflected in water [147c] (udakacandra)[2] or the tree-stump seen in the darkness and mistaken for a man. Such names come from non-realities but are able to provoke the arising of a concept. Conditioning is not fixed (niyata) and it cannot be said that, because a concept is produced, there exists a corresponding substance. Real existence must not be sought in that which exists by virtue of causes and conditions productive of a concept. Thus, when the eye sees the moon reflected in the water, a concept is produced which is expressed by saying: “This is the moon”, but the so-called moon resulting from this concept is not a real moon.

Refutation of the 2nd argument.

Furthermore, there are three kinds of existence (bhāva): 1) relative existence (parasparāpekṣikabhāva), 2) nominal existence (prajñaptibhāva), 3) real existence (dharmabhāva).

1) For example, length (dīrghatva) and shortness (hrastva), the quality of being “this” or “that”, etc., have relative existence. In reality, there is neither length nor shortness, neither distance nor closeness; it is because of mutual relationship that we speak thus. Length exists as a result of shortness, and shortness exists as a result of length; “that” exists as a result of “this” and “this” exists as a result of “that”. If I am east of an object, it will be looked upon as “western”; if I am west of an object, it will be looked upon as “eastern”; distinctions (bheda) between east and west exist in relationship to one and the same object; but even though they have a name, they are not reality. That is what is meant by relative existences; no true reality is found there and they are not comparable to colors (rūpa), smells (gandha), tastes (rasa) tangibles (spraṣṭavaya), etc.

2) Nominal existence (prajñaptibhāva), milk, for example, which has four factors: color (rūpa), smell (gandha), taste (rasa) and touchable (sparṣṭavya). When these causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) come together, we commonly speak of milk. The milk exists, but not in the way dharmas coming from causes and conditions (pratītyasamutpannadharma) exist; the milk does not exist, but not in the way that the horns of a rabbit (śaśviṣāṇa) or the hair of a tortoise (kūrmaroma) are non-existent. It is only as a result of the complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī) that we commonly say that milk exists.[3] It is the same for the cloth.

3) Moreover, it is as a result of color, smell, taste and tangible in the state of ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) that particles of hair (romabhāga) exist; as a result of the particles of hair, there are hairs (roman); as a result of hairs, there is fluff; as a result of fluff, there is thread (tantu); as a result of thread, there is cloth (paṭa); as a result of cloth, there is a garment (vastra). – If the causes and conditions, namely, color, smell, taste and tangible in the state of ultimate atoms were lacking, there would be no hair particles; the hair particles not existing, there would be no hair; the hairs not existing, there would be no fluff; the fluff not existing, there would be no thread; the thread not existing, there would be no cloth; the cloth not existing, there would be no garment.

Footnotes and references:


On the relationships between the name and the thing that it designates, see Saṃgraha, p. 118, 174, 237; Tattvasaṃgraha, I, p. 274–366 (Śabdaparīkṣā); Vigrahavyāvartanī, text in J. Bihara and Orissa, XXIII, 1937, Part III (appendix) and translation by S. Yamaguchi, JA, Jul.-Sept., 1929, p. 1–86; or G. Tucci, Pre-Diññaga, p. 1–77.


For svapna and udakacandra, see above, Traité, I, p. 364F, 373F.


Compare Kośa, IX, p. 239.

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