Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the object, subjective creation and emptiness” 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.

3. The object, subjective creation and emptiness

Notes: This paragraph seems to take its inspiration in part from the “Sūtra of Four Knowledges”, popular in the idealist school; cf. Saṃgraha, p. 104–105, 250–252, 421–423. The bodhisattva who possesses the four knowledges takes into account the non-reality of outer objects:

1) Viruddhavijñānanimittatvajñāna: he knows that one and the same object can give rise to absolutely opposite concepts.

2) Anālambanavijñaptyupalabdhitvajñāna: he knows that one may have concepts that do not conform to any reality.

3) Aprayatnāviparītatvajñāna: he knows that if the object were real, his consciousness would require no effort and would not be subject to error.

4) Trividhajñānānukūlatvajñāna: he knows that the object can be bent to the needs of three kinds of minds: (a) to appear as they wish to bodhisattvas and meditators endowed with mastery of mind (cetovaśitā); (b) to appear to yogins endowed with śamatha and vipaśyanā at the moment when they think of it; (c) to not appear at all to the saints who have acquired concept-free knowledge (nirvikalpakajñāna).

Moreover, for those who contemplate emptiness (śūnyatādarśin), matter exists as a function of the mind (cittanuparivartin). Thus these contemplatives (dhyāyin) see matter as being earth (pṛthivī), water (ap-), fire (tejas) or wind (vāyu), as being blue (nīla), yellow (pīta), red (lohita) or absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya).[1] And in the same way they can contemplate the ten views of the object as totality of the object (kṛtsnāyatana).[2]

[Dārukkhandhakasutta].[3] – The Buddha, who was dwelling on Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata, went one day to the city of Rājagṛha along with the assembly of bhikṣus. Seeing a large piece of wood (change ta houei “great water” to ta mou “big piece of wood” or “mahādāruskandha”) in the middle of the path,[4] the Buddha spread out his mat (niṣadana), sat down and said to the monks: “A bhikṣu entered into trance (dhyānapraviṣṭa) and, endowed with mastery of mind (cetovaśiprāpta), would be able to change this big piece of wood (read ta mou) into earth (pṛthivi) and this would be real earth. Why? Because the earth element exists in the wood. He would also be able to change it into water (ap-), into fire (tejas) into wind (vāyu), into gold (suvarṇa), into silver (rājata) and into all kinds of precious substances (nānāvidharatnadravya); and they would all be real. Why? Because the elements (dhātu) of all these things exist in the wood (read mou).”

2. Moreover, it is the same as in the case of a beautiful woman; the voluptuous man (kāmeṣu mithyācārin) who sees her, takes her to be a pure wonder and his heart clings to her; the ascetic given to contemplation of the disgusting (aśubhabhāvana), on looking at this woman, finds all sorts of defects without any beauty; her rival, when she sees her, feels jealousy (īrṣyā) hatred (dveṣa) and bad feelings; she does not want to look at her, as if she were ugly.[5] – On looking at this woman, the voluptuous man feels pleasure (sukha); the jealous, sadness (duḥkha); the ascetic finds the Path (mārga); the unprejudiced man feels neither attraction nor repulsion: it is as if he was looking at a piece of wood. If this beauty were truly pure, the four men who were looking at it should all see it as fine (śubha); if it were truly ugly, all should see it as ugly (aśubha). But, [as this is not the case], we know that beauty and ugliness are in the mind (citta) and outwardly (bahirdhā) there is nothing fixed (niyata). It is as if one were looking at the void (śūnya).

3. Finally, because the eighteen emptinesses (aṣṭadaśaśūnyatā) are found in matter, it appears as empty (śūnya) on being examined; being empty, it is non-existent (anupalabdha). In the same way, all wealth (āmiṣadravya) resulting from causes and conditions (pratītyasamutpanna) is empty (śūnya) and absolutely non-existent (atyantānupalabdha).

Footnotes and references:


The contemplatives (dhyāyin) who practice the trance states (dhyāna) obtain mastery of mind (cetovaśta), a mental capability (cittakarmanyatā) that makes them able to cause whatever they wish to appear by the power of their aspiration (adhimuktibala) alone; they change earth into water, etc. Cf. Madh, avatāra, p. 163 (tr. LAV., Muséon, 1916, p. 346–347); Saṃgraha, p. 106, note. – The power of the contemplative is described by the Bodh. bhūmi, p. 352, in the following way: yatepsitaṃ ca sarvarddhikāryaṃ karoti, sarvapraṇidhānani cāsya yathākāmaṃ samṛdhyanti, yayad eva vastu yathādhimucyate tat tathaiva bhavati: “He performs all his miracles according to his wish, all his wishes come about as he desires; every object becomes exactly what he wants it to be.”


The ten kṛtsnāyatanas are studied in Kośa, VIII, p.213–215.


Cf. the Dārukkhandhakasutta of Aṅguttara, III, p. 340–341 (tr. Hare, Gradual Sayings, III, p. 240–241), or Tsa a han, T 99, no. 494, k. 18, p. 128c–129a, and Kośa, II, p. 147. But according to the canonical version, this sūtra was pronounced by Śāriputra and not by the Buddha.


The reading of the Taishō: Ta houei (37; 85) “large piece of water”, is unacceptable. It is absurd that the Buddha would have spread out his mat on a piece of water and that then he would proclaim, as an extraordinary feat, the possibility of changing this piece of water into water. All these absurdities disappear if we adopt the variant Ta mou (37; 75) “large piece of wood” this variant is attested in the Yuan, Ming and Sung editions as well as the Tempyu Ishiyama-dera monastery Mss; besides, it is the reading adopted in the Pāli and Chinese versions of the Dārukkhandhakasutta.


If the object were real, it would not be the object of such diametrically opposite conceptions, but it would be seen by everyone in the same way. Now the concepts relating to one and the same object vary according to the categories or dispositions of the perceiving subjects. In order to illustrate the theme, the texts resort especially to two examples, that of the woman and that of water.

A given woman is a beauty to her lover, a frightful skeleton to the ascetic, a horror to her rival, a tasty mouthful for the dog, etc. A well-known stanza, cited in the commentary to the Saṃgraha, p. 106, note, and in the Sarvadarśana-saṃgraha, ed. of the Ānandāśrama, p. 12, says:

Parivrāṭkāmukaśunām ekasyāṃ pramadātanau |
kuṇapaḥ kāminī bhakṣya iti tisro vikalpanāḥ ||

“The ascetic, the lover and the dog have three different conceptions of the same female body: for the ascetic, it is a corpse; for the lover, it is his mistress; for the dog, it is a good mouthful.”

As for the example of the water, here is the commentary of the Saṃgraha, p. 105, n.:

“There where the pretas, by the power of retribution of their actions, see a river full of pus, the animals – fish, etc., – see a drink, a home, and they settle down in it. People see delicious, pure and clear water; they use it to wash, to quench their thirst and to bathe in it. As for the gods in the sphere of the infinity of space, they see only space there, for they have no physical sensations. Now, it is impossible to have so many opposing consciousnesses on one and the same thing if this thing were real.”

The same example is given in Madh. avatāra, p. 164, l. 12 (tr. Muséon, 1910, p. 348), the Viṃśika, p. 4, l. 2–6; the Nyāyavārtitika, p. 528, l. 12.