Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “buddhist atomic theories” 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.

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter XX part 12.2:

“Moreover, if there existed a substance (rūpa) in the state of ultimate atom (paramāṇu), it would entail tenfold spatial division; but if it entailed the tenfold sparial division, it would not be a question of the ultimate atom. On the other hand, if there is not tenfold spatial division, it is not a question of matter...”

The concept of material atom is intrinsically contradictory. The atom, not susceptible to deterioration, not susceptible to resistance (pratighāta) is, by definition, free from breakage (rūpaṇa) and is indivisible (cf. Kośa, I, p. 25). Matter (rūpa), on the other hand, is essentially subject to deterioration, breakage, by virtue of the definition rūpaṇād rūpam (Kośa, I, p. 24).

If, as the Sautrāntikas would have it (cf. Kośa, I, p. 89), the atom is extended, i.e., entails spatial division, it is divisible and thus is not an atom.

If, as the Sarvāstivādins would have it (cf. Kośa, I, p. 89; Siddhi. P. 39), the atom is not extended, it will appear like space, like emptiness, and will no longer be able to be called rūpa.

Compare Viṃśikā, p. 7:

digbhāgabhedo yasyāsti tasyaikatvaṃ na yujyate. anyo hi paramāṇoḥ pūrvadigbhāgo yāvad adhodigbhāga iti digbhāgabhedesati kathaṃ tadātmakasya paramāṇor ekatvaṃ yokṣyate:

“That which has spatial division constitutes a unity. If the ultimate atom has a part oriented to the east (another to the west), up to a part oriented to the nadir, how could the unity of the ultimate atom be possible with such diversity of orientations?”

The atomic theories of the Lesser Vehicle are explained and refuted in Siddhi, p. 44–47.