Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “non-existence of beings” 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 3 - The non-existence of beings

Question. – Beings presently exist; would you say that they do not exist?

Answer. – That which is seen by the fleshly eye (māṃsacakṣus) is not right seeing (darśana); if one uses the eye of wisdom (prajñāhakṣus), one will see that there are no beings. As was said above (p. 724F) in regard to generosity, there is neither donor (dāyaka) nor recipient (pratigrāhaka) nor thing given (deya); it is the same here.

Moreover, if the being (sattva) existed, it would be the same as the five aggregates (skandha) or different from them. If it were identical with the five skandhas, the skandhas being five and the sentient being being one, five would equal one and one would equal five. An exchange market where five would equal one would find no taker. Why? Because one does not make five. This is why we know that the five skandhas do not make up one single being. – Moreover, the five skandhas that arise (utpanna) and perish (niruddha) are of impermanent nature (anityalakṣaṇa), whereas the being’s nature is to pass from one existence to the next by accumulating sins (āpatti) and merits (puṇya) in the three worlds (traidhātuka). If the five skandhas are confused with the being, the latter would be like plants (tṛṇa) and trees (kāṣṭha) which, arising spontaneously and perishing spontaneously, are unaffected by the bond of sin (āpattibandhana) and by liberation (vimokṣa). Thus we know that the five skandhas are not the being.

That a being exists outside of the skandhas has already been refuted above when it was a question of the eternity and omnipresence of the ātman (cf. p. 740F). Besides, the view of self (ātmadṛṣṭi) does not arise outside of the five skandhas. If a being existed outside of the five skandhas, it would be eternal and, if it were eternal, it would escape birth (jāti) and death (maraṇa). Why? Because birth is to be after not having been, and death is to perish after having been born. If beings were eternal, they would fill up the five destinies (pañcagati). Being eternal from the very beginning, would they return into existence? Free of birth, they would also be free of death.

Question. – It is certain that the being exists; why do you say that it does not exist? There is a dharma, ‘being’, that has the five skandhas as causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), just as the dharma ‘hand’ exists as a result of the five fingers (aṅguli).

Answer. – This statement is false. If a dharma, ‘being’, existed as a result of the five skandhas, the existence of this dharma ‘being’ would not be conceived apart or outside of the five skandhas. The eye (cakṣus) sees color (rūpa), the ear (śrotra) hears sound (śabda), the nose (ghrāṇa) smells odor (gandha), the tongue (jihvā) tastes flavor (rasa), the body (kāya) feels touch (spraṣṭavya) and the mind (manas) cognizes dharmas; but all of that is empty [164a] (śūnya) and free of substantial self (anātman). There is no being distinct from these six things. The heretics (tīrthika), who believe the reverse, claim that the being is the eye that sees colors, etc., up to, the mind that cognizes dharmas. Or else, they are of the opinion that the being is the mind that experiences suffering or pleasure. Those who share this view do not know the reality of the being.

[The trick of the self-interested disciples].

Furthermore, if the being existed in the five skandhas as in its causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), the five skandhas being transitory, the being also would be transitory. Why? Because there is a similarity (sādṛśya) between result (phala) and its cause (hetu). Being transitory, this being would not go on to a future existence (aparajanman).

Furthermore, if, as you claim, the being existed eternally from the very beginning, then the being would have to give birth to the five skandhas, whereas the five skandhas could not give birth to the being. Now as causes and conditions, the five skandhas give rise [only] to a metaphor of being (sattvanāmasaṃketa), and the fool chases after this name in search of a reality. This is why the being is really non-existent. Since the being does not exist, there is no sin in murder, and since murder does not exist, there is no discipline (śīla) to forbid it.

Furthermore, if one examines the five skandhas deeply, one will know by the analysis that they are empty (śūnya) like visions in a dream (svapnadarśana), like reflections in a mirror (ādarśanabimba). In killing a vision in a dream or reflection in a mirror, one is not committing murder. Similarly, by killing a being, i.e., the five skandhas that have emptiness as nature (śūnyatānimitta), one does not commit a fault.

Finally, the person who hates sin (āpatti) and is attached to its opposite (anāpatti), feels scorn (avamāna) and pride (abhimāna) when he sees someone transgress the precepts; he feels affection (anunaya) and respect (satkāra) when he sees an honest man observing the precepts, Such a morality is a generating cause (āpattisamutthāpakahetupratyaya) of sin. Consequently we say [with the sūtra] that it is necessary to fulfill the virtue of morality by being based on the non-existence of sin and its opposite.