Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “patience in regard to the buddhadharma” 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 - Patience in regard to the Buddhadharma

Moreover, although the bodhisattva has not yet obtained the pure Path (anāsravamārga) and has not cut through the fetters (saṃyojana), he is able to adhere to the pure holy Dharma (anāsravāryadharma) as well as the three seals of the Dharma (trividhadharmamudrā). First seal: “All conditionings are transitory” (anityaḥ sarvasaṃskāraḥ); second seal: “All dharmas are devoid of substantial self” (anātmānaḥ sarvadharmaḥ); third seal: “Nirvaṇa is reality” (satyaṃ nirvāṇam).[1] The saints (ārya) who have obtained the Path (prāptamārga) possess the knowledge of all that by themselves (svataḥ); but when the bodhisattva who has not obtained the Path believes in this teaching and adopts it, this is called dharmakṣānti.

Moreover, there are fourteen difficult questions which the Buddha did not answer (caturdaśāvyākṛtavastu): is the world eternal, is it not eternal, etc. [see above, Traité, I, p. 155F, 423F]: meditating on these questions without encountering obstacles (āvaraṇa) or losing the Middle Path (madhyamā pratipad), the ability to maintain such a position constitutes dharmakṣānti.


Furthermore, the bodhisattva who wants to become omniscient (sarvajñā) should discuss about all the dharmas and understand their true nature; he will find no obstacle or impediment in the fourteen difficult questions; he knows that they are serious mental illnesses; to be able to get out of them, to be able to endure them constitutes dharmakṣānti.

Furthermore, the Buddhadharma is very profound (gambhīra), pure (viśuddha) and subtle (sūkṣma); it is expressed in innumerable sermons of all kinds. To adhere to it wholeheartedly without hesitation (saṃśaya) or regret (vipratisāra) constitutes dharmakṣānti. As the Buddha said, dharmas, although empty (śūnya), are neither cut (samucchinna) nor destroyed (niruddha). Arising from a series of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasaṃtāna), they are not eternal (nitya). Although the dharmas are impersonal (anātman), one does not escape from sin (āpatti) or merit (puṇya). The mind lasts for only an instant (ekakṣaṇika); material dharmas (rūpidharma), the senses (indriya), the intellect, perish ceaselessly; without lasting until the next moment (pṛṣṭhakṣaṇa), they arise and perish ever anew; nevertheless, one does not escape from the actions (karman) that are causes and conditions for innumerable lifetimes. Although the aggregates (skandha), the elements (dhātu) and the bases of consciousness (āyatana) [that make up beings] are empty (śūnya) and without self (anātman). beings wander in the five destinies (pañcagati) and undergo transmigration. Such is the Buddhadharma, multiple (nānāvidha), profound (gambhīra) and subtle (sūkṣma); even though he has not yet attained buddhahood, [the bodhisattva] believes in it and adheres to it without hesitation or regret; that is what dharmakṣānti consists of.

Furthermore, whereas arhats and pratyekabuddhas, fearing transmigration, seek to enter nirvāṇa as soon as possible, the bodhisattva, not being a Buddha, seeks omniscience (sarvajñāna); out of compassion (karuṇā) for beings, he wants to understand, analyze, know the true nature of dharmas. The patience that he manifests to that end consitutes dharmakṣānti.

Question. – How does he see the true nature of dharmas?

Answer. – He sees that all the dharmas are without defects (akhila), indestructible (abhedya) and unchangeable (avikāra) and that that is their true nature.

Question. – Every argument (vāda) may be turned around, refuted and confounded. Why do you say that indestructibility is the true nature of dharmas?

Answer. – Because the dharmas are indestructible. In the Buddhadharma, every path of speech is surpassed, the functioning of the mind (cittapravṛtti) is stopped; eternally unborn (anutpanna) and unceasing (aniruddha), dharmas are like nirvāṇa. Why? If dharmas existed in their true nature, they could not be non-existing; if they did not exist after having been, they would be destroyed.

Furthermore, dharmas cannot be eternal (nitya). Why? If they were eternal, there would no longer be sin (āpatti) or merit (puṇya), killing (vadha) or giving of life, asceticism (yoga) or kind deeds (hita), bondage (bandhana) or freedom (vimokṣa): the world would be nirvāṇa. For all these reasons, dharmas cannot be eternal.

If dharmas were transitory (anitya), they would be annihilated (ucchinna) and there would be no sin or merit, no increase or decrease; virtues (guṇa), actions (karman), causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), results (phala) and retribution (vipāka) would disappear. For all these reasons, dharmas cannot be transitory.

Question. – You say that, according to the Buddhadharma, eternity (śāśvata) and impermanence (uhcheda) are equally unreal; but that is wrong.

[170c] Why? In the Buddhadharma, eternity is real and impermanence is also real. Cessation due to knowledge (pratisaṃkhyānirodha), cessation not due to knowledge (apratipsaṃlhyānirodha) and space (ākāśa) are eternal:[2] they are eternal because they are not born, they do not perdure and they do not perish. The five aggregates (skandha) are impermanent: they impermanent because they are born (utpāda), they perdure (sthiti) and they perish (nirodha). Then why do you say that eternity and impermanence are equally unreal?

Answer. – The saint (ārya) has two types of language (abhilāpa): i) an artificial language (upāyābhilāpa), ii) a true language (samyagabhilāpa). In the artificial language, he will speak of the eternal [principle] or the transitory [principle] according to whether the listener holds the individual (pudgala) to be a simple assemblage of causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) or a true being (sattva).

See what has been said with regard to “therapeutic viewpoint” (prātipākṣika siddhānta) [Cf. Traité, I, p. 27F seq., and especially p. 32F]. When the saint speaks of impermanence, he wants to uproot attachment to the pleasures of the threefold world: the Buddha wonders how to lead these beings to acquire renunciation of desire (vairāgya); this is why he speaks of impermanent dharmas. A stanza says:

By seeing the unborn dharma, one escapes from dharmas that are born;
By seeing the unconditioned dharma, one escapes from conditioned dharmas.

Why is rebirth (punarbhāva) called the complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī)? Non-eternal (anitya), non-independent (asvatantra), coming from causes and conditions (hetupratyayāpekṣa), it possesses a nature of old age, sickness and death (jarāvyādhimaraṇalakṣaṇa), a nature of deception (vipralambhanalakṣaṇa) and a nature of destruction (avadāraṇalakṣaṇa). This is called rebirth; it is a conditioned dharma (saṃskṛtadhrma). As was said in regard to the ‘therapeutic point of view’ [Traité, I, p. 36–38], eternity and impermanence are not real characteristics, for they are both defects.

To say that dharmas are both eternal and transitory is a foolish argument. Why? It is both denying the denial of non-existence and denying the existence of that which is not denied. If one denies both of these, what is the dharma of which one will still be able to say anything?

Question. – In the Buddhadharma, characterized by eternal emptiness (śūnya), there is neither existence (bhāva) nor non-existence (abhāva). Emptiness (śūnya) excludes existence, and the emptiness of emptiness (śūnyaśūnyatā) prevents non-existence; this adds up to the fact that there is neither existence nor non-existence. Why accuse that of being a foolish argument?

Answer. – The Buddhadharma in its true nature transcends every belief (grāha) and every opinion (abhiniveśa). By believing in dharmas that are neither existent nor non-existent, you are holding a foolish argument. To affirm both non-existence and not non-existence is a debatable and refutable thesis; it is a theoretical position (cittotpādasthiti) and an occasion for dispute (vivādasthāna). The Buddhadharma is not like that. Even though there are reasons for affirming non-existence and not non-existence, the Buddhadharma does not express an opinion (abhiniveśa) on this subject; as it dos not express an opinion, it cannot be refuted or confounded. The Buddhist position is the same [for the other difficult questions: [See Traitś, I, p. 155F, 423F]: are dharmas finite, infinite, both finite and infinite, neither finite nor infinite? Does the Tathāgata exist after death, does he not exist after death, does he exist and not exist after death, is it false that he exists and does not exist after death? Is the vital principle (jīva) the same thing as the body (śarīra), is the vital principle different from the body? – All of that is futile. [The bodhisattva] also considers as wrong all the theories relating to the sixty-two views (dṛṣṭigata).[3] He avoids them all; he believes in the pure unalterable nature (viśuddhāvikāralakṣaṇa) of the Buddhadharma; his mind is free of regret and functioning. This is what is called dharmakṣānti.

[171a] Furthermore, existence (bhāva) and non-existence (abhāva) are two extremes (anta). If one considers dharmas at the time of their arising (utpāda) and of their duration (sthiti), one has the view of existence (bhāvadṛṣṭi); if one considers dharmas at the time of their aging (jarā) and their cessation (vibhaṅga), one has the view of non-existence (abhāvadṛṣṭi). Beings of the threefold world (traidhātukasattva) are often attached (abhiniviśante) to these two views, but these two concepts are wrong and unreal. If existence really existed, there would be no non-existence. Why? To no longer be after having been (bhūtvā abhāva) is to undergo destruction (ucchedapatana; such a destruction is impossible (ayukta).

Furthermore, all dharmas are said to exist by reason of the complex of names and conventions (nāmasaṃketasāmagrī). This is why dharmas coming from the complex of names and conventions do not exist (nopalabhyante).

Question. – Although dharmas coming from names and conventions do not exist, the complex of names and conventions itself does exist!

Answer. – If there were no dharmas, for what would names and conventions be united? There are no names or conventions either.

Furthermore, if dharmas really existed, there would be no need for a mind (citta) or a consciousness (vijñāna) to cognize their existence. If a mind and a consciousness are needed to cognize their existence, they do not exist. Thus, the solidity (khakkhaṭatva) of earth (pithivī)[4] is cognized by the body organ (kāyendriya) and the body consciousness (kāyavijñāna); but if there were no body organ or body consciousness to cognize it, there would be no solidity.

Question. – Whether the body organ and the body consciousness cognize it or not, the earth is always characterized by solidity.

Answer. – One cognizes the existence of this solidity if one has already recognized its existence or has heard someone else speak about it; but if one did not know it beforehand or if one has not heard speak of it, there would be no solidity.

Furthermore, if the earth were always solid, it would never lose this characteristic. But, like solidified butter, wax or vegetable gum, earth can become liquid and lose its characteristic of solidity. It is the same for gold, silver, copper, iron, etc. The characteristic of water (āpas) is liquidity (dravatva) but, by the action of cold, it solidifies. Many things lose their characteristics in this manner.

Furthermore, the teachers of the Dharma (upadeśācārya) can trnasform existence into nothingness and nothingness into existence. [p. 920F, l. 10–11]. Saints (ārya) and great meditators (dyāyin) can change earth (pṛthivī) into water (āpas) and water into earth.[5] All these dharmas are transfomable as has been said in regard to the ten views as totality (kṛtsnāyatana).[6]

Furthermore, this view of existence (bhāvadṛṣṭi) arises from desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa), delusion (moha), the bonds (bandhana) or disputes (vivāda). Now any position (sthāna) that gives rise to desire, hatred, etc., is foreign to the Buddhadharma. Why? Because the Buddhadharma, by its very nature, is good (kuśala) and pure (śuddha). Therefore [this view of existence] is false.

Furthermore, all dharmas are grouped into two categories: i) material dharmas (rūpidharma), and ii) non-material dharmas (arūpidharma), Material dharmas can be divided down to the subtle atom (paramāṇu) and endless dispersion, as we have seen in regard to the refutation of the gift given (dehadrvaya) in the chapter on Danāpāramitā [see above, p. 729F]. Non-material dharmas are not cognized by the five faculties. Therefore it is by means of considering the moment of birth-duration-destruction of the mind (manasutpādasthitibhaṅgaparīkṣā) that we know that the mind (citta) is composed of parts (sabhāga). Since it consists of parts, it is transitory (anitya); being transitory, it is empty (śūnya); being empty, it is nonexistent (asat). In the time of a finger-snap (acchaṭāmātreṇa), there are sixty moments (kṣaṇa); (see Appendix 5: notes on kṣaṇa) in each kṣaṇa, the mind is born (utpāda) and ceases (bhaṅga); but as it arises in a series (prabandhenotpādat), we know that this is a mind of desire (rāgacitta), that, a mind of anger (dveṣacitta), or a mind of delusion (mohacitta), [171b] a mind of faith (prasādacitta), or a pure mind (viśuddhacitta) of wisdom (prajñā) or rapture (dhyāna). The ascetic considers the arising and cessation of the mind to be like a water torrent (aghavāri) or the flame of a lamp (dīpajvāla): this is called crossing the threshold of knowledge of emptiness (śūnyatājñānadvārapraveśa). Why? If the mind arises in one moment (ekakṣaṇa) and perishes in another moment (anyakṣaṇa), this mind would be eternal (anitya). Why is that? Because it would be escaping from destruction during a short instant. Now, if it escaped destruction even for a moment, it would be free of destruction forever. Besides, the Buddha said that the conditioned has three characteristics, birth, duration and destruction. If its arising lasted for one brief instant, it would be free of destruction and would not be a conditioned dharma (saṃskṛtadharma). If the arising, duration and cessation of the mind occupied [altogether] only a single moment, why does arising of necessity precede cessation? Could it not just as well follow it?[7] Moreover, if the mind at first existed and then had birth, it would not depend on birth [to exist]. Why? Because the mind would be existent in advance. If birth existed before [the mind], this would be a birth where nothing was being born. Finally, birth and cessation are opposed to each other (anyonayaviruddha) by nature; if there is birth, there cannot be cessation; at the moment of cessation there cannot be arising; consequently, they do not exist at the same moment, or at different moments. Therefore there is no arising; if there is no arising, there is no duration or cessation; if there is no duration or cessation, there is no mental dharma (caitasikadharma); if there is no mental dharma, there is no dharma dissociated from the mind (cittaviprayukta); since conditioned dharmas (saṃskāra), namely, material dharmas (rūpidharma) and non-material dharmas (arūpidharma) do not exist, unconditioned dharmas (asaṃskṛta) do not exist either. Why? Because it is due to conditioned dharmas that there are unconditioned dharmas; if there are no conditioned dharmas, there cannot be any unconditioned dharmas.

Furthermore, by considering the impermanence of karman, we understand the eternity of akarman. If this is so, we now see that karman is existence (bhāva) that akarman is non-existence (abhāva). Consequently an eternal dharma does not exist (nopalabhyate).

[On the eternality and non-existence of the dharmas]

Footnotes and references:


Cf. the three dharmamudrā of the dharmoddānacatuṣṭaya in Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi, p. 149: sarvasaṃkārā anityāḥ, sarvasaṃskārā duḥkhāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam.


These are the three asaṃskṛitas; cf. Kośa, I, p. 8.


These are the 62 dṛṣṭigata the root of which is satkāyadṛṣṭi; detailed explanation in Brahmajālasutta, Dīgha, I, p. 40. – See also above, Traité, I, p. 423F.


For the nature of the four great elements, earth, water, fire and wind, see Kośa, I, p. 22–23. The discussion started here will be resumed below, k. 18, p. 194c.


For this power of transformation, see above, Traité, I, p. 383F, n. 1 and below, p. 731F.


See Kośa, VIII, p. 214.


This is the argument in the Madh. Kārikā, VII, 2: utpādādyās trayo vyastānālaṃ lakṣaṇakarmaṇi, saṃskṛtasya samastāḥ syur ekatra katham ekadā (cf. Traité, I, p. 37, note). See also Madh. Vṛtti, p. 146–147; 547; Kośa, II, p. 231–233.