Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “necessity for meditation” 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 1 - Necessity for meditation

Śāstra: Question. –The rule for the bodhisattva is to save beings; why does he dwell apart in forests and swamps, solitudes and mountains, preoccupied only with himself and abandoning beings?

Answer. – Although the bodhisattva stays away from beings physically, his mind never abandons them. In solitude (śantavihāra), he seeks concentration (samādhi) and gains true wisdom (bhūtaprajñā) to save all beings. When one takes a drug (bhaṣajya) for health reasons, one temporarily interrupts family affairs; then when one’s strength has been recovered, one resumes business as before. The rest that the bodhisattva takes is of that nature. He swallows the drug of wisdom (prajñā) by the power of meditation; when he has obtained the power of the superknowledges (abhijñābala), he returns to people and, amongst them, becomes a father, mother, wife or son, master, servant or school-teacher, god, human or even an animal; and he guides them with all sorts of teachings (deśana) and skillful means (upāya).

Furthermore, the bodhisattva practices generosity (dāna), morality (śīla) and patience (kṣānti), three things that are called ‘gates of merit’ (puṇyadvāra). For innumerable lifetimes he has been [Brahmā]devarāja, Śakradevendra, cakravartin king, king of Jambudvīpa, and ceaselessly gives beings garments made of the seven jewels (saprtaratnamaya vastra). In the present lifetime and in future existences, he abundantly enjoys the five objects of desire (pañcabhiḥ kāmaguṇaiḥ samarpito bhavati). It is said in the sūtra: “The cakravrtin king[1] who [180c] has taught his people the ten good actions, is later reborn in heaven.” From existence to existence he works for the benefit (hita) of beings and leads them to happiness (sukha). But this happiness is transitory (anitya); following it, suffering (duḥkha) is experienced. And so the bodhisattva produces a mind of great compassion (mahākaruṇācittam utpādayati), he wants to benefit beings by assuring the eternal happiness of nirvāṇa (nityasukhanivāṇa), and true wisdom comes from concentration of the mind (cittāgrya) and meditation (dhyāna). Light a lamp (dīpa); bright as it is, you cannot use it if you leave it in the full wind; put it in a sheltered place, it will be very useful to you. It is the same for wisdom in a distracted mind (vikṣiptacitta): if the shelter of dhyāna is absent, the wisdom will exist, but its usefulness will be very restricted. It is necessary to have dhyāna so that the true wisdom is produced. This is why the bodhisattva, separating himself from beings and withdrawing into solitude (śāntavihāra), seeks to obtain meditation. It is because meditation is pure that the wisdom is pure also. When the oil (taila) and the wick (varti) are clean, the light of the lamp is also clean. This is why those who want to attain pure wisdom practice meditation.

Moreover, when one is pursuing worldly business (laukikārtha) but does not apply one’s whole mind to it, the business does not succeed; then how [would one reach] very profound (gambhīra) Buddhist wisdom if one neglects meditation? Meditation is the concentrating of the distracted mind (vikṣiptacittasaṃgrahaṇa). Distractions whirl about more easily than the down-feathers of the wild goose (sārasaloman); if their flying off is not restrained, their speed is greater than that of a hurricane; they are harder to contain than a monkey (markaṭa); they appear and disappear more [quickly] than lightning (vidyut). If the characteristic of the mind is at this point not fixed, those who want to control it would not succeed without dhyāna. Some stanzas say:

Dhyāna is the treasury (kośa) in which wisdom is kept.
It is the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) of the qualities (guṇa).
Dhyāna is the pure water (viśuddhajala)
That can wash away the dust of desire (rāgarajas).

Dhyāna is the diamond armor (vajravarman)
That stops the arrows of the afflictions (kleśeṣu).
Even if one has not attained nirupadhiśeṣanirvāṇa,
One has already partially obtained it.

When one has the diamond concentration (vajrsamādhi)[2]
One breaks the mountain of the fetters (saṃyojanagiri),
One obtains the power of the six superknowledges (abhijñā),
One is able to save innumerable beings.

A heavy rain can penetrate
The whirlwind of dust that hides the sun;
[In the same way] dhyāna can dissipate
The wind of vitarka-vicāra that distracts the mind.

Finally, dhyāna is hard to obtain (durlabha); it is by means of sustained attentiveness (ekacitta) and unrelenting special effort that the ascetic will succeed in acquiring it. If gods and sages (iṣi) do not succeed in obtaining it, what can be said of ordinary people (pṛthagjana) with lazy minds (kusīdacitta)?

[The second attack of Māra’s daughters].

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Rājasuttanta (Saṃyutta, V, p. 342; Tsa a han, T 99, no. 835, k, 30, p. 214a): Rājā cakkavati catunnaṃ dīpānaṃ issariyādhipaccaṃ rajjaṃ kMaretvā kāyassa bhedā parammaraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati devānaṃ Tāvatiṃsānaṃ sahavyataṃ: “At the dissolution of his body after death, a cakravartin king who has exerted his sovereign power and his royalty over the four continents is reborn in a good destiny, in the god realm in the company of the Trāyastriṃśa gods.”


This concentration is produced when the ascetic abandons the ninth and last category of the passions that attach him to the highest sphere of existence, the fourth ārūpyasamāpatti, also called bhavāgra.

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