Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “practicing the five dharmas” 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.

Section C - Third method: practicing the five dharmas

If he has been able to reject the five sense objects (kāmaguṇa) and remove the five obstacles (nīvaraṇa), the ascetic practices the five dharmas: 1) aspiration (chanda), 2) exertion (vīrya), 3) mindfulness (smṛti), 4) clear seeing (saṃprajñāna), 5) concentration of mind (cittaikāgratā); by practicing these five dharmas, he acquires the first dhyāna furnished with five members (pañcāṅgasamanvāgata).

1) Chanda is zeal in kāmadhātu; when it is produced, the first dhyāna is obtained.

2) Vīrya (exertion) in the observance of the precepts (śīla), in leaving family life, concentrated zeal without laziness (kausīdya) during the two watches of the night, limited food (mitabhojana) and one-pointedness of mind (cittasaṃgrahaṇa) without distraction (vikṣepa).[1]

3) Smṛti is mindfulness applied to the happiness of the first dhyāna. The ascetic knows that kāmadhātu is impure, deceptive, contemptible, whereas the first dhyāna is estimable and laudable.

4) Saṃprajñāna is a clear seeing, appreciating and considering the happiness of kāmadhātu and the happiness of the first dhyāna, their importance and their respective benefits.

6) Cittaikāgratā consists of always fixing the mind on one object (ālambana) and preventing scattering.

Furthermore, in pursuing the first dhyāna, one rejects the sense pleasures (kāmasukha), for by incessantly trying to conquer one’s enemies that one is no longer tormented by them. The Buddha said to a brahman attached to desire: “At the start, I had precise vision (samanupaśyāmi) of the desires (kāma); the desires are cause and condition (hetupratyaya) of fear (bhaya), of sadness (daurmanasya) and of suffering (duḥkha); the desires bring little pleasure (alpāsvāda), but much pain (bahuduḥkha).”[2] Desire is Māra’s net (jvāla) and fetter (kāśa) from which it is difficult to escape; it is like a forest burning on all four sides; desire is as dreadful as falling onto a ditch full of fire or handling a venomous snake; it is like a brigand brandishing a sword, like a wicked rakṣasa, like dangerous poison poured into the mouth, like molten copper (kvathitatāmra) poured down one’s throat, like a mad elephant, like falling off a cliff, like a lion barring the road, like the makara fish opening its mouth: desires are as [185b] formidable as all of those. Attachment to desire is man’s misfortune. The person attached to desire is like a prisoner in his jail, a deer in a pen, a fish that has taken the bait, a snake in the presence of a wild boar, a mouse in the claws of a cat, a bird in a net, a crow in among kites, a blind man on the edge of a ditch, a fly above boiling oil, a sick man in the army, a crippled man in a fire. [Being attached to desire] is entering into a river of salt water, licking a knife coated with honey. Desire is meat sold at the crossroads, the slicing forest hidden under a thin cover, excrement covered with flowers, a poisoned jar dipped in honey, a chest full of poisonous snakes, the illusion of a dream, the loan that must be repaid, the magic show that fools little children, the flame without any solidity. [Giving oneself up to desire] is like diving into deep water, being swallowed by the makara fish’s gullet. Desire is the hail that destroys the grain, the lightning that strikes men. Desires are all of that, deceptive, unreal, without consistency or vigor, they bring little pleasure but much suffering. Desire is Māra’s army that destroys all good qualities. Since it torments beings unceasingly, it lends itself to many comparisons (upamāna). By rejecting the five desires, by keeping away from the five obstacles and by practicing the five Dharmas, one arrives at the first dhyāna.

Question. – The absorptions and concentrations, such as the eight liberations (vimokṣa), the eight spheres of mastery (abhibhvāyatana), the ten spheres of totality (kṛtsnāyatana) and the four immeasurables (apramāna) are never described as virtues (pāramitā). Why is dhyāna the only one to be described as the ‘virtue’ of dhyāna (dhyānapāramitā)?

Answer. – 1. The qualities (guṇa) of all these absorptions are of the order of reflection (cinta) and meditation (bhāvana). In the language of the Ts’in, dhyāna means reflection and meditation. In speaking of the virtue of dhyāna, all the qualities are included.

2. Moreover, dhyāna is in the most important place, like a king. Speaking of dhyāna is to include all the other absorptions; speaking of the other absorptions does not include dhyāna. Why? Because in the four dhyānas, knowledge (jñāna) and the absorptions are equal and balanced. In the anāgamya (preliminary absorption preceding the first dhyāna), knowledge (jñāna) overcomes absorption (samāpatti) whereas, in the formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti following the dhyānas), absorption overcomes knowledge: these states are not balanced. When one wheel of a chariot is more solid than the other, it is not safe (kṣema); it is the same when knowledge and absorption are unequal.

Finally, in the four dhyānas there are the four equalities of mind (samacitta), the five abhijñās, the vimokhas, the abhibhvāyatanas, the kṛtsnāyatanas, the concentration hindering the arising of the passions in others (araṇāsamādhi), the knowledge resulting from vows (praṇidhāna) the summit dhyāna (prāntakoṭidhyāna), the sovereign concentration (īśvarasamādhi ?), dhyāna brought to its maximum (vṛddhikāṣṭhāgata dhyāna), the four magically creative minds (nirmāṇacitta), the Pan tcheou pan (pratyutpannasamādhi),[3] all the Bodhisattva’s samādhis, the Hero’s Walk (śūraṃgama), etc., which number 120, all the Buddha’s samādhis, Unmovable, etc., which number 108,[4] the attainment of wisdom by the Buddhas and their renouncing of life (āyuḥparityāga): all these various absorptions occur in the dhyānas; this is why dhyāna is qualified as a virtue (pāramitā), whereas the other absorptions are not.

Footnotes and references:


This exertion manifests in the pursuit of the four qualities that make a monk incapable of falling back (abhabbo parihānāya) and close to nirvāṇa (nibbānass’ eva santike): observance of morality (śīlasaṃpatti), guarding the senses (indriyeṣu guptadvāratā), moderation in eating (bhojana mātrājñutā) and effort in the vigil (jāryām anuyoga). These qualities are defined in Aṅguttara, II, p. 39–10; see also Saṃyutta, II, p. 219; Aṅguttara, I, p. 113; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 12, p. 603c; Mahāniddesa, II, p. 483–484.


Cf. Cūladukkhakkhandhasutta in Majjhima, I, p. 91–92; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 25, p. 586b22: Mayhaṃ pi kho, Mahānāma, pubbe va sambodhā anabhisambuddhassa bodhisttass’ eva sato “appassādākāmābahudukkhā bahupāyasā, ādīnavo ettha bhiyyo” ti etaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāyasudiṭṭhaṃ ahosi: “I too, Mahānāman, before my enlightenment, had indeed seen, with correct knowledge and in harmony with the truth, that the passions have little delight, many problems, much suffering and that the disadvantages therein are multiplied.” The same condemnation appassādā kāmā. etc., is repeated for the bhikkhu Ariṭṭha in Vinaya, II, p. 25; Majjhima, I, p. 130; Aṅguttara,III, p. 97. – The present passage of the Mppś precedes this verdict with a statement on kāma, the cause of fear and suffering: it occurs in Aṅguttara, IV, p. 289: Bhayan ti bhikkhave kāmānaṃ etaṃ adhivacanaṃ, sukkhan ti nhikkhave kāmānaṃ etaṃ adhivacanaṃ, etc.


All these qualities will be defined below, p. 1041F seq. The pratyutpannasamādhi is the subject of the Bhadrapālasūtra; cf. Traité, I, p. 430F, n. 1.


For these 108 samādhis, see references in Traité, I, p. 324F, n.1

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