Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “first dhyana” 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.

The first dhyāna is defined in the Abhidharma: There are four types of dhyāna: i) dhyāna associated with rapture (āsvādanasaṃprayukta); ii) pure dhyāna (śuddhaka); iii) stainless dhyāna (anāsrava); iv) the five skandhas obtained by retribution (vipākaja) and constituting the first dhyāna.[1] Here the ascetic enters into the pure (śuddhaka) and the stainless (anāsrava) [dhyāna]; it is the same for the second, third and fourth dhyānas.

According to the Buddha’s definition: “Having avoided desires and the bad dharmas, the bhikṣu enters into the first, furnished with examination, furnished with judgment, coming from detachment, which is joy and happiness.” (Dhyānasūtra, l.c.: Viviktaṃ kāmair viviktaṃ pāpakair akuśalair dharmaiḥ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ prītisukhaṃ prathamaṃ dhymanam upasaṃpadya viharati).

‘Desires’ (kāma) are the five sense objects (pañca kāmaguṇa), colors (rūpa), etc., to which one becomes attached. By means of reflection and analysis, these desires are condemned, as has been said above.

The ‘wicked bad dharmas’ (pāpaka, akuśaladharma) are the five obstructions (pañca nīvaraṇa), greed (kāmacchanda), etc. By becoming detached from these two categories, of which the one is external (bāhya) and the other internal (ādhyātmika), the first dhyāna is acquired.

The [five] characteristics of the first dhyāna are: examination (vitarka), judgment (vicāra), joy (prīti), happiness (sukha) and one-pointedness of the mind (cittaikāgrata).[2]

It is ‘savitarka and savicāra’: by acquiring the good dharmas (kuśaladharma) and the qualities (guṇa) not previously acquired, in the first dhyāna the mind experiences great fear. When [a person] who has ceaselessly been burned by the fires of desire attains the first dhyāna, it is as if he were entering a pool of cold water. Or else he is like a poor man (daridra) who suddenly finds a treasure: the ascetic, who has meditated and analyzed the disadvantages of kāmadhātu and who sees the importance of the benefits and qualities of the first dhyāna, feels great joy (prīti): this is why it is called savitarka and savicāra.

Question. – Are vitarka and vicāra one and the same thing or are they two different things?

Answer. – They are two different things.[3] Vitarka is the first moment of a coarse mind (sthūlaprathamakṣaṇa), vicāra is a more subtle (sūkṣma) analysis. Thus, when a bell is struck, the first sound is strong, the subsequent sound is weaker; this is vicāra.

Question. – In the Abhidharma it is said that, from kāmadhātu until the first dhyāna, s single mind is associated with vitarka and vicāra; why do you say that vitarka is the first moment of a coarse mind whereas vicāra is a more subtle analysis?

Answer. – Although the two things reside in the same mind, their characteristics re not simultaneous: at the moment of vitarka, the vicāra is blurred (apaṭu); at the moment of vicāra, the vitarka is blurred. Thus, when the sun rises, the shadows disappear. All the minds (citta) and all the mental events (caitasaikadharma) receive their name prorata with time: [vitarka and vicāra are distinct names of one single mind]. Thus the Buddha said: “If you cut one single thing, I claim that you will become an anāgamin; this single thing is avarice (mātsarya).”[4] Really, it should be said that the five fetters of lower rank (avaraṃbhāgīya saṃyojana) must disappear in order that one may become anāgāmin.[5] Why did he say that it is necessary to cut just one single thing? Because avarice abounded in his questioner and the other fetters came from that; therefore it sufficed for that person to destroy avarice in order to cut through the other fetters at the same time. Similarly here, vitarka and vicāra take their name prorata from time.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Kośa, VIII, p. 144. – The dhyāna of rapture is soiled by desire (tṛṣṇā); the pure dhyāna is of mundane order and practiced by ordinary people; the anāsrava dhyāna is supramundane and practiced by the āryas; the dhyāna ‘of the five skandhas’ means the spheres of rūpadhātu inhabited by the seventeen classes od gods, from the Brahmakāyikas to the Akaniṣṭhas (see Kośa, III, p. 2): the gods of rūpadhātu are still constitued by five skandhas; those of Ārūpyadhātu have only four because rūpa is absent there.


Cf. Majjjhima, I, p. 294: Paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ pañcaṅgikaÈm; idh’ āvuso paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa bhikkhuno vitakko ca vattati vicāro ca pīti ca sukhañ ca cittaggatā ca. – See also Kośa, VIII, p. 147.


On the difference between vitarka and vicāra, cf. Vasubandhu’s Pañcaskandhaka, cited in Kośavyākhyā, p. 64: Vitarkaḥ katamaḥ? Paryeṣako manojalpaḥ cetanāprajñāviṣeṣaḥ yā citasyauddārikatā. Vicarāḥ katamaḥ? Pratyavekṣaka manojalpaḥ, tathaiva yā cittauddrikatā. – Here the Mppś is accepting a specific difference (jātibheda) between vitarka and vicāra; this is the thesis of the Vaibhāṣikas; the Sautrāntikas are of the opposite opinion, cf. Kośa, II, p. 174 seq.; Kośavyākhyā, p. 139. The Pāli sources themselves have attempted definitions: cf. Dhammasaṅgani, p. 10; Atthasālinī, p. 114–115; Milinda, p. 62–63; Visuddhimagga, I, p. 142–143; S. Z. Aung, Compendium, p. 17, 40.


See a passage in Aṅguttara, III, p. 272, where it is said that, in order to attain the four dhyānas and realize the four fruits of the Path (srotaāpattiphala, etc.), it is enough to have cut the fivefold avarice: āvāsa-, kula-, lābha-, vaṇṇa and dhammamacchariya.


By saying that it is enough to cut one single fetter, avarice, in order to become anāgāmin, the Buddha was simplifying things for the benefit of his questioner; in precise terms, it is “by the disappearance of the first five fetters that a person becomes an apparaitional being, that he attains nirvāṇa there (in the world of the gods) amd is not subject to coming back from that world:” cf. Dīgha, I, p. 156; II, p. 92; III, p. 132; Majjhima, I, p. 436: Pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā opapātiko hoti tatthaparinibbāyī anāvattidhammo tasmā lokā.

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