Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “pure path (anasrava-marga) and impure path (sasrava-marga)” 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.

1. Pure path (anāsrava-mārga) and Impure path (sāsrava-mārga)

There are two kinds of dhyānas and samāpattis: impure (sāsrava) and pure (anāsrava). The sāsrava type is practiced by worldly people (pṛthagjana) as has already been said; the anāsrava type consists of the sixteen aspects of the noble truths (ṣoḍaśāryākāra).

When one is following the sāsravamārga, one relies on the preliminary concentration (sāmantaka) of the level immediately above in order to abandon the passions of the lower level. When one is following the anāsravamārga, one abandons the passions of one’s own level and those of the higher level. This is [187a] why, when the worldly person (pṛthagjana) is in the bhavāgra [fourth and last samāpatti], he does not succeed in freeing himself from the passions of this sphere, because [beyond it] there is no preliminary concentration (sāmantaka) leading to a higher sphere.

When the disciple of the Buddha wishes to abandon the desires (kāma) and passions (kleśa) of kāmadhātu, by means of meditation he cuts the nine categories of passions, strong (adhimātra), medium (madhya) and weak (mṛdu), namely: 1) strong-strong, 2) strong-medium, 3) strong-weak, 4) medium-strong, 5) medium-medium, 6) medium-weak, 7) weak-strong, 8) weak-medium, 9) weak-weak.

Having cut these nine categories, the disciple of the Buddha can try to obtain the first dhyāna by the sāsravamārga. In this case, in the anāgamya (preliminary concentration preceding the first dhyāna), in the course of nine ānantaryamārgas (successive abandonments of the nine categories of passions of the lower level) and eight vimuktimārgas (taking possession of these successive abandonings), he first practices the sāsravamārga, then the sāsrava or anāsravamārga. In the course of the ninth vimuktimārga, in the anāgamya, he first practices the sāsravamārga; then the sāsrava or anāsravamārga of the anāgamya, and the sāsrava of the sāmantaka of the first dhyāna. If he wishes to attain the first dhyāna by way of the anāsravamārga, he will do the same.

If he abandons the passions of the first dhyāna by means of the sāsravamārga, in the sāmantaka of the second dhyāna, during nine ānantaryamārgas and eight vimuktimārgas, he first practices the sāsrava of the sāmantaka of the second dhyāna, then the sāsravamārga of the sāmantaka of the second dhyāna as well as the first anāsrava dhyāna and its sequel. During the ninth vimuktimārga, in the samantaka of the second dhyāna, he first practices the sāsravamārga of the sāmantaka of the second dhyāna, then the sāmantaka of the second dhyāna, then the anāsrava of the first dhyāna and its sequel, the second śuddhaka or anāsrava dhyāna.

If he abandons the passions of the first dhyāna by means of the anāsravamārga, during the course of nine ānantaryamārgas and eight vimuktimārgas, he first practices the anāsravamārga of his own level, the sāsrava or anāsrava of the first dhyāna and its sequel. In the course of the ninth vimuktimārga, he first practices the anāsravamārga of his own level, then the sāsrava or anāsravamārga of the first dhyāna and its sequel.

It is the same in the practice of the other concentrations from the second śuddhaka or anāsrava dhyāna up to the abandonment that characterizes the ākiṃcanyāyatana. In the abandonment that characterizes the naivasaṃjñanāsaṃjñāyatana, during the nine ānanataryamārgas and eight vimuktimārgas, he practices just the universal anāsravamārga. In the course of the ninth vimuktimārga, he practices the roots of good of the threefold world (traidhātukakuśalamūla) and the anāsravamārga; thus he drives out absorption without mind (acittakasamāpatti).

Notes on the Pure and Impure path:

The explanation that follows being somewhat abstruse, it may be of some use to recall the facts of the problem. The path of the absorptions consists of liberating oneself from the passions inherent in kāmadhātu, by the four dhyānas and the first three samāpattis as they have been defined in the preceding section. Each sphere involves nine categories of passions: strong-strong, strong-medium, strong-weak, medium-strong, etc. In order to pass from one sphere to another, it is necessary to liberate oneself from nine categories of passions. For each stage, the process involves nine mental actions by means of which one is detached from the passions, which is the ānantaryamārga, and nine mental actions by means of which one takes possession of this detachment, which is the vimuktimārga. The process thus involves eighteen mental actions for each sphere, and 144 mental actions for the entire eight spheres. To attain nirvāṇa, it is also necessary to become liberated from the inherent passions of the ninth sphere, the fourth samāpatti, also called the sphere of neither discrimination nor non-discrimination (naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana) or the summit of existence (bhavāgra).

The absorptions can be practiced according to the worldly path (laukikamārga) or the supramundane path (lokottaramārga).

1. The worldly path (sāsrava-mārga):

The worldly path, also called impure path (sāsravamārga), is followed by ordinary people (pṛthagjana) who have not ‘seen’ the truths preached by the Buddha. He is liberated from the passions in a provisional manner only. Then, and this is essential, the ascetic can only be liberated from the passions of one sphere by practicing the preliminary concentrations of the immediately higher sphere.

Thus, in the impure path, the ascetic successively enters the eight preliminary (sāmantaka) absorptions which serve as passage-ways to the four dhyānas and the four samāpattis, in order to eliminate, in turn, the passions of kāmadhātu, the four dhyānas and the first three samāpattis. Since there is no preliminary concentration above the fourth samāpatti into which the ascetic can enter in order to destroy the passions of the fourth samāpatti, he is unable to liberate himself of the passions of the fourth samāpatti by means of the impure path. We may note that there are only eight preliminary concentrations: the first, serving as passage into the first dhyāna, is called anāgamya; the other seven bear the generic name of sāmantaka. The impure (sāsrava) concentrations of the worldly path are described as pure (śuddhaka) insofar as they are opposed to the concentrations associated with enjoyment (āsvābadasaṃprayukta), tainted by desire; this is a regreattable termonology liable to trouble the reader.

2. The supramundane path (lokottara-mārga):

The supramundane path (lokottaramārga), also called pure path (anāsaravamārga), is followed by the saints (ārya) endowed with pure wisdom, who have “seen” the four holy truths (āryasatya) and have understood the sixteen aspects (ṣodaśākāra) by reason of the four aspects of each truth (see above, p. 641F). This path assures the definitive liberation of the passions and, whereas in the impure path the ascetic must enter into the preliminary concentration (sāmantaka) of the immediately higher sphere in order to be liberated from the passions of his own sphere, the saint who is following the pure path cuts the passions of his level directly without resorting to any sāmantaka whatsoever. Thus, having reached the fourth and last samāpatti, the saint can eliminate the passions of this sphere by means of nine acts of detachment and nine acts of taking possession, which was impossible for the worldly person following the impure path.

3. Combination of the impure and the pure path:

The ascetic can combine the impure and the pure path if he so wishes. This was the case for Śākyamuni. When he arrived in Bodhgaya under the Bodhi tree, he was still a worldly person (pṛthagjana), a man who had not yet seen the truths. But, by means of the impure path, he had eliminated all the passions of kāmadhātu of the four dhyānas and the first three samāpattis. Only the passions of the fourth and last samāpatti remained in him, for, as we have seen, they cannot be destroyed by the impure path. When enlightenment occurred, Śākyamuni saw, in sixteen moments, the sixteen aspects (ṣoḍaśākāra) of the truths: this pure wisdom made his deliverance from the lower desires definitive. There remained in him the nine categories of passions relating to the fourth samāpatti or bhavāgra which he did by the nine mental actions of ānantaryamārga that detached him from these passions and nine mental actions of vimuktimārga that put him in possession of this detachment. Then Śākyamuni obtained the state of arhat, without any passions, in 34 moments of mind: sixteen moments for the seeing pf the truths, nine for the ānantaryamārga of bhavagra, nine for the vimuktimārga of the same bhavāgra. At the same time, he became a Buddha as a result of his meritorious works.

See a study on the path of the concentration in L. de La Vallée Poussin, Kośa, V, p. iv-xi; Morale bouddhique, p. 71–97.

 

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