Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of dhyana and the virtue of meditation (dhyanaparamita)” 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.

Definition of dhyāna and the virtue of meditation (dhyānapāramitā)

Question. – You should have spoken to us about the virtue of dhyāna (dhyānapāramitā); why do you speak of dhyāna only?

Answer. – 1) Dhyāna is the source of the virtue [of dhyāna]. By possessing dhyāna, [the bodhisattva] has compassion for beings who, having at their disposal the many felicities resulting from the dhyānas and the samāpattis, do not know how to pursue them, but seek their happiness in outer things (bāhyadharma), impure and painful. The bodhisattva feels great compassion (mahākaruṇācitta) at this sight and makes the following oath: “I will act in such a way that beings obtain all the inner bliss (adhyātmasukha) of the dhyānas and samāpattis, that they may be freed from impure bliss and that, in dependence on these dhyānas, they finally reach the bliss characteristic of Buddhahood.” It is in this way that the dhyānas and samāpattis take the name of virtue.

2) Moreover, in the dhyānas, the bodhisattva does not relish any enjoyment (āsvadana), does not seek any reward (vipāka) and does not pursue [heavenly] rebirths as reward. It is in order to tame his own mind that he enters into dhyāna. By the skillful means of his wisdom (prajñopāya), he will be reborn in kāmadhātu in order to save beings there. Dhyāna takes the name of virtue in this case.

3) Furthermore, when the Bodhisattva has entered into his profound dhyānas and samāpattis, neither gods nor men can know his mind (citta), his support (āśraya) and his object (ālambana), for this mind is not disturbed by what is seen, heard, thought or cognized (dṛṣṭaśrutamatavijñāta).[1] Thus, in the [188a] P’i mo lo k’i king (Vimalakīrtinirdeśasūtra), Vimalakīrti explains quiescence (pratisaṃlayanasdharma) to Śāriputra: “Do not rely on the body (kāya), do not rely on the mind (citta), do not rely on the threefold world (traidhātuka); in the threefold world, not to obtain either body or mind is quiescence.”[2]

4) Moreover, when a person hears it said that the bliss of the dhyānas and samāpattis surpasses divine and human bliss, he abandons the sense pleasures (kāmasukha) in order to seek the dhyānas and samāpattis. But seeking bliss and benefit for oneself is not enough; the bodhisattva does not act in this way: it is only for beings that he wants to acquire loving-kindness (maitrī), compassion (karuṇā), purity of mind (cittaviśuddhi) and the dhyānas of the bodhisattva who is not dissociated from beings; in dhyāna, he produces the feelings of great compassion. Dhyāna contains marvelous innermost bliss, but beings renounce it to seek external bliss. They are like a wealthy blind man who, not knowing and not seeing the many treasures that he possesses, goes out to beg his food; those who know have pity for a person who, having at his disposal such marvelous objects, cannot know of their existence and goes to beg from others. In the same way, beings possess in their minds the bliss of the dhyānas and samāpattis; but unable to actualize them, they turn to seek outer bliss.

5) Moreover, the Bodhisattva understands the true nature of dharmas, and so, when he has entered into dhyāna, his mind is at peace (kṣema), and he is not attached to enjoyment (āsvadana). Heretics, even in dhyāna and samāpatti, do not have their minds at peace and, as they do not know the true nature of dharmas, they are attached to the enjoyment of the dhyāna.

Question. – However, the arhats and pratyekabuddhas are not attached to enjoyment either; why do they not possess the virtue of dhyāna [like the bodhisattva]?

Answer. – Even though they are not attached to enjoyment, the arhats and pratyekabuddhas are without great compassion (mahākaruṇā) and consequently they do not possess the virtue of dhyāna. Furthermore, they cannot practice all the dhyānas completely, whereas the bodhisattva is able to do so: whether these dhyānas are coarse (sthūla) or subtle (sūkṣma), great or small, profound or lowly, whether they concern an inner or an outer object, the bodhisattva practices them all completely. This is why the concentration of the bodhisattvas is called dhyānapāramitā whereas those of other men is just called dhyāna.

6) Moreover, the tīrthikas, śrāvakas aand bodhisattvas acquire all the dhyānas and samāpattis. There are three kinds of faults in the tīrthika dhyāna: attachment to enjoyment (āsvādanābhiniveśa), wrong view (mithyadṛṣti) and pride (abhimāna). In the śrāvaka dhyāna, loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) are slight; they do not have at their disposal a knowledge in regard to the Dharma sufficiently sharp as to progressively penetrate the true nature of dharmas; being exclusively interested in their own selves, they destroy the lineage of Buddhas [within themselves]. In the bodhisattva dhyāna there are no defects; wishing to unite all the attributes of Buddha, they do not forget beings during the dhyāna and they endlessly extend their kindness even to insects.

[Kindness of Śaṅkhācārya towards animals].

7) Moreover, except for the bodhisattva, other people cannot be introduced into the dhyānas with a mind of kāmadhātu;[3] the bodhisattva who is practicing the dhyānapāramitā is able to enter into dhyāna with a mind of kāmadhātu. Why? Because from lifetime to lifetime, the bodhisattva has cultivated the qualities (guṇa) and thus his fetters (saṃyojana) are slight and his mind soft and tender (mṛdutaruṇa).

8) Moreover, other people eliminate the passions (vairāgya) by means of a knowledge concerned with the general characters of things (sāmānyalakṣaṇa), such as seeing the transitory (anitya), painful (duḥkha) impure (aśubha) nature. The bodhisattva, by contrast, has eliminated the passions by analysis of the specific characteristics (bhinnalakṣaṇa).

[The Kiṃnarī and the five hundred ṛṣis].

[Druma’s action on the śrāvakas].

This is why we know that the bodhisattva succeeds in eliminating his passions by the vision of the specific characteristics of all dharmas. All other people obtain only the dhyānas themselves, but do not obtains the dhyānapāramitā.

9) Moreover, other people know the mind of entry into concentration (dhyānapraveśacitta) of a bodhisattva and the mind of leaving the concentration (dhyānavyutthānacitta), but cannot cognize the mind of the bodhisattva in the course of the concentration (dhyānasthiticitta): they are ignorant of its object (ālambana), its extent and depth of the dharmas that it cognizes. If the arhats and pratyekabuddhas are unable to know this mind, what can be said of other men? It is like the elephant (gajarāja) that crosses the river: its footprints are visible when it enters the water and when it comes out, but when it is in the water, nothing can be seen. When someone has obtained the first dhyāna, those who already possess the first dhyāna know it, but they do not know [the mind] of the bodhisattva entered into the first dhyāna. Those who possess the second dhyāna know even more clearly the mind of the person who has obtained the first dhyāna, but they do not know the mind of the bodhisattva who has entered into the first dhyāna. It is the same up to the naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana.

10) Furthermore, in the course of the concentration of the leap (vyutkrāntakasamādhi),[4] the ascetic jumps from the first dhyāna to the third, from the third dhyāna to ākāśāntyāyatana, from ākāśāntyāyatana to ākiṃcanyāyatana. In the Vehicles of the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddha, one can leap thus over one level but not over two. But the bodhisattva who has mastery over [188c] leaping is able, on leaving the first dhyāna, to jump to the third dhyāna, – which is normal, – but he may also leap directly to either the fourth or to one of the four samāpattis: ākāśa, vijñāna, ākiṃcanya or naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana, or into the saṃjñāvedayitanirodhasamāpatti. On leaving the saṃjñāvedayitanirodhasamāpatti, the bodhisattva enters into either the ākiṃcanyāyatana, or the vijñāna, or the ākāśāyatana, or finally into dhyānas 4 to 1; sometimes he leaps over one level, sometimes over two and sometimes even over nine. On the other hand, the śrāvaka cannot leap over more than one level. Why? Because his wisdom (prajñā), his qualities (guṇa), the power of his concentration are slight. The śrāvaka and the bodhisattva are like two kinds of lions (siṃha), the yellow lion and the white-maned lion: although the yellow lion can jump, he cannot jump as well as the royal white-maned lion. It is for all these reasons that we distinguish a dhyānapāramitā.

11) Furthermore, at the time that the bodhisattva, always steady in dhyāna, concentrates his mind, is not moved, he produces neither examination (vitarka) nor judgment (vihāra), yet he still addresses himself to all the beings in the ten directions, preaches the Dharma to them in immense sounds (paramāṇasvara) and converts them. This is called dhyānapāramitā.

Question. – However, a sūtra says: “Having first examined and judged, then one is able to preach the Dharma.”[5] But having entered into dhyāna, one is without vitarka and vicāra [which necessarily precedes speech]; therefore one can no longer preach the Dharma. Why do you say that the bodhisattva, constantly resting in dhyāna, no longer producing examination or judgment, preached the Dharma to beings?

Answer. – The person in saṃsāra, having entered into dhyāna, must at first resort to vitarka and vicāra of speech in order to be able later to preach the Dharma. But the dharmakāya Bodhisattva, who has stripped off the body of transmigration (saṃsārakāya), cognizes all dharmas, is always in accord with the images of concentration (dhyānasamāpattinimitta) and perceives no contradiction; this dharmakāya Bodhisattva, transforming his immense body, preaches the Dharma to beings, although his mind remains without concept (nirvikalpa).

Thus, the lute of the asuras constantly produces sounds and plays at will without anyone plucking it. This lute has neither a distracted mind (vikṣiptacitta) nor a concentrated mind (saṃgṛhitacitta), for it constitutes a reward for the asuras’ merits (asurapuṇyavipākaja); it produces its sounds according to people’s wish. It is the same for the dharmakāya Bodhisattva: he is without concept (vikalpa), free from distractions (vikṣiptacitta), without [vitarka and vicāra, the] factors of preaching (dharmadeśanānimitta); but as a result of his immense merits (apramāṇacitta), his concentration and his wisdom, he produces the many sounds of the Dharma (nānāvidhadharmasvara) in conformity with the needs of people (yathāyogam). The miserly man (matsarin) hears a sermon on generosity (dāna); the lustful, the angry, the lazy, the distracted and the foolish hear, respectively, a sermon on morality (śīla), patience (kṣānti), exertion (vīrya), dhyāna, and wisdom (prajñā). Having heard this sermon, each goes back home and gradually finds deliverance by means of the three Vehicles (yānatraya).

12) Furthermore, the bodhisattva knows that all dharmas, distraction (vikṣepa) as well as concentration (samāpatti) are free of duality (advaya). Other men chase away distraction in order to seek concentration. How? They become impatient with distraction and develop attachment to concentration.

[189a] [Udraka, or immoderate attachment to concentration].

[Punishment of a bhikṣu who confused dhyāna and fruits of the Path].

The bhikṣu therefore underwent the suffering of the unfortunate destinies. This is why we know that by grasping the characteristic marks of distraction (vikṣepanimittodgrahaṇa), the affliction of anger, etc., (dveṣāsikleśa), can be produced, and that by grasping the characteristic marks of concentration, attachment (abhiniveśa) is experienced. The bodhisattva does not perceive either the characteristic marks of distraction or of concentration, for distraction and concentration have only one and the same characteristic (ekanimitta): this is what [189b] is called dhyānapāramitā.

In the first dhyāna, desires (kāma) are expelled, the obstacles (nīvaraṇa) are chased away and the mind is fixed one-pointedly. But because of his keen senses (tīkṣnendriya), wisdom (prajñā) and insight (samanupaśyanā), the bodhisattva does not have to detach himself from the five obstacles nor grasp the images of the dhyānas and samāpattis, since all dharmas are empty by nature (lakṣaṇaśūnya). Why does he not have to detach himself from the five obstacles?

The first of these obstacles, envy (kāmacchanda), is neither internal (ādhyātmika) nor external (bahirdhā) nor both.[6] If it were internal, it would not depend on an external object to arise. If it were external, it would not trouble the Self. If it were both, it would be nowhere. – Neither can it come from the preceding lifetime (pūrvajanman), for all dharmas are without origin; a baby has no envy; if it had envy in the previous lifetime, it would still have a little; therefore we know that envy does not come from the previous lifetime. – It does not go on to the next lifetime (aparajanman); it does not come from the directions (diś-); it does not exist by itself eternally; it does not occur either in a part of the body or in the whole body or in both places at once; it does not come from the five sense objects (rajas) and does not go to the five emotions; there is no place that it arises and no place that it perishes. – It is wrong that envy has a previous, later or simultaneous birth. Why? If birth existed before and envy later, there would be no arising of envy since envy did not exist. If the arising existed later and the envy before, the arising would have no substrate. If the two were simultaneous, there would be neither something that arose nor place of birth, for between the thing that is born and the place of birth, any difference would have been suppressed. – Finally, there is neither identity nor difference between envy and the envier. Why? Because the envier does not exist apart from the envy, and the envy does not exist outside of the envier. Therefore envy arises only from a complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagri). Now, dharmas arisen from such a complex are empty of self nature (svabhāvaśūnya). Therefore there is neither identity nor difference between envy and envier. For all these reasons, the arising of envy is impossible. Dharmas that are without birth (anutpanna) are also without cessation (aniruddha). As they are without birth or cessation, concentration and distraction do not exist. Thus we see that the obstacle of envy (kāmacchandanīvaraṇa) is one with the dhyāna, and that it is the same for the other obstacles. In possession of the true nature of dharmas, we hold the five obstacles to be non-existent; we know then that the true nature of the obstacles is mingled with the true nature of the dhyānas and that the true nature of dhyāna is the five desires (kāma), the five obstacles. The bodhisattva knows that the five desires, the five obstacles, the dhyānas and the samāpattis have all the same nature (ekalakṣaṇa) and are without support (anāśraya): to enter concentration in this way is dhyānapāramitā.

13) Furthermore, by practicing the dhyānapāramita, the bodhisattva lends his support to the other five pāramitās: this is dhyānapāramitā.

[189c] 14) Furthermore, the bodhisattva who, thanks to dhyānapāramitā has mastered the superknowledges (abhijñā), in one moment of thought and without going into absorption, is able to pay homage (pūja) to the Buddhas of the ten directions with flowers (puṣpa), incense (gandha), jewels (maṇi) and all kinds of sfferings.

15) Moreover, the Bodhisattva, by the power of his dhyānapāramitā, transforms his body in innumerable ways, enters into the five destinies and converts beings there by means of the Dharma of the three Vehicles (yānatraya).

16) Furthermore, entering into the dhyānapāramitā, the bodhisattva expels the bad [desires] and bad dharmas and enters [into the nine concentrations], from the first dhyāna up to naivasaṃjññānāsaṃjñāyatana. His mind, disciplined and supple, practices great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā) in each of these concentrations; as a result of this loving-kindness and compassion, he eradicates the errors committed during innumerable kalpas; as he has obtained the knowledge of the true nature of dharmas, he is commemorated by the Buddhas and the great bodhisattvas.

17) Furthermore, entering into dhyānapāramitā, the bodhisattva, by means of his divine eye (divyachakṣus) contemplates beings plunged into the five destinies of the ten directions; he sees those who have taken birth in rūpadhātu taste the enjoyments (āsvādana) of the dhyānas and then return into an animal destiny (tiryagoni) and undergo all kinds of sufferings; he sees the gods of kāmadhātu in the rivers of seven jewels taking their pleasure among flowers and perfumes and they fall into the hell of excrement (kuṇapaniraya); he sees wise men (bahuśruta) and men learned in the worldly sciences (laukikajñāna) who are incapable of finding the Path fall into the rank of pigs or sheep, without discernment. These various beings thus exchange great happiness for great suffering, great benefit for great ruin, a noble state for a lowly state. The bodhisattva experiences feelings of compassion for these beings which increase little by little until he realizes great compassion (mahākaruṇā); he does not spare even his life and, in the interest of beings, he practices exertion (vīrya) diligently and seeks Buddhahood.

18) Finally, the absence of distraction and enjoyment is called dhyānapāramitā. Thus the Buddha said to Śāriputra: “The bodhisattva dwelling in the virtue of wisdom must fulfill the virtue of dhyāna by being based on the non-existence of distraction and enjoyment.” (P.P. sūtra, above, p. 984F; bodhisattvena mahāsattvena prajñāpāramitāyāṃ sthitvā dhyānapāramitā paripūrayitavyā avikṣepanatām anāsvādanatām upādāya).

[Definition of distraction].

Footnotes and references:


This expression designates all the data of sense and mental experience; cf. Dīgha, III, p. 135, 232; Suttanipāta, v. 1086, 1122; Itivuttaka. P. 121; Cullaniddesa, p. 156; Kośa, IV, p. 160.


Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, tr. by Tche k’ien, T 474, k. 1, p. 521c; tr. by Kumārajīva,

T 475, k. 1, p. 539c. – On this sūtra, see above, Traité, I, p. 515F, n. 2.


Before entering into the first dhyāna, it is necessary to enter into the anāgamya and abandon the passions of kāmadhmatu.


According to the Atthasālinī, p. 187 (tr. Tin, Expositor, I, p. 251), commented on by Visuddhimagga, II, p. 374, there are four ways of traveling though the successive concentrations (four dhyānas, four ārūpyasamāpattis, and nirodhasamāpatti); in ascending order (jhānānulomato), in descending order (jhānapaṭilomato), in ascending then descending order (jhānānulomapaṭilomato), or leaping over a level (jhānukkatito). The last method is described in Sanskrit as the concentration of the leap (vyutkrāntakasamāpatti): see Kośa, II, p. 210; VIII, p. 173; Mahāvyut., no. 1496.


A well-known phrase, cited in Majjhima, I, p. 301; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 193; Tsa a han, T 99, no. 568, k. 21, p. 150a28–29: Pubbe kho vitakketvā vocāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati. – The corresponding Sanskrit formula seems to have been: Vitarkya vicārya vācaṃ bhāṣate nāvitarkya nāvicārya: cf. Kośa, II, p. 174, n. 3; VII, p. 93; Kośavyākhyā, II, p. 139, l. 10; Arthaviniścaya, p. 557.


For these alternatives to be rejected back to back, see above, Traité, I, p. 361F.