Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “story of the punishment of a bhikshu who confused dhyana and fruits of the path” 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.

Story of the punishment of a bhikṣu who confused dhyāna and fruits of the Path

Among the disciples of the Buddha, there was a bhikṣu who, possessing the four dhyānas, conceived great pride (abhimāna) therefrom: he claimed from that very fact to have obtained the four [fruits of the] Path.

He said:

“By the first dhyāna, srotaāpanna is obtained; by the second, sakṛdāgamin; by the third, anāgamin; and by the fouth, arhat.”

Based thereon, he stopped and made no further progress on the Path. About to die, he saw the [five] aggregates (skandha) present in the four dhyānas;[1] he produced a wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi) and claimed that nirvāṇa does not exist and that the Buddha was mistaken; by this error, he lost the aggregates of the four dhyānas. Then he saw the aggregates related to Avicī hell and, his life being over, he was reborn in Avicī hell.

The bhikṣus questioned the Buddha:

“Where did this forest-dwelling bhikṣu take rebirth when his life was over?”

The Buddha told them: “This man has taken rebirth in Avicī hell.”

Frightened and astounded, the bhikṣus continued:

“This man was practicing the dhyānas and observed the discipline (śīla); what is the cause of it?”

The Buddha answered:

“This bhikṣu was very proud; as he possesssed the four dhyānas, he claimed to have obtained the four [fruits] of the Path. When he came to the end of his life and saw the skandhas of the four dhyānas, he fell into wrong view and claimed that nirvāna does not exist. ‘How is it’, he said, ‘that I am an arhat and here I am returning to new existencs (punarbhava); the Buddha is an impostor!’. It was then that he saw the skandhas relating to Avicī hell and, his life being over, he took rebirth in Avicī hell.”

Then the Buddha pronounced this stanza:

By knowledge, morality and dhyāna
One does not obtain the stainless (anāsrava) Element.
Even if one possesses these qualities,
The result, however, is not assured.

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.

Note on this story:

I [Lamotte] am unaware of the source of this sūtra. We may only note that the Brahmajālasutta (Dīgha, I, p. 37) condemns as heretics those who claim that it is enough to enter into the dhyānas to obtain “supreme nirvāṇa in this visible world” (paramadiṭṭhadhammanibbāna).

– A young man, native of Mathurā and disciple of Upagupta, committed the same harmful error of identifying the four dhyānas with the four fruits of the Path, srotaāpattiphala, etc.; in the course of a series of events evoked by his teacher, he had to account for the fact that the practice of the dhyānas did not assure him any fruit of the Path: cf. A yu wang tchouan, T 2042, k. 6, p. 125c–126a (tr. Przyluski, Aśoka, p. 390); Ayu wang king, T 2043, k. 10, p.167c.

Footnotes and references:


Actually, the five skandhas are present in the dhyānas and, after death, go on to new existences; in the ārūpyasamāpatti, four skandhas are present, for rūpa is lacking. Nirvāṇa alone entails the disappearance of all the skandhas of existence; cf. Saṃyutta, I, p. 136; sabbasankhārasamatho nibbānaṃ.