Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “true nature of 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.

Part 2 - The true nature of dharmas

Question. – The Buddha, who has destroyed all the passions (kleśa) and impregnations (vāsanā) and whose eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣus) is pure, can truly understand the true nature of dharmas and this true nature is prajñāpāramitā; but the bodhisattva has not destroyed the impurities (akṣīṇāsrava) and his eye of wisdom is impure; how can he understand the true nature of dharmas?

Answer. – This will be fully explained in the following chapters; here a summary (saṃkṣepokti) must be sufficient. Suppose [two] men walk into the sea; the first just begins to go in whereas the second already touches the bottom. Despite the difference of depth, both are said to have ‘gone into the sea’. It is [190b] the same for the Buddha and the bodhisattva: the Buddha has attained the depth [of wisdom]; the bodhisattva, who has not destroyed the impregnations of passions (kleśavāsanā) and whose power is weak, cannot penetrate [into wisdom] deeply. We will see this in the following chapters.

When a person lights a lamp in a dark room, it lights up the objects that all become visible. If a big lamp is also brought, the illumination is increased and it is noticed that the darkness dissipated by this new big lamp still remained with the first lamp. The first lamp, which co-existed with a certain amount of darkness, illumined the objects, however, [up to a certain point] because, if this first lamp had chased away all the darkness, the second lamp would be useless.[1] It is the same for the wisdom of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas. The wisdom of the bodhisattva which co-exists with the impregnations of passions is, however, able to understand the true nature of dharmas: it is like the first lamp that lights up the objects [slightly]. The wisdom of the Buddhas that has eliminated the impregnations of the passions also understands the true nature of dharmas: it is like the second lamp that illuminates twofold.

Question. – What is the true nature of dharmas?

Answer. – Each being defines this true nature of dharmas and considers their own definition to be true. But here the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) is indestructible (avikāra), eternally subsisting, unchangeable and without creator. In a following chapter, the Buddha says to Subhuti: “The bodhisattva sees all dharmas a being neither eternal nor transitory, neither painful nor happy, neither with self nor without self, neither existent nor non-existent, etc.”[2] abstaining from these views is the bodhisattva’s prajñāpāramitā. This subject avoids all views, destroys all speech (abhilāpa), expels all functioning of the mind (hittapravṛtti). From the very beginning, dharmas are unborn (anutpanna), unceasing (aniruddha), like nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasama) and all their natures are of the same type: this is the true nature of dharmas.

[The Prajñāpāramitāstotra].

Footnotes and references:


On this argument, see also Mjjh., III, p. 147 (cf. Tchong a han, T 26, k. 19, p. 550b12): Seyyathāpi puriso sambahulānitelappadīpāni ekaṃ gharaṃ paveseyya, tesaṃ gharaṃ pavesesitānaṃ accinānattaṃ hi kho pañnnāyetha, no ca ābhānānattam: “It is like when a man brings several oil lamps into a house; a difference is recognized in the flame of these lamps brought into the house, but not a difference in the brightness.”


Pañcaviṃśatī, p. 257: Bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran rūpaṃ na nityam ity upaparīṣate nānityam iti na sukham iti na duḥkhamiti nātmeti nānātmeti na śāntam iti nāśāntam iti na śūnyam iti nāśūnyam itina nimittam iti nānimittam iti na praṇihitam iti nāpraṇihitam ity upaparīṣate, na vivktam iti nāviviktam ity upaparīkṣate.

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