Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the teaching of the pitaka” 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.

What is the teaching of the Piṭaka, etc.? – The Piṭaka contains 3,200,000 words; when the Buddha was still in the world, it was composed by Ta Kia tchan yen (Mahākātyāyana);[1] aftr the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, the length of man’s life diminished, the strength of his intellect decreased and people were unable to recite the Piṭaka fully; then the individuals who had attained the Path composed a summary in 384,000 words.

For the person who enters into the Piṭaka teaching, there are endless discussions (vivāda) for all kinds of different teachings (nānāvidhaparyāya), such as teaching by implication (anuvartana), teaching by opposition (pratipakṣa), etc.

1) Teaching by implication (anuvartanaparyāya). – The Buddha in a stanza said:

Avoid all sin, practice the good,
Purify one’s mind: this is the teaching of the Buddhas.[2]

In this stanza, the Buddha should have said: “[Purify the mind] and the mental events (caitasikadharma)”, but he just said: “Purify one’s mind”: this is because we know that the mental events have already been treated by him. How is that? By having the same characteristic (lakṣaṇa) and the same object (ālambana) [as the mind].

When the Buddha speaks about the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna), he does not mean to separate them from four right efforts (samyakpradhāna), the four bases of miraculous power (ṛddhipāda), the five senses (indriya) and the five powers (bala). How is that? In the four foundations of mindfulness, the four kinds of energies are the four right efforts; the four kinds of concentrations (samādhi) are the four bases of miraculous power; the five kinds of good dharmas (kuśaladharma) are the five senses and the five strengths. Although the Buddha does not mention these associated subjects and only speaks of the four foundations of mindfulness, we should know that he has already dealt with these other subjects.

It also happens that, of the four noble Truths (āryastaya), the Buddha deals with only one, two or three. Thus the stanza addressed by the bhikṣu Ma sing (Aśvajit) to Śāriputra:

My teacher, the noble king, has told
The cause of all dharmas arisen from a cause.
And he has also revealed
Their suppression.[3]

In this stanza it is a question only of three truths [truth of suffering, its origin and its destruction], but it should be known that the [fourth truth], the Truth of the Path (mārgasatya) is [implicitly] contained therein, for it is not in contradiction (virodha) with the preceding ones.

In the same way, when a man violates a rule, [it is understood] that his entire family will undergo the punishment. These are similar things that are called ‘teaching by implication’.

2) Teaching by contrast (pratipakṣaparyāya). – Sometimes the Buddha speaks only of the four errors (viparyāsa): taking as permanent (nitya) that which is impermanent, taking as happy (sukha) that which is painful, taking as self (ātman) that which is not the self, taking as pure (śuci) that which is impure.[4] Although on this occasion the Buddha says nothing about the four foundations of mindfulness [which are antidotes to the four mistakes], it is necessary to know of what these four foundations of mindfulness consist. If somebody tells you about a remedy (bhaiṣajya), it is that you already know the sickness (vyādhi) or, if somebody speaks to you about sickness, it is that you already know the remedy. – If the Buddha speaks of the four foundations of mindfulness, know that he has already spoken of the four mistakes, and that the four mistakes are errors (mithyālakṣaṇa); if he speaks of the four errors, know that he has already spoken about the fetters (saṃyojana). Why? Speaking about the root (mūla) is to already know the branches that come from it. – The Buddha also said that the whole world is infected by the three poisons (triviṣa); when he speaks of the three poisons [rāga, dveṣa and moha], we should know that he has already spoken [192c] about the eightfold Path and its three parts [śīla, samādhi and prajñā]; when he speaks of the three poisons, we should know that he has already treated the poisons of all the passions (sarvakleśaviṣa), namely, the five kinds of thirst (tṛṣṇā) that constitute the poison of rāga, the five kinds of anger (krodha) that constitute the poison of dveṣa, and the five kinds of ignorance (avidyā) that constitute the poison of moha. Wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), pride (abhimana) and doubt (vicikitsā) depend on ignorance (avidyā), and all these fetters (saṃyojana) are part of the threefold poison. How are they to be destroyed? By means of the eightfold Path with its three parts [śīla. samādhi and prajñā]. When the Buddha speaks of the eightfold Path, we should understand that he has already spoken of the thirty-seven wings of enlightenment (bodhipākṣikadharma). All these subjects treated in this way are called ‘teaching by contrast’.

The teachings of this type are called Teaching of the Piṭaka.

Footnotes and references:

1.

This is Mahākātyānana, author of the Peṭakopadeśa and not Kātyāyana, author of the Jñānaprasthāna. See above, Traité, I, p. 109, n. 2; p. 113.

2.

Frequently cited stanza: cf. Dīgha, II, p. 49; Dhammapāda, v. 183; Nettipakaraṇa, p. 43, 81, 171, 186:

Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ
kusalassa upasampadā
sacittapariyodapanaṃ
etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.

The Sanskrit version in Mahāvastu, III, p. 420:

Sarvapāpasyākaraṇaṃ
kuśalasyopasaṃpadā
svacittaparyādmapanaṃ
etad buddhānuśasanam.

3.

This is the Buddhist “credo”: “Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā” already cited above, p. 631F.

4.

Cf. Aṅguttara, II, p. 52; Vibhaṅga, p. 376; Kośa, V, p. 21; Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 198, l. 11.