Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “characteristics and emptiness of self nature (svabhavashunyata)” 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.

3. Characteristics and emptiness of self nature (svabhāvaśūnyatā)

Knowing all these dharmas, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva introduces them into the emptiness of self nature (svabhāvaśūnyatā) and experiences no attachment (saṅga, abhiniveśa) for dharmas; he surpasses the levels of the śrāvakas and pratyrekabuddhas; he enters into the state of Bodhisattva. Having entered into the state of Bodhisattva, he distinguishes the various types of dharmas, saves beings and causes them to obtain the Triple Vehicle by means of his great compassion (mahākaruṇā) and the power of his skillful means (upāyabala). Thus, a skillful artisan, by the power of remedies (oṣadhi), can transform silver into gold and gold into silver.

Question. – If dharmas are really empty of self nature, why does the bodhisattva still distinguish their various names and does not limit himself to preaching their essential emptiness?

Answer. – The bodhisattva-mahāsattva does not claim that emptiness can be grasped (upalabdha) or accepted (abhiniviśya). If emptiness could be grasped and accepted, the bodhisattva would not speak of the various distinctive characteristics (nānāvidhabhinnalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. But an ungraspable emptiness (anupalacaśūnya) is not an obstacle (āvaraṇa). If it were an obstacle, it would be graspable and not ungraspable. Knowing this ungraspable emptiness, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva returns to distinguishing dharmas [in order to teach them more easily]. Saving beings by loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) is the power of Prajñāpāramitā; the true nature of dharmas about which he undertakes to speak is Prajñāpāramitā.

Question. – But all the ordinary books (lokasaṃvṛtigrantha) and the ninety-six kinds of religious works[1] all speak of the true nature of dharmas; in the śrāvaka Piṭaka also it is a matter of the true nature of dharmas. Why is it not called Prajñāpāramitā [in these works] and only in the present sūtra is the true nature of dharmas called Prajñāpāramitā?

Answer. – The worldly books, which aim at the pacification of kingdoms, the perfecting of families and the pleasures of life, are not true. Religious heretics (tīrthikaparivrājaka), who fall into wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) and whose minds are perverted, are not truthful either. As for the śrāvakas, although they do have the four truths, they believe that the true nature of dharmas consists of impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), emptiness (śūnya) and non-self (anātma). Since their wisdom is imperfect (aparipūrṇa) and dull (atīkṣṇa), they are unable to help beings or to acquire the qualities of the Buddhas. The have a true wisdom, but it is not the ‘virtue of wisdom’.

It is said that the Buddha enters into and comes out of concentrations (samādhi) of which Śāriputra and the other disciples are ignorant even of their names, still less of their nature. Why? At the time of their first resolution (prathamacittotpāda), the arhats and pratyekabuddhas do not have the great vows (mahāpraṇidhāna), do not have great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) or great compassion (mahākaruṇā), do not seek all the qualities (guṇa) [of the Buddhas], do not honor all the Buddhas of the three times and the ten directions; they do not [196a] sincerely seek to understand the true nature of dharmas, for they seek only to escape from the suffering of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa). On the other hand, from their first resolution, the bodhisattvas pronounce the great vow [to save beings], they have great loving-kindness and great compassion, they seek all the qualities and honor all the Buddhas of the three times and the ten directions, they have very keen knowledge (mahātīkṣṇajñāna) and seek the true nature of dharmas, they expel all kinds of opinions, namely, opinions regarding pure and impure (śucyaśuci), emptiness and reality (śūnyasadbhūta), the self and the non-self (ātmānātman). Rejecting these wrong views and theoretical opinions, they only see, in external things, that the true nature is neither pure nor impure, neither eternal nor transitory, neither happy nor unhappy, neither empty nor real, neither with nor without self. The bodhisattva is not attached to any of these opinions, for these are worldly theses (lokasaṃvṛtidharma): they are not absolute (pāramārthika), are neither completely pure (trimaṇḍalapariśuddha) nor irrefutable (ahārya) nor infallible (avikāra). The [completely neutral] position adopted by the saints (ārya) is called Prajñāpāramitā.

Footnotes and references:


Works relating to the 96 heretical sects; cf. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 410.