Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “by abstaining from any practice” 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. By abstaining from any practice

Furthermore, the bodhisattva acquires the Prajñāpāramitā without practicing any dharma and without acquiring any dharma. Why? All practices (caryā) are erroneous and futile: from near or far, they present faults. In fact, bad dharmas (akuśaladharma) are faulty from close up; as for good dharmas, they are transformed and modified from far away; those who become attached to them will end up by experiencing pain and sorrow; thus they show defects from far off. [Good and bad practices] are like an appetizing food and a disgusting food both of which have been poisoned. As soon as one eats the disgusting food, one feels dissatisfied. When one eats the appetizing food, one feels pleasant satisfaction for the moment, but later it takes one’s life. Therefore both kinds of food should be avoided, and it is the same for good and bad practices.

Question. – If that is so, why did the Buddha preach the three practices, namely, the brāhmanic practice (brahmacarya), the godly practice (divyacarya) and the noble practice (āryacarya)?[1]

Answer. – The noble practice consists of practicing the absence of all practice. Why? Because during all noble practice, one never departs from the three gates of liberation (vimokṣamukha). The brāhmanic and the divine practices arise insofar as they grasp the characteristics of beings (sattvanimittodgrahaṇa); although they do not show defects at the time they are being practiced, they will show them later on and the realities they actually pursue will all appear to be false. However, the saint (ārya) who practices these two kinds of practice with a detached mind (asaktacitta) does not commit any fault.

For the person who practices the absence of practice thus, nothing exists any longer: errors (viparyāsa), deceptions (vañcana) and the afflictions (kleśa) no longer arise for they are purified like space (ākāśaśuddha). He acquires the true nature of dharmas by holding his non-acquisition (anupalabdhi) as an acquisition. It is said in the non-acquired Prajñā: “Dharmas, form (rūpa), etc., are not empty as a result of emptiness; they are originally and eternally empty in themselves; dharmas, form, etc., are not non-perceptible because wisdom does not reach them: they are originally and eternally non-perceptible in themselves.”[2] This is [197b] why we should not ask how many virtues must be practiced to obtain Prajñāpāramitā. Out of loving-kindness and compassion to beings, the Buddhas teach the practices in order to be in harmony with common usage (saṃvṛti), but there is nothing absolute (paramārtha) there.

Question. – If Prajñāpāramitā can be neither acquired nor practiced, why does the ascetic seek it?

Answer. – There are two kinds of things that cannot be acquired:

i) Worldly pleasures, which can be sought but which do not respond to the attempt, cannot be acquired; ii) The true nature of dharmas, the definite notice (niyattanimitta) of which escapes perception, cannot be acquired. Not being non-existent, they include merit (puṇya) and increase the roots of good (kuśalamūla). Worldly people (pṛthagjana) who speculate about worldly affairs (lokadharma) have profit (lābdha), etc.; and it is the same for all the good qualities. But it is according to the mind of the world that we speak about acquisition, in the mind of the Buddha, nothing in acquired.

This is a summary of the meaning of Prajñāpāramitā; later we will speak of it at greater length.  

Footnotes and references:


These are the three practices (caryā) or the three abodes (vihāra) defined above, Traité, I, p. 162–163F.


A vague and inexact reference to a classical passage in the Prajñā literature: cf. Pañcaviṃśati, ed. Dutt, p. 37–38 (Chinese transl. by Hiuan tsang, T 220, k. 402, vol. 7, p. 11b26–11c16; by Mokṣala, T 221, k. 1, p. 4c18–28; by Dharmarakṣa, T 222, k. 1, p. 152a16–152b2; by Kumārajīva, T 223, k. 1, p. 221b25–221c10); Śatasāhasrikā, p. 118 seq, 81 seq, 932 seq. – The sūtras and the śāstras of the Greater Vehicle often used this text, citing it more or less faithfully: cf. Kāśyapaparivarta, p. 94, § 63; Madh. vṛtti, p. 248; Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi, p. 76; Saṃgrayha, p. 116–118; Siddhi, p. 521, 531. Here are some extracts from the Pañcaviṃśati version:

Iha bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran, bodhisattva eva san bodhisattvaṃ na samanupaśyati… rūpaṃ api na samanupahyati… Tathā hi rūpaṃ rūpasvabhāvena śūnyam… Na śūnyatayā rūpaṃ śūnyam… nānyatrarūpac śūnyatā… rūpam eva śūnyatā… śūnyataiva rūjpam… Nāmamātramidaṃ yad idaṃ rūpam… Tathā hi māyopamaṃ rūpam… māyā ca nāmamātram… Māyādarśanasvabhāsya hi notpādo na nirodho na saṃkleśo na vyvadānam… Tathā hi kṛtrimaṃ nāma… Tāni bodhisattvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran sarvanāmāni na samanupaśyati, asamanupaśyan nābhiniviśate.

The reasoning given here for rūpa is repeated for the other four skandhas and is applied in a general way to all dharmas without exception.