Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “notes on the mahashunyata-sutra” 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.

Appendix 4 - Notes on the Mahāśūnyatā-sūtra

Note: this appendix is extracted from Chapter XXX part 3.3 (the teaching of emptiness):

“In the Ta k’ong king (Mahāśūnyatāsūtra), the Buddha said: ‘The twelve causes go from ignorance (avidyā) to old age and death (jarāmaraṇa). The person who asks what is old age and death or to whom does old age and death belong has erroneous view. And it is the same for the other causes, namely: birth (jāti), the act of becoming (bhava), attachment (upādāna), thirst (tṛṣṇā), sensation (vedanā), contact (sparśa), the six internal bases of consciousness (ṣaḍāyatana), name and form (nāmarūpa), consciousness (vijñāna), the formations (saṃskāra) and ignorance (avidyā)’”.

Under the title of Ta k’ong king, the Mppś refers here to the Avijjāpaccayāsutta in the Samyutta, II, p. 60–63 (cf. Tsa a han, T 99, no. 357, k. 14, p. 99–100).

Having formulated the doctrine of the twelve causes, the sūtra continues:

Katamaṃ nu kho bhante jarāmaṇaṃ, kassa ca panidaṃ jarāmaraṇanti. – no kallo pañhoti, Bhagavā avoca: Katamaṃ jarāmaraṇaṃ kassa ca panidaṃ jarāmaraṇanti iti vā bhikkhu yo veadyya, aññaṃ jarāmaraṇaṃ aññassa capanidaṃ jarāmaraṇanti iti vā bhikkhu yo vadeyya, ubhayaṃ etaṃ ekattaṃ vyañjanaṃ eva nānaṃ. Taṃ jīvaṃ taṃ saīranti vā bhikkhu diṭṭiyā sati beahmacariyavāso na hoti, aññaṃ sarīranti vā bhikkhu diṭṭhiyāsati brahmacariyavāso na hoti. Ete te bhikkhu ubho ante anupagamma majjhena Tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti: Jatipaccayā jarāmaraṇanti:

“[Someone asks the Buddha]: ‘What then, O Venerable One, is old age and death and to whom does old age and death belong?’

– This question is not correct, answered the Bhagavat.

If, O monk, someone asks: ‘What is old age and death and to whom does old age and death belong?’ or if someone says: ‘Old age and death is one thing and the person to whom old age and death belong is another thing’, these two phrases have the same meaning but with different sounds. If, O monk, someone thinks that the vital principle is the same as the body, the religious life is not possible; but if someone thinks that the vital principle is different from the body, the religious life is not possible either. Avoiding these two extremes, O monk, the Tathāgata teaches a true Path by way of a middle way, [by simply saying] that old age and death have birth as cause.”

– Next, the sūtra critiques the other members of the causal chain in the same words.

In this sūtra the Mppś sees the affirmation of the twofold emptiness: the emptiness of dharmas, because it is wrong to ask to whom does old age and death belong. However, the dharmaśūnyatā is more clearly taught in other sūtras of the Lesser Vehicle: the Nalakalāpiya (Saṃyutta, II, p. 112) teaches that old age and death, as the other members of pratītyasamutpāda, is not produced by oneself (sayaṃkataṃ), produced by oneself and another (sayaṃkatañca paraṃkatañca) nor produced spontaneously without action by oneself or by another (asayaṃkāraṃ aparaṃkāraṃ adhicca samuppannaṃ).

– The Pheṇasutta of the Saṃyutta (cf. Traité, I. p. 358F, 370F) proclaims the emptiness of the five skandhas in a very vivid way.

– Finally, the Kolopamasūtra (cf. Traité, I, p. 64F, n. 1) enjoins the rejection of dharmas.

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