Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “auxiliaries belong to the greater vehicle as well” 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 1 - The auxiliaries belong to the Greater Vehicle as well

Question. – The thirty-seven auxiliaries (pākṣika) are the path (mārga) of the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha; the six perfections (pāramitā) are the path of the bodhisattva-mahāsattva. Then why speak of things concerning only the śrāvaka when dealing with the bodhisattva?

Answer. – 1. The bodhisattva-mahāsattva must practice the paths of all the good dharmas. Thus the Buddha said to Subhūti: “The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who practices the Prajñāpāramitā should practice the paths of all the good dharmas, from the level of sharp wisdom (śuṣka- or śuklavipāśyanābhūmi) up to the level of the Buddhas (buddhabhūmi). He must practice (śikṣitavyam) the first nine levels but not realize them (sakṣātkartavyam); as for the level of the Buddhas, he must practice and realize it.”[1]

2. Moreover, where is it said that the thirty-seven auxiliaries are the qualities of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas alone and do not constitute the path of the bodhisattva? In this Prajñāpāramitāsūtra, in the chapter entitled Mahāyāna, the Buddha says that [the thirty-seven auxiliaries], from the four foundations of [197c] mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) up to the eight members of the noble path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) are contained in the Three Baskets (tripiṭaka) of the Greater Vehicle;[2] but he does not say that the thirty-seven auxiliaries are things exclusively (kevalam) concerning the Lesser Vehicle.

In his great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī), the Buddha preached the thirty-seven auxiliaries that are the path to nirvāṇa. In accordance with the vows (praṇidhāna) of beings, in accordance with karmic causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), each finds his own path. The person who seeks (paryeṣate) to be a śrāvaka finds the śrāvaka path; the person who has planted the roots of good (kuśalamūla) of the pratyekabuddha finds the pratyekabuddha path; the person who seeks the bodhi of the Buddhas finds the Buddha path.

According to his previous vows (pūrvapraṇidhāna) and the sharpness (tīkṣṇa) or dullness (mṛḍu) of his faculties (indriya), the person has great compassion (mahākaruṇā) or does not have great compassion. Similarly, when the nāga king (rāja) makes rain (vṛṣṭi) to fall, it rains on the earth everywhere indiscriminately (nirviśeṣam); the big trees (mahāvṛkṣa) and the large plants (mahātṛṇa) receive a lot of rain because of their big roots (mūla); the small trees (alpavṛkṣa) and the small plants (alpatṛṇa) receive but little because of their small roots.

Question. – So be it. Nowhere is it said that the thirty-seven auxiliaries are exclusively the path of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas and are not the path of the bodhisattvas, but it can be known by rational induction. The bodhisattva who remains in saṃsāra and the five destinies (pañcagati) for a long time does not get nirvāṇa quickly. And yet the thirty-seven auxiliaries are presented only as adjuvants to nirvāṇa, whereas the perfections (pāramitā) and the great compassion (mahākaruṇā) of the bodhisattvas are not. This is why we know that [the thirty-seven auxiliaries] are not the bodhisattva path.

Answer. – 1. Although the bodhisattva remains in saṃsāra for a long time, he must know the True Path (bhūtamārga) and the false paths (abhūtamārga), the world (saṃsāra) and nirvāṇa. Knowing that, he makes his great vow (mahāpraṇidhāna): “Beings are worthy of compassion; I must save them and bring them to unconditioned (asaṃskṛtapada) safety.” The bodhisattva who practices the perfections (pāramitā) is able, by means of this true dharma (bhūtadharma), to reach the Bodhi of the Buddhas. But although he practices and understands this dharma, he has not yet fulfilled the six perfections and this is why he does not immediately realize (na sākṣātkaroti) this true dharma.

Thus the Buddha said: “It is like [an archer] who, raising his head, shoots his arrows into the air (ūrdhvaṃ kāṇḍaṃ kṣipati): the arrows support each other so that they do not fall to earth. In the same way, the bodhisattva, taking the arrow of the Prajñāpāramitā, shoots it into the air at the three gates of deliverance (vimokṣamukha); then, taking the arrow of skillful means (upāya), he shoots it at the arrow of Prajñā so that it does not fall on the ground of nirvāṇa.” (see Appendix 1: example of the master-archer)

2. Furthermore, if, as you have said, the bodhisattva abides for a long time in saṃsāra, he must undergo all the physical and mental sufferings (nānavidha kāyikacaitasikaduḥkha). If he has not attained true knowledge (bhūtajñāna), how could he endure these things? This is why the bodhisattva-mahāsattva seeks the auxiliaries to enlightenment (bodhipākṣika) and true knowledge. From then on he can transform (pariṇamitum) the world (saṃsāra) into the fruits of the path (mārgaphala) and into nirvāṇa by the power of Prajñāpāramitā. Why? The threefold world (traidhātuka) is the result of a complex of causes and conditions (sāmagrīja). That which is born from this complex has no intrinsic nature (svabhāva); having no intrinsic nature, it is empty (śūnya). Empty, it is ungraspable (agrāhya). The ungraspable is nirvāṇa. This is why [the Prajñāpāramitā] says here: “The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who abides in the perfection of wisdom by the method of non-abiding must, without producing them, fulfill the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna).”[3]

3, Furthermore, in the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha system, it is not said [198a] that saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are the same. Why? Because their wisdom (prajñā) does not penetrate dharmas deeply. In the bodhisattva system, it is said that samsāra and nirvāṇa are identical because their wisdom deeply penetrates dharmas.

Thus the Buddha said to Subhūti: “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form (rūpam eva śūnyatā sūnyataiva rūpam); feelings (vedanā), ideas (saṃjñā), formations (saṃskāra) and consciousnesses (vijñāna) are emptiness, and emptiness is feelings, ideas, formations and consciousnesses. Emptiness is nirvāṇa and nirvāṇa is emptiness (śūnyataiva nirvāṇaṃ, nirvāṇam eva śūnyatā).[4]

The Madhyamakaśāstra also says:

Nirvāṇa is no different from saṃsāra,
Saṃsāra is no different from nirvāṇa.
The limit of nirvāṇa and the limit of saṃsāra
Are the same limit, for there is no difference.[5]

Having fond this True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa), the bodhisattva-mahāsattva is not disgusted with saṃsāra and not pleased with nirvāṇa. The thirty-seven auxiliaries are the ground of true knowledge (bhūtajñānabhūmi).

Footnotes and references:


Free quotation of the Prajñāpāramita in the Daśabhūmiparivarta (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 225; Śata., p. 1473: Yad bodhisattvo mahāsattva upāyakauśalyena sarvāsu pāramitāsu caran saptatriṃśad bodhipākṣeṣu dharmeṣu śikṣito ’pramāṇadhyānārūpyasamāpattiṣu caran daśatathāgatabalapratisaṃvitsv aṣṭādaśāvenikeṣu buddhadharmeṣu caran śuklapaśyanābhūmiṃ gotrabhūmim darśanabhūmiṃ tanubhūmiṃ vītarāgabhūmiṃ kṛtāvibhūmiṃ śrāvakabhūiṃ pratyekabuddhabhūmiṃ bodhisattvabhūmiṃ bodhisattvo mahāsattvo ’tikramya etā navabhūmīr atikramya buddhabhūmau pratiṣṭhate, iyaṃ bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasya daśamī bhūmiḥ.

Transl. – “When the bodhisattva-mahāsattva, with his skillful means, practices all the perfections, practices the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment, practices the [four] limitless ones, the trances and the formless absorptions, practices the ten strengths of the Tathāgata, the [four] unhindered knowledges and the eighteen special attributes of the Buddhas, when he goes beyond nine levels, namely, the level of clear seeing, the level of the spiritual lineage, the level of the eighth saint, the level of seeing, the refined (?) level, the level of renunciation, the level of the one who has finished his career, the level of the śrāvaka, the level of the pratyekabuddha and the level of the bodhisattva, when he is established in the level of the Buddha, that is the level of the bodhisattva-mahāsattva.”

The ten levels cited here are the levels common (sāddhāraṇabhūmi) to both vehicles. On this subject, see Śūraṃgamasamādhi, p. 248–251, note. The Sarvāstivādin treatises are not unaware of them, as Prof. A. Hirakawa has shown in The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Memoirs of the Research Dept. of the Tokyo Bunko, No. 22, 1963, p. 67–68.


Actually the Prajñāpāramitā, in the chapter on the Mahāyāna, mentions the thirty-seven bodhipākṣikas, from the four smṛityupasthānas to the āṣṭāṅgamārgas, among the Mahāyāna practices (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 203–208; Śata. P. 1427–1439).


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 1137.


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 38: Rūpam eva śūnyatā, vedanaiva śūnyatā, saṃjñaiva śūnyatā, saṃskārā eva śūnyatā, vijñāṇam eva śūnyatā; śūnyataiva rūpaṃ, śūnyataiva vedanā, śūnyataiva saṃjñā, śūnyataiva saṃskārāḥ, śūnyataiva vijñānam.

This is a stock phrase endlessly repeated in the Prajñās: Pañcaviṃśati, T 222, k. 1, p. 221c1, p. 223a14; k. 3, p. 235a11. Other references above, p. 1112F, n. 2.


Madh. kārikā, XXV, 19–20; Madh. vṛtti, p. 535; T 1564, k. 4, p. 36a4–11:

Na saṃsmarasya nirvāṇāt kiṃcid asti viśeṣaṃ |
na nirvāṇasya saṃsārāt kiṃcid asti viśeṣaṇaṃ ||
nirvāṇasya ca yā koṭiḥ saṃsaraṇasya ca |
na tayor anstaraṃ kiṃcid susūkṣmam api vidyate ||

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