Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “number of auxiliaries” 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.

Abhidharma auxiliaries (A): Number of auxiliaries

Question. – Since the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) suffice to obtain the path (mārga),[1] why talk about thirty-seven auxiliaries? Would it be for the sake of abridgment (saṃkṣiptena deśanā) that you speak of the four foundations of mindfulness and for the sake of expansion (vistareṇa deśana),[2] that you speak of the thirty-seven auxiliaries? Then that is not correct (ayukta) because, if one wants to expand, there would be innumerable (apramāṇapakṣa) auxiliaries.

Answer. – 1. Although the four foundations of mindfulness are sufficient to attain the path, the four right efforts (samyakpradhāna) and the other auxiliary dharmas must also be preached. Why? Among beings, minds (citta) are multiple (nānāvidha) and varied (viṣama); their fetters (samyojana) and the things that they love and those to which they are unattached also are multiple.

Although it is a single truth (ekārtha) and is of a single nature (ekalakṣaṇa), the Buddhadharma is expressed in distinct explanations (saṃbhinnadeśana): twelve classes of texts (dvādaśāṅgadharmapravacana) and eighty-four thousand dharmas (caturśītisahasradharmaskandha).[3] If it were otherwise, after having preached the four noble Truths (āryasatya) in the course of their first sermon, the Buddhas should stop and should preach nothing more. Because there are beings who detest suffering (duḥkha) and love happiness (sukha), the Buddhas preach the four truths: 1) physical and mental dharmas, etc. (kāyikacaitasikādidharma) are all suffering and have no happiness (sukha); 2) the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) of this suffering are craving (tṛṣṇā) and the other passions (kleśa); 3) the cessation of this suffering (duḥkhanirodha) is called nirvāṇa; 4) the way to reach nirvāṇa is the Path (mārga).

There are beings who, as a result of worries (bahucintā), distractions (vikṣiptacitta) and misunderstanding (viparyāsa), cling (abhiniviśante) to the body (kāya), feelings (vedanā), the mind (citta) and things and lead a bad life (mithyācāra). For these people the Buddhas preach the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna). It is the same for the other [auxiliary] dharmas of the Path: each of them is preached to a certain type of being. It is like a master physician (bhaiṣajyaguru) who cannot cure all sickness with a single drug (bhaṣajya): sicknesses (vyādhi) are dissimilar and the remedy to be applied is not single. In the same way, the Buddha adapts himself to the various types of mental illnesses (cittavyādhi) from which beings suffer and cures them with different remedies.

Sometimes the Buddha saves beings by preaching only one thing. Thus the Buddha said to a bhikṣu: “This is not yours, do not grasp it (na tāvakaṃ, tangṛhāṇa).” – The bhikṣu said: “I know it already, O Bhagavat.” – The Bhagavat replied: “What do you know?” – The bhikṣu answered: “Dharmas are not ‘mine’ (ātmīya); they should not be grasped.”[4]

Sometimes the Buddha saves beings by means of two things, concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā). Sometimes, by three things, morality (śīla), concentration and wisdom. Sometimes by four things, the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna).

[198b] Thus, although the four foundations of mindfulness are enough to attain the Path, there are other dharmas that differ in practice (ācāra), concepts (vikalpa), quantity and point of view. This is why the four right efforts (samyakpradhāna) and the other [auxiliary] dharmas must also be preached.

2. Furthermore, the bodhisattva-mahāsattvas have a power of faith (śraddhābala) so great that they save all beings, and so the Buddha preaches the thirty-seven auxiliaries to them simultaneously. And although he preaches other dharmas favorable to the Path, such as the ten concepts (daśasaṃjñā),[5] etc., all are included (saṃgṛhīta) in the thirty-seven auxiliaries. These thirty-seven are a collection of all the remedies (sarvabhaiṣajyasasaṃsarga) that can cure all the illnesses (vyādhi) of beings. This is why it is not necessary to multiply the auxiliaries to the Path infinitely. Similarly, although the Buddha possesses innumerable powers (bala), we speak only of ten powers, for they are enough to save beings.

Footnotes and references:


The fourth noble Truth concerning the path to the cessation of suffering is so complex that it consists not only of the eightfold path (aṣṭāṅgamārga) preached by the Buddha but also the thirty-seven auxiliaries to enlightenment (bodhipākṣika) and a whole infinity of dharmas.

The person who raises the objection is here contesting the need to speak of the thirty-seven auxiliaries in detail, as some of them are enough to lead to nirvāṇa This is mainly the case of the four foundations of mindfulness since the Buddha stated in the Majjhima I, p. 63:

Ehāyano ayaṃ bhikkhave sattānaṃ visuddhiyā sokaparividdavāvaṃ satikkamāya dukkhadomanassānaṃ atthagamāya ñāyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, yadidaṃ cattāro satipaṭṭhānā ti. – “There is one single way, O monks, leading to the purification of beings, to the transcending of sorrow and lamentation, to the disappearance of suffering and sadness, to the attainment of knowledge and realization of nirvāṇa; this is the four foundations of mindfulness.”

But the objection does not hold, for although the smṛtyupasthānas and the other auxiliaries to enlightenment constitute paths that are sufficient to the attainment of enlightenment, they are not suitable for all adepts indiscriminately: each must choose the one best suited to his own capacities and aptitude. Hence the need to propose a complete listing of auxiliaries to adepts without, however, excluding an infinity of other practices which will make up the object of chapters XXXII to XXXVIII.


The Dharma may be preached in an abbreviated form (saṃkṣiptena) or in a long form (vistareṇa): cf. Anguttara, I, p. 53; II, p. 189.


Two different classifications of the Buddhist scriptures already mentioned above (p. 27F, 560F). For details see F. Lamotte, Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 157–163.


Natumhākasutta in Samyutta, III, p. 33–34, and Tsa a han, T 99, no, 269, k. 10, p. 70b, repeated in the Alagaddūpamasutta in Majjhima, I, p. 140–141: Yaṃ bhikkhave na tumhākaṃ taṃ pajahatha, taṃ vo pahīnaṃ dīgharattaṃ hitāya sukhāya bhavissati. Kiñ ca bhikkhave na tumhākaṃ: Rūpaṃ bhikkhave na tumhākaṃ, taṃ pajahatha, taṃ vo pahīnaṃ dīgharattaṃ hitāya sukhāya bhavissati. Vedanā pe. Sañā pe. Saṅkhārā pe, Viññānaṃ pe.


See below, chap. XXXVII.