Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “order of the thirty-seven 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 (D): Order of the thirty-seven auxiliaries

Question.[1] – First we must speak about the [factors] of the path (mārgāṅga). Why? Because only after having traveled the path are the good dharmas acquired. Thus, a person first travels over a road and later arrives at his destination. Here, by what mistake (viparyāsa) do you first speak of the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) and only at the end, of the eight factors of the path (mārgāṅga)?

Answer. – It is not a mistake (viparyāsa). The thirty-seven auxiliaries are involved as soon as one wants to enter onto the Path.

1. Thus, when the yogin goes to the teacher (ācārya) and hears the teaching on the Path (mārgadharma) from him, first he uses his mindfulness (smṛti) to retain (dhāraṇa) this teaching: that moment is called ‘foundation of mindfulness’ (smṛtyupasthāna).

2. When he has retained and followed this teaching, the yogin who is looking for the fruit (phalaparyeṣin) practices with exertion (vīryeṇa prayuñjate): this is called ‘right effort’ (samyakpradhāna).

3. As a result of this expenditure of energy (bahuvīrya), his mind is distracted (vikṣipta). He concentrates his mind (cittaṃ pragṛhṇāti) and controls it (damayati): this is called ‘foundation of magical power’ (ṛddhipāda).

4. His mind being tamed (dānta), he produces the ‘five faculties’ (pañcendriya).

a. The True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas is very profound (atigambhīra) and difficult to probe (durvigāhya), but by means of the faculty of faith (śraddhendriya), he believes in it: this is called the ‘faculty of faith’ (śraddhendriya).

b. He does not spare his own life (kāyajīvita) and seeks enlightenment (bodhiṃ paryeṣate) wholeheartedly (ekacittena): this is called ‘faculty of exertion’ (vīryendriya).

c. He constantly thinks about the Bodhi of the Buddhas and does not think about anything else: this is called the ‘faculty of mindfulness’ (smṛtīndriya).

d. He always concentrates his mind on Bodhi: this is called the ‘faculty of concentration’ (samādhīndriya).

e. He considers (samanupaśyati) the four truths and the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa): this is called the ‘faculty of wisdom’ (prajñendriya).

5. When the five faculties (pañcendriya) have been developed (vṛddha), [198c] they are able to intercept the afflictions (kleśa): this is like the power of a big tree (mahāvṛkṣa) that is able to block off water. These five faculties, when they have been developed, are able to gradually penetrate the profound Dharma (gambhīradharma):[2] this is called ‘power’ (bala).

6. Having obtained the powers (bala), the yogin distinguishes the dharmas [of the path of meditation (bhāvanamārga)]:

There are three factors (aṅga): 1) the [second] factor-of-enlightenment called discernment of dharmas (dharmapravicayasaṃbodhyaṅga); 2) the [third] factor-of-enlightenment called exertion (vīryasaṃbodhyaṅga); 3) the fourth factor-of-enlightenment called joy (prītisaṃbodhyaṅga). If the mind sinks when one is practicing the Path, these three factors (aṅga) raise it up again (samutthāpayanti).

[There are three other factors]: 1) the [fifth] factor-of-enlightenment called relaxation (praśrabdhisaṃbodhyaṅga); 2) the [sixth] factor of enlightenment called concentration (samādhisaṃbodhyaṅga); 3) the [seventh] factor-of-enlightenment called equanimity (upekṣaḥasaṃbodhyaṅga). If the mind is distracted (vikṣipyate) when one is practicing the Path, these three factors settle it (pragṛhṇanti) so that it is concentrated.

As for the remaining factor, namely: the [first] factor-of-enlightenment called mindfulness (smṛtisaṃbodhyaṅga), it operates in both cases [when the mind sinks and when it is distracted]. It can unite the good dharmas and stop the bad ones; it is like a gate-keeper (dauvārika) who allows what is useful (arthavat) to enter and sends away what is useless (anarthaka).[3]

If the mind sinks, mindfulness (smṛti) and the three factors [nos. 2–4] raise it up. If the mind is distracted, mindfulness and the three factors [nos. 5–7] settle it.

Because these seven things work (gāmitvāt), they are called ‘factors’ (aṅga).

7. When the yogin has obtained these things and his tranquility (kṣema) is complete (saṃpanna), he wishes to enter into the unconditioned city of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇāsaṃskṛtanagara).[4] This is why he practices the dharmas [of mārgaṅga]: that moment is called ‘Path’ (mārga).

Footnotes and references:


For the logical and chronological order of the seven classes of auxiliaries, cf. Kośa, VI, p. 288–290.


Defined above, p. 337–338F.


Canonical comparison: Dīgha, II, p. 83; III, p. 101; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 194; Anguttara, IV, p. 107, 110; V, p. 104: Seyyattā pi rañño paccantimaṃ nagaraṃ daḷhuddāpaṃ daḷhapākāratoraṇaṃ ekadvāraṃ, tatr’ assa dovāriko panḍito viyatto medhāvī aññātānaṃ ñātānaṃ pavesetā. – See also the Nāgasenasūtra in BEFEO, XXIV, 1924, p. 113.


The ‘City of nirvāṇa’ is a canonical expression: cf. Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 4, p. 30a19 seq.; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 16, p. 626a1; k. 23, p. 669b27; k. 25, p. 687b19–20; k. 39, p. 760c24. We will see (p. 1231F) that the three gates of the City of nirvāṇa are the three vimokṣamukha.

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