Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the five faculties” 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.

Mahāyāna auxiliaries (D): The five faculties

What are the five faculties (indriya) as practiced by the bodhisattva? The bodhisattva-mahāsattva considers (anupaśyati) and cultivates (bhāvayati) the five faculties.

1. The faculty of faith (śraddhendriya).

The bodhisattva believes that all dharmas arise from causes and conditions (hetupratyaya), arise from mistakes (viparyāsa) and wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), like a fire-brand brandished in a circle [204b] (alātrackara),[1] like a dream (svapna), like a magic show (māyā).

He believes that dharmas are impure (aśuddha), impermanent (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), without self (anātmaka), like a sickness (roga), like an ulcer (gaṇḍa), like a thorn (śalya), subject to deterioration and ruin.

He believes that all dharmas are non-existent (asat), like an empty fist deceiving little children (bālollāpanariktamuṣṭivat).[2]

He believes that there are no dharmas in the past (atīta) or in the future (anāgata) or in the present (pratyutpanna), that they come from nowhere and, once destroyed, they go nowhere.

He believes that dharmas are empty (śūnya), without characteristics (ānimitta), not to be considered (apraṇihita), unborn (anutpanna) and non-destroyed (aniruddha). Despite this wishlessness (read wou-tso) and this signlessness, he believes [in the five pure elements or (anāsravaskandha)]: i) morality (śīla), ii) concentration (samādhi), iii) wisdom (prajñā), iv) deliverance (vimukti), v) knowledge and vision of deliverance (vimuktijñānadarśana).

Because he has acquired this faculty of faith, the bodhisattva is non-regressing (avaivartika). Taking the faculty of faith as the major one, he skillfully becomes established in morality (śīla). When he is established in morality, his mind of faith is unmoving (acala) and firm. He believes with his whole mind (ekacittena). He depends on the retribution of the fruit of action (karmaphalavipāka), rejects wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), no longer believes in the words of others (paravacana). He accepts only the Buddha’s teachings; he believes in the Community (saṃgha) and he becomes established in the true Path (mārga). He is of right mind (ṛjucitta), gentle (mṛdu) and patient (kṣamavat). His supernatural powers (abhijñā) are unhindered (apratigha), immobile (acala) and indestructible (akṣaya); he acquires mastery of powers (balavaśitā).

This is called the faculty of faith.

2. The faculty of exertion (vīryendriya).

Day and night (aharniśam), the bodhisattva always develops exertion (vīrya). He rejects the five obstacles (pañcanivarāṇa) and protects the five faculties (pañcendriya). He wants to find, understand, practice, read, study and hear the profound teachings (gambhīradharma) of the sūtras.

When evil bad dharmas (pāpaka akuśala dharma) have arisen, he acts so as to destroy them quickly and, if they have not arisen, he acts so as to prevent them from arising. As for the good dharmas (kuśaladharma) that have not yet arisen, he acts so that they will arise and, if they have already arisen, he acts so as to develop them. He has no fondness for dharmas that are neither good nor bad (naivakuśalānākuśaladharma).

Dedicating equal exertion to good dharmas, he advances directly and straight to the point. He develops right exertion (samyagvīrya) and, due to his concentrated mind (samāhitacitta), the latter is called the faculty of exertion (vīryendriya).

3. The faculty of mindfulness (smṛtīndriya).

The bodhisattva is always attentive (smṛtimat) and reflective (saṃprajānat). Wishing to perfect generosity (dāna), morality (śīla), meditation (dhyāna), wisdom (prajñā) and deliverance (vimukti), wishing to purify bodily, vocal and mental actions (kāyavāṅmanaskarman), he is ever attentive and reflective in his knowledge pertaining to the arising (utpāda), disappearance (vyaya) and duration-change (sthityanyathātva) of dharmas.

He reflects attentively [on the four noble truths] on suffering (duḥkha), its origin (samudaya), its cessation (nirodha) and the path (mārga) to its cessation.

He reflects attentively and analyzes the faculties (indriya), strengths (bala), the [members] of enlightenment (saṃbodhyaṅga) and the absorptions (samāpatti), deliverance (vimukti), arising (utpāda) and cessation (nirodha), entering and exit.

He reflects attentively on unborn (anutpanna), non-destroyed (aniruddha), ineffective (anabhisaṃskāra) and inexpressible (anabhilāpya) dharmas in order to attain the knowledge of non-production (anutpādajñāna) and to realize fully the teachings of the Buddha.

He reflects attentively and prevents the concepts of the śrāvakas from being introduced.

The bodhisattva always reflects and never forgets. Thanks to these very profound (gambhīra), pure (viśuddha) dharmas acquired by meditation and practice (bhāvanācāraprāpta), he attains this sovereign attentiveness (vibhūtasmṛti) called the faculty of mindfulness (smṛtīndriya).

4. The faculty of concentration (samādhīndriya).

Grasping well the characteristics (lakṣaṇa) of concentration, the bodhisattva is able to produce all kinds of dhyānas and absorptions (samāpatti).

He knows clearly the gates of concentration (samādhimukha); he knows how to enter into concentration (samādhipraveśa), how to remain in concentration (samādhivihāra) and how to come out of concentration (samādhivyutthāna).

He is not attached to concentration (na samādhim abhiniviśate), does not savor it (nāsvate) and does not emphasize it (nāśrayate).[3] He knows well the object (ālambana) of the concentrations and the destruction of this object.[4]

He also knows the objectless concentration (anālambanasamādhi). Without conforming to the words of another (paravacana), without conforming to any [204c] particular absorption, he practices his mastery (vaśita) of it and enters it and comes out of it without obstacle.

That is what is called the faculty of concentration (samādhīndriya).

5. The faculty of wisdom (prajñendriya).

In order to exhaust suffering (duḥkha), the bodhisattva is endowed with a noble wisdom (āryaprajñāsaṃpanna), a wisdom that eliminates the dharmas and realizes nirvāṇa. With this wisdom, the bodhisattva considers the impermanence (anityatā) of the threefold world (traidhātuka) burning with the fire of the three rottennesses and the three poisons (viṣayatraya).[5]

When this consideration is finished, the bodhisattva is detached from the threefold world by means of his wisdom and, for him, the threefold world is transformed into the gates of deliverance (vimokṣamukha), namely, emptiness (śūnyatā), wishlessness (apraṇihita) and signlessness (ānimitta). He seeks the Buddhadharma attentively as if his hair were on fire (ādiptaśira-upama).[6]

Nothing can destroy this wisdom of the bodhisattva: it has no support (āśraya) in the threefold world, and his mind constantly avoids the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa) as he wishes (yatheṣṭam).

By the power of wisdom (prajñābala) the bodhisattva accumulates innumerable qualities (guṇa) and, without hesitation or difficulty, penetrates directly into the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. He has neither grief (daurmanasya) in saṃsāra nor joy (saumansaya) in nirvāṇa.

The possession of this sovereign wisdom (vibhūtaprajñā) is what is called the faculty of wisdom (prajñendriya).

Footnotes and references:


For the alātacakra, see above, p. 372F, n. 1.


This comparison is unknown to the Tripiṭaka I [Lamotte] think, but is frequent in the Mahāyānasūtras: Lalitavistara, p. 176, l. 4; 212, l. 14 (cited in Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 238, l. 2; Pañjikā, p. 532, l. 10): bālollāpana riktamuṣṭivat.

Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. 92, l. 23: riktamuṣṭisamā hi sarvadharmā vaśikasvabhāvalakṣaṇatayā.

See also Mahāvyut., no. 2831;Fo pen hing tsi king, T 190, k. 18, p. 737a4; Sūtra of the sermon given by Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja to king Udayana, T 1690, k. 1, p. 786b11; Traité, T 1509, k. 20, p. 211a5; l. 43, p. 375a14.

The Ratnakūṭā (T 310, k. 90, p. 519a7–8) explains the comparison: It is as if one were fooling a little child with an empty fist; one opens one’s hand, but there is nothing in the empty fist; then the child weeps and cries.


In other words, he avoids the concentrations associated with enjoyment (āsvādanasaṃprayukta) in order to practice only the pure (śuddhaka) concentrations without defilements (anāsrava): see above, p. 1027F.


On the object of the dhyānas and samāpattis, see p. 1040F and, for further details, Kośa, VIII, p. 176–177.


An implicit reference to the Fire Sermon spoken by the Buddha at Gayaśīrṣa (Vinaya, I, p. 34; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 322): Sarvaṃ bhikṣava ādīptam… Kenādīptam? Rāgāgninā dveṣāgninā mohāgninādīptam..

As for the three (or five?) decays (chouai), they have been discussed above, p. 834F.


The expression in the Sanskrit texts is usually ādīptaśiraścailopama ‘like someone whose head or clothes are on fire’: cf. Gaṇḍavyūha, p. 493, l. 2; Śikṣasamuccaya, p. 54, l. 3–4; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1802.

The Pāli texts resort preferentially to a periphrasis: Seyyathāpi bhikkhave ādittacelo vā āditasīso vā, tass’ eva celassa vā sīsassa vā nibbāpanāya adhimattaṃ chandañ ca vāyāmañ ca ussāhañ ca ussoḷhiñ ca appaṭivāniñ ca satin ca sampapajaññañ ca kareyya: cf. Anguttara, II, p. 93; III, p. 307; IV, p. 320; V, p. 98; Saṃyutta, V, p. 440.

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