Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the eight members of the path” 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 (G): The eight members of the path

First, sixth, seventh and eighth members:

As for the eight members of the noble Path (āryamārgāṅga), [the first] or right view (samyagdṛṣṭi), [the sixth] or right effort (samyagvyāyāma), [the seventh] or right mindfulness (samyaksmṛti) and [the eighth] or right concentration (samyaksamādhi) have already been explained above (p. 1181F). Now we must [205b] speak of right thought (samyaksaṃkalpa).

Second member:

Right thought (samyaksaṃkalpa). – In the course of right thinking, the bodhisattva who is established in the emptiness (śunya) and non-existence (anupalabdhi) of dharmas examines the characteristics of right thought (samyaksaṃkalpalakṣaṇa). He knows that all thoughts (saṃkalpa) are false conceptions (mithyāsaṃkalpa), up to and including those concerning nirvāṇa and the Buddha. Why? The cessation of all kinds of conceptions (sarvasaṃkalpaprabhedhanirodha) is called right thought. All types of conceptions come from falsities, errors (bhrānti) and mistakes (viparyāsa): this is why they differ. But the characteristics of the conceptions are all non-existent, and the bodhisattva established in this right thinking (samyaksaṃkalpa) no longer sees what is correct (samyak) and what is wrong (mithyā) and by-passes (atikrāmati) all kinds of thinking (sarvasaṃkalpaprabheda): this is right thinking. For him, all types of conceptions are the same (sama) and, because they are the same, his mind does not become attached to them. This is what is called the right thinking of the bodhisattva.

Third member:

Right speech (samyagvāc). – The bodhisattva knows that all words (vāc) come from error (bhrānti), falsities, mistakes (viparyāsa), imaginings that seize the characteristics (nimittodgrahaṇavikalpa). Then the bodhisattva reflects in this way: In speech, the characteristics (lakṣana) of speech do not exist and all vocal actions (vākkarman) have ceased (niruddha). Understanding the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of words is right speech (samyagvāc).

Words come from nowhere and, once they have ceased, they go nowhere. The bodhisattva who is practicing right speech, in everything he says, holds to the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa). Thus the sūtras say that, established in right speech, the bodhisattva is able to accomplish pure vocal action (pariśuddhavākkarman). Understanding the true nature of all words, the bodhisattva, whatever he may say, does not fall into unwholesome words (mithyāvāc).[1]

Fourth member:

Right action (samyakkarmānta). – The bodhisattva knows that all actions (karman) are false, erroneous, unreal, having non-activity as nature (anabhisaṃskāralakṣaṇa). Why? Because there is not a single action that possesses definite nature.

Question. – If all actions are empty (śūnya), why did the Buddha say that generosity (dāna), etc., is a good action (kuśalakarman), murder (prāṇātipāta), etc., a bad action (akuśalakarman), and other things, gestures (ceṣṭa), are neutral actions (avyākṛtakarman)?[2]

Answer. – If there is not even one single kind of action, why should there be three? How is that? When the time of the movement has already been accomplished (gamanakāle gate), there is no motor activity (gamikriyā). When the time of the movement has not yet been accomplished (agate, i.e., future), there is no motor activity either. When the time of the movement is present (pratyutpanna), there is no motor activity either.[3]

Question. – In the seat of the movement already accomplished (gate sthāne) there can be neither [motor activity] nor can there be any motor activity in the seat of the movement not yet accomplished (agate sthāne); but in the seat of present movement (gamyamāne sthāne), there must be movement.[4]

Answer. – In the seat of present movement there is no movement. Why? Because the seat of present movement (gamyamāna) does not exist (nopalabhyate) without a motor activity (gamikriyā). If the seat of the present movement could exist without a motor activity then it ought to involve movement; but that is not the case. Without a present seat of movement, there is no motor activity and without motor activity there is no seat of present movement. Since this is a case of co-existent conditions (sahabhūprataya), we cannot say that that the seat of present movement involves movement (gamyamānaṃ gamyate iti nopadyate).

Furthermore, if the seat of present movement had motor activity (gamikriyā), there should be a seat of present movement outside of the motor [205c] activity, and there should be a motor activity outside of the seat of present movment.[5]

Question. – If that is so, what would be the error (doṣa)?[6]

Answer. – There would be two motor activities (gamikriyā) at the same time (samakāla) and, if there were two motor activities, there would be two agents of movement (dvau gantārau). Why? Because movement does not exist without an agent of movement (gantāraṃ hi tiraskṛtya gamanaṃ nopapadyate). Without agent (gantṛ), the seat of the present movement (gamyamāna) does not exist and, since there is no seat of the present movement, neither is there any agent of movement (gantṛ).[7] Furthermore, this non-agent itself does not move either (agantā naiva gacchati) and, outside of agent and non-agent, there cannot be a ‘third’ to move (nāsty anyo gantur agantuś cakaścit tṛtīyo gaccheta).[8]

Question. – It is right that the non-agent does not move (agantā na gacchatīti yujyate). But why does the agent not move?

Answer. – Without motor activity, the agent does not exist (gamikriyāṃ tiraskṛtya, gantā nopapdyate),[9] and without agent, motor does not exist (gantāraṃ tirask rtya, gamikriyā nopapadyate).

This emptiness of all action (sarvakarmaśūnyatā) is called right action (samyakkarmānta). The bodhisattvas who penetrate into the equality of all actions (sarvakarmasamatā) do not consider bad action (mithyākarman) as bad and do not consider right action (samyakkarmānta) as good (kuśala). Without activity (anabhisaṃskāra), they do not perform right actions and they do not commit bad actions. That is true wisdom (bhūtaprajñā); that is right action.

Moreover, among the dharmas, none is right (samyak) and none is wrong (mithyā). The bodhisattvas know actions in accordance with the truth and, knowing in accordance with the truth, they do not undertake anything and do not stop anything. Such wise people always have right actions and never have bad actions. In the bodhisattva this is what is called right action (samyakkarmānta).

Fifth member:

Right livelihood (samyagājīva). – All foods (bhojana), all means of subsistence (jīvitapariṣkāra) are right (samyak) and are not bad (mithyā). Established in a knowledge free of futile proliferation (niṣprapañcajñāna), the bodhisattva does not choose right livelihood (samyagājīva) and does not reject wrong livelihood (mithyājīva). He does not depend on either the right law (samyagdharma) or the wrong law (mithyādharma), but he remains always in pure knowledge (viśuddhajñāna). Penetrating thus into right living which is equality (samatā), he does not see life and does not see non-life. To practice this true wisdom (bhūtaprajñā) is what is called right livelihood (samyagājīva) [in the bodhisattva].

The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who conceives the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment (saptatriṃśad bodhipakṣikadharma) in this way surpasses the levels (bhūmi) of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, penetrates into the state of bodhisattva (bodhisattvaniyāma) and gradually (krameṇa) realizes the knowledge of things in all their aspects (sarvākārajnatā).[10]

Footnotes and references:


See the paragraph dedicated to the eloquence of the bodhisattva in the Śūraṃgamasamādhi, p. 188–189.


Reference to a sūtra often cited, but without any other identification, in the Abhidharma: Uktaṃ hi sūtre: trīṇi karmāṇi: kuśalam akuśalam avyākṛtaṃ ca: cf. Kośa, IV, p. 105; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 43, p. 584c3; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 136.


Almost textual citation from Madh. kārikā, II, 1 (p. 92):

Gataṃ na gamyate tāvad agataṃ naiva gamyate |
gatāgatavinirmuktaṃ gamyamānaṃ na gamyate ||

Transl. – J. May, p. 52: “Accomplished movement does not involve movement; no more does unaccomplished movement. A present movement independent of the other two is unintelligible.”


Objection formulated in Madh. kārikām, II, 2 (p.93):

Ceṣṭā yatra gatis tatra gamyamāne ca sā yathaḥ |
na gate nāgate ceṣṭā ganyamāne gatis tataḥ ||

Transl. J. May, p. 55: “Since there is movement wherever there is gesture and there is gesture in present movement, in contrast to movements [already] accomplished and not [yet] accomplished, there is thus movement in present movement.”


The answer to the objection is a paraphrase of Madh, kārikā, II, 3–4 (p. 94–95):

Gamyamānasya gamanaṃ kathaṃ nāipapatsyate |
gamyamānaṃ vigamanaṃ yadā naivopapadyate ||
Gamyamānasya gamanaṃ yasya tasya prasajyate |
ṛte gater gamyamānaṃ hi gamyate ||

Transl. J. May, p. 55–57: “How will movement be applied [as predicated] to present movement, since a present movement without [inherent] movement is completely irrational? – He for whom present movement possesses movement incurs the necessary consequence of a present movement without [inherent] movement: indeed, present movement involves movement.”


If the present movement were distinct from the inherent movement.


Madh. kārikā, II, 5–7 (p. 95–97):

Gamyamānasya gamane prasaktaṃ gamanadvayam |
yena tad gamyamānaṃ ca yac cātra gamanaṃ punaḥ ||
Dvau gantārau prasajyete prasakte gamanadvaye |
gantāraṃ hi tiraskṛtya gamanaṃ nopapadyate ||
Gantāraṃ cet tiraskṛtya gamanaṃ nopapadyate |
gamane ’sati gantātha kuta eva bhaviṣyati ||

Transl. J. May, p. 58–60: “ If the present movement possesses movement, the existence of two movements will result: one by which it is the present movement, the other contained in this [present movement]. – The necessary consequence of twofold movement involves that of a twofold agent of movement. Indeed, without agent, movement is illogical. – If the movement without agent of movement is illogical, how would the agent exist in turn in the absence of the movement?”


Madh. kārikā, II, 8 (p. 97):

Gantā na gacchati tāvad agantā naiva gacchati |
anyo gantur agantuś ca kas tṛtīyo gacchati ||

Transl. J. May, p. 60: “The agent of movement does not move; neither does the agent; and what ‘third’ other than agent and non-agent would be able to move?”


Madh. kārikā, II, 9 (p. 98):

Gantā tāvad gacchatīti katham evopapatsyate |
gamanena vinā gantā yadā naivopapadyate ||

Transl. – The objection: “The agent itself, at least, moves”, is not logical whereas in the absence of movement, the agent is completely illogical.”

On the problem of movement closely linked with that of action, there are useful notes and a complete bibliography in J. May, Candrakīrti, p. 51–77.


Defined fully above, p. 640–642F.