Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “three characteristics of conditioned dharmas (samskritadharma)” 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.

Appendix 3 - The three characteristics of Conditioned Dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma)

Note: This appendix is extracted from the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra Chapter XXXI (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness):

“Besides, being impermanent in nature (anitya-lakṣaṇa), all dharmas have no span of duration (sthitikāla). If mind lasted for a moment, it would also last during the second moment. It would then be eternal in duration and without the nature of disappearing (vyaya-lakṣaṇa). And yet, among the three characteristics of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma-lakṣaṇa), the Buddha also mentioned the characteristic of disappearance”.

a. The Āgamas and the Nikāyas:

The sūtras of the Āgamas and the Nikāyas set out the three characteristics of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma): production or origin, disappearance, and duration-change.

Sanskrit version (cf. Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 139, cited in Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 39, p. 199c22–23; Kośa, II, p. 223; Kośavyākhyā, p. 171; Madh. vṛtti, p. 145):

Trīṇīmāni bhikṣavaḥ saṃskṛtasya saṃskṛtalakṣaṇāṇi. Katamāni trīṇi. Saṃskṛtasya bhikṣava utpādo ’pi prajñāyate, vyayo ’pi prjñāyate, sthityanyathātvam apīti:

“There are, O monks, three characteristics of the conditioned that are themselves conditioned. What are these three? Of the conditioned, the production is object of consciousness; the disappearance is also object of consciousness; likewise the duration-change.”

Pāli version (Anguttara, I, p. 152; Saṃyutta, III, p. 37): Tīṇ’ imāni bhikkhave saṅkhatassa saṅkhatalakkhaṇāni. Katamāni tīṇi. Uppādo paññāyati, vayo paññāyati, ṭhitassa (variant: ṭhitānaṃ) aññathattaṃ paññāyati.

The Pāli reading ṭhitassa (or ṭhitānaṃ) aññathattaṃ ‘change while it (they) endure(s)’ is in contrast with the Sanskrit reading sthityanyathātvam attested by the preceding sources and by a fragment from Central Asia published by L. de La Vallée Poussin, Documents sanscrits de la seconde collection A. Stein, JRAS, 1913, p. 573.

b. The Chinese versions of the Āgamas:

The Chinese versions of the Āgamas render the originals only imperfectly: the Tsa a han, T 99, k. 2, p. 12a29 (corresponding to the Saṃyutta, III, p. 37) mentions only utpāda and vyaya; the Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 12, p. 607c15 (corresponding to Anguttara, I, p. 152) has utpāda, anyathātva and vyaya; the Tsa a han, T 99, k. 12, p. 83c16 (corresponding to Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 139) subdivides the sthityanyathātva of the original and thus has four characteristics: utpāda, sthiti, anyathātva and vyaya.

c. The Pāli Abhidhamma:

The Pāli Abhidhamma accepts only three characteristics: uppāda, vaya and ṭhitānaṃ aññathatattam (Kathāvatthu, p. 61; Compendium, p. 25, 125).

d. The Abhidharma of the Sarvāstivādins:

The Sanskrit Abhidharma of the Sarvāstivādins, while referring to the canonical sources that accept three characteristics, nevertheless puts forth four:

  1. birth (jāti),
  2. old age (jarā),
  3. duration (sthiti),
  4. impermanence (anityatā)

— according to the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 39, p. 200c10–12) and Kośa, II, p. 222; jāti, jarā, nāśa according to the Abhidharmadīpa, p. 104.

e. The Sautrāntikas and Vasubandhu:

For the Sautrāntikas and for Vasubandhu, the four characteristics of the conditioned, being the viprayuktasaṃskāras, are not real entities (cf. Kośa, II, p.226–234).