Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “nature of the mind (citta, manas)” 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 7 - The nature of the mind (citta, manas)

Note: This appendix is extracted from a note from the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra Chapter XXXI:

“Knowing that the nature of the mind (citta) is unborn is to enter into ‘the dharmas that do not arise’. Why? Because this mind is without birth (utpāda), without intrinsic nature (svabhāva) and without characteristics (lakṣaṇa). The wise person can know it. And although the wise person considers the characteristics of birth and cessation (nirodha) of this mind, he will find no true birth, no true cessation. Not finding any defilement or purification in it, he discovers this luminosity of the mind, a luminosity by virtue of which the mind is not defiled by the adventitious passions”.

Concerning the nature of the mind (citta), the general tendency of the Canon is clear. Mind (citta, manas) and consciousness (vijñāna) are synonymous. Vijñāna constitutes the fifth skandha and, like all the aggregates, it is transitory, suffering and impersonal.

However, we find, in the Canon, some passages that seem to attribute to the mind a more stable, almost transcendental, value. Actually, in Anguttara, I, p. 10 and in Atthasālinī, p. 140, we read:

Pabhassaraṃ idaṃ bhikkhave cittaṃ tañ ca āgantukehi upakkileseshi upakkiliṭṭaṃ… tañ ca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi vippamuttaṃ:

“This mind is luminous, but sometimes it is defiled by adventitious passions; sometimes it is free of these adventitious passions.”

Basing themselves on this passage, certain sects of the Lesser Vehicle say that the mind is originally and naturally luminous (cittaṃ prabhasvaram) but that it may be soiled (kliṣṭa) by the passions (kleśa) or liberated (vipramukta) from the passions. The latter are not the original nature of the mind and are described as adventitious (āgantuka).

Among the sects advocating this maximalist interpretation, one may cite the Mahāsāṃghika (cf. A. Bareau, Les Sectes bouddhiques, p. 67–68, no. 44), the Vibhajyavādin (ibid., p. 175, no. 23; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 27, p. 140b25–26), the practitioners of the Śāriputrābhidharma (ibid., p. 194, no. 6; Śāriputrābhidharma, T 1548, k. 27, p. 697b18) and the Andhaka (Kathāvatthu, p. 238–241).

But the major schools of the Lesser Vehicle resolutely rejected this interpretation. No, the mind is not naturally and originally pure; on the contrary, it is originally defiled by passion and action, and the efforts of the candidate for sainthood consist precisely of eliminating defiled minds (cf. Atthasālinī, p. 140, l. 24–29; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 27, p. 149b–c; Kośa, VI, p. 299; Nyāyānusaraśāstra, T 1562, k. 72, p. 731c).

For the Greater Vehicle in general and the Prajñāpāramitā in particular, the alleged luminous mind of which the Anguttara spoke is in reality a non-mind (cittam acittam), the pure and simple non-existence of the mind (cittābhāvamātra): that which does not exist cannot be defiled nor purified (cf. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 5–6;Pañcaviṃśati, p. 121, l. 12–122, l. 11; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 495, l. 3–21; āloka, p. 38, l. 24–26; 40, l. 6; Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. 85, l. 15–86, l. 6).

This is the position which the Traité is defending here, reserving itself to return to the subject later (k. 41, p. 363a20 seq).

For further details, see introduction to Vimalakīrti, p. 51–60.