Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note on the three meditative stabilizations (samadhi)” 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.

Preliminary note on the three meditative stabilizations (samādhi)

Here the Traité returns to a subject already touched upon above, p. 321–323F. It concerns the three meditative stabilizations (samādhi) on emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) and wishlessness (apraṇihita).

Canonical sources:

The canonical sources present them under various names:

1. The three samādhis, or concentrations: Vinaya, III, p. 93; Dīgha, III, p. 219; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 360; Anguttara, I, p. 299; Tch’ang-a-han, T 1, k. 8, p. 50b1–2; k. 9, p. 53a23–24; k. 10, p. 59c5–6; Tseng-yi-a-han, T 125, k. 16, p. 630b4; k. 39, p. 761a5–6.

2. The three vimokṣa, liberations, or vimokṣamukhas, gates of liberation: Paṭisambhidā, II, p. 35; Atthasālinī, p. 223; Visuddhimagga, ed. E. Warren, p.564–565.

3. The three sparśas or contacts which the ascetic experiences on coming out of the absorption of cessation: Majjhima, I, p. 302.

4. For at least two of them, the cetovimukti or liberations of mind: Majjhima, I, p. 297; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 296; Tsa-a-han, T 99, k. 21, p. 149c13–14. Their importance cannot be overestimated: they are the dharmas to be cultivated in order to understand and destroy the three poisons of rāga, dveṣa and moha (Anguttara, I, p. 299); they are the path of the asaṃskṛta or of nirvāṇa (Saṃyutta, IV, p. 360. 303; Tch’ang-a-han, T 1, k. 10, p. 50c5–6), the gates of nirvāṇa (Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 136, l. 13).

But satisfactory definitions are rare in the early sources. The clearest are in the Ekottara (Tseng-yi a-han, T 125, k. 16, p. 630b), the original Sanskrit of which is reproduced in the Pañcaviṃśati, p. 208 (cf. T 223, k. 5, p. 254c14–18) and Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1440 (cf. T 220, k. 415, p. 80a18–28): Katame trayaḥ samaādhayaḥ. śūnyatānimittāpraṇihitaḥ … ayam ucyate ’pranihitasamādhiḥ.

Transl. – What are the three concentrations? Those of emptiness, signlessness and wishlessness. What is the concentration of emptiness? It is the position of a mind that considers all dharmas as empty of inherent nature, the gate of liberation “Emptiness”.

What is the concentration of signlessness? It is the position of a mind that considers all dharmas as being without characteristics, the gate of liberation “Signlessness”.

What is the concentration of wishlessness? It is the position of a mind that considers all dharmas as unworthy of being considered, the gate of liberation “Wishlessness”. – Var. – It is the position of a mind that makes no effort (or no longer has any contention) by saying to itself that all dharmas are unworthy of it.

Pāli Abhidhamma:

The Pāli Abhidhamma gives only a relatively modest place to the three samādhis (cf. Paṭisambhidā, II, p. 35, 48; DhammasaṅgaṇI, p. 70–73; Atthasālinī, p. 223; Nettippakaraṇa, p. 90. 119, 126; Milinda, p. 413; Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 564–565).

On the other hand, the Abhidharma of the Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣikas gives them a important role. Among the numerous sources, there are Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 104, p. 538a-541c), Abhidharmāmṛta (T 1553, k. 2, p. 975c1–9); Reconstruction by bhikṣu Sastri, p. 90), Kośa (VIII, p. 184–192), Abhidharmadīpa (p. 424), etc.

For these sources, the three samādhis are really wisdoms, but samādhis so perfect that they occur only in a concentrated mind: this is why they are called samādhi.

Actually, they penetrate to the very depths of the four noble truths of which they represent the sixteen aspects (ākāra): this is why, in the pure (anāsrava) state, they constitute the three gates of liberation (vimokṣamukha). According to whether they are mundane (laukika), i.e., still attached to the threefold world, or supramundane (lokottara), they appear in eleven or nine levels (bhūmi).

The entire system is summarized admirably by Ghoṣaka in his Abhidharmāmṛta (l.c.):

“The three samādhis are śūnyatā-, apraṇihita- and ānimittasamādhi. It is because the mind takes the Anāsrava as object that they are called samādhi.

When concentrated, the ascetic sees the five aggregates of attachment (upādānaskandha) as empty (śūnya), without ‘me’ (anātman) or ‘mine’ (anātmīya): this is śūnyatāsamādhi.

Having entered into this samādhi, he no longer wishes for desire (rāga), hate (dveṣa), ignorance (moha) or rebirth (punarbhava): this is apranihitasamādhi.

There is a samādhi the object (ālambana) of which is free of ten characteristics (nimitta). What are these ten? The five objects, substance, etc, (rūpādipañcaviṣaya), maleness (puruṣa), femaleness (strī), birth (jāti), old age (jarā) and impermanence (anityatā). This is ānimittasamādhi.

Śūnyatāsamādhi has two aspects (ākāra), emptiness (śūnya) and non-self (anātman).

Apraṇihitasamādhi has ten aspects: impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), and [the eight] aspects [of the truth] of the origin (samudaya) and [of the truth] of the Path (mārga).

Ānimittasamādhi has the four aspects [of the truth] of cessation (nirodha) of suffering.”

Madhyamaka point of view:

Having described the Sārvāstivādin system objectively, the Traité will explain the Madhyamaka point of view of the three samādhis.

They must be interpreted not only from the viewpoint of the non-existence of beings (pudgalanairtmya) as do the śrāvakas, but also from the twofold non-existence of beings and of things (pudgaladharmanairātmya) as the Mahāyānists interpret them.

By practicing the three samādhis, the bodhisattva takes into account that beings and things are empty (śūnya) of inherent nature and of characteristics, that this very emptiness is not a substantial mark (nimitta) and that consequently any aspiration for the world of existence or non-existence is irrational.

The three samādhis are identical because they have as their sole object the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) which is nothing other than what is. When the śrāvakas speak of the emptiness of things, they hold it to be a real nature; on the other hand, the bodhisattva is forbidden to hypostatize this emptiness and to make a thing out of it.

The true nature of things constitutes the single object of the three samādhis, but it is not a reality; it is only a method of purifying the mind which, freed of illusions, notices that there is nothing to hypostatize, nothing to characterize and nothing to hope for. The result is that the world of becoming exists only in our imagination and that, according to the time-honored expression, samsāra is identical with nirvāṇa.

The Traité, as we shall see, in all of this and in the notes, limits itself to condensing the teachings of the old Mahāyānasūtras.