Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note on the four immeasurables (apramana)” 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 four immeasurables (apramāṇa)

The third class of supplementary dharmas recommended by the Prajñāpāramitā for the bodhisattva is made up of the four immeasurables: loving kindness (maitrī or maitrā), compassion (karuṇā), joy (muditā) and equanimity (upekṣā). These are the four limitless ones (apramāṇa), the four liberations of the mind (cetovimukti) or the four abodes of Brahmā (brahmavihāra). This last term is by far the most frequent in the post-canonical Sanskrit texts and in the Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras.

A stock phrase endlessly repeated in the Tripiṭaka defines the four immeasurables. The Pāli wording shows almost no variation: Dīgha, I, p. 250–251; II, p. 186–187, 242, 250; III, p. 49–50, 78, 223–224; Majjhima, I, p. 38, 27,, 283, 297, 335, 351, 369–370; II, p. 76, 195; III, p. 146; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 196, 322, 351–356; V, p. 115–116; Anguttara, I, p. 183, 192, 196; II, p. 128–130, 184; III, p. 225; IV, p. 390; V, p. 299–301. 344–345. – On the other hand, the Sanskrit wording, imperfectly reproduced in the Prajñāpāramitā editions, has many variants: Sanskrit Mahāparinirvāṇa, p. 350; Mahāvastu, III, p. 213; Pañcaviṃśati, p. 181; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1444; Daśabhūmika, p. 34; Mahāvyut., no. 1504–1509.

Pāli: So mettāsahagatena cetaasā skaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, thatā duriyam …. Upekhāsahagatena cetasā – pe – pharitvā viharati.

Sanskrit: Sa maitrīsahagatena cettena vipulena mahadgatenādvayenāpramāṇenāvaireṇā-sapatnenāvyāvadhyena … spharitvopasampadya viharati.

Transl. of the Pāli. – He abides, having encompassed the first region with a mind associated with loving-kindness. In the same say, he abides, having encompassed the second, the third and the fourth region, the zenith, the nadir, the [four] intermediate regions. Having encompassed the entire world everywhere and in every way with a mind associated with loving-kindness, with an extended mind, a grand immense mind free of enmity, free of malice, he abides.

He does the same with a mind associated with compassion, with a mind associated with joy and with a mind associated with equanimity.

In the chapters dedicated to the immeasurables, the Abhidharmas comment at greater or lesser length on this canonical formula. For the Pāli Abhidhamma, see Vibhaṅga, chap. XIII, p. 272–284; Atthasālinī, p. 192–197; Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, chap. IX, p. 244–270 (transl. Nanamoli, p. 321–353); Vimyyimagga, transl. Ehara, p. 181–197. For the Sanskrit Abhidharma, see Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 81–83, p. 420b–431b; Abhidharmāmṛta, T 1553, k. 2, p. 975c9–22 (reconstruction by Sastri, p. 99–100); Kośa, VIII, p. 196–203; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 79, p. 768c–771a; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 427–429.

Here, contrary to its custom, the Traité avoids its usual method of first explaining the Sarvāstivādin theories and then opposing them with the Mahāyāna point of view, perhaps because the two Vehicles are in agreement on an essential point: in the meditation on loving-kindness, etc., nobody receives, nobody is satisfied and, nevertheless, merit arises in the mind of the benevolent one by the very power of his benevolence (Kośa, IV, p. 245). The four immeasurables are purely platonic wishes: it is not enough to wish (adhimuc-) that beings be happy, free of suffering or full of joy for this wish to be realized.

There are, however, three differences between the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna conceptions on this subject.

First a difference in intention. The śrāvaka practices the immeasurables in his own interest, to purify his own mind. The bodhisattva has in mind only the interests of others which he realizes indirectly. By practicing the immeasurables, he personally gains merit which he then can apply to the welfare and happiness of all beings.

Next, there are differences in domain or object. The śravaka brings the immeasurables to bear upon the beings of kāmadhātu who alone are able to call forth the feelings of loving-kindness, compassion, joy or equanimity in him. The bodhisattva puts no limits on his feelings and includes in them all beings of the three worlds (kāma-, rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu) distributed in the numberless universes of the ten directions.

Further, the bodhisattva never loses sight of the twofold emptiness of beings and things that forms the very basis of his philosophical outlook. His feelings are brought to bear upon beings, things and even, by a supreme paradox, on nothing whatsoever. Although he has beings in mind, he does not forget that these do not exist; although he has things in mind, he remembers that they come from a complex of causes and conditions and are empty of intrinsic nature and of characteristics; although he has nothing in view, he keeps from hypostatizing this true nature of things which dissolves into a pure and simple non-existence.

To my [Lamotte] knowledge, the distinction between loving-kindness that has beings as object, things as object, or not having any object is a Mahāyanist invention. In the following pages, the Traité does not fail to exploit it.