Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of the 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.

I. Definition of the immeasurables (apramāṇa)

The four immeasurable feelings (apramāṇa-citta) are loving-kindness (maitrī), compassion (karuṇā), joy (muditā) and equanimity (upekṣā).

Maitrī is to think about beings with love and always to seek for the safety (yogakṣema) and happy things (sukhvastu) in order to bring them good.

Karuṇā is to think with compassion of beings who are suffering in the five destinies (gati) all sorts of bodily suffering (kāyikaduḥkha) and mental suffering (caitasikaduḥkha).

Muditā is to wish that beings obtain joy as a result of happiness (sukha).

Upekṣā is to abandon the three previous feelings and think of beings without either aversion (pratigha) or fondness (anunaya).

Maitrī is practiced to remove[1] hostility (vyāpāda) toward beings.
Karuṇā is practiced to remove harm (vihiṃsā) toward beings.
Muditā is practiced to remove dissatisfaction (arati) toward beings.
Upekṣā is practiced to remove sensual attachment (kāmarāga) and hostility (vyāpāda) toward others.[2]

Question. –The four immeasurables (apramāṇa), [the four formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāppati), the eight liberations (vimokṣa), the eight masteries (abhibhvāyatana), the nine successive absorptions (anupūrvasamāpatti) and finally the ten spheres of totality (kṛtsnāyatana) are already contained in the four trances (dhyāna). Why speak of them separately here?

Answer. – Although all these things are contained in the four dhyānas, if they are not mentioned separately by name, their particular virtues (guṇa) would not be known. It is like precious objects in a sack; if you do not open the sack to take them out, nobody can know about them.

1) For those who want to obtain great merit (mahāpuṇya),[3] one should talk about the four immeasurables (apramāṇa).

2) In order to inspire disgust for visibles (rūpanirveda), like spending time in prison (kārāgṛha), one should talk about the four formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti).

3) To those who cannot obtain mastery (abhibhava) over objects (ālambana) so as to see objects at will (yatheṣṭam), one should speak about the eight masteries (abhibhvāatana).

4) To those who take blocked paths (pratiṣiddhamārga) and do not succeed in freeing the obstacles, one should speak of the eight liberations (vimokṣa).

5) To untamed minds (adāntacitta) that cannot merge from one trance (dhyāna) in order to enter into the others successively, one should speak of the nine successive absorptions (anupūrvasamāpatti).

6) To those who do not possess complete illumination (kṛṭsnāvabhāsa) on all objects (ālambana) in order to liberate them at will, one should speak of the ten totalities (kṛtsnāyatana).

When one thinks about the beings of the ten directions, wishing them to obtain happiness, a mental event (caitasika dharma) occurs called maitrī. The aggregates associated with this maitrī, feelings (vedanā), concepts (saṃjñā), formations (saṃkāra) and consciousnesses (vijñāna), give rise to bodily actions (kāyakarman), vocal actions (vākkarman) and formations dissociated from the mind (cittaprayuktasaṃskāra): the group of these dharmas (dharmasāmagrī) is called maitrī. Since they are loving-kindness or arise with loving-kindness as dominant (adhipati), these dharmas are given the name of maitrī. In the same way, all [209a] minds (citta) and all mental events (caitasika dharma), although they are all causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) of future actions, are called cetana because, among their activities (kriyā), “thinking” (cetana) is the strongest.[4]

It is the same for karuṇā, muditā and upekṣā.

This maitrī occurs in the form realm (rūpadhātu);[5] it is impure (sāsrava) or pure (anāsrava), to be destroyed (prahātavya) or not to be destroyed (na prahātavya). It also occurs in the [four] root trances (mauladhyāna) and again in the dhyānāntara [variation of the first dhyāna].[6] Associated with the three sovereign organs (indriya), it excludes the faculty of unpleasantness (duḥkhendriya) and the faculty of dissatisfaction (daurmansayendriya).[7] This is all explained in detail in the Abhidharma.

When maitrī still grasps (udgṛhṇāti) the nature of the beings [towards whom the loving-kindness is expressed], it is impure (sāsrava); when, after having understood the nature of beings, it enters into the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas, it is pure (anāsrava). This is why the Wou-tsin-yi p’ou- sa-wen (Akṣayamatibodhisattvaparipṛcchā)[8] says:

“There are three kinds of maitrī: i) that which has beings as object (sattvālambana), ii) that which has things as object (dharmālambana), iii) that which has no object (anālambana).[9]

Footnotes and references:


It should be noted that, for the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 83, k. 427b10–24, the Kośa, VIII, p. 200–201 and the Kośavyākhyā, p. 687), the passions are merely removed (dūrīkṛta) or weakened (viṣkhambhita), not abandoned, by the apramāṇas.


This is the canonical doctrine: cf. Dīgha, III, p. 248–249 (cited in Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 264): Nissaraṇaṃ h’etaṃ, āvuso, byāpādassa, yad idaṃ mettā cetovimutti…Nissaraṇam h’etaṃ, āvyuso, vihesāya, yad idaṃ karuṇā cetovimutti… Nissaraṇaṃ h’etaṃ, āvuso, aratiyā, yad idaṃ muditā cetovimutti… Nissaraṇaṃ h’etaṃ, āvuso, rāgassa, yad idaṃ upekkhā cetovimutti.

The corresponding Sanskrit phrases are cited in the Abhidharmadīpa, p. 442, l. 3–6: Maitry āsevitā bhāvitā bahulīkṛtā vyāpādaprahāṇāya saṃvartate, karuṇā vihiṃsāprahāṇāya, aratiprahāṇāya muditā, kāmarāgavyāpādaprahāṇāyopekṣā.

See also Kośa, VIII, p. 196; Kośavyākhyā, p. 686, l. 6–8; Lalitavistara, p. 442, l. 3–5; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 181, l. 10–11; Bodh, bhūmi, p. 98, l. 18–19, p. 204, l. 24.


See above, p. 323–324F, 1040F.


All bodily or vocal actions derived from loving-kindness are called maitrī in the same way that bodily or vocal actions derived from ‘thinking’, i.e., from volition (cetanā), are themselves volition. This is why the Buddha said in the Anguttara, III, p. 415: Cetanāhaṃ bhikkhave kammaṃ vadāmi; cetayitvā kammaṃ karoti kāyena vācāya manasā: “I say, O monks, that action is volition: it is after having wished that one acts with body, speech and mind.”

On this subject, see Tchong a han, T 26, k. 27, p. 600a24; Kathāvatthu, p. 393; Atthasālinī, p. 88; Kośa, IV, p. 1–2; Karmasiddhiprakāraṇa, MCB, IV, p. 152, 207–208; Madh, vṛtti, p. 305–306.


This is then a maitrī in the non-concentrated state, in kāmadhātu.


Cf. Vibhāṣā,T 1545, k. 81, p. 421a1–6: “The four apramāṇas occur in kāmadhātu. As for the levels (bhūmi), maitrī, karuṇā and upekṣā occur in seven levels: kāmadhātu, the four dhyānas, the anāgamya and the dhyānāntara. Some say that they occur in ten levels: the four dhyānas, four sāmantakas, the dhyānāntara and kāmadhātu. The āpramāṇa of muditā occurs in three levels: kāmadhātu, first and second dhyānas. Other teachers say that the first and second dhyānas do not have the apramāṇa of karuṇā. Why? Because the first and second dhyānas have a strong feeling of joy.”

Cf. Kośabhāṣya, p. 453, l. 12–18: Prathamadvitīyadhyānayor muditā, saumamasyatvāt. Anyāni trīny apramanāṇi ṣaṭsu bhūmiṣu: anāgamye, dhyānāntare, dhyāneṣu ca, saprayogamaulagrahaṇāt. Kecit punaḥ anāgamyaṃ hitvā pannñcasv etānīcchanti. Daśasv ity apare, kāmadhātuṃ sāmantakāni ca prakṣipya samāhitāsamāhitamaulaprayogagrahaṇāt. – “Muditā is of the first and second dhyāna, for it is satisfaction [and satisfaction is absent in the other dhyānas]. The other three apramāṇas occur in six levels: anāgamya, dhyānāntara and the [four] dhyānas, thus including the root dhyānas with their preparatory stages. However, some teachers, excluding anāgamya, distribute these apramāṇas into five levels. Still others, into ten levels by adding [to the six] the [four] sāmantakas [of the higher dhyānas] and attributing [the apramāṇas] to both the state of non-concentration and that of concentration, to the preparatory states as well as to the main dhyānas.”


Of the twenty-two indriyas of which the Sūtra speaks, five are faculties of feeling (vedanendriya). Maitrī is associated with the feeling of pleasure (sukhendriya), the faculty of satisfaction (saumanasyendriya), and the feeling of equanimity (upekṣendriya). On the other hand, it is without the feeling of displeasure (suḥkhendriya) and the feeling of dissatisfaction (daurmanasyendriya).

For these five indriyas, see Saṃyutta, V, p. 209; Kośa, II, p. 112–15.


The Akṣayamatibodhisattvaparipṛcchā, which will be cited again below, p. 1272F and which is mentioned in the Mahāvyut., no. 1400, forms the 45th section of the Chinese Ratnakūṭa and the 44th section of the Tibetan Ratnakūṭa:

1) Wou-tsin-houei p’ou-sa houei, T 310, k. 115, p. 648a–650b, translated by Bodhiruci (Dharmaruci) between 693 and 727 AD.

2) Blo-gros-mi-zad-pas zhus pa, OKC, no. 760 (44), translated and revised by Śurendrabodhi and Ye-śes-sde.

But the passage cited here does not belong to the Akṣayamatibodhisattvaparipṛcchā: it comes from the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra or simply Akṣayamatisūtra, of which there are two Chinese translations and one Tibetan translation:

1) A-tch’a-mo p’ou-sa king, T 403, translated by Dharmarakṣa between 265 and 313.

2) Wou-tsin-yi p’ou-sa p’in, translated by Dharmakṣema between 414 and 421 and later incorporated in the Mahāsaṃnipāta where it forms the 12th section (T 397, k. 27–30, p. 184–213).

3) Blo-gros-mi-zad-pas bstan-pa, OKC, no. 842, anonymously translated.

This sūtra, under the name Akṣayamatisūtra, is cited in the Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 11, 21, 33, 34, 117, 119, 158, 167, 183, 190, 212, 233, 236, 271, 278, 285, 287, 316; in the Pañjikā,, p. 81, 86, 118, 173, 522, 527; and the Traité will refer to it later (k. 53, p. 442a2), calling it A-tch’a-mo king. It is also cited under the name Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra in the Pañjikā, p. 20, and the Mahāvyut., no. 1344.


Akṣayamatinideśa, T 403, k. 4, p. 500a13–17; T 397, k. 29, p. 200a15–18. The original Sanskrit is cited in Śikṣāsamucchaya, p. 212: [maitrī] trividhākṣayamatisūtre ‘bhihitā: sattvārambaṇā maitrī prathamacittotpādikānāṃ bodhisattvānāṃ; dharmārambaṇā caryāpratipannānāṃ bodhisattvānāṃ; anārambaṇā maitrī anutpattikadharmakṣātipratilabdhānāṃ bodhisattvānām iti. – “In the Akṣayamatisūtra, this loving-kindness is threefold: that which has beings as object belongs to the bodhisattvas who have just produced the mind of bodhi; that which has dharmas as object belongs to bodhisattvas cultivating the practices; that which has no object belongs to the bodhisattva having the conviction that dharmas do not arise.”

As we will see later, p. 1251F, this threefold maitrī is mentioned frequently in the Mahāyāna sūṭras and śāstras.