Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “formless absorptions (arupyasamapatti) according to the mahayana” 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.

The formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti) according to the Mahāyāna

Question. – What do these four absorptions consist of in the Mahāyāna? [213b]

Answer. – In the Mahāyāna, these four formless absorptions are modes of wisdom (prajñākāra) connected with the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas.

Question. – What is the true nature of dharmas?

Answer. – It is the fact that dharmas are empty of intrinsic nature (svabhāvaśūnya).

Question. – We accept that material dharmas (rūpidharma) composed of and coming from various causes and conditions are empty; but why would non-material dharmas be empty?

Answer. – If the coarse (audārika) substances (rūpa), seen by the eye and heard by the ear, can be accepted as empty, then why would non-material invisible, non-resistant (apratigha), experiencing neither suffering nor happiness, not be empty?

Furthermore, material dharmas that can be analyzed as far as their subtle atoms (paramāṇu) are scattered, perish and return to the void. [But the non-material dharmas are still less consistent]: these minds (citta) and mental events (caitasikadharma) do not exist (nopalabhyante) for a month (māsa), a fortnight (parvan), an hour (muhūrta), a minute (lava) or even a single second (kṣaṇa).[1]

This is the significance of the four formless absorptions and all of this summarizes (saṃkṣepataḥ) the four immeasurables.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Anguttara, I, p. 10: Nāhaṃ, bhikkave, aññaṃ ekadhammaṃ pi samanupassāmi yaṃ lahuparivattaṃ yathayidaṃ cittaṃ: “I do not see, O monks, a single other dharma the transformation of which is as brief as the mind.” This may be compared to the river that never stops: “There is no khaṇa, laya, or muhutta when the river stops” (Anguttara, IV, p. 137).

According to the Atthasālionī, p. 60: Yāva pan’ uppannaṃ rūpaṃ tiṭṭhati tāva soḷassa ciitāni uppajjitvā bhijjanti: “Sixteen moments of mind arise and perish during the time a material dharma lasts.”

See L. de La Vallée Poussin, Notes sur le moment ou kṣaṇa des bouddhistes, Rocznik Orjentalistyczny, VIII, 1931, p. 1–9; Notes sur le moment des Vaibhāṣika et des Sautrāntika, MCP, V, 1936–37, p. 123–158.