Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note to liberations, masteries and totalities” 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 to liberations, masteries and totalities

The fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth classes of supplementary dharmas recommended for bodhisattvas by the Prajñāpāramitā include:

1) Eight liberations: Sanskrit aṣṭau vimokṣāḥ; Pāli aṭṭa vimokkhā (& vimokhā); Tibetan rnam par thar ba brgyad; Chinese pa pei chö or pa kiai t’ouo.

2) Eight spheres of mastery: Sanskrit aṣṭāv abhibhvāyatana; Pāli attha abhihāyatāni; Tibetan gzil gyis gnon paḥi skye mched brgyad; Chinese pa tch’ou tch’ou (or jou) or pa cheng tch’ou.

3) Ten spheres of totality: Sanskrit daśa kṛtsnāyatanāni; Pāli dasa kasiṇāyatanāni; Chinese che yi tsie tch’ou (or jou) or che pien tch’ou (or jou).

These three lists intersect one another and are partially mingled so that it is useful to study them at the same time.

I. Canonical Definitions of the Three Lists

1. The eight Vimokṣas

Pāli formula in Dīgha, II, p. 70–71; 111–112; III, p. 261–262; Majjhima,II, p. 12–13; Anguttara, IV, p. 306; Vibhaṅga, p. 342. – Sanskrit formula in Daśottarasūtra, p. 92–94; Kośavyākhyā, p. 688; Daśasāhasrikā, p. 98; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1445; Mahāvyut., no. 1510–1518.

Pāli:

Aṭṭha vimokhā:
1. rūpī rūpāni passati: ayaṃviharati: ayaṃ aṭṭhamo vimukho.

Sanskrit:

Aṣṭau vimokṣāḥ:
1. rūpī rūpāṇī paśyaty ayaṃ … viharaty ayam aṣṭamo vimokṣa iti.

Transl. of the Sanskrit. – The eight liberations:

1) Being [in the sphere of subtle form], he sees visibles; this is the first vimokṣa.

2) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles; this is the second vimokṣa.

3) Producing the pleasant vimokṣa, he abides in this absorption; this is the third vimokṣa.

4) By means of complete transcendence of notions of form, disappearance of notions of resistance, rejection of notions of multiplicity, he thinks: “Space is infinite” and he penetrates into the sphere of infinity of space and abides there in the manner of the gods attached to this sphere; this is the fourth vimokṣa.

5) Further, having completely transcended the sphere of infinity of space, he thinks: ‘Consciousness is infinite”, he penetrates into the sphere of infinity of consciousness and abides there in the manner of the gods attached to this sphere; this is the fifth vimokṣa.

6) Further, having completely transcended the sphere of infinity of consciousness, he thinks: “Nothing exists”, he penetrates into the sphere of nothing at all and abides there in the manner of the gods who are attached to it; this is the sixth vimokṣa.

7) Further, having completely transcended the sphere of nothing at all, he penetrates into the sphere of neither identification nor non-identification and abides there in the manner of the gods who are attached to it; this is the seventh vimokṣa.

8) Further, having completely transcended the sphere of neither identification nor non-identification, the cessation of notions and sensations being realized, he penetrates into it and abides there; this is the eighth vimokṣa.

2. The eight Abhibhvāyatanas.

Pali formula in Digha II, p. 110–111; III p. 260–261; Majjhima, II, p. 13–14; Anguttara, IV, p. 305–306; V, p. 61–62:

Pāli:

Aṭṭha abhibhāyatanāni:
1. ajjhattaṃ rūpasaññī eko bahiddhā … evaṃsaññī hoti. idaṃ aṭṭhamaṃ abhibhāyatanaṃ.

Sanskrit formula in Daśottarasūtra, p. 95–97; Kośavyākhyā, p. 690–691; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 431–432; Daśasāhasrikā, p. 101–102; Mahāvyut., no. 1520–1527. Sanskrit:

Aṣṭāv abhibhvāyatanāni:
1. adhyatmaṃ rūpasaṃjñā bahirdhā … ca bhavati. idam aṣṭamam abhibhvāyatanam.

Transl. of the Sanskrit. – The eight spheres of mastery:

1) Having the notion of inner visibles, he sees narrow outer visibles, beautiful or ugly, and he cognizes these visibles by mastering them, he sees them by mastering them and he is aware of them; this is the first abhibhu.

2) Having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles very extensive (var. very enlarged), beautiful or ugly, and these visibles (etc., as in 1); this is the second abhibhu. outer visibles.

3) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer narrow visibles, and these visibles (etc. as in 1); this is the fourth abhibhu.

4) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer extensive (var. very enlarged) visibles, beautiful or ugly, and these visible (etc. as in 1); this is the fourth abhibhu.

5) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles blue, blue in color, blue in aspect, blue in luster. Just like the flax flower or like fine blue Benares muslin, blue in color, blue in aspect, blue in luster, in the same way, without having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles blue, blue in color, blue in aspect, blue in luster, and he cognizes them by mastering them, he sees them by mastering them and he is aware of them; this is the fifth abhibhu.

6) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles yellow, yellow in color, yellow in aspect, yellow in luster. Just like the karnikāra flower (Pterospermum acerifolium) or like fine yellow Benares muslin, yellow in color, yellow in aspect, yellow in luster, in the same way, without having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles yellow (etc., as in 5); this is the sixth abhibhu.

7) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles red, red in color, red in aspect, red in luster. Just like the bandhujīvaka flower (Pentapetes phoenicea) or fine red Benares muslin, red in color, red in aspect, red in luster, in the same way, without having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles red, (etc. as in 5); this is the seventh abhibhu.

8) Not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles white, white in color, white in aspect, white in luster. Just like the planet Venus or fine white Benares muslin, white in color, white in aspect, white in luster, in the same way, not having the notion of inner visibles, he sees outer visibles white (etc. as in 5); this is the eighth abhinhu.

3. The ten Kṛtsnāyatanas.

Pāli formula in Dīgha, III, p. 268; Majjhima, II, p. 14–15; Anguttara, V, p. 46, 60:

Dasa kasiṇāyatanāni:
1. paṭhavīkasiṇam eko sañjānati … adho tiriyaṃ advayaṃ appamāṇaṃ.

Sanskrit formula in Mahāvyut., no. 1528–1540:

Daśa kṛtsnāyatanāni:
1. pṛthivīkṛtsnāyatanam. … 10. vijñānakṛtsāyatanam.

Transl. of the Sanskrit. – The ten spheres of totality: 1) Totality of earth; 2) totality of water; 3) totality of fire; 4) totality of wind; 5) totality of blue; 6) totality of yellow; 7) totality of red; 8) totality of white; 9) totality of space; 10) totality of consciousness. This totality of earth, water, fire, wind, blue, yellow, red and white, he recognizes them above, below, on the side, without duality and limitless.

The last two kaṣinas are sometimes omitted in the lists of the Paṭisambhidā (I, p. 49, 143–144, 149–150) or replaced by the āloka- and the paricchinn’ ākāsa- in the Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 89.

The kṛtsnas are not objective observations but ‘voluntary seeings’: adhimuktimanasikāra (Kośa, II, p. 325). This is well-explained in the Daśasāhasrikā, p. 102: Sarvadhātūn pṛthivīdhātāv adhimucya sarvam api pṛthivīdhātur evaikadhātur bhavati: “When one ‘wills’ all the elements into the element earth, everything becomes a single element, namely, the ‘earth’ element. In the same way, when one ‘wills’ all the elements into the element water, fire, wind, blue, yellow, red, white, space or consciousness.” And the Daśasāhasrikā concludes: “We call sphere of totality the fact [that as a result of ‘voluntary seeing’] everything becomes a single element: earth, water, etc.”

II. Kaṣina in Pāli Scholasticism

Of the three classes of supplementary dharmas, the ten kaṣinas have captured the attention of Pāli scholasticism: cf. Paṭisambhidā, I p. 6, 95; Dhammasaṅgaṇi, p. 42; Nettipakaraṇa, p. 89. 112: and especially Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 96–144 (transl. Nanamoli, p. 122–184) which describes fully the process of the earth kasiṇa. As in the subsequent seven, it is a process of autosuggestion to reach the dhyānas. Here is a brief summary of the stages of the mental operation:

1) Creation of the sign (nimitta). – If he is specially endowed, the monk chooses as visible sign a ploughed earth surface (kasitaṭṭhāna) or a threshing area (khalamaṇḍala). Most frequently, on the advice of a teacher, he makes an earthen disc (mattikamaṇḍala) of dark color, without the intrusion of blue, yellow, red or white color that could cause confusion with the other kasiṇas and thus contaminate the earth kasiṇa. Whether or not this disc is transportable, it should be set up on a pedestal in an isolated place and the ascetic sits down at the appropriate distance to see it well.

2) Appearance of the sign of learning (uggahanimitta). – Having vowed to eliminate sense desires that are so unpleasant (appassādā kāmā), the monk looks calmly at the earth disc without resting on its color (vaṇṇa) or its nature (lakkhaṇa) but by fixing his mind on the nominal concept (paṇṇattidhamma) of ‘earth’ the different names of which he recites mentally: paṭhavī, mahī, medinī, bhūmi, etc. Sometimes with his eyes open and sometimes with his eyes closed (kālena ummīletvā kālena nimīletvā), the monk contemplates this semi-abstract, semi-concrete image until he sees it as clearly with his eyes shut as with his eyes open. It is at this moment that the sign of learning (uggahanimitta) is produced. The monk then leaves his seat and goes back into the monastery still keeping clearly in his mind this sign of learning and recovering it each time that he loses it.

3) Appearance of the counter-sign (paṭibhāganimitta). – There comes the time when the five obstacles (nīvarana) to the jhāna (see above, p. 1012–1020F) disappear and when the factors (aṅga) of the jhāna (see above, p. 1237F) manifest. In the first case, the ascetic enters into the samādhi of approach (upacārasamādhi); in the second case, he enters into the mental stabilization of absorption (appanāsamādhi). But the entry into samādhi coincides with the appearance of the counter-sign (paṭibhāganimitta):

“The difference between the sign of learning (uggahanimitta) and the counter-sign is the following: In the sign of learning, any defect (dosa) of the kasiṇa (intrusion of foreign colors?) is evident; but the counter-sign, the sign of learning having come to en end, is somehow removed from it and appears purer, a hundred times purer, a thousand times purer than it, like a glass removed from its case, like a well-polished pearly shell, like the disc of the moon coming out from behind a cloud. This counter-sign has neither color (varṇa) nor shape (saṇthana), for if it had any, it would be cognizable by the eye, coarse, susceptible of being grasped and marked by the three characteristics [impermanence, suffering and selflessness?]. But it is not like that. It is just a way of representation, a state of awareness belonging solely to the holder of the stabilization. Starting from the moment when it is produced, the obstacles [to the jhāna] are weakened, but the negative emotions (kilesa) remain and the mind is stabilized in the samādhi of approach (upacārasamādhi).” In the samādhi of approach (appanāsamādhi) which follows, the factors of the samādhi appear and grow.

4) Protection of the counter-sign (paṭighātanimittarakkhaṇa) and attainment of the jhānas. – The ascetic should keep the counter-sign as if it were his most precious treasure and, to this end, take great care of his dwelling (āvāsa), his domain (gocāra), his words (bhassa), the people (puggala) he meets, his food (bhojana), the atmosphere (utu) and the postures (iriyāpatha) he takes. Thus, thanks to the earth kasiṇa, he attains the first dhyāna and abides there.

5) Extension of the counter-sign (paṭighātanimittavaḍḍhana). – In the course of the concentrations of approach and of absorption, the ascetic should gradually extend the counter-sign by noting its progress: one span, two spans and finally the outer limit of the cosmic sphere.

6) Acquisition of the spheres of mastery (abhibhāyatanapaṭilabdha). – This complete mastery over the sign assures the ascetic a complete mastery over things and gives him magical powers. This is how the earth kasiṇa allows him to multiply himself when he is one, etc. (cf. above, p. 382F, n. 2).

The other nine kasiṇas progress in the same way as the earth kasiṇa. Here it is sufficient to determine their respective ‘signs’ and to specify the type of ‘mastery’ they will exert upon things.

In the water kaṣina, the sign of learning is moving (calamāna) and the counter-sign is inert (nipparipphanda), like a crystal fan held in the air or like a crystal mirror. It brings the following powers: plunging into the earth and emerging from it, bringing rain-storms, creating rivers and seas, shaking the earth, mountains, palaces, etc.

In the fire kaṣina, the sign of learning is like a spark of fire that becomes detached and falls; the counter-sign is motionless (niccala) like a piece of red wool held up in the air. Thanks to this practice, the ascetic can emit smoke and flames, cause a rain of ash, extinguish one fire by means of another, burn whatever he wishes, create lights that allow him to see objects visible to the divine eye and, at the moment of his parinirvāṇa, burn his body by the fire element.

In the wind kaṣina, the sign of learning appears in movement (cala) like an eddy of hot steam coming out of a pot of rice-gruel; the counter-sign is calm (sannisinna) and motionless (acala). From this kaṣina come the powers of walking with the speed of wind and causing wind storms.

The four color kaṣinas use as signs of learning a blue, yellow, red or white flower or cloth. Their counter-sign appears like a crystal fan. They permit the ascetic to create colored objects and particularly to reach the 5th to the 8th abhibhāyatana (spheres of mastery of colors) as well as the 3rd vimokha, namely the subhavimokha or pleasant liberation.

The kasiṇa of light (āloka) and that of limited space (paricchinnākāśa) have as their respective counter-signs a mass of light (ālokapuñ ja) and the circle of space (ākāśamaṇḍala). Thanks to the first, the ascetic is able to create luminous forms, to banish languor and torpor and chase away shadows; by means of the second he is able to discover whatever is hidden, create empty spaces in the earth and rocks and occupy them, pass though walls at will, etc.

III. Vimokṣa, Abhibhu and Kṛtsna according to the Abhidharma

These technical procedures aimed at complete detachment from the things of the threefold world are fully studied by the Abhidharma of the Sarvastivādins and related texts: Jñānaprasthāna, T 1544, k. 18, p. 1013 seq.; Saṃgītiparyāya,T 1536, k. 18–20, p. 443a26– 446a18, 447a25–452c11; Saṃyuktābhidharmasāra, T 1552, k. 7, p. 96b–929a; Abhidharmāmṛta, T 1553, k. 2, p. 976117–b16 (reconstruction by Sastri, p. 103–107);Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 84–85, p. 434b15– 442b14; Kośa, VIII, p. 203–218; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 80, p. 771b–775a; Abhidhamadīpa, p. 429–432; Satyasiddhiśāstra, T 1646, k. 12–13, p. 5339a16–340b16,346b14–c22; Abhidharmasamuccahaya (of the Vijñānavādins), T 1605,, k. 7, p. 680c23–691a22 (reconstructed by Pradhan, p. 95–96).

Here is a summary of the Abhidharma scholasticism.

In general, the vimokṣas are the gateway into the abhibus, which in turn are the gateway into the kṛtsnas. The vimokṣas are ‘complete emancipation’ (vimokṣamātra) from the object. The abhibhus exert a twofold mastery (abhibhavana) over the object, entailing the view of the object as one wishes it (yatheṣṭam adhimokṣaḥ) and the absence of the negative emotion provoked by the object (kleśānutpatti). The kṛtsnas embrace the object without a gap and in its totality (nirantarakṛtsnaspharaṇa). All are derived from the dhyānas and the samāpattis.

A. Vimokṣas 1–3, eight abhibhus and kṛtsnas 1–8.

1) In nature they are the five skandhas and they have as object the visibles of kāmadhātu.

2) Vimokṣas 1–2 and abhibhus 1–4 are contemplations of the horrible (aśubhabhāvana), i.e., of the decomposing corpse, and are practiced in the 1st and 2nd dhyānas. When practiced in the first, they counteract attachment to color (varṇarāga) of kāmadhātu; when practiced in the second, they counteract attachment to color of the first dhyāna.

3) In vimokṣaṣ 1 and abhibhus 1–2, the ascetic still has the notion of inner visibles, those of his own body; in vimokṣa 2 and abhibhus 3–4, he no longer has them. But in all cases, he contemplates unpleasant outer visibles (amanojñā), less numerous (parītta) in abhibhus 1 and 3, numerous (mahodgata or paramāna) in abhibhus 2 and 4.

4) Vimokṣa 3, abhibhus 5–8 and kṛtsnas 1–8 are contemplations on the beautiful (śubhabhāvana) and are practiced exclusively in the 4th dhyāna. No longer having the notion of inner visibles, the ascetic contemplates the outer pleasant visibles (manojñā) of kāmadhātu: in vimokṣa 3, the beautiful (śubha) in general, which he actualizes (kāyena sākādātkaroti); in abhibhus 5–8 and kṛtsnas 5–8, the four pure colors (blue, yellow, red and white); in kṛtsnas 1–4, the four great elements (earth, water, fire and wind).          

B. Vimokṣas 4–7 and kṛtsnas 8–10.

1) Being formless, in nature they are the four skandhas with the exception of rūpaskandha and are practiced in the formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti): vimokṣa 4 and kṛtsna 9 and the ākāśānantyāyatana; vimokṣa 5 and kṛtsna 10 in the vijñānānantyāyatana; vimokṣā 6 in the ākiṃcanāyatana; vimokṣa 7 in the naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana.

2) For object they have the suffering of their own level and a higher level (svabhūmyūrdhvabhūmikaṃ duḥkham), the cause and cessation of this suffering (taddhetunirodhau), the Path relative to the totality of the anvayajñāna (sarvānvayajñānapakṣomārgaḥ), the apratisaṃkyānirodha and the ākāśa.

C. Eighth vimokṣa.

This is the absorption of cessation of concepts and feelings (saṃjñāveditanirodhasamāpatti), [a dharma] which stops the mind and mental events.

The qualities that constitute class A are acquired only by humans; those of classes B and C are acquired by beings of the threefold world. All these qualities may have as support (āśraya) the mental series of a worldly person (pṛthagjana) or a saint (ārya), except the last one, the nirodhavimokṣa, which can be produced only by the saint.