Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “connection between the nine and the ten notions” 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.

III. Connection between the Nine and the Ten Notions

Question. – What do the ten notions (daśasaṃjñā)[1] beginning with the notion of impermanence (anityasaṃjñā) destroy?

Answer. – They also serve to destroy the three poisons (triviṣa), lust (rāga), etc.

Question. – If that is so, how do these two groups differ?

Answer. –

1) The nine notions prevent those who have not attained the dhyānas and the samāpattis from being enveloped (praticchanna) by lust (rāga). The ten notions remove and destroy the three poisons, lust, etc.

2) The nine notions are like the enemy who puts [the three negative emotions] in chains. The ten notions are like the enemy who kills them.

3) The nine notions are a beginner’s practice (pūrvaśikṣā). The ten notions are a perfected practice (saṃpannaśikṣā).

4) Of the ten notions, [the seventh], that of the horrible (aśubhasaṃjñā), includes (saṃgṛhṇāti) the nine notions [called ‘of the horrible’].

Some say that, of the ten notions, [the seventh, the fourth and the fifth], namely, the notion of impurity (aśucisaṃjñā), the notion of the loathsome nature of food (āhāre pratikūlasaṃjñā) and the notion of displeasure in regard to the world (sarvaloke ’nabhiratisaṃjñā), include the nine notions.

Others say that the ten and the nine notions are equally detachment (vairāgya) and, together, nirvāṇa.[2] Why?

1. When the first signs of death appear, in the time it takes to say it, one is dead already. The body swells up, putrefies, breaks apart, is scattered and everything changes; this is impermanence, anityatā, [the first of the ten notions]. [218a]

2. One was attached to this body but when impermanence has destroyed it, it is duhkha, suffering, [the second of the ten notions].

3. Being impermanence and suffering, it cannot be independent (svatantra): thus it is anātman, non-self, [the third of the ten notion].

4. Being impure (aśuci), impermanent (anitya), suffering (duhkha) and non-self (anātman), it is anabhirata, an object of displeasure, [the fifth of the ten notions]. This is the meditation on the body (kāyabhāvana).

5. When food (āhāra) is in the mouth (mukha), the cervical saliva (siṅghāṇaka) runs down and, together with the mucus (kheṭa), becomes flavor (rasa), but swallowing (abhyavahāra) is no different from vomiting (vāntīkṛta), and penetrates the stomach (udara): hence āhāre pratikūlasaṃjñā, the notion of the repugnant nature of food, [the fourth of the ten notions].

6. When the yogin makes use of the nine notions [of the horrible] to meditate on the impermanent (anitya), changing (vipariṇāmadharman) body that perishes from moment to moment (kṣaṇaniruddha), there is maraṇasaṃjñā, the notion of death, [the sixth of the ten notions].

7. When the yogin uses the nine notions to become disgusted with the joys of the world (lokanirvedāya) and knows that suppression of the negative emotions (kleśaprahāna) is salvation (yogakṣema) and peace (kṣānti), there is prahāṇasaṃjñā, the notion of cutting, [the eighth of the ten notions].

8. When the yogin uses the nine notions to oppose the negative emotions (kleśapratiṣedhāya), there is vairāgyasaṃjñā, the notion of detachment, [the ninth of the ten notions].

9. When, by using the nine notions, the yogin becomes disgusted with the world (lokanirvinna) and knows that the destruction of the five aggregates (pañcaskandhanirodha) and the fact that they will not re-arise (apunarbhava) constitutes abiding (vihāra) and salvation (yogakṣema), there is nirodhasaṃjñā, the notion of suppression,[3] [the tenth of the ten notions].

5) Moreover, the nine notions are the cause (hetu), while the ten notions are the fruit (phala). This is why the [Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] speaks of the nine notions first and then the ten notions.

6) Finally, the nine notions are the outer gate (bāhyadvāra) while the ten notions are the inner gate (ādhyātmikadvāra). This is why the sūtras speak of the two gates of the immortal (amṛtadvāra), i.e., that of meditation on the horrible (aśubhabhāvana) and that of attention to the breath (ānāpānasmṛti).[4]

Footnotes and references:


These ten notions will be the subject of chapter XXXVII.


In regard to the five or the seven notions, the Buddha said (Anguttara, III, p. 79, 80; IV, p. 46, 48–51): Imā kho bhikkhave saññā bhāvitā bahukīkatā mahaoohalā honti mahānisaṃsā aamatohadhā amatapariyosānā: “These notions have great results if they are cultivated and gathered, they present great benefits, they plunge one into immortality, they lead to immortality.”


Cf. Saṃyutta, V, p. 133: Nirodhasaññā bhikkhave bhāvitā bahulikatā mahato atthāya saṃvattati, mahato yogakkhemāya saṃvattati, mahato samvegāga saṃvattati, mahato phāsuvihārāya saṃvattati: “The notion of destruction, if cultivated and increased, leads to great benefit, to great security, to great discipline, to comfortable abiding.”


Cf. Itivuttaka, p. 80: Asubhānupassī bhikkhave kāyasmiṃ viharatha … vitakkāsya vighātapakkhikā te na honti. “Remain, O monks, in the contemplation of the horrible in the body and let the attention to the breath be inwardly well established in you… If you remain contemplating the horrible in the body, the perverse tendencies to beauty will be suppressed and if attention to the breath is inwardly well established in you, the perverse troublesome tendencies to think of outer things will no longer exist.”

This is why, in the words of the Kośa, VI, p. 148–149 and of the Nyāyānusāra (T 1562, k.59, p. 671a), “Entry into bhāvanā occurs by contemplation of the horrible or attention to the breathing” (tatrāvatāro ‘śubhayā cānāpānasmṛtena ca). Those of passionate nature (rāgādhika) enter by way of aśubha which is directed outwardly (bahirmukha); those who are of rational nature (vitarkādhika), by way of ānāpānasmṛti which, not being directed outwards, cuts vitarka.

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