Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the dharma is independent of time (akalika)” 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.

II.4. The Dharma is independent of time (akālika)

The Dharma is independent of time (akālika). The Dharma of the Buddha acts [222a] independently of time and gives its fruit (phalaṃ dadāti) independently of time. Among the heretics (tīrthika), some rules hold when the sun has not risen but do not hold when the sun has risen; some hold when the sun has risen but do not hold when the sun has not risen; yet others are valid in the daytime but are not valid at night, and finally some hold at night but do not hold in the daytime. In the Dharma of the Buddha, time does not intervene: when one has cultivated the noble eightfold Path (āryāṣṭāṅgikmārga), one attains nirvāṇa. Just as fire (agni) burns when it finds kindling (indhana), so pure wisdom (anāsrava prajñā), as soon as it arises, burns all the disturbing emotions (kleśa), and that independently of time.

Question. – But the Buddha spoke of medicine at the proper time (kālabhaiṣajya), of clothing at the proper time (kālavasana), of food at the proper time (kālabhojana),[1] and the good roots that are not yet ripe (aparipakvakuśalamūla) will ripen in a person when they meet up with the favorable time. How can you say that [the Dharma] is independent of time (akālika)?

Answer. – In these cases, when speaking of time, the Buddha is speaking in accord with worldly usage (lokasaṃvṛti) and, in order that his doctrine should last for a long time, he has linked his arguments with time. But when one cultivates the Path, one obtains nirvāṇa and its wondrous qualities, the concentrations (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā); these do not depend on time.

The rules of the heretics all depend on time; the Dharma of the Buddha demands only that the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) be fulfilled. As long as [the three elements of the Path], morality (śīla), samādhi and wisdom (prajñā) are not perfected (saṃpanna), one does not obtain bodhi. When morality, samādhi and wisdom are perfected, the fruit is attained and does not depend on time.

Moreover, we speak of time when a long time is necessary to obtain the fruit, but once the fruit is obtained, there is no further question of time. Thus, when a good dye (rañjana) has penetrated [the cloth], it is fixed; it is the same for a person whose mind is pure: as soon as he has heard the Dharma, he is tinged with it and he obtains the purity of the Dharma eye (dharmacakṣurviśuddhi). Therefore the Dharma is ‘independent of time’ (akālika).

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For example, the Buddha authorized the use of five kinds of medicines “at the suitable time if they have been accepted at the appropriate time” (anujānāmi bhikkhave pañc bhesajjāni kāle paṛiggahetva kāle paribhuñitum): cf. Vinaya, I, p.200. Similarly, he carefully distinguished meals at the proper time (kālabhojana) from meals outside the proper time (vikālabhojana): cf. Saṃyutta, V, p. 470.