Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “other qualities of the buddhist dharma” 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.7. Other qualities of the Buddhist Dharma

Furthermore, there are two kinds of Dharma:[1] i) the Buddha’s speech (buddhavacana), namely, the Three Baskets (tripiṭaka), the twelve-membered Buddha’s words (dvādaśāṅgabuddhavacana) and the eighty-four thousand articles of the Dharma (caturaśīti dharmaskandhasahasrāṇi); ii) the meaning of the Dharma (dharmārtha) preached by the Buddha, namely the eightfold noble Path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga) with [its three elements], discipline (śīla), concentration (samādhi), wisdom (prajñā) and the fruit of deliverance (vimuktiphala) of nirvāṇa.

The yogin should first recollect the speech of the Buddha and then recollect the meaning of the Dharma.

1) Recollecting the speech of the Buddha. –

The Buddha’s speech is beautiful, marvelous, truthful and of great usefulness. The Buddha’s speech is both profound (gambhīra) and not very profound; profound because it has in view the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa); not very profound because it is skillfully formulated. His repetitions are faultless because each has its significance.

The speech of the Buddha rests on four bases and is adorned with four qualities: i) wisdom (prajñā), ii) truth (satya), iii) equanimity (upekṣā), iv) cessation (nirodha).

It is irrefutable because it uses four ways of responding to questions (praśnavyākaraṇa):[2] i) responding in a categorical way (ekāṃśena vyākaraṇam), ii) responding by distinguishing (vibhajya vyākaraṇam), iii) responding by means of a question (paripṛcchāvyākaraṇam), iv) responding by not answering (sthāpanīya vyākaraṇam).

The words of the Buddha are either permissions followed by prohibitions, or prohibitions followed by permissions, or permissions not followed by prohibitions, or prohibitions not followed by permissions. These four methods are in harmony and are not contradictory.

The speech of the Buddha, which has the [true] nature of things, is free of futile proliferation (prapañca); being expressed rationally, it suppresses any commentary on existence and non-existence.

The speech of the Buddha is in accord with the absolute (paramārtha) and, [223a] even when it speaks about conventional things (saṃvṛtidharma), it is faultless, for it is not in contradiction with the twofold truth [absolute truth and conventional truth].

The speech of the Buddha aims at the good (hita): to the pure man, it addresses gentle words; to the impure man, harsh words. But whether they are gentle or harsh, they are alike without fault (nirdoṣa).

The speech of the Buddha is in accord with the holy Dharma (saddharmam anuvartate), but is not attached to it (saddharma nābhiniviśate).[3] It is the foe of impure laws but experiences no haughtiness toward them. It criticizes many things but does not blame anything. It praises the Dharma in multiple ways but remains without any support (apratiṣthāna).[4]

There is nothing to be added to and nothing to be removed (anūnānadhika) from the speech of the Buddha: whether it is summarized (saṃkṣipta) or developed (vistīrṇa), it is good at the beginning (ādau kalyāna) and good throughout.

The speech of the Buddha is abundant, but the flavor of the meaning (artharasa) is not abated: It attracts people’s hearts but does not allow them to get attached (saṅga); its sublimities are varied but they inspire no fear in anyone. It has its extensions everywhere but fools (bāla) cannot understand it.

The speech of the Buddha has different extraordinary (adbhuta) effects; it can make men’s hair stand on end (romaharṣa) so that they sweat, become breathless and are terrified; it can also make the gods become angry so that their cries fill the ten directions and they shake the earth in six ways. It can make people attached to the world forever to leave it and others who are not attached to it, rejoice.

Wrong-doers who hear the speech of the Buddha become sad and tormented by their wrong-doings; good people, mindful (smṛtimat) and energetic (ātāpin), enter the Path. For those who hear it, it is as if they were tasting ambrosia (amṛtarasa), ‘good at the beginning, good in the middle and good at the end’ (ādau kalyāṇa, madhye kalyāṇa, paryavasāne kalyāṇa).

Furthermore, in the great assemblies, each person wants to hear something, and the Buddha answers him with a single sound (ekasvareṇa).[5] Each makes sense out of it and each thinks the Buddha has spoken for him alone.[6] In the great assemblies, whether the listener is far or near, the sound reaches him with the same intensity; it fills the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu and reaches innumerable universe in the ten directions. The beings who are to be converted (vainryasattva) hear it, those who are not to be converted do not hear it. It is as if a thunderbolt (aśani) struck the earth: the deaf (badhira) do not hear it but those who hear it understand what it is.

These are the various ways of recollecting the speech of the Buddha.

2) Recollection of the meaning of the Dharma.

What is the meaning of the Dharma (dharmārtha)? It is faith (śraddhā), morality (śīla), generosity (tyāga), learning (śruta), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā) constituting the Path, all the good dharmas, and also the three seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā) already discussed above (p. 1368F) in regard to penetration (prativedha): “All conditioned dharmas are impermanent; all dharmas are without self; peaceful is nirvāṇa.” This is the meaning of the Buddha’s Dharma.

These three seals cannot be attacked by any scholar (upadeśācārya) and, no matter how many the tirades, no one can transform this nature of things (dharmatā), not even if one transforms cold (śīta) into heat (uṣṇa).

The nature of things (dharmatā) is irrefutable. And, supposing that one could harm space (ākāśa), these seals of the Dharma cannot be assailed. The saint (ārya) who knows this threefold nature of dharmas eludes controversial [223b] subjects (vivādasthāna) that all rest on wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). In the same way, the person endowed with sight (cakṣuṣmat), seeing blind men (andha) arguing about various colors, has pity on them and smiles but does not argue with them.

Question. – In the system of the śrāvakas, the Buddha spoke about four truths, [the four noble Truths]; in the Mahāyāna, there is only one truth, [absence of nature]. Why now speak of three truths, [the three seals of the Dharma]?

Answer. – The Buddha spoke of three realities (tattva), the seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā), but when one understands them, they make four, and when one summarizes them, they make one:

a. Impermanence (anitya) is the account of the truth of suffering (duḥkhasatya), the truth of the origin (samudayasatya) and the truth of the Path (pratipatsatya).

b. Non-self (anātman) is the account valid for every dharma.

c. Peace-nirvāṇa (śantaṃ nirvāṇam) is the truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodhasatya).

Furthermore, conditioned dharmas are impermanent because they arise and perish from moment to moment. Depending on causes and conditions (hetupratyayāpekṣa), they have no independence (asvatantra). Being without autonomy, they are non-self (anātman). Since they are impermanent, non-self and without nature (alakṣaṇa), the mind does not become attached to them. As there is no nature or attachment, there is śāntaṃ nirvāṇam. Thus, although it is said in the Mahāyāna that “dharmas do not arise, do not perish and have but a single nature, namely, the absence of nature”,[7] this absence of nature (alakṣaṇa) is precisely Śāntaṃ nirvāṇam. It is the object of the concentration recollecting the Dharma (dharmanusmṛtisamādhi), the object of knowledge (jñānālaṃbana) that exhausts all the qualities of the bodhisattvas and pratyekabuddhas.

Question. Why does the recollection of the Buddha (buddhānusmṛti) have as object (ālambate) only the qualities of aśaikṣa present in the Buddha’s body? Why does the concentration of the recollection of the Community (saṃghānusmṛtisamādhi) have as object the dharmas of the śaikṣa and aśaikṣa present in the bodies of the Buddha’s disciples (buddhaśrāvaka)? And why are all the other good pure dharmas (kuśalānāsravadharma) the object (ālambana) of the concentration on the recollection of the Dharma (dharmānusmṛtisamādhi)?[8]

Answer. – It was Kia-tchen-yen-ni-tseu (Kātyāyanīputra) who said that, but [we others], the Mahāyānists, say this:

i) The object of buddhānusmṛtisamādhi is the qualities (guṇa) and magical powers (ṛddhibala) used by the Buddhas of the three times and the ten directions, and all the Buddhas in general during the perod from their first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) until the disappearance of their holy Dharma (dharmavipralopa).

ii) The object of dharmānusmṛtisamādhi is: a. the words of the Buddha (buddhavacana); b. the meaning of the Dharma (dharmārtha) preached by the Buddha. [The words of the Buddha] form a single metre (pāda), a single stanza (gāthā) up to the eighty-four thousand articles of the Dharma (caturśīti dharmaskandhasahasrāṇi). [The meaning of the Dharma preached by the Buddha] is the good dharmas (kuśaladharma), faith (śraddhā), morality (śīla), generosity (tyāga), study (śruta), concentration (samādhi), wisdom (prajñā), etc., up to and including nirvāna-without-residue (nirupādiśeṣanirvāṇa).

iii) The object of saṃghānusmṛtisamādhi is the Community of bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas and śrāvakas, the Communities and qualities (guṇa) of all the other saints (ārya) excluding the Buddha.[9]

Footnotes and references:


See above, p. 1074F seq.


See references above, p. 158F, n. 2.


Cf. the Kolopamasūtra cited above, p. 64F, n. 1 to which the Traité will return later (k. 31, p. 290c22, 295b29; k. 85, p. 657a2.


On the Dharma without any support, see Vimalakīrti, p. 270–271; Śūraṃgamasamādhi, p. 187–188.


A belief characteristic of Indian Buddhism that has its extension into China. The subject has been masterfully explained by P. Demiéville in Hôbôgirin (Butsugo, p. 207–209; Button, p. 215–217). The Traité makes only a brief allusion to it here, but will return to it later (k. 30, p. 284a–b).

See Appendix 10: The doctrione of the single sound.


Allusion to the passage of the Pañcaviṃśati commented on above, p. 525F.


See above, p. 1376F, n. 1.


The objector puts forth here the Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣika theories on the threefold taking of refuge. One takes refuge in the dharmas of the aśaikṣa or the arhat which constitute a Buddha and not in the material body (rūpakāya) of the Buddha which remains that of a bodhisattva. One takes refuge in all the Buddhas and not in one single Buddha. One takes refuge in the dharmas of the śaikṣa and the aśaikṣa which constitute the Saṃgha, the latter including among its members non-arhats and arhats. One takes refuge in the Dharma, i.e., in pratisaṃkhyānirodha or nirvāṇa. These theories are explained in Vibhāṣā. T 1545, k. 34, p. 177a seq.; Kośa, IV, p. 76–79; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 38, p. 555c seq.; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 125–127.

Kośakārikā, IV, v. 32 says: Buddhasaṃghakarān dharmān aśaikṣān ubhayāṃś ca saḥ | nirvāṇaṃ caiti śaraṇaṃ yo yāti karaṇatrayam:

“He who takes the triple refuge takes refuge in the dharmas of the aśaikṣa which make up the Buddhas, in the dharmas of the two kinds [dharma of the aśaikṣa and of the śaikṣa] which make up the Saṃgha, and in nirvāna.”


The Buddha does not appear in the recollection of the Saṃgha because he is recollected separately.