Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “logical order of the eight recollections” 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.

IX. Logical order of the Eight Recollections

Question. – The Dharma is the teacher (ācārya) of all the Buddhas of the three times.[1] Why then recollect the Buddha first? What is the order (anukrama) of the eight recollections?

Answer. – 1–3) Although the Dharma is the teacher of the Buddhas of the three times (tryadhvan) and the ten directions, it is the Buddha who preached the Dharma because his skill is great.

[The king who built a ladder to facilitate the ascent of a mountain.] – In the Himavat there was a precious mountain (ratnagiri) at the summit of which there was a precious wish-fulfilling stone (cintāmaṇiratna) and all kinds of precious substances. People wanted to climb up there: some, having climbed halfway, turned back; others turned back from near the summit.

There was a very virtuous king who, out of compassion for beings, had a huge ladder built (mahāsopāna). The entire population, great and small down to children of seven years, succeeded thus in climbing the mountain and gathered the wish-fulfilling jewel and all kinds of precious substances as they pleased (yatheṣṭam).

It is the same for the Buddha. The ‘precious mountain’ is the true nature of all dharmas of the world The ninety-six kinds of heretics[2] cannot reach it; even Brahmā Devarāja who seeks the true nature of dharmas cannot find it. What then could be said for other people? In his great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā), the Buddha has pity on beings. Endowed with the six perfections (pāramitā) and possessing omniscience (sarvajñāna), wisdom (prajñā) and skillful means (upāya), he preaches the ‘ladder’ of the twelve classes of texts (dvādaśaṅgabuddhavacana) and the eighty-four thousand articles of the Dharma (caturaśītidharmaskandhasahasra). A-jo-kiao-tch’en-jou (Ājñātakauṇḍinya),[3] Chö-li-fo (Śāriputra), Mou-k’ien-lien (Maudgalyāyana), Mo-ho-kia-chö (Mahākāśyapa) and even śrāmaṇeras of seven years, Sou-mo[4] (Sumana), all obtained the pure dharmas (anāsravadharma), the faculties (indriya), the powers (bala), the [factors] of enlightenment (saṃbodhyaṅga) and the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa). Althought this pure nature is wondrous, all beings who receive the kindness of the Buddha obtain it. This is why recollection of the Buddha comes first.

Next comes recollection of the Dharma and recollection of the Saṃgha Since the Saṃgha is based on the word of the Buddha to explain the Dharma, it comes third. On the other hand, other men cannot explain the Dharma, whereas the Saṃgha can: this is why it is described as a Jewel (ratna).

The Buddha is the Jewel among men; the Jewel among the ninety-six heretical systems is the Dharma of the Buddha; the Jewel among all the communities is the Saṃgha.

Finally, it is because of the Buddha that the Dharma appeared in the world and it is because of the Dharma that there is a Saṃgha.

4) The yogin wonders how to obtain the Jewel of the Dharma. By including himself in the ranks of the Saṃgha, he will avoid all misdeeds (duṣkṛta), gross (audārika) or subtle (sūkṣma) of body (kāya) or speech (vāc). This is why morality (śīla) is listed next. [228c]

5) How does the yogin [who practices these first four recollections] differ from the seven categories [of disciples of the Buddha]?[5]

Possessing morality (śīla), the yogin wants to avoid the sins of mind (cittaduṣkṛta), [namely, covetousness (abhidhyā), malice (vyāpāda) and wrong view (mithyadṛṣṭi).

a. Recollecting generosity (no. 5), he destroys greed (abhidhyā).

b. Wanting the recipients of generosity (pratigrāhaka) to find happiness, he destroys malice (vyāpāda).

c. Thinking of merit (puṇya) and its fruit of retribution (vipākaphala), he destroys wrong view (mithyādṛṣṛṭi).

Dwelling thus in the rules of morality (no. 4) and of generosity (no. 5), the yogin becomes established in the ten good paths of action (daśakuśalakarmapatha)[6] and escapes from the ten bad paths of action (daśākuśalakarmapatha).

6) The ten good paths of action have two kinds of fruits (phala):

a. those who practice them in a superior way are reborn among the pure gods (viśuddhadeva) [of rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu].

b. those who practice them in a medium way are reborn among the gods [of kāmdhātu].

This is why the yogin recollects the deities (no. 6) after morality (no. 4) and generosity (no. 5).

By practicing the dhyānas and the samāpattis, he has access to the deities of the two higher realms, he destroys the bad investigations (vitarka), gathers only the good dharmas and concentrates his mind one-pointedly.

This is why he recollects the deities (devatānusmṛti).

7) Next the yogin recollects inhalation and exhalatiojn (ānāpāna). By recollecting the in-and outbreath, he is able to destroy bad investigations (vitarka) like the rain dampens the dust.[7]

Seeing the breath coming in and going out, he understands the dangers that menace the body; it is because of the inbreath and the outbreath that the body is maintained alive.

This is why he recollects the inhalation and the exhalation (ānāpānānusmṛṭi.

8) Finally, the yogin recollects death (maraṇa). It may happen actually that, conscious of possessing the first seven recollections and basing himself on their virtues (guṇa), the yogin becomes lazy (kausīdya). It is at this moment that he should recollect death for, if the work of death is constantly present, how could he be lazy and be content with the qualities he has acquired?

Thus, at the Buddha’s death, A-ni-liu (Aniruddha) said:

Conditioned dharmas are like clouds:
The wise man should not be proud of them.
When the thunderbolt of impermanence (anityatāvajra) strikes
It destroys the king of mountains that was the Holy Master (ārṣa).[8]

This is the order of the eight recollections.

Footnotes and references:


Shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha looked in the heavens and on earth for someone to venerate and serve. Finding nobody worthy of his homage, he chose the Dharma as his teacher. See the Gāravasutta of the Saṃyutta, I, p. 138–149 (T 99, no. 1188, k. 44, p. 321a27; T 100, no. 101, k. 5, p. 410a3–b9). This sūtra has been quoted above, p. 586F.


See above, p. 432F, n. 1, and later k. 27, p. 261a15–16; k. 36, p. 325c11; k. 40, p. 349b22; k. 49, p. 412b5; k. 74, p. 581b18. Except for the Ekottarāgama, in the canonical scriptures no mention is made of these 96 sects.


One of the first five disciples of Śākyamuni who witnessed the austerities of the Buddha and benefited from the Sermon at Benares: Vinaya, I, p. 12; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 152. The Traité has mentioned him above, p. 102F.


Below, k. 20, p. 271b27–c2, the Traité will return to this Sumana, also called Sumanas or Karṇasumana.


The yogin who practices the recollections of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Saṃgha and śīla who is being considered here seems to be confused with the seven categories of the Buddha’s disciples who, inspired with perfect faith (āvetyaprasāda), recollect the same subjects daily (cf. Dīgha, II, p. 93–94; III, p. 227; Saṃyutta, II, p. 69–70; V, p. 343. 365, 386–387; Anguttara, IV, p. 406–407; V, p. 183–184.).

The seven categories of disciples of the Buddha have been enumerated by the Traité above, p. 577F. These are the bhikṣu, bhikṣuṇī, śikṣamāṇā, śrāmaṇa, śrāmaṇerikā, upāsaka and upāsikā (for details, see Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 123, p. 643c).

What distinguishes the yogin from these seven categories of disciples is that he does not limit himself to recollecting the Buddha, the Dharma, the Saṃgha and śīla, but also abandonment (tyāga). The first four recollections destroy only the first seven akuśalakarmapathas, namely, the sins of body and speech, whereas recollection of abandonment destroys also the last three akuśalakarmapathas, namely, the sins of mind.


Listed above, p. 501F.


Ānāpānasmṛṭi is the antodote to vitarka: see Kośa, VI, p. 153.


The recensions of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, Sanskrit (ed. Waldschmidt, p. 400) as well as Pāli (Dīgha, II, p. 157) attribute rather different stanzas to Aniruddha.

For the expression Cheng-tchou ‘Holy Master’ used to render the Sanskrit ārṣa, see below, p. 1592F, n. 1.

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