Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “seals of the dharma (dharmamudra, dharma-mudra)” 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.

Appendix 7 - The seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā, dharma-mudrā)

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XXXVI, part 2.II.6 (Dharma of unhindered penetration):

“The Dharma is of unhindered penetration. Utilizing the seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā) of the Buddha, his penetration is unhindered in the same way that the holder of the royal seal (rājamudrā) is never delayed or restricted in his movements”.

By dharmamudrā, the Traité means three fundamental characteristics of things preached by the Buddha:

Sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam,

“All formations (i.e., all dharmas coming from causes) are impermanent; all dharmas are without self, peaceful is nirvāṇa”: (cf. K. 15, p. 170a2–4 (above, p. 912F); k. 22, p. 222a28–b1; k. 26, p. 253c13–15; k. 32, p. 297c23–24.)

As we are about to see, such statements are frequent in the canonical texts but, as far as I [Lamotte] know, the expression dharmamudrā does not appear in the Pāli Nikāya. On the other hand, in the Sanskrit Saṃyuktāgama translated into Chinese by Guṇabhadra (436–443), there is an Āryadharmamudrāsūtra, T 99, no. 80, k. 3, p. 20a25–b28. Before that, Dharmarakṣa had given a separate translation under the name Cheng fa yin king, T 103, p. 500a–b: it was published the 5th day of the 12th month of the 4th yuan-k’ang year, i.e., January 7, 295 (cf. Li-tai, T 2034, k. 6, p. 63c22–23). This sūtra was authoritative for the Sarvāstivādins as well as the Mādhyamikans: it is cited in the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 104, p. 541c10; T 1546, k. 46, p. 359a23), the Che tchou p’i p’o cha louen (T 1521, k. 1, p. 25a17; k. 10, p. 73b23), the Maitreyaparipṛcchopedeśa (T 1525, k. 2, p. 240b15) and the Satyasiddhiśāstra (T 1546, k. 6, p. 281c2; k. 12, p. 332c15; k. 15, p. 363b23, 365a26).

Whether it is used in the doctrines of the Lesser or the Greater Vehicle, the term dharmamudrā appears frequently in the Mahāyānasūtras: cf. Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 28, l. 8, 92, l. 13; Avataṃsaka, T 279, k. 5, p. 22c1; k. 18, p. 97a17–18; Ratnolkādhāraṇi, T 299, k. 2, p. 891a24; Ratnakūṭa, T 310, k. 6, p. 35a11; k. 6, p. 36a1; k. 25, p. 141a; k. 116, p. 656c12; T 355, k. 1, p. 237a3.

The phrases used to express the nature of things permit many variations:

A. TWO STATEMENTS. – Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe dhammā anattā: cf. Saṃyutta, III, p. 132, l. 26; 133, l. 1 and 31; 134, l. 3.

B. THREE STATEMENTS. – Sabbe saṅkhāra aniccā, sabbe saṅkhāra dukkhā, sabbe dhammā anattā: cf. Anguttara, I, p.286, l. 8, 14 and 20.

The postcanonical Pāli sources call Tilakkhaṇa ‘Three Natures’ impermanence, suffering and non-self mentioned in this phrase: cf. Comm. on Jātaka, I, p. 48, l. 28; 275, l. 23; III, p. 377, l. 5.

C. THREE STATEMENTS. – Sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānāḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam: cf. Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 10, p. 66b14; 66c7 and 21;Vibhḥaṣā, T 1545, k. 9, p. 45a21; Northern Mahāparinirvāna, T 374, k. 13, p. 443a2–3.

D. The same statements, but with the name Sa fa yin ‘Three Dharmamudrās’. – Sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmanaḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam: cf. Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1442, k. 9, p. 670c2–3; Satyasiddhiśāstra, T 1646, k. 1, p. 243c17–18; Lien houa mien king, T 386, k. 2, p. 1077a23–24 and 26–27; Mahāyānāvatāra, T 1634, k. 1, p. 38c23.

As we have seen at the beginning of this note, this is the formula adopted by the Traité.

E. FOUR STATEMENTS, entitled Sseu fa pen or Sseu fa pen mo ‘Fourfold beginning and end of dharmas’ which may be reconstructed in Sanskrit as Dharmapūrvāparānta: Sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvasaṃskārā duḥkhāḥ, sarvasaṃskārā anātmānāḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam:: cf. Ekottara, T 125, k. 18, p. 640b13–18; k. 36, p. 749a7–11.

This formula is evidently faulty for it is not just the saṃskāras but also all dharmas that are anātman.

F. FOUR STATEMENTS. – Sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvasaṃskārā duḥkhāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānāḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam (cf. Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 149, l. 1–3), or the variant Anityāḥ sarvasaṃskārāḥ, duḥkhāḥ sarvasaṃskārāḥ, anātmānaḥ sarvadharmāḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam (cf. Bodh. bhūmi, p. 277, l. 5–10).

These four statements are variously named:

1) Sseu fa pen ‘Fourfold root of dharmas’: cf. Ekottara, T 35, k. 23, p. 668c3–8;

2) Fourold dharmamudrā: cf. Tathāgataguhyasūtra, T 312, k. 17, p. 741b7–12; Bodhisattvapiṭaka, T 316, k. 7, p. 794c21–24.

3) Fourfold dharmoddāna ‘Summary of dharmas’ (in Chinese, Sseu fa yeou t’o na): cf. Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, T 476, k. 6, p. 586c14; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 17, l. 3; 55, l. 6; 73, l. 22; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 277, l. 5 (T 1579, k. 46, p. 544a6).

G. FIVE STATEMENTS. – Anityāḥ sarvasaṃskārāḥ, duḥkhāḥ sarvasaṃskārāḥ, śūnyāḥ sarvadharmāṃ anātmānaḥ sarvadharmāḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam: cf. Vimalakīrti, p. 165.

H. TEN STATEMENTS. – Che fa-yin ‘The ten dharmamudrās’: cf. Avataṃsaka, T 279, k, 41, p. 218a6–15.