Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “doctrine of the single sound (ekasvarena)” 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 10 - The doctrine of the single sound (ekasvareṇa)

Note: This Appendix is extracted from Chapter XXXVI, part 2.II.7 (Other qualities of the Buddhist Dharma):

“Furthermore, in the great assemblies, each person wants to hear something, and the Buddha answers him with a single sound (ekasvareṇa). Each makes sense out of it and each thinks the Buddha has spoken for him alone. 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 Buddha preached the Dharma in various ways (cf. Vimalakīrti, p. 109–110) and notably by a single sound (ekasvareṇa) or by vocal emission in a single moment (ekakṣaṇavāgudāhāreṇa). This sound expresses the Dharma in its entirety, reaches all the universes of the ten directions, rejoices the minds of all beings and destroys the negative emotions. Each hearer, according to his level and capability, understands it and believes that the Buddha preached it for him alone.

The doctrine of the single sound was already formulated in some sects of the Lesser Vehicle. The Vibhajyavādins produced a stanza of praise of the Buddha (tsan fo song) cited in the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, p. 410a16; T 1546, k. 41, 306c24; T 1547, k. 9, p. 482c16):

“The Buddha uses a single sound to enunciate the Dharma and then beings, each according to his category, understand it. All say: The Bhagavat uses the same language as I do, that is why he enunciates a certain meaning for me alone.”

– For the Mahāsāṃghikas as well, the Buddha enunciates all dharmas by means of a single sound (cf. Bareau, Sectes, p. 58, thesis 4).

But the Sarvāstivādins (Bareau, ibid., p. 145, thesis 54) rejected this doctrine and the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 79, p. 410b25) comments that the previously cited stanza does not belong to the Tripiṭaka and gives (p. 410c8–9) a toned-down interpretation of it:

“Even though the sounds of the Buddha are numerous and varied, they are equally useful, and that is why they are said to be one single sound.”

The Mahāyānasūtras enthusiastically adopted the doctrine of one single sound.

The Prajñāpāramitā considers the single sound to be a secondary characteristic of the 18th lakṣaṇa, ‘the brahmic voice’, and places it in its list of anuvyañjanas: cf. Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 24, p. 396b5; T 220, vol. VI, k. 381, p. 968c26–27; Cheng t’ien wang, T 231, k. 7, p. 723c1; Jen wang jou kouo, T 246, k. 2, p. 842c29

Avataṃsaka, T 278, k. 60, p. 787a27; T 279, k. 30, p. 164b18–19; k. 34, p. 182b4–5; k. 52, p. 275c23–24; k. 73, p. 401a11; k. 80, p. 443c28; Daśabhūmika, p. 79, l. 27–29; Bhadradarīpraṇidhāna, v. 30 (= T 293, k. 39, p. 843b11).

Ratnakuṭa, T 310, k. 62, p. 361b8–10; K. 100, p. 593b18; k. 102, p. 573b17–18; Bodhisattvapiṭaka, T 316, k. 16, p. 819a2. In the same collection, Pitāputrasamāgama, T 320, k. 3, p. 928a8–15:

“Each one sees the Buddha face-to-face, that is an exclusive quality (āveṇikaguṇa) difficult to conceive. The pure Dharma is preached by a single sound, sometimes fully, sometimes abbreviated, and each one according to his mental aspirations, understands it…; each according to his destiny and his category makes sense of it…”

Sukhāvatīvūha, T 364, k. 2, p. 333b12–21.

Great Parinirvāṇa, T 374, k. 10, p. 423c10–14; T 375, k. 9, p. 665a2.

Vimalkakīrti, p. 108–110; 342.

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