Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “links between impermanence, suffering and non-self” 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.

IV. Links between impermanence, suffering and non-self

Question. – Impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha) and non-self (anātman) are one single thing or they are three things. If they are only one thing, we should not speak of three. If they are three things, why did the Buddha [identify them] be saying: “That which is impermanent is suffering; that which is suffering is non-self” (yad anityaṃ tad duḥkham, yad duḥkham tad anātma)? [231b]

Answer. – It is just one and the same thing, namely, the correct grasping of impure dharmas (sāsravadharmapratigraha) but, since the points of view differ, there are three distinct [terms]:

1) Anityasaṃjñā is associated with the aspect of impermanence (anityākārasaṃprayukta). – Duḥkhasaṃjñā is associated with the aspect of suffering (duḥkhākārāsaṃprayukta). – Anātmasaṃjñā is associated with the non-self aspect (anātmākārasaṃprayukta).[1]

2) Anityā does not penetrate into the threefold world (traidhātuka). – Duḥkha makes known the defects (doṣa) of the threefold world. – Anātman is rejection of the world (lokaparityāga).

3) Anitya produces the mind of disgust (udvegacitta). – Duḥkha produces fear (bhaya). – Anātman tears up in order to liberate.

4) Concerning anitya, the Buddha said: “The five aggregates of attachment are impermanent” (pañcopādānaskandhā anityāḥ). – Concerning duḥkha, the Buddha said: “That which is impermanent is suffering” (yad anityaṃ tad duḥkham). – Concerning anātman, the Buddha said: “That which is suffering is non-self” (yad duḥkhaṃ tad anātmā). 

5) Concerning anitya, the Buddha spoke of the destruction of the five aggregates of attachment. – Concerning duḥkha, the Buddha said that it pierces the heart like an arrow (śalya). – Concerning anātman, the Buddha spoke of rejection (utsarjana).

6) Concerning anitya, he said that it destroys desire (tṛṣṇā). – Concerning duḥkha, he said that it destroys pride of self (asmimāna). – Concerning anātman, he said that it destroys wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi).[2]

7) Anitya dispels the view of eternalism (śāśvatadṛṣṭi). – Duḥkha dispels the view in which there is the happiness of nirvāṇa in the present lifetime. – Anātman dispels any possibility of attachment (abhiniveśasthāna).

8) Anityā is addressed to those who are attached to permanent things. – Duḥkha is addressed to those who imagine a possibility of happiness. – Anātman is addressed to those who imagine a stable Self.

[Anitya, duḥkha and anātman] are one notion with three different aspects.

The notion of non-self (anātmasaṃjñā) takes as its object (ālambate) the multiplicity of things (nānātva): see what was said with regard to the notion of suffering (duḥkhasaṃjñā).

Footnotes and references:


Anitya, duḥkha and anātmaka along with emptiness (śūnya) comprise the four aspects of the first noble Truth: above, p. 641F.


Saṃyutta, IV, p. 147–148, expresses itself in an analogous manner: Understanding and seeing the six senses, the six objects, the six consciousnesses and the six contacts as aniccato suppresses wrong views (micchādiṭṭhi); seeing them as dukkhato suppresses the belief in the ‘I’ (sakkāyadiṭṭhi); seeing them as anattato suppresses all speculation on the self (attānudiṭṭhi).