Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the concepts of renunciation (prahana), detachment (viraga) and cessation (nirodha)” 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. The concepts of renunciation (prahāṇa), detachment (virāga) and cessation (nirodha)

[232c] The concepts of renunciation (prahāṇasaṃjñā), detachment (virāgasaṃjñā) and cessation (nirodhasaṃjñā) have the characteristics (nimitta) of nirvāṇa as object (ālambante).[1] Because the latter cuts through the fetters (saṃyojana), there is the notion of renunciation; because it renounces the fetters, there is the notion of detachment; because it suppresses the fetters, there is the notion of cessation.

Question. – If that is so, one single notion would suffice; why then mention three?

Answer. – It is again a matter of one and the same thing spoken of in three different ways as was the case above (p. 1452F), where it was said: That which is impermanent is suffering and that which is suffering is impermanent.” It is the same here where the wickedness and the miseries of the entire world are so heavy that they are condemned in three ways. When a huge tree is being cut down, it is impossible to cut it down using just one saw. Since nirvāṇa is an excellent (praṇīta) dharma not yet attained previously (apūrvaprāpta), it is praised in diverse ways: hence the notions of renunciation (prahāṇasaṃjñā), detachment (virāgasaṃjñā) and cessation (nirodhasaṃjñā).

Furthermore, as nirvāṇa cuts through the three poisons (triviṣa), it is called abandonment (prahāṇa); as it abandons desire (rāga), it is called detachment (virāga), and as it suppresses all suffering to the point that it no longer arises, it is called cessation (nirodha).

Furthermore, during the preparatory path (prayogamārga) consisting of heat (uṣmagata), summits (mūrdhan), patience (kṣānti) and the supreme worldly dharmas (laukikāgradharma),[2] the yogin who has the vision of the correct knowledge (samyagjñāna), moves away from the defilements (kleśa): that is the notion of detachment (virāgasaṃjñā). – Obtaining the pure path (anāsravamārga), he cuts the fetters (saṃyojana): that is the notion of renunciation (prahāṇasaṃjñā). – When he enters into nirvāṇa, he suppresses the five aggregates of attachment (pañcopādānaskandha) that will be continued no longer: that is the notion of cessation (nirodhasaṃjñā).

The notion of renunciation is nirvāṇa-with-residue (sopadhiśeṣanirvāṇa); the notion of cessation is nirvāṇa-without-residue (nirupadhiśeṣanirvāṇa); the notion of detachment is the means (upāya), the door, to both nirvāṇas.

These three concepts, sometimes impure (sāsrava) and sometimes pure (anāsrava), are included (saṃgṛhīta) in all the stages (bhūmi).

Footnotes and references:


Anguttara, V, p. 110–111, defines these three concepts in the following way: Idh’ Ānanda bhikkhu uppannaṃ kāmavitakkaṃ nādhivāseti pajahati vinodeti vyantīkaroti …taṇhakkhayo nirodho nibbānan ti. Ayaṃ vucat’ Ānanda nirodhasaññā.

Transl. – Here, O Ānanda, the monk refuses, abandons, removes, destroys and suppresses the thoughts of desire, malice, harm and wicked bad dharmas when they arise: this is the concept of abandonment.

Then the monk, withdrawn into the forest, under a tree or in an empty house, reflects and says to himself: The pacification of all the formations, the rejection of all conditionings, the destruction of desire, cessation, nirvāṇa, is a good thing, is an excellent thing: this is detachment.

Finally, the monk, withdrawn into the forest, etc. …: this is the concept of cessation.

Note that this sūtra defines detachment and cessation in the same terms. These concepts are synonyms of nirvāṇa.


The four aids to insight (nirvedhabhāgīya) discussed above, p. 495F, 1067F, 1411F.

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