Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “introduction to the eight classes of dharmas” 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.

Introduction to the eight classes of dharmas

Question. – After the thirty-seven auxiliaries (pakṣa), why does [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] still speak of these eight classes of dharmas?

Answer. –

1. [The samādhis]. – The thirty-seven auxiliaries are the path (mārga) leading to nirvāṇa. When one follows this path, one reaches the city of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇagara). The city of nirvāṇa has three gates (dvāra), emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) and wishlessness (apraṇihita). Thus, after having spoken about the path [in chapter XXXI], it is necessary to speak of the gates that lead into it.

2. [Dhyānas and ārūpyasamāpattis]. – The four trances (dhyāna), etc., are dharmas helping to open these gates.

Moreover, the thirty-seven auxiliaries are higher and admirable things, but the mind is distracted (vikṣipta) in the desire realm (kāmadhātu); then on what levels (bhūmi) and on what means (upāya) will the yogin depend in order to obtain them? He will depend on the trances (dhyāna) of the form realm (rūpadhātu) and on the absorptions (samāpatti) of the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu).

3. [Apramāṇas, vimokṣas, abhibhvāyatanas, navānupūrvasamāpattis and kṛtsnāyatanas]. – In the four immeasurables (apramāṇa), the eight liberations (vimokṣa), the eight spheres of mastery (ahibhvāyatana), the nine successive absorptions (anupūrvavihārasamāpatti) and the ten spheres of totality (kṛtsnāyatana), the yogin is testing his mind to see whether it is flexible (mṛdu), powerful (vibhu) and docile (yatheṣṭa). It is like the nomad (sārthavāha) who tests his horse (aśva) to see whether it is supple and docile and who, only after that, goes into battle.

It is the same for the ten spheres of totality: the yogin contemplates (anupaśyati) and seizes (udgṛhṇāti) a blue color (nīlavarṇa), big (apramāṇa) or small (parītta); then he looks at objects wanting them to be all blue, or else all yellow (pīta), all red (lohita), all white (avadāta).

Furthermore, in the eight spheres of mastery (abhibhvāyatana), he rules as sovereign (abhibhu) over objects (ālambana).

In the first and the last liberation (vimokṣa), he considers the body as disgusting (aśubha), but in the third liberation, on the other hand, he considers it as fine (śubha).

In the four immeasurables (apramāṇa), by means of loving-kindness (maitrī), he sees[1] all beings as happy (sukhita); by means of compassion, he sees (karuṇā) all beings as suffering (duḥkhita); by means of joy (muditā), he sees all beings as rejoicing (mudita); then, with equanimity (upekṣā), setting aside the [preceding] three feelings, he sees beings quite simply without feeling aversion (pratigha) or affection (anunaya) for them.

[Subjective or objective consideration]. – Furthermore, there are two types of consideration (pratyavekṣā): i) the subjective consideration (adhimutipratyavekṣa); ii) the objective consideration (bhūtapratyavekṣā).

The objective consideration is the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment (bodhipākṣikadharma). But as this objective consideration is difficult to acquire (durlabha), it is necessary to follow it up with the subjective consideration. The mind, in the course of the latter,[2] becomes supple and so it becomes easy to obtain the objective consideration. By using the objective consideration, the three gates of nirvāṇa are successfully opened.

Footnotes and references:


Or more correctly, ‘wants to see’, for it is a matter of purely subjective considerations serving to purify the ascetic’s mind, but not exerting any influence on the happiness or misfortune of beings.


In the course of the subjective consideration relating to the seven classes of supplementary dharmas.

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