Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “attributes of the shravaka and attributes of the buddha” 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.

I. Attributes of the śrāvaka and attributes of the Buddha

[235b] Question. – The ten powers (bala), the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya), etc., are the peerless attributes reserved for the Buddhas. They should therefore be treated first. Why does [the Prajñāpāramitā] speak first of the nine concepts (navasaṃjñā) [in chapter XXXV], the eight recollections (aṣṭānusmṛtayaḥ) [in chapter XXXVI], etc.?

Answer. – The Prajñāpāramitā first spoke [in chapters XVII to XXX] of the six perfections (pāramitā) to be practiced by the bodhisattva. The thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment (saptatriṃśad bodhipākṣikadharmāḥ) and the other qualities including the three pure faculties (anāsravendriya) [which were the object of chapters XXXI to XXXVIII] are the qualities of the śrāvaka. By practicing the six perfections, the bodhisattva has acquired power (bala): he then wants to bypass the levels (bhūmi) of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, convert people engaged in [the Vehicles] of the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha and introduce them into the Vehicle of the Buddhas. This is why he criticizes these dharmas of the Lesser Vehicle (hīnayāna) of abandoning all beings and being of no benefit.

The śrāvakas say to the bodhisattva: “You are a worldly person (pṛthagjana) who has not yet destroyed the impurities (akṣīṇāsrava) and, because you are unable to practice these qualities, you criticize them rashly.” That is why [here, in the Prajñāpāramitā], the Buddha said: “The thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment (bodhipākṣikadharma) and the other qualities of the śrāvakas should be completely fulfilled by the bodhisattva, but only by basing himself on their non-existence (anupalabdhitām upādāya).”[1]

Although the bodhisattva practices these qualities, he considers them to be non-existent (anupalabdha): it is for beings devoted to bad practices (duścarita) that the bodhisattva practices these good practices of the śrāvaka and never rejects these qualities, non-existent and empty though they are. Neither does he hasten to realize his own nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasākṣātkāra).

If the bodhisattva did not understand, did not practice, this Lesser Vehicle and limited himself to criticizing it, who would want to believe him? If the Buddha Śākyamuni had not previously carried out the practices of austerity (duṣkaracaryā) for six years and had limited himself to criticizing them by saying that they were not the Path, nobody would have believed him. This is why he exerted himself in practices of austerity more than anyone else; then, when he had realized the Bodhi of the Buddhas, he criticized this path of austerities and everyone believed him.[2] This is why, following the six perfections, the bodhisattva practices the qualities of the śrāvaka.

Furthermore, these [qualities of the śrāvaka] are not just śrāvaka qualities. The bodhisattva who practices them in conjunction with the Dharma, without abandoning the mind of beings, ‘fulfills completely’ (paripūrayati) all the Buddha qualities. As he uses the knowledge of the emptiness of non-existence (anupalambhaśūnyatā)[3] [for this purpose], these śrāvaka qualities are also called bodhisattva qualities.

Question. – If the bodhisattva completely fulfills the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment (bodhipākṣikadharma), why does he not enter into the predestination of the śrāvakas (śrāvakaniyāma)?[4]

Answer. – When we say that he ‘fulfills completely’ (paripūrayati), we mean that he sees them and knows them completely but without taking on their realization (sākṣātkāraṃ nopagṛhṇāti). By seeing and knowing them clearly, he ‘fulfills them completely’.

Let us take, for example, this saying of the Buddha:

Everyone fears the stick and the rod.     
There is no one who does not protect his own life.
Inspired by the indulgence one has for oneself,
One does not inflict the stick on anyone.[5]

Although the Buddha says that everyone fears the stick and the rod, [this does not hold true] for beings of the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu) who have no body. Neither does it hold true for the realm of subtle form (rūpadhātu) where, there are bodies but no whip or rod. In the desire realm (kāmadhātu), it is not valid for the Buddhas, the noble cakravartin kings, the Yāma gods and other higher deities who have nothing to fear from a beating. It is in reference to those [235c] who do have reasons to fear the rod that the Buddha said “Everyone fears being beaten by the rod.”

It is the same here when we speak of ‘fulfilling completely’ [the śrāvaka qualities]: ‘fulfilling them completely’ is not to seek to realize them (sākṣātkṛ) or to be attached to them.

Furthermore, as has been said above, the bodhisattva does not abandon beings and [although he fulfills completely the śrāvaka qualities], it is by joining them with the knowledge bearing upon the emptiness of non-existence (anupalambhaśūnyatā).[6] This is why he does not fall into the class of the śrāvakas.

Footnotes and references:


See above, p. 1137F.


Described, among other sources, in the Duṣkaracaryāparivarta of the Lalitavistara, p. 243–260. The comments made by A. Foucher, La Vie du Bouddha, p. 134, on the mortifications of Śākyamuni connect up rather oddly with the considerations developed here by the Traité. The Buddha had to submit freely to the excesses of asceticism in order to be able, in the Sermon at Benares, to criticize from an awareness of the cause:

“There are two extremes which the person who is leading a spiritual life should avoid. The one is a life of pleasure, devoted to pleasures and enjoyment (kāmeṣu kāmasukhallikānuyoga): it is base, ignoble, contrary to the spirit, unworthy, vain. The other is a life of mortification (ātmaklamathānuyoga): this is sad, unworthy, vain…The flawless one has found the middle way (madhyamā partipad)…” (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 10; Catuṣparisaḍ, p. 140; Mahāvastu, III, p. 331; Lalitavistara, p. 416).


Knowledge about the fifteenth of the eighteen śūnyatās postulated by the Prajñāpāramitā: Pañcaviṃśati, p. 197, l. 15; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1473, l. 1–2. This is the fact that dharmas past, future and present do not exist (nopalabhyante). The translation ‘unascertainable emptiness’ is guilty of timidity.


The śrāvakaniyāma is the assurance of the śrāvaka as to his future attainment of nirvāṇa, The śrāvaka is called samyaktvaniyāvakrānta ( samyaktva = nirvāṇa); as soon as he has this guarantee, he is an ārya. In a similar way, bodhisattvaniyāma is the certainty for the bodhisattva of some day reaching supreme perfect enlightenment which makes him a Buddha. See Kośa,VI, p. 180–182 and notes.


Udānavarga, V, v, 19 (p. 144):

Sarve danḍasya bibhyanti, saveṣāṃ jīvitaṃ priyam |
ātmānam upamāṃ kṛtvā, naiva hanyān na ghātayet ||

“Everyone fears the rod; life is precious to everyone. By taking oneself as the point of comparison, one avoids killing or making another kill.”

Cf. Dhammapada, v. 130:

Sabbe tasanti daṇḍassa, sabbesaṃ jīvitaṃ piyaṃ |
attānaṃ upamaṃ katvā, na haneyya na gātaye ||

The same stanza will be cited later, k. 30, p. 278b23–24.


See above, p. 153F, n.