Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the power of the possible and the impossible (sthanasthana-jnanabala)” 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. The power of the possible and the impossible (sthānāsthāna-jñānabala)

Question. – What is the power of the knowledge of the possible and the impossible (sthānāsthānajñānabala)?

Answer. – The Buddha knows all dharmas, their causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) and the mechanism of the fruit of retribution (vipākaphalaniyāma): from such and such causes and conditions there arises such and such a fruit of retribution; from such and such other causes and conditions there arises such and such another fruit of retribution. How is that?


All of these possibilities and impossibilities the Buddha has explained from his own mouth in the To-sing king (Bahudhātukasūtra) but, relying on the word of the Buddha, scholars have developed these possibilities and impossibilities at length:[1]

[237b] It is impossible that the Buddhas have defects and errors, that the saints (ārya) seek out heretical teachers, that the saints fall into the bad destinies (durgati), that the fetters (saṃyojana), once destroyed by the path of seeing the truths (satyadarśana), re-arise, that the saints hide their faults, and that the srotaāpannas are reborn twenty-five times.[2] See what has been said at length in the classification of the saints (āryavibhaṅga).

It is impossible that people guilty of the five heinous crimes of immediate retribution (ānantarya), the five types of eunuchs (pañcavidhasandha), beings in the four bad destinies (caturdurgatipatitasattva), the inhabitants of Uttarāvati and the retinue of Māra (māraparivāra), being hindered by the three obstacles (āvaraṇa),[3] can attain the Path….[4] [237c]

There are innumerable impossibilities (asthāna) of this kind and it is the same for the possibilities. The Buddha knows the possible things and the impossible things; he distinguishes (vibhanakti) them and evaluates (tulayati) them. For beings able to be converted (vaineyasattva), he preaches the Dharma; for beings unable to be converted, it is the [free] play of causes. The Buddha is like a good physician (vaidya) who understands the curable and incurable illnesses.

On the other hand, the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas know very few things. Sometimes they want to convert beings unable to be converted, as was the case for the Cheou-lo (Asura?); sometimes they do not convert beings who ought to be converted, as was the case [for Śrīvṛddhi] who was not converted by Śāriputra. (see Appendix 1)

The Buddha himself makes no blunders. [His knowledge of the possible and the impossible] is intact (avyāhata) and invincible (prajānāti) and, since he knows fully and completely (prajānāti), it is called the first ‘power’.

Footnotes and references:


The Traité undoubtedly has in mind the Abhidharma authors who have considerably increased the list of possibilities and impossibilities drawn up by the Buddha: see, e.g., Vibhaṅga, p. 335–338; Kathāvatthu, p. 172; Puggalapaññatti, p. 11, 12.


The srotaāpanna is saptakṛtvaḥ paramaḥ, i.e., he will be reborn a maximum of seven times: cf. Anguttara, I, p. 233, l. 13; IV, p. 381, l. 13; Nettippakaraṇa, p. 169, l. 27; p. 189, l. 28; Visuddhimagga, p. 611, l. 26; Kośa, VI, p. 200.


The obstacle consisting of action (karmāvaraṇa) bars the Path to people guilty of the five ānantaryas; the obstacle consisting of passion (kleśāvaraṇa) bars it to eunuchs; the obstacle consisting of retribution (vipākāvaraṇa) bars it to beings in the four unfortunate rebirths (nāraka, tiryagyoni, preta and asura) and to the inhabitants of Uttarakuru: cf. Kośa, IV, p. 201–213.


The Traité continues by mentioning still other possibilities.