Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the power of the destruction of the impurities (asravakshaya-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.

X. The power of the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya-jñānabala)

The power of the knowledge of the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣayajñānabala).

Question. – There are differences in the degrees of knowledge for the first nine powers: [namely, of the śrāvakas, the pratyekabuddhas or the Buddha]; but here the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya) is the same [for all]. How is [the knowledge of the Buddha] different here from that of the śrāvaka and the pratyekabuddha?

Answer. – Although the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya) is the same [in all], the various knowledges (jñānaviśeṣa) [which recognize them] is very different. (see “Notes on the different degrees of knowledge” below)

In the śrāvaka, the very strong fetters to be destroyed by meditation (bhāvanāheyasaṃyojana) are destroyed at three times: i) the time of arising (utpādabhāga), ii) the time of duration (sthitibhāga) and iii) the time of disappearance (bhaṅgabhāga). This is not the case in the Buddha: it is at the very moment of their arising that they are completely destroyed.

In the śrāvaka, the fetters to be destroyed by seeing the truths (satyadarśanaheyasaṃyojana) are destroyed at the moment of their arising, but the fetters to be destroyed by meditation (bhāvanāheyasaṃyojana) are destroyed at three times. For the Buddha there is no difference between the fetters to be destroyed by seeing the truths the fetters to be destroyed by meditation.[1]

When the śrāvaka enters the noble path [of darśanamārga] for the first time, the moment of entry (praveśakāla consisting of the duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣānti) is distinct from the moment of understanding (abhisamayakāla consisting of the duḥkhe dharmajñāna). In the Buddha, it is in a single moment of mind that the entry (praveśa) and the understanding (abhisamaya) occur. He obtains omniscience (sarvajñāna), destroys all the obstacles (āvaraṇa) and obtains all the attributes of Buddha in a single moment of mind.

The śrāvakas have two kinds of liberation (vimukti): i) liberation from the passions (kleśavimukti) and ii) liberation from the obstacles to the Dharma (dharmāvaraṇavimukti). The Buddha possesses liberation from all the conflicting emotions and also liberation from all the obstacles to the Dharma.[2]

It is by himself (svatas) that the Buddha attains wisdom (prajñā). The śrāvakas, on the other hand, obtain it by following the teachings (deśanā) of another.

Furthermore, some say: When the Buddha cuts off the defilements (kleśa) of all beings by means of his wisdom, his own knowledge is neither dulled nor diminished. Just as a red-hot iron ball (ādīptāyoguḍā) set down on a cotton cloth (tūlapaṭṭikā) burns the cotton without its power of combustion being diminished, so the Buddha’s wisdom burns all the defilements without the power of his knowledge (jñānabala) being thereby diminished.

Furthermore, the śrāvakas know only if their own impurities are destroyed. The Buddhas know that their own impurities are destroyed and also know if those of others are also destroyed. On this subject see the Tsing king (Praśāntasūtra). (see Appendix 9)

Finally, the Buddha is the only one who knows the modalities inherent in the minds of beings with their ninety-eight perverse tendencies (anuśaya)[3] and their ninety-six errors (paryavasthāna).[4] no one but the Buddha knows them. [241a]

The Buddha is also the only one who knows the nature of the fetters destroyed in the course of the duḥkhe dharmajñāna, the duḥkhe ’nvayajñāna and so on up to the mārge ’nvayajñāna. Similarly, he knows [the fetters] destroyed by meditation (bhāvanāhīna) in the course of the nine moments of liberation (vimuktimārga).[5]

The Buddha knows these things about beings fully and completely (prajānāti). The little that the śrāvaka knows of them or says about them may be ascribed to the Buddha’s teachings.

This is the power in the Buddha of the knowledge of destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣayajñānaprabhāva) and, since this knowledge is intact (avyāhata) and invincible (ajeya) [in him], it is called the ‘tenth power’.

Notes on the different degrees of knowledge (jñāna-viśeṣa):

It is acknowledged in both Vehicles that liberation (vimukti), in other words, the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya), is the same in the śrāvaka, the pratyekabuddha and the Buddha (cf. Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 31, p. 62b–c; Kośa, VI, p. 282; Vasumitra, transl. Masuda, p. 49 (thesis 37 of the Sarvāstivādin), p. 62 (thesis 22 of the Mahīśāsaka), p. 64 (thesis 3 of the Dharmaguptaka); Saṃdhinirmocana. X, §2; Sūtrālaṃkāra, XI, v. 53 (vimokṣatulyatva); Saṃgraha, p. 327–328; Buddhabhūmiśāstra, T 1530, k. 5, p. 312b7–15.

No matter that there are many differences between the bodhi of the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas on the one hand and the anuttarasamyakasaṃbodhi of the Buddhas on the other hand. They are noted in many texts: Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 143, p. 735b; Traité here and at k. 53, p. 436b. The latter is perhaps inspired by the Upāsakaśīlasūtra, T 1488, k. 1, p. 1038a–c (analysed in Hôbôgirin, p. 87):

The śrāvakas obtain bodhi by debating, the pratyekabuddhas by reflecting, and they understand only a part of the truth; the Buddhas understand everything without a teacher, without listening, without meditating, as a result of their practices.

The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas know the general characteristics (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) of things; the Buddhas know the specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇa) and only they are omniscient.

The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas know the four noble truths (satya) but not causes and conditions (hetupratyaya); the Buddhas know the causes and conditions. The water of the Ganges being compared to the river of pratītyasamupāda, the śrāvaka is like a rabbit that crosses the river without knowing its depth; the pratyekabuddha is like a horse that knows the depth when it touches the bottom; the Buddha is like the elephant that knows its full depth.

The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas have cut off the passions (kleśa) but not their habitual tendencies (vāsanā); the Buddha has cut off everything at the root.

– We should recall once more that all these differences are of interest only to the scholar of the Lesser Vehicle of whom the Traité here is only a spokesman without sharing his opinions. From the Mahāyāna point of view to which the Traité subscribes, bodhi is only a name and, in the true sense, śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha and Buddha do not exist: see Vimalakīrti, p. 195–196, 423–425.

Footnotes and references:


The passions to be abandoned during the Path of meditation are called bhāvanāheyakleśa, bhāvanākleśa or also savastukakleśa ‘passions with point of support’ (Kośa, VI, p. 257). Each of the nine levels – kāmadhātu, four dhyānas, four samāpattis – making nine categories: strong-strong, strong-medium, strong-weak, medium-strong…(Kośa, VI, p. 199). Thus there are in all 81 categories of bhāvanāheyakleśa of which each is destroyed by one moment of abandoning or expelling (prahāna or ānantaryamārga) and one moment of liberation (vimuktimārga) (Kośa, VI, p. 198–199); in all, 162 moments of mind.

The passions to be abandoned in the course of the Path of seeing the truths are called darśanaheya, dṛgheya or also avastuka ‘passions without point of support’ In their nature they are ‘wrong view’ (dṛṣṭi), belief in a self, etc. (Kośa, VI, p. 257). They are destroyed by seeing the four noble truths, suffering, its origin, its cessation and the path to its cessation. The ascetic takes possession of each of these truths by two moments of mental acceptance (kṣānti) and by two moments of knowledge (jñāna): in all, sixteen moments of mind. The mental acceptances are the path of destruction (prahāṇamārga) or the uninterrupted path (ānantaryamārga) because they cut through doubt; the knowledges are possession of the cessation of doubt (Kośa, VI, p. 183–185, 189–191). For a succinct explanation of the Path, refer to my [Lamotte’s] Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 677–686.

For the ordinary practitioner, the bhāvanamārga is long, whereas the darśanamārga is quick (Kośa, VII, 8). This is why it destroys the passions to be destroyed by meditation in three times and the passions to be destroyed by seeing in one time. The Buddha destroys all the categories in one single moment. This does not prevent the scholastic from attributing 34 moments of mind to the enlightenment of a Buddha (see above, p. 1556F, n. 1).


A passage the extreme conciseness of which makes it obscure. If I [Lamotte] understand it well, the śrāvaka is liberated from the obstacle consisting of the conflicting emotions (kleśāvaraṇa) and only a part of the obstacle to knowledge (jñeyāvaraṇa), that which opposes awareness of the Dharma and the four noble truths. The Buddha is free of the obstacle consisting of the passions and the obstacle opposing the grouping of knowledge, of awareness of all things in all their aspects (sarvākārajñāna).

Above (p. 346F), the Traité has mentioned the triad of obstacles consisting of the passions (kleśa), action (karma) and retribution (vipāka). This triad is of canonical origin (Anguttara, III, p. 435; Vibhaṅga, p. 341). The Adhyadhaśatikā (T 240, k. 1, p. 776b6–7; T 243, k. 1, p. 784b14; T 244, k. 1, p. 786c22–23) and the Laṅkāvatāra, p. 241, propose another triad: kleśa-, karma-, and dharma-āvaraṇa, but do not define the last one.


Cf. Vibhāṣā, T 1545, K. 46, p. 237b–238a; Kośa, V, p. 9.


For this expression, see Kośa, V, p. 3–5 and notes.


The Buddha knows the darśanaheyakleśa that are destroyed during the sixteen moments of mind of the Path of seeing, and the bhāvanāheyakleśa from which the practitioner is liberated during the 81 vimuktimārga of the Path of meditation, nine vimuktimārgas for each of the nine levels.