Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why the buddha mentioned his four fearlessnesses” 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.

II. Why the Buddha mentioned his four fearlessnesses

Questions. – For what reasons does the Buddha speak of his four fearlessnesses?

Answer. – The Buddha calls himself omniscient (sarvajñā) and omnivoyant (sarvadarśin). But in the world, there are infinite treatises, arts (kalā), sciences (vidhi), knowledges (jñāna), crafts (śilpa), methods (upāya). For all the beings taken together to know all these things would already be difficult: it would be more difficult still for the Buddha himself alone to possess omniscience. So many things, so many difficulties!

The Buddha, who experiences no fear, wishes to destroy incorrect suspicions and, in order to refute objection, he speaks of the four fearlessnesses.

Furthermore, before the Buddha appeared in the world, heretics (tīrthika) in various ways deceived people who were searching for the Path or seeking merit. There were those who ate all kinds of fruits (phala), all kinds of vegetables (vyañjana), all kinds of plants (tṛṇa) and roots (mūla), cow-dung (gomaya) or false millet, who ate once a day, every second day, every tenth day, once a month or once every two months, who swallowed smoke, drank water, ate moss and other things of this kind, who dressed themselves in tree bark, [242a] leaves or grass, deer-skins or wooden planks, who slept on the ground, on branches, on ashes or spines, who, in the cold season went into the water, or in the hot season scorched themselves between five fires, who died by going into the water, entering into the fire, by throwing themselves on picks or by starving themselves to death.[1] In the course of these different austerities (duṣkaracaryā), they were seeking paradise (svarga) or they were seeking nirvāṇa. They also recommended their disciples not to renounce these practices and, by leading people of little intelligence in this way, they collected homage (pūjā).

As long as the sun (sūrya) has not risen, the firefly (khadyotaka)[2] gleams somewhat; but when the sun has risen and is shining, the moon (candra) and stars (tāraka) no longer shine and even less so, the firefly. Similarly, as long as the Buddha had not yet appeared in the world, the heretics were illuminating the world with a feeble light and receiving homage; but as soon as the Buddha has appeared in the world, he eclipses the heretics and their disciples by the brilliance of his great knowledge (mahājñānāloka) and none of them receive homage.[3] Having lost homage and profits, they increase their lies (mṛṣāvāda) against the Buddha and his disciples.

[Sundarīsūtra].[4] – As has been said in the Souen-t’o-li-king (Sundarīsūtra), they accused the Buddha of having killed Sundarī. They said to people: “The lowest man in the world would not do that, and the person who is mistaken about human laws on this point is even more mistaken about nirvāṇa.”

Wishing to destroy such slander, the Buddha himself proclaimed his own true qualities (guṇa) and his four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya), saying:

“I alone am omniscient (sarvajñā) and nobody can truthfully say that I am not cognizant. I do not fear that.”

I alone have destroyed all the impurities (āsrava) and their traces (vāsanā) and nobody can truthfully say that the Buddha has not destroyed the impurities. I do not fear that.”

“I have proclaimed the dharmas that create obstacles to the Path to nirvāṇa (nirvāṇamārgāntarāyikadharma) and nobody can truthfully say that these dharmas do not create obstruction to nirvāṇa. The Buddha does not fear that.”

“ The Buddha has stated the path to the destruction of suffering (duḥkhanirodhapratipad) that leads to nirvāṇa and nobody can truthfully say that this path does not lead to nirvāṇa. The Buddha does not fear that.”

In summary (saṃkṣepeṇa), here is the nature of these four fearlessnesses:[5]

1. Complete knowledge of all the dharmas (sarvadharmābhisaṃbodhi).

2. Destruction of all the impurities (sarvāsravakśaya) and their traces (vāsanā).

3. A report of the dharmas that create obstacles to the path (mārgāntarāyikadharmavyākaraṇa).

4. A report of the path of the cessation of suffering (duḥkhanirordhapartipadvyākaraṇa).

The Buddha does not fear that anyone can truthfully say that he does not fully know these four things. Why? Because he knows them precisely and fully.

The first two fearlessnesses are personal qualities or perfections [for the Buddha]; the last two fearlessnesses are qualities useful to beings.[6]

In the first, third and fourth fearlessness, it is a matter of knowledge; in the second, it is a matter of destruction (kṣaya). The matter is governed by the perfection of wisdom and cessation.

Footnotes and references:


The austerities described here are those of the naked ascetics (acelaka) already described by the Buddha in the Udumbarika-Sīhanādasuttanta (Dīgha, III, p. 40–42; Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 8, p. 47c; Ni keou t’o fan tche king, T 11, k. 1, p. 223b; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 26, p. 592b).


The example of the firefly or the shining worm (Sanskrit khadyotaka, Pāli khajjopanaka) is classic: cf. Majjhima, II, p. 34, 41; Visuddhimagga, p. 347; Pañcaviṃśati, p. 41.


Considerations already developed in the Pāli Udāna, p. 12.


See references above, p. 507F note; add Arthapadasūtra, transl. Bapat, p. 22–24.


Cf. Kośa, VII, p. 75; Dharmasaṃgraha, § 77; Mahāvyut., no. 131–134.


Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 186: Atra jñānaprahāṇakārakatvena svārthe, niryāṇavighnadeśilatvena ca parārthe, nirādhṛṣyatvād anyatīrthyair bhagavato yathākramaṃ caturvidhaṃ vaiśāradhyam udbhāvitam. See also Bodh. bhūmi, p. 402.