Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the ten powers and the 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.

Preliminary note (1): The ten powers and the four fearlessnesses

In the preceding chapter and in the first section of the present chapter, the Traité has spoken of the ten powers (bala) and the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya) of the Buddha according to the doctrine of the Sūtras and the Abhidharma. Now it will discuss the conceptions of the Mahāyāna in regard to the same subject.

It will position itself successively from the absolute truth point of view (paramārthasatya) and the relative truth point of view (samvṛtisatya).

1. The balas and the vaiśāradyas are without distinctive natures:

From the absolute point of view, the balas and the vaiśāradyas are without distinctive natures and, like all other dharmas, come within the emptiness of non-existence (anupalambhaśūnyatā) in terms of which “dharmas, whether past, future of [present, do not exist at all” (Pañcaviṃśati, p. 197, l. 15–16: ye dharmā atītānāgatapratyutpannās te nopalabhyante).

Bala and Vaiśāradya fall under the judgment of the Prajñāpmaramitāsūtras (Pañcaviṃśati, p. 146, l. 9–20; Śatasāhastikā, p. 839, l. 13–842, l. 17):

“The bodhisattva does not grasp (nopalabhate) the ātman, whatever the names by which it is designated: sattva, jīva, poṣa, puruṣa, pudgala, manuja, mānava, kmaraka, vedaka, jānaka, paśyaka. He does not grasp things, skandha, dhātu, āyatana, or their pratītyasamutpāda. He does not grasp the noble truths, duḥkha, samudaya, nirodha, mārga. He does not grasp the threefold world, kāma-, rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu. He does not grasp the levels of concentration, apramāṇa, dhyāna and ārūpyasamāpatti. He does not grasp the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment, smṛtyupasthāna, samyakpradhāna, ṛddhipāda, indriya, bala, bodhyaṅga and mārga. He does not grasp the Buddha attributes, daśabala, caturvaiśāradya, aṣṭādaśāveṇika. He does not grasp the categories of saints, srotaāpanna, sakṛdāgamin, anāgamin, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva, buddha. If he does not grasp them, it is because of their absolute purity (atyantaviśuddhitā). What is this purity? Non-production (anutpāda), non-manifestation (aprādurbhāva), non-existence (anupalambha), non-activity (anabhisaṃskāra).”

2. It is permissible to consider things and to find their distinctive characteristics

From the relative or conventional point of view, it is permissible to consider things and to find their distinctive characteristics for, just as empty space (ākāśa) does not oppose matter, so “the emptiness of non-existence is not an obstacle to any dharma.”

Provided that he is not attached at all to his mind – in other words, provided that he recognizes its fundamental non-existence – the bodhisattva can, for the purpose of saving beings, discourse very well on the various attributes of the Buddha: the ten balas, the four vaiśaradyas, the four pratisaṃvids and the eighteen āveṇikabuddhadharmas.

The sūtras and the Hīnayāna Abhidharmas make no distinction between Buddha attributes and bodhisattva attributes for the valid reason that the bodhisattva is a future Buddha and between the former and the latter there can be only a difference of degree and not of nature.

The Prajñāpāramitāsūtras have remained at this stage. Thus the Pañcaviṃśati (p. 203–212), setting out to define the Mahāyāna, suggest twenty-one practices to be completely fulfilled (paripūrayitavya) or to be imitated (śikṣitavya). The first seventeen are dharmas of the śrāvaka: 1) four smṛtyupasthānas, 2) four samyakpradhānas, 3) four ṛddhipādas, 4) five indriyas, 5) five balas, 6) seven bodhyaṅgas, 7) eight mārgāṅgas, 8) three samādhis, 9) eleven jñānas, 10) three indriyas, 11) three samādhis, 12) ten anusmṛtis, 13) four dhyānas, 14) four apramānas, 15) four samāpattis, 16) eight vimokṣas, 17) nine anupūrvavihāras). The last four are Buddha dharmas: [18) ten tathāgatabalas, 19) four vaiśāradyas, 20) four pratisaṃvids, 21) eighteen āveṇikabuddhadharmas]. Nowhere is there any mention made of dharmas belonging strictly to the bodhisattva.

But in a later approach, other Mahāyānasūtras have deemed it proper to propose, apart from these Buddha attributes, a series of bodhisattva attributes distinct from the preceding, but also including ten balas, four vaiśāradyas, four pratisaṃvids and eighteen āveṇikadharmas.

Although the Traité presents itself simply as a faithful commentary on the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra, it does not hesitate to borrow these lists of bodhisattva dharmas from the more recent Māhayānasūtras. Its or their authors want to appear as knowledgeable of the latest progress in scholasticism with the result that, from the scholastic point of view, an important Mahāyanist production has been intercalated between the Prajñāpāramitasūtras and the Traité.