Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note on the four unhindered knowledges (pratisamvid)” 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 on the four unhindered knowledges (pratisaṃvid)

The pratisaṃvids, literally ‘special knowledges’, in Pāli, paṭisambhidā, in Tibetan so so yaṅ dag par rig pa, in Chinese ngai kiai, wou nagi tche, wou, ngai pien, ‘explanations, knowledges or unhindered speech’ are the unimpeded, unfailing knowledges (asaktam avivartyaṃ jñānam) that make a good preacher.

The pratisaṃvids are four in number:

1. Artha-pratisaṃvid: knowledge of the thing designated (bhāṣitārtha) or more precisely, knowledge of its self-nature (svalakṣaṇa): for example, knowing the thing designated by the word ‘earth’ the intrinsic nature of which is solidity.

2. Dharma-pratisaṃvid: knowledge of the designation (bhāṣitadharma), or the names (nāman), phrases (pada), syllables (vyañjana) used to designate the thing: for example, knowing that the name ‘pṛthivī’ serves to designate the earth.

From the Buddhist perspective, dharma respresents the teaching (deśanādharma), the word of the Buddha having nine or twelve members: sūtra, geya, vyākaraṇa, etc., and especially the eight-membered Path (aṣṭāṅgamārga) that constitutes its essence.

3. Nirukti-pratisaṃvid: knowledge of vocal expression (vāc, adhivacana). It is not enough to know the word in abstracto, but it is also necessary to express it with the appropriate number (singular, dual, or plural), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and case, taking account of its etymology. All of this varies according to the language used so that, considering everything, nirukti-pratisaṃvid is none other than the knowledge of languages.

4. Pratibhāna-pratisaṃvid: knowledge of elocution or, more simply, eloquence. This is the ability to speak in a precise and easy way (yuktamuktaprtibhāna) resulting from mastery in regard to the Path (mārgavaśita) and unfailing attentiveness.

The pratisaṃvids are inseparable: the person who possesses one possesses all of them. On the other hand, they are the same in all, although realized to varying degrees. Thus, there is no way to make distinctions between the pratisaṃvid of the śrāvaka, the bodhisattva or the Buddha if this is not in the mind or intention governing their practice.

It is often a question of the pratisaṃvids in the canonical and scholastic literature, but the definitions given are rather rare and often divergent. Here I [Lamotte] will mention a few particularly interesting texts:

1) In the Nikāyas and the āgamas: Anguttara, I, p. 24,l. 29; II, p. 160; III, p. 113, 120; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 21, p. 656c26–657a17; Mahāniddeaa, I, p. 234; Paṭisambhīda, I, p. 88, 119, 132; II, p. 150, 157–158, 185, 193.

The Buddha accepts that bhikṣus can have the pratisaṃvids and gives Mahākauṣṭhila as an example. But Śāriputra, the wisest of all, held them in only a limited way (odhiso) and in a manner of speaking (vyañjanaso); in these conditions, those who wish clarifications should speak to the Buddha rather than to him.

2) In the Pāli Abhidhamma: Vibhaṅga, p. 293–305, commented on in Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 372–376 (transl. Nanamoli, p. 485 seq.). The theory is well summarized in a note appearing in the appendix to Points of Controversy, p. 379–381).

3) In the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma and śāstras: Prakraṇapāda, T 1542, k. 5, p. 712b11–12; Jñānaprasthāna, T 1544, k. 18, p. 1018b; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 180, p. 903c–906b; Kośa, VII, p. 89–94; Kośabhāṣya, p. 418–421 (very clear explanation); Abhidharmadīpa, p. 393.

4) In the Mahāyānasūtras: for example Pañcaviṃśati, p. 211, l. 15–16; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1449, l. 18–21; Daśabhūmika, p. 77. – Brief commentary in Āloka, p. 455, l. 25 seq.

5) In the Vijñānavādin treatises: Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 138–139; Saṃgraha, p. 293, with commentary as note; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 258, l. 4–17; Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā, T 1606, p. 759b23–c16; Siddhi, p. 652.