Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “the pratisamvids according to the abhidharma” 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 pratisaṃvids according to the Abhidharma

The four pratisaṃvids ‘unhindered knowledges’ are: i) artha-pratisaṃvid [bearing on the thing designated or bhāṣitārtha],[1] ii) dharma-pratisaṃvid [bearing on the designation or bhāṣitadharma], iii) nirukti-pratisaṃvid [bearing on vocal expression or nirukti], iv) pratibhāna-pratisaṃvid [bearing on elocution or pratibhāna].[2]

1. Artha-pratisaṃvid

The pratisaṃvid of the designated thing. – Things (vastu) expressed with the help of names (nāman) and by the voice (vāc) each have their own nature (lakṣaṇa): for example, the nature solidity (khakkhaṭalakṣaṇa).[3]

In this example, the solid nature (khakkhaṭalakṣaṇa) of the earth (pṛthivī) is the artha ‘the thing designated’; the name (nāman) ‘earth’ is the dharma ‘designation’; to say ‘earth’ using the voice (vāc) is the nirukti ‘expression’; the ease of speaking (muktābhipāpitā), the mastery (vaśitva) over these three kinds of knowledge is the pratibhāna ‘elocution’. Penetrating these four things without difficulty constitutes the pratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge’.

The solidity (khakkhaṭatva) characterizing earth (pṛthivī), the moistness (daratva) characterizing water (ap), the heat (uṣṇatva) characterizing fire (tejas), the movement (īraṇatva) characterizing wind (vāyu), the intelligent nature of the mind (citta), the impermanent (anitya) painful (duḥkha) and empty (śūnya) nature of the five aggregates of attachment (pañcopadānaskandha), the non-self nature (anātmaka) of all dharmas, those are general characteristics [246b] (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) and specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇa). Distinguishing them in this way is called arthapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of the [designated] thing’.

2. Dharma-pratisaṃvid

The pratisaṃvid of designation. – Knowing the name (nāman) of the thing (artha), knowing that solidity is called earth (pṛthivī) and having no difficulty in distinguishing all the names of this type, is called dharmapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of the designation’.[4]

Why? Because the thing is not grasped separately from the name (nāman) and one can recognize the thing only by the name. This is why the designation (dharma) comes immediately after the thing (artha).

Question. – Is the thing (artha) joined with the name (nāman) or separate from the name?[5] If it were joined with the name, we would burn our mouth by saying “fire”. If it were separate from the name, we would get water by saying “fire”.

Answer. – The thing is neither joined with nor separate from the name. Out of convention (saṃvṛti), the ancients fixed the names designating things, and their descendants, thanks to these names, recognized things. Thus for each thing there is a name called dharma [here].

3. Nirukti-pratisaṃvid

But what has to be done in order that beings can obtain the consciousness of this name (nāman) and this thing (artha)? Recourse must be made to expressions (nirukti), to various ornamentations, so that people can comprehend them.[6] Penetrating these processes without difficulty is called niruktipratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of expression’.

4. Pratibhāna-pratisaṃvid

If the speech (abhilāpa) is provided with logic (nyāya), if the account (prakāśana) is inexhaustible and also if the orator has obtained mastery over the concentrations (samādhivaśitā), there is then an ease [of speech] called pratibhānapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of elocution.’[7]

5. Levels, knowledges and types of pratisaṃvid

1) The first and the fourth pratisaṃvid occur in nine levels: [kāmadhātu, four dhyānas and four samāpattis].

The second and third pratisaṃvid occur in kāmadhātu and the four Brahmā heavens, [i.e., in the four dhyānas].[8]

2) The second and third pratisaṃvid are worldly knowledges (saṃvṛtjñāna).

The first pratisaṃvid is ten knowledges (daśajñāna).

The fourth pratisaṃvid is nine knowledges [by excluding the knowledge of cessation of suffering (nirodhajñāna)].[9]

3) The pratisaṃvids are higher (agra), middling (madhya) or lower (avara): higher among the Buddhas, middling among the great bodhisattvas, lower among the great arhats.

Question. – The balas, the vaiśāradyas and the pratisaṃvids are all knowledges (jñāna). Having the balas inwardly and the vaiśāradyas outwardly would be complete (paripūrṇa). Why speak further of the pratisaṃvids?

Answer. – The balas and the vaiśāradyas have been explained. There are people who, while fearlessly preaching the Dharma in the great assemblies, still have hesitations.[10] This is why particularly the pratisaṃvids are spoken of. The pratisaṃvids ‘adorn’ the vaiśāradyas and the vaiśāradyas adorn the balas.

Moreover, when we speak of the vaiśāradyas, some people have doubts and ask how anyone would not experience any fear in the great assemblies. But the Buddha first experiences the ten balas and finally the four pratisaṃvids. This is why, in the great assemblies, he has no fear of preaching the Dharma.

This completes the explanation of the four pratisaṃvids.

Footnotes and references:


Artha has several meanings, but in the expression arthapratisaṃvid it means thing and not meaning or signification. However, out of long habit, the better Chinese translators, such as Kumārajīva and Hiuan-tsang. render it as yi, notion of a thing, idea, signification (in English, meaning, purport, interpretation). Without being so presumptuous as to try to correct these virtuosos of Chinese Buddhism, I [Lamotte] would prefer to read the character king, sometimes used by Hiuan-tsang to translate artha taken in the meaning of viṣaya, ‘object’ (e.g., in his translation of the Kośa, T 1558, k.1, p. 2b7, corresponding to Kośabhāṣyā, p. 5, l. 20).


The Traité will put forward here the Ābhidhārmikas’ definitions for the main part: cf. Vibhaṅga, p. 293, l. 4–6; Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 372, l. 29–52; Vibhāṣā citing the Prakaraṇapāda, T 1545, k. 180, p. 904a8–13; Kośabhāṣya, p. 419, l. 17–18; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 76, p. 751a2 seq; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 393, l. 6–12; Āloka, p. 455, l. 25 seq.


The object of arthapratisaṃvid is the artha for the Vibhaṅga, the Kośa and the Nyāyānusāra; the paramārtha for the Vibhāṣā; the dharmalakṣaṇa for the Āloka. We can say with the Traité that it is the real thing, constituted by its own nature and capable of being designated.


The object of dharmapratisaṃvid is the dharma [taken in the sense of deśana] for the Vibhāṣā; the paryāya ‘preaching’ for the Āloka; the nāman for the Nyāyānusāra; the nāma-pada-vyañjana-kāya ‘groups of names, phrases and syllables’ for the Vibhāṣā and the Kośa. It is a question therefore of a knowledge bearing upon the designation, the preaching. But in the Buddhist perspective, this designation, this preaching, is limited to the speech of the Buddha. This is why the Vibhaṅga, p. 294, l. 22–24, specifies: Idha bhikkhu dhammaṃ jānāti suttaṃ geyyaṃ veyyākaraṇaṃ gmathaṃ udānaṃ itivuttakaṃ jātakaṃ abbhutadhammaṃ vedallaṃ: ayaṃ vuccati dhammapaṭisambhidā.

This is all well summarized in the definition in the Abhidharmadīpa (l.c.): Dvādaśāṅgasaṃgṛhīteṣu vakṣyamāṇārthasambandhiṣu vivakṣiteṣu nāmakāyādiṣu yad avivartyaṃ jñānaṃ sā dharmapartiasaṃvid: “The unfailing knowledge of the groups of names, etc., contained in the twelve-membered [speech of the Buddha] referring to things to be expressed and brought into discussion is the dharmapratisaṃvid.”


A problem already asked by Plato at the beginning of the Cratylus (383a) and which preoccupied the sophists of his time: do words have a natural pertinence – which Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus, maintains, or, as Hermogenes would have it, are they due to convention? On this subject, see Leroy, Étymologie et linguistique chez Platon, Bull. Cl. Lettres de l’Ac. Roy. De Belgique, LIV, 1968, p. 121–152.


Niruktipratisaṃvid has as object the atthadhammaniruttābhilāpa ‘the expression of language relating to the thing designated and to the designation’ according to the Vibhaṅga; the vāc ‘voice’ according to the Vibhāṣā, the Kośa and the Nyāyānusāra; the janapadabhāṣā ‘the speech of the region’ according to the Āloka.

By voice the Kośabhāṣya, p. 410, l. 17–18 means the [correct] expression of singular, dual, plural, masculine, feminine, etc. (ekadvibahustrīpuruṣādyadhivacan). But nirukti also means the etymological explanation (nirvacana): for example rūpyate tasmād rūpam.


For the Vibhāṣā, the Kośa and the Nyāyānusāra (l.c.), pratibhānapratisaṃvid is the knowledge of correct and easy elocution and of mastery in regard to the path (mārgavaśita), which presupposes that the orator has mastery over the concentrations.


Cf. Kośabhāṣya, p. 418–419: Sā punar arthapratisaṃvid sarvabhūmika… Dharmapratisaṃvid pañcabhūmikā kāmadhātucaturthadhyānasaṃgṛhītā, ūrdhvaṃ nāmakāyābhāvāt… Niruktipratisaṃvid kāmadhātuprathamamadhyānabhūmikā, ūrdhvaṃ vitarkābhāvāt… Sarvabhūmikā [pratibhānapratisaṃvit] kāmadhātau yāvad bhavāgre vāṅmārgayor anyatarālambanāt. – “The arthapratisaṃvid arises in all the levels… The dharmapratisaṃvid is in five levels, in kāmadhātu and the four dhyānas; the nāmakāya is absent above [and consequently the pādakāya and vyañjanakāya also]… The niruktipratisaṃvid had the kāmadhātu and the first dhyāna as levels; vitarka is absent above… The pratibhānapratisaṃvid is in all the levels from kāmadhātu to bhavāgra, since it has as object either the voice or the Path.”

But according to the information of the Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 180, p. 904a25–b2, this opinion is not unanimous.


Cf. Kośabhbhāṣyā, p. 418–419: Dharmaniruktipratisaṃvidau saṃvṛtijñānasvabhāva nāmakāyādivāgālambanasvabhāvatvāt… Arthapratibhānasamvit [should be corrected to: arthapratisaṃvit] sarvadharmāś ced artha daśa jñānāni, nirvāṇaṃ ṣaḍ jñānāni dharmānvayanirodha-kṣayānutoādasaṃvṛtijñānāni… Navajñānasvabhāvā pratibhānapratisaṃvid anyatta nirodhajñānāt. – “The dharma- and the niruktipratisaṃvid are conventional knowledge because they have as object the nāmakāyas, etc., and the voice… The arthapratisaṃvid, if by artha is meant all dharmas, is ten knowledges; but if by artha is meant nirvāṇa, it is six knowledges: dharma, anvaya, nirodha, kṣaya, anutpāda and saṃvṛtijñāna. The pratibhānapratisaṃvid is nine knowledges, excluding the nirodhajñāna.”

See also Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 180, p. 904b14–23, which mentions other opinions also.


Hesitations about their capacity to preach the Dharma.

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