Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the pratisamvids according to the mahayana” 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. The pratisaṃvids according to the Mahāyāna

Question. – Are there also four pratisaṃvids of the bodhisattva in the Mahāyāna?

Answer. Yes.[1] They are as follows:

1. Artha-pratisaṃvid

Pratisaṃvid of the thing designated. – The thing designated (artha) is the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of all dharmas, which is inexpressible (anabhilāpya).

The thing designated (artha), the name (nāman) and the voice (vāc) are not different (abhinna), and this is so at the beginning (ādau), at the end (paryavasāna) and in the middle (madhya): that is the artha.[2] Apart from name (nāman) and voice (vāc), there can be no artha. It is as a result of the identity of the three things (vastutrayasamatā) that there is artha.

Furthermore, knowing clearly and penetrating without difficulty the [246c] reality (artha) of all dharmas is called arthapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of the thing designated’.

2. Dharma-pratisaṃvid

Pratisaṃvid of designation. – The designation (dharma) is applied to things (artha) because the name (nāman) serves to make known the thing (artha).

Furthermore, having entered into the dharmapratisaṃvid, the bodhisattva always believes the [authentic] teaching but does not believe in the person who is teaching (dharmāya śraddhadhāti na tu pudgale śraddadhāti);[3] he takes refuge in the truth and does not take refuge in error (dharmapratisaraṇa na tv adharmapratisaraṇaḥ). Taking refuge in the truth, he is free of error. Why? Because he knows that the person (pudgala), names (nāman) and speech (vāc) are without intrinsic nature (svalakṣaṇahita).

Finally, by this pratisaṃvid, the bodhisattva distinguishes the three kinds of Vehicles (yānatraya), but while distinguishing them, ‘he does not contradict the fundamental element (dharmadhātuṃ na vilomayati).’[4] Why? “Because the fundamental element has but a single nature, namely, the absence of nature” (dharmadhātur ekalakṣaṇo yadutālakṣaṇaḥ).[5] The bodhisattva who uses his voice (vāc) to preach the Dharma knows that the voice is empty (śūnya) like an echo (pratiśrutkāsama).[6] The Dharma that he preaches to beings leads them to believe and recognize one and the same fundamental element (dharmadhātu).

Penetrating the names (nāman) and voices (vāc) to be uttered deeply and without difficulty, that is dharmapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of the designation’.

3. Nirukti-pratisaṃvid

Pratisaṃvid of expression. – Using the voice (vāc), the bodhisattva expresses names (nāman) and things (artha). Adorning his discourse in various ways (nānāprakāreṇa) and in harmony with the needs of the circumstances, he makes beings find an understanding of all languages (nirukti): the language of the devas; the languages of the nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, garuḍas, mahoragas and other amanuṣyas; the languages of Śakra, Brahmā, Cāturmahārājika and other lords of the world, human languages; one language, two languages, or several languages; concise or prolix language; language of women or language of men; languages of the past, the present or the future. He causes everybody to understand all these languages and that there is no disharmony between one’s own language and that of others.

How is that? The totality of things is not in language; language is not a true reality. If language were a true reality, it would be impossible to express evil by way of good words. It is solely in order to lead people to nirvāṇa that the bodhisattva speaks in a way that he can be understood, but without being attached to speech.

Finally, the bodhisattva uses speech so that beings may act in accordance with the authentic teaching (dharma) and reality (artha). His discourses all aim at the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. That is called niruktipratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of expression’.

4. Pratibhāna-pratisaṃvid

Pratisaṃvid of elocution. – In a single phoneme (akṣara) the bodhisattva can express all the phonemes; in a single word (ghoṣa), he can express all words; in a single dharma, he can express all dharmas.[7] Everything that he says is Dharma, is true, is real, and also useful, since it is adapted to beings to be converted (vaineya).

To those who like sūtras, he preaches sūtras; to those who like geyas, he preaches geyas; to those who like vyākaraṇas, he preaches vyākaraṇas; to those who like gāthās, udānas, nidānas, avadānas, ityuktas, jātakas, vaipulyas, adbhutadharmas or upadeśas, he preaches all these texts.

He adapts himself to the spiritual faculties (indirya) of beings in order to preach to them: if they like faith, he preaches them the faculty of faith [247a] (śraddhendriya); if they like exertion, he preaches to them the faculty of exertion (vīryendriya); if they like mindfulness, he preaches to them the faculty of mindfulness (smṛtyīndriya); if they like concentration, he preaches to them the faculty of concentration (samādhīndriya); if they like wisdom, he preaches to them the faculty of wisdom (prajñendriya). And he does likewise for all the roots of good (kuśalamūla) as he does for these five faculties.

Moreover, there are 21,000 faculties (indriya) of passionate people (rāgacarita) and it was on this subject that the Buddha preached the 84,000 topics of the Dharma (dharmaskandha) as counteragents.[8] In regard to these faculties, the bodhisattva speaks about the series of counteragents (pratipakṣadharma): this is his ‘elocution’ (pratibhāna).

There are 21,000 faculties of the hateful person (dveṣacarita), etc.

There are 21,000 faculties of the foolish man (mohacarita), etc.

There are 21,000 faculties of the person with mixed passions, and on this subject the Buddha preached the 84,000 topics of the Dharma that counteract them: this is his ‘elocution’.

This is what is called pratibhānapratisaṃvid ‘unhindered knowledge of elocution’.

Furthermore, using this pratisaṃvid, during the course of a kalpa or half a kalpa, the bodhisattva adorns his preaching of the Dharma (dharmanirdeśa) but ‘does not contradict the nature of the fundamental element’ (dharmadhātum na vilomayati).

Sometimes this bodhisattva hides and becomes invisible, but preaches the Dharma through all his hair-pores (romakūpa),[9] and, while adapting himself to the needs [of beings to be converted], he does not fail in his original practices (pūrvacarya).

The wisdom (prajñā) of the bodhisattva is immense: no scholar (upadeśācārya) is able to exhaust it or, even less, destroy it.

When, in possession of this pratisaṃvid, the bodhisattva transforms himself and takes on rebirths, he spontaneously and completely understands (svataḥ saṃjānīte) the holy texts (sūtra), the mantras, the knowledges (jñāna) and the arts (kalā) possessed by sages having the five supranormal powers (pañcābhijñārṣi): for example, the four Vedas, the six Vedaṅgas, the Atharva, the [Jyotiṣka] dealing with the sun, the moon and the five planets, oniromancy [??], earthquakes, the language of the yakṣas, the language of birds, the language of hands,[10] the language of quadrupeds and of people possessed by demons, divination, abundance or famine, struggle against the sun, the moon and the five planets, pharmacology, calculus, spells, scenic plays, music. The bodhisattva knows deeply and penetrates poetry, the arts, the treatises of this kind better than anyone, better than the heretics, but he is not at all boastful and troubles no one. He knows that these ordinary sciences do not serve for nirvāṇa.

Because this bodhisattva is endowed with the four pratisaṃvids, his beauty, his power, his brilliance surpass those of the Brahmās. The Brahmās honor him, love him and respect him, but his mind is detached (asakta), Respected and honored by all these gods, he is without attachment. He produces only the ideas of impermanence (anitya), of suffering (duḥkha), of emptiness (śūnya) and of non-self (anātman). By means of his supranormal powers (abhijñā) he encourages the gods, leads them to aspire ardently and preaches them the Dharma inexhaustibly [247b] and impeccably. He destroys their doubts and establishes them in ‘anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi’.

According to the Mahāyāna, this is the power of the four pratisaṃvids of the bodhisattva, a power capable of saving beings, This is the meaning of the four pratisaṃvids.

Footnotes and references:


Note that, in contrast to the balas and the vaiśāradyas, the pratisaṃvids of the Buddhas, the bodhisattvas and the śrāvakas bear the same names but are practiced in a different spirit.


This is not a theory on the nature of language. If the word is mixed up with the thing, it is not that it is naturally tied to it, but because, from the point of view of the true nature of dharmas, words and things are alike empty and non-existent.


According to the Sūtra of the four refuges (catvāri pratisaraṇāni): dharmapratisaraṇena bhavitavyaṃ na pudgalapratisaraṇena. See above, p. 536–539F.


According to the Sūtra of the four great teachings (mahāpadeśa) where it is said, more or less, in the Sanskrit version (Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, p. 4; Pañjikā, p. 431): Buddhavacanasyedaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ yat sūtre ‘vatarati vinaye saṃdṛśyate dharmatāṃ ca na vilomayati. – “The characteristic mark of the Word of the Buddha is that is is found in the Sūtra, appears in the Vinaya and does not contradict the nature of things.” – For detail see: La critique dans le bouddhisme, India Antiqua, Leyden, 1947, p. 218–222.


See references in footnote 74 above.


Comparison developed at length in Vimalakīrti, p. 148–149 and Śūraṃgamasamādhi. p. 188–189.


Daśabhūmika, p. 77: Sarvadharmaprajñaptyavyavacchedena dharmaṃ deśayati.


On these 84,000 (or 80,000) dharmaskandhas preached by the Buddha, see Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 155, 162–163. They serve to cure the four groups of 21,000 beings dominated by lust (rāga), hatred (dveṣa), ignorance (moha) or a mixture of the three, respectively: cf. Kośa, I, p. 47; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 3, p. 346c; Satyasiddhiśāstra, Y 1656, k. 9, p. 314a.


Daśabhūmika, p. 80: Sarvaromakūpebhyo ghoṣān niścārayati.


Adopting the variant cheou yu.