Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “digression on a case brought against the buddha” 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.

A. The Accusation

Question. – So be it! But the Buddha sometimes has physical and vocal actions (kāyavākkarman) that do not seem to accompany knowledge (na jñānānuparivartin). How is that?

1. He goes into the assemblies of heretics (tīrthikapariṣad) to preach the Dharma, but nobody believes him or accepts him.

2. One day when he was preaching the Dharma in the great assembly (mahāsaṃgha), he bared his breast and showed it to Ni-k’ien-tseu (Nirgranthīputra).

3. When some doubted the two physical marks (lakṣāṇa) that were not visible to them, in the middle of the great assembly the Buddha showed the mark of his tongue (jihvālakṣaṇa) and the mark of his cryptorchidia (kośagatavastiguhya).

4. He insults his disciples and treats them like foolish men (mohapuruṣa).

5. He insults Devadatta and says to him: “You are a fool (mūḍha), a corpse (śava), a spit-swallower (kheṭāśika).”

6. The Buddha forbids the possession (dhāraṇa) of eight kinds of begging-bowls (pātra) and authorizes the bhikṣus to use only two kinds of bowls: i) fired clay (mṛttikāpātra) and ii) iron (ayaḥpātra) but he himself uses a stone bowl (śailapātra).

7. One day when the heretics (tīrthika) were questioning him, he remained silent and did not respond.

8. In various places, the Buddha says that the ātman exists and, in other places, he says that it does not exist.

9. In various places he speaks of the existence of dharmas and, in other places, he speaks of the non-existence of dharmas.

Such physical and vocal actions do not seem to accompany knowledge and since physical and vocal actions (kāyavākkarman) are inseparable from mental action (manaskarman), the result is that his mental actions, as well, did not accompany knowledge. Then why is it said that his actions always accompany knowledge (sadājñānānuparivartin)?

B. The Defense

Answer. – That does not hold (ayuktam etad). In all of those circumstances, all of the Buddha’s actions were preceded by knowledge (jñānapūrvaṃgama) and accompanied knowledge (jñānānuparivartin). Why is that?

1. Meeting With The Heretics

Entering into an assembly of heretics, the Buddha knew well that he would not be believed nor accepted in the present lifetime (ihajanman), but he wanted to plant great roots of good (mahānidāna) for future lifetimes (parajanmani).

Moreover, he wanted to put an end to the slander of the heretics who said: “The Buddha is proud (unnata).” This is the reason why he went personally into their assemblies.

Moreover, the heretics said: “The Buddha claims to have great compassion (mahākaruṇā), the same for all, but he preaches the Dharma only to the fourfold [Buddhist] assembly. And yet we too are religious mendicants (pravrajita) who are seeking the path and he does not preach to us!”

Finally, according to the sūtra [to which you allude], the Buddha went to an assembly of heretics and preached the Dharma there, but the sūtra does not say that nobody believed him and nobody accepted him:


It is for all these wise reasons that the Buddha enters into the assemblies of the heretics.

2. Display of His Breast


Therefore this physical action of the Buddha was in accordance with knowledge.

3. Display of His Tongue and His Cryptorchidia


The Buddha showed the mark of his tongue (jīhvālakṣaṇa) and the mark of his cryptorchidia (kośagatavastiguhya). Some people had doubts about these two marks of the Buddha’s body; they should have obtained the Path but because of these doubts, they did not obtain it. This is why the Buddha showed them these two marks. He put out his tongue and covered his whole face with it: although his tongue was so great, it easily went back into his mouth. Those who saw it had their doubts satisfied.

Some people, seeing the Buddha put out his tongue, still had feelings of scorn, for putting out one’s tongue is what little children do; but when they saw him withdraw his tongue and preach the Dharma without any difficulty, they felt respect and cried out at the wonder.

Some people had doubts about the Buddha’s cryptorchidia which is an invisible mark; then the Buddha created by magic a wondrous elephant or a wondrous stallion and, showing them, he declared: “My cryptorchidia is an invisible mark just like that.”

Some even said that the Buddha made his secret organs come out and showed them to someone to suppress his doubts. Scholars (upadśācārya) say that, [by acting in this way], the Buddha was manifesting his great compassion [252a] (mahākaruṇā) for, if a man sees the Buddha’s cryptorchidia, he is able to accumulate the roots of good (kuśalamūla) and produce the thought of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi. And those who can rejoice greatly and produce a mind of faith and veneration obtain the sight of the Buddha’s cryptorchidia and cut through their doubts; but other than them, nobody can see it.

Out of great compassion and in order to save beings, the Buddha showed himself three times in the space of a flash of lightning, and the beings who saw him knew that the Buddha has great compassion and that he really has no blind attachment (parāmarśa) or prejudice (abhiniveśa) towards the moral precepts (śīla).

It is for these reasons that the Buddha showed these two marks: it was neither out of play nor out of a sense of modesty.

4. Insults to the Disciples

The Buddha had hard words for the bhikṣus and treated them like fools (mohapuruṣa).[4]

There are two kinds of hard words: i) insult coming from an evil intention (duṣcitta); ii) insult out of compassion for beings and with the intention of converting them (paripācana).

In the person detached from desire (virakta), there is no insult coming from a bad intention; how then would there be one in the Buddha? It is out of pity for beings and in order to convert them (paripācanārtham) that the Buddha had these strong words.

There are beings who are not introduced into the path by gentle words (ślakṣṇavāc) or by friendly instructions. They need strong words and heavy instructions for them to enter into the Dharma. They are like a good horse (aśva) who starts up when he sees the shadow of the whip (kaśācchāyā) or the stupid donkey (gardabha) who starts walking only when he receives a blow. There are wounds that are cured only by a gentle herb (mṛḍvoṣadhi), by saliva (kheṭa) or a magic spell (mantra): there are wounds that are cured only when the sick flesh is cut out with a knife and a strong medicine applied to it.

Moreover, there are five kinds of strong words:

1) Merely idle speech (saṃbhinnapralāpa).

2) Harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) plus idle speech (saṃbhinnapralāpa).

3) Harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) plus idle speech (saṃbhinnapralāpa) plus falsehood (mṛṣāvāda).

4) Harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) plus idle speech (saṃbhinnapralāpa), falsehood (mṛṣāvāda) plus malicious gossip (paiśunyavāda).

5) Hard speech coming from a pure mind (akliṣṭacitta) the aim of which is to teach beings to distinguish the good (kuśala) from the bad (akuśala) and to remove them from this level of suffering.

[The strong speech] that combines the four vocal faults (cf. no. 4) is the most serious. The third, second and first are [respectively and in order] smaller and smaller faults.

If a lay disciple of the Buddha (śrāvaka avadātavasana) who has obtained the first or the second paths [i.e., the state of srotaāpanna or sakṛdāgāmin] uses harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) to command his slaves (dāsa), for him this is not a bad path of action (akuśalakarmapatha).[5]

He who has accepted the discipline (samāttasaṃvara) is capable of committing two kinds [of harsh words]: either merely idle speech (saṃbhinnapralāpa) (cf. no, 1) or harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) plus idle speech (cf. no. 2).

The anāgamins and the arhats utter harmful words (pāruṣyavāda) without any passion (kleśa); only with pure intention and when reproach is needed to convert beings do they speak harmful words (pāruṣyavāda) and idle words (saṃbhinnapralāpa). If the harmful speech is uttered without passion by the anāgamins and the arhats, it is the same and even more so in the Buddha.

Moreover, if the Buddha speaks harsh words, there is no need to hesitate and ask whether the Buddha utters these words with a bad intention (duṣṭacittena). Why? The Buddha long ago destroyed any bad intentions and it is only with the best intentions (adhyāáya) that he thinks of beings. He is like a loving father teaching his sons; when he reprimands them, it is to correct them; it is not with a bad intention.

When the Buddha was still a bodhisattva and had not yet destroyed the threefold poison (triviṣa), he was the ṛṣī named Tch’an-t’i (Kṣānti) and, when the wicked king cut off his ears, nose, hands and feet, he did not feel any bad feeling [252b] and did not utter any harmful words.[6] At that time he had not attained bodhi, but he had no bad feelings. And now that he has attained anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi, destroyed the three poisons (triviṣa) and is endowed with great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā), can one still ask if he has bad feelings and rough words?

Moreover, when the Buddha treats [the bhikṣus] as fools (mohapuruṣa), it is gentle speech (ślakṣṇavāc) and true speech (satyavāc). These disciples are fools, under the power of the threefold poison (triviṣa): they are fools because the Buddha wants to benefit them and they do not accept it because they do not understand the Buddha’s intentions and do not accept his words.

Moreover, in regard to lower things (adhyātmam), the Buddha always puts into action his knowledge of non-existence of self (anātmajñāna) and, in regard to external things, he always contemplates the emptiness of dharmas (dharmaśūnyatā). In these conditions [where there is nobody to speak to and nothing to say], why would the Buddha have harmful words (pāruṣyavāda)?

But beings who do not understand the mind of the Buddha seek out faults in his words. If beings knew with what good intentions (adhyāśaya) the Buddha has pity on them, they would joyously throw themselves into a great fire if he asked them to, and that with as much enthusiasm as a person tormented by heat (gharmārta) throws himself into a clear cool pool. And all the more so, why not accept his words?

But beings, under the grasp of Māra, do not know with what good intention the Buddha thinks of them; this is why they do not accept the words of the Buddha and this is why the Buddha treats them as fools.

Finally, there are people who, on hearing the reprimands of the Buddha, rejoice and say: “It is because he loves me that he speaks so.” That is why the Buddha had treated them as foolish people.

5. Insults to Devadatta

(also see Appendix 6)

The Buddha said to Devadatta: “You are a fool (mūḍha), a corpse (śava), a swallower of spit (kheṭāśika).” 

A ‘fool’ because, due to the gravity of his sins, Devadatta had to fall into the Avīci hell: hence the triple insult.

A ‘corpse’ because, in the appearance of a living man, Devadatta did not accumulate the roots of good (kuśalanūla). With his shaved head and his monk’s robes, one would have said he was a saint (āryapudgala), but inwardly he had no wisdom: he was, therefore, a corpse.

Corpses are adorned in many ways, but they gradually decompose and it is impossible to revive them. This was the case for Devadatta. Each day the Buddha taught him in many ways, but his bad intentions (duṣtacitta) increased, his evil tendencies (pāpākuśalacitta) grew from day to day, and he finally committed three sins of immediate retribution (ānantarya):[7] he was therefore a corpse.

He was also a ‘swallower of spit’. Devadatta, coveting gain (lābha) and honor (satkāra), changed himself into a young boy (kumāraka) of heavenly appearance and appeared in the arms of prince Ajātaśatru. The prince breathed into his mouth and gave him his spit to swallow. This is why Devadatta was a swallower of spit.

Question. – Devadatta who possessed the concentrations (samādhi) had renounced sensual desires (vītarāga). Why would he still swallow another’s spit?

Answer. – In this individual, the evil tendencies (duṣṭacitta) were deep, but his faculties were keen (tīkṣnendriya). Having renounced sensual desires (vītarāga), he could change himself. When he swallowed the spit, he lost his sharp faculties, but when he wanted to, he recovered them. This is why he was called ‘swallower of spit’.

Furthermore Devadatta said to the Buddha: “The Buddha is worn out [252c] (jīrṇa). Since he has always loved retreat (viveka), let him go into the forest and enjoy dhyāna there and let him entrust the Community to me.” The Buddha replied: “Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana have great wisdom, are good, gentle and pure men, and yet I would not entrust the Community to them. Why then would I entrust it to you who are a fool, a corpse, a swallower of spit?”[8]

It is for these reasons that the Buddha, although he had no attachment toward things, offered harsh words (on occasion), but with the sole purpose of converting beings.

6. Use of a Stone Bowl

“The Buddha forbade the bhikṣus to use eight kinds of bowls (pātra).”[9]

[Bowls 1–4]: Precious bowls of gold (suvarṇa), silver (rūpya), [beryl (vaiḍūrya) and pearl (maṇi)]. – Since people covet precious things, since the latter are hard to find (durlabha) and because people are attached to them, the Buddha prohibits the keeping (dhāraṇa) of these precious substances.

He does not allow even touching (sparśana) that which is ‘precious’ and neither does he allow keeping it.[10] If such a gift is made [to the bhikṣus], he allows them to realize their value, but not too expensive.[11]

[Bowl 7]: The wooden (dāru) bowl. – Since it retains grease (meda) and is not clean, the Buddha does not permit it to be kept.

Bowls 5, 6, 8]: The other three bowls [copper (tāmra), tin (trapu) and stone (śaila) do not have such disadvantages.

Question. – But the baked clay (mṛttikā) bowl and the iron (ayas) bowl [permitted by the Buddha] also retain grease and are no different from the wooden bowl. Why does the Buddha allow them?

Answer. – If the baked clay bowl and the iron bowl are not steamed (vāsita), the Buddha does not permit them either, for they should be steamed in order not to retain grease.

As for the stone (śaila) bowl, it is thick (audārika) or thin (sūkṣma). Thin, it does not retain bad grease and that is why the Buddha used it himself, but he does not allow the bhikṣus to keep them because of their weight. A swallow of milk by the Buddha surpasses in power that of a myriad of perfumed white elephants (gandhahastin); this is why [the stone bowl] does not seem heavy for him, but out of compassion (karuṇā) for the bhikṣus, he does not allow them to keep them.

Question. – But the assistants (upasthāyaka) such as Lo-t’o (Rādha), Mi-hi-kia (Meghika), Siu-na-tch’a-to-lo (Sunakṣetra), Na-k’ie-so-p’o-lo (Nāgasamāla), A-nan (Ānanda), etc., who followed the Buddha, brought him his utensils. (also see Appendix 7) Why did the Buddha not have pity on them?

Answer. – If these assistants carried the Buddha’s bowl, it was with the miraculous intervention (prātihāryabala) of the Buddha. Besides, they honored and venerated the Buddha so highly that they did not find his bowl too heavy. And also, the physical strength of Ānanda was great.

Furthermore, the Buddha does not allow the use of stone bowls (śailapātra) because fine ones (sūkṣma) are hard to find (durlabha) and because thick ones (audārika) retain grease. The Buddha’s bowl arose spontaneously (svatas) on the four summits of the mountains on which the four kings of the gods (cāturmahārājakakāyikadeva) dwell. But other people do not have these bowls that arise by themselves; to try to make one would be very difficult and very complicated. This is why the Buddha did not allow [the bhikṣus] to have stone bowls but used one himself to distinguish himself from his disciples, in the same way that the king venerated by people uses special utensils (bhājana) himself. Seeing the Buddha use a special bowl, people’s veneration (gurukāra) and respect (satkāra) is increased and they develop pure faith (cittaprasāda).

Question. – If it is fitting for the Buddha’s bowl to be special, why should his robe (cīvara) be the same [as those of the other bhikṣus]?

Answer. – But the clothing of the Buddha is also different from that of others. Thus, when the Buddha attained bodhi, he knew that Kāśyapa’s robe should be worn by the Buddha, and Kāśyapa’s robe was worth ten myriad ounces of gold.[12]

Next, Jīvaka offered the Buddha a chen-mo-ken cotton robe also worth ten myriad ounces of gold. The Buddha asked Ānanda to take this robe away, cut it up and make a cloak out of it.[13] This being done, the Buddha put it on and this [253a] outfit differed [from all the rest].

Question. – However, it was following this event that the Buddha said to the bhikṣus: “Starting from today, provided that a bhikṣu mindfully seeks nirvāṇa and turns his back on saṃsāra, I allow him, if he so wishes, to wear a robe worth ten myriad ounces of gold, and I also allow him to eat the food of a hundred flavors (śatarasabhojana).” (also see Appendix 8) [Therefore at the beginning] his robe was different and it was only later that he allowed [the bhikṣus to wear one similar to his].[14] His bowl [was unique of its type] and he never allowed [the bhikṣus to have a similar one].

Answer. – Here we must repeat what has been said before (p. 1676F) in regard to the stone bowl (śailapātra). The Buddha did not receive this bowl from human hands. When he attained bodhi and when meal-time came, he needed a utensil. Knowing the Buddha’s mind, the four kings of the gods (cāturmahārājakāyikadeva) brought four bowls and offered them to him.[15] Among the Buddhas of the three times, it has been customary to receive their bowl from the hands of the four kings of the gods. At that time, the Community (saṃgha) did not yet exist; how could the Buddha authorize [a bowl to anyone]? And if, later, [after the beginning of the Community], the Buddha had allowed the use [of a fine stone bowl], nobody could have made one. Besides, in Jambudvīpa, people do not like stone bowls, so nobody would have given him one.

Besides, the Buddha advised the bhikṣus to keep their own qualities (guṇa) secret.[16] If the bhikṣus received stone bowls, people would say that they had received them from the god realm or from the nāgas. If the bhikusus asked people to make them, the work would have been difficult. Furthemore, it might be feared that people would say that the bhikṣus wanted to equal the Buddha; this is why the Buddha did not permit them.

With regard to the garment, some say: “In the very midst of the Saṃgha, the Buddha receives magnificent garments offered to him by the dānapatis, but he is the only one to wear them and does not allow the bhikṣus to have any.” This is why the Buddha allowed the bhikṣus to have fine ones also.

Moreover, the bhikṣus do not wear [these fine robes], given the rarity of benefactors (dāyaka) [so generous] and the rarity of recipients (pratigrāhaka) [so lucky]. People do not give [such fine clothing] to impure bhikṣus: as for the pure (śuddha) bhikṣus,[17] as they had few desires (alpeccha) and were content with their lot (saṃtuṣṭa), they did not wear [those that had been given to them].

It is to cut people’s doubts (saṃśayacchedana) that the Buddha allowed the bhikṣus to wear [fine] robes; as for the [stone] bowls that they could not expect to receive, he did not allow them.

Question. – It is said in the sūtras: “The Buddha, who has a diamond body (vajrakāya), has no need of food.” Then why did he keep a bowl?

Answer. – The Buddhadharma consists of two Paths: i) the path of the śrāvakas; ii) the path of the Buddha. In the śrāvaka system, the Buddha conforms to human customs and needs food; in the Mahāyāna system, he resorts to skillful means (upāya) to save beings; this is why he appears to eat whereas in truth he does not eat.

Question. – What is this skillful means?

Answer. – Wishing to save people, the Buddha borrows the customs of humans. If he did not do this, people would take him for a non-human (amanuṣya) and would wonder why they follow his Dharma.

Moreover, there are people who find salvation in generosity (dāna); out of respect for them, the Buddha accepts their offerings of food. Then these people say: “The food I offer contributes to sustaining the body of the Buddha.” Their mind becomes very joyful (mahāmuditā), and as a result of this joy, they welcome the Buddha’s words with faith.

It is like a great sovereign who is invited to dine by his ministers and subjects. The king has no need for it, but to win over his people, he eats enough so they they are made happy. For similar reasons, the Buddha takes nourishment.

Question. – If the Buddha does not eat, where is the food that he does accept? [253b]

Answer. – The workings of the Buddha (buddhakārya) are inconceivable (acintya): they should not be investigated.

Furthermore, there are people who are saved when they find food for the Buddha; there are others who are saved when they hear his sounds (śabda), see his color (rūpa), touch his body (kāya) or smell his smell (gandha). If they need [the Buddha’s] food to be saved, the Buddha gives it to them.

It is said in the Mi tsi kin kang king (Guhyakavajrapāṇisūtra or Tathāgatacintyaguhya-nirdeśa): “When the Buddha brings food to his mouth, there are devas seeking the Buddhist Path who carry it to the ten directions and distribute it.”[18]

Question. – If that is so, what did you mean when you said above (p. 1402F) in regard to Saṃghānusmṛti[19] that nobody can eat the Buddha’s food?

Answer. – When the Buddha does not give his food away, it is because nobody is capable is able to eat to eat it, but here, if he gives it, it is because it can be eaten. How do we know that?

When the Buddha ate oats (yava), he gave this food to Ānanda,[20] and when the śramana Eul-che-yi-eul (Śroṇa Kotīviṃśa) offered the Buddha some good soup (yūṣa), the latter gave the leftovers to king Bimbasāra.

Thus we know that if the Buddha makes a gift of his food after having accepted it, it is that one is able to eat it; if he does not make a gift of it, it is that it one cannot digest it.

Furthermore, if food is offered to the Buddha and the latter does not eat it, people would be unable to digest it, but if, after having eaten, the Buddha gives the leftovers, it is that people are able to digest it. Therefore, actually, the Buddha does not eat, but in order to save beings, he pretends to accept food and he keeps a bowl (pātraṃ dhārayati) [for that purpose].

7. Silence on the Fourteen Difficult Questions

The Buddha did not answer fourteen difficult questions.[21]

The Buddha has four ways of answering (vyākaraṇa): i) answering in a categorical manner (ekāṃśena vyākaraṇam); ii) answering by distinguishing (vibhajya vyākaraṇam); iii) answering by asking a question (paripṛcchāvyākaraṇam); iv) answering by not replying (sthānanīyavyākaraṇam).[22] Now these fourteen difficult questions had to be answered by not replying.

Moreover, when it is useful, the Buddha does answer. But questions asked by the heretics (tīrthika) do not lead to nirvāṇa (na nirvāṇāya saṃvartante) and increase doubt (saṃśayān vardhayanti). Therefore the Buddha answers by not replying to them. If he knew that they have a definite usefulness, he would reply by distinguishing (vibhajya), but as they have no use, he stops and does not reply. This is why we know that the Buddha is omniscient (sarvajña).

Furthermore, the Buddha spoke of three kinds of things: i) conditioned things (saṃskṛtadhrma), ii) unconditioned things (asaṃskṛtadharma) and iii) inexpressible things (avācyadharma): in doing this, he has spoken of all dharmas.

Furthermore, being based (āśritya) on the eternalist view (śāśvatadṛṣṭi) or the nihilist view (ucchedadṛṣṭi), the heretics asked the questions of eternalism or nihilism, but since any real nature (satyalakṣaṇa) is absent in them, the Buddha did not reply. The eternal nature (nityalakṣaṇa) and the non-eternal nature (anityalakṣaṇa) seen by these heretics have no reality. Why? The heretics grasp (udgṛhṇanti) these natures and become attached to them (āsajyante), saying: “This is eternal, that is nothingness.” As for the Buddha, he too speaks of eternal nature and non-eternal nature, but merely by way of refutation (pratipakṣa).

Furthermore, people say: “Nothingness (nāstitva) exists; existence (astitva) does not exist.” They are making a mistake, and the Buddha does not make a mistake by not answering.

The sun (sūrya) lights up the earth, but it can neither lower the mountains nor elevate the valleys: it is limited to making them visible. In the same way, the Buddha has no action on dharmas. If they exist, he says that they exist; if they do not exist, he says that they do not exist. Thus he said:

“Old age and death have birth as condition (jātipratyayaṃ jarāmaraṇam), etc. [253c] on up to: the formations have ignorance as condition (yāvad avidyāpratyayāḥ saṃskāraḥ). Whether there is a Buddha or there is no Buddha, this causality (idaṃpratyayatā), this nature of things (dharmatā), is always present in the world. Buddhas appear in the world in order to teach this Dharma to beings.”[23]

Furthermore, if the Buddha talked about eternalism (śāśvata) or nihilism (uccheda), this would be a mistake. If you were asked what is the size or the physical appearance of the son of a barren woman and a eunuch (vandhyāṣaṇḍhaputra), this question would not deserve an answer. It is the same for the fourteen difficult questions: only in hypothesis do eternalism and nihilism have a basis to which response may be made, but since there is no eternity or nothingness, the Buddha does not respond.

For all these reasons the Buddha does not make the mistake of answering the fourteen difficult questions.

8. Simultaneous Teaching of the Self and the Non-self

In some places the Buddha says that the ātman exists and in other places he says that it does not exist. –

People who understand the meaning (artha) of the Buddhist doctrine and know the designation (prajñapti) say that the ātman exists. People who do not understand the meaning of the Buddhist doctrine and do not know the designation say that the ātman does not exist.

Furthermore, if a person is about to fall into the view of nihilism (ucchedadṛṣṭi), the Buddha says to him: “There is an ātman which, in future existences, undergoes [the retribution] of its wrongdoings (āpatti) and its merits (puṇya).” On the other hand, if a person is about to fall into the view of eternalism (śāśvatadṛṣṭi), the Buddha says to him: “There is neither an ātman, nor someone who acts (kāraka) nor a patient (?) (vedaka),[24] and there is no autonomous dharma (svatantra) existing separate from what are called the five aggregates (pañcaskandha).”[25]

Question. – If that is so, where is the truth?

Answer. – It is the anātman that is true,[26] for the Seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā) say: “All conditioned dharmas are impermanent; all dharmas are without self; nirvāṇa is peace” (sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ, sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ, śantaṃ nirvāṇam).[27] Now the Dharma seal called nirvāṇa is the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. But if someone has not yet planted the roots of good (anavaropitakuśaladharma), if his wisdom is not yet sharp (atīkṣṇaprajñā), the Buddha does not preach the profound doctrine of anātman (gambhīrānātmadharma) to him because, if he did, this person would fall into the view of nihilism (ucchedadṛṣṭi).

Question. – So be it. But in the Kia-chö-wen (Kāśyapaparipṛcchā), the Buddha said: “The ātman is one extreme, the anātman is the other extreme: avoiding these two extremes is called the Middle Way” (ātmety ayam eka antaḥ, anātmety ayaṃ dvitīya antaḥ. ity etāv ubhāv antāv anupagamya madhyamā pratipad ity ucyate).[28] Therefore why do you say here that the anātman is true and that the ātman is just a manner of speaking [that constitutes] a skillful means (upāyapravacana)?

Answer. – 1) The partisans of anātman (anātmavādin) are of two kinds: i) those who grasp (udgṛhṇanti) at the nature of anātman (anātmalakṣaṇa) and cling (āsjyante) to the anātman; ii) those who destroy the ātman without, however, grasping at the anātman or clinging to it so that the anātman disappears by itself (svataḥ).

For the first, the anātman is an extreme (anata); for the second, the anātman is the Middle Way (madhyamā pratipad).

2) Furthermore, if the Buddha speaks of the ātman or the anātman, he has two reasons for doing so: i) if he is speaking from the conventional point of view (saṃvṛtitaḥ), there is an ātman; ii) if he is speaking from the absolute point of view (paramārthataḥ), there is no ātman.

This is why he is not wrong in speaking sometimes of ātman and sometimes of anātman.

9. Simultaneous Teaching of Existence and Non-existence

In some places the Buddha speaks of the existence of dharmas and in other places he speaks of their non-existence. -

Question. – You should not speak separately of existence (astitā) and non-existence (nāstitā): existence is ātman and non-existence is anātman. Why return [to a subject already dealt with]?

Answer. – 1) That is not correct (ayuktam etad). In the Buddhadharma there are two kinds of emptiness (śūnyatā): i) the emptiness of beings (sattvaśūnyatā); ii) the emptiness of things (dharmaśūnyatā).

Saying that there is no ātman is stating the emptiness of beings; saying that there are no dharmas is stating the emptiness of things. [254a]

Saying that there is an ātman and knowing the nature of pure designation (prajñaptilakṣaṇa) is not clinging to the ātman; saying that there is an ātman within the five aggregates (pañcaskandha) is clinging to the ātman. In order to destroy this clinging to the ātman, it is said: “There is only the five aggregates. Impermanence, suffering, emptiness, non-self, peace and nirvāṇa, that is existence.”

2) Furthermore, there are two kinds of views of nothingness (ucchedadṛṣṭi):

a. “There is no future existence (aparajanman) where one undergoes suffering (duḥkha) or happiness (sukha) as a result of wrongdoings (āpatti) or merit (puṇya).” For those people, it is said: “There is an ātman that, from the present existence (ihajanman) to the future existence (aparajanman), undergoes the retribution for wrongdoings and merits.

b. “All dharmas are empty (śūnya) and without attachment (nirāsaṅga).” This is a wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi) and, for these people, it is said: “There are [two kinds of] dharmas, namely conditioned (saṃskṛta) dharmas and unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) dharmas.

3) For beings of dull faculties (atīkṣnendriya), it is said that there is no ātman; for beings of sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya) and deep wisdom (gambhīraprajñā), it is said that dharmas are empty from beginning to end. Why? Because anātman involves the rejection of dharmas. Thus it is said:

If he knows anātman well,
Every person who thinks in this way
Does not rejoice on hearing about existent dharmas,
Does not grieve on hearing about nonexistent dharmas.

Actually, to speak about ātman is to give support (āśraya) to things; to speak about anātman is to stop any support.

4) Moreover, the Buddhist doctrine has two ways of expressing itself: i) if it speaks clearly, it says that dharmas are empty; ii) if it expresses itself as skillful means (upāya), it says that there is no ātman. These two ways of teaching the Dharma end up in the same nature of Prajñāpāramitā. This is why the Buddha says in the sūtra: “The paths (mārga) that lead to nirvāṇa are absolutely identical: it is not that there are different paths.”[29]

5) Moreover, the existent ātman, existent dharmas, parents, wrongdoings (āpatti) and merit (puṇya), greater or lesser karmic retribution, are spoken of particularly to lay people (gṛhastha). Why? Because lay people generally do not seek nirvāṇa but cling to retribution of actions (phalavipāka) in future existences. On the other hand, the nonexistent ātman and non-existent dharmas are spoken of mainly to monastics (pravrajita). Why? Because generally monastics tend toward nirvāṇa, do not assume dharmas, nirvāṇa being the destruction of self.

6) Moreover, there are people whose spiritual faculties, faith, etc. (śraddhādīndriya) are not yet ripe (paripakva) and who first seek perceptible (upalabdha) [benefits] and later abandon them. For these people the Buddha advises [the accumulation] of good dharmas and the rejection of bad dharmas. By contrast, there are people whose spiritual faculties, faith, etc. (śraddhādīndriya) are already ripe (paripakva) and who seek no perceptible [benefit] (upalabdha) in dharmas; they seek only to avoid the saṃsāric destinies. For these people the Buddha teaches emptiness (śūnyatā) and the non-existence (anupalabhdhitā) of dharmas.

Both teachings are true (satya). Thus the ring finger (aṅguli) is both long (dīrgha) and short (hrasva); compared to the middle finger (madhyamā), it is short and compared to the little finger (kaniṣṭhā), it is long; its longness and its shortness are both true. It is the same for the doctrine of existence (astitvāvāda) and the doctrine of non-existence (nāstitāvāda). To speak of existence is sometimes conventional (saṃvṛti) and sometimes absolute (paramārtha); to speak of non-existence is sometimes conventional and sometimes absolute. That the Buddha [254b] speaks of ātman or of anātman, both are true.

Question. – If both these things are true, why, as a general rule, does the Buddha praise emptiness (śūnyatā) and criticize existence (astitā)?

Answer. – Emptiness (śūnyatā), non-existence (anupalabdhitā) is the treasure of the Dharma (dharmanidhāna) of the Buddhas of the ten directions, noble amongst all. Thus it is said in the Prajñāpāramitā, in the Tchou-lei-p’in (Parīndanāparivarta): “The Prajñāpāramitā is the treasure of the Dharma of the Buddhas of the three times and the ten directions.”[30]

The Prajñāpāramitā is the emptiness of non-existence (anupalambhaśūnyatā). If the Buddha sometimes speaks of non-existent dharmas, it is in order to ripen beings (sattvaparipācanārtham) who, long afterwards, will all enter into the treasure of the Dharma of non-existence.

Question. – If that is so, why does the Prajñāpāramitā say: “Seeing the emptiness (śūnyatā), the non-existence (anupalabdhitā) of the five aggregates (pañcaskandha) is not bodhi”?

Answer. – It is said in the Prajñāpāramitā that existence and non-existence do not exist.

[Dīrghanakhasūtra.][31] – Similarly the Tch’ang-tchao fan-tche king (Dīrghanakha-brahmacārisūtra) says:

There are three kinds of wrong view: i) everything exists; ii) nothing exists, iii) things are partly existent and partly non-existent.[32]

The Buddha said to the brahmacārin Dīrghanakha: The view that ‘everything exists’ is tied to desire, aversion and ignorance (moha). The view that ‘nothing exists’ is not tied to desire, or aversion, or ignorance. The view that ‘things partly exist and partly do not exist’ is partially tied and partially not tied to the aforementioned faults.[33]

Faced with these three views, the noble disciple has the following thought: “If I adopt the view that’everything exists’, I will be in debate with two people: the one for whom nothing exists and the other for whom things partly exist and partly do not exist. If I adopt the view that ‘nothing exists’, I will also be in debate with two people: the one for whom nothing exists and the other for whom things partly exist and partly do not exist. If I adopt the view that ‘things partly exist and partly do not exist’, I will be in debate with two people: the one for whom everything exists and the other for whom nothing exists.”[34]

From that arises conflict, from conflict arises disagreement, from disagreement arises violence. Foreseeing conflict, disagreement and violence for himself, the disciples gives up this view of non-existence and adopt no other view.[35] Not taking up any view, he enters into the path.

If one does not cling to the emptiness of dharmas, the mind does not arouse debate (vivāda) and merely drives out the fetters (saṃyojana): this is true knowledge. But if one grasps (udgṛhṇāti) the empty nature (śūnyanimitta) of dharmas, one provokes debate and one does not destroy the fetters; holding on to that wisdom is not true wisdom.

Everything that the Buddha says is aimed at saving beings; that is why there is not a single one of them that is not true. Accoording to whether people cling (abhiniviśante) or do not cling to them to them, they are sometimes in the right and sometimes in the wrong. For all these reasons, the bodily, vocal or mental actions of the Buddha are ‘preceded by knowledge’ (jñānapūrvaṃgama) and ‘accompany knowledge’ (jñānānuparivartin).

Notes on this accusation:

Above (p. 507–517), there was a accusation against the Buddha: it was asked if the nine or ten torments that the Buddha had to suffer were not the punishment for faults committed by him in the course of his previous lifetimes. To the references collected at that place should now be added a Sanskrit fragment related to torments 5 to 8, published in Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part I, p. 211–218.

But here it is a matter of an infinitely more serious case concerning the alleged bodily, vocal or mental faults which Śākyamuni may have committed after his enlightenment when he was already buddha. If these grievances proved to be justified, they might cause the validity to be disputed of the āveṇikadharmas numbers 13 to 15 in the words of which: “ Every bodily, vocal or mental dharma of the Buddha is preceded by knowledge and accompanied by knowledge.”

I [Lamotte] do not think that the criticisms raised against Śākyamuni here are the deeds of heretics trying to sully the memory of the last Buddha to have appeared on this earth. They might have come from sincere disciples, but the reading of some texts had made them perplexed and anxiously wondering if the Buddha had not acted badly in such and such a circumstance.

In this imaginary case, we should note that the defense produces unknown pieces of accusation evidently borrowed from more recent sources. The impression is inescapable that some schools, mainly that of the Sarvāstivādin, have reviewed and corrected the Āgamas and the Vinayas in such a way as to be able to justify the actions of Śākyamuni on every point and to answer in advance any blame to which he might have been exposed.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Majjhima, I, p. 227.


According to Majjhima (l.c.), the Bhagavat, in this assembly, uncovered his golden-colored body (Bhagavā tasmiṃ parisatiṃ suvaṇṇavaṇṇaṃ kāyam vivari). – According to the Tsa a han, T 99, k. 5, p. 36b23, he opened his upper garment (uttarāsaṅga) and showed his breast. – According to the Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 30, p. 716b4–5, he removed his three robes (tricīvara) and said to Nirgrantha: “Determine if the arm-pits of the Tathāgata have any sweat.”


According to the sources noted above (p. 275–276F), the Buddha showed these two secret marks to Ambaṭṭha, Brahmāyu and Sela. The fact is not contested; it only proves that the Buddha was not embarrassed by prejudice when it was a matter of converting beings.


For various breaches of discipline, the Buddha frequently treated the bhikṣus as ‘foolish people’ (in Sanskrit, mohapuruṣa; in Pāli, moghaparisa). The adjective is so commonplace that it makes up the formulary style and is the custom in stock phrases (cf. Vinaya, I, p. 45, 58, 60, 78, 154, 159–160, 189, 301, 305; II, p. 1, 14, 105, 161; III, p. 20–21, 45, 111, 188): Kathaṃ hi nāma tvaṃ moghapurisa…; m’etaṃ moghapurisa appasannānaṃ vā pasādāya pasannānaṃ vā bhiyyobhāvāya. – “How then, you foolish man, can you…; that does not contribute, O foolish man, to the conversion of unbelievers or the increase of believers.”

The Buddha cannot be blamed for having used this strong language. In the view of the two Vehicles, all the words of the Buddha, rough as well as gentle, have only the purpose of benefiting beings; in the perspective of the Greater Vehicle, the Buddha never loses the view of the twofold non-existence of beings and of things (pudgala and dharma nairātmya): there is no one to be insulted and there is nothing to be blamed for; see Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, p. 171–176, on this subject.


See above, p. 820F.


The Kṣāntijātaka has been fully narrated, p. 264F, 889–890F.


He fomented a schism, injured the Buddha’s foot and mortally struck the nun Utpalavarṇā: see above, p. 873–876F.


Ibid., II, p. 188: Sāriputtamogallānānaṃ pi kho ahaṃ, Devadatta, bhikkhusaṃghaṃ na nissajjeeyyaṃ. Kim pana tuyhaṃ chavassa kheḷāpakassā ‘ti.


According to its custom when it deals with disciplinary matters, here the Traité again refers to the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya, T 1435, k. 37, p. 260b6–8, where the Buddha says to the bhikṣus: “Starting from today on, I forbid you to have (dhāraṇa) eight kinds of bowls (pātra); bowls made of gold (suvarṇa), silver (rūpya), beryl (vaiḍūrya), pearl (maṇi), copper (tāmra), tin (trapa), wood (dāru) and stone (śaila). He who keeps (dhārayati) such a one commits a duṣkṛta. But I allow you to keep two kinds of bowls: iron (ayas) and baked clay (mṛttikā)”. – Compare Pāli Vinaya, II, p. 112; Mahīśasaka Vin., T 1421, k. 26, p. 169c–170a; Mahāsāṃghika Vin., T 1425, k. 29, p. 462a; Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1451, k. 2, p. 213c.


The 18th naiḥsargikā pāyantika of the Sarvāstivādins: Yaḥ punar bhikṣuḥ svahastaṃ rūpyam udgṛhṇīyad vā udgrāhayed vā nikṣiptam vā sādhayen niḥsargikā pātayantikā: “If a bhikṣu takes in his hand a precious object (gold or silver), or causes it to be taken, or tolerates it being placed in his hand, there is a fault involving surrender of the object.” – For the other Vinayas, see W. Pachow, Comparative Study of the Prātimokṣa, p. 112; Prātimokṣa-Sūtra of the Mahāsāṇghikas, p. 18.


For this bit of casuistry, see Sarv. Vinayavibhaṅga, p. 103; P. Demiéville, A propos de Concile de Vaiśālī, T’oung Pao, p. 272–275.


See above, p. 1399F.


As a fee for his medical attentions, Jīvaka received a great raincoat (bṛhatikāprāvaraṇa) worth a hundred thousand kārṣāpanas from the king of the Videhas. It was in fact a piece of impermeable cloth. Jīvaka offered it to the Buddha who asked Ānanda to cut it up and make a cloak out of it. Ānanda stretched it out on the ground and measured it: the material was so long that it could be made into numerous garments. Ānanda sewed the three robes (tricīvara) for the Buddha, an upper and a lower garment (sāntarottara) for himself and a cloak (kusūlaka) for Rāhula. The rest, hundreds of pieces (paṭaśatāni), was given to the community of bhikṣus who did not know what to do with it. The Buddha said to them: “I allow the bhikṣus to keep robes offered by the householders, but only after having cut them up and dirtied them.”

All this is told in the Cīvaravastu of the Mūlasarv. Vinaya (Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part 2, p. 48): Jīvakaḥ kumārabhṛto Bhagavantam idam avocat. ācaritaṃ bhadanta mama yasya rājño vā rājāmātyasya ….anujānaṃī bhikṣubhir gṛhaticīvarakāni śastralūnāni duṛvarṇīkṛtya dhāraitavyāni.


A passage from the Samantapāsādikā, V, p. 1119, noted by Horner, Book of the Discipline, IV, p. 296, remarks that, during the twenty tears following his enlightenment until the event related here, neither the Lord nor any monk accepted robes offered by the householders; all wore rags. However, according to the Traité, for some time at least, the Lord wore the fine robe of Kāśyapa.


See Catuṣpariṣatsūtra, p. 84–87, and the many similar texts collected by E. Waldschmidt: When the merchants Tripusa and Bhallika offered a honey-cake to the Buddha, the latter needed a bowl to receive it. Then the four great kings of the gods, understanding his wish, brought from the stone mountain (pāṣānamayāt parvatāt) four stone bowls (catvāri pātrāṇi) made and crafted by non-human beings (amanuṣyakṛtāny amanuṣyasniṣṭhitāni), completely transparent (svacchāni), pure (śucīni), with no bad odors (niṣpratigandāni), and offered them to the Buddha. But the latter needed only one vessel, and in the words of the Mahāvastu, III, p.304, with a touch of his thumb, he made the bowls dissolve into one another; thus the four bowls became one bowl, but the rims of the other three were always to be distinguished on the last bowl. Hence, comments A. Foucher, AgbG, I, p. 420, the three lines that encircle the upper rim of the bowl on many bas-reliefs at Gandhāra


See, for example, Pāli Vinaya, II, p. 112: Na bhikkhave gihīnaṃ uttarimanussadhammaṃ iddhipāṭihāriyaṃ dassetabbaṃ.


Horner, Book of the Discipline, IV, p. 449: “Suddha in such a connection means that a monk has committed no offences, or that, if he has, he has confessed them and so is ‘pure’ to take his place at the Pātimokkha recitation.”


On these feasts of immortality, see also the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, p. 319–324 and the appendix, p. 430–437.


Adopting the variant nien-seng.


See above, p. 1530F, n. 3.


For the fifth time, the Traité returns to this subject: see above, p. 154–158F, 421F, 423F, 529F.


See references above, p. 158F, note 2; 1378F


A free citation of a canonical passage: Tsa a han, T 99, no. 296, k. 12, p. 84b–c. See above, p. 157F, note 1 and references to be added from the Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 147–149.


Monier-Williams: vedaka = proclaiming, making known


These two apparently contradictory sūtras have been cited above, p. 32F, notes 1 and 2.


A peremptory affirmation which ought to draw the attention of western literary circles trying desperately to introduce the notion of a soul into Buddhism.


See above, p. 1369F.


Cf. Saṃyutta, II, p. 17; III, p. 135: Sabbam atthīti kho Kaccāyana ayam eko anto, sabbaṃ natthīti ayaṃ dutiyo anto. Ete te Kaccāyana ubho ante anupagamma majjhena Tathāgato dhammaṃ deseti.


For this idea, see Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 40: Ekam evāhaṃ Śāriputra yānam ārabhya sattvānāṃ dharmaṃ deśayāmi yadidaṃ buddhayānam. na kiṃcic Śāriputra dvitīyaṃ vā tṛtīyaṃ samvidyate.


Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 20, p. 363b4: Ānanda, these six pāramitās are the inexhaustible treasure of the Dharma of all the Buddhas. The Buddhas of the ten directions who presently preach the Dharma are all derived from the six pāramitās. The same in the past and the future.


An extract from the Dīghanakhasutta of the Majjhima, I, p. 497–501 (cf. Tsa a han, T 99, no. 969, k. 34, p. 249a–250a; Pie yi tsa a han, T 100, no. 203, k. 11, p. 449a–b), the original Sanskrit of which is reproduced partially in the Avadānaśataka, II, p. 187 seq.


Avadānaśataka, II, p. 188.


Ibid., p. 188–189.


Ibid., p. 189–190.


Ibid., p. 190