Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “refutation of the second sarvastivadin list” 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. Refutation of the second Sarvāstivādin list

The Sarvāstivādin.

However, we have drawn up [a list] of eighteen special attributes where we do not count [the ten powers]. What are these eighteen?

1. The Buddha knows the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas; thus he is omniscient (sarvajñā).

2. The nature of the qualities (guṇa) of the Buddha is difficult to probe (durvigāhya): thus his qualities are immense.

3. Animated by a lofty aspiration (adyāśaya), he thinks of others lovingly: thus he is greatly compassionate (mahākaruṇika).

4. He has acquired incomparable knowledges (asamajñāna): thus he has mastery in knowledge (jñānavaśita).

5. He penetrates well the nature of the mind (cittalakṣaṇa): thus he has mastery of concentration (samādhivaśita).

6. He has found the means (upāya) of saving beings: thus he has mastery in metamorphosis (nirmāṇavaśita).

7. He knows well the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) of dharmas: [256a] thus his teaching (vyākaraṇa) is immense.

8. He preaches the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas: thus his teaching is not wrong.

9. He speaks by distinguishing (vibhajya) and evaluating (mitvā): thus he has no vocal fault (nāsti tathāgatasya ravitam).[1]

10. He has attained the perfection of the ten powers (daśabalasaṃpad): thus he has no loss of wisdom (prajñāparihāṇi).[2]

11. In every conditioned dharma (saṃskṛtadharma) he sees only a mass of things (dharmasaṃcaya) and non-self (anātman): thus his actions are always generous.

13. Knowing the favorable occasion (kāla) and the unfavorable occasion (vikala), he has established the threefold Vehicle (yānatraya) for he always sees beings.

14. He is always mindful (sadāsmṛtimat): thus he has no lapses (muusitasmṛtitā).[3]

14. For innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa) he has deepened the good minds (kuśalacitta): thus he is free of traces of the disturbing emotions (kleśavāsana).

15. He has attained perfectly pure knowledge (pariśuddhajñāna): thus there is nobody who can legitimately (saha dharmeṇa) find any faults in him.[4]

16. From lifetime to lifetime, he has venerated honorable individuals: thus the top of his head is invisible (anavalokitamūrdhatā).[5]

17. He cultivates the mind of great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā): thus he brings down his feet quietly, the soles of his feet are soft and delicate (mṛdutaruṇapādatala)[6] and beings who meet him find happiness.

18. He has acquired the supernatural powers (abhijñā) and the perfections (pāramitā): thus he transforms the minds of beings and leads them to rejoice and find salvation. When he enters a city, he manifests the power of his transformations (vikurvaṇabala).

The Mahāyānist.

These eighteen special attributes [proposed in your list] are not mentioned in the Tripiṭaka and even less so in other sūtras. As some people are on the lookout for the attributes of the Buddha, the śrāvakas and the scholars (upadeśācārya) gather a few from everywhere to celebrate the qualities (guṇa) of the Buddha.

Thus the absence of vocal fault (nāsti tathāgatasya ravitam), the non-loss of wisdom (nāsti prajñāparihāṇiḥ) and the absence of memory lapses (nāsti muṣitasmṛtitā) [mentioned in no. 9, 10 and 13 of your list] are borrowed from the eighteen special dharmas of Mahāyānist origin [no. 2, 10, and 3 of our list], and having chosen them, you comment on them.

The invisible top of the head (anavalokitamūrdhatā) and the soft and delicate soles of the feet (mṛdutaruṇapādatala) [mentioned in no. 16 and 17 of your list] are very frequent marks[7] and cannot be counted among the eighteen special attributes of the Buddha.

The [real] special attributes have knowledge (jñāna) as essence and there can be no question there either of the physical strength (kāyabala) of the Buddha – a strength comparable to that of ten myriads of perfumed white elephants (śvetagandhajastin)[8] – or of the strength of his supernatural powers (abhijñābala). This is why we must know that, in the eighteen special attriibutes, it is only a matter of the qualities of knowledge (jñānaguṇa) and not attributes consisting of the automatic fruits of retribution (vipākaphala).[9]

Footnotes and references:


This is the 2nd attribute in the Mahāyānist list.


This is the 10th attribute in the Mahāyānist list.


This is the 3rd attribute in the Mahāyānist list.


This is equivalent to introducing the four vaiśāradyas into the list of special attributes.


This is the first of the 80 anuvyañjanas according to the list drawn up by the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras: see above, p. 1346F.


This is the 6th of the 32 lakṣaṇas according to the list prepared by the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras above, p. 274F


The 32 physical marks (lakṣaṇa) in their entirety or partially, were possessed by others than the Buddha: see above, p. 285–286F and notes.


See above, p. 1348F.


Normally the lakṣaṇas are the reward for ‘actions productive of the 32 marks’ (dvātriṃśallakṣaṇakarman) accomplished by the Bodhisattva during the hundred kalpas following the three asaṃkhyeyakalpas of his career: see above, p. 246–255F.

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