Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “five incomprehensible things (acintya-dharma)” 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.

Appendix 2 - The five incomprehensible things (acintya-dharma)

Note: This appendix is extracted from Chapter XLI part 1.2 (detailed commentary on the list of the eighteen special attributes):

“(5. The Buddha has no non-concentrated mind) ...Moreover, among the five incomprehensible things (acintya-dharma), the attributes of the Buddha are the most incomprehensible: these eighteen special attributes (āveṇika-dharma) are the profound treasure (gambhīra-nidhāna) of the Buddha. Who can understand them? This is why it is certain that the Buddha has no non-concentrated mind”.

The Traité lists five acintyas: cf. k. 30, p. 383c17–20: “The sūtra speaks of five incomprehensible things, namely:

  1. the number of beings,
  2. retribution of action (karmavipāka),
  3. the strength of a man in trance (dhyāyibala),
  4. the strength of the nāgas (nāgabala),
  5. the power of the Buddhas.

Of these five incomprehensible things, the power of the Buddhas is the most incomprehensible.”

– See also later, k. 90, p.698b20; k. 93, p. 714a21; k. 98, p. 743b14.

– The same list is repeated by T’an louan (476–542) in his notes on the Amitāyuḥsūtra, T 1819, k. 2, p. 836b7–10.

However, the canonical sūtras list only four acintyas (in Pāli, acinteyya):

1) Anguttara, II, p. 80:

Cattar’ imāni bhikkhave acinteyyāni na cintetabbāni yāni cintento ummādassa vighātassa bhāgī assa. katamāni cattāri? Buddhānaṃ buddhavisayo… jhāyissa jhānavisayo… kammavipako… lokacintā:

“Here, O monks, are the four incomprehensible things about which you should not think, for the person who thinks about them will be prey to mistakes and trouble. What are these four things? The Buddha domain of the Buddhas, the domain of the person in trance, the retribution of action, and philosophical speculations about the world.”

2) Ekottarāgama, T 125, k. 18, p. 6406–9:

  1. lokadhātu,
  2. sattva,
  3. nāgaviṣaya,
  4. buddhaviṣaya.

3. Ibid., k. 21, p. 657a2–21:

  1. sattva,
  2. lokadhātu,
  3. nāgaviṣaya,
  4. buddhaviṣaya.

4) Ratnakūṭa, T 310, k. 8, p. 43c16–18; k. 86, p. 493c16–19:

  1. karmaviṣaya,
  2. nāgaviṣaya,
  3. dhyānaviṣaya,
  4. buddhaviṣaya.

Contrary to the Traité, the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 113, p. 586b24; T 1546, k. 22, p. 163a8–9) considers that, of the five acintyas, karmavipāka is the most profound.

Finally, in the Hien yang cheng kiao louen (T 1602,k. 6, p. 510c2–6), Asaṅga postulates six acintyas:

  1. ātman,
  2. sattva,
  3. loka,
  4. sarvasattvakarmavipāka,
  5. dhyānasākṣātkāra and dhyānaviṣaya,
  6. buddha and buddhaviṣaya.
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