Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 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 3 - 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):

“(7. The Buddha has no loss of zeal) ...Finally, it is said in the Mo-ho-yen Cheou-leng-yen king (Mahāyāna Śūraṃgamasamādhisūtra): ‘In the Pratimaṇḍitā universe, the Buddha has a life-span of seven hundred incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa) during which he saves beings.’ This is why it is said that the Buddha has no loss of zeal”.

T 642, k. 2, p. 644c16–645a13; Tib. Trip., vol. 32, no. 800, fol. 336a6–337b2; my [Lamotte] translation of the Śūraṃgamasamādhi, 1965, p. 267–270.

“The public ministry of the Buddha Śākyamuni lasted only 45 years. Working for such a short period of time for the good and happiness of beings, Śākyamuni experienced only a rather lukewarm zeal. How can you say that he had no loss of zeal?”

In order to answer this objection, the Traité appeals here to a passage from the Śūraṃgamasamādhi identifying the Śākyamuni of the Sahā universe, who entered nirvāṇa at the age of 48 years, with the buddha Vairocana of the Pratimaṇḍitā whose life-span is seven hundred incalculable periods.

In the passage in question, the bodhisattva Dṛdhamati asks Śākyamuni:

“How long is your life-span and when will you enter nirvāṇa?”

Śākyamuni answers:

“My life-span is exactly the same as that of the buddha Vairocana of the Pratimaṇḍitā.”

Dṛḍamati then goes to this universe to ask Vairocana who replies that his life-span will be exactly seven hundred incalculable periods like that of the buddha Śākyamuni.

Returning to the Sahā universe, Dṛḍhamati communicates this information to the disciples of Śākyamuni and the latter finally acknowledges:

“The buddha Vairocana is myself who, under a different name, assures the welfare and the happiness of all beings.”

The result is that the zeal of Śākyamuni is not limited to 45 years but extends over seven hundred incalculable periods.

Nevertheless, it would be a complete misunderstanding of the intent of the Mahāyāna to identify Śākyamuni with one or another Buddha in particular: in reality, he is mixed up with all the Buddhas whose true way of existing (tathatā) is an inconceivable ‘non-existence’.

In another passage (p. 129–131 of the translation), the Śūraṃgamasamādhi states that the Tathāgatas are non-existent in the past, the present and the future, and that they are identical in that they are like magic and a mirage, without coming or going. And the Vimalakirtinirdeśa (p. 355–359) in turn affirms that the true manner of seeing the Tathāgata is ‘to see him as if there was nothing to see’.