Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “great loving-kindness and great compassion according to the shravakayana” 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.

I. Great Loving-kindness and Great Compassion according to the Śrāvakayāna

1. The Nikāyas and the Āgamas:

There is practically no mention of them in the Nikāyas and the Āgamas which adhere to the law of karma in all its strictness. If a being has his own actions as his sole good, his sole heritage and sole recourse, it is hard to see how the loving-kindness and compassion of the Buddhas would be of any benefit whatsoever to him.

But as always, an exception must be made for the Ekottarikāgama, a late text loaded with Mahāyānist interpolations In a sūtra which has no correspondent in Pāli (T 125, k. 32, p. 725c7–9), it comments that “the Tathāgata, endowed with great loving-kindness and great compassion, thinks with pity about beings, contemplates them all and everywhere, seeks to save those who are not yet saved, never abandons them like a loving mother for her child.” Besides, in the Balasūtra (T 125, k. 31, p. 717b13–23), reviewing the characteristic strengths of beings, it states that the strength of a young boy are tears (ruṇḍa), that of women is anger (krodha), that of śramaṇas and brāhmanas patience (kṣānti), that of kings pride and inflexibility (mānastambha), that of arhats effort (vyāyāma), and finally, that of the Buddha Bhagavats mahāmaitrī and mahākaruṇā. – This latter comment does not appear in the correspondent Balasūtra of the Saṃyuktāgama (T 99, k. 26, p. 188a2–7) and of the Anguttaranikāya (IV, p. 223).

The Paṭisambhidāmagga (I, p. 126–131), which is part of the fifth Nikāya, lists no less than 82 miseries of human society (lokasannivāsa), miseries provoking the great compassion of the Buddha with regard to beings, but it does not mention the practical effects of this great compassion.

2. The Mūlasarvāstivādins and the post-canonical literature:

The late Vinayas, such as that of the Mūlasarvāstivādins, and the post-canonical literature show the evidence of a growing interest in regard to these two attributes of the Buddha. In three places in the Divyāvadāna (p. 95–96, 124–125, 264–265) and in fourteen places in the Avadānāśataka (I, p. 16–17; 30–31; 72–73. etc), there is a stock phrase in honor of these great compassionate ones (mahākaruṇika) who are the Buddha Bhagavats, endowed with all the qualities and who, three times during the night and three times during the day, i.e., six times in a day and night, look at the world with their Buddha-eye (trī rātre trirdivasasya ṣatkṛtvo rātriṃdivasena buddhacakṣuṣā lokaṃ vyavalokayanti) and ask themselves: In whom should I plant seeds of good not yet planted (kasyānavaripitāni kuśalamūlāny avaropayāmi), in whom should I make the roots of good grow that are already planted (kasyāvaropitāni kuśalamūlāni vivardhayāmi), etc?

This classic stock phrase is often followed by stanzas where it says that the Buddha never loses the opportunity of converting beings, watching over them and protecting them with the care of a loving mother for her only son, looks for them like a ‘cow of compassion’ seeking her calves that are in danger. See for example, Divyāvadāna, p. 96.

3. The Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣika school:

Faced with the almost complete silence of the Pāli Abhidhamma, it was the task of Kātyāyanīputra and his disciples to fix the position of the Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣika school in regard to the great compassion of the Buddhas and to note the similarities and differences in the karuṇā practiced during the course of the four apramāṇas and the mahākaruṇā reserved for the Buddhas and great bodhisattvas. The explanation is practically identical in the Mahāvibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 31, p. 159b13–160b18; k. 83, p. 428a5–431b3), the Kośa (VII, p. 77–79) and the Kośabhāṣya (p. 414–415), the Nyāyānusāra (T 1562, k. 75, p. 749b7–29) and the Kārikāvibhāṣā (T 1563, k. 36, p. 957b13–c7).

a. Karuṇā and mahākaruṇā are by nature conventional knowledge (saṃvṭijñāna), therefore impure (sāsrava), because they concern beings conventionally and not really existing.

b. Mahākaruṇā is ‘great’ for five reasons: i) by its accessories (saṃbhāra) for it is produced by a great accumulation of merit and knowledge (mahāpuṇyajñānasaṃbharasamudāgamāt); ii) by its aspect (ākāra) for it considers things under the aspect of the three sufferings (triduḥḥkhatākaravāt), namely, the suffering of suffering (duḥkhaduḥkhatā), the suffering of existence (saṃskāraduḥihatā) and the suffering of change (pariṇāmaduḥkahatā); iii) by its object (ālambana) for it has as object the beings of the threefold world (traidhātukālambanāt); iv) by its equality (samatava) for it concerns all beings equally; v) by its superiority (adhimātratva) for no other compassion is superior to it.

c. Karuṇā and mahākaruṇā differ in their nature (svabhāva), their aspect (ākāra), their object (ālambana), the level (bhūmi) on which they are noticed, the mental series (saṃtāna) in which they dwell, their mode of acquisition (lābha), the protection (paritrāṇa) which they exert or do not exert, and finally, the extent to which their impartiality (tulyatva) is extended.

Karuṇā is the absence of hatred (adveṣa); mahākaruṇā is the absence of delusion (amoha).

Karuṇā takes the aspect of a single suffering, namely, the suffering of suffering (duḥikhaduḥkhatā); mahākaruṇā takes the aspect of the threefold suffering, i.e., suffering of suffering, suffering of existence (saṃskāraduḥkhatā), suffering of change (pariṇāmaduḥkhatā).

Karuṇā has as object the beings of the world of desire (kāmadhātu); mahākaruṇā has as object the beings of the threefold world (traidhātuka).

Karuṇā is practiced in the anāgamya, the dhyānāntara and the four dhyānas; mahākaruṇa is practiced in the fourth dhyāna alone.

Karuṇā dwells in the mental series of pṛṭhagjanas, śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas; mahākaruṇā arises only in the mental series of Buddhas.

Karuṇā is obtained by detachment from the desire realm (kāmadhātu); mahākaruṇā by detachment from the threefold world including the sphere of bhavāgra.

Karuṇā, the simple feeling of pity, does not protect beings; mahākaruṇā is an efficacious compassion and protects beings from the terror of saṃsāra.

Karuṇā is a partial pity that sympathizes only with suffering beings; mahākaruṇā extends impartially to all beings impartially.

d. Why does the Buddha speak only of great compassion whereas he does not mention great loving-kindness, great joy, great equanimity? These should also be described as great because all the qualities (guṇa) present in the Buddha are great since they come from the wish to assure the benefit and happiness of innumerable beings…Besides, there are sutras where great loving-kindness, etc., is spoken of.