Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “great loving-kindness and great compassion according to the mahayana” 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. Great Loving-kindness and Great Compassion according to the Mahāyāna

Taken separately or together, the mahāmaitrī and mahākaruṇā of the Buddha literally invade the Mahāyāna sūtras where they appear on almost every page. It will suffice here to refer to the citations collected by Śāntideva in his Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 286–290.

In their way of dealing with the subject, the śāstras of the Greater Vehicle are evidently inspired by the Sarvāstivādin masters mentioned above: see, e.g., the Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā, T 1606, k. 14, -p. 761c1–4, the Bodh. bhūmi, p. 247–248, and above all, the Upanibandhana on the Saṃgraha, p. 301–302 as note. The Two Vehicles agree on an essential point: the lesser karuṇā practiced in the course of the apramānas is of no use to beings, whereas the mahākaruṇā of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas is an efficacious skillful means.

There are, however, important points on the subject of which the Hināyāna and Mahāyāna scholars disagree:

1) The Mahāyānists did not know or, in any case, did not retain the 82 miseries of human society given by the Paṭisambhidā (I, p. 126–131) as bringing forth the great compassion of the Buddhas. In their place, they have a list of 32 Tathāgatasya mahākaruṇāḥ drawn up by the Brahmaviśeṣacintiparipṛcchā (T 585, k. 1, p. 9b23–10a16; T 586, k. 2, p. 41c6–42a25; T 587, k. 2, p. 72b26–73b9) and reproduced in the Mahāvyut., no. 154–186.

2) In contrast to the Sarvāstivādins, they do not accept that the great compassion of the Buddhas is a conventional (saṃvṛtijñāna) and impure (sāsrava) knowledge on the pretext that it deals with non-existent beings. For the Mahāyānists, all the attributes of the Buddha are pure (anāsrava).

The Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 127 says: Mātāpitṛprabhṛtīnāṃ hi tṛṣṇāmayaḥ snehaḥsāvadhyāḥ, laukikakaruṇāvihāriṇām niravato ’pi laukikaḥ, bodhisattvānāṃ tu karuṇāmayāḥ sneho niravadyaś ca laukikātikrāntaś ca. –

“ In the mother, the father, etc., affection, made of desire, is blameworthy; in those who dwell in worldly compassion, affection is beyond reproach, but nevertheless worldly. But among bodhisattvas, affection, made of (pure) compassion is both beyond reproach and supraworldly.

The Bodh. bhūmi, p. 247–248, says in turn:

Suviśuddhā ca bhavati tadyathā niṣṭhāgatānāṃ bodhisattvānāṃ bodhisattvabhūmiviśuddhyā tathāgatānāṃ ca tathāgatabhūmiviśuddhyā.

“Great compassion is also very pure as is the case among the bodhisattvas who have attained the summit and in the Tathāgatas, by virtue of their respective levels.”

If the Sarvāstivādins take the great compassion and omniscience of the Buddhas to be conventional knowledges, worldly and impure, it is because they are concerned, more or less, with non-existent beings and things. But in the eyes of the Mahāyānists, the argument does not hold. Indeed, according to the Akṣayamatisūtra (see above, p. 1245F, 1272F), apart from the mahākaruṇā having beings and things as object, there is a mahākaruṇā without object (anālambana). It is that of the Buddhas and also of the great bodhisattvas who, beginning at the eighth bhūmi, are no longer disturbed by objects and notions: this eighth level, Acalā, is rightly called anabhisaṃskārānābhogavihāra or anābhoganirmittavihāra (cf. Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 178; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 367; Saṃgraha, p. 202). In simple words, the great compassion of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas acts spontaneously outside of any consideration relating to beings and things. This is why it is so effective.

3) Finally, the Mahāyānists, instead of locating mahāmaitrī and mahākaruṇā in the fourth dhyāna as the Sarvāstivādins do, place it in the great samādhis of the Buddhas, the Samādhirājasamādhi and Siṃhavikṛīdiṭasamādhi.

These are the ideas which the Traité is going to develop in the following pages.