Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “knowledge of the aspect of the paths” 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.

The exhaustive knowledge, the complete knowledge of these various paths is the knowledge of the aspect of the paths (mārgakārajñatā).

1. The aspect of the paths is absence of nature

Question. – The Prajñāpāramitā is the single path of the bodhisattva: its sole nature is the absence of nature (ekalakṣaṇaṃ yadutālakṣaṇaṃ).[1] Why then speak of the various paths?

Answer. – These paths all end up in a single path (ekayāna), namely, the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. At the beginning of the practice, they show many particularities, but at the end, they are all equal and alike and no longer show any differences (viśeṣa). In the same way, at the time of the final conflagration (kalpoddāha), all existing things are gathered into empty space (ākāśa).

However, in order to convert beings (sattvaparipācanārtham), the bodhisattva makes distinctions (vikalpa) and speaks of many paths, mainly the worldly path (laukikamārga) and the supraworldly path (lokottaramārga), etc.

2. Worldly path and supraworldly path are mingled into one single non-existence

Question. – Why does the bodhisattva established in the single nature (ekalakṣaṇa), i.e., in the absence of nature (alakṣaṇa), distinguish a worldly path and a supraworldly path?

Answer. –That which is called world (loka) comes from an erroneous thought (viparyastamanasikāra) and a deceptive duality; it is like a magic show (māyā), a dream (svapna), the circle of fire drawn by a fire-brand. Worldly people arbitrarily take it to be the world, but this world is false; false today, it [258c] has been false from the beginning. In reality, it does not arise, it does not act; it comes only from causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) consisting of the coming together (saṃnipāta) between the six inner organs (adhyātmendriya) and the six outer objects (bahirdhāviṣaya). But in order to conform to the prejudices (abhiniveśa) of worldly folk, we speak of the world. The many wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) about the world are like tangled threads (jāla): whoever clings to them wanders in saṃsāra eternally. That is how to know the world.

What is the supraworldly path (lokottaramārga)? Knowing the world in conformity with reality is the supraworldly path. Why? The wise person has looked very hard for the world and the supraworld: these two things do not exist (nopalabhyante). Since they do not exist, we should know that the world and the supraworld are only denominations (prajñapti).

We speak of the supraworld merely to destroy the world. The self-nature (lakṣaṇa) of the world is precisely the supraworld, and the latter is even more non-existent. Why is that? The nature of the world being non-existent, the supraworld is eternally empty (śūnya) of worldly nature, for any fixed nature (niyatalakṣaṇa) in things of this world is non-existent.

Thus the yogin does not find the world (lokaṃ nopalabhate) and does not cling to the supraworld either (lokottaraṃ nābhiniviśate). If he does not find the world, he is not attached to the supraworld. Having destroyed affection (anunaya) and aversion (pratigha), he does not debate with the world (na lokena sārdhaṃ vivadati).[2] Why? Because, knowing for a long time that the world is empty (śūnya), non-existent (asat) and deceptive (mṛṣā), the yogin no longer has memory (anusmaraṇa) or thought construction (vikalpa).

By world (loka) we mean the five aggregates (skandha). But even if the Buddhas of the ten directions looked for the nature (lakṣaṇa), they would not find it, for the aggregates are without a starting point (āgamasthāna), without a resting point (stitisthāna) and without a point of departure (nirgamasthāna). The impossibility of finding the natures of coming, staying and departing in the five aggregates constitutes the supraworld (lokottara).

From then on, the yogin considers the world and the supraworld as being really invisible. He does not see any connection (saṃyoga) between the world and the supraworld nor any connection between the supraworld and the world. Beyond the world, he sees no supraworld, and beyond the supraworld, he sees no world. Thus he does not produce the twofold idea of world and supraworld. Rejecting the world without adopting the supraworld, this is the supraworld.

But the bodhisattva who knows this can, in the interest of beings, make distinctions between worldly path and supraworldly path. Nevertheless, whether they are impure (sāsrava) or pure (anāsrava), the paths of all dharmas come together in a single nature (ekalakṣaṇa), [namely, the absence of nature]: this is what is called the knowledge of the aspect of the paths (mārgakārajñatā).

Footnotes and references:


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 164, l. 8–9 (T 223, k. 4, p. 242c2–4; k. 8, p. 278c1–2). A pithy phrase often cited by the Traité (p. 676F, 938F, 1376F, 1621F, 1694F, 1703F, etc.).


Canonical reference: Saṃyutta, III, p. 138; Madh. vṛtti, p. 370. See above, p. 42F, note.