Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note on destroying the traces of the conflicting emotions” 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.

Preliminary note on destroying the traces of the conflicting emotions

Canonical Buddhism makes the destruction of the conflicting emotions (kleśaprahāna), the elimination of love, hate and ignorance (rāgadveṣamohakṣaya), the final goal of the religious life. It constitutes arhattva, sainthood (S. IV, p. 252), amṛta, immortality (S. V, p. 8), Nirvāṇa (S. IV, p. 251, 261). The destruction of the conflicting emotions is the result of a certain supramundane prajñā which is not the same in all the saints, but it involves the disappearance of the conflicting emotions for all. The Buddha said: “In those who possess it, there is no difference between deliverance and deliverance” (Majjhima, II, p. 129; Saṃyutta, V, p.410; Anguttara, III, p. 34: Ettha kho nesahaṃ na kiñci nānākaraṇam vadāmi, yadidaṃ vimuttiyā vimuttiṃ).

The enlightenment of the Buddha has been the object of many accounts (cf. E. Waldschmidt, Die Erleuchtung des Buddha, in Festscrift Krause, 1960, p. 214–229). They say that Śākyamuni attained anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi and broke through his last kleśa at the end of the third watch of the night. For the Sarvāstivādins who have carefully worked out the timing of the night of the enlightenment (Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 153, p. 780b29–c6; Kośa, II, p. 205–206; VI, p. 177; Traité, p. 1036), it was at the thirty-fourth mind-moment that the Sage acceded to saṃbodhi and detached himself from the ninth category of conflicting emotions of the summit of existence (bhavāgra). For these early sources, one line was enough to define the succession to sainthood of a disciple of the Buddha: “While this religious instruction was being given, the Venerable One’s mind was liberated from impurities by means of detachment.”

At the beginnings of Buddhist speculation it is only a question of passions and destruction of the passions: this is the same in all the saints, arhat, pratyekabuddha and Buddha, and results immediately in enlightenment.

However, on simply reading the canonical and paracanonical texts, we notice that most of the disciples of the Buddha, even after having destroyed the conflicting emotions and attaining sainthood, often still acted as impassioned men subject to love, hate and ignorance. In this regard, the Traité has gathered together some rather significant anecdotes (cf. p. 117–123F, 1659–1661F) and will return to them later (k. 84, p. 649c). It must be noted that the saints who no longer have conflicting emotions still carry out apparently impassioned actions. These lapses of behavior do not constitute faults and do not involve their responsibility; they are the unfortunate consequence of inveterate habits. The saints retain the traces, the impregnations (vāsanā) of their emotions like sesame seeds retain the perfume of the flowers that perfumed them (vāsita or bhāvita) long ago, long after the flowers have disappeared.

Anantavarman, a commentator on the Mahāvibhāṣā, defined the kleśavāsanā in these words: “In every śrāvaka who previously was subject to an emotion, a special potentiality is created by this emotion in his mind which is the cause of a distortion in his physical and vocal conduct: this potentiality is called ‘trace’ (vāsanā). The trace is a mind of a special kind, morally undefined (avyākṛta): (Kośavyākhyā, p. 647: Śrāvakāṇāṃ yo hi yatkleśacaritaḥ pūrvaṃ tasya tatkṛtaḥ kāyavākceṣṭāvikārahetusāmarthyaviśeṣaś citte vāsanety. avyākṛtaś cittaviśeṣo vāsaneti.

Innocent though they are, these actions are out of place in the saints and make them appear ridiculous. But there is something more serious. Some exegetists think they have found in the biographies of Śākyamuni a whole series of not very edifying episodes: an exaggerated kindness, insulting words, or even ignorance unworthy of the Great Sage. The authors of the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 16, p. 77b4–c9) and the Traité (above, 1661F seq.) have not attempted to evade these “embarrassing” episodes, but have washed away any suspicion of the Teacher by justifying his somewhat bold initiatives by excellent reasons. Moreover, they have not failed to reveal irrefutable proof in the life of the Buddha of his unshakeable calmness in no matter what circumstance, pleasant or unpleasant (T 1509, k. 27, p. 260c27–261a22). The conviction spread that the śrāvakas do not eliminate the traces of the emotions whereas the Buddhas are easily freed of them. A stock phrase reproduced in some lives of the Buddha (T 156, k. 6, p. 155c13–17) or commentaries on the Vinaya (T 1440, k. 1, p. 504c3–7) says: “In the Buddhas, the vāsanās are destroyed; in the [adepts] of the two Vehicles, [śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha], they are not. Thus the bhikṣu Gavāmpati was always chewing the cud because from existence to existence he had been a cow; although he had destroyed his impurities (kṣīṇāsrava) the bhikṣu (Nanda?) was always admiring himself in the mirror because from lifetime to lifetime he had been a courtesan; yet another bhikṣu (Madhuvāsiṣṭha?) leapt over walls and climbed up towers because he had been a monkey from lifetime to lifetime. Those are not called ‘Bhagavat’.”

On the other hand, the absence of vāsanās of emotions in the Buddhas, which the early biographies mention in passing, take on the weight of dogma in some Hīnayānist sects strongly marked by supernaturalistic and docetic tendencies. Here the evidence of Mahāvibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 173, p. 871c2–7; k. 44, p.229a17–20; k. 76, p. 391c27–392a3) may be called upon: “For the Vibhajyavādins and the Mahāsāṃghikas, the body of birth (janmakāya) of the Buddha is without impurities (anāsrava). Why do they say that? Because they depend on the sūtra (Samyutta, III, p. 140; Anguttara, II, p. 39) where it is said: ‘The Tathāgata, born into the world, having grown up in the world, transcends the world and is not defiled by the world’ (Tathāgato loke jāto saṃvaḍḍho lokaṃ abhibhuyya viharati anupalitto lokena). In dependence on this text, they say that the body of birth of the Buddha is without impurity. These teachers also say: ‘The Buddha has completely and definitively destroyed all the kleśas and their traces (vāsanā); how then could his body of birth have impurities?’ “

The Mahāyānists have resolutely adopted the lokottaravāda of the Vibhajyavādins and the Mahāsaṃghikas and try to define more precisely the relationship between the kleśas and the kleśavāsanas and the conditions of their respective eliminations.

The kleśas are bad dharmas that pollute the mind; the vāsanās are the natural results of emotional actions. Unpleasant or ridiculous though they may be, the vāsanās are morally undefined (avyākṛta) and do not involve any responsibility.

Affecting the mind, kleśa and vāsanā can be destroyed only by a wisdom (prajñā), a certain form of omniscience (sarvajñatā).

A wisdom of a lower class that is essentially concerned with the general characteristics (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) of things and that belongs to the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas suffices to destroy the kleśas. A higher wisdom concerned with the specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇa) as well and, for this reason, called ‘knowledge of all the aspects’, destroys the kleśas and the vāsanās. This wisdom is an attribute exclusive to the Buddha.

Finally, in contrast to what the early sources would have one believe, the destruction of the kleśas and the destruction of the vāsanās are not simultaneous but are separated in time by a rather long interval.

This system which the Traité will describe in detail in the following pages is directly inspired by concepts developed in the Mahāyānasūtras and especially in the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra of which some extracts are given here.

Vol. VI, no. 220, k. 363, p. 872a7–19; vol. VII, no. 220, k. 525, p. 695b27–c11: There is no difference between the different destructions of the conflicting emotions (kleśaprahāna). However, the Tathāgatas, arhats and samyaksaṃbuddhas have entirely and definitively cut all the conflicting emotions (kleśa) and the traces that result from them (vāsanānusaṃdhi). The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas themselves have not yet definitively cut the vāsanānusaṃdhi… These vāsanās are not really kleśas. After having cut the kleśas, the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas still retain a small part of them: semblances of love (rāga), hate (dveṣa) and ignorance (moha) still function in their body (kāya), speech (vāc) and mind (manas): this is what is called vāsanānusaṃdhi. In foolish worldly people (bālapṛthagjana), the vāsanās call forth disadvantages (anartha), whereas among the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas they do not. The Buddhas do not have all these vāsanānusaṃdhi.”

But where in the career of the bodhisattva is the destruction of the kleśas and the destruction of the vāsanās located? Are they simultaneous or consecutive? The question lends itself to controversy, but the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, as it appeared in the Chinese version by Kumārajīva (T 223, k. 6) gives a precise answer:

T 223, k. 6, p. 257b16–17 and 259a25: Twenty dharmas must be perfectly accomplished by the bodhisattva who is on the seventh level: … notably the 15th, the overcoming of the passions (kleśavivarta). – What is the overcoming of the passions by the bodhisattva? It is the destruction of all the passions (sarvakleśaprahāṇa).

T 223, k. 6, p. 259c8–10: The bodhisattva who completely fulfills the knowledge of all the aspects (sarvākārajñatā) and has destroyed all the traces (sarvakleśavāsanā) is a bodhisattva-mahāsattva who is on the tenth bhūmi and should be considered simply as a Buddha (tathāgata eva veditavyaḥ).