Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “where the destruction of the traces is located” 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.

VI. Where the destruction of the traces is located

Question. – Is destroying the traces (vāsanāprahaṇa) also eliminating the passions (kleśacchedana)?

1. Report on and criticism of four wrong theories

First theory:

(Summary: Destruction of the passions and destruction of the traces are simultaneous.)

Some say: When the passions (kleśa) are cut, the traces (vāsanā) disappear at the same time and, as has been said above, the traces disappear without residue. But the arhats and pratyekabuddhas cut just the passions and do not cut the traces whereas the Bodhisattva cuts all the passions and their traces which are eliminated without residue.

Second theory:

(Summary: The passions are cut at the time of the Bodhisattva’s meeting with the buddha Dīpaṃkara, at the end of the second asaṃkhyeyakalpa.)

Others say: already, The Buddha has long ago withdrawn from the desires (rāga). Thus the Buddha said: “When I saw the buddha Ting-kouang (Dīpaṃkara), I had already eliminated the desires.”[1] Therefore it was by the power of his salvific skillful means (upāya) that he pretended [later] to take births and deaths, a wife, children and slaves.

Third theory:

Passions and traces are destroyed when anutpattikakṣānti is obtained.

Others say: Starting from the time when the Bodhisattva obtained the certainty that things do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti)[2] and he found the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of things, all his passions and all the traces were destroyed.

Fourth theory:

Passions and traces are destroyed the night of the enlightenment.

Other say: When the [future] Buddha produced the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) for the first time, he had passions, but when he sat down on the seat of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍa) and during the last watch of the night (paścime yāme), he destroyed all his passions and all the traces.

Question. – Which is the correct theory?

Answer. – All having come from the mouth of the Buddha (kaṇṭhokta), none of them is incorrect. [But they must be interpreted.]

Criticism of the first theory.

In the śrāvaka system, the Buddha, by the power of his skillful means (upāya), pretends to assume human qualities: he undergoes birth (jāti), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), cold and heat (śītoṣṇa), hunger and thirst (kṣutpipāsā), etc.[3] As no human is born without passions, the Buddha must likewise conform to human qualities and [seem] to have passions. Under the king of trees, first outwardly, he crushed Māra’s armies (mārasenā); then inwardly, he destroyed his enemies that are the fetters (saṃyojana). Having destroyed his external and internal enemies, he realized supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi). Everyone, seized by faith, [said to themselves]: “Here is a man who has accomplished great things; therefore we also should realize such things.”

Criticsm of the second and third theories.

Some tell us: “For a long time already the Buddha is without passion. When he met the buddha Jan-teng (Dīpaṃkara) or acquired the conviction that things do not arise (anutpādakṣānti), he destroyed his passions completely.”[4] But this is again skillful [261c] means (upāya) to lead bodhisattvas to rejoice. If the bodhisattva [Śākyamuni] had long ago destroyed all his passions, what more did he need to do at the time of his enlightenment (saṃbodhi)?

Question. – But the Buddha has all kinds of things to do. Cutting the fetters (saṃyojanaprahāṇa) is only one. He still has to purify the buddhafields (buddhakṣetrapariśodhana), ripen beings (sattvaparipācana), etc., all things that he has not yet done. When he has completely fulfilled all these things, he will be called Buddha.

Answer. – If that is so, why did the Buddha say [at the moment of his enlightenment]: “I have destroyed the fetters: this is my last existence”[5]? How can a man who no longer has any fetters be reborn?

Question. – When he acquired the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti), he always acquires a body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya)[6] and becomes transformed.

Answer. – As to transformation, it is the rule that first there is a master of emanstion (nirmātṛ) and only then an emanation. If [the future Buddha] cut all the fetters (saṃyojana) at the time when he acquires anutpattikadharmakṣānti, he would be abandoning his fleshly body (māṃsakāya) at the moment of death and would no longer have a real body. Who then would be transforming? This is how we know that after having acquired anutpattikadharmakṣānti, he has not eliminated the fetters.

Criticism of the fourth theory.

Furthermore, the śrāvakas say: “The Bodhisattva does not cut the fetters until after he has seated himself on the seat of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍa). This is a serious error. Why? In your system, it is said that the Bodhisattva, after having traveled through the three asaṃkhyeyakalpas [of his career], must travel through a further [additional] hundred kalpas.[7] However, ever in possession of the knowledge of his former abodes (pūrvanivāsajñāna), he remembers that at the time of the buddha Kia-chö (Kāśyapa), he was the bhikṣu Yu-to-lo (Uttara) and was already practicing the attributes of the buddhas. (see Appendix 5)

Now, during his practices of austerities (duṣkaracārya), why would he have followed the wrong path [of asceticism] for the duration of six years by eating only one sesame grain (tila) one single grain of rice (taṇḍula) every day?[8] The Bodhisattva in his last lifetime (caramabhāvika) cannot be deceived even for a single day; then how would he be so for six years?

It is the same for his reactions of hatred (dveṣa). In times gone by, the Bodhisattva was a venomous snake (āśīviṣa); hunters (vyādha, lubdhaka) flayed him without him feeling the least hatred.[9] How then would he have hated the group of five (pañcavargīya) in his last lifetime?

Thus we know that the śrāvakas interpret the mind of the Buddha wrongly. It is out of skillful means (upāya) that he wanted to destroy the heretics and that he gave himself up to austerities for six years. You claim that he was angry with the group of five: that too is skillful means; these were the traces of passions (kleśavāsanā) and not the passions (kleśa).

2. Report on the correct theory

Now we must speak truthfully. When the Bodhisattva attained the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti),[10] his passions (kleśa) have already been exhausted, but his traces (vāsanā) have not yet been eliminated. It is as a result of these traces that he assumes [a birth]. Obtaining a body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya), he can transform himself at will. Out of loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) for beings and also in order to fulfill his earlier vows (pūrvapraṇidhāna), he returns to this world to perfect or acquire yet other Buddha attributes. Once the tenth bhūmi has been completed (paripūrṇa), he sits on the seat of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍa) and, by the power of his unhindered liberation (asaṅgavimokṣa), he attains omniscience (sarvajñatā), the knowledge of all the aspects (sarvākārajñatā) and destroys the traces of the passions (kleśavāsanā).

3. Criticism of two Mahāyāna theories

First theory:

(Summary: Passions and traces are destroyed simultaneously on the obtaining of anutpattikakṣānti.)

Some Mahāyānists say: “At the moment when the Bodhisattva obtains the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti), all his passions (kleśa) and traces of passion (kleśavāsanā) are destroyed.” This also is wrong. In fact, if were all destroyed, the Bodhisattva would not be different from the Buddha and, furthermore, would not assume a body born from the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya). [262a] Why? Because it is at the moment when the Bodhisattva obtains the anutpattikadharmakṣānti that he abandons his body of birth (janmakāya) and obtains the body born of the fundamental element.

Second theory:

(Summary: Passions and traces are destroyed simultaneously the night of enlightenment.)

If someone tells us: “The Bodhisattva should be seated on the seat of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍa) for all his passions (kleśa) and traces of passion (kleśavāsanā) to be destroyed”, this statement would be wrong as well. Why? If, [at the moment of his enlightenment], the Bodhisattva still retained the three poisons (viṣatraya) [desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and delusion (moha)], how could he have [previously] gathered innumerable Buddha attributes (buddhadharma)? He would be like a poisonous pot from which nobody eats even if it is filled with nectar (amṛta). In fact, the Bodhisattva accumulates the very pure qualities (pariśuddhaguṇa) at the moment when he becomes Buddha. If, [at that moment], he were still mixed with the three poisons, how would he be able to perfect the pure attributes of the Buddhas?

Question. – By contemplating the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas and by cultivating the mind of compassion (karuṇācitta), he ‘weakened’ the three poisons and then was able to accumulate the pure qualities.

Answer. – By weakening (tanutva) the three poisons, he could only obtain an existence (ātmabhāva) as a noble chakravartin king or king of the gods (devarāja), but that would be insufficient to acquire the mass of Buddha qualities. It is necessary to destroy the three poisons but not to have eliminated the traces, in order to be able to accumulate the qualities.

Moreover, there is a weakening [of the three poisons] in the person detached from desire (vītarāga) who has destroyed the fetters related to the lower level (avarabhāgīya saṃyojana) but who still keeps the fetters relative to the higher levels (ūrdhvabhāgīya saṃyojana).[11] There is also weakening [of the three poisons] in the srotaāpanna who has suppressed the fetters to be destroyed by the seeing of the truths (satyadarśanaheya saṃyojana), but has not suppressed the fetters to be destroyed by meditation (bhāvanāheya saṃyojana).[12] Finally, as the Buddha said: “One is sakṛdāgāmin by means of the destruction of three fetters, desire, hatred and delusion (rāgadveṣamohānāṃ ca tanutvāt).”[13] But [in order to accumulate the Buddha attributes, it is not enough] to weaken [the three poisons] as you have said; they must be destroyed.

Thus, at the moment when the Bodhisattva obtains the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti), he destroys the passions (kleśān prajahāti), and at the moment when he becomes buddha, he destroys the traces of passion (kleśavāsanāḥ prajahāti): this is the correct theory.

Footnotes and references:


In the course of an earlier lifetime, when he was the young brahmacārin Sumedha, Megha or Sumati, the future buddha Śākyamuni met the Buddha Dīpaṃkara and received from him the prediction that he would become buddha. This meeting took place at the end of the second asaṃkhyeyakalpa of his career: cf. p. 248F and n. 2.


This conviction is definitively acquired in the eighth bodhisattva bhūmi, the Acalā.


Docetic theory advocated by some Hīnayāna schools, especially the Mahāsāṃghikas and their subsects. See Histoire du bouddhisme indien, p. 690–692.


See above, p. 983F, the statements put into the mouth of the future Buddha Śākyamuni.


Ayaṃ antimā jāti, n’atthi dāni punabhavo: Vinaya, I, p. 11, etc.


On the dharmadhātujakāya as opposed to the māṃsakāya, see above, p. 392–393F, 711–712F and notes.


According to the Sarvāstivādins, the career of the bodhisattva involves three asaṃkhyeyakalpas plus a hundred supplementary kalpas during which the bodhisattva accomplishes the acts that produce the thirty-two marks. This theory has been presented on pages 246–255F and refuted on pages 283–397F.


As the Traité has explained above (p. 1512F), if for six years at Uruvilvā, Śākyamuni, in the course of his last existence, gave himself over to the practices of austerity, he did not, however, approve of the pernicious austerity practiced by the heretics. By giving himself over to the insane tortures of mortification, he was in a position to condemn with even more authority the excesses of ascetiscim as he did in the sermon at Benares.

At Uruvilvā, he began by stopping the inhalation and exhalation and fell into a state close to catalepsy. Then he gave himself over to the most severe fasting, going so far as to finally abstain from all food.

The detail of the grain of sesame seed and the grain of rice given here by the Traité appears in all the sources: see, e.g., Makkhima, I, p.245; Mahāvastu, II, p. 125–129; Lalitavistara, p. 254–255; Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1450, k. 5, p. 121a, etc.


See the Jātaka of the flayed naga above, p. 853–855F.

The text says simply: ‘the five men’. This concerns evidently the five mendicants, Ājñāta-Kaunṇḍinya, etc., who had been present at the mortifications of Śākyamuni and who later became the listeners privileged to hear his first sermon. Nevertheless, the Buddha was never irritated with them, even though it were for skillful means.


The definitive attainment of this kṣānti is realized in the eighth bodhisattva bhūmi.


There are ten saṃyojana. Five are avarabhāgīya “favorable to the lower part”, i.e., to Kāmadhātu; these are: i) the belief in the individual (satkāyadṛṣṭi), ii) the unjustified belief in the efficacy of observances and rituals (śīlavrataparāmarśa), iii) doubt (vicikitsā), iv) love of pleasure (kāmacchanda), v) maliciousness (vyāpāda). Five are ūrdhvabhāgīya ‘favorable to the higher part’, i.e., to rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu; these are: i) desire for the form realm (rūparāga), ii) desire for the formless realm (arūparāga), iii) pride (māna), iv) excitement (auddhatya), v) ignorance (avidyā). See Saṃyutta, V, p. 61, 69; Anguttara, V, p. 17; Kośa, V, p. 84–87.

The saint who has destroyed the five avarabhāgīya has simply ‘weakened’ and not ‘destroyed’ the three poisons (viṣa) or the three bonds (bandhana), namely, rāga, dveṣa and moha.


In possession of the first fruit of the Path, the srotaāpanna has destroyed the first three avarabhāgīya (satkāyadṛṣṭi, śīlavrataparāmarśa and vicikitsā), in the sense that during the Darśanamārga that he has just traversed, he has abandoned a certain type of kleśa – the kleśa of ‘wrong view’, called avastuka – plus certain rāga immediately related to wrong view. But he still has to traverse the Bhāvanāmārga and eliminate the fetters to be destroyed by meditation (bhāvanāheya). Therefore he has ‘weakened’ the three poisons but not eliminated them completely.


In possession of the second fruit of the Path, the sakṛdāgāmin has made some progress over the preceding. By means of the Darśanamārga, he has destroyed the first three avarabhāgīya; by means of the beginning of the Bhāvanāmārga, he has abandoned six categories of kleśa of kāmadhātu. He must still abandon three categories of kleśa of kāmadhātu plus all the kleśa that hold him tied to rūpa- and ārūpyadhātu. He too is far from having destroyed the three poisons completely.

This is the meaning of the canonical formula cited here by the Traité: Tiṇṇaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā rāgadosamohānaṃ tanuttā sakadāgāmī hoti, sakid eva imaṃ lokaṃ āgantvā dukass’ antaṃ karoti. It occurs in Dīgha, I, p. 156; II, p. 92, 93, 200, 201, 252; III, p. 107, 132; Majjhima, I, p. 34, 226, 465; III, p. 80; Saṃyutta, V, p. 357, 378; Anguttara, I, p. 232; II, p. 89, 238; IV, p. 380. – Sanskrit formula in Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, p. 166; Divyāvadāna, p. 533–534 (with a lacuna).