Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note on entering into the assurance of bodhisattva” 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 entering into the assurance of Bodhisattva

As the Traité is going to explain, here the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is trying to draw a parallel between the path of the bodhisattva and that of the śrāvaka of which the Sarvastivādin-Vaibhāṣika school had carefully laid out the stages. Once again we notice the considerable influence exerted by this school on the earliest Mahāyāna writers.

1. In the course of the preparatory path (prayogamārga), the śrāvaka, trained in the practice of the smṛtyupasthāna, cultivates the four wholesome roots favorable to penetration into the four noble Truths (nirvedhabhāgīya kuśalamūla): these are the heats (ūṣmagata), the summits (mūrdhan), the acquiescences (kṣānti) and the supreme worldly dharmas (laukikāgradharma). The old canonical texts make no mention of them, but the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma attaches great importance to them (Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 34, p. 175b7; k. 65, p. 338c3; k. 127, p. 662c13; k. 176, p. 884a16–17; Abhidharmasāra, T 1550, k. 2, p. 818b; Saṃyuktābhidharmasāra, T 1552, k. 5, p. 910a; Abhidharmāmṛtarasa, T 1553, k. 1, p. 972c–973a; k. 2, p. 976b; Kośa, p. 163–177.). These four roots of good, each of which includes a weak, medium and strong degree, have as object the four noble truths and take their sixteen aspects (cf. p. 641F, 1179F). These are right views (samyakdṛṣṭi), wisdoms (prajñā), in constant progression, but impure (sāsrava) wisdoms, of mundane order, which still involve traces of errors, e.g., the concept of self. The śrāvaka who practices them is still a worldly person (pṛthagjana).

The first two roots, heats and summits, are not fixed (cala) becase the ascetic may fall back from them: there is falling from the summits (mūrdhabhyaḥ pāta) when the śrāvaka becomes distracted from the contemplation of the truths by wrong judgments (Jñānaprasthāna, T 1544, k. 1, p. 918c25–919a1; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 6, p. 27a29–c4: passages translated in Hōbōgirin, IV, p. 346, s.v. Chöda).

The śrāvaka goes through the supreme worldly dharmas in the Path of seeing (darśanamārga) of the four noble Truths: suffering (duḥkha), its origin (samudaya), its cessation (nirodha) and the path (mārga) of its cessation. The full light rises up in him and he has the clear understanding of it (abhisamaya). It is now a matter of a pure (anāsrava) prajñā, supramundane (lokottara), free of any error (viparyāsa). Suddenly the ascetic sees purely the truth of suffering relative to dharmas of the desire realm (kāmadhātu). This first moment is followed by fifteen others which complete the pure seeing of the truths relative to the three realms of desire, subtle matter (rūpadhātu) and the formless (ārūpadhātu). The Traité has already alluded to these sixteen mind-moments (cf. p. 130F, n. 1; 214F; 1067F, n. 1; 1411F, n. 2; 1478–1480F). In the first one the śrāvaka ceases to be a worldly person (pṛthagjana) and becomes an ārya, a candidate for the first fruit of the religious life (prathamaphalapratipannaka). This first moment also constitutes entry into samyaktvaniyāma (in Pāli, sammattaniyāma), entry into the positions of salvation or, as L. de La Vallée Poussin translates it (Kośa, III, p. 137; VI, p. 181), entry into this ‘absolute determination of the acquisition of salvation’. In his introduction to the edition of the Bodhisattvabhūmi, Leipzig, 1930, p. 28–31), U. Wogihara has dedicated a learned note to this expression to which de La Vallée Poussin has also added.

In the words of a canonical sūtra cited by the Kośabhāṣya, p. 157, samyaktva is the cessation of all the passions (sarvakleśaprahāna), i.e., nirvāṇa; for the Commentary to the Saṃyutta, II, p. 346, it is ariyamagga, the path of the āryas, in this case the path of the pure seeing of the Buddhist Truths. Samyaktva, salvation, is opposed to mithyātva, perdition, the falling into the bad destinies. In principle, the āryas are destined to samyaktva, whereas those guilty of misdeeds of immediate retribution (ānantaryakārin) are destined to mithyātva (Kośa, III, p. 137).

The term niyāma is difficult because the Sanskrit and Pāli texts spell it is three different ways: niyāma, niyama and nyāma, for which the Tibetan and Chinese versions propose distinct translations (cf. Mahāvyut., no. 6500–6502).

1. Niyāma, position, determination, is a noun derived from the root ni-yam, and appears alone or in composition in many sources:

niyāma in Suttanipāta, p. 9. l. 14; Anguttara, I, p. 121, l. 27; Kathāvatthu, p. 317, l. 2; 480, l. 2; Daśabhūmika, p. 63, l. 14.

niyāmagata in Saṃyutta, I, p. 196, l. 17; Niyāmagamana, Kathāvatthu, p. 307, l. 24.

niyāmadassī in Suttanipāta, p. 65, l. 5.

niyāmāvakrānti, in Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 75, l. 3; avakrāntaniyāma.

Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 270, l. 4.

bodhisattvaniyāma, in Pañcaviṃśati, p. 107, l. 8; Daśabhūmika, p. 11, p. 27.

samyaktvaniyāma, in Kośabhāṣya, p. 350, l. 6; Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 131, l. 10.

In Saṃyutta, III, p. 225, l. 18, sammāttaniyāma.

Niyāma is given as ṅes par ḥgyur ba in Tibetan, as kiue-ting ‘determination, fixation’ in Chinese. Kumārajīva always gives samyaktvaniyāma – and undoubtedly also samyaktvanyāma – as tcheng-wei, ‘correct position’ (cf. T 223, p. 381a26; 405c24; T 1509, p. 192c12; 262c3), whereas Hiuan-tsang, who carefully distinguishes it from samyaktvanyāma, gives it as tcheng-kiue-ting ‘position in uprightness’ (cf. T 1558, p. 121b5; T 1562, p. 683a17).

2. Niyama, less frequent than niyāma, has exactly the same meaning and is also derived from the root ni-yam. It is usually rendered in Tibetan by ṅes pa, ‘determination’ and not by mi ḥgyur ba, ‘non-transformation’ as proposed by Mahāvyut., no. 6500. Niyama is just a grammatical variant of niyāma as Kośavyākhyā, p. 541 explains it: Tatra niyamo niyāma iti. tatra samyaktve niyama ekāntībhāvaḥ. niyāmaiti ghañi rūpam. api tu niyama iti yamaḥ samupaniviṣu cety appratyayasya vibhāṣitatvāt. – “Here, niyama is niyāma. The niyama of salvation is the absolute (ekāntibhāva) determination to salvation. To say niyāma is to apply [the suffix] ghañ, but we also say niyama when we opt for the rule [of Pāṇini, III, 3, 63]: Yamaḥ samupaniviṣu ca: [the suffix ap is in conjunction with ghañ] after the root yam preceded by the prefixes sam, upa, ni, vi.”

3. Nyāma (sometimes wrongly corrected to nyāya in the editions at our disposal) seems itself to be an erroneous spelling for niyāma or niyama. It occurs often in the Sanskrit texts: cf. Lalita, p. 31, l. 20; 34, l. 10; Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 679, l. 6; Pañcaviṃśati, p. 21, l. 11; 66, l. 15; 119, l. 6; 182, l. 20; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 67, l. 11; 272, l. 8; 486, l. 4; 489, l. 3; Gaṇḍhavyūha, p. 320, l. 22; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 358, l. 2; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 171, l. 22.

An imaginary etymology proposed by the Indian writers themselves has modified the meaning profoundly. According to them, nyāma would come from ni-āma and would mean ‘absence of coarseness’ in the proper sense and ‘absence of error’ in the figurative sense. Hence the Tibetan translation skyon med pa ‘absence of error’ and the Chinese translation li cheng ‘absence of coarseness’. In the texts of the Greater and of the Lesser Vehicle as well, Hiuan-tsang often comes upon the expression samyaktvanyāma and translates it faithfully and invariably by tcheng song li cheng, ‘correctness abandonment of coarseness’ (cf. T 1545, p. 7a3, 8c27, 13a2; T 220, vol. VII, p. 7c26, 19a21, 44b3).

For the Sarvāstivādins, āma, ‘coarsenesses, defects’, are the passions to be abandoned by seeing (darśanaheyakleśa), the belief in the indiviual (satkāyadṛṣṭi), the quality of the worldly person (pṛthagjana), etc.; ny-āma, ‘rejection of coarsenesses’, is the path of seeing the truths (satyadarśanamārga) that makes one go beyond these coarsenesses, which transforms the pṛthagjana śrāvaka into an ārya and destines him for nirvāṇa: see Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 3, p. 13; Kośa, VI, p. 181, note.

For the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, the samyaktvaniyāmāvakrānti leading to nirvāṇa is exclusively the work of a prajñā – made possible by śīla and maintained by samādhi – bearing upon the four noble Truths. For the Mahāyānists, the bodhisattvaniyāmāvakrānti, as we will see, opens up perspectives far more vast.

* * *

The śrāvaka aspires to arhathood, to nirvāṇa, in order to realize his own benefit (svahita); the bodhisattva aspires to supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi), to buddhahood, in order to assure his own benefit and that of others (parahita). The bodhisattva differs from the śrāvaka on two points: he tends toward a higher goal and is inspired by altruistic concerns..

To attain his ideal, he must practice the six perfections of his state (pāramitā) and convert beings (sattvaparipācana) over the course of a long career. The latter consists of ten stages or levels (bhūmi) to which the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra later will dedicate a lengthy section (Pañcaviṃśati, p. 214, l. 6 – 225, l. 19; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1454, l. 1 – 1473, l. 18). It is content to enumerate them; only later did other Mahāyānasūtras, notably the Daśabhūmika, give each a name.

The Mahāyānist thinkers tried very early to establish a parallel between the path of the śrāvakas and that of the bodhisattvas. After many attempts, they came to a coherent account where they distinguished five phases in the respective careers of the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas: 1) a path of accumulating of merit (saṃbhāramārga), 2) a preparatory path (prayogamārga), 3) a path of seeing (darśanamārga), 4) a path of meditation (bhāvanāmārga), 5) a final path excluding any practice (aśaikṣamārga). A succinct account of this comparative study may be found in the remarkable paper of E. Obermiller, The Doctrine of Prajñāpāramitā as exposed in the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreya, Acta Orienatalia, XI, 1932, p. 1–133.

Here the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra envisages only the preparatory path and the path of seeing, the major importance of which has not escaped it.

1. The four wholesome roots favorable to penetration (nirvedhabhāgīya kuśalamūla), the heats, etc., constitutuing the preparatory path of the śrāvakas find their place in the preparatory path of thebodhisattvas as will clearly be shown in the subtitles introduced into the version of the Pañcaviṃśati intentionally revised to serve as commentary to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, ed. N. Dutt, p. 119, l. 11–145, l. 19). But whereas the śrāvaka concentrates on the general characteristics (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) of the aggregates – impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), emptiness (śūnya) and non-self (anātman) – the bodhisattva disregards these distinctions and focuses on the true nature of dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā) free of arising and cessation.

Every candidate who has attained the second of the four wholesome roots, namely, the summits (mūrdhan), can still retrogress from it. As we will see, the śrāvaka falls back from the summits when he ceases to contemplate the general characteristics of things and allows himself to be drawn into mental ranting (ayoniśo manaskāra). The bodhisattva falls from the summits when, hypnotized by the general characteristics of things, he loses the view of their true nature, non-arising and non-cessation. In this case, he is not reduced to the level of the śrāvakas or pratyekabuddhas but he cannot accede to the definitive position (niyāma) of the bodhisattva.

In the following pages, the Traité will compare with the four nirvedhabhāgīya kuśalamūla of the śrāvakas a fourfold practice (caryā): 1) the first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda), 2) carrying out practices (caryābhāvanā or caryāpratipatti), i.e., the practice of the six perfections (pāramitā), 3) great compassion (mahākaruṇā), 4) skillful means (upāyakauśalya) to convert beings. Only the second of these four points constitutes a ‘practice’ in the proper sense of the word.

From other sources, we know that the bodhisattva who has produced the mind of awakening begins his career only on entering the preparatory path extending over the first seven bhūmis.

During the first six, the bodhisattva simultaneously cultivates the six pāramitās but especially generosity (dāna) in the first, morality (śīla) in the second, patience (kṣānti) in the third, exertion (vīrya) in the fourth, meditation (dhyāna) in the fifth and wisdom (prajñā) in the sixth. But this wisdom is not that of the śrāvakas bearing upon the aspects of the noble Truths; it is a Mahāyānist wisdom for which the true nature of things is emptiness (śūnyatā), the non-arising (anutpāda) of dharmas. The bodhisattva who limits his efforts ceases to think, speak and act and is of no use to beings.

Thus, in the seventh bhūmi, animated by great compassion for beings, the bodhisattva resorts to skillful means to convert beings: this upāyakauśalya is the dominant quality of the seventh bhūmi (cf. Daśabhūmika, p. 69, l. 6–7; Saṃgraha, p. 207; Siddhi, p. 623).

In conclusion, the prajñā of the bodhisattva is necessarily increased by upāyakauśalya which is sorely lacking in the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha.

2. From the preparatory path, the śrāvaka penetrates into the path of pure seeing of the truths and at once is placed in the position of salvation (samyaktvaniyāma): he ceases to be an ordinary person (pṛthagjana) and becomes an ārya, with the certainty of some day reaching nirvāṇa. In a parallel manner, when the bodhisattva passes from the seventh to the eighth bhūmi, he enters into the ‘position of the bodhisattva’ (bodhisattvaniyāma) also called ‘rightful or legal position’ (dharmaniyāma). In his case and without exception, it is no longer a matter of position of salvation (samyaktva), for it is not nirvāṇa that is assured for him, but rather the state of Buddha, this supreme complete enlightenment that excludes the seeing of beings (sattva) and things (dharma) but at the same time being allied with great loving-kindness and great compassion.

In the pages that follow, the Traité sets forth up to seven definitions of the bodhisattvaniyāma, but it is far from exhausting the subject.

a. Primarily, this niyāma is characterized by the definitive attainment (pratilābha, pratilambha, pratilambatā) of the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti) or, as the Vajracchedikā explains, p. 58, l. 9, the conviction regarding dharmas without self and without birth (nirātmakeṣu anutpattikeṣu dharmeṣu kṣāntiḥ). Most texts place this final conviction in the eighth bhūmi, which later will be called Acalā (cf. Daśabhūmika, p. 64, l. 5; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 122, l. 2; 131, l. 17; Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 105, l. 11; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 350, l. 27; 351, l. 13–14).

b. The acquisition of this kṣānti is accompanied by the great prediction (mahāvyākaraṇa) about the final triumph of the bodhisattva: cf. Lalitavistara, p. 35, l. 21; Daśabhūmika, p. 71, l. 24; Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 266, l.1–2; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 20, l. 15; 141, l. 27; 166, l. 12; Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 190, l. 18; 192, l. 1.

c. From now on, the bodhisattva is assured of his future buddhahood: niyatipatito bhavati buddhatve (Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 190, l. 20); niyato bhavaty anuttarāyāṃ samyaksaṃbodhau (Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 83, l. 24); tṛtīyaniyatipātapatito bhavati (Bodh. bhūmi, p. 367. l. 12). – As a result, he is without regression (avaivartika), in possession of an irreversible conviction (avaivartikakṣāntipratilabdha: Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 259, l. 13). Thus the eighth bhūmi, the Acalā, is also called Niyatabhūmi, ‘determined level’ (Bodh. bhūmi, p. 367, l. 11), Avivartyabhūmi, Avivartanīyabhūmi, Avaivartikabhūmi, ‘Irreversible level’ (Daśabhūmika, p. 71, l. 12; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 176, l. 22; Bodh. bhūjmi, p. 235, l. 18). It marks the beginning of the irreversible career (avaivartacaryā, avivartanacaryā), of the infallible career (abandhyacaryā) which will be pursued in the last three bhūmis (cf. Mahāvastu, I, p. 1, l. 3; 63, l. 13–14; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 290, l. 21).

d. Starting from this eighth bhūmi, the bodhisattva’s activity is practiced spontaneously, effortlessly, for it is no longer disturbed by objects and notions: this is why it is called anabhisaṃskārānābhogavihāra or anābhoganirmittavihāra (Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 105, l. 18–21; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 178, l. 3; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 367, l. 11; Saṃgraha, p. 202).

e. The bodhisattva strips off his fleshly body of birth-death (cyutyupapadamaṃsakāya) and takes on a body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya): under various transformations, he is established in the universes, travels in and adorns the buddhafields and converts beings (cf. p. 392–393F, 711–712F and notes).

 f. As we have seen in the preceding section, it is at the moment when the bodhisattva, having entered into niyāma, when he makes the turn-about (vivarta) definitively acquires anutpattikadharmakṣānti, that he is already saṃbodhiprāpta “in possession of perfect enlightenment”. However, this enlightenment does not bring about the complete destruction of the traces of conflicting emotions (kleśavāsanā): this results from the knowledge of all the aspects (sarvākāraṇajñatā) to which the bodhisattva accedes on the tenth level and which makes him like a Tathāgata (cf. p. 1780–1781F).

This brief summary far from exhausts all the virtues of the bodhisattvaniyāma coinciding with the bodhisattva’s entry into the eighth bhūṃi. This, even more than the tenth level, constitutes the great victory of the bodhisattva where prajñā and upāya are perfectly balanced.