Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “position of bodhisattva (bodhisattvaniyama)” 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.

I. Position of Bodhisattva (bodhisattvaniyāma)

1. The bodhisattvaniyāma ‘position of bodhisattva’ is the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti).[1] Having obtained this conviction in regard to dharmas, the bodhisattva considers the whole world as empty (śūnya) and his mind has no longer any further attachment (abhiniveśeṣa). Settled on the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas, the bodhisattva no longer loves the world.

2. Furthermore, the bodhisattvaniyāma is the concentration [visualizing the Buddhas] of the present (pratyutpannasamādhi).[2] In possession of this concentration of the present, the bodhisattva sees all the Buddhas of the ten directions of the present, hears the Dharma preached by these Buddhas and cuts the net of his doubts (saṃśayajāla): henceforth the mind of the bodhisattva comes to a standstill. This is called bodhisattvaniyāma.

3. Furthermore, there is bodhisattvaniyāma when the bodhisattva, fully endowed with the six perfections (ṣaṭpāramitāsaṃpanna),[3] produces the knowledge of skillful means (upāyajñāna),[4] but without becoming fixated on the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas.[5] He knows it (jānīte) personally and attests it (sākṣātkaroti) personally without depending on the words of another. If Māra in the form of a buddha comes to him, his mind is not disturbed (kāṅkṣā) at all.

4. Furthermore, when he enters into the rightful position (dharmaniyāma)[6]of bodhisattva, he takes the name of non-regressing bodhisattva (avaivartika or avinivartanīya).[7]

5. Furthermore, the bodhisattva who has entered into this rightful position does not regress to the rank of ordinary person (pṛthagjana) and is said to be ‘in possession of complete enlightenment’ (saṃbodhiprāpta).[8] All the mundane things that could destroy his mind [of bodhi] cannot disturb him. [262b] He has closed the gates to the three unfortunate destinies (durgati); he is ranked among the bodhisattvas. For the first time he takes birth in the family of the bodhisattvas (bodhisattvakula).[9] His wisdom (prajñā) is pure (viśuddha) and ripe (vipakva).

6. Furthermore, the fact of being established on the summits (mūrdhāvasthāna) and not falling from them (see Appendix 6) is called bodhisattvadharmaniyāma. This is what is said in the Hiue p’in (Śikṣaparivarta):[10]

“The bodhisattva who has entered niyāma does not fall into the evil destinies, is not reborn into lowly families, does not regress to the level of śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha and does not fall back from the summits either.”[11]

Question. – What is falling back from the summits (mūrdhabhyaḥ pāta)?

Answer. – As Subhūti said to Śāriputra: “When the bodhisattva-mahāsattva who is without skillful means (anupāyakuśala) but is practicing the six perfections has entered [the concentrations] of emptiness, signlessness and wishlessness, he cannot accede to bodhisattvaviyāma, but neither does he regress to the rank of śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha.”[12]

He becomes attached (abhiniviśate) to the qualities (guṇa) and the attributes; in the five aggregates (skandha) he grasps the characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇāti) of impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), emptiness (śūnya), non-self (anātman) and attaches his mind to them; he says: “This is the Path, that is not the Path; this should be practiced, that should not be practiced.” When he grasps such characteristics in this way and makes such distinctions (vikalpa), the bodhisattva has “fallen from the summits” (mūrdhabhyaḥ patitaḥ).

What is it to become established on the summits (mūrdhāvasthāna)? As is said in the passage mentioned above, it is to destroy the thirst for dharmas (dharmatṛṣṇāprahāṇa),[13] and to no longer grasp these dharmas for which thirst has been destroyed.

Thus it is said in the explanation of mūrdhāvasthāna: “The bodhisattva-mahāsattva cultivating the perfection of wisdom does not see the emptiness of the external bases in the emptiness of the internal bases; he does not see the emptiness of the internal bases in the emptiness of the external bases; he does not see the emptiness of the internal and external bases in the emptiness of the external bases; he does not see the emptiness of the external bases in the emptiness of the internal and external bases. And so on up to the emptiness (no. 18) of non-being and being itself (abhāvasvabhāvaśūnyatā).[14]

7. Finally, the bodhisattva who accedes to niyāma attains the mind “equal to that which has no equal” (asamasamacitta) but does not take pride in it (nātmāmam utkarṣati). When we know [as he does] that the nature of the mind is integral emptiness, all the futile proliferation (prapañca) about existence (astitā) and non-existence (nāstitā), etc. disappears.

Footnotes and references:


From this equation it results that the bodhisattvaniyāma occurs in the eighth bhūmi. In fact, the anutpattikadharmakṣānti (cf. Vjaracchedikā, p. 58, l. 9: nirātmakeṣu anutpattkikadharmeṣu kṣāntiḥ) or the conviction that dharmas are without self and do not arise, occurs in three stages during the bodhisattva’s career: it may be a purely verbal conviction (ghoṣānuga), preparatory (anulomikī) and finally be definitively acquired (pratilabdhā): cf. Samādhirāja, ed. N. Dutt, I, p. 76–82; Avataṃsaka, T 279, k. 44, p. 232b9; Sukhāvatīvyūha, p. 112, l. 12–13; Dhyānasamādhisūtra, T 614, k. 2, p. 285a–b; Manuṣyendraprajñāpāramitā, T 245, k. 1, p. 826b23–24.

1. At the beginning in the first five bhūmis, the bodhisattva accepts the idea of the non-arising of dharmas, but it is only adhimukti, belief, agreement, verbal professing (ghoṣānuga): he is not in definitive possession of the conviction. Cf. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 856, l. 25: bodhisattvāḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ carantaḥ sarvadharmā anutpattikā ity adhimuñcanti na ca tāvad anutpattikadharmakṣāntipratilabdhā bhavanti.

2. In the sixth bhūmi (Abhimukhī), examining emptiness of dharmas in every way, he possesses an intense preparatory conviction (anulomikī kṣānti), but has not yet made his entry into the real anutpattikadharmakṣānti. Cf. Daśabhūmika, p. 47, l. 17: sa evaṃsvabhāvān sarvadharmān pratyavekṣamāno ’nusṛjann anulomayann avilomayan śraddadhann abhiyan pratiyann avikalpayann anusaran vyavalokayan pratipadyamānaḥ, ṣaṣṭhīm abhimukhīṃ bodhisattvabhūmim anuprāpnoti tīkṣayānulomikyā kṣāntyā. na ca tāvad anutpattikakṣāntimukham anuprāpnoti.

Finally, the bodhisattva ‘obtains’ (pratilabhate: cf. Sad. puṇḍ., p. 266, l. 1; 437, l. 1; Lalitavistara, p. 36, l. 9; 440, l. 21) the anutpattikadharmakṣānti. This is what is called the definitive obtaining (pratilābdha, pratilambha, pratilambhāta) of kṣānti.

According to most sources, this attainment is realized in the eighth bhūmi, the Acāla: cf. Daśabhūmika, p. 64, l. 5; Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 122, l. 2; 131, l. 17; Bodh. bhūmi, p. 350, l. 27; Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 105, l. 11.

At this third stage of the kṣānti, the bodhisattva enters into ‘the position of bodhisattva’ (bodhisattvaniyāma).


Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhi, ‘concentration where the Buddhas of the present appear face to face’. It is the object of a sūtra of the same name (T 418), first translated in 179 by Tche Tch’an and Tchou Fo-cho. It has already been noted above, p. 245F, 425F, 430F, 526F, 1023F, and the Traité will return to it below, p. 276a. Although the great bodhisattva samādhis are located in the tenth bhūmi, the Traité here places the Pratyutapannasamādhi in the eighth; the Śūrangamasamādhi, transl. p. 163, does the same. On the other hand, the Daśabhūmika, p. 82, l. 14–15, assigns it to the tenth.


The bodhisattva cultivates the six pāramitās in the course of the first six bhūmis, generosity predominating in the first, morality in the second, and so on. Cf. Madh. avatāra, p. 23 (transl. Le Muséon, 1907, p. 272); Saṃgraha, p. 207.


Upāyakauśalya is the dominant virtue of the seventh bhūmi: cf. Daśabhūmika, p. 60, l. 6–7; Saṃgraha, p. 207; Siddhi, p. 623.


Dwelling on the true nature which is the non-arising of everything would be to interrupt the bodhisattva career and to enter nirvāṇa prematurely.


Here dharmaniyāma is synonymous with bodhisattvaniyāma. The expression has nothing in common, it would seem, with the dhammaniyāmatā, ‘the regularity of phenomena’ of which the canonical sources speak (Saṃyutta, II, p. 25; Anguttara, I, p. 286).


This is the avaivartika of the eighth bhūmi and not the first: see below, p. 1804F.


In the Vehicle of the śrāvakas, the ascetic who penetrates into the darśanamārga by eliminating all doubt regarding the suffering of kāmadhātu (duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣānti) was qualified as ārya. Here, the bodhisattva who has entered the darśanamārga by being persuaded of the non-arising of dharmas is called saṃbodhiprāpta ‘in possession of complete enlghtenment’. At this stage, śrāvaka and bodhisattva cease being ordinary persons (pṛthagjana).


See below, p. 1919F.


Chapter VIII of the Pañcaviṃśati, entitled K’iuan-hiue p’in (Śikṣāparivarta) in Kumārajīva’s translation (T223, k. 3, p. 232c), Jou-li-cheng p’in (Nyāmāvakrānti) in that of Hiuan-trsang (T 220, vol. VII, p. 43a).


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 118, l. 14–119, l. 2, amended by the Chinese versions (T 223, k. 3, p. 233a24–26; T 220, vol. VII, k. 408, p. 43c21–24): Niyāmāvakrānto bodhisattvo mahāsattvo nāpayeṣūpapadyate na hīnakuleṣūpapadyate na ca śrāvakabhūmiṃ vā na ca pratyekabuddhabhūmiṃ vā patati na ca mūrdhabhyaḥ patati.


Here the Traité is faithfully reproducing the Chinese translation of the Pañcavimśati (T 223m k. 3, p. 233a29–b3).

However, as I [Lamotte] have noted (p. 1785F), several Sanskrit versions, followed by the Chinese translators have here adopted the reading nyāma ‘absence of coarseness’ (in Chinese, li-cheng) in preference to niyāma ‘position, determination’ (in Chinese, wei), and by āma, ‘coarseness’ (in Chinese, cheng), they mean dharmatṛṣṇā, thirst, attraction to things.

Pañcaviṃśati, ed. N.Dutt, p. 119, l. 4–9: Yadāyuṣman Śāriputra bodhisattvo mahāsattvo ’nupāyakuśalaḥ ṣaṭsu pāramitāsu carann … ucyate bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasya dharmatṛṣṇā.

Śatasāh., ed. P. Ghosa, p. 485, l. 18–486, l. 7: Yadāyuṣman Śāradvatiputra bodhisattvo mahāsattvo ’nupāyakauśalena ṣaṭsu pāramitāsu carati … ucyate bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasya dharmatṛṣṇā.

Transl. – Venerable Śāriputra, when the bodhisattva-mahāsattva unskilled in skillful means practices the six perfections, and when, without skill in skillful means, he penetrates the concentrations of emptiness, signlessness and wishlessness, then he does not fall to the level of śrāvaka or that of pratyekabyuuddha, but neither does he accede to the absence of coarseness (ny-āma) of the bodhisattva. This is called the coarseness of the summits in the bodhisattva… By coarseness (āma), O Śāriputra, is meant thirst for things.

– In brief, the bodhisattva who practices the six pāramitās and the three vimokṣamukhas, but forgets skillful means (upāyakauśalya), does not fall to the level of śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha, but neither does he accede to the bodhisattvaniyāma. The summits (mūrdhan) to which he has climbed are not free of coarseness (āma) because he retains the dharmatṛṣṇā. This coarseness of the summits (mūrdhāma) which the bodhisattva does not succeed in passing over constitutes, in fact, a regression from the summits (mūrdhabhyaḥ pāta).

This appears clearly in the translation made by Hiuan-tsang (T 220, vol. V, k. 36, p. 200c14–18; vol. VII, k. 408, p. 43c26–44a1): If the bodhisattva without possessing skill in skillful means (upāyakauśalya) practices the six pāramitās, if without skill in skillful means he becomes established in the three gates of deliverance (vimokṣamukha), then he steps backward and falls [note here the absence of negation!] to the level of śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha and does not accede to bodhisattvasamyaktvanyāma. In the bodhisattva this is called falling from the summits (mūrdhabhyaḥ pāta)… By āma (in Chinese, cheng) we mean dharmatṛṣṇā.

For another interpretation of these passages, see Hōbōgirin, IV, p. 346, s.v. Chöda.


See preceding note.


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 120, l. 17–121, l. 3 (T 223, k. 3, p. 233b23–c15); Śatasāhasrikā, p. 489, l. 8–490, l. 12 (T 220, vol. V, k. 36, p. 201a22–b25):

Ihāyuṣman Śāriputra bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ prajñāpāramitāyāṃ caran nādhyātmaśūnyatāyāṃ bahirdhāśūnyatāṃ … bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasya prajñāpāramitāyāṃ carato bodhisattvanyāmaḥ.