Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “preparatory practices for the 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.

III. Preparatory practices for the Bodhisattvaniyāma

Question. – In the system of the śrāvakas, there is samyaktvaniyāma ‘position of salvation’ starting from the conviction producing a dharmajñāna concering suffering (duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣānti) up to the conviction producing a subsequent dharma concerning the path (mārge ’nvayadharmajñānakṣānti).[1] As it is said in a sūtra: “In the three evil destinies (durgati) three things cannot be found: 1) the position of salvation (samyaktvaniyāma), 2) the fruits of the saints (āryaphala), 3) the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya), just as they cannot be found in immoral beings (duḥśīla), blinded by wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭika) or guilty of the five wrongdoings of immediate retribution (ānantaryakārin).”[2] Then, [in the bodhisattva system], starting from which dharmas is it a question of the bodhisattvaniyāma?

Answer. – In order to enter into the bodhisattvaniyāma, it is necessary to cultivate completely four dharmas: 1) the first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda); 2) the practice of meditation (caryābhāvanā); 3) great compassion (mahākaruṇā); 4) skillful means (upāya). (see notes on the four dharmas below.)

Likewise, in the śrāvaka system, first the four roots of good (kuśalamūla)[3] must be completely fulfilled, viz., i) heats (ūṣmagata), ii) summits (mūrdhan), iii) patiences (kṣānti), iv) supreme worldly dharmas (laukikāgradharma), in order then to accede to duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣaÌti [constituting] the samyaktvaniyāma.

Question. – But carrying out the practices (caryābhāvanā) includes (saṃgṛhṇāti) the four dharmas [you have just mentioned]. Why do you distinguish four of them?

Answer. –

1. Production of the mind of bodhi

The first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) indeed involves carrying out a practice (caryābhāvanā), but as it is not practiced for a long time, I do not call it ‘carrying out a practice’. Thus, when a householder does not stay at home all day, he is not said, however, to be away on a journey (carati).

2. Carrying out practices

Furthermore, while at the moment when he produces the mind of bodhi (cittotpāda), the bodhisattva is only formulating a vow (praṇidhāna) in his mind, whereas at the time of the practices (caryā), he is really acting: he makes material gifts (āmiṣa) to people, he engages in rituals (śīlāni samādadāti), etc. Thus pratice of the six perfections (pāramitā) is called ‘carrying out the practices’ (caryābhāvanā).

3. Great compassion

Having carried out the practices, the bodhisattva, by means of the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā), knows the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas, and with a feeling of great compassion (mahākaruṇā), he has pity for beings who do not know this true nature of dharmas and who become attached the deceiving systems of the world and thereby undergo all sorts of physical suffering (kāyika duḥkha) and mental suffering (caitasika duḥkha). This is called ‘experiencing great compassion’, but not ‘carrying out the practices’.

4. Skillful means

As for skillful means (upāya), here is the following. Completely fulfilling the perfection of wisdom, the bodhisattva knows the emptiness (śūnya) of dharmas, and with great compassion, he pities beings.

Here are two things to be considered: 1) By the power of his perfection of wisdom,[4] the bodhisattva feels no attachment (abhiniveśa) for things; 2) although he knows the true nature of dharmas, the power of his skillful means (upāya) is such that he does not abandon beings. Without abandoning beings, he knows the true emptiness of dharmas. If the two things in him – prajñā and upāya – are balanced, then the bodhisattva can accede to bodhisattvaniyāma.

Similarly, the śrāvaka, in whom the two things – concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā) – are balanced, accedes at this moment to the position of salvation (samyaktvaniyāma).

Although they involve a [certain] ‘practice’ (caryā), these dharmas of the bodhisattva, [viz., production of the mind of bodhi, the carrying out of the practices, great compassion and skillful means] take on other names as well and, [except for the second], are not called ‘carrying out the practices’ (caryābhāvanā). All the practices carried out by the bodhisattva from his first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) up to his sitting on the seat of enlightenment (bodhimaṇḍaniṣadana) are the carrying out of practice [under different names], but as there are a few slight differences, they are given different names to distinguish them more easily.

Notes on the four Dharmas:

These four dharmas preliminary to the bodhisattvaniyāma are to be cultivated in the level of the practice of adhesion (adhimukticaryābhūmi) and in the first seven levels, the niyāma taking place only in the eighth. The four great Prajñās, which are also the earliest, distinguish four degrees and ten levels in the bodhisattva’s career:

1) The prathamayānasaṃprasthita having just embarked in the Greater Vehicle by means of the first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda). He is also called prathamacittotpādika and is in the preparatory stage, the adhimukticaryābhūmi.

2) The caryāpratipanna, endowed with practices, who for a long time has cultivated the six perfections and, in a mind of great loving-kindness, skill in skilfull means (upāyakauśalya). He is in grounds one to seven.

3) The avivarartanīya or irreversible bodhisattva established ‘in the position of bodhisattva’ (bodhisattvaniyāma). He is in the eighth and ninth grounds.

4) The ekajātipratibaddha, separated from Buddhahood by one lifetime only. He is on the tenth ground.

These four degrees in the bodhisattva career, prathamayānasaṃprasthita, etc., are mentioned in the Prajñāpāramitās:

a. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, ed. U. Wogihara, p. 831, l. 10–15; T 227 (vol. VIII), k. 8, p. 575a19–21; T 220 (vol. VII), k. 553, p. 849a26–29; k. 564, p. 914c1–4.

b. Aṣṭādaśasāh., T 220 (vol. VII), k. 521, p. 666b9–12; k. 553, p. 849a26–29.

c. Pañcaviṃśatisāh., T 223 (vol VIII), k. 19, p. 358c10–13; T 220 (vol. VII), k. 456, p. 302a6–10.

d. Śatasāh., T 220 (vol. VI), k. 341, p. 752c28–753a2.

The four degrees are also cited and commented on in the Wen chou che li wen p’ou t’i king, T 464, p. 482b12–15; the Gayaśīrṣa, T 465, p. 485a5–7; T 466, p. 487c26–28; T 467, p. 490c1–4; and the Mahāsaṃnipātra, T 397, k. 10, p. 67a4–6.

Compare the four caryā of the Mahāvastu, I, p. 46, l. 6–7.

For the correpondence between the four degress and the six grounds, see the Āloka, p. 831,, l. 22–24: Adhimukticaryābhūmau prathamayānasaṃprasthitāḥ. Pramuditādisaptabhūmiṣu caryāpratipannāḥ. Acalādibhūmidvitaye ‘vinivartanīyāḥ. Daśamyāṃ bhūmav ejajātipratibaddhāḥ.

Footnotes and references:


The sixteen moments of mind of the darśanamārga: see above, p. 130F, n. 1; 214F; 1067F, n. 1; 1411F, n. 2; 1478–80F. In the first moment, the ascetic becomes an ārya, destined for sainthood (samyaktvaniyata) and candidate for the first fruit of the Path (prathamapannaka). In the sixteenth moment, which coincides with the first moment of the bhāvanāmārga, the ascetic takes possession of the first fruit, the fruit of srotaāpanna.


Unidentified sūtra, the essential ideas of which are expressed in the Saṃyutta, III, p. 225 foll. The Buddha declares that all the elements of existence, eye, colors, visual consciousness, etc., are transitory (anicca), changing (vipariṇāmin) and destined to be altered (aññathābhāvin). After which, he continues:

Yo bhikkhave ime evaṃ saddahati adhimuccati, ayaṃ viccati, saddhānusārī, okkanto sammattaniyāmaṃ, sappurisabhūmiṃ okkanto, vītivatto puthujjanabhūmiṃ, abhabbo taṃ kammaṃ kātuṃ yaṃ kammaṃ katvā nirayaṃ vā tiracchānayoniṃ vā pettivisayaṃ vā uppajjeyya, abhabbo ca tāva kālaṃ kātuṃ yāva na sotāpattiphalaṃ sacchikaroti. – “He who believes in these teachings and adheres to them, O monks, is said to pursue [the truth] by faith. He has acceded to the determination of salvation; he has acceded to the level of a virtuous man; he has escaped from the level of the ordinary man. It is impossible for him to do an action by virtue of which he would take rebirth in hell, in an animal destiny or in the world of the pretas; it is impossible for him to die without having realized the fruit of entering into the stream.”


These are the four roots of good favorable to the penetration of the four noble Truths (nirvedhabhāgīya kuśalamūla); cf. p. 395F, n. 1; 1067F, 1077F, 1411F, 1462F, 1485F.


The text has: “by the power of means”, which is evidently a lapse.

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