Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “skillful means and wisdom” 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.

IV. Skillful means and wisdom

When someone produces the mind of supreme complete enlightenment for the first time, he wants to free all beings from physical and mental sufferings (kāyikacaitasikaduḥkha): old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), death, (maraṇa), etc. He formulates great vows (mahāpraṇidhāna) and is adorned with two things, qualities (guṇa) and wisdom (prajñā), as a result of which his wishes will all be fulfilled.

These two things involve a sixfold ‘carrying out of practices’ (caryābhāvanā): these are the six perfections (pāramitā). Generosity (dāna), morality (śīla) and patience (kṣānti) make up the guna part; exertion (vīrya), meditation [263a] (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā) make up the prajñā part. The bodhisattva practices these six perfections.

Knowing that the characteristics of these dharmas are very profound (gambhīra), subtle (sūkṣma), difficult to probe (durvigāhya) and difficult to understand (duranubodha), he has the following thought:

“Beings are attached (abhiniviṣṭa) to the dharmas of the threefold world. By what means can I lead them to find the natures of these dharmas? For that I must fulfill completely the qualities (guṇa) and be endowed with pure wisdom (viśuddhaprajñā).

“The Buddha’s body has thirty-two primary marks (lakṣaṇa) and eighty secondary marks (anuvyañjana); his radiance (prabhā) is perfect and his superknowledges (abhijñā) are immense, By means of his ten powers (bala), four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya), eighteen special attributes (āveṇikadharma) and four unhindered knowledges (pratisaṃvid), he considers those who should be saved, preaches the Dharma to them and converts them.

“Thus [the garuḍa], the golden-winged king of the birds, when he finds some nāgas to be destroyed, strikes the sea with his wings and separates the waters; then he seizes them and devours them.[1] In the same way, the Buddha with his buddha-eye (buddhacakṣus) considers beings distributed in the universes of the ten directions and inhabiting the five destinies (gati), and he asks himself who should be saved. First he manifests the bases of his magical power (ṛddhipāda); then he uncovers the trains of thought of their minds (cittavispandita). Having removed the three obstacles (āvaraṇa) by these two things, he preaches the Dharma and saves beings of the threefold world. A being who thus holds the powers of the Buddha (buddhabala) and immense superknowledges (abhijñā) would merit belief even if he were lying, all the more so when he is speaking the truth. That is what is called skillful means (upāya).”

Furthermore, the bodhisattva, knowing the [True] nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) and remembering his previous vows (pūrvapraṇidhāna) wants to save beings. He has the following reflection: In the True nature of dharmas, there are no beings to be found (nopalabhyante). Then how to save them?

He has the following thought: There are no beings to be found in the True nature of dharmas but, nevertheless, they are ignorant of this nature of dharmas. Therefore I wish that they should know this True nature.

Finally, this True nature of dharmas does not harm beings for it is defined as being without harm and without activity.

That is what is meant by skillful means (upāya).

The bodhisattva who completely fulfills (paripūrayanti) these four dharmas,[2] accedes to the bodhisattvaniyāma.

Footnotes and references:


This mythical bird called garuḍa or suparṇa has a wing-span of five hundred leagues and the beating of its wings brings on the tempests. It is the sworn enemy of the nāgas.


The four preparatory practices, prathamacittopāda, etc., that are the subject of the present section.