Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “becoming established on the irreversible ground” 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.

II. Becoming established on the irreversible ground

Question. – What is the irreversible ground (avaivartikabhūmi)?

Answer. – 1. The bodhisattva considers unborn (anutopanna), non-destroyed (aniruddha) neither unborn nor non-destroyed (naivānutpannanāniruddha), neither shared (sāddhāraṇa) nor unshared (asādhāraṇa) dharmas. Considering things thus, he is freed from the threefold world. Utilizing neither the empty (śūnya) nor the non-empty (aśūnya), he believes whole-heartedly in the wisdom of the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) held by the Buddhas of the ten directions. Nothing can shake it or destroy it. It is called ‘conviction that dharmas do not arise’ (anutpattikadharmakṣānti), and this conviction constitutes the irreversible ground.

2. Furthermore, access to the bodhisattvaniyāma is the irreversible ground and the surpassing of the stage of śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha is also called irreversible ground.

3. Furthermore, the bodhisattva established on the irreversible ground obtains indestructible (asaṃhārya) and immutable (acyuta) superknowledges (abhijñā) from lifetime to lifetime as fruit of retribution (vipālaphala). Endowed with these two things and while grasping the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas, he uses his great compassion (mahākaruṇā) and does not abandon beings.

4. Furthermore, the bodhisattva possess two attributes: i) pure wisdom (viśuddhaprajñā); ii) the wisdom of skillful means (upāyajñāna). He possesses two other attributes: iii) high resolve (adhyāśaya) directed toward nirvāṇa; iv) activity (kriyā) that does not neglect the world (loka).

He is like a great nāga whose tail is deep in the great sea but whose head is in the sky;[1] he makes the lightning and the thunder but also makes the [beneficial] great rain to fall.

5. Finally, the irreversible bodhisattva who has acquired the wisdom of the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas retains it from one existence to the next without ever abandoning it, even temporarily. About the profound sūtras of the Buddha[2] he never has any doubt or difficulty. Why? He says: “I myself do not have omniscience (sarvajñatā); that is why I do not know by what skillful means and for what reason the sūtras are expressed in this way.”

By virtue of his deep aspiration (abhyāśaya), the irreversible (avaivartika) bodhisattva never does any harm (pāpa). In his deep aspiration, he accumulates good things (kuśala); superficially, he may do bad (akuśala) things.

Footnotes and references:


The huge dimensions of the nāgas is well known. It is such that ‘the tail is still in Takṣaśilā while the head is already in Benares’: cf. Abiniṣkramaṇasūtra, T 190, k. 37, p. 828b17.


By ‘profound sūtras’, the canonical sources already mean the sūtras associated with the teaching of emptiness. Cf. Anguttara, I, p. 72; III, p. 107; Saṃyutta, II, p. 267: Suttantā Tathāgatabhāsitā gambhīrā gambhīratthā lokuttarā suññatāpaṭisaṃyuttā: ‘Sūtras preached by the Tathāgata, profound, of profound meaning, supramundane, associated with emptiness’. They are also called sūtras of precise meaning (nītārtha): cf. Akṣayamatinirdeśa in Madh. vṛtti, p. 43, l. 4–9.