Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the two kinds of irreversible bodhisattvas (avaivartika)” 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. The two kinds of irreversible Bodhisattvas (avaivartika)

Question. – In his avaivartika quality, the bodhisattva has the conviction that dharmas do not rise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti). Why does he still do bad things by means of a superficial mind?

Answer. – There are two kinds of avaivartika:

  1. the one who has obtained anutpattiladharmakṣānti;
  2. the one who has not obtained anutpattikadharmakṣānti [but who has received the prediction].

(see notes below)

The Buddha knows that because of his past (atīta) and future (anāgata) karmic causes and conditions, this bodhisattva will necessarily become a buddha for the benefit and happiness of other beings (parasattvānāṃ hitāya sukhyāya) and gives him the prediction (vyākaraṇa).[1] With his body of birth-death (cyutyupapadamāṃsakāya or saṃsāramāṃsakāya), this bodhisattva has not yet cut the fetters (saṃyojana), but of all ordinary people (pṛthagjana), he is by far the foremost, and he too is described as avaiavartika. When he obtains anutpattikadharmakṣānti and cuts all the fetters (saṃyojana), he will be purified (pariśuddha). His last fleshly body (paścima māṃsakāya) having disappeared, he will obtain a body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya); rid of the fetters, he will no longer need a teacher. He will be like a ship (nau) on the great Ganges river that does not need a pilot and by itself ends up in the great ocean.

Furthermore, since his first production of the bodhi mind (prathamacittotpāda), he has made the great resolution of cutting all the conflicting [264a] emotiona (kleśa) and knowing the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas: then he will become [truly] avaivartika.

By practicing the perfection of generosity (dānapāramitā) alone, the bodhisattva perfects (paripūrayati) the six perfections; the same [by practicing the other perfections] up to and including the perfection of wisdom.[2] But by practicing the six virtues, the bodhisattva does not yet become avaivartika: it is at the moment when he produces a feeling of great compassion (mahākaruṇācitta) toward beings that he becomes avaivartika.

Endowed with this feeling of compassion, he has the following thought: “Dharmas all being empty (śūnya), there are no beings (sattva); who then is there to be saved?” At that moment, his feeling of compassion weakens. But it happens that, in the face of the great misery of beings, the vision he has of the emptiness of dharmas (dharmaśūnyatāsamanupaśyanā) weakens in turn. If he has the power of skillful means (upāyabala), the two things [viz., the feeling of compassion and the seeing of emptiness] are in balance, without struggling against each other. The feeling of great compassion does not hinder [the seeing] of the True nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas and [the seeing] of the True nature of dharmas does not prevent the arising of great compassion (mahākaruṇā).[3] That is skillful means (upāya), Then the bodhisattva ‘accedes to the dharmaniyāma of the bodhisattva and is established on the irreversible ground’.

See what is said in the Wang-cheng p’in (Upapadaparivarta),[4] and in regard to the characteristics of the avaivartika, see later the two A-pi-po-tche p’in (Avaivartikaparivarta).[5]

Notes on the two kinds of Avaivartika:

Interpreting the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras faithfully, the Traité distinguishes the two kinds of avaivartikas, i.e., with regression, or without regression in their progress toward supreme bodhi.

1. There is an avaivartika in deed and rightfully, showing all the characteristics of the avaivartika described by the Prajñāpāramitā (see above, p. 243–245F) and having notably the conviction that dharmas do not arise. This conviction, definitively realized in the eighth bhūmi, the Acalā, determines or predestines the bodhisattva to supreme bodhi: he cannot fall back, and this is called the niyāma.

2. There is an avaivartika in deed only. He does not show the characteristics of an avaivartika and would be able, in principle, to fall back. In fact, he will go directly to supreme enlightenment of the Buddhas, but only the Buddha knows this. This bodhisattva is avaivartika in the prescience of the Buddha and it happens that the Buddha gives him the prediction of it (vyākaraṇa). This is what is said in the Pañcaviṃśati, p. 66, l. 15–16 and the Śatasāhasrikā, p. 272, l. 7–9: Santi bodhisattvā mahāsattvā ye prathamacittotpādenaiva bodhisattvaniyāmam avarÎanty avinivartanīyabhūmau vāvatiṣṭhante. – “There are bodhisattvas who, just through the first production of the mind of bodhi, enter into the determination of bodhisattva or become established in the irreversible ground.”

Here another passage of the Traité must be cited (k. 74, p. 579c21–580a11) already mentioned and translated by L. de La Vallée Poussin in Siddhi, p. 738–739:

“What must the bodhisattva obtain to receive the name of avaivartika?

“According to the Abhidharmavibhāṣā, when the bodhisattva, having crossed through three incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), plants the causes that will produce the thirty-two marks, starting from this moment, he is called avaivartika (see above, p. 246–249F; Kośa, IV, p. 222–223).

“According to the Vinaya-Avadāna, since he saw the buddha Dīpaṃkara, threw the five flowers, spread out his hair on the ground, received from the Buddha the ‘prediction of avaivartika’, rose up into the air and prased the Buddha: starting from that moment, he is called avaivartika.

“But in the Prajñāpāramitā, when the bodhisattva possesses the practice of the six pāramitās, obtains jñāna and upāya, is no longer attached to the pāramitās which are absolutely empty, sees that all dharmas are without birth-cessation-increase-decrease, defilement, purity, coming-going-unity-multiplicity-permanence-impermanence-existence-non-existence, without any dualities whatsoever; then, as a result of this jñāna, he sees and crushes any note of impermanence after having crushed any note of permanence; abandons the view of nonarising-cessation, the view of impermanence; is not attached to nonarising-cessation… he is called ‘bodhisattva who has obtained the anutpattikadharmakṣānti’, he enters into the determination of bodhisattva, he is called avaivartika.

“Undoubtedly, since the first production of the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpāda), the bodhisattva is called avaivartika; but he is not endowed with the avaivartika characteristics.”

Footnotes and references:


The Śūraṃgamasamādhi (transl. p. 20–213) distinguishes four kinds of predictions (vyākaraṇa): i) prediction concerning the one who has not yet produced the bodhi mind (anutpāditabodhicittavyākaraṇa), ii) prediction conferred on the one who has just produced bodhi mind (utpāditabodhicittavyākaraṇa), iii) prediction made secretly (rahovyākaraṇa), iv) prediction made in the presence of the one who has obtained the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣāntilabdhasaṃmukhavyākaraṇa). – Here it is a matter of a bodhisattva who has not yet obtained the kṣānti but whose progress toward bodhi will be irreversible. The Buddha knows it and predicts it.


The bodhisattva cultivates the six pāramitās during the first six bhūmis: 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. Nevertheless, the fact of specially cultivating one pāramitā brings about the perfecting of the other five since the pāramitās are inseparable. Generosity, cultivated preferentially in the first ground, brings about morality, patience, exertion, meditation and wisdom: see above, p. 750–769F. For the mutual inclusion of the six pāramitās, cf. Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 115–116; Saṃgraha, p. 195; Siddhi, p. 630.


The Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (transl., p. 233–234) makes the entire edifice of the bodhisattva rest on two pillars: the wisdom assumed by skillful means (upāyapāttaprajñā) and the skillful means assumed by wisdom (prajñopāttopāya).


Chapter IV of the Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 2, p. 225a–229c.


Chapter LV of the Pañcaviṃśati, also called Pou-t’ouei p’in, T 223, k. 16, p. 239a–341b.