Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “canonical definition of the abhijnas” 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.

Preliminary note (1): Canonical definition of the abhijñās

Pāli recension. – Dīgha, I, p. 78–84; III, 281; Majjhima, I, p. 4–36, 494–496; II, p. 18–22; III, p. 11–12, 98–99: Saṃyutta, II, p. 212–214; V, p. 264–266; Anguttara, I, p. 255–256; III, p. 17–19, 28–29, 280–281, 425–426; V, p. 199–200.

Sanskrit recension. – Catuṣpariṣatsūtra, p. 432–434; Pañcaviṃśati, p. 83–87; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 301–308; Daśabhūmika, p. 34–36; Kośavyākhyā, p. 654. Among these various recensions there are numerous variations in detail, and here two of them will be reproduced.

Dīgha, I, p. 78–84: 

I. so anekavihitaṃ iddhividhaṃ paccanubhoti.

1) eko pi hutvā bahudhā hoti

2) parimajjati yāva brahmalokā pi kāyena vasaṃ vatteti.

VI. … brahmacariyaṃ kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ nāparaṃ itthattāyā ti pajānati |

Daśabhūmika, p. 34–36:

I. so ’nekavidhām ṛddhividhiṃ (var. ṛddhiviṣayaṃ) pratyanubhavati |

1. pṛthivīm api kampayati. …

8…. brahmalokam api kāyena vaśaṃ vartayati.

VI. (Kośavyākhyā, p. 654) …kṛtaṃ karaṇīyaṃ nāparam asmād bhavam iti prajñānāti |

Translation of the Sanskrit:

I. – He practices various magical processes: 1. he shakes the earth; 2. being one, he becomes many; 3. being many, he becomes one; 4. he manifests appearances and disappearances; 5. he passes through walls, ramparts and mountains unimpededly as though it were through space; 6. he moves through space with crossed legs like a bird with wings; 7. he dives into the earth and emerges from it as though it were water; 8. he walks on the water without sinking as though it were on the earth; 9. he smokes and flames like a great mass of fire; 10. he emits currents of water from his body, like a great cloud; 11. he strokes the sun and the moon, so prodigious and so powerful, touches them with his hand and exerts his will physically as far as the world of Brahmā.

II. By the faculty of the pure and superhuman divine hearing, he hears the two kinds of sounds, divine and human, subtle and coarse, distant or near, including those of horseflies, mosquitoes, insects and flies.

III. With his mind, he recognizes precisely the minds of other beings, of other people; he recognizes precisely a loving mind as a loving mind, a mind free of love as a mind free of love, a hateful mind as a hateful mind, a mind without hate as a mind without hate, a disturbed mind as a disturbed mind, a mind free of disturbance as a mind free of disturbance, an impassioned mind as an impassioned mind, a mind without passion as a mind without passion, a small mind as a small mind, a vast mind as a vast mind, an elevated mind as an elevated mind, an immense mind as an immense mind, a condensed mind as a condensed mind, a concentrated mind as a concentrated mind, an unconcentrated mind as an unconcentrated mind, a liberated mind as a liberated mind, a non-liberated mind as a non-liberated mind, a stained mind as a stained mind, a stainless mind as a stainless mind, a coarse mind as a coarse mind, a mind without coarseness as a mind without coarseness. This is how, by means of his mind, he recognizes precisely the mind of other beings, of other people.

IV. He remembers his many earlier abodes: one lifetime, two, three, four five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty lifetimes, several hundred lifetimes, several hundreds of thousand lifetimes, a period of disappearance (of the world), a period of creation, several periods of disappearance, a hundred periods, a thousand periods, a hundred thousand periods, a million periods, a hundred million periods, a thousand million periods, a hundred thousand million periods, up to many hundreds of thousands of millions of koṭiniyuta of periods. He thinks: “At that time, I had such and such a name, such and such a clan, such and such a family, such and such food, such and such a lifespan; I experienced such and such happiness and such and such suffering. When I left this place, I was reborn over there and from that place I was reborn here.” This is how he remembers his many earlier bodes with their aspects, their location and their details.

V. With his divine eye, purified, superhuman, he sees beings dying and being reborn and recognizes them according to reality, handsome or ugly, of good or bad destiny, excellent or vile, according to the consequences of their actions. He thinks: “These beings full of bodily misdeeds, full of vocal misdeeds, full of mental misdeeds, slandering the saints, having wrong views, acting badly as a result of their wrong views, for this cause and this reason, at the dissolution of the body after death, are born in a miserable state, in a bad destiny, in an abyss, in the hells. On the other hand, these beings endowed with good bodily actions, endowed with good vocal actions, endowed with good mental actions, not slandering the saints, having right views, acting well as a result of their right views, for this cause and this reason, at the dissolution of the body after death, are born in the good destinies, in the heavens, in the god realms. Thus with his divine eye, pure, superhuman, he sees, with their aspects, their location and their details, beings dying or being born, and he recognizes them in conformity with reality.

VI. He recognizes properly the noble truths: this is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the destruction of suffering, this is the way leading to the destruction of suffering. While he knows this and sees this, his mind is liberated from the impurities [of the realm] of desire (kāmadhātu) is freed from the impurities of the two higher realms (bhavāsrava) and the impurities of ignorance (avidyāsrava). When he is liberated, the knowledge and the vision of being liberated arise in him. He recognizes: “Birth is exhausted for me; there is no further existence for me.”

– Whereas the Pāli Nikāyas remain faithful to the order followed in the wording of the abhijñās, the Sanskrit Āgamas depart from it frequently: as we will see later, they may place divyacakṣus or divyaśrota at the head of the list.

The first five abhijñās which occur among worldly people (pṛthagjana) as well as among the saints (arhat) are within the range of human powers and consequently are of mundane order (laukika). In contrast to the āsravakṣayajñāna strictly reserved for the saints, they form a separate group: that of the five abhijñās often mentioned in the texts: cf. Saṃyutta, II, p. 121–122; mahāvastu, I, p. 284, l. 3; II, p. 33, l. 11; 96, l. 1; Divyāvadāna, p. 321, l. 3; Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 134, l. 11; 141, l. 9; 254, l. 14; Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 243, l. 13.

Abhijñā is rendered in French sometimes as ‘pouvoir naturel’ (supernatural power), sometimes as ‘supersavoir’ (superknowledge): the second translation seems preferable for abhijñā; as its name indicates, it is indeed an awareness of superior order which does not necessarily means an intuitive awareness. The earliest sources already insist on the fact that they are the fruit of samādhi: they appear only “in a concentrated mind, very pure, very clean, without fault, free of stains, supple, ready to act, stable, having reached impassivity.” (Dīgha, I, p. 77 seq.).