Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the abhijnas in the abhidharma” 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 (2): The abhijñās in the Abhidharma

Pāli scholasticism (Paṭisambhidā, I, p. 111–118; Visuddhimagga, ed. H. C. Warren, p. 328–368) reproduces fully the canonical definition of the abhijñās cited at the beginning of the present note, comments on it word by word and illustrates it with numerous examples.

Scholars have taken into account that the canonical definition of ṛddyabhijñā refers above all to miraculous movement and does not embrace the entire group of magical processes. They have, therefore, completed the list by distinguishing ten kinds of iddhi (Paṭisambhidā, II, p. 207–214; Visuddhimagga, p. 318–323; Atthasālini, p. 91; see also S. Z. Aung, Compendium of Philosophy, p. 61):

1. Adhiṭṭhānā iddhi, magic by virtue of an act of will, to which the canonical formula exclusively refers: “Being one, he becomes many”, etc.

2. Vikubbanā iddhi, magic of bodily transformation.

3. Manomayā iddhi, creation of a physical body, the double of oneself.

4. Ñāṇavipphārā iddhi, magic resulting from an intervention of knowledge.

5. Samādhivipphārā iddhi, magic resulting from an intervention of the mind in concentration.

6. Ariyā iddhi, noble magic, permitting the seeing of pleasant things as unpleasant and vice versa. This was already discussed by the canonical sūtras (Dīgha, III, p. 112–113, etc.).

7. Kammavipākajā iddhi, magic resulting from the retribution of actions.

8. Puññavato iddhi, magic belonging to the deserving person.

9. Vijjāmayā iddhi, magic of the scientific order, resulting from progress in the sciences.

10. Tattha tattha sammāpayogapaccayā ijjhanaṭṭhena iddhi, magic the success of which is assured by a correct undertaking in such and such a realm. Thus the destruction of the impurities has, as cause, the efforts employed in the course of the career of the arhats.

The abhijñās are placed neither among the dharmas of the Path studied in chapters XXXI to XXXVIII nor among the attributes of the Buddhas mentioned in chapters XXXIX to XLII, but they present many traits in common with them. They form a special category which fits into the Buddhist system poorly and whose job seems to have been done already. As the Traité has already commented (p. 1557F), there is only a difference of intensity of knowledge between abhijñā, vidyā and bala. All of this poses some difficult problems over which the Abhidharmas and the śāstras of the Sarvāstivādins have struggled for a long time: cf. Saṃgītiparyayā, T 1536, k.15, p.432b17–c8; Mahāvibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 102, p. 530; k. 141, p. 727b22–728c1: T 1546, K. 53, p. 383b–c; Abhidharmasāra, T 1550 k. 3, p. 824a27–28; Abhidharmāmṛtarasa, T 1553, k. 2, p. 975c22–976a17.

Kośa, VII, p. 98–112, comes to the following conlusions:

In their nature (svabhāva), the abhijñās are wisdoms of the path of deliverance (vimuktimārgaprajñā).

Abhijñās 1, 2, 4 and 6 are saṃvṛtijñāna; abhijñā 3 involves jñānas 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 (see above, p. 1472F); abhijñā 6 is similar to bala 10 and like it, involves six or ten jñānas (cf. p. 1508F).

Abhijñās 1 to 5 have as their support (āśraya) the four dhyānas but not the four ārūpyasamāpattis. As domain or object (viṣaya), they have their level (bhūmi) or a lower level. Already cultivated in an earlier existence, they are acquired by detachment (vairāgya); if not, by effort (prayoga).

Abhijñā 3 includes the smṛtyupasthānas 2, 3 and 4 (cf. p. 1121–1122F); abhijñās 1, 2 and 5 are the kāyasmṛtypasthāna; abhijñās 4 and 6 have as nature the four smṛtyupasthānas.

Abhijñās 2 and 5 and indeterminate (avyākṛta); the others are good (śubha).

Abhijñās 4 to 6 are knowledges (vidyā) because they cause the non-knowledge relating to the past, future and present to cease. Abhijñā 6 belongs to the arhat alone.

Abhijñā 1 corresponds to the magical miracle (ṛddhiprātihārya) that converts beings; abhijñā 3 corresponds to the miracle of the statement (ādeśanāprātihārya) that reads minds; abhijñā 6 corresponds to the miracle of the correct teaching (anuśāsanīprātihārya) that confers the fruits of salvation and happiness. We may remember that these pratihāryas are listed in the canonical texts: Dīgha, I, p. 212; III, p. 220, Anguttara, I, p. 170.

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