Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the abhijnas in the prajnaparamitasutras” 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 (3): The abhijñās in the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras

In the present passage, the sūtra envisages the case of a bodhisattva who, already possessing the first five abhijñās, “wishes to be established in the six abhijñās”. But if he obtains the sixth abhijñā, he destroys his impurities (kṣīnāsrava) and enters into nirvāṇa. In this case, it is hard to see how he could pursue his ideal of bodhisattva and still dedicate himself to the welfare and happiness of beings.

This leads the Traité to distinguish two kinds of destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya):

1. Complete āsravakṣaya involving both the elimination of the afflictive emotions (kleśa) and the elimination of their traces (kleśavāsanā). It belongs to the fully and completely enlightened Buddhas alone, and the bodhisattva attains it only at the end of his career in the tenth bhūmi.

2. Incomplete āsravakṣaya, eliminating the afflictive emotions without eliminating their traces. As we have seen above (p. 1761F), it is characteristic of the śrāvakas who have reached the state of arhat as well as the bodhisattvas of the eighth bhūmi. But the results are quite different according to whether it is a matter of an arhat or a bodhisattva.

The kṣīnāsrava arhat, aspiring only to his personal deliverance, puts an end to suffering and escapes from saṃsāra.

The kṣīnāsrava bodhisattva, animated by great loving-kindness and great compassion, uses his traces of afflictive emotions to pursue his work of salvation and, without taking rebirth in the threefold world, assumes a body of the dharmadhātu for the service of beings.

Thus the bodhisattva “who wishes to become established in the six abhijñās” aspires above all to this incomplete āsravakṣaya where he retains the traces of emotions in a purely altruistic end.

If the sūtra submits to these subtleties, it is in order to maintain in its system the role of the abhijñās to which the canonical scriptures grant such an important place. Nonetheless, the practice of the abhijñās comes within conventional truth and loses any significance from the point of view of universal emptiness.

Coming back to the subject later, the sūtra (Pañcaviṃśati, p.83–33; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 301–306) will comment that by using the six abhijñās, the bodhisattva is under no illusion: he does not grasp them (nopalabhate), has no thought of either possessing them or knowing their object, because he is based on the emptiness (śūnyatā) and non-existence (anupalabdhita) of their self-nature; he doe not seek to produce them or to realize them if this is not in the spirit of omniscience.