Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “order of the superknowledges” 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.

Question. – What is the order (krama) of the abhijñās?

Answer. –

A. Order generally accepted by the canonical sūtras

Note: Namely, 1) ṛddhividhi, 2) divyaśrotra, 3) cetaḥparyāya or paracitta, 4) pūrvanivāsa, 5) cyutupapāda or divyacakṣus, 6) āsravakṣaya. This order is followed scrupulously by the Nikāyas and the Pāli Abhidhammas and a significant portion of the Sanskrit Āgamas: cf. Dīrgha, T 1, k. 9, p. 54b9–11; 58a24–26; Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 29, p. 209c27–28; k. 41, p. 302a25–26.

1. Abhijñā of magical power

(see Appendix 1)

[a. Gamanaṛddhi]. – The bodhisattva detached from the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa), possessing the trances (dhyāna), endowed with loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā), takes the abhijñā in the interest of beings and manifests wondrous (adbhuta) and marvelous (āścarya) things so that the minds of beings may be purified. Why? If he did not perform miraculous things, he would not be able to lead many beings to find salvation.

Having thought thus, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva fixes his mind on [the element] of space (ākāśadhātu) inherent in his own body and eliminates the idea of coarse-heavy (audārikarūpa) matter. Constantly noting [within himself] the nature of emptiness-lightness (laghutvanimitta), he produces great minds of vigorousness (chanda), energy (vīrya), wisdom (prajñā) and examination (mīmāṃsa)[1] which have the power to raise the body. Before any examination, he knows himself that the power of his mind is so great that it can raise up his body as one does when walking. Destroying any idea of the heaviness of matter and always cultivating the notion of lightness, he then can fly.

[b. Nirmāṇaṛddhi]. – Secondly, the bodhisattva can also transform things. He makes the earth (pṛthivī) become water (ap) and water become earth, wind (vāyu) become fire (tejas) and fire become wind: he is able to transform all the great elements (mahābhūta). He makes gold (suvarṇa) change into gravel (kaṭhalla) and gravel change into gold: he can transform all these things. To change earth (pṛthivī) into water (ap), he thinks of water unceasingly and increases it until he no longer thinks of earth. At that moment, the earth becomes water in accordance with his mind, The bodhisattva can transform all these kinds of things.

Question. – If that is so, how are the superknowledges different from the spheres of totality (kṛtsnāyatana)?

Answer. – The kṛtsnāyatanas are the first path of the abhijñās. Preliminary [264c] to the kṛtsnāyatanas, the vimokṣas and the abhibhvāyatanas make the mind flexible; then it is easy to enter the abhijñās.

Moreover, in the kṛtsnāyatanas, there is only a single person to notice that the earth has been changed into water; other people do not see it at all.[2] This is not so in the abhijñās: the ascetic himself really sees water and other people really see the water as well.

Question. – However, the kṛtsnāyatanas are great concentrations (samādhi) also. Why are they unable to give real water, seen by both the ascetic and other people as well?

Answer. – The kṛtsnāyatanas have a very vast field of vision. What happens is that everything takes on just the characteristics of water but does not truly become water. The abhijñās, on the other hand, do not include everything, but what happens is that the earth changes into water and that is real water. The result is that these two concentrations (samādhi) each have their own special power.

Question. – [One of two things]: the things transformed (nirmita) by these two samādhis are either true or false. If they are true, how does stone (śilā) become gold (suvarṇa) and how does earth become water? If they are false, how can the āryas become free of these fallacious practices?

Answer. – All these practices are true and the āryas are not in error for they have eliminated the threefold poison (viṣatraya). No dharma has a fixed nature (niyatalakṣaṇa): each of them can be changed into earth or become water.

Thus, [as result of their solidity (khakkhaṭatva)], cheese (dadhi), glue [bird-lime] (gavyadṛḍha) and leather (lākṣā) belong to the type earth (pṛthivi), but if they are brought near fire, they melt, become water (ap) and take on a moist nature (dravatva). Water, exposed to the cold, solidifies, becomes ice and takes on a solid nature (khakkhaṭatva). Stone when compressed becomes gold, gold when decompressed changes into copper (tāmra) or returns to stone. For beings (sattva), it is the same: the bad (pāpa) can become good (kuśala) and the good can become bad. This is why we know that no dharma has a fixed nature. The transformations (nirmāṇa) brought about by the power of the abhijñās are real and not false. If each thing had a fixed nature originally, it could never be transformed.

[c. Āryarddhi]. – Thirdly, the noble magical power (āryarddhi) is to have domination dependent on good pleasure (yathākāmavaśitva) over the six sense objects (viṣaya):

“1) Faced with a pleasant object, to produce a notion of unpleasantness; 2) faced with an unpleasant object, to produce a notion of pleasantness; 3) eliminating both the notions of pleasantness and unpleasantness, to become established in a mind of indifference: this is the threefold abhijñā [of noble magical power].”[3]

The Buddha alone possesses this abhijñā of domination (vaśitvābhijñā).

2. Abhijñā of divine hearing

The bodhisattva in possession of this abhijñā [of magical power] moves through the buddhafields (buddhakṣetra) but, in these various fields, the languages are not the same, and the bodhisattva, not understanding the small beings located afar, seeks the abhijñā of divine hearing (divyaśrotra). Remembering always the great sounds (śabda) pronounced in many audiences, he grasps their characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇāti) and cultivates the practice of them. As a result of this continuous practice, his ear (śrotra) contacts a subtle matter (rūpaprasāda) derived from the four great elements of the world of form (rūpadhātucaturmahābhūtabautika) and, possessing this matter, he succeeds in hearing at a distance.[4] Without any difficulty, the bodhisattva penetrates articulated sounds (śabda), divine (divya) and human (mānuṣa), whether coarse (audārika) or subtle (sūkṣma) distant or close (ye vā dūre ye vāntika).

B. Order proposed by the Dhyānasūtra

Question. – See what is said in the Tch’an king (Dhyānasūtra):[5]

“1) First the ascetic obtains the divine eye (divyacakṣus). – 2) Having seen beings but not hearing their sounds, he seeks the abhijñā of divine hearing (divyaśrotra). – 3) Possessing the divine sight and divine hearing, he perceives the bodily shape (saṃsthāna) of beings as well as their articulated sounds (ghoṣa), but he does not understand their language (vāc, adhivacana) or their various expressions (nirukti) of sadness (daurmanasya) or joy (muditā), of suffering (duḥkha) or happiness (sukha). This is why he seeks the unhindered knowledge of expression (niruktipratisamvid). But then he only knows the expressions (nirukti) of beings and does not know their minds (citta); this is why he seeks the knowledge of another’s mind (paracittajñāna). – 4) Knowing the minds of other [265a] beings, he still does not know where they originally came from. This is why he seeks the abhijñā of remembering former abodes (pūrvanivāsānusmṛti). – 5) Knowing their origin now, he wants to cure their mental illness (cittavyādhi). This is why he seeks the abhijñā of the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya). – 6) Thus furnished with the five abhijñās, he cannot yet perform transformations (nirmāṇa); consequently, the beings saved by him are not numerous, for he is unable to subdue people of great merit contaminated by wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). This is why he seeks the abhijñā of magical power (ṛddhyabhijñā).

Since this is the order to be followed, why would the bodhisattva first seek the abhijñā of magical power?[6]

Answer. –Among beings, the coarse (audārika) ones are numerous, the subtle ones (sūkṣma) are rare. This is why the yogin first uses the abhijñā of magical power. Actually, the abhijñā of miraculous power saves many people, coarse as well as subtle; this is why [the sūtra] mentions it first.

Moreover, the abhijñās differ as to the mode of their acquisition and as to their number (saṃkhyā). As for their mode of acquisition, many yogins first seek the divine eye (divyackṣus) because it is easy to obtain. He uses the sun (sūrya), the moon (candra), stars (nakṣatra), pearls (maṇi) and fire (tejas), by grasping the common characteristic (nimitta) which is the light (āloka). He cultivates it so well, with so much diligence and exertion that day and night no longer make any difference. Above, below, in front, behind, this unique single light rises up before him without obstacle.[7] This is how he acquires the abhijñā of the divine eye first. As for the other abhijñās, he acquires them in the order described above.

C. Order followed by the Buddha on the night of bodhi.

(see note below on the three watches of the night)

Finally, the Buddha taught the order of the abhijñās in accord with the way he had acquired them:

1. During the first watch (prathame yāme) the Buddha obtained one ‘superknowledge’ abhijñā and one ‘knowledge’ (F: science) vidyā, viz., the abhijñā of magical power (ṛddhi) and the vidyā of former abodes (pūrvanivāsa).

2. During the middle watch (madhyame yāme), he obtained the abhijñā of divine hearing (divyaśrotra) and the vidya of the divine eye (divyacakṣus).

3. During the last watch (paścime yāme), he obtained the abhijñā of the awareness of others’ minds (paracittajñāna) and the vidya of the destruction of the impurities (āsravakṣaya).

Here, since the search for the vidyās consists of the harder effort (vyāpāna), they are placed second. Abhijñā and vidyā are acquired in an order comparable to that of the four fruits of the religious life (catuḥśrāmaṇyaphala) where the greatest are placed second.[8]

Question. – If the divine eye (divyacakṣus), being easy to obtain (sulabha), is placed first, why does the bodhisattva not obtain the divine eye first?

Answer. – All dharmas are easy for the bodhisattva to obtain and do not present any difficulty; for other people who are of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya), some are hard to obtain, others are easy.

Moreover, during the first watch of the night (prathame yāme), when king Māra came to fight against the Buddha, the Bodhisattva, by the power of his abhijñā [of magical power], performed various transformations (nirmāṇa) that changed the weapons of Māra’s warriors into necklaces (keyūra, niṣka). Having vanquished Māra’s army, the Bodhisattva began to think about [this] abhijñā and wanted to fulfill it completely (paripūrana). He formulated the thought of it and immediately found the position of attack (avatāralābha). Completely fulfilling the abhijñā, he conquered Māra.[9] – Then he wondered why he alone could possess such a great power, and by investigating the vidyā of former abodes (pūrvanivāsa), he understood that it was by accumulating the power of merit (puṇyabala) lifetime after lifetime.

During the middle watch (madhyame yāme), Māra having retreated, calm and tranquility reigned and there was no more noise (ghoṣa). Out of loving-kindness and pity for all beings, the Bodhisattva thought about the cries uttered by Māra’s troops and gave rise to the abhijñā of divine hearing (divyaśrotra) and the vidya of the divine eye (divyacakṣus). Using this divine hearing, he heard the cries of suffering and happiness uttered by beings of the ten directions and the five destinies (pañcagati). Hearing their cries, he wanted to see their shapes (saṃsthāna) as well and, since the veils (antarāyika) prevented his seeing them, he sought the divine eye (divyacakṣus).

During the last watch (paścime yāme), when he saw the shapes of beings, he wanted to understand their minds (citta) and thus, by seeking the knowledge of [265b] others’ minds (paracittajñāna), he knew the thoughts of beings. – Everybody wants to avoid suffering and to look for happiness. This is why the Bodhisattva sought the abhijñā of the destruction of impurities (āsravakṣaya). And since, of all happiness, that of the destruction of impurities is the highest, the Bodhisattva causes others attain it.

Question. – The bodhisattva who has acquired the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikadharmakṣānti) has, from one lifetime to the next, always obtained the abhijñās as fruit of retribution (vipākaphala). At the time [of his enlightenment] why does he have doubts about himself and does not know the minds of beings when he sees them?

Answer. – There are two kinds of bodhisattvas: i) the bodhisattva with body born of the fundamental element (dharmadhātujakāya); ii) the bodhisattva who, in order to save beings, assumes human qualities (manuṣyadharma) out of skillful means in order to save beings: he is born into the family of king Tsing-fan (Śuddhodana); he makes a trip to the four gates of the city and asks questions about an old man, a sick man and death.[10] This bodhisattva is in possession of the six abhijñās when he is seated under the king of the trees. Moreover, the abhijñās previously held by this bodhisattva were not yet perfected (paripūrṇa) and it is now, during the three watches of the night that they are [really] acquired.[11] That this Buddha who exercises human qualities still has doubts of himself does not constitute a fault (doṣa).

Question. – Concerning the order of the six abhijñās, the divine eye (divyacakṣus) always comes first, whereas the abhijñā of the destruction of the impurities comes last. But is it always so?

Answer. – Most often, the divine eye comes first and the knowledge of the destruction of the impurities comes last. However, sometimes, in consideration of the easiest method, either the divine hearing (divyaśrotra) or the bases of magical power (ṛddhipāda) is placed first.[12]

Some say: The divine hearing (divyaśrotra) is easy to obtain in the first dhyāna because this dhyāna involves enquiry (vitarka), analysis (vicāra) and four (?, sic) minds (citta).

The divine eye (divyacakṣus) is easy to obtain in the second dhyāna because the visual consciousness being absent there, the mind is concentrated (samāhita) and free of distraction (avikṣipta).

The abhijñā of magical power (ṛddhi) is easy to obain in the third dhyāna because in this dhyāna “one experiences bliss physically” (sukham kāyena pratisaṃvedayati).

All the abhijñās are easy to obtain in the fourth dhyāna because this dhyāna is the place of all security (sarvayogakṣemasthāna).

On the meaning of the three abhijñās:[13] memory of former abodes (pūrvanivāsa), etc., see [above, p. 1555–1563F] what was said about the ten powers (bala).

Note on the three watches of the night:

Here the Traité takes its inspiration from relatively late sources in the words of which, during the night at Bodh-Gayā, the Buddha conquered the six abhijñās.

1. During the first watch of the night, ṛddhiviṣayajñāna and pūrvanivāsānanusmṛṭijñāna; during the middle watch, divyaśrotrajñāna and divyacakṣurjñāna; during the last watch, cetaḥparyāyajñāna and āsravakṣayajñāna, either in the order: no. 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6. Cf. Catuṣpariṣatsūtra, p. 432, l. 4 – 434, l. 13; Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1450, K. 4, p. 123c14–124b8 (cf. G. Tucci, Il trono di diamante, p. 207–210, where the order is slightly different).

2. During the first watch, kāyābhijñā (= ṛddhyabhijñā ?) and pūrvanivāsānusmṛṭyabhijñā; during the middle watch, divyaśrotra and divyacakṣus; during the last watch, paracittajñāna and āsravakṣayajñāna, either in the order abhijñā no. 1, 4, 2, 5, 3, 6. Cf. Abhiniṣkramaṇasūtra, T 190, k. 30, p. 793a–794c3.

But according to the old canonical sources, the Buddha attained only three jñānas in the course of the three watches of the night: pūrvanivāsānusmṛtijñāna, cyutupapādajñāna and āsravāṇāṃ kṣayajñāna, i.e., abhijñās 4, 5 and 6, forming altogether the threefold knowledge (vidyatrāya). Cf. Vinaya, III, p. 4, l. 17 – 5, l. 38; Majjhima, I, p. 22, l. 9–23, l. 28–117; 247, l. 36 – 249, l. 22; Anguttara, IV, p. 177, l. 9 – 179, l. 13; Madhyama, T 26, k. 40, p. 680a1–b7; Ekottara, T 125, k. 23, p. 666b24–c20; Dharmagupt. Vin., T 1428, k. 31, p. 781b5–c10; Mahīśāsaka Vin. T 1421, k 15, p. 102c19–20 (contrary to usage, the latter has the second vidyā as paracittajñāna but claims to follow the T’ai tseu jouei ying pen k’i king, T 185, k. 2, p. 478a5–9 in doing so).

Footnotes and references:


These are the four ṛddhipāda, bases of magical power (cf. p. 1124F).


The Traité has commented above (p. 1305F) that the kṛtsnāyatanas are subjective seeing.


Noble magic, belonging to the saint whose spiritual faculties have been developed (bhāvitendriya): it is holy (āryā), free of āsrava and upadhi, in contrast to the ṛddhi of miracles (eko ’pi bhūtvā bahudhā bhavati, etc.) which, having āsrava and upadhi, is not holy (anārya),.

Here the Traité reproduces the canonical definition: Digha, III, p. 112–113; Majjhima, III, p. 301; Saṃyutta, V, p. 119, 295, 317–318; Anguttara, III, p. 169–170; Paṭisambhidā, II, p. 212:

So sace ākaṅkhati: Paṭikkūle appaṭikkūlasaññī vihareyyan ti, appaṭikkūlasaññī tattha viharati … upekhako tattha viharati sato sampajāno.


Kośa, VII, p. 123, explains the rūpa derived from the four great elements entering into the formation of the divine eye and the divine ear in the same way.


This sūtra, which is often referred to by the Traité (cf. P. 1025F, 1422F, 1547F and later, k. 91, p. 705b6) places the divyacakṣus at the head of the abhijñās and ṛddhi at the end. This rather unusual order, is that of the Dharmasaṃgraha, § 20 and the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 202–208.


According to the most commonly accepted order, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras place the ṛddhi at the head of the abhijñās.


This way of acquiring the divine eye, known in Pāli as ālokakasiṇa, is fully described in Visuddhimagga, ed. H. C. Warren, p. 361–362.


To enter into the fruits of the religious life, the ascetic must pass through two stages each time: that of candidate for the fruit (phalapratipannaka) and that of abiding in the fruit (phalastha). This is why the texts distinguish eight kinds of āryapudgala (cf. Kośa, VI, p. 232; Traité, p. 1390F).


See p. 339–346F.


See p. 22F, n. 2.


See p. 1556–57F


The divine eye (divyacakṣus) or cyutupapādajñāna is placed at the head of the abhijñās in Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 34, p. 247b23; Saddharmapuṇḍ., p. 134, l. 11; Mahāvyut., np, 202; Dharmasaṃgraha, § 20; Dhyānasūtra, cited above. – The divine hearing (divyaśrotra) occupies first place in Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 29, p. 209b10; k. 41, p. 302a25; 303c12. – According to the most commonly used (cf. p. 1809F), ṛddhiviṣaya appears first and āsravakṣaya last.


More correctly, the three vidyās.