Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “eminent knowledge of the bodhisattva” 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. – According to the Buddha’s words, there are four kinds of fruit of the religious life (śrāmaṇyaphala), four kinds of ārya from the srotaāpanna to the arhat, five kinds of sons of the Buddha (buddhaputra) from the srotaāpanna up to the pratyekabuddha, and three kinds of bodhi: the bodhi of the arhats, the bodhi of the pratyekabuddhas and the bodhi of the Buddhas. The bodhisattva does not appear anywhere among these arhats, these sons of the Buddha and these bodhis. Why then does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra speak here of the bodhisattva “outshining the knowledge of all the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas”?

Answer. – The Dharma of the Buddha is of two kinds: i) the Dharma of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, and ii) the Dharma of the Mahāyāna. The Dharma of the śrāvakas is small (hīna) and praises the things concerning the śrāvakas alone; it does not speak of things that concern the bodhisattva. The Dharma of the Mahāyāna is vast (mahat) and deals with things relative to the bodhisattva-mahāsattva: the production of the mind of awakening (cittotpāda), the development of the ten levels (daśabhūmibhāvanā), the access to certainty (niyāmāvakrānti), the purification of the Buddha fields (buddhakṣetrapariśodhana), the maturation of beings (sattvaparipācana) and the attainment of supreme enlightenment (abhisaṃbodhi). In this Dharma, it is said that the bodhisattva follows on from the Buddha and should be honored as he is: he contemplates the [true] nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa) in a similar way, he is a field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) and he dominates the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas.

In many places, the Mahāyānasūtras praise the knowledge of the bodhisattva-mahāsattva which prevails over that of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas.


Similarly,[1] even though the arhats and pratyekabuddhas have spiritual faculties (indriya), the powers (bala), the factors of enlightenment (saṃbodhyaṅga), the members of the Path (mārgaṅga),[2] the six superknowledges (ṣaḍabhijñā), the power of the trances (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā), even though they realize the highest point of the truth (bhūtakoṭi) and are a field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) for beings, they are not honored by the Buddhas of the ten directions. On the other hand, in the womb of the fetters (saṃyojana), the passions (kleśa), the bonds of desire (kāmabandhana) and the threefold poison (viṣatraya), the bodhisattva who has just produced the mind of peerless bodhi (prathamānuttarabodhicittotpāda) is honored by the Buddhas before having done what had to be done (akṛtakṛtya). It is only gradually that he will cultivate the six perfections (pāramitā), acquire the power of skillful means (upāyabala), enter into the position of Bodhisattva (bodhisattvaniyāma) and succeed in obtaining the knowledge of all the aspects (sarvākārajñatā) and save innumerable beings. But [from his first production of the bodhi mind] he prevents the rupture (anupacchedāya sthāsyati) of the Buddha lineage (buddhavaṃśa), of the lineage of the Dharma (dharmavaṃśa) and the lineage of the Community (saṃghavaṃśa); he prevents the rupture of the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) assuring pure happiness (viśuddhasukha) in the heavens (svarga) and in this world (ihaloka). [This is why he is honored by the Buddhas as soon as he is conceived].

Thus the Kia-lo-p’in-k’ie (kalaviṅka) bird, when it is still within the egg (aṇḍakośa), surpasses all other birds (sarvapakṣigaṇam abhibhavati) by the melody of its songs (rutaravitena). Similarly the bodhisattva-mahāsattva, even before leaving the shell of ignorance (avidyāṇḍakośa), surpasses the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and heretics by the sound of his preaching (dharmadeśana) and his teachings (upadeśa).[3]


[Vimalakīrtinirdeśasūtra.] – Finally, as is said in the Wei-mo-kie king (Vimalakīrtisūtra), Śāriputra and other śrāvakas said that they themselves were incapable of going to visit Vimalakīrti in order to ask him about his sickness and each of them told how, at another time, they had been greeted with derision by Vimalakīrti.[4]

Thus, in many sūtras, it is said that “the knowledge of the bodhisattva outshines that of the śrāvakas and pratykebuddhas.”

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Kāśyapaparivarta, § 83 which is expressed more consisely: Evam eva kāśyapa prathamacittotpādiko bodhisattvaḥ aparipakvendriya kalamahābhūtagata eva samānodatha ca punar balavantarā tatra pūrvadarśano devā spṛhām utpādayanti, na tv evāṣṭavimokṣadhyāyīṣv arhatsu, tat kasmād hetoḥ. sa hi buddhavaṃśasyānupacchedāya sthāsyati.


Adopting the variant kio tao.


Kāśyapaparivarta, § 84: Tad yathāpi nāma kāśyapa karaviṅkapotaka āṇḍakośaprakṣitaḥ anirbhinne nayane sarvapakṣigaṇam abhib, yad uta gaṃbhīramadhuranirghoṣarutaravite[na] evam eva kāśyapaḥ prathamacittotpādiko bodhisattvo avidyāṇḍakośaprakṣita karmakleśatamastimirapaṭalaparyavanaddhaḥ nayano pi sarvaśrāvakapratyekabuddhān abhibhavati yad uta kuśalamūlapariṇāmanāprayoga-nirhārarutaravietna.

The kalaviṅka, sparrow or cuckoo, has already been mentioned, p. 279F, 1587F.


See chap. III of the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, transl. p. 141–218.

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