Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “gates of remembrance (dharani-mukha)” 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.

I. Gates of remembrance (dhāraṇi-mukha)

In regard to dhāraṇīs, refer (p. 317–321F) to the Tsan-p’ou-sa (Bodhisattvastutiparivarta). The ‘gates’ (mukha) of the dhāraṇīs are preparatory practices (prāyogikadharma) to obtaining the dhāraṇīs. In a similar way, the three ‘concentrations’, samādhis, are called ‘gates of deliverance” (vimokṣamukha).[1] What are these preparatory practices?

1. Śrutadhara-dhāraṇī (‘The dhāraṇī for retaining what one has heard’)


1) Whoever wishes to retain that which he has heard must think of it attentively so as to develop his memory (smṛti). First he should think of an analogous thing (already familiar to him] and to join that to his mind so as to discover a thing that he has not yet seen. Thus Tcheou-li-p’an-t’o-kia (Cūdapanthaka) paid so much attention to cleaning leather shoes that his mind (manas)[3] became concentrated and he eliminated the stains of his mind (cittamala).[4] In the beginner (ādikarmika), this is the dhāraṇī of retaining what one has heard.

When one is able to retain what one has heard three times, the faculty of the mind is developed and sharpened; when one can retain what one has heard twice, it is strengthened; when one can retain what one has heard once, it is acquired (prāpta) and one does not forget anything; that is the first exercise (prayoga) of the dhāraṇī of retaining what one has heard.

2) Sometimes the bodhisattva who has entered into concentration (samādhi) obtains the liberation free of forgetfulness (asaṃpramoṣavimokṣa) and by its power he retains, without forgetting, all the words (vacana) and sermons (dharmadeśana) down to the smallest syllable and the smallest phoneme (akṣara):[5] that is the second practice.

3) Sometimes by the power of a magical phrase (mantra), the bodhisattva obtains the dhāraṇī of retaining what he has heard.

4) Finally, sometimes on assuming a rebirth (upapatti) as a result of actions of his previous lifetimes (pūrvajanman), he retains all that he has heard and does not forget.

That is what is called the gate of remembrance of retaining what one has heard.

2. Ghoṣapraveśa-dhāraṇī (‘The dhāraṇī of entering into the true nature of articulated sounds’)


Furthermnore, the bodhisattva, hearing articulated sounds (ghoṣa), words (vacana), distinguishes their beginning and end (pūrvāparānta) and considers their true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa); he knows that these words arise and perish from moment to moment.

[Normally], when articulated sounds have just perished, beings recall them (anusmaranti) and grasp their characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇanti). Thinking of these words that have just perished, they say to themselves: “This man has insulted me”, and they feel hatred (dveṣa). [Mutatis mutandis], if it is a matter of praise (varṇana), it is the same.

The bodhisattva, however, considers beings (sattvān samanupaśyati) in such a way that, although they may have insulted him for a hundred thousand kalpas, he has no hatred (dveṣa); they may have praised him for a hundred thousand kalpas, he has no joy (muditā). He knows indeed that articulated sounds (ghoṣa) arise and perish like an echo (pratiśrutkā) and, like the sound of a drum (dundubhisvara), they are without an agent (kāraka). Without an agent, they are without stability (asthitika) and, being absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya), they deceive only the ears of fools (mūḍha).[7]

That is what is called the dhāraṇī of entering into [the true nature] of articulated sounds (ghoṣapraveśadhāraṇī).

3. Akṣarapraveśa-dhāraṇī (‘The dhāraṇī of penetrating the phonemes’)

(also see Appendix on the Arapacana alphabet)

Furthermore, there is a dhāraṇī that, by using the forty-two phonemes (dvācatvāriṃśad akṣara), includes (saṃgṛhṇāti) all words (vacana) and names (nāman).

What are these forty-two phonemes? A, LO, PO, TCHÖ, NA (A, RA, PA, CA, NA), etc.

[The first phoneme A condenses the phrase A-t’i-a-neou-po-nai (ādy-anutpanna)]. A-t’i, in the language of the Ts’in, means ‘beginning’; a-neou-po-nai, in the language of the Ts’in, means ‘unborn’.[8]

As soon as the bodhisattva who is practicing this dhāraṇī hears the phoneme A, at once he penetrates that fact that ‘all dharmas are unborn from the beginning’ (sarvadharmāṇām ādyanutpannatvam). And so on for the other phonemes [LO PO TCHÖ NA], etc.: to the extent that they hear them, the bodhisattva penetrates [even further] into the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas.

This is called the dhāraṇī of penetrating the phonemes (akṣaramukhapraveśadhāraṇī). In the Mo-ho-yen p’in (Mahāyānaparivarta), these akṣaramukhas will be discussed.[9] [268b]

The bodhisattva who acquires all the concentrations of the three times (tryadhvasamādhi) – concentration of unhindered brilliance (ānantaryaprabhā), etc., – acquires each of these innumerable incalculable dhāraṇīs. Together, they are given the name of pañcaśatadhāraṇīmukha, ‘the five hundred means of memorizing’and constitute the treasury of the good attributes and qualities of the bodhisattva (bodhisattvakuśaladharmaguṇakośa).[10]

That is what is called the dhāraṇīmukhas.

Footnotes and references:


The three higher samādhis, śūnyatāsamādhi, etc., are commonly designated by the name of vimokṣamukha: see p. 1213F.


See above, p. 318F, 328F; and later, k. 49, p. 415a8; k. 69, p. 540b5–9; k. 74, p. 579c10–12; k. 85, p. 657a15–19. – See also Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, T VII, no. 220, k. 515, p. 634b27–c1.


Adopting the variant yi.


The bhikṣu Cūdapanthaka was known for his stupidity. The Buddha gave him two sentences to meditate on: “I am removing the dust, I am removing the stain” and sent him to clean the monks’ shoes. While performing this humble task, Cūdapanthaka meditated on the Buddha’s words. He finally understood that removing the dust consisted not only of brushing the shoes but also and above all of eliminating the threefold poison of desire, hatred and stupidity. His conflicting emotions were immediately cut and he attained arhathood. See references given above, p. 1543–1544F.


Cf. the Asaṅgadhāraṇī referred to above, p. 328F.


Cf. p. 319–321F


The inexpressibility of language is a favorite theme of the Mahāyānasūtras: see Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, tr., p. 148–149; Śūraṃgamasamādhi, tr., p. 188–189.


This paragraph is evidently a Chinese gloss introduced into the text.


See references on p. 1867F.


As far as I [Lamotte] can tell, this is not a matter of a Basket (piṭaka) of texts – dhāraṇīpiṭaka or bodhisattvapiṭaka – but a group of attributes belonging to the bodhisattvas. In the large Prajñāpāramitāsūtra (T VI, no. 220, k. 378, p. 952a26–27; T VII, no. 220, k. 467, p. 364b14; k. 529, p. 717b25; T VIII, no. 223,k. 24, p. 394c4–9), the five hundred dhāraṇīmukhas are part of a long series of supramundane (lokottara) attributes belonging only to the bodhisattvas and distinguishing them from worldly people.