Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “silence of the shravakas on the dharanis” 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.

IV. Silence of the Śrāvakas on the dhāraṇis

Question. – There is no mention of dhāraṇīs in the śrāvaka system. Why is it that only the Mahāyāna speaks of them?

Answer. – Do not ask why a small thing is not contained in a big thing; rather, ask why a big thing does not contain small things. We do not wonder why a humble house contains neither gold nor silver!

Furthermore, the śrāvakas do not try hard to accumulate qualities (guṇa); they only try, by means of wisdom (prajñā) to try to free themselves from old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa). This is why the śrāvakas do not use dhāraṇīs to maintain the qualities. They are like a thirsty man who is content with a little water in his two hands and has no need of a pitcher (bhājana) to hold water. But if one must provide water for a large crowd of people, a jar is needed to hold the water. In the interest of beings, the bodhisattva must have the dhāraṇīs to maintain the qualities.

Furthermore, in the śrāvaka system, it is above all a matter of the [three] characteristics (lakṣaṇa) of conditioned dharmas: i) production (utpāda), ii) disappearance (vyaya) and iii) impermanence (anityatā).[1] Their scholars (upadeśācārya) say: “Dharmas are impermanent (anitya) and since they are impermanent, there is no need of dhāraṇīs. Why? Because things of impermanent nature are not to be retained (na dhārayitavya). Only the cause and conditions (hetupratyaya) that constitute past actions (atītakarman) do not perish; similarly also the fruits of retribution in the future (anāgatavipākaphala) which, although not yet born, are conditioned by past actions.”[2]

According to the Mahāyāna system, the characteristics of production and disappearance (utpādavyayalakṣaṇa) are not real, neither are the characteristics of non-production and non-disappearance; the complete removal of views (vipaśyanā) and characteristics (lakṣaṇa), that is what is real. If therefore the bodhisattva remembers (dhārayati) past dharmas, that is not a mistake (doṣa). In order to retain good dharmas, good faculties (kuśalendriya) and other good qualities (guṇa) of the past, the dhāraṇīs are necessary. The dhāraṇīs always follow the bodhisattva from lifetime to lifetime. This is not the case for the samādhis: sometimes they disappear at the changing of the lifetime.

Such are the many distinctions to be made in regard to the dhāraṇīs and the samādhis. This is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here: “The bodhisattva who wishes to acquire the dhāraṇīmukhas and the samādhimukhas must practice the perfection of wisdom.”

Footnotes and references:


Cf. p. 36F, n. 3; 1163F, n. 1.


The scholars who express themselves in this way are not the Sarvāstivādins but the Vibhajyavādins. See Kośabhāśya, p. 296: “Those who affirm the existence of everything, past, future and present, are Sarvāstivādins. On the other hand, those who are the Vibhajyavādins make distinctions and say: ‘The present and the past action that has not yet given its fruit exist; the past that has already produced its fruit and the future do not exist.’ “