Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “body with marks and body without marks” 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.

V. Body with marks and body without marks

Question. – The Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha) and the dharmas of the three times (tryadhvadarma) have, as their mark, being without marks (alakṣaṇalakṣaṇa). One mark by itself is already unreal, let alone thirty-two marks.

Answer. – The attributes of the Buddha are of two kinds: i) of conventional truth (saṃvṛtisatya); ii) of absolute truth (paramārthasatya). From the point of view of the conventional truth, we say that the Buddha has thirty-two marks; from the point of view of the absolute truth, we say that he is without marks.

There are two paths (mārga): i) the first commits beings to cultivate the path of merit (puṇyamārga); ii) the second is the path of wisdom (puṇyamārga). For the path of merit, we say that the Buddha has thirty-two marks; for the path of wisdom, we say that he has no marks.

In regard to the body of birth (janmakāya), we say that he has thirty-two marks; in regard to the body of Dharma (dharmakāya), we say that he has no marks.

By its thirty-two major and eighty minor (anuvyañjana) marks, the body of the Buddha adorns (alaṃkaroti) the body of the Dharma; by its ten powers (bala), four fearlessnesses (vaiśaradya), its four unhindered knowledges (pratisaṃvid), its eighteen special attributes (āveṇikadharma) and other qualities (guṇa), it adorns beings.

There are two kinds of causes and conditions (hetupratyaya): i) causes and conditions for merit (puṇya); ii) causes and conditions for wisdom (prajñā). In order to guide beings by means of the causes and conditions of merit, the Buddha uses the body endowed with the thirty-two marks; in order to guide beings by means of the causes and conditions for wisdom, he uses the Dharma body (dharmakāya).

There are two kinds of beings (sattva): i) those who know that dharmas are pure designations (prajñapti); ii) those who are attached to names (nāmābhiniviṣṭa). For beings attached to names, we say that the Buddha has no marks; for beings who take dharmas as pure designations, we say that the Buddha has thirty-two marks.

Question. – But the ten powers (bala), the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya) and the other qualities each have their special mark; how can you say that the Dharma body is without marks?

Answer. – Because they are associated with the sixteen aspects of the truths (ṣoḍaśākāra) and the three concentrations (samādhi), all the pure qualities (anāsravadharma) are said to be ‘without marks’. Wanting beings to penetrate them, the Buddha analyzed them in many ways and said that all the attributes of the Buddha, marked with the seal (mudrā) of emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) and wishlessness (apraṇihita), all partake in suchness (tathatā), the fundamental element (dharmadhātu), the pinnacle of the truth (bhūtakoṭi). However, so that beings would rejoice and produce the mind of bodhi on seeing his body, the Buddha shows them his body adorned with the thirty-two marks.

Moreover, in order to manifest his great superiority to all beings, the Buddha shows his thirty-two marks without, however, offending the principle of the absence of marks.

[The prediction of Asita].

By this, we know that the Buddha, by means of his thirty-two marks, is far superior to all beings. If we speak of the absence of marks, it is in order to destroy [the purely imaginary marks] such as the marks of eternity (nitya), purity (śuci) and happiness (sukha), the marks of self (ātman), the marks of man (puruṣa) or woman (strī), of birth (jāti) or death (maraṇa), etc. Thus, although the attributes of the Buddha have, as their mark, being without marks (alakṣaṇalakṣaṇa), by manifesting his thirty-two marks, the Buddha leads beings to recognize the primacy (paramatā) and to experience pure faith (prasāda) toward him. Speaking of the thirty-two marks is not a fault (doṣa).

Footnotes and references:

1.

Mahāpadānasuttanta (Dīgha, II, p. 16) and Mahāvadānasūtra (p. 95), in regard to Vipaśyin: Ayaṃ hi deva kumāro dvattiṃsa mahāpurisalakkhaṇehi samannāgato yehi samannāgatassa mahāpurissa dve gatiyo bhavanti anaññā. sace agāraṃ ajjhāvasati rājā hoti cakkavatti… sace kho pana agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajati arahaṃ hoti sammāsambuddho.