Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “subjective nature of the appearance of the buddhas” 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.

III.2: Subjective nature of the appearance of the Buddhas

Question. – How does this concentration of the recollection of the Buddhas (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) bring about being born in that field? 

Answer. – ‘Recollecting the Buddha’ is to meditate on his thirty-two major marks and his eighty minor marks (anuvyañjana), on his golden colored body (suvarṇavarna kāya), on the rays (raśmi) that shine forth from his body and fill the ten directions, on the clarity and purity of his brilliance like the molten gold of the Jambu river (jāmbūnadasuvarṇa). The Buddha is like Sumeru, king of the mountains, in the middle of the great sea, which, at the moment the sun shines on it, illuminates everything.[1]

During this concentration, the yogin loses the notion (saṃjñā) of other colors (rūpa) – the colors of the mountains, earth, forests, etc. –; in space he sees only the bodily marks lf the Buddhas, marks like an appearance of molten gold (kanaka) in the center of a real beryl (vaiḍūrya).

A bhikṣu who has entered onto the meditation on the horrible (aśubhabhāvana) see only bloated bodies (vyādhmātaka), putrified (vipūyaka), torn apart (vidhūtaka), finally seeing nothing other than a skeleton (asthiśataka).[2] This [276b] skeleton is immobile (akāraka); it comes from nowhere and it goes nowhere (na kutaścid āgacchati, na kvacid gacchati): the bhikṣu sees this skeleton by means of his memory (anusmaraṇa) and as a concept (saṃjñā). In the same way, the bodhisattva-mahāḥasattva who has entered into the concentration of the recollection of the Buddhas (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) sees the Buddhas insofar as he has concentrated his mind (cittasamādhānāt) and insofar as his mind is pure (cittaviśuddhitvāt). When a person whose body is adorned with ornaments looks into a mirror (ādarśa) or clear water, he sees all his ornaments without exception. In the mirror of the clear water, there is no real (ākṛti) form but, since it is clear and limpid, the person contemplates his own image therein (pratikṛti). From the very beginning, the dharmas [of Buddha] are eternally pure (nityaviśuddha) and it is by means of his well purified mind (supariśuddhacitta) that the bodhisattva sees all the Buddhas at will (yatheccham). He questions them about his doubts (saṃśaya), and the Buddhas answer his questions. Hearing the words of the Buddhas, the bodhisattva experiences great joy (muditā).

Emerging from concentration (samādher vyutthitaḥ), the bodhisattva has the following thought: “From where do the Buddhas come when I myself have gone nowhere?” At that very moment, he knows that the Buddhas have come from nowhere and that he himself has gone nowhere. – Once again he has the following thought: “Everything that exists in the threefold world (traidhātuka) has been manufactured by the mind (citta). Why? It is insofar as I have thought in my mind that I have seen all these Buddhas. It is by means of the mind that I have seen the Buddhas; it is by means of the mind that I have created the Buddhas. Mind is the Buddhas; mind is myself.”

And yet the mind cannot cognize itself and does not see itself. Clinging to the nature of the mind (cittanimittānām udgrahaṇam) is fundamentally ignorance (ajñāna). The mind itself is deception (mṛṣā) and comes from ignorance (avidyā). By separating from his deceptive and erroneous nature of mind, the bodhisattva penetrates into the true nature of things (dharmāṇāṃ bhūtalakṣaṇa or dharmatā), namely, eternal emptiness (nityaśūnayatā).

The bodhisattva thus obtains the concentration of the recollection of the Buddhas (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) and wisdom (prajñā) [about the true nature, the emptiness of things]. By the power of these two factors (saṃskāra), he comes to never be separated from the Buddhas at will (yatheccham) and according to his wishes (yathāpranidhānam). In the same way that the garuḍa, king of the birds, furnished with two wings (pakṣa), soars supremely in space (ākāśa), so the bodhisattva, in his present lifetime (ihajanmani), by means of the power of concentration and wisdom, is able to pay homage to the Buddhas at will and, after his death, he is able to meet the Buddhas again.

This is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here that “the bodhisattva who wishes to never be separated from the Buddhas must practice the perfection of wisdom.”

Notes regarding the meeting of the Bodhisattva with the Buddhas:

The meeting of the bodhisattva with the buddhas of the three times and the ten directions is a purely subjective phenomenon: the buddhas do not come to the bodhisattva and the bodhisattva does not go to the buddhas. The phenomenon occurs at two times: a vision and a reflection.

A. The bodhisattva enters into the ‘concentration of the recollection of the buddhas’ (buddhānusmṛtisamādhi) and sees them in mind (cittena), not in any mind whatsoever, but according to the very words of the sūtras (Majjhima, I, p. 23, etc.) ”in concentrated, purified, cleansed, stainless mind rid of minor stains, softened, amenable, stable mind that has reached immovability” (samāhita citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite ānejjappatte). He directs it to and fixes it on the body of the Buddha, a body of the color of gold, luminous, endowed with the major and minor marks. Because the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, it receives the image of the body of the Buddha like the mirror of clear water reflects the face of the person who is looking into it. The image of the Buddha impresses the mind of the bodhisattva so that he ceases to see any other object and any other color. He remains fixed in contemplation before the red gold (kanaka) surrounded by beryl (vaiḍūrya) representing the buddhas. He enters into conversation with them, asks them questions and hears their answers. Subjective though it may be, this meeting with the buddhas plunges him into rapture (muditā).

These practices of autosuggestion are not new to Buddhism. The śrāvakas already used a whole arsenal of practices where the directed will (adhimokṣa) overtakes objectivity and allows the seeing of things not as they are but as one wants to see them. During the course of the Apramāṇas or the Brahmavihāras, for the purification of one’s own mind, they consider beings of the ten directions in turn as happy, rejoicing or miserable when similar generalizations are, to say the least, unlikely. The practice of the eight vimokṣas, the eight abhibhvāyatanas and the ten kṛtsnāyatanas allows the ascetic to substitute the vision of external objects for that of the internal objects and vice versa, to contemplate the universe under the form of a single element (earth, water, fire or wind) or under the aspect of a single color (blue, yellow, red or white), of bringing everything to the notion of space, infinite consciousness or nothingness, and finally to eliminate the notions and sensations without a residue. The ascetic having entered into the aśubhabhāvanā finally sees the cosmos in the form of a gigantic skeleton. Subjectivism is pushed so far that the theoreticians attribute to the pariṇāmanarddhi the power of really transforming things, for example, of changing stone into gold. In a word, samādhi is the triumph of the arbitrary over reality. But if, with use, the arbitrary is revealed as being useful and beneficial, it is appropriate to use it provisionally even if it means abandoning it definitively a posteriori.

B. The bodhisattva who has ‘met’ the buddhas in the course of the buddhānusmṛtisamādhi ends up by coming out of samādhi without losing, for all that, the results of the experience that he has undergone. He retains the memories of the meetings he has had with the buddhas and eventually writes them down in a book (pustakaṃ karoti). We think this is the origin of the enormous literature of the Mahāyānasūtras that flooded Buddhism during the first centuries of our era. Between the sūtras of the Tripiṭaka compiled by the śrāvakas at the beginnings of Buddhism and the Vaipulyasūtras that accumulated over the course of time, there is the major difference that the former were collected from the very mouth (kaṇṭokta) of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni whereas the latter came from a meeting in samādhi with the buddhas of the three times and ten directions. Without saying anything about the value of the teachings they contain, we can simply state that the sūtras of the Tripiṭika transmit historical evidence whereas the Vaipulya sūtras tell of a mystical experience.

The Mahāyānists who benefit from this experience do not believe in the objectivity of their meeting with the buddhas. Having come out of concentration, they first establish that the buddhas came from nowhere and that they themselves have gone nowhere, that it is only to the extent that they have thought they have seen the buddhas. And each of them says: “It is by means of mind (citta) that I have seen the buddhas; it is by means of the mind that I have fabricated the buddhas. The mind is the buddhas; the mind is myself.”

Following their reasoning, they establish that, contrary to the common way of speaking, consciousness (vijñāna) does not discriminate (na vijñānati), mind does not cognize itself, does not see itself, and to cling to the nature of mind is fundamentally ignorance (ajñāna). Pushing to their ultimate conclusions the criticisms raised by the Sautrāntikas against mental operations (cf. Kośa, I, p. 86; IX, p. 280), the Prajñāpāramitās (Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 37–40; Pañcaviṃśati, p. 121–122; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 495) affirm that the mind is the opposite of mind (cittam acittam), that in this absence of mind, existence or non-existence of the mind does not occur and is not perceived (tatrācittatāyām astitā vā nāstitā vā na vidyate nopalabhyate), that this absence of mind excluding all modification and all concept constitutes the very nature of everything (avikāra avikalpā acittatā yā sarvadharmāṇāṃ dharmatā). In this view, “the bodhisattva penetrates the true nature of things (dharmāṇāṃ bhūtalakṣaṇam) which is none other than eternal emptiness (nityaśūnyatā).”

In samādhi, the bodhisattva meets the buddhas, converses with them and enjoys their presence; by means of prajñā he penetrates the emptiness of beings and things by virtue of which nobody meets anybody and nothing is said about things that are neither existent nor non-existent. Supported by the two wings of samādhi and prajñā, the bodhisattva takes flight like a garuḍa, king of the birds which soars supremely in empty space.

Footnotes and references:


Compare this common passage incessantly repeated in the Sarvāstivādin Avadānas (Avadānaśataka, I. p. 3; Divyāvadāna, p. 46. 3tc.): Atha… bhagavantaṃ dadarśa dvātriṃśatā mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇaiḥ samalaṅkṛtam aśityā cānuvyañjanair virḥājitagātraṃ vyāmaprabhālaṅkṛtaṃ sūryasahasrātirekaprabhaṃ jaṅgamam iva ratnaparvataṃ samantato bhadrakam. – Then N… saw the Blessed One adorned with the thirty-two major marks of the Great Man, his body resplendent with the eighty minor marks, adorned with a halo, one arm-span in width, with a brilliance surpassing a thousand suns, like a mountain of jewels in movement, captivating in every way.


See above, p. 1316F seq.

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