Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “five destinies (pancagati) or six destinies (shadgati)” 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.

Appendix 4 - Five destinies (pañcagati) or six destinies (ṣaḍgati)

Note: This appendix is extracted from Chapter XLVI part 3.2 (beings to be established in the six perfections):

Question. – But the sūtras say that there are five destinies (pañcagati). Then why are you speaking of six destinies (ṣaḍgati)?

Answer. – Once the Buddha disappeared, the old sūtras were broadly disseminated; having been propagated for five hundred years, today they present many differences (viśeṣa) and the various schools do not agree; some assert five destinies (pañcagati), others assert six (ṣaḍgati) (see note A below). Those who accept five destinies are modifying the Buddhist sūtras as a result, and they assume five destinies; those who accept six destinies are modifying the text of the Buddhist sūtras as a result and are accepting six destinies. Moreover, in the Mahāyāna, the Fa-houa king (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra) speaks of “beings distributed in the six destinies” (see note B below), and from the viewpoint of the real meaning (abhiprāya) of the texts, there must be six destinies.

Furthermore, since the good is distinguished from the bad, there must be six destinies. The good being of superior (agra), middling (madhya) and inferior (avara) categories, there are three good destinies, Namely, the deva ‘gods’, the manuṣya ‘humans’ and the asuras. The bad being of higher, middling and lower categories, there are three bad destinies (durgati), namely the naraka, ‘damned’, the tiryañc ‘animals’ and the pretas. If it were not so – [i.e., if there were only five destinies] – there would be three fruits of retribution (vipākaphala) for the bad and only two fruits for the good. This would be conflicting (virodha). On the other hand, if there are six, the sense of equality is not violated.

Note A. The Hīnayāna schools:

The Hīnayāna schools that postulate five gātis (in Chinese wou ts’iu or wou tao) are three in number: the Sthaviras or Theravādins, the Sarvāstivādins and the Dharmaguptakas.

1) Theravāda.

Bareau, Les sects bouddhiques du Petit Véhicule, p. 223, thesis 74; Kathāvatthu, VIII, 1, p. 360.

The canonical sūṭras, Pāli as well as Sanskrit, of which the “Elders” appointed themselves compilers and guardians, count only five gātis:

Dīgha, III, p. 234; Majjhima, I, p. 73; Saṃyutta, V, p. 474–477; Anguttara, IV, p. 459. – Dīrgha, T 1, p.86b28; Madhyama,T 26, p. 5999c1–3; 683c15–16; Saṃyukta, T 99, p. 108c14; 112b25; 243b8; Ekottara,T 125, p. 549b14; 563b4; 631a25; 637c22; 701a29; 723b22; 756b26; 811b1–9.

It is true, as the Vibhāṣā has it, that the sūtras speak only of five gātis. However, three passages must be mentioned where it is a matter of six gātis: Dīgha, III, p. 264; Petavatthu, p. 66; Saṃyukta, T 99, p. 44a8, but the first two are among the latest canonical scriptures and the third has no correspondent in the Pāli nikāya.

Referring al;ways to the sutta from Majjhima, I, p. 73, cited above, the Abhidharmikas, the exegetists of the canonical schools, Buddhahosa and his school accept only five gatis in the strict sense of the word: the gatigati defined “destinies to which it is necessary to go by virtue of good or bad actions” (M.A., II, p. 36: sukatadukkatakammavasena gantabbā): the Vidusshimagga, p. 471 speaks of the “retribution-consciousness, fivefold because of the destinies” (vipākaviññānaṃ gativasena pañcavidhaṃ).

2) Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣika.

The Traité (p. 616F) considers the five gatis as an invention of their school; these disciples of Kātyāyanīputra recognize only five gātis:

Ṣaṭpādābhidharma: Saṃgītiparyāya, T 1536, p.415c17; Dharmaskandha, T 1537, p. 461a13; Vijñānakāya, T 1539, p. 537b5–6; Prakaraṇapāda, p. 712b27; Jñānaprasthāna, T 1544, p. 1017a27; 1030b17.

The Vibhāṣā (T 1545) assumes five gatis (p. 358b3; 943b10) and does not accept a sixth (p. 730a4; 868b2–3; 992a9–11).

Kośa, III, p. 11–15.

3) Dharmaguptaka.

Bareau, Sectes, p. 196, thesis 18; Dharmaguptaka Vin., T 1428, p. 951b22.

Of the schools professing six gatis (in Chinese, lieou ts’iu, or lieou tao), there are the Mahāsḥaṃghikas, the Andhakas, the Uttarapāthakas and the Vātsīputriyas.

1) Mahāsāṃghika.

From the evidence of their works such as the Mahāsāṃghika Vin., T 1425, 260c25; 511a11, and the Mahāvastu, I, p. 42, 337; II, p. 368.

2) Andhaka.

Bareau, Sectes, p. 94, thesis 34; Kathāvatthu, VIII, 1, p. 360.

3) Uttarapāthaka.

Bareau, Sectes, p. 248, thesis 11; Kathāvatthu, VIII, 1, p. 360.

4) Vātsīputrīya.

Bareau, Sectes, p. 120, thesis 36, according to Vibhāṣā, T 1545, p. 8b24, and Traité, (above, p. 616F). See also Sāṃmitīyanikāyaśāstra, T 1649, p. 470a12.

Note B. The Mahāyānasūtras:

The Saddharmapuṇḍarīka generally lists six destinies (ṣaḍgati), p. 6, 9, 135, 244, 346, 372, but occasionally notes five destinies (pañcagati), p. 131. However, the Traité can hardly excuse the scriptures of the Greater Vehicle for establishing the existence of the sixth gati.

The Mahāyānasūtras sometimes refer to six, sometimes to five gatis as though this option was unimportant.

1. The Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā:

The most striking example is that of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā (T 223) which establishes six gatis on p. 271b8, 348c8, 584b23, but five on p. 390b29, 405a29, 409b7, 422a2.This detail has not escaped the notice of the author of the Traité who inserts the entire text of this sūtra and did not think it necessary to modify it in the four places indicated (cf. T1509, p. 675c18, 700c1, 710a19, 745a19).

2. Other Mahāyānasūtras:

The other Mahāyānasūtras show the same inconsistencies. Here only the main ones are noted with the following examples:

Avataṃsaka (T 279).
– Five gatis, p. 92b17, 288a13, 370b27, 396a3, 417a14, 422b25, 424c10, 426a15.
– Six gatis, p. 94a9, 119b13, 170b1, 182a1, 198c16, 204b8, 256c12, 318b8.

Ratnakūṭa (T 310).
– Five gatis, p. 42b27, 46b22, 217b28, 237b13, 288c9, 441a25, 460c19, 491b29, 530a20, 536b9, 658b27, 668b21.
– Six gatis, p. 361a4, 370b26, 371b18, 378c26, 379a1, 382b23, 475c5, 530c2, 615c27.

Mahāsaṃnipāta (T 397).
– Five gatis, p. 102a10, 181a26–27, 202a24, 226a29, 232a13, 288c5, 304a16, 397c28, 405a28.
– Six gatis, 43a16, 252b18.

What is more, the two great Mahāyāna schools, the Madhyamikas and the Yogācāras, hold only five gatis.

Prasannapadā by Candrakīrti, which speaks of pañcagati saṃsāra (p.218, l. 2–3; 269, l. 9; 304, l. 4).

Śatakaśāstra by Āryadeva, T 1569, k. 1, p. 170a22, 171a8.

Prajñāpradīpa by Bhāvaviveka, T 1566, k. 10, p. 99c16.

Śikṣāsamuccaya by Śāntideva, which speaks of pañcagati saṃsāra (p.91, l. 9–10) or of pañcagatika cakra (p. 176, l. 6).

Yogācārabhūmi, Part 1, p. 44, l. 16–17.

Abhidharmasamuccaya by Asaṅga, p. 28, l. 25 (transl. W. Rahula, p. 46).
– His Vyākhyā by Sthiramati, T 1606, K. 4, p. 713b22.

Siddhi, p. 191.

3. The Madhyamakaśāstra by Nāgārjuna:

One can object that the Madhyamakaśāstra by Nāgārjuna commented on by Piṅgala (?) proposes six gatis. Actually, we read in T 1664, k. 4, p. 36b10–22:

“Beings, enveloped by ignorance in regard to rebirth, carry out actions (saṃskāra) of three kinds. Having carried out these actions, they fall into the six destinies in accordance with them. Conditioned by these actions, consciousness assumes an existence in the six destinies.”

But the original text is known to us by the Madyamakakārikā, XXVI, 1–2ab:

Punarbhavāya saṃskārān avidyānivṛtas tridhā |
abhisaṃskurute yāṃs tair gatiṃ gacchati karmabhiḥ ||
vijñānaṃ saṃniviśate saṃkārapratyayaṃ gatau |

“In view of rebirth, the being, enveloped in ignorance, carries out actions (saṃskāra) of three kinds, and by these actions, goes to his destiny. The consciousness conditioned by these actions goes to its destiny.”

In the places where the original speaks of destiny in general, the translator, in this case Kumārajīva, speaks of six destinies. The Serindian master sometimes takes liberties with the texts.

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