Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “inner, outer and both inner and outer” 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.

Emptiness 1-3: Inner, Outer and both Inner and Outer

Summary: Emptinesses of inner, outer and both inner and outer dharmas.

I. Summary definition of the three emptinesses:


[285b] 1. Inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnayatā). – Inner dharmas (adhyātmadharma) are empty of inner dharmas. Inner dharmas are the six internal bases of consciousness (ṣaḍ adhyātmāyatana): eye (cakṣus), ear (śrotra), nose (ghraṇa), tongue (jihvā), body (kāya) and mind (manas).

The eye is empty (śūnya): in it there is no ‘me’ (ātman) or ‘mine’ (ātmīya), and there is no dharma ‘eye’. It is the same for the ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.

2. Outer emptiness (bahirdhāśūnyatā). – Outer dharmas (bahirdhādharma) are empty of outer dharmas. The outer dharmas are the six external bases of consciousness (ṣaḍ bahirdhāyatana): color (rūpa), sound (śabda), smell (gandha), taste (rasa), tangible (spraṣṭavya) and dharma.

Color is empty: in it there is no ‘me’ or ‘mine’, and there is no dharma ‘color’. It is the same for sound, smell, taste, tangible and dharma.

3. Inner and outer emptiness (adhyātmabahirdhāśūnyatā). – Inner and outer dharmas (adhyātmabahirdhādharma) are empty of inner and outer dharmas (adhyātmabahirdhādharma). Inner and outer dharmas are the twelve internal and external bases of consciousness (dvādaśāyatana). In these twelve bases, there is no ‘me’ or ‘mine’ and there is no ‘inner and outer dharma’.

II. Why distinguish eighteen emptinesses:

Question. – Dharmas are innumerable (apramāṇa) and the emptinesses (śūnyatā) corresponding to these dharmas are also innumerable. Why does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra pose only eighteen? Summarily speaking (saṃkṣepeṇa), only one single emptiness, namely, “emptiness of all dharmas” (sarvadharmaśūnyatā, no. 14 in the list) is needed. Speaking at length (vistareṇa), one emptiness should be posed for each dharma: emptiness of the eye (cakṣuḥśūnyatā), emptiness of color (rūpaśūnyatā), etc.: in brief, a very considerable number. Why then does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra pose only eighteen emptinesses?

Answer. – If one speaks in summary, the subject is not fully treated; if one speaks at length, it becomes overloaded. Thus, when one takes a medicine (bhaiṣajya), if one takes too little, the sickness (vyādhi) is not removed; if one takes too much, the symptoms (upadrava) are aggravated. It is by measuring out the medicine according to the sickness and by not taking too much or too little (anūnānādhikam) that the sickness can be cured. It is the same with emptiness. If the Buddha were to speak of only one single emptiness, the many wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) and passions (kleśa) could not be destroyed; if he assumed one emptiness in regard to each wrong view, the emptinesses would be too numerous. People who cling to the nature of emptiness (śūnyatālakṣaṇābhiniviṣṭa) fall into [the extreme] of nihilism (ucchedānta); to speak of the eighteen emptinesses is to hit the target (lakṣya) right on. To speak of ten or fifteen emptinesses would likewise provoke doubts (saṃśaya), but this is not at issue.

Moreover, good (kuśala) and bad (akuśala) dharmas exist in definite (niyata) numbers. There are four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna), four right efforts (samyakpradhāna), thirty-seven auxiliaries to enlightenment (bodhipākṣika), ten powers (bala), four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya), four unhindered knowledges [285c] (pratisaṃvid), eighteen special attributes (āveṇikadharma),[2] five aggregates (skandha), twelve bases of consciousness (āyatana), eighteen elements (dhātu), twelve causes (nidāna), three poisons (viṣa), three bonds (bandhana),[3] four torrents (ogha),[4] five obstacles (nīvaraṇa),[5] etc. Therefore dharmas exist in definite numbers. It is by means of eighteen sorts of dharmas that one destroys the tendencies (abhiniveśa) towards them: this is why eighteen emptinesses are posed.

III. Relationship between the perfection of wisdom and the eighteen emptinesses

Question. – Prajñāpāramitā and the eighteen emptinesses are either different or the same. If they are different, then what is this Prajñāpāramitā distinct from the eighteen emptinesses? See what the Buddha said: “What is this Prajñāpāramitā? It is the emptiness of form (rūpaśūnyatā), the emptiness of feelings, concepts, volitions, consciousnesses (vednāsaṃjñāsaṃskṛtavijñānaśūnyatā) and so on up to the emptiness of the cognition of all the aspects (sarvakārajñatāśūnyatā).”[6] – If they are not different, why does [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] say here that “the bodhisattva who wishes to become established in the eighteen emptinesses should exert himself in the prajñāpāramitā”?

Answer. – There are reasons to say they are different and there are reasons to say they are the same.

1) They are different. – The prajñāpāramitā called the true nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa) stops all consideration about dharmas (dharmanidhyāna).[7] The eighteen emptinesses are eighteen ways of considering dharmas as empty. By exerting himself in the true nature of dharmas, the bodhisattva produces these eighteen kinds of emptiness. Therefore [prajñāpmaramitā and the eighteen emptinesses] are different.

2) They are the same. – The eighteen emptinesses are empty (śūnya) and unreal (asadbhūtalakṣaṇa); Prajñāpāramitā also is empty and unreal. – The eighteen emptinesses are the rejection of characteristics (nimittaparityāga); Prajñāpāramitā also is the rejection of characteristics. – The eighteen emptinesses are not attached to any characteristic; prajñāpāramitā also is not attached to any characteristic. Consequently, to exert oneself in the prajñāpāramitā is to exert oneself in the eighteen emptinesses: there is no difference.

Prajñāpāramitā has two parts (bhāga, aṃśa), the lesser and the greater.[8] The person who wants to attain the greater should first exert himself in the lesser, namely the ‘gate of means’ (upāyamukha). To attain the greater prajñā, it is necessary to practice the eighteen emptinesses, and it is by first staying in the lesser prajñā, namely the ‘gate of means’, that the eighteen emptinesses are acquired.

What is this ‘gate of means’ (upayamukha)? It is learning (udgrahītum), reciting (vācayitum), retaining (dhārayitum), studying (paryavāptum) and textually applying (bhāvanākāreṇa prayoktum)[9] the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra.

Just as a man who wants to find all kinds of fine jewels (ratna) must go to the great ocean (mahāsamudra), so the person who wants to acquire these jewels of the prajñā which are the concentrations (samādhi) on inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā), etc., must go to the great ocean of the prajñāpāramitā [by reading the texts dedicated to it].

IV. The first three emptinesses and the four foundations of mindfulness:


Question. – Why does the yogin who is exerting himself in the prajñāpāramitā first stay in the emptiness of inner dharmas (adhyātmaśūnyatā), the emptiness of outer dharmas (bahirdhāśūṇyatā) and the emptiness of inner and outer dharmas (adhyātmabahirdhāśūnayatā)?

Answer. – There are four mistakes (viparyāsa) in the world: i) the mistake of taking that which is impure to be pure (aśucau śucir iti viparyāsa); ii) the mistake of taking that which is suffering to be happy (duḥkhe sukham iti viparyāsa); iii) the mistake of taking that which is impermanent to be permanent (anitye nityam iti viparyāsa); iv) the mistake of taking that which is not a ‘self’ to be a ‘self’ (anātmany ātmeti viparyāsa).[11]

In order to destroy the four mistakes, the yogin cultivates the twelve considerations (samanupaśyanā) inherent in the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna):[12]

1. Considerationa 1–3 coming under Kāyasmṛtyupasthāna

a. First he considers [his own body], the inner body (adhyātmakāya): consisting of thirty-six elements (dhātu),[13] full of impurities (aśuci) that flow out of the nine holes (navacchidra),[14] it is very disgusting and void of any pure [286a] character. This absence of pure character (śucilakṣaṇānupalabdhi) is called emptiness of inner dharmas (adhyātmaśūnyatā).

b. Knowing the impurity of the inner body, the yogin next considers [another’s body], the outer body (bahirdhākāya), which is, for him, an object of attachment. But here it is the same thing; the two bodies are really impure. “Foolish worldly people (bālapṛthagjana), fanatical and disturbed, in whom desire (rāga) has covered their minds, claim that this body is pure; but when I consider the beauty that I love, it is exactly the same as my own body.” This absence of pure nature [in another’s body] is the emptiness of outer dharmas (bahirdhāśūnyatā).

c. When the yogin was considering the impurity of his own body, it happened that he said that another’s body (bahirdhārūpa) is beautiful, and when he was considering the body of another, it happened that he said that his own body was pure. Now he considers both the inner [body] and the outer [body], and he notices: “My own body is impure and that of another is impure also; the body of another and mine are quite alike: they are no different.” This absence of pure characteristic [characterizing both one’s own body and that of another] is the emptiness of inner and outer dharmas (adhyātmabahirdhāśūnyatā).

2. Considerations 4–6 coming under Vedanāsmṛtyupasthāna

a. The yogin knows by reflection (manasikāra) that the inner body and the outer body are both impure, but indecisive people cling to it because of a group of feelings (vedanākāya), [namely, pleasant feeling (sukhavedanā)]. This group is a lot of suffering (duḥkha), but fools (mūḍha) consider it to be happiness (sukha).[15]

Question. – But the three kinds of feeling, [sukhavedanā, duḥkhavedanā, aduḥkhāsukhavedanā] are all included (saṃgṛhīta) in the external bases of consciousness (bahirdhāyatana); why is it said then that the yogin “considers the internal feeling” (adhyātmavedanāṃ samanupaśyati)?[16]

Answer. – First, the meeting between the six objects (viṣaya) and the six organs (indriya) gives rise to a happiness called external happiness (bahirdhāsukha); then, extreme desire (prarigredha), penetrating deeply, gives rise to a happiness called internal happiness (adhyātmasukha).

In addition, the happiness that has internal dharmas as condition (adhyātmadharma-pratyayaṃ sukham) is called internal happiness, and the happiness that has external dharmas as condition (bahirdhādharmapratyayaṃ sukham) is called external happiness.

In addition, the happiness associated with the [first] five consciousnesses (pañcavijñānasaṃprayukta) is called external happiness, and the happiness associated with the mental consciousness (manovijñānasaṃprayukta) is called internal happiness. The coarse (audārika) happiness is called external happiness, and the subtle (sūkṣma) happiness is called internal happiness.

These are the distinctions between internal and external happiness, and they are also valid in regard to unpleasant feeling (duḥkhavedanā) and neither unpleasant nor pleasant feeling (aduḥkāsukhavedanā).

Moreover, the yogin reflects and wonders whether this internal happiness (adhyātmasukha) really exists or if it is imaginary (vikalpita). He recognizes that it is just suffering (duḥkha) to which the name of happiness (sukha) is applied.

Furthermore, the yogin reflects and wonders whether this internal happiness (adhyātmasukha) really exists (na tattvenopalabhyate) or whether it is imaginary (vikalpita). He recognizes that it is merely suffering (duḥkha) to which the name of happiness (sukha) is given out of habit. Why? Because this happiness, coming from unfortunate causes and conditions (duḥkhahetuprayayaja), itself arouses a painful fruit of retribution (duḥkhavipākaphala). The happiness of which one is never satiated is suffering.

Furthermore, when a person suffering from scabies (kacchū)[17] scratches himself or approaches a fire, the slight suffering [that he momentarily experienced] is followed by a physical suffering and becomes a great suffering. What the fool (mūdha) calls happiness, the wise man (jñānin) sees in it only suffering. In the same way, people (loka), victims of the error consisting of taking [what is suffering] to be happiness (duḥkhe sukham iti viparyāsa), cling to the happiness resulting from the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa) and their passions (kleśa) increase. For this reason, the yogin does not see happiness and “considers only suffering, like a sickness, a boil, an ulcer, a thorn” (duḥkaṃ rogato śalyataḥ samupaśyati).[18]

Furthermore, since happiness is rare and suffering frequent, the small amount of happiness does not appear and is therefore called suffering. It is like a ko of salt (lavaṇa) thrown into a big river: it loses its salty characteristic and is no longer called salty.[19]

Finally, happiness is so poorly established (aniyata) that there is doubt (śaṅkā)[20] about it: what one person considers as happiness, another person considers as suffering; and what the other person considers as happiness, the first person considers as suffering. That which one gains is happiness, that which [286b] one loses is suffering. That which the fool takes to be happiness, the wise man takes to be suffering. Seeing the torments of happiness is suffering; not seeing the defects of happiness is happiness. Not seeing the impermanent nature of happiness (anityalakṣaṇa) is happiness; seeing the impermanent nature of happiness is suffering. What the person not detached from desire (avītarāga) takes to be happiness, the person detached from desire (vītarāga) takes to be suffering.

Therefore the yogin considers happiness (sukha) as suffering; he considers suffering to be an arrow (śalya) piercing the body; he considers the impermanent and changing characteristics (anityavipariṇāmalakṣaṇa) of that which is neither suffering nor happiness (aduḥkhāsukha). Considering the threefold feeling [pleasant, unpleasant, neither pleasant nor unpleasant] in this way, he mentally rejects it, and this is called the emptiness of internal feelings (adhyātmavedanāśūnyatā).

b–c. His considerations on external feelings (bahirdhāvedanā) and on both internal and external feelings (adhyātmabahirdhāvedanā) are similar.

3. Considerations 7–9 coming under cittasmṛtyupasthāna

The yogin has this thought: If happiness is suffering, then who experiences (prativedayati) suffering? Having reflected, he knows that it is the mind (citta) that experiences it. Next, he considers the mind in order to know if it is true or false. He notices that the mind is impermanent (anitya) and has production (utpāda), duration (sthiti) and disappearance (vyaya) as characteristics.[21] The mind of unpleasant feeling (duḥkhavedanā), the mind of pleasant feeling (sukhavedanā) and the mind of neither unpleasant nor pleasant feeling each constitutes a different moment (bhinnalakṣaṇa): when the pleasant mind disappears, the unpleasant mind arises; the unpleasant mind lasts for the space of an instant and, having lasted, it disappears; next, there arises a neither unpleasant nor pleasant mind. This neither unpleasant nor pleasant mind lasts for the space of an instant and, having lasted, it disappears; when it has disappeared, there arises again a pleasant mind. The three feelings (vedanā) being impermanent, the mind (citta) also is impermanent.

Furthermore, the ascetic knows that there are minds of lust (rāga) or non-lust, of hatred (dveṣa) or non-hatred, of delusion (moha) or non-delusion, distracted (vikṣipta) or concentrated (saṃgṛhīta), fettered (baddha) or liberated (vimukta), and he knows that these minds each have a different characteristic. Thus he knows that the mind is impermanent (anitya), that there is no fixed (niyata) mind lasting for eternity. Minds experiencing suffering, minds experiencing happiness, etc., arise from a complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasamāgrī), and when these causes and conditions disperse, the minds disappear as well.

This is how the yogin considers the impermanent nature (anityalakṣaṇa) of the inner minds (adhyātmacitta), the outer minds (bahirdhācitta) and the both internal and external minds (adhyātmabahirdhācitta).

Question. – Since the mind consists of the inner bases of consciousness (adhyātmāyatana), how can there be external minds (bahirdhācitta)?[22]

Answer. – When the inner body [i.e., one’s own body] is being considered, there is ‘inner mind’ (adhyātmacitta); but when the outer body [i.e., another’s body] is being considered, there is ‘outer mind’.

Moreover, if it concerns (ālambate) inner dharmas, the mind is inner; but if it concerns external dharmas, the mind is external.

Moreover, the [first] five consciousnesses (pañcavijñāna) always concern outer dharmas and, being unable to make distinctions, are outer minds; but the mental consciousness (manovijñāna), being concerned with inner dharmas and distinguishing beauty from ugliness, is an inner mind.

Finally, the mental consciousness which, on its arising, is incapable of distinguishing and specifying, is an external mind; but the developed and deepened mental consciousness which can make distinctions and grasp characteristics (nimitta) is an inner mind. Such are the distinctions between inner and outer minds.

4. Considerations 10–12 coming under dharmasmṛtyupasthāna

The yogin whose mind (citta and manas) has been cultivated knows that the body (kāya) is of impure nature (aśucilakṣaṇa), that feeling (vedanā) is suffering in nature (duḥkhalakṣaṇa) and that the mind (citta) has no duration and is impermanent in nature (anityalakṣaṇa). Nevertheless, not having yet broken through the fetters (samucchinnasaṃyojana), he still happens to be aware of self (ahaṃkāra).

Then he has the following thought: “If the mind is impermanent, who is cognizing the mind and on whom does the mind depend? Who is the master (svāmin) of the mind that is experiencing suffering and happiness? To whom does everything belong?” Then he analyzes and recognizes that there is no master as [286c] a separate entity (bhinna).

One grasps characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇāti) in the five aggregates (skandha) and, just for this single reason, one imagines the existence of ‘a man’ (puruṣa) and one produces the idea of ‘me’ (ātman). From the idea of ‘me’ comes the idea of ‘mine’ (ātmīya), and from the idea of ‘mine’ comes that of existence (bhāva). Toward those who benefit (hita) us, we feel love (rāga); toward those who thwart us, we feel hatred (dveṣa); these two fetters (saṃyojana) do not come from knowledge (jñāna) but from error: this is what is called delusion (moha). The triple poison (triviṣa), love, hatred and delusion, is the root (mūla) of all the passions (kleśa).

By means of egotism (ahaṃkāra), one accomplishes meritorious actions (puṇya) “in order,” one says, “that I may then be able to cultivate the auxiliary dharmas of the Path and may be able to attain deliverance (mokṣa).”

The grasping of characteristics (nimittodgrahaṇa) that occurred at the beginning is called the ‘concept aggregate’ (saṃjñāskandha). Then out of egotism (ahaṃkāra), one produces the fetters and the good formations called the ‘formation aggregate’ (saṃskāraskandha). These two aggregates are [the object] of mindfulness of dharmas (dharmasmṛtyupasthāna).[23] The yogin, who is seeking the ātman in these dharmas that are the saṃjñāskandha and the saṃskāraskandha, does not find it there. Why? Because dharmas are the result of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasamutpanna), are all of them conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) and have no solidity (sāra): there is no true ātman.[24]

“The formations are like the trunk of a banana tree” (saṃskmarāḥ kadalīnibhāḥ):[25] leaf by leaf it is examined, but no pith (sāra) is found. – “Concept is like a mirage (marīcisadṛśī saṃjñā) seen from afar:” without there being any water there, one gets the notion that there is water, one has the concept of water but it is nothing but an illusion.

Such are the considerations on inner, outer and both inner and outer dharmas.

Question. – Dharmas being included in the outer bases of consciousness (bahirdhāyatana), how can there be inner dharmas (adhyātmadharma)?[26]

Answer. – By inner dharmas (adhyātmadharma) we mean the skandha of concept (saṃjñāskandha) and the skandha of formations (saṃkāraskandha) associated with the inner mind (adhyātmacittasaṃprayukta). – By outer dharmas (bahirdhādharma) we mean: i) the skandha of concept (saṃjñāskandha) and the skandha of formations (saṃskāraskandha) associated with the outer mind (bahirdhācittasaṃprayukta); ii) the formations dissociated from the mind (cittaviprayukta-saṃskāra); iii) the unconditioned dharmas (asaṃskṛtadharma). – Taken simultaneously and together [these internal and external dharmas] are called ‘both inner and outer dharmas’ (adhyātmabahirdhādharma).

Furthermore, the inner dharmas are the six organs (ṣaḍindriya); the outer dharmas are the six objects (ṣaḍviṣaya).

Finally, the general considerations (samanupaśyanā) on i) the body (kāya), ii) the sensations (vedanā), iii) the mind (citta), iv) the aggregate of concept (saṃjñāskandha) and v) the aggregate of formations (saṃskāraskandha) are the mindfulness of dharmas (dharmasmṛtyupasthmāna) Why is that?

Actually, the yogin first looks for the ātman in the aggregate of concept (saṃjñāskandha) but does not find it there. He then turns his search to the body (kāya), sensations (vedanā) and mind (citta), but does not find it there either. In no matter what dharma, be it material (rūpin) or non-material (arūpin), visible (sanidarśana) or invisible (anidarśana), resistant (sapratigha) or non-resistant (apratigha), impure (sāsrava) or pure (anāsrava), conditioned (saṃskṛta) or unconditioned (asaṃskṛta), distant (dūre) or near (sāntike), coarse (audārika) or subtle (sūkṣma), the yogin seeks in vain for the ātman but does not find it. It is only to the complex of the five aggregates (pañcaskandasāmagrī) that the name of being (sattva) is given out of habit, and ‘being’ is synonymous with ātman. The self (ātman) being non-existent (anupalabdha), neither is there any ‘mine’ (ātmīya) and, the ‘mine’ being non-existent, all the passions (kleśa) are eliminated.

5. Summary

A. The foundation of mindfulness of the body (kāyasmṛtyupasthāna) concerns all material dharmas (rūpadharma).

[As a first approach], the yogin considers the inner material things (adhyātmarūpa) as being impermanent (anitya), painful (duḥkha), empty (śūnya) and without self (anātman).

[As a second and third approach], he considers outer material things (bahirdhārūpa), then inner and outer material things (adhyātmabahirdhārūpa) likewise as being [impermanent, painful, empty and without self].

[The other three foundations of mindfulness consider] sensations (vedanā), mind (citta) and dharmas as being likewise [impermanent, painful, empty and without self, respectively].

B. The concentration of emptiness (śūnyatāsamādhi) associated with the inner considerations (adhyātmanupaśyanā) of the four foundations of mindfulness is called inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā). [287a]

The concentration of emptiness associated with the outer considerations (bahirdhānupaśyana) of the four foundations of mindfulness is called outer emptiness (bahirdhāśūnyatā).

The concentration of emptiness associated with inner and outer considerations (adhyātmabahirdhānupaśyana) of the four foundations of mindfulness is called inner and outer emptiness (adhyātmabahirdhāśūnyatā).

V. The three emptinesses result from concentration

Question. – Are the emptinesses in question empty by the power of concentration (samādhibala) or are they empty in themselves?

Answer. – They are empty by the power of concentration,[27] as is said in a sūtra: “The three concentrations (samādhi) or the three doors to deliverance (vimokṣamukha) are emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) amd wishlessness (apranihita). The concentration of emptiness (śūnyatāsamādhi) concerns (ālambate) the body (kāya), the sensations (vedanā), the mind (citta) and dharmas, and since no self (ātman) or ‘mine’ (ātmiya) is found therein, it is called [the concentration] of emptiness.”[28]

VI. Relationships of the four general characteristics of conditioned dharmas and the four view-points of the foundations of mindfulness

Question. – The four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) should all consider empty dharmas as being impermanent (anitya), painful (duḥkha), empty (śūnya) and without self (anātman). Why then do they consider [respectively] the body (kāya) as impure (aśuci), the sensations (vedanā) as suffering (duḥkha), the mind (citta) as impermanent (anitya) and the dharmas as empty of self (anātman)?

Answer. – All consider the four things as impermanent, suffering, empty and without self. However, in regard to the body, beings cling especially to the mistake of taking [what is impure] to be pure (aśucau śucir iti viparyāsa); in regard to the sensations, they cling especially to the mistake of taking [what is suffering] to be happy (duḥkhe sukham iti viparyāsa); in regard to the mind, they cling especially to the mistake of taking [what is impermanent] to be permanent (anitye nityam iti viparyāsa), and in regard to dharmas, they cling especially to the mistake of taking [what is not a self] to be a self (anātmany ātmeti viparyāsa). This is why, [in the course of the four foundations of mindfulness], the yogin considers the body as impure, the sensations as painful, the mind as impermanent, and the dharmas as being deprived of self.

Furthermore, in regard to inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā) and outer emptiness (bahirdhāśūnyata), there is no dharma that is definitively inner or definitively outer for, depending [on one another] as mutual cause (sahabhūhetu), they can be said to be [sometimes] inner and [sometimes] outer. In fact, what my neighbor considers as outer (bahirdhā), I consider to be inner (adhyātma), and what I hold to be outer, my neighbor considers to be inner. It depends on the subject [and not on the object] that the inner dharma is inner, and it depends on the subject [and not on the object] that the outer dharma is outer. Thus for a given individual, his own house is inner, but the house of another is outer. For the yogin who is considering inner and outer dharmas, they have no fixed nature (niyatalakṣaṇa); therefore they are empty (śūnya).

Finally, inner and outer dhrmas have no intrinsic nature (svabhāva). Why? Because they arise from an assemblage (sāmagrī) [of causes and conditions].[29] These dharmas are not found in the assembled causes and conditions and, since they do not exist in their causes and conditions, they are not found elsewhere either.[30] The causes and conditions of inner and outer dharmas do not exist either. Thus as the cause (kāraṇa) and the effect (kārya) are absent, inner and outer dharmas are empty.

VII. The problem of the whole and the part


Question. –From all evidence (niyatam) inner and outer dharmas exist; why do you say that they do not exist? Thus, when the hands (pāṇi), feet (pāda), etc., come together, there is birth of the body-dharma (kāyadharma): it is an inner dharma (adhyātmadharma). When the beams (gosāraka), walls (bhitti), etc., are brought together, there is the arising of the house-dharma (gṛhadharma): it is an outer dharma (bahirdhādharma). Although the body-dharma has a different name than its parts (avayava), it is not different from the foot, etc. Why? Because in the absence of the foot, etc., the body would not exist. It is the same for the house.

Answer. – If the foot were no different than the body, the head (śiras) would be the foot, since, [in your hypothesis], the foot is not different from the body. But if the head were the foot, that is perfectly ridiculous.

Question. – If the foot were not different from than the body, your objection would be valid. But in the present case, it is necessary that the foot, etc., be brought together in order that there be the arising of the dharma called body. Although the body is different from the foot, etc., it must depend on the foot in order to [287b] subsist. In the same way, the threads (tantu) must be brought together in order to produce a cloth (paṭa): this cloth depends on the threads to exist.

Answer. – [Two things, first]: either this body-dharma occurs at the same time in all its parts (avayavin), the foot, etc., or else it occurs separately.

a. If the body occurs at once in all its parts, the foot (pāda) would be also in the head (śiras). Why? Because [by the hypothesis] the body-dharma occurs [in all the parts] at once.

b. If the body existed separately, it would not be different from the other parts, foot, etc., [in the sense that it would cease being a whole to become a part].

Furthermore, the body, [as a whole (avayavin)], is a single thing whereas its causes, [as ‘parts’ (avayava)], are many. But singularity (ekatva) is not plurality (nānātva), and plurality is not singularity.

Finally, to claim that a special dharma called ‘body’ exists outside of its parts is to be in contradiction with the whole world.

Thus one cannot say that the body is identical with its parts or that it is different from its parts. This is why there is no body and, the body not existing, the foot, etc., does not exist either. That is what should be understood by inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā).

Outer dharmas, houses, etc., also are empty in the same way. That is what is meant by outer emptiness (bahirdhāśūnyatā).

Question. – Destroying the body (kāya), the house (gṛha), etc., is to destroy singularity (ekatva) and multiplicity (pṛthaktva). Destroying singularity and multiplicity is the work of the heretical sūtras.[32] In Buddhist sūtras, inner and outer dharmas really exist (adhyātmabahirdhā-dharma), namely, the six inner organs (adhyātmendriya) and the six outer objects (bahirdhāviṣaya). Why do you say they do not exist?

Answer. – These inner and outer dharmas are assemblages existing metaphorically (prajñaptisat) as simple names (nāmamātra) as was the case for the body or the house.

VIII. Emptiness according to the two vehicles

Furthermore, in brief (saṃkṣepeṇa), there are two kinds of emptiness: the emptiness of beings (sattvaśūnyatā) and the emptiness of dharmas (dharmaśūnyatā).[33] For the disciples of the Hīnayāna ‘Lesser Vehicle’ who are of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya), the emptiness of beings is taught so that, freed [from notions] of ‘me’ (ātman) and ‘mine’ (ātmīya), they do not become attached to any others. – For the disciples of the Mahāyāna ‘Greater Vehicle’ who are of keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya), the emptiness of dharmas is taught, and immediately they know that saṃsāra is eternally empty (nityaśūnya) and the same as nirvāṇa.

The śrāvakas and their scholars (upadeśācārya) teach inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā): “In inner dharmas (adhyātmadharma) there is neither ‘me’ (ātman) nor ‘mine’ (ātmīya), neither eternal entity nor agent (kāraka), neither a knower nor an experiencer (vedaka): this is called inner emptiness, and it is the same for outer emptiness.” However, they do not teach that inner and outer dharmas are empty [of their respective characteristics]. – The Mahayānists, on the other hand, say that, in inner dharmas, the nature of inner dharma is absent and that in outer dharmas the nature of outer dharma is absent.

This is what is said in the Prajñāpāramitā: “Form is empty of the nature of form (rūpaṃ rūpatvena śūnyam); feeling (vedanā), concept (saṃjñā), volition (saṃskāra) and consciousness (vijñana) are empty of the nature [of feeling, concept, volition and] consciousness. The eye is empty of the nature of eye (cakṣuś cakṣustvena śūnyam); the ear (śrotra), nose (ghrāṇa), tongue (jihvā), body (kāya) and mind organ (manas) are empty of the natures [of ear, nose, tongue, body] and mind. Color is empty of the nature of color (rūpaṃ rūpatvena śūnyam); soumd (śabda), smell (gandha), taste (rasa), tangible (spraṣṭavya) and dharmas are empty of the natures [of sound, smell, taste, tangible and] dharma. All these dharmas are empty of self nature.”[34]

Question. – [Emptiness of beings (sattvaśūnyatā) and emptiness of dharmas] are two ways of teaching inner and outer emptiness. Which one is true?

Answer. – Both are true. For disciples of little knowledge (alpajñāna) and weak faculties (mṛdvindriya), only the emptiness of beings is first taught, and for beings of great knowledge (mahājñāna) and keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya), the emptiness of dharmas is taught. [The Hīnayānist śrāvaka] is like a prisoner (kārāstha) who breaks his bonds (bandhana), kills the prison guard (kārādhyakṣa) and can leave at will; [the Mahāyānist is like this other one] who, out of fear of brigands (caura), makes a hole in the wall and escapes (niḥsaraṇa).

Destroying only the causes and conditions of his egotism (ahaṃkāra), the śrāvaka no longer produces[35] passions (kleśa) and eliminates the thirst for dharmas (dharmatṛṣṇā), but fearing the suffering of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi), death (maraṇa) and the evil destinies (durgati), he does not investigate [287c] the beginning of desire (kāma) and does not destroy dharmas at the root: for him, only deliverance (vimukti) is important. – The Mahāyānist, on the other hand, destroys the prison of the triple world (traidhātuka), subdues the armies of Māra (mārasenā), breaks the fetters (saṃyojana) and eliminates the traces of the passions (vāsanā); he knows clearly the beginning and end of all dharmas; his penetrations (prativedha) are unhindered (nīvaraṇa);[36] he destroys and scatters all dharmas so well [that to his eyes] saṃsāra is the same as nirvāṇa[37] and is merged with calm (upaśama), cessation (nirodha). The Mahāyānist attains supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi), guides all beings and makes them come out of the triple world.

IX. Method of teaching emptiness

Question. – By what method (upāya) does the Mahāyāna destroy the dharmas?

Answer. – [In the Phenasutta] the Buddha said: “Form (rūpa) born from many causes and conditions has no solidity (sāratā). Waves (taraṅga) on the water produce a ball of foam (phenapiṇḍa) which, as soon as it is seen, disappears; it is the same for form.”[38]

When the four great elements (mahābhūta) of the present existence (ihajanman) are brought together, they produce a form, but as soon as thesse causes and conditions disappear, the form disappears along with them.

The practitioner who follows the path of impermanence (anityatāmārga) penetrates gradually into the door of emptiness (śūnyatāmukha). How is that? The dharmas that perish as soon as they are born have not even a moment of duration (sthiti) and, not having a moment of duration, are not grasped.

Furthermore, by virtue of the characteristics of conditioned [dharmas] (saṃskṛtalakṣaṇa), at the moment of production (utpāda) there is disappearance (vyaya) and at the moment of disappearance there is production. If dharmas are already produced, production is useless; if they are not produced, production produces nothing.[39] Between dharma and production there can be no difference. Why? If production had the nature of production (utpādalakṣaṇa), there would have to be ‘production of production’ (utpādotpāda), and this in turn would need a production: hence an infinite regression (anavasthā).[40] If the ‘production of production’ did not in its turn have a production, the [initial] production would not have a production either. If the [initial] production did not have production, the dharma itself would not have it either. Thus, production does not exist (nopalabhyate), neither does disappearance (vyaya). Therefore dharmas are empty (śūnya), without production (anutpāda), without destruction (anirodha): that is the truth.

Finally, if dharmas exist, they end up in non-existence finally. But that which is subsequently non-existent should also be previously non-existent. Thus, when a man wears wooden shoes (kāṣuthapādaukā) for the first time, they already possess [this non-existence], but as it is subtle, it is not noticed.[41] If the shoes did not possess this non-existence from the beginning, they would always be new. If they possess it afterwards, it is because they already possessed it previously. It is the same for dharmas: if they possess non-existence afterwards, it is because they already possess it before.

This is why all dharmas are necessarily empty. But as the result of a mistake consisting of taking to be a being that which is not a being (sattva sattva iti viparyāsa), one becomes attached to the six inner organs (adhyātmendriya). The yogin, however, destroys this error and this is what is called inner emptiness (adhyātmaśūnyatā). It is the same for the outer emptiness (bahirdhāśūnyatā) and the both inner and outer emptiness (adhyātmabahirdhāśūnyatā).

Footnotes and references:


These three emptinesses were already grouped together in the Mahāsuññatsutta of Majjhima, III, p. 112 (cf. T 26, k. 49, p. 738c). They concern the twelve āyatanas, i.e., all things together since “the twelve āyatanas are called everything” (sabbaṃ vuccati dvādasāyatāni). For the śrāvakas, they are empty of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ (śūnyāny ātmanā vātmīyena vā); for the Mahāyānists for whom the Traité is the spokesman here, they are not only empty of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ but empty of intrinsic nature (svabhāva) and the characteristics (lakṣaṇa) of āyatana. In a word, the śrāvakas teach the emptiness of beings (sattvaśūnayatā) or anātman whereas the Mahāyāna teaches both the emptiness of beings and the emptiness of things (dharmaśūnyatā): cf. p. 239F, 1090F-1091F.


These dharmas of the Path and attributes of the Buddhas have been discussed in chapters XXXI to XLII.


The three bandhanas, like the three poisons, are rāga, dveṣa and moha: cf. Saṃyutta, IV, p. 292, l. 20; Kośa, V, p. 87.


The oghas (or yogas) are the torrents of kāma, bhava, dṛṣṭi, and avidyā; cf. Dīgha, III, p. 230, 276; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 175; Vibhāṅga, p. 375; Kośa, V, p. 75.


Cf. p. 1013F.


San houei p’in in Pañcaviṃśati, T 223, k. 21, p. 373b22 seq. Subhūti had asked the Buddha: At the time when he is practicing the prajñāpāramitā, how should the bodhisattva-mahāsattva exert himself in rūpa, how should he exert himself in vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra and vijñāna, and finally how should he exert himself in sarvakārajñatā?


On the equivalence of Prajñāramitā = Dharmatā of true nature of dharmas, see above, p. 655–656F, 1059F


The greater Prajñāpāramitā is identical with the true nature of dharmas; the lesser Prajñāpāramitā is the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras where the eighteen emptinesses constituting the gate of entry into the true nature of dharmas are taught.


For this phrase, cf. Vimalakīrtinirdeśa transl., p. 368, 370–371, 372, 373, 388, 390.


The author returns to this subject which he has already treated at length, p. 1150–1176F, 1187–1194F. Here he establishes a parallel between the four smṛtyupasthÌas and the first three emptinesses. The smṛtyupasthānas and the emptinesses concern inner, outer, both inner and outer dharmas, but the former lead to the conclusion that they are empty of ‘me’ and ‘mine’; the latter, that they are devoid of self nature and characteristics and, as a result, without production or destruction.

For the Anguttara, I, p. 196, 10–16, the four satipaṭṭānas (kāye kāyānupassī viharati, etc.) constitute the majjhimā paṭipadā; for the Madh. kārikā, XXIV, 18, śūnyatā, the designation by virtue of (prajñaptir upādāya), is the pratipad madhyamā. Two entities equal to a third entity…


Cf. p. 925F, 1076F, 1151F.


During the four smṛtyupasthānas, the practitioner turns his attention to the body (kāya), feelings (vedanā), mind (citta) and dharmas. He examines each of these objects first within himself (adhyātmam), then outside himself (bahirdhā) and finally inside and outside himself (adhyātmabahirdhā): thus making a total of twelve considerations.


Cf. p. 1297F, n. 2.


Cf. p. 1154–1155F, n.


Cf. p. 1159F.


This problem has already been treated above, p. 1173–1175F.


Example already used above, p. 1157F.


Cf. p. 1222F, note.


Classical comparison: cf. Anguttara, I, p. 250: Seyyathāpi bhikkhave puriso loṅaphalaṃ Gaṅgāya nadiyā pakkipeyya. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha bhikkhave. Api nu sā Gaṅgā nadī amunā loṇaphalena loṇa assa apeyyā ti. – No h’etaṃ bhante. – Taṃ kissa hetu. – Asu hi bhante Gaṅgāya nadiyā mahā udakakkhando. So amunā loṇaphalena na loṇo assa apeyyo ti.


Adopting the variant houo.


Conditioned by causes, the mind inevitably has the three or four conditioned characteristics (saṃskṛtalakṣaṇa): cf. p. 36–37F, 992F, 1163F.


This subject has already been treated above, p. 1175F.


Among the five skandhas, rūpa is the object belonging to kāyasmṛtyupasthāna; vedanā, that of vedanāsmṛtyupasthāna; saṃjñā, the saṃskāras and vijñāna, those of cittasmṛtyupasthāna. As for dharmasmṛtyupasthāna, it can bear upon any skandha whatsoever, since it includes the totality of dharmas.


The punctuation of the Taishō is defective: the final period should be placed between fa and hing.


Allusion to a verse of the Pheṇasutta of Saṃyutta, III, p. 142. See references, p. 370, as note; Vimalakīrti, transl. p. 132, n. 23.


This question has already been discussed above, p. 1175–1176F.


There are close connections between the three concentrations (p. 1213F-1232F) and the four foundations of mindfulness (p. 1150F-1176F; 1187F-1194F on the one hand and the three emptinesses on the other hand. They are not substantial entities, but rather cittasya sthitiḥ, situations of mind (p. 1213F-1214F), concentrations (samādhi) of the mind centered on emptiness, empty of individuals (sattvaśūnya) for the śrāvaka, empty of things (dharmaśūnyatā) for the bodhisattva. These mental practices closely tied to the comprehension of the four noble truths converge on the same result: the rejection of the world and entry into nirvāṇa. The three concentrations are the vimokṣamukhas or doors of deliverance (p. 1213F); the three emptinesses, by radically removing the imaginary seeing of the inner, outer or mixed world, assure the mind of this supreme pacification that is nirvāṇa.

The three mental practices, concentrations, foundations of mindfulness and emptinesses are shared by the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas, with the difference, essential it is true, that the former penetrate only the emptiness of beings whereas the latter penetrate both the emptiness of beings and the emptiness of things. The śrāvakas still cling to characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇanti) within and outside themselves; the bodhisattvas see them no longer and everything ends in a total absence of vision for them. It would be absurd to hypostatize an emptiness that is something other than an absence of vision and fruit of a certain situation of mind.

J. May comments: “This absence of vision in the great bodhisattvas starting with the eighth bhūmi is not something negative: it constitutes the result of a long effort by the mind; it is the very vision par excellence: the bodhisattvas see by not seeing.” We may add Nāgārjuna, Madh. kārikā, III, §6: “With or without seeing, the agent of seeing does not exist” (tiraskṛtya draṣṭā nāsty atiraskṛtya ca darśanam).


This unidentified sūtra establishes a close relationship among the śūnyatā-samādhis and the smṛtyupasthānas bearing on the body, the sensations, the mind and dharmas leading to the conclusion that they are empty of ‘me’ and ‘mine’.


Cf. Madh. kārikā, VII, §16 (p. 159–160):

Pratītya yad yad bhavati tat tac śāntaṃ svabhāvataḥ |
tasmād utpadyamānaṃ ca śantam utpattir eva ca ||

Everything that is the result of something is pacified as to its intrinsic nature. [The vṛtti explains śāntaṃ svabhāvataḥ as svabhāvavirahitam “without intrinsic nature”.] Thus what is produced is pacified, and the production also.


Cf. Madh. kārikā, XX, §1–2 (p. 391–392):

Hetoś ca pratyayānāṃ ca sāmagryā yadi |
phalam asti ca sāmagryāṃ smamagryā jāyate katham ||
hetoś ca pratyayānāṃ ca sāmagryā jāyate yadi |
phalaṃ nāsti sāmagryāṃ sāmagryā jāyate katham ||

If the fruit arises from an assemblage of causes and conditions and [according to you] the fruit is within this assemblage, how then would it arise from the assemblage [since it is already therein]?

If the fruit arises from an assemblage of causes and conditions and [according to you] the fruit is not within this assemblage, how then would it arise from the assemblage [since it does not occur within it]?


This problem has already been discussed above, p. 1217F-1218F.


The character p’o appearing in the fourth place in line 287b11 should probably be removed.


Cf. p. 239F, 1079F, 1685F.


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 128 (T 223, k. 3, p. 235a11; k. 9, p. 288b10; k. 16, p. 337b4, k. 21, p. 372c11; 373c3: tathā hi rūpaṃ rūpatvena śūnyam… yā ca rūpasya śūnyatā na tad rūpam. na cānyatra śūnyatāya rūpam. rūpam eva śūnyatā śūnyataiva rūpam. And so on for all dharmas of which the complete list is given by the Śatasāhasrikā, p. 554, 6–559, 22.


Adopting the variant pou cheng.


Cf. p. 1013F, n. 1; Anguttara, V, p. 113, 116.


See p. 1142F.


Pheṇasutta in Saṃyutta, III, p. 140–141: Seyyathāpi bhikkhave ayaṃ Gaṅgā nādi mahantaṃ pheṇapiṇḍam āvaheyya. tam enaṃ cakkhumā puriso passeyya nijjhāyeyya yoniso upaparikkheyya. tassa taṃ passato nijjhāyato yoniso upaparikkhato rittakaññeva khāyeyya tucchakaññeva khāyeyya asārakaññeva khāyeyya. kiñhi siyā bhikkhave pheṇapiṇḍe sāro. Evam eva kho bhikkhave yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ arītānāgataṃ paccuppannaṃ. pe. yaṃ dūre santike vā. taṃ bhikkhu passati nijjhāhati yoniso upaparikkhati. tassa taṃ passato nijjhāyato yoniso upaparikkhato rittakaññeva khāyati tucchakaññeva khāyati asārakaññeva khāyati. kiñhi bhikkhave rūpe sāro. – It is as if the river Ganges was carrying a great ball of foam and a perceptive man saw it, contemplated it, examined it deeply and doing that, found it empty, hollow and worthless. What value, O monks would there be in a ball of foam? It is the same for no matter what form, past, future or present, distant or close, that a bhikku sees, contemplates and examines deeply. Doing that, he finds it empty, hollow and without value. What value, O monks, is there in form?


Cf. Madh. kārikā, VII, 2 (p. 146):

Utpādāyās trayo vyastā nālaṃ lakṣaṇakarmaṇi |
saṃskṛtasya samastāḥ syur ekatra katham ekadā ||

“The three characteristics, production, etc., if they are separated, are not enough to characterize the conditioned; if they are brought together, how would they exist in the same place and at the same time?” Argument already used above, p. 922F.


Cf. Madh. kārikā, VII, 3 (p. 147):

Utpādasthitibhaṅgānām anyat saṃskṛtalakṣaṇam |
asti ced anavasthaivaṃ nāsti cet te na saṃskṛtāḥ ||

“If production, duration and destruction in turn possessed another round of conditioned characteristics, there would be an infinite regression (of these rounds); but if they do not possess it, they are not conditioned.”

The Sarvāstivādin theory of secondary characteristics (anulakṣaṇa) affecting the characteristics of the conditioned, namely, production of production, etc., will be refuted by the Kośa, II, p. 224–225. See above, p. 1164F.


The author has already used the example of the new garment, already used before even being worn. See above, p. 1163F.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: