Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagrashunyata)” 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 10: Emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā)

I. Dharmas are without beginning

Emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā). – The world (loka, saṃsāra), whether it is beings (sattva) or things (dharma), has no beginning (agra).

The present birth (ihajanma) exists as result of a previous existence (pūrvajanman); the previous existence, in turn, exists as a result of a preceding existence, and so on. Therefore there is no beginning for beings; and it is the same for dharmas. Why?

1. [Madhyamakaśāstra.]

If birth preceded, [291a]
And death followed,
Birth would not come from death
And one would be reborn without having died.

If death preceded
And birth followed
Death would be without cause
And without being born, one would die.[1]

This is why all dharmas are without beginning.

2. [Anamataggasutta.] – As is said in the sūtras, the Buddha said to the bhikṣus: “Beings have no beginning; in these beings obsessed by ignorance, fettered by thirst and wandering in transmigration, no beginning can be discerned.”[2]

II. The concept of dharma without beginning is absurd

However, it is in order to destroy these dharmas without beginning that the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra sets forth here the emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā).

Question. – Dharmas without beginning are true and cannot be refuted. Why? To claim that beings (sattva) and things (dharmas) have a beginning is to fall into the wrong view of believing in extremes (antagrāhadṛṣṭi) and also to fall into the wrong view of absence of causality (ahetukatvadṛṣṭi). To avoid these mistakes (dośa), we must say that beings and things are without beginning.[3] Here, in refuting dharmas without beginning by means of anagraśūnyatā, you are falling again into the wrong view that acknowledges the existence of a beginning.

Answer. – It is true that by means of anagraśūnyatā I destroy the wrong view of dharmas without beginning, but, nevertheless, I do not fall into the wrong view of acknowledging the existence of a beginning. In order to save a man from fire, it is not necessary to throw him into deep water. Here I am rejecting the dharmas without beginning but I do not, however, accept any dharma with beginning: by doing this, I am following the Middle Way (madhyamā pratipad).

Question. – Why do you reject dharmas with beginning (an-agra)?

Answer. – 1) Because they would be non-delimited (anavastha). Being non-delimited, they would not have an end (avara); non-delimited and without end, they would not have a middle (madhya).[4]

2) The absence of a beginning would end up by eliminating the Omniscient one (sarvajñā). Why? If saṃsāra were non-delimited, one would not know the beginning and, if no one knew the beginning, there would not be any Omniscient one. If there really is an Omniscient one, there cannot be any question of dharma without beginning.

3) Moreover, some grasp the characteristics of a being (sattvanimittam udgṛhṇanti) and grasp singularities (ekatva, pṛthaktva) and differences (anyatva) in dharmas.[5] As a result of these singularities and differences, they deduce an earlier existence from the present existence and, from the earlier existence, they deduce a still earlier existence and so on. Unable to find a beginning either in beings or in things, they produce the view of dharmas without beginning; but that is a wrong view having singularities and differences as root, which consequently should be rejected.

The emptiness of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtaśūnyatā, no. 7) crushes conditioned dharmas. As this emptiness of conditioned dharmas still presents disadvantages, recourse is made to the emptiness of non-conditioned dharmas (asaṃskṛtaśūnyatā, no. 8) to crush non-conditioned dharmas. Here I have used dharmas without beginning (anagra) to crush dharmas with beginning but, as these dharmas without beginning still present disadvantages, I have again used the emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā, no. 10) to crush these dharmas without beginning: this is whatis called ‘emptiness of dharmas without beginning’.

III. False in absolute truth, the notion of dharma without beginning is used for salvific purposes

Question. – If that is so, why did the Buddha say that “the starting point of beings wandering in transmigration is unknown (sattvānāṃ saṃsaratāṃ pūrvā koṭir na prajñāyate)”?

Answer. – The Buddha wants beings to know that the transmigration in which we have wandered for so long a time is great suffering (mahāduḥkha) and he wants us to feel a mind of disgust (nirvedacitta) towards it.

1. Sūtras mentioning dharmas without beginning

See what is said in the sūtras:[6]

[1. Lohitasūtra = Tiṃsamattāsuttanta.] – One single man, transmigrating during one single kalpa, as long as he is taking on existences (ātmabhāva) and suffering torment (upadrava), has collected more blood (lohita) than there is water in the sea.[7]

[2. Aśrusūtra = Assusuttanta.] – Similarly, while he was weeping, he has wept more tears (aśru) [than there is water in the sea].[8]

[3. Kṣīrasūtra = Khīrasuttanta.] – Similarly, he has drunk more mother’s milk (kṣīra) [than there is water in the sea].[9]

[4. Asthirāśisūtra = Puggalasuttanta.] – The bones are piled up surpassing [291b] Mount Vaipulya in height.[10]

[5. Tiṇakaṭṭhasauttanta.] – If he has cut into two-inch pieces (dvyaṅgulā ghaṭikā) all the shrubs (tṛṇa) and trees (kāṣṭhā) of this continent (dvīpaka) and used them to count [his predecessors], his father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc., his forebears would be far from completely inventoried [at the time when the slips were completely used up].[11]

[6. Mṛdgulikāsūtra = Paṭhavīsuttanta.] – If he completely formed the earth (pṛthivī) into balls of clay (mṛdgulikā) and used them to count [his ancestors], his mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers would be far from completely counted [at the time when the clay balls were completely used up].[12]

2. These sūtras pursue a salvific goal

The starting point (pūrvā koṭi) of beings who, for innumerable kalpas of this kind, have been suffering the torments of saṃsāra is indiscernible (na prajñayate): this is why the mind feels frightened (bhasya) and cuts through the fetters (saṃyojana).

Although [the view] of impermanence (anityatādṛṣṭi) is an extremist view (antagrāhadṛṣṭi), the Buddha utilizes impermanence in order to save beings.[13] It is the same with the theory of a beginningless (anagratā) saṃsāra; even though it may be an extremist [view], the Buddha uses it to save beings. In order to save beings and inspire disgust (nirvedacitta) [for saṃsāra] in them, the Buddha posits [a saṃsāra] ‘without beginning’ (anagra) but it isn’t true. Why? Because if there were a saṃsāra without beginning, [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] would not be talking here about an ‘emptiness of things without beginning’ (anagraśūnyatā).[14]

3. If it is useful, a false doctrine is justified

Question. – If things without beginning are not real dharmas, how can they be used to save people?

Answer. – In the real truth, there are no dharmas to be preached in order to save people: sermons and people to be saved are conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛta) and false. It is by the use of his power of skillful means (upāyabala) that the Buddha speaks of dharmas without beginning, but he speaks of them with detachment (nirāsaṅgacitta). Those who hear him also obtain detachment and, by means of detachment, feel distaste (nirveda) [for saṃsāra].

Moreover, if we use the knowledge of previous existences (pūrvanivāsajñāna), we see that the series of births and deaths (cyutupapādaprabandha) is limitless (anavastha) and at that moment it is true. But if we use the eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣus), we see the absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnyatā, no. 9) of beings (sattva) and things (dharma). This is why [the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra] is preaching the emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā, no. 10) here.

It is said in the Prajñāpāramitā: “The vision of the eternal (nitya) is not true and the vision of the impermanent (anitya) is not true either: the vision of suffering (duḥkha) is not true and the vision of happiness (sukha) is not true either.”[15] However, the Buddha said that “the eternal and happiness are errors (viparyāsa) whereas the impermanent and suffering are true (satya)”[16] because beings are particularly attached to the eternal and to happiness whereas they are not attached to the impermanent and to suffering. Therefore the Buddha is using the truth of impermanence and suffering to destroy the error about the eternal and happiness: this is why he says that impermanence and suffering are true. But if beings were attached to impermanence and suffering, he would say that impermanence and suffering are empty.

It is the same here for dharmas with or without beginning. [The idea] of non-beginning destroys the error about beginning. But as beings are attached to things without beginning, [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] adds that these things without beginning are empty. This is what is called ‘emptiness of dharmas without beginning’ (anagraśūnyatā).

4. Why are dharmas with beginning not expressly refuted?

Question. – Dharmas with beginning also are wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi) and should be refuted. Why does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra refute only dharmas without beginning here?

Answer. – Because dharmas with beginning are obvious errors (mahābhrānti). Why is that?

If saṃsāra had a beginning, from the very first existence (prathamabhāva), one would be born in good places or in bad places in the absence of any demeritorious or meritorious causes or conditions (āpattipuṇyahetupratyaya). – If the birth depended on demeritorious or meritorious cause and conditions, this birth could not be considered as an ‘initial birth’. Why? Because it is necessary to commit wrong-doings (āpatti) or gain merits (puṇya) in order to go from an earlier existence (pūrvanivāsa) to a later existence (aparabhāva). – But as saṃsāra has no beginning, these faults (doṣa) are avoided.

This is why the bodhisattva, removing at the start a view as coarse and as false [as that of saṃsāra with beginning], often cultivates that of saṃsāra without [291c] beginning and, in view of beings, declares saṃsāra without beginning. Meditating constantly on causes and conditions, he proclaims the non-beginning of these dharmas but, not having yet attained omniscience, it sometimes happens that he erroneously hypostatizes this absence of beginning. It is in order to [combat this error] that the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra speaks here of the ‘emptiness of dharmas without beginning’ (anagraśūnyatā).

Moreover, when the theory of ‘dharma with beginning’ has been refuted by means of that of ‘dharma without beginning’, there is no longer any need for an emptiness to destroy the ‘dharmas with beginning’. And so, the Prajñāpāramitā, now wanting to destroy the theory of ‘dharma without beginning’, speaks here only of an emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā).

Question. – But if dharmas without beginning destroy the dharmas with beginning, the dharmas with beginning themselves destroy the dharmas without beginning. Then why do you resort here only to emptiness (śūnyatā no. 10) to destroy the dharmas without beginning?

Answer. – Although the two theories [affirming the beginning and the non-beginning of things respectively] are both wrong views (mithydṛṣṭi), there are differences (viśeṣa) between them.

Dharmas with beginning are causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) giving rise to passions (kleśa) and wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), whereas dharmas without beginning are causes and conditions giving rise to loving-kindness (maitrī), compassion (karuṇā) and right views (samyakdṛṣṭi). Why is that?

In thinking that beings undergo the torments of suffering throughout a beginningless saṃsāra, one experiences a mind of compassion. In knowing that a future lifetime will follow the present lifetime (ihajanman) and that the series (saṃtāna) of lifetimes will not be interrupted, by knowing that these lifetimes are the fruits of retribution (vipākaphala) of wrongdoings (āpatti) and merits (puṇya), one produces a right view (samyakdṛṣṭi).

If a person does not hypostatize this absence of beginning (yaḥ kaścit tām anagratāṃ nābhiviśate), it is a good dharma auxiliary to enlightenment (bodhipākṣika kuśaladharma) for him; but if he grasps the characteristic sign (nimittam udgṛhṇāti) and becomes attached to it, it becomes a wrong view.

It is like the view of eternity (śāśvatadṛṣṭi) and the view of non-eternity (aśāśvatadṛṣṭi): although the view of dharma with beginning destroys the view of dharma without beginning, it does not destroy absolutely (atyantam) the dharmas without beginning, whereas the dharmas without beginning destroy absolutely the dharmas with beginning. That is why these dharmas without beginning are superior.

Similarly, the good (kuśala) destroys the bad (akuśala), and the bad destroys the good, but although they destroy one another mutually, the good alone destroys the bad absolutely (atyantam). Thus, the person who has attained the state of ārya is no longer subject to bad destinies (āpāyika).[17] – It is not the case for the bad dharmas (akuśaladharma), [i.e., they do not destroy the good absolutely], for their power (anubhāva) is slight (tanu). Thus the man who has committed the five sins of immediate retribution (pañcānantarya) and who has broken the roots of good (kuśalamūla), falls into hell (niraya), but does not stay there longer than one kalpa,[18] after which he escapes from hell and finally realizes the fruits of the path (mārgaphala).

Dharmas without beginning and dharmas with beginning do not have the same strength. The strength of dharmas without beginning is so great that it is able to destroy the dharmas with beginning. That is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra does not speak of an ‘emptiness of dharmas with beginning’’ [for, in order to destroy them, it is not necessary to have recourse to any emptiness whatsoever].

Notes on the Emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā):

Whereas other Mahāyānists speak of an emptiness of dharma without beginning or end (anavarāgraśūnyatā, thog ma daṅ tha ma med pa stoṅ pa ñid), the Pañcaviṃśati, in its Chinese version executed by Kumārajīva, speaks here of an emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā). This is an intentional modification which the Traité will explain.

Footnotes and references:


Madh, kārikā, XI, v. 3–4; madh. vṛtti, p. 221–222; T 1564, k. 2, p. 16a21–24.

Pūrvaṃ jātir yadi bhavej jarāmaraṇam uttaram |
nirjarāmaraṇā jātir bhavej jāyeta cāmurtaḥ ||

Paścāj jātir bhavej jarāmaraṇam āditaḥ |
ahetukam ajātasya syāj jarāmaraṇaṃ katham ||

“If birth preceded and old age and death followed, birth would exist without old age and death, and one would be born without being dead.

If birth followed and if old age and death came first, how could old age and death, without cause, affect someone who has not been born?” – Cf. J. May, Candrakīrti, p. 173–174.

The Madh. vṛtti, p. 221, explains: Saṃsāra has no beginning (ādi), no middle (madhya) and no end (avasāna), and since, therefore, it does not exist, there is, between birth and old age and death, etc., no relationship of anteriority (pūrva), posteriority (parama), or simultaneity (sahakrama).


This well-known saying occurs in two forms: in the older form, it denies the initial term (pūrvakoṭi) of saṃsāra and of beings; in its more recent form, it denies both the initial and final term (pūrvāparakoṭi).

1) Negation of the initial term, in the Pāli sources and the Sanskrit Āgamas:

Saṃyutta, II, p. 178–193 (Anamataggasaṃyutta); III, p. 149, 151; V, p. 226, 41; Cullaniddesa, p. 273; Kathāvatthu, p. 29: Anamataggāyam bhikkhave saṃsāro pubā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ. – Of unknown beginning, O monks, is saṃsāra; the initial term starting from which, loaded down by ignorance and fettered by thirst, beings wander by chance, is unknown.

Anamatāgga is analyzed as ana, double negation; mata, known; agga, beginning; and the commentaries explain it as aviditagga ‘of unknown beginning’. From that the translations Unbekannten Anfangs ist Umlauf der Geburten (W. Geiger) or Incalculable is the beginning of this faring on (Mrs. Rhys Davids and F. H. Woodward).

Chinese translation of the Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 34, p. 241b13–14, and following pages: Beings, in the long night of saṃsāra without beginning (Wou che cheng sseu) wander by chance: the initial term (pen tsi) of suffering is unknown.

2) Negation of the initial term and the final term in most of the Sanskrit texts. The expression anavarāgra saṃsāra ‘saṃsāra without end or beginning’ is frequent in the Mahāvastu and the Lalitavistara (see Edgerton, Dictionary, p. 21), and the canonical saying is modified in the following way:

Divyāvadāna, p. 197: Anavarāgro bhikṣavaḥ saṃsāro ‘vidyānivaraṇānāṃ sattvānāṃ tṛṣṇāsaṃyojanānāṃ tṛṣṇārgolabaddhānāṃ dīrgham adhvānaṃ saṃdhāvatāṃ saṃsaratāṃ purvā koṭir prajñāyate duḥkhasya. – Without end or beginning, O monks, is saṃsāra. Impossible to discover the initial term of suffering for the beings fettered by thirst, bound by the snares of thirst, travelling the long road and wandering by chance.

Madh, vṛtti, p. 218: Anavarāgro hi bhikṣavo jātijatāmaraṇasaṃsāra iti. avidyānivaraṇānāṃ sattvānāṃ tṛṣṇāsaṃyojanānāṃ tṛṣṇāgaṇḍurabaddhānāṃ saṃsaratāṃ saṃdhāvatāṃ pūrvā koṭir na prajñāyata iti. – Without end or beginning, O monks, is saṃsāra, birth and old age and death. Impossible to discover the initial term of beings loaded down by ignorance, fettered by thirst, tied by the snares of thirst and wandering in saṃsāra.

The differences between the canonical sources perhaps explains the contrast between the anagraśūnyatā of the Chinese Pañcaviṃśati and most of the Sanskrit texts. The general meaning of the expression is not affected, for beings and things without beginning would not have an end or a middle and “to weigh the real, saṃsāra does not exist” (vastukacīntāyāṃ tu saṃsāra eva nāsti). But perhaps it is a question of method. As the Traité is going to explain, the wrong and pernicious notion of ‘dharma with beginning’ must be destroyed by means of the beneficial notion of ‘dharma without beginning’ but, when the latter tends to be taken as conveying a reality in itself, it itself becomes a wrong view and must be uprooted by the emptiness of things without beginning (emptiness no. 10).


A being or a thing having itself a beginning would possess a limit (antavān lokaś cātmā ca) – which is a question to be denied (cf. 155F) – and could not be caused by another: it would arise at random, without cause.


Cf. Madh. kārikā, XI, v. 2 (p. 220): Naivāgraṃ nāvaraṃ yasya tasya madhyaṃ kuto bhavet.


For this problem, see J. May, Candrakīrti, p. 100, n. 242–243.


Sūtras all brorrowed from the Anamataggasaṃyutta.


Tiṃsamattā: Saṃyutta. II, p. 187–188; T 99, no. 937, k. 33, p. 240b12–240c24; T 100, no. 330, k. 16, p. 485c3–486a17.

Taṃ kiṃ maññatha bhikkhave, katamaṃ nu kho bahutaraṃ. yam vā vo iminā dīghena addhunā sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ sīsacchinnānaṃ lohitaṃ pasannaṃ paggharitaṃ. yam vā catūsu mahāsamuddesu udakan ti | … etad eva bhante bahutaraṃ yaṃ no … lohitaṃ pasannaṃ paggharitam.

What do you think, O monks? Which is greater: would it be the blood that you have spilled and spread when you cut off heads whilst you were wandering in saṃsāra on this long road, or would it be the water contained in the four oceans? – Greater, O Lord, is the blood that we have spilled and spread.


Assu: Saṃyutta, II, p. 179–180; T 99, no. 938, k. 33, p. 240c25–241a17; T 100, no. 331, k. 16, p. 486a18–486b23:

Taṃ kiṃ maññatha bhikkhave. katamaṃ nu kho bahutaraṃ. yam vā vo iminā dīghena addhunā sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ amanāpasampayogā manāpavippayogā kandantānaṃ rodantānaṃ assu pasannaṃ paggharitaṃ. yam vā catūsu mahāsamuddesu udakam ti |… etad eva bhante. bahutaraṃ yaṃ no … assu pasannaṃ paggharitaṃ.

What do you think, O monks? Which is greater: would it be the tears that you have spilled and spread since you have been weeping in saṃsāra on this long road, crying and weeping at unpleasant things or at being separated from pleasant things, or would it be the water contained in the four oceans? – Greater, O Lord, are the tears we have wept and spread.


Khīra: Saṃyutta, II, p. 180–181; T 99, no. 939, k. 33, p. 241a18–241b8; T 100, no. 332, k. 16, p. 486b24–486c6: Taṃ kiṃ maññatha bhikkhave. katamaṃ nu kho bahutaraṃ. yaṃ vā vo iminā dīghena addhunā sadhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ mātuthaññaṃ pītaṃ. yaṃ vā catūsu mahāsamuddesu udakan ti | … etad eva bhante abhutaraṃ yaṃ no … mātuthaññaṃ pītaṃ..

What do you think, O monks? Which is greater: would it be the mother’s milk that you have drunk while you were crying in saṃsāra on this long road, or would it be the water contained in the four oceans? – Much greater, O Lord, is the mother’s milk that we have drunk.


Puggala: Saṃyutta, II, p. 185; T 99, no. 947, k. 34, p. 242a28–242b15; T 100, no. 340, k. 16, p. 487b17–487c3: Ekapuggalassa bhikkhave kappaṃ sandhāvato saṃsarato siyā evam mahā aṭṭhikaṅkalo aṭṭhipuñjo aṭṭhirāsi, yathāyaṃ Vepullo pabbato sace saṃhārako assa saṃbhatañca na vinasseyya.

O monks, from one single individual who has wandered in saṃsāra for a kalpa there would come a structure of bones as high as Mount Vaipulya, assuming that these bones could be brought together and the structure not perish.


Tiṇakaṭṭha: Saṃyutta, II, p. 178; T 99, no. 940. k. 34, p. 241b12–20; T 100, no. 333, k. 16, p. 486c7–18: Seyyatāpi bhikkhave purisoyaṃ imasmiṃ jambudīpe tiṇakaṭṭhasākhāpalāsaṃ tacchetvā ekajjhaṃ saṃharitvā caturaṅgulaṃ caturaṅgulaṃ ghaṭikaṃ karitvā nikkhippeyya. ayaṃ me mātā tassa me pitu ayaṃ pitā ti. apariyādinnā ca bhikkhave tassa purisassa mātu mātaro assu imasmiṃ jambudīpe tiṇakaṭṭhasakhāpalāsaṃ parikkhayaṃ pariyādānaṃ gaccheyya.

O monks, it is as if a man were to cut all the shrubs, trees, branches, leaves of this Jambudvīpa, pile them into a heap, make them into pieces four inches square, then count them down, saying: “This slip is my mother, this next slip is my mother’s mother.” The grandmothers of this man would not be fully counted when the shrubs, trees, branches, and leaves of this Jambudvīpa would be [long] used up.


Paṭhavī: Saṃyutta, II, p. 179; T 99, no. 941, k. 34, p. 241b21–c3; T 100, no. 334, k. 16, p. 486c19–28: Seyyathāpi bhikhave puriso iamaṃ mahāpaṭhaviṃ kolaṭuthimattaṃ kolaṭṭhimattaṃ mattikāgukikaṃ katitvā nikkhippeyya. ayaṃ kho me pītā tassa me pitu ayaṃ piyā ti. apariyādinnā bhikkhave tassa purisassa pitu pitaro assu. athāyaṃ mahāpaṭhavī parikkhayaṃ pariyādānaṃ gaccheyya.

O monks, it is as if a man changed this great earth into balls of clay the size of a jujube nut, then counted them down, saying: “This clay ball is my father, this next one is my father’s father.” The grandfathers of this man, O monks, would not be completely counted when the great earth would be [long] used up.


The eternalist point of view (śāśvatadṛṣṭi) and the nihilist point of view (ucchedadṛṣṭi) are extreme views (antadṛṣṭi) opposed to the Middle Way (madhyamā pratipad) followed by the Buddha.

Among the fourteen difficult questions (cf. p. 154F seq.) which he did not answer (avyākṛtavastu), the Buddha put the question of knowing whether the world and the self are eternal (śāśvato lokaś cātmā ca) or non-eternal (aśāśvato lokaś cātmā ca), and he explained his silence by the uselessness of any reply from the viewpoint of salvation (Dīgha, I, p. 188–189; III, p. 136; Majjhima, I, p. 431; Saṃyutta, II, p. 223).

However, most people are fearful of nothingness and hope for an eternal world. In order to detach them from this world, the Buddha taught them the impermanence (anityatā) of the world (see the Aniccavagga of the Saṃyutta, III, p. 21–25) and showed them how the formations coming from causes (saṅkhāra), untrustworthy (anassāsika): cf. Saṃyutta, II, p. 191.

That is a wrong view, or rather – as the Buddhas say nothing false – a provisional doctrine foreseeing the spiritual needs of beings to be converted. If the latter had been attached to a transitory and painful world, the Buddha would have taught them the eternity of the world!

In the Prajñāpāramitā and the other Mahāyāna sūtras, the Buddha, who is addressing emancipated listeners this time, sets these things aside: [according to the Mahāyāna] there is neither eternity nor non-eternity (Pañcaviṃśati, p. 240, l. 18; Śatsāharikā, p. 1618, l. 22: naivātra nityan upalabhyate nānityam). The world is empty of the characteristics of permanence or impermanence.

We have here, in the absence of other qualities, a conclusive and authoritative solution to a problem that for a long time has bothered western exegetists (cf. L. de La Vallée Poussin, Nirvāṇa, p. 92–101).


Reasoning parallel to that just developed in regard to eternity and non-eternity. The Buddha declined to answer those who were questioning him on the ‘limits’ of the world and asking him if the world and the self do or do not have limits (antavān lokaś cātma ca, anatavān lokaś cātma ca).

However, noting the blindness and frenzy with which people go from migration to migration, he inspires in them a healthy fear for this saṃsāra by presenting it as not having any beginning (see Anamataggavagga of Saṃyutta, II, 178–193).

But here also in the Mahāyāna the necessary correction will be presented by teaching the emptiness of dharmas without beginning (anagraśūnyatā) and by rejecting as absurd the notions of beginning, middle and end (Pañcaviṃśati, p. 240, l. 4–5; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1618, l. 5–6: nāsya yānasya pūrvānta upalabhyate nāparānta uplabhyate na madhya upalabhyate).

The Buddha who so skillfully combines the cares of his apostolate with the exigencies of the truth cannot be accused of contradiction.


Pañcaviṃśati, p. 240, l. 18 (T 223, k. 6, p. 265a25–26); Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1618, l. 22–1619, l. 1: Nāpy atra [mahāyāne] nityam upalabhyate nānityam | na sukham upalabhyate na duḥkham |


The second error consists of taking what is painful to be happy (duḥkhe sukham iti viparyāsa) and the third is taking what is impermanent to be permanent (anitye nityam iti viparyāsa): see p. 1150F.


At the first moment of the darśanamārga, with the duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣānti, the ascetic abandons the state of worldly person (pṛthagjana), penetrates into a position of salvation (samyaktvaniyāma) and becomes an ārya, candidate for the first fruit, thus escaping from the bad destinies.


The person guilty of the five ānantaryas, and especially the fomenter of a schism, like Devadatta, is called to a miserable destiny (āpāyika), condemned to hell (nerayika), imprisoned there for a kalpa (kapaṭṭha) and incurable (atekiccha): Vinaya, II, p. 202, 205; Majjhima, I, p. 393; Anguttara, III, p. 402–403; Itivuttaka, p. 11, 85. See above, p. 407F, 868–878F.