Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “paramarthashunyata-sutra” 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.

The Paramārthaśūnyatā-sūtra

The sūtra where the Buddha says to the bhikṣus: “I will explain to you the discourse of the Dharma (dharmaprayāya) called Ti-yi-yi-k’ong (Paramārthaśūnyatā). What is this paramārthaśūnyatā, ‘absolute emptiness’? The eye (cakṣus), when it is born, does not come from anywhere; when it perishes, it does not go anywhere. There is only action (karman) and retribution of action (karmavipāka); the agent (kāraka) does not exist. It is the same for the ear (śrotra), the nose (ghrāṇa), the tongue (jihvā), the body (kāya) and the mind (manas).”

Notes on the Paramārthaśūnyatā-sūtra:

Entitled Ti-yi-yi-k’ong king in the Chinese version of the Saṃyuktāgama made between 436 and 443 by Guṇabhadra, T 99, no. 335, k. 13, p. 92c12–26, and reproduced, not without some variants, at the beginning of a sūtra appearing in the Chinese version of the Ekottarāgama, T 125, k. 30, p. 713c12–714a3. There is no correspondent in the Pāli Nikāyas but the Abhidharma masters, who see in it an affirmation of anātman or sattvaśūnyatā, have transmitted some extracts to us in the original Sanskrit text: Kośabhaṣya, p. 129, 9–11; 299, 12–14; 468, 20–22; Kośavyākhyā, p. 707, 13–16; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 267, 1–2 and 12; Bodhicaryāvatārapañjikā, p. 474, 15–17; 582, 1–3; Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, p. 158, 21–22. The remainder of the sūtra is limited to repeating stock scriptural phrases, all identified in my [Lamotte] article, Trois Sūtra du Saṃyukta sur la Vacuité, BSOAS, XXXVI, 1973, p. 314–317. Under these conditions, the complete original text can readily be restored:

1. evaṃ mayā śrutam | ekasmin samaya bhagavān kuruṣu viharati kalmāṣadamye nigame |

2. tatra bhagavān bhikṣūn āmantrayati.

3. dharmaṃ vo deśayiṣye ādau …

11. idam avocad bhagaān āttamanasas te bhikṣavo bhagavato bhāṣitam abhyanandan. |

Here is a translation of the restored text:

1) Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was dwelling among the Kurus in the village of Kalmāṣadamya.

2) Then the Blessed One addressed the monks.

3) I shall teach you the Dharma good at the beginning, good in the middle good at the end, whose meaning is good, whose letter is good, unique of its kind, complete; I shall explain to you the very pure and proper brahmic conduct, namely, the sūtra on emptiness in the supreme meaning of the word. Listen then; reflect well appropriately. I will speak.

4) What is the sūtra on emptiness in the supreme meaning of the word? The eye, O monks, when it is born, does not come from any place, and when it perishes, does not go anyplace.

5) [Translation modeled on the Chinese version, T 99, p. 92c17–18]: Thus, the eye is not real and nevertheless is born; being born, it perishes. – [Another translation]: Thus the eye exists after having been non-existent and, after having existed, it disappears.

6) There is action, there is retribution, but there is no agent who rejects these aggregates and assumes other aggregates, except that that is a metaphor to designate the law [of pratītyasamutpāda in direct order].

7) The same must be said of the ear, the nose, the tongue and the mind.

8) I said: “Except that that is a metaphor to designate the law.” Here this metaphor is about the law that is expressed thus: “This being, that is; from the production of this, that is produced, i.e., the formations have as condition ignorance, consciousness has for condition the formations:, etc., up to: “Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.”

9) Moreover: “This not being, that is not; by the destruction of this, that is destroyed, i.e., from the destruction of ignorance the destruction of the formations results; from the destruction of the formations the destrutcion of consciousness results”, etc., up to: “Such is the destruction of this entire mass of suffering.”

10) That, O monks, is the sermon called ‘emptiness in the supreme sense of the word’.

11) Thus spoke the Blessed One; the monks’ minds were delighted and they rejoiced, praising the words of the Blessed One.