Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the system in the madhyamaka” 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.

Conditions note (3): The system in the Madhyamaka

Nāgārjuna, author of the Madhyamakaśāstra, was aware of this system and, in a stanza in his Kārikā, I, 2 (p. 76), he says to his objector:

Catvāraḥ pratyayā hetuś cālambanam anantaram |
tathaivādhipateyaṃ ca pratyayo nāsti pañcamaḥ ||

“There are four conditions: cause, object, antecedent and dominant. A fifth condition does not exist.”

From the beginning of his work, Nāgārjuna attacks a typically Sarvāstivādin position. Thus he was connected with this school which, in the first centuries of our era, was widespread in the northwest of India.

In his Kārikā, I, 5 (p. 81), Nāgārjuna rejected outright the four pratyayas:

Utpadyate pratītyemān itīme pratyayāḥ kila |
yāvan notpadyata ime tāvan nāpratyayāḥ katham ||

“These conditions are at issue when some thing arises in dependence on them; but if nothing arises, how would they not be non-conditions?” – In other words, if nothing is conditioned, there can be no question of conditions.

Going on this evidence, Nāgārjuna successively shows the absurdity of the hetupratyaya (Kārikā, I, 7, p. 83), the alambanapratyaya (Kārikā, I, 8, p. 84), the samantarapratyaya (Kārikā, I, 9, p. 85) and the adhipatipratyaya (Kārikā, I, 10, p. 86).

We will return to these stanzas later, but already the attitude taken by Nāgārjuna in regard to the system of the four conditions is clear: it is a pure and simple rejection. If there is a pratītyasamutpāda, it is characterized by the eight negative characteristics (aṣṭaviśeṣaṇaviśiṣṭa), which are non-cessation (anirodha), non-production (anutpāda, etc. (cf. Madh. vṛtti, p. 3, l. 11) and are mingled with emptiness.

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