Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the system according to the traité” 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 (5): The system according to the Traité

The passage of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā which the Traité is about to comment on is placed among the versions that adopt the four pratyayas and are against those that reject them. This puts our author in a delicate situation. To deny the four pratyayas, as Nāgārjuna did in his Madhyamakaśāstra, is to brush up against nihilism; to accept the four pratyayas, as do the Sarvāstivādin Ābhidharmikas, is to fall into realism. And yet realism and nihilism are the two extreme views condemned by the Buddha (see above, p. 2007F). The author of the Traité is going to adopt a middle path which is that of the Prajñāpāramitā which abstains from taking up (parigrāhana) or abandoning (utsarga) the pratyayas for the good reason that conditioned things are never produced and that, from the beginning, dharmas are parinirvānized (ādiparinivṛta).

Having briefly defined the four pratyayas and the six hetus, the author, worried about objectivity, begins by allowing a Madhyamika objector who considers the conditions to be non-conditions (nāpratyaya) to speak. This objector expresses himself in almost the same way as Nāgārjuna in Kārikās 7 to 14 of his Pratyayaparīkṣā which is none other than a refutation (niṣedha) of the system of the four conditions.

Then the author explains in detail this system such as the great Sarvāstivādin teachers of the Ṣatpādābhidharma and the Vibhāṣā had conceived it.

If Nāgārjuna pushed negation too far, the Sarvāstivādins sinned by excessive realism, and so the author of the Traité tries to bring things back to the point by taking his inspiration from the Prajñāpāramitā. The ordinary person sees the pratyayas and believes them; the wise man also sees the pratyayas but he does not believe them. The ordinary person is like the child who sees the moon reflected in the water and tries to grab it; the wise person also sees the moon reflected in the water but he does not seek to grab it because he knows it is not there. The dharmas that appear to us as conditioned are empty of reality and like a magical creation. The vision that we have of them comes from provisional truth (saṃvṛtisatya); their non-arising and non-cessation is their true nature, which is none other than absence of any nature.