Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the hinayanist dharmata” 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.

Note (1): The Hīnayānist dharmatā

According to the word of the Buddha himself, dharmatā is the conditioned production of phenomena, the pratītyasamutpāda discovered by Śākyamuni and preached by him throughout his entire career.

Two sūtras of the Saṃyukta are significant:

Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 147–148; Saṃyutta, II, p. 25–26:

Pratītyasamutpādaṃ vo bhikṣavo deśayiṣye … | pratītyasamutpādaḥ katamaḥ | yadutāsmin satīdaṃ bhavaty asyotpādād idam utpadyate | yadutāvidyāpratyayāḥ saṃskārā yāvat samudayo bhavati | avidyāpratyayāḥ saṃskārā ity utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharmasthitaye dhātuḥ |

– I will show you, O monks, the dependent origination. What is dependent origination? The fact that ‘this being, that is; from the production of this, that is produced’, namely, that ‘the formations have ignorance as condition’, etc., up to ‘such is the origin of the mass of suffering’. Whether a Tathāgata appears or whether a Tathāgata does not appear, this dharmatā, the basis for the existence of things, is stable.

Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 164:

Kin nu Bhagavatā pratītyasamutpādaḥ kṛta aho svid anyaiḥ | na bhikṣo mayā pratītyasamutpādaḥ kṛto nāpy anyaiḥ | api tūtpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharmasthitaye dhātuḥ |

– Was dependent origination made by the Lord or rather by others? Dependent origination, O monks, was not made by me or by others, and, whether there appears a Tathāgata or there does not appear a Tathāgata, this dharmatā, the basis for the existence of things, is stable.

These two texts do not lend themselves to any confusion. Conditioned dharmas (saṃskāra, saṃskṛtadhrma) are, by definition, the result of causes and conditions. Their dependent production (pratītyasamutpāda) is a fixed rule, a stable dharmatā, and the latter has not been made either by the Buddha or by any one else.

The question is whether this dharmatā leads to an abstract determinism or whether it constitutes an independent entity, in other words, whether it should be placed among the saṃskṛta endowed with the three characteristics of the conditioned (saṃskṛṭalakṣaṇa), viz., production (utpāda), disappearance (vyaya) and duration-change (sthityanyathātva) – cf. p. 36–37F, 922F, 1163F, 2051F, 2078F – or among the asaṃskṛtas completely free of these very characteristics.

The Hīnayāna schools respond differently to this question for the good reason that they do not agree on the number of asaṃskṛtas: one, three, four, five or even nine (see references to these schools in L. de La Vallée Poussin, Nirvāṇa, p. 180–187).

The Vaibhāṣikas of the Madhyadeśa, the Uttarāpathakas, the Mahimsāsakas, the Pubbaseliyas, the Mahīśāsakas and the Mahāsaṃghikas include the pratītyasamutpāda or its synonym, tathatā, among their asaṃskṛtas.

This is not the opinion of the Ceylonese Theravādins, the ones closest to the Word of the Buddha, who recognize only one asamkhata, Nibbāna. The paticcasamuppāda is a rule and not an entity.

Their spokesman, Buddhaghosa, comments in his Visuddhimagga (ed. H. C. Warren, p. 441):

Jarāsaraṇādīnaṃ dhammānaṃ paccayakkhaṇo paṭiccasamuppādo, dukkhānubandhanaraso, kummaggapaccupatṭāno ti veditabbo. So panāyaṃ tehi tehi paccayehi anonādhikeh’ eva tassa tassa dhammassa sambhavato tathatā ti, sāmaggiupagatesu paccayesu muhuttam pi tato nibbattanadhammānaṃ asambhavābhāvato avitathatā ti, aññadhammapaccayehi aññadhammānuppattito anaññathatā ti, yathāvuttānaṃ etesaṃ jarāmaraṇādīnaṃ paccayato vā paccayasamūhato vā idapaccayatā ti vitto.

– Conditioned origination has, as nature, being the condition of the dharmas old-age-death, etc.; as flavor, it has the prolongation of suffering; it shows itself as the bad path (= saṃsāra). Because such and such a dharma comes only from a definite number of such and such conditions, it is called tathatā. Because once these conditions have come together, it is impossible, even for an instant, for the dharmas that are derived from it to be produced, it is called avitathatā. Because dharmas do not arise from other conditions than their own, it is called anaññathatā. Because for the old-age-death in question, there is one condition or a group of conditions, it is called idapaccayatā.

The Sarvāstivādins assume three asaṃskṛtas: Space (ākāśa) and the two Nirvāṇas (pratisaṃkhyānirodha and apratisaṃkhyānirodha), but they do not consider pratītyasamutpāda to be an asaṃskṛta, for everything that is ‘production’ (utpāda) is obviously conditioned.

Vasubandhu (Kośa, II, p. 77) makes the following comment about the Hīnyāna schools that place the pratītyasamutpāda with the asaṃskṛtas:

“Some schools (nikāyāntariya) maintain that the pratītyasamutpāda is unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) because the sūtra says: ‘Whether a Tathāgata appears or whether a Tathāgata does not appear, this dharmatā is stable.’ – This thesis is true or false according to the way it is interpreted (tad etadabhiprāyavaśād evaṃ ca na caivam). If one means that it is always as a result of avidyā, etc., that the saṃskāras, etc., are produced, not ‘without condition or because of another thing’ (apraītyānayād vā pratītya); that, in this sense, the pratītyasamutpāda is eternal (nitya), we agree. If one means that there exists a certain special entity (kiṃcid bhāvānantaram) called pratītyasamutpāda which is eternal, that is unacceptable since production (utpāda) is characteristic of the conditioned (utpādasya saṃskṛtalakṣaṇa).”

- Indeed, it is absurd to claim that a conditioned origination is eternal, for production means ‘existence following upon non-existence’ (abhūtyābhāva).