Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the mahayanist 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 (2): The Mahāyānist dharmatā

The reasoning of the Mahāyānists is not lacking in subtlety. It can be schematized in the following way:

1. For the Early ones, the true nature of conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛta) is to come from conditions (pratītyasamutpānna). According to them, dharmatā = pratītyasamutpāda.

2. For us, dharmas coming from conditions do not exist in themselves, do not exist by themselves, are without characteristics (lakṣaṇa) and consequently do not arise. For us, pratītyasamutpāda = anutpāda.

3. To attribute a characteristic of non-arising to dharmas is to make them into unconditioned. Anutpanna = asaṃskṛta.

4. To attribute to the unconditioned any characteristic whatsoever is to change them into conditioned dharmas. Therefore asaṃskṛta = Saṃskṛta.

5. Backing away from this absurd conclusion, it is necessary to recognize that dharmas are neither saṃskṛta nor asaṃskṛta (cf. above, p. 2077–2085F, Śūnyatās no. 7 and 8), neither pratītyasamutpanna nor apratītyasamutpanna, and that their dharmatā is not absolute but contingent. Whether it is called dharmatā, tathatā, dharmadhātu, bhūtakoṭi, śūnyatā, original nirvāṇa, it has as unique nature the absence of nature: ekalakṣanā yadutālakṣaṇa (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 164, 225, 244, 258, 261, 262 and above, p. 1376F, 1382F, 1694F, 1703F, etc.).

While keeping the early phraseology and the early classifications, the Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras refuse to adopt the objectifying of the dharmatā. Here are a few citations chosen from many others:

1. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 168, l. 11–17; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 1262, l. 1–3, 13–17:

Katame Bhagavan saṃskṛtā dharmāḥ | bhagavān āha | kāmadhātū rūpadhātur ārūpyadhātur ye ’py anye kecit traidātukaparyāpannā dharmāḥ | saptatriṃśad bodhipakṣādayo dharmāḥ | ima ucyante saṃskṛtā dharmāḥ || katame bhagavann asaṃskṛtā dharmāḥ | bhagavān āha | yeṣāṃ dharmāṇāṃ notpādo na nirodho nānyathātvaṃ prajñāyate rāgakṣayo dveṣakṣayo mohakṣayaś ca | tathatā, avitathatā, ananyatathatā, dharmatā, dharmadhātur, dharmasthitā, dharmaniyāmatā, bhūtakoṭiḥ | ima ucyante ‘saṃskṛtā dharmāḥ |

Which, O Lord, are the conditioned dharmas? The Lord answered: The realm of desire, the form realm, the formless realm (i.e., the threefold world where saṃsāra takes place) and also some other dharmas included in the conditioned element, for example, the thirty-seven auxiliaries of enlightenment: they are called conditioned dharmas. – Which, O Lord, are the unconditioned dharmas? The dharmas where neither production nor disappearance nor change occur (that is, free from the three natures of the conditioned); the cessation of desire, the cessation of hatred, the cessation of delusion (otherwise called: nirvāṇa); the way of being and its synonyms up to and including the culmination of truth: all that is called unconditioned dharmas.

All these dharmas arbitrarily classed as saṃskṛta and asaṃskṛta are without inherent nature (svabhāva) and have non-existence as their own nature:

Pañcaviṃśati, p. 136–137: Rūpaṃ virahitaṃ rūpasvabhāvena yāvad bhūtakoṭir api virahitā bhūtakoṭisvabhāvena … | abhāvo rūpasya svabhāvaḥ yāvad abhāvo bhūtakoṭyāḥ svabhāvaḥ. – Form is without the inherent nature of form and so on, up to: the culmination of the real is without the inherent nature of the culmination of the real … The inherent nature of form is a non-existence, and so on up to: the inherent nature of the culmination of the real is a non-existence.

2. The dharmatā of dharmas is emptiness, the non-existence of all dharmas.

Daśabhūmika, p. 65, l. 19–22:

Api tu khalu puṇaḥ kulaputraiṣā sarvadharmānāṃ dharmatā | utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sthitaivaṣā dharmatā dharmadhātusthitiḥ | ya idaṃ sarvadharmaśūnyatā sarvadharmānupalabdhiḥ.

– Furthermore, O sons of good family, here is what this dharmatā of all dharmas is: Whether there is appearance of a Tathāgata or whether there is non-appearance of a Tathāgata, this dharmatā is stable, this steadiness of the fundamental element, namely, the emptiness of all dharmas, the non-existence of all dharmas.

3. Because of this emptiness, of this non-existence, all dharmas are equal: saṃskṛta and asaṃskṛta are one and the same. The dharmatā is the equality of all things:

Aṣṭādaśa, II, p. 126:

Sā punaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ samatā katamā | bhagavān āha | tathātā avitathatā ananyatathatā dharmatā dharmadhātur dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā bhūtakoṭiḥ | yo ‘sāv utpādād vā tathāgatānām …

4. The pratītyasamutpāda which the Early ones held to be real and termed dharmatā, the Mādhyamikas call emptiness, nirvāṇa. This nirvāṇa, which is one with saṃsāra, is empty of nirvāṇa. – See above, p. 2015–2018F.

In the Madhyamaka philosophy, there is so little room for the Absolute that it can be neither affirmed nor denied. To qualify it as anirvacaniya does not mean that it is ‘ineffable’, but simply that there is no reason to speak of it.