Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “tathata, dharmadhatu and bhutakoti” 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.

I. Tathatā, Dharmadhātu and Bhūtakoṭi

1) The Tathatā:

The Tathatā ‘manner of being’ of all dharmas is of two kinds: i) the specific nature (svalakṣaṇa) belonging to each dharma; ii) the dharmatā ‘true nature’.

The specific nature belonging to each dharma is, for example, the solidity (khakkhaṭatva) of earth (pṛthivi), the wetness (dravatva) of water (ap-), the warmth of fire (uṣṇatva) of fire (tejas), the mobility (īraṇatva) of wind (vāyu): such natures differentiate dharmas, each of which has its own nature.

The dharmatā distinguishes and postulates, in these specific natures, an ungraspable (anupalabdha), indestructible (abhedya) reality (tattva) free of defects (nirdoṣa). See (p. 2121–2126F) what has been said in regard to the emptiness of specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇaśūnyatā).

Indeed, if earth (pṛthivi) is really solid, how can it be that glue (gavyadṛdha),[1] etc., when brought near the fire, loses [this solidity] which is its [297c] intriinsic nature (svabhāva)? How can it be that the man endowed with the superknowledge of the working of magic (ṛddhyabhijñā) sinks into the earth as if it were water? How does it happen that by cutting and breaking up wood (kāṣṭha) or stone (śilā), they lose their solidity? And how can it be that by reducing earth into fine dust (rajas) and hitting the latter with a stick, the earth finally disappears into the void (śūnya) and loses its nature of solidity? Examined in this way, the inherent nature of earth is non-existent (anupalabdha). But that which is non-existent is truly empty (śūnya). Therefore emptiness is the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of earth. And it is the same for all [so-called] specific natures (bhinnalakṣaṇa). This emptiness is called tathatā.

2) The dharmadhātu:

As I have said above (p. 2126F and following), dharmas taken individually (pṛthak, pratyekam) are empty. These emptinesses have their own respective modalities (viśeṣa) which are, however, tathatā. Together they form a single emptiness: the dharmadhātu.

This dharmadhātu itself is also of two kinds: the first, with a mind free of attachment (nirāsaṅgacittena), distinguishes (paricchinatti) dharmas as each having its own nature (svabhāva, prakṛti); the second is the immense dharma (apramāṇadharma), i.e., the true nature of dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ bhūtalakṣaṇam or dharmatā).

[Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā].[2] – As has been said in the Tch’e-sin king (Viśeṣacintasūtra): “The dharmadhātu is immense.”

The śrāvakas attain the dharmadhātu, but since their wisdom (prajñā) is limited (sapramāṇa), they cannot speak of its immensity (apramāṇam).[3] In the case of the dharmadhātu, they are like the man who goes to the great ocean (mahāsamudra) to empty out the water but who uses a vessel (bhājana) so small that he cannot collect the immense waters.

3) The bhūtakoṭi:

Because the dharmadhātu is actually proven (bhūtena sākṣātkṛta), it is the culmination (koṭi) [of reality]. Thus “the saint (arhat) is established in the culmination of reality (bhūtakoṭyāṃ vyavasthitaḥ).”[4]

Footnotes and references:


Example already used above, p. 1821F, 2232F.


T 586, k. 2, p. 43b12. – Above (p. 1848–1852F), the Traité cited a long extract from this Paripṛcchā, where Śāriputra and the bodhisattva Samantapuṣpa exchanged views on the dharmadhātu. For the Chinese and Tibetan versions of this work, see p. 1268, note).


In the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, p. 60, l. 8–10, Śāriputra, the most famed of the śrāvakas, having heard the first exposition of the Lotus, made the following comment to the Buddha: Tulye nāma dharmadhātupraveśe (in Tibetan: chos kyi dbyiṅs la ḥjug pa mtshuṅs na) vayaṃ bhagavatā hīnena yānena niryātitāḥ | evaṃ ca me bhagavataṃs tasmin samaye bhavaty asmākam evaiṣo ’parādho naiva bhagavato ’parādhaḥ |- In an equal introduction to the dharmadhātu [i.e., by introducing all of us alike – bodhisattvas and śrāvakas – into the dharmadhātu], Bhagavat has made us go by the Lower Vehicle. And so this thought has presented itself to me: it is, without a doubt, our [the śrāvakas’] fault, not the Bhagavat’s.

– For this interpretation, see E. Burnouf, Lotus, p. 39, 361. The indivisibility (aprabheda) of the dharmadhātu has the single Vehicle as its corollary. Question in regard to the single Vehicle has been treated exhaustively by L. Hurvitz in One Vehicle or Three?, transl. into English by L Hurvitz, Jour. Ind. Phil., 3 (1975), p. 79–166.


Allusion to the canonical saying: Tiṇṇo pāraṃgato thale tiṭṭhati brāhmaṇo: “Having crossed over and attained the other shore, the brāhmaṇa is on solid ground” (Anguttara, II, p. 5–6; IV, p. 11–13; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 157, 174–175; Itivuttaka, p. 57). In this saying, brāhmaṇa means arahata, and pāraṃgata is synonymous with koṭigata (cf. Mahāniddesa, I, p. 20).

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