Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “synonymity of the three words” 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.

II. Synonymity of the three words

Question. – Tathatā, dharmadhātu and bhūtakoṭi: these three things are identical (ekārtha) or different (nānārtha). If they are the same, why use three words? If they are three different things, it would be fitting to distinguish them now.

Answer. – The three words are synonyms (paryāya) serving to designate the dharmatā. Why is that?

Ignorant worldly people (pṛthagjana) have wrong views (mithyādarśana) of all the dharmas and speak of permanent (nitya), happy (sukha), pure (śuci), real (bhūta) and personal (ātmaka) dharmas.[1]

The disciples (śrāvaka) of the Buddha consider things according to their principal characteristics (maulalakṣaṇa). Then, not seeing any permanent dharmas, they speak of impermanence (anityatā); not seeing any happy dharmas, they speak about suffering (duḥkha); not seeing any pure dharmas, they speak about impurity (aśuci); not seeing any real dharmas, they speak about emptiness (śūnyatā), and not seeing any personal dharmas, they speak about non-self (anātman).

But, while not seeing permanent dharmas, seeing impermanence (anityatā) is a wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi).[2] And it is the same for the views of suffering, emptiness, non-self and impurity. That is what is called tathatā.

The tathatā is fundamentally indestructible (avināśin); this is why, [in the Chandasūtra of the Saṃyuktāgama] the Buddha enunciated the three rules constituting the three Seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā), namely: i) “All conditioned dharmas are impermanent (sarvasaṃskārā anityāḥ); ii) All dharmas are non-self (sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ); iii) Nirvāṇa is peace (śāntam nirvāṇam).”[3]

Question. – But these three Seals of the Dharma are completely broken (upaghāta) by the Prajñāpāramitā[sūtra] where the Buddha says to Subhūti: “The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who considers form (rūpa) to be permanent (nitya) is not practicing the perfection of wisdom; the bodhisattva-mahāsattva who considers form to be impermanent (anitya) is not practicing the perfection of wisdom. And it is the same if he considers it as happy (sukha) or unhappy (duḥkha), self (ātman) or non-self (anātman), peaceful (śānta) or non-peaceful (aśānta).”[4] That being so, why speak of the Seals of the Dharma?

Answer. – The two sūtras [touched on here, namely, the Chandasūtra and the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] are both the Word of the Buddha (buddhavacana), but it is in the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra that the Buddha spoke most clearly about the true nature of dharmas (dharmatā or bhūtalakṣaṇa). [298a]

There are people who, being attached to the error of permanence (nityam iti viparyāse ‘bhiniviṣṭa), reject this eternalist view (śāśvatadṛṣṭi) but are not, however, attached to impermanence (anityatā): this is the true Seal of the Dharma (dharmamudā). The fact of rejecting eternalism (śāśvata) and [in turn] adopting impermanence (anityatā) should not be considered as a Seal of the Dharma. It is the same in regard to the view of self (ātmadṛṣṭi) and the other views up to that of peace (śāntadṛṣṭi).

In the Prajñāpāramitā, [the Buddha] condemns attachment (abhiniveśa) to the wrong views of impermanence, etc., (anityādṛṣṭi), but does not condemn the fact of accepting nothing (aparigraha), of adopting nothing (anabhiniveśa).[5]

Having acquired this tathatā of dharmas, one penetrates into the dharmadhātu, one eliminates all opinions (vipaśyanā) and does not conceive any further beliefs, for “such is its essence (prakṛtir asyaiṣā).”[6]

Thus, when a small child (bālaka) sees the moon reflected in the water (udakacandra), he goes into the water to grab the moon but, unable to grab it, he is very sad. A wise person then tells him: “Such is its essence; so don’t be sad (daurmanasya).”

Finally, to completely penetrate (supravidh-) the dharmadhātu is bhūtakoṭi.

Footnotes and references:


Worldly people fall into the four mistakes (viparyāsa), particularly the wrong view of eternalism (śāśvatadṛṣṭi).


The śrāvakas fall into the wrong view of annihilation (ucchedadṛṣṭi), for it is one thing to determine that all dharmas are impermanent and another thing to hypostatize this impermanence (anityatā). Eternalism and nihilism have both been condemned by the Buddha (cf. p. 155F, etc.)


Chandasūtra of the Saṃyukta (T 99,no. 262, k. 10, p. 66b14), having as correspondent the Pāli Channasuttanta of the Saṃyutta, III, p. 132, l. 26–27. In the former, the Buddha states: Sarve saṃskārā anityāḥ, sarve dharmā anātmānaḥ, śāntaṃ nirvāṇam; in the latter: Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe dhammā anattā. These are the seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā): cf. p. 1369F.


For the idea, cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 131 and foll., Śatasāhasrikā, p. 568 and foll.: Bodhisattvena mahāsattvena prajñāpāramitāyaṃ caratā rūpam anityam iti … rūpaṃ duḥkham iti … rūpam anātmeti … rūpaṃ śāntam iti na sthātavya. Similarly for the other skandhas.


Cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 135, l. 2: Yaḥ sarvadharmāṇām aparigraho ’nitsargaḥ sā prajñāpāramitā. – The fact of not accepting and not rejecting any dharma is the perfection of wisdom.


Prakṛtir asyaiṣā is a frequent refrain in Mahāyāna explanations: cf. p. 2031–2035F (definition of the 16 emptinesses), 2112F (in the Samṛddhisūtra), 2114F note.

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