Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “supplementary explanations” 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.

1) The manner of being of all dharmas:

Let us return to the sarvadharmāṇāṃ tathatā “the manner of being of all dharmas”. At the moment when dharmas are not yet arisen (ajāta) and at the moment of their arising (jātisamaye) dharmas are ‘thus’ (tathā). Once arisen, whether they are past (atīta) or present (pratyutpanna), they are are also ‘thus’ (tathā). This sameness of dharmas throughout the three times is called tathatā.

Question. – Dharmas not yet arisen (ajāta) do not have birth (jātidharma); when present (pratyutpanna), they have this dharma of birth and are capable of functioning, for present dharmas have a nature of activity (kāritralakṣaṇa); the recalling of past dharmas (atītvastusmaraṇa) is called the past (atīta). The three times, each of which is different, cannot be truly identical (sama). Why then do you claim that the tathatā is the identity of the three times (tryadhvasamatā)?

Answer. – In the true nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa or dharmatā), the three times are identical and not different.

As is said in the Prajñāpāramitā[sūtra] in the Jou p’in chapter (Tathatāparivarta): “The past tathatā, the future tathatā, the present tathatā and the tathatā of the Tathāgata are one and the same tathatā and are no different.”[1]

Moreover, previously (p. 2062F), in the present Louen-yi (Upadeśa),[2] I have refuted the arising-dharma (utpadadharma). If there is no arising, the future (anāgata) and the present (pratyutpanna) are also without arising. Then how would the three times not be identical? What is more, past time (atītādhvan) is without beginning (anādika), future time (anāgatādhvan) is without end (ananta) and present time (pratyutpannādhvan) is without duration (asthitika). This is why the identity of the three times (tryadvasamatā) is called the tathatā [of dharmas].

2) The dharmadhātu is nirvāṇa:

Having cultivated the tathatā, the practitioner enters into the immense dharmadhātu. The dharmadhātu is nirvāṇa; it is indivisible (abhedya) and eludes futile proliferation (niṣprapañca). The dharmadhātu is the fundamental element (maulabhāga). Just as in yellow rock (pītapāṣāṇa) there is gold ore (suvarṇadhātu), just as in white rock (pāṇḍarapāṣmaṇa) there is silver ore (rajatadhātu), so, in all the dharmas of the world, there is the ‘nirvāṇa-ore’ (nirvāṇadhātu).[3]

By their wisdom (prajñā), their skillful means (upāya), their morality (śīla) and their meditative absorptions (samādhi), the Buddhas and the saints (satpuruṣa) ripen (paripācayanti) beings and lead (upanayanti) them to find this nirvāṇa-dharmadhātu. Beings with sharp faculties (tīkṣnendriya) know that all dharmas are dharmadhātu: these beings are like people having the superknowledge of magic (ṛddhyābhijñā) who are able to transform (pariṇam-) bricks into gold. Beings of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya) carefully scrutinize dharmas and finally find the dharmadhātu in them: they are like workers in a big foundry who breakup rock and finally find gold.

Moreover, the waters (udaka) that naturally flow downward end up all together in the ocean, finally all becoming of one taste (ekarasa), [the taste of salt]. It is the same for dharmas: their general characteristics (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) and the specific characteristics (svalakṣaṇa) all end up in the dharmadhātu and they become assimilated into the single nature (ekalakṣaṇa) [which is none other than the absence of nature: alakṣaṇa[4]]: that is the dharmadhātu.

The thunderbolt (vajra) at the top of a mountain (giryagra) gradually sinks down to the bottom of the diamond level (vajrabhūmi) and there, rejoining its own element (prakṛti or svabhāva), it stops.[5] It is the same with dharmas: when [298c] one analyzes and explores them wisely, one reaches the very center of the tathatā and, on leaving this tathatā, one enters into the intrinsic nature (prakṛti or svabhāva). The tathatā without birth from the very beginning (ādyanutpanna)[6] and eliminating all futile proliferation (niṣprañca) is called dharmadhātu.

When the calf (vatsa) is tied up, it cries and bawls but, when it has found its mother again, it immediately stops crying. It is the same with dharmas: many and diverse, they are dissimilar in being taken (parigraha) and being rejected (utsarga), but as soon as they are gathered into their dharmadhātu, they cease at once: there is no way to go beyond that (nāsty utkramaṇasthānam). That is the dharmadhātu.

3) Bhūtakoṭi.

As I have said above (p. 2188F), the dharmadhātu is called true (bhūta); and the place of entry is called the highest point (koṭi).

[Ninefold dharmas]

When one takes possession (prāpnoti) of the realization of the fruit (phalasākṣātkāra),[7] there is bhūtakoṭi.

Moreover, the true nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa or dharmatā) is eternally stable (sthita) and immobile (akopya). As a result of their passions, ignorance, etc., (avidyādikleśa), beings transform and distort this true nature. The Buddha and the saints (satpuruṣa) preach the Dharma to them using all kinds of salvific means (nānāvidhopāya) and annihilate their passions, ignorance, etc., so well that beings rediscover the true nature, primordial and unchanged, that is called tathatā. This true nature, in contact with ignorance (avidyā), is transformed and becomes impure (aśuddha); but if one eliminates ignorance, etc., one finds the true nature. It is called dharmadhātu, viśuddhi, bhūtakoṭi. That is the entry into [299a] the dharmadhātu.

The dharmadhātu is immense (apramāṇa), limitless (ananta), extremely subtle (sūkṣma) and admirable (praṇīta). There is no dharma that surpasses the dharmadhātu or that diverges from it. [In its presence], mind (citta) is fulfilled (ārāgāyati) and, without looking for anything else, it actualizes it (sākṣātkaroti). The traveller who, day after day, has gone on without ever stopping, no longer has the idea of starting again. It is the same for the yogin established in bhūtakoṭi. Take, for example, an arhat or pratyekabuddha who is established in bhūtakoṭi: even if Buddhas as many as the sands of the Ganges (gaṅgānadīvālukopama) were to preach the Dharma to him, he would not progress any further [because he has attained his goal]. Moreover, [having actualized nirvāṇa], he is no longer reborn in the threefold world (traidhātuka).

As for the bodhisattva entered into the dharmadhātu, it is uncertain whether he knows the bhūtakoṭi. Although he has not yet fully perfected (paripṛ-) the six perfections (pāramitā), he converts beings (sattvān paripācayati). If he realized [nirvāṇa] at that time, that would prevent him from [some day] attaining the bodhi of the Buddhas. From then on, by the power of his great compassion (mahākaruṇā) and his exertion (virya), the bodhisattva returns to exercising the practices.

Moreover, the bodhisattva knows that in the true nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa or dharmatā) there is no eternal (nitya) dharma or happy (sukha) dharma or personal (ātmaka) dharma or real (bhūta) dharma. He also abandons these considerations of the dharmas (dharmaparīkṣā). The cessation (nirodha) of all considerations of this kind is precisely the true tathatā of dharmas, nirvāṇa, non-production (anutpāda), non-cessation (anirodha), primordial non-arising (ādyanutpannatava).[8]

Thus, water is cold, but if it brought close to fire, it gets hot; when the fire is extinguished, the heat disappears and the water gets cold again as before. Applying considerations of dharmas [to the tathatā] is like bringing the water close to the fire; suppressing all considerations about dharmas is like extinguishing the fire so that the water becomes cold again. That is the tathatā, truly and eternally susbsistent. Why is that? Because the dharmadhātu is like that.

Just as there is an empty aspect (śūnyabhāga) in every material dharma (rūpin), so there is a nature of nirvāṇa called dharmadhātu in dharmas. The nature of nirvāṇa is also in the many skillful means (upāya) used to attain nirvāṇa. At the time when nirvāṇa is realized, tathatā and dharmadhātu are bhūtakoṭi.

Finally, the immense (apramāna), limitless (ananta) dharmadhātu, unable to be measured by the mind and mental events (cittacaitta), is called dharmadhātu. It is so wondrous that it is called bhūtakoṭi.

Footnotes and references:


Pañcaviṃśati, chap. LIV: Tathatāparivarta, T 223, k. 16, p. 335c10–17; T 220, vol. VII, k. 513, p. 619c25–27. – Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 623: Iti hi Subhūtitathatā cātītānagatapratyutpannatathatā ca tathāgatatathatā cādvayam etad advaidhikāram | evaṃ sarvadharmatathatā ca Subhūtitathatā cādvayam etad advaidhīkāram ||


As we have seen above (Vol. III, Introduction, p. vii-viiiF and p. 1237F), the Traité presents itself under the name Upadeśa, in Chinese Louen-yi.


The image developed here leads me [Lamotte] to translate nirvāṇadhātu as ‘nirvāṇa-ore’, but the meaning is more complex; cf. L. de La Vallée Poussin, Nirvāṇa, p. 155, 172.


See p. 676F, 938F, 1376F, 1382F, 1621F, 1694F, 1703F, 1741F, 935F.


The thunderbolt, cast by the powerful deities, strikes the summit of the mountains, passes through the earth (pṛthivī) and rejoins its natural element, the diamond level (vajrabhūmi) where it dissolves. Traditional cosmology does not mention this vajrabhūmi. According to the Sarvāstivādin system (Kośa, III, p. 138–148), very close to the canonical sources (Dīgha, II, p. 107; Saṃyutta, II, p. 103), the receptacle world (bhājanaloka) rests on space (ākāśa) upon which are superimposed, in turn, the circle of wind (vāyumaṇḍala) – solid and which cannot be shaken by the thunderbolt – the circle of the waters (apāṃ maṇḍalam), the level of gold (kañcanamayī bhūmi) and finally the earth proper (pṛthivī) with its mountains (parvata), its continents (dvīpa) and its outer surroundings, the cakravāda.

The vajrabhūmi of which the Traité is speaking here should be placed between the earth proper and the level of gold, and it is also on the level of gold that the vajrāsana ‘diamond seat’ rests – also called bodhimaṇḍa ‘area of enlightenment’ – on which all the bodhisattvas sit to realize vajropamasamādhi and thus become arhat and Buddha (cf. Kośa, III, p. 145). – For this bodhimaṇḍa, see Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, French transl., p. 199–200 note.

The Traité establishes close relationships between the bodhimaṇḍa and the vajrabhūmi in every manner. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 82, l. 2–3, states that “thanks to his dharmacakṣus, the bodhisattva knows that such and such a bodhisattva will sit (niṣatsyate) on the bodhimaṇḍa and such and such a bodhisattva will not”. Commenting on this passage, the Traité (T 1509, k. 40, p. 350a17–19) comments: If the bodhisattva sees that, in the place where such and such a bodhisattva is, there is, under the earth (pṛthivyā adhastāt), the Vajrabhūmi to support this bodhisattva, and if he sees the devas, nāgas and yakṣas holding all kinds of offerings and coming to the bodhimaṇḍa, etc., he knows in advance that that particular bodhisattva will sit on the bodhimaṇḍa.


Adopting the variant pen wei cheng.


The saint does not produce (notpādayati) the dharmadhātu (= nirvāṇa); he actualizes it (sākṣatkaroti); in technical terms, he takes possession (prāpanoti) of the dharmadhātu.


Adopting the variant pen wei cheng.