Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “mastering the earth element (prithivi)” 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. Mastering the earth element (pṛthivī)

Question. – Why does the Buddha not praise the qualities (guṇa) of the bodhisattva, such as the six perfections (ṣaṭpāramitā), but rather he praises this great power (mahābala) [consisting of mastering the four elements]?

Answer. – Beings are of two types: i) those who love the good dharmas (kuśaladharma); ii) those who love the fruits of ripening (vipākaphala) resulting from the good dharmas. For those who love the good dharmas the Buddha praises the qualities (guṇa); for those who love the fruits of ripening resulting from the good dharmas he praises great magical power (mahāṛddhibala).

Moreover, some say that the fame enjoyed by the great elements (mahābhūta) is well justified: they are infinite (ananta), indestructible (akṣaya) and always present in the world; this is why there is nobody who is able to measure their dimensions exactly. People build cities (nagara) and palaces (prāsāda), but the materials they use are insignificant (atyalpa). The earth (pṛthivī) itself is very extensive (vistīrṇa), it supports the ten thousand things and is very solid (dṛḍha). This is why the Buddha says here that in order to know fully the number of subtle atoms (paramāṇu) contained in the earth (pṛthivī) and the Mount Sumerus of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu and in order to know the respective part beings hold in regard to their actions, it is necessary to practice the perfection of wisdom.

Question. – The subtle atoms contained in a single stone (pāṣāṇa) are already difficult to count; what can be said of the subtle atoms contained in the earth and mountains of the trisāhasramahāsmahasralokadhātu? It is unbelievable [that they can be counted].

Answer. – The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are unable to know them and, still less, the worldly people (pṛthagjana), but this number is known by the Buddhas and the great bodhisattvas.


Question. – How does one obtain such a science [of measuring] by practicing the Prajñāpāramitā?

Answer. – There are men who, by practicing the Prajñāpāramitā, destroy the conflicting emotions (kleśa), wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi), futile chatter [299c] (prapañca), and penetrate into the very profound dhyānas and absorptions (samāpatti) of the bodhisattvas. By the purity and extent of their memory (smṛti) and their knowledge (jñāna), they are able to distinguish the subtle atoms (paramāṇu) of all the substances (rūpa) and know their number.

Moreover, the Buddhas and the great bodhisattvas who have obtained the unhindered liberations (anāvaraṇavimokṣa) do not consider calculations higher than that to be difficult (kṛcchra) and, still less, that calculation.

Moreover, there are people for whom the solidity (dṛḍhatva) of the earth (pṛthivī) and the absence of shape (saṃsthāna) of the mind (citta) are wrong. This is why the Buddha has said that the power of the mind (cittabala) is great.

By cultivating the Prajñāpāramitā, this great earth (mahāpṛthivī) is reduced to its subtle atoms (paramāṇu). Because the earth element possesses color (rūpa), odor (gandha), taste (rasa) and touch (spraṣṭavya), it is heavy (guru) and does not have activity (kriyā) on its own. – Because the water (ap-) element has no taste (rasa), it is superior to earth by means of its movement (calana). – Because the fire (tejas) element has neither odor (gandha) nor taste (rasa), it is superior to water in its power (prabhāva). – Because the wind (vāyu) element is neither visible (rūpa) nor has it any taste (rasa) or touch (spraṣṭavya), it is superior to fire by means of its movement (īraṇa). – The mind (citta) which has none of these four things [color, taste, smell and touch] has a still greater power. (also see Appendix 1)

But when the mind abounds in afflictive emotions (kleśa), in fetters (saṃyojana) and bonds (bandhana), its power is very small (atyalpa). Impure but good minds (sāsravakuśalacitta) have no afflictive emotions; however, since they still grasp characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhnanti), their power is small (alpa) also. In adepts of the two Vehicles, [śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha], pure minds no longer grasp characteristics and, nevertheless, since the wisdom of these adepts is limited, as soon as they leave the pure Path (anāsravamārga), their six organs (ṣaḍindriya) [begin again] to imagine and to grasp the characteristics of dharmas (dharmanimitta), and this is why they do not exhaust all the power of mind (cittabala). By contrast, in the Buddhas and great bodhisattvas, wisdom is immense (apramāṇa), unlimited (ananta), always deep in the dhyānas and the meditative absorptions (samāpatti). There is no difference between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. The True nature of dharmas (bhūtalakṣaṇa or dharmatā) is true (bhūta) and undifferentiated (abhinna). Taken by itself, knowledge (jñāna) is both good and bad, but, in those who cultivate the Prajñāpāramitā, it is absolutely pure (atyantaviśuddha) and free of obstacles (apratigha). In one moment they can count the subtle atoms (paramāṇu) contained in the great earth and the mountains of trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātus as numerous in each of the ten directions (daśasu dikṣu) as the sands of all the Ganges (sarvagaṅgānadīvālukopama), and all the more so, those contained in each of the ten directions in universes as many as the sands of a single Ganges.

Finally, although outside of the Prajñāpāramitā one is able to conquer the superknowledge of magic (ṛddhyabhijñā), the latter will never equal the [mathematical] knowledge of which I have just spoken. This is why the Prajñāpāramitā says that in order to obtain this great power of magic (mahāṛddhibala), it is necessary to practice the perfection of wisdom.