Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note (2)” 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.

The buddhology of the early times was relatively simple: the Buddhas are born only in a universe of four continents (caturdvīpalokadhātu), in India (Jambudvīpa), in the central region (Madhyadeśa), and two Buddhas never appear simultaneously in the same world (cf. Traité, p. 302F, n. 1; 535F). The Buddhas who followed one another in our world were not very numerous: Śākyamuni included, the early Buddhists listed seven, twenty-five, rarely more.

Later, at the margins of this restricted universe, Buddhists built up a grandiose cosmic system which appeared already in certain texts of the Lesser Vehicle but which gained in importance in those of the Greater Vehicle. This system distinguishes three kinds of complex universes: i) the sāhasracūḍika consisting of a thousand universes of four continents, ii) the dvisāhasra madhyama containing a million universes of four continents, iii) the trisāhasramahāsāhasra including a billion universes of four continents.

The trisāhasramahāsāhasras are distributed in the ten directions of space: east, south, west, north, north-east, north-west, south east, south west, nadir and zenith, and they are, in each of these ten directions, as numerous as the sands of one or several Ganges. The majority also constitute Buddha-fields (buddhakṣetra) where a Tathāgata “resides, lives, exists and teaches the Dharma for the welfare and benefit of many beings”. These Tathāgatas, whose number is incalculable if not infinite, are the Buddhas of the present (pratyurpannabuddha): they were preceded by and will be followed in time by innumerable Buddhas of the past and the future (atītānāgatabuddha).

The bodhisattva of whom the Traité is speaking here formulates a series of wishes: to see the Buddhas of the present, hear their teachings and penetrate their mind; to remember the teachings of the Buddha of the present; to see the buddhakṣetras of the Buddhas of the three times and to propagate the teachings of these same Buddhas.

To actualize these wishes is not an easy thing. It cannot be a question of having recourse to human organs of limited range and coming up against many obstacles.

Calling upon the superhuman faculties is more successful: the divine eye (divyacakṣus), the divine ear (divyaśrotra) and the knowledge of another’s mind (paracittajñāna), classified among the abhijñās and which, as we have seen, make up as many ‘eyes’ taken in the metaphorical sense of the word.

But by themselves, they are unable to attain the edges of time and space, of seeing, hearing and understanding the innumerable Buddhas of the three times peopling the innumerable universes of the ten directions.

Generally, the divine eye and divine ear do not go beyond a trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu, and the knowledge of another’s mind does not know the actual minds: the past and the future are closed to it.

In order to ‘see’ – i.e., to see, hear and understand – the Buddhas of the ten directions and three times, one must seek other solutions, and the first Mahāyānasūtras proposed some. Here it will be a matter of the Great Prajñāpāramitāsūtras and the Pratyutpannasamādhisūtras (T 416 to 419).