Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note (4)” 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.

A vision of the Buddhas, different from those just described, is set forth in the Pratyutpannabuddha-saṃmukhāvasthitasamādhisūtra, in Tibetan Da ltar gyi saṅs rgyas mṅon sum du bzhugs paḥI tiṅ ṅe ḥdzin ‘the concentration of being face to face with the Buddhas of the present’. This sūtra is often designated under the abbreviated title of Pratyutapannasamādhi or also Bhadrapālasūtra because the bodhisattva thus named is the principal interlocutor of the Buddha.

This sūtra is known to us by Sanskrit fragments coming from eastern Turkestan (cf. R. Hoernle, Manuscript Remains, p. 88–93), by four Chinese versions and one Tibetan translation which I [Lamotte] will return to later.

“This text is one of the oldest Mahāyānasūtras. According to one conjecture, it may have been the manual of early Buddhists during the early Mahāyāna period (50–100AD). It is well known to the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists because it refers to worship of the Buddha Amitābha. The assembly where this sūtra was preached was simple, consisting only of 500 bhikṣus and 500 bodhisattvas: this shows that the sūtra goes back to the first days of the Mahāyāna. The Chinese version in one kuan (T 417 and 419?) seems to have been composed before the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtras or in a region where the thinking of the prajñāparamitā had not been taught. The Chinese version in three kiuans (T 418) had been influenced by this thinking. The Pratyutpanna-samādhi definitely influenced Pure Land Buddhism” (H. Nakamura, A Survey of Mahāyāna Buddhism with bibliographical notes, in Jour. of Intercultural Studies, III (1976), p. 83.

Whereas the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras represent mainly the ‘Wisdom Sūtras’, the Pratyutpanna-samādhisūtra is classified among the ‘Meditation Sūtras’ elaborated at about the beginning of our era by Buddhist practitioners of the Yogācāra school who were preoccupied with meditation rather than discussion, with mysticism rather than rationalism: an ancient tendency that appeared as early as the oldest canonical texts: cf. L. de La Vallée Poussin, Musila et Nārada, in MCB, V (1936–37), p. 189–222.

The leader of the Yogācāra Buddhists was Saṃgharakṣa who was considered by the Sarvāstivādins of Kaśmir as one of their patriarchs. A native of Surāṣṭra (Kathiawar), he lived in the 2nd century AD and was the teacher of Caṇḍana-Kaniṣka in Gandhāra. He compiled a Buddhacarita (T 194) and a Yogācārabhūmi (T 606) to which P. Demiéville has dedicated an important dissertation (La Yogācārabhūmi de Saṅgharakṣa, BEFEO, XLIV (1954), p. 339–436. The work originally contained 27 chapters describing the Hīnayānist Yoga technique; in the translation made by Dharmarakṣa it consists of 30 chapters. The fact is that the Mahāyānists showed very strong interest in the Hīnayānist dhyāna as practiced by the Sarvāstivādin communities of Kaśmir and thereby there resulted a more or less hybrid literature.

The Pratyutpannasamādhisūtra was written in this context but presents itself openly as Mahāyānist. As will be seen in the following pages, it advocates, for the use of lay people or monks, liberated or not liberated from desire, a concentration that puts them face to face with the Buddhas of the present. To acquire this concentration, there is no need for the abhijñā of the divine eye resulting from the practice of dhyāna; all that is required is a probationary period followed by a session of intense meditation of from one to seven days, at the end of which, without changing one’s position, one sees the Buddhas of the present, Amitābha in particular. Arising from this samādhi, one sees them no more: it is as if they were visions of a dream.

The Pratyutpannasamādhi is not only mentioned in the sūtra that bears its name (T 418, etc.); it is also mentioned in the Śūraṃgamasamādhisūtra (T 642, k. 1, p. 634a5), the Daśabhūmikasūtra (ed. Rahder, p. 82, l. 15–16), the Daśabhūmikavibhāṣā (T 1521, k. 1, p. 25c3; k. 7, p. 54a1; k. 9, p. 68c17; k. 16, p. 109b7), etc.

It seems that the Prajñāpāmaritās were not aware of it. They accept that one may see the Buddhas in dream, but, as has been said above, they consider any seeing whatsoever as a purely subjective epiphenomenon brought on by wrong conceptualization (saṃkalpa).

On the other hand, in its commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā, the Traité calls upon a good thirty Mahāyānasūtras (see Vol. III, Introduction, p. XXXIV and foll.), and gives us ample information on the Prayutpannasamādhi. Referring here exclusively to its Chinese version (T 1509), I [Lamotte] will mention a few passages as follows:

The Pratyutpannasamādhi does not occur in bodhisattvas of the first seven bhūmis who are still affected by a fleshly body (k. 37, p. 335b19; k. 49, p. 416a18; it belongs to bodhisattvas of the eighth bhūmi who are assured of the eventual attainment of enlightenment (niyāma) and have the certainty that dharmas do not arise: anutpattikā dharmakṣānti (k. 4, p. 86c3; k. 27, p. 262a20–21), as, for example, the lay bodhisattva Bhadrapāla (k. 7, p. 11a18). By means of the upāyas acquired in the seventh bhūmi and the pratyutpannasamādhi acquired in the eighth bhūmi, the bodhisattva is superior to the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas (k. 35, p. 320a10). Thanks to this samādhi, there is no need to obtain the abhijñā of the divine eye (divyacakṣus) in order to see all the Buddhas of the present occupying the innumerable universes distributed in the ten directions (k. 9, p. 123c29; k. 33, p. 306a15); it is by assiduous practice that a son of good family will be reborn in the paradise of Amita (k. 29, p. 276a18–19). Finally, the Pratyutpannasamādhi is the father of the Buddha (k. 34, p. 314a23), whereas the Prajñāpāramitā is his mother.

Does this mean that the Traité agrees with it unreservedly? Not at all. Everything leads us to believe that even at that time there had arisen in India, probably in Kaśmir, a controversy about the respective value of the Prajñāpāramitā and the Pratyutpannasamādhi. In the following pages, the Traité reveals to us the depth of its thinking and places itself resolutely on the side of the partisans of the Prajñāpāramitā.

The abhijñās practiced in the spirit of the Prajñāpāramitā are the best ‘pointers’ of the Buddhas or, rather, the true nature of things with which the Tathāgatas are mingled: the divine eye sees them, the divine ear hears them, the knowledge of others’ minds penetrates their mind.

Conceived in this way, the abhijñās present precious benefits. Thus, the divyacakṣus is morally undefiled-indeterminate and, in this quality, does not involve any fruit of retribution; it is acquired solely by the ascetic detached from the desires of the kāmadhātu; according to the Abhidharmas, it is a pure material (rūpaprasāda) endowed with perfect clarity; finally, its acquisition and its use are easy, provided that one holds the dhyānas which, although said in parentheses, is already not too bad!

These noble qualifications are absent in the Pratyutpannasamādhi. One no longer knows if the Buddhas whose presence it calls forth are “like a dream” or simple dreams, real or illusory. One thing is certain: they result from conceptualization (saṃkalpa), from autosuggestion (k. 33, p. 306a19–21).

“The Prajñāpāramitā is the mother of the Buddhas. Of the help given by the father and that given by the mother, that of the mother is the weightiest. This is why the Buddha considers the Prajñā as his mother and the Pratyutpannasamādhi as his father. This samādhi is able only to concentrate the distracted mind (vikṣiptacitta); it helps the Prajñā to be actualized but it cannot contemplate the true nature of things (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā) [which is none other than the absence of nature].

The Prajñāpāramitā itself contemplates the entirety of things and reveals the true nature, There is nothing that it does not penetrate, nothing that it does not realize, and its merit is so great that it is called Mother.” (k. 34, p. 314a21–26).

With this statement, the author of the Traité places himself resolutely on the side of the rationalists who prefer gnosis to mysticism, prajñā to yoga, discernment (vipaśyanā) to tranquility (śamatha). Nevertheless, although he places the Pratyutpannasamādhi well below that of the Prajñā, he does not hesitate to give it a certain usefulness.

This stand is part of the lineage of Buddhism. It prefers the discernment of the Dharma to a vision of the Buddhas. But did not Śākyamuni say to Vakkali: “He who sees the Dharma sees me” (Saṃyutta, III, p. 120: yo kho dhammaṃ passati so maṃ passati)?

By not formally condemning the Prayutpannasamādhi, he applies the Teacher’s recommendations praising a middle way in a literal manner: “The monks who devote themselves to trance (jhāyin) blame the monks who are attached to the doctrine (dhammayoga) and vice versa. On the other hand, they should esteem one another. Indeed, rare are the men who pass their time (vihar-) by testing the immortal element (amata dhātu). Rare also are those who see the profound reality (arthapada) by penetrating it by means of Prajñā, by means of the intellect” (Anguttara, III, p. 355–356).