Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “upadesha (exegesis)” 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.

Twelfth aṅga (member): Upadeśa (exegesis)

1) The Louen-yi (upadeśa) ‘exegesis’ responds to questioners and explains the ‘why’; furthermore, it broadly explains the meanings (artha).

[Example of Sthaviran upadeśa]

Thus, the Buddha spoke of four truths (satya).

Which are these truths? – The four noble truths (āryasatya).

What are these four? – The noble truth of suffering (duḥkha), its origin (samudaya), its cessation (nirodha) and the path that leads to it (nirodhagāminī pratipad). That is an upadeśa.

What is the noble truth of suffering? – The eight kinds of suffering: suffering of birth (jātiduḥkha), etc.[1]

What is the suffering of birth? In each place where a being is born, he experiences suffering.

- Exchanges such as these and answers broadly explaining the meaning are called Yeou-po-t’i- chö (upadeśa).

[Example of Mahāyānist upadeśa]

Again, in the Mahāyāna, the Buddha spoke of the six perfections (pāramitā).

What are these six perfections? They go from the perfection of generosity (dānapāramitā) up to the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā).

What is the perfection of generosity? – The perfection of generosity is of two kinds: i) complete (saṃpanna); ii) incomplete (asampanna).

What is complete perfection of generosity? – That which is joined to the perfection of wisdom and which is obtained by the bodhisattva who has reached the tenth abode (vihāra) is said to be complete.[2]

What is incomplete perfection of generosity? As long as the bodhisattva who, for the first time has produced the mind of bodhi (prathamacittotpādika), has not obtained the conviction that dharmas do not arise (anutpattikā dharmakṣānti), his perfection of wisdom is not joined to the perfection of wisdom and is said to be incomplete.[3]

[In regard to the following perfections], up to and including the perfection of dhyāna, there are similar upadeśas.

As for the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā), it is complete if it [308b] possesses the power of skillful means (upāyabala); it is incomplete if it does not possess it.[4]

2) Moreover, the following are also called upadeśa:

a. the Commentaries given by the Buddha,

b. the sūtras explained by Mahākātyāyana,[5]

c. the teachings given in accordance with the Dharma by worldly individuals (pṛthagjana) up to the period of the counterfeit Dharma (pratirūpaka dharma).

Footnotes and references:


Cf. p. 1458, n. 1; 1745F; add Saṃghabheda, I, p. 137 to the references.


In the tenth ground, the bodhisattva attains anāsravā prajñā.


In the eighth ground, the bodhisattva obtains anutpattikadharmakṣānti which destroys the passions (kleśa) but does not completely eliminate their traces (vāsanā).


According to the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, French transl., p. 233, cited in the Bhāvanākrama, I, p. 194, wisdom (prajñā) without skillful means (upāyarahita) is bound (bandhana); furnished with skillful means (upāyasaṃprayukta), it is free (mokṣa).


It happened that the Buddha, having briefly explained the Dharma, went back to his cell. Then, doubting that they understood well, the monks went to Kātyāyana to ask him to explain the words of the Teacher, for, they thought: “This Venerable Mahākātyāyana, praised by the Teacher and venerated by his wise colleagues is able to explain fully the meaning” (ayaṃ kho āyasmā Mahākaccāno Satthu c’eva saṃvaṇṇito sambhāvito ca viññūnaṃ sabrahmacārīṇāṃ, pahoti c’āyasmā Mahākaccāno imassa Bhagavatā saṅkhittena uddesassa uddiṭṭhassa vitthārena atthaṃ avibhattassa vitthārena atthaṃ vibhajitum): cf. Majjhima,I, p. 110; III, p. 194, 223; Anguttara, V, p. 256, 259–260. See also Vimalakīrtidnirdeśa, French transl., p. 164–165.

Elsewhere, the Buddha proclaimed Kātyāyana ‘the foremost of those who explain fully the meaning of the concise words of the buddha’ (aggo saṅkhittena bhāsitassa vitthārena atthaṃ vibhajantānaṃ): cf. Anguttara, I, p. 23.