Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “simultaneously preaching and converting” 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.

There are Buddhas who save beings, but in limited numbers. Thus, when the Buddha Śākyamuni turned the Wheel of Dharma, Kiao-tch’en-jou (Kauṇḍinya) was the only person to obtain the first [fruit] of the Path (prathamaṃ mārgaphalam, i.e., srotaāpattiphala) and 80,000 devas also obtained the purity of the dust-free and stainless eye of Dharma (virajo vigatamalaṃ dharmeṣu dharmacakṣur viṣuddham).[1] Learning that, some bodhisattvas [as here] make the following wish (praṇidhāna): “When I turn the wheel of the Dharma, may innumerable incalculable beings obtain the purity of the dust-free stainless Dharma eye.”

When the Buddha Śākyamuni first turned the Wheel of Dharma, a single bhikṣu [namely Kauṇḍinya] and some devas obtained the first [fruit of the path, the srotaāpattiphala], but nobody obtained arhathood or the bodhi of the bodhisattvas. This is why some bodhisattvas, [as here], make the following wish: “When I become Buddha, may the minds of innumerable incalculable beings, by detachment in regard to things, have their minds liberated from the impurities, and may innumerable incalculable beings become irreversible in their course to supreme complete enlightenment.”

Question. – But in all the Buddhas, the magical power (ṛddhibala), qualities (guṇa) and salvific activity (sattvaparitrāṇa) are the same;[2] why then do these bodhisattvas make such wishes (praṇidhāna)?

Answer. – A single Buddha can create innumerable incalculable bodies by transformation (nirmāṇa) and save beings by them. However, in the universes (lokadhātu) some are pure (pariśuddha) and some are impure (apariśuddha). The bodhisattvas see or hear it said that some buddhas, by austerity (duṣkaracaryā), have attained abhisaṃbodhi with difficulty and have not immediately turned the Wheel of Dharma. Thus, for example, the Buddha Śākyamuni realized abhisaṃbodhi only after six years of austerity and, when he first turned the Wheel of Dharma, nobody obtained the bodhi of the arhats, still less the bodhi of the bodhisattvas.[3] This is why these bodhisattvas, not knowing that the buddhas are equal in power, make the wishes [mentioned here in the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra]. Nevertheless, the magical power (ṛddhibala) and the qualities (guṇa) are identical (sama) and without difference (nirviśiṣṭa) in all the buddhas.


To reach nirvāṇa, the ascetic must travel a path of seeing (darśanamārga) which involves 16 moments of mind, and a path of meditation (bhāvanāmārga) which involves 162 moments of mind. During this course, he enters into possession of four fruits of the path (mārgaphala), also called fruits of the religious life (śrāmaṇyaphala). He becomes srotaāpanna at the 16th moment of the darśanamārga, sakṛdāgāmin, anāgāmin and arhat (aśaikṣa) at, respectively, the 12th, 18th and 162nd moments of the bhāvanāmārga.

Buddhist texts use a stereotyped formula in describing the acquisition of the fruit of srotaāpanna: “In the venerable one there arises the eye of Dharma, without dust or stain”, sometimes completed by the saying: “He knows that all that has a beginning is subject to destruction.”

Pāli Concordance, II, p. 408. s.v. dhammacakkhu, p. 513, s.v. nirodhamma. – Āyasmato N. virajaṃ vītamalaṃ dammacakkhuṃ udapādi yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamman ti.

Catuṣpariṣad, p. 152; Saṃghabheda, I, p. 136; Mahāvastu, III, p. 333, l. 19. – Āyuṣmati N. virajo vigatamalaṃ dharmeṣu dharmacakṣur utpannaṃ (variant: viśuddam).

To designate the acquisition of the fourth fruit, the fruit of arhat, another formula is used: “In the venerable one, by detachment, the mind was liberated from impurities.”

Pāli Concordance, I, p. 348, s.v. āsavehi. – Tassa N. anupādāya āsavehi cittaṃ vimuccati (or vimucci).

Catuṣpariṣad, p. 162, 170, 190, 322; Saṃghabheda, I, p. 138, 139, 143; Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 170; Mahāvastu, III, p. 227, l. 4. – Āyuṣmato N. anupādāyasravebhyaś cittaṃ vimuktam (in plural, cittāni vimuktāni).

Access to a fruit of the path is a type of conversion usually brought about by a speech of the Buddha. Entry into possession of the fourth fruit, the fruit of arhat, is usually preceded by several sermons of the Buddha. Thus Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya who, after Śākyamuni, was the second arhat in this world, attained the final goal after two times only: during the sermon on the four noble Truths, he became a srotaāpanna, in possession of the dharmacakṣus, but it was only at the end of the sermon on non-self that his mind was liberated from impurities and he became arhat (cf. Saṃghabheda, I, p. 136, l. 15–16, and p, 138, l.6–7).

The Saṃghabhedavastu of the Mūlasarv. Vinaya gives the list of the first 61 arhats and relates the historical detail of their final conversion.

1) The Buddha Śākyamuni.

2) Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya (I, p. 138)

3–6) The other four members of the Fortunate Group (p. 139).

7) Yaśas (p. 143).

8–11) The 50 young men of Benares (p. 148).

This list also appears in Catuṣpariṣad (p. 162, 170, 180, 208, 212) and with slight differences, in the Pāli Vinaya (I, p. 14, 18, 19, 20).

These conversions of limited number were never instantaneous and, to bring them to completion, the Buddha himself had to intervene several times with his encouragement and advice.

The bodhisattva pictured here by the Prajñāpāramitā wishes that, at his first sermon, innumerable beings would accede instantaneously to the fruits of the path. A bold, not to say unrealizable wish, but quite to the honor of the bodhisattva.

Footnotes and references:


The Traité cites Sarvāstivādin sources textually, the Catuṣpariṣad, p. 152, and the Saṃghabheda, I, p. 136: Asmin khalu dharmaparyāye bhāṣyamāṇe āyuṣmata ājñātakauṇḍinyasya virajo vigatamalaṃ dharmeṣu dharmacakṣur utpannam aśitīnāṃ ca devatāsahasrāṇām. – The Pāli Vinaya (I, p. 11, l. 32–35) does not mention the gods, whereas the Mahāvastu (III, p. 333, l. 19–334, l. 1) mentions 18 koṭi of devas.


On the similarities and differences among the Buddhas, see Kośa, VII, p. 80–82, and notes.


Actually, as we have just seen, after the first sermon of the Buddha at Benares, Kauṇḍinya and the gods obtained just the fruit of srotaāpanna.