Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “three turnings and twelve aspects of the wheel of dharma” 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.

Appendix 1 - The three turnings and twelve aspects of the Wheel of Dharma

Note: This Appendix is extracted from a footnote of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra Chapter LI:

The Bodhisattva sees the true nature of things by means of pure wisdom (prajñā anāsrava) and, even in the earliest texts, this wisdom which in reality sees nothing, is metaphorically called ‘eye’ (cakṣus).

The Wheel of the Dharma is of three turnings and twelve aspects. In Sanskrit, triparivartaṃ dvādaśakāraṃ dharmacakram (Mahāvastu, III, p. 333, l. 11; Divyāvadāna, p. 205, l. 21; 393, l. 23; Lalitavistara, p. 422, l. 2; Aṣṭasāhasrikā, p. 380, l. 13; Sad. Puṇḍarika, p. 179, l. 1). In Pāli, tiparivaṭṭaṃ dvādasākarāraṃ yathābhūtaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ (Vinaya, I, p. 11, l. 20; II, l. 25; Saṃyutta, V, p. 422, l. 32.)

The expression is explained in Saṃyutta, V, p. 420–424; Saṃyukta, T 99, k. 15, p. 104c–105a; Catuṣpariṣad, p. 142–152 or 445–446; Dharmaguptaka Vin., T 1428, k. 32, p. 788a27–b23; Mūlasarv. Vin., Saṃghabheda, I, p. 135–136; Mahāvastu, III, p. 332–333; Lalitavistara, p. 417–418; Āloka, p. 381–382; Mahāvyut., no. 1309–1324.

The first turning (parivarta) of the noble Truths is the Path of seeing (darśanamārga) and consists of four aspects (ākāra):

  1. This is suffering (idaṃ duḥkham);
  2. This is its origin (ayaṃ samudayaḥ);
  3. This is its cessation (ayaṃ nirodhaḥ);
  4. This is the path of the cessation of suffering (iyaṃ nirodhagāminī pratipat).

The second turning is the path of meditation (bhāvanāmārga) and consists of four aspects:

  1. The noble truth of suffering should be known (duḥkhaṃ āryasatyaṃ parijñeyam);
  2. Its origin should be eliminated (duḥkhasamudayaḥ prahātavyaḥ);
  3. Its destruction should be realized (duḥkhanirodhaḥ sākṣātkartavyaḥ);
  4. The path of cessation of suffering should be practiced (duḥkhanirodhagāminī pratipad bhāvayitavyā).

The third turning is the path of the arhat (aśaikṣamārga) and consists of four aspects:

  1. Suffering is known (duḥkhaṃ parijñātam);
  2. Its origin has been destroyed (samudayaḥ prahīṇaḥ);
  3. Its destruction has been realized (nirodhaḥ sākṣātkṛtaḥ);
  4. The path of the cessation of suffering has been practiced (duḥkhanirodhagāminī pratipad bhāvitā).

After each of the twelve aspects mentioned here, the sources repeat the formula:

pūrvam ananuśruteṣu dharmeṣu yoniśo manasikurvataś cakṣur udapādi, jñānaṃ vidyābuddhir udapādi:

“When I was meditating on these things not yet understood by me, the eye was born in me, the knowledge, the clear intuition, the awareness were born.”

It is in regard to these four synonyms where the eye is taken in the metaphorical sense of wisdom (prajñā) that the Traité is alluding here. I [Lamotte] have no doubt that it is a question here of synonyms, although some scholars detect nuances between cakṣus, jñāna, vidya and buddhi: cf. Kośavyākhyā, p. 580, l. 30–581, l. 6.

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