Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preventing the disappearance of the holy 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.

Part 2 - Preventing the disappearance of the holy dharma

Sūtra (cf. Pañcaviṃśati, p. 34, l. 16–17; Śatasāhasrikā, p. 114, l. 11–12). – The bodhisattva must practice the perfection of wisdom if he wishes that, after his parinirvāṇa, there will be neither the disappearance of the Holy Dharma nor [313a] even the name of this disappearance (‘Kim iti me parinirvṛtasya saddharmāntardhānaṃ na bhaved antardhānaśabdo ’pi na baved iti prajñāpāramoitāyāṃ śikṣitavyam).

Śāstra. –

Question. – If even the Buddha who is the king of the Dharma must disappear, why should his Dharma not disappear?

Answer. – As I have already said above, this was a wish (praṇidhāna) of the bodhisattva, but is not itself realizable.

1) All conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) are the result of a complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrīsamutpanna); how then would they subsist eternally (nityastha) and not perish?

The Buddha is like the full sun and the Dharma like the light that remains at the setting of the sun; why would this remaining light at sunset not disappear? It is only because the Dharma lasts for a long time and nobody sees it disappear that it is said not to disappear.

2) Moreover, the bodhisattva [of whom the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is speaking here] sees that among the Dharmas preached by the Buddhas, some remain for a long time (cirasthitika) and others do not. Thus the Dharma of Buddha Káśyapa lasts seven days; the Dharma of Buddha Śākyamuni lasts for a thousand years.[1] This is why the bodhisattva makes the following wish: “Although my Dharma is conditioned (saṃskṛta), I wish that it will be prolonged and not disappear, like fire (agni) that, on finding fuel (indhana), continues uninterruptedly.”

3) Moreover, the Dharma of the Buddhas is the true nature of dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā). Now this true nature is “without production (anutpāda), without destruction (anirodha), without interruption (anuccheda), without permanence (aśāśvata), without one-ness (anekārtha), without multiplicity (anānārtha), without coming (anāgama), without going (anirgama)”,[2] without grasping (anupādāna), without agitation (āniñjya), without attachment (asaṅga), without support (anāsraya), non-existent (asat), like nirvāṇa. Dharmatā being like that, how could it disappear (antardhāna)?

Question. – Dharmatā being like that, all the buddhadharmas are necessarily without destruction (anirodha).

Answer. – Defined in this way, the true nature of dharmas (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā) is indestructible. Nevertheless, there are people who, out of false conceptualization (saṃkalpa),[3] grasp characteristics in things (dharmeṣu nimittāny udgṛhṇanti) – characteristics of cessation, etc. (vināśādilakṣaṇa) – and resort to dualistic theories, believing in disappearances (antardhāna). But in the true nature of things (dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā) there is no disappearance.

4) Finally by practicing the obstacle-free (anāvaraṇadharma) prajñāpāramitā, the bodhisattva accumulates immense qualities (aprameyaguṇa) and, conforming to his original vow (pūrvapraṇidhāna), his Holy Dharma continues [in time] and nobody sees it disappear. However, everything happens like the shooting of the bow and arrow: when the archer shoots an arrow up into the air, the arrow goes far and, even though nobody sees it disappear, it necessarily finally drops.[4]

Footnotes and references:


After Śākyamuni’s parinirvāṇa, his Dharma persists for a thousand years: the Dharma properly called (saddharma, tcheng-fa) lasts 500 years and the counterfeit Dharma (pratirūpakadharma, siang-fa) for another 500 years. On the disappearance of the Holy Dharma of Śākyamuni, see details in Lamotte, Histoire de bouddhisme indien, p. 210–222.


These are the eight ‘not’s’ of Nāgārjuna: cf. p. 326F; 1638F, n.4.


Here again Kumārajīva uses the characters yi-siang-fen-pie to translate saṃkalpa.


An example already used above, p. 1261F.