Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the career of the bodhisattva” 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.

Preliminary note: The career of the Bodhisattva

In Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation (T 223, k. 6, p. 256c–259c), Chapter XX of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā is entitled Fa-ts’iu p’in (Saṃprastānaparivarta or ‘Setting out’ on the Mahāyāna) It corresponds to pages 214, l. 6 to 225, l. 19 of the Sanskrit text edited by N. Dutt. Under the same title, it is commented on in Chapter XX (2nd series) of the Traité (T 1509, k. 49–50, p. 409c–419c). Given its importance, it is essential to give its translation here.

This chapter deals with the stages in the career of the bodhisattva, a complicated subject which has been the object of many studies for a long time. Although beginning to be out of date, the studies of L. de La Vallée Poussin are still instructive: the article Bodhisattva in Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, II, 1909, p. 739–754; La carrière de Bodhisattva, appearing in his translation of the Vijñaptiātratāsiddhi, II, 1928, p. 721–742. Also very useful are the studies dedicated to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and the Prajñā literature: E. Obermiller, The Doctrine of the Prajñāpāramitā as exposed in the Abhisalmayālaṃkāra of Miatreya, Acta Orientalia, XI, 1932, p. 1–133; Analysis of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Calcutta Oriental Series, no. 27, 1922–43, p. 149–179; E. Conze, Abhisamālaṃkāra, Serie Orientale Roma VI, 1954; The Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom, 1975, p. 163–178.

The career of the bodhisattva occupies a place of choice in the enormous Japanese production centered on the Mahāyāna in particular: cf. H. Nakamura, A Survey of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Journal of Intercultural Studies, No. 3, 1976, p. 61, n. 1. In the pages that follow, I [Lamotte] will borrow many references to the works of R. Yamada, Daijō Bukkyō Seiritsuron Josetsu (An Introduction to the Development of Mahāyāna Buddhism), 1959; A. Hirakawa, Shoki Daijō Bukkyō no Kenkyū (Studies on early Mahāyāna), 1968, a work condensed by its author in an article entitled The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Memoirs of the Research Department of the Tōyō Bunko No. 22, 1963, p. 57–106.

Over time, the stages of the career of the bodhisattva have been the object of numerous classifications. I [Lamotte] will mention only those of which the author of the Traité was aware or may have been aware, namely:

1. the four stages or the four practices (caryā) belonging to the bodhisattvas,

2. the ten grounds (bhūmi) or the ten abodes (vyavasthāna) reserved for the bodhisattvas,

3. the ten grounds shared (sādhāraṇabhūmi) by adepts of the three Vehicles.

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