Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This is the English translation of the Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (“the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) by Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century A.D.). The book, in the form of an encyclopedia on Buddhism, is a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita (“the perfection of wisdom in five thousand lines”). Volume I describes the conditions...

Introduction to third volume

Volume II of the Treatise on the Great Virtue of Wisdom appeared in 1949 and more than twenty years separate it from Volume III which I [Lamotte] have the honor of presenting today. During this time Buddhist studies have made considerable progress in many directions and have brought new light to the Traité. An entire book would be needed to describe them in detail, which would delay further the publishing of the present volume. These introductory pages[1] will be limited to providing some detailed information on the Traité itself, its author, the sources from which it draws its inspiration, the Chinese translation of which it is the object and, finally, the contents of Volume III. The Supplement to the Bibliography that will follow it will inform the reader more fully.



The Traité is a voluminous commentary on a lengthy version of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra. The short version that first appeared consisted of 8000 ślokas or units of 32 syllables and was entitled Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā. The original Sanskrit text was published by R. Mitra in 1888 and by U. Wogihara in 1932–35; it was translated into Chinese six times (T 220, nos. 4–5, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228) and once into Tibetan (Tib. Trip 734).

The long versions entitled Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra were three or possibly four in number:

1. The Aṣṭādaśasāhasrikā in 18,000 ślokas partially edited by E. Conze in 1962, translated once into Chinese (T 220, no. 3) and once into Tibetan (Tib. Trip. 732). <vi>

2. The Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā in 25,000 ślokas, the history of which is more complicated:

a. T 222: Koung-tsang-king, by Dharmarakṣa in 286 A.D.

b. Fang-kouang-pan-jo-king, by Mokṣala in 291.

c. Mo-ho-pan-jo-po-lo-mi-king, by Kumārajīva in 403–404.

d. T 220, no, 2: Ta-pan-jo-po-lo-mi-king, by Hiuan-tsang in 660–663.

e. Tib. Trip. 731: Śes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa stoṅ-phrag-ñi-śu-lṅa-pa, by unknown translators.

A modified version serving as commentary to the Abhisamayālaṃkāra of Maitreya also exists in Sanskrit and Tibetan.

a. Āryapañcaviṃśatisāhasrika bhagavatī prajñāpāramitā, abhisamayālaṃkārānusāreṇa saṃśodhitā, partially edited by N. Dutt in 1934.

b. Tib. Trip. 5188: Śes-rab-kyi pha-tol-tu phyin-pa stoṅ-phrag ñi-śu-lṅa-pa, translated by Śi-ba bzaṅ-po and Tshul-khrims rgyal-ba.

3. The Śatasāhasrikā in 100,000 ślokas was partially edited in 1902 by P. C. Ghosa, translated once into Chinese (T 220, no. 1) and once into Tibetan (Tib. Trip. 730).

This list far from exhausts the enormous production of Prajñāpāramitās: there are still many other shorter texts of which the author of the Traité was unaware. E. Conze has recorded them for us in his work The Prajñāpāramitā Literature, 1960.

The Traité was a commentary in Sanskrit on the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, in the present case the original version of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, a copy of which was in Kumārajīva’s possession and which he translated at the same time as the Traité in 403–404: this is the Taisho 223. The translator had no knowledge of the modified version, the only one that has come down to us.

On the other hand, the Indo-Tibetan tradition is silent about the Traité, the only evidence of which is the abridged Chinese translation made by Kumārajīva under the name Ta-tche-tou louen (T 1509).

The East as well as the West has become accustomed to restoring this title in Sanskrit as Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra, “Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom”. <vii>

But, as P. Demiéville has commented,[2] various titles are found both in the editions as well as in the fragments of manuscript found at Touen-houang and especially Mo-ho-po-lo-mi-to-king-che-louen: “The latter (also denoted in the K’ai-yuan-lou, T 2145, K. 4, p. 513a4) is the one that appears at the head of the preface by Seng-jouei (at the beginning of T 1509), with an abridged variant also given by the Tch’ou-san-tsang-ki-tsi (T 2145, k. 10, p. 74c11). This title is probably the older one and could correspond to the Sanskrit Mahā-prajñāpāramitā-upadeśa-[śāstra]: the word upadeśa is, furthermore, given in transcription in the Chinese biographies of Nāgāruna which must emanate from Kumārajīva: in one of these biographies we read that ‘Nāgārjuna made an upadeśa in ten thousand gāthās[3] to explain the Mahāyāna in a developed manner’ (Long-chou-p’ou-sa-tchouan, T 2047, p. 184c18; Fou-fa-tsang-yin-yuan-tchouan, T 2058, k. 5, p. 318b16)”.[4]

But the characters che-louen do not necessarily render the Sanskrit upadeśa and do not appear among the Chinese expressions most often used to translate upadeśa, namely, louen-yi, fa-yi, chouo-yi, fa-chouo, yi-couo, ta-kiao.[5]

Be that as it may, Demiéville was right and, in the title in question, che-louen is the equivalent of upadeśa.

Actually, upadeśa is also the name of the twelfth and last member of the ‘twelve-membered’ word of the Buddha (dvādaśaṅgabuddhavacana) which is frequently mentioned in the Sanskrit texts of the two Vehicles; Kumārajīva uses only two ways of rendering this member: he either transcribes it as yeou-po-t’i-chö, or else he translates it as louen-yi.

And yet at kiuan 20, p. 208b16, which the reader will find below at p. 1237F, the Traité designates itself under the title of Pan-jo-po-lo-mi-louen-yi: pan-jo-lo-mi is the transcription of prajñā-pāramitā, and louen-yi is the translation of upadeśa.

Therefore the original Indian title was Prajñāpāramitopadeśa ‘Detailed Analysis of the Perfection of Wisdom’, or also <viii> Mahā-prajñā-pāramitā-sūtra-upadeśa, ‘Detailed Analysis of the Great Sūtra on the Perfection of Wisdom’, in the present case, the Pañca-viṃśati-sāhasrikā.

The works of scholastic Buddhism often have the title of Upadeśa: thus Vasubandhu composed upadeśas on the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (T 1519, 1520), the Sukhāvatīvyūha (T 1524), the Ratnacūḍa (T 1526), the Dharmacakrapravartana (T 1533), etc.

At kiuan 33, p. 308a, the Traité will explain what it means by upadeśa: “Louen-yi (upadeśa) means to reply to questions (praśnavyākaraṇa), to explain why and then to explain broadly the meanings (artha). When the Buddha preached the four truths (satya), he was asked what they are, and the reply was that they are the four noble truths (āryasatya). He was asked what are these truths, and the reply was that they are the four noble truths on suffering (duḥkha), its origin (samudaya), its cessation (nirodha) and the path (pratipad): that is what the louen-yi (upadeśa) is. He was asked what is the noble truth of suffering (duḥkhāryasatya), and the reply was that it is the eight kinds of suffering, suffering of birth (jātiduḥkha), etc. He was asked what is the suffering of birth, and the reply was that beings, in every place of birth (jātisthāna), undergo suffering. Giving such answers to questions and broadly explaining the meanings is what is called yeou-po-t’i-chö (upadeśa).



An almost twenty century-old legend has been woven around the author of the Traité and even to skim through it, it is evident that there will be further enrichment of it. Without pretending to ‘render unto Caesar’, for the time being, we are not prevented from disregarding it momentarily so as to study the author on the basis of his work alone. Indian writers in general and Buddhist scholars in particular are not in the habit of pushing themselves forward and, if a literary genre has been neglected in India, it is indeed that of autobiography. We cannot blame the philosophers who profess the anātman for concealing their own individuality in their works. Such reservation is easy when the work is not greater than five hundred stanzas, as was the case for the Madhyamakaśāstra, the Dvādaśamukhaśāstra, the Catuḥśatakaśāstra or the <ix> Śatakaśāstra. When, like the Traité, it reaches more than three million words in a thousand scrolls, it is more difficult for the author to maintain his incognito.



According to the indications furnished by the author, he seems to have been active at the beginning of the 4th century of our era in north-western India. This region, which for a long time was the only gate half- way open to the exterior, already had had a long history. After having undergone the Achemenid yoke for two and a half centuries (559–326 B.C.) and the Macedonian occupation for twenty years (326–306 B.C.), it had rejoined the mother country on terms of the convention concluded between Seleucos the First Nicator and Candragupta. Having moved within the circles of the Mauryan Indian empire from about 306 to 189, it was conquered by the Greco-Macedonians of Bactria who founded two kingdoms in it: the western Greek kingdom consisting of Bactria, Sogdia, Arie, Sÿistan and Arachosia; the eastern Greek empire extending over Kapiśa, Gandhāra and the Punjab. Devoured by internal quarrels, the Greeks eliminated themselves, and their last representative disappeared from the scene of history about 30 A.D. Previously, peoples of Iranian language had already infiltrated into India and, for a century and a half (ca. 90 B.C. – 50 A.D.) the north-west suffered invasions by Scytho-Parthians, the Śakas of Mauès (90–53 B.C.) and the Pahlavas of Gondopharesia (19–45 A.D.). Finally, about 50 A.D., Indo-Scythia passed into the hands of nomadic populations of poorly defined origin, called Ta Yue-tche, Yue-tche and Tou-houo-lo by the Chinese, Tokharoi and Thagouroi by the Greeks, Tochari and Togarii by the Romans, Tukhāra, Tusāra and Turuṣka by the Indians, Tho-Kar and Thod-Kar by the Tibetans, Tokhrī by the Ouigours, Ttaugara or Ttauḍägara by the Khotanese. Starting out from Kan-sou in 174 B.C., they had seized hold of Bactria about 130 B.C., and had divided it up into five dynasties. One of their descendants, Kujula Kadphises, an officer of the Kouei-chouang region, dominated his fellows and laid the foundations of an immense empire which, at the time of its greatest extent, included Chinese Turkestan with Kashgar, Yarkhand and Khotan, eastern Iran with Sogdia, Bactria and Séistan, all of north-western India with Kashmir, the Indus basin and the middle Ganges area, possibly as far as Benares.

For two and a half centuries, the Kuṣāna empire played the role of crossroads of Asia, all the lines of communication of which it controlled.

The first dynasty represented by Kujula Kadphises and Vima Kadphises (ca. 50–80 A.D.) was succeeded by a second dynasty represented by the illustrious names of Kaniṣka, Vāṣiska, Kaniṣka II, Huviṣka and Vāsudeva. The date of Kaniṣka’s accession is still debated: 78, 128 or 144 A.D.[6] On his inscriptions, he inaugurated a new era lasting at least 98 years. The Kuṣāna empire became decadent with the accession to the Persian throne of the Sassanides (227–651): about 226, its founder, Ardahīr-i-Bābegān invaded Kapiśa, Gandhāra and the eastern Punjab.

Reigning over populations of very different race, language and religion, the Kuṣānas were wise enough to respect them all. Their coins bore inscrptions in Indian, Iranian and even Greek; on the reverse side, they showed Iranian deities, Sun, Moon, Wind, Fire, Mithra, Anaītis; some Indian, Śiva, Mahāsena, Skandha, Budha (sic!) and also Serapis, Horus, Heracles, Selene, Helios and even Roma.

Kaniṣka favored Buddhism by building near Puruṣapura, his capital, a stūpa 700 feet high at the village of Kharjurikā, which, for many centuries, was admired by the Chinese pilgrims. Excavations at this site by D. B. Spooner and H. Hargreaves have unearthed an inscribed reliquary surmounted by three figures representing the Buddha between Brahmā and Indra; the body of the reliquary is engraved with various figures of orantes, particularly Kaniṣka flanked by two deities, the Sun and the Moon, the Miiro and Mao of the coins. It appears from many inscriptions in Kharoṣṭhī and Brāhmī that the great emperor promoted the building of stūpas and vihāras. His successors followed his example, and the founding and endowment of a magnificent monastery at Jamālpur Mound near Mathurā is attributed to Huviṣka.[7]

A legend, which seems to be a replica of that of Aśoka, formed around Kaniṣka. It connects him with the minister Māṭhara, the physician Caraka and important religious individuals such as Saṃgharakṣa, Aśvaghoṣa, Jeyata, Pārśva, Vasumitra and Pūrṇa. The legend has it that he convened a great council at Kaśmir to <xi> revise the Buddhist scriptures and to compose explanatory treatises on the Three Baskets.

The author of the Traité definitely lived at the time of the Great Kuṣāṇas since he makes frequent allusions to the Greater and Lesser Yue-tche or Tukhāras (p. 547F, 555F, 672F, 1584F). But curiously enough, he never mentions their personal names and limits himself to referring to them by the official title of devaputra, frequent on the inscriptions and coins (p. 475F, 1421F, 396c, 321a, etc.). Such reticence is perhaps a mark of respect, but more likely answers to the fundamental antipathy the Indians always experienced in regard to sovereigns of foreign origin. It explains the total silence maintained by the indigenous chronicles on Alexander’s incursion into India, major event though it was. Despite their generous donations, the great Kuṣāṇas remained outsiders to the native population. The author of the Traité does not conceal his scorn for the borderlands (pratyantajanapada) which he considers to be places of lowly birth, and he adds to them not only the foreign kingdoms such as Tukhāra, Sogdia, Persia and the eastern Mediterranean, but also some regions of India occupied by primitive peoples such as the Śavaras, people of Dravidian languages such as the Andhras and even some slightly aryanized capitals such as Ujjayinī (p.174F, 1584–1586). In his eyes, the Buddhist Madhyadeśa was limited to the lands of Aryan tongue and, whatever their religious sympathies, he is not far from rejecting as barbaric foreigners all those who spoke Chinese, Scythian, Greek, Dravidian, Tibetan, Kāśgarian, Tokharian or Bactrian (p. 1586).

At the end of the Kuṣāṇa epoch, the religious situation was very complex. The inscriptions, the coins and the literary texts attest to the active presence, in the north-west, of Brahmanism and Hinduism, of Jainism and Buddhism, as well as the persistence of the primitive cult of the Nāgas. The holy Dharma particularly flourished and, starting from the reign of Aśoka (272–236), the region became, after Magadha, the second Holy Land of Buddhism. The great emperor flooded it with his edicts on the Dharma, published in Indian Prakrit, in Aramaic and in Greek.[8] After this psychological preparation, <xii> the missionary Madhyāntika, sent by Moggaliputtatissa, settled down there with five hundred arhats; he introduced the cultivation of saffron and substituted the reign of the holy Dharma for the cult of the nāgas. The district was soon covered with monasteries (vihāra, saṃghārāma) to shelter the monastics and with commemorative monuments (stūpa) to perpetuate the memory of Śākyamuni. The stūpas of the old style – described by Hiuan-tsang as ‘Aśoka’s stūpa’ – were especially numerous. Consisting of a raised hemispherical dome on a terrace surrounded by a balustrade, they marked the places where Śākyamuni, during his previous existences as Bodhisattva, had distinguished himself by his generosity, morality, patience and exertion. Thus, although the last lifetime of the Buddha had taken place in the region of the middle Ganges, the north-western India was the main theatre of his jātakas.

Later, at the time, more precisely, of the Kuṣāṇas, the stūpa evolved in form: placed on a raised drum, it became more slender and gained in height. What is more, it was covered with sculptures representing the human form of the Buddha in various episodes of his last existence, a major innovation probably inspired by Hellenistic sculptors who may have developed unhindered in the large sculpture schools of Gandhāra and Mathurā.

At the same time, the legend of the Buddha, breaking with historical plausibility, devised a long journey of Śākyamuni across the north-west of India where he may have left traces of his passage. Accompanied sometimes by Ānanda, sometimes by the yakṣa Vajrapāni, the Teacher, starting from Mathurā, made this tour in twenty-five stages, taming the nāgas, converting the kings, predicting important events and leaving his shadow in the village of Pālitakūṭa, near Tchahār-Bāgh (p. 547–554F)

In the meantime, the Buddhist community had passed through many vicissitudes: “When the Buddha was in this world, the Dharma met with no opposition. After the Buddha died, when the Dharma was recited for the first time, it was still as <xiii> it was when the Buddha was alive. One hundred years later, king Aśoka called together a great quinquennial (pañcavarṣa) assembly and the great Dharma teachers debated. As a result of their differences, there were distinct sects (nikāya) each having a name and each developing subsequently” (p. 106–108F). Following a schism provoked by Mahādeva, the Saṃgha split into two big parts, that of the Sthaviras “Old Ones”, partisans of a more strict orthodoxy, and that of the Mahāsāṃghikas “Majorities”, of laxer and democratic tendencies. These two sections in turn became subdivided into various sects which tradition has fixed as eighteen in number. They expanded over all of India and geographical separation further increased their differences.

In the Kuṣāṇa epoch, two sects, the Mahāsāṃghika and the Sarvāstivādin, contended with one another over the north-west. The former, represented at Mathurā and Kapiśa, used a hybrid language, a mixture of the Prakrit jargon and correct Sanskrit. The latter, derived from the Sthavira branch, resolutely opted for the use of Sanskrit as the religious language, They were by far the more powerful, and inscriptions in Karoṣṭhī and Brāhmī indicate their presence at Mathurā, Kalwan, Shāh-jī-Ḍherī, Zeda, Kurram (either in Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh) with off-shoots as far away as Śrāvastī and Sārnāth.

The two sects, which were opposed especially in matters of buddhology, evolved somewhat over time, but the second in particular still represented the old Buddhism as Śākyamuni had taught it to his śrāvakas. Nevertheless, around the beginning of our era, they were infiltrated by adepts of a new form of Buddhism animated by a more daring ideal, inspired by more radical philosophical ideas and professing theories, hitherto unknown, on the nature of Buddha and future Buddhas. This movement, suggestive rather than revolutionary, took the name of Mahāyāna ‘Greater Vehicle (of salvation)’ and qualified as Hīnayāna, ‘Lesser Vehicle’, the old doctrines and practices. It did not constitute a new sect and its name never appears in the inscriptions, but it developed within the very bosom of the monastic communities.

Some monks, regarding the teachings transmitted for five hundred years as the holy Dharma (saddharma), refused to come to terms with the Mahāyāna, rejected its scriptures as false and charged the new movement with being the Counterfeit Dharma (pratirūpakadharma): <xiv> disciples they were, disciples they meant to remain. But beside these reactionary śrāvakas, there were progressive monks who took the Mahāyāna sūtras into consideration, held them or pretended to take them as the Word of the Buddha and adopted their ideas. Nevertheless, they did not leave their monastery and continued to co-habit with the ‘Old Ones’ who did not share their views. Thus, in the 7th century, Hiuan-tsang distinguished three types of monasteries: the monasteries within the jurisdiction of the Hināyāna sects (Sthavira, Mahāsāṃghika, Sarvāstivādin, Saṃmatīya), the Mahāyāna monasteries, and finally the monasteries where practitioners of both Vehicles lived together.

In regard to his epoch and the sources that he uses, it seems that the author of the Traité was a Sarvāstivādin, perhaps belatedly converted to the Mahāyāna. His high esteem for the monastic life (p. 839–846F), his disdainful silence toward the Mahāsāṃghikas whom he mentions only once in his work suggests that he wore the yellow robe of the bhikṣu in some Sarvāstivādin monastery of north-western India, one of these monasteries built on the plains or on the hills, the ruins of which still exist at Shāh-jī-ḍherī, Ṣāh-ḍherī, Shahr-ī-Bahlol, Sanghao, Takht-ī-Bahai, Hamal-Gaṛhī, Karkai, etc. Fa-hien, who visited them at the beginning of the 5th century, tells us that they were occupied almost exclusively by Sarvāstivādins.

Under the direction of learned teachers, the author devoted himself to the study of the sacred texts, memorized the Tripiṭaka and specialized in the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. He manifests such a deep understanding of it that we may think he in turn taught it. Later, the reading of the Mahāyānasūtras must have made an impression on him, and study of the early Mādhyamikans (Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva, Rāhulabhadra) convinced him of the cogency of the new ideas. He went over to the Mahāyayāna without, however, giving up his scholastic habits. In the form of a commentary on the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, he composed a voluminous exegetical treatise which is like a Mahāyāna reply to the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. The author appears both as a Sarvāstivādin by training and a Mahāyānist by conviction, and it is under these two aspects that he should be studied.



The study program imposed on the north-western bhikṣus involved a formidable body of canonical and paracanonical texts. <xv> In contrast with most of the sects which had only three Baskets, the Sarvāstivādin Tripiṭaka, contrary to its name, had four: 1. the Vinayapiṭaka, the basket of discipline, 2. the Sūtrapiṭaka, the basket of dogmatic texts incorporating four “traditions” (āgama), 3. the Abhidharmapiṭaka, the scholastic basket, 4. the Kṣudrapiṭaka, the basket of minor texts.[9] This is mentioned on p. 692–693F of the Traité and p. 412a of the Chinese translation.


1. Sarvāstivādin Sūtrapiṭaka.

It comprised four āgamas listed in the following order: 1) Ekottarāgama or Ekottarika, 2) Madhyamāgama, 3) Dīrghāgama, 4) Saṃyuktāgama.[10] The text of the āgamas was translated into Chinese at the beginning of the 5th century (T 125, 26, 1, 99) and the sands of central Asia have yielded important fragments of their original Sanskrit: on the basis of these fragments, the patient work of E. Waldschmidt and his school have resulted in the reconstruction of numerous sūtras.

The Traité sometimes refers to these āgamas and occasionally cites the Ekottara (p. 103F, 1268F), the Madhyama (p. 4F, 103F, 307b, 456b), the Dīrgha (p. 103F, 300F, 544F) and the Saṃyukta (p. 103F, 447F, 542F, 614F, 288a, 295b, 298a, 307a, 444a). As general rule, however, it prefers to refer to the sūtras incorporated in these āgamas. These sūtras being familiar to all learned Buddhists, very often it omits mentioning their titles.

Comparative study of the texts shows that the author of the Traité used the Madhyamāgama and the Saṃyuktāgama of which Taisho 26 and 99 are the translations. In regard to the Ekottarāgama and the Dīrghāgama, he used originals slightly different from Taisho 125 and 1.[11]

According to the immutable laws of religious exegesis, the author presents no event that is not based on a dogmatic source. On each page he refers explicitly or implicitly to a sūtra or a topic mentioned by <xvi> several sūtras at the same time. This will become evident in the notes annexed to the French translation.

The sūtras being the very words of the Buddha, the author never rejects them. If they apparently contradict themselves, he makes efforts to assure their authenticity, then to interpret them according to the nature of things (dharmatā) by establishing a clear distinction between the scriptures of provisional meaning and those of definitive meaning (p.536–539F, 1621F n.). He shows himself thus to be a specialist trained in the school of rigorous intellectual discipline and respectful of the traditional game of exegesis.

The never-ending recourse to old canonical sūtras has the psychological effect of immersing the author in the past and making him relive in spirit the memorable events that occurred in Kosala, Magadha and the middle Ganges region at the time of the Buddha and his great disciples. He manifests an extensive and precise knowledge of the geography of the ancient epoch (p. 163–197F).


2. Sarvāstivādin Vinayapiṭaka

The Traité is rather confused on the history of the Vinaya (p. 104F, 756c) but may be complemented thanks to information given by the Kaśmirian tradition and collected in the 5th and 6th centuries by Kumārajīva, Seng-yeou and Houei-kiao.[12]

At the council of Rājagṛha presided over by Kāśyapa at the death of the Buddha, Upāli recited the Vinayapiṭaka. As there were 80 repetitions of reciting this Vinaya, this last one will be called the ‘Vinaya of 80 recitations’. The first five patriarchs, Kāśyapa, Ānanda, Madhyāntika, Śāṇavāsa and Upagupta, conserved it carefully. As Upagupta, a contemporary of and advisor to Aśoka, had established residency at Mathurā, the old Vinaya which he retained was designated under the name ‘Vinaya of the land of Mathurā in 80 sections’. The text contained Avadānas and Jātakas.

But at that time, people, being of weak faculties, were unable to memorize so voluminous a code. The different Buddhist schools therefore published an abridgment of it and this is how the five Vinayas saw the light of day: Pāli Vin., Mahīśāsaka Vin. (T 1431), Mahāsāṃgika Vin. (T 1425), Dharmaguptaka Vin. (T 1428) and Sarvāstivādin Vin. (T 1435). <xvii>

The Sarvāstivādin Vin. was compiled by Upagupta who reduced it to 10 sections by eliminating the stories of the Avadānas and Jātakas. It was entitled: ‘Vinaya in ten recitations’ (Daśadhyāya): sections 1 to 3 commented on the 250 rules of the bhikṣu; sections 4 to 6 dealt with the seven and the eight dharmas, in other words, the Skandhakas; section 7 explained the rules of the bhikṣuṇīs; sections 8 to 10 were reserved for appendices: Ekottara, Upāliparipṛcchā, Kṣudrakavarga and Kuśaladharma. Some original fragments have come down to us and have been published by J. Filliozat and H. Kung[13] and by V. Rosen.[14] Introduced into Kaśmir, this Vinaya was also designated by the name ‘Vinaya of Kaśmir’. Kumārajīva translated it at Tch’ang-ngan in 404–405 under the name Che-song-liu (T 1435) and subsequently, after 409, Vimalākṣa completed it and enriched it with a preface.

Later, according to the Traité (p. 756c), there was a vibhāṣā in 80 chapters that commented on it. This vibhāṣā should not be confused with the primitive Vinaya which itself also consisted of 80 sections. Although the sources lack precision in this regard, this vibhāṣā, also composed in Kaśmir, is undoubtedly identical with the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya,[15] definitely subsequent to the advent of the great Kuṣāṇas since it contains a prophecy relating to Kaniṣka.[16] The Indian original has come down to us almost complete: various Sanskrit texts, such as the Divyāvadāna and the Avadānaśataka reproduce long passages of it; an apparently complete copy, written on birch-bark, was discovered at Gilgit in Kaśmir in 1931 and published by N. Dutt.[17] Between the discovery and the editing, several sheets were misplaced, notably the major part of the Saṃghabhedavastu containing a detailed biography of Buddha Śākyamuni. G. Tucci recovered it in Afghanistan and it has appeared in the Serie Orientale Roma. The Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya also exists in Tibetan translation (Tib. Trip. 1030–1037) and in Chinese translation (T 1442–1451), but the latter, made by Yi-tsing between 700 and 712, is not quite complete.

The Traité has drawn up the table of contents of the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya (p. 104F) <xviii> and borrows from it some important definitions, such as that of the Buddhadharma (p. 81F), as well as various stories telling the circumstances that led the Teacher to formulate certain disciplinary regulations along with the exceptions they involve: the interdiction of eating impure food (p. 118–121F), of using bowls other than iron or baked clay pātra (p. 1674F), the authorization of accepting and wearing rich robes offered by lay people (p. 1678F), etc. But it is inspired much more frequently by the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya from which it borrows most of the Avadānas and Jātakas with which it ornaments its explanation. After the fashion of this vinaya, it explains most of the events in the life of the Buddha and his great disciples during their last lifetime. It would be impossible to list here the borrowings taken more or less directly from the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya: merely as example, the most characteristic are listed here: conversion of the old Subhadra (p. 205–209F, 1650F), Śuddhodana reassured by a god about the health of his son (p. 228–230F), the legend of Dharmaruci (p. 410–414F), Buddha’s journey to Śāla (p. 457–463), slander about the gardener Gaṇḍaka (p. 497–499), the nine or ten torments inflicted on the Buddha in the course of his last lifetime (p.507–511), the niracle of the multiplication of five buddhas (p. 531–535F, 1352–1353F), journeys of the Buddha in southern India, in north-western India and in Kaśmir (p. 546–548F), the story of Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana (p. 621–633F), the fable of the snake, the frog and the rat (p. 753F), the crimes of Devadatta (p. 868–878F, 1671–1674F), the story of Yaśodharā and the explanation of her prolonged pregnancy (p. 1001–1112), the relationship between king Bimbasāra and the courtesan Āmrapāli (p. 990–992F), etc.

The author has an interesting comment on the value of the Vinaya (p. 648b): like the sūtras, the code of monastic discipline is the word of the Buddha but concerns only the things of this world for the welfare of the Saṃgha; it imposes precepts (śīla) but does not explain the nature of things (dharmatā).


3. Sarvāstivādin Kṣudrakapiṭaka.

The Kṣudrakapiṭaka, also called Kṣudrakāgama or simply Kṣudraka by the Traité (p. 341F), formed a separate basket for the Sarvāstivādins, corresponding roughly to the Pāli Khuddakanukāya. It consists of old minor texts, usually versified, put into <xix> the mouth of the Buddha or one of his great disciples. Their number is not fixed, but the more or less complete lists that have come down to us[18] mention the following texts, all of which the Traité has used:

1) Dharmapada (p. 29F, 1423F, 1513F, 278b, 316a, 464a).

2) Udāna (p. 325F, 1220F, 1513F).

3) Pārāyaṇa (p. 220F, 237F, 295c).

4) Satyadṛṣṭa.

5) Śailagāthā.

6) Sthaviragāthā and Anavataptagāthā (p. 287F, 1363–1364F, 1386F, 1388F, 1426–1437F, 1439F, 1543F, 1546F).

7) Arthavargīyāṇi sūtrāṇi (p. 39F, 65F, 1089F).

The more recent editions of these minor texts are mentioned in the Supplement to the Bibliography annexed to the present Introduction.


4. Sarvāstivādin Abhidharmapiṭaka.

This basket is the masterpiece of the Sarvāstivādin school; it shows but vague similarities with the Ceylonese Theravādin Abhidhammapiṭaka. It includes seven original works which tradition attributes, not to the Buddha himself, but to a series of disciples extending from the first to the sixth century after the Parinirvāṇa. The Chinese and Tibetan sources[19] do not fully agree on the names of the supposed authors.

1) The Saṃgītiparyāya, composed by Śāriputra (T 1536) or by Maudgalyāyana, is a commentary on a sūtra of the Dīrghāgama, the Saṃgītiparyāya, of which important fragments have been published.[20]

2) The Dharmaskandha by Mahāmaudgalyāyana (T 1537) or by Śāriputra is a collection of sūtras preached at Jetavana in Śrāvastī and briefly commentated by canonical quotations.

3) The Prajñaptiśāstra by Mahāmaudgalyāyana (T 1538; Tib. Trip. 5587) shows some resemblance to the cosmological sūtra of <xx> the Dīrghāgama (T 1, no. 30) and the Li-che-a-p’i-t’an-louen (T 1644) which itself also shows all the characteristics of a sūtra.

4) The Vijñānakāya by Devakṣema (T 1539) or by Devaśarman was composed at Viśoka near Śrāvastī in the century following the Parinirvāṇa.

5) The Dhātukāya is attributed to Vasumitra by the Chinese (T1540), to Pūrṇa by the Tibetans: both authors are considered to be contemporaries of Kaniṣka.

6) The Prakaraṇapāda (T 1541, 1542) is given by the Traité (p. 111–112F) as a collective work: the first four chapters are said to be the work of Vasumitra and the last four, among them the chapter on the Thousand Aporias, the work of the Kaśmirian arhats.

7) The Jñānaprasthāna[21] is the latest in date and by far the most important of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. It is the body (śārira) whereas the six preceding ones are the feet (pāda): this is why the Basket in question, although it consists of seven books, is entitled Ṣaṭpādābhidharma ‘Abhidharma of Six Feet’.

Its author was Kātyāyanīputra, or simply Kātyāyana, who lived in the 3rd century after the parinirvāṇa according to Seng-tchao and Hiuan-tsang, in the 3rd or 5th according to Paramārtha. The Mahāvibhāṣā has it that he composed his work ‘in the East’, but Hiuan-tsang locates him at Tāmasavana near Cīnabhukti in Kaśmir on the right bank of the Bias. According to Paramārtha, he went to Kaśmir with five hundred arhats and five hundred bodhisattvas to compile the Abhidharma of his school, and the result of this compilation was the Aṣṭaskandha, also called Jñānaprasthāna. As the work represents the Sarvāstivāda in its pure state, it is not likely that bodhisattvas, as adepts of the Mahāyāna, collaborated in it. Moreover, it may be noted that the traditions about the council of Kaniṣka do not have Kātyāyana appearing in them.

The Jñānaprasthāna was in Sanskrit: Vasubandhu’s Kośabhāṣya and Yaśomitra’s Kośavyāakhyā cite lengthy extracts from it, and fragments of it have been found at Kapiśa and central Asia: those from Bāmiyān have been published by S. Lévi,[22] and those from Koutcha by B. Pauly[23]: these last were identified by P. Demiéville.[24] <xxi>

The work has been the object of two Chinese translations: 1. the Abhidharmāṣṭaskandhaśāstra (T 1543) translated in 383 at Tch’ang-ngan by Saṃghadeva and Tchou Fo-nien with a preface by Tao-ngan; 2. the Abhidharmajñānaprasthānaśāstra (T 1544) translated by Hiuan-tsang at Tch’ang-ngan in 657 to 660.

In the course of time, many commentaries have been made on the Jñānaprasthāna. According to Tao-ngan,[25] three arhats, Che-t’o p’an-ni, Ta-si and Pi-lo-ni, each dedicated a vibhāṣā to it; only the first is known to us. Later, five hundred great arhats in turn commented on it. Actually we have three vibhāṣās on the Jñānaprasthāna:

1) Vibhāṣāśāstra by Che-t’o-p’an-ni (T1547) or by Kātyāyanaputra himself (?), translated at Tch’ang-ngan in 383 by Saṃghabhadra, Dharmanandin and Buddharakṣa, and perhaps revised at Lo-yang by Saṃghadeva.[26]

2) Abhidharmavibhāṣāśāstra, by five hundred arhats (T 1546), translated at Leang-cheou from 437 to 439 by Buddhavarman on the basis of an Indian manuscript found by Tao-t’ai west of the Mountain of Onions (Pamir). It consisted of a hundred kiuan, but in 439, as a result of the invasion of the region by the barbarian T’o-pa T’ao, about forty of them were lost and only sixty remain.[27]

3) Abhidharmamahāvibhāṣāśāstra by five hundred arhats (T 1545) translated by Hiuan-tsang at Tch’ang-ngan in 656–659.

But these facts tell us nothing about the date of the original Sanskrit texts. We know only that the Mahāvibhāṣā is later than Kaniṣka since it tells the well-known story of the eunuch and the bulls (T 1545, k. 114, p. 593a), placing it as ‘once in Gandḥara, under Kaniṣka’.

Although the Traité contends with the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma, its author reveals himself as an outstanding specialist in this Abhidharma and I [Lamotte] personally think that before his conversion to the Mahāyāna, he professed the Vibhāṣā in some monastery in Kaśmira-Gandhāra. As may be observed in reading the present volume, the explanation of the abhidharmic doctrines take up ten times as much space as their refutation, and the author is careful to say that his explanation is only a summary that <xxii> could be further extended (p. 1186F, 1225F, 1232F, 1236F, 1273F, 1279F, 1309F, 1362F, 1483F, 1486F, 1492F).

Among the texts and authors that he mentions, the following may be noted:

1) The Ṣaṭpādābhidharma (p. 106F, 111F, 536a, 752b), the Abhidharmasūtra (p. 576c, 586b), the Abhidharmapiṭaka (p. 105F, 693F), the Abhidharmavibhaṅga (P. 1236F, 1702F, 1703F).

2) The Prakaraṇapāda (p. 11F) and its chapter on the Thousand Aporias (p. 1101F, 1171F, 1181F).

3) Kātyāyanīputra or simply Kātyāyana (p. 109F, 614F, 1383F, 1697F), his disciples (p. 245F, 285F, 330a), his work called Jñānaprathānāṣṭaskandha (p. 109F), Kātyāyana- or Kātyānanīputrābhidharma (p. 424F, 786F, 787F).

4) The Vibhāṣā (p. 110F, 377F), the Abhidharmavibhāṣā (p. 292F, 343a, 579c), the Kātyānīputrābhidharmavibhāṣā (p. 273a) and the Vibhāṣā scholars called Abhidharmavibhāṣopadeśācārya (p. 341c). According to some citations (p. 272F, 377F, 728F, 993F), it seems that the author of the Traité made use of a complete version of the Great Vibhāṣā by five hundred Kaśmirian arhats. For the same reason, he was probably aware of the Abhidharmāmṛtarasa by Ghoṣaka (T 1553) and the Abhidharmasāra by Dharmaśrī (T 1550, by Upaśānta (T 1551) and perhaps also by Dharmatrāta (T 1552).[28] At times he was inspired by some Dhyānasūtras such as the Tch’an-yao-king (T6090, etc. (p. 1025F, 1322–1323F, 1422F, 1547F, 264c, 705b), but the question of borrowings is obscure and would require an in-depth inquiry.

The Traité does not mention the Dārṣṭāntika-Sautrāntikas often evoked in the Mahāvibhāṣā, but it was certainly familiar with the controversy on time which set them in opposition to the Sarvāstivādins (p. 1691–1694F) and takes its position, understood provisionally, on the side of the opinion of the latter.

In brief, the information that it provides is so vast that it can hardly be situated before the beginning of the 4th century A.D.


5. Postcanonical Literature.

The author would have been neither Indian nor a scholar if he had not been impassioned by the folklore of his region, the prose and verse biographies of the Buddha Śākyamuni, the tales of previous existences and the <xxiii> innumerable legends current in his time, legends that the Chinese Tripiṭaka grouped into the Section of previous facts (pen-yuan) from which É. Chavannes judiciously chose for his fine work Contes et apologues du Tripiṭaka chinois. In contrast to Vasubandhu, Saṃgharakṣa, Asaṅga, boring because of their technicality, the author excels in mingling the playful and the serious, without retreating at times in the face of the more spicy stories.

It goes without saying that these legends are without a country of origin. But it is quite natural that the author would have leaned preferentially on the folklore of his own region.

Among the Jātakas that he preferred are the tales where the future Buddha “sacrificed his body, his flesh, his head, his eyes, his marrow and his skull to his enemy” (p. 143F, 691F, 716F, 750F, 945F, 983F, 1654F, 1712F, 502c, 606b, 624c). These stories concern events situated by the ‘Golden Legend’ in north-west India and commemorated by the building of great stūpas which the Chinese pilgrims such as Fa-hien in about 630 did not fail to visit.

At Nagarahāra (Jelāl-ābād), Śākyamuni received the prediction of the Buddha Dīpaṃkara after having offered him seven blue lotuses and having spread his hair under his feet (p. 248F, 284F, 983F). – At Puṣkarāvatī (Shāh-Ḍheti), Śibi made the gift of his eyes to a beggar. – At Varṣapura (Shāhbāzgaṛhī), Sudinna or Viśvantara gave to an insatiable brahmin his white elephant, his kingdom, his chariot, his wife and his children (p. 713–714F, 304c). – At Mingora-Butkara), the bhikṣu Kṣḥāntivādin gave himself up without complaint to the blows of king Kali (p. 264F, 889–990F, 1670F). – At Mahāvana (Sounigrām), the dethroned king Sarvada, wishing to give alms although he had no money, gave himself up to a beggar who then delivered him to the usurper and so obtained a great reward (p. 714–715F). – At Masūrasaṃghārāma (Goumbatai, near Tousak in the Bouner), the brahmacārin Dharmarakta or Dharmatrata, in order to obtain a Buddhist verse, agreed to write it down using his skin as paper, one of his bones as pen and his blood as ink (p. 975–976F). – At Girārai, on the boundary between Peshāwār and Bouner, king Śibi, at the cost of pounds of his own flesh, rescued a pigeon chased by a falcon (p. 255–260F, 1713F, 304c, 314c). – In the Upper Indus, the Bodhisattva gave <xxiv> his body to a starving tigress about to devour her cubs (p. 143F, 723F, 979F). – At Kāpiśī (Bāmiyān), the Bodhisattva let himself be flayed by hunters and devoured by insects in order to remain faithful to his vows (p. 853–855F).

The least that can be said is that the geography of the north-west plays a large part in the Traité. It places among the populated and wealthy cities of its time the city of Puṣkarāvati (Prāng, Chārsadda and Rājar), the former Peukelaotis of the Greeks identified by them with Artemis, the tutelary goddess of the city, but which, at the time, belonged to the Ta Yue-tche (p. 172F, 672F). It mentions the miraculous healing of a leper by the bodhisattva Samantabhadra at Haḍḍa (near Jelāl-ābād) at the monastery of Buddhoṣṇīṣa. It was familiar with the large Himalayan lakes of Anavatapta (p. 206F, 450F, 466F, 290b, 481a) and Mandākinī (p. 466F), and for it, the great rivers of India are not only the Ganges, the Yamunā, the Sasabhū, the Aciravatī and the Mahī listed in the canonical sources (p. 266a), but also, and in particular, the northern rivers – the Ganges, Sindhu (Indus), Vakṣu (Oxus) and Sītā (Tarim) which flow out of Lake Anavatapta by the Mouths of the elephant, ox, horse and lion respectively (p. 385F, 450F, 290b, 348b, 611c).

As will be seen from the notes (incomplete, alas) appended to the French translation, the author of the Traité has taken the stories and apologues with which his explanation is sprinkled from an enormous mass of documents. Among the postcanonical sources that he preferred, the following texts may be mentioned: the Aśokasūtra and the Aśokāvadāna from which he borrowed the avadāna of the gift of earth (p. 723F, 277a, 301b), the story of Vītaśoka (p.1263–1264F) and probably also the macabre adventure of the man whose limbs were replaced by those of a corpse and who ended up doubting whether he still belonged to the world of the living (p. 738–740F); the Avadānaśataka from which was taken the deed of the future Śākyamuni who praised the Buddha Puṣya with a single stanza for seven days and seven nights (p. 253–255F, 297F), the incident of the blind bhikṣu for whom the Buddha threaded a needle (p. 5690570F), 1645–1646) and the jātaka of the deer that sacrificed itself (p. 1651–1652).

Some texts used by the Traité are of an era in which the Buddhist legend about Kaniṣka was already stereotyped and were translated into Chinese at a late date. This was the case particularly for the Tsa-pao-tsang-king (T203), which dedicated four stories to Kaniṣka and was translated only in 472 under the Pei Wei by Ki-kia-ye and T’an-yao. From it the <xxv> Traité borrows the story of the Kaśmirian arhat K’i-ye-to (Jeyata?) who lived 700 years after the Buddha and who, invited by Kaniṣka, categorically refused to get dressed (p. 879F).

The Kalpanāmaṇditikā by Kumāralāta, considered by the Chinese to be the teacher of Harivarman, also dedicates two stories to emperor Kaniṣka. It was translated, or rather adapted, only in the 5th century by Kumārajīva who named it Sūtrālaṃkāraśāstra and attributed it to Aśvaghoṣa (T 201). The Traité, without ever designating it by name, borrows from it a good dozen stories as though they were autonomous avadānas: the artist from Puṣkarāvatī (p. 672–674F); the outcaste Nītha converted by the Buddha (p. 1634F, 310a); the monastic quarrels at Kauśambī (p. 896–898F); king Aśoka and the monk who exhaled a sweet perfume (p. 695–698F); the Buddha disowns Śāriputra (p. 1526F); the Buddha and the cowherds (p. 146–153F); the Śibijātaka (p. 255–260F); Jyotiṣka and Śrīgupta (p. 184F, 1634F); Gautamī’s nirvāṇa (p. 587F); the white six-tusked elephant (p. 716–718F); the bodhisattva deer-king (p. 972–975); the bodhisattva king who gave himself up to his enemy (p. 714F); the Dharma teacher who condemned the brahmanical institutions (p. 489–492F).[29]

By their number and their precision often pushed to the point of being literal, these borrowings prove irrefutably that the author of the Traité is post-Kaniṣka and, consequently, he cannot be dated in the first or second centuries of our era as has been generally done.


6. Heretical Literature.

The Traité – and this is new proof of its Indian origin – is familiar with the religions and the philosophical systems which at that time swarmed all over the north-west of India. For its author, whoever is not a ‘son of the Śākyas’ is a heretic (tīrthika) and, in its general meaning, he includes all wandering monks (parivrājaka) of poorly defined jurisdiction, Jains (Nirgrantha and Śvetāmbara), brahmins and Hindus, all given to practices condemned by the Buddha (p. 43F, 1409F, 1571F). He is familiar with their ‘ninety-six systems’ <xxvi> (p. 432F, 1426F, 261a, 325c, 349b, 412b, 581b) and their ‘eighteen sacred books’ (p. 48F, 92F, 637F, 639F, 1589F). He has read the Vedic literature with its four Vedas and its six Vedaṅgas without, however, neglecting the profane sciences (p. 1623–1624F). He enters into debate at times with those who profess the six brahmanic darśanas, those of the Sāṃkhya (p. 546c) and the Vaiśeṣika (p. 728F, 923F, 1449F). He knows the Hindu iconography and mythology with its great gods like Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa, Maheśvara-Śiva, Kumāra, Mahābrahmā the creator, etc., but recognizing in all of them a certain power, he denies any omniscience to them (p. 137–142F, 466F, 562F, 863F). However, he goes so far as to use a Śivaite cosmogony as an argument (p. 835–837F).

It is hard to see how a Chinese or even a Serindian would have been able to be so well-informed about Indian things.



Monk and Abhidharma specialist, the author of the Traité ended up by being converted to the Mahāyāna movement that had already been introduced into the north-west at least three centuries previously.


1. The Mahāyāna.

In contrast to the Vehicle of the śrāvakas in its religious ideal, its philosophical positions and its buddhology, the Mahāyāna constitutes, in fact, a new Path of liberation.

The Bodhisattva Ideal. – The śrāvaka aspired to the state of arhat, personal salvation involving the suppression, the eradication of the passions and some form of awakening (bodhi) or wisdom (prajñā) concernd with the three general characteristics (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) of things: impermanence, suffering and selflessness. The saint’s death is followed by nirvāṇa, the cessation of painful transmigration, the passing from the domain of contingency to that of the unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) Absolute. In order to attain this ultimate goal, the śrāvaka in the yellow robe of the monastic must travel the path to nirvāṇa, the three essential elements of which are morality (śīla), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā).

This ideal of sainthood clearly defined by the Buddha and his disciples could be pursued, in a strict sense and despite its demands, by <xxvii> monks retreating into solitude or within the confines of monasteries; it was beyond the reach of the lay person living in the world and prey to all the cares of the times. Accustomed to supporting their fellows and, moreover, to furnishing the Community with food, clothing and shelter, the lay people practiced the active virtues resulting from their estate rather than the passive virtues of which the monastics were an example. In literature as in art, there arose the infatuation of the upāsakas and the upāsikās for the Jātakas or stories of previous existences in the course of which the future Buddha Śākyamuni multiplied his actions of generosity, morality, patience, exertion and wisdom, thus giving the measure of his altruistic virtues. It was, therefore, him rather than the stiff and solitary monk that the lay people took as model with the secret hope that by following his example they too would arrive at the state of Buddhahood.

The Mahāyāna came to consecrate these profound aspirations by inviting not only the monastic but also the ‘sons and daughters of noble family’ to engage in the career of the bodhisattvas, i.e., the future Buddhas.

But the prerogative of the Buddhas is not just sainthood (arhattva) but also the possession of supreme perfect awakening (anuttarāsamyaksaṃbodhi), omniscience (sarvajñāna), the awareness of things in all their aspects (sarvākārajñatā) put to the service of all beings.

For the adept who takes up the career of the bodhisattva, there are two crucial moments: i) the production of the mind of bodhi (bodhicittotpāda) by which the bodhisattva promises by solemn vows (praṇidhāna) to conquer supreme awakening in order to devote himself to the welfare and happiness of all beings; ii) the attainment of the said awakening (saṃbodhipratilābdha) which transforms him into a Buddha.

A long interval stretches out between these two moments, for the bodhisattva delays his entry into complete nirvāṇa indefinitely in order to practice his salvific activity as long as possible. He actually knows that, once entered into nirvāṇa, he will no longer be able to do anything for anyone. And so, in three, seven or thirty-three incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa), he traverses the ten stages (bhūmi) of his career, accumulating the meritorious actions and practicing the six or ten perfections (pāramitā), namely, 1. generosity (dāna), 2. morality (śīla), 3. patience (kṣānti), 4. exertion (vīrya), 5. meditation (dhyāna), 6. wisdom (prajñā), 7. skillful means (upāyakauśalya), 8. vows (praṇidhāna) for saṃbodhi and the welfare of beings, 9. power (bala) and 10. knowledge (jñāna). <xxviii>

Infinite Multiplication of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. – While recognizing in the Buddha a series of prerogatives and powers, the śrāvakas kept him on the human plane for a long time. They held him to be the possessor of the sciences and practices, the teacher of gods and humans; they were not aware that once he entered into nirvāṇa, he was invisible to gods and men, leaving them his Dharma as sole inheritance. According to them, the appearance of a Buddha was an exceptional event, as rare as the blossoming of the fig tree, and humanity remains without guide and without counselor for long periods.

A god ‘dead since nirvāṇa’, as H. Kern defined it, could be enough for the monastics in the strict sense, but could not satisfy the aspirations of people who urgently required a supreme being, a pantheon of saints, a mythology and a cult. The popularization of the holy Dharma and its penetration into the masses had the result of transforming the wise preceptor of gods and men into a ‘God higher than the gods’ (devātideva) and to surround him with a crowd of dii minores et maiores as powerful disciples.

The Hināyāna sects had already upheld this process of sublimation, the Sarvāstivādins by filling the legend of Śākyamuni with marvels, the Mahāsāṃgikas by setting aside his historical career into the domain of fiction. And as the need for efficacious protectors became more urgent, the śrāvakas imagined a compassionate messiah at the side of the transcendent Buddha, the future Buddha Maitreya, and some arhats, immortalized by the needs of the cause, ever ready to fly to the aid of the faithful.

These are but exceptions, and the Mahāyāna did not hesitate in multiplying the Buddhas and bodhisattvas infinitely. Breaking the narrow limits of the ancient cosmology, they imagined an infinite number of universes in the bosom of the cosmos, each ruled over by a Buddha assisted by one or more great bodhisattvas. The Buddha is already in possession of supreme awakening, whereas the great bodhisattvas, those of the tenth bhūmi, are merely ‘close to awakening’. Apart from this difference, both Buddha and bodhisattva, inspired by the same loving-kindness, convert beings in the universes belonging to them and often appear simultaneously in multiple forms in different universes.

Śākyamuni, whose historical existence cannot be brought into doubt, will henceforth be seen to have aligned with him and comparable to him peers and emulators in number <xxix> as many as the sands of the Ganges. He will remain the best known but not the only one. Other Buddhas will be seen to arise, such as Amitabha or Amitāyus reigning in the west over Sukhāvati, Akṣobhya in the east governing his universe Abhirati, Bhaiṣajyaguru, also in the east, exercising his activity as healer. The most famous bodhisattvas were Maitreya waiting in Tuṣita heaven for the time to succeed Śākyamuni; Avalokiteśvara residing on Mount Potalaka before manifesting in China as the female deity Kouan-yin; Manjuśrī, the bodhisattva of knowledge who, in various forms, appeared in India, Khotan, Nepal, finally to reside at Wou-t’ai-chan.

Most of these Buddhas and bodhisattvas have no ties with history and are only names; some, however, arise from anonymity to become personages of choice for the Mahāyānists, and the interest devoted to them was so lively that they leap out of legend quivering with life.

In the scholarly mind, they are, above all, symbols of universal wisdom and compassion. The Buddhas are identical in their essential body (dharmakāya), identified with the truth discovered and preached by them. They are enthroned in the paradises, surrounded by gods and saints whom they delight with their enjoyment bodies (saṃbhogakāya). They send down below representatives of themselves, emanated bodies (nirmāṇakāya) preaching the Dharma and converting beings. This salvific work is that of the truth that leads to the end of suffering, to detachment, to peace.

The twofold non-existence of beings and things. – Faithful to the teachings of Śākyamuni, the śrāvakas had proclaimed the non-existence of the individual (pudgalanairātmya); the Mahāyānists, by a later step, further professed the non-existence of things (dharmanairātmya).

Belief in the self (satkāyadṛṣṭi) is the most pernicious of errors because it plants as a root in the mind all kinds of desire, the cessation of which is the condition sine qua non of liberation. Śrāvaka and Mahāyānist agree in condemning the belief in a self (ātmagrāha) and the belief in mine (ātmīyagrāha): whatever the names they use to designate them, the soul, the living being, the person, the individual, the agent, does not exist; men, saints, bodhisattvas and Buddhas are only names corresponding to nothing substantial. <xxx>

But if the śrāvakas were the first to deny the self, they did recognize some sort of reality in things. The great schools of the Sarvāstvādins and the Sautrāntikas prepared long or short lists of conditioned things (saṃskṛtadharma), i.e., resulting from causes (pratītyasamutpanna) – material entities, minds and mental events, formations dissociated from mind and matter – having only momentary or infinitesimal duration, but nevertheless possessing a self-nature (svabhāva) and specific characteristics (lakṣaṇa): short-lived and transitory, but nevertheless realities.

For the Mahāyānists, on the other hand, dharmas, as arising from causes, do not exist in themselves; they are empty of self nature (svabhāvaśūnya) and empty of specific characteristics (lakṣaṇaśūnya).

Three corollaries follow from this emptiness:

i) Dharmas are unborn and are not destroyed, for empty things arising from empty things are unborn, Being unborn, they are never destroyed.

ii) Dharmas, being without production or destruction, are peaceful or ‘nirvāṇic’ from the beginning, nirvāṇa being none other than peace.

iii) Dharmas, being without exception peaceful and nirvāṇic, are all equal and involve no duality.

This is why the Mahāyāna adept, the bodhisattva, does not grasp them and, as the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā says (p. 146F), if he does not grasp them, it is due to their absolute purity, namely, non-production, non-manifestation, non-activity, non-existence (anupalambha).

It follows that the four truths preached at Benares by Śākyamuni need a new interpretation. The Buddha said: “All phenomena of existence are suffering”, but these phenomena do not exist. He said: “The origin of suffering is desire”, but suffering is unborn. He said: “There is a cessation of suffering, nirvāṇa”, but as suffering in unborn, nirvāṇa is acquired by rights, and saṃsāra, painful transmigration, coincides with it. Finally he said: “The eightfold Path leads to the cessation of suffering”, but as suffering is not to be destroyed, the path to its cessation has already been traversed.[30]

Face with the emptiness of beings and things, the attitude of the sage is to do nothing, to say nothing, to think nothing: that is the secret of peace. <xxxi>

Emptiness. – Some western interpreters have wanted to see in emptiness (śūṇyatā) an absolute negation, but when the Mahāyānists say that beings and things are empty, they attribute no nature to them. They refuse to hypostatize an emptiness that is nothing other than what is (akiṃcid), a ‘simple non-existence’ (abhāvamātra). It is not by virtue of an emptiness that beings and things are empty; they are empty because they are not. The very notion of emptiness is only a provisional expedient: it is a raft that one abandons after having crossed over the river, a medicine that one rejects after being cured. This is why the Mahāyānists are not nihilists: nihilists deny what they see; Mahāyānists, not seeing anything, affirm nothing and deny nothing.[31]

Truth of appearance and absolute truth. – An objection naturally arises in the mind: on the one hand, the Mahāyāna nourishes the high ideal of goodness and multiplies the Buddhas and bodhisattvas who are its protagonists; on the other hand, it affirms the non-existence of beings and the emptiness of dharmas. Of the two things, either the Buddhas and bodhisattvas convert beings or else nobody converts anybody.

The Mahāyānists themselves posed this objection and found an answer to it in the theory of the twofold truth: the conventional or provisional truth (saṃvṛtisatya) and the absolute truth (paramārthasatya). Without living a daily life according to the customary norms, one does not grasp the true nature of things (dharmatā); but this is what must be understood in order to reach the goal. It is indispensable at the start to bow to conventions because they are the means of reaching nirvāṇa in the same way that someone who wants to empty out water first needs to get a vessel.

At the beginning of his career, the still partially awakened bodhisattva who sees beings and perceives things, must practice normally the virtues of his level: practicing generosity, observing discipline, maintaining patience, concentrating the mind, and awakening wisdom. That is the mundane and provisional way of practicing the virtues.

But when his mind has opened to the absolute truth, when he has penetrated the twofold emptiness of beings and things, he raises the same virtues to the rank of perfections (pāramitā). Conforming to the nature of things, he gives by making no further distinction between donor, recipient and the thing given; he observes discipline by identifying <xxxii> sin with merit; he is patient in considering suffering as non-existent; he is energetic by making no physical effort; he concentrates his mind by identifying concentration with distraction; he is wise by abstaining from opposing error and truth. In a word, the goal of the bodhisattva’s career is the stopping of all speech and all practice (sarvavādacaryoccheda) and, as this non-activity corresponds to reality, it assures the welfare of beings more effectively than a feverish activity inspired by false prejudice.

By accepting from the point of view of the truth of appearance that which he rejects from the point of view of the absolute truth and vice versa, the Mahāyānist stays equidistant between affirmation and negation, between the view of existence and that of non-existence: he is established in the Middle Way (madhyamā pratipad), sheltered from all criticism.


2. The Mahāyānasūtras.

The new ideas found their expression in the Mahāyānasūtras, also called Vaipulyasūtras, ‘Texts of Lengthy Development’, which spread in India about the time of our era, five centuries after the Parinirvāṇa.

The Traité gives some second-hand information on the genesis of this literature:

1. Having appeared in the east, immediately after his awakening the Buddha Śākyamuni preached publicly to the śrāvakas the famous Sermon at Benares dealing with the four Noble Truths. A little later, at Rājagṛha on Gṛdhrakuṭaparvata, he taught the Prajñāpmaramitā, soon followed by other Mahāyānasūtras, to a chosen assembly of bodhisattvas and eminent śrāvakas such as Ānanda, Śāriputra and Subhūti, This last revelation remained unknown to the ordinary public and the śrāvakas had no knowledge of it, but the gods who heard it from the heavens uttered cries of joy and affirmed having been present at the second turning of the Wheel of Dharma (dvitīyaṃ dharmacakrapravartanam) (p. 517a).

2. After the Buddha’s death, Mahākaśyapa gathered a great council at Rājagṛha, and a thousand arhats compiled the texts of the Hīnayāna Tripiṭaka (p. 90–106F). Also, but in another place, on Mount Vimalasvabhāva as it will be told later, the great bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī and Maitreya, taking Ānanda with them, compiled <xxxiii> the Mahāyāna. But Ānanda, knowing deeply the aspirations and behavior of beings, did not preach the Mahāyāna to the śrāvakas who were incapable of understanding (p. 938–941F; 756b).

3. Conforming to a prediction, after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa, the Prajñāpārāmitā, the first in the list of Mahāyānasūtras, came from the east to the south, from the south to the west, without, it would seem, meeting much success (p. 25F, 541b).

4. Finally, in the five hundred years after the Parinirvāṇa, it reached the north (uttarapatha) where there were many believers (p. 25F):

“This Prajñāpāramitā, in the north, will do the Buddha’s work. Here is the reason: when the Buddha was in this world, he was able to cut the doubts of the Saṃgha: the Buddhadharma prospered and there was no fear that it might disappear. But five hundred years after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa, the holy Dharma gradually, and from then on the work of the Buddha has been menaced. Then beings of keen faculties (tīkṣnendriya) will study and meditate [the Prajñāpāramitā]; they will make offerings of flowers and perfumes to it. Beings of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya) will transcribe it and also offer flowers and perfumes. These two types of beings finally will find salvation… This profound Prajñāpāramitā will spread afar in the northern region. Indeed, among all the regions of Jambudvīpa, the north is the vastest. Furthermore, the Snow Mountains (Himālaya) are there and since it is cold, its plants can destroy the passions [of desire (rāga), hatred (dveṣa) and ignorance (moha). As a result of the grains that are eaten, these three poisons have no great virulence. For this reason, people are gentle, their faith is steady and their faculties are powerful. Because of all that, in the north those who practice the Prajñāpāramitā are numerous.” (p. 26F, 531b)

And the Traité is kind enough to comment on a passage in the Prajñāpāramitasūtras that tells the circumstances in which the bodhisattva Sadāprarudita found a manuscript of the Prajñā written on gold leaf with molten beryl and sealed with seven seals at Gandhāra in the city of Gandhavatī (in Chinese Tchong-hiang-ti or Miao-hiang-ti) (p. 744a).

By adopting these legends among so many others, by considering these predictions as long realized, the author reveals once more his connections with the north-west and his relatively <xxxiii> late date. It goes without saying that his Sarvāstivādin colleagues rejected all these Mahāyānasūtras as apocryphal and refused to consider them. Hence certain comments of the author, not free of bitterness: “You do not believe in the Mahāyāna, you reject the proof and you claim that only the śrāvaka system has value” (p. 1698F); “This is a big mistake, for the Mahāyānasūtras are the true Buddhadharma, uttered from the very mouth of the Buddha. You must not reject them. Besides, you take your origin from the Mahāyāna” (p. 293F); or also: “It is true that your Kātyāyanīputra expresses himself in that way and that is indeed why he is called the son of Kātyāyanī; if he were really a Śākyaputrīya, he would not say that” (p. 1697F).

In commenting on the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, the Traité does not draw its explanations solely from the Prajñā literature, but calls upon all the Mahāyānasūtras known at that time, the production of which extended over almost three centuries. It cites them abundantly but most often does not mention their titles. For this reason, I [Lamotte] have not been able to make a complete list of them. Since the Indian originals were never dated, I [Lamotte] have adopted a chronological order here based, for want of anything better, on the dates of the first Chinese translations of them.
1.     Prajñāpāramitāsūtra, cited Pan-jo-po-lo-mi-king: see references in Taisho Index no. 13, p. 146–147.
a. Aṣṭasāhasrikā, T 224, tr. Tche Tch’an in 179 (cf. T225 to 228; Tib. 734). Cited Tao-hing-king = Sarvākārajñatācaryā, (title of chap. 1 of the translation by Tche Tch’an), p. 529b; Siao-p’in = Kṣudrakaparivarta, p. 620a.
b. Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, T222, transl. Dharmarakṣa and Gītamitra in 286 (cf. T 221, 223; Tib. 731). Cited Kouang-tsan = Raśmipramokṣa (title of chap. 1), p. 529b, 620a.
c. Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, T 221, transl. Mokṣala and Tchou Chou-lan in 291. Cited Fang-kouang = Raśmipramokṣa (title of chap. 1), p. 314a, 529b, 620a.
2.     Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhisūtra, T 418, transl. Tche Tch’an in 179 (cf. T 416, 417, 419; Tib. 801). Cited Pan-tcheou-king = Pratyutpannasūtra, p. 306a; mentioned without title, p. 245F, 425F, 430F, 526F, 1023F, 276a, 314a, 320a, 335b, 416a.
3.     Śūraṃgamasamādhidūtra, transl. Tche Tch’an in 186, lost (cf. T 642; Tibet. 800). Cited Cheou-leng-yen-san-mei-king, p. 602F, 349a; <xxxv> Mo-ho-yen Cheou leng-yen-king, p. 1647F, Cheou-leng-yen-king, p. 273b, 303b, 312a, 586b; mentioned without title, p. 1611F.
4.     Drumakiṃnararājaparipṛcchā, T 624, transl. Tche Tch’an (cf. T 625;Tib.824). Mentioned without title, p. 609F, 615F, 654F, 1046F).
5.     Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana, T 629, transl. anonymously between 265–316 (cf. T 626 to 628; Tib. 882).[32] Cited Fang-po-king, p. 340c.
6.     Ṣaṭpāramitāsūtra, T 778, transl. Yen Fo-t’iao between 181 and 188. Cited Lieou-po-lo-mi-king, p. 308a, 394b.
7.     Vimalakīrtinirdeśasūtra, transl. Yen Fo-t’iao in 188, lost (cf. T 474 to 476; Tib. 843). Cited P’i-mo-lo-kie-king, p. 515F, 902F, 1044F, 267c, 278b, 284a, 657b, 709a, 727a, 744b; Pou-eul-jou-fa-men = Advayapraveśadharmaparyāya (title of ch. 8), p. 903F, 1635F.
8.     Amitābhavyūha or Greater Sukhāvatīvyūha, T 362, transl. Tche K’ien between 222–229 (cf. T 360, 361, 363, 364; Tib. 760, no. 5) Cited A-mi-t’o-fo-king, p. 556F; A-mi-t’o-king, p. 708c; mentioned without title, p. 300F, 465F, 601F, 276a, 309a, 311c, 343a, 712a.
9.     Nandopanandanāgarājadamanasūtra, T 597, transl. Tche K’ien between 222 and 229 (cf. Tib. 755). Cited Hiang-nana-t’o-p’o nan-t’o-long-wang-hiong-wen-king, p. 189F mentioned without title, p. 1359F.
10. Tathāgatajñānamudrā-[samādhi], T 632, transl. Tche-K’ien between 222–229 (cf. T 633, 634; Tibe. 799). Cited Tche-yin-king = Jñānamudrāsūtra, p. 744b.
11. Tathāgataguhyasūtra or Tathāgatācuntyaguhyanirdeśa, T 312, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 280 (cf. T 310, no. 3; Tib. 760, no. 3). Cited Mi-tsi-kin-king = Guhyakasūtra, p. 19F, 1638F, 284a, 466b, 684a; Mi-tsi-kin-kang-king = Guhyakavajrapāṇisūtra, p. 560F. Mentioned without title, p. 1587F.
12. Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā, T 585, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 286 (cf. T 586, 587; Tibe. 827).Cited Tch’e-sin-king = Viśeṣacintisūtra, p. 1714F, 275a, 297c, 534a, 604a, 631a; Wang-ming (or Ming-wang)-p’ou-sa-king = Jālinīprabhabodhisattvasūtra, p. 1268F, 1417F, 267a.
13. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, T 263, tr. Dharmarakṣa in 286 (cf. T 262; 264; Tib. 781). Cited Fa-houa or Fa houa-king, p. 417–418F, 555F, 578F, 280a, 299b, 300b, 303b, 339a, 394b, 420b, 466b, 619b, 648c, 713b, 714a, 754b, 756b; mentioned without title, p. 294F-295F. <xxxvi>
14. Saṃvṛtiparamārthasatyanirdeśa, T 460, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 289 (cf. T 1489, 1490; Tib. 846). Cited Tsing-king = Praśantasūtra, p. 1562F.
15. Tathāgatamahākaruṇānirdeśa, T 398, tr. Dharmarakṣa in 291 (cf. T 397, no. 1–2). Cited Ta-pei-king, p. 756b.
16. Daśabhūmikasūtra, T 285, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 297; T 286, transl. Kumārajīva between 402 and 409 or 413 (cf. T 278, no. 22; 279, no. 26; 287; Tib. 761). Cited Tsien-pei-king (title abridged from the transl. by Dharmarakṣa), p. 272a; Che-ti-king (title from the transl. by Kumārajīva), p. 411a, 712c; Fa-yun-king = Dharmameghasūtra (name from the 10th bhūmi of the Daśabhūmika), p. 308a, 76b.
17. Bhadrakalpikasūtra, T 425, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 300 (cf. Tib. 762). Cited Hien-kie-king, p. 271a, 395a; Hien-kie-san-mei = Bhadrakalpasamādhi, p. 498a.
18. Maitreyaparipṛcchā, T 349, tr. Dharmarakṣa in 303 (cf. T 310, no, 42). Cited Mi-lö-wen-king, p. 394b.
19. Akṣayamati[nirdeśa]sūtra, T 403, transl. Dharmarakṣain 308 (cf. T 397, no. 12; Tib. 842). Cited Wou-tsin-yi-p’ou-sa-wen = Akṣayamaibodhisattvaparipṛcchā, p. 1245F, 1272F; Wou-tsin-yi-king = Akṣayamatisūtra, p. 1716F; A-tch’a-mo-king = Akṣatamatisūtra (title of transl., by Dharmarakṣa), p. 442a.
20. Anavataptanāgarāparipṛcchā, T 635, transl. Dharmarakṣa in 308; Tib. 823). Mentioned without title, p. 294F, 450F, 344a, 384b.
21. Buddhasaṃgīti, T 810, transl. Dharmarakṣa (cf. Tib. 894). Cited Tchou-fo-yao-tsi-king, p. 566F.
22. Śrīmatībhrāhmaṇīparipṛcchā, T 567, transl. Dharmarakṣa (cf. T 568;Tib. 837). Cited Tö-niu-king = Śrīmatīsūtra, p. 61–363F, 697a.
23. Upāyakauśalyaparipṛccha, T 345, transl. Dhrmarakṣa (cf. T 310, no, 38, 346, Tib. 927). Cited Fang-pien-king = Upāyasūtra, p, 756b.
24. Gaṇḍavyūha, T 294, transl. Cheng kien, between 388–408 (cf. T 278, no. 34; 279, no. 39; 293, 295;Tib. 751, no. 64). Cited Pou-k’o-sseu-yi-king = Acintyasūtra, p. 311F, 317a, 419a.
25. Kuśalamūlasaṃparigrahasūtra, T 657, transl. Kumārajīva btween 402 and 409 or 413 (cf. Tib. 769). Cited Houa-cheou-king (title of transl. by Kumārajīva), p. 571F, 308a, 394b, 756b.
26. Sarvadharmāpravṛttinirdeśa, T 650, transl. Kumārajīva between 402 and 409 or 413 (cf. T 651, 652; Tib. 847). Cited Tchou-fa-wou-hing-king (title of transl.. by Kumārajīva), p. 1635F.
27. Vikurvaṇarājaparipṛcchā, T 420, transl. Kumārajīva between 402 and 409 or 413 (cf. T 421; Tib. 834). Mentioned without reference, p. 1611F. <xxxvii>
28. Mahāmeghasūtra, T 87, transl. Dharmakṣema between 424 and 421 (cf. Tib. 898). Cited Ta-yun-king, p. 308a, 394b, 756b.
29. Ratnaketu[dhāraṇī]sūtra,[33] T 397, no. 9, transl. Dharmakṣema between 414 and 421 (cf. Tib. 402; Tibe, 806). Cited Pao-ting-king = Ratnaketusūtra, p. 266c.
30. Ratnameghasūtra, T 658, transl. Mandrasena in 503 (cf. T 659, 660, 489; Tib. 897). Cited Pao-yun-king, p.756b; mentioned without reference, p. 1613F. Perhaps the same as Yun-king = Meghasūtra, cited p. 308a, 394b.
31. Amitāyurbuddhānusmṛtisūtra, T 365, transl. Kālayaśas between 424 and 432 or 442. Msntioned without references, p. 1361F.
32. Mañjuṣryavadāna: not identified. Cited Wen-chou-che-li-pen-yuan, p. 398F.
33. Asurarājaparipṛcchāsūtra: not identified. Cited A-siu-lo-wang-wen-king, p. 746b.

From this list, incomplete as it is, it may be seen that the author of the Traité used the Mahāyānasūtras originally appearing in India over three centuries which had been translated into Chinese between 179 and 503a.D. At that time, these sūtras seem to have been independent publications and were not yet incorporated into vast collections like those of the Prajñā, the Avataṃsaka, the Ratnakūṭa or the Mahāsaṃnipāta.


3. The Madhyamaka.

Presenting themselves as the word of the Buddha, the Mahāyānasūtras do not have to justify their teachings: they proceed with categorical statements (more negative than affirmative) and only by way of exception do they sketch out any proof. From the philosophical point of view, they insist on the twofold emptiness of beings and of things and try to inculcate in their readers the ‘conviction that dharmas do not arise’ (anutpattikadharmakṣānti) with all its consequences. From the religious point of view, they turn the spotlight on certain Buddhas, certain bodhisattvas: Akṣobhya is the preference of the Prajñāpāramitās, Samantabhadra of the Pratyutpannasamādhis, Amitabhā of the Sukhāvatīvyūhas, Vajrapāṇi of the Tathāgataguhyas, etc. <xxxviii>

At one time the need was felt to condense the teachings of the Mahāyānasūtras. This was the work of the first Mādhyamika ‘philosophers of the Middle’ and partisans of emptiness (śūnyavāda), Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva and Rāhulabhadra. In technical perfect Sanskrit in the manner of Aśvaghoṣa, they wrote opuscules as memorial verses (kārikā).

The goal of Nāgārjuna and his disciple Āryadeva is to reduce to the absurd (prasaṅga) the realist and pluralist views of the philosophical systems current at their time, notably Sarvāstivādin Buddhism, brahmanical Sāṃkhya and Vaiśeṣika. They show that the facts or basic categories of the old Buddhism escape any preaching: existence, non-existence, existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence, and that affirmation or negation of any proposition whatsoever necessarily involves the negation or affirmation of its opposite. Avoiding the extreme views, refusing to make any categorical statement on a defined subject, following a “Middle Path”, these authors escape from all criticism. More a mystic than philosopher, Rāhulabhadra dedicated to Prajñāpāramitā a hymn that was greatly appreciated by the Indians. All the information that could be desired on the life of Nāgārjuna, his works, his supposed relationship with Kaniṣka and the Śātavāhanas may be found in Venkata Ramanan’s work, Nāgārjuna’s Philosophy as presented in the Mahā-Prajñāpāramitā-Śāstra, 1966. Here I [Lamotte] will limit myself to documenting a passage from the Si-yu-tche ‘Description of the Western Lands’ by Tao-che Tao-ngan (312–385) reproduced in the Fa-yuan-tchou-lin by Tao-che (T 2122, k. 38, p. 589a).[34] To my knowledge [Lamotte], it is the oldest mention of Nāgārjuna; it has him living five hundred year after the Parinirvāṇa, but contrary to most later sources, it places him, not in Dakṣiṇakosala or Vidarbha, but in northern Kosala (capital Śrāvasti) and in the kingdom of Kāśī (Benares) which, at the time of the Buddha, was governed by king Prasenajit:

The Si-yue-tche says: “There is a large stūpa on the sea-shore five hundred li east of king Prasenajit’s capital. Within this big stūpa <xxxix> there is a small stūpa twelve feet high, adorned with precious ornaments; each night there is a flash of light like great fire. It is said that five hundred years after the Parinirvāṇa of the Buddha, the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna went into the ocean to convert a nāgarāja. The nāgarāja offered this precious stūpa to Nāgārjuna who then made a gift of it to this kingdom. The king then built a large stūpa to enclose the small one. For ages, people in search of a favor come there to prostrate themselves, burn incense and offer flowery parasols. These flowery parasols rise by themselves into the air, spin about and gradually ascend. After each night, they disappear without anyone knowing their whereabouts.

The Si-yu-tche says: “In the kingdom of Vāraṇasī (Benares), the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna built seven hundred stūpas and following that, the stūpas built by worldly people and the saints were innumerable. Just on the banks of the river Tcha-lien (for Ni-lien-tchan-na = Nairañjana), more than a thousand stūpas were built; every five hundred years (pañcavarṣa), a great free assembly is convened.”

It was Kumārajīva who who made known the works of the first Madhyamikas in China. Among other texts, he translated, during the 6th hong-che year (404), the second part of the Śātakaśāstra by Āryadeva with commentary by Vasu (T 1659) and, during the 11th hong-che year (409), the Madhyamakaśāstra by Nāgārjuna with commentary by Piṅgala (T1564),[35] two works known to and cited by the author of the Traité.

1. He took his inspiration mainly from Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamakaśāstra from which he reproduces many extracts sometimes by mentioning the title (p. 69F, 1142F, 1609–1620F, 338c), sometimes without naming it (p. 36F, 45–46F, 72F, 396–397F, 922F, 1204–1207F, 1436F, etc.).[36] He refers twice (p. 36F, 1638F) to the well-known dedicatory kārikā where Nāgārjuna <xl> summarizes his doctrine in a series of eight ‘No’s’: Anirodham anutpādam, etc.

2. He knows the ‘Centuries’ by Āryadeva and refers to it at least once (p. 1370F) by simply mentioning the title of one of its chapters, the Ātmapratiṣedhaprakaraṇa (see below, p. 1370–1375F as note).

3. He cites almost in its entirety the Prajñāpāramitāstotra by Rāhulabhadra whom the Chinese tradition unanimously gives as disciple of Āryadeva, himself the disciple of Nāgārjuna.[37]

From these investigations we may conclude that the author is later than the first Madhyamikas and should not be identified with Nāgārjuna the author of the Madhyamakaśāstra. If, as Kumārajīva has it, the real Nāgārjuna was born 880 years after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa which he fixes at the 15th year of king Siang, cyclic kia-chen order (637 B.C.), that is, in 243 A.D., the author of the Traité who knew the disciples and the grand-disciples of Nāgārjuna could hardly have been active before the beginning of the 4th century of our era.

Here, in its main features, is the picture that emerges from his work. A native of the north-west and steeped in his Indian nationality, he became a monastic in some monastery of Kaśmir-Gandhāra of Sarvāstvādin persuasion. He devoted himself passionately to the study of the Tripiṭaka and specialized in the Ṣaṭpādābhidharma and its various Vibhāṣās. He acquired such mastery of them that he was probably in charge of teaching them. Devoured by curiosity, he showed a pronounced taste for reading and soon the golden legend of Buddhism which was flourishing in the north-west no longer held any secrets for him. He did not, however, dissociate himself from the heretics with whom he was in close contact on their alms-rounds: he had a sufficient rather than schematic acquaintance with Vedic literature, of the Brahmanic systems, especially the Sāṃkhya and Vaiśeṣika, as well as the Hindu doctrines (Śivaism and Viṣṇuism). He took part in internal debates between the Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣikas and the Dārṣṭāntika-Sautrāntikas of Kumāralāta and did not hide his preference for the former. <xli>

But already, almost three centuries ago, the Mahāyānist movement had taken root in the north-west where it found favor with sons and daughters of good family. Accustomed to the routine of community life and intellectually tired, most of the Sarvāstivādin monks had but little interest in the new ideas that troubled their mental security and modified their customs. Our author was of a different nature. Becoming progressively more familiar with the Mahāyānasūtras that were published, becoming familiar with the mode of reasoning of a Nāgārjuna or a Deva, he thought he had discovered the ‘true nature of things ‘ and resolutely became a Mahāyānist. Such a turnabout did not provoke any moral or intellectual crisis in him. Convinced of the advantages of the monastic life, not for a moment did he think of leaving (hīnāyāvarte) it to return to lay life. His Buddhist faith was in no way shaken since he remained faithful to the Word of the Buddha ‘such as it was in the Sūtra and appeared in the Vinaya’ and, although he adhered preferentially to the sūtras of profound meaning, supramundane and associated with emptiness, he was aware of ‘not straying from the true nature of things’, but on the contrary, of staying even closer to it.

When he compared the fantasy and exaggerations of the texts of lengthy development with the tidy and methodical texts of the Tripiṭaka, his sense of moderation was not offended, but the uneasiness that he felt did not prevent him from discovering in the new literature a fire and heat lacking in the old literature. When this Abhidharma teacher examined the sibylline kārikās of a Nāgārjuna or a Deva closely, not only could he admire their precision and their terseness but he had to notice, on his own part that, compared with the enormous production of Kātyāyanīputra and the Kaśmir arhats, these opuscules, which did not even reach five hundred verses, were rather lightweight.

This is why he undertook to compose, in the form of a commentary on the Mahāyānāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, an exegetical treatise that would be the Mahāyānist replica of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma.

According to a well-ordered plan which, however, never appears in the divisions adopted by successive editions, he transposes the Prajñā into early times by citing old canonical sūtras on every page and by evoking numerous individuals borrowed from Śākyamuni’s following. In this way, mixing the old and the new, he reveals, according to the fortunate phrase of Hiuan-tsang, a Sthavira-Mahāyānika. On the questions discussed, he begins by explaining, <xlii> with complete objectivity, the opinions of the Sarvāstivādin masters; then he moves on to criticize them, frequently but not always, by taking his inspiration from two or three skillfully introduced and clearly explained Nāgārjunian kārikās.

In his work, the explanation of the Abhidharmic theories occupies ten times more space than their refutation for, to his eyes, the Abhidharma in which he had specialized is in no way without pertinence: actually, it comes under conventional truth (saṃvṛtisatya) which makes its presence felt by everyone in daily life and serves as a stepping-stone to reach the truth. But it fades and vanishes in the light of the absolute truth (paramārthasatya), before the ‘true nature of dharmas’, an expression rendered in Chinese by the four characters Tchou-fa-che-siang. For the sake of being literal, I [Lamotte] have usually restored it as sarvadharmāṇāṃ bhūtalakṣaṇam, but in Kumārajīva’s translations, it may have, as its Indian correspondent, dharmalakṣaṇa, tattva, bhūtanaya and, most frequently, dharmatā. The expression is not very frequent in the Chinese version of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā (T 223, p. 231b, 244a, 257b, 392a, 416c) and appears only once in the Chinese kārikās of the Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1564, p. 24a). In turn, the true nature of things is the pivotal axis of the entire philosophy of the Traité. Evoked as early as the opening stanzas, it is trotted out obsessively throughout the entire work (p. 3, 15, 18, 45, 49, 51, 53 68, 131, 150, 156, 159, 213, 239, 298, 322, 327, 338, 340, 355, 399, 400, 439, 481, 500, 593, 677, 700, 708, 710, 769, 839, 902, 915, 916, 918, 924, 925, 926, 928, 929, 950, 954, 969, 1019, 1045, 1047, 1054,1059, 1060, 1083, 1105, 1106, 1107, 1110. 1112, 1142, 1165, 1190, 1204, 1229, 1231, 1232, 1245, 1253, 1261, 1278, 1240, 1378, 1407,1408, 1427, 1500 1501, 1503, 1519, 1610, 1611, 1612, 1622, 1636, 639, 1654, 1699, 1703F).

This true nature, if one may say so, is undefinable by definition, for, being nothing whatsoever, it transcends any category of mind. It suffices to reproduce here the paraphrase that will be given below on p. 1501F: “The true nature of dharmas is unborn and unceasing, neither defiled nor purified, neither existent nor non-existent, ever peaceful, perfectly pure, like space undefinable, inexpressible; it is the cessation of all the paths of discourse; it surpasses the domain of all minds and mental events; it is like nirvāṇa: this is the Dharma of the Buddhas.”

We must be careful not to apostatize it as a negative Absolute, for emptiness <xliii> is valid only as method of argument and has nothing to do with a metaphysical principle: “The person who produces the view of emptiness I declare to be incurable. I am not surprised that a person is attached to a view of the self as great as Mount Sumeru and I do not blame him. But if a fool is attached to a view of emptiness, be it as small as the sixteenth part of a hair, that I cannot allow.”

By means of his constant recourse to bhūtalakṣaṇa as criterion of the truth, the author of the Traité carves out for himself a place in the philosophy of the Middle.

The Taisho Index no. 13, p. 342–344, has prepared a list of the bodhisattvas mentioned in the Traité which contains more than 60 names, of which 22 are directly borrowed from the nidāna of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā (p. 428F). The author has a high opinion of the bodhisattvas and dedicates no less than six chapters to them (VIII to XIII) where he dwells at length on their qualities and their prerogatives. But his admiration bears upon the bodhisattva in abstracto rather than on any one bodhisattva in particular. He reveals himself to be a philosopher rather than a devotee.

Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamakaśāstra aroused lively interest and was commented upon at least eight times: by Nāgārjuna himself (which is doubtful), Buddhapālita, Bhavya, Candrakīrti, Devaśarman, Guṇaśrī, Gunamati and Sthiramati. On the other hand, the Traité went unnoticed in India. Candrakīrti himself, the best commentator on the Madhyamakaśāstra in the 7th century, does not seem to have had any suspicion of its existence or, if he was aware of it, he did not rank it among the main works of Nāgārjuna. In a Madhyamakaśāstrastuti the original Sanskrit of which was found by G. Tucci,[38] he notes in stanza 10 only eight Nāgārjunian works:

1) Sūtrasamuccaya (T 635; Tib. 5330).[39]

2) Parikathā Ratnāvalī = Rāja-parikathā-ratnāvālī (Tib. 5658).

3) Saṃstuti = Catuḥstava: Niraupamyastava (Tib. 2011). Lokātītastava (Tib. 2012), Cittavajrastava (Tib. 2013), Paramārthastava (Tib. 2014).

4) Śāstragaditāḥ kārikāḥ = Madhyamakaśāstra.

5) Yuktyākhyā ṣaṣtikā = Yuktiṣaṣtikā (Tib. 5225). <xliv>

6) Vidalā = Vaidulyasūtra (Tib. 5226) and Vaidulyaprakaraṇa (Tib. 5230).

7) Śūnyatāsaptati (Tib. 5227).

8) Vigrahasya… vyāvartanī = Vigrahavyāvartanī (Tib. 5228).

The Tibetan historians Bu-ston (I, p. 51F) and Taranātha (p. 302F) will be inspired by this list in their accounts of Nāgārjuna.

On the other hand, rather quickly and, in any case, as early as the 7th century, India retained no memory of the Traité[40] and the fact that it was saved from oblivion is due to Kumārajīva.



Kumārajīva (344–409 or 413), assisted by his disciples Seng-jouei (352–436) and Seng-tchao (384–414)[41] as well as a group of Chinese scholars, translated at Tch’ang-ngan four works of Madhyamaka inspiration that he wrongly or rightly attributed to the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna:

1) Ta-tche-tou-louen = Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa (T 1509) between the summer of 402 and the 1st of February 406, with preface by Seng-jouei.

2) Che-eul-men-louen = Dvadaśanikāyaśāstra or Dvādaśamukhaśāstra (T 1568) in 408–409, with preface by Seng-jouei.

3) Tchong-louen = Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1564) in 409–410, with preface by Seng-jouei.

4) Che-tchou-p’i-cha-louen = Daśabhūmikavibhāṣāśāstra (T1521), at an undetermined date.[42]

In the prefaces and colophons attached to these translations, there are some indications about the very circumstances of the translation, the date and the life of Nāgārjuna as they were imagined at Tch’ang-ngan at the beginning of the 5th century. <xlv>



The translation of the Traité went hand in hand with that of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (T 332) of which the Traité is a commentary. The documentation of these two texts has been gathered and critiqued by P. Demiéville[43] with his customary skill, and I [Lamotte] largely take my inspiration from his work.

Information taken from the colophon of the Ta-tchen-tou-louen (T 1409,k. 100, p. 756c, or T 2145, k. 10, p. 75b):

The dharmācārya Kumārajīva came to Tch’ang-ngan in the year 3 of the hong-che period of the Ts’in, sin-tch’eou cyclic order, the 20th day of the 12th moon (February 8, 402). During the summer of the 4th year (402), at Si-men-t’ang ‘Pavilion of the Western Gate’ of the Siao-yao-yuan ‘Pleasure Park’, he published this Che-louen (Upadeśa, T 509) for the emperor [Yao] Hing. The translation was finished on the 27th day of the 12th moon of the 7th year (February 1, 406).[44] During this period he also published:

1. the King-pen ‘Sūtra Text’,[45]
2. the Tch’an-king ‘Dhyāna Sūtra’,[46]
3. the Kiai-liu ‘Vinaya’,[47] <xlvi>
4. the Po-louen ‘Treatise in a century’,[48]
5. the Tch’an-fa-yao-kiai ‘Summary explanation of the method of Dhyāna’, [49]consisting of almpst 500,000 yen ‘words or syllables’.

With the Che-louen (Upadeśa), this makes up 1,500,000 yen.

The first p’in ‘chapter’ of the [Che]-louen (Upadeśa) takes up 34 kiuan ‘scrolls’ [in the Chinese translation] and comments on only a single chapter [of the Sūtra, T 223] entirely.

Also, beginning with the second p’in ‘chapter’, the dharmācārya [Kumārajīva] abridged the integral text of the [Che]-louen, giving only what is essential, just what is necessary to explain the meaning of the text [of the Sūtra] from then on giving up the completion of the commentary in its full development. Thus he ended up with 100 kiuan ‘scrolls’ [of translation]. A complete translation would have been ten times as long.[50]

Information taken from the preface by Seng-jouei to the Ta-tche-tou-louen (T 1509, p. 57, or T 2145, k. 10, p. 74c–75b).

Ma-ming (Aśvaghoṣa) was born at the end of the Authentic Dharma (saddharma), and Long-chou (Nāgārjuna) at the end of the Counterfeit Dharma (pratirūpakadharma)…[51] At the end of the Authentic Dharma it was easy to propagate [the doctrine]; thus Aśvaghoṣa worked directly with the inheritance that had been passed down to him and had only to dust it off. But the end of the Counterfeit Dharma was beset with many troubles; thus Nāgārjuna associated with lay people and taught them to understand things by the gradual path. Moreover, he went to the palace of the Nāgas to borrow the clarity to illuminate wisdom in the quest for the mystery. He dedicated himself to the study of the profound secret in order to exhaust the wonders of the subtle words. Then, taking the text of the Prajñā[pāramitāsūtra] as a basis, he composed this Upadeśa

He explains the true nature (dharmatā) so that people misled by wrong views are no longer led astray and are corrected. <xlvii> In this Upadeśa, he begins by explaining the views [of the Ābhidharmikas ?] and mentions the differences in order to exhaust their beauty, but finally he recommends detachment (anabhiniveśa) from all these views as the proper solution. Where the explanation is incomplete, he engages in a discussion to illuminate it; if the discussion does not succeed, he opts for the Middle [Path] (madhyamā pratipad) as the definitive solution…

There is the dharmācārya Kumārajīva who, from an early age, acquired a reputation for insight and wisdom and who now, at a ripe age, enjoys extraordinary renown… He always depended on this Upadeśa.

On the 20th day of the 12th moon of the 3rd year of the hon-che period (Februray 8, 402), he came from Kou-tsang to Tch’ang-ngan. The Ts’in emperor [Yao Hing] for a long time humbly nourished the hope of seeing him and was overjoyed to meet him. In the course of their conversations, they lingered until the end of the day and, by trying to pierce the mystery, they forgot the year’s fatigue…

The emperor gathered the śramaṇas in the capital who were specialists in doctrinal works and ordered scholars learned in criticism of the texts, noblemen, and ministers to assemble in the Siao-yao-yuan pavilion on the shore of the Wei… He personally examined the mysterious document and adjusted the [Chinese] words to the Sanskrit text… When the text of the [Prajñāpmaramitā]sūtra (T 223) was established, he went on to the translation of this Upadeśa (T 1509).[52]

The abridged version of the Upadeśa (in its original Sanskrit text) had 100,000 gāthās each of 32 characters (i.e., 100,000 units of 32 syllables), or a total of 3,200,000 ‘words’ (Sanskrit syllables; for the Chinese, the notions of words and syllables overlap). Taking into account the contrast between Sanskrit and Chinese, the one being complicated and the other concise, he condensed it by two-thirds and thus obtained these 100 kiuan of the Chinese translation. In the 300,000 words of the Ta-tche-[you-louen] (condensed thus into about 300,000 Sanskrit syllables), the sublime meaning of the mysterious paragraphs appeared in full clarity… . <xlviii> The complete Sanskrit text is as detailed as that of the first chapter (parivarta); the master of the Dharma abridged it by cutting it because the Chinese love conciseness. If he had translated the entire text, that would have come to at least 1000 kiuan.[53]

From this somewhat confused information, some conclusions may be drawn:

1) The translation of the Upadeśa began at Tch’an-ngan between May 25 and June 23 of the year 404 and was completed February 1, 406.

2) It went along with the translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (T 223) of which it is the commentary. But here the evidence differs somewhat.

a. According to the preface by Seng-jouei in T 223, published in the Tch’ou (T 2145, k. 8, p. 53b), the translation of the Sūtra began on the 23rd day of the 4th moon of the 5th hong-che year (May 29, 403) and finished on the 5th day of the 12th moon of the same year (January 13, 404); after which, the Chinese texts was again revised up to the 23rd day of the 4th moon of the following year (May 18, 404).

b. According to the Tch’ou (T 2145, k. 2, p. 10c16) and the K’ai-yuan (T 2154, k. 4, p. 512b4), the translation of the Sūtra began on the 23rd day of the 4th moon of the 5th hong-che year (May 29, 403) and finished on the 23rd day of the 4th moon of the 6th year (May 18, 404).

3. The Ta-tche-tou-louen (T 1509) is just an incomplete translation of the Indian Upadeśa. The latter, which was divided into chapters (parivarta, p’in),[54] consisted of 100,000 gāthās or 3,200,000 Sanskrit syllables. A complete translation would have involved 1000 scrolls (kiuan) and 3,200,000 words (yen).

However, Kumārajīva actually translated only nine-tenths and his translation has only 100 scrolls and about 320,000 Chinese characters. This is how he did it:

a. He completely translated the first parivarta of the Indian Upadeśa.

b. He abridged two-thirds of the text of the other parivartas.

The subdivisions of the Ta-tche-tou-louen into chapters (p’in) as well as into scrolls (kiuan) varied considerably in the course of successive editions. In some of the Touen-houang manuscripts they are completely missing.[55] <xlix>

In the actual Taisho edition, the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (T 223) consists of 90 chapters in 27 scrolls; the Ta-tche-tou-louen (T 1509) also has 90 chapters, but is divided into 100 scrolls. We may also note that in these two texts the titles of the chapters do not always coincide.

Scrolls 1 to 34 of the Ta-tche-tou-louen (p. 57c314b) are the complete translation of the first chapter of the Indian Upadeśa; scrolls 36 to 100 of the same Ta-tche-tou-louen (p. 314b–756c) are the abridged translation of the rest of the Upadeśa.

4. Commissioned and supervised by Yao Hing, executed by the Serindian Kumārajīva, critiqued by more than 500 scholars, written down by brush and prefaced by Seng-jouei, the Chinese translation of the Upadeśa was so completely Sinicized that it succeeds in pulling the wool over one’s eyes and makes one doubt its Indian origins. What we have said about its author shows that it is an illusion. The Upadeśa is the work of an Indian, but its translators gave it a Chinese flavor and that was the reason for its success.

Many comments and arguments exchanged orally during the course of a work prolonged over two years have passed into the translation either in the form of notes (written at the time in a single column in very tiny characters)[56] or as pure and simple interpolations.

Quite rightly, R. Hikata has distinguished in the Ta-tche-tou-louen passages that are clearly or probably by Kumārajīva and those that should be or conveniently are attributed to ‘Nāgārjuna’.[57]

Everyone agrees in attributing to Kumārajīva or to his collaborators explanations of Sanskrit terms with phonetic transcriptions and translations into ‘the language of the Ts’in’, such as samyaksaṃbuddha (p. 128F0, sugata (p. 131F), lokavid (p. 132), puruṣadamyasārathi (p. 133), śāstā devamanuṣyāṇām (p. 135F), buddha (p. 137F), saṃgha (p. 202F), dhāraṇī (p. 317F), Bhadrapāla and Ratnākara (p. 428), Gaṇḍaka (p. 497), Vipaśyin, Śikhin and Viśvabhu (p. 535F), Kauṣṭhīka (p. 637F), pāramitā (p. 701F), Sudinna (p. 713–714), Aśoka (p. 723F), śīla (p. 770F), kṣānti (p. 865F), vīrya (p. 927F), Arbuda and Norarbuda (p. 963F) mahāprajñāpāramitā (p. 1066F), vimokṣa (P. 1291F), samādhi (p. 1487F), ārṣa sthāna (p. 1593F), saṃskāra (p. 696b), etc. <xlix>

Also seeming to be interpolations, some comments on the customs and usages of the T’ien-tchou, capable of being of interest to the Chinese but completely useless to an Indian reader: In India there are two words to designate time, kāla and samaya (p. 76F); it is a custom in India to call anything that is fine, heavenly (divya) (p. 523F); in India it is usually said that some one who has done what had to be done ‘has crossed over to the other shore’ (p. 702F): in India it is the custom to grasp someone’s feet as a sign of respect (p. 847F); the Buddha inhabited the Indian Kingdoms, and in these kingdoms there are always many brāhmins (p. 1267F); Iśana and Varuṇa are at Indra’s left and right respectively (p. 1338F); according to the rule of the Indian language, the combining of several syllables forms a word and the combining of several words forms a phrase (p. 380b–c); the Greater Vehicle in the Indian language is called Mahāyāna (p. 394c); the Buddha manifested only 32 lakṣaṇas and 80 anuvyañjanas in order to conform to Indian taste (p. 684b). etc.

But it would be dangerous to see interpolations everywhere: several passages of the Ta-tche-tou-louen may not correspond to the picture that one has, on the basis of late documents,[58] of a Nāgārjuna ‘who was a Brāhmin from the south of India, contemporary with Kaniṣka and a friend of a Śatavāhana’, but which may be passages quite natural coming from an author who lived and worked at the beginning of the 4th century in north-western India. <li>



If, as I [Lamotte] think, the author of the Upadeśa is different from the author of the Madhyamakaśāstra, the problem of the date of Nāgārjuna loses some of its interest. However, we cannot pass over the information provided by the Tch’ang-ngan school of the 5th century in silence.

As we have seen above, Kumārajīva considered Nāgārjuna to be the author of the Upadeśa, of the Dvādaśanikāya, the Madhyamakaśāstra and the Daśabhūmikavibhāṣā of which he provided the translation. But we know that Kumārajīva, who ‘forgot small details’,[59] did not look very carefully: perhaps he carelessly attributed Kumāralata’s Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā to Aśvaghoṣa.

According to customary usage, he dated Nāgārjuna in post-Nirvāṇa years. In China until the beginning of the 6th century, the birth of Śākyamuni was placed at the 8th day of the 4th moon of the 10th year of King Tchouang (687b. C.).[60] But Kumārajīva brought a correction to this computation.

In a note dated 568 A.D. in the Eul-kiao-louen by Tao-ngan[61] cited by Tao-siuan (596–667) in his Kouang-hong-ming-tei (T 2103, k. 8, p. 142a18–20), we read:

According to the chronology of the dharmācārya Che (Kumārajīva) and the Che-tchou-ming (inscribed pillar in the Wou-hin region) in agreement with the Springs and Autumns (Chronicles of the Lou principality), the Tathāgata was born on the 5th (correction: the 4th) year of king Houan of the Tcheu, yi-tch’eou cyclic order (716 B.C.). He went forth in the 23rd (correction: 22nd) year of king Houan, kouei-wei cyclic order (698 B.C.). He attained enlightenment in the 10th year of king Tchouang, kin-wou cyclic order (687 B.C.). He entered into nirvāṇa in the 15th year of king Siang, kia-chen cyclic order (637 B.C.): this was 1295 years ago (586 B.C.).

The dating of the Parinirvāna in 637 B.C. allows the use of the information provided by Ki-tsang (549–623) on Aśvaghoṣa, Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva and Harivarman in his commentary on the Śatakaśāstra (T 1827), the Madhyamakaśāstra (T 1824) and the Three Treatises (T 1852):

T 1827, k. 1, p. 233a8–14: The teacher [Seng]-jouei, in the preface to the Satyasiddhiśāstra [by Harivrman] which he wrote after <lii> the death of his teacher Che [Kumārajīva], cites some words of the latter: “After the Buddha’s death in the year 350, Ma-ming (Aśvaghoṣa) was born; in 530 Long-chou (Nāgārjuna) was born.” He also said: “Aśvaghoṣa illustrated the end of the Authentic Law (saddharma); Nāgārjuna appeared at the beginning of the Counterfeit Law (pratirūpakadharma)”… [Seng]-tchao and [Seng]-jouei say that T’i-p’o (Āryadeva) was born in the 800th year or later.[62]

T 1824, k. 1, p. 18b23–25: At what time in the Counterfeit Law (pratirūpakadharma) was Nāgārjuna born? The master [Seng]-jouei, in his preface to the Satyasiddhiśāstra, cites some words of his teacher Lo-che (Kumārajīva) who says: “Aśvaghoṣa was born in the year 350, and Nāgārjuna was born in the year 530.”

T 1852, p. 3c10–14: Once the dharmācārya Lo-che [Kumāramjīva], after having translated the Satyasiddhiśāstra,[63] asked Seng-jouei to comment on it. After the death of master Kumārajīva, Seng-jouei wrote down his last teachings and composed the preface to the śāstra; he said: “The Satyasiddhiśāstra was composed by Harivarman, the most famous of Kumāralāta’s disciples, a scholar of the Hīnayāna from the land of Ki-pin (Kaśmir) in the 800th year after the Buddha’s Parinirvāṇa.”

As the preface to the Satyasiddhiśāstra has disappeared, it is difficult to verify the sayings of Ki-tsang. But it is wrong that Seng-jouei placed Aśvaghoṣa at the end of the Authentic Law and Nāgārjuna at the beginning of the Counterfeit Law. In his preface to the Ta-tche-tou-louen (T 1509, p. 57a12–13), he says, to the contrary, that Aśvaghoṣa was born at the end of the Authentic Law and Nāgārjuna at the end of the Counterfeit Law, and several lines lower down, (p. 57b13) he refers to the authority of an Indian Chronicle in terms of which Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna appeared at the end of the Authentic Law and at the end of the Counterfeit Law respectively. The two periods each cover 500 years, so it would follow that the two individuals were separated by about 500 years.

That being so, there is only one way to interpret Kumārajīva’s phrase which puts Aśvaghoṣa at 350 years and Nāgārjuna at 530 years after the Parinirvāṇa. <liii> We must understand that Aśvaghoṣa was born at 350 post-nirvāṇa (which gives 637–350 = 287 B.C.) and Nāgārjuna 530 years after Aśvaghoṣa (which gives 637– (350+530) = 243 A.D.).

If we accept these numbers, the Tch’ang-ngan school of the 5th century placed the great masters at the following dates:

637 B.C.: Parinirvāṇa of the Buddha

287 B.C.: Birth of Aśvaghoṣa

243 A.D.: Birth of Nāgārjuna who was followed by Āryadeva

253 A.D.: Publication of the Satyasiddhiḷsāstra by Harivarman, the disciple of Kumāralata.

This information probably came from Kaśmir where Kumārajīva had been educated and with which he remained in contact. It may be compared with a passage from the Rājatasaṅgiṇī (I, v. 168 and 173) by the Kaśmirian historian Kalhaṇa (12th century) in whose words a bodhisattva of the first bhūmi, the glorious Nāgārjuna, lived at Ṣaḍarhadvana (Hārvan) in the reigns of the last great Kuṣāṇas, Huṣka (Huviṣka?) and his successors.

Nevertheless, no historian will accept that an interval of almost 500 years separated Aśvaghoṣa from Nāgārjuna. In a note incorporated by Seng-tchao in his Commentary on the Vimalakīrti (T 1775, k. 8, p. 399b), Kumārajīva himself places Pārśva and Aśvaghoṣa in the 600 years post-nirvāṇa.

One cannot escape the impression that all these dates are derived from theoretical views on the successive stages of the holy Dharma and that, as an absolute chronology, their value is rather weak.

It is doubtful that at the beginning of the 5th century, the Tch’ang-ngan school would have known Nāgārjuna’s Suhṛllekha “Friendly Letter”,[64] of which three Chinese and one Tibetan translation exist:

1) T 1672: Long-chou-p’ou-sa wei Tch’an-to-kia-wang chouo-fa-yao-kie “Summary of the Dharma in verse by the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna on behalf of king Jantaka”, translated in 431 at Nankin by Guṇavarman.

2) T 1673: K’iuan-fa tchou-wang yao-kie “Summary in verse to encourage kings”, translated in 434 at Nankin by Saṃghavarman, disciple and successor to Guṇavarman.

3) T 1674: Long-chou-p’ou-sa k’iuan-kaiai-wang song “Stanzas of encouragement to the king by the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna”, translated in 691 by Yi-tsing during his trip to India. <liv> In his Account sent from the southern seas (T 2125, k. 4, p. 227c13–15) Yi-tsing specifies that this letter was dedicated by Nāgārjuna to his former dānapati called Che-yin-tö-kia (Jantaka), king of southern India, called So-to-p’o-han-na (Śatavāhana).

4) Tib. 5409 and 5682: Bśes-paḥi phriṅ-yig “Friendly Letter “, addressed this time to king Bde-byed (Udayana), a contemporary of the Buddha!

The first translation, which makes the king, Jantaka, the recipient of the letter, is suspect in several regards. It is first mentioned in the Nei-tien-lou catalogue T 2149, k. 8, p. 312b25) compiled only in 664, and it is hard to see why Saṃghavarman would have retranslated a text published by his teacher three years previously.

The second translation, which does not specify the name of the recipient, gives more guarantee of authenticity: it is mentioned in the Tch’ou-san-tsang-ki-tsi (T 2145, k. 2, p. 12b23; k. 14, p. 104c25) already published in 515 and mentioned by Houei-kiao in his Kao-seng-tchouan (T 2059, k. 3, p. 342c3), which was not the case for the first.

Later, a biography of the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna entitled Long-chou-p’ou-sa-tchouan (T 2047) and published under Kumārajīva’s name was circulated. It has been translated into English by M. Walleser.[65] It probably collected some information previously furnished by Kumāramjīva,[66] but he was not the author.

Firstly, the first catalogue to mention it was the Li-tai-san-pao-ki (T 2034, k. 8, p. 79a7) compiled at Tch’ang-ngan in 597 by Fei Tchang-fang and, contrary to his custom, this editor was unable to refer to any earlier catalogue.

Secondly, this biography, which correctly mentioned the Upadeśa in 100,000 gāthās (T 1509) and the Madhyamakaśāstra in 599 gāthās, also attributes to Nāgārjuna three works unknown as yet <lv> and which will not be considered further: a śāstra on the marvelous Bodhi of the Buddhas in 5,000 gāthās, a śāstra on the skillful means of great compassion in 5,000 gāthās and a śāstra on the absence of fear of which the Madhyamakaśāstra would be an extract.[67]

Finally and above all, this biography presents its hero as a high-flying adventurer and complacently describes his stormy youth, his exciting voyages, his daring attempts at reform, his sensational discoveries in the Nāga palace, his quarrels with the prince, his magic contests with the Brāhmins and finally, his mysterious death. The picture thus sketched gives a good idea of what the upper middle ages thought of a siddha, but corresponds poorly to the image that we ourselves have of this penetrating and rigorous logician who was the author of the Madhyamakaśāstra, this wise encyclopedist who was the author of the Upadeśa.[68]



Volume II of the present work, which appeared in 1949 treated the six virtues – generosity, morality, patience, exertion, meditation and wisdom – which the bodhisattva must practice in order to reach supreme complete enlightenment and, at the same time, to assure the welfare and happiness of all beings.

The canonical and postcanonical texts of early Buddhism had already mentioned these virtues and, for a long time, the deeds of future Buddhas appeared in the bas-reliefs. But in the view of the Prajñāpāramitā, these virtues are raised to the level of perfections (pāramitā) insofar as the bodhisattva ‘keeps them and does not keep them’ (asthānayogena tiṣṭhati) in the sense that he practices them with the deep conviction (kṣānti) that beings do not exist and that things are unborn. <lvi> From the perspective of their true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa, dharmatā), all contingent phenomena are reduced to being identical (samatā) in a fundamental non-existence. The result is that the bodhisattva will be completely generous if he eliminates the notions of donor, recipient and gift given, perfectly moral if he mixes merit and wrong-doing, perfectly wise if, rejecting both true and false, he professes no system whatsoever.

In the present Volume III, the author dedicates no less tham twelve chapters (XXXI – XLII) to commenting on a few pages of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra (Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā, p. 19–21); Śatasāhasrikā, p. 56–66). This part, the most technical and without a doubt the most interesting part of the Traité, has as its subject the practices forming the Path of Nirvāṇa and the attributes of the Buddhas.

Such a subject is somewaht unexpected. The bodhisattva delays his entry into nirvāṇa indefinitely and remains in saṃsāra with the sole purpose of dedicating himself as long as possible to the welfare and happiness of beings. Why then should he be interested in practices that are aimed precisely at hastening nirvāṇa? The answer is simple. The bodhisattva must know these practices so as to teach them eventually to beings destined to be converted by the old Vehicle – that of the śrāvakas, a fact that does not prevent them, at the appropriate time, from being redirected towards the Greater Vehicle. This is why the bodhisattva ‘completely fulfills’ (paripūrayati) the practices of the path in order to be able to teach them or review them with awareness of their cause, but he does not realize (na sākśātkaroti) them personally, for he would, by that very fact, betray his ideal of future Buddha and he would rejoin the ranks of the arhats who are more preoccupied with their sainthood than with the salvation of others.

As for the attributes of the Buddha, they are still beyond the reach of the bodhisattva. But although he has not ‘fulfilled them completely’, he is ‘anxious to understand them’ (parijñmatukāma). This is why it is necessary to speak of them. The division into chapters as presented in the Taisho edition leaves much to be desired and so it is useful to prsent a summary of Volume III here.


FIRST PART: The dharmas of the Path arranged in order of importance:

I. The thirty-seven bodhipākṣikadharmas divided into seven classes (chap. XXXI):

  1. Four smṛtyupasthānas. <lvii>
  2. Four samyakpradhānas.
  3. Four ṛddhipādas.
  4. Five indriyas.
  5. Five balas.
  6. Seven saṃbodhyaṅgas.
  7. Eight mārgāṅgas.

II. The eight complementary classes of dharmas of the Path (chap. XXXII-XXXIV):

  1. Three samādhis.
  2. Four dhyānas.
  3. Four apramāṇas.
  4. Four ārūpyasamāpattis.
  5. Eight vimokṣas.
  6. Eight abhibhvāyatanas.
  7. Ten kṛtsnāyatanas.
  8. Nine anupūrvasamāpattis.

III. Six other classes of dharmas of the Path (chap. XXXV- XXXVIII):

  1. Nine aṣubhasaṃjñās.
  2. Eight anusmṛtis.
  3. Ten saṃjñās.
  4. Eleven jñānas.
  5. Three samādhis.
  6. Three indriyas.

SECOND PART: The attributes of the Buddhas (chap. XXXIX-XLII):

  1. The eight balas according to the Abhidharma (chap. XXXIX).
  2. The four vaiśāradyas according to the Abhidharma (chap. XL).
  3. The ten balas and the four vaiśāradyas according to the Mahāyāna (chap. XL).
  4. The four pratisaṃvids according to the Abhidharma and according to the Māhayāna (chap. XL).
  5. The eighteen āveṇikadharmas according to the Mahāyān list (chap. XLI).
  6. The eighteen āveṇikadharmas according to the Sarvāstivādin lists (chap. XLI)
  7. Mahāmaitrī and mahākaruṇā (chap. XLII).

For each of these subjects, the Traité first explains the theories of early Buddhism according to the interpretation of the Abhidhrma and the Sarvāstivādin-VaibhāṣikaVibhāṣā; then it presents the contrasting <lviii> view of the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra and the other Mahāyānasūtras, taking its inspiration most frequently from refutation of arguments condensed in the Madhyamakaśāstra.

A clear distinction is made in the account between the Abhidharmic theories and the Mahāyānist criticism. The subtitles, added here to the French translation, carefully mark the separation. It often happens, as a matter of fact, that the contemporary exegesis quoting one or another passage taken from the Traité, without placing it in context, attributes theories to the author which he presents only to oppose them.

By means of these frequent allusions to the early Tripiṭaka, the author plunges us into the elating atmosphere of the 6th century B.C. In the course of Volume III, we will see ‘humans and non-human beings’ whom Śākyamuni met at random in his preaching tours march past helter-skelter: Ājñātakauṇḍinya (p. 1426F, 1576F), Ambaṭṭha (p. 1576F), Ānanda (p. 1352F, 1547F, 1589F, 1631F, 1649F, 1676F), Anavataptanāgarāja (p. 1343F), Aṅgulimāla (p. 1542F, 1579F), Aniruddha (p. 1405F, 1558F, 1630F), Apalāla (p. 1578F), Asita (p. 1344F), Āṭavaka (p. 1578F), Bakkula (p. 1386F, 1530F), Bhāradvāja (p. 1401F), Bimbisāra (p. 1577F), Brahmadatta (p. 1577F), Brahmā devarāja (p. 1343F, 1583F), Brahmāyus (p. 1577F), Caṇḍa Pradyota (p. 1577F), Cāturmahārājakāyikadeva (p. 1679F), Cūḍapanthaka (p. 1543F), Devadatta (p. 1545F, 1662F, 1671F seq.), Dīrgha the yakṣa (p. 1405F), Dīrghanakha (p. 1576F, !688F), Elapatra (p. 1579F), Gavāmpati (p. 1659F), ĪŚāna (p. 1338F), Jambuka (p. 1363F), the Jaṭilas (p. 1576F), Jīvaka (p. 1677F), Kimbila (P. 1405F), Kṣānti (p. 1670F), Kūṭasanta (p. 1577F), Lavaṇabhadrika (p. 1439F), Madhuvāsiṣṭha (p. 1659F), Mahāgautamī (p. 1403F), Mahākāśyapa (p. 1355F, 1399F, 1547F, 1577F), Mahākātyāyana (p. 1531F), Makhādeva (p. 1583F), Māndhātṛ (p. 1583F), Māra (p. 1582F), Maudgalyāyana (p. 1355F, 1426F, 1530F, 1543F, 1575F, 1576F, 1631F, 1632F), Meghika (p. 1675F), Nāgasamāla (p. 1675F), Nandika (p. 1405F), Nandopananda (p. 1359F), Nītha (p. 1634F), Pilindavatsa (p. 1439F), Pilotika (p. 1576F), Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja (p. 1631F), Prasenajit (p. 1577F), Pukkusāti (p. 1531F, 1577F), Pūrṇa (p. 1631F), Puṣkarasārin (p. 1577F), Rādha (p. 1675F), Rāhula (1546F), Revata Khadiravaniya (p. 1547F), Sāgara nāgarāja (p. 1343F), Sāgara the king (p. 1583F), Śaivala (p. 1546F), Śakra devendra (p. 1343F, 1583F), the 100,000 Śākyas (p. 1577F), Śāriputra (p. 1355F, 1426F, 1439F, 1543F, 1547F, 1575F, 1576F, 1631F, 1632F, 1694F, 1713F), Satyaka Nirgranthīputra (p. 1355F, 1576F, 1662F, 1665F), Saundaranada (p. 1545F, 1641F), Śibi (p. 1713F), Śreṇikavatsagotra (p. 1356F), Śrīgupta (p. 1634F), Śrīvṛddhi (p. 1526F), <lix> Śroṇa Koṭiviṃśa (p. 1387F), Subadhra (p. 1650F, 1652F), Sudarśana (p. 1583F), Śuddhodana (p. 1344F), Sumana (p. 1426F), Sunakṣatra (p. 1545F, 1675F), Sundarī (p. 1572F), Udayana (p. 1577F), Upāli (p. 1547F), Urubilva the nāga (p. 1359F),Uruvilvākāśyapa (p. 1355F, 1576F), Vakkali (p. 1546F), Varuṇa (p. 1338F), Vemacitrin (p. 1583F), Virūḍhaka (p. 1529), Viśvakarman (p. 1578F), Yaśas (p. 1545F). –The only bodhisattvas mentioned in the present volume are Sadāprarudita (p. 1353F, Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī and Maitreya (p. 1694F).

More than the two previous volumes, Volume III is loaded with canonical quotations of which here is a provisional list:

1. Hināyāna sūtras cited with their titles. – Bahudhātuka (p. 1524F, 1525F), Devatāparipṛcchā (p. 1633F), Dhyāna (p. 1268F, 1547F), Dīrghanakhabrahmcāri

(p. 1688F), Ekottara (p. 1268F), Karmavibhaṅga (p. 1534F), Kātyāyanāvavāda erroneously cited as Kāśyapaparipṛcchā (p. 1684F), Romaharṣaṇiya (p. 1554F), Sarvāsrava (p. 1590F), Sundarī-sūtra (p. 1572F).

2. Hīnayāna sūtras mentioned without title. – Ādumā (p. 1350F, n. 1), Āmrāṇi (p. 1397F, n. 2), Anātman (p. 1448F, n. 1), Anityatā (p. 1438F, n. 1), Āryadharmamudrā (p. 1368F, n. 1), Āśiviṣopama (p. 1419F, n. 1; 1422F, n. 4), Āsvāda (p. 1328F, n. 3), Bhūtam idam (p. 1630F, n. 2), Cātuma (p. 1575F, n. 1; 1532F, n. 2), Caturmahāpadeśa (p. 1621F, n. 2), Catuṣpratisaraṇa (p. 1621F, n. 1), Cīvara (p. 1399F, n. 1), Cūḍasatyaka (p. 1665F, n. 4), Cūdavedalla (p. 1184, n. 1), Dahara (p. 1397, n. 1), Dakṣiṇāvibhaṅga (1403F, n. 2), Dakṣiṇīya (p. 1392F, n. 1), Daśabala (p. 1515–1517F), Devatānusmṛti (p. 1420F, n. 1), Dharmacakrapravartana (p. 1458, n. 1), Dhvajāgra (p. 1335, n. 1), Etad agram (p. 1630, F, n. 2), Gārava (p. 1425F, n. 2), Gośṛṅga (p. 1405F, n. 1), Haliddavassana (p. 1270F, n. 1), Kolopama (p. 1397F, n. 1), Laṭukikopama (p. 1488F, n. 3), Maitrā (p. 1247F, n. 3), Maraṇasmṛti (p. 1424F, n. 1), Markaṭa (p. 1165F, n. 1), Na tāvakam (p. 1145F, n. 1), Nanda (p. 1641F, n. 2), Rahogataka (p. 1159F, n. 1; 1446F, n. 1); Rūpasaṃgraha (p. 1277F, n. 1), Śaikṣa (p. 1640F, n. 3), Śalyatvena (p. 144F, n. 2), Śramaṇasatya (p. 1663F, n. 2), Subhadra (p. 1550F, n. 2), Susīma (p. 1483F, n. 2), Udaya- and Sundarika (p. 1400F, n. 2), Upāsakaśīla (p. 1559F, n. 1), Vaiśaradya (p. 1570F seq.), Vyādhisūtra (p. 1515F, n. 1).

3. Mahāyānasūtras cited with their titles:[69]Akṣayamatinirdeśa cited Akṣayamatibodhisattvaparipṛcchā (p. 1245F), Akṣayamatiparipṛcchā <lx> (p. 1272F) or Akṣayamatisūtra (p. 1716F), Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (p. 1646F), Saṃvṛtiparamārthasatyamirdeśa cited Praśantasūtra (p. 1562F), Sarvadharmāpravṛttinirdeśa (p. 1535F), Śūraṃgamasamādhi cited Mahāyāna-Śuraṃgamasūtra (1647F), Tathāgatācintyasuhyanirdeśa cited Guhyakasūtra (p. 1538F) or Guhyayakavajrapāṇisūtra (p. 1681F), Vimalakīrtinirdeśa cited Advayapraveśadharmaparyāya (p. 1645–1636F, n. 1). Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā cited Jālinībodhisattvasūtra (p. 1268F, 1417F0 or Viśeṣacintisūtra (p. 1714F).

4. Mahāyānasūtras mentioned without titles. – Akṣayamtinirdeśa (p. 1250, n. 1), Amitayurbuddhānusmṛti (p. 1361, n. 2), Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthiti-samādhi (p. 1361, n. 2), Ratnamegha (p. 1513F, n. 1), Śūraṃgamasamādhi (p. 1611, n. 2), Tathāgatācintyaguhyanirdeśa (p. 1587F, n. 1), Vikurvaṇarājaparipṛcchā (p. 1613, n. 1).

The references to the Madhyamakaśāstra by Nāgārjuna and to the Catuḥśataka by Āryadeva have been noted above, p. XXXIXF-XLF.

* * *

I [Lamotte] am pleased to be able to express my gratitude to my colleagues and friends who have shown interest in this work. With the kindness of a bodhisattva, P. Demiéville has given me tireless assistance. W. Simon and J. Brough have furnished precious information. My young colleague, R. Shih, has proposed judicious corrections. H. Durt, J. Kato and M. Van Velthem have shared in correcting the proofs.

At the intervention of J. Willems, the very distinguished President of the University Foundation and the National Council for Scientific Research, the Francqui Foundation has granted a generous subsidy for this publication and thus relieved the burden of the Oriental Institute of Louvain and its President, Count J. Ryckmans.

To these worthy individuals, to all these kalyāṇamitras, I express my highest thanks.

I would also like to thank particularly E. Peeters, director of the Orientalist Press, who has tried hard to met my wishes and speed the publication of this Volume.


Étienne Lamotte

                                                                                                Louvain, May 17, 1970


Footnotes and references:


In this introduction, except for indicated exceptions, the numbers in parentheses in the text refer to the pages of the French translation when they are in simple numbers, to the pages and columns of the Chinese edition of T 1509 when the numbers are followed by the letters a, b or c.


Le Traité de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse de Nāgārjuna, JA, 1950, p. 375, n. 1


Read: ‘ten myriads of gāthās.’


Mochizuki, Cyclopedia, p. 227b; A. Hirakawa, A Study of the Vinaya-Piṭaka, Tokyo, 1960, p. 348–352.


The Chinese characters are given rather than the numbers as in previous vols. I and II.


Cf. Papers on the Date of Kaniṣka, ed. by A. L. Basham, 1968.


H. Lüders, Mathurā Inscriptions, 1961, p. 57 seq.


Inscriptions at Shāhbāzgaṛhi (Peshāwār district) and at Mānsehra (Hazāra district) in chancellery Prākrit and Kharoṣṭhī script; Aramaic inscription at Pūl-i-Darunteh in Lampaka; bilingual Greco-Aramaic at Qandahār (JA, 1958, p. 1–48); Greek inscription, also at Qandahār (JA, 1964, p. 137–157). – For the Bactrian inscriptions which themselves are not of Buddhist inspiration, see E. Benveniste, Inscriptions de Bactriane, JA, 1961, p. 13–152; W. B. Henning, The Bactrian Inscriptions, BSOAS, XXIII, 1960, p. 47–55; D. Schlumberger, Aī Khanouem, une ville hellénistique en Afghanistan, CRAI, 1965; L. Robert, De Delphe à l’Oxus, Inscrptions grecques nouvelles de la Bactriane, CRAI, 1968, p. 416–457. Some new discoveries have just been announced to the Académie des Inscriptions by A. Dupont-Sommer.


The Vijñānavādins inherited this canon: cf. HBI, p. 167.


The same order was adopted by other schools; cf. HBI, p. 170.


In Essays Offered to G. H. Luce, 1966, p. 49–58, A. Bareau has decisively established the Dharmaguptaka origin of the Dīrghāgama translated into Chinese by Buddhayaśas and Tchou Fo-nien (T 1).


HBI, p. 191–192.


Fragments du Vinaya des Sarvāstivādin, JA, 1938, p. 21–64.


Der Vinayavibhaṅga zum Bhikṣuprātimokṣa der Sarvāstivādins, 1959.


HBI, p. 187–188.


Mūlasarv.Vin, in Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part 1, p. 2; T 1448, k. 9, p. 41b28.


Gilgit Manuscripts, III, 1942–50.


HBI, p. 177–178.


HBI, p. 203.


Kusum Mittal and V. Stache-Rosen, Dogmatische Begriffsreihen im älteren Buddhismus, 1968.


HBI, p. 203–207.


Note sur des manuscrits sanscrits provenant de Bāmiyān et de Gilgit, JA, 1932, p. 1–13.


Fragments sanskrits de Haute Asie, JA, 1960, p. 509–519.


Un fragment sanskrit de l’Abhidharma des Sarvāstivādin, JA, 1961, p. 461–475.


Tch’ou-san-tsang-ki-tsi, T 2145, k. 10, p. 73b.


Cf. R. Shih, Biographie des moines éminents, 1968, p. 53, n. 196.


Idem, ibid., p. 120.


According to the Chinese sources, Dharmaśrī lived in the 3rd century A.D., and Dharmatrata at the beginning of the 4th: cf. Lin Li-kouang, L’Aide-Mémoire de la Bonne Loi, p. 51, 351.


Since this is a borrowing by the Traité from the Kalpanāmaṇḍikā, the hypothesis suggested on p. 490F, n. 1, is completely unfounded.


These ideas will be masterfully set forth, p. 1381–1382F.


See above, p. 925F, 1078–1095F; also below, p. 1225–1229F.


There is an older translation by Tche Tch’an (T 626), but judging from the title it adopts, the Traité is referring to the anonymous translation (T 629).


See fragments of the Indian original in R. Hoernle, Manuscript Remains, p. 100–103; N. Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, IV, p. 1–138.


Other citations of the Che Tao-ngan Si-yu-tche, thought to be identical with the Che-che Si-yu-ki, have been collected by L. Petech in an article entitled Description des Pays d’Occident” de Che Tao-ngan (Mélanges de Sinologie offerts à P. Demiéville, I, 1966, p. 167–190.


Cf. the preface by T’an-ying, T 2145, k. 11, p. 77b8–9; K’ai-yuan, T 2154, k. 4, p. 513a6.


In his introduction to the Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. LXX, R. Hikata notes several Nāgārjunian stanzas in T 1509 that have escaped me [Lamotte]: p. 61b11–12 =XVIII, 7; p. 64c9–10 = XVII, 20; p. 96c13–14 = XVIII, 7; p. 97b = I, 1 (anirodham anutpāda… ); p. 107a13–14 = XV, ii.


For Rāhulabhadra, see below, p. 1373–1375. Contrary to the Chinese tradition of the 6th century, Candrakīrti and the Tibetan historians make him the teacher of Nāgārjuna, probably under the influence of the chronicles of Nālandā which, in their lists of siddhas, give the following sequence: Rāhulabhadra (or Rāhula), Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva: cf. Dpag-bsam ljon-bsan (tr. S. Pathak, Life of Nāgārjuna, IHQ, XXX, 1954, p. 93); Bu-ston, History of Buddhism, tr. E. Obermiller, II, p. 123: J. Naudou, Les bouddhistes kaśmiriens au Moyen Age, p. 82.


In Oriens Extremus, IX, 1962, p. 47–56


On the authenticity of this work, see J. Fililiozat, Śikṣāsamuccaya et Sūtrasamuccaya, JA, 1964, p. 473–478.


Hiuan-tsang certainly knew the existence of it, but beyond his stay in India between 629 and 645, he collected no information on this subject.


Biographies of Kumārajīva and Seng-jouei in J. Nobel, Kumārajīva, Sitzungsberichte der preuss. Akad. d. Wissens, XX, 1927, p. 206–233. On Kumārajīva, see also Kao Seng Tchouan, transl. R. Shih, p. 60–81; on Seng-jouei, A. Wright, Seng-jui alias Hui-jui, Liebenthal Festschrift, Santiniketan, 1957, p. 272–292; on Seng-tchao, W. Liebenthal, Chao Lun, Hong Kong, 1968, p. 6–7.


The attribution of this text to Nāgārjuna is discussed among Japanese scholars: cf. A. Hirakawa, L’auteur du Daśabhūmikavibhāṣāśāstra, Jour. Indian and Buddhist Studies, V, 1957, p. 176–180; R. Hikata, Introduction to Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. 52, 55, 73, 74.


Account in Journal Asiatique, 1950, p. 375–395.


Compare the Tch’ou (T 2145, k. 2, p. 11a16): The Ta-tche-louen in 100 kiuan was translated at Suan-yao-yuan; it is sometimes divided into 70 kiuan. – Li-tai (T 2034, k. 8, p. 78c18: The Ta-tche-tou-louen in 100 kiuan is the work of the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna. It was translated during the 5th moon of the 6th year of the hong-che period (May 23 or June 23, 404) at Siao-yao-yuan. Seng-jouei did the brush-calligraphy and added the preface. See the Eul-ts’in-lou [catalog compiled between 309 and 415 by Seng-jouei and lost a long time ago]. Kumārajīva says that an integral translation [of the Upadeśa] should have consisted of 1000 scrolls, but he abridged it because of the weakness of mind of the Ts’in. – The K’ai-yuan (T 2154, k. 4, p. 513a4) adopts the date proposed by the colophon.


This is the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (T 223) of which the Upadeśa (T 1509) is the exegesis. But in his doctoral thesis. M. Saigura does not see things in this light: “Das Ching pîn ist ein erfundenes Werk, für dessen Existenz wir keinerlei Belege haben, und das aus folgendem Grund nie existiert haben kann.” Upon which he launches into mathematical calculations!


T 614: Tso-tch’an san-mei-king “Sūtra on the practice of Dhyāna and Samādhi”, a compilation drawn by Kumārajīva mainly from works of the Indian patriarchs of the Kaśmir school, work begun on February 14, 402 and revised in 407 (cf. P. Demiéville, La Yogācārabhūmi de Saṃgharakṣa, BEFEO, XLIV, 1954, p. 355–356).


T 1435: Che-song-liu or Sarvāstivādavinaya, partially translated in 404.


T 1569: Po-louen or Śatakaśāstra by Āryadeva, with commentary by Vasu, translated in 404–405.


T 616: Tch’an fa-yao-kiai, work composed and not published by Kumārajīva, partially inspired by the Traité (cf. P. Demiéville, La Yogācārabhūmi…, p. 354).


P. Demiéville, Journal Asiatique, 1950, p. 388.


The Dharma of the Buddha went through two or three phases, each lasting 500 years: the Authentic Holy Dharma (saddharma proper), the Counterfeit Dharma (pratirūpakadharma), the final Dharma (paścimadharma): cf. HBI, p. 211 seq.


However, in his preface to the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtra (Tch’ou, T 2145, k. 8, p. 53b13), Seng-jouei states that the text of the sūtra had not been (definitely) fixed until the (translation) of the Upadeśa was finished (cf. P. Demiéville, l. c., p. 383, n. 3).


The translation of this paragraph is borrowed from P. Demiéville, l. c., p. 387–388.


Unfortunately their number is not given precisely.


Cf. P. Demiéville, l. c., p. 391.


P. Pelliot, BEFEO, VIII, p. 509–510.


R. Hikata, Introduction to the edition of the Suvikrāntavikrāmin, p. LIII seq.


For a long time, the West has had at its disposal, as information about Nāgārjuna, only incomplete and late documents: a short summary of the Long-chou-p’ou-sa-tchouan (T 2047) in V. Vassilief, Le bouddhisme, ses dogmes, son histoire et sa litérature, 1865, p. 212–213, Tāranātha’s Geschichte des Buddhismsa translated by A. Schiefner, 1869, and the Si-yu-ki (T 2087) by S. Beal (1884) and Th. Watters (1904–05). The paucity of documentation explains the tendency of the moderns to exaggerate the importance of some old comments without any geographical and chronological significance. Thus, concerning Kumāralabdha (= Kumāralāta), the founder of the Sautrāntika school, we read in the Si-yu-ki (T 2087, k. 12, p. 942a16–18): “At that time, there was Aśvaghoṣa in the east, Deva in the south, Nāgārjuna in the west and Kumāralabdha in the north; they are called the four suns illuminating the world.” And since legend attaches Aśvaghoṣa to Kaniṣka, it has been deduced that the four ‘suns’ appeared simultaneously in the 1st or the 2nd centuries of our era according to the date that is assigned to Kaniṣka. This is to give too much importance to a comment that is only a stylistic symbol.


Kao-seng-tchouan, T 2059, k. 2, p. 330c11.


Cf. E. Zürcher, Buddhist Conquest of China, p. 271–272.


This is not the well-known Tao-ngan of the 4th century.


Information confirmed by Seng-tchao’s preface to the Śatakaśāstra by Āryadeva (T 1569, p. 167c12; Tch’ou, T 2145, k. 11, p. 77b12).


According to the Li-tai (T 2034, k. 8, p. 78c22), Kumārajīva trnaslated the Satyasiddhiśāstra in the 8th year of the hong-che period (406–407); according to the K’ai-yuan (T 2145, k. 4, p. 513a18), the translation began on the 8th day of the 9th moon of the 13th hong-che year (October 11, 411) and was finished on the 15th day of the 9th moon of the 14th year (Novenmber 4, 412).


For detail, see S. Lévi, Kaniṣka et Śātavāhana, JA, 1936, p. 107–110.


Life of Nāgārjuna from Tibetan and Chinese Sources, Asia Major, Hirth Anniversary Volume, 1923, p. 445–448.


A note by Kumārajīva incorporated by Seng-tchao in his Commentary on Vimalakīrti (T 1775, k. 2, p. 339a) tells of an episode between Nāgārjuna and a heretic. Nāgārjuna had said to the latter that the devas and asuras were at war. The heretic asked for proof. Immediately broken spears and swords, bodies and heads of asuras fell from the sky. The heretic was convinced and gave in. The episode in question is taken from the Long-chou-p’ou-sa-tchouen (T 2047, p. 185a, 186a) and from there passed into the Fou-fa-tsang-yin-yuan-tchouan (T 2058, k. 5. p. 318a–b).


Cf. T 2047, p. 184c18–21; 186b9–12. The same list appears in T 2058, k. 5, p. 318b16–19. – This “Śāstra on the absence of fear” has been compared with the Mūlamadhyamakavṛtti-akutobhayā attributed to Nāgārjuna and appearing in the Tib, Trip, no. 5229, but the comparison is forced.


One could ask if the Upadeśa, like the Mahāvibhāṣā which it opposes, was not another collective work. This is a question to which I [Lamotte] am unable to respond.


As they are too numerous, the explicit and implicit references to the Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtras are not given here.

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