How the Bodhisattva Obtains the Markless & Ungraspable Perfect Wisdom

From Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
(Dharmamitra Translation)
Question: We already know that, as regards the substance and characteristics of praj it is a dharma which is devoid of characteristics and cannot be gotten at. How then is the practitioner going to be able to succeed in "getting" this dharma?

Response: The Buddha employs skillful means in the explanation of Dharma. If the practitioner practices in a way which accords with those explanations, he will succeed in gaining it. This is comparable to being faced with a dangerous path up a precipitous cliff. If one follows the steps one will be able to ascend. It is also like a deep water. It is through the use of a boat that one succeeds in crossing over it.

Whether he has heard it from the Buddha, from disciples, or from the scriptures, the newly resolved bodhisattva realizes that all dharmas are ultimately empty, that they are devoid of any fixed nature which can be seized upon or attached to, that the supreme, genuine Dharma silences all frivolous discourse, and that the character of nirvana is that it affords the most complete peace and security. [He thinks], "I wish to cross all beings over to liberation. How then could one seize upon nirvana for oneself alone? Because my power of my merit, wisdom and superknowledges has not yet been perfected, I am unable to lead forth beings. Hence I must perfect these causes and conditions by cultivating giving and the other five paaramitaas."

On account of the causes and conditions associated with the giving of material wealth, one gains great riches. On account of the causes and conditions associated with the giving of Dharma, one gains great wisdom. One is then able to employ these two types of giving to lead forth poor and destitute beings and cause them to enter the way of the Three Vehicles.

On account of the causes and conditions associated with upholding the precepts, one is reborn among men and gods as one who is honored and noble. Thus one is oneself liberated from the three wretched destinies while also causing beings to avoid the three wretched destinies.

On account of the causes and conditions associated with patience, one blocks off the poison of hatred, gains a physical body which is handsome, and becomes foremost in awesome virtue. Whosoever sees such a person becomes delighted, respectful, faithful, and humble in mind. One is then able to speak Dharma for them as well.

On account of the causes and conditions associated with vigor, one is able to destroy any laziness in Dharmas of the Way accompanying the meritorious rewards of present and future lives. One gains the vajra body and an unmoving mind. Employing such a body and mind, one shatters the arrogance of the foolish common person and allows the realization of nirvana.

On account of the causes and conditions associated with dhyaana, one demolishes the scattered mind, separates from offenses linked to the five desires, and becomes happily able to explain for beings the dharma of transcending desire. Dhyaana is the station on which the prajnaa-paaramitaa depends and abides. It is in reliance upon dhyaana that the praj one realizes that within the desire realm the gateway to all forms of goodness is for the most part closed on account of the offense karma associated with miserliness and greed. When one cultivates daana paaramitaa, one demolishes these two phenomena and opens up the gateway to all forms of goodness. Out of a desire to keep it open forever, one cultivates the way of the ten good deeds.

As for the paaramitaa of 'siila, when one has not yet gained dhyaana absorption or wisdom, because one has not yet left behind desire, one is liable to do damage to the paaramitaa of 'sila. For this reason, one engages in the cultivation of patience.

One realizes that these three endeavors [of giving, moral virtue, and patience] are able to open up the gateway to merit. One also knows that the rewards gained as effects from this merit are impermanent. One may experience the bliss among gods and men and then once again falls down into suffering. On account of disgust with the impermanence of merit, one seeks the reality aspect prajnaa-paaramitaa.

How then should one go about gaining it? It is essential that one employ single-mindedness. Then and only then will one be able to gain it. It is analogous to seizing the precious pearl of the dragon king. One must be single-mindedly observant and also able to avoid touching the dragon. If one can do this, then one gains something which is as valuable as the entire continent of Jambudvipa. In one's single-minded devotion to dhyaana absorption, one gets rid of the five desires and the five hindrances. Desiring to gain the bliss of the mind, one makes great use of vigor. It is for this reason that the paaramitaa of vigor is explained next after patience. This is just as described in the Sutras: "The practitioner makes his body erect and sits straight with his attention fixed before him. He devotes himself exclusively to seeking the absorptions such that, even if he causes his flesh and bones to become withered and emaciated, he never desists or retreats." It is for this reason that one is vigorous in the cultivation of dhyaana.

If one possesses some wealth and thus engages in giving, this does not qualify as difficult. If out of fear of falling into the wretched destinies or anxiety about losing one's fine reputation, one then upholds the precepts or practices patience, this does not qualify as difficult, either. It is for this reason that, in the first three perfections discussed above, one does not speak of vigor. Now, however, for the sake of the ultimate reality aspect of praj one is seeking to develop the meditative absorptions from one's mind. Because this is a difficult endeavor, one must avail oneself of vigor. If one cultivates in this fashion, one is able to gain the prajnaa-paaramitaa.

Question: It may be essential to cultivate the other five paaramitaas, after which one then gains the prajnaa-paaramitaa.+But+is+it+also+possible+to+simply+cultivate+one+or+two+of+the+other+paaramitaas+and+then+gain+the+prajnaa-paaramitaa?

Response: With respect to the paaramitaas, there are two types. In the case of the first, within a practice which corresponds to and accords with a single paaramitaa, all of the other paaramitaas are contained within it. In the case of the second, one accords with the time and specifically cultivates a given paaramitaa. One's practice then takes on the name of the one which predominates. This is comparable to the case when the four great elements exist in combination. Although they are not existing separately, still, it is the one which predominates which determines their general designation.

In the case of the practice which corresponds to and accords with a single paaramitaa, the other five paaramitaas are contained within a single paaramitaa. In this case one does not separate from the other five paaramitaas in one's acquiring of the praj one may acquire the prajnaa-paaramitaa on account of just one or two of the other paaramitaas.

For instance, in the case of one who has set his mind on annutara-samyak-sa.mbodhi and then embarked on the cultivation of giving, at this time he may seek to discover the characteristics of giving and find that they are neither singular nor different, that they are neither permanent nor impermanent, that they are neither existent nor nonexistent, and so forth. This is as discussed in the section on the deconstructive analysis of giving. He achieves an understanding through the ultimate reality aspect of giving and then applies it to all other dharmas in this very same way. This is what is meant by achieving the praj refrains from tormenting beings and whose mind thus becomes free of regrets. If in such a situation one were to seize upon the specific features [of the precepts] and become attached to them, then one would initiate disputes. Although this person was initially not inclined to hate beings, on account of developing thoughts of hatred and affection linked to the Dharma, he consequently engenders a hatred for beings. Therefore, if one desires to refrain from tormenting beings in such circumstances, one must cultivate the practice of realizing the inherent equality among all dharmas. If one makes distinctions whereby one regards this action as an offense and that action as being free of offense, then this does not qualify as the practice of 'siila paaramitaa. Why? If one detests offenses and feels affection for the absence of offenses then one elevates oneself and thus falls again into the path of tormenting beings. Therefore, when the Bodhisattva contemplates those who commit offenses and those who do not commit offenses, his mind is free of either detestation or affection. If one carries on one's contemplations in this fashion, this constitutes the singular practice of 'siila paaramitaa resulting in the acquisition of prajnaa-paaramitaa.

The Bodhisattva has this thought: "If one does not acquire the patience with respect to dharmas, then he will not be able to be constant in his patience. There has not yet been a being who is able to maintain patience even when subjected to force. If it comes to the point where one's agony is intense, then one is unable to endure it. This is comparable to the situation of a convict who, terrorized by beatings, elects the suffering of death [by suicide]. For this reason, one must develop the patience with respect to dharmas wherein one realizes there is no one who performs a beating, no one who curses, and no one who undergoes those abuses. It is only based upon the causes and conditions of retribution linked to inverted [views and actions] of previous lives that it may be referred to as 'undergoing'."

At this time one makes no discriminations with respect to this situation in which patience is brought to bear. It is because patience with respect to dharmas involves deeply entering into their ultimate emptiness that this is referred to as "patience with respect to dharmas." When one acquires this patience with respect to dharmas, one is never again hateful towards beings. That wisdom which corresponds to patience with respect to dharmas is the praj one constantly abides in the midst of good dharmas and is able to bring all good dharmas to completion. If in doing so one employs wisdom to analyze and make distinctions with respect to dharmas, one then penetrates through to the nature of dharmas. At this time, vigor serves to assist the realization of wisdom. Additionally, one realizes that the ultimate reality aspect of vigor transcends body and mind and that when one is in accordance with reality one is unmoving. Vigor of this sort is able to generate prajnaa-paaramitaa. All other forms of vigor are like a conjuration and like a dream. Because they are false, deceptive and unreal, they are not discussed here.

If one employs a deep mind to focus one's thoughts, one is able to perceive the ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas in a manner which accords with reality. As for the ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas, it is not such as can be gained through seeing, hearing, holding in mind, or knowing. Why? The six sense faculties and the six sense objects are all effect-related retributions linked to false and deceptive causes and conditions. When in their midst, all that one knows and sees is also false and deceptive. This false and deceptive knowing is entirely unworthy of one's trust. As for that which can be trusted, it is only that ultimate reality aspect wisdom which is acquired by the Buddhas across the course of asa.mkhyeya kalpas. Because this wisdom relies upon single-minded contemplation of the ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas while immersed in dhyaana absorption, this constitutes the development of praj reading, reciting, pondering, and reckoning. In such a case it is from within this provisional wisdom that the prajnaa-paaramitaa is born.

Or perhaps it is from within two, three, or four other paaramitaas that the praj third, or fourth of the Truths and then achieves the fruition of the Way. There are those persons who are most greatly deluded with respect to the truth of suffering for whom one need only explain the truth of suffering, whereupon which they gain the Way. It is just the same as this with respect to the other three truths. Or perhaps there may be one who is entirely deluded with respect to all four of the truths for whom one explains all four truths, whereupon they gain the Way.

This is similar to when the Buddha told the Bhikshus, "If you are able to cut off desire, I guarantee that you will gain the way of the Anaagaamin." If one cuts off desire, one should know that hatred and stupidity are also cut off. Within the six paaramitaas, it is the same. as this. It is for the sake of demolishing excessive miserliness that one speaks of the dharma of giving. One should know that other evils are also demolished thereby. It is for the sake of demolishing all of the various evils that there is a complete discussion of all six. Therefore, since some individuals practice each one singularly and others pursue a comprehensive practice, all six paaramitaas are discussed so as to universally address the needs of everyone. It is not the case that they are set forth for the sake of just one single type of person.

Then again, if the Bodhisattva refrains from practicing any dharma, because he does not then gain any dharma, he gains the prajnaa-paaramitaa. How is this so? All practices are false and unreal. In some cases, they are possessed of faults in the near term and in others, they are possessed of faults in the distant term. In the case of unwholesome dharmas, in the near term they are freighted with transgressive offenses. In the case of good dharmas, after a long time, when they have become transformed, one who is attached to them becomes liable to distressful suffering. In such a case, they involve transgressive offenses in the distant term. This is analogous to the case of fine food and bad food, both of which have been mixed with poison. When one eats the bad food, one is immediately displeased. When one eats the fine food, one is initially pleased, but after a long while, in both cases, one's life is stolen away. Neither of the two should be consumed. All good and bad practices are just the same as this.

Question: If this is the case, why did the Buddha speak of the three practices: brahman practice; heavenly practice; and the practice of the Aaryas?

Response: It is because his practice is devoid of any practice that it is referred to as the practice of the Aarya. How is this so? In all of the practices of the Aarya, one does not depart from the three accesses to liberation.(8) In the case of brahman practice and heavenly practice, their development is based on seizing upon the mark of a being. Although at the time of practice, they are free of faults, in every case, they are later possessed of defects. Moreover, even in the very present, if one seeks to discover their reality, one finds in every case that they are false. In the case of the Worthies and the Aaryas, because they would practice these two practices with an unattached mind, they would be free of any fault in that connection.

If one is able to practice the dharma of no practice in this manner, in every case there is nothing whatsoever which is gained. Inverted views, falseness, and afflictions are ultimately not produced. Because one is as pure as empty space, one gains the ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas. One takes having nothing whatsoever which is gained as that which is gained. This is as discussed in the section on "The Praj it is not on account of making them empty that they are empty. Rather, it is that from their very origin on forward to the present, they have always been inherently empty. In the case of form and other such dharmas, it is not on account of one's wisdom not reaching to them that there is nothing whatsoever which is gained. Rather, it is that from their very origin on forward to the present they have always been inherently devoid of anything whatsoever which can be gotten at. Therefore, one should not be asking, "How many paaramitaas does one practice in order to gain the prajnaa-paaramitaa?" It is only because the Buddhas act out of pity for beings and thus accord with mundane conventions that they speak of "practice." It is not the case that this represents the ultimate meaning.

Question: If there is nothing whatsoever which is gained and nothing whatsoever which is practiced, how can the practitioner seek for it?

Response: "Having nothing whatsoever which is gained" is of two types. As for the first, it refers to worldly desires. Where there is that which is sought and yet it does not end up according with one's wishes, this constitutes having nothing whatsoever which is gained.

As for the second, because in the midst of the ultimate reality aspect of all dharmas, no fixed marks can be gotten at, this is referred to as having nothing whatsoever which is gained. It is not the case that there is an absence of meritorious qualities, wisdom, or superior roots of goodness. It is on account of being like the common person who engages in making discriminations with regard to worldly dharmas that there is anything which can be gained. It is just the same with respect to all of the good meritorious qualities.

It is on account of according with the minds of those in the world that one speaks of having that which is gained. Within the mind of the Buddhas, there is nothing whatsoever which is gained. This constitutes a summary explanation of the praj~naa-paaramitaa. It shall be discussed more extensively later.

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