Realization of Param Bhutakoti (ultimate reality-limit) in the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra

By Frederick J. Streng Philosophy East and West Volume 32, Number 1 January 1982 pp. 91-98 (C) by University of Hawaii Press

p. 91

Within the spectrum of religious attempts to express ultimate reality, the Perfection of Wisdom Suutras exhibit a deep sense of the arbitrary and imperfect character of any terms or concepts. Nevertheless, in a paper presented two years ago at the Regional American Oriental Society meeting, I pointed out that in these Indian Mahaayaana Buddhist texts there is not a total rejection of all verbal form; rather, sometimes words can help to purify the use of words (Streng, 1977: 4). In this article I want to examine a series of shifts in the use of the term bhuutako.ti (reality-limit) in The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight-thousand Lines Suutra (A.s.tasaahasrikaa Praj~naapaaramitaa Suutra, hereafter cited as PWEL).

(3) the true nature of existence as "emptiness" (`suunyataa). however. The range of shifts includes the use of the term "reality-limit" as a designation of [l] the boundary between sa. and its use as the attainment of perfect wisdom through skill-in-means. In chapter 1 of PWEL. Here we see that the Buddha uses the term "reality-limit" to specify that boundary marking a release from the samsaric The most dramatic shift is seen by comparing the use of the term "reality-limit" as the boundary between sa. the triple world of desire. and do not wake up to the reality-limit. (2) the inferior spiritual achievement of a Disciple (`sravaka) and pratyekabuddha.msaara and nirvaa. form. This image reflects the understanding of the . 1973: 87). 1973: 321)." They have no faith in the true dharma (Perfection. the Lord Buddha is reported as saying that foolish people are attached to ideas about the existence or nonexistence of their experience. He concludes: While they construct all dharmas which yet do not exist.msaara and nirvaa.msaara. which is elaborated more precisely in the fourth usage where the term param (ultimate) is added to bhuutako.This series of shifts indicates a progression of spiritual understanding which culminates in the deepest knowledge of ultimate reality. that is. Such people continually shape more chains of sa. In consequence they do not go forth from the triple world. which Edward Conze calls the "Hinayanist nirvana" (Perfection. For that reason they come to be styled " and finally (4) the ultimate reality-limit (param bhuutako.ti.ti) that is informed by perfect wisdom and skill-in-means. and nonform. they neither know nor see the path which is that which truly is. we should note the basic shift from the second to the third usage.

This is a common use of the term"reality-limit" in the PWEL. It is the realization of an inferior insight into the nature of things--that is. Understood in this way.l21ff. the "reality-limit" is something that. This use is emphasized by Edward Conze in his translation of PWEL when he writes: Reality-limit had for a while been one of the more obscure synonyms of "Nirvana". Already in the Samyutta Nikaaya (II. who claimed that when an arahant (a worthy person) was freed from all impurities (kilesa) he attained nibbaana. but now by a shift in meaning it becomes identified with the inferior hinayanistic Nirvana of the Arhat as distinct from the full and final Nirvana of a Buddha (Perfection.) freedom from illusory reality is said to result from knowing that the supports (sthiti) of phenomena co-arise interdependently. 92 recognizes how easy it is to construct by mental-emotional attachments what appears as everyday existence. it is closely related to the second use mentioned earlier. Cessation of apparent existence is achieved by methodical attention to the arising-dissipating character of phenomena and to the "occurences of factors" (dharmas) that constitute phenomena. 1956: 69). This view p. 1973: x). as perceived by a Disciple or pratyekabuddha. the bodhisattva is warned against. For example. the Lord Buddha explains in Chapter 20 that while both the bodhisattva and disciple enter . The arahant did not return to the illusory "reality created by desire--as other beings did (Compendium. according to the PWEL. These supports disappear when the conditions requisite to their arising disappear.Abhidhamma masters.

nor on that of a pratyekabuddha. there is a dramatic shift from using the term "reality-limit" to refer to the inferior realization by a Disciple to its use to indicate the true (that is. causes the bodhisattva to confuse this inferior realization of the reality-limit with Buddhahood. in perfect wisdom and skill in means" (Perfection. 93 . including the experience of a reality-limit. and maintain that a bodhisattva who courses in deep dharmas is one who realises the reality-limit. He says in Chapter 11: Mara may come along in the guise of a Buddha. The deeper awareness of the empty nature of the dharmas in the perfection of wisdom is a major thrust of the Perfection of Wisdom Suutras. signlessness and wishlessness. By emphasizing the empty (`suunya) nature of all existence..the concentrations on emptiness.. 1973: 170). In at least three places the term "reality-limit" is used to indicate the true understanding of reality-limit as empty. that is. Throughout the PWEL there is a distinction between the bodhisattva path that includes the perfection of wisdom and the path of the Disciple and pratyeka-buddha whose chief characteristic is the extinction of impurities (kle`sa). that is. In Chapter 5 p. the bodhisattva "does not realize the reality-limit. the three doors of deliverance. and not a bodhisattva . For he has at his disposal very strong and powerful helpers. "empty") nature of things. (Perfection. with magically created monks around him. Mara. 1973: 224). who becomes a Disciple. The warning against realizing this kind of reality-limit is put in its strongest form when the Lord says that the evil one. neither on the level of a Disciple.

as the perfection of all virtues. After that you will educate an infinite number of beings in the complete extinction of the substratum of rebirth. he warns: "through the abundance of that karman beings who have not collected wholesome roots will find no satisfaction nor faith in this reality-limit. this coursing. But those who find satisfaction and faith in it are people who have collected wholesome roots. In Chapter 10 `Sariputra. This perfection is . because no sign is apprehended in all dharmas. There the spokesman for the perfection of wisdom." discusses the power of the mature wholesome roots (ku`salamuula) in the karman of the bodhisattva. In these two passages the reality-limit depicted is that known through perfection of wisdom. This perfection is faultless. because it is imperturbable. in the revelation of the reality-limit (bhuutako. well collected them" (Perfection. son of a good family. this struggling you will surely quickly awake to full enlightenment. Perfection.of PWEL the Lord says that the training of a bodhisattva leads to the manifestation of the reality-limit. says: The perfection of the bodhisattva has no mental attitude. Subhuti. In Chapter 9 it is specifically described in the traditional formulation of emptiness as the nonperception of any living being or of any dharma. in other words. in consequence of the stability of the realm of dharma. This perfection is unshakeable. as follows: Come here. In contrast. 1973: 155-156). who here speaks because of "the Buddha's might.ti prabhaa-vanataa. This perfection is quieted. 1973: 121).. for as a result of this training.. do train yourself in just this Path of the Bodhisattvas.

The profundity of the spiritual shift from the practice and goals of the Disciple and pratyekabuddha is seen in the description a few speeches earlier when we are told that thousands of gods are overjoyed because they will be able to see "the second turning of the wheel of dharma taking place in Jambudvipa. because of the reality-limit.e. is a real entity. 1973: 151-152). Whereas before the term reality-limit referred to the Disciples and pratyekabuddha's final goal of nirvaa.. emptiness]. 94 dharmas [i..undefiled. Just this is the Bodhisattva's perfection of wisdom" (Perfection. No living being is [ultimately] found in this perfection. Concentration on emptiness through perfected wisdom and skill in means permits one to avoid "realizing the reality-limit" in the earlier sense. No dharma can be turned forwards or backwards. 1973: 150). emptiness] as something which. p." The Buddha then says: "This. he does not regard that true nature of the emptiness of the skandhas (personality factors) with a certain attitude.. etc. as a result of its own true nature [ is empty". when he contemplates the fact that "form. is not the second turning of the wheel of dharma. the Lord says that a bodhisattva should contemplate namely. because imagination is not something that is not. But when he does not regard that true .e. it now serves to indicate a new understanding of emptiness according to perfect wisdom on the bodhisattva path. This perfection is unlimited because the manifestation of all dharmas does not rise up(Pevfection. Specifically. with an undisturbed series of thoughts in such a way that.

" This process is discussed in PWEL Chapter . then. but over that also he achieves complete conquest (Perfection. 1973: 222). leave existence. no practice. so to speak. He says: It is because a Bodhisattva contemplates that emptiness which is possessed of the best of all modes [that is. because its realization is not the final goal. The true reality-limit manifested in the bodhisattva. not contemplate that "I shall realize. no experience is something having a self-existing nature. But this is not all. When Subhuti asks for a clarification of how a bodhisattva stands firmly in the practice of emptiness without "realizing emptiness. however. The ultimate reality-limit is attained only with skillful means (upaayakau`sala). 1973: 222). of the six perfections]. then he cannot realize the reality-limit (Perfection. the Bodhisattva does not lose the dharmas which act as the wings to enlightenment. whereby a person achieves complete conquest over even "the extinction of outflows." or "I should realize. He does.ti). The shift to the forth usage of "reality-limit" is marked by the addition of the term param. however.] Meanwhile." the Lord distinguishes between "realizing" emptiness and "completely conquering" emptiness.nature of dharmas as a real thing." and set over against a "midway reality-limit" (antaraa bhuutako. includes the recognition that no dharma. for one might become absorbed in the concentration on emptiness and. he ties his thought to an objective support [for his compassion] and he determines that he will take hold of perfect wisdom [which is essentially skill in means]." but he contemplates that "this is the time for complete conquest." Without losing himself in the concentration. He does not effect the extinction of the outflows [which would prevent renewed rebirths]. and he will not realize [emptiness. translated as "ultimate" or "farthest. and not for realization.

before his Buddha-dharmas have become complete. In response to this declaration Subhuti exclaims how wonderful it is that the Buddha is explaining how one can enter the concentration on emptiness and not realize the reality-limit understood in the sense of withdrawing from existence. well matured in full enlightenment. well matured in full enlightenment. the p. the Signless. For it is this skill in means which protects him. for the three doors to deliverance.e. and he will not realise the reality-limit midway. only then does he realise that farthest reality-limit. 95 Wishless. and in addition he aspires for the concentration (samaadhi) on The Lord is reported to have said: A Bodhisattva who courses in perfect wisdom and who is upheld by skill in means. but he should not realise it (Perfection. Only when his wholesome roots are matured. His thought of enlightenment . A Bodhisattva who courses in perfect wisdom. i. If the mind of a Bodhisattva forms the aspiration not to abandon all beings but to set them free (vimok. does not realise that farthest reality-limit until his wholesome roots are matured. then that Bodhisattva should be known as one who is endowed with skill in means. He has made the special vows to set free all those beings. Then the Lord gives a summary statement of the bodhisattva path: For the Bodhisattva has not abandoned all beings. should therefore contemplate and meditate on the deep true nature of those dharmas. who develops perfect wisdom.20 where the special value of the bodhisattva path is that it avoids realizing a midway reality-limit. 1973: 224-25).

he rises above the level of Disciple and Pratyekabuddha. and with the highest friendliness ties himself to them. and he abides in that concentration [on friendliness] (Perfection. to say that a bodhisattva realizes the ultimate reality-limit is the same thing as saying that the bodhisattva does not realize a midway reality-limit.thiti) the mental processes within illusory forms (See Streng. he is thus able to win full enlightenment. Likewise. This assertion that a bodhisattva makes all beings into an objective support for his thought of friendliness is revolutionary. At this point it is useful to ask how it is that skillful means is the key to realizing the ultimate reality-limit. When he is thus endowed with the thought of enlightenment and with skill in means. safely and securely. and appears to contradict the recognition that all arising of existence is to be seen as empty. " prati. which is a perfect conquest of emptiness through skillful means. 1975: . 1973: 224). 1973: 225).consists in just that fact that he does not want to leave all beings behind. then he does not midway realise the reality-limit (Perfection. the distinction between such an inferior realization and that of a bodhisatlva is emphasized by saying that a bodhisattva realizes the ultimate reality-limit. At the time when a Bodhisattva has made all beings into an objective support for his thought of friendliness. in order to avoid the incipient tendency of mental processes to establish ("station. at that time he rises above the factiousness of the defilements and of Mara.s. In Chapter 20 the Lord explains: Since [the bodhisattva] has not abandoned all beings. In these passages we see that the bodhisattva does not realize the reality-limit as understood in terms of the spiritual achievement of the Disciple or pratye-kabuddha.

tastes.. without letting them become deceptions.s. And as the foundation entity. or all-knowledge. a thought which is nowhere supported (prati. the Buddha tells Subhuti that the bodhisattva "should produce an unsupported thought. In another Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. The problem concerns how one is to use "objective supports. does one not by definition willfully create thoughts which depend on signs and objective supports? In the dialogue Subhuti says to Maitreya: If a bodhisattva treated as an objective support or as a sign that foundation which does not exist. This problem was considered directly in Chapter 6 in a dialogue between Subhuti and the celestial bodhisattva Maitreya: if everything is empty. To aid in keeping thoughts clear a person is asked to regard the teaching of the perfection of wisdom.e. i. a thought unsupported by sights. 1958: 47-48). which does not exist. perverted thought. how can the "wholesome roots. to put it in the religious phraseology of the PWEL. so is enlightenment.. or. 96 in the actual world. and that objective support. smells. the thought of enlightenment." such as images. The PWEL asserts that thought-constiuction remains clear as long as it remains unobstructed. 1973: 90-91). so is the thought . on the other hand. the Diamond Sutra.77-80). sounds. 1932: 61) be transformed into perfect enlightenment. the objective support. and "freedom of egotism in all its forms" (Dayal. perverted views? . and perceptions. as unproduced (Perfection. does that mean that there is no actual spiritual transformation? If. a person participates p. touchables or mind-objects" (Conze.thiti). the purity of thought. would he then not have a perverted perception." that is. the point of view [are nonexistent]. ideas.

or what meritorious work. Maitreya explains:] The Bodhisattva must not." then a Bodhisattva has no perverted perception. he has a perverted perception.. is if the perfect is empty. right and perfect enlightenment? (Perfection. all elements. founded on jubilation. as well as any actual enlightenment is empty. become one who perceives a thought. thought. and also of the dharmas through which one turns over. 1973: . not wrongly. If he does not perceive that thought. as well as the dharmas to which one turns over.] is the very dharmic nature also of that thought by which one turns over. It is thus that the bodhisattva should turn over (Perfection. then. But a Bodhisattva turns over rightly. . But if he perceives the thought by which he turns that over. thought and view. extinct. serenity and respect which are his. departed. and when he reflects that what is extinct that can not be turned over. all dharmas. or points of view.[of enlightenment] and so. does he turn over that thought into full enlightenment. or view. As a result. But then on which foundations. Maitreya responds: This should not be taught or expounded in front of a Bodhisattva who has newly set out on the vehicle. by which objective supports. does he turn over into what utmost. reversed". the talk about turning over transformation. 1973: 126) The itself problem. [identifying it] as "this is that thought." then he becomes one who perceives thought. [identifying it] as "this is that thought. that little affection. and that this [extinctness. when he perceives and brings to mind the thought which turns over in such a way that he regards it as "just extinct." as "stopped. [After some further discussion. For he would lose that little faith. as a result of the thought by which he turns that over.. etc. which is his. It is thus that the meritorious work founded on jubilation becomes something which is turned over into full enlightenment.

or range.126-128). reversed. On the other hand he also does not turn over to full enlightenment if he fails to bring about a sign or to bring to mind as a result of sheer inattentiveness. " signs. The depth of a bodhisattva's insight into the empty nature of things allows him or her to participate in the construction of thoughts. but does not treat it as a sign. This should be known as his skill-in-means. and that which is not got at has no sign. When. departed. Again in Chapter 19 of PWEL this problem is considered in a dialogue between `Saariputra and Subhuuti. he turns over a wholesome root. It is thus that the Bodhisattva should train himseIf therein." and objective supports while not being caught by them. The ability to attain "full knowledge" without either destroying or being attached to forms is exposed by the celestial bodhisattva Maitreya when he says: [A bodhisattva] does not bring to mind nor turn over [that wholesome roots] to full enlightenment if he brings about a sign by reflecting that what is past is extinct. But that wholesome root becomes something which p. then he is near to the allknowledge (Perfection. that what is future has not yet arrived. through that skill-in-means. stopped. if he fails to attend as a result of lack of mindfulness or of lack of understanding. 1973: 128-129). 97 has been turned over [or transformed] into full enlightenment on condition that he brings to mind that signn. `Saariputra is perplexed about why the Buddha's enlightened reaction to the experienced . and that of the present no stability is got at.

in respect of others purification. as a result of such conscious reflection. the deed of that man is added on to his collection of karma. Sariputra. In response. and not without"? (Perfection. Space on its own cannot raise a deed or thought without objective support. 1973: 215). `Sariputra asks: "Since the Lord has described all objective support as isolated (vivikta) [without an inherent relation to a subject]. as an objective support. 1973: 216). heard. intellectual acts take defilement upon themselves. In respect to some objects. Subhuuti responds: No. He asks: If. not without one. felt. then the deed of the Buddha. and so all the links of conditioned co-production up to decay and death conditioned by birth. thinking to himself. not without one. how can an act of will arise only with objective support. when he. or does not result in more karman. Acts of will and deeds can therefore arise only with objective support. Even so. An act of will is raised only with an objective support. and not without. And so are karma-formations which are conditioned on ignorance. and also the sign. Subhuuti replies. [--that deed] will also be added to the Buddha's heap and collection of karma? (Perfection. A thought can arise only with an objective support. 1973: 216). Intellectual acts must refer to dharmas which are seen. in fact also the act of will is isolated. for the Tathagata is one who has forsaken all reflections and discriminations. . the Lord. indeed not. not without (Perfection. consciously forms the notion that he wants to enter extinction. in the sense that one treats an actually non-existent objective support as a sign.

Buddhist Wisdom Books. London: George Allen & Unwin. The act of will is isolated from the sign [which seem to cause it] and it arises only in reference to the conventional expressions current in the world (Perfection. including oneself. "Reflections on the attention given to . 1958. J. is an illumined awareness of the empty nature of all existing things whereby a bodhisaltva.) Conze. Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & Its Verse Summary 1973. p.mcaya-gaathaa) translated by Edward Conze. can be described for communication purposes as a spiritual process whereby the wholesome roots are matured and thereby transformed into perfect enlightenment. 1910. establishes an isolated objective support for his or her friendliness. E. in an empty mode of thought-construction. The realization of the ultimate reality-limit. Dayal.tasaahasrikaa Praj~naapaaramitaa & Praj~naapaaramitaa-Ratnagu. (First published by Pali Text Society. 98 BIBLIOGRAPHY Compendium of Philosophy: 1956. 1915. 1973: 216). The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature. Berkeley: Four Seasons Foundation..nasa.objective supports are isolated.s. F. (Abhidhammattha-Sangaha) translated by Shwe Zan Aung. This way of perceiving the world. H. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. then. 1932. (A. Streng. London: Luzac and Co.

71-80. 25. F. no. . Streng. vol.mental construction in the Indian Buddhist analysis of causality. Mimeograph. I. J. 1--4. pp." in Philosophy East and West. 1977. . "All-knowledge and the Perfection of Wisdom. 1. edited by Edgar Polom‚ Part. " in Southwest Conference on Asian Studies. pp.

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