Canto 14: abhisambodhiḥ
The Transcendent Total Awakening


Cantos 15 to 28 of Buddha-carita, though preserved in Tibetan and Chinese translations, are lost in the original Sanskrit. There is no extant Sanskrit, either, for the present Canto beyond verse 31. The Sanskrit colophon is therefore missing, but the canto title can be inferred from the Chinese translation in which the five Chinese characters 阿惟三菩提 represent phonetically the Sanskrit abhisambodhi.

Bodhi, from the root √budh, to wake, means awakening or enlightenment. The prefix sam- adds a sense of completeness or totality. And the prefix abhi- adds a sense of overarching transcendence.



tato māra-balaṁ jitvā dhairyeṇa ca śamena ca /
paramārthaṁ vijijñāsuḥ sa dadhyau dhyāna-kovidaḥ // 14.1 //

And so, having conquered Māra’s army by the means of constancy and quietness, / Wanting to know the ultimate, he who was skilled in meditation meditated. //14.1//

sarveṣu dhyāna-vidhiṣu prāpya caiśvaryam uttamam /
sasmāra prathame yāme pūrva-janma-paraṁparām // 14.2 //

And having obtained utmost mastery over all ways of meditating, / He called to mind in the first watch of the night the succession of his previous births. //14.2//

amutrāham ayaṁ nāma cyutas tasmād ihāgataḥ /
iti janma-sahasrāṇi sasmārānubhavann iva // 14.3 //

“There I had this name; passing from there, I arrived here” – / Thus, thousands of births he recalled as if reliving them. //14.3//

smṛtvā janma ca mṛtyuṁ ca tāsu tāsūpapattiṣu /
tataḥ sattveṣu kāruṇyaṁ cakāra karuṇātmakaḥ // 14.4 //

Having remembered [his own] birth and death in those various existences, / Compassion towards all beings, on that basis, felt he whose very essence was compassion – //14.4//

kṛtveha sva-janotsargaṁ punar anyatra ca kriyāḥ /
atrāṇaḥ khalu loko ’yaṁ paribhramati cakravat // 14.5

“Abandoning kinsfolk here, only to carry on at the next place, doing its performances, / This world is vulnerable indeed, as it rolls round and around like a wheel.” //14.5//

ity evaṁ smaratas tasya babhūva niyatātmanaḥ /
kadalī-garbha-niḥsāraḥ saṁsāra iti niścayaḥ // 14.6 //

While he was recollecting thus, there grew in him, who was resolute to the core, / The conviction that saṁsāra was no more durable than the fragile heart of a banana plant. //14.6//

dvitīye tv āgate yāme so ’dvitīya-parākramaḥ /
divyaṁ lebhe paraṁ cakṣuḥ sarva-cakṣuṣmatāṁ varaḥ // 14.7 //

But with the coming of the second watch, he who in valiant effort was second to none / He who was most excellent among all possessed of eyes, realized the divine act of seeing, the ultimate eye. //14.7//

tatas tena sa divyena pariśuddhena cakṣuṣā /
dadarśa nikhilaṁ lokam ādarśa iva nirmale // 14.8 //

On that basis, by the means of that divine seeing, that fully cleansed organ of sight, / He saw the whole Universe as if in a spotless mirror. //14.8//

sattvānāṁ paśyatas tasya nikṛṣṭotkṛṣṭa-karmaṇām /
pracyutiṁ copapattiṁ ca vavṛdhe karuṇātmatā // 14.9 //

As he observed the relegation and promotion of living beings possessed of the karma / Of pulling down or pulling up, his inherent compassion waxed greater. //14.9//

ime duṣkṛta-karmāṇaḥ prāṇino yānti durgatim /
ime ’nye śubha-karmāṇaḥ pratiṣṭhante tri-piṣṭape // 14.10 //

“These creatures of deeds badly done go to a bad place; / These others, good-doers, abide in the triple heaven. //14.10//

upapannāḥ pratibhaye narake bhṛśa-dāruṇe /
amī duḥkhair bahu-vidhaiḥ pīḍyante kṛpaṇaṁ bata // 14.11 //

Deservedly finding themselves Upa-√pad means to come to, arrive at, enter, and at the same time (with locative) to be fit for. So the past participle upapanna, which is used in this verse and in connection with the other realms of saṁsāra, too, can be read as including an affirmation of karma – as wrong-doers, as do-gooders, or as ones in the middle, we pass through saṁsāra as befits our karma. 01 in a horrible and terribly harsh hell, / The former individuals are with many kinds of sufferings lamentably oppressed – alas! From here to verse 20, the description is of experience in hell, the first of the five saṁsāric realms under investigation. 02 //14.11//

pāyyante kvathitaṁ ke-cid agni-varṇam ayo-rasam /
āropyante ruvanto ’nye niṣṭapta-stambham āyasam // 14.12 //

Some are caused to imbibe a potion, brought to the boil, of smelted fire-coloured metal In the hidden meaning, the fire-coloured metal might be gold – symbolizing what is most valuable. 03; / Ones who are different Ostensibly anye means “others” – some are caused to imbibe the metal, others are caused to mount a column of the metal. In the hidden meaning, all of us are caused to suffer, and ones among us who are different are caused to grow. 04 are planted up a molten column of the metal – there, roaring, they are caused to grow. The causative of ā-√ruh can mean: 1. to cause to mount or ascend ; 2. to cause to grow, and hence, to plant. Thus, whereas ostensibly āropyante means “they were caused to mount” [the column] or “they were planted” [up the column], ironically āropyante might also mean “they were caused to grow.” 05 //14.12//

pacyante piṣṭavat ke-cid ayas-kumbhīṣv avāṅ-mukhāḥ /
dahyante karuṇaṁ ke-cid dīpteṣv aṅgāra-rāśiṣu // 14.13 //

Some are cooked like paste in cauldrons of the metal, their faces looking down; In the hidden meaning, as the face looks down during sitting-meditation. 06 / Some are consumed, piteously, on heaps of flaming coals. In the hidden meaning, like beginners in a meditation hall whose legs seem to be on fire. 07 //14.13//

ke-cit tīkṣṇair ayo-daṁṣṭrair bhakṣyante dāruṇaiḥ śvabhiḥ /
ke-cid dhṛṣṭair ayas-tuṇḍair vāyasair āyasair iva // 14.14 //

Some are chewed up, harshly, by keen hounds with teeth made of the metal, / Some are scavenged by the crowing ayas-tuṇḍas, ‘Metal-Beaks’ – as if by carrion crows, made of the metal. In the hidden meaning, some bodhisattvas, when they are pecked at by harsh criticism, are able to turn that negative experience into something valuable. 08 //14.14//

ke-cid dāha-pariśrāntāḥ śīta-cchāyābhikāṅkṣiṇaḥ /
asi-pattra-vanaṁ nīlaṁ baddhā iva viśanty amī // 14.15 //

Some, tired of burning, go hankering after cool shade; / The dark forest, where leaves are swords, like slaves in chains these enter. In the hidden meaning, the dark forest might represent the Buddha’s unfathomable dharma, and entering like a slave in chains might be the attitude of a practitioner beginning a 90-day retreat. 09 //14.15//

pāṭyante dāruvat ke-cit kuṭhārair baddha-bāhavaḥ /
duḥkhe ’pi na vipacyante karmabhir dhāritāsavaḥ // 14.16 //

Some, their arms in chains, are split, like wood by axes. / Even in such hardship the ripening of their karma is not completed; by dint of their actions, their life-breath is preserved. //14.16//

sukhaṁ syād iti yat karma kṛtaṁ duḥkha-nivṛttaye /
phalaṁ tasyedam avaśair duḥkham evopabhujyate // 14.17 //

The action taken with the thought that it might bring happiness, the deed that was done with a view to cessation of suffering, / Now has as its result, this, suffering itself, experienced by the helpless. In the hidden meaning, the deed that was done, shortly after hearing of the Buddha’s teaching of four noble truths, with an idealistic agenda, now has its result real understanding of the four noble truths, by those who are helpless – by those know what it means not to do. 10 //14.17//

sukhārtham aśubhaṁ kṛtvā ya ete bhṛśa-duḥkhitāḥ /
āsvādaḥ sa kim eteṣāṁ karoti sukham anv api // 14.18 //

These who, with a view to happiness, have acted impurely and are greatly pained: / Does that enjoyment do anything for them, even slightly, in the way of happiness? Ostensibly the question is whether past indulgence in sensual pleasure led to lasting happiness or not? In the deeper meaning, is it possible truly to understand the four noble truths without passing, at least somewhat, through a phase of idealistic suffering? 11 //14.18//

hasadbhir yat kṛtaṁ karma kaluṣaṁ kaluṣātmabhiḥ /
etat pariṇate kāle krośadbhir anubhūyate // 14.19 //

That cruddy deed that was done, while laughing, by those whose nature was crud-encrusted, Kaluṣātman ostensibly means “those whose essence/nature is foul.” But as the second half of a compound, ātman (essence, nature) can also mean the understanding, intellect or mind. The latter reading is more in line with the principle that nobody is inherently evil, though capable of doing evil deeds. 12 / Is in the fullness of time relived by them while lamenting. //14.19//

yady eva pāpa-karmāṇaḥ paśyeyuḥ karmaṇāṁ phalam /
vameyur uṣṇaṁ rudhiraṁ marmasv abhihatā iva // 14.20 //

If only wrong-doers could see the result of their actions, / They might vomit warm blood as if they had been struck in a vital part. //14.20//

ime ’nye karmabhiś citraiś citta-vispanda-saṁbhavaiḥ /
tiryag-yonau vicitrāyām upapannās tapasvinaḥ // 14.21 //

These different ones, by various actions stemming from palpitations of the mind, / Fittingly find themselves, poor penitent wretches, in some form or other of non-upright, animal existence. From here to verse 26, the description is of experience in the world of animals, the second of the five saṁsāric realms under investigation. Tiryag-yoni, lit. “the womb/birth of one going horizontally,” ostensibly means “born as an animal,” but in the hidden meaning might ironically suggest bodhisattva-actions practised in the horizontal plane, e.g. lying down, and performing prostrations. 13 //14.21//

māṁsa-tvag-vāla-dantārthaṁ vairād api madād api /
hanyante kṛpaṇaṁ yatra bandhūnāṁ paśyatām api // 14.22 //

On account of their flesh, skin, hair and teeth, out of sheer aggression and also just for fun, / Here they are slaughtered, lamentably – even as their kind look on. Ostensibly the description is of a scene during a hunt or animal sacrifice; in the hidden meaning, the scene might be a school playground. 14 //14.22//

a-śaknuvanto ’py avaśāḥ kṣut-tarṣa-śrama-pīḍitāḥ /
go-’śva-bhūtāś ca vāhyante pratoda-kṣata-mūrtayaḥ // 14.23 //

Powerless and helpless, oppressed by hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, / As oxen and horses, At the end of a compound -bhūta means 1. being, or 2. being like. Ostensibly Aśvaghoṣa is describing those who are oxen and horses; in the deeper reading, he might be describing bodhisattvas passing through a phase of being driven like an ox or a workhorse under a whip. 15 they are driven along, while goads injure their bodies. //14.23//

vāhyante gaja-bhūtāś ca balīyāṁso ’pi dur-balaiḥ /
aṅkuśa-kliṣṭa-mūrdhānas tāḍitāḥ pāda-pārṣṇibhiḥ // 14.24 //

As elephants, again, they are driven, though they are the mighty ones, by the weak / Who torment their heads with hooks, and beat them, with foot and heel. //14.24//

satsv apy anyeṣu duḥkheṣu duḥkhaṁ yatra viśeṣataḥ /
paraspara-virodhāc ca parādhīnatayaiva ca // 14.25 //

Though there are other sufferings too, suffering here arises especially / From competing with each other while in the very thick of subjection to the enemy. In the hidden meaning, the enemy might be ignorance. 16 //14.25//

kha-sthāḥ kha-sthair hi bādhyante jala-sthā jala-cāribhiḥ /
sthala-sthāḥ sthala-saṁsthais ca prāpya caivetaretaraiḥ // 14.26 //

For dwellers in emptiness are jostled by dwellers in emptiness, Kha-sthāḥ. Ostensible meaning: birds: Hidden meaning: Those who abide in practice of non-doing. 17 dwellers in water are jostled by those for whom water is life, / And dwellers on land are jostled by those who stand with them on firm ground – even as they push one another forward. //14.26//

upapannās tathā ceme mātsaryākrānta-cetasaḥ /
pitṛ-loke nir-āloke kṛpaṇaṁ bhuñjate phalam // 14.27 //

And so these ones, likewise, find themselves fittingly Upapannāḥ. Again, the ostensible connotation is deservedly – hungry ghosts are born in a dark world as retribution for bad karma. In the less pessimistic hidden meaning, any of the five realms is a fitting place to atone for bad karma and to heap up good karma. 18 – with minds given over to dissatisfaction – / In the murky world of deceased ancestors, where, lamentably, they reap their reward. From here to verse 31, the description is of experience in the world of the deceased ancestors (pitṛ-loke). “Deceased ancestors” ostensibly means hungry ghosts, or pretas, in the third of the five saṁsāric realms under investigation. In the hidden meaning, a deceased ancestor might mean a Zen patriarch, who is steeped in the noble truths of suffering which are so hard to fathom; hence the world is described as murky (nir-āloke). 19 //14.27//

sūcī-chidropama-mukhāḥ parvatopama-kukṣayaḥ /
kṣut-tarṣa-janitair duḥkhaiḥ pīḍyante duḥkha-bhāginaḥ // 14.28 //

With mouths like the eye of a needle and mountainous bellies, In the hidden meaning, with mouths (in a meditation hall) closed, and with well-developed centres. 20 / By sufferings born of hunger and thirst they are pained – suffering being their lot. //14.28//

puruṣo yadi jānīta mātsaryasyedṛśaṁ phalam /
sarvathā śibi-vad dadyāc charīrāvayavān api // 14.29 //

If a man knew that such was the result of dissatisfaction, Mātsarya: 1. envy, jealousy (and hence selfishness or stinginess); 2. displeasure, dissatisfaction. The ostensible meaning is that people are reborn as hungry ghosts as a result of faults like envy, jealousy, or stinginess. In the hidden meaning, we enter the world of Zen patriarchs by investigating, in the first instance, the first noble truth. 21 / He would by all means, like Śibi, yield up the limbs from his body as well. The story of Śibi, as recounted in the Mahā-bhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, is that the gods tested Śibi by taking the form of a hawk and a pigeon. Chased by the hawk, the pigeon fell into the lap of King Śibi. Then the King proved his generosity by offering to let the hawk eat his own flesh, rather than eating the pigeon. In SN Canto 11, Ānanda refers to the story: “Through tender love for living creatures Śibi gave his own flesh to a hawk./ He fell back from heaven, even after doing such a difficult deed.” // SN11.42 // In the hidden meaning, yielding up one’s limbs suggests undoing of undue muscular tension around the hips and shoulders. 22 //14.29//

āśayā samatikrāntā dhāryamāṇāḥ sva-karmabhiḥ /
labhante na hy amī bhoktum praviddhāny aśucīny api // 14.30 //

For, totally exceeded by expectation, EH Johnston regarded this wording as suspect, given “the sense clearly being that they reach the extreme limit of starvation.” Hence EHJ translated “Reaching the limit of longing...” Being totally surpassed (samatikrāntāḥ) by hope or by expectation (āśayā), however, seems to convey an ironic hidden sense of the contentment of beggars who are able to find satisfaction in not much. 23 and constrained by their own actions, Ostensible meaning: held back in the realm of hungry ghosts as a consequence of their own bad karma. Ironic meaning: being masters of self-regulation – as symbolized in Shobogenzo by a ring through the nose. 24 / These ones are not permitted to eat any impure droppings at all. Ostensibly this refers to the tradition that some hungry ghosts are cursed with an insatiable desire to feed on human excretia, but are unable to do so due to their small mouths and narrow throats. In the hidden meaning “impure droppings” (praviddhāny aśucīni) might refer, for example, to an offering of food that is impure because of not having been freely given. 25 //14.30//

ime ’nye naraka-prakhye garbha-saṁjñe ’śuci-hrade /
upapannā manuṣyeṣu duḥkham archanti jantavaḥ // 14.31 //

These different ones find themselves in a place that seems like hell, Naraka-prakhye. A place that seems like hell is not in fact hell – it just sometimes seems that way. 26 a pool of impurity called “the insides”; Garbha: 1. a womb; 2. the inside, middle, interior of anything. The ostensible meaning is that we are born as human beings into the filthy pool which is our mother’s womb. The hidden meaning is that this human life, when we are truly inside of it (rather than aspiring, say, to the Pure Land of Akṣobhya Buddha), is not so pure. 27 / Fittingly, among human beings, they find themselves “Fittingly... they find themselves,” again translates upapannāḥ. 28 as lowly creatures experiencing suffering. From here to verse 34, the description is of experience in the human world, the fourth in the five saṁsāric realms under investigation. 29 //14.31//

From here we no longer have the original Sanskrit. The text which follows is based on the English version which EH Johnston produced, referring to the Tibetan translation from the Sanskrit and – to a lesser extent – the Chinese translation. 3032. At the first even at the moment of birth they are gripped by sharp hands, as if sharp swords were piercing them, at which they weep bitterly.

33. They are loved and cherished and guarded by their kindred who bring them up with every care, only to be defiled by their own various deeds as they pass from suffering to greater suffering.

34. And in this state the fools, obsessed with desire, are borne along in the ever-flowing stream, thinking all the more, ‘this is to be done and this is to be done.’

35. These others, who have accumulated merit, are born in heaven, and are terribly burned by the flames of sensual passion, as by a fire. From here to verse 44, the description is of experience as a god in heaven, the fifth in the five saṁsāric realms under investigation. 31

36. And from there they fall, still not satiated with the objects of sense, with eyes turned upwards, their brilliance gone, and wretched at the fading of their garlands.

37. And as their lovers fall helplessly, the celestial nymphs regard them pitifully and catch their clothes with their hands.

38. Some nymphs look as if they were falling to earth with their ropes of pearls swaying, as they try to hold up their lovers falling miserably from the pavilions.

39. Others, wearing ornaments and garlands of many kinds and grieved at their fall into suffering, follow them with eyes unsteady with sympathy.

40. In their love for those who are falling, the troops of celestial nymphs beat their breasts with their hands and, distressed, as it were, with great affliction, remain attached to them.

41. The dwellers in Paradise fall distressed to earth, lamenting, “Alas, grove of Citraratha Citraratha, “Bright Chariot,” is the name of the chief of the gandharvas who dwell, together with the celestial nymphs, in Indra’s paradise. 32! Alas, heavenly lake! Alas, Mandākinī Mandākinī, (from manda + añc) ‘going or streaming slowly,’ is the name of an arm of the earthly Ganges but especially of the Ganges which is supposed to flow through heaven. 33! Alas, beloved!”

42. Paradise, obtained by many labours, is uncertain and transitory, and such suffering as this is caused by separation from it.

43. Alas, inexorably this is the law of action in the world; this is the nature of the world, and yet they do not see it to be such.

44. Others, who have disjoined themselves from sensual passion, conclude in their minds that their station is eternal; yet they too fall miserably from heaven.

45. In the hells is excessive torture; among animals, eating each other; among the pretas, the suffering of hunger and thirst; among human beings, the suffering of longings;

46. But in the heavens also, when one is separated from what one loves, the suffering of rebirth is excessive. For the ever-wandering world of living beings, there is no place to settle in peace.

47. This stream of the cycle of existence has no support and is ever subject to death. Living beings, thus beset on all sides, find no resting-place.”

48. Thus with the divine eye he examined the five spheres of life and found in saṁsāra no essential core, just as no heartwood is found in a banana plant when it is cut open.

49. Then as the third watch of that night drew on, the best of those who understand meditation meditated on the real nature of this world:

50. “Alas! Living creatures obtain but toil; over and over again they are born, grow old, die, pass on and are reborn.

51. Further man’s sight is veiled by passion and by the darkness of delusion, and from the excess of his blindness he does not know the way out of this great suffering.”

52. After thus considering, he reflected in his mind, “What is it, truly, whose existence causes the approach of the suffering of old age and death Jarā-maraṇa-duḥkha: the suffering of aging and death; link no. 12. Cf MMK26.8. 34?”

53. Penetrating the truth to its core, he understood that old age and death are produced, when there is birth. Jati: birth; link no. 11. Cf MMK26.8.35

54. He saw that head-ache is only possible when the head is already in existence; for when the birth of a tree has come to pass, only then can the felling of the tree take place. Cf. SN16.10: Even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.36

55. Then the thought again arose in him, “What does this birth proceed from?” Then he saw rightly that birth arises out of becoming. Bhava: becoming, coming into existence; link no. 10. Cf MMK26.7. 37

56. With his divine eyesight he saw becoming arising from karma – not from a Creator or from Nature or from a self or without a cause.

57. Just as, if the first knot in a bamboo is wisely cut, everything quickly comes into order, so his knowing advanced in proper order.

58. Thereon the sage applied his mind to determining the origin of becoming. Then he saw that the origin of becoming was in taking hold. Upādāna: taking hold, clinging, attachment; link no. 9. Cf. MMK26.6. 38

59. This taking hold is taking hold in the areas of rules and rituals, Śila-vratopādāna: attachment to rule and ritual, or discipline and vow. 39 of desires, Kāmopādāna: attachment to an object of desire. 40 of narratives of self, Ātma-vādopādāna: attachment to talk of self; attachment to a doctrine based on self; attachment to a personal narrative (as in post-modernism?). 41 and of views Dṛṣṭy-upādāna: attachment to a view. Cf. MMK26.6.42 – as when fire and fuel have taken hold.

60. Then the thought occurred to him, “From what cause comes taking hold?” Thereon he recognised the causal grounds of taking hold to be thirsting. Tṛṣṇā: thirsting; link no. 8. Cf MMK26.6. 43

61. Just as the forest is set ablaze by a little fire, when the wind fans it, so thirsting gives rise to the vast faults of sensual passion and the rest.

62. Then he reflected, “From what does thirsting arise?” Thereon he concluded that the cause of thirsting is feeling. Vedanā: feeling; link no. 7. Cf MMK26.5. 44

63. Overwhelmed by feelings, the world thirsts for the means of satisfying those feelings; for in the absence of physical thirst nobody would take pleasure in drinking water.

64. Then he again meditated, “What is the source of feeling?” He, who had transcended feeling, saw the cause of feeling to be in contact. Sparśa or saṁsparśaḥ: contact; link no. 6. Cf MMK26.3. 45

65. Contact is explained as the uniting of the object, the sense and consciousness, whence feeling is produced – just as fire is produced from the uniting of the two rubbing sticks and fuel.

66. Next he considered that contact has a cause. Thereon he recognised the cause to lie in six senses. Ṣaḍ-āyatana: six senses; link no. 5. Cf MMK26.3. 46

67. The blind man does not see physical forms, since his eye does not connect them with consciousness; if sight exists, the connection takes place. Therefore there is contact, when a sense exists.

68. Further he made up his mind to understand the origin of six senses. Thereon the knower of causes knew the cause to be psycho-physicality. Nāma-rūpa: psycho-physicality, or (more literally but less usefully) “name and form”; link no. 4. Cf MMK26.2. 47

69. Just as the leaf and the stalk are only said to exist when there is a shoot in existence, so six senses only arise where psycho-physicality has arisen.

70. Then the thought occurred to him, “What is the cause of psycho-physicality?” Thereon he, who had passed to the further side of knowledge, knew its origin to lie in divided consciousness. Vijñāna: consciousness, or divided consciousness; link no. 3. Vi-√jñā means to distinguish, discern, or discriminate. The prefix vi- is thought to derive from dvi, meaning “in two parts” as opposed to sam-, which expresses wholeness or union – as for example in samādhi. Cf MMK26.2. 48

71. When divided consciousness arises, psycho-physicality is produced. When the development of the seed is completed, the sprout assumes a bodily form.

72. Next he considered, “From what does divided consciousness come into being?” Then he knew that divided consciousness is produced by supporting itself on psycho-physicality.” This investigation of the circularity around links 3 and 4, divided consciousnes and psycho-physicality, is also seen in Nāgārjuna’s version in MMK chap. 26 (see MMK26.2-4). Except that Aśvaghoṣa has first gone back against the grain but now goes forwards with the grain, whereas Nāgārjuna starts going with the grain and then doubles back. 49

73. And so, having understood the order of causality, he thought it over; his mind turned it over this way and that way and did not turn aside to other thoughts.

74. Divided consciousness is the causal grounds from which arises psycho-physicality. Psycho-physicality, again, is the basis of divided consciousness.

75. Just as the coracle carries the bloke who carries the coracle, so divided consciousness and psycho-physicality are causes of each other.

76. Just as a red-hot iron causes grass to blaze and just as blazing grass makes an iron red-hot, of such a kind is their mutual causality.

77. Thus he understood that from divided consciousness arises psycho-physicality, from which originate senses, and from senses arises contact.

78. But out of contact, he knew feeling to be born; out of feeling, thirsting; out of thirsting, taking hold; out of taking hold, again, becoming.

79. From becoming arises birth, from birth he knew aging and death to arise. He truly realized that the birth of living beings, in new spheres in the cycle of saṁsāra, arises from causal grounds.

80. Then this conclusion came firmly on him, that from the ending of birth, old age and death are ended; that from the ending of becoming, birth itself is ended; and that becoming ends through the ending of taking hold.

81. Further, taking hold is ended through the ending of thirsting; when there is no such thing as feeling, there is no such thing as thirsting; if contact is ended, feeling does not come about; from the non-existence of six senses, contact is ended.

82. Similarly, if psycho-physicality is well and truly ended, six senses everywhere are ended too; but psycho-physicality is ended through the ending of divided consciousness, and divided consciousness is ended through the ending of doings. Saṁskārāḥ; link no. 2. Cf MMK26.1, and 26.10. MMK26.10 provides a key to the translation of saṁskārāḥ, which for many hundreds of years has been a stumbling block in China and Japan. In Nāgārjuna’s statement saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ (“the doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do”), both saṁskārān (doings) and saṁskaroti (does do) are from saṁ-s-√kṛ, which means to do, make or put together, to confect, to concoct. In short, saṁ-s-√kṛ means to do, and saṁskārān does not mean (as the Chinese translation 行 indicates) “action” in general. Saṁskārān means doings, i.e. not spontaneous and natural actions, but actions which are done out of ignorance. 50

83. Again, the great seer understood that doings are inhibited by the complete absence of ignorance. Avidyā: ignorance; link no. 1. Cf MMK26.1. 51 Therefore he knew properly what was to be known and stood out before the world as the Awakened One, the Buddha. For reference, here in full is ch. 26 of Nāgārjuna’s mūla-madhyama-kārikā:

punar-bhavāya saṁskārān avidyā-nivṛtas tridhā |
abhisaṁskurute yāṁs tair gatiṁ gacchati karmabhiḥ ||MMK26.1||
vijñānaṁ saṁniviśate saṁskāra-pratyayaṁ gatau |
saṁniviṣṭe ‘tha vijñāne nāma-rūpaṁ niṣicyate ||2||
niṣikte nāma-rūpe tu ṣaḍāyatana-saṁbhavaḥ |
ṣaḍāyatanam āgamya saṁsparśaḥ saṁpravartate ||3||
cakṣuḥ pratītya rūpaṁ ca samanvāhāram eva ca |
nāma-rūpaṁ pratītyaivaṁ vijñānaṁ saṁpravartate ||4||
saṁnipātas trayāṇāṁ yo rūpa-vijñāna-cakṣuṣām |
sparśaḥ saḥ tasmāt sparśāc ca vedanā saṁpravartate ||5||
vedanā-pratyayā tṛṣṇā vedanārthaṁ hi tṛṣyate |
tṛṣyamāṇa upādānam upādatte catur-vidham ||6||
upādāne sati bhava upādātuḥ pravartate |
syād dhi yady anupādāno mucyeta na bhaved bhavaḥ ||7||
pañca skandhāḥ sa ca bhavaḥ bhavāj jātiḥ pravartate |
jarā-maraṇa-duḥkhādi śokāḥ sa-paridevanāḥ ||8||
daurmanasyam upāyāsā jāter etat pravartate |
kevalasyaivam etasya duḥkha-skandhasya saṁbhavaḥ ||9||
saṁsāra-mūlaṁ saṁskārān avidvān saṁskaroty ataḥ |
avidvān kārakas tasmān na vidvāṁs tattva-darśanāt ||10||
avidyāyāṁ niruddhāyāṁ saṁskārāṇām asaṁbhavaḥ |
avidyāyā nirodhas tu jñānasyāsyaiva bhāvanāt ||11||
tasya tasya nirodhena tat tan nābhipravartate |
duḥkha-skandhaḥ kevalo ‘yam evaṁ samyaṅ nirudhyate ||12||

The doings that lead to yet further becoming, a person engulfed in ignorance, in the three ways, does do – and by these actions, to a new sphere in the cycle of going, does go. Divided knowing, into the new sphere of going, does seep, having doings as its causal grounds. And so with the seeping in of this divided consciousness, psycho-physicality is instilled.
There again: With the instilling of psycho-physicality, there is the coming about of six senses. Six senses having arrived, there occurs contact. Depending on eye, on form, and on the bringing of the two together – depending in other words on psycho-physicality – divided consciousness occurs.
When the threesome of form, consciousness and eye are combined, that is contact; and from that contact there occurs feeling. With feeling as its causal grounds, there is thirsting – because the object of feeling is thirsted after. While thirsting is going on, taking hold takes hold in the four ways. While taking hold is taking hold, the becoming arises of the taker – because becoming, if it were free of taking hold, would be liberated and would not become becoming. Five aggregates, again, are becoming itself. Out of the becoming arises birth. The suffering and suchlike of ageing and death – sorrows, accompanied by bewailing and complaining; downheartedness, troubles – all this arises out of birth. In this way there is the coming into being of this whole aggregate of suffering.
The doings which are the root of saṁsāra thus does the ignorant one do. The ignorant one therefore is the doer; the wise one is not, on the grounds of the realization of reality. In the dispelling of ignorance, there is the non-coming-into-being of doings. At the same time, the dispelling of ignorance is on the grounds of the bringing-into-being of just this act of knowing. By the stopping of this one and that one, this one and that one no longer advance. This whole aggregate of suffering in this way is completely inhibited.

[The original canto continues to verse 108]

The 14th canto, titled The Transcendent Total Awakening,
in an epic tale of awakened action.