The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna

By David Reigle on April 6, 2012 at 6:10 am

Jacques has called our attention to what is the single most important text by Nāgārjuna for the so-called “Great Madhyamaka” tradition, the Dharmadhātu-stava. The dharma-dhātu is the “dhātu of dharmas”; i.e., the “element” or “basic space” or “realm” of the dharmas, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “factors” that make up our world. A stava, also called a stotra, is a “hymn” or “song” or “praise.” As might be expected, the stavas by Nāgārjuna are not typical songs of praise; they are full of philosophical ideas. Here he speaks of something that cannot be directly described in words, or reasoned about like the topics of his other writings, so he just sings his praises of it.

The Sanskrit original has not yet been published, and was presumed lost. However, it is reported to have been found among the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in Tibet, only recently becoming accessible to scholars. In the meantime, until this is edited and published, we have six verses of the original Sanskrit that were quoted in Nāropā’s Kālacakra commentary, the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. These are given below, quoted from the excellent 2006 edition prepared by Francesco Sferra (Serie Orientale Roma, vol. XCIX, p. 188). I have also compared the pioneering 1941 edition by Mario E. Carelli (Gaekwad’s Oriental Series, vol. XC, p. 66). The only significant difference is the superior reading “agni-śaucaṃ” in verse 20a in the 2006 edition, rather than the reading “agniḥ śaucaṃ” in the 1941 edition.

Also given below is an English translation of these verses made from the Tibetan translation by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., found in the 2004 book he edited, Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin), pp. 467-468. Jacques has already informed us of the 2007 translation by Karl Brunnholzl with full commentary. Another translation by Jeffrey Hopkins of these verses (but not the whole text) may be found in Mountain Doctrine (2006), pp. 102-105, where they were quoted by Dolpopa. Of these, note especially verse 22, which is of much significance. A fairly literal translation of Nāgārjuna’s verse from the original Sanskrit is: “Whichever (ye kecid) sūtras (sūtrāḥ) that bring in (āhārakāḥ) emptiness (śūnyatā) were spoken (bhāṣitāḥ) by the Jinas (jinaiḥ), by all those (sarvais taiḥ) the afflictive emotions are turned back (kleśa-vyāvṛttir). Not at all (naiva) is the dhātu destroyed (dhātu-vināśanam).”


nirmalau candra-sūryau hi āvṛtau pañcabhir malaiḥ |

abhra-nīhāra-dhūmena rāhu-vaktra-rajo-malaiḥ || 18 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittam āvṛtaṃ pañcabhir malaiḥ |

kāma-vyāpāda-middhena auddhatya-vicikitsayā || 19 ||

agni-śaucaṃ yathā vastraṃ malinaṃ vividhair malaiḥ |

agni-madhye yathāksiptaṃ malaṃ dagdhaṃ na vastratā || 20 ||

evaṃ prabhāsvaraṃ cittaṃ malinaṃ rāgajair malaiḥ |

jñānāgninā malaṃ dagdhaṃ na dagdhaṃ tat-prabhāsvaram || 21 ||

śūnyatāhārakāḥ sūtrā ye kecid bhāṣitā jinaiḥ |

sarvais taiḥ kleśa-vyāvṛttir naiva dhātu-vināśanam || 22 ||

pṛthivy-antarhitaṃ toyaṃ yathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam |

kleśair antarhitaṃ jñānaṃ tathā tiṣṭhati nirmalam || 23 ||

“Although the sun and moon are stainless, they are blocked by the five obstacles, such as clouds, mist, smoke, eclipses and dust. (18)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light becomes blocked by the five obstructions: desire, enmity, laziness, agitation and doubt. (19)

“When a fireproof garment, stained by various stains, is placed in fire, the stains are burned but the garment is not. (20)

“In the same way, the mind of clear light is stained by desire. The stains are burned by the fire of wisdom; just that clear light is not. (21)

“All the sūtras setting forth emptiness spoken by the teacher turn back the afflictions; they do not impair the element. (22)

“Just as the water in the earth remains untainted, wisdom is within the afflictions, yet remains unstained. (23)”

Category: Dhatu | 2 comments

  • David Reigle says:

    Most of these Sanskrit manuscripts are now in Lhasa, and presumably this one is too. I will try to post some articles on this that give more information. In the meantime, their story can be read in “A Tale of Leaves: On Sanskrit Manuscripts in Tibet, their Past and their Future,” by Ernst Steinkellner, available here on our References page. It does not list which manuscripts are there, but tells the story of the delicate negotiations over decades that finally in 2004 led to some access to them.

  • Hello David, You wrote “However, it is reported to have been found among the Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in Tibet, only recently becoming accessible to scholars.” Could you tell a bit more about where the Dharmadhātustava was found? Thank you!

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