MA 081 - Meaning of "One attains the vision and eyes to see the supreme truth"

MA 081 is the parallel to MN 119. In it, there are three different occurrences of the following

Can one of our Chinese scholars explain what the sentence “One attains the vision and eyes to see the supreme truth.” means? I am particularly interested in the words “vision”, “eyes”, and “supreme truth”. the first two taken to mean the visual field and the physical eyeballs, the process of seeing, etc…

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An allegorical truth? Mara? Samsara?

Problem one of the “eyes” - almost certainly not the physical ones.

Thanks for asking this question; I hadn’t really thought about it that much when I translated MĀ 81. It should probably be given a footnote when I get around to reviewing this translation this summer.

The expression doesn’t have a parallel in P. sources that I know of. In MĀ, it only occurs in MĀ 81 and MĀ 217. MĀ 217 gives us a little more context, as it describes the Buddha’s realization. There, a layman asks this question several times:

The layman asked, “Venerable Ānanda, the Bhagavān, Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One achieved the wisdom eye that sees the supreme truth. Did he not teach a single thing that, when lived by a noble disciple, ends the contaminants without any remaining, and they become liberated in mind?”

The P. parallel for this question in MN 52 is very similar, but lacks the bit about attaining the wisdom eye and seeing the supreme truth:

“atthi nu kho, bhante ānanda, tena bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā sammāsambuddhena ekadhammo akkhāto yattha bhikkhuno appamattassa ātāpino pahitattassa viharato avimuttañceva cittaṁ vimuccati, aparikkhīṇā ca āsavā parikkhayaṁ gacchanti, ananuppattañca anuttaraṁ yogakkhemaṁ anupāpuṇātī”ti?
“Honorable Ānanda, is there one thing that has been rightly explained by the Blessed One—who knows and sees, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha—practicing which a diligent, keen, and resolute mendicant’s mind is freed, their defilements are ended, and they arrive at the supreme sanctuary from the yoke?”

So, I would regard it as a case of some exegetical information being added, which was pretty common in Sarvāstivāda sūtras.

Given these passages in MĀ 217, we can turn back to MĀ 81 and notice that it omits a little detail that makes it confusing:

The Buddha taught that mindfulness of body has a great reward: One attains the eye, has the eyes, to see the supreme truth.

眼 here probably should be qualified as 慧眼, the wisdom eye that sees the Dharma, or supreme truth, as it was in MĀ 217. The addition of 有目 (“have eyes”) is another way of saying a person isn’t blind. It’s often used in parables about someone “having the eyes” to see something clearly, as opposed to having poor eyesight or being born blind.

Presumably what I’ve translated as “supreme truth” (第一義) was S. paramārtha in the Indic original. Paramārtha is often the opposite of S. saṃvṛti. These are the names of the two truths of later Buddhist philosophy, which says that many socially accepted conventions are actually delusional, but people go along with them to communicate and live their lives, basically. Paramārtha describes things that are ultimately real like nirvāṇa or the principle of impermanence. It can also be a synonym for unconditioned dharmas.

Thanks again for posing the question; I’m not going be on forums that much these days, but I can always be reached by email with questions like these. I often learn as much researching the answers as the person asking the question!

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