Retention and eloquence

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[Inexhaustible] retention and eloquence (Skt. *dhāraṇī-pratibhāna-akṣaya[1]; T. gzungs spobs gnyis གཟུངས་སྤོབས་གཉིས་) are combined as one factor of the eighty inexhaustibles. The two aspects of this factor, retention (dhāraṇī)[2] and eloquence (pratibhāna), enable one to teach the dharma without hindrance. Through retention (dhāraṇī), one is able to completely recall the words and the meaning of the dharma; through eloquence (pratibhāna), one is able to explain the words and meaning without obstruction.[3]

These two aspects are the two principal components of rhetoric as presented in traditional Mahayana texts.[4]

The Rangjung Yeshe Dharma Dictionary states:[5]

  • holding a word heard previously without expressing its meaning is retention (dhāraṇī);
  • being unobstructed in explaining the words and meaning of dharma is eloquence (pratibhāna).

Jens Braarvig states:

In most cases the concepts appear together, except when pratibhāna is mentioned among the four types of knowledge related to the exposition of religion, dharma-, artha-, nirukti- and pratibhāna-pratisaṃvid. The classical definition of pratibhāna in this connection is yuktamuktābhilāpitā, "coherent and free speech;" mukta, "free," is glossed as asaṃsakta, saṃsakta meaning "faltering (speech)" (MMW).
These four types of knowledge are treated in the abhidharma of the older schools, but in the Mahayana this bodhisattva-quality [dhāraṇī-pratibhāna] came more in the focus. When the two concepts appear together, dhāraṇī usually precedes pratibhāna as a prerequisite, as one is not a good speaker when not able to memorize. According to the Lalitavistara:
Attaining dhāraṇī is an entrance into the light of Dharma, as it functions so as to retain all that the buddhas spoke; attaining pratibhāna is an entrance into the light of Dharma, as it functions so as to please all living beings with good sayings.
The Aṣṭadaśasāhasrikā prajñāpāramitā says:
For the bodhisattvas, great beings who retain these dhāraṇīs, all kinds of pratibhāna-knowledge appear.
And the Daśabhūmikasūtra:
Leaving home, he retains what he has heard and turns into a preacher of religion, and to a greater degree attaining dhāraṇī of the heard and practiced he turns into a preacher of religion .... He gets dhāraṇī, he gets pratibhāna and sits down in religious discussions . . . . He is established in the ability of dhāraṇī because of not forgetting the dharmas, he is established in pratibhāna because of being clever in discerning all the buddhadharmas.[6]

Explanation in the Akṣayamatinirdeśa

The Akṣayamatinirdeśa states:

“Furthermore, Venerable Śāradvatīputra, the bodhisatvas’ memory and eloquence are also imperishable.
“What is the imperishability of memory? It consists in keeping in mind, retaining, holding, not forgetting, and remembering the eighty-four thousand types of Dharma teachings by means of remembrance that is derived from earlier accumulation of roots of virtue. This is called memory. Furthermore, memory is how one retains the words and meaning of the sayings of all the buddhas, the bodhisatvas, the isolated buddhas, the disciples, and all beings. It is the retention of all the excellent sayings without exception. This is called memory. Even after a world age has passed or when they take another birth, the knowledge that consists in those bodhisatvas’ recollection of memory is not lost or forgotten. With the eye of holy insight, they see all phenomena as if they were āmalaka fruits in the palms of their hands. This is called imperishable memory.
“What is the imperishability of eloquence? The eloquence in question is unhindered eloquence. It is uninterrupted eloquence. It is unconquerable eloquence. It is undeluded eloquence. It is ready eloquence. It is joyful eloquence. It is quick eloquence. It is unchangeable eloquence. It is sharp eloquence. It is swift eloquence.
"The bodhisatvas’ eloquence is purified through the results of earlier actions. It is blessed by the buddhas. It is adopted by the gods. It is free of faulty grammar. It is the teaching of the unfailing Dharma. It is the journey on the way to nirvāṇa. In this way, the bodhisatvas’ eloquence is perfect. That bodhisatvas’ ways of manifesting their eloquence when they teach in prose and verse are as numerous as the manifestations of forms. That bodhisatvas’ ways of manifesting their eloquence when they explain prose and verse are as numerous as all the words that are heard. They do not entertain thought-constructions such as ‘I demonstrate this’ or ‘I teach this.’ Even though they are not conditioned by anything, in whatever assembly they go to they teach the Dharma spontaneously and eloquently, in accordance with the faith and abilities of all beings. This is the case whether they teach to an assembly of warriors, an assembly of priests, an assembly of merchants, an assembly of householders, an assembly of ascetics, an assembly of the Four Great Kings, an assembly of gods from the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, an assembly of gods from the Heaven Free from Strife, an assembly of gods from the Heaven of Joy, an assembly of gods from the Heaven of Delighting in Emanations, an assembly of gods from the Heaven of Delighting in Others’ Emanations, an assembly of Māra, or an assembly of Brahmā. If they so wish, they teach the Dharma without hindrances, until another life or another world age has passed. For the one who practices it, their teaching of the Dharma succeeds in truly bringing about the cessation of suffering. This is called the bodhisatvas’ imperishable eloquence.
“Those, Venerable Śāradvatīputra, are the bodhisatvas’ imperishable memory and eloquence."[7]


  1. This is a backward translation into Sanskrit; it might not be entirely accurate.
  2. In this context, dhāraṇī has the meaning of retention, memory, etc. For other meanings, see dhāraṇī.
  3. Khenjuk, Braarvig
  4. Braarvig 1985, p. 17.
  5. Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg gzungs_spobs, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  6. Braarvig 1985, pp. 18-19.
  7. 84000.png Jens Braarvig and David Welsh (2022 ), The Teaching of Akshayamati, 1.322-1.325, 84000 Reading Room