Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “the six virtues (paramita)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

3. The six virtues (pāramitā)

What are the six virtues (pāramitā)? The virtues of generosity (dāna), discipline (śila), patience (kṣānti), exertion (vīrya), meditation (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā).

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill (paripiparti) the virtue of generosity?

Answer. – He gives everything unrestrictedly, and when he has given even his body, his heart feels no regret, for example, king Che p’i (Śibi) who gave his body to the pigeon (kapota).

[The gift of the flesh of king Śibi].

It is by acts of this kind that the Bodhisattva fulfills the virtue of generosity.

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill the virtue of discipline (śīlapāramitā)?

Answer. – By not sparing his life when it is a question of keeping the pure precepts (viṣuddhaśīla). Thus king Siu t’o siu mo (Sutasoma), for the sake of the great king Kie [89a] mo cha po t’o (Kalmāṣapāda) went so far as to offer his life, but did not violate the precepts.

[Story of Sutasoma and Kalmāṣapāda]

It is in Jātakas such as this that the Bodhisattva fulfills the virtue of discipline.

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill the virtue of patience (kṣāntipāramitā)?

Answer. – When people come to insult him, strike him, beat him, slash him, tear off his skin, cut him to pieces and take his life, his mind feels no hatred (dveṣa). Thus, when king Kia li (Kali) cut off his hands (hasta), feet (pāda), ears (karṇa) and nose (nāsā), the bhikṣu Tchan (Kṣānti) kept a strong mind (dṛḍhacitta) without emotion (acala). (also see Appendix 5)

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill the virtue of exertion (vīryapāramitā)?

Answer. – When he possesses great exertion of mind. Thus the bodhisattva Ta che (Mahātyāgavat), putting his life at the disposal of all [his friends], swore to empty the water of the ocean until it was completely dry, and his resolve was firm.[1] Here again, the Bodhisattva praised the Buddha Puṣya for seven days and seven nights standing on one leg without blinking his eyes.[2]

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill the virtue of meditation (dhyānapāramitā)?

Answer. – When he obtains mastery (vaśita) over all the dhyānas of the heretics (tīrthika). Thus king Chang cho li (Śaṅkhācārya), seated in meditation, had no in- (āna) or out- (apāna) breath. A bird came and laid her eggs in his top-knot which was in the form of a conch (śaṅkhaśikhā); the bodhisattva remained motionless (acala) until the fledglings flew away.[3]

Question. – How does the Bodhisattva fulfill the virtue of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā)?

Answer. – When his great mind reflects (manasikaroti) and analyses (vibhanakti). Thus the brahmin K’iu p’in t’o (Govinda), the great minister (mahāmātya), divided the great earth (mahāpṛthivī) of Jambudvīpa into seven parts; he also divided into seven parts a determined number of large and small cities (nagara), of villages (nigama) and hamlets (antarāpaṇa).  (also see notes on the division of Jambudvīpa) Such is the virtue of wisdom.

This is how the Bodhisattva fulfills the six virtues.

Footnotes and references:


The story of Mahātyāgavat will be told at length at k. 12, p. 151–152. It is also found in the Mahāvastu, II, p. 89–91; Lieou tou tsi king, T 142 (no, 9), k. 1, p. 4a–5a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, p. 89–91); Hien yu king, T 202, (no, 40), k. 8, p. 404b–409c (cf. Schmidt, Der Weise und der Thor, p. 227–252); King liu yi siang, T 2121, k. 9, p. 47b–48a. The theme of the man who tried to empty the water of the ocean is met again in an anecdote of the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya, translated by Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 308–312, and in the Cheng king, T 154 (no. 8), k. 1, p. 75b–76a).


See above.


The Mppś, k. 17, p. 188a–b, tells this anecdote as follows: Śākyamuni at one time was a ṛṣi named Chang chö li (Śaṅkhācārya) with a top-knot in the shape of a conch (śaṅkhaśikhā). He always practiced the fourth dhyāna, interrupting his breath (ānāpāna); seated under a tree, he remained immobile. A bird, seeing him in this posture, mistook him for a piece of wood and laid her eggs (aṇḍa) in his top-knot (śikhā). When the Bodhisattva came out of the dhyāna and noticed that he had the bird’s eggs on his head, he said to himself: “If I move, the mother will certainly not come back, and if she does not come, the eggs will spoil.” Therefore he re-entered dhyāna and stayed there until the little birds flew away.

The case of Śaṅkhācārya is not exceptional: “We know that the yogin in the old legends remained immobile on one leg: the birds made their nests in their hair” (LAV., Dogme et Philosophie, p. 183). The King liu yi siang (Chavannes, Contes, III, p. 237–238) tells of a brahmin in contemplation for three hundred years on whose body there grew a tree.

King Śaṅkha is well-known in Buddhist legend. He appears in the Gayāśīrṣasūtra, T 464, p. 481c1, and he is known for his quarrels with his brother Likhita (cf. Chavannes, Contes, IV, p. 120, 132).

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