Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “an infinite number of buddha-fields” 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.

Bodhisattva quality 25: an infinite number of buddha-fields

25. buddhakṣetrapraṇidhānaparighṛhīta:

Sūtra: They have taken possession of an infinite number of buddha-fields by means of their aspirations (apramāṇabuddhakṣetrapraṇidhānaparigṛhītaiḥ).

Śāstra: Seeing the wondrous infinities (apramāṇavyūha) of the buddha-fields (buddhakṣetra),[1] these bodhisattvas formed all kinds of aspirations (praṇidhāna).

[108b] There is a buddha-field free of all suffering (duḥkha) where the question of the threefold evil (pāpatrya) has never been heard. The bodhisattva who has seen it formulates the following aspiration: “When I will be Buddha, may my field be thus free of all suffering and may the threefold evil never be heard of there.”

There is a buddha-field adorned with the seven jewels (saptaratnālaṃkṛta) which is always bathed in clear light (viśuddhaprabhā) although it has neither sun (sūrya) nor moon (candramas). [The bodhisattva who has seen it] formulates the following aspiration: “When I will be Buddha, may my field be always bathed thus in pure light.”

There is a buddha-field where all the beings practice the ten wholesome actions (daśakuśala) and have great wisdom (mahāprajñā), where garments, coverlets and food appear at will. [The bodhisattva who has seen it] formulates the following aspiration: “When I will be Buddha, may beings in my field also find garments, coverlets and food at will.”

There is a buddha-field where the pure bodhisattvas have the physical appearance of the Buddha with his thirty major marks (lakṣaṇa) and his brilliant light, where there is no question of śrāvakas or pratyekabuddhas and where women (strī) are completely absent; all the inhabitants follow the profound marvelous Path of the Buddhas, travel in the ten directions and convert all beings. [The bodhisattva who has seen it] formulates the following aspiration: “When I will be Buddha, may the beings in my field be like this.”

This is how the bodhisattvas aspire to and attain all the marvels (nānāvidhavyūha) of innumerable buddha-fields, and this is why the sūtra says that they have acquired an infinite number of buddha-fields by means of their aspirations (apramāṇabuddhakṣetrapraṇidhānaparighṛhīta)

Question. – But by virtue of the purity of their conduct and their actions (caritakarmaviśuddhi), the bodhisattvas automatically obtain good rewards (śubhavipāka). Why must they first aspire to them in order to obtain them later? A farmer who has grain, must he still wish for it?

Answer. – Merit (puṇya) is ineffective without aspiration (praṇidhāna). Making the aspiration (praṇidhānaprasthāna) is the guide that leads to the result. In the same way, metal-casting requires a master, the crude metal [itself] being formless (aniyata). Thus the Buddha said: “Some people cultivate (bhāvayanti) the limited merit of generosity (dāna) or morality (śīla), but are ignorant of the law of merit; learning that there are wealthy happy people, they always think about them and endlessly wish for [similar] happiness; at the end of their life, they will be reborn among wealthy happy people. Others cultivate the limited merit of generosity or morality, but are ignorant of the law of merit; hearing about the existence of the Caturmahārājika, Trāyastriṃśa, Yāma, Tuṣita, Nirmānarati and Paranirmitavaśavartin gods, they endlessly wish for [similar] happiness: at the end of their life, they will be reborn among those gods. This happiness is the result of their wish.”[2] In the same way, it is by aspiring for the pure universes (viśuddhalokadhātu) that the bodhisattvas acquire them later. Therefore it is thanks to their aspirations (praṇidhāna) that they possess superior fruits (agraphala).

Furthermore, the adornment of the buddha-fields (buddhakṣetrālaṃkāra) is important. By itself, cultivation of the qualities (guṇa) of the bodhisattva would be unable to realize it; this is why the power of aspiration is necessary. Thus, an ox (go-) has the strength to draw a cart (ratha) but a driver (nāyaka) is needed to reach the destination. It is the same for aspirations [108c] related to the pure universes: merit is like the ox, aspiration is the driver.

Question. – [If you are to be believed], one would gain no merit if one did not make an aspiration.

Answer. – Yes! One would gain merit, but not as when the aspiration is added. If one thinks endlessly of the goal, the merit increases (vardhate).

Question. – If merit entails retribution, people who commit the ten sins[3] but do not wish for hell (niraya) as retribution would not have to suffer hell as punishment [for their faults].

Answer. – Although sin (āpatti) and merit (puṇya) are necessarily retributed (niyatavipāka), only those who formulate aspirations (praṇidhāna) cultivate (bhāvayanti) merit; endowed with the power of the aspirations, they obtain a great fruit of merit (vipākaphala). As was said above, sin (āpatti) has suffering (duḥkha) as retribution; but all the beings [who commit it] wish to find happiness; nobody wishes for suffering or hell (niraya). This is why sin has but a limited punishment whereas merit finds unlimited reward (apramāṇavipāka). According to some, even the greatest sinner who has fallen into the Avīci hell will suffer his punishment for one kalpa (see Appendix 1), whereas the very meritorious person, residing in the sphere of neither perception-nor-nonperception (naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana), will enjoy his reward for 80,000 great kalpas.[4] In the same way, the bodhisattvas who have aspired to the pure universes (viśuddhalokadhātu) will travel the Path for countless kalpas and will attain nirvāṇa, eternal bliss (nityasukha).

Question. – However, look at the sin that consists of criticizing the Prajñāpāramitā, the sin discussed in the Ni li p’in (Nirayaparivarta): when the antarakalpa [spent in Avīci] is ended, the guilty one falls into other hells (niraya).[5] How can you say that the very great sinner suffers his punishment in hell for just one kalpa?

Answer. – The Buddhist doctrine, which is intended for beings, uses two [different] ways (mārga): the way of the bodhisattva (read P’ou sa tao = bodhisattvamārga) and the way of the śrāvaka (śrāvakamārga). In the way of the śrāvaka, the Buddha says that the person guilty of the five ānantarya crimes will suffer hell (niraya) for only one kalpa; in the bodhisattva way, the Buddha declares that the enemy of the Buddhadharma, after having spent an antarakalpa [in Avīci], will go to yet other hells to undergo innumerable sufferings there (read k’ou = duḥkha, in place of tsouei = āpatti). According to the theory of the śrāvakas, a single great merit will be rewarded during 80,000 kalpas; according to the theory of the bodhisattvas, it will be rewarded during innumerable asaṃkhyeykalpas.

This is why merit requires aspiration [in order to be truly efficacious]. It is in this sense that the sūtra says that the bodhisattvas are adorned with an infinite number of buddha-fields (apramāṇabuddhakṣetrapraṇidhānaparigṛhīta) by means of their aspirations.

Footnotes and references:


For the buddha-fields, see Hôbôgirin, Butsudo, p. 198–203.


Summary of a sūtra related to dānūpapattiyo, ‘rebirths due to the practice of generosity’, which may be found in Aṅguttara, IV, p. 239–241 (tr. Woodward, Gradual Sayings, IV, p. 163–164:

Aṭṭh’imā bhikkhave dānūpapattiyo. Katamā aṭṭha? Idha bhikkhave ekacco dānaṃ deti samaṇassa vā brahmaṇassa vā … Imā kho bhikkhave aṭṭhadānūpapattiyo ti.


The ten evil paths of action (daśākuśalakarmapatha), murder (prāṇātipāta), etc.


The lifespan is 20,000 kalpas in ākāśanantyāyatana, 40,000 kalpas in vijñānānatyāyatana, 60,000 kalpas in ākiṃcanyāyatana, 80.000 kalpas in naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana or bhavagra. – The first three numbers are given by Aṅguttara, I, p. 267–268; the fourth is given in Kośa, III, p. 174.


The Nirayaparivarta is one of the chapters of the Pañcaviṃśati and the Aṣṭasāhasrikā. The passage alluded to here is in Pañcaviṃśati T 220, k. 435, p. 187c; T 221, k. 9, p. 63a; T 223, k. 11, p. 304c. In the Aṣṭasāhasrika, T 224, k. 3, p. 441b; T 225, k. 3, p. 488a; T 225, k. 3, p. 523a; T 227, k. 3, p. 550c. Here are a few extracts of the Sanskrit text of the Aṣṭasāhasrika, ed. R. Mitra, p. 179–180:

Asyāḥ khalu punaḥ Subhute prajñāpāramitāyāḥ pratyākhyānena pratikṣepena … mahanti mahānirayaduḥkhāni pratyanubhaviṣyanti. “By criticizing, by rejecting, by insulting this Prajñāpāramitā, O Subhuti, one criticizes, one rejects, one insults the omniscience of the Buddha Bhagavats. Those [who act in this way] will be banished from the presence of the Buddha Bhagavats, deprived of the Dharma, sent away by the community. For them this will be the definitive and complete exclusion from the Three Jewels. As a result of a sin of such magnitude, they will be reborn in the great hells for many hundreds of millions of koṭiniyutas of years. They will pass from one great hell to another great hell. When they have thus gone from one great hell to another, the destruction of the world by fire will occur. And when this destruction of the world by fire has taken place, they will fall into the great hells of other universes. It is in these great hells that they will be reborn. In these great hells they will suffer the great torments of hell.”

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