Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “definition of generosity (dana)” 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.

Part 1 - Definition of generosity (dāna)

Question. – What is dāna?

Answer. – Dāna means generosity; it is a good volition associated with the mind (cittasaṃprayuktakuśalacetanā). Some say that a physical or vocal action (kāyavākkarman) that comes from this good volition is also called dāna. (see notes on Generosity below)

According to others, when there is a person endowed with faith (śraddhāvat), a field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) and a material object (āmiṣadravya), and when these three things are brought together, the mind (citta) produces a thought of renunciation (parityāgadharma) capable of destroying avarice (mātsarya), which is called dāna. Just as by means of the dharma of loving-kindness (maitrīdharma), the mind conceives loving–kindness (maitrī) by considering the happiness of others (sattvasukha), so by means of the mental event (caitta or caitasikadharma) called generosity, when the three things come together, the mind produces a dharma of renunciation (parityāgadharma) that is able to destroy greed (mātsarya).[1]

Generosity is an action consisting essentially of ‘the volition to give’:

Generosity is an action consisting essentially of ‘the volition to give’; from this volition there can follow a physical action, the gesture of giving a gift, or a vocal action, e.g., the preaching of the holy Dharma. It is in this way that the volition of giving, which constitutes the properly called generosity, can be completed by an effective action, the gift or the preaching.

This is in agreement with the definition given by the Buddha in Aṅguttara, III, p. 45:

Cetanāhaṃ bhikkhave kammaṃ vadāmi, cetayitvā kammaṃ karoti kāyena vācāya manasā:

“I say, O monks, that action is volition; having wished, one acts with body, speech or mind.”

The correct interpretation of this text is in Madh. kārikā, XVII, v, 2–3:

Cetanā cetayitvā ca karmaktaṃ paramarṣiṇā … tatra yac cetanety uktaṃ karma tan mānasaṃ smṛtam, cetayitvā ca yat tūktaṃ tat tu kāyikavācikam:

“Volition and action-after-having-willed, the supreme Sage has said … On the one hand, the action called volition is called mental (mānasa); on the other hand, the action-after-having-willed is physical (kāyika) or vocal (vacika).”

And the Madh. vṛtti explains (p. 306–307):

“Because it is achieved by the mind (manas) alone, because it does not depend on the activity of the body and the voice, volition (cetanā) associated with just the mental consciousness (manovijñāna) is called ‘mental action’ (mānasaṃ karman). However, the second, called ‘action-after-having-willed’ (cetayitvā karman) is, for its part, physical (kāyika) and vocal (vācika). The action that one carries out after having mentally said to oneself: ‘I will act in such and such a way with body and speech’, this action is called ‘action-after-having-willed’. The latter is twofold, physical and vocal, because it is related to the body and to the speech and because it is achieved thanks to them. Thus, action is threefold: bodily, vocal and mental.”

– On this subject, see also Kathāvatthu, II, p. 393; Athasālinī, p. 88; Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa, p. 8, 63; Madh. avatāra, p. 190 (tr. Muséon, 1911,p. 245; Pañjikā, p. 472; Kośa, IV, p. 1–2. – Modern works: LAV. Morale bouddhique, p. 122–126.

Footnotes and references:


In other words, when there is a donor (dāyaka), a thing to give (deya) and a recipient (pratigrāhaka), in the donor’s mind there is produced a dharma of renunciation (parityāgadharma), i.e., a willingness to give which constitutes the gift properly speaking. The merit produced by means of abandoning (tyāgānvayapuṇya) results from this willingness to give, a merit which results from the sole fact of abandoning. To the latter, may be added another: the merit produced by rejoicing (paribhagānvayapuṇya), the merit that results from the enjoyment, by the person who receives, of the object given (cf. Kośa, IV, p. 244). But it is not indispensable and often will be absent, e.g., in the gift given to a caitya, where no one is favored by the gift. Nevertheless, because of the devotion of the faithful one who is giving to the caitya, the gift to the caitya keeps the fundamental merit resulting from the fact of renunciation. This is similar to the meditation on loving-kindness (maitrī) where no one receives and yet a merit is born for the benevolent one by means of the very power of his mind of loving-kindness (Kośa, IV, p. 244–245).