Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “pure generosity and impure generosity” 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 3 - Pure generosity and Impure generosity

There are two other kinds of generosity, pure generosity (viśuddhadāna) and impure generosity (aviśuddhadāna). Impure generosity is generosity [141a] improperly carried out. Generosity that has as its motivation interest, arrogance, aversion, fear, desire to seduce someone, fear of death, teasing, the wish to claim equality with wealthy people, rivalry, jealousy, pride (abhimāna) and the desire to elevate oneself (ātmotkarṣa), desire for fame, spells, the anxiety to avoid misfortune and to gain benefit, the wish to influence an assembly, or again generosity carried out in a trifling and disrespectful way, all these are also called impure generosity.[1]

Pure generosity is that which shows characteristics opposite to those just mentioned. Furthermore, pure generosity is the gift made in view of the Path (mārga); having arisen from a pure mind, (viṣuddhacittotpanna), free of the fetters (saṃyojanarahita), not looking for happiness here below or up above (ihaparatrasukha), a gift made with respect (satkāra) and out of compassion (karuṇā).[2] This pure gift is a provision (saṃbhāra) for the Path and for nirvāṇa; this is why we said that it is made in view of the path. Although one has not attained nirvāṇa, generosity is the cause of a happy retribution (sukhavipāka) [in the world of men (manuṣya) and of gods (deva)]. The perfume (vāsanā) of the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) obtained by pure generosity, made in view of nirvāṇa, is comparable in its purity and its freshness to the fragrance of a garland of flowers (puṣpamukuṭa) barely opened and not yet faded. The Buddha said: “In the world, there are two men hard to find (durabhisaṃbhava): i) among the mendicants (pravrajita), a definitively liberated (asamayavimukta) bhikṣu; ii) among the householders (gṛhasthāvadātavasana), a man who knows how to practice pure generosity.”[3] This pure generosity extends over innumerable lifetimes (aprameyajanman); it does not disappear from lifetime to lifetime; it is like a contract that never expires.[4] This generosity bears its fruit [when it meets] the complex of conditions (pratyayasāmagrī) and favorable time (kāla);[5] it is like the tree (vṛkṣa) that, in season, produces leaves (parṇa), flowers (puṣpa) and fruit (phala); even though the season has not come, the cause (hetu) remains, but there is no fruit.

This dharma of generosity favors the adept (read Tao jen) if he seeks the Path. Why is that? Nirvāṇa is called the cessation of the fetters (saṃyojananirodha). Now, when generosity is practiced, the afflictions (kleśa) diminish.[6] Thus generosity favors nirvāṇa. Actually, i) by sacrificing the thing to be given (deyadravya), greed (mātsarya) is opposed; ii) by honoring the receiver of the gift (pratigrāhaka), envy (īrya) is opposed; iii) by giving with the right mind, hypocrisy (mrakṣa) is opposed; iv) by giving resolutely (ekacitta), discursiveness (read Tiao, 64 and 8 = auddhatya) is opposed; v) by giving after deeply reflecting (gambhīramanasikāra), regret (kaukṛtya) is opposed; vi) by appreciating the qualities of the receiver, lack of respect (anarcanā) is opposed; vii) by concentrating the mind, shamelessness (āhrīkya) is opposed; viii) by knowing the fine qualities (guṇa) of people, impudence (anapatrāpya) is opposed; ix) by being detached from material goods (āmiṣadravya), craving (tṛṣṇā) is opposed; x) by having compassion (karuṇā) for the receiver, anger (krodha) is opposed; xi) by paying respect to the receiver, pride (abhimāna) is opposed; xii) by knowing how to practice the good dharmas, ignorance (avidyā) is opposed; xiii) by believing in the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala), wrong view (mithyādṛṣṭi) is opposed; xiv) by knowing the inevitability (niyama) of retribution (vipāka), doubt (vicikitsā) is opposed. All these kinds of bad afflictions are decreased when generosity is practiced and all kinds of good dharmas are acquired.

[141b] When generosity is practiced, the six sense organs (ṣaḍindriya) are purified (prasanna) and a good mind of desire (kuśalakāmacitta) is produced. When this is produced, the inner mind (adhyātmacitta) is purified. When the virtues (guṇa) of the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) are considered, a mind of faith (śraddhacitta) is produced. The body (kāya) and the mind (citta) become softened (mṛdutaruṇa), joy (ānanda) arises. Joy having arisen, a ‘single-mindedness’ (ekacitta) is obtained, thanks to which real wisdom (bhūtaprajñā) is produced: these are the good dharmas that are acquired.

Furthermore, when generosity is practiced, the mind realizes a type of eightfold noble Path (āṣṭāṅgikamārga):[7] i) by believing in the fruit of generosity (dānaphala), right view (saṃyagdṛṣṭi) is obtained; ii) because the thinking (manasikāra) inherent in this right view is not disturbed, right concept (samyaksaṃkalpa) is obtained; iii) because physical activities are purified (kāyacaryā), right action is obtained (samyakkarmmanta); v) because reward (vipāka) is not sought after, right livelihood (samyagājīva) is obtained; vi) because one gives with diligence, right effort (samyagvyāyāma) is obtained; vii) because one is not scattered in thinking about generosity, right attention (samyaksmṛti) is obtained; viii) because the settling of the mind (cittasthiti) is not disturbed, right concentration (samyaksamādhi) is obtained. – In the same way, when generosity is practiced, something similar to the thirty-seven good dharmas (kuśaladharma)[8] are produced in the mind.

Furthermore, some say that generosity is the cause and condition (hetupratyaya) for obtaining the thirty-two marks (dvātriṃśallakṣaṇa).[9] Why is that?

1) When one gives, it is with a firm mind (dṛḍhacitta) and one obtains the mark consisting of having the feet well-planted (supratiṣṭhitapādatala).

2) When one gives, one provides five things to the receiver[10] and, as a result of these provisions (parivāra), one obtains the mark consisting of having wheels on the soles of the feet (adhastāt pādatalayoś cakre jāte).

3) By giving with heroic strength (mahāśūrabala), one obtains the mark consisting of having a broad heel (āyatapādapārṣṇi).

4) Because generosity wins people over (saṃgṛhṇati), one obtains the mark consisting of having webbed hands and feet (jālāngulihastapāda).

5–6) Because one gives tasty food (madhurasāhāra), one obtains the marks consisting of having soft and delicate hands and feet (mṛdutaruṇapāṇipāda) and the seven parts of the body well-rounded (saptotsada).

7–8) Because the gift serves to maintain life, one obtains the marks consisting of having long fingers (dīrghāṇguli) and the body tall and straight (bṛhadṛjukāya).

9–10) When one gives, one says: “May I be useful”, and the generous disposition (dānacitta) increases; this is why one obtains the marks consisting of having a high instep (utsaṅgacaraṇa) and hair standing up (ūrdhvāgraroma).

11) Before giving, one listens attentively (ekacittena) to what the supplicant (pratigrāhaka) is asking and, as one takes care that he acquires it quickly, one obtains the mark consisting of having limbs like an antelope (aiṇeyajaṅgha).

12) As one does not become irritated and one does not treat the supplicant lightly, one obtains the mark consisting of having the arms come down to the knees (jānupralambabāhu).

13) As one gives according to the wishes of the supplicant and without waiting for him to speak, one obtains the mark consisting of having [one’s privy parts] enclosed in a sheath (kośagatavastiguhya).

14–15) As one gives fine garments (vastra), seats (śayanāsana), gold and silver (suvarṇarajata), pearls and jewels (maṇiratna), one obtains the marks consisting of having a golden-colored (suvarṇavarṇa) body and fine skin (sūkṣmacchavi).

16–17) As one gives in such a way that the recipient (pratigrāhaka) alone enjoys full ownership (aiśvarya), one obtains the marks consisting of having a hair growing from each of one’s pores (ekaikaroma) and a tuft of white hair between the eyebrows (ūrṇā bhruvor madhye jātā).

18–19) One finds out what the supplicant wants and gives it to him. For this act, one obtains the marks consisting of having a chest like a lion (siṃhapūrvārdhakāya) and perfectly rounded shoulders (susaṃvṛttaskandha).

20–21. Because one has given medicines (bhaiṣajya) to the sick (glāna) and food (āhāra) to those who are hungry and thirsty, one obtains the marks consisting of having the bottom of the armpits plump (citāntarāma) and obtaining the best of tastes (rasarasāgraprāpta).

22–23) When one is giving, one encourages people to take comfort by practicing generosity. Thus preparing the way for generosity, one obtains the marks consisting of having the head crowned by a protuberance (uṣṇīśāṣīrṣa) and the body rounded like the nyagrodha tree (nyagrodhaparimaṇḍala).

24–26) When one agrees to give what the supplicant wants and if one expresses oneself delicately with gentleness in true words (satyavāda), without resorting to lying (mṛṣāvada), one obtains the marks consisting of having a broad tongue (prabhūtajihvā), a brahmic voice (brahmasvara) and a voice pleasant like that of the sparrow (kalaviṅkabhāṇa).

[141c] 27) While giving, when one expresses oneself in words in harmony with the truth and loving-kindly speech, one obtains the mark consisting of having the jaw of a lion (siṃhahanu).

28–29) When one gives, one honors the recipient and, as the mind is pure (viśuddha), one obtains the marks consisting of having white teeth (śukladanta) set very close together (aviraladanta).

30) When giving, if one expresses oneself truthfully (satyavāda) in coherent speech (saṃghātvāda), one obtains the mystical mark of having forty teeth (catvāriṃśaddanta).

31–32) While giving, if one is not irritated, is detached, has an even mind (samacitta) while thinking about one’s neighbor, one obtains the marks consisting of having blue eyes (abhinīlanetra) with eyelashes like those of the king of the oxen (gopaksmanetra).

Thus generosity plants the causes and conditions (hetupratyaya) for the thirty-two marks.

Finally, by means of the generosity of the seven jewels (saptaratna): people (jana), vehicles (yāna), gold and silver (suvarṇarajata), lamps (dīpa), houses (gṛha), perfumes (gandha) and flowers (puṣpa), one becomes a cakravartin king furnished with the seven jewels.[11]

* * *

Furthermore, the reward (vipāka) attributed to generosity increases (vardhate) in the following cases:[12]

1) When the gift is made at the appropriate time (kāladāna). The Buddha said: “Giving to the one who is going afar (gamika), giving to the one who gas come from afar (āgantuka), giving to the sick (glāna), giving to the care-giver (glānopasthāyaka), giving during difficult times of wind (vātalikā) or cold (śītalikā): these are gifts given at the desired time (kāladāna).[13]

2) When one is directed, in one’s gifts, by the needs of the region.

3) When one gives on a desert trail.

4) When one gives ceaselessly and uninterruptedly.

5) When one gives according to the desires of the requester.

6) When one gives things of value.

7) When one gives gardens (ārāma), pools (hrada), etc., to the good people of the monasteries (vihāra).

8) When one gives to the Community (saṃgha).

9) When the giver (dāyaka) and the receiver (pratigrāhaka) are both virtuous.[14] [Note: if these are the buddhas and bodhisattvas who give out of loving-kindness (maitrīcitta), they are the ‘donors’; but if it is to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, the arhats and pratyekabuddhas that one is giving, they are the ‘recipients’.]

10) When one honors the recipient in all manners of ways.

11) When one gives rare (durlabha) things.

12) When one gives absolutely all that one has.

[The complete gift of the painter Karṇa]

Footnotes and references:


The various motivations that can inspire the giver are listed in a list of eight dānavastus that may be found, with some variations, in Dīgha, III, p. 258; Aṅguttara, IV, p. 236–237; Kośa, IV, p. 239. According to the latter source, the following should be distinguished: i) the āsadya gift (the gift between persons close to one another; ii) the gift given out of fear (what a person does who sees that the object is about to cease); iii) the gift given “because he has given to me” (adān me dānam iti dānam); iv) the gift given “so that he will give to me” (dāsyati); v) the gift given “because my father and my grandfather gave” (dattapūrvaṃ me pitṛbhiś ca pitāmahaiś ceti dānam); vi) the gift given to attain heaven (svargārtham); vii) the gift given with an eye to repute (kīrtyartham); viii) the gift given to adorn the mind (cittālaṃkārārtham) of the ṛddhis; to ripen the mind (cittapariṣkārārtham) of members of the Path; to equip with the view of practice (yogasaṃbhārārtham); to attain the supreme goal (uttammarthasya prāptaye), i.e., to attain the quality of arhat or nirvāṇa. – See also Aṅguttara, IV, p. 61. – Only the gift made in view of the Path and of nirvāṇa is truly pure; its ten aspects are described in Bodh. bhūmi, p. 133–135.


The excellence of a gift is partially due to the excellence of the donor; the good donor is the one who gives with faith (śraddhāya), with respect (satkṛtya), with his hand (svahastena) at the right time (kālena), without harming anyone (parān anupahatya). Cf. Dīgha, II, p. 357; Aṇguttara, III, p. 172; Kośa, IV, p. 235.


Aṅguttara, I, p. 49: Dve ‘māni bhikkhave padhānāni durabhisaṃbhavāni lokasmiṃ. Katamāni dve? Yañ ca gihīnaṃ agāraṃ ajjhāvasataṃ cīvarapiṇḍapātasenāsanagilānapaccay-abhesajjaparikkhārānuppādānatthaṃ padhānaṃ, yañ ca agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitānaṃ sabbūpadhipaṭinisaggatthāya padhānaṃ:: “Two kinds of efforts, O monks, are hard to realize in the world: the exertion of householders to provide clothing, food, seats, medicines and provisions; the exertion of those who have left home and embraced the wandering life to escape from all the conditionings of existence.”


The comparison of action to a contract, a debt, is used by the Sāmmitīyas to illustrate their doctrine on the ‘non-cessation’ (avipraṇāśa) of actions; cf. Madh. vṛtti, p. 317–318: “When action arises, it engenders a non-cessation (avipraṇaśa) of itself in the series of the agent, an entity dissociated from the mind and comparable to the page on which debts (ṛṇapattra) are recorded. Therefore we know that the avipraṇaśa is like the page and the action giving rise to this entity called avipranaśa is like the debt. And just as a rich man does not lose his money when he lends it because the debt is written down on the page, just as he will recover his money fivefold at the desired time, so the action that has ceased, being recorded in the avipranaśa entity, brings the proper fruit to the agent. Just as the page on which the debts are inscribed expires when the money is repaid to the lender and is no longer able – whether it exists or no longer exists – to cause the money to be repaid again, so the avipranaśa – whether it exists or no longer exists – is incapable of causing a new retribution, like an expired debt.” On this theory, which almost all the Buddhist schools reject, see also Madh. avatāra, p. 126, l. 12 (tr. Muséon, 1910, p. 318); Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa, p. 86 seq.; above, Treatise, I, p. 347F.


A reminiscence of the well-known stanza of the Vinayas, the Divyāvadāna and the Avadānaśataka:

na praṇaśyanti karmāṇi kalpakoṭiśatair api,

sāmagrīṃ prāpya kālaṃ ca phalanti khalu dehinām.

“Actions do not perish even after millions of cosmic periods. Meeting with the complex of conditions and the favorable time, they bear fruit for the possessor of the body.”


Great fruits are promised for the generosity accomplished by a person endowed with morality (śīlavat) who, according to the Aṅguttara, is free of the five faults and provided with five qualities. The five faults, viz., sensual desire (kāma) and the desire of action (chanda); maliciousness (vyāpāda); laziness (styāna) and languor (middha); agitation (auddhatya) and regret (kaukṛtya) and finally, doubt (vicikitsā) are borrowed from the list of paryavasthānas which the practice of generosity helps to eliminate. The Mppś has already given a complete list of the (cf. Treatise, I, p. 424F).


This āṣṭāṅgikamārga is frequently mentioned and explained in the canonical scriptures; see Rhys Davids-Stede, s.v. magga.


These are the thirty-seven bodhipāksikadharmas, listed and discussed in, e.g., Visuddhimagga, p. 678 seq.


The thirty-two marks of the Great Man have already been described in detail in the Mppś (cf. Treatise, I, p. 272–279F). That generosity favors their attainment has been noted by the Lakkhaṇasutta of the Dīgha, III, p. 145, 146, which notes that by distributing gifts (dānasaṃvibhāge), one obtains the mark consisting of having the soles of the feet well-planted on the ground; that by making gifts with all their accessories (saparivāraṃ dānaṃ), one obtains the mark of having wheels on the soles of the feet, etc. But we should not forget that other virtues also contribute to the production of the thirty-two marks; see among other texts, Abhisamayālaṃkārāloka, ed. Wogihara, p. 918–919.


“The generous donor, by giving food, gives five things: life, color, strength, pleasure and intelligence”; passage from Aṅguttara, III, p. 42, already cited by the Mppś (c. Treatise, I, p. 218F).


The seven jewels of the cakravartin are the wheel (cakra), the elephant (hastin), the horse (aśva), the treasure (maṇi), the queen (strī), the majordomo (gṛhapati) and the minister (pariṇāyaka). They are listed in Dīgha, II, p. 16 seq.; II, p. 172 seq., III, p. 59; Majjhima, III, p. 172; Saṃyutta, V, p. 99; Lalitavistara, p. 14–18; Mahāvastu, I, p. 108.


The question of the increase of merit (puṇyavṛddhi) is studied in Mahācundasūtra, which has nothing in common with the Mahācundasutta of the Aṅguttara, III, p. 355 seq, nor with the Cundasutta of the Suttanipāta, verse 83–90, but has been preserved for us in the Kośavyākhyā, p. 353–354, and in two Chinese translations: Tchong a han, T 26, no. 7, k. 2, p. 427c; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 35, p. 741c. Here is a summary: “There are seven meritorious material actions (aupadhika puṇyakriyāvastu) … : when a faithful person (śraddha), a son or daughter of noble family, is invested with them, whether he is walking, standing, sleeping or waking, the merit increases (abhivardhate) with unceasing intensity (satatasamita); the merit adds up (upajāyata eva puṇyam). What are these seven material acts? The son or daughter of noble family: 1. gives a garden to the Assembly of monks of the four directions (cāturdiśaya bhikṣusaṃghāyārāma pratipādayati); 2. builds a monastery in this garden (tasminn svārāme vihāraṃ pratiṣṭhāpayati); 3. provides seats for this monastery (tasminn eva vihāre śayanāsanaṃ prayacchati); 4. provides generous alms for this monastery (tasminn eva vihāre dhruvabhikṣāṃ prajñāpayati); 5. gives gifts to strangers and travelers (āgantukāya gamikāya vā dānam dadāti); 6. gives gifts to the sick and to the care-taker (glānāya glānopasthāyakāya vā dānam dadati); 7. when it is cold (śītalikā), windy (vātalikā) or raining (varṣikā), he provides and gives food, sweets or boiled rice (bhaktāni vā tarpaṇāni vā yavāgāpānāni vā tāni saṃghāyābhinirhrtyānuprayacchati) to the Assembly.”

In the explanation that follows, the Mppś will mention more of these material virtuous acts.


In this definition of kāladāna, the Mppś mentions the fifth, sixth and seventh material meritorious actions listed in the preceding note. – Another definition occurs in Aṅguttara, III, p. 41: Pañc’imāni bhikkhave kāladanāni. Katamāni pañca? Āgantukassa dānaṃ deti, gamikassa dānaṃ deti, gilānassa dānaṃ deti, yāni tāni navasassāni navaphalāni, tāni paṭhamaṃ sīlavantesu patiṭṭhāpati: “There are, O monks, five gifts at the appropriate time. What are these five? One gives to the one who is arriving, one gives to the one who is departing, one gives to the sick, one gives at time of famine, the first fruits of field and orchard one gives first of all to virtuous people.” – The same phrase in Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 24, p. 681b, with the following gloss: “the first fruits of field and orchard are presented first of all to virtuous and vigorous (vīryavat) people; only afterwards does one eat them oneself.”


In Majjhima,III, p. 257, it is said that the gift given by a detached person to a detached person is the best of material gifts (yo vītarāgo vītarāgesu dadāti … taṃ va dānaṃ āmisadānaṃ vipulan ti brūmi). See also Kośa, IV, p. 238.