Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “virtue of 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.

Question. – What is meant by Dānapāramitā (Virtue of generosity)?

Answer. – The meaning of dāna (generosity) has been explained above (chap. XIX). As for pāramitā, here:

1) Pāra, in the language of Ts’in, means “the other bank”; mi, in the language of Ts’in, means to “arrive at”. Therefore the expression means: “To cross over the river of generosity (dānanadī) and to attain the other shore.”[1]

Question. – What is meant by: “Not attaining the other shore”?

Answer. – Not to attain the other shore is, e.g., beginning to cross a river and turning back before arriving.

[Śāriputra renounces the Greater Vehicle].[2] – Śāriputra, who had practiced the bodhisattva path for sixteen kalpas,[3] wanted to cross over the river of generosity. One day a beggar came to him and asked for his eye (nayana). Śāriputra said to him: “My eye will be of no use to you; why do you want it?” But if you asked me for my body (kāya) or my goods (āmiṣadravya), I would give them to you immediately.” The beggar answered: “I do not need your body or your goods; I only want your eye. If you really practice generosity, you will give me your eye.” Then Śāriputra tore out one of his eyes and gave it to him. The beggar took it and, in front of Śāriputra, h e sniffed it, spat upon it with disgust, threw it on the ground and stamped on it with his feet. Śāriputra said to himself: “People as vicious as this are hard to save. My eye was of no use to him at all but he demanded it violently and, when he got it, he threw it away and stamped on it. What can be more vicious? Such people cannot be saved. It is better to tame oneself; one will free oneself sooner from saṃsāra.” Having had this thought, Śāriputra left the bodhisattva path and returned to the Lesser [145b] Vehicle (hīnayāna). This is what is called not reaching the other shore. But if one travels one’s path directly without turning back (avinivartana) and reaches Buddhaood, that is called reaching the other shore.

2) Furthermore, having done what had to be done (kṛtakṛtya)[4] is “to reach the other shore”. [Note: In India, it is commonly said of someone who has accomplished that which had to be done, that he has reached the other shore.]

3) Furthermore, “This shore” [the shore from which one is departing], is greed (mātsarya); the river is generosity; and “the other shore” is Buddhahood.

4) Furthermore, “this shore” is the wrong view of existence and non-existence (bhavavibhavadṛṣṭi);[5] “the other shore” is wisdom (prajñā) which destroys the wrong view of existence and non-existence; the river is the diligent practice of generosity.

5. Finally, there are two types of gifts: the gift of Māra and the gift of Buddha. Māra’s gift is accompanied by fetters (saṃyojana), theft (haraṇa), sadness (daurmanasya), confusion (upāyāsa) and fear (bhīma); it is called “this shore”. Buddha’s gift is pure generosity (viśuddhadāna), free of fetters and objects of fear, leading to Buddhahood; it is called “the other shore” and it constitutes the Paramitā.


* * *

Question. – But arhats and pratyekabuddhas also reach the other shore. Why do we not speak of the Pāramitās [in their regard]?

Answer. – The arhats and pratyekabuddhas reach the other shore just like the Buddha reached the other shore; but, although the words are the same, the reality is different. The shore [that they leave] is saṃsāra; the shore [that they reach] is nirvāṇa; however, they do not reach the other shore of generosity [like the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas]. Why? Because they are not able to give everything (sarva) at all times (sarvatra) in every way (sarveṇa). Even supposing they do give, they are not motivated by the great mind [of Bodhi]. Practicing generosity, sometimes with a neutral mind (avyākṛtacitta), sometimes with a good but impure mind (sāsravakuśalacitta), sometimes with a pure mind that lacks compassion (anāsravacitta mahākaruṇārahita), they are unable to “give for all beings”. But when the bodhisattvas give, they know that the gift has no birth (anutpanna), does not perish (aniruddha), is free of stains (anāsrava), is unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) and like nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasama), and they know they are giving for all beings. This is what is called dānapāramitā.

Others call dānapāramitā the fact of dedicating all wealth, all inner and outer goods to generosity, without seeking for reward (phalavipāka).

Finally, the fact of being inexhaustible (akṣayatva) constitutes dānapāramitā. Why? When one knows that the thing given (deyadravya) is absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya), like nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasama), and in this spirit, one gives alms to beings, the reward of generosity (dānavipāka) is called dānapāramitā. Just as a sage (ṛṣi) having the five supernatural powers (abhijñā) hides a precious object in the rock and, to preserve it, he crushes diamond and coats it so as to make it indestructible, so the bodhisattva coats his generosity with the wisdom of the true nature of nirvāṇa so as to make it inexhaustible. Moreover, the bodhisattva gives for all beings and as the number of beings is inexhaustible, his gift also is inexhaustible. Finally, the bodhisattva gives in order to acquire] the attributes of Buddha and, as these attributes are immense (apramāna) and infinite (ananta), his gift too is immense and infinite.

This is why, although the arhats and pratyekabuddhas reach the other shore [of nirvāṇa], it cannot be said that they have reached the other shore [of generosity].

Footnotes and references:


For the etymology of the word pāramitā, see Kośa, IV, p. 231; Madh. avatāra, p. 30 (tr. LAV., Muséon, 1907, p. 277); Saṃdhinirmocana, IX, §13; Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi. XVI, 15; Saṃgraha, p. 186; Abhidharmasamuccayavyākhyā, T 1606, k. 11, p. 748a; Siddhi, p. 628.


The story of the downfall of Śāriputra, who abandoned the Greater Vehicle to return to the Lesser Vehicle, is repeated in King liu yi siang, T 2121, k. 14, p. 69b.


On the sixteen kalpas of Śāriputra’s career, cf. P’i p’o cha, T 1545, k. 71, p. 366c; k. 101, p. 525b.


For this expression, see above, Traité, I, p. 212–215F.


Cf. Traité, I, p. 423F, n.1.

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