Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “perfection 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 perfection of generosity (dānaparipūri)?

Answer. – As we have said above, the bodhisattva practices all the generosities. Whether it is a matter of inner (ādhyātmika) goods or outer (bāhya) goods, great (mahat) or small (parītta), numerous (sambahula) or few (alpa), coarse (sthūla) or subtle (sūkṣma), valued (adhyavasita) or scorned (anadhyavasita), useful (arthika) or useless (apārthika), the bodhisattva abandons all of these. His mind is without regret (vipratisāra) and even (sama) towards all beings. He does not make considerations such as the following: “It is necessary to make large gifts, not small gifts; one should give to monastics (pravrajita) and not to lay people; one should give to humans (manuṣjya) and not to animals (tiryagoni).” He gives to all beings with [146a] perfect equanimity (samacittatā); he gives without seeking any reward (vipāka) and realizes the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of generosity. This is what is understood by perfection of generosity.

Furthermore, he keeps no count of time (kāla), day (ahar) or night (rātri), winter (hemanta) or summer (grīṣma), favorable or unfavorable moment; he gives equally at all time, and his heart feels no regret. He even goes so far as to giving up his head (śiras, his eyes (nayana), his marrow (majjā) and his skull (cf. Traité, I, p. 143F). This is the perfection of generosity.

Furthermore, some say: During the interval of time between the first production of the mind of Bodhi (prathamacittotpāda) up to the thirty-four minds under the Bodhi tree,[1] the generosity practiced by the bodhisattva is perfect generosity.

Furthermore, in the seventh bhūmi (saptamabhūmi),[2] the bodhisattva obtains the knowledge of the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of dharmas. From then on, he adorns (alaṃkaroti) the buddhafields (buddhakṣetra) converts (vinayati) beings, worships (pūjayati) the Buddhas and acquires great miraculous powers (mahābhijñā): he divides his own body into innumerable bodies and rains down the seven jewels (saptaratna), flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha), banners (patakā) and garlands (nicaya) from each of these bodies; he transforms himself into a great lamp (dipa), like Mount Sumeru and pays homage to the Buddhas and assemblies of bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Then in marvelous accents, he celebrates the qualities of the Buddhas in verse; he pays homage (vandana) to them, worships (pūja), respects (satkārā) and welcomes them (pratyudgamana).

He causes a rain of all kinds of food (āhāra) and clothing (vastra) to fall on innumerable lands of the hungry ghosts (pretaviṣaya) of the ten directions, enough to fill them fully. Having been filled to satisfaction (tṛpti), all the pretas produce the mind of supreme and perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi).

Then he goes to the animal realm (tiryagyoni); he commands the animals to improve themselves and to cast aside all feelings of mutual hostility; he chases away their fears (bhaya) and each is gratified according to their needs. Having obtained satisfaction, all the animals produce the mind of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

Among the damned (naraka) plunged in the immense torments of the hells, he causes the extinction of the hell fires and the cooling of the boiling water. When their punishment has ceased and their hearts are healed, the damned feel neither hunger (bubhukṣā) nor thirst (pipāsa); they obtain rebirth among the god or humans and that is why they produce the mind of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

To the poor people (daridra) of the ten directions, the bodhisattva gives good fortune; as for the rich (dhanya), he rejoices them by satisfying them with various flavors (rasa) and colors (rūpa); this is why they all produce the mind of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

The bodhisattva goes to the gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātudeva) and makes them renounce their heavenly sense pleasures (kāmasukha); he rejoices them by giving them this wondrous jewel that is the bliss of the Dharma (dharmasukha); this is why they all produced the mind of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

Finally, he goes to the gods of the form realm (rūpadhātudeva) and destroys their attachment to pleasure of meditative concentration (samādhisukhāsvadana); he rejoices them by means of the dhyānas appropriate to bodhisattvas. This is why these gods produce the mind of anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi.

This [activity] which is continued until the tenth bhūmi (daśamabhūmi) is called the perfection of the virtue of generosity (dānapāramitāpūri).

Furthermore, the bodhisattva has two kinds of bodies (kāya): 1) a body born from bonds and actions (bandhanakarmajakāya) and 2) a body of the Dharma (dharmakāya). (see Appendix 1) The perfection of the virtue of generosity that he practices in these [146b] two bodies is called paripūrṇadānapāramitā.

Question. – What is meant by virtue of generosity belonging to the body born of bonds and actions?

Answer. – Without having attained the Dharmakāya and without having broken his fetters (kṣīnasaṃyojana), the bodhisattva is able to give all his precious goods (ratnadravya) unreservedly, his head (śiras), his eyes (nayana), his marrow (majja), his skull (mastaka), his kingdom (rājya), his wealth (dhana), his wife (dāra), his children (putra), his internal (ādhyātmika) or external (bāhya) possessions, without his mind feeling emotions.




Question. – How does the Dharmakāya bodhisattva practice the perfection of generosity?

Answer. – Having reached the end of the fleshly body (māṃsakāya), the bodhisattva attains the acquiescence of the teaching of the non-production of things (anutpattikadharmakṣanti); he abandons his fleshly body and acquires the body of the Dharma (dharmakāya). In the six realms (ṣaḍgati) of the ten directions, he converts beings by means of emanated bodies (nirmāṇakāya) and avatars (avatāra); he gives all kinds of pearls and jewels (maṇiratna), clothing (vastra) and food to all; he gives his head (śīras), his eyes (nayana), his marrow (majjā), his skull (mastaka), his kingdom (rājya), his wealth (dhanā), his wife (dāra), his children (putra), his inner (ādhyātmika) and outer (bāhya) possessions unreservedly.


[Tittiriyaṃ brahmacariyaṃ]

Finally, in the space of a moment, the Dharmakāya Bodhisattva transforms himself (pariṇamate) into innumerable bodies (asaṃkhyeyakāya) and pays homage (pūjayati) to the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha); in one moment, he can create immense riches (apramāṇadhana) and give them to beings; in the space of one moment, he can preach the Dharma to all in harmony with high, medium or low tones (agramadhyāvaraśabda); and the Bodhisattva follows these practices until he sits under the Bodhi tree (bodhivṛkṣa). It is by means of these kinds of practices that the Dharmakāya Bodhisattva practices the perfection of the virtue of generosity (dānapāramitāparipūri).

Furthermore, there are three kinds of generosity: 1) material generosity (dravyadāna), 2) the generosity of homage and respect (pūjāsatkāradāna); 3) the generosity of the Dharma (dharmadāna). What is material generosity? Material [147a] generosity consists of giving unreservedly all the inner (ādhyatmika) and outer (bāhya) goods that one possesses, such as precious stones and jewels (maṇiratna), clothing (vastra), food (āhāra), head (śiras), eyes (nayana), marrow (majjā) and skull (mastaka). – The generosity of respect consists of shows of respect (satkāra) and veneration (vandana) inspired by pure faith (prasādacittaviśuddhi): to accompany (parivāra) someone, to go to meet them (pratyutdgamana), to load them with praise (varṇana), to pay homage to them (pūjana) and other things of this type. – The generosity of the Dharma, having as object the beauty of the Path (mārga), consists of instructing (uddeśa), teaching (upadeśa), explaining (bhāṣaṇa), discoursing (lapana), removing hesitations (vicikitsāniḥsaraṇa), replying to questions (praśnavyākaraṇa) and telling people about the five precepts (pañcaśīla): all these instructions given with the view of Buddhahood are called generosity of the Dharma. The perfection of these three kinds of generosity is called the perfection of the virtue of generosity.

Furthermore, three causes and conditions give rise to generosity: 1) the purity of the mind of faith (prasādacittaviśuddhi); 2) the material object (āmiṣadravya); 3) the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra).[3]

a. There are three kinds of minds: compassion (karuṇā), respect (satkāra), and respect joined with compassion. Giving to the poor (daridra), to the humble (hīna) and to animals (tiryagyoni) is a generosity inspired by compassion (karuṇādāna); to give to the Buddha and bodhisattvas is a generosity inspired by respect (satkāradāna); to give to the arhats and pratyekabuddhas, to the elderly (vṛddha), the sick (glāna), the poor (daridra) and the exhausted (ārta) is a generosity inspired by both respect and compassion.

b. The object given (deyadravya) is pure (viśuddha) when it is neither stolen, nor pilfered but given at the proper time (kāle), without seeking for renown (yaśas) or gain (labha).

c. The greatness of the merit (puṇya) obtained comes either from the mind (citta), or from the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) or from the value of the gift given:

It comes first from the mind when, for example, [the latter has] the fourfold evenness of mind (samatācitta) or the meditative stabilization of the recollection of the Buddha (buddhānusṛtisamādhi).[4] Thus, when the [Bodhisattva] gives his body to the tigress (vyāghri),[5] it is the mind that provides the greatness of his merit.

There are two kinds of fields of merit (puṇyakṣetra): 1) the pitiful field of merit (karuṇāpuṇyakṣetra), 2) the venerable field of merit (satkārapuṇyakṣetra). The pitiful field of merit provokes minds of compassion, whereas the venerable field of merit provokes minds of respect: this was the case for the king A chou k’ie (Aśoka), [“Without Care” in the language of Ts’in], when he gave to the Buddha the gift of earth (pāṃśupradāna).[6]

Finally, [the greatness of the merit] is derived from the object given. Thus the woman whose wine (madya) had disturbed her mind and who heedlessly gave her necklace made of the seven jewels (saptaratnamayakeyūra) to the stūpa of the buddha Kāśyapa, was reborn among the Trayastriṃśa gods by virtue of this merit. Gifts of this kind are called material gifts (dravyadāna).

Footnotes and references:


For these thirty-four minds, of which sixteen are darśanamārga and eighteen are bhāvanāmārga, see above, Traité, I, p. 434, n. 2.


For the conduct of the bodhisattva in the seventh bhūmi, called “Far-Gone” (dūraṃgamā bhūmi), see Daśabhūmikasūtra, p. 55–63 and Introduction by J. Rahder. Other references in Saṃgraha, p. 38–39.


In other words, three factors concur in the production of generosity: 1) the donor (dāyaka) who is inspired by motivations of compassion, respect or compassion joined with respect; 2) the thing given (deya) which may be more or less pure; 3) the recipient (pratigrāhaka), here called “field of merit” because it is in him that the donor plants merit; this recipient provokes the gift either by inspiring compassion due to his misfortune, or by inspiring respect by his moral qualities.


Above, I, p. 325–327) the Treatise has defined the evenness of mind and the recollection of the Buddhas (I, p. 409–415).


For the “gift of the body” to the famished tigress, see the references in Treatise, I, p. 143, n. 1.


One day, the Buddha was walking with Ānanda in the streets of Rājagṛha. In passing, they saw two little boys, Jaya and Vijaya, who were at play, building a city of earth, making houses and granaries and making the grain which they put into the granaries with earth. The two children, seeing the Buddha, were filled with joy. Then Jaya, taking from the granary the earth which he called grain, he respectfully offered it to the Buddha, while Vijaya, with palms joined, agreed with his friend. Having given alms with the earth, young Jaya, made the vow of having the power in the future to protect the entire universe under his royal umbrella, to recite gāthās and to make offerings. The Buddha accepted the handful of earth which the little boy offered him and began to smile. He explained to Ānanda who asked for the reason for the smile: “A hundred years after my Nirvāṇa, this little boy will be a holy cakravartin king, master of one of the four continents. In the city of Kusumapara (Pātaliputra), he will be a king of the true Dharma with the name of Aśoka. Having divided up my relics, he will build 84,000 precious stūpas for the benefit and prosperity of beings.”

This anecdote, known under the name of the gift of the earth (pāṃśupradānāvadana) is told in Divyāvadana, p. 364–382; Tsa a han, T 99, no. 604, k. 23, p. 161b–165b; A yu wang tchouan, T 2042, k. 1, p. 131b–135b; Hien yu king, T 202 (no. 17), k. 3, p. 368c–369a. – Iconography: Foucher, Art Gréco-bouddhique, I, p. 517; fig. 255, 256; Longhurst, Nāgārjunakoṇḍa, p. 37; pl. 35b.

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