Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of discipline (shila)” 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 discipline (śīla)

Śāstra: Śīla (discipline), in the language of Ts’in, is called innate goodness (prakṛtikauśalya). Wholeheartedly following the good Path (kuśalamārga) without allowing any faults (pramada) is what is called śīla. Practicing the good (kuśala), whether one has taken the precepts (samādānaśīla)[1] or not, is called śīla.

In brief (samāsataḥ), the [ethical] discipline of body and speech (kāyavāksaṃvara) is of eight kinds: 1) abstaining from killing (prāṇātipātavirati), 2) from theft (adattādāna), 3) from forbidden love (kāmamithyācara), 4) from falsehood (mṛṣāvāda), 5) from slander (paiśunyavāda), 6) from harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda), 7) from idle gossip (saṃbhinnapralāpa), 8) from the use of liquor (madhyapāna); and to resort to pure ways of life (pariśuddhājīva):[2] these are the characteristics of discipline (śīlanimitta).[3]

To violate these precepts, to neglect them, is immorality (dauḥśīlya); the person who violates the precepts falls into the three bad destinies (durgati).

Notes on the definition of discipline:

Discipline (śīla) is the virtue that consists of abstaining (virati) from sin, wrong-doing. There are two kinds of discipline: general discipline, natural honesty which consists simply of avoiding sins, or, as the Chinese translate it, of “observing the precepts” (tch’e kii: 64 and 6, 62 and 3); pledged morality (samādānaśīla); in Chinese, cheou kiai: 29 and 6, 62 and 3), resulting from a previous vow: in Buddhism, it is encountered among the lay adherents (upāsakam upavāsatha) as well as in the monastics (śrāmaṇera and śrāmaṇerī, śikṣamāṇā, bhikṣuṇī and bhikṣu) who, when they take their vows or at ordination, formally pledge themselves to adopt certain rules of life (prātimokṣa). The Chinese characters cheou kiai (29 and 6, 62 and 3) give the Sanskrit expression samādānaśīla (pledged discipline), but they are also used to denote the monastic ordination (upasaṃpadā) conferred on monks after their “leaving the world” (Sanskrit, pravrajyā; Chinese, tch’ou kia: 17 and 3, 40 and 7). See above, p. 632F, n. 2.

This chapter is concerned only with general discipline, the pledged discipline being treated in detail in the following chapter. For the Lesser Vehicle śīla, consult the Pāli sources indicated in Rhys Davids-Stede, s.v. sīla, and mainly the detailed description in Paṭisaṃbhidā, Im p. 42–48, and the Visuddhimagga, I, p. 6–58 (tr. Nyanatiloka, I, p. 11–85). For the śīla of the Mahāyāna, refer to the texts studied in Hôbôgirin, Bosatsukai, p. 142 seq. as well as explanations in Madh. avatāra, p. 32–45 (tr. LAV., Muséon, 1907, p. 280–293), Bodh. bhūmi, p. 137–188; Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 69–72 (tr. Bendall-Rouse, p. 73–77); Bodhicaryāvatāra and Pañjikā, chap. V (tr. LAV., p. 30–48); Bodhisattvaprātimokṣasūtra (ed. N. Dutt, IHQ, VII, 1931, p. 259–286). – Works: L. de La Vallée Poussin, Le Vinaya et la pureté d’intention, BCLS, June 1929, p. 201–217; Morale bouddhique, p. 46; Opinions, p. 302, 334; Oltramare, Théosophie, p. 379; Dutt, Mahāyāna, p. 290.

Footnotes and references:


I.e., whether or not one has pledged to avoid sins.


General morality, simple innate honesty (prakṛitikauśalya) forbids to everyone the eight sins listed here and in Aṅguttara, IV, p. 247–248 (tr. Hale, Gradual Sayings, IV, p. 169) taken up again partially in the Sanskrit Karmavibhaṅga, p. 33. These eight precepts are repeated and developed in the various rules (prātimokṣa) of the “pledged discipline”. The Mppś thinks it proper to add, from now on, the moral pledge to resort exclusively to pure ways of life (pariśuddhājīva), i.e., to avoid dealing in arms, in living beings, in flesh, intoxicating drinks, poison, etc.


Cf. Aṅguttara, IV, p. 247, or Karmavibhaṅga, p. 33, where it is said that killing, etc., practiced and repeated, leads to hell, to an animal or hungry ghost rebirth (prāṇātipātaḥ sevito bahulīkṛto nirayasaṃvartanīyo bhavati, tiryagyonisaṃvartanīyo bhavati, pretaviṣayasaṃvartanīyo ’pi bhavati): those are the three “bad destinies”.