Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “various kinds of morality” 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 2 - Various kinds of morality

By means of lower morality (hīnaśīla), one is reborn among humans (manuṣya); by middling morality (madhyaśīla), one is reborn among the six classes of gods of the desire realm (kāmadhātudeva); by superior (praṇītaśīla) morality, one courses through the four dhyānas and the four absorptions of emptiness (śūnyasamāpatti) and one is reborn among the pure gods (śuddhāvāsadeva) of the form realm (rūpadhātu) and the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu).

Superior morality (praṇītaśīla) is of three kinds: 1) as a result of lesser pure morality (hīnapariśuddhaśīla), one becomes arhat; 2) by medium pure morality (madhyapariśuddhaśīla), one becomes pratyekabuddha; 3) by higher pure morality (praṇitapariśuddhaśīla), one obtains buddhahood. Detachment (asaṅga), disinterestedness (aniśraya), absence of transgression (abhedana) and absence of defect (avaikalya), so lauded by the holy men (ārya) [in the cultivation of morality], constitute the superior pure morality.[1] If one has loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā), if one wants to save beings and if one understands the true nature (satyalakṣaṇa) of the precepts, the mind is completely disinterested (nirāsaṅga): observing the precepts in these conditions is going directly to buddhahood: this is what is called the morality that realizes the unsurpassed state of the Buddhas.

Notes on the different degrees of morality:

The Visuddhimagga, p. 13, has an entire paragraph on the various degrees of morality. “Lower” is the morality based on a mediocre enthusiasm (chanda), intention (citta), energy (viriya) or insight (vīmaṃsā); the morality that pursues a goal of fame (yasakāmatā); the morality that is aimed at exalting oneself and putting down someone else (attukkaṃsana-paravambhana); the morality that results from the desire for profit or wealth (bhavabhoga). – “Middling” is the morality that seeks to gather reward for good actions (puññaphalakāmatā), worldly (lokiya) morality, the morality that is aimed at individual liberation (attano vimokkha). – “Superior” is the morality that results from the spirit of duty and holiness (kattabbam ev ‘idan ti ariyabhāva); supramundane (lokuttara) morality, morality that aims to assure the salvation of all (sabbasattvavimokkha).

These three moralities are rewarded differently in the human world and in the heavenly realms described above: cf. Traité, I, p. 517F, 605–607F.

Footnotes and references:


The Greater Vehicle insists above all on the altruistic nature of morality. See Hôbôgirin, Bosatsukai, p. 142.