Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “benefits 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 3 - Benefits of morality

The person who wants great benefits must keep the precepts firmly as if he were guarding a precious treasure (kośa) or defending his life (kāyajīvita). Why? Just as everything (sakaladravya) on this great earth (mahāpṛthivi ) that has form subsists by being supported (āśritya) by the great earth, so morality is the seat (āspada, adhiṣṭhāna) of all good dharmas (kuśaladharma). Just as it would be futile to try to walk without feet, fly without wings or make a crossing without a boat, so it is futile to want to obtain the good fruits [of the Path] without morality.

The person who has rejected morality, even if he is an ascetic[1] in the mountains (parvatatapasvin), eating fruits (phala) and grasses (ośadhi),[2] is no different from the animals (tiryagyoni).[3] Some men have as their rule of conduct the custom of swallowing [153c] nothing but water (udaka), milk (kṣīra) or air (dhūma);[4] they cut their hair, wear it long or keep only a little bit of hair on their head; they wear the yellow robes (kāṣāya) [of the Buddhists] or the white robes (śvetāmbara) [of the Jains], wear a garment of grass (kuśacīvara) or of tree bark (valkalacīvara);[5] in winter (hemantu), they go in the water; in summer (grīṣma), they roast themselves at the fire;[6] they throw themselves over cliffs; they wash in the Ganges; they bathe three times per day;[7] they make repeated offerings to the fire (agniparicarya);[8] with many sacrifices (yajña) and magical formulas (mantra), they carry out ascetical practices (duṣkacarya). But because they have no morality [all these efforts] are vain and futile. – Other people, living in great palaces or great houses (gṛha), wearing fine clothes and eating exquisite food but capable of exercising morality, succeed in being born in a good place and win the fruits of the Path (mārgaphala). Whether one is noble (pranita) or lowly (hīna), small (hrasva) or great (mahat), provided that one observes pure morality, one always obtains great benefits. But if one violates morality, neither wealth nor humbleness, neither greatness nor smallness, will allow one be reborn at will (yathākāmam) in the blessed abodes (sukhavihāra).

Furthermore, the immoral (duḥśīla) man is like a clear pool (prasannataḍāga) filled with venomous snakes (āsiviṣa): one does not bathe there. He is like a tree bearing beautiful flowers (puṣpa) and fine fruits but full of cruel thorns (kaṇtaka). Although born into a noble family (uccaiḥkula), with fine body (abhirūpakāya), learned (paribhāvita) and wise (bahuśruta), the man who does not conform to morality does not know the loving-kindness and compassionate mind (maitrīkaruṇācitta) [of the saint]. As a stanza says:

Nobility without knowledge (jñāna) is a failure;
Knowledge increased by pride (abhimāna) is a failure also;
The person who has taken the precepts but who violates them
Is bound for complete failure here and in the beyond.

Despite his poverty or lower rank, the person who observes morality is superior to wealthy people and noblemen who live in immorality.

The perfume of flowers (puṣpagandha) and of the Tagara does not spread very far; the perfume of discipline spreads throughout the ten directions. (see Appendix 1)

The moral person (śīlavat) is full of happiness (sukha); he is famed (kīrtiśabda) far and wide; he is esteemed by gods and men; in the present lifetime he obtains all kinds of happiness and, if he wants to find wealth, nobility and long life (dīrghāyus) among gods and men, he finds it easily. When morality is pure, one finds everything one wishes.

Moreover, the moral man who sees the immoral man struggling with all kinds of problems – punishments, imprisonment, searches, despoliation – and who knows himself to be sheltered from such troubles, experiences great joy (muditā) thereby. On the other hand, seeing the good person (satpuruṣa) obtain fame (kīrti), glory (yaśas) and happiness (sukha), he says to himself: “If he can obtain fame, I also can have some.”

At the end of his life (jīvitparyavasāna), when the knife (śāstra) and wind (vāyu) dissolve the body (kāya) and the veins (sirā) are broken,[9] the moral man has awareness of the purity of his discipline (śīlaviśuddhi) and his mind is without fear (bhaya). Thus a stanza says:

In great sickness (vyādhi), discipline is a remedy (bhaiṣajya);
In great terror (bhīṣaṇa), it is a guardian (pāla);
In the darkness of death (maraṇa), it is a lamp (pradīpa);
In evil rebirths (durgati), it is the girder of a bridge;
In the ocean of death (maraṇasamudra), it is a great ship (nau).

[154a] Furthermore, In the present lifetime (ihajanman), the moral man will receive people’s homage (pūjana); his mind (citta) will be joyful and without worry (avipratisāra); he will never lack clothing (cīvara) and food (āhāra); after death he will be reborn among the gods and will then attain buddhahood. There is nothing that the moral man will not obtain; as for the immoral man, he loses everything.

[The Vase of miracles].

It is the same for the moral man: he has at his disposal marvelous pleasures and there is no wish (praṇidhi) that he does not realize; but if he violates the precepts, his pride puffs up, he becomes licentious and is like the man who broke his vase and lost all his treasures.

Moreover, the perfume of glory (yaśogandha) of the moral man, here (ihatra) and in the hereafter (paratra), extends everywhere (samantāt) in the heavens and among men.

Moreover, the moral man is pleased with generosity (dāna) and is unsparing of his riches (vasu); even though he does not follow after ordinary interests (laukikārtha), he lacks nothing; he is reborn among the gods; in the presence of the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadigbuddha), he enters the path of the Threefold Vehicle (yānatraya) and attains liberation (vimokṣa). Many wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) disappear after taking the precepts.

Furthermore, without going forth from the world (pravrajita), the person who observes the rules of discipline will also be reborn among the gods. The person whose discipline (śīla) is pure (pariśuddha) and who practices meditative stabilization (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā) seeks to free himself from the misfortunes of old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa): he will necessarily realize this wish (praṇidhāna).[10]

Even though the moral man has no weapons (āyudha), wicked people do not attack him. Morality is a treasure (vitta) that cannot be lost; it is a parent (jñāti) who does not abandon you even after death; it is an adornment (ālaṃkāra) that surpasses the seven jewels (saptaratna). This is why morality must be guarded as if one were defending the life of the body (kāyajīvita) or as if one were watching over a precious object. The immoral man endures ten thousand sufferings; he is like the poor man who broke his vase and lost his wealth, This is why pure discipline must be observed.

Footnotes and references:


In this passage the Mppś is arguing against the views of certain brāhmaṇas and śramaṇas (mainly the Nirgranthas and the Ājīvikas) who, denying the precepts of the moral law, believe that purity consists only of purely external practices, such as food, hair-dress, clothing, ascetic practices or ritual actions. Before his conversion, the Buddha himself had participated in this training and practiced – without success – the external mortifications. He soon determined that these austerities did not lead to “the supramundane qualities of the noble knowledge of noble vision” (nājjhagamaṃ uttariṃ manussadhammā alamariyañaṇadassana-visesaṃ) and he condemned them later in many sūtras: cf. Dīgha, I, p. 168 seq.’ Majjhima, I, p. 77 seq., 238, 342; II, p. 161; Tch’ang a han, T 1, no. 25, k. 16, p. 103; Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 23, p. 670c–672a; Lalita, p. 248–250 (tr. Foucaux, p. 214–216).

Without listing all the ascetic practices condemned by the Buddha in the texts cited, the Mppś limits itself to mentioning the most characteristic.


Dīgha, I, p. 166: “He eats vegetables (sāka), wild rice (sāmāka), nīvāra seeds, peelings (daddula), the water plant called ‘haṭa’, the fine powder adhering to seeds of rice inside the spike (kaṇa), the scum from boiled rice (ācāma), the starch of oily seeds (piññāka), grass (tiṇa), cow manure (gomaya), forest roots and fruits (vanamālaphala), windfalls (pavattaphala).”


This passage is to be taken literally because according to the Majjhima,I, p. 387 and the Lalita, p. 248, certain ascetics vowed (vrata) to live like cows, gazelles, dogs, wild bears, monkeys or elephants.


Lalita, p. 249: They drink hot water (uṣṇodaka), rice water (taṇudulodaka), filtered through felt (parisrāvitakāmbalika), boiled in a cauldron (sthālīpānīya)…; they drink milk (pāyasa), curds (dadhi), better (sarpiḥ)…; they drink smoke (dhāmapāna).


Lalita, p. 249: They have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven or more garments; they remain naked…; they wear their hair long, braided and piled up in a crest…; they smear their bodies with dust, feces, mud; they wear animal skins, human skulls, hair, claws, a lower garment made only of bones… they wear ashes, colored marks, reddish garments, tridents; they shave their heads, etc.


By practicing the pañcatapas or the austerity of the five fires: cf. Tseng yi a han, T 125, p. 671b; Lalita, p. 249; Sūtrālaṃkāra, tr. Huber, p. 48.


A practice known as udakorchana that consists of bathing three times a day; cf. Dīgha, I, p. 167; Saṃyutta, I, p. 182; Aṅguttara, i, p. 296. The Udakorahakas form a class of ascetics: Majjhima, I,p. 281; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 312; Aṅguttara, V, p. 263.


On the brāhmanical cult of Fire, see Majjhima, I, p. 32; Aṅguttara, V, p. 263; Dhammapadaṭṭha, II, p. 232.


The end of a cosmic age (kalpanirgama) is marked by three scourges: the knife (śāstra), sickness (roga) and famine (durbhikṣa): cf. Aṅguttara, I, p. 159; Dīgha, III, p. 70 (which mentions only the first scourge); Kośa, III, p. 207. – The disappearance (saṃvartana) of the world is caused by fire (agni), water (ambu) and wind (vayu): cf. Kośa, III, p. 184, n. 4; 187, n. 4; 209–210.


Morality, under various titles, is profitable to the lay person and to the monastic: the lay person who aspires to heaven (svarga) is reborn among the gods; the monastic who practices the Path in its three essential elements, śīla (discipline), samādhi (meditative stabilization) and prajñā (wisdom) will escape from old age, sickness and death and will attain nirvāṇa.

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