Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “required conditions for murder” 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 - Required conditions for murder

What is sin (pāpa, akuśala)? If there is really a living (prāṇa) being, if one knows that there is a living being, if one makes the decision to kill it, and if one takes its life (jīvita), one is committing a physical act (kāyakarman) consisting of derived matter (upādāyarūpa)[1] which is called murder (prāṇātāpatti). All the rest, such as being put under arrest (bandhana nirodha) and flogging (kaśaprahāra) [that accompany killing] are auxiliaries of murder.

Moreover, to commit murder, it is necessary to kill another person (paropaghāta); to kill oneself (ātmopaghāta) is not murder.

For there to be murder, it is necessary to kill that which one thinks is a living (prāṇa) being. If in the dark, one takes a man to be a tree-stump and one kills him [believing him to be a tree-stump], the destruction of this living being is not murder. This is not unreasonable because in order for there to be murder, it is necessary to kill in full awareness. Distraction (vikṣepa) or error (moha) exclude guilt.

For there to be murder, it is necessary that the vital organ (jīvitendriya)[2] [of the victim] be cut. The bodily action that inflicts only a wound (vraṇa) is not murder; a word of command alone, an encouragement alone [to kill] is not murder; the resolve [to kill] alone is not murder.

These are the [conditions] for there to be murder. Abstaining from this sin is called morality (śīla).

Notes on the five conditions of murder:

According to traditional Buddhism, five conditions must be present for there to be murder. These are explained in the Daśakuśalakarmapathāḥ, attributed by the Kanjur (Mdo, XXXIII, 39 and XCIV, 23) to Aśvaghoṣa, found in a Nepalese manuscript published by S. Lévi, Autour d’Aśvaghoṣa, JA, Oct-Dec. 1929, p. 268–269:

Tatra kathaṃ prāṇātipātī bhavati, prāṇī ca bhavati, prāṇasaṃjñī ca bhavati, vādhakacittaṃ ca bhavati, upakramaṃ ca karoti, jīvitādvyavaropayati: etāḥ pañca [saṃbhārāḥ] prāṇāpāte: “How is one a murderer? There is a living being, one knows that there is a living being, one has the intention to kill, one proceeds to attack, one deprives it of life: these are the five things needed for there to be murder.”

This teaching is repeated and completed by Buddhaghosa in Sumaṅgala, I, p. 69–70; Atthasālinī, p. 97 (tr. Tin, Expositor, I, p. 129): Tassa pañca sambhārā honti: pāṇo, pāṇasaññitā, vadhakacittaṃ, upakkamo, tena maraṇan ti. Cha payogā: sāhatthiko, ānattiko, nissaggiko, thāvaro, vijjāmayo, iddhimayo ti: “Five things are necessary for murder: a living being, the awareness that a sentient being is there, the intention to kill, attack and the death that results. There are six ways of realizing it: with one’s own hand, by instigation, by weapons, by stratagem, by trickery or by supernatural means.” See also Kośa, IV, p. 153; Tibetan Karmaprajñapti, Mdo 62, chap. XI; Hardy, Manual, p. 461; Bigandet, Gaudama, p. 417.

Footnotes and references:


On the nature of this bodily vijñapti, matter derived from the great elements, see Kośa, IV, p. 4; Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa, p. 64–68.


Murder assumes the destruction essentially of the vital organ (jīvitendriya), which has been discussed in Kośa, II, p. 105, 123; IV, p. 154.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: