Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “why abstention from murder is sometimes neutral” 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 - Why abstention from murder is sometimes neutral

Quesion. – In the Abhidharma it is said that every moral discipline (sarvaśīlasaṃvara) is good (kuśala): why is it said here that it is [sometimes] neutral (avyākṛta)?

Answer. – It is in the Kātyāyanīputra Abhidharma that it is said that it is always good; but in the other Abhidharmas, it is said that abstention from murder is sometimes good, sometimes neutral. Why? If abstention from murder is always good, the person who abstains from killing would be like a practitioner of the Buddhist path (labdhamārgapuruṣa) and would never fall into the bad destinies (durgati). This is why there can be the case where abstaining from murder is neutral; being neutral, it does not involve any fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) and therefore does not lead to rebirth among the gods (deva) or men (manuṣya).

Question. – One does not fall into the hells because the morality of abstention is neutral, but rather because there had been, in addition, the production of an evil mind (duṣṭacittotpāda). [155a]

Answer. – 1) Abstention from murder produces an undefined merit (apramāṇakuśala) because, whether there is action (kriya) or abstention (kriya), a merit (puṇya) always results. If one commits a slight error (kṣudrāpatti), [the resulting demerit] will be quite limited (saparyanta) and quite definite (sapramāṇa). Why? Because [the demerit] is proportional to a determinate [fault] and not to an indeterminate fault. This is why we know that abstention from murder is sometimes neutral.

2) Moreover, there are people who pledge to observe the precepts and who limit themselves to formulating mentally (cittena) a personal oath, saying: “From today on, I will no longer kill living beings.” Such an abstention is sometimes neutral (avyakṛta).

Notes on the neutrality of murder:

If I [Lamotte] correctly understand the problem studied here, three cases should be distinguished:

a. Pure and simple abstention from murder, not inspired by any elevated motivation, has no moral value; it is neither good nor bad, but neutral (avyākṛta).

b. The abstention from murder that comes from a resolution, from a formal pledge (samādāna) but which is tainted by a wrong notion, is not capable of directly and absolutely opposing sin. Thus, infidels (bāhya) can possess the morality of pledge, but as they remain in the false view of existence (bhavasaṃniśrita), they are incapable of rejecting, of absolving from sin. Therefore it is not really good. Cf. Kośa, IV, p. 48–50.

c. The abstention from murder to which the Buddhists pledge themselves by the Prātimokṣa directly counteracts sin and merits being qualified as good (kuśala).