Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “nature of abstention from killing” 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 5 - The nature of abstention from killing

This abstention from killing is neither mind (citta), nor mental event (caitta), nor associated with mind (cittasaṃprayukta); sometimes it arises with the mind (cittasahaja), sometimes it does not arise with the mind. In the Kātyāyanīputra Abhidharma, it is said that abstention from killing is a bodily or vocal action (kāyavākkarman), sometimes with derived matter (upādāyarūpa), sometimes without derived matter; sometimes concomitant with mind (cittānuvartin), sometimes non-concomitant with mind. It is not the reward (vipāka) of actions carried out in previous existences (pūrvajanmakarman). It is of two kinds, i.e., practice (bhāvanā) or intended to be practiced (bhāvitavya), and realization (sākṣātkāra) or intended to be realized (sākṣātkartavya) …

[The moral discipline] of ordinary people (bāla) and the āryas is a material dharma (rūpadharma), sometimes visible (sanidarśana), sometimes invisible (anidarśana); sometimes offering resistance (sapratigha), sometimes non-resistant (apratigha); it is a dharma that involves retribution (savipāka) and involves fruit (saphala); it is a defiled (sāsrava) conditioned (saṃskṛta) dharma which has others beneath it (sottara); it is not an associated cause (saṃprayuktakahetu). These are the categories that constitute the morality of abstention from murder.

Question. – In the Noble eightfold Path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga), morality (śīla) also consists of the banning of the killing of living beings.[1] Why do you speak only of the morality of abstention from murder which involves retribution (vipāka) and defilement (āsrava)?

Answer. – Here we are speaking only of the discipline of the morality of pledge (samādānaśīlasaṃvara); we are not speaking of the discipline of pure morality.

Moreover, in the other Abhidharmas, it is said that abstention from murder does not always follow mind and is not [always] a physical or vocal action (kāyavākkarman); not being concomitant with mental action (cetaḥkarmānuvartin), sometimes it involves retribution (vipāka), sometimes it does not involve retribution; not being associated with mind (cittasaṃprayukta), sometimes it is impure (sāsrava), sometimes it is pure (anāsrava). These are its distinctive attributes; and it is the same for the other [abstentions].

Finally, some say that the Buddha and the saints (ārya) avoid all futile disputation (prapañca) on the dharmas. It is obvious that each being in particular [155b] [tries to] preserve its own life; also, the Buddha said that another’s life must not be taken and that if one takes it, one will undergo all the sufferings (duḥkha) from one lifetime to the next. As for the existence or non-existence of beings, that will be discussed later.

Footnotes and references:


The eightfold Buddhist Path, by prescribing right speech (samyakvāc), right action (samyakkarmānta) and right means of livelihood (samyagājīva) in articles 3, 4 and 5, forbids by that very fact the sins of body (murder, theft and lust) and the sins of speech (falsehood, slander, harsh speech and idle gossip). But we have seen above that the morality arising from the Path constitutes pure discipline (anāsravasaṃvara) and consequently transcends the mechanism of retribution: it leads directly to nirvāṇa.