Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “benefits of renouncing theft” 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 - Benefits of renouncing theft

Question. – What are the benefits of not stealing?

Answer. – A man’s life (manuṣyajīvita) has two aspects, i) inner (ādhyātmika) and ii) outer (bāhya). To take his wealth (vasu) is to deprive him of his outer life (bāhyajīvita). Why? Because life is maintained thanks to (āśritya) to food (āhāra), clothing (vastra) bedding, etc.; to steal them or remove them from the person is to deprive him of his outer life. A stanza says:

All beings subsist
Thanks to clothing and food.
To take them away or to steal them
Is to deprive them of life.

This is why the wise man (jñānin) does not steal them. [156b]

2) Furthermore, the wise man says: By taking an object by theft and appropriating it, one will be able to live in abundance, but soon one must die and after death, one will fall into hell (niraya). Even if the family and relatives have enjoyed the larceny with you, one will be alone in suffering the punishment and one will be unable to avoid it.” With such thoughts on these matters, the wise man will be incapable of committing theft.

3) Furthermore, there are two ways of taking what has not been given (adattādāna): i) by larceny, ii) by pillage; the two together are called adattadāna. In regard to adattādāna, theft (steya) is more serious. Why? Because it is very vile (aśubha) to commit burglary (saṃdhicchedana) or to steal (steya) the wealth (dhana) which people need to live. Why? Because it is stealing from weak people (nirbala) who are threatened by death. Of all plundering, theft is the most serious. Thus a stanza says:

In time of famine (durbhikṣa), when the body is starved
And one is suffering great torment,
The wealth of others must remain untouchable
Like a great mass of blazing coals.

If one takes another’s wealth.
The owner weeps and mourns;
Even if he were the king of the gods
He would feel as much torment.

Although the fault of the murderer is serious, he is the enemy only of his victim; the thief, however, is the enemy of everyone who possesses something. Those who violate the other rules of morality can find people in other countries who would not find them guilty; the thief, on the other hand, is punished in every country.[1]

Question. – However, there are actually people who praise the heroism of brigands; then why not indulge in brigandage?

Answer. – Taking what has not been given is bad in itself (akuśalanimitta). Although brigandage has special (viśeṣa) characteristics, it itself is bad. It is like good food mixed with poison (viṣasaṃkīrṇa) and bad food mixed with poison; although the good food and the bad food are different, the poison mixed with them does not change. Or it is as if one were walking in fire, [sometimes] in the daytime (tejas) and [sometimes] in the dark (tamas); although day and night are different, one’s feet get burned in the same way.

But actually fools (bāla) are ignorant, in this life and the beyond (ihaparatra), of the retribution (vipāka) of merits (puṇya); lacking loving-kindness (maitricitta), when they see people using force to encroach upon one another and rob another’s wealth, they praise the violence. The Buddhas and the saints (ārya) who are full of love and compassion (karuṇā) for the entire world understand well that the misfortune of the three times (tryadhvaduḥkha) [which threatens thieves] is inevitable and there is nothing in brigandage to boast about. This is why we know that brigandage is bad; good people (satpuruṣa) and ascetics (yogin) do not indulge in it.

Footnotes and references:


The Hindus are impressed by the immorality of certain foreign customs: the Vibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 116, p. 605c17) mentions the existence in the West of Mleccha, called Mou kia (109; 162 and 5); in Sanskrit Maga, magi) who believe that “those who kill their decrepit father and mother and sick people obtain merit and not sin”…, “that there is no sin in having sexual intercourse with one’s mother, sisters and sisters-in law”. The Kośa, IV, p. 145, 147, and Kośavyākhyā, p. 394, blame the Pārasīka (Persians) with the same deviations. The Divyāvadāna, p. 257, confirms that in the frontier regions, it is a custom for the son to have sexual intercourse with his father’s wife: pratyateṣu janapadeṣu dharmataivaiṣā yām eva pitādhigacchati tām eva putro ’py adhigacchati. But, as the Mppś comments here, there is no country in which theft is not condemned.

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