Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of illicit love (kamamithyacara)” 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 - Definition of illicit love (kāmamithyācāra)

“Illicit practice of sexual activity” (kāmamithyācāra):

1) If a woman (strī) is under the protection of a father (pitṛrakṣitā), a mother (mātṛ-), a brother (bhrātṛ-), a sister (bhaginī-), a husband (pati-) or a son (putrarakṣitā), or under the protection of the people’s laws (lokadharma) or the king’s laws (rājadharma) and one has intercourse with her, that is illicit sexual activity.

Even if a woman has no protector, the law holds her under protection. Who are the women protected by law? All women who have gone forth from the world (pravrajitastrī) and those who, still staying at home (gṛhasthā) have taken the “morality of a day and night” (rātridivasaśīla)[1] are protected by law.

[It does not matter whether one has intercourse with them] by force (bala), by means of a gift of money (dhana) or by deception (vañcana).

2) If one has intercourse with one’s own wife (kalatra) when she has taken a vow (samādānaśīla), is pregnant (garbhiṇī) or is nursing a child (pāyayanti) – or in a forbidden way (amārga) – that is the illicit practice of sexual activity.

Intercourse with these women, including courtesans (gaṇikā, veśyā) crowned with a flower garland (mālāguṇaparikṣipta)[2] as a sign of being betrothed, is called the practice of illicit sexual activity. Not to do any of that is kāmamithyācāravirati.

Question. – If a woman is under the protection of a man (puruṣakṣitā) and the man is angry, if she is under the protection of the law (dharmarakṣitā) and the law is violated, [all intercourse with her] merits the name of illicit sexual activity (kāmamithyācāra); but if it is her own husband (bhāryā, kalatra), what intercourse is illicit?

Answer. – 1) If she has been permitted to take the vow [of chastity] for one day, she falls under [the protection] of the law (dharma): even though being married previously, today she is not free (svatantra). But beyond the time of the vow, she is no longer protected by the law (dharmarakṣitā).

2) The pregnant wife (garbhiṇī bhāryā) has a heavy body and feels loathing for previous delights. Moreover, [conjugal intercourse] might injure the fetus.

3) When she is nursing a baby and one has intercourse with her, the mother’s milk (stanya) dries up. Moreover, if her mind is attached to sexual pleasures, the woman will not look after her child.[3]

4) By a forbidden manner (amārgasthāna) means anything that is not by way of the female organ (yoni).[4] The mind of the woman loathes [such practices] and to force her to such improprieties merits the name of illicit sexual practice. Avoiding all of that is called renunciation of illicit sexual practices (kāmamithyācāravirati).

Question. – But if the husband (pati) does not see, does not know, or does not deplore [the unfaithfulness of his wife], of what is the lover guilty?

Answer. – 1) It is as a result of a basic mischief (mityātva) that illicit sexual activity (kāmamithyācāra) is spoken of; this mischief is not gotten rid of [by the ignorance or the silence of the husband]; therefore there is a fault.

2) Moreover, it involves all kinds of guilt: the pleasure of the married couple is to be two bodies in one and the same flesh; to remove that which the other loves and destroy this deep feeling (maulacitta) is a crime.

Notes on the definition of illicit love:

See the canonical definition of illicit love in Majjhima, I, p. 286; III, p. 46, 54; Aṇguttara, V, p. 264; Tsa a han T 99, no. 1029, k. 37, p. 271b:

Kāmesu micchācārī kho pana hoti, yā tā māturakkhitā piturakkhitā mātāpiturakkhitā bhāturakkhitā bhaginirakkhitā ñātirakkhitā dhammarakkhitā sassāmikā saparidaṇḍā, antamaso mālāguṇaparikkhittā pi, tathārūpāsu cārittaṃ āpajjitā hoti:

“In love, there are illicit practices: intercourse with girls who are under the guardianship of a mother, a father, a mother and father, a brother, a sister or relatives, with girls who are under the protection of the law, already promised to a husband and protected by the ring, or even with maidens garlanded with flowers [of the betrothed].”

Later sources such as the Daśakuśalakarmapathā, JA Oct.-Dec., a929, p. 269; Kośa, IV, p. 157–158; the Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 76; Mahāvyutpatti, ch. 280; and in part, Samaṅgala, I, p. 72 and Atthasālinī, p. 98 (tr. Tin, Expositor, I, p. 130) consider as illicit:

a. Intercourse with a forbidden woman (agamyā):

– Kośa: Another’s wife, mother, daughter, paternal or maternal relative;

– Daśakuś.:

Sarvā parastrī, dharmadhvajā, gotrarakṣitā, gṛhītapaṇyā veśyā, krītisaṃbhadhinī:

“Another’s wife,she who has the banner of the law, who is protected by her clan, the courtesan whose hand has been promised, she who has been bought;”

– Mahāvyut., no. 9456–9463, continues the canonical list from pitṛrakṣitā up to mālāguṇaparikṣiptā;

Sumaṅgala and Atthasālini (l.c.) consider as illicit ten classes of unmarried women and ten classes of married women.

Intercourse with animals is included as illicit also along with intercourse with prohibited women; cf. Daśākuś., Śikṣasamuccaya, p. 76.

b. Intercourse with one’s own wife in a prohibited way (amārga, anaṅga):

i.e., anything that is not the yoni.

– Daśakuś.:

mukha, varcomārga, dārakadārikājaghanarandhra, hasta;

– Mahāvyut., no, 9226–9227:

praviṣṭaḥ sparśasvīkṛtau, prasrāvakaraṇe, prastāvakaraṇasya mukhe, varcomārge vā.

c. Intercourse in an inappropriate place (adeśa):

– Daśakuś,:


“In the dwelling of a bodhisattva, of a mother, father or a guru”:

– Kośa (l.c.); In an open place, a temple (caitya) an hermitage (araṇya).

d. Intercourse at an inappropriate time (akāla):

– Kośa:

“When the woman is pregnant, when she is nursing her baby, when she has taken the vow of an upavāsa.”

Footnotes and references:


This is the vow of one day and one night, or upvāsa, taken for tewnty-four hours, six days per month; see below, p. 826F.


Mālāguṇaparikṣiptā is an accepted expression: cf. Majjhima, I, p. 286; III, p. 46, 54; Aṅguttara, V, p. 264; Mahāvyutpatti, no. 9463: Tsa a han, T 99, k. 37, p. 271b24–25; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 113, p. 585b4. – According to the explanation of Buddhaghosa in Papañca, II, p. 113, p. 585b4, it is a woman on whom someone has thrown a simple garland in the idea that she will become his wife (esā mebhariyā bhavaissatī ti saññāya tassā upari kenaci mālāguṇaṃ khipantena mālāguṇamattenāpi parikkhaittā hoti).


Cf. Kośavyākhyā, p. 406: garbhiṇīgamane garbhoparodhaḥ. pāyayantistanyopobhogāvasthāputrikā strī; abrahmacaryakaraṇe hi tasyāḥ stanyaṃ kṣīyate, bālakasya vā puṣtaye tat stanyaṃ ca bhavati: “In intercourse with a pregnant woman, there is danger for the fetus. The woman who is nursing (pāyayantī or āpyayantī) is one who has a son taking his mother’s milk; if she gives herself up to pleasure, her milk will dry up or is not such as can nourish the child.”


See above, p. 799F, n. 1.

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