Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “four levels of the lay person’s discipline” 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 2.6 - The four levels of the lay person’s discipline

[160c] These two kinds of disciplines, [pañcaśīla of the upāsaka and ahṭāṅgaśīla of the upavāsastha], make up the rules (dharma) for upāsakas living at home (gṛhastha). The morality of the householder is of four kinds: lower (avara), middling (madhya), higher (agra) or absolutely highest (atyagra):

1) The lower person observes morality in order to enjoy the present lifetime, out of fear for his reputation or his renown, by domestic discipline, to adapt himself to the opinions of another, to avoid subordinate employment, or to escape from difficulties. The lower person observes morality for all of these reasons.

2) The middling person observes morality to enjoy wealth and nobility, happiness and power among men. Or else, in the hope of future happiness (paratrasukha) he tames himself and attempts mortification to get a considerable result in a short time. In this state of mind (manasikāra), he observes discipline strictly. Just as a voyage to distant regions is worth considerable profit to a merchant, so the merit of morality assures the enjoyment of future happiness to a man.

3) The superior man observes morality in order to reach nirvāṇa, to know the universal impermanence (anityatā) of all dharmas, to escape from suffering and to enjoy the unconditioned (asaṃskṛta) eternally. Besides, the moral man has no regret; having no regret, he acquires joy (muditā); having joy, he acquires one-pojntedness of mind (ekacitta); having one-pointedness of mind, he acquires true knowledge (satyajñāna); having true knowledge, he experiences revulsion (nirvedacitta) [for the world]; feeling this revulsion, he acquires renunciation (vairāgya); having renunciation, he acquires deliverance (vimokṣa); having deliverance, he reaches nirvāṇa: thus morality is the root of all good dharmas (sarvakuśaladharmamūla). Finally, morality is the gateway (āyatana) of entry into the eightfold Buddhist path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga); by working with it, one necessarily arrives at nirvāṇa.

Question. – In [the list] of the eight branches of the Path, right speech (samyakvāk) and right action (samyakkarmānta) [which constitute morality or śīla] are placed in the middle [in 3rd and 4th place, respectively], whereas right vision (samyagdṛṣṭi) and right intention (samyaksaṃkalpa) [which constitute wisdom or prajñā] are placed first [1st and 2nd place, respectively]. Then why do you say that morality is the doorway of entry into the eightfold Buddhist Path?

Answer. – In the list [of the eight branches of the Path], the most important is put first, namely, right vision (samyagdṛṣṭi). Moreover, before undertaking the Path, it is first necessary to ‘see’. But in the order of things (dharmasaṃkrama), morality comes first. It is like when a house is being built: although the ridge-pole is the most important piece, one begins by taking the ground.

4) The absolutely superior person observes morality because he wants to reach Buddhahood out of his compassion (anukampa) for beings; because, knowing all dharmas, he is seeking their true nature (satyalakṣaṇa). He does not fear the unfortunate destinies (durgati) and does not seek happiness. The absolutely superior person practices morality for all these reasons.

In general (sāmānyataḥ), this fourfold discipline is called the morality of the upāsaka.