Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “withstanding persecutors” 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 2.4 - Withstanding persecutors

How can one attain patience toward those who torment one?

It is necessary to say: “All beings commit faults that expose them to a punishment and they take vengeance one upon another. The torment that I undergo today has as its cause my previous conduct. Even though, in the course of the present lifetime (ihajanman) I have done nothing [that merits reprisals] still I m now expiating the wrong caused in my previous lifetimes (pūrvajanman). I [166c] am in the process of paying for it now; let us withstand this torment gently; what use is it to rebel? A debtor must pay his debt cheerfully at the request of his creditor and not become irritated.”

Moreover, the ascetic who is always nourishing feelings of loving-kindness (maitricitta) is compelled to withstand torments that are inflicted on him patiently.

[The patience of Kṣāntirṣi]

This is why we say that it is necessary to exert patience toward one’s persecutors.

Furthermore, the bodhisattva cultivates compassion (karuṇācitta). All beings are ceaselessly under the stress of all the sufferings (duḥkha): in the narrow space of the womb (kukṣi), they feel a great deal of pain; at the time of birth (jāti), they are squeezed; their bones and flesh are as if crushed; a cold wind pierces their body worse than a halberd. This is why the Buddha said: “Of all the sufferings, the suffering of birth is the worst.” And it is the same for the many distresses suffered in old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa). Why would the ascetic further increase the suffering of beings? This would be like putting iron into the wound.

Furthermore, the bodhisattva says to himself: “I must not be like other people who are constantly carried along by the stream of transmigration (saṃsārasrotas-); I must go against the current and dry up the source and enter the path to nirvāṇa. All ordinary people (pṛthagjna) are worried by a theft, are happy with a profit, are frightened in a sinister place. I, who am a bodhisattva, should not imitate them in any way. Although I may not yet have destroyed the [167a] fetters (saṃyojana), I must control myself and practice patience, not get irritated by persecutions, not rejoice at flattery, not fear suffering and difficulties; I must have feelings of great compassion (mahākaruṇācitta) for all beings.”

Moreover, seeing beings coming to torment him, the bodhisattva should say to himself: “This is my friend, this is my teacher; let me treat him with additional affection (anunaya) and respect (satkāra). Why? Because if he did not inflict torment on me, I would not have the chance to be patient.” This is why he says: “This is my friend, this is my teacher.”

Moreover, the knowledge of the bodhisattva conforms to this speech of the Buddha: “Beings have had no beginning (anādika) and the universes (lokadhātu) are infinite (ananta); I have endlessly transmigrated through the five destinies (pañcagati); of all the beings [presently existing], I have formerly been their father, mother, and brother; in turn, these beings have been at some time my father, mother and brother. And it will be the same in the future.”[1] Reasoning in this way, the bodhisattva is unable to have bad feelings or give himself up to anger.

Moreover, the bodhisattva thinks: “Among all these beings, the family of the Buddhas (buddhavaṃśa)[2] is widely represented. To become annoyed at them is to become annoyed with the Buddha. If I become annoyed with the Buddha, everything is finished. Thus it has been said that this pigeon (kapota) will later become a Buddha;[3] at this moment, although it is but a bird, it should not be treated lightly.”

Moreover, of all the afflictions (kleśa), anger (krodha) is the most serious; of all the punishments inflicted for sin (akusalavipāka), the punishment reserved for anger is the most severe; Of all the other bonds (bandhana), there is none as serious.

[Śakra’s question].

The bodhisattva says to himself: “I am cultivating compassion (karuṇā); I wish that all beings find happiness; anger destroys all good and pollutes everything; why would I commit such a sin? If I feel anger (krodha) and aversion (pratigha), I lose my own benefits; how then could I lead beings to happiness? Moreover, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas consider great compassion (mahākaruṇā) as fundamental. If, for this compassion I substituted this anger that is a destructive poison, that would be especially inappropriate. If the bodhisattva loses the basis of compassion, would he deserve the name of bodhisattva? Where would his quality come from? This is why it is necessary to develop patience. If a being inflicts harm on me, I must think of this being’s qualities (guṇa), for, although at the moment this being is committing a fault, otherwise [167b] he possesses good qualities; as a result of these qualities, he should not be hated. Besides, if this man curses me or beats me, it is in order to correct me; he is like a goldsmith who cleans the gold by putting it in the fire so that only the pure gold remains. If I suffer injury, the cause of it is in my earlier lifetimes (pūrvajanman); now I must pay; I should not be annoyed but I should practice patience. Finally, the bodhisattva treats belongs with loving-kindness (maitrī), like little children. Now, in Jambudvīpa, people feel very sad (daurmanasya) and their joyful days are rare. When they come to insult me or attack me, they have so much joy! Joy is so difficult to obtain that I will allow them to insult me. Why? Because from my first resolution (prathamacittotpāda), I have decided that they should find joy.

Furthermore, in this world, beings are constantly tormented by illness (vyādhi); a cruel death (maraṇavaira) constantly awaits them like an enemy constantly spying on his opponent. How could an honest man not feel loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) for them? Furthermore, if one wanted to increase their suffering, this suffering would not affect anyone else before one experiences it oneself. By reasoning in this way, one will not become annoyed with them and one will develop patience.

Moreover, it is necessary to consider the gravity (doṣatvā) of hatred (dveṣa, pratigha); of the three poisons (triviṣa), it has no equal; of the 98 fetters (saṃyojana), it is the most solid; of all the sicknesses of the mind (cittavyādhi), it is the most difficult to cure. The hateful man does not distinguish between good (kuśala) and bad (akuśala), between sin (āpatti) and merit (puṇya), between profit (lābha) and loss (hāni); he does not reflect; he will fall into the unfortunate destinies (durgati) and will forget beneficent (subhāṣita) words; he neglects his reputation; he ignores the efforts of others and does not clean out his own physical and mental torments; hatred having covered over his eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣus), he devotes himself particularly to tormenting others.

This is how a ṛṣi who possessed the five supernatural powers (abhijñā) destroyed a whole country in the manner of an outcaste (caṇḍala) simply out of hatred, even though he practiced pure asceticism (viśuddayoga). (see Appendix 1: destruction of forests)

Finally, the hateful man, like the tiger or wolf, is hard to withstand; like a pernicious ulcer, it pierces and easily becomes poisoned. The hateful man is like a poisonous snake that people look at without pleasure. When a man accumulates anger, his bad feelings develop and he ends up in unexpected crimes: he kills his father and rebels against the Buddha.

[The schism of Kauśāmbī].

The sin of anger is so serious that it happens that one no longer accepts the words of the Buddha; this is why anger must be chased away and patience cultivated. Besides, by cultivating patience, one easily obtains loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā); thanks to these, one reaches Buddhahood.

Question. – Patience is a fine quality among all the qualities, but there is a case where it is impossible: when a person of little worth looks you up and down and treats you fearfully; then patience is not called for.

Answer. – When a person of little worth looks you up and down and treats you fearfully, you are tempted to not endure him. However, the sin of impatience is more serious than the insult. Why? Because the impatient person is scorned by the saints (ārya) and by honest people (sajjana), whereas the patient person is scorned only by common people. Of the two despisals, better to be despised by the ignorant than by the saints. Why? The ignorant scorns what is not despicable, [namely, patience], whereas the saint despises that which is despicable, [namely, impatience]. This is why one should practice patience.

Furthermore, even without practicing generosity (dāna) or rapture (dhyāna), the patient person always attains marvelous qualities (guṇa); he is reborn among the gods or among men and later will attain buddhahood. Why?

Because his mind is gentle (mṛdu) and tender (taruṇa).

Furthermore, the bodhisattva says to himself: “The person who is tormenting me today is concerned with destroying my patience. Not only do I have his scorn, his curses and his irons to suffer, but if I lose patience, I will also fall into the hell (niraya) of burning iron walls and earth where I will suffer immense pain; the burns that I would suffer would be indescribable.” This is why the bodhisattva is aware of his nobility, even if the ordinary man treats him scornfully; if he resisted and stood on his own dignity, [his self-love] would be satisfied but he would be base. That is why he should be patient.

Furthermore, the bodhisattva says to himself: Since the first time that I made the resolution (prathamacittotpāda), I have sworn, in the interest of others, to heal all their mental sicknesses (cittavyādhi). Today, this man is sick with anger (pratighasaṃyojanena vyādhita); I want to cure him. Would he be calmed if I added my own sickness to his, [in other words, if I wanted to cure his anger by means of my own anger]? The master physician (bhaiṣajyaguru) cures all illnesses; if a sick person beset by a demon draws his knife and insults him, without making a distinction between friend and enemy, the physician who understands demonic sicknesses wants only to cure him and has no hatred for him. It is the same for the bodhisattva; when a being torments or insults him, he [168a] knows that this being is sick with the passion “anger” (dveṣakleśa), and that he is led by rage; the bodhisattva cures him by skillful means (upāya), without feeling any aversion toward him.”

Moreover, the bodhisattva takes care of all beings and loves them like his children; when they bother him, the bodhisattva has compassion for them, is not cross with them and does not scold them. A loving father takes care of his sons and his grandsons; they are young and have no discretion and sometimes they insult and beat their father disrespectfully and fearlessly; but their father pardons these young fools and his love for them only increases; even though they have done wrong to him, he is not annoyed and does not hate them. The bodhisattva’s patience is like that.

Moreover, the bodhisattva says to himself: “If beings persecute me, I must endure it. If I do not endure it, I would regret it from this life on and, later, I would fall into hell (niraya) where I will suffer greatly, If I am reborn among the animals (tiryagyoni), I will be a poisonous dragon, a perfidious serpent, a lion, tiger or wolf. If I am reborn among the pretas, fire will come out of my mouth; like a man caught in a fire, at first the burn is slight, but later it gradually increases.”

Moreover, the bodhisattva says to himself: “As a bodhisattva, I want to do good (hita) to beings; if I am unable to endure them patiently, I am not called “bodhisattva”, I am called “wicked man”.

Moreover, the bodhisattva says to himself: “There are two kinds of worlds (loka): the world of animate beings (sattvaloka) and the world of inanimate beings (asattvaloka). From the time of my first resolution (prathamacittotpāda), I have sworn, in the interest of beings, to withstand the torments coming from inanimate beings, stones, trees, wind, cold, heat, water and rain without impatience; today, it is this animate being that attacks me; I must endure it; why would I become irritated?”

Moreover, the bodhisattva knows the distant origin [of beings]; it is in a complex of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī) that is metaphorically (prajñapti) given the name of ‘pudgala’ (man, individual), but there is no true pudgala. With whom then could he be annoyed? In this [alleged pudgala] there is just a pile of bones (asthi), blood (śoṇita), skin (chavi) and flesh like bricks piled one upon another, coming and going like a mechanical doll. Knowing that, there is no place for irritation with him. If I am angry, I am a fool (mūdha) and will suffer the punishment myself. This is why it is necessary to exercise patience.

Finally, the bodhisattva says to himself: “In the past, when the numberless Buddhas, as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges (gaṅgānadīvālukāsama), followed the bodhisattva path, they first practiced patience toward beings (sattvaloka) and then patience toward the Dharma (dharmakṣānti). I, who am today following the Path of the Buddha, must imitate the qualities of the Buddhas and not feel aversion (pratigha), as that is the mark of Māra (māradhātudharma). This is why I must be patient.”

He is patient for all these reasons. This is patience toward beings (sattvakṣānti).

Footnotes and references:


Free quotation from Saṃyutta, II, p. 89–190 (Tsa a han, T 99, no. 945, k. 34, p. 241c–242a; T 100, no. 338, k. 16, p. 487a: Anamataggāyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro pubbakoṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇManaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ. Na do bhikkhave satto sulabharūpo yo na mātā-pitā-bhagini-putta-bhūtapubbo iminā dīghena addhunā: “The transmigration of beings, O monks, has its origin in eternity. It is not possible to find any beginning starting from which beings, plunged in ignorance, fettered by ignorance, wander by chance from birth to birth. It is not easy. O monks, to find any being who, in the course of the long path of transmigration, has not been at some time your father, your mother, your brother, your sister or your son.”


I.e., the family of those who one day will become Buddhas.


See above, p. 647F, the avadāna of the pigeon.