Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “benefits of exertion” 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 - The benefits of exertion

Question. – What are the benefits (anuśaṃsa) of exertion, benefits that the bodhisattva will investigate diligently and without slackening?

Answer. – All the virtues and all the benefits of the Path, in the present lifetime and in future lifetimes, come from exertion.

Moreover, if a person who wants to save himself already gives evidence of his eagerness and exertion, what can be said about the bodhisattva who has taken the vow to save all beings? The stanzas of praise dedicated to exertion (vīryastutigāthā) say:

The person who does not spare their life,
Whose wisdom and mind are firm (niyata),
Who practices exertion according to the Dharma,
Will easily find what he is looking for.

The workman who expends his efforts
Gathers an abundant harvest,
The traveler on a long journey who takes care
Necessarily reaches his goal.

Whether one obtains rebirth among the gods
Or whether one reaches nirvāṇa,
The cause of all that
Is the power of exertion.

It is not due to a deity (deva) or to luck (ahetuka)
But to individual action that these benefits are due.
What man is there who, knowing this
Would not make personal efforts?

The threefold world is on fire and is burning
Like a great flame.[1]
The wise and decisive man
Can manage to escape from it.

This is why the Buddha taught
Right exertion to Ānanda.
Thus, avoiding laziness (kausīdya)
One arrives directly at Buddhahood.

By digging the earth with persistent effort
One reaches the spring;
It is the same with exertion:
If one does not seek, one does not find.

The person who practices the Dharma of the Path
With relentless exertion
[173a] Will inevitably attain immense fruit;
His reward will not be lacking.

Moreover, exertion is the root (mūla) of all the good dharmas (kuśaladharma); it can give rise to all the good dharmas, including supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi), not to speak of the lesser benefits. In the Abhidharma, it is said that all the good dharmas, including supreme perfect enlightenment, come from exertion and conscientiousness (apramāda).

Moreover, exertion calls forth the blessings (puṇya) of the present lifetime in the way the rain (varṣa) which, moistening the seeds (bīja), causes them to germinate. Even though one has the previous causes and conditions for [present] blessings, they will not be realized if exertion is absent; if in this way one obtains no benefits (artha) in the present lifetime, how would one attain buddhahood?

Moreover, the great bodhisattvas who commit themselves to beings undergo all the sufferings, including those of the Avīci hell (niraya). Their minds know no laziness, and that is exertion.

Moreover, no business can be realized if exertion is absent. Just as, in order to swallow some medicine, it is essential to take Pa teou (Croton tiglium) because without this Pa teou, one does not have the strength to swallow the medicine, so the foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna), the bases of miraculous powers (ṛddhipāda), the faculties (indriya), the powers (bala), the factors of enlightenment (bodhyaṅga) and the Path (mārga) depend necessarily on exertion[2] and, if the latter is absent, all matters are unworkable. Morality (śīla) occurs only in the eightfold Path (aṣtāṅgamārga) and not elsewhere; faith (prasāda, śraddhā) occurs only in the faculties (indriya) and the powers (bala) and not elsewhere; but exertion is not absent anywhere. Although it adds up all the dharmas [of the Path], it also makes up a separate category; it is like the “residue” of ignorance (avidyānuśaya) that occurs in all the latent defilements (anuśaya), but which separately forms independent ignorance (āveṇikī avidyā).[3]

Footnotes and references:


Cf. Saṃyutta, I, p. 133:

Sabbo ādipito loko, sabbo loko pahhūpito,
sabbo pajjalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito.

The same stanza in hybrid Sanskrit, occurs in Mahāvastu, I, p. 33:

Sarvaṃ ādīnavaṃ lokaṃ, sarvaṃ lokaṃ ādīpitaṃ,
sarvaṃ prajvalitaṃ lokaṃ, sarvalokaṃ prakampitaṃ.

For the idea of the world on fire, see also Pāli Vinaya, I, p. 34; Buddhavaṃsa, II, 12, p. 7.


Vīrya appears in the various categories of bodhipākṣikadharma: it is an essential element in the four smṛtyupasthānas and the four samyakprahānas (Kośa, VI, p. 283); it is the third ṛddhipāda (Mahāvyut,, no, 969); indriya no. 2 or vīryendriya (ibid., no. 978); bala no. 3 or vīryabala (ibid., no. 984); bodhyaṅga no. 3 or vīryasaṃbodhyaṅga (ibid.,no. 991); mārgaṅga no. 6 under the name of samyagvyāyāma (ibid., no. 1002). – The list of the 37 bodhipākṣikas is found in Dīgha, II, p. 120; Cullaniddesa, p. 263; Vinaya, III, p. 93; Paṭisambhidā, II, p. 166; Divya, p. 208; detailed study in Kośa, VI, p. 281.


Āveṇikī avidyā is the independent ignorance that does not accompany the other anuśayas, rāga, etc.: cf. Kośa, III, p. 84; V, p. 31; Saṃgraha, p. 17, 21; Siddhi, p. 276–277.