Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “progress in 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 3 - Progress in exertion

Question. – The bodhisattva wishes to acquire all the attributes of the Buddha, save all beings, destroy the afflictions (kleśa); he obtains everything he wishes. Then why increase his exertion in order to become Buddha; for if a small fire cannot burn a large forest, the fire, the power of which is increased, is able to burn everything.

Answer. – From the time of his first resolution (prathamacittotpāda), the bodhisattva has made the vow (praṇidhāna) to lead all beings to bliss (ānanda); he sacrifices his life ceaselessly for the entire world, since those who spare their lives cannot realize the good dharmas. This is why he increases his exertion.

Moreover, for many reasons, the bodhisattva criticizes laziness (kausīdya) and is joyfully attached to exertion. Laziness is a black cloud that hides clear wisdom; it engulfs the qualities (guṇa) and cultivates evil (akuśala). The lazy person at first feels a little joy, but later suffers greatly. Laziness is like poisoned food (viṣāhāra) which at the beginning gives off a pleasant perfume but kills the person in the long run. Laziness burns all the qualities like a great fire that ravages the entire jungle. The lazy person loses all their qualities; it is as if he underwent looting and had nothing left. Some stanzas say:

[173b] He does not get what he should get,
He loses what he has gotten.
He despises himself
And beings do not esteem him.

Always plunged in darkness (tamas),
He has no importance (anubhāva) at all.
Honor, nobility, knowledge and wisdom:
All of that is lost.

Hearing about the excellent dharmas of the Path,
He cannot profit from them himself.
All these faults
Come from laziness (kausīdya).

Although he hears speak of progress (vardhana)
He does not succeed in rousing himself.
All these faults
Come from laziness.

He does not put any order into his actions
And does not enter into the Dharma of the Path:
All these faults
Come from laziness.

Rejected by people of great learning,
Kept out of the way by people of middle rank,
Submerged among the humble and the foolish,
He is like a pig that is pleased with the mud.

If [the lazy person] is a man of the world,
He loses the threefold advantage (trivarga) of the lay life:
Sense pleasures (kāma), wealth (artha)
And virtue (guṇa) disappear at the same time.

If he has gone forth (pravrajita) as a monk.
He does not realize the twofold advantage of the religious life:
Rebirth among the gods and nirvāṇa.
For both,[1] renown is lost.

If one wishes to know the cause
Of all this ruin,
[One should know] that, among all the enemies,
None is greater than laziness;
For all the punishments [that it brings along],
Laziness should be avoided.

The two bhikṣus Ma (Aśvaka) and Tsing (Punarvasuka), (see Appendix 4)
Fell into the evil destinies because of their laziness.
Although they had seen the Buddha and heard his Dharma
They could not escape [from punishment].

It is by considering the punishments reserved for laziness thus in many ways that exertion progresses.

The benefits of exertion must also be considered. In this life as in the next, the benefits of the Buddhist Path (buddhamārga) and nirvāṇa all result from exertion.

Moreover, knowing that all dharmas are empty (śūnya) and nonexistent (asat), the bodhisattva refrains from attaining (sakṣātkṛ) nirvāṇa but collects all the good dharmas (kuśaladharma) for compassion (karuṇā) for beings: this is the power of the virtue of exertion.

Moreover, being unique and peerless, the bodhisattva, thanks to his exertion and his merits, is able to destroy Māra’s army (mārasenā) and thus reach buddhahood. Once having become Buddha, he know that all the dharmas are of a single characteristic (ekalakṣaṇa), free of marks (animitta) and truly empty (śūnya); he teaches these dharmas to beings by all kinds of speech (nānāvidhanāmasaṃketa) and all kinds of skilful means (nānāvidhopāya); he saves [173c] beings from the sufferings of birth (jāti), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa). When he is on the point of entering nirvāṇa, he entrusts the “body of the dharma” (dharmakāya) to the bodhisattva-mahāsattva Mi lö (Maitreya), to Kia chö (Kāśyapa, to A nan (Ānanda). etc., (see Appendix on the body of the Dharma) then he enters into the diamond concentration (vajropamasamādhi) and breaks the bones of his body into pieces the size of mustard seed (sarṣapa). Thus, he never abandons the power of exertion in order to save beings. <941–942>


Sometimes the Buddha speaks about zeal (chanda), sometimes of exertion (vīrya) and sometimes of conscientiousness (apramāda).[2] Zeal is compared to a man who, on the point of making a journey, first decides to go. Exertion is compared to a man who, once on his journey, decides not to stop. Conscientiousness is compared to a man who is careful that his journey does not slow down. From this we know that zeal gives rise to exertion, that exertion in turn gives rise to conscientiousness and that conscientiousness in turn produces all the good dharmas including arriving at the state of buddhahood.

Moreover, the bodhisattva who wants to escape from birth, old age, sickness and death and who also wants to save beings always needs exertion (vīrya), one-pointedness (ekacitta) and conscientiousness (apramāda). When a person holding a pot of oil (tailapātra) is able to pass through a large crowd [without spilling any oil], his attentiveness and his carefulness are worthy of praise and profit (ślokalābha). When a man arrives safe and sound across difficult passages, on a sloping bridge or on a mountain path, with the help of a suspended rope or riding on a goat, during the present lifetime he gets praise and profit thanks to this attentiveness and his carefulness. It is the same for the person who seeks the Path with exertion; by means of his attentiveness and his carefulness, he gets whatever he wishes for.

Moreover, a stream of water is able to open up a passage through the middle of a rock, and it is the same for the conscientious mind; by particularly cultivating skilful means (upāya), by always practicing non-slackening, it is able to destroy the mountain of afflictions (kleśa) and fetters (saṃyojana).

Moreover, the bodhisattva has the following three thoughts (manasikāra): If I myself do not act, I will not obtain the reward (vipākaphala); that which I myself will not have done will not come to me from others; that which I will have done myself will never be lost. Thanks to these reflections, he will inevitably be energetic; to attain Buddhahood, he will be diligent, active and conscientious.

[The lazy bhikṣu admonished by a demon].

Moreover, by means of exertion, while sacrificing his life, the bodhisattva earns a reward (vipākaphala); in the four postures (īryāpatha) – sitting (niṣadana), lying down (śayyā), walking (gamana) or standing (sthāna) – he always demonstrates exertion. He prefers to lose his life rather than abandon practice of the Path. It is like in the case of a fire where one throws both pitcher and water into the fire: preoccupied only with extinguishing the fire, one does not spare the pitcher. A hermit (ṛṣi), taught this stanza to his disciples:

By means of decisiveness (niścaya) and spiritual joy
One is assured of a great reward.
When you will obtain that which you wish for,
You will understand their value.

For all of these reasons, consideration of the benefits which exertion presents can make the exertion increase.

Finally, the bodhisattva cultivates ascetic practices (duṣkaracaryā) and, when a person comes to ask him for his head, his eyes, his marrow or his skull (cf. Traité, I, p. 143F, n. 1), he gives them saying: “Even for me, who possess patience (kṣānti), exertion (vīrya), wisdom (prajñā) and the power of skilful means (upāyabala), it is suffering to undergo [torments]; how much more painful for those stupid people (mūḍha) who live in the three places of suffering (vinipāta)? In the interest of these beings, I must then make energetic efforts to attain the state of Buddhahood as soon as possible and then I will save them.”

Footnotes and references:


I.e., for the lay person as well as for the monastic.


Vīrya is often combined with other good qualities: chanda, viriya, citta, vīmaṃsā (Dīgha. III, p. 77); kusalānaṃ, dhammānaṃ, uppādāya chandaṃ janati vmayamati viriyaṃ ārabhati, etc. (Dīgha, III, p. 221; Aṅguttara, II, p. 15; IV, p. 462).

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