Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “eliminating the sensual desires” 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.

Section A - First method: eliminating the sensual desires

How to eliminate the five objects? The five objects of desire (pañcakāmaguṇanigarhaṇa) should be condemned by saying: Alas! Beings are always tortured by the five objects of desire and yet they seek them sendlessly. Once obtained, the five objects of desire develop and progress like fever or magic. The five objects of desire are useless like the bone gnawed by a dog; they foment quarreling (vivāda) like the meat over which birds are contending; they burn a man like the torch carried in the wind; they harm a man like treading on a poisonous snake; they are futile (abhūta) like profit made in a dream; they are as short as a short-term loan.[1] Foolish people are attached to the five objects of desire and will arrive at their death without having rid themselves of them; as a result they will suffer immense sufferings. A madman who coveted a beautiful fruit climbed up a tree, ate the fruit and refused to come down; the tree was cut down, and when he fell out of it, he broke his head and died painfully. [The same fate is reserved for the one who covets the five objects of desire]. – Besides, these five objects of desire last only an instant: when the pleasure [that they bring] has disappeared, there is great suffering. These objects are like a knife coated with honey (madhvāliptaśāstra): those who lick it covet the sweetness [of the honey] and are unaware of the knife that cuts their tongue. The five objects of desire set man close to the animals; the wise man who knows them can avoid them. Here is an example:

[The upāsaka tempted by a goddess].

That man is wise who condemns the desires and is not attached to the five objects of desire, i.e., pleasant colors (rūpa), sounds (śabda), perfumes (gandha), tastes (rasa) and tangibles (spraṣṭavya). By seeking meditation (dhyāna), one should reject all of that.


This paragraph is just an elaboration of canonical facts. For the early Buddhist, the ascetic who truly directed himself towards perfection must banish from his mind all attachment to the five objects of desire. The passage “Panc’ ime bhikkhave kāmaguṇā…” that defines attraction (assāda) for the desires, their disadvantages (ādīnava) and the means of escaping from them, is found in many places in the scriptures: cf. Majjhima, I, p. 85–87, 92, 454; II, p. 42; III, p. 114; Aṅguttara, III, p. 411; IV, p. 415, 430, 449, 458; Tchong a han, T 26, k. 25, p. 584c; Tseng yi a yhan, T 125, k. 12, p. 604c.

Footnotes and references:


To the bhikṣu Ariṭṭha, the Buddha compared the desires to a skeleton (aṭṭhikaṅkala), a piece of tainted meat (maṃsapesi), a grass fire (tin’ ukkā), a trench of glowing charcoal (aṅgārakāsu), a dream (supina), beggary (yācita), the fruit of a poisonous tree (rukkhaphala), a slaughterhouse (asisūna), a sharpened stake (sattisūla), the head of a snake (sappasira): cf. Vinaya, II, p. 25; Majjhima, I, p. 130; Aṅguttara, III, p. 97. – The Chinese sources also mention this conversation with Ariṭṭa: Tchong a han,T 26, k. 54, p. 763c; Wou fen liu, T 1421, k. 8, p. 56c; Mo ho seng k’i liu,T 1425, k. 17, p. 367a; Sseu fen liu, T 1428, k. 17, p. 682a; Che song liu, T 1435, k. 15, p. 106a; Ken Pen chouo … p’i nai ye, T 1449, k. 39, p. 840b.