Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of maha in mahaprajnaparamita” 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 1 - Definition of mahā in mahāprajñāpāramitā

Question. – Why is the Prajñāpāramitā the only one to be called ‘mahā’, while the other pāramitās are not?

Answer. – Mahā, in the language of the Ts’in. means great; Prajñā means wisdom; Pāramitā means coming to the other shore (pāram ita). It is called pāramitā because it reaches the other shore (pāra) of the ocean of wisdom, because it reaches the end (anta) of all the wisdoms (prajñā) and attains their summit (niṣṭāgata).[1] In all the universes (lokadhātu), the Buddhas of the ten directions (daśadiś-) and the three times (tryadhvan) are the greatest, then come the bodhisattvas, the pratyekabuddhas and the śrāvakas; these four kinds of great individuals are born from Prajñāpāramitā; this is why it is called great.

Furthermore, the Prajñāpāramitā is worth a great fruit of retribution (mahāvipākaphala) to beings, an immense (apramāna), indestructible (akṣaya), eternal (nitya) and unchangeable (avikāra) fruit, namely, nirvāṇa. The other five pāramitās do not have such power for, without the Prajñāpāramitā, the virtues of generosity (dāna), etc., can give only fruits of worldly retribution (laukikavipākaphala): this is why they are not called great.

Footnotes and references:


For the etymology of pāramitā, see above, p. 1058F, n. 2.