Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “by practicing just one virtue” 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.

2. By practicing just one virtue

Question. – Is it necessary to practice the five virtues to obtain the Prajñāpāramitā, or is it enough to practice one or two virtues in order to obtain it?

Answer. – The virtues have a twofold aspect: i) one single virtue, by interaction, includes all the virtues; ii) one practices the virtues each in turn (anukālam) and separately (pṛthak). [In the first case], it is the predominant virtue that imposes its name. It is the same for a conglomerate composed of the four great elements (mahābhūtasaṃghata); although the four great elements are inseparable (avisaṃyukta), it is the predominant element that imposes its name [on the conglomerate].[1] There is, we would say, ‘interaction’ [between the virtues, for one single virtue includes the five others, and it is not possible to acquire the Prajñāpāramitā independently of the other five virtues. [In the second case], by practicing the virtues in successive order, the Prajñāpāramitā is acquired as a result of one or another virtue.

When a person who has produced the mind of supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi) practices generosity (dāna), he tries to discover the characteristic (lakṣaṇa) of generosity. Generosity is neither one nor many, neither eternal nor non-eternal, neither existent nor non-existent, etc. as [196c] was said in the refutation of generosity (p. 724F). Thanks to generosity, the bodhisattva discovers the true nature which is the same for all dharmas. This is how, by means of generosity [alone], the Prajñāpāramitā may be obtained.

There are people who, by observing morality (śīla) have no trouble in not causing harm to beings. But when they seize the characteristics (nimittodgrahaṇa) and become attached to them (abhiniveśa), they provoke controversy (vivāda). These people who previously had no antagonism toward beings now experience aversion or affection for a (dogmatic) system and begin to hate their adversaries.

And so, if they want not to not cause harm to beings, they must practice fundamental equality in regard to all dharmas (dharmasamatā). If they distinguish between what is sinful and what is not, they are not practicing the virtue of morality. Why? Because they will detest sin and will love its opposite; their mind becomes excited and they return to harming beings. This is why, by means of a correct view of sin and its opposite, the bodhisattva experiences neither aversion nor affection in his hearts. Seeing in this way, he acquires the Prajñāpāramitā by practicing only the virtue of morality.

3. The bodhisattva has this thought: “If I do not acquire patience toward dharmas (dharmakṣānti), I will not always be able to be patient. As long as they do not undergo oppression, all beings are patient; but when suffering comes along to torture them, they lose their patience. They are like these prisoners who fear to be beaten and take refuge in death. This is why I must produce dharmakṣānti: there is no tormenter, no insulter, no victim; I alone must undergo the punishment (vipākaphala) for the mistakes (viparyāsa) of my earlier existences (pūrvajanman).” From then on, the bodhisattva makes no more distinctions between the object of the patience and the patience itself; he penetrates deeply into the absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnya); this is dharmakṣānti. Endowed with this dharmakṣānti, he will never again torment beings. The wisdom associated with this dharmakṣānti is Prajñāpāramitā.

4. Exertion (virya) is present in all the good dharmas and is able to realize all the good dharmas. While wisdom, in measuring and analyzing dharmas, penetrates the nature of things (dharmadhātu), exertion lends its help. On the other hand, knowing that the true nature of exertion is independent of the body and the mind, the bodhisattva is truly unshakeable. Such exertion can give rise to Prajñāpāramitā; other exertions, in the manner of magic (māyā) or dream (svapna) are false and unreal; that is why they are not spoken of.

5. When the mind concentrates its attention, it can truly see the true nature of dharmas. This true nature cannot be perceived [by experience], namely, what is seen (dṛṣṭa), heard (śruta), thought (mata) and known (vijñāta). Why? Because the six senses and their six coarse objects are all deceptive and result from the retribution of causes and conditions. There, everything that is known and seen is deceptive; and no deceptive knowledge merits belief. That which merits belief is the true Wisdom alone obtained by the Buddhas in the course of incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa). Since this wisdom depends on dhyāna and careful consideration of the true nature of dharmas we can say that dhyāna gives rise to Prajñāpāramitā.

[197a] There are cases where, without practicing the five virtues, a person penetrates the true nature of dharmas solely by hearing (śravaṇa), study (adhyayana), reflection (manasikāra) or calculation (gaṇana): the knowledge of means (upāyajñāna) gives rise to Prajñāpāramitā. Sometimes also it is two, three or four virtues that give rise to Prajñāpāramitā. Similarly, some realize the fruit of the Path (mārgaphala) by hearing only one truth (satya) preached; others realize the fruit of the Path by hearing two, three or four truths. The person who has doubts about the truth of suffering (duḥkhasatya) finds the Path when the truth of suffering is preached to him; and it is the same for the other three truths, The person who has doubts about all four truths finds the Path when the four truths are preached to him. Thus the Buddha said to a bhikṣu: “If you are able to cut desire (rāga) I guarantee that you will obtain the state of anāgamin; if you cut desire, know that hatred (dveṣa) and delusion (moha) will indeed be cut by that very fact.”[2] It is the same for the six virtues: to destroy the dominant fault of avarice (mātsarya), a sermon on generosity should be preached, and the other faults will be destroyed by that very fact; to destroy mixed faults, the six virtues should be preached at the same time. Consequently, if it is a question of a particular behavior or the group of behaviors, the six virtues are preached for everybody and not for just one person.

Footnotes and references:


The four elements are present in the lump of earth, for the earth possesses dampness, heat and movement; but as the element-earth (pṛthivīdhātu), characterized by solidity (khakkhaṭatva), predominates in the lump, we speak of ‘a lump of earth’. See above, p. 1099F.


For this text, see above, p. 1029F, n. 1.