Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “fruits of the immeasurables (apramana)” 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.

III. Fruits of the immeasurables (apramāṇa)

Question. – What fruits of retribution (vipākaphala)[1] does the person who is practicing the four immeasurables (apramāṇa) receive?

Answer. – The Buddha said: “He who enters into the concentration of loving-kindness (maitrīsamādhi) receives, at the present, five benefits (anuśaṃsa): i) he is not burned if he enters fire (agni); ii) he does not die if he swallows poison (viṣa); iii) the soldier’s sword (śastra) does not wound him; iv) he will not die a violent death (asaṃmūdhaḥ kālaṃ karoti); v) the good gods protect him (devatā rakṣanti). Having been of benefit to innumerable beings (apramāṇasattva), he receives immense merit (apramāṇapuṇya). By virtue of this immeasurable mind of impure order (sāsravāpramāṇacitta) that has beings as object (sattvālambaṇa), he is reborn in a pure place (śuddhasthāna), namely, the form realm (rūpadhātu). (also see Appendix 2: loving-kindness)

Question. – Why did the Buddha say that the reward (vipāka) for loving-kindness is to be reborn in the Brahmā heavens?[2] [211b]

Answer. – Because the Brahmadevas are venerated by beings, everyone has heard of them and everyone knows them.

The Buddha lived in the Indian kingdoms where there were always many brahmins in whose religion virtuous men were all reborn among the Brahmadevas.[3] When they learn that the devotees of loving-kindness (maitrācārin) are reborn among the Brahmadevas, beings have great faith (śraddhā) and are ready to practice loving-kindness. This is why the Buddha said that devotees of loving-kindness are reborn among the Brahmadevas.

Furthermore, the gods who have cut through sexual desire (rāga) are all called Brahmā, and it is said that these Brahmās dwell in the form realm (rūpadhātu). And so the fact of having cut through sexual desire is called brahmacarya ‘celibacy’ and those who have cut through are called brāhmaṇas.

When the Buddha speaks here of the ‘Brahmā heavens’, he means not only the four dhyānas [of rūpadhātu, inhabited by the Brahmadevas] but also the four ārūpyasamāpattis [formless absorptions of ārūpyadhātu, inhabited by the formless deities]. Investigation (vitarka) and analysis (vicāra), [which are eliminated in the dhyānas of ārūpyadhātu], are so difficult to destroy that the Buddha does not speak here about the levels higher than these dhyānas [namely, the four ārūpyasamāpattis]. In the same way, when he spoke about the discipline of speech (vāksaṃvara) which is part of the fivefold discipline (pañcaśīla) of the upāsaka, the Buddha mentioned only one [abstention], the abstention from lying (mṛṣāvādavairamaṇa), but he implied the other three abstentions [regarding slander (paiśunyavāda), harmful speech (pāruṣyavāda) and idle chatter (saṃbhinnapralāpa)].[4]

Question. – So loving-kindness brings the five benefits (anuśaṃsa) in question; but why did the Buddha say nothing about the benefits brought by compassion, joy and equanimity?

Answer. – Refer to the above comparison (upamāna): by speaking of one single thing, the Buddha intends the other three. This applies here also. What the Buddha said about loving-kindness is equally true for compassion, joy and equanimity.

Furthermore, loving-kindness is the immeasurable par excellence. Loving-kindness is like the king (rājan); the other three immeasurables that accompany it are like the people (jana). Why? First, the yogin, by the mind of loving-kindness (maitrīcitta), wants beings to find happiness (sukha). Seeing that there are some who do not find happiness, he produces the mind of compassion (karuṇācitta). Wanting beings who are free from painful thoughts to find the joy of the Dharma, he produces the mind of joy (muditācitta). Feeling neither aversion (pratigha) nor fondness (anunaya) nor sorrow (daurmanasya) towards these three things, he produces the mind of equanimity (upekṣācitta).

Finally, it is loving-kindness that gives happiness (sukha) to beings.

Moreover, in the Tseng yi a han (Ekottarāgama), the Buddha spoke about the mind of compassion (karuṇācitta) ‘endowed with the five benefits (anuśaṃsa)’.[5]

In many places in the Mahāyānasūtras, he spoke about the benefits it presents. Thus, in the Wang-ming p’ou-sa king (Jālinīprabhabodhisattvasūtra or Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā),[6] he said: “The bodhisattva practices the thirty-two kinds of compassion (karuṇā) among beings. The former increase gradually and change into great compassion (mahākaruṇā). Great compassion is the root of the qualities (guṇamūla) of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas; it is the mother (matṛ) of Prajñāpāramitā and the grandmother (mahāmatṛ) of the Buddhas. By means of great compassion, the bodhisattva attains Prajñāpāramitā and, having acquired Prajñāpāramitā, he becomes Buddha.”[7] He praises great compassion in every way.

Also in other places, he praises the mind of joy (muditācitta) and the mind of equanimity (upekṣacitta), but as loving-kindness and compassion are very important, the Buddha praises their advantages (anuśaṃsa) by preference: loving-kindness because of its qualities (guṇa) is difficult to get, and compassion realizes great deeds.

Question. – However, in explaining the benefits (anuśaṃsa) of the four immeasurables (apramāṇa) the Buddha said: “The mind of loving-kindness, properly observed, properly developed, ends up at best [in a rebirth] among the Śubhakṛtsna gods (maitrīcittam āsevitaṃ subhāvitaṃ Śubhakṛtsnebhyo devebhyaḥ saṃvartate). – The mind of compassion (karuṇācitta), properly observed, properly developed, leads at best to the sphere [of the infinity] of space (ākāśānantyāyatana). – The mind of joy (muditācitta), properly observed, properly developed, ends up at best in the sphere [of the infinity] of consciousness (vijñānānantyāyatana). – The mind of equanimity (upekṣācitta), properly observed, properly developed, leads at best to the sphere of nothing at all (ākiṃcnayāyatana).”[8]

[The three spheres in question belong to the ārūpyadhātu and not to rūpadhātu which forms the Brahmaloka.] Why then did the Buddha say above [211c] (p. 1267F) that the fruit of retribution of loving-kindness [and the other immeasurables ‘is rebirth in the Brahmā heavens’?

Answer. – 1. The teaching of the Buddhas is inconceivable (acintya).[9] He speaks in this way in order to conform to the needs of those to be converted (vaineyasattvānuvartanāt).

2. Furthermore, when one emerges from the concentration of loving-kindness (maitrīsamādhi), it is easy to be led to the third dhyāna [the summit of which the Śubhakṛtsna gods occupy]. – On emerging fromm the concentration of compassion (karuṇāsamādhi), it is easy to enter into the ākāśanāyatana. – On emerging from the concentration of joy (muditāsamādhi), it is easy to enter the vijñānānantyāyatana. – On emerging from of the concentration of equanimity (upekṣāsamādhi), it is easy to enter into the ākiṃcanyāyatana.

3. Furthermore, by means of the mind of loving-kindness, the yogin wishes that all beings may find happiness (sukha) and, as a reward for this thought, he himself finds happiness. In the threefold world (traidhātuka), the Śubhakṛtsna gods are the happiest.[10] This is why the Buddha says that ‘the mind of loving-kindness’ leads at best to rebirth among the Śubhakṛtsna gods. – By means of the mind of compassion, the yogin sees beings who are old, sick, weak, tormented and suffering. A feeling of pity (anukampaācitta) arises in him and he wonders how he can liberate these beings from suffering (duḥkha): actually, if one eliminates the internal suffering (ādhyātmikaduḥkha), the external sufferings (bāhyaduḥkha) go away and if one eliminates the external suffering, the internal suffering goes away. The yogin then says: Those who have a body (dehin) necessarily encounter suffering; only those who have no body meet up with no suffering. And yet the ākāśa excludes all form (rūpa) and, [by that very fact, escapes from suffering]. This is why the Buddha said that [the mind of compassion] ends up at best in the ākāśānantyāyatana. – By means of the mind of joy (muditācitta), the yogin wants to brings beings the spiritual happiness (vijñānasukha) called ‘joy’. In this spiritual happiness, the mind (citta), freed from the body (kāya), is like a bird (pakṣin) that has escaped from its cage (pañjara).[11] In the ākāśānantyāyatana, the mind, although free of the body, was still attached to space (ākāśa). The vijñānānantyāyatana is immense (apramāṇa): it is consciousness in all the phenomena, and this consciousness enjoys unlimited sovereignty (aiśvarya). This is why the Buddha said that joy ends up at best in the vijñānānanantāyatana. – By means of the mind of equanimity, the yogin remains neutral (upekṣante) to the suffering (duḥkha) and the happiness (sukha) of beings and, since he ignores suffering or happiness, he attains true equanimity (bhūtopekṣādharma), namely, the ākiṃcanyāyatana. This is why the Buddha said that the mind of equanimity ends up at best in the ākiṃcanyāyatana.

These four immeasurables are acquired only by the noble individuals (āryapudgala) and not by the worldly people (pṛthagjana).

4. Finally, the Buddha knew that, in future times (anāgate ’dhvani), because they were of weak faculties (mṛdvindriya), his disciples would become attached to dharmas by way of making distinctions (vikalpa) and would wrongly say about the four immeasurables: “The four limitless ones, having beings as their object (ālambana), are exclusively impure (sāsrava), concern the desire realm (kāmadhātu) exclusively and do not exist in the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu).”[12]

In order to destroy the wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) of these people, the Buddha said that the four immeasurables also concern the ārūpyadhātu. And since the Buddha considers these four immeasurables as concerning all the beings of the ten directions, they must also have the ārūpyadhātu as object.

Thus it is said in the Wou-tsin-yi p’ou-sa wen (Akṣayamatiparipṛcchā): “Loving-kindness is of three kinds: i) that which has beings as object (sattvālambana); ii) that which has things as object (dharmālambana); iii) that which has no object (anālambana).” The śāstra explains: “That which has beings as object is impure (sāsrava); that which has no object is pure (anāsrava); and that which has things as object is sometimes impure and sometimes pure.”[13]

All this is a summary of the four immeasurables.

Footnotes and references:


In order to understand the discussion that will follow, one should recall the distribution of gods in the three worlds, a distribution discussed among scholars (cf. Kośa, III, p. 2–4, note) but which the Traité has already presented above, p. 517F, 519F, 954F:

See Appendix 1: Distribution of gods in the three worlds.


Anguttara, III, p. 225: So ime cattāro brahmavihāre bhāvetvā kāyassa bhedā parammaraṇā sugatiṃ brahmalokaṃ upapajjati. – See also Dīgha, I, p. 251; Majjhima, II, p. 195, 207–208, where the practice of the apramānas is given as the path leading to rebirth in the company of the Brahmā gods: ayaṃ pi kho Brahāṇaṃ sahavyatāya maggo.


This comment which is evidently addressed to Chinese readers is not attributable to the author of the Traité, Nāgārjuna or others; it is probably a gloss of the translator Kumārajīva.


In regard to the fivefold morality (pañcaśīla), it is enough to say ‘lying’ and by that to include the other three misdeeds of speech: see above, p. 820F.


Unidentified passage.


A sūtra in which the brahmarājan Viśeṣacintin, the bodhisattva Jālinīprabha and the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī appear. The Traité cites it impartially under the name of Jālinīprabhabodhisattvasūtra (k. 20,p. 211b19; k. 22, p. 227b4; k. 28, p. 267a16) or under the name of Tch’e sin king = Viśeṣacintisūtra (k. 27, p. 257b2; k. 29, p. 275a18; k. 32, p. 279c9; k. 66, p. 524a24; k. 77, p. 604a23; k. 81, p. 631a18). The Mahāvyutpatti mentions the bodhisattva Jālinīprabha (no. 705) and a Brahmaviśeṣacintiparipṛcchā (no. 1367).

The Viśeṣabrahmaparipṛcchā is known to us by three Chinese versions and one Tibetan version:

1) Tch’e-sin fan-t’ien so wen king (T585) by Dharmarakṣa; translated the 10th day of the 3rd month of the 7th T’ai-k’ang year (April 20, 286): cf. K’ai yuan mou lou, T 2154, k. 2, p. 494a26.

2) Sseu-yi fan-t’ien so wen king (T 586) by Kumārajīva; translated at Tch’ang-ngan, in the garden of Siao-yao, the 1st day of the 12th month of the 14th hong-che year (January 9, 403): cf. Li ti san pao ki, T 2034, k. 8, p. 77c12. Seng-jouei wrote the preface.

3) Cheng-sseu-wei fan-t’ien so wen king (T587) by Bodhiruci; translated at Lo-yang in the 1st chen-kouei year (518): cf. Li tai san pao king, T 2034, k. 9, p. 85c20. – A Cheng-sseu-wei king louen (T 1532), commentary by Vasubandhu (?) on this paripṛcchā was translated by this same Bodhiruci in the 1st p’ou-t’ai year (531): cf. Li tai san pao ki, T 2034, k. 9, p. 86a15.

4) Tshaṅs-pa khyad-par-sems-kyis śus-pa (OKC 827), translated by Śakyaprabha, etc.


Viśeṣacintin, T 585, k. 1, p. 9b24–10a16; T 586, k. 2, p. 41c6–42a25; T 587,, k. 2, p. 72b26–73b9. – The same passage also appears in two Chinese versions of the Ratnameghasūtra: T 660, k. 5, p. 302a9–302c19; T 489, k. 8, p. 723a8–723c11; and its original Indian is in the Mahāvyutpatti, no. 154–186.

It is not a matter of the thirty-two kinds of mahākaruṇā but of the thirty-two reasons impelling the Tathāgata to practice. Here is the first: Nairātmyāḥ sarve dharmāḥ sattvāś ca nairātmyaṃ nādhimucyante. atas tathāgatasya sattveṣu mahākaruṇotpadyate: “All dharmas are without self and yet beings do not believe in non-self; this is why great compassion for beings arises in the Tathāgata”; and so on.

The great compassion of the Tathāgata will be the subject of chapter XLII.


An extract from the Haliddavasanasutta of Saṃyutta, V, p. 119–121 (Tsa a han, T 99, no. 743, k. 27, p. 197c11–13). – Some bhikṣus were paying a morning visit to the Parivrājaka heretics established at Haliddavasana, a Koliya village. The latter stated that they taught the same ‘liberations of mind’ (cetovimutti), i.e., the same apramāṇas, as the Buddha, and asked the bhikṣus how the Buddha’s teaching differed from their own. The bhikṣus, unable to answer, came to consult the Buddha, and this is what he told them:

Subhaparamāhaṃ, bhikkhave, mettaṃ cetovimuttiṃ vadāmi… Ākāsānañcayatanaparamāhaṃ, bhikkhave, karuṇaṃ cetovimuttiṃ vadāmi… Viññāṇāmañcātaranaparamāhāṃ, bhikkhave, cetovimuttiṃ vadāmiĀkiñcaññāyatanaparamāhaṃ, bhikkhave, upekkhaṃ cetovimuttiṃ vadāmi. – “I state, O monks, that the liberation of mind which is loving-kindness has the Śibha [in the Chinese versions, the heaven of the Śubhakṛtsnas] as supreme as supreme goal. That which has compassion has the sphere of infinity of space as its supreme goal. That which is joy has the sphere of infinity of consciousness as supreme goal. That which is equanimity has the sphere of nothing at all as supreme goal.”

Among the four ultimate goals, only the first, namely the heaven of the Śubhakṛtsnas belongs to the form realm (rūpadhātu), also called the world of the Brahmās (brahmaloka). The other three belong to the formless realm (ārūpyadhātu).

The Haliddavasanasutta is the only sūtra where rebirth in the formless realm is promised to those who practice the apramāṇas. Everywhere else the Buddha affirmed that adepts of the apramāṇas “are reborn in the Brahmaloka”, i.e., in the form realm.

These contradictory teachings naturally struck the old exegetists, and both Sanskrit and Pāli scholars have brooded over the Haliddavasanasutta. See especially Visuddhimagga, ed. Warren, p. 269; Comm. of Saṃyutta, III, p. 172; Vimuttimagga, tr. Ehara, p. 195; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 83, p. 430c22–24; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 79, p. 770c3–8.


Anguttara, II, p. 80: Buddhānaṃ, bhikkhave, budhavisayo acinteyyo na cintetabho yaṃ cintento ummādassa vigātassa bhāgī assa.


See above, p. 499F, 504F.


Similar considerations have been developed above, p. 1032F.


Here the Traité counters the Sarvāstivādin-Vaibhāṣika theses according to which the apramāṇas have beings as object (apramāṇāḥ sattvālambanāḥ) and, more precisely, that their domain is the beings of the desire realm (kāmasattvās tu gocaraḥ): cf. Kośa, VIII, p. 199; Abhidharmadīpa, p. 429. The Mahāyānasūtras and particularly the Akṣayamatinirdeśa, cited here for the second time, state that they also can have things as object and even no object.


Quotation from the Akṣayamatinirdeśa and not from the Akṣayamatiparipṛcchā: see above, p. 1245F, n. 1.

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