Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “amra-sutra” 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.

The Buddha also said: “There are four kinds of individuals like the mango (catvāra ima āmropamāḥ puruṣāḥ): i) a mango that is green but seems to be ripe (āmaṃ pakvavarṇi), ii) a ripe mango that seems to be green (pakvam āmavarṇi); iii) a green mango that seems to be green (āmam āmavarṇi), iv) a ripe mango that seems to be ripe (pakvaṃ pakvarṇi).”

It is the same for the disciples of the Buddha (buddhaśrāvaka): i) some are endowed with noble qualities (āryaguṇasamanvāgata), but by their postures (īryāpatha) and their speech (vacana) do not seem to be good people; ii) others seem to be good people by their postures and their speech, but they are not endowed with good qualities; iii) still others do not seem to be good people by their postures and their speech and they are not endowed with noble qualities; and finally, iv) others seem to be good people by their postures and speech and are endowed with noble qualities.

Why do you not remember these words and want to measure the Saṃgha? By wanting to hurt the Samgha, you hurt yourself.[1] You have committed a great fault; it is a thing of the past and it cannot be blamed in retrospect. Therefore return to wholesome thoughts, send away doubts (saṃśaya) and regrets (kaukṛtya) and listen to these stanzas that we address to you:

The noble Saṃgha is immeasurable,      
Difficult to understand in its positions (īryapatha).
It cannot be measured either on the basis of its background (kula)
Or on the basis of learning (bahuśruta),
Or on the basis of majesty (anubhāva)
Or on the basis of age (vayas)
Or on the basis of its bearing
Or on the basis of eloquence (vagviśuddhi):[2]
The noble Saṃgha is a great ocean
The qualities of which are very deep.

The Buddha has praised this Saṃgha in hundreds of ways.
Whatever little one gives, it produces abundant fruit.
This third jewel enjoys wide renown;
This is why one should venerate the Saṃgha.[3]

There should no distinction made between old and young [225a]
Learned or unlearned, light or shadow,
In the same way that a man seeing a forest does not distinguish
Between the campaka, the eraṇḍa or the śāla trees.
When you meditate on the Saṃgha
Avoid making distinctions between fools and saints.

When Mahākāśyapa went forth from home
His garment was worth a hundred thousand gold pieces;
Wishing to wear the lowly garb of a beggar,
He sought for rags and tatters but found none.[4]

It is the same for the noble Saṃgha:
If one looked there for the lowliest field of merit,
The donor would still be rewarded a hundred thousand times.
What is more, the search would fail, for it cannot be found there.

The Saṃgha is a great sea
Whose moral discipline is the shore.
If an immoral (duḥśīla) monk were to be found there
He would end up by not being counted in the number of the monks
For the Saṃgha is like the great ocean
Which refuses the company of corpses.”[5]

Hearing these words and seeing the magical power (ṛddhibala) of the śrāmaṇeras, the dānapati became frightened and his hair stood on end. Joining his palms together, he said to the śrāmaṇeras: “Holy ones, I confess my sin (āpattiṃ pratideśayāmi): I am but a common man (pṛthagjana) and my mind is always following after sin. I have a small doubt and would like to question you.” And he spoke this stanza:

The great virtuous ones have broken through doubt
And I have met them today.
If I did not consult them
I would be the fool among fools.

The śrāmaṇeras said: “If you wish to ask, then ask; we will answer according to what we have learned.”

The dānapati asked: “Which is more meritorious, pure faith (prasannacitta) toward the Jewel of the Buddha or pure faith toward the Jewel of the Saṃgha?”[6]

The śrāmaṇeras answered: “We see no difference between the Jewel of the Saṃgha and the Jewel of the Buddha. Why?”

Notes on the Āmra-sūtra:

Ambānisutta in Anguttara, II, p. 106–107 (cf. Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 17, p. 634a17–b17).

Footnotes and references:


The Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, p. 139 is slightly different: Kṣaṇyate pudgalaḥ pudgalasya pramāṇam udgṛhṇan: “The person who takes the measure of another person hurts himself.” This is a canonical dictum: cf. Anguttara, III, p. 350, l. 6; 351, l. 14; V, p. 140, l. 20; 143, l. 17: Khaññati h’ Ānanda puggalo puggalesu pamāṇaṃ gaṇhanto.


Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā, p. 139: Neryāpthena na kulena na ca śrutena na… na vayasā na ca vāgviśuddhyā śakyaṃ pramātum iha kenacid āryasaṃghaḥ.


Ibid., p. 139: Taṃ tuṣṭuve padaśatataiḥ svayam eva buddho yatrālpam apy upakṛtaṃ bahutām upaiti. Ratnaṃ tṛtīyam iti yat prathitaṃ pṛthivyām arcyaḥ sa Śākyamuniśiṣyagaṇaḥ samagraḥ: “The Buddha himself praised this Saṃgha in hundreds of phrases. Even a small service given to it increases. Known on earth by the name of the Third Jewel, this entire group of disciples of Śākyamuni is worthy of being honored.”


In the Cīvarasutta in Saṃyutta (II, p. 219–222), Mahākāśyapa says that in order to become a monk, he had a paṭapilotikāṃ saṅghāṭi made, ‘an undergarment made of pieces of cloth’. According to he Commentary of Saṃyutta (II, p. 180), Kāśyapa meant the saṃghati which was made by cutting up his garments of great value (Iti mahārahāni vatthḥāni chinditvā kataṃ saṅghātiṃ sandhāya paṭopilotikānaṃ saªghātin ti vuttaṃ). The Buddha admired the quality of the material: Mudukā kho tyāyaṃ Kassapa paṭapilotikānaṃ saṅghāti. “That is why”, continues Kaśyapa, “I made a gift to the Blessed One of my undergarment made of pieces of cloth, and I replaced them with the hempen rags use by the Blessed One” (So khv āhaṃ paṭapilotkānaṃ saṅghāṭiṃ Bhagavato pādāsi, ahaṃ pana Bhabavato sāṇāni paṃsukūlāni nibbasanāno paṭipajjiṃ).

In the corresponding sūtra in the Saṃyuktāgama (Tsa, T 99, k. 41, p. 303b22; Pie tsa, T 100, k. 6, p. 418b6), it is stated that Kāśyapa’s saṃghāṭi was worth one hundred thousand ounces of gold.

According to the legend related above (p. 190–196F), Kāśyapa actually remains at Rājagṛha within the Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata. He is clothed in the robes of the Buddha and must hand them over to the future buddha, Maitreya.


The great ocean has eight wonderful extraordinary qualities, one of which is not being able to cohabit with corpses: Mahāsamuddo na matena kuṇapena saṃvasati; yaṃ hoti mahāsamudde mataṃ kuṇapaṃ, taṃ khippaṃ ñeva tīraṃ vāheti thalaṃ ussāreti: cf. Vinaya, II, p. 237; Anguttara, IV, p. 198, 201; Udāna, p. 53,55. See also Daśabhūmika, p. 97, l. 9–10.


A scholastic problem to which there are three theses:

1) The gift to the Buddha and the gift to the Saṃgha each give a great fruit of retribution: Theses 170 and 171 of the Theravādins (Bareau, Sectes, p. 233; Kathāvatthu, XVII, 9–10, p. 553–556.

2) The gift to the Buddha does not give a great fruit of retribution because, having entered nirvāṇa a long time ago, the Buddha cannot enjoy the gift made to him and because the Buddha, in the passage in which we are interested here, has defined the Saṃgha as ‘the best field of merit for the world’: Thesis 5 of the Vetullakas (Bareau, Sectes, p. 255; Kathāvatthu, XVII, 10, p. 555–556); Thesis 21 of the Mahīśāsakas (Bareau, ibid., p. 185).

3) The gift to the Saṃgha does not give a great fruit of retribution because the Saṃgha is lower in merit than the Buddha and because the Sūtra (Majjhima, III, p. 254) gives the Buddha as the best field of merit: Thesis 4 of the Vetullakas (Bareau, ibid., p. 255; Kathāvatthu, XVII, 9, p. 553); Thesis 1 of the Dharmaguptakas (Bareau, ibid., p. 192).

See also Kośa, IV, p. 283, note; Nyāyānusāra, T 1562, k. 38, p. 558c. For the Traité, both kinds of gifts are equally fruitful.