Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the position of morality among the path members” 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.

IV.3. The position of morality among the Path members

Question. – If morality is cause and condition for meditative stability (samādhi) and if meditative stability is cause and condition for wisdom (prajñā), why is wisdom placed at the beginning (ādau) of [the list] of the eightfold noble Path, morality at the middle (madhye) and meditative stability at the end (paryavasāne)?[1]

Answer. – When one is starting out on a trip, it is the rule to first consider the path to travel with one’s eyes and then to travel. When one is traveling, one must be careful. While walking energetically, one always recalls the advice of the guide. If these are remembered, one attentively follows one’s route without going off on false paths. It is the same for right view (samyagdṛṣṭi).

1) First, with right wisdom, one considers the five aggregates of attachment (upadānaskandha) which are always painful: this is what is called [the truth] of suffering (duḥkha). Suffering is the result of a group of fetters (saṃyojana), affection (anunaya), etc.: this is what is called the origin (samudaya). The cessation of the fetters (saṃyojananirodha), affection, etc., is called nirvāṇa. Considering the eight members (aṣṭāṅga) in this way is called Path. All of that is [226b] right view (samyagdṛṣṭi).

From that moment, the yogin whose mind is firm knows that saṃsāra is false and should be abandoned, that nirvāṇa is true and should be followed. This clear seeing of things (read kiue-ting = vyavasāya, nirṇaya) is called right view (samyagdṛṣṭi).

2) The yogin knows and sees these things, but the strength of his mind is not great and he is not yet able to start out on his journey. He reflects, calculates and stimulates the right view so that it may gain power. This is called right intention (samyaksaṃkalpa).

3–5) His wisdom being fervent, he wants to express it in words. This is why he then practices right speech (samyagvāc), right action (samyakkarmānta) and right livelihood (samyagājīva).

6) At the time when he practices morality, he is energetic, without laziness, and never stops in the meditative stabilizations with form and without form (rūpārūpyasamādhi). This is called right exertion (samyagvyāyāma).

7) Using right view, he contemplates the four Truths (catuḥsatya). He never forgets that all the disturbing emotions (kleśa) are enemies (amitra) to be destroyed, that right view, etc., are friends to follow. This is called right mindfulness (samyaksmṛti).

8) He concentrates his mind on the four Truths without being distracted. He prevents it from being led toward the form and formless meditative stabilizations (rūpārūpyasamādhi) but wholeheartedly moves toward nirvāṇa. This is called right meditation (samyaksamādhi).

At the beginning [during the preparatory Path], the yogin obtains the good-impure (kuśalāsrava) good roots called heat (uṣmagata), summits (mūrdhan) and patience (kṣānti),[2] which are developed in beginning, intermediate and final minds.

When he penetrates into the pure mind (anāsravacitta) [constituting the first moment of the Path of seeing], he is perfected quickly in one instant.[3] Here there is no distinction between initial, intermediate and final minds.

Right view (samyagdṛṣṭi) is associated with right conceptualizing (samyaksaṃkalpa), right effort (samyagvyāyāna), right mindfulness (samyaksmṛṭi), right concentration (samyaksamādhi); and the threefold morality [consisting of samyagvāc, samyakkarmānta and samyagājīva)] functions in concomitance with these five members (read wou fen):

1) Right view (samyagdṛṣṭi) distinguishes the beautiful and the ugly and deals with the good (hita).

2) Right intention (samyaksaṃkalpa) deals with encouraging right view.

3–5) Right speech (samyagvāc), etc., [namely, samyakkarmānta and samyagājīva) maintains all the qualities (guṇa) of this wisdom so that they are not lost.

6) Right effort (samyagvyāyāma) encourages wisdom so that it advances rapidly and does not stop.

7) Right mindfulness (samyaksmṛṭi) recalls and never forgets the seven things to be done.

8) Right concentration (samyaksamādhi) makes the mind pure, free from stains (kaṣāya) and distraction (vikṣepa). It assures the success (siddhi) of right view and the seven [preceding] members. It is like a lamp (dīpa) inside a house sheltered from the wind that burns brightly.

In this way pure morality (anāsravaśīla) occurs in the eightfold noble Path and is praised by the sages (vijãpraśasta).

Footnotes and references:


This question has already been asked above, p. 838F. In the list of the eight members of the path, the first two constitute prajñāskandha, the next three śīlaskandha and the last three samādhiskandha.


Uṣmagata, mūrdhan, kṣānti and laukikāgradharma are the four auxiliaries of the stage of penetration (nirvedhabhāgīya) of the Buddhist Truths and are practiced during the preparatory Path (prayogamārga) immediately preceding the Path of seeing the truths (darśanamārga): see above, p. 395F, n.


The preparatory Path is followed by the Path of seeing the truths consisting of sixteen mind-moments. Starting with the first, i.e., the duḥkhe dharmajñānakṣānti, the ascetic becomes an Ārya, a candidate for the first fruit. See above, p. 1067F.

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