Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “v.2 generosity of the dharma (dharmadana)” 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.

V.2 Generosity of the Dharma (dharmadāna)

How is generosity of the Dharma (dharmadāna) recollected?

The yogin has the following thought: The benefits of generosity of the Dharma are very great: it is because of generosity of the Dharma that all the disciples (śrāvaka) of the Buddha have found the Path.

Moreover, the Buddha said: “Of the two kinds of generosity, generosity of the Dharma is foremost.”[1] Why?

The retribution (vipāka) for material generosity (āmiṣadāna) is limited whereas the retribution of generosity of the Dharma is immense. Material generosity is rewarded in the desire realm (kāmadhātu) whereas generosity of the Dharma is rewarded in the threefold world (traidhātuka) and also beyond the threefold world.

If the ascetic does not seek glory (śloka), profit (lābha) or power (prabhāva), if he exerts himself solely in the Path of the Buddhas and develops great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā), if he saves beings from the suffering of birth, old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa), then this is ‘pure generosity of the Dharma’ (viśuddhadharmadāna). Otherwise, it is only a business deal or a barter.

Moreover, when material generosity is practiced widely, wealth is exhausted; on the other hand, when generosity of the Dharma is practiced widely, the Dharma grows. Material generosity that has existed for countless generations is an old habit; on the other hand, generosity of the Dharma which did not exist before the blossoming of the holy Dharma (saddharma) is something new.[2]

Material generosity remedies only hunger and thirst (kṣutpipāsā), sicknesses (vyādhi) of cold, heat (śītoṣṇa), etc.; generosity of the Dharma can drive away the sicknesses of the ninety-eight defilements (kleśa).[3] [227b]

For all these reasons, a distinction is made between material generosity and generosity of the Dharma. The yogin should reollect the generosity of the Dharma.

Question. – What is generosity of the Dharma (dharmadāna)?

Answer. – Generosity of the Dharma is the fact of teaching others the twelve classes of texts preached by the Buddha (dvādaśāṅgabuddhavacana)[4] with a pure mind and in view of merit (puṇya).

Futhermore, generosity of the Dharma is also the fact of using magical power (ṛddhibala) so that people may find the Path. Thus it is said in the Wang-ming p’ou-sa king (Jālinīprabhabodhisattvasūtra or Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā): “People who see the brilliance of the Buddha find the path and are reborn among the gods.”[5]

Therefore if, without saying anything vocally, one brings others to find the Dharma, that is generosity of the Dharma.

In this gift of the Dharma, the mental nature (cittasvabhāva) of beings, the greater or lesser number of their defilements (kleśa), the sharpness (tīkṣnatā) or dullness (mṛdutā) of their wisdom (prajñā) must be taken into consideration; it is necessary to be based on what can be useful to them in order to preach the Dharma to them. In the same way, the medicine (bhaiṣajya) is regulated for the sickness (vyādhi) for which it is efficacious.

There are people who are especially lustful (rāgabahula), especially hateful (dveṣabahula), especially stupid (mohabahula), combining two of these tendencies, or mixing all three. For the lustful, contemplation of the horrible (aśubhabhāvanā) is preached. For the hateful, loving-kindness (maitrīcitta) is preached; for the stupid, the profound co-dependent production of phenomena (gamabhīrapratītyasamutpāda) is preached; for those who combine two of these tendencies, both of these practices are preached; for those who mix all three, all three practices are preached. If one does not know the nature of the sickness and one errs in the medicine, the sickness gets worse.

Those who believe in the existence of beings (sattva) are taught that only the five aggregates (pañcaskandha) exist, and that there is no ātman in them. Those who deny the existence of beings are taught the renewing of the five skandhas serially (pañcaskandhasaṃtāna) so that they do not fall into [the wrong view] of nihilism (ucchedavāda).[6] To those who seek wealth, generosity is preached. To those who wish to be reborn among the gods, morality (śīla) is preached. To those who are afflicted, the things of the gods are preached. To unfortunate lay people (gṛhasta), the regulations of the monks (pravrajita) are preached. To lay people who love money, the fivefold discipline (pañcaśīla) of the upāsaka is preached. To those who hate saṃsāra, the three seals of the Dharma (dharmamudrā), impermanence (anitya), non-self (anātman), nirvāṇa, are preached.[7]

Being based on the doctrine of the sūtras, the preacher himself shows the meaning (artha) and the logic (nyāya) and adorns the gift of the Dharma with comparisons (avadāna) in order to preach it to beings.

Footnotes and references:


Anguttara, I, p. 91, etc., cited above, p. 699F, n. 1.


This consideration has already been developed above, p. 699–700F.


The 98 anuśayas: cf. Kośa, V, p. 9.


For a detailed description, see above, p. 692–693F.


Viśeṣacintin, T 585, k. 1, p. 1b20–22; T 586, K. 1, p. 33c14–15; T 587, k. 1, p. 62c24–26. In this last version, we read: “The Tathāgata has a brilliance called tchou-yi ‘stable profit”. When the Buddha walks to and fro, the soles of his feet shine and beings are touched by this light. Those who encounter this light are reborn after their death among the gods.”

For the Viśeṣacintibrahmaparipṛcchā, see above, p. 1268F, n. 2.


In this first series of cases, the sermon is from the therapeutic point of view (prātipakṣika siddhānta): see above, p. 33–35F.


In this second series of cases, the sermon is from the individual point of view (prātipauruṣika siddhānta): see above, p. 31–32F.