Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “degrees of loving-kindness and compassion” 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.

Note: In this section, the Traité partially adopts the Sarvāstivādin views on lesser and great compassion: see above, p. 1717F.

Question. – Great loving kindness and great compassion being so, what is lesser loving-kindness and lesser compassion?

Answer. – The loving-kindness and compassion that are part of the four immeasurables (apramāṇacitta) are lesser; but here the loving-kindness and compassion that are concerned in the eighteen special attributes (āveṇikadharma) are great.

Furthermore, the loving-kindness and compassion found in the Buddha’s mind are called great: those found in the minds of other people are called lesser.

Question. – If that is so, why is it said that the bodhisattva practices great loving-kindness and great compassion?

Answer. – The great loving-kindness of the bodhisattva is lesser compared with that of the Buddha, but compared with that of adepts of the two Vehicles [śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha], it is great. The magnitude is a question of words (prajñapti).[1] The great loving-kindness and great compassion of the Buddha are truly very great.

Furthermore, lesser loving-kindness gives happiness to beings only in theory; actually, it has no happy effect. Lesser compassion considers the various physical and mental sufferings of beings and has pity on them, but is incapable of freeing them from suffering. On the other hand, the great loving-kindness not [256c] only wishes that beings find happiness, but also assures them of happy things; and great compassion not only has pity for the suffering of beings but also frees them from sufferings.[2]

Furthermore, in worldly people (pṛthagjana), śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas, the loving-kindness and compassion are described as lesser, whereas in the Buddhas they attain the epithet of great.

Furthermore, great loving-kindness arises in the mind of great men (mahāpuruṣa), appears suddenly within the great dharmas which are the ten powers (bala), the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya) the four unobstructed knowledges (pratisaṃvid) and the eighteen special attributes (āveṇikadharma): it is able to destroy the great sufferings of the three bad destinies (durgati)[3] and can bring the three kinds of great happiness: i) happiness of the gods (divyasukha), ii) human happiness (manuṣyasukha), iii) the happiness of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasukha).[4]

In addition, this great loving-kindness is extended to all the beings of the ten directions and three times, including insects (prāṇin).[5] Loving-kindness penetrates the marrow of the bones (asthimajjan) and the mind never renounces it.

Suppose that the beings of the trisāhasramahāsāhasralokadhātu had fallen into the three bad destinies (durgati) and in their place a single man underwent the sufferings of each of them; suppose that after having repaid these sufferings, this man took the happiness of the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇasukha), the happiness of the trances and absorptions (dhyānasamāpattisukha), the supreme happiness of this world (laukikāgrasukha) and distributed them liberally to beings to make up for it. Well then! This man would not reach the ten-millionth past of the loving-kindness and compassion of the Buddha. Why? Because the happiness of the world is deceptive, false and does not free from saṃsāra.

Footnotes and references:


Since coarseness and subtlety, big and small, are relative notions (parasparāpekṣika), as has been said above (p. 729F, 1687F).


See above, p. 1707F, 1709F.


The tisso dukkhatā, namely, dukkhadukkhatā, saṃkhāradukkhgatā and vipariṇāmadukkhatā: cf. Dīgha, III, p. 216; Saṃyutta, IV, p. 259; V, p. 56.


Cf. Commentary of the Dhammapada, III, p. 51 which also distinguishes manussasukham, dibbasukham and paramatthabhūtaṃ nibbānasukham.


In contrast to the lesser loving-kindness which bears upon only beings of Kāmadhātu

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