Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “epithet ‘great’ reserved for 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.

III. Epithet ‘great’ reserved for Loving-kindness and Compassion

Question. – All that resides in the mind of the Buddha is great; why do you say that only his loving-kindness and compassion are great?

Answer. – All the qualities (guṇa) belonging to the Buddha are necessarily great.

Question. – If that is so, why do you say only that his loving-kindness and compassion are great?

Answer. – The loving-kindness and compassion are the root (mūla) of the enlightenment (saṃbodhi) of the Buddhas. Why is that?

The bodhisattva sees beings tormented by all the sufferings (duḥkha): suffering of birth (jāti), old age (jarā), sickness (vyādhi) and death (maraṇa), bodily suffering (kāyika), and mental suffering (caitasika), suffering in this life and in the next life (ihaparatraduḥkha). Feeling great loving-kindness and great compassion, he comes to save beings from these sufferings, and subsequently he forms the resolution (cittam utpādayati) of seeking anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. By the power of his great loving-kindness and great compassion, in the course of saṃsāra in innumerable incalculable lifetimes, his courage never sinks (cittam asya nāvalīyate). By the power of his great loving-kindness and his great compassion and although he could have attained nirvāṇa long ago, he does not give the evidence of it (na sākṣātkaroti).[1] This is why, among all the attributes of the Buddha, loving-kindness and compassion are great. If he did not have this great loving-kindness and this great compassion, he would enter nirvāṇa too soon.

Next, when he attains enlightenment, he realizes innumerable very profound concentrations (samādhi): trances (dhyāna), absorptions (samāpatti) and liberations (vimokṣa). Experiencing this pure happiness (viśuddhasukha), he abandons it and does not keep it. He goes into the villages (grāma) and the towns (nagara) and preaches the Dharma with all kinds of avadānas and nidānas. He changes his form and guides beings by an infinity of vocal sounds (ghoṣa); he endures curses, injuries, criticisms and slander on the part of beings and goes so far as to become a female musician: all that thanks to his great loving-kindness and great compassion.

Furthermore, the epithet ‘great’ attached to great loving-kindness and great compassion does not come from the Buddha: it is beings who describe them thus. In the same way, the lion (siṃha) that is very strong never boasts of the greatness of its strength, but all the beasts remember it. [257a]

Beings have heard speak of the many marvelous attributes of the Buddha and they know that the Buddha, in order to save beings, can accomplish austerities (duṣkaracaryā) for innumerable incalculable periods (asaṃkhyeyakalpa). Hearing and seeing such exploits, they have given the names of great loving-kindness and great compassion to these attributes.

A man who had two friends was thrown into prison (kārā) for some misdeed. One of his friends provided the necessities and the other died in his place. Everybody declared that the friend who died in his place was full of loving-kindness and compassion. It is the same for the Buddha who, from lifetime to lifetime has sacrificed his head (śiras), eyes (nayana) marrow (majja) and skull (mastaka) for beings.[2] Beings hearing and seeing these things in one accord have called him the great loving-kindness one and the great compassionate one.

[Śibijātaka].[3] – As king Che-p’i (Śibi), he wanted to save a pigeon (kapota) by replacing his own flesh as [an equivalent] and as the piece of his flesh did not reach the weight of the pigeon, he climbed onto the balance (tulā) and ransomed the pigeon at the cost of his body. Then the earth shook in six ways (pṛthivī ṣaḍvikāram akampata), the water of the sea rose in waves and the devas offered the king perfumed flowers. Beings cried out: “He is truly a great loving-kindness one and great compassionate one to be so concerned for a little bird at this point.”

The Buddha receives the epithet of great loving-kindness and great compassion from beings. There are many jātakas of the same type that could be told fully here.

Footnotes and references:


This is what the Vijñānavādin later will call apratiṣṭhita nirvāṇa: cf. Sūtrālaṃkāra, p. 41, 47, 147, 171; Madhyāntavibhāga, p. 4, 108, 200.


For this detail, see above, p. 143–144F and n.


Jātaka told in full above, p. 255–260F.

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