Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “loving-kindness and compassion are pure among the buddhas” 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. Loving-kindness and Compassion are pure among the Buddhas

Moreover, the great loving-kindness, great compassion and the other qualities (guṇa) of the Buddha should not be multiplied. The system of Kātyāyana tries to distinguish the natures (lakṣaṇa), and great scholars, basing themselves on Kātyāna’s system, comment on these distinctions:[1] all of that should not be accepted. Why?

Kātyāyana says that great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī), great compassion (mahākaruṇā), omniscience (sarvajñatā) are impure dharmas (sāsravadharma), bonds (grantha), worldly dharmas (laukikadharma). But that is not correct. Why?

Great loving-kindness and great compassion are the root (mūla) of all the Buddha’s attributes; how can it be said that they are impure dharmas (sāsravadharma), bonds (grantha), worldly dharmas (laukikadharma)?

Question. – Although great loving-kindness and great compassion are the root of the Buddha’s attributes, they are impure. Although the lotus (padma) grows in the mud (paṅka), we cannot, however, describe the mud as marvelous. It is the same for great loving-kindness and great compassion; even though they are the root of the attributes of the Buddha, they cannot be pure (anāsrava).

Answer. – As long as the bodhisattva has not become Buddha, his great loving-kindness and great compassion can be called impure (sāsrava) and still show faults (doṣa), but as as soon as he has attained, as Buddha, the knowledge of unhindered deliverance (apratihatavimuktijñāna), all his attributes are pure (śuddha); all the disturbing emotions (kleśa) and their traces (vāsanā) have disappeared. The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas do not possess the knowledge of unobstructed deliverance and do not eliminate the traces of the disturbing emotions (kleśavāsanā). Often even their doubts (saṃśaya) on this subject have not been destroyed and this is why their mind is impure. The Buddhas themselves have none of that. So why then do you say that their great loving-kindness and great compassion are impure?

Question. – I do not wish to be lacking in respect but, since the minds of loving-kindness and compassion in the Buddha concern beings, they are necessarily impure (sāsrava).[2]

Answer. – The power (prabhāva) of the Buddhas is inconceivable (acintya). The śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas feel loving-kindness and compassion without being able to eliminate the notion of being (sattvasaṃjñā), whereas the Buddhas feel loving-kindness and compassion beyond any notion of being. Why is that?

In the arhats and pratyekabuddhas, the nature of ‘beings of the ten directions’ (daśadiksattvanimitta) does not exist (nopalabhyate) and yet, when they feel loving-kindness and compassion, they grasp the nature of being (sattvanimittam udgṛhṇanti). The Buddhas would have to look hard for a single being in the ten directions and they would not find him, and when they feel loving-kindness and compassion they do not grasp the nature of being (sattvanimittaṃ nodgṛhṇanti).

This is what is said in the Wou-tsin-yi king (Akṣayamatisūtra): “There are three kinds of loving-kindness and compassion: i) those that have beings as object (sattvālambana); ii) those that have things as object (dharmālambana); iii) those that that have no object (anālambana).”[3]

Finally, Buddha is the only one among all beings to cultivate the non-deceptive Dharma exclusively (aśathyadharma). If the Buddha practiced loving-kindness and compassion among beings by way of grasping the nature of being, we could not say that he practices the non-deceptive Dharma. Why? Because beings are absolutely non-existent (atyāntanupalabdha).

It does not say that śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas cultivate exclusively [257c] the non-deceptive Dharma and this is also so in regard to beings (sattva) and things (dharma), insofar as they sometimes grasp characteristics (nimittāny udgṛhṇanti) and sometimes they do not grasp them.

It is impossible to make the objection to us that the Buddha does not cultivate the non-deceptive Dharma. His omniscience (sarvajñāna) destroys all the impurities; it can come from impure dharmas (sāsrava) and itself play the part of a pure cause (anāsrava). How could such an attribute be impure (sāsrava)?

Question. – The pure knowledges (anāsravajñāna) each have their object (ālambana); there is not one that can completely bear upon all dharmas. Only conventional knowledge (saṃvṛtijñāna) bears upon all dharmas.[4] This is why we say that omniscience is impure (sāsrava).

Answer. – That is what is said in your system, but it is not said in the system of the Buddha. If a man carrying his own bushel-measure (droṇa) went to the market and this bushel-measure did not correspond to the official bushel-measure, there would be nobody who would use it. It is the same for you. You are using a system that does not correspond to the system of the Buddha and so nobody wants to apply it.

Why would not pure wisdom (anāsravaprajñā) bear upon all dharmas? This impure knowledge [this conventional knowledge (saṃvṛtijñāna) which, according to you, bears upon all dharmas] is conventional (saṃketika), deceptive (mṛṣāvādin) and weak: consequently it cannot bear upon all dharmas correctly and exactly. It is you who claim, in your system, that it bears upon all dharmas.

Furthermore, the system of the śrāvakas includes ten knowledges (jñāna), but in the Mahāyāna there is an eleventh called ‘knowledge conforming to reality (yathābhūtajñāna)’.[5] The ten [traditional] knowledges end up in this knowledge conforming to reality in order that they form only a single knowledge, i.e., pure knowledge (anāsravajñāna). In the same way, the rivers (nadi) of the ten directions empty into the great sea (mahāsamudra) where they all take on one and the same taste, that of salt.[6]

Great loving-kindness and great compassion are included (saṃgṛhīta) in the Samādhirājasamādhi and the Siṃhavikrīḍitasamādhi of the Buddhas.

This briefly (saṃkṣepeṇa) explains the meaning of great loving-kindness and great compassion.

Footnotes and references:


See the preliminary note to the present chapter.


Impure in that they still involve belief in the individual (satkāyadṛṣṭi).


A passage already referred to above, p. 1245F, 1272F.


For the Sarvāstivādins, saṃvṛtijñāna is impure and bears upon all dharmas. See above, p. 1474–1475F.


Adopting the variant jou che tche. This eleventh knowledge added by the Mahāyānists to the traditional ten knowledges has been defined above, p. 1483,F, 1486F.


Mahāsamuddo ekaraso loṇaraso: cf. Anguttara, IV, p. 199, 203.