Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “metonymical meaning of kushalamula (‘roots of good’)” 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.

II. Metonymical meaning of kuśalamūla (‘roots of good’)

Here, by ‘roots of good’ (kuśalamūla), we mean the fruits of retribution (vipākaphala) coming from the roots of good, such as flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha), necklaces (niṣka), garments (vastra), banners (patāka), parasols (chattra) and all kinds of precious gems (maṇiratna). Why is that?

Sometimes, [and this is the case here], the effect is designated by means of the cause (kārye kāraṇopacāraḥ), as in the expression: “to eat a thousand ounces of gold monthly”. Gold is not edible but it is by means of gold that one finds something to eat: hence the expression: ‘to eat gold”.

Also, sometimes the cause is designated by means of the result (kāraṇe kāryopacāraḥ) for example, when on seeing a beautiful picture, one says: “That is a good artist”. The artist is not the picture, but seeing the beauty of the picture, one speaks of the talent of the artist.[1]

It is the same in regard to the roots of good and their fruits of retribution. By virtue of the karmic causes and conditions constituted by the roots of good, one obtains, [as fruits of retribution], objects to offer (pūjokaraṇa) called here [by metonymy] ‘roots of good’, [whereas they are really the results of the roots of good].

Question. – If that is so, why not speak specifically of flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha), etc., by name instead of designating them indirectly by their causes?

Answer. – Offerings (pūjā) are of two kinds: i) material offerings (āmiṣapūja); ii) spiritual offerings (dharmapūjā).[2] If the sūtra mentions only flowers, perfumes, etc., as offerings, it would not include spiritual offerings. But as it speaks here of ‘roots of good’ as offerings, we know that it includes both material and spiritual offerings.

Footnotes and references:


‘To honor the Buddhas by the roots of good’ means to honor the Buddhas by the offerings resulting from the roots of good. Expressing oneself thus is to designate the result (the offerings) by the name of the cause (the roots of good).

1) It is kārye kāraṇopacāraḥ when one metaphorically applies [the name of] the cause to the effect, in other words, when one designates the effect by the cause.

The classical example given here and above (p. 218F) already appeared in the Śatakaśāstra by Āryadeva, T 1569, k. 1, p. 170a16–17: “He eats a thousand ounces of gold monthly”. Gold is not food, but it is the cause of food.

Another example given above (p. 218F): “Woman is the stain of morality”. Woman is not the stain but the cause of the stain.

2) Conversely, there is kāraṇe kāryopacāraḥ when one metaphorically applies the name of the effect to the cause, in other words when one designates the cause by the effect.

The classical example given here already appeared in the Śatakaśāstra by Āryadeva, T 1569, k. 1, p. 170a17–18: “When, on seeing a beautiful painting, one says that it is a good artist. The artist is not good; it is the painting created by him that is good.”

Another classical example given by the Kośabhāṣya, p. 7, l. 11–13 is taken from a stanza of the Dhammapāda, v. 194, and the Udānavarga, XXX, v. 22: Sukhaṃ buddhasya cotpādaḥ: “The appearance of the Buddha is happiness”. The appearance of the Buddha is not happiness; it is the bliss that it brings that is the happiness. In saying that this appearance is happiness, one is applying an attribute of the effect to the cause.


Anguttara, I, p. 93: Dve ‘mā bhikkhave pūjā. katamā dve. āmiṣapūjā ca dhammapūjā ca.

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