Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “what is fulfilling the wishes?” 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.

I. What is fulfilling the wishes?

Question. – What order (anukrama) is the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra following here when it says that the bodhisattva “wishes to fulfill the desires of all beings”?

Answer. – The activity of the bodhisattva is twofold: i) honoring the Buddhas (buddhānāṃ pūjā); ii) saving beings (sattvānāṃ paritrāṇa). By honoring the Buddhas, the bodhisattva gains immense merit (puṇya) and, with this merit, he helps beings (sattvān upakaroti) in the sense that “he fulfills their wishes”.

The master merchant goes to sea and collects jewels (ratna); then, having returned safe and sound, he helps his relatives (bandhu), his friends (mitra), etc. Similarly, the bodhisattva goes to the sea of the Buddhadharma and gathers immense precious qualities there, thanks to which he helps beings.

A petty king in paying homage to the great king has to satisfy him and the latter, in return, grants him the offices and the wealth he desires. Having returned to his native land, the petty king helps beings and drives away thieves (caura). Similarly, the bodhisattva who has paid homage to the Buddha, the king of the Dharma, receives in return a special prediction (vyākaraṇa) and, thanks to the immense treasure of his roots of good (kuśalamūla), attains the indestructible power of knowledge (akṣayajñānabala). Then, going among beings, he honors good people, gives to the poor whatever they need and destroys the armies of Māra as well as the holders of wrong views and heresies. This is how, after having honored the Buddhas, he fulfills the wishes of beings.

Question. – Does the bodhisattva truly fulfill the wishes of all beings? If he completely fulfilled the wishes of beings, what would be the use of the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas? If he does not completely fulfill them, why does the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra speak of the bodhisattva wanting to fulfill the wishes of all beings and practicing the prajñāpāramitā for this purpose?

Answer. – There are two kinds of wishes (manoratha, āśā): i) the realizable wish; ii) the unrealizable wish.

When someone wants to measure space (ākāśa) and reach its limits, when someone seeks to reach the limits of time or place, when a child wants to grab [277c] his image in water or in a mirror, these are all unrealizable wishes.

When one bores wood to make fire, when one digs the earth to find water, when one cultivates merit (puṇya) to attain birth among humans or gods, to find the fruit of arhat or pratyekabuddha or even to become a Buddha, the king of Dharma, these are all realizable wishes.

The realizable wish is of two types: i) worldly (laukika), ii) supraworldly (lokottara). In the present passage, it is a matter of fulfilling the worldly wishes of beings. How do we know that? Because [here the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is talking about] supplying them with objects of current need: food and drink (annapāna), couches (khaṭvā), bedding (śayanāsana), etc., up to lamps (dīpa).

Question. – Why does the bodhisattva give beings things that are easy to find (sulabha) and not things that are hard to find (durlabha)?

Answer. – Things wished for are inferior (hīna), middling (madhya) or superior (adhimātra). The inferior ones are the causes and conditions bringing about happiness (sukha) in the present life (ihajanman), the middling ones are the causes and conditions assuring happiness in the future life (parajanma), the superior ones are the causes and conditions assuring nirvāṇa. This is why the bodhisattva first fulfills the inferior wishes, then the middling wishes and finally the superior wishes.  

Moreover, beings often cling (abhiniviṣṭa) to present happiness, rarely to future happiness, and even more rarely to the happiness of nirvāṇa. By speaking here of things to which beings are most attached, [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] is also including the things to which they are least attached.

Moreover, from beginning to end, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra speaks above all about future lives and the path of nirvāṇa; rarely does it speak of things of the present life. The bodhisattva’s rule is to assure beings all kinds of benefits (anuśaṃsa) without omitting any. Why? His first and foremost intention is to lead beings to the Mahāyāna Dharma. If they are unable to adopt it and become converted, the bodhisattva presents to them the path of the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha. If they are resistant to that, the bodhisattva presents them with the practices of the ten good ways of conduct (daśa kuśaladharmapatha), the four limitless ones (brahmavihāra), etc., so that they can cultivate merit (puṇya). If, finally, beings do not appreciate any of these practices, the bodhisattva does not abandon them but gives them the good things of the present life, namely, food and drink (annapāna), etc.

Finally, when worldly people (pṛthagjana) give someone food, drink, etc., and thus fulfill their wishes, they are fulfilling the causes and conditions [required for this result], insofar as it is things of the present lifetime and those of future lifetimes. Even without fulfilling these causes and conditions, the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas also fulfill the wishes of beings but the services that they render are very small. The bodhisattva-mahāsattva who practices the perfection of wisdom, due to his actions, is able, on the other hand, to become king or an important person (mahāśreṣthin) enjoying immense wealth. When beings come from the four direction (caturdiśasattva) to call upon him, he satisfies them completely.

[The fabulous gifts of Bindu].

By the power of their superknowldeges (abhijñā), bodhisattvas fulfill the wishes of beings.