Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “material benefits granted by the bodhisattva” 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. Material benefits granted by the Bodhisattva

[Here the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra is speaking about fulfilling the wishes of beings “in regard to food and drink, garments, bedding, ointments and perfumes, vehicles, houses, couches and other utensils”. What is meant by these objects?]

1. By food and drink (annapāna) we understand briefly ‘[mouthfuls] of food which is twofold, coarse or subtle’ (kavaḍīkārāhāra audārikaḥ sūkṣmaś ca):[1] on the one hand, cakes (maṇḍa), cooked rice (odana), etc.; on the other hand, the food of a hundred flavors (śatarasāhāra).

Although a sūtra says that “all beings subsist by means of the four foods” (sarvasattvāś caturāhārasthitikāḥ),[2] here it is a matter of food in mouthfuls only. The other three foods, being immaterial (arūpin), cannot be passed on. Besides, if one gives food in mouthfuls, one is giving by the very fact of the other three. Why? Because food in mouthfuls strengthens (abhivardhayati) the other three as is said in the sūtra: “When the benefactor (dānapati) gives food (bhojana), he is giving five benefits to the recipients (pratigrāhaka).”[3]

Beverages (pāna), as they are usually called, are of two types:

  1. wines from plants such as the grape-vine (drakṣā), sugar-cane (ikṣu), etc.;
  2. plant liquors: mead from honey (madhu), pomegranate liquor, pear liquor, etc., and all cereal liquors.

This whole grouping constitutes food and drink of humans, but there is also the food and drink of the gods, namely, nectar (sudhā), ambrosia (amṛtarasa), foods consisting of the heavenly fruits, etc., the liquor of the madhumādhava (Gaertnera racemosa), etc.

Each being has his own food: beings eat grains, meat, pure food or impure food. When they approach the bodhisattva, all are satisfied.

2. Garments (vastra) are of two kinds: i) some come from living beings such as silks (paṭṭaka), furs (roman), tanned leathers (carman), etc.; ii) others come from plants such as cottons (kārpāsa), tree bark (valkala), etc. [279a]

There are also the garments of the gods: they have no fabric and arise spontaneously (svarasena) on trees: they are brilliant in color, light and soft.

3. Bedding (śayanāsana) consist of beds (khaṭvā), coverlets (chādana), mattresses (mañcaka), curtains (vitāna) and pillows (upadhāna).

4. Ointments and perfumes (vilepanagandha) are of two kinds: i) powdered sandalwood (candana), etc., which is put on the body; ii) all kinds of mixed perfumes that are reduced to powder (cūrṇa) and put on the body, used to perfume clothing, or put on the ground or on walls.

5. Vehicles (yāna), i.e., elephants (hastin), horses (aśva), chariots (ratha), carriages (śakaṭa), etc.

6. Houses (gṛha) such as dwellings (harmya), palaces (rājakula), temples (prāsāda), etc., built of earth, wood or precious objects, to protect from cold (śīta), heat (uṣṇa), wind (vāta), rain (vṛṣṭi), thieves (caura).

7. Lamps (dīpa), such as tallow candles, oil lamps, wax candles, luminous pearls, etc.

8. Other utensils (upakaraṇa), i.e., everything that beings have need of. As it would be impossible to mention them completely, the sūtra gathers them all together into one group.

Question. – Why does it not speak of incense, marvelous flowers, etc?

Answer. – The sūtra has already included them in speaking of ‘other utensils’.

Question. – If that is so, it should have spoken in brief about three things only: food and drink (annapāna), clothing (vastra) and adornments (alaṃkāra).

Answer. – The [six] things [of which the sūtra spoke] are absolutely essential. Whoever wishes the good of beings first of all gives them food and drink (annapāna); next he gives them clothing (vastra); the body being dirty and bad-smelling, he gives ointments and perfumes (vilepanagandha); then he gives bedding (śayanāsana); cold (śīta) and rain (vṛṣṭi) require houses (gṛha); finally, darkness (andhakāra) requires lamps (dīpa).

Question. – But the perfume of flowers (puṣpagandha) also chases away bad smells. Why does the sūtra not speak of it?

Answer. – Flowers do not last and quickly fade; their usefulness is minimal and that is why the sūtra does not speak of them. As for incense-burners, they are necessary in cold weather but difficult in hot weather. Ointments and perfumes are useful in both kinds of weather: when it is cold, they are put into water; when it is hot, they are mixed with sandalwood powder and put on the body. This is why the sūtra speaks only of ointments and perfumes.

Footnotes and references:


Dīgha, III, p. 228, 276; Majjhima, I, p. 48, 261; Saṃyutta, II, p. 11, 13, 98, 101; Vibhaṅga, p. 402–403: Cattāro āhārā: kabaliṅkāro āhāro oḷārilo vā sukhumo vā, phasso dutiyo, manosañcetanā tatiyā, viññāṇaṃ catutthaṃ. – Nidānasaṃyukta, p. 190; Daśottarasūtra, ed. K. Mittal, p. 62–63; Saṃgitisūtra, ed. K. Mittal and V. Rosen, p. 104; Mahāvyut., no. 2283–2285: catvāra āhārāḥ: kabaḍiṃkāra āhāra audārikaḥ sūkṣmaś ca, sparśo dvitīyaḥ, manaḥsañcetanā tṛtīyaḥ, vijñānaṃ caturthaḥ.- “There are four foods: i) food as mouthfuls which is coarse or subtle; ii) food as contact; ii) food as mental activity; iv) food as consciousness.”

They are defined and explained in Visuddhimagga, p. 285; Vibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 130, p. 674c seq.; Kośa, III, p. 119–127.


Saṅgītisuttanta in Dīgha, III, p. 211: Sabbe sattā āhāraṭṭhitikā, sabbe sattā saṃkhāraṭṭhitikā, ayaṃ kho āvuso tena bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā sammāsaṃbuddhena eko dhammo sammadakkhāto. – All beings subsist by means of food. All beings subsist by means of conditioning. This single doctrine, O venerable ones, has been completely stated by the Blessed One who knows and who sees, the completely and perfectly enlightened One.

Anguttara,V, p. 50, 55; Paṭisabhidā, I, p. 5, 122; Khuddakapāṭha, IV; Sabbe sattā āhāraṭṭikā.

Saṅgītisūtra, p. 45; Daśottarasūtra, p. 55: Sarvasattvā āhārasthitayaḥ.

Kośabhāṣya, p.152: Eko dharmo bhagavatā svayam abhijñāyābhisaṃbodhyākhyāto yad uta sarvasattvā āhārasthitikā iti.

Madh. vṛtti, p. 40: Eko dharmaḥ sattvasthititaye yad uta catvāra āhārāḥ.


Sūtra of Anguttara, III, p. 42, cited above, p. 218F, n. 1; 668F, n. 2.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: