Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “exhortations to the practice of the six perfections (paramita)” 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. Exhortations to the practice of the six perfections (pāramitā)

1. Perfection of generosity

Generosity (dānapmaramitā). – The bodhisattva invites beings to practice generosity:

Poverty (dāridrya) is a great suffering but it is not out of poverty that one commits evil actions (duṣkṛta) and falls into the bad destinies (durgati). It is by committing evil actions that one falls into the three bad destinies from which it is impossible to become free.

Hearing this, beings give up thoughts of avarice (mātsaryacitta) and practice the perfection of generosity as will be said at length in the following chapters.

Moreover, in the presence of beings, the bodhisattva preaches the Dharma by means of all kinds of nidānas and avadānas and criticizes avarice:

The miser, even for his personal needs, stints and spends nothing. He becomes nervous and turns red in front of beggars (yācaka). In the present lifetime, his voice (svara) and his color (rūpa) are ugly (durvarṇa). Having planted bad actions for the future (paratra), he will be left with physical ugliness; not having previously planted the seeds of generosity, he is presently miserable. The miser is attached to wealth (dhana) and his greed does not cease. He opens the gate of sin (āpattidvāra) and does especially bad things; this is why he falls into the bad destinies.

Moreover, while the wheel of transmigration (saṃsāracakra) is in movement, among the profitable actions there is none that surpasses generosity. Conveniences obtainable at will (yatheccham) in the present lifetime (iha) and in future lifetimes (amutra) all come from generosity. Generosity is the good guide [280c] that opens the doorway to the threefold happiness: heavenly happiness (divyasukha), human happiness (manuṣyasukha) and the happiness of nirvāṇa (nirvāṇasukha). Why?

[Sīhasutta.][1] – The reputation of the honest and generous man spreads: among the people well-disposed in the ten directions, there is no one who does not love him; in the great assembly, he is without fear (viśārada); at the moment of death, he has no fear.

This man says to himself: “I have planted[2] my wealth in the good fields of merit (puṇyakśetra); I will certainly cross through the gate of human happiness, of heavenly happiness and the happiness of nirvāṇa.”

Why? Generosity destroys the fetter of avarice (mātsaryasaṃyojana), favors the beneficiary (pratigrāhaka), drives away malice (vyāpāda) and suppresses jealousy (īrṣya). The person who honors his beneficiary drives out his own pride (mānastambha) and, by giving with a settled mind (niyatacitta), breaks the thread of his own doubt (saṃśayajāla). Knowing the fruits of retribution (vipākaphala) of generosity, he drives away wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi) and destroys ignorance (avidyā). Suppressing all the passions (kleśa) in this way, he opens the doorway to nirvāṇa.

Finally, he opens not only the door to the threefold happiness but also the door to immense Buddhahood and the state of Bhagavat. Why is that? Because the six perfections (pāramitā) are Buddhahood, and generosity (dāna) is the first doorway to it: the other practices (caryā) all follow from it.

These are the immense benefits (anuśaṃsa) of generosity, and for this reason the bodhisattva “wants beings to become established in the perfection of generosity”. Regarding the perfection of generosity, see what has been said above (p. 662–769F) in regard to generosity.

2. Perfection of morality

Morality (śīla). – The bodhisattva praises the practice of morality in the presence of beings:

You, O beings, should learn to observe morality. The virtue of morality uproots the three bad destinies (durgati) and excludes a position of inferiority among men; it assures [a rebirth] among the gods, an honorable position among men and even attains the bodhi of the Buddhas.

Morality is the root of bliss (sukhamūla) for all beings. It is like a great treasure (mahānidhi) bringing pearls (maṇi) and jewels (ratna). Morality is a great protector (mahāpāla) that suppresses fears (bhaya). It is like a great army (mahāsena) that destroys thieves (caura). Morality is an ornament (ābharaṇa) to be worn like a necklace (keyūra, niṣka). Morality is a great ship (mahānau) capable of crossing the great ocean of saṃsāra. Morality is a great vehicle (mahāyāna) capable of transporting heavy jewels to the city of nirvāṇa. Morality is the good medicine (bhaiṣajya) capable of curing the sick of their fetters (saṃyojanavyādhi). Morality is a friend (kalyāṇamitra) who follows you from lifetime to lifetime, never leaving you, and that assures the serenity of the mind (cittayogakṣema): thus when a well is dug, as soon as wet mud is noticed, one rejoices and has no more sadness or worry. Morality perfects and improves all practices like a father and mother who are bringing up their children. Morality is the ladder of wisdom (jñānasopāna) that penetrates into purity (anāsrava). Morality terrorizes the fetters (saṃyojana) like a lion (siṃha) that captures gazelles (mṛga). Morality is the root of the qualities (guṇamūla) and the prerogative of monks. He who practices pure morality sees his aspirations (praṇidhāna) realized at will (yatheccham): it is like the cintāmaṇi that realizes all the desires of beings as soon at is in invoked.

By praising the qualities of morality thus in many ways, the bodhisattva leads beings to rejoice and make the resolution to become established in the perfection of morality.

3. Perfection of patience

Patience (kṣānti). – In the presence of beings, the bodhisattva praises patience:

Patience is the strength of all monks (pravrajita): it humbles the wicked [281a] and manifests wondrous things (āścaryavastu) in the assemblies. Patience is the guardian that watches that generosity and morality are not broken. Patience is a great armor (mahāsaṃnāha) that soldiers cannot pierce. Patience is the good medicine (bhaiṣajya) that eliminates bad poisons (viṣa). Patience is a great victory (mahājaya) that assures safety (yogakṣema) and peace (anupadrava) over the dangerous paths of saṃsāra. Patience is a great treasure that gives to the poor and the unfortunate an unlimited quantity of jewels. Patience is a great boat (mahānau) that takes one from this shore (apāra) of saṃsāra to the other shore (pāra) of nirvāṇa. Patience is a file that makes the qualities shine: actually, the person who does you wrong is like a pig that by rubbing against the golden mountain increases its brilliance still further.[3] Of the cutting tools used to seek the bodhi of the Buddhas and save beings, patience is the most admirable.

The yogin should make the following reflection: If I answer this man maliciously (vyāpāda), I am wounding myself. Besides, I too, in a previous existence, have committed such a fault; it is impossible to change it, I must necessarily atone for it. If I do not pardon this man, others will torment me again and I will be unable to escape from them. Then why should I get angry? Moreover, if a being carried away by passion (kleśa) commits an evil deed [towards me], it is because he cannot control himself [and, knowing that, I ought to pardon him]. When a man possessed by a demon (amanuṣya) insults his physician (vaidya), the good physician limits himself to chasing away the demon and does not complain about the insults. The good yogin does the same: when a being commits an evil deed against him, he does not complain about this offense and limits himself to freeing this being from his fetters (saṃyojana). Finally, the patient man, seeing someone cursing him, acts like parents toward their son who is insulting them: he increases his affection and loves him even more.

The yogin also says to himself: If this man attacks me, it is because of actions that I myself committed in my previous lives the results of which I now must endure. If now I answer [this offense] with anger (dveṣa), I am creating new suffering for the future and when will I finally be freed from it? If I now endure this offense, I will escape the suffering forever. This is why I must not feel angry.

Condemning malice (vyāpāda) thus in many ways, the yogin produces loving-kindness (maitrī) and compassion (karuṇā) and penetrates into patience towards beings (sattvakṣānti). Having entered into this patience, he has the following thought: According to the Dharma preached by the Buddhas of the ten directions, there is no self (ātman) and no ‘mine’ (ātmiya), it is only an assemblage of dharmas (dharmasāmagrī) designated (prajñapta) under the name of ‘a being’ (sattva). The being is like a mechanical doll (yantra): it moves and acts, but inwardly there is no master entity (svāmin). It is the same for the body (kāya): it is just an arrangement of skin (tvac) and bone (asthi) that turns with the wind of the mind; being born and perishing from moment to moment, it is impermanent (anitya), empty (śūnya) and pacified (śānta). No one is acting, no one is cursing, no one is undergoing curses for, from beginning to end, there is absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnya); it is only by error (viparyāsa) and falsehood (mṛṣā) that worldly people (pṛthagjana) are attached in their minds to it.

For the person who has reflected in this way, there is no being and, since the being does not exist, dharmas do not depend on anything (anapekṣa). Simple assemblages of causes and conditions (hetupratyayasāmagrī), they are without self nature (niḥsvabhāva). The being is an assemblage to which the name of being is wrongly given and it is the same for the dharmas. Knowing this is to enter into [281b] possession of patience in regard to things.

Having obtained this sattvakṣānti and this dharmakṣānti, one attains supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi) and a fortiori yet other benefits.

Having heard these exhortations, beings “become established in the perfection of patience”.

4. Perfection of exertion

Exertion (vīrya). – Speaking to beings, the bodhisattva tells them: Do not be lazy (kusīda), O beings. For the energetic person, there is no aspiration (praṇidhāna) that is not realized. The higher qualities usually obtained are not without causes and conditions, but all of them come from exertion.

Exertion has two characteristics (lakṣaṇa): i) it gives rise to good dharmas; ii) it eiminates bad dharmas.

It also has three characteristics: i) it wants to do something; ii) it does it with exertion; iii) it does not desist.

It also has four characteristics: i) it destroys and eliminates bad dharmas that have already arisen; ii) it prevents bad dharmas that have not yet arisen from arising; iii) it makes good dharmas that have not yet arisen arise; iv) it assures the development of good dharmas that have already arisen.[4] These are the characteristics of exertion.

Exertion contributes to the realization of all the good dharmas: thus, when fire (anala) meets with the help of wind (anila), burning is activated. And just as in this world, a strong man (dhīra) is able to cross mountains and seas, so exertion applied to the dharmas of the Path, succeeds in attaining the bodhi of the Buddhas and, a fortiori, yet other things.

Beings who hear these exhortations are “established in the perfection of exertion”.

Moreover, seeing that some beings have not yet produced [the mind] of supreme perfect enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi), the bodhisattva praises this anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi to them:

Among all the dharmas, it is by far the foremost and the most noble. It helps everyone. It finds the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas and of the non-deceptive Dharma (avañcanadharma). It has great loving-kindness (mahāmatrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā). It holds omniscience (sarvajñatā), the physical mark of golden color (suvarṇavarṇatā), the supreme miracles of the thirty-two major marks (lakṣaṇa) and the eighty minor marks (anuvyañjna), the immense [anāsravaskandha] – morality (śīla), concentration (samādhi), wisdom (prajñā), liberation (vimukti), knowledge and vision of liberation (vimuktijñānadarśana) -, the three knowledges (tisro vidyaḥ), the unhindered [knowledges] (pratisaṃvid), and the unhindered penetration into all dharmas.

Those who have attained it are the most venerable among all beings and have the right to the worship (pūjā) of the whole world, If the person who limits himself to mentally commemorate the Buddhas gains immeasurable indestructible immense merit (puṇya), what can be said of those who exercise exertion (vīrya), generosity (dāna), morality (śīla), worship (pūjā), service (paryupāsana) and respect (vandana)?

Speaking to beings, the bodhisattva again tells them: Buddha activity (buddhakārya) being like that, you must produce the mind of supreme bodhi (anuttarabodhicitta). By diligently practicing exertion and by acting in accordance with the Dharma, you will attain it without any difficulty.

Having heard these exhortations, beings produce the mind of supreme bodhi. Those who produce it do not do so in vain; they will succeed in practicing the perfection of generosity and, having practiced it, they will also practice the [281c] perfection of morality, the perfection of patience, the perfection of meditation and the perfection of wisdom. Now the practice of these five perfections is precisely the fact of the perfection of exertion.

To those who do not produce the mind of the Mahāyāna, the bodhisattva must teach the pratyekabuddha bodhi. To those who do not have the pratyekabuddha bodhi, he teaches the development of the śrāvaka bodhi. To those who do not have the śrāvaka bodhi, he teaches the renunciation of form (rūpa) and the tasting of the calm of the formless absorptions (ārūpyasamāpatti). To those who do not have the formless absorptions, he teaches the renunciation of desire (kāma) and to taste the many blisses of the trances (dhyāna) of the form realm (rūpadhātu). To those who do not have the dhyānas, he teaches the development of the ten good paths of action (kuśala karmapatha) and to taste the many happinesses belonging to gods and humans.

[To all, the bodhisattva says:] Do not give yourself up to empty and ineffective laziness (kausīdya). Poor people (daridra) and lowly people (itvara) are afflicted by all kinds of painful efforts, but laziness is the lowest of the faults: it destroys the benefits (anuśaṃsa) and good paths (kuśalapatha) of the present life and the future life (ihaparatra janman).

Hearing these exhortations, beings gather the good dharmas and practice exertion diligently.

5. Perfection of trance

In the presence of beings, the bodhisattva praises the pure bliss (viśuddhasukha) of the trances (dhyāna) and the absorptions (samāpatti), inner bliss (adhyātmasukha), the bliss of lordship (aiśvaryasukha), the bliss of renunciation of sin (āpattiviratisukha), the bliss of the present and the future life (ihaparatrasukha), the bliss experienced by the saint (ārya), the bliss of the Brahmadevarājas, the bliss felt by the entire body (kāyasākṣātkurtasukha),[5] deep, solid and wonderful bliss.

[He says to beings:] Why do you cling, O beings, to the defiled bliss (aśucisukha) of the five objects of enjoyment (pañcakāmaguṇa)? Like animals, you are tasting the defiled bliss of sins and you are abandoning the wonderful bliss [mentioned above]. If you could renounce limited bliss, you would obtain great bliss. Do you not see that the farmer sacrifices a few seeds (bīja) in order to subsequently reap great fruits (mahāphala)? The person who makes the king a moderate gift receives in return a great reward; with a small fish as bait, one captures a big fish: if the sacrifice is modest, the capture is very important. It is the same for the wise person: by rejecting worldly happiness (laukika sukha), he obtains the intense happiness of the profound dhyānas and samāpattis; having this happiness, he looks back at sensual bliss (kāmasukha) and finds it very impure (aśuci). He is like a man who has come out of prison or like a man sick with scabies (kacchū) who, once he is cured, no longer looks for the medicine.

Moreover, the dhyānas and samāpattis are the first gateway of true knowledge: they clarify wisdom (prajñā) and illumine the dharmas. Like a lamp in a secret room, their light is very useful. The yogin who is based on the dhyānas and samāpattis attains the four immeasurables (apramāṇa), the liberations (vimokṣa), the sources of mastery (abhibhvāyatana), the superknowledges (abhijñā), eloquence (pratibhāna) and other very profound qualities (guṇa). Possessing them fully, he is able to transform bricks and stones into cintāmaṇi and, a fortiori, into other things. There is nothing he cannot accomplish at will:

1) he dives into the earth as into water,

2) he walks on water as on the earth,

3) he touches the sun and moon with his hand without either being burned or frozen,[6]

4) he is transformed into all kinds of animals without taking on their properties,

5) sometimes he transforms his body and fills space with it,

6) sometimes he reduces it to the size of a grain of dust,,

7) sometimes he makes himself as light as a feather of a crane (sārasaroman),

8) sometimes he makes himself as heavy as a huge mountain,

9) sometimes he taps the earth with his toe and the heaven and the earth [282a] begin to shake like grass or leaves being shaken.

These superknowledges (abhijñā) and this power of transformation (nirmāṇabala) come from all the dhyānas.

Hearing these exhortations, beings “become established in the perfection of trance.”

6. Perfection of wisdom

The perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā). – The bodhisattva teaches beings to practice wisdom:

Wisdom, whose light is most brilliant, is called the ‘eye of wisdom’ (prajñācakṣus). Without this eye of wisdom, a person, even though he has a fleshly eye (māṃsacakṣus), is like a blind man (andha); although he claims to have an eye, he is no different from the animals. The person who has wisdom distinguishes by himself the beautiful (suvarṇa) from the ugly (durvarṇa) without depending on another’s teaching. The person without wisdom follows others from east to west like a cow (go) or a camel (uṣṭra) with pierced nose following its leader.

Wisdom is the foremost of all conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) for, cherished by the saints (āryakānta), it destroys conditioned dharmas precisely. As is said in the sūtras: Of all the jewels, the jewel of wisdom (prajñāratna) is foremost.[7] There is no further sadness or torment for the person who is established at the summit of wisdom: considering unfortunate and troubled beings, there is nothing that he does not discover except by the sword of wisdom; he breaks the passions which have had no beginning (anādikakleśa) and the shackles (tālaka) of saṃsāra.

By the power of wisdom, one is able to perfect the six perfections, one obtains the inconceivable (acintya) immense (apramāṇa) bodhi of the Buddhas, one realizes omniscience (sravjñatā) and, a fortiori, the high qualities of the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and worldly people. When this wisdom has grown, been purified and rendered indestructible, it is called ‘perfection’.

Hearing these exhortations, beings “become established in the perfection of wisdom.”

We may add that the bodhisattva does not always preach orally: sometimes he manifests the bases of his miraculous power (ṛddhipāda) and emits rays so that beings become established in the six perfections; sometimes he resorts to many other methods and even goes so far as to exercise his activity in dreams (svapna) so that beings “awaken” and “become established in the six perfections.”[8]

This is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra has said: “The bodhisattva who wishes that beings become established in the six perfections must practice the perfection of wisdom.”

Footnotes and references:


Anguttara, III, p. 38–41, cited above, p. 658F.


Adopting the variant tche in place of tche.


Translation proposed with reservations.


Compare the definition of the four samyakpradhānas, p. 1123F


Bliss is experienced bodily during or rather on leaving the saṃjñāveditanirodhasamāpatti: explanation of the Vaibhaṣikas and the Sautrāntikas in Kośa VI, p. 224.


Without being burned by the sun or the stars with hot rays (uṣṇaraśmi), or frozen by the moon or the stars with cold rays (śītaraśmi).


Unidentified passage, but the images called forth are canonical: for the Saṃyutta, I, p. 36 and 37, and Udāna, VI, st. 4, wisdom is the jewel of men (paññā narānaṃ ratanaṃ), and the heroes of the Theragāthā, st. 1094, hope to cut the creeper of thirst by taking up the pointed sword of wisdom (paññāmayaṃ tikhiṇam asiṃ gahetvā).


The oratorical skills of the bodhisattva are the results of his pratibhānapratisaṃvid; see p. 1623–1624F.