Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “‘inexhaustible’ root” 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. ‘Inexhaustible’ root

[The bodhisattva wants the root of good that he is planting in the field of the Buddhas] ‘to be inexhaustible’ (akṣaya). The Buddhas are endowed with inexhaustible qualities (akṣayaguṇa);[1] this is why the merits that are planted therein are also inexhaustible.

Moreover, since the qualities (guṇa) of the Buddhas are immense (apramāṇa), infinite (ananta), innumerable (asaṃkhyeya) and unequaled (asama), the merits that are planted therein are also inexhaustible.

Moreover, when the Buddha was still a bodhisattva, he had in mind the universality of beings (sarvadattva). But these beings are immeasurable and infinite [in number]. Therefore his merit also was inexhaustible.

Finally, the field of the Buddhas is very pure (pariśuddha), for all the dirty weeds of the passions (kleśa), craving (tṛṣṇā), etc., have been uprooted. Pure morality (viśuddhaśīla) is its leveled soil; great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī) and great compassion (mahākaruṇā) are its beauties; it is free of poor brackish fields; the thirty-seven auxiliaries to enlightenment (bodhipākṣika) are its canals; the ten powers (bala), the four fearlessnesses (vaiśāradya), the four unhindered knowledges (pratisaṃvid), etc., are its great walls; it produces the three Vehicles (yānatraya), nirvāṇa and the fruits of ripening (vipākaphala). Whoever plants in this peerless (anuttara) and unequaled (asama) field reaps inexhaustible merit.

Question. – However, all the conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma), having impermanence as their nature (anityalakṣaṇa), all end up in being exhausted (kṣaya). How then could merit (puṇya), the result of causes and conditions (pratītyasamutpanna), be inexhaustible (akṣaya)?

Answer. – [The Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] here does not say that it is always inexhaustible, but rather that it is inexhaustible during the interval of time [that it takes for the bodhisattva] to become Buddha.[2]

Moreover, although they arise and perish from moment to moment, the conditioned dharmas (saṃskṛtadharma) are inexhaustible (akṣīṇa) insofar as their series (saṃtāna) is not cut and the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) is not lost. It is like the lamp (dīpa) which, although its successive flames arise and are extinguished [from instant to instant], is not said to be “extinguished”: it is necessary that the tallow (medas) be melted and the wick (varti) be consumed for the lamp to be ‘extinguished’. It is the same for merit: resolutely planted (adhyāśayenāvaropita) in an excellent field, it remains non-extinguished (akṣīṇa) until the disappearance of things (dharmakṣaya). [282c]

Finally, the Bodhisattva knows that the true nature (bhūtalakṣaṇa) of dharmas is inexhaustible (akṣaya), like nirvāṇa. But the merit (puṇya) is part of to the true nature of the dharmas, therefore it too is inexhaustible.

Question: – If that is so, nirvāṇa being inexhaustible, merit too should be always inexhaustible. Why does [the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra] say that it remains inexhaustible during the interval of time [required for the bodhisattva] to become Buddha?

Answer. – By the power of the wisdom (prajñābala) [that it inspires], this merit becomes a quality (guṇa) ‘comparable to nirvāṇa’: absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya), unborn (anutpāda) and unceasing (anirodha). This is why it is compared to nirvāṇa, but it is not nirvāṇa.[3] If it were confused with nirvāṇa, one would be unable to establish a comparison (upamāna) [between this merit and nirvāṇa]. If it were really nirvāṇa, then what would this fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) that remains indestructible consist of when one becomes Buddha?

This can be compared to the three gates of deliverance (vimoṣamukha), namely, emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (ānimitta) and wishlessness (apranihita).

Just as deliverance (vimokṣa) has absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnyatā) as nature, so the śūnyatā-vimokṣamukha considers the world to be absolutely empty. – Just as deliverance (vimokṣa) has the absence of nature (ānimitta) as nature, so also the ānimitta-vimokṣamukha considers the world to be without nature. – Just as deliverance (vimokṣa) has wishlessness (apraṇihita) as nature, so also the apraṇihita-vimokṣamukha considers the world as excluding any wishing.

[In summary,] just as the three gates of deliverance (vimokṣamukha) are like deliverance (vimokṣa) but are not deliverance, so the merit planted in the field of the Buddhas is like nirvāṇa but is not nirvāna.

This is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here: “The bodhisattva who wants to plant even one single root of good in the field of merit of the Buddhas and make it inexhaustible until he accedes to supreme complete enlightenment must practice the perfection of wisdom.”

Footnotes and references:


Adopting the variant pou-tsin.


The passage of the Pañcaviṃśati commented on here says textually: yāvad anuttarāyāṃ samyaksaṃbodhāv abhisaṃbodheḥ; literally: “until the great awakening [of the bodhisattva] into supreme complete enlightenment”.


The merit that consists of planting a root of good, i.e., an offering, in the field of Buddha is so great that, while being renewed from moment to moment, it lasts until arriving at Buddhahood. If it disappears at that moment, it is because this merit is the result of causes and conditions and, as conditioned (saṃskṛta), it must finally perish. This merit may be compared to nirvāṇa, but nirvāṇa which, by definition, is unconditioned (asaṃskrta), escapes all destruction, as well as all production. It is not a fruit of retribution.

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: