Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “where does the excellence of the gift come from?” 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. Where does the excellence of the gift come from?

By the sharpness of his wisdom (prajñāpaṭutvāt), the bodhisattva who practices the perfection of wisdom is able to make distinctions (paricchid-) between the merits of the gift (dānapuṇya).

1) While the object given (deyavastu) is the same, the value of the merit (puṇya) depends on the goodness or the malice of the intention (āśaya) of the donor.

[Gift of a bowl of rice].[1] – Thus, one day Śāriputra offered a bowl of cooked rice (odana) to the Buddha. The Buddha immediately gave it to a dog and asked Śāriputra: You have given me some rice and I have given it to a dog. Which of the two of us has gained more merit (puṇya)? – Śāriputra answered: If I understand well the meaning of the Lord’s teaching (yathā khalv ahaṃ bhagavata bhāṣitasymartham ājānāmi),[2] by giving it to a dog the Buddha has gained more merit [than me].

– Śāriputra, the foremost of sages (prajñānatām agryaḥ) amongst all men, made a gift to the Buddha, supreme field of merit (puṇyakṣetraṃ paramam) but did not equal the Buddha who, by offering [the same gift] to this lowly field of merit, a dog, gained very great merit. This is how we know that great merit (mahāpuṇya) comes from the intention (āśaya) and does not reside in the ‘field’ (kṣetra) [in other words, in the beneficiary of the gift]. Had Śāriputra given a thousand, ten thousand or a hundred thousand times more, he would not have reached [the purity] of intention (āśaya) of a Buddha.

2) Question. – But you yourself have said (p. 722F) that the importance of merit is the result of the excellence of the field of merit (buddhakṣetrapraṇītatas), and by making a gift to the Buddha, Śāriputra would not have gained great merit.

Answer. – A good ‘field’ also contributes to the importance of merit, but not as much as the intention (āśaya) of the donor. Why? Because the mind is the internal master (antaḥsvāmin) whereas the ‘field’ is just an outer (bāhya) thing. Sometimes, however, the merit of generosity (dānapuṇya) resides in the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra).

[Avadāna of Koṭikarṇa].[3] – Thus the arhat Yi-eul (Koṭikarna) who once had offered a single flower to a stūpa of the Buddha enjoyed happiness among gods and men for ninety-one kalpas; and by virtue of the remainder of his merit (puṇyaśeṣa), he became an arhat.

[Pāṃśupradānāvadāna].[4] – Thus king A-chou-kia (Aśoka) who, as a small child, had given some earth (pāmśu) to the Buddha, reigned over Jambudvīpa, built eighty thousand stūpas and still later, found bodhi. The thing he had offered was very common (nīca) and the intention (āśaya) of the child (bāladāraka) quite weak (tanu). It was only because of the excellence of the field of merit (puṇyakṣetrapraṇītatas) [to which he had given] that he acquired a great fruit of retribution (mahāvipākaphala). So we know then that [sometimes] great merit results from the good ‘field’.

3) There are three things present in the highest of the great merits – the intention (āśaya) [of the donor], the thing given (deya) and the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) – [i.e., the recipient] – are all three excellent. See for example the first chapter (prathama parivarta) of the Prajñāpāmaritā where it is said (cf. p. 586F) that the Buddha [Śākyamuni] scattered marvelous flowers over the buddhas of the ten directions.

4) Finally, in the mind of the Prajñāpāramitā, the gift free of any attachment (abhiniveśa) [in regard to donor (dāyaka), the thing given (deya) and the recipient (pratigrāhaka)] wins a great fruit of ripening (mahāvipākaphala).[5] The gift made in view of nirvāṇa also obtains a great retribution.[6] The gift made with a feeling of great compassion (mahākaruṇācitta), to save all beings (sarvasattvaparitrāṇāya) also obtains a great retribution.[7]

Footnotes and references:


Episode mentioned by Akanuma, Dictionnaire des noms propres, p. 597a, but not yet identified.


Cf. Sanskrit Mahāparinirvāṇa, p. 218.


Or Avadāna of Sumana, mentioned here for the third time; see p. 1426F, n. 3, 18894F, n. 3.


References, p. 723F, n. 2; 1934F.


The ‘triply pure’ gift (trimaṇḍalapariśuddha) rests on a non-conceptual knowledge that makes no distinction between donor, recipient and thing given – which are no longer seen: see p. 650F, 676F, 707F, 724F, etc.


See p. 664–666F and n. Desire for nirvāṇa (nirvāṇārthaṃ dānam) is one of the eight motives inspiring generosity (dānavastu). It does not appear in the Pāli list (Dīgha, III, p. 258, l. 10–16; Anguttara, IV, p. 236, l. 1–8), but it does appear in the Sanskrit list (Saṃgītisūtra, ed. K. Mittal and V. Rosen, p. 188, l. 19–27; Saṃyuktābhidharmasāra, T 1552, k. 8, p. 932b6–8; Kośabhāṣya, p. 270, l. 19–22): uttamārthasya prāptaye dānaṃ dadāti -”He makes a gift in order to obtain the supreme goal”, i.e., to obtain arhathood, nirvāṇa (Kośavyākhyā, p. 435, l. 6).

Compare the pure gift (viśuddham dānam), the completely disinterested gift (vipākānapekṣam dānam), made by the bodhisattva in view of supreme bodhi which the Bodhisattvabhūmi, p. 135, l. 22–25, defines as follows: Na bodhisattvo dānaṃ dadad dānasyāyatyām bhogasaṃpadam ātmabhāvasaṃpadaṃ vā phalavipākaṃ pratyāśaṃsate, sarvasaṃskāreṣu phalgudarśi paramabodhāv anuśaṃsadarśi. – The bodhisattva who gives a gift expects nothing in return for the future, neither the joy of happiness nor his own bliss: in all the formations he sees no significance: it is only in supreme bodhi that he sees benefit.

Insofar as the way out of all the formations, this unconditioned – nirvāṇa – cannot be a fruit of retribution (vipākaphala).


Cf. Kośabhāṣya, p. 270, l. 16: Yad vā dānaṃ bodhisattvo dadāti sarvasattvahitahetoḥ. tad amuktasyāpy amuktebhyo dānam agram. – Or else the gift which the bodhisattva makes for the good of all beings: this gift, although given by a non-liberated man to non-liberated people, is the best gift.