Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “preliminary note” 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.

Puṇyakriyāvastu: preliminary note

Preliminary note (1):

The puṇya-kriyā-vastus are the places of the practicing (vastu = adhiṣthāna) of meritorious (puṇya) action (kriyā).

The expression is rendered in Tibetan by bsod-nams bya-baḥi dṅos-pa, in Chinese as fou-tch’ou by Kumārajīva, as fou-ye-che by Hiuan-tsang.

According to the canonical sūtras (Dīgha, III, p. 218; Anguttara, IV, p. 241; Itivuttaka, p. 51), these places of practicing are three in number:

i) generosity: dāna, sbyin, che in Kumārajīva, pou-che in Hiuan-tsang.

ii) morality: śīla, tshul-khrims, tch’e-kiai in Kumārajīva, kiai in Hiuan-tsang.

iii) meditation: bhāvanā, bsgom-pa, sieou-ting in Kumārajīva, sieou in Hiuan-tsang.

Preliminary note (2):

As the Kośa, IV, p. 232, comments, the three things – generosity, morality and meditation – are merit, action and place of practice, each according to its nature (puṇyam api etat trayaṃ kriyāpi vastv api yathāyogam iti puṇyakriyāvastu).

In this context, generosity is not the thing given (deya), but rather ‘that by means of which something is given’ (dīyate yena tad dānam), namely, the act (kriyā) of giving. Giving is a physical and vocal action and that which produces this action (kāyavākkarman sotthānam): a collection of mind-and-metal-events by means of which this physical and vocal action is produced (yena kalāpenacaittakalāpa). But the Buddha said (Anguttara, III, p. 415) that action is volition (cetanā) and action after having willed (cetayitvā karman); this is why, according to the Kośa (IV, p. 233), some scholars claim that, to be precise, meritorious action is good volition (kuśalacetanā); generosity, morality and meditation are the place of practice (vastu) of this volition.

The second place of practice of meritorious action is morality (śīla), more precisely, the fivefold morality consisting of abstention from killing, theft, illicit sexual activity, falsehood and liquor. These five abstentions (prativirati) are not actions strictly speaking and have been studied above (p. 784–819F).

Anguttara, IV, p. 241–243, explains that generosity and morality can be practiced in a small way, a medium way or a grand way. They procure, respectively, rebirth among unfortunate people, among fortunate people, or among the six classes of gods of the desire realm.

Of greater benefit still is the place of practice consisting of meditation (bhāvanā). According to the Itivuttaka, p. 19–22, the value of material gifts is only a sixteenth part of that of meditation, and the best meditation is loving-kindness (maitrī) or the mind of loving-kindness (maitrācitta), the first of the immeasurables (apramāṇa), also called brahmavihāras because they assure rebirth among the higher gods of rūpadhātu (= Brahmaloka) and ārūpyadhātu (see Traité, p. 1264–1267F, note).

The three puṇyakriyāvastus are defined in the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharmas such as the Saṃgītiparyāya, T 1536, k. 5, p. 385c12–386a26 (transl. K. Mittal and V. Rosen, p. 81–82) and the Mahāvibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 82, p. 424b20–25.

Preliminary note (3):

The Mahāprajñāpāramitāsūtras add two other puṇyakriyāvastus to the three basic ones, but there are divergences among the original Sanskrit and their various Chinese and Tibetan versions.

Pañcaviṃśati, p. 30, l. 1–2: vaiyāvṛtyasahogataṃ caupadhikaṃ puṇyakriyāvastu, place of practice accompanied by service and material place of practice.

Śatasāhasrikā, p. 96, l. 7–8 and 10: airyāpathasahagataṃ puṇyakriyāvastu, … auṣadhikasahagataṃ (correct: aupadhikasahagataṃ) puṇyakriyāvastu, place of practice accompanied by material objects.

Version of Hiuan-tsang, T 220, vol. VII, k. 402, p. 9c13: kong che fou ye che (upasthānaṃ puṇyakriyāvastu) and yeou yi fou ye che (aupadhikaṃ puṇyakriyāvastu), place of practice consisting of service, and place of practice consisting of material objects.

Tibetan version in Tib. Trip. Vol. 18, no. 731, p. 54, fol. 36b7: rim gro las byuṅ ba daṅ | dṅos po thams cad byuṅ las bsod nams bya baḥi dṅos po |

In his translation of the present passage (T 1509, p. 304b8–9), Kumārajīva departs considerably from the original Indian. He mentions two fou-tch’ou (puṇyakriyāvastu), the first consisting of k’iuan-tao, the second of ts’ai and fa. K’iuan-tao perhaps is the original Indian samādāpana (cf. G. M. Nagao, Index to the Mahāyāna-Sūtrālaṃkāra, I, p. 258) and would mean an ‘incentive (in Tib., bskul-ba) to do something’. As for ts’ai-fa, it can only mean the two kinds of generosity – material gift (āmiṣadāna) and the gift of the Dharma or teaching (dharmadāna) – mentioned in the sūtras (Anguttara, I, p. 91; Itivuttaka, p. 98).

The Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1700–1704 also has five puṇyakriyāvastus.