Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “definition of generosity (dana)” 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.1. Definition of generosity (dāna)

What is generosity (dāna)? When one gives a man garments (cīvara), beds and seats (śayanāsana), food and drink (annapāna), flowers (puṣpa), perfumes (gandha), necklaces (muktahāra), etc., that is a ‘gift’.

Question. – But [by themselves], these things, food, drink, etc., are already gifts. Why is it still necessary to give them?

Answer. – No, these things – food, drink, etc. – are not gifts. It is at the moment when these things, food, drink, etc., are given that there arises in the mind [of the giver] a dharma of renunciation (tyāga) opposed to the thought of avarice (mātsaryacittasya vipakṣa) and called ‘merit consisting of generosity’ (dānamayapuṇya).

This merit is sometimes pure (śubha) and sometimes impure (aśubha). It is always a good mental event (kuśalacaitta) associated with the mind (cittasaṃprayukta), accompanying the mind (cittānuparivartin) arising with the mind (cittasahaja). It is without form (rūpa) and without shape (saṃsthāna). It is object–producing (ālambanīkaraṇa).[1] It is associated with action (karmasaṃprayukta), accompanying action (karmānuparivartin) and arisen with action (karmasashaja). It is not fruit of retribution of an earlier action (pūrvakarmavipākaphala). It is developed by acquisition (pratilambhabhāvita) and developed by practice (niṣevaṇabhāvita).[2] It is to be realized by wisdom (prajñayā sākṣīlartavya) and to be actualized physically (kāyena sakṣīkartavya).[3] It is acquired (prāpta) by worldly persons (pṛthagjana) and also by the saints (ārya).[4]

Others say that meritorious action consisting of generosity (dānamayapuṇyakriyā) is the volition (cetanā) associated with the gesture of renunciation (tyāgasaṃprayukta). Why? Because it is action (karman) that produces the fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) and volition is action.[5] Body (kāya) and speech (vāc) are not, strictly speaking, action; it is when they arise from volition that they are called action.

Footnotes and references:


Object-producing as reflection (manasikāra), changing of the mind (cittābhoga); cf. Kośa, VII, p. 23.


Cultivation (bhāvanā) of dharmas is done in four ways: i) by acquisition (pratilambha) of good dharmas not yet arisen; ii) by practice (niṣevaṇa) of good dharmas already arisen; iii) by opposition (pratipakṣa) to bad dharmas not yet arisen; iv) by driving out bad dharmas already arisen. See above, p. 1123–1124F, the definition of the four samyakpradhānas and compare Kośa, VII, p. 64. The meritorious action consisting of generosity is good (kuśala) although impure; it can thus be cultivated by acquisition or by practice.


According to Dīgha, III, p. 230 and Anguttara, II, p. 183, there are four kinds of dharma to be witnessed, to be actualized (sākṣīkaraṇīya): i) to be witnessed by the body (kāyena), namely, the eight vimokṣas, but particularly the third and the eighth vimokṣa (see above, p. 1296F and notes); ii) to be witnessed by the memory (smṛti), namely, earlier lifetimes (pūrvanivāsa); iii) to be witnessed by the divine eye (divyacakṣus), namely, deaths and births (cyutyupapāda); iv) to be witnessed by wisdom (prajñā), namely, the destruction of the impurities (āsravāṇāṃ kṣaya). – On the way of witnessing by means of the body, see Kośa, VIII, p. 210–211.


In a word, according to the time-honored expression, it is pṛthagjanāryasāṃtānika (Kośabhāṣya, p. 458, l. 9).


Anguttara, III, p. 415: Cetanāhaṃ bhikkhave kammaṃ vadāmi.