Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “pure and impure 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.2. Pure and impure generosity (dāna)

This gift (dāna) is of two kinds:

  1. pure (viśuddhi),
  2. impure (aviśuddhi).

A. The following gifts are impure: 1) the nearby gift (āsadya dāna);[1] 2) the gift made out of fear (bhayadāna) of losing the object; 3) the gift made out of fear of curses; 4) the gift because the object has no more use; 5) the gift made out of friendship (maitrādāna); 6) the gift made because one is seeking power (prabhāva); 7) the gift because one obtains power by giving; 8) the [304c] gift made because death is close; 9) the gift made with the view of a good reputation (kīrtyarthaṃ dānaṃ); 10) the gift made in order to be as famous as noble individuals; 11) the gift made out of jealousy (īrṣya); 12) the gift made out of pride (māna), saying to oneself: “Little people and low people give generously; why should not I, a noble and great individual, give?”; 13) the gift made in order to obtain blessing; 14) the gift made to attract good fortune and avoid bad luck; 15) the gift made in order to penetrate into a society (parivāra); 16) the gift made distractedly, without care and disregarding the beneficiary (pratigrahaka).There are many motivations of this type.

These gifts aiming at benefits in the present life (ihaloka) are counter to purity (viśuddhi) and are called impure (aviśuddha).

B. The pure (viśuddha) gift is, as the sūtra has said,[2] the gift to purify the mind (cittaviśodhanārtham), the gift to adorn the mind (mano ‘laṃkārārtham), the gift to acquire the supreme goal (paramārthasya prāptaye), the gift producing a pure thought (viśuddhacitta) capable of discerning what is favorable to nirvāṇa.

The gift made with a pure mind is like a young flower, unblemished, of beautiful color and exquisite perfume. It is said that if the gods give with impure intentions, the brilliance of their palace decreases; but if they give with pure intention, the brilliance of their palace increases. The act of giving does not perish even after hundreds of myriads of lifetimes: it is like a debt (ṛṇa).[3]

Notes on the eight kinds of generosity (dāna):

This subject has been studied already, p. 664–666F, 1902–1903F. This entire section appears to be an amplification on a Dānasūtra and a Dānavastusūtra dealing with the eight kinds of generosity and the motives (vastu) by which the gift may be inspired: the first seven are self-interested and consequently impure (aviśuddhi); only the eighth, aiming at detachment from the world and nirvāṇa, is pure (viśuddhi).

As always, the Traité uses here the Sanskrit version of these sūtras which may be found in the Saṅgītisūtra and the Saṅgītiparyāya (ed. K. Mittal and V. Roen, p. 188–191), the Kośabhāḥaṣya, p. 270, l. 21–22 and the Kośavyākhyā, p. 434, l. 31–435, l. 8:

Aṣṭau dānāni:

1) āsadya dānaṃ dadāti,
2) bhayād dānadadāti,
3) adān me dānaṃ dadāti.
) dāsyati me dānaṃ dadāti,
5) dattaṃ pūrvaṃ me pitṛbhiḥ pitāmahair itidānaṃ dadāti,
6) svargārthaṃ dānaṃ dadāti,
7) kīrtyarthaṃ dānaṃ dadāti,
8a) cittālaṃkārārthaṃ,
8b) cittapariṣkārmarthaṃ,
8c) yogasaṃbhārārthaṃ,
8d) uttamārthasya prāptaye dānaṃ dadāti.

Transl. –

Eight gifts:

1) the nearby gift,
2) the gift made out of fear,
3) the gift made ‘because he gave to me’,
4) the gift made ‘so that he will give to me’,
5) the gift made because ‘my father and my grandfather gave’,
6) the gift made to gain heaven,
7) the gift with reputation in mind,
8a) the gift made to adorn the mind [to obtain ṛddhi],
8b) to strengthen the mind [with the mārgāṅgas],
8c) to provide the mind in view of yoga,
8d) to attain the supreme good [i.e., arhathood, nirvāṇa].

For the corresponding Pāli version, see Dīgha, III, p. 258, l. 10–16; Anguttara, IV, p. 236, l. 1–8; 236, l. 13–237, l. 3. The eighth gift is briefly formulated there: cittālaṅkāracittaparik-khāratthaṃ.

Footnotes and references:


Kośabhāṣya, p. 270, l. 21–22: Āsadya dānaṃ yad āsannebhya upagatebhyo dānaṃ dadāti paurāṇāḥ. – According to the early teachers, the āsadya gift (Pāli: āsajja) is made to persons who are ‘close’, i.e., having come from nearby.


The Dānastusūtra which has just been cited.


See above, p. 665F, n. 2.

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