Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “meritorious actions consisting of material gifts and of teaching” 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.

V. Meritorious actions consisting of material gifts and of teaching

Material meritorious action (aupadhikapuṇyakriyā) consists of robes (vastra), food and drink (annapāna), beds and seats (śayanāsana), medicines (glānabhaiṣajya), gold [305c] (suvarṇa), silver (rajata) vehicles (yāna), horses (aśva), fields (kṣetra), houses (gṛha), etc. (see notes)

Question. – Above (p. 2247F), you spoke about the place of practice of the meritorious action consisting of generosity (dānamayapuṇyakriyāvastu) and now you are speaking about the meritorious action consisting of material gifts (aupadhikapuṇyakriyā); what are the similarities and what are the differences?

Answer. – The gifts [concerned above] included all gifts in general: material gift (āmiṣadāna) and gift of the Dharma (dharmadāna);[1] gifts according to the usage of the world (saṃvṛti) and gifts in view of the Path. Here we want to distinguish the gift of the Dharma (dharmadāna) from the material gift (aupadhikadāna).

It was a gift of the Dharma when the Buddha, out of his great loving-kindness (mahāmaitrī), turned the Wheel of the Dharma for the first time and innumerable beings found bodhi. It was a gift of the Dharma when Śāriputra, following the Buddha, turned the Wheel of the Dharma.[2] Other saints (āryapudgala), without having turned the Wheel of the Dharma, nevertheless preached the Dharma to beings and found bodhi: this also is called gift of the Dharma.

Moreover, the bodhisattva Pien-ki (Samantabhadra), the bodhisattvas Kouan-che-yin (Avalokiteśvara), Tö-ta-che (Mahāsthāmaprāpta), Wen-chou-che-li (Mañjuśrī), Mi-lö (Maitreya), etc., put to work the power of their two kinds of superknowledge (abhijñā) – the abhijñā of fruit of retribution (vipākaphala) and the abhijñā acquired by practice (bhāvanāparilambhika)[3] – and here too have saved beings by means of their skillful means (upāya), their brilliance (āloka), the bases of their miraculous powers (ṛddhipāda) and all sorts of other means: this also is called gift of the Dharma.

The pratyekabuddhas who fly in the sky[4] and those who lead beings to plant the roots of good (kuśalamūlavaropaṇāya) by speaking a single verse: this also is called gift of the Dhrma.

Finally, the disciples of the Buddha (buddhaśrāvaka) who have not yet attained the noble Path (āryamārga) but who, sitting in meditation (pratisaṃlayana), recite the sūtras without contradicting the nature of things (dharmatā)[5] and convert (paripācayanti) disciples: this also is called gift of the Dharma. Everything of this type is characteristic of the gift of the Dharma.

This is why the Prajñāpāramitāsūtra says here that the bodhisattva who wants to establish beings in the six kinds of meritorious actions (puṇyakriyā) should practice the perfection of wisdom.

Notes on meritorious action:

In the Pāli suttas (Saṃyutta, I, p. 233, l. 15; Anguttara, IV, p. 292, l. 20; 293, l. 10), it is a matter of opadhiikaṃ puññaṃ, glossed as upadhivipākaṃ puññaṃ in the commentaries of the Saṃyutta, I, p. 352, l. 4, and the Anguttara, IV, p. 140, l. 6. From that, the translations “Merit forming a substratum for rebirth” (Rhys Davids) or “Verdienstliches als Substrat für ein besseres Dasein” (Geiger).

But in the Sanskrit sources, aupadikaṃ puṇyam means the merit resulting from the gift of material objets, such as gardens or monasteries. The Kośavyākhyā, p. 352, l. 29 explains: upadhir ārāmavihārādiḥ, tatrabhavam aupadhikam. And in the present passage Kumārajīva renders aupādhikaṃ puṇyam by ts’ai-fou “merit coming from a gift of riches”.

The Sanskrit Āgamas dedicate a long sūtra to the seven aupadhikāni puṇyakriyāvastūni and to the seven anaupadhikāni puṇyakriyāvastūni. The original Indian text is cited in full in the Kośavyākhyā, p. 352, l. 31–354, l. 31, transl. into Chinese in the Madhyamāgama, T 26, k. 2, p. 427c25–428c5, and partially in Ekottarāgama, T 125, k. 35, p. 741b21–c26.

A. Seven material meritorious works:

There are seven material meritorious works. When a believer, a son or daughter of good family, is endowed with them, whether he walks, stands still, lies down or sleeps, the merit increases in intensity incessantly; the merit grows (yaiḥ samanvāgatasya śrāddhasya kulaputrasya vā kuladuhitur vā carato vā tiṣṭhato vā svapato vā jāgrato vā satatasamitam abhivardhata eva puṇyam upajāyata eva puṇyam).

The believer who makes the following gifts to the community of monks of the ten directions (cāturdiṣa bhikṣusaṃgha) is endowed with these merits:

1) He gives a garden (ārāmaṃ pratipādayati),

2) he establishes a monastery in this garden (tasminn evārāme vihāraṃ pratiṣṭhāpayati),

3) he furnishes this monastery with beds and seats (tasminn eva vihāre śayanāsanaṃ prayacchati),

4) he assures regular offerings and appropriate oblations to this monastery (tasminn eva vihāre dhruvabhikṣāṃ prajñāpayaty anukūlayajñām),

5) he gives a gift to the new arrival (āgantukāya gamikāya dānaṃ dadāti),

6) he gives a gift to the sick person or to his nurse (glānāya glānopasthāyakāya vā dānaṃ dadāti),

7) when it is cold…, he offers meals, drinks, boiled rice or rice soups to the community (śītalikāsu … bhaktāni vā tarpaṇāṇi vā yavāgūpānāni vā saṃghāyābhinirhṛtyānuprayacchati).

B. Seven immaterial meritorious works (nirupadhika):

There are seven immaterial meritorious works (nirupadhika) which make merit increase also. The believer is endowed with these merits who feels noble beneficent joy associated with renunciation of the world (prītiprāmodyam udāraṃ kuśalaṃ naiṣkramyopasaṃhitam) when he hears that the Tathāgata or a disciple of the Tathāgata is dwelling in such and such a village, is about to come, is on the way, has come; and when this same believer comes to see him, hears the Dharma from his mouth, finally takes refuge and takes on the precepts.

Footnotes and references:


The distinction between āmiṣadāna and dharmadāna is canonical: see p. 692F note.


In Saṃyutta, I, p. 191, the Buddha said to Śāriputra: Seyyathāpi Sāriputta rañño cakkavatissa jeṭṭhaputto pitarā pavattitaṃ cakkaṃ sammad eva anupavatteti, evam eva kho tvaṃ Sāriputta mayā anuttaraṃ dhammacakkam pavattitaṃ sammad eva anupavattesi. – Just as the oldest son of a cakravartin king correctly turns the wheel (of sovereignty) already moved by his father, so you also, Śāriputra, correctly turn the Wheel of Dharma already moved by me.

See also Majjhima, III, p. 29; Anguttara, I, p. 23; III, p. 149; Suttanipāta, v. 557 (p. 109); Theragāthā, v. 827 (p. 79); Divyāvadāna, p. 394 (already mentioned above, p. 633F, n. 2).


These are the innate or natural abhijñās (upapattiprātilambhikā) and the abhijñās born from meditation (bhāvanāmayā). See in Kośa, II, p. 328, the four kinds of attention (manaskāra).


Cases of pratyekabuddhas taking flight have been noted by Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 312; II, p. 33; III, p. 51.


According to the rules of inner criticism formulated in the Mahāpadeśa, for a text to be authentic it must be found in the sūtras (sūtre ‘vatarati), appear in the Vinaya (vinaye dṛśyate) and not contradict the nature of things (dharmatāṃ na vilomayati), i.e., the pratītyasamutpāda. References in É. Lamotte, La critique d’authenticité dans le bouddhisme, in India Antiqua, 947, p. 218–222.

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