Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “ripening of fruits of good and bad actions” 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.

Appendix 2 - The ripening of fruits of good and bad actions

Note: This Appendix is extracted from a footnote of the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra Chapter LI:

... It does not say that it is because of an ACTION of the bodhisattva that beings obtain a human existence; it states only that it is as a result of the beneficent POWER (anubhāva) of the bodhisattva that they obtain it. By the power of his superknowledges (abhijñā), his transformations (nirmāṇa) and his preaching (dharmadeśana), the bodhisattva makes beings practice the good (kuśala) and thus acquire a human existence.

Actions are strictly personal and non-communicable; the good as well as the bad actions ripen for their author and for no-one else:

Majjhima, III, p. 203: Kammassakā sattā kammadāyādā kammayonī kammabandhū kammapaṭisaraṇa. – Beings have actions as their own property, heritage, womb, blood relations and refuge.

Majjhima, III, p. 181: Taṃ kho pana te etaṃ pāpaṃ kammaṃ n’eva mātarā kataṃ na bhātarā kataṃ na bhaginiyā kataṃ na mittāmaccehi kataṃ na ñātisālohitehi kataṃ na samaṇabrāhmaṇehi kataṃ na devatāhi kataṃ; tayā v’ etaṃ pāpaṃ kammaṃ kataṃ; tvañ ñeva tassa vipākaṃ paṭisaṃvedissasi. – This bad action which is yours was not done by your mother or your father or your brother or your sister or by your friends and advisers or your relatives and blood-kin or the monks and brāhmaṇas or the gods. You alone have done this bad action; you alone will gather the fruit of it.

Anguttara, III, p. 186: Yaṃ kammaṃ karissati kalyāṇaṃpāpakaṃ vā tassa dāyādo bhavissati. – The man will be the inheritor of the good or bad actions that he will accomplish.

Action determines births: it projects beings into good or bad destinies:

Majjhima, I, p. 390: Yaṃ karoti tena upapajjati. – As the work that he accomplishes, such is the existence that falls due to him. [Cf. the Bṛhadāraṇyakā Upaniṣad, IV, 4, 5 (ed. Foucher, p. 80): Yat karma kurute, tad abhisaṃpadyate, “he reaps according to his actions”. – Chāndogyā Upaniṣad, V, 10, 7 (ed. Foucher, p. 68): Tad ya iha ramaṇīyacaraṇāḥ, abhyāso ha yat te ramaṇiyāṃ yonim āpadyeran. “Those who have satisfactory conduct have the future of obtaining a satisfying birth.”]

Majjhima, III, p. 203: Kammaṃ satte vibhajati yadidaṃ hīnappaṇītatātāyā. – Action separates beings by distributing them among miserable or pleasant destinies.

Anguttara, III, p. 415: Atthi kammaṃ nirayavedaniyaṃ, kammaṃ tiracchānayonivedaniyaṃ, atthi kammaṃ pittivisayavedamiyaṃ, atthi kammaṃ manussalokavedaniyaṃ, atthi kammaṃ devalokavedaniyaṃ, ayaṃ vuccati kammānaṃ vemattatā. – There are actions that ripen into feeling in the hell realm, among the animals, among the pretas, in the world of humans and finally in the world of the gods; such is the diversity of actions.

In the face of the rigidity of this doctrine, how is it that the bodhisattva can wish, in the sūtra, that beings of the three bad destinies may obtain a human existence? Admittedly, it is not easy by carrying out himself an action the fruit of which will be gathered by others. But nothing prevents the bodhisattva from using his power in such a way that the beings of the three bad destinies themselves carry out actions that will permit them to be reborn among humans. Supposing even that the intervention of the bodhisattva turns out to be in vain, it will at least have the benefit of purifying his own mind. The strict application of the law of karma does not prohibit the bodhisattva from formulating good wishes.