Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This page describes “the stainless ground (vimala)” 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.

Bhūmi 2: the stainless ground (vimalā)

1. Sūtra.

Punar aparaṃ subhūte bodhisattvena mahāsattvena dvitīyāyāṃ bhūmau vartamānenāṣṭau dharmā abhīkṣṇaṃ manasikartavyāḥ | katame ‘ṣtau | yaduta śīlapariśuddhiḥ |tatra katamā bodhisattvasya śīlapariśuddhiḥ | yaduta bodhisattvasya mahāsattvasya śrāvakapratyekabuddhacittānām amanasikāraḥ | ye ’pi tadanye dauḥśilyakarā bodhiparipanthakarā dharmās teṣam amanisikāraḥ | iyaṃ bodhisattvasya śīlapariśuddhiḥ |

Moreover, O Subhūti, the bodhisattva-mahāsattva on the second ground (vimalā-bhūmi) must think about eight dharmas continually. What are these eight?

1) Purity of morality.

In the bodhisattva, what is the purity of morality? – The bodhisattva-mahāsattva does not think about the concepts of the śrāvakas or the pratyekabuddhas nor does he think about other doctrines, immoral teachings that are an obstacle to bodhi.

Śāstra (p. 413c10). – In the first ground, the bodhisattva mainly practiced generosity (dāna); now he knows that morality is superior to generosity. Why? Morality takes in all beings whereas generosity does not include all of them. The domain of morality is immense (aprameya): this is how the morality consisting of not killing living beings (prāṇātipātaprativirati) grants life to all beings. Beings are innumerable and infinite, and the merit [consisting of sparing them] is itself immense and infinite.

Here the sūtra briefly mentions (saṃkṣepeṇa) the “teachings that create an obstacle to bodhi” (bodhiparipanthakara): these are ‘immoral’ doctrines (dauḥśilyakara). A teaching must be free of any immorality to be called pure (pariśuddha). If the concepts of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas already [in some respects] constitute a stain on morality (śīlamala),[1] what can be said then (kaḥ punarvādaḥ) of these other doctrines, overtly bad?

2. Sūtra.

Kṛtajñatā kṛtaveditā || yad bodhisattvo mahāsattvo bodhisattvacaryāṃ carann alpam api kṛtam āsaṃsārān na nāśayati prāg eva bahu |

Acknowledgement and gratitude. – The bodhisattva-mahāsattva traveling on the bodhisattva career does not, until the end of saṃsāra, forget any favor even if it is small, or, all the more so if it is big.

Śāstra (p. 413c17). – Some people say: “It is because of merits won in my previous existences (pūrvanivāsapuṇya) that I have obtained such a benefit”. Others say [to their benefactor]: “ I am personally deserving: what benefit have you done for me?”

To speak thus is to fall into wrong views (mithyādṛṣṭi). And so the Buddha says here that the bodhisattva must acknowledge kindnesses (kṛtajña). Although beings in their previous existences may have acquired the rights to happiness (sukhahetu), they would be unable to enjoy this happiness if, in their present existence, certain circumstances [such as the generosity of a benefactor] did not occur. Thus the seeds (bīja) of the grain are in the earth, but without rain (vṛṣṭi) they cannot sprout. It cannot be said that the rain is of no use on the pretext that the earth produces the grain. Although the benefits we gather at present have been planted [by us] during earlier lifetimes, why would the fondness and kind feelings of our benefactors not play a part in these benefits?

Moreover, acknowledgement (kṛtajñatā) is the source of great compassion (mahākaruṇāmūla) and opens the first door to good actions (kuśalakarman). The grateful person is loved and esteemed by people; his renown extends afar; after his death, he is reborn among the gods and finally he will attain abhisaṃbodhi. In this regard, the Buddha has told the story of the following Jātaka:


There are many reasons to praise grateful people. They are esteemed in all Jambudvīpa and people place their trust in them.

Moreover, the bodhisattva has the following thought: “Even if a man does me harm, I should save him; all the more reason I should save those who have done me a favor.”

3. Sūtra.

Kṣāntibalapratiṣṭhānām || yad bodhisattvasya sarvasattvānām antike ‘vyāpādā-vihiṃsācittatā |

Basing oneself on the power of patience. – The bodhisattva has no thought of malice or harm towards beings.

Śāstra (p. 414a19). – See our lengthy explanation on the perfection of patience (kṣāntipāramitā) (p. 865–926F).

Question. – Patience appears in many aspects (prakāra); why is the sūtra limited here to presenting it as “non-malice and non-harming” (avyāpādāvihiṃsā)?

Answer. – Because [the absence of malice and harm] is the very essence of patience. [An injured person] first produces a thought of malice and then harms someone by voice or body (pūrvaṃ vyāpādacittam utpādayati, pascāt kāyena vācā vā parān vihiṃsati).

Here, since it is a matter of a bodhisattva at the beginning of his career (ādikarmika), the sūtra speaks only of patience towards beings (sattvakṣānti) but does not speak of patience towards things.

4. Sūtra.

Prāmodyaprītyanubhavanatā || yad bodhisattvasya sarvasattvaparipācanatāyāṃ pramodanatā |

Feeling joy and contentment. – The bodhisattva feels joy in ripening all beings.

Śāstra (p. 414a23). – The bodhisattva sees that his body (kāya) and voice (vāc) have been purified by the observance of morality (śīla) and that his mind (manas) has been purified by his feelings of gratitude (prajñatā) and patience (kṣānti). Since the three kinds of action, [physical, vocal and mental (kāyavāṇmanaskarman)] are pure (pariśuddha) in him, “he experiences joy and contentment” (prāmodyaprītim anubhavati). A man bathed in perfumed water, clothed in new garments and adorned with necklaces, when he looks in the mirror (ādarśa), feels joy and contentment. In the same way also, the bodhisattva is very pleased at having obtained this good dharma (kuśaladharma) of morality. He says to himself: “Morality is the root of concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā). Immense and infinite qualities will be easy to obtain by me who has just acquired this pure morality,.” This is why he rejoices.

The bodhisattva established in this morality and this patience ripens (paripācayati) beings so that they are able to be reborn in the presence of the Buddhas of other regions or enjoy happiness among gods and men. Sometimes he even makes them obtain the Vehicles of the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas and the Buddhas. He considers the attachment of beings as happiness and, just as an adult, seeing little children amusing themselves together plays with them first, then gives them other playthings to make them renounce their previous toys, so the bodhisattva disciplines beings by first making them obtain human and divine happiness, then leads them gradually to discover the three Vehicles. This is why the sūtra says here that “he experiences joy and contentment”.

5. Sūtra.

Sarvasattvāparityāgitā || yad bodhisattvasya sarvasattvānāṃ paritrāṇatā |

Do not abandon anyone. – The bodhisattva saves all beings.

Śāstra (p. 414b6). – The bodhisattva who has cultivated well the mind of great compassion (mahākaruṇācitta) has sworn to save beings and his resolve is strong. So as not to suffer the scorn of the Buddhas and āryas, so as not to forget his obligations to beings, he does not abandon them. The man who has promised something to someone and who then does not give it is guilty of deception. For these reasons the bodhisattva does not abandon beings.

6. Sūtra.

Mahākaruṇāyā āmukhibhāvaḥ || yad bodhisattvasyaivaṃ bhavati | ekaikasya sattvasyāhaṃ gaṅganadīvālukopamān kalpān niraye pacanāny anubhaveyaṃ yāvan na sa sattvo buddhajñāne pratiṣṭhāpito bhaved nirvāṇādhigato vā bhavet | evaṃ yāvat sarveṣāṃ daśadiksattvānāṃ kṛte ya utsāho ‘yam ucyate mahākaruṇāyā āmukhībhāvaḥ |

The entry into great compassion. – The bodhisattva has the following thought: “May I, for each being, for periods as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, suffer in hell all the torments, as long as this being will not be established in the knowledge of the Buddhas or will not enter into nirvāṇa.” If the bodhisattva extends such an effort to all beings of the ten directions, that is his entry into great compassion.

Śāstra (p. 414b10). – On great compassion (mahākaruṇā), see what has been said above (p. 1705– 1717F). As the Buddha says here, from the beginning, the bodhisattva makes the following resolve concerning beings: “For such and such a person in particular, for innumerable periods, I will suffer in his place the torments of hell and I will pursue my effort until I have led him to accumulate the qualities (guṇa), to become Buddha or to enter into nirvāṇa without residue of conditioning (nirupadhiśeṣanirvāṇa).”

Question. – But there is no way of suffering a punishment in place of another;[2] why then does the bodhisattva make such a vow (praṇidhāna)?

Answer. – [Without a doubt], but this bodhisattva has such strong resolve and loves beings so deeply that if he had the means of substituting himself for the guilty ones, he would do so without hesitation.

Moreover, the bodhisattva sees that, among people, there are sacrifices to the gods (devayajña) where human flesh is used, human blood and the five human internal organs are offered to the rakṣasas but where substitutions of people are authorized. Then the bodhisattva says: “In the hells there must be substitutions of this kind and I am determined to take the place of others there.” Learning that the bodhisattva’s great resolve is like that, beings honor him (gurūkurvanti) and respect him (satkurvanti). Why? Because the bodhisattva’s concern for beings is so profound that it surpasses even that of a loving mother.

7. Sūtra.

Guruśraddhāgauravaśuśruṣā || yad bodhisattvasya gurūnām antike śāstṛsaṃjñā |

Faith, respect and submissiveness to the teachers. – The bodhisattva produces the notion of teacher (i.e., he considers his teachers as being the Buddha in person) towards teachers.

Śāstra (p. 414b21). – Because of his teachers, the bodhisattva obtains supreme complete enlightenment: why then would he not believe them, respect them, honor them? High as his own knowledge (jñāna) and qualities (guṇa) may be, the bodhisattva would not derive great benefit from them if he lacked respect and veneration for his teachers.

The excellent water at the bottom of a well (udapāna) cannot be reached without a rope (rajju); in the same way, destroying his pride (māna) and vanity (stambhacitta), the bodhisattva must be respectful and obedient [towards his teachers] so that the great benefits (mahārtha) resulting from his virtues (guṇa) may come to him. The rain (vṛṣṭi) that falls does not stay at the top of the mountain (giryagra), but necessarily flows downward; in the same way, if the bodhisattva is prideful and haughty [towards his teachers], the water of the Dharma (dharmodaka) does not enter into him. But if he respects good teachers, the qualities due to him fall on him.

Finally, the Buddha has said that it is necessary to depend on good teachers so that morality (śīla), concentration (samādhi), wisdom (prajñā) and deliverance (vimukti) can increase (vṛddhi); in the same way that the trees (vṛkṣa) that grow on the Himālayas, their roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits are in full bloom. This is why the Buddha said that we must honor our teachers as if they were the Buddha in person.

Question. – But if it is a matter of bad teachers, how could one serve them and trust them? It is impossible to regard good teachers as the Buddha and all the more difficult to regard bad teachers as the Buddha. Then why does the Buddha here want us to “produce the idea of the Bhagavat toward teachers” (gurūṇām antike śāstṛsamjñā)?

Answer. –The bodhisattva should not conform to worldly judgments (lokadharma). Those who conform to them are attached to the good and turn away from the bad. The bodhisattva does not act in that way. If some teachers are able to explain to him the profound meaning (gambhīrārtha) and cut the knot of his doubts (saṃśayasaṃdhi), he sees his benefit (hita) there, he honors them wholeheartedly and does not think about their defects. If a bad purse (bhastrikā) is full of jewels (ratna), one does not refuse to take the jewels under the pretext that the purse is bad; if you are traveling at night on a steep path and some thieves offer you a torch (ulkā), you would not refuse this light under the pretext that the thieves are bad. In the same way, the bodhisattva who finds the light of wisdom (prajñāprabhā) in his teachers does not care about their faults.

Furthermore, the disciple should say to himself; “My teacher uses the innumerable artifices (apramāṇopāya) of the Prajñāpāramitā; I do not know why he affects this fault.” Thus Sa-t’o-po-louen (Sadāprarudita) heard the voice of the Buddhas of the ten directions say to him from heaven: “Do not think about the deficiencies of the Dharma teacher (dharmabhāṇaka); always have respect and fear for him.”[3]

Finally, the bodhisattva has the following thought: “That the Dharma teacher likes what is bad is not my business; what I desire is only to hear the Dharma and derive benefit from it. A clay or wooden statue, without any real qualities, makes one gain immense merit only by evoking the idea of buddha (buddhasaṃjñā); what then should be said about this man capable of preaching the Dharma to people with the skillful means of wisdom (prajñopāya)? Consequently, although the Dharma teacher may have faults, that is not very important.”

Towards teachers, the bodhisattva produces “the idea of bhagavat” (bhagavatsaṃjñā). As I have said above, the bodhisattva is different from worldly people. Worldly people make distinctions between beauty and ugliness; they like honest people but do not see them as buddhas; they distrust bad people and do not take them into account. The bodhisattva himself is not like that: he contemplates the absolute emptiness (atyantaśūnyatā) of dharmas which from the very beginning (mūlata eva) are like nirvāṇa without residue of conditioning (nirupadhiśeṣanirvāṇa); he looks at all beings and sees them as equal to the Buddha. All the more reason that he sees as equal to the Buddha the Dharma teachers (dharmabhāṇaka) who possess the advantages of wisdom (prajñā) and who do the work of Buddha (buddhakārya).

8. Sūtra.

Pāramitāsūdyogaparyeṣṭiḥ || yad bodhisattvasyaikacittena pāramitānāṃ paryeṣaṇatānanyakarmatayā ime subhūte bodhisattvena mahāsattvena dvitīyāyāṃ bhūmau vartamānenāṣṭau dharmāḥ paripūrayitavayāḥ |

The energetic search for the perfections. – The bodhisattva seeks the perfections attentively, without doing anything else.

These are the eight dharmas to be fulfilled by the bodhisattva-mahāsattva who is in the second ground (vimalā-bhūmi).

Śāstra (p. 414c24). – The bodhisattva has the following thought: “The six perfections are cause and condition for supreme complete enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi). I will cultivate this cause and condition attentively (ekacittena).”

Merchants (vaṇij) who diligently search for the goods asked for by the lands through which they travel, farmers (kārṣaka) who diligently look for the seeds (bīja) needed for the soil which they are cultivating, cannot fail to succeed in their business. The person who, in the present lifetime, practices generosity (dāna), later obtains great wealth; the person who keeps the discipline (śīla) later obtains noble [rebirths]; the person who practices concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (prajñā) obtains bodhi. It is the same for the bodhisattva: if he practices the six perfections (pāramitā), he succeeds in beoming buddha.

It is a matter here of ‘energetic search” (udyogaparyeṣṭi), i.e., of constant attentive and energetic search for the six perfections. Why? Because if slackness (ślakṣnacitta) creeps in, one is stifled by the passions (kleśa) and overcome by Māra. This is why the Buddha says here in the second ground not to relax ‘energetic search” (udyogaparyeṣṭi).

Footnotes and references:


This is not a criticism. Sthavira Buddhism is in perfect agreement with natural morality (śīla) and religious discipline (saṃvara). However, it does not attain the perfection of morality (śīlapāramitā) advocated by the Mahāyāna which depends essentially on the non-existence of sin and its opposite (āpattyanāpattyanadhyāpattitām upādāya): cf. p. 770F, 861F.


Because the fruits of action are strictly personal and not communicable: see above, p. 2312F, n. 1.


Aṣṭasāhasrikā, ed. U. Wogihara, p. 929–930: Atha khalu Sadāpraridito bodhisattvaḥ punar api śabdam aśrauṣit … Imās tvayā kulaputrānuśaṃsāḥ paritulayamānena dharmabhāṇake bhikṣau śāstṛsaṃjñotpādayitavyā na ca tvayā kulaputra lokāmiṣapratisaṃyuktayā cittasaṃtatyā dharmabhāṇako bhikṣur anubaddhavyaḥ | dharmārthikena ca tvayā dharmagauraveṇa dharmabhāṇako bhikṣur anubaddhavyaḥ |

Transl. – Then the bodhisattva Sadāprarudita heard this voice: “O son of good family, weighing these advantages, you should produce the idea of Teacher in regard to all bhikṣus preaching the Dharma. A bhikṣu preaching the Dharma should not be followed by you for reasons of material order but out of interest and respect for the Dharma.”