Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

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

This is the English translation of the Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (“the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) by Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century A.D.). The book, in the form of an encyclopedia on Buddhism, is a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita (“the perfection of wisdom in five thousand lines”). Volume I describes the conditions...

Chapter XVIII - Praise of the Virtue of Generosity

Question. – What are the benefits (anuśaṃsa) of generosity (dāna)[1] that make the bodhisattva dwelling in the Prajñāpāramitā perfect the virtue of generosity (dānapāramitā)?

Answer. – Generosity presents all kinds of benefits. Generosity is a precious treasure (ratnakośa) that always follows its originator; generosity destroys suffering and brings happiness to people; generosity is the kind tutor who shows the path to heaven (svargamārga); generosity is the good prefect who seduces (saṃgṛhṇāti) honest people [note: generosity captivates honest people, that is why it is said to seduce them]; generosity is a safe haven (yogakṣema): when the end of life approaches, the mind [of the donor] is free of fear (viśārada); generosity is a mark of loving-kindness (maitrīnimitta), capable of saving all beings; generosity is an accumulation of happiness (sukhasamuccaya), capable of destroying suffering; generosity is a great general (senāpati), able to vanquish avarice (mātsarya); generosity is a wonderful fruit. Loved by gods and [140b] men, generosity is a pure path (viśuddhimārga) traveled by the noble āryas; generosity is an accumulation of good (kuśalasamuccaya), the entryway to the qualities (guṇadvāra); generosity is a good action (kuśalacarya), the seed of a marvelous fruit; generosity is a meritorious action (puṇyakarma), the mark of an honest man; generosity destroys poverty (dāridya) and suppresses the three lower destinies (durgati); generosity protects the fruit of merit; generosity is the prime condition (prathamapratyaya) for nirvāṇa. Generosity is the rule for entering into a group of honest people; it is a reservoir of praise (stuti) and eulogy (varṇana); it is the virtue that permits easy entry into assemblies; it is the house where the mind is without regret (vipratisāra); it is the root of good dharmas and of practicing the Path (mārgacaryā); it is the jungle of many joys (nandana); it is the field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) that assure wealth, nobility and safety (yogakṣema); it is the bridge (setu) for obtaining the Path (mārgalabha) and nirvāṇa; it is the favorite practice of the āryas, of great men (mahāpuruṣa) and sages (jñānin); it is a model proposed for men of little virtue and little intelligence.

[The sage and the fool in the fire][2] – When a house is burning, the sharp-witted man perceives clearly under what conditions the blaze is developing and, before the fire reaches him, he hastens to retrieve his wealth; although his dwelling is completely consumed, he has saved all his precious belongings; he can then rebuild a new home. In the same way, the generous man knows that his body is perishable and fragile and that his wealth is not eternal; he profits from the right moment to cultivate merit (puṇyabhāvanā), just like the man who saves his wealth from the fire; in his future existences he will enjoy happiness, just like this man who rebuilds his home, resumes his business and quite naturally enjoys happiness and profit. As for the stupid man, he knows only how to hold greedily onto his house; in his haste to make plans to save it, he panics, loses all acuteness and, under the action of the violent wind and inaccessible flames, the earth and bricks of his house are completely burned; in the space of a murmur, the destruction is complete. As he has saved nothing in his house, his wealth also is destroyed; suffering from hunger and stiff with cold, he is unhappy and attacked by suffering until the end of his life. This is likewise the miserly man (matsarin); he ignores the fact that his body and his life are not eternal and that, in the space of a moment, it becomes impossible for him to save them; instead of (busying himself) with that, he amasses (riches) and guards them jealously; but death overtakes him unexpectedly and suddenly he dies; his physical shape melts away into the earth; his wealth with all its appurtenances leave him; he is like the fool who is unhappy and crushed by suffering for having lacked foresight. The man with clear intelligence, on the other hand, is able to understand; he knows that the body is like a magic show (māyā), that wealth cannot be kept, that everything is impermanent (anitya) and that only meritorious action (puṇya) offers stable support; therefore he works to draw men from the ford of suffering and he penetrates into the great Path.

Furthermore, the great man who, with his great mind, practices great generosity, serves himself; but the mediocre man who, out of weakness, serves nobody does not even assure his own interest.[3]

And just as a hero (śūra), seeing his enemy, is inevitably drawn to destroy him, so the wise man who, in his prudence, has understood his duty well, no matter how violent his enemy greed (mātsarya) is, he is capable of subduing it and will inevitably bend it to his wishes. Finding a field of merit (puṇyakṣetra) and meeting the propitious occasion [note: i.e., the time when it is proper to give; when one encounters it and does not give, one ‘misses the opportunity’], and he understands what has to be done and with the right mind (samyakcitta), he practices great generosity.

Finally, the man who practices sublime generosity is venerated (satkṛta) by people; like the newly arisen moon that everyone admires, his good renown [140c] and fame spread throughout the world; he is trusted by everyone. The person who practices sublime generosity is esteemed by the noble ones and respected by the lowly; when the end of his life approaches, his heart has no fear.

These are the fruits of reward (vipākaphala) obtained in the present existence (ihajanma): like the flowers and fruits of the trees, they innumerable (aprameya). Likewise in the future existence (pararajanma), the merit [will be rewarded]. When the wheel of saṃsāra turns, one is led to the five destinies (pañcagati); there are no relatives to support one; there is only generosity that counts. If one is reborn among gods (deva) or men (manuṣya) and one obtains a pure fruit (viṣuddhaphala), it is due to generosity; if, as an animal (tiryagyoni) – elephant or horse – one is well-stabled and well-fed, that too is a result of generosity. The virtue of generosity (dāna) is [to procure] wealth, nobility and joy. The person who keeps the precepts (śīla) is reborn among the gods; trance (dhyāna), knowledge (jñāna), purity of mind (cittaviśuddhi) assure nirvāṇa. The merit inherent in generosity is the equipment (saṃbhāra) for the Path of nirvāṇa: indeed, by thinking of the gifts [which one has made], one rejoices; by rejoicing, one settles one’s mind (ekacitta); by settling the mind, one contemplates impermanence (anityatā) of birth and death (utpādanirodha); by contemplating the impermanence of birth and death, one obtains the Path (mārga).

When one wants to have shade (chāyā), flowers (puṣpa) or fruit (phala), one plants a tree. It is the same when one is looking for reward (vipāka) by means of generosity: happiness in the present lifetime (ihajanma) and future lifetime (aparajanma) is like the shade; the state of śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha is like the flower; the state of Buddha is like the fruit.

These are the various qualities (guṇa) of generosity.

Footnotes and references:


The five benefits of generosity (dāna ānisaṃsā) have been pointed out by the Buddha in the Sīhasutta (Aṅguttara, III, p. 38–41); Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 24, p. 680c; k. 51,p. 826a); the first four concern the present life (sadiṭṭhika), the fifth, the future life (samparāyika): the generous teacher of generosity (dāyaka dānapati) is cherished and appreciated by many people bahuno janassa piyo hoti manāpo), good honest people love him (santo sappurisā bhajantī); an excellent repute is attached to his name (kalyāṇo kittisaddo abbhuggacchati); whatever assembly he enters, he enters fearlessly and without worry (yañ ñad eva parisaṃ upasaṅkamati … visārado upasaṅkamati amaṅkubhūto); after the destruction of his body after death, he is reborn in a blessed heavenly realm (kāyassa bhedā parammaraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati).

This chapter of the Mppś develops these five points somewhat; this is one of the homilies on generosity so often encountered; cf. Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 19–34; Bodhicaryāvatāra, chap. II, v. 2–23; Divyāvadāna, chap. XXXIV, p. 481–483; sermons on generosity, morality, heaven, preached to lay people, Kośa, IV, p. 70, n. – Modern works: Oltramare, Théosophie, p. 408; Dutt, Aspects, p. 297; LAV., Morale bouddhique, p. 50–51.


Here the Mppś reproduces the text of the first page of the Tchong king siuan tsa p’i yu, T 208, no. 1, k. 1, p. 531 (cf. Chavannes, Contes, II, p. 68–69, the translation of which is used here). This compilation is the work of the Indian (?) monk Tao li; It was translated by Kumārajiva in 405, the same year as the Treatise.


Kośa, IV, p. 234, explains in what conditions generosity is of benefit to oneself, to others, to both, to none.