Nagarjuna Bodhisattva on the Perfection of Giving

[T25.139a24-153a23 {fasc. 11,12}]

Sanskrit - Chinese Translation: Kumarajiva

Chinese - English Translation: Dharmamitra

Part One of Three

The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom

Section Seventeen: An explanation of the meaning of the first chapter's dana paramita.



The Buddha told Sariputra, "It is by resort to the dharma of non-abiding that the bodhisattva, mahasattva abides in the prajna paramita. It is by means of the dharma of having nothing whatsoever which is relinquished that he perfects dana paramita. This is because neither giver, recipient nor material object can be gotten at."


Question: What sort of dharma is the prajna paramita?

Response: There are those who explain that the faculty of non-outflow wisdom (anaasravapraj~naa) constitutes the mark of prajna paramita. Why is this? Among all the types of wisdom the foremost type of wisdom is the prajna paramita. The faculty (muula) of non-outflow wisdom is foremost. It is for this reason that the faculty of non-outflow wisdom is known as the prajna paramita.

Question: If the bodhisattva has not yet cut off the fetters (sa.myojana), how can he succeed in practicing non-outflow wisdom?

Response: Although the bodhisattva has not yet cut off the fetters he is still able to practice a semblance of non-outflow prajna paramita. It is for this reason that it can be referred to as practicing the non-outflow prajna paramita. This is just as with the Hearers (shraavaka) who in their cultivation of the dharma of heat, the dharma of summits, the dharma of patience and the foremost worldly dharma, first practice a semblance of non-outflow dharma and then later easily generate the patience of dharma wisdom with respect to suffering (du.hkhe dharmaj those who are pure by virtue of having cut off the fetters and those who are not pure on account of not yet having cut off the fetters. Those bodhisattvas who are pure by virtue of having cut off the fetters are able to practice non-outflow prajna paramita.

Question: If it is the case that the bodhisattva is pure by virtue of having cut off the fetters why does he then still practice the prajna paramita?

Response: Although he may have cut off the fetters, he has still not fulfilled the ten grounds (da'sabhumi), he has not yet adorned the buddhalands (buddhak.setra) and has not yet taught and transformed beings. It is for these reasons that he practices the prajna paramita.

Furthermore, "cutting off the fetters" is of two types. In the case of the first, one cuts off the three poisons. One's mind does not attach to the objects of the five desires among men and gods. In the case of the second, although one does not attach to the objects of the five desires among men and gods one has still not yet been able to transcend the objects of the five desires which manifest as a consequence of the bodhisattva's merit. A bodhisattva of this sort should practice the prajna paramita.

This was exemplified by the venerable Aniruddha. When he was dwelling in the forest sitting in dhyana meditation the heavenly maiden "Pure Love" and others manifest in their pure and marvelous bodies and came to test Aniruddha. Aniruddha said, "Sisters, make yourselves blue when you come. Don't use a variety of colors. I wish to contemplate impurity and am not otherwise able to carry out the contemplation." They then turned yellow, then red, and then white. At that time Aniruddha closed his eyes and would not look, saying, "Sisters, go away from here." At that time the heavenly maidens disappeared. If even the physical forms gained as meritorious reward by the gods are so [marvelous] as this, how much the more so are the objects of the five desires which manifest as a consequence of the bodhisattva's immeasurable merit.

This is also illustrated by the instance when the kinnara king came together with eighty-four thousand other kinnaras to where the Buddha dwelt. They strummed their lutes and sang verses as an offering to the Buddha. At that time, Sumeru, the king of the mountains, as well as the trees on the mountains, the people, the birds and the beasts all danced. The members of the great assembly which surrounded the Buddha, even including Mahakasyapa, were all unable to make themselves remain still. At that time the Bodhisattva Heavenly Imperative asked the venerable Mahakasyapa, "You are of senior years and have long abided as foremost in the cultivation of the dharma of twelve dhuta (ascetic) practices. How is it that you are unable to remain still in your seat?"

Mahakasyapa replied, "The five desires within the sphere of three realms are unable to move me. It is on account of the power of this bodhisattva's superknowledges manifesting as a consequence of his merit that I am caused to be in this state. It is not that I have any thoughts whereby I can't remain still."

This is just as with Mount Sumeru which when the four directions' winds arise cannot be shaken but which, when the Vairambha winds arise at the end of a great kalpa, is blown flat like a blade of dead grass. We can know from these cases that one of the two kinds of fetters has not yet been cut off. A bodhisattva of this sort should practice the prajna paramita. The Abhidharma explains the matter in this fashion.

Then again there are those who explain that the prajna paramita is a type of wisdom characterized by outflows. Why? Because it is only when the bodhisattva reaches the tree where the Way is realized that he finally cuts off the fetters. Prior to that, although he possesses great wisdom and possesses immeasurable merit, still the afflictions have not all been cut off. Therefore it is explained that the prajna paramita of the bodhisattva is "outflow" wisdom.

Then again, there are also those who explain that, from the point of first generating the aspiration [to attain buddhahood] on up to reaching the tree where the Way is realized, all wisdom employed during that time is referred to as prajna paramita. When one achieves buddhahood, "prajna paramita" changes in name to "sarvajnaa" (omniscience).

There are also those who say that the bodhisattva's outflow and non-outflow wisdoms [both] generally qualify as constituting prajna paramita. How is this so? The bodhisattva contemplates nirvana and practices the Buddha Way. On this account the bodhisattva's wisdom is appropriately referred to as "non-outflow." When on account of not yet having severed the fetters he has not yet brought the task to completion, that [wisdom] is appropriately referred to as "outflow" [in nature].

There are also those who explain that the prajna paramita of the bodhisattva is non-outflow, unconditioned, not perceivable and beyond opposites.

There are also those who say that no matter whether [one would posit] existence, nonexistence, permanence, impermanence, emptiness or substantiality, this prajna paramita is characterized by unattainability. This prajna paramita is not subsumable within the sphere of the aggregates, [sense] realms or [sense] bases. It is neither conditioned nor unconditioned, neither dharma nor non-dharma. It is neither graspable nor relinquishable, neither produced nor destroyed. It transcends the tetralemma's treatment of existence and nonexistence. It corresponds to an absence of [any] object of attachment. This is analogous to flames which cannot be touched from any of the four directions because they burn the hands. It is the characteristic of the prajna paramita that it too is like this. One cannot touch it because erroneous views are burned up by it.

Question: Of the various people's explanations of prajna paramita offered above, which of them reflects reality?

Response: There are those who say that each of them are principled. They all reflect reality. This is as stated in a sutra which says, "Five hundred bhikshus each explained the two extremes and the meaning of the middle Way. The Buddha said, 'Each possesses a principle of the Way.'"

There are those who say that the last answer is the one which corresponds to reality. Why? Because it cannot be refuted and cannot be destroyed. If one posits a dharma acknowledging even the smallest degree of "existence," in every case such a dharma possesses faults and can be refuted. If one claims "nonexistence," that too can be refuted. Within this prajna, existence is nonexistent, nonexistence is nonexistent and neither existence nor nonexistence is nonexistent. And discussion of this sort is nonexistent as well. This is a dharma of still extinction which is immeasurable and devoid of frivolous doctrinal discussion. Therefore it cannot be refuted and cannot be destroyed. This is what is known as the true and actual prajna paramita. It is the most supreme and unsurpassed.

Just as when the wheel-turning sage king defeats his adversaries but still does not elevate himself above them, so too it is with the prajna paramita. It is able to refute any assertion or frivolous doctrinal discussion and yet it still maintains nothing itself which is the object of refutation. Finally, from this point onward, many sorts of entryways to the meaning are employed in each chapter in the setting forth of the prajna paramita. They are all characterized by reality. It is by resort to the dharma of non-abiding that one abides in the prajnaparamita and is able to completely fulfill the six paramitas.

Question: What is meant by "Resorting to the dharma of non-abiding one abides in the prajnaparamita and is able to completely perfect the six paramitas"?

Response: In this manner the bodhisattva contemplates all dharmas as being neither eternal nor non-eternal, as characterized neither by suffering nor by bliss, as being neither empty nor substantial, as being neither possessed of selfhood nor devoid of selfhood and as being neither produced and destroyed nor unproduced and undestroyed. It is in this manner that one abides within the extremely profound prajnaparamita and yet still does not seize upon a mark of the prajnaparamita. This is an abiding which is characterized by the dharma of non-abiding. If one were to seize upon a mark of the prajnaparamita that would be a case of an abiding which is characterized by the dharma of abiding.

Question: If one does not seize upon a mark of the prajnaparamita the mind has nothing to which it may attach. As the Buddha said, "Desire is the origin of all dharmas." If it is the case that one does not grasp [at anything], how can one succeed in completely perfecting the six paramitas?

Response: Because the bodhisattva takes pity on beings he first makes a vow: "I must certainly bring all beings to liberation." On account of the power of the paramita of vigor, although he knows that all dharmas are not produced and not destroyed and characterized by being like nirvana, he still cultivates all manner of merit and completely perfects the six paramitas. Why? Because he employs the dharma of non-abiding as he abides in the prajnaparamita.

The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

Section Eighteen: An explanation of the meaning of the first chapter's praise of dana paramita.

Question: What benefits does dana bestow that the bodhisattva abiding in the prajnaparamita therefore fully perfects it?

Response: Dana brings all manner of benefits. Dana serves as a treasury which constantly follows along with a person. Dana destroys suffering and bestows bliss upon people. Dana is a good guide which shows the way to the heavens. Dana is a storehouse of goodness for it draws in good people. (Giving draws in good people as a result of one's setting up causes and conditions {i.e. karmic affinities} with them. Hence the text reads "draws in.")(2) Dana constitutes [a source of] peace and security. When one reaches the end of one's life one's mind is without fear. Dana is a mark of loving kindness. It is able to rescue everyone. Dana is able to gather together blisses and is able to rout the invaders of suffering. Dana is a great general which is able to defeat the enemy of miserliness. Dana is a marvelous fruit which is loved by gods and men. Dana is a path of purity travelled by the worthies and aryas. Dana is the entryway for the accumulation of goodness and meritorious qualities. Dana is a condition for the accomplishment of works and for the gathering together of a multitude. Dana is the seed of the treasured fruit of good actions. Dana is the mark of the good person endowed with meritorious karma. Dana destroys poverty and cuts one off from the three wretched destinies. Dana is able to preserve and protect the fruit of blessings and bliss. Dana is the primary condition for the realization of nirvana. It is the essential dharma for entry into the multitude of good people. It is the vast repository of good repute and praiseful commendation. It provides the quality of being free of difficulties in the midst of the multitudes. It is the cavernous mansion of the mind's freedom from regret. It is the origin of good dharmas and of one's cultivation of the Way. It is the dense forest of every manner of delight and bliss. It is the field of blessings for the reaping of wealth, nobility and peaceful security. It is the bridge across to the realization of the Way and entry into nirvana. It is traversed by the aryas, the great masters, and those possessed of wisdom. It is that which everyone else, those of minor virtue and lesser intelligence, should emulate.

Then again, it can be compared to [appropriate actions] when a house has caught fire. An intelligent person would clearly recognize the gravity of the situation and would hastily extricate his valuables before the fire reached them. Then, although the house might be burned to the ground, still, his valuables would be preserved so that he might rebuild his residence. A person who enjoys giving is just like this. Because he is aware of the fragility of the body and of the impermanence of material wealth he takes advantage of the opportunity to cultivate blessings. This is like removing one's possessions from the path of a fire. In a later life one is still able to experience bliss. This is like that person's work of rebuilding his house. One experiences comfort as a result of those blessings.

The stupid and deluded person is concerned only with cherishing his house and so rushes about trying to save it. He proceeds madly and foolishly and, losing touch with common sense, fails to recognize the intensity of the blaze. In the fierce wind and towering flames even the earth and rocks are scorched. In a brief interval everything is utterly destroyed. Not only is the house not saved, but the wealth and valuables are all lost as well. To the end of his life he is tormented by hunger, cold, anguish and suffering.

Miserly people are just like this. They do not realize that one's physical existence is impermanent, that one cannot guarantee even another moment of life. Nonetheless they dedicate themselves to amassing an accumulation [of possessions] which they protect and treasure. Death arrives unexpectedly and they suddenly pass away. One's physical form is of the same class with earth and wood. One's wealth, the same as withered goods, is entirely cast aside. They are also like a foolish man who experiences anguish and suffering as a result of errors in judgment.

Then again, if one is a person of great wisdom or a gentleman of fine mind, one will be able to awaken and realize that the body is like an illusion, that wealth can never be secure, that the myriad things are all impermanent, and that one can rely only upon one's merit. It has the capacity to pull a person forth from the river of suffering and open up the great Way.

Additionally, the great man of great mind is able to give greatly. He is able thereby to benefit himself. The petty man of petty mind is not only unable to benefit others but is also unable even to bestow liberal generosity upon himself.

Then again, just as when a brave soldier spies an enemy he boldly and immediately vanquishes him utterly, so too, when an intelligent man of wise mind gains a deep realization of this principle, even though the thieves of miserliness may be powerful, he is nonetheless able to fell them and resolutely fulfill his determination. When he meets up with a good field of blessings, encounters the right time ("Time" here refers to the time when one ought to give. If one encounters it and yet does not give, this is referred to as "missing the time."),(3) and realizes that the situation corresponds to his intentions, he is able to give greatly.

Again, a person who takes pleasure in giving is respected by others. This is just as when the moon first emerges. There are none who do not cherish it. His fine name and good reputation are heard throughout the world. He is one who is relied upon and looked up to by others. Everyone trusts him. A person who delights in giving is borne in mind by those who are noble and respected by those of humble station. As his life draws to an end his mind is without any fearfulness.

Such fruits gained in reward are obtained in this very life. An analogy can be made with fruit trees where, when the production of blossoms is great, countless fruits are produced. This describes the blessings received in future lives.

As one turns about in the wheel of birth and death, going and coming in the five destinies, there are no relatives upon whom one can rely. There is only giving. Whether one is born in the heavens or among men, whenever one gains a pure result, it comes forth as a result of giving. Even among elephants, horses and other animals, their being given fine shelter and nourishment is also something they gain as a result of giving.

The qualities gained on account of giving are wealth, nobility and bliss. Those who uphold the moral precepts succeed in being reborn in the heavens. Through dhyana and wisdom one's mind becomes pure and devoid of defiled attachment. Thus one gains the way of nirvana. The blessings gained as a result of giving constitute the provisions on that road to nirvana.

When one brings giving to mind he experiences delight. On account of delight one develops unity of mind. With unity of mind one contemplates birth and death and impermanence. Because one contemplates birth, death and impermanence one is able to realize the Way.

This is comparable to when a person plants trees because he seeks to have shade or perhaps plants trees because he seeks blossoms or seeks fruit. The aspiration for a reward in the practice of giving is just like this. The bliss acquired in this and future lives is comparable to the shade which is sought. The way of the hearers and pratyekabuddhas is analogous to the blossoms. The realization of buddhahood is analogous to the fruit. These are the various sorts of meritorious qualities associated with dana.

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