In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī
Degé Kangyur, vol. 94 (rgyud ’bum, tsha), folios 229.b–230.a
Translated by the Subhashita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī presents a series of lyrical verses in praise of the deity Sarasvatī, the patron goddess of spoken and written eloquence. With evocative imagery and inspiring language, the praise pays tribute to Sarasvatī’s unimpeded speech, memory, and knowledge, and to her physical majesty and compassionate nature. The praise includes petitions requesting Sarasvatī to grant the devotee a level of eloquence and learning equal to that of the goddess herself. In the tradition of the Great Vehicle, the praise aligns the attainments of eloquent speech, strong memory, and great learning with the intention to use them for the benefit of other beings.
Translated, edited, and finalized by the Subhashita Translation Group. The translation was produced by Lowell Cook, who also wrote the introduction. Benjamin Ewing and Ryan Damron checked the translation against the Tibetan and edited the text and introduction.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Sarasvatī is a female deity prominent in the pantheons of South Asia’s diverse religious communities, including those of the Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jain traditions.1 In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī extols the qualities for which the goddess is widely renowned in those communities: unimpeded mastery of speech, memory, and knowledge, physical majesty, and a compassionate nature. While praising Sarasvatī for these qualities, the text also petitions Sarasvatī to grant her devotee a level of eloquence and learning equal to that of the goddess herself. The praises and petitions articulated in the text are situated in the broader context of the Mahāyāna, which is apparent from its sustained orientation toward the benefit of all beings.
Among the praises to Sarasvatī preserved in Buddhist literature, In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī is unique for being classified by the compilers of the Tibetan canon as the word of the Buddha (buddhavacana) and thus included in the Kangyur, rather than as the work of human authors such as are compiled in the Tengyur. The other praises to Sarasvatī in the Tibetan canon are all preserved in the Tengyur, and include Śrīdhara’s Vajrasarasvatīstotra (Toh 1925) and the Sarasvatīstotra attributed to Kālidāsa (Toh 3704). Sarasvatī is also the subject of a substantial collection of Indic practice manuals (sādhana), which are preserved in the Tengyur as well. In the Tibetan tradition, Sarasvatī holds a position of importance as a patron goddess of both spoken and written eloquence, as is exemplified in Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa’s (1357–1419) celebrated Verses in Praise of the Goddess Sarasvatī (sgra dbyangs lha mo dbyangs can ma la bstod pa’i tshigs su bcad pa). Despite Sarasvatī’s popularity in Tibet, In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī does not appear to have been widely studied or quoted in Tibetan literature.
In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī lacks a Sanskrit title and is not otherwise available in a Sanskrit witness, making it challenging to determine the history of the text in India. The Tibetan translation of the text is preserved twice in the Kangyur—in the Action Tantra (Skt. kriyātantra; Tib. bya ba’i rgyud) section and in the Compendium of Dhāraṇīs2 (Tib. gzungs ’dus)—with only minor variations between the two versions.3 The translation is not recorded in the Denkarma or Phangthangma catalogs, the two extant records of texts translated during the Imperial Period (btsan po’i skabs; 629–842), nor does it appear in the Dunhuang collections, suggesting that the praise was either translated or compiled in the Period of Fragmentation (sil bu’i dus; ca. mid-eighth to late-tenth centuries) or during the subsequent period of Buddhism’s spread in Tibet (bstan pa’i phyi dar). With no colophon that includes information about the team of translators, it is difficult to precisely determine the history of the text’s transmission and translation in Tibet.
The English translation offered here is based on the version preserved in the Degé Kangyur with reference to variant readings from eight Kangyurs as noted in the Comparative Edition Kangyur (dpe bsdur ma), as well as the version preserved in the Stok Palace Kangyur.
namo bhagavate brahmaṇe | namaḥ sarasvatyai devi siddhyantu mantrapādam brahmānumantra svāhā.8
This concludes “In Praise of the Glorious Goddess Sarasvatī.”
|C||Choné (co ne) Kangyur|
|H||Lhasa (zhol) Kangyur|
|J||Lithang (’jang sa tham) Kangyur|
|K||Peking (pe cin) Kangxi Kangyur|
|KY||Peking Yongle (g.yung lo) Kangyur|
|N||Narthang (snar thang) Kangyur|
|S||Stok Palace (stog pho brang) Manuscript Kangyur|
Note that there is a discrepancy among various databases for cataloging the Toh 1092 version of this text within vol. 101 or 102 of the Degé Kangyur. See Toh 1092, note 3, for details.
dpal lha mo sgra dbyangs la bstod pa. Toh 738, Degé Kangyur vol. 94 (rgyud ’bum, tsha), folios 229.b–230.a.
dpal lha mo sgra dbyangs la bstod pa. (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–9, vol. 94, pp. 634–37.
dpal lha mo sgra dbyangs la bstod pa. Stok 691. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma). Leh: smanrtsis shesrig dpemzod, 1975–80, vol. 108 (rgyud ’bum, tsa), folios 79.b–80.b.
dpal lha mo sgra dbyangs la bstod pa. Toh 1092, Degé Kangyur vol. 101 (gzungs ’dus, waM), folios 256.a–256.b.
dpal lha mo sgra dbyangs la bstod pa. (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–9, vol. 98, pp. 898–901.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Ludvik, Catherine. Sarasvatī: Riverine Goddess of Knowledge. From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
Suvarṇaprabhāsasūtram. Edited by S. Bagchi. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute, 1967.
- tshangs pa
One of the primary deities of the Brahmanical pantheon, he is said to have pronounced the mantras of the four Vedas from each of his four faces and thus established the sonic foundation for the manifestation of the cosmos. Though not considered a creator god in Buddhist literature, in his form as Sahāmpati Brahmā, Brahmā occupies an important place as one of two deities (the other being Indra/Śakra) that are said to have exhorted Śākyamuni to teach the Dharma in the hagiographic literature. The particular heavens over which Brahmā rules are among the most sought-after realms of higher rebirth in Buddhist literature.
- lha dbang
Another name for Śakra, also known as Indra.
The term dhāraṇī has the sense of something that “holds” or “retains,” and as such can refer to the special capacity of practitioners to memorize and recall detailed teachings. It can also refer to a verbal expression of the teachings—an incantation, spell, or mnemonic formula—that distills and “holds” essential points of the Dharma and is used by practitioners to attain mundane and supramundane goals. The same term is also used to denote texts that contain such formulae.
- nag mo khol
Kālidāsa (c. fourth–fifth century ᴄᴇ) was one of India’s greatest poets. He is the author of Cloud Messenger (Skt. Meghadūta, Tib. sprin gyi pho nya), a work that exerted a major influence on Tibet’s poetic tradition, and a praise to Sarasvatī called Sarasvatīstotra (Toh 3704).
The level of realization of a bodhisattva, typically ten in number.
- pha rol phyin pa
The ten perfections are generosity (Skt. dāna, Tib. sbyin pa), discipline (Skt. śīla, Tib. tshul khrims), patience (Skt. kṣānti, Tib. bzod pa), diligence (Skt. vīrya, Tib. brtson ’grus), concentration (Skt. dhyāna, Tib. bsam gtan), insight (Skt. prajñā, Tib. shes rab), skillful means (upāyakauśala, Tib. thabs la mkhas pa), might (Skt. bala, Tib. stobs), aspiration (Skt. praṇidhāna, Tib. smon lam), and wisdom (Skt. jñāna, Tib. ye shes).
- dam tshig
Literally “coming together,” samaya, refers to precepts given by the teacher, the corresponding commitment by the pupil, and the bond that results, which can also be the bond between the practitioner and the deity or a spirit. It can also mean a special juncture or circumstance, or an ordinary time or season.
- dbyangs can ma
- lha mo sgra dbyangs
The goddess of eloquence, learning, and music.
- dpal ’dzin
Śrīdhara (ca. 870 ᴄᴇ–ca. 930 ᴄᴇ) was a renowned Indian scholar who composed the Vajrasarasvatīstotra (Toh 1925), a praise to Sarasvatī.
Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa
- tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa
Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357–1419 ᴄᴇ) was the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, a polymathic scholar, and a prolific author.
- bde bar gshegs pa
One of the standard epithets of the Buddha Śākyamuni and other buddhas. According to Buddhaghoṣa, the term means that the way the Buddha went (Skt. gata) is good (Skt. su), and where he went (Skt. gata) is good (Skt. su).