Not Forsaking the Buddha
Degé Kangyur, vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 44.b–49.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
This discourse takes place while the Buddha Śākyamuni is on Vulture Peak Mountain with a large community of monks, along with numerous bodhisattvas. Ten of the bodhisattvas present in the retinue have become discouraged after failing to attain dhāraṇī despite exerting themselves for seven years. The bodhisattva Undaunted therefore requests the Buddha to bestow upon them an instruction that will enable them to generate wisdom. In response, the Buddha reveals the cause of their inability to attain dhāraṇī—a specific negative act they performed in the past—and he goes on to explain the importance of respecting Dharma teachers and reveal how these ten bodhisattvas can purify their karmic obscurations.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation was produced by Laura Dainty. Andreas Doctor compared the translation with the original Tibetan and edited the text.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Not Forsaking the Buddha takes place at Vulture Peak Mountain in Rājagṛha, where the Buddha is accompanied by a large community of monks and numerous bodhisattvas. Ten of these bodhisattvas have recently turned away from the teaching because they have failed to make progress despite exerting themselves for seven years. However, a devoted bodhisattva called Undaunted requests the Buddha to give these ten bodhisattvas an instruction that will enable them to generate insight and wisdom. In response, the Buddha relates the past events that caused these bodhisattvas’ inability to make spiritual progress: in a distant past, in another world, these ten bodhisattvas had wrongly accused another Dharma teacher of having flawed discipline. As a result of this negative act, for many lifetimes afterward they were reborn in the lower realms. Only after suffering in the lower realms for a long time had they purified enough of their former negative action to once again attain human rebirth and go forth as monks. Still, due to the lingering obscuration created by their former negative act, they were unable to obtain any results from their practice for seven hundred lifetimes. Now, however, the Buddha explains that if they chant a certain dhāraṇī and train for one week by recalling the qualities of the buddhas, their remaining obscurations will be purified. The bodhisattvas practice accordingly and are finally able to make progress on the path. Following this instruction, the Buddha completes the discourse by explaining several other bodhisattva trainings that further support spiritual progress and secure the welfare of beings.
The potential obstacles and pitfalls that practitioners of all levels may encounter on their path are mentioned in many sūtras, particularly in the context of future degenerate times when the Dharma is in the process of decline. Not many canonical texts, however, focus primarily on bodhisattvas who have become disheartened, as this one does. Again, while many sūtras speak of the attainment of a stage of realization after which progress toward awakening becomes irreversible, there are few concrete examples of what kinds of reversal bodhisattvas may face before they reach such an advanced stage. The bodhisattvas described here provide such an example, although the surprising fact that they are described nevertheless as “bodhisattva great beings” suggests that this term is not necessarily correlated with irreversibility. This text is particularly valuable, too, for its detailed prescriptions for remedying and overcoming such reversals. In these respects it has some features in common with one of the few other sūtras on a similar theme, Inspiring Determination (Adhyāśayasaṃcodana, Toh 69).1
To our knowledge, no Sanskrit version of this sūtra exists. In addition to the Tibetan translation the sūtra was translated twice into Chinese. The first of these translations (Taishō 811) was produced sometime near the end of the third century ᴄᴇ by the Indo-Scythian monk Dharmarakṣa (ca. 233–310 ᴄᴇ). With this Chinese translation, we thus have a terminus ante quem for the composition of this sūtra, which places it relatively early in the formative period of the literature of the Great Vehicle in India. The second Chinese translation (Taishō 831) was produced in the early sixth century (ca. 508–535 ᴄᴇ) by the prolific Indian translator Bodhiruci.2
The Tibetan translation, according to the colophon, was produced by the Indian preceptors Jinamitra and Prajñāvarman and the Tibetan translator-editor Yeshé Dé. This suggests that the translation can be dated to the late eighth or early ninth century, which is also supported by the text’s inclusion in the early ninth-century Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) catalog.3 In producing this translation, we have based our work on the Degé Kangyur xylograph, while consulting the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace manuscript Kangyur.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was on Vulture Peak Mountain in Rājagṛha, together with a great saṅgha of 1,250 monks and eighty thousand bodhisattvas. At that time, the bodhisattva great being Aśokadatta was present in the assembly, as were the bodhisattva great being Vanquisher of the Darkness of Sorrow, the bodhisattva great being Light of Wisdom, the bodhisattva great being Roaring Thunder Cloud from Brahmā, the bodhisattva great being Glorious Blooming Flower of Precious Qualities, the bodhisattva great being Born from the Lion’s Virtues and Moving with a Thunder Roar, the bodhisattva great being Renowned Brilliant Light, the bodhisattva great being Aiming for Accomplishment of Limitless Wisdom Array, [F.45.a] the bodhisattva great being Renowned Blooming Flower of Limitless Precious Qualities, and the bodhisattva great being Intelligent Light of Insight Displaying Power.4
These ten bodhisattva great beings who were present in the assembly had exerted themselves for seven years with the aim of attaining dhāraṇī. However, although seven years had passed, they had not even attained mental equipoise, let alone dhāraṇī. For seven years, they had avoided dullness and sleep and exerted themselves while sitting and walking. They had exerted themselves in relinquishing all thoughts of desire. Nevertheless, they had not achieved their goal and had not attained dhāraṇī; and thus, feeling discouraged, they had offered back their precepts and lapsed. All of them, having thus assented to the shortcomings of householder life, had simply turned their backs on the teaching.
At that time, King Ajātaśatru was also present in the assembly. The Blessed One had already dispelled the king’s regrets. With his regrets dispelled, for seven days the king had engaged in generosity and pardoned all prisoners. After having engaged in generosity for seven days, the king had returned to the Blessed One, together with seventy million other beings, to listen to the Dharma. The ten noble sons who had assented to the shortcomings of householder life and turned their backs on the teaching had also come to the assembly.
At this point, the bodhisattva great being Undaunted also joined the assembly. He had attained dhāraṇī. For countless eons he had possessed the acceptance of phenomena that is consistent with reality and had attained the acceptance that phenomena are nonarising. He was endowed with various forms of eloquence. He was expert in accomplishing all gateways to wisdom and the Dharma, and, in order to explain the Dharma, he was skilled concerning beings’ mindsets, intentions, and interests. [F.45.b]
The bodhisattva great being Undaunted rose from his seat, draped his shawl over one shoulder, knelt on his right knee, and bowed with joined palms toward the Blessed One. He then said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, these ten noble sons exerted themselves for seven years with the aim of attaining dhāraṇī, yet they did not accomplish their goal, and so they have left the teaching and profess to having taken up the householder life. This being so, Blessed One, I beseech you to please bestow upon these noble sons an instruction that will enable them to swiftly attain wisdom.”
The Blessed One replied to the bodhisattva great being Undaunted, “Noble son, these individuals have not heard the Dharma discourse called Not Forsaking the Buddha, and so they have ended up forsaking the Buddha. That is why these noble sons have failed to swiftly develop in their understanding.”
The Blessed One then addressed the bodhisattva great being Undaunted: “Noble son, none of these ten bodhisattvas has in fact forsaken the Buddha.”
The bodhisattva great being then asked, “Blessed One, what do you mean by saying that they have not forsaken the Buddha?”
The Blessed One replied, “Noble son, in a bygone age, thirty eons ago, in a world called Mirage, a thus-gone one named Roar of Vision appeared. In the period after this thus-gone one had passed into parinirvāṇa, these ten noble sons were born as the sons of householders who were like great śāla trees. At that time, these ten noble sons commissioned the building of five hundred monasteries. In each of those monasteries, a thousand monks resided. Noble son, at that time there was a Dharma teacher named Pratibhānakūṭa who had attained dhāraṇī and was teaching the Dharma. [F.46.b]
“Noble son, the Dharma teacher Pratibhānakūṭa would accomplish the eloquence of five thousand Buddhas while seated on the Dharma seat, as eight hundred million gods applied themselves diligently in worshiping his body. Through just one of his Dharma discourses, seventy thousand beings would be established in irreversible progress toward unexcelled and perfect awakening, and ten thousand beings would attain the fruition of stream enterer.
“Noble son, at that time there was a king named Candradatta. He had great respect for the Dharma, and so he and five hundred women venerated that Dharma teacher with song and music. He scattered many types of precious flowers over that monk, anointed him with sandalwood ointment, and swathed him in five hundred brocades. Furthermore, the king venerated him with every type of delightful service. In this way, he served that Dharma teacher with perfect offerings for seven days.
“However, those sons of householders accused that monk of flawed discipline. As that action ripened, they were born in the hells for ninety thousand years. Then, for five hundred consecutive lifetimes they were born in the human realm as ṣaṇḍhas, as barbarians, and into families with wrong views. After that, for six hundred lifetimes they were born blind and mute. Then, for seven hundred lifetimes they went forth and remained ordained for the rest of their lives, but they died without having attained dhāraṇī. That is the karmic obscuration veiling these noble sons.
“Noble son, you should therefore trust this and understand it. Having heard this Dharma discourse, you should never speak of a Dharma teacher having flawed discipline, even if you witness it in person, let alone hear word of it.
“Noble son, if one person were to pluck out the eyes of all beings, and another were to take a disparaging view of a Dharma teacher, the latter would commit an act of even graver negativity than the former. If one person were to bind all beings in fetters, and another were to turn his back on meeting a Dharma teacher, [F.47.a] the unmeritorious act committed by the former would be nowhere near even a hundredth part of the unmeritorious act committed by the latter. It would be nowhere near even a thousandth, or a one hundred thousandth part. No number, fraction, quantity, analogy, or comparison would come close. Why is that? Because whoever denigrates a Dharma teacher denigrates the Buddha. If you wish to honor the Buddha, you should honor a Dharma teacher. If you wish to worship the Buddha, you should worship a Dharma teacher. If you wish to pay homage to the Buddha, you should pay homage to a Dharma teacher.
“Why is that? It is because the state of omniscience arises from the bodhisattvas—and the blessed buddhas arise from the bodhisattvas. Since that takes place on the basis of the bodhisattvas’ arousing of the mind of awakening, one should not say that bodhisattvas are afflicted beings who indulge in pleasures. One should not say that they ever fail to observe pure conduct. Although they are absorbed in the formless absorptions one should not say that they enter the formless states. Why not? Because bodhisattvas do not take rebirth under the sway of afflictions; rather, bodhisattvas take rebirth through the power of aspirations. They are beyond all childish behavior. If you wanted to point out the afflictions of a bodhisattva, it would be no different from wanting to point out the physical form of space.
“Noble son, as an analogy, as the chief of all nāgas, the nāga king Anavatapta is counted as one of the nāgas. Nevertheless, he is not afflicted by the three troubles of nāgas. What are the three ways in which he is not afflicted? Hot sand does not fall on his head, he is never infested with vermin,8 and he is not subject to the terror of garuḍas. Noble son, these three troubles of the nāgas do not afflict Anavatapta. [F.47.b] Noble son, in the same way, even though bodhisattva great beings may engage in frolicking and all manner of joys, it must be said that they are not overcome by the desire, affliction, or suffering within the three existences.
“Noble son, as another analogy, there is a type of animal known as fisher that moves about in the water and looks into the water but does not die there. Noble son, likewise, bodhisattva great beings may move about in cyclic existence, but while engaging in the conduct of childish beings, they in fact pursue the conduct of wisdom. Having taken up the Dharma, they do not become confused. They live alongside childish beings, but they do not experience the sufferings of the three existences. Therefore, bodhisattva great beings will protect themselves.”
The Blessed One then spoke the following verses:
syād yathedam: accha acchavati anāvile akleśe akṛte anāyūhe ave aparajite bhavatu aṅgama yutājñāva prakṣipe nirgate ugrahe huhume cavale sade same samade yoti nayo pariśodhi.10
“Noble sons or daughters should recite these dhāraṇī mantra words. For seven days they should train in the absorption of recalling the buddhas in a way that is free from grasping, free from settling, free from form, free from concepts, free from sensory experience, free from diversion, free from action, free from contamination, free from indifference, free from the five aggregates, and free from impatience. If they do that, they will encounter a thousand buddhas in the ten directions, and they will be compelled to confess their faults.”
Accordingly, these noble sons went forth as monks and recited those secret mantra words. For seven days, free from grasping and the rest, they exerted themselves by training in the absorption of recalling the buddhas. Thereby they came to see the thousand buddhas and confessed their karmic obscuration. At that very point, these noble sons attained the dhāraṇī called gateway to the wisdom that accomplishes all. They reduced their time in cyclic existence by thirty eons, and were established in irreversible progress toward unexcelled and perfect awakening.
“Undaunted, the king Candradatta, who had worshiped that Dharma teacher, is now the thus-gone, [F.48.b] worthy, and perfect buddha Amitāyus. At that time, he was the king Candradatta. The Dharma teacher Pratibhānakūṭa is now the thus-gone, worthy, and perfect buddha Akṣobhya. At that time, he was the Dharma teacher Pratibhānakūṭa. The ten sons of householders like great śāla trees are now these noble sons. At that time, they were the ten sons of householders like great śāla trees who accused the Dharma teacher Pratibhānakūṭa of having flawed discipline.
“Therefore, noble son, no matter how bodhisattvas may be living, do not view them as mistaken, even at the cost of your life. Why not? Because, noble son, there are four qualities that purify the awakening of bodhisattvas. What are those four qualities? Training in emptiness, being free of animosity toward anyone, always gathering what is beneficial for bodhisattvas, and authentically manifesting the gift of the Dharma without having thoughts of material gain. Noble son, these four qualities purify the awakening of11 bodhisattva great beings.”
The Blessed One then expressed these same points in the following verses:
“Noble son, furthermore, bodhisattva great beings who apply themselves to dhāraṇī should stay in an isolated place. They should go to listen to the Dharma. They should wear clean clothes. They should stay on their own. They should observe the four types of conduct. They should have the wish and inclination to practice various forms of generosity toward Dharma teachers. They should venerate the Three Jewels. They should not let others influence them. They should never feel discouraged. They should cultivate diligence constantly, be unwavering, never part from the recollection of the buddhas, train thoroughly in nonobservation and the lack of characteristics, and practice what they preach. They should faithfully supplicate the buddhas. They should become skilled in confession, rejoicing, and dedication. They should not behave imprudently. They should live in places that are free of danger, and where the teachers and masters are present. They should uphold what they have been taught. They should apply these teachings without becoming weary.”
When the Blessed One gave this Dharma discourse, thirty thousand beings who had not previously given rise to the mind of awakening now gave rise to the mind of awakening. Five thousand beings gained the pure vision of Dharma that is dust free and stainless with regard to all phenomena. Thirty thousand bodhisattvas gained the acceptance that phenomena are nonarising.
The Blessed One then said,13 “Hearing this Dharma discourse is something that is cherished dearly by bodhisattva great beings. If one person, for as many eons as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, were to fill the trichiliocosm with the seven precious substances and present them as gifts to the Three Jewels, [F.49.b] while another person were to listen to this Dharma discourse, the latter will have made the best choice. If one person, for a thousand eons, were to engage in the five perfections excluding the perfection of insight, while another person were to listen to this Dharma discourse, the latter will have made the best choice. If one person were to serve, venerate, respect, and worship a thousand buddhas in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, while another were to listen to this Dharma discourse, the latter will have made the best choice.
“Noble sons, it is for these reasons that I have entrusted you with this Dharma discourse, so that you may preserve it, carry it, read it aloud, teach it, and copy it. You must preserve this teaching of mine, even at the cost of life and limb.”
When the Blessed One had said this, the bodhisattva Undaunted, the other bodhisattvas, the monks, and the entire retinue, as well as the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas, rejoiced and praised what the Blessed One had said.
This concludes the noble Great Vehicle sūtra “Not Forsaking the Buddha.“
sangs rgyas mi spang ba (Buddhākṣepaṇa). Toh 118, Degé Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 44.b–49.b.
sangs rgyas mi spang ba. bka’ ’gyur (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. 68, 126–38.
’phags pa sangs rgyas mi spang ba zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 62, pp. 687–703.
Atiśa Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna. mdo kun las btus pa chen po (Mahāsūtrasamuccaya). Toh 3961, Degé Tengyur vol. 112 (dbu ma, gi), folios 1.b–209.b.
rig sngags kyi rgyal mo rma bya chen mo (Mahāmāyūrīvidyārājñī). Toh 559, Degé Kangyur vol. 90 (rgyud ’bum, pha), folios 87.b–117.a.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan [/ lhan] dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Degé Tengyur, vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Lamotte, Étienne. The Treatise on the Great Virtue of Wisdom of Nāgārjuna (Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra), Vol. I. Translated from the French, Le Traité de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse de Nāgārjuna (Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra), by Gelongma Karma Migme Chodron. Unpublished manuscript. 2001.
- ting nge ’dzin
acceptance of phenomena that is consistent with reality
- rjes su ’thun pa’i chos kyi bzod pa
acceptance that phenomena are nonarising
- mi skye ba’i chos la bzod pa
Aiming for Accomplishment of Limitless Wisdom Array
- ye shes kyi bkod pa mtha’ yas pa bsgrub pa la sems pa
- ma skyes dgra
- mi ’khrugs pa
- tshe dpag tu med pa
- ma dros pa
- mya ngan med kyis byin pa
- lha ma yin
Born from the Lion’s Virtues and Moving with a Thunder Roar
- seng ge’i yon tan las byung ba ’brug gi nga ros ’gro ba
- zla bas byin pa
- phung po lnga
- pha rol tu phyin pa lnga
- dri za
- nam mkha’ lding
Glorious Blooming Flower of Precious Qualities
- yon tan rin po che’i me tog kun du rgyas pa’i gzi brjid lta bu
Intelligent Light of Insight Displaying Power
- shes rab kyi snang bas stobs pa bstan pa’i blo gros
- dzi na mi tra
Light of Wisdom
- ye shes kyi ’od
- dge sbyong
- smig sgyu can
- pradz+nya war+ma
- spobs pa brtsegs pa
- rgyal po’i khab
Renowned Blooming Flower of Limitless Precious Qualities
- yon tan rin po che mtha’ yas pa’i me tog kun du rgyas pa’i rnam par bsgrags pa grags pa
Renowned Brilliant Light
- ’od kyi gzi brjid rnam par bsgrags pa grags pa
Roar of Vision
- rnam par gzigs pa’i nga ro
Roaring Thunder Cloud from Brahmā
- tshangs pa las byung ba ’brug dbyangs sprin gyi nga ro
- shing sa la
- za ma
seven precious substances
- rin po che sna bdun
- rgyun du zhugs pa
- stobs bcu
- srid pa gsum
- bag tsha ba med par gnas pa
Vanquisher of the Darkness of Sorrow
- mya ngan gyi mun pa thams cad nges par ’joms pa
- bya rgod kyi phung po
- ye shes sde