The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines
Chapter 53: The Prophecy about Gaṅgadevī
- Yeshé Dé
Degé Kangyur, vol. 29 (shes phyin, ka), folios 1.a–300.a; vol. 30 (shes phyin, kha), folios 1.a–304.a; vol. 31 (shes phyin, ga), folios 1.a–206.a
Translated by Gareth Sparham
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines is one version of the Long Perfection of Wisdom sūtras that developed in South and South-Central Asia in tandem with the Eight Thousand version, probably during the first five hundred years of the Common Era. It contains many of the passages in the oldest extant Long Perfection of Wisdom text (the Gilgit manuscript in Sanskrit), and is similar in structure to the other versions of the Long Perfection of Wisdom sūtras (the One Hundred Thousand and Twenty-Five Thousand) in Tibetan in the Kangyur. While setting forth the sacred fundamental doctrines of Buddhist practice with veneration, it simultaneously exhorts the reader to reject them as an object of attachment, its recurring message being that all dharmas without exception lack any intrinsic nature.
The sūtra can be divided loosely into three parts: an introductory section that sets the scene, a long central section, and three concluding chapters that consist of two important summaries of the long central section. The first of these (chapter 84) is in verse and also circulates as a separate work called The Verse Summary of the Jewel Qualities (Toh 13). The second summary is in the form of the story of Sadāprarudita and his guru Dharmodgata (chapters 85 and 86), after which the text concludes with the Buddha entrusting the work to his close companion Ānanda.
This sūtra was translated by Gareth Sparham under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
This is a good occasion to remember and thank my friend Nicholas Ribush, who first gave me a copy of Edward Conze’s translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines in 1973. I also thank the Tibetan teachers and students at the Riklam Lobdra in Dharamshala, India, where I began to study the Perfection of Wisdom, for their kindness and patience; Jeffrey Hopkins and Elizabeth Napper, who steered me in the direction of the Perfection of Wisdom and have been very kind to me over the years; and Ashok Aklujkar and others at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who taught me Sanskrit and Indian culture while I was writing my dissertation on Haribhadra’s Perfection of Wisdom commentary. I thank the hermits in the hills above Riklam Lobdra and the many Tibetan scholars and practitioners who encouraged me while I continued working on the Perfection of Wisdom after I graduated from the University of British Columbia. I thank all those who continued to support me as a monk and scholar after the violent death of my friend and mentor toward the end of the millennium. I thank those at the University of Michigan and then at the University of California (Berkeley), particularly Donald Lopez and Jacob Dalton, who enabled me to complete the set of four volumes of translations from Sanskrit of the Perfection of Wisdom commentaries by Haribhadra and Āryavimuktisena and four volumes of the fourteenth-century Tibetan commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom by Tsongkhapa. I thank Gene Smith, who introduced me to 84000. I thank everyone at 84000: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and the sponsors; the scholars, translators, editors, and technicians; and all the other indispensable people whose work has made this translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines and its accompanying commentary possible.
Around me everything I see would be part of a perfect road if I had better driving skills.Where I was born, where everything is made of concrete, it too is a perfect place.Everyone I have been with, everyone who is near me now, and even those I have forgotten—there is no one who has not helped me.So, I bow to everyone and to the world and ask for patience, and, as a boon, a smile.
We gratefully acknowledge the generous sponsorship of Matthew Yizhen Kong, Steven Ye Kong and family; An Zhang, Hannah Zhang, Lucas Zhang, Aiden Zhang, Jinglan Chi, Jingcan Chi, Jinghui Chi and family, Hong Zhang and family; Mao Guirong, Zhang Yikun, Chi Linlin; and Joseph Tse, Patricia Tse and family. Their support has helped make the work on this translation possible.
Then the sister Gaṅgadevī, who had joined the assembly and was seated in that very retinue, got up from her seat, adjusted her upper robe so it hung down from one shoulder, knelt down with her right knee on the ground, cupped her palms together in a gesture of supplication specifically to the Lord, bowed forward to him, and said to the Lord, “I too, Lord, I too, Sugata, will practice the six perfections well, and just like the tathāgatas, [F.216.b] worthy ones, perfectly complete buddhas will look after such buddhafields as those taught in this perfection of wisdom.”
Then that woman took golden flowers; took silver flowers, flowers that grow on dry land, and flowers that grow in the water; took all the adornments; and took twinned muslin scarfs with a gold-like color573 and strewed them specifically over the Lord. Through the power of the Lord, the moment after she had strewed all those twinned muslin scarfs and so on, they stayed there, a second story in the space right above the Lord’s head, square with four corners and four pillars, equidimensional, extremely excellent, perfectly proportioned and delightful.574 That woman then made that second story into something shared in common with all beings and dedicated it to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening.
Then at that time the Lord, knowing the intention of that woman, smiled. And it is in the very nature of a lord buddha that when they smile, from the opening of the lord’s mouth issue forth light rays of many colors, of a variety of colors—namely, blue, yellow, red, white, reddish brown, crystalline, and silvery. Having dispersed through limitless and boundless world systems and retracted back they circle around the lord three times and disappear into the lord from the top of his head.
Venerable Ānanda then got up from his seat, adjusted his upper robe so it hung down from one shoulder, knelt down with his right knee on the ground, cupped his palms together in a gesture of supplication specifically to the Lord, bowed forward to him, and said to the Lord, “Lord, the tathāgatas, worthy ones, perfectly complete [F.217.a] buddhas do not give a smile without a cause, without a condition. So why did you smile? What is the cause, what is the condition?”
Venerable Ānanda having asked this, the Lord said to him, “Ānanda, in the future during the eon called Tārakopama this sister Gaṅgadevī will become the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha called Suvarṇapuṣpa, the one with the golden flowers, and appear in the world. This, Ānanda, is this woman’s last female body. Ānanda, this sister Gaṅgadevī, having forsaken a woman’s body and acquired a man’s body, will be born in the buddhafield of the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Akṣobhya, the world system called Abhirati. She will live a celibate life there. Ānanda, that bodhisattva great being’s name will also be Suvarṇapuṣpa. Ānanda, that bodhisattva great being Suvarṇapuṣpa, having died there, will pass on from buddhafield to buddhafield and will never be separated from the lord buddhas. Just as, Ānanda, a wheel-turning emperor goes walking from palace to palace for as long as he lives but until the time of his death the soles of his feet never press upon the ground, similarly, Ānanda, the bodhisattva great being called Suvarṇapuṣpa will pass on from buddhafield to buddhafield until fully awakening to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening, never separated from the lord buddhas.”
Then it occurred to venerable Ānanda to think, [F.217.b] “One should be aware that howsoever many bodhisattva great beings there are assembled in that buddhafield, they will be a tathāgata assembly.”575
Then the Lord, understanding in his mind the thoughts occurring to venerable Ānanda, said to venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda, it is exactly as you are thinking! It is exactly so! One should be aware that those bodhisattva great beings will be a tathāgata assembly. Ānanda, in the buddhafield of the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Suvarṇapuṣpa his community of monks will be infinite. The measure of his community of monks cannot be taken by saying that there are this many śrāvakas, or there are up to a hundred śrāvakas, or there are up to a thousand śrāvakas, or there are up to a hundred thousand śrāvakas, or there are up to one hundred million śrāvakas, or there are up to a hundred one hundred million śrāvakas, or there are up to a thousand one hundred million śrāvakas, or there are up to a hundred thousand one hundred million śrāvakas, or there are up to a hundred thousand billion one hundred million śrāvakas; rather, there will be an ananta of an asaṃkhyeya of a hundred thousand billion one hundred million śrāvakas. Ānanda, in that buddhafield where the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Suvarṇapuṣpa will have fully awakened to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening, those faults described in this perfection of wisdom will not exist and will not appear as anything at all, in any way at all.”
“Ānanda,” replied the Lord, “this sister planted such a wholesome root in relation to the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Dīpaṃkara, and having dedicated that wholesome root to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening, because she wanted unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening she strewed golden flowers on the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Dīpaṃkara as well. Ānanda, when I strewed blue lotus flowers on the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Dīpaṃkara because I wanted unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening, the lord, the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Dīpaṃkara, knowing I had the wholesome root, prophesied my full awakening to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening. At that time this sister heard the prophecy about me and produced the thought, ‘Yes! Just as a full awakening to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening has been prophesied of this brahmin student, similarly in the future may there also be a prophecy that I too will fully awaken to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening.’ Thus, Ānanda, did this sister first produce the thought of unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening in the presence of the tathāgata, worthy one, perfectly complete buddha Dīpaṃkara.”
This was the fifty-third chapter, “The Prophecy about Gaṅgadevī,” of “The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines.”