Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields
Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields
Degé Kangyur, vol. 48 (mdo sde, nga), folios 285.b–286.b
Translated by the Subhashita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
While the Buddha is staying in the kingdom of Magadha with an immense assembly of bodhisattvas, the bodhisattva Acintyaprabharāja gives a teaching on the relativity of time between different buddhafields. Eleven buddhafields are enumerated, with an eon in the first being equivalent to a day in the following buddhafield, where an eon is, in turn, the equivalent of a day in the next, and so forth.
Translated, edited, and finalized by the Subhashita Translation Group. The translation was produced by Lowell Cook, who also wrote the introduction. Benjamin Ewing 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.
The sūtra Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields takes place in the kingdom of Magadha where the Buddha is dwelling amid an incalculable assembly of bodhisattvas. Among the bodhisattvas is the sūtra’s primary speaker, Acintyaprabharāja, who offers a discourse on the relativity of time between buddhafields. He enumerates eleven buddhafields, with an eon in the first being equivalent to a day in the following buddhafield, where an eon is, in turn, the equivalent of a day in the next, and so forth. The sūtra thus presents a hierarchy of buddhafields that begins with our world and culminates with the paramount buddhafield, Padmaśrī. This language of incredibly vast scales of time has the effect of testing the limits of human conception, thereby demonstrating that the qualities of the buddhas and their buddhafields are beyond quantification or conceptualization. Acintyaprabharāja concludes his discourse by presenting the benefits of engaging with this sūtra, foremost of which is being visited by buddhas from an infinite number of buddhafields at the moment of death.
Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields is nearly identical to “The Chapter on the Scale of Life,” the thirty-seventh chapter of the Ornaments of the Buddhas (Toh 44, Skt. Buddhāvataṃsaka),1 and The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable (Toh 268).2 Of the three texts, Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields is the most elaborate in that it includes an introductory narrative (Skt. nidāna) and a conclusion whereas “The Chapter on the Scale of Life” does not, and it explicitly names the buddhafields and their buddhas while The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable gives only the names of the buddhas.
Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields is not mentioned in either the Denkarma (Tib. ldan/lhan dkar ma) or Phangthangma (Tib. ’phang thang ma) catalogs, the two extant indexes of translations from the Imperial Period (629–841 ᴄᴇ). Despite this, the Tibetan translation might be roughly dated between the late eighth to the early ninth century based on its colophon, which states that it was translated by the Tibetan translator Yeshé Dé alongside the Indian preceptors Jinamitra and Dānaśīla. It is worth noting, however, that the colophon that contains the names of the Indian and Tibetan translators is not found in any of the Thempangma (them spangs ma) Kangyurs.
There is an extant Sanskrit witness for Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields with the nearly identical title Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvananāma-mahāyānasūtra (The Mahāyāna Sūtra: Proclaiming the Qualities of the Infinite Buddhafields).
This sūtra is the seventeenth in a manuscript collection of twenty sūtras that is presently held in Lhasa at the Potala Palace. The full manuscript, which was scribed by a single hand, is missing the final colophon that would have provided key information on the date and provenance of the collection, making it impossible to say when, where, or by whom the Sanskrit manuscript was compiled.3 In terms of content, the Sanskrit witness and Tibetan translation align closely, with only a handful of variants that have been noted below. The Sanskrit witness is particularly noteworthy for stating in its colophon that it belongs to “the extensive collection, Ornaments of the Buddhas,” making it one of the few Sanskrit sources to attest to the possible existence of an Ornaments of the Buddhas collection in India.4 The Tibetan translation of Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields does not explicitly identify itself as part of an Ornaments of the Buddhas collection as the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana does, suggesting that the former arrived in Tibet as an independently circulating sūtra that was not recognized as a part of the Ornaments of the Buddhas collection as it was transmitted to Tibet. Because both “The Chapter on the Scale of Life” of the Ornaments of the Buddhas and The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable are nearly identical in content to Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields, the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana serves as an important Sanskrit resource for studying those texts as well.
The translation offered here is based on the version found in the Degé Kangyur in close comparison with the Sanskrit text of the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana. Additionally, the variant readings recorded in the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyurs were also consulted, and “The Chapter on the Scale of Life” and The Sūtra of the Inconceivable King informed this translation. A Chinese translation of the sūtra was produced by Faxian (337–ca. 422) and is included in the Chinese canon (Taishō 290 Jiao liang yi qie fo cha gong de 較量一切佛刹功德). An English translation of the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana has been published in Vinītā 2010 alongside a critical edition of the Sanskrit text and transcription of the Tibetan and Chinese translations.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling at the seat of awakening,5 in a Dharma hermitage in the land of Magadha,6 where he was seated upon a lion throne in the center of a lotus, inlaid with jewels and vajras. He was accompanied by a great bodhisattva assembly of as many bodhisattva great beings as there are atoms throughout tens of trillions of indescribable buddhafields.
Present within that assembly of bodhisattvas was a bodhisattva great being by the name of Acintyaprabharāja. Through the power of the Buddha, the bodhisattva great being Acintyaprabharāja rose from his seat and addressed the group of bodhisattvas: [F.286.a] “O children of the Victorious One, an eon in this Sahā world is but a single day in the realm of Sukhāvatī, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Amitābha.
“O children of the Victorious One, an eon in the realm of Kaṣāyadhvajā is but a single day in the realm of Avaivartikacakranirghoṣā, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Suniścitapadmaphullitagātra.
“O children of the Victorious One, continuing with this system of examining and calculating realms, after a distance equal to the total atoms in one million buddhafields we arrive at the equivalent of a single day in the realm of Padmaśrī, the buddhafield of the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, and completely perfect Buddha Bhadraśrī. This is a land where the bodhisattvas who follow the conduct of Samantabhadra make special preparations for the bodhisattva levels.9
“O children of the Victorious One, if any son or daughter of noble family holds, memorizes, recites,10 masters, or teaches in detail to others this Dharma discourse, Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields,11 then blessed buddhas from infinite oceans of limitless buddhafields throughout the ten directions will be seated before them at the time of their death. They will recollect their lifetimes until they fully awaken to unsurpassed and completely perfect buddhahood.”
This was spoken with joy by the bodhisattva great being Acintyaprabharāja with the authorization of the thus-gone, worthy, completely perfect Buddha. The entire assembly of bodhisattva great beings praised what he had taught.
This completes the noble Dharma discourse “Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields.”12
’phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa rnams kyi sangs rgyas kyi zhing gi yon tan brjod pa’i chos kyi rnam grangs (Āryatathāgatānām buddhakṣetraguṇoktadharmaparyāya). Toh 104, Degé Kangyur vol. 48 (mdo sde, da), folios 285b4–286b7.
’phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa rnams kyi sangs rgyas kyi zhing gi yon tan brjod pa’i chos kyi rnam grangs (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. 48, pp. 739–42.
’phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa rnams kyi sangs rgyas kyi zhing gi yon tan brjod pa’i chos kyi rnam grangs. Stok 176. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma). Leh: smanrtsis shesrig dpemzod, 1975–80, vol. 70 (mdo sde, dza), folios 407.a–409.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Hahn, Michael. “Mnyam dka(r) and Dharmakīrti’s Praise of the Buddha’s Nirvāṇa: Miscellanea Etymologica Tibetica IX.” Journal of Buddhist Studies X (2012): 1–20.
Hamar, Imre. “Buddhāvataṃsakasūtra.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Jonathan Silk et al., vol. 1, Literature and Languages, 115–28. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Skilling, Peter and Saerji. “ ‘O, Son of the Conqueror’: A note on jinaputra as a term of address in the Buddhāvataṃsaka and in Mahāyāna sūtras.” Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology (ARIRIAB) at Soka University 15 (2012): 127–30.
Subhashita Translation Group, trans. The Chapter on the Scale of Life (chapter 37 of the Buddhāvataṃska, Toh 44). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Subhashita Translation Group, trans. The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable (Toh 268). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Vinītā, Bhikṣuṇī, ed. and trans. A Unique Collection of Twenty Sūtras in a Sanskrit Manuscript from the Potala. Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region 7/1. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House; Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2010.
- ’od bsam gyis mi khyab pa’i rgyal po
Acintyaprabharāja (King of Inconceivable Light ) is a bodhisattva who is the main speaker in Toh 104.
- mi ’khrugs pa
The buddha in the eastern realm, Abhirati. Akṣobhya (Unshakable) was well known early in the Mahāyāna tradition.
- ’od dpag med
Amitābha (Immeasurable Light) is the buddha associated with the western realm of Sukhāvatī. He is also known as Amitāyus.
- phyir mi ldog pa’i ’khor lo dbyangs
Avaivartikacakranirghoṣā (Sound of the Wheel of Nonregression) is a buddhafield inhabited by the Buddha Suniścitapadmaphullitagātra. “Nonregression” (Skt. avaivartika, Tib. phyir mi ldog pa) refers to a stage on the bodhisattva path where the practitioner will never turn back, or be turned back, from progress toward the full awakening of a buddha.
The stages a bodhisattva must traverse before reaching perfect buddhahood; traditionally ten in number, though some systems present more.
- sangs rgyas kyi zhing
A buddhafield is the particular world system over which a specific buddha presides. There are innumerable such fields in Mahāyāna Buddhist cosmology.
- mnyam dga’
An ancient Indian kingdom that lay to the south of the Ganges River in what today is the state of Bihar. Magadha was the largest of the sixteen “great states” (mahājanapada) that flourished between the sixth and third centuries ʙᴄᴇ in northern India. During the life of the Buddha Śākyamuni, it was ruled by King Bimbisāra and was home to many of the most important Buddhist sites, including Bodh Gayā, Nālandā, and Rājagṛha. Its capital was initially Rājagṛha but was later moved to Pāṭaliputra (modern-day Patna) sometime after the reign of Bimbisāra’s usurper son, Ajātaśatru.
- mi mjed
This universe of ours, or the trichiliocosm (but sometimes referring to just this world system of four continents), presided over by Brahmā. The term is variously interpreted as meaning the world of suffering, of endurance, of fearlessness, or of concomitance (of karmic cause and effect).
- kun tu bzang po
Samantabhadra (Entirely Excellent) is one of the eight principal bodhisattvas. He is known for embodying the conduct of bodhisattvas through his vast aspirations, offerings, and deeds for the benefit of beings.
Seat of awakening
- byang chub kyi snying po
The exact place where every buddha in this world will manifest the attainment of buddhahood. Specifically, this is the place beneath the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gayā.
- shin tu rnam par gdon mi za bar pad mo rab tu rgyas pa’i sku