The White Lotus of Compassion
Turning the Wheel of the Dharma
- Bendé Yeshé Dé
Degé Kangyur, vol. 50 (mdo sde, cha), folios 129.a–297.a
Translated by Peter Alan Roberts and team
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Buddha Śākyamuni recounts one of his most significant previous lives, when he was a court priest to a king and made a detailed prayer to become a buddha, also causing the king and his princes, his own sons and disciples, and others to make their own prayers to become buddhas too. This is revealed to be not only the major event that is the origin of buddhas and bodhisattvas such as Amitābha, Akṣobhya, Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, and the thousand buddhas of our eon, but also the source and reason for Śākyamuni’s unsurpassed activity as a buddha.
The “white lotus of compassion” in the title of this sūtra refers to Śākyamuni himself, emphasizing his superiority over all other buddhas, like a fragrant, healing white lotus among a bed of ordinary flowers. Śākyamuni chose to be reborn in an impure realm during a degenerate age, and therefore his compassion was greater than that of other buddhas.
The sūtra was translated from the Tibetan with reference to the Sanskrit by Peter Alan Roberts. Tulku Yeshi Gyatso of the Sakya Monastery, Seattle, was the consulting lama who reviewed the translation. Guilaine Mala was the consultant for the Chinese versions. Emily Bower was the project manager, editor, and proofreader.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The translation of this text has been made possible through the generous sponsorship of an anonymous donor.
Thus did I hear at one time:14 the Bhagavat was residing at Rājagṛha, on Vulture Peak Mountain, accompanied by a great saṅgha of 62,000 bhikṣus who, with the exception of one individual—which is to say, Venerable Ānanda—were all arhats whose outflows had ceased, who were without kleśas, who were self-controlled, who had liberated minds, who had completely liberated wisdom, who were noble beings,15 who were great elephants, who had done what had to be done, who had accomplished what had to be accomplished, who had put down their burden, who had reached their goals, who had ended the fetters to existence, who had liberated their minds through true knowledge, and who had attained all the perfect, highest, most complete powers of the mind.16
They and others had all entered the Mahāyāna, practiced the six perfections, and perceived, understood, and comprehended the Dharma of the four misapprehensions.18 They were all gathered around and they looked upon the one before them who teaches the Dharma in order that the four noble truths will be realized, and so that bodhisattva mahāsattvas will attain the various samādhis, the level of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas will be transcended, and through samādhi the highest, most complete enlightenment will be attained.19
At that time, the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, the bodhisattva Amoghadarśin, the bodhisattva Varuṇa, the bodhisattva Siṃhamati, the bodhisattva Vairocanamati, and ten thousand other bodhisattvas rose from their seats together, removed their robes from one shoulder, knelt on their right knees, bowed with their hands placed together, and, facing southeast and looking in that direction with great joy and delight, said these words: “Tathāgata Arhat Samyaksambuddha Padmottara, you attained complete buddhahood and soon after manifested great miraculous powers, caused the good karma of many hundreds of thousands of millions of trillions of beings to ripen, and established them in irreversible progress toward the highest, most complete enlightenment. That is a marvel! We pay homage to you! We pay homage to you!”
Then the bodhisattva Ratnavairocana rose from his seat, removed his robe from one shoulder, knelt on his right knee, [F.130.a] placed his hands together, bowed in the direction of the Bhagavat, and inquired of the Bhagavat, “Bhagavat, why did the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, the bodhisattva Amoghadarśin, the bodhisattva Varuṇa, the bodhisattva Siṃhamati, the bodhisattva Vairocanamati, and ten thousand other bodhisattvas rise from their seats together, remove their robes from one shoulder, kneel on their right knees, bow with their hands placed together, and, facing southeast and looking in that direction with great joy and delight, say these words: ‘Tathāgata Arhat Samyaksambuddha Padmottara, you attained complete buddhahood and soon after manifested great miraculous powers, caused the good karma of many hundreds of thousands of millions of trillions of beings to ripen, and established them in irreversible progress toward the highest, most complete enlightenment. That is a marvel! We pay homage to you! We pay homage to you!’?
“How long was the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara on the path? How long has it been since he attained the highest, most complete enlightenment, becoming a complete buddha? What is the name of the realm in which the Tathāgata Padmottara resides? In what way is that realm adorned by an array of qualities? For what reason did the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara perform that kind of great miracle? What is the reason why some bodhisattvas can see the bhagavat buddhas who reside in other innumerable realms in the ten directions, [F.130.b] and can see the miracles of those buddha bhagavats, while we cannot see them?”
The bodhisattva Ratnavairocana said those words, and then the Bhagavat addressed him in return: “Noble son, excellent! Excellent! Noble son, it is excellent that you have made this request. In order to ripen the good karma of many hundreds of thousands of millions of trillions of beings, you have asked about the Tathāgata Padmottara’s manifestation of the miracle of attaining enlightenment and the qualities of his buddha realm. You have asked this because of the virtue of your confidence. Noble son, listen carefully and pay attention, for I will explain it to you.”
“Noble son, in the southeast, beyond buddha realms as numerous as the grains of sand in a hundred thousand million trillion Ganges Rivers, there is a realm by the name of Padmā, which is adorned with a variety of good qualities, scattered with a variety of flowers, pervaded by a variety of fragrances, adorned with precious trees, and filled with precious lotuses.20 Its ground is made of blue beryl. It is filled with bodhisattvas and pervaded by the sound of the Dharma. The ground made of beryl is as soft and pleasant to the touch as down. A foot stepping on it sinks to the depth of four finger-widths, and when the foot is raised, the ground rises back up four finger-widths. Varieties of lotuses cover the ground.
“The trees there are made of the seven jewels and are seven yojanas in height. [F.131.a] They are hung with divine orange cloth, and they emit beautiful, divine music. On those trees there are a variety of birds that sing the beautiful words of the powers, strengths, and factors of enlightenment. When the leaves of those trees touch each other, they create music of the five tempos, which surpasses that of the deva realms. Each of those trees has a pervasive fragrance, which surpasses that of the deva realms and spreads over a hundred thousand21 yojanas, and each of those trees is hung with divine adornments.
“In between those trees are kūṭāgāras made of the seven jewels, which are each five hundred yojanas high and a hundred yojanas wide.22 Around all these kūṭāgāras, in each of the four directions, there is an ornamental arch. Between these ornamental arches and the kūṭāgāras, there are pools that are eighty-eight yojanas long and fifty yojanas wide. On the four sides of those pools there are steps made of the seven jewels. Those ponds are covered with blue lotuses and red lotuses.23 Each flower is one yojana across. Bodhisattva mahāsattvas are born from the pericarps of those flowers. They appear on the pericarps of those lotuses in the first watch24 of the night. They spend the night sitting cross-legged, experiencing the joy and bliss of liberation. When the night turns to dawn, there come cool,25 fragrant, gentle breezes, the touch of which is delightful, and which cause the closed flowers to open and the bodhisattvas to emerge from their meditation. Leaving behind the joy and bliss of liberation, they come down from the pericarps and enter the kūṭāgāras, where they sit cross-legged on seats made of the seven jewels [F.131.b] and listen to the Dharma.
“Surrounding the trees and kūṭāgāras are mountains made of Jambu River gold. They are each twenty yojanas high and three yojanas wide. Between those mountains, many hundreds of thousands of moonstones, sunstones, sapphires, and jyotīrasas are visible. When the light of the Buddha Padmottara strikes the mountains and jewels, the light of that buddha and the light of the jewels becomes a continuous great radiance throughout the Padmā realm. The light of a sun or moon is unknown, but when the lotuses close and the birdsong diminishes, that is called night, and the opposite is day.
“On top of the mountains are kūṭāgāras of blue beryl, which are sixty yojanas high and twenty yojanas wide. In each of the four directions from the kūṭāgāras there are ornamental archways made of the seven jewels. Within the kūṭāgāras, there are thrones made of the seven jewels, upon which bodhisattvas in their last lifetime sit and listen to the Dharma.
“Noble son, in the Padmā realm there is the excellent presence of a Bodhi tree called Indra, which is three thousand yojanas high with a trunk five hundred yojanas wide. Its branches, leaves, and petals are a thousand yojanas wide.
“At the foot of this Bodhi tree there is a silver lotus stalk, which is five hundred yojanas high. It has a hundred thousand million gold petals, five yojanas in height. All the pericarps have emerald stamens, and the pericarps, which are made of the seven jewels, are ten yojanas high and seven yojanas wide.26 It is upon this that the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara attained the highest, most complete enlightenment, becoming a complete buddha. [F.132.a]
The Bhagavat replied to the bodhisattva Ratnavairocana, “Noble son,27 in the last watch of the night, the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara attained the highest, most complete enlightenment, becoming a complete buddha, and at dawn he performed a miracle. He transformed himself to the height of the Brahmā realm and his uṣṇīṣa radiated a hundred thousand million trillion light rays.28 Those light rays illuminated the upper region’s realms, which are as numerous as the particles in a buddha realm. At that time, the bodhisattvas who dwelt in the upper regions looked downward. They did not perceive Sumeru or the Cakravāḍa, Mahācakravāḍa, or Kāla mountain ranges. In those worlds, the bodhisattvas who had received prophecy, who had attained samādhi, who had attained retention, who had attained acceptance, and who had completely transcended the levels of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas,29 and those bodhisattva mahāsattvas who were in their final lifetime, were illuminated, placed their palms together in reverence, and saw the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara’s [F.132.b] body, which was perfectly adorned by the thirty-two signs and eighty excellent features of a great being.
“They also saw the assembly of bodhisattvas and the array of good qualities of that buddha realm, the world known as Padmā. The bodhisattva mahāsattvas became perfectly joyous and happy when they saw that. Countless bodhisattvas, from realms as numerous as the particles in a buddha realm, through their miraculous powers left their buddha realms and came to the Padmā realm in order to make offerings to, pay homage to, and honor the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara.
“Noble son, the Tathāgata Padmottara, while sitting, standing, and walking, extended his tongue from his mouth and covered that entire world of four continents with his tongue. Then the bodhisattvas who were in meditation arose from their samādhi and applied themselves to making offerings to the Tathāgata and the entire assembly.30
“Noble son, when the Tathāgata Padmottara ceased manifesting the miraculous power of his tongue, he emitted six thousand trillion light rays from each pore of his entire body. This vast radiance reached realms in all the ten directions as numerous as the particles in a buddha realm. There were bodhisattva mahāsattvas in those realms who received prophecies and attained samādhi. [F.133.a] Those bodhisattva mahāsattvas, through their miraculous powers, departed from their own buddha realms31 and came to the Padmā realm in order to see, pay homage to, and honor the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara.
“Noble son, when the tathāgata arhat samyaksambuddha Padmottara concluded his miraculous manifestations, in order to benefit many beings, for the sake of the happiness of many beings, from compassion for the world, in order to bring benefit and happiness32 to devas and humans, and in order to perfectly complete the purpose of the Mahāyāna, he turned the righteous wheel of the Dharma called the Irreversible Wheel for the entire assembly of bodhisattvas.”
That concludes “Turning the Wheel of the Dharma,” which is the first chapter of the Mahāyāna sūtra titled The White Lotus of Compassion.
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’phags pa snying rje pad ma dkar po zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo (Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkanāmamahāyānasūtra). Urga 112, Urga Kangyur vol. 50 (mdo sde, cha), folios 128a–296a.
bcom ldan ’das kyi ye shes rgyas pa’i mdo sde rin po che mtha’ yas pa mthar phyin pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo (Niṣṭhāgatabhagavajjñānavaipulyasūtraratnānantanāmamahāyāna-sūtra). Toh 99, Degé Kangyur vol. 47 (mdo sde, ga), folios 1b–275b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee, 2019.
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