The Gold Sūtra
Degé Kangyur, vol. 54 (mdo sde, tha), folio 239.a.
Translated by the Sakya Pandita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
In this very brief sūtra, Venerable Ānanda asks the Buddha about the nature of the mind of awakening, the aspiration to attain the awakening of a buddha for the benefit of all beings. The Buddha explains that the mind of awakening is like gold because it is pure. He also teaches the analogy that just as a smith shapes gold into various forms, yet the nature of the gold itself does not change, so too the mind of awakening manifests in various unique ways, yet the nature of the mind of awakening itself does not change.
This sūtra was translated from Tibetan into English by Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen and Chodrungma Kunga Chodron. It was then edited and introduced by the 84000 editorial team.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Gold Sūtra presents a very brief but meaningful teaching on the mind of awakening, the aspiration to attain the unsurpassed and perfect awakening of a buddha for the benefit of all beings. It consists of the Buddha’s answer to a single question posed by Venerable Ānanda about how the mind of awakening should be viewed. The Buddha declares that the mind of awakening is like gold because it is pure, and he gives the analogy that just as a smith may shape gold into various forms, yet the nature of the gold itself does not change, so too the mind of awakening appears with various unique attributes, yet the nature of the mind of awakening itself does not change. The Buddha then proclaims a single four-line verse that succinctly articulates the nature of the mind of awakening and the way to practice it.
As far as we can tell, no Sanskrit or Chinese version of The Gold Sūtra exists. As there is no colophon at the end of the sūtra, we have no information on when or by whom it was translated into Tibetan. The sūtra is not listed in either of the two inventories of translations completed during the early, imperial period, and it appears to be found only in Kangyurs of the Tshalpa line of transmission. There is a recent English translation of the sūtra, along with helpful notes, in Peter Skilling’s 2021 anthology Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras.1
The present translation is based on the version in the Degé (sde dge) Kangyur, with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe sdur ma).
Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in the Jetavana, in the Park of Anāthapiṇḍada. At that time the venerable Ānanda asked the Blessed One, “Blessed One, how should the mind of awakening be viewed?”
The Blessed One replied, “Venerable Ānanda, the mind of awakening should be viewed as being in nature like gold. Just as gold is pure by nature, so the mind of awakening is pure by nature. Just as a smith shapes gold into a multiplicity of forms, yet the nature of the gold does not change, although the mind of awakening may appear to have a variety of unique attributes, ultimately these never waver from the mind of awakening. Therefore, its nature does not change.”
This completes the noble Great Vehicle sūtra “The Gold Sūtra.”
gser gyi mdo (Suvarṇasūtra). Toh 125, Degé Kangyur vol. 54 (mdo sde, tha), folio 239.a.
gser gyi mdo. 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. 54, 758–59.
Skilling, Peter. Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2021.
- kun dga’ bo
The Buddha’s cousin and principal attendant, who is said to have memorized the sūtras.
- mgon med zas sbyin
A wealthy layman and famous benefactor of the Buddha who purchased the Jetavana and donated it to the Buddhist community.
- lha ma yin
One of the six classes of sentient beings. The asuras are dominated by envy, ambition, and hostility and are incessantly embroiled in disputes with the gods. They are frequently portrayed in brahmanical and Buddhist mythology as having a disruptive effect on cosmological and social harmony.
- bcom ldan ’das
In Buddhist literature, an epithet applied to buddhas, most often to Śākyamuni. The Sanskrit term generally means “possessing fortune,” but in specifically Buddhist contexts it implies that a buddha is in possession of six auspicious qualities (bhaga) associated with complete awakening. The Tibetan term—where bcom is said to refer to “subduing” the four māras, ldan to “possessing” the great qualities of buddhahood, and ’das to “going beyond” saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—possibly reflects the commentarial tradition where the Sanskrit bhagavat is interpreted, in addition, as “one who destroys the four māras.” This is achieved either by reading bhagavat as bhagnavat (“one who broke”), or by tracing the word bhaga to the root √bhañj (“to break”).
- dri za
A class of generally benevolent semidivine beings who inhabit the sky and are most renowned as celestial musicians.
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
“Prince Jeta’s Grove,” a grove near Śrāvastī that was given to the Buddha by the householder Anāthapiṇḍada. The Buddha is said to have spent most rainy seasons there, and it is therefore the setting for many discourses.
Mind of awakening
- byang chub kyi sems
The intent at heart of the Great Vehicle, namely to obtain buddhahood in order to liberate all beings from suffering. In its relative aspect, it is both this aspiration and the practices towards buddhahood. In its absolute aspect, it is the realization of emptiness or the awakened mind itself.