The Question of Maitreya (3)
Degé Kangyur, vol. 57 (mdo sde, pa), folios 330.b–331.a.
Translated by the Kīrtimukha Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The bodhisattva Maitreya approaches the Buddha on Vulture Peak Mountain and asks him to explain the karmic results of teaching the Dharma. The Buddha responds by comparing the merit gained by a person who makes an unfathomably enormous material offering to the buddhas, to the merit gained by another person who teaches a single verse of Dharma, declaring that the merit of the latter is far superior.
This sūtra was translated by the Kīrtimukha Translation Group. Celso Wilkinson, Laura Goetz, and L.S. Summer translated the text from the Tibetan and Sanskrit.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
On Vulture Peak Mountain in Rājagṛha, the bodhisattva Maitreya arises from an audience of monks and bodhisattvas and asks the Buddha to explain the karmic results of teaching the Dharma. The Buddha responds by comparing the merit gained by a person who makes an unfathomably enormous material offering to the buddhas, to the merit gained by another person who teaches a single verse of Dharma, declaring that the merit of the latter is far superior. The Buddha then concludes with a two-verse summary of his pithy explanation.
This very brief sūtra, found in the General Sūtra (mdo sde) section of the Degé Kangyur, is not to be confused with two other sūtras from the Ratnakūṭa (dkon brtsegs) collection of the Kangyur called The Question of Maitreya (Toh 85)1 and The Question of Maitreya on the Eight Qualities (Toh 86),2 which are longer and differ thematically from this sūtra.
While the longer Question of Maitreya is well known and has been the subject of several commentaries in the Tibetan tradition, this text seems to have been less utilized. We were only able to locate a few references to it, one of which is in a Prajñāpāramitā commentary by the Indian scholar Dharmamitra (twelfth century) on the Abhisamayālaṅkāra, located in the Tengyur.3 This shorter Question of Maitreya is cited among a series of scriptural quotations regarding how bodhisattvas should not conceal teachings from students but offer them freely out of compassion.
There was no known Sanskrit original of The Question of Maitreya available until recently, when a manuscript containing a collection of twenty sūtras was found in the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Bhikṣuṇī Vinītā published a critical edition and English translation of this collection in the series Sanskrit Texts from the Autonomous Region (2010). Unfortunately, due to the inaccessibility of the manuscript collection and because it is missing a final colophon, its origin and date are currently unknown.4 There seems to be a thematic connection among these twenty sūtras: Vinītā notes that moral discipline (śīla) is a recurrent theme in the manuscript,5 and we can likewise identify the prevalence of themes of karmic cause and effect and, as in the case of The Question of Maitreya, the hierarchy of merit.6 In our translation, citations of the Sanskrit are given using Vinītā’s emendations of the handwritten manuscript.
While the Sanskrit manuscript is entitled Āryamaitreyaparipṛcchānāmamahāyānasūtra, the Degé edition gives the transliterated Sanskrit title Āryamaitriparipṛcchānāmamahāyānasūtra, a variation on the name of the bodhisattva Maitreya. Other Tibetan editions give similar variants, such as maitre, metre, or mitri. We have chosen to adopt the more familiar rendering (maitreya) for the title.
In addition to the Degé Kangyur, we have consulted the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and several other editions, including those from Tshalpa, Thempangma, and independent lines, to compare and record variant readings. These editions are generally consistent and closely match the Sanskrit text. There is no known Chinese translation of this sūtra.
There are three sūtras entitled The Question of Maitreya listed in the imperial catalogs, but judging by this sūtra’s length it likely corresponds to the “small” (chung ngu) Question of Maitreya recorded in both the Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) and Phangthangma (’phang thang ma) catalogs.7 This suggests that the sūtra was translated into Tibetan by the early ninth century at the latest, as the Denkarma catalog is thought to be dated to 812 ᴄᴇ.8 The sūtra lacks a translator’s colophon, so it is not possible to identify its translators or more precisely determine the context of its transmission to Tibet.
In addition to the English translation found in Vinītā’s critical edition of the Sanskrit manuscript, there is also a recent English translation by Peter Skilling, with helpful notes, in his 2021 anthology Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras.9
We have based our translation primarily on the Degé edition of the Tibetan Kangyur, but we consulted the Sanskrit and other Kangyur editions in the case of questionable terms or passages, to establish the most plausible and accurate readings of the text. Any instance where we have diverged from the Degé has been noted, and any significant differences found in the various versions of the sūtra are recorded in the notes.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
On that occasion the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya10 rose from his seat, draped his shawl over one shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. Joining his palms and bowing to the Blessed One, he spoke these words: “Blessed One, what are the karmic results of bestowing the Dharma?”
The Blessed One replied to the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, “Maitreya, suppose one person filled as many great trichiliocosms as there are grains of sand in the river Ganges with the seven precious substances and offered them to the tathāgata, arhat, truly perfect buddhas, and another person, out of compassion, established a single verse of the Dharma in the mindstream of another. Maitreya, the former mass of merit would not even come close to a hundredth of this latter mass of merit. Nor could it be compared to even a thousandth, a hundred-thousandth, a ten-millionth, a hundred-sextillionth,11 or any other portion, fraction, enumeration, or example.”
When the Blessed One had spoken, the bodhisattva mahāsattva Maitreya, the other bodhisattvas and the monks,14 and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.
|Degé||Degé (sde dge) Kangyur|
|Sanskrit||Sanskrit manuscript found in the Potala Palace (see introduction and bibliography)|
|Stok||Stok Palace (stog pho brang bris ma) Kangyur|
byams pas zhus pa (Maitriparipṛcchā). Toh 149, Degé Kangyur vol. 57 (mdo sde, pa), folios 330.b–331.a.
byams pas zhus pa. 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), 2006–2009, vol. 57, pp. 872–4.
byams pas zhus pa (Maitriparipṛcchā). Stok 215. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 73 (mdo sde, za), folios 74.a–75.a.
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.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Dharmamitra (chos kyi bshes gnyen). shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan gyi tshig le’ur byas pa’i ’grel bshad tshig rab tu gsal ba (Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikāprajñāpāramitopadeśaśāstraṭīkāprasphuṭapadā). Toh 3796, Degé Tengyur vol. 87 (shes phyin, nya), folios 1.b–110.a.
Halkias, Georgios T. “Tibetan Buddhism Registered: A Catalogue from the Imperial Court of ’Phang Thang.” The Eastern Buddhist 36, nos. 1–2 (2004): 46–105.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Kīrtimukha Translation Group, trans. The Question of Mañjuśrī (Mañjuśrīparipṛcchā, Toh 172). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Liljenberg, Karen, trans. (2016a). The Question of Maitreya (1) (Maitreyaparipṛcchā, Toh 85). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
———, trans. (2016b) The Question of Maitreya (2) on the Eight Qualities (Maitreyaparipṛcchādharmāṣṭa, Toh 86). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Silk, Jonathan A. “Review Article: Buddhist Sūtras in Sanskrit from the Potala.” Indo-Iranian Journal 56 (2013): 61–87.
Skilling, Peter. Questioning the Buddha: A Selection of Twenty-Five Sutras. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2021.
- dgra bcom pa
Used both as an epithet of the Buddha and to refer to the final accomplishment of the śrāvaka path.
- bcom ldan ’das
An epithet for a buddha. The Sanskrit means “one who has good fortune.” In Sanskrit literature the term is used for the most eminent of humans or the divine, but in a Buddhist context it refers explicitly to a buddha. The Tibetan translation of the term bcom ldan ’das is not a literal translation of the Sanskrit but means bcom: “one who has conquered (the māras or afflictions)”; ldan: “possesses (the qualities of enlightenment)”; and ’das: “has transcended (saṃsāra, or both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa).”
- gang gA
The Ganges River.
- bye ba khrag khrig brgya stong
A number calculated by multiplying a koṭi (bye ba), or ten million, by a niyuta (khrag khrig), or a hundred billion according to the Abhidharma system (although it is only one million in Classical Sanskrit), and by a śatasahasra (brgya stong), or one hundred thousand, all of which together equals ten to the 23rd power or a hundred sextillion. This term is often used as to express a number so large as to be inconceivable.
- rnam par smin pa
Literally, the “ripening.”
- byams pa
The bodhisattva who became Śākyamuni’s regent and is prophesied to be the next buddha, the fifth buddha in the current eon. In early Buddhism he appears as the human disciple sent to pay his respects by his teacher; the Buddha gives him the gift a of a robe and prophesies that he will be the next buddha.
- rgyal po’i khab
The ancient capital of Magadha. Currently known as Rajgir, it is situated in the India state of Bihar.
Seven precious substances
- rin po che sna bdun
- bde bar gshegs pa
An epithet for a buddha meaning “well-gone one.”
- de bzhin gshegs pa
An epithet for a buddha. The Sanskrit compound may be ambiguously parsed to mean either “thus-gone one” (tathā + gata) or “thus-come one” (tathā + āgata); this concurs with the Tibetan translation with the verb gshegs, which can mean either “to come” or “to go.” The Sanskrit root √gam (“to go”) also often denotes the meaning “to understand,” while tathā refers to thusness, suchness, or the way things really are, so the tathāgata can be rendered as the one who understands things as they really are or who has gone to such a state.
- stong gsum gyi stong chen po’i ’jig rten gyi khams
A term from Abhidharma cosmology referring to one thousand dichiliocosms, or one billion world systems.
Vulture Peak Mountain
- bya rgod kyi phung po’i ri
Mountain near Rājagṛha where the Buddha delivered many of the Mahāyāna teachings.