The Questions of Sāgaramati
Chapter One: Refining the Precious Mind of Omniscience
Toh 152, Degé Kangyur, vol. 58, (mdo sde, pha), folios 1.b–115.b.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Heralded by a miraculous flood, the celestial bodhisattva Sāgaramati arrives in Rājagṛha to engage in a Dharma discussion with Buddha Śākyamuni. He discusses an absorption called “The Pristine and Immaculate Seal” and many other subjects relevant to bodhisattvas who are in the process of developing the mind of awakening and practicing the bodhisattva path. The sūtra strongly advises that bodhisattvas not shy away from the afflictive emotions of beings—no matter how unpleasant they may be—and that insight into these emotions is critical for a bodhisattva’s compassionate activity. The sūtra deals with the preeminence of wisdom and non-grasping on the path. In the end, as a teaching on how to deal with māras, the sūtra illuminates the many pitfalls possible on the path of the Great Vehicle.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation was produced by Timothy Hinkle, who also wrote the introduction. Andreas Doctor checked the translation against the Tibetan and edited the text.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Zhou Tian Yu, Chen Yi Qin, Zhou Xun, and Zhao Xuan, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was staying at Rājagṛha, domain of the thus-gone ones, in a jeweled pavilion. It is the home of the thus-gone ones, adorned with accumulations of great merit, produced by great deeds, the result of the ripening of all qualities of buddhahood; the home of great bodhisattvas; an infinite display; a place blessed with the thus-gone ones’ magic; an entry point to wisdom’s unobstructed domain; a source of great joy; a gateway to mindfulness, intelligence, and realization; a place without blame; [F.2.a] a place formed with wisdom; a gateway to unobstructed wisdom; a place that has been praised for limitless eons; and a place that embodies an immeasurable accumulation of positive qualities.
The Blessed One had perfectly realized the sameness of all phenomena. He had set the wheel of Dharma in motion. He led a limitless assembly of highly disciplined disciples. He had achieved dominion over all phenomena. He knew how to fulfill the intentions of all beings. He had achieved the sublime perfection of faculties. He was skilled in destroying the binding force of habitual patterns. His awakened activities were spontaneous and unceasing.
With him was a great monastic saṅgha of six million monks. All of them had minds of great refinement. They were diligently destroying the binding force of the habitual patterns of the afflictive emotions. They were the progeny of the thus-gone Dharma kings. They were immersed in the profound Dharma. They had found release through the Dharma of no apprehension. They had perfectly gracious behavior. They were worthy of offerings. They were careful in following the word of the Thus-Gone One.
There was also a great bodhisattva saṅgha there, which was composed of bodhisattva great beings who had attained the bodhisattva acceptance that nothing is apprehended. They were on the bodhisattva levels where they received empowerment. They played in the unconditioned super-knowledge of bodhisattvas. They had received the casket containing inexhaustible [F.2.b] bodhisattva dhāraṇīs. They had attained mastery of the bodhisattva absorption of the heroic gait. They had acquired the ability to satisfy all beings with the correct discriminations of the bodhisattva. Because their bodhisattva activity was spontaneous, they were steady in the pure motivation that is beautifully adorned with emancipation.
There were limitless, countless, inconceivable, unmatchable, immeasurable, and unfathomable bodhisattva great beings present, including the bodhisattva great being Inexhaustible Treasury, the bodhisattva great being Limitless Intelligence, the bodhisattva great being Infinite Eloquence, the bodhisattva great being Non-referential Concentration, the bodhisattva great being Unsurpassed Diligence, the bodhisattva great being Diligent Intelligence, the bodhisattva great being Continuous Intelligence, the bodhisattva great being Pinnacle of Nonattached Fearlessness, the bodhisattva great being Discerning Vision, as well as other limitless, countless, inconceivable, unmatchable, immeasurable, and unfathomable bodhisattva great beings.
At that time the Blessed One gave a teaching on how to engage in bodhisattva conduct and thereby focus on liberation, the unobscured gateway, and the bodhisattva path. That teaching is the source of the wisdom that manifests all the strengths, fearlessnesses, and qualities of buddhahood. It is a gateway to the seal of dhāraṇī that masters all phenomena. It is a gateway to gaining certainty through the correct discriminations. [F.3.a] It leads to the wisdom of great super-knowledge. It teaches the irreversibility of the irreversible wheel. It subsumes all vehicles within sameness. It shows how the realm of phenomena is unadulterated and a single principle. It shows how to know the thoughts and faculties of all beings. It is that which is essential. It leads to no doubt about the Dharma. It defeats all the regions of Māra. It shows how to appropriately enter and penetrate the Dharma way. It tames all afflictive emotions and views. It realizes unobstructed wisdom. It teaches knowledge of the skillful method of dedication. It realizes the wisdom of the sameness of all the buddhas. It shows the gateway of the blessings of nonattachment. It resolves all doubts about phenomena as they are. It realizes sameness without thought or conceptuality. It gives rise to understanding of profound dependent origination. It gathers the accumulations of merit and wisdom. It possesses the ornaments of sameness, which are the body, speech, and mind of the buddhas. It accomplishes inexhaustible mindfulness, intelligence, understanding, aspiration, and insight. To guide through the vehicle of the hearers it shows the truths of the noble ones. To guide through the vehicle of the solitary buddhas it teaches knowledge of physical and mental solitude. To guide through the Great Vehicle it shows how to attain consecration into omniscience. It shows how to gain mastery over all phenomena.
Such was the Dharma teaching that the Blessed One taught in order to express the qualities of the thus-gone ones. Thus he spoke it, taught it, explained it, encouraged memorization of it, encouraged recitation of it, made it understood, made it well understood, made it very well understood, set it forth, defined it, proclaimed it, clarified it, and revealed it. [F.3.b]
As the Blessed One extensively and genuinely delivered this Dharma teaching, which is a section of The Great Compilation, and that thoroughly ascertains what is true,9 the entire trichiliocosm, from the earth below up to the ground of the jeweled pavilion, became filled with water, as if it had become a single ocean. The entire trichiliocosm was flooded with water, just as happens during the eon of formation, which follows the eon of burning, when everything is covered by a mass of water. However, although all the worlds in the trichiliocosm appeared to be filled with water as in a single ocean, still all the villages, cities, towns, lands, regions, and palaces could be seen without obstruction. Additionally, all the Jambudvīpas, four-continent worlds, great oceans, Mount Merus, and gods of the desire realm were clearly visible, just as they normally are.
Lotuses sprang from this mass of water. Their branches were made of beryl, their stalks of sapphire, their leaves of gold from the Jambu River, their stamens of śrīgarbha gems, and their hearts of emerald. They were draped with nets of pearls. They had many trillions of petals. In terms of their size, they were many trillions of miles wide. They rose from the base of the jeweled pavilion up to the height of a palm tree. The entire assembly then appeared arranged on those lotuses. A light issued forth from the lotuses such that limitless, countless buddha realms throughout the ten directions were pervaded by a tremendous brightness. [F.4.a]
The entire assembly was amazed at this, and said to themselves about the revelation of these omens, “This means an important teaching is coming!”
Upon seeing this great magical display, the bodhisattva great being Maitreya stood up from his lotus seat, draped his shawl over one shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. With his palms together he bowed toward the Blessed One and asked, “Blessed One, whose prophecy is represented by the worlds of the trichiliocosm being filled with water like a single ocean, the manifestation of these trillions of lotuses, and this vast magical display like none we have ever heard of or seen before?”
The Blessed One answered the bodhisattva great being Maitreya, saying, “Maitreya, below this buddha realm, beyond as many buddha realms as there are atoms in all the worlds of the trichiliocosm, is the world Adorned with Immaculate and Countless Precious Qualities. There dwells the thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha Master of the Ocean with Noble and Playful Super-knowledge. He lives there and is teaching the Dharma. In that buddha realm, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati and countless other bodhisattva great beings are gazing at me, venerating me, and honoring me. They are coming to the Sahā world to ask questions about the present Dharma teaching. [F.4.b] This is what the omen symbolized.”
“Śāriputra,” answered the Blessed One, “the bodhisattva Sāgaramati is listening to this Dharma teaching from that world in the same way that you are listening to it in my presence. Śāriputra, the bodhisattva Sāgaramati can see me and the entire assembly just like you can.”
“Blessed One, how amazing! The power of the wisdom of bodhisattva great beings’ super-knowledge is unfathomable. It is incredible that even from such a distance his eyes can see such forms and his ears can hear such sounds without obscuration. Blessed One, how could anyone who hears of the unfathomable greatness of the qualities of bodhisattva great beings not develop the mind directed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening?”
At this point, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati, accompanied and attended on by countless other bodhisattva great beings, requested permission to take leave from the thus-gone Master of the Ocean with Noble and Playful Super-knowledge, which that blessed one granted him. Then, in the blink of an eye, through the Buddha’s playfully engaging in the bases of miracles, his unconditioned miracles, [F.5.a] and the mindfulness attained by a one-pointed mind, they disappeared from the world Adorned with Immaculate and Countless Precious Qualities and arrived at the Sahā world.
He appeared in the heart of a lotus elevated to the height of seven palm trees above the base of the jeweled pavilion. The other bodhisattva great beings also appeared arrayed in the hearts of the lotuses. More and more countless and immeasurable numbers of bodhisattva great beings followed the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati from other countless buddha realms in the lower direction to hear the Dharma. These bodhisattva great beings gathered from worlds throughout the ten directions and arrayed themselves on the lotuses. They beautified the jeweled pavilion to a great degree as they shimmered, glimmered, and glittered. The entire assembly was astonished. They joined their palms together in joy, faith, and happiness and prostrated to these bodhisattvas.
Then, in an act of veneration, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati caused a great rain of flowers to fall in front of the Blessed One. The flowers, which were from the world Adorned with Immaculate and Countless Precious Qualities, were known as “delightful, pleasing, and lovely to behold.” They were replete with trillions of petals, a full mile across, and worthy of offering to a thus-gone one. The rain was the product of the bodhisattva’s pure intentions and purified by previous roots of virtue. The flowers were brilliant, beautiful, luminous, and had the most incredibly pleasing aroma, satisfying the entire assembly. [F.5.b] The rain of flowers filled the jeweled pavilion to the depth of seven body lengths. The cymbals called “sustenance of isolated concentration” also resounded, causing the entire assembly to experience a satisfying bliss while resting in concentration.
Once the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati had venerated the Blessed One in this way, he bowed his head to the feet of the Blessed One and circumambulated him seven times. Joining his palms before the Blessed One, he expressed well-wishes to the Blessed One, saying, “Blessed One, the Thus-Gone Master of the Ocean with Noble and Playful Super-knowledge hopes that you are healthy, and that you are experiencing no adversity, intimidation, or agitation, and that you are strong and happy.” Then, the other bodhisattva great beings as well bowed their heads to the feet of the Blessed One. After circumambulating him seven times they returned to their seats.
At that point, the Brahmā of the trichiliocosm, known as Great Compassionate One, was residing in the Brahmā world, a peaceful place free from any trouble. From there he saw the worlds of the trichiliocosm being filled with water like a single ocean, the manifestation of the trillions of brilliant and pleasing lotuses, and the jeweled pavilion filled with bodhisattvas. Seeing this, he pondered, “The eon of burning has not yet occurred, yet this flood has manifested. What could have caused the appearance of this magical display? [F.6.a] I think I will go before the Blessed One and ask him what the cause and condition of these incredible and miraculous appearances in the world could be.”
Accordingly, Brahmā Great Compassionate One disappeared from the Brahmā realm, accompanied by a host of 6,800,000 Brahmā gods, and instantly appeared in the sky before the Blessed One in the jeweled pavilion. He bowed with joined palms and prostrated to the Blessed One. Then he asked, “Blessed One, what is happening? The worlds of the trichiliocosm are filled with water like an ocean, and trillions of lotuses are floating here and there with sublime beings seated on each of them. Yet, Blessed One, still all the villages, cities, towns, lands, regions, and palaces can be seen clearly. Additionally, all the Jambudvīpas, four-continent worlds, oceans, Mount Merus, and gods of the desire realm are clearly visible, just as they normally are. Blessed One, I am wondering whose blessings this represents? I am amazed. Whose omen is this?”
The Blessed One answered Brahmā Great Compassionate One, saying, “Brahmā, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati and countless other bodhisattva great beings have arrived from the blessed thus-gone Master of the Ocean with Noble and Playful Super-knowledge’s [F.6.b] buddha realm Adorned with Immaculate and Countless Precious Qualities here to the Sahā world to behold, venerate, and honor me, and to ask questions about the present Dharma teaching, which is a section of the Great Compilation. The fact that the worlds of the trichiliocosm appear to be filled with water like an ocean is the manifestation of his blessings.”
“Brahmā, the Thus-Gone One’s eloquence is without any interruption. Even when you perceive that the Blessed One is not saying anything, I am still authentically delivering Dharma teachings to bodhisattvas gathered from throughout the worlds of the ten directions. Brahmā, the Buddha’s domain is as unfathomable as this.”
“Brahmā,” answered the Blessed One, “do you see the billions of beings prostrating to the jeweled lion throne the height of seven palm trees on the central heart of that lotus, which is ten miles wide?”
“Blessed One, I do.”
The Blessed One then asked, “Brahmā, do you see the bodhisattva with the golden complexion [F.7.a] on the lion throne—the one whose body is adorned with the major and minor marks of perfection, the one whose body outshines all the other bodhisattvas except for the body of the Thus-Gone One, the one who is being prostrated to by many bodhisattvas?”
“Blessed One, I do.”
Brahmā Great Compassionate One then prostrated to the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati and exclaimed, “Blessed One, may all beings witness such miraculous wonders! Any being who hears Bodhisattva Sāgaramati’s name definitely gains a great boon! Blessed One, even I have received a great boon in hearing the name of this sublime being and seeing his form. Blessed One, how long will that Dharma teaching, which is a section of the Great Compilation, be taught?”
“Brahmā,” responded the Blessed One, “for as long as the lifespan of the Thus-Gone One lasts, and even after the Thus-Gone One has passed into parinirvāṇa, for as long as these bodhisattvas uphold, recite, teach, and spread this Dharma teaching. Why is this? Because, Brahmā, the awakening of all the blessed buddhas of the past, present, and future is subsumed within this teaching.”
The bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati then rose into the sky the height of seven palm trees upon his lotus and lion throne and spoke the following verses in order to bring extensive and genuine joy to the entire assembly, to arouse the interest of Brahmā Great Compassionate One, to ornament this Dharma teaching, and to demonstrate the power of his insight [F.7.b] and eloquence:
When he had spoken these verses, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati descended from the sky. With his palms joined together, he bowed toward the Blessed One and said, “If I were to request a teaching, would the Blessed One honor my request? I have a few questions for the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha.”
The Blessed One replied to the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati, [F.9.a] “Noble son, you may ask the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha whatever you like. Then I will answer your questions and gladden your mind.”
So, the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, there is an absorption of the bodhisattva great beings called the pristine and immaculate seal. I have heard that if bodhisattva great beings rest in this absorption, they will fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood. How is this absorption of the pristine and immaculate seal of the bodhisattva great beings attained? Why is it said to be pristine and immaculate? Blessed Thus-Gone One, please elucidate this! Once bodhisattva great beings have been introduced to the means by which one enters this absorption, they will attain it and fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood in a swift manner. Blessed Thus-Gone One, please elucidate this!”
The Blessed One then responded to the bodhisattva great being Sāgaramati, saying, “Excellent, excellent, sublime being. Yes, this question is excellent and your concern is appropriate. Thus, noble son, listen well and bear what I say in mind. I will elucidate how bodhisattva great beings can attain this absorption of the pristine and immaculate seal and swiftly and fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood.” [F.9.b]
“Wonderful, Blessed One!”
“Sāgaramati, bodhisattva great beings attain stability11 due to their roots of virtue. They possess virtuous thoughts, keep to gentle12 aggregates, gather accumulations, have sharp faculties, are accepted by spiritual friends, are blessed by buddhas, and are skilled in debate. They please, serve, honor, respect, and venerate blessed buddhas. They behold the perfect appearance of the blessed buddhas and hear their speech. They also behold perfect assemblies and listen to their unobstructed wisdom. They witness how beings are guided through miraculous displays, miraculous discourses, and miraculous teachings, and they develop great compassion for beings. Having developed the mind directed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening, they are diligent. They engage in the pursuit of virtuous qualities and practice to purify the mind by not forgetting the wisdom of omniscience. As their minds are purified, they attain pure absorption.
“Sāgaramati, I will draw an analogy. When a precious gem of the finest class comes into the possession of a skilled jeweler, he will refine it so that it becomes perfectly pure, pristine, polished, and flawless. At that point, learned people with knowledge of precious gems will assemble. Sāgaramati, likewise, once bodhisattvas develop the precious gem of the finest class, which is the mind directed toward omniscience, [F.10.a] they fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood. Bodhisattva great beings will then purify their roots of virtue and their learning to the degree that they have eliminated stains, including the stain of arrogance. At that point, once they have refined the precious gem of the mind directed toward omniscience, they attract the blessed buddhas of the ten directions and attain this pristine and immaculate absorption seal.
“Sāgaramati, I will draw another analogy: There is a precious gem of the finest class that surpasses the nine types of precious substances—gold, silver, crystal, beryl, emerald, coral, red pearl, kesara, and śrīgarbha. Surpassing these nine types of precious substances, this great jewel, which is known as “stainless and immaculate light,” is more precious than any other gem. It is only found in the possession of a universal monarch, and not with any other ordinary being. The luster of this precious gem eclipses the luster of any other precious gem. Sāgaramati, likewise the jewel of developing the mind directed toward omniscience surpasses nine other types of jewels—the jewel of ordinary beings’ virtue, the jewel of faithful followers, the jewel of Dharma followers, the jewel of those who maintain signlessness, the jewel of stream-enterers, the jewel of once-returners, [F.10.b] the jewel of non-returners, the jewel of worthy ones, and the jewel of solitary buddhas. It surpasses these nine types of jewels. This jewel of developing the mind directed toward omniscience is born from a tenth class of jewel, the outlook of great compassion blessed by the buddhas. Once purified, this jewel will outshine all hearers and solitary buddhas, and illuminate the minds of all beings.
“Sāgaramati, I will draw another analogy: That great precious gem can withstand both refinement and harm without its core being impaired. As such it can benefit beings who have created merit and developed roots of virtue. Sāgaramati, likewise, the jewel of developing the mind directed toward omniscience can withstand both refinement and harm without its core being impaired. As such, this faultless jewel of developing the mind directed toward omniscience can benefit all beings.
“How is the jewel that develops the mind directed toward omniscience refined, Sāgaramati? Through the three vows, one purifies the path of the ten virtuous actions. Through training in love, one develops love and appreciation for all beings. Through training in compassion, one becomes diligent in considering beings’ affairs. Through training in joy, one brings all beings to the Dharma. Through training in equanimity, one will keep an honest mind and never harm beings.
“By eliminating hypocrisy and pretense, one will turn to what is of benefit and one will be motivated to endeavor in all roots of virtue. By being intelligent, one will come to possess mindfulness and awareness. [F.11.a] By taming the mind, the mind becomes pliant. By being easily content, one comes to adopt ascetic qualities and the ways of living with fewer things. By being easily sustained, one acquires the contentment of the noble family and bows before teachers and those who are worthy of offerings.
“By eliminating pride, one discards all arrogance and dispute. By coming to certainty, one discards all forms of pride. By eliminating all turbidity, the mind is clarified. Through not praising oneself, one comes to understand oneself. Through never slandering others, one protects beings.
“By seeing the Dharma as medicine, one is respectful of it. Through experiencing the meaning of the Dharma, one will pursue it. By becoming immersed in it, one yearns for the Dharma. By living without afflictive emotions, one delights in the Dharma. By discarding everything that is not Dharma, one seeks the Dharma. By being constantly conscientious, one’s faith in the Three Jewels is never broken. By trusting in the ripening of karma, one will contemplate all virtues to be performed. By honesty, one can keep one’s conduct hidden. By eliminating arrogance, one becomes mild. By seeking tranquility, one is freed from agitation. Through being resolute, one eliminates sloth.
“By being unmoved, one’s mind becomes like a mountain. By removing attachment and anger, one’s mind becomes like the earth. By purifying one’s thoughts, one’s mind becomes like water. By eliminating conceitedness, one’s mind becomes like fire. Being baseless, one’s mind becomes like wind. By becoming immaculate, one’s mind becomes like space.
“Because the way of the buddhas lies in being undisturbed, one applies oneself to the monastic way of life. Because one is physically isolated, one enjoys remote areas. Because one is mentally isolated, one practices the Dharma. Because one practices correctly, one’s words ring true. Because one maintains bodily cleanliness, one practices what one preaches. [F.11.b] Because one is not trampled by the afflictive emotions, one’s mind is heroic. Because one does not allow any corruption, one’s trainings are authentically upheld. Because one is wary of even subtle negative actions, one’s discipline is never lax. Because one does not hope for a further birth, one’s discipline is faultless. Because one only does what is positive, one’s discipline is uninterrupted. Because one trains in the branches of awakening, one relies on a spiritual friend.
“Because one’s eyes are purified, light is unimpeded. Because one’s ears are purified, sound is unimpeded. Because one’s nose is purified, smells are unimpeded. Because one’s tongue is purified, tastes are unimpeded. Because one’s body is purified, tactile sensations are unimpeded. Because one’s mind is purified, mental phenomena are unimpeded.
“Moreover, Sāgaramati, because bodhisattvas cultivate a perception of ugliness, they are free of the pain of attachment. Because bodhisattvas cultivate love, they are free of the pain of aggression. Because bodhisattvas investigate dependent origination, they are free of the pain of delusion.
“Because they investigate the faculties, they are free of obscurations. Because their powers are purified, they dispel obscurations. Because the elements that will come into being are purified, they dispel further emergence. Because they practice genuinely, they are freed from desire, aggression, dullness, fear, and pride. They are without stinginess in giving the Dharma and have no mental grasping to the material things they give away.
“Because they have no desire for the Lesser Vehicle, their thoughts are about awakening. Because they hide their faculties, they are at peace within. Because they see their own faults, they are externally peaceful. Because they dread saṃsāra, they engage in no evil deeds. [F.12.a] Because they are never satisfied by their accumulation of roots of virtue, their minds are indefatigable. Because they are liberated from the four floods, they make good use of the great ship of Dharma. Because they have crossed, they are like stairs and bridges. Because they have passed through bogs and trenches, they live on level ground.
“Sāgaramati, when bodhisattva great beings engage in such cleansing, purification, elevated generosity, and pure discipline through such practices, they refine the jewel that develops the mind directed toward omniscience.”
The Buddha then spoke these verses:
This was translated, proofed, and finalized according to the new terminological register by the Indian preceptors Jinamitra, Dānaśīla, and Buddhaprabhā, as well as the editor-translator Bandé Yeshé Dé.
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