The Questions of Nāga King Sāgara begins with a miracle that portends the coming of Nāga King Sāgara to Vulture Peak Mountain in Rājagṛha. The nāga king engages in a lengthy dialogue with the Buddha on various topics pertaining to the distinction between relative and ultimate reality, all of which emphasize the primacy of insight into emptiness. The Buddha thereafter journeys to King Sāgara’s palace in the ocean and reveals details of the king’s past lives in order to introduce the inexhaustible casket dhāraṇī. In the nāga king’s palace in the ocean, he gives teachings on various topics and acts as peacemaker, addressing the ongoing conflicts between the gods and asuras and between the nāgas and garuḍas. Upon returning to Vulture Peak, the Buddha engages in dialogue with King Ajātaśatru and provides Nāga King Sāgara’s prophecy.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the guidance 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 Kelvin Lee, Doris Lim, Chang Chen Hsien, Lim Cheng Cheng, Ng Ah Chon and family, Lee Hoi Lang and family, the late Lim Kim Heng, and the late Low Lily, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
Vulture Peak Mountain and in the ocean realm of Nāga King Sāgara, The Questions of Nāga King Sāgara covers many topics of interest to bodhisattvas, including karma and rebirth and the ultimate view of emptiness. The primary interlocutor is the eponymous Nāga King Sāgara, whose arrival at Vulture Peak Mountain is presaged by the appearance of a magical jeweled parasol covering the entire world. With the Buddha’s consent, Sāgara asks a series of questions, which are answered in sequence. Replying to a question about seeing with unobscured wisdom, the Buddha introduces a distinction between ordinary seeing and wisdom seeing, indicating that seeing with unobscured wisdom allows the bodhisattva greater perception that includes both relative and ultimate reality. At this point the Buddha’s discourse is explicitly identified by the gods, who have been listening in the sky above, as belonging to the second turning of the wheel of Dharma.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The
Blessed One was dwelling in Rājagṛha at Vulture Peak Mountain with a great saṅgha of eight thousand monks and with twelve thousand bodhisattvas with higher knowledge that had gathered from the worlds of the ten directions by means of their higher knowledge. Those bodhisattvas possessed all the greatest attributes. They knew the dhāraṇīs and the discourses. They delighted all beings with their eloquence. They were skilled in teaching the wisdom of the higher knowledges. They had traveled to the sublime far shore of all the perfections. They were skilled in the knowledge of the bodhisattvas’ absorptions and attainments. They were praised, commended, and lauded by all buddhas. They were skilled in the knowledge of traveling to all buddha realms through their miraculous powers. They were skilled in the knowledge of terrifying the māras. They were skilled in the knowledge of all phenomena just as they are. They were skilled in the knowledge of beings’ supreme and ordinary faculties. They were skilled in the knowledge of accomplishing the factors of awakening. They were skilled in the knowledge of correctly accomplishing the acts of venerating all the buddhas. They were unstained by any worldly phenomena and were adorned with all the ornaments of body, speech, and mind. They had donned the armor consisting of delight in great love and compassion. They could be diligent over the course of countless eons without becoming discouraged. They roared the great lion’s roar. They were not overcome by any of the arguments of their adversaries. They had been marked by the seal of the irreversible Dharma. They had been crowned with all the qualities of buddhahood. [F.116.b]
Nāga King Sāgara heard this, he was satisfied, elated, happy, delighted, joyful, and at ease. As a shelter for the Dharma, he offered the Blessed One a large jewel called the gem that purifies the ocean with bright light, whose value matched that of the entire trichiliocosm. [F.129.b] The light of this precious gem eclipsed even that of the sun and the moon. The entire assembly was astonished and prostrated to the Blessed One, announcing, “The appearance of a buddha is amazing. When a buddha appears, such amazing things as this are possible, and marvelous Dharma teachings also appear.”
Chapter Three: The Inexhaustible Casket Dhāraṇī
Nāga King Sāgara asked the Blessed One, “ Blessed One, how could it be that discussions of worldly giving, restraint, vows, gentleness, going forth, emancipation, pure conduct, discipline, learning, carefulness, ascetic practices, and voluntary poverty are not the speech of the buddhas?”
Blessed One answered, “ Nāga Lord, any teaching that is not produced to give rise to blessed buddhas and to bring about cessation and does not lead to renunciation of involvement with the three realms is worldly. It is not buddha speech. Those that fall into that category are the four concentrations, the four immeasurables, the four formless attainments, the five types of higher knowledges, the ten courses of virtuous action, and knowledge of worldly giving, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration, and insight. Also included here are knowledge of language, numbers, counting, and palmistry; knowledge of origins; knowledge of spells, medicine, and healing; and knowledge of crafts and manufacture. In this category are also those types of knowledge that involve marks, administration, material things, employment, physics, the world, and any other engagement with the three realms. All of these are not buddha speech.
Chapter Four: The Benefits of the Inexhaustible Casket Dhāraṇī
Nāga Lord, at one point in the past, even longer than a countless eon ago, at a point so long ago that it defies reckoning or fathoming, there was an eon called Action. At that time there was a world called Constellation of Unique Attributes in which the Blessed Buddha Divine King of Brahmā’s Splendor appeared. He was a thus-gone one, a worthy one, a perfect buddha, someone learned and virtuous, [F.146.a] a well-gone one, a knower of the world, an unsurpassed charioteer who guides beings, and a teacher of gods and humans. The world Constellation of Unique Attributes was at that time well-off, vast, and happy, had abundant harvests, was delightful, had many inhabitants, and was filled with gods and humans. It was a four-continent world as large as the billion four-continent worlds in this buddha realm. Thus, one billion such four-continent worlds constituted the Blessed Thus-Gone One Divine King of Brahmā’s Splendor’s world Constellation of Unique Attributes. The extent of this world was immeasurable. In this world shone the light of precious ever-luminous vajra jewels. This world was draped with a net of jewels, hung with many silken banners, adorned with hoisted parasols, banners, and standards, and draped with great canopies. At night the sound of thousands of instruments resounded from the firmament unplayed, unstruck. The sounds of instruments and song could be heard clearly by the entire trichiliocosm. Such instruments and song did not reinforce desire, nor did they inflame attachment, aggression, delusion, and the afflictions. Rather peace, absolute peace, Dharma joy, and satisfaction issued from these sounds. By simply hearing them, all gods and humans attained mindfulness, peace, joy, and bliss, [F.146.b] and they were no longer harmed by the afflictions. Additionally, the world was flat like the palm of a hand, soft and pleasing to the touch like fabric made from feathers of the kācilindi bird. The lower realms and poor migrations were not to be found in that world. Rather, its gods and humans lived in complete purity. For the most part, everyone was inspired toward vastness and had entered the Great Vehicle. Practitioners of the vehicles of hearers and solitary buddhas were scarce. All manner of enjoyments arose simply by being imagined in the mind. These gods and humans all experienced pleasures and enjoyments—none suffered or was poor. The humans situated there were similar to the gods of the Heaven of Joy in their enjoyments and pleasures. The lifespan of this thus-gone one was counted as 67.2 million years. The lifespan of the humans there was the same. Nobody failed to live out their lifespan. There were 7.2 billion bodhisattvas in the assembly of this thus-gone one; his saṅgha of hearers was immeasurable.
Śāriputra then said to the Blessed One, [F.154.b] “ Blessed One, if even beings born into the nāga realms can develop the mind set on unsurpassed and perfect awakening in this fashion, it is astounding that some people are incapable of developing the mind set on awakening.”
Blessed One responded, “ Śāriputra, these twelve thousand nāgas went forth in the Thus-Gone One Kāśyapa’s body of teachings. They heard the message on the mind set on awakening from that thus-gone one. Not only did they hear it, but the Thus-Gone One gave them his approval. The Great Vehicle is inconceivable, and yet he expressed his approval. Still, they were distracted by nonvirtue in the following way: in order to keep a family household or a household that gives to beggars, they failed to practice discipline. As they let their discipline become impaired, once they died, they were reborn in the nāga realm. Through the cause, contributing condition, and roots of virtue of them hearing the message of the Great Vehicle and the Blessed One expressing his approval, they now hear the Great Vehicle message from me. Having heard teachings on the inexhaustible casket dhāraṇī, they are developing the mind set on unsurpassed and perfect awakening. Śāriputra, just consider this difference of intention.
Chapter Six: Being Supported by the Path of the Ten Virtues
Nāga King Sāgara then said to the Blessed One, “ Blessed One, out of care for us, to benefit many beings, to bring many beings happiness, and out of love for the world, I beg you to take tomorrow’s midday meal in the ocean. Blessed One, the ocean is home to limitless beings such as gods, nāgas, yakṣas, gandharvas, asuras, and other species of animals. If they see the Thus-Gone One, they will develop roots of virtue. By hearing the sublime Dharma, they will comprehend how there can be an end to beginningless saṃsāra. My royal nāga realm will flourish, [F.159.a] and the world and its gods will be unable to defeat us. In this way, the Thus-Gone One could demonstrate the eminence of the buddhas and explain the Dharma that describes the factors of awakening in relation to me.”
Chapter Seven: The Protection of the Nāgas
Nāga King Sāgara then said to the Blessed One, “ Blessed One, through what Dharma door should bodhisattvas enter such that not only do they abandon all the flaws of previous karmic obscuration, but, having abandoned all karmic obscuration, they proceed to become distinguished persons? What Dharma door should they enter?”
Blessed One answered, “ Nāga Lord, the continuity of all karmic obscuration is severed by a single quality. What is this single quality? It is to abide by one’s vows and, should a fault occur, to confess it. [F.170.a] Nāga Lord, the continuity of karmic obscuration is severed by two qualities. What are these two? They are to discriminate the Dharma accurately and to not have preconceptions about what is presently arising. Nāga Lord, the continuity of karmic obscuration is severed by three qualities. What are these three? They are the discrimination of the consciousness that engages conditional phenomena, the discrimination of phenomena that are neither new nor old, and the discrimination of phenomena that are naturally without affliction. Nāga Lord, the continuity of karmic obscuration is severed by four qualities. What are these four? They are certainty in emptiness, abiding in the absence of marks, freedom from wishing, and unconditioned consciousness. Nāga Lord, the continuity of karmic obscuration is severed by five qualities. What are these five? They are the nonexistence of self, the nonexistence of a being, the nonexistence of a life principle, the nonexistence of personhood, and the nonexistence of life. Nāga Lord, the continuity of karmic obscuration is severed by six qualities. What are these six? They are aspiration, trust, certainty, confidence, discerning the real, and engaging in actions motivated by the pure motivation. These six qualities sever the continuity of karmic obscuration.”
Chapter Eight: Nāga King Sāgara’s Prophecy
garuḍas, the kings of the birds, heard of the Thus-Gone One’s blessing and were displeased. With due haste, they made their way to where the Blessed One was. Arriving, they bowed their heads before the Blessed One, encircled him three times, and asked, “ Blessed One, if we do not kill our prey, what shall we do?”
Blessed One answered, “Friends, four types of food will lead one to be reborn as a hell being, an animal, or a resident of the realms of the Lord of Death. What are these four? Friends, any food that involves taking a being’s life, harming another being, or supporting oneself through taking the life of another is the first type of food that will lead one to be reborn as a hell being, an animal, or a resident of the realms of the Lord of Death. Furthermore, friends, any food that involves stealing, destroying another’s livelihood, or striking someone with a club, sword, weapon, or tool is the second type of food that will lead one to be reborn as a hell being, an animal, or a resident of the realms of the Lord of Death. Friends, any food that involves deceit, disrespect, or harming another, or that involves making a show of having genuine conduct while having degenerate behavior, [F.181.a] discipline, view, livelihood, or wrong and inappropriate qualities is the third type of food that will lead one to be reborn as a hell being, an animal, or a resident of the realms of the Lord of Death. Friends, any food that involves falsely claiming to be a teacher when one is not, claiming to be living appropriately when one is not, claiming to be a mendicant when one is not, or claiming to observe pure conduct when one is not, is the fourth type of food that will lead one to be reborn as a hell being, an animal, or a resident of the realms of the Lord of Death. Friends, I can teach the Dharma because I have genuinely desisted from partaking of these four types of food.
Chapter Nine: The Inherent Purity of All Phenomena
Ajātaśatru then remarked to the Blessed One, “ Blessed One, all phenomena accord with their causes. When they are produced, they have the characteristic of arising. They come into being just as they are desired. Blessed One, the conduct of awakening is infinite. In this regard, for as long as bodhisattvas have not taken hold of a buddha realm replete with all supreme aspects, they will engage in bodhisattva conduct. Blessed One, [F.189.b] all bodhisattvas will purify buddha realms just like Nāga King Sāgara.”
Blessed One [F.194.a] then addressed all the bodhisattvas, saying, “Sublime beings, you must uphold this sūtra to ensure that the Thus-Gone One’s awakening will remain for a long time. Who among you is enthusiastic about upholding this sūtra?”
Twenty thousand bodhisattvas and ten thousand
gods then rose from their seats. Bowing with palms joined toward the Blessed One, they said, “ Blessed One, we commit to upholding this sūtra in this way. We will propagate it.”
It was translated, proofed, and finalized by the Indian preceptors
Jinamitra and Prajñāvarman and the editor-translator Bandé Yeshé Dé and others.