The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2)
Degé Kangyur, vol. 59 (mdo sde, ba), folios 171.b–175.a
Translated by Adam T. Miller
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2023
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The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2), so called to distinguish it from a longer work with the same title (Toh 62), is a short Great Vehicle sūtra in which the Buddha describes the monks who will bring about the decline of the Dharma.
The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2), so called to distinguish it from a longer work with the same title,1 is a short Great Vehicle sūtra in which the Buddha describes the monks who will bring about the decline of the Dharma. The sūtra opens with the Buddha at Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha, surrounded by a group of monks. Among them is Rāṣṭrapāla, who asks the Buddha to describe the people who will bring about the decline of the Buddha’s teaching. In his response, the Buddha first draws a sharp contrast between the condition of the monk (Tib. dge slong gi gnas), which entails monastic rigor, and the condition of laxity (Tib. lhod pa’i gnas), which denotes a lack of monastic discipline. He then describes both as embodied by monks. Rigorous monks—that is, real monks worthy of the name—are those who are concerned with possessing and perfecting moral discipline through solitary practice and self-cultivation. Lax monks—that is, imposter monks unworthy of the name—are those who do not live a life of strict discipline but are instead concerned with worldly affairs. These monks, the Buddha tells Rāṣṭrapāla, will bring about the decline of the teaching. This message is expressed first in prose and then again in verse.
Initially composed in Sanskrit, The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2) survives in Tibetan and Mongolian.2 The Sanskrit title, following the transliterations available in the Tibetan editions, can be reconstructed as *Āryarāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchānāmamahāyānasūtra. Further details about the Sanskrit—when, where, and by whom it was compiled—are unknown. The Tibetan translation was produced and/or updated in the late eighth or early ninth century by Jinamitra, Yeshé Dé, and other unnamed assistants. The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2) is listed in both the Denkarma Catalog3 and the Phangthangma Catalog (under the title ’phags pa yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa chung ngu),4 and is witnessed in the Tshalpa (tshal pa) and Thempangma (them spangs ma) recension lineages.5 To our knowledge, it has not been identified among the manuscripts found at Dunhuang.
The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2) shares thematic content with two works titled similarly (or identically, as the case may be)—one from the Pali canon, the Raṭṭhapāla Sutta,6 and another from the Great Vehicle tradition, The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (Toh 62).7 The Pali text is largely concerned with illustrating to audiences both lay and monastic the qualities of proper monasticism and its virtues. The concern of The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2), by contrast, appears to be more insular in nature. There are two possible conditions, the Buddha tells Rāṣṭrapāla: rigor and laxity. Those who have moral discipline are real monks. Those who lack moral discipline, on the other hand, are imposter monks. Though people of the latter sort consider themselves to be monks, they are no monks at all, and such individuals will bring about the decline of the Dharma.8 In the longer Great Vehicle work, The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (1), the concern is again largely insular. Here, however, it is the rigorous bodhisattva who is valorized, not the rigorous monk. In fact, monks are criticized and denigrated in The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (1), while rigorous, forest-dwelling bodhisattvas are valorized as the ideal, authentic practitioners. What exactly to make of these differences—with regard, for example, to the social and institutional locations of the Great Vehicle practitioners and authors behind these two works—is beyond the scope of this introduction. Instead, we refer readers to Reginald Ray and Daniel Boucher, whose work on these two Great Vehicle sūtras has informed the brief comments here.9
The present translation is based on the Degé version in consultation with the Stok Palace version. These two Tibetan texts are not identical, but they do not often differ in a way that affects the meaning. Therefore, we mostly followed the Degé. We followed the Stok readings when they helped to clarify the sense of the Degé, and we provide both readings in cases where the variance impacts the meaning.
In 1952, Jacob Ensink translated The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2) from the Tibetan. Our translation has benefitted from comparison with his work.
The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2)
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was residing at Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha, together with a great saṅgha of 1,250 monks. Then, the venerable Rāṣṭrapāla arose from his seat, draped his upper robe over one shoulder, knelt down on his right knee, bowed before the Blessed One, and with folded hands asked, “Blessed One, what are the qualities of the beings who will bring about the decline of the Thus-Gone One’s teaching?”
The Blessed One replied, “Rāṣṭrapāla, there are two conditions. What are they? They are the condition of the monk and the condition of laxity. Now, the condition of the monk is that which pertains to having moral discipline. And the condition of laxity [F.172.a] is that which pertains to lacking moral discipline.
“Rāṣṭrapāla, monks who seek complete nirvāṇa should train in these two conditions. What are the two? Through the component of moral discipline, they should fully guard themselves and they should contemplate themselves and nothing else. Now, what is it to contemplate oneself and nothing else? It is to analyze by thinking, ‘Do I want to want to eliminate my own suffering, or do I want to awaken to unexcelled perfect awakening?’
“Those who seek complete nirvāṇa through the vehicle of the śrāvakas should train only in the precepts of the śrāvakas. They are to be bound by the prātimokṣa vows. Their conduct and personal associations should be perfect. They should train having genuinely accepted that even the slightest fault is to be viewed with apprehension. They should purify their actions of body, speech, and mind in accordance with the precepts. They should have pure livelihoods and be irreproachable. Without greed and without longing for flavorful foods, they should have suitable robes and suitable begging bowls.
“Also, they should not eat just any mixture of food.10 They should train by eating a little bit of food until just sated. In this way, they should always and continuously consider food as filth. In other words, they should perceive food as excrement and urine, as pus, as vomit, as rubbish, as like a crusted wound, [F.172.b] as base, as unpleasant, as like the flesh of children, as trash, as refuse, as fetid. In this manner they should think about what and how much they eat.
“Without attachment,11 aversion, and confusion, they should always delight in solitude. They should never delight in idle chatter. They should readily accept solitude like a dying deer. They should be isolated. They should delight in solitude. Delighting in solitude, they should be resolute and patient. If associating with noble people, they should be pleasant. They should not be given to worldly talk. They should abandon commercial activity. Delight in medicinal cures, delight in gossip, and association with household activities should be avoided. They should be discerning while sitting, standing, walking, and sleeping. They should rely on total solitude, delightful retreats, and peaceful places12 that are quiet and silent, not frightening, without any slithering snakes, without many people, devoid of people, and suitable for inner absorption.
“They should refrain from self-exaltation. They should refrain from belittling others. They should refrain from pretension and flattery. They should always and continuously cultivate an attitude of dissatisfaction. They should not associate with and get to know householders and monastics. They should rely on all empty dharmas, meditate on them, and expand on them. They should avoid congregating with ignorant monks.13 They should not associate with nuns. They should have few desires. They should always examine themselves for personal faults. And they should not look for the faults of others. They should not rely on their parents, let alone other families. They should be properly and thoroughly restrained.14 [F.173.a] They should be givers of the appeasing Dharma. They should be discriminating in their focus. They should dwell in isolated places. They should not speak to others even in an agreeable manner, let alone in an unagreeable manner.
“They should establish their minds firmly in the teachings and analyze the profound dharmas. What is it to analyze the profound dharmas? It is to analyze by thinking, for example, that ‘the eye is impermanent.’ It is to analyze its arising and dissolution. And that with respect to which arising and dissolution should be analyzed is itself analyzed as nonexistent. Why? That which is called ‘eye’ does not exist. Though the eye, form, and eye consciousness are not objects of perception, they are perceived as nonexistent. Why? There are no dharmas that are objects of perception. Therefore, the support of the ear should not be imagined. The supports of the nose, tongue, body, and mind should not be imagined. No support whatsoever should be imagined. What would be imagined when doing so? All dharmas should be apprehended as empty in this way. Apprehending the dharmas in this way purifies the component of moral discipline. It purifies the components of concentration and of wisdom. It gives rise to the result of stream-entry. And it gives rise to the result of the once-returner, the result of the non-returner, and arhathood. Detached in this way, the initial śrāvakas eliminated their defilements.
“Now, what are imposter monks? Rāṣṭrapāla, such monks cling to the conception that they are themselves monks. Their component of moral discipline is incomplete. They cherish their robes and begging bowls. They cherish material things. Abandoning silence, [F.173.b] they claim for themselves bedding, seats, and great invitations that lead to unfortunate rebirths. They associate with women. They associate with nuns. They associate with those favored by the king. And through associating with them, their eyes are always intent on forms. By cultivating such a mind, they are thoroughly afflicted. If their mind is afflicted, so will be their condition. They will consistently make serious mistakes or small ones. These, Rāṣṭrapāla, are imposter monks.
“Why are they imposter monks? Imposter monks are those fools who reject the plain bedding and seats approved by the Thus-Gone One, which are the bedding and seats proper to ascetics, who yearn for robes, who yearn for material things, and who associate with women and householders. How could ascetic conduct be found in fools with such associations? Moreover, they criticize and revile the profound dharmas. Although they have heard of karma, they speak ill of others. They speak ill of the wilderness. They praise those who are solely focused on desire for pleasure. They praise those who are solely absorbed in pleasurable idle chatter. They speak ill of those possessing any of the conditions of monks.
“The Thus-Gone One said in a sūtra, ‘There is no occasion to associate with householders and monastics.’ Those who reject this have no desire for ascetic conduct. They have no desire to be a monk. Sitting apart, they teach the Dharma to women and instruct others still in the foundations of such behavior. Why? [F.174.a] The Thus-Gone One describes them as the robbers of the Dharma. Abandoning the prātimokṣa vows, they sit apart and teach the Dharma to women. These fools are imposter monks. With their shaven heads, they are imposters. With their saffron robes, they are imposters.
“How can an imposter be known? Those fools approve of that which the blessed buddhas condemn. They ordain people before they reach twenty years of age. They take with their own hands. They enjoy things without thinking. They prepare and cook food for themselves. They handle gold and silver. They accumulate millet, barley, and other grains. They engage in commercial activity related to houses, fields, and parks. They employ servants. They appropriate objects related to houses, fields, and parks. Not believing in the fruition of karma, not having confidence in the prātimokṣa, toward that lifestyle are they inclined, toward that lifestyle do they fall, toward that lifestyle do they sink—they act as if that is all there is.15 Regarding themselves as ascetics, where there are many people, they teach in a way that resembles the naked ascetics. They champion the view of personal identity. By teaching personal identity, and like the naked ascetics, they draw many people in and transfix them. Apprehending the domain of buddhas, the condition of thus-gone ones, as empty, they disparage it. They are known to revile it.
“Rāṣṭrapāla, sentient beings such as these will arise. They are not householders, nor are they ascetics. They will bring about the decline of the Thus-Gone One’s teaching.”
When the Blessed One had spoken, the venerable Rāṣṭrapāla and the world with its monks, gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised what the Blessed One had said.
The Great Vehicle sūtra “The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (2)” is complete.
The Indian scholar Jinamitra and others, along with the chief editor-translator Bandé Yeshé Dé, translated, edited, and finalized the text.
yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa (Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā). Toh 166, Degé Kangyur vol. 59 (mdo sde, ba), folios 171.b–175.a.
yul ’khor skyong gis 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), 2006–9, vol. 59, pp. 468–79.
yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa. F 308, Phukdrak Kangyur vol. 88 (mdo sde, khi), folios 173.b–178.b.
yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa. S 187, Stok Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, zha), folios 233.b–239.a.
yul ’khor skyong gis zhus pa (Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā). Toh 62, Degé Kangyur vol. 42 (dkon brtsegs, nga), folios 227.a–257.a. English translation in Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group, trans. 2021.
dkar chag ’phang thang ma/sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa. Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Acri, Andrea. “Between Impetus, Fear and Disgust.” In Emotions in Indian Thought-Systems, edited by Purushottama Bilimoria and Aleksandra Wenta, 199–227. London: Routledge, 2015.
Boucher, Daniel. Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the “Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-Sūtra.” Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008.
Ensink, Jacob, ed. and trans. The Question of Rāṣṭrapāla. Zwolle: J. J. Tijl, 1952.
Nattier, Jan. Once Upon a Future Time: Studies in a Buddhist Prophecy of Decline. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.
Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. “Raṭṭhapālasutta: On Raṭṭhapāla” [Majjhima Nikāya 82]. In The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, 677–91. 4th ed. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2015.
Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Vienna Buddhist Translation Studies Group, trans. The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla (Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā, Toh 62). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Yoshimura Shūki. The Denkar-ma: An Oldest Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons. Kyoto: Ryukoku University, 1950.
- dgra bcom pa nyid
- dge sbyong
- lha ma yin
- chags pa
- sdang ba
- sangs rgyas
Bandé Yeshé Dé
- ban+de ye shes sde
- lhung bzed
- bcom ldan ’das
- nyo tshong
- yongs su mya ngan las ’da’ ba
- yongs su mya ngan las ’das pa
- ting nge ’dzin
Condition of laxity
- lhod pa’i gnas
Condition of the monk
- dge slong gi gnas
- dad pa
- rmongs pa
Decline of the teaching
- bstan pa ’di nub pa
Decline of the Thus-Gone One’s teaching
- de bzhin gshegs pa’i bstan pa ’di nub
- skyo ba
- stong pa nyid
- stong pa
- dri za
- theg pa chen po
- nyan thos
- bre mo’gtam
- bre mo gtam
- dge slong ltar bcos pa
- nang du yang dag ’jog
- dben pa
- dzi na mi tra
- bcom ldan ’das
- dge slong
- tshul khrims
- med pa
- dge slong ma
- bzod pa
- sems can
- gang zag
- so sor thar pa
- bslab pa
- bslabs pa
- bslab pa’i gzhi
- chos zab mo
- rgyal po’i khab
- yul ’khor skyong
- mos pa
Result of stream-entry
- rgyun du zhugs pa’i ’bras bu
Result of the non-returner
- phyir mi ’ong ba’i ’bras bu
Result of the once-returner
- lan cig phyir ’ong ba’i ’bras bu
- chos gos
- dge slong gi dge ’dun
- sems can
- dben pa
The view of personal identity
- gang zag tu lta ba
- de bzhin gshegs pa
Unexcelled perfect awakening
- bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i byang chub
Vehicle of the śrāvakas
- nyan thos kyi theg pa
- bya rgod phung po’i ri
- shes rab
- ’jig rten gyi gtam