The Inquiry of Lokadhara, the bodhisattva Lokadhara asks the Buddha to explain the proper way for bodhisattvas to discern the characteristics of phenomena and employ that knowledge to attain awakening. In reply, the Buddha teaches at length how to understand the lack of inherent existence of phenomena. As part of the teaching, the Buddha explains in detail the nonexistence of the aggregates, the elements, the sense sources, dependently originated phenomena, the four applications of mindfulness, the five powers, the eightfold path of the noble ones, and mundane and transcendent phenomena, as well as conditioned and unconditioned phenomena.
The sūtra was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the guidance of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation from the Tibetan was produced by Timothy Hinkle. Andreas Doctor checked the translation against the Tibetan, edited the text, and wrote the introduction. James Gentry subsequently compared the translation against Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation and made further edits.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Inquiry of Lokadhara is a scripture that belongs to the general sūtra section of the Degé Kangyur. As far as we are aware, no Sanskrit version of this text remains. However, in addition to the Tibetan translation, which we have translated here, the sūtra is also present in two Chinese translations (Taishō 481 and Taishō 482). The first of these was translated by Dharmarakṣa (233–311 ᴄᴇ), the famed and prolific translator of The Lotus Sūtra. The second translation was completed between 402 and 412 ᴄᴇ, by the equally renowned translator Kumārajīva (344–413 ᴄᴇ), as one of his last translations. We therefore know that the text has been in existence since at least the third century ᴄᴇ. Unfortunately, however, we know little else of the history of this sūtra. We do not even know when, or by whom, it was translated into Tibetan; the translation does not identify a translator, and the text is not listed in the ninth-century Denkarma (Tib. ldan dkar ma) or Phangthangma (Tib. ’phang thang ma) imperial catalogues of Tibetan translations. It does, however, appear in Buton’s (Tib. bu ston) History of the Dharma (Tib. chos ’byung), thus suggesting that it was translated after the fall of the Yarlung dynasty (846 ᴄᴇ) (or at least outside official circles of imperial influence), and only became known in Tibet sometime prior to the fourteenth century ᴄᴇ. A cursory search of the Dunhuang manuscript catalogues did not yield any further information, although future studies of these resources may shed new light on this issue. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that Cornelius Chang (1976, p. 22) reports that a fragment of the sūtra was discovered in Turfan (in modern day Xinjiang). The sūtra is therefore likely to have been present in the Dunhuang region as well, as the Tibetan Yarlung Dynasty controlled Turfan during the same period that it controlled Dunhuang, until roughly 846 ᴄᴇ.
Chapter One: The Introduction
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The
Blessed One was staying at the Kalandakanivāpa in Veṇuvana near Rājagṛha, with a great saṅgha of monks. The Blessed One was teaching the Dharma to a large assembly with hundreds of thousands of beings in attendance. Present in the assembly was the bodhisattva great being Lokadhara. It was his wish that bodhisattva great beings develop the mind of awakening by adorning themselves with immeasurable virtues; that they understand in its entirety the true meaning of all phenomena; [F.8.a] that they understand how limitless aspirations lead to the perfection of limitless ornaments; that they comprehend and understand the true characteristics of limitless phenomena; that they purify their motivation through limitless aspirations; that they gain comprehensive knowledge; that they attain the ornament of generosity and the purity of certainty; that they perfect the ornament of discipline and patience; that they purify the attitude of mildness and gentleness; that they understand the purity of diligence; that they understand and comprehend the perfections of concentration and insight; and that they develop limitless other such virtues.
Chapter Two: Investigating the Five Aggregates
Blessed One then addressed the bodhisattva Lokadhara, “ Lokadhara, bodhisattva great beings who wish to attain the true characteristics of all phenomena, wish to be learned in the characteristics of discerning phenomena, wish to attain the power of recall, wish to attain the insight that discerns all phenomena, or wish to attain unbroken mindfulness from the time they leave this body until reaching unsurpassed and perfect awakening should swiftly enter this Dharma gateway. Through this Dharma gateway, they will attain the light of insight. Why is this? Because this Dharma gateway swiftly ensures that perfection is attained. Furthermore, Lokadhara, bodhisattva great beings should exert themselves in this Dharma gateway. Having entered this gateway that pertains to the Dharma, they will become highly skilled in discerning what pertains to the aggregates, elements, sense sources, dependently originated phenomena, the four applications of mindfulness, the five powers, the eightfold path of the noble ones, and mundane and transcendent phenomena. Additionally, they will become highly skilled in discerning what pertains to conditioned and unconditioned phenomena.”
The Five Aggregates for Appropriation
Chapter Three: The Eighteen Elements
Lokadhara, regarding the elements, how are bodhisattva great beings learned in the eighteen elements? When bodhisattva great beings practice correct contemplation of the eighteen elements, they think, ‘The eye element cannot be observed to be the eye element. There is also no I or mine in the eye element. It is impermanent, insubstantial, and empty of inherent nature. Therefore, what is imputed as the characteristic of the eye element cannot be observed in the eye element. The eye element is untrue and totally nonexistent, for it is born from false thinking. The eye element lacks true characteristics, as the space element is the eye element. For instance, just as the space element lacks true characteristics and is not an entity, the eye element also lacks true characteristics and is not an entity. Why is this? [F.38.b] Because no real entity can be found in the eye element, the eye element does not exist in any location or direction. It does not exist internally, externally, or somewhere in-between. The eye element lacks true characteristics and is not an entity. Thus, no entity of the eye element can be apprehended, for it arises from many causes and conditions. The eye element is neither past, nor present, nor future, and there is no intrinsic nature of the eye to observe in the eye element. The eye element depends upon the ripening of the results of past actions and current conditions, whereupon the eye element is imputed. The eye element is a nonelement. No eye element can be observed in the eye element. The so-called eye element refers to the domain of consciousness. The eye manifests when three factors come together: a clear eye faculty, an apparent element form, and the involvement of the mind faculty. The eye element lacks anything that can be called a real eye , and the wise understand the eye element element to be the absence of the eye element.’ ”
The Eye-Consciousness Element
The Mental-Object Element
The Mind-Consciousness Element
Chapter Four: Understanding the Twelve Sense Sources
The Eye and Form Sense Sources
Blessed One continued addressing Lokadhara: [F.45.b] “How are bodhisattva great beings knowledgeable about the twelve sense sources? When discerning the twelve sense sources, they think, ‘The eye sense source cannot be observed in the eye. In the eye, there is no definitive eye sense source. The eye sense source cannot be observed to be an entity.’ Why is this? The eye sense source is born from many causes and conditions and arises through mistaken perception. It depends upon form, because it observes form. When the two meet, the condition of form brings the condition of the eye sense source into existence. Because the form and eye sense sources are mutually dependent, they are collectively called the eye’s . Regarding the so-called form eye and , form form is the gateway through which the eye sense source is generated, and the eye also generates and illuminates the form sense source. Therefore, with regard to the sense sources, the eye is so-called because it is labeled a sense source via the condition of sense source gateway form and the is so-called because it is seen by the eye. While I teach that they do exist relatively, the eye does not exist in form sense source form, form does not exist in the eye, the eye does not exist in the eye, and form does not exist in form. The eye is thus labeled because observation of sense source form arises from many conditions. Additionally, the is thus labeled because the eye form sense source consciousness and the characteristic of sight arise through dependent origination.
The Mind and Mental-Object Sense Sources
The Inner and Outer Sense Sources
Chapter Five: Understanding the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
Lokadhara, how are bodhisattva great beings skilled in discerning and contemplating the twelve links of dependent origination? [F.49.a] Bodhisattva great beings discern and contemplate the twelve links of dependent origination as follows: Ignorance is so designated because of nonexistence. Ignorance is so designated because it lacks qualities. Ignorance is so designated because it cannot understand knowledge. How is ignorance unable to understand knowledge? Ignorance is called ignorance because it has no fixed qualities to observe. For what reason does the condition of ignorance give rise to formations? All phenomena are nonexistent, but childish ordinary beings form them, thus it is said that ignorance causes formations. Because consciousness arises from formations, it depends upon the condition of formations. Name-and- form are two characteristics, and therefore name-and- form are created by the condition of consciousness. The six sense sources are based upon the condition of name-and- form, because the six sense sources arise from name-and- form. Contact is based upon the condition of the six sense sources, because contact arises from the six sense sources. Feeling is based upon the condition of contact, because feeling arises from contact. Craving is based upon the condition of feeling, because craving arises from feeling. Grasping is based upon the condition of craving, because grasping arises from craving. Becoming is based upon the condition of grasping, because becoming arises from grasping. Birth is based upon the condition of becoming, because birth arises from becoming. Based upon the condition of birth, there arises aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, and the great mass of suffering. In this way aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, and the great mass of suffering are so designated because of birth. In this manner, the great mass of suffering arises. This process is all-subsuming: with a mistaken perception, one contravenes knowledge and accumulates a mass of ignorance. This generates desire for another existence, and based on one’s preferences and attachments, one seeks birth in all such places—this is the aggregate of existence. [F.49.b]
Chapter Six: The Four Applications of Mindfulness
Contemplation of the Body in Relation to the Body
Lokadhara, when bodhisattva great beings practice the contemplation of the body in relation to the body, they accurately contemplate the characteristics of the body. The body is characterized as impermanent, painful, like an ailment, like a blister, tormented by suffering, frail, fleeting, and destructible. This body is utterly unclean. It is filled with many ugly and foul elements. Foul things are constantly excreted from its nine orifices. The body reeks. It is like a living bag of vomit. If one investigates this body accurately, one cannot find even a single hair that is clean and pleasing. This body is bone and sinew wound together and wrapped with skin and flesh. It arises through the ripening of the causes, conditions, and results of past actions. It is understood to be bound by origination and appropriation. What are origination and appropriation in this context? That the body arises from past causes and conditions is designated . That we presently wash this body and then sustain it with food, clothing, seats, and medicine is called appropriation origination. In this fashion, the causes and conditions of the present moment are called origination, while all actions performed while bound by the power of the ripening of past results are termed . Furthermore, what we designate the appropriation body is formed of the four great elements, lacks definitive and true characteristics, and is included in the aggregate of form.
Contemplation of Feelings in Relation to Feelings
Contemplation of the Mind in Relation to the Mind
Contemplation of Mental Phenomena in Relation to Mental Phenomena
Chapter Seven: The Five Powers
Lokadhara, how are bodhisattva great beings skilled in the five powers? Bodhisattva great beings accurately contemplate the five transcendent powers. What are these five? The powers of faith, diligence, mindfulness, absorption, and insight.
“When bodhisattvas put the
five powers into practice, they gain trust in how all phenomena are born from dependent origination, arise through mistaken perception, and are like a whirling firebrand or a dream, in owing their existence to a gathering of conditions of false perception. They trust that all phenomena have the characteristics of being impermanent, suffering, impure, selfless, like a thorn or blister, insubstantial, unstable, mutable, and destructible. [F.59.b] Moreover, they trust that all phenomena are false, and thus nonexistent; that just as a child is fooled by an empty fist or a rainbow, phenomena are merely arisen from imputation and dependent phenomena, and thus lack even a single true quality of being an entity. Moreover, they trust that all phenomena are neither past, present, nor future. They trust that all phenomena neither come from, nor go, anywhere. They trust that all phenomena are emptiness, without marks, and unconditioned. They trust that all phenomena are unborn, unconditioned, unarisen, without marks, and free from marks. They trust in pure discipline, pure absorption, pure insight, and the pure teaching of the wisdom of liberation. Bodhisattvas become irreversible by effortlessly accomplishing the power of faith; guided by faith, they can observe discipline, such that their faith will not decline or be lost. By effortlessly accomplishing the quality of irreversibility, they will have unwavering faith. They will ripen faith in accordance with the ripening of karmic results, and they will destroy all wrong views. They will not spurn the teachings or seek out any teachers other than the blessed buddhas. They will always follow the true nature of all phenomena. They will follow the genuine path practiced by the saṅgha. Through observing pure discipline and effortlessly accomplishing acceptance, they will attain faith that is unwavering, unchanging, and extraordinary. They are thus said to possess the power of faith.”
Chapter Eight: The Eightfold Path of the Noble Ones
Lokadhara, how are bodhisattva great beings skilled in the path of the noble ones? The bodhisattva great beings are steadfast on the noble path. What is meant by path in this context? It is the eightfold path of the noble ones, which comprises right view, right thought, [F.63.a] right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right absorption. Lokadhara, what is it that bodhisattva great beings practice on the eightfold path of the noble ones? And what means do they obtain on the eightfold path of the noble ones?”
“Bodhisattva great beings with right view are steadfast in right view. In order to disrupt all views, they exert themselves on the path. In order to disrupt all views, they are steadfast on the path and eliminate even their views of nirvāṇa and buddhahood. Why is this?
Lokadhara, any view, including even views of nirvāṇa and buddhahood, is a negative view. It is called right view because it destroys and defeats all attachment to views. Furthermore, right view refers to having no view, and not adopting, forming ideas about, becoming attached to, observing, partaking of, or conceptualizing any view.
Chapter Nine: The Phenomena of the World and Transcendence
“What are the
phenomena of the world? Bodhisattvas think, ‘Thoughts and concepts about phenomena arise from mistaken perception, they are generated by causes and conditions, and they depend on falsity. Since they arise from the marks of duality, they are empty and nonexistent. They fool childish ordinary beings, like the bright colors reflecting from a pearl or the spinning of a firebrand. The world is given as a synonym for things that decay and degenerate. This is the world. These worldly phenomena are all unreal; they arise from false conditions and lack the characteristics of arising or being created. They are labeled as aggregates, elements, sense sources, forms, sounds, odors, tastes, tactile objects, or mental objects, and described as name-and-. form [F.67.b] Through their attachment and clinging, childish ordinary beings generate further attachment and clinging in a variety of forms, just as tangled silk fringes or entwined roots and creepers are linked, one to another. Worldly phenomena are described based upon such mistaken perception.
Chapter Ten: The Conditioned and the Unconditioned
“How do they discern and contemplate
conditioned phenomena? Conditioned phenomena are compounded and without experiencer. Conditioned phenomena are called because they are considered to be naturally arising and naturally categorized. conditioned phenomena Conditioned phenomena come about due to formations created by false causes and conditions. Why are conditioned phenomena naturally categorized? When formations are perceived through the condition of duality, they are labeled as conditioned phenomena. Conditioned phenomena are uncreated and free from a creator. Since they are naturally arising, they cannot be generated. Thus, they are called conditioned phenomena. Conditioned phenomena do not exist internally, externally, or somewhere in-between; they are not one or many. They arise from false imputation. They are nonexistent, since they have arisen through ignorance. Though they can be perceived due to formations, they are uncreated and nonarising. Therefore, they are called . conditioned Conditioned means being bound by marks, and the conditioned is taught for the sake of childish ordinary beings who are attached to mistaken perceptions. The wise, full of understanding and knowledge, do not observe them as conditioned phenomena or something understood to be conditioned phenomena. They are called conditioned phenomena because the wise do not categorize them. Why is this? How do the wise know and understand the features of the conditioned? The wise view all conditioned phenomena as being false, insubstantial, and without bondage. They see that they cannot be categorized. When they contemplate this, they are not attached to conditioned phenomena, and they do not appropriate conditioned phenomena. Why is this? Lokadhara, it is not the case that unconditioned phenomena exist separate from conditioned phenomena, or that conditioned phenomena exist separate from unconditioned phenomena, [F.69.b] for the characteristic of the thatness of the conditioned is the unconditioned. Why is this? There is nothing conditioned within the conditioned, and nothing unconditioned within the unconditioned. Still, so that mistaken beings can see and understand the characteristics of the conditioned, bodhisattvas teach and explain, saying, ‘This is conditioned,’ ‘This is unconditioned,’ ‘This is the characteristic of the conditioned,’ and ‘This is the characteristic of the unconditioned.’
Chapter Eleven: The Teaching on What Occurred in the Past
Lokadhara, through their great knowledge of the five aggregates, the eighteen elements, the twelve sense sources, the twelve links of dependent origination, the four applications of mindfulness, the five powers, the eightfold path of the noble ones, the phenomena of the world and transcendence, and conditioned and unconditioned phenomena, bodhisattva great beings will gain great knowledge of the characteristic of the thatness of all phenomena. They will become highly skilled in discerning the characteristics of phenomena. They will attain the power of recollection. They will have the intelligence that discerns the terminology for all phenomena. As soon as they exchange their bodies, they will obtain unbroken recollection, and they will eventually attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening.
Chapter Twelve: The Entrustment
The bodhisattva great being
Lokadhara then requested the Blessed One, “ Blessed One, please consecrate this discourse to protect it and bring benefit and happiness to bodhisattva great beings. If bodhisattva great beings hear this discourse in the future, their minds will become pure, joyful, and happy. They will then give rise to diligence in order to accomplish these teachings.”
Then, as the
Blessed One consecrated this discourse, he used his miraculous powers to fill the worlds of the great trichiliocosm with miraculous and incredible scents and fragrances. Beings gazed upon one another with a loving attitude.
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