The Strength of the Elephant
Degé Kangyur, vol. 62 (mdo sde, tsha), folios 95.a–109.b
Translated by the Buddhavacana Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
This sūtra contains a Dharma discourse on the profound insight into the emptiness of all phenomena, also known as transcendent insight. Following a short teaching in verse by Śāriputra, the Buddha delivers the primary discourse at the behest of Ānanda and Mañjuśrī amid a vast assembly of monks, bodhisattvas, and lay devotees. He specifically addresses hearers and so-called “outcast bodhisattvas” who have not realized transcendent insight and who thus remain attached to phenomenal appearances. Responding to a series of questions posed by Mañjuśrī and Śāriputra, the Buddha explains that all phenomena are as empty as space, with nothing to be either affirmed or rejected. Yet that very emptiness is what makes everything possible, including the bodhisattvas’ altruistic activities.
Translation by the Buddhavacana Translation Group. Translated from the Tibetan of the Degé Kangyur by Gregory Forgues in collaboration with Dennis Johnson and Khenpo Konchok Tamphel. The English was edited by Casey Kemp.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Strength of the Elephant is set on Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain where the Buddha presides over a large assembly of monks and bodhisattvas. One afternoon, after the Buddha is addressed by Śāradvatīputra with a brief discourse on the empty nature of all phenomena, he convenes a large audience of monks, bodhisattvas, and people from the city of Rājagṛha to share Śāradvatīputra’s insight. The Buddha proceeds to inform Mañjuśrī and the others that previous buddhas have also taught this Dharma discourse on transcendent insight, which is “like the strength of the elephant,” on Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain, the very place where their assembly is gathered. At the request of Ānanda, the Buddha gives a series of teachings, in the form of replies to questions posed by Mañjuśrī, that concern the most beneficial, though often counterintuitive, forms of knowledge and activities characteristic of bodhisattvas who have realized emptiness.
A number of “arrogant monks” in the assembly, however, misunderstand the Tathāgata’s teaching and the Buddha is asked to clarify the intentions behind this discourse. Upon hearing his explanations, realization dawns in the minds of the various listeners and the monks affirm their new understanding. Mañjuśrī then inquires into the training in transcendent insight and the Buddha responds with a concluding teaching on the value and efficacy of this Dharma discourse. He describes twenty laudable qualities that are possessed by those who have faith in it. He also recounts how in a previous lifetime he himself became accomplished in it. The Buddha then gives instructions on the practices of bodhisattvas who wish to realize this profound insight. In the end, the Buddha commands Ānanda to remember it, and everybody rejoices and praises the Buddha’s words.
The illusory nature of phenomena.
The sūtra repeatedly draws attention to the empty and thus illusory nature of all phenomena, which includes everything from sensory appearances up to central Buddhist conceptions such as the six perfections, monastic discipline, morality, merit, and even the Buddha himself. The realization of this empty and illusory nature of all phenomena is transcendent insight, which allows one to rest naturally in a state of absorption. Phenomena as well as transcendent insight are said to be like space: “Space is not something to be realized, nor is it something to be abandoned. Likewise, no phenomenon is something to be realized or abandoned.” Because of this empty nature of phenomena, all conceptions about them as substantial or real are completely mistaken. To realize this is to correctly understand emptiness.
The unity of the bodhisattva’s insight and skillful means.
Bodhisattvas accomplish a wide range of compassionate activities without departing from the profound insight of emptiness, which is transcendent insight. In this way, bodhisattvas are able to compassionately engage in the different realms of beings without disregarding their empty nature. Through such practices as samādhi or dhāraṇī recitation, they are able to go to buddhafields without actually coming or going and are able to speak different languages without mixing them up.
This sūtra emphasizes that transcendent insight and the illusory nature of phenomena are difficult to understand for ordinary beings, hearers, solitary realizers, and bodhisattvas who cling to phenomenal appearances. Those who are unaware of the Tathāgata’s intention behind this teaching are in danger of completely misunderstanding him. The upshot of this observation is that all conceptions, even that concerning the Tathāgata, are false, and thus all views are mistaken. This applies not only to metaphysical views of a self, a being, a soul, and a person, but to conceptions such as “me” or “mine” and preconceptions such as Buddha, Dharma, and Saṇgha.
One noteworthy feature of this sūtra is its outspoken condemnation of the shortcomings of “outcast bodhisattvas.” Such bodhisattvas are practitioners who reside in remote places but have failed to realize transcendent insight and remain attached to their disciplined practices. Those outcast bodhisattvas will consequently look down on other bodhisattvas who dwell near a village or town. Such passages may be understood as a criticism targeting “the susceptibility of forest monks to pride and conceit,”1 which accords with the Buddha’s chastisement of “arrogant monks” in this sūtra.
There is to our knowledge no extant complete Sanskrit version of the Hastikakṣyasūtra. Apart from fragments of Khotanese and Sanskrit versions of the text, the complete text is extant only in Tibetan and Chinese translations.2 The Hastikakṣyasūtra was translated into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa in the third century and by Dharmamitra in the fifth century (Taishō 813 and 814 respectively). The text is found in Kangyur collections of different periods and is also recorded in the Denkarma3 and Phangthangma4 catalogs of Tibetan imperial translations. Thus it appears that it was first translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by an unknown translator no later than the early ninth century, as the Denkarma is dated to 812 ᴄᴇ. The Tibetan translations do not mention the names of the translators.5 According to the findings of Liu and Chen, the earliest Chinese and the Sanskrit versions share an earlier source text, while the later Chinese and the Tibetan and Khotanese versions share a later source text.6 This English translation was prepared based on the Tibetan translation in the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur.
There are a number of references to the Hastikakṣyasūtra in Buddhist canonical literature. The Hastikakṣyasūtra is referred to in chapter six of the Sikṣasamuccaya and it is cited by Kamalaśīla in his Sarvadharmāsvabhāvasiddhi (Toh 3889) as well as in the tantric work Mahāyānamelāyanapradīpa (Toh 3720). A verse ascribed to the Hastikakṣyasūtra is cited by Candrakīrti in his Mūlamadhyamakavṛttiprasannapadā (Toh 3860) and Bodhisattvayogācāracatuḥśatakaṭīkā (Toh 3865) commentaries, but, notably, the verse is not found in any versions of the sūtra contained in the Kangyur.7 This “missing” citation, as well as numerous other passages that are found in the Kangyur versions of this sūtra, have been widely quoted by indigenous Tibetan scholars. The Hastikakṣyasūtra is also cited a number of times in the Chinese Buddhist canon, which suggests that it may have once been an important Mahāyāna text that circulated throughout regions of Central and East Asia.8
Since no Sanskrit source text is available, and because of differing interpretations of the title’s translations that involve certain linguistic ambiguities, the translation of the sūtra’s title into English needs to be critically discussed. Liu and Chen’s study9 includes a detailed discussion of all the variant titles found in the different translations, and their findings are summarized for the reader in what follows.
Concerning first of all the Chinese versions, the Catalog of Nie Daozhen attests the title “The Elephant’s Armpit” (Xiangye or *Hastikakṣa), which also corresponds to the title of Dharmamitra’s translation. The sūtra contains no direct reference to the armpit of an elephant, but the title bearing this phrase is cited widely in medieval Chinese Buddhism because of the popularity of Dharmamitra’s works.10 Dharmarakṣa’s translation speaks of “The Metaphor of the Elephant” (Yuxiang or *Hastyupama), which would indicate that the power of the text is equivalent to the effort of an elephant.11 Also attested based on his translation is a title that does not make reference to an elephant: “Without Desire” (Wuxiwang or *Akāṅkṣa). The use of this title, however, is without sufficient evidence and may be due to a misreading or miscopying, possibly based on Gāndhārī or Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit written in Kharoṣṭhī or Brāhmī scripts, resulting in the readings of *Nāstikāṅkṣa or *Asakāṅkṣa instead of Hastikakṣya.12 A paraphrase of the title as “The Stride of an Elephant” (Xiangbu, *Hastigati or *Hastivikrama) is found in the translations of both Dharmarakṣa and Dharmamitra. The Tibetan translation could be understood in a similar way, since rtsal can mean both “effort” and “stride.”13
The Tibetan title (glang po’i rtsal) features as an entry in the early ninth century Sanskrit-Tibetan glossary known as the Mahāvyutpatti (Hastikakṣyam, Mvyut 1339 in section LIX on dam pa’i chos kyi ming). Csoma de Körös’ textual edition of the Mahāvyutpatti, which comes with an accompanying English translation, translates the title as “The Elephant’s Dexterity (or Girth).”14 However, note that in the Mahāvyutpatti, the Denkarma, and the Phangthangma this is the only instance where kakṣya corresponds to rtsal and ākrama and vikrama are given as its more usual correspondents, which would yield Sanskrit forms such as *Hastyākrama or *Hastivikrama. Liu and Chen thus argue that the sūtra itself may actually be the source for this entry in the Mahāvyutpatti. They indeed note that glang po’i rtsal “should not be regarded as a correct interpretation of the Sanskrit word Hastikakṣya.”15
Turning now to the (Buddhist Hybrid) Sanskrit titles, we can see that kakṣyā is derived from the Vedic kakṣa, which indeed has the meaning of “armpit.” Based on a reading in the Sanskrit manuscript and considering the primitive form Hastikakṣa, Liu and Chen reconstruct the sūtra’s title in its Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit form as *Hastikaccha, which later was sanskritized into Hastikakṣya. Liu and Chen note the following: “We have the contemporaneous appearance of three titles: Yuxiang (*Hastyupama) and Wuxiwang (*Nāstikāṅkṣa, *Akāṅkṣa or *Asakāṅkṣa) in Taishō 813 and, according to the Catalogue, a Xiangbu (*Hastigati or *Hastivikrama). Then after more than a century, we have Xiangye (Hastikakṣa or Hastikaccha in its BHS form, Hastikakṣya in its developed Skt. form) in Taishō 814, with its Sanskrit correspondence, Hastikaccha, in the Sanskrit fragment and Hastikakṣya in the Tibetan translation. Finally, the word Hastikakṣya is transmitted into glang po’i rtsal and glang po’i rtsal lta bu (*Hastikakṣyopama) in Tibetan.”16 They then conclude that “with the exception of Wuxiwang, all the others can possibly be affiliated with a Sanskritization process from Middle Indic via Gāndhārī or BHS.”17 As a nominal compound, Hastikakṣya is clearly a genitive tatpuruṣa or dependent determinative compound. According to Monier-Williams’s Sanskrit dictionary, the compound hastikakṣya may have the meaning of “lion” or “tiger.”18 Next, let us look at the individual members of the compound: hasti and kakṣya. Hasti stands in the compound for hastin, which can clearly be established as meaning “elephant.” The second member, kakṣya, however, has a whole range of possible meanings. Monier-Williams notes them as “abiding in shrubs or dry grass,” “well fed,” “girth (of an animal),” “the enclosure of an edifice,” “similarity,” and “effort, exertion.” The Tibetan translation of this member (rtsal) carries similar meanings, but tends more toward meanings such as “skill,” “dexterity,” “potency,” “capacity,” “potential,” or “power.”
Unfortunately, the sūtra itself does not give any really convincing pointers to the correct interpretation of its title, since references to both elephants (hasti) and their supposed strength (kakṣya) are few. Toward the beginning of the sūtra, Śāradvatīputra declines the Buddha’s initial request to assemble the monks and bodhisattvas in the area by stating that “elephants are difficult to please (mgu ba, ‘satisfy, content, please, convince’).” Toward the end of the sūtra, the Buddha recounts to Ānanda that “beings who yearn for this Dharma discourse will be subdued by the strength of the bull or the strength of the elephant.” Based on these elements, we decided to translate the title as “The Strength of the Elephant,” although we are aware that further research would be necessary to validate this reading.
Until recently there had been no extensive academic research on the Hastikakṣyasūtra. In the last several years, however, a number of scholars have authored studies with direct or indirect reference to the sūtra’s contents and development. Chen (2012) addresses newly identified fragments of a Khotanese translation of the Hastikakṣyasūtra together with their Chinese parallels. Liu and Chen (2014) include a translation of a Sanskrit fragment of the Hastikakṣyasūtra in light of its Chinese and Tibetan parallels as well as a lengthy discussion of all title variants and their possible Sanskrit equivalents. Their study looks at the early development of Mahayāna sūtras and also includes a concordance of the contents found in the different translations. James Apple (2014) considers the Hastikakṣyasūtra from the perspective of his research on the historical developments of entrusted transmissions of written texts in India after the fourth century. In the process, he compares the textual differences between the Tibetan translation and the earlier and later Chinese translations of the Hastikakṣyasūtra. Regarding the narrative variants of the story of Victory Banner of the Vajra told by the Buddha toward the end of the sūtra, Apple points out that the Dharma discourse is passed on as a Dharma scripture in the Tibetan version, but in the earlier Chinese versions of Dharmarakṣa and Dharmamitra it is said to be passed on as a mantra or a dhāraṇī respectively.
Regarding Tibetan mentions of the Hastikakṣyasūtra, Karma Phuntsho19 briefly states that, according to the master Ju Mipham Gyatso, the Hastikakṣyasūtra stands as one of the sūtras teaching the doctrine of mind-only (sems tsam) understood as the cittamātra taught in canonical scriptures (bka’i sems tsam) as opposed to cittamātra qua doctrinal system (grub mtha’i sems tsam).20
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling on Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain together with a large saṅgha of monks comprised of five hundred monks as well as sixty thousand bodhisattvas who were all renowned,21 had attained the dhāraṇīs, possessed unobstructed eloquence, taught the Dharma of nonduality, and displayed inconceivable miraculous powers. They included the bodhisattva great beings Perseverant Beyond Compare and Wise; Essence of the Splendor of Overwhelming Sound, Blossom of the Four Jewels; Light Beam of Great Lightning; Seeing Beyond Extremes and Transcending All Sensory Objects; Lofty Like Mount Meru’s Summit; Gladdened with Supreme Joy; Light Vanquishing with Undefiled Forces; Reaching the Far Shore of Definitive Meaning to Fulfill Beings’ Aspirations; Possessing Vajralike Solidity; Beyond All Utterances, Speech, and Sounds; Voice More Majestic Than Brahmā’s; Overcoming Fears with Words of Renown; Accumulation of All Precious Roots of Virtue; and the bodhisattva great being Youthful Mañjuśrī. These and other such bodhisattvas in attendance were sixty thousand in number.
In the afternoon, the venerable Śāradvatīputra, after arising from inner absorption, approached the Blessed One who at that time was sitting in front of another tree, immersed in the absorption known as accomplishment of perfect peace. From afar, the venerable Śāradvatīputra saw the Blessed One, who was peaceful. He quickly gathered some grass and sat down mindfully to one side with his legs crossed and back straightened. [F.96.a] As soon as he sat there, thoughts arose in his mind, such as: “How marvelous are the Tathāgata’s perfectly peaceful behavior, happiness, and bliss! Happy are the beings who realize that all phenomena naturally rest in the state of absorption!”
The Blessed One, perceiving and understanding this, emerged from his concentration and made the sound of clearing his throat. Hearing the Blessed One clear his throat, the venerable Śāradvatīputra became filled with joy and inspiration, and walked toward where the Blessed One was sitting. When he arrived in the Blessed One’s presence, he prostrated to him in amazement and uttered the following verses:
Thereupon the Blessed One congratulated the venerable Śāradvatīputra: “Śāradvatīputra, supreme is this teaching that engages in this way in the profound wisdom! It is excellent, excellent! Therefore, Śāradvatīputra, assemble all the monks and bodhisattvas abiding in inner absorption on this Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain, as many as there may be.”
At that very moment, the Blessed One emitted light rays from his body and he summoned the bodhisattvas abiding in infinite world systems. They reached the place where the Blessed One was residing on Gṛdhrakūṭa Mountain and hovered in the sky. All the monks and bodhisattva great beings who had been abiding in inner absorption also arrived where the Blessed One was residing, as did hundreds of thousands of beings from the great city of Rājagṛha.
Then the Blessed One, knowing that all were present in the assembly, looked at the face of Youthful Mañjuśrī [F.97.b] and smiled. At that moment, Youthful Mañjuśrī rose from his seat, draped his robe over one shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. He bowed in the direction of the Blessed One with joined palms and asked him, “As the tathāgatas, the worthy ones, the complete and perfect buddhas do not smile without causes and conditions, what are the causes for your smile, what are the conditions for it?”
When the venerable Ānanda heard what the Blessed One had said, he swiftly rose from his seat, draped his robe over one shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. He bowed in the direction of the Blessed One with joined palms and made this request: “Blessed One, it would be excellent if you could now teach me this Dharma discourse known as ‘Like the Strength of the Elephant.’ Sugata, it would be excellent if you could explain this to me. It is rare nowadays to hear a Dharma discourse that would cause you, Blessed One, to smile upon seeing the face of Youthful Mañjuśrī. Such a Dharma discourse must be wonderful. It must be as profound as it seems to be.”
“Ānanda,” replied the Blessed One, “you are indeed skilled in the practice of discernment and your analysis is excellent, excellent. Therefore, Ānanda, listen very well and keep this in mind. I will explain it to you.”
The Blessed One made a sign to Youthful Mañjuśrī in order to have him make inquiries about this Dharma discourse. Consequently, Mañjuśrī thought to himself, “I will ask the Tathāgata [F.98.a] what is this profound discourse that is not within the realm of hearers, solitary realizers, or bodhisattvas who have fallen into conceptual signs.” After Youthful Mañjuśrī had reflected upon this, he proposed, “If the Blessed One is giving me this opportunity to make inquiries so that the questions can be answered, then I will pose questions on various topics to the Blessed One, the tathāgata, the worthy one, the complete and perfect Buddha.”
“Since everyone in this assembly has come together, Mañjuśrī, ask whatever you wish,” the Blessed One replied.
Mañjuśrī then asked the following: “Blessed One, how do bodhisattvas accomplish all their activities while also maintaining all virtuous qualities? How do they both remain in all buddhafields like the moon’s reflections in water, and also fully ripen countless beings?”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “your concise and meaningful questions are excellent, excellent! Listen attentively to this detailed explanation I will give you and keep it in mind.”
The Blessed One then gave the following reply: “Mañjuśrī, if bodhisattvas possess six qualities, they will completely accomplish their tasks and also maintain all virtuous qualities. What are these six? If bodhisattvas practice generosity, then although they are benefactors who let go of all their possessions, they do not regard themselves as having completely reversed miserly behavior. Although they observe discipline, they not consider themselves as being beyond actions that result from inferior discipline. Although they possess patience and determination, they do not regard themselves as being free from behavior based on malicious thoughts. [F.98.b] Although they cultivate diligence, they do not exert themselves bodily or mentally. Although they are skilled in all concentrations, liberations, absorptions, and all meditative states, they are not stuck in a one-pointed mental state. Although they exist within the domain of insight, they regard themselves as not being fully liberated from transmigration. Mañjuśrī, if bodhisattvas possess these six qualities, they completely accomplish their tasks and also maintain all virtuous qualities.
“Mañjuśrī, if bodhisattvas possess another six qualities, they can accomplish their tasks, and also maintain all virtuous qualities. What are these six? Bodhisattvas assume the state of a hell being while at the same time experiencing the qualities of the higher realms. They assume the state of an animal, while at the same time experiencing the great extent of human qualities. They assume a birth in the lower castes,26 while at the same time experiencing the pleasures of a cakravartin’s kingdom. They manifest within all modes of existence, while at the same time experiencing the activities associated with a specific realm. They are skilled in going to all buddhafields, while at the same time not moving from their location. They neither come nor go, and yet appear in all buddhafields like the moon’s reflections in water. They speak all languages yet do not mix them up. Mañjuśrī, if bodhisattvas possess these six qualities, they completely accomplish their activities and also maintain all virtuous qualities.”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, [F.99.a] “bodhisattva great beings assume the state of a hell being by entering the absorption known as great lotus, while at the same time experiencing all the joys of the gods, including the most subtle of them. For their part, hell beings perceive these bodhisattvas as hell beings because they are themselves hell beings. Through this appearance, bodhisattvas expound the Dharma to those denizens of the hell who have the potential to be extricated from the hells. They completely liberate many thousands of beings from the hells. Thus, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas assume the state of a hell being while at the same time experiencing the state of the higher realms.”
“Blessed One,” asked Mañjuśrī, “how do bodhisattvas assume the state of an animal, while at the same time experiencing the great extent of human qualities?”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “bodhisattvas assume the state of an animal by entering the absorption known as settling in complete peace, and without experiencing any impairment to their mental faculties, they experience the great extent of human qualities. Through this appearance, they explain the Dharma to beings that have become animals and so establish many thousands of beings in the Dharma. Thus, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas experience the condition of an animal while at the same time experiencing the great extent of human qualities.”
The Blessed One replied, “Mañjuśrī, in order to do this, bodhisattvas enter the absorption known as subduing and illuminating. By means of this absorption, which is conquering and illuminating, they embrace a birth in the lower castes, while at the same time experiencing the pleasures of a cakravartin’s kingdom. [F.99.b] Through these skillful means, they establish many thousands of beings in the Dharma. Thus, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas embrace a birth in the lower castes, while at the same time experiencing the happiness of a cakravartin’s kingdom.”
“Blessed One,” asked Mañjuśrī, “how do bodhisattvas both manifest within all modes of existence and also experience the activities of one specific realm?”
The Blessed One replied, “Mañjuśrī, in order to do this, they enter the absorption known as particular display illuminating the abandonment of all activities. Abiding in that absorption, they both manifest within all modes of existence and also experience the activities of one specific realm. In this way, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas manifest within all modes of existence while experiencing a particular realm.”
“Blessed One,” asked Mañjuśrī, “how do bodhisattvas excel in going to all buddhafields while at the same time not moving from their location? Although they neither come nor go, how do they appear in all buddhafields in the same way the moon is reflected in water?”
The Blessed One replied, “Mañjuśrī, in order to do this, bodhisattvas enter the absorption known as conquering all forms. Then, abiding in that absorption, they at once manifest their bodies throughout the world systems of the ten directions, without moving from their location, without going or coming. By remaining in equanimity, they see the Buddha, the Blessed One, and hear the Dharma. Thus, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas excel in being reborn in all buddhafields while at the same time not moving from their location. They neither come nor go, and yet they appear in all buddhafields in the same way the moon is reflected in water.”
“Mañjuśrī, replied the Blessed One, “bodhisattvas possess the dhāraṇī known as infinite recitation. As a result of that, they can engage with the infinite thoughts of the minds of beings, understand infinite languages, and comprehend infinite individual ways of being. By possessing this dhāraṇī, they both speak all languages and also do not mix them up. Thus, Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas speak all languages and yet do not mix them up.”
Mañjuśrī then inquired further: “Blessed One, the bodhisattvas’ skillful means are difficult to manifest. Nonetheless, Blessed One, how should this Dharma discourse be understood by the bodhisattvas who wish to understand it?”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “those bodhisattvas who wish to understand this Dharma discourse should understand it to be like space.”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “it may be illustrated as follows: Space is not desirous, nor angry, nor ignorant. Likewise, no phenomenon is desirous, angry, or ignorant. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not the excellence of generosity, and so forth, up to and including the excellence of insight. Likewise, no phenomenon is the excellence of generosity, and so forth, up to and including the excellence of insight. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not something to be realized, nor is it something to be abandoned. Likewise, no phenomenon is something to be realized or abandoned. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not something to be cultivated, nor is it something to be actualized. Likewise, no phenomenon is something to be cultivated or actualized. [F.100.b] It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not obscurity, nor is it light. Likewise, no phenomenon is obscurity or light. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not something to be apprehended. Likewise, no phenomenon is something to be apprehended. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not a destination attained either through the genuine path or through a bad path. Likewise, no phenomenon is a destination attained, either through the genuine path or through a bad path. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not a destination attained through the Hearers’ Vehicle, the Solitary Realizers’ Vehicle, or the Great Vehicle. Likewise, no phenomenon is a destination attained through the Hearers’ Vehicle, the Solitary Realizers’ Vehicle, or the Great Vehicle. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not an agent that reflects or knows. Likewise, no phenomenon is an agent that reflects or knows. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not an agent that accepts or rejects, nor is it an object to be accepted or rejected. Likewise, no phenomenon is an agent that accepts or rejects, nor is it an object to be accepted or rejected. It may be illustrated as follows: Space cannot be defiled by anything whatsoever. Likewise, no phenomenon belonging to supreme nirvāṇa can be defiled in any possible way. Thus, it will neither be assuaged nor pacified. It may be illustrated as follows: Space is not an abode because it is not abiding, nor does it abide, waver, or vacillate. Likewise, bodhisattvas should regard each and every phenomenon as abiding in non-abidingness. Having correct understanding, they do not vacillate, waver, abide, or cause anything to abide. [F.101.a]
“Mañjuśrī, since the nature of all phenomena is like this, those who wish to see the Tathāgata hold a mistaken view. Those who view this as mistaken27 have correct understanding. For those who have correct understanding, generosity has neither great result nor great benefit. Those for whom generosity has neither great result nor great benefit are objects of generosity in the world. For those who are objects of generosity in the world, there is no karmic ripening from generosity. Those for whom there is no karmic ripening from generosity have perfected non-conception. Those who have perfected non-conception will quickly attain the acceptance that all phenomena do not arise.”
As sixty arrogant monks in the assembly heard this teaching, they thought to themselves, “This is the path of confusion. Even the Tathāgata teaches the path of confusion. It is as follows: Some non-Buddhists also teach these words. Since the Tathāgata teaches these words too, his speech is comparable to those of some non-Buddhists, such as Kaśyapa, Maskari Gośāliputra, Ajita Keśakambalī, Sañjayi Vairattīputra, Kakuda Kātyāyana, and Nirgrantha Jñatiputra.”
The Blessed One read the thoughts of these sixty arrogant monks, and he remarked to Youthful Mañjuśrī, “Thus, Mañjuśrī, if the Dharma I have expounded is comparable to what those other non-Buddhists teach, then those non-Buddhists do not understand the Dharma taught by the Tathāgata.”
After the Blessed One had spoken these words, the arrogant monks became very distressed, depressed, displeased, and dejected. Still not understanding this Dharma exposition, they rose from their seats and left. Then the venerable Śāriputra asked these monks, “Venerable ones, where are you going?” [F.101.b]
“Venerable ones,” Śāriputra replied, “you should know that the Tathāgata is teaching in these ways with an intention. Therefore, stay for a while until you ask the Tathāgata what his intention was when he taught in these ways.”
After hearing the venerable Śāriputra’s words, the monks went back to their seats. At that point, the venerable Śāriputra made this request: “Blessed One, in order to clarify these monks’ doubts, I beseech you to explain what the intention of the Tathāgata was when he taught in these ways.”
“Śāriputra, what do you think?” asked the Blessed One. “Would monks whose minds are liberated from defilements with no further appropriation become apprehensive, frightened, or terrified by any sound?”
“No, Blessed One, they would not,” answered Śāriputra. “Monks who see the truth do not become apprehensive, frightened, or terrified by any sound. What need is there to mention those monks whose minds are liberated from defilements with no further appropriation!”
“Śāriputra,” said the Blessed One, “those who see the Tathāgata as a dream and an illusion see him truly. Those who truly see him do not conceive of the Tathāgata in terms of truth, essence, substance, a real entity, or a partless whole. Those who do not conceive of the Tathāgata in terms of truth, essence, substance, a real entity, or a partless whole regard all constructs as false. [F.102.a] Those who see all constructs as false know all phenomena to be mistaken. The Tathāgata has taught that all those who know every phenomenon to be mistaken have perfected the view of mistakenness. They also understand that all those who have resorted to views are mistaken. This is why some are referred to as holding a mistaken view. Śāriputra, according to this discourse, those who wish to view the Tathāgata are referred to as holding a mistaken view. Śāriputra, some view the Tathāgata’s body unerringly. But those who understand the Tathāgata’s body as mistaken have no conception of the Tathāgata. Śāriputra, those who know this to be mistaken see the Tathāgata.”
The Blessed One replied, “Śāriputra, ordinary beings discriminate and conceptualize, examine and analyze, reveal and thoroughly reveal, rely and dwell, accept and reject. They embrace the view of a self, a being, a life, and a person, and they cling to the belief in ‘I’ and are attached to the belief in ‘mine.’ They conceive their conduct, knowledge, movements, and conceptual elaborations along these lines. They understand these things, which do not actually exist, in just this way. Śāriputra, the word nonexistent is a designation for what is unreal. That which is unreal is a lie. The word lie is a designation for what is false. Those who see how mistaken are those beings who believe in the unreal are said to have discerned reality. Śāriputra, according to this very explanation, those who see this as wrong have correct understanding.”
“Śāriputra,” replied the Blessed One, “for those who have correct understanding through this approach, generosity is directed toward nirvāṇa. It flows and has flowed into nirvāṇa, and it will culminate in nirvāṇa. However, nirvāṇa is neither a small nor a great result, neither a small nor a great benefit. Why? Because nirvāṇa is free from all results and is therefore neither a designation nor an object of designation.”
“Śāriputra,” replied the Blessed One, “the Tathāgata taught particular advantages of infinite virtuous qualities with respect to nirvāṇa, even though it does not exist for designation, in order to inspire beings subject to the world of birth who assert selfhood, beings, life forms, and persons. However, Śāriputra, one should not consider noble beings to be those who engage in generosity, but rather those who are free from attachment and who turn away from generosity. Śāriputra, it may be illustrated as follows: When farmers have planted barley seeds in a field, husks, stalks, and leaves are produced from the barley. In that case, Śāriputra, do you think that the husks, stalks, and leaves are the fruits produced by the actions of those farmers?”
“Śāriputra,” continued the Blessed One, “it may be illustrated as follows: It is on account of the barley itself—namely, those barley seeds planted by the farmers—that the husks, stalks, and leaves are produced, as well as other ears of barley. Likewise, when noble beings practice generosity, great resources come to them with little difficulty. In addition, all fruits resulting from craving for the exhaustion of afflictions wither. [F.103.a] It may be illustrated as follows: Those who want barley think, ‘This is not the fruits of these barely seeds, nor is this the ears of barley produced by those seeds.’ As a consequence, they are neither pleased by the husks nor delighted by the stalks and leaves. Likewise, it should not be taught that practicing generosity in the field of the unconditioned gives a result that is conditioned. Śāriputra, according to this discourse, generosity brings neither great result nor great benefit for those who have correct understanding.”
“Śāriputra,” replied the Blessed One, “generosity will not arise for those who do not conceive of results as great or small. Those for whom generosity does not arise will become objects of generosity in the world with its gods. In that case, Śāriputra, the practice of generosity in the inexhaustible field of generosity neither becomes a flower nor turns into a fruit. Thus, according to this discourse, Śāriputra, those for whom there is neither a great result nor a great benefit when they are generous are objects of generosity in the world.”
“No, Blessed One, it is not,” Śāriputra replied. “Blessed One, if the generosity that culminates in nirvāṇa were subject to karmic ripening, noble beings would not be distinguished as being unconditioned.”
“Blessed One,” answered Śāriputra, “those who understand the very nature of all phenomena understand the very nature of illusions. Blessed One, this nature is nonexistent. It does not exist. Why? Blessed One, you taught that all phenomena have an illusory nature. That which is like an illusion is nonexistent. Those who understand the very nature of all phenomena have no conceptions. Why? Because nothing, no actual phenomenon whatsoever, is perceived by them.”
“Excellent, Śāriputra, excellent,” said the Blessed One. “It is just like that. Śāriputra, if some phenomena were substantially or truly existent, beings would not attain nirvāṇa, even in the future. Śāriputra, it is precisely because all phenomena are unreal, nonexistent, and insubstantial that beings as numerous as the grains of sand in the river Ganges have attained nirvāṇa. Yet, because beings do not exist, there is nothing at all related to those beings that is brought to an end. Therefore, Śāriputra, whoever neither apprehends the conception of the nonexistence of all beings, nor the beings themselves, has perfected non-conception. Śāriputra, according to this discourse, those for whom there is no ripening of generosity have perfected non-conception.”
“Śāriputra,” replied the Blessed One, “those who have directly realized nonexistence understand this. But what is nonexistence? The term nonexistence pertains to the metaphysical views of self, beings, life force, and persons, as well as the views of nihilism and eternalism. The term nonexistence pertains to the conceptions of Buddha, Dharma, Saṅgha, and nirvāṇa. [F.104.a] No matter how much one applies one’s mind, practices, understands, acts, or speculates, all this is nonexistent. Therefore, Śāriputra, those who are in this way completely free from such incorrect reifications understand. According to this discourse, Śāriputra, those who have perfected non-conception will quickly accept that all phenomena do not arise.”
When this exposition of the teaching was being presented, forty-two thousand bodhisattvas accepted that all phenomena do not arise. Six thousand male lay vow holders set their minds on unsurpassable, complete, and perfect awakening. Thirty-six thousand sons of the gods gained the realization of wisdom. As for the sixty exceedingly proud monks, their minds became liberated from defilements with no further appropriation.
With minds free from defilements, these sixty arrogant monks spoke the following words in unison: “Blessed One, from this day forth, we shall become renunciants who follow the six teachers. From this day forth, our teacher is no longer the Buddha and we shall rely neither on the Dharma nor on the Saṅgha. From this day forth, we shall be proponents of the nonexistence of action, causation, karma, karmic ripening, and moral conduct.”
At that moment, several thousand beings in the assembly thought to themselves, “These monks have thus become proponents of such untruths! Will they now give up the precepts they received from the Blessed One and take up the traits of the non-Buddhists?”
The venerable Śāriputra clairvoyantly understood what those beings in the retinue were thinking. Therefore, he asked the monks, “Venerable ones, what was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, we shall become renunciants who follow the six teachers’?”
“Venerable Śāriputra,” answered the monks, “from this day forth, we perceive all our teachers as identical to the six teachers, as being of a single character, without any difference. [F.104.b] Perceiving all teachers as undifferentiated, we are renunciants following renunciants without conceptualizing.”
Śāriputra then asked, “What was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, our teacher is no longer the Buddha’?”
“From this day forth,” they answered, “we will rely on ourselves, but not on others. We will take refuge in ourselves, but not in others. We are our own teachers and no one else is. Therefore, from this day forth, our teacher is no longer the Buddha. Why? Aside from oneself, there is no buddha. Aside from a buddha, there is no self.”
Śāriputra then asked, “What was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, we shall rely neither on the Dharma nor on the Saṅgha’?”
“From this day forth,” they answered, “we do not perceive any phenomenon whatsoever that anyone should rely upon or conform to. Therefore, from this day forth, we shall rely neither on the Dharma nor on the Saṅgha.”
Śāriputra then asked, “What was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, we shall be proponents of the nonexistence of action’?”
“From this day forth,” they answered, “we know that all phenomena are unproduced. We have realized that phenomena undergo no production or change anywhere. Therefore, from this day forth, we are proponents of the nonexistence of action.”
Śāriputra then asked, “What was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, we shall be proponents of the nonexistence of causation’?”
“For us,” they answered, “the cause of birth in all destinies of cyclic existence has ended today. We have realized that phenomena are without any causes and conditions anywhere. Therefore, from this day forth, we are proponents of the nonexistence of causation.”
Śāriputra then asked, “What was your intention when you said, ‘From this day forth, we are proponents of the nonexistence of karmic ripening’?”
“From this day forth,” they answered, “we perfectly understand that all phenomena are without any karma nor karmic ripening anywhere and completely beyond suffering. Therefore, from this day forth, we are proponents of the nonexistence of karmic ripening.”
“Venerable Śāriputra,” they answered, “from this day forth, we perfectly understand the fact that there is neither moral discipline, nor discourses on it, nor non-discipline, and that all phenomena are utterly disciplined. Therefore, from this day forth, we are proponents of the nonexistence of moral discipline.”
Having thus heard this teaching regarding these arrogant monks, the minds of three thousand six hundred other monks were liberated from defilements with no further appropriation. Then the Blessed One said to them, “Excellent! Monks, that which is devoid of the realization of any phenomenon is the attainment of truth. Thus, it is excellent, excellent.”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “that term ‘realization of realization’ is a designation for the acceptance that all phenomena do not arise.”
“How should those bodhisattvas, who seek to attain the acceptance that all phenomena do not arise, train, conduct themselves, and engage in practice?” asked Mañjuśrī.
After the Blessed One had uttered these verses, he said to Youthful Mañjuśrī, “Mañjuśrī, twenty laudable qualities will certainly be possessed by those who have faith in this Dharma discourse, do not doubt it, do not question it, but transmit it, memorize it, recite it, accomplish it, and also correctly teach it in detail to others.
“What are these twenty qualities? (1) They will be protected by the gods, (2) the nāgas, (3) and the yakṣas. (4) Their minds will remain undistracted. (5) They will recall their former lives after they are reborn. (6) They will obtain the five extrasensory powers. (7) They will immediately see the bodhisattva Maitreya when they die. (8) If they thus keep this Dharma discourse in mind without any distraction and also eliminate indolence, they should expect to see the Buddha and bodhisattvas in their dreams. (9) If they have faith in this Dharma discourse, they should expect to accept that phenomena are in complete harmony with it. (10) If they contemplate this Dharma discourse, they should expect to be free from malicious thoughts in this very life. (11) Even if they come into contact with swift-acting venom, they should expect to be free from fear, provided that they keep this Dharma discourse in mind. (12) Furthermore, they should expect to put an end to all opposition. [F.107.b] (13) They should also expect to attain the all-illuminating absorption. (14) Once they directly understand this Dharma discourse, they should expect to purify all karmic obscurations. (15) Moreover, if they explain this Dharma discourse, they should expect to gain access to countless Dharma gates. (16) They will also certainly remember the thought of awakening and possess the dhāraṇī infinite recitation. (17) Furthermore, if they keep in mind this Dharma discourse, they will certainly not be encircled by māras. (18) They will also certainly be reborn in the presence of the Buddha. (19) All their aspirations will certainly be fulfilled. (20) They will certainly be protected from all species of venomous beings, including those without legs, and those with two, four, or more legs.
“Hence, they will certainly be free from fears that upset even human kings. Mañjuśrī, Dharma teachers who do not doubt this Dharma discourse, and who do not question it, but memorize it, hold it, recite it, accomplish it, and further, correctly teach it in detail to others will certainly possess these twenty laudable qualities.”
Youthful Mañjuśrī then spoke these words: “Blessed One, it may be illustrated as follows: All medicinal trees pacify the diseases of beings. Likewise, this Dharma discourse should also be regarded as completely pacifying all diseases.”
“So it is, Mañjuśrī, so it is,” the Blessed One replied. “Your words are well spoken. This Dharma discourse completely pacifies all diseases. Why? Because, Mañjuśrī, countless eons in the past, a tathāgata, a worthy one, a complete and perfect buddha called Walking Like a Lion appeared in the world. [F.108.a] From afar, he expounded this Dharma discourse to many hundreds of thousands of beings. At that time, he summoned and included in his retinue a bodhisattva called Victory Banner of the Vajra, who heard this Dharma discourse from that tathāgata. Thereupon, with a mind free from distraction, doubt, or disbelief, he retained this Dharma discourse with its twenty laudable qualities and became accomplished in it. He came to possess the power of faith. He traveled to towns, villages, valleys, lands, provinces, and royal palaces where he proclaimed himself as a healer. Thereafter, thousands of beings tormented by various diseases swiftly arrived where the bodhisattva Victory Banner of the Vajra was staying so that he could save their lives. The bodhisattva, with a mind abiding in the power of faith, offered them this Dharma scripture. The mantra syllables of knowledge that arose from this Dharma discourse offered them protection, salvation, and assistance.
“Mañjuśrī, what is the sounding of this particular mantra of knowledge?
tadyathā alata vitāla vibhrina atirtha abhrida anuḍa vibramha nahikhagarunga māyāsukha ānanda jālada nadamitra amitra jotrahita sarvadatrala aṃgamaṃga arthayuta sabrāmāyiśa
“The utterance of this mantra of knowledge protected those beings. On account of this, beings intensely tormented by various diseases were fully freed from all their afflictions, whether they had ingested poison, or were harmed by non-humans, possessed by any noxious type of creatures, consumed by a disease, afflicted by leprosy, or struck by a sickness related to wind, bile, or phlegm. Thus, Mañjuśrī, the bodhisattva Victory Banner of the Vajra, who abided by this Dharma discourse, [F.108.b] fully freed those beings from disease. What do you think, Mañjuśrī? If you think I was somebody other than the bodhisattva called Victory Banner of the Vajra at that time, in that life, you should abandon that view. Why? Because at that time, in that life, I myself was the bodhisattva called Victory Banner of the Vajra. I had faith in this Dharma discourse and acted for the sake of those very beings. According to this discourse, Mañjuśrī, you should understand it in this way: regard this Dharma discourse as the source of all medicines.”
“Blessed One,” asked Mañjuśrī, “how should bodhisattvas who memorize, keep, and realize the words of this mantra of knowledge put it into practice?”
The Blessed One answered, “Mañjuśrī, bodhisattvas who recite this mantra of knowledge should practice cleanliness and should not eat meat. They should not massage their feet or engage in social distractions. They should again and again develop feelings of kindness toward all beings. They should not resent those who happen to hurt them. Furthermore, they should not chant this Dharma discourse without performing ablutions. Neither should they keep it in a filthy place.”
“Blessed One, it seems to me that bodhisattvas who teach this Dharma discourse should even disregard their own body and life,” said Mañjuśrī.
“So it is, Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One. “It is just as you have said it is.”
Then, the Blessed One spoke to the venerable Ānanda: “Because this Dharma discourse will benefit many beings, Ānanda, you should remember it. Ānanda, beings who yearn for this Dharma discourse will be subdued by the strength of the bull and the strength of the elephant. Ānanda, [F.109.a] those who arouse faith in this Dharma discourse will stride like a lion, like a bull. Ānanda, this Dharma discourse delights bodhisattvas and makes them appear. After I have passed away, it will come into the hands of bodhisattvas, into their scriptures and repositories. It will not come into the hands, scriptures, or repositories of outcast bodhisattvas.”
After the Blessed One had uttered these words, the venerable Ānanda, the venerable Śāriputra, Youthful Mañjuśrī, and the worlds of the gods, humans, demigods, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the Blessed One’s words.
This completes the Great Vehicle sūtra “The Strength of the Elephant.”
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- ting nge ’dzin
accomplishment of perfect peace
- rab tu zhi ba sgrub pa
Accumulation of All Precious Roots of Virtue
- dge ba’i rtsa ba rin po che thams cad bsags pa
- mi dkar ba skra’i la ba can
- ajita keśakambalī
- kun dga’ bo
Become a renunciant
- rab tu byung
Beyond All Utterances, Speech, and Sounds
- sgrar rjod pa dang dbyangs dang nga ro thams cad las ’das pa
- bcom ldan ’das
Blossom of the Four Jewels
- rin po che bzhi’i me tog rgyas pa
- ’khor los sgyur ba
- mtshan ma
conquering all forms
- gzugs thams cad rnam par gnon pa
- zag pa
- lhag mthong
domain of truth
- chos kyi dbyings
Essence of the Splendor of Overwhelming Sound
- mngon par gnon pa’i sgra sgrogs gzi brjid snying po
five extrasensory powers
- mngon par shes pa lnga
- dri za
Gladdened with Supreme Joy
- mngon par dga’ bas mgu ba skyed pa
- rgod kyi phung po’i ri
- pad mo chen po
- nyan thos
- mtha’ yas par ’khyil pa
- nang du yang dag ’jog pa
Ju Mipham Gyatso
- ’ju mi pham rgya mtsho
- dpon po ka tya ya na
- kakuda kātyāyana
- ’od srung
lay vow holder
- dge bsnyen
Light Beam of Great Lightning
- glog chen sgron ma
Light Vanquishing with Undefiled Forces
- dpung pa dri ma med pas ’od zer bcom pa
Lofty Like Mount Meru’s Summit
- ri rab brtsegs pa ltar mngon par ’phags pa
- ma ska ri ’ga’ ba ya la
- maskari gośāliputra
- mnyam par bzhag pa
- bsod snyoms spyod pa
- ’dul ba
- gcer bu pa nye du’u bu
- nirgrantha jñatiputra
- mya ngan las ’das pa
- ’phags pa
- mu stegs pa
- byang chub sems dpa’ gdol ba
Overcoming Fears with Words of Renown
- grags pa’i sgras ’jigs pa bcom pa
particular display illuminating the abandonment of all activities
- spyod pa thams cad la btang ba snang ba’i khyad par ston pa
Perseverant Beyond Compare and Wise
- brtson ’grus dpe med blo gros
Possessing Vajralike Solidity
- rdo rje lta bur brtan pa thob pa
- rgyal po’i khab
Reaching the Far Shore of Definitive Meaning to Fulfill Beings’ Aspirations
- sems can gyi bsam pa nges pa’i don gyi pha rol tu bgrod par dong ba
- kun rgyal ’be’i ra ti’i bu
- sañjayi vairattīputra
- sha ra dwa ti’i bu
- sha ri bu
Seeing Beyond Extremes and Transcending All Sensory Objects
- mtha’ yas par lta zhing yul thams cad las ’das pa
settling in complete peace
- nye bar zhi ba la ’jug pa
- rang sangs rgyas
subduing and illuminating
- mngon par gnon cing rnam par gsal ba
- bde bar gshegs pa
- de bzhin gshegs pa
thought of awakening
- byang chub tu sems
three Dharma robes
- chos gos gsum
- shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa
- tshe dang ldan pa
Victory Banner of the Vajra
- rdo rje’i rgyal mtshan
Voice More Majestic Than Brahmā’s
- tshangs pa’i sgra gzi brjid mngon par ’phags pa
Walking Like a Lion
- seng ge’i stabs su ’gro ba
- ’jig rten gyi khams
- dgra bcom pa
- ’jam dpal gzhon nur gyur pa