The Wheel of Meditative Concentration
Degé Kangyur, vol. 65 (mdo sde, zha), folios 302.a–303.a.
Translated by the Sarasvatī Translation Team
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2023
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While dwelling on Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha, the Buddha is absorbed in the meditative concentration called wheel of meditative concentration. In response to a series of questions posed by the Buddha, Mañjuśrī explains the nature of ultimate reality. Pleased with his replies, the Buddha praises Mañjuśrī for being skilled in expressing the meaning of the profound Dharma.
Named for the meditative concentration in which the Buddha is absorbed, this short sūtra explores the nature of ultimate reality. Mañjuśrī elucidates its meaning through a series of answers to questions posed by the Buddha, in which ultimate reality is referred to by terms such as very limit of reality (Skt. bhūtakoṭi, Tib. yang dag pa’i mtha’) and sphere of phenomena (Skt. dharmadhātu, Tib. chos kyi dbyings). He explains that the very limit of reality is without any location and neither comes nor goes, and he declares that he does not see any phenomenon that is not the sphere of phenomena.
The sūtra was translated from Chinese, most likely in the Tibetan imperial era,1 but it is not listed either in any of the early catalogs or in the Chinese Tripiṭaka.2 It is one of a handful of sūtras found in the Degé Kangyur whose Chinese sources have not been identified.3 In addition to the Degé Kangyur, The Wheel of Meditative Concentration is only found in Kangyurs of the Tshalpa (tshal pa) group and in the Lhasa and Narthang Kangyurs. Among those, only the Lhasa version has a colophon, which simply identifies the Indian abbot Śīladharma and Nampar Mitokpa (rnam par mi rtog pa) as its translators from Chinese.4
Many parts of this sūtra bear substantial resemblance to passages in the larger Infinite Jewels (Ratnakoṭi, Toh 118),5 which was translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by the Indian preceptor Prajñāvarman and the Tibetan translator Yeshé Dé and corresponds to two Chinese sūtras—Rufajie tixing jing 入法界體性經 (Entering the Nature of the Sphere of Phenomena, Taishō 355) and Foshuo baoji sanmei wenshushili pusa wen fashen jing 佛説寶積三昧文殊師利菩薩問法身經 (Sūtra in Which the Buddha Speaks of the Meditative Concentration Called “Infinite Jewels” and the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī Asks about the Dharma Body, Taishō 356).6
A comparison of The Wheel of Meditative Concentration with Toh 118, Taishō 355, and Taishō 356 reveals differences in certain details, but these differences do not constitute contradictions in terms of the overall meaning conveyed.7
Moreover, both The Wheel of Meditative Concentration and Infinite Jewels (Ratnakoṭi, Toh 118) have a thematically close relationship with yet a third text, The Teaching on the Indivisible Nature of the Realm of Phenomena (Dharmadhātuprakṛtyasambhedanirdeśa, Toh 52). That longer and more detailed work opens with a teaching on the realm of phenomena given by Mañjuśrī at the Buddha’s request. The short passage recounting that teaching8 bears a striking resemblance to the teaching on the limit of reality and the realm of phenomena in these two texts, and in that longer text too the Buddha warns that “if those who are possessed of excessive pride hear that teaching, it will frighten them.” Mañjuśrī responds to this warning in essentially the same way as in the present text, though perhaps less cryptically: “Those who become afraid … are themselves of the nature of the realm of phenomena, and the nature of the realm of phenomena does not become frightened.” Unlike the other two shorter texts, however, The Teaching on the Indivisible Nature of the Realm of Phenomena then goes on to elaborate in some detail on the theme of pride in this context. First, some “proud monks” are immediately liberated by hearing the teaching.9 Then, another group of proud monks leaves the scene, confused and disconcerted, and Mañjuśrī has to use his powers and bring them back by means of a further teaching.10 Further on still in the narrative, Mañjuśrī explains in detail what is meant by unfounded or excessive pride on many levels, culminating in its sense of dualistic, conceptual conceits that prevent one from engaging fully with the emptiness and sameness of all phenomena.11 Although the historical relationship of these texts remains to be determined,12 The Teaching on the Indivisible Nature of the Realm of Phenomena does help to throw light on the two shorter texts in which Mañjuśrī’s statements are left unexplained.
The present translation is based on the Degé Kangyur, with reference to variants in other versions noted in the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma).
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was residing on Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha accompanied by a saṅgha of 1,250 bhikṣus and a saṅgha of innumerable, countless bodhisattvas. Surrounded also by various retinues of gods, nāgas, yakṣas, and other beings, he was teaching them the Dharma.
At that time, the Blessed One was absorbed in the meditative concentration called wheel of meditative concentration. Through the power of that meditative concentration, all the buddha lands shook and were illuminated by a great light.
Then, the bodhisattva Youthful Mañjuśrī, who was present in that retinue, rose from his seat and said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, your absorption in the wheel of meditative concentration is amazing. Sugata, it is truly amazing.”
The Blessed One asked, “Mañjuśrī, do you know the very limit of reality?”13
“I know it, Blessed One,” replied the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.
“Mañjuśrī, where is the very limit of reality?” asked the Blessed One.
Mañjuśrī replied, “Blessed One, the very limit of reality is where it is not.”
“Mañjuśrī, where is it not?” asked the Blessed One,
Mañjuśrī replied, “Blessed One, it is without any location.”14
The Blessed One asked, “Mañjuśrī, what is meditation?”
Mañjuśrī replied, “Blessed One, meditation means nonmeditation.”
“Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One, “I teach the Dharma to the effect that forms are undestroyed and unborn. I teach the Dharma to the effect that feelings, perceptions, formations, and consciousnesses are undestroyed and unborn. I turn the wheel of Dharma to the effect that attachment, hatred, and ignorance are undestroyed and unborn. [F.302.b] I have taught that in this way no phenomenon whatsoever has been destroyed or produced in the state of unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.”15
Then, though he already knew the answer, the Blessed One asked the Youthful Mañjuśrī, “Mañjuśrī, do you know the sphere of phenomena?”
“I know it if I focus on it,” replied Mañjuśrī.
The Blessed One asked, “Mañjuśrī, do you know the world that is experienced?”
“Blessed One, the world is merely that which is experienced by people who are illusory apparitions.16 Blessed One, that which is called ‘the world’ is essentially a nonexistent thing.”
The Blessed One said, “The Tathāgata wishes to hear the Dharma. Demonstrate your inspired speech!”
“Begin with the sphere of phenomena, Mañjuśrī,” replied the Blessed One.
“Blessed One, I do not see any phenomenon that is not the sphere of phenomena.”17
“Those who have unfounded pride will be afraid,” said the Blessed One.
“Blessed One,” replied Mañjuśrī, “if the very limit of reality is afraid, then those who have unfounded pride will be afraid. Why? Because the very limit of reality and those who have unfounded pride are one and the same, and indistinguishable.”
“Mañjuśrī,” said the Blessed One, “you are a vajra basis.”
“Blessed One,” said Mañjuśrī, “since all phenomena are indivisible and inconceivable, they too are vajra bases. Why are they said to be vajra bases? Because sentient beings do not exist and things do not exist, they too are vajra bases.18
“Blessed One, such a very limit of reality does not exist. Whatever is such a limit neither comes nor goes. Blessed One, dwelling on the meaning of having such a limit, one meditates on the meaning of the absence of an intrinsic nature, keeps to remote places, and abandons distractions.” [F.303.a]
Then Venerable Śāriputra said to the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, “Mañjuśrī, the Dharma you have taught is amazing.”
“Honorable Śāriputra, it is not so amazing,” replied Mañjuśrī. “The uncontaminated arhats are not vessels for this Dharma teaching. Why? Because a Dharma teaching like this does not engage with the attributes of ordinary beings, it does not engage with the attributes of arhats, it does not engage with the attributes of pratyekabuddhas, and it does not engage with the attributes of tathāgatas. It does not engage at all in the observation of phenomena. This is because it neither engages in nor retreats from anything.19 This is because all phenomena are void.”20
“Honorable Śāriputra,” replied Mañjuśrī, “if the state of an arhat is the state in which attachment, hatred, and ignorance have been extinguished, then of what can they be a vessel? Of what kind of Dharma can they be a vessel? It is with this in mind that I say that arhats, whose contaminants have been extinguished, are not vessels for this Dharma teaching.21
“Mañjuśrī, I do.”
Then, the Blessed One said to the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, “Mañjuśrī, excellent! Excellent! You are to be praised for your mastery of the meaning of the profound Dharma.”
After the Blessed One had spoken thus, the bodhisattva Youthful Mañjuśrī, the venerable Śāriputra, and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised what the Blessed One had said.
This concludes the noble Mahāyāna sūtra “The Wheel of Meditative Concentration.”
ting nge ’dzin gyi ’khor lo zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo. Toh 241, Degé Kangyur vol. 65 (mdo sde, zha), folios 302.a–303.a.
ting nge ’dzin gyi ’khor lo zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo. 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. 65, pp. 788–93.
rin po che’i mtha’ (Ratnakoṭi) [Infinite Jewels]. Toh 118, Degé Kangyur vol. 51 (mdo sde, ja), folios 290.b–298.a. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2022).
Foshuo baoji sanmei wenshushili pusa wen fashen jing 佛説寶積三昧文殊師利菩薩問法身經. Taishō 356 (CBETA, SAT). (Translation by An Shigao).
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. Infinite Jewels (Ratnakoṭi, Toh 118). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
————, trans. The Teaching on the Indivisible Nature of the Realm of Phenomena (Dharmadhātuprakṛtyasambhedanirdeśa, Toh 52). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
Li, Channa. “A Survey of Tibetan Sūtras Translated from Chinese, as Recorded in Early Tibetan Catalogues.” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 60 (2021): 174–219.
Saerji. “The Translations of the Khotanese Monk Śīladharma Preserved in the Tibetan bka’ ’gyur.” Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology 14 (2011): 185–222.
Silk, Jonathan A. “Chinese Sūtras in Tibetan Translation: A Preliminary Survey.” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology 22 (2019): 227–46.
Types of attestation for Sanskrit names and terms
Attested in source text
This term is attested in the Sanskrit manuscript used as a source for this translation.
Attested in other text
This term is attested in other Sanskrit manuscripts of the Kangyur or Tengyur.
Attested in dictionary
This term is attested in Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries.
The attestation of this name is approximate. It is based on other names where Tibetan-Sanskrit relationship is attested in dictionaries or other manuscripts.
Reconstruction from Tibetan phonetic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the Tibetan phonetic rendering of the term.
Reconstruction from Tibetan semantic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the semantics of the Tibetan translation.
This term has been supplied from an unspecified source, which most often is a widely trusted dictionary.
- dgra bcom pa
- lha ma yin
- dge slong
- bcom ldan ’das
- sangs rgyas kyi zhing
- rnam par shes pa
- tshor ba
- ’du byed
- dri za
- ’jam dpal
- ting nge ’dzin
- ’du shes
- rang sangs rgyas
- rgyal po’i khab
- dge ’dun
- shA ri’i bu
sphere of phenomena
- chos kyi dbyings
- bde bar gshegs pa
- de bzhin gshegs pa
- mngon pa’i nga rgyal
- rdo rje’i gzhi
very limit of reality
- yang dag pa’i mtha’
- bya rgod kyi phung po’i ri
- gnod sbyin