The Quintessence of the Sun
The Going for Refuge of the Nāgas
Degé Kangyur, vol. 66 (mdo sde, za), folios 91.b–245.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2022
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The Quintessence of the Sun is a long and heterogeneous sūtra in eleven chapters. At the Veṇuvana in the Kalandakanivāpa on the outskirts of Rājagṛha, the Buddha Śākyamuni first explains to a great assembly the severe consequences of stealing what has been offered to monks and the importance of protecting those who abide by the Dharma. The next section tells of bodhisattvas sent from buddha realms in the four directions to bring various dhāraṇīs as a way of protecting and benefitting this world. While explaining those dhāraṇīs, the Buddha Śākyamuni presents various meditations on repulsiveness and instructions on the empty nature of phenomena. On the basis of another long narrative involving Māra and groups of nāgas, detailed teachings on astrology are also introduced, as are a number of additional dhāraṇīs and a list of sacred locations blessed by the presence of holy beings.
This text was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Benjamin Collet-Cassart translated the text from Tibetan into English and wrote the introduction. Andreas Doctor compared the draft translation with the original Tibetan and edited the text.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Jamyang Sun and Manju Sun, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
The Going for Refuge of the Nāgas
While showering rains of flowers, precious gems, and Dharma robes, playing instruments and drums, and singing melodious songs, all the gods, nāgas, yakṣas, and asuras present there departed from the summit of Mount Sumeru together with the Blessed One. Attended by his saṅgha of hearers and surrounded by his saṅgha of bodhisattvas, the Blessed One then took a seat on the cushions that had been prepared for him at the center of the sacred site of wise sages. To worship the Blessed One, all the gods, nāgas, yakṣas, asuras, and kinnaras showered rains of various ornaments, powders, flowers, and precious gems from the sky. The nāgas also offered the Blessed One different kinds of flowers, perfumes, precious gems, silken clothes, fine fabrics, Dharma robes, and ornaments. They circumambulated him three times, prostrated to his feet, and sat in front of him to listen to the Dharma. The nāga king Sāgara then asked, “Respected Blessed One, what are the deeds through which sentient beings are born as nāgas?”
The Blessed One replied, [F.225.a] “Nāga lord, there are ten types of karmic obscurations through which beings will quickly be born as nāgas. What are those ten? (1) There are sentient beings who exert themselves in the six perfections and pursue the unsurpassed vehicle but are not quick to regard pleasures as defects, even though they strive in generosity and give freely. Through the power of their aspirations, they will be born among the nāgas. (2) There are sentient beings who pursue the unsurpassed vehicle and exert themselves in the perfection of generosity but are unable to guard their discipline perfectly and in a faultless manner. Fearing the conditions of the hell beings and pretas, they will be born among the nāgas through their aspirations. (3) There are sentient beings who pursue the unsurpassed vehicle but are filled with intense pride. Due to the power of this pride, they will be born among the nāgas through their aspirations. (4) There are sentient beings who exert themselves in the conduct of the unsurpassed vehicle but have a lot of aggression in them and are extremely hostile toward others. Due to the feelings of enmity they entertain, they will form the wish to be born among the nāgas just before they die. They will thus be born there through their aspirations. (5) There are sentient beings who genuinely follow the vehicle of the hearers, search for those who are worthy of gifts, and are endowed with an attitude of worship. They may also be born among the nāgas through their own aspirations. (6) There are sentient beings who possess the defects of miserliness and pride. They will be born among the nāgas through their actions. (7) There are sentient beings who delight in pride, talk nonsense, and lie. They will be born among the nāgas through their actions. (8) There are many sentient beings who do not revere the Buddha, the Dharma, [F.225.b] the Saṅgha, the precepts, the preceptors, the teachers, the ones who should be respected, and their parents. Due to pride and the delusion induced by inferior actions of body, speech, and mind, they will be born among the nāgas. (9) There are sentient beings who, overwhelmed by pride and ignorance, lack control and do not behave faultlessly. They will be born among the nāgas. (10) Finally, there are sentient beings who are proud and who are used to slander and to speaking with abusive words. After they die, they will also be born among the nāgas.
“There are three other circumstances through which one will be born among the nāgas. What are those three? (1) There are sentient beings who are born among hell beings due to extremely severe negative actions of body, speech, and mind. After they die, they will be born among the nāgas due to a small residue of those negative actions. The same concerns the births among (2) animals and (3) pretas. Through those three circumstances, one will be born among the nāgas.”
Sāgara said, “Respected Blessed One, that is correct! Respected Well-Gone One, that is correct! Respected Blessed One, there are nāgas in this place who have an abundance of possessions and enjoyments and are like gods, while others are like wretched humans struck by plague, like pretas, animals, or even hell beings. They experience terrible suffering!”
The nāga prince named Lotus Face then asked, “Which actions have led me to be born within a family of nāgas and [F.226.a] with a blazing body? Everything I touch with my body—even with the slightest brush—burns and is consumed by flames. I must always walk without sandals and move around naked. My parents enjoy perfect prosperity and an exalted status, similar to that experienced by universal monarchs ruling over the four continents.”
The Blessed One replied, “O, nāga! In the past, thirty-one eons ago, the thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha, blessed Śikhin, appeared in the world. At that time, there was a king named Free of Flowers. For three months, he offered all sorts of supplies to the thus-gone Śikhin and his retinue—saṅghas of hearers and bodhisattvas counting many hundreds of thousands of members—and he listened to the Dharma continuously. He made the aspiration to reach unsurpassed and perfect awakening. He also built the Blessed One a fully functional temple. King Free of Flowers had a son named Arjuna. Because of his intense fear of saṃsāra, this son became a renunciate in the presence of the Blessed One, and he then looked after the monastic compound of the saṅgha that his father had donated. Later on, the son of the king Free of Flowers—the monk Arjuna—became jealous of all the hearers of the Blessed One, those monks who were residing there while partaking of food, beverages, and bedding. Those monks, the hearers of the Blessed One, eventually left the place. Arjuna was extremely delighted by their departure, but he could neither partake of these provisions himself nor give them away to others. After he died, that monk was born within the great hells. For many trillions of years, [F.226.b] he was boiled in those great hells. When he finally died and transmigrated from those hells, he was then born among the pretas, where he experienced suffering for many hundreds of thousands of years. After that, he again experienced further suffering among hell beings and pretas.
“Nāga, if you think that this person Arjuna—who became a renunciate out of fear of saṃsāra and then suffered in the three lower realms for such a long time after he died—was anyone else, then you should not think that! Because it is you who are afflicted by such strong karmic obscurations. From then on and for thirty-one eons, you have continuously been born in the three lower realms. Due to the residue of those karmic obscurations, you have now been born among the nāgas. It was you who experienced those sufferings and no one else. In the future, after you die, it is likely that you will again be tormented continuously by suffering among the hell beings, animals, and pretas.”
Utterly distressed, the nāga started to weep. He prostrated to the feet of the Blessed One and exclaimed, “Respected Blessed One, I confess all the faults I have committed out of foolishness, delusion, confusion, and lack of intelligence! I confess each of my faults! Respected Blessed One, I will embrace the vows willingly! I wish to be a lay practitioner of the Thus-Gone One! I will renounce killing for as long as I live! I go for refuge in the Blessed One!”
The Blessed One replied, “Excellent, noble son, excellent! Since you have gone for refuge in me with such determination, all the lower realms are now exhausted for you. After you die, you will achieve a human body during the time of Maitreya. [F.227.a] You will become a renunciate in the presence of Maitreya and actualize the fruitions up to the level of the worthy ones. King Free of Flowers, who at that time revered Śikhin and his retinue for three months by offering all sorts of supplies and built a fully functional monastic compound for the saṅgha, was no one but this very nāga king Sāgara. Do not think that this was someone else! For thirty-one eons, he was never born in the lower realms but instead experienced divine glory and excellent fortune on an extremely vast scale. He was born here among the nāgas through the power of his aspirations for the unsurpassed vehicle, and he now experiences such glory and fortune in this place.”
When they heard those words, all the nāgas became weary and extremely unhappy. They developed the utmost respect and fondness for the Blessed One. Among the nāgas, there was one nāga named Feeble Fruit, who was blind. He started to lament loudly, “You who are affectionate toward sentient beings, please protect us! For a long time, I have had the most terrible physical sufferings. Worms, bugs, and all kinds of other creatures are devouring me. I lack food and drink and am living in boiling water!”
The Blessed One replied:
tadyathā: cakṣukhava rasanakhava karmakhava ananjana viraja vara anta jñāma nisaraṇatroya a he candra ḍane krimi śuddhe phal śuddhe aje taje tale tantale vasedhasake vasate rūrati mahārūravi triratnaprate svāhā.
As those words of truth were uttered by the Blessed One, the eyes of Feeble Fruit became immaculate, as did the eyes of fifty-three thousand other nāgas. Furthermore, the previous karmic obscurations of eight billion four hundred million yakṣas, kumbhāṇḍas, pretas, piśācas, and humans were exhausted, and their eyes also became immaculate.
The god Susīma joined his palms and exclaimed, “Look at the power of the leaders of the world! [F.228.a] They give their eyes to those who do not see the path. If the teachers do not appear in the world anymore, in the future no one will achieve eyes of flesh with which to proceed!”
At that moment, the Blessed One said to Venerable Ājñātakauṇḍinya, “Kauṇḍinya, remember this dhāraṇī mantra—this great mantra formula—that accomplishes vision. Now and in the future, all the sentient beings who become blind or develop poor eyesight due to the residue of past karmic actions, disturbances of the elements, mantras, medicines, or poison should read aloud this dhāraṇī mantra that accomplishes vision and confess each of their actions. If for seven weeks they wipe their eyes while cultivating the recollection of the Buddha with a loving attitude toward all beings and without doing anything else, their eyes will become immaculate. People should commission this dharaṇī mantra to be written down and repeatedly read aloud if they have become blind due to the residual karmic actions related to the acts with immediate retribution, the residual karmic action of rejecting the sacred Dharma, the residual karmic action of denigrating noble beings, the residual karmic action of blocking generosity of the Dharma, the residual karmic action of destroying books, or the residual karmic action of destroying others’ eyes. They should also confess their karmic obscurations. Furthermore, they should blend together ocean foam, licorice, kaca herb,72 the three medicinal fruits, dried turtle heart,73 and honey. It should then be cooked and smeared around the eyes while they read aloud the words of this mantra one thousand and eight times. If for seven weeks they cultivate the recollection of the Buddha and produce images of the Buddha without doing anything else, all their karmic obscurations will be purified, and their eyes will become immaculate. [F.228.b] If they build a monastic compound for the saṅgha where monks can reside, their karmic obscurations will also be purified, and later on their eyes will never be impaired within saṃsāra.”
The entire retinue of nāgas exclaimed, “Great compassionate one, benefactor of all beings in the three times, healer of all diseases, we pay homage to you!”
The nāga Blue Color then started to lament loudly:
The Blessed One replied:
At that moment, within that retinue of nāgas, two hundred sixty million nāgas who were like pretas remembered their past lives. They started to weep loudly and said, “Blessed One, please protect us! Well-Gone One, please protect us! We have produced the same karmic obscurations under the teachings of previous victors, and we have therefore suffered in the three lower realms for a long time. We are now constantly tormented by such sufferings among the nāgas who are like pretas. We are just like the nāga Blue Color, who is also like a preta.”
The Blessed One replied, “Take some water and sprinkle it on the Thus-Gone One’s feet. All your sufferings will be exhausted thereby.”
The nāgas who were like pretas scooped up some water in their hands, but the water turned into blazing fire, and a mass of fire rose up in the air to a height of seven palm trees. This repeated seven times. That group of nāgas, as well as the entire retinue, then became utterly distressed and started to shed tears.
The Blessed One then said:
All the nāgas said, “This eighth time, we will lift the water up with our hands and pour it on the feet of the Blessed One while confessing each of our faults!”
At that moment, through the power of the Buddha, all the groups of nāgas who had assembled there remembered their past lives, actions, destinies, and rebirths. As they realized their own past negative actions, many hundreds of thousands of nāgas within that retinue started to weep. Some of them said, “We were householders under the teachings of past thus-gone ones. Because we spent our time with our relatives and did not listen to the Dharma, we ended up misusing the flowers, fruits, juices, food, and beverages that had been offered to the saṅgha of monks.” Others said, “We misused that which had been offered in the four directions.” Others said, “We have misused that which we ourselves had offered.” Yet others said, “We were under the teachings of Vipaśyin, Śikhin, or Kanakamuni.” Some nāgas said, “We were householders under the teachings of the thus-gone Kāśyapa. Similarly, because we spent time with our relatives and did not listen to the Dharma, we ended up misusing the flowers, fruits, juices, food, and beverages of the saṅgha that had been donated to monks. [F.230.b] Due to the karmic actions of those negative deeds, we have repeatedly experienced all kinds of unbearable great sufferings within the hell realms. For a long time, we have also been constantly tormented by suffering among pretas and animals. Through the residue of those karmic actions, we have now been born here as inferior nāgas. We are cooked in boiling water and burned on scorching sand, and we feed on lumps of iron. Wherever we go, we experience such terrible suffering. Please protect us!”
The Blessed One replied, “O nāgas, it is not acceptable for you to use the possessions of the Saṅgha! This is close to the acts with immediate retribution! You will not be able to quickly confess such acts without having to experience their ripening. O nāgas, despite that fact, you must commit to taking the threefold refuge for as long as you live! You will thereby gain benefits and happiness. For those reasons, all the thus-gone ones have intentionally nurtured you in saṃsāra and caused you to take the threefold refuge.”
Within that assembly, there was also a blind female nāga. Her mouth was filled with worms, and from it was dripping pus with a stench like putrid urine. Her lower body parts were similar to this. Her entire body was decaying, oozing pus, and covered with skin diseases and worms, and she was being devoured by flesh flies, mosquitoes, and hornets.
The Blessed One looked at her with great compassion and asked, [F.231.a] “Sister, what kind of negative deeds related to the body did you commit?”
She replied, “Respected Blessed One, I am tormented by suffering! Respected Blessed One, I experience burning pains! I remember that thirty-six thousand years have now passed since I was born as this inferior nāga. These terrible sufferings have not ceased for even a single day!”
The Blessed One asked, “What actions did you commit in the past?”
She said, “Ninety-one eons ago, under the teachings of the Victor Vipaśyin, I was born as a girl in a human family. Intoxicated by lust, I repeatedly wished to have sexual intercourse with those monks who had gone forth under the teachings of the Blessed One, in the temples of the Saṅgha and on the Saṅgha’s beds. I was not afraid of the consequences of such faults. Blessed One, since that time I have never again obtained the body of a god or a human. Instead, I have been constantly tormented by unbearable pain in the three lower realms.”
The Blessed One asked, “Sister, where did you go when that great eon came to an end?”
She replied, “By the great winds aroused by my previous actions, I was propelled into other worlds ripe with the five degenerations. After those worlds were destroyed, I was thrown into this place. Blessed One, please protect me through your great compassion! Well-Gone One, please protect me!”
With his two hands the Blessed One then lifted up some water mixed with medicinal incense for wounds and uttered words of truth. He said, “Through these words of truth by which I previously, without any attachment, gave away my body in order to benefit a pigeon, may your diseases be healed!” He then poured that water into the mouth of the female nāga and sprinkled it over her body. [F.231.b] All her diseases were completely healed, and she settled within the threefold refuge.
There was also another nāga in that place who was stinking, filled with worms, and covered by yellowish worms. Hot and thick pus and blood were oozing out of his body, and he was unable to speak. He was extremely repugnant.
When the Blessed One saw him, he asked, “Nāga, what kind of nonvirtuous actions did you commit in the past?”
The nāga opened his mouth, but since it was filled with all kinds of worms and with pus, blood, and fire, he was unable to speak.74 The Blessed One took water in his hands and said:
He then poured the water he was holding into the mouth of the nāga, thereby extinguishing the fire inside his mouth and removing the worms, pus, and blood.
When his mouth had been purified, the nāga said, “Respected Blessed One, I was a farmer under the teachings of the Victor Kāśyapa. I once asked a hearer of the Blessed One to lend me fifty golden coins on interest, assuring him that I would pay him back in the fall. He only gave me ten with a fee of eighty cowries, not the fifty golden coins I had asked for. Hence, overwhelmed by anger toward that monk, I took ten with a fee of eighty cowries and never paid him back. On another occasion, I went to a monastic compound in which there were resident monks and ate thirteen mangoes that had been offered to the Saṅgha. Through just the residue of that karmic obscuration, after I died I was born within one of the neighboring hells in this barren wilderness. My body was constantly covered by worms, pus, and blood, [F.232.a] and I suffered the torments caused by hunger and thirst. Due to those nonvirtuous actions, after I died I was born in the great hells. After that monk died, his anger and miserliness caused him to be born here among the nāgas, in my armpit. He always moves in my body. Constantly overwhelmed by anger, he fills my body with his warm breath. Due to those causes, my body is continuously covered by worms, pus, and blood. Thus-Gone One, please protect me! Please liberate me from those hostile snakes!”
The Blessed One took water in his hands and said:
As he poured water on that nāga, another nāga emerged from his armpit. Both of them asked, “For how long have we been freed from the lower realms?”
The Blessed One replied, “Hey, nāgas! For those who use or give to others the flowers, fruits, leaves, food, beverages, bedding, plants, or tools that have been offered to the Saṅgha in one of the four directions, negative deeds will ripen. Since these acts are extremely heavy—almost as heavy as the acts with immediate retribution—no one is able to quickly eliminate those actions without experiencing their fruition! Nāgas, come here and go for refuge in the Three Jewels! If you do so, you will henceforth live in water.”
They were then established into the refuge of the Three Jewels and henceforth lived in water. [F.232.b]
The Blessed One then said:
At that time, the Blessed One liberated fourteen thousand nāgas from the terrible sufferings caused by their previous negative actions, and he established them into the threefold refuge. Eight hundred million other nāgas also went for refuge in the Three Jewels and were truly established in the three vehicles. [F.233.a]
The Blessed One then said to Venerable Kauṇḍinya, “Kauṇḍinya, look at how sentient beings are fooling themselves! Some use for themselves the various possessions that others have offered out of fear of the terrors of poverty and to benefit monks who abide by the Dharma. Others give these things away for the enjoyment of others, while still others rob them by force and then make use of them themselves. By doing so, they will meet with suffering for a long time in the three lower realms. There are also some people who, fearing poverty and in order to free themselves from the prison of saṃsāra, became renunciates under the teachings of blessed buddhas of the past but later renounced their consideration of wholesome practices and recitation. Some such degenerate beings will rob and misuse the various items that have been offered to monks who abide by the Dharma. Others among them will give these items to householders. Both those groups will be tormented by suffering for a long time in the three lower realms. Seeing those shortcomings, I have informed and reminded my hearers of them. None of my hearers should give to householders the flowers, fruits, leaves, and plant extracts that have been offered to monks and to the Saṅgha of monks. They should not be enjoyed while entertaining any perception of a person. My hearers should not engage in any trade outside the Saṅgha. They should not exchange and barter goods75 or discuss wealth. No one should settle themselves in the sufferings of the lower realms by hoarding material things. People should instead amass the Dharma and settle themselves in the four types of undivided faith, [F.233.b] the three vehicles, and the three gateways of liberation.”
This concludes the chapter called “The Going for Refuge of the Nāgas,” the eleventh among the eleven chapters included in “The Quintessence of the Sun”—the noble discourse of The Great Assembly. [B13]
This was translated by the Indian preceptors Sarvajñadeva, Vidyākaraprabha, and Dharmākara and the translator Bandé Zangkyong. It was then edited and finalized by the translator-editor Bandé Kawa Paltsek.
nyi ma’i snying po (Sūryagarbha). Toh 257, Degé Kangyur vol. 66 (mdo sde, za), folios 91.b–245.b.
nyi ma’i snying po. 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. 66, pp. 262–616.
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