The Quintessence of the Sun
The Recollection of the Buddha
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
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.
When the evil Māra saw that all the nāgas had taken refuge in the Blessed One, [F.215.a] he became exceedingly distressed and scared, and his body began to shake like the leaves of a jujube tree. Sweating, he raised his two hands and lamented:
All the five hundred daughters of Māra then assembled in that abode of Māra and made aspirations to reach awakening. The evil Māra became exceedingly distressed, frightened, and confused. With great energy, he began to walk away. However, not long after the sage Jyotīrasa had left, Māra, through his demonic magical powers, produced a rain of burning stones that fell from his demonic abode in the sky onto that sacred site of wise sages. [F.215.b] He did so with the wish to crush all the nāgas. Nevertheless, through the power of the Blessed One, it turned into a rain of flowers instead, which only brought great delight to all the nāgas.
Filled with Joy then said, “O daughters of Māra, look! Even those nāgas who have gone for refuge in the spiritual practitioner Gautama in Jambudvīpa are harmed by many miseries, so there is no need to mention you, girls, who stay here and go for refuge in him!”
Strongly distressed and criticized, the evil Māra felt miserable and hurt, and so he retired alone to his house to mourn.
At that moment, the bodhisattva great being Jyotīrasa arrived where the Blessed One was residing, just as his discourse on the sublime states devoid of reference point was coming to an end. [F.216.a] He sat down, joined his palms together in the direction of the Blessed One, [. . .] and said to him, “Respected Blessed One, please expound to us the dhāraṇī mantra that focuses attention on the four highest abodes!67 Concerning this dhāraṇī mantra, in the past, when we were both sons of brāhmaṇas, we committed physical crimes against the king Victorious God and so were sentenced to death. We were thrown into prison, and for a fortnight we were chained by five shackles and had nothing to eat. We supplicated the thus-gone Mandāravagandha without thinking about anyone else. Then, out of affection for us, the thus-gone Mandāravagandha appeared through a narrow opening in our cell. Through this manifestation of the magical powers of the buddhas’ domains, he taught us the dhāraṇī mantra that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes. Through the power of the Buddha, we heard this mantra from inside our cells—both the words and their meaning. By focusing our attention on this mantra, joy and faith arose in our minds. At that moment, all the karmic actions that otherwise would have ripened in our present existence, our next life, and our many subsequent lives was exhausted, as were all our karmic obscurations and our obscurations related to afflictions, phenomena, sentient beings, the perfections from generosity to insight, possessions, enjoyments, the exhaustion of life energy, intentional rebirth in saṃsāra, and going to the pure buddha realms. [F.216.b] As soon as we heard this dhāraṇī mantra that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes, our necks were released from the five shackles, and we miraculously escaped from our prison. We then flew in the sky and arrived in the presence of the thus-gone Mandāravagandha. After we passed away, we were born in the buddha realm called Mountain Light. We became renunciates in front of the blessed thus-gone Cloud Complexion, and for countless eons thereafter we were not born in empty buddha realms.
“Similarly, in this buddha realm of Sahā, everywhere from this place all the way up to the Highest Heaven is now filled with innumerable humans and nonhumans who are afflicted by various types of karmic obscurations and by obscurations related to afflictions, phenomena, and sentient beings. They are obscured by impure actions within pure buddha realms, and so they are unable to escape from their condition. As soon as they hear the dhāraṇī mantra for the karmic actions of sentient beings, all their karmic actions that would otherwise ripen in their present existence and in their subsequent lives will be exhausted, as will all their karmic obscurations and obscurations related to affliction, phenomena, sentient beings, the perfections from generosity to insight, possessions, enjoyments, the paths of the ten virtuous actions, rebirth, and going to the pure buddha realms. [F.217.a] Through this Dharma teaching, those sentient beings will achieve various degrees of acceptance and absorption. When they finally arrive at the time of death at the ends of their lives, they will be able to intentionally take rebirth in saṃsāra, and they will remember their past lives. They will constantly cultivate diligence and follow the paths of the ten virtuous actions. Without falling into mistaken views, they will exert themselves in the six perfections and in the four means of attracting disciples. They will listen to the Dharma, serve the Saṅgha, revel in the concentrations, develop the higher perceptions, and strive in the cultivation of the sublime states. Respected Blessed One, out of your affection for all sentient beings, please expound to us now the dhāraṇī mantra that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes, so that all those beings may never part from those qualities until they reach unsurpassed and perfect nirvāṇa!”
The Blessed One replied, “Noble son, your endeavor to benefit many beings is excellent! [. . .] Faithful monks, nuns, and noble sons or daughters who wish to cross the ocean of saṃsāra through any of the three vehicles all want to quickly perfect their individual vehicle. They want to overcome all suffering, to retain everything they hear, to be fully liberated from their physical, verbal, and mental negativities, and to protect the teachings. They also want fame, gain, plenty to eat and drink, power, [F.217.b] good physique, strength, retinues, wealth and grain, and preeminent positions. They want to be worshiped by all humans and nonhumans. They always have desire for the body, and they always want to control themselves68 through body, speech, and mind. They want to accomplish the absorptions, the formless attainments, the higher perceptions, the sublime states, the dhāraṇīs, and various types of acceptances. However, since they are mainly propelled by their various karmic and afflictive obscurations, and by all the obscurations up to the obscurations related to going to the pure buddha realms and taking intentional rebirth in saṃsāra, they are unable to accomplish the various roots of virtue quickly. This is because they are afflicted by those karmic obscurations.
“Those beings should wash themselves, wear clean clothes, and eat pure food. Then, on the auspicious eighth day of the month, whether they are sitting cross-legged on a clean bed or up walking, if they contemplate the physical form of the Buddha with no other thought or action and with no distraction, they will come to behold the Buddha in his own appearance if they can do this anywhere from one night up to seven nights. If they think of the Buddha’s body as being small, they will perceive it as being small in the exact same way, and if they think that it is limitless, they will perceive it as being limitless. During the whole night, they will see his thirty-two major marks. While visualizing a single mark from which blue color radiates, they should recite this mantra:
tadyathā: vijrimbha vijrimabha utpāda vyaya vijrimabha snava [F.218.a] vara anudatthātā bhūtakoṭi vijrimabha svāhā.
As that blue light radiates and spreads out, it is absorbed into the crowns of their own heads. They should then maintain this visualization undistractedly for one night while reciting those words without being scared or frightened. They should then perceive their bodies as fire. How should they do so? They should see that the dazzling blue light penetrates all the major and minor limbs of their bodies and that the whole of their bodies is consumed by blazing fire until it is reduced to ashes. They should then visualize the wind completely blowing the ashes away in the four directions, until everything becomes empty. When no physical forms appear anymore in any direction, the final accomplishment of that practice is reached. Noble son, if beings have thoroughly cultivated this recollection of the Buddha—the dhāraṇī mantra that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes—and properly performed and contemplated this act of worship, all their karmic obscurations, as well as their obscurations related to afflictions and phenomena and all their other obscurations, will be purified. This does not include acts with immediate retribution, the abandonment of the sacred Dharma, and the denigration of the noble ones.
“If they want, they will be able to memorize with certainty in a single day and night all the words of the Buddha, all the treatises of the non-Buddhists, the eighteen fields of knowledge, and all the poetic compositions. If they want to cultivate the four concentrations, the higher bases of miraculous displays, the four sublime states, the four correct knowledges, and the four formless attainments, they will be able to become fully trained in them in a single day and night. If they want, they will be able to clearly know in a single instant all the deaths, rebirths, and mental activities of all beings in the three times. [F.218.b] If they want, they will be able to fill the entirety of space in a single instant with their own bodies, with the bodies of buddhas, Śakra, Brahmā, Nārāyaṇa, Maheśvara, the Four Great Kings, or universal monarchs, or with water, fire, or earth. If they want, they will be able to fill the entirety of space in a single instant with all kinds of flowers, garlands of gems, perfumes, parasols, banners, flags, fine fabrics, Dharma robes, and ornaments. All the limitless karmic actions of those who have thoroughly cultivated, mingled their minds with, and contemplated this recollection of the Buddha that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes will be purified without exception. Their merit, power, diligence, absorption, retention, acceptance, miraculous displays, and higher perceptions will become limitless. All those who have perfected this practice in that way will quickly be liberated from saṃsāra—except for those who have committed the acts with immediate retribution, abandoned the sacred Dharma, or denigrated the noble ones. This being so, even if those who have committed the acts with immediate retribution, abandoned the sacred Dharma, or denigrated the noble ones cultivate for seven weeks, in accordance with the way it is taught here, this recollection of the Buddha that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes, when those seven weeks have passed, not only will a third of their karmic obscurations be exhausted—they will all be purified without remainder.
“The cultivation of this recollection of the Buddha that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes is therefore very meaningful. [F.219.a] If this recollection of the Buddha that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes is merely overheard by humans or nonhumans, they will develop faith, joy, and intense delight upon investigating it further. They will be freed from the tight shackles of their prisons. All those who suffer will be freed from suffering. They will be freed from the sufferings related to possessions, punishments, beatings, precipices, fire, water, poison, enemies, and bhūtas and from the fears associated with diseases, places, kings, servants, and the lower realms. This will be the cause for them to be born within the happy destinies. If someone merely hears this recollection of the Buddha that focuses the attention on the four highest abodes, faith will arise in that person upon examination. This in itself is already highly meaningful and beneficial, let alone cultivating this practice in the way it is taught!”
As this Dharma teaching was being delivered, eighty-six quintillion beings who had purified themselves in the past attained the absorption of the Buddha’s recollection and developed the qualities that have been described above. At that time, eight billion four hundred million beings attained the acceptance of knowing the doctrine of suffering. Among the countless beings present, some settled within the practice of the successive attainments and the first fruition, while others achieved the other fruitions up to the level of a worthy one. At that time, countless beings gave rise to the mind set on unsurpassed and perfect awakening for the first time. [F.219.b]
Through the power of the Buddha, the five hundred daughters of Māra, including Free of Darkness, heard this entire teaching on the Buddha’s recollection that purifies the mind even while one is present in the abode of Māra. When they heard it, their female properties disappeared, and they attained male properties. All those among them who had purified themselves in the past achieved the absorption of the Buddha’s recollection and developed the qualities that have been described above. They all assumed the appearance of mahābrahmās. Each of them was surrounded and attended by retinues of many trillions playing billions of instruments and drums as they flew away from the inconceivable arrays in the abode of Māra and landed in front of the Blessed One. They tossed and offered different kinds of divine flowers, garlands, perfumes, ointments, parasols, banners, flags, precious fabrics, and Dharma robes to the Blessed One. Then they circumambulated him three times, bowed down to his feet, and sat to one side.
This concludes the chapter called “The Recollection of the Buddha,” the ninth among the eleven chapters included in “The Quintessence of the Sun,” from the noble Great Assembly.
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.
nyi ma’i snying po. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 63 (mdo sde, na), folios 161.b–394.b.
glang ru lung bstan pa (Gośṛṅgavyākaraṇa). Toh 357, Degé Kangyur vol. 76 (mdo sde, aH), folios 220.b–232.a. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2021. [Full citation listed in secondary sources]
zla ba’i snying po (Candragarbha). Toh 356, Degé Kangyur vol. 76 (mdo sde, aH), folios 216.a–229.b.
snying rje pad+ma dkar po (Karuṇāpuṇḍarīka). Toh 112, Degé Kangyur vol. 50 (mdo sde, cha), folios 129.a–297.b. English translation in Roberts 2023. [Full citation listed in secondary sources]
ting nge ’dzin gyi rgyal po (Samādhirāja). Toh 127, Degé Kangyur vol. 55 (mdo sde, da), folios 1.b–170.b. English translation in Roberts 2018. [Full citation listed in secondary sources]
sprin chen po (Mahāmegha). Toh 232, Degé Kangyur vol. 64 (mdo sde, wa), folios 113.a–214.b. English translation in Mahamegha Translation Team 2022. [Full citation listed in secondary sources]
blo gros mi zad pas bstan pa (Akṣayamatinirdeśa). Toh 175, Degé Kangyur vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 79.a–174.b. English translation in Braarvig and Welsh 2020. [Full citation listed in secondary sources]
Nāgārjuna. mdo kun las btus pa (Sūtrasamuccaya). Toh 3934, Degé Tengyur vol. 110 (dbu ma, ki), folios 148.b–215.a. See also Bhikkhu Pāsādika 1989.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Chomden Rikpai Raltri (bcom ldan rig pa’i ral gri). bstan pa rgyas pa rgyan gyi nyi ’od. In bka’ gdams gsung ’bum phyogs bsgrigs thengs gsum pa, 1:191–266. Chengdu: si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009. BDRC W1PD153536.
Rizang fen 日藏分. Taishō 397-14. (Translation of the Sūryagarbhasūtra by Narendrayaśas [Naliantiyeshe 那連提耶舍]).
Bhikkhu Pāsādika, ed. Nāgārjuna’s Sūtrasamuccaya: A Critical Edition of the Mdo kun las btus pa. Fontes Tibetici Havnienses 2. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1989.
Braarvig, Jens. Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra. Vol. 2, The Tradition of Imperishability in Buddhist Thought. Oslo: Solum Forlag, 1993.
Braarvig, Jens, and David Welsh, trans. The Teaching of Akṣayamati (Akṣayamatinirdeśa, Toh 175). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2020.
Cutler, Joshua W. C., ed. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Vol. 3. Translated by The Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 2002.
Demiéville, Paul. Choix d’études bouddhiques. Leiden: Brill, 1973.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. The Prophecy on Mount Gośṛṅga (Gośṛṅgavyākaraṇa, Toh 357). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Hoernle, A. F. Rudolph. Manuscript Remains of Buddhist Literature Found in Eastern Turkestan. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1916.
Kotyk, Jeffrey Theodore. “Buddhist Astrology and Astral Magic in the Tang Dynasty.” PhD diss., Leiden University, 2017.
Lévi, Sylvain (1904). “Notes chinoises sur l’Inde: IV. Le pays de Kharoṣṭra et l’écriture kharoṣṭrī.” Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 4 (1904): 543–79.
———(1905). “Notes chinoises sur l’Inde: V. Quelques documents sur le bouddhisme indien dans l’Asie centrale (première partie).” Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 5 (1905): 253–305.
Mahamegha Translation Team (2022), trans. The Great Cloud (1) (Mahāmegha, Toh 232). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
Mak, Bill M. “Indian Jyotiṣa through the Lens of Chinese Buddhist Canon.” Journal of Oriental Studies 48, no. 1 (June 2015): 1–19.
Martin, Dan. Unearthing Bon Treasures: Life and Contested Legacy of a Tibetan Scripture Revealer, with a General Bibliography of Bon. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library 1. Leiden: Brill, 2001.
Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Biographical Notes. Intercultural Research Institute Monograph Series 9. Tokyo: KUFS Publication, 1980.
Nattier, Jan. Once Upon a Future Time: Studies in a Buddhist Prophecy of Decline. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.
Roberts, Peter Alan, trans. The King of Samādhis Sūtra (Samādhirājasūtra, Toh 127). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
———(2023), trans. The White Lotus of Compassion (Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkanāmamahāyānasūtra), Toh 112. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2023.
Silk, Jonathan A. Managing Monks: Administrators and Administrative Roles in Indian Buddhist Monasticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.