The Quintessence of the Sun
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 Quintessence of the Sun, which belongs to the General Sūtra section of the Kangyur, is a long and heterogeneous sūtra containing 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.
With the exception of a short Sanskrit manuscript fragment found in Central Asia,1 no Sanskrit manuscript of the text appears to be extant. We do, however, have translations of the sūtra into both Chinese and Tibetan. The Chinese translation (Rizang fen 日藏分, Taishō 397-14) was translated in 585 ᴄᴇ by Narendrayaśas (517–89), an Indian translator from Oḍḍiyāna who traveled the Silk Road in order to propagate Buddhism. He arrived in China during the Northern Qi dynasty in 556. At the request of Emperor Wenxuan, he resided at Tianpingsi and later at Daxingshansi, where he translated fourteen Indian sūtras into Chinese, including the Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkasūtra, the Samādhirājasūtra,2 and the Mahāmeghasūtra.3 The Tibetan translation was completed in the early translation period and is listed in the early ninth-century Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) catalog.4 According to the colophon of the Tibetan translation, the sūtra was translated into Tibetan by the Indian scholars Sarvajñādeva, Vidyākaraprabha, and Dharmākara and by the Tibetan translator Zangkyong. It was then edited and finalized by Kawa Paltsek, the prolific translator who participated in numerous translation projects in Tibet during the early translation period, when the majority of Indian sūtras were translated into Tibetan. In producing this English rendering, we have based our work on the Tibetan Degé block print with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace manuscript.
The sūtra is quoted in Nāgārjuna’s Sūtrasamuccaya5 and in Tsongkhapa’s major work on the stages of spiritual progress, the lam rim chen mo.6 In terms of modern scholarship, the French scholar Sylvain Lévi includes translations from the Chinese of three long passages of the sūtra in an influential essay that investigates connections between Indian Buddhism and Central Asia.7 Bill Mak and Jeffrey Kotyk discuss some of the astrological elements contained in the sūtra in publications that focus on Buddhist astral science in China and its relationships with India.8 A passage of the text has also been translated by Jonathan Silk in his study of administrative roles in Indian Buddhist monasticism.9
In the Chinese canon, The Quintessence of the Sun is included in the Mahāsannipāta (Tib. ’dus pa chen po), also called the Mahāvaipulya (Tib. shin tu rgyas pa chen po’i sde), a massive collection of seventeen Mahāyāna sūtras. According to Jens Braarvig, who presents a detailed textual history of this collection in his doctoral thesis on the Akṣayamatinirdeśasūtra,10 the term mahāsannipāta can be understood to refer to both this great collection of sūtras and the great assembly of monks and bodhisattvas present around the Buddha when those teachings were given.11 The Mahāsannipāta, preserved in its entirety in the Chinese canon, is a group of rather loosely related texts. Although these texts vary in terms of doctrine and form, they do show greater homogeneity than other scriptural collections such as the Ratnakūṭa. Braarvig argues that the first twelve sūtras in this collection must have been part of an Indic version of the collection,12 and that this collection probably predates the versions of texts from the collection that circulated as independent Sanskrit manuscripts or were translated into Tibetan and added to the Tibetan canon as independent texts. A few sūtras of the Mahāsannipāta are indeed available in Sanskrit (mostly in fragmentary forms) and in Tibetan, but only as independent texts. It appears that this collection did not receive the same level of attention in India as other large collections like the Ratnakūṭa and the Buddhāvataṃsaka. On the other hand, it is obvious that the Mahāsannipāta played an important role in some of the Chinese and Central Asian kingdoms along the Silk Road. It is, for example, praised in The Book of Zambasta, an important Khotanese Buddhist poem from the eighth century, along with the Prajñāpāramitā and the Buddhāvataṃsaka. According to Braarvig, the Chinese translation of the Mahāsannipāta was initially compiled during the second or third century, at the earliest during the first. The collection that is extant today (Taishō 397) was compiled in 586 ᴄᴇ by the Khotanese monk Sengjiu. This collection is based on the manuscript of the translation of the first sūtras by Dharmarakṣema (414–21 ᴄᴇ) and was enlarged by new texts translated by Narendrayaśas, including The Quintessence of the Sun.13
There is some evidence suggesting that this sūtra, or at least parts of it, may have been composed in Central Asia.14 Its last chapter contains a list of twenty sacred sites blessed by the presence of holy beings. Less than half of the sites mentioned in this chapter are located in India, and many are Central Asian. This geographical list clearly reflects the propagation of Buddhism from India to China along the route of the pilgrims. The sacred location given the most attention in this text is situated in the land of Khaṣa, another name for the site of what would become the city-state of Khotan, which existed during the first millennium ᴄᴇ. According to Lévi, The Quintessence of the Sun is one of the sūtras most intimately connected with that region, and he holds the view that Khotan was one of the most active centers for the compilation of Mahāyāna literature, especially of sūtras destined for China.15 This passage of the text, which begins at 12.26, relates the story of a specific site in Khaṣa called Gomasālagandha, and is a condensed version of the narrative of the sūtra The Prophecy on Mount Gośṛṅga16 containing some of the same people and names. Other passages mentioning the same story are found in another work belonging to the Mahāsannipāta, the Candragarbhaparipṛcchā.17 This latter work is represented in the Kangyur only by an excerpt (Toh 356) which does not seem to include such passages.
The connection between The Quintessence of the Sun and Central Asia is further confirmed by one of the astronomical measurements contained in the text, which places the user of that measurement in the northern or northwestern frontier of India.18 Also, the only extant Sanskrit manuscript fragment of the sūtra was found in Central Asia. It is a fragment of the astrological section of the text that, according to Rudolf Hoernle, was composed in a mixed dialect that is very corrupt and whose meaning is sometimes obscure.19 Due to the complex and obscure nature of this astrological section, we have not attempted a rendering of it into English. Instead, we are hoping that future scholars may be able to produce a reliable study and translation of this section that can be added to this translation. We have indicated in the notes the relevant section, where thirty-two folios have been left untranslated.
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.
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.
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.
Silk, Jonathan A. Managing Monks: Administrators and Administrative Roles in Indian Buddhist Monasticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.