Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations
Degé Kangyur, vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 1.b–5.b.
Translated by the Sakya Pandita Translation Group (Tsechen Kunchab Ling Division)
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations is widely known as the first sūtra to arrive in Tibet, long before Tibet became a Buddhist nation, during the reign of the Tibetan King Lha Thothori Nyentsen. Written to be recited for personal practice, it opens with a hundred and eight prostrations and praises to the many buddhas of the ten directions and three times, to the twelve categories of scripture contained in the Tripiṭaka, to the bodhisattvas of the ten directions, and to the arhat disciples of the Buddha. After making offerings to them, confessing and purifying nonvirtue, and making the aspiration to perform virtuous actions in every life, the text includes recitations of the vows of refuge in the Three Jewels, and of generating the thought of enlightenment. The text concludes with a passage rejoicing in the virtues of the holy ones, a request for the buddhas to bestow a prophecy to achieve enlightenment, and the aspiration to pass from this life in a state of pure Dharma.
Translated from Tibetan into English by The Sakya Pandita Translation Group, Tsechen Kunchab Ling Division, by Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen and Reverend Dr. Chodrung-ma Kunga Chodron in 2010.
This translation has been completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations is widely known and revered as one of the first Buddhist texts to come to Tibet, arriving during the third century according to the dating by traditional Tibetan historians, or during the fifth century, according to Western scholars such as Hugh Richardson and Erik Haarh.1 In any case, this was long before the people of Tibet became Buddhist or had a written language. This history is substantiated by the text’s own colophon, as well as Butön’s seminal History of Buddhism in India and Tibet. As Butön (bu ston) relates, in Obermiller’s translation:
As the 26th of this line [beginning with the first Tibetan King Ña-thi-tsen-po], there appeared the King Tho-tho-ri-ñan-tsen. When the latter attained the age of 16 years and was abiding on the summit of the palace Yam-bu-la-gaṅ, a casket fell from the skies, and when its lid was opened, the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra,2 the 100 Precepts Concerning Worship3 and a golden Caitya were found within. The casket received the name of the “Mysterious Helper” and was worshipped (by the king). The latter came to live 120 years and came to witness the dawn of the Highest Doctrine; up to that time, the kingdom had been ruled by the Bön. In a dream (which this king had) it was prophesied to him that on the 5th generation one would come to know the meaning of these (sacred texts which he had miraculously obtained).4
Although the text probably arrived in Tibet not later than the fifth century, it was not translated for several more, as there was not yet even a script for the Tibetan language. It was only translated in the mid-seventh century, almost immediately after Tibet’s written language was developed. Thus, Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations may be not only the first Buddhist scripture to arrive in Tibet, it was also among the first to be translated and written in the new Tibetan script.
Although the introduction of the text itself does not state from which language it was translated, and the colophon does not state who initially translated it, both Butön and Mangthö Ludrup Gyatso (mang thos klu sgrub rgya mtsho)5 state that this text was first translated by Thönmi Sambhoṭa (thon mi sambhoṭa), the famous Tibetan scholar who is said to have developed the Tibetan alphabet and writing system circa 650 ᴄᴇ and who also translated several texts from Sanskrit. Thus it could well have been one of the first texts to be written in the newly developed Tibetan writing system.
Thönmi is traditionally said to have been active as a scholar and translator during the time that the Potala palace and Jokhang temples were being built in Lhasa. Butön implies that this text may have been read or studied by the first great Tibetan Dharma King Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po). As Butön explains:
[One of King Tho-tho-ri-ñan-tsen’s descendents] was born in the year of the fire cow and received the name of Ṭhi-de-sroṅ-tsen [later becoming known as Sroṅ-btsan-sgam-po].... [At] thirteen years of age he ascended the throne and brought under his power all the petty chiefs of the borderland who offered their presents and sent their messages (of submission).
As at that time no writing existed in Tibet, the son of Anu of the Thon-mi tribe [later becoming known as Thon-mi-sam-bhota] was sent with 16 companions (to India) in order to study the art of writing. After having studied with the Paṇḍit Devavidyāsiṃha, they shaped, in conformity with the Tibetan language, (the alphabet) consisting of 30 consonants and 4 vowels. The form (of these letters) was given a resemblance with the Kashmirian characters. After (this alphabet) had been definitely formed at the Maru temple in Lhasa, (Thon-mi) composed 8 works on writing and grammar, and the king studied them 4 years abiding in seclusion. The Kāraṇḍavyūha-sūtra, the 100 Precepts,6 and the Ratnamegha-sūtra7 were then translated (into Tibetan).8
Although its contents are not widely cited in scriptural references and there are no commentaries on it in the Tengyur, Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations is of very great historical and religious significance. Even today, keeping a copy of this text is said to bless the building in which it is kept with protection against obstacles. Due to its status as the first Buddhist text to come to Tibet, it has been revered for centuries as the auspicious beginning of the Dharma in Tibet.
This translation into English is based upon the Degé (sde dge) version of the Kangyur, with reference to the differences between various other versions of the Kangyur as found in the dpe bsdur ma comparative edition. The few small variations between the versions of the Kangyur change only a word or two of the English translation, and these variants have been noted.
According to the Tōhoku Catalogue of Buddhist Canons,9 no Sanskrit or Chinese version of this sūtra is known to exist.
Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations incorporates the central Mahāyāna Buddhist practices of prostration, offering, confession, rejoicing, refuge, and the thought of enlightenment. It also incorporates the names of many of the most important buddhas, bodhisattvas, disciples of the Buddha, and types of scripture to be regarded as objects of prostration and offering.
Written to be recited for personal practice, the text opens with 108 prostrations and praises to the many buddhas of the ten directions and three times, to the twelve categories of scripture contained in the Tripiṭaka, to the bodhisattvas of the ten directions, and to the arhat disciples of the Buddha. After making offerings to them, confessing and purifying nonvirtue, and making the aspiration to perform virtuous actions in every life, the text includes recitations of the vows of refuge in the Three Jewels, and of generating the thought of enlightenment. The text concludes with a passage rejoicing in the virtues of the holy ones, a request for the buddhas to bestow a prophecy to achieve enlightenment, and the aspiration to pass from this life in a state of pure Dharma.
One of the difficult aspects of translating this text was the title itself, in Tibetan dpang skong phyag brgya pa. The translation adopted here, Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations, differs considerably from Obermiller’s early loose translation of the title as One Hundred Precepts Concerning Worship, cited above. The phrase dpang skong means calling witness. It is the same word used to call a witness in a trial. In this context, it probably refers to inviting the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions to be a witness to one’s practice of Dharma, particularly to the confession and purification of nonvirtue which is contained in this sūtra, as ideally such confession and purification is done in the presence of holy beings. Following the confession, the buddhas and bodhisattvas also serve as witnesses to the vows of refuge and the thought of enlightenment, and to the subsequent rejoicing and aspiration to virtuous deeds. As for the phrase phyag brgya, it means one hundred prostrations or one hundred homages.
Another difficult aspect of translating this sūtra was translation of the many names of the buddhas, particularly those names that are composed of long compounds. We have rendered the buddhas’ names from Tibetan back into Sanskrit when possible following reliable glossaries and dictionaries such as, inter alia, the Mahāvyutpatti, F. Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary and J.S. Negi’s Tibetan Sanskrit Dictionary.10 Otherwise, we have rendered the Tibetan in English, following as closely as possible the grammar of the compound name as it appears in Tibetan.
Devoted prostrations to every one of the myriad Three Jewels, and to the buddhas and bodhisattvas and their retinues, who appear and dwell in the infinite, endless worlds of existence of the ten directions and three times.11
I constantly offer and venerate, unceasingly until the end of time, all of the Three Jewels that have not been, are not now, nor ever will be relinquished. I make Dharma offerings, as well as a variety of offerings comparable to the incomparable, that arise from the infinite merit of the bodhisattvas, and are exalted, foremost, holy, special, noble, supreme and unsurpassable, comparable to the incomparable, and that completely fill the entire world of the ten directions. [F.4.b] Having offered these, please accept them. I shall venerate, honor, respect, and please you.
Not holding back even the most trifling, I avow and confess the sins and nonvirtuous actions that contradict all holy scripture and that I myself have committed in this life or while wandering in the three worlds through beginningless, endless births, or that I caused others to perform, or even that I rejoiced in when performed by others. They are: the ten nonvirtues of body, speech, and mind that were committed under the influence of desire, anger, and ignorance; the five heinous crimes; and so forth. I purify and dispel20 them, examine them and cast them out. I shall not hide, shall not conceal, and shall not fail to acknowledge them. Then, at that time, all negativities will be purified, and all merit will be completely accomplished.
From this time until the essence of enlightenment is reached,21 in every future life, may I never fall into inferior hindering births, such as birth in the three lower realms, excepting only emanations for the benefit of others. May I never lean toward nor perform wrong, nonvirtuous actions. May I never lean toward nor accumulate the causes of karma and defilements. After being completely freed from results, such as suffering and a contemptible body, may I never again experience them.
From this time until the essence of enlightenment is reached, may the virtues of my body, speech, and mind continue as unceasingly as a stream. [F.5.a] In whatever life I might be born, may I possess magnificent happiness and joy, and attain the ability and power to work for the benefit of all sentient beings. That Dharma which is understood only by the tathāgatas, that suchness which without doubt causes unsurpassable enlightenment—may I fully understand it without mistake, meditate upon it, teach it to others without mistake, and guide them.
From this time until the essence of enlightenment is reached, I take refuge in the Three Jewels. I offer them my body; may each of the greatly compassionate ones forever accept it. The buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times, who are free of all22 things; who are comparable to selfless dharmas not comprised within the aggregates, domains,23 or bases of cognition;24 and who are unborn since beginningless time, generated the thought of enlightenment because of their nature of emptiness. So, likewise, I whose name is . . . do also generate the thought of enlightenment from this time until the essence of enlightenment is reached. May I never lose or disregard the thought of enlightenment, and never be separated from noble spiritual masters.
Just as the buddhas of the three times rejoiced in unsurpassable merit, I whose name is . . . also rejoice in all worldly and beyond-worldly merit. When the time of death is certain, may I directly behold the holy faces of all those buddhas and bodhisattvas, and when they extend their golden right hands and place them upon my head, may I receive a prophecy. And may I die with my mind undeluded by defilements, with aspirations that accord with the selfless dharmas, and with the limitless thought of enlightenment. [F.5.b]
This completes “Calling Witness with a Hundred Prostrations.”
As an omen of the arising of the holy Dharma in Tibet, during the reign of King Lha Thothori Nyanshal (lha tho tho ri snyan shal), this text descended from the sky into the palace Yumbu Lhakhar (yum bu bla mkhar). The king dreamed that after five generations it would be possible to understand the meaning of this text. Thus the holy Dharma began.
|K||Kangxi Peking Kangyur|
|Ky||Yongle Peking Kangyur|
dpang skong phyag brgya pa. Toh 267, Degé Kangyur, vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 1b-5b.
dpang skong phyag brgya pa. 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), 2006-2009, vol. 68, pp 23-31.
Chandra, Lokesh. Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary. New Delhi, 1971. Reprinted Kyoto: Rinsen Books, 1976.
Chandra, Lokesh. Buddhist Iconography. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1987.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee. The Jewel Cloud. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2019.
Haarh, Erik. The Yar-Lun Dynasty. Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gad’s Forlag, 1969.
Mangthö Ludrup Gyatso (mang thos klu sgrub rgya mtsho). “Chronology (bstan rtsis gsal ba’i nyin byed lhag bsam rab dkar), Book 5.” In sa skya’i dpe rnying bsdu sgrig u lhan nas bsgrigs, published in Sa skya’i chos ’byung gces bsdus. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2008.
Negi, J.S. Tibetan Sanskrit Dictionary. Sarnath India: Dictionary Unit, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1993.
Obermiller, Eugene. History of Buddhism in India and Tibet (Chos-hbyung) by Bu-ston translated from Tibetan by E. Obermiller. Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 13. Heidelberg: Institut für Buddhismus-Kunde, 1931. Reprinted Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1999.
Python, Pierre (trans.). Vinaya-viniścaya-upāli-paripṛcchā: Enquête d’Upāli pour un exégèse de la discipline. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1973.
Richardson, Hugh. “The Origin of the Tibetan Kingdom.” Bulletin of Tibetology, 3, 1989: 5–19. Reprinted in Alex McKay, ed., The History of Tibet. The Early Period: to c. A.D. 850. The Yarlung Dynasty. London: Curzon Press, 2003.
Roberts, Peter Alan, et al. The Basket’s Display. 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2013.
Ui, Hakuju et al. A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons (Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur), edited by Hakuju Ui, Munetada Suzuki, Yenshō Kanakura, and Tōkan Tada. Sendai: Tōhoku Imperial University, 1934.
- phung po
- nam mkha’i snying po
- mi bskyod pa
A buddha of the east.
- ’od dpag med
A buddha of the west; buddha of the Sukhāvatī buddhafield.
- tshe dpag med
The name of a buddha.
- don yod grub pa
A buddha of the north.
- dga’ ba’i dpal
A buddha of the zenith.
- mya ngan med pas byin
A bodhisattva of the south.
- mya ngan med pa
A buddha of the south.
- spyan ras gzigs
Bodhisattva of compassion.
Bases of cognition
- skye mched
- bcom ldan ’das
Honorific address for a buddha.
- sman gyi bla bai du rya’i ’od kyi rgyal po
The buddha of medicine.
- zla ’od
- gdugs dam pa’i dpal
A buddha of the northwest.
- rin chen mchog
Bodhisattva of the northwest.
- shin tu rgyas pa’i sde
- chos rtogs pa bstan pa’i sde
Given by Joy
- dga’ bas byin
Bodhisattva of the zenith.
- gser gyi gzu ba
- mdzes chen
- rtogs pa brjod pa’i sde
Intelligence in Conduct
- spyod pa’i blo gros
Bodhisattva of the west.
- rgyal bas byin
A bodhisattva of the north.
- rgyal ba’i dbang po
A buddha of the north.
- dga’ ba’i spyan
- gser thub
The fifth of the “seven previous buddhas.”
- ’od srung
The sixth of the “seven previous buddhas.”
King of Renowned Melodious Sounds
- grags pa’i sgra dbyangs kyi rgyal po
King Who Is Extremely Exalted by the Precious Majesty Arising from All Aspirations
- smon lam thams cad las ’byung ba’i rin po che’i gzi brjid shin tu ’phags pa’i rgyal po
King Who Is Lord of the World’s Orb
- ’jig rten gyi dkyil ’khor dbang po’i rgyal po
King who is the Light of Intelligence that Understands All
- thams cad mkhyen pa’i blo gros ’od zer gyi rgyal po
King Whose Fragrance Is That of a Blossoming Utpala
- ut pa la rgyas pa bsung gi rgyal po
- log par dad sel
The fourth of the “seven previous buddhas.”
- sa’i snying po
Light of Infinite Good Qualities
- mtha’ yas pa’i yon tan gyi ’od zer
Lord of the Ocean That Is the Wisdom Vajra
- ye shes rdo rje’i rgya mtsho
- mthu chen thob pa
- byams pa
Bodhisattva of loving kindness; the next buddha to follow Śākyamuni.
- ’jam dpal
Bodhisattva of wisdom.
- rmad du byung ba’i sde
- dbyangs kyis bsnyad pa’i sde
- tshigs su bcad pa’i sde
- lag na pad mo
A bodhisattva of the southeast.
- pad mo’i dpal
A buddha of the nadir.
- pad mo dam pa
A bodhisattva of the nadir.
- pad mo dam pa’i dpal
A buddha of the southeast.
- ’das pa brjod pa’i sde
- de lta bu byung ba’i sde
Past life accounts
- skyes pa rabs kyi sde
- lung bstan pa’i sde
- rin chen ’byung gnas
A buddha of the east.
- rin chen ’od ’phrod
A buddha of the west.
- rin chen ’byung ldan
A buddha of the south.
- rin po che’i gtsug phud
- rin po che’i dpal gyi rgyal po
- rgya mtsho’i dpal
- shAkya thub pa
The buddha of this eon and world.
- sa la’i me tog kun tu rgyas pa’i dbang po’i rgyal po
- ting nge ’dzin gyi glang po dam pa’i dpal
A buddha of the northeast.
- kun tu bzang po
- ’od zer kun nas ’byung ba
A bodhisattva of the east.
- sgrib pa thams cad rnam par sel ba
- gtsug tor can
The second of the “seven previous buddhas.”
- seng ge
A past and future buddha.
- ched du brjod pa’i sde
- nyi ma’i dkyil ’khor snang ba dam pa’i dpal
A buddha of the southwest.
- nyi ma rab tu snang ba
A bodhisattva of the southwest.
- de bzhin gshegs pa
An epithet of the buddhas.
- gleng gzhi’i sde
Twelve categories of scripture
- gsung rab kyi yan lag bcu gnyis
- rnam par snang mdzad
Chief of one of the five families of buddhas.
- phyag na rdo rje
- rnam par rgyal bas rnam par gnon pa
A bodhisattva of the northeast.
- dri ma med pa
- rnam par gzigs
The first of of the “seven previous buddhas.”
- dpa’ brtan pa’i sde dga’ ba’i rgyal po
One of the 35 buddhas of confession.
Well-Tamed by the Vajra Essence
- rdo rje snying pos rab tu ’dul ba
Whose Body is the Blossoming Lotus of Complete Absence of Doubt
- rab tu gdon mi za ba pad mo rgyas pa’i sku
Whose Body Is the Widely Spreading Light of the Dharma
- chos kyi ’od zer rab tu rgyas pa’i sku
Whose Mind Is Like the Moon
- zla ba’i thugs
World in Which the Wheel of No Regress Has Been Proclaimed
- phyir mi ldog pa’i ’khor lo bsgrags pa’i ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.
World of Supreme Illumination
- rab tu snang ba’i ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.
World of the Glory of the Lotus
- pad mo dpal gyi ’jig rten
Realm of tathāgatas.
World of the Saffron-Colored Victory Banners
- ngur smrig gi rgyal mtshan gyi ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.
World That Is Difficult to Transcend
- ’da’ bar dka’ ba’i ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.
World That Is Supremely Noble
- rab tu bzang po’i ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.
World Where the Mirror-Disk Has Been Proclaimed
- me long gi dkyil ’khor bsgrags pa’i ’jig rten
Realm of a tathāgata.