The Eight Auspicious Ones
Degé Kangyur, vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 52.b–54.b
Translated by Bhikṣuṇī Thubten Damcho and team under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
While the Buddha is dwelling in Vaiśālī at Āmrapālī’s grove, a Licchavi youth named Superior Skill requests him to reveal those buddhas presently dwelling in fulfillment of their former aspirations, such that venerating them and remembering their names can dispel fear and harm. The Buddha responds by listing the names of eight buddhas and the names of their buddha realms. He instructs Superior Skill to remember these buddhas’ names and to contemplate them regularly to develop their good qualities himself and ensure success before beginning any activity. After Superior Skill departs, Śakra, lord of the gods, declares that he has taken up this practice as well. The Buddha exhorts Śakra to proclaim this discourse before engaging in battles with the asuras to ensure his victory, and then enumerates the good qualities of those who proclaim this discourse.
Geshema Tenzin Lhadron (Chopa Tenzin Lhadron), Dr. Nathaniel Rich, and members of the 84000 editorial committee kindly reviewed this translation. I am grateful to Bhikṣuṇī Thubten Chodron and the Sravasti Abbey community for their encouragement and support; Bhikṣuṇī Dr. Heng Ching Shih, Dr. William Magee, and Dr. Paul Hackett for teaching me how to translate Buddhist texts; and Maitripa College and my parents for sponsoring my Tibetan language studies.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
This sūtra belongs to the genre of Mahāyāna literature that emphasizes the transformative power of remembering and contemplating buddhas’ names. In this way it resembles some other short texts found in the same part of the Kangyur such as The Eight Buddhas (Aṣṭabuddhaka, Toh 271),1 The Ten Buddhas (Daśabuddhaka, Toh 272), and The Twelve Buddhas (Dvādaśabuddhaka, Toh 273, 511, 853).2 While these other sūtras appear primarily to elucidate how the practice of remembering and contemplating buddhas’ names leads to the accomplishment of spiritual goals in this and future lives up to the attainment of buddhahood, The Eight Auspicious Ones emphasizes the practice’s worldly benefits.
The sūtra’s main interlocutor, a Licchavi youth named Superior Skill, is primarily concerned about warding off fear as well as physical, verbal, and mental harm he might experience in battle, at a royal palace, or in his dreams. In response to Superior Skill’s request to reveal those buddhas who can help dispel such obstacles, the Buddha teaches about eight buddhas residing in buddha realms in the eastern direction whose names embody the qualities of their former aspirations. The Buddha tells Superior Skill that by remembering the names of these buddhas and contemplating them when going to sleep, waking up, and before beginning any activity, he will not only develop these buddhas’ good qualities but also experience success in all his endeavors.
Subsequently, Śakra, lord of the gods, who is also present in the assembly, declares that he too has taken up this practice of contemplating the names of the eight buddhas. The Buddha exhorts Śakra to proclaim this discourse prior to engaging in battles with the asuras so that he will emerge victorious. The Buddha concludes with an explanation that those who proclaim this discourse on the names of these eight buddhas will become known for possessing various good qualities.
The names of these eight buddhas continue to be recited by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners today in a prayer popularly known as “The Verses for the Eight Noble Auspicious Ones,”3 composed in 1896 by Jamgön Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912). In his autocommentary to the verses,4 Jamgön Mipham Gyatso gives a summary of The Eight Auspicious Ones, emphasizing the Buddha’s instructions to remember and recite the names of these eight buddhas and the benefits that accrue from doing so. Contemporary Buddhist teachers from all the Tibetan schools thus encourage students to recite Jamgön Mipham Gyatso’s prayer daily, especially before commencing any new activity. Another prayer for auspiciousness with the same title as this sūtra, found in the tantra section of the Tengyur (bkra shis brgyad pa, Toh 3784) and said to have been spoken by Ārya Tārā, appears to be unrelated to this sūtra.
No Sanskrit version of this sūtra appears to be extant. It is listed in both the Denkarma5 and Phangthangma6 catalogs of the Tibetan imperial translations, which shows that the Tibetan translation was completed prior to the compilation and publication of the Denkarma catalog in 812 ᴄᴇ. While the colophon in the Degé Kangyur version attributes the Tibetan translation to Surendrabodhi and Yeshé Dé, the colophon in the Stok Palace (stog pho brang) Kangyur version attributes it to Prajñāvarman, Yeshé Dé, and others.7
This sūtra was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in 542 ᴄᴇ by Gautama Prajñāruci, a monk from Vārāṇasī, with the title The Group of Eight Buddhas’ Names (Babu foming 八部佛名, Taishō 429).8 In the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, this sūtra is found together with four translations of the Aṣṭabuddhakasūtra (Taishō 427, 428, 430, 431) which is translated as The Eight Buddhas (Toh 271) in the Tibetan canon. The earliest Chinese translation of the Aṣṭabuddhakasūtra (Taishō 427) dates to 222–29 ᴄᴇ, indicating that the materials presented in these sūtras have their roots in very early Indian Mahāyāna.
All the translations of the Aṣṭabuddhakasūtra and Maṅgalāṣṭakasūtra feature buddha realms located in the east. While the Chinese and Tibetan translations of each sūtra share similar narrative frameworks, their lists of the eight buddhas and their buddha realms differ completely. This is the case even across the four Chinese translations of the Aṣṭabuddhakasūtra. There is also no mention of “auspiciousness” in the Chinese translation of the Maṅgalāṣṭakasūtra; the title The Eight Auspicious Ones (Bajixiang 八吉祥, Taishō 430) is instead given to the Chinese translation of the Aṣṭabuddhakasūtra by Saṅghabhadra produced between 506–20 ᴄᴇ.
This English translation was prepared based on the Tibetan translation in the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in Vaiśālī at [F.53.a] Āmrapālī’s grove. A Licchavi youth, Superior Skill, went to where the Blessed One was. Upon arriving, he bowed his head at the Blessed One’s feet and addressed the Blessed One with these words:
“There are some blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddhas presently dwelling in fulfillment of their former aspirations. If I hear about those blessed ones, I will venerate them on the crown of my head. By venerating them on the crown of my head, I will not be threatened or harmed by human or nonhuman beings, Blessed One, and when I speak at a royal palace, whatever I say will not be repudiated or overruled under any circumstance. If I remember their names, I will not even dream bad dreams while sleeping, and if I enter into a battle where swords are drawn, those swords will not strike me, and I will be delivered from it safely. I request the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha to reveal their names.”
Thus requested, the Blessed One said to the Licchavi youth Superior Skill, “Superior Skill, to the east there is a world system called Famous. The thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha named Pradīparāja resides there.
“Superior Skill, to the east there is a world system called Free from Sorrow. The thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha named Intent on Accomplishing Aims through Steadfast Skill9 resides there.
“Superior Skill, to the east there is a world system called Variegated. The thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha named Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Is Noble like Mount Meru resides there.
“Superior Skill, to the east there is a world system called Joyful Renowned Diamond. The thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddha named Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Brings Satisfaction resides there.
“Superior Skill, you should remember these blessed buddhas’ names very well, fully comprehend them, and uphold them. Superior Skill, while all blessed buddhas are indeed endowed with inconceivable good qualities, the buddha realms of these thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddhas, Superior Skill, are thoroughly pure and free from the degenerations.
“Superior Skill, when you receive and remember these thus-gone, worthy, perfect buddhas’ names, you will thereby develop their particular good qualities and others, because these names of blessed buddhas embody the qualities of their former aspirations. [F.54.a] You should contemplate these names whenever you lie down at dusk or at night, and you should contemplate them whenever you get up. If you contemplate these names whenever you begin any kind of worldly activity, you should know that such activities will only be for your gain and not for your loss. You should abide by this.”
Having heard this teaching, the Licchavi youth Superior Skill was satisfied and pleased, and he rejoiced. Rejoicing, he felt delighted and happy and proclaimed these thus-gone ones’ names. He scattered eight thousand flowers made of the seven precious substances over the Blessed One and circumambulated him. Remembering this Dharma discourse on the eight auspicious ones proclaiming thus-gone ones’ names, he left the Blessed One’s presence.
Then because Śakra, lord of the gods, had joined that assembly and was present, he paid homage to the Blessed One and said to him, “Blessed One, I too have taken up the practice of this Dharma discourse on the eight auspicious ones proclaiming thus-gone ones’ names.”
The Blessed One replied, “Thus, Kauśika, when you engage in battles between the gods and asuras, you should proclaim this Dharma discourse. If you proclaim it, lord of the gods, you will be victorious.
“Why is that so? Because whoever11 proclaims these thus-gone ones’ names is proclaimed to be blissful and fearless. Because whoever proclaims these names is proclaimed to be not overwhelmed.12 Because whoever proclaims these thus-gone ones’ names proclaims the names of reality. Because whoever proclaims these thus-gone ones’ names is proclaimed to completely transcend all battles. [F.54.b] Because whoever proclaims these thus-gone ones’ names is proclaimed to be invincible, proclaimed to be peaceful, proclaimed to be free from torment, and proclaimed to be fearless.”
Then, to venerate this Dharma discourse, Śakra, lord of the gods, scattered divine mandārava flowers over the Blessed One, bowed his head to the Blessed One’s feet, and circumambulated him three times. With a joyful mind, a virtuous mind, an unobscured mind, and a mind free from fixation, he bore in mind this Dharma discourse proclaiming thus-gone ones’ names and said, “May I see the Blessed One’s face again in the future!” Then together with the gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, he departed from the Blessed One’s presence.
When the Blessed One had spoken these words, the Licchavi youth Superior Skill, Śakra, lord of the gods, and the world together with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised what the Blessed One had said.
This concludes the noble Mahāyāna sūtra “The Eightfold Auspiciousness.”
bkra shis brgyad pa. (Maṅgalāṣṭaka). Toh 278, Degé Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 52.b–54.b.
bkra shis brgyad 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. 151–57.
bkra shis brgyad pa. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, da), folios 21.b–26.a.
sangs rgyas brgyad pa (Aṣṭabuddhaka). Toh 271, Degé Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 17.b–21.a. English translation in Bien 2020.
sangs rgyas bcu pa (Daśabuddhaka). Toh 272, Degé Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 26.a–29.b. Toh 272
sangs rgyas bcu gnyis pa (Dvādaśabuddhaka). Toh 273, Degé Kangyur vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 26.a–29.b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2020.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan [/ lhan] dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Mipham Gyatso (mi pham rgya mtsho). ’phags pa bkra shis brgyad pa’i tshigs su bcad pa. In mi pham bka’ ’bum, 1:47–50. Chengdu: gangs can rig gzhung dpe rnying myur skyobs lhan tshogs, 2007. English translation in Gyalten Lekden 2020 and Rigpa Translations.
———. bkra shis brgyad pa’i don bshad pa. In mi pham bka’ ’bum, 1:51–58. Chengdu: gangs can rig gzhung dpe rnying myur skyobs lhan tshogs, 2007. English translation in Gyalten Lekden 2016b.
Dharmarakṣa, trans. Fo Shuo Ba Yang Shen Zhou Jing 佛說八陽神呪經, Taishō 428.
Gautama Prajñāruci, trans. Fo Shuo Ba Bu Fo Ming Jing 佛說八部佛名經, Taishō 429.
Jñānagupta, trans. Ba Fo Minghao Jing 八佛名號經, Taishō 431.
Saṅghabhara, trans. Ba Jixiang Jing 八吉祥經, Taishō 430.
Zhi Qian, trans. Fo Shuo Ba Jixiang Shen Zhou Jing 佛說八吉祥神呪經, Taishō 427.
Bien, Annie, trans. The Eight Buddhas (Aṣṭabuddhaka, Toh 271). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2020.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. The Twelve Buddhas (Dvādaśabuddhaka, Toh 273). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2020.
Gyalten Lekden, trans. (2016a). “The Eight Auspicious Noble Ones: A Mahāyāna Sutra.” The Union of Teaching and Accomplishment Publishing Group. Translated February 2016.
———(2016b). “The Explanation of the Meaning of the Verses for the Eight Auspicious Noble Ones.” The Union of Teaching and Accomplishment Publishing Group. Translated February 2016.
———(2020). Verses for the Eight Noble Auspicious Ones. Portland, OR: FPMT, 2020.
Lancaster, Lewis R. The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalogue. Accessed February 24, 2021.
Rigpa Translations, trans. “The Verses of the Eight Noble Auspicious Ones.” Lotsawa House. Accessed January 3, 2022.
Yoshimura, Shyuki. The Denkar-Ma: An Oldest Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons. Kyoto: Ryukoku University, 1950.
- a mra srung ba’i tshal
A mango grove in Vaiśālī donated to the Buddha by the courtesan Āmrapālī.
- lha ma yin
Traditional adversaries of the gods who are frequently portrayed in brahmanical mythology as having a disruptive effect on cosmological and social harmony.
- dpal ’bar ba
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Glory of Being Renowned for Considering Everyone resides.
- bcom ldan ’das
In Buddhist literature, an epithet applied to buddhas, most often to Śākyamuni. The Sanskrit term generally means “possessing fortune,” but in specifically Buddhist contexts it implies that a buddha is in possession of six auspicious qualities (bhaga) associated with complete awakening. The Tibetan term—where bcom is said to refer to “subduing” the four māras, ldan to “possessing” the great qualities of buddhahood, and ’das to “going beyond” saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—possibly reflects the commentarial tradition where the Sanskrit bhagavat is interpreted, additionally, as “one who destroys the four māras.” This is achieved either by reading bhagavat as bhagnavat (“one who broke”), or by tracing the word bhaga to the root √bhañj (“to break”).
- bde ldan
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Greatly Renowned for Considering All resides.
- snyigs ma
Refers to the five degenerations: (1) degeneration of lifespan, (2) degeneration of view or thoughts, (3) degeneration of the five afflictions, (4) degenerate sentient beings, (5) degenerate times.
Excellent Glory Renowned for Virtue
- dge bar grags pa dpal dam pa
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Nihilism Relinquished.
- grags ldan
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Pradīparāja resides.
Free from Obstacles
- bgegs med pa
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Glorious Ornament of Loving-Kindness resides.
Free from Sorrow
- skyo ba med pa
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Intent on Accomplishing Aims through Steadfast Skill resides.
- dri za
A class of semidivine beings sometimes referred to as “heavenly musicians.”
Glorious Ornament of Loving-Kindness
- byams pa’i rgyan gyi dpal
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Free from Obstacles.
Glory of Being Renowned for Considering Everyone
- sems can thams cad la dgongs pa grags pa’i dpal
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Blazing Glory.
Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Brings Satisfaction
- yid tshim par mdzad pa rtsal rab grags pa’i dpal
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Joyful Renowned Diamond.
Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Is Noble like Mount Meru
- lhun po ltar ’phags pa rtsal rab grags pa’i dpal
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Variegated.
One of the five or six classes of sentient beings, dominated by exaltation, frivolousness, and pride. According to Buddhist cosmology, the gods live in many divine realms within the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm.
Greatly Renowned for Considering All
- kun la dgongs pa rgya cher grags pa can
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Blissful.
Heaven of the Thirty-Three
- sum cu rtsa gsum
One of the six heavens of the desire realm.
Intent on Accomplishing Aims through Steadfast Skill
- rtsal brtan don grub dgongs pa
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Free from Sorrow.
Joyful Renowned Diamond
- rdo rje grags pa dga’ ba can
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Brings Satisfaction resides.
- lits+tsha bI
Name of the tribe who inhabited the republican city-state whose capital was Vaiśālī, where the events of this sūtra take place.
- man dA ra ba
The coral tree, Erythrina indica. One of the five trees of paradise, it has brilliant scarlet flowers.
- chad pa spangs pa
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Excellent Glory Renowned for Virtue resides.
- sgron ma’i rgyal po
A buddha who resides in the eastern buddha realm called Famous.
- pra dz+nya wa rma
Prajñāvarman was a Bengali paṇḍita resident in Tibet during the late eighth and early ninth centuries. He arrived in Tibet at the invitation of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen (khri srong lde btsan, r. 742–ca. 800 ᴄᴇ) and assisted in the translation of numerous canonical scriptures. He also authored a few philosophical commentaries himself, which were later included in the Tengyur.
Seven precious substances
- rin po che sna bdun
Unlisted in the present text. There are various lists of these seven precious substances, which include gold, different kinds of gems, pearls, etc.
- rtsal rab
The Licchavi youth who requests this discourse from the Buddha. His name is translated into Chinese as “Skilled in Action” (善作).
- su ren+d+ra bo d+hi
An Indian master who went to Tibet during the reign of King Ralpachen (ral pa can, r. 815–38 ᴄᴇ) and helped in the translation of forty-three Kangyur texts.
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used synonym for buddhas. According to different explanations, it can be read as tathā-gata, literally meaning “one who has thus gone,” or as tathā-agata, “one who has thus come.” Gata, though literally meaning “gone,” is a past passive participle used to describe a state or condition of existence. Tatha(tā), often rendered as “suchness” or “thusness,” is the quality or condition of things as they really are, which cannot be conveyed in conceptual, dualistic terms. Therefore, this epithet is interpreted in different ways, but in general it implies one who has departed in the wake of the buddhas of the past, or one who has manifested supreme enlightenment based on the reality that does not abide in the two extremes of existence and quiescence. Here also used as a specific epithet of the Buddha Śākyamuni.
- yangs pa can
A great city during the Buddha’s time, the capital of the republican city-state inhabited by the Licchavi. It was an important location where a number of Buddhist sūtras are said to have been taught.
- sna tshogs ldan
Name of a buddha realm in the east where the buddha Glory of Being Renowned for Superior Skill That Is Noble like Mount Meru resides.
- ’jig rten gyi khams
Refers to any world or group of worlds that is illumined by one sun and moon, and that has its own Mount Meru, continents, desire, form, and formless realms, etc.
- ye shes sde
Yeshé Dé (late eighth to early ninth century) was the most prolific translator of sūtras into Tibetan. Altogether he is credited with the translation of more than one hundred sixty sūtra translations and more than one hundred additional translations, mostly on tantric topics. In spite of Yeshé Dé’s great importance for the propagation of Buddhism in Tibet during the imperial era, only a few biographical details about this figure are known. Later sources describe him as a student of the Indian teacher Padmasambhava, and he is also credited with teaching both sūtra and tantra widely to students of his own.