The Samantabhadra Perfection of Wisdom
Degé Kangyur, vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 177.b–178.a
Translated by the Nyimé Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
In a retreat place in Magadha, the Buddha Śākyamuni and the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, surrounded by many bodhisattvas, perform miracles in a meditative absorption. The bodhisattva Samantabhadra asks the Buddha to distinguish between two levels of the perfection of wisdom. In response, the Buddha Śākyamuni gives definitions of these two levels. This sūtra is one of the short prajñāpāramitā sūtras, and it belongs especially to the category related to the five bodhisattvas: Sūryagarbha, Candragarbha, Samantabhadra, Vajrapāṇi, and Vajraketu. Despite its brevity, it echoes other sūtras that feature the figure of Samantabhadra and the distinguishing of two types of wisdom.
Translated by the Nyimé Translation Committee. Paul Baffier produced the translation and wrote the introduction. Grégoire Langouët helped with preparatory research work, compared the draft translation with the Tibetan, and reviewed the final draft. Philippe Cornu reviewed the fundamental points of the text and provided materials, references, and support.
This translation has been completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Samantabhadra Perfection of Wisdom is a brief Mahāyāna sūtra that is included among the twenty-three prajñāpāramitā sūtras. It is one of five prajñāpāramitā sūtras associated with five bodhisattva figures, namely, Sūryagarbha, Candragarbha, Samantabhadra, Vajrapāṇi, and Vajraketu. The five sūtras are found in all Kangyurs, whether of Tshalpa, Themphangma, or mixed lineage. They are all short, “unpretentious treatises” (Conze) whose originals are variously dated from the sixth century ᴄᴇ to the seventh or eighth.1
There are no extant Sanskrit versions or translations in the Chinese canon for any of the works in this group of five sūtras; they are preserved only in Tibetan. There are no colophons and so the Tibetan translators are unknown. None of these texts are listed in the two extant ninth-century inventories, the Denkarma and Pangthangma, and they do not appear in a list of translations by Yeshé Dé.2 The Candragarbha Perfection of Wisdom (Toh 27)3 is the only one mentioned in the thirteenth-century inventory of Chomden Rigpai Raltri.4 Some decades later, all five were included in the fourteenth-century list of canonical translations in Butön’s History. Butön notes that the five are not included in the traditional list of six “mother” and eleven “child” prajñāpāramitā sūtras.5
The two main features of this particular sūtra are the key point it makes about wisdom and its link to the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. First, the key point made concerns the distinction between two levels of wisdom (prajñā). It elucidates what resembles wisdom and what actually is wisdom. What actually is wisdom arises only on the first bodhisattva ground as a direct experience, and the unstated implication behind the term “what resembles wisdom” is that until that point it can only be a conceptual image of true wisdom. A very similar distinction between “contaminated and uncontaminated” types of the perfection of wisdom is made in The Candragarbha Perfection of Wisdom. The Buddha explains contaminated wisdom as dualistic and pertaining to the stage of devoted conduct, and uncontaminated wisdom as arising on the path of seeing (the equivalent of the first ground, as mentioned in the present text).6 Here, however, “contamination” as such is not mentioned.
The second main feature of the sūtra is its link to the bodhisattva Samantabhadra. Samantabhadra is an interlocutor in many Mahāyāna sūtras and is included in the group of important bodhisattvas known as the “eight great sons.” He does not appear at all in the long prajñāpāramitā sūtras. However, he does play a major role in the sūtras of the Buddhāvataṃsaka family. The present text echoes two passages in the final chapter of The Stem Array (Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra, Toh 44-45), which is focused particularly on the figure of Samantabhadra. First, where our text says “all of them remained in the conduct of having mastered Samantabhadra’s aspiration,” this is a reference to the aspiration that Samantabhadra describes in that final chapter and then sets out in his celebrated “Prayer for Good Conduct” (Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna, bzang spyod smon lam).7 Second, the mention of Samantabhadra’s meditative stability causing world systems and buddhafields to shake echoes this passage in that final chapter: “Some, through thinking of me, become ripened in one day… Some become ripened through seeing my light, some through seeing the light rays I radiate, some through the realm shaking, some through the manifestation of my form body, and some through rejoicing in it.”8
We have based our work on the Degé xylograph and consulted the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) of the Kangyur, the Hemis Monastery manuscript, and the Shey Palace manuscript. The differences between the manuscripts slightly impact their interpretation, as is reflected in the two previous translations of this sūtra into Western languages. For his English translation, Edward Conze (1973) based his work on the Narthang Kangyur, while George Driessens refers in his French translation (1996) to the Degé Kangyur. A recent translation into Chinese has been published online by the Kumarajiva Project.9
Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in the country of Magadha in a solitary place,10 the essence of Dharma,11 [F.178.a] accompanied by bodhisattvas who had gathered there from limitless, countless buddhafields in the ten directions and were as numerous as the minute particles of those buddhafields.12 All of them maintained the conduct of having mastered Samantabhadra’s aspiration.
Then the bodhisattva Samantabhadra entered13 the meditative stability called the display of the nonconceptuality of all phenomena.14 Through the power of that meditative stability, world systems as numerous as the minute particles of buddhafields were all shaken. The Blessed One then touched the bodhisattva Samantabhadra’s head with his hand, and through that touch all the buddhafields, too, were shaken. The gods praised him with a harmonious verse:
|C||Choné (co ne) Kangyur|
|D||Degé (sde dge) Kangyur|
|H||Lhasa (zhol) Kangyur|
|J||Lithang (’jang sa tham) Kangyur|
|KY||Peking Yongle (g.yung lo) Kangyur|
|N||Narthang (snar thang) Kangyur|
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo (Āryaprajñāpāramitāsamantabhadramahāyānasūtra). Toh 28, Degé Kangyur vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 177.b.6–178.a.6.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo. Toh 28, Lithang Kangyur vol. 39 (sna tshogs, ka), folios 170.a.4–170.b.5.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo. Toh 28, Shey Kangyur, Z29 (sna tshogs, ka), scan number 515–516.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo. Toh 28, Hemis Kangyur, 70.05 (mdo, la), folios 252.b.8–253.b.3.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo. Toh 28, Narthang Kangyur vol. 34 (sna tshogs, ka), folios 267.b.4–268.b.1.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa kun tu bzang po theg pa chen po’i mdo. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur] krung go’i bod rig pa zhig ’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. 34, pp. 508–10.
’phags pa zla ba’i snying po shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa theg pa chen po’i mdo (Āryacandragarbhaprajñāpāramitāmahāyānasūtra). Toh 27, Degé Kangyur vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 176.b.6–177.b.6. English translation Conze (1973); French translation Driessens (1996). English translation in Indo-Tibetan Studies Translation Group, Visva-Bharati 2023.
’phags pa shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa lag na rdo rje’i mdo theg pa chen po (Āryavajrapāṇiprajñāpāramitāmahāyānasūtra). Toh 29, Degé Kangyur vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 178.a.6–178.b.6. English translation Conze (1973); French translation Driessens (1996).
聖般若波羅蜜多普賢大乘經 (Samantabhadraprajñāpāramitā, Toh 28), The Kumarajiva Project.
Brunnhölzl, Karl. Gone Beyond. 2 vols. Tsadra Foundation Series. New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2011.
Carré, Patrick. Soutra de l’Entrée dans la dimension absolue [Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra]; avec le commentaire de Li Tongxuan. 2 vols. Collection Tsadra. Plazac: Padmakara, 2019.
Conze, Edward. Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts. London: Luzac & Co., 1973.
Conze, Edward. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. Tokyo: The Reiyukai, 1978.
Cornu, Philippe. Dictionnaire encyclopédique du bouddhisme. Paris: Le Seuil, 2006.
Driessens, George. La Perfection de sagesse, soutras courts du Grand Véhicule, suivis de L’Enseignement d’Akshayamati. Paris: Seuil, 1996.
Indo-Tibetan Studies Translation Group, Visva-Bharati, trans. The Candragarbha Perfection of Wisdom (Toh 27). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2023.
Padmakara Translation Group, trans. The Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom in Ten Thousand Lines (Daśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā, Toh 11). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
Schaeffer, Kurtis R., and Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp. An Early Tibetan Survey of Buddhist Literature: the Bstan pa rgyas pa rgya gyi nyi ’od of Bcom ldan ral gri. Harvard Oriental Series. Cambridge (MA) and London: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Sherab, Rhaldi. Ye-Shes-sDe Tibetan Scholar and Saint. Lucknow: consulted online, https://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/bot/pdf/bot_2002_01_04.pdf, 2002.
display of the nonconceptuality of all phenomena
- chos thams cad rnam par mi rtog pa bstan pa