The Application of Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma
Degé Kangyur, vol. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 82.a–318.a; vol. 69 (mdo sde, ra), folios 1.b–307.a; vol. 70 (mdo sde, la), folios 1.b–312.a; and vol. 71 (mdo sde, sha), folios 1.b–229.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2021
Current version v 1.0.24 (2023)
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While on the way to Rājagṛha to collect alms, a group of newly ordained monks are approached by some non-Buddhists, who suggest that their doctrine is identical to that of the Buddha, since everyone agrees that misdeeds of body, speech, and mind are to be given up. The monks do not know how to reply, and when they later return to the brahmin town of Nālati, where the Buddha is residing, Śāradvatīputra therefore encourages them to seek clarification from the Blessed One himself. In response to the monks’ request, the Buddha delivers a comprehensive discourse on the effects of virtuous and unvirtuous actions, explaining these matters from the perspective of an adept practitioner of his teachings, who sees and understands all this through a process of personal discovery. As the teaching progresses, the Buddha presents an epic tour of the realm of desire—from the Hell of Ultimate Torment to the Heaven Free from Strife—all the while introducing the specific human actions and attitudes that cause the experience of such worlds and outlining the ways to remedy and transcend them. In the final section of the sūtra, which is presented as an individual scripture on its own, the focus is on mindfulness of the body and the ripening of karmic actions that is experienced among humans in particular.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation was produced by Thomas Doctor with help from Benjamin Collet-Cassart and Timothy Hinkle. Thomas also wrote the introduction. Andreas Doctor checked the translation against the Tibetan and edited the text. The 84000 editorial team subsequently reviewed the translation and made further edits. Wiesiek Mical assisted by reviewing numerous passages against the available Sanskrit sources. Robert Kritzer generously shared several unpublished articles on the text with us, and Vesna Wallace and Mitsuyo Demoto kindly gave us access to drafts of their critical Sanskrit editions of chapters 1 and 3, respectively.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Sun Ping, Tian Xingwen, and Sun Fanglin, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
“The monk who has knowledge of the ripening of the effects of karmic action has now carefully examined and understood all the extremely subtle karmic ripening that ensues from the misdeeds associated with hell beings, animals, and starving spirits. Having internalized this understanding, he will next begin to examine the karmic effects that ripen due to wholesome actions. All sentient beings are opposed to suffering [F.53.b] and wish for happiness. As for the gods, they take delight in accumulating happiness, so now the monk will examine the extremely subtle karmic phenomena, ripening, birth, and death of such beings.
“It must be clearly understood that the experience that follows from a completed and accumulated virtuous act represents the ripening of a karmic effect that is desirable, attractive, and delightful.
“In this regard there are seven forms of discipline that lead to birth in the higher realms: three of the body and four of the voice. By resorting to, becoming habituated to, and increasing such acts, one will be born as a member of the six classes of gods who live in the desire realm. Based on whether the acts were lesser, intermediate, or great, the existences of those gods are, correspondingly, lesser, intermediate, or great. Thus, they may experience short, intermediate, or long lives; inferior, intermediate, or excellent food; inferior, intermediate, or excellent bodies; inferior, intermediate, or excellent vigor; or lesser, intermediate, or great happiness. Two of these six classes of gods live upon Mount Sumeru, and the remaining four live in the sky above it, as if in cloudbanks.
India is the origin of all that is good and possesses all things excellent, both in terms of her soil and her sciences, for which she is the universal source. This is the land of the cultured and the learned and all her inhabitants are wise. Seeing India to be the eyes of Jambudvīpa, the perfect Buddha achieved full awakening within this land, with its magnificent cities through which the great river Gaṅgā descends.
In the eastern part of India’s central lands lies the great monastery of Nālanda.639 The sovereign of the land is the splendid prince Rāmapāla,640 whose glory outshines others and whose reign reaches far and wide. This prince has established the temple known as Jagaddala to support the pure and the gentle, holy beings who are experts regarding the staircase leading to the higher realms and liberation. From here appeared numerous exceptionally learned paṇḍitas, such that people of the world speak of “the five hundred omniscient ones,” who are praised by all paṇḍitas as being equal to the masters of the past.
Among them is someone whom kings and ministers, who take pride in their mundane wealth, carry on their shoulders as if he were their head—someone whom paṇḍitas, who take pride in their scholarship, and worldly folk regard as their crown jewel. He is regarded as a guide by those who have relinquished concern for this life and who endeavor to accomplish liberation, allowing them to clearly distinguish good qualities from flaws. All the people of the land see him as beautiful and endearing, as if he were their only child. He enraptures even the vicious and ungrateful with his great goodwill. [F.228.b] Due to his love for others, he suffers agony and pain as he beholds the miseries of all wandering beings, yet he skillfully extends his compassionate care to them. He is foretold in the prophetic discourse of Tiger Ear Star as an individual endowed with numerous qualities and a great instigator who upon exchanging his body would be born in the higher realms. He yearns to meet Maitreya and has tremendous yearning for the Dharma. He has also weakened all emotions such as desire and anger. Who could properly extol such a person’s qualities? In short, his knowledge of mundane human customs is great, and his benevolence is like a golden ground. With respect for the sacred Dharma, he is endowed with perfect learning and he is pure, serene, gentle, accommodating, noble, truthful, undeceiving, honest, and successful in terms of accomplishment. Like a majestic wish-fulfilling tree that grows from a turquoise ground, he is adorned with the blooming flowers and ripe fruits of a bounty of temporary and ultimate virtues in this and all other lives. Thus, perfectly accomplishing what benefits both oneself and all others, there is nothing that he does that is not meaningful. Such is this master endowed with the shining beauty of unimpeded mastery of the five fields of learning, the great paṇḍita known as Śāntākaragupta. Explanations based on five Indian volumes were received from that master, as well as the great scholar and holy man, the supreme Vinaya holder known as Abhayākaragupta; the one whose learning is comparable to Mañjuśrī, the supreme paṇḍita endowed with perfect eloquence and insight, Śakyarakṣita; and also the great paṇḍita Vīryākaraśānti, and others. [F.229.a]
Likewise, in the lower reaches of the central land of Magadha—where the shrines of the thus-gone ones are numerous, and the land is full of Buddhists who have faith in the Three Jewels—lies the great monastic complex of Vikramaśīla. It was established by the bodhisattva king, Devapāla, and serves as the eyes of the Dharma teachings. Among its numerous learned scholars there are Śakyarakṣita himself; the great paṇḍita Subhūticandra, who is expert in linguistics, poetry, and the syntactic structures of Sanskrit; the Abhidharma expert known as Aḍitacandra; and other such masters. It is from all those masters that the explanations based on five Indian volumes were received.
The translators listened carefully to the sūtra and with veneration they sought careful explanation in order to comprehend all the scripture’s words and meanings, thoroughly investigating the most difficult points with the appropriate methods for understanding their significance. In the process of translation, they were guided by the light of insight that comes from mastering four languages—Sanskrit, the Indian vernaculars, Tibetan Dharma language, and the Tibetan vernaculars.
Nevertheless, the topics of the sūtras are numerous and the subjects are profound. In particular, the statements in this sūtra carry numerous implicit messages and convey their meaning by means of beautiful verbal adornments that evince an unparalleled mastery of poetry. Hence, their meanings are not easily accessible to those of weak learning. Especially, brief scriptural passages that convey numerous meanings have been translated in that same fashion. This approach allows those endowed with the jewels of understanding to ascertain numerous meanings, but if any one of those were to be singled out as the sole implied meaning, that would be a mistake. Rather, translation should convey just as much meaning as the words imply. Therefore, in short, without violating the way the Indian and Tibetan languages convey the same meaning by means of different expressions, and without breaking with the tradition established by the decrees of the scholars of the past, this translation has been made in veneration of the sacred Dharma by the northerner, the monk Tsultrim Gyaltsen, who was born into the family of Patshap. This was undertaken during the reign of the Indian king Rāmapāla, whose banner of perfect glory and majesty flies higher than any other. In this manner, those segments that had previously been translated of this Great Vehicle discourse known as The Application of Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma were completed. [F.229.b]
The subsequent editing and revision of the text was undertaken by the monk Tsultrim Gyaltsen himself, with the assistance of two others. The first is the spiritual teacher known as Shang Buchikpa, who everyone calls by this name because he benefits them and is auspicious for them, caring for all sentient beings as if they were his “only child.”641 Accordingly, his name reveals that he is endowed with great compassion. The second editor is known as Sherap Ö, because he is a veritable “light of insight” for all who follow the Dharma.642 With knowledge of the way the vehicles progress, he summarizes the teachings by means of principles such as the two realities, and thus—with insight developed gradually through conviction, ascertainment, and realization—he spreads the light that overcomes the darkness of afflictive and cognitive obscurations in both oneself and others. Thus, his name shows that this master is endowed with great insight and that he accomplishes his own and others’ objectives perfectly. In this way, the translation was corrected, refined, and properly finalized through the fivefold process of drafting, primary editing, testing the relations between word and meaning, secondary editing, and secondary testing of the relations.
May the stainless virtues that ensue from translating and assisting in the translation of this sacred Dharma teaching—this precious discourse on mindfulness in the Great Vehicle, which is the foundation, root, and vital essence of all the vehicles—reach all beings extending to the end of space, so that they may find happiness while in existence. And may a lush canopy spread over them from the tree that offers refuge, awakening, and fruition. As soon as we leave this life behind, may we be reborn in realms of the buddhas, and in all other lives of cyclic existence, may we exclusively do what benefits others.
The number of sections has not been determined. In accord with the Indian text the length of the scripture amounts to thirty-six thousand ślokas. There appear to be a few unique archaic elements of writing. When dividing The Application of Mindfulness into sections of three hundred ślokas, there are one hundred and twenty sections.
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