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)
Generated by 84000 Reading Room v126.96.36.199
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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 Robert Kritzer generously shared several unpublished articles on the text with us, and Vesna Wallace and Mitsuyo Demoto kindly gave us access to drafts of their critical Sanskrit editions of chapters 1 and 3,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.
[V68] [B1] [F.82.a]
Homage to all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, solitary buddhas, and noble hearers!
Thus did I hear at one time. While the Blessed One was residing in the brahmin quarter of the village of Nālati near Rājagṛha, venerable Śāradvatīputra one morning went to Rājagṛha together with a great gathering of monks to collect alms. As they were out receiving alms, a large group of the monks came across some wandering non-Buddhist practitioners15 who were on the way to the same destination, and together they engaged in a Dharma discussion to everyone’s delight and appreciation.
During their discussions some of the non-Buddhists asked, “Ah, you Śākya followers, does not your mendicant Gautama teach that misdeeds of the body are unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and that one should refrain from rejoicing in them even when they are done by another? We also consider misdeeds of the body to be unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and we do not rejoice in them even when done by others. Does not your mendicant Gautama teach that misdeeds of speech are unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and that one should refrain from rejoicing in them even when done by another? We also consider misdeeds of speech to be unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and we do not rejoice in them even when done by others. Does not your mendicant Gautama teach that misdeeds of the mind are unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and that one should refrain from rejoicing in them even when done by another? We also consider misdeeds of the mind to be unattractive, ugly, and unpleasant, and we do not rejoice in them even when done by others. What difference is there [F.82.b]16 [F.83.a] between your mendicant Gautama’s Dharma-Vinaya and our own? What are the ideas? What are the distinctive points? What makes the Dharma-Vinaya of your mendicant Gautama superior to ours? The mendicant Gautama claims that he is omniscient.”
When faced with these questions by the wandering non-Buddhist practitioners, the group of newly ordained monks neither approved nor responded because the venerable Śāradvatīputra was absent. Once they had completed their alms round, the large group of monks returned to the town of Nālati where they had their meal and then took their places amid the gathering of monks.
Later, venerable Śāradvatīputra also returned to the town of Nālati, having received his alms. When he arrived, the great gathering of monks went to see him and related to him what had transpired. Venerable Śāradvatīputra said, “If I had been traveling with you, venerable ones, and had met those wandering non-Buddhist practitioners along the Rājagṛha highway, at a crossing, or at a fork in the road, I would have defeated them in accordance with the Dharma. But unfortunately, I did not witness what transpired in your discussion with those wandering non-Buddhist practitioners.
“Venerable ones, the eyes of the Blessed One perceive everything directly. He understands actions, their effects, and their ripening. [F.83.b] At present he is residing not far from here. Subduing all those whose views are extreme, he is teaching the Dharma of actions and their ripening results to hearers and laypeople, gods and humans. You must bring what happened before him. He will teach you everything about actions and their ripening. He will teach you that which is not seen by any god, māra, Brahmā, mendicant, brahmin, or any other being. What we fail to see the Blessed One sees directly. With his knowledge of actions and their ripening results, he will teach you.”
The large group of monks then set off to see the Blessed One and came upon him during his afternoon rest. He was seated like Mount Sumeru, shining brightly within a sphere of light. The Blessed One was resplendent like the sun at noon, peaceful and soothing like the moon at night. He was clear like a lake, deep like the sea, unshakable like Mount Sumeru, and dauntless like a lion. Like a parent, he was the refuge for all. With his mind permeated by great compassion, he was the universal friend of all beings. He was an abode of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. With his body adorned by the thirty-seven great factors of awakening, its radiance delighted the eyes of all who beheld him. Outshining the light of the sun and the moon, the son of the Śākya king was endowed with universal vision, and his eyes were free of the three stains. He had taught the two truths, comprehended the twofold suffering, accomplished and actualized the two cultivations, realized the result of the path, and gained the knowledge of the reality of cessation. Endowed with eyes that perceive the three realms directly, he revealed the three realms to others. [F.84.a] He had fathomed the real nature of the eighteen elements. He knew the essence of the inspired mind. He was endowed with the eighteen floods of unique qualities, liberated from the bonds of existence, in possession of the ten powers, fearless with the four types of fearlessness, endowed with great compassion, and constantly in possession of the threefold application of mindfulness.
The many monks draped their Dharma robes over their shoulders, knelt on their right knees, and bowed their heads to the Blessed One’s feet. Calmly and with heads bowed, they then stood to one side. A monk who had been appointed by the large gathering now stepped forth and approached the Blessed One. When he was very close to the Blessed One, he bowed his head to his feet. He then respectfully conveyed to the Blessed One how, in the morning, the monks had dressed in their Dharma robes, picked up their alms bowls, and gone to Rājagṛha to receive alms. He recounted how they had met the wandering non-Buddhist practitioners, and how the latter had begun to discuss physical, verbal, and mental misdeeds, up to the questions they had asked.
When the monk had finished his account, the Blessed One spoke the following words to the monks, as well as to the brahmins of Nālati, and the others: “Monks, I shall explain for you a teaching of the Dharma that is known as Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma. Auspicious in the beginning, the middle, and the end, this teaching is of profound meaning and conveyed in excellent words. Unique, complete, and pure, it explains the perfect training and pure conduct. Listen keenly and [F.84.b] keep in mind what I say. I shall explain this for you.”
“Blessed One,” replied the monks, “we shall do just as you instruct.”
As the monks listened, the Blessed One now spoke: “Monks, you may wonder what is meant by the Dharma teaching known as Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma. Well, it is to remain constantly mindful of seeing Dharma as Dharma and non-Dharma as non-Dharma, while not having any doubts. It is to delight in listening to the Dharma, and to venerate one’s elders. This yields knowledge of the effects of the karmic actions of body, speech, and mind, and of the ripening of those actions in terms of death and rebirth. One’s view thereby becomes unmistaken and impervious to being swayed by others.
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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