Teaching the Eleven Thoughts
Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 157.a–157.b
Translated by Nathaniel Rich and the Sakya Pandita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Teaching the Eleven Thoughts takes place just before the Buddha attains parinirvāṇa, when he bequeaths his final testament to the assembled monks in the form of a brief discourse on eleven thoughts toward which the mind should be directed at the moment of death. He exhorts his listeners to develop nonattachment, love, freedom from resentment, a sense of moral responsibility, a proper perspective on virtue and vice, courage in the face of the next life, a perception of impermanence and the lack of self, and the knowledge that nirvāṇa is peace.
Translated, introduced and annotated by Nathaniel Rich, in consultation with a draft translation by Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen and Chodrungma Kunga Chodron of the Sakya Pandita Translation Group. Edited and finalized by members of the 84000 translation team.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
This brief sūtra takes place just before the Buddha attains parinirvāṇa, when he imparts his “final testament” (Tib. zhal chems) to those gathered around him. This consists of a brief instruction on eleven “thoughts” (Skt. saṃjñāna/saṃjñā; Tib. ’du shes)1 that should be cultivated by one who is on the verge of death: nonattachment, love, freedom from resentment, a sense of moral responsibility, a perspective on virtue and vice appropriate to the moment of death, courage in the face of the next life, a perception of impermanence and the lack of self, and the knowledge that nirvāṇa is peace.
There is no known Sanskrit version of this sūtra, and the Chinese canon does not include a translation.2 Because it has no colophon, we have no information concerning its translation from Sanskrit into Tibetan. It does appear that the sūtra had a complex transmissional history in Tibet. Versions of Teaching the Eleven Thoughts are found in both the Tshalpa (tshal pa) and Thempangma (them spangs ma) Kangyurs, but there is also a nearly identical sūtra called Teaching the Ten Thoughts (’du shes bcu bstan pa) that is not found in the Tshalpa Kangyurs but is found in the Thempangma Kangyurs (Stok, Ulaanbaatar, and Shey, as well as the Bhutan Kangyurs that appear to be in the Thempangma line). Teaching the Ten Thoughts is also found in the Hemis Kangyur, in the Lhasa and Narthang Kangyurs, and in the Lang mdo and the Namgyal collections.3 Moreover, a sūtra called Teaching the Ten Thoughts is found in three Dunhuang manuscripts,4 but in each case the actual text is a version of Teaching the Eleven Thoughts. Teaching the Ten Thoughts is distinguished from Teaching the Eleven Thoughts by its slightly more elaborate descriptions of the individual thoughts. As examples, we might compare the wording of the first two items in the two sūtras. In the present sūtra, the first two items are the thoughts of “nonattachment to this life” and “love for all beings”; in Teaching the Ten Thoughts, the first two items are the thoughts of nonattachment to “the domain (spyod yul) of this life” and of both love and compassion for all beings. The difference in number between the two sūtras is due to the fact that Teaching the Ten Thoughts has a single thought related to moral discipline, “the thought of acknowledging all faults and corruptions of moral discipline and undertaking the entirety of moral discipline,” whereas the present sūtra divides this thought into two—“the thought of acknowledging all faulty moral discipline” and “the thought of undertaking the entirety of moral discipline.” Apart from this, there are interesting variants and overlaps in spelling, word choice, and so forth that, while they do not substantially alter the meaning, suggest that there were multiple lines of translation, transmission, and/or editorial intervention that resulted in the different versions of the two nearly identical sūtras that are available to us today.
The list of saṃjñā enumerated in these two sūtras appears to be unique in the Kangyur, but there are several other sets of ten saṃjñā that at least partially overlap with the set of eleven found here. These include those found in the Girimānanda Sutta (Aṅguttara Nikāya 10.60) of the Pali canon, a version of which was translated into Tibetan in the fourteenth century by Tharpa Lotsawa and Ānandaśrī of Lankā (The Sūtra of Giriyānanda, ri’i kun dga’ bo’i mdo, Toh 38), in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (Toh 119), and in the Arthavistaradharmaparyāya (Toh 318). To illustrate, The Sūtra of Giriyānanda enumerates ten saṃjñā to be taught to the monk for whom the sūtra is named, who is suffering from a severe illness. Those ten are those of impermanence, the lack of self, impurity (mi gtsang ba), impediments (bar du gcod pa), abandoning, being without desire (’dod chags), cessation, not delighting in any world, impermanence in all conditioning (’du byed), and mindfulness of in- and out-breathing. By contrast, the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra presents a list of ten saṃjñā that consists of impermanence, suffering, the lack of self, abandoning food (kha zas spong ba), nonattachment to any world, death, the many faults of wrongdoing (nyes pa’i skyon mang ba), abandoning, cessation, and the lack of craving (sred pa med pa). The Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra prefaces its presentation of this list by saying that a bodhisattva great being, monk, nun, layman, or laywoman who endeavors in these ten will attain nirvāṇa.
The present translation is based on the version of the sūtra found in the Degé Kangyur, with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur. The Stok Palace Kangyur version of Teaching the Ten Thoughts5 was also consulted for comparison, and a translation of that text has been included as an appendix.
Homage to the Three Jewels.
At the time of his parinirvāṇa, he spoke to the bhikṣus: “Bhikṣus, at the time of death you should bring to mind7 eleven thoughts. What are the eleven? You should bring to mind the thought of nonattachment to this life, [F.157.b] the thought of love for all beings, the thought of giving up all resentments, the thought of acknowledging all faulty moral discipline, the thought of undertaking the entirety of moral discipline, the thought that even great harms that have been caused are insignificant,8 the thought that small acts of virtue are significant, the thought of a lack of fright with respect to the next world, the thought that everything conditioned is impermanent, the thought that all phenomena lack a self, and the thought that nirvāṇa is peace.”
Homage to the Three Jewels.
When he intended to attain parinirvāṇa, the Blessed One spoke to the fourfold assembly: “Bhikṣus,9 at the moment of death, you should cultivate ten thoughts. What are the ten? You should establish the thought of nonattachment to the domain of this life, the thought of love and compassion for all beings, the thought of giving up and abandoning all resentments, the thought of acknowledging all faults and corruptions of moral discipline and undertaking the entirety of moral discipline, the thought that great harms caused by oneself and others are insignificant,10 the thought that there is significant fruit and benefit in the small acts of virtue committed by oneself and others, the thought of fearlessness and a lack of fright in moving on to the next world, the thought that conditioning is impermanent, the thought that all phenomena lack a self, and the thought that nirvāṇa is bliss and peace.”
This completes “The Sūtra Teaching the Ten Thoughts”
’du shes bcu gcig bstan pa (Saṃjñānaikadaśanirdeśa). Toh 311, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 157.a–157.b.
’du shes bcu gcig bstan 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), 2006–9, vol. 72, pp. 443–44.
’du shes bcu gcig bstan pa. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 55 (mdo sde, nga), folios 343.b–344.a.
’du shes bcu bstan pa’i mdo [Teaching the Ten Thoughts]. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 81 (mdo sde, a), folios 311.a–311.b.
don rgyas pa zhes bya ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs (Arthavistaradharmaparyāya). Toh 318, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 188.a–193.b.
ri’i kun dga’ bo’i mdo (Giriyānandasūtra). Toh 38, Degé Kangyur vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 276.a–279.a.
yongs su mya ngan las ’das pa chen po’i mdo (Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra). Toh 119, Degé Kangyur vol. 52 (mdo sde, nya), folios 1.b–343.b; vol. 53 (mdo sde, ta), folios 1.b–339.a.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folio 300.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ʼphang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Bhikkhu Bodhi. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Teachings of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012.
Collett, Alice, and Bhikkhu Anālayo. “Bhikkhave and Bhikkhu as Gender-Inclusive Terminology in Early Buddhist Texts.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 21 (2014): 760–97.
Edgerton, Franklin. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary. Vol. 1, Dictionary. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.
Ui, Hakuju et al., eds. A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons: Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur. Sendai: Tōhoku Imperial University, 1934.
- dge slong
- bcom ldan ’das
Grove of Twin Sal Trees
- shing sa la zung gi tshal
- ku sha’i grong khyer
- mya ngan las ’das pa
- yongs su mya ngan las ’da’ ba
- ’khor ba