The Father and Mother Sūtra
Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 169.a–169.b.
Translated by the Sakya Pandita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
This short discourse was taught to an audience of monks in the Jeta Grove in Śrāvastī. In it, the Buddha explains, by means of similes, the importance of venerating and attending to one’s father and mother. The Buddha concludes by stating that those who venerate their father and mother are wise, for in this life they will not be disparaged, and in the next life they will be reborn in the higher realms.
This sūtra was translated from Tibetan into English by Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen and Chodrungma Kunga Chodron. It was then edited and introduced by the 84000 editorial team.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In this brief sūtra, the Buddha proclaims the importance of respect for and service to one’s parents. By making use of similes to explain to the assembly of monks how exalted a child’s service to their father and mother is, he proclaims one’s parents worthy of gifts and tender care. The Buddha concludes the sūtra by stating that those who venerate their father and mother are wise, for in this life they will not be disparaged, and after death they will be reborn in the higher realms.
There is no known Sanskrit version of this sūtra, and it survives only in Tibetan canonical translations. Since there is no colophon at the end of the sūtra, and as the text is not included in any of the early Tibetan inventories of translations produced during the eighth and ninth centuries, we also have no information concerning its original translation from Sanskrit into Tibetan.
The Chinese canon does not contain this sūtra,1 though there are other popular sūtras in the Chinese canon that teach the importance of respecting and serving one’s parents and ancestors. Two such sūtras are yu lan pen jing (盂蘭盆經, Taishō 685)2 and bao’en feng pen jing (報恩奉盆經, Taishō 686). As the textual basis for the “Ghost Festival” (yu lan pen), these two sūtras both describe the efforts of Maudgalyāyana, one of the two main disciples of the Buddha, to save his mother, who had been reborn in one of the lower realms. Though these two sūtras were almost certainly originally composed in China, a similar narrative of Maudgalyāyana locating his mother after her death in order to assist her is also found in The Chapter on Medicines in the Vinayavastu (Toh 1-6, 2.326–2.337), which was composed in India. That account begins with Maudgalyāyana recalling a discourse of the Buddha about repaying the kindness of one’s parents.3 However, the contents of these sūtras in the Chinese canon and The Chapter on Medicines are quite different from that of this particular sūtra, which makes it a valuable addition to the Buddhist literature on what is often called “filial piety.”
This translation into English is based on the version in the Degé Kangyur, with reference to the Comparative Edition (dpe sdur ma) and the Stok Palace manuscript. There were no variants that would alter the English translation.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
“Monks, those householders who properly venerate and attend to both their father and mother dwell with Brahmā. Why is that? Monks, from the perspective of the family, the father and mother of a child of noble family are like Brahmā.
“Monks, those householders who properly venerate, honor, and attend to both their father and mother [F.169.b] dwell with teachers. Why is that? Monks, from the perspective of the family, the father and mother of a child of noble family are like teachers.
“Monks, those householders who properly venerate, honor, and attend to both their father and mother dwell with those worthy of receiving offerings. Why is that? Monks, from the perspective of the family, the father and mother of a child of noble family are those worthy of receiving offerings.
“Monks, those householders who properly venerate, honor, and attend to both their father and mother dwell with humans. Why is that? Monks, from the perspective of the family, the father and mother of a child of noble family are like humans.
“Monks, those householders who properly venerate, honor, and attend to both their father and mother dwell with gods. Monks, from the perspective of the family, the father and mother of a child of noble family are like gods.”
This completes “The Father and Mother Sūtra.”
pha ma’i mdo (Pitṛmātṛsūtra). Toh 315, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 169.a–169.b.
pha ma’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. 72, pp. 483–85.
pha ma’i mdo. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 87 (mdo sde, chi), folio 147.a.
sman gyi gzhi (Bhaiṣajyavastu). Toh 1, ch. 6, Degé Kangyur vol. 1 (’dul ba, ka), folios 277.b–311.a; vol. 2 (’dul ba, kha), folios 1.a–317.a; vol. 3 (’dul ba, ga), folios 1.a–50.a. English translation in Bhaiṣajyavastu Translation Team (2021).
Bhaiṣajyavastu Translation Team, trans. The Chapter on Medicines (Bhaiṣajyavastu, Toh 1-6). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Ui, Hakuju, Munetada Suzuki, Yenshō Kanakura, and Tōkan Tada, eds. A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons: Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur. Sendai: Tōhoku Imperial University, 1934.
- mgon med zas sbyin
A wealthy layman and famous benefactor of the Buddha who purchased the Jetavana and donated it to the Buddhist community. He is better known in the West by the alternative Pāli form Anāthapiṇḍika.
- 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 also interpreted 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”).
- tshangs pa
A high-ranking deity who presides over a divine world where other beings consider him the creator; he is also considered to be the lord of the Sahā world (our universe).
- nyan thos
This term, based on the verb “to hear,” means disciple, and it originally referred to those direct disciples of the Buddha Śākyamuni who had actually heard the Buddha’s teachings. It is also used to refer to those who aspired to the state of an arhat, in contrast to the bodhisattvas. More generally, it refers to those who were followers of the non-Mahāyāna traditions of Buddhism.
- dge slong
This term refers specifically to a monk who has received ordination, the highest level of monastic initiation available in the Buddhist tradition. The Sanskrit term literally means “beggar” or “mendicant,” which refers to the fact that Buddhist monks and nuns—like other ascetics of the time—subsisted on alms begged from the laity.
- mnyan du yod pa
The capital of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kośala, and the setting for many sūtras, as the Buddha spent most rainy seasons outside the city. It has been identified with the present-day Sāhet Māhet in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Rapti.
- bde bar gshegs pa
An epithet applied to buddhas, often interpreted to mean “one gone to bliss.” It should be noted, though, that in Sanskrit the prefix su- (Tib. bde bar) is adverbial, and that gata denotes a state of being rather than literal motion, hence the current rendering of “well-gone one,” that is, “one who has fared well.”