Describing the Benefits of Producing Representations of the Thus-Gone One
Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 197.a–198.b.
Translated by the Alexander Csoma de Kőrös Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
In this sūtra, the Buddha Śākyamuni tells a group of monks how they should respond when asked about the karmic benefits accrued by patrons who create representations of the Buddha. He explains five kinds of benefits that such virtuous deeds bring.
This sūtra was translated from the Tibetan and introduced by the Alexander Csoma de Kőrös Translation Group, which is comprised of Krisztina Teleki and Karma Dorje (Rabjampa). Beáta Kakas served as Sanskrit expert and William Dewey served as the English-language editor.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In Describing the Benefits of Producing Representations of the Thus-Gone One,1 the Buddha Śākyamuni is residing in the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Śrāvastī when a large number of monks gather nearby and begin discussing how one should respond when asked about the karmic benefits accrued by creating representations of the Buddha. They approach the Buddha for guidance, and the Buddha explains the five kinds of benefits that such virtuous deeds bring. First, he elaborates on the excellent life circumstances such as happiness and fame that they will experience. Second, he details the characteristics of physical beauty that they will gain. Third, he lists the kinds of wealth they will accrue. Fourth, he states that the donor will become a universal emperor enjoying all the advantages of that position. Fifth, he explains that the donor will be reborn among the gods and enjoy all divine distinctions. The sūtra then concludes with the monks rejoicing and praising the Buddha.
This English translation is based on the Tibetan version in the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the variant readings recorded in the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) Kangyur. There is to our knowledge no extant Sanskrit version of this sūtra. The colophon to the Tibetan translation states that it was translated by the Indian preceptor Dharmākara, the translator Bandé Yeshé Nyingpo, and the chief editor Bandé Paltsek. As for the date of the Tibetan translation, the text’s inclusion in the Denkarma2 and Phangthangma3 imperial catalogs confirms its provenance in the late eighth or early ninth century.
A Chinese version of this text is also extant with the title Zuofoxingxiang jing 作佛形像.4 While its translator is unknown and its date is uncertain, it is mentioned in the Dongjin lu 東晉錄 (Record of the Eastern Jin, 317–420 ᴄᴇ). It is also referenced in the Houhanshu 後漢書 (Book of the Later Han), which is the official dynastic history of the Later Han dynasty 後漢 (25–220 ᴄᴇ) written by Fan Ye 范曄 (398–445). This indicates that the Chinese translation was completed sometime before the late fourth or early fifth century.
A Mongolian translation of the text is also available in different versions of the Mongolian Buddhist canon, which is based on the Tibetan.5
There is, to our knowledge, no previous English translation of the text to date, nor any translation into any other European language.
At that time a large number of monks had gathered in the assembly hall and started the following conversation: “Faithful brahmins or householders who remember what they are taught and have become increasingly learned may ask you how to practice virtue. There may also be some who delight in producing representations of the Thus-Gone One, who will come before us and inquire, ‘Respected ones, may we know how much benefit there is for donors when they produce a representation of the Thus-Gone One?’ How can we then respond to them in accordance with the Dharma when we do not know how much benefit results from producing a representation of the Thus-Gone One? We should ask the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha—the omniscient, all-seeing teacher who eliminates all doubts—about this point. Once the Blessed One teaches us, we will comprehend it and can then explain it at length and respond to those faithful brahmins and householders.”
Then that large number of monks went to the place where the Blessed One was staying, prostrated themselves at the Blessed One’s feet, sat to one side, [F.197.b] and asked the Buddha the following: “Respected One, a large number of us monks just had the following conversation when we gathered in the assembly hall: ‘Faithful brahmins or householders who remember what they are taught and have become increasingly learned may ask us how to practice virtue. There may also be some who delight in producing representations of the Thus-Gone One, who will come before us and inquire, “Respected ones, may we know how much benefit there is for donors when they commission a representation of the Thus-Gone One?” How can we then respond to them in accordance with the Dharma when we do not know how much benefit results from producing a representation of the Thus-Gone One? We should ask the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha—the omniscient, all-seeing teacher who eliminates all doubts—about this point. Once the Blessed One teaches us, we will comprehend it and can then explain it at length and respond to those faithful brahmins and householders.’ Respected Blessed One, since we have come to you asking about these matters, may we know how much benefit there is for donors when they produce a representation of the Thus-Gone One?”
The Blessed One replied, “Monks, you have asked this to bring benefit to many beings, to bring happiness to many beings and out of compassion for them, and to bring benefit and happiness to gods and humans. You have thought to ask for clarification from the thus-gone, worthy, perfect Buddha. Excellent! Excellent! For that reason, monks, listen to me very carefully, pay attention, [F.198.a] and I will teach you.
“One will live in a great palace, be regarded as fortunate, be free of poverty,6 and have great joy, longevity, fame, and happiness. Monks, this is the first benefit for a donor who produces representations of the Thus-Gone One.
“One will also have riches, abundant wealth, prosperity, property, and many belongings. One will be self-sufficient and have many cherished possessions such as a great number of livestock, grain, jewels, gold, treasuries, and storerooms; many horses, elephants, oxen, sheep, male and female servants, employees, and laborers; and many ministers, friends, relatives, and kin. Monks, this is the second benefit for a donor who produces representations of the Thus-Gone One.
“Monks, one will also have a beautiful body, a pleasant appearance, elegance, a golden complexion,7 a head that is round like a parasol, long arms, a broad forehead, unbroken eyebrows, a perfect set of limbs and extremities, and be adorned with all sorts of ornaments. Monks, this is the third benefit for a donor who produces representations of the Thus-Gone One.
“Monks, one will also become a universal emperor who has a fine retinue, the seven royal treasures, and is surrounded by one thousand sons. All of one’s sons, wives, servants, and caretakers will listen respectfully and follow one’s commands. Monks, this is the fourth benefit for a donor [F.198.b] who produces representations of the Thus-Gone One.
“Moreover, monks, after passing away, one will take a favorable rebirth among the gods in the heavenly realms. After being born there, one will become an excellent king of the gods who will be venerated by the gods and goddesses. One will enjoy ten states: divine lifespan, divine complexion, divine power, divine happiness, divine lordship, and divine form, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Monks, this is the fifth benefit for a donor who produces representations of the Thus-Gone One.”
’phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa’i gzugs brnyan bzhag pa’i phan yon yang dag par brjod pa zhes bya ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs. Toh 320, Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 197.a–198.b.
’phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa’i gzugs brnyan bzhag pa’i phan yon yang dag par brjod pa zhes bya ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur]. 108 volumes. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Press), 2006–2009, vol. 72, pp. 584–88.
dkar chag ’phang thang ma. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Nationalities Press), 2003.
Qutuγ-tu tegünčilen iregsed-ün körüg bey-e-yi bayiγuluγsan-u sayin tusa-yi ünen-iyer ögüleküi neretü nom-un ǰüil. Mongolian Kanjur vol. 88, folios 264.a−266.b. Śata-piṭaka Series 101–208. Edited by Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi: Sharada Rani, 1973–79.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte, 268. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Ligeti, Louis. Catalogue de Kanǰur Mongol imprimé. Vol. 1, Catalogue. Bibliotheca Orientalis Hungarica III. Budapest: Société Kőrösi Csoma, 1942.
- thams cad gzigs pa
Omniscient one who sees and knows everything. Epithet of a buddha.
- mgon med zas sbyin gyi kun dga’ ra ba
An important early site for the Buddha’s growing community. Anāthapiṇḍada, a wealthy patron of the Buddha, purchased the park, located outside Śrāvastī, at great cost, purportedly covering the ground with gold, and donated it to the saṅgha. It was there that the Buddha spent several rainy seasons and gave discourses that were later recorded as sūtras.
- rim gro’i gnas
A large hall in the traditional Buddhist vihāra used for monastic assemblies.
- ban de dpal brtsegs
Chief editor who finalized the Tibetan translation of The Noble Dharma Discourse Describing the Benefits of Producing Representations of the Thus-Gone One, among other works.
Bandé Yeshé Nyingpo
- ban de ye shes snying po
Translator who produced the Tibetan translation of The Noble Dharma Discourse Describing the Benefits of Producing Representations of the Thus-Gone One, among other works.
- 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 this term 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 interpreted, in addition, 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.”
- bram ze
A member of the highest of the four traditional castes in Hinduism, the priestly caste.
- chos kyi rnam grangs
- d+ha rmA ka ra
Indian scholar (Skt. upādhyāya ) who assisted the Tibetan translation of The Noble Dharma Discourse Describing the Benefits of Producing Representations of the Thus-Gone One , among other works.
- sbyin pa po
A person who gives alms, an offerer of a gift, or a donor. In the context of the text it is the person who orders an artist to produce the Tathāgata’s image and offers it to the monastic community.
Gods, demigods, and human beings compose the three fortunate realms of higher rebirth. Gods enjoy comfort and peace, but rarely attain enlightenment. The three realms of gods include the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm.
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
The grove of Prince Jeta in Śrāvastī. The Buddha taught many of his discourses there, especially during the rainy season retreat.
- dge slong
A fully ordained Buddhist monk observing 253 precepts.
- thams cad mkhyen pa
An epithet of the Buddha and a title for high lamas in the Tibetan tradition.
- yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas
- gzugs brnyan
A visual representation fashioned in the likeness of someone.
- btsun pa
Seven royal treasures
- rin po che sna bdun
The seven royal substances or treasures of a universal emperor: precious wheel (’khor lo rin po che), precious jewel (nor bu rin po che), precious queen (btsun mo rin po che), precious minister (blon po rin po che), precious elephant (glang po rin po che), precious excellent horse (rta mchog rin po che), and precious army officer (dmag dpon rin po che).
- mnyan yod
The capital of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kośala during the sixth–fifth centuries ʙᴄᴇ, which was ruled by one of the Buddha’s royal patrons, King Prasenajit. It was the setting for many sūtras, as the Buddha spent many rains retreats outside the city in the Jeta Grove. It has been identified with present-day Sahet Mahet in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Rapti.
- ston pa
An epithet of the Buddha.
- gnas bcu po
This term refers here to the ten divine qualities listed in the text: (1) divine lifespan, (2) divine complexion, (3) divine power, (4) divine happiness, (5) divine lordship, (6) divine form, (7) divine sound, (8) divine smell, (9) divine taste, and (10) divine touch. They can be divided into two groups of five, the latter five being the pleasures of the five senses (’dod yon lnga).
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used synonym for buddha. According to different explanations, it can be read as tathā-gata, literally meaning “one who has thus gone,” or as tathā-āgata, “one who has thus come.” Gata, though literally meaning “gone,” is a past passive participle used to describe a state or condition of existence. Tatha(tā), often rendered as “suchness” or “thusness,” is the quality or condition of things as they really are, which cannot be conveyed in conceptual, dualistic terms. Therefore, this epithet is interpreted in different ways, but in general it implies one who has departed in the wake of the buddhas of the past, or one who has manifested the supreme awakening dependent on the reality that does not abide in the two extremes of existence and quiescence.
- ’khor los sgyur ba’i rgyal po
A cakravartin is a king who rules over at least one continent and gains his territory by the rolling of his magic wheel over the land. Therefore, he is called a king with the revolving wheel. This is as the result of the merit he has accumulated in previous lifetimes.
- dge ba
- dgra bcom pa
According to Buddhist tradition, one who is worthy of worship (pūjām arhati), or one who has conquered the enemies, the mental afflictions or emotions (kleśa-ari-hata-vat), and reached liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. It is the fourth and highest of the four fruits attainable by śrāvakas. Also used as an epithet of the Buddha.