The Magnificent Account About a Sow
Degé Kangyur vol. 75 (mdo sde, aM), folios 289.b–291.a
Translated by Bodhinidhi Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2022
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In The Magnificent Account About a Sow, the Buddha recounts the earlier events surrounding a god in Trāyastriṃśa heaven who foresaw that he would be reborn as a pig in Rājagṛha. At the encouragement of Śakra, this god, in the final moments of agony before his death, took refuge in the Three Jewels and thereby attained rebirth in the even higher Tuṣita heaven. The story thus illustrates the liberative power of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, as befittingly expressed in the concluding verses of this short avadāna.
Translated by the Bodhinidhi Translation Group. The Tibetan text was translated into English and compared with the Sanskrit and Chinese versions by Thomas Cruijsen. Khenpo Chowang checked the translation with the Tibetan.
The translator would like to thank the staff at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, for generously providing access to their precious library collections.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Magnificent Account About a Sow belongs to a genre of the Buddha’s teaching known as avadāna, “magnificent accounts,” which consist of narratives aimed at illustrating the workings of karma and instilling the principles of generosity and virtuous conduct. In this case, the story is about a god who succeeds in averting a particularly wretched state of rebirth by taking refuge in the Three Jewels.
It is one of the few separate avadāna texts in the Kangyur. For the most part, texts of this type are found scattered throughout the vast Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya or grouped together in the didactic anthologies of the Avadānaśataka and the Karmaśataka.1 This avadāna, however, occurs by itself and this is probably due to the esteem in which it was held when it was translated into Tibetan around the turn of the ninth century ᴄᴇ.
One of the likely reasons for its renown was that Śāntideva (late seventh–early eighth century ᴄᴇ), who rose to prominence in Nālandā after composing the Bodhicaryāvatāra (Toh 3871), quotes this avadāna in his older training compendium, the Śikṣāsamuccaya (Toh 3940). In the eighth chapter of this work, where Śāntideva explains how to purify oneself from past wrongdoings (pāpaviśodhana), he explicitly mentions The Magnificent Account About a Sow in order to affirm the potency of taking refuge in the Three Jewels, “the power of support” (āśrayabala), as it is put in the Caturdharmanirdeśasūtra.2 The verse that he cites is the first verse that is exclaimed by Indra, the lord of Trāyastriṃśa heaven, in The Magnificent Account About a Sow:3
ye buddhaṃ śaraṇaṃ yānti na te gacchanti durgatiṃ /prahāya mānuṣān kāyān divyān kāyāṃ labhanti te //Those who take refuge in the BuddhaDo not go to an unfortunate state;Leaving behind the human body,They obtain a divine body.
It is the only avadāna that Śāntideva refers to in the Śikṣāsamuccaya, which is largely comprised of textual citations of Mahāyāna sūtras, and its mention must have carried significant weight. It was not long after Śāntideva had passed away that the Tibetan translator Yeshé Dé, who was responsible for the translation of the Śikṣāsamuccaya, also undertook the translation of The Magnificent Account About a Sow, together with the Kashmiri scholar-monk Jinamitra. This prolific lotsawa also included a short summary of the story in his mnemonic treatise on the Bhadracarīpraṇidhāna called bzang spyod kyi ’grel pa bzhi’i don bsdus nas brjed byang,4 and the avadāna is further mentioned by Paltsek, another important Tibetan translator at the time, in his treatise called gsung rab rin po che’i gtam rgyud dang shakya’i rabs rgyud.5 It seems, in fact, that Yeshé Dé’s summary is derived from the synopsis of this avadāna in the Bhadracarīpraṇidhānarājaṭīkā,6 a commentary by the Indian master Bhadrapaṇa that was translated into Tibetan by Jñānagarbha and Paltsek during the same period. In this commentary, Bhadrapaṇa, who also lived in the eighth century, similarly refers to The Magnificent Account About a Sow to illustrate “the power of support,” as Śāntideva does in the Śikṣāsamuccaya.
In the centuries that followed, this avadāna continued to be well known in the Buddhist world. The Chinese translation that has come down to us was made in the Song capital Bianliang sometime between 982 and 1001 ᴄᴇ by the Indian scholar-monk Dharmadeva, who is described as having received his training in Nālandā.7 Prajñākaramati (±950–1030), one of the famous gatekeepers at the Vikramaśīla monastery, quotes the first verse in his commentary on Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra—again to point out the potency of the Three Refuges in clearing away past wrongdoings—with direct reference to the Śikṣāsamuccya.8 The same verse is cited by Dharmakīrti of Suvarṇadvīpa, present-day Sumatra, in his commentary on the Abhisamayālaṅkāra,9 which was translated into Tibetan by Atiśa and Rinchen Zangpo around the middle of the eleventh century. The quotation is also found at the beginning of the Ādikarmapradīpa,10 the bodhisattva manual compiled by the tantric master Anupamavajra, who was influential in the Kathmandu Valley from the twelfth century onward.
While these citations of the first verse, all with explicit reference to the title and story of The Magnificent Account About a Sow, can be attributed to the lasting influence of Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya, the verse itself appears to derive its authority from elsewhere. In the Mahāsamāja Sūtra, one of the old Mahāsūtras of the Sarvāstivāda tradition, it is a god of the Brahmā group who exclaims this verse after congregating with deities from all ten directions at the forest in Kapilavastu when the Buddha was giving the monks a teaching on nirvāṇa there.11 In a somewhat different wording, the same verse is voiced by a god from Śuddhāvāsa heaven in the Mahāsamaya Sutta, which is the Pali counterpart to the Mahāsamāja Sūtra and likewise an important text that was recited for protective purposes over the centuries.12 These attestations of the verse are considerably older than the first citation from The Magnificent Account About a Sow by Śāntideva in the eighth century ᴄᴇ, and it seems, therefore, that the verse had a life of its own before it was adapted to this specific avadāna.
This can also be seen in the fact that the first three verses of The Magnificent Account About a Sow, one for each of the Three Jewels, occur independently, outside the setting of this avadāna, on a single paper leaf found among the Sanskrit manuscript remains at Turfan, in modern-day Xinjiang province, which tend to date to the fifth to sixth centuries ᴄᴇ.13 We find the same three verses on the Three Jewels in the Apaṇṇakajātaka, a Pali jātaka that probably dates to slightly before this period and that, in terms of the story, bears no connection with The Magnificent Account About a Sow.14 It therefore appears that these verses were widely known and recited at one point in time, independently from any particular story.15
The same could be said for the other three verses in The Magnificent Account About a Sow. Although the extant Sanskrit version in the Divyāvadāna (one of the important collections of avadānas preserved in Nepalese manuscripts) does not contain these three verses,16 they are found in both the Tibetan and the Chinese translations and therefore must have been present in other Sanskrit versions of The Magnificent Account About a Sow that circulated at the time these translations were made. These verses again have an even earlier attestation, since they occur together in the chapter on mindfulness in the Udānavarga, the Sarvāstivāda collection of the Buddha’s sayings that forms the Sanskrit counterpart to the Pali Dhammapada.17 The first of these verses reads:
lābhas teṣām manuṣyāṇāṃ ye buddhaṃ śaraṇaṃ gatāḥ /yeṣāṃ divā ca rātrau ca nityam buddhagatā smṛtiḥ //There is great gain for those peopleWho have taken refuge in the Buddha,Who call to mind the BuddhaAt all times, day and night.
That these verses in the Udānavarga were held in high regard is clear from the fact that they are cited by none other than Vasubandhu at the beginning of his Gāthāsaṅgraha,18 the short anthology of twenty-one verses that he compiled before he turned to the Mahāyāna. Vasubandhu lived in the fourth to fifth century ᴄᴇ, showing that these three verses had already become celebrated at that time—well before the end of the eighth century when the Tibetan translation of The Magnificent Account About a Sow was made on the basis of a Sanskrit version that included these verses. The Chinese translation, made by Dharmadeva about two centuries after the Tibetan translation, contains another set of three verses and a concluding verse that seem to have been added in the interval, but we have not been able to identify their source.
The English translation of The Magnificent Account About a Sow that is offered here is based on the Tibetan translation by the Kashmiri paṇḍita Jinamitra and the Tibetan lotsawa Yeshe Dé from the end of the eighth century or the beginning of the ninth century, at the time of the first transmission (snga dar) of the Dharma to Tibet. We have based our translation on the text found in the Degé Kangyur, for which we have used the modern Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma), in which variant readings of several other Kangyurs of the Tshalpa line are also recorded. We have also checked the Stok Palace manuscript for variant readings in the Thempangma line of textual transmission. The few such variants were found to be minor and orthographical in nature, without any implication for the meaning of the text.
In addition to the Tibetan text, we have also consulted the Sanskrit version of The Magnificent Account About a Sow that is found in the Divyāvadāna,19 which shows a number of differences, some of which derive from it belonging to a different line of textual transmission that has continued in the Kathmandu Valley until modern times. Some differences in the Tibetan translation, however, can be ascribed to a certain translation choice by Jinamitra and Yeshé Dé or an omission in the underlying Sanskrit, especially in those cases where the renderings of the Chinese translation are in agreement with the extant Sanskrit version. In one instance, we have adopted a phrase that is present in both the Divyāvadāna Sanskrit version and the Chinese translation, because it makes the narrative more complete. All these differences, including the significant variants in the Chinese translation by Dharmadeva,20 have been noted in the endnotes.
Finally, a note about the title of The Magnificent Account About a Sow: Usually, avadānas involve a narration of a person’s actions that took place in a distant past, to which only the Buddha, in his omniscience, has access, as is the case in the Buddha’s own past life stories known as jātakas. The title, in those cases, refers to that previous existence of the person in question. In this case, however, the narrated events occurred in a more recent past, not long before they are here recounted by the Buddha to a gathering of monks at Śrāvastī, and the title points not to the lifetime that once was, but to the future life that would have been if it had not been for the Three Jewels.
Homage to the Three Jewels!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling at Śrāvastī in Jetavana, in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park.21
The Blessed One then addressed the monks: “Monks, there are five portents that appear to a god who is due to pass away. What are those five? His previously untarnished clothes become tarnished, his previously unwithered flower garlands become withered, sweat appears from both armpits, a foul odor emerges from his body, and a god who is due to pass away finds no satisfaction in his seat.22
“Now, monks, a certain god who was due to pass away was writhing about on the ground, beating his chest,23 as he cried and wailed pitifully, ‘Ah Mandākinī River! Ah lake!24 Ah pool! Ah Caitraratha Grove! Ah Pāruṣyaka Grove! Ah Nandana Grove! Ah Miśrakā Grove!25 Ah Pāriyātraka!26 Ah lovely one!27 Ah Pāṇḍukambala Rock!28 Ah assembly hall of the gods! Ah Sudarśana!’29
“Śakra, lord of the gods,30 saw that god violently writhing about on the ground and wailing pitifully. Seeing this, he then approached the god and asked him, ‘My friend, why are you violently writhing about on the ground and wailing pitifully, [F.290.a] “Ah Mandākinī River! Ah lake! Ah pool! Ah Caitraratha Grove! Ah Pāruṣyaka Grove! Ah Nandana Grove! Ah Miśrakā Grove! Ah Pāriyātraka! Ah lovely one! Ah Pāṇḍukambala Rock! Ah assembly hall of the gods! Ah Sudarśana!”?’
“At this,31 the god said to Śakra, lord of the gods, ‘Kauśika, I will be bereft of heavenly bliss, as seven days from now I will be reborn in the womb of a sow in the city of Rājagṛha.32 I will then have to feed on excrement and urine for many years. That is why I am like this.’33
“Śakra, lord of the gods, out of compassion then said to that god,34 ‘Come, my friend. Take refuge in the Buddha, the most excellent of human beings. Take refuge in the Dharma, the most excellent of dispassions. Take refuge in the Saṅgha, the most excellent of communities.’
“The god said,35 ‘Friend,36 I take refuge in the Buddha, the most excellent of human beings. I take refuge in the Dharma, the most excellent of dispassions. I take refuge in the Saṅgha, the most excellent of communities.’
“Having embraced the Three Refuges, the god then passed away, his time spent, and he was reborn among the Tuṣita gods.37
“Then Śakra, lord of the gods, looked whether the god had been reborn in the womb of a sow, but he had not been reborn there. He looked whether the god had been reborn among hell beings or among animals, but he had not been reborn there either.38 For it is in the nature of things that gods can know and see what is below them, but not what is above them.39
“Puzzled,40 Śakra, lord of the gods, then went to the Blessed One. Having approached him, he prostrated at the Blessed One’s feet and sat down to one side. Once seated, Śakra, lord of the gods, said to the Blessed One:
“ ‘Lord,41 I saw a certain god who was due to pass away, [F.290.b] and he was writhing about in fear42 and wailing pitifully, “Ah Mandākinī River! Ah lake! Ah pool! Ah Caitraratha Grove! Ah Pāruṣyaka Grove! Ah Nandana Grove! Ah Miśrakā Grove! Ah Pāriyātraka! Ah lovely one! Ah Pāṇḍukambala Rock! Ah assembly hall of the gods! Ah Sudarśana!” I went to him and said, “My friend, why are you beating your chest and crying, lamenting, and wailing?”43 He said, “44I will be bereft of heavenly bliss, as seven days from now I will be born in the womb of a sow in the city of Rājagṛha. I will then have to feed on excrement and urine for many years. That is why I am like this.” I said to him,45 “Come, my friend. Take refuge in the Buddha, the most excellent of human beings. Take refuge in the Dharma, the most excellent of dispassions. Take refuge in the Saṅgha, the most excellent of communities.” Terrified of being born in the womb of an animal and terrified of dying,46 that god then said, “Friend,47 I take refuge in the Buddha, the most excellent of human beings. I take refuge in the Dharma, the most excellent of dispassions. I take refuge in the Saṅgha, the most excellent of communities.” Having embraced the Three Refuges, that god then passed away, his time spent. Lord, where was he reborn?’
“The Blessed One replied, ‘Kauśika, that god was reborn among the Tuṣita gods, and all his heavenly desires are fulfilled.’48
“Then Śakra, lord of the gods, was glad and content. Being delighted, joy and happiness arose, and Indra, glad at heart, on that occasion spoke these verses:
“Thereupon, in approval of Śakra, lord of the gods, the Blessed One spoke the verses,51 ‘So it is, Kauśika, so it is:
“Then, rejoicing in what the Blessed One had spoken, Śakra, lord of the gods, prostrated at the Blessed One’s feet, circumambulated the Blessed One three times with folded hands, and disappeared right there.”
This is what the Blessed One said. Elated, the monks rejoiced at what the Blessed One had spoken.53
This concludes the sūtra called “The Magnificent Account About a Sow.”
|DN||Dīrhanikāya. The Pāli Text Society edition.|
|Iti||Itivuttaka. The Pāli Text Society edition.|
|Jāt||Jātaka. The Pāli Text Society edition.|
|SN||Saṃyuttanikāya. The Pāli Text Society edition.|
|Taishō||Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經. Edited by Takakusu Junjirō 高楠順次郎 and Watanabe Kaikyoku 渡邊海旭. 100 vols. Tokyo: Taishō issaikyō kankōkai 大正一切經刊行會, 1924–35.|
In the Chinese translation, these three verses are condensed into one verse, followed by three other verses spoken by the Buddha:
And then a concluding verse:
phag mo’i rtogs pa brjod pa (Sūkarikāvadāna. Toh 345, Degé Kangyur vol. 75 (mdo sde, aM), folios 289.b–291.a.
phag mo’i rtogs pa brjod 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. 75, pp. 790–96.
’phag mo’i rtogs pa brjod pa zhes bya ba’i mdo. Stok Palace Kangyur, vol. 75 (mdo sde, sa), folios 31.a–33.b.
dge slong ma’i so sor thar pa (Bhikṣunīprātimokṣa). Toh 4, Degé Kangyur vol. 9 (’dul ba, ta), folios 1.a–25.a.
rgya cher rol pa (Lalitavistara). Toh 95, Degé Kangyur vol. 46 (mdo sde, kha), folios 1.b–216.b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2013.
ched du brjod pa’i tshoms (Udānavarga). Toh 326, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 209.a–253.a.
chos bzhi bstan pa’i mdo (Caturdharmanirdeśasūtra). Toh 249, Degé Kangyur vol. 66 (mdo sde, za), folios 59.a–59.b. English translation in Pearcey 2019.
mdo chen po ’dus pa chen po’i mdo (Mahāsamājasūtramahāsūtra). Toh 653, Degé Kangyur vol. 91 (rgyud, ba), folios 137.a–146.a; Toh 1062, Degé Kangyur vol. 101 (gzungs, waM), folios 205.b–215.b.
las brgya pa (Karmaśataka). Toh 340, Degé Kangyur vol. 73 (mdo sde, ha), folios 1.b–309.a; vol. 74 (mdo sde, a), folios 1.b–128.b. English translation in Jamspal and Fischer 2020.
Bhadrapaṇa. bzang po’i smon lam gyi rgyal po’i rgya cher ’grel pa (Bhadracaryāpraṇidhānarājaṭīkā). , Degé Tengyur vol. 117 (mdo ’grel, nyi), folios 234.a–252.b.
Kawa Paltsek. gsung rab rin po che’i gtam rgyud dang shAkya’i rabs rgyud (Pravacanaratnākhyānaśākyavaṁśāvalī). Toh 4357, Degé Tengyur vol. 204 (bstan bcos sna tshogs, co), folios 239.a–377.a.
Prajñākaramati. byang chub kyi spyod pa la’jug pa’i dka’ ’grel (Bodhicaryāvatarapañjika). Toh 3872, Degé Tengyur vol. 105 (mdo ’grel, la), folios 41.b–288.a.
Śāntideva. byang chub sems dpa’i spyod pa la ’jug pa (Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra). Toh 3871, Degé Tengyur vol. 105 (mdo ’grel, la), folios 1.b–40.b.
———. bslab pa kun las btus pa (Śikṣāsamuccaya). Toh 3940, Degé Tengyur vol. 111 (dbu ma, khi), folios 3.a–194.b.
Suvarṇadvīpa Dharmakīrti. shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan zhes bya ba’i ’grel pa rtogs par dka’ ba’i snang ba zhes bya ba’i ’grel bshad (Abhisamayālaṅkāranāmaprajñāpāramitopadeśaśāstravṛttidurbodhālokanāmaṭīkā). Toh 3794, Degé Tengyur vol. 86 (sher phyin, ja), folios 140.b–254.a.
Vasubandhu. bstan bcos tshigs su bcad pa bsdus pa (Gāthāsaṅgrahaśāstra). Toh 4102, Degé Tengyur vol. 149 (mngon pa, thu), folios 223.a–224.a.
———. tshigs su bcad pa’i don bsdus pa zhes bya ba’i bstan bcos (Gāthāsaṅgrahaśāstrārtha). Toh 4103, Degé Tengyur vol. 149 (mngon pa, thu), folios 224.a–261.a.
Yeshé Dé. bzang spyod kyi ’grel pa bzhi’i don bsdus nas brjed byang du byas pa (Bhadracaryācatuṣṭīkāpiṇḍārthābhismaraṇa). Toh 4359, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (bstan bcos sna tshogs, jo), folios 184.a–213.b.
Dharmadeva. Jie wa nang fa tian zi shou san gui huo yi mian e doa jing 嗟韈曩法天子 受三歸依獲免惡道經. Taishō 595.
Bagchi, Prabodh Chandra. Le canon bouddhique en Chine: Les traducteurs et les traductions. Vol. 2. Sino-Indica: Publications de l’Université de Calcutta 4. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1938.
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Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. The Play in Full (Lalitavistara, Toh 95). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2013.
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Rotman, Andy. Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna. Part 1. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2008.
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Skilling, Peter. Mahāsūtras: Great Discourses of the Buddha. Vol. 1. Bristol: The Pali Text Society, 2010.
———. Mahāsūtras: Great Discourses of the Buddha. Vol. 2. Bristol: The Pali Text Society, 2012.
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Types of attestation for Sanskrit names and terms
Attested in source text
This term is attested in the Sanskrit manuscript used as a source for this translation.
Attested in other text
This term is attested in other Sanskrit manuscripts of the Kangyur or Tengyur.
Attested in dictionary
This term is attested in Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries.
The attestation of this name is approximate. It is based on other names where Tibetan-Sanskrit relationship is attested in dictionaries or other manuscripts.
Reconstruction from Tibetan phonetic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the Tibetan phonetic rendering of the term.
Reconstruction from Tibetan semantic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the semantics of the Tibetan translation.
This term has been supplied from an unspecified source, which most often is a widely trusted dictionary.
- mgon med zas sbyin
- mgon med zas sbyin gyi kun dga’ ra ba
- dud ’gro
assembly hall of the gods
- lha’i ’dun sa
- bcom ldan ’das
- shing rta sna tshogs can gyi tshal
- chags dang bral ba
due to pass away
- ’chi ’pho’i chos
- lha’i bu
- dmyal ba
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
- dzi na mi tra
- kau shi ka
- bcom ldan ’das
- rtogs pa brjod pa
- dal gyis ’bab pa
- ’dres pa’i tshal
- dga’ ba’i tshal
- ar mo nig lta bu’i rdo leb
- yongs ’du
- rtsub ’gyur gyi tshal
- snga ltas
- rgyal po’i khab
- brgya byin
- mnyan yod
- blta na sdug pa
- skyabs gsum
- sum cu rtsa gsum pa
- dga’ ldan
- ngan ’gro
- ye shes sde