The Sūtra of the Sun
Degé Kangyur, vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 282.a–282.b
Translated by the Pema Yeshé Dé Translation Team
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Sūtra of the Sun is a short discourse providing a Buddhist account of a solar eclipse. On one occasion while the Buddha is residing in Śrāvastī, the sun is seized by Rāhu, lord of the asuras, which causes an eclipse. The god of the sun asks the Buddha for refuge, after which the Buddha urges Rāhu to release the sun. When questioned by Vemacitra, another lord of the asuras, Rāhu explains that if he had not let the sun go, his head would have split into seven pieces. This sūtra enjoys some popularity today and appears in Tibetan collections of mantras and texts for protection.
This sūtra was translated by Giuliano Proença, who also prepared the introduction, the glossary, and the notes. The English translation and ancillary materials were proofread by Daniela Espíndola.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Sūtra of the Sun is a short discourse set in Śrāvastī that presents a Buddhist account of a solar eclipse. It describes Rāhu seizing the sun and the Buddha calling for its release.1 When the eclipse begins, the god of the sun asks the Buddha for refuge, prompting the Buddha to demand that Rāhu let the sun go. When questioned by the asura Vemacitra, Rāhu explains that if he had not released the sun, his head would have split into seven pieces.
The Sūtra of the Sun is a Tibetan translation of a canonical Theravāda text and thus was probably translated from Pali. It belongs to a group of thirteen late-translated sūtras2 (gsar du ’gyur ba), as noted in Butön Rinchen Drup’s3 (1290–1364) History of Buddhism and in the Lithang, Degé, and Urga Kangyurs.4 One of these sūtras, The Sūtra of the Moon (1) (Toh 42)5, presents an almost identical narrative concerning a lunar eclipse. The Sūtra of the Sun features one additional verse not found in The Sūtra of the Moon, and the same is true of the Pali counterparts of these two texts. The equivalent of The Sūtra of the Sun in the Pali canon, the Sūryasutta, is included in the Saṃyutta Nikāya (SN 2.10). Apart from some occasional variations, the Tibetan and Pali are very closely aligned.
The Sūtra of the Sun is unique to the Theravāda tradition, but the extra verse that is missing in The Sūtra of the Moon (1) is represented in another similar discourse titled The Sūtra of the Moon (2) (Toh 331),6 which was translated from Sanskrit in the time of the “early diffusion” of Buddhism to Tibet (eighth–ninth centuries). The Sūtra of the Moon (2) has Sanskrit, Chinese, and Old Uyghur parallels.7
The Sūtra of the Sun and The Sūtra of the Moon (1) are popular among Tibetans today,8 appearing in Tibetan collections of mantras and protective texts. In the Theravāda tradition, they are included in Paritta collections, which have the function of providing protection through recitation.
Peter Skilling dates the translation of the thirteen late-translated sūtras to the first decade of the fourteenth century.9 The Sūtra of the Sun is found in the Kangyurs of the Tshalpa, the Thempangma, and the mixed lines, as well as in some canonical collections from Western Tibet.10
The colophons of all versions of the Tshalpa line only indicate the conclusion of the sūtra, while the other collections mention the translators and the place where they worked: Ānandaśrī and Tharpa Lotsāwa Nyima Gyaltsen Palsangpo11 at the monastery of Tharpa Ling12 in Central Tibet.
Apart from the thirteen sūtras, Tharpa Lotsāwa also translated several other texts that are preserved in the tantra section of the Kangyur, working mainly with Indian and Nepalese paṇḍitas.13 Notably, Tharpa Lotsāwa was one of Butön’s teachers. Ānandaśrī is described in the colophon of the Āryamaitrīsūtra,14 which he also translated together with Künga Gyaltsen Thupten Palsangpo,15 as a prominent paṇḍita from Sri Lanka, but little is known about how or why he came to be in fourteenth century Tibet or how long he stayed there.
It is interesting to note that this Tibetan translation gives the Sanskrit title Sūryasūtra, while its presumed Theravāda source would have had the title Sūryasutta. It is possible that the translators and later editors Sanskritized the title in accordance with the translation practices of the time.
The French Sanskritist and Orientalist Léon Feer studied Buddhist accounts of eclipses, including the legend of Rāhu according to Hindu and Buddhist texts. He translated Daniel John Gogerly’s English translation of the Pali Candimasutta into French and produced his own French translations of The Sūtra of the Moon (1) and The Sūtra of the Moon (2). His notes are detailed and rich in explanations. He finalized and published the unfinished work of Paul Grimblot on some Paritta texts, presenting the Pali equivalent to the Sūtra of the Sun, excerpts of its commentary in the Aṭṭhakathā, and its translation into French.16
Peter Skilling has studied the thirteen late-translated sūtras (Toh 31–43) in detail, examining the location of these texts in the Kangyur, and their colophons, contents, translators, and possible original language. He notes parallels, dates the translations, and reviews scholarship on these works.
As far as we know, a complete translation of the Tibetan version of The Sūtra of the Sun into Western languages has not been published. Nonetheless, there are multiple translations of The Sūtra of the Sun from Pali: Feer’s translation into French (1871), Wilhelm Geiger’s translation into German (1930),17 Rhys Davids’s translation into English (1950), and a recent translation into English by Bhikkhu Sujato (2018).18
Our translation is based on the Tibetan text as found in the sūtra section of the Degé Kangyur, but we note variant readings from the witnesses of the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma), the Stok Palace Kangyur, and the Bardan Collection. In addition, we have compared the Pali with the Tibetan and noted cases where the Pali presents different readings. We occasionally refer to The Sūtra of the Moon (2) and its Sanskrit parallel.
Our translation benefitted from Feer’s notes on The Sūtra of the Moon (1) and The Sūtra of the Moon (2), as well as from his translations. We also consulted Geiger’s translation of the Pali Sūryasutta into German, and Sujato’s translation into English.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling in the Jeta Grove, Anāthapiṇḍada’s park in Śrāvastī.19 At that time the god Sūrya was seized by Rāhu, lord of the asuras. Then [F.282.b] the god Sūrya, recollecting and taking the Blessed One to heart,20 recited this verse:
Thereupon Rāhu, lord of the asuras, set the god Sūrya free and hurriedly26 approached Vemacitra,27 lord of the asuras. He then sat to one side, displeased,28 agitated, and with all his body hairs bristling. Vemacitra, lord of the asuras, now questioned Rāhu, lord of the asuras, in verse:
nyi ma’i mdo (Sūryasūtra). Toh 41, Degé Kangyur vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 282.a–282.b.
nyi ma’i mdo. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 87 (mdo, chi), folios 215.b–216.a.
nyi ma’i mdo. 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. 34, pp. 832–35.
Candimasutta. Pali Canon, Saṃyutta Nikāya 2.9. Texts in Pali on SuttaCentral. For translations, see Sujato, The Moon.
Sūryasutta. Pali Canon, Saṃyutta Nikāya 2.10. Texts in Pali on SuttaCentral. For translations, see Sujato, The Sun.
chos ’byung (bde bar gshegs pa’i bstan pa’i gsal byed chos kyi ’byung gnas gsung rab rin po che’i gter mdzod). In The Collected Works of Bu-Ston, vol. 24 (ya), pp. 633–1055. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1965–71. BDRC W22106.
Bhikkhu Sujato, trans. (2016-18). The Moon (English translation of the Candimasutta). SuttaCentral.
———(2016-18) trans. The Sun (English translation of the Sūryasutta). SuttaCentral.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. (2016). Destroyer of the Great Trichiliocosm (Mahāsāhasrapramardanī, Toh 558). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
———(2020a), trans. The Application of Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma (Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna, Toh 287). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
———(2013), trans. The Play in Full (Lalitavistara, Toh 95). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
———(2020b), trans. The Root Manual of the Rites of Mañjuśrī (Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa, Toh 543). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Feer, Léon (1883). Fragments extraits du Kandjour. Annales du Musée Guimet 5. Paris.
———(1865). La Légende de Rahu chez les bramanes et les buddhistes. Paris: Duprat.
Geiger, Wilhelm. Die in Gruppen geordnete Sammlung aus dem Pāli-Kanon der Buddhisten zum ersten Mal ins Deutsche übertragen. München-Neubiberg: Oskar Schloss, 1930.
Grimblot, Paul and Léon Feer. “Extraits du Paritta.” Journal Asiatique 67 (1871): 225–335.
Jamspal, Lozang and Kaia Tara Fischer, trans. The Hundred Deeds (Karmaśataka, Toh 340). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2020.
Pema Yeshé Dé Translation Team, trans. (2023). The Sūtra of the Moon (1) (Candrasūtra, Toh 42). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
———(2023), trans. The Sūtra of the Moon (2). (Candrasūtra, Toh 331). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Rhys Davids, Caroline A. F. The Book of the kindred sayings (Samyutta-nikāya) or grouped suttas. Pali Text Society Translation Series 7. London: The Pali Text Society, 1950.
Roberts, Peter Alan, trans. (2018). The White Lotus of the Good Dharma (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, Toh 113). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2018.
Skilling, Peter. “Theravādin Literature in Tibetan Translation.” Journal of the Pāli Text Society 19 (1993): 69–201.
Waldschmidt, Ernst. “Buddha Frees the Disc of the Moon (Candrasūtra).” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 33 (1970): 179–83.
Wille, Klaus. “Neue Fragmente des Candrasūtra.” In Bauddhasāhityastabakāvalī, Essays and Studies on Buddhist Sanskrit Literature dedicated to Claus Vogel by Colleagues, Students, and Friends, edited by D. Dimitrov, M. Hahn, and R. Steiner, 339–51. Indica et Tibetica 36. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 2008.
Nyima Gyaltsen Palsangpo
- nyi ma rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po