The Chapter on the Scale of Life
Degé Kangyur, vol. 36 (phal chen, kha), folios 393.b–394.b.
Translated by the Subhashita Translation Group
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The bodhisattva King of Mind gives a teaching to an assembly of bodhisattvas on the relativity of time among different buddhafields. Eleven buddhafields are enumerated, with an eon in the first being equivalent to a day in the following buddhafield, where an eon is, in turn, the equivalent of a day in the next, and so forth.
Translated, edited, and finalized by the Subhashita Translation Group. The translation was produced by Lowell Cook, who also wrote the introduction. Benjamin Ewing checked the translation against the Tibetan and edited the text and introduction.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Thirty and Twenty, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
The Chapter on the Scale of Life is the thirty-seventh of the forty-five chapters in the Ornaments of the Buddhas (Skt. Buddhāvataṃsaka; Tib. sangs rgyas phal po che). This chapter continues the Ornaments of the Buddhas’ series of dialogues, which occur not long after the Buddha’s awakening in Magadha. In this chapter a bodhisattva named King of Mind offers a discourse on the relativity of time between buddhafields. In the preceding chapter, he had expounded on the incalculable numbers of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the worlds in which they appear. In this chapter, he focuses more particularly on the theme of time. The chapter’s title, “The Scale of Life,” makes it clear that the central theme of the varying spans of time found across different buddhafields has a direct bearing on the immense lifespans of the buddhas who live in them, preside over them, and are also responsible for their manifestation, as well as the lifespans of the bodhisattvas and other beings who inhabit them. Eleven buddhafields are enumerated in a formulaic manner, with an eon in the first being equivalent to a day in the following buddhafield, where an eon is, in turn, the equivalent of a day in the next, and so forth. In this way, a hierarchy of buddhafields is presented that begins with our world and culminates with the paramount buddhafield, Padmaśrī. This language of incredibly vast scales of time has the effect of testing the limits of human conception, thereby demonstrating that the qualities of the buddhas and their buddhafields are beyond quantification or conceptualization.
The Chapter on the Scale of Life is nearly identical to two other sūtras, Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields (Toh 104)1 and The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable (Toh 268).2 Of the three versions, The Chapter on the Scale of Life is the most abbreviated because it lacks the narrative elements that frame the discourse in the other two sūtras. Whereas Toh 104 and 268 are stand-alone sūtras that need to be established in the historical narrative of the Buddha’s teaching career, The Chapter on the Scale of Life is part of the more extensive discourse presented in the Ornaments of the Buddhas collection, and thus is integrated into its narrative frame.3 The name of the primary interlocutor also differs across the three texts, as do some of the names of the buddhas and buddhafields listed in them. In the case of Toh 268, the names of most of the buddhafields are omitted altogether. Apart from these differences, the structure, terminology, and content of the three texts is largely the same. A Sanskrit witness of Toh 104 with the slightly variant title Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana (Proclaiming the Qualities of the Infinite Buddhafields) provides an important resource for accessing the Sanskrit text for all three of these closely related sūtras.4
The Ornaments of the Buddhas is listed in both the Denkarma (Tib. ldan/lhan dkar ma) and Phangthangma (Tib. ’phang thang ma) catalogs, the two extant inventories of translations from the Imperial Period (629–841 ᴄᴇ).5 While there is no colophon specific to The Chapter on the Scale of Life, the colophon to the complete Ornaments of the Buddhas text states that it was translated by the chief editor-translator Yeshé Dé, together with the Indian scholars Jinamitra, Surendrabodhi, and others.
The translation offered here is based on the version found in the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the Sanskrit attested in the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana. Additionally, the variant readings recorded in the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyurs were consulted, and Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields and The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable informed the translation. A Chinese translation of the Ornaments of the Buddhas was produced by Buddhabhadra (359–429) in the fifth century and is included in the Chinese canon (Taishō 278, Da fang guang fo hua yan jing 大方廣佛華嚴經). The “Scale of Life” chapter has been translated from the Chinese in The Flower Ornament Scripture, Thomas Cleary’s translation of the entire Ornaments of the Buddhas.6 Where possible, the Sanskrit names of buddhas and buddhafields have been supplied by the Anantabuddhakṣetraguṇodbhāvana.
It was then that the bodhisattva King of Mind addressed those bodhisattvas: “O children of the Victorious One, the extent of an eon in this Sahā world, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Śākyamuni, is but a single day in Sukhāvatī, the buddhafield of the Thus-Gone One Amitāyus. [F.394.a]
“O children of the Victorious One, the extent of an eon in the realm of Kaṣāyadhvajā is but a single day in the realm of Avaivartikacakranirghoṣā, the buddhafield of the Thus-Gone One Padmaphullitagātra.
“O children of the Victorious One, the extent of an eon in the realm of Avaivartikacakranirghoṣā is but a single day in the realm of Virajā, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Dharmadhvaja.
“O children of the Victorious One, the extent of an eon in the realm of Suprabhā is but a single day in the realm of Duratikramā, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Lotus Body Blooming from the Light of the Dharma.
“O children of the Victorious One, the extent of an eon in the realm of Duratikramā is [F.394.b] but a single day in the realm of Vyūhā, the buddhafield of the blessed Thus-Gone One Light of All Supernatural Abilities.
“O children of the Victorious One, continuing with this system for calculating eons and traversing tens of thousands of countless realms, we arrive at the equivalent of a single day in the realm of Padmaśrī, the buddhafield where the blessed Thus-Gone One Bhadraśrī resides.
“According to this system of calculation, all realms are brimming with bodhisattvas who follow the conduct of Samantabhadra.”
This was “The Scale of Life,” the thirty-seventh chapter of the extensive sūtra, the Ornaments of the Buddhas.
tshe’i tshad kyi le’u ste sum cu bdun pa (sangs rgyas phal po che zhes bya ba shin tu rgyas pa chen po’i mdo). Toh 44-37, Degé Kangyur vol. 36 (phal chen, kha), folios 393.a–394.b.
tshe’i tshad kyi le’u ste sum cu bdun pa (sangs rgyas phal po che zhes bya ba shin tu rgyas pa chen po’i mdo). (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. 36, pp. 825–27.
tshe’i tshad kyi le’u ste sum cu bdun pa (sangs rgyas phal po che zhes bya ba shin tu rgyas pa chen po’i mdo). Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 31 (phal chen, ga), folios 351.b–352.b.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Cleary, Thomas. The Flower Ornament Sutra: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1984.
Hamar, Imre. “Buddhāvataṃsakasūtra.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Jonathan Silk et al., vol. 1, Literature and Languages, 115–28. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Skilling, Peter and Saerji. “ ‘O, Son of the Conqueror’: A note on jinaputra as a term of address in the Buddhāvataṃsaka and in Mahāyāna sūtras.” Annual Report of The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology (ARIRIAB) at Soka University 15 (2012): 127–30.
Subhashita Translation Group, trans. Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields (Toh 104). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Subhashita Translation Group, trans. The Sūtra of King of the Inconceivable (Toh 268). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2022.
Vinītā, Bhikṣuṇī, ed. and trans. A Unique Collection of Twenty Sūtras in a Sanskrit Manuscript from the Potala. Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region 7/1. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House; Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2010.
- tshe dpag tu med pa
The buddha in the western realm of Sukhāvatī. Later and presently better known by his alternative name Amitābha.
- phyir mi ldog pa’i ’khor lo rab tu sgrog pa
Avaivartikacakranirghoṣā (Where the Wheel of Nonregression Is Proclaimed) is a buddhafield inhabited by the Buddha Padmaphullitagātra. “Nonregression” (Skt. avaivartika, Tib. phyir mi ldog pa) refers to a stage on the bodhisattva path where the practitioner will never turn back, or be turned back, from progress toward the full awakening of a buddha.
- sangs rgyas kyi zhing
A buddhafield is the particular world system over which a specific buddha presides. There are innumerable such fields in Mahāyāna Buddhist cosmology.
King of Mind
- sems kyi rgyal po
A bodhisattva who is the primary interlocutor for the “Scale of Life” chapter (Ch. 37) of the Buddhāvataṃsaka.
- mi mjed
This universe of ours, or the trichiliocosm (but sometimes referring to just this world system of four continents), presided over by Brahmā. The term is variously interpreted as meaning the world of suffering, of endurance, of fearlessness, or of concomitance (of karmic cause and effect).
- kun tu bzang po
Samantabhadra (Entirely Excellent) is one of the eight principal bodhisattvas. He is known for embodying the conduct of bodhisattvas through his vast aspirations, offerings, and deeds for the benefit of beings.