The Teaching of the Armor Array
Degé Kangyur, vol. 40 (dkon brtsegs, kha), folios 70.b–140.a.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Teaching of the Armor Array describes a dialog between the Buddha Śākyamuni and the bodhisattva Anantamati. The sūtra is primarily concerned with the great armor, a quality related to the perfection of insight. As such, it is no conventional sort of armor. Rather, donning it involves giving up all grasping at phenomena, and engaging diligently on the path, with insight into the nature of phenomena. The Buddha and Anantamati also discuss the nature of the Great Vehicle and the great path, all the while emphasizing their emptiness and lack of marks.
This text was translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Timothy Hinkle translated the text from Tibetan into English and wrote the introduction. Andreas Doctor compared the draft translation with the original Tibetan and edited the text. Felin Chung compared the work against the Chinese and compiled the Chinese glossary. Lastly, Josh Capitanio likewise compared the translation against the Chinese and made further edits and revisions to the translation.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Qing Dao Zheng Jian Group, which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
The Teaching of the Armor Array takes place in Veṇuvana, the famous “Bamboo Grove” monastery on the outskirts of the ancient city of Rājagṛha, where the Buddha Śākyamuni and his community of monks took up residence during several rainy season retreats. This grove was offered to the Buddha by Bimbisāra, the king of Magadha, and it is a location where the Buddha is said to have taught numerous discourses. As is customary in sūtra literature, the Buddha delivers his Dharma teaching at the request of someone who poses a particular question. In this sūtra, the questioner is a bodhisattva named Anantamati, who asks the Buddha numerous questions about the Great Vehicle path, most notably about a type of metaphorical armor called the great armor. In his reply, the Buddha explains that donning the great armor has two dimensions: (1) a constant diligence in bodhisattva conduct in service to beings over countless eons, and (2) the relinquishment of any forms of objective fixation upon or apprehension of phenomena. As such, the great armor has both relative and ultimate aspects, a fact that various Tibetan commentators have also highlighted. Still, the great armor is primarily described as signless, formless, nonconceptual, and indescribable. It is precisely by virtue of not apprehending phenomena, the Buddha explains, that the great armor is able to shield its bearer. Given that it lies outside the limitations of conditioned existence, it offers protection from all conditioned forms of harm. Nevertheless, to describe its protective power, the Buddha draws significantly on various military analogies.
Apart from the great armor, the sūtra also discusses the Great Vehicle and what it terms the great path. The Buddha emphasizes that the Great Vehicle can accommodate all beings easily due to its absolute nature, which accords with the realm of phenomena. As for the great path, it is likewise due to the absence of any apprehension of phenomena that it can be traversed. Thus, as with the great armor, the ultimate nature of the Great Vehicle and the great path is emphasized. It is precisely because of their relationship to the ultimate truth, namely that they rely and depend on nothing, that they can accommodate and transport all beings on the relative plane. To illustrate the value of the great armor, the Great Vehicle, and the great path, the Buddha recalls a past eon in which a universal monarch named Sarvārthasiddha renounced his kingdom to receive and accomplish these teachings. The sūtra concludes with the Buddha describing in detail how bodhisattvas should be free from conceptual activity to carry out unlimited conduct. He explains that only by observing nothing and relying on nothing will bodhisattvas be in accord with the realm of phenomena, and thus don the great armor.
The Teaching of the Armor Array is the seventh sūtra among the forty-nine titles included in the Heap of Jewels (Skt. Ratnakūṭa) collection in the Degé Kangyur. Only a few of the texts contained in the Heap of Jewels are extant in Sanskrit, and this scripture is not one of them. The Tibetan translation, which we have rendered into English here, was completed in the early translation period and is listed in the early ninth-century Denkarma (Tib. ldan dkar ma) catalog.1 However, unlike most of the sūtras translated at the time, this text was translated from Chinese rather than Sanskrit. While the Degé edition of the Kangyur does not specify a translator, the Narthang edition states that it was translated from the Chinese by Gö Chödrup (ca. 755–849), who was a prolific Sino-Tibetan translator active in the Dunhuang region during the ninth century. Besides rendering The Armor Array into Tibetan, he also translated many other sūtras and dhāraṇīs from Chinese. The Chinese canon contains only one translation of The Armor Array (Bei jia zhuangyan hui, 被甲莊嚴會, Taishō 310 ), constituting the seventh text in the full Chinese translation of the Heap of Jewels, which was produced during the early eighth century ᴄᴇ by Bodhiruci (d. 727), a renowned translator from South India (who is not to be confused with another famous Indian translator of the same name who was active in China two centuries earlier). This Bodhiruci is responsible for translating much of the Heap of Jewels collection, among other texts, into Chinese.2
In Tibet, The Armor Array has been cited by several Tibetan masters in their presentations of the six perfections. For example, Longchen Rabjam (1308–64) refers to The Armor Array as scriptural evidence that liberation comes swiftly when skillful means is merged with insight into the nature of phenomena.3 Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa (1504–66) cites the sūtra in his renowned commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra as part of his explanation of armor-like discipline.4 The text was also cited by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (1511–87) as an Indic source of Mahāmudrā teachings.5 Although the sūtra has been cited by Tibetan scholars of many traditions, to our knowledge the text has not previously received any attention in modern scholarship.
This English translation has been produced based on the Degé block print with reference to the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma). Subsequently, the translation and the Tibetan sources were compared with the Chinese translation and the English translation was edited in light of this comparison.6
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was residing in Veṇuvana, at the Kalandakanivāpa, near Rājagṛha, together with his great community of monks and bodhisattva great beings, all of whom had gathered from myriad buddha fields. This immeasurably large assembly had gathered around the Blessed One and was respectfully serving and honoring him. Among those included in the assembly at that time was a bodhisattva great being named Anantamati. He rose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. With his palms together, he bowed toward the Blessed One and said, “Blessed One, I have a few doubts. If I were to ask the Thus-Gone One some questions, would he be so kind as to teach me?”
The Blessed One then addressed the bodhisattva great being Anantamati, saying, “Anantamati, since you have now asked me so fervently, how many questions do you intend to ask the Thus-Gone One? If you have any questions, I will answer them.”
The Blessed One then spoke the following verses:
The bodhisattva great being Anantamati then said to the Blessed One, “I would like to ask the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, and perfect Buddha about a few doubts I have concerning the Bodhisattva Vehicle. How is it that virtuous beings, having distanced themselves from fear, with single-pointed, correct mindfulness, don the great armor for the sake of all sentient beings [F.73.b], adorn themselves with the great armor, generate great love and act respectfully, and carefully mount the Great Vehicle, taking the level and straight road of great purity—free from bumps, tiles, stones, thorns, the miscellaneous rubbish of the various evils, and the thickets of the various views, free from poisonous thorns and the pitfalls of the afflictions, free from bondage, attachment, fear, and hardship—proceeding straight ahead with no deviations on the level road of suchness, the unobstructed road, cutting down the thickets of the various views, tearing all snares, driving away darkness and obscurity, dispelling attachment, and abandoning involvement, and thus proceeding toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening? These are the points that I would like to ask the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, and perfect Buddha. What kind of great beings must don what sort of armor, so that, by donning this armor, they mount the Great Vehicle and set out upon this great path? Blessed One, you should explain the bodhisattva great beings’ array of armor, how they abide stably on the path, abide stably in the principle of phenomena, and are skilled in the principle of phenomena; and how, due to abiding in this skill, they are capable of skillfully illuminating the principle of various phenomena. Having illuminated phenomena, without abandoning the armor, they mount the Great Vehicle, and with the power of irreversible diligence, mindfulness free from forgetfulness, and the power of continuous insight, they swiftly accomplish skilled insight into the principle of the realm of phenomena, go to the site of awakening, [F.74.a] turn the wheel of Dharma, and preach Dharma to various sentient beings, so that all sentient beings are liberated from birth and death according to their wishes and inclinations.
“Blessed One, it is for the sake of benefitting beings and bringing them happiness through the Great Vehicle that I am asking the blessed, thus-gone, worthy, and perfect Buddha about this. Blessed One, given that the Thus-Gone One knows and sees all, please reveal to us the teaching through which bodhisattva great beings accomplish the absorption of the oceanic seal of all phenomena and, by the power of attaining that absorption, remain irreversible until they fully awaken to buddhahood. Blessed One, the knowledge and vision of the Thus-Gone One possess amazing and marvelous qualities of a perfect nature. They are medicinal insight for the knowledge of all beings. Therefore, it is for that reason that I am making this request.”
The Blessed One responded to the bodhisattva great being Anantamati, “Excellent, excellent! Anantamati, you have venerated and served an immeasurable number of buddhas in the past. Because you have produced roots of virtue and accumulated countless qualities, you now yearn for this profound Dharma. [F.75.b] Now, with the great resolve and desire to bring all beings to accomplishment, you have aroused great compassion and asked these questions of the Thus-Gone One. Listen well and bear what I say in mind. I will now genuinely explain to you how bodhisattva great beings accomplish their qualities and how they proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.”
“Blessed One, I shall listen in that manner.”
The Blessed One then addressed the bodhisattva great being Anantamati, “Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings who don the great armor for the sake of unsurpassed and perfect awakening must don the great armor to gather beings. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure generosity. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure discipline. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure patience. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure diligence. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure concentration. They must don the great armor to establish beings in pure insight. They must don the great armor for beings to achieve happiness. They must don the great armor to develop the mind that engages in benefitting sentient beings. They must don the great armor to remedy the sicknesses of attachment, aggression, and ignorance in beings. They must don the great armor to skillfully accomplish great qualities. They must don the great armor to perfect unsurpassed wisdom. They must don the great armor to protect beings from the dangers of saṃsāra. [F.76.a] They must don the great armor out of the desire to manifest the perfection of unequalled wisdom. They must don the great armor to oppose all māras and their retinues, messengers, and henchmen, as well as all those who have adopted the non-Buddhist teachings and are lost in the thicket of views and on terrifying paths, as well as all lokāyatas and others who agree with the non-Buddhist traditions throughout the great trichiliocosm.
“When bodhisattva great beings have donned the great armor in this fashion, then, by not abandoning the armor, they develop great diligence and are capable of entering into all the realms of sentient beings. Abiding stably in patience, they abandon fear; and without fear, anxiety, wavering, or disturbance, they again don the boundless armor. This armor is an armor that protects all beings, an armor that cuts through the thicket of all views, an armor that defeats the forces of Māra, an armor that embraces insight, an armor that is a boundless bridge, an armor that liberates from heavy burdens, an armor that develops pure faith, an armor that observes discipline, an armor that purifies the storehouse of action, an armor that is a powerful treasury that purifies everything, an armor that is a treasury of skillful means, an armor that eliminates all clinging, and an armor of irreversible, irreproachable insight. Bodhisattva great beings who have donned such great armor, and who do not abandon it until the end of saṃsāra has been reached, will never waver from the stability of their strong diligence as they proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening.”
The Blessed One then spoke the following verses:
“Anantamati, moreover, the armor of these bodhisattva great beings—who for immeasurable eons shoulder the great burden and don the great armor—is invisible to māras, their assemblies, and messengers, and to those wicked beings who live in the thickets and harsh deserts of wrong views. Why is this? This is because it is formless and indescribable; because it has no counterpart and no marks; and because—its marks having been discarded—it is free from marks, names, and words.
“Anantamati, if arrows the size of Mount Meru were shot at it, none would be able to strike it. Even if all the beings in the worlds of the great trichiliocosm were to become māra kings with legions of māra forces at their command, and they all simultaneously shot pointed arrows the size of Mount Meru at it, they could never break through the armor donned by the bodhisattva great beings. They would not be able to harm even a single hair on the bodies of its wearers. If they lack the power to cause even a change of mind in bodhisattva great beings, need we say anything about their ability to harm them in actuality? Any bodhisattva great being who one-pointedly tames them will scatter and eliminate many māras. [F.78.a] Because they are capable of abiding unwaveringly in such armor, all beings are unable to harm them. Why is this? Because this armor has no marks, it is not an object that can be perceived with the vision of sentient beings, and therefore all beings are incapable of seeing or comprehending it. Because bodhisattva great beings have understood all phenomena, they can truly see and comprehend the donning of the great armor. In order to protect all beings, they do not cling to any phenomenon. In order to benefit beings, they do not apprehend any phenomenon. Therefore, no beings can see or comprehend this armor.
“Because there are no formal characteristics, nor anything describable, nor any identifying words that can be used to describe the armor that they wear, it is not associated with form. Nor is it associated with feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness. It is associated with neither the inner nor the outer. Furthermore, it is associated neither with both inner and outer, nor with neither inner nor outer. It is not associated with the elements. It is not associated with the sense fields. It is not associated with the earth element, or with the elements of water, fire, wind, space, or consciousness. It is not associated with the desire realm. It is also not associated with the form or formless realms. It is not associated with conditioned phenomena. It is not associated with unconditioned phenomena. It is not associated with either conditioned or unconditioned phenomena. [F.78.b] It is not associated with phenomena that are not conditioned or unconditioned. It is not associated with the level of hearers. It is not associated with the level of solitary buddhas. It is not associated with the level of buddhas. It is not associated with verbal expressions. It is not associated with the causes of form. It is not associated with the characteristics of form. It is also not associated with the causes of feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness. It is also not associated with the characteristics of feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness. It is also not associated with characteristics or noncharacteristics. It is not associated with all phenomena, nor is it dissociated from them. It has no bondage. It has no liberation. It cannot be known through enumeration or analogy, because all phenomena are beyond enumeration.
“Such an armor does not apprehend the view of all phenomena. It does not apprehend the view of form. It does not apprehend the view of feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness. It does not apprehend the view of even the smallest phenomenon. It is not associated with form, nor is it dissociated from it. It is not associated with feeling, perception, formation, or consciousness, nor is it dissociated from them. It has entirely abandoned any association with or dissociation from any phenomenon.
“Likewise, such an armor is not created, because it has no creator. [F.79.a] It is also without marks, because marks are nonexistent. It has no marks of dwelling in a place, no marks of being conditioned, no conceptualization, no movement, no contact with objects, and no nature that can be observed. Moreover, no one who dons the armor can be apprehended. Why is this? When bodhisattva great beings truly don this armor, they do not see that there is someone who dons armor, that armor is donned in some place, or that armor is donned from somewhere. They do not see that there is a self capable of donning armor, nor do they see an armor that is donned by a self. They also do not see that armor is donned in this place, or that armor is donned in that place. They also do not see any sentient beings for whose sake such armor is donned, because they do not course in or see15 any phenomenon. When the bodhisattva great beings don such armor, they don the armor that has been donned by the thus-gone ones, so they do not apprehend a body, they do not apprehend speech, and they do not apprehend a mind. Therefore, since they do not apprehend, they have abandoned all concepts. If any bodhisattva great being were to dwell on even the smallest phenomenon or apprehend even the smallest phenomenon, they could not be said to have donned the armor, to don the armor, or to be donning the armor. However, once they transcend those mind states, it can be said that they have donned the great and inconceivable armor.
“Bodhisattva great beings do not don the great armor merely for a few beings. They do not don the great armor merely for the beings of one eon. They do not don the great armor merely for the beings of hundreds of thousands of eons, millions of eons, or billions of eons. [F.79.b] They don the great armor for the beings of immeasurable, countless eons. Therefore, it is said that they don an immeasurably great armor.
“When bodhisattva great beings truly don the armor, they are donning armor that does not abide in any perception of beings. They are donning armor that does not create any perception of beings, that abandons any perception of beings, that eliminates any perception of self, that understands beings’ nature, that understands the nature of self, and that transcends perception and feeling. It is an armor that knows all phenomena to be marked as uncreated, an armor of the mark of emptiness, an armor of the mark of marklessness, and an armor of the mark of wishlessness. It is an armor that understands all phenomena to be marked as unborn, and an armor of the mark of noncessation. It is an armor that understands all phenomena to be marked as possessing different natures, and an armor of the mark of the absence of different natures. It is an armor that understands all phenomena to be marked as entities, and an armor of the mark of the absence of entities.
“Anantamati, if armor is donned while dwelling on entities, this cannot ultimately be said to be donning the great armor. In this fashion, bodhisattva great beings pursue great wisdom without dwelling upon entities. Therefore, it is called donning the great armor.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Moreover, Anantamati, because it is invincible, this limitless great armor is also called the arrayed adornments of the exalted Dharma. It is also called the supreme. Because it cannot be divided into even the smallest phenomenon, it is called the indivisibility of all phenomena. Any bodhisattva great being who wears this great armor will take hold of the strength of great insight and will mount the Great Vehicle, the supreme vehicle, the unequalled vehicle, the great and all-encompassing vehicle, the boundlessly encompassing vehicle. All sentient beings could mount this vehicle [F.81.b], and there would be none who would not fit in this vehicle, even as this vehicle neither expands nor shrinks. It can lead sentient beings to abide happily, and it can lead sentient beings happily to liberation. Any beings who mount this vehicle that leads to happiness shall be at rest in body and mind, and shall not become afflicted. Anantamati, this vehicle outshines all other vehicles to liberation, including those of the worldly gods, humans, and asuras, as well the vehicles of the hearers and solitary buddhas and other vehicles. For this vehicle, there is no coming, no going, no abiding, no seeing, and no knowing. It cannot be apprehended in the past, it cannot be apprehended in the future, and it cannot be apprehended in the present. It is equal throughout the three times, just like space. It is uncontaminated by the dust of the afflictions. It has no dependencies,18 no obstructions, and no clinging. Therefore, with this vehicle one can obtain liberation. This vehicle is measureless, because it is immeasurable. It is also naturally devoid of obstructing marks, because it does not abide in marks. It is supreme. Whoever mounts this vehicle will be undaunted as they proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening.
“Anantamati, this vehicle is like a lamp, and like the orbs of the sun and moon, which produce great illumination for all beings. Likewise, the light of this Great Vehicle illuminates the worlds of this great trichiliocosm and cannot be outshone or obstructed by anything. With its boundless ocean of great qualities, it can proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening. Anantamati, this vehicle eliminates darkness and dispels all the diseases of the world. It transcends all worldly phenomena and attracts great beings. Therefore, it cannot be mounted by lesser beings, but only those who don the great armor. As I have previously said, ‘It can be mounted only by those who have protected many beings for countless eons, [F.82.a] venerated and served many buddhas, and produced roots of virtue, and who have pure accumulations. If hearers, solitary buddhas, and other lesser beings—who are bound to the world and associated with the world—are manifestly proud, put their trust in non-Buddhists, and do not desire to hear even the name of this vehicle, need we mention that they will not be able to mount it?’ However, if beings who sport in the inconceivable domain mount this vehicle, they will proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening, according to their incredibly noble aspiration.
“Anantamati, this vehicle is limitless, for a limit to its beginning, interim, and end cannot be realized. This vehicle’s limits are eliminated, for its limits cannot be apprehended. A boundless limit is this vehicle’s limit. An immeasurable limit is this vehicle’s limit. Anantamati, this vehicle has no outer limit and no inner limit. It has not even the slightest limit that can be eliminated. When I say that its limits are eliminated, it is the absence of even the slightest limit that is described as limits are eliminated. When limits are not conceptualized, this is what is described as limits are eliminated. Thus, I make the designation that this vehicle’s limits are eliminated. The absence of a limit is said to be its inner limit. The absence of a limit is said to be its outer limit. The absence of a limit is described as a limit. Within that limit, no inner limit can be apprehended. Because they cannot be apprehended, the outer limit and the inner limit—which are without limits and without elimination—enter the gateway of limits. Because it enters the gateway of limits, this vehicle goes beyond; but in that going beyond, there is also nothing that can be apprehended.
“Anantamati, what are the limits? [F.82.b] They are the limits of nihilism and eternalism. Because they engage with language, limits are actually not limits. Those limits of nihilism and eternalism are themselves without limits, because the mark of those limits is boundlessness. What I am calling a limit here involves no concepts. Because conceptualization is eliminated, limits are transcended, and nihilism and eternalism are abandoned.
“Anantamati, those who maintain the belief in a truly existing self take the gateway of limits as a support, while those who do not maintain the belief in a truly existing self do not cling to the gateway of limits. Because they do not cling to it, they transcend the limits of nihilism and eternalism. Anantamati, the limits of nihilism and eternalism have no true existence—they are merely deceptive terms. These two limits are conceptualized within the context of the three realms of existence; but if one does not accept these two limits, and does not accord with these two limits, then they can be transcended. Because they have eliminated the view of a truly existing self, they will have no clinging to the gateway of the two limits. Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings who have not yet discarded the belief in a truly existing self cannot be said to have donned the great armor and mounted the Great Vehicle, for they cling to this limit-gateway. Thus, even if they desire to abandon such limits, by arousing the notion of abandoning limits they are still conceptualizing the former and latter limits. It is therefore only bodhisattva great beings who have discarded the belief in a truly existing self who can be said to have donned the great armor and mounted the Great Vehicle, for they have no clinging to these limits. As such, they transcend these two limits, and so they proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening within a highly comfortable vehicle.
“Anantamati, those bodhisattva great beings who, with the power of their great intelligence, are capable of not abandoning and not refuting all those phenomena that abide in limits. [F.83.a] By applying skillful means to gather tranquility and special insight and train in their lack of marks, they will attain the realization of marklessness. When the absence of marks is experienced, the buddhas bestow the illumination of Dharma. Through the illumination of Dharma, all limits are eliminated, and there will also be no clinging to the limits that were eliminated, so that there is not even the slightest limit. Thus, regarding the gateway of limits, there will be no association or dissociation, and no mental engagement or disengagement. With skillful means concerning all phenomena, they will abide stably in tranquility and special insight, and will thus obtain the boundless, great illumination of Dharma. Due to the illumination of Dharma, they will abandon all darkness and hair-raising fears. Thereby, raising the great victory banner of the Dharma, resounding the great voice of Brahmā, and roaring the great lion’s roar, they will announce to all beings, ‘All of you, come quickly to this Great Vehicle, the comfortable vehicle, the Great Leader’s vehicle, the vehicle of great procession, and proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening!’ They will reveal the illumination of Dharma to all beings, and with this illumination of Dharma, they will be able to lead beings to don the great armor and mount the Great Vehicle.
“Anantamati, without being stingy with the Great Vehicle or the great armor, bodhisattva great beings should form the aspiration that ‘We will arouse the mind of awakening for beings, don the great armor, and mount the Great Vehicle.’ They must not be stingy with the Great Vehicle or the great armor, but must be able to gradually introduce them to sentient beings. They must form the aspiration, ‘May beings become liberated by donning the great armor and mounting the Great Vehicle.’ When bodhisattva great beings abide in this type of conduct, [F.83.b] they will gather buddha fields and purify buddha fields. They will also gather all the qualities of hearers and bodhisattvas. Thereby, they will proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening with this boundless ocean of qualities.
“Anantamati, since this Great Vehicle is commensurate with the realm of phenomena, there is neither a near shore nor a far shore for it to reach, and yet it is capable of transporting all beings from here to the realm of phenomena. Thus, it accords with no place, it accords with the realm of phenomena, and it accords with the armor. Anyone who earnestly practices this Great Vehicle, which is commensurate with the realm of phenomena, will proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, to draw an analogy, the realm of phenomena has no impurities or stains, and therefore nobody can destroy or stain it. Likewise, this Great Vehicle also is indestructible and unstainable. Because it is indestructible and unstainable, it proceeds toward omniscient wisdom, which is why this vehicle is called the Great Vehicle. Since this vehicle is unimpeded, all worldly gods, humans, and asuras are unable to turn it back. Because it is without clinging, it proceeds toward omniscient wisdom, which is why this vehicle is called the Great Vehicle. That which is called the Great Vehicle is the great array. There is no array anywhere that is not included in this Great Vehicle.”
The Blessed One answered the bodhisattva great being Anantamati, “Anantamati, thus it is, thus it is. In accord with worldly conventions, I have fully taught all conditioned arrays within this vehicle. Anantamati, whether we are talking about a universal monarch, Śakra, who is lord of the gods, or the king of the Brahmā heavens, all of them also have arisen, presently arise, and will arise from this Great Vehicle. Though they remain, respectively, at the levels of enjoying universal dominion, the state of Śakra, and the state of Brahmā, they do not become stained by the faults of the afflictions of saṃsāra. They are able to evaluate each of their desires, and with such evaluation, they become weary of them and are thereby able to realize the path of liberation.
“Anantamati, even though bodhisattva great beings who mount this vehicle accept saṃsāra, they do not become stained by flaws in any of its abodes. They see its faults and fully understand liberation. Thereby, when it comes to all the phenomena and all the arrays that I have not already taught, according to the characteristic marks of this vehicle, they will be able to understand those phenomena and those arrays, and so they will proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Moreover, Anantamati, I recall that when I was engaged in bodhisattva conduct, I donned such armor and mounted this kind of vehicle. Thus, I transcended limits, dispelled darkness, and offered protection from fear. Through my great diligence, I joyfully heard this Teaching of the Armor array of bodhisattva great beings and the array of the Great Vehicle from countless billions of buddhas, which caused me great joy. When cultivating this Dharma, I served and venerated those blessed buddhas, and I did not produce such thoughts as, ‘I am donning such an armor. I possess such an armor. I have obtained such a Dharma. I possess such a Dharma. I possess a Dharma of such-and-such a category.’
“At that time, I had no sense of self, I had abandoned the view of a truly existing self, and I had abandoned the conceit of a self. My mind contained no sense of high or low, and no concepts. Out of my desire to gather all beings, I upheld the Dharma treasury of all the buddhas and thus-gone ones and ripened countless billions of beings, without ever having a single thought of fatigue in my mind. [F.86.b] During this period I never abandoned the armor, and I always rode in the boundless vehicle. Therefore, in all my lifetimes I overcame and defeated the forces, retinues, and armies of Māra. I tamed all those who were distracted on the paths of the carakas, lokāyatas, and parivrājakas, as well as other non-Buddhists who accorded with them, and established them in happiness. I defeated all opposing teachers. I tamed all the non-Buddhists. I caused those beings who had gone astray to abide in this vehicle, restrained by virtue. I explained and taught beings about the armor and the armor array. By teaching beings such facets of the comfortable Great Vehicle, all those who abided in this vehicle achieved all comforts. In this way they attained all conditioned comforts, the universal monarch’s comforts, the royal comforts of Śakra and Brahmā, and all unconditioned comforts. When I taught this Dharma to beings, they took it up, and they were thus able to be born into the noble family, raise the great victory banner, roar the lion’s roar, and proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, for those bodhisattva great beings who are already fit to don such great armor, having accurately investigated and decided upon it, by means of what phenomena should they proceed toward it? Since they completely understand and see all phenomena, they have no conceptualization of them. Why is this? Because those bodhisattva great beings abide stably on the correct path, they understand accurately. [F.87.a] Because they proceed on the correct path, they see accurately. Purifying themselves correctly, they do not conceptualize, nor do they not conceptualize, seeing and understanding the sameness of conceptualization and nonconceptualization. Those who see phenomena to pursue and strive for do not comprehend sameness. Therefore, they do not abide in accurate and pure understanding and seeing. Those who have neither conceptuality nor nonconceptuality do not fixate upon or cling to conceptuality or nonconceptuality. Because they are without fixation or clinging, they abandon conceptuality and nonconceptuality. On this path, there is no pity, no conditioned activity, no imputation, and no acceptance or rejection. Those who abide on the path of evenness do not conceptualize the past, present, or future. Because of this, they understand all concepts and latent tendencies without exception. Since they abide in the unmistaken truth of the sameness of all phenomena, it is said that they abide on the correct path.
“Anantamati, what are the path and the pure path? They are what is known as the eightfold path of the noble ones: correct view, correct intention, correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct absorption. Through the correct view, the belief in a truly existing self is abandoned, and one transcends all domains involving views. Thus, all views, in all times and places, are entirely purified. By fully comprehending conceptualization, distinguishing conceptualization, and pervasive conceptualization, [F.87.b] one becomes free from conceptualization, distinguishing conceptualization, and pervasive conceptualization. By not abiding in mistaken thinking and by eliminating mistaken thinking, one will be able to see correct livelihood and also the notion of correct livelihood. By seeing what is pure livelihood and abiding in pure livelihood, one will observe pure physical, verbal, and mental actions, and one will observe correct action. With the correct view of verbal action, one will be able to see and understand both words and those who speak them. Thus, by abiding in correct speech, any discordant factors are purified. Through the view of correct effort, one is able to gather diligence and abide in proper diligence. With the correct view of mindfulness, one remains without recollection, speculation, or appropriation. With mindfulness thus purified, one abides in correct mindfulness. With the correct view of absorption, one relies on no support while engaged in absorption. Having purified the view of absorption, one abides in correct absorption.
“Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings see in this manner, they attain the correct view of universal purity, and thus abide on the pure path. This pure path is that which holy beings cultivate, the wise respect, the noble ones cherish, and the thus-gone ones praise. Thus, it is not a territory traveled by māras, their retinues, their messengers, or any gods allied with them. It is not the domain traversed by those who crave and cling to non-Buddhist paths, those who engage in disputes, those who are immersed in the thicket of views, those who have lost the path, or the lokāyatas. [F.88.a] Nor is it the domain traversed by anyone who desires nirvāṇa. Why is this? Those who dwell in the unconditioned conceptualize nirvāṇa. As they conceptualize nirvāṇa, so then do they conceptualize all conditioned phenomena. Why is this? Since the realm of nirvāṇa26 transcends all movements of conceptual thought, even the unconditioned has no existence there. That being the case, what need is there to mention the conditioned not having any existence there either? Because this path purifies all concepts, there are not even the subtlest concepts about the unconditioned. That being the case, how could there be any concepts about the conditioned? As long as one conceptualizes the path of the noble ones, one cannot be said to be abiding on the path of the noble ones. Someone who abandons all movements of conceptual thought can be said to be abiding on the path of the noble ones, abiding on the path of fearlessness, abiding on the path of utter peace, and abiding on the path of happiness. This path leads to a place devoid of aging, sickness, death, anguish, and suffering. This path leads to the absence of essential nature; it leads beyond any locus of essential nature. This path leads to the place where both essential nature and nonessential nature are abandoned. This path leads to the place that possesses no demonstrable marks and that cannot be characterized by form. Since this path pervades everything like space, it brings one to the unsurpassed great palace. All who make this journey will not reverse course. Thus, they will achieve myriad pleasures. This great palace is furthermore indemonstrable and lacks the marks of entities. [F.88.b] Thus, it involves neither the slightest conditioned thing, nor the slightest unconditioned thing. Because it has already extinguished conditioned things and abandoned unconditioned things, it does not provide beings with either conditioned or unconditioned happiness whatsoever.
“Anantamati, many beings desire a conditioned nirvāṇa; they do not even seek conditioned happiness, so how could they be able to enter this great palace? Because this great palace is unconditioned, cool, and quiescent, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering. Because it stops attachment, aggression, and ignorance, removes latent tendencies, rends the web of worldly views, dries up the river of ignorance, extracts the poisoned arrows of the afflictions, and exhausts nonvirtuous phenomena, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering. Since it is far removed from the disease of pride and all the afflictions caused by much suffering, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering. Because it is not of the domain of the mind, the intellect, consciousness, or mental functions, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering. Since it pacifies all debates and all ties to existence, all the way up to the perception of Dharma, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering. Since it cuts through mental inclinations and the striving they engender, and because it is free from the marks of conceptualization and its objects, it is called nirvāṇa—the transcendence of suffering.
“Anantamati, this is the very essence of great nirvāṇa, the supreme transcendence. Since nirvāṇa is boundless, it cannot be described. If it entailed any destination, it could not be this path, since this path is beyond words and thus also indescribable. Given that bodhisattva great beings travel on this path toward the great palace of nirvāṇa, they can establish countless beings on it. [F.89.a] Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings proceed on this path, they do not become tired, and they do not become distressed. According to what they wish to seek, they manifest at will. According to where they intend to manifest, they manifest in each place, and each manifestation accordingly attracts beings and teaches them the Dharma, causing all beings to attain great joy. Why is this? Because this path is unequalled, it purifies all discordant factors and brings all activities to completion. Thus, all the blessed buddhas, hearers, and solitary buddhas all proceed on this path and do not contravene it. As long as they have not reached that ground, and as long as they have not fulfilled their aspirations, they never depart from it. What is that ground? It is the ground of nirvāṇa, the ground of the great palace. To draw an analogy, since nothing can illustrate space, there is no other example besides space itself to illustrate space. Thus, to this vast, great, empty void, we apply the label space. The palace of nirvāṇa is similar. It is a great, empty void, in which there is no autonomous self and nothing pertaining to self. Therefore, even if all beings enter it, there is not even a single hair’s worth of anything to grasp on to. It is an open and vast emptiness, an utter void that is immeasurably vast. Therefore, it is called great nirvāṇa and the great palace.
“Anantamati, this extraordinarily noble path of all the bodhisattva great beings is not something that the hearers and solitary buddhas can attain. Those who abide on this path accomplish all the accumulations of merit and obtain irreversibility. Thereby, they enact great benefit for beings. Manifesting a great array of extraordinarily noble conduct, [F.89.b] they proceed by means of this path. Such an array is also not something that the hearers and solitary buddhas can possess. While bodhisattva great beings are abiding on this path, even if they act as universal monarchs, they will have no ownership of anything. With great power, they will perform miracles and gain realization of both the world and what is beyond the world. Even if they act as divine rulers such as Śakra and Brahmā, they will be free from attachment and clinging. As such, they will abandon pride and aspire to encounter buddhas, delight in hearing the true Dharma, ripen countless thousands of gods, and endeavor toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Furthermore, Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings genuinely endeavor on this path, out of their desire to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice a single Dharma teaching—which is to not engage in any unwholesome phenomenon.
“Additionally, to gather the genuine eightfold path they will practice two Dharma teachings, which are (1) to properly contemplate inner virtuous phenomena, and (2) to properly inquire into the nature of external virtuous phenomena.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice two additional Dharma teachings, which are (1) to understand the various phenomena as entities, and (2) to understand the absence of entities, the absence of abiding, and the absence of anything that can be conceptualized.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice two additional Dharma teachings, which are (1) to rely on realization inwardly, and (2) to not cling to anything external.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice two additional Dharma teachings, [F.91.b] which are (1) to trust in themselves without conceptualizing anything, and (2) to think, ‘I will establish all those who still lack faith on this path.’
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice two additional Dharma teachings, which are (1) to correctly see and understand what needs to be done, and (2) to not cling to what needs to be done.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice three additional Dharma teachings, which are (1) to understand each of the appropriated aggregates that perpetuate suffering, (2) to earnestly pursue and take interest in the appropriated aggregates that do not involve suffering, and (3) to strive to abandon conditioned phenomena.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice three additional Dharma teachings, which are that when teaching the supreme Dharma, (1) they will teach the meaning correctly, without any verbal contradiction or mental dispute, (2) they will not fixate upon syllables and words, and (3) they will summarize all the Dharma.
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice four additional Dharma teachings, which are (1) to correctly apply themselves to entities according to reality, (2) to correctly apply themselves to entities in a manner that accords with reality, (3) to correctly apply themselves to entities by investigating in accordance with the Dharma, and (4) to correctly apply themselves to entities without producing any attachment.28
“Moreover, to gather the genuine eightfold path, they will practice four additional Dharma teachings, which are [F.92.a] (1) to guard themselves with very firm pledges and practice what they preach, (2) to use the six faculties skillfully to proceed on the path, (3) to purify their intentions, and (4) to abide in vigilant conduct.
“Anantamati, these bodhisattva great beings are called followers of the path because they gather the path through these Dharma practices. Because they see that the essential nature of phenomena is empty, nameless, markless, wishless, unborn, unconditioned, and characterized by disenchantment, abandonment, cessation, and liberation, therefore they achieve the illumination of Dharma. Even when they contemplate the termination of births, they do not arouse any notion of birth with regard to birthlessness. Thus, at that time they transcend all births, and so they pass beyond all that is contrary to the Dharma. As they achieve the pure path, they gain the acceptance that phenomena are unborn. Because they have purified the path, they transcend all perception, and subsequently they do not abide in nonperception either. Stopping the perception of the path, they abandon the perception of phenomena and escape from the web of unknowing. By cultivating knowing, they obtain those phenomena that are to be achieved.
“What phenomena do they achieve by cultivating knowing? By cultivating knowing, they achieve the cessation of perception and feeling, they achieve definitive skill in all phenomena, and they are able to comport themselves with the nature of reality by following the secret teachings. When bodhisattva great beings follow this path, they do not dwell on objects, and marks do not obscure them. Thereby understanding that all phenomena are the same as space, that their arising is the same as the arising of space, and that their essential nature is the same as the essential nature of space, they are not obstructed even slightly by marks. [F.92.b] Because this path is pure, they have no fear of being harmed. Because they don the great armor, they are not bound by grasping. Because they mount the Great Vehicle, they are not deluded. Because they abandon obscurations, they become like space. Proceeding on this path, they will become great lights for beings. Anantamati, this is the extraordinarily noble path of the bodhisattva great beings, which is not the domain of hearers or solitary buddhas.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Moreover, Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings correctly engage and endeavor in this fashion, they come to genuinely master all the applications of mindfulness, correct eliminations, faculties, strengths, branches of awakening, freedoms, absorptions, equipoises, bases of supernatural power, tranquility, and special insight. In this way, they become adorned with countless exalted qualities. Then, in order to tame all worldly beings, they don the great armor. In order to escape from the three realms, they mount the Great Vehicle. In order to gather all gods, humans, and asuras, they abide on this path and proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening.
“Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings don the great armor, mount the Great Vehicle, and abide on this path, [F.94.b] if they fail to universally radiate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity toward all sentient beings, or if they fail to cherish all beings like themselves, then this great armor, great path, and Great Vehicle would not even be supported by the great earth, nor would all beings be able to rely upon30 it. Thus, it must be out of love and an altruistic mind for others that they don the great armor, mount the Great Vehicle, and abide on the path. All worldly gods, humans, and asuras are unable to course in such an armor, such a Great Vehicle, and such a great path, which also cannot be seen by any ordinary, childish beings who cling to the world and abide in worldliness.
“Moreover, because the bodhisattva great beings don the great armor out of love for all beings, they consecrate the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind through the armor’s power, such that the earth element does not tremble or quake, and no beings grow afraid of it. They also have similar effects on the water, fire, and wind elements.
“Moreover, having first developed the mind of awakening and the aspiration to don the armor, bodhisattva great beings now don the great armor; and having mounted the Great Vehicle, they proceed along the pure path until they have only one birth remaining, when they proceed to the tree of awakening and take their seat at the site of awakening. If in this period they fail to consecrate the great trichiliocosm—this firm ground that is made of vajra—it will tremble and quake, for even though it is fashioned of vajra, it will not be able to withstand this great armor, this great path, or this Great Vehicle. [F.95.a]
Moreover, through their past aspirations, bodhisattva great beings have aroused great love and compassion for beings, and have expressed their praise for the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Thus, if they should fail to consecrate the great vajra base, as well as Mount Meru, the jewel mountains, and the other majestic mountains, they would be unable to support this great armor, this great path, or this Great Vehicle.
“Moreover, due to the power of their past aspirations and the transformative power of the past aspirations of the thus-gone ones, bodhisattva great beings do not injure beings, nor do they harm them, impair them, scare them, hold grudges against them, torment them, or oppress them. In order to cause beings to find happiness, they don the great armor, mount the Great Vehicle, and abide on this path, proceeding toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings don the great armor, they don the armor of insight, brandish the weapons of insight, and perform the dedication of great insight. Mounting the vehicle of dedication, they shine the illumination of insight. Abiding on this path of illumination, they investigate phenomena with the eye of bright insight, endeavoring toward omniscient wisdom. To gather the wisdom of omniscience, for the sake of all beings, the bodhisattvas cultivate the perfections of insight, discipline, patience, diligence, and concentration. [F.95.b] Each of these are guided by insight, accomplished by insight, gathered by insight, and completely dedicated toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.”
The bodhisattva great being Anantamati then remarked to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, it is amazing how the various forms of insight possessed by the bodhisattva great beings pervade everywhere and are capable of gathering and accomplishing the Dharma of immeasurably many buddhas.”
The Blessed One responded to the bodhisattva great being Anantamati, “Anantamati, that is true, that is true! What you have said is correct. The various forms of insight possessed by bodhisattva great beings pervade everywhere and encompass all Dharma. Donning the great armor, they mount the Great Vehicle and abide on the great path. Then, guided by insight, they proceed upon it. Anantamati, even if one has insight, if one is not guided by such insight, one will not proceed properly on this path. If one possesses insight and is guided by insight, then one will engage with and follow this insight, as it pervades everywhere. One will gather through insight, and will exercise restraint through insight. From that point onward, one can be said to have donned the great armor, to have mounted the Great Vehicle, and to abide on the great path. With the delightful Dharma, one will then benefit worldly beings and open the eye of insight. As one investigates with the eye of insight, one’s insight body will shine forth, emitting a great illumination, and one will proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, such is the great armor and the array of armor that bodhisattva great beings must don. [F.96.a] Such is the Great Vehicle and the array of the Great Vehicle that they must mount. Such is the great path and the array of the great path that they must traverse, in order to proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening. Anantamati, even if I spoke for countless eons about the sublime beings who possess the armor array, the Great Vehicle array, the great path array, and the various arrays of all good qualities, that would not be long enough. However, so that all of you may realize it, and so that sublime beings of the future may achieve the armor array, the Great Vehicle array, the great path array, and the array of the boundless assembly of qualities, I have briefly described it on this occasion. If such sublime beings hear the Dharma I have taught here, they will don the great armor, mount the Great Vehicle, abide on the great path, adorn themselves with good qualities, and proceed in this way.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Moreover, Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings shall proceed toward the boundless domain of the armor, the boundless domain of the Great Vehicle, and the boundless domain of the great path. Why is this? Because they conform with everything. Bodhisattva great beings don the armor because they wish to conform with all phenomena. They mount the Great Vehicle because they wish to conform with all phenomena. They abide on the great path because they wish to conform with all phenomena. They proceed on it in order to attain the sameness of all phenomena. However, this armor does not truly apprehend even the slightest phenomenon as internal, external, coarse, subtle, distant, near, past, present, future, conditioned, unconditioned, abiding, or non-abiding. If this armor were unable to discern, resolve, completely understand, conform with, make evident, or transcend all phenomena, it could not rightfully be called donning the great armor. Since it discerns all phenomena—and resolves, completely understands, [F.98.b] conforms with, actualizes, and transcends them—it can be called donning the great armor.
“The Great Vehicle as well does not truly apprehend any phenomenon as being internal, external and so forth up to dedicated to the wisdom of omniscience, and yet it completely understands, conforms with, makes evident, and transcends all phenomena. Therefore, this vehicle is called the Great Vehicle, the vehicle of skill in phenomena, the vehicle that reaches nirvāṇa, the unsurpassed vehicle, and the unequalled vehicle. Likewise, the great path does not truly apprehend any phenomenon as being internal, external and so forth up to proceeding upon the great path of the sameness of all phenomena, and yet this path of sameness does not lack understanding of even the slightest phenomenon. Therefore, this path is called the unsurpassed path, the incalculable and immeasurable path, and the unequalled path.
“Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings who don the great armor conform with all beings’ minds and mental activities. They remove and purify all beings’ afflicted emotions. Mounting the Great Vehicle, they increase the roots of virtue of all beings. Abiding on this great path, they inspire beings to accomplish all virtuous phenomena. Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings remain in saṃsāra for a long time—until the end of saṃsāra—for the sake of each being and each mental activity, pursuing the medicine of insight and not relinquishing the armor.
“Thus, they are able to gain stability in donning the great armor, the immeasurable armor, the armor that is difficult to comprehend, [F.99.a] the pure armor, the boundless armor, the armor that is without appropriation, the armor that knows the perceptions of beings, the armor that knows there are no beings, the armor that knows there is no self, the armor that knows the nature of beings, the armor that realizes the nature of beings, the armor that knows the nature of the self, the armor that realizes the nature of the self,34 the armor that knows the nature of the interior, the armor that realizes the nature of the interior, the armor that knows the nature of the exterior, the armor that realizes the nature of the exterior, the armor that knows the nature of both the interior and the exterior, the armor that realizes the nature of both the interior and the exterior, the armor that knows the nature of all phenomena, the armor that realizes the nature of all phenomena, the armor that knows that in all phenomena there is nothing to be apprehended, the armor that knows that in the nature of all phenomena there is nothing to be apprehended, the armor that masters the realization of phenomena, the boundless armor, the armor without center, the armor without center or boundary, the armor that is not past, the armor that is not future, the armor that is not present, the armor that is free from any action, and the armor that is free from any actor.
“Anantamati, with regard to this armor, the bodhisattva great beings do not don it, realize it, resolve it, attain liberation through it, or actualize it. Because there is no armor, the armor is donned. Because they do not realize it, it is realized. Because they do not resolve it, it is resolved. Because they do not attain liberation through it, they are liberated. Because they do not actualize it, it is actualized. They mount the Great Vehicle because there is nothing to be mounted. [F.99.b] They do not designate the Great Vehicle, which is designated by the absence of designation, for the Great Vehicle cannot be designated in even the slightest. If designations are made, this is nondesignation, because such designations cannot be apprehended and cannot be seen. There is also no vehicle that can be mounted and dwelt upon; it is through nonapprehension that one abides on the Great Vehicle. Because it abandons proceeding toward a destination, does not reach the ultimate goal, does not arrive at nirvāṇa, and cannot be apprehended, what is not a path is taken as a path. Because one proceeds on the path through sameness, this path of sameness has no designations, for who would make such designations? What would be designated? From where would designations be made? In it there is also no action and no actor. It is not combined, and it is not uncombined. It renounces everything and does not seek anything. Why is this? Because this true path of sameness is not the same as all phenomena, nor is it different from them, nor concurrent with them. It does not produce notions of phenomena—indeed, it abandons phenomena. Therefore, it is neither pure nor impure. The nature of phenomena is also this way—neither pure nor impure. Thus, for this reason this path is called the path without affliction. Because it cannot be traversed, it is traversed. Because it cannot be taken hold of, it is taken up. This path is deeply profound, and therefore it is unborn, unarisen, unemerged, uncreated, unattained, unconditioned, nondwelling, non-abiding, unobscured, and without entity. It can completely reveal all entities, and is indivisible from all entities, yet it does not conform to entities. Because it has no entity, it leads to the unsurpassed abode.
“Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings should understand this armor, this vehicle, and this path in this fashion. [F.100.a] However, this armor, this vehicle, and this path cannot be seen, understood, or apprehended. Thus, who could don this armor, mount this vehicle, or follow this path? Such a one also cannot be seen, understood, or apprehended. Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings hear this Dharma teaching, they will not be scared or frightened of it. Thus, they will read, recite, and teach it. They will not contradict the principle of this Dharma teaching, but will practice in accord with it and thereby develop joyful resolve, endeavoring diligently for the sake of this Dharma teaching. If there are those who are capable of developing certainty in the principle of this Dharma teaching and becoming skilled in means, they will don this armor, mount this vehicle, and practice this path. By pursuing this profound Dharma teaching in which there is nothing to be apprehended, they will put an end to the limit of saṃsāra, fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood, and appear in the world adorned with boundless qualities.
“Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings who are enthusiastic about this Dharma teaching should arouse their diligence and accomplish it carefully. If there are beings who become delighted upon merely hearing this profound teaching, I have explained that those beings will obtain great benefit. How much more is this the case for those who are able to pursue it diligently, vigilantly, and with pure discipline and conduct? Anantamati, consider how this teaching has myriad aspects that are vast, deep, exalted, and pure. I have enthusiastically praised this teaching so that others may be inspired by it and thereby achieve lasting benefit and happiness, and so that they will become disenchanted and quiescent, [F.100.b] and will gain pervasive understanding.
“Anantamati, furthermore, consider how this teaching is capable of bestowing abundant happiness, both worldly and transcendent. However, because they have regressed from this profound teaching, beings in the different states of existence who experience various forms of poverty are cut off from both worldly and transcendent abundance, riches, and happiness. Anantamati, considering how easy it is to discover the riches of this profound and precious teaching while you are sitting in the presence of the Thus-Gone One, you should earnestly apply yourself to accomplishing it. If ordinary, childish beings do not desire to even hear this precious Dharma that I have taught, what need is there to mention taking it up and upholding it? If there is no inspiration to listen, or interest to inquire—even when the Thus-Gone One is present and the precious Dharma is available—how will anyone be inspired to listen or inquire during the final period of five hundred years, when the genuine Dharma is disappearing, and the Buddha, the precious Dharma, and those who uphold the Dharma are no longer present? However, Anantamati, if the Thus-Gone One gives his blessing, this profound and precious teaching will be discovered in the future.
“Anantamati, in those terrifying times, this profound and precious teaching will not be diminished or destroyed. However, there will be no one to listen to or uphold this teaching. Only those who were inspired in my presence to listen attentively and don the armor will, at that time, be able to joyfully listen to and take up this teaching. At that time, sentient beings who merely hear this teaching will generate pure faith in it, and I declare that those people will accomplish this vast teaching— [F.101.a] how much more is this the case for those who presently generate pure faith in this teaching and diligently put it into practice?
“Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings truly don the unsurpassed armor, the great and immeasurable armor, they should think, ‘For the sake of all sentient beings who are impoverished—that is to say, impoverished in discipline, impoverished in learning, impoverished in insight, impoverished in liberation, and impoverished in the knowledge and view of liberation—I will enrich them with this great teaching. I will eliminate all their forms of weakness, and enrich them with the wealth of discipline, learning, insight, liberation, and the knowledge and view of liberation. I will douse the flames of attachment, aggression, and ignorance. I will heal all sicknesses. I will dispense excellent and unsurpassed medicine. I will ensure that they attain great happiness once their various sicknesses are dispelled with this medicine. I will permanently eliminate all their remaining faults, such that once they have actualized the cooling nature of unsurpassed nirvāṇa, no thoughts or concepts shall remain in their minds. Thus, I shall establish them in the state beyond the pursuit of either conditioned or unconditioned things.’ Why is this? It is because this nirvāṇa is supremely pleasant, with nothing left to pursue, and because all pursuits have been permanently pacified and eliminated.
“Anantamati, having donned this great armor, bodhisattva great beings will mount this Great Vehicle to gather all beings, out of love for them. Having mounted the Great Vehicle, they will think, “All buddhas of the past rode it toward liberation. [F.101.b] All buddhas of the future will ride it toward liberation. All buddhas of the present ride it toward liberation. Yet, there is no going, no riding, and no liberation.” Why is this? Because of emptiness, marklessness, wishlessness, birthlessness, and the absence of any actor, there has been no liberation, there will be no liberation, and there is no liberation. Anyone who gains liberation by mounting this vehicle will emerge well, with no clinging. Therefore, they will not come together with any phenomena, nor will they not come together with them, and so there will be neither coming nor going. When liberation is attained through this vehicle and this path, it also involves no combining, and hence no coming or going. When liberation is attained with this great armor, this vehicle, and this path, there is no combining or not combining, and hence no coming or going, because these cannot be apprehended. Anantamati, this is how bodhisattva great beings proceed via this armor, vehicle, and path. Furthermore, when they proceed with this armor, vehicle, and path, they do not think, ‘I am this near to, or this far from, the qualities of ordinary beings, the qualities of hearers, the qualities of solitary buddhas, or the qualities of the buddhas.’ They do not think, ‘I am this near to, or this far from, the qualities of emptiness, marklessness, wishlessness, birthlessness, or the absence of action.’ They also do not think, ‘I am this near to, or this far from, the qualities of disenchantment,35 abandonment, cessation, [F.102.a] and so forth, up to great nirvāṇa.’ Anantamati, because no bodhisattva, hearer, solitary buddha, or being can weaken this great armor, vehicle, or path, they lead to unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, because the blessed buddhas have attained the state that never moves from this armor, vehicle, and path, they have fully passed beyond suffering. Why is this? Because all phenomena are immovable, because the essential nature of phenomena and the characteristic of reality are without any discrepancy, because marks are pure, and because all is pure. There can be no analysis, further analysis, or comprehensive analysis conducted through marks. The marks of all phenomena and the essence of these marks cannot be analyzed, further analyzed, or comprehensively analyzed in terms of their nature. All phenomena are without nature and without marks. They cannot be illustrated, and they cannot be described. This is called the mark of the true nature of all phenomena.
“Anantamati, the true marks of this armor, this vehicle, and this path also, in similar fashion, cannot be illustrated or expressed. It is to cause beings to understand, and to increase their knowledge of all phenomena, that this armor, this vehicle, and this path are simply taught as mere designations. If now you wish to engage with and practice according to the true meaning of this armor, then you must not designate, illustrate, or express it as you practice according to the true meaning. [F.102.b] For those who practice according to the true meaning, there is not the slightest thing to engage with or follow. They do not follow what is untrue, but rather follow what is true. When following what is true, one does not follow sound, does not follow words, and does not follow speech. By not following these, one does not engage with them.
“In this regard, what is truth? It is the secret teaching. Therefore, once such secret teachings have been understood, they should be practiced with complete trust. Those who practice with complete trust do not conceptualize anything with respect to the truth, and they practice in accord with what is nonconceptual. Those who practice in accord with this do so by not practicing and not following. Why is this? There is not even the slightest thing to practice in such truths, nor is there even the slightest thing to follow or pursue. Because actions are abandoned, one does not follow anything. One does not practice anything that accords with awakening; nor does one practice anything that accords with saṃsāra. In fact, whether one is in accord with something or not, this is not proper mental engagement or correct mindfulness. Because thoughts are pure, thoughts should not be followed.
“Anantamati, you should practice in accord with this truth, and you should not have any other practices. If you practice in accord with something else, you will become lost in error, and so you will end up following after sounds, syllables, words, and speech, without ever abandoning such linguistic expressions. When you thoroughly comprehend sounds, transcend syllables and words, and attain realization of linguistic expressions, then you will not follow them, and you will not enter saṃsāra. [F.103.a] In order to practice this way and engage according to this truth, there is not the slightest thing to practice, because all practice has been pacified.
“Anantamati, when practicing the truth, do not practice the truth by engaging in practice. If you practice the truth by not practicing, then this is called neither coming nor turning back. To neither come nor turn back is to pursue unsurpassed and perfect awakening in accord with this armor, vehicle, and path, and thereby one will benefit others greatly. Anantamati, those who in this way teach the Dharma, follow the truth, and engage with it will accomplish the great resolve that is free from mental error and doubt. Those who have not yet gathered this armor, this vehicle, and this path will be able to gather them and thus swiftly proceed. Those who have not yet donned the armor will swiftly don it. Those who have not yet mounted this vehicle will swiftly mount it. Those who have not yet begun to abide on this path will swiftly abide on it. Anantamati, such beings will collect vast accumulations of merit. The blessed buddhas will protect them and consider them. Thus, they will not contradict the Dharma, and they will practice in accord with the Saṅgha. Anantamati, because you have collected immeasurable roots of virtue, you must gather beings in the future with this teaching, and bear a great burden on behalf of beings. The extent of the merit you will achieve thereby defies all description.”
“Anantamati, the armor donned by bodhisattva great beings is called the great conqueror. It is called the boundless conqueror. It is also called the great array. The vehicle that they mount is called the great captain. It is called the boundless light. It is also called the wondrous array. The path that they traverse is called the accumulation of the immeasurable array. It is on this path that all the virtuous sublime beings proceed to unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Moreover, Anantamati, long ago in the past—so immeasurably long ago that it was more than an uncountable and limitless number of eons ago—there appeared in the world a buddha named Cloud of Sandalwood Incense. He was a thus-gone one, a worthy one, a perfect buddha, learned and virtuous, a well-gone one, a knower of the world, an unsurpassed being, a charioteer who guides beings, [F.106.a] a teacher of gods and humans, a blessed buddha. The eon in which he appeared was called Flash of Lightning, and his realm was called Totally Illuminated. At that time, the ground in that realm was flat like the palm of one’s hand and lacking any forms of filth, gravel, pebbles, thorns, or logs. The sand scattered on the ground was made of gold and silver. Thus, this world delighted anyone who beheld it. It was encircled by four vast and wide continents, each of which was two hundred thousand leagues in dimension. In each continent there were forty-eight thousand cities that each measured ten leagues in width and twenty leagues in length. Their outer walls were high and fortified. Each city had eighty million denizens. The cities were each surrounded by ten thousand villages and adorned with a thousand parks in their peripheries. Also in this buddha field were many groves of trees with various flowers, fruits, scents, foliage, and tastes, and there were even vajra trees, all set with various adornments. There were lakes, ponds, springs, and waterfalls, and rivers with straight and beautiful banks. They were filled with water of the eight qualities and covered with blue, pink, red, and white lotuses39 that shone in bright colors.
“The lifespan of the Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense was sixty-eight trillion years. His assembly of hearers was sixty trillion strong. The faces of the people at that time were beautiful and attractive. They were happy, [F.106.b] with little attachment, aggression, or ignorance, and were therefore easy to guide. With just a little encouragement and instruction, they were able to completely understand the nature and marks of all phenomena.
“Anantamati, at that time there was also a universal monarch named Sarvārthasiddha. He had the seven precious possessions, and he was the refuge for the four continents. On the Jambudvīpa continent, there was a city forty leagues square. It was filled with people who were happy and prosperous. Within the city, there was an area five leagues square where the ground had been covered with the seven precious substances. There were the finest palm trees, which had been covered with small bells and nets of pure gold. The king’s palace was composed completely of beryl, and it was a league in circumference. On each of its four sides were a thousand columns. Atop this palace were a thousand towers, high and imposing, all beautifully adorned with precious substances. In front, the palace was surrounded by a large moat filled with fragrant and pristine water. Around it were sixteen smaller pools constructed of the seven precious substances, which likewise emitted aromatic scents. From each pool, pure waters streamed, thus creating pleasing sounds that resembled the playing of many instruments. There were eight steps leading into each of the smaller pools, and thirty-two steps leading into the larger, fragrant moat. All the steps were composed entirely of gold. The precious trees were covered with garlands and jeweled nets. Since the scent of the finest incense permeated the entire city from these pools, they were called brilliant fragrance.
“Anantamati, that universal monarch had four queens, [F.107.a] whose names were Boundless Voice, Excellent Voice, Sublime Voice, and Voice Like the King of Swans. Each queen had two sons. Their names were Unerring Supremacy, Excellent Supremacy, Nāga Supremacy, Supreme Voice, Sublime Voice, Brahmā Voice, Supreme Cloud, and Cloud Voice. He also had a retinue of six hundred thousand concubines, who had ten thousand children.
“At that time, in the royal palace, that universal monarch was engaged in pleasurable pursuits with his retinue when, during their frolicking, he saw the exquisite form of the Thus-Gone One appearing in the sky. The Thus-Gone One addressed the king, ‘Your Majesty, you must don the unsurpassed armor and mount the unsurpassed vehicle to proceed toward unsurpassed and perfect awakening and dispense the medicine of insight to beings! Do not cling to the five sense pleasures of gods and humans. This great armor will gather unsurpassed happiness. This unsurpassed vehicle will lead many beings to the unsurpassed grove, from which no one will turn back. The myriad pleasures of gods and humans are impermanent. They are subject to destruction and change. Their power does not last long. They are subject to sudden cessation.’
“Anantamati, when the great king Sarvārthasiddha heard this message, he asked the Thus-Gone One, ‘Who is it that can reveal a great armor, which can be donned just like that great armor? Who is it that can reveal a Great Vehicle, which can be mounted just like that Great Vehicle? [F.107.b] Who is it that can reveal a great path, which proceeds just like that great path?’
“The Thus-Gone One then answered the great king, ‘Your Majesty, here is what you must know: there is a thus-gone one known as Cloud of Sandalwood Incense. Your Majesty, go before him. He will give you the Dharma teachings by which one dons the great armor, mounts the Great Vehicle, and pursues the great path.’ Upon proclaiming this, the Thus-Gone One disappeared.
“Anantamati, when the great king Sarvārthasiddha witnessed this, he was so amazed and astonished that all his hair stood on end. He then became fearful, such that he lost all interest in the myriad pleasures of humans and gods, and he became disenchanted with all conditioned things. Then, in order to obtain the great armor, the Great Vehicle, and the great path, he set out to meet the Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense accompanied by his eight princes, four queens, his other children, his concubines, and his servants. Once he and his retinue had arrived, they respectfully touched their heads to the feet of that blessed one. When they had bowed to him, they tossed many hundreds of thousands of flowers made of the seven precious substances toward that thus-gone, worthy, and perfect buddha. Additionally, they brought along vast amounts of clothing, which they offered to that thus-gone one and his communities of hearers. Additionally, they served, honored, and venerated them with all manner of pleasing implements, enough to last for ten thousand years. [F.108.a] After this, he abdicated his throne and, along with his retinue, took ordination in the teachings of the Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense.
“Anantamati, since the Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense understood the utmost desires of the monk Sarvārthasiddha and his retinue, he taught them by revealing the armor array and the array of the Great Vehicle. They listened and gave rise to the resolute intention that for the sake of this profound Dharma, they would exhaust their lives sitting upright in contemplation, earnestly practicing without any movement, constantly relying on that thus-gone one, and thus attaining the resolve to remain unmoved by any worldly desires.
“Anantamati, that thus-gone one spoke to the monk Sarvārthasiddha, saying, ‘Noble child, have you now donned the great armor, mounted the Great Vehicle, and set out on the path? Due to this path, you will accomplish omniscient insight and unparalleled insight. You should cultivate it correctly by means of earnest diligence.’
“The monk Sarvārthasiddha then said to the Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense, ‘Blessed One, now I do not truly see any phenomenon called armor. I do not truly see that there is anyone who dons armor. I do not see that there is a donning of armor that can be pursued, nor do I see any place upon which armor could be donned. Blessed One, at this moment I do not truly see any phenomenon called a vehicle. [F.108.b] I do not see that there is anyone who mounts a Great Vehicle. I do not see that there is a vehicle that can be pursued, nor do I see that there is any location where the Great Vehicle can be mounted. Blessed One, I do not truly see any phenomenon called a path. I do not see that there is anyone who has proceeded or currently proceeds on this path. I do not see that there is a path that can be pursued, nor do I see any location40 of the path. Blessed One, I do not see or apprehend that I am far from or near to unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening, or that it exists in the past, present, or future. When I look in this way, I do not truly see even the slightest phenomenon that can be relied upon or realized. If I do not realize any such thing, then why does the Blessed One ask me, “Have you donned the great armor, mounted the Great Vehicle, and set out on the path?” The Blessed One is omniscient and all-seeing. Therefore, it is only the Thus-Gone One who understands what people like me are supposed to accomplish concerning the Dharma. This is not within the domain of the hearers or the solitary buddhas.’
“Anantamati, when the monk Sarvārthasiddha said this to that thus-gone one, he and his entire retinue gained the bodhisattvas’ acceptance that phenomena are unborn. [F.109.a] Because they gained acceptance of phenomena, they all attained the irreversible state.
“The Thus-Gone One Cloud of Sandalwood Incense then proclaimed, ‘After five hundred countless eons, you will fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood.’ When they heard this prophecy, they were overjoyed and rose to the height of seven palm trees into the air. They praised that thus-gone one with the following verses:
“Anantamati, countless, immeasurable beings were ripened when the thus-gone, worthy, and perfect Buddha Cloud of Sandalwood Incense taught this Dharma. Following this, the monk Sarvārthasiddha and his retinue served and venerated countless, immeasurable blessed buddhas, such that after five hundred countless eons, he fully awakened to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood, at which point his name became the Thus-Gone One King Who Transcends His Boundless Domain. The qualities of his buddha field, including its dimensions, were no different from the buddha field of the thus-gone, worthy, and perfect Buddha Cloud of Sandalwood Incense. His hearers were immeasurable in number. After five hundred countless eons, the king’s queens, princes, and retinue also fully awakened to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood.
“Anantamati, bodhisattva great beings don the great armor and mount the Great Vehicle. They take hold of the great Dharma lamp on this path. Thus, they shine the light of Dharma, radiate the brilliance of the Dharma, raise high the great Dharma banner, beat the great Dharma drum, and board the great ship of Dharma, proceeding upon it in order to gather the great Dharma. Frolicking in the play of sublime beings, they satisfy beings by showering down the rain of Dharma. [F.110.a] Thereby, they joyfully and diligently proceed toward unsurpassed, perfect, and complete awakening.
“Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings abide on this path, they will attain the illumination of Dharma. Because of this illumination, they will be able to see that all phenomena are dependently originated, and that by nature they are primordially empty, markless, and unoriginated. They will not see form as form—and likewise with feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness. As they do not see consciousness as consciousness, they realize that consciousness arises due to extraneous conditions, and that consciousness has the mark of being by nature primordially empty, markless, and unoriginated—a simple assembly of many causes and conditions. Given that they see it as a collection of causes and conditions, they understand that these causes and conditions themselves are also empty, markless, and unoriginated. When they see in this fashion, they do not see the eye as being an eye—and likewise with the ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. As they do not see the mind as mind, they realize that the mind arises due to extraneous conditions, and that the mind has the mark of being by nature primordially empty, markless, and unoriginated. Even so far as the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the wind element, the space element, the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm, they understand them to be devoid of any actor or any subjective experiencer. [F.110.b] They do not see even the slightest phenomenon as a phenomenon—phenomena arise from extraneous conditions due to a coming together of various causes and conditions, and are by nature markless and unoriginated. The nature of dependent origination is itself empty, markless, and unoriginated.
“Anantamati, this is how bodhisattvas who abide on this path examine dependent origination. By analyzing in this fashion, they use insight to directly realize the limit of the truth of dependent origination. With this illumination of all phenomena, they will swiftly perfect the ten powers of the thus-gone ones, the four fearlessnesses, the eighteen unique qualities of the buddhas, great love, great compassion, great joy, and great equanimity, up to and including all the qualities of buddhahood.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse:
“Furthermore, Anantamati, when bodhisattva great beings investigate all phenomena in this fashion, they shine the illumination of Dharma upon all phenomena, whereby they regard emptiness neither as emptiness nor as something other than emptiness. They do not consider even the slightest phenomenon as associated with emptiness or not associated with emptiness. They do not regard emptiness as empty of emptiness or not. They do not regard phenomena according to any view. When they regard things in this way, they regard the absence of marks neither as the absence of marks, nor as something other than the absence of marks. They do not consider even the slightest phenomenon as associated with either marks or marklessness. They do not see the absence of marks as an absence of marks. They do not see the existence of marks as the existence of marks. They do not form a view of the existence of marks, nor do they form a view of the absence of marks. The same is true for the absence of birth and the absence of action. As for exhaustion, they do not regard it as exhaustion, nor as something other than exhaustion. They do not consider even the slightest phenomenon as associated with exhaustion or not associated with exhaustion. They do not regard exhaustion as exhaustion. They do not regard exhaustion as an absence of exhaustion. They do not form a view of exhaustion, nor do they form a view of the absence of exhaustion. When bodhisattva great beings regard things in this way, they do not apprehend even the slightest phenomenon as observable, unobservable, demonstrable, indemonstrable, engageable, not engageable, understandable, or not understandable. Anantamati, this is what is referred to as the illumination of the great Dharma for bodhisattva great beings who abide on this path. [F.112.b] Because they have achieved the illumination of Dharma, they see all phenomena, without any limits whatsoever, and they do not cling to either center or edge. Because they are free from clinging, they proceed within the buddha qualities.”
The Blessed One then expressed this in verse: