The Teaching to Venerable Nanda on Entry into the Womb
Outline of the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra
Degé Kangyur, vol. 41 (dkon brtsegs, ga), folios 237.a–248.a
Translated by Robert Kritzer
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2021
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In The Teaching to Venerable Nanda on Entry into the Womb, the Buddha gives a detailed account to his half-brother Nanda of the thirty-eight weeks of human gestation. The sūtra explains conception in terms of how the antarābhava (the being in the state between death in one life and birth in the next) enters the womb, and details the physical composition of the embryo, the suffering of the newborn being, and the miseries experienced over the course of a lifetime. Including as it does the most comprehensive ancient Indian account of gestation, it was an important source for embryology in Tibetan medicine.
The Garbhāvakrāntisūtra, The Sūtra on Entry into the Womb, describes the thirty-eight weeks of human gestation. It discusses conception, the composition of the embryo, the gestation period, the newborn being, the course of life and its sufferings, and the need to practice for one’s own good and the good of others.
The section on conception1 is notable for its descriptions of a number of defects of the womb that prevent the mother from conceiving. In this section, the antarābhava is said to have deluded thoughts about the womb that it is entering. If the antarābhava’s karma is good, it thinks it is entering, for example, a celestial palace. If the antarābhava has bad karma, it imagines that it is entering an unpleasant place, like a hole at the bottom of a wall.
The section on the composition of the embryo consists mainly of similes showing that the embryo is not simply a combination of the father’s semen and the mother’s blood. Rather, a collection of causes and conditions is required for rebirth to occur.
The week-by-week account of the development of the embryo and fetus is the longest section of the sūtra. In each week, new features, frequently initiated by exotically named internal winds, are described. The account of the thirty-eighth week describes the miscarriage of a fetus that has accumulated bad karma, a fate avoided by a being whose karma is good.
The infant experiences great suffering as it emerges from the womb and is washed for the first time. Shortly after birth, it is infested by 80,000 types of “worm” (Skt. krimi, kṛmi; Tib. srin bu) that feed on various parts of its body, several dozen of which are named. There are multiple references in other texts in the Kangyur to the worms that are thought to infest and feed on the human body. There are detailed accounts like the one found in the present text in The Application of Mindfulness of the Sacred Dharma (Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna)2 and The Sections of Dharma (Dharmaskandha),3 and there are passing references to these worms in, for example, all of the long Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, such as The Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom in Ten Thousand Lines (Daśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā),4 which specifically refers to the 80,000 types of worm, and in The Play in Full (Lalitavistara)5 and The Inquiry of Lokadhara (Lokadharaparipṛcchā).6
Over the course of his or her life, the person is afflicted by various illnesses and is subject to punishments including imprisonment, beatings, and mutilations, as well as torments by supernatural beings, bad weather, hunger, and thirst.
Thus, the sūtra emphasizes the suffering involved in gestation and birth and throughout life, and it discourages activity that leads to rebirth. At the same time, it presents medical or pseudo-medical information about embryology, and it was one of the main sources for embryology in Tibetan medicine.7
Except for several brief quotations in Abhidharma texts and the Yogācārabhūmi, the original Sanskrit text is not extant.8 The text has survived in three different translations in Chinese and in three Tibetan translations. Two of the Tibetan translations were made from the Chinese, and one was made from the Sanskrit. In terms of their content, these six surviving Chinese and Tibetan versions fall into two main groups: shorter versions that consist of the Buddha’s teaching to his younger half-brother Nanda on the subject of conception, gestation, and childbirth; and longer versions that also provide a frame narrative explaining that the teaching was given because Nanda, infatuated with his wife, had been reluctant to take monk’s vows and needed to be convinced by the Buddha. As well as adding much material not specifically related to conception, gestation, or childbirth, the longer versions also contain more detail about conception and the antarābhava than the shorter versions. The present translation is of one of the shorter versions.
There are two different short versions, represented by two different Chinese translations. The earlier of these was made in the late third or early fourth century by Dharmarakṣa (Taishō 317) and does not appear to have been translated into Tibetan. The later of these short-version translations was made in the early eighth century by Bodhiruci as part of the Ratnakūṭa collection, and it is his Chinese translation (Taishō 310–13) that was the source for the ninth-century translation into Tibetan as part of the Tibetan Ratnakūṭa—the text (Toh 58) translated here.
There are also two different long versions. One was translated into Chinese in the early eighth century by Yijing as part of his translation of the Chinese Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya (Taishō 1451). According to the Chinese catalog, Kaiyuan shijiao lu 開元釋教錄 (Taishō 2154.585c15–19), Bodhiruci inserted Yijing’s translation from the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya into the Chinese Ratnakūṭa collection (Taishō 310–14). This translation was, in turn, the source for the translation in the Tibetan Ratnakūṭa (Toh 57), the text immediately preceding the present one in the Kangyur. The second long version does not exist in Chinese and is not an independent sūtra but is found embedded, like many other passages that may originally have also circulated independently, in the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya, specifically in the Kṣudrakavastu (Toh 6). The Tibetan of the Kṣudrakavastu was translated directly from the Sanskrit in the ninth century, and the passage within it that contains this teaching therefore differs somewhat from the corresponding passage in Yijing’s translation in the Chinese Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya (Taishō 1451).
To reiterate, there is one Chinese translation of one of the two short versions of the text, one Chinese translation of the second short version, and one Chinese translation of the first long version. With respect to the Tibetan translations in the Kangyur, there are also three versions of the text: the long and short versions in the Ratnakūṭa (Toh 57 and 58), both translated from Chinese, and a passage embedded in the Vinayakṣudrakavastu (Toh 6), which is a long version that was translated directly from Sanskrit instead of Chinese. The details of this group of texts and their rather complex relationships are set out in a table at the end of this introduction.
The present text, mngal du ’jug pa (Toh 58), therefore, like the other Tibetan Ratnakūṭa version, mngal na gnas pa (Toh 57), was translated into Tibetan from Chinese. However, there are further complications. Early in the transmission of these texts to Tibet, as seen in the early ninth-century Denkarma text inventory,9 as well as in the list compiled by Butön prior to the appearance of the first Kangyurs, the Tibetan titles of the two texts seem to have been switched by comparison with the Chinese: the text with the Tibetan title mngal du ’jug pa, “Entry into the Womb,” is a translation of the Chinese text (Taishō 310 ) with the title Chutai hui 處胎會, “Scripture on Dwelling in the Womb.” The text with the Tibetan title mngal du gnas pa, “Dwelling in the Womb,” is a translation of the Chinese text (Taishō 310 ) with the title Rutai jing 入胎經, “Sūtra on Entry into the Womb.” The Denkarma and Butön, whose lists of Ratnakūṭa texts both follow the order of the Chinese Ratnakūṭa closely in other respects, both differ from it in listing the longer of these texts before the shorter.10 Presumably as a result of these early lists, some Kangyurs, including the Degé, also include the two texts in the Ratnakūṭa in the same reverse order, calling mngal du ’jug pa (Toh 58), which is Chapter Thirteen in the Chinese Ratnakūṭa, “Chapter Fourteen,” and mngal du gnas pa (Toh 57), which is Chapter Fourteen in the Chinese Ratnakūṭa, “Chapter Thirteen.”11 To avoid confusion, I hereafter refer to these two translations as Toh 57 and Toh 58. Furthermore, in both the title and the body of Chutai hui, the interlocutor is called Ānanda. In Toh 58, he is always Nanda. There are some differences between Toh 58 and Chutai hui and between Toh 57 and Rutai jing that suggest that the Tibetan translators had Tibetan translations of other versions of the sūtra or access to Sanskrit manuscripts.12 However, the two Tibetan translations generally agree with the Chinese translations on which they were based.
This is the first English translation of Toh 58. In translating it, I have relied mainly on the Degé block print, while occasionally referring to other Kangyurs as well as to Chutai hui and Toh 57.13
Title: Baotai jing 胞胎經, Taishō 317
Translator: Dharmarakṣa (Zhu Fahu 竺法護)
Date: 281 or 303
Title: Chutai hui 處胎會 (Full title: Fo wei Anan shuo chutai hui 佛爲阿難説處胎會) (Ratnakūṭasūtra, Taishō 310 )
Translator: Bodhiruci (Putiliuzhi 菩提流志)
Title: mngal du ’jug pa (Full title: tshe dang ldan pa dga’ bo la mngal du ’jug pa bstan pa) (Translation of Chutai hui), Toh 58 (dkon brtsegs, ga)
Translator: Chödrup (chos grub) (Facheng 法成)
Date: ninth cent.
Title: Rutai jing (Full title: Foshuo ru taizang hui 佛説入胎藏會) (Ratnakūṭasūtra, Taishō 310 , originally translated in Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya Kṣudrakavastu [Taishō 1451: 251a14–262a19], from which it was extracted and introduced into the Ratnakūṭa as a separate chapter)
Translator: Yijing 義淨
Title: mngal na gnas pa (Full title: dga’ bo la mngal na gnas pa bstan pa) (Translation of Rutai jing), Toh 57 (dkon brtsegs, ga)
Translator: Unknown (perhaps Chödrup) Ueyama 1967, p. 178.
Date: ninth cent.
Title: mngal du ’jug pa zhes bya ba’i chos kyi rnam grangs (found in the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya Kṣudrakavastu), Toh 6 (’dul ba, tha)
Translator: Vidyākaraprabha, Dharmaśrībhadra, and Paljor (dpal ’byor)
Date: ninth cent.
Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was staying at the Jetavana pleasure grove of Anāthapiṇḍada in Śrāvastī. Now at that time, Venerable Nanda arose from his afternoon meditation and went to where the Buddha was seated together with five hundred monks. Having paid respect with palms joined and having worshiped at the Bhagavān’s feet, Nanda sat to one side. Then the Bhagavān spoke to Venerable Nanda and the monks: “I have a teaching that is virtuous at the beginning, virtuous in the middle, virtuous at the end, excellent in meaning, unadulterated, perfect, pure, pristine, and conducive to being chaste, namely, the Dharma teaching called Entry into the Womb. Listen well and remember it. I will explain it and teach it to you.”
Venerable Nanda replied to the Bhagavān, saying, “I wish to hear what the Bhagavān says,” after which the Bhagavān addressed Venerable Nanda as follows:
“Nanda, when sentient beings wish to enter a womb, if the causes and conditions are complete, they will receive bodies; but if the causes and conditions are not complete, they will not receive bodies.
“What does lacking conditions mean here? It means that the mother and father both have a lustful thought; the antarābhava16 appears and desires the particular place of birth, but the coming together [F.237.b] of the father and mother does not occur at the same time as that, whether early or late. Or if the parents have various physical illnesses, there will not be entry into the womb. If the mother’s womb is overwhelmed by wind, bile, phlegm, or blood; if its space is filled with flesh; if it is filled with medicine; if its center is like barley; if it is like an ant’s waist; if it is like a camel’s mouth; if it is triangular like the hitch of a cart; if it is like the axle of a cart; if it is like the opening of the hub of a cart; if it is like a leaf; if it is crookedly twisted like cane wood; if the inside of the womb seems as though barley awn has grown there; if semen and blood leak out in large amounts and do not stay there for even an instant; if they leak downward; if the path of the womb is rough; if it is wide at the top; if it is wide at the bottom; if it is crooked or not deep enough; if it bursts open and leaks; if it is high or low, or short and narrow; or if the mother has various illnesses, there will not be entry into the womb. If the parents’ lineage is noble and they have great merit, while the antarābhava has little merit; or if the antarābhava’s lineage is noble and it has great merit, while the parents have little merit; or if both the parents and the antarābhava have merit but have not accumulated the karma to come together, there will not be entry into the womb.
“This being so, when the antarābhava is about to enter the womb, at first two erroneous thoughts will arise. What are the two? When the two parents come together, if the new being will be male, the antarābhava experiences desire for the mother and experiences hatred of the father. And when the father’s fluid is discharged, the antarābhava thinks, ‘This is my fluid.’ If the new being will be female, the antarābhava experiences desire for the father and experiences hatred of the mother. And when the mother’s [F.238.a] fluid is discharged, the antarābhava thinks, ‘This is my fluid.’ But if such thoughts of desire and hatred do not arise, there will not be entry into the womb.
“Furthermore, Nanda, how will there be entry into the mother’s womb? If the parents’ thoughts of desire arise, the mother’s fertile period is in order, the antarābhava is present, the many previously mentioned problems are absent, and the karmic conditions are complete, there will be entry into the womb. There are two types of antarābhava who wish to enter the womb. What are the two? One lacking merit and one having great merit. As for the one lacking merit, an idea arises, and when the antarābhava sees the place where it is headed, it thinks in this way: ‘Now I have encountered wind and cold and darkness and rain, the noise of many people, and many powerful harm-doers.’ Terrified and panic stricken, it thinks, ‘Now I will enter a grass hut,’ or ‘I will enter a leaf hut,’ or ‘I will enter a hidden place at the bottom of a wall.’ Or it thinks, ‘I will enter a mountain or a thick forest,’ or ‘I will enter a cave.’ Having given rise to various other notions, in accordance with what it has seen, it will enter its mother’s womb.
As for the one with great merit, it too thinks in this way: ‘Now I have encountered wind and cold and darkness and rain, the noise of many people, and many powerful harm-doers.’ Terrified and panic stricken, it thinks, ‘I will ascend to the top of a multistoried mansion,’ or ‘I will ascend to the top of a high roof,’ or it thinks, ‘I will enter a celestial palace,’ or ‘I will sit on the throne.’ Having given rise to various other notions, in accordance with what it has seen, it will enter its mother’s womb.”
The Bhagavān continued, “Nanda, in this way, the antarābhava, when it first enters the womb, [F.238.b] is called the kalala. Although a being obtains a body relying on the impurity of the father and mother and past karma, the body is not produced by that karma and the conditions of the father and mother individually; rather, it is obtained due to the power of their coming together.
“Just as curdled milk filling a pot becomes butter due to the conditions of human effort, a rope, and so forth, but the butter is not observed within those conditions, the butter only coming to be due to the power of a combination of these things, the same is true of the body of the kalala. Its body is produced in the womb due to the power of causes and conditions.
“Nanda, as an analogy, when worms arise variously relying on green grass or cow dung or jujubes or curdled milk, worms are not observed within each of these individually. Rather, the worms arise due to the power of causes and conditions. When worms arise, they become green, or yellow, or red, or white in color, according to what they respectively rely on. Similarly, when this body arises due to the impurities of the father and mother, if one searches for it within the conditions, it will not be observed; but if the power of the coming together of the conditions is not obtained, a body will not be properly obtained.
“When this body arises, its nature is not different from the four great elements of the father and mother. That is, the earth element acts for firmness. The water element acts for moisture. The fire element acts for heat. The wind element acts for lightness and movement. If those kalala bodies had only the earth element but did not have the water element, they would be unable to cohere, just as dry flour or ashes are unable to be grasped. If they had only the water element but did not have the earth element, they would spill out and disperse, just as oil and water have no firmness, since their nature is slippery and moist. If they had only the earth and water elements but did not have the fire element, they would become rotten and [F.239.a] putrid, just like a piece of meat that is put in the shade during the summer heat and is not struck by the sun’s rays. If they had only the earth, water, and fire elements but no wind element, they would not grow.17
“As an analogy, a confectioner or his skilled apprentice fries pastries, blows with his breath, and, doing whatever needs to be done, makes their interiors hollow. If there is no force of wind, they will not be finished. Similarly, since the four great elements are established together, depending on and holding together one another, the body of the kalala will be born due to the four great elements of the father and mother and the wind of karma. In the same way, it should be understood that the body of the kalala is not observed in the many individual conditions but is properly obtained due to the power of a combination of conditions.
“Furthermore, Nanda, as an analogy, a pure new seed is well hidden, and it is not eaten by insects. Not rotting, it is not burned or cracked, and it does not have any holes. Someone finds a good field, namely, a fertile field, and plants the seed. In one day, do a sprout, stalk, branch, leaf with its shade, flower, and fruit grow and become complete?”
“Bhagavān, that is not the case.”
The Bhagavān continued, “Nanda, the body of the kalala similarly grows gradually due to causes and conditions; the sense faculties are not complete all at once. Therefore, if one searches for this body that arises from the father and mother among these conditions, it will not be found. However, one should know that rebirth will occur due to the force of the combination of causes and conditions.
“Furthermore, Nanda, as an analogy, a clear-eyed person takes a fire-crystal jewel and places it in the sun. Since some dried dung is placed not far from the jewel, a fire will start. The dried dung and the rays of the sun separately cannot start a fire, but the force of causes and conditions not separated from one another starts the fire. The body that arises from the father and mother is also [F.239.b] like this. Accordingly, the body of the kalala is called rūpa. Vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra, and vijñāna are called nāma.
“The moment the five skandhas of nāma and rūpa are reborn, suffering is experienced. If I do not praise this moment, how could I even consider praising a circling among existences over a long period of time? If even a little filth stinks, how much more so a lot of filth? Therefore, who would desire and be attached to the five upādānaskandhas of the body of the kalala?
“Furthermore, Nanda, this body spends thirty-eight weeks in the mother’s womb before it emerges. In the first week, the being in the womb is called kalala. The features of its body begin to appear for the first time. Resembling uncongealed yogurt, it is cooked inside for seven days. After it is well cooked, the four great elements form gradually.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the second week, a karmic wind, all-uniting, comes into existence. This very subtle wind blows on the left and right sides of the mother’s torso and gradually causes features of the body of the kalala to appear, its form like thick curds or coagulated butter. It cooks inside the womb, and when it is well cooked, it becomes the body of the arbuda. Thus, the four great elements form gradually.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the third week, again a karmic wind, treasury opening,18 comes into existence. Due to the force of this wind, the arbuda gradually hardens and becomes a peśī. Its form is short and small, like a pestle for grinding medicine. It cooks inside the womb, and when it is well cooked, the four great elements in this way grow gradually.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the fourth week, again a karmic wind, internal differentiation,19 comes into existence. Due to the force of this wind, [F.240.a] the peśī becomes solid, its form like a grinding stone.20 It cooks inside the womb, and when it is well cooked, the four great elements gradually grow.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the fifth week, again a karmic wind, gathering together, comes into existence. The force of this wind, by making the hardened embryo begin to develop legs and arms, divides the ghana21 and gives rise to signs of the two thighs, two shoulders, and head. Just as when rain falls in the rainy season of summer and produces branches and leaves on trees, in the same way, the force of karmic wind causes the signs of the body to appear.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the sixth week, again a karmic wind, food, comes into existence. The force of this wind gives rise to four signs. What are the four? The four types of signs are the signs of the two forearms and the two shanks.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the seventh week, again a karmic wind, twister, comes into existence. The force of this wind gives rise to four types of signs, namely, the signs of the two palms of the hands and two soles of the feet. These signs are very soft, like a mass of bubbles.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the eighth week, again a karmic wind, reversing and turning, comes into existence. The force of this wind gives rise to twenty signs, namely, the signs of the twenty digits of the hands and feet. As for this, just as rain falling in the rainy season of summer makes the branches and leaves on the trees gradually grow and increase, in the same way, the force of karmic wind causes the signs of the body to appear.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the ninth week, again a karmic wind, separating, comes into existence. [F.240.b] The force of this wind gives rise to nine types of signs. What are the nine? The signs of the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils, the mouth, and the places of excrement and urine are the nine types of signs.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the tenth week, again a karmic wind, making firm, comes into existence. The force of this wind makes the being in the womb firm and stable. Also at that time, a wind called universal door arises. By blowing on the body of the being in the womb, it causes the body to expand and fill, like a full leather bag.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the eleventh week, again a karmic wind, adamantine, comes into existence. The force of this wind, moving up and down in the being in the womb, causes holes to come forth in the body. The force of this wind makes the mother sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy. Her nature changes when she walks, stands, sits, and sleeps; she moves her legs and arms, and the holes in the being in the womb gradually grow and increase; and black blood comes out of its mouth. Filthy water also comes out of its nose. The wind turns away from the faculties and then is pacified.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twelfth week, again a karmic wind, crooked opening, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces the large and small intestines within the left and right sides of the body. They wind around eighteen times and adhere to the body in the same way that very fine lotus roots or taut strings are attached to the earth. Also at that time, a wind called fastened hair arises. Due to the force of this wind, one hundred twenty joints and one hundred one vital points are established in the body.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirteenth week, again a karmic wind, making hungry and thirsty, comes into existence. [F.241.a] The force of this wind weakens the body of the fetus and causes sensations of hunger and thirst to arise. It causes the fetus to receive, through the navel and vital points of its body, all the nutritional essence of what its mother eats and drinks, and to benefit from it.”
Then the Bhagavān spoke in verse:
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the fourteenth week, again a karmic wind, thread opening, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces nine hundred ligaments and pulls together and covers the front and back and left and right sides of the body.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the fifteenth week, again a karmic wind, lotus, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces twenty channels, and when the nutritional essence from food and drink enters these channels, it benefits the body. What are the twenty? The front and back and right and left sides of the body have five channels each. These channels also have forty small branch channels each. Those channels have another one hundred branch channels each. The front of the body has twenty thousand channels called companion.23 The back of the body has twenty thousand channels called strength. The left side of the body has twenty thousand channels called firmness. The right side of the body has twenty thousand channels called powerful. Therefore, eighty thousand large and small branch channels are produced in the body. These channels also have various colors, namely, blue, yellow, red, and white, along with the colors of butter, yogurt, and oil. Furthermore, the eighty thousand each have roots. Each root has various openings, from one or two openings up to seven openings, and each is connected to the pore of a bodily hair, [F.241.b] just as a lotus root has many openings.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the sixteenth week, again a karmic wind, nectar, comes into existence. The force of this wind opens the nine orifices of its eyes, ears, nose, mouth, throat, and the area around the heart in its chest. It makes the breath move in and out and up and down without obstruction, and it makes whatever food and drink is eaten and drunk benefit the body, properly enter the place where it accumulates, and come out below. Just as a potter or a potter’s skilled apprentice, having carefully prepared the clay, places it atop a wheel and, turning it up and down, succeeds in rendering it into the form of a pot, this too is the same: the forces of the wind and good and bad karma gradually complete the eyes and ears and so forth.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the seventeenth week, again a karmic wind, yak face, comes into existence. The force of this wind clarifies its two eyes and causes the ear and nose faculties, and so forth, gradually to become fully mature. Just as one takes fine dirt, oil, or ashes and wipes a mirror that is covered with dust, and it becomes clear, it should be known that, in the same way, the force of this karmic wind blows on the eyes and so forth and makes them completely clear.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the eighteenth week, again a karmic wind, becoming firm, comes into existence. The force of this wind causes its faculties gradually to become fully mature, clear, and purified. Just as when the orbs of the sun and moon are covered, obscured by clouds and mist, and suddenly a harsh wind arises and blows on them, scattering them in the [F.242.a] four directions and making the orbs of the sun and moon totally clear, it should be known that, in the same way, the force of this karmic wind, by blowing on the faculties, makes them totally clear and purified.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the nineteenth week, the force of a karmic wind24 again makes the four faculties, namely, the eyes, ears, nose, and tongue, fully mature. At the time when the being first entered the womb, it possessed three faculties, namely, the body faculty, the life faculty, and the mind faculty. Thus, the faculties are now completed.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twentieth week, again a karmic wind, very solid, comes into existence. The force of this wind makes various bones arise in its body. It produces twenty bones in the left leg, and it produces twenty bones in the right leg. Furthermore, it produces four heel bones, two calf bones, two kneecaps, two thigh bones, three bones each of the waist and hips,25 eighteen bones of the spine, twenty-four ribs, thirty chest bones,26 twenty bones of each hand, four forearm bones, two shoulder bones, two jawbones, four bones of the head, and thirty-two tooth-root bones. To give an analogy, a sculptor or a sculptor’s skilled apprentice, having first taken some hard wood and then bound it with cord, makes shapes; and even though at that time he has not yet applied clay, nevertheless, it is called a skeleton sign. The time when the force of the karmic wind produces bones is like this. Therefore, one should know that in those seven days, leaving out the small bones, the large bones number two hundred.27
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-first week, again a karmic [F.242.b] wind, proper production, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces the flesh of the body of the being in the womb. One should know that, just as a plasterer or a plasterer’s apprentice, having cleansed clay, plasters walls, in the same way, the force of this karmic wind produces the flesh of its body.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-second week, again a karmic wind, completely victorious, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces the blood of its body.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-third week, again a karmic wind, hold cleanly, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces the skin of its body.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-fourth week, again a karmic wind, holding clouds, comes into existence. The force of this wind stretches out the skin28 of its body and gives it color.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-fifth week, again a karmic wind, holding the city, comes into existence. The force of this wind makes the flesh and blood of the body of the being in the womb increase and gradually purifies it.29
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-sixth week, again a karmic wind, completion of birth, comes into existence. The force of this wind produces its hair, bodily hair, and nails, and connects them each individually to the channels.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-seventh week, again a karmic wind, crooked medicine, comes into existence. It is said that, due to the force of this wind, the characteristics of its body gradually come into existence.
“If, in a former life, it engaged in bad and nonvirtuous actions—for example, not being charitable due to being stingy with and greedy for goods, and not listening to the teachings of spiritual masters, such as parents, teachers, and gurus [F.243.a]—due to the force of those actions, it will obtain an undesirable body of one sort or another. If long and heavy, fleshy and white, and supple bodies are considered attractive, it will obtain a body that is short and thin, skinny and black, and hard. If short and thin, skinny and black, and hard bodies are considered attractive, it will obtain a body that is long and heavy, fleshy and white, and very supple. If bodily parts are considered attractive because they are high, low, many, few, dense, or thin, it will not obtain a body that has high, low, many, few, dense, or thin bodily parts. Moreover, it will be deaf, blind, or dumb, move by crawling on its hands and feet, have impaired faculties, or have speech that others do not wish to listen to; or it will obtain an ugly body, like a preta. Since it obtains an undesirable body of one sort or another due to its bad and nonvirtuous actions, not even its relatives and friends, to say nothing of other people, wish to see it.
“If, in a former life, it engaged in the ten virtuous actions—for example, being charitable and not being greedy or deceitful, and adopting with great conviction the teachings of spiritual masters, such as parents, teachers, and gurus—due to those causes and conditions, if it obtains a human body, it will not obtain a body that has come into existence as a result of the bad and nonvirtuous actions explained above. Instead, by obtaining a body endowed with various types of auspiciousness, and having good qualities and an attractive countenance, it will be worthy of everyone’s wish to listen to whatever it says. It should thus be understood that, due to the force of virtuous actions, the being in the womb will obtain the most excellent result.
“Nanda, the body of this sort,30 if it is male, [F.243.b] squats on the right side of the mother’s womb and, covering its face with both hands, faces the mother’s spine. If it is female, it squats on the left side of the mother’s ribs and, covering its face with both hands, faces the mother’s belly. It cooks beneath the stomach and above the intestines. Boiling, it is bound in five places, as if it were in a straw31 bag. If its mother eats too much or eats too little, or if she eats food that is too sweet, or too dry, or too astringent, or too oily, or too salty, or too bitter, or too sour, or too cold, or too hot, or, furthermore, if she engages in sexual activities, or moves violently, or jumps, or sleeps too long, or sits too long, the being in the womb will experience suffering. Therefore it should be understood that, at the time of living in the mother’s womb, the fetus is tormented by many types of suffering such as those. If the suffering of one who becomes human that I have briefly explained is like that, what need is there to mention the suffering of beings born in hell, which is difficult to compare to anything? What wise person would yearn for such a body in the ocean of saṃsāra?
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-eighth week, eight mistaken perceptions will arise. What are the eight? They are these eight perceptions: the perception of a vehicle, the perception of a penthouse, the perception of a couch, the perception of a spring, the perception of a pond, the perception of a river, the perception of a pleasure garden, and the perception of a grove. These are the eight perceptions.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the twenty-ninth week, again a karmic wind, flower garland, comes into existence. The force of this wind makes the complexion of the being in the womb excellent and makes its [F.244.a] features very clear. Because all beings have engaged in different types of action in the past, they will accordingly have various types of complexion. Some will be white, some will be black, some will be neither white nor black, some will be blue, some will be rough and dry, and some will be smooth. They will have complexion characteristics of these sorts.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirtieth week, again a karmic wind, iron aperture, comes into existence. The force of this wind increases the hair, bodily hair, and nails, and it clarifies white and black complexions. These features will appear due to karmic conditions.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirty-first week through the thirty-fifth week, the features of the body will grow, and the parts of the body will gradually become enlarged and complete.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirty-sixth week, it gives rise to a thought of emerging from the womb and becomes very unhappy.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirty-seventh week, five unmistaken perceptions will arise. What are the five? They are a perception of dirtiness, the perception of a foul smell, the perception of a prison, the perception of darkness, and the perception of emerging due to great weariness. The being in the womb gives rise to these sorts of thoughts of great weariness.
“While the being in the mother’s womb is in the thirty-eighth week, again a karmic wind, seized conditions,32 comes into existence. The force of this wind makes it turn over. Furthermore, a wind called facing down arises. The being in the womb, upside down, extends its two arms and gradually wishes to emerge from the womb. [F.244.b] If the being in the womb accumulated karma in previous lives that would result in its dying in the womb, it will be unable to turn over because its arms and legs become intertwined, and it will die in its mother’s womb on account of its sinful, nonvirtuous karma. And at that time, the mother, too, will experience great suffering or die. If, in previous lives, it engaged in virtuous actions and accumulated the causes that would result in a long life, when birth is imminent, both mother and child will be very happy and will not have such suffering that results from sinful, nonvirtuous karma. When thirty-eight weeks have passed and the being in the womb desires to emerge, it will experience various sufferings when it first emerges. Therefore, it should be understood that receiving this body is great suffering.
“When the infant first emerges from the womb—whether it is a son or a daughter, as soon as it falls to the ground, whether it is taken in the hands, or received in a cloth, or placed on a couch, or placed in a house, or placed on the ground, or placed in the open, or placed in the sun, in winter or summer—when the newborn body is touched by a cold or hot wind, it will experience great suffering. The pain experienced by the infant due to being washed with hot water when it first emerges from the womb is just like that of an ox, skinned alive, that brushes against a wall or, falling on the bare ground, is eaten by insects. Alternatively, it is like that of a man who is eaten by mosquitoes or is beaten with a whip. After being born, the infant gradually grows larger and is nourished by milk mixed with blood that comes from the mother’s body. I have previously taught this at length in other sūtras. Thus, since this body is filthy and is formed from much suffering, what wise person would desire this sort of body in saṃsāra?
“Furthermore, Nanda, [F.245.a] a week after the infant emerges from the womb, eighty thousand types of worm arise in the body and feed on it. There are two types of worm called hair eater that live in and feed on the hair. Two types of worm live in and feed on the eyes. There are four types of worm, saddle horse,33 having a palate,34 provoking illness, and completion, that live in and feed on the brains. There is a type of worm, black rice, that lives in and feeds on the ears. There is a type of worm, treasury opening, that lives in and feeds on the nose. There are two types of worm, throwing and throwing everywhere, that live in and feed on the lips. There is a type of worm, needle lips,35 that lives in and feeds on the tongue. There is a type of worm, sharp mouth, that lives in and feeds on the root of the tongue. There is a type of worm, perfect arm, that lives in and feeds on the palate. There are two types of worm, webbed hand36 and half bent, that live in and feed on the palms of the hands. There are two types of worm, upper arm and lower arm, that live in and feed on the arms. There are two types of worm, having iron and having near-iron, that live in and feed on the throat. There are two types of worm, thunderbolt and great thunderbolt, that live in and feed on the heart. There are two types of worm, weak and weak mouth, that live in and feed on the flesh. There are two types of worm, colorful and renowned, that live in and drink the blood. There are two types of worm, hero and fragrance face, that live in and feed on the ligaments. There are two types of worm, low and upside down, that live in and feed on the spine. There is a type of worm, fat color, [F.245.b] that lives in and feeds on the fat. There is a type of worm, bile color, that lives in and feeds on the bile. There is a type of worm, pearl, that lives in and feeds on the liver. There is a type of worm, reed, that lives in and feeds on the spleen. There are five hundred types of worm that live in and feed on the left side: one hundred types called moon; one hundred types called moon face; one hundred types called moonlight; one hundred types called moonlight face; and one hundred types called vast. Furthermore, there are another five hundred types of worm, with names agreeing with those above, that live in and feed on the right side. There are four types of worm, slightly piercing, greatly piercing, bone piercing, and bone face, that live in and feed on the bones. There are four types of worm, greatly white, slightly white, smell power, and tiger path, that live in and feed on the tendons. There are four types of worm, determined mind, lion power, rabbit belly, and clinging to desire, that live in and feed on the stomach. There are two types of worm, hero and lord of heroes, that live in and feed on the intestines. There are four types of worm, mouth,37 net mouth, mass mouth, and little bird mouth, that live in and feed on the urethra. There are four types of worm, action, big action, dust, and small bundle,38 that live in and feed on the anus. There are two types of worm, black face and scary face, that live in and feed on the thighs. There are two types of worm, leprous and slightly leprous, [F.246.a] that live in and feed on the knees. There is a type of worm, root of madness, that lives in and feeds on the lower legs. There is a type of worm, black head, that lives in and feeds on the feet.
“Nanda, I have now instructed you briefly about the eighty thousand types of worm that inhabit this body, feeding on it day and night and making it physically weak and badly complexioned, along with the various types of suffering from illnesses, which gather in this body and also torment, strongly torment, and completely torment a person’s mind—so that even if there were a skillful doctor, he would be confused, not knowing how to treat these illnesses with any medicine. What wise person would desire this sort of body in the ocean of saṃsāra?
“Furthermore, Nanda, from the time it is born until it is fully grown, this body is sustained by clothing and food, and it becomes fully developed. Its lifespan can be one hundred years, or it can be shorter than that. Those one hundred years will add up to three hundred seasons, namely spring, summer, and winter. Spring is the hot season. Summer is the rainy season. Winter is the cold season. The three seasons have four months each, so there are twelve months in one year, and twelve hundred months in one hundred years; and if we differentiate the white face of the waxing moon and the dark face of the waning moon, there are twenty-four hundred fortnights. Therefore, there are thirty-six thousand days.
“In one day, a person eats twice; so, as for food, he will eat seventy-two thousand times, and occasional missed meals are included in that number. As for those missed meals, they are missed due to causes and conditions including illness, drunkenness, intentional fasting, sleeping, playing around, being engaged in other matters, and drinking mother’s milk. Since this sort of body, even if it can live for a hundred years, will finally [F.246.b] be destroyed, what wise person would desire this sort of body in this ocean of saṃsāra?
“Furthermore, Nanda, there are two types of suffering with regard to taking this body. What are the two? The many illnesses that are contained in the body are called internal suffering. Harm caused by humans and nonhumans is called external suffering.
“With respect to this, which conditions are called the many illnesses that are contained in the body? Namely, maladies of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, throat, teeth, chest, belly, arms, and legs, as well as wind illness, mucous illness, insanity, consumption,39 shortness of breath, lung disease, roughness of the urethra, itching, leprosy, swellings, thorbu,40 abscesses, pustules, and elephantiasis, and various other types of illness are contained in the body.
“Furthermore, the above diseases can be divided into 101 bile diseases, 101 wind diseases, 101 phlegm diseases, and 101 diseases that arise from a combination of wind, bile, and phlegm. Thus, the 404 diseases that afflict the body are called internal suffering.
“Furthermore, external suffering damages the body. Namely, the body is afflicted by various types of suffering, for example, being thrown into a narrow prison, being beaten with whips, being fettered, and being bound; having an ear cut off or the nose cut off, having an arm or a leg severed, or being beheaded; or, unprotected by the gods, being harmed by hateful, inhuman demonic beings, or yakṣas, or rākṣasas; or being devoured by vicious insects such as bees, mosquitoes, and biting flies; or encountering cold, heat, hunger, thirst, wind, or rain. If the suffering of humans [F.247.a] is like this, how much more so must be the suffering of lower beings? It is very difficult to express.
“Therefore, it should be known that all these sorts of karmic retribution are experienced due to the force of having engaged in sinful, nonvirtuous actions in a previous life. If someone—for the sake of protection from harm by weapons—builds a citadel, surrounds it with a moat, and tries to protect this body, nevertheless, wind, rain, bees, mosquitoes, biting flies, and so forth will come to his house and harm him, and the 404 diseases will cause internal and external afflictions. If one seeks life’s necessities—such as food, drink, bedding, medicines for illness, fields, pleasure gardens, houses, the seven great precious things such as gold and silver, male slaves, female slaves, and carriages and horses—and if these do not suit one’s fancy, they cause suffering. And if one obtains wealth and possessions, one is thrifty due to stinginess and always protects them; and if one loses them by wasting them, great suffering is produced.
“Nanda, in brief, as for this body consisting of the five upādānaskandhas, there are no activities of moving, standing, sitting, or lying down that are not suffering. If one walks for a long time without even a moment’s rest, suffering will arise. Standing, sitting, and lying down, if done for a long time, will all be suffering. If, after walking for a long time, there is a moment’s rest, even though a notion of pleasure is produced, this is not really pleasure. If, after standing for a long time, one sits for a moment, or if, after sitting for a long time, one lies down for a moment, a false notion of pleasure is produced; however, since this is not really pleasure, [F.247.b] this body consisting of the five upādānaskandhas should therefore be known to be wholly suffering.
“People who—for their own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of both self and other—become weary with such suffering and leave home to go forth into homelessness, if they train correctly, will not fall short of the reality of the liberation of nirvāṇa. And people who serve them by giving clothes, bedding, medicines for illness, and requisites for living will also obtain, as karmic ripening, great power and renown.”
The Bhagavān said, “Nanda, what do you think of this? Is rūpa permanent? Or is it impermanent?”
The Bhagavān said, “If it is impermanent, is it suffering? Or is it not suffering?”
The Bhagavān said, “If what is impermanent and suffering is subject to destruction, and if very learned noble śrāvakas hear this sort of teaching, would they, understanding that the body consists of these sorts of rūpa, hold on to the notions of I and mine?”
“Furthermore, Nanda, what do you think of this? Are vedanā, saṃjñā, saṃskāra, and vijñāna permanent? Or are they impermanent?”
Venerable Nanda replied to the Bhagavān, “Bhagavān, they are all impermanent.”
The Bhagavān said, “If they are impermanent, are they suffering? Or are they not suffering?” [F.248.a]
The Bhagavān said, “If what is impermanent and suffering is subject to destruction, and if very learned noble śrāvakas hear this sort of teaching, would they hold on to the notion that these four skandhas in this body are I and mine?”
“Bhagavān, indeed not. In the four skandhas, there is no such thing as I; there is no such thing as mine.”
“Furthermore, Nanda, since that sort of I does not exist in the past, present, or future, or internally or externally, and is not coarse or fine, or good or bad, or close or far, none of those things is I or mine. Therefore, Nanda, in this way, too, analyzing with correct knowledge, one should know that things lack a self. Any very learned noble śrāvaka, having analyzed in this way, when he generates weariness,41 will be liberated and will obtain final, complete nirvāṇa. When he has thus trained correctly and actualized this Dharma,42 he will have exhausted everything pertaining to birth; and having practiced the celibate life and having done what was to be done, he will not take up a subsequent birth.”
After the Bhagavān spoke this Dharma discourse, Nanda, freed from dust and defilement, obtained the pure Dharma eye. The five hundred monks, detached from phenomena, their defilements extinguished, had their minds liberated. After the Bhagavān spoke, the many in attendance praised what the Bhagavān had said.
This concludes The Teaching to Venerable Nanda on Entry into the Womb, the fourteenth of the one hundred thousand sections of the Dharma discourse known as The Noble Great Heap of Jewels.
Outline of the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra
III. The composition of the embryo
V. The newborn being
VI. The course of life and its sufferings
The Chinese differs significantly:
(qi zi chu mutai yi jing shisan qi shen ji jue xu lei bian sheng jike xiang mu suoyou yinshi zi yi yu tai zhong you ci shenming cun jianjian er zengzhang 其子處母胎 已經十三七 身即覺虚羸 便生飢渇想 母所有飮食 滋益於胎中 由此身命存 漸漸而増長, Taishō 310.323c1–4.)
mngal du ’jug pa. Toh 58, Degé Kangyur vol. 41 (dkon brtsegs, ga), folios 237.a–248.a. Lhasa Kangyur vol. 37 (dkon brtsegs, ga), folios 399.b–448.a.
rgya cher rol pa (Lalitavistara). Toh 95, Degé Kangyur vol. 46 (mdo sde, kha), folios 1.b–216.b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2013.
mngal du ’jug pa. In ’dul ba phran tshegs kyi gzhi (Vinayakṣudrakavastu), Toh 6, Degé Kangyur vol. 10 (’dul ba, tha), folios 124.b–153.a.
mngal na gnas pa (Nandagarbhāvakrāntinirdeśa). Toh 57, Degé Kangyur vol. 41 (dkon brtsegs, ga), folios 210.b–232.a.
chos kyi phung po (Dharmaskandha). Toh 245, Degé Kangyur vol. 66 (mdo sde, za), folios 27.b–33.a. English translation in the Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2019.
’jig rten ’dzin gyis yongs su dris pa (Lokadharaparipṛcchā). Toh 174, Degé Kangyur vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 7.b–78.b. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2020a.
dam pa’i chos dran pa nye bar gzhag pa (Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna). Toh 287, Degé Kangyur, vols. 68 (mdo sde, ya), folios 82.a–318.a; vol. 69 (mdo sde, ra), 1.b–307.a; vol. 70 (mdo sde, la), 1.b–312.a; and vol. 71 (mdo sde, sha), 1.b–229.b. English translation in the Dharmachakra Translation Committee 2020b.
shes phyin khri pa (Daśasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā). Toh 11, Degé Kangyur, vol. 31 (shes phyin, ga), folios 1.b–91.a; vol. 32 (shes phyin, nga), folios 92.b–397.a. English translation in Padmakara Translation Group 2018.
Asaṅga. rnal ’byor spyod pa’i sa (Yogācārabhūmi). Toh 4035, folios 1.b–283.a.
Butön Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub). chos ’byung (bde bar gshegs pa’i bstan pa’i gsal byed chos kyi ’byung gnas gsung rab rin po che’i gter mdzod). In gsung ’bum/ rin chen grub/ zhol par ma/ ldi lir bskyar par brgyab pa/, vol. 24 (ya), pp. 633–1055. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1965–71. BDRC W22106.
Chomden Rigpai Raltri (bcom ldan rig pa’i ral gri). bstan pa rgyas pa rgyan gyi nyi 'od. In gsung ’bum [Collected Works], vol. 1 (ka), pp. 96–257. Lhasa: khams sprul bsod nams don grub, 2006. BDRC W00EGS1017426.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
Baotai jing 胞胎經. Taishō 317. (Translation of Garbhāvakrāntisūtra by Dharmarakṣa [Zhu Fahu 竺法護]).
Chutai hui 處胎會 (Full title: Fo wei Anan shuo chutai hui 佛爲阿難説處胎會). Taishō 310 (13). (Translation of Garbhāvakrāntisūtra by Bodhiruci [Putiliuzhi 菩提流志].)
Kaiyuan shijiao lu 開元釋教錄. Taishō 2154.
Rutai jing (Full title: Foshuo ru taizang hui 佛説入胎藏會). Taishō 310 . (Translation of Garbhāvakrāntisūtra by Yijing 義淨.)
Dharmachakra Translation Committee, trans. (2013). The Play in Full (Lalitavistara, Toh 95). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2013.
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Kokuyaku issaikyō 國譯一切經. Hōshaku-bu 寳積部 3. (Japanese translation of Mahāratnakūṭasūtra [Taishō 310]).
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- byed pa
- rdo rje
- kun sdud
- mgon med zas sbyin
- bar ma do’i phung po
- bar ma do’i srid pa
- nur nur po
- brtan par ’gyur ba
- byed pa chen po
- mkhris pa’i kha dog
- gdong gnag
- mgo nag
- sA lu nag po’i lo ma
- rus pa’i gdong
- rus pa ’bigs pa
Clinging to desire
- ’dod pa la mngon par zhen pa
- kha dog ldan
- sa ga
- kun tu rgyal ba
- yongs su rdzogs pa
Completion of birth
- skye ba mngon par grub
- sman yon chen po
- yon po’i sgo
- mos pa’i yid
- chos kyi mig
- phye ma
- kha thur du lta ba
- spu brgyus pa
- tshil gyi kha dog
- brtan pa
- me tog phreng ba
- dri gtong
- yang dag par sdud pa
- gor gor po
- ’byung ba chen po
- rdo rje chen po
- cher ’bigs pa
- cher dkar ba
- skra la za ba
- phyed sgyur
Having a palate
- rkan ldan
- lcags can
- nye ba’i lcags can
- dpa’ bo
- yongs su dag par ’dzin pa
- sprin ’dzin
Holding the city
- grong khyer ’dzin
- nang rab tu ’byed pa
- lcags kyi sgo
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
- mer mer po
- mdze can
- seng ge’i stobs
Little bird mouth
- bye’u kha
Lord of heroes
- dpa’ bo’i bdag po
- pad ma
- mi mtho ba
- nye ba’i dpung pa
- sra bar byed pa
Making hungry and thirsty
- bkres shing skom par byed pa
- phung po’i kha
- zla ba
- zla ba’i kha
- bsil byed
- bsil byed gtong
- mu kha
- gzhi thams cad yod par smra ba’i ’dul ba
- dga’ bo
- bdud rtsi
- khab mchu
- dra ba kha
- mu tig
- lag rdzogs
- ltar ltar po
- mthu dang ldan pa
- yi dags
- yang dag skyed pa
- nad slong
- ri bong lto
- srin po
- dkon brtsegs
- ’dam bu
- grags ldan
Reversing and turning
- zlog cing sgyur bar byed pa
Root of madness
- myos pa’i rtsa ba
- pa ha na
- ’du shes
- ’du byed
- ’jigs su rung ba’i gdong
- thogs pa’i rkyen
- rnam par ’byed pa
- kha rno
- phung po
- rus pa’i mtshan nyid
- mdze can chung ngu
- cung zad ’bigs pa
- cung zad dkar ba
- po ta ra ka
- snum pa’i stobs
- nyan thos
- mnyan du yod pa
- skud pa’i sgo
- ’phen pa
- kun tu ’phen pa
- rdo rje
- stag lam
- mdzod kha
- mdzod sgo
- ’khyil bar byed pa
- kun nas sgo
- nye bar len pa’i phung po
- dpung pa
- khas spub
- yangs pa
- tshor ba
- shin tu sra ba
- rnam par shes pa
- dman pa
- dman pa’i kha
- lag pa dra ba can
- ’bri gdong
- gnod sbyin