The Questions of Pūrṇa
Responding to Controversies
Degé Kangyur, vol. 42 (dkon brtsegs, nga), folios 168.b–227.a.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In Veṇuvana, outside Rājagṛha, Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra asks the Buddha about the conduct of bodhisattvas practicing on the path to awakening. The Buddha replies by describing the attitudes that bodhisattvas must possess as well as their benefits. Then, at the request of Maudgalyāyana, the Buddha recounts several of his past lives in which he himself practiced bodhisattva conduct. At the end of the teaching, the Buddha instructs the assembly about how to deal with specific objections to his teachings that outsiders might raise after he himself has passed into nirvāṇa.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Benjamin Collet-Cassart and Nika Jovic translated the text from Tibetan into English and wrote the introduction. James Gentry then compared the translation with Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation. Finally, Andreas Doctor compared the draft translation with the original Tibetan and edited the text. Ryan Damron and Thomas Doctor also helped resolve several difficult passages.
This translation has been completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Work on this text would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of 王学文 and 马国凤, which is most gratefully acknowledged.
At that time, a monk called Elephant Trunk who was present in the assembly arose, draped his shawl over one shoulder, and knelt on his right knee. With his palms joined together, he said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, to hear about those hardships undergone by the Thus-Gone One gave me goosebumps and made me shed tears. I would now like to ask a question. The Blessed One himself has said, ‘In the past, when I was a bodhisattva, my actions always accorded with my words, and my words always accorded with my actions.’ [F.220.a] When he first gave rise to the mind set on awakening, the Blessed One made the commitment to liberate all sentient beings. Given that he made such a commitment but may pass into nirvāṇa without having yet liberated all sentient beings, what should be answered, after the Blessed One has passed away, when some people argue with the monks saying, ‘In the past, your great teacher made the commitment to liberate all sentient beings, so why is it that sentient beings have not yet transcended suffering?’ ”
The Blessed One said to the monk Elephant Trunk, “If some people argue in that way, ask them, ‘Which phenomena do you claim to constitute a sentient being?’
“If they answer, ‘The aggregates, sense sources, and elements are a sentient being,’ ask them in return, ‘Do you claim that the gathering and collection of the aggregates, sense sources, and elements is a sentient being? Or do you rather claim that a sentient being is something separated and divorced from those?’
“They may then assert, ‘The gathering of the aggregates, sense sources, and elements is a sentient being.’ In that case, tell them, ‘You have answered yourself. Why? Because you say that the gathering is a sentient being, while the aggregates, sense sources, and elements themselves are not a sentient being. However, the Blessed One taught the Dharma as a method to part with and be separated from those, not to gather and assemble them. While the Blessed One is pleased by any activity that leads to the partition and separation from them, he is not pleased by any activity that leads to their gathering and assembly. Therefore, there is no sentient being to be found within this gathering and assembly.’ [F.220.b]
“They may then say, ‘The aggregates, sense sources, and elements themselves are a sentient being.’ To that, answer the following, ‘If this were so, then all grass, wood, gravel, and stones would also be a sentient being. Why? Because aggregates, sense sources, and elements are present in them, and you say that aggregates, sense sources, and elements themselves are the sentient being.’
“If they reply, ‘Those are not sentient beings, for they neither have a mind nor are they a product of the mind,’ tell them, ‘If this were so, all sentient beings would become a single sentient being. Why? Because the Thus-Gone One has never spoken of a difference between the aggregates, sense sources, and elements.’
“If they reply, ‘Sentient beings exist, for the discourses of the Thus-Gone One teach that sentient beings exist,’ reply, ‘You have answered yourself. Why? Because, in the teachings of the Thus-Gone One, phenomena are said to transcend existence and nonexistence.’
“They may then argue, ‘If this were so, the result of the path would become nonexistent.’ To that, ask them, ‘What do you claim to be the result?’
“If they say, ‘We claim that the result is something ultimate and definitive,’ you should tell them, ‘The definitive ultimate is beyond language and words, and that which is beyond language and words cannot be expressed in terms of definitive existence or definitive nonexistence. You claim that the result is something definitive and ultimate, so the words you are using, sentient beings exist, are contradicting your own position; for neither sentient beings nor even the names of sentient beings exist from the perspective of the definitive ultimate.’
“Furthermore, Elephant Trunk, although in the Thus-Gone One’s teachings it is stated that phenomena do not cease, that brings peace from suffering, for since I have fully realized the characteristics of the true nature of phenomena in that way, [F.221.a] I teach to sentient beings that phenomena, as I understand them, are not to be craved, should be disengaged from, should not conceptualized or formed, and are without any arising.’
“Elephant Trunk, someone who understands the meaning of the Dharma that I teach does not get involved in karmic actions driven by fixation on existence or nonexistence. How could someone who does not get involved in karmic actions driven by fixation on existence or nonexistence perceive sentient beings in terms of existence or nonexistence? Elephant Trunk, this is known as constantly abiding in the characteristics of the true nature of phenomena.
“This realization transcends all concepts of recollection. It also transcends all concepts of impurity, purity, coming, going, the path, and the result of the path, and all characteristics such as long, short, square, and round, as well as all other notions of shape and color. Therefore, phenomena share a single mode, which is described as the gateway of absorption. Elephant Trunk, this is also called seeing the gateway to the Dharma. Whoever enters this gateway to the Dharma vision is known as someone who sees the Buddha.
“Elephant Trunk, what do you think: Does a phenomenon perceived to be the Buddha have the characteristic of cessation—has it ceased, is it ceasing, or will it cease?”
“No, Blessed One, it does not.”
“What do you think: Does a phenomenon perceived to be the Buddha have the characteristic of arising—has it arisen, is it arising, or will it arise?”
“No, Blessed One, it does not.”
“Blessed One, that is true.”
“Elephant Trunk, if they then say that it is because I possess the physical marks that once I have entered into the complete nirvāṇa of a thus-gone one I will not return, and also if they claim that because the physical marks are seen to be irreversible, the Thus-Gone One ceases, ask them, [F.221.b] ‘Do you claim that the formation of physical marks is the Thus-Gone One?’
“They may answer, ‘We claim that the formation of the physical marks is the Thus-Gone One.’ In that case, you should tell them, ‘In the discourses spoken by the Thus-Gone One, the physical marks are not said to be the Thus-Gone One. If it were said that the physical marks are the Thus-Gone One, everything—gravel, stones, mountains, rivers, grass, and forests—would also be the Thus-Gone One.’
“They may retort, ‘All gravel, stones, mountains, rivers, grass, and forests are not the Thus-Gone One, for they do not have the thirty-two major marks of a great being.’ In that case, reply to them, ‘If you now call someone who possesses the thirty-two major marks a thus-gone one, it follows that a universal monarch is also a thus-gone one. Why? Because a universal monarch likewise possesses the thirty-two major marks.’
“They may object, ‘Since the marks of a thus-gone one can be identified due to their qualities, brahmins with knowledge of such marks can correctly predict when one will become a buddha.’ To that, you should answer, ‘If you maintain that someone who possesses the thirty-two major marks is a thus-gone one, and if you say that a brahmin with knowledge of marks can predict that someone will become a perfect buddha based on seeing the presence of those thirty-two major marks, you should now explain what the marks of a thus-gone one consist in.’
“They may reply, ‘The thus-gone ones’ ten strengths, four fearlessnesses, eighteen unique qualities, undefiled powers, strengths, limbs of enlightenment, path, concentration, liberation, absorption, and so on, are taught to be the marks.’ In that case, tell them, ‘Since you claim that the thus-gone ones’ ten strengths and so on are the marks of a thus-gone one, you should now explain what the nature of a thus-gone one consists in.’ [F.222.a]
“To that, they may ask, ‘Are the Buddha and his marks separate?’ In that case, you should reply, ‘You have already said that the marks are the Buddha, although they are not!’
“If they ask again, ‘Do other shapeless and colorless phenomena, such as the ten strengths, act as the marks of the Buddha?’ you should tell them in return, ‘How can shapeless and colorless phenomena act as the marks of something possessing shape and color? Furthermore, if you claim that shapeless and colorless phenomena are the Buddha, it then follows that all the other shapeless and colorless phenomena are also the Buddha. Then, if those colorless phenomena were the Buddha, it would also be reasonable to say that the ten strengths, four fearlessnesses, eighteen unique qualities, inexhaustible powers, strengths, limbs of enlightenment, path, concentration, liberation, absorption, and so on, would also function as their marks.’ Elephant Trunk, this is how my hearers thoroughly train foolish beings.
“Furthermore, Elephant Trunk, in the past I did indeed make the aspiration to fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood and then liberate all beings. However, when I fully awoke to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood, as I sat upon the seat of awakening, I did not apprehend any sentient beings. I did not even apprehend the name sentient beings. Therefore, as I sat upon the seat of awakening, my understanding consisted entirely of the twelve links of dependent arising—the fact that things exist when other things exist, and they are absent when other things are absent. [F.222.b]
“What are the things that exist when other things exist, and what things are absent when other things are absent? Due to ignorance, there are formations. Due to formations, there is consciousness. Due to consciousness, name and form arise. Due to name and form, the six sense sources arise. Due to the six sense sources, contact arises. Due to contact, feeling arises. Due to feeling, craving arises. Due to craving, appropriation arises. Due to appropriation, becoming arises. Due to becoming, birth arises. Due to birth, old age and death arise. Due to old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, despair, and anxiety arise. Thus do these great masses of pure suffering arise.
“Due to the cessation of ignorance, formations cease. Due to the cessation of formations, consciousness ceases. Due to the cessation of consciousness, name and form cease. Due to the cessation of name and form, the six sense sources cease. Due to the cessation of the six sense sources, contact ceases. Due to the cessation of contact, feeling ceases. Due to the cessation of feeling, craving ceases. Due to the cessation of craving, appropriation ceases. Due to the cessation of appropriation, becoming ceases. Due to the cessation of becoming, birth ceases. Due to the cessation of birth, old age and death cease. Due to the cessation of old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, despair, and anxiety cease. Thus do these great masses of pure suffering cease.
“Because my vision, wisdom, knowledge, and intellect have arisen on that basis, I have fully realized liberation, which is beyond center and edge and free from fear. Because the thus-gone ones have fully actualized such liberation, they only apprehend phenomena arising from causes and conditions. They have no other attainment besides that. Elephant Trunk, the thus-gone ones teach the nature of phenomena to sentient beings in the exact way they have realized it. [F.223.a] Elephant Trunk, whether or not the thus-gone ones have appeared, the nature of phenomena always remains the same—name and form are not lost, there are no mutual contradictions, and they are beyond birth and arising.
“Elephant Trunk, I am always teaching the Dharma in that way, so you too should understand it according to my intent. When I teach such a Dharma to you, you should practice it accordingly, with persistent efforts. Elephant Trunk, I have already done all the appropriate things that a great teacher should do for his disciples. Therefore, you should practice in accordance with the way I have taught, and thereby gain the light of wisdom with respect to phenomena!”
Then Venerable Elephant Trunk asked the Blessed One, “Blessed One, how should one answer when others raise the following concern: ‘If the authentic Dharma, which was expounded by the Thus-Gone One, vanished, who would teach the path? Without a teacher of the path, the sacred Dharma would vanish. Since the sacred Dharma would have vanished, the thus-gone ones too would disappear. Therefore, no sentient being could be liberated.’ ”
“Elephant Trunk,” answered the Blessed One, “if those arguments are raised, you should answer by saying, ‘Everyone knows and sees that the thus-gone ones are omniscient. Moreover, they always wait for the opportunity to liberate sentient beings. Therefore, they continue to benefit others, even after they pass into nirvāṇa. Furthermore, because the thus-gone ones prophesy to future buddhas how they will fully awaken to perfect buddhahood, the lineage of the buddhas remains uninterrupted. [F.223.b] Since the Dharma of all the buddhas is also the Dharma of every single buddha, it is called the Dharma of the Thus-Gone One. The Dharma of the Thus-Gone One is the Dharma of the Buddha. Therefore, you should know that in the past, when the Thus-Gone One practiced bodhisattva conduct, his actions always accorded with his words, and his words always accorded with his actions.’ ”
“Blessed One,” said Venerable Elephant Trunk, “the Thus-Gone One comprehends perfectly how to investigate all phenomena. In order to comprehend perfectly all phenomena, he has guided his physical, verbal, and mental activities with insight. By following insight in that way, when he was practicing bodhisattva conduct in the past, the actions of the Blessed One always accorded with his words, and his words always accorded with his actions. This is truly amazing!”
The Blessed One exclaimed, “Thus it is, Elephant Trunk, thus it is! Elephant Trunk, as you have said, when I was practicing bodhisattva conduct in the past, my actions always accorded with my words, and my words always accorded with my actions. Elephant Trunk, someone who speaks sincerely might ask, ‘Who is the one who was born into this world without flaws? He benefits sentient beings and establishes the world together with its gods in a state of happiness. Acting as everyone’s great teacher, he teaches the authentic path. Since he is liberated through his genuine wisdom, he is free from conceptual elaborations. Having passed to the other shore, he liberates those who have not yet crossed over.’ To that, I would have to answer, ‘I am that one, the Buddha, the Thus-Gone One,’ and those words would be truthful. Elephant Trunk, someone who speaks sincerely might ask, ‘Who is undeceiving and repays the kindness of past actions?’ [F.224.a] To that, I would have to answer, ‘It is I,’ and those words would be truthful. Even the smallest deeds done by sentient beings for my sake will never be wasted.
“Elephant Trunk, since I first gave rise to the mind set on unsurpassed and perfect awakening, my mind has never turned away from it or wavered. I do not recall ever having clung to or longed for the vehicles of the hearers and solitary buddhas. After hearing these teachings, I only wanted, with one-pointed resolve, to guide those among my retinue who pursue the fruition of the hearers and solitary buddhas.47
“Elephant Trunk, once in the past, I was a non-Buddhist sage. My insight was clear and sharp, I was very erudite and eloquent, and I had reached acceptance of the profound Dharma. At that time there were five hundred young brahmins who understood the defects associated with keeping a household and the five sense desires, as well as the benefits of monastic life. Accordingly, they renounced their households, became ordained as homeless monks, and cultivated the path. They all came to see me, and I taught them the Dharma. They eventually reached the path of the solitary buddhas, developed the six higher perceptions, and obtained mental freedom. Endowed with the bases of miraculous powers, they would always miraculously rise up into the sky, and in this way enter villages, cities, and towns. After receiving their alms, they would then venerate me with them.
“At that time, I thought, ‘Since they possess pure and great wisdom, it is not suitable for me to accept their offerings.’ In fact, those sages had obtained such qualities by following my teachings, whereas I had not! Therefore, in order to realize the Dharma that I had received but not yet realized, I developed persistent diligence. [F.224.b]
“Elephant Trunk, after I gave rise to persistent diligence, I also realized that Dharma. At that time a god from the pure realms arrived in front of me and prophesied, ‘Do not cling to this wisdom! After you fully awaken to unsurpassed and perfect buddhahood, you will liberate innumerable sentient beings.’ Elephant Trunk, after hearing those words, I obtained supreme mental joy by cultivating the path. Then, as I sat in solitude for half a month, my entire body became filled with bliss.
“Elephant Trunk, if bodhisattvas possess these four qualities, you should know that the gods will instruct them, their minds will become utterly joyful, and they will know that they themselves will attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening. What are the four? (1) Once bodhisattvas themselves have given rise to the mind set on awakening, they encourage others also to give rise to that attitude. (2) When they see followers of the Great Vehicle who have given rise to the mind set on awakening, they do not become jealous—they do not think that only they should obtain unsurpassed and perfect awakening, while others should not. (3) At appropriate times they instruct sentient beings who adopt negative forms of behavior. Conversing with them with a good heart, they protect their virtues. (4) With great efforts, they themselves constantly pursue the Dharma on a vast scale, and they teach it to others free from miserliness. Elephant Trunk, if bodhisattva great beings possess these four qualities, you should know that the gods will instruct them, and they will know that they themselves will attain unsurpassed and perfect awakening.” At that moment, the Blessed One uttered these verses to explain those points clearly:
This was the seventh chapter, Responding to Controversies.
’phags pa gang pos zhus pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo (Pūrṇaparipṛcchāsūtra). Toh 61, Degé Kangyur vol. 42 (dkon brtsegs, nga), folios 168b.1–227a.6.
———. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 42, pp. 168b.1–227a.6.
———. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma bka’ ’gyur). Vol. 38 (dkon brtsegs, nga), folios 319v–411v.
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