The Questions of Pūrṇa
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.
The Questions of Pūrṇa is the seventeenth sūtra among the forty-nine titles included in The Heap of Jewels collection in the Degé Kangyur. Although traditional scholars have quoted this sūtra in a number of Tibetan writings,1 the text has to our knowledge received very little attention in modern scholarship.2 Only a few of the texts contained in The Heap of Jewels are extant in Sanskrit, and The Questions of Pūrṇa is unfortunately not among them. There is only one Chinese translation (Taishō 310–17), produced by the renowned translator Kumārajīva, (344–413 ᴄᴇ) who completed the translation toward the end of his life in 405 ᴄᴇ, while residing in the then Chinese capital of Chang’an (today’s Xi’an). The Tibetan translation was completed in the early translation period and is listed in both early ninth-century catalogs, the Denkarma (Tib. ldan dkar ma) and the Phangthangma (Tib. ’phang thang ma). This English translation is based on the Degé block print, the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma), and the Stok Palace manuscript, comparing these line by line with Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation.
The Tibetan text has no translators’ colophon, but evidence suggests that, unlike most of the discourses translated into Tibetan during the early translation period, this text was most likely translated from Chinese, rather than from Sanskrit: Kumārajīva’s translation and the Tibetan are nearly identical in content and structure,3 and a number of apparently erroneous readings in the Tibetan text can be understood and resolved clearly when they are compared with the Chinese. Moreover, the Tibetan includes several transliterated names and terms that seem to be derived from the Chinese; and a few terms4 that appear in some of the Tibetan versions of this text are present almost exclusively in other discourses that are known explicitly to have been translated from the Chinese.5
The Buddha’s main interlocutor in the sūtra is the monk Pūrṇa, as the title suggests. This is Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra, a brahmin from Kapilavastu, ordained by his uncle Ājñātakauṇḍinya when the latter returned to Kapilavastu soon after the Buddha’s first teaching; he is one of six or more figures with the name Pūrṇa in the Buddhist discourses6 and is described as the foremost in explaining the doctrine. He is also regarded as one of the ten main disciples of the Buddha, especially noted for his eloquence. Pūrṇa sets the scene by asking questions related to bodhisattva conduct. Following his inquiry, the sūtra unfolds in eight chapters that address a variety of topics related to bodhisattva conduct, the first three at least being direct answers to Pūrṇa’s initial questions. It is noteworthy that throughout the text the Buddha’s only interlocutors as he teaches the bodhisattva path—Pūrṇa, Mahāmaudgalyāyana, Ānanda, and Elephant Trunk—are all hearer disciples and not bodhisattvas. While, throughout the text, great emphasis is placed on the importance of realizing the emptiness of phenomena and the view that does not dwell on anything, the conduct the Buddha teaches remains firmly anchored in renunciation, a monsatic lifestyle, and difficult ascetic practices.
Chapter 1 presents a teaching by the Buddha on the way that bodhisattvas can accomplish immeasurable awakened qualities after giving rise to the mind set on awakening. The Buddha lists several sets of spiritual qualities that bodhisattvas must accomplish in order to reach the awakened state. Chapter 2 is devoted to the question of developing a high level of erudition, which allows bodhisattvas to comprehend the definitive meaning of the Dharma. Chapter 3 describes how bodhisattvas can make their progress toward awakening irreversible if they can study, contemplate, and practice previously unknown Dharma teachings with an open mind, rather than automatically discarding them as non-Dharma. Chapter 4 presents further sets of spiritual qualities that bodhisattvas must cultivate in order to obtain sufficient roots of virtue, emphasizing in particular the practice of patience in the face of adversity and hostility. Here the Buddha also narrates a story from one of his previous lives as inspiration for practice, and the narrative includes a pointed description of how biased attitudes can cause sectarian distrust even between followers of the very same lineage taught to different generations.
In Chapter 5 the Buddha displays his miraculous powers to the assembly by projecting light from his body; all those who witness this miraculous display become attracted to the Dharma and aspire to achieve perfect awakening. The Buddha entrusts this teaching to Ānanda, emphasizing its importance for the future and seeming to put it on a parallel, as a text of the Bodhisattva Collection, to his very first teaching in Sarnath. Chapter 6 begins with Mahāmaudgalyāyana, another of the Buddha’s closest disciples, requesting a teaching on how the Buddha practiced bodhisattva conduct in the past. The Buddha recounts several stories from his past lives, describing in detail the hardships he had to undergo for the sake of beings. Chapter 7 introduces advice by the Buddha on how to deal with particular controversies the monks might be faced with after he himself has passed away. Using various arguments to counter the accusations of future adversaries, the Buddha explains how to respond to such controversies. This entire chapter is devoted to the defense of the thought and practice of the Great Vehicle against the objections of orthodox Buddhists, who argued that texts like this one were not authentic Buddhist scriptures. That this text addresses such issues directly suggests that it may have first appeared in writing at a time when the Bodhisattva Vehicle was still controversial and had not yet been widely adopted. Lastly, in Chapter 8 Pūrṇa praises the Buddha’s teaching and makes a commitment to follow the path of the Great Vehicle himself, in order to liberate all beings from suffering.
’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.
富樓那會 (Fu lou na hui). Taishō shinshū daizōkyō (大正新脩大藏經). Vol. 11, 310 (大寶積經), scrolls 77–79.
Conze, Edward. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
Greene, Eric Matthew. “Meditation, Repentance, and Visionary Experience in Early Medieval Chinese Buddhism.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkley, 2012.
Kilty, Gavin. The Mirror of Beryl: A Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
Muller, A. Charles, ed. Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. buddhism-dict.net. Edition of 12/26/2007.
Pagel, Ulrich. “The Dhāraṇī of Mahāvyutpatti #748: Origin and Formation.” Buddhist Studies Review, vol. 24, no. 2 (2007): 151–91.
Pagel, Ulrich. “The Bodhisattvapiṭaka and Akṣayamatinirdeśa: Continuity and Change in Buddhist Discourses.” The Buddhist Forum, vol. 3 (2012): 333–73.
Deshung Rinpoche. The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception: A Commentary on the Three Visions. Translated by Jared Rhoton. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003.
Skilling, Peter. “Caitya, Mahācaitya, Tathāgatacaitya: Questions of Terminology in the Age of Amaravati.” In Amaravati: The Art of an Early Buddhist Monument in Context, edited by Akira Shimada and Michael Willis, 23–26. London: British Museum, 2016.
Soothill, William Edward and Lewis Hodous. A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. Digital version: buddhistinformatics.ddbc.edu. Taipei: Dharma Drum Buddhist College, 2010.
Verhagen Peter C. “Studies in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Hermeneutics (4): The Vyākhyāyukti by Vasubandhu.” Journal Asiatique 293.2 (2005): 559–602.