The Essence of Aparimitāyus
Degé Kangyur, vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folio 211.b
Translated by Peter Alan Roberts and Emily Bower
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2021
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This extremely brief text provides a mantra of the Buddha Aparimitāyus, thus seeming to confirm its existence as a mantra on its own as well as being part of the dhāraṇī contained in the most widely used version of The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
This text was translated from the Tibetan by Peter Alan Roberts. Tulku Yeshi of the Sakya Monastery, Seattle, was the consulting lama who reviewed the translation, the project manager and editor was Emily Bower, and the proofreader was Ben Gleason. The introduction was compiled by the 84000 editorial team.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
This is one of the shortest texts in the Kangyur. It has no introductory passage, conclusion, or colophon, and in the Kangyur source texts it does not even have a title; the title we have given it here is the one that appears in the catalog (dkar chag) of the Degé and other Kangyurs, and is drawn from the prose sentence that opens the text after the initial salutation mantra.1 The text is not identified or numbered in the Tōhoku catalog of the Degé Kangyur, but appears in the Degé, Lhasa, Stok Palace, Shelkar, and Urga Kangyurs.2
From the fact that this text is placed in the Kangyur directly before The Aparamitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674, and from the mantras it contains, the Tibetan tshe dpag med must be presumed to be translating Aparimitāyus rather than Amitāyus, which is also tshe dpag med in Tibetan, and to refer to the Buddha Aparamitāyurjñāna residing toward the zenith and associated with longevity, rather than to the Buddha Amitābha residing in his buddhafield of Sukhāvatī in the western direction. The conflation of these names and the buddhas they denote—they are thought to have originally been distinct but were later conflated not only in Tibetan but also in East Asian traditions—is discussed in more detail in the introduction to The Aparamitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674.3
The text begins with a salutation, in the form of a brief mantra, to Aparimitāyus under the name Vajra-āyuṣa (Vajra Life).4
This is followed by one prose sentence and a mantra of Aparimitāyus. The prose sentence is not ascribed to any speaker, and could be taken either as a pronouncement by the Buddha, or as a practice instruction of the kind that one might expect to be included in a Tengyur text.
The mantra, oṁ puṇye puṇye mahāpuṇye aparimitāyuḥ-puṇya-jñāna-saṃbharopacite svāhā, appears to have its most immediate origin in the longer Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674. The dhāraṇī of that text (repeated twenty-nine times within it) contains this mantra as its central portion, roughly one third of the dhāraṇī.5 The dhāraṇī in the other version of the sūtra, however, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (2), Toh 675,6 differs from the dhāraṇī of Toh 674 only in not containing this mantra—and indeed this difference of dhāraṇīs is the only really substantial difference between the two versions of the sūtra as a whole. It is also the reason why some catalogs and commentaries distinguish the two versions of the text as the “three oṁ” and “two oṁ” versions, respectively, and the Degé karchak goes further in referring to the shorter one (Toh 675) as the “two oṁ, no puṇye” version. As explained more fully in the introductions to The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1) and (2), Toh 674 and 675 respectively,7 it is likely that the latter represents a version translated in the early, imperial translation period of the late eighth or early ninth century, while the former is the version introduced to Tibet some three centuries later.
The existence of this text, containing the very dhāraṇī phrase that differentiates the two versions of the sūtra as a standalone mantra, is therefore intriguing, even if from the Kangyurs and their catalogs themselves we can glean no clearer explanation for its existence than the notion that it is simply one of several mantras or dhāraṇīs of Aparimitāyus which, as we can observe, is also found incorporated in longer alternatives.
Nevertheless, the mantra featured in this text is also to be found in one other place in the Kangyur, in the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana, a tantra of the Yoga class that is widely used in rituals for the dead. The tantra features a number of secondary maṇḍalas for specific purposes, and among these is one presided over by Aparimitāyus. There are two versions of the tantra in the Kangyur, Toh 483 and 485, translated (from slightly different Sanskrit manuscripts) in the eighth and thirteenth centuries, respectively. The mantra of the present text is found in the early translation version exactly as it is here, and in the later version with the addition of one word, karaṇi,8 before the final svāhā. In both texts, the mantra is described as the “essence” or “heart-mantra” (hṛdaya, snying po), just as it is in the brief introductory sentence of the present text. In the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana it is introduced as the essence of all tathāgatas, but in the context of being the principal mantra of others accompanying it and clearly corresponding to the maṇḍala of Aparimitāyus, while here it is simply said to be the essence of Aparimitāyus.9
tshe dpag med kyi snying po. Toh 673a, Degé Kangyur vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folio 211.b.
tshe dpag med kyi snying po [Toh 673a]. 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), 2006–9, vol. 91, pp. 774–5.
tshe dpag med kyi snying po. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 105 (rgyud, pha), folio 190.b.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa theg pa chen po’i mdo (Aparimitāyurjñāna-nāma-mahāyānasūtra) (1). Toh 674, Degé Kangyur vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 211.b–216.a. Toh 849, Degé Kangyur vol. 100 (gzungs ’dus, e), folios 57.b–62.a. English translation in Peter Alan Roberts and Emily Bower (2021).
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa theg pa chen po’i mdo (Aparimitāyurjñāna-nāma-mahāyānasūtra) (2). Toh 675, Degé Kangyur, vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 216.a–220.b. English translation in Peter Alan Roberts and Emily Bower (2021).
de bzhin gshegs pa dgra bcom pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas ngan song thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gzi brjid kyi rgyal po’i brtag pa (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanatejorājasya kalpa). Toh 483, Degé Kangyur vol. 85 (rgyud ’bum, ta), folios 58.a–96.a.
de bzhin gshegs pa dgra bcom pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas ngan song thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gzi brjid kyi rgyal po’i brtag pa phyogs gcig pa (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanatejorājasya kalpaikadeśaḥ). Toh 485, Degé Kangyur vol. 85 (rgyud ’bum, ta), folios 96.a–146.a.
Roberts, Peter Alan, and Emily Bower, trans. The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1) (Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra, Toh 674). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Roberts, Peter Alan, and Emily Bower, trans. The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (2) (aparimitāyurjñānasūtra, Toh 675). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Types of attestation for Sanskrit names and terms
Attested in source text
This term is attested in the Sanskrit manuscript used as a source for this translation.
Attested in other text
This term is attested in other Sanskrit manuscripts of the Kangyur or Tengyur.
Attested in dictionary
This term is attested in Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionaries.
The attestation of this name is approximate. It is based on other names where Tibetan-Sanskrit relationship is attested in dictionaries or other manuscripts.
Reconstruction from Tibetan phonetic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the Tibetan phonetic rendering of the term.
Reconstruction from Tibetan semantic rendering
This term is a reconstruction based on the semantics of the Tibetan translation.
This term has been supplied from an unspecified source, which most often is a widely trusted dictionary.
- tshe dpag tu med pa