Degé Kangyur, vol. 43 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 181.a–193.b.
Translated by the UCSB Translation Group 2
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
Surata’s Questions follows Surata, a seemingly poor vagabond endowed with a wealth of ethical virtue. The juxtaposition of Surata’s poverty with the abundance of his moral merits forms a central theme of the sūtra. After being tested by the god Śakra, Surata finds a precious gem that he decides to give to the poorest person in the city. The narrative’s irony ensues when Surata decides that King Prasenajit should receive the gem, since his ethical depravity vitiates his material wealth. The shock of Surata’s decision occasions a valuable lesson on true wealth lying in moral integrity, to which the Buddha himself attests upon his arrival midway through the sūtra. The sūtra concludes with King Prasenajit’s recognition of the error of his ways and the Buddha’s prophecy of Surata’s coming awakening.
Translated, edited, and introduced by ErdeneBaatar Erdene-Ochir, Jed Forman, and Michael Ium, members of the UCSB Buddhist Studies Translation Group 2. The translation team would like to acknowledge their indebtedness to Professor José Cabezón for his ongoing support. We would also like to thank all of our teachers. Sarvamaṅgalam!
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
Surata’s Questions, the twenty-seventh sūtra in the Heap of Jewels section of the Kangyur, displays many of the common tropes of Mahāyāna literature, including the Buddha’s unimaginably vast retinue, his performance of miracles, such as lights emanating from his body, and the conversion of a previously stubborn interlocutor. Also typical of Mahāyāna sūtras, the main protagonist is the eponymous figure of the sūtra, in lieu of the Buddha. Surata’s Questions thus mainly focuses on the story of Surata in a narrative that can be conceptualized in six movements.
First, Surata, identified simply as a “poor city-dweller,” is tested by the god Śakra in Śrāvastī, the city where the Buddha himself happens to be residing. With his divine eye, Śakra perceives Surata to be of impeccable moral character and so decides to determine the limits of his resolve. Śakra magically creates several scenarios to tempt Surata to succumb to a desire for power, wealth, and sexual gratification. But being inveterately moral and without desire, Surata resists each temptation, and responds to them in eloquent verses that highlight the dangers of succumbing to each of them. At this point, Śakra becomes deeply impressed with Surata.
In the second movement, Surata chances upon a precious gem. As a good bodhisattva, he resolves to give the jewel to the poorest person in the city of Śrāvastī, the capital of Kośala. Announcing this publicly, the townsfolk predictably make their case for why they are the poorest and therefore the most deserving of the gem. They are also predictably irritated when Surata declares he has decided to give the gem to the king of Kośala, the famed King Prasenajit. Having gained the crowd’s attention through his audacity, Surata gives a soliloquy on how true wealth lies not in possessions, but in virtue. Surata therefore displays characteristic Mahāyāna skillful means, leveraging the townsfolk’s infatuation with the gem to impart a moral lesson.
With the crowd in tow, Surata delivers the gem to King Prasenajit. It is a backhanded gesture since Surata offers it with the explanation that the king is the poorest person in Śrāvastī. Insulted, the king asks Surata to explain how he could possibly be the poorest. Surata proceeds to describe how the king’s political maneuverings and plundering have made him bereft of moral virtue. His possessions mean nothing without the merit of good deeds, for without this, one is karmically doomed to a miserable future. The king is both moved and angered by Surata’s exposition, and so remains unconvinced, asking if there is anyone who can bear witness to Surata’s testament. This ushers in the fourth movement of the story. Surata says that the Buddha will bear such witness. King Prasenajit therefore requests Surata to invite the Buddha, but Surata counters that there is no need, for, being omniscient, the Buddha will arrive simply through Surata’s mental aspiration. The Buddha suddenly bursts forth from the ground, accompanied by a dizzying number of holy beings. The Buddha attests to Surata’s summation of the king’s wealth, and so Prasenajit is convinced. Surata suggests that the Buddha give a sermon, since it would be a shame for him to come without doing so. After delivering his sermon, the Buddha and his retinue continue their upward trajectory by flying into the sky.
In the fifth movement, Surata delivers a sermon of his own, describing the various meanings of retinue. At the conclusion, the king again feels moved to contrition, offering bolts of cloth to the rag-clad Surata. When Surata rejects the offer, the king requests Surata to at least walk upon the cloth. This is a great show of respect because the feet are considered the most impure part of a person’s body. Thus to request someone to touch an object with their feet suggests that even the lowest part of that person’s body confers immense blessing. Surata then requests that the king give this cloth to the poor townsfolk, demonstrating that Surata did not trade their welfare solely to create an opportunity to teach the Dharma; in lieu of the gem, he was still able to offer them something of value in the end.
The sixth and final movement of the story reads somewhat like an epilogue. Sometime later, King Prasenajit, his family, and his royal attendants accompany Surata to visit the Buddha. Śakra emanates a grand throne for the Buddha and his retinue with the requisite fanfare. Some of the other gods question why Surata, out of place in his ragged garments, is in attendance. Śakra’s earlier respect for Surata resurfaces when he comes to Surata’s defense by admonishing the other gods for their failure to realize how special Surata is. As Śakra foreshadows, the Buddha concludes the sūtra by predicting Surata’s awakening, to the grand jubilation of all.
Surata is a common personal name in Buddhist literature, but no other text appears to mention a renunciate bodhisattva who might be identifiable as the Surata of this text. In contrast, the prominent role in this narrative of Prasenajit, king of Kośala, a well-known figure in Buddhist literature, is noteworthy. It is believed that Prasenajit was born in the same year as Siddhārtha, the future Buddha, and it is possible, given the close geographical and political ties between Kośala and the Śākya kingdom, that Prasenajit and the Śākya prince Siddhārtha moved in the same royal circles and knew each other from an early age. Prasenajit is generally depicted as a dedicated, lifelong patron of the Buddha with an exemplary degree of devotion to him. This devotion is clearly demonstrated in Prasenajit’s most famous deed: his fashioning of a sandalwood image of Śākyamuni—perhaps the earliest record of any image of the Buddha—to soothe his longing and devotion when the Buddha was away from Śrāvastī. Prasenajit is also a frequent interlocuter in Buddhist sūtras, presenting the questions to Śākyamuni that elicit his sermons. For his role in Buddhist sūtras and his acts of patronage and devotion, Prasenajit is often held up as the model of Buddhist kingship.
This general depiction of Prasenajit in Buddhist literature makes his role in Surata’s Questions a curious one. Here he is described as a rapacious and maniacal tyrant who steals the wealth of his people and inflicts needless suffering upon them. It is only through Surata’s challenge and the Buddha’s subsequent chastisement that Prasenajit realizes his faults as a king and awakens his devotion to the Buddha and his community. That this narrative stands somewhat at odds with Prasenajit’s general status in Buddhist literature may simply demonstrate the malleability of common Buddhist narratives for the sake of expediency in articulating the ethical or doctrinal message of a given scriptural discourse. Possibly, too, in describing what seems to be his first meeting with the Buddha following the latter’s awakening, the text could be read as indicating that Prasenajit’s views on how best to wield royal power had, prior to that first encounter with Surata’s challenge as a prelude, been fiercer and more autocratic than is suggested in other accounts of his subsequent doings.1 If this is an account of Prasenajit’s first meeting with the Buddha, however, it should be noted that it is a quite different one from the classic account related in the Saṅghabhedavastu (Toh 1 chapter 17),2 in its standalone derivative the Abhiniṣkramanasūtra (Toh 301), and in the Pali Dahara-sutta (SN 3.1). This unique perspective on the figure of Prasenajit thus counts among the numerous ways Surata’s Questions makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Buddhist literature.
In addition to the Tibetan translation found in various Kangyurs, three Chinese translations of the Surataparipṛcchā are presently available. Of the two earlier versions, the first, translated by Bai Yan in the mid-third century, is titled 佛說須賴經 (Fo shuo xulai jing, Taishō 328), and the second, translated by Zhi Shilun in 373 ᴄᴇ, has the title 須賴經 (Xu lai jing, Taishō 329). The attributions and dates of these two early translations, given here from the standard catalogs, remain disputed by scholars. A later version was translated in the sixth century by Bodhiruci under the title 善順菩薩會 (Shanshun pusa hui), which is one title (number 27) among the 49 texts included under Taishō 310, the Ratnakūṭa. The latter translation by Bodhiruci served as the basis for the English translation of the Surataparipṛcchā published by Garma C. C. Chang and his team in 1983. There are marked differences between Bodhiruci’s translation and the Tibetan versions used in the translation of this sūtra that follows here, which are closer to the two earlier versions. These differences are reflected in Chang’s English translation. The final, sixth movement is not found in the Chinese version, and the order of events varies. In the sequence from the Tibetan translation reported above, the narrative continues after the Buddha has given his sermon on the meanings of retinue; the Chinese version of the sūtra, however, concludes at this point. The contents of the Buddha’s sermon in the fourth movement also vary widely between the two versions: in the Chinese, the Buddha discusses the thirty-two practices that good Mahāyāna adherents must follow, while in the Tibetan, the Buddha expounds six different sets of four, each tetrad communicating seemingly disconnected aspects of Buddhist practice. Other differences are minor but noteworthy: in the Tibetan version, for instance, Surata chances upon a precious gem, and in the Chinese, he finds a golden bell.
Surata’s Questions is only mentioned by name in one work of the Tengyur, an anthology titled Compendium of Sūtras on the Steps of Meditation (Bhāvanākramasūtrasamuccaya, bsgom pa’i rim pa mdo kun las btus pa). The work cites two interesting parts of the sūtra, both of which are in verse. The first reads:
When the seeds are bitter,They will bear bitter fruit.When the seeds are sweet,They will bear sweet fruit.
Applying this example,A wise person understandsThe bitterness of the ripening of sinsAnd the sweetness of the fruits of white deeds. [F.130.b]
This verse is given in the midst of several other citations describing the importance of keeping one’s ethics in order to escape the suffering of saṃsāra. The second selection is cited as an example of how to go to refuge to the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha:
You delight in eliminating desire, hatred, and delusion;Your mind is peaceful and impartial, yet compassionate;You speak truthfully and know the ultimate;Thus, I pay homage to you, who liberates all three realms! [F.137.b]
The context of these passages becomes clear in the sūtra translated below. However, the decision to isolate these passages and place them in a mélange of other such passages from other sūtras suggests they may have been recognized as standalone aphorisms that were well-known in the compiler’s contemporary Buddhist community and worthy of record.
There is no surviving Sanskrit witness to Surata’s Questions. It was translated into Tibetan by a group of translators, including the famous translator Bandé Yeshé Dé, no later than the early ninth century ᴄᴇ. The text is recorded in both the Denkarma and the Phangthangma—both early catalogs of Tibetan translations. The translation below relies primarily on the Degé (sde dge) edition of the text, but other editions included in the Comparative Edition of the Kangyur (bka’ ’gyur dpe bsdur ma) as well as the Stok Palace (stog pho brang) edition of the Kangyur were consulted, particularly when the Degé seemed to contain errors or nonintuitive readings. Chang’s English translation of the Chinese version of this text—which, as described above, is markedly different from the Tibetan—was also consulted for comparison.
Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was dwelling in Śrāvastī, in Prince Jeta’s Grove at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park, together with a great monastic assembly of one thousand two hundred and fifty monks and with thirty-two thousand bodhisattvas. He was venerated, revered, honored, and worshiped by the fourfold community, as well as by the king, ministers, townsfolk, and citizens.
At that time in Śrāvastī there lived a poor city-dweller named Surata. He had unshakable faith in the Buddha, unshakable faith in the Dharma, and unshakable faith in the Saṅgha. He held to the five basic precepts and adhered to the ten virtuous actions. Being kind, he was equanimous toward all sentient beings. Being compassionate, he was indefatigable. Being joyful, he reveled in and longed for the bliss of Dharma. Being impartial, he was unmoved by happiness or suffering. He was dedicated to the pursuit of unsurpassable, perfect awakening, and was perfected through previous practice. Through skillful means, he brought sentient beings to full maturity, despite being considered poor.
Śakra, lord of the gods, beheld the poor city-dweller Surata with his divine eye, whose clarity surpasses any human’s. Śakra perceived that he had few desires, that he was content, that he had ethical discipline and was morally upright, that his mind was unperturbed, that he always wore a smile, that he did not judge others for their mistakes, [F.181.b] that he cared for the mental welfare of all sentient beings, that he was not covetous, that he acted mindfully, that he was content, easily fulfilled, and easily sated, that he had good intentions, that he was not deceitful, that he was not conceited, that he was eloquent, that he was respectful, that he continually observed the eight precepts, that he carried a bowl made of leaves in his hands, that he slept on a grass mat, that he wore tattered garments, that he would not take things he chanced upon, that he would share his food no matter its quality, that he had regard for the Tathāgata at all times, that he wanted to hear the Dharma, that he was inspired by various parables, and that when sentient beings saw him, they were happy.
Seeing this, Śakra, lord of the gods, thought to himself, “Let me examine whether this poor city-dweller’s moral resolve is firm.” He then emanated a crowd of people who abused and rebuked the poor city-dweller Surata with offensive words. Surata patiently tolerated their threats, even as they brandished clumps of earth, sticks, and blades; he was neither irritated, nor gave rise to malicious thoughts.
Śakra, lord of the gods, then emanated another crowd in front of Surata. With kind words, they said to him, “We would like to help you. If you wish, we will exterminate all the enemies who threaten you.”
“Friends, don’t say such things!” replied Surata. “Even if those people were to cut my body into a hundred pieces, I still would not think badly of them. Friends, in the various worlds, there are two types of beings, the virtuous and the nonvirtuous. The virtuous ones have happy rebirths, and the nonvirtuous ones have miserable rebirths. Therefore, since I don’t even want to get angry with them, how could I harm them physically?”
Then, on another occasion, Śakra, lord of the gods, showed Surata a heap of jewels and gold and said, “Surata, use these to make donations and make merit! Get some clothes and jewelry! Why should you be poor and wretched?”
“Friends,”4 said Surata, “because I performed evil deeds in the past toward sentient beings with my body, speech, and mind, I am now considered poor. Therefore, I don’t want to take what is not given to me.”
“Friend,” replied Surata, “living for the sake of this life is the way of childish beings. The wise live for the sake of their next life. Those who are possessed by desire, possessed by hatred, possessed by delusion, and possessed by lust take what is not given to them, whereas the wise are not covetous. Those who live for the sake of hoarding take what is not given to them, whereas the wise do not hoard. Those who hold concepts of ‘mine’ and who are possessive take what is not given to them, whereas the wise do not hold concepts of ‘mine’ and are not possessive. Those who focus on their bodies and vitality take what is not given to them, whereas the wise do not focus on their bodies and vitality. [F.182.b] Those who are not satisfied and not contented take what is not given to them, whereas the wise know satisfaction and contentment. Those who live impurely take what is not given to them, whereas the wise live purely. Those who do not have insight into karma take what is not given to them, whereas the wise have insight into karma. Those who live for the sake of harming others take what is not given to them, whereas the wise live for the sake of not harming others. Those who do not have loving attitudes take what is not given to them, whereas the wise have loving attitudes. Those whose minds are polluted by the four wrong views take what is not given to them, whereas the minds of the wise are not wrong. Moreover, may the poor heed these verses!
Then, on another occasion, Śakra, lord of the gods, emanated another person who brought a pile of gold to Surata and said, “Hey Surata, I’ve brought this gold for you. I’m in the midst of a dispute with someone and only you can act as my witness. You need to be my witness!”
Surata replied, “Give it up, my friend! Don’t say that! I don’t want to lie. My friend, lying would deceive not only myself and others, but the noble ones as well. Lying ruins one’s reputation. Lying makes one untrustworthy and unpleasant. [F.183.a] Lying makes one despicable. Lying torments one’s mind. My friend, lying gives one bad breath. Lying makes one’s body feeble. Lying makes one despised by the gods. My friend, lying steals away one’s roots of virtue. Lying dulls one’s memory. Lying blocks one’s path to fortunate rebirths. My friend, noble ones do not engage in lying.5 Lying makes one’s speech distasteful among truthful people. Lying is criticized by the wise. Lying is the root of all sins. Lying severs the fulfillment of one’s religious observances at the root. Lying is the root of all miserable rebirths.”
“You two go test whether this practitioner of religious observances and austerities indulges in sensual gratification or if he truly doesn’t strive for pleasure!”
At daybreak, the asura Śacī and the goddess Sunlight went to where Surata was staying and spoke to him sweetly, “Wake up, Surata! [F.183.b] We’re here to serve you. Surata, behold our perfect bodies! Behold the curves, luster, and shapeliness of our bodies. Behold our bodies, anointed with unguents and adorned with ornaments, garments, and accessories! Behold how we exude the bloom of youth! Surata, behold our well-formed, perfect bodies, the kind that will please you.”
Seeing them, Surata said, “You two serve those in hell, the realms of animals, and Yama’s realm, but not those in the god or human realms. I see your bodies as illusory and dream-like. I see your bodies as being like foam, bubbles, and mirages. I see your bodies, anointed with sandalwood ointment, as covered in soggy flesh. I see your ornaments and garments as illusions that deceive the eyes. I see your youthfulness as impermanent and subject to change. Since I see all that to be meritless, I feel no attraction to you. You two serve those whose minds are like monkeys and those whose minds are like women’s, but you can’t serve those whose minds are protected by mindfulness.
“Sisters, those who rely on desire are ugly. Those who rely on desire smell foul. Those who rely on desire are rotten. Those who rely on desire suffer greatly. Those who rely on desire are barred from all happiness. Those who rely on desire will frequent the hells, animal realms, and Yama’s realm. Those who rely on desire will remain in miserable rebirths. Those who rely on desire will resort to fighting, disputing, and quarreling. Those who rely on desire will have to live in disharmony and become trapped. Those who rely on desire develop misconceptions. [F.184.a] Those who rely on desire will maintain their propensities for continued existence.6 Those who rely on desire are very deluded, completely deluded, and thoroughly deluded. Those who rely on desire are fully oppressed, very oppressed, and extremely oppressed. Those who rely on desire are thoroughly tormented, very tormented, and entirely tormented. Those who rely on desire pursue nonvirtue and degrade their virtue. Those who rely on desire plant the roots of nonvirtue. Those who rely on desire are completely trapped in an impenetrable fog of nonvirtue. Those who rely on desire are intimate with rākṣasīs, with those who have ugly bodies, and with piśācīs. Those who rely on desire will have relations with cattle, donkeys, dogs, pigs, camels, elephants, horses, sheep, and foxes. Those who rely on desire will rely on degenerate people. Those who rely on desire will rely on people who entirely forsake discipline, study, and acts of generosity. Those who rely on desire forsake religious observances and ascetic practices. Those who rely on desire are completely careless. Those who rely on desire greatly increase their mental afflictions. Those who rely on desire create many obstacles.”
On another occasion, the poor city-dweller Surata found a priceless and precious gem. He thought to himself, “Assuredly, I should give this precious gem, the finest in Jambudvīpa, to the poorest person in Śrāvastī.” He went to the city and announced, “I will give this gem to the poorest among you.”
A crowd of neglected poor people gathered there and called out, “We are poor, so give it to us!”
The crowd asked, “Who?”
“Don’t say that!” the crowd retorted. “King Prasenajit is rich and wealthy with vast resources, whereas we are poor and neglected.”
At that time, as a penalty for some minor infractions, King Prasenajit had seized the possessions of some five hundred eminent merchants and householders who were from good families.
The poor city-dweller Surata offered the king the precious gem and said, “Great king, I’ve found this priceless and precious gem whose worth matches that of all Jambudvīpa, [F.185.b] and I thought that I would give it to the poorest person in Śrāvastī. I think you are the poorest among everyone here. Therefore, O King, please accept it!”
Surata replied, “O Your Majesty, it is true. You are poorer than me.”
“In what way am I poor?” asked the king.
Surata then spoke these verses:
“I’ve heard this, but have yet to see him,” said the king.
“Your Majesty, he has become the eye for all beings, including the gods!” said Surata. “He has become the authority. He could attest on my behalf.”
“Go invite the Tathāgata and I will hear what he has to say,” said the king.
Thereupon the poor city-dweller Surata paid homage by touching his head to the Bhagavān’s feet and circumambulated him seven times. Then he said, “Bhagavān, while wandering about Śrāvastī, [F.187.a] I found a priceless, precious gem. I decided to give it to the poorest person in Śrāvastī. I determined that King Prasenajit is the poorest, because no matter how much he plunders, he is never satisfied; he seeks riches again and again, yet it is never enough. He is never satisfied with the possessions of others; he harms those already suffering and quickly uproots the happiness of others. He leads the poor to ruin and subjugates the wealthy. He has gone completely mad! Having determined that he is completely bound by the wealth of his kingdom and by his cravings, I offered him the gem but he didn’t accept it. He asked, ‘Who could attest, on your behalf, that I am poor and you are rich?’ Therefore, O Bhagavān—who is impartial to all sentient beings, who never turns away from them, and who is without obstinacy, impurity, and enmity—Bhagavān, please tell us clearly if what I have said is true!”
The Bhagavān then said, “Great king, you think yourself rich based on the resources of your kingdom that you have acquired in this life, such as gold, jewels, pearls, lapis lazuli, conch shells, crystals, corals, gold powder, silver, horses, elephants, chariots, infantry, cavalry, storehouses, and treasuries. Great king, Surata thinks himself rich based on his generosity, discipline, self-restraint, forbearance, gentleness,8 ethical discipline, religious observances, ascetic practices, conscientiousness, virtuous practices, frugality, kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity, [F.187.b] devotion to the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha, faith, ethical discipline, learning, acts of generosity, wisdom, sense of shame, modesty, stability, and vows. Great king, suppose that all the people under your authority became wealthy like you. Even added together, the mound of their collective merit could not match one hundredth the merit that Surata accumulates by walking seven steps with his discipline, learning, religious observance, ascetic practices, and conscientiousness alone. It is incomparable.”
The Bhagavān replied, “Great king, there are many people with these vast qualities in your land.”
Surata, a child of the lineage, then made a request of the Bhagavān: “Bhagavān, it is not enough for the great assembly of people gathered here merely to see you. Therefore, Bhagavān, please offer them whatever teachings will make their encounter with the Tathāgata meaningful!”
The Bhagavān replied, “Surata, if a child of the lineage possesses these four dharmas, he or she will clearly see the Tathāgata. What are the four? Conviction, faith, regret, and reverence are the four. Whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata.
“There is another set of four: generating the intention for unsurpassable, perfect awakening while gazing at the form body of the Tathāgata and wishing, ‘May I become like him’; generating the special and pure intention because the Tathāgata is trustworthy;9 generating the intention to teach the Dharma to all sentient beings until they are completely liberated; and generating the intention to uphold the supreme Dharma so that the continuity of the lineage of the Three Jewels is maintained. Whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata.
“There is still another set of four: seeing form as detached; seeing sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousnesses as detached; seeing the four elements as space-like; and seeing the sense spheres to be like empty cities. Whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata.
“There is still another set of four: the purity of the self because there is no self; the purity of a sentient being because there is no sentient being; the purity of a living being because there is no living being; and the purity of a person because there is no person. Whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata. [F.188.b]
“There is still another set of four: the divine eye that is uncontrived;10 the wisdom eye that is all-pervasive; the dharma eye that discriminates; and the buddha eye that is fully aware.11 Whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata.
“There is still another set of four: because all phenomena are not objective, the component of ethics is pure; because all phenomena are equal, the component of concentration is pure; because transcendent gnosis is internalized, the component of wisdom is pure; because the liberation of that gnosis is seen, the component of the gnosis seeing liberation is pure.12 Surata, child of the lineage, whoever possesses these four will clearly see the Tathāgata.”
Then, having brought joy to that great assembly of people with this sermon, the Bhagavān flew into the sky like the king of geese, accompanied by his retinue.
“Great king, bodhisattvas do not act for their own benefit alone; instead, they are resplendent when surrounded by a grand retinue.”
Surata replied, “All sentient beings are the retinue of a bodhisattva for the sake of training and maturing them. Great king, bodhicitta, which motivates others toward awakening so that they do not desire other vehicles, is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, [F.189.a] the special intention to discipline crooked beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, inexorable resoluteness is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.
“Great king, the generosity that matures miserly beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the ethical discipline that matures unethical beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the tolerance that matures beings with harmful intentions is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the diligence that matures lazy beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the concentration that matures distracted beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the wisdom that matures unwise beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.
“Great king, the kindness that is equanimous toward all sentient beings is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the compassion that does not wane with the vicissitudes of cyclic existence is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the joy that delights in and seeks the bliss of the Dharma is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the equanimity that is free of attachment and aversion is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.
“Great king, the four means of gathering disciples that bring all beings to maturity are also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, accumulating all the various roots of virtue that purify buddhafields is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness that completely overcome all demonic machinations are also the retinue of a bodhisattva. [F.189.b]
“Great king, the truthfulness and gentleness that make one’s words respectable are the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the refusal to blame and disparage others that perfects one’s eloquence is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.
“Great king, accumulating the tools necessary to preserve one’s learning is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, reverence for one’s masters and preceptors for the sake of learning is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the learning that allows one to fully grasp the supreme Dharma is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, a full grasp of the supreme Dharma that causes one to master the teachings of all tathāgatas is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.
“Great king, dwelling in a forest, which perfects all of one’s roots of virtue, is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, a pure livelihood that inspires the faithless to faith is also the retinue of a bodhisattva. Great king, the conscientiousness that causes one to achieve the factors conducive to awakening is also the retinue of a bodhisattva.”
“Great king,” said Surata, “you seek to venerate and make offerings to me! Although the king may want to give all that to me, I don’t want clothes that would make me hold conceptions of ‘mine’ or make me possessive. I already have rags sewn together from a hundred patches of tattered cotton. Great king, during the hot season, when I leave these rags hanging on a branch for one, two, ten, or a hundred days, no one steals them, [F.190.a] and no one becomes covetous. I just leave them there without worrying about them, and there they remain. Great king, I don’t want any clothes that would make me hold conceptions of ‘mine’ or make me possessive. Great king, bodhisattvas only possess those clothes for which they have no desire and which will not give rise to desire in others.”
The king replied, “Surata, if you won’t accept these pairs of finely woven upper and lower garments, please, out of sympathy for me, at least tread on them with your feet!”
Saying, “Your Majesty, I’ll do as you wish,” Surata trod on them with his feet and returned to the king.
The king said, “Yes, I will do as you say,” and entrusted the matter to his attendants, who carried out his order.
Those poor people, who received and put on those pairs of finely woven upper and lower garments, were immediately moved to repay Surata’s kindness. Then, due to the blessing of the Buddha and the power of Surata’s aspiration, they heard these verses from the sky:
Sometime later, Surata, a child of the lineage, and King Prasenajit with his retinue of queens, ministers, and entourage, as well as the men, women, boys, and girls of Śrāvastī and hundreds of other creatures, went to see the Bhagavān.
Between Śrāvastī and Prince Jeta’s Grove, Śakra, lord of the gods, emanated a large, well-decorated pavilion that was vast, towering, and beautiful to behold; it was a beautifully adorned palace that resembled Vaijayanta, his palace in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three. [F.190.b] At the center of the palace he emanated a wish-fulfilling tree, in front of which he emanated a well-proportioned lion throne fit for the Bhagavān, one that was beautiful to behold and covered with hundreds of thousands of divine, finely woven cotton cloths. Finally, he emanated sixty thousand seats for bodhisattvas.
Twelve thousand goddesses, such as the asura Śacī, came bringing flowers, incense, perfumes, flower garlands, ointments, and divine sandalwood powders, while playing cymbals and drums. Since they were Surata’s attendants, they ornamented the Bhagavān’s lion throne. Knowing that this great assembly of people was coming, the Bhagavān emerged from the monastery and sat down on the prepared seat, surrounded by bodhisattvas and śrāvakas.
The goddess Sunlight together with some five hundred goddesses then sang these verses of praise accompanied by string instruments:
Surata, a child of the lineage, then approached the Bhagavān along with the great crowd of people. Surata bowed his head to the Bhagavān’s feet and sat to one side. King Prasenajit said to Surata, a child of the lineage, “Please sit here!” and personally offered him a well-prepared seat, which Surata accepted. King Prasenajit and his retinue also bowed their heads to the Bhagavān’s feet and took their seats.
Śakra, lord of the gods, told those gods, [F.191.b] “Friends, don’t belittle him! I have seen for myself the great qualities possessed by this child of the lineage. Friends, just sit down for now! You will see the display of qualities this child of the lineage possesses.”
Realizing what those gods were thinking, Surata, a child of the lineage, made a request to the Bhagavān: “Bhagavān, please teach us the means that bodhisattvas display to bring sentient beings to maturity and the means they display to bring them to gnosis!”
The Bhagavān then emitted light rays from his body. When the light rays reached Surata, his body became over a hundred thousand times more beautiful than the perfect body of Śakra, the lord of the gods. Those gods were thunderstruck and rained flowers upon Surata.
Then the Bhagavān replied to Surata, a child of the lineage, “Surata, whenever bodhisattvas have adamantine power, they feign to be lowly for the sake of bringing sentient beings to maturity. And even when they have little power, they feign to be supreme, also for the sake of bringing sentient beings to maturity. This is their display. Immersed in gnosis, they feign ignorance, and even when feigning ignorance, their knowledge is keen. This is their display. With their physical and moral conduct, they inspire faith in those without gnosis. Showing all types of conduct, they reveal miracles to those with gnosis. This is their display. By constantly mastering their minds, they are revered by Brahmā despite manifesting as poor and destitute, and when maintaining their supreme display, they are still revered by ordinary beings. This is their display. For the sake of attracting sentient beings, they teach the poor and destitute. For the sake of inspiring sentient beings to renounce the world, they appear as renunciants, despite possessing vast wealth. This is their display.”
The Bhagavān answered, “Ānanda! Surata, a child of the lineage, has venerated millions of buddhas. He has been perfected through previous practice. He has attained the three forbearances. He has attained eloquence. He is artful with his extraordinary powers. He is skilled in bringing sentient beings to maturity. By being poor and destitute, he disciplines sentient beings.”
As soon as the Bhagavān had made this prophecy about Surata, a child of the lineage, the trichiliocosm shook in six ways as divine flowers, powders, garments, and ornaments rained down. The entire retinue offered their garments to Surata, a child of the lineage. Many hundreds of merchants, householders, and brahmins were went forth as renunciants.
The Bhagavān then raised his hand and blessed Surata, a child of the lineage, upon his head. The moment the Bhagavān touched his head, Surata, a child of the lineage, transformed into a monk wearing saffron robes.
Then the Bhagavān said to venerable Ānanda, “Ānanda, there are five degenerations: the degeneration of time, the degeneration of sentient beings, the degeneration of place, the degeneration of lifespan, and the degeneration of mental afflictions. [F.193.b] In the time of these degenerations, and following my perfect awakening, no one should be disciplined in ways other than how Surata has been disciplined.
“Ānanda, I don’t tame sentient beings of the Sahā world system with the Vinaya of the buddhas. Ānanda, I tame sentient beings with fears and warnings of becoming poor and destitute, or of taking lower rebirths. Ānanda, if in this world system I taught and gave instructions about the Dharma from a Buddha’s point of view, not one sentient being would be tamed and no Dharma would be realized. Therefore Ānanda, just as Surata and I tame sentient beings, so should you. Ānanda, there will be many sentient beings who will gain faith and realization; by hearing this Dharma discourse they will find faith and practice accordingly.”
When the Bhagavān finished speaking, venerable Ānanda, the bodhisattva Surata, the other bodhisattvas, the monks, Śakra, lord of the gods, King Prasenajit, and the gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas of the world rejoiced and praised what the Bhagavān had said.
This concludes Surata’s Questions, the twenty-seventh chapter of the noble Dharma discourse entitled The Great Heap of Jewels, which itself has a hundred thousand chapters.
The Indian preceptors Jinamitra and Surendrabodhi, the Tibetan chief-editor and translator Bandé Yeshé Dé, and others translated, edited, and finalized this text.
des pas zhus pa (Surataparipṛcchā). Toh 71, Degé Kangyur vol. 43 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 181.a–193.b.
des pas zhus pa. 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. 43, pp. 511–43.
des pas zhus pa. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 39 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 314.b–334.a.
bsgom pa’i rim pa mdo kun las btus pa (Bhāvanākramasūtrasamuccaya). Toh 3933, Degé Tengyur vol. 110 (dbu ma, ki), folios 125.b–148.a.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan [/ lhan] dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). 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.
Chang, Garma C. C., ed. “Bodhisattva Surata’s Discourse.” In A Treasury of Mahāyāna Sūtras: Selections from the Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra, 243–55. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983.
Nattier, Jan. “Indian Antecedents of Huayan Thought: New Light from Chinese Sources.” In Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism, edited by Imre Hamar, 109–38. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007.
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Pekar Sangpo (pad dkar bzang po). “Le’u nyer bdun pa ’phags pa des pas zhus pa’i mdo.” In mdo sde spyi’i rnam bzhag [Presentation of the sūtras in the Kangyur], edited by mi nyag mgon po, 85–87. Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2006.
- kun dga’ bo
The Buddha’s cousin and longtime attendant.
- mgon med zas sbyin gyi kun dga’ ra ba
- Anāthapiṇḍadasya ārāmaḥ
This was an important early site for the Buddha’s growing community. Anāthapiṇḍada, a wealthy patron of the Buddha, purchased the park, located outside Śrāvasti, at great cost, purportedly covering the ground with gold, and donated it to the saṅgha. It was there that the Buddha spent several rainy seasons and gave discourses that were later recorded as sūtras. It was also the site for one of the first Buddhist monasteries.
- lha ma yin
A class of divine beings who are engaged in a mythic war with the gods (Skt. deva) for possession of the nectar of immortality. In Buddhist cosmology, they inhabit a realm below those of the gods, from which they observe the gods with intense jealousy.
- bcom ldan ’das
In Buddhist literature, an epithet applied to buddhas, most often to Śākyamuni. The Sanskrit term generically means “possessing fortune,” but in specifically Buddhist contexts this term implies that a buddha is in possession of six auspicious qualities (bhaga) associated with complete awakening. The Tibetan term—where bcom is said to refer to “subduing” the four māras, ldan to “possessing” the great qualities of buddhahood, and ’das to “going beyond” saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—possibly reflects the commentarial tradition where the Sanskrit bhagavat is interpreted, in addition, as “one who destroys the four māras.” This is achieved either by reading bhagavat as bhagnavat (“one who broke”), or by tracing the word bhaga to the root √bhañj, “to break.”
- byang chub kyi sems
Literally “the mind of awakening,” but more technically, one’s particular aspiration to become fully awakened for the specific purpose of liberating all sentient beings. This is the necessary and sufficient condition to be a bodhisattva.
- tshangs pa
A high-ranking deity, presiding over a divine world where other beings consider him the creator; he is also considered to be the “Lord of the Sahā World” (our universe).
- zla ba
The god of the moon; the moon personified.
- dben pa
Detachment is traditionally categorized as being of three types: (1) detachment or seclusion of the body (kāyaviveka), which refers to remaining in solitude free from desirous or disturbing objects; (2) detachment or seclusion of the mind (cittaviveka), which is mental detachment from desirous or disturbing objects; and, (3) detachment or seclusion from the “substrate” (upadhiviveka), which indicates detachment from all things that perpetuate rebirth, including the five aggregates, the kleśas, karma, etc. This last category is what is being referenced here.
As incantations or spells, dhāraṇīs are mnemonic formulas possessed by advanced bodhisattvas that contain a quintessence of their attainments. The same term in Sanskrit and Tibetan also refers to a highly developed power present in bodhisattvas that is a process of memory and recall of detailed teachings. This is best translated “retention” in certain contexts.
Divine states of mind
- tshangs pa’i gnas
The four qualities that are said to result in rebirth in the paradise of Brahmā: limitless love, compassion, rejoicing, and equanimity.
- gso sbyong gi yan lag brgyad
These are the eight upavasatha vows, similar to the commitments of a monk, but maintained only for one day. On such days one pledges: (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to engage in sexual intercourse, (4) not to lie, (5) not to partake of any intoxicants, (6) not to sing or dance, (7) not to eat after noon, and (8) not to use high seats or luxurious beds.
- legs par sprul pa
The name of Surata’s buddhafield after he becomes awakened.
Five basic precepts
- bslab pa’i gzhi lnga
Abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxication.
- snyigs ma lnga
In this text, the five degenerations are: (1) the degeneration of time, (2) the degeneration of sentient beings, (3) the degeneration of place, (4) the degeneration of lifespan, and (5) the degeneration of mental afflictions. This differs from other presentations of this list in which the degeneration of views replaces the degeneration of place.
Four means of gathering disciples
- bsdu ba’i dngos po bzhi
Generosity, kind talk, meaningful actions, and practicing what one preaches.
Four wrong views
- phyin ci log bzhi
Viewing what is impermanent to be permanent, viewing what brings suffering to be pleasurable, viewing what is tainted to be pure, and viewing what is non-self to be self.
- ’khor bzhi
Monks, nuns, and male and female lay practitioners.
- dri za
A type of nonhuman being often rendered as “celestial musicians” who fly through space and serve as musicians for the gods.
Heap of Jewels
- dkon mchog brtsegs pa
A collection of texts comprising a section of the Kangyur as well as of the Chinese Buddhist canon.
Heaven of the Thirty-Three
- sum cu rtsa gsum
The paradise of Indra on the summit of Sumeru where there are thirty-three leading deities, hence the name “Heaven of the Thirty-Three.” The second (counting from the lowest) of the six paradises in the desire realm.
- dbang po
A Vedic god who eventually emerged as one of the most important in the Vedic pantheon. Indra retains his role as the “Lord of the Gods” in Buddhist literature, where he is often referred to by the name Śakra.
- ’dzam bu chu bo
A divine river whose gold is believed to be especially fine.
- ’dzam bu gling
- ’dzam gling
The name of the southern continent in Buddhist cosmology, which can signify either the known human world, or more specifically the Indian subcontinent, literally “the jambu island/continent.” Jambu is the name used for a range of plum-like fruits from trees belonging to the genus Szygium, particularly Szygium jambos and Szygium cumini, and has commonly been rendered “rose apple” although “black plum” may be a less misleading term. Among various explanations given for the continent being so named, one (in the Abhidharmakośa) is that a jambu tree grows in its northern mountains beside Lake Anavatapta, mythically considered the source of the four great rivers of India, and that the continent is therefore named from the tree or the fruit. Jambudvīpa has the vajrāsana at its center and is the only continent upon which buddhas attain awakening.
- rnam par thar pa rnams
Though not explicit in this text, this may be a reference to eight stages to liberation (aṣṭavimokṣa; rnam par thar pa brgyad), a series of increasingly subtle states of meditative realization or attainment. There are several presentations of these found in the canonical literature. One of the most common is as follows: (1) One observes form while the mind dwells at the level of the form realm. (2) One observes forms externally while discerning formlessness internally. (3) One dwells in the direct experience of the body’s pleasant aspect. (4) One dwells in the realization of the sphere of infinite space by transcending all conceptions of matter, resistance, and diversity. (5) Transcending the sphere of infinite space, one dwells in the realization of the sphere of infinite consciousness. (6) Transcending the sphere of infinite consciousness, one dwells in the realization of the sphere of nothingness. (7) Transcending the sphere of nothingness, one dwells in the realization of the sphere of neither perception nor nonperception. (8) Transcending the sphere of neither perception and nonperception, one dwells in the realization of the cessation of conception and feeling.
Lord King of the World
- ’jig rten rgyal po dbang phyug
The name Surata is known by after he becomes enlightened.
A class of beings related to the demon Māra or a term for the demon Māra himself. Māra and the māras are portrayed as the primary adversaries and tempters of people who vow to take up the religious life, and māras can be understood as a class of demonic beings responsible for perpetuating the illusion that keeps beings bound to the world and worldly attachments and the mental states those beings elicit.
The demon who assailed Śākyamuni prior to his awakening; any demonic force; the personification of conceptual and emotional obstacles.
A class of nonhuman beings who live in subterranean aquatic environments and who are known to hoard wealth and esoteric teachings. They are associated with snakes and serpents.
Perfected through previous practice
- sngon gyi tshul phun sum tshogs pa
- sha za ma
A female member of a class of nonhuman beings traditionally associated with the wild, remote places of the earth. They are considered particularly violent and are known to devour flesh.
Possesses the four dharmas
- chos bzhi dang ldan
Prince Jeta’s Grove
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
A grove owned by Prince Jeta in Śrāvastī, the capital of the kingdom of Kośala. It was bought by Anāthapiṇḍada and became the monastery that the Buddha spent most rainy seasons in and is therefore the setting for many sūtras.
Propensities for continued existence
- srid pa’i bag la nyal ba
Various unwholesome mental states that lead to continued suffering and existence.
- srin mo
A female member of a class of Indic spirit deities generally considered malevolent and demonic.
Sahā world system
- ’jig rten gyi khams mi mjed
This universe of ours, or the trichiliocosm (but sometimes referring to just this world system of four continents), presided over by Brahmā. The term is variously interpreted as meaning the world of suffering, of endurance, of fearlessness, or of concomitance (of karmic cause and effect).
- shAkya thub
The name of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He was a muni (“sage”) from the Śākya clan.
- shAkya seng ge
In Sanskrit, “Lion of the Śākyas,” an epithet for the Buddha.
- skye mched
The sense spheres are a collective list of the six sense objects (forms, sounds, odors, tastes, textures, mental phenomena) with their respective senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, tactile sense, and mind) totaling twelve and indicating their interdependence. In this sūtra, they are equated to an “empty city.” This most likely denotes the fact that there is no self independent of the interaction of these or perceiver independent of the process of perception.
- nyan thos
A “listener” or direct disciple of the Buddha. Often used to denote the non-Mahāyāna monastic community.
- nyan thos theg pa
The vehicle comprising the teaching of the śrāvakas, the disciples or “Hearers” who heard the teachings from the Buddha. According to Mahāyāna sources, this is one of the two constitutents (along with the Pratyekabuddhayāna) of the so-called “Lesser Vehicle” (Hīnayāna).
- dpal gyi snying po
A kind of gem, reddish in color.
- nyi ’od
A goddess who attempts to seduce Surata and later becomes one of his attendants.
- nyi ma
The god of the sun; the sun personified.
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used synonym for buddha. According to different explanations, it can be read as tathā-gata, literally meaning “one who has thus gone,” or as tathā-agata, “one who has thus come.” Gata, though literally meaning “gone,” is a past passive participle used to describe a state or condition of existence. Tatha(tā), often rendered as “suchness” or “thusness,” is the quality or condition of things as they really are, which cannot be conveyed in conceptual, dualistic terms. Therefore, this epithet is interpreted in different ways, but in general it implies one who has departed in the wake of the buddhas of the past, or one who has manifested the supreme enlightenment dependent on the reality that does not abide in the two extremes of existence and quiescence.
Here also used as a specific epithet of the Buddha Śākyamuni.
Ten virtuous actions
- dge ba bcu’i las kyi lam
These are the opposite of the ten sins, i.e., refraining from engaging in activities related to the ten sins and doing the opposite. There are three physical virtues: saving lives, giving, and sexual propriety. There are four verbal virtues: truthfulness, reconciling discussions, gentle speech, and religious speech. There are three mental virtues: loving attitude, generous attitude, and right views. The whole doctrine is collectively called the “tenfold path of good action” (daśakuśalakarmapatha).
Thirty-two supreme marks
- mtshan mchog sum cu rtsa gnyis
These are thirty-two physical characteristics of a “great person.”
- bzod pa gsum
The three types of forbearance needed on the spiritual path: (1) forbearance with regard to harms, (2) forbearance with regard to undertaking hardships, and (3) forbearance with regard to having confidence in the Dharma.
- khams gsum pa
(1) The desire realm (kāmadhātu, ’dod khams), (2) the form realm (rūpadhātu, gzugs khams), and (3) the formless realm (arūpyadhātu, gzugs med khams).
- dri ma gsum
The same as the three poisons: desire, hatred, and delusion.
- sbyangs pa’i yon tan
An optional set of thirteen practices that monastics can adopt in order to cultivate greater detachment. They consist of (1) wearing patched robes made from discarded cloth rather than from cloth donated by laypeople; (2) wearing only three robes; (3) going for alms; (4) not omitting any house while on the alms round, rather than begging only at those houses known to provide good food; (5) eating only what can be eaten in one sitting; (6) eating only food received in the alms bowl, rather than more elaborate meals presented to the Saṅgha; (7) refusing more food after indicating one has eaten enough; (8) dwelling in the forest; (9) dwelling at the root of a tree; (10) dwelling in the open air, using only a tent made from one’s robes as shelter; (11) dwelling in a charnel ground; (12) being satisfied with whatever dwelling one has; and (13) sleeping in a sitting position without ever lying down.
- gshin rje
The lord of death in Indian mythology who judges the dead and rules over the hells and the realm of the hungry ghosts.