The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta
Degé Kangyur, vol. 43 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 194.a–204.b
Translated by the University of Calgary Buddhist Studies team
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
While the Buddha is residing in Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden in Śrāvastī with a great assembly of monks, elsewhere in Śrāvastī the eminent householder Vīradatta hosts a meeting with five hundred householders to discuss certain questions regarding the practice of the Great Vehicle. Hoping to resolve these questions, Vīradatta and the householders decide to approach the Buddha in Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden. There the Buddha explains how bodhisattvas should engender the spirit of great compassion while not being attached to the body or to enjoyments, and he then instructs the householders on how bodhisattvas should examine the impermanence and impurity of the body. This prose teaching is followed by a set of verses that reiterate how the body is impure and impermanent and that elucidate the process of karma and its effects. As a result of this teaching, Vīradatta and the five hundred householders attain the acceptance that phenomena are unborn. They then proclaim, in a well-known series of verses, the merits of aspiring for the awakening to buddhahood. The Buddha smiles, predicting that Vīradatta and the five hundred householders will attain spiritual awakening. The sūtra concludes with the Buddha telling Ānanda about the name of this Dharma discourse.
Translation by the University of Calgary Buddhist Studies team. This sūtra was introduced and translated by Dr. James B. Apple with assistance from Dr. Shinobu Arai Apple.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
While the Buddha is residing in Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden in Śrāvastī with a great monastic assembly of 1,250 monks, elsewhere in Śrāvastī the eminent householder Vīradatta hosts a meeting with five hundred householders to discuss certain questions regarding the practice of the Great Vehicle. Hoping to resolve these questions, Vīradatta and the householders decide to approach the Buddha in Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden. There, the Buddha explains how bodhisattvas should engender the spirit of great compassion while not being attached to the body or to possessions, and he then instructs them on how bodhisattvas should examine the impermanence and impurity of the body. This prose teaching is followed by a set of verses that reiterate how the body is impure and impermanent and that elucidate the process of karma and its effects. With this teaching, Vīradatta and the five hundred householders all attain the acceptance that phenomena are unborn. They then proclaim, in a well-known series of verses, the merits of the resolve to attain spiritual awakening. The Buddha smiles and predicts that Vīradatta and the five hundred householders will awaken to buddhahood. The sūtra concludes with the Buddha telling Ānanda about the name of this Dharma discourse.
The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta is preserved in Gāndhārī fragments1 and in Chinese, Tibetan, and Mongolian versions. There are three Chinese versions: the Pusa xiuxing jing 菩薩修行經 translated by Bo Fazuo circa 290–306 ᴄᴇ (Taishō 330), the Quan shou chang zhe hui 勸授長者會 translated by Bodhiruci in 713 ᴄᴇ (Taishō 310(28)), and the Wu wei shou suo wen da cheng jing 無畏授所問大乘經 translated by Dānapāla circa 980 ᴄᴇ. The Tibetan version is preserved in one Dunhuang manuscript (IOL Tib J 184) and approximately twenty-eight Kangyur editions.2 This English translation is based on a complete Dunhuang Tibetan manuscript (IOL Tib J 184), which was compared against another Dunhuang Tibetan manuscript (IOL Tib J 185) and seven Kangyur editions.3 The IOL Tib J 184 manuscript version is the oldest and most complete version of the extant Tibetan textual witnesses.
The sūtra is listed differently in two early ninth-century Tibetan catalogs. In the Denkarma catalog4 the discourse is listed as khyim bdag dpas byin gyis zhus pa in three hundred ślokas and is included in the Ratnakūṭa (Heap of Jewels) section. The Phangthangma catalog records the sūtra as dpal byin gyis zhus pa in one fascicle but does not include the discourse in the Ratnakūṭa section.5 The late thirteenth-century catalog of the Tibetan Kadampa master Darma Gyaltsen (dar ma rgyal mtshan, 1227–1305), commonly known as Chomden Raldri (bcom ldan ral gri), lists the sūtra as dpal byin gyis zhus pa.6 A listing of texts appended to Butön Rinchen Drup’s (bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364) History of Buddhism (chos ’byung) also records the work as the khyim bdag dpal sbyin gyis zhus pa in one fascicle.7 As found in the translation, the colophon of IOL Tib J 184 lists the translators as the Indian preceptors Jinamitra and Dānaśīla along with the chief editor-translator Bandé Yeshé Dé (ban de ye shes sde). The colophon also mentions that the translators utilized the “revised terminology” (skad gsar bcad) of the new translation period and that the sūtra forms the thirty-second chapter of the Ratnakūṭa collection.8
The origins of The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta can be traced to the early centuries of the common era, based on the existence of fragments of the work as preserved in Gāndhārī. The scripture reflects the “Mahāyānization” of such practices as the mindfulness of the body (kāyasmṛtyupasthāna) and meditation on the impurity of the body (aśubhabhāvanā) that circulated among Yogācāra proponents in the second to fourth century.9 The title Vīradattaparipṛcchā figures in a pre-sixth-century list of scriptures found in the Nandimitrāvadāna.10 Although the exact contents of the discourse at that stage in its history is unknown, the Vīradattaparipṛcchā is listed in that work independently of any Ratnakūṭa collection, indicating that the Vīradattaparipṛcchā circulated as an individual text for a period of time.
The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta was cited as a scriptural authority by Indian Buddhist masters. The Sūtrasamuccaya, attributed to Nāgārjuna (ca. second–third centuries), cites the sūtra three times: once in its chapter on the rareness of great compassion and twice in its chapter on the rareness of really serious Dharma practice on the part of householders. Other Indian Buddhist commentators such as Bhāviveka (ca. 500–570), Kamalaśīla (ca. 740–95), and Atiśa (982–1054) cite the sūtra as a scriptural source for the immeasurable qualities of the resolve for awakening (bodhicitta). The fact that the verses from the sūtra on the resolve for awakening cited by these commentators are actually spoken by Vīradatta and his entourage of five hundred householders suggests that there was considerable latitude as to what qualifies as the “word of the Buddha” (buddhavacana) and that this could include the speech of followers of the Buddha whom he had influenced and endorsed. Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya also cites the sūtra several times as a scriptural authority, particularly in its chapter on the applications of mindfulness.11 We can assume that The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta enjoyed some popularity in eighth- and ninth-century Tibet based on its inclusion among the 104 titles (no. 82) of Buddhist scriptures found in Mahāvyutpatti §65. The sūtra was also sporadically cited in later Tibetan commentaries and briefly analyzed by Pekar Sangpo (pad dkar bzang po, sixteenth century) in his overview of each sūtra preserved among the Tibetan Kangyurs.12
Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas!
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was staying in Prince Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden, in Śrāvastī together with a great monastic assembly of 1,250 monks. All were arhats whose contaminants had been exhausted. They were free from defilements and had attained mastery. Their minds were completely free, and their insight perfectly liberated. They were well-born great elephants, successful and accomplished. They had laid down their burdens and fulfilled their aims. They had eliminated the fetters of existence, and their minds were completely liberated through perfect knowledge. They had attained supreme perfection in mastering all mental states. Indeed, they were all this way—with the exception of one person, Venerable Ānanda. They were accompanied by five hundred bodhisattvas, all of whom had attained retention and meditative absorption.
At that time, in the great city of Śrāvastī there was a householder named Vīradatta who had immense wealth, extensive assets, abundant capital and provisions, and multiple storehouses and treasuries of jewels and grain. He had many elephants, horses, camels, goats, and cows, and he also possessed many male and female slaves, employees, and day laborers. He also had a great quantity of jewels, gold, gems, pearls, lapis lazuli, [F.194.b] conch shells, crystal, coral, fine gold, and silver.
In this place, five hundred householders congregated and sat together. While assembled, they conversed: “Hey, friends! The appearance of a buddha is rarely met with. A human birth is rarely met with. The excellent freedoms are rarely met with. Faith in the teaching of the Tathāgata is rarely met with. A renunciate is rarely met with. Monkhood is rarely met with. One who strives earnestly is rarely met with. Some sentient beings have gratitude and understand deeds; they do not squander even small deeds, not to mention extensive ones. Such people are rarely found. Even rarer to be found are those sentient beings who have conviction in the teachings of the Tathāgata. Still rarer to be found are those sentient beings who, based on their conviction in the teachings of the Tathāgata, earnestly practice them. Rarer yet to be found are those sentient beings who are adorned with the teaching of the Tathāgata. When liberation from saṃsāra is so rarely to be found, will we attain parinirvāṇa through the Śrāvaka Vehicle or the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle, or will we attain it through the unsurpassable Great Vehicle?” Thus, all those harmoniously assembled and seated together, who investigated things in this way considered that the best way to attain parinirvāṇa was not through the Śrāvaka Vehicle or the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle but through the unsurpassable Great Vehicle.
On this occasion, the householder Vīradatta, surrounded and closely attended by those five hundred householders, proceeded together from the great city of Śrāvastī and went to where the Blessed One was residing in Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden in Prince Jeta’s Grove. They prostrated to the feet of the Blessed One [F.195.a] and, having circumambulated the Blessed One three times, took their seats to one side. The Blessed One then posed the following question to the householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders, although he already knew the answer: “Householders, why have you approached the thus-gone, worthy, complete and perfect Buddha?”
The householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders arose from their seats, draped their robes over one shoulder, and knelt on their right knee, bowing with palms together. Vīradatta replied to the Blessed One as follows: “Blessed One, at one time I congregated and gathered together with five hundred householders, and at that time all of us who had assembled had the following conversation.
“ ‘Hey, friends! The appearance of a buddha is rarely met with. A human birth is rarely met with. The excellent freedoms are rarely met with. Faith in the teaching of the Tathāgata is rarely met with. A renunciate is rarely met with. Monkhood is rarely met with. One who strives earnestly is rarely met with. Some sentient beings are grateful and understand deeds; they do not squander even small deeds, not to mention extensive ones. Such people are rarely found. Even rarer to be found are those sentient beings who have conviction in the teachings of the Tathāgata. Still rarer to be found are those sentient beings who, based on their conviction in the teachings of the Tathāgata, earnestly practice them. Rarer yet to be found are those sentient beings who are adorned with the teaching of the Tathāgata. When liberation from saṃsāra is so rarely to be found, will we attain parinirvāṇa through the Śrāvaka Vehicle or the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle, or will we attain it [F.195.b] through the unsurpassable Great Vehicle?’
“On that occasion, Blessed One, we all came to the following realization: we concluded that the best way to attain parinirvāṇa is not through the Śrāvaka Vehicle or the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle but through the unsurpassable Great Vehicle.
“Blessed One, we set off with this source of the Dharma and came straight to the thus-gone, worthy, complete and perfect Buddha. Blessed One, we are now asking how should a bodhisattva mahāsattva who is seeking to fully awaken to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening train? How should one train in it, Sugata? How should one abide by it? How should one proceed with it?”13
The Blessed One then expressed his approval to the householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders: “Householders, excellent, excellent! Householders, having set out for unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening in this way, it is good that you have approached the thus-gone, worthy, complete and perfect Buddha.
“Therefore, householders, please listen well and bear my words in mind, and I shall explain to you how a bodhisattva, a mahāsattva who is seeking to fully awaken to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening should train in it, abide by it, and proceed with it.”14
The Blessed One then said to them,15 “In this regard, householders, the bodhisattva mahāsattva who wishes to fully awaken to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening [F.196.a] should cultivate the spirit of great compassion for all sentient beings. He should be respectful. He should stay close to them. He should cultivate them. He should do a lot for them.
“Householders, such a bodhisattva mahāsattva should not be attached to the body. He should not be attached to life. Likewise, he should not be attached to wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, or daughters. He should not be attached to food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, ointments, or garlands. He should not be attached to possessions.
“Why is this? Householders, it is because sentient beings usually become attached to their body and life and thus commit evil deeds. By committing and accumulating this evil karma, they fall headlong into evil states and bad destinies and are reborn as hell beings.16 Cultivate the spirit of great compassion for all sentient beings. When one is not attached to the body and not attached to life, one takes birth in the happy destinies.
“For these reasons, householders, a bodhisattva mahāsattva who wishes to fully awaken to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening should cultivate the spirit of great compassion for all sentient beings. He should not be attached to the body. He should not be attached to life. Likewise, he should not be attached to wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, or daughters. He should not be attached to food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, garlands, or ointments. He should not be attached to possessions.
“He should renounce extensively and fully, with total renunciation and without expectation for results. He should stand firm in the three aspects of morality, the vows of pure moral discipline. He should endure with indifference the negative deeds committed by any sentient being [F.196.b] and thus make the most of it. He should don the great armor of effort in disregarding body and life. He should have one-pointedness of mind with an undistracted mind. He should become skilled in analysis by means of insight that is free from the view of a self, a being, a life force, a soul, a man, a person, a human-born one, and a human being. Therefore, when giving gifts, he should give gifts while considering all sentient beings. He should guard moral discipline while considering all sentient beings. He should cultivate patience while considering all sentient beings. He should apply effort while considering all sentient beings. He should become established in concentration while considering all sentient beings. He should cultivate wisdom while considering all sentient beings. He should train in skillful means while considering all sentient beings.”
The householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders then said to the Blessed One, “Blessed One, if one perceives and dwells on the body and life, and likewise perceives and dwells on wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, or daughters, and likewise perceives and dwells on food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, garlands, or ointments, and all one’s enjoyments, then, Blessed One, how should a bodhisattva examine these and thereby disregard the body? Tathāgata, how should he disregard life? Likewise, how should he disregard wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, and daughters? How should he disregard food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, garlands, or ointments? How should he disregard all enjoyments?” [F.197.a]
The Blessed One said to the householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders, “In this regard, householders, the bodhisattva mahāsattva should examine multiple aspects of this body. What are the multiple aspects? They consist in this body’s gradual development and gradual deterioration, its being a collection of minute particles, its hollow interior, its crookedness, and its contamination through the nine crevices and the hair pores. Like an anthill, it serves as a den for poisonous snakes. As with a poisonous snake, people avoid dealing with it. Like the monkey of Ajātaśatru, it is hostile to friends. Like a wicked friend, it is the embodiment of deceit. Like a mass of foam, it is vacuous by nature. Like a water bubble, it breaks when grasped. Like a mirage, it is the embodiment of deception. Like a plantain, it lacks any core when split apart.
“Like an illusion, it is the embodiment of deceptiveness. Like a king, it is pampered a lot.17 Like an enemy, it looks for opportunities. Like a thief, it cannot be trusted. Like an executioner, it is without any affection. Like a foe, it wants to be unbeneficial. Like a murderer, it hinders the life force of insight. Like hostile forces, it hinders qualities conducive to virtue. Like a ghost town, it is devoid of self. Like a potter’s vase, it will eventually disintegrate. Like a mire, it is filled with all sorts of filth. Like a mug of malt dregs, it is contaminated with impurities. Like the corpse of a snake, man, or dog, it has an unpleasant smell. Like a puddle of vomit, it is a source of filth. Like a wound, it is unbearable when disturbed. Like a thorn, it has the nature of piercing. Like an indignant ruler, it is difficult to appease. Like an old house, it needs attention and proper repairs. Like an old boat, it needs upkeep and proper repairs. Like a freshly made clay pot, it needs to be handled carefully. As with a mischievous friend, [F.197.b] one must always be on guard against it.
“Like a tree on a riverbank, it is unstable. Like the stream of a great river, it ends in the ocean of death. Like a house of drifters, it is the haven of all miseries. Like a hotel without guests,18 it is unidentifiable. Like a jailer, it is susceptible to bribes. Like a town in savage border lands, it presents a constant threat. Like a city made of sand, it is always deteriorating. Like a fire, it is insatiable. Like the ocean, it is hard to fill up. Like a basket containing a viper, it has to be handled carefully. Like a young child, it needs constant protection. Like a broken vessel, it needs constant attention. Like a famine, it brings constant misfortune. Like poison food, it must always be purged. It is like a borrowed vessel because its purpose is temporary. It is like a cart because it bears a burden. One should apprehend the body intellectually as nothing more than these things.19
“Moreover, householders, a bodhisattva should examine this body according to the initial and final causes. The initial cause of the body is its genesis from the combination of the seminal fluid and blood of one’s father and mother. The final cause is the digestion of food and so forth. As soon as food is eaten by the mouthful, it goes to the site of phlegm. Having gone to the site of phlegm, it is worked on extensively by the phlegm and becomes very impure. Below there, it goes into the site of bile, and having reached the site of bile, it dissolves and becomes acidic. Then it goes to the site of winds. Having dissolved and gone to the site of winds, the winds break down the waste part and make the refined part very pure. From the waste part comes ordure such as urine and vomit. From the refined part comes blood. From blood comes flesh. From flesh comes fat. From fat comes bone. From bone comes marrow. From marrow comes seminal fluid. From seminal fluid comes the body. In this way the initial and final causes are impure.
“Because the initial and final causes are impure, [F.198.a] bodhisattvas should consider the body to be impure. When viewing the body as impure, the bodhisattva should consider the following points: This so-called body is erected on the inside by three hundred and sixty bones, three hundred of which are connected like a house of rotten wood. It is interlaced with four hundred networks of veins, sheathed with five hundred handfuls of flesh, covered by six connected channels, filled with seven hundred nerves, held together by seven hundred tendons, and supported by sixteen ligaments. These are surrounded by two ligaments. The small intestines are made up of three and a half cubits of entrails. The intestines connected to the large intestine and stomach are coiled sixty times. There are openings made by twenty-five hundred subsidiary channels. There is a weakening by way of one hundred and seven vital essences, like a broken vessel. It is carpeted, like grass, with eighteen million hair pores. There are nine orifices including the five sense powers. It has seven sites. It is filled with filth. It has two handfuls of brains, two handfuls of marrow, six handfuls of fat, six handfuls of phlegm, and six handfuls of bile, all drawn by the winds. It is filled with liters20 of blood and a handful of vomit. It is completely filled with all these things, like a jam-packed storehouse, and it is totally ensconced in seven layers of skin. It is nourished by six flavors. There is a burnt offering of ordure made into the bodily fire. The extremities leak continuously.
“All the parts of the body are unpleasant when observed. There are bad smells. Given that it has the nature of pus, who would have reverence for it? It is merely a borrowed vessel because its purpose is fleeting. One should apprehend with the mind of the Dharma that it is only, like a cart, for the purpose of bearing a burden. In this regard the following is said:
Thereupon, the Blessed One said to the householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders, “In this regard, householders, a bodhisattva mahāsattva who wishes to fully awaken to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening should consider the body in forty-four aspects. What are these forty-four aspects? Householders, they are as follows: (1) A bodhisattva mahāsattva should consider the body as unpleasant, disagreeable by nature, and disgusting. (2) A bodhisattva should consider the body as contaminated with mucous and therefore having an offensive smell. (3) A bodhisattva should consider that body as disintegrating at the end and therefore without essence. (4) A bodhisattva should consider the body as stitched together with tendons and therefore having little strength. (5) A bodhisattva should consider the body as contaminated with filth and therefore impure. (6) The bodhisattva should consider the body unreal and therefore like an illusion. (7) A bodhisattva should consider the body as something that agitates unwise, childish, ordinary individuals. (8) A bodhisattva should consider the body as deteriorating and oozing through its nine orifices.22 (9) A bodhisattva should consider the body as being ablaze with the fire of sensual desire. (10) A bodhisattva should consider the body as burning with the fire of hatred. [F.199.a] (11) A bodhisattva should consider the body as turning into flames with the fire of delusion. (12) A bodhisattva should consider the body as blinded by sensual desire, hatred, and bewilderment. (13) A bodhisattva should consider the body as enmeshed in the net of sensual desire and thrust into the net of craving. (14) A bodhisattva should consider the body as totally riddled with pores and thus a repository of pores. (15) A bodhisattva should consider the body as ravaged by four hundred and four diseases. (16) A bodhisattva should consider the body as a haven for 84,000 species of parasites. (17) A bodhisattva should consider the body as impermanent since it is of the nature of dying. (18) A bodhisattva should consider the body as insentient since it is deluded regarding phenomena. (19) A bodhisattva should consider the body as jar-like since it is gradually formed and eventually disintegrates. (20) A bodhisattva should consider the body as destitute since it is rife with all sorts of painful afflictions. (21) A bodhisattva should consider the body as unreliable since it eventually grows old and dies. (22) A bodhisattva should consider the body as driven by deceitful and dishonest activities. (23) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be like the depths of the earth since it is hard to fill up. (24) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be like a mirror,23 since one grows attached to pleasant and pleasurable forms. (25) A bodhisattva should consider the body as something that is unable to be satisfied by the five sense pleasures. (26) A bodhisattva should consider the body as overcome by attachment and anger. (27) A bodhisattva should consider the body as unstable due to experiencing reverence and abuse. (28) A bodhisattva should consider the body as other-conditioned since it arises as one thing after another like a stream of a river. (29) A bodhisattva should consider the body as a focus of mental intention due to thoughts that are focused on various inappropriate aspects. [F.199.b] (30) A bodhisattva should consider the body as ungrateful since it will end up arriving at the cremation ground. (31) A bodhisattva should consider the body as the food of wolves, jackals, dogs, and flesh-eating demons.24 (32) A bodhisattva should consider the body as like a machine stitched together with bones and tendons.25 (33) A bodhisattva should consider the body as unsuitable for viewing as it is full of crap, piss, spit, mucus, pus, and blood. (34) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be without independence since it has developed due to food and drink.26 (35) A bodhisattva should consider the body as driven by aimless pursuits since it is impermanent and of the nature of deterioration. (36) A bodhisattva should consider the body as an enemy since it gives rise to many hostile forces. (37) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be like a killer since it experiences suffering again and again. (38) A bodhisattva should consider the body as a receptacle of suffering since it is tormented by the three types of suffering. What are the three? They are conditioned suffering, the suffering of change, and the suffering of suffering. (39) A bodhisattva should consider the body as being a mass of suffering since it is composed of the five aggregates. (40) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be selfless and ownerless since it arises from varied conditions. (41) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be lifeless since it is devoid of male and female. (42) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be empty of the aggregates, elements, and sense bases. (43) A bodhisattva should consider the body to be ephemeral like a dream, unreal like an illusion, [F.200.a] bewildering like a mirage, and deceptive like an echo. (44) A bodhisattva should consider the body to have a deceptive nature like an optical illusion. Householders, a bodhisattva mahāsattva should consider the body according to these forty-four aspects. A bodhisattva mahāsattva who understands things in this way regarding the body relinquishes all longing for bodies, delighting in the body, taking the body as mine, craving for the body, relying on the body, and being attached to the body.
“Where life is concerned, he relinquishes all hankering for life, delighting in life, identifying with life as mine, craving for life, relying on life, and being attached to life. Likewise, he relinquishes all hankering for, delighting in, taking as mine, craving for, relying on, and being attached to wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, daughters, food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, garlands, ointments, or any other possessions.
“Thus, he disregards body and life. Likewise, he disregards wealth, grain, house, wife, sons, daughters, food, drink, clothing, vehicles, bedding, flowers, incense, perfumes, garlands, and ointments; he quickly completes the six perfections. Householders, the bodhisattva mahāsattva who completes the six perfections will quickly become awakened to unsurpassable complete and perfect awakening.”
At this point, the householder Vīradatta and the five hundred householders, having heard this Dharma discourse, attained the acceptance that phenomena are unborn. Having gained this acceptance, they were overjoyed and pleased. On that occasion, they spoke the following verses:
Then the Blessed One smiled. The nature of buddhas, of blessed ones, is such that when they smile, light of many colors appears from their mouth: blue, yellow, red, white, violet, crystal, and silver. These lights, after pervading the world systems without end and rising up to the worlds of Brahmā, filled the entire world with the radiance of the sun and moon. They then came back down and, having circumambulated the Blessed One three times, disappeared into the Blessed One’s head.
At this point, Venerable Ānanda arose from his seat and, placing his robe over one shoulder, knelt on his right knee. With palms pressed together in the direction the Blessed One, he spoke the following words to the Blessed One: [F.203.b] “Blessed One, since the thus-gone, worthy, completely awakened buddhas do not smile without a cause, without a reason, what is the cause for your smile? What is the reason?”
On this occasion, he requested an answer with these verses:
After Venerable Ānanda spoke these words, the Blessed One replied, “Ānanda, do you see, near the Tathāgata, these five hundred householders who have produced the resolve for unsurpassable, complete and perfect awakening?”
Then the Blessed One said, “Ānanda, when these five hundred householders have heard the Dharma discourses, they will attain the acceptance that phenomena are unborn. Ānanda, these householders will all perform outstanding deeds for the victorious ones of the past, cultivate the roots of virtue, and pay homage to the many billions of buddhas. When these householders have transmigrated from here after dying, they will never fall into lower destinies, and having later experienced happiness among gods and humans, they will eventually revere, honor, serve, and worship the thus-gone, worthy, complete and perfect Buddha Maitreya, delighting and never displeasing him. [F.204.a] They will also revere, honor, serve, and worship all the buddhas, blessed ones, of this fortunate eon, delighting and never displeasing them. They will listen to the Dharma from those buddhas, those blessed ones, and having heard it, they will retain it, master it, and teach it extensively to others. After twenty-five eons, they will awaken to unsurpassable, complete and perfect awakening in various buddha fields, and they will equally appear in the world bearing the name thus-gone, worthy, complete and perfect Buddha Padmaśrīgarbha.”
At this point, the venerable Ānanda said to the Blessed One, “Ah, how wonderful is this extensive Dharma discourse, Blessed One! It is so wonderful, Sugata. Blessed One, what is the name of this Dharma discourse? How should we remember it?”
The Blessed One replied, “In this regard, Ānanda, this Dharma discourse is called The Teaching on the Stages of Yoga for Bodhisattvas,32 and this is how it should be remembered. It should also be remembered as The Questions of Vīradatta.
When the Blessed One had uttered these words, the venerable Ānanda, the monks, the bodhisattvas, the five hundred householders, and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas all rejoiced and praised what had been proclaimed by the Blessed One.
This concludes The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta, the twenty-eighth of the one hundred thousand sections of the Dharma discourse known as The Noble Great Heap of Jewels.
khyim bdag dpas byin gyis zhus pa (Vīradattagṛhapatiparipṛcchā). Toh 72, Degé Kangyur vol. 43 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 194.a–204.b.
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khyim bdag dpa’ sbyin gyis zhus pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo. Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 39 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 334.a–349.a.
dge ’dun gyi dbyen gyi gzhi (Saṅghabhedavastu). Toh 1, ch. 17, Degé Kangyur vol. 3–4 (’dul ba, ga–nga).
snying rje pad ma dkar po’i mdo (Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkasūtra). Toh 112, Degé Kangyur vol. 50 (mdo sde, cha), folios 129.a–297.a.
dri med grags pas bstan pa (Vimalakīrtinirdeśa). Toh 176, Degé Kangyur vol. 60 (mdo sde, ma), folios 175.a–239.a. English translation in Thurman 2017.
sher phyin stong phrag nyi shu lnga pa (Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā). Toh 9, Degé Kangyur vol. 26–28 (nyi khri, ka–ga).
shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa rdo rje gcod pa (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā). Toh 16, Degé Kangyur, vol. 34 (sher phyin, ka), folios 121.a–132.b. English translation in Harrison 2006.
Atiśa. byang chub lam gyi sgron ma (Bodhipathapradīpa). Toh 3947, Degé Tengyur vol. 111 (dbu ma, ki), folios 238.a–241.a.
Bhāviveka. dbu ma’i snying po’i tshig le’u byas pa (Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā). Toh 3855, Degé Tengyur vol. 98 (dbu ma, dza), folios 1.b–40.b.
Kamalaśīla. bsgom pa’i rim pa (Bhāvanākrama). Toh 3908, Degé Tengyur vol. 110 (dbu ma, ki), folios 1.b–4.a.
Maitreyanātha. theg pa chen po mdo sde’i rgyan zhes bya ba’i tshig le’u byas pa (Mahāyānasūtrālaṅkaranāmakārikā). Toh 4020, folios 1.b–39.a.
Nāgārjuna. mdo kun las btus pa (Sūtrasamuccaya). Toh 3934, Degé Tengyur vol. 110 (dbu ma, ki), folios 148.b–215.a.
Śāntideva. bslab pa kun las btus pa (Śikṣāsamuccaya). Toh 3940, Degé Tengyur vol. 111 (dbu ma, khi), folios 3.a–194.b. English translation in Goodman 2016.
Butön Rinchen Drup (bu ston rin chen grub). chos ’byung [History of Buddhism] (bde bar gshegs pa’i bstan pa’i gsal byed chos kyi ’byung gnas gsung rab rin po che’i gter mdzod). In gsung ’bum/ rin chen grub/ zhol par ma/ ldi lir bskyar par brgyab pa/, vol. 24 (ya), pp. 633–1055. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1965–71. BDRC W22106.
Pekar Sangpo (pad dkar bzang po). mdo sde spyi’i rnam bzhag. Edited by mi nyag mgon po. Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2006.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos kyi ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Mahāvyutpatti (bye brag tu rtogs par byed pa chen po). Toh 4346, Degé Tengyur vol. 204 (sna tshogs, co), folios 1.b–131.a.
Phangthangma (dkar chag ’phang thang ma / sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa). Beijing: mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 2003.
IOL Tib J 184. British Library, London. Accessed through The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online.
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Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkasūtra. GRETIL edition input by members of the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Input Project, based on the edition by Yamada Isshi (Mahakarunapundarika Sutra. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1968). Last updated July 31, 2020.
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Acceptance that phenomena are unborn
- mi skye ba’i chos la bzod pa
Bodhisattvas’ realization that all phenomena are unoriginated and empty. It sustains them on the difficult path of benefitting all beings so that they do not succumb to the goal of personal liberation. Different sources link this realization to the first or eighth bodhisattva level (bhūmi).
- phung po
The five aggregates of form, sensation, perception, formation, and consciousness. On the individual level the five aggregates refer to the basis upon which the mistaken idea of a self is projected.
- ma skyes dgra
King of Magadha and son of king Bimbisāra. He reigned during the last ten years of the Buddha’s life and about twenty years after. He overthrew his father and through invasion expanded the kingdom of Magadha. After his father’s death, he became tormented with guilt and regret, converted to Buddhism, and supported the Buddha and his community.
- kun dga’ bo
The Buddha Śākyamuni’s cousin, who was his attendant for the last twenty years of his life. He was the subject of criticism and opposition from the monastic community after the Buddha’s passing but eventually succeeded to the position of the patriarch of Buddhism in India after the passing of the first patriarch, Mahākaśyapa.
Anāthapiṇḍada’s pleasure garden
- mgon med zas sbyin gyi kun dga’ ra ba
An important early Buddhist site located outside Śrāvasti. Anāthapiṇḍada, a wealthy patron of the Buddha, purchased the park at great cost, purportedly covering the ground with gold, and he donated it to the saṅgha. It was there that the Buddha spent a number of rainy seasons and gave discourses that were later recorded as sūtras. It was also the site for one of the first Buddhist monasteries.
- dgra bcom pa
According to Buddhist tradition, one who is worthy of worship (pūjām arhati), or one who has conquered the enemies, the mental afflictions or emotions (kleśa-ari-hata-vat), and reached liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering. It is the fourth and highest of the four fruits attainable by śrāvakas. Also used as an epithet of the Buddha and rendered here as “worthy.”
- bcom ldan ’das
The Sanskrit is literally “one who has bhaga,” which has many diverse meanings including “good fortune,” “happiness,” and “majesty.” In the Buddhist context, it means one who has the good fortune of attaining enlightenment. The Tibetan translation has three syllables defined to mean “one who has conquered [the māras], possesses [the qualities of enlightenment], and has transcended [saṃsāra, or both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa].”
- byang chub sems dpa’ sems dpa’ chen po
A bodhisattva mahāsattva is a bodhisattva who has completed the seventh bhūmi and is on the eighth, ninth, or tenth bhūmi prior to becoming a buddha.
- tshangs pa
A high-ranking deity, presiding over a divine world where other beings consider him the creator; he is also considered the “Lord of the Sahā World” (our universe).
One way of describing experience and the world in terms of eighteen elements (eye and form, ear and sound, nose and odor, tongue and taste, body and touch, mind and mental objects, to which the six consciousnesses are added).
- dri za
A class of semidivine beings sometimes referred to as heavenly musicians.
- theg pa chen po
The Great Vehicle of Buddhism is called “great” because it aims with altruistic intent to transport all living beings to the goal of liberation. It is distinguished from the Hīnayāna (Lesser Vehicle), including the Śrāvakayāna (Śrāvaka Vehicle) and Pratyekabuddhayāna (Solitary Buddha Vehicle), which allegedly aims to transport only its followers to their own personal liberation.
- khyim bdag
The term “householder” is usually used for wealthy lay patrons of the Buddhist community. It also refers to a subdivision of the vaiśya (mercantile) class of traditional Indian society, comprising businessmen, merchants, landowners, and so on.
Lord of Death
- ’chi bdag
- gshin rje
Another name for King Yama (Skt. yamarāja; Tib. gshin rje rgyal po), the deity who judges the dead and rules over the hell realms of the underworld.
- ’khrul ’khor
This term can refer to a magical diagram or any mechanical tool or device (such as a siege weapon). In The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta it is used metaphorically in the latter sense to refer to the human body as a machine.
- byams pa
The bodhisattva who became Śākyamuni’s regent and is prophesied to be the next buddha, the fifth buddha in the current eon. In early Buddhism he appears as the human disciple sent by his teacher to pay his respects to the Buddha, who gives him the gift of a robe and prophesies that he will be the next buddha, and that his companion Ajita will be the next cakravartin. As a bodhisattva, he has both these names. In Karuṇāpuṇḍarīkasūtra (Toh 112), the Buddha Ratnagarbha prophesies that Vimalavaiśayana, the fourth of the thousand young Vedapāṭhaka pupils of Samudrareṇu, will be the Buddha Maitreya.
- ting nge ’dzin
A central term in Buddhism for states of deep concentration. It refers more specifically to contemplations involving one-pointed concentration that foster wholesome states of mind. It can refer more broadly to teachings (or sets of teachings) that lead the listener to states of absorption.
- dge slong gi dngos po
According to certain usage, a phrase used in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya in praise of monks fully committed to the monastic ideal, as opposed especially to those who merely wear the robes.
One who has attained mastery
- dbang dang ldan par gyur pa
- pad ma’i dpal gyi snying po
According to the Buddha’s prophecy at the conclusion of The Questions of the Householder Vīradatta, this is the name that will be given to each of the five hundred householders when they become buddhas.
- rang rgyal gyi theg pa
The vehicle comprising the teaching of the pratyekabuddhas, literally “solitary enlightened ones” or “buddhas on their own.” The pratyekabuddhas are typically defined as those who have attained liberation but do not teach the path to liberation to others. Pratyekabuddhas are said to appear in universes and times in which there is no fully enlightened buddha who has rediscovered the path and taught it to others.
Prince Jeta’s Grove
- rgyal bu rgyal byed kyi tshal
A grove that was bought by the Buddha’s wealthy follower and supporter Anāthapiṇḍada from a prince named Jeta and donated to the Buddha and his saṅgha.
- rab tu byung ba
The Tibetan literally means “to go forth” or “one who has gone forth.” Refers to who one has renounce settled, household life (“gone forth from home to homelessness”) to become a monk or wandering spiritual practitioner.
Resolve for awakening
- byang chub sems
The intention to reach unsurpassed, completely perfect awakening (Skt. anuttarasamyaksambodhi) in order to liberate all beings from suffering.
The term dhāraṇī—in some sūtras a mnemonic formula and also the ability of realized beings to retain (√dhṛ) in their transmundane memory any teachings—refers, in its most general use, to dhāraṇīs as understood in the context of the Dhāraṇī genre and Mahāyāna Buddhism. Such dhāraṇīs are divinely revealed prayer formulae that are dedicated to a particular deity and typically include homage, praise, supplication, exhortation to act, and, most importantly, the heart mantra or mantras of the deity. The specific meaning of “retention” is also present in this inasmuch as dhāraṇīs, once obtained, are never lost but stay with the person who obtained them. They function as doors (dhāraṇīdvāra) or access points (dhāraṇīmukha) to infinite qualities of buddhahood. Even shorter mantras, when they are regarded as functioning in this way, can be designated as dhāraṇī.
- drang srong
Indian sage, often a wandering ascetic or hermit. “Great Seer” (maharṣi, drang srong chen po) is often used as an epithet of the Buddha.
- skye mched
One way of describing experience and the world in terms of twelve sense sources (eye and form, ear and sound, nose and odor, tongue and taste, body and touch, mind and mental objects).
- pha rol tu phyin pa drug
The trainings of the bodhisattva path: generosity (dāna, byin pa), discipline (śīla, tshul khrims), patience or acceptance (kṣānti, bzod pa), diligence or effort (vīrya, brtson ’grus), meditative concentration (dhyāna, bsam gtan), and insight (prajñā, shes rab).
- thabs la mkhas pa
- nyan thos kyi theg pa
The vehicle comprising the teaching of the śrāvakas, those disciples of the Buddha who aspire to attain the state of an arhat by seeking self-liberation. The śrāvakas are typically defined as “those who hear the teaching from the Buddha and make it heard by others.”
- mnyan yod
The capital of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kośala during the sixth–fifth centuries ʙᴄᴇ ruled by one of the Buddha’s royal patrons, King Prasenajit. It was the setting for many sūtras as the Buddha spent many rains retreats outside the city, in Prince Jeta’s Grove. It has been identified with the present-day Sahet Mahet in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the river Rapti.
- bde bar gshegs pa
An epithet for a buddha meaning “well-gone one.”
- 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-āgata, “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 awakening dependent on the reality that does not abide in the two extremes of existence and quiescence. Also rendered here as “thus-gone.”
Three aspects of morality
- tshul khrims rnam pa gsum
- trividhaṃ śīlaṃ
The morality of restraint (saṃvara), the morality that gathers wholesome qualities (kuśaladharmasaṃgrāha), and the morality that works for the benefit of beings (sattvārthakriyā).
- srid gsum
This can refer to the underworlds, the earth, and the heavens, or it can be synonymous with the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness.