The Dhāraṇī of the Jewel Torch
Degé Kangyur, vol. 100 (gzungs, e), folios 3.b–54.b
Translated by David Jackson
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2020
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The Dhāraṇī of the Jewel Torch starts with a profound conversation between the Buddha and the bodhisattvas Samantabhadra and Mañjuśrī on the nature of the dharmadhātu, buddhahood, and emptiness. The bodhisattva Dharmamati then enters the meditative absorption called the infinite application of the bodhisattva’s jewel torch and, at the behest of the millions of buddhas who have blessed him, emerges from it to teach how bodhisattvas arise from the presence of a tathāgata and progress to the state of omniscience. Following Dharmamati’s detailed exposition of the “ten categories” or progressive stages of a bodhisattva, the Buddha briefly teaches the mantra of the dhāraṇī and then, for most of the remainder of the text, encourages bodhisattvas in a long versified passage in which he recounts teachings by a bodhisattva called Bhadraśrī on the qualities of bodhisattvas and buddhas. Some verses from this passage on the virtues of faith have been widely quoted in both India and Tibet.
Translated by David Jackson and edited by the 84000 editorial team. The introduction, also by the 84000 editorial team, expands on an original version by David Jackson. The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The generous sponsorship of Make and Wang Xiao Juan (馬珂和王曉娟), which helped make the work on this translation possible, is most gratefully acknowledged.
In this profound Mahāyāna sūtra, The Dhāraṇī of the Jewel Torch, the Buddha Śākyamuni explains, with the help of the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and Dharmamati, how bodhisattvas progress toward awakening.
Although seen as a sūtra in its own right, it is closely connected to the family of texts belonging to the Avataṃsakasūtra, two chapters of which it shares. As its title suggests, it can also be seen as a dhāraṇī, or as a sūtra about a dhāraṇī.
Substantial passages were quoted by Śāntideva in the Śikṣāsamuccaya, and these extracts are now the only remnants of the Sanskrit text. The Tibetan translation, by the Indian master Surendrabodhi and the chief-editor translator the monk Yeshé Dé, dates to the early, imperial translation period, and its verses on faith later had a wide impact in Tibetan works. The Chinese translation, by Fatian, dates to the late tenth century and is classified as an Avataṃsaka text.
Narrative and Doctrinal Content
The setting of the text is the Vulture Peak in Rājagṛha. Its audience is a great gathering of highly accomplished monks and bodhisattvas, headed by Samantabhadra who, as the initial interlocutor, asks the Buddha how dharmadhātu should be understood. A brief but profound exchange follows.
Mañjuśrī then appears and requests the Buddha to teach the dhāraṇī of the jewel torch (1.11). The Buddha insists that Mañjuśrī should request Samantabhadra to teach it instead, and Samantabhadra’s dialog with Mañjuśrī starts with the meaning of buddha. A brief interlude follows (1.40–1.54) in which Śāriputra (here Śāradvatīputra) compares his own understanding unfavorably with Mañjuśrī’s vast wisdom, and professes his inability and unwillingness to debate with him; similar brief conversations between Śāriputra and Mañjuśrī recur at several points in the text.
The bodhisattva Dharmamati then makes his appearance (1.55) and enters the meditative absorption called the infinite application of the bodhisattva’s jewel torch. Blessed and encouraged by millions of buddhas to summon the eloquence to teach, Dharmamati sets out the ten categories of bodhisattva (1.59–1.84) in the long passage that follows. A number of wonders then occur, after which Dharmamati summarizes the ten categories in verse (1.88–1.178).
The Buddha, in response to several ensuing requests to teach, briefly teaches the mantra of the dhāraṇī (1.213) and comments on its meaning. At Samantabhadra and Mañjuśrī’s request, he then explains the benefits that hearing this sūtra will have for future disciples (1.228–1.256). Here several stark warnings are given to future hearers (mainly future monks) who might one day criticize or reject this sūtra.
The final main section of the sūtra is a very long passage (twenty folios in the Degé edition) of versified encouragement for bodhisattvas, introduced by a prologue featuring Ānanda. The main versified part (2.20–2.396) is spoken by the Buddha as a narrative that introduces, relates, and concludes teachings given by the bodhisattva Bhadraśrī on the good qualities and modes of conduct of the bodhisattva. Bhadraśrī first eulogizes the thought of awakening (bodhicitta) and then a few verses later praises faith in a well-known passage, parts of which were quoted by Śāntideva (see below) and subsequently by many Tibetan authors. Bhadraśrī then describes many of the other qualities of bodhisattvas and their ability to manifest miraculously in different ways, including the astounding visual and other sensory content of their meditative absorptions, the many kinds of miraculous rays of light with which they bring benefit to the world and beings, and comparisons with the powerful magical displays of the ordinary gods such as Indra and the king of the nāgas.1
The Sūtra, the Avataṃsaka, and the Chinese Translation
Although it is found in the Kangyur among other Mahāyāna sūtras in the General Sūtra section (as Tōh 145 in the Degé Kangyur) and is listed as belonging to that general category in the Denkarma inventory of translated texts2 (as well as to the Dhāraṇī section, see below), the sūtra also belongs to the family of texts related to the Avataṃsakasūtra (phal po che, “The Ornaments of the Buddhas,” Toh 44). Indeed, in the other imperial period inventory, the roughly contemporary Phangthangma, it is listed under the heading of “the works included in the group of sūtras of the noble, great, very extensive Buddhāvataṃsaka.”3
The prominent role of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra; the centrality of the dharmadhātu; the vast numbers of buddhas who gather and the mention of the Buddha Vairocana in the pivotal passage about the absorption and blessing of Dharmamati; the tenfold division and subdivision of the categories of bodhisattva; the repeated vocative “O sons of the victors”;4 and many other features of this work, above all the central theme of how bodhisattvas first emerge in the presence of a tathāgata and progressively develop access to the buddha qualities, culminating in their regency and consecration, are all strongly reminiscent of the Avataṃsaka.
Two long passages in the text represent two complete chapters of the Avataṃsakasūtra.5 In terms of content they are close to being exact matches, although the translations in Tibetan are different. The long passage recounting Dharmamati’s absorption and his ensuing revelations in both prose and verse (from 1.55 to 1.178) is almost identical to the whole of chapter 20 of the Tibetan Avataṃsakasūtra, “The Ten Categories of Bodhisattvas” (chapter 15 of the Chinese),6 while almost the entirety of the final verse section recounting the teachings by Bhadraśrī (from 2.27 to 2.396 near the conclusion of the text) matches the whole of chapter 17 of the Tibetan Avataṃsakasūtra, “Bhadraśrī” (chapter 12 of the Chinese).7
The Chinese translation of this text, Taishō 299,8 made by Fatian almost a hundred years later than the Tibetan, in the year 983, is also classified as a sūtra of the Avataṃsaka family. It is placed in the Taishō in the Huayan volume, volume 10, along with the Avataṃsakasūtra itself and the other standalone texts related to it.9
Why Is the Sūtra Also a Dhāraṇī?
The text is classified not only as a sūtra, but also as a dhāraṇī, and in those Kangyurs that have an additional Dhāraṇī section it is duplicated there (as Tōhoku no. 84710 in the Degé Kangyur). Indeed, the title itself includes the word dhāraṇī, and the teaching requested of the Buddha is referred to as “the dhāraṇī of the jewel torch.”
The term dhāraṇī is derived from the Sanskrit root √dhṛ (“to hold” or “to maintain”), and among its wide range of meanings most are closely related to the retaining—in the mind, in memory, in words, or in writing—of a particular teaching, realization, or approach to awakening. Perhaps the two most widespread senses in which the term is used are when it refers to a mantra-like formula that “encodes” its meaning without necessarily expressing it in comprehensible speech, or when it describes the highly developed capacity of advanced practitioners to memorize and accurately retain a set of detailed and profound instructions. But as well as signifying the means by which such meanings or sets of instructions are retained (i.e., what holds them), it can also designate a specific meaning or instruction itself (i.e., what is held).
Furthermore, by extension from these senses of the term, a text that either contains a (mantra-like) dhāraṇī, or is about a dhāraṇī in any of these senses, may itself be referred to as a dhāraṇī. This is the basis for the term dhāraṇī having also come to designate a whole scriptural genre of Mahāyāna texts—well represented in the Kangyur, which contains some two hundred fifty texts in that category. However, as a genre it is both quite diverse in its composition and shares most of the texts it contains with other genres. It is often not entirely clear whether any one text is labeled a dhāraṇī because the text itself is a dhāraṇī, contains a dhāraṇī, or is about a dhāraṇī.
For all these reasons, each text placed in this genre deserves its own analysis of what makes it “a dhāraṇī.” In the case of the present text, mentions are made throughout to a “dhāraṇī of the jewel torch,” but it is difficult to determine whether they all have the same reference, or whether they variously refer to a particular realization of bodhisattvas, to a teaching on that realization, or to the text itself.
In the first chapter, there are four separate occasions on which the dhāraṇī seems to be taught. Although the corresponding mentions could conceivably all be understood as referring to one and the same instance of the dhāraṇī, three of the four occasions end with a statement that the dhāraṇī has now been taught, in the past tense. In the first of the four instances, the exchange between Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and the Buddha (starting at 1.11) is termed an explanation of the dhāraṇī in the initial request. In the second instance, Dharmamati’s long teaching on the ten levels of bodhisattvas is also described as a dhāraṇī immediately afterward by Samantabhadra (1.179). The third instance is a dialog between Mañjuśrī and Śāriputra (starting at 1.196) in response to the latter’s request for an explanation of the dhāraṇī, which is lauded as a teaching on that dhāraṇī afterward (1.205). The fourth instance is when yet another request is made to the Buddha, this time by Samantabhadra, to teach the dhāraṇī (1.211); the Buddha teaches what is described as a mantra, and in the discussions that follow it is made clear that the meaning it carries is that of the ineffable ultimate nature of reality.11
Along with dhāraṇīs, a number of sūtras mention gateways (Skt. mukha, Tib. sgo), meditative absorptions (Skt. samādhi, Tib. ting nge ’dzin), and liberations (Skt. vimokṣa, Tib. rnam par thar pa) as different kinds of qualities attained by bodhisattvas. That some of the mentions of the dhāraṇī in this sūtra fall into the category of such attained qualities is suggested by the first of the four instances instance here being also termed an “access” or gateway (1.34), and by the second instance being described as arising from the gnosis that Dharmamati has attained while immersed in a meditative absorption called “the infinite application of the jewel torch.”12 Nevertheless, this second instance, the long teaching on the ten levels of bodhisattvas, is clearly also seen as a teaching, in the sense of presenting specific doctrinal content. The third instance is heralded by Śāriputra’s announcement that a sūtra is to be taught, yet what happens turns out to be a short and somewhat cryptic dialog equating explanation with emptiness, and demonstrating how neither can be taught. Only the fourth instance, the mantra, can be reasonably clearly placed in the category of dhāraṇīs that are encoding formulae, and the meaning that the mantra can be assumed to express is linked to the first and third instances in the teaching by Samantabhadra that follows it, on how the dhāraṇī should be “retained” and cultivated as a teaching on thatness, the ultimate (Skt. tathatā, Tib. de bzhin nyid).
Most of the subsequent mentions of the dhāraṇī as such, in what remains of the first chapter and at the beginning of the second (it is not mentioned at all in the long verse section), are made in the context of its future holders and of its past history, intermingled with descriptions of it as a Dharma discourse. In other words, as a teaching—but also, in the kind of internal self-reference that is a common feature of many Mahāyāna sūtras, designating this very text itself.
The frequent mentions in this text of the “dhāraṇī of the jewel torch” are therefore quite varied in terms of the sense in which the term is being used. We have made no attempt to use capitalization or punctuation to distinguish those that may refer to the text itself, to a teaching, to the mantra, or to a realization.
Neither of the two long sections that appear as chapters in the Avataṃsakasūtra make any mention of a dhāraṇī. None of the excerpts in Sanskrit quoted by Śāntideva (see below) include passages where the dhāraṇī is mentioned in the Tibetan text, but the title Śāntideva uses to introduce his citations does include the designation dhāraṇī.
The Title and Its Variants
The Sanskrit title transliterated in the Tibetan text, Ratnolkādhāraṇī in its short form, is the same as the title that appears in the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Śikṣāsamuccaya (see below). The Sanskrit ulkā can mean a fiery phenomena in the sky, i.e., a meteor, and also a firebrand or torch.
Of the title in Tibetan, however, there are several different renderings. In all Kangyurs, the title is dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs, incorporating the unusual, archaic word ta la la, meaning “lamp” or “torch.” In some of the twenty or so Tengyur treatises that quote the text (including the Tibetan translation of the Śikṣāsamuccaya), the ta la la title is used, even if in some cases the word gzungs (dhāraṇī) is dropped or replaced by the word mdo (sūtra). In others, however, the title is rendered in various forms that use, instead of ta la la, the more usual Tibetan term for “lamp” or “torch,” sgron ma or sgron me.13 Probably as a consequence, later Tibetan authors of indigenous works (see below) use sometimes one version of the title, sometimes the other, and only some authors who use the sgron ma variants seem to be aware that the canonical work they are quoting is in the Kangyur under a different title.
The Sūtra in Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya and Other Treatises
The sūtra is quoted a little over twenty times in treatises in the Tengyur, notably by Atiśa, Vimalamitra, and Śāntideva, but also by lesser known authors. As noted above, both the dkon mchog ta la la and dkon mchog sgron ma forms of the title can be found, and there are considerable minor variations. Most, but not all, of the quotations are from the long verse section of the second chapter.
The most extensive extracts appear in Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya (Training Anthology), and indeed the sūtra appears to have been among Śāntideva’s favorite texts, as he quotes from it more than from any other work. His text contains two short extracts, one longer passage, and one very extensive section of the verses from the second chapter that makes up more than half of one of his chapters.14 The Śikṣāsamuccaya has survived in Sanskrit, as well as in its Tibetan translation in the Tengyur, and its Sanskrit text thus contains the only known remnants of the sūtra in Sanskrit.
The Sūtra’s Impact on Tibetan Works
The sūtra is listed in the Mahāvyutpatti as one of the hundred or so Dharma texts that were presumably best known at the time,15 and is frequently quoted by Tibetan authors of all the main traditions. The passages on the importance of faith are the most commonly quoted, and for some authors it is the scriptural source for there being—variously—three, four, or six kinds of faith.16 Other parts of both chapters are also cited.
Identifying quotes from the sūtra is made more difficult by the variety of titles used.17 In the case of several authors, including Chomden Rikpa Raltri (bcom ldan rig pa ral dri, thirteenth century), Longchen Rabjampa (klong chen rab ’byams pa, fourteenth century), and many of the early Sakya scholars, quotes using both the dkon mchog sgron ma and the dkon mchog ta la la forms of the title can be found in the same work, suggesting that in some cases they may have been consulting treatises or other sources that used these different titles as well as the canonical text itself without always recognizing that both titles designate the same sūtra. Shākya Chokden (shA kya mchog ldan, fifteenth century) specifically mentions the identity of both titles.
This translation is based principally on the Degé block print and the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) of the Kangyur. Yeshé Dé’s early-ninth-century translation contains a few archaic words that have survived subsequent editing, including the ta la la in the title, mentioned above. A few other noteworthy archaic spellings, recorded in the notes, are byin as a verb of the Buddha’s speech (see 1.31); dbung, “center” (see 1.84);18 and the spelling nod pa for mnod pa (prahaṇam, “to receive”).19 In a few passages we have suggested a change in the text reading in an endnote, often in consultation with the Stok Palace version.
Translated, checked, and verified by the Indian preceptor Surendrabodhi and the chief editor and translator, Bandé Yeshé Dé.
Tibetan and Sanskrit Texts
’phags pa dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs (Ratnolkānāmadhāraṇī). Toh 145, Degé Kangyur vol. 57 (mdo sde, pa), folios 34.a–82.a.
’phags pa dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs (Ratnolkānāmadhāraṇī). Toh 847, Degé Kangyur vol. 100 (gzungs, e), folios 3.b–54.b.
’phags pa dkon mchog ta la la’i gzungs. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 57, pp. 94–207.
Dzamthang Lama Ngawang Lodrö Drakpa. dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ’byung. Beijing: krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1992.
———. dpal ldan jo nang pa’i chos ’byung. Bir: Tsondu Senghe, 1983.
Drolungpa Lodrö Jungné. bstan rim chen mo. gsung ’bum: blo gros ’byung gnas. 2 volumes. n.p., n.d.
Bendall, Cecil (ed.). Çikshāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhistic Teaching Compiled by Çāntideva Chiefly from Earlier Mahāyāna-Sūtras. Bibliotheca Buddhica I. St. Petersburg: Académie Impériale des Sciences, 1902.
Bendall, Cecil, and W.H.D. Rouse, trans. Śikṣā-Samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine Compiled by Śāntideva Chiefly from Earlier Mahāyāna Sūtras. First edition in Indian Texts Series, London: John Murray, 1922. Reprinted New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971 and 1981.
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