The Seven Buddhas
Degé Kangyur, vol. 100 (gzungs ’dus, e), folios 65.a–68.b
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Seven Buddhas opens with the Buddha Śākyamuni residing in an alpine forest on Mount Kailāsa with a saṅgha of monks and bodhisattvas. The Buddha notices that a monk in the forest has been possessed by a spirit, which prompts the bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha to request that the Buddha teach a spell to cure diseases and exorcise demonic spirits. The Buddha then emanates as the set of “seven successive buddhas,” each of whom transmits a dhāraṇī to Ākāśagarbha. Each of the seven buddhas then provides ritual instructions for using the dhāraṇī.
Translated by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee under the supervision of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. The translation was produced by Adam Krug, then checked against the Tibetan and edited by Ryan Damron.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Seven Buddhas opens with the Buddha residing in an alpine forest on Mount Kailāsa when he and the bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha, the central interlocutor of the text, notice that a monk in the forest has succumbed to some form of demonic possession. Ākāśagarbha supplicates Śākyamuni for a spell (vidyāmantra) to pacify illnesses and to exorcise possessing spirits. Śākyamuni then emanates six buddhas, with himself as the seventh. The seven buddhas, unlike more specific sets of buddhas figuring in some of the other short texts in this part of the Kangyur,1 are mentioned in a wide range of Buddhist literature as the “seven successive buddhas,” (see below), and are enumerated as follows:
Each of these buddhas proceeds to transmit a mantra to Ākāśagarbha along with a number of ritual instructions for incanting protection cords and various medicines with the mantra to cure or ward off illness and possession. Thus, although it is classified variously as a sūtra, tantra, or dhāraṇī (or in its Chinese recensions as both a sūtra and a dhāraṇī), The Seven Buddhas is perhaps best understood as a Buddhist medical text that promotes the use of various spells (termed variously as dhāraṇīs, vidyāmantras, guhyamantras, or simply mantras) to treat a variety of wounds and illnesses. The text also promotes the use of its spells to treat disease conditions that are characterized by two of the most intractable etiologies in the South Asian medical world—disease brought on by karmic obscurations and disease brought on by interference from demonic spirits.2
The seven buddhas enumerated here are the set usually known in the commentarial literature as the “seven successive buddhas” (sangs rgyas rabs bdun), and less often (especially in Vinaya works) as the “seven heroic buddhas” (sangs rgyas dpa’ bo bdun), a grouping well known in many texts from a wide range of Buddhist traditions.
The last four, starting with Krakucchanda, are the first four of the buddhas of the present bhadrakalpa or “fortunate eon,” and the first three, starting with Vipaśyin, are the last three buddhas of the preceding eon.
Named buddhas of the past3 are a regular feature of the Jātaka literature, as well as of the episodes in many sūtras and vinaya texts in which the Buddha Śākyamuni recounts his own and others’ past lives. Explicit lists of such buddhas, often giving details of each, can be found in many works. For example, one of the several Bahubuddhaka (“many buddhas”) sūtras is represented among the first century ʙᴄᴇ Gandhāra scrolls, and lists fifteen;4 another version (incorporated in the Mahāvastu) mentions hundreds of millions; and the later Pali Buddhavaṃsa details twenty-five.
Among these enumerations of past buddhas, the set of seven that figures in the present text is perhaps the most consistent, and may possibly be the earliest. Its classic presentation is in the various Pāli, Sanskrit, and Chinese recensions of the Mahāvadānasūtra.5 Among early Indian artworks depicting the seven buddhas are a series of relief carvings on the outer circumambulatory railing at the Bharhut stūpa that represent them aniconically as the specific species of tree under which they are said to have attained enlightenment, accompanied by inscriptions in late second-century ʙᴄᴇ Brahmi script,6 and first century ʙᴄᴇ iconographic reliefs of them, accompanied by their trees and stūpas, on two architraves of the north gateway to the Sanchi stūpa.7 Other representations of the seven buddhas appear at some of the most important surviving Buddhist archeological sites of later centuries such as the Amarāvatī stūpa complex, the cave vihāra complexes of Ajanta, Ellora, and Kanheri, and as far to the northwest as the Swat Valley.8
While the names of these seven buddhas, both as a group and individually, are mentioned in a large number of Kangyur texts in all sections, there is only one other Kangyur work of which they are the main theme, The Auspicious Verses of the Seven Successive Buddhas,9 a prayer to them in which the caste, birthplace, and tree under which each attained awakening are all mentioned.
In the present text, however, these seven buddhas are not invoked, prayed to, honored, or commemorated with any regard to the well defined role they play in other texts as the buddhas of the past; indeed the status of the first six as the Buddha Śākyamuni’s predecessors and teachers is not even once mentioned. Instead, they are called on for their healing power. As each in turn confers mantras, ritual details, botanical formulations, and other instructions for use against a range of illnesses, accidents, negative spirits, worldly problems, and spiritual obstacles, the perspective this text unfolds is on the therapeutic role of these seven familiar tathāghatas. This perspective is not an otherwise unknown one, for there are other works in which they have a similar function;10 nevertheless, the degree of detail here may well be unique.
The Seven Buddhas was translated into Tibetan by the early ninth century, and the text is listed in both of the surviving imperial inventories: in the sūtra section of the Denkarma,11 and in the dhāraṇī section of the Phangthangma.12 None of the available recensions of the text include a colophon, so the precise identity of the translators is unknown.
There is a substantial Tibetan commentary to the text written by the scholar Bodong Paṇchen Choklé Namgyal (bo dong paN chen phyogs las rnam rgyal, 1375/6–1451) entitled The General Sūtra Collection Ritual of the Seven Buddhas (sangs rgyas bdun pa’i mdo sde’i cho ga), which contains instructions for a ritual of the seven buddhas employing the mantras in this sūtra.13
The text was first translated into Chinese in the early half of the sixth century ᴄᴇ, and there are three Chinese translations that preserve separate titles for the text. The Liáng translation (Taishō 1333, c. 502–557 ᴄᴇ), whose translator is unknown, refers to the work as the *Ākāśagarbhaparipṛcchāsaptabuddhadhāraṇīsūtra (虛空藏菩薩問七佛陀羅尼咒經).14 The Jñānagupta translation (Taishō 1334, 587 ᴄᴇ) refers to the text as the *Tathāgataupāyakauśalyamantrasūtra (如來方便善巧咒經).15 And finally, the Fatian translation (Taishō 1147, 984 ᴄᴇ) refers to the work as the Āryākāśagarbhabodhisattvadhāraṇīsūtra (聖虛空藏菩薩陀羅尼經).16 As in the Tibetan imperial inventories of translated works, this text’s Chinese translations appear to have been classified variously as sūtra or dhāraṇī.
This English translation is based on the three versions of text that are included in the General Sūtra Section (mdo sde), the Tantra Collection (rgyud ’bum), and the Compendium of Dhāraṇīs (gzungs ’dus)17 of the Degé Kangyur. The variants across these three versions of the text are relatively minor, but their consultation has been particularly helpful in identifying some of the medicinal plants and proper Sanskrit transliterations of the dhāraṇī-mantras in the text.18 The dhāraṇīs are rendered in Sanskrit transliteration based on the three versions in the Degé Kangyur with variants from the Stok Palace Kangyur and the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) noted where appropriate. Tentative English translations are provided for each dhāraṇī in a note whenever possible.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Blessed One was dwelling on the summit of Kailāsa in the abode of the gods close to where the sages live. He was accompanied by a great monastic saṅgha of around five hundred monks and five hundred bodhisattvas, including the bodhisattva great being Maitreya, the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha, Samantabhadra, Infinite Flowers, Samantakusuma, and others, all of whom were bodhisattvas who were just one birth away from awakening.
The Blessed One saw that a monk in that alpine forest had been possessed by a spirit, had collapsed, and was lying there naked and wailing with his arms raised up.
The bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha draped his upper robe over one shoulder, knelt on his right knee, bowed to the Blessed One with his hands joined, and addressed him. “Blessed One, what is this great lamenting that fills the sky, and who is this naked monk raising his arms in distress?”20
The bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha then asked the Blessed One, “Will the Blessed One please teach a vidyāmantra that can pacify all manner of diseases and exorcise all manner of spirits?” [F.65.b]
The Blessed One emanated the seven buddhas: six tathāgatas appeared in the sky, with the seventh being the Blessed One himself, the Tathāgata Śākyamuni.
The tathāgata Vipaśyin hovered in the sky above them and spoke these root verses of the secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, pacify all manner of illnesses, and exorcise all manner of spirits:
The tathāgata Vipaśyin addressed the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha, saying, “Ākāśagarbha, whoever bears this vidyāmantra in mind, recites it, or masters it will not be slain by a weapon, nor will they die from drowning, fire,24 or a painful illness. They will not suffer an unnatural death. Even poison they have eaten will become like food.
“If you recite the vidyāmantra seven times over your food and drink before consuming it, no one else can harm you, you will not contract any illnesses, and you will live for a long time, understand what you have studied, and have a vision of the seven tathāgatas.
“Recite this vidyāmantra in the ear of someone who has been wounded with a weapon and anoint them with jasmine oil incanted with the vidyāmantra.25 If you anoint those who are afflicted with diseases such as leprosy or tumors with incanted oil that contains a mixture of jasmine, blue lotus, dill, and wild asparagus, they will recover from all their illnesses. This mantra can be used for all rites.”
Then the tathāgata Śikhin hovered in the sky above them and spoke these root verses of the secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, pacify all manner of illnesses, and exorcise all manner of spirits: [F.66.a]
“Ākāśagarbha, I and millions of Buddhas have taught this secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, to completely pacify all manner of illnesses, to ward off spirits that harm one’s meditation and cause nightmares, and to prevent untimely death. Now you must uphold it.
“Ākāśagarbha, if someone focuses on my heart mantra three times a day, they will not be harmed by others, they will meet the Tathāgata in their dreams, and they will not suffer a horrible death. When they die, they will meet with the tathāgatas and serve them.
“You can also use the rite to bind the patient with a protection cord against all manner of illnesses. In cases where an illness is the result of a humoral imbalance, you can incant jasmine oil with the mantra and give it to the patient. You can perform the rite of sealing off the directions with water incanted with the mantra, and you can use an incanted cord to protect yourself. You can tie a blue protection cord incanted with the mantra on a child to guard against seizers that possess children. You can whisper the mantra seven times in the ear of someone who has been struck down with a weapon, and you can use it to control others with your mind.”
Then the tathāgata Viśvabhū hovered in the sky above them and spoke these root verses of the secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, pacify all manner of illnesses, and exorcise all manner of spirits:
“Ākāśagarbha, these root verses of the secret mantra are taught by all the past, future, and present tathāgatas of the fortunate eon, and now I have spoken them as well. Ākāśagarbha, you must [F.66.b] uphold these root verses of the secret mantra.
“If someone bears in mind, recites, or masters them, they will not be harmed by a weapon, affected by poison, or affected by poisonous brews, nor will they become infected with plague. They will not drown, die of unnatural causes, or die from a weak constitution, unless these are karmic obscurations that result from a previous lifetime. Any monk, nun, or layperson who rises in the morning, washes their head, and recites this secret mantra one hundred and eight times before an image of the Tathāgata will be able to purify all their karmic obscurations.
“Once the dhāraṇī has been spoken to any hostile beings or kings, you will have power over all of them. You will master all fears. Wearing a white protection cord incanted with the mantra will guard against all manner of quarrelsome men and women, as well as any argument or dispute. An incanted protection cord made with fiber from a date tree can be used against diseases of the eye and hung on one’s ear. To paralyze an army, perform a fire offering one hundred and eight times with incanted popped rice that has been soaked in yogurt and honey while reciting the following mantra each time:
“To purify all your own and all beings’ obscurations and misdeeds and to obtain great prosperity and wealth, recite the dhāraṇī while offering sesame seeds one thousand times into a fire altar34 that has been kindled with date palm branches.35 To purify all your misdeeds, master all vidyāmantras, or to ritually cleanse yourself you should wash with dill, spikenard,36 foxtail millet, sirisa, valerian, saffron, nut grass, bitter gourd, bodhi tree, and mango flowers.37 Next, fast for an entire day in front of a buddha image, and then place these ingredients in a fresh vase. On the full moon, bathe in front of an image of the Buddha while reciting the heart mantra one thousand and eight times.
“To neutralize poison [F.67.a] sit before an image of the Buddha and use a ladle made of teak to offer cow dung38 onto a ritual fire while reciting the victim’s name one hundred and eight times. The poison will then be neutralized. This mantra protects one from seizers39 and works for any rite associated with the spirits and the like. It will pacify them.”
“Then the blessed tathāgata Krakucchanda hovered in the sky above them and spoke the following root verses of the secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, pacify all manner of illnesses, and exorcise all manner of spirits:
“Ākāśagarbha, this has been taught by tathāgata, arhat, perfect complete buddhas bearing the name Krakucchanda in numbers equal to the grains of sand in the Ganges river, and now you must maintain this joyous root mantra.
“If this is received, born in mind, and mastered, then in the future, when monks, nuns, and laypeople gain faith in the Three Jewels, perform the bathing rite, and make offerings of flowers, incense, and perfume to the Buddha while reciting42 this sacred mantra one hundred and eight times, they will be able to recall their past lives for seven lifetimes. They will become the greatest among gods or wheel-turning kings among humans. If they perform this rite correctly, this will be their final human birth. After they die, they will be born in Sukhāvatī.
“If they constantly recite the mantra, they will be free from all manner of illnesses in this lifetime and understand what they study. If they recite the mantra seven times over their food and drink and then consume it, they will be cured of any illness. Or, if they wish to quench their thirst, they should wash their food while reciting the mantra one thousand and eight times. [F.67.b]
“A copper needle incanted with the mantra can be used to remove a tumor. If recited seven times, the mantra will free you from all manner of quarrels, disputes, and bondage. Your wealth will also continually increase, and you will be free from all manner of obstructing beings and corrupting beings.
“Or, if you wish to have a vision of the Tathāgata, draw a maṇḍala on a clean spot in the vicinity of a stūpa,43 fumigate it with aloeswood, recite the mantra one thousand and eight times, and then lie on a cushion in front of the maṇḍala’s eastern side. When you fall asleep you will have a vision of the Tathāgata. He will teach you whatever you ask44 and can tell you anything you wish such as your lifespan, your strength, and whether you will be defeated or victorious in battle.”
namo buddhāya | namo dharmāya | namaḥ saṅghāya | namaḥ kanakamunaye | tathāgatāya | arhate samyak sambuddhāya | tadyathā | oṃ sara sara sara sara | siri siri siri siri | sirāya |45 dhama dhama dhama dhama | dhuma dhuma dhuma dhuma |46 dhumāya | namo namaḥ | kanakamunaye | tathāgatāya arhate samyaksambuddhāya svāhā |47
The tathāgata Kanakamuni addressed the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha, saying, “Ākāśagarbha, whoever upholds this heart mantra and continuously recites it will not fear any weapon, nor will they die from fire, drowning, or lightning. They will be able to consume poisons as easily as food. They will not suffer an unnatural death or die due to a weak constitution. They will have a long life and be extremely prosperous. They will always be in the company of the Tathāgata and be blessed by him. If they recite the mantra at the three times of the day, [F.68.a] they will purify all their karmic obscurations from previous lifetimes.
“If you want to cure another person’s illness, perform a cast offering according to your means, fumigate the room with incense or aloeswood, and wash all the food. For leprosy, tumors, and a swollen liver, pick some fresh sweet flag, mix it with honey, incant it with the mantra one thousand and eight times before an image of the Blessed Buddha, and rub the mixture on the affected area. The leprosy will fully heal.
“For a fever that returns every four days, recite the mantra one thousand and eight times over a garland of jasmine flowers before an image of the Blessed Buddha. Tie it around the patient’s head, and they will recover from the four-day fever.
“If you recite the mantra in the ear of someone who has been struck with a weapon, they will be cured of their amnesia.
“For those who have been possessed by a kaṭapūtana, fumigate the patient with flowers that have been offered to the Buddha. That and all other such rituals may be performed with this heart mantra, thus it is acceptable for any rite.”
Then the tathāgata Kāśyapa hovered in the sky above them and proclaimed these root verses of the secret mantra in order to benefit all beings, to pacify all manner of illnesses, and exorcise all manner of spirits:
The tathāgata Kāśyapa addressed the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha, saying, “Ākāśagarbha, blessed buddhas equal in number to the grains of sand in thirty-two Ganges rivers have taught this heart mantra in the past. Now, Ākāśagarbha, you must preserve this heart mantra. You must master it.
“If someone who has received, recited, and mastered it recites it three times per day and three times per night, then, in brief, they will have a vision of the Tathāgata in their dreams and purify all their karmic obscurations [F.68.b] except for any karma from their past lives. This mantra can be used for any rite.
“For illnesses such as leprosy and vitiligo,51 offer flowers to the Buddha and recite the mantra one thousand and eight times over them before an image of the Buddha. After the patient has recited the mantra and bathed, they will recover. For a headache, one should place a flower offered to the Buddha before an image of the Buddha and recite the mantra before the image one thousand and eight times.52 This mantra can be used in any ritual.”
Then the Blessed One, the Tathāgata Śākyamuni, hovered in the sky above them and spoke this vidyāmantra for the benefit of all beings:
namo buddhāya | namo dharmāya | namaḥ saṅghāya | tadyathā | ghume ghume mahāghume | tale tale mahātale | cale cale mahācale | dhure dhure mahādhure | tiri tiri mahātiri | kili kili mahākili | curu curu mahācuru | mili mili mahāmili | tili tili mahātili | dhume dhume mahādhume | cale cale mahācale | khiri khiri mahakhiri | cili cili mahācili svāhā |
The Tathāgata Śākyamuni addressed the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha, saying, “Ākāśagarbha, to treat a headache, you should recite the mantra using your forefinger and the palm of your hand. You can disperse clouds using an incanted wand made of oleander wood. You can use incanted water to overcome poisoning. You can also perform any other rituals using the mantra, and you can include a bathing rite. It can be used for any rite in any context.”
After the Blessed One had said this, the bodhisattva great being Ākāśagarbha was delighted and praised the Blessed One’s words.
This concludes the noble Mahāyāna sūtra “The Seven Buddhas.”
|KQ||Peking (Qianlong) Kangyur|
|S||Stok Palace Kangyur|
In the Toh 512 version of the text there is a slight discrepancy in the folio numbering between the 1737 par phud printings and the late (post par phud) printings of the Degé Kangyur. Although the discrepancy is irrelevant here, further details concerning this may be found in note 19 of the Toh 512 version of this text.
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- nam mkha’i snying po
- a ga ru
- in dra ba ru na
- byang chub kyi shing
- gtor ma
- log ’dren
- ’o ma can gyi shing
- shing ’o ma can
- shu ti
fever that returns every four days
- zhag bzhi pa
- zhag bzhi pa
- mtha’ yas me tog
- ti se’i ri
- gser thub
- ’od srung
- lus srul po
- log par dad sel
- lce ’babs pa
- byams pa
- a mra’i mgo ljogs
- gla skang
- shing ka ra vi ra
- skud pa
result of a humoral imbalance
- ‘dus pa las gyur pa
- gum kum
- kur kum
- kun tu bzang po
- kun nas me tog
sealing off the directions
- phyogs bcing ba
- gsang sngags
seizers that possess children
- byis pa rnams kyi gdon
Seven successive buddhas
- sangs rgyas rabs bdun
- gtsug tor can
- shi ri sha
- na la da
- byung po
- bde ba can
- shu dag
- mchin skran
- gtor ma
- dus ma yin pa’i ’chi ba
- dus ma yin pa’i ’chi ba
- rgya spos
- rig sngags
- rnam par gzigs
- thams cad skyob
- sha bkra
- sha gar
- nye’u shing
- nye shing
- rtsa ba brgya pa