The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (2)
Degé Kangyur, vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 216.a–220.b.
Translated by Peter Alan Roberts and Emily Bower under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Buddha, while at the Jetavana monastery in Śrāvastī, tells Mañjuśrī of a buddha realm far above the world, in which lives the Buddha Aparimitāyurjñāna. He states that those who recite, write, hear, and so on, the praise of this buddha, or make offerings to this text, will have numerous benefits, including a long life and a good rebirth. As vast numbers of buddhas recite it, the mantra, or dhāraṇī, of this buddha is repeated numerous times. This is the lesser known of the two versions of this sūtra in the Kangyur, but possibly represents the earlier translation.
The sūtra was translated from Tibetan by Peter Alan Roberts with reference to related Sanskrit versions. Tulku Yeshi of the Sakya Monastery, Seattle, was the consulting lama who reviewed the translation. The project manager and editor was Emily Bower. The proofreader was Ben Gleason. The introduction was compiled by the 84000 Editorial Team, and incorporates material by Peter Alan Roberts.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra is among the many canonical works in which a particular buddha in another buddhafield is invoked along with the benefits of recalling his name and reciting his dhāraṇī. Associated as it is with longevity, this is one of the most widely read texts in the Kangyur, and Aparimitāyurjñāna (“Immeasurable Longevity and Wisdom”’) is one of the most frequently portrayed and well-known buddhas in the pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism.
The sūtra is commonly referred to as the Tsédo (tshe mdo, “Sūtra of Longevity”) or Tsézung (tshe gzungs, “Dhāraṇī of Longevity”), and contains a dhāraṇī that is repeated in the text twenty-nine times. It is included in many Tibetan liturgical compilations, and its recitation, usually with a specified number of repetitions, is often advised to people in poor health or facing other difficulties, or is commissioned on their behalf in monasteries.
Although its title identifies it as a sūtra, it is placed in all Kangyurs with the Action Tantras (bya ba’i rgyud, kriyātantra). In common with many other works classified as Action Tantras, there is nevertheless little in the text to identify it as a tantra. The inclusion of a long, repeated dhāraṇī in Sanskrit is presumably one criterion for this classification, although there are many other canonical works with a similar structure that are placed with the sūtras. Other criteria may have been its classification and line of transmission in India, before it was taken to Tibet, or the fact that it has also formed the basis for a wide range of tantra practices, particularly among the higher levels of tantra, in the form of sādhanas of Aparimitāyus.1
The text has also survived in a large number of Sanskrit manuscripts (mostly later Nepalese ones); in two Chinese translations; and in a slightly different—perhaps earlier—Tibetan translation, represented by most of the very numerous manuscripts found in the caves of Dunhuang, where a Khotanese manuscript (probably the oldest surviving version) was also found.
All Kangyurs include two major versions of the sūtra, similar in most respects but differing mainly in the presence or absence of one phrase in the repeated dhāraṇī. The background of the existence of these two versions is discussed below. The version translated here is the lesser known of the two, is much less widely used, and differs from Sanskrit source texts brought to Tibet in the later translation period to a greater extent than the other version.
The present version appears to be derived from the same translation as the other major version, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674, but the dhāraṇī it contains is the shorter one, matching those found in the Chinese translations, the Dunhuang manuscript in Khotanese, and the earlier Tibetan translation represented by the majority of the very numerous Dunhuang manuscripts in Tibetan.
This sūtra, to the extent that it may represent the translation available in the late eighth century, is one of the set known as the “ten royal sūtras,” thought to be so called either because they represent distillations of the most profound scriptures, or because according to traditional histories they were recommended to King Trisong Detsen for his daily practice by Guru Padmasambhava. As a result of practicing them, the king is said to have extended his life by thirteen years.2
In a similar vein, the fact that so many manuscript copies of this text have been found in the Dunhuang caves is due to their production by scribes there having been commissioned on behalf of Trisong Detsen’s grandson, Ralpachen (who reigned in the early ninth century) in order to ensure for the king the longevity that the text itself promises.
Aparimitāyurjñāna (“Immeasurable Longevity and Wisdom”), the buddha who is the subject of this sūtra, despite being described in this text as dwelling in a realm situated in an upward direction from this world, i.e. toward the zenith, has been identified to a varying extent in both Tibet and East Asia with Amitābha, buddha of the realm called Sukhāvatī in the west. Both are often referred to by the shortened name Amitāyus in Sanskrit, Tsépamé (tshe dpag med or, in full, tshe dpag tu med pa) in Tibetan, but are nevertheless likely to have originally been seen as distinct. The confusion that has been caused by these partially overlapping identities is discussed in detail in the introduction (i.9–i.16) to Toh 674, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1).
There are two different but closely related versions of The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra in most Kangyurs. In keeping with the tradition established over the centuries by editors of all Kangyurs, we have here translated and published them separately, despite their similarity, and have labeled them The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1) and (2). In the Kangyur the two versions are found consecutively in the Tantra Collection, and according to Situ Panchen’s original catalog of the Degé Kangyur both are placed with the Action (Kriyā) Tantras in the subdivision that corresponds to the principal deity (rigs kyi gtso bo) of the Padma (lotus) family. Their Degé recensions are cataloged as Toh 674 and 675, respectively.
The principal distinction between the two versions lies in the length and composition of the repeated dhāraṇī. Compared to the present version (2) of the text, the dhāraṇī in the other version, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674 and 849, is longer and contains an extra phrase in the middle beginning “oṁ puṇye puṇye . . .” that is not present here, although the rest of the dhāraṇī is almost the same. It is on that basis that the catalog of the Degé Kangyur distinguishes the two texts by calling this one (Toh 675) the “two oṁ, no puṇye” version (because the repeated dhāraṇī also contains two other phrases beginning with oṁ), while the other one (Toh 674 and 849) it calls the “three oṁ” version.3 In some other catalogs, e.g. the index to the Narthang Kangyur, the two versions (1) and (2) are called respectively the “large and small Tsédo.”4
It is the other version, the “three oṁ” version, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674 and 849, that is the best known and most widely recited form of the text. It is also the one reproduced in most compilations of dhāraṇīs and anthologies of practice texts, whether ancient or modern. By contrast, the present “two oṁ” version is only preserved in the Kangyur, as here, and is very little known or used. Nevertheless, the fact that it has been included in all Kangyurs as a separate text is an implicit recognition that both versions are authentic. The background to the existence of these two different versions, and the controversies that have sometimes arisen about their origins and authenticity, are explored in the introduction to The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674 and 849 (i.21 et seq) and are set out in slightly more detail here.
One intriguing hint that the Kangyur provides us with regard to these two versions of the text is that the part of the dhāraṇī that is “added” in version (1), Toh 674, but “missing” here in version (2), Toh 675, is included in all Kangyurs, almost identically, but on its own, as the dhāraṇī that forms the very short content of another text in this group, The Essence of Aparimitāyus, Toh 673a. There is no explanation in the various Kangyur catalogs for its presence, but the term “essence” (hṛdaya, snying po, sometimes rendered “heart mantra”) in its title identifies it as a mantra used in at least one tradition of the practice of Aparimitāyus. The only other mention of this mantra in the Kangyur appears to be in the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana, known best in Tibetan by its shortened title sbyong rgyud (the “Purification Tantra”), a tantra of the Yoga class, in which this same mantra is given as the “essence vidyā-mantra” (hṛdayavidyā, snying po’i rig pa) of the tathāgata Aparimitāyuḥpuṇyajñānasambhāratejorāja, the principal figure in a secondary maṇḍala.5 What is confirmed by this mantra’s mention in the tantra, as well as its presence as Toh 673a, is at the very least that it is a potentially independent stand-alone mantra phrase, making it easier to understand that it might have been either added or removed at some stage in the evolving transmission of the dhāraṇī in the sūtra.
Apart from the composition of the dhāraṇī, there are a few other differences between Toh 674 and 675, mostly minor. Overall, the two versions appear to be much more closely related than they would be if they represented two different translations made entirely independently of each other.6 Some of the minor textual differences between the present version of the sūtra and Toh 674 are flagged in the notes, but among the more significant are the following:
Its second mention here in Toh 675 (see 1.8), however, not only gives it in full, as in Toh 674, but also prefixes it with the words bde ba can, which can be rendered as “blissful” but also as the realm name Sukhāvatī, somewhat confusingly identifying this realm with that of the “other” Amitāyus who is Amitābha, and perhaps confirming that the conflation of these two buddhas (see above) occurred at an early date in Tibet.9
In the three paragraphs in which comparisons using analogies are made of the amounts of merit to be obtained through—in Toh 674—reciting the sūtra, here in Toh 675 (1.56, 1.58, and 1.60), the merit seems to be obtained through the tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñāna himself rather than through reciting the text.
Finally, Toh 674 has a curious concluding line10 that is not present here in Toh 675: in addition to the beings in the world being overjoyed and rejoicing at the Buddha’s words, the Buddha himself is said to be pleased or delighted (dgyes pa). This appears to be the result of the Sanskrit āttamanās being translated twice, as descriptive for both the world and the Buddha. The ending here in Toh 675 matches similar instances of this standard ending formula.
In essence, the other, best-known, “three oṁ” version of the sūtra, Toh 674, was brought to Tibet and translated in the later, post-imperial period of transmission. The origins of the present “two oṁ” version are less clear, but it is likely to represent sources known and translated in the early, imperial period.
We have set out the evidence that the translation preserved in the Kangyur of the “three oṁ” version (Toh 674) may be attributed to Puṇyasambhava and Patsap Nyima Drak in the late eleventh or early twelfth century—a widely accepted belief—in the introduction to that version of the text. It is based primarily on a mention in the lineage record of transmissions received by Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje, mentions in Tāranātha’s commentary to the sūtra, and the colophon appended to the version of the text as reproduced in the Druptap Küntü (sgrub thabs kun btus), a collection of sādhanas of the Sakya tradition compiled by Jamyang Loter Wangpo (1847–1914). There is also evidence that other, later translations of the “three oṁ” version were made.11 Here we will concentrate in particular on what may be inferred of the origins of the present, “two oṁ” version, Toh 675.
The available sources of information about the origins of the two versions do not include the most usual ones for Kangyur texts, colophons and Kangyur catalogs. There are no translators’ colophons to either version of the text in any of the different Kangyurs. Most of the Kangyur inventories and catalogs merely list the titles and distinguish them using epithets such as “three oṁ” and “two oṁ,” or “long” and “short.” Some, including the catalog of the Degé Kangyur, explicitly state that the translators are unknown. The one exception is the catalog (dkar chag) of the Narthang Kangyur, which appears to attribute both versions of the sūtra to Puṇyasambhava and Patsap Nyima Drak. As well as being inherently unlikely, this is at odds with all other sources of information. A look at the folios of the catalog concerned reinforces suspicions of an erroneous attribution, as the carving of the catalog’s woodblocks seems to have run into problems for this entry, which coincides with a folio break. Indeed, the Narthang catalog’s confusing attributions at this point do not reflect the titles or colophons in the body of the Narthang Kangyur itself.12
Despite this dearth of direct canonical records, what we do know is that at least one version of the sūtra was translated during the early translation period. Firstly, both the early ninth century inventories of translated texts, the Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) and Phangthangma (phang thang ma), mention, respectively, texts entitled The Dhāraṇī of Aparimitāyus (tshe dpag tu med pa’i gzungs, 110 ślokas in length) and Aparimitāyus (tshe dpag tu med pa, 120 ślokas), both probably referring to a version of this text; in both inventories it is placed in the category “miscellaneous long and short dhāraṇīs” (gzungs che phra sna tshogs).13
Secondly, very tangible evidence of the existence of translations in the early period is provided by the very large number of manuscript copies of the sūtra, in Tibetan, found among the Dunhuang manuscripts, a large group of which can be dated to between 830 and 850,14 most having apparently been made on the orders of King Ralpachen (r. 815–41)—presumably to create the meritorious results that the text itself describes. Crucially, all the Dunhuang manuscripts that we have been able to examine contain the “two oṁ” version of the dhāraṇī.15 This fact, combined with the evidence from Minling Terchen, makes it very likely that the present version of the text, the “three oṁ” version, is the translation dating from the later translation period, while Toh 675, the “two oṁ” version, is more closely related to the one originally made in the early translation period.
Thirdly, an early period translation of the “two oṁ” version is the target of some openly dismissive remarks made in several works by later Sakya scholars, including Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo and his disciple Kunga Lekrin in the fifteenth century, and Amé Zhab Ngawang Kunga Sönam in the seventeenth century. Both the latter authors discuss the various theories raised to account for the existence of the two versions, and go on to confirm the validity only of the later translation, The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1), Toh 674. Following a leading statement attributed by Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo to his own teachers,16 they are both scathingly critical of the “two oṁ” version, and of the “earlier translators” responsible for it, whom they accuse of deliberately omitting part of the dhāraṇī to express dissatisfaction with their stipend. Such comments have to be seen in the context of arguments regarding authenticity between proponents of the “late” versus the “early” translation traditions (which concerned principally the tantras rather than any of the other canonical genres), but they do at least confirm that the “two oṁ” version of the text was widely recognized as having been translated in the early, imperial period.
The writings of Ngorchen, Kunga Lekrin, and Amé Zhab go to some lengths to throw doubt on the authenticity of the “two oṁ” version, with Amé Zhab’s, in particular, using arguments that in some cases refute points made in favor of it by opponents in the debate who remain invisible and unidentified. For apart from Tāranātha’s commentary, we have not been able to find actual writings of the period defending the “two oṁ” version from the disparagements of the authors mentioned, other than general notes by catalog compilers to the effect that “both versions are authentic.” The substance of such writings or statements can only be inferred, from arguments put forward in order to neutralize them by those in favor of the “three oṁ” version. The following points represent the principal arguments that these writers deploy to justify their unusually harsh judgment.
Amé Zhab writes that Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo personally examined three Sanskrit manuscripts of the sūtra, all of which were the “three oṁ” version,17 implying that there were no Sanskrit texts attesting to the “two oṁ” version. While there is little doubt that the “three oṁ” version of the text is indeed authentic to its source, Ngorchen’s claim that it is the only authentic version is explicitly refuted and dismissed by Tāranātha, who in his commentary says there were many Sanskrit manuscripts of both versions,18 and relates in his autobiography how, on a visit to Narthang, he was himself shown several Sanskrit manuscripts of the sūtra, of which one was clearly the “two oṁ” version.19
From today’s perspective, no surviving Sanskrit versions of the text from Tibet have been discovered, and the only known Sanskrit manuscripts are Nepalese ones dating from much later centuries. However, the veracity of Tāranātha’s report can be indirectly confirmed by Sten Konow’s 1916 comparison of two versions, one in Sanskrit based on Nepalese manuscripts and one a Khotanese manuscript (probably centuries earlier) found in the Dunhuang caves by Sir Aurel Stein. The Nepalese Sanskrit has the “three oṁ” version of the dhāraṇī while the Khotanese has the “two oṁ” version.20 Ngorchen and his successors were also presumably unaware that in both of the two Chinese translations, too, the dhāraṇī is the “two oṁ” version.21
The argument assumed here is based on the two more or less distinct buddhas to whom the shortened name Amitāyus, or Tsepamé (tshe dpag med) in Tibetan, might refer. Tibetan authors took pains to distinguish between, on the one hand, “Amitāyus of the zenith” (steng phyogs kyi tshe dpag med) and “Amitāyus of Akaniṣṭha” (’og min gyi tshe dpag med), both likely to be references to Aparimitāyurjñāna; and on the other, “Amitāyus of Sukhāvatī” (de ba can gyi tshe dpag med), also sometimes known as “Amitāyus of the Drum of Immortality” (’chi med rnga sgra’i tshe dpag med, Dundubhisvara-Amitāyus), both of whom can be identified with Amitābha.
Conceivably, it could therefore be proposed that while one version of the text described the existence of one of these buddhas and the benefits to be obtained from remembering his name and honoring him, the other might be legitimately different because it focused instead on the other buddha. There are indeed some minor differences between the two versions concerning the names used at certain points in the text, as mentioned above at i.14. It is not clear who might have used this notion as an explanation for the existence of variant dhāraṇīs, but in any case both Kunga Lekrin and Amé Zhab22 are emphatic in insisting that both versions are clearly focused on the tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñāna, whose buddha realm is in the zenith.
Both versions of the sūtra mention (in 1.5, 1.6, and 1.8) that the benefits of an increased lifespan will come to beings who hear, remember, or write “the one hundred and eight names of Aparimitāyurjñāna.” Kunga Lekrin and Amé Zhab23 interpret the one hundred and eight names as a reference to the dhāraṇī, the “three oṁ” version of which does indeed have 108 syllables if the euphonic rules of Sanskrit are applied to elide the two instances of final and initial a, or if the final svāhā is omitted. The “two oṁ” dhāraṇī, they point out, only has seventy-seven syllables, is therefore incomplete, and must be incorrect.24
At first sight, this is perhaps the most convincing argument in favor of the “three oṁ” version of the text. On closer examination, however, some of its initial attractions seem less clear. To see the dhāraṇī as comprising one hundred and eight names requires a stretch of the imagination. The dhāraṇi contains semantically coherent words and phrases25 of which few are actual “names,” and even if all the many compound words are divided into their irreducible units their number still remains less the number of syllables. Of the many “hundred-and-eight-name” or “hundred-name” texts to be found in the Kangyur and elsewhere,26 most actually do contain distinct lists of names just as their titles suggest, and there do not seem to be other instances of a dhāraṇī being referred to as a “one-hundred-and-eight-syllable appellation,” as this phrase might possibly be interpreted.27 Indeed, Tāranātha points out in his commentary28 that to account for the fact that the one hundred and eight names are also mentioned in the “two oṁ” version of the text we have to assume that it refers to a separate text on the one hundred and eight names elsewhere. Such cases, he says, are not unknown; he gives the example of the hundred names of Śrī Heruka. In fact, however, no text enumerating the hundred and eight names of Aparimitāyurjñāna appears ever to have been identified.
From the perspective we can take today, historically and geographically wider than was possible for those scholars, the strength of this argument using the hundred and eight names to promote the exclusive authenticity of the “three oṁ” version is much diminished. That not only the Khotanese version (probably the oldest manuscript of all) but also the many Dunhuang texts and both Chinese translations all contain the “two oṁ” dhāraṇī, with its seventy-seven syllables, yet still make mention of “one hundred and eight names” adds considerable weight to Tāranātha’s inference that this is not necessarily a reference to the dhāraṇī itself.
Amé Zhab writes29 that “certain later scholars” have claimed that the “two oṁ” version is correct but that the dhāraṇī of the “three oṁ” version has been expanded by adding to it the mantra of Aparimitāyus from the sbyong rgyud, i.e. the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana, a tantra, widely used for funerary rites, of which there are two Tibetan translations in the Kangyur made in the early and later translation periods, Toh 483 and 485 respectively.
It is true that in the “three oṁ” version the centrally placed phrase starting “oṁ puṇye puṇye mahāpuṇye . . .”—the phrase whose presence or absence marks the difference between the dhāraṇīs of the two versions—is very similar to a mantra found in the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana as the “essence” (hṛdaya, snying po) mantra in one of the secondary maṇḍalas in the text, that of of a tathāgata whose full name is given as Aparimitāyuḥpuṇyajñānasambhāratejorāja, but who is referred to as Amitāyus in the several commentaries. This mantra is also strikingly similar to the one introduced as the “essence” mantra of Aparimitāyus in the very short text that precedes the two Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtras in most Kangyurs, and of which we have published a translation under the title The Essence of Aparimitāyus (Toh 673a).
Amé Zhab, however, dismisses the argument as inadmissible, writing that in the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana mantra the words āyuḥpuṇya and sarvacayaṃkari [sic] are found that are not in the dhāraṇī of the “three oṁ” version; these scholars, he says, have simply not consulted the tantra properly. But his objections, valid though they presumably seemed from the copies of the relevant books he had to hand, are more easily dispelled than sustained. The first of the words he cites, āyuḥpuṇya, is present in one of the two only slightly differing variants of the “three oṁ” dhāraṇī preserved in most Kangyurs, the version in the Tantra Collection (rgyud ’bum), Toh 674. The second, sarvacayaṃkari, is indeed not in any version of the present dhāraṇī but, even assuming that Amé Zhab had intended the somewhat different spellings upacayakāriṇi or upacayakāraṇi actually found in the Sanskrit and Tibetan respectively of the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana, it is present only in the version of that tantra as translated in the later translation period (Toh 485), and is absent in the earlier translation (Toh 483), which reads oṁ puṇye puṇye mahāpuṇye aparimita‑ayūḥpuṇya-jñāna-saṃbhāropacite svāhā.
In other words, a close relationship between this Aparimitāyus mantra in the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana and the dhāraṇī of the “three oṁ” version of the sūtra does seem eminently possible, and would not seem particularly surprising given the cross-text interrelationships between mantras and dhāraṇīs of related buddhas and deities. It does seem to suggest that the phrase in question could be a potentially independent and detachable component of the dhāraṇī, but gives us no particular hint as to whether it is more likely to have been added to one version, or removed from another.30
The story of these two different versions may seem already complex enough, but there is more to be explored. Apart from the differences in the dhāraṇī, the other differences (listed above at i.14 and in the notes) between the two versions in the Kangyurs are relatively minor. These two translations seem most unlikely to have been made independently, even allowing for the possibility that the Sanskrit texts they were made from were very similar. The most obvious explanation might be that the later translation was based on the earlier, adapting it to conform to a slightly different Sanskrit original. However, an examination of the wording and terminology of the Dunhuang manuscripts—which predate the work of Puṇyasambhava and Patsap Nyima Drak by several centuries—shows that they almost certainly represent a Tibetan translation different from the present “two oṁ” version (Toh 675) as it has survived in the Kangyur. It is therefore tempting to conjecture that this “two oṁ” version in the Kangyur might in fact be a back-adaptation of the later translation, edited at some stage to conform to the alternative “two oṁ” dhāraṇī of the earlier translation but not otherwise reflecting that earlier translation fully. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that a few significant elements of the later “three oṁ” version that are not present in the “two oṁ” Dunhuang manuscripts are present here. Among the most significant in this regard is the similar rendering, common to both Kangyur versions, of what we may presume to be the standard, modular phrase in the Sanskrit manuscripts, eva hi tiṣṭhati dhriyate yāpayati, as bzhugs so/ /tshe ’dzin cing tshe mthar phyin par bzhed de in 1.3, which Tāranātha identifies as a feature unique to the work of Patshap and the other later period translators.31
Whatever the case in this confusing blend of textual variation and admixture, there is no single clinching argument in favor of accepting one version over another. Both versions, surely, can be considered authentic; and although the compilers and editors of the many Kangyurs do not seem to have noted their reasons, there must have been enough consensus on this point—despite all the controversies—for both to have been preserved in all Kangyurs.
There are many surviving manuscripts of the text in Sanskrit, but none that can be reliably dated much before the early ninth century, the period when it was first translated into Chinese, and probably into Tibetan for the first time (see below). Most of the Sanskrit manuscripts are Nepalese and are dated considerably later.
The oldest known Indic version of the text may be one from east Turkestan in what came to be called “Khotanese,” the old Iranian dialect of that region during the later period of the time when Buddhism was prevalent there. It is written in the Upright Gupta script, and probably dates to the seventh or eighth century. The manuscript was discovered in the Mogao caves in Dunhuang by Sir Aurel Stein in 1907, and in 1912 Ernst Leumann made a short comparison of the Sanskrit of this sūtra’s opening sentences with a few fragments of the Khotanese text. In 1916, two Sanskrit editions saw the light independently. One, by Sten Konow, compared an edition of a Nepalese Sanskrit version with a complete edition of the Khotanese fragments, along with the first English translation. The other, by Max Walleser, was based on a Nepalese manuscript and included a German translation. Walleser’s German translation has been translated into English by Richard K. Payne in his paper on this sūtra.32 Jonathan Silk has made an English translation from Walleser’s edition of the Sanskrit,33 and attests in his unpublished paper, “The Most Important Buddhist Scripture? The Aparimitāyurjñāna and Medieval Buddhism,” to the relatively large number of extant Sanskrit manuscripts—well over one hundred—either in isolation or compilations, indicating how popular this sūtra was in Buddhist practice.
As noted above, the Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts are all of the “three oṁ” version of the text, and therefore correspond more closely to version (1), Toh 674. The Khotanese, on the other hand, contains the “two oṁ” version of the dhāranī throughout, and is thus closer to the present version and to the many Dunhuang manuscripts in Tibetan.
Two translations of the sūtra into Chinese were made, one by Facheng (Taishō 936) in the early ninth century, and the other by Fatian (Taishō 937) in the late tenth century.34 Both Chinese translations contain the “two oṁ” dhāraṇī, and are therefore closer to the Khotanese, the present Tibetan version of the text, and the Dunhuang manuscripts than they are to the Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts and to version (1) in Tibetan, Toh 674.
As mentioned above in the overview of this introduction, recitation of the Tsédo a specified number of times has historically been—and is still nowadays—prescribed as a practice to people in poor health or facing other difficulties, and to practitioners more generally in order to ensure longevity, and so on. Recitation by the monks or nuns in a monastery is also commissioned for the same reasons. According to the Padma Kathang, the eighth century Tibetan king, Trisong Detsen, was advised to recite this text35 daily (along with the other works known as the “ten royal sūtras”), as a result of which the king’s life is said to have been prolonged by thirteen years beyond the limit predicted by astrological reckoning.
The sūtra itself particularly emphasizes the beneficial effects of writing it out or causing it to be written out, and there is ample evidence that this recommendation was taken seriously in the form of the very large number of commissioned copies, mostly in Tibetan and Chinese and dating to the eighth and ninth centuries, found in the Dunhuang caves by Stein and Pelliot in the early years of the twentieth century. Many of them appear to have been commissioned in the name of the Tibetan king Ralpachen, who reigned in the early ninth century and was the grandson of Trisong Detsen. Among the bundles acquired by the two explorers for the British and French governments, there are over a thousand copies of the sūtra now in the British Library in London, and a similar number in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Some five hundred further copies remain in libraries in China, many have found their way to Japan, and there are some two hundred in St. Petersburg.36 As noted in i.19, a large majority of these manuscripts, and probably all of those from the period concerned, contain the equivalent of the “two oṁ” dhāraṇī37
In the context of tantric practice, the Tibetan canonical literature contains a number of sādhanas of Aparimitāyurjñāna, particularly among the higher levels of tantra. One example is the liturgy composed by the tenth-century Jetāri, one of the principal teachers of Vikramaśīla Monastery, which was known for its promulgation of higher tantras. That practice was introduced into Tibet by Bari Lotsāwa Rinchen Drak (mentioned above), and thereby became a part of the Sakya tradition.
There are also five Aparimitāyurjñāna texts in the Tengyur that were composed by Siddharājñī, a female guru active in India in the beginning of the twelfth century, from whom Rechungpa, pupil of the famous Milarepa, received transmissions that Marpa had not been able to bring back to Tibet. At least three if not all of these Siddharājñī texts were translated into Tibetan by Varacandra,38 another of Rechungpa’s teachers, together with the Tibetan Lenchung Darma Tsultrim (glan chung dar ma tshul khrims), about whom little is known other than this translation work with Varacandra. Rechungpa introduced the practice into Tibet, where it spread from his own lineage, the Rechung Kagyü or Rechung Nyengyü, to other Kagyü traditions. These tantric Aparimitāyurjñāna practices are based upon the five-family system of the higher tantras, and they involve an elaborate visualization of oneself as a red Aparimitāyurjñāna, wearing the saṃbhogakāya costume and holding a vase of amṛta, with an entourage of deities within a palace, and the visualization of channels within the body. As Aparimitāyurjñāna is auspicious for long life, his empowerment is given as a long life blessing.39
Within the indigenous Tibetan literature, a very large number of Aparimitāyurjñāna sādhanas have been created over the centuries within all the lineages and schools. The Nyingma tradition of rediscovered treasure texts (gter ma), too, has produced many Aparimitāyurjñāna revelations, from Nyangral Nyima Ozer (nyang ral nyi ma ’od zer, 1136–1204) onward. The importance that Aparimitāyurjñāna assumed in tantric practice may be one of the reasons why this Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra was classified within most Kangyurs as a tantra rather than as a sūtra.
By far the most widely used version of the text for recitation in recent times has been the other version (1), Toh 674 and 849, and within that “three oṁ” version it is the slightly different dhāraṇī of Toh 849 that most readers will find corresponds to practice texts in use in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Dharma centers. Nevertheless, the present “two oṁ” version has been preserved over the centuries in all Kangyurs, too, and readers familiar with the Chinese versions of the sūtra will find it more familiar than the other version. The text in this version is mentioned little in the literature of recent centuries but, interestingly, the Druptap Küntü collection, already mentioned above, contains two liturgical texts, both composed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the late nineteenth century, in which he specifies that it is the “two oṁ” dhāraṇī that is to be recited, both from the tradition brought to Tibet by Rechungpa. One is a longevity practice of Four-Armed White Amitāyus, extracted from the texts of Riwoche, and the other a White Aparimitāyurjñāna sādhana from the lineage that Rechungpa received from Siddharājñī.40
We are delighted to have translated and published this version of The Sūtra of Aparimitāyurjñāna, little known yet present in all Kangyurs, in the hope that it will stimulate the interest of both practitioners and scholars.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was staying in Jetavana, Anāthapiṇḍada’s park in Śrāvastī, with a great saṅgha of bhikṣus comprised of 1,250 bhikṣus, and with a great number of bodhisattva mahāsattvas.
Then the Bhagavān said to Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta, “Mañjuśrī, in the upward direction there is a universe named Aparimitaguṇasaṃcaya.41 There, the tathāgata, arhat, perfectly awakened buddha Aparimitāyurjñānasuviniścitatejorāja42 resides, and with the wish to sustain life and extend life to its very limit,43 teaches the Dharma to beings.
“Listen, Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta, the lives of humans in this Jambudvīpa are short; their lifespan is no more than a hundred years, and most of them are seen to have44 premature deaths. Mañjuśrī, those beings who will write out or cause to be written out this Dharma discourse called ‘Uttering the Praise of the Qualities45 of the Tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñāna,’46 and even those who hear or recite its title only, up to those who write a copy, keep it at home,47 and offer flowers, perfume, incense, and garlands to it,48 will, when their lifespan is ending, still be able to live to a hundred years.
“Mañjuśrī, the lifespan of beings who hear49 the one hundred and eight names50 of the tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñānasuviniścitatejorāja will be lengthened. Those beings whose lifespan is coming to an end, who keep51 those names, will also [F.217.a] have their lifespan lengthened.
“Therefore, Mañjuśrī, the noble sons or noble daughters who wish to have long lives, and who hear, write, or cause to be written52 the one hundred and eight names of the tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñāna,53 will obtain these qualities and benefits.54
oṁ55 namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |56
“Mañjuśrī, those who write or cause to be written these one hundred and eight names of the tathāgata,57 who make a text of them, keep it at home, and recite it, when their lifespan is coming to an end they will still be able to live to a hundred years. When they pass away from this world, they will be reborn in the tathāgata Aparimitāyurjñāna’s58 blissful59 buddha realm named Aparimitaguṇasaṃcaya.”60
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Then at that time nine hundred ninety million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.61
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Then at that time eight hundred forty million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya [F.217.b] arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Then at that time seven hundred seventy million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Then at that time six hundred fifty million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
Then at that time five hundred fifty million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
Then at that time four hundred fifty million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
Then at that time three hundred fifty million62 buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya [F.218.a] arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Then at that time two hundred fifty million buddhas, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
Then at that time tens of millions of buddhas, as many as there are grains of sand in ten Ganges Rivers, with a single intention and a single voice, uttered this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra.
Whoever writes or causes to be written63 this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra, when their lifespan is coming to an end, will still be able to live to a hundred years and their lifespan will be lengthened.
Whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will never be born among hell beings, in the womb of an animal, or in Yama’s realm. They will never have an unfortunate rebirth. Wherever they are reborn, in each rebirth they will remember their previous lifetimes.
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate [F.218.b] svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will cause the whole collection of eighty-four thousand Dharma teachings to be written.
Whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will cause the practice and the continuation of the whole collection of eighty-four thousand Dharma teachings.64
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya [F.219.a] arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
When whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra dies, six hundred ninety million68 buddhas will give them prophecies directly,69 and a thousand buddhas will extend their hands to them. They will go from buddha realm to buddha realm. Have no doubt, hesitation, or uncertainty about this.70
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | tadyathā | oṁ puṇye puṇye mahāpuṇye aparimitāyurpuṇya-jñāna saṃbhāropacite | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
Whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will be followed by the four Mahārājas, who will guard, protect, and hide them.
Wherever this sūtra71 is written or caused to be written,72 that place will be a stūpa73 and worthy of veneration. Those birds and animals born in the animal realm who happen to hear this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will all become perfectly awakened in the highest, most complete awakening. [F.219.b]
Whoever writes or causes to be written this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will never be reborn in a female state.
Whoever makes a gift of even a single kārṣāpaṇa coin74 with regard to this Dharma discourse, the Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra, will have made a gift of the whole trichiliocosm filled with the seven jewels.
As a comparison,77 it is possible to calculate the extent of the accumulation of merit that comes from making offerings of the seven jewels to the tathāgatas Vipaśyin, Śikhin, Viśvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kakutsunda78 Kanakamuni, Kāśyapa, Śākyamuni, and so on, but it is impossible to calculate the extent of the accumulation of merit for Aparimitāyurjñāna.79
oṁ namo bhagavate aparimitāyurjñāna-suviniścita-tejorājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksaṃbuddhāya | [F.220.a] tadyathā | oṁ sarva-saṃskāra-pariśuddha-dharmate gagana-samudgate svabhāva-viśuddhe mahānaya-parivāre svāhā |
As a comparison, it is possible to calculate the extent of the accumulation of merit that comes from making a gift of a heap of jewels the same as Sumeru, the king of mountains,80 but it is impossible to calculate the extent of the accumulation of merit for Aparimitāyurjñāna.81
As a comparison, it is possible to count each drop that makes up all the water in the four great oceans, but it is impossible to calculate the extent of the accumulation of merit for Aparimitāyurjñāna.82
Whoever writes or causes to be written, honors,83 and makes offerings to this Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra will have paid homage and made offerings to all tathāgatas in all the buddha realms in the ten directions.
The dhāraṇī transliterated throughout the text is shown according to the version in the Degé Kangyur. Versions in other Kangyurs have only minor variants in spelling and punctuation. An approximate translation is: “Oṁ, Homage to the Bhagavān Aparimitāyurjñānasuviniścitatejorāja, the tathāgata, arhat, perfectly awakened buddha. It is thus: Oṁ, the true nature that is completely pure of all mental events! The one who has risen high in the sky! Who is completely pure in nature! Whose entourage is of the great way! Svāhā.”
Konow, Sten. “The Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra. The Old Khotanese Version together with the Sanskrit Text and the Tibetan Translation.” In Manuscript Remains of Buddhist Literature found in Eastern Turkestan, vol. 1, edited by A.F. Rudolf Hoernle, pp. 289–329. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1916. Online: see Internet Archive.
Leumann, Ernst. Zur nordarischen Sprache und Literatur: Vorbemerkungen Und Vier Aufsätze Mit Glossar. Strasbourg: Karl J. Trübner, 1912.
Walleser, Max. Aparimitāyur-jñāna-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtram: Nach einer nepalesischen Sanskrit-Handschrift mit der tibetischen und chinesischen Version. Heidelberg: Carl Winters Universtätsbuchhandlung, 1916.
Aparimitāyuḥ sūtra. Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo (Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra). Toh 675, Degé Kangyur vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 216.a–220.b.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo [Toh 675]. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–9, vol. 91, 793–807.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo (Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra). Toh 674, Degé Kangyur vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 211.b–216.a. English translation in Roberts and Bower (2021, see below).
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo (Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra). Toh 849, Degé Kangyur vol. 100 (gzungs ’dus, e), folios 57.b–62.a.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo [Toh 674]. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–9, vol. 91, pp. 776–92.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo [Toh 849]. 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. 97, pp. 138–53.
chos spyod phyogs bsgrigs lam bzang gsal ba’i sgron me. Lhasa: bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1999, pp. 735–55.
dpal jo nang ba’i zhal ’don phyogs bsgrigs. pe cin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2002, pp. 743–69.
gzungs bsdus, vol. 1 (gzungs bsdus, e), folios 23a–30b. (2 vols. lha sa par ma, 1947).
mdo rgyud gsung rab rgya mtsho’i snying po gces par btus pa ’dod ’byung nor bu’i phreng ba. Delhi: dkon mchog lha bris, 1994, pp. 37–56.
[Druptap Küntü] sgrub thabs kun btus: A Collection of Sādhanas and Related Texts of the Vajrayāna Traditions of Tibet. Kangra, H.P.: Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Literature Publisher, Dzongsar Institute for Advanced Studies. Reproduced by photomechanical process from sde-ge xylograph edition of 1902, vol. 12 (na), pp. 677–92.
tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa theg pa chen po’i mdo. Kathmandu: sung-rab gyun-pel khang, 2005.
“tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i gzungs ring” in mdo rgyud las ’byung ba’i gzungs sngags ’ga’ zhig bod skad du bkrol ba dang bcas pa. Saranatha, Varnasi: durlabha bauddha grantha sodha yojanag, kendriya ucca tibbati sikshag samsthagna, 1997, pp. 49–50.
“tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i gzungs thung” in mdo rgyud las ’byung ba’i gzungs sngags ’ga’ zhig bod skad du bkrol ba dang bcas pa. Saranatha, Varnasi: durlabha bauddha grantha sodha yojanag, kendriya ucca tibbati sikshag samsthagna, 1997, p. 50.
tshe dpag med kyi be bum: A Collection of Longevity Rituals Focusing on Amitayus from the Various Traditions of Tibet and India, Including the ’ba’-ra’ba tshe khrid rin chen gter mdzod. New Delhi: Ngawang Sopa, 1978, pp. 1–15.
’phags pa ’jam dpal gyi rtsa ba’i rgyud (Mañjuśrīmūlatantra). Toh 543, Degé Kangyur vol. 88 (rgyud, na), folios 88a–334a. English translation in Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2020, see below).
de bzhin gshegs pa dgra bcom pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas ngan song thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gzi brjid kyi rgyal po’i brtag pa (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanatejorāja). Toh 483, Degé Kangyur vol. 85 (rgyud ’bum, ta), folios 58.a–96.a.
de bzhin gshegs pa dgra bcom pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas ngan song thams cad yongs su sbyong ba gzi brjid kyi rgyal po’i brtag pa phyogs gcig pa (Sarvadurgatipariśodhanatejorājasya kalpaikadeśaḥ). Toh 485, Degé Kangyur vol. 85 (rgyud ’bum, ta), folios 96.a–146.a.
’dul ba rnam par gtan la dbab pa nye bar ’khor gyis zhus pa (Vinayaviniścayopāliparipṛcchā). Toh 68, Degé Kangyur vol. 43 (dkon brtsegs, ca), folios 115.a–131.a. English translation in UCSB Buddhist Studies Translation Group (2021, see below).
Jetāri. tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i cho ga (Aparimitāyurjñāna-vidhi). Toh 2700, Degé Tengyur vol. 73 (rgyud, nu), folios 67.b–69.a.
———. tshe dpag med la bstod pa (Aparimitāyuḥ-stotra). Toh 2698, Degé Tengyur vol. 73 (rgyud, nu), folios 67.a–76.b.
———. tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i sgrub thabs (Aparimitāyurjñāna-sādhana). Toh 2699, Degé Tengyur vol. 73 (rgyud, nu), folios 67.a–67.b.
Jñānaḍākinī Siddharājñī. tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i dkyil ’khor gyi cho ga (Aparimitāyurjñāna-maṇḍala-vidhi). Toh 2141, Degé Tengyur vol. 49 (rgyud, tshi), folios 210.a–215.b.
———. tshe dpag tu med pa’i sbyin sreg gi cho ga (Aparimitāyurhoma-vidhi). Toh 2144, Degé Tengyur vol. 49 (rgyud, tshi), folios 219.a–220.a.
———. tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i sgrub thabs (Aparimitāyurjñāna-sādhana). Toh 2143, Degé Tengyur vol. 49 (rgyud, tshi), folios 216.a–219.a.
———. tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa zhes bya ba’i sgrub thabs (Aparimitāyurjñāna-sādhana). Toh 2145, Degé Tengyur vol. 49 (rgyud, tshi), folios 220.a–223.a.
———. bcom ldan ’das tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i dkyil ’khor gyi cho ga (Bhagavaty-Aparimitāyurjñāna-maṇḍala-vidhi). Toh 2146, Degé Tengyur vol. 49 (rgyud, tshi), folios 223.a–231.a.
Amé Zhab Ngawang Kunga Sonam (a myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga’ bsod nams). “tshe dpag tu med pa’i mdo rnam par bshad pe tshe dang bsod nams rab tu rgyas pa’i nyin byed.” In Khomthar Jamlö (2014) vol. 2, pp. 40–60.
Druptap Küntü (sgrub thabs kun btus: A Collection of Sādhanas and Related Texts of the Vajrayāna Traditions of Tibet). 12 volumes. Kangra, H.P.: Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Literature Publisher, Dzongsar Institute for Advanced Studies. Reproduced by photomechanical process from sde-ge xylograph edition of 1902.
Kunga Lekrin (kun dga’ legs rin). “’phags pa tshe dpag tu med pa’i mdo’i rnam bshad rin chen phreng ba.” In Khomthar Jamlö (2014) vol. 2, pp. 21–39.
Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje (smin gling gter chen ’gyur med rdo rje). “gsan yig” (“Lineage Record,” full title zab pa dang rgya che ba’i dam pa’i chos kyi thob yig rin chen ’byung gnas). In gsung ’bum (Collected Works), 16 volumes. Dehra Dun: Khochhen Tulku (1998), vols. 1–2 (ka, kha).
Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo (mgor chen kun dga’ bzang po). “bya ba’i rgyud spyi’i rnam par gzhad pa legs par bshad pa’i rgya mtsho” [“Ocean of good elucidation, an explanation of the kriyātantras in general”]. In gsung ’bum (Collected Works), 4 volumes. Dehra Dun: Sakya Centre (199?), vol. 4 (a), folios 102.a–208.b.
Tāranātha (jo nang tA ra nA tha). “bcom ldan ’das tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mtshan brgya rtsa brgyad pa’i gzungs mdor grags pa.” In Khomthar Jamlö (2014) vol. 2, pp. 61–77.
————. “rgyal khams pa tA ra nA thas bdag nyid kyi rnam thar nges par brjod pa’i deb gter shin tu zhib mo ma bcos lhug pa’i rtogs brjod (smad cha).” In jo nang rje btsun tA ra nA tha’i gsung ’bum dpe bsdur ma, 45 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (2008), vol. 2, pp. 1–248.
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Khomthar Jamlö (khoṁ thar ’jam los), editor for si khron pod yig dpe rnying bsdu sgrig khang. rgyal po mdo bcu’i rtsa ’grel phyogs bsgrigs [The Ten Sūtras of the King, collected texts and commentaries]. 10 vols. Sichuan: si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang [Sichuan Minorities Publishing House], 2014.
Nattier, Jan. “The names of Amitābha/Amitāyus in early Chinese Buddhist translations (1).” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University 9 (2006): pp. 183–99.
—————. “The names of Amitābha/ Amitāyus in early Chinese Buddhist translations (2).” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University 10 (2007): pp. 359–94.
Payne, Richard K. “Aparimitāyus: ‘Tantra’ and ‘Pure Land’ in Medieval Indian Buddhism?” In Pacific World Journal, 3rd ser., vol. 9 (2007): 273–308.
Roberts, Peter Alan, and Emily Bower, trans. The Aparimitāyurjñāna Sūtra (1) (Aparimitāyurjñānasūtra, Toh 674). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
Schopen, Gregory. “The Phrase sa pṛthivīpradeśaś caityabhūto bhavet in the Vajracchedikā: Notes on the Cult of the Book in Mahāyāna.” In Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India: More Collected Papers, pp. 25–62. University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Silk, Jonathan. “A Sutra for Long Life.” In Buddhist Scriptures, edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., pp. 423–29. London: Penguin Classics, 2004.
————. “The Most Important Buddhist Scripture? The Aparimitāyurjñāna and Medieval Buddhism.” Paper presented at the XIIth IABS conference, Université de Lausanne, August 1999 (unpublished).
Skorupski, Tadeusz. The Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra: Elimination of All Evil Destinies : Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts with Introduction, English Translation and Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.
UCSB Buddhist Studies Translation Group, trans. Ascertaining the Vinaya: Upāli’s Questions (Vinayaviniścayopāliparipṛcchā, Toh 68). 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, 2021.
- ’og min
The highest of the heavenly levels of the form realm, but also in many Mahāyāna texts the buddhafield of the saṃbhogakāya buddhas.
- mgon med zas sbyin
A wealthy merchant in the town of Śrāvastī, who became a patron of the Buddha Śākyamuni. He bought Prince Jeta’s Park, the Jetavana, to be the Buddha’s first monastery, a place where the monks could stay during the monsoon. Although his Sanskrit name is Anāthapiṇḍada, he is better known in the West by the alternative form Anāthapiṇḍika that is predominant in the Pāli canon. Both mean “the one who gives food to the destitute.”
- yon tan dpag tu med pa sogs pa
The buddha realm of Aparimitāyus, located in the upward direction from our world. The name means “Accumulation of Immeasurable Qualities.”
- tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa shin tu rnam par gdon mi za ba’i rgyal po
- tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa shin tu rnam par nges pa’i gzi brjid kyi rgyal po
- dgra bcom pa
Used both as an epithet of the Buddha and as the final accomplishment of the Śrāvakayāna.
- lha ma yin
One of the six classes of sentient beings. The asuras are engendered and dominated by envy, ambition, and hostility and are described as being incessantly embroiled in disputes with the gods (deva). They are frequently portrayed in brahmanical mythology as having a disruptive effect on cosmological and social harmony.
- bcom ldan ’das
“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.
- dge slong
Fully ordained buddhist monk.
- byang chub sems dpa’
A person who is dedicated not merely to attaining liberation through attaining the state of an arhat, but to becoming a buddha. The designation was created through the Sanskritization of the Middle Indic bodhisatto, the Sanskrit equivalent of which might actually have been bodhisakta, “one who is fixed on enlightenment.”
One of the five or six classes of sentient beings, specifically engendered and dominated by exaltation, indulgence, and pride. According to Buddhist cosmology, the gods are said to exist in many levels of celestial or divine realms, higher than that of the human realm, within in the desire realm, in the form realm, and in the formless realm.
The power of mental retention or a powerful recitation that is a precursor of mantras and is usually in the form of intelligible sentences or phrases said to hold the essence of teaching or meaning.
- chos kyi rnam grangs
The word paryāya regularly has the sense of “method,” “procedure,” “approach,” but here it is simply “Dharma teaching,” “Dharma discourse,” or more literally, “approach to the Dharma.” The Chinese fa men (lit. “door to the Dharma”) conveys the sense of “access/approach” and by extension, “teaching.” The Tibetan rnam grangs easily misleads people into thinking that this has something to do with “enumeration.”
- chos smra ba
In early Buddhism a section of the saṅgha would be bhāṇakas, who, particularly before the teachings were written down and were transmitted solely orally, were the key factor in the preservation of the teachings. Various groups of bhāṇakas specialized in memorizing and reciting a certain set of sūtras or vinaya.
- brtson ’grus
One of the six perfections. Perseverance and enthusiasm for virtue.
Five karmas that have immediate result at death
- mtshams med pa lnga
- pañcānantaryāṇi karmāṇi
Literally, “without an interval,” meaning that the results of these actions is rebirth in hell at the very instant of death. The five are: killing one’s mother, killing one’s father, killing an arhat, dividing the saṅgha, or wounding a buddha so that he bleeds.
Four great oceans
- rgya mtsho chen po bzhi
In Buddhist cosmology, the four oceans in between the four continents that are at the cardinal points of the flat disc of the world, with the gigantic Mount Sumeru in its center.
- rgyal po chen po bzhi
Four deities on the base of Mount Meru, each one the guardian of his direction: Vaiśravaṇa in the north; Dhṛtarāṣṭra in the east; Virūpākṣa in the west; and Virūḍhaka in the south.
- dri za
A race of deities who are renowned to be great musicians and gain their nutrition through smells.
- tshul khrims
The second of the six perfections. Morally virtuous or disciplined conduct and the abandonment of morally undisciplined conduct of body, speech, and mind. Also commonly called discipline and ethical conduct.
- ’dzam bu’i gling
The name of the southern continent in Buddhist cosmology, which can mean the known world of humans or, more specifically, the Indian subcontinent. In the Karaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, Sri Lanka is described as being separate from Jambudvīpa. A gigantic miraculous rose-apple tree at the source of the great Indian rivers is said to give the continent its name.
- dze ta’i tshal
A park in Śrāvastī, the capital of the kingdom of Kośala. It was owned by Prince Jeta, and Anāthapiṇḍada bought it at a great price from him to offer to the Buddha as a place where the monks could be housed during the monsoon period, thus creating the first Buddhist monastery.
- gser thub
The fifth of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. The second buddha in this Bhadraka eon that we are in. In the White Lotus of Compassion Sūtra, Buddha Ratnagarbha specifically prophesies that the third of Ratnagarbha’s thousand vedapāṭhaka pupils will be this buddha. He also earlier prophesies that his fifteenth brother will be a buddha who has that name.
- kAr ShA pa Na
A coin that varied in value according as to whether it was made of gold, silver, or copper. It is presumably the latter, lower-value one that is being referred to here.
- ’od srung
The sixth of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. The third buddha in this Bhadraka eon.
- log par dad sel
- ’khor ba ’jig
The fourth of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. Also, the first of the buddhas in this Bhadraka eon, with Śākyamuni as the fourth. The name is a Sanskritization of the Middle Indic name Kakusaṃdha, and is therefore an example of hybrid Sanskrit. It is also found in a semi-Sanskritized form: Krakutsanda. The ninth-century Mahāvyutpatti Sanskrit-Tibetan dictionary lists Kakutsunda as the Sanskrit for ’khor ba ’jig, but has a separate entry log par dad sel for Krakucchanda, though later, as in this sūtra, Krakucchanda became translated as ’khor ba ’jig.
- kun dga’ legs rin
A fifteenth century Sakya scholar, nephew of Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo.
- sems dpa’ chen po
An epithet for an accomplished bodhisattva. The White Lotus of Compassion Sutra goes further and says only those praying to attain buddhahood in an impure realm during a kaliyuga deserve the title, even though the early part of the sūtra uses it for all accomplished bodhisattvas.
- ’jam dpal gzhon nur gyur pa
- Mañjuśrī Kumārabhūta
Evolved from the gandharva Pañcaśikha in early Buddhism, which remains one of Mañjuśrī’s alternate names. Pañcaśikha was a gandharva who lived on a five-peaked mountain, and who brought the Buddha information on what was occuring in the paradises. Mañjuśrī is the first prominent bodhisattva after Maitreya in the early Mahāyāna sūtras, where he is known as Mañjughoṣa (“Having a Beautiful Voice”). He came to embody wisdom, and became one of the eight great bodhisattvas. In the early tantras he was the lord of one of the three buddha families. In the Sanskrit version of the sūtra, Kumārabhūta is a separate word rather than a compound with his proper name. This means that it could be the second of his names, and it is glossed as meaning “always young.” Alternatively it could be treated simply as an adjective, as in “the youth Manjuśrī.”
Said to be the principal deity in Paranirmitavaśavartin, the highest paradise in the desire realm, and also portrayed as attempting to prevent the Buddha’s enlightenment. In early soteriological Indian religions, the principal deity in saṃsāra, such as Indra, would attempt to prevent anyone’s realization that would lead to such a liberation. The name Māra, literally “death,” is also used as an impersonal term for the factors that keep beings in samsara.
- bdud kyi ris kyi lha
Deities in the Paranirmitavaśavartin paradise in which Māra is the principal deity. They attempt to prevent anyone from attaining liberation from saṃsāra. This is distinct from the four personifications of obstacles to enlightenment: Devaputra-māra (lha’i bu’i bdud), the Divine Māra, which is the distraction of pleasures; Mṛtyumāra (’chi bdag gi bdud), the Māra of Death; Skandhamāra (phung po’i bdud), the Māra of the Aggregates, which is the body; and Kleśamāra (nyon mongs pa’i bdud), the Māra of the Afflictions.
- bsam gtan
The fifth of the six perfections. Generally one of the synonyms for meditation, referring to a state of mental stability. The specific four concentrations are four successively subtler states of meditation that are said to lead to rebirth into the corresponding four levels of the form realm.
- smin gling gter chen
Gyurme Dorje (’gyur med rdo rje), the first throneholder of Mindroling (smin grol gling), also known as Terdak Lingpa (gter bdag gling pa), a great scholar, author, and discoverer of spiritual treasures (1646–1714).
Ngawang Kunga Sönam
- a myes zhabs ngag dbang kun dga’ bsod nams
The 27th Sakya throneholder (1597–1659), an accomplished scholar, author, and diplomat.
Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo
- ngor chen kun dga’ bzang po
A great Sakya scholar and prolific author (1382–1456), founder of the Ngor tradition and the monastery of Ngor Ewam Chöden.
- bzod pa
The third of the six perfections. As such it can be classified into three modes: the capacity to tolerate abuse from sentient beings, to tolerate the hardships of the path to buddhahood, and to tolerate the profound nature of ultimate reality.
Patsap Nyima Drak
- pa tshab nyi ma grags
A Tibetan translator, particularly known for translating important Mādhyamika texts, circa 1055–1145.
Perfectly awakened buddha
- yang dag par rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas
A buddha who teaches the Dharma, as opposed to a pratyekabuddha.
- srin po
A race of ugly, evil-natured supernatural beings with a yearning for human flesh.
- khri ral pa can
Considered to be the third great Dharma king of Tibet, he was the grandson of Trisong Detsen and reigned from 815 to 838 or 841. His reign saw the expansion of Tibet’s political dominion to its greatest extent, and a significant continuation of the “early period” of imperially sponsored text translation, the end of which is traditionally marked by the end of his reign.
- shAkya thub pa
The name of the buddha of our era, the fourth buddha of this Bhadraka eon.
- dge ’dun
The community of followers of the Buddha’s teachings, particularly the monastics.
- rin po che sna bdun
When associated with the seven heavenly bodies, and therefore the seven days of the week, they are: ruby for the sun; moonstone or pearl for the moon; coral for Mars; emerald for Mercury; yellow sapphire for Jupiter; diamond for Venus; and blue sapphire for Saturn. There are variant lists that are not associated with the heavenly bodies but, retaining the number seven, include gold, silver, and so on.
- ma gcig grub pa’i rgyal mo
A twefth century yoginī, female guru of Rechungpa.
- gtsug tor can
In early Buddhism, the second of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. The first three buddhas—Vipaśyin, Śikhin, and Viśvabhu—are in an earlier eon than the Bhadraka eon, and therefore Śākyamuni is more commonly referred to as the fourth buddha.
- mnyan du yod pa
The capital of the kingdom of Kośala, where the Buddha spent many monsoon retreats.
- mchod rten
Reliquary for the remains of a buddha or enlightened master.
- ri rab
The mountain in the center of the disc of the world with the four continents around it.
In Indian literature, originally an orally transmitted memorized text, often a series of central points in concentrated form, and hence, called a sūtra, which means “thread.” In Buddhism, particularly with the lengthy Mahāyāna sutras, it came to mean any teaching of the Buddha, and later specifically those that were not part of the tantra tradition, even though a number of texts with the title of sūtra are classed as tantras. In the division of the Buddha’s teachings into twelve kinds, sūtra then has the specific meaning of any prose passages within a sūtra, tantra, or vinaya text.
- tA ra nA tha
The great Jonang master, 26th throneholder of the tradition (1575–1634).
- de bzhin gshegs pa
One of the Buddha’s titles. “Gata,” although literally meaning “gone,” is a past-passive participle used to describe a state or condition of existence. Because the Buddha’s state is inconceivable, he is called “the one who is thus.”
Ten royal sūtras
- rgyal po mdo bcu
This set of sūtras is so called either because they represent distillations of the most profound scriptures, or because according to traditional histories they were recommended to King Trisong Detsen for his daily practice by Guru Padmasambhava. These are: (1) Bhadracaryāpraṇidhāna (bzang spyod smon lam, (Toh 44-45a) in chapter 45 of the Avataṃsaka); for aspiration (smon lam), and described as vast (rgya chen). (2) Vajravidāraṇādhāraṇī (rdo rje rnam ’joms, Toh 750); for ablution (khrus). (3) Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya (shes rab snying po, Toh 21 and 531); for the view (lta ba), and described as profound (zab mo). (4) Atyayajñāna (’da’ ka ye shes, Toh 122); for cultivation (sgom pa) and described as of definitive meaning (nges don). (5) bya ba ltung bshags (part of Vinayaviniścayopāliparipṛcchā, Toh 68); for purification of karmic obscurations (las sgrib dag pa). (6) Aparimitāyurjñāna (tshe dang ye shes dpag tu med pa’i mdo, Toh 674); for extending longevity (tshe bsring). (7) gos sngon can gyi gzungs, perhaps Bhagavānnīlāmbaradharavajrapāṇitantra (Toh 498) but possibly another of the several texts on this form of Vajrapāṇi; for protection (srung ba). (8) Uṣṇīṣasitātapatrā (gtsug tor gdugs dkar, Toh 590, 591, and 592); for averting (zlog pa). (9) Vasudhāra (nor rgyun ma, Toh 663 and 664); for increasing resources (longs spyod spel ba). (10) Ekākṣarīmātāprajñāpāramitā (sher phyin yi ge gcig ma, Toh 23); for the essence (snying po).
- stong gsum gyi stong chen po’i ’jig rten gyi khams
A thousand groups of a thousand groups of a thousand four-continent worlds, which makes one universe that can be the field of activity of a buddha.
- khri srong lde’u btsan
Considered to be the second great Dharma king of Tibet, he is thought to have been born in 742, and to have reigned from 754 until his death in 797 or 799. It was during his reign that the “early period” of imperially sponsored text translation gathered momentum, as the Buddhist teachings gained widespread acceptance in Tibet.
- mi khom pa
The Sanskrit has its origins in the vocabulary of dice gambling, but in Buddhism refers to rebirths, human or otherwise, in which one will be unable to practice the Dharma. The Tibetan (also found as mi khoms pa) is based on the opposite of khom, khoms meaning leisure, opportunity, freedom. There is a list of eight unfortunate rebirths: as hell beings, pretas, animals, or long-living deities; in lands without the Dharma; with defective faculties; holding wrong views; and in a world where a buddha has not appeared.
- rnam par gzigs
In early Buddhism, the first of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. The first three buddhas —Vipaśyin, Śikhin, and Viśvabhu—are in an earlier eon than the Bhadraka eon, and therefore Śākyamuni is more commonly referred to as the fourth buddha.
- thams cad skyob
In early Buddhism, the third of the seven buddhas, with Śākyamuni as the seventh. The first three buddhas—Vipaśyin, Śikhin, and Viśvabhu—are in an earlier eon than the Bhadraka eon, and therefore Śākyamuni is more commonly referred to as the fourth buddha.
- ye shes
Also known as “pristine awareness,” “primordial wisdom,” “primordial awareness,” “gnosis,” or the like. Typically refers to nonconceptual states of knowledge.
- shes rab
The sixth of the six perfections, it refers to the profound understanding of the emptiness of all phenomena, the realization of ultimate reality.
- gnod sbyin
A class of supernatural beings, often represented as the attendants of Kubera, the god of wealth, but the term is also applied to spirits. Although they are generally portrayed as benevolent, the Tibetan translation means “harm giver,” as they are also capable of causing harm.
- gshin rje’i ’jig rten
The land of the dead ruled over by the Lord of Death. In Buddhism it refers to the preta realm, where beings generally suffer from hunger and thirst, which in traditional Brahmanism is the fate of those departed without descendants to make ancestral offerings.