A Prolegomena to the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra and the Tathāgatagarbha Theory: The Role of Women in Buddhism

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A Prolegomena to the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra and the Tathāgatagarbha Theory: The Role of Women in Buddhism

The Śrīmālādevī siṁhanāda sūtra (ŚDS) (The Treatise on the Lion's Roar of Queen Śrīmālā) is a Mahāyāna text no longer extant in Sanskrit but preserved in both the Chinese and Tibetan Tripiṭakas. This text is a unique development within the Buddhist tradition because of its egalitarian view concerning women, portraying, on the one band, the dignity and wisdom of a laywoman and her concern for all beings, and on the other, the role of woman as a philosopher and teacher. Doctrinally, the major emphasis is upon the Tathāgatagarbha and Ekayāna.
      Because of the number of citations and references which are retained in Sanskrit Buddhist texts, the Śrīmālādevī sūtra seems to have been widely circulated throughout India. This text is quoted in the Ratnagotravibhāga-mahāyānottara-tantra śāstra (The Supreme Exposition of Mahāyāna: A Commentary on the Jewel Lineage)[1] and the Śikṣāsamuccaya (A Compendium on Instruction)[2] with allusions made in the Laṅkāvatāra sūtra[3] and the Mahāyāna sūtrālaṁkāra (The Ornament of the Mahāyāna sūtras).[4] The Ch'eng wei-shih lun (Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi) by Hsüan-tsang also quotes from the Śrīmālādevī sūtra but does not identify the sūtra by name.[5]
      According to the Sung kao seng chuan[6] Bodhiruci used a Sanskrit text of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra for reference in translating the text into Chinese. From the above evidence, it may be concluded that a Sanskrit original of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra did exist and that this text was part of the Indian Buddhist tradition.
       The classical Chinese text is extant in two recensions:
1) Sheng-man shih-tzu-hou i-ch'eng ta-fang-pien fang-kuang ching (1 ch.) (T.v.12, no. 353, pp. 217-223), translated by Guṇabhadra (394-468) in 435.
2) Sheng-man-fu-jen hui which is the forty-eighth assembly in the Ratnakūṭa anthology (Ta-pao chi ching) (T.v.11, no. 310, pp. 672-678), translated by Bodhiruci[7] (572-727) of T'ang between 706 and 713.
      Because Guṇabhadra's translation is almost three hundred years older than Bodhiruci's, it has been chosen as the basic text in order to trace the development of Tathāgatagarbha thought in its original form. Bodhiruci's translation is used when Guṇabhadra's translation is ambiguous and when differences in interpretation are indicated.
      The Tibetan recension, Hphags-pa lha-mo dpal-phreṅ gi seṅ-geḥi sgra shes-bya-ba theg-pa chen-poḥi mdo (Tōhoku no. 92, Bkaḥ-ḥgyur), which is part of the Ratnakūṭa anthology, will not be used. When significant differences between the Chinese and Tibetan recensions occur, the Tibetan text will be noted also.[8]
      The commentaries which are extant are few and only in Chinese and Japanese. There are no Tibetan commentaries now extant, which discuss only the Śrīmālādevī sūtra.[9] According to the Kao seng chuan,[10] immediately after the translation of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra many commentaries were composed by monks who had studied and memorized the Śrīmālādevī sūtra. These texts, now lost, were dated between the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. According to Chi-tsang's Sheng-man ching pao-k'u, monks studied and composed commentaries on the Śrīmālādevī sūtra from the North-South dynastic periods through the Sui (i.e. from approximately 440-618 A.D.).
      The major commentaries[11] extant in Chinese are:
1) Hsieh-chu sheng-man ching (T.v.85, no. 2763) - Although the commentator is unknown, this text was probably the composition of a noble woman of Northern Wei, attested to by the calligraphy and literary style of the Tun-huang manuscript. Completed before 500 A.D., it is the oldest extant commentary on the Śrīmālādevī sūtra.[12] Only Chapter 5, "Ekayāna" is discussed.
2) Sheng-man ching i-chi (2 ch.) (Dainihon zokuzōkyō, v.1, no. 30-1) by Hui-yüan, (523-692) of Sui - Only the first half of the text is extant, corresponding to the first four chapters of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra.
3) Sheng-man ching pao-k'u, (3 ch.) (T.v.37, no. 1744) by Chi-tsang (549-623) of Sui.
4) Sheng-man ching shu-chi, (2 ch.) (Dainihon zokuzōkyō v.1, no. 30-4) by K'uei-chi (632-682) of T'ang.
5) Sheng-man ching su-i ssu-ch'ao, (6 ch.) (Dainihon bukkyō zensho, v.4) by Ming-k'ung[13] of T'ang in 772.
      The major commentaries extant in Japanese are:
1) Shōmagyō gisho (1 ch.) (T.v.56, no. 2184) attributed to Prince Shōtoku (573-621) but probably the composition of a North Chinese Buddhist scholar.[14]
2) Shōmangyō shosho genki, (18 ch.) (Dainihon bukkyō zensho, v.4) by Gyōnen (1240-1321). First five chüan are missing. The extant text begins with the chapter "The Ten Ordination Vows".
3) Shōman-shishikugyō kenshūshō (3 ch.) (Nihon daizōkyō, v. 5; Dainihon bukkyō zensho, v.4) by Fūjaku (1707-1781)
      The Sheng-man ching pao k'u and the Shōmangyō gisho are the two primary commentaries upon which the present study's interpretation of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra is based. These two commentaries have been selected because the former, written by a San-lun master, interprets Tathāgatagarbha from a Mādhyamikan perspective whereas the latter is representative of the North Chinese scholars' interpretation and frequently overshadows the sūtra itself in popularity, particularly in Japan. The Sheng-man ching i-chi and the Hsieh-chu sheng-man ching are used as references in analyzing Chapters 4 and 5, "The Acceptance of the true Dharma" and the "One Vehicle" respectively of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra.
      In Chapter One, a historical analysis will be attempted, suggesting the place and time of composition on the basis of external and internal evidence now available. In Chapter Two, the evolution of the Tathāgatagarbha will be outlined, based upon the first two Tathāgatagarbhan texts, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtra and the Pu tseng pu chien ching, which predate the Śrīmālādevī sūtra.[15]
      In Chapter Three the characteristic format of the Śrīmālādevī sūtra is summarized in relation to the Tathāgatagarbha sūtra and the Pu tseng pu chien. In Chapter Four the Tathāgatagarbha as presented in the Śrīmālādevī sūtra is analyzed with relation to the text as a whole, and in Chapter Five the annotated translation of the Śrīmālādevī-siṁhanāda sūtra is presented with notations of key differences between the two Chinese recensions and with references made to the two commentaries, Sheng-man ching pao-k'u and Shōmangyō gisho, and to the Sanskrit fragments noted above.
      Appendix I is an attempt to lay the groundwork for a methodology of Buddhist studies which would provide a foundation for the skills needed for a critical analysis and interpretation of Buddhist phenomena. Appendix II is an annotated bibliography for studying the Śrīmālādevī-siṁhanāda sūtra. Appendix I is admittedly limited and will provide only the most general outline of the requisite methodological procedure in analyzing a Buddhist text. (Paul, introduction, 1–6)


1) There are two English translations of the Ratnagotravibhāga-mahāyānottara-tantra śāstra: E. E. Obemiller, The Sublime Science of the Great Vehicle to Salvation Being a Manual of Buddhist Monism (Rome: Acta Orientalia, 1932), (Shanghai reprint: 1940) and Jikido Takasaki, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra): Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism (Rome: Series Orientale Rome XXIII, 1966). The Sanskrit text of the Ratnagotra-vibhāga-mahāyānottara-tantra śāstra, ed., by E. R. Johnston (Patna: Bihar Society, 1950) cites the Śrīmālādevī sūtra on pp. 3, 12, 15, 19, 20, 22, 30, 33, 34, 36, 37, 45, 50, 55, 56, 59, 72, 73, 74, 76, and 79. A portion of these Sanskrit fragments have been noted below, in the translation, wherever differences or ambiguities in the Chinese recensions occur.
2) Cf. Çikshāsamuccaya (A Compendium on Buddhist Teaching, ed. by Cecil Bendall (St. Petersburg: Imperial Academy of Sciences, (1897-1902), vol. I of Bibliotheca Buddhica, reprinted by Indo-Iranian Journal (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1957), pp. 42 and 43.
3) Cf. Laṅkāvatāra sūtra, ed. by Bunyiu Nanjio, (Second edition, Kyoto: Otani University Press, 1956), p. 222 line 19 and p. 223 line 4.
4) Cf. Mahāyāna sūtrālaṁkāra, ed. by Sylvain Lévi (Paris: 1907), (Shanghai reprint : 1940), Tome 1 (XI, 59), p. 70. The cited passage, attributed to the Śrīmālādevī sūtra, could not be found in either Chinese recension. Lévi also was unable to find the passage but does allude to the citation as being in the Çikshāsamuccaya, ed. by Cecil Bendall, op. cit., but these two citations are not of the same passage.
5) The following citations are quoted in the Ch'eng wei-shih lun, translated by Hsüan-tsang (T.v.31, no. 1585, p. 1-60): (The remainder of this note is handwritten in Chinese and is unavailable.)
6) (The first part of this note is handwritten in Chinese and is unavailable.) In the second year of T'ang emperor Chung-tsung in the reign of Shen-lung (706) he (Bodhiruci) returned to the capital (Loyang) to Chao ch'ung-fu temple to translate the Mahāratnakūṭa anthology. This anthology bad forty-nine old and new assemblies, totaling 120 ch., which were finished in the fourth month, eighth day of the second year of Hsun-t'ien (713). In the translation hall, the monks Ssu-chung and the Indian director Iśara (?) translated the Sanskrit: while the Indian monks Prajñāgupta (?) and Dharma were consulted concerning the Sanskrit meaning." (T.v.50, no. 2061, p. 720b)
The Sung kao seng chuan, 30 ch., was compiled by Chih-lun and Tsang-ning of the Sung dynasty during the period from the beginning of the T'ang dynasty until 967 according to Ui Hakuju, Bukkyō jiten (A Buddhist Dictionary), (Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1971), p. 654 and until 988 according to Nakamura Hajime, Shin-bukkyō jiten (The New Buddhist Dictionary), (Tokyo: Seishin shobō, 1972), p. 329.
7) According to the Sung kao seng chuan, op. cit., (p. 720c) Bodhiruci died in the fifteenth year of K'ai-yuan (727) of T'ang at the age of 156.
8) The differences noted between the Chinese and Tibetan recensions are based upon the Shōmangyō hōgatsu dōji shomongyō (Kyoto: Kōkyō shoin, 1940) by Tsukinowa Kenryū.
9) Tibetan commentaries on the Ratnagotravibhāga do interpret the passages which cite the Śrīmālādevī sūtra. These are not discussed within the present study.
10) Kokuyaku-issaikyō hōshaku-bu shichi, Ono Masao (gen. ed.) (Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1958), p. 84 lists the monks who attempted to write commentaries now lost. The Kao seng chuan, compiled by Hui-chao of the Liang dynasty, is the record of approximately 253 eminent monks from 67 A.D. through 519 A.D. Cf. Ui, Shin-bukkyō jiten, op. cit., p. 303.
11) For a complete listing of all commentaries in both Chinese and Japanese, extant and no longer extant, see below - Appendix II, Annotated Bibliography.
12) Fujieda Akira, "Hokucho ni okeru Shōmangyō no tenshō" in Tōhō gakuhō, v.XL, 1973, p. 334. (Journal of the Institute of Humanities) (Jimbun Kagaku kenkyūsho) (Kyoto University).
13) According to the Bussho kaisetsu daijiten, Ono Masao {gen.ed.) (Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1966), vol. V, p. 350, this text was composed by both Prince Shōtoku and Ming-k'ung.
14) Prince Shōtoku most probably did not compose the Shōmangyō gisho since many of the texts which the Gisho cites were not known to Prince Shōtoku but were introduced to Japan at a much later date. For the transmission of the Chinese commentaries on the Śrīmālādevī-siṁhanāda sūtra, see "Hokucho ni okeru Shōmangyō", op. cit. For the "original" Gisho, composed by a Chinese scholar of the North-South dynastic period, residing in North China, see "Shōman gisho hongi" in Shōtoku taishi kenkyū, v. 5 (Osaka: Shitennoji Joshi Daigaku, 1973) by Koizumi Enjun in which the original Chinese commentary is edited and later almost entirely copied in the Shōmangyō gisho.
      The research on these commentaries at the time of this writing has been undertaken by members of the Jimbun Kagaku kenkyusho who are affiliated with Kyoto University. From analyzing the Tun-huang manuscripts, two very similar hypotheses have been developed: a) The Gisho itself was written by a Chinese scholar, or b) The original for the Shōmangyō gisho, viz. Shōman gisho hongi (or, Sheng-man i-su ben-i), was composed by a Northern Chinese scholar and later almost entirely interpolated into the Shōmangyō gisho by Prince Shōtoku or one of his followers.
15) The analysis of Tathāgatagarbha was undertaken in consultation with Professors Yuichi Kajiyama, Chairman of Buddhist Studies, Kyoto University, and Gadjin Nagao, Professor Emeritus in Buddhist Studies, Kyoto University.

Citation Paul, Diana. "A Prolegomena to the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra and the Tathāgatagarbha Theory: The Role of Women in Buddhism." PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1974.