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'phags pa de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying rje chen po nges par bstan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po'i mdo
Questions of Dhāraṇīśvararāja Sūtra
D147   ·  T398

Also known as The Sūtra Teaching the Great Compassion of the Tathāgatas (Tathāgatamahākaruṇānirdeśasūtra), this lengthy sūtra is stated to be the primary source for the Ratnagotravibhāga since it touches upon all seven vajra topics discussed in the treatise.

Relevance to Buddha-nature

Stated to be the primary sutra source for the Ratnagotravibhāga in that it contains teachings on all seven of the vajrapadas.

Recensions of This Text

Description from When the Clouds Part

Given that the Uttaratantra identifies the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra[1] as its main source, it is quite surprising that this sūtra never even mentions terms such as tathāgatagarbha or buddhadhātu. It contains, however, the term "disposition/lineage of the three jewels" (Tib. dkon mchog gsum gyi rigs) six times.[2] Of course, the Tibetan would fit very well with the term ratnagotra in Ratnagotravibhāga. However, dkon mchog gsum gyi rigs renders both triratnavaṃśa and ratnatrayagotra (or triratnagotra), and a quote from the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra in RGVV has triratnavaṃśa.[3] The term is used in a uniform manner in the sūtra ("not interrupting the lineage of the three jewels"), paralleling the notion of bodhisattvas’ "not interrupting the buddha lineage (buddhavaṃśa)" in texts such as the Sāgaramatiparipṛcchāsūtra and the Kāśyapaparivarta (see below), which does not suggest the typical notion of buddha nature. Given this uniform use in the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra, it is to be assumed that the remaining occurrences of dkon mchog gsum gyi rigs in this sūtra also render triratnavaṃśa and not ratnatrayagotra (which is found in the text of RGVV proper). Thus, tempting as it may be, the assumption that the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra gave the Ratnagotravibhāga its name is very unlikely.[4]

      The sūtra also speaks several times of "the dhātu (or basic element) of sentient beings," adding sometimes that it is impure, not stainless, and associated with afflictions or flaws. It also classifies this dhātu of sentient beings as threefold—"being certain in terms of what is correct," "being uncertain," and "being certain in terms of what is mistaken" (all of this is also found in the Uttaratantra and RGVV). In particular, the sūtra states several times that the Buddha looks at the impure dhātus of sentient beings and then guides those who are suitable through his enlightened activity.

      However, when investigating the extensive passages from the introduction and the beginning of the main part of this sūtra that RGVV and Tibetan commentaries (such as CMW) identify as the sources of the Uttaratantra ’s seven vajra points, one does not find much that corresponds to the distinct terminologies and concepts through which the Uttaratantra explains these vajra points.

      In terms of the first three vajra points, the sūtra speaks about the consummate causes of the three jewels and their infinite and unsurpassable qualities in great detail but not in the way the Uttaratantra describes the ultimate qualities of the three jewels.

      The fourth vajra point—the tathāgata heart—is said by RGVV to be explained by the sixty factors of purification in the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra. However, even according to RGVV itself, those factors teach the tathāgata heart only by implication:

The buddha element is explained through a description of the sixty
kinds of factors that purify its [natural] purity because it is [only] if the
object to be purified is endowed with qualities that purifications of its
purity are justified.

Indeed, the passages in the sūtra about these factors of purification contain nothing about the tathāgata heart but only describe the four ornaments, eight illuminations, sixteen kinds of compassion, and thirty-two kinds of activities of bodhisattvas.

      The fifth through seventh vajra points—awakening, its qualities, and its enlightened activity—are said by RGVV to be taught by the sūtra’s passages on the eighty divisions of the attributes of the victors. Among these, awakening is explained through the sixteen great aspects of awakening, due to which sixteen corresponding forms of great compassion engage those who have not attained awakening. The qualities of awakening are taught as consisting of the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen unique buddha qualities (this seems to be the only part of the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra that actually matches one part in the Uttaratantra ’s explanation of its vajra points).[5] The sūtra contains no separate discussion of the thirty-two kinds of enlightened activities other than explaining that each of the above thirty-two qualities performs a certain activity that accords with this quality (thus, these thirty-two qualities include the thirty-two kinds of enlightened activities). In addition, this section in the sūtra is followed by a further general discussion of buddha activity.

      It is this last section that contains the famous example of purifying an encrusted beryl in three stages, which is also quoted in RGVV. It is only here that we find a discussion of the impure dhātu (or basic element) in all sentient beings’ being likewise purified in three steps through the Buddha’s first teaching on impermanence, suffering, identitylessness, and impurity, secondly teaching on emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness, and finally teaching on the complete purity of the three spheres,[6] which eventually makes sentient beings enter the domain of the tathāgatas.[7] (pp. 15-17)

  1. This sūtra is available in one Tibetan (D147, 101 folios) and two Chinese translations (Taishō 398 and part of Taishō 397). Anne Burchardi informed me that she is currently working on an English translation from the Tibetan (available in 2016 in the Reading Room of the 84,000 Project).
  2. D147, fol. 174b.1–2 and passim.
  3. J25
  4. See Ruegg 1969, 113.
  5. Still, the description of these thirty-two qualities is by no means uncommon since they are found in several other sūtras as well. Note also that the sūtra does not mention the thirty-two qualities of the rūpakāyas listed in the Uttaratantra (in the latter, these qualities are explained according to the Ratnadārikāsūtra).
  6. Usually, this means to be free from the three notions of agent, object, and action. However, the Dhāraṇīśvararājasūtra itself explains this purity of the three spheres as the state in which mind does not engage in the three times. It says that due to the non- abiding of mind, mentation, and consciousness, there is no conceiving of the past, no thinking about the future, and no discursiveness about what occurs at present. In effect, this means that all eight consciousnesses do not operate in this state (in the triad of "mind, mentation, and consciousness," "mind" refers to the ālaya-consciousness; "mentation," to the afflicted mind; and "consciousness," to the six remaining consciousnesses). Also, mind’s not engaging in the three times as described is reminiscent of similar instructions in the Mahāmudrā tradition.
  7. For details on all these passages in the sūtra, see RGVV (J3–6) and CMW (435–52).

Text Metadata

Other Titles ~ ārya-tathāgata-mahākaruṇā-nirdeśa-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
Text exists in ~ Tibetan
~ Chinese
Canonical Genre ~ Kangyur · Sūtra · mdo sde · Sūtranta
Literary Genre ~ Sūtras - mdo

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