Yinshun’s Samyukta Agama & New Translations Uploaded

This week I implemented Yinshun’s divisions of the Samyukta Agama, which divided the sutra collection into 51 groups (samyuktas) that are similar to the thematic groups in the Pali Samyutta Nikaya.

English translations of the first four sutras from the Aggregates Group have also been added, which define the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, intention, and consciousness as impermanent, painful, empty, and not self.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be adding several more sutras from the Aggregates group and the Noble Path group of the Samyuka Agama. Once all the sutras that are currently drafted are edited and published, I’ll be switching to translating the Ekottarika Agama‘s Introduction.

New Dharma Pearls Website Is Live

A quick note for those checking in for updates on my translation projects: I’ve created a website at Github Pages to serve as the central repository for my English translations. Going forwards, the translations that have been published here at WordPress will be moved over to the new website and removed from the blog. However, I’ll continue blogging news, updates, and occasional essays. I’ll also provide links to my translations on my other website in the menu and post announcements here when new translations are released.

The new website will make it possible add more advanced features like side-by-side comparisons of the Chinese and English, tables of correspondence to Pali texts, and more. Using Github’s Jekyll and a little IT know-how, I’ll be adding new features gradually as I add translations.

The only new translation added with the initial launch of the Github site is a sutra from the Dirgha Agama, No. 29 titled Lohitya (parallel to Pali Digha Nikaya 12: Lohicca). The seven Madhyama Agama sutras have been moved, and I’ll be moving the Samyukta Agama sutras over to the new site in the next week or two.

 

T212. Producing Light: (C1:3) The Four Brahmins

Four brahmins want to be born in heaven, but the Buddha find a way to liberate them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

3. The Four Brahmins

Once, there were four brahmins who had attained the supernormal powers. They could fly and travel with the miraculous ability of non-obstruction. These four brahmins said to each other: “There are people who give fine meals to the mendicant Gautama. They readily attain birth as gods and aren’t estranged from their halls of merit. Those who hear his teaching enter the door of liberation. Today, we aim for and covet the merits of heaven. We don’t want liberation, so hearing his teaching isn’t necessary.”

These four men then each took four portions of sweet rock honey, and one of them went to the Tathāgata first to present it to the Bhagavān. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he addressed that brahmin, reciting this line of verse:

“What’s formed is impermanent.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the second man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. The Tathāgata again spoke this line of verse:

“It’s the law of arising and fading away.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the third man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“Men are born and quickly die.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the fourth man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accept it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“The cessation of this is happiness.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands, and they each took their leave. The Tathāgata had examined their minds, intent, and thoughts, and he knew that they could attain liberation. So, he employed a device, an obscure form that wasn’t obvious.

The four men gathered somewhere and discussed it with each other: “Although we gave alms to the mendicant Gautama, our aim wasn’t decided. What words did the mendicant Gautama teach us?”

They asked the first one, “When you presented your rock honey, did you get some words, or did you not hear the teaching?”

He responded, “I heard a single line of doctrine from the Tathāgata. ‘What’s formed is impermanent.’ After I heard this doctrine, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the second man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man also related what happened, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘It is the law of arising and fading away.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the third man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man again related what happened. “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘Men are born and quickly die.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the fourth man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man responded, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘The cessation of this is happiness.’”
After the four men had recited these lines, their minds were opened, and they understood his intent, attaining the fruit of non-returners.

At that time, the four men knew they each had realized that fruit and went back, reproaching themselves. They went to the Tathāgata, prostrated their heads to his feet, and then stood to one side. After a moment, they retreated to sit and said to the Bhagavān, “Tathāgata, please permit us to be on the path and attain what’s next for a mendicant.”

The Bhagavān told them, “Welcome, monks. You’ve chosen to cultivate the religious practice.”

At that time, these four men’s hair fell from their heads by itself, and their bodies were miraculously clothed in reddish brown robes. They immediately attained the fruit of arhats there in the presence of the Buddha.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (August 12, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:2) Impermanence

In story 2 of Chapter 1, the Buddha tells the monks that a group of colorfully dressed youths look just like the gods. Beings who hear this decide to be born in heaven or among humans and purse nirvana later. He speaks the first verse on impermanence to dissuade them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(2) Impermanence

The Bhagavān then traveled to the great meeting hall at Markaṭahrada (Monkey Lake) near Vaiśālī.

At that time, there were many youths of Vaiśālī assembled there, and they each had this thought, “We ought to go together as a group to question the Bhagavān and pay homage to him.” Some of those youths had chariots with blue horses and blue coverings, and they were wearing blue. Others had chariots that were blue, yellow, red, and white, and they wore all white. Drummers played as they followed in front and behind the chariots as they went to the Bhagavān.

The Bhagavān then addressed the monks, “All of you should know, if some of you haven’t seen the gods sight-seeing in gardens and ponds, you should look now at these youths. The Dharma clothes they wear and the chariots they ride are no different than those gods. The reason for that is there’s no difference between the clothing of gods and their own.”

At that moment, many hundreds of thousands of sentient beings were seated, and they each thought, “We ought to make a solemn pledge: After we are born in the heavens or among humans, we’ll always wear this Dharma clothing and never be separated from it. In a future era, a buddha will arise, and then we’ll hear the profound teaching. We’ll be forever separated from suffering and enter the realm of nirvāṇa.”

The Tathāgata knew this thought that the sentient beings were thinking to seek birth in the three existences and not part with suffering. He then spoke this verse with the great assembly:

  • “What’s formed is impermanent;
  • It’s something that’s worn away.
  • Not being dependable,
  • It changes and doesn’t stay.”

At the time, the sentient beings who heard this single verse were indescribable hundreds of thousands of sentient beings. Here in the present, they ended their contaminants, were mentally freed, and attained the fruit of the path.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:1) Maitreya

In the opening story of Chu Fonian’s “Producing Light,” one of two Chinese Udana collections, the Buddha describes the future era when Maitreya will be born.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(1) Maitreya

Once, the Buddha was in Vārāṇasī.

The Buddha addressed the monks, “In a future era, sentient beings will live for 84,000 years. In that time, those sentient beings with a life span of 84,000 years here in Jambudvīpa will dwell together in a single place. The rice and grain they harvest will be abundant and the people will flourish. It will be common to hear the sounds of chickens crowing and dogs barking.”

The Buddha also told the monks, “You should know that the women of those people will go out to marry at the age of 500. In that time, there will be a king named Śaṅkha who’ll be followed by the seven treasures. He will rule with the Dharma and without any crookedness.

“He will have a treasure chariot that flies by itself a thousand cubits high and sixteen cubits wide. It’ll be built and designed with many precious jewel strings. When it’s in a large assembly, the people will be generous without reservation and establish virtues to become myriad leaders. Accompanied by śramaṇas, brāhmaṇas, and awakened people, he will travel great distances. Wherever they stop to rest or pass through, they’ll be provided with whatever they require without any miserliness.

“In that time when sentient beings will live for 84,000 years, there will be a Tathāgata who’ll appear in the world named Maitreya. He will be an Arhat, Completely Awakened One, Accomplished in Wisdom and Action, Well Gone, Understander of the World, an Unsurpassed Man, a Dharma Trainer, and Teacher of Devas and Humans. He’ll be called the Buddha and Bhagavān. Just like myself today, he will achieve the unsurpassed, correct, and perfect awakening and perfect the ten epithets.

“He will always lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks, just as I today lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks. Accompanied by these great assemblies, he will widely teach the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which will be the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. It’ll be like myself today being accompanied by these great assemblies and widely teaching the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which is the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. I widely teach like Maitreya will when he comes down to be born.

“As the buddhas teach, there is a sūtra named ‘The Path of Six Sensory Contacts.’ Suppose there are sentient beings who are born around him. If their eyes see forms, everything they see will be pleasant forms and not detestable forms. They’ll see what’s lovely and not what is unlovely. They’ll see what’s respectable and not what’s disrespectful. They’ll see what’s memorable and not what’s not memorable. They’ll see beautiful forms and not see forms that aren’t beautiful.

“The sentient beings that have ears to hear sounds, noses to smell odors, tongues to taste flavors, bodies to perceive what’s fine and smooth, and minds to know phenomena will be likewise, even Īśvara.”

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts (Conze)

511SBDJ6EXL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Edward Conze spent his academic career studying and translating the Sanskrit Perfection of Wisdom literature, and his work continues to be the standard for the English-speaking audience. Paired with his other major work (The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom), Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts serves as a broad survey of these texts in English.

This book begins with the smallest of the multi-chapter Perfection of Wisdom texts, the Questions of Suvikrāntavikrāmin, and continues with translations of the Teaching of Mañjuśrī, an excerpt from the Questions of Nāgaśrī, the Diamond and Heart sutras, and many other lesser known texts. Most of the translations represent the Sanskrit versions. Conze also worked with Lewis Lancaster and R. Robinson to include the Nāgaśrī and Humane King sutras from Chinese sources in the collection.

At this point, this book is the best reference work available for reading and comparing these smaller texts. Conze did much of the foundational scholarship to bring these texts to light in the English world, and his translations remain in print thanks to that. My own ability to understand them (to the extent they can be understood) is owed largely to Conze’s translations, which have been available since the 1970s.

Outer Freedom and Inner Bondage

In America and much of the West, the common understanding of the word “freedom” is something I might call “outer” freedom: Freedom from outside control and persecution, especially from government or religious institutions. The religious wars of post-Catholic Europe and the immorality of the medieval aristocracy shaped the concepts of rights and democracy in England, France, and the United States. When we talk about freedom, it’s traditionally a narrow subject that centers around government abuses and the legal system designed to bridle them.

That concept has grown to include other forms of persecution or control, perceived and real, such as social pressures and obligations. Traditional religious institutions have atrophied in western societies, partly because the faiths they advocate are a form of social control. For many people, the word “religion” is a now a pejorative, the opposite of which is “spirituality” or perhaps “philosophy.” The “better” words describe individual activities that a person can freely explore; the “worse” words describe communal values and social expectations. (I put these common judgements in scare quotes because they can be good or bad.)

Poverty continues to be a major problem, but the emphasis on individualism has led to its exacerbation. Government policies have shifted steadily away from social goods and towards the maximization of individual and corporate wealth. Of course, that means wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people in practice because those already wealthy (people and corporations) can leverage the power of that wealth to an even greater extent to protect and expand their sources of income. The turn away from generosity this financial individualism produces causes the inequality to grow further. Individual people and corporations with more wealth than they could possibly use or need continue to amass more of it.

Many other forms of destructive ideology have rushed into the vacuum left by the collapse of communal values. Political ideologies, for example, appear very much like religious faiths, and they even form the basis of organizations that ostensibly are political parties but talk and behave like churches run by religious zealots. Propaganda weaves mythologies to explain events and motives, creating distorted world views designed to incite destructive passions and reinforce loyalties. In recent years, in America’s two-party system, we’ve begun to see the disintegration of the political system because these trends amplify irrationality and conflict.

I would argue that these disheartening social trends result from a kind of inner bondage. The human spirit been going fallow; like a plot of land, it naturally grows weeds rather than grains and fruit. Our much sought-after outer freedoms enable bad behavior and social disorder because people are controlled by their baser passions when left undeveloped. We depend on each other whether we think we do or not.

When human civilizations first developed in the ancient world, they realized the necessity of cultivating the human spirit to keep their civilizations stable from one generation to the next. They learned these lessons after experiencing bloody periods of civil and feudal warfare. Emerging from those disorders, they found ways to solve a central paradox of human society: For society to be free of barbarism, individuals must free themselves of their inner demons, which is accomplished through personal cultivation, education, and communal values.

In Buddhism, these inner demons are called bonds because they limit a person’s inner freedom by determining his thoughts, feelings, and actions in reactive and self-afflicting ways. The Buddha grouped these bonds into three basic categories: Desire, hate, and delusion.

The bonds of desire create emotional obsessions to obtain things we find attractive or pleasurable. When it becomes extreme, it causes us to lose control of our lives, such as the case with addictions and greed. The bonds of hate cause anger, discrimination, and violence. The bonds of delusion cause people to become confused about what is real and what is moral. All three of these bonds exist in the human mind because of a fundamental ignorance that creates this system of control: A Buddhist practitioner works to be free of this root ignorance and take control of their destiny.

If Western civilization is to halt the on-going devolution, I think it will need to return to these ancient lessons like those taught by the Buddha, Confucius, and the other great thinkers who helped to stabilize their civilizations in times of turmoil. With the global population and environmental crisis unfolding, we have a responsibility that goes far beyond each individual country or person.