Thus have I heard. Once the Buddha was dwelling in the garden of Anāthapindada, in the Jeta Grove, near Śrāvastī. At that time, King Prasenajit and Queen Mallikā of Kosala had just had an initial realization of the Dharma. They said to each other, “Our daughter, Srīmālā, is kind, intelligent, learned, and wise. If she could see the Tathāgata, she would be quick to understand the profound Dharma and would have no doubt about it whatsoever. We should now send an eloquent messenger to her to rouse her sincere faith.”
The location in Śrāvastī is a familiar location in which we hear the Blessed One expounding the Buddhadharma, see the Blog the Great Convocation.
King Prasenajit: the King of Kosala of ancient India. He ruled from Śrāvastī the entire middle Ganges Valley. His presence in this sutra, along with his wife, gives the text an aura of Nobility.
Srīmālā: the main persona in the sutra. Her Noble bearing indicates that she is a living vessel of Noble Wisdom Itself.
If she could see the Tathāgata, she would be quick to understand the profound Dharma: meaning being taken-up with the epiphany of his presence that underlies the Dharmakaya
Immediately upon this decision, the king and queen wrote Queen Srīmālā a letter extolling the true merits of the Tathāgata and sent a messenger, Chandra, to deliver it to her at Ayodhyā. Queen Srīmālā received the letter with reverence and joy. After she opened and read it, she felt how unusual its message was and spoke to the messenger in verse:
“lt is said that the Tathāgata’s voice
Is difficult to encounter in this world.
If this saying is true,
I shall reward you with apparel.
If the Buddha, the World-Honored One,
Has manifested himself to benefit this world,
His compassion will certainly extend to me,
That I may see his true appearance.”
Ayodhyā: capital city of Kosala
From Wayman’s translation:
The queen, with joyful respect to her father and mother, touched her head with it, and read it, then stating, “The letter has an auspicious meaning.” Convinced of the meaning, she touched it with her head, deeply moved with wonder…
she touched it with her head: on her third-eye point, or Urna. This has great significance because she is actually opening her Dharma-Eye.
As soon as she had spoken, the Buddha appeared in the air in an inconceivable form, emitting a brilliant light. Queen Srīmālā and her retinue gathered together. With palms joined, they bowed respectfully to him, and the queen, looking up in adoration, praised the great teacher:
emitting a brilliant light: Wayman’s footnote reads:
Chi-tsang explains that this pure light is not the oval of light around the Buddha’s body or his head halo, but is the light rays issuing from his pores and limbs; and he explains that these light rays remove the darkness and defilement of sentient beings.
Queen Srīmālā next intones her solemn supplication before the Lord Buddha:
“The wondrous form of the Tathāgata
Is unequaled in this world;
It is incomparable and inconceivable;
I Therefore I pay homage to him.
The form of the Tathāgata knows no bounds,
And boundless, too, is his wisdom.
All aspects [of his nature] abide eternally;
I therefore take refuge in him.
He has skillfully subdued all mental faults,
As well as the four vices of the body;
He has reached the inconceivable stage;
Therefore I pay homage to him.
He knows everything that can be known,
For his wisdom-body meets no obstacles;
He forgets nothing;
Therefore I pay homage to him.
I bow down-to the One who is infinite;
I bow down to the One who is peerless;
I bow down to the One
Who has free command of all dharmas;
I bow down to the One
Who is beyond thought.
May his compassion shelter me
And cause the seeds of the Dharma
To grow [within me],
So that I may always be with the Tathāgata
Until my last existence [in samsara].
I have practiced all meritorious deeds
In this life and in all other lives.
May the Buddha always take me
With all my roots of virtue,
Into his following.”
Wayman’s translation includes an epithet of the Buddha as the great sage, or muni.
I take refuge in him: taking refuge in the Tathāgata, where no māras dare assault.
He has reached the inconceivable stage: the Diamond-Mind, or invincible stage.
And cause the seeds of the Dharma to grow [within me]: meaning into her dharma-womb [Tathagata-garbha] of the Blessed Bodhichild (Buddha-seed).
When Queen Srīmālā had spoken these verses, she and her entire retinue prostrated themselves at the Buddha’s feet. Then the World-Honored One spoke to Srīmālā in verse:
“In your former lives I taught you
And revealed to you the path of enlightenment.
Now once again you meet me here;
We shall also meet in future lives.”
One of many verses found in Sacred Buddhist scripture validating Reincarnation.
After speaking this verse, the Buddha prophesied to the assembly that Queen Srīmālā would attain supreme enlightenment, saying, “You now praise the superb merits of the Tathāgata. Because of this good root, you will be a sovereign among gods and humans for incalculable kalpas. All your needs will be fulfilled. Wherever you are born, you will be able to meet me and praise me face to face, just as you do now. You will also make offerings to innumerable, countless other Buddhas, World-Honored Ones. After, twenty thousand incalculable kalpas, you, too, will become a Buddha, named Universal Light Tathāgata, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One.
This is an astounding passage, one of few in Buddhism that bestows upon a woman these inconceivable attributes.
Universal Light Tathāgata: Wayman’s translation renders this as Tathagata-Arhat-Samyaksambuddha Samantaprabha. Can one conceive of a higher honor?
*Aaron K. Koseki writes in his article Chi-tsang’s Sheng-man pao-k’u: The true doctrine and the bodhisattva ideal:
In middle path terms, Srīmālā’s identity is at once female and neither male nor female. That is to say, if we understand that the middle path context of prajñā does not deny the provisional and phenomenal reality of men or women, then it is precisely in this context that we may appreciate Srīmālā’s “struggle” to maintain the Mahayana goal of liberation by comprehending and employing the true dharma.
In your Buddha-land, there will be no miserable planes of existence, no suffering of aging or sickness, and no evil deeds, not even their names. The sentient beings there will appear in magnificent forms, and will solely experience the five exquisite [sensuous] pleasures, enjoying them even more than do the gods in the Paranirmita-Vaśavartin Heaven and other heavens. All these sentient beings will follow the Mahayana teachings. Others who have correctly learned the Mahayana [elsewhere] may be born in that land.”
In your Buddha-land: again, another magnanimous gift bestowed upon her; indeed, not many get to have their own unique “Buddha-land.”
Paranirmita-Vaśavartin Heaven: also known as the sixth heaven; in this context the highest of the six heavens in the world of desire.
After Queen Srīmālā had received the prophecy, innumerable gods and humans were jubilant, and they all wished to be born in that Buddha-land. The World-Honored One then prophesied that they would all be born in that land.
The following Ten Vows effectively seals her commitment to honor the Blessed One’s prophecy:
After having heard the Buddha’s prophecy, Queen Srīmālā stood before the Tathāgata with her palms joined, and made ten great vows, saying:
World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never think of breaking the precepts I have received.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never be arrogant toward teachers or my superiors.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never feel ill will toward any sentient being.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never be jealous of my superiors or those whose possessions are superior to mine.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never be reluctant to give, even if I have only a little food.
These first five of the Ten Great Vows are constitutive of Theravadin Ethics.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will not accept money or accumulate property for my own sake, but only for the sake of relieving the poverty and sufferings of sentient beings.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will practice the four inducements without expecting rewards. I will embrace sentient beings with a mind that never covets profit, is never weary, and is free of hindrances.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, if I see any sentient being bereft of parents or children, imprisoned, sick, distressed, or suffering from any kind of danger or misfortune, I will not forsake him. Instead, I will give him peace and security, help him properly, and relieve him of all sufferings.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, if I see anyone pursuing evil ways or violating the pure precepts of the Tathāgata, I will not forsake him. In the cities, towns, and villages under my influence, I will subdue whoever should be subdued and embrace whoever should be embraced. Why? Only by subduing and embracing [sentient beings] will the true Dharma endure. When the true Dharma endures, gods and humans will thrive, the miserable planes of existence will diminish, and the Tathāgata’s Dharma-wheel will turn perpetually.
“World-Honored One, from now until my attainment of enlightenment, I will never forget the true Dharma I have embraced. Why? To forget the true Dharma is to forget the Mahayana; to forget the Mahayana is to forget the paramitas; to forget the paramitas is to abandon the Mahayana. If a Bodhisattva wavers in regard to the Mahayana, then he will not be firm in embracing the true Dharma, and consequently will not be able to transcend the state of an ordinary person, causing a great loss. World-Honored One, the Bodhisattvas who embrace the true Dharma now or in the future will receive unlimited, great benefits.
The last five of the Ten Great Vows are constitutive of Mahayana ethics. The Tenth Vow is the most crucial one in the development of the Bodhi-Mind. The Buddhadharma is first and foremost of paramount importance. From the Buddhadharma all else flows in the life of a Bodhisattva and beyond; if one is lazy and negligent in adhering to its edifying and soteriological function, then all else will continue to unravel for such an irresponsible one. Abandon all hope, for there then is no escape from the penal colony of samsara.
“World-Honored One, Noble Master, although you have witnessed the pronouncement of these great vows, sentient beings with meager roots of virtue may very well doubt the ten great vows, for they are most difficult to accomplish. These sentient beings may habitually perform unwholesome actions in the long night and be afflicted by all kinds of suffering. It is to benefit these sentient beings that I now make this sincere declaration before the Buddha: World-Honored One, if the ten great vows are true and not false, may celestial flowers rain down over this assembly and may a celestial voice be heard.”
As soon as Queen Srīmālā had said this to the Buddha, the sky began to rain down celestial flowers, and a celestial voice exclaimed,” Excellent, Queen Srīmālā! What you have said is true indeed.”
This is a common literary motif wherein a transcendent sign, like the raining down of celestial flowers, affirms one’s allegiance to the Tathāgata and the Buddhadharma.
After the assembly saw the auspice, they were freed from every doubt and were overjoyed. They proclaimed in unison their desire to be born wherever Queen Srīmālā would be born, to make the same vows she had made, and to perform the same deeds she would perform. Thereupon, the Buddha, the World-Honored One, prophesied that all their wishes would be fulfilled.
Re: brilliant light
It is my view that all beings emit this light to some degree. It can actually be “seen”, and it is an interesting experiment for those who can enter fairly quickly into a light Samadhi to perceive this light. The method that was explained to me once is to “bend” the vision around the form of the body. This is an interesting experiment in a crowd to see who shines brightly. People (and sensitive animals) can often pick up on a person’s “vibe”, without knowing it is a karmic signature or aura, and this is something I think is extremely natural (i.e. not supernatural nor the product of a trance or hallucination) to occur. Hindu scriptures refer to this as well. I cannot even conceive of the radiance of the Nirmanakaya in human form. I think it would be so dazzling in the flesh as to exceed any of the lyrical descriptions recorded in the scriptures (rays of light etc.). It is recorded in scripture as well that Shakyamuni Buddha also spoke with a most wondrous voice. It seems strange to me how modern Buddhists are so quick to brush these records aside as products of hagiography. To behold the historical Buddha in person was truly an unimaginably auspicious event.
The Light that the Tathagata emits is incomparable. There is, of course, the ordinary auric light that surrounds sentient beings. I have on occasion in the past had my own aura captured with Kirlian photography, yet that is a far cry from what is portrayed here in these verses–that is likened unto Luminosity ITself.
I do have one question. Do the verses above suggest that a Bodhisattva who is not diligent can fall from this status?
Diligence must remain a constant.The Śūraṅgama Sūtra shows how even the most astute adept in the heights of Deep Samadhis, can still fall into one or more of mara’s mindtraps of the Fifty Demonic States of Mind. A heightened state of vigilance is always a primary focus.
Until the stage of avaivartika-bodhisattva (non-retrogressive-bodhisattva) – then one can no longer backslide. So I read in the texts.
It is hard for me to understand. But I will be diligent.
n.yeti: it is normal to brush aside that which appears unknown and strange. Without having the karma and merit to meet a true teacher, I am afraid it is very hard to encounter that light. I remember in the past I would find the passages about the rays of light emitted from Buddha’s swastika either funny or offensive to my intelligence, or both! I thought it was childish! That was the level of my arrogance and ignorance.
Without “opening the eyes that can read the sutras” how can you read the sutras, as Bassui would say? Well, my eye has not really opened yet, but it is the case that the light can be felt even thought closed eyes. Once I asked Tozen about this “light” and how come that it feels almost like bodily bliss? I thought: if that light is fundamentally beyond the skandhas, how come I feel it through my skandhas (as some kind of bliss)?
He replied that while that Light is fundamentally beyond the senses (it is the unitary light that is split, gets divided through the prism of the senses), when it “touches” our skandhic filtering, it feels like bodily bliss, or perhaps the aura your describe. It gets “translated”, as it were, into bodily feelings, that can be very blissful. I hope I reproduced the answer correctly! My memory isn’t as good as I would like it to be.
Yes, I too recall the same reaction. How foolish I was, how lacking in goodness. For no other reason than my own stupidity, I looked down upon the sages for attempting to describe that which is beyond all words.