As mentioned in the introductory blog of this series, we will be utilizing three different translations of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra: John Powers’s translation will be prefaced with JP; John Keenan’s by JK; and Thomas Cleary’s by TC. All three translations have great merit which will be confirmed during the exegesis.
Chapter One: Introduction
(JK) Thus have I heard. At one time the World-honored One was dwelling in an immeasurable abode adorned with seven gems that shone brilliantly and emitted a great light illuminating all the immeasurable world realms. Its limitless regions were brilliantly adorned and well arranged. They had no boundaries. Their quantity was beyond reckoning, and they surpassed anything found in the triple world. Having been brought forth from good roots, that abode transcended this world. It was characterized by a pure conscious construction of perfect mastery. It was the domain of Tathagatas.
There is no specified setting for this sutra, unlike Deer Park or Vulture Peak or some prominent locale like Shravasti. Hence, unlike conventional sutras there is no specific time or geographical place. What we have instead is a vast, boundless Citadel that overflows into countless Buddha-realms and saha-worlds. As if viewed from a massive hologram, each realm mirrors this undivided Super-abode of the Tathagatas. IT is vibrating with seven precious substances (gold, silver, lapis lazuli, jasper, coral, cat’s eye, and a yellow greenish gem-base.) This wondrous, mystical structure, reveals the marvelous spiritual gnosis of the Buddha who miraculously fills the entire cosmos with supernal self-mastery, wisdom and grace. Cleary describes it as being “supported by the joy and bliss of the universal taste of truth.”
(JK) Like clouds, great bodhisattvas gathered together there. An immeasurable number of gods, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, humans, nonhumans, and similar beings were in attendance. There the great taste of the doctrine sustained their delight and happiness and brought about all benefit for sentient beings. It had destroyed the oppressive, defiled inclinations of passion, and it was far removed from all inimical forces. Surpassing all adornments was the adorned abode of the Tathagata. Its paths were the cultivation of great recollection and wisdom. Its vehicles were great quietude and vision. Its entry doors were the great liberations of emptiness, imagelessness, and desirelessness. It was ornamented with a multitude of good qualities. It was established by the multitude of the great, jeweled flower king.
Great Maha-Bodhisattvas have assembled therein, accompanied by a whole host of innumerable beings hungering for the Buddhadharma:
nagas: familiar serpentine beings whose submerged realm hosted the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures
yaksas: a vast class of nature-spirits who guard natural treasures embedded in earthen tree roots
gandharvas: celestial musicians and fragrance-eaters
asuras: power-seeking Titan-like beings who oftentimes wage war with the devas
garudas: bird-like beings with a mixture of eagle and human features. They are natural enemies of the nagas yet within this audience, put-aside their animosity and actually sit together in order to bask freely and unhindered in the all-encompassing auspicious delight of the Buddhadharma
kimnaras: centaur-like beings, half-man and half horse
mahoragas: bulky, ogre-like beings who can change their appearance from serpentine bodies from the waist down; however, their appearance can change given the particular artistic tradition, in-reverse—having serpent heads with humanoid bodies
nonhumans, and similar beings were in attendance: oftentimes these are mistaken as ghosts, but actually represents alien-like beings from different dimensions, who [similarly] partake in these propitious teachings
the great taste of the doctrine: reflective of the single-taste
It had destroyed the oppressive, defiled inclinations of passion, and it was far removed from all inimical forces: free from all demons and afflictions spawned by the Evil One
Its paths were the cultivation of great recollection and wisdom: cultivating the Recollective Resolve thus fostering great Buddhagnosis
Its vehicles were great quietude and vision: later on we shall see how the spirit of quietude plays a dominant role in this sutra
great liberations of emptiness, imagelessness, and desirelessness: three-fold road of embracing and cultivating the Noble Truths, the real nature of sunyata, and the one definitive feature of it all to find total liberation from all defiled sensate phenomena
(TC) With supremely pure awareness, the Buddha was attached neither to the mundane nor the supramundane. He proceeded according to formless truth and dwelt in the abode of the enlightened ones. He had arrived at equality with all the enlightened ones and had reached the point of nonobstruction and the state of unchangeability.
Unimpeded in all actions, the Buddha’s devices were inconceivable. Roaming in the equality of past, present, and future, his being was in all worlds. He was free from doubt in cognition of all things and had accomplished great enlightenment in all actions, without confusion in knowledge of all truths.
(JP) Having attained the knowledge that has no doubts regarding all phenomena, having attained intelligence possessing all capabilities, he was unperplexed with respect to knowledge of the Dharma. Endowed with an unimaginable embodiment, having fully given rise to the wisdom of all the Bodhisattvas, endowed with the non-dual abiding of a Buddha and the supreme perfections, he had reached the limit of the uniquely liberating and exalted wisdom of a Tathāgata. He had realized full equality with the state of a Buddha without ends or middle, wholly permeated by the Dharmadhātu, extending to the limit of the realm of space.
unimaginable embodiment: the embodiment of the Tathagata is inconceivable. It cannot ever be imagined by Worldlings who are entrapped in conceptual thought and actions alone
endowed with the non-dual abiding of a Buddha: this is in reference to the non-dual Dharmakaya
wholly permeated by the Dharmadhātu, extending to the limit of the realm of space: “Just as space is limitless, boundless, inexhaustible, unobstructed, unproduced, unceasing, unchanging, and provides an environment for all physical things at all times, so the Dharmakāya has the characteristic of the continual establishment of help and happiness for all sentient beings.” (Powers)
(JK) He was accompanied by an immeasurable multitude of great word-hearers, all of whom were docile sons of the Buddha. Their thinking was well liberated. Their understanding was well liberated. Their discipline was well purified, and they had set their aim upon joy in doctrine. They had heard much, and retained and accumulated what they had heard. They thought good thoughts, spoke good words, and did good deeds. Their wisdom was swift, quick, incisive, salvific, penetrating, great, expansive, and unequaled. Having perfected that wisdom gem, they were endowed with the three knowledges of remembering former lives, of the divine eye, and of the destruction of contaminants. They had attained the happiness of the highest state in the present world. They dwelled in the field of pure merit. Their deportment was tranquil and in no way imperfect. The perfection of their great patience and gentleness was without decrease. Already good, they revered and practiced the holy teachings of the Tathagata.
endowed with the three knowledges: “The three knowledges (trividyā) are: clairvoyant knowledge that clearly realizes recollections of past states (pūrvanivāsanānusmrtisāksātkāra-abhijñā); clairvoyant knowledge that clearly realizes transmigration and birth (cyutupapāda-sāksātkāra-abhijñā); and clairvoyant knowledge that clearly realizes the extinction of contaminations (āsravaksaya-sāksātkāra-abhijñā).” (Powers)
(JP) Also in attendance were innumerable Bodhisattvas who assembled from various Buddha lands, all of them fully engaged and abiding in the great state [of the Mahāyāna]. They had renounced cyclic existence through the teaching of the Great Vehicle, were even-minded toward all beings, and were free from all imputations, ideations, and mental constructions. They had conquered all demons and opponents and were removed from all the mental tendencies of the Śrāvakas and Pratyekabuddhas. They were steadfast through great bliss and joy in the taste of the Dharma. They had completely transcended the five great fears and had progressed solely to the irreversible stages. They had actualized those stages which bring to rest all harms to all sentient beings.
Among them were the Bodhisattvas, the Mahāsattvas, Gambhīrārtha-samdhinirmocana and Vidhivatpariprcchaka, Dharmodgata, Suviśuddhamati, Viśālamati and Gunākara, Paramārthasamudgata and Āryāvalokiteśvara, Maitreya and Mañjuśrī, all abiding together.
five great fears: “The five great fears (‘jigs-pa-chen-po-lnga, pañca-mahābhaya) are the fears of beginners on the Bodhisattva path: “fear concerning livelihood, fear of disapproval, fear of death, fear of bad transmigrations, and fear that is timidity when addressing assemblies. The five fears are completely abandoned when one attains the level of surpassing thought (lhag-bsam, adhyāśaya).” (Powers)
the irreversible stages: “The irreversible stages (phyir-mi-ldog-pa’i-sa, avaivartika-bhūmi) are the eighth through tenth stages, beyond which a Bodhisattva is no longer capable of backsliding. When one attains a level on which one is prophesied to omniscience one has progressed to the irreversible stages.” (Powers)
*The concluding names of the Bodhisattvas correspond with the self-same chapters.