Chief Editor: Venerable Brahmapundit
Editor: Peter Harvey
Translators: Tamás Agócs, Peter Harvey, Dharmacārī Śraddhāpa, P.D.Premasiri, G.ASomaratne, Venerable Thich Tue Sy



Great arahant monk disciples

Th.212 Foremost monk disciples and their qualities

This list of foremost monks gives a good panorama of the kind of qualities found in Buddhist monks at the time of the Buddha.[1]

Monks, the foremost of my monk disciples in seniority is Aññā-koṇḍañña. The other foremost of my monk disciples are: among those with great wisdom, Sāriputta; among those with great psychic potency, Mahā-moggallāna; among those who expound the ascetic practices, Mahā-kassapa; among those with the divine eye, Anuruddha; among those of eminent families, Bhaddiya Kāḷigodhāyaputta; among those with a sweet voice, Bhaddiya the dwarf; among those with the lion’s roar (of fearless teaching), Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja; among those who speak on the Dhamma, Puṇṇa Mantāṇuputta; among those who explain in detail the meaning of what has been stated in brief, Mahā-kaccāna.

The foremost of my monk disciples are: among those who create the mind-made body, Cullapanthaka; among those skilled in mental transformation, Culla-panthaka; among those skilled in the transformation of perception, Mahā-panthaka; among those who dwell without conflict, Subhūti; among those worthy of gifts, Subhūti; among forest dwellers, Revata Khadiravaniya; among those who practise meditative absorption, Kaṅkhā-revata; among those who arouse vigour, Soṇa Koḷivīsa; among those who are excellent speakers, Soṇa Kuṭikaṇṇa; among those who gain (offerings), Sīvalī; amongst those resolved through faith, Vakkali.

The foremost of my monk disciples are: among those who desire training, Rāhula (the Buddha’s son); among those who have gone forth out of faith, Raṭṭhapāla; among those who are first to take meal tickets (chosen by lot), Kuṇḍadhāna; among those who compose inspired verses, Vaṅgīsa; among those who inspire confidence in all respects, Upasena Vaṅgantaputta; among those who assign lodgings, Dabba Mallaputta; among those pleasing and agreeable to the deities, Piḷindavaccha; among those who quickly attain higher knowledge, Bāhiya Dārucīriya; among those with variegated speech (illustrated with many similes and reasons), Kumāra-kassapa; among those who have attained the analytical knowledges, Mahā-koṭṭhita.

The foremost of my monk disciples are: among those who are learned, Ānanda; among those with a quick grasp, Ānanda; among those who are resolute, Ānanda; among those who are personal attendants, Ānanda; among those with a large retinue, Uruvela-kassapa; among those who inspire confidence in families, Kāludāyi; among those with good health, Bakkula; among those who recollect past lives, Sobhita; among the upholders of monastic discipline, Upāli; among those who exhort nuns, Nandaka; among those who guard the doors of the sense faculties, Nanda;664 among those who exhort monks, Mahā-kappina; among those with skill in the fire element (by meditative power), Sāgata; among those who receive eloquent discourses, Rādha; among those who wear coarse robes, Mogharāja.

Etad–agga-vagga: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.23–25, trans. P.H.

Th.213 The attainments of five hundred arahant monks, especially Sāriputta

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī, in the eastern park in the mansion of Migāra’s mother, together with a large community of monks, with five hundred monks, all of them arahants. Now on the holy day of the fifteenth (of the month), the Blessed One was sitting in the open surrounded by the community of monks in order to hold the Pavāranā.[2]

Then, having surveyed the silent community of monks, the Blessed One addressed the monks thus: ‘Monks, come now, let me invite you: Is there any deed of mine, either bodily or verbal, which you would censure?’ When this was said, Venerable Sāriputta rose from his seat, arranged his upper robe over one shoulder, and, raising his joined hands in reverential salutation towards the Blessed One, said to him: ‘Venerable sir, there is no deed of the Blessed One, either bodily or verbal, that we censure. Venerable sir, for the Blessed One is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become possessed of it afterwards. Venerable sir, I invite the Blessed One: Is there any deed of mine, either bodily or verbal, which the Blessed One would censure?’

‘Sāriputta, there is no deed of yours, either bodily or verbal, that I censure. Sāriputta, for you are wise, one of great wisdom, of wide wisdom, of joyous wisdom, of swift wisdom, of sharp wisdom, of penetrative wisdom. Just as the eldest son of a Wheel-turning monarch properly keeps in motion the wheel of sovereignty set in motion by his father, so do you, Sāriputta, properly keep in motion the wheel of the Dhamma set in motion by me.’

‘Venerable sir, if the Blessed One does not censure any deed of mine, bodily or verbal, does he censure any deed, bodily or verbal, of these five hundred monks?’ ‘Sāriputta, there is no deed, bodily or verbal, of these five hundred monks that I censure as of these five hundred monks, sixty monks are triple-knowledge bearers, sixty monks are bearers of the six-fold supernormal knowledges, sixty monks are liberated in both ways, while the rest are liberated by wisdom.[3]

Pavārana Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.410–414, trans. G.A.S.

Th.214 Chief disciples Sāriputta and Moggallāna

These two were friends in lay life and had been disciples of a sceptic teacher before becoming disciples of the Buddha. They promised to tell each other if either found a way to the deathless (Vinaya I.39).  My two chief disciples are named Sāriputta and Moggallāna.

Vepulla-pabbatam Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya II.192, trans. P.H.

Monks a monk endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like Sāriputta and Moggallāna!’ This is the standard and criterion for my monk disciples, Sāriputta and Moggallāna.

Āyācana-vagga 12, Sutta 1: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.88, trans. P.H.

Cultivate the friendship of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, monks, associate with Sāriputta and Moggallāna. They are wise and helpful to their companions in the holy life. ‘Monks, like a mother is Sāriputta; like nurse is Moggallāna. Sāriputta, monks, trains others for the fruit that is stream-entry; Moggallāna for the highest goal (arahantship). Sāriputta, monks, is able to proclaim, teach, describe, establish, reveal, analyse and make plain the four Truths of the Noble Ones.

Sacca-vibhaṅga Sūtta: Majjhima-nikāya III.248, trans. P.H.

Th.215 Sāriputta

Here we see some of the qualities of Sāriputta, who was also known as Upatissa. While extremely wise and discerning, he could let go of the process of thinking once in the second meditative absorption, and his calm and equanimity was such that, to undiscerning people, he might seem as having a dull mind, rather than a sharp one. He was noted, for example, for being able to analytically identify the ingredient processes of any experience.    Forests are delightful, where (ordinary) people find no delight. Those rid of desire will delight there; they are not seekers after sensual pleasures.

If one should see a seer of faults, a teller of one’s errors, a prudent man, one should associate with such a clever man like a revealer of treasure. It fares better, not worse, for one who associates with such a one. …

Near the foot of a tree, with shaven head, clad in outer robe, the elder Upatissa, supreme in wisdom, meditates.

Having attained to non-thinking (in the second meditative absorption), the disciple of the fully enlightened one is straightway possessed of noble silence.

Just as a rocky mountain is unmoving, well-founded, so a monk, like a mountain, does not tremble after the destruction of delusion. …

Calm, quiet, speaking in moderation, not conceited, he shakes off evil qualities as the wind shakes off the leaves of a tree. …

Having attained the perfection of wisdom, having great discernment, a great sage, not stupid but seeming stupid (to the undiscerning), he always wanders, (with the fires of the defilements) quenched.

Sāriputta’s verses: Theragāthā 992-993, 998-1000, 1006 and 1015, trans. P.H.

Th.216 Mahā-moggallāna

(Mahā-) Moggallāna reports that at the time of a past Buddha, he had been a Māra named Dūsī (Majjhimanikāya I.333), yet was now awakened under Gotama Buddha. 

Let us live in the forest, living on alms-food, delighting in whatever scraps come into our alms-bowl, tearing apart the army of death, being well-composed inwardly. …

(To Māra:) For whoever would think of painting the sky with yellow or any other colour, that is only a source of trouble.

This mind, well-composed inside, is like the sky. Evil-minded one, do not attack me as a moth attacks a bonfire. …

Urged on by the self-developed one, who was bearing his last body, I shook with my big toe the palace of Migāra’s mother (to quieten some lax and noisy monks[4]). ….

The flashes of lightning fall upon the cleft of Vebhāra and Paṇḍavas, but one gone to the cleft in the mountain, the son of the incomparable venerable one, meditates. …

By whom the thousandfold world, over the eon of Brahmā, is known in a moment, that monk, having mastery in the strands of supernormal power and in (knowledge) of passing away and rebirth, sees the deities in time.

Sāriputta, indeed, the monk who has reached the far shore, may be so supreme by reason of his wisdom, ethical discipline, and calm.

In a moment I can fashion the bodily form of 100,000 times 10,000,000 (people); I am skilled in (supernormal) transformations; I am master of supernormal powers.

Mahā-moggallāna’s verses: Theragāthā  1146, 1155–56, 1164, 1167 and 1181–1183, trans. P.H.

Th.217 Mahā-kassapa and Ānanda prepare for the first communal recitation of the Buddha’s teachings

This passage concerns the time soon after the death of the Buddha. The most senior and influential arahant disciple still alive was Mahā-kassapa, an austere and nature-loving monk who convened a group of arahants to recite the Buddha’s teachings to ensure their proper memory and transmission (this being generally known as the ‘first council’). The monk Ānanda, the Buddha’s personal attendant for many years (see *L.65 and *Th.212), had an excellent memory and knowledge of what the Buddha had taught, but he was not yet an arahant, though still a noble one on the path to this, being a stream-enterer. On the night before the assembly to chant the teachings, he made a special effort to become an arahant by meditating all night. At the point where he had just given up his efforts, which must have been too forceful, and was lying down to sleep for a short while, he attains arahantship.

(Mahā-kassapa:) ‘Come let us, friends, chant Dhamma and Vinaya (the monastic discipline) before what is not Dhamma shines out and Dhamma is withheld, before what is not vinaya shines out and vinaya is withheld, before those who speak what is not-Dhamma become strong and those who speak Dhamma become feeble, before those who speak what is not-vinaya become strong and those who speak vinaya become feeble.’ ‘Well then, honoured sir, let the elder select monks.’

Then Venerable Mahā-kassapa selected five hundred arahants, less one. Monks spoke to Venerable Mahā-kassapa: ‘Honoured sir, this Ānanda, although he is still a learner, could not be one to follow a false course through desire, hatred, delusion or fear; and he has mastered much Dhamma and Vinaya under the Blessed One. Well now, honoured sir, let the elder select Ānanda as well.’ Then Venerable Mahā-kassapa selected Venerable Ānanda as well. …

Then the monks who were elders went to Rājagaha to chant Dhamma and Vinaya. … Then Venerable Ānanda, thinking, ‘Tomorrow is the assembly. Now it is not suitable in me that I, being (only) a learner, should go to the assembly.’ And having spent much of that night in mindfulness in regard to the body, when the night was nearly spent, thinking ‘I will lie down’, he inclined his body, but (before) his head had touched the mattress and as his feet became free from the ground, in that interval his mind was freed from the intoxicating inclinations without grasping. Then Venerable Ānanda, being an arahant, went to the assembly.

Cullavagga XI.1–6: Vinaya II.285–286, trans. P.H.

Th.218 Ānanda

   Of great learning, a brilliant speaker, attendant of the Buddha, having laid down his burden, unfettered, (Ānanda) Gotama lies down to sleep. …

82,000 (teachings) I received from the Buddha, 2,000 from the monks. These 84,000 are current teachings.

The man of little learning grows old like an ox; his flesh increases, but his wisdom does not increase.

The man of great learning who despises the man of little learning because of his learning, seems to me like a blind lamp-bearer….

For 25 years I served the Blessed One with deeds … words … and thoughts, of loving kindness, like a shadow that never leaves.

I paced up and down behind the Buddha while he paced up and down. While the Dhamma was being taught, knowledge arose in me.

Ānanda’s verses: Theragāthā 1021, 1024-1026 and 1041–1044, trans. P.H.

Th.219 A dwarf, but an arahant of great power

This passage makes clear that physical deformity can go hand-in-hand with great spiritual accomplishment.

Then Venerable Bhaddiya the Dwarf approached the Blessed One. The Blessed One saw him coming in the distance and addressed the monks thus, ‘Monks, do you see that monk coming, ugly, unsightly, deformed, despised among the monks?’ ‘Yes, venerable sir.’ ‘Monks, that monk is of great spiritual power and might. It is not easy to find an attainment which that monk has not already attained. …

Geese, herons, and peacocks, elephants, and spotted deer, all are frightened of the lion regardless of their bodies’ size.

In the same way, among human beings the small one endowed with wisdom – he is the one that is truly great, not the fool with a well-built body.

Bhaddi Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya II.279, trans. G.A.S.

Great arahant nun disciples 

The order of nuns with higher ordination (as bhikkhunī/bhikṣuṇīs) has survived into the present day in China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam, though in the Tibetan region women have only been able to take the lower ordination. Both forms of ordination for women died out in Theravāda lands around the thirteenth century, though women with a form of semi-ordained life have continued to exist there. The late twentieth century saw great efforts to revive the Theravāda order of full nuns, with the help of nuns from East Asia. The 1990s saw the order re-established in Sri Lanka, though it will take time before it is accepted by senior monks in all Theravāda countries, as there is debate over whether a revival is possible.

Th.220 The origin of the nuns’ monastic order

This passage recounts how the Buddha first allowed women to ordain as nuns, the request for this coming from Mahā-pajāpatī, his mother’s sister, who had brought him up after his mother died soon after his birth, and she had married his father. There is scholarly debate over the meaning, implications, and historicity of this passage. The ordination of women as Buddhist nuns helped raise the status of women in India.

Then Venerable Ānanda spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, are women competent, if they retire from home life to the homeless one, under the Dhamma and discipline announced by the Tathāgata, to attain the fruit that is stream-entry, to attain to the fruit that is once returning, to attain to the fruit that is non-returning, to attain to arahantship?’

‘Ānanda, women are competent, if they retire from home life to the homeless one, under the Dhamma and discipline announced by the Tathāgata, to attain the fruit that is stream-entry, to attain to the fruit that is once returning, to attain to the fruit that is non-returning, to attain to arahantship.’

‘Venerable sir, since the women are thus competent, (also) consider, venerable sir, how great a benefactress Mahā-Pajāpatī Gotamī has been. She is the sister of the mother of the Blessed One, and as step-mother, nurse, and giver of milk, she suckled the Blessed One on the death of his mother. Venerable sir, let women retire from the home life to the homeless one, under the Dhamma and discipline announced by the Tathāgata.’

‘Ānanda, if Mahā-Pajāpatī Gotamī will accept eight weighty regulations, let it be reckoned to her as her ordination: (1) A nun of even a hundred years’ standing shall greet respectfully, rise to meet, entreat humbly, and perform all respectful offices for a monk, even if he be but that day admitted to the Sangha. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (2) A nun shall not keep residence in a district where there are no monks. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (3) On each half-month a nun shall await from the congregation of the monks the appointing of the day for reciting the monastic rules and someone to come and administer the admonition. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (4) At the end of residence a nun shall invite criticism in both congregations in regard to what has been seen, or heard, or suspected. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (5) If a nun has offended against a weighty rule, she shall undergo penance of half a month toward both the congregations. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (6) When a female novice has spent her two years in the practice of the six rules, she shall seek ordination from both the congregations. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (7) A nun shall not revile or abuse a monk in any manner. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. (8) From this day on the nuns shall not be allowed to reprove the monks officially, but the monks shall be allowed to reprove the nuns officially. This regulation shall be honoured, esteemed, revered, and worshiped, and is not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. Ānanda, if Mahā-Pajāpatī Gotamī will accept these eight weighty regulations, let it be reckoned to her as her ordination.’

Then Ānanda … approached Mahā-Pajāpatī Gotamī, having approached, he spoke thus to her: ‘Gotamī, if now you will accept these eight weighty regulations, it shall be reckoned to you as your ordination.’ ‘Venerable Ānanda, just as a woman or a man, youthful, young, and fond of ornament, having bathed his head, and obtained a wreath of blue lotuses, or a wreath of jasmine flowers, or a wreath of atimuttaka flowers, would take it up with both hands, and place it on the head, the noblest part of the body; Venerable Ānanda, in exactly the same way I do take up these eight weighty regulations, not to be transgressed as long as life shall last.’

Then Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One; and having approached and greeted the Blessed One, he sat down respectfully at one side. Seated respectfully at one side, Venerable Ānanda spoke thus to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, Mahā-Pajāpatī Gotamī has accepted the eight weighty regulations; the sister of the mother of the Blessed One has been ordained.’

Cullavagga X.3–5: Vinaya II.254–255, trans. G.A.S.

Th.221 Foremost nun disciples and their qualities

Monks, a nun endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like the nuns Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā!’ This is the standard and criterion for my nun disciples, Khemā and Uppalavaṇṇā.

Āyācana-vagga 12, sutta 2: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.88, trans. P.H.

Monks, the foremost of my nun disciples in seniority is Mahā-pajāpatī Gotamī. The other foremost of my nun disciples are: among those with great wisdom, Khemā; among those with psychic potency, Uppalavaṇṇā; among those who uphold the monastic discipline, Paṭācārā; among speakers on Dhamma, Dhammadinnā; among those who practise meditative absorption, Nandā; among those who arouse vigour, Soṇā; among those with the divine eye, Sakulā; among those who quickly attain higher knowledge, Bhaddā Kuṇḍalakesā; among those who recollect past lives, Bhaddā Kāpilānī; among those who attain great supernormal knowledge, Bhaddā Kaccāna;[5] among those who wear coarse robes, Kisāgotamī; among those resolved through faith, Sigālamātā.

Etad–agga-vagga: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.25, trans. P.H.

Th.222 Khemā

In this passage, King Pasenadi wishes to visit a renunciant or brahmin, and is in time directed to the nun Khemā:[6]

‘Now a good report concerning this revered lady has spread about thus: “She is wise, competent, intelligent, learned, a splendid speaker, ingenious.” Let your majesty visit her.’  … [The king goes to her and asks her if it can be said of a Tathāgata that he ‘is’, ‘is not’, ‘both is and is not’ or neither is nor is no’ after death, but she does not accept any of these (see *Th.10 and 20).] ‘What now, revered lady, is the cause and reason why this has not been declared by the Blessed One?’

‘Well, then, Great king, I will question you about this same matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, great king … do you have an accountant or calculator or mathematician who can count the water in the great ocean thus: “There are so many gallons of water”, or … “There are so many hundreds of thousands of gallons of water”?’ ‘No, revered lady. For what reason? Because the great ocean is deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom.’

‘So too, great king, that material form by which one describing the Tathāgata might describe him has been abandoned by the Tathāgata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, obliterated so that it is no more subject to future arising. The Tathāgata, great king, is liberated from reckoning in terms of material form; he is deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom like the great ocean. [Hence the four above options on the Tathāgata after death do not apply; the same is then said replacing ‘material form’ by each of feeling, perception, the volitional activities, and consciousness. The king later asks the same question of the Buddha and receives exactly the same reply, as in *Th.10]

Khemā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.374–377, trans. P.H.

Th.223 Uppalavaṇṇā

Uppalavaṇṇā was very beautiful and sought in marriage by many before her ordination.

‘Having seen the peril in sensual pleasures, and renunciation as a form security, I myself went forth at Rājagaha from the house into the homeless state.

I know that I have lived before, the divine eye has been purified; and there is knowledge of the state of mind (of others); the (divine) ear-element has been purified;

Spernormal power too has been realized by me; I have attained destruction of the intoxicating inclinations: (these) six supernormal knowledges have been realized by me; the Buddha’s teaching has been done.

Having fashioned a four-horse chariot by supernormal power, having paid homage at the Buddha’s feet, the glorious protector of the word, I (stood on one side).’

(Māra:) … ‘you stand there alone at the foot of the tree; you have not even any companion; O child, are you not afraid of rogues?’

‘Even if 100,000 rogues like you were to come together, I should not move a hair’s breadth,

I should not even shake. What will you alone do to me, Māra?’

Uppalavaṇṇā’s verses: Therīgāthā, 226–231, trans. P.H.

Th.224 A woman goes beyond her grief for her dead daughter and becomes an arahant

In these verses, a now awakened nun recalls how she had grieved at the death of her daughter, but the Buddha had said that she had grieved for many daughters in past lives, helping her to remove the ‘dart’ of grief and turn to the path of Buddhist practice. 

‘In the wood you cry out: “O Jīva”. Ubbirī, understand yourself. 84,000 (daughters), all with the name Jīva, have been burned in this funeral fire. Which of these do you grieve for?’    ‘Truly he has plucked out my dart, hard to see, nestling in my heart, which grief for my daughter he has thrust away for me, overcome by grief.

Today that (same) I have my dart plucked out; I am without hunger, quenched. I go to the awakened sage, the Dhamma and the Sangha as a refuge.’

Ubbirī’s verses: Therīgāthā 51–53,trans. G.A.S.

Th.225 A woman rejected by three husbands becomes a nun, and then an arahant

These verses paint a graphic picture of a woman rejected by three husbands and then ordaining as a nun who becomes awakened. In verses continuing from the ones below, she attributes her difficulties with her husbands to karma from a bad action seven lives ago: as a man, he had sex with the wife of another man. The karmic results of this were: rebirth in hell, then in turn as three animals who were castrated – a monkey, a goat and a calf – then as a hermaphrodite human slave, then as a poor girl taken as a second wife, then her final life as a woman rejected by her husbands. The verses thus illustrate the working of karma, sex-change across rebirths, and the ability to go beyond karmic limitations.

In the flower-named city, Pāṭaliputta, in the best part of the earth, there were two nuns, members of the Sakya clan, possessed of good qualities.

One of them called Isidāsī, the other called Bodhī, both possessed of ethical discipline, delighting in meditation and study, having great learning, with defilements shaken off.    Having wandered for alms, having made their meals, with washed bowls, seated happily in a lonely place, they uttered these words:

‘Noble Isidāsī, you are lovely, your youth has not yet faded. Having seen what fault are you then intent on renunciation?’

Thus being asked, Isidāsī in the lonely place, proficient in teaching the Dhamma, spoke this utterance: ‘Bodhī, listen to how I went forth.

In Ujjenī, best of cities, my father was a merchant, restrained by virtuous conduct. I was his only daughter, dear, and charming, and beloved.

Then from Sāketa came men, belonging to a most noble family, to woo me; a merchant with

many jewels sent them. To him my father gave me as a daughter-in-law.

Approaching morning and evening I did obeisance with my head to my father-in-law and mother-in-law. I paid homage at their feet, as I had been instructed.

Having seen my husband’s sisters, or his brothers, or his retinue, even my one and only beloved, I trembled and gave them a seat.

I gratified them with food and drink and hard food and what was stored there. I brought it forth and gave what was fitting to each.

Arising in good time I went to my lord’s house. Having washed my hands and feet, upon the threshold I approached my husband, with cupped hands.

Taking a comb, decorations, collyrium, and a mirror, I myself adorned my lord, like a servant-girl.

I myself prepared the rice-gruel. I myself washed the bowl. As a mother her only son, so I looked after my husband.

My husband offended against me, who in this way had shown him devotion, an affectionate servant, with humbled pride, an early riser, not lazy, virtuous.

He said this to his mother and father: “Having taken leave I shall go. I shall not be able to live together with Isidāsī in one house.”

“Son, do not speak thus. Isidāsī is learned, clever, an early riser, not lazy. Son, why does she not please you?”

“She does me no harm, but I shall not live with Isidāsī; to me she is just odious. I have had enough; having taken leave, I shall go.”

Hearing his utterance my father-in-law and mother-in-law asked me: “What offence has been committed by you? Speak confidently how it really was.”

“I have not offended at all. I have not harmed him. I have not said any evil utterance. What can be done when my husband hates me?”

Downcast, overcome by suffering, they led me back to my father’s house, saying: “While keeping our son safe, we have lost the goddess of beauty incarnate.”

Then my father gave me to the household of a second rich man, belonging to a noble family, for half the bride-price for which the merchant had taken me.

In his house too I lived a month, then he too rejected me, although serving him like a slavegirl, not harming him, possessed of ethical discipline.

And my father spoke to one wandering for alms, a tamer of others and self-tamed: “Be my son-in-law; throw down your cloth and pot.”

He too, having lived with me for a fortnight, then said to my father: “Give me my cloth and pot and cup; I shall beg for alms again.”

Then my father, mother, and all the group of my relatives said to him: “What has not been done for you here? Say quickly, what may be done for you.”

Thus spoken to, he said: “Even if I myself were honoured, I have had enough; I shall not be able to live together with Isidāsī in one house.”

Allowed to go, he departed. I for my part, all alone, thought: “Having asked leave, I shall go to die, or I shall go forth (as a nun).”

Then the noble lady Jinadattā, expert in the discipline, having great learning, possessed of ethical discipline, on her begging round, came to my father’s house. …

Having completely satisfied her with food and drink and hard food and what was stored there, I said:  “Noble lady, I wish to go forth.”

Then my father said to me: “Child, practise the Dhamma in this very place; with food and drink satisfy renunciants and twice-born brahmins.”

Then I said to my father, lamenting, having cupped my hands: “Evil indeed was the action (of a past life) done by me. I shall destroy it”

Then my father said to me: “Attain awakening and the highest state, and obtain nirvana, which the best of humans realized.”

Having saluted my mother and father, and all the group of my relatives, when I had gone forth for seven days I attained the three knowledges.

Isidāsī’s verses: Therīgāthā 400–433, trans. G.A.S.

Great laymen and laywomen disciples

Th.226 Can laypeople be arahants?

It is notable that even the foremost lay disciples are at most described as non-returners, and as celibate but not ordained. While it is seen as possible for a layperson to attain arahantship, it came to be held that their lay status would then have to be changed immediately.

Unequal (to arahantship), sire, are the attributes of a householder. The attributes being unequal, it is owing to the weakness of his attributes that a householder who has attained arahantship either goes forth (as a monastic) or attains final nirvana (at death) that very day. This is not a defect in arahantship, sire, this is a defect in the householder’s attributes, namely their weakness. It is, sire, like the food that guards the life-span and protects the life of all beings, yet carries away the life of him whose stomach is out of order and has a sluggish and weak digestion, because it is not properly digested. This, sire, is not a defect in the food, this is a defect in the stomach, namely a weakness in its heat.

Milindapañha 265, trans. P.H.

Th.227 Foremost laymen disciples and their qualities

Monks a male lay follower endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like Citta the householder and Hatthaka Āḷavī!’ This is the standard and criterion for my laymen disciples, Citta the householder and Hatthaka Āḷavī.

Āyācana-vagga 12, sutta 3: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.88, trans. P.H.

Monks, the foremost of my laymen disciples in being first to go for refuge are the merchants Tapussa and Bhallika. The foremost of my laymen disciples are: among donors, the householder Sudatta Anāthapiṇḍika; among speakers on Dhamma, the householder Citta of Macchikāsaṇḍa; among those who make use of the four means of drawing others together harmoniously and sustaining a retinue, Hatthaka of Āḷavī; among those who give what is excellent, Mahānāma the Sakyan; among those who give what is agreeable, the householder Ugga of Vesālī; among attendants of the Sangha, the householder Uggata; among those with unwavering confidence, Sūra Ambaṭṭha; among those with confidence in persons, Jīvaka Komārabhacca; among those who have trust, the householder Nakulapitā.

Etad–agga-vagga: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.26, trans. P.H.

Th.228 Citta the householder[7]

Citta, one of the two lay disciples that the Buddha urged other lay disciples to emulate, has a section of the Saṃyutta-nikāya dedicated to him (IV.281–304). He is portrayed as often having deep discussions with monks, in which he asks probing questions on deep matters, or is asked such questions by monks. He was a non-returner (IV.301) who, on his death-bed, when gods urged him to become a Wheel-turning monarch in his next life, said he was beyond such impermanent things, and taught the gods to have firm confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (IV.302–04). In the following passage, he is in conversation with Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta, otherwise known as Mahāvīra, the leader of Jainism at the time of the Buddha.

Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta then said to him, ‘Householder, do you have faith in the renunciant Gotama when he says, “There is a meditative concentration without thought and examination, there is a cessation of thought and examination.”’ (Citta:) ‘In this matter, venerable sir, I do not go by faith in the Blessed One … .’

When this was said, Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta looked up proudly towards his own retinue and said, ‘… One who thinks that thought and examination can be stopped might imagine he could catch the wind in a net or arrest the current of the river Ganges in his own fist.’

(Citta:) ‘What do you think, venerable sir, which is superior: knowledge or faith?’ ‘Knowledge, householder, is superior to faith.’ ‘Well, venerable sir, to whatever extent I wish, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first meditative absorption, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with joy and easeful pleasure born of seclusion. Then, to whatever extent I wish, with the subsiding of thought and examination, I enter and dwell in the second meditative absorption … the third meditative absorption … the fourth meditative absorption. Since I know and see this, venerable sir, in what other, renunciant or brahmin, need I place faith regarding the claim that there is a meditative concentration without thought and examination, a cessation of thought and examination?’

Nigaṇṭha Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.298, trans. P.H.

Th.229 Hatthaka of Āḷavī  

Hatthaka, one of the two lay disciples that the Buddha urged other lay disciples to emulate, ‘could never get enough of seeing the Blessed One, hearing the good Dhamma and attending on the Sangha’, being a non-returner who, when reborn in a heavenly realm, taught Dhamma to many gods (Aṅguttara-nikāya I 279).

On one occasion, the Blessed One was dwelling at Āḷavī at the Aggāḷava shrine. Then Hatthaka of Āḷavī, accompanied by five hundred lay followers, approached the Blessed One, paid respect to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One then said, ‘Your retinue is large, Hatthaka. How do you sustain this large retinue?’

‘I do so, venerable sir, by the four means of drawing together harmoniously taught by the Blessed One. When I know, “This one is to be drawn by giving”, I draw him by giving. When I know, “This one is to be drawn by endearing speech”, I draw him by endearing speech. When I know, “This one is to be drawn by helpful conduct”, I draw him by helpful conduct. When I know, “This one is to be drawn by impartiality”, I draw him by impartiality. There is wealth in my family, venerable sir. They don’t think they should listen to me as if I were poor.’ ‘Good, good, Hatthaka! This is the method by which you can sustain a large retinue ….’

… [After the Buddha taught Hatthaka Dhamma, and he had left] the Blessed One addressed the monks, ‘Monks, you should remember Hatthaka of Āḷavī as one endowed with eight astounding and amazing qualities. What eight? He has faith; he has ethical discipline, and has sense of moral integrity and concern for consequences; he is learned, generous and wise; he has few desires (e.g. not wanting his inner good qualities known by others)….’

Hatthaka Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya IV.218–220, trans. P.H.

Th.230 Foremost laywomen disciples and their qualities

Monks a female lay follower endowed with faith, rightly aspiring, should aspire thus: ‘May I become like Khujjuttarā and Veḷukaṇṭakī (or Uttarā) Nandamātā!’ This is the standard and criterion for my laywomen disciples, Khujjuttarā and Veḷukaṇṭakī Nandamātā.

Āyācana-vagga 12, Sutta 4: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.88, trans. P.H.

Monks, the foremost of my laywomen disciples in being first to go for refuge is Sujātā, daughter of Senānī. The foremost of my laywomen disciples are: among donors, Visākhā Migāramātā; among those who are learned, Khujjuttarā; among those who dwell in loving kindness, Sāmāvatī; among those who practise meditative absorption, Uttarā Nandamātā; among those who give what is excellent, Suppavāsā the Koliyan daughter; among those who attend on the sick, the laywoman Suppiyā; among those of unwavering confidence, Kātiyānī; among those who are intimate (i.e. an intimate companion with her husband Nakulapitā), the housewife Nakulamātā; among those whose confidence is based on hearsay, the laywoman Kāḷī of Kuraraghara.

Etad–agga-vagga: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.26, trans. P.H.

Th.231 Khujjuttarā and Veḷukaṇṭakī Nandamātā

Of these two laywomen disciples praised by the Buddha, the first is said in the Itivuttaka commentary to have been the person who heard, remembered, and passed on the discourses in this 124 page text, and the Milindapañha (pp.78–79) says she could remember some of her past lives. The second is one who is praised by Sāriputta for being one who converses with gods, one of which praises her for chanting the Pārāyana, a 23-page section of the Sutta-nipāta. She retained her equanimity when her son was wrongly arrested, then executed and when her dead husband appeared to her. She was completely faithful to her husband, even in thought. Her other ‘astounding and amazing’ qualities were that:

 Since I declared myself a lay follower, I don’t recall ever intentionally transgressing any training rule (of ethics). … For as much as I want, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, I enter and dwell in the first … second … third … fourth meditative absorption … . Of the five lower fetters taught by the Blessed One, I do not see any that I have not abandoned (hence, she was a non-returner).

Nandamātā Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya IV.66–67, trans. P.H.


Great monastic disciples

M.165 Kāśyapa understands the Buddha’s wordless teaching and becomes his successor

This passage is a kind of foundation legend for the Chan/Zen school, as it traces its inspiration back to the disciple Kāśyapa (Pāli Kassapa: see *Th.155, 212 and 217) and his understanding of the Buddha’s wordless teaching.

The Blessed One holds up a flower: Once, when the Blessed One was staying on Vultures’ Peak, he held up a flower to show to those who were assembled there. Everyone was silent except for the Venerable Kāśyapa, who broke into a smile. The Blessed One said, ‘I possess the treasury of the eye of the true Dharma, and the wondrous mind of nirvana, the true formless form, and the doorway into the subtle, wondrous Dharma, the unwritten teaching which is transmitted separately. I entrust this to Mahā-kāśyapa.’

‘The Gateless Gate’/Chan Zong Wumen Guan, Taishō vol.48, text 2005, p.293c12–16, trans. from Chinese by D.S.

M.166 Ānanda

In this passage, Ānanda, the Buddha’s attendant monk who also memorised his teachings, is given the task of passing on the perfection of wisdom teachings, which will continue the Buddha’s presence in the world.

The Blessed One then said to the Venerable Ānanda, … ‘Ānanda, this is my instruction to you. In this perfection of wisdom, the knowledge of omniscience will be brought to perfection. What do you think, Ānanda, is the Tathāgata your teacher?’ Ānanda said, ‘He is my teacher, Blessed One. He is my teacher, Fortunate One.’

The Blessed One then said to the Venerable Ānanda, ‘The Tathāgata is your teacher, Ānanda. You have taken care of me, Ānanda, with beautiful physical acts of loving kindness, beautiful words of loving kindness, and beautiful thoughts of loving kindness. Ānanda, you have looked after me, shown me affection and faith, and paid reverence to me now in this body. You should treat the perfection of wisdom in the same way when I am gone. A second time, Ānanda, and a third, I entrust this perfection of wisdom to you so that it is not lost. There is no-one better suited to this task. As long as this perfection of wisdom exists in the world, Ānanda, it can be said that the Tathāgata remains, and teaches the Dharma. Living beings, Ānanda, will still be able to see the Buddha, hear the Dharma, and be in the presence of the Sangha. Those living beings who hear this perfection of wisdom, remember it, recite it, study it, spread it, teach it, explain it, elucidate it, repeat it, write it down, and honour, revere, venerate, worship, adore, and pay homage to it with flowers, incense, scents, garlands, perfumes, sandalwood powder, robes, parasols, banners, bells, flags, strings of lamps, and many other kinds of offerings – they will be close to the Tathāgata, they will be in the sphere of the Tathāgata.’

This is what the Blessed One said. The bodhisattvas, the great beings, led by Maitreya, along with the Venerable Subhūti, the Venerable Śāriputra, the Venerable Ānanda, Śakra, the Chief of the Gods, and the entire world with its gods, human beings, demi-gods, garuḍas, and gandharvas rejoiced at the Blessed One’s words.

Aṣṭasahāsrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, ch.28 trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.

M.167 Huineng becomes the sixth patriarch of Chan/Zen

This passage gives the story of how Huineng (638–713), a young man of humble background, became the sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism. While most people in the fifth patriarch’s monastic community expected the head monk to become his successor, his understanding was not yet deep enough, as he still held that the mind needed to be purified. Huineng showed his deeper insight by seeing that in its Buddha-nature, the mind is already pure, and it is only limited thinking that blocks awareness of this. After he expressed this in a verse, the fifth patriarch recognized him as his successor, and urged him to leave the community lest any small-minded supporter of the head monk might harm him.

The great master spoke to the assembly. ‘Spiritual friends, awakening is your own nature, primordially pure. You need only employ this mind and you will attain Buddhahood straight away. Spiritual friends, listen to me. Practise in this way and you will get to the meaning of the Dharma.

My father was originally from Fàn Yáng, but he was banished to Lǐngnán and worked as a commoner in Xīn Prefecture. Unfortunately, he died young. My old mother was left alone, and we moved to Nán Hǎi where we suffered hardship and poverty. I sold firewood in the market, and one day a traveller bought some from me and asked me to deliver it to the inn where he was staying. I was happy to have earned some money. When I left I saw another traveller who was reciting a sūtra outside the door. I heard some of the words of the sūtra, and my mind opened into awakening. I asked the traveller what sūtra he was reciting, and he said, “The Diamond Sūtra[8]”. I then asked him where he had come from, and where he had learned this sūtra.

He replied, “I have come from the Eastern Chan Temple in Huáng Méi County, in Qí Prefecture. The Fifth Patriarch, who is a great and patient master, is the abbot of this temple, and has more than a thousand disciples. I paid homage to him, listened to him, and received this sūtra. The master constantly urges both the monastic sangha and the laity to learn the Diamond Sūtra. If one does so, one will be able to see one’s own nature directly, and attain Buddhahood.”

I decided to leave for Huáng Méi to pay homage to the Fifth Patriarch. I made sure that my old mother had enough clothes and food, and a place to stay. I then bade her farewell, and after thirty days I arrived in Huáng Méi and paid homage to the Fifth Patriarch.

The Patriarch asked me, “Where are you from? What do you want?” I replied, “I am from Lǐngnán, a commoner from Xīn Prefecture. I have come a long way to pay homage to the master. My only desire is to attain Buddhahood. There is nothing else I desire.”

The Patriarch said, “If you’re from Lǐngnán then you’re a barbarian. How can you attain Buddhahood?” I said, “Although someone may be from the south or from the north, their fundamental Buddha-nature is not from the south or the north. A barbarian and a Dharma teacher may be different in appearance, but what difference is there in their Buddha-nature?”

The Fifth Patriarch wanted to say more, but seeing that we were surrounded by his disciples, he instructed me to work with his disciples. I said, “Allow me to explain, teacher. Wisdom often arises in the mind of a disciple. This is nothing other than his own nature, which is a field of karmic benefit. In the end, if one examines the teacher’s instructions, what work is there to be done?”

The Patriarch said, “This barbarian is very sharp. Do not say any more. Go to the threshing room.” I retreated to the courtyard. A practitioner sent me to the threshing room, where I spent more than eight months working the foot pestle.

One day, the Patriarch suddenly said to me, “I think your insight could be useful to others, but I’m concerned that evil people might harm you. I will not, therefore, command you to speak. You may refuse to do so.” I said, “The disciple understands what the master means. I do not dare to stand at the front of the hall, in case this may cause anyone to fail to attain awakening.”

One day, the Patriarch asked all of his students to assemble. “Allow me to address you. For worldly people, saṃsāra is of vital importance. You lot spend all your time just trying to get karmic benefit for yourselves, and not trying to escape from saṃsāra, the ocean of suffering. If you are obsessed with karmic benefit, how can you be rescued? I want you each to go and look for wisdom. Get hold of your fundamental mind, which is the essence of wisdom. You are each to go and write a verse and present it to me. If any of you have realised the profound meaning, I will give you the robe and the Dharma, and make you the Sixth Patriarch. Hurry now – this is no time for laziness! Thinking about it isn’t going to help you. Anyone who is able to gain insight into their own nature will do so as soon as they hear these words. If there is anyone here who is able to do this, they will be able to do it even sitting on top of a ring of knives.”

The disciples withdrew. They said to each other, “There are a lot of us. We don’t all need to purify our minds in order to compose a verse. What’s the point of presenting a verse to the Patriarch? The Elder Shén Xiù is our teacher, he will certainly be able to manage it. Indeed, it would be disrespectful if we were to write our own verses. It would be a waste of effort.” When the other disciples heard them speaking in this way, they were relieved. They all said, “We already rely on Shén Xiù as our teacher. Why go to the trouble of writing our own verses?”

‘Shén Xiù reflected, “None of those who look to me as their teacher are going to present a verse. I must write a verse to present to the Patriarch. If I do not present a verse, how will the Patriarch know whether my insight is profound or shallow? If I present a verse with the intention of seeking the Dharma, this is wholesome. However, if I do so with the intention of becoming the next Patriarch, this is unwholesome. That would be like an ordinary person seeking to usurp a sacred office. On the other hand, if I don’t present a verse, I won’t be able to obtain the Dharma. How difficult! How difficult!”

In front of the Fifth Patriarch’s hall, there was a corridor with three sections. He had commissioned the artist Lú Zhēn to paint images from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra,[9] and the lineage of the Fifth Patriarch, which would be of benefit to future generations. When Shén Xiù had successfully composed his verse, he made several attempts to go to the hall to present it. But each time, his mind would suddenly become confused, he would break out in a sweat all over his body, and not be able to do it. He tried again after four days, and again, he couldn’t do it. After thirteen attempts, he thought, “Perhaps it would be best to write the verse in the corridor for the Patriarch to read. If he says that it is in accordance with the path, I will come forward, pay homage, and say, ‘This is the work of Shén Xiù’. If he says that it is not, then the years I have spent in the mountains will have been in vain. I will have accepted homage, but what path will I have been practising?”

In the third watch of the night, at around midnight, he took a lamp and went in secret to write his verse on the wall of one of the sections of the corridor, to present the insight he had gained. His verse was as follows:

The body is the bodhi tree.

The mind is like a stand for a clear mirror.

We must polish it constantly,

never allowing the dust to gather.

When Shén Xiù had written his verse, he returned to his room. No-one knew what he had done. He reflected, “If the Fifth Patriarch is happy when he sees my verse tomorrow, then I will be able to give the Dharma to others. If he says that it is not good, that will mean I am overwhelmed by the effects of my previous unwholesome actions, and that I will not be able to realise the Dharma. The profound truth is difficult to fathom.” In his room he reflected restlessly in this way, and was not able to sit or lie down in peace.

In the early morning, the Patriarch saw that Shén Xiù had not entered the door of the Dharma, and that he had not yet attained realisation and insight into his own nature. At dawn he summoned Lú Zhēn. “I have commissioned you to paint some scenes in the corridor outside the southern hall. Now, however, I see this verse written there. It should be left there, so there is no need for your paintings. I am sorry you have come so far for nothing. In the Diamond Sūtra it says, ‘All appearances are illusory’. Let us leave this verse here and have people learn and recite it. Those who rely upon this verse will not fall into states of misfortune. It will be of great benefit to them.” He had his disciples burn incense in front of the verse, and pay homage to it. He said, “If you recite this verse constantly, you will gain insight into your own nature.” The disciples recited the verse, and all exclaimed, “Excellent!”

In the third watch of the night, at around midnight, the Patriarch asked Shén Xiù to come to the hall and asked him, “Is this verse your work or not?” Shén Xiù replied, “Indeed it is, but I do not dare to request the robe and the office of the Patriarch. I would ask you to show compassion for your disciple, and tell me whether or not I have attained some small measure of wisdom.”

The Patriarch replied, “You have not attained insight into your fundamental nature. You have reached the door, but you have not passed through it. If people seek unsurpassed awakening by following your verse, they will not attain it. To attain unsurpassed awakening, you must understand your fundamental mind, and see that your fundamental nature is unarisen and unceasing. You should bear this view in mind at all times. The great countless mass of phenomena is unobstructed. Each one is real, and all are real. The great countless mass of worlds are as they are, and the mind – as it is – is reality. Seeing things in this way is the nature of unsurpassed perfect awakening. Go and reflect on this for a day or two and compose another verse. I will read your verse, and if you have passed through the door, then I will give you the robe and the Dharma.” Shén Xiù paid homage and left. After several days had passed, he was still not able to compose a new verse. His mind was confused, and his thoughts were restless. Whether walking or sitting, he was not able to find contentment.

A couple of days later, one of the disciples passed by the threshing room reciting the verse (of Shén Xiù). As soon as I heard it, I knew that whoever had composed it had not attained insight into their fundamental nature and that, whilst they were not ignorant of the teachings, they had not yet understood the profound meaning. I asked this disciple, “What’s that verse you’re reciting?”.

He replied, “Don’t you know, barbarian? The Master has said that for worldly people, saṃsāra is of vital importance, and that anyone who wishes to receive the transmission of the robe and the Dharma is to write a verse. If there is anyone who has realised the profound meaning, then they will receive the robe and the Dharma and become the Sixth Patriarch. The Elder Shén Xiù wrote a verse on freedom from characteristics on the wall of the southern corridor, and the Master had everyone recite it. By practising the teaching contained in this verse, one will avoid falling into states of misfortune, and it will bring one great benefit.”

I said, “I would also like to recite this verse, to ensure that I have the necessary conditions for attaining a good rebirth. I have been working the foot pestle, and I have not yet been to the hall. Would you be so kind as to show me this verse, so that I can pay homage to it?” He showed me where it was, and I said, “I cannot read. Would you read it aloud for me?” At that time, Rìyòng Zhāng, an official from Jiāng Prefecture happened to be there, and he read the verse aloud. When I had listened to it, I said, “I too have a verse. Would you be so kind as to write it on the wall for me?” The official said, “You have composed a verse as well? How odd.”

I said to the official, “If you want to train yourself in unsurpassed perfect awakening, you should not make light of those who are beginning their training. The lowest of people can possess the highest wisdom, and the highest of people may have no understanding whatsoever. Making light of others is boundlessly, immeasurably unwholesome.”

The official said, “Recite your verse and I’ll write it on the wall for you. But if you attain the Dharma, you have to teach me first. Don’t forget that!” I then recited my verse: Bodhi fundamentally has no tree and the clear mirror has no stand.

Fundamentally, nothing comes into being.

Where can dust gather?

When the official had written this verse on the wall, all the disciples were shocked, and gasped in amazement. They all said to each other, “Incredible! You can’t judge people on their appearance. All this time, he was a living bodhisattva!”

When the Patriarch saw everyone’s amazement he was afraid that they would do me harm, so he rubbed out the verse with his shoe and said, “This person has not attained insight into their nature either.” Everyone accepted this.

The next day the Patriarch came to the threshing room in secret and saw me pounding rice with a rock at my waist. He said, “Someone who seeks the path would even give up their body for the Dharma. Are you this kind of person?” He then asked, “Is the rice ripe or not?” I replied, “The rice has been ripe for a long time. It just needs to be sifted.” The Patriarch struck the pestle three times with his staff, and left. I understood that this was a signal that I was to go and see him in the third watch of the night, at midnight.

The Patriarch kept his outer robe hidden away where no-one could see it. He explained the Diamond Sūtra to me, and when he got to “a bodhisattva should cultivate a mind which is not based on anything at all”, I attained great awakening, and realised that the great countless mass of phenomena are not separate from my own nature.

I revealed my awakening to the Patriarch by saying, “One’s own nature is always fundamentally and naturally pure. One’s own nature is always fundamentally and naturally unarisen and unceasing. One’s own nature is always fundamentally and naturally complete. One’s own nature is always fundamentally and naturally unmoving. The great countless mass of phenomena can always arise from one’s own nature.”

The Patriarch then knew that I had realised my own fundamental nature, and said to me, “If you do not know your fundamental mind, there is no point in training yourself in the Dharma. If you know your own fundamental mind, then you will gain insight into your fundamental nature. This is what it means to be a teacher of gods and human beings, a Buddha.”

In the third watch of the night, I received the Dharma without anyone else’s knowledge. The Patriarch passed on the sudden teaching to me, as well as the robe and bowl. “You are now the Sixth Patriarch. Maintain your mindfulness, and spread the teaching widely. Do not allow the transmission to be broken. Listen to this verse: Living beings sow seeds, and because there is earth, fruit arises. Inanimate objects have no seeds, no nature, and no arising.”

The Patriarch continued, “When the great master Bodhidharma[10] first came here, people did not have faith, so he passed on this robe as an embodiment of faith. It has been passed on from master to disciple. The Dharma is transmitted from mind to mind. The mind must always attain its own realisation, its own liberation. From ancient times, the buddhas have only passed on the fundamental essence, whilst the masters have secretly transmitted the fundamental mind. The robe has become a source of conflict, and you should not pass it on. If you do, your life will hang by a thread. Go quickly! I am afraid that someone will harm you.”

I replied, “Where should I go?” The Patriarch said, “When you encounter cherishing, you should stop. When you come across a group of people, you should hide.”

In the third watch of the night, I received the robe and bowl and said, “I am originally from the south, I do not know these mountain roads. How do I get to the mouth of the river?” The Fifth Patriarch said, “Do not worry. I will accompany you.” The Patriarch accompanied me as far as the ninth post-house on the river, where we got into a boat. The Fifth Patriarch took the oars and began to row. I said, “Please, Teacher, come over here. The disciple should do the rowing.” The Patriarch said, “I should take you over to the other side.”

I said, “When your mind is confused, you believe that the teacher takes you over to the other side.[11] When you have attained realisation, you see that you take yourself across. The words ‘take across’ are used in different ways. I was born in a faraway place, and my pronunciation is not correct. I have received the Dharma from you, Master, and attained realisation. My own nature itself has been taken across.”

The Patriarch said, “Exactly. Exactly. In the future, the Buddha-Dharma will spread widely because of you. Three years after your departure, I will pass away. You should go now. Try your best to go south. Don’t be in a hurry to start teaching. It is difficult to establish the Buddha-Dharma.” I took my leave of the Patriarch, and headed south.’

‘The Platform Sūtra’/Liuzi-tan jing, Taishō vol.48, text 2008, pp.347c28–349b14, trans. from Chinese by D.S.

Great lay disciples

M.168 The lay bodhisattva Vimalakīrti

This passage describes a famous lay bodhisattva (as e.g. in *M.10, 113, 127, 136, 141) who is portrayed as wiser than many eminent monks, and who lives in the world without attachment to it, in order to guide all (including encouraging people to ordain as monks or nuns). An example of great female lay disciple is Queen Śrīmāla, as in passage *M.33.

At that time, there was a Licchavi by the name of Vimalakīrti living in the great city of Vaiśālī. He had served the Victorious Ones of the past, cultivated wholesome roots, and paid reverence to many Buddhas. He had attained patient acceptance (of challenging realities and teachings), and easily mastered the great higher knowledges. He had mastered the dhāraṇīs[12] and achieved complete selfconfidence. He had defeated his opponent, Māra, and entered into the profound Dharma. The perfection of wisdom had arisen in him, and he was adept at applying skill in means. He possessed great eloquence, and skilfully understood the attitudes and the behaviour of living beings. He understood the kinds of faculties they possessed, and taught them the Dharma according to their abilities. He applied himself with determination and great effort. He had thoroughly investigated the Mahāyāna, and was accomplished in it. He conducted himself like a Buddha, and his outstanding intellect was like the ocean (in its depth and vastness). The Buddhas all sang his praises, and he was honoured by Indra, Brahmā, and all of the protectors of the world. In order to bring living beings to maturity through his skill in means, he dwelt in the great city of Vaiśālī.

He possessed limitless riches, so that he could attract poor living beings who had no-one to protect them. His ethical discipline was completely pure, so that he could attract those of bad conduct. He had attained patience and self-control, so that he could attract corrupt, wicked, wretched beings whose minds were filled with anger. He was iridescent with vigour, so that he could attract lethargic beings. His meditation, mindfulness, and meditative concentration were firm, so that he could attract scatter-brained beings. His wisdom was firmly established, so that he could attract beings who lacked wisdom.

He wore pure white clothes,676 but he conducted himself like a perfect renunciant. He dwelt in a house, but was not involved with the realm of sensual desire, the realm of pure form, or the formless realm. He appeared to have wives and sons, but he always maintained celibacy. He appeared to be surrounded by an entourage, but he always maintained a life of seclusion. He appeared to be adorned with jewellery, but he always possessed the bodily marks of a Buddha. He appeared to live a life of indulgence in eating and drinking, but he always obtained his nourishment from meditation. He appeared to be greatly fond of gambling at all the gambling-houses, but he always practised vigilance, and worked to bring living beings to maturity. He kept company with non-Buddhists, but in his intentions he was never separated from the Buddha. He was learned in the worldly and transcendental scriptures of the non-Buddhists, but always delighted in the pleasures of the Dharma. He was part of society in every way, but received the highest forms of worship wherever he went.

He kept company with the elderly, the middle-aged, and the young, in order to conform to worldly life, but he always spoke in accordance with the Dharma. He was involved in all kinds of trade and commerce, but he had no interest in profit or gain. He would appear at every crossroads and on every street corner in order to encourage good conduct amongst all living beings, and he involved himself in the affairs of state in order to protect them. He appeared amongst all the people who taught and listened to the Dharma, so that they might sever their ties to the Lesser Vehicle,[13] and commit themselves to the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna). He visited all the schools, in order to bring the children to maturity. He went to all the brothels, in order to demonstrate the harmful effects of sensual desire. He went to all the ale-houses, in order to help the people there to apply mindfulness and clear comprehension. He was accepted as a merchant by merchants because he proclaimed the supreme Dharma.[14] He was accepted as a householder by householders because he remained aloof from attachment and grasping. He was accepted as a warrior by warriors because his patient acceptance, gentleness and power were firmly established. …

In this way, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti, who possessed vigilance, skill in means, and knowledge,

lived in the great city of Vaiśālī.

Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.2, sections 1–6, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.


The great accomplished ones

The six passages below are mostly selected from ‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, a collection of life stories illustrating the practice of Vajrayāna Buddhism. These eighty-four ‘great accomplished ones’ lived in India  between the eighth and twelfth centuries. Leading unconventional lives, they were remarkable men and women who attained the accomplishments (siddhi) of both supernormal powers and the supramundane state of awakening by disregarding convention and penetrating to the core of reality. Every one of them gained their accomplishments in their own unique way, turning their individual lives into the path to awakening. The final story concerns Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), spiritual founder of the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

V.86 The Life of Guru Lūyipa

This Mahāsiddha is noted for overcoming his pride in his royal background.

Lūyipa received his name because he fed on fish-guts. This is how the story goes: There was a king of Sri Lanka, whose power was equal to that of Vaiśravaṇa, the Wealthy Emperor of the Northern Continent. His royal palace was decorated all over with jewels, pearls, gold, silver, and other precious material. He had three sons. A while after he died, astrologers were asked which one of the princes was to inherit the kingdom. They made their calculations and said: ‘If the middle prince ascends to power, the kingdom will be strong, the people happy, and there will be many other benefits.’ So, the father’s dominion was given over to the middle prince. He was enthroned into royal power by his two brothers and the whole people, but he did not want to be king[15] and attempted escape. His two brothers and subjects caught him and bound him in golden chains. The prince gave all his attendants and prison-guards tokens of gold and silver to let him go free. At night, he donned patched garments and escaped from the palace. He found an escort, bribed him with gold, and journeyed to Rāmeśvaram, King Rāmala’s country. Having abandoned his seat of silk brocade, he laid out an antelope-skin[16] to sit on; having given up his royal throne, now he slept in ashes.[17]

The prince was so pleasingly shaped and good-looking that he was constantly provided with alms, so he never had to go without food or drink. Later he went to the Vajrāsana (Diamond seat), where the Buddha Śākyamuni had attained awakening, and was given kind welcome there by a ḍākinī,[18] who gave him instructions. From there he went to the royal capital, Pātaliputra, and stayed there, subsisting on the food he was given by the people and sleeping in the charnel ground. One day he went to the market and arrived at the place where the women sold liquor. The chief women among the liquor-sellers – who was a worldly ḍākinī – looked at the young man and said: ‘This one has purified his four cakras[19] of almost all defilements, except there is a pea-sized impurity of royal consciousness left in his heart.’ Then she poured some putrid food into a clay pot and gave it to him. When the prince threw it out, the ḍākinī got angry and told him: ‘If you still have conceptions of good food and bad food, then what have you got to do with the Dharma?’

This made the prince understand that his preconceptions were obstacles to awakening, so he got rid of them. He picked up the thrown-out entrails of the fish that the fishermen caught in the Ganges, and ate them. He did his practice for twelve years. All the fishwives could see that he was feeding on fish-guts, so they called him Lūyipa, the Fish-gut Eater. That is how he became known far and wide.

‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, ff.2–5, trans. T.A.

V.87 The Life of Guru Kankaripa

This Mahāsiddha is noted for having overcome attachment to his dead wife.

In the country of Magadha there once lived a householder of low caste. He married a girl of his own social class. Continuously relishing the taste of domestic pleasures, he cared only for the affairs of this world without giving a single thought to the virtuous Dharma, the path of liberation. He lived happily but then, unexpectedly, his wife’s (life-sustaining) karma got exhausted and she died. He carried her corpse to the charnel ground but, unable to let go of it, he stayed there beside the corpse, weeping.

Suddenly a highly realized yogi appeared next to him and asked him, ‘What are you doing here in this charnel ground?’ The householder said. ‘Can’t you see, yogin, the wretched state I am in? I feel like a blind man whose eyes have been torn out. Deprived of my beloved, my happiness has come to an end. Is there anyone in this world more miserable than me?’ The yogi told him, ‘All life ends in death; every meeting ends in separation; all conditioned things are impermanent. Since everybody who wanders in saṃsāra suffers, do not grieve over the painful nature of cyclic existence! What use is guarding a corpse which is just like a lump of clay? You had better mind the Dharma and get rid of all suffering.’

‘Yogin, if there is a way to get free from the suffering of birth and death in saṃsāra, please let me know’, the householder implored. The yogi said, ‘The way of liberation lies in the guru’s instruction.’ The householder asked, ‘Then please give it to me.’ Thereupon the yogi gave him empowerment[20] as well as instruction on the Self-less Sphere.

‘How shall I meditate?’ the householder asked. The yogi said, ‘Abandon thoughts of your deceased wife, and meditate on the Self-less Lady[21] as bliss and emptiness indivisible.’ With these words, he set him to meditation.

In six years, the conception of his ordinary wife faded into the sphere of emptiness and bliss. His mental defilements cleared away and he gained experiential realization of total bliss, the luminous nature of the mind. Just as delusory visions dissolve when the poison datura clears out from the system, as he cleared out ignorance, the poison of delusion, he beheld the actuality of undistorted truth and obtained accomplishment. He became known far and wide under the name ‘Kankaripa Yogi’. Having taught the Dharma to many beings in his homeland, Magadha, he went into the sky[22] in that very body.

‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, ff. 34–36, trans. T.A.

V.88 The Life of Guru Vīṇāpa

This Mahāsiddha is noted for transmuting his love of lute-playing into a meditation on sound.

The name Vīṇāpa means ‘Lute-player.’[23] His homeland was Ghahuri, his caste the royal caste, his guru Buddhapa, and he gained accomplishment from the practice of Hevajra. [24]

His story is this: The king of Ghahuri had only one son, who was very dear to his parents and the people. He was brought up under the care of eight nannies and others. The prince would always stay together with the court-musicians who served as his bodyguards. He learned to play the lute so well that his mind was totally absorbed in the sound of the tamboura[25] as he was plucking the lute – so much so that he forgot about everything else in the world. His royal parents, the ministers, and the people started to say bad things about him: ‘This prince has been brought up to be heir to his royal father, but he is so much attached to the sound of the lute that he does not perform the duties of a regent. What should we do?’

They asked a well-trained yogi named Buddhapa to visit him. As the prince saw him, he immediately trusted him. Having prostrated to him and circumambulated him, they engaged in straightforward conversation. After the yogi had spent some time with the prince, he saw that it was an appropriate time to train him, so he asked him: ‘Prince, don’t you practise the Dharma?’ The prince said, ‘Yes, yogi, I do practise the Dharma; (but) I cannot live without the sweet sound of the tamboura. If there is a way to practise the Dharma without giving it up, then I will practise it.’ ‘If you have faith and perseverance in practising the Dharma, then I will give you personal instruction and teach you how to practise it without giving up playing the vīṇā’, the yogi told him. ‘Please give it to me’, he said.

Thereupon the yogi gave him empowerment to ripen his immature mind-stream, and gave him the following meditation instruction: ‘Forget the idea of listening to the sound of the tamboura with your ears; mix the mental impression with the concept of the sound, and meditate on that!’

Having meditated in that way for nine years, the prince cleared away his mental defilements and gained experience of the mind’s lamp-like luminosity. He developed various kinds of higher knowledge and many other good qualities. He became known far and wide as ‘Viṇāpa Yogi’. He gave immeasurable teachings to the citizens of Ghahuri. Finally, having given an account of his realization, he passed into the sky in that very body.

‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, ff.50–53, trans. T.A.

V.89 The Life of Guru Maṇibhadrā or the Yoginī Bhahuri 

This Mahāsiddha is noted as a wise girl, who was strongly impressed by impermanence.

In a town called Agarce, there was a wealthy householder with a thirteen year-old daughter. He gave her as a bride to a man of his own caste.[26] The girl went back to her parents’ place and while she was there, Guru Kukkuripa arrived. He asked the girl to give him some food, and she told him: ‘Why does a man with such a perfect physical appearance like you live on alms and wear patched clothes? Surely you could take a suitable wife from your own caste.’

The guru said, ‘Scared and frightened by saṃsāra, I seek the supreme happiness of liberation. If I do not achieve it in this good physical basis, how could I find one like this again? Therefore, if I were to conceal the precious gem of this wonderful base in an unclean marriage partner, its purpose would be defeated and a lot of suffering would follow. Having understood this, I have abandoned the idea of marriage.’

Believing him, she brought him some excellent food and asked him to show her a method to obtain liberation. He told her that his home was the charnel ground and she would have to go there if she needed instruction. Forgetting all her duties, she fled at night and went there. The guru noticed that the girl’s mind-stream was ripe and initiated her into Cakrasaṃvara, the personification of Highest Bliss. He gave her instruction on the generation and completion stages unified, and she stayed there to practise for seven days.

Then she went back to her parents, who beat her and scolded her badly. She told them: ‘In all the three realms there is nobody who has not been my father and mother (in some past life). Yet not even a great family line can save me from the depths of saṃsāra. That is why I have attended a guru. Since I am working for liberation, you can hit me and I will take that onto the path.’ Her parents thought it was a whim and did not say anything. So she went on practising the guru’s instructions while neglecting all her work and duties.

Having waited for a year, her husband came for her and took her with him. She went to his house and performed all her mundane work and duties as she was supposed to. She served her husband both physically and verbally, speaking to him pleasantly, and so forth. As it happens, she gave birth first to a son and then to a daughter who looked just like her parents, and they all lived happily.

Twelve years passed since she had met with the guru. Then one day, as she was on the way home fetching water from the well, she tripped over a piece of wood and broke the water-pitcher. She stayed there in absorption. When she did not return home for half a day, her family went to look for her. They found her sitting there looking at the broken pitcher, and whatever they told her she did not seem to hear. Everybody thought she was possessed by a demon. Then, as the sun was just about to set, she exclaimed: ‘Sentient beings without beginning always break their body-pitchers, so why do they return home? Today I have broken my pitcher and I am not going to return to my home of saṃsāra; I am going to Great Bliss instead! How wonderful and amazing; if you want happiness, attend to the guru!’

With these words, she rose into the air and stayed there for twenty-one days, giving instructions to his country people in Agarce. Then she went into the sky.

‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, ff.252–56, trans. T.A.

V.90 The Life of Guru Lakṣmīnkarā

This Mahāsiddha is noted as a princess who is disgusted by hunting, who advised a king to listen to the wise words of her (low-caste) sweeper.

Lakṣmīnkarā was the sister of King Indrabhūti who ruled over the 250,000 citizens of a township called Sambholnagara in the land of Oḍḍiyāna.[27] From an early age, she had many good qualities of the awakened family.[28] Moreover, she heard a lot of Dharma from the Mahāsiddha Vāvapa, among others, and was knowledgeable in several tantras. She was asked to marry Sambhol – the son of Jalendra, King of Laṅkāpurī – and her brother King Indrabhūti gave her to him. When the delegation came for her, she set out to Laṅkāpurī with a retinue of Dharma-scholars and bestowed with inexhaustible riches.

On arrival they were told there was a bad constellation, and were not admitted into the capital. As they were waiting, the Lady observed the people and seeing they were all non-Buddhist, she became sad. Then the prince’s retinue passed by returning from a hunt and carrying a lot of meat. The Lady asked them who they were, where they were coming from, and why they had killed those animals. ‘We are just coming from a hunt. We were dispatched by your royal fiancé to kill some wild animals’, they replied. Feeling totally disgusted, she thought to herself, ‘My brother is a king who protects the Dharma. How could he give me to such a heathen?’ And she fainted on the spot.

When she regained her senses, she gave her riches to the citizens, and having bestowed her jewellery upon her attendants, she sent them back home. Then she locked herself into a room and allowed no-one to see her for ten days. She smeared her body with oil and charcoal, cut her hair, and stripped herself naked. Though she feigned lunacy, she never actually wavered from the essential reality.693 The king and his people were overwhelmed by sorrow. They sent some doctors to prepare medicine and try to cure her, but she furiously attacked everyone who went there. They sent an envoy to her brother but he remained calm; he could guess that his sister had just got disgusted with saṃsāra.

From that time on, the Lady was acting mad. She ate the leftovers of the people of Laṅkāpurī, slept on the charnel ground, and practised the essential Dharma. In seven years, she attained accomplishment.[29] She was rendered faithful service by one of the king’s sweepers. She gave him instruction, and he attained some spiritual qualities which remained unknown to others.

Then one day King Jalendra went for a hunt with his retinue, and it got very late. The king took a rest right where he was, and when he came back, he strayed on the wrong path. Unable to return home, he was looking for shelter when he stumbled upon the cave where Lakṣmīnkarā was sleeping. Curious to find out what the crazy woman was doing, he looked inside and saw her staying there with light radiating from her body, surrounded on all sides by countless divine maidens making offerings. Overcome by true faith, he stayed there for the night and then returned home. Later he went back and paid her homage.

‘Why are you paying homage to a woman like me?’ asked the Lady. ‘Because you have great spiritual qualities and I am asking for instruction’, the king replied, and she told him: ‘All sentient beings are just suffering in saṃsāra; none of them is ever truly happy. Even the highest beings, gods and humans are tormented by the pains of birth, aging, sickness, and death. The three lower realms are nothing but suffering; there is immeasurable pain from heat and cold, constant hunger, and beings eating each other. Therefore, King, seek the great bliss of liberation!’

Finally, she told him: ‘You are not going to be tamed by me. One of your sweepers, however, became my student and gained accomplishment. He will be your spiritual friend.’ He said, ‘There are many of them, so how can I recognize him?’ ‘He is the one who gives food to beings after he finishes sweeping, so look for him at night’, she said.

The king went out to look for the right sweeper, and when he saw one acting the way the Lady described, he invited him into his palace. He seated him on the throne, prostrated to him, and asked for instruction. The sweeper gave him initiation conferring the guru’s blessing, and taught him both the generation and completion stages of the practice of Vajravārāhi.

To conclude, the sweeper and the Lady demonstrated miracles in Laṅkāpurī, and went to the sky in those very bodies.

‘Lives of the Eighty-four Mahāsiddhas’, ff.305–11, trans. T.A.

V.91 Song of the mystical experiences of Lama Tsongkhapa

The following is an account of the extraordinary spiritual experiences in the life of Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419 – see *VI.5 and *V.40), spiritual founder of the Gelukpa order of Tibetan Buddhism, written in the form of a versified eulogy. In particular, it contains a list of Buddhas and bodhisattvas — both historical and archetypical (celestial)[30] — whom Tsongkhapa reportedly saw and met personally.

Homage to the Dharma King Tsongkhapa!

O sun-like Prince of the Victorious One with ray-lights of knowledge in the vast sky of wisdom that sees all the varieties of phenomena just as they are; O Venerable Lord of Dharma, Glorious Guru, I revere the dust of your feet with the crown of my head.

Although the good qualities of your body, speech and mind could not be expressed fully by even the Buddhas and their sons who reside in the ten directions, listen for a while to my faithful composition!

May the wise find delight in this nicely arranged garland of eulogy I have composed in praise of your oceanic good qualities; a neck-ornament for the clear-minded, a jewel to increase the karmic benefit of the faithful.

A cloud of karmic benefit from the good actions you have performed, a continuous rainfall nourishing the virtuous goodness of your disciples, a roaring thunder proclaiming the profound and vast Dharma; O Glorious Guru, you are like a mighty storm!

Lord of yogis, greatest of all tantric masters, who have mastered many millions of meditative absorptions, composed lucid expositions, and made real effort at practising the Dharma; Glorious Guru, you tower over the heads of all beings.

Offering a precious rosary of one hundred and one crystal beads to the Victorious One at Vajrāsana[31] in a former lifetime, you have aroused the awakening-mind, which made you fortunate enough to understand the right view; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

From the age of seven, when you first saw Vajrapāṇi, Lord of the Secret, as well as the glorious Dīpaṁkara of the Great Chariot[32], face to face, and were taken under their care, the tantras and sūtras dawned on you as personal instructions; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

O Jetsun[33], Lord of Dharma, you directly perceived Mañjughoṣa[34] in the centre of a globular halo of five brilliant light-rays as blue as the colour of a perfect sapphire; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

From that time onward, O Lord of Dharma, whenever you wished, you could meet the Venerable Jewel of Wisdom and listen to his profound teachings on the glorious Secret Assembly[35] and the Perfection of Wisdom; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

When practising the seven-limbed ritual,[36] O Lord of Dharma, you continuously beheld the true bodily forms, mudras[37], and other features of each of the thirty-five purification Buddhas; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

With both hands in the Dharma-teaching mudra, seated in an elegant posture, the guardian Maitreya prophesied that one day you would return possessing the ten powers of a Buddha and perform the acts of a victorious one; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Lord of Dharma, Prince of the Victorious One, in direct perception you beheld the Ṥākya King,[38] teacher of men and gods, and the supreme healer and guide Amitābha radiant in the midst of their oceanic retinues; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

You clearly beheld Noble Tārā, the source of accomplishments, Uṣṇīṣa Vijayā, the supreme and radiant, Uṣṇīṣa Sitatapatra, the dispeller of all obstacles, and the other female Buddhas again and again; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

You were personally visited and continually assisted by the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna and his spiritual son Āryadeva, the noble Buddhapālita, the glorious Candrakīrti[39], as well as by the mighty yogi Nāgabodhi; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

You were personally visited and continually assisted by Asaṅga, who had attained to the third bodhisattva level; Vasubandhu, a second Omniscient One; and Dignāga,[40] who was protected by the Noble One; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

You were personally visited and continually assisted by Dharmakīrti, the moon of the teaching, as well as Guṇaprabha, the bodhisattvas Ṥākyaprabha, Ṥāntideva and the glorious Abhaya;[41] O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

You were personally visited and continually assisted by the great Indian mahāsiddhas,[42] such as Indrabhūti, the glorious Saraha, Lūyipa, Ghaṇṭapāda. Kŗṣṇacārya, and Kamalaśīla, O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Great bodhisattva who spontaneously accomplishes others’ well-being, Mañjughoṣa clearly stated that, relying upon these lineages, there are auspicious conditions for vast accomplishments for yourself and others; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

When your yogic absorption combining calm abiding and special insight increased like the waxing moon, you beheld the excellent form of the blessed Yamāntaka[43] with faces and hands all complete; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

As the Guru’s heart was touched by Mañjuśrī’s wisdom sword, a stream of undefiled ambrosia entered your heart-centre and gave birth to the finest absorption of co-emergent joy; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

As Mañjughoṣa clearly explained to you the essential meaning of the ‘Prayer for Rebirth in the Land of Bliss’, and that of ‘A Eulogy of the Authentic Aim of the Invincible Guardian (Maitreya)’, you presented both texts in excellent phrasing; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Whenever you consecrated a representation of enlightened body, speech, or mind, the wisdom beings actually entered into the symbolic beings,[44] by which the deities you had blessed were properly established as fields of karmic benefit for all sentient beings; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

From among the five spiritual sons of the bodhisattva Nāgārjuna who had a discussion on profound dependent arising, the glorious Buddhapālita blessed you with an Indian scripture,710 which made you realize the intent of the Noble One; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

When visualizing the key-points of the six branches of Kālacakra, the ultimate tantra,[45] you directly perceived the Kālacakra deity, and were prophesized to become someone like King Sucandra;[46] O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet. …

Lord of Dharma, practising the vajra-yoga of enlightened body, when you meditated on the ordinary world and its inhabitants as empty appearances of illusion through the non-dual yoga of the profound (emptiness) and the luminous (manifestations), you arose in the form of the great-bliss deity;[47] O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Lord of Dharma, practising the vajra-yoga of enlightened speech, when through the three vajra gates (of OṂ ĀHŪṂ) to the lotus (cakra) in the heart you resolved inhalation and exhalation in the tone of the mantra, and your vital energies entered, remained, and dissolved (in the central channel[48]), you experienced the luminosity of Mahāmudrā;715 O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Lord of Dharma, practising the vajra-yoga of enlightened mind, when the fierce woman Caṇḍali[49] in the navel cakra caused the letter HAṀ at the crown of your head to melt, you revelled in the glory of co-emergent great joy; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet. …

Sitting on a throne adorned with precious gems, the omniscient Buton Rinchen Drub [50] handed to you a manuscript of the Guhyasamāja Root Tantra, and told you, ‘This is yours’; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet. …

When performing the practice of Cakrasaṁvara, [51] you clearly beheld the deities of the maṇḍala in direct perception, and the hosts of ḍākinīs of the three outer and inner places[52] delighted you with offerings of vajra songs; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

When performing the spiritual practice of defeating Māra’s army, you directly perceived the Sage,[53] Great Tamer of Māra, resplendent like the colour of pure refined gold in a halo of light of a million suns; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet.

Your being having become indivisible from the body, speech and mind of the Victorious One, you destroyed the hosts of Māra, and as the Dharma protectors crushed the demonic forces, shrieks of Māra’s defeated troops721 were heard; O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet. …

Noble Lord of Dharma, it was clearly prophesized by both Mañjughoṣa and Vajrapāni that (after your passing away) you would sit in the presence of the Invincible Dharma Lord (Maitreya) in the Pure Land of Joy (Tuṣita), and would be known as the bodhisattva Mañjuśrīgarbha. O Glorious Guru, I pay homage at your feet. …

‘Prayer of the Secret Life of Tsongkhapa’, trans. T.A.


[1] See Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, Great Disciples of the Buddha, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997, pp.1-244, and search for them by name at: 664 See *L.33.

[2] The ceremony marking the ending of the three-months ‘rains’ (Vassa) period of monastic retreat, when monks who have lived together for the Vassa ask forgiveness from each other for any offence committed, whether seen, heard or suspected.

[3] All these kinds of monks are arahants: the first have direct knowledge of past lives, of how beings are reborn according to their karma, and of nirvana and the other Truths of the Noble Ones; the second kind have these knowledges plus supernormal powers, mind-reading and the ability to hear at great distances; the third have experienced nirvana, the meditative absorptions and the formless attainments; the fourth have experienced nirvana and some of the meditative absorptions.

[4] Saṃyutta-nikāya V.269–70.

[5] The Aṅguttara-nikāya commentary (I.204–5) identifies her as the Buddha’s ex-wife.

[6] See Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, Great Disciples of the Buddha, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997, pp.263–269.


[7] See Nyanaponika Thera and Hellmuth Hecker, Great Disciples of the Buddha, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997, pp.365–372.

[8] The Diamond-cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra): see *M.4, 9, 20, 44, 48, 103.

[9] A text emphasizing the Buddha-nature and the way in which the perceived world is shaped by one’s mind: see *M.142.

[10] The legendary master who first brought Chan/Zen to China.

[11] Crossing over to the ‘other side’ or ‘other shore’ is a classic Buddhist image for attaining awakening.

[12] Powerful formulas or incantations, similar to mantras. 676 Indicative of the status of a householder, a lay-person.

[13] Of those who aim only for their own liberation.

[14] There is a play on words here which is lost in translation, in that the word for ‘merchant’, śreṣṭhi, is almost identical to the word for the word for ‘supreme’, śreṣṭha. There is thus only one letter separating ‘the supreme Dharma’, which is what Vimalakīrti actually teaches, from ‘the Dharma of merchants’.

[15] Given the luxury and violence often associated with kingship, Buddhism has a number of stories about good princes seeking to avoid becoming king; a complementary theme is that of how to be a good, just king.

[16] As used by yogis and ascetics.

[17] That is, he adopted the life-style of a tantric yogi.

[18] Ḍākinīs, manifestations of wisdom (see first footnote to *V.4.) were thought to have the power of giving esoteric instruction.

[19] Energy-centres in the subtle body situated at four spots along the spine: the navel, the heart, the throat, and the forehead.

[20] Or initiation.

[21] The Self-less Lady is Nairātmyā¸ the consort of Heruka, the tantric deity into whose practice Kankaripa must have been initiated.

[22] Here meaning the ‘expanse of phenomena’, or a Buddha-land.

[23] Or player of the vīṇā: a lute-like Indian instrument with a sweet sound.

[24] A tantric deity.

[25] Another stringed instrument used for accompanying the vīṇā.

[26] By the time of the mahāsiddhas, the Hindu idea of caste had pervaded Indian society, and affected even those affiliated to Buddhism to varying extents.

[27] Oḍḍiyāna was a semi-mythic country somewhere in northwest India, purportedly the homeland of many tantric teachings.

[28] This shows that she had already awakened to Buddha-nature in a past life.  693 That is, all the while she maintained pure awareness.

[29] Here meaning awakening.

[30] The celestial ones being: Vajrapāṇi, Maitreya, Amitābha, Tārā, Uṣṇīṣa Vijayā, Uṣṇīṣa Sitatapatra, Yamāntaka, Manjuṣrī/Mañjughoṣa, Kālacakra.

[31] The Diamond Throne in Bodhgayā, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

[32] Atiśa (see*VI.5 and *V.10), foremost proponent of the Mahāyāna sūtra tradition in Tibet.

[33] Tibetan honorific used for a spiritually highly developed person.

[34] A form of Mañjuśrī, bodhisattva of the wisdom of emptiness.

[35] The Guhyasamāja Tantra, main text of the father class of Anuttarayoga tantras.

[36] A practice of purification consisting of making prostrations, offerings, confession of bad actions and downfalls, rejoicing at virtuous actions, requesting the Buddhas to teach and remain in the world, and dedication of virtue made in front of the thirty-five Buddhas described in the ‘Sūtra of the Three Dharmacollections’ (Tri-skandha-dharma Sūtra).

[37] Symbolic hand-gestures.

[38] Śākyamuni Buddha.

[39] Foremost Indian philosophers of the Madhyamaka school.

[40] Greatest Indian philosophers of the ‘Mind-only’ (Cittamātra) or Yogācāra school.

[41] Other important Indian masters who have composed commentaries on the works of the great philosophers.

[42] ‘Great accomplished ones’ of the Tantric tradition, some of whose life-stories see in V.85-89.

[43] ‘Opponent of the Lord of Death’, a wrathful from of Mañjuśrī with nine heads and fourteen pairs of hands.

[44] That is, the actual enlightened beings actually ‘entered’ or became one with their symbolic representations. 710 Buddhapālita was an Indian Buddhist philosopher, who, in his commentary on Nāgārjuna’s ‘Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way’, laid down the foundations of the Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka (Consequentialist Middle Way) school, which Tsongkhapa later accepted as the final system of Buddhist philosophy. The event described may have happened in a vision or a dream.

[45] The Kālacakra (Wheel of Time) Tantra is seen by the Gelukpa school as the ultimate tantra of the Highest Yoga (Anuttarayoga) tantra class.

[46] King of the mystical land of Śambhala, who is said to have requested the Kālacakra Tantra from the Buddha.

[47] A reference to the Kālacakra deity.

[48] The central channel which is seen to run down the back, connecting the various cakras, or energy-centres. 715 Mahāmudrā (Great Seal/Great Symbol) is a term used for tantric awakening. In Highest Yogatantra this is effected by drawing the vital energies (prāna) into the central channel and dissolving them therein through the recitation of OṂ ĀHŪṂ, the three syllables of enlightened body, speech and mind, thus causing the fundamental luminosity of the mind to manifest.

[49] Personification of inner heat (tumo), equivalent of Kuṇḍalīni in Hindu tantra.

[50] Butön Rinchen Drup (Bu ston rin chen grub, 1290–1364), a high lama of the Sakyapa school, famous for having compiled the first edition of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.

[51] ‘Wheel of Perfect Bliss’ – another great tantra of the Anuttarayoga class.

[52] The head, throat and heart cakras (?).

[53] Śākyamuni (Sage of the Śākyans) Buddha. 721 Symbolising various mental defilements.