Meditation and other Rituals – Chapter 47: A Sutra for Long Life

As we have seen in chapters 5 and 38, it is typical for a Mahayana sutra to conclude with a description, often of considerable length, of the extraordinary benefits to be received by those who in some way revere the sutra. In the body of the sutra, the Buddha will have set forth the dharma, expounding various doctrines and practices, sometimes telling parables, sometimes describing distant universes, sometimes recounting events of the distant past, sometimes predicting the future. The sutra will then conclude with a proclamation of the virtues of maintaining the sutra in any number of ways, from teaching it to others to offering it a flower. Scholars have speculated that in many cases these concluding sections have been inserted into the text at some point after its original composition.

Yet we also encounter Mahayana sutras whose entire contents are devoted to the benefits of their worship. The Sutra on Unlimited Lifespan (Aparimitayuh Sutra.), translated in its entirety here, is such a text. The text begins with the Buddha explaining to the assembly that there is a distant realm presided over by a buddha named Aparimitayurjhanasuviniscitatejas, which might be rendered as *Unlimited Lifespan Brilliant Analytical Wisdom’ (and who may be referred to more briefly as Aparimitayus, *Unlimited Lifespan’, later in the text). He then explains that anyone who pays homage to the sutra that he is at that moment expounding – and he enumerates many ways of paying homage – will live for one hundred years. He goes on to provide a dhararn (a kind of long mantra in 108 syllables) which one can also write down with similar results.

This is essentially the content of the sutra, and it is important to note that the Buddha does not discuss the nature of reality or describe the stages of the bodhisattva path, or condemn the Hinayana The text appears to have a much more straightforward and simple purpose: to bestow long life, and other worldly benefits, on those who hear it. Yet the sutra concludes with verses on the six perfections (paramita), known also as the bodhisattva deeds: charity, discipline, patient acceptance, vigour, concentration and wisdom.

Homage to noble Avalokitesvara!

Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!

Thus have I heard on one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling in Sravasti, in the Jetavana, in the grove of Anathapindada, together with a large assembly of monks, twelve hundred and fifty monks, and a great many bodhisattvas and mahasattvas.

At that time the Blessed One spoke to the crown prince Manjusri: There is, Manjusri, in the upper region a world-realm called ‘Immeasurable Collection of Good Qualities’, and there at present dwells the tathagata, arhat, complete and perfect buddha, the one complete in knowledge and good conduct, sugata, knower of the worlds, unsurpassed, leader of beings who are to be trained, teacher of gods and humans, buddha, blessed one, named Aparimitayurjnanasuviniscitatejas, there he remains, abides, and teaches the teaching to beings.

Listen, Crown Prince ManjusrI! These human beings of the Jambu continent will be short-lived, and will have lifespans of only a hundred years. Untimely deaths are foretold for many of them. But those beings, ManjusrI, who will write down or have others write down the discourse on the teaching called ‘Extolling the Good Qualities and Fame of the Tathagata Aparimitayus’, or who will hear, retain and recite even its mere name – up to: ‘who will just keep it as a book in the home, worship it with flowers, incense, lamps, scents, garlands, unguents, aromatic powders, cloth, umbrellas, banners, bells and flags – they, their lifespan exhausted, will once again come to have a full lifespan of one hundred years.

And again, ManjusrI, those beings who will hear, retain and recite the one hundred and eight names of the tathagata, arhat, complete and perfect buddha Aparimitayursuviniscitatejoraja will increase their life span as well.

Thus, ManjusrI, gentle sons or gentle daughters who, wishing for a long lifespan, will listen to the one hundred and eight names of that tathagata Aparimitayus, write them down or have others write them down will come to have the following meritorious benefits:

[The one hundred and eight syllable dharani:]

om namo bhagavate aparimitdyurjndnasuviniscitatejordjaya tathagatayarhate samyaksambuddhaya 11 tad yatha 11 om punya punya mahapunya aparimitapunya aparimitayuh punyajidnasambhdropacite 11 om sarvasamskaraparisuddhadharmate gagan. asamudgate svabhavavisuddhe mahanayaparivare svaha 11

Whosoever, Manjusri, will write down this litany of the one hundred and eight names of the tathagata, have others write it down, just keep it as a book in the home, or recite it – they, their lifespan exhausted, will once again come to have a full lifespan of one hundred years. After they have died they will be reborn in the buddha-field of the tathagata Aparimitayus, and will have an unlimited length of life [aparimitayus] in the world-realm ‘Immeasurable Collection of Good Qualities’. [dharani]

On that occasion once again ninety-nine billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again eighty-four billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again seventy-seven billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again sixty-five billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again fifty-five billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again forty-five billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again thirty-six billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again twenty-five billions of buddhas spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

On that occasion once again as many buddhas as there are sands in ten Ganges rivers spoke this Aparimitayuh-sutra with single mind and single voice, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down or have others write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra as spoken, even if his lifespan is gone, comes to have a full span of one hundred years. He once again will increase his lifespan. [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will never be reborn in the hells. He will never be reborn among the beasts, nor even in the world of Yama, the king of the dead. In whatsoever circumstances he is reborn, he will everywhere have the memory of his former lives, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will thereby have brought about the writing down and preservation of the eighty-four thousand volumes of the teachings, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will thereby have brought about the creation and preservation of the eighty-four thousand masses of the teachings, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will have his actions of the five types leading to immediate retribution come to an end. [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down neither Mara, nor gods belonging to Mara’s entourage, nor yaksas, nor raksasas nor untimely death or disasters will find an opportunity to attack, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down ninety-nine billions of buddhas will at the moment of his death present with a vision face-to-face, and a thousand buddhas will offer him their hands. They themselves will lead him from one buddha-field to another; in this regard there must be no doubt, hesitation or uncertainty, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down the four great guardian kings, constantly following behind him, will protect, guard and defend, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will be reborn in the world-realm Sukhavati, the buddha-field of the tathagata Amitabha. [dharani]

On whatever spot of earth they write down or have others write down this precious Aparimitayuh-sutra, that spot of earth will become a true shrine, worthy of honour, worthy of veneration, worthy of worship. All animals whatsoever, whether beasts or birds, upon whose ears it so much as falls will become fixed from back-sliding in the path. They will awaken to unexcelled perfect awakening, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will never be born a woman, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down will never be born poor, [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down, who donates even one small coin of charity in the name of this discourse on the teaching, becomes thereby one who has given charity equal to three thousand times many thousands of world-realms filled with the seven jewels, [dharani]

Whosoever will zealously worship this Aparimitayuh-sutra thereby will have done worship of all the entire complete teachings, [dharani]

It is possible to calculate the amount of the mass of merit produced by worship of [the six buddhas of the past, and Sakyamuni, namely] the tathagatas Vipasyin, Sikhin, Visvabhu, Krakucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kasyapa and Sakyasimha with an offering filled with the seven jewels, but not to calculate the amount of the mass of merit of the Aparimitayuh-sutra. [dharani]

It is possible to calculate the amount of the mass of merit produced by giving in charity a heap of jewels equal to Sumeru, the king of mountains, but not to calculate the amount of the mass of merit of the Aparimitayuh-sutra. [dharani]

The four seas may be filled with water, and it is possible to calculate one by one the number of drops of water they contain, but not to calculate the mass of merit of the Aparimitayuh-sutra. [dharani]

Whosoever will write down this Aparimitayuh-sutra or have others write it down, and zealously worship it, will thereby worship and honour all tathagatas in all the buddha-fields of the ten directions, [dharani]

Then the Blessed One at that time spoke these verses:

A buddha arises through the power of charity.

The lion of men realizes the power of charity.

The cry of the power of charity is heard

When one has entered into the city of compassion.

A buddha arises through the power of discipline.

The lion of men realizes the power of discipline.

The cry of the power of discipline is heard

When one has entered into the city of compassion.

A buddha arises through the power of patient acceptance.

 

The lion of men realizes the power of patient acceptance.

The cry of the power of patient acceptance is heard

When one has entered into the city of compassion.

A buddha arises through the power of vigour.

The lion of men realizes the power of vigour.

The cry of the power of vigour is heard

When one has entered into the city of compassion.

A buddha arises through the power of concentration.

The lion of men realizes the power of concentration.

The cry of the power of concentration is heard When one has entered into the city of compassion.

A buddha arises through the power of wisdom.

The lion of men realizes the power of wisdom.

The cry of the power of wisdom is heard

When one has entered into the city of compassion.

[dharani]

The Blessed One proclaimed this, and glad at heart the monks, bodhisattvas and mahasattvas, that whole assembly, and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, garudas and gandharvas rejoiced in the preaching of the Blessed One.

The Arya-aparimitayur nama mahayana-sutra is completed.

Translated by Jonathan Silk from Max Wallesser (ed.), Aparimitāyur-jñāna-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtram: Nach einer nepalesischen
Sanskrit-Handschrift mit der tibetischen und chinesischen Version, Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaft: Phil.-hist. klasse, Jahrgang 1916, Band VII, 12. Abhandlung (Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitatsbuchhandlung, 1916).

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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