An excerpt from Entryway to the Dharma (Chos la ‘jug pa’i sgo)

Written in 1167 C.E. by Lopön Rinpoche Sönam Tsemo

(continued from the previous issue of Sakya Chronicles)


Translated in Jeffrey Schoening’s Classical Literary Tibetan class, 2007-2008, with Jeff Bennett, Laura Ellis, Virginia Hassinger, Tom Linder, Bill Sternhagen

 [Continuation of the spiritual career of Shākyamuni Buddha:]



Awakened the spiritual lineage, [made] the first prayer of aspiration, and dwelled in the fourfold path

for three immeasurable [eons], was impeded by one birth, then there were the deeds. [1]


            In this way, when this teacher of ours was an ordinary being endowed with the full complement of fetters, for a time, by the power of karma, he was a champion at pulling a chariot in the realm of hell beings, I heard. There, by virtue of possessing good fortune and spiritual lineage, he naturally loved those companions who were hell beings. Because he was like that, he wondered, “If I bear these their sufferings, is it not permitted?” So he spoke to Yama’s henchmen, “Hey, if I bear the sufferings of these companions, is it permitted?” Yama’s henchman called “A bam” said, “If all beings [are supposed to] course in the allotment of their own respective karma, [then] you are singularly pushy” and jabbed a flaming piece of metal into [the future Buddha’s] head. The force of great compassion arising was the cause of exhausting his karma [for being in hell].  That was the condition; then having died and transmigrated, he was born as a god of “The Thirty-three.” [2]

            When he in that way awakened the spiritual lineage, and having died and transmigrated from that place, here in Jambudvīpa he became the potter’s son named “Youth Illuminator.” At that time, in this world, the Tathāgata Shākya[mahā]muni came. That youth had faith in the Tathāgata, offering him a full bowl of soup (thug ‘jam) and arousing the mind for enlightenment. He composed the first of his aspirational prayers thus:


Sugata, a form like yours, a length of life such as yours,

excellent supreme marks such as yours: may I be like that.


            As the Sūtra of the Fortunate Kalpa (Bhadrakalpikā) said:

 When in a former life I was a potter’s son, offering a bowl of soup

to the Tathāgata Shākya[mahā]muni, I first aroused the mind for supreme enlightenment.


Thus, he made his first prayer of aspiration, but that is not to be counted among the gathered accumulations during the three incalculable kalpas. As it was said: 


So long as I did not realize the equality of all dharmas,

I did not correctly engage in the roots of virtue.


            Thus, it is said in the Sūtra of the Basket of the Bodhisattvas (Bodhisattvapitaka): 

 He made the prayer of aspiration, gathered the accumulations, cultivated compassion, and understood the mind of enlightenment and all dharmas. Abiding in faith in the Three Jewels, being suitable as a vessel for the holy dharma, he approached the Buddhas, who taught him the dharma of enlightenment.


Therefore, when he began the first incalculable eon, having beheld the Tathāgata [Shākyamahāmuni] by his own power, the Tathāgata Great Mass of Radiance (*Arcimahāskandha, ‘Od ‘phro’i phung po chen po,) came to this world sphere.

             At that time there was the king Completely Victorious Life (*Āyurvijaya, Tshe rnam par rgyal ba,). His city was Completely Victorious Banner (*Vijayadhvaja, Rnam par rgyal ba’i rgyal mtshan,). At that time, this teacher of ours was the son of that king, Youth Diligent Conduct (*Kumāravīryakārin, Gzhon nu brtson ‘grus spyod,). He went with his retinue of ladies to the pleasure grove. Then that Tathāgata, knowing that youth to be a fortunate one, dwelled in the sky over his pleasure grove. Beginning an exposition of the teachings of the bodhisattva pitaka with the Four Immeasurables and the Six Perfections, he explained the path of enlightenment. He also uttered praises of the Buddhas. That youth, hearing that, obtained faith and served and honored the Tathāgata and his retinue for 96 million years. After he served and honored innumerable Tathāgatas such as those, the first incalculable kalpa came to an end. Some maintain that he produced the Path of Seeing.

             Then, at the time of [the Buddha] entering the second incalculable [kalpa], the Tathāgata Jewel Component (*Ratnānga, Dkon mchog yan lag) appeared in the world. At that time in a city called Jāmbū River Gold (*Jāmbūnadasuvarṇa, ’Dzam bu’i chu bo gser,) there was a king called Handsome Appearance (*Prāsādikāvabhāsa, Mdzes par snang ba,).  At that time, our teacher, a great patron of that [king] was a merchant named Good Intelligence (*Prajñābhadra, Shes rab bzang po,). The Tathāgata, perceiving that merchant to be suitable as a vessel of the bodhisattva pitaka, magically sat in the sky in front of him and taught as before. He [= our teacher] had faith and for a thousand years served and honored the Tathāgata and his retinue. He served and honored immeasurable Tathāgatas such as those for an incalculable kalpa, and the second incalculable kalpa came to an end. He drew near to the eighth bodhisattva stage, some maintain.

             Then, at the time of entering into the third incalculable kalpa, the Tathāgata Dīpankara appeared in the world. Furthermore, in more detail, in this Jambudvīpa, at the market Full of Lotuses (Padmo can gyi tshong ‘dus) there was a king called Enemy Defeater (*Jitāri, Dgra thul). At that time there was a brahmin named Master of the Lamp (*Dīpapati, Mar me’i bdag po) who was in harmony with the dharma. Then the king gave half the kingdom to the brahmin. The brahmin lived at the market Full of Lamps (Mar me can gyi tshong ‘dus) and he created a dharma kingdom. Again, at another time, the brahmin *Dīpapati had a son handsome of form and adorned with ornaments. Because light came from his body, he was given the name Dīpankara (Lamp). Because the brahmin showed the signs to interpreters of omens, they prophesied [Dīpankāra’s] enlightenment. He was entrusted to the nurses. Before long, he became learned. Then, the sons of the gods of the pure abodes exhorted the bodhisattva Dīpankara:


Here amidst the entourage of queens, [you] unchanging source of qualities,

Hoisting the victory banner of the seers, will realize the holy enlightenment.

Youth, quickly going, is much faster than the force of the wind.

In that joy, form perishes and the world is unpleasing.

Friends age, power fails, ordination is difficult.

You are in the very prime of life. You are the time of clarity.

Excellent, excellent, [you of] great discrimination; excellent, excellent, [you of] great intelligence:

If [you] quickly go forth [3] [into religious life], excellent! Stable hearted, realize enlightenment!


            Because he had faith, he was ordained and that very night he was fully enlightened; he was the Tathāgata Arhat Perfectly Complete Buddha Dīpankara. 

            The king *Jitāri, having heard his [Dīpankara’s] fame for virtue and the verse [above], wanted to behold him. He sent a messenger to *Dīpapati saying, “*Dīpapati, I heard that a son of yours was fully enlightened. Thus, [I] desire to see him; out of compassion is there permission for him to come to my presence?  If he does not come, I will come with an army with four divisions.”

             Then *Dīpapati with his retinue discussed [the matter]. [They] petitioned the Blessed One himself. The Blessed One gave permission; with eighty million arhats and eighty-four thousand bodhisattvas he roamed the province and departed. 

             *Dīpapati acted as a servant while [the Buddha was in] his land and returned. King *Jitāri heard that the Blessed One had come to Full of Lotuses (Padma can). When he heard [that], he decorated the market Full of Lotuses.

             Also, the king made the edict: “Do not sell any worship objects. Do not use [any worship objects]. Individually make offerings.” Then King *Jitāri with his retinue departed the city and acted as servants of the Tathāgata. 

             Also at that time, on the side of a snow mountain lived one called Precious Brahmin (Bram ze rin po che) with five hundred servants, a teacher who causes one to read, a mantra-holder, one knowing the three Vedas together with the application of the sound, one who knows with clarity (gsal ba), ..., a worldly nihilist (lokacarvaka, ‘jig rten rgyang ‘phen pa), a cause of offering gifts (mchod sbyin gyi rgyu), one who cognizes the marks of a great being (skyes bu chen po’i mtshan rjes su rtogs pa), one who knows the three levels of his own words (rang gi tshig rab ‘bring gsum rig pa), and a teaching master. Our teacher [the future Shākyamuni Buddha] was one called Brahmin *Kumāramegha (Youth Cloud, Bram ze Gzhon nu sprin), an attendant of that [Precious Brahmin]. Having trained in the requisite subject matters, he said, “O teacher, I have learned the Vedas. If I go to my country, what will I do?”  [The teacher] replied, “Youth *Kumāramegha, give five hundred measures (karshapana) of coins.”

            He prostrated to the feet of the teacher and went.

            He sought the wealth of the teacher, gradually arriving at Full of Lotuses. 

            He saw the decorated palace and asked, “What is this.” A man replied, “Young sir, don’t you know? Currently, [this palace] is decorated on account of the Tathāgata Dīpankara and his retinue coming.

            The brahmin, hearing the word “Buddha” had a great happiness and joy arise. [He] thought, “Whereas the coming of the Buddha is [rare] like the uḍumbara flower, therefore I will buy flowers with these cowries. I will toss them towards the Tathāgata. The teacher’s wealth having declined, I will seek [more].”

            Also, at that time, a woman carrying seven lotus flowers was walking along the path. The brahmin youth asked her, “O woman, where did you get these water flowers?” 

She replied, “At such-and-such (a place), I bought them with five hundred measures from the house of a garland maker.” 

            He said, “Sell these to me.”

            She replied, “It’s not right like that.”

            Again he spoke, “Well, put aside two for you and I will give you five hundred measures (karshapana) for five.”

            She said, “What will you do with this?”

            Again he spoke, “I will toss them towards the Blessed One.”

            The woman said, “If you promise to be my husband in all realms of existence and deaths and transmigrations, I will give [them to you].”

            The brahmin replied, “Give it up, woman. You shouldn’t say that. You are a distraction and unruly. Do not be an obstacle to my achieving the teaching of the Buddha through immeasurable hardships.” 

            The woman said, “Even if you cut and give the amount of a grain of mustard seed from the flesh of your body, there will be no obstacle to your giving.”

            The brahmin said (in agreement with her), “May it be like that. Give me the water-born flowers.” She gave [them].

            Then, the youth, upon going to where the Blessed One was and seeing the Blessed One surrounded by a great retinue, he was inspired (sems dang bar gyur).

            Then, seeing many people spread fine clothes on the path where the Blessed One was going, thinking, “Whereas I have no clothes, I will lay down herbivore hides,” he spread (them).

            Then, people jeered and belittled [him asking], “Do beings like this spread hides of herbivores in the presence of the [Three] Jewels?”

            He went to the edge of the area, spreading it there. Upon arousing the mind of enlightenment, “Please consider, Blessed One Tathāgata Dīpankara. Please look all about. Please place your feet on the hide of the herbivore.” – The Blessed One considered, and placed his feet [on the hide].

            Then, rejoicing, [the youth] tossed the five lotuses toward the Tathāgata. 

            At that time, the gods also made offerings to the Tathāgata.

            Then, [the youth], because his mind was so inspired, vowed, “After I have spread [my] long hair like the color of gold in the presence of the Blessed One for an interval of two years, please prophecy and encourage.”

            “If the Blessed One does not place his feet on the long hair and does not give encouragement, at just this you will cause my body to whither,” he vowed. Then, the Tathāgata understood, and placing his feet on the long hair, looked to the right: “Monks, do not put your feet on the hair. Why? This Brahmin youth will be called the Tathāgata Arhat Perfectly Complete Buddha Shākyamuni in an incalculable kalpa,” he prophesied. 

            Hearing that, [the brahmin youth] rejoiced and soared into the intermediate sky above. He made manifest immeasurable myriads of meditative concentrations. 

            By the power of higher perception, all the Tathāgatas of the ten directions beheld the prophecy.

            Having been been encouraged in that way, he descended from the sky and in the presence of the Tathāgata he was ordained into the homeless [life] from the house[-holder] and was celibate. That is the time of the eighth [bodhisattva] stage, according to some lamas. 

Others maintain, “This is the situation of the first stage” because the Pitaka says, “When he saw the Blessed One, he comprehended the equality [of] all dharmas. When he was prophesied, he attained tolerance for [the fact that] dharmas are unborn,” and when Śāriputra died, “In the ancient times of Dīpankara, there was not anyone who did not practice virtues and those buddhas did not prophesy.  Why? I had cut off the signs.” 

Beginning with such as those, because the brahmin youth became Light Ray Garland, and because up to the time of the Buddha Kāshyapa he worshipped and served inconceivable Tathāgatas, the third incalculable kalpa ended. 

[1] The items mentioned in these four lines of verse are parts of a Buddha’s career: 1. awakening the spiritual lineage or nature, 2. composing the first prayer of aspiration to become a Buddha, 3. following the fourfold path of liberation for three incalculable kalpas, 4. dwelling in a god realm in his last life before full awakening, and 5. performing the deeds of a Buddha such as awakening and teaching the Dharma.

[2] "The Thirty-three". (Skt., trāyastrimśā; Pāli, tāvatimsa). A Desire Realm heaven located on the top of Mt. Meru, above the four great kings who guard the four directions. It is named after the fact that thirty-three gods live there.

[3] Tib. mngon par byung = Skt. abhinishkram = enters ascetic life, goes forth.


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