By Alyssa McFarland
On June 22, 2019, Loppon Geshe Jamyang Tsultrim visited Sakya Monastery to give a two-part teaching on “The Aspiration of Samantabhadra,” also known as the “King of Prayers.” This prayer comes from a sutra when the Buddha was in Shravasti. Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (not to be confused with the primordial Samantabhadra) spoke these words to Sudana (a merchant’s son who was interested in Buddhism).
Geshe Jamyang explained that aspiration prayers are important because when we see all the suffering in the world, we tend to despair that we cannot solve it. Instead of this negative thinking, we should acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and aspire that ourselves and others might overcome it. It is healing for ourselves to make an aspiration prayer, for example, praying “may homeless individuals find shelter, and may the hungry find food.”
The Aspiration of Samantabhadra can be summarized as an extensive seven-limb prayer. The three main concepts are: accumulation (of wholesome deeds), purification (of afflictive emotions and negative karma via the four powers) and expansion (expanding wholesome deeds and restraining from unwholesome ones).
Geshe Jamyang went through the text giving explanations based on Commentary on Samantabhadra by the most venerable Khenpo Appey Rinpoche. He suggested reading the Aspiration of Samantabhadra verse by verse and contemplating its meaning. Geshe Jamyang provided an extensive printed outline, showing what each verse meant and how it fit into the larger whole. For example, reading the first eleven stanzas helps us accumulate the core wholesomeness that is to be dedicated through the first six limbs of the Seven Limb Prayer. Verse 12 summarizes and begins the dedication portion (the seventh limb), which comprises the rest of the prayer.
He clarified a few points which are easy to misunderstand. For example, in stanza 42 Samantabhadra is referred to as the “eldest son of the victorious Buddhas,” which means “senior student” not “biological son.” In stanza 49, where it says those reciting the prayer “will abandon all evil friends,” the emphasis is on transforming your life, not actually abandoning anyone (a bodhisattva would not abandon anyone, but sees everyone as their teacher, even “evil” people).
The reasons we read this prayer when people die are: a) recite it on behalf of the dead person so they can receive the merit, b) to process our own grief and loss, and c) to connect with the deceased person through our prayers.
He said that the main stanzas of the prayer are verses 12, 41, 42, 43, 44, 55, 56, 61, 62, 63. Of these, 12, 55 and 56 are the minimum that should be recited.
If one wishes, one can replace the word “I” in the prayer with the word “we,” while imagining that all beings are reciting with oneself.
We are very grateful to have had Geshe Jamyang come and give this informative and inspiring teaching!
May whatever small amount of virtue I may have
gained from prostrating, offering, confessing,
rejoicing, requesting, and beseeching,
be dedicated to attaining perfect enlightenment.
In whatever way valiant Manjushri and
Samantabhadra know how to transfer merit,
so do I dedicate all of my own virtues,
that I might train to be like them.
Through this dedication, praised as supreme by the
victorious Buddhas of the past, present, and future,
I dedicate all of these roots of virtue
to accomplishing the deeds of Samantabhadra.