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Buddhism in Practice: Abridged Edition

Buddhism in Practice: Abridged Edition

by Donald S. Lopez


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691129686
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/25/2007
Series: Princeton Readings in Religions
Edition description: Abridged
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Donald S. Lopez Jr., is Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the editor of three other volumes in this series: Religions of Tibet in Practice, Religions of India in Practice, and Religions of China in Practice.

Read an Excerpt


In Practice

By Donald S. Lopez Jr.


Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-12968-6


A Hymn of Praise to the Buddha's Good Qualities

Paul J. Griffiths

The Buddha has been an object of devotion, praise, and homage from the beginning of Buddhist history. The presence of the Buddha in the world, in the person of Gautama Sakyamuni in India about 2,400 years ago, has always been regarded by Buddhists as a matter of such surprising and wonderful good fortune that these are the only possible responses. Relatively early Buddhist texts are full of descriptions of such attitudes to Sakyamuni, and later literary works and iconographic representations went to much trouble to give detailed pictures of the good qualities that make the Buddha worthy of such devotion. The hymn of praise translated here is an example of such an attempt.

The historical individual Sakyamuni to whom the honorific title "Buddha" ("Awakened One") is given was, according to the systematic thinkers of the Buddhist tradition, only one of many buddhas. There have been many buddhas active in this world before Sakyamuni, and there will be many after him. Also, there were many buddhas in various forms active in other worlds at the very same time when Sakyamuni was active in our world, just as there are many buddhas active now in various worlds other than ours. Although Sakyamuni is the paradigmatic buddha for us since he is the one closest to us in time and space, he is neither the only buddha to have been the object of devotion by Buddhists nor even, perhaps, the buddha to have received the most attention, praise, and homage.

Although buddhas have been and are so numerous, they all share some characteristics; in fact, it is the possession of these common properties that makes it sensible to call them all buddhas. Buddhist theorists began to show an interest in listing and defining these common properties from a very early period. Some of these lists are no more than standardized sets of epithets applied to the Buddha, short strings of honorifics employed whenever Buddha is mentioned. So, for example, Sakyamuni is often dignified by calling him "Thus Gone, Worthy, Fully and Completely Awakened, Accomplished in Knowledge and Virtuous Conduct, Well Gone, Knower of Worlds, Unsurpassed Guide for Those Who Need Restraint, Teacher of Gods and Humans, Awakened, Blessed," a litany of titles that rolls sonorously from the tongue in Sanskrit. This litany can be applied to any buddha, since all buddhas have these properties. Other lists of common buddha properties are much more extensive, and are given poetic form, intended to be learned, recited, and used as objects of meditation or as aids to visualizing the Buddha's perfections. It is such a list that is translated below.

The seventeen verses that form the heart of this list are found in at least two different Buddhist texts, the Mahayanasutralankara ("Ornament of the Sacred Texts of the Great Vehicle"), and the Mahayanasangraha ("Summary of the Great Vehicle"). Both were written in India and in Sanskrit by the fourth century of the common era; the problems surrounding the dating of Indian Buddhist texts are sufficiently intractable to make any more precise dating impossible. The fact that these verses are found in different texts strongly suggests that they had a life of their own, independent of any of the larger works in which they are now embedded. This impression is confirmed by the fact that the canonical collection of Buddhist texts preserved in the Tibetan language contains these verses as an independent work. It seems reasonable to conclude that these seventeen verses praising the Buddha's good qualities were in liturgical use by Buddhists in India by the beginning of the common era, and that they were thought sufficiently important to be included in different written works over the next several centuries, and given detailed exposition in those works. Apart from this, unfortunately, we do not know how Buddhists in India used these verses in their ritual and meditational life.

Each of the seventeen verses in the hymn has essentially the same structure. The Buddha, apostrophized reverentially in the second person singular, is described as the possessor of a number of desirable properties, and the verse ends with the refrain "Homage to you!" (namo'stu te). The good qualities mentioned in the verses are of a fairly general kind: the Buddha is said to sympathize with all beings (verse 1), to tame their passions (verse 3), to know what they do (verse 6), to remove their doubts (verse 17), and so forth.

The larger written works in which these verses are now embedded typically provide prose comments upon each verse, sometimes brief and sometimes very extensive. In these comments each verse is taken to refer to one or more of a series of buddha properties defined with much greater precision and elaboration, and if these properties are added up we find that the hymn as a whole is taken by the commentators to provide a poetic summary of 206 good qualities possessed by the Buddha.

This large number is divided by the commentators into twenty-one major categories, some with only one member and one with as many as eighty; and each of the seventeen verses is related to one or more of these twenty-one categories. Each of the longer prose works in which the verses are now embedded contains comments of this kind, some more elaborate and some less, but all are in essential agreement as to which members of the more elaborate list — 206 properties in twenty-one major categories — are to be referred to which verse.

In the translation that follows I provide my own brief comments upon each verse, drawing on the expositions referred to in the preceding paragraph, in an attempt to show how the Indian commentators understood the verses and linked them to the detailed scholastic categories. Since these categories have many members and are highly technical, I have been able to do no more than give a broad indication of their major divisions and meanings. Further details can be pursued by consulting the works mentioned below. It will be obvious that the verses typically do not contain the technical terms used by the commentators to link them with the categories of the more detailed list, and that there is a certain artificiality and arbitrariness to these connections. The verses can be read and savored independently; doing so will provide something of their religious flavor. But it should also be emphasized that the combination of the devotional fervor of these verses with the dry technicality of the scholastic categories — only hinted at in my expository comments — opens a window of great value upon Buddhist attitudes to and systematic thought about the Buddha in the early centuries of the common era in India; these attitudes and this systematic thought were together of fundamental importance for all later Buddhist theorizing about the person and work of the Buddha.

The translation of the verses given here is made from the Sanskrit text of the Mahayanasutralankara, given in Sylvain Lévi, ed. and trans., Mahayana-Sutralankara: exposé de la doctrine du grand véhicule selon le système Yogacara, 2 vols. Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, Sciences Historiques et Philologiques, vols. 159, 190 (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1907, 1911), I: 18488.

Lévi's French translation of these verses, together with one of the prose commentaries (Mahayanasutralankarabhanya) is in II: 299–306, of the same work. A French translation of the same verses in the context of the Mahayanasangraha is in Étienne Lamotte, ed. and trans., La somme du grand véhicule d'Asanga (Mahayana-Sangraha), 2 vols. Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, vol. 8 (Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste de l'Université Catholique de Louvain, 1973), II: 290–304. The Tibetan text of the verses is given in I: 88–90, of the same work.

More recently, see Paul J. Griffiths et al., The Realm of Awakening: A Translation and Study of the Tenth Chapter of Asanga's Mahaynasangraha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 123–69, 299–335. The second volume of Gadjin M. Nagao's Shodaijoron: wayaku to chukai [Mahayanasangraha: A Japanese Translation and Commentary], 2 vols. (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982, 1987) also contains the Sanskrit text of these verses, together with a translation into Japanese and some exegetical remarks (also in Japanese).

A Hymn of Praise to the Buddha's Good Qualities

You sympathize with sentient beings;
You aspire to unite, to separate, and not to separate;
You aspire to happiness and well-being.
Homage to you!

verse 1, qualities 1–4, category 1

This verse is taken to refer to the Buddha's four "immeasurables," namely, his friendliness, his compassion, his gladness, and his equanimity, as these are directed toward all sentient beings. The Buddha wants the happiness and well-being of all, and so aspires to unite them with happiness, to separate them from suffering, and not to separate them from what happiness they already possess. The immeasurables, then, are among the Buddha's perfections of attitude toward all non-buddhas; they are immeasurable because they are extended to all equally and without limit. They provide the basis for the Buddha's salvific action.

You are liberated from all obstacles;
You are the sage who masters the entire world;
Objects of awareness are pervaded by your awareness;
Your mind is liberated.
Homage to you!

verse 2, qualities 5–30, categories 2–4

Each of the first three lines of this verse is taken to refer to a series of altered states of consciousness produced by the Buddha's meditational practice. The first line is taken to refer to the Buddha's eight "liberations," by means of which the Buddha is liberated from all obstacles to proper cognition — knowing the way things are — and proper affective condition — reacting with emotional appropriateness to such knowledge. The second line is taken to refer to the Buddha's eight "spheres of mastery," by means of which the Buddha attains complete control over his own mental life, learning to manipulate and alter at will the images in which it consists. And the third line of the verse is taken to refer to the Buddha's ten "spheres of totality," by means of which the Buddha can extend his awareness to the limits of possibility, so coming to be aware of everything and obtaining a kind of omniscience (on which see verse 16). The commentators provide a good deal of information about the meditational techniques designed to bring these states into being. The verse as a whole thus refers to the Buddha's perfections of cognition and affect, necessary prerequisites for his salvific action.

You tame all the passions of all sentient beings, without any remainder,
You remove the passions and take pity on the passionate.
Homage to you!

verse 3, quality 31, category 5

This verse is taken to refer to the Buddha's "noncontentiousness," by virtue of which he is able to remove the passions of sentient beings, without at the same time himself being the object of any such passions. This is a centrally important property of the Buddha's perfections of action, connected as it is with one of the main goals of the entire Buddhist path, which is the removal of passions. The second line tells us that the Buddha is opposed only to passions, not to those who have them; and the commentaries, in explaining this, liken the Buddha to a physician who removes fevers or possession by demons, but who shows nothing but compassion to those who have such troubles.

You are spontaneous, unattached, unimpeded, and concentrated;
You always and only dispose of all questions.
Homage to you!

verse 4, quality 32, category 6

This verse as a whole is taken to refer to the Buddha's awareness that results from his original vow to become the Buddha. The first line lists some properties of this awareness, and the second shows its salvific effects: precisely as a result of possessing such awareness, the Buddha is able to do nothing other than remove the questions and doubts of non-buddhas, and so to help such beings on their way toward buddhahood. The emphasis on spontaneity is a thread that runs throughout this hymn. The Buddha does not act with deliberation or analysis; rather, his perfections of knowledge and affect mean that he does everything without forethought or the possibility of error, as a spontaneous outflow of his own nature — just as a mirror spontaneously reflects images with perfect accuracy.

Your mind is always unimpeded with regard to the support and that which is supported — which are what is taught;
And with regard to speech and awareness — which are what does the teaching;
You are always a good teacher.
Homage to you!

verse 5, qualities 33–36, category 7

This verse is taken to refer to the Buddha's four "specific understandings." These are special cognitive capacities by means of which the Buddha understands, as the first line of the verse has it, "what is taught," which is to say the doctrine (dharma) itself ("the support"), as well as its meaning (artha, "that which is supported"). The idea is that Buddhist teaching is expressed in words and has meaning, and that the Buddha has complete understanding of both. These are the first two of the four specific understandings. The other two — speech and awareness — are mentioned in the second line. The commentators explain these understandings in terms of the Buddha's unobstructed and complete mastery over the words necessary to teach the doctrine in any natural language, and also in terms of his mastery over the rhetorical conventions necessary for the effective use of such languages. The Buddha is thus both omnilingual and a rhetorician of unparalleled skill, and so is "always a good teacher."

When approaching sentient beings through their words,
And upon knowing their conduct in regard to their coming, going, and deliverance,
You instruct them well.
Homage to you!

verse 6, qualities 37–42, category 8

This verse is taken to refer in summary fashion to the Buddha's six supernatural knowledges. The commentators present slightly different versions of this sixfold list, and so interpret the verse somewhat differently from one another. But they are in broad agreement that the Buddha's powers of clairvoyance, clairaudience, and telepathy enable him to know everything about what sentient beings do, what their previous lives were, and when and how they will reach nirvana ("knowing their conduct in regard to their coming, going, and deliverance"). Such knowledges provide the Buddha with what he needs to "instruct them well," and so here too we find reference to the Buddha's cognitive powers as a necessary condition for his salvific action. The Buddha's knowledge enables him to tailor his teachings and actions with precision to the needs of each sentient being.


Excerpted from Buddhism by Donald S. Lopez Jr.. Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Princeton Readings in Religions, v,
Note on Transliteration, vii,
Contents by Vehicle, xi,
Contents by Country, xiii,
List of Contributors, xv,
Introduction • Donald S. Lopez, Jr., 3,
1. A Hymn of Praise to the Buddha's Good Qualities • Paul J. Griffiths, 39,
2. Consecrating the Buddha • Donald K. Swearer, 50,
3. Sutra on the Merit of Bathing the Buddha • Daniel Boucher, 59,
4. Reading Others' Minds • Carl Bielefeldt, 69,
5. The Prayer of the Original Buddha • Matthew Kapstein, 80,
6. Myoe's Letter to the Island • George J. Tanabe, Jr., 88,
7. The Tathagatagarbha Sutra • William H. Grosnick, 92,
8. Gotami's Story • Jonathan S. Walters, 107,
9. A Prayer for the Long Life of the Dalai Lama • Donald S. Lopez, Jr., 133,
10. Chinese Women Pilgrims' Songs Glorifying Guanyin • Chün-fang Yü, 139,
11. A Discussion of Seated Zen • Carl Bielefeldt, 147,
12. The Way to Meditation • Donald K. Swearer, 157,
13. Original Enlightenment Thought in the Nichiren Tradition • Jackie Stone, 166,
14. A Prophecy of the Death of the Dharma • Jan Nattier, 179,
15. The Book of Resolving Doubts Concerning the Semblance Dharma • Kyoko Tokuno, 187,
16. Eschatology in the Wheel of Time Tantra • John Newman, 202,
17. Atisa's A Lamp for the Path to Awakening • Ronald M. Davidson, 208,
18. The Advice to Layman Tundila • Charles Hallisey, 220,
19. The Legend of the Iron Stupa • Charles Orzech, 232,
20. Two Tantric Meditations: Visualizing the Deity • Luis O. Gómez, 236,
21. The Story of the Horn Blowing • Todd T. Lewis, 246,
22. On Becoming a Buddhist Wizard • Patrick Pranke, 255,
23. Pure Land Buddhist Worship and Meditation in China • Daniel B. Stevenson, 271,
24. A Modern Sermon on Merit Making • Donald K. Swearer, 293,
25. Auspicious Things • Charles Hallisey, 296,
26. Tales of the Lotus Sutra • Daniel B. Stevenson, 311,
27. Daily Life in the Assembly • T. Griffith Foulk, 339,
28. Deaths, Funerals, and the Division of Property in a Monastic Code • Gregory Schopen, 357,
29. A Rite for Restoring the Bodhisattva and Tantric Vows • Donald S. Lopez, Jr., 387,
30. Awakening Stories of Zen Buddhist Women • Sallie King, 397,
31. Atisa's Journey to Sumatra • Hubert Decleer, 409,
32. Bimba's Lament • Donald K. Swearer, 419,
33. Hagiographies of the Korean Monk Wonhyo • Robert E. Buswell, Jr., 431,
34. Buddhist Chaplains in the Field of Battle • Sybil Thornton, 441,
35. Death-Bed Testimonials of the Pure Land Faithful • Daniel B. Stevenson, 447,
Index, 459,

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