‘WE HUMANS ARE BECOMING LIKE TERRIFYING DEMONS DESTROYING LIFE ON EARTH’: the Sūtra and Dhāraṇī of Protector Buddha Akṣobhya’: Aspirations to End Adversity’ by 17th Karmapa (Part III)

On the third day of the Aspirations to End Adversity, recited online with HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, the two texts recited were the Sūtra and dhāraṇī of Protector Buddha Akṣobhya. Here is a transcript of the short teaching the Karmapa gave about the two texts (with some references to other texts mentioned):

“The Buddha said many times that the Dhāraṇī of Protector Akṣobhya is supreme for purifying karmic obsurations. Thus, the Akṣobhya Dhāraṇīis called the Dhāraṇī that Purifies All Karmic Obscurations. He has a particular ability to purify karmic obscurations. I think this is primarily connected to the commitment he made, when he first roused bodhicitta  – ‘From now until I reach Buddhahood, I will never feel malice or hatred toward any sentient being. Because he made such a strong commitment, he was given the name Akṣobhya or Unshakeable. He kept this oath firmly from the time he was a bodhisattva until he achieved Buddhahood. Because he never felt malice or hatred toward any being, when he awoke to Buddhahood, the maras didn’t even think to try and make obstacles for him, it is said. It is for reasons such as these, that Akṣobhya is supreme for purifying karmic obscurations, in particular those that arose from hatred and malice. As you all know, in this universe, there are many trillions of worlds, like this one where Buddha Shakyamuni appeared. For example, to the west, there is Amitabha’s pure realm Sukhavati, as I’m sure you know. There are also many other Buddha realms. It is said that the Buddha Akṣobhya dwells in the eastern realm of Abhirati. One of the major sections of the Kangyur is the Ratnakūṭa Sūtra. In that section, there is the Sūtra of the Features of the Tathagata Akṣobhya’s Realm, which you can read to learn about it. ” [Note: this does not yet appear to have been translated into English].

Painting of Buddha Akshobya by HH 17th Karmapa
The Ratnakūṭa Sūtra and its translation by Xuanzang

The Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (大宝积经; dàbǎojī jīng, dam-chos dkon-mchog-brtsegs-pa) is an ancient collection of Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras. It is also known simply as Ratnakūṭa Sūtra (寶積經), literally the Sūtra of the Heap of Jewels in Sanskrit (kūṭa means ‘accumulation’ or ‘heap’).  According to Wisdom Publications:

“The text under the title of Ratnakūṭasūtra, rendered in Chinese by Kumārajīva as Pao-ting king, is referring here to the Kāśyapaparivarta which has come down to us in a somewhat mutilated Indian version (ed. A. von Staël-Holstein, Chang-hai, 1926), one Tibetan translation (Tib. Trip., vol. 24, no. 760, 43) and four Chinese translations made under the Han between 178 and 184, under the Tsin between 265 and 420 (T 351), under the Ts’in between 350 and 431 (T 310, k. 112, p. 631–638) and by Che-hou under the Song, about 982 (T 352)…..

The history of the Sanskrit Ratnakūṭa as a collection of sūtras still remains obscure. The Chinese, followed later by the Tibetans, are almost the only ones to affirm its existence. In the K’ai yuan (T 2154, k. 9, p. 570b4–12) we read: “In the past, during the Tcheng-kouan period (627–649), the Dharma teacher Hiuan-tsang traveled to India and returned with Sanskrit texts. In the Hong fou sseu, he translated the Mahābodhisattvapiṭakasūtra, the twelfth ‘assemblage’ of the Ratnakūṭa. Later, when at Yu houa kong sseu he had finished translating the Mahāprajñā (T 220), the monks invited him to translate the Ratnakūṭa immediately. The Dharma teacher Hiuan-tsang said:

“The merit in translating the Ratnakūṭa is not inferior to that of translating the Prajñā. The time remaining in my life is brief; I am afraid that I cannot finish the work.” As the requests addressed to him did not stop, he began to translate the text hastily. He was able to make only a few lines, and he said, sighing: “This sūtra does not show favorable signs for the people of this country. My strength is exhausted; I cannot finish it.” This is why he stopped translating. The day that Bodhiruci arrived (about 706?), he again presented a Sanskrit text of this [Ratnakūṭa]. The emperor Ho-ti ordered Bodhiruci to continue the remainder of the work begun by Hiuan-tsang.”[1]

There is an ongoing translation of the Sūtra at 84 000 Reading Room, see here: Heap of Jewels | 84000 Reading Room, of which it says:

“This is a compilation of forty-nine heterogeneous sūtras, present in both the Kangyur and the Chinese Tripiṭaka.

The Heap of Jewels—like the other distinct collection preceding it in the Kangyur, the Ornament of the Buddhas (Buddhāvataṃsaka)—is often described as a sūtra, its full Sanskrit title being Mahāratnakūṭasūtra (“the Sūtra of the Great Heap of Jewels”), and in Tibetan ’phags pa dkon mchog brtsegs pa chen po’i chos kyi rnam grangs le’u stong phrag brgya pa (“the Noble Dharma Discourse of the Great Heap of Precious Jewels with a Hundred Thousand Chapters”). Unlike the Ornament of the Buddhas, however, its component texts or chapters are explicitly presented as independent works. Many of them are individually cited in the treatises of the great Indian masters and are known to have circulated as sūtras in their own right; only five are still extant in Sanskrit.

Although the name Ratnakūṭa (“heap of jewels” or, more exactly, “piled-up jewels”) seems quite appropriate for such a compilation of precious scriptural works, it is in fact the name by which just one of the texts in the collection, the Kāśyapaparivarta (Toh 87) was originally known, and seems to have been applied to the whole collection only later. Citations from a Ratnakūṭasūtra in works by Asaṅga, Śāntideva, and other authors all refer to the Kāśyapaparivarta, which is sometimes therefore designated the “old” Ratnakūṭa.

The history of the Heap of Jewels remains unclear. Tibetan historical tradition, as mentioned briefly in the Degé Kangyur catalogue and recounted more fully by Tāranātha, tells us that the originally much larger collection (with a thousand chapters, or even the hundred thousand of the full title) was reduced to its current forty-nine texts by an arson attack on the library at Nālandā. The date of this event, said to have been responsible for the decimation of many other scriptures, too (including the Buddhāvataṃsaka), is placed some time before the lives of Asaṅga and Vasubandhu, along with accounts of other calamitous episodes during a period of political turbulence and unstable patronage for Buddhist institutions in India.”

We humans are turning into terrifying demons destroying life on earth

The 17th Karmapa continued :

“ In our own world, we human beings act in ways that cause severe harm to our world and the beings who live in it. Through climate change and other crises, we human beings are turning into terrifying demons (sinpo) destroying life on earth. For the sake of food, clothes, luxury, and the like, every day millions of animals experience the suffering of being killed and butchered. Actually, avoiding harm and seeking benefit is not just a human right and freedom. It is every single sentient beings’ right and freedom. Thus it is critical for us to respect and protect other beings’ lives and happiness, to take on the responsibility of bringing them benefit and happiness, and to accept the hardships that entails.”

Here is a video/audio of 17th Karmapa reciting the Akshobhya Buddha Dharani ☆ | Karmapa | – YouTube

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 24th January 2021.

[1] The Ratnakūṭa-sūtra (wisdomlib.org)

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