ASPIRATION IS THE BASIS OF ALL RESULTS: ‘Sutra of the Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Awareness’ and ‘Aspiration for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī’: ‘Aspirations to End Adversity’ with 17th Karmapa (Part 5)

On the fifth day of the Aspirations to End Adversity with 17th Karmapa the texts recited are the Sutra of the Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Primordial Awareness (Aparimitāyur­jñāna­hṛdaya­dhāraṇī) and Karma Chakme’s Aspiration for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī. Here is a transcript of the short teaching the Karmapa gave on the texts and some background information on the textual sources.

17th Karmapa’s teaching

The Sutra of the Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Primordial Awareness is one of several sutras associated with the Buddha Amitayus in the Tibetan Kangyur. The Buddha Amitayus is one of the most well-known buddhas of all those mentioned in the Mahayana sutras. In the Pure Land tradition of Chinese Buddhism, the Buddha Amitabha is the main focus of practice. The practice of Amitabha is easy to do and has great blessings, so it has spread widely among the public. Amitabha is probably the only buddha of the Mahayana to whom a specific lineage is devoted. I don’t think there is any other.

Though there is no separate Pure Land tradition in Tibet, there are countless teachings and practices of Amitabha that come from the Kangyur, Terma, and pure visions. Among them, the ones everyone considers authoritative are the sutras and dharanis of Amitayus in the Kangyur. This Sutra of the Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Wisdom is, between sutra and tantra, included within tantra.

As the Sutra of the Features of Manjushri’s Realm says:

All dharmas depend on conditions;
They rest on the base of aspiration.
Whoever makes any aspiration
Will achieve that result.

The amazing, wonderful pure realm of Sukhāvatī arose because of the aspirations of the Buddha Amitabha, it is said. Thus we should also, even within our present daily lives, take up the intention to help others, foster a good motivation, and take care of the natural environment and animals. If we do so, we can create a small Sukhāvatī around ourselves. These days, we face many severe, perilous environmental crises such as climate change. Scientists see this and lead us by the hand to show us, but if we lack sufficient motivation and courage to change, it cannot be of much benefit to our actual situation.

We might think that we can just ruin this earth and then go off to some other pleasant place, but I don’t think that karmic cause and effect works that way. This earth of ours doesn’t belong just to our generation. It doesn’t belong just to humans. Either we can transform this earth into a pure realm for future generations and other sentient beings, or we can transform it into a hell. It’s in our hands right now. We all must do as the Buddha Amitabha did and make vast aspirations for the sake of other sentient beings, make a strong commitment, and strive to benefit others. I think that this is one of the most important points of the teachings on Amitabha.”

Sutra of the Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Primordial Awareness

 (Aparimitāyur­jñāna­hṛdaya­dhāraṇī, ཚེ་དང་ཡེ་ཤེས་དཔག་ཏུ་མེད་པའི་སྙིང་པོའི་གཟུངས།)

Buddha Amitabha in Sukhavati, 19th Century Tibetan thangka from the Namcho tradition (revealed by Karma Chagme’s student, Terton Mingyur Dorje) Amitabha/Amitayus Buddha – Pureland (Sukhavati) (Himalayan Art)

This Sutra has also recently been translated and published in English by the 84 000 Project (see here) from an edition in the Derge Kangyur[i]. They summarise the contents thus:

“The Dhāraṇī “Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Wisdom” opens at a pool by the Ganges, where the Buddha Śākyamuni is seated with five hundred monks and a great saṅgha of bodhisattvas. The Buddha begins with a short set of verses on the Buddha Aparimitāyus, who dwells in the realm of Sukhāvatī, telling the gathering that anyone who recites Aparimitāyus’ name will be reborn in that buddha’s realm. He then provides a unique description of Sukhāvatī, followed by instructions for two practices, related to the text’s dhāraṇī, that can grant rebirth in Sukhāvatī in the next life.”

They explain the origin of the Tibetan translation:

“The Tibetan translation that survives to this day in the Kangyur dates to the eleventh century ᴄᴇ, but the text must have been in circulation in India considerably earlier, since a Chinese translation (Taishō 370) had been completed by an unknown translator during the Liang dynasty in the early half of the sixth century. The Tibetan translation was made by the Indian preceptor Puṇya­sambhava and the Tibetan Lotsāwa Patsap Nyima Drak (b. 1055). Almost nothing is known of Puṇya­sambhava, while Patsap Lotsāwa was responsible not only for bringing to Tibet the philosophical works for which he is best known, but also for introducing new lineages of many tantric practices from Kashmir, where he studied for twenty-three years[ii].”

Then Tibetan translator of the Sutra, Patsab Nyima Drak (Wyl. pa tshab nyi ma grags pa) (1055-1145?) was a monk at Sangpu monastery and traveled to Kashmir where he translated Buddhist Madhyamika texts. He is said to be an important scholar and translator of the New Translation period, who is best known for the key role he played in establishing the Madhyamika Prasangika teachings in Tibet. He translated the most important texts of this tradition, including Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamaka-karika, Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verses, and Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara. Three commentary works are attributed to him, and they have recently been published in the “Selected Works of the Kadampas, volume II”. Patsab’s commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika seems to be the first Tibetan commentary on this work.

The Aspiration to be Reborn in the Pure Realm of Sukhavati by Karma Chagme
Karma Chagme (1613-78)

The Aspiration to be Reborn in the Pure Realm of Sukhavati (rnam dag bde chen zhing gi smon lam) aka Dechen Monlam or De Mon (bde smon), by Karma Chakme in eastern Tibet in the 17th century, is a famous aspiration prayer to be reborn in Sukhāvatī, the heaven of Amitabha. There are several published translations of this text available online. Karma Chagme also wrote a 450 page commentary on this Aspiration Prayer (rnam dag bde chen zhing gi smon lam gyi ‘grel bshad thar lam snang byed)[iii].

Karma Chakme (karma chags med) (1613-78), aka Raga Asya (rāgāsya; rA ga a sya), was one of the most highly realized and accomplished scholar-yogins of Tibet. An important Karma Kamtsang teacher, he was recognized by many as the incarnation of the ninth Karmapa (but not selected.) His teachers included the most famous masters of his time, both Nyingma and Kagyu. He was both the teacher and student of Terton Mingyur Dorjé (1645-1662) ‎[iv]. He spent thirteen years in retreat from 1649 until 1662, the last seven years of which he was joined by Mingyur Dorje, who entered the retreat at the age of ten. During this retreat it is said that the young Mingyur Dorje had visions that Karma Chagme wrote out as thirteen volumes of “Space-Dharma” teachings. While these were to form the heart of the Palyul Nyingma school, many of these practices are of great importance in the Karma Kagyu lineage. Karma Chagme himself composed numerous works.

Photo of the Karma Chagme text published with stunning illustrations

Karma Chagme also composed a Prayer to the Lion of Speech (translated by Lotsawa House). This prayer to Buddha Amitābha, Mañjuśrī the ‘Lion of Speech’ (smra ba’i seng ge) and the goddess Sarasvatī was composed by Karma Chakmé for his own daily practice. It includes a series of aspirations related to wisdom and intelligence.

Contents of the Prayer

“The prayer is divided into three main parts. The first part deals with the worship of Buddha Amitabha. There are verses describing the location of the Sukhāvatī realm to the west of our world and the configuration of Buddha Amitabha and his retinue and disciples. This is followed by verses on the seven-part worship of the BuddhaAmitabha including prostration, offering, confession, rejoicing, requesting to live long and teach the dharma and the dedication of merits. Even those you merely hear the name of BuddhaAmitabha are said to take rebirth in the presence of Amitabha through the power of Amitabha’s prayers for the sentient beings.

The second part describes the process of taking birth in Sukhāvatī out of a lotus flower and the amazing happiness and bliss which fill the pure realm. This part contains verses describing the fantastic spiritual opportunity for enlightenment. It describes how one would have time to receive teachings from Amitabha and his retinue, from the Buddhas who visit Sukhāvatī and also how one would miraculously travel to other pure realms to see other Buddhas and receive their teachings. Karma Chagme presents a very vivid picture of lotus births and astral travels which are associated with such practice.

The third part deals with the sublime luxuries of Sukhāvatī and the future of life in Sukhāvatī talking of it in terms of cosmic aeons. It talks about Amitabha passing into Mahāparinirvāṇa, just like the historical Buddha Śākyamuni did, and how Avalokiteśvara will become fully enlightened and take over the leadership in Sukhāvatī. Avalokiteśvara will also pass away after innumerable aeons and Vajrapani is said to become the next regent. Amitabha, Avalokiteśvara and Vajrapani form the divine trio of Sukhāvatī realm although there are many other divinities and Bodhisattvas in the realm including Guru Rinpoche.”

Depiction of Amitabha and Sukhāvatī

According to the Himalayan Art Resources page:

“Amitabha depicted in the Sukhavati Heaven is a common image in Himalayan and Tibetan art. It is an iconic symbol and subject representing Mahayana Buddhism. The basic figures, characters and scenes are common for most representations in all of the different traditions despite having several different composition styles. There is however one exception.

The Namcho Tradition of ‘Revealed Treasure’ discovered by Mingyur Dorje (1645-1667) presents a variation on the theme of Amitabha in Sukhavati with the addition of a number of Tantric elements which differs from all of the other depictions.”

Recitation of the Aspiration

Here is a recitation of the Aspiration by 17th Karmapa, recorded earlier this year:


Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 26th January 2021.

[i] Toh 676, Degé Kangyur, vol. 91 (rgyud ’bum, ba), folios 220.b–222.b.

[ii] The rest of the introduction states that: “In most Kangyurs the text translated here is included in the section of works classified as tantras belonging to the Action (kriyā) class, and is grouped with eight texts (Toh 673A–680) corresponding to the principal buddha (rigs kyi gtso bo) of the padma (lotus) family. This group, in addition to the present dhāraṇī (Toh 676), and the four works on Amitābha that follow it (Toh 677–80),6 also contains the two versions of the very widely used Aparimitāyur­jñāna­sūtra (Toh 674 and 675)—commonly known as the “Sūtra of Long Life” or, in Tibetan, Tsédo (tshe mdo)—and a dhāraṇī related to it (Toh 673A).5 The names of the buddha or buddhas on which this group of texts focus are variable: Amitābha, Amitāyus, Aparimitāyur­jñāna, and—both in the present text—Aparimitāyus and Dundubhi­svara­rāja. The finer distinctions between these figures have not always been entirely clear. In India, the names Amitāyus and Amitābha appear to have been almost synonymous, but distinctions of role and perhaps even identity seem to have arisen later in both China and Tibet. Alternatively, some of the figures in these texts may derive from originally independent textual traditions that later came to be grouped together. In discussing these distinctions, Tibetan scholars used such terms as “the Amitāyus of Sukhāvatī” (bde ba can gyi tshe dpag med), “the Amitāyus of the Zenith” (steng gi tshe dpag med), “the Amitāyus of Akaniṣṭha” (’og min gyi tshe dpag med), and “the Amitāyus of the Immortal Sound of the Drum” (’chi med rnga sgra’i tshe dpag med). The need for such terms suggests that in Tibetan the rendering Tsépamé (tshe dpag med) as a short form of both Aparimitāyur­jñāna and Aparimitāyus, as well as of Amitāyus, may have contributed to some blurring of differences between them.

These terms also demonstrate that the clearest basis on which distinctions may be made is the buddha field in which these buddhas dwell. In the present text, the explicit focus is on the buddha who presides over the pure realm of the western direction known as Sukhāvatī (bde ba can). He is referred to in the Tibetan text as Tsépamé (tshe dpag med), and although this could be back translated as Amitāyus, and must surely here be identified with Amitābha, we have chosen to render it instead as Aparimitāyus. This is in deference to the title, which is a little problematic in that it appears to identify the text instead with Aparimitāyur­jñāna, the buddha of the pure realm in the zenith who is the focus of the Aparimitāyur­jñāna­sūtra texts (or Tsédo, Toh 674 and 675) mentioned above.

Perhaps as one result of potential ambiguity regarding the exact reference of its title, the text translated here, The Dhāraṇī “Essence of Immeasurable Longevity and Wisdom,” is also referred to in some Tibetan works as The Sūtra [or Dhāraṇī] of the King of the Sound of the Drum (rnga sgra’i rgyal po’i mdo/gzungs), which in Sanskrit would be *Dundubhi­svara­rāja­sūtra. Indeed, the name of the dhāraṇī that this work contains is explicitly stated in the text to be Dundubhi­svara­rāja, or Amṛta­dundubhi­svara­rāja, and tradition has taken this to be yet another moniker of Amitābha or Amitāyus of Sukhāvatī. As a name, Dundubhi­svara is not uncommon in Indian literature, and other Mahāyāna works list Dundubhi­svara­rāja (or the alternatives Dundubhi­svara and Dundubhi­svara­nirgoṣa) as names of a former buddha, a series of former buddhas, and the buddha who dwells in the northern quarter,8 but in this context, no doubt on the basis of the mentions in this text, Tibetan Buddhist tradition equates the names Dundubhi­svara­rāja (rnga sgra’i rgyal po) and Amṛta­dundubhi­svara­rāja (’chi med rnga sgra’i rgyal po) most frequently with Amitābha or Amitāyus of Sukhāvatī.”

[iii] karma chags med; 1 volume; 448 p.. W3CN4729. Published by Serthang Larung (gser thang bla rung lnga rig nang bstan slob gling /, gser rta rdzong /). Computer Input.

[iv] “In 1603, Karma Chagmey the first was born in a village called Ngom. His father was Anu Pema Wang of the Dong Khachopa tribe who were the descendants of the great Dharma King Trisong Detsen. His mother was Chokyong Kyid. At the age of five he recognized the true nature of mind and he perfected the Kyerim skills. During his ninth year he went to Zadam to study and mastered all the philosophies and quintessential teachings and thus became one of the greatest masters. From his root guru Garwang Chokyi Wangchuk he received Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings. He stayed at his main seat in Pari Tse in Neydo where he had visions of deities. Dharmapalas served him as their master. He had had the signs of high accomplishments, clairvoyance and power. His level of understanding is believed to be tasteness stage of the four stages of accomplishment. Through his empowerments, teachings and writings many realized their true nature. He subdued many spirits. Thus having many qualities, he remained a great Siddha. The derivation of Neydo Kagyu Lineage came from him.

He had five main disciples who were Namcho Mingyur Dorje, Palyul Kunzang Sherab, Dzogchen Pema Rigzin, Goche Orgyen Tharchin, Neydo Dechen Rinpoche. He had many other great disciples as well.

His teachings spread all over Eastern Tibet. His writings comprised of seventy-seven volumes of Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings from his mind treasure. All his teachings were written after having a vision of Guru Rinpoche during his strict twelve-year retreat. Having been given the permission from the deities he gave teachings which were very lucid, effective and full of blessings.

After promoting the Dharma and liberating immeasurable sentient beings he passed into Mahaparinirvana at the age of 69. After the cremation of his body many relics and self-emerging images of deities were found. On his skull was the naturally embossed letter ‘Ah’.” Karma Chagme Raga Asey – Rangjung Yeshe Wiki – Dharma Dictionnary (tsadra.org)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s