COMPASSION NOT COMPETITION: THE MAHAYANA VIEW ON EATING ANIMALS. Buddha’s vegetarian disciples, Devadatta, Mahākāśyapa and Bakula; Mahayana Sūtras on great compassion and Buddha-Nature; and Chinese Buddhist vegetarianism

17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje – leading Tibetan Buddhist advocate on animal rights, vegetarianism and the environment

On Day 17 of the ‘Good Deeds’ teachings (see here), the 17th Karmapa spoke about some famous disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha who were vegetarians. However, as their motivations were different, so was the final result of their actions.

The first disciple was a cousin of Buddha, Devadatta, who also tried to murder the Buddha, and insisted there should be strict vegetarianism, that forbids even offered meat that is pure in the three ways. As Devadatta’s motivation was competitive and egoistic pride (to humiliate the Buddha), not predominantly of compassion for the animals, it was not done for the right reasons and led to a schism in the sangha.

The Karmapa then explained that Devdadatta’s example does not mean we should eat meat. He described two of Buddha’s other disciples, Mahākāśyapa  and Bakula. Even though both were vegetarians, Mahākāśyapa accepted all that was offered and ate it, whereas Bakula did not eat meat at all because he did not want to eat animals. How did Bakula do this without breaching the rule to accept all alms? He only went to beg alms in places where he clairvoyantly knew there would be no meat offerings. That is why he was considered superior than Mahākāśyapa  in terms of conduct.

After that, the 17th Karmapa spoke about how the Mahayana tradition and sutras expressly forbids eating meat, out of love and compassion for animals. In particular due to the Buddha-Nature sutras that teach all beings have the inherent Buddha Nature. Citing the Mahayana Sutras as the cause of the spread of vegetarianism in Buddhist China, due to the influence of Chinese monk Emperor Wu, the Karmapa concluded that the reason why vegetarianism spread so widely in China and less so in Tibet, was due to the influence of such devout Buddhist rulers but also due to the climate and lack of plant vegetation in Tibet. However, despite the geographical limitations, there were several well-known Tibetan Buddhist masters who gave up meat in Tibet and in exile.

[The 17th Karmapa then went on to speak about famous Karma Kagyu examples of Buddhist masters who were vegetarians, such as Jetsun Milarepa and Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Sharing a moving song composed by Milarepa after he witnessed a sheep butchered and dying miserably. The Karmapa then explained the extremely positive impact of vegan diets and the massive detrimental effects of breeding and consuming animals for their flesh and products on the environment, natural resources (such as water) and personal health.   I will write this section up and publish it tomorrow.]

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 17th January 2021. May it be of benefit in stopping all human attachment to consuming animals and their produce!

The Mahayana and Buddha-Nature View of Eating Meat

17th Karmapa’s Teaching (Day 17)

“Yesterday I spoke about offered meat that is permissible for a monastic to eat as long as it has not been killed deliberately and one is very certain of that. So I wanted to continue that today.

The Bhagavan Buddha taught his monastic students that their food should not be too luxurious or excessive and, to reduce attachment, they should beg for alms. Now when one goes for begging for alms, there is a danger that some donors will kill animals for their sake, and that is why the rule about the three ways in which it has to be pure were created. Because of that, it is important that monastics eat only food that is pure in the three ways and has not been killed for them.”

Devadatta’s competitive jealousy and impure motivation for stricter vegetarian rules
Devadatta depicted being swallowed up by the ground when dying

“At that time, some people said that the Buddha had allowed his students to eat meat. There was not much discussion about it being pure meat (in the three ways), they just reported that Buddha had permitted students to eat meat. As a result, those who were vegetarian non-Buddhists then criticized the Buddha, saying he had permitted his students to eat meat.

It wasn’t just non-Buddhists who said this, but also among the Buddha’s own students there were people who disputed the idea that students be permitted to eat offered meat, even if pure. Primarily, the person who disputed this was one of Buddha’s students called Devadatta [Devadatta was by tradition a Buddhist monk, cousin and brother-in-law of Gautama Siddhārtha]. He was the son of the Buddha’s Uncle.  There are other explanations in other sources. Devadatta first entered the monastic community , then he disagreed with the Buddha and felt competitive towards him, so he separated off from him and established his own community.

Later Devadatta passed away, some say he was carried away in a flood, some say the ground split open and he was cast into the hells (see image above). In any case, he died and his followers continued to uphold his tradition. We know this because the Chinese monk (whom I mentioned before), Faxian (337 CE – c. 422 CE )[i] went to India, as did Xuanzang and other Chinese pilgrims,  and in their notes of their travels at that time, they wrote that the Devadatta tradition was still ongoing and that they followed only the three previous Buddhas of the fortunate aeon (Badrakalpa)[ii], but not  Shakyamuni Buddha [the fourth Buddha of that aeon). The tradition continued up until the 8th century.

Devadatta is also reported to have tried to murder the Buddha several times

Thus, Devadatta was said to have caused a schism in the wheel of the sangha. This means the Buddha’s students were split into factions. Devadatta also tried to spill blood of the sangha and felt that the Buddha should be murdered and did many things to try and kill him. These are extremely heinous acts,  the worst acts, the same as killing your mother or father. Therefore, according to the Hinayana scriptures, soon as Devadatta died, he was reborn in hell. However, according to the Mahayamtavika Sutra there was a prophecy that Devadatta would re-awaken to Buddhahood in the future. Also, some of the Mahayana sutras say that in order to show the Buddha’s greatness, he took for the form of a competitor of the Buddha. Similarly, some say  he was just an emanation to show beings they would be reborn in hell if they did such acts. Whether he was reborn in hell or not,  is difficult for us to know. However, what Devadatta did was suggest Buddhists should keep five austerities and made this suggestion to Buddha.

The Five Austerities of Devadatta

The five austerities of Devadatta[iii] included not eating any animal flesh at all (even when offered and pure) and it was suggested that this should be included as one of the five precepts. The Buddha did not accept that suggestion. For that reason, the Buddha’s students split into  two factions. A few stayed with Buddha but most of them followed Devadatta.

In terms of the five austerities, there are different ideas about them in the different Vinaya schools. They are described very clearly in the Fifty Verses on the Vinaya and other texts in the Tibetan tradition and in the great commentaries on the Vinaya, if you read these you will know so am not going to speak about them now.

However, there are different ways they are listed, but they are all the same in including vegetarianism. So, from one perspective, during the time when the Buddha was on this planet, the Buddha said to his monastic followers that they should not eat meat all,  and only accept meat offered to them that was pure in the three ways. Whereas, Devadatta said that meat should not be eaten at all in any context. Not only did he make that suggestion he made that rule for the people who went on to follow him.

As a result of this, some then said, like Bhaviveka, that if you are following the Hinayana vehicle you should eat meat, as by not doing so, there is a danger you are following Devadatta and his austerities. This was one of the main reasons that people said Buddha taught the three tests for purity of meat. That is why some people nowadays argue that Buddhists should eat meat so they will not be like Devadatta.

The Buddha’s vegetarian students, Mahākāśyapa and Bakula:  Different Motivations and Conduct

Here, we need to examine the Great Exposition Treasury text (the 181st volume) (see image below):

Great Exposition Treasury citation given by 17th Karmapa

This is one of the root texts of our main four philosophical tenet schools in Tibetan Buddhism.  We don’t need to read it all. It says that among Buddha’s disciples was  Mahākāśyapa [iv] (‘od srung chen po) who had the greatest contentment.  However, the one who was most careful about food and conduct was Bakula[v]. The difference between these two disciples was that Mahākāśyapa would eat anything he was offered as alms, whether good or bad, he was not choosy about it.

Mahākāśyapa  Painter: Unknown artist,
Kizil Caves, carbon dated to 422-529 CE.
Mahākāśyapa. Seventh-eighth century, Mogao Caves, China

Yet, when Bakula received ‘better’ or costlier foods, he would give up that food and eat the worst foods. So, what is the ‘worst’ here? The reason why Bakula did not eat  the better food was because it would include meat, and if you include meat you have to cut beings’ throats and it would be made from blood and flesh from animals.  So out of compassion for animals Bakula did not eat the ‘better’ foods.

Buddha’s disciple, the Arhat Bakula (Source HAR)

Here, there is a question though. If Bakula gave up the better foods and only ate the worst, when he went on alms did he not accept the better foods? Or did he accept them and throw them out later? If he did not accept them,  that would not have been alright because Buddha said you have to accept whatever is given. However, if you accepted the offered food and threw it away, that would have wasted food and that would not be permissible. At first Bakula didn’t accept the food, so he did  not have the fault of not accepting. As he had clairvoyance (the divine eye) , he would look to see where had the worst alms and go there and seek alms and avoid going to  places where they were offering the more expensive or better alms. So that reason is why he never ate meat and ate the worst alms.

Arhat Bakula (Source HAR)

However, in the Aṅgulimālīyasūtra[vi]  it says that Mahākāśyapa dwells within the twelve qualities of training and also had a pure vegetarian practice (see image):


When we look at these different quotes, we can understand that during the time of the Buddha, there were also many of his monastic students who were strict vegetarians. We can also use logic, and know that there would have been monastics from Brahmin families who would have been unable to eat meat. We can infer this. I don’t think the Buddha made a rule that people who were uncomfortable eating meat, had to do so.

This rule regarding being permissible to eat meat that is pure, does not mean someone is like Devadatta if one does not eat meat, even if it is pure. The reason for that is because it is Devadatta’s motivation that makes his vegetarianism negative. Because he was very competitive and had lots of pride and thought he was the same level as the Buddha. As he was so competitive towards him, he disputed the rules about meat and taught it should be stricter mainly out of competitiveness not compassion. Do we know it was not out of compassion for animals at all? It is difficult to say. However, it was primarily done out of competitiveness, thinking people will see my rules as better than Buddha’s rules on eating meat. It was made in order to bring the Buddha down and denigrate him. It was not really done out of pure motivation and compassion for animals.

The ‘Buddha-Nature’ Sutras: all beings like our parents and their inherent  Buddha Nature
This concertina manuscript contains a Chinese commentary on the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, with the text of the sūtra also written in Tibetan between the lines of Chinese. (Source British Library: A Chinese-Tibetan manuscript of the Lankavatara Sutra – The British Library (

Later, the Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) Dharma spread in India, and from that time the great Mahayana sutras spread, such as the Lankavatara Sutra, particularly the ‘Buddha-Nature’ sutras, which teach that even eating meat considered pure is inappropriate and not permissible. In that way, the teachings on giving up meat and being vegetarian became very strong and prevalent.

In particular, in the ‘Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature)’ Sutras [vii] , predominantly the sutras of the third wheel turning about the ultimate Buddha Nature, expressly forbid eating meat. There are many reasons not to eat meat. If we think about one of those reasons from the Mahayana perspective, we are supposed to see all beings like our mother and father. If you really thought like that, then it would be very difficult to eat their flesh. Similarly, when we eat the flesh of other beings it would corrupt and stain our minds and they would become very hard and lacking compassion and love for beings. So we should avoid it. In particular, those Sutras teach that all beings have Buddha Nature and so because of that one should not eat the flesh of a being who has Buddha Nature.

Here, I don’t need to read the citations of the Buddha Nature Sutras [he recites some of them]. In Chinese, there is a Sutra called The Omniscient Sage Not Eating Meat out of Compassion which means that during the time of Maitreya, out of compassion one should not eat meat. So there was a prophecy that if monastics ate meat they would incur defeat and lose their vows. This is a prophecy the Buddha made.

This is important to consider. Most of the sutras prohibiting eating meat are in the third wheel of teachings. Most of those sutras teach Buddha Nature. It is better to say those which teach Buddha Nature than Empty-or Other nature (shentong) because if one uses that terminology it becomes more of a dispute between empty-of other and empty-of-self (rangtong) proponents. There is less room for conflict if we say, those teaching Buddha Nature. They are basically the sutras that taught the Buddha Nature most clearly.

hinese commentary on the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, with the text of the sūtra also written in Tibetan between the lines of Chinese. (Source British Library: A Chinese-Tibetan manuscript of the Lankavatara Sutra – The British Library (

They are the treatises that teach the Buddha Nature most clearly, particularly the Uttaratantrashastra (Sublime Continnuum). So I will explain these reasons today. If we look at the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, it says that the rule allowing the meat in three ways, is made to prohibit meat in stages. It was not a rule allowing people to eat meat, but so that people gradually gave up meat and that they should not eat meat after the Buddha passed into nirvana  Whether or not there were people who practiced that or not, among the Hinayana schools today, if we recited this citation to them, that they shouldn’t eat meat after the Buddha passed into nirvana, they would not accept it because it is a Mahayana Sutra.

For this reason, Gendun Drub [1st Dalai Lama, 1391-1474] wrote in his Questions and Answers with a Tibetan King (who was very learned in astrology of Kalacakra and it was said that he was an emanation of the Shambhala Kalki King, Pema Karpo. This discussion records that in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the monastics would not be allowed to eat meat after Buddha passed into nirvana was primarily intended for Mahayana monastics.”

Pointless doubts regarding the growing of plant crops that unintentionally kills beings

In the Mahayana, eating  flesh of any murdered animal is prohibited out of great compassion. Some people might think well if you grow some rice, this is also wrong because when you farm rice, it kills a lot of insects in order to do that. Thus, one wouldn’t be able to eat rice either.

This is not a new doubt at all. It  appears in the Buddha Nature Sutras, such as the Aṅgulimālīyasūtra. Here is a quote about it (see picture):

Aṅgulimālīyasūtra citation by 17th Karmapa

“In summary, it says Manjushri asked the Buddha, if one is not supposed to harm any sentient beings then one shouldn’t be able to plough fields or use water to make food, because that will harm beings. Buddha replied ‘this is worldly way of thinking’. If you are a householder, farmers need to do these things to produce food and drink, and if they don’t do that there will be no beings to attain enlightenment. There are beings all over the place, in the air, ground and so on and if we have such a narrow way of thinking we could not do anything at all in order not to take life.

So we need to think about in the case of meat, we deliberately kill a sentient being. Whereas, when you plough fields you are not deliberately killing them but accidentally doing so. It is not the intention or purpose of farming. There is a difference between deliberately killing a being and taking a being’s life. Even walking back and forth we kill insects on the ground accidentally. Thus, we cannot think so narrowly about that. It is just raising a doubt but not something you could ever put into practice. Some doubts are like that, they just keep you stuck without any way of moving forward and progressing in a positive way.”

The spread of Chinese vegetarianism and Emperor Wu

In Mahayana, the emphasis is on love and compassion for sentient beings. In the Mahayana Sutras eating meat is forbidden and that is why it is said that most of the monastics in Mahayana countries became vegetarian and stopped eating meat. The clearest example is China. Vegetarianism  as a practice began 500 years after Buddhism spread to China. Before that, monastics could practice it voluntarily but it was not obligatory to give up meat. After that, there was a great movement to abandon meat, and the person leading this movement was the Emperor Wu of Liang (梁武帝) (464–549), personal name Xiao Yan (蕭衍,)[viii]who ruled during the Southern Jang dynasty in the 6th Century, 502-549. He had great faith in Buddhism and a patron of it.

Emperor Wu

Emperor Wu himself became a monastic three times. He would go forth [leave the layperson’s life] but then people said come back and be the emperor so he became a monastic afew times. He spent a lot of time reading the Buddhist scriptures, and when reading the Mahayana Sutras he saw that it was important not to eat meat out of love and compassion. This had a big influence on him. At that time, in the ten temples to the ancestors, he prohibited making sacrifices of animals in those temples. He also made a rule that medicines could not be made out animal products. He also made strict national rules using the three Mahayana Sutras (?) for writing laws to give up meat. So, Emperor Wu clearly shared his views that monastics should not eat meat. He also invited 198 female and male monastics to come to the palace and discuss whether or not it was appropriate to eat meat in the Mahayana traditions or not[ix]. At that time, he had prepared over fifty questions with his great intelligence and asked the upholders of the Vinaya to give answers. He emphasized the Mahayana Sutras on love and compassion and that is why it spread so much in China and among the Chinese monastics. Some Tibetans say there was not such tradition of vegetarianism in Tibet, and this came from China. Similarly, they say in China giving up meat was an order of the Chinese emperor. Really it is not so simple. The Chinese emperor did not prohibit it because he was the Emperor, rather he used the Sutras themselves to encourage people to give up meat. We need to remember that.

Vegetarianism in Tibet

Likewise in Tibet, vegetarianism is not new and has been practiced on the path. Due to the geography and high altitude and no technological advcances it is very difficult to grow plant food. For that reason, the practice of eating meat that was pur in the three ways was the practice. Later, after many generations had passed, then the rules became relaxed and people started eating whatever meat they could get their hands on. In Tibet, monasteries would order beings to be slaughtered for meat. Some monasteries even had butchers within them. This was against the Vinaya and that was why many great beings gave up meat. Such as Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, Shabgar Tsogdruk Rangdrol, Nyala Pema Dundul,Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen and more. In more recent times, there was Chatral Rinpoche, the 14th Dalai Lama and Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in Tibet.

Chadral Rinpoche (1913-2015) Tibetan Buddhist master who strongly advocated animals rights and veganism. See here: Kyabje Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche (Chadral Rinpoche)| Vegetarianism, Buddhism & Saving Lives (Tsethar) (

In particular, in the 21st century, most of the Tibetan monasteries in Tibet and exile have stopped making and eating meat. There are also many monastics that have given it up, and vegetarian movements that encourage not eating meat or slaughtering animals. Some vegetarians disparage meat-eaters and vice versa. That is not good to speak badly about each other, as it causes conflicts and disputes. As I said before, in relation to Devadatta’s movement to give up meat, the conduct was good but because of his negative motivation it was a negative action. Similarly, if our conduct is good but the motivation is not, then we can become like Devadatta. Thus, we need to be very careful about our motivation. There are many Tibetan scholars and meditation masters who advocated giving up meat and the faults of eating meat, despite the fact it was very difficult to be vegetarian in Tibet.”

[The 17th Karmapa then went on to speak about Karma Kagyu examples of Buddhist masters who were vegetarians, such as Milarepa and Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. Sharing a moving song by Milarepa, after he witnessed a sheep butchered and dying miserably. The Karmapa also spoke about veganism and the massive detrimental effects on the environment, natural resources and personal health of animal livestock farming, fishing and consuming animal products for food.   I will write this section up and publish soon.]

Further Reading

 Ray, Reginald (1994). Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. pp. 169–170. (A condemned Saint: Devadatta), used by permission of Oxford University Press

Bhikkhu Sujato (2012), “Why Devadatta Was No Saint, A critique of Reginald Ray’s thesis of the ‘condemned saint’”

Xian, Fa; tr. by James Legge (1886). A Record of Buddhistic kingdoms; being an account by the Chinese monk Fa-Hien of his travels in India and Ceylon, A.D. 399–414, in search of the Buddhist books of discipline. The Clarendon Press, Oxford, p. 62.

Deeg, Max (1999). The Saṅgha of Devadatta: Fiction and History of a Heresy in the Buddhist Tradition, Journal of the International College for Advanced Buddhist Studies 2, 195- 230

Online versions of the  Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, chapter 8 on eating meat:

On Meat-eating [Chapter 8] (

The Chapter on Meat-Eating from the Lankāvatāra Sutra — Śraddhāpa Translation (

Emperor Wu of Liang: China’s First Monk Emperor (

“Pañcavārṣika” Assemblies in Liang Wudi’s Buddhist Palace Chapel on JSTOR


[i] Faxian (337 CE – c. 422 CE) was a Chinese Buddhist monk and translator who traveled by foot from China to India, visiting sacred Buddhist sites in Central, South and Southeast Asia between 399–412 to acquire Buddhist texts. He described his journey in his travelogue, A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms (Foguo Ji 佛國記). Other transliterations of his name include Fa-Hien and Fa-hsien. Faxian wrote a book on his travels, filled with accounts of early Buddhism, and the geography and history of numerous countries along the Silk Road as they were, at the turn of the 5th century CE. He wrote about cities like Taxila, Pataliputra, Mathura, and Kannauj in Middle India. He also wrote that inhabitants of Middle India also eat and dress like Chinese people. He declared Patliputra as a very prosperous city. He returned in 412 and settled in what is now Nanjing. In 414 he wrote (or dictated) Foguoji (A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms; also known as Faxian’s Account). He spent the next decade, until his death, translating the Buddhist sutra he had brought with him from India.”  “Faxian and other Chinese pilgrims who travelled to India in the early centuries of the current era recorded the continued existence of “Gotamaka” buddhists, followers of Devadatta. Gotamaka are also referred to in Pali texts of the second and fifth centuries of the current era. The followers of Devadatta are recorded to have honored all the Buddhas previous to Śākyamuni (Gautama Buddha), but not Śākyamuni himself. According to Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing’s writings, some people practised in a similar way and with the same books as common Buddhists, but followed the similar tapas and performed rituals to the past three buddhas and not Śākyamuni. See further reading on this Devadatta – Wikipedia.

[ii] According to tradition, there are seven buddhas that are a bridge between two kalpas: the vyūhakalpa (“glorious eon”) and the bhadrakalpa (“fortunate eon”). The first three buddhas in the list are the last buddhas of the vyūhakalpa, and the next four buddhas are the first buddhas of the bhadrakalpa:

  1. Vipassī (the 998th Buddha of the vyuhakalpa)
  2. Sikhī (the 999th Buddha of the vyuhakalpa)
  3. Vessabhū (the 1000th and final Buddha of the vyuhakalpa)
  4. Kakusandha (the first Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
  5. Koṇāgamana (the second Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
  6. Kassapa (the third Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)
  7. Gautama (the fourth and present Buddha of the bhadrakalpa)

[iii] According to the Pāli Canon, Devadatta taught his sangha to adopt five tapas (literally, austerities) throughout their lives:

  1. that monks should dwell all their lives in the forest,
  2. that they should accept no invitations to meals, but live entirely on alms obtained by begging,
  3. that they should wear only robes made of discarded rags and accept no robes from the laity,
  4. that they should dwell at the foot of a tree and not under a roof,
  5. that they should abstain completely from fish and flesh.

The Buddha’s reply was that those who felt so inclined could follow these rules – except that of sleeping under a tree during the rainy season – but he refused to make the rules obligatory. They are among the 13 ascetic practices (dhutanga). Devadatta – Wikipedia.

[iv] “Mahākāśyapa (महाकस्सप 摩訶迦葉 móhējiāshè) or Kāśyapa was one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha and convened and directed the First Buddhist council. He came from the kingdom of Magadha.was According to the 2nd century Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra chapter 51, “when Mahākāśyapa saw the Buddha, he obtained the first fruit of the Path, then eight days later he became Arhat”.—Disgusted by lay life, Mahākāśyapa made himself an under-robe from pieces of cloth (paṭapilotokānaṃ saṃghāti). Like the Arhats in this world, he cut his hair and his beard, put on the yellow robe and went forth from home into homelessness. Having gone forth, half-way he saw the Blessed One seated near the Bahuputta-Cetiya, between Rājagṛha and Nālandā. Having seen him, he wanted to bow to him. Kāśyapa prostrated to the feet of the Blessed One and said: “The Blessed One is my teacher; I am his disciple” The Blessed One encouraged Kāśyapa and, having encouraged him, he arose from his seat and went away. Then Kāśyapa said: “For seven days while I was imperfect, I enjoyed the food offered by the land; on the eighth day, perfect knowledge was produced in me” .Mahākāśyapa – Wikipedia

[v] Bakula was one of the Sixteen Arhats. Born 70 years before the Buddha, Bakula was first an accomplished scholar and then lived as a wandering ascetic. One day, seated high on a mountain he saw the Buddha passing on the road below. Afraid he would not be able to catch up with him by following the road he jumped directly from the mountain-side, but was spared from injury by the power of the Buddha. He requested ordination and joined the Sangha. After studying and practising he became an arhat.

[vi] Aṅgulimālīyasūtra अङ्गुलिमालीयसूत्र, ‘phags pa sor mo’i phreng ba la phan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo 央掘魔羅經.  “The Mahāyāna version of this sūtra, like the earlier Pali sutta of the same name, recounts a sorted tale of jealousy and revenge that spirals out of control, in which a once promising disciple is set on the path to become a vicious murderer in search of a thousand victims in order to create a garland strung with their severed fingers. That is, of course, until he encounters the final victim needed to complete his task, the Buddha.” See Aṅgulimālīyasūtra – Buddha-Nature (

[vii] Key texts associated with this doctrine, written in India, are the:

  • Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra (200-250 CE)
  • Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra (3rd century CE)
  • Anunatva Apurnatva Nirdeśa
  • Mahābherīhārakaparivarta[12] (Great Dharma Drum Sutra)
  • Mahamegha Sūtra (Great Cloud Sutra)
  • Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra
  • Ratnagotravibhāga, a compendium of Tathāgatagarbha-thought
  • Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (c. 200 CE), very influential in Chinese Buddhism
  • Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (3rd century CE),
  • Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (6th century CE), a shastra (commentary) written in China

[viii] “Emperor Wu of Liang (464-549), also called Xiao Yan, was born at Nanlanling Zhoudouli during the Southern dynasties (420-589). Xiao Yan reigned for 48 years and died at the age of 86. He was one of the longest living emperors in Chinese history, second only to Qing Dynasty emperor, Qianlong (1711-1799). Emperor Wu of Liang believed in Taoism when he was young. When he ascended to the throne in the third year, he called two hundred thousand monks and laymen to hold a large scale religious assembly and said he would “Forgo Taoism and return to Buddhism.” He hoped to build a “Buddhist country,” wherein people would be directed from the practical focus on fame and fortune toward the pursuit of liberation from the world of red dust.

After Emperor Wu converted to Buddhism, he became a monk, fully four times, in the Tongtai Temple. In 527 when he lived in the temple, he used rough crocks, cups and bowls, read and recited Buddhist scriptures daily on hearing the morning bell, until sunset when the drum was beaten, and cleaned the temple with other monks  His reign, until its end, was one of the most stable and prosperous during the Southern Dynasties. He came from the same family that ruled Southern Qi (兰陵萧氏), but from a different branch.

Emperor Wu created universities and extending the Confucian civil service exams, demanding that sons of nobles (士族) study. He was well read himself and wrote poetry and patronized the arts. Although for governmental affairs he was Confucian in values, he embraced Buddhism as well. He himself was attracted to many Indian traditions. He banned the sacrifice of animals and was against execution. It was said that he received the Buddhist precepts during his reign, earning him the nickname The Bodhisattva Emperor. The Emperor is the namesake of the Emperor Liang Jeweled Repentance (梁皇寳懺), a widely read and major Buddhist text in China and Korea.”

[ix] See article about this: “Pañcavārṣika” Assemblies in Liang Wudi’s Buddhist Palace Chapel on JSTOR

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