Foreword A to Sūtra 1 (posted 04/2007, updated 11/2011) Book information on Home page
Texts 967–71 (T19n0967–71) are five Chinese versions of this sūtra, each translated from a different Sanskrit text. Two of them were translated by Divākara (地婆訶羅, 613–87). Sūtra 1 is an English translation of text 970, Divākara’s second translation, in which the Buddha tells a past life of the god-son Well Established (Supratiṣṭhita), the principal character. He also explains which of the god-son’s past karmas had led to the pleasant requitals and which ones were about to result in painful requitals. Text 967, the version translated by Buddhapāla (佛陀波利, dates unknown), includes a story written by a monk named Zhijing (志靜), which tells why Buddhapāla took this sūtra to China. For the reader’s interest, this story (T19n0967, 0349b4–c19) is also translated into English to serve as a foreword to Sūtra 1. The Buddha usually gives several names to a sūtra, and, for brevity, the shorter name of the sūtra in text 967 is adopted.
One can learn from the story of the god-son, whose good karmas and bad karmas done with his body, voice, and mind do not offset or mitigate each other. As one transmigrates in one’s cycle of birth and death, each action taken becomes a karmic seed in one’s mind, which will ripen into a corresponding requital in due time and under due conditions. Fortunately, one can help oneself by providing good conditions to mitigate or avert a dreadful requital before its fruition. The best condition one can use against any dreadful requital is sincere repentance. Moreover, in this sūtra, the Buddha imparts a special mantra as a skillful means to purify the karmic seeds in one’s mind. One can also recite this mantra to rescue others who are in the midst of their suffering.
This special mantra is the Buddha-Crown Superb Victory Dhāraṇī (Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī). In 776, the eleventh year of the Dali (大曆) years of the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Daizong (唐代宗) decreed that all Buddhist monks and nuns in China should learn this mantra in a month’s time, and that they should recite it twenty-one times every day and report their compliance to the Imperial Court on the lunar New Year’s Day each year. In the fourth month of 860, Heavenly Emperor Qinghe (清河天皇) of Japan also decreed that recitation of this mantra twenty-one times a day should be a regular practice of the monastic community. This mantra has been widely recognized and recited in China, Japan, and Tibet, and stories of its power have been documented. Timeless in its power, recitation of this mantra is especially appropriate and needed in this modern age of greed, anger, and delusion.