Foreword B to Sūtra 1 (posted 04/2007, updated 11/2011) Book information on Home page
The Story of Buddhapāla
Written by Zhijing, Head Monk of the Dingjue Temple
The advent of this Sūtra of the Buddha-Crown Superb Victory Dhāraṇī (Uṣṇīṣa-vijaya-dhāraṇī-sūtra) is credited to the Brahmin monk Buddhapāla, who came from India to China in 676, the first year of the Yifeng (儀鳳) years of the Tang Dynasty. He came to Wutaishan (五臺山), the Wutai (five-platform) Mountain, and prostrated himself on the ground, paying homage to the mountain. He said, “Since the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, holy beings have been hidden from view, except for the great one Mañjuśrī, who remains in this mountain to draw in sentient beings and to teach Bodhisattvas. I lament that I was born in this age of the eight difficulties and that I am unable to see your holy visage. Having trudged across rugged territories from afar, I have come with the purpose of paying homage to you. I humbly beg for your response of great lovingkindness and compassion. Please let me see your dignified appearance.”
Having spoken these words, Buddhapāla wept tears of sorrow as he made obeisance to the mountain. When he raised his head after bowing, he suddenly saw an old man coming out of the mountain. The old man spoke to Buddhapāla in the Brahmin language: “Dharma Master, with earnest aspirations for the Way, you have followed the tracks of the holy beings. Without any fear of arduous toil, you have traveled far in quest of their traces. However, many sentient beings in China have done sinful karma. Even many of those who have renounced family life have violated their monastic precepts. Only the Sūtra of the Buddha-Crown Superb Victory Dhāraṇī can obliterate all the evil karma of sentient beings. I don’t know whether or not you have brought this sūtra with you.”
“This poor monk has simply come to pay homage and did not bring this sūtra,” Buddhapāla replied.
The old man said, “Without bringing the sūtra, what can you benefit from this futile visit? Even if you saw Mañjuśrī, how would you recognize him? You should go to the Western Nation to acquire the sūtra and let it circulate in China. To requite the kindness of all Buddhas in this way is to make offerings to all holy ones, benefit all sentient beings, and rescue all those in the underworld. Dharma Master, once you bring the sūtra here, I, the disciple, will certainly show you the whereabouts of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva.”
Upon hearing these words, Buddhapāla was so joyful that he held back his tears of sorrow and bowed to the old man. When he raised his head, to his amazement, the old man had vanished.
Even more devout than before, Buddhapāla kept his mission in mind with total dedication, and he hastened to return to India for the sūtra. In 683, the second year of the Yongchun (永淳) years, he brought the sūtra to Chang-an (長安), China’s western capital, and reported what he had encountered to Emperor Gaozong (唐高宗). The Emperor took the sūtra and kept it in the palace. He then commissioned the Indian Tripiṭaka master Rizhao (日照, Divākara), Du Xinyi (杜行顗), and those who were chosen by the guest-welcoming representative of the Sibin Temple (司賓寺), to translate this sūtra into Chinese. The Emperor bestowed upon Buddhapāla thirty bolts of silk fabric but forbade the sūtra to be taken out of the palace.
Shedding tears of sorrow, Buddhapāla entreated the Emperor, “This poor monk has been entrusted to bring this sūtra from afar even at the risk of his life. Without any thought of wealth or concern for fame, I earnestly hope to help all sentient beings and to rescue them from suffering and tribulations. Your Majesty, please allow this sūtra to circulate everywhere so that all sentient beings will equally benefit.”
Hence the Emperor kept only the translation of the sūtra in the palace and returned the original Sanskrit text to Buddhapāla, who then went to the Ximing Temple (西明寺). There he found a Chinese monk named Shunzhen (順貞), who was proficient in Sanskrit. Buddhapāla requested permission for him and Shunzhen to translate the sūtra, and the Emperor granted his wish. Buddhapāla completed the translation with Shunzhen in the presence of other eminent monks. He then took the Sanskrit text and went to the Wutai Mountain. He was never seen again.
Therefore, there are two translations of the sūtra, both circulating in China. It should not be surprising that there are minor differences in these two translations.
In 687, the third year of the Chuigong (垂拱) years, I, Zhijing (志靜), head monk of the Dingjue Temple (定覺寺), happened to stay at the Weiguodong Temple (魏國東寺) in the capital city of Luoyang (洛陽). I saw the Tripiṭaka master Rizhao (Divākara) and asked him about Buddhapāla’s visit. The story told by Master Rizhao is exactly [retold by me] as above. Then I requested Master Rizhao to teach me this spiritual mantra. For fourteen days, he pronounced the Sanskrit words and instructed me phrase by phrase until I learned all the Sanskrit pronunciations without making any mistakes. Furthermore, he proofread the old translation of the Sanskrit text and corrected the errors and omissions. This edited mantra bears a note up front, designating it as the latest different translation. The mantra words are somewhat different from Du Xinyi’s translation because this newly revised mantra is based on Master Rizhao’s phonetic translation. Future students will be fortunate to know this.
In the eighth month of 689, the first year of the Yongchang (永昌) years, I met in the Dajing-ai Temple (大敬愛寺) the senior Dharma master Cheng (澄) of the Ximing Temple. I also asked him about Buddhapāla’s visit because the monk Shunzhen, who had translated the sūtra with Buddhapāla, was then still residing at the Ximing Temple. Master Cheng confirmed the story that I have stated above.
This most dignified and most victorious sūtra can rescue and deliver all sentient beings in this world or in the underworld. Its spiritual power is totally inconceivable. Since some students may not know this, the details about the arrival of the sūtra are recorded here for their interest.
—Sūtra of the Buddha-Crown Superb Victory Dhāraṇī
Translated from the digital Chinese Canon (T19n0967, 0349b4–c19)