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Study of Mahāyāna Sūtras

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Whichever Dharma Door one chooses to train one’s mind, it is essential to study the sūtras to enforce and reinforce one’s faith, understanding, and endeavor. Furthermore, the Buddha, having foreseen the problems that students of the Dharma will encounter in this Dharma-ending age, has instructed us to follow, under all circumstances, the Four Dharmas to Rely Upon. Therefore, to ensure the purity and correctness of understanding, with the trust that only the Buddha is completely correct in His Dharma, one needs to recite and study the sūtras online or in print. To do so is to receive the teachings and blessings from the Buddha, the only perfectly enlightened teacher in this age. Subject to neither authorization nor regulation of exclusive sects and lineages, the Buddha, with unconditional lovingkindness and compassion, bestows His teachings and blessings upon all who are receptive.

    Out of the vast body of the Buddha’s teachings, this website, unaffiliated with any Buddhist group, provides the English translations of only a few Mahāyāna sūtras selected from the digital Chinese Canon on a DVD produced by the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA) in Taiwan. Each text is identified by its volume and text numbers according to the CBETA system. For example, the above epigraph is translated from T10n0279, which corresponds to the Taishō edition of the Chinese Canon, volume 10, text no. 279. Any passage in a text can also be found by its page, column, and line numbers in the Taishō. For example, 0272c25–0273a1 means from page 272, column c, line 25, to page 273, column a, line 1. Best efforts have been made to render the translations in English as faithful to the Chinese texts as possible.

    These English translations include a few transliterated (romanized) Sanskrit words. In consistency with the words already admitted into the English vocabulary, such as Buddha, Bodhisattva, karma, samādhi, sūtra, nirvāṇa, and so forth, which are not italicized, no romanized Sanskrit words are italicized. Even though romanized Sanskrit words are never capitalized, all proper nouns are capitalized. As the ten epithets of a Buddha are capitalized, so too are holy beings—Srotāpanna, Sakradāgāmin, Anāgāmin, Arhat, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva—though novice Bodhisattvas are not yet holy beings. The Three-Thousand Large Thousandfold World is treated as the generic name of a galaxy, and specific heavens and hells are treated as countries. Unlike most English nouns, the plural of a Sanskrit noun is never formed by adding s or es to its singular. For example, the plural of sūtra is sūtrāni. However, to make life simpler, a hybrid plural form is constructed by adding an s to the stem of a Sanskrit noun, as is already done in English translations by scholars.


    In the ancient past, a Buddhist term in a sūtra was translated into Chinese either by sound or by meaning. If it had been translated by sound, the term is now restored if possible, or is constructed into a romanized Sanskrit word. If it had been translated into Chinese by meaning, the meaning is now translated into English. The two exceptions are Bodhisattvas Samantabhadra and Avalokiteśvara, whose Sanskrit names are well known to Western Buddhists. In Chinese texts, Samantabhadra is translated as Universal Worthy (Puxian, 普賢).
    Avalokiteśvara means the Lord Who Looks Down, or the Sovereign Watcher. In Sanskrit, ava means down; lokita means seen, beheld, or viewed; and īśvara means lord or capable of. However, in Chinese texts, the Bodhisattva bearing this name is called either Watching with Command (Guanzizai, 觀自在) or Watching the Sounds of the World (Guanshiyin, 觀世音). The name Watching with Command is probably an interpretation of sovereignty, which is free from interference and, thus, with command and ease. The Chinese name Watching the Sounds of the World, most likely, is based on chapter 25 of the Lotus Sūtra, in which the Buddha explains this name. It is summarized as follows: When people in distress call the name of this Bodhisattva who constantly watches the sounds of the world, they will immediately be rescued. Furthermore, Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva assumes the most suitable form to deliver those who make a practice of uttering his name (T09n0262, 0056c05–0057b21). As Chinese Buddhists perceive and portray Avalokiteśvara in female form, it is only natural that, in the twentieth century, Westerners saw him as a goddess and named him Goddess of Mercy.