The Gangottara Sutra
The Sutra Called "Flawless Purity"
A dialogue with the Laywoman Gangottara
Thus have I heard.
Once the Buddha was dwelling in the garden
of Anathapindika, in the Jeta Grove near Shravasti. At that time, a
laywoman named Gangottara came from her dwelling in Shravasti to see the
Buddha. She prostrated herself with her head at the Buddha's feet,
withdrew to one side, and sat down.
The world honored one asked Gangottara, "Where do you come from?"
The Laywoman asked the Buddha,
"World-Honored One, if someone were to ask a magically produced being
where he came from, how should the question be answered?
The World Honored One told her, "A magically produced being neither
comes nor goes, is neither born nor perishes; how can one speak of a
place from which he comes?
Then the laywoman asked, "Is it not true that all things are illusory,
The Buddha said, "Yes indeed, what you say is true"
Gangottara asked, "If all things are
illusory, like magic, why did you ask me where I came from?"
The World Honored One told her, "A
magically produced being does not go to the miserable planes of
existence, nor to heaven; nor does he attain nirvana. Gangottara is that
also true of you?"
The Laywoman replied, "As I see it, if my
own body were different from a magically produced one, then I could
speak of going to the good and miserable planes of existence, or of
attaining Nirvana. I see no difference, though, between my body and a
magically produced one, so how can I speak of going to the good or
miserable planes, or of attaining nirvana?
"Furthermore, World Honored One, nirvana's
very nature is such that it is not reborn in the good or miserable
planes, nor does it experience parinirvana. I perceive that the same is
true of my own nature."
The Buddha asked, "Do you not seek the state of nirvana?"
Gangottara asked in turn, "If this
question were put to one who had never come into being, how should it be
The Buddha replied, "That which has never come into being is nirvana
Gangottara asked, "Are not all things identical with nirvana?"
The Buddha replied, "So they are, so they are."
"World-Honored One, if all things are
identical with nirvana, why did you ask me, 'Do you not seek the state
of nirvana?' "Furthermore, World-Honored One, if a magically produced
being asked another magically produced being, 'Do you not seek the state
of nirvana?' what would the answer be?"
The World-Honored One told her, "A
magically produced being has no mental attachments (and thus seeks
Gangottara inquired, "Does the Tathagata's
very question stem from some mental attachment?"
The World-Honored One told her, "I raised
the question because there are in this assembly good men and good women
who can be brought to maturity. I am free of mental attachments. Why?
Because the Tathagata knows that even the names of things are
inaprehensible, let alone the things themselves or those who seek
Gangottara said, "If so, why all the accumulation of good roots for the
attainment of enlightenment?"
[The Buddha replied,] "Neither
Bodhisattvas nor their good roots can be apprehended, because in the
Bodhisattvas' minds there is no discriminative thought as to whether
they are accumulating good roots or not."
Gangottara asked, "What do you mean by 'no discriminative thought'?"
The World-Honored One answered, "The
absence of discriminative thought canot be understood or grasped by
means of thinking. Why? Because in the state [of no discriminative
thought], even the mind is inapprehensible, let alone the mental
functions. This state , in which the mind is inaprehensible, is called
inconceivable. It cannot be grasped or realized; it is neither pure nor
impure. Why so? Because, as the Tathagata always teaching, all thins are
as empty and unimpeded as space."
Gangottara inquired, "If all things are
empty space, why does the World-Honored One speak of form, feeling,
conception, impulse and consciousness; the [eighteen] elements; the
[twelve[ entrances; the twelve links of dependent origination; the
defiled and the undefiled; the pure and the impure; samsara and
The Buddha told Gangottara, "When I speak
of a 'self', for example, althugh I express the concept by a word,
actually, the nature of 'self' is inapprehensible. I speak of form, but
in reality the nature of form is also inapprehensible, and so it is with
the other [dharmas], up to nirvana. Just as we cannot find water in
mirages, so we cannot find a nature in form, and so it is with the
others, up to nirvana.
"Gangottara, only a person who cultivates
pure conduct in accordance with the Dharma, perceiving that nothing can
be apprehended, deserves to be called a real cultivator of pure conduct.
Since the arrogant say that they have apprehended something, they cannot
be said to be firmly established in genuine pure conduct. Such arrogant
people will be terrified and doubtful when they hear this profound
Dharma. They will be unable to liberate themselves from birth, old age,
sickness, death, worry, sorrow, suffering and distress.
"Gangottara, after my parinirvana, there
will be some people able to spread this profound Dharma, which can stop
the rounds of samsara. However, some fools, because of their evil views,
will hate those Dharma-masters, and will contrive to harm them. Such
fools will fall to the hells for that."
Gangottara asked, "You speak of 'this
profound Dharma which can stop the rounds of samsara.' What do you mean
by 'stop the rounds of samsara'?"
The World-Honored One replied, "To stop
the rounds of samsara is to [penetrate] reality, the realm of the
inconceivable. Such a Dharma cannot be damaged or destroyed. Hence, it
is called he Dharma that can stop the rounds of samsara."
Then the World-Honored One smiled
graciously and emitted from his forehead blue, yellow, red, white, and
crystalline lights. The lights illuminated all the numerous lands,
reaching as high as the Brahma Heaven, then returned and entered the top
of the Buddha's head.
Seeing this, the Ven. Ananda thought to
himself, "The Tathagata, the Worthy One, the Supremely Enlightened One,
does not smile without a reason." He rose from his seat, uncovered his
right shoulder, knelt on his right knee, and joined his palms toward the
Buddha, inquiring, "Why did the Budha smile?"
The Buddha replied, "I call that, in the
past, a thousand Tathagatas also taught this Dharma here, and each of
those assemblies was also led by a laywoman named Gangottara. After
hearing this Dharma preached, the laywoman and all the assembly left the
household life. [In time,] they entered the nirvana without residue."
Ananda asked the Buddha, "What name should
be given to this sutra and how should we accept and uphold it?"
The Buddha said, "This sutra is called
'Flawless Purity', and you should accept and uphold it by that name."
During the preaching of this sutra, seven
hundred monks and four hundred nuns were liberated from defilements
forever and their minds were set free.
At that time, the gods of the Desire-Realm
magically produced various kinds of wonderful celestial flowers and
scattered them upon the Buddha, saying "Rare indeed is this laywoman,
who can converse fearlessly with the Tathagata on equal terms. She must
have served and made offerings to countless Buddhas, and planted good
roots of every kind in their presence.
After the Buddha had finished speaking
this sutra, the laywoman Gangottara and all the gods, humans, asuras,
gandharvas, and so forth were jubilant over the Buddha's teaching. They
accepted it with faith and began to follow it with veneration.
Source: Buddhism Study and Practice Group
Collected by Dieu My
Layout: Pho Tri