The Section on the Cultivation of Kindness

From the Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra
[Parallel to Chapter 3 of the Book of Zambasta]

Taisho no. 306

Imperially Commissioned Translation by the Khotanese Trepiṭaka Devaprajñā and associates (c. 689-691) during the Tang Dynasty

Translated into English by Shaku Shingan (24.12.2023)

Thus have I heard:

At one time, the Buddha was staying at Mount Gṛdhrakūṭa in Rājagṛha, accompanied by an innumerable assembly of great bodhisattvas, with Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva as the chief.

At that time, in the eastern direction, ten billion Brahma devas, all abiding with a kind mind, came to the Buddha's abode. They paid homage to the Buddha's feet, offering him an array of wonderful offerings. Having made their offerings, each sat on a lotus seat born of numerous merits, looking up to the Tathāgata with reverence and respect. The Brahma devas from the south, west, north—the four directions—zenith and nadir, also did likewise.

Then, all the assemblies of Brahma devas before the Buddha, each with kind eyes, glanced at each other and simultaneously brightened their faces and observed Maitreya Bodhisattva intently.

Thereupon, Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva immediately rose from his seat, bared his right shoulder, knelt on one knee, joined his palms, and said to the Buddha: 

Greatly virtuous Bhagavān! Omniscient ones fully and correctly awaken to the nature of all dharmas; they thoroughly understand the virtuous and evil karmas of sentient beings. Because of this, the ignorant, wandering in saṃsāra, are skillfully awakened to the path of the three vehicles, leading them back to the one vehicle. The different faculties and entanglements of delusions of all sentient beings, including their Tathāgata lineage, are all clearly seen without error. Furthermore, knowing that all dharmas are empty, like dreams, illusions, or mirages, without any substantiality, and with boundless great kindness, they skillfully guide ordinary beings to perceive the Buddha's subtle form body. The Buddha's body, accomplished through the prajñāpāramitā, is natural, true, and eternally unchanging, just like empty space. If any being diligently cultivated merit and wisdom, not letting their consciousness chase after external phenomena, unlike a thirsty deer in an open field pursuing a mirage as water, such a person will directly see the Buddha, constantly hear the Dharma, and be able to practice according to the teachings and truth.

O Bhagavān! I now have some questions for the Tathāgata, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Awakened One. I only wish, out of your compassion, that you would mercifully and extensively explain for my sake. O Bhagavān! How can a Bodhisattva exert minimal effort towards anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi yet remain at ease, free from laziness, and swiftly realize the vast Dharma of the Buddha? How can a bodhisattva, amidst saṃsāra, avoid endless suffering and swiftly attain the complete fulfilment of all the Buddha dharmas?

At that time, the Bhagavān said to Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahasattva: 

Sādhu, Maitreya! You have always asked questions before me; the matter you inquire about now pleases my mind. You, now, out of compassion for all the devas, humans, and the countless beings of all worlds, seek to bring them great benefit and comfort. Therefore, you ask me such questions. I shall accordingly explain in detail for you, enabling all Bodhisattvas to attain Buddha-bodhi swiftly without undergoing arduous practices.

O Son of the Buddha! If any sentient being seeks bodhi and cultivates all practices, desiring always to be in comfort, they should cultivate a kind mind to tame themselves. By practising in such a way, constantly embodying the six paramitas in every thought, they will swiftly reach the stage of patience and quickly attain complete and supreme awakening. They will also be fully endowed with the ten powers, four fearlessnesses, eighteen unique qualities, thirty-two marks, and eighty minor marks of excellence, achieving the highest merit adorning their body. They will abide in comfort and joy until the end of future time and will be able to eradicate the heavy karmic obstacles that all sentient beings have accumulated since the beginningless past.

O Son of the Buddha! If any bodhisattvas wish to cultivate a kind mind, they should do so in a quiet and secluded place, with pure faith, gathering all mental dharmas. They must observe that the joints and dust particles of their body, both upper and lower, are composed through the combination of earth, water, fire, and wind. Furthermore, they should contemplate that within each particle of dust, there is space, and all these spaces invariably form shapes without exception. Additionally, they should think that all these dust particles are pure and clear, externally like beryl and internally like purple gold, adorned in beauty, softness, and fragrance. They must also observe in the same way every single being in all worlds, every joint of these beings, and every particle of dust in these joints. If bodhisattvas do this in regard to their own and others' bodies, up to all sentient beings, then they create definite confidence in them all.

Again, it should be thought that within each particle of dust of oneself, there exists a buddha land; within it, palaces are made of beryl, doors of white silver and pillars of yellow gold. They are extensively revered for their beauty, with light shining brilliantly through. Houses made of jewels are arrayed amongst each other, surrounded by walls of precious stones, with treasure pavilions and treasure towers distributed throughout. Inside each, there are heavenly beds made of jewels, with layered cushions and silk blankets spread on top. Furthermore, there are innumerable excellent gardens decorating the surroundings, and within these gardens are bathing pools, all constructed with seven treasures on their banks and with golden railings. Clear springs flow long and around them, leading into the pools, mixed with aromatic powders and unguents and adorned with golden sand, filled with eight kinds of meritorious waters, pure and clean. Flowers like the padma, utpala, kumuda, and puṇḍarīka bloom beautifully, covering the surface. Around these ponds are various precious trees, with pearls as flowers, rich in colour and brightness; their fruits ripe, full of fragrant taste. Under each tree, a heavenly treasure seat is placed, and in front of each seat, rows of precious vessels are aligned, filled with nectar-like delicious food.

Again, it should be thought that in this way, all buddha lands are formed with blue-dark beryl as their ground, adorned with the delicate interweaving of the seven treasures with silk. The dust in all these lands is pure, delicate, and subtle, like the heavenly treasures above. The brightness of its light is like the blazing sun, the beauty of its colour is like Jambūnada gold, the warmth of its fragrance is like that of uraga sandalwood, and its soft nature is like the fabric of Kāñcī. Touching it brings forth joyful and pleasant feelings.

Having contemplated in this way, one should immediately think that from this eastern direction, all beings in every world come to enter the palaces of my Buddha land. Similarly, beings from the south, west, north—the four directions—above and below, in all worlds, also do the same.

Furthermore, it should be thought that in this way, all beings of the six realms are alike in deportment, similar in appearance, and their bodies soft and always fragrant. They fully adorn themselves with the majesty of a great person, free from all troubles and enjoying heavenly pleasures. These beings, if they need clothing and adornments, immediately go to the base of the kalpataru tree, obtaining whatever they wish for just by thinking about it, and decorate themselves with various implements, beautifying themselves. This is like the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven. Moreover, fragrant winds come from the eight directions, and just a touch of this wind brings happiness and joy to the mind; musical instruments play without being touched, moving with the wind, producing wonderful sounds. These beings might be in palaces or wandering in gardens, enjoying delicious heavenly food, or drinking nectar from jewel-made vessels. They may sit on lotus platforms, wearing necklaces that drape down both sides, surrounded by wealth and treasures. They have an abundance of various utensils to enjoy as they please, with bright and serene faces, joyful in body and mind, always free from illness, in the prime of life and beauty, not ageing or dying. The power of their meritorious virtues is of the same kind, free from being subject to others, capable of eradicating greed, anger, and delusion, rightfully attaining enlightenment and ultimate comfort.

O Son of the Buddha! Those who cultivate such kindness should, even if among sentient beings there is one who acts against them, not harbour resentment or attachment in their mind. Instead, they should deeply observe themselves with wisdom and think: 

In a past life, I definitely created heavy karmic obstacles for this person. Because of such causes, today, they hinder my path to bodhi. However, if I do not cultivate a joyful mind towards this person, then I will fail to benefit other beings. This is because, since beginningless time in the cycle of birth and death, there hasn't been a single being who hasn't harmed me in the past. If I don't feel kindness for this being, then I should similarly not feel it for others. Therefore, I will now act beneficially towards all beings.

For this reason, one must cultivate thoughts of kindness.

Again, it should be thought that the cause and conditions of anger can lead sentient beings to fall into hell. Thus, if one harbours grudges, they will surely be reborn among poisonous snakes. If I were to receive such retribution in the next life, it would certainly please the other party greatly; therefore, I must abandon any feelings of anger and grudges I hold. If I am a person of much anger and grudges, the present buddhas of the ten directions would surely look upon me and think:

How can this person seek bodhi while harbouring anger and grudges? This foolish person, because of anger, cannot free themselves from all suffering; how then can they possibly save all sentient beings?

A being filled with anger, wherever they are reborn, has a body full of venom. Therefore, they should cultivate a kind and empathetic mind, forever abandoning anger and grudges, and bring benefit and comfort to all beings with a mind of utmost equality.

If one thinks that they should abandon anger and grudges, then next, they should think that all the buddhas of the ten directions, along with all the bodhisattvas and the assembly of śrāvakas, come together into the palaces of my buddha land. The bodies of all these tathāgatas are two times larger than others, perfectly adorned with all marks, dignified, fragrant, and clean. They adorn their bodies with heavenly garments and sit on lion's thrones decorated with thousand-petaled lotuses. Each is surrounded by innumerable assemblies, covered with treasure canopies, hung with various treasure banners, and draped with various necklaces. Even without playing, heavenly musical instruments make sounds on their own, producing harmonious and elegant tones and bringing joy to the listeners. The fragrant wind gently blows through all the precious trees, causing banners, canopies, nets, and necklaces to emit subtle sounds, singing praises of the various virtues of the tathāgatas. Golden vessels shine brightly like the sun and the moon, with a fragrance like solid black sandalwood. They are filled with nectar and offered to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the assembly of śrāvakas. All these bodhisattvas and arhats enjoy and delight in the supreme Dharma of the tathāgatas.

Again, it should be thought that all sentient beings are seated before the seats of all the buddhas, and the buddhas speak of cultivating kindness, as I am now cultivating. Their speech is wondrous and pleasant, delighting their minds and enabling all sentient beings to attain the highest joy. This is similar to a person who obtains a draught of nectar for washing and bathing, thereby relieving tiredness and discomfort and refreshing both body and spirit. Likewise, by drenching the mind with the Dharma, all afflictions are eliminated, and both body and mind become tranquil, forever attaining peace and comfort.

Again, it should be thought that the brightness of the minute particles in all these treasure banners, flags, canopies, garments, and other items shines more brightly and softly than the sun, delicate and smooth, like touching a deva's body. The fragrance emitted is like that of ox-head sandalwood, and its colour is pure, like vaidūrya, within which all physical forms are revealed.

Furthermore, it should be thought that each and every tathāgata's body is composed of minute particles that are soft, and their bright colour is even more outstanding. Compared to the previously mentioned particles, they exceed them by a hundred thousand times.

Again, it should be contemplated that all sentient beings are by nature empty and selfless, resembling dreams, illusions, mirages, and cataracts. Likewise, all the buddhas are such that their inherent nature is entirely empty, originally without a self. However, ordinary beings, due to ignorance, cling to these delusions, believing in the existence of a self and inherent nature and, therefore, are unable to liberate themselves from the cycle of birth and death.

Again, it should be contemplated that all dharmas have an essence and appearance that is subtle and tranquilly empty, yet ordinary beings create distinctions, giving rise to various realms. In the act of making these distinctions, they further entangle themselves and, not comprehending the nature of their own mind, they cling to these realms as if in a dream.

Again, it should be contemplated that all three realms are empty, and emptiness does not obstruct emptiness. However, my current kind mind is still narrow. Furthermore, it should be thought that since the nature of all sentient beings and all buddhas is empty and non-self, my body is also like this, and all lands are merely thoughts.

Again, it should be contemplated that in every existing minute particle, there exists the buddha lands of the three times. All these lands are the purest, surpassing the previously mentioned buddha lands. They fully encompass the affairs of the buddhas of the three times, the sentient beings of the three times, the adornments of the three times, and the kalpas of the three times fit into a single thought moment. In each thought, the buddhas of the three times are seated everywhere, widely appearing before all sentient beings, entering meditation, expounding the wonderful Dharma, enjoying delicious food, and drinking nectar. Around each buddha, bodhisattvas and arhats of the three times are seated, surrounded by the joys of the three times, their bodies filled with happiness, and I, too, receive such happiness of the three times in the abode of all the buddhas.

Again, it should be thought that in each and every thought, my body of the three times holds countless excellent offerings, making offerings to all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and śrāvakas and also bestowing them upon all classes of sentient beings. In each thought, from this body, various fragrant clouds emanate, and within these clouds, there are innumerable treasure canopies, splendidly adorned, extending over all the buddha tathāgatas, bodhisattvas, śrāvakas, and all sentient beings of the six realms. These clouds rain down heavenly nectar, solid black ox-head sandalwood powder, and flowers such as mandārava, mahāmandārava, padma, kumuda, puṇḍarīka, beautifully fragrant flowers, and fine incense flowers from the sky, scattering all around. A flash of lightning as bright as the rising sun and the sound of thunder bring joy to those who hear it. All the buddhas, bodhisattvas, śrāvakas, and all sentient beings, in their various postures of moving, staying, sitting, or lying, constantly experience the utmost comfort in these four deportments.

O Son of the Buddha! Like a bhikṣu entering an all-pervasive meditation, understanding the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind, and in such understanding, subduing their mind, one who cultivates kindness does the same, adorning themselves with the supreme understanding of kindness.

Further, it should be thought that the comfort I now provide to sentient beings is merely a thought, like an illusion or a magical creation. Just as a magician creates illusions, I also give various comforts to all sentient beings. Like an illusion, things have no inherent nature, and sentient beings are the same, inherently devoid of "I" and "mine." Like a thirsty deer deceived by a mirage, thinking it to be water and running towards it, my kind actions of the mind are also similar. Just as one cannot find water in a mirage, all phenomena are like this, without inherent self-nature. Just as one sees various things in a dream and believes them to be real until awakening, so should all phenomena be known to be such. Like one with eye disease seeing various objects in clear space, thinking them to be real, but upon receiving the agada panacea medicine and curing the disease, the seen objects vanish. Similarly, sentient beings have views of identity and extreme views, and hence, the thought of "I" arises; if they obtain the medicine of wisdom and eliminate these views, the thought of "I" also ceases. Therefore, I should cultivate kindness in this way, waking from the dream and abandoning thoughts of "I" and "mine."

O Son of the Buddha, you should know that those who cultivate kindness, even if they have not yet abandoned discrimination and still give rise to thoughts of "I" and "mine," always obtain the six kinds of blessings Brahma realm. However, if they discard such discriminations and abandon thoughts of "I" and "mine," this is called extensive kindness. From past lives, all karmic obstacles of faults will be eradicated, and before long, they will attain supreme bodhi. O Son of the Buddha! All bodhisattvas should similarly cultivate and practice kindness, and because you cultivate kindness, you are called "the kind one," Maitreya.

O Son of the Buddha! If any sons of good family or daughters of good family hear this Sutra of the Cultivation of Kindness, all their evil karmic obstacles accumulated since beginningless time will be extinguished. They will be free from various illnesses and calamities and become beloved and respected by all people. In the interim or at the time of death, they will surely see all the buddhas of the ten directions. They will receive predictions of anuttara-samyak-saṃbodhi, may attain samādhi, acquire patience at the non-arising of dharmas, or enter the dhāraṇī door with their minds peaceful and fearless of death. Forever free from the sufferings of the evil realms, they will assuredly be born in the pure buddha land of Ultimate Bliss (Sukhāvatī).

O Son of the Buddha! Just as if a person offers the seven treasures, filling the three realms, to the Tathāgata three times a day for the duration of a kalpa, it should be recognized that this person's merit is immense. How much more so for those who cultivate and practice? Even if the innumerable tathāgatas speak of their merit for the duration of a kalpa, they still would not be able to express it fully.

After the Buddha spoke this sūtra, Maitreya Bodhisattva Mahāsattva, along with all the assembled Brahma beings from the countries and lands of the ten directions, rejoiced creatly, accepted it in faith, and reverently practised it.

Translator's Note: 

According to the Continuation of the Illustrated Record of Translated Scriptures Past and Present (續古今譯經圖紀) by Zhìshēng (智昇; 669–740), Devaprajñā, also known as Devendraprajñā, arrived in the capital of the Tang in the first year of Empress Wu's reign (689). He was well-versed in both Mahāyāna and Śrāvakayāna scriptures and was immediately ordered to translate sūtras at Dàzhōudōng Temple (now lost) in Luoyang. From 689 to 691, he translated six works in seven fascicles together with the monks Zhàntuó, Huìzhì, and others, with the monk Chùyī and others taking notes. The monk Fùlǐ and others transcribed the text, and the monks Dégǎn, Huìyǎn, Fǎmíng, and Hóngjǐng and others verified its meanings.

This section also appears in chapter three of the Book of Zambasta. There are no alternative Chinese translations of this section, the Sanskrit is lost, and it is unclear where or how it fits into the Avataṃsaka collection, if at all. This, and the Book of Zambasta version, are based on different recensions of a root text.[1] The text is unique in its emphasis on kindness (or "loving-kindness") and its connection to Maitreya, whose name embodies that virtue.

As a word of dedication, this translation was requested and is offered to Abhayajñāna.


[1] Qing Duan, "The Maitrī-bhāvanāprakaraṇa: a Chinese parallel to the third chapter of the Book of Zambasta," in Iranian Languages and Texts from Iran and Turan: Ronald E. Emmerick Memorial Volume (Wiesbaden, Harrasowitz Verlag: 2007), pp. 39-58.