Suramgamasamadhisutra: The Concentration Of Heroic Progress

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  • Book Name Suramgamasamadhisutra: The Concentration Of Heroic Progress
  • Author Etienne Lamotte
  • Language, Pages English
  • Last Updated 2022 / 08 / 16
  • ISBN 9788120819313, 8120819314

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Suramgamasamadhisutra: The Concentration Of Heroic Progress
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The Buddhist scripture containing teachings that bestow heroic progress on the path to Enlightenment The Suramgamsamadhisutra is an early Mahayana Buddhist scripture. Within a narrative framework provided by a dialogue between the Buddha and the bodhisattva Drdhamati it airs central issues of Mahayana Buddhism by means of philosophical discussion, edifying anecdote, marvellous feat, and drama. At its core is a description of the seeming conversion of Mara, the embodiment of all malign tendencies that obstruct advancement, and the prediction that he too will become a Buddha.

Concentration, Samadhi, is understood to denote the altered mental states attainable through Buddhist meditation techniques, in particular that in which discursive thought is allayed, the mind is calm and is capable of sustained awareness of a single object.

The present volume comprises the first full English translation Kumarajiva's Chinese translation of the Suramgamasamadhisutra, with an extensive explanatory introduction and annotations. Lamotte's French version appeared in 1965 and now Sara Boin-Webb's English rendering of that gives the English speaking world access both to an important Buddhist scripture and also to a classic work of Buddhist Studies scholarship.

About the Author

Etienne Lamotte (1903-1983), a major figure in the field of Buddhist Studies, was the author of Histoire du bouddhisme indien, des origins a l ere Saka, (Louvain 1958); he has also translated the Samdhinirmocanasutra, the Karmasiddhiprakarana, the Vimalakirtinirdesasutra Asanga's Mahayanasamgraha, and the 5-volume commentary by Nagarjuna on the Prajnaparamitasutra, Le Traite de la grande vertu de sagesse de Nagarjuna. Sara Boin-Webb is the official translator of Lamotte's work. Her success is attested by the publication of her English-language renderings of lamotte's Vimalakirtinirdesa (The Teaching of Vimalakirti, London 1976) and Histoire du bouddhisme indien (History of Indian Buddhism, Louvain 1988), as well as several other works from the French. Her translation of the above-mentioned commentary on the Prajnaparamitasutra awaits publication. She is Assistant Editor of Buddhist Studies Review.

Andrew Skilton is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Cardiff University, working on Mahayana literature, including the Samadhirajasutra. He has published A Concise History of Buddhism (1994) and Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara (1996).



Curzon Press in association with The Buddhist Society, London,*is now publishing the English version of one of my works, La Concentration de fa marche heroique (Suramgamasamadhisutra) traduit et annote, Melanges chinois et bouddhiques, Vol.XIII, Bruxelles 1965. Already in 1976, the Pali Text Society had acquired the translation of another of my works: L 'Enseignement de Vimalakirti (Vimalakirtinirdesa) traduit et annote, Bibliotheque du Museon, Vol.LI, Louvain 1962, and published it under the title of The Teaching of Vimalakirti.

It is not merely by chance that, among so many other Mahayana siitras, the Yimalakirtinirdesa (abbreviated to Vkn) and Suramgama-samadhi (Sgs) should appear together. Both Sanskrit texts, which appeared about the second century of our era but are now lost, figured among the first Mahayana sutras to be rendered into Chinese; they were, over the centuries, the object of many translations into Chinese, the languages of Central Asia and Tibetan. As if through tacit agreement, the Yueh-chih, Indian and Serindian masters, such as Chih Ch'ien, Chu Fa-hu (Dharmaraksa) and Kumarajiva, who translated the Vkn into Chinese also produced a version of the Sgs in the same language. We have remained faithful to such a long-standing tradition.

The Introductions that we devoted to both these Sutras allow us to perceive the close links which unite the Vkn and the Sgs. Along with the Prajnaparamita sutras , they set out the Madhyamaka, the 'Philosophy of' the Middle Way', which professes the twofold emptiness of beings and things: they draw up the idealised portrait of the bodhisattva combining Prajna with Upayakausalya. The former is the right vision of the true nature of things which is none other than the absence of any nature; the latter ripens beings by making them aware of the perfect equation between Samsara and Nirvana. This engagement in awareness results in the elimination of false views, the cutting off of idle words and practices (sarvavadacaryoccheda) and the calming of the mind. From this point of view, the Teaching of Vimalakirti and the Concentration of Heroic Progress are in perfect agreement.

However, if they have ideas in common, these are expressed in different ways. Vimalakirti, the protagonist of the Vkn, is a lay bodhi-sattva, a master of paradox who, in order to convince his hearers, does not hesitate to scandalise them. His argument is striking, his style lively and picturesque. In the Sgs, Drdhamati, also a great bodhisattva, is presented as a respectful and meek disciple. He, too, makes use of the traditional language, rich in stock-phrases, of the early canonical sutras. He is a meditator (dhyayin) who seeks less to win over people than to glean from the Buddha new light on the best of Concentrations. It is not without reason that Japanese scholars classify the Sgs as one of the 'Meditation Sutras ', while they link the Vkn with 'Laymen Buddhism".

In order to understand the Vkn, it is not enough to meditate on the text; account should also be taken of the success achieved by Vimalakirti, in China from the fourth century under the Eastern Chin, in Japan from the seventh century under the sponsorship of Prince Shotoku. Even in our own time, in the Far East he incarnates the type of wise and skilful Upasaka, examining Dharmata in depth and displaying, not only in our world but also in more distant universes, the full range of Upaya capable of winning over beings. Most of the Buddhist sects and schools have adopted him. Thinkers and philosophers study his message; painters and sculptors devote the best of their talent to depicting him; his Sutra, translated and retranslated over the centuries and commented upon at length, is the object of public recitation during religious ceremonies and is even introduced into theatrical productions'.

To return to the Suramgamasamadhi, it should be noted that its title is a cause of difficulty.

According to Professor J.C. Wright', "the term Suramgama can scarcely properly denote marche heroique ' (surair gamyata iti), and the alternative resolution proposed, sura iva gacchatiti (to be construed, however, as a Buddha-designation), seems inevitable. In view of the subject-matter of the text, the term is to be accounted a BHSk. reflex of suramgrama 'with pantheon', applied in RV 9.90.3 to sarvavira jetr (cf. mahiivira tuvibadha, 1.32.6, and Mahiivira Jina) and indicating that 'Concentration on Surarngama' is fundamentally somewhat older than the 'vieilles conceptions bouddhiques' against which the Sutra is felt to be in revolt."

Professor R.E. Emmerick does not accept this argument: "We do not know whether the term suramgama- has any pre-Buddhist history. J.C. Wright's dogmatic assertion in BSOAS xxx, 2, 1967,417-8, that 'the term is to be accounted a BHSk. reflex of suragrama' is entirely arbitrary and without a shred of evidence to support it. Suragrama, a Rigvedic hapax legomenon, is an epithet of Soma, rendered by K. Geldner 'mit tapferem Clane' and by Renou (ix-40) 'rassemblant les heros'."

Professor J. Mal proposes a more attractive explanation. For him, [tr.] "the compound suram-gama, in fact is hardly clear and warrants further grammatical investigation. The end syllable in the accusative of the preceding member is hard to explain. BHSD has no mention of it. It is possible that it is one of those terms in which gama- is an appendage and does not represent the root GAM- but the extending of a suffix ga- wrongly connected with that root. Cf. Renou, Grammaire sanscrite, Paris 1961, p.263, referring to Wackernagel II I 201 (201.39-202.16, to be precise). The term already seems to have posed a problem to the Chinese interpreters, who hardly attempted to translate it but merely transcribed it ... Perhaps suram-gama means nothing more basically than 'heroic'."

In my opinion, it is not certain that suramgama is an Aluk Samasa with the first member in the accusative. The m could be euphonious (sura-m-gama). In fact, alongside the adjectives sura-mana and suramanin, there is also to be found, as a euphony, sura-m-manya.



The Suramgamasamadhisutra is neither more nor less interesting than the other texts of the Great Vehicle, but it was one of the first Mahayana sutras to be translated into Chinese and, in the periods of the Han, Wei, Wu, Chin, Liang and Ch'in, it enjoyed considerable success. In less than four centuries it was translated some ten times and certain of these translations were subjected to a combined edition; the Sutra was commented upon several times and it inspired the first Buddhist philosophical school to be established in China: the Hsin-wu-i, 'Theory of the non-existence of the mind'.

Yet another reason dictated the choice of this text. Three years ago I published a translation of the Virnalakirtinirdesa. In fact, according to well-established custom, those who are interested in the latter work also translate the Suramgamasarnadhisutra. This was the case for Chih Ch'ien, Dharmaraksa, Shu-Ian and Kumarajiva. It has been my wish here to conform to such a justified tradition: the two works are closely related through their ideas and complement each other.

Continuing the interest that he has always taken in my work, Professor Paul Dernieville, Member of the Institut de France, has checked my translation with the talent and care which characterise him. It is a pleasure once again to express my profound gratitude to him.

While publishing, in a new presentation, this thirteenth volume of the Melanges chinois et bouddhiques, may I be allowed to evoke the memory of their illustrious founder, M. Louis de La Vallee Poussin. May the present work not fall too short of the hopes he set on his successors.



The Suramgamasamadhisutra (Sgs) is an early Mahayana Buddhist scripture. It is ancient, composed anonymously, close to the beginning of the first millenium. It was one of the very first Mahayana scriptures to be transmitted to China, where we know its first translation was published in 186 C.E. Because of its popularity the Sgs was translated a further nine times, and the last of these, made by the great translator Kumarajiva at the very beginning of the fifth century C.E., survives to form a part of the modern Chinese Buddhist canon. The other major translation of the Sgs was made into Tibetan at the beginning of the ninth century.

The Suramgamasamadhisutra (The Concentration of Heroic Progress), the first full English translation of Kumarajiva's text, is a welcome addition to the growing library of English language versions of Buddhist scriptures. Lamotte's French version was published in 1965, and now with the publication of Sara Boin-Webb's translation of that the English speaking world has direct access both to an important scriptural text and also to a classic work of Buddhist Studies. Direct comparison can now be made with The Teaching of Vimalakirti, the English version of Lamotte's treatment of the Vimalakirtinirdesa, to which the present work was conceived as the companion volume.

The title of the text describes in brief its subject. The Suramgamasamadhisutra is the scripture that contains teachings concerning the samadhi that bestows an 'heroic progress', suramgama, on the path to Enlightenment. Samadhi is traditionally understood to denote the altered mental states attainable through meditation techniques, in particular the mental state in which discursive thought is allayed and the mind is calm, concentrated and capable of sustained awareness of a single object, hence 'concentration'. As an integral part of this technology of altered consciousness, samadhi is also understood to bestow power upon the practitioner - not just the power of spiritual insight, but also of magical feat and transformation - and it is this theme which most incited the imagination of Mahayana Buddhists to produce an array of 'Mahayana samadhis', each accredited with special magical powers of spiritual advancement. As Lamotte explains in his Introduction, he understands the Sgs to be concerned with just such a specific meditative state that is or gives 'heroic progress'.

The Sgs is one of a small group of Mahayana sutras that teach specific, named 'samadhis'. Only one other text from this group is published in English translation - the Pratyutpannasutra (see Bibliography). Others in this genre are the Samadhirajasutra, the Prasantaviniscayapratiharyasamadhisutra, and the Kuan ch 'a chu fa hsing ching.

The Sgs is not just an object for study and comparison, but was surely composed to be enjoyed, seeking to entertain as it edifies. Nor must we forget that for the community of Buddhist practitioners, to which this text truly belongs, "The sutras only ask to be believed, remembered, repeated, expounded and put into practice".

For this English translation the index has been expanded, the bibliography revised and supplemented, and minor typographic errors of the French edition corrected.




Introduction from the Technical Editor viii
Preface to the original French edition x
Foreword to the English edition xi
Note from the English Translator xvii
Acknowledgements xviii
Abbreviations and Bibliography xix


Chapter One: The Suramgamasamadhisutra
I. The text 1
II. Setting and persons 3
III. The subject: Concentration 11
  1. Samadhi in the Sravaka or Small Vehicle 11
  2. Samadhi in the Great Vehicle 22
IV. Historical background of the Sutra 39
V. Sources of the Sutra 53
Chapter Two: The Chinese and Tibetan Versions
I. Translation by Chih Ch'an 59
II & III. Ssu-chuan translations 65
IV. Translation by Chih Ch'ien 66
V. Translation by Po Yen 72
VI. Translation by Dharmaraksa 74
VII. Translation by Chu Shu-lan 81
VIII. Combined edition by Chih Min-tu 85
  Commentary by Hsieh Fu 90
IX. Translation by Kumarajiva 94
  Commentary by Shih Hung-ch'ung 97
XI. Additional Note 98
XII. Tibetan translation 99


Concordance of the translation of the Suramgamasamadhisutra 104


Introduction 107
The Most Excellent Concentration 109
The Heroic Progress 113
The Offering of a Throne 114
The Multiplication of the Buddhas 116
Unreality and Identity of the Tathagatas 117
The Hundred Aspects of the Heroic Progress 119
The Heroic Progress and Good Dharmas 127
The Heroic Progress and the Perfections 128
  1. Danaparamita 128
  2. Silaparamita 128
  3. Ksantiparamita 129
  4. Viryaparamita 130
  5. Dhyanaparamita 131
  6. Prajnaparamita 133
Liberating Action of the Heroic Progress 135
Instantaneous and Simultaneous Practice of the Perfections 137
Gradual Training in the Heroic Progress 138
Secrets and Mysteries of Merusikharadhara 150
Gopaka's Devotion and Change of Sex 154
Multiple Appearance of a Bodhisattva in the Heroic Progress 159
Various Transformations of the Assembly 161
Necessity of Acquiring the Heroic Progress 162
Philosophical Discussion 164
  1. The Practice of the Heroic Progress 164
  2. The End Result of the Heroic Progress 164
  3. The Nirvana of the Buddhas 165
  4. The Absence of a Base 166
  5. The Bodhisattva's Eloquence 167
Revelations Concerning the Devaputra *Matyabhimukha 168
Mara Tied with the Five Bonds 172
The Twelve Bonds of False Views 173
The Virtue of the Name 174
Bondage and Deliverance 174
Conversion of the Daughters of the Gods 175
Self-Interested Conversation of Mara 176
Conversion of the Lustful Devakanyas 177
Further Guile of Mara 178
Prediction of Mara 179
The Four Kinds of Prediction 179
  1. Anutpaditabodhicittavyakarana 182
  2. Utpaditabodhicittavyakarana 184
  3. Rahovyakarana 187
  4. Anutpattikadharmaksantilabdhasammukhavyakarana 188
Bodhisattvas Having Received the Prediction 189
Prediction Conferred on the Daughters of the Gods 191
Fallacious Departure of Mara 192
Respective Value of Offerings of the Buddha 193
Exploits of Maragocaranupalipta in the Heroic Progress 196
Exploits of the Buddha in the Heroic Progress 197
Extension of the Heroic Progress to Other World Systems 198
Faith in the Heoric Progress 200
The Field of Merit 204
The Truly Learned 208
Prediction to Vimalacandragarbha 211
Provisional Nature of Pratyekabodhi 212
Manjusri's Fictious Nirvana 214
Exploits of the Bodhisattvas in the Heroic Progress 216
Superiority of the Offender over the Holy One 222
Two Hundred Discouraged Bodhisattvas Obtain the Ten Powers 223
Why and How to Practise the Heroic Progress 225
Maitreya in the Heroic Progress 227
Manjusri Identical to the Buddha Nagavamsagra 229
Appearance of the Buddhas of the Ten Regions 232
Protection Assured to the Heroic Progress 233
Identity of the Buddhas Sakyamuni and Vairocana 235
The Wonderful Effects of the Heroic Progress 238
  1. Longevity and Security 238
  2. Twenty Inconceivable Virtues 239
  3. Reaching Enlightenment 239
  4. Confident Faith 240
Final Conversions 241
Synopsis of formulas and stock phrases 243
Index 245

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