A Curious Verse in Gandhavyuha Sutra

Sarva-bhaveṣu ca saṁsaramāṇaḥ, puṇyatŭ jñānatu akṣayă-prāptaḥ,
prajña-upāya-samādhi-vimokṣaiḥ sarva-guṇair-bhavi akṣaya-kośaḥ. [27]

This is the 27th verse of the Bhadracari (Prayer for good conduct), the last part of the 56th chapter of Gandhavyuha Sutra (or 55th in another version).

Anandajoti Bhikkhu translating it from Sanskrit, read:

Wandering through all existences, with merit, with knowledge, having attained the imperishable, with wisdom, skill in means, concentrations and liberations, and with all virtue, may I be an indestructible vessel.

Douglas Osto, translating from Sanskrit but also consulting Tibetan and Chinese, read:

Wandering in all existences,
Through merit and knowledge
I have obtained the indestructible.
Through wisdom, means, trances, liberations and all good qualities,
May I become an indestructible treasury

Peter Alan Roberts translating from Tibetan, while also consulting Sanskrit and Chinese, for the version in 84000.com, read:

While circling through all existences,
May I obtain inexhaustible merit and knowledge.
May I be an inexhaustible treasure of wisdom,
Methods, samādhis, liberations, and all good qualities.

Thomas Cleary, translating from Chinese, read:

Migrating through all states of being,
Having acquired inexhaustible virtue and knowledge,
May I become an inexhaustible treasury of wisdom and means,
Concentration, liberation, and all virtues.

As you see there are differences in interpretation. While the first line has no disagreement, the next three lines had varying translation.

There are three main contention here.
(1) Whether akṣaya here means indestructible, or inexhaustible
(2) Whether the good qualities mentioned are the cause to be practiced, or the attribute gained as a result of practice.
(3) Whether the quality of indestructible/ inexhaustible is the accompanying attribute, or the cause, or the result.

And maybe other smaller points.
Interestingly, all translations here are doctrinally valid, in my opinion. One can think of explanation about the meaning of that particular interpretation.

Thoughts?

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The name is not Gandha-vyuha but Gaṇḍa-vyūha.

There are various grammatical mistakes in this passage that I would like to point out.

saṁsaramāṇaḥ uses the śānac pratyaya although the verb saṃsṛ is normally parasmaipada and therefore should take śatṛ pratyaya instead, so it should normally be saṃsaran rather than samsaramāṇaḥ

puṇyatu is not a word in Sanskrit. It looks like a corruption of the word puṇyato (meaning “from doing acts of merit”, or “due to doing acts of merit”, or “as a result of doing acts of merit”)

jñānatu is also similarly not a word in Sanskrit, so it should be jñānato (“as a result of exercising wisdom”)

In the next word akṣaya, the ‘a’ at the beginning would normally disappear due to sandhi and be replaced with an avagraha. Also the compound akṣaya-prāptaḥ sounds a bit odd as a predicate. Perhaps it would make better sense to split it into akṣayaṃ prāptaḥ

The compound prajñopāyasamādhivimokṣaiḥ should be split as prajñā-upāya-samādhi-vimokṣaiḥ rather than as prajña with a short ‘a’ at the end.

sarva-guṇair-bhavi is not a compound hence not sure why there is a hyphenation between guṇair and bhavi. sarva-guṇair is a compound in instrumental plural.

bhavi is not a valid word so assuming this is a wish, it can be expressed in vidhi-liṅ first person singular as bhaveyam

So the corrected sentence would be:
sarva-bhaveṣu ca samsaran puṇyato jñānato 'kṣayaṃ prāptaḥ,
prajñā-upāya-samādhi-vimokṣaiḥ sarva-guṇair bhaveyam akṣaya-kośaḥ.

Douglas Osto’s translation of this passage, quoted above by you, appears most accurate to me. Anandajoti’s translation sounds a close second in accuracy.

But saṁsaramāṇaḥ instead of samsaran would be acceptable probably to a sympathetic reader particularly if this is a BCE text.

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Maybe you are applying classical Sanskrit/ proper Sanskrit?
This text is in BHS (Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit), which is closer to prakrit. And I think many people said that BHS sounds like corrupt Sanskrit.

Anyway, thank you for your input!

The Sanskrit is taken from here:
https://ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Texts-and-Translations/Short-Pieces-in-Sanskrit/Bhadra-cari.htm

Cleary’s translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra was a bit confusing because he translated from more than one source text as he liked, similar to the way Conze cobbled together his “Large” Prajnaparamita Sutra. For this verse, he translated from the latest version of the Gandavyuha translated by Prajna sometime after 790 CE. As far as I can tell, this verse don’t occur in either the Buddhabhadra or Siksananda translations of the same

The Prajna translation of the verse reads:

我於一切諸有中,
所修福智恒無盡,
定慧方便及解脫,
獲諸無盡功德藏。
(T293.10.847b25-6)

I would translate it as:

“Throughout all the existences,
I will obtain the treasury of all unending virtues
By cultivating merit and knowledge forever and unending,
[Which are] samādhi, wisdom, technique, and liberation.”

In classical Chinese, adverbial clauses that English would put in the predicate go before the main verb. Thus, the Chinese translator has moved his translation of S. prapta 獲 to the final line. His understanding was apparently that the treasury is what is acquired through the cultivation of merits and knowledge. I’m less certain about the third line, but I’m guessing they are examples of that merit and knowledge that’s being cultivated.

To be honest, the more I look at Cleary’s translation, the more I suspect he translated Sanskrit and not Chinese, or followed someone else’s translation of the Sanskrit. It doesn’t represent the Chinese, which is a shame really. So often the Chinese readings are erased like this, and then people think they read exactly like the Indic parallels.

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Thank you. That’s a whole different interpretation.
And yet, it is also valid in my opinion.

I can’t read chinese, so I rely on Cleary’s translation.
I look it up because the 2 translation from Sanskrit differ from the translation from Tibetan.
It turned out all of them are different!

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Yes, I am aware of BHS and it’s differences with standard sanskrit. The text looks corrupt even for BHS. There are no words called puṇyatu, jñānatu, prajña, bhavi etc even in BHS.

i.­8

In terms of its language, the Sanskrit of the Gaṇḍa­vyūha Sūtra has numerous nonclassical Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS) features and vocabulary. This is especially true of the verses, which are less prone to revision to Classical Sanskrit than the prose. It is frequently the case that the verses in a sūtra are older than the prose that accompanies them, or they at least retain the original form of the language in which the sūtra was composed. In the Gaṇḍa­vyūha, they favor the -u ending for the nominative case, where it would be -a in Sanskrit, -e in the ancient northeastern dialect, and -o in that of the northwest (and its continuation in Pali). The difference between these two kinds of Sanskrit is not evident in the Tibetan or the English translations.

i.­14

There are no surviving Sanskrit manuscripts of the Gaṇḍa­vyūha from the first millennium, but there is a complete Sanskrit text that dates to 1166 ᴄᴇ, three hundred years later than the Tibetan translation. It consists of 289 palm-leaf pages and was sent from Nepal to the Royal Asiatic Society in London by Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800–1894) in the early nineteenth century. Cataloged as Hodgson 2 (A), this is the earliest extant Sanskrit manuscript of the Gaṇḍa­vyūha.16 The Sanskrit Buddhist tradition has continued in Nepal, where the Gaṇḍa­vyūha remains one of the nine central works of Newar Buddhism.17

Because we know this is the form of the underlying metre we can see that the text has been Sanskritised, and now looks more Sanskrit than its original form would have been. This Sanskritisation shows itself in various ways, outlined below.
Bhadra-cari-pranidhanam - The Aspiration for the Good Life

So it seems there are two possibilities

  1. It is carried over from the original language of the sutra
  2. There are corruption in Sanskrit manuscript because of copying process.
    The earliest manuscript we have is from 1166 CE. But because it is in museum archive, I think the editor for Romanization edition used the Nepalese manuscript.

But puṇyatu and jñānatu are not nominative case forms, they have an ablative sense. These don’t look correct even from a normal BHS point of view.

This PDF contains the text fairly correctly except for ‘prāṇtaḥ’ which is not a valid word (not sure where they got this reading from):
28) sarva-bhaveṣu ca saṁsaramāṇaḥ puṇyato jñānato’kṣayaṁ prāṇtaḥ prajñopāya-samādhi-vimokṣaiḥ sarva-guṇair bhaveyam akṣaya-kośaḥ

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There are a number of alternatives for that particular bit of Prajna’s Gandavyuha translation. Bingenheimer lists a number of translations of the last fascicle where this verse is found. I don’t think it would be in Dharmamitra’s translation of the Siksananda Avatamsaka Sutra, however, because it has a different ending than Prajna’s version of the Gandavyuha. (But I haven’t looked at his translation myself, so he might include it in some way or comment on it.)

The issue with translating akṣaya as inexhaustible or indestructible to me is a case of a figurative expression that can be confusing if people take it literally. The basic meaning is that something is not subject to the normal erosion and destruction of entropy of over time. So, it really points to something being eternally immune to impermanence. The Chinese expression 無盡 lit. means “without coming-to-an-end” like the ocean that never dries up (compared to a puddle on a sidewalk that quickly disappears). So, I translate it as “unending.”

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