From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana (T. ma skyes dgra’i ’gyod pa bsal ba མ་སྐྱེས་དགྲའི་འགྱོད་པ་བསལ་བ་; C. A she shi wang jing 阿闍世王經), or Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse, is an early Mahayana sutra that provides an account of how to eliminate the force of former negative actions.[1] This sutra is found in the Chinese and Tibetan canons.

The Dharmachakra Translation Committee states:

Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse narrates how the teachings of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī help King Ajātaśatru overcome the severe negative action of having killed his father, King Bimbisāra. Through instruction, pointed questioning, and a display of miracles, Mañjuśrī and his retinue of bodhisattvas show King Ajātaśatru that the remorse he feels for his crime is in fact unreal, just as all phenomena are unreal. The sūtra thus demonstrates Mañjuśrī’s superiority in wisdom and the profound purification that comes from realizing emptiness.[2]


The Dharmachakra Translation Committee states:

Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse narrates how King Ajātaśatru, ruler of the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha, is relieved of his remorse for having ruthlessly killed his father, King Bimbisāra. King Ajātaśatru and his relationship to the Buddha are frequently described in canonical Buddhist sources, where Ajātaśatru is often portrayed worshiping the Buddha and piously attending his teachings. Ajātaśatru indeed had a special reason for diligently participating in the religious life‍—due to his desire to assume the throne in Magadha, he had his father imprisoned and then starved him to death. Later, as he realized the impending negative consequences of his acts in terms of his future rebirths, King Ajātaśatru is portrayed as a man, overcome with remorse, who sought the healing counsel of the Buddha to remedy the unhappy destiny that otherwise surely awaited him.
The sūtra begins with Mañjuśrī and a group of bodhisattvas and gods discussing the nature of omniscience. The bodhisattvas and gods articulate their own understandings of omniscience before Mañjuśrī offers a definitive explanation on the topic. Following this, he emanates a thus-gone one in the exact likeness of the Buddha Śākyamuni, who discusses the conduct of bodhisattvas and the emptiness of all phenomena. The sūtra then relays a story demonstrating the superiority of the bodhisattva path. Śākyamuni throws an alms bowl into the earth, down through innumerable buddha realms, and he asks some of his chief disciples, including Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, to find it, but they are unable to do so. Only the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī succeeds in reaching the alms bowl, which he does by means of a miraculous display. He is then acknowledged as having contributed to the awakening of various thus-gone ones, including Śākyamuni.
Having established Mañjuśrī’s greatness, the sūtra provides a detailed account of Ajātaśatru’s struggle to rectify his previous misdeeds, illustrating the profound benefits of obtaining insight into the nature of phenomena‍—an insight that can purify even the five so-called “acts with immediate results” (patricide being one of them), which virtually guarantee rebirth in the hells immediately upon death. The task of teaching King Ajātaśatru is delegated by the Buddha to Mañjuśrī, who uses his superior insight into emptiness and his miraculous abilities to induce in King Ajātaśatru a degree of insight that can almost entirely purify the effects of his heinous deeds. Thus, the sūtra ends happily, despite the grave theme on which it is built.
Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse is significant in several ways. Most importantly, from a Buddhist perspective, it provides an impressive account of how to eliminate the force of former negative actions, delivered through profound teachings that point out the nature of reality from the perspective of the Great Vehicle. From a historical point of view, the fact that its composition can be determined (through its first translation into Chinese) to date no later than the late second century ᴄᴇ makes this scripture a significant piece of evidence that many of the main features of the literature of the Great Vehicle had already fully developed by the second century ᴄᴇ and that by that time it was no longer in its infancy.[1]

Translation history

The Dharmachakra Translation Committee states:

Unfortunately, a complete Sanskrit version of this text is no longer extant. Nevertheless, the recent discovery in the Schøyen Collection of a number of fragments recovered from Afghanistan provides an important resource for the study of this sūtra.[lower-alpha 1] Regardless of their brevity, these fragments provide testimony to the Sanskrit terminology and names employed in the sūtra, something that in turn can shed light on deeper philosophical and linguistic features, not only pertaining to this scripture but also having wider implications.[lower-alpha 2] The sūtra is also cited and mentioned in a number of Indian works (most of which are extant only in Tibetan translation) attributed to such authors as Nāgārjuna (second century ᴄᴇ) as well as Haribhadra, Kamalaśīla, and Vimalamitra (all eighth century).[lower-alpha 3]
The sūtra was translated no less than four times into Chinese (Taishō 626, 627, 628, and 629) between the second and tenth centuries, attesting to its living presence in the Chinese Buddhist tradition over many centuries. Of these, Lokakṣema’s translation (Taishō 626, A she shi wang jing 阿闍世王經) is significant in that it provides a very early terminus ante quem for the composition of this sūtra that places it no later than the late second century‍—and most likely some time before that.[lower-alpha 4] The second translation (Taishō 627, Wen shu zhi li pu chao san mei jing 文殊支利普超三昧經) was produced in 287 by the prolific Buddhist translator Dharmarakṣa (c. 233–310). The third Chinese translation (Taishō 628, Wei ceng you zheng fa jing 未曾有正法經) was produced many years later, in the tenth century, by the Indian translator Fatian.[lower-alpha 5] Lastly, the fourth Chinese translation (Taishō 629, Fang bo jing 放鉢經) is undated, and no translator is mentioned. This text contains only an excerpt of the larger sūtra, which was translated by Lokakṣema and Dharmarakṣa, and Harrison and Hartmann suggest that this might therefore represent an early independent text that was subsequently incorporated into the larger sūtra.[lower-alpha 6]
As for the Tibetan translation, we know that it was produced, perhaps from the Sanskrit, no later than the early ninth century, since the text is included in the early ninth-century Denkarma (ldan dkar ma) catalog.13 Interestingly, in this catalog, Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse is included among the “Great Vehicle sūtras translated from Chinese” (theg pa chen po’i mdo sde rgya las bsgyur ba). Herrmann-Pfandt argues, however, that the Tibetan translation may very well have been produced from the Sanskrit regardless, as Mañjuśrīgarbha and Ratnarakṣita are both known to have worked with Indian texts rather than Chinese sources.14 Whether that is the case, or if perhaps the translation was indeed produced from the Chinese but subsequently edited to conform to the terminology employed in the later linguistic revisions that centered on Indic source texts, is unclear to us. At present, we can simply note that none of the Tibetan Kangyur collections specify who first translated the texts into Tibetan. Instead, they merely note that the translation was edited by the Indian scholar Mañjuśrīgarbha15 and the Tibetan translator Ratnarakṣita, both of whom flourished in the early ninth century. Apart from the Denkarma classification, the text itself bears no obvious marks of having been translated from the Chinese, but future research into this matter may determine the text’s pedigree with more certainty.16 In producing this English translation from the Tibetan, we have based our work on the Degé xylograph while consulting the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma) as well as the Stok Palace manuscript.[1]

Regarding Lokaksema's translation, Jan Nattier notes that this text differs in style from other translations attributed to Lokaksema. She places this text in a category with another translation, Drumakinnararājaparipṛcchā, noting that both texts are similar in style of translation.[3]

Also, Harrison and Hartmann (1998, p. 68) describe this text as “Perhaps the most sophisticated and evolved of the Mahāyāna sūtras translated into Chinese by the Indo-Scythian master [Lokakṣema].”[4]


Harrison and Hartmann (1998, 2000, and 2002) have published several brief articles on the Sanskrit fragments contained in the Schøyen collection. More recently, Miyazaki has published two brief articles in English on this sūtra (2008 and 2013). Most significantly, for those who read Japanese, Miyazaki has published his doctoral thesis on this sūtra (2012) as well as several Japanese translations of individual parts of this text.}}[4]
Notes from Dharmachakra Translation Committee
  1. On these fragments, see Harrison and Hartmann 1998, 2000, and 2002.
  2. For an example of this, see Harrison and Hartmann 2000, p. 168, no. 4.
  3. For details, see Harrison and Hartmann 1998, pp. 67–68.
  4. An English translation of Lokakṣema's Chinese translation has been self-published by Shaku Shingan (2022).
  5. According to Harrison and Hartmann (2000, p. 168) this translation “is best regarded as a free adaptation of the text, rather than a straight translation of an Indic original.”
  6. Harrison and Hartmann 2000, p. 168.

Significance of Mañjuśrī

Akira Hirakawa states:

Lokaksema’s translation of the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana (T 626, A-she-shih-wang ching) contains a sermon the Buddha is said to have preached to King Ajātaśatru when the king was feeling deeply remorseful because he had killed his father. The Buddha explains that everything arises from the mind. The mind, however, is not a substantial entity that can be grasped; it is empty. Nevertheless, the basic nature of the mind is purity; it cannot be tainted by defilements.
Thus, the major theme of this sutra is that the basic nature of the mind is originally pure, a teaching that would later develop into Tathagatagarbha doctrine and form an important type of Mahayana thought. In connection with this teaching, the sutra includes an account of how Mañjuśrī had practiced religious austerities in past ages, completing all the practices necessary to attain Buddhahood long ago. All Buddhas and bodhisattvas have practiced under Mañjuśrī’s guidance. Even Sakyamuni Buddha, when he was a bodhisattva, practiced under Mañjuśrī. In fact, according to a famous passage in the Fang-po ching (T 629), a partial translation of the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana, Mañjuśrī was the original teacher of Sakyamuni. Thus Mañjuśrī is called ‘‘the mother and father of those on the Buddha’s path” (T 15:451a). Mañjuśrī is a personification of the wisdom produced through enlightenment, wisdom that is based on the original pure nature of the mind. Mañjuśrī and Maitreya are two of the earliest bodhisattvas to appear in Mahayana Buddhism, and the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana is an important text for investigating the origins of these bodhisattvas.[5]

Translations into English

From the Tibetan language:

From the Chinese language:

  • Shingan, Shaku. The King Ajātaśatru Sūtra: A Translation of the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodana Sūtra from the Chinese of Lokakṣema Together with Three Short Sūtras on Ajātaśatru. Kamakura, 2022.



  • 84000.png Dharmachakra Translation Committee (2023), Eliminating Ajātaśatru’s Remorse, 84000 Reading Room 
  • Harrison, Paul, and Jens-Uwe Hartmann (1998). “A Sanskrit Fragment of the Ajātaśatru-kaukṛtya-vinodanā-sūtra.” In Sūryacandrāya: Essays in Honour of Akira Yuyama, edited by Paul Harrison and Gregory Schopen, 67–86. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1998.
  • ‍—‍—‍—(2000). “Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanāsūtra.” In Buddhist Manuscripts Volume I, edited by Jens Braarvig et al., 167–216. Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection Oslo: Hermes, 2000.
  • —‍—‍—(2002). “Another Fragment of the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanāsūtra.” In Buddhist Manuscripts Volume II, edited by Jens Braarvig et al., 45–50. Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection. Oslo: Hermes, 2002.