Set on Gayashirsa, the hill near Bodhgaya from which its title is derived, the sutra presents its teaching in the form of the Buddha’s inward examination, a conversation between the Buddha and the bodhisattva Manjushri, and dialogues between Manjushri and three interlocutors—two gods and a bodhisattva. It provides a sustained but concise treatment of the progress toward awakening, the stages of aspiration for complete awakening, method and wisdom as the two broad principles of the bodhisattva path, and various classifications of bodhisattva practices. Multiple translations, commentaries, and citations of passages from Gayashirsa Hill attest to its wide influence in the Mahayana Buddhist communities of India, China, and Tibet.
The Sarasvatī Translation Team states:
- Gayāśīrṣa Hill is a relatively short Mahāyāna Buddhist scripture, but its influence over the centuries is attested to by the multiple translations of it that were made, its frequent citation, and its use as a source of significant Mahāyāna Buddhist ideas and practices.
- Gayāśīrṣa Hill was translated into Chinese four times between the beginning of the fifth century and the end of the seventh century (Taishō 464, 465, 466, and 467), before the Tibetan translation was produced by Surendrabodhi and Yeshé Dé. Vasubandhu’s Commentary on the Gayāśīrṣa Hill Sūtra is preserved in both Chinese and Tibetan translations. Śākyabuddhi wrote a subcommentary on Vasubandhu’s commentary, the Mixed Commentary on the Gayāśīrṣa Hill Sūtra, which has survived in the form of a Tibetan translation. In China, the fifth-century Buddhist monk Hongchong (充弘) reportedly composed a commentary on Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation of Gayāśīrṣa Hill.
- Gayāśīrṣa Hill is also cited in Kamalaśīla’s Stages of Meditation (Bhāvanākrama). Through the influence of Kamalaśīla, the memory of this sūtra lived on in Tibet. In the context of discussing Mahāyāna Buddhist practices in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, for instance, Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) cites three passages from the sūtra that had been used in Kamalaśīla’s Stages of Meditation. Gayāśīrṣa Hill’s sustained exposition of the Mahāyāna Buddhist path seems to have made it valuable for the project of writing comprehensive Buddhist manuals. Both Kamalaśīla and Tsongkhapa made use of its clear formulation of method and wisdom as the two basic elements of the bodhisattva’s path; its affirmation of compassion and sentient beings, respectively, as the beginning and basis of the bodhisattva’s conduct; and its decisive statement about the importance of practice to the bodhisattva’s pursuit of awakening.
- English translation: Gayāśīrṣa Hill
- Sarasvatī Translation Team (2023), Gayāśīrṣa Hill, 84000 Reading Room