Golden Light Sutra

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The Golden Light Sutra (Skt. Suvarṇaprabhāsa Sūtra; T. gser'od dam pa'i mdo; C. jin-guangming zuishenwang jing) is a Mahayana sutra that is especially influential in East Asia.[1]

In Sanskrit, the full title is The Sovereign King of Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light. This text is also known by the Old Uygur title Altun Yaruq.


The sutra was originally written in India in Sanskrit and was translated several times into Chinese by Dharmakṣema and others, and later translated into Tibetan and other languages. Johannes Nobel published Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of the text.[2][3][4] The sutra is influential in East Asia.[5]

The name of the sutra derives from the chapter called "The Confession of the Golden Drum", where the bodhisattva Ruchiraketu dreams of a great drum that radiates a sublime golden light, symbolizing the dharma or teachings of Gautama Buddha.[6]

The Golden Light Sutra became one of the most important sutras in China and Japan because of its fundamental message, which teaches that the Four Heavenly Kings (Chinese: 四大天王; pinyin: Sì Dàtiānwáng) protect the ruler who governs his country in the proper manner.[7]

The sutra also expounds the vows of the goddesses Sarasvatī (Chinese: 大辨才天; pinyin: Dà Biàncáitiān), Lakṣmī (Chinese: 大功德天; pinyin: Dà Gōngdétiān) and Dṛḍhā to protect any bhikṣu who will uphold and teach the sutra.[8]

Taken at face value, one might take the main theme of the sutra literally, which is the importance for leaders to be good examples for the kingdom. In Chapter Twelve, the sutra speaks in verse form about the disasters that befall a kingdom when its ruler does not uphold justice, and the benefits of kings who lead an exemplary life. In the Chapter on the Guardian Kings, the Four Guardian Kings have a dialogue with the Buddha, explaining in vivid detail all the benefits a kingdom will have if its ruler enshrines the essence of the sutra and offers daily praise. The sutra contains some elements of early tantra, in that in chapter two, the sutra describes four Buddhas who dwell in the four cardinal directions. These same four comprise later Buddhist mandalas in the same positions, such as the Womb Realm.[citation needed]

During the Sui dynasty in China, the monk Zhiyi of the Tiantai tradition initiated a ritual ceremony known as "Gōngfó Zhāitiān" (供佛齋天) or just "Zhāitiān" (齋天), meaning "Puja of Offering to the Buddhas and the Devas", according to the rites prescribed in the Golden Light Sutra.[9][10] During the ceremony, offerings are made to the Buddhas as well as the twenty-four devas as a sign of respect.[11] This ceremony has been carried down through tradition into modern times and is customarily performed in Chinese Buddhist temples on the 9th day of the 1st month of the Chinese calendar.[11]

The sutra also gained esteem as a sutra for protecting the country in China, Korea and Japan, and often was read publicly to ward off threats. For example, its first reading in Japan was as a court ceremony during around 660 AD, when the Tang dynasty of China and Silla of Korea defeated the state of Baekje of Korea and were threatening Japan.[citation needed] In 741 Emperor Shōmu of Japan founded provincial monasteries for monks (国分寺) and nuns (国分尼寺) in each province. The official name of the monasteries was the Temple for Protection of the State by the Four Heavenly Kings Golden Light Sutra (traditional Chinese: 金光明經四天王護国之寺). The 20 monks who lived there recited the Sovereign Kings Golden Light Sutra on a fixed schedule to protect the country. As Buddhism evolved in Japan, the practice gradually fell out of use, and is no longer continued today.[citation needed]


The Golden Light Sutra has been translated into Chinese, Saka ("Khotanese"), Old Turkic,[12] Old Uyghur,[13] Tangut, Classical Tibetan, Mongolian,[14] Manchu, Korean and Japanese.[15][16]


Three canonical Chinese translations have survived:[17]

  • Jin guangming jin T663 translated by Dharmakṣema (385-433)
  • the synoptic Hebu jin guangming T664, by Baogui, written in 597
  • 11th~13th century, chrysographic Tangut version.
    Jeweled pagoda mandala from a copy of the Golden Light Sutra. Japan, Heian period, 12th century
    Jin guangming zuisheng wang jin T665, by Yijing (635-713)

An extracanonical version, ascribed to Paramārtha (499-569) is extant in a Japanese manuscript.


One of the earliest Japanese annotations was an 8th century kunten translation of the Yijing Chinese translation housed in Saidaiji Temple.[15]

In 1933, Izumi published the first complete Japanese translation directly from Sanskrit, followed by another translation by Ama a year later.[18]

Western languages

In 1958, Nobel published a German translation, based on Yijing´s Chinese text.[19] In 1970, Emmerick produced an English translation of the short, condensed Sanskrit version of the Sutra of Golden Light into English.[20]

In Tibetan, there are three versions of the Sutra: the 21, 29, and 31 chapter versions. The 29 Chapter Version was probably the most popular in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhist regions.

In 2007, the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Buddhist organization, produced a translation of the 21 chapter version of the Sutra, the most abbreviated and condensed version.[21]

See also


  1. Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. Suvarṇaprabhāsasottamasūtra
  2. Nobel, Johannes (1937). Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra. Das Goldglanz-Sūtra: ein Sanskrittext des Mahāyāna-Buddhismus. Nach den Handschriften und mit Hilfe der tibetischen und chinesischen Übertragungen, Leipzig: Harrassowitz
  3. Nobel, Johannes (1944/1950). Suvarnaprabhāsottamasūtra. Das Goldglanz-Sūtra: ein Sanskrittext des Mahāyāna-Buddhismus. Die tibetische Übersetzung mit einem Wörterbuch. Band 1: Tibetische Übersetzung, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag 1944. Band 2: Wörterbuch Tibetisch-Deutsch-Sanskrit, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1950.
  4. Nobel, Johannes (1958). Suvarnaprabhāsottamasūtra. Das Goldglanz-Sūtra: ein Sanskrittext des Mahāyāna-Buddhismus. I-Tsing's chinesische Version und ihre tibetische Übersetzung. Band 1: I-Tsing's chinesische Version übersetzt, eingeleitet erläutert und mit einem photomechanischen Nachdruck des chinesischen Textes versehen. Band 2: Die tibetische Übersetzung mit kritischen Anmerkungen, Leiden: Brill
  5. Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 877. ISBN 9780691157863. 
  6. Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall (1999). Hiraizumi: Buddhist Art and Regional Politics in Twelfth-Century Japan. Harvard University Asia Center. p. 167. ISBN 9780674392052. 
  7. Brown, Delmer (1993). The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol. 1: Ancient Japan. Cambridge University Press. p. 393. ISBN 978-0521223522. 
  8. Gregory, Peter N.; Getz Jr., Daniel A. (2002). Buddhism in the Sung. University of Hawaii Press. p. 374. ISBN 9780824826819. 
  9. "供天中的二十四诸天 - 佛弟子文库". Retrieved 2021-04-26. 
  10. E., Emmerick, R. (2001). The Sūtra of golden light : being a translation of the Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra. Pali Text Society. ISBN 0-86013-348-6. OCLC 232153257. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "佛教二十四诸天_中国佛教文化网". 2016-03-04. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2021-04-26. 
  12. Zieme, Peter (1996). Altun Yaruq Sudur: Vorworte und das erste Buch: Edition und Übersetzung der alttürkischen Version des Goldglanzsūtra (Suvarṇaprabhāsottamasūtra), Turnhout: Brepols
  13. Radlov, Vasilij V (1913 - 1917). Suvarṇaprabhāsa: (sutra zolotogo bleska) ; tekst ujgurskoj redakcij, Sanktpeterburg. Imperatorskaja Akad. Nauk. XV. Reprint, Osnabrück. Biblio-Verlag 1970.
  14. Kotwicz, Władysław (1930). Altan gerel: die westmongolische Fassung des Goldglanzsūtra nach einer Handschrift der Kgl. Bibliothek in Kopenhagen; Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Kasuga, Masaji (1987). Saidaijibon konkomyo saishookyo koten no kokugogakuteki kenkyu. Tokyo: Benseisha. 
  16. Buswell, Robert E., ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 812. ISBN 0-02-865718-7. 
  17. Radich, Michael (2014). "On the Sources, Style and Authorship of Chapters of the Synoptic Suvarnaprabhāsottama-sūtra T664 Ascribed to Paramartha (Part 1)" (PDF). Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University (ARIRIAB). 17: 209. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 7, 2014. Retrieved February 10, 2014.  Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  18. Ama, Tokuju (1934). Bonbun Wayaku Konkōmyō Saishōōkyō. Kyoto: Kōjukai Honbu. 
  19. Gummer, Nathalie (2015). "Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra," In Jonathan Silk, Oskar von Hinüber, Vincent Eltschinger (eds.): Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume 1: Literature and Languages. Leiden: Brill, p. 250
  20. Emmerick, R. E. (1970). The Sūtra of Golden Light: Being a Translation of the Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra. London, Luzac and Company Ltd.
  21. "The Golden Light Sutra". Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Retrieved May 13, 2013. 


External links

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