Karuṇāpuṇḍarīka (T. snying rje pad ma dkar po; C. beihua jing 悲華經), or "White Lotus of Compassion," is a Mahayana sutra that describes the origin of many buddhas and bodhisattvas, focusing in particular on the Buddha Śākyamuni. The “white lotus of compassion” in the title refers to Śākyamuni himself, emphasizing his superiority over all other buddhas, like a fragrant, healing white lotus among a bed of ordinary flowers.
Peter Alan Roberts states:
- Most of the sūtra’s narrative, recounted by the Buddha on Vulture Peak Mountain, takes place in the distant past and concerns the cakravartin king Araṇemin, his thousand sons, his chief court priest Samudrareṇu, and Samudrareṇu’s followers and eighty-one sons, one of whom has sought enlightenment and become the Buddha Ratnagarbha. Samudrareṇu encourages people throughout the kingdom to aspire to attain enlightenment too, and eventually brings about the conditions for the king and many members of his court to make their own aspirations in the presence of the Buddha Ratnagarbha. On these occasions the Buddha Ratnagarbha prophesies the buddhahood of the individuals concerned. He prohesies that King Araṇemin will become the Buddha Amitābha; that 999 of Samudrareṇu’s disciples, together with five of his attendants, will become the 1,004 buddhas of our Fortunate Eon; and that Samudrareṇu himself will become the Buddha Śākyamuni. Origin stories for the Buddha Akṣobhya, for the Buddha Amitābha’s accompanying bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta, and for the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra are also told.
- The text explains how Śākyamuni is a buddha whose compassionate activity surpasses that of other buddhas because of the exceptionally powerful aspirations he made as Samudrareṇu in the presence of the Buddha Ratnagarbha. It also recounts miracles he accomplishes beyond anything else described in Mahāyāna Buddhist literature—such as bringing trillions of bodhisattvas into his body—and narratives of other previous lifetimes in which his generosity and self-sacrifice are unparalleled.
- It therefore counters the seemingly justifiable notion that buddhas such as Amitābha and Akṣobhya, who dwell for many eons in their pure buddhafields, have qualities greater than those of Śākyamuni, whose life was much shorter and whose buddhafield—this Sahā world—appears so rough and impure. That Śākyamuni deliberately vowed to attain enlightenment and teach the hard-to-train beings in such a difficult environment is the very measure of his extraordinary compassion and exceptional activity.
- There are two other sūtras that have “white lotus” (puṇḍarīka) in the title. The most famous is The White Lotus of the Good Dharma Sūtra (Toh 113), usually referred to in English as The Lotus Sūtra. There is also The White Lotus of Great Compassion (Toh 111), which immediately precedes The White Lotus of Compassion in the same volume of the Kangyur. Understandably, these three texts, and especially the latter two, are sometimes confused with each other. However, their contents are quite different.
The sutra was translated into both Chinese and Tibetan, and there are also several Sanskrit manuscripts from Nepal (dating from a later period than the Chinese and Tibetan translations).
The Princeton Dictionary states:
- The sūtra is important in the pure land schools for its listing of fifty-one vows of the buddha Amitābha, indicating that it was closely aligned with the teachings of the Sukhāvatīvyūhasūtra.
- Roberts, Peter Alan (2023), The White Lotus of Compassion, 84000 Reading Room