The Sūtra of the Teaching on the Four Dharmas

For the essay on this Sūtra, Karmic Purification Vis-à-vis the Four Powers in Mahāyāna Buddhist Scriptures, click here


The Sūtra of the Teaching on the Four Dharmas


In the Indian Language [Sanskrit]: Ārya Chatu Dharma Nirdhesha Nāma Mahāyāna Sūtra


In the Tibetan Language: P’akpa Ch’ö Zhi Tenpa Zheyjawa Thekpach’enpo’i Do

(‘phags pa chos bzhi stan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo)

In the English Language: The Mahāyāna Sūtra known as ‘The Exalted Teaching on the Four Dharmas’

(The Exalted Teaching on the Four Dharmas Mahāyāna Sūtra)



Thus have I heard: At one time, the Bhagavān was residing in the assembly place of gods known as ‘Excellent Dharma’ within the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods, in company with a great Saṅgha of a full five hundred fully-ordained monks, and an immensely great many Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas, including Maitreya and Mañjuśrī; and thereupon, the Bhagavān granted teaching to the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva, Maitreya:

“Maitreya, if a Bodhisattva Mahāsattva has four Dharmas, he or she will overcome harmful actions that have been perpetrated and accrued. What are these four? They are as follows:

1] The Power of Full Application of Strong Remorse

2] The Power of Full Application of the Antidote

3] The Power of Restoration

4] The Power of Support

“Now then, Full Application of Strong Remorse is much regret for having engaged in non-virtuous actions.

“Now then, the Full Application of the Antidote is strong vigorous diligence in virtuous actions immediately after having engaged in non-virtuous actions.

“Now then, the Power of Restoration is gaining unbreakable restraint, by means of taking up vows authentically.

“Now then, the Power of Support is going for refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha, and not giving up Bodhicitta, the Spirit of Awakening.

“And thus when such Powers are held, destructive power cannot prevail.

“Maitreya, if a Bodhisattva Mahāsattva has these Four Dharmas, he or she will overcome detrimental actions that have been perpetrated and accrued.

“Bodhisattva Mahāsattvas must always read this Sūtra, must recite it, must think about it, must meditate on it, and must practice it abundantly. By that means, the fruit of damaging conduct will not be capable of emerging forth.”

The Bhagavān gave teaching with those expressions, and forthwith the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Maitreya, those fully-ordained monks, those Bodhisattvas, the divine progeny such as Indra, and those wide-ranging assemblies rejoiced, and deeply praised what had been spoken by the Bhagavān.


Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos. The translation was completed in late March-early April 2014, at McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India.

The text of the ‘phags pa chos bzhi stan pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo used for this translation was from the mdo tshan lam sgrig, in English ‘A Collection of Sūtras Arranged for the Path’, compiled by dGe bshes Thub bsten dPal bZang (Geshe Thubten Palsang {Géshé Thubten Pëlzang}), and published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in 2007. Its description is officially listed as lam gyi rim pa dang sbyar ba’i mdo tshan, or “a sūtra collection [that is] linked to the stages of the Path”, that is, the order of the sūtras within the volume was arranged according to the stages of the lam rim or ‘stages of the path’ literature of Tibetan Buddhism, and each sūtra therein was chosen for its particular relevance to key points in the Stages of the Path or Lamrim teachings, going, for example, from certain sūtras dealing with the Four Noble Truths, impermanence, and death, to those discussing dependent origination, the three higher trainings, and ethical discipline, to those teaching aspects of refuge in the Triple Gem, confession and purification, and the generation of the Spirit of Awakening or Bodhicitta, to those on Void Nature or Emptiness, the Tathāgatha Heart-Matrix or Buddha Nature, and the Three Dimensions of Buddhahood (trikāya).



bcom ldan ‘das (S: bhagavān): the Buddha, Shākyamuni. Literally it means something like, roughly, ‘Sublime Lord’ in Sanskrit and ‘Subduing and Accomplished Transcendent One’ in Tibetan, although these etymological interpretations prove to be quite varied and complex, and therefore difficult. With this term I currently prefer to use ‘Sublime Master’ in English because 1) I think that a functional rather than literal rendition of this term works better, given the differing Indian and Tibetan meanings and the difficulty of finding a terminological selection that fulfills both, 2) of the fact that relying on a literal Tibetan etymological translation of a Sanskrit term, especially in the context of an originally Indian document, seems inaccurate, and 3) the word is only three syllables in Sanskrit and Tibetan, and so I tend to think that using more than four syllables is a bit wordy. Here in this translation, however, I have just used the Sanskrit.

byang chub kyi sems: Sanskrit bodhicitta, usually known in Western Buddhist circles by the Sanskrit term or the Anglicized ‘bodhichitta’ due to its popularity and the difficulty in rendering it into precise English, although the literal translation is ‘Awakening Mind’ or even more literally ‘Mind of Awakening’. Here I have rendered it as ‘the Spirit of Awakening’, mostly following the English translation of Tsongkhapa’s Lam rim chen mo by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, re: “spirit of enlightenment”.

byang chub sems dpa: Bodhisattva, that is, a being who aims to attain the full Awakening of a Buddha, the word literally means ‘awakening-being’ or ‘being of awakening’ in Sanskrit (although there is some debate about the original meaning of –sattva), and one interpretation of the Tibetan rendering could be ‘hero aspiring for awakening’, or perhaps ‘heroic being of awakening’. However, this term is common enough to almost anyone who takes the time to read a Mahāyāna Sūtra to warrant retaining the Sanskrit, especially since the Sanskrit is the term almost always used in English discourse, and has arguably become an English word now.

sems dpa’ chen po, as in byang chub sems dpa’ sems dpa’ chen po: Mahāsattva, as in ‘Bodhisattva Mahāsattva’. The term literally means ‘great being’ in Sanskrit and ‘great aspiring hero’, or simply ‘great heroic being’. Mainly an appellation used to describe Bodhisattvas, by emphasizing their greatness (and to a lesser extent in Tibetan, re-emphasizing their bravery and aspiration).


bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, Mi-rigs dPe-skrun Khang, 1998

mdo tshan lam sgrig, published by LTWA, 2007



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