The King of Prayers

The Extraordinary Aspiration of the Practice of Samantabhadra

Abbey statue of Samantabhadra.
(Photo by Traci Thrasher)

In Sanskrit: samantabhadracarya pranidhana
In Tibetan: ‘phags-pa bzang-po spyod-pa’i smon-lam-gyi rgyal-po

I bow down to the youthful Arya Manjushri.

You lions among humans,
Gone to freedom in the present, past and future
In the worlds of ten directions,
To all of you, with body, speech and sincere mind I bow down.

With the energy of aspiration for the bodhisattva way,
With a sense of deep respect,
And with as many bodies as atoms of the world,
To all you Buddhas visualized before me, I bow down.

On every atom are Buddhas numberless as atoms,
Each amidst a host of bodhisattvas,
And I am confident the sphere of all phenomena
Is entirely filled with Buddhas in this way.

With infinite oceans of praise for you,
And oceans of sound from the aspects of my voice,
I sing the breathtaking excellence of Buddhas,
And celebrate all of you Gone to Bliss.

Beautiful flowers and regal garlands,
Sweet music, scented oils and parasols,
Sparkling lights and sublime incense,
I offer to you Victorious Ones.

Fine dress and fragrant perfumes,
Sandalwood powder heaped high as Mount Meru,
All wondrous offerings in spectacular array,
I offer to you Victorious Ones.

With transcendent offerings peerless and vast,
With profound admiration for all the Buddhas,
With strength of conviction in the bodhisattva way,
I offer and bow down to all Victorious Ones.

Every harmful action I have done
With my body, speech and mind
Overwhelmed by attachment, anger and confusion,
All these I openly lay bare before you.

I lift up my heart and rejoice in all merit
Of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in ten directions,
Of solitary realizers, hearers still training and those beyond,
And of all ordinary beings.

You who are the bright lights of worlds in ten directions,
Who have attained a Buddha’s omniscience through the stages of awakening,
All you who are my guides,
Please turn the supreme wheel of Dharma.

With palms together I earnestly request:
You who may actualize parinirvana,
Please stay with us for eons numberless as atoms of the world,
For the happiness and well-being of all wanderers in samsara.

Whatever slight merit I may have created,
By paying homage, offering, and acknowledging my faults,
Rejoicing, and requesting that the Buddhas stay and teach,
I now dedicate all this for full awakening.

May you Buddhas now living in the worlds of ten directions,
And all you gone to freedom in the past, accept my offerings.
May those not yet arisen quickly perfect their minds,
Awakening as fully enlightened ones.

May all worlds in ten directions,
Be entirely pure and vast.
May they be filled with bodhisattvas
Surrounding Buddhas gathered beneath a bodhi tree.

May as many beings as exist in ten directions
Be always well and happy.
May all samsaric beings live in accord with the Dharma,
And may their every Dharma wish be fulfilled.

Remembering my past lives in all varieties of existence,
May I practice the bodhisattva way,
And thus, in each cycle of death, migration and birth,
May I always abandon the householder’s life.

Then, following in the footsteps of all the Buddhas,
And perfecting the practice of a bodhisattva,
May I always act without error or compromise,
With ethical conduct faultless and pure.

May I teach the Dharma in the language of gods,
In every language of spirits and nagas,
Of humans and of demons,
And in the voice of every form of being.

May I be gentle-minded, cultivating the six paramitas,
And never forget bodhicitta.
May I completely cleanse without omission
Every negativity and all that obscures this awakening mind.

May I traverse all my lives in the world,
Free of karma, afflictions and interfering forces,
Just as the lotus blossom is undisturbed by the water’s wave,
Just as the sun and moon move unhindered through the sky.

May I ease the suffering in the lower realms
And in the many directions and dimensions of the universe.
May I guide all wanderers in samsara to the pure bliss of awakening
And be of worldly benefit to them as well.

May I practice constantly for eons to come,
Perfecting the activities of awakening,
Acting in harmony with the various dispositions of beings,
Showing the ways of a bodhisattva.

May I always have the friendship
Of those whose path is like mine,
And with body, words and also mind,
May we practice together the same aspirations and activities.

May I always meet a spiritual mentor
And never displease that excellent friend,
Who deeply wishes to help me
And expertly teaches the bodhisattva way.

May I always directly see the Buddhas,
Masters encircled by bodhisattvas,
And without pause or discouragement for eons to come,
May I make extensive offerings to them.

May I hold within me the Buddha’s genuine Dharma,
Illuminate everywhere the teachings that awaken,
Embody the realizations of a bodhisattva,
And practice ardently in all future eons.

While circling through all states of existence,
May I become an endless treasure of good qualities—
Skillful means, wisdom, samadhi and liberating stabilizations—
Gathering limitless pristine wisdom and merit.

On one atom I shall see
Buddha fields numberless as atoms,
Inconceivable Buddhas among bodhisattvas in every field,
Practicing the activities of awakening.

Perceiving this in all directions,
I dive into an ocean of Buddha fields,
Each an ocean of three times Buddhas in the space of a wisp of hair.
So I, too, will practice for an ocean of eons.

Thus I am continually immersed in the speech of the Buddhas,
Expression that reveals an ocean of qualities in one word,
The completely pure eloquence of all the Buddhas,
Communication suited to the varied tendencies of beings.

With strength of understanding I plunge
Into the infinite awakened speech of the Dharma
Of all Buddhas in three times gone to freedom,
Who continually turn the wheel of Dharma methods.

I shall experience in one moment
Such vast activity of all future eons,
And I will enter into all eons of the three times,
In but a fraction of a second.

In one instant I shall see all those awakened beings,
Past, present and future lions among humans,
And with the power of the illusion-like stabilization
I will constantly engage in their inconceivable activity.

I shall manifest upon one single atom
The array of pure lands present, past and future.
Likewise, I shall enter the array of pure Buddha fields
In every direction without exception.

I shall enter the very presence of all my guides,
Those lights of this world who are yet to appear,
Those sequentially turning the wheels of complete awakening,
Those who reveal nirvana–final, perfect peace.

May I achieve the power of swift, magical emanation,
The power to lead to the great vehicle through every approach,
The power of always-beneficial activity,
The power of love pervading all realms,
The power of all-surpassing merit,
The power of supreme knowledge unobstructed by discrimination,
And through the powers of wisdom, skillful means and samadhi,
May I achieve the perfect power of awakening.

Purifying the power of all contaminated actions,
Crushing the power of disturbing emotions at their root,
Defusing the power of interfering forces,
I shall perfect the power of the bodhisattva practice.

May I purify an ocean of worlds,
May I free an ocean of beings,
May I clearly see an ocean of Dharma,
May I realize an ocean of pristine wisdom.

May I purify an ocean of activities,
May I fulfill an ocean of aspirations,
May I make offerings to an ocean of Buddhas,
May I practice without discouragement for an ocean of eons.

To awaken fully through this bodhisattva way,
I shall fulfill without exception
All the diverse aspirations of the awakening practice
Of all Buddhas gone to freedom in the three times everywhere.

In order to practice exactly as the wise one
Called Samantabhadra, ‘All Embracing Good’,
The elder brother of the sons and daughters of the Buddhas,
I completely dedicate all this goodness.

Likewise may I dedicate
Just as the skillful Samantabhadra,
With pure body, speech and mind,
Pure actions and pure Buddha fields.

I shall give rise to the aspirations of Manjushri
For this bodhisattva practice of all embracing good,
To perfect these practices
Without discouragement or pause in all future eons.

May my pure activities be endless,
My good qualities boundless,
And through abiding in immeasurable activity,
May I actualize infinite emanations.

Limitless is the end of space,
Likewise, limitless are living beings,
Thus, limitless are karma and afflictions.
May my aspiration’s reach be limitless as well.

One may offer to the Buddhas
All wealth and adornments of infinite worlds in ten directions,
And one may offer during eons numberless as atoms of the world
Even the greatest happiness of gods and humans;

But whoever hears this extraordinary aspiration,
And longing for highest awakening
Gives rise to faith just once,
Creates far more precious merit.

Those who make this heartfelt aspiration for the bodhisattva way
Will be free of all lower rebirths,
Free of harmful companions,
And will quickly see Amitabha, Infinite Light.

And even in this very human life,
They will be nourished by happiness and have all conducive circumstances.
Without waiting long,
They will become like Samantabhadra himself.

Those who give voice to this extraordinary aspiration
Will quickly and completely purify
The five boundless harmful actions
Created under the power of ignorance.

Blessed with supreme knowledge,
Excellent body, family, attributes, and appearance,
They will be invincible to vast interfering forces and misleading teachers,
And all the three worlds will make offerings.

Going quickly to the noble bodhi tree,
And sitting there to benefit sentient beings,
Subduing all interfering forces,
They will fully awaken and turn the great wheel of Dharma.

Have no doubt that complete awakening
Is the fully ripened result—comprehended only by a Buddha
Of holding in mind by teaching, reading or reciting
This aspiration of the bodhisattva practice.

In order to train just like
The hero Manjushri who knows reality as it is
And just like Samantabhadra as well,
I completely dedicate all this goodness, just as they did.

With that dedication which is praised as greatest
By all the Buddhas gone to freedom in the three times,
I, too, dedicate all my roots of goodness
For the attainments of the bodhisattva practice.

When the moment of my death arrives,
By eliminating all obscurations
And directly perceiving Amitabha,
May I go immediately to Sukhavati, Pure Land of Great Joy.

Having gone to Sukhavati,
May I actualize the meaning of these aspirations,
Fulfilling them all without exception,
For the benefit of beings for as long as this world endures.

Born from an extremely beautiful, superlative lotus
In this joyful land, the Buddha’s magnificent mandala,
May I receive a prediction of my awakening
Directly from the Buddha Amitabha.

Having received a prediction there,
May I create vast benefit
For beings throughout the ten directions,
With a billion emanations by the power of wisdom.

Through even the small virtue I have accumulated
By offering this prayer of the bodhisattva practice,
May all the positive aspirations of beings
Be fulfilled in an instant.

Through creating limitless merit
By dedicating this prayer of Samantabhadra’s deeds,
May all beings drowning in this torrent of suffering,
Enter the presence of Amitabha.

Through this king of aspirations, which is the greatest of the sublime,
Helping infinite wanderers in samsara,
Through the accomplishment of this scripture dazzling with Samantabhadra’s practice,
May suffering realms be utterly emptied of all beings.

Thus, The Extraordinary Aspiration of the Practice of Samantabhadra, also known as The King of Prayers, from the Gandavyuha chapter of the Avatamsaka sutra (translated by Jinamitra, Surendrabodhi and Yeshes-sde circa 900c.e.), is complete.

The Tibetan was compared with the Sanskrit and revised by lotsawa Vairocana.

Translated by Jesse Fenton, 2002, Seattle, Washington, by request of her teacher, Venerable Thubten Chodron, relying on the commentary Ornament Clarifying the Exalted Intention of Samantabhadra (‘phags-pa bzang-po spyod-pa’i smon-lam gyi rnam-par bshad-pa kun-tu-bzang-po’i dgongs-pa gsal-bar byed-pa’i rgyan) by lCang-skya Rol-pa’i-rdo-rje, and on clarification of many difficult points by the very kind Khensur Rinpoche Konchog Tsering of Ganden Monastery.

Venerable Thubten Chodron’s introduction to this prayer

Abbey statue of Samantabhadra.

The King of Prayers opens us up to a world of Buddhas teaching the Dharma to bodhisattvas on every atom of existence. (Photo by Traci Thrasher)

Whenever I read The Extraordinary Aspiration of the Practice of Samantabhadra, I feel energized and optimistic. This prayer opens us up to a world of Buddhas teaching the Dharma to bodhisattvas on every atom of existence. Our view is no longer dismally bound by the 6 o’clock news, the dim prophecies of political analysts, and worries about finances and relationships, but is now expanded to include the activities of bodhisattvas who seek to alleviate the miseries of all sentient beings. Instead of seeing ourselves as limited beings, we have inklings of our Buddha nature—the potential each of us possesses to become a fully enlightened being. Our aspiration to realize this Buddha potential flowers, and our lives are renewed with meaning and purpose.

“Samantabhadra” is sometimes translated as “the universal good.” What is universally good? Bodhicitta—the aspiration to become a Buddha in order to be of the greatest and most effective benefit to all beings. Who possesses bodhicitta? Bodhisattvas. This prayer of aspiration summarizes all the extraordinary activities of bodhisattvas, as well as both the profound and extensive paths. For this reason, it is called “King of Prayers.”

Following the bodhisattva path entails transforming what we feel, think, say, and do so it is directed towards enlightenment. We practice this path every moment of our lives, no matter who we are, what is happening around us, or who we are with. Each present moment is the only moment we have to practice; the only moment to be happy and to spread joy to others. If we do not practice the bodhisattva deeds of generosity, ethical discipline, patience, joyous effort, meditative stabilization, and wisdom now, when will we? The past is gone; the future is yet to come. Let’s do our best to act with compassion and wisdom right now, with whoever is in front of us at the moment.

This prayer of aspiration may speak of practices that are beyond our present capabilities. That’s fine; we aspire to practice these in the future, as our ability to act for the welfare of all beings develops. Such heartfelt prayers of aspirations to engage in a bodhisattva’s deeds enriches our mind; it gives us a vision of what we can become and shows us the causes we need to create to actualize that.

While reciting the prayer, try to have the three qualities of an excellent disciple: open-mindedness, intelligence, and sincerity. Open-mindedness is the ability to view things freshly, unhindered by preconceptions. We are not influenced by prejudice or disturbing emotions such as attachment or anger. Intelligence doesn’t refer to being clever or smart in a worldly sense, but to being intelligent with regard to accomplishing our own and others’ well-being; we are intelligent in our way of helping others. In addition, we examine the Buddha’s teachings with discriminating wisdom, and don’t just accept them with undiscriminating faith. Sincerity describes our motivation. We aren’t concerned with only our own happiness, but with the happiness of all others as well. Our aspiration to change and to actualize our Buddha potential is earnest and firm.

The first twelve verses are an expanded version of the seven-limb prayer. Through them we purify negativities and create vast positive potential or merit. On this basis, we then aspire to engage in the practices of those on the five paths of the bodhisattva vehicle—the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and no more learning. This aspiration places strong imprints on our mindstream, strengthening and awakening our disposition to accomplish the courageous deeds of bodhisattvas. Through dedicating our positive potential as the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra and Manjushri do, we protect our virtue from going to waste. Our positive potential becomes inexhaustible, so that we and all others may forever enjoy its fruits. As a result, one day Amitabha Buddha himself will prophesize our enlightenment. We will become Buddhas, with full wisdom, compassion, and skillful means to benefit all beings.

Introduction by the translator of this prayer, Jesse Fenton:

Thus have I heard. At one time the Bhagavan was at Sravasti in the Jeta grove, in the Anathapindada garden within a magnificent estate. He was with Samantabhadra, Manjushri and five thousand other bodhisattvas who had all undertaken the bodhisattva practice and aspirations of all-embracing good, Samantabhadra.

There, at Sravasti, begins the Gandavyuha Sutra, whose final pages are the Extraordinary Aspiration of the Practice of Samantabhadra. Originally written in Sanskrit, the sutra was translated into Chinese beginning in the second century c.e. and into Tibetan toward the end of the first millennium. Virtually all Mahayana schools revere this sutra. In China, the Hwa Yen school of Buddhism was almost entirely devoted to the study of the Avatamsaka Sutra, of which the Gandavyuha Sutra is the last chapter.

The sutra tells the story of the young pilgrim, Sudhana, and describes the process of an individual’s development of wisdom and skillful means through Sudhana’s experience of fifty-two spiritual guides. Sudhana sets out on his quest to learn the ways of a bodhisattva under the guidance of Manjushri, who had himself come from the presence of the Buddha at Sravasti. At the very end of Sudhana’s journey to receive teachings from these diverse teachers, Samantabhadra addresses the “Extraordinary Aspiration” to Sudhana as his culminating advice.

During his journey, Sudhana visits a succession of spiritual guides who teach by describing their own practice of the bodhisattva path and the methods they use to guide sentient beings. Each teacher sends Sudhana onward to another teacher until Sudhana meets Samantabhadra, the quintessential bodhisattva. In a magnificent vision, Sudhana sees the body of Samantabhadra from which radiate visions of all worlds throughout the universe in every eon past, present and future. He sees the birth and destruction of world systems throughout time, all the beings of those worlds and all the activities of bodhisattvas within those worlds.

Joyful and ecstatic, Sudhana looks still more closely with the increased clarity of the bliss of seeing reality, and sees within each and every pore of Samantabhadra’s body infinite Buddha lands occupied by infinite Buddhas teaching and guiding beings. In the midst of this vision, Sudhana becomes equal to Samantabhadra in all aspects of a bodhisattva’s wisdom, compassion and activity. Having removed all limiting projections and conceptions, Sudhana himself pervades the universe to benefit beings. Samantabhadra then recites the “Extraordinary Aspiration” summarizing all the practices and views of a bodhisattva, the teachings of these fifty-two teachers.

Spanish version: La Reyna de las Plegarias

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.