Bright lights for dark days
By Greg Suffanti
QFWF no. 9, December 7th 2018
If you’re looking for some holiday cheer, look no further…
Admittedly, some of the names of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the Golden Light Sutra have long names, like the tathagata (Buddha) Ratnakusumagunasagaravaiduryakanakagirisuvarnakanchanaprabhasashri.
The story is also a bit fantastical at times as it jumps from the past to the future and talks about heavenly realms and noble kingdoms.
However, if you’re looking for adventuresome tales of past and future Buddhas, Buddha realms and gods and goddesses, all with the constant reassurance that by reading The Golden Light Sutra, you’ll have endless personal protection by the Buddhas themselves, then the dark days of winter may just seem a bit brighter with this glorious and positively charged scripture called “The Golden Light Sutra”.
It’s also said that by reading or listening to this sutra you create an enormous amount of merit, or positive energy. Our individual happiness stems from this positive energy according to Buddhism. We have a choice in helping ourselves to become happier….
That’s the message of Buddhism.
At a teaching I attended last summer, my teacher Yangsi Rinpoche said:
“You can uplift your spirit by doing something to ‘energize’ your own positive energy. Merit is fundamental. Usually we are so distracted and driven by fear. Sometimes, it’s not more practice we need to do, but, to do merit creation (devotional) practices.” Like reading the Golden Light Sutra.
“The King of Glorious Sutras called the Exalted Sublime Golden Light”, or more commonly known as “The Golden Light Sutra”, is a Mahayana Buddhist scripture belonging to the sutra “basket” or group of Buddhist teachings.
The text was originally written in India in Sanskrit, and known as the Aryasuvarnaprabhasohamasutrendrarajamahayanasutra.
The three baskets
All Mahayana Buddhist texts are classified as belonging to one of three “baskets” or groups of teachings known as the Tripitaka. In Sanskrit: ‘tripi ’means three, and taka, means ‘basket’. This text is easy to classify as belonging to the sutra basket because the word sutra is in the title.
The three baskets are
- The Abhidharma Pitaka, which is about wisdom, and begins with “Homage to Manjushri”, the Buddha of Wisdom.
- The Sutra Pitaka, consisting of scriptures beginning with “Homage to all past, present and future Buddhas….”
- The Vinaya Pitaka, consisting of rules for ethics and behavior for sangha, or monks and nuns.
The Buddhist scholar C.E. Johannes Nobel asserts that “some form (of sutra) existed already in the first century CE”.
The sutra’s title is taken from the third chapter, called “Seeing the Dream”, in which the Bodhisattva Ruchiraketu dreams about a golden drum, “its light shining like the orb of the sun.” (p. 21) The golden light from the drum is synonymous with the teachings of the Buddha, called the dharma.
The Golden Light Sutra has had an illustrious history, and is still venerated to this day in mostly East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea. Although its prominence is far less than it once was.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche (LZR) says that “every family in Mongolia has a copy”, and that he thinks that the text has been translated into 9 languages.
One of the main reasons the sutra has been held in such high regard through the centuries is that it extensively lays out the manner in which an individual, his environment and indeed the whole country where the sutra is taught and expounded upon will be protected by, among others, The Four Great Kings, as laid out in chapter 7.
The Four Great Kings will come to protect you
The Four Kings: King Vaishravana, King Dhrtarashtra, King Virudaka and King Virupaksha, known as the “world protectors”, promised to “always watch over, guard and protect” those monks who learn, venerate and teach The Golden Light Sutra. (p. 47)
At Maitreya Instituut in Amsterdam, I participate in monthly readings (out loud) of the Golden Light Sutra, as recommended by my teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who encourages the sutra to be practiced regularly at all 160 FPMT centers (of which LZR is the spiritual head of) around the world.
“The Golden Light Sutra practice helps so much for peace in the world and also you are taken care of; there’s no returning to the lower realms, you always go toward enlightenment and everything that has to happen, happens for you along the way” .
The Golden Light Sutra takes the reader on an audacious Buddhist adventure
Although historically the sutra is seen largely as a method of ensuring peace and prosperity for a nation, the sutra is much more, as it teaches about dependent origination (emptiness), recalls past lives of Buddha Shakyamuni, when he was a doctor and a prince, and relates how the Goddesses Sarasvati, Shri and the earth goddess Drdha (see chapters 8, 9, 10) will help and protect those upholding the teachings of the Golden Light Sutra.
There is even a chapter called “Healing Illness” (see chapter 16) where we are advised:
“Fatty, warm, salty and sour are summer’s tastes; fatty, sweet and cold are falls; sweet, fatty and sour are tastes for winter; coarse, warm and bitter for spring” (p. 80).
The Golden Light Sutra takes the reader on an audacious Buddhist adventure, while giving the reader/listener a full overview of the entire Buddhist path.
“The Golden Light Sutra has everything you need” Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Therefore, LZR says,
“This King of Glorious Sutras, contains everything needed, from daily happiness to complete enlightenment. It contains a heart-rending practice of confession and rejoicing, profound teachings on dependent arising, reliable assurances of protection, guidelines for ideal government, and awe-inspiring stories of the Buddha’s previous lives, in which Buddha shows how, even before he had completely eliminated delusions, he liberated countless beings from the ocean of suffering through compassion and personal courage”.
One version commonly used in the West is the FPMT’s 21 chapter condensed version first published in 2005 at the request of LZR and translated by Losang Dawa from Tibetan into English. There is a longer, 29 chapter version not yet translated into English, and work is underway at the FPMT’s educational department to translate the 31 chapter version (6). The 21 chapter version is available for free as a PDF file from: golden-light-sutra.
On YouTube, Lama Zopa Rinpoche gives a full oral transmission of the Golden Light Sutra…. Also at no cost!
Too much of anything, including Buddhism, can give you ‘lung’
I first became aware of this text in 2006 through my teacher Ven. Kaye Miner, and I can still vividly remember how my head was practically spinning from reading the Golden Light Sutra out-loud and in a group environment: the endless long names of some of the Buddhas and fantastical tales of millions of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Buddha lands, and stories with jewels, forests, ponds, streams, gods and goddesses, food, drink, clothing and a host of other beautiful images to delight the mind.
The condensed version is 144 pages, the pdf version slightly shorter, so, about 4-5 hours is needed when in a group environment.
There is always a pause at the halfway point to keep from getting what the Tibetans call ‘lung’, and what we in the Buddhist world call stress and discomfort.
‘Lung’ in Tibetan means wind, because it is said that the mind rides on the subtle winds of the body. Too much of anything, including Buddhism, can throw these winds out of balance, causing both physical and mental discomfort.
So, having a break gives the mind a chance to relax. Recitation can be hard work. It can also be a lot of fun with a group.
The Buddhas will praise and protect you
Initially, I was hesitant to participate in the group reading given the time commitment, but Ven. Kaye’s beaming enthusiasm was infectious, and when reading early in Chapter 1, “The Chapter on the Preamble to the King of Glorious Sutras, the Sublime Golden Light”, that reading this text has incredible benefits:
“In order to extinguish all unwholesome deeds I will proclaim this auspicious discourse That exhausts all negative karma, Grants all peace and happiness, Completely eliminates suffering, Which is adorned with all that is glorious And is the foundation of omniscience…” (p. 9)
Well, I was hooked. The first chapter concludes that
“Those into whose ears This sublime discourse is echoed, Will have merit roots refined And numerous buddhas will extol them.” (p. 12)
As Yangsi Rinpoche says,
“sometimes we have the skill, but things don’t work out due to lack of merit… “
Having dealt with depression following a stroke, I’m always eager to do what I can to try and help myself.
This is like a mental vacation for myself
Practically speaking, what I’ve noticed through the years is that reading the Golden Light Sutra helps to calm my busy mind and to focus it on something positive and virtuous for a few hours.
This is like a mental vacation from myself! It is precisely because the sutra is so comprehensive and rich in depth that my mind has a chance to lose itself in something worthwhile, rather than my normally uncontrolled, reactionary mind, which only produces more of the same dissatisfaction. This is genuine peace.
Reading the text with a positive motivation leaves me feeling as though I’ve done what I needed to do… tried to help both myself and others. This brings great satisfaction to my mind. It is both this peace and satisfaction, which can’t be bought, that makes me such a fan of this wonderful sutra.
“If you have problems you should listen to this sutra” Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Zopa Rinpoche says in the Preface of the book:
“If you have problems, for anyone dying or dead or if the devas have turned against you and nothing is working; or if merely by expressing yourself, your friends, loved ones, husband, wife, family members and even servants get angry with you, if your wealth declines or if you have harm from black magic or spirits, or if you have bad dreams or fearful things happening, then for all of these problems you should wash, put on clean clothes, and with a peaceful mind listen to the transmission of this text.”
Looking for a pick-me-up during the dark winter days? Try reading or listening to the transmission of the Golden Light Sutra from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on YouTube.
Rinpoche says that
“whoever even tries to read or understand this text will experience the comfort and happiness of devas and humans for 100 billion eons…” (p. 6).
That’s an incredible result for such a small effort! And it’s FREE!