White Lotus of Compassion Sutra
The White Lotus of Compassion (Skt. Karuṇā-puṇḍarīka; Tib. སྙིང་རྗེ་པད་མ་དཀར་པོ།, Wyl. snying rje pad ma dkar po) is a mahayana sutra which describes the origin of many buddhas and bodhisattvas, focusing in particular on the Buddha Shakyamuni and how he first aroused bodhichitta in his previous life as the brahmin Samudrarenu (rgya mtsho'i rdul). The white lotus of compassion in the title refers to Shakyamuni himself, emphasizing his superiority over all other buddhas, like a fragrant, healing white lotus among a bed of ordinary flowers.
Most of the sutra’s narrative, recounted by the Buddha on Vulture's Peak Mountain, takes place in the distant past and concerns the chakravartin 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 Amitabha; 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 Shakyamuni. Origin stories for the Buddha Akshobhya, for the Buddha Amitabha’s accompanying bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta, and for the bodhisattvas Manjushri and Samantabhadra are also told.
The text explains how Shakyamuni 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 Mahayana 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 Amitabha and Akshobhya, who dwell for many eons in their pure buddhafields, have qualities greater than those of Shakyamuni, whose life was much shorter and whose buddhafield—this Saha world—appears so rough and impure. That Shakyamuni 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.
- English translation: The White Lotus of Compassion
- 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.