The Noble Mahayana Sutra on the Four Factors

From Rigpa Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Noble Mahayana Sutra on the Four Factors (Skt. Āryacaturdharmakanāmamahāyānasutra; Tib. འཕགས་པ་ཆོས་བཞི་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ།, Wyl. ‘phags pa chos bzhi pa theg pa chen po’i mdo) is the third of three short sutras with similar titles (all referring to sets of four dharmas or factors of the path).

Of the other sutras in this set, The Sutra Teaching the Four Factors (Toh 249) is concerned with the four factors necessary for the practice of confession, while The Four Factors (Toh 250) identifies four beliefs that a wise son of a good family should not accept as true. Two further works, The Accomplishment of the Sets of Four Qualities: The Bodhisattvas’ Prātimokṣa (Toh 248) and The Fourfold Accomplishment (Toh 252) also concern themselves with “sets of four”, thereby forming a larger group of five sutras in the Dergé Kangyur that lay out key elements of the practice of the path in discrete sets of four factors.

In the present sutra, dharma is a flexible term used to refer to a specific set or category of four important components or factors of the path that a bodhisattva, someone who aspires to achieve the perfect awakening of a buddha, should not abandon under any circumstances. These four factors are (1) the thought of awakening, (2) the spiritual friend or companion and guide in virtue, (3) tolerance and lenience, considered here as a pair, and (4) dwelling in the wilderness, that is, in a place suitably removed from the social world of the town so as to enable spiritual practice. The Buddha presents these four factors using this formula: “For as long as they live, bodhisattvas, great beings, should not abandon x even at the cost of their lives.” This is repeated in six successive lines, first to introduce all four factors together, then for each one in turn, and finally to refer to all four by way of recapitulation. The sutra thus employs the rhetorical device of repetition that is such a common feature of Buddhist canonical literature. The text concludes with two stanzas, also spoken by the Buddha, that summarize the sūtra’s message and explain the benefit of maintaining the four factors. These verses present the factors in a slightly different sequence, with tolerance and lenience preceding the factor of the spiritual friend. They also exhort the wise bodhisattva to be as fearless as a lion, “the king of beasts,” while dwelling in the wilderness.[1]


The Tibetan translation of this sutra can be found in the General Sutra section of the Tibetan Dergé Kangyur, Toh 251



  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.

External Links