The Sun Sūtra

 

In the Indian Language [Sanskrit]: Surya Sūtra (sūrya-sūtra)

In the Tibetan Language: Nyimay Do (nyi ma’i mdo)

In the English Language: The Sun Sūtra (The Sūtra of the Sun) 

 

HOMAGE TO THE NOBLE THREE JEWELS.

Thus have I heard: At one time, the Bhagavān was near Śrāvastī, in the benefactor Anāthapiṇḍada’s relaxation garden in Jetavana Grove. At that time, the divine son Sūrya [Sun’, i.e. the sun itself] was captured by a king of demigods, Rāhula.

Thereupon, the divine boy Sūrya contemplated the recollection of the Bhagavān [the Buddha]. At that time, he spoke the following verses:

I bow to the Buddha, the Hero,
Please free us all quickly.
As I call out to you from this mouth of mine,
I go for refuge in you!

Then the Bhagavān, for the sake of the young god Sūrya, bestowed the following transcendent words of verse to the king of demigods, Rāhula:

As the Buddha has love for the world,
Since Sūrya has gone for refuge
In the Arhat, the Tathāgata,
Rāhula [i] shall now behold the Sun.

Whatever darkness there is, through illumination it shall be dispelled.
The brilliant radiance of the fierce illuminator, the disc-like Moon,
And the Sun in the sky: Rāhula cannot obscure them.
As for this Sun, Rāhula, behold it!

Thereupon, the king of demigods Rāhula released the young god Sūrya; and returning to his previous form, he went before the king of demigods Splendid Threads. Having gone there, as his mind was unhappy and saddened, his hairs stood on end; and he stayed to one side. As he stood to one side, the king of demigods Splendid Threads spoke the following verses to the king of demigods Rāhula:

Why is it that your mind has become upset?
Rāhula has seen the Sun,
And now your body’s appearance is absolutely horrendous;
Why is it that, out of fear, you have come here?

Rāhula spoke thus:

Because I heard the Buddha’s verses,
I was not able to steal the Sun,
And so my head split into seven pieces:
In my life, I have no happiness!

THE SUN SŪTRA IS COMPLETE.

In the presence of the Mahāpaṇḍita Ānandaśrī, the translator of much learning, the Śākyan monk Nyima Gyëlts’en Pël Zangpo [Excellent Glorious Victory Banner of the Sun] translated, edited, and proofread this at the dwelling place of the bilingual ones, the great temple Pël T’arpa Ling. On this earth, may it become like the sun and the moon!

 

Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos. 

This translation was first drafted in 2010 in Sidhpur, India (near Dharamsala), and was later revised during September 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand; and again edited and updated in late August 2017 in Bucharest, Romania. 

[i] Rāhula (Sanskrit: ‘hindrance’) is a term for many things: an ancient Indian astronomical and astrological conception, a planet, a demon, a Tantric meditational deity, and the phenomenon of eclipses; it is also the name of the Buddha’s son. Rāhula is generally associated with destructive or wrathful astro-geological activities and phenomena, and their related psychological correlates. Rāhula trying to steal the sun in this Sūtra is probably a metaphor for an eclipse on the microcosmic level, and more broadly the obscuring process of ignorance ‘eclipsing’ wisdom on the macrocosmic level. Sūrya, the Sun, takes refuge in the Buddha, and in so doing, the Buddha helps him to unveil his true power, thereby dispelling the malevolent ecliptic celestial force of Rāhula. This Sūtra is rather cryptic, and perhaps can be seen as primarily a cultural fable relating natural phenomena with the spiritual journey and its process. The main message seems to be that faith in the Buddha (that is, Awakening itself) is the primary cause for dispersing obstacles (or hindrances, Rāhula), both physical and spiritual.

From the Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names, by G.P. Malalasekera:

Rāhu:

An Asura chieftain (Asurinda) (cp. Mtu.iii.138, 254). The Saṃyuttanikāya (S.i.49 f) says that on one occasion when he seized Candimā (Moon god), and on another Suriya (Sun god), both these invoked the aid of the Buddha. The Buddha then instructed Rāhu to let them free. Rāhu immediately let them go and ran to Vepacitti, “trembling and with stiffened hair.” This incident evidently refers to the Indian myth of the eclipses, and the legend has been annexed by the Buddhists to illustrate the Buddha’s power and pity.

Elsewhere (A.ii.17) Rāhu is spoken of as the chief of those possessing personality (attabhāva). The Commentaries (e.g., AA.ii.474; DA.ii.487 f; MA.ii.790; SA.i.86, contains more details and differs slightly) explain that he is four thousand eight hundred leagues in height, and that the breadth of his chest is one thousand two hundred leagues. His hands and feet are two hundred leagues long, each finger joint measuring fifty leagues, the space between the eyebrows also measuring fifty leagues. His forehead is fifty leagues broad, and his head nine hundred leagues in height. His face measures one hundred leagues, his nose three hundred, and the depth of his mouth one hundred. He is jealous of the gods of the Sun and the Moon, and stands in their paths with wide-open mouth. When they fall into his mouth, the gods abandon their abodes and flee for their lives. Sometimes he caresses their abodes with his hand only, or with the lower part of his jaw, or with his tongue. Sometimes he takes them up and places them against his cheek; but he cannot stop the course of either the Sun or the Moon; if he attempts to do so, he will meet with disaster. So he journeys along with them.

The seizure of the Moon by Rāhu and the escape from him is often used as a simile (e.g., SN. vs. 465; J.i.183, 274; iii.364, 377; iv.330; v.453; DhA.iv.19, etc.). Rāhu is one of the four “stains” (upakkilesā) of the Sun and the Moon, preventing them from shining in all their glory (A.ii.53; Vin.ii.295; cp. J.iii.365). He is further mentioned as one of the five causes of lack of rain (vassassa antarāya). When he gathers water into his hands and spills it into the ocean, there is no rain (A.iii.243). The idea seems to be that he gathers up the rain water that is in the sky in order to cool his body.

To bring Rāhu down from the sky is mentioned as one of the impossible tasks (J.iii.477).

It is said (DA.i.285; MA.ii.790 f ) that for a long time Rāhu did not visit the Buddha, he thought that being so tall he would fail to see the Buddha. One day, however, he decided to go, and the Buddha, aware of his intention, lay on a bed when he arrived, and, by his psychic power, contrived to make himself so tall that Rāhu had to crane his neck to see his face. Rāhu, thereupon, confessed his folly and accepted the Buddha as his teacher.

Rāhu is mentioned (D.ii.259) as being among the Asurā who were present at the Mahāsamaya and as blessing that assembly. In this context he is called Rāhubhadda. When Rāhu steps into the ocean, the water of the deepest part reaches only to his knees (DA.ii.488). Rāhu is also called Veroca, and Bāli’s hundred sons were called after him, he being their uncle (DA.ii.689). The name Rāhumukha is given to a form of torture (e.g., M.i.87; iii.164; Nid.154; Mil.197, 358), in which the victim’s mouth is forced open by a stake and fire or spikes are sent through the orifice of the ear into the mouth, which becomes filled with blood (AA.i.293).

Note: This text is extremely similar to a Pali sutta called the Suriya Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 2.10), and is probably a Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit version of the same. For English translations of the Pali sutta (which is actually one of three texts with the name Suriya Sutta), see the following links: 

Translation by Piyadassi Thera

Translation by Bhikkhuni Uppalavanna

 

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One thought on “The Sun Sūtra

  1. This is certainly the same text with the Pali Suriya Paritta which is often recited in Sri Lanka and included in the Pirit Potha (Book of Protection). A similar situation also occured in the counterpart sutra (Canda Paritta) where Candra was chased by Rahu the asura.

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