The Chapter on the Scale of Life

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This sutra, The Chapter on the Scale of Life (Tib. ཚེའི་ཚད་ཀྱི་ མདོ།, Wyl. tshe’i tshad kyi mdo) is chapter 37 (Tib. ལེའུ་སུམ་ཅུ་བདུན་པ།, Wyl. le’u sum cu dun pa) of the Extensive Sutra The Ornaments of the Buddhas which has 45 chapters. This chapter continues the Ornaments of the Buddhas’ series of dialogues, which occur not long after the Buddha Shakyamuni’s awakening in Magadha. In this chapter a bodhisattva named King of Mind offers a discourse on the relativity of time between buddha fields. In the preceding chapter, he had expounded on the incalculable numbers of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the worlds in which they appear. In this chapter, he focuses more particularly on the theme of time. The chapter’s title, The Scale of Life, makes it clear that the central theme of the varying spans of time found across different buddhafields has a direct bearing on the immense lifespans of the buddhas who live in them, preside over them, and are also responsible for their manifestation, as well as the lifespans of the bodhisattvas and other beings who inhabit them. Eleven buddhafields are enumerated in a formulaic manner, with an eon in the first being equivalent to a day in the following buddhafield, where an eon is, in turn, the equivalent of a day in the next, and so forth. In this way, a hierarchy of buddhafields is presented that begins with our world and culminates with the paramount buddhafield, Padmashri. This language of incredibly vast scales of time has the effect of testing the limits of human conception, thereby demonstrating that the qualities of the buddhas and their buddhafields are beyond quantification or conceptualization.

The Chapter on the Scale of Life is nearly identical to two other sutras, Expounding the Qualities of the Thus-Gone Ones’ Buddhafields (Toh 104) and The Sutra of King of the Inconceivable (Toh 268). Of the three versions, The Chapter on the Scale of Life is the most abbreviated because it lacks the narrative elements that frame the discourse in the other two sutras. Whereas Toh 104 and 268 are stand-alone sutras that need to be established in the historical narrative of the Buddha’s teaching career, The Chapter on the Scale of Life is part of the more extensive discourse presented in the Ornaments of the Buddhas collection, and thus is integrated into its narrative frame.[1]


The Tibetan translation of this text can be found in the Ornament of the Buddhas section of the Tibetan Dergé Kangyur, Toh 44.

  • English translation:

The Chapter on the Scale of Life


  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.

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