Lalitavistara Sutra

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The Lalitavistara Sutra (Skt. Lalitavistarasūtra; Tib. རྒྱ་ཆེར་རོལ་པ་, gyacher rolpa, Wyl. rgya cher rol pa; Eng. The Play in Full) tells the story of how Buddha manifested in this world and attained enlightenment as perceived from the perspective of the Mahayana.

The sutra, which is structured in twenty-seven chapters, first presents the events surrounding the Buddha's birth, childhood, and adolescence in the royal palace of his father, king of the Sakya nation. It then recounts his escape from the palace and the years of hardship he faced in his quest for spiritual awakening. Finally the sutra reveals his complete victory over the demon Mara, his attainment of awakening under the Bodhi tree, his first turning of the wheel of Dharma, and the formation of the very early Sangha.[1]

Sanskrit Text

The Dharmachakra Translation Committee writes:[2]

This scripture is an obvious compilation of various early sources, which have been strung together and elaborated on according to the Mahāyāna worldview. As such this text is a fascinating example of the ways in which the Mahāyāna rests firmly on the earlier tradition, yet reinterprets the very foundations of Buddhism in a way that fit its own vast perspective. The fact that the text is a compilation is initially evident from the mixture of prose and verse that, in some cases, contains strata from the very earliest Buddhist teachings and, in other cases, presents later Buddhist themes that do not emerge until the first centuries of the common era. Previous scholarship on The Play in Full (mostly published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) devoted much time to determining the text’s potential sources and their respective time periods, although without much success. [...] Although this topic clearly deserves further study, it is interesting to note that hardly any new research on this sūtra has been published during the last sixty years. As such the only thing we can currently say concerning the sources and origin of The Play in Full is that it was based on several early and, for the most part, unidentified sources that belong to the very early days of the Buddhist tradition.
  • In 1874, Salomon Lefmann published a Sanskrit edition of the text


Early Translations

English Translations

French Translations

  • Rgya Tch'er Rol Pa, ou Développement des Jeux, contenant l'histoire du Bouddha Çakya-Mouni, traduit sur la version tibétaine du Bkah Hgyour, et revu sur l'original sancrit (Lalitavistâra), translated by Philippe-Édouard Foucaux from the Tibetan text. (1847)
  • Lalitâvistara. Vie et doctrine du Bouddha tibétain, translated by Jean-Pierre Pauthier and Pierre-Gustave Brunet from Tibetan (1866)
    • Re-edited: Lalitâvistara. Vie et doctrine du Bouddha tibétain, présentation et notes de Guy Rachet (Paris: Sand, 1996)
  • Le Litara Vistara. Développement des jeux : contenant l'histoire du Bouddha Çakya-Mouni depuis sa naissance jusqu'à sa prédication, translated by Philippe-Édouard Foucaux from the Sanskrit text (1884).
    • Re-edited: Le Lalitavistara : l'histoire traditionnelle de la vie de bouddha Cakyamuni (Paris: Deux Océans, 1992)

German Translation

  • Lalitavistara: Erzählung von dem Leben und der Lehre des Çâkya Simha, translated by Salomon Lefmann from a Sanskrit text in 1874 (Berlin: Dümmler, 187, 1-46). Partial translation of the first five chapters. Available here

Common Quotations

ཟབ་ཞི་སྤྲོས་བྲལ་འོད་གསལ་འདུས་མ་བྱས། །

བདུད་རྩི་ལྟ་བུའི་ཆོས་ཤིག་བདག་གིས་བརྙེས། །
སུ་ལ་བསྟན་ཀྱང་གོ་བར་མི་འགྱུར་བས། །

མི་སྨྲ་ནགས་འདབ་ཉིད་དུ་གནས་པར་བྱ། །

Profound and peaceful, free from complexity, uncompounded luminosity—
I have found a nectar-like Dharma.
Yet if I were to teach it, no-one would understand,
So I shall remain silent here in the forest.

Buddha Shakyamuni, Lalitavistara Sutra, 25.3

སྲིད་གསུམ་མི་རྟག་སྟོན་ཀའི་སྤྲིན་དང་འདྲ། །

འགྲོ་བའི་སྐྱེ་འཆི་གར་ལ་བལྟ་དང་མཚུངས། །
སྐྱེས་བུའི་ཚེ་འགྲོ་ནམ་མཁའི་གློག་འདྲ་སྟེ། །

རི་གཟར་འབབ་ཆུ་བཞིན་དུ་མྱུར་མགྱོགས་འགྲོ །

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movement of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.

Lalitavistara Sutra, 13.79

སྲེད་སྲིད་མ་རིག་དབང་གིས་སྐྱེ་བོ་རྣམས། །

མི་དང་ལྷ་དང་ངན་སོང་རྣམ་གསུམ་པོ། །
འགྲོ་བ་ལྔ་པོ་དག་ཏུ་མི་མཁས་འཁོར། །

དཔེར་ན་རྫ་མཁན་འཁོར་ལོ་འཁོར་བ་བཞིན། །

Because of craving, attachment and ignorance
Men, gods, animals, hungry ghosts and hell-beings
Foolishly go round,
Like the turning of a potter’s wheel.

Lalitavistara Sutra, 13.80

ང་ཡི་ཆོས་ཚུལ་རྣམ་གཉིས་ཏེ། །

བསྟན་པ་དང་ནི་གྲུབ་མཐའ་འོ། །
བྱིས་པ་རྣམས་ལ་བསྟན་པ་བཤད། །

རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་ལ་གྲུབ་མཐའ་འོ། །

My Dharma has two aspects,
General advice and philosophy,
To ordinary people I give advice,
And to the yogis, philosophy.

Śākyamuni, Lalitavistara Sūtra

མིང་དུ་གདགས་པར་མ་མཛད་ན། །

འཇིག་རྟེན་ཐམས་ཅད་རྨོངས་པར་གྱུར། །
དེ་བས་མགོན་པོ་ཐབས་མཁས་པས། །

ཆོས་རྣམས་མིང་དུ་གདགས་པར་མཛད། །

If things were not given names,
The world would be bewildered.
So Lord Buddha, skilled in means,
Gives names to various phenomena.

Śākyamuni, Lalitavistara Sūtra


  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha
  2. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha, Introduction i.­17

External Links