Sutra of the Three Heaps

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Sutra of the Three Heaps (Skt. Trīskhandhadharmasūtra; Tib. ཕུང་པོ་གསུམ་པའི་མདོ་, pungpo sumpé do, Wyl. phung po gsum pa'i mdo), also known as the The Bodhisattva’s Confession of Downfalls (Wyl. byang chub sems dpa'i ltung ba bshags pa) or simply Confession of Downfalls (Tung Shak, Wyl. ltung bshags) — an excerpt from Ascertaining the Discipline: the Sutra of Upali's Questions (Toh 68 Vinayaviniścayopāli­paripṛcchāsūtra; Wyl. 'dul ba rnam par gtan la dbab pa nye bar 'khor gyis zhus pa'i mdo). The relevant section is cited in Shantideva’s Compendium of Training (Toh 3940, Śikṣāsamuccaya; Wyl. bslab pa kun btus) as a method of purifying transgressions of vows and downfalls of the bodhisattva vow by invoking thirty-five buddhas of confession. The section in later commentarial literature was referred to as the Sutra of the Three Heaps, because of the three heaps or factors that reinforce the confession. These are:

  1. homage,
  2. confession, and
  3. rejoicing or dedication.

Alternatively, according to a commentary (Skt. Bodhipattidesanavrtti; Tib. བྱང་ཆུབ་ལྟུང་བ་བཤགས་པའི་འགྲེལ་པ་, Wyl. byang chub ltung ba bshags pa'i 'grel pa) by Nagarjuna, the three heaps are:

  1. "All wrongs individually I confess" is the heap of confessing wrongs.
  2. Rejoicing in the merits of both ordinary beings, who are impure, and Superior Beings or Aryas, who are pure, making them the object of your rejoicing is the heap of joy.
  3. Beseeching the Fully Awakened Beings not to (die and) pass into the state Beyond Sorrow, and requesting them to continually turn the wheel of the doctrine is the heap of making request.

Through these Three Heaps you accumulate immeasurable amounts of merit.[1]

Origin of the Sutra

A group of thirty-five monks who had taken the bodhisattva vow and had accidentally caused the death of a child while they were out begging for alms went to Upali, one of the closest disciples of the Buddha, and asked him to request from the Buddha a method of confessing and purifying what they had done. The Buddha then spoke this sutra, and as he did so, light radiated from his body and thirty-four other buddhas appeared in the space all around him. The thirty-five monks prostrated before these buddhas, made offerings, confessed their misdeed, took refuge and re-awakened bodhichitta.

Translations

  • (in French, Le Voeu de bodhisattva, Claire Lumière, Mas Vinsargues, 1996)
  • Ngawang Dhargye, The Confession of Downfalls, translated by Brian Beresford, LTWA
  • Padmakara Translation Group, The Sutra in Three Parts, 2004

References

  1. Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, The Confession Sutra with commentary by Arya Nagarjuna