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A MahĀyĀna sūtra likely compiled in northern Indic or Central Asian regions between the first and third centuries c.e., the Suvarṇaprabhāsottama-sūtra (Sūtra of Golden Light) is rich and varied in content. The nineteen chapters of the Sanskrit version preserved in the Nepalese tradition include a confession ritual, several chapters that prescribe rituals surrounding the preaching or hearing of the sūtra, two chapters dealing with medicine, and three tales of the Buddha's past lives (jĀtaka), including a distinctive telling of the well-known "Tigress Story." Most of the sūtra's seemingly disparate parts share an emphasis upon the transformative power of the sūtra itself, represented as golden light that infuses its preachers and auditors. The role of the sūtra in protecting and sustaining the kingdom of the ruler who accords it appropriate respect is another dominant theme.

The transmission history of the text is particularly complex. The sūtra is partially or wholly extant in seven languages other than Sanskrit (Chinese, Tibetan, Khotanese, Sogdian, Tangut, Mongolian, and Old Uighur), in versions ranging from eighteen to thirty-one chapters in length. Both the Chinese and the Tibetan canons preserve several different versions of the sūtra. Many of the translations are based not on the Sanskrit sūtra but on Yijing's thirty-one chapter Chinese translation of the early eighth century. The Mongolian translations are based on the versions in the Tibetan canon. In both China and Japan the sūtra was a central text in imperial rituals and was the subject of several commentaries. In Tibet, the text was sometimes classified as a tantra rather than a sūtra.

See also:Sanskrit, Buddhist Literature in


Emmerick, R. E., trans. The Sūtra of Golden Light, Being a Translation of the Suvarṇaprabhāsottama-sūtra, 2nd edition. Oxford: Pāli Text Society, 1992.

Natalie D. Gummer