Lankavatara: Existence and nonexistence

Sagathakam, “One with Verses”

The Sagathakam is a collection of 884 sayings of the Buddha in verse, which predate the writing of the Lankavatara Sutra. The Lanka, therefore, appears to be a presentation and elucidation of these sayings in the form of a discourse, with each section followed by the relevant verses.

D. T. Suzuki (1932) writes:

There are many verses in the Sagathakam which are too obscure to be intelligently interpreted without their corresponding prose passages. The verses are generally meant for memorising the principal doctrines, and they give sometimes no sense when they are separately considered, for some watch-words only are rhythmically arranged to facilitate memorization.

In the Sanskrit text, the Sagathakam begins with this stanza:

“Listen to the wonderful Mahayana doctrine
Declared in this Lankavatara Sutra
Composed in verse-gems
And destroying the net of the philosophical views”


* * *

251. The world is born of causation; when it is regarded as removed from discrimination and as resembling Maya, a dream, one is emancipated. (p. 298)

547. Things born of causation are non-existent: this is the realm of the wise; a thing imagined has no reality. (p. 333)

343. The Yogin should regard the world as removed from birth and death, as not alternating between being and non-being, though it is seen in the aspect of conditioned and conditioning. (p. 309)

344. When birth [and death] is not discriminated, the Yogin will soon attain samadhi, the powers, the psychic faculties, and self-mastery.

345. The Yogin should not hold the belief that the world exists by such causes as atoms, time or a supreme being, nor that it is born of causes and conditions.

346. From self-discrimination the world is imagined, arising from different types of habit-energy (vasana); let the Yogin always perceive existence as being like Maya and a dream.

347. Insight is always removed from assertions and negations. Let there be no discrimination of the triple world which appears as body, possessions and abode.

348. Not thinking about how to obtain food and drink but holding his body upright, let him pay homage over and over again to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

349. Gathering truth from the Vinaya, from the teachings in the sutras, let the Yogin have a clear insight into the five dharmas,2 the mind, and egolessness.

350. The Yogin should have an understanding of the undefiled truth of self-realisation and as to what the stages [leading up to] the Buddha-stage are, and be anointed on the great lotus [seat].

351. Wandering through all the paths [of existence] he becomes averse to existence, and directing his steps toward some quiet cemetery he will begin various practices.

357. The philosophers do not abandon their attachment to existence out of fear of annihilation, and they try to teach the Middle Path by means of assertion and negation.

358. When Mind-only (Cittamatra) is understood, external things are let go of and discrimination no longer takes place: here the Middle Path is achieved.

359. There is Mind-only, there is no world seen; as there is no world seen, it is not risen.1 This is what is taught by myself and others to be the Middle Path.

1 After T’ang. Wei has: “Apart from Mind there is no rising.” No rising of a visible world?

360. Birth and no-birth, being and non-being—these are all empty. All things are without a self-nature; duality is not to be held on to.

361. Where there is no possibility of discrimination rising [i.e. while practicing nirodha],3 the ignorant imagine there is emancipation; but not understanding the rising of a mind, how can they destroy their attachment to duality!

362. When it is understood that there is nothing but what is seen of Mind, the
attachment to duality is destroyed. Knowledge, indeed, is the letting go of the discriminated, not its annihilation [in nirodha].

363. As it becomes thoroughly known that there is nothing but what is seen of Mind, discrimination ceases; as discrimination ceases, essence is freed from the mind (citta).

364. If a man, seeing the rising [of all things] and nevertheless perceives Nirvana, he sees it not as the philosophers hold it to be but as the sage holds it to be, which is not annihilation.

365. This realisation is said by myself and the Buddhas to be Buddhahood. If there is any other discrimination, one is following the philosophers’ views.

366. Nothing is born, yet things are being born; nothing dies and yet things are passing away. Across millions of worlds what is seen simultaneously is like the reflection of the moon in water.

367. Unity being transformed into multiplicity, rain falls and fire burns. As one mind becomes [many] thoughts, Buddhas take on many forms to teach that there is Mind-only.

368. The mind is Mind-only; no-mind is also Mind-only. When this is understood, all varieties of forms and appearances are [seen to be] of Mind-only.

369. By assuming the forms of Buddhas, Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas and varieties of other forms, they teach [the doctrine of] Mind-only.

370. For the sake of beings they show their forms, from the formless realm and form realm down to the hells where the hell-dwellers are; all of this originates from Mind-only.

371. When they experience the turning-about they will attain the samadhi called Maya-like (samadhi mayopama), the will-body (manomakaya), the ten stages, and self-mastery.

372. On account of self-discrimination, which causes delusion and sets false imagination (parikalpita) in motion, the ignorant are bound up by delusion in everything they see, hear, think, or understand.


2. Nirodha is the practice of blocking out thoughts and sensations. With the mind made an utter blank there is no possibility of discrimination, and the yogin imagines that this is emancipation. However the moment he stops meditating in this manner the mind is again beset by feelings (vedana) and the perception of differences (samjna). Therefore, emancipation is not attained by pushing away thoughts and feelings but by observing or investigating them with an understanding of the true nature of reality.  (Parinishpanna-svabhava).

3. The five dharmas are name (nama), appearances or characteristics (nimitta), discrimination (vikalpa), Right Knowledge (samyagjnana), and Suchness (tathata). Those who are desirous of attaining to the spirituality of the Tathagata are urged to know what these five categories are; ordinary minds do not have this knowledge, and not having this knowledge they judge erroneously and become attached to appearances. (Suzuki, Studies, p. 156)


Suzuki, D. T. (1998). Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. (originally published in 1929)

Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The-Lankavatara-Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit. (

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