35 Buddhas of confession
Table of Contents
- 1 - 35 Buddha Confession Prayer
- 2 - What are the sutra of 3 Heaps?
- 3 - The 4 Powers
- 4 - Depicting Shakyamuni Buddha with 35 Buddha of Confession
- 5 - 5 unique iconographic Tsongkapa system
35 Buddha Confession Prayer
This confession prayer is very well known in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Among English-speaking Buddhist followers, it is commonly referred to as the “Thirty-five Buddhas Confession Prayer.” The Thirty-five Buddhas are special confession buddhas who, while bodhisattvas, made special vows to assist others to overcome their negativities. Its actual title is the Sutra of Three Heaps. This sutra can be divided into three different sections; these three sections are referred to as three heaps. The first heap is an homage by prostration to the Thirty-five Buddhas. The second heap is confession. The third is the heap of dedication. The four powers and the “Seven-Branch Prayer” are also included in the sutra.
What are the sutra of 3 Heaps?
This sutra is divided into three different sections, also called Three Heaps which are,
- The first heap is homage by prostration to the Thirty-five Buddhas.
- The second heap is Confession.
- The third is the heap of Dedication.
The four powers and the “Seven-Branch Prayer” are also included in the sutra.
First Heap: Homage by Prostration
Each of the Thirty-five Buddhas is imagined while prostrating. We then bow to them, either physically or mentally. “I and all sentient beings continually take refuge in the Guru,” begins the prayer.
The original sutra does not mention taking refuge in the guru. However, Tibetan gurus later adopted it as a tantric Buddhist influence. The guru is essential for contacting all of the Buddhas. Tantric masters, as a result, exercise this spiritual awareness.
We picture and chant the names of each Buddha while prostrating earnestly. The Thirty-five Buddhas, who are flanked by other Buddhas, are the major focus of the prayer.
Second Heap: Confession
Following that, the second phase of the confession prayer begins. We think and speak the prayers as we begin to pronounce these words of confession. We openly accept that these wrongdoings in your samsaric history are our mistakes.
These prayers assist us in expressing our inadequacy. We make a comprehensive confession by realizing and expressing them. We wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have these wonderful prayers, even though we understood a lot of things must have gone wrong in our history and wanted to do something about it.
The prayer enumerates all of our wrongdoings, whether we do them directly or indirectly through others.
We confess all the major deeds. They include the five deeds that ripen immediately to the ten unvirtuous deeds and all other deeds which may be obstacles to your spiritual progress. According to Bodhisattva doctrine, those who took Bodhisattva vows to need to recite the “Thirty-five Buddhas Confession Prayer” three times each day.
All of our bad deeds are caused by the three poisons.
In the sutra, Shariputra asks Buddha if Bodhisattvas could be damaged by the three poisons. In response, Lord Buddha tells him that they could have two major violations and one minor violation.
Desire is a minor emotion, yet it is more difficult to overcome. Hatred is a serious problem that can be readily remedied. Stupidity is a huge and tough problem to solve.
If a major desire violation happens, the offender must confess in front of ten Bodhisattvas.
- In the presence of five Bodhisattvas, minor transgressions should be acknowledged.
- In the presence of one or two Bodhisattvas, a minor transgression should be acknowledged.
A serious violation of all three poisons, such as the five sins that develop quickly, can be overcome by confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas and buddhas of the ten directions, according to Lord Buddha.
The third heap is the dedication heap. The dedication prayer begins with a request for all the magnificent Buddhas to be gracious.
The first element entails dedicating whatever conditional merit we have gained during our lives and throughout history. Generosity, morality, patience, rejoicing in the virtuous deeds of others, and so on are examples of virtuous deeds.
We dedicate the deeds associated with bodhisattva virtue: aspiration Bodhicitta, to liberate all sentient beings. Then engaging in the practice of the six perfections and practices of the Great Vehicle. The practice of unsurpassable wisdom is also dedicated, which is the result of meditation.
Dedication actually it is a very profound subject.
It is important to emulate all the enlightened buddhas of the past, present, and future and dedicate them.
This Thirty-five Buddha’s prayer is a perfect dedication prayer, and we must recite them with heartfelt sincerity.
The last part of the prayer is in verse form; it was added by Tibetan masters These lines of prayer are to reiterate your confession, and in addition to that there is a short seven-branch prayer.
The 4 Powers
The 4 powers help
Power of Reliance
For true purification, the important part is to make a confession with the four purifying powers. The buddhas are the sources of purification, and we must completely believe in them and take refuge in them to develop Bodhichitta. By performing this, we have a correct power of reliance.
Power of Remorse
The second is the power of remorse. This power is for overcoming negativities. Because without remorse there is no sincerity to overcome the wrongdoings.
Those lacking a proper understanding of the entire situation of Samsara feel, they haven’t done anything wrong. Others of us reject the idea of being a sinner. Actually, the Buddhist understanding is that there’s nothing wrong with us fundamentally. We have a perfect nature.
Confusion and illusion cause us lots of unpleasant pain and suffering. Jamgon Kongtrul the Great writes that just like the person who swallows poison and deeply regrets his mistake and desperately tries to get rid of it, similarly, we should feel great remorse for our wrongdoings. That’s what the power of remorse is all about.
Power of Remedy
The third is the power of remedy. Many different remedies for overcoming our negativities exit in tantric Buddhism. The general remedy is Vajrasattva practice and recitation of the One-Hundred-Syllable Mantra. Another method is Niguma’s purification with the letter AH, which is extraordinary and powerful practice. In this case, the “Thirty-five Buddhas Confession Prayer” is a remedy, and Nyungne practice as a whole is a very powerful purification practice.
Power of Commitment
The fourth is the power of the commitment to never engage in wrongdoing again. This power of commitment is necessary because without such commitment you will engage in negativities again. The main reason for not being able to overcome negativities is a lack of seriousness and sincerity; the commitment must be a really powerful one from the bottom of the heart, otherwise, all the other powers will be lacking as well. It has been said that you must make a vow that you will not commit wrongdoings again even at the cost of your own life. If you make such a commitment, then you can absolutely overcome any wrongdoing.
If you apply these four powers correctly, and you say the “Thirty-five Buddhas Confession Prayer” properly and do Nyungne practice sincerely, you can absolutely overcome all the karma and become completely free and liberated beings like the buddhas of the past, present, and future.
Depicting Shakyamuni Buddha with 35 Buddha of Confession
The thangka of Sakyamuni Buddha is from Tibet. The thangka is made between 1600 – 1699 AD. Sakyamuni Buddha is from Karma (Kagyu) and Buddhist lineage. The base of the painting is Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton. The thangka of Sakyamuni buddha is from a private collection.
Sakyamuni Buddha is together with the two principal students, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana standing at the sides, while surrounded by the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas.
Shakyamuni Buddha is known as Sha kya Tu pa, sang Gye in Tibet. Sakyamuni Buddha is also known as the Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan in English. together with the two principal students, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana standing at the sides, while surrounded by the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas.
The date of the painting based on stylistic elements is approximately 17th to early 18th century – not later than 1732 for reasons which will be discussed below.
Ritual and arts of the Tibetans
The Thirty-five Confession Buddhas are arranged to the sides and below on the right and left descending halfway down the composition.
The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center has approximately sixty texts associated with the practice of the Confession Buddhas.
Shariputra and Maudgalyayana
Shariputra is on the viewer’s left of the large central Shakyamuni Buddha in the thangka. Shariputra is in a standing position. Maudgalyayana is on the right side of the Sakyamuni Buddha in the thangka.
Immeasurable light – Amitabha Buddha
Amitayus Buddha is at the top center of the thangka. Although having a different name Amitayus is in fact a form of Amitabha Buddha. Amitabha translates into English as ‘immeasurable light’ while Amitayus means ‘immeasurable life’. The placement of Amitayus at the top center is a decision of the artist or donor.
Neither Amitayus nor Amitabha are found in any list of the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas. Amitayus is included at the top of the composition for auspiciousness but could have been substituted with the figures of Vajradhara Buddha or possibly Vajrasattva.
The painting is associated with the Karma Kagyu (Khamtsang) Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism as is evidenced by the inclusion of two Tibetan teachers wearing the unique black and red caps of the Karma Kagyu school.
The two are located slightly below and behind the Two Principle Students of the Buddha. The black hat Karmapa is on the viewer’s left and the red hat teacher on the viewer’s right.
5 unique iconographic Tsongkapa system
There are five unique iconographic characteristics in the Tsongkapa system. These characteristics can be seen with the four Buddhas that hold the hand attributes:
- Victory Banner (middle right)
- shirt of armor (top right)
- sword (top left)
- Mount Meru in the lap (2nd row, top right)
- Nageshvara Raja Buddha (2nd row, top center)
This form of Nageshvara Raja follows the descriptions from the texts of Jowo Atisha describing the meditational deity Nageshvara Raja. The remaining thirty of the Thirty-five Buddhas display only hand gestures without any physical attributes.