The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death


The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death

Translated from the Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos


In the Indian Language: ārya-āt-jñāna-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
In the Tibetan Language: ‘phags-pa ‘da’-ka ye-shes kyi mdo
In the English Language: The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death


Thus have I heard at one time: The Bhagavān was abiding in the palace of the king of the gods in Akaniṣṭa (‘Above All’), and teaching the Dharma to all the assemblies, when the Bodhisattva Mahāsattva Ākāśagarbha (‘Essence of Space’) prostrated to the Bhagavān, and then asked in the following words: “Bhagavān, when Bodhisattvas are near the point of death, how should they observe the mind?”

The Bhagavān gave teaching: “Ākāśagarbha, when Bodhisattvas are at the time of death, they should cultivate deep wisdom at the moment of death. Here, the deep wisdom at the moment of death is as follows:

“Because all phenomena are by nature utterly pure, the conception of Non-Substantiality should be cultivated intensively. Because all phenomena are subsumed within Awakened Mind (bodhicitta), the conception of Great Compassion should be cultivated intensively. Because all phenomena are by nature luminous, the conception of Non-Referentiality should be cultivated intensively. Because all entities are impermanent, the conception of Non-Attachment toward anything at all should be cultivated intensively. Because there is deep wisdom when the mind is realized, the conception of not seeking the Buddha elsewhere should be cultivated intensively.”

The Bhagavān gave teaching in these verses:

As all things are naturally pure in full,
Cultivate the notion of Non-Substantiality.
As they are thoroughly imbued with Awakened Mind,
Cultivate the notion of Great Compassion.
As everything is naturally luminous,
Cultivate the notion of Non-Referentiality.
As all entities are impermanent,
Cultivate the notion of Non-Attachment.
Mind is the cause for the arising of deep wisdom:
Do not seek the Buddha elsewhere.

The Bhagavān gave teaching with those words, and all those in the assembled retinues, such as Bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha, rejoiced with powerful joy and delight, and openly praised what had been spoken by the Bhagavān.


Translated from Tibetan by Erick Tsiknopoulos, May 2016.


This version of The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death is found in mdo tshan lam sgrig, a collection of Sūtras in Tibetan compiled by Geshe Thupten Palsang (dge-bshes thub- bstan dpal-bzang) and published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death is said to be a condensation of the teachings presented in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the Buddha’s final teaching before his death.

For further commentary on The Sūtra on Deep Wisdom at the Moment of Death, download a free PDF of commentaries by Śāntideva and Prajñāsamudra translated by Lhasey Lotsawa Translations and Publications here. To quote the website (with some added punctuation):

“The Noble Wisdom of the Time of Death Sūtra is a Mahāyāna sūtra that was taught by Buddha Śākyamuni. Belonging to the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, it presents the final and definitive teachings. Though this Sūtra is very short, it contains pithy and direct instructions on the view and meditation of the Mahāyāna. A condensation of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, it is one of the ten profound Sūtras that are said to expound the definitive and ultimate intent of Buddha’s doctrine.”

Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva (‘Essence of Space’): A bodhisattva who is associated with the great element (mahābhūta) of space (ākāśa), has the perfect ability to purify transgressions, and is the personification of the Buddha’s blessings. His name can also be translated as “Sky/Space Treasury”, as his wisdom is said to be boundless as space itself. He is sometimes known as the twin brother of ‘Earth Store’ Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha, and is even briefly mentioned in the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra. Two Mahayana sutras are known to survive in which Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva is a central figure: the Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva Sūtra and the Ākāśagarbha Bodhisattva Dhāraṇī Sūtra. Additionally, he appears briefly in the final chapter of the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra, requesting the Buddha to preach on the benefits of praising that Sūtra and of Kṣitigarbha.[3] He is counted among the Eight Great Bodhisattvas: Mañjushri, འཇམ་དཔལ་ or འཇམ་དཔལ་དབྱངས་, Avalokiteshvara, སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་Vajrapani, ཕྱག་ན་རྡོ་རྗེ་Maitreya, བྱམས་པ་མགོན་པོ་Kshitigarbha, ས་ཡི་སྙིང་པོ་ or སའི་སྙིང་པོ་Akashagarbha, ནམ་མཁའི་སྙིང་པོ་Sarvanivaranavishkambhin, སྒྲིབ་པ་རྣམ་སེལ་, and Samantabhadra, ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ་.

(Sources: Wikipedia and Rigpa Wiki)

Akaniṣṭha (‘Above All’): This is defined in the Rigpa Wiki entry found at (with some added punctuation and diacritics), as follows:

Akanishtha (Skt. Akaniṣṭha; Tib. འོག་མིན་, Ökmin; Wyl. ‘og min) —The word “Akaniṣṭha” means ‘not below’, or ‘above all’. It refers to the Pure Abodes whose characteristic is, according to the Omniscient Longchenpa (kun mkhyen klong chen pa), that there is nothing above them, and there are no features from elsewhere that surpass them.[1] So, the name ‘Akaniṣṭha’ is used throughout the teachings to refer to different abodes, which all share the common characteristic of being the highest, in relation to specific criteria. The great Indian master Buddhaguhya distinguishes six different ways of using the name Akaniṣṭha. Longchenpa speaks of three types of Akaniṣṭha in relation to the Three Kāyas… The highest heaven of the form realm. According to Mahāyāna, Buddhas first reach full enlightenment in Akaniṣṭha, and then manifest enlightenment through a Nirmāṇakāya body in the human realm… Akaniṣṭha (Tib. འོག་མིན་སྟུག་པོ་བཀོད་པའི་ཞིང་ཁམས་, Wyl. ‘og min stug po bkod pa’i zhing khams) or Ökmin Ch’enpo (Tib. འོག་མིན་ཆེན་པོ་, Wyl. ‘og min chen po), in Vajrayāna, also refers to the pure Sambhogakāya field from which emanate all pure Nirmāṇakāya fields. In the Three Kāyas Maṇḍala offering of the Longch’en Nyingt’ik Ngöndro, Akaniṣṭha is also referred to as ‘the highest heaven of great bliss, the realm of Ghanavyūha’ (Tib. སྟུག་པོ་བཀོད་པ་, Wyl. stug po bkod pa)… Akaniṣṭha is also the name of Vairocana’s Buddha Field (sangs rgyas kyi zhing).

Non-Substantiality (dngos-po med-pa): the state of lacking real substance or true existence.

Non-Referentiality (dmigs-pa med-pa): the state of lacking fixed reference points or mentally apprehended conceptual focus.