The Sanghāta is one of a special set of Buddhist sutras called dharma-paryāyas, or ‘transformative teachings,’ that function to transform those who hear or recite them in particular ways. One very powerful benefit is that at the time of death, any person who has recited the Sanghāta will have visions of Buddhas who come to comfort them during the death process. A further benefit is that wherever the Sanghāta Sūtra is established, the Buddhas are always present, as explained in the text itself. As such, the recitation can bestow a powerful blessing on the place where it is recited.
In general, the recitation of Mahāyāna sutras is one of the six virtuous practices specifically recommended for purification, and the recitation of this sutra in particular has far-reaching karmic consequences that last for many lifetimes, as the Sanghāta Sūtra itself explains in detail. Within the sutra, the Buddha provides numerous descriptions of the ways in which the sutra works on those who recite it to clear away their seeds of suffering, and to assure their future happiness all the way up enlightenment. The sutra also includes some forceful teachings on death and impermanence, including a teaching on the physical and mental processes that occur at the time of death.
For many centuries, the Sanghāta Sūtra was among the most widely read and copied of all Mahāyāna sutras. In the 1930s, an archeological excavation conducted in northern Pakistan under British colonial rule, unearthed a library of Buddhist texts. This archeological dig was extremely important for historians, in that it yielded a large cache of manuscripts written in the fifth century CE, a much earlier period than other Buddhist texts from anywhere in India itself. Among these many important manuscripts, the text of which we find the largest number of copies was the Sanghāta Sūtra, more even than the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Cutter Sutra or the Perfection of Wisdom sutras that nowadays are far more familiar to us. However, among all these texts, there were more copies of the Sanghāta Sūtra than any of these other better known texts. For many centuries the Sanghāta Sūtra seems to have fallen out of active use. There are no known surviving commentaries to this precious text in any language.
As the word of the Buddha, the Sanghāta was preserved in the canonical collections of the Chinese Tripitaka and Tibetan Kagyur, as well as in Sanskrit manuscripts. However, it seems that people had stopped reading the sutra, for many centuries, until recent times, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche encountered the Sanghāta Sūtra while staying at Geshe Sopa Rinpoche’s monastery in Madison,Wisconsin in 2002. At that time, Lama Zopa Rinpoche began to copy the sutra by hand in gold to place inside the 500-foot Maitreya statue in India. Rinpoche has asked his students to recite the text on numerous occasions. On the anniversary of September 11, Rinpoche requested that all his students worldwide recite the sutra as many times as possible in order to prevent further attacks. To read more about how the Sanghāta Sūtra was re-introduced to the world, click here.While reciting and reading such a powerfully transformative sutra, taught by Buddha Shakyamuni in order to make the path to enlightenment as easy as possible, we can feel very palpably the Buddha’s overwhelming kindness for us. By maintaining the sutra—through recitation, copying or just through seeking to understand its meaning—we in turn are caring for others, by helping to keep alive the teachings Buddha left for the benefit of all.