Subhūti (Pali: सुभूति; Chinese: 须菩提; pinyin: Xūpútí) was one of the Ten Great Śrāvakas of Śākyamuni Buddha, and foremost in the understanding of emptiness. In Prakrit and Pali , his name literally means "Good Existence" (su: "good", bhūti: "existence"). He is also sometimes referred to as or "Elder Subhūti" (Sthavira Subhūti). He was a contemporary of such famous arhats as Śāriputra, Mahākāśyapa, Mahāmaudgalyāyana, Mahākātyāyana, and Ānanda.
Among the Mahāyāna traditions, Subhūti is perhaps best known as the disciple with whom the Buddha speaks when imparting the Diamond Sūtra (Skt. Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra), an important teaching within the Prajñāpāramitā genre. This, along with the Heart Sūtra (Skt. Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya), is one of the most well-known sūtras among both practitioners and non-practitioners of Buddhism. Subhūti is also responsible for much of the exposition in earlier Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.1
In the Lotus Sutra (Skt. Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra), Chapter 6 (Bestowal of Prophecy), the Buddha bestows prophecies of enlightenment on Subhūti, along with other śrāvakas such as Mahākāśyapa, Mahākātyāyana, and Mahāmaudgalyāyana.
In Theravada Buddhism, Subhūti is much less prominent.
One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him. "We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness," the gods whispered to Subhuti. "But I have not spoken of emptiness," replied Subhuti. "You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness," responded the gods. "This is the true emptiness." The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.
In the lineage of the Panchen Lamas of Tibet there were considered to be four "Indian" and three Tibetan incarnations of Amitabha Buddha before Khedrup Gelek Pelzang, who is recognised as the first Panchen Lama. The lineage starts with Subhuti.34
Subhūti appears as a character in the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West, as the teacher of the Monkey King Sun Wukong. The story of Sun Wukong first meeting Subhūti was a play on the Zen story of Huineng meeting Hongren, as told in the Platform Sūtra of Zen Buddhism. Because of the role that Subhūti plays in the story, his name has remained familiar in Chinese culture.5
- *Lopez, Donald S., Jr. The Heart Sutra Explained: Indian and Tibetan Commentaries (1988) State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-88706-589-9 p. 7
- Reps, Paul and Nyogen Senzaki. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle, 2008.
- Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization, (1972) p. 84. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-80-470901-7.
- Das, Sarat Chandra. Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet (1970), pp. 81-103. Manjushri Publishing House, New Delhi. First published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LI (1882).
- Nan Huaijin. Diamond Sutra Explained. Florham Park: Primordia, 2004. Page 25.