Individual responsibility and personal effort
Th.79 Buddhas show the way; one must tread it oneself
By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another. …
You yourself must make the effort; the Tathāgatas are only teachers. The meditators who tread the way are released from the shackles of death.
Dhammapada 165 and 276, trans. P.D.P.
Th.80 The power of heedful awareness
Heedfulness is the path to the deathless; heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful do not die; the heedless are as if already dead. …
By effort and heedfulness, restraint and self-control, let the wise one make an island (of himself) which no flood can overwhelm.
Dhammapada 21 and 25, trans. P.H.
Th.81 Gradually straighten yourself out
Irrigators guide the water; fletchers straighten the arrow shaft; carpenters shape the wood; the wise control themselves.
Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, it is best to be victor over just one: oneself.
Gradually, little by little, moment by moment, a wise person should remove their own impurities, as a smith removes his dross from silver.
Dhammapada 80, 103 and 239, trans. P.H.
Th.82 Do not fritter life away, wasting opportunities for spiritual development
Better than living a hundred years with bad conduct and lacking in meditative composure, Is living for one day ethically disciplined and meditative. …
The person of little learning grows old like a plough-ox: muscles grow, but not wisdom. …
Those who in youth have neither led the holy life nor acquired wealth: they pine away like old herons in a pond without fish.
Dhammapada 110, 152 and 155, trans. P.H.
Th.83 Effort rightly directs the mind, and leads to the end of painful states
This passage emphasizes that effort is needed for the spiritual path, though note that L.32 counsels that such effort should be neither too taut nor too slack.
Monks, under three circumstances effort should be put forth. What three? For the non-arising of unarisen unwholesome states of mind, for the arising of unarisen wholesome states of mind and for the enduring of sharp, rough, disagreeable, life-sapping bodily feelings. Monks, under these three circumstances effort should be put forth.
Monks, when the monk exerts himself … [in these ways], it is said that he puts forth effort mindfully and skilfully for the rightful ending of the painful.
Ātappa-karaṇīya Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.153, trans. P.D.P.
Th.84 A basis for initiative and agency
This passage shows that although the teaching of the Buddha does not accept the idea of a permanent, essential self, the notions of individual initiative and effort, and a psychological basis for these, are duly recognized.
Then a certain brahmin approached the Blessed One, exchanged friendly greetings, sat on one side and said: ‘Good Gotama, I am of this view and say: “There is no self-agency, there is no agency by others.”’ ‘Brahmin, I have not seen or heard of such a view: How could someone himself approaching and returning say “There is no self- agency, there is no agency by others”? ‘Brahmin, is there an element of initiative?’ ‘Yes, good one.’ ‘Brahmin, when there is an element of initiative, there is a living being taking the initiative: this is self-agency and this is agency by others. Brahmin, when there is an element of going forth … when there is an element of power … when there is an element of strength … firmness … when there is an element of effort, there is a being that puts forth effort. This is self- agency and this is agency by others.
Attakārī Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya III.337–338, trans. P.D.P.
The need for virtuous and wise companions as spiritual friends
Th.85 Cultivate good, spiritual friends
It is easy to see the faults of others, but hard to see one’s own faults. Like chaff, one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, like a crafty gambler hiding a bad throw. …
If you see a wise person who, seeing your faults, says what is blameworthy, you should associate with him as with a revealer of treasures. Associating with such a one will always be for the better, not worse. …
Do not associate with evil friends; do not associate with bad people. Associate with friends who are good; associate with the best of people.
Dhammapada 252, 76 and 78, trans. P.H.
Th.86 Virtuous and wise spiritual friends as guides and companions on the path
These passages emphasize that the monastic life, and by implication the broader spiritual path, depends wholly on having supportive companions and friendly advisers or teachers: kalyāṇa-mittas, ‘good friends’ in the sense of virtuous and wise spiritual friends, with the Buddha as the greatest of these.
Great king, once I was living in the hamlet named Nāgaraka of the Sakyans. Then the monk Ānanda approached me, paid respect, sat on one side and said: ‘Venerable sir, half of this holy life is friendship, association and companionship with the good. Great king, when this was said, I said to monk Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, do not say so! This holy life is not half but completely friendship, association and companionship with the good. Ānanda, it is of a monk having a virtuous and wise friend, associate, and companion that one can expect that he will develop the noble eightfold path and intensely cultivate it. ...
Ānanda, by coming to me as their spiritual friend, Ānanda, beings having birth as their nature, are released from birth, beings having decay as their nature, are released from decay, beings having death as their nature, are released from death, beings having grief, lamentation, pain, unhappiness and distress as their nature are released from these.’
Kalyāṇa-mitta Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.87–88 <197–199>, trans. P.D.P.
Therein, what is spiritual friendship? Association with, following after and being with such persons as have faith and ethical discipline, and are learned, generous and wise; to resort to and consort with them, to be devoted to them, enthusiastic about them, and to be close to them.
Dhammasaṅgaṇi, section 1328, trans. P.H.
Monks, one should associate with a monk friend who has seven qualities; one should resort to him and attend on him even if he dismisses you. What seven? He is pleasing and agreeable; respected; esteemed; a skilful adviser; a patient listener; gives deep talks; and does not enjoin one to do what is inappropriate.
Aṅguttara-nikāya IV.32. trans. P.H.
Th.87 The pervading influence of the good person
The perfume of flowers blows not against the wind, nor does the fragrance of sandal-wood, tagara and jasmine; but the fragrance of the good person blows against the wind; the good person pervades every direction.
Dhammapada 54, trans. P.H.
Th.88 The benefits of finding a good and wise teacher
This passage concerns someone who has assessed the qualities of a teacher, and found him or her to be without leanings to greed, hatred or delusion.
When he finds that he is cleansed of proneness to greed, hatred and delusion, he reposes faith in him. With faith born, he draws near; drawing near, he sits close to him; sitting close, he lends ear; with attentive ear, he listens to the teaching; having listened, he remembers the teaching; he examines closely the meaning of the remembered teachings. When he closely examines the meaning, he gains a reflective acceptance of the teachings; when he gains a reflective acceptance of the teachings, desire is born; when desire is born, he makes an effort; having made an effort, he weighs it up; having weighed it up, he strives; when striving, he realizes the highest truth in his own person, and sees it, having penetrated it with wisdom.
Caṅkī Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya II.174, trans. P.D.P and P.H.
The role and nature of faith
Th.89 Faith as the first of the five spiritual faculties
Faith, in the sense of a trustful confidence – a quality more of the heart than a cognitive belief – has an important role in Buddhism, albeit generally not as central as in some religions.
Monks, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculty of faith, the faculty of vigour, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of meditative concentration, the faculty of understanding (or wisdom). And what, monks, is the faculty of faith? Here, monks, a disciple of the noble ones is a person of faith, one who places faith in the awakening of the Tathāgata [as in * Th.1].
Vibhaṅga Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.196–197, trans. P.H.
Th.90 The nature of faith
This passage emphasizes that faith both leads to calm and encourages one to seek to attain the stages of spiritual perfection.
‘Venerable sir, what is the distinguishing mark of faith?’ ‘Faith, great king, has making serene and leaping forwards as distinguishing marks. … When faith is arising, it suspends the hindrances (to meditative calm) … like a water-clearing gem. … Great king, the earnest practitioner, on seeing that the minds of others are freed, leaps forward towards (attaining) the fruits that are stream-entry, once-returning, and non-returning, and towards arahantship … just as when a crowd of people, seeing that a strong man had crossed over (a river in flood), would cross over too.’
Milindapañha 34–6, trans. P.H.
Th.91 The roles of faith and understanding
The first spiritual breakthrough may be made by a person emphasizing either understanding of the Dhamma or faith in the Buddha. That said, though some serious disciples are relatively stronger in understanding or faith, all need sufficient strength in all five faculties. The second passage here explains that faith needs to be guided by understanding, and the cognitive quality of understanding needs grounding by the heart quality and commitment of faith.
What kind of person is a Dhamma-follower? Here a certain person … accepts the teachings proclaimed by the Tathāgata with a measure of appreciative understanding through his wisdom. Furthermore he has these qualities: the faculties of faith, vigour, mindfulness, meditative concentration and wisdom … What kind of person is a faith-follower? Here a certain person … has a (sufficient) measure of faith in and love for the Tathāgata. Furthermore he has these qualities: the faculties of faith, vigour, mindfulness, meditative concentration and wisdom …
Kīṭāgiri Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.479, trans. P.H.
What is particularly recommended is balancing faith with understanding, and meditative concentration with vigour. For one strong in faith and weak in understanding is confused in his confidence, and has no good grounds for it. One strong in understanding and weak in faith errs on the side of deceitful cleverness and is as hard to cure as one sick of a disease caused by medicine. With the balancing of the two, a person has confidence only when there are grounds for it.
Visuddhimagga 341 ch. IV, section 47, p.139, trans. P.H.
Th.92 Faith becomes strong in those attained to a noble state
Here, monks, a disciple who is a noble one is endowed with confirmed confidence in the Buddha thus: … [as in *Th.1].
He is endowed with confirmed confidence in the Dhamma thus: ‘The Dhamma is directly visible (as to is truth and reality), not delayed (in its results), inviting investigation, applicable and onward leading, to be individually understood by the wise’
He is endowed with confirmed confidence in the Sangha thus: … [as in *Th.199].
Rājā Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.343, trans. P.H. and P.D.P.
Going for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha
Th.93 Going for refuge
The following passage is the formula for ‘going for refuge’, an idea found in *L.40, 57, 58 and *Th.110. Chanted in Pāli, after an affirmation of praise to the Buddha, it takes each of the Buddha, the Dhamma (teachings, path, and what this leads to) and Sangha – the spiritual Community with the monastic community as its heart – as a ‘refuge’. The notion of a ‘refuge’, here, is not that of a place to hide, but of something the thought of which purifies, uplifts and strengthens the heart. Orientation towards these three guides to a better way of living is experienced as a joyful haven of calm, a firm ‘island amidst a flood’, in contrast to the troubles of life. The ‘refuges’ remind the Buddhist of calm, wise, spiritual people and states of mind, and so help engender these states. The value of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is denoted by the fact that they are also known as the ‘Three Jewels’: spiritual treasures of supreme worth. The threefold repetition of the refuge formula marks off the recitation from ordinary uses of speech, and ensures that the mind dwells on the meaning of each affirmation at least once. Lay Buddhists usually chant the refuge formula then five ethical precepts (*Th.110) as an expression of faith in and commitment to the teaching of the Buddha.
Reverence to the Blessed One, arahant, perfectly awakened Buddha.
I go to the Buddha as refuge.
I go to the Dhamma as refuge.
I go to the Sangha as refuge.
For a second time, I go to the Buddha as refuge.
For a second time, I go to the Dhamma as refuge.
For a second time, I go to the Sangha as refuge.
For a third time, I go to the Buddha as refuge.
For a third time, I go to the Dhamma as refuge.
For a third time, I go to the Sangha as refuge.
Saraṇā-gamanaṃ: Khuddaka-pāṭha 1, trans. P.H.
Th.94 Monuments for Buddha-relics (stūpas)
In this passage the Buddha explains that after his cremation, the remaining relics of his body are to be interred in a stūpa, or relic mound, to be a focus of devotion for people. See *V.26 for a Tibetan story on faith in relics.
A stūpa for the Tathāgata is to be built at a great four-way intersection. And those who offer a garland, a scent, or a perfume powder there, or bow down there, or brighten their minds there: that will be for their long-term welfare and happiness. …
And for what reason is a Tathāgata, arahant and perfectly awakened Buddha worthy of a stūpa? (At the thought,) ‘This is the stūpa of a Tathāgata, arahant and perfectly awakened Buddha’, many people will brighten their minds. Having brightened their minds there, then – on the dissolution of the body, after death – they will reappear in a good destination, a heavenly world.
Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.141–142, trans. P.H.
Chants on the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha that bring protection and blessings
After the Buddha’s death, his beneficial power was sought not only by respect shown to his relics (and by practising the Dhamma), but also by chanting certain texts that came to be known as parittas, ‘protections’. These are seen to bring blessings and protection when devoutly chanted or listened to, especially when monks are chanting them. Their power is seen to lie in: their having the Buddha as source; their expressing the Dhamma; their being chanted by the Sangha; their bringing inspiring strength and alertness to the hearer; their drawing on the power of an asseveration, or solemn utterance, of a morally or spiritually significant truth; their drawing the attention and protection of gods who are followers of the Buddha; and their enabling past beneficial karma to bring its fruits now. It is said, though, that they can only benefit those with faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and who are not obstructed by certain past karma and present defilements (Milindapañha 150–154).
Th.95 The Jewel Discourse (Ratana Sutta)
This is a much-loved paritta text, which illustrates the idea of the beneficial power of reflectively uttering truths about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
Whatever spirits have gathered here, whether ones of the earth or sky, may they all be happy and listen intently to what I say.
Thus, spirits, you should all be attentive. Show loving kindness to the human race: as they bring their offerings day and night, diligently offer them protection.
Whatever wealth there is, here or elsewhere, whatever is the most exquisite jewel in the heavens, none is there equal to a Tathāgata. This exquisite jewel is in the Buddha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Destruction (of craving), dispassion, the exquisite deathless, attained by the Sakyan Sage in meditative concentration: there is nothing to equal that Dhamma. This exquisite jewel is in the Dhamma; by this truth, may there be well-being.
What the excellent Buddha extolled as pure, and called the meditative concentration of immediate result; to that state, no equal can be found. This exquisite jewel is in the Dhamma; by this truth, may there be well-being.
The eight individuals who are praised by the good form these four pairs.342 They, disciples of the Fortunate One, are worthy of offerings; what is given to them bears great fruit. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Those who, without sensual desire, firm-minded, apply themselves to Gotama’s message, on attaining their goal, plunge into the deathless, enjoying quenching (of the fires of craving), having obtained it for nothing. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
As a gate-post planted in the earth would be unshakeable by the four winds: of such a kind, I tell you, is the person of integrity, who – having comprehended the Truths of the Noble Ones – sees. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Those who have understood clearly the Truths of the Noble Ones, well-taught by the one of deep wisdom: even if they become very heedless, they will have no more than seven further rebirths. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
At the moment of attaining insight, one abandons three things: view on personality, vacillation, and clinging to rules and vows.343 One is completely released from the four kinds of unfortunate rebirths, and is incapable of committing the six great wrongs.344 This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Whatever bad deed one may do – by body, speech, or mind – one cannot hide it: an incapability ascribed to one who has seen the (deathless) state. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Like a forest grove with flowering tops in the first month of the heat of the summer, so is the excellent Dhamma he taught, for the highest benefit, leading to nirvana. This exquisite jewel is in the Buddha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
The excellent one, knowing what is excellent, giving what is excellent, bringing what is excellent, beyond compare, taught the excellent Dhamma. This exquisite jewel is in the Buddha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
‘The old is destroyed, the new is not arising’. Those whose minds are without passion for future rebirths, the seeds of which have been destroyed, have no desire for growing (any such states). The wise are quenched like this lamp. This exquisite jewel is in the Sangha; by this truth, may there be well-being.
Whatever spirits have gathered here, whether ones of the earth or sky, let us revere the Tathāgata honoured by gods and humans, the Buddha: may there be well-being.
Whatever spirits have gathered here, whether ones of the earth or sky, let us revere the Tathāgata honoured by gods and humans, and the Dhamma: may there be well-being.
Whatever spirits have gathered here, whether ones of the earth or sky, let us revere the Tathāgata honoured by gods and humans, and the Sangha: may there be well-being.
Ratana Sutta: Khuddakapāṭha sutta 8, and Sutta-nipāta 222–238, trans. P.H.
Th.96 The Auspicious Activity Discourse (Maṅgala Sutta)
This concerns what is the supreme maṅgala: auspicious activity which brings blessing or good fortune. Prior to Buddhism, various ceremonies were seen as maṅgalas. The Buddha sees Dhamma-practice as the best maṅgala. This Sutta encapsulates many Buddhist values, and is also seen to be a paritta chant – one that itself brings protection and blessings when chanted.
Thus have I heard. At one time, the Blessed One was staying at Sāvatthī, in the Jeta grove in the monastic park (donated by) Anāthapiṇḍika. Then, as night was passing away, a certain deity, being of surpassing radiance, illuminating the whole Jeta grove, approached the Blessed One. Having approached and respectfully greeted him, he stood on one side. So standing, the deity addressed the Blessed One with a verse:
Many gods and humans have thought about auspicious actions hoping for well-being.
Tell me what is supreme auspicious activity.
(The Buddha replied: )
Not associating with fools, but associating with the wise, and honouring those worthy of honour. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Living in suitable places, and having done what is karmically beneficial in the past, also proper self-application. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Being endowed with learning and practical skills, well-trained in self-discipline, with well-spoken speech. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Aid for mother and father, caring for wife and children, and an occupation without conflict.
This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Being generous, acting in accord with Dhamma, caring for one’s relatives, and blameless actions. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Distaste for and avoidance of evil, refraining from intoxicating drink, being heedful in all things. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Having respect, humility, contentment and gratitude, and timely hearing of Dhamma. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Patient acceptance, willingness to receive correction, seeing renunciants, timely discussion of Dhamma. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Ardent practice and the (celibate) holy life, seeing the Truths of the Noble Ones, and realization of nirvana. This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Touched by the ups and downs of the world, one’s mind being sorrowless, stainless, secure.
This is a supreme auspicious activity.
Having done such things, everywhere unconquered, they go everywhere in safety. This is their supreme auspicious activity.’
Maṅgala Sutta: Khuddaka-pāṭha, Sutta 5, and Sutta-nipāta 258–269, trans. P.H.
Ethical discipline, meditation, wisdom
The spiritual defilements such as greed, hatred and delusion exist at three levels: as expressed in overt actions of body or speech; in active lines of thought or conscious states of mind; and as currently unexpressed underlying tendencies and intoxicating inclinations, in the depths of the mind. The Buddhist path needs to address all three levels. Ethical discipline (sīla) restrains unwholesome bodily and verbal actions. Meditative concentration (samādhi) trains the mind so as to undermine unwholesome states and cultivate wholesome ones, and wisdom (paññā), aided by meditative calm, can come to dig out the roots of the underlying tendencies and intoxicating inclinations.
Th.97 Ethical discipline as the basis for the rest of path
So you see, Ānanda, wholesome ethical discipline has freedom from regret as purpose and benefit; freedom from regret has gladness; gladness has joy; joy has tranquillity; tranquillity has happiness; happiness has meditative concentration; meditative concentration has seeing things as they really are; seeing things as they really are has turning away and non-attachment; turning away and non-attachment have release by knowing and seeing as their purpose and benefit. So you see, Ānanda, wholesome ethical discipline leads gradually up to the summit.
Ānisaṃsa Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya V.2, trans. P.H.
Th.98 The unfolding of the gradual path in the three trainings
This passage focuses on the gradual stages of spiritual training as regards ethical discipline and meditation, as a basis for wisdom. A brahmin says that there is gradual progress up a staircase, and in the training of brahmins, archers and accountants, then asks the Buddha:
‘Venerable sir, is it possible to find in the same way a gradual training, a gradual course of action and a gradual path in this Dhamma and discipline too?’
‘Brahmin, it is possible to find in this Dhamma and discipline, too, a gradual training, a gradual course of action and a gradual way of practice. A clever trainer of horses, having obtained a young thoroughbred for training, would first train it in the bit of the bridle and would then give the further subsequent training. In the same manner, the Tathāgata would obtain a person amenable to restraint, and discipline him first in the following manner: “Come, monk, be of good practices, and live observing the restraints of the code of monastic rules, being well-mannered and courteous, seeing fear in the slightest fault; observe the rules of conduct and train yourself in them.”
When the monk fulfils this, the Tathāgata trains him further, thus: “Come, monk, be guarded in your sense doors. Having seen a form with the eye, do not grasp at its main or minor characteristics. Since, when one lives with the faculty of vision unrestrained, longing and displeasure, evil and unwholesome states flow in, practise the restraint of it. Having heard a sound with the ear … smelt a scent with the nose, tasted a flavour with the tongue, touched a tangible object with the body, and discerned an idea with the mind … practise the restraint of these sense-faculties.”
When the monk fulfils this, the Tathāgata trains him further, thus: “Come, monk, be moderate in eating. Having considered with proper reflection, partake of food: not for play, not for intoxication, not to look beautiful, not for adornment, but for the mere upkeep of the body and for sustenance, to avoid infliction of injury (on the body), as an aid to the living of the holy life, thinking, ‘I allay the earlier painful feeling (of hunger) and do not give rise to a new painful feeling (from over-eating), and let it be a vehicle for me for faultlessness and comfortable living’.”
Brahmin, when the monk fulfils this, the Tathāgata trains him further, thus: “Come, monk, abide wakefully. During the day in the walking and the sitting posture, cleanse the mind of obstructive states. In the first watch of the night … cleanse the mind of obstructive states. In the middle watch of the night turn to the right, and sleep keeping the lion’s posture, placing one foot over the other, calling to mind with mindfulness and clear comprehension the sign for waking up. In the last watch of the night, in the walking and the sitting posture, cleanse the mind of obstructive states.”
Brahmin, when the monk fulfils this, the Tathāgata trains him further, thus, “Come monk, be endowed with mindfulness and clear comprehension. Act with clear comprehension when approaching and receding, looking on and looking about, bending and stretching, bearing the robes and bowl, eating, drinking, biting and tasting, urinating and excreting, when going, standing, sitting, sleeping and being awake. Act with clear comprehension when talking and keeping silent.”
When the monk fulfils this, the Tathāgata trains him further, thus: “Come monk resort to a secluded dwelling, a forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a grotto, a rock cave, a charnel ground, a jungle resort, an open space or a heap of leaves.” Having done so, when he has returned from the alms-round, after the meal he sits cross-legged, with the body erect and mindfulness established in front of him.’ [The passage goes on to describe overcoming the five hindrances to meditative calming and attaining in turn the four meditative absorptions, much as in passages *Th.127 and 140, then says that some disciples go on to attain the final goal, while some do not, just as some people can successfully follow directions to a destination, and some not.]
Gaṇaka-moggallāna Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.1–3, trans. P.D.P.
The noble eightfold path: the middle way of practice
The classical path of ancient, and Theravāda Buddhism is the Eightfold Path that leads to the end of what is painful. As seen in the opening of passage *L.27, it is a middle way that avoids both the pursuit of sensual pleasures and also the harsh self-torture that can be found among ascetics. It is a moderate way of restraining attachment to sensual pleasures, whether as a monastic or a layperson.
Th.99 The factors of the noble eightfold path
This passage explains the path factors. These are not so much ‘steps on a path’ as factors that all need to be assembled and then developed to a sufficient degree for the path to do its work.
And what, monks, is right view? Understanding of the painful (dukkha), understanding of the origination of the painful, understanding of the cessation of the painful, understanding of the way going to the cessation of the painful: this, monks, is called right view.
And what is right resolve? Resolve for renunciation, for freedom from ill-will, for harmlessness: This is called right resolve.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from harsh speech, and from idle chatter: this is called right speech.
And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from taking what is not given (stealing), from misconduct with respect to sensual pleasures (sexual misconduct): this is called right action.
And what is right livelihood? Here a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: this is called right livelihood.
And what is right effort? Here a monk generates desire, endeavours, arouses vigour, upholds and exerts his mind for the non-arising of evil, unwholesome states that have not yet arisen ... for the abandoning of evil, unwholesome states that have arisen ... for the arising of wholesome states that have not yet arisen ... (and) for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, and culmination of wholesome states that have arisen: this is called right effort.
And what is right mindfulness?345 Here a monk abides, in respect of the body, reflectively observing the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world. He abides, in respect of feelings, reflectively observing feelings, possessed of effort ... in respect of the mind, reflectively observing mind, possessed of effort
… in respect of reality-patterns, reflectively observing reality-patterns, possessed of effort … this is called right mindfulness.
And what is right meditative concentration? Here a monk – quite withdrawn from sensual desires, withdrawn from unwholesome states (of mind) – enters and remains in the first meditative absorption … [There follows a description of the four meditative absorptions, on which see *Th.140].
This is called the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the way leading to the cessation of the painful.
Mahā-satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.311–313, trans. P.H.
Th.100 Two levels of the path
This passage makes clear that the path has a preliminary, preparatory form, in which right view is belief in karma and rebirth, and a fully noble form, in which right view is wisdom, implicitly the right view of the four Truths, as in the previous passage.
Right view, I say, is twofold: there is right view that has intoxicating inclinations, partaking of karmic benefit, ripening on the side of attachment; and there is right view that is noble, without intoxicating inclinations, world-transcendent, a factor of the path.
And what, monks, is right view that has intoxicating inclinations …? (It is the belief: ) ‘There is gift, there is offering, there is (self-)sacrifice … [there follows the precise opposite of the wrong view described in passage *Th.56, that denies the value of giving and good action, that these have karmic effects leading to good rebirths, which can be known about by wise meditators.] …
And what is right view that is noble …? Wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation-of-qualities factor of awakening, the right view path-factor of one who, developing the noble path, is of noble mind, of a mind without intoxicating inclinations, endowed with the noble path.
Mahā-cattārīsaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.72, trans. P.H.
Th.101 The path factors and the three trainings
This passage assigns the path factors as part of the three trainings. These trainings are practised at the ordinary level broadly in the order: ethical discipline, meditative concentration, wisdom. When this practise breaks through to the noble level of the path at a time of deep insight, it is noble wisdom that comes first, triggering noble ethical discipline and noble meditative concentration. Having experienced the noble path, a person becomes a noble disciple (see *Th.201), and among these, stream-enterers have perfected ethical discipline, non-returners have perfected meditative concentration, and arahants have perfected wisdom (Aṅguttara-nikāya I.231–232).
Right speech, right action and right livelihood: these are states included in the ethical discipline group. Right effort, right mindfulness and right meditative concentration: these are states included in the meditative concentration group. Right view and right resolve: these are states included in the wisdom group.
Cūla-vedalla Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.301, trans. P.H.
M.46 The power of faith and worship
With deep faith in the Buddhas and their Dharma, with faith too in the path trodden by the Buddha’s sons, and in unsurpassed perfect awakening, bodhisattvas set their minds on awakening.
Faith is the first step on the path, the mother of all virtues. It nourishes all wholesome roots, and helps them to grow. It tears down the net of doubt, and rescues living beings from the river of craving. It reveals the unsurpassed path to nirvana.
Faith purifies the mind, so that it is clear and spotless; it eliminates arrogance, and encourages respect. It is the foremost treasure of the wealth of the Dharma, the pure hand which receives all good conduct.346
Faith leads one to give without holding anything back. Faith leads one to experience great joy in the Buddha’s teachings. Faith leads to the growth of wisdom and the attainment of virtue. Faith leads one to the realm of the Tathāgata.
Faith makes the senses pure and bright. Faith brings firm, unassailable strength. Faith uproots the defilements. Faith leads directly to the virtues of a Buddha.
With faith, one is not restricted by any objects of perception, separated from all hardships, free from hardships. Faith leads one beyond the paths of Māra. Faith shows the way to unsurpassed liberation.
Faith is the fresh seed of virtue. Faith grows into the tree of awakening. Faith develops into supreme knowledge. Faith reveals all the Buddhas.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p.72b16–29, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
Just as a spark of fire the size of a mustard seed can burn down a pile of hay the size of Mount Meru,
A little virtue attained by worshipping the Buddhas removes the defilements, and leads one to nirvana.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p.278a12–13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
The Venerable Subhūti asked the Buddha, ‘How do bodhisattvas, great beings, worship and serve all the Buddhas, the Blessed Ones, in order to fully develop their wholesome roots, to benefit from true spiritual friends, and to quickly attain omniscience?’
The Buddha said to Venerable Subhūti, ‘A bodhisattva, a great being, from the time when he first sets his mind on awakening, worships and serves the Buddha, the Blessed One. He hears the Buddha’s teachings in person, everything from sūtras to explanatory texts. He bears what he has heard in mind, re-reads it repeatedly, and reviews it again and again, so that he becomes familiar with it. When he is familiar with it, he reflects upon its meaning. When he has discerned the profound meaning contained within these texts, he masters the dhāraṇīs.347 The unimpeded liberation which assures the attainment of unsurpassed perfect awakening then arises. After that, wherever he is reborn, he will never forget what he has heard, and he will never lose the teachings of the true Dharma. His wholesome roots are planted with all the many Buddhas. Because of the power of these wholesome roots, he will never be reborn in states of misfortune. Again, because of these wholesome roots, his mind will become happy and pure. Because of the power of this pure and happy mind, his progress towards awakening will be irreversible, and he will yearn for the glorious pure realms of the Buddhas. Again, because of these wholesome roots, he will never be separated from true spiritual friends, from all of the Tathāgatas, all of the bodhisattvas, solitary-buddhas, disciples, and all others who praise the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.’
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol.7, text 220, pp.700c9–23, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.47 The great benefits of being in contact with a Buddha
This passage praises the rarity and great privilege of coming into contact with a Buddha and his teachings.
As it says in the Noble Gaṇḍavyūha (Sūtra) : …
The Tathāgatas arise for the sake of all beings – greatly compassionate heroes who turn the wheel of the Dharma.
How can all beings repay the Buddhas, who have been intent on the welfare of living beings for countless hundreds of eons?
It is better to roast in the three terrible states of misfortune for countless eons than not to see the teacher who founds all Sanghas. …
When one sees the Buddha, the best of men, all transgressions are destroyed. One who reaches awakening increases his beneficial karma infinitely. …
This is how one’s beneficial karma increases when one meets the Buddha. The fruits of just seeing an image of the Tathāgata are immeasurable, so how great will the fruits of seeing his body itself be?
Śikṣā-samuccaya of Śāntideva, ch.17, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.48 Faith building on past faith
The Venerable Subhūti asked the Blessed One, ‘Blessed One, in times to come, in the future, in future times, at a point in the future, in the five-hundred year period when the true Dharma is destroyed,348 will there be any living beings who will perceive the truth of the words of this sūtra when they hear them?’
‘Subhūti, in times to come, in the future … great beings with many good qualities, moral and wise, who will perceive the truth of the words of this sūtra when they hear them. Those bodhisattvas, Subhūti, those great beings will not have worshipped only one Buddha. They will not have planted wholesome roots with only one Buddha. Those bodhisattvas, Subhūti, those great beings will have worshipped many hundreds of thousands of Buddhas, and planted wholesome roots with many hundreds of thousands of Buddhas. They will attain one-pointed clarity of mind when they hear the words of this sūtra.
The Tathāgata knows these bodhisattvas, Subhūti, with his Buddha-knowledge. The Tathāgata sees these bodhisattvas, Subhūti, with his Buddha-eye. The Tathāgata, Subhūti, is awake to these bodhisattvas.
Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, section 6, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
Going for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
M.49 How one should express devotion to the Three Refuges
This passages holds that a lay bodhisattva should take the refuges by practising so as to develop the qualities leading to Buddhahood, respecting and drawing on everything to do with the Dharma, and respecting non-Mahāyāna Buddhists, especially monastics, while not wanting to work at their level of practice.
How should a householder bodhisattva go for refuge to the Buddha? He should think, ‘I wish to acquire a Buddha-body, adorned with the thirty-two bodily characteristics of a Buddha.349 I will acquire the wholesome roots necessary to develop the thirty-two characteristics of a great man. In order to develop these marks, I will apply myself with vigour.’ This, householder, is how a householder bodhisattva should go for refuge to the Buddha.
How should a householder bodhisattva go for refuge to the Dharma? Householder, a bodhisattva honours the Dharma and those who teach the Dharma. He supports the Dharma. He yearns for the Dharma. He delights in the supreme pleasures of the Dharma. He helps the Dharma. He dwells in the Dharma. He bears the Dharma in mind. He protects the Dharma. He stands firm in the Dharma. He praises the Dharma. He dwells practicing the Dharma. He causes the Dharma to grow. He requests the Dharma. He takes the Dharma as his strength. He arms himself with the weapons of the Dharma. He devotes himself completely to the Dharma. He thinks, ‘When I have attained unsurpassed perfect awakening, I will spread the true Dharma equally to all humans, gods, and demi-gods.’ This, householder, is how a householder bodhisattva should go for refuge to the Dharma.
Householder, how should the householder bodhisattva go for refuge to the Sangha? Householder, when the bodhisattva sees a stream-enterer, a once-returner, a non-returner, an arhant, or an ordinary person who practices the vehicle of the disciples,350 he honours them all. He immediately stands up to welcome them, salutes them with kind words and a sweet voice, paying his respects to them by walking around them, always keeping them to his right. He should think, ‘When I have attained unsurpassed perfect awakening, I will teach the Dharma so that others may develop good qualities. Although I honour them, my heart does not dwell among them.’ This, householder, is how a householder bodhisattva should go for refuge to the Sangha.
Ugra-paripṛcchā, section 19 of the Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol.11, text 310, pp.472c22–473a09, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.50 Why there are Three Refuges
Son of good family, it is in order to eliminate suffering, to eradicate the defilements, and to attain the unsurpassed bliss of nirvana that one goes for refuge to … the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha is the one who taught the way to eliminate the defilements, the cause of suffering. The Dharma is ultimate liberation, the elimination of the defilements, the cause of suffering. The Sangha is the community that is practising the path which leads to the elimination of the defilements, the cause of suffering, and the attainment of true liberation. Some may say that there is only one refuge. This is not correct. Why not? It is because whether a Tathāgata appears in the world or not, the true Dharma is always present, even though it cannot be discerned. It can only be discerned when a Tathāgata appears in the world. One should not, therefore, only go for refuge to the Buddha. Whether a Tathāgata appears in the world or not, the true Dharma is always present, even if there is no-one to make it known. It is the community of the Buddha’s disciples who receive the Dharma. One should not, therefore, only go for refuge to the Sangha.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.20, p.1061b04–14, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.51 Going for refuge to the Buddha
Living beings are ungrateful. Tathāgatas appear in the world, blazing with wisdom and compassion to dispel the darkness.
With a mind filled with great compassion, he sees all living beings suffering immeasurable pain, forever bound to the triple world.351
None but the Buddha, the Supreme Teacher, amongst all men and gods, is a refuge.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.9, text 278, p.444b15–20, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.52 The Buddha as the key refuge
In this passage, Queen Śrīmālā says to the Buddha that the highest refuge is the Buddha/Tathāgata refuge, for it is from going for refuge to the Buddha that one then goes for refuge to the Dharma and the Sangha. The Sangha is made up of those of the various Buddhist paths that look to the Buddha; the Dharma is the path to attaining the Dharma-body of a Buddha. The Tathāgata refuge encompasses the other two, and is timeless, ultimate reality.
The eternal refuge, the infinite refuge until the very end of time, the refuge for those who have not transcended the world, but who do not rely on the world, is the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha.
The Dharma is the path of the single vehicle.352 The Sangha is the community of the three vehicles. These two refuges are not ultimate refuges, they are only partial refuges. Why is this? The path of the single vehicle is concerned with the attainment of the absolute Dharma-body. There is nothing superior to the Dharma-body of the Single Vehicle.
Out of fear,353 the communities of the three vehicles go for refuge to the Tathāgata. They practise the path of non-attachment, aiming for unsurpassed perfect awakening. This is why these two refuges are not ultimate refuges, but limited ones.
Living beings who have been trained by the Tathāgata, who go for refuge to the Tathāgata, and who reach the further shore of the Dharma, develop minds of joyful faith, and go for refuge to the Dharma and Sangha. These are the two refuges. Going for refuge to the Dharma and Sangha is not the same as going for refuge to the Tathāgata. To go for refuge to ultimate reality is to go for refuge to the Tathāgata. Why is this? There is no difference between Tathāgata refuge and the other two refuges. The Tathāgata is in truth the triple refuge.
Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, ch.5, p. 221a02–15; cf., Taishō vol. 11, text 310, p.676b16–29, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.53 The Sangha and Dharma as the way to the Three Refuges
To make offerings to the Sangha is to honour both the Buddha Jewel and the Sangha Jewel. To contemplate the wonderful qualities of the Buddha’s Dharma is to fully honour the Three Jewels.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.22, p.1065a20–22, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.54 Tathāgata-relics and perfect wisdom
This passage sees worship of physical relics of the Buddha (see *Th.94) as important, but as secondary to devotion to the perfection of wisdom.
Śakra354 said, ‘Blessed One, it is not that I do not revere the relics of the Tathāgata. I certainly do revere the relics of the Tathāgata, Blessed One. The relics of the Tathāgata, which have arisen, Blessed One, from this perfection of wisdom are worshipped. Therefore, Blessed One, by worshipping this perfection of wisdom, one is also fully worshipping the relics of the Tathāgata. Why is this? It is because the relics of the Tathāgata have arisen from the perfection of wisdom. It is like in Sudharmā, the hall of the gods, Blessed One. When I am seated on my divine seat, my divine sons wait on me.
When I am not seated there, my divine sons, out of reverence for me, honour my seat, circumambulate it, and depart. Why is this? It is because on that seat, Śakra, first among the gods, teaches the Dharma to the gods of the Thirty-three. In just the same way, Blessed One, the perfection of wisdom is the exalted cause and condition which brings about the omniscience of the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha. The relics of the Tathāgata rest on omniscience, but they are not a cause or condition for the arising of knowledge. Therefore, Blessed One, the perfection of wisdom, which is the cause of the knowledge of omniscience, is worshipped through the relics of the Tathāgata.
Aṣṭasāhaśrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, ch.4, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.55 Devotion to Avalokiteśvara
This passage praises the heavenly bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and his power to help when called on. His name means ‘The Lord who Looks (in Compassion)’, and he is seen as the embodiment of compassion. In Chinese, he is known as Guanyin (Kuanyin) and in Tibetan as Chenresig. The protective powers said to come from calling on him are similar to those attributed to protective paritta chants in Theravāda Buddhism (see *Th.95). The wondrous powers attributed to recollecting Avalokiteśvara, such as fires going out and swords breaking, can perhaps be seen as poetic ways of referring to the power of compassion to change hearts and actions. Chan/Zen generally understands them in purely internal spiritual terms: for example danger on the ocean’, i.e. a storm, is anger, ‘fire’ is desire, ‘fetters’ are simply those of fear, and animals only threaten one who has ill-will. Likewise the power of Theravada parittas can be seen as drawing on the power of moral truths.
2. He looks on every part of the world. His vow is like an ocean. … Listen now to the actions of Avalokiteśvara.
3. For inconceivably many countless hundreds of eons, his vow was purified by many countless thousands of Buddhas. Let me tell you what I have heard.
4. Living beings who hear him or see him, and recollect him often will unfailingly remove all of their pain and sorrow in this world.
5. If an evil-minded person tries to kill you by throwing you into a fire-pit, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and the fire will be quenched and extinguished.
6. If you fall into danger on the ocean, the abode of nāgas, sea-monsters, and gods, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and you will never be captured by the King of the Ocean. …
9. If you are surrounded by enemies with swords in their hands, intent on doing you harm, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and their minds will instantly be filled with loving kindness.
10. If you are standing at the place of execution, about to be killed, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and then the sword will shatter to pieces.
11. If you are bound and shackled by fetters of wood or iron, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and your fetters will immediately fall away. …
14. If you are surrounded by fierce, terrifying animals with razor-sharp teeth, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and they will immediately scatter in all directions. …
17. He sees living beings suffering from many hundreds of kinds of pain, oppressed by many kinds of pain. He looks on them with the power of his purified understanding, and protects them.
18. He possesses extraordinary supernormal powers and vast understanding, and is well-trained in the application of skill in means. He manifests himself everywhere, in all worlds in the ten directions,355 and in all Buddha-fields without exception.
19. He always soothes those living beings who have been reborn in frightening lower states of existence, in hell, as animals, or oppressed by birth, old age, disease, and death. …
20. You356 are radiant with beauty. You are radiant with loving kindness. You are radiant with the most excellent wisdom and understanding. You are radiant with compassion. You are radiant with purity. You are to be adored, fair-faced and beautifully radiant.
21. You are completely spotless, pristine light; incandescent with the light of the sun of knowledge; the light of a flame that the wind cannot blow out. Blazing forth, you illuminate the world.
22. You roar your compassion, your good qualities, and your loving kindness. With beautiful qualities, you are loving, and completely reliable. You extinguish the fires of the defilements in living beings, raining down the nectar of the Dharma-rain.
23. If you357 are involved in strife, quarrels and disputes, or in the midst of a terrifying battle, recollect Avalokiteśvara, and the hosts of your wicked enemies will be pacified.
24. His voice is like thunder. His voice is like a drum. His voice is like the ocean. His wonderful voice is like Brahmā’s. His voice surpasses this world. Recollect Avalokiteśvara.
25. Recollect him, recollect him, and long for him. In death, in hardship, in distress, that pure being Avalokiteśvara will be your protection, your refuge, and your sanctuary.
Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra, ch.24, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
Individual responsibility and personal effort
M.56 The power of aspiration
Son of good family, aspiration is the root of all good qualities. Aspiration is the condition for the attainment of perfect awakening and the fruit of liberation.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.20, p.1062b27–29, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.57 The perfection of vigour, employed for the benefit of others
At that time, the Blessed One said to Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra, ‘If a bodhisattva, a great being, wants to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, then when he first sets his mind on awakening, he should think, “Everything I possess, my body and my mind, should be employed for the benefit of others, so that all their wishes will be fulfilled.”
A serving boy bears in mind that whenever he walks, stands, sits, or lies down, he should not do so arbitrarily but with submission to his master. If he intends to go out to the market he should first ask for his master’s permission. He should only take food or drink if he has obtained his master’s permission. He should only do what his master wants. In just the same way, when bodhisattvas, great beings, first set their minds on awakening, in order to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening, should think, “Whatever I possess, my body and mind, should not be employed arbitrarily, but only for the benefit of others. Everything that I intend to do should be directed towards that end.” Bodhisattvas thus rely on the perfection of vigour, making a great effort, and never deviating from the perfection of vigour. They take a vow to do whatever will benefit living beings. All bodhisattvas, great beings, should dwell in the perfection of vigour in this way.
A treasured horse which is being ridden thinks, “I should not cause the rider’s body to sway. I should not get tired, or damage the harness. Whether I move backwards, forwards or stop, moving slow or fast, I will serve the rider, taking good care of him, without behaving in such a way as to make him angry.” In just the same way, bodhisattvas, great beings who are practising the perfection of vigour do not act according to their own desires, but according to others’ hopes. They act for the benefit of others. They act in order to take care of others. They act in such a way that no defilements or unwholesome actions will arise in their bodies. At first people show no gratitude to bodhisattvas, great beings, but bodhisattvas have no expectation of reward. Their only aim is to help people in various different ways. Bodhisattvas, great beings, therefore, take care of the minds of others, act according to the will of others, and realize different kinds of happiness and bliss in order to develop the perfection of vigour. Bodhisattvas, great beings, thereby take hold of the perfection of vigour, and bring benefit and happiness to living beings as if they were bringing benefit and happiness to themselves, without ever getting tired. This is how a bodhisattva dwells in the perfection of vigour, making a great effort.
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol. 7, text 220, p.1050b01–26, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
The middle way
M.58 The need for effort that is neither too slack nor too forced
This passage makes a simple but important point about spiritual effort (cf. *L.32)
There was a renunciant who was reciting scriptures at night, and who was melancholy. His mind was full of regret and doubt, and he wanted to return to ordinary life. The Buddha called the renunciant, and asked him, ‘When you lived as a householder, what did you do?’ He replied, ‘I used to play the lute.’ The Buddha said, ‘What happened if the strings were too slack?’ He replied, ‘It wouldn’t make any sound.’ The Buddha asked, ‘What if the strings were too taut?’ He said, ‘The sounds would be short and dampened.’ The Buddha asked, ‘What if the strings were neither too slack nor too taut?’ He said, ‘The sounds were clearly audible.’ The Buddha said to the renunciant, ‘Practising the path is like this. If you adjust your mind properly, you will be successful on the path.’
‘Sūtra of Forty-two Sections’/Sishierzhang jing, section 33,Taishō vol.17, text 784, p.723c13–17, trans, D.S.
M.59 The need for a balanced attitude
This passage sees the middle way of practice as neither becoming trapped in mental constructions, nor dogmatically avoiding any mental constructions. Its nature, though, is hard to pin down.
Suvikrāntavikrāmi, mental constructions are one extreme and avoiding any mental constructions is the other extreme. Bodhisattvas avoid these two extremes. If bodhisattvas do not engage with extremes or non-extremes, then they do not see a middle way either. If they see a middle way, and engage with a middle way, then they engage with an extreme. The middle way is not something to be engaged with, to be seen, to be made manifest.
Moreover, Suvikrāntavikrāmi, you should know that what is known as the middle way is nothing other than the eightfold path. This path is neither to be approached by apprehending phenomena, nor by observing phenomena.
Mahā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Taishō vol. 7, text 220, p. 1092a25–b03, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.60 The noble eightfold path
This passage sees the factors of the path as unfolding from the first, right view – a perspective of non-clinging that sees that things lack any fixed essence.
Anantajñāna, what is the meaning of the path and purification of the path? The path is the noble eightfold path, namely, right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditative concentration. Right view is the eradication of the false view that personality is somehow related to an essential self. It is beyond the scope of all views. If all views are completely purified in all situations, this enables one to recognize all forms of right thought. Both particularizing thought and generalizing thought is not really thought at all.358 Avoid both particularizing thought and generalizing thought, not indulging in erroneous ways of thinking, do away with wrong thinking. This view leads to right livelihood. Seeing the idea of livelihood, seeing the purity of livelihood, practise pure livelihood, leads to a right view of the purified activity of body, the purified activity of speech, and the purified activity of mind. Engaging in right action, with a right view of the activity of speech, enables one to see and to understand what right speech is. Practising right speech leads to a purified view of right effort. Engaging in right effort based on right view leads to mindfulness that does not involve recollection, fixing the mind on anything, or grasping. Dwelling in right mindfulness with a purified mind enables one to maintain a right view of meditative concentration. In meditative concentration, there is nothing to base oneself on, yet it leads one to purify one’s view of meditative concentration.
Anantajñāna, when bodhisattvas, great beings, view things in this way, they attain a purified right view in all situations, remaining on the path of purity. This path of purity is the way a good man practises. It is honoured by the wise, loved by the noble ones, and praised by the Tathāgatas.
Varma-vyūha-nirdeśa, section 7 of the Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol.11, text 310, pp.120c29–121a16, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.61 The middle way avoids dualistic separation of things
This passage sees the path as being based on the perception that all is empty of an inherent nature/inherent existence, due to the deep interrelation of all phenomena, such that a dualistic separation of things, even of nirvana and the world of suffering, is not valid.
To practise in the middle way with insight into the essence of non-duality is to know the truth of the path. ... To understand that one cannot ultimately get hold of the path leading out of suffering, and to see with right understanding that everything is empty of inherent existence, is to understand the path of the middle way.
‘The Six Noumenal and Phenomenal Perfections Sūtra’/Da-sheng-li-qu-liu-boluomiduo jing, Taishō vol.8, text 261, p 913c23–914a01, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.62 The principle of dependent arising and the middle way I
This passage is based on the idea that the dependent arising of all phenomena means that they neither exist in a solid, unchanging, substantial way, nor are they completely non-existent – they form an ephemeral flux whose nature is difficult to conceptualise. The middle way of practice is based on knowing this middle way kind of existence, and not being attached to things as if their nature was different from this.
Dependent arising is neither being nor non-being. It is neither real nor unreal.
Entering into the middle way is thus said to be non-attachment.
Mahā-avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p. 316c21–22, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.63 The principle of dependent arising and the middle way II
This passage holds that the conditioned, inter-dependent nature of phenomena (see *Th.156ff, *M.130 and 138) is so profound that it cannot be comprehended by means of concepts and conventional thought, as it is ineffable and identical to nirvana. It is useful to describe it, though, as having a ‘middle way’ nature that is beyond the extremes of complete non-existence and solid, substantial existence (cf. *Th.168 and *V.32). Truly understood, phenomena lack any spatial location, but ordinary people do not understand this, and grasp at one of two extreme views about the nature of reality.
All phenomena are included in dependent arising. Nothing which is included in dependent arising can be said to be either a middle or an extreme. If one leaves conventional expressions aside, one cannot get hold of anything, not even the least phenomenon.
Anantavyūha, now you should contemplate the non-existence of phenomena,359 the Dharma without extremes which is known as the middle way. As an expression of skill in means, it is said that there is awakened wisdom which maintains the Dharma, but one cannot get hold of anyone who maintains the Dharma. As there is nothing to get hold of, there is no conventional expression.
Anantavyūha, you and all the wise should understand that the real essence of all phenomena is that they do not come, they do not go, they are indivisible, unceasing, not the same, not different, and ultimately arrive at the other shore of all phenomena. There is no phenomenon whatsoever that does not arrive on the other shore. The other shore is nirvana. The essence of all phenomena is undoubtedly nirvana. This is why they are said to be ineffable. It is only as a matter of convention that one can talk about the middle way. This middle way is the way that leads to nirvana. Nevertheless, there is no nirvana one can go to. If nirvana were something one could go to, then all phenomena would be involved in coming or going. The nature of all phenomena is the same. This is why it is said that nirvana is not something one can go to. This, Anantavyūha, is what is called the middle way.
This middle way, though, is not just the middle way. Why is this? It is because it neither increases nor decreases. It involves no extremes, it involves no grasping. If something involves no extremes, why are there extremes? Phenomena have no location, and so by their nature have no extremes. Ordinary people do not see this, hold on to a view that there are extremes. Because of this view that there are extremes, they cannot attain liberation, because in reality nothing is located anywhere.
It is only as an application of skill in means, Anantavyūha, that the Tathāgata has resolved in his wisdom to teach the middle way.
Ananta-mukha-pariśodhana-nirdeśa, section 2 of the Mahā-ratnakūṭa Sūtra, Taishō vol.11, text 310, pp.29c15–30a04, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
The path of the bodhisattva as superior to those of the disciple and the solitary-buddha
For a discussion of these three paths in a Theravāda context, see *ThI.6.
M.64 The bodhisattva path as superior
The first passage affirms that the bodhisattva path is the superior Buddhist path. The ideal Buddhist does not take either of the relatively short paths, the path to becoming an awakened disciple or a solitary-buddha, but compassionately takes the long path to perfectly awakened Buddhahood, remaining in the round of rebirths for innumerable lives to aid others, while developing the qualities needed for Buddhahood. The second passage explains that those who have attained the sixth of the ten stages of the bodhisattva path, and who are not yet certain of attaining perfectly awakened Buddhahood, are still superior to (arhant) disciples and solitary-buddhas.
Son of good family, there are three Dharmas, lower, intermediate, and higher. One who practises the lower Dharma is a disciple.360 One who practises the intermediate Dharma is a solitary-buddha. One who practises the higher Dharma is a Buddha. …
Son of good family, when a bodhisattva has reached the stage of liberation, he will never perform actions that will lead to rebirth in the (divine levels of the) realm of sensual desire, the realm of form, or the formless realm. He takes a vow to always be born wherever he can benefit living beings. If he knows with certainty that his actions will lead to rebirth amongst the gods, he will immediately transform these actions in order to be born as a human being. The actions referred to here are generosity, the observance of the precepts, and the practice of meditation.
When a disciple has reached the stage of initial liberation, no more than three lives will pass before he realises complete liberation. The same applies to the solitary-buddha.
A bodhisattva, a great being, who has reached the stage of initial liberation never regresses, even though innumerable lives will pass before he attains complete liberation. With his mind irreversibly set on awakening, he is superior to all disciples and solitary-buddhas.
Singalaka asked the Buddha, ‘Blessed One, why do living beings train their minds in order to attain awakening?’ The Buddha replied, ‘Son of good family, there are two reasons why living beings train their minds in order to attain awakening. The first is that they reflect that although those who have attained the wisdom of the sixth stage of the bodhisattva path might regress, they are still superior to all disciples and solitary-buddhas. The second is that they diligently seek the unsurpassed fruit of practice.’
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.4, p.1037b09–10, 14–21, and ch.2, p.1035b18–23, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.65 The superior wisdom of a perfectly awakened Buddha
Son of good family, the Tathāgata’s understanding of all conditioning factors is perfect. Disciples and solitary-buddhas also acquire an understanding of all conditioning factors in relation to the Four Truths of the Noble Ones, but this understanding is incomplete. This is why they are not called perfectly awakened Buddhas ... Disciples and solitary-buddhas have eliminated the defilements but their habitual tendencies remain. The Tathāgata has uprooted even the basis for the remaining habitual tendencies of the defilements. This is why he is called a perfectly awakened Buddha.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch. 5, p.1038b, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.66 Only Buddhas completely end spiritual ignorance and fully experience nirvana
In this passage, Queen Śrīmālā gives the Mahāyāna teaching that only perfectly awakened Buddhas have completed the task of spiritual transformation.
Blessed One, arhants, solitary-buddhas and bodhisattvas who are in their final existence are submerged in latent ignorance. They do not know, and do not perceive various phenomena. If they do not know, and do not perceive what should be destroyed, they cannot ultimately destroy it. As these things are not destroyed, their liberation is said to be incomplete, with flaws remaining. It is not flawless liberation. Their purity is said to be incomplete, not all-encompassing. This is called the achievement of incomplete virtue, virtue which is not all-encompassing. It is the achievement of incomplete liberation, incomplete purity, incomplete virtue. If one partially understands what is painful, partially eliminates its origination, partially realizes its cessation, and partially practises the path, one is said to have partially attained nirvana. The partial attainment of nirvana is said to be oriented towards the realm of nirvana. If one fully understands what is painful, fully eliminates its origination, fully realizes its cessation, and fully practises the path, one is said to have attained eternal nirvana within the world – the impermanent decaying world, the impermanent, disease-ridden world. It offers support and protection to a world which (otherwise) has no support, and no protection. Why is this? It is because nirvana is attained because phenomena are neither superior nor inferior, because wisdom is the same for everyone, because liberation is the same for everyone, because purification is the same for everyone. This is why nirvana has one taste, the same taste for everyone, the taste of freedom.
Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, ch.5, p.220a25-b10; cf. Taishō vol. 11, text 310, p.
675c08–18, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.67 The bodhisattva works tirelessly within saṃsāra while attuned to nirvana
In this passage, in which the Buddha addresses bodhisattvas who have come from other worlds, he details how a bodhisattva should tirelessly work within the conditioned world to aid beings, contemplating the qualities of the unconditioned, nirvana, yet not allowing themselves to leave the conditioned world of rebirths. This is what is sometimes called ‘nirvana which is not based on anything’.
The Blessed One said, ‘Children of good family, there is a liberation for bodhisattvas which is called “The Destructible and the Indestructible”. You should train yourselves in it. What does it consist of? “The Destructible” refers to what is conditioned, and “the Indestructible” refers to what is unconditioned. A bodhisattva should not destroy what is conditioned, nor base himself upon what is unconditioned.
Not destroying what is conditioned means not wavering from great loving kindness; not giving up great compassion; not losing hold of the mind of omniscience which is based upon firm resolve; not growing weary of bringing living beings to maturity; not abandoning the methods for bringing people together; giving up one’s body and one’s life to protect the Dharma; never being satisfied with the extent of one’s wholesome roots; basing oneself on the dedication of one’s wholesome actions to awakening; not being lazy in one’s striving for the Dharma; not being tight-lipped when teaching the Dharma; being greatly enthusiastic about seeing and worshipping the Tathāgatas; fearlessly choosing to be reborn; not being elated by success or bowed by failure; not looking down on those who are not learned; having the kind of affection for the learned that a pupil has for his teachers; bringing those who are filled with the defilements towards profound understanding; not becoming absorbed by the pleasures of solitude; not pursuing one’s own happiness, but becoming absorbed by the pursuit of others’ happiness; seeing meditative absorption, meditative concentration, and meditative attainments as being like the Avīci Hell; seeing saṃsāra as being like a palace surrounded by gardens;361 seeing beggars as being like spiritual friends; seeing the abandonment of everything one owns as being like the attainment of omniscience; seeing immoral people as being like rescuers; seeing the perfections as being like one’s mother and father; seeing the practices which help one to attain awakening as being like one’s attendants; never ceasing to accumulate wholesome roots, creating a Buddha-field which possesses the good qualities of all Buddha-fields; being unrestricted in making offerings for the purpose of attaining the bodily marks and secondary characteristics of a Buddha; adorning one’s body, speech, and mind by not engaging in any evil acts; purifying one’s body, speech, and mind by wandering through saṃsāra for countless eons; avoiding despondency by listening attentively to the good qualities of the Buddha with an attitude of mental heroism; defeating the defilements, which are one’s enemies, by taking up the sword of wisdom; taking up the burden of all living beings by understanding the categories of existence, the elements, and the sense-bases; attacking Māra’s armies with flaming vigour; seeking the Dharma in order to free oneself from pride; being satisfied with little in order to get hold of the Dharma and to seek knowledge; not getting involved with worldly things in order to please worldly people; not disrupting one’s spiritual practice in order to conform to the world; cultivating the higher knowledges in order to be able to see all actions; developing knowledge, mindfulness, and dhāraṇīs 362 in order to be able to remember everything one has heard; understanding the faculties of others in order to remove the uncertainties of all living beings; basing oneself upon non-attachment in order to teach the Dharma; developing the faculty of clear expression in order to give clear expression to non-attachment; experiencing good fortune as a human being or a god by purifying one’s practice of the ten wholesome kinds of action; attaining the state of a brahmā -god by cultivating the four limitless qualities;363 asking the Buddhas to teach the Dharma, praising them, rejoicing in them, and making offerings to them in order to hear them speak; attaining restraint of body, speech and mind, and becoming absorbed in all Dharma-teachings in order to realise the spiritual practice of a Buddha; assembling the bodhisattva Sangha in order to spread the Mahāyāna; and being vigilant so that one does not lose any good quality. This, children of good family, is how a bodhisattva who is devoted to the Dharma does not destroy what is conditioned.
What, then, does it mean to not base oneself upon what is unconditioned? A bodhisattva thoroughly familiarises himself with emptiness,364 but does not realise emptiness. He thoroughly familiarises himself with freedom from characteristics, but does not realise freedom from characteristics. He thoroughly familiarises himself with freedom from aspirations,365 but does not realise freedom from aspirations. He thoroughly familiarises himself with non-accomplishment, but does not realise non-accomplishment. He examines impermanence, but is not content with his wholesome roots. He examines what is painful, but chooses to be reborn. He examines the non-existence of an essential self, but he does not give himself over to destruction. He examines peace, but does not cultivate absolute peace. He examines solitude, but makes effort with his body and his mind. He examines the state of having no foundation, but does not abandon the foundation of good qualities. He examines freedom from grasping, but takes on the burden of living beings. He examines freedom from intoxicating inclinations, but follows the course of saṃsāra. He examines non-action, but acts in order to bring living beings to maturity. He examines the absence of an essential self, but does not waver in his great compassion for living beings. He examines freedom from birth, but does not fall prey to the limitations of a disciple.366 He examines hollowness, triviality, insubstantiality, ownerlessness, and homelessness, but his beneficial karma is not hollow, his knowledge is not trivial, his discrimination is perfect, he is initiated into self-arisen knowledge and skilled in self-arisen knowledge, he makes his meaning clear, and he bases himself on the lineage of the Buddha. This, children of good family, is how a Bodhisattva who is devoted to the Dharma does not base himself on what is unconditioned, and yet does not destroy what is conditioned.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.10, sections 16–18, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
The need for a spiritual teacher
M.68 The need to change one’s ways, and how a good guide can help in this
This passage has a bodhisattva warning people of the need to avoid evil ways that will bring them future suffering.
The Buddha said to Lord Yama,367 ‘Living beings in this world are erratic. It is in their nature to be headstrong and stubborn. They are difficult to train, difficult to lead. The great bodhisattva spends hundreds of thousands of eons saving them from suffering, leading them quickly to liberation. For living beings who have acted in an unwholesome way, and even fallen into great evil, the bodhisattva employs the power of his skill in means to rescue them from their basic karmic circumstances and lead them to an understanding of their previous existences.
Because living beings in this world are tied down by the weight of their own evil habits, they cycle in and out of states of hardship. The bodhisattva therefore labours for countless long eons, working to release beings such as these.
They are like people who have lost their way home, and accidentally take a dangerous road. On that dangerous road, there are many yakṣas,368 as well as tigers, wolves, lions, snakes, vipers, and scorpions. These lost travellers will soon come to harm on that dangerous road. Then they meet a spiritual friend who is able to explain things skilfully, and who knows how to avoid danger, yakṣas, poisonous creatures and so forth. When he encounters the lost travellers on the dangerous road, he says to them, “Greetings, gentlemen. Why are you travelling on this road? What range of skills do you possess which allow you to avoid all of its dangers?”
When they hear his words, they suddenly realise that they are travelling on a dangerous road, and they turn back in order to escape from it. Their spiritual friend has them join hands, and leads them away from the dangerous road with its perils and poisonous creatures, and onto a safe road. When they are calm and contented, he says to them, “Lost travellers, do not take that road again in the future. Once you are on it, it is hard to find a way out. It can cost you your lives.”
The travellers who had been lost were very moved. When they were about to depart, the spiritual friend says to them, “If you see any other travellers, men or women, whether you know them or not, tell them that this road is filled with dangers, which may cost them their lives. Do not let them go to their deaths.” In the same way, the bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha, out of great compassion, rescues living beings who are suffering because of their unwholesome actions. He causes them to be born amongst the gods, where they experience great happiness.
All of these living beings who have acted in an unwholesome way in the past understand the suffering that such actions bring, and once they have escaped them, they will never endure them again. Just like the lost travellers who accidentally took a dangerous road, and who encountered a spiritual friend who led them to safety, they will never take that road again. If they encounter others, they will advise them not to take that road, saying, “We took that road ourselves by accident, but now that we have escaped from it, we will never take it again. If we were to find ourselves travelling on that road again by accident, we would not recongise it as the same dangerous road on which we had travelled before, and we might lose our lives.” Falling into harmful states of existence is like this.
Through the power of his skill in means, the bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha rescues living beings and causes them to be born amongst the gods. If they were to turn around and, tied down by the weight of their previous actions, end up in the hells, they might never be able to escape.’
Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrva-praṇidhāna Sūtra, Taishō vol.13, text 412, ch.8, pp.784c28–785a27, trans. D.S.
M.69 The benefit of having wise and virtuous friends
These passages are from a text on the spiritual pilgrimage of Sudhana, who goes to fifty three spiritual friends – people and beings of many different types – for spiritual guidance.
[3. Mañjuśrī teaches:] At that time, when the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī had uttered those verses, he said to Sudhana, ‘Son of good family, if you want to attain omniscience, you should resolve to look for spiritual friends. Son of good family, you should never tire of looking for spiritual friends. You should never get bored of serving spiritual friends. You should do what your spiritual friends advise you to do. You should never find fault with you spiritual friends’ application of skill in means.’ …
[5. Sāramegha teaches:] Now, the young man Sudhana, who had been inspired by his spiritual friends, who had followed his spiritual friends’ advice, who bore his spiritual friends’ words in mind, who cherishing his spiritual friends deeply, reflected, ‘Thanks to my spiritual friends I have been so blessed as to be able to see the Buddhas. Thanks to my spiritual friends, I have been so blessed as to be able to hear the teachings. My spiritual friends are my respected teachers, because they have shown me the way to the Dharma of the Buddhas. My spiritual friends are my clear eyes, because thanks to them I have been able to see Buddhas filling the whole of space. My spiritual friends are truly the landing from which I can proceed to the lotus pond of Tathāgatas.’
Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p.334a1-9, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.70 The bodhisattva’s spiritual friends: the Buddha, advanced bodhisattvas, and the perfections
The Blessed One then addressed the Venerable Subhūti once more, saying, ‘A bodhisattva, Subhūti, a great being who has set out with the firm intention to attain unsurpassed perfect awakening should from the very outset serve, honour, and worship his spiritual friends.’
Subhūti said, ‘Blessed One, who are these spiritual friends of a bodhisattva …?’
The Blessed One then said to the Venerable Subhūti, ‘The Buddhas, Subhūti, the Blessed Ones, and those bodhisattvas, those great beings, who are skilled in the path of the bodhisattva, who instruct and advise him in the perfections, and who teach and explain the perfection of wisdom to him – these, Subhūti, are the spiritual friends of a bodhisattva, a great being. The perfection of wisdom itself, Subhūti, is the spiritual friend of a bodhisattva, a great being. Indeed, Subhūti, all six of the perfections369 are the spiritual friends of a bodhisattva, a great being. The six perfections are his teacher … his path … his vision … his torch … his light … his protection … his refuge … his place of rest … his sanctuary … his island … his mother … his father. The six perfections lead him to knowledge, to understanding, to unsurpassed, perfect awakening.
Aṣṭasāhasrika Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, ch.22, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
Developing the awakening-mind (bodhi-citta)
In the Mahāyāna, the arising of the awakening-mind, the mind set on attaining the awakening (bodhi) of a perfect Buddha, is seen as a potent and profound event, which transforms a person and energises the compassionate actions that bring them closer to Buddhahood (see also *V.33–9.). In a deeper sense, the awakening-mind is also the awakened mind itself: ‘ultimate’, rather than ‘relative’ awakening-mind.
M.71 Reasons to develop the awakening-mind
The bodhisattva Samantabhadra addressed Samantamati and the assembly of bodhisattvas: ‘Children of the Buddha, there are ten reasons that bodhisattvas, great beings, develop the awakening-mind. What are they? They are: to teach, guide, and train all living beings; to rid all living beings of their bundle of suffering; to bring the bliss of tranquillity to all living beings; to rid all living beings of their delusion; to lead all living beings to the understanding of a Buddha; to serve and worship all the Buddhas; to following the Buddha’s teaching so as to please the Buddha; to see the wonderful bodily marks of all Buddhas; to penetrate the all-embracing wisdom of all the Buddhas; and to manifest the powers and the self-confidence of a Buddha.’
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p.282b6–15, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
The bodhisattva Dharmamati said to Indra: ‘Son of the Buddha, when bodhisattvas first set their minds on awakening, ... they do not only do so in order to train all living beings, guiding them in the observance of the five precepts and the path of ten wholesome kinds of action, teaching them to dwell in the four meditative absorptions, the four limitless qualities, and the four formless meditative states, instructing them in how to obtain the fruits of the stream-enterer, the once-returner, the non-returner, the arhant, and the solitary-buddha, and in how to set their minds on awakening.
They also do so in order to sustain the unbroken lineage of the Tathāgata, to embrace all worlds, to liberate all living beings, to gain a thorough understanding of the evolution and dissolution of all worlds, to gain a thorough understanding of the purity and impurity of all living beings in all worlds, to gain a thorough understanding of the essential purity of all worlds, to gain an understanding of the mental pleasures, the defilements, and the habitual tendencies of all living beings, to understand how all living beings die and are reborn, to understand the means and the capabilities of all living beings, to understand the mental activity of all living beings, to perceive all living beings in the three times, to understand that all the realms of the Buddhas are the same. It is in order to do all this that they set their minds on unsurpassed perfect awakening.’
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, p. 89b1–19, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.72 Aids for arousing the awakening-mind
Children of good family, there are five things that lead one to set one’s mind on awakening. The first is close companionship with spiritual friends. The second is the elimination of hate in the mind. The third is following the instructions of one’s teachers. The fourth is the development of compassion in the mind. The fifth is practised diligently and with vigour.
There are five more things that lead one to set one’s mind on awakening. The first is not seeing the faults of others. The second is not becoming discouraged even when one sees such faults. The third is not becoming arrogant when one does good deeds. The fourth is not becoming jealous of others when they do good deeds. The fifth is regarding each living being as being like one’s only child.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.2, p.1035c08–13, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.73 Reasons for a bodhisattva’s compassion
Son of good family, a sage has a profound vision of all living beings sinking in saṃsāra’s great ocean of suffering and vows to rescue them. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. … Although he sees that living beings are full of resentment and hatred, he treats them like family. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. He sees that living beings go astray from the right path, as they don’t have a guide. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. He sees that living beings have sunk down into the mud of the five kinds of sensual desire, that they indulge in them and are unable to escape. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. He sees that living beings are trapped by their property, their spouses, and their children, and are unable to give them up. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. … He sees that living beings delight in being reborn in the realm of existence, although they are afflicted by all the defilements. Because of this, he develops compassion for them. … He sees that although living beings long for happiness, they do not create the causes of happiness for themselves, and although they do not like suffering, they create the causes of suffering for themselves. … Because of this, he develops compassion for them.
Upāsaka-śīla Sūtra, Taishō vol.24, text 1488, ch.3, p. 1036a11–26, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.74 A bodhisattva’s compassionate aspirations
Vimalakīrti said, ‘Children of good family, there are eight qualities which a bodhisattva should possess in order to go safely and without obstruction from this world-system called Earth to a completely pure Buddha-field at death. What are these eight qualities? He should think, “I should help all living beings, and not seek any pleasure from them. I should thus strive to take on the suffering of all living beings, and give them my wholesome roots.370 I must not bear ill-will towards any living being. I must regard all bodhisattvas with the affection a student has for his teacher. I must not oppose any Dharma-teachings, whether or not I have heard them before. I must not be jealous of others’ achievements, but contemplate my mind deeply with no desire to achieve anything myself. I must examine my own shortcomings, and not point out others’ faults. I must delight in vigilance and resolve to cultivate all possible good qualities.” …’
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.9, section 18, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.75 The bodhisattva’s compassionate vows
This passage is a graphic expression of a bodhisattva’s urge to save other beings.
In the ‘Noble Vajradhvaja Sūtra’ he (the Buddha) says, ‘… a bodhisattva, a great being, with mindfulness and clear comprehension, his mind pure and profound … (thinks), “… the mass of suffering of all beings, … all that, I take away through being reborn in hell,371 and in the realms of misfortune. May all living beings be removed from those places. I take that burden of suffering on myself,372 determined to endure it. I do not turn back. I do not flee. I am not afraid. I do not tremble. I do not fear. I do not turn away. I do not despair.
Why is this? It is because I must remove the burden of all living beings. This is not the fulfilment of my own desire, it is my vow to rescue all living beings. I must liberate all living beings. I must save the whole world from the wilderness of birth, from the wilderness of old age ... of disease ... of falling into rebirth ... of all faults ... of all misfortunes ... of the entirety of saṃsāra ... of the thicket of all wrong views ... of the loss of wholesome qualities, and from the wilderness of the arising of ignorance. I must liberate living beings from all of these wildernesses. They are entangled in the net of craving, filled with the hindrance of ignorance, encumbered by the craving for existence, destined for death, flung into the cage of suffering, fond of their prison, foolish, unreliable in their commitments, full of uncertainty, always disagreeing, encountering discomfort, with no proper refuge, frightened, alone in the spinning cycle of existence. …373 I work to establish the realm of unsurpassed understanding for all living beings. I am not intent on liberating only myself. Using the raft of the mind set on omniscience, I must pull all living beings from the evil states of saṃsāra. I must pull them back from the great precipice. I must liberate them from all misfortune. I must ferry them across the river of saṃsāra. I have taken the mass of suffering of all living beings on myself. I have the strength to embrace all of the suffering that lies in all of the misfortune in all world-systems. I will not trick any living being out of their wholesome roots. I am determined to endure every misfortune for countless eons. I will endure every single state of misfortune in every single world-system, in order to liberate all living beings.
Why is this? It is because it is better that I alone should be in pain, rather than all of these living beings who have fallen into states of misfortune. I must give myself into bondage, and the whole world must be redeemed from the wildernesses of hell, the animal realm, and the realm governed by Yama.374 I must embrace the entire mass of painful sensations with my own body, for the sake of all living beings.375 In order to help all living beings, I must be able to become their equal. I must be trustworthy, speaking the truth, creating harmony when I speak.
Why is this? It is because my cultivation of a mind set on omniscience is based on all living beings, and I must liberate the whole world. I did not set out to attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening in order to obtain the delights of sensual pleasures … Why is this? It is because the delights of the world are no delights at all. To be devoted to sensual pleasures is to be devoted to Māra.”’
Śikṣā-samuccaya of Śāntideva, ch. 16, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
M.76 The bodhisattva’s wisdom, loving kindness, and compassionate urge to save others
This passage sees the bodhisattva’s wisdom as issuing in his or her kindness and compassion.
The Blessed One said, ‘Subhūti, if all of the living beings in this world were to suddenly acquire human form, cultivate minds set on unsurpassed perfect awakening, maintain such minds as long as they lived, and to honour, revere, venerate, worship, reverence, and glorify all of the Tathāgatas as long as they lived, and then give gifts to all living beings, and dedicate the karmic benefit from that act of generosity to unsurpassed perfect awakening, do you think, Subhūti, that those bodhisattvas, those great beings, would produce a great deal of karmic benefit by doing so?’
Subhūti said, ‘Yes, Blessed One, they would produce a great deal of karmic benefit – a great deal, Fortunate One.’
The Blessed One said, ‘Subhūti, a son or daughter of good family who is a bodhisattva, a great being, and who dwells with their mind absorbed by the perfection of wisdom for just one day produces even more karmic benefit. Why is this? It is because, Subhūti, whenever a bodhisattva, a great being, dwells with mind absorbed by the perfection of wisdom for a day and a night, he is worthy of being venerated by all living beings. Why is this? It is because there are no other living beings who have minds filled with loving kindness like the mind of that bodhisattva, that great being, except the Buddhas, the Blessed Ones. Why is this? It is because, Subhūti, the Tathāgatas are peerless. The Tathāgatas are unequalled, Subhūti. The qualities of the Tathāgatas, the arhants, the perfectly awakened Buddhas, Subhūti, are inconceivable.
How, Subhūti, does a son or daughter of good family produce so much karmic benefit? A bodhisattva, a great being, by means of the wisdom he possesses, Subhūti, sees all living beings as heading for death. Because of this, he is seized by great compassion. With his divine eye, he sees in full detail innumerable, incalculable, untold, countless living beings who possess karma which will have an immediate effect: living beings who have been born into unfavourable circumstances, who are being destroyed, who are caught in the net of wrong views, who do not have access to the path. He sees other living beings who have been born in favourable circumstances, but have lost those favourable circumstances. When he sees this, he becomes deeply dismayed.
He extends his great loving kindness, his great compassion to all those living beings, and the mind becomes absorbed by them. He thinks, “I will be the protector of all these living beings. I will release all of these living beings from all of their suffering.” He does not, though, associate this or anything else with a label. This, Subhūti, is the great vision of the wisdom of a bodhisattva, a great being, by which he attains unsurpassed, perfect awakening. By dwelling in this state, Subhūti, a bodhisattva, a great being, becomes worthy of the offerings of the whole world, and does not turn back from unsurpassed, perfect awakening. When their minds are established in the perfection of wisdom, and they are approaching omniscience, worthy of gifts, they purify the gifts given to them which they consume: robes, alms food, materials for sleeping and sitting on, medicine to treat disease, and utensils.376 Therefore, Subhūti, a bodhisattva, a great being, should dwell with mind absorbed by the perfection of wisdom. He will thereby not consume his alms for no purpose, but teach all living beings the path, extend his radiance far and wide, release living beings from saṃsāra, and cleanse the vision of all living beings.’
Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, ch.22, trans. From Sanskrit by D.S.
V.24 Three kinds of faith
This passage distinguishes three types of faith, which develop stage by stage. ‘Lucid’– as opposed to blind – faith, is informed faith that is usually triggered by a religious experience of awe. ‘Aspiring’ faith is inspiration to enter the path and gain personal experience of the Dharma. As one follows the path, ‘convinced’ faith in the extraordinary qualities of in the Three Jewels is gained and there is total trust in them.
Just as going for refuge is the gateway to all the teachings, the gateway to going for refuge is faith. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop a firm faith within before you go for refuge. There are three kinds of faith: lucid faith, aspiring faith, and convinced faith.
‘Lucid faith’ is what arises when we are suddenly moved to faith by a lucid experience of the Buddhas’ great compassion, which can happen on account of things like entering a temple with many representations of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind inside; or meeting holy persons and spiritual masters face to face, or hearing about such people’s great qualities and life-stories of liberation.
‘Aspiring faith’ is what arises when we have heard about the pains of saṃsāra and the lower realms, and we want to be free from them; when we have heard about the pleasures of the higher realms and liberation, and we want to attain them; when we have learnt about the karmic benefits of wholesome actions, and we want to actualize them; and when we have seen the drawbacks of unwholesome actions, and we want to avoid them.
‘Convinced faith’ is what arises when we have comprehended the good qualities and extraordinary spiritual energy of the Three Precious Jewels, and we trust in them from the depth of our hearts; when we have found them to be the most precious refuge which are unfailing in all times and circumstances, and that we can always count on them in whatever we do – whether we are happy or sad, sick or healthy, alive or dead. It is a faith of total trust in which one has no source of hope and confidence other than the Three Jewels. As it was said by the Precious Master of Oḍḍiyāna (Padmasaṃbhava) ‘Through the faith of total trust, you receive spiritual energy. When your mind is freed from doubt, you can achieve whatever you wish.’
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.272–73, trans. T.A.
V.25 The significance of faith
Faith is a source of spiritual energy that is indispensable to the development of good qualities. The speed of one’s progress on the path is directly related to the degree of one’s faith and devotion.
Faith is like a seed which gives rise to all good aspects of positive qualities. If you have no faith, it is like having a fire-burnt seed. As is said in a sūtra, ‘People without faith cannot give rise to positive qualities, just as a fire-burnt seed cannot give rise to a green sprout.’
In that way, faith is foremost of the seven riches of the noble ones.377 As is said, ‘The precious wheel of faith rolls on night and day on the road of wholesomeness.’ That being the case, it is like a treasure that is the most supreme gem among all riches, and thus an inexhaustible source of good qualities; it is like the feet by which we walk the path of liberation and the hands by which we collect all wholesome qualities in our mind-stream. As is said, ‘Faith is a supreme gem, treasure, and feet; like hands collecting what is wholesome.’
So, even though the Three Jewels have an inconceivable amount of compassion and spiritual energy, their ability to enter our mind-stream solely depends on our faith and devotion. If we have immense faith and devotion, then the Three Jewels’ compassion and blessing that can enter us will also be tremendous. Likewise, if we have mediocre faith and devotion, then only a mediocre amount of compassion and blessing can enter (our mind-stream); and if we have no more than just a little faith and devotion, then only a very small amount of their compassion and blessing is able to enter us. But if we have no faith and devotion at all, then we will not receive any compassion or blessing. If we have no faith, then even meeting the Buddha himself and being taken under his care would be useless – as it was for the monk Sunakṣatra, whose story has already been told,378 or for the Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta.379
Even today, if one invokes him with heartfelt faith and devotion, the Buddha himself will appear in front of one, and bless one with spiritual power. For Buddha’s compassion, there is no near or far; as is said, ‘For whoever thinks of him with faith, the Buddha will be present to grant him empowerment and blessing.’ And the Great Master of Oḍḍiyāna has also said: ‘For faithful persons, both men and women, Padmasaṃbhava will depart – he will sleep outside their door. My life will never have an end – before each person having faith, a Padmasaṃbhava will appear.’ 380
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.273–5, trans. T.A.
V.26 A parable of faith
The story below demonstrates the extraordinary power of faith. It also sheds some light on the Buddhist cult of relics (see *Th.94). It shows how their spiritual efficacy can depend on the faith of devotees, regardless of the physical origin of those sacred objects – which might sometimes be dubious.
When one is convinced of one’s faith, the Buddha’s compassion can manifest in anything. Having faith is illustrated by the parable of the old woman who was enlightened by a dog’s tooth.
Once upon a time, there was an old woman, who had two sons. One of them would often go to India on business. His old mother told him: ‘India happens to be the country where the perfectly awakened Buddha reached awakening on the Vajra-seat. Would you please bring me a sacred relic from India so that I can make prostrations to it?’ She asked him many times, but her son would always forget about her request and would never bring her anything. One day, when her son was leaving for India again, she told him: ‘This time, if you do not bring me any sacred relic from India for my prostrations, I shall kill myself and die in front of you!’
The son travelled to India, concluded his business, and returned home, forgetting his mother’s request. It was not until he had almost arrived at her house that he remembered what she had said. ‘What shall I do now?’ he thought to himself. ‘I have not brought my old mother anything for her prostrations. If I arrive home without a sacred relic, she will commit suicide.’ Looking all around him, he noticed a dog’s skull lying by the roadside. He pulled out one of its teeth and wrapped it in silk. When he arrived home, he gave it to his mother, saying, ‘This is one of the Buddha’s canine teeth. If you prostrate to it, he will answer your prayers.’
The old woman believed that the dog’s tooth was actually the canine tooth of the Buddha, and was inspired to faith. As she did prostrations and made offerings to it all the time, many relics descended on the dog’s tooth. When the old woman died, spheres of rainbow lights and other signs (of high spiritual accomplishment) appeared. Even though the dog’s tooth had no spiritual power, as the old woman, through the power of her great faith, believed it to be the actual tooth of the Buddha, it was imbued with the Buddha’s blessing, so that eventually it was not any different from the canine tooth of the Buddha.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.275–76, trans. T.A.
Going for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
V.27 Refuge prayer
This traditional refuge prayer, common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, is attributed to Atiśa.381
Until I reach awakening, I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha Jewels.
By the beneficial karma of practising the six perfections,382 may I achieve awakening for the sake of all sentient beings!
V.28 Different motivations for going for refuge
This passage spells out the difference between the ‘Hīnayāna’383 and Mahāyāna attitudes toward taking refuge.
One may go for refuge out of two motivations. The common motivation is that one is unable to bear one’s own suffering, and the special motivation is that one cannot bear the suffering of others.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.124–25, trans. T.A.
V.29 Refuge ceremony
The ritual of going for refuge is performed in front of a spiritual teacher or a guru. From the two kinds of refuge ceremonies – simple and elaborate – described by Gampopa in the eighth chapter of his ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, what follows is the simple one.
First, the disciple supplicates the teacher (to perform the ceremony). Then the teacher takes preparations by making offerings in front of the Three Jewels’ representations or, if that is not possible, he imagines the Three Jewels in the sky and gives them homage and offerings mentally. Then the disciple should say after the teacher as follows: ‘All Buddhas and bodhisattvas, please listen to me! Teacher, please listen to me! I – named so-and-so – from now on until I reach the heart of awakening, go for refuge to the Buddha, the most supreme human; go for refuge to the Dharma, the most supreme freedom from attachment; and go for refuge to the Sangha, the most supreme community!’ Sincerely he should repeat it three times.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, p.125, trans. T.A.
The spiritual teacher
V.30 The need for a spiritual teacher
In chapter three of his ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, Gampopa presents three similes for the role of a teacher in one’s spiritual life. The third one is an extended version of the Buddha’s parable of the boat/raft (of Dharma, see *Th.23 and *M.20) is especially interesting.
The spiritual friend is like a guide when you travel an unknown path; like an escort when you travel to a dangerous place; or like a ferryman when you cross a big river. …
When crossing a big river, if you board the raft or boat without a ferryman, you may not reach the other shore but drown into the water or get carried away by the current. But if you have a ferryman, his endeavours will help you reach the other shore. Likewise, when crossing the ocean of saṃsāra, you may board the boat of the supreme Dharma, but you may drown into saṃsāra or get carried away by its current unless you have a spiritual friend, who is like a ferryman. That is why it is said, ‘Unless you have an oarsman, your boat cannot reach the other shore. You may have all good qualities complete but still without a master you cannot reach the end of becoming (saṃsāra).’384 Therefore, if you attend on a spiritual friend, who is like a ferry-man, you will certainly reach the other side of saṃsāra, the land of nirvana. As the ‘Flower-array Sūtra’ has it, ‘The spiritual friend is like a ferryman who saves you from the ocean of saṃsāra.’ That is why you should attend on a spiritual friend who is like a guide, and escort, and a ferryman.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.31–4, trans. T.A.
V.31 The qualities of a perfect teacher
Before accepting someone as one’s spiritual friend, one has to examine the person’s spiritual qualities in order to make sure that one is not going to be led astray by a false ‘master’. This passage contains some guidelines given by tradition for carrying out such an evaluation.
A spiritual friend who is an ordinary being (rather than a Buddha or a great bodhisattva) should have either eight, or four, or (at least) two good qualities.
The first set (of qualities) is listed in the ‘Stages of the Bodhisattva’: ‘If the spiritual friend of a bodhisattva has eight qualities, he is totally perfect in every respect. What are those eight qualities? He upholds the bodhisattva discipline, he has heard many bodhisattva scriptures, has realization, has compassion for others, he is fearless, patient, never depressed, and eloquent.’
The second set comes from the ‘Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras’: ‘A perfect bodhisattva teacher has vast learning, can eliminate doubts, is trustworthy, and teaches the two realities’ (MSA XII.5). (Explanation: ) Since he has heard many teachings, the teacher has vast learning. Because he has great wisdom, he can eliminate others’ doubts. Because he behaves like a supreme being, he is trustworthy. And he teaches the two realities, those characterized by thorough defilement (saṃsāra) and total purification (nirvana).
The third is described in ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, ‘A true spiritual friend is well-versed in the Mahāyāna, and has excellent bodhisattva discipline. Never leave him even for the sake of your life’ (BCA V.102). That is, he should be expert in teaching the Mahāyāna and he should maintain the bodhisattva vow.
Once you have found such a spiritual friend, you should attend on him in three ways: by rendering him respectful service, by showing him faithful devotion, and by diligently practising (his teachings). ...
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.38–9, trans. T.A.
Practising the middle way
V.32 The middle way as freedom from the two extremes
This passage describes the Mahāyāna understanding of the middle way as a non-conceptual view of reality, one which is free from the extreme views of permanence and nihilism (in the sense of complete non-existence – an idea similar to that expressed in *Th.168 and also found in *M.63). On a more subtle level, it is also understood as freedom from any conceptions even about the mind’s identity. Eventually, the middle way turns out to be non-conceptual state itself, which is the perfection of wisdom.385
Apprehending phenomena as existent or apprehending them as non-existent are both faulty, because they represent falling into the extremes of permanence and nihilism. As said in (Nāgārjuna’s) ‘Fundamental Treatise on the Mille Way’, ‘“Existence” is the view of permanence; “non-existence” is the view of nihilism’ (MMK XV.10a). Falling into the extremes of permanence and nihilism is to be deluded, and if one is deluded, one cannot attain liberation. In the ‘Precious Garland’ he also says, ‘To apprehend this mirage-like world either as existent or as non-existent is delusion, and if there is delusion, there can be no liberation’ (RV I.56).
So, if one asks how liberation can be attained, the answer is that one can attain liberation through practise the middle way, which is free from the two extremes. As the ‘Precious Garland’ says, ‘One who knows phenomena as they are (i.e. unproduced or unborn)386 will not rely on either (extreme of existence or non-existence) but attain liberation’ (RV I.57b). The ‘Fundamental Treatise on the Mille Way’ also says, ‘Therefore, the wise should not adhere to either (the extreme of) existence or non-existence’ (MMK XV.10b).
One may wonder what exactly the middle way is, which avoids the two extremes. It is described thus in the ‘Heap of Noble Jewels Sūtra’: ‘Kāśyapa! How should a bodhisattva correctly apply himself to the Dharma? He should apply himself to the middle way which is the correct assessment of phenomena. And what is the correct assessment of phenomena? Kāśyapa, it is thus:
That they are permanent is one extreme; that they are impermanent is the other extreme.387 What is in the middle between those two extremes is indiscernible and imperceptible; it cannot be indicated or conceptualized. Kāśyapa, this is the middle way which is the right assessment of phenomena. Kāśyapa! (The view of a permanent) self is one extreme, that of non-self (as utter denial of any kind of self) the other extreme. What is in the middle between those two extremes is indiscernible and imperceptible; it cannot be indicated or conceptualized. Kāśyapa, this is the middle way which is the correct assessment of phenomena. Kāśyapa! Saṃsāra is one extreme, nirvana (as complete cessation) is the other extreme. What is in the middle between those two extremes is indiscernible and imperceptible; it cannot be indicated or conceptualized. Kāśyapa, this is the middle way which is the correct assessment of phenomena.’388
Also, Ṥāntideva says, ‘The mind cannot be found either inside, outside (the body), or anywhere else, neither intermingled nor separate from it, and so cannot exist at all. Sentient beings, therefore, are naturally in nirvana’389 (BCA IX.103b-104).
Therefore, avoiding conceptualization in terms of the two extremes is what is called the middle way, but the middle way should not be conceptualized either. Without apprehending it as something ‘out there’, it is to dwell beyond the intellect. Atiśa also said, ‘Consider this: The past thought has already ceased to exist, the future thought has not yet come into being, and the present thought is extremely elusive. The mind does not have any colour or shape; similar to the sky, it does not have any concrete identity.’390 Also, the ‘Ornament of Clear Realization’ says, ‘Not to be found in either extreme of outside or inside, nor in between the two, being the same in the past, present, and future, it is found to be the perfection of wisdom.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.285–87, trans. T.A.
The awakening-mind (bodhi-citta)
Bodhi-citta is the single most important concept in Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism (see *M.71–6). It means the mind (citta) oriented to attaining a perfectly awakened Buddha’s awakening/enlightenment (bodhi) for the sake of benefitting others, and refers to the mind of a bodhisattva at different stages of spiritual development. Entering the path is marked by what is called the ‘arousing of awakening-mind’, understood as giving rise to the firm aspiration to reach awakening, in the sense of perfectly awakened Buddhahood, for the sake of others. Beyond this, the awakening-mind is a compassionate mental orientation that should be the source of engaged practice to move towards Buddhahood and help others to do likewise.
V.33 Definition of the awakening-mind
Arousing the awakening-mind is defined as (giving birth to) the wish for truly complete awakening for the sake of others. As said in the ‘Ornament of Clear Realization’: ‘Arousing the (awakening-) mind is the wish (to achieve) complete awakening for the sake of others.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, p.134, trans. T.A.
V.34 Ṥāntideva on the benefits of the awakening-mind
‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’ is among the most famous literary classics of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Authored by the great monk-philosopher Ṥāntideva in the eighth century CE, it has kept inspiring both Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhist ever since. The verses below from its first chapter (titled ‘The benefits of the awakening-mind’) are particularly well-known, and have been quoted in many later texts on arousing the awakening-mind.
4. This freedom and connection391 is very difficult to find. If I do not take advantage of this opportunity now to attain what can be accomplished by a human being, will I ever get it back again?
5. Like a flash of lightening from among clouds on a dark night, illuminating everything for an instant – that is how rarely, by the Buddha’s might, a beneficial insight ever occurs in the world.
6. This is because wholesome thoughts are always feeble, while unwholesome ones are too strong and irresistible. Could they be overpowered by any wholesomeness other than the complete awakening-mind?
7. This is what the Capable Lord, who has cultivated it throughout many ages, has found to be most beneficial – it can help an immeasurable multitude of people to easily attain the highest state of bliss.
8. If you wish to put down the hundred pains of existence, dispel all the pain of sentient beings, and also undergo much happiness (on the path), then you should never forsake the awakening-mind.
9. As the awakening-mind is born in those tormented ones captive in the prison saṃsāra, from that very moment they will be called ‘princes (or princesses) of the Tathāgata’, and will be honoured by worldly gods and humans.
10. You should firmly apprehend this that is known as the awakening-mind because it is like the best kind of gold-making elixir; this impure body you have taken is transformed by it into the invaluably precious body of a Buddha.
11. As it is so valuable and has been well-assayed by the sole leader of beings (the Buddha) in his immeasurable wisdom, those who wish to avoid rebirth in saṃsāra should firmly apprehend this precious awakening-mind.
12. Every other wholesome action is like a plantain tree; it yields fruit but once, then it dies away. The tree of awakening-mind, however, brings fruit all the time; rather than dying away, it multiplies.
13. Even if you have committed terrible misdeeds – once you put your trust in (awakening-mind), as in a body-guard, you are instantly saved from the great danger (of falling to the lower realms). Why should the heedless not put their trust in it?
14. It will surely consume (the effects of) all major wrong-doing in an instant, like the (all-consuming) conflagration at the end of times ...
‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, I.4–14, trans. T.A.
V.35 Types of awakening-mind I
After celebrating those benefits, Ṥāntideva proceeds to distinguish between two types of awakening-mind.
15. In brief, the awakening-mind is known as having two types; the awakening-mind of aspiration, and the awakening-mind of engagement.
16. The skilful should understand the distinction between the two in the same way as the difference between wishing to go (somewhere) and actually being on the way.
17. The awakening-mind of aspiration, while in saṃsāra, is very fruitful, but it does not yield continuous karmic benefit as the mind of engagement does.
‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, I.15–17, trans. T.A.
V.36 Types of awakening-mind II
Besides containing a very down-to-earth explanation on the above distinction, this passage introduces an even more fundamental classification of awakening-mind into the ‘relative’ and the ‘ultimate’ types. The latter is born from a direct insight into reality at a later stage in the path.
When classified according to its nature, there are two types of awakening-mind: relative and ultimate.
Within relative awakening-mind, there are two further sub-types: the mind of aspiration and the mind of engagement. As it is said in ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, ‘The skilful should understand the distinction between the two in the same way as the difference between wishing to go (somewhere) and actually being on the way’ (BCA I.16). If you want to go somewhere like Lhasa, for example, first you have to make up your mind ‘I am going to go to Lhasa.’ Just like that, first you have to think ‘I am going to make all sentient beings attain the rank of complete Buddhahood.’ This is the mind of aspiration which is like wishing to go (somewhere). Then you arrange for the travel provisions, pack horses and other preparations for the actual journey to Lhasa, and finally really set out on the road. Similarly, in order to make all sentient beings attain the rank of complete Buddhahood, you decide to practise generosity, maintain ethical discipline, cultivate patience, make sustained effort, develop meditative absorption, and train your mind in wisdom; and then you actually start practising these six perfections. This is the mind of engagement, which is like actually being on the way.
Both the mind of aspiration and the mind of engagement are relative awakening-mind. Through training for a long time on the paths of accumulation and connection392 while relying on relative awakening-mind, you finally enter the path of seeing393 where you have a direct realization of emptiness – knowledge without any conceptual elaboration – and you understand the actual nature of all dharmas. That realization is the arising of ultimate awakening-mind.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.354–55, trans. T.A.
V.37 Taking the vow of aspiration
The following passage from chapter nine of Gampopa’s ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ contains a short liturgy for taking the vow of awakening-mind at the beginning of the bodhisattva path.
The teacher should instruct the student in the following way: ‘Meditate on loving kindness and compassion for a while, thinking “Wherever space expands, there are sentient beings. Wherever there are sentient beings, there are defilements. Wherever defilements, there are wrong actions. Wherever wrong actions, there is suffering. All those sentient beings suffering in pain have been my fathers and mothers (in previous existences: see *V.13). All of my fathers and mothers have been very kind to me. Now all of my kind fathers and mothers are drowning in the ocean of saṃsāra. They are tormented by an incredible amount of suffering. There is no-one to protect them. How badly fatigued they are, how anguished! What could I do to make them happy? What could I do to free them from the suffering?” Then meditate on the following thought: “Presently I am unable to help them. In order to act for their benefit, I must attain the state of a perfectly awakened Buddha, who has no more faults, who is complete with all good qualities, and who is able to act for the sake of the entire world of sentient beings”.’
Then the disciple should repeat three times after the teacher: ‘All Buddhas and bodhisattvas abiding in the ten directions, please listen to me! Teacher, please listen to me! I – named so-and-so – (now take this vow) on the foundation of the wholesomeness derived in this and other lifetimes from the generosity, ethical discipline, and meditation I have performed, asked others to perform, or have rejoiced in. Just as the Tathāgatas, the perfectly awakened Buddha-arhants, the Blessed Ones and the great bodhisattvas who are now abiding on the highest stages (of the path) had first (in the beginning) aroused the mind set on great, unsurpassed, fully perfect awakening, in the same way, I – named so-and-so – from now until I reach the heart of awakening, arouse the mind set on great, unsurpassed, fully perfect awakening in order to deliver sentient beings who have not been delivered (to the other shore), to liberate beings who have not been liberated, to relieve all those who have not been relieved, to lead to nirvana those who have not been led to nirvana”.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.166–68, trans. T.A.
V.38 Thoroughly apprehending awakening-mind
Such liturgies as the above may have been inspired by classical Indian literary examples such as the one quoted below – another set of famous verses from ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, on the heroic dedication of a bodhisattva.
7. Through the wholesome actions I have amassed, may all the suffering of every sentient being be dispelled!
8. As long as wandering beings are not yet recovered from their sickness, may I be their medicine, their doctor, and their nursing attendant!
9. Showering on them a rain of food and drink, may I eliminate the pain of hunger and thirst, and in the eon of famine,394 may I turn into food and drink!
10. May I turn into an inexhaustible treasure for all those who are poor and destitute, and may I be readily available to them as all kinds of articles and necessities!
11. In order to help all sentient beings, may I offer them without reservation my body, my possessions, and (the fruition of) my wholesome deeds in the past, present, and future!
12. Giving up all, I will (eventually) go to nirvana – my mind will have passed beyond sorrow; if everything needs be given up anyway, the best is to give it all for sentient beings!
13. I have already proffered this body to the mercy of all embodied beings; let them kill it, abuse it, or torture it as they please!
14. Though they may use my body as a plaything, an object of contempt and ridicule, why should I care about it when I have already given it away?
15. Let them do to it whatever they wish as long as it does not cause them any harm; whenever I am just looked upon (by beings), may they never be left without benefit!
16. Whether they are angry with me, whether they have faith in me, may it always be a source of fulfilment of all their wishes!395
17. Whoever speaks badly of me, whoever does me any harm, whoever disparages me – let them all have the good fortune to reach awakening!
18. May I be a shelter for the homeless, a guide for those who set out on the path; may I become a raft, a boat, and a bridge for those wishing to cross over!
19. May I become an island for those who seek one, a bed for those who wish to take a rest; and may I become a servant to all those embodied beings who need be served!
20. May I become a wish-fulfilling jewel, a cornucopia, a wonder-working spell, a panacea, a wishing tree, and a cow of plenty for embodied beings!
21. Just like earth and the other elements of nature, and just like space, may I always be a source of sustenance for the many kinds of countless sentient beings!
22. May I thus become a source of life, in every way, in all the realms of sentient beings wherever space pervades – until they all pass into nirvana!
‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’, III.7–22, trans. T.A.
V.39 Three degrees of courage
This passage distinguishes three types of awakening-mind based on courage, which refers to the degree of a bodhisattva’s determination to help sentient beings. The most courageous type turns out to be the one who wants to be the last to attain Buddhahood.
There are three types of awakening-mind according to the degrees of one’s (spiritual) courage.
(1) A king first wants to overcome his rivals, lead his army to victory and make himself king, then only does he wish to take care of his subjects. Similarly, someone arousing the royal type of awakening-mind first wants to attain the status of Buddhahood himself, then only does he wish to lead all sentient beings on to the stage of a Buddha.
(2) A ferryman wants to reach the other shore together with all the people and passengers boarding the boat with him. Likewise, someone arousing the awakening-mind of a ferryman wants to attain the rank of complete Buddhahood together with all sentient beings.
(3) Shepherds drive their flock of sheep in front of them, first making sure that they find enough grass and water and are not threatened by wolves and other predators. Following after them, they themselves walk behind. In the same way, those arousing the awakening-mind of a shepherd first want to lead all sentient beings of the three realms to the status of Buddhahood; then only do they wish to become Buddhas themselves.
Among those three, the first, royal type – called ‘the awakening-mind of high aspiration’ – is the least courageous. The second, ferryman’s type – called ‘the awakening-mind of excellent knowledge’ – is moderately courageous. It is said to be the way someone like the Noble Maitreya aroused his awakening-mind. The shepherd’s type – called ‘incomparable awakening-mind’ – is the most courageous of all. It is said to be the way someone like the Noble Mañjuśrī aroused his awakening-mind.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, pp.352–53, trans. T.A.
Graded stages of the path
V.40 The abbreviated points of the graded path
This passage is an example of the Graded Stages of the Path literature developed in Tibet based on Atiśa’s model text (*V.10). Authored by Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the spiritual founder of the Gelukpa school, it is one of the most concise formulations of the path to awakening. The sections presented here are the ones dealing with the path of the superior person, i.e. the bodhisattva.
14. Arousing the awakening-mind is the central plank of the supreme vehicle; the basis and support for vast bodhisattva conduct. Turning everything into the two accumulations (of karmic benefit and knowledge) like a gold-making elixir, it is a treasure of karmic benefit amassing countless wholesome actions. Having understood that, heroic princes of the Victorious One (i.e. bodhisattvas) uphold that precious supreme mind as their innermost practice. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way; you, who aspire for liberation, should also do likewise.
[The six perfections]
15. Generosity is a precious jewel fulfilling the wishes of wandering beings, and the best weapon to cut the knot of avarice. This bodhisattva deed gives rise to undaunted courage which will spread one’s fame throughout the ten directions. Having understood that, the wise always adhere to the supreme path of renouncing their bodies, possessions, and karmic benefits. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
16. The water of ethical discipline can wash off the defilements caused by your wrongdoings; it is cooling moonlight to the scorching heat of the defilements. Magnificent among beings, like the highest mountain, one (who has discipline) makes everyone bow down to him without the use of force. Having understood that, sublime beings guard the rules of ethical discipline they have adopted as they would their eyes. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
17. Patience is the finest ornament worn by those having strength and the best way to endure the hard torment of the defilements. It is a garuḍa396 preying on your enemy, the snake of hatred, and the best armour to wear against harsh words (from others). Having understood that, the wise one dons the armour of supreme patience, and practised it in every possible way. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
18. If you don the armour of unflinching vigour, your understanding and good qualities will grow like the waxing moon. All your actions will become meaningful and you will be able to accomplish whatever you start doing just as you wish. Having understood that, princes of the Victorious One persevere a great deal to eliminate laziness. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
19. Meditative absorption is the king wielding power over the mind. When settled it is immovable like the King of Mountains; when applied it engages with wholesome objectives inducing the great bliss of a serviceable body and mind. Having understood that, powerful yogis always practise meditative absorption to subdue inimical distraction. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
20. With the eyes of excellent wisdom you can see things as they are; it is the only way to eradicate (the process of) becoming397 from the root. Wisdom is the best quality extolled by the Buddha in the scriptures; it is known as the supreme lamp dispelling the darkness of delusion. Having understood that, the wise who aspire for liberation make much effort to develop wisdom. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
[Unification of calm abiding (śamatha) and special insight (vipaśyanā)]
21. Do not consider mere one-pointed concentration powerful enough to cut the root of saṃsāra. And however much you exercise wisdom, you will not be able to counteract the defilements without the path of calm abiding (and its concentration). But if your wisdom which decisively understands the nature of things is mounted on the horse of unwavering calm abiding, then with the sharp weapon of middle way reasoning you can destroy all conceptual supports of extreme views, and through your vast wisdom capable of proper analysis you can enhance your intelligence of realizing (ultimate) reality. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
22. Cultivating one-pointed concentration you will attain meditative absorption – that is needless to say. But when you have noticed that even proper analytical thinking gives rises to stable meditative absorption on the nature of reality, then you are making marvellous efforts to accomplish the union of calm abiding and special insight. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
23. When you have unified method and wisdom through cultivating a space-like experience of emptiness in meditation and an illusion-like experience of emptiness as post-(meditation) attainment, you will be praised as someone who is perfecting the conduct of bodhisattvas. Having understood that, those with the good fortune (to practise the Dharma) should not be content with a one-sided path (of practising only method or only wisdom). I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
[The need for tantra]
24. Having developed in this way the common path that is necessary for the two supreme paths of the causal (perfections) and resultant (tantra) vehicles,398 and relying on a learned captain for protection, I have embarked on the ocean of tantras, and making use of his perfect oral instructions, I have made good use of this human life of freedom and connection. I, the yogi, have practised it in that way ...
‘The Abbreviated Points of the Graded Path’, Toh. 5275 #59, trans. T.A.