Happiness in this and future lives
As previously seen, Buddhism regards rebirth in the human realm as rare and precious (*Th.59–60), accepts the reality of many heavenly realms (end of *L.27, *Th.58), and sees both of these kinds of rebirth are the fruits of wholesome actions. Such actions also lead to harmonious relationships with others (e.g.*Th.49) along with meditative tranquillity and joy (*Th.139, 140, 155). All of these are amongst the goals of Buddhist practice. However, the final goal is to attain nirvana, so as to go beyond any future rebirths and the pains that these bring.
Definitive spiritual breakthroughs
One who attains the destruction of the defilements which lead to future rebirths is known as an arahant (see *Th.205–211). He or she has access to a direct experience of nirvana during this life, and at death attains final nirvana. Other ‘noble ones’ (see *Th.199–204) attain different levels of spiritual development which are certain to lead to arahantship within seven lives at most.
Nirvana (Pāli nibbāna, Skt nirvāṇa) is the goal of Theravāda Buddhism’s noble eightfold path. Like dependent arising, it is seen as profound and hard to see (*Th.13). It is the ‘extinction’ of the ‘fires’ of attachment/lust, hatred and delusion, and of the mental and physical pains that these bring in any form of conditioned existence or rebirth. It is experienced initially in life, when a person becomes an arahant, an enlightened person, with the destruction of attachment, hatred and delusion. When an arahant dies, there is nirvana beyond death, a state beyond description (Itivuttaka 38–39).
Th.180 The purpose of the holy life
Here, monks, a certain person of good family who has gone forth from home to a homeless life through faith … obtains gains, honours and praise. They do not become glad, nor one who has fulfilled their resolve, with those gains and praise. Because of those gains, honours and praises they do not exalt themselves and disparage others, saying ‘I am the recipient of gains, honours and praises but these other monks are less known little esteemed.’ … They do not become intoxicated, negligent, and heedless. Being heedful they succeed in achieving ethical discipline. Because of this success in achieving ethical discipline, they become glad, but are not one who has fulfilled their resolve. … They do not exalt themselves and disparage others. …
Being heedful they attain success in achieving meditative concentration. Because of this success in achieving concentration they become glad, but are not one who has fulfilled their resolve
... Being heedful they attain knowing and seeing. Because of this knowing and seeing they become glad, but are not one who has fulfilled their resolve. Because of this knowing and seeing they do not exalt themselves and disparage others. … Being heedful they succeed in obtaining enduring release. Monks, there is no way, and it is not possible that this monk will fall away from that enduring release.
Monks it is like a man wanting heartwood, seeking for heartwood, who goes about in search for heartwood, who came to a great tree standing possessing heartwood, who cuts out the heartwood itself … [rather than any lesser part of the tree] and takes it away knowing that it is the heartwood and whatever use there is of the heartwood for him, that he partakes of.
Thus, monks, this holy life is not for the benefit of gains, honours and praise, not for the benefit of (only) achievement of ethical discipline, not for the benefit of achievement of meditative concentration, not for the benefit of knowing and seeing. Monks, the purpose of this holy life, the pith of it, the ultimate goal of it, is this unshakable release of mind.
Mahā-sāropama Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.193–198, trans. P.D.P. and P.H.
Th.181 Nirvana as the destruction of attachment, hatred and delusion
In its simplest sense, nirvana is the destruction of the defilements.
Friend Sāriputta, it is said “nirvana, nirvana”. What is nirvana?’ ‘Friend, nirvana is the destruction of attachment, the destruction of hatred and the destruction of delusion.’
Nibbāna Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.251, trans. P.D.P.
Th.182 Synonyms for nirvana
This passage characterises the goal of the path primarily as ‘the unconditioned/unconstructed’ (asaṅkhata), in the form of the ‘destruction of attachment, hatred and delusion’ and then gives various inspiring synonyms for the unconditioned, one of which is nirvana. Elsewhere (*Th.23), nirvana is likened to the safe and delightful ‘further shore’ of a river, the hither shore representing the dangers of saṃsāra.
Monks, I shall teach you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned. And what, monks, is the unconditioned? The destruction of attachment, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the unconditioned. …
Monks, I will teach you the uninclined and the path leading to the uninclined ... the without intoxicating inclination … truth/reality … the beyond … the subtle ... the very-hard-to-see … the undecaying … the lasting … the undisintegrating ... the non-manifestive ... the unproliferated … the peaceful ... the deathless … the sublime ... the auspicious … the secure … the destruction of craving ... the marvellous … the amazing … the unailing ... the unailing state … nirvana ... the unafflicted … non-attachment... purity … freedom ... the unclinging... the island (amidst the flood) … the shelter ... the place of safety ... the refuge ... the destination.
Asaṅkhata saṃyutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.362 and 368–73, trans. P.H.
Th.183 Nirvana as the highest bliss
Health is the highest gain. Nirvana is the highest bliss.
The eightfold path is the best of paths, for it leads to the deathless.
Māghandiya Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.508, trans. P.H.
Happy indeed we live, we for whom there are no impediments (attachment, hatred and delusion). Feeders on joy we shall be, like the Radiant Gods.
Dhammapada 200, trans. P.H.
Th.184 The nature of nirvana
These linked passages on nirvana portray it, firstly, as beyond ‘mind and body’ and any world. It is also beyond the ‘coming and going’ normally associated with being reborn, and as an objectless state that is not ‘supported’ on anything else. Secondly, it is beyond any craving. Thirdly, it is something that has nothing to do with birth or a way of being, it is not ‘made’ (kata’) by karma, and is not conditioned/constructed (saṅkhata) by volitional/constructing activities (saṅkhāras) or anything else. Fourthly, it is an unagitated, tranquil state beyond any craving-based leaning towards any object of attachment.
Once the Blessed One was living in Sāvatthī in Jetavana in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. At that time the Blessed One was instructing the monks, causing them to observe, inspiring and gladdening them with Dhamma-talk connected with nirvana. Those monks there were listening to the teaching, paying attention, their minds directed to it, focusing all their thought on it and lending their ear. At that time the Blessed One observed this matter and uttered the following paeans of joy:
‘Monks, there exists that sphere where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind;614 neither the sphere of the infinity of space, nor the infinity of consciousness, nor the sphere of nothingness, nor the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception;615 neither this world nor the other world, nor both sun and moon. And there, monks, I speak neither of coming nor of going, nor of staying, nor of falling away, nor of arising (in a new rebirth); it is really unsupported, lacking in continued temporal existence, and objectless. This truly is the end of the painful.’ …
‘Difficult to see is that which does not incline to anything (due to craving). The truth is not easy to see. They have penetrated into craving and for them who know and see, there is nothing (to hold on to).’…
‘Monks, there exists the not born, not come into being, not made, and not constructed. Had there not been the not born, not come into being, not made, not constructed, there would not be made known, here, an escape from that which is born, come into being, made, and constructed. It is because there is the not born, not come into being, not made, and not constructed that there is made known escape from the born, come into being, made, and constructed.’ …
‘There is instability for one who is attached. There is no instability for one who is not attached. When there is no instability, there is tranquillity. When there is tranquillity, there is no leaning (due to craving). When there is no leaning, there is no coming and going. When there is no coming and going, there is no falling away and arising. When there is no falling away and arising, one is neither here, nor elsewhere, nor in-between the two. This verily, is the end of the painful.’
The first, second, third and fourth Nibbāna-paṭisaṃyutta Suttas: Udāna 80–81, trans. P.D.P.
Th.185 Nirvana as deathless and timeless
These passages firstly emphasize nirvana as that which is ‘deathless’, i.e. beyond anything to do with birth or death, and secondly that it is not caused by the path that enables a person to come to realize it, and is not anything that arises: hence it is not something that exists forever in time, but is beyond time and the limitations of temporal, conditioned phenomena.
He turns his mind away from those states [the five categories of existence, seen as impermanent, painful, and non-Self] and directs it towards the deathless element: ‘This is the peaceful, this is the sublime … nirvana.’
Mahā-mālunkyaputta Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.435–436, trans. P.H.
‘Even so, sire, it is possible to point out a path to the realization of nirvana, but it is impossible to show a cause for the arising of nirvana. For what reason? Due to the unconditionedness of the Dhamma.’
‘Venerable Nāgasena, is nirvana unconditioned?’ ‘Yes, sire, nirvana is unconditioned; it is not made by anything. One cannot say of nirvana, sire, that it has arisen, or that it has not arisen, or that it is arisable, or that it is past or future or present, or that it is discernible by the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue or the body.’
‘If so, Venerable Nāgasena, … nirvana is something that does not exist, nirvana is not.’ ‘Nirvana exists, sire. Nirvana is discernible by the mind. A noble disciple, practising rightly, with a mind that is purified, exalted, straight, without obstructions, without worldly concerns, sees nirvana.’
Milindapañha 270, trans. P.H.
Th.186 Nirvana and consciousness
This passage sees the pleasure-seeking involvement of consciousness with the other four aspects of a person as providing a basis or supporting objects for it to flow on into another rebirth. Without attachment to these aspects, or even to the very flow of consciousness, it becomes so content and calm that the volitional or karmic activities that normally accompany it cease, and a person attains nirvana, with no consciousness flowing into another rebirth. An interesting feature of this passage is that this liberated kind of consciousness is said to be ‘unsupported’ and without an ‘object’, just as *Th.184 says nirvana itself is.
Involved with material form, monks, a persisting consciousness would persist; with material form as object (or basis), with material form as support, with devotion to pleasure, it would come to growth, increase and abundance. Involved with feeling … perception … the volitional activities … abundance.
Were one to say, monks, ‘Apart from material form, apart from feeling, from perception, from the volitional activities, I will show forth the coming and going of consciousness, or its falling away and rebirth, or the growth, increase and abundance of consciousness’: that is not appropriate.
If attachment for the element of material form, monks, is abandoned by a monk, by that abandonment of attachment, its object is cut off, and there is no support for consciousness. So also for attachment to the elements of feeling, perception, the volitional activities and (ordinary) consciousness.
That unsupported consciousness has no increase, and is without volitional activities, released; by being released, it is steady; by being steady, it is content; by being content, he is not disturbed; not being disturbed he personally attains nirvana.
Upaya616 Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya III.53–54, trans. P.H.
Th.187 Nirvana and non-manifestive, radiant consciousness
This passage has the Buddha apparently putting a kind of consciousness in the position normally taken by nirvana, though the commentary on the passage interprets ‘consciousness’ in the first line as referring to nirvana as something to be known by consciousness. Note that in passage *Th.182, the ‘non-manifestive’ or ‘invisible’ (anidassana) is one of the synonyms for the ‘unconditioned’ and ‘nirvana’. Moreover, the non-manifestive consciousness seems to be equated with a consciousness that has undergone ‘stopping’ or ‘cessation’ (nirodha). While this passage talks of a radiant consciousness, a passage on a ‘stopped’ consciousness (Saṃyutta-nikāya II.102) talks of it as like a beam of light that does not settle on any limiting object. The implications of these passages have been much debated by Buddhists, as most Theravādins see all forms of consciousness as impermanent and conditioned (which may be the meaning of Saṃyutta-nikāya III.25), and thus not nirvana.
Consciousness, non-manifestive, infinite, completely radiant.617
– Here it is that earth, water, fire and wind have no footing.
Here long and short, coarse and fine, foul and lovely (have no footing),
Here name and form618 are stopped without remainder.
– With the stopping of consciousness, here, this is stopped.
Kevaṭṭa619 Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.223, trans. P.H.
Th.188 An arahant beyond death
As with the Buddha, the state of an arahant beyond death is left undefined (*Th.10, 11, 21). One cannot say he ‘is’, ‘is not’, ‘both is and is not’ or ‘neither is nor is not’. Whatever his state, it is beyond existence in time. This verse was said by the Buddha on the death of the arahant Bāhiya.
Where water, earth, fire and wind find no footing,
there stars do not shine, nor is the sun apparent,
There the moon appears not, no darkness is there found.
So when the sage knows by himself, a brahmin by his sage-hood,
Then he is freed from form and the formless, from pleasure and from pain.
Bāhiyena Sutta: Udāna 9, trans. P.H.
Happiness in this and future lives
Mahāyāna Buddhists, like Theravāda Buddhists, see wholesome actions as leading to greater happiness in this life, and to good rebirths. The central emphasis on compassion, though, means that a great deal of emphasis is placed on actions that bring happiness to, and reduce the suffering of, other people, other beings. The person who takes the path of the bodhisattva is even willing to forego heavenly rebirths in order to work in this world to benefit others, and is likewise even willing to be reborn in a hell so as to be able to aid beings there.
There is also the idea that certain heavenly Buddhas, especially Amitābha, have prepared ‘Pure Lands’, where the conditions are inspiring, wonderful, conducive to great happiness, and ideal for attaining awakening. Rebirth in such a realm is seen to require great faith, but also draws on the saving power of the relevant Buddha. Many ordinary Buddhists in East Asia aspire for rebirth in such a realm.
Definitive spiritual breakthroughs
For a Mahāyāna Buddhist, the arising of the awakening-mind (bodhi-citta), as a deep aspiration to attain Buddhahood, for the sake of other suffering beings, is a key moment of spiritual development. Then there is the ‘path of seeing’, where a direct insight into the empty but amazing nature of reality, brings a person to the first of the ten stages of the path of the noble bodhisattva. At around stage seven of this path, a person reaches a level akin to that of the arhant. At the end of the hugely long bodhisattva path, perfect Buddhahood itself beckons.
M.151 Nirvana is permanent, but it is neither the annihilation nor the eternal existence of one who attains it
This passage emphasizes that of the four Truths of the Noble Ones, only the third, which is equivalent to nirvana, is permanent. It goes on to describe how ordinary people misunderstand Buddhist teachings and deny the rebirth of the unawakened, see nirvana as eternal existence, and also see the flow of momentary consciousnesses in life as a permanent entity.
Blessed One, among these four Truths of the Noble Ones, three are impermanent, and one is permanent. Why is this? It is because three of them are conditioned, and anything which is conditioned is impermanent. Anything which is impermanent is deceptive in nature. Anything which is deceptive in nature is untrue, impermanent, and not a refuge. Therefore, the Truths of the Noble Ones – what is painful, its origination, and the path – are not ultimate reality. They are impermanent. They are not refuges.
Only one of the Truths of the Noble Ones, the cessation of what is painful, is not conditioned, and is therefore permanent. Anything which is permanent is not deceptive in nature. Anything which is not deceptive in nature is really true and permanent. It is a refuge. Therefore, the Truths of the Noble Ones that is the cessation of what is painful is the ultimate reality.
The reality of cessation is inconceivable. It passes beyond the reach of the conscious mind of all living beings, and neither is it within the realm of understanding of any arhant or solitary-buddha. Just as people who are born blind cannot see colour, or a seven-day-old child cannot see the disc of the sun, the reality of cessation is not part of the realm of understanding of the Two Vehicles.620
The consciousness of ordinary people is distorted by two wrong views. The understanding of all arhants and solitary-buddhas has been purified. Ordinary people mistakenly adhere to the view that there is an essential self in relation to the five grasped-at categories of existence, and thus give rise to two opposing views, annihilationism and eternalism.621 These are the extreme views.
Seeing phenomena as impermanent 622 is the annihilationist view, not right view. Seeing nirvana as eternal personal existence is the eternalist view, not right view. Because of deluded wrong views, they make distinctions, they reflect upon the faculties of their bodies and see that they are decaying in this very instant, but they do not see their continuity. Because of this, they hold to the view of annihilationism. Because of deluded wrong views, being blind and foolish, they do not understand, they do not recognize the momentarily discontinuous realm of consciousness in the continuum of the mind. Because of this, they hold to the view of eternalism.623
These wrong views towards those objects, which either go too far or do not go far enough, lead one to making mistaken distinctions, and to either eternalism or annihilationism. In the five grasped-at categories of existence, living beings with distorted minds see what is impermanent as permanent, what lacks an essential self as possessing an essential self, what is painful as pleasurable, and what is impure as pure.
Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda Sūtra, Taishō vol.12, text 353, chs.10-12, pp.221c25-222a20; cf. Vol.11, text 310, pp. 677a29-b23, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.152 The provisional and the final nirvana
This passage proposes that when the Buddha had taught about nirvana in life and nirvana beyond death as what arhants attain, he was only giving a provisional teaching, so as to encourage people. The real goal, the real nirvana, is attained on becoming a perfectly awakened Buddha. Thus there is only ‘one vehicle’ which will take all to the highest goal, not three vehicles leading to becoming an arhant, a solitary-buddha, or, at the culmination of the bodhisattva path, perfectly awakened Buddhahood.624 The last path is for all.
Through their skill in means, monks, the Tathāgatas, the arhants of ancient time knew that the realm of living beings was attracted to what is inferior, wallowing in the mud of sensual desire. This, monks, is why the Tathāgata speaks of nirvana, to engage their interest.
Monks, it is as if there were a difficult forest path five hundred leagues in length, and that there were a large group of people who wanted to travel this path to obtain a great treasure. They have a guide who is wise, learned, clever, capable, and skilled in the difficulties of travelling through the forest. He leads the company into the forest, but the people become wearied and exhausted, trembling with fear, and say to him, ‘Noble guide, leader, we are wearied and exhausted, trembling with fear from not turning back. We are going to turn back. This difficult forest path is so long!’
Then, monks, the guide who knows the kind of skill in means to apply to people who are turning back, thinks, ‘These poor people mustn’t fail to obtain the great treasure because of this.’ Out of empathy, he applies skill in means and with his supernormal powers manifests a city 625 one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred leagues away in the middle of the forest. He then says to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not go back. This is a great country. You can rest here. You can do whatever you need to do here. You can attain nirvana here. Take a stroll here and rest. When you have done what you need to do, you can go on to the great treasure.’
Then, monks, those people astonishingly, miraculously, manage to travel the difficult forest path, and say, ‘We are free of this difficult forest path, and we will dwell here in nirvana.’ Then, monks, those people enter that city which had been manifested by supernormal powers, and know that they have arrived. They know that they are saved. Then the guide thinks, ‘They have been rescued from turning back’, and, when he sees that they have rested, he makes the city which he had manifested by means of his supernormal powers disappear. When he has made it disappear, he says to the people, ‘Come, good people. The great treasure is nearby. I only manifested this city in order that you could rest.’
In the same way, monks, the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha is your guide, and the guide of all living beings. This, monks, is how the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha sees things. There is a great and difficult forest path of the defilements which is to be set out on, traversed, and conquered. If they hear about the single path of a Buddha, they would not take it seriously, they would not attain final nirvana and pass beyond. Mastering this path of a Buddha involves many hardships. The Tathāgata, therefore, having seen the weakness of living beings, like the guide, manifests a city with his supernormal powers for living beings to rest in. Then, when they have rested, he tells them, ‘This city is a manifestation’. In just this way, monks, the Tathāgata, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, through his great skill in means, has taught and manifested two stages of nirvana along the way for living beings, so that they can rest. These are the stage of the disciple and the stage of the solitary-buddha. When living beings attain these stages, monks, then the Tathāgata declares, ‘Monks, you have not accomplished your aim. You have not done what needs to be done, but you are close, monks. You should examine the understanding of the Tathāgata closely, monks. You should consider it carefully. Your nirvana is not, in fact, nirvana. The Tathāgata, monks, the arhant, the perfectly awakened Buddha has declared there to be three vehicles as an application of skill in means. …
107. So I say to you now, monks, arouse great vigour and energy. You must attain the knowledge of omniscience. You have not yet reached nirvana.
108. When you attain the knowledge of omniscience, the ten powers and the qualities of the Victorious Ones, when you bear the thirty-two bodily characteristics of a Buddha, you will have reached nirvana.
109. The Guides teach in this way, and proclaim nirvana so that living beings might rest. When they know that they have rested, they lead them all on to nirvana, and to the knowledge of omniscience.
Saddharma-puṇḍarīka Sūtra, ch.7, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.153 Perfect wisdom shows all is like a dream, including nirvana
This passage emphasizes the elusive nature of the truth as conveyed by the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras: it is beyond words, though it indicates the dream-like nature of everything.
Some of the gods626 in the assembly thought to themselves, ‘We understand the gossip of the yakṣas,627 what the yakṣas say, the cries of the yakṣas, the words of the yakṣas, the discussions of the yakṣas, the speech of the yakṣas. We do not, though, understand what the Elder Subhūti says, what he speaks, what he teaches, what he explains.’
The Venerable Subhūti, with his awakened understanding, perceived the thoughts in the minds of those gods, and addressed them, saying, ‘There is nothing to be understood, nothing to be understood, gods. Neither is there anything to be pointed out, or anything to be heard.’
The gods then thought, ‘May the Noble Subhūti explain this! May the Noble Subhūti explain this! What the Noble Subhūti is going into here is further than far, more subtle than subtle. What the Noble Subhūti is going into, what he is teaching, what he is saying, is more profound than profound.’ Then the Venerable Subhūti, with his awakened understanding, again perceived the thoughts in the minds of those gods, and addressed them, saying, ‘Gods, no-one can attain the fruit of practice
which is stream-entry, 628 or remain as a stream-enterer, if they do not patiently accept this elusiveness of the Dharma. No-one can attain the fruit of practice which is once-returnership, remain as a once-returner, attain the fruit of practice which is non-returnership, remain as a non-returner, attain arhantship, remain as an arhant, attain solitary-buddhahood, or remain as a solitary-buddha, if they do not patiently accept this elusiveness of the Dharma. No-one can attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening, or remain in unsurpassed, perfect awakening if they do not patiently accept this elusiveness of the Dharma.’
The gods then thought, ‘What should they be like, those who listen to the Noble Subhūti teach the Dharma?’
Then the Venerable Subhūti, with his awakened understanding, again perceived the thoughts in the minds of those gods, and addressed them, saying, ‘Those who listen to me teach the Dharma should be like illusions, like conjuror’s tricks. Why is this? It is because they will neither listen to anything, nor realize anything.’
The gods then said to the Venerable Subhūti, ‘Are living beings which are like illusions not just illusions?’
The Venerable Subhūti then said to the gods, ‘Living beings are like illusions, gods. Living beings are like dreams, gods. Illusions and living beings are not two different things, they are not two separate things. Dreams and living beings are not two different things, they are not two separate things. All phenomena, gods, are like illusions, like dreams. A stream-enterer is like an illusion, like a dream. The fruit of practice which is stream-entry is like an illusion, like a dream. In the same way, a once-returner, the fruit of practice which is once-returnership, a non-returner, the fruit of practice which is non-returnership, an arhant, and arhantship, are like illusions, like dreams. A solitary-buddha is like an illusion, like a dream. Solitary-buddhahood is like an illusion, like a dream. A perfectly awakened Buddha is like an illusion, like a dream. Perfect Buddhahood is like an illusion, like a dream.’
The gods then said to the Venerable Subhūti, ‘Noble Subhūti, do you say that even a perfectly awakened Buddha is like an illusion, like a dream? Do you say that perfectly awakened Buddhahood is like an illusion, like a dream?’
Subhūti said, ‘I say that even nirvana, gods, is like an illusion, like a dream, so other phenomena certainly are.’
The gods said, ‘Noble Subhūti, do you say that even nirvana is like an illusion, like a dream?’ The Venerable Subhūti said, ‘Gods, if there were any phenomena even more excellent than
nirvana, I would say that even that is like an illusion, like a dream. Illusions and nirvana are not two different things, they are not two separate things. Dreams and nirvana are not two different things, they are not two separate things.’
Then, the Venerable Śāriputra, the Venerable Pūrṇa, son of Maitrāyaṇī, the Venerable Mahā-koṣṭhila, the Venerable Mahā-kātyāyana, the Venerable Mahā-kāśapa, and other great disciples, along with many thousands of bodhisattvas, addressed the Venerable Elder Subhūti, saying, ‘Venerable Subhūti, who will be able to penetrate the perfection of wisdom which you have explained?
The Venerable Ānanda then said to those elders, ‘Venerable ones, irreversible bodhisattvas, great beings, individuals with perfect vision, or arhants who have destroyed their intoxicating inclinations will be able to penetrate the perfection of wisdom which has been explained.’
The Venerable Elder Subhūti then said to those elders, ‘Venerable ones, no-one will be able to penetrate this perfection of wisdom which has been explained. Why is this? It is because there is no phenomenon to be pointed out, no phenomenon to be illuminated, no phenomenon to be discerned. As there is no phenomenon to be pointed out, no phenomenon to be illuminated, no phenomenon to be discerned here, no-one will be able to penetrate this perfection of wisdom which has been explained.
Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, ch.2, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.154 The Buddha and advanced bodhisattva dwell neither in nirvana nor saṃsāra
He who sees all dharmas
As identical to nirvana in their essential nature
Sees the Tathāgata
Who ultimately does not dwell anywhere. …
A great boatman does not remain on this shore, nor on the other shore, nor in the middle of the river, but constantly moves between them so that he can ferry people who are on this shore to the other shore. In the same way, a bodhisattva, a great being, does not remain in the cycle of saṃsāra, nor in nirvana, nor in between, so that he can bring living beings who are on this shore across to the other shore where there is no danger, and no anxiety.
Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Taishō vol.10, text 279, pp.102a05–06 and 107c, trans. T.T.S. and D.S.
M.155 Buddhahood is for those who struggle amongst the defilements
This passage sees perfectly awakened Buddhahood as attained by those who remain close to beings and their defilements, and compassionately help them forward.
Mañjuśrī said, ‘Son of good family, one who dwells with an unwavering vision of the unconditioned will not be able to cultivate the mind which is set on unsurpassed perfect awakening. One who dwells in the conditioned house of the defilements in the truth of no views will be able to cultivate the mind which is set on unsurpassed perfect awakening.
It is like this, son of good family. Sweet-smelling blue lotuses, red lotuses, water lilies, and white lotuses do not grow on arid ground. They grow on muddy river banks.629 In the same way, son of good family, the qualities of a Buddha do not grow in those who possess an unwavering vision of the unconditioned. Buddha-qualities grow in living beings who possess the muddy river banks of the defilements. Likewise, seeds do not grow in the sky, they grow in the earth. In the same way, the qualities of a Buddha do not grow in those who possess an unwavering vision of the unconditioned. When one has cultivated a view as great as Mount Meru that an essential self really exists, one will be able to cultivate an awakening-mind.630 This is what will lead the qualities of a Buddha to grow.
Son of good family, you should understand things according to this teaching. The defilements are the family of the Tathāgatas. Likewise, son of good family, one will not be able to retrieve priceless pearls if one does not venture into the great ocean. In the same way, one will not be able to develop the pearl which is the mind of omniscience if one does not venture into the house of the defilements.’
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.7, section 3, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.156 Is Buddhahood an attainment – or is it there already?
This passage is addressed to Maitreya, traditionally seen as the bodhisattva who will be the next perfectly awakened Buddha on Earth, who will come after the teaching of the historical Buddha has faded away. It proposes that all beings are already awakened, if they did but know it: what they need to do is realize this.
Maitreya, has the prediction that you will attain awakening come about through the arising of reality or through the cessation of reality? Reality does not arise or cease, nor will it cease. The reality of all living beings is the reality of all phenomena, and that too is the reality of Maitreya. Therefore, if it has been predicted that you will attain awakening, it has been predicted that all living beings will attain awakening. Why is this? It is because reality does not consist of duality or diversity.
Therefore, when Maitreya attains awakening, all living beings will also attain awakening in the same way, at the same time. Why is this? Awakening is the awakening of all living beings. When Maitreya attains final nirvana, all living beings will attain final nirvana. Why is this? It is because the Tathāgatas do not attain final nirvana until all living being have attained final nirvana. The Tathāgatas see those living beings as having attained final nirvana, and as having nirvana as their essential nature. Therefore, Maitreya, do not deceive these sons of the gods. Do not make false assertions.
No-one abides in awakening, or falls from awakening. Maitreya, you should rid these sons of the gods of their views and assumptions about awakening. Awakening is not attained by the body, nor by the mind. Awakening is the cessation of all characteristics. Awakening is not based on anything. Awakening is free of any mental activity. Awakening is the severing of all opinions. Awakening is the absence of all assumptions. Awakening is free from all movement, thinking, and vacillation. Awakening does not rest upon any longing. Awakening is the entrance into freedom from attachments, because it has ceased to take hold of anything. Awakening is stable, because it is grounded in the expanse of phenomena. Awakening conforms to reality. Awakening is the attainment of the ultimate goal.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.3, sections 51–52, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.157 Buddhahood as the omniscient fulfilment of the qualities of a bodhisattva
This passage, though, from the same text as above, sees Buddhahood as the full expression of a bodhisattva’s qualities.
What is meant by the seat of awakening? … Son of good family, it is the seat of positive intentions, because it is not artificial. It is the seat of practice, because it is the release of energy. It is the seat of determination, because it has attained distinction. It is the seat of the awakening-mind, because it is not lost.
It is the seat of generosity, because it does not hope for any benefit from its actions. It is the seat of ethical discipline, because it keeps all vows. It is the seat of patient acceptance, because it has no hostile thoughts towards living beings. It is the seat of vigour, because it does not turn back. It is the seat of meditation, because its mind is diligent. It is the seat of wisdom, because it sees what is before it.
It is the seat of loving kindness, because it has a mind of impartiality towards all living beings. It is the seat of compassion, because it can endure discomfort. It is the seat of empathetic joy, because it delights in the pleasures of the Dharma. It is the seat of equanimity, because it has abandoned attachment and aversion.
It is the seat of higher knowledge, because it possesses the six kinds of higher knowledge. It is the seat of emancipation, because it is free of mental constructions. It is the seat of skill in means, because it brings all living beings to maturity. It is the seat of the means of drawing together harmoniously,631 because it attracts all living beings. It is the seat of learning, because it is the essence of good conduct. It is the seat of profound meditative understanding, because it examines things thoroughly. It is the seat of the practices which help one to attain awakening, 632 because it has abandoned the conditioned and the unconditioned. It is the seat of truth, because it does not make false assertions to anyone in the world. It is the seat of dependent arising, because it has destroyed everything from ignorance to old age and death.633 It is the seat of the pacification of all defilements, because it is awake to things the way they are.
It is the seat of all living beings, because all living beings lack any essential nature. It is the seat of all phenomena, because it has woken up to emptiness. It is the seat of the defeat of all Māras, because it is unshakeable. It is the seat of the triple world,634 because it has ended involvement. It is the seat of the vigour that roars a lion’s roar because it is not timid or afraid. It is the seat of the powers, the self-confidence, and the special qualities of all the Buddhas, because it is irreproachable in every way. It is the seat of the three kinds of knowledge,635 because no trace of the defilements remains. It is the seat of the complete, one-pointed understanding of all phenomena, because it has attained the knowledge of omniscience.
Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, ch.3, sections 54–59, trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
M.158 Amitābha Buddha
This passage tells of the wondrous land of Amitābha (Infinite Light)/Amitāyus (Infinite Life) Buddha, rebirth in whose pure Buddha-land can be reached by true faith. It also refers to various other Buddhas throughout the vast universe.
At that time, the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Śāriputra, ‘To the west, Śāriputra, there is a Buddha-field named Sukhāvatī, the ‘Realm of Happiness’, which lies beyond countless hundreds of thousands of other Buddha-fields. At the present time, a Tathāgata, an arhant, a perfectly awakened Buddha named Amitāyus dwells there, teaching the Dharma. …
Moreover, Śāriputra, in that Buddha-field, there are divine musical instruments which are played constantly. The ground is a delightful golden colour. There, in that Buddha-field, showers of divine māndārava flowers rain down three times each night and three times each day. In the time it takes to eat a single meal, the living beings who are born there travel to other world-systems and honour countless hundreds of thousands of Buddhas. … Moreover, Śāriputra, in that Buddha-field … the flocks of birds which sing songs of the Dharma are manifested by the Tathāgata Amitāyus. That Buddha-field, Śāriputra, is adorned with all of these different kinds of wonderful things which one finds in a Buddha-field. Moreover, Śāriputra, in that Buddha-field, when the wind stirs the rows of palm trees and the nets of small bells which adorn them, they make a delightful sound which soothes the mind. … When the people there hear those sounds, they recollect the Buddha in their bodies, they recollect the Dharma in their bodies, they recollect the Sangha in their bodies. …
Śāriputra, why do you think that that Tathāgata is known as “Amitāyus”, “Infinite Life”? Well, Śāriputra, the lifespan of that Tathāgata and of the people who dwell in his Buddha-field is unlimited.
This is why that Tathāgata is known as “Amitāyus”, “Infinite Life”. That Tathāgata attained unsurpassed perfect awakening ten eons ago.
Śāriputra, why do you think that that Tathāgata is known as “Amitābha”, “Infinite Light”? Well, Śāriputra, the light which radiates from that Tathāgata shines unobstructed in all Buddha-fields. This is why that Tathāgata is known as “Amitābha”, “Infinite Light”. That Tathāgata has an immeasurably large Sangha of disciples who are pure arhants, whose numbers cannot easily be measured. That Buddha-field, Śāriputra, is adorned with all of these different kinds of wonderful things which one finds in a Buddha-field.
Moreover, Śāriputra, the progress of those living beings who are born in the Buddha-field of the Tathāgata Amitāyus as pure bodhisattvas will be irreversible, and they will only experience one more birth. The numbers of these bodhisattvas, Śāriputra, cannot easily be measured. It can only be said that there is an immeasurably large innumerable multitude of them. Living beings, Śāriputra, should cultivate a heartfelt desire for that Buddha-field. Why should they do this? They should do this because in that Buddha-field, they will be in the company of good people such as these bodhisattvas.
Śāriputra, living beings with only a few wholesome roots will not be born in the Buddha-field of the Tathāgata Amitāyus. If a son or daughter of good family hears the name of the Blessed One, the Tathāgata Amitāyus, and if their minds become absorbed by it – for one night, two nights, three nights, four nights, five nights, six nights, or seven nights – if their minds become undistractedly absorbed by it, then when they die the Tathāgata Amitāyus, surrounded by his Sangha of disciples and accompanied by his assembly of bodhisattvas will appear before them, and they will die with an undistorted mind. When they die, they will be born in the Buddha-field of the Tathāgata Amitāyus, in the world-system of Sukhāvatī. Therefore Śāriputra, it is with this purpose in view that I say that a son or daughter of good family should single-mindedly cultivate a heartfelt desire for that Buddha-field in their minds.
Śāriputra, to the east … to the south, … to the west, … to the north, … to the nadir, … to the zenith , as many Buddhas, as many Blessed Ones as there are grains of sand in the River Ganges praise their Buddha-fields, in the same terms as I praise Sukhāvatī. …
Śāriputra, why do you think that this discourse on the Dharma is called “Embraced by all the Buddhas”? Those sons and daughters of good family, Śāriputra, who hear the title of this discourse on the Dharma and who bear in mind the names of those Buddhas, those Blessed Ones, will all be embraced by the Buddhas, and their progress towards unsurpassed, perfect awakening will become irreversible. Therefore, Śāriputra, you should have faith in me and in these other Buddhas, these other Blessed Ones.
Sukhāvatī-vyūhaḥ (Saṃkṣipta-mātṛkā), (also known as the Smaller Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra), trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
Passage *M.158 describes the wondrous qualities of the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha, and passage *M.114 describes a contemplation of Amitābha.
M.159 The qualities of Amitābha Buddha’s Pure Land
This passage gives some of the forty-six636 vows of Dharmākara, the bodhisattva who is seen to have become Amitābha Buddha, these vows detailing the benefits that he will ensure exist in his Pure Land: he vows that his very attainment of Buddhahood is dependent on this.
1. Blessed One,637 may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if there should be any hells in my Buddha-field, if anyone should be born there as an animal, if there should be a realm of hungry ghosts there, or if anyone should be born there as a demi-god.
2. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if any of the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should die, and be reborn in hell, as an animal, in the realm of hungry ghosts, or as a demi-god. …
5. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not all attain completely perfect mastery of supernormal abilities,638 such that they are able to traverse countless hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddha-fields in a fraction of a second.
6. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not all be able to remember their previous lives, countless hundreds of thousands of millions of eons into the past.
7. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not all acquire the divine eye, such that they are able to see countless hundreds of thousands of millions of world-systems.
8. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not all acquire the divine ear, such that they are able to hear the true Dharma in countless hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddha-fields simultaneously.
9. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not all have the ability to know the thoughts of others, such that they are able to know the mental activity of living beings dwelling in countless hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddha-fields.
10. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if any of the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should conceive any notion of ownership, even of their own bodies.
11. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if any of the living beings who are born in my Buddha-field should not be firmly established in perfection until they attain great, final nirvana. …
15. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, there should be any limit to the measure of my lifespan, even such that it were limited to countless multitudes of hundreds of thousands of millions of eons.
16. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, any of the living beings in that Buddha-field should even hear the phrase
18. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, I should not appear at the moment of their death to any living being in another world-system who has set their mind on unsurpassed, perfect awakening, who has heard my name, and who recollects me with a mind of faith, appearing before them to calm their mind, surrounded and accompanied by a Sangha of monks. …
19. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if living beings in innumerable, countless Buddha-fields who have heard my name, who are intent on that Buddha-field, and who dedicate the karmic benefit of their wholesome roots to being reborn there, are not reborn there – even those who have only cultivated this thought ten times. 639 This is with the exception of those who have committed the five acts which have immediate bad karmic consequences,640 or whose opposition to the true Dharma obstructs them from being reborn there.641
20. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, those living beings who are reborn there should not be limited to only one more birth before attaining unsurpassed, perfect awakening. This is with the exception of those bodhisattvas, those great beings, who have taken the supreme vow, who clad themselves in mighty armour, who are awake to the needs of the whole world, who are devoted to the whole world, who are devoted to the attainment of nirvana by the whole world, who practise the path of the bodhisattva in all world-systems, who encounter all Buddhas, who establish as many living beings as there are grains of sand in the River Ganges in unsurpassed, perfect awakening, who are committed to the highest practice, and who have perfected the practice of universal benefit. …
29. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, that Buddha-field should not be so clear that innumerable, uncountable, inconceivable, unequalled, immeasurable Buddha-fields are visible all around, as clear as a face in a highly polished mirror. …
32. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, living beings in innumerable, uncountable, inconceivable, unequalled Buddha-fields should not be touched by my radiance, such that they are all filled with a happiness which surpasses that of gods and men. …
37. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, living beings should not enjoy the happiness of an arhant free from craving, the happiness of a monk dwelling in the third meditative absorption, the moment they are born in that Buddha-field. …
44. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, the living beings born in that Buddha-field should not be able to hear any Dharma-teaching they wish, the moment they think of it.
45. Blessed One, may I not attain unsurpassed, perfect awakening if, when I have attained awakening, the progress towards unsurpassed, perfect awakening of bodhisattvas in that Buddha-field, or in any other Buddha-field, should not become irreversible when they hear my name.
Sukhāvatī-vyūhaḥ (Vistara-mātṛkā) (also known as the Larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra), trans. from Sanskrit by D.S.
Happiness in this and future lives
V.77 The effects of wholesome actions
This passage follows the one on the nature of the ten wholesome actions (*V.41), and describes their karmic effects as experiences that accord with their causes in terms of being similar to them.
The (karmically) ripened effect of practising the ten wholesome actions is that you will be reborn in one of the three higher realms (of humans, demi-gods, and gods). The activity that accords with its cause is that you will take delight in wholesome actions in every lifetime, so they will further multiply. The experiences that accord with their causes, the ten wholesome actions, are as follows: By abstaining from killing, you will have a long and healthy life. Through abstaining from taking what is not given, you will be wealthy and immune from robbers. Through abstaining from sensual misconduct, you will have a charming spouse and few rivals. Through abstaining from lying, you will be praised and loved by everyone. Through abstaining from divisive speech, you will be respected by people around you. Through abstaining from harsh language, you will be pleasant to hear. Through abstaining from idle chatter, your words will be creditable. Through abstaining from covetousness, your wishes will be fulfilled. Through abstaining from malevolence, you will be free from harm. Finally, through abstaining from wrong views, you will come to understand the right view.
‘The Words of My Perfect Teacher’, p.187, trans. T.A.
Definitive spiritual breakthroughs
V.78 Milarepa’s Song of Realization
In this passage Milarepa sings about the final realization he gained while staying in mountain retreat. He sings about the confidence of a fully awakened buddha who has gone beyond all dualities – including the temporal distinction of past and future and the existential distinction of saṃsāra and nirvana. It even includes the moral distinction of right and wrong: once you realise the non-dual state of a Buddha, the benefit of beings is spontaneously accomplished and there is no need to make these conventional conceptual distinctions any more.
Having meditated in a different mountain area, I have discovered an unborn confidence; resolved dualistic perception of past and future lives, revealed the appearances of the six realms as deceptions, and cut the imputations of birth and death.
Having obtained the confidence of equality, I’ve resolved the duality of pleasure and pain, revealed the experience of sensations as deceptions, and cut the imputations of right and wrong.
Having attained an inalienable confidence, I’ve resolved the duality of saṃsāra and nirvana, revealed the stages of gradual practice as deceptions, and cut the imputations of hope and fear.
‘One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa’, p.58. trans. T.A.
V.79 The nature of liberation is the nature of nirvana
Continued from the text on the middle way as freedom from the two extremes of existence and non-existence (*V.32), this passage describes the nature of nirvana in a similar way.
But if phenomena of saṃsāra are neither existent nor non-existent, then is nirvana something existent or something non-existent? Some theoreticians speculate that nirvana must be something existent. However, it is not. As (Nāgārjuna) said in the ‘Precious Garland’, ‘If nirvana is not something non-existent, then how could it be something existent’? (RV I.42a). If it were something existent (bhāva), then nirvana would be a conditioned thing (saṃskṛta); and if it were conditioned, then eventually it would come to an end. As said in The ‘Fundamental Treatise of the Middle Way’ (of Nāgārjuna): ‘If nirvana was something existent, then it would be conditioned’, (MMK XXV.5) and so forth. Neither can it be something non-existent. As he says in the same place, ‘It is not non-existent’ (MMK XXV.7).
So one may ask what nirvana actually is. What we call nirvana is ineffable beyond the reasoning mind, with all concepts of existence and non-existence exhausted. As the ‘Precious Garland’ says: ‘What we call nirvana is the exhaustion of all concepts of existence and non-existence’ (RV I.42b). ‘Engaging in the Conduct for Awakening’ also says that, ‘When neither existence nor non-existence is left for the mind, then there being no other option, it calms down without a thought’ (BCA IX.26). The ‘Noble Sūtra Requested by Brahmā’ says: ‘It is the calming down of conceptual thoughts,642 freedom from agitation.’ The ‘White Lotus of Sublime Dharma Sūtra’ says: ‘Kāśyapa, nirvana is the realization of the sameness of all phenomena (in emptiness).’
Thus, nirvana is nothing but the mere calming down of the reasoning mind – rather than anything that is produced or stopped, abandoned or attained. Thus, the ‘Fundamental Treatise of the Middle Way’ says: ‘Nothing abandoned, nothing attained, nothing annihilated, and nothing permanent; that is nirvana’ (MMK XXV.3). Since nirvana is neither produced nor stopped, neither abandoned nor attained, it is not something one should create, construct, or transform into. The ‘Precious Sky (Ratna-ākāśa) Sūtra’ also asserts that, ‘There is nothing to be removed, not the slightest thing to be established; just look at authentic reality as it really is, and if you can see it that way, you are completely free.’
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.287–89, trans. T.A.
Activities of the Buddha
V.80 Spontaneous manifestation
The last chapter of ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ describes the spontaneous activities of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. It utilizes a number of evocative similes from the Uttaratantra (UT) to describe how the Buddha manifests all those acts spontaneously from the non-conceptual state of mind, in response to the various needs of sentient beings.
Arousing the awakening-mind first, then practising the path and finally attaining Buddhahood as a result, are all just for the purpose of dispelling sentient beings’ suffering and making them happy. When you become a Buddha, you dwell without any conceptual thought or deliberate effort, but while the Buddha does not have any thought or intention to benefit sentient beings, their welfare is spontaneously, incessantly accomplished.
How does that happen? In brief, the Buddha-body acts for beings’ sakes without conceptuality;643 Buddha-speech and Buddha-mind likewise serve their benefits without any concept. Those three comprise the activity of a Buddha. The way Buddha-body, speech and mind work for the sakes of sentient beings without any concepts is illustrated by a number of similes in the ‘Unsurpassed Continuum’ (Uttaratantra): ‘Like Indra, a drum, clouds, and Brahmā; like the Sun, and a precious (wish-fulfilling) gem; the Tathāgata is like an echo, like the sky, and the earth’ (UT XVII.13).
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.348–49, trans. T.A.
V.81 Activities of the Buddha-body
‘Appearing as Indra’ is a simile for how the Buddha-body works for the sakes of sentient beings, without any conceptual thought. Indra, chief of the gods, and his divine maidens live in a magnificent mansion, which is made of pure and translucent beryl crystal, and so a reflection of Indra appears outside the palace. Some men and women living on the Earth can perceive the reflection of Indra and his enjoyments. Wishing they would soon reach that state, they make aspirations and undertake wholesome actions for that purpose, so they are reborn there after they die. Although the reflected image (of Indra) has not any conceptual thought or disturbance, it still inspires faith and a higher aspiration in those who perceive it.
Likewise, those who perceive all the various miraculous displays – such as walking, standing, sitting, lying down, teaching the Dharma, or meditating – of the body of the Buddhas, adorned with the major and minor marks (of a great being), are inspired to faith and aspiration by those appearances. They arouse the awakening-mind and start practising the path in order to attain that state, and so they finally reach Buddhahood – notwithstanding that the physical appearance of the Buddha has no conceptual thought or disturbance.
As said, ‘Just as Indra’s body is reflected on the clear crystal ground (of his palace), the body of the Buddha is reflected on the pure ground of beings’ minds’ (UT XVII.29). That is how the Buddha-body acts for beings’ sakes without conceptuality.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.349–50, trans. T.A.
V.82 Activities of Buddha-speech
‘Like a divine drum’ is a simile for how Buddha-speech works for the sakes of sentient beings without any conceptual thought. On top of Indra’s magnificent mansion, there is a divine drum ‘Holding the Power of the Dharma’, accomplished by the strength of the positive actions performed by the gods in the past. While not having any conceptual thought, it constantly warns the heedless gods by resounding with the four axioms of the (Buddhist) view: ‘All conditioned things are impermanent. All phenomena lack self-identity. Everything tainted is painful. Nirvana is complete peace.’ As it is said, ‘Just as the Dharma Drum reminds forgetful gods of impermanence, painfulness, lack of identity, and peace, through the force of the gods’ previous beneficial karma without any effort, without stop, without any mental form or conceptuality’ (UT XVII.31-32).
Likewise, the speech of the Buddha, though free of deliberate effort and analytical conceptuality, teaches the Dharma to fortunate sentient beings in whatever way it is appropriate. As it is said, ‘Likewise, even though the All-pervading (Buddha) is free from effort, and so forth, Buddha-speech pervades all beings without exception, teaching the Dharma to those fortunate ones’ (UT XVII.33). This is the way Buddha-speech works for sentient beings without conceptual thought.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.350–51, trans. T.A.
V.83 Activities of Buddha-mind
‘Like a cloud’ is a simile for how Buddha-mind works for the sakes of sentient beings without any conceptual thought. It is like clouds gathering without any deliberate effort in the summer sky and pouring down rain on the earth; without any conceptual thought they make the various crops perfectly grow. As is said, ‘Just as clouds in the summer, raining down a mass of water on the earth without any effort make the harvests grow’ (UT XVII.42).
Similarly, the activity of Buddha-mind is pouring down the rain of Dharma without any conceptual thought, ripening the harvest of wholesome actions. As it is said, ‘Likewise, from the compassionate activity of the Buddha, there pours down the rainwater of the sublime Buddha-Dharma without any conceptual thought for the sakes of beings, ripening their harvests’ (UT XVII.43). That is how Buddha-mind works for the benefit of sentient beings without conceptual thought.
‘Like Brahmā’: Brahmā, king of the gods, can show up in all divine worlds while not shifting from the Brahmā world. Similarly, the Buddha works through performing the twelve deeds644 for those who are to become his disciples while not moving from the Dharma-body. As it is said, ‘Just as Brahmā, king of the gods, appears effortlessly in all divine worlds while not shifting from the Brahmā-world; likewise, the Buddha effortlessly displays emanations for fortunate ones throughout the three realms while not moving from the Dharma-body’ (UT XVII.54).
‘Like the Sun’: The rays of the Sun can cause various lotuses and innumerable other kinds of flowers to simultaneously open their petals without any conceptual thought. Likewise, the light-rays of the Buddha-Dharma, while not having any thoughts or intentions, can open the mind-lotuses of disciples of incalculable types and interests. As is said, ‘Like the Sun shining its light all at once without any conceptual thought makes the lotuses open their petals and ripens different types of flowers; likewise, the light-rays of the sublime Dharma from the Sun of the Tathāgata shine on the lotuses of disciples without any conceptual thought’ (UT XVII.58-9).
Another way to take this simile is that just as the Sun is reflected at the same time in every pure water-vessel, the Buddha also appears simultaneously to all disciples who have pure vision. As is said, ‘The Sun of the Tathāgata is reflected in innumerable ways simultaneously in the water-vessel of each pure disciple’ (UT XVII.62).
The wish-fulfilling jewel: Even though the wish-fulfilling precious gem has no conceptual thoughts, it effortlessly produces whatever is needed and asked for. In a similar way, relying on the Buddha, all the different kinds of disciples can attain their intended purposes. As is said, ‘Just like a wish-fulfilling gem, though having no concepts, can simultaneously fulfil the different wishes of all those living within its sphere of activity; likewise, though people with different intentions will hear various versions of the Dharma when listening to the wish-fulfilling Buddha, he does not have any concepts’ (UT XVII.67-8).
The echo, the earth, and the sky are also similes for how the Buddha works for beings’ sakes without any conceptual thought.
‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’, pp.351–54, trans. T.A.