Prior to Receiving Teachings
Following tradition, we will make the offering and request for
teachings, which appear in our text. We will say these prayers
once in English and once in Tibetan. We start with the second
one, which is the Mandala Offering; then we do the first one,
which is the Request For Teaching. Please read it together:
This ground anointed with perfumed water and strewn with flowers,
Mt. Meru, the four continents, the sun, the moon are offered as
a Buddha Realm.
May all beings attain the Pure Land through this offering.
I send forth this jeweled mandala to you, precious Guru.
SA ZHI PO CHHU JYUK ZHING ME TOK TRAM
RI RAP LING ZHI NYI DAY GYEN PA DI
SANG GYAY ZHING DU MIK TE PHUL WA YIY
DRO KUN NAM DAK ZHING LA CHYOD PAR SHOK
I DAM GURU RATNA MANDALA KEM NIRYA TA YA MI
Request For Teachings
To fulfill the needs of all sentient beings in their various
states of mental
capacity, including the lesser, greater, common and extraordinary
we beseech you to turn the wheel of the Dharma.
SEM CHEN NAM KYI SAM PA DANG
LO YI JYE DRAK JI TA WAR
CHE CHUNG THUN MONG THEK PA YI
CHO KYI KHOR LO KOR DU SOL
Now Rinpoche will invoke the blessings of the Lord of Infinite
Wisdom, Manjushri, with the traditional prayer for his wisdom,
so that we may clearly understand the teachings that will be given.
Today's Topic - The Six Perfections
Today's topic is the Six Perfections, or Paramitas, which is
the central feature of the Prajnaparamita teachings. These are
part of what is called "The Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma"
by the Lord Buddha, Sakyamuni. He turned the Wheel of Dharma three
This second turning of the wheel, which was done from his place
of teaching on Vulture's Peak, is called "The Wheel of the Lack
of Intrinsic Characteristics." That was the name of that whole
cycle of teaching.
The Five Aspects of
In this second turning of the wheel, the Lord Buddha presented
what are called the five aspects of excellence, the first of which
is the fact that the place of the teaching was the most excellent
place from where to give teachings, from where to turn the Wheel
of the Dharma for the sake of living beings. So the first of the
five is said to be most excellent place of teaching, meaning this
place in India called Vulture's Peak.
The second aspect of excellence is the audience or disciples,
so it's called the most excellent disciples - these were the assembly
of bodhisattvas together with eighty thousand divinities.
The third aspect of excellence is the Dharma, that is, the content
of the teaching itself was most excellent - namely, the teachings
on the Prajnaparamita.
The fourth aspect of excellence is the timing of the teaching,
of the turning of the wheel. This was the most excellent time
for living beings to receive the teaching. This is indicated by
the fact that human beings at the time had great longevity, living
to be normally around one hundred years old.
The fifth aspect of excellence is that here we have the most excellent
teacher, meaning the Lord Buddha himself, who had attained the
state of highest perfect and peerless enlightenment.
Preparing to Receive the Teachings - Preliminary Practices
The manner in which these teachings were given is said to be
by way of the three types of miraculous activity, namely the physical
manifestations, the verbal manifestations and the mental manifestations,
all three being miraculous by nature.
What was the reason behind these three types of miraculous activity?
The reason why the Lord Buddha manifested miraculous activities
of body, of speech and of mind was in order to prepare the students,
or disciples, to receive the teachings, to make them suitable
to absorb the teachings that he was giving to them. If they were
not prepared properly, then giving the teaching would be a waste
So to prepare the disciples, he manifested the three types of
miracles. The greatest obstacle to acquiring the teaching, once
it is made available to you, is your own mental defilements. Principally,
pride and arrogance can make a disciple immune or disinterested
in the teachings, thinking that they already, in many ways, have
everything they need of an intellectual or spiritual nature. So
to overcome that pride and arrogance, the Buddha manifests the
three types of miraculous activity.
In Buddhist practice, there is a universal aspect, which is called
preliminary practices. Here, depending upon the teaching that
you are getting and the teacher that is giving it to you, a series
of preliminary practices, often comprised of a large number of
repetitions of such things as prostrations and recitations and
so forth, may be required. All of these are preliminaries designed
to prepare the student or disciple to receive and to practice
the actual teachings.
The purpose of all of these preliminaries is not just to amass
a great number, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of repetitions
of various practices, but to receive the benefit of their collective
effect upon the mind. The preliminaries are always designed to
reduce the great obstacle to effective engagement in Buddhist
practice or meditation; that great obstacle is the inner obstacle
of pride, that sense of arrogance where one thinks that one is
already completely sufficient and does not really need to acquire
any new teachings. This subtle pride or arrogance makes it completely
impossible to truly listen to the teachings, to truly benefit
from what one hears and to truly put it into effective practice.
So to overcome that subtle or coarse pride in one's own mind,
the teacher prescribes various preliminary practices. So that's
the nature of, the reason behind, these three types of miracles
that were manifested by the Lord Buddha.
The Lord Buddha, looking out upon his audience, the vast numbers
of divinities and bodhisattvas, understood clearly and directly
the types of obstacles that prevented them from effectively listening
to the teachings and putting it into practice. What he saw is
described under the category of the five types of arrogance, and
these include the arrogance in which one takes great pride in
one's own powers, one's own beauty, one's own wealth, one's possessions,
and in one's own knowledge.
These are the types of pride which were possessed by the audience
(the disciples), and which prevented them, before these miracles
were manifested, from truly listening to what the Buddha had to
say. So to overcome these, he exhibited the miracles. Had he not
done that, the disciples would have been left with their pride
and arrogance, and left without any means to attain liberation
from all of the causes of their own misery. So they would remain
stuck in the round of birth and death, and all of the miseries
that that entails.
The First Aspect
of Excellence - The Most Excellent Place
The location where the teachings took place was called the most
excellent place, the first of the five aspects of excellence,
because this so-called Vulture's Peak was in fact the place where
the six great emperors of India established their capitals. This
was the most powerful, most desirable place from which the six
universal emperors of India exerted their influence over the entire
subcontinent. This was the place of their palace and their capitals,
so throughout that early history of India, this was always considered
the supreme place in the entire land.
The Second Aspect
of Excellence - The Most Excellent Disciples
Another of the five aspects of excellence is that the disciples
themselves constitute the most excellent circle of disciples.
These included all of the great bodhisattvas as well as the eighty
thousand divinities. So each of these possess all of these aspects
of excellence themselves, such as the highest attainments in the
worldly sense, the greatest retinues, the greatest radiance, the
greatest possessions, the greatest powers, even the greatest ability
to perform miraculous activities. All of these aspects are possessed
by the members of this audience of disciples. All of them have
these powers, but altogether they, of course, do not match even
a small bit of what the Lord Buddha was able to exhibit. In the
entire world system, these were the most powerful persons. Therefore
they are called the most excellent retinue or the most excellent
audience of disciples.
The Third Aspect
of Excellence - The Most Excellent Teachings
What the Lord Buddha spoke or communicated with these sixty
aspects of enlightened speech, was what was referred to earlier
as the most excellent teaching or most excellent Dharma. To understand
why the teachings of the Buddha were most excellent, we have to
see that whatever he spoke arose out of his enlightened mind,
his enlightened experience. That is to say, it was based on his
eons of practice, of developing and perfecting himself, of eliminating
all flaws and attaining all excellences. And from that state of
supreme enlightenment, whatever he said had the great power to
liberate living beings from their illusions and to establish them
in the state of liberation. So other teachers, hearing his words,
and trying to emulate it or repeat it, could do so only to a certain
degree. The power of the Buddha's speech, arising directly from
his experience of ultimate enlightenment, can not be matched by
any who do not also possess that state of highest enlightenment.
So what he gave at Vulture's Peak is the aspect that is referred
to as the most excellent teaching, because it arose directly from
his experience of supreme enlightenment and cannot be matched
by any who have not attained that level of perfect insight.
The Prajnaparamita teachings, given by the Lord Buddha from Vulture's
Peak, is the supreme teaching. This is the most excellent teaching,
the teaching which expresses directly his enlightenment. Of all
other religious teachers who give instructions in this world,
none can match the teachings on the Prajnaparamita because only
the person with that state of highest, perfect, supreme enlightenment
can teach in this way. Therefore it is called the most excellent
The Fourth Aspect
of Excellence - The Most Excellent Time
In world cycles, there are various times in which there is the
development or evolution of the world, and then times of devolution
as things go into a period of decline. There is a certain time
when the evolution is at its peak before the devolution or decline
starts. The very peak of the cosmic cycle, when living beings
have the greatest fortune, the highest level of ability to acquire
and practice the teachings, was the time in which the Lord Buddha
gave these teachings from Vulture's Peak. Therefore it is called
the most excellent time. It was a time when the average lifespan
was around one hundred years, when people had, almost universally,
the leisure and the opportunity to engage in effective spiritual
practice, untroubled by all of the various distractions and difficulties
which obstruct spiritual practice. So of the five aspects of excellence,
this is what is called the most excellent time.
So having all these aspects of excellence present, the most excellent
place, the most excellent assemblage of disciples, the most excellent
teachings, the most excellent time, and the most excellent teacher,
the teaching would still not be effective as long as within the
mind of the disciple there remains a sense of pride and arrogance.
So to eliminate that, the Lord Buddha exhibited the miracles.
These functioned to get the attention of the disciples, to make
them attentive, to make them realize that no matter how powerful,
influential, clever, wealthy, beautiful and so forth, that they
were, that they were still insignificant in the face of this supreme
being, the Lord Buddha, who appeared before them. So to convince
them of that he exhibits the miracles, which has the effect of
subduing that pride and making them receptive to learning the
Having subdued their pride in this way and having gotten their
attention, at this point the disciples look to the Lord Buddha
to enlighten them, to show them the way from their relatively
insignificant powers and abilities and knowledge to find this
higher level, this state of supreme knowledge. So at this point,
they willingly and diligently listened to what he had to say.
The Fifth Aspect
of Excellence - The Most Excellent Teacher
Why was the Buddha the most excellent teacher? This is related
to the three types of miracles and how he subdued the pride and
arrogance of the disciples. The teacher who lacks true excellence,
who has serious gaps in his or her knowledge, whose understanding
is very small, but who pretends to be qualified to teach, such
a person will not be able to truly help disciples. A typical manifestation
of such a person is to be very arrogant and proud, to cover up
the inadequacies in such a person's understanding and ability
The Lord Buddha, having amassed accumulations of merit over three
endless eons, having perfected all of the infinite varieties of
good attributes and having freed himself from all aspects of mental,
physical and verbal stains or defilements, had achieved the state
of ultimate perfection, wherein nothing was beyond his knowledge
or ability. For such a person, then, there is no need to make
any great show. There is no pride whatsoever in such a person.
All things such as pride and arrogance have been eliminated. As
Sakya Penchen describes it, such a person is like a very deep
ocean where the surface is very, very smooth and calm because
of its great depth. The person without such depth, without such
knowledge and understanding, is like a very shallow body of water
that is always turbulent, muddy, unclear, noisy, unstable and
is easily moved by any little bit of wind. The Lord Buddha is
like the very deep, even bottomless ocean - very, very calm and
clear. So such a person manifesting these three types of miracles
does so without the smallest trace of pride or arrogance, but
does so in order to benefit the disciples.
Sakya Penchen described it like this: if you have something very
valuable, like a very precious jewel, and you put that into the
ocean, it sinks to the bottom and it abides there. It is heavy
in all its wondrous features. A perfect jewel or something made
of pure gold goes to the bottom and remains there.
Something without any value, like some dried grass or dried wood,
remains on the surface, pushed around by the waves and blown by
the wind. The teacher, with all of the excellent qualities, is
like that jewel or the gold that remains calmly at the bottom,
no matter how turbulent the waves and the wind. It is never disturbed,
never blown around. The teacher with less good qualities is like
the dry wood or straw that remains at the top and is tossed by
the waves and blown by the wind. The teacher who is like the straw
or the dried wood has great pride and arrogance, but very little
good qualities and knowledge. The teacher who is like the jewel
has great good qualities and knowledge, but no pride and arrogance.
The excellent teacher is filled with the weight of knowledge,
of good qualities, of self-discipline and so forth, and remains
like the jewel at the bottom. The poor or unqualified teacher
does not have those solid, heavy qualities and has just appearances,
so it is like the straw remaining at the top of the water, with
all sorts of arrogance and show, speaking loudly, praising himself
or herself, but lacking these good qualities that constitute the
true substance of the qualified teacher.
What brings about those heavy, substantial qualities is the training
which the individual undergoes. Study, contemplation and meditation
bestow substance upon the individual teacher. Without those qualities,
which arise from study, contemplation and meditation, there is
no substance. All there is, is the superficial, the show.
So this is the reason why the Lord Buddha is called the most excellent
teacher. Because he has acquired all of those good qualities from
the many, many lifetimes of practice, study, contemplation, meditation,
spiritual development, of bestowing all of his wealth, possessions,
even his bodies to benefit others, thinking only of the benefit
of others. In this way he acquired countless virtues and freed
himself of all defilements.
In exhibiting the three types of miracles, the Lord Buddha subdued
the pride of the gods, which was no easy thing - the gods having
all of these fantastic powers, having tremendous retinues of followers,
having all of the radiance and the glory of the divine beings,
having all of the wealth and possessions and all of the various
types of powers unique to gods and goddesses. Such beings then,
looking upon an ordinary person, feel tremendous pride and arrogance
and are completely unsuitable to listen to any sort of teachings.
Therefore, the Lord Buddha exhibited the three types of miracles,
so that the gods and goddesses looking upon him felt their own
radiance and their own powers to be very small, if not insignificant,
so great were the miracles exhibited by the Lord Buddha. The gods
and goddesses came to feel that they were like a small candle
being held opposite the great sun. Their illumination powers were
like the light of a candle, whereas the Lord Buddha was like the
light of the sun.
These miracles were shown by the Buddha at this time, before giving
the teachings on the Prajnaparamita at Vulture's Peak, for the
benefit of the gods, to overcome their pride and arrogance. So,
his first type of miracle was the physical miracle. The gods and
goddesses had such great radiance that in their divine abodes
they had no need for sun or moon, nor any sort of celestial light.
Their own bodies gave off such light, such brilliant radiance.
Very proud of this, at first, they came to see the Lord Buddha.
To overcome that pride, he sent out from the place between his
eyes on his forehead, rays of light which went forth and illumined,
not just the area around there, not just this world, not just
this world system, but went out to illuminate all of the hundreds
of billion world systems. Giving out light more than hundreds
of trillions of suns, all together. Just from him, he sent out
this great radiance. It went out in all directions, illuminated
all these billions of world systems, then came back and dissolved
back into his forehead. In this way, that aspect of the arrogance
of the gods was subdued.
The Buddha has these inconceivable abilities, like fitting the
entire world into a single atom or a single dust particle, right
in front of him. So he can hold the whole world on a single atom
or a single particle of dust. Likewise, he can make something
as small as a single particle of dust as great as the entire world.
In this way, what he expresses with his own tongue can go forth
to the entire world and come back again, without his tongue growing
greater or the world growing smaller. The activities of his tongue
extend out, throughout the world's systems - he has such an ability
to overcome time and space.
The verbal abilities of the Buddha, that is the miraculous powers
of his speech, are such that he has what are called the sixty
aspects of enlightened speech. Without going into all of those,
we can understand that when he spoke a word, that word was just
as clear and intelligible from millions of miles away as it would
be sitting right in front of him, without having to yell or raise
his voice. Another of these aspects of enlightened speech is that
the speech of the enlightened ones is understood by the disciple
in his or her own idiom or language. With no need of a translator,
the Lord Buddha could speak to all sorts of diverse audiences.
Though the languages of certain heavens or parts of certain heavens
might be totally different from the language of other gods or
goddesses, all of them would understand it the same. Some of the
nagas, speaking one naga language, would understand it in their
idiom, others in their idiom. Likewise with any of his other disciples,
they would perceive what he said to have been spoken in their
So he began at that point to give the teaching on the Prajnaparamita.
This teaching begins with the first of the Six Paramitas. Paramita
means the most perfect practice which leads one to the attainment
of liberation. The first of these is the perfection of generosity.
Arising and Emptiness
But first, in order to put this teaching on the practice and
perfection of generosity into a context of the ultimate meaning
of all of the teachings, to show that it is part of this path
to supreme knowledge and ultimate liberation, the Lord Buddha
first gave instructions on what is called dependent arising. Dependent
arising is the way in which all phenomena arise, abide and dissolve.
As part of that, he gave the teachings on emptiness, that is,
on the ultimate reality or ultimate nature of all phenomena.
The teachings on the Six Paramitas - generosity, morality, patience,
virtuous effort, concentration and wisdom - all of these are meaningful
only in the context of ultimate truth. Were it not for this ultimate
truth, then the engagement or practice of these things would not
be effective or even sensible. So the Buddha starts out by giving
these teachings on dependent arising, and on the nature of the
ultimate truth characterized by dependent arising. That is what
we call shunyata, or emptiness. As Nagarjuna says in the Tsawe
Sherab, the Mulamadyamika Karika, "Whatever arises dependently,
that is, all things which are dependent arising, meaning all phenomena
without exception, are free of both annihilation and eternal existence".
In other words, they are not non-existent, nor are they truly
or eternally existent. They are neither of those two things.
In this teaching on dependent arising as explicated by Nagarjuna,
where he comments on these teachings on the Prajnaparamita, he
explains this teaching on dependent arising and emptiness. Where
do things arise from? In this world we have so many different
philosophies and ideas and explanations for the arising of phenomena,
that is, how and why the world was created, how phenomena arise,
how they exist, how they change and dissolve - so many different
teachings, so many different philosophies. Only the Lord Buddha
taught dependent arising. This teaching is what clears away the
clouds of confusion with regard to how things truly exist.
This principle of dependent arising, to describe it very briefly,
is that all phenomena arise from a cause. So long as causes and
conditions produce it, it is said to exist. But it has no true
existence apart from its causes and conditions. So it then becomes
a part of this chain, or this process, becoming the cause and
condition for the arising of something else, which also has no
true or independent existence apart from its own causes and conditions.
In this way all things arise in connection and dependence upon
something else. Nothing whatsoever, not the smallest atom or atomic
particle, or anything, exists in and of its own right. Its existence
is merely apparent or merely a transitional appearance, without
any true or inherent existence. So this is the description of
the subject matter of the teaching on dependent arising, and how
all things lack that inherent existence; all things can neither
be said to truly exist nor to be nonexistent. That middle way
between those two extremes is what we have when we understand
the nature of reality and its dependent arising.
The teaching on dependent arising is not something that you can
just listen to and say, "Oh, OK, things are dependently arisen,
things lack inherent or true existence," and sort of leave it
at that. The topic as the Buddha has taught it is not as something
to be simply accepted. Rather he provided a framework for analysis
and investigation which must be carried out by the individual
disciple. That is to say, the faculty of wisdom or the perfection
of the faculty of wisdom (which is roughly the translation of
Prajnaparamita, the ultimate development of wisdom), comes about
only by the individual using this framework of the teachings on
dependent arising and emptiness to investigate the nature of the
arising of all things -- all inner things associated with the
mind, all external phenomena - everything, getting closer and
closer to the direct understanding of how things truly come into
being, how they abide, how they dissolve, how they change. Through
that great effort at personally and directly understanding these
things, the faculty of wisdom increases in the disciple.
This is in contrast to other philosophies or teachings which attribute
the arising of things in the world to some type of an agency or
to a deity who creates things. That the world and the things in
the world, whether they're external or whether they are one's
mind, whether they're one's own good fortune or bad fortune, to
say that this is created by a certain deity or group of deities,
is given so that people can accept that and go on, and say, "I
understand everything now; the world and everything in it is created
by such and such deity," and then not think about it anymore -
other than to pay homage to that deity. And if you do accept this,
then you can be part of that group, that religion or that culture;
if you don't then you can get into conflict with them and have
all sorts of problems because you don't believe this basic tenet.
In the meantime, you're not investigating, you're not looking
into reality, you're not using your own reasoning or your own
faculties, and you're not developing that faculty of discriminative
awareness or wisdom. That is then contrary to what the Buddha
has taught. He always emphasizes, again, that the individual must
come to an understanding, a very minute, perfect, focused understanding
about how all things arise, and emphasizes that this understanding
is possible, and that the pursuit of this understanding is what
leads to the development of this faculty of wisdom.
Among the tremendous variety of teachings, of views and of faith
systems in the world, there are those who assert that things arise
in the world, that phenomena arise, that the world arises, that
living beings arise, as the result of the miraculous and inscrutable
activities of a creator. These various creators, or views of what
a creator might be, are propounded by all of these different schools.
The Buddha disagrees with this, refutes the idea of a creator,
and insists that we use our own mental faculties to see for ourselves
how things arise. He insists that we can do that and we can develop
the ability to have perfect insight into this.
On the other hand, there are many schools and systems that are
nihilistic in nature. What they are doing is denying the reality
of cause and effect, saying things are not dependently arisen;
they do not arise on the basis of a whole complex of causes and
conditions. Rather, they arise randomly, without a cause. Such
teachings insist that there are no former lives, that there are
no future lives, that things truly do not exist at all. The Buddha
refutes this also. When he speaks of emptiness he is never speaking
of nonexistence, but rather empty of self nature or inherent nature.
So the idea that things do not exist at all, that they are merely
illusion, that everything is arisen without any cause or without
any creative process, this is also thoroughly refuted by the teachings
of the Buddha.
So the Lord Buddha teaches the middle way, between the creationists
and the nihilists, saying that things are neither created by some
sort of eternal power or agency, nor are things non-existent by
nature. He describes the middle way, where nothing exists by way
of its own nature. Rather, things arise in dependence on causes
and conditions and disappear in the absence of those causes and
conditions. Everything that we can see or perceive is of this
nature. It is a dependent arising, not existing in its own nature.
Therefore it is said to neither truly exist, nor to be non-existent.
So the extremes of existence and non-existence are refuted, and
the middle way of dependent arising is taught by the Buddha.
Conventional Truth and
These dual principles of dependent arising and emptiness are
the central teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha teaches the two
truths: the conventional truth and the ultimate truth, and says
that the true state of knowledge, the enlightened state, is the
one where we can see the two of these as being not only non-contradictory
but as being completely unified. To understand reality, we have
to understand both that everything is dependently arisen and is
empty by nature. In fact, that the evidence or the proof of things
being empty is that they are dependently arisen, and the proof
that they are dependently arisen is that they are empty. These
can both be established independently. Through the process of
meditative analysis we can directly perceive the conventional
truth, how things arise in dependence upon each other, and we
can realize the ultimate truth, that all things lack true or inherent
This teaching on emptiness and dependent arising, the central
teaching of the Prajnaparamita and indeed the central philosophy
of Buddhism, is the teaching of great freedom, the teaching of
liberation. That is to say, that because things are empty and
dependently arisen, therefore liberation is possible, therefore
supreme enlightenment and Buddhahood are possible. If things inherently
existed, that is to say that things were simply created by some
sort of a creator, then there would be no ability of an individual
by his or her own efforts to attain enlightenment. Rather, any
sort of state of bliss or happiness or peace would be something
bestowed at the whim of the creator. If we found a way to please
this creator, we would get these benefits. If we didn't, we couldn't
get them. It would not be something that we could do ourselves,
by our own efforts, by our own diligence; we could not attain
any supreme state. Likewise if things were non-existent, as the
nihilists would have it, then any efforts to attain insight into
reality would simply be vanities. There would again be no possibility
of liberation or supreme bliss or Buddhahood.
The nihilists do not believe in former and future lifetimes, for
instance. They do not believe in the inexorable process of karma
or cause and effect, so they don't recognize that there is a future
life, that what exists today produces or accounts for what will
exist tomorrow. In this way, there is no way to bring about any
desired results. There is no way to understand the process by
which things arise and through that arising, to establish one's
own good fortune and one's desired goals.
With the nihilists there is no reason to engage in study, there
is no reason to engage in any sort of practice or to develop any
insight. There is no former life and no future life. So the only
sensible thing is to do anything you want in this life, to enjoy
yourself and not worry about the future because there is no future.
There is no connection between today and tomorrow, between this
life and a future life.
The Chain of
Cause and Effect
This nihilistic view represents an inability to look closely
at reality, to see the connection between one thing and another,
to see how everything that exists now is the result of what existed
before and what led up to it, that everything that will exist
in the future arises out of what exists now, and that there is
this cause and effect process which is responsible for all things
in the world. The Buddha therefore taught about the chain of cause
and effect, that tomorrow is caused by today, and that the future
lifetime is determined by this lifetime. He taught this continuity
of cause and effect and showed how it is responsible for the arising,
abiding and dissolution of all phenomena.
The Six Paramitas, the practices of generosity, morality, patience
and so forth, are meaningful only within this context of cause
and effect. That is to say, the Buddha taught that all things
arise from a cause. He taught what those causes are. He taught
the dissolution of all things through this process of cause and
effect. He taught the two truths so that we can understand the
way things appear to us, to our senses and so forth, and the underlying
way in which they actually exist. The way they appear to us is
what is called the conventional reality, the underlying reality
being the ultimate one, the lack of true existence, the emptiness,
and the way that things arise only through this process of dependent
So in this light, it becomes appropriate to act in certain ways
in which it would not be appropriate to act were the world and
all phenomena either non-existent by nature, or randomly existent,
or created at the whim of some type of creator. In other words,
because all things are causally related, those who desire happiness
and wish to avoid misery must act in a certain way to establish
the causes of what they desire. Desiring happiness, you act in
a moral way. Desiring to have wealth and possessions, you act
in a generous manner, and so forth. So the meaning, the purpose,
of all these Paramitas can only be understood in this context
of the middle way, of dependent arising.
We now go to the topic of the first of the Paramitas, which
is the Dana Paramita, or the perfection of the practice of generosity.
To understand this, it is important to understand that all things
are connected in this process of dependent arising. Therefore
the practice of generosity is meaningful. Were it not for this,
it would not be sensible to engage in these great activities of
giving to others. It is through the process of dependent arising,
from the practice of generosity, both the recipients are benefited,
as well as oneself.
Now, why did the Lord Buddha teach as first of the Six Paramitas,
generosity? He taught it by way of its compatibility to the thoughts
and attitudes of the living beings in the world. That is to say,
that those who inhabit the world, the objects of the Buddha's
teaching, are people who enjoy the wealth and enjoyments of the
world. So he's teaching by way of effect, saying that if you desire
the effect, which is to have possessions and enjoyments, then
you must engage in the causes which bring about the possessions
of wealth and enjoyment. So to show the cause of our own enjoyment
of wealth and possessions, the Buddha taught this practice of
engaging in the perfection of generosity.
Looking at this in an overly simplistic or immature manner, one
might think, "Oh I have a certain amount of possession of wealth
right now, and if I engage in this practice of generosity, I'll
be giving it away, I'll be reducing my own wealth and enjoyments.
And this is the opposite of what I want. I want to have more and
not less." This is the wrong way to look at things, the Buddha
has taught. He said we have to have more long-range thinking here.
It is like a farmer who has a certain amount of wheat or corn,
and what is that farmer best advised to do? To hoard what he has,
and then it can deteriorate or be eaten up by bugs or whatever,
if he is stingy with it, or take it out and plant it in the ground
so that each seed will produce a crop and will produce so much
more? Obviously it is much more sensible to take the seeds that
he has and instead of hoarding them, to plant them properly and
cultivate crops, and then have thousands of times more seeds in
the future than he has now. But if the farmer looks at it from
a short-term or immature way and thinks that casting what seeds
he has out on the ground is just throwing them away, then that
farmer will never be prosperous.
So the farmer has to have a little more long-term thinking, and
be willing to give those seeds that he possesses forth to the
land with the reasonable expectation that a crop will be produced.
Just hoarding them, again, is to waste them. But just as the farmer
planting the seeds does not expect that the moment he plants them
immediately a plant will arise and he will be enjoying all that
profit, likewise the person engaged in the practice of generosity,
who gives away things to others, should not expect that instantly
great wealth is going to come back, but rather should understand
the cause and effect process. It may take some time for that deed
to produce its result, but indeed acts of generosity in this lifetime
will produce great enjoyment of wealth in the future.
If we look at people in the world, we see that some people are
very wealthy and have all sorts of things and other people are
extremely poor and cannot manage to provide themselves with any
wealth or enjoyment. If we look at this just in the very limited
context of the present, it seems very random and senseless. If
we understand, on the other hand, that all things arise in this
complex of causes and conditions, of dependent arising, then we
have to understand that there is a cause for some people to become
very wealthy and others to be poor in this life. Not seeing any
particular reason in the context of this life, for example someone
born into a wealthy family, but understanding that things are
causally related, then we can look to the former lifetime to understand
that in the past lifetimes, the person who is born into the wealthy
family engaged in great deeds of generosity which are ripening
in this present lifetime. Whereas the poor person did not do that
and the lack of generosity is manifesting in the present lifetime.
That is to say, a specific pattern in some former lifetime of
either generosity or stinginess manifests at a certain point in
the future, in these ways.
So this is what was taught by the Lord Buddha, in opposition to
other views which posit some sort of an external, magical agency
that arbitrarily, or by some whim, chooses that some persons will
be wealthy and others will be poor. The Buddha taught that it
is not like that. If it were like that, there would be nothing
that we could do about it. But in fact, because things are related
and dependent and arise as the result of causes and conditions,
it is therefore in our own hands whether in the future we will
be prosperous or poor.
The Buddha laid out very clearly the pattern of cause and effect,
understanding that all people want to be prosperous, that they
want to be endowed with requisites and resources and do not want
to suffer poverty. He taught the causes of prosperity and that
this is within our own ability, within our own hands to establish
those causes. By having given generously to others, we can confidently
await the time that we ourselves will be prosperous, if not later
in this lifetime, then in a future lifetime.
The Buddha taught that this is our own responsibility, this is
completely in our own hands - just as liberation itself is not
something bestowed upon us from some external power or being or
agency, but rather something which we ourselves either produce
through establishing its causes, or do not produce by failing
to establish those causes. Just like wealth and enjoyment, so
enlightenment and Buddhahood are the result of the cause and effect
process. The Buddha taught that it is in our own hands and not
Through understanding this process, the attitude of miserliness
or stinginess then becomes apparent as the cause of all of our
material suffering, all of our depravation, and becomes the antithesis
of what we seek to do. Through understanding these teachings of
the Buddha, we find any type of miserliness or stinginess to be
something which we must diligently avoid, and must instead engage
with great effort in practices of generosity and charity.
So the Lord Buddha taught this first among all the teachings on
the Paramitas. Understanding that he did not need to convince
people to desire wealth and enjoyment, that this was natural for
people in the world, and to get them involved in understanding
and practicing the activities which follow from the nature of
reality, that is from the interdependent nature of all things,
the easiest way is to start with the practice of generosity, having
established that that is the cause of all wealth and enjoyment.
Regarding what is meant by generosity, there are three ways in
which we practice it. Of the three types of charity, the first
involves giving things, such as wealth or possessions. That is
the first type of charity in the practice of the perfection of
generosity. The second is the giving of refuge, that is protecting
living beings from the things that they fear, principally things
like injury and death. Third is the highest form of charity, which
is called the giving of that which is sublime, that is the gift
of the Dharma, that of the Buddha's teachings.
The third type of charity, giving the gift of the Dharma, is the
highest type because giving that, one gives the person the means
whereby all good things can be obtained and all negative or unfortunate
things can be avoided, whereas with other types of giving, such
as giving things, this is only temporary. You can give someone
things - wealth, possessions, material things - and those material
things can be used up. Once they are used up, the person can be
poor again. So the highest form is the gift of the teaching, the
teaching which allows them to bring about the causes of wealth,
of happiness and so forth, which allows living beings to attain
the state of supreme bliss, which is the cessation of all of the
miseries of the phenomenal world, the world of birth and death.
The Buddha taught that through giving things such as wealth and
enjoyments, we ourselves will come to be endowed with the various
desirable things - the wealth, enjoyment and so forth. And he
said that this is not something he can do; he cannot do the giving
for us. He can neither give things for us on our behalf, and then
we enjoy the effects of that, nor can he just directly give us
the wealth and enjoyment that we desire. We must do it ourselves.
We must establish the causes for our own enjoyment of possessions,
of wealth and resources. The individual must establish the causes
for that individual's coming into possession of things. Likewise
we must establish the causes of our own liberation. Liberation
cannot be bestowed from the outside. Not by any divinity. Not
by the Buddha himself. Why? Because the causes for our continued
bondage to the wheel of birth and death are within us. So we must
The Lord Buddha has taught the ways in which we can bring about
that state of enlightenment, of liberation, the ways in which
we can engage in the activities which bring about the purification
and the acquisition of good qualities which allow us to attain
liberation and enlightenment, and the fact that we are not presently
liberated from cyclic existence, not enlightened, is because we
have not taken up these teachings. We have not taken seriously
the teachings on cause and effect, on dependent arising. And we
have acted habitually under the influence of the delusions which
cause us to see things as being either non-existent or truly existent,
the delusions that the world and the things in it are created
by something external. Acting in that way, neglecting the teachings
on dependent arising and cause and effect, we act in such a way
as to establish the causes of things we don't want and not establish
the causes of things that we do want. Therefore we remain in the
unenlightened, samsaric state.
So, in the teachings on the First Paramita, on generosity, the
Buddha clearly gives all of the explanation in detail of how giving
to others, through being generous, we bring about the desired
state of happiness, that is, of the acquisition and enjoyment
of things in the future.
The second of the Six Paramitas is the perfection of ethics.
Again, teaching from the point of view of effect, the Buddha recognizes
that living beings want happiness; they do not want misery. Just
in general, that's a universal rule that you cannot find contradicted
or violated anywhere. All living beings desire happiness. So the
Buddha, under the heading of the Second Paramita, that of ethics,
teaches the cause of happiness. Why are some people happy? What
is the cause and effect process that leads to happiness? He shows
here how ethical constraint, how a pattern of moral behavior,
results in the future in the experience of happiness, and the
opposite, the violation of ethics, is what brings about misery.
Under this topic of ethics, we have the division into things which
are virtuous, and things which are not virtuous. That which is
bad or sinful or non-virtuous is whatever brings about unhappiness
or is a cause of misery. That is the Buddhist conception of non-virtue
or sin: that which brings about states of unhappiness. That which
brings about states of happiness is called virtue or merit. To
understand this, we have an example of the laws and customs of
a particular country. If we live in a particular country and we
follow the laws and customs of that country, then we will tend
to stay out of trouble and not have problems come to us from within
that country or that culture. If we understand the customs and
the laws and we follow them, then we can expect to live in a peaceful,
comfortable and happy way within that country. If we violate them,
then there is the expectation that we will bring all sorts of
trouble to ourselves. So this is just an analogy within the present
lifetime, within the worldly context. What this illustrates is
the broader context of reality, of our birth and death and rebirth.
What is it that brings about happiness? It is following the laws
and customs of reality. That is where you have the teachings on
The Buddha teaches in particular, the ten non-virtues that are
to be avoided. Why? Because these are the causes of unhappiness
both in this world and in our future lives. So these are non-virtues
which, if we engage in them, will bring about immediate unhappiness
to ourselves and others, as well as unhappiness in the future.
Many of these are similar to laws and customs found anywhere,
such as the non-virtue of killing, of stealing, of sexual misconduct,
of lying, of harsh speech, divisive speech, senseless talk, harmful
attitude, covetous attitude and wrong views.
So of these ten non-virtues, the first three refer to or entail
actions of the body. The second group of four involve harmful
or negative activities of speech. The final three involve negative
activities of the mind. That is to say, killing, stealing and
sexual misconduct are predominantly physical, whereas lying, divisive
speech, harsh speech and senseless talk are non-virtues of speech.
The harmful attitude, covetous attitude and wrong views are negative
activities of the mind.
We can understand Buddhist ethics to be divided into three categories,
according to the type of happiness that results from that ethic.
The first type of ethics is what was just described, the abandonment
or avoidance of the ten non-virtues. That is the first type. That
is the universal ethic which brings about the causes of happiness
in general and the avoidance of states of great misery. The second
is the type of ethics that brings about both happiness in this
lifetime, but more particularly, the attainment of the high states
of existence in future lifetimes - high states being the state
of fortunate human beings, demi-gods and gods. The third type
is the morality which brings about the states of liberation, beyond
the cycle of birth and death.
Cause and Effect, Buddhist Ethics
Again, these teachings on morality are based upon the interdependent
nature of all things, on cause and effect; we're looking here
at the causes of misery and finding them in these ten non-virtues.
Engagement in the ten non-virtues brings about, through the inexorable
process of cause and effect, states of misery both in this world
right here and now, as well as in future rebirths. Likewise the
avoidance of them is the cause of happiness both in the present
life and in the future.
The second type of ethics, in particular, is establishing the
causes for high rebirths. Certain types of morality, certain efforts
at avoiding non-virtues, allows us to avoid falling into any sort
of unfortunate rebirth in the future, and to attain to the pleasant,
happy rebirths of human beings and gods. Ethics in itself is not
going to lead to liberation or enlightenment, but it will cause
us to attain good rebirth.
Third, the motivation for engaging in ethical activity needs to
be considered. Motivation should not be based on a desire to attain
a pleasant rebirth, but you should be motivated by a recognition
that all types of rebirth within cyclic existence are pervaded
by one form of misery or another. As long one remains in the cycle
of birth and death, one is vulnerable to falling down to a very
unfortunate and painful rebirth. Nowhere within the cycle of existence,
of Samsara, is there any type of rebirth where we can be safe
and secure and never have to worry about terrible calamities and
misery. Misery pervades all of it. Understanding that, then, we
seek liberation from the cycles of birth and death. When we're
motivated by that search, then our ethics result in bringing us
closer and closer, and then finally allowing us to attain that
state of liberation.
The third of the Six Paramitas is patience. To understand patience,
we have a quote from Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara. In the
sixth chapter, which is on patience, he begins by saying, "There
is no evil so great as anger. There is no religious practice so
powerful as patience." The reason for this is that through
the practice of patience, we attain a good or pleasant state of
existence. Through indulging in anger, which is the opposite of
patience, we attain the great sufferings of the lower realms.
Just as generosity brings about a state of prosperity, enjoyments
and wealth, and just as morality brings about happiness, so the
practice of patience is the cause of the attainment of a good
'form', that is a good 'life form'. Those who have the most glorious,
beautiful, radiant, and powerful types of bodies or physical forms
(namely the gods and goddesses of the various heavenly realms),
attained these wonderful states through avoiding anger, through
practicing patience. Likewise among human beings, those with the
more fortunate bodies - more attractive, healthy, powerful, etc.,
these good qualities of one's form come from the practice of patience.
Bad, unfortunate qualities of the body come from indulging in
anger; those who indulge in great anger then establish the causes
for taking on terrible forms such as the bodies of hell-beings
that undergo all manner of terrible suffering. So falling into
a hellish type of existence is the result of indulging in anger
and hatred towards others.
So again, there is no sin so great as anger. There is no virtue
so powerful as patience. This is taught again and again. If we
look at the various unfortunate types of rebirth, these are characterized
as being the result of indulging in anger. Now even among a certain
group of beings, for instance human beings, you have those with
the more pleasing, healthy, powerful forms, and those who have
various sorts of physical difficulties or challenges or are not
so attractive. All of those things are the result of either more,
or less, practice of patience. If we look at animals for instance,
we can find animals which are characterized by anger; for instance
some type of snake, is very angry. Its nature is angry, always
seeking to harm those around it. It has this form as the result
of a former pattern of indulging in anger and hatred, so this
results in the taking on of this form.
The First Type of Patience
There are three types of patience. The first we could call forbearance
against those who would do harm to us. We can understand that
when someone attacks us in some way, verbally or physically, or
in any way, they are not doing this because they are in possession
of true understanding and virtues and so forth. Their acts of
anger and their aggression are based upon their own lack of good
qualities. So we must feel compassion towards them. If we respond
to them with anger, then we are reducing ourselves to that same
level of lack of good qualities, of indulgence in bad qualities.
Anyone who acts in a harmful, aggressive manner is someone who
is bereft of good qualities at that point. Towards those who indulge
in the very worst type of activities, we must feel compassion.
They are establishing the causes, by what they are doing, of their
own suffering. And again, if we join them in angry and aggressive
activities, we establish the causes of our own suffering, our
own bad rebirths, and our own difficulties. On the other hand,
if we respond with forbearance, then we are establishing the causes
of our own welfare, happiness and good qualities in the future.
The Second Type of Patience
The second type of patience is the patience towards the demands
of the spiritual path, or the requirements of religious accomplishment.
This is to say, that to engage in the spiritual path, to practice
the Dharma that leads to the states of happiness and liberation,
we have to be patient. We have to exert ourselves. We can't be
impatient and annoyed at all of the demands that are made by that
path, but must steadily work at it in a steady, consistent manner
and not allow ourselves to become annoyed or angry about what
we have to do. If we become annoyed and angry and abandon the
process, then of course we will continue as we have for innumerable
lifetimes to wander in the Samsara, to continue to experience
the countless miseries of samsaric existence. So to practice and
accomplish the Dharma, you must have this type of patience to
steadily engage in whatever effort is necessary to accomplish
the various aspects of the path to liberation and Buddhahood.
The Third Type
The third type of patience has to do with one's attitude towards
the vast and extensive path to highest enlightenment. When one
contemplates that path of perfect Buddhahood, of what is required
to attain the state of highest enlightenment and sees that it
is almost inconceivably great, there can arise in the mind a fear,
a trepidation, a sense that I am inadequate to even take this
path on, to fear that one has no ability. And based on that type
of fear, one abandons the whole enterprise, and engages once again
in ordinary worldly activities. One engages in some sort of false
pretense of a spiritual path, rather than facing and overcoming
that fear and realizing one's own ability to accomplish all of
those things, given a state of patience and of continued virtuous
enthusiastic and diligent effort towards the accomplishment of
all of the aspects of the path to the sublime and enlightened
This brings us to the fourth of the Six Paramitas, which is
the protection of virtuous effort. Here, the result of the perfection
of virtuous effort is to accomplish all good things. All truly
worthwhile accomplishments arise only in the presence of this
factor of virtuous effort. So this is the abandonment of lethargy
and of laziness, and the enthusiastic engagement in activities
that are required to bring about the desired goal.
To accomplish any virtuous goal, one needs this factor of virtuous
effort. Virtue is put in here because to accomplish anything in
the world we need to be diligent; we need to make effort. Even
in the worldly sense, nothing good or bad is accomplished without
effort. Here the term virtuous is added as part of this concept
of the perfection of effort, which does not mean just any efforts,
but efforts directed towards a virtuous purpose, guided by the
understanding of ethics and so forth. So virtuous efforts accomplish
all good or worthwhile goals. Here we are speaking specifically
of the goals of the Dharma, which is the transcendence of misery
in both this lifetime and future lifetimes and ultimately for
all living beings.
The obstacle to accomplishing the first type of virtuous effort
is overcoming what can be characterized as false modesty. Thoughts
such as "Oh, I am such a small, insignificant, powerless person.
There's nothing really I can do. I can't really accomplish anything
worthwhile," or, with respect to any given type of accomplishment,
to have a sense of inadequacy like, "Oh, there's nothing I can
do. I won't even bother to try, because that is so far beyond
me," that is the first type of laziness. This laziness is characterized
by that false modesty or that sense of inadequacy where one will
not even undertake efforts thinking that they couldn't possibly
succeed. The effort which overcomes that is the first type of
The second type of effort is that which overcomes the second type
of laziness. The second type of laziness we could call procrastination.
That is where we continually put things off, thinking, "Oh, I
have to do this, but I don't have to do it today. It can be accomplished
sometime in the future; it's work for tomorrow, I'll wait for
tomorrow." Then tomorrow never comes, so one keeps putting things
off. So to oppose that, we have the second type of effort which
is to actively take on and anticipate what has to be done, to
do tomorrow's work today, the next day's work tomorrow and so
forth. To actively accomplish whatever possibly has to be done
without ever putting it off.
The third type of virtuous effort is that which overcomes the
third type of laziness. This could be called the laziness of distraction.
Unlike the first two types of laziness, it does not typically
appear as laziness or lethargy. With the third type of laziness,
we can be very active, working very hard and keeping ourselves
extremely busy. But nevertheless it is laziness, because what
we are doing is distracting ourselves by working at something
which is not useful or productive. Useful and productive here
is in the context of understanding that one's purpose in life
is to establish the causes of a good rebirth at the very least,
but to fully engage in the Dharma, to attain the state of liberation
and beyond that, the state of perfect Buddhahood. So, in the context
of seeing this life as a rare, precious and brief opportunity
to attain liberation and enlightenment, one's efforts must all
be focused on making progress towards that worthwhile goal. Any
other worldly efforts then just become distractions, and constitute
this third type of laziness, whose antidote, again, is this factor
of virtuous effort.
The fifth of the Six Paramitas is the perfection of what we
could call meditative concentration. Meditative concentration
has two varieties. One is the focusing meditation, which trains
the mind to hold its object single-pointedly, the ultimate goal
or result of which is the state of shamatha, wherein the object
is held undistractedly in perfect clarity for as long as one wishes.
The second type of meditation is the analytical one, which is
translated as the term vipashana, where we develop clear insight
into reality by means of an analytical process based upon the
mind, which has been trained to hold its object undistractedly.
Meditative concentration in general is the practice which frees
our mind from the two types of distracted states.
The first type of distraction is literally what is called sinking.
That's where the mind becomes distracted into states of drowsiness,
a sort of sleepiness. It sinks into a state, more or less, of
unconsciousness or obscurity. That is the first type of distraction.
The second type is the wandering mind, the mind that is distracted
this way and that, thinking about all sorts of things, out of
control, going from this thought to that thought without the ability
to hold onto a single focus, but rather lost in all sorts of thoughts,
images, emotions, and so forth, one after another in a great proliferation.
This second type of distraction is where the focus of the mind
is lost and out of control. The antidote to these two faults is
the practice of meditative concentration.
The second factor, that is overcome by meditative concentration,
this wildness, scattering, or distraction of the mind, is based
upon the mind getting caught up in the objects of the six sense
powers. That is to say, caught up in the visual field of the eyes,
seeing something attractive, having some attachment towards it
so the mind goes out towards that. It is distracted into that
visual object. Likewise the mind can be distracted by sounds,
caught up in them, carried away by them, you could say, going
under the power of that auditory object. Likewise the olfactory
objects, those things we smell or which we taste or which we feel
with our tactile sense, all of those can distract the mind and
carry the mind away. Likewise, the sixth sense power is that of
mental objects, the conceptions or mental imagery into which we
become distracted. All of these function to lead the mind away,
to put the mind in a state of distraction, so that it no longer
can abide peacefully, calmly and clearly within. Rather it goes
outward towards these objects of the six senses.
Mindfulness & Circumspection
The antidote to all things which disturb the clarity and focus
of the mind, to these two ways in which the mind is carried away,
the outward distraction and the inward drowsy, sinking of the
mind, is found in two faculties. When we say, "What is meditative
concentration? What is the technique that is practiced?" we see
that there are two faculties called mindfulness and circumspection.
Circumspection functions as the faculty that stands back and looks
in on what is going on. It is sort of like spying on what's going
on in one's own mind. It stands back and says, "OK, what's going
on here? Where is my mind right now? What am I doing with my mind?
Is it on its object of meditation or has it gone somewhere else?"
So you have to develop that faculty of circumspection so that
you are aware at all times of what you are doing so that you don't
just get carried away with a thought or a proliferation of thoughts,
sensations, ideas, or other distractions. Rather you can catch
it because you've developed circumspection. You can see, "Oh,
I've become distracted from that object." So it brings into awareness
what is going on in the mind at all times.
Then combined with that you have to have this faculty of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is that which enables you to keep in mind the proper
object of your mental focus. So here in the context of meditative
concentration, we have certain objects of meditation that we work
on. In any type of meditation you have the instructions of your
teacher, the lama, who says "meditate on such and such". So you
start meditating on it. You enter into a meditative state or meditative
practice and there is always a focus of the mind. So you must
be mindful of that, you must be able to quickly call it to mind.
With the faculty of circumspection, you know when and if the mind
becomes distracted. With the faculty of mindfulness, you know
the proper focus, "I should now concentrate on such and such,"
and then you bring that into your mind, into the center of your
So these faculties of mindfulness and circumspection keep the
mind both from scattering outside to all of this proliferation
of sensations and thoughts, as well as prevent it from sinking
within, into the states of drowsiness and sleep. So both of these
distracting factors must be eliminated for meditation to succeed.
If the mind is scattered outward to some object, mindfulness and
circumspection allows one to draw it back in to the object of
meditative focus. On the other hand, if the mind has become drowsy
and sleepy, then mindfulness and circumspection can draw it outward,
again, to that object. So here we sometimes have objects of meditative
focus, or techniques which employ objects, in order to train the
mind to hold an object one-pointedly. This could be an image of
the Buddha, such as a bronze image, something which when placed
in front of you, can function as an object of meditation. It allows
you then, to avoid that sinking within, because the object is
something actual out in front of you. As one's meditation becomes
stronger, one can meditate on a teaching or on an internalized
image - of the Buddha for instance. Whatever object is taken up,
it is held there through this process of mindfulness and circumspection.
To understand this perfection of meditation, it is necessary to
understand all of the stages, from the very coarsest to the most
subtle, the entire process or range of meditative concentration,
which goes from the beginning efforts to keep the mind from being
totally wild and distracted, on the one hand, or fast asleep on
the other - to go from that very coarse state of mind, to more
and more subtle, focused, clear states of mind. So at each stage
there are obstacles to be overcome and there are more and more
subtle techniques employed, using more and more subtle aspects
of circumspection and mindfulness, and at each level, more and
more types of the sinking and the scattering. Clearly, we don't
have time to go into all of these, but you should understand that
in general this is laid out very carefully and in great detail
to help us develop our meditative practice to higher and more
refined, more powerful states of clarity and undistractedness.
Now when we look at this in detail, we will find that there are
nine discreet mental states or stages through which we progress
in the cultivation of shamatha, in other words, in the cultivation
of the state of perfect, undistracted clarity and focus. To attain
that state that is called shamatha, we go through nine levels
of refinement and of greater power of meditative concentration.
Each of those nine levels is characterized by various things,
so we can understand, as we engage in meditative practice, where
we are, how far we have progressed, and how far we have to go.
Then, there are eight discreet techniques employed to advance
ourselves, to advance our practice, through these nine levels.
There are five, what is called, 'applications' to the object.
These are the five mental states which take up the object in different
ways so as to establish that perfect focus.
These levels of meditation correspond to what is called the
Nine Grounds. These Nine Grounds take place in the Three Realms.
As ordinary beings, we abide in what is called the Desire Realm.
The Desire Realm has within it states of meditative concentration.
The first of the nine, is the Ground of Meditative Concentration
which takes place in the ordinary world or in the ordinary state
of consciousness. Then above that, you have the more refined states
of consciousness which correspond to the four levels of the Form
Realm, that is the four concentrations of the Form Realm, the
Brahma Loka. Then beyond that are the four concentrations, the
four levels, of the Formless Realm. So in each higher realm, there
is a state of mind, a state of clarity and concentration and expansiveness
of mind, which can be attained in the context of meditative practice.
So the nine levels of meditative practice correspond to those
nine levels of the world, and that's all of samsara included in
the Desire Realm, the Form Realm and the Formless Realm.
Looking a little closer at this, we find that the states of concentration
correspond with the states of mind of the deities in the Divine
Realms. So to understand this, we look at the Divine Realms. Within
the Desire Realm, being our present abode, we have all of the
six classes of beings: the hell-beings, all the way up to animals,
human beings, demi-gods and gods of the Desire Realm. Within the
gods of the Desire Realm there are six different varieties from
the lowest to the highest. The lowest heavenly abode or heaven
of the Desire Realm is called the Heaven of the Four Great Kings.
Those are the kings of the four directions. Above that is the
Heaven of Indra, which is called the Heaven of the Thirty-Three,
because of its thirty-three different divine or heavenly neighborhoods
in that heaven. Above that is called the Heaven which is Free
of Strife. From that heaven on upwards there's no possibility
of conflict, such as conflict with the demi-gods who disturb the
lower Heavens of the Four Great Kings and Indra's Heaven of the
Thirty-Three. Above the Heaven which is Free from Strife, you
have the Tushita Heaven, in Tibetan, Ganden. Above that is the
heaven which is called the Topdrel. The fifth of the six is the
heaven which is called the Heaven of Enjoying Emanations (Nirmanarati),
wherein the divine beings can emanate, that is manifest at will,
whatever they want. Their enjoyments come just by desiring something,
it appears, and they can enjoy it. And the highest heaven is called
the Heaven of Enjoying the Emanations of Others (Paranirmita-Vashavartin),
because there the gods don't even have to desire something. Their
desires are anticipated and emanated by the lower gods and goddesses.
So before they can even bother to desire or want anything, it
appears. That is the very highest level of the Desire Realm, which
is the peak of the Desire Realm.
So when we practice meditative concentration, we have these Nine
Grounds. The very first of the Nine Grounds corresponds with that
highest heaven of the Desire Realm, Enjoying the Emanations of
Others, so we attain that in the context of our meditation as
the first of the Nine Grounds.
When we go on above that highest level of the Desire Realm, we
enter into the Form Realm. There we have four levels, what is
called the four concentrations of the Form Realm. These four concentrations
of the Form Realm include seventeen Divine Abodes of the gods
of the Form Realm. The seventeen are divided up such that the
first concentration contains three Divine Abodes, as does the
second and the third. Each has three Divine Abodes. The fourth
concentration of the Form Realm has eight Divine Abodes, so that
we have a total of seventeen Divine Abodes in the Form Realm.
One perceives in one's meditation, through these seventeen Divine
Abodes of the Form Realm, having left behind the Desire Realm,
the lowest of the Divine Abodes in the first concentration of
the Form Realm. And how does one do that? When one becomes aware
of the coarseness of that divine abode and the subtlety of the
next one, one passes on to that higher state of concentration,
entering into the Form Realm. In such fashion, one goes throughout
the seventeen Divine Abodes of the Form Realm.
Continuing this process of refining the state of meditation, when
one has gone through the seventeen Divine Abodes of the Form Realm
and reached the very highest, there comes a time in the practice
of the meditation, as one continues to exert oneself, that one
sees the unsuitability or the coarseness of that state of mind,
and wishing to refine the mind, makes the concentration more powerful.
At that point, one leaves behind the Form Realm and enters into
the Formless Realm.
The first of the four levels of the Formless Realm is called 'the
infinite space.' When the mind has been stabilized within infinite
space and has come to discriminate in this coarseness and subtlety
that there is a higher, more refined meditation, one enters into
the second level of the Formless Realm, which is called 'the infinite
consciousness.' Stabilizing the mind there and discriminating
between subtlety and grossness, seeing that there is a higher,
more refined state, one enters into the third level of the Formless
Realm, which is called the absolutely nothing level, or nothing
at all level, or 'nothingness level.' Then entering into this
nothingness, stabilizing the mind there in absolute nothingness,
one again discriminates between coarseness and subtlety, seeing
there is a higher state, and enters into the fourth and highest
level of the Formless Realm, and that is the level called 'neither
existence nor non-existence.'
Meditative Ground to Paramita
This process described so far is called the practice of meditative
concentration. Everything described so far is meditative concentration,
but it is not the perfection of meditative concentration. In other
words, it is not the paramita. To translate it as perfection is
not quite right. 'That which brings one to a state beyond the
world' is the meaning of paramita, not just perfecting in giving
or ethics or anything else, but engaging in these in a manner
which brings one to the further shore, to the place beyond the
cycle of birth and death. So how do we transform this ordinary
meditative concentration that has been described so far, into
the paramita, the transcendent practice of meditation? We do that
by conjoining, with meditative concentration as described so far,
that which is called vipashana, or the analytical process which
provides insight into or realization of ultimate reality.
To understand this analytical insight into the nature of reality,
this factor of vipashana, we have to add to meditative concentration
to make it a transcendent practice, a Paramita. We have to go
to the sixth of the Six Paramitas, that is the perfection of transcendent
wisdom. The nature of that vipashana is transcendent wisdom. So
we have to conjoin that with meditative concentration to attain
the Paramita of meditative concentration. This state of perfect
insight into the nature of reality is what is called the Prajnaparamita
or the perfection of wisdom.
There are varieties of this transcendent wisdom which are developed.
The first ones are common to both the Hinayana and the Mahayana
schools of Buddhism. What is common to both is the practice that
is called the 'four close contemplations'. These are examined
in the light of the sixteen aspects of The Four Noble Truths,
the first of which is impermanence. So using those sixteen aspects
of The Four Noble Truths, we examine the four objects of the close
placement of mindfulness. There arises the certain wisdoms or
insights into reality which are common to both the Hinayana and
the Mahayana traditions.
The unique aspect of Mahayana wisdom arises from the insight into
what is called 'The Two Truths', The Conventional Truth and The
Ultimate Truth, through the analytical meditation on the sixteen
varieties of emptiness. Meditation on the sixteen varieties of
emptiness leads to a realization that is a direct, non-conceptual
perception of the sixteen aspects of emptiness. When conjoined
with great compassion for living beings such that the compassion
and the wisdom are no longer differentiated, are no longer two
different things, such that one is able to perceive the two truths
(conventional and ultimate) as non-dual, that is the realization
of the sixteen varieties of emptiness and the development of great
compassion. At that point one attains the highest wisdom of the
There are certain types of samadhi that arise from the cultivation
of the perfection of wisdom. There are a great variety of them.
For instance there is the samadhi that is said to be the samadhi
of the actions of the lion. This is the one which overcomes all
of the illusions resulting from the misapprehension of the two
truths, and the inability to realize the sixteen aspects of emptiness
together with the mind of great compassion. The lion activity
or lion action samadhi destroys all of those illusions such that
one can come to that direct perception of the non-duality of the
Then there is a samadhi which directly perceives the nature of
the path. This is the type of samadhi one attains at the point
of attaining perfect enlightenment or Buddhahood. A person at
that level then can perceive the nature of the path from the very
beginning, from the very first stirrings of interest in the path
and how it proceeds up through the levels, the way in which it
is facilitated and the way in which it is obstructed. Every aspect
of the path to perfect enlightenment then becomes perfectly clear
through this type of samadhi.
There are varieties of samadhi which are involved in the higher
levels of meditative concentration joined with the perfections
of wisdom. There is a tremendous variety of samadhis which take
on all of the obstacles to omniscience, that is to full perfect
awareness or ultimate enlightenment, and see through or eliminate
those obstacles through these samadhis, such that when one completes
them one attains a state of peerless, perfect enlightenment. So,
we do not have time to go into any more of these, but you should
be aware that each of them is characterized by a certain development
of insight based upon the meditative stabilization that arises
through the Fifth Paramita and allows for the application of wisdom
of the Sixth Paramita. So in this way, the entirety of the path
to Buddhahood is accomplished.
At this point we are just in time for the end of the session and
we will conclude it with the Dedication of Merit. We have time for
a couple of questions. Anything specific?
(Could you explain the meaning of the term Dharma?)
The term Dharma, its derivation - or not really its derivation as
it is not really etymology but rather a description of its actual
meaning, is sort of like 'fixing'. That's not really an elegant
word for it. But it's fixing the mind, taking the mind from its
normal amorphous state and fixing it so it attains the proper condition.
So maybe one would say fixing or repairing. Establishing? Evolving?
It's more active. It's like you're doing something. Refining? Sort
of actively forming. Taking something that is sort of all messed
up and getting rid of the negative aspects and making it positive,
making it function properly. The word literally means fixing or
making something, like clearing away and making it what you want.
If it is a sculpture or something that's broken, you fix it. It
means perfecting or completing or accomplishing.
(Please explain more about the sixteen aspects of emptiness.)
So, you could have great detail on each of the sixteen aspects of
emptiness. Rinpoche just mentioned them really quickly. So first
there is the emptiness of the external world, the lack of true existence
anywhere in the external world. There is the lack of true existence
anywhere in the internal world, of the mind, that is. There is the
lack of true existence or emptiness of both the inner and the outer.
So you have the emptiness of the entity of things; things do not
exist by way of their own entity, by way of their own nature. Then
you have the emptiness of the lack of emptiness; not only are things
empty of any true existence, but they're empty of any lack of existence.
Then there is the description of the emptiness of composite things,
and the descriptions of the emptiness of non-composite things, then
the emptiness of spatial distinctions, that is, close by and far
away. There's the emptiness of temporal distinctions, early and
late, beginning and end, things like that and the emptiness of movement,
away from oneself, towards oneself. Then there's a description of
what is called natural emptiness or the emptiness of things by their
nature, that they lack any inherent nature or self nature - the
emptiness of phenomena without exception, to eliminate any possibility
that anything is other than empty. Then there is the emptiness which
is described as the lack of any object, whatsoever, that there is
no external object which has any true existence. That is getting
near sixteen, but it is close enough if not.
(What about abandoning the senses?)
(Translator) Avoid the senses? The five senses or the six senses?
In this system we have six senses, because we include the intellectual
faculty, the mental sense.
There's no sense here of abandoning things. The sense powers and
their fields should not be abandoned, but rather we should overcome
the illusions or ways in which we misperceive reality through the
six senses. There's no problem with the senses themselves. It's
the way in which we mistake the data or input from the six senses
and are caught up in illusions. Once we overcome our mistaken view
towards the six senses and their objects, then there is no problem.
Actually, that is one of the sixteen emptinesses -- the emptiness
(Can the Buddhas be perceived by humans?)
Yes, all of them appear in human world and they can be perceived
by human beings and receive their teaching. They are called the
thousand Buddhas of the fortunate eon, and Sakyamuni is the fourth.
(Can you explain more about enlightenment?)
The term 'enlightenment', since it is an English term, is applied
to all manner of things by different English speaking people. This
is why we rely on the Sanskrit or Tibetan. What is being translated
as enlightenment, that's the thing you have to examine. Sometimes
people use it in different ways like using it to mean a state of
clarity or a state of peacefulness or all sorts of things, which
are far short of what's being referred to by the term Buddhahood.
In Buddhism we have the term 'moksha' which means liberation. Liberation
means liberation from birth and death, from the cycle of birth and
death, or more specifically from the miseries of birth and death.
So it can be applied sometimes in slightly different ways, but when
you attain the first of the ten bodhisattva grounds, which means
you finish the first two of the five paths to Buddhahood, you finish
the path of accumulation and the path of preparation. The moment
you attain the third path, which is the path of seeing, you've attained
a state of enlightenment, if you like, because at that point you
have direct insight into reality, but it's yet to be stabilized
and developed. At that point you are no longer caught up in the
illusions of the world. You still have a long way to go. You could
call that a stage of enlightenment. But then eventually you go through
the five paths and attain the state of Buddhahood. Then that is
the state of perfection, beyond which there is nothing more to attain.
Therefore the fifth path is called the path of no more learning,
because that is when you attain Buddhahood in the Mahayana tradition.
In the Hinayana, at that point, you would become an arhat which
means you've attained Nirvana. You'll no longer ever need to be
reborn in the world.
(What is the difference between enlightenment in the Hinayana
and the Mahayana?)
In the Hinayana, you are attaining the state of liberation. We say
liberation in English instead of enlightenment because it's not
a question of a state of all knowingness or omniscience, it's a
state of liberation from cyclic existence; so we say you attain
Nirvana. At that point you attain liberation, and you are no longer
reborn in the world. In the Hinayana system you've attained Nirvana
and that's the goal, that's it. In the Mahayana, the goal is to
become a Buddha. The Buddha then has attained a state of omniscience.
Therefore in Mahayana circles usually the term enlightenment is
reserved for the Buddha, for the one who has attained the ultimate
perfection. Then, as far as reentering the world, that's part of
being a Buddha. Not that you're reborn in the world, but that you've
attained the state of omniscience, but that you are the all knowing
Buddha, endowed with both wisdom and compassion. You can manifest
in the world, as many bodies as you wantcalled manifestation bodies
(nirmanakaya), for the sake of living beings, in order to lead them
out of cyclic existence. But there is no question of suffering anymore,
you've transcended that, you've put an end to all of the causes
of misery. So you're perfectly enlightened but still involved in
the world as a teacher, as a guide to liberation.
(What is the relationship of wealth and happiness?)
Unfortunately, that's not the case. Just because we have great wealth
and enjoyments does not mean you're happier. Often it's the reverse;
you have so much more to worry about losing - so you're much less
happy. But you do have a lot of stuff. Great wealth is often a cause
of great misery for many different reasons. Normally, at the very
least, it is a cause of not being able to sleep well at night. People
stay up and drink lots of coffee and worry 'is this going to go
up' or 'am I going to lose money in that', 'how is this money going
to go' and 'what do I have to do to make more' and lose a lot of
sleep and are not very happy.
You need a balance in this. So you're not so poor that you're suffering
all the time, suffering physically through deprivation and hunger
and all those things. You certainly don't want to be that poor.
Nor do you want to be so rich that you're always worried and have
all sorts of worries. So there's a balance that's good to have.
(Could you elaborate on the comment that all snakes are angry?)
The more extensive explanation there is not that the snakes are
necessarily angry, but that the possession of an unfortunate form
is the result of the lack of patience. A snake is considered, if
you look at the various animals and inhabitants in the world, not
to be very fortunate. If nothing else, when people or other animals
look at the snake, some people get upset and feel aversion for it
and things like that. They do bad things to it.
Just to add to your question about whether you'd want to be wealthy
or poor in the next life, the priority here is the accomplishment
of the Dharma, of the path to liberation and supreme bliss of enlightenment.
On the other hand, you should be free of the burden of great concern
over vast amounts of wealth and managing it and things like that,
because that totally distracts you from Dharma. It makes Dharma
practice impossible. It even makes Dharma practice undesirable because
you're so concerned with all these other considerations that Dharma
practice is just not relevant in your life, if you're that involved
with material things.
Being oppressed by property and worried about where your next meal
will come from or where you're going to sleep that night, is unsuitable
for Dharma practice. You have to take care of yourself. You have
to be established enough in the world that you have something to
eat, something to wear and somewhere to stay. But the pattern of
acquisition that characterizes so many who are wealthy is one that
is unfortunate also. It turns the mind so much away from Dharma
in its consideration that it is hard for such people to be interested
in Dharma. Their concern, twenty-four hours a day is in the acquisition
and maintenance of great wealth. It becomes totally at odds with
effective Dharma practice when it reaches those dimensions, so you
need a balance.
(What is the first ground you attain direct perception of emptiness
or ultimate reality, and that takes place at the point of attaining
the third of the five paths, called the Darshana Marga or path
of seeing? What is the difference between that and the arhat,
the one who attains arhatship, which means the one who has completed
the five paths?)
First of all there is a big difference between the arhat on the
Hinayana path and the arhat on the Mahayana. Arhat means the person
who has completed the five paths. The five paths of the Mahayana
lead to Buddhahood. On the Hinayana they lead to Nirvana. So there
is a big difference here. In the Hinayana path, what you directly
perceive is the selflessness of persons, only, when you attain that
direct insight into reality. In the Mahayana, it is the direct perception
of the emptiness or the selflessness not only of persons, but of
phenomena. So there is a big difference in what is being realized
at the point of the third of the five paths. But then what happens
from there on, you have the ten grounds that are unique to the Mahayana.
So the ten bodhisattva bhumis, or grounds, start with that first
direct insight or direct vision, direct experience of emptiness,
which is the attainment of the third of the five paths, the darshana
marga. From there on, the bodhisattva proceeds through the ten grounds.
With each one, what he or she is able to realize becomes greater
and greater. Specifically, the ability to benefit living beings
increases sort of exponentially as one goes up through those ten
paths because one's understanding, one's realization, one's powers
increase as one goes up. So that first direct perception of emptiness
on the first bodhisattva ground, that's like the first glimpse of
reality, seeing things as they actually are. It's the first glimpse
of perceiving emptiness and from then on, although at that point
one is no longer fooled by the illusions of the world, they have
not overcome them yet. They still arise to the perception and they
still have to fully integrate that experience over the next nine
levels of the path.
So there are specific things that you're able to perceive at each
of the bodhisattva bhumis. For instance, at the first level you
are able to perceive directly, visit, and meet face to face with
one hundred Buddhas. So this is where you have the exponential development
of a hundred Buddhas on the first bodhisattva bhumi and the second
it is thousands and on up to incalculable numbers. So the powers
and realizations of the bodhisattva go up tremendously and with
it the ability to benefit human beings.
(Can you elaborate on the differences between the Mahayana and
(Translator) No, only Mahayana. No, no, no. The ten paths are only
for the Mahayana. In the Hinayana there is no need for that. You
become an arhat and attain Nirvana, in the Hinayana. You have the
same paths on the Mahayana and the Hinayana, the same names, accumulation,
preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning. They are called
the same things; the content is very different, because the goal
(Can you comment on the similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism?)
There is so much that is in common there, in the cosmology. It's
the same Indra, the same heavens, the same Heaven of the Thirty-Three
(that's the abode of Indra).
By this merit may all attain omniscience.
May it defeat the enemy, wrongdoing.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death,
From the ocean of samsara, may I free all beings.
SOD NAM DI YIY THAM CHAD ZIK PA NYID
THOP NAY NYEY PAI DRA NAM PHAM JYAY SHING
SYE GA NA CHI'I WA LONG THRUK PA YI
TRID PA'I THSO LAY DRO WA DROL WAR SHOK
Langro the translator, cared for by Padma, has manifested in
Unhindered manner in the perceptions of beings to be tamed;
O Excellent Padma Yurmed Tinly Odzer, may the presence of your
Remain stable, accomplishing benefit for the teachings and for
PAD MAY JEY ZUNG LANG DRO LO TZA WA
GANG DUL DRO NGOR GAG MED DER NANG WAI
PAD MAY YUR MED TIN LEY OD ZER CHOG
KU TSAN RAB TAN TAN DROI DON DRUB SHOG