You are in the archive Please visit our new homepage

The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 6: Major Indian Mahayana Texts > Overview of Uttaratantra > Session Three: Buddha-Nature (continued) and the Remainder of the Text

Overview of Uttaratantra

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, October 2005

Session Three: Buddha-Nature (continued) and the Remainder of the Text

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:59 hours)


Yesterday we were speaking about the seven diamond-strong points which are presented here in the text. We saw that these seven are the Buddhas, the Dharma, the Sangha, the source (which refers to Buddha-nature), then enlightenment, the qualities of that state, and the enlightening influence of that state. We went through the discussion of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the Three Gems. And we began our discussion of the source for achieving all of that, for becoming a Buddha ourselves, namely Buddha-nature. We went through the basic teachings on that about what it actually is referring to. And now let’s turn to the text.

Why All Beings Have Buddha-Nature

The text begins with a general explanation of why all sentient beings (all limited beings) have Buddha-nature. This is obviously a very important point for us to meditate upon and to try to become convinced of the truth of this. The text gives three reasons. The first has two different ways of understanding it. The first reason is that the Corpuses, or Bodies, of a Buddha radiate out everywhere. In other words, the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya radiates out everywhere because a Buddha is omniscient. And because (from the tantra point of view) the subtlest mind, which is what the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya consists of, is inseparable from the subtlest wind, then the various Form Bodies of a Buddha also radiate out and permeate everywhere. Because of that, a Buddha’s enlightening influence reaches everywhere. So that is the first reason – that these Corpuses radiate out everywhere, so the enlightening influence radiates everywhere. Another aspect of that is that the qualities of the mental activity, the minds and the mind-streams, of limited beings – these can be purified [by means of that enlightening influence being everywhere] so that they become, in fact, the qualities of Deep Awareness Dharmakaya.

The second reason is that the abiding nature of limited beings and of Buddhas is the same. So the voidness of a limited being’s mind and that of a Buddha’s is the same; the clarity and awareness aspect of mental activity of limited beings and Buddhas is the same.

The third aspect is that limited beings in fact do have those abiding traits of voidness and clarity and awareness. So because we all have these abiding traits – voidness of our mind, clarity and awareness of the mind – and it’s the same in sentient beings and in Buddhas, and it is something that can be purified, and likewise, the enlightening influence of Buddhas permeates everywhere to be able to influence that purification process to occur – then on the basis of that, we all have Buddha-nature.

One thing that is quite curious here, which we have to be careful about is – when we say that a Buddha’s mind radiates out everywhere, and therefore a Buddhas emanations radiate out everywhere and permeate the entire universe – is not to confuse this with the Samkhya point of view (and we find this in many of the Indian non-Buddhist schools of philosophy) that the atman, or the soul, permeates the entire universe and is the size of the entire universe. Which, as you recall, Shantideva objected to very strongly, because if the atman permeates the entire universe, then if each person’s atman has true findable existence, then everybody would be one – which is an absurd conclusion. That’s not the case; we do not have this fault in the Buddhist presentation here. Not all Buddhas are one and the same Buddha because the Buddha doesn’t have true findable existence from his own side, neither the deep awareness of a Buddha nor the Bodies of a Buddha. So if we think deeply about that we can see that avoids this fault. But it’s quite interesting how we get something quite similar here in the Buddhist assertion to what we find in the non-Buddhist assertions in Indian philosophy.

The Ten-fold Presentation of Buddha-Nature

The text then gives a ten-fold presentation of Buddha-nature, ten points.

The Essential Nature of Buddha-Nature

The first point is the essential nature of Buddha-nature. This refers to three aspects:

  • Our Buddha-nature – and remember here we are speaking primarily of the voidness of the mind, and the clarity and awareness of the mind – that this has strength is the first aspect, which means that its enlightening influence has the strength or ability to fulfill everyone’s wishes. And so this we have as well because that clarity and awareness can make any appearances, and can be aware of these appearances, and doesn’t have true findable existence, and so on; so therefore it has something which is fixed, as such, and it has this strong influence that can affect and help others.

  • The second aspect is that it doesn’t change into anything else. This is referring to voidness doesn’t change into anything else, so that’s another aspect of its essential nature. The clarity and awareness doesn’t change into anything else either.

  • It also has as its functional nature (rang-bzhin) (this is a technical term, in terms of what it does) – its functional nature is compassion [this is the third aspect]. This is where compassion fits into Buddha-nature; it is part of its essential nature.

Essential nature means what sort of phenomenon it is. So that clarity and awareness aspect has this enlightening influence on others; it doesn’t change; it has as its functional nature (what it does) compassion, which is the wish to remove suffering. It’s on that basis that we can make the statement that all beings want to be happy and not to be unhappy, as part of their essential nature. It also has the enlightening influence to be able to fulfill our own wishes, because it will allow us to achieve enlightenment.

Also it is quite interesting when we look at the Nyingma presentation. We find that this aspect that it doesn’t change into anything else is responsible for our achievement of Dharmakaya; the compassion aspect is responsible for Sambhoghakaya; and that enlightening influence aspect is responsible for Nirmanakaya. So they derive the three Buddha Bodies from these three aspects of essential nature of Buddha-nature – of rigpa, in this case (pure awareness).

Question: How does this strength aspect of enlightening influence fulfill all wishes of others, not only our own wishes? Because we also have the statement that a Buddha cannot take suffering away from others.

Alex: That is why I said that it acts as an enlightening influence. The influence means that it can stimulate, basically, the karma of others. So with that as a circumstance, if they have positive karmic potentials, then these will come to the fore and ripen. So it is like sunlight. Buddha-nature is always in this text made similar to the sun and sunlight, the influence is like sunlight. And so sunlight can cause a seed to grow, but only if there is a seed.

Question: Can you say that it fulfills the wishes of others.

Alex: It fulfills the wishes of others. Well that’s the way that it says in the text, and is a general way that it is always discussed in Buddhism. But then we have to understand how it fulfills the wishes of others. It fulfills the wishes of others by acting as a circumstance for them to be able to grow, on the basis of what they themselves do and have done in the past. Stimulate. In a sense, if we look at the analogy from chemistry, it is like a catalyst – it acts as a circumstance for a transformation to occur.

Question: Is compassion the nature of voidness?

Alex: You couldn’t say it’s a nature of voidness unless you speak in terms of other-voidness. It’s the nature of the mind, of clarity and awareness.

Question: Is compassion already there before somebody becomes a Buddha?

In a sense it is part of Buddha-nature. It is the wish for suffering to end, so whether it is directed at oneself or at others it still has the same structure. That is why I said this is part of everyone’s essential nature, that everyone wants to be happy and nobody wants to be unhappy, so you want to eliminate suffering. You want suffering to be gone. And even if the seeds are there (we speak in terms of the seeds that have been there from beginningless time): As the example is very clear from how Asanga was able to get the vision of Maitreya. We could have a rock which is blocking that, and we need perseverance to get rid of it – like with the feather dusting the rock – in order to actually be receptive for the sunlight to be able to come in. And the strongest thing is love and compassion. Which is very clear – that we have to develop a tremendous network of positive force, even if it is samsaric, to be able to then be receptive to the teachings. And we do that through love and compassion.

The Causes for Being Able to Develop Our Buddha-Natures

The second of the ten-fold presentation is the causes, and this is the causes for us to be able to develop Buddha-nature. This is presented in terms of four factors that help us to get rid of four obstacles that prevent us from developing them, like these huge boulders preventing the sun coming into the house.

  • In order to overcome dislike, hatred, antipathy for the Dharma, then we need to develop (1) confident belief in the Dharma.

  • Then in order to overcome grasping for true existence, which would keep us very closed as well, we have to develop (2) discriminating awareness, discriminating awareness of voidness and so on.

  • Then in order to overcome having aversion (“fear” actually is the word that is used in the text, fear or dread) of only the extreme of samsara, of true existence, and not the extreme of nirvana (which is referring to just staying in a peaceful type of state of freedom) – but also we can understand this in terms of being afraid of the extreme of true existence, but also we need to not be afraid of the extreme of nonexistence, of total nonexistence, of nothingness – we need to develop (3) absorbed concentration. In other words, if we stay in absorbed concentration then we will see that it isn’t nothingness, that it is something that can go further to liberation. Although I haven’t really seen a very precise explanation of this point, so I am not completely positive on how that works.

  • Then the fourth one to overcome is having concern just for ourselves, not having concern for others; and (4) compassion is what will develop that.

So for our Buddha-natures to develop, we need not only compassion and love (as we were saying just a moment ago), but also confident belief in the Dharma, discriminating awareness, and absorbed concentration. We would need absorbed concentration, anyway, to stay with the other three. We can understand this point in terms of the evolving Buddha-nature, evolving Buddha-nature of the two networks: positive force and deep awareness. To develop those more and more, we need these four; that’s quite clear.

[Regarding the third point,] we need to understand these two extremes: there is the extreme of true existence and there is the extreme of nothingness. The third point of what also blocks us is not having this fear of nothingness. So, if we think in terms of absorbed concentration, for example, then we might be afraid of true existence and we do various practices [with discriminating awareness]. But if we are not afraid of nothingness, then when we do meditation, we may just become spaced out and just get into a state of nothingness. But if we have proper absorbed concentration, then we had that fear of spacing out; we don’t want to space out and so we develop absorbed concentration.

If you don’t have that, then you are not going to develop your Buddha-nature properly, you are just going to space out. This is just from the top of my head, as I said I have not seen a good explanation of this.

The Results Achievable on the Basis of Buddha-Nature

Then the third aspect of this ten-fold presentation is the results. In other words, what are the general characteristics of the results that we will achieve on the basis of Buddha-nature? This also has four points.

  • We will have (1) all-encompassing compassion, compassion that extends to everyone.

  • And (2) lack of true existence, which was there from the beginning anyway. All these things were there as part of Buddha-nature, in a sense, but these will be developed fully, although lack of true existence isn’t developed fully – that stays always the same.

  • Then (3) happiness or bliss. This is an interesting point in terms of the description of the resultant state, and also one aspect that we have obviously as part of our natures now – there is happiness.

  • Then (4) constancy. Constancy is explained here in terms of it being because we are able to see the equality of samsara and nirvana. In other words, we see the equal voidness of both and so on, and that, then, we have as a constant state.

In the Gelugpa presentation of the highest class of tantra, we always talk about the union of voidness and bliss, which means a blissful awareness that understands voidness. If we think about that – voidness would be deepest truth, and the blissful awareness of it would be the mind that understands that. So in a sense we can think of that (blissful awareness) as the conventional truth (well, within Gelugpa we would consider it that). But when we have the terms Tathagata and Sugata: Tathagata is the “One That Has Gone Thusly,” in accordance with voidness. And Sugata is the “One That Has Gone Blissfully,” progressed blissfully, in accordance with that blissful awareness. So these are two aspects of Buddha-nature on the basis, the path, and the result.

Question: What is the relation between nirvana and Dharmakaya?

Alex: In a sense when we speak about nirvana, there are many different aspects of nirvana but we can speak of the naturally abiding nirvana, which is the voidness of the mind, which is Svabhavakaya, the Essential Nature Body. And we can also speak about nirvana as the state of the separations of obstacles preventing liberation, and that is also part of Svabhavakaya. So nirvana can be included, in a sense, within Svabhavakaya. So it is true that we can include nirvana within the sphere of Dharmakaya, but here we are talking about the extreme of nirvana. We are not talking about nirvana itself, we’re talking about an extreme position which would be on the gross level – to just apathetically stay in a state of nirvana and not want to help anybody. Or we can think of it more in a philosophical point of view, of the extreme of grasping to total nonexistence. It’s an extreme of nirvana, it’s not part of Dharmakaya. But nirvana is part of Dharmakaya.

Participant: [inaudible]

Alex: There are many different ways of understanding happiness here. The question is do hell creatures have happiness? And do we all have compassion constantly? Do we have happiness constantly? That could be questionable. So then there’s a big discussion of what does happiness mean in this context, but let’s not go into that.

The Influence of Buddha-Nature

The fourth point here of ten is the influence. And the influence that Buddha-nature has, this is referring to the influence that it has on us on our own spiritual path. The influence it has is two-fold: it allows us to become disillusioned with suffering (we’re being aware of Buddha-nature), and it allows us to develop keen interest in getting release from that. So if we become aware of Buddha-nature, it helps us very much to go further on the path, so it stimulates us.

Question: How does it allow us to become disillusioned? That it stimulates us to make progress? I can’t understand.

Alex: If you are aware that the nature of the mind is pure and that suffering is unnecessary, then you become disillusioned with it and you say, “Why do I have to deal with this?” – not “deal” with it – “Why do I have to put up with this?”

The Endowments of Buddha-Nature

Then the fifth point is the endowment, in other words what are the various qualities that it possesses. Here it basically repeats the four qualities of the cause and four qualities of the result. So from a causal point of view they are the qualities or endowments of confident belief in the Dharma, discriminating awareness, absorbed concentration, and compassion. Then again you can have a discussion – do you have this on the basis level or just on the path level? It’s hard to really decide here. And then the qualities of the result are again compassion (which is referred to as the purity that goes out), no true identity, happiness or bliss, and constancy.

Whom Does Buddha-Nature Permeate

Then the sixth point is whom does it permeate (spread through). This is the three types of beings: ordinary beings, those who have not had nonconceptual cognition of voidness; aryas, those who have had nonconceptual cognition of voidness but are not Buddhas yet; and the Buddhas. So it permeates these three.

The Phases of Buddha-Nature

That corresponds to point seven: the phases of Buddha nature. And the phases are three-fold. (1) Those in whom the Buddha-nature is not purified, not yet purified. (2) Those in whom it is not completely purified, but purified to a certain extent. These would be arya bodhisattvas because they have – I mean aryas in general, but this is a Mahayana text so it speaks of arya bodhisattvas – who have achieved some of the third and fourth noble truths, some true stoppings and some true pathway minds. So they have purified it to a certain extent but not completely. And (3) those who are completely purified. It’s referring to the Buddhas. So that’s the basis, path, and resultant state.

This whole presentation and division of things into basis, path, and resultant levels of things is a recurrent structure that we find very much in the later presentations of the Dharma, particularly among the Tibetans (very strongly especially in the Sakya tradition).

Buddha-Nature Penetrating Everywhere

The eighth point is the point of it penetrating everywhere, and here the example or analogy is given of space. Space pervades everywhere and so does Buddha-nature.

The Constant Inalterability of Buddha-Nature

Then the ninth point is its constant inalterability (it doesn’t change, it remains constant). Here the point is that the Buddha-nature – it’s referring now to the abiding Buddha-nature of the voidness of the mind, or the clarity and awareness of the mind (depending on which commentarial tradition you follow) – it doesn’t change in the basis phase or the path phase or the resultant phase. It always stays the same – this basic nature.

So (1) the basic nature when it is not purified at all. And (2) the path phase when it is partially purified, but not fully purified. This is discussed in four parts: the arya bodhisattvas on the first bhumi (stage); then between the second and the seventh bhumi; then the eighth and ninth bhumi; and then the tenth bhumi. These are the ten levels of arya bodhisattva mind. And then finally in (3) the resultant phase of a fully purified Buddha. Throughout all of this the Buddha-nature stays constant; it doesn’t change.

What is particularly interesting in this ninth point is the discussion that we have of the Buddha-nature not changing on the basis level. Here it says that in this not-purified phase, the clear light self-nature of awareness (the mind, Buddha-nature), whether we talk about that as voidness or clarity of mind, is like space. That was from the example that we had in point eight: it permeates and penetrates everywhere. Space is a lack of impediment, if you recall, in Buddhism. And it says that it is self-begotten, without a cause, it’s always there, it doesn’t depend on anything, it always remains inalterable, without changing. But the fleeting stains that arise on it emerge like the elements emerging from space.

And so, incorrect consideration – taking things that are not truly existent to be truly existent, and so on – this incorrect consideration is like the gas element, gaseous element, the wind element. And then karma and the disturbing emotions, it’s like the liquid or water element that comes from that. Then the aggregates are like the earth element that comes out of that. Fire is not mentioned here but, in any case, His Holiness then always says that this is very interesting because one can look at this as a presentation of how a universe forms; one can also look at this in terms of pointing to tantra in terms of how we get the various stages of the appearance-making of true existence coming out of the clear light state, which is always explained in terms of association with the elements coming out one by one, and so on. So this is a very interesting section here having many levels of implication.

The Indivisibility of Buddha-Nature from Its Qualities

The tenth point, the last of this ten-fold presentation, is the indivisibility of Buddha-nature from its qualities. This is described with the analogy of the sun being indivisible from sunshine. You can’t have sunshine without a sun; you can’t have a sun without sunshine.

The Nine Examples of How Buddha-Nature Abides in the Disturbing Emotions

After this ten-fold presentation the text presents nine examples of how Buddha-nature abides or is present within the shell of the disturbing emotions and attitudes. These are very famous examples and it goes into them with a tremendous amount of poetic beauty and detail. So these are: (1) Inside an ugly lotus, a Buddha. Ugly, coming from mud. (2) Among a swarm of bees, bees buzzing around, and inside the comb is honey. (3) Inside a husk, a kernel (essence kernel). (4) Inside filth, gold. Inside a pile of excrement, a piece of gold. (5) Inside the earth, a treasure. (6) Inside a small fruit, a seed with the ability to sprout. (7) Inside tattered rags, a pile of rags, a statue of a Buddha. (8) Inside the womb of an ugly woman, a ruler of humanity. (9) Inside a clay mold, a precious metal figure. (When you make a statue you have this thing made out of clay which you fill with the molten metal.)

The Five Purposes for Indicating Buddha-Nature

And then the chapter ends with the five purposes for indicating Buddha-nature. And this is to get rid of five faults. (1) The first fault is having a discouraged mind. (2) The second one is putting down limited beings as being inferior. (3) The third is grasping onto what is not perfect (Buddha-nature is perfect). (4) The fourth is denying the existence of what is perfect (Buddha-nature). (5) The fifth one is attachment to oneself as being exceptional. If you understand Buddha-nature, then you also understand voidness and you have humility as well. It is not that we are better than anyone else, we are all the same.

That completes the first chapter, which is the chapter on Buddha-nature, which includes the presentation of the Three Jewels as well. Let’s have our tea break and then we’ll continue with the rest of the text.

Chapter Two: The Enlightened State

Chapter two is the chapter on enlightenment, the state of total purification and growth, the highest bodhi or purified state. This is in seventy-three verses and discusses the topic in eight points.

The Essential Nature of Enlightenment

The first of these is the essential nature of enlightenment, and this refers to its purities. It’s referred to in terms of clear light. Clear light as both a deep awareness (ys-shes) (so, a mind) and clear light as a riddance (spang-ba), a state of being rid of something – the usual term is “abandoned.” I don’t particularly like that term “abandoned” as it sounds as though you’ve abandoned it and left it somewhere else, but “riddance” – you’re rid of it. So that’s referring to the voidness side, corresponding of course to the third and fourth noble truths: clear light as a mind being the ultimate true pathway mind, and clear light as an object being the ultimate state of riddance or voidness. Remember we had this presentation of – it’s particularly emphasized in the Gelug tradition – that the voidness of true existence and the removal, or separation (bral-ba), from all the fleeting stains comes down to the same thing; it’s known as the double purity (dag-pa gnyis-ldan) of mind of a Buddha.

The Causes for Enlightenment

The second point is the causes for enlightenment, referring to what is it that will allow us to attain it. This is referring to what will get rid of the two obscurations, the obscurations that are the disturbing emotions and the obscurations that prevent omniscience. And this is what will get rid of those: the two types of deep awareness that we have. There’s the deep awareness during total absorption (mnyam-bzhag ye-shes) on voidness, which is like space, and that would be a cause for getting rid of the obscurations that are the disturbing emotions (unawareness of voidness, grasping for true existence, and so on). And then there is the deep awareness of the subsequent attainment phase (rjes-thob ye-shes), which is on voidness that is like an illusion – in which you focus on all appearances being like an illusion, that they are nevertheless void of true existence – and that helps us to, acts as a cause, for getting rid of the obscurations that prevent omniscience (knowing all phenomena). What’s included there in that set of obscurations is the appearance-making of true existence; by seeing that everything is like an illusion, that helps us to get rid of the obscuration of making appearances of true existence.

The Resultant State of What Enlightenment Is Parted From

The third point is the resultant state, and this is explaining what the state of enlightenment is parted from, what it is separated from. This is explained in terms of the nine examples that were given in the previous chapter – of a Buddha in a muddy lotus, and so on. And so the various types of disturbing emotions, and fleeting stains, and so on, are explained using those analogies from the previous chapter.

The Influences of Enlightenment

The fourth point is referring to its influences, and this is saying that the enlightened state is of meaningful benefit to oneself and to others. For oneself, one has the Svabhavakaya, which is the state of being utterly freed from the two obscurations. So that’s of meaningful benefit to ourselves. And then for others, what’s of meaningful benefit is the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya that encompasses everything and everyone, and is fully purified.

It’s quite interesting; these points are all referring to Dharmakaya, two aspects of Dharmakaya; the first four points as well as the fifth point which will come next. Often we hear of Dharmakaya being for self-benefit of oneself, and the Form Bodies for benefit of others. But here you get within Dharmakaya the two divisions: the Svabhavakaya is of benefit for oneself, and the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya is for the benefit of others.

The Endowments of Enlightenment

The fifth point here is its endowments, in other words the characteristics or qualities that it has. These are the characteristics that are the basis for it being of meaningful benefit to self and others. For that there is a discussion of fifteen qualities of the two Dharmakayas. These are that it is unimaginable, constant, stable, serenely still, auspiciously immutable – these types of characteristics, which are then explained in the text.

The Permeation of Enlightenment

Then the sixth point is its permeation, how it permeates various things – everything. This refers to the three aspects: profound, extensive, and its great identity nature. These are the terms that are used in the text. It’s profound: it permeates everything in terms of its profundity – is referring to the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya and the Essential Nature Dharmakaya, so in other words the two Dharmakayas. Each of these is presented with five distinguishing features. Then the extensive aspect that permeates is referring to the Sambhoghakaya, the Body or Corpus of Full Use, and that also has five distinguishing features. And then its great identity-nature (bdag-nyid chen-po) that permeates everywhere is referring to the Corpus of Emanations, in other words Nirmanakaya, which has the twelve deeds of an enlightened being, so it explains those twelve, it lists those twelve. And [Nirmanakaya also possesses] the four sealing points for labeling an outlook as being based on Buddha’s words (lta-ba bka’-btags-gyi phyag-rgya-bzhi), the four seals of Buddha’s teachings, which are how it teaches and permeates everything: that all affected phenomena are nonstatic; everything associated with confusion is suffering; all phenomena lack true identities; and that nirvana release is stillness and constructiveness. So here is where we have the basic discussion of the Buddha Bodies.

The Constancy of Enlightenment

The seventh point here is referring to the constancy of the enlightened state. That’s referring to the extent of time in which all three of these Buddha Bodies are eternal. Here the text gives ten reasons why all three of them are eternal.

Enlightenment’s Nature beyond Imagination

The eighth and final point is referring to its nature being beyond all imagination. This is the nature of how the three Buddha Bodies exist, and it gives six reasons why the nature of the three Buddha bodies is beyond imagination. That completes the second chapter.

So there are many, many lists in this. They are very fond of the lists, but the Tibetans didn’t make all this up. This style of giving lists is Indian.

Chapter Three: The Good Qualities of the Enlightened State

Chapter three is about the good qualities of the enlightened state. Remember we explained that the term “good qualities” (yon-tan, Skt. guna) is actually referring to corrections of inadequacies. Here we have thirty-nine verses, and in them are explained and listed the sixty-four qualities of the enlightened state of a Buddha. Thirty-two of them are the results of being parted (bral-‘bras). What that means is that there are certain qualities (these are all the qualities of the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya) that are there as a result of being separated from the obscurations, but they are not caused by the separation because, in a sense, they were there but were just being obscured. So they are constant, not affected by anything. These thirty-two are the ten forces of a Buddha, the four proclamations about which a Buddha is fearless, and the eighteen measures that are unshared with arhats. These are the qualities of the mind of a Buddha, very famous lists.

[See: The Qualities of a Buddha’s Omniscient Deep Awareness.]

Then it gives the thirty-two ripened results (rnam-smin-gyi ‘bras-bu). The ripened results are the qualities of the Form Bodies of a Buddha that ripen from positive force. This refers to the thirty-two excellent signs, or major signs of a Buddha’s body. The text goes through all thirty-two of them and gives then analogies for these various qualities – they are like a vajra, and so on. That is the contents of chapter three.

[See: The Thirty-two Excellent Signs (Major Marks) of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body.]

The text itself doesn’t give the reasons, the causes, for each of these thirty-two signs, but in the commentaries we find that quite extensively. It is interesting that it is a slightly different list, particularly in terms of the causes, that is found in Abhisamayalamkara, the other text of Maitreya (The Filigree of Realizations).

Chapter Four: The Enlightening Influence of the Enlightened State

Chapter four is the enlightening influence (‘phrin-las) of that enlightened state, and this is in 101 verses. First the topic is that the enlightening influence of a Buddha permeates (‘jug-pa) everyone. It permeates everyone with two aspects: it spontaneously accomplishes all (all purposes), and it is unceasing.

The Enlightening Influence Accomplishes All

First the text explains how it spontaneously accomplishes all (lhun-grub), and it does this with five points.

  • Through, first of all, the source in those to be tamed – their Buddha-natures and their aspirations, what they want to achieve. So it spontaneously accomplishes all by stimulating their Buddha-natures (the thing that it tames). “Tame” is the word that is used here, it has to do with “purify.”

  • The second way that it spontaneously accomplishes all is the methods through which it tames the Buddha-nature in everyone, and that’s through the two types of Form Bodies.

  • Then the third is the taming action, the action with which it tames. It does that by stimulating and leading limited beings to the various kinds of goals, this is higher status (mtho-ris), of more fortunate rebirth, and definite deliverance (nges-‘byin) (a technical term that refers to liberation and enlightenment). These three goals that you have in Lam-rim.

  • The fourth point is the location, it spontaneously accomplishes all in terms of going to all disciples.

  • The fifth one is the time, which is forever. So it spontaneously accomplishes all purposes, all positive purposes, of everyone forever.

So that’s this point of the enlightening influence: it permeates everyone, spontaneously accomplishing all. It tames the Buddha-nature through the two Form Bodies by stimulating and leading disciples to these various positive goals. It does that in everyone, forever.

The Enlightening Influence Permeates Everyone Unceasingly

Then the text speaks about how the enlightening influence of the Buddhas permeates everyone unceasingly. What does it mean by “unceasingly”? It’s unceasing because of six points, and these are six things that a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts (or preconceptions) about. Because a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts, or preconceptions, about these six things, then that enlightening influence continues without ceasing.

  • First of all, no conceptual thoughts or conceptions about the path for taming disciples. The path is referring to stimulating them to grow to enlightenment through the ten bhumis, the ten levels of arya bodhisattva minds – there are no concepts about that.

  • And then no conceptual thoughts about the causes for that, for progressing through these ten bhumis – and this would be the two networks: positive force and deep awareness.

  • Then a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts about the result that will come from that. Conceptual thoughts, by the way, always have grasping for true existence as part of them, and that’s the significance that a Buddha doesn’t have conceptual thoughts about these things. So the result of that is a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts or grasping for true existence about the supreme state of Buddhahood.

  • The Buddha has no conceptual thoughts, the fourth one, is the full extent of that, which is in all limited beings – it will be in all limited beings.

  • The fifth one is that a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts about the obscurations to be removed (those are the fleeting stains).

  • And a Buddha has no conceptual thoughts, the sixth one, about the condition for cutting them away – which is omniscience and intense loving concern.

Then the text gives six poetic analogies for these, one each for each of these features: like the ocean, the sun, space, treasure, clouds, and the wind. And it explains those.

Question:What is the reason why it can continue endlessly?

Alex:Basically if we have different conceptual thoughts about what to tame, what we are doing, about the path and so on then our ideas change all the time. One conceptual thought is then replaced by another and then so on. So without that, it would then be unceasing.

Also if we think on a deeper level, then we can say if one tries to help others through conceptual mind, that conceptual mind is based on confusion. Even if it has correct understanding, accurate understanding, still it’s based on confusion and therefore it won’t last forever because one can get rid of it; whereas if it is based on deep awareness of voidness and so on, it will last forever. I think that is more the explanation.

The Enlightening Influence Effortlessly Benefits Everyone

The second part of this chapter speaks about how the enlightening influence effortlessly benefits everyone, the emphasis here is “effortless.” Again it does it spontaneously and unceasingly, and this is summed up with nine examples for the various aspects of the enlightened state which exert this enlightening influence. Here we have many, many verses in a very poetic presentation.

  • First the essential nature of the body of a Buddha influences others like Indra, effortlessly like Indra, great god Indra.

  • Then the essential nature of speech influences others effortlessly like the divine drum, the drum of the gods.

  • Then the essential nature of the mind influences others effortlessly like the monsoon clouds.

  • Then the enlightening influence of the body and speech of a Buddha effortlessly influences others like Brahma.

  • Then the enlightening influence of the mind influences others like the sun.

  • Then the enigmatic qualities (the secret or hidden qualities that we can’t understand) of the mind influence others effortlessly like a precious gem.

  • Then the enigmatic qualities of speech influence others like an echo.

  • Then the eighth, the enigmatic qualities of the body influence others effortlessly like space.

  • Then finally the ninth one, the compassion of a Buddha influences others effortlessly. That compassion being the basis for all good qualities, it influences others effortlessly like the earth.

What is noteworthy here, throughout the entire text, is that all these points (or most of these points, I should say) are presented with very graphic and poetic analogies. This is a particular teaching style of this text, and then commentaries explain why it is similar to the sun, or why it is similar to jewels, and so on. The text itself does that as well, but the commentaries go into more detail. So it is interesting how it teaches not only through words, but through images, which reflects in many ways how we have a Nirmanakaya, as an artisan teaches through art and music, and one that teaches through words – the actual verbal teachings of the Buddha.

Question: What is meant by “Fastidious First”?

Alex: Fastidious First is the implication of the name “Brahma.” And the Hundred Sacrificer (rgya-byin) is the translation of the word “Indra,” the name “Indra.” Fastidious First, Brahma, is the first one. It’s “tsangpa” (tshangs-pa), the implication of the word “tsangba” in Tibetan. So he is the first one in a world age (yuga); he is the first being to appear. And his quality is that he is clean and fastidious about that, which means absolutely fanatic about being clean; and this is then the quality that brahmins uphold. So I translated it just to accommodate the commentary, the explanation of the name.

When I made this translation I was in my phase of translating absolutely every single word, which Serkong Rinpoche encouraged me very strongly to do. Now I would put “Brahma” in parentheses. Actually I would probably use “Brahma” and put Fastidious First in parentheses, and not repeat that but just repeat “Brahma.”

Chapter Five: The Benefits

In the last chapter, chapter five, are the benefits of this text. It is in twenty-eight verses, and here Maitreya presents the benefits specifically of listening to the explanation of these last vajra points – the four last: Buddha-nature, enlightenment, its qualities, and its enlightening influence. Maitreya says that it builds up for a bodhisattva more positive force than keeping ethical discipline or than attaining the four states of mental constancy (these four dhyanas [bsam-gtan]). And listening to this brings deep awareness of discriminating awareness: you’ve got this discrimination of what’s correct and what’s not correct, you’ve got Buddha-nature and enlightenment and so on, and you gain confidence to attain Buddhahood. When a bodhisattva has confident belief that he or she has Buddha-nature, then that confident belief acts as a container for the six far-reaching attitudes or six perfections, and a bodhisattva will never turn back. Shantideva also emphasized this confident belief as a very important foundation and container for the far-reaching attitudes. He does that particularly in his other text Shikshasamuccaya (bslab-btus), The Compendium of Training. He starts off with a discussion of confident belief as the basis for the whole presentation that he has in Bodhicaryavatara.

And then Maitreya concludes the benefits by saying how he supported this teaching on the scriptural authority of the sutras and on lines of reasoning. He composed it for the sake of himself and for others. Then he explains the qualities and reliability of the enlightening speech of the Buddhas on which he relied, and says we must not cause the words of the Buddhas to decline by adulterating them – mixing them with our own ideas or misquoting them. Then he explains the reasons for how that could happen (we make up our own Dharma), and that if we overcome those causes – which would cause us to adulterate the Buddhas’ teachings, abandon the words of the Buddhas – if we can overcome those causes, we’ll attain enlightenment. Then there is the dedication and that completes the text.


That’s a brief presentation of the main points and the structure of Uttaratantra (The Furthest Everlasting Continuum) by Maitreya. We can see that it speaks about something very, very extensive and very profound and does this in great detail. It is not an easy text to study; it has many different points in it and all of these points interconnect with each other. And in the study of this text, as is true in the study of almost all of Buddhist texts, it is very important to study it many times if we really want to get a deep understanding of it. Because once we’re familiar with it having studied it once or twice, then the next time through we’re able to put things together from the entire text much more easily. This text gives a great amount of topics for meditation.

As we saw there are two lineages of it, of explanation coming from India. Two ways in which the Pandit Sajjana explained it: one was focused more on a mediation aspect (whatever that actually means) and the other more on the explanation side. But we should never think that explanation and meditation aspects are two completely different things. It seems as though the difference between those two traditions is whether or not there’s the emphasis on the abiding nature being voidness of true existence or whether it is on the mind that is free from the fleeting stains.

These are the two aspects, but whichever way in which we understand it (or if we try to understand it in both ways), these are topics that are intended for meditation, for us to actually gain as Maitreya says, “the confident belief.” First of all, a clear understanding of what Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are, and the confident belief that we have Buddha-nature and what it actually is. As he says, discriminating awareness is the big benefit that we gain from studying this. We can speak about the three higher trainings: discipline, concentration and discriminating awareness. He says that here we gain even more positive force than we do from doing the first two trainings of discipline and concentration; so we gain an [even more] tremendous amount of positive force from that [third higher training] discriminating awareness – it discriminates what is the Triple Gem, what is our Buddha-nature, and it has confidence that we have that, [and in] what is enlightenment, and what are the qualities and the enlightening influence in which we can help others when we are enlightened, in which we are helped by the Triple Gem, and so on. And with that confident belief that understands all of this and that it is possible for us to reach enlightenment – that it is possible for everybody else to reach enlightenment, so that it is worthwhile to try to help them – and we understand how our enlightening influence would help them, would benefit them, then as Maitreya says this becomes the container (for our practice as a bodhisattva) of the six far-reaching attitudes as we’ve studied in Shantideva’s text. So it is a very meaningful text and it is studied very much by all the traditions in Tibet.

Are there any questions before we end?

Question: Probably one also has to understand the Chittamatra position for this; otherwise it is only large lists. For understanding the transition from Hinayana to Mahayana, isn’t it also important to understand the Chittamatra text which you can’t avoid facing when you try to understand how these ideas are articulated. For example, in Hinayana it says that the realm of Buddha is beyond imagination and so you would also have to get into the Mahayana sutras as well to get into this view that is underlined in this presentation.

Alex: Yes, I think we do need to get the general Mahayana view, but whether or not we need to understand it as a Chittamatra text – with Chittamatra as the way that Mahayana view is presented here – I am not quite sure of that; although, of course, in China the Zen (Chan) tradition emphasizes that. But I don’t think so here.

As we saw according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s explanation, this text is Prasangika, we can see that from its presentation of the obscurations, how those are removed. There is no discussion here whatsoever of the storehouse consciousness (Skt. alayavijnana) or anything like that, which are the trademarks of the Chittamatra view. When it says that it comes from the third turning, the third round of transmission, everybody in the Tibetan tradition takes that to refer to the Sutra on Buddha-nature, not on the Chittamatra view. I don’t know how this is studied in the Chinese tradition, perhaps it is studied in China from a Chittamatra point of view, I have no idea. I am totally unfamiliar with that. I would assume that it is translated into Chinese and then one would need to look at the Chinese commentaries, but I certainly haven’t studied that myself.

But yes we need a general understanding of Mahayana, but I think that this [text] gives a general understanding of Mahayana. It certainly would be helpful to have a lam-rim background before studying this. Where Chittamatra is useful is, as we’ve discussed in going through the various tenet systems, to get the Prasangika view of voidness. It is very helpful to work through the stages of the other tenet systems, including Chittamatra. Also in the discussion of Chittamatra, we have the presentation of no external phenomena, and that also perhaps can be helpful in terms of realizing that Buddhahood is not won from circumstances that are other, that are external, but are internal. And so it could help with that. But it is very difficult to put together “mind only and no external phenomena” with an enlightening influence that benefits others. Although Chittamatra certainly is Mahayana and certainly accepts the existence of others, that not everybody just exists in our minds, but that is not very easy to understand on the basis of the Chittamatra view. It would be much easier from the view that accepts external phenomena.

If we look at some of the material in this text, some of the material is in common with Hinayana. Certainly Hinayana has the explanation of the thirty-two qualities of a Buddha’s mind, the thirty-two signs of a Buddha, the twelve deeds of a Buddha. I think that they have the twelve deeds, I’m not quite sure. Do they have the twelve deeds of a Buddha? No. Well anyway, the thirty-two qualities of mind and the thirty-two qualities of body are there.


Let’s end with a dedication: Whatever positive force and understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper. And may it act as a cause for gaining more and more confidence in the Triple Gem, more and more confidence in our Buddha-natures, more and more confidence in everybody’s Buddha-nature, more and more confidence in enlightenment and the possibility of reaching it, so that we can truly dedicate ourselves to that and to helping everybody reach that for the benefit of all.

Thank you.