The Necessity of the Six Perfections and the Validity of Their Source

Beginningless Phenomena

Our basis is reality.  When we see what possibilities there are for transformation, then enacting them is the path. When we have transformed ourselves, that’s the result. The basis, then is what exists and what doesn’t, and the difference between the two needs to be determined by valid cognition. What exists includes both phenomena that change from moment by moment and those that do not. The phenomena that change include forms of physical phenomena, those phenomena that have the nature of a subjective experiencing of things, and noncongruent affecting variables (ldan-min ‘du-byed), such as time and persons, which are neither of the previous two. What exists, then, is not simply what can be observed, but what is observed as it appears to us and, not just that, but which is also not contradicted by other valid cognitions of the same level of observation.

Material phenomena arise from their obtaining causes (nyer-len-gyi rgyu), previous material phenomena from which they are obtained. A fire, for instance, is obtained from a similar-family cause (rigs-‘dra’i rgyu) – there needs to have been a previous fire for there to be a fire now – and a substantial cause (rdzas-rgyu), such as something that it burns. More fundamental are the particles that constitute a fire, and these can only be cognized by the mind. Even more fundamental are space particles, which are only discussed in the Kalachakra teachings. So, it is not that forms of material phenomena arise from no causes. 

Space particles have no beginning, and everything grosser is just a transformation of them. Thus, on the basis of everything that changes from moment to moment, there is the imputation phenomenon called a “having perished” (zhig-pa) of what came before in its continuum. Thus, all forms of physical phenomena necessarily have previous physical phenomena as their obtaining causes.

The same is the case with ways of being aware of something, those moment-to-moment changing phenomena with a nature of being a mere subjective experiencing of something. Just as forms of material phenomena arise from similar-family causes, so too is the case with ways of being aware of something. They do not arise merely from causes that are material phenomena, namely physical cognitive sensors and physical cognitive objects.

Noncongruent affecting variables, such as time and persons, being neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something, require a substantially existent (rdzas-yod) basis. 

[Noncongruent affecting variables have imputational existence (btags-yod) on such a basis, which means they cannot exist or be known independently of that basis. Sautrantika classifies them as objective phenomena (rang-mtshan, individually characterized phenomena), as they do forms of material phenomena and ways of being aware of something.

So, just as substantially existent phenomena have no beginning, likewise the imputationally existent phenomena on them as their basis also have no beginning. And just as forms of material phenomena are not made up by conceptual thought but are substantially existent, the same is the case with ways of being aware of something. They too are not merely conceptual inventions. 

To understand beginninglessness, we need to analyze, where does our consciousness come from? Does our consciousness have a first moment, a beginning? Does it come from a continuum and, if so, a continuum of what? Does it come from some material substances as its obtaining cause, or does it have no cause at all? If it has no cause that we can discover, then was it just created by God? 

Science must investigate this question of the cause of consciousness. When we analyze the issue, we see that consciousness is immaterial, so it can’t arise from matter, because that would be contradictory to its essential nature. The only alternative is that our consciousness is a continuum with no beginning. 

As just mentioned, we can’t just posit a continuum of an imputation phenomenon, such as a person, “me,” as existing and knowable independently by itself. It has to have some substantial basis. And as we have also seen, forms of physical phenomena and ways of being aware of something, as the basis for imputation phenomena, have no beginning. So, the question, now, is what is the basis for a person, “me?” 

The basis for “me” can’t be determined just in terms of the aggregate factors of our present appearance – for instance, how we look now. The basis needs to be a continuum that lasts over time. Since the form of our body changes dramatically in each lifetime from that of a baby, to that of an adult and then to that of an old person, it doesn’t make sense to consider the body as the lasting basis for the self, “me.” It makes more sense to take the mind as the beginningless basis for a person. Analyzing like this leads to a logical understanding of rebirth. 

The Vaibhashika tenet system asserts an end of this continuum of a mind and a self with parinirvana, while the Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamaka systems assert that this continuum has no end. There can be no end, as there would need to be an opponent to mind’s defining characteristics, clarity and awareness, that if applied, would cause the mind and the self as an imputation phenomenon on it to draw closer and closer to an end. But there is no such opponent to mind.

Cause and Effect

The fact that a cause gives rise to an effect is just the nature of things (chos-nyid). Thus, the continuums of external forms of physical phenomena and of internal consciousness come together, as simultaneously acting conditions (lhan-cig byed-pa’i rkyen), to give rise to effects. For example, the feelings of happiness and unhappiness that we experience are the results of previous causes. They are from previous moments of consciousness, but also from karmic causes. One and the same situation can trigger the immediate arising sometimes of happiness and sometimes unhappiness. The feeling that arises is due to previous karmic causes. 

The functioning of cause and effect operates in terms of contrasting phenomena – for instance, the four elements, light and dark, and hot and cold. Phenomena that contradict each other cannot co-exist. If one member of a contrasting pair goes up, the other must go down. For example, if heat increases, then cold has to decrease. Similarly, internally, there are contrasting ways with which our minds take their objects – “this is white and that is red” or “this is good and that is bad.” The same is the case with emotions. With anger, we push someone away from us and, with love, we draw them closer. In a single moment of mind, only one of them can be present, simply because they are mutually exclusive, like hot and cold. As one increases, the other decreases, though in one moment, we can’t have both. 

Since happiness and suffering are also mutually exclusive, we must counter the cause of unhappiness and suffering with a cause for happiness that is mutually exclusive with that cause. However, we need to correctly identify the causes of happiness. We can’t achieve happiness just by the power of prayer, or by working with advanced tantra practices dealing with the subtle drops and prana energy-winds of the subtle body. Hindu tantra, as well, has these tantra practices of phowa (transference of consciousness to pure lands), trungjug (transference of consciousness into dead bodies) and tummo (inner heat) and works with chakras, mantras and so forth. They are not exclusive to Buddhism.

What Buddha taught is that the root cause of our disturbing emotions, and of the karmic impulses motivated by them that result in our unhappiness and suffering, is our unawareness of not knowing or knowing incorrectly how things exist. Therefore, we need to counter this unawareness with its mutually exclusive opposite. We must counter it with the discriminating awareness with which we correctly know how everything exists.

Faith that this awareness will counter our ignorance will support that discriminating awareness, and that is good. But faith alone is not enough. If we have studied and take what we have learned as our general foundation, then when we experience the actuality of how things exist, we will recognize it and gain firm conviction. Otherwise, with blind faith alone, or just with an experience of something but not knowing what it is, we will lack a framework for integrating and stabilizing it in our minds. 

Clear-Light Voidness

The third noble truth refers to the true stopping, the true cessation, of suffering and its causes, and that is an imputation phenomenon on the basis of clear light as both voidness as an object and a mind that takes voidness as its object. Moreover, the mind that takes voidness as its object itself has voidness as its nature. The third chapter of the Mound of Precious Gems Sutra (dKon-mchog brtsegs-pa, Skt. Ratnakuta Sutra) states this when it says, “Mind is without mind,” which means that mind has a nature of voidness, referring to both its deepest and its conventional natures. Clear light, both in terms of voidness as an object and as the conventional nature of the mind, are not things that arise as something new when the mind has total absorption (meditative equipoise) on voidness and the object to be refuted and the adventitious taints on the mind are gone. 

It is important to remember that, when the mind is aimed at an object to be refuted, the mind itself is also void. The object to be refuted must in fact be in terms of the mind’s own void nature. In this way, the nature of both the mind cognizing the object and object itself is voidness. 

The conventional nature of the mind as clear light is not something that newly arises with total absorption. Because this clear light nature of the mind has no beginning and no end, Maitreya stated in Filigree of Realizations:

(VIII.33-34) The Enlightening Body that brings about, equally, all assorted benefits to wandering beings, as many as exist, is the Emanation Body, lacking any break in its continuity. Likewise, we accept, as not having any break in its continuity, its enlightening activity for as long as samsara endures.  

If we understand that clear light – voidness as both an object and as the conventional nature, clarity and awareness, of the mind that has the ability to cognize it – is ultimately unstained, then we will have confidence in the veracity of the third noble truth. Note that the naturally abiding state that is our naturally abiding Buddha-nature is our clear light mind now stained with the adventitious taints.  

Relying on Valid Teachings

We need to study all of this in the Buddhist scriptures, but from which scriptures? The Vaibhashika school follows some sources from the Pali sutra tradition and some others from the Sanskrit tradition. According to Chittamatra, sutras that can be accepted literally should be seen as being of definitive meaning (nges-don), while those that cannot be taken literally are of interpretable meaning (drang-don). Madhyamaka draws this distinction in terms of the topics discussed in specific passages in the sutras: those that discuss deepest truth are definitive and those that discuss conventional truth need interpretation. This distinction is not found in the Pali tradition with reference to the Hinayana texts. 

If we had to rely on other texts to determine whether a text can be taken literally or not, there would be no end and no way to decide. Therefore, we need to use logic, not just quotations. If a quoted passage from a text is not contradicted by logic or reason, then it is definitive, whereas if a quote is contradicted by logic or reason, then it is not. This is the accepted criterion used by Nalanda scholars. 

Nagarjuna, in Precious Garland, and Maitreya, in A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras (Theg-pa chen-po mdo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutra-alamkara), taught that the Mahayana scriptures are authentic. If the Mahayana texts were not authentic, it would be difficult to explain, thoroughly, the four noble truths based solely on quotations. Therefore, Buddha taught the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of the vinaya, sutra and abhidharma, to a general audience, but the Mahayana sutras only to those of sharp intellect. 

The lam-dre path and its results teachings of the Sakya tradition speak of valid experience, valid teachers, valid teachings, valid commentaries and valid texts. On a personal level, the first of these, valid experience, is what is most useful in daily life. If our experience is authentic and valid, that means it was based on valid and authentic teachings given by a valid and authentic teacher who relied on valid and authentic commentaries. That leads to the conclusion that the texts of Buddha’s teachings on which these commentaries were based are valid and authentic.  

A valid experience is one that brings about a positive, authentic change in our minds, and such a change comes only from a valid experience of bodhichitta and voidness. Valid experiences and positive changes in our minds cannot occur with deity practice alone, emphasizing this face as this color and that one as that. Deity practice is only valid and authentic if it is based on bodhichitta and voidness. 

Nagarjuna, in Root Verses for Madhyamaka, starts with paying homage to the Buddha:

(I.1) I prostrate to the Fully Enlightened Buddha, foremost of the eloquent, who has indicated dependent arising without (anything) ceasing, arising, ending, everlasting, coming, going, being a different item or being the same item, (for the sake of bringing) a stilling of mental fabrication and peace.

Nagarjuna lived just 400 years after the Buddha and therefore knew the Buddha better than we do. We just presume that we know the Buddha’s qualities. Nagarjuna said that the Buddha taught the Mahayana privately to Maitreya and Manjushri. Although we can’t confirm that ourselves, nevertheless if we meditate on bodhichitta and it brings about a positive change in our minds, this demonstrates clearly that the Mahayana texts that are their source are valid teachings of the Buddha.

The Hinayana path is the preliminary path, the Mahayana sutra one is the main path, and tantra is something to train in only as a branch. The four tenet systems are like stairs. The higher systems highlight contradictions in the lower ones, but by knowing the lower, we can appreciate the profundity of the higher. The higher systems are vast and profound since they do not contradict logic. If we are aware of the areas in which we can make mistakes, it helps us to stay on the right path and have confidence in it. Thus, the study of the tenet systems gives stability to our view. Then, on the basis of the six far-reaching attitudes and bodhichitta, we will be able to fulfill our own aims and those of others. 

The Necessity of the Far-Reaching Attitudes Being Six in Number

Maitreya, in A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, explained:

(XIX.42) Located in the Mahayana (texts) is the giving of Dharma, pure ethical self-discipline, as well as the patience not to spring up (from helping), working with perseverance together with (mental constancy to stabilize) compassion, and discriminating awareness, the principal mind out of the far-reaching attitudes for those with intelligence. 

Thus, the teachings in the Mahayana texts fulfill our own and other’s aims because they include all the teachings in them, especially those on the six far-reaching attitudes.

To attain enlightenment, we need better rebirths; and the six perfections – in particular, far-reaching ethical self-discipline – enable us to attain better rebirths. We won’t be able to help others materially if we aren’t wealthy, and so we need to cultivate generosity. We need virtuous friends, and so we must reject anger and practice patience. In order to accomplish anything, we need perseverance. To gain friends, we must control our disturbing emotions, and so we must practice mental constancy (concentration). And finally, to really be effective in helping others, we need the discriminating awareness (wisdom) of knowing what is beneficial and what is of harm. Therefore, we need to cultivate all six far-reaching attitudes.

Ethical self-discipline means to refrain from causing harm. Generosity means giving material help and protection from fear. Patience means not getting angry. These three help us to fulfil the aims of others. Another aspect of patience, the patience to study, and perseverance help to fulfil the aims of both others and ourselves. Mental constancy and discriminating awareness help us to fulfil our own aims. In this way, we need all six far-reaching attitudes to fulfil our own and others’ aims.

When we are generous and give material aid to others, we naturally attract them as our friends. We also need to give others our practice of ethical self-discipline, and we do this by leading a life that never causes others any harm. With patience, then even if others hurt us, we don’t cause them any harm in return. When trying to help others, we need to not lose hope or become discouraged, and so we need perseverance. To help others, we need concentration and mental constancy so that eventually we attain extra-sensory perception. With it, we can know others’ thoughts and help them to tame their minds. We also need mental constancy so that we can concentrate when analyzing phenomena. Mental constancy, then, enhances our development of discriminating awareness. With discriminating awareness, we can differentiate between what is correct and what is incorrect, what’s right and what’s wrong, so that we can help others dispel their doubts and attain enlightenment. Therefore, in terms of helping others to ultimately attain enlightenment, we need all six far-reaching attitudes.

The six far-reaching attitudes are definite in their number. When we are not attached to wealth but are content with what we have and share it with others, we can engage in proper practice. This generosity supports and helps our ethical self-discipline for practice. If we are patient, we will not be harmed by hardships and will not get discouraged by suffering. Therefore, patience supports and helps with perseverance. With concentration and mental constancy, we are able to overcome physical and mental obstacles. We do not get tired when engaging in constructive practices. We can make our bodies and minds serviceable and fit for attaining a stilled and settled mind of shamatha (zhi-gnas). On that basis, we can develop an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana (lhag-mthong) for discriminating awareness. Without a state of shamatha as its basis, there can be no actual state of vipashyana, and so mental constancy helps and supports this state of vipashyana. Therefore, it is definite that the far-reaching attitudes are six in number for undertaking comprehensive Mahayana practice. 

It is also definite that they are six in number from the point of view of their being skillful for our practices. Giving others our wealth and our physical help is a cause for prosperity. With ethical self-discipline, we avoid careless and reckless actions of body and so it helps us to overcome mental distractions. In this way, it helps us with concentration. If we don’t get angry, we have the patience to practice better. With perseverance, we do not get discouraged. With the concentration of a state of mental constancy, we gain a physical and mental bliss that enables us to enter into deeper meditative absorptions that temporarily suppress the gross disturbing emotions of the plane of sensory objects of desire (the desire realm). And with discriminating awareness, we are able to rid ourselves forever of the disturbing emotions and their tendencies. Therefore, it is definite that the far-reaching attitudes number six for adapting skillful methods for our practice.

It is also definite that there are six far-reaching attitudes for helping us develop the three higher trainings. Being generous, we are not attached to our wealth and so our higher training in ethical self-discipline becomes pure. With patience, we are unharmed by difficulty and this as well helps us to maintain our higher training in ethical self-discipline. Mental constancy is for the higher training in concentration and discriminating awareness for the higher training in discriminating awareness. Perseverance helps with the attainment of all three.

According to Haribhadra in Sphutartha (‘Grel-ba don-gsal, A Commentary (to Maitreya’s “Filigree of Realizations”), Clarifying the Meaning), attachment to our household and wealth, without being generous, is an obstacle that keeps us in samsara. Without ethical self-discipline, we commit destructive actions, often because of that attachment. Without patience, we get angry when others harm us and thus undermine our practice. Without perseverance, we are lazy, we procrastinate and get discouraged. Without mental constancy and concentration, we get distracted and are hampered in constructive behavior. When our discriminating awareness is incorrect or corrupted, our study is ineffective, and we don’t practice what we should. For overcoming obstacles to our practice on the path, we need all six far-reaching attitudes.

Furthermore, according to Maitreya’s Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras:

(XVI.14) The presentation (of the six far-reaching attitudes) is through the order of the latter ones building on and arising from the former, and from their status of lower to exalted and from gross to subtle as well.

In other words, the subsequent far-reaching attitudes are superior to the ones before them, and the prior ones help the latter. So, the order of the six is important. The earlier ones are lower in the sense that the later ones are more difficult to develop. Also, each of the six is progressively more subtle. When we engage in subtle practices, we need a subtler and subtler mind. Therefore, the order of the six is important and definite. 

Finally, in Maitreya’s discussion of the six far-reaching attitudes in his presentation of bodhichitta and bodhisattva practice in Filigree of Realizations, he stated: 

(V.22ab) In each of the (far-reaching attitudes), giving and so on, those (other far-reaching attitudes) are included. 

Thus, each of the six far-reaching attitudes is complete in each of the others.