The First Chapter of the Text
Let us begin our discussion of the text. The first chapter is the chapter on Buddha-nature, and the text starts by giving its subject matter in an outline form (remember that Maitreya’s texts start with the outline) and the text is going to cover seven diamond-strong points (rdo-rje’i gnas-bdun):
The Seven Diamond-Strong Points
The first of these are the Buddhas. The second is the Dharma, the preventive measures. The third is the Sangha; this is the highly realized community of those who are intent on one of the positive goals of either arhatship (liberation) or enlightenment. The fourth is Buddha-nature, which is known by many different names here. The fifth is the state of enlightenment (byang-chub, Skt. bodhi) itself. The sixth are the good qualities (yon-tan, Skt. guna) of that state. And the seventh is the enlightening influence (‘phrin-las, Skt. samudacara) that we will have once we have reached that state.
So these seven diamond-strong points are discussed in five chapters, and 410 verses. The first chapter treats the first four points; then the second chapter treats the fifth point; the third chapter, the sixth point; the fourth chapter, the seventh point; and then the last chapter presents the benefits of studying these topics.
The terminology here is actually very interesting and very important. Serkong Rinpoche always emphasized that we can learn so much from the terminology and the way that things were translated. So when we look at the words for Buddha-nature, the word that is used here for the title is the “source” – that word is “kham” (khams, Skt. dhatu) – “source” implies the source for our enlightenment. But then the other words that are used very much for this have slightly different connotations in Tibetan and Sanskrit: We have the “tathagatagarbha” (Tib. de-gshegs snying-po) in Sanskrit. “Garbha” (snying-po) means the womb. And “tathagata” (de-bzhin gshegs-pa), is another name for a Buddha, usually translated as a “Thusly Gone One.” Those who have gone, or progressed – “thusly” means an accordant way – in accordance with, or in harmony with the actual path: with voidness and so on. So “Tathagata” can refer to those who have progressed in this way, or gone thusly; and it can also refer to the state that they achieve, thusly going. So it is the womb for a Thusly Gone One. Whereas the Tibetan word that they use for womb is “nyingpo” (snying-po), which means the heart or the essence – so, the essential factor that gives rise to that. They don’t use this word that really has this connotation of the womb, giving birth to it. The other big term that they use is “sugatagarbha” (bde-gshegs snying-po), the womb for a Blissfully Gone One, another epithet of a Buddha. Again, the Tibetans use the essential factor, nyingpo, the heart that gives rise to that. What’s interesting is that neither in Sanskrit nor Tibetan is there a word that literally means “Buddha-nature.” So it’s really quite curious how the Western translators came up with the idea of putting the word “nature” there.
The other term that is very interesting is the term for good qualities “guna” (yon-tan). Serkong Rinpoche always explained this as meaning it’s a correction of inadequacy, which is very meaningful. In other words we have various taints, various deficiencies, and various inadequacies; and when we talk about good qualities it is a correction of that – it’s bringing something bent back to its proper state. That gives us a lot to think about in terms of how we develop good qualities. Develop good qualities by basically correcting your inadequacies. Without correcting the inadequacies how can you get good qualities on top of those?
After stating the outline of the subject matter, the seven vajra points, then the text continues with giving the sutra source of these points. In other words Maitreya didn’t just make this up, but he got this from one of the sutras of the Buddha. And in the commentaries it goes into tremendous detail with lots of lists of where all the various points come from in this sutra – it’s the Sutra Requested by the Bodhisattva King Dharani Ishvara (gZungs-kyi dbang-phyug rgyal-pos zhus-pa’i mdo, Skt. Dharanishvara-raja-pariprccha Sutra, also known as Sutra Showing the Great Compassion of the Thusly Gone Ones, Skt. Tathagata-mahakaruna-nirdesha Sutra).
Next comes the reason for why the seven points are in this order. First comes (1) the Buddhas, and the Buddhas indicate (2) the Dharma, they teach the Dharma. The Dharma refers to the preventive measures that will eliminate suffering – that’s what the word “Dharma” means. That refers to the third and fourth noble truths: the true stopping of suffering and its causes, and the true pathway minds that lead to it, and the true pathway minds that are the result of that elimination. So the Buddhas indicate that, both verbally and through their realizations.
Then comes (3) the Arya Sangha. This is the community of those who are intent on gaining the third and fourth noble truths and who have actually started to get them (when they become aryas). And so these are the ones that attain the Dharma, that realize the Dharma. How do they do this? They do this by purifying (4) the source, the Buddha-nature, purifying away the inadequacies and the fleeting stains and so on. When that source is fully purified then you get the attainment of enlightenment, so the next point is (5) the state of enlightenment itself. And with enlightenment, one has (6) all the good qualities (that are corrections of inadequacy). All the good qualities are there, and based on these good qualities one has (7) the enlightening influence to benefit others. This is usually translated as Buddha-activity or enlightening activity. But it is something that is done without effort, and spontaneous, and it doesn’t require Buddha actually doing something – so much closer to the meaning is the “enlightening influence.”
So that’s the reason for the order of the seven.
The Buddha Gem
Then the text begins the discussion of the Buddha Gem. One of the characteristics of this text is that it uses many, many epithets, many synonyms for the same thing. Again, Serkong Rinpoche always used to emphasize that each of these different synonyms, these epithets, particularly for the Buddha and so on, are very meaningful; and that it is not fair at all to just translate all of them as “Buddha” or to leave them in the Sanskrit – tathagata, sugata, bhagavan, and so on – because for most people that doesn’t convey anything, whereas the Tibetans translated them. So what I have tried to do in the translation that I have prepared was to actually translate these terms so that when you get the Tibetan commentaries to it, the commentaries make sense.
The commentaries will comment on each syllable within it. So a Buddha, “sang-gye” (sangs-rgyas), means: “sang” is clear – so cleared out all the faults and inadequacies; and “gyay” is to expand, or evolve fully. So you get “the clear evolved ones.” That is the connotation of a Buddha. They are called the Triumphant Ones (rgyal-ba, Skt. jina) because they have triumphed over their limitations, and in this way they have become “bhagavans.” A “bhagavan” is one who has – the Tibetan is three syllables “chom den de” (bcom-ldan-'das). “Chom” – they have overcome, destroyed all the limitations. “Den” – they have come to gain everything (“den” means to possess). “De” – they surpass the Hindu gods, who are also called “bhagavans,” and so the Tibetans add this syllable to it. Mind you the Sanskrit words have different connotations, but this is the way the Tibetans understood them. So they have overcome and gained all.
The Buddhas in this text are also called “rishi,” maharishi. And “rishi” (drang-srong) means, in Tibetan, somebody who is totally upright and straightened. Again, the same connotation that we had with good qualities. They are upright and straightened from their inadequacies, from their faults. So they become “muni,” that’s the word in Sanskrit which means sage, but the Tibetans usually translate it as the Able Ones (thub-pa). They are fully able to benefit both themselves and others. They are “natha” (mgon-po, “gonpo”), which is a guardian, the guardians of the teachings, the guardians of all limited beings. They are “nayakas” (‘dren-pa), complete spiritual leaders, the ones who could lead everybody to enlightenment. They have reached the state of “bodhi.” Bodhi in Sanskrit, that’s “chang-chub” (byang-chub) – the same word that we find in bodhisattva. But “bodhi” is similar to “sang-gye,” in the sense that the first syllable of it means purified (chang), and chub means to grow – sometimes I abbreviate it as a purified state, but you can’t just translate it as enlightenment because there are three bodhis, there are three purified states of purification and growth. There’s what a shravaka arhat attains, what a pratyekabuddha arhat attains, and what a Buddha attains. So what a Buddha attains is the complete state of purification and growth. They have done this by “tathagata” – progressing in accordance with voidness, in accordance with the way that things actually exist. So they have gone thusly, and they are blissfully progressed – they’ve gone in accordance with a blissful path. They are also called here Self-begotten, “svayambhu” (rang-‘byung) like Swayambhunath the stupa in Kathmandu. In other words their qualities are things that are there in the potential form, the mental continuum, so they are self-begotten – it’s not come about by having to import something from outside. They are also called “shastr” (ston-pa), which is the indicator for the whole universe, they indicate the Dharma with their realizations and their verbal teachings. So these are all the synonyms, the epithets, that are used for Buddha in the text and one can draw from them a great deal of meaning.
The section on the Buddha then first begins with a homage verse – respect to Buddha in terms of describing different aspects of the Buddha. Then it lists the eight qualities of a Buddha. We have eight qualities for the Buddha, eight qualities for the Dharma, and eight qualities for the Sangha. The first three qualities are summarized in the seventh, and the second three qualities are summarized in the eighth. This is the way this is structured.
And so the first three qualities here are summarized by the seventh, which is the ability to fulfill his own purposes. The first quality is that it’s unaffected, unconditioned. The state of Buddhahood is not conditioned or affected by anything. It always remains the same. The second one is that it spontaneously accomplishes everything, through the enlightening influence. Buddha doesn’t have to apply any effort to be able to benefit others; he spontaneously accomplishes everything that he would want. This is for one’s own purposes, so that Buddha doesn’t have to actually exert effort to do anything. The third one is that it is not realized through the circumstances of others. This is the connation that we had with self-begotten (svayambhu) that Buddha does not have to rely on anything else. Buddha himself has these qualities; these qualities were there in potential form from the beginning. So these are the three qualities that are summarized by the seventh one, which is the ability to fulfill the purposes of himself, of oneself.
Then the next three qualities are summarized by the eighth quality, which is the ability to fulfill the purposes of others. The fourth one is the omniscient awareness – Buddha is all knowing. The fifth one is that a Buddha has intense loving concern, so equal loving concern and compassion and love for everyone. The sixth is powerful abilities. Buddha has the abilities to be able to benefit others, to manifest in different forms and do various types of things. Those last three qualities, by the way, are often embodied in Manjushri being the omniscient awareness, by Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) as the loving concern, and Vajrapani as the powerful abilities. That is why you have Tsongkhapa encompassing these three in the Tsongkhapa guru yoga of “migtsema” (dmigs-brtse-ma) – that is the name of the verse that’s recited for Tsongkhapa.
After listing the eight then there is an explanation of each of the eight. The way that it does this explanation is that it connects it back to the eight adjectives that were given in the homage verse. So the eight qualities go together with the eight adjectives in the verse of homage, and that is the way that we have this type of explanation, presentation, of the Buddha Gem. The presentation of the Dharma Gem and the Sangha Gem will follow the same structure.
If we want to know the definition of a Buddha then this is the definition. A Buddha is the one with these eight characteristics. So it actually gives us a lot to think about when we take refuge, or go in this direction. What are we actually aiming for? We are aiming to become this type of being.
We want to attain a state in which we can benefit everybody, with omniscience, with equal loving concern for everybody, powerful abilities. It will be a situation that is not affected by anything, in other words it’s constant; and it will be spontaneously able to accomplish all our own purposes. It doesn’t require any effort to be able to benefit others, and it is not realized through circumstances of others – you don’t have to depend on anybody else. It comes from the Buddha-nature that we have within.
You have compassion for others, so in that sense it depends on others, but the qualities themselves are not something – you have to depend on the teacher, etc. – but the qualities themselves are there and it is on this basis that one achieves enlightenment. So it really gives quite a lot to think about if we can put it together and focus on: this is what we are aiming for with bodhichitta. How we will be able to benefit others and how we will be able to stay in our state of enlightenment.
The Dharma Gem
Then we have the second topic, which is the Dharma Gem. This is presented with the same structure. A homage verse that has eight adjectives in it, then the eight qualities themselves, and then the explanation that connects the eight qualities with the eight adjectives. The first three qualities are summarized by the seventh point, which is true stoppings (the third noble truth). And the second three are summarized by the eighth one, which is the true pathway mind (the fourth noble truth).
So the qualities that are summarized by the true stoppings. What is a true stopping? It is, first of all, unimaginable. Unimaginable – it is not something that could be an object of our ordinary type of thought; it has to be gotten through meditation and so on. Then the second characteristic is that it is without the two. Without the two – obviously this could be understood in many ways. One way of understanding it would be that it is without the two obscurations, those that prevent liberation and those that prevent enlightenment (or omniscience). It could also be nondual; without the duality of true existence. The third quality is that it is without conceptualization: if we have a true stopping, then conceptual thought (and all of that) is not there. So these are the qualities of true stopping.
Then the second set of three are the qualities of the true pathway mind. The true pathway mind is pure, it is clear or clarified. It is pure of all disturbing emotions, and so on; it is clear or clarifying (it’s able to make everything clear). And it is on the side of being an opponent because it can overcome the obscurations and ignorance and so on. The seventh and eighth characteristics (which summarize these in the text) are what brings about a parting from attachment and has the defining characteristics of the two truths – so the true stopping and the true pathway mind that leads to that, and as a result of it they bring about a parting from attachment, and they have the characteristic of two truths (referring to not conventional and deepest truth, but referring to the third and fourth noble truths). So that is the Dharma Gem – what we aim to realize, to attain.
Can you please elaborate more.
Hearing, thinking and meditating it is not something that can be thought or imagined by arhats (shravakas, pretyekas), it is something that you have to realize or actualize in order to know what it is. Unimaginable is something that is unimaginable to someone who is not on this path, who has not have one of these true stoppings. They would not be able to imagine this. Without conceptualization is something that is attained in a non-conceptual type of way.
If we look more closely at “without the two,” if we look at that in terms of the general aryas then we would have to say that is without karma and disturbing emotions. It depends on the tenet system whether you get rid of the two obscurations together. The shravaka aryas, they achieve true stoppings but it is not of the second type of obscuration – those that prevent omniscience. So the ultimate Dharma Gem, we can say that it is free of the two obscurations, “without the two.” If we look in a more general sense you’d have to say it’s free of karma and disturbing emotions, which are what’s included in the first set of obscurations – those preventing liberation. As I say, each of these can be understood on many levels and in many different ways. That is why you can’t translate it as “nondual.” You have to leave it quite open and say “without the two.”