Uttaratantra: The Sangha Gem

The Sangha Gem

We were speaking about the seven diamond-strong points, which are first outlined in chapter one. We’ve covered the Buddha Gem and the Dharma Gem, and now we are up to the Sangha Gem.

The Sangha Gem here is referring to the arya bodhisattvas specifically, and they are called by several names in the texts – the usual one is “the spiritual offspring of the triumphant ones” (rgyal-sras, Skt. jinaputra). Spiritual offspring in the sense that they are born from the Buddha’s teachings, but also the ones that will grow up to become Buddhas themselves. So that is not an easy one to translate. Another name for them are “those with a knowing attitude” (blo-ldan, Skt. dhiman). They have the attitude of bodhichitta which is together with the understanding of voidness; so they have the knowing attitude.

Again, we have the same structure: the homage with eight adjectives, the eight qualities, then the explanation which puts those two sets of eight together.

The first three qualities are summarized with the seventh, which is realization. Realization here is the result of some of the first three; it doesn’t have to be with all of them. The second set of three are liberation as a result of some of the last three – that’s the eighth quality, which summarizes the last three.

So the first three, which are summarized by realization as a result of these: There’s deep awareness of how everything exists – so the arya bodhisattvas have some of that. They have, secondly, deep awareness of the extent of what exists, so we are talking here about the two truths of how things exist and the extent of things that exist (that’s conventional truth). And the third one is deep awareness that is internal – that is referring to realization of the Buddha-nature.

Then in terms of liberation they have liberation from or separations from obscurations that are attachments – that is referring to the first set of obscurations, those that prevent liberation. And they have separation from obscurations that impede – this is referring to the obscurations that prevent omniscience of all phenomena, the obscurations that prevent enlightenment. So the arya bodhisattvas have not necessarily all of this, it depends on the tenet system when you start to get rid of those that impede enlightenment.

Then the third one that they have in this set of three is separation from the lesser obscurations. The lesser obscurations are referring to the obscurations that prevent samadhi, full concentration, absorbed concentration. Those are the eight qualities of the Sangha Gem, referring here specifically to the arya bodhisattvas, although in general we would include in the Sangha Gem all aryas.

Further Points about the Three Sources of Safe Direction

Then the text speaks about the reasons for there being three sources of safe direction, or three sources of refuge. This is because there is a teacher, the Buddha; and what he teaches, that’s the Dharma; and those who learn, that’s the Sangha. But then it also goes into a more specific reason, and it says that there are Three Jewels, three sources of safe direction, because there are three vehicles of mind that bring one to this bodhi, this state of purification and growth. Those who follow it have three different types of fervent regard (mos-pa) (strong regard, admiration and deep conviction) in three types of activities. It explains that the bodhisattvas, the bodhisattva vehicle of mind, have this strong regard and admiration for the Buddhas and their activities. The pratyekabuddhas have their strong regard for the Dharma, referring to the twelve links of dependent arising and the activity of the Dharma, which we need to reverse the twelve and gain liberation. And the shravakas have fervent regard and strong admiration for the Sangha and the activity of the Sangha, which is to listen to the teachings. So these are the reasons that are given for why there are three sources of safe direction.

Then the text presents what are known as the provisional (gnas-skabs) and the ultimate (mthar-thug) sources of safe direction, and it explains why the Buddhas are the only ultimate source of safe direction. To understand this we need to understand the difference between what’s called the apparent (kun-rdzob) and the deepest (don-dam) level Gems (apparent, that’s the conventional) and the provisional and ultimate sources of safe direction. These are different sets.

Let’s speak first about the apparent and the deepest level gems. The apparent gem of a Buddha – apparent means what appears, that’s the conventional truth of something – that would refer to the Form Bodies of a Buddha, the Corpus of Form Bodies. “Corpus” means a collection of bodies, Rupakaya. This includes the Sambhoghakaya, this is the Corpus of Appearances That Make Full Use (“sambhogha” means to make full use) of the Mahayana teachings. These always have five certainties: these always appear with the thirty-two and eighty sets of physical features of a Buddha’s body, they always teach in pure lands, they always teach Mahayana teachings, and they always teach them to arya bodhisattvas, and they remain forever. These are the Sambhoghakaya.

Then Nirmanakaya is a corpus, or a whole collection of emanations from Sambhoghakaya, and these appear in three forms. We have the supreme ones, which also appear with the thirty-two major and eighty minor signs of a Buddha, like Buddha Shakyamuni. Then we have those that appear as an artisan, like the heavenly musician who, through playing music, was able to tame one very proud heavenly musician. They had this contest in which they played on a sitar, and the contest was to see who could continue playing with removing one string at a time. And so they kept on going back and forth, and the heavenly musician was pretty good and was able to keep up with Buddha, but then the Buddha removed the last string and continued to play with no strings. At that point the heavenly musician gave up and lost his pride. Then the third type of Nirmanakaya is an emanation in the form of a holy person, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama or an ordinary type of person. This is actually very interesting because it indicates that you can teach others not only through words, but you can also teach others through art. That is a point that a lot of people sometimes underestimate: art and music. So all of those are the apparent gem of a Buddha.

Then the deepest gem of the Buddhas is referring to the two types of Dharmakaya of a Buddha, there’s the Jnana-dharmakaya – Dharmakaya is a corpus that encompasses everything – so the Jnana-dharmakaya is the deep awareness of a Buddha that encompasses everything (that’s the omniscient mind of a Buddha). And the Svabhavakaya is the corpus of essential nature, which is referring to the voidness of the mind of a Buddha. And that voidness pervades everywhere; it’s the same as the voidness of everything. So that’s the deepest Gem of a Buddha.

And the nominal Gem, what’s just given the name of the Gem of a Buddha, is referring to the paintings and statues of Buddhas, just representations. So these represent the Buddha Gem but are not the actual Buddha Gem.

You should know that presenting the Svabhavakaya as the voidness of the Buddha’s mind is the Gelug position. The position of the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism is that it’s usually presented as the inseparability of the other Buddha Bodies. What does that mean? That means the inseparability of the two truths. So rather than speaking just in terms of the voidness, the deepest truth, of the mind of a Buddha and the Bodies of a Buddha, it refers to the two truths of the body and mind of a Buddha. So in a sense it comes down to pretty much the same thing.

According to Gelugpa, the Svabhavakaya is not only the voidness of a Buddha’s mind but also the true stoppings, the total separations from all the obscurations. This refers to the double purity: that the mind is naturally pure of true existence and the mind of a Buddha is also pure of all the stains. It was never stained anyway and so it comes down to the same thing. It’s referred to as the double purity of the mind of a Buddha and of the mind in general.

So it is not part of the functional nature. Is it Svabhavakaya? Does the normal being have the stains?

The mind-stream was never stained by the fleeting stains. It was just fleeting – it wasn’t stained by its nature. The first one, everybody has. The second one – everybody hasn’t achieved a parting, a separation, from these fleeting stains. But when you get that parting from the fleeting stains, you realize that they never actually stained the mind at all. They were just fleeting, like the clouds don’t stain the sky.

How do we demonstrate that the stains are fleeting? And the nature of the mind is free of these stains?

The deepest reason why you can say this is that the clear light mind, when this is actualized, say at the time of death or in meditation, that clear light mind neither has grasping for true existence nor does it have the appearance-making of true existence. And so because there are certain situations in a mental continuum in which you don’t have grasping for true existence and you don’t have the appearance-making of true existence, even for ordinary beings – I am not talking about only aryas that get this in meditation in their nonconceptual cognition of voidness – but because ordinary beings experience it as well, in terms of death existence, then you can say that these stains are fleeting. Now, obviously, as ordinary beings we would not be aware of that. But Buddhas have seen that this is so and that during this clear light consciousness you don’t have that.

Now the reason why you would not say “well, that (the clear light consciousness) is fleeting, that actually that state where it (clear light consciousness) is not there is fleeting and the stained state is its natural state” is that through seeing reality, focusing on reality, and so on, the situation in which it’s unstained becomes more and more stable and lasting, and the stained state gets weaker and weaker. And so the state without stains has support and can be strengthened, whereas the other cannot be. Then that becomes a problem because you could say “well if I meditate more and more on anger I can strengthen my belief in anger and true existence and so on,” but then this is contradicted by the force of logic, so then you have to believe in logic and reason.

The reasons are a bit hidden.

Yes, the reasons are a bit hidden, but this explanation in terms of the clear light mind is how His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains it. The nature of the mind is stained finds support in ordinary, deluded experience and the other the nature of the mind is unstained finds support in reason.

With near death experience, people tell about big love, there’s no hate there. So, the natural state is love and not hate.

This can be a certain sign, but I think what is usually taken more as a sign is the survival instinct and the instinct for the preservation of the species. Survival instinct is the wish for happiness, but for oneself; and for the survival of the species is for survival of the species, of the offspring. So parents take care of their children. So even in the example, the famous example His Holiness quotes, of the sea turtle that lays its eggs in the sand and then goes back to the ocean and never takes care of the baby. Nevertheless that mother sea turtle made a tremendous effort to come out of the sea and go up on the land and lay the eggs. So you have to say that there was some care there.

In terms of the Dharma Gem, the apparent Dharma Gem (in other words, what we see), the conventional Dharma Gem, are the twelve categories of the scriptural pronouncements of the Buddha. Various teachings of the Buddha can be classified into twelve categories. The deepest Dharma Gem is the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mind-stream of an arya, any arya. The nominal Dharma Gem, what represents it, are the Dharma texts.

The apparent is the content and the nominal is the texts. You would have to say that the apparent one is the teachings of the Buddha, divided into twelve categories. That would refer to the content of the teaching. Whether you would say the sound of the word is the representation of that I don’t know. It is the scriptures. They did not have recordings, such as tape or MP3. I would think that in the modern day we could make the distinction between the content of the teaching and what conveys them. Sounds, after all, are just sounds. It could be audio, visual, Braille. We have all the senses here.

In terms of the gem of the Sangha, it’s the intent community (but community can also mean a network), and they’re intent on the goal of bodhi, one of the purified states, that apparent gem of an arhat or a Buddha. And the apparent gem of a Sangha is an individual person, just one, of any arya (lay or ordained). The deepest one is the community, or network, of the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mind-stream of an arya. And then the nominal gem, what represents it, is any group of four persons with robes. That can be a novice monk or nun, or a fully ordained monk or nun, and they don’t have to be all four from the same category, and it doesn’t have to be one from each category. Four minimum. Even four novices.

Sangha means collection or network in Sanskrit, but the way that the Tibetans translate it is “gendun” (dge-‘dun). “Dge” is constructive, meaning constructive or positive goal, which is of one of the three types of bodhi (purified states). And “dun,” what is intent on that, “dunpa,” it’s the intention to achieve that. Because the apparent Sangha Gem is just the person of an arya, it doesn’t have to be more than one. Why that is considered an apparent Sangha Gem, I have no idea. It is the one that you see.

Now this differentiation between apparent and deepest level gems is different from the differentiation that is made between provisional and ultimate sources of direction. The ultimate ones are the ones that are free from all mental obscurations, both sets of obscurations, and so they are not equivalent to the deepest gems. The ultimate Buddha source of direction would be both the apparent and deepest Buddha Gem; in other words, both the bodies and the mind and the nature of a Buddha. The ultimate Dharma source of direction would be the true stoppings and true pathway minds on the mind-stream of a Buddha (an arya needing no more training, so a Buddha). And the ultimate Sangha source of direction would be the network, or community, of true stoppings and true pathway minds of a Buddha.

So because of that, once we know that differentiation here, then it explains that only the Buddhas are the ultimate source of direction, because we can see that the Buddhas have all three of the Jewels of Refuge that are spoken about. The others don’t have all three. The Buddhas have the body, speech and mind of a Buddha (the Buddha Jewel). They have the true stoppings and the true pathway minds of a Buddha (the Dharma Jewel). And they have the network of those two as well. And the text explains that the Dharma Jewel is not the ultimate one because the words of them are something to be left behind, to be abandoned, to be left behind like the finger pointing to the moon. When you want to reach enlightenment, they are just vehicles that help us get to the final goal. The Dharma realizations are not the ultimate source of direction because they are – the text uses the word “fallacious.” In other words, the various realizations that you get in the stages of the arya are things that you have to get rid of in order to get to the next higher realization, and then the next higher realization, and so on. So those aren’t the stable, ultimate source of direction, and neither are the true stoppings, it says, because the true stoppings are absences – an absence is not something that you can take safe direction from. The Sangha is not the ultimate source of direction because they still have fear, the text says; in other words, they have fear of the obscurations that prevent enlightenment. So because of that, the ultimate source of safe direction are the Buddhas themselves.

Please explain a bit more about true paths. Why is it a path?

A path is a mind that understands reality, basically. So the true paths refer to, on the path level, what leads up to the mind of a Buddha. And then Buddha himself has a pathway of mind, a true pathway of mind that understands reality. That is why “true path” is a little bit misleading – it’s a mind.

But why is it not a true cessation?

There is also a true cessation, but it is saying that only the ones that a Buddha have are the ultimate ones. The ones that are earlier than that are not ultimate, because the earlier ones have to be replaced – the pathway understandings have to be replaced as you go higher. And the stoppings themselves – they don’t explain why, but it’s an absence of something and they say an absence can’t be a source of direction.

Is this the casual vehicle? How would the resultant vehicle fit in with this?

The source of direction that acts as a cause would be the persons or phenomena that have already become the Three Gems. And the resultant vehicle – the source of direction that’s taken from our own future results, results that we will achieve that we haven’t yet achieved – that’s referring to the results that we are aiming for. So the causal and resultant.

Is there a projection of being that way?

There is a projection of being that way, but that’s not the source of direction. The source of direction is the not-yet-happened enlightenment that can be imputed on the mental continuum on the basis of Buddha-nature. So it is a knowable phenomenon but it hasn’t happened yet, and it is not presently happening either. What is presently happening is the not-yet-happening of it. We have had a long weekend on this, it is quite complex.

That’s why in tantra we say that the guru has all Three Jewels. It’s the ultimate in the sense of the mind of the guru is the Buddha Gem, and the speech is the Dharma Gem, and the body is the Sangha Gem. So it is coming from the same idea. As we said in the beginning, one can say that the Uttaratantra points to tantra. It is not tantra itself but it points in the direction of what we get in Tantra.

And the last point about the Three Jewels is why they are called the “Rare and Supreme Gems.” The Sanskrit only has “ratna” but the Tibetans say “konchog” (dkon-mchog). “Kon” means rare and “chog” means supreme. And so it’s because their occurrence is rare – there are six reasons – they are stainless; they have strength like a jewel; they become adornments for the worldly, those who have a perishable basis (“jigten” ‘jig-rten means those who have a perishable basis in samsara); they are what is supreme; and they are inalterable (they don’t change). For those reasons they are called the Rare and Supreme Gems. These are all the points that the text gives in its discussion of the Three Gems.