Uttaratantra: A Buddha’s Qualities

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The 64 Good Qualities of a Buddha

There are two types of good qualities enjoyed by all of the Buddhas. These are the 32 good qualities that come from partings and the 32 good qualities that ripen. That makes 64 good qualities mentioned here.

These 32 qualities that are partings are qualities of a Buddha’s omniscient mind and include, first of all, the 10 forces. In addition, there are the four guarantees about which a Buddha is fearless. There are also 18 unshared features of the Buddhas. Of the 18 unshared features, there are six grouped under a Buddha’s realizations, six grouped under his behavior, three that are grouped under a Buddha’s deep awareness and three under a Buddha’s enlightening influence. This makes a total of 18 unshared features.

The 32 Good Qualities That Ripen

Next are the 32 good qualities that ripen, which are qualities of the physical body of a Supreme Emanation Buddha. They are such a body’s excellent signs, the 32 major marks of a Buddha. Since an explanation of these will help to increase our respect and belief in the Buddhas, I will explain these and the causes from which they ripen in a little bit more detail.

  • The Buddha made a strong promise to benefit all beings, a very firm promise. Because of the firmness in the Buddha’s mind over so many lifetimes to benefit others, there is a sign of this firmness on the bottoms of a Buddha’s feet. A Buddha’s feet are not rounded or curved but are very flat, solid and firm.
  • As a result of having been totally generous, the palms of a Buddha’s hands and the soles of his feet are marked with Dharma wheels.
  • Since a Buddha has always been humble, and has never boasted about himself or belittled others, a Buddha’s ankle and wrist bones do not stick out. 
  • Because the Buddhas have always protected others from fear, their fingernails are very long. This doesn’t refer to the length of nail extending from the finger, but to the last bone of the finger where the nail is attached. Some people’s nails only cover a small portion of that part of the finger and are not very attractive. The nails of a Buddha cover the entire portion of that part of the finger. This quality is the result of giving others protection from fear.
  • Because the Buddhas have never caused others to separate or part, their fingers are connected at their base by a web of skin like that of a swan. When we perform the various hand gestures or mudras, we don’t move the fingers in a jumbled manner. We move as if the fingers were connected to each other. This is symbolic of holding the pride and dignity of the deity and having fingers connected by a web, like a Buddha.
  • The next quality is that the Buddha’s skin is very soft and smooth, like that of a baby. No matter how old a Buddha might be, even in his 80s, the skin remains like that of an infant. This is the result of having given excellent, soft clothing to others.
  • Next, the Buddha’s body has seven parts that are elevated or raised. These are the tops of the two feet, the tops of the two hands, the two shoulders and the back of the neck. This is from having given food and drink to others.
  • Because the Buddha has upheld all of the teachings of the Dharma, the calves of his legs are beautifully proportioned, narrow at the bottom and gradually larger at the top.
  • As a result of restraining from using foul language and from having remained celibate, his private organ is concealed inside a sheath.
  • Because the Buddhas have trained extensively in a gradual and progressive manner in all positive actions, the upper part of a Buddha’s trunk becomes broader and broader like the chest of a lion.
  • From having trained purely and extensively in pure positive actions, the top of the Buddha’s shoulders are full and have no depressions in them from the shoulder bones.
  • Having given fearlessness, the tops of the Buddha’s shoulders are rounded. There is some difference here between the quality mentioned before, which came from protection from fear and the quality here, the giving of fearlessness.
  • The palms of a Buddha’s hands are very smooth to touch and are perfectly round as a result of having attended to the needs of others with great joy. In addition, his arms are very long. This quality refers to both the arms and hands, but primarily the hands. When the Buddha is sitting cross-legged his fingertips can reach over his knees and touch the ground.
  • From having practiced the ten constructive actions without ever feeling that he has performed them enough, the result is that the Buddha’s body is completely stainless and surrounded by an aura of light.
  • From having always helped the sick and nursed others, the throat of a Buddha has a beautiful clear color without any stain, with the shape of a conch shell in the sense that it has three horizontal lines.
  • From having helped all beings complete their positive actions and having done the same himself, the cheeks of the Buddha are round and full like those of the king of the beasts, the lion.
  • From always having complete equanimity toward all beings without considering any being as close or far, the Buddha’s teeth are all equal in length and perfectly aligned; 20 teeth in the upper jaw and 20 in the lower.
  • From always having brought people who were apart together and helping those who were together to stay together harmoniously, the Buddha’s teeth are perfectly clear without any spaces between them. They are perfectly arranged in the mouth without any gaps.
  • From having given beautiful jewels to others, all of the teeth in a Buddha’s mouth are extremely clean and even in height.
  • From having upheld proper conduct of the three gateways of body, speech and mind, the four canine teeth of the Buddha are especially white and sharp. This does not mean that the Buddha has tusks like an elephant.
  • From having always spoken true words, having never said what was untrue, the Buddha has a long tongue that can reach anywhere on the circle of his face.
  • From always having given food of the most excellent taste to others, even if we were to place something normally bad tasting on the tongue of a Buddha, he would only sense a very delicious taste.
  • From always having spoken very gently and decently to others, the Buddha’s voice is very beautiful and gentle.
  • Having always looked at others with love, the eyes of a Buddha are beautiful like utpala lotuses. They are very well defined in their color between the black pupil and white sclera.
  • From having never been pretentious and never having ulterior motives with others, the eyebrows of a Buddha are beautiful and distinct, not bunched together or clumped, and they meet together.
  • From having always praised others who were deserving of praise, the Buddha has a special shaft of hair in the center of the brows, white hair that circles clockwise. If we were to extend this hair, it would be extremely long.
  • From always having shown great respect to his spiritual masters, the Buddha has the crown protrusion or ushnisha on the top of his head. We cannot measure the height of this.
  • From having made others’ minds very pliable, the Buddha’s skin is very pure and fine.
  • From always having given clothing and bedding to others, the skin of a Buddha is golden in color.
  • From having given up all busy work and distractions, all of the hair on a Buddha’s body is very fine and distinct, not tangled or mussed.
  • From having followed all of the personal instructions properly and harmoniously, the Buddha’s hair is curly and curls clockwise.
  • From always having great compassion towards others and having given up all weapons or things that harm others, the hair on the Buddha’s head is very pure, with a beautiful smell, and either deep blue or black in color.

The Buddha indicated the sign of the skin being golden and the hair being black or dark blue at the time of his presence and in terms of himself. These signs were specified by the Buddha Shakyamuni for himself. If we look at the Medicine Buddha, his skin color is that of lapis lazuli (blue). The sign of the skin being golden and the hair being black is in terms of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Likewise, there are forms of Chenrezig with orange hair. Each specific feature can vary according to each specific Buddha’s qualities.

  • As a result of having accomplished perfect single-minded equipoise of concentration, and helping others to attain this state as well, the Buddha’s body is perfectly proportioned.
  • On account of having exchanged self with others and doing what others never do, the Buddha has tremendous bodily strength.

These qualities don’t add up to 32 because some of them are grouped together into one quality in different commentaries. This presentation of the 32 signs comes from the Sutra Requested by the Girl Called Ratna.

There are also the 80 minor marks or exemplary features of a Buddha. These are grouped as sub-features of the major marks. For example, grouped under the quality of the long fingernails of a Buddha is that the fingernails are extremely red in color. This is undoubtedly where the custom of painting fingernails comes from because the Buddha didn’t need any nail polish to make his nails red.

These qualities are not easy to obtain. We should not think that performing the cause for a short time leads to the desired result. The Buddha’s actions were cultivated over many eons in order to be able to manifest the major marks. Likewise, our positive actions over many eons act as causes for building up these qualities.

The most difficult marks to achieve are those of the crown protrusion, the curl of hair between the eyebrows and the neck like a conch shell. All of the causes and potentials required for the other signs are multiplied many times over in order to manifest the crown protrusion. Many more times the positive force than that is required to build up the curl of hair between the brows. It takes many more times than even that to manifest the quality of a Buddha’s neck like a conch.

Just as it would be difficult to attain a handful of silver, it would be even more difficult to acquire a handful of gold and it would be many times more difficult to acquire a diamond the size of one’s hand.

The Difference between Ripened Qualities and Ripened Results

These 32 major marks of a Buddha’s physical body are called ripened qualities. We need to distinguish that although they are ripened qualities, which come about as a result of the ripening of the various mentioned causes, they are not, however, ripened results. We need to differentiate between ripened qualities and ripened results. This is because a ripened result by definition is something that is an unspecified or neutral object, unspecified as to being either constructive or destructive. These 32 ripen qualities, on the other hand, are constructive phenomena.

When we delineate all of the causes for the major and minor marks, we are speaking of these marks as being present on an actual Buddha. But the Buddha Shakyamuni built up the causes for these marks before he had them. He built them up during the time of the previous three Buddhas of this present fortunate eon and the three Buddhas who came in eons before this, starting with the Buddha Vipashyin. These six plus Buddha Shakyamuni are known as the "seven hero Buddhas."

A Foundation of Belief and Respect for the Buddhas

If we thoroughly study the qualities of a Buddha’s enlightened body, speech and mind, we will develop great respect and belief in the Buddhas. If we do not have a foundation of study, it will be hard to have enough confidence to say, “I go for refuge to the Buddhas.”

I will tell you a story from Tibet about this. The holder of the Ganden Throne, the Throne of Tsongkhapa, is someone very precious. Once, the holder of the Ganden Throne was invited to a remote region of Tibet. Wherever the holder of the Ganden throne would go, there would also be a carrier of a yellow umbrella. An old woman came to see them and said, “I take refuge in the holder of the Ganden throne as it is such a beautiful yellow umbrella. An what a lovely older man is standing underneath the holder of the Ganden throne.” Like this, it is very important to know exactly what are the qualities of the objects in which we are taking refuge. Otherwise, we are like this old woman thinking that the holder of the Ganden throne is the carrier of the umbrella.

If we know what the actual qualities are, we will be able to gain actual confident belief in what we are doing. It is important to study and learn all of this.

The Enlightening Influences of the Buddhas

The next chapter is on the enlightening influences of the Buddhas. The enlightening influence is something that takes as its cause or dominant condition a Jnana Dharmakaya of a Buddha, which is a Corpus of Deep Awareness Encompassing Everything. It encompasses all of the constructive or positive qualities of a fully enlightened Buddha.

We can understand this from an example. When we are hot and a cool breeze comes, it cools us off. The cool breeze is like the enlightening influence of the Buddhas because it is a quality that comes to us from the Jnana Dharmakaya of the Buddha. In other words, it comes from the omniscient mind of a Buddha that encompasses everything. Because of the omniscient mind of the Buddha, we get all of the teachings of the Dharma. From one’s practice of the preventive measures of the Dharma, all happiness comes to us as a result similar to a cool breeze coming from the enlightening influence of the Buddhas.

Enlightening influence is described in terms of two qualities: being spontaneously fulfilling and being continuous without any break. The enlightening influence works spontaneously without any effort, like the waves of the ocean. The waves don’t require any effort on the part of the ocean to produce them. When the wind blows, the waves come spontaneously. When the moon is right, the tides move. The same is true for the enlightening influence of a Buddha.

Because limited beings are boundless in number and extend everywhere, just like space, there is no break in the continuity of the enlightening influence of a Buddha. As a result, wherever limited beings are, they have access to the source that allows them to reach enlightenment. The Buddha-nature, source, or family trait that allows for enlightenment is pervasive with all limited beings. All of these beings can be influenced to have the stains that are obstructing their true nature removed. The Buddha’s enlightened influence extends to all limited beings because the Buddha himself has removed all the stains from his Buddha-nature. As a result of obtaining the attributes of the Buddhas, such as the 18 unshared features and so forth, the enlightening influences and deeds of the Buddhas continue without any break. This refers both to the enlightening deeds of the Sambhogakaya Corpuses of Full Use, and the continuous activities of the Nirmanakaya Corpuses of Emanations.

This text was written by the great Maitreya and was translated by the great master Mahapandita Sadjnana and the monk lotsawa, Loden Sherab. As was explained before, an eye-opening translator is someone who knows at least two languages, but it also means much more. It is also someone who transmits the teachings based on their understanding of the path from beginning to end from their own study and practice with great masters. A master translator is the most accomplished kind of person who knows languages.

Concluding Words of Advice 

All of us who have a precious human life with a strong interest in the spiritual matters of the Dharma have been using this basis to work and study at places like this Dharma center. If we have paid strong attention to following the spiritual life and have an intention that we have sustained for a number of years without stopping, this is something very good.

Recently we had an actual Buddha, His Holiness Chenrezig (the Dalai Lama) come here. That was an excellent opportunity to build up a tremendous amount of positive potential. In general, all of us here possess a human life without the basic defects of body, speech or mind, and have an interest in the spiritual matters of the Dharma. We really have a worthwhile type of human life with the appropriate circumstances for development. The key to these beneficial circumstances is an excellent spiritual master who is able to provide us with guidance for increasing our positive qualities.

Likewise, we have excellent translators who are able to translate and communicate to us the essential points of the teachings. In Tibetan, there are two different terms for translator. There is someone who translates speech, and someone who translates the speech most worthy of respect. Someone who translates the Dharma teachings is someone who is translating words worthy of respect. This refers to translating words that deal with positive and constructive things. Therefore, with respect to the words of the Buddha, we would never say that someone is just translating ordinary speech. In Tibetan, there is a different word, which means that someone is a translator of the speech worthy of respect, the speech of the Buddha.

By studying the Tibetan language, you will learn all of these subtle meanings and their differences. Many of the essential points of the Dharma teachings can be learned simply on the basis of the Tibetan language. A great deal of the meaning is expressed within the language itself. Therefore, strive to study the Tibetan language as best as you can.

You have received the full transmission of this teaching of Maitreya, the teaching on the Furthest Everlasting Continuum, the Uttaratantra. This text teaches how every limited being has the source for enlightenment. Through the process of eliminating the stains that obscure it, it is possible to become totally clear-minded and fully evolved. Therefore, rejoice in having received this transmission, it has built up a great deal of positive potential.

Put this into practice in order to eliminate the obscurations from your own Buddha-nature so that you can achieve enlightenment for the benefit of everyone. Dedicate the positive potential built up to this end.

If we want to grow something in a field, but just throw seeds into the field, never watering, fertilizing, or taking care of it, it’s unlikely that anything will grow. Likewise, in terms of Dharma practice, we need to work over a long period of time with sustained, joyous effort. Don’t just work for a short period of time without gaining any realizations, and then throw it all away. If we work at this continuously with effort over an extended time, we will surely gain realizations.