Uttaratantra: The Dharma Gem and Sangha Gem

The Dharma Gem

The first of the seven vajra points was the Clear Evolved Ones, the Buddhas. Now, we are up to discussing the second point, the Dharma Gem. For this, just as there were eight qualities for the Buddha Gem, there are eight qualities for the Dharma Gem. Of the Three Rare and Supreme Gems, the Dharma Gem is the one that we mainly put into practice. Of the four noble truths, it refers to the true pathways of mind (true paths) that we put into practice and the true stoppings (true cessations) that we attain.

The next verses, then, discuss the eight qualities of the Dharma Gem. This section of the text also begins with a homage verse:

(9) I bow to the sun which is the hallowed Dharma, which is neither totally non-existent nor truly existent, neither both truly existent and non-existent, nor something other than either truly existent or non-existent, which cannot be intellectualized, is parted from words to make it definite, must be known individually by oneself, is a serene stillness, and which is stainless, is a deep awareness having illumination with rays of light, and destroys any attachment, hostility or murkiness regarding any focal object.

Next the text presents the qualities:

(10) The Dharma is that which is unimaginable, without the two and without conceptual thought, and that which, as something pure, clarifying, and on the side of being an opponent, brings this about – in other words what is and what brings about a parting from attachment and has the defining characteristics of the two truths.
(11) What is involved in being parted from attachment can be summarized under true stoppings and true paths of the mind. The order in which these are to be understood should be known in terms of the qualities, three and three.

Following the qualities are the reasons:

(12) Because it cannot be intellectualized, because it cannot be verbalized and because it is known by the highly realized, it is unimaginable. It is a serene stillness since it is without the two and without conceptual thought. The three, purity and so forth, are similar to the sun.

The first three of the eight qualities of the Dharma Gem are: unimaginable, without the two, and without conceptual thought. Without the two refers to disturbing emotions and karmic impulses. The next three qualities are that they are pure, clarifying and on the side of being an opponent. On the side of being an opponent refers to that which has the characteristics of the last two noble truths, true stoppings and true pathway minds. The true stoppings are described by the quality without conceptual thought. This refers to the qualities of the ultimate Dharma Gem, the true stoppings and true pathway minds of a Buddha.

Among the true stoppings are the partings from the two types of obscuration, the emotional and the cognitive ones. Without the two refers to the first type, which includes the obscurations due to these two: disturbing emotions and karmic impulses. Since the quality of this true cessation, or stopping, is free from all incorrect considerations of things, however, it also includes a parting from the obscurations concerning all knowable phenomena, the cognitive obscurations.

The first three qualities, unimaginable, without the two and without conceptual thought are the qualities of true stoppings. The next three qualities, being pure, being clear and on the side of being an opponent are qualities of true pathway minds. Just as the sun eliminates darkness, these true pathways of the mind with these three qualities eliminate mental darkness and ignorance. In this way, the first three qualities are the qualities of true stoppings, and the second three are the qualities of true pathway minds.

The seventh and eighth qualities are having the defining characteristics of the two truths. This is similar to what we discussed in the previous set of eight regarding the Buddha Gem. The quality of deepest truth refers to the first three qualities, the qualities of true stoppings. The quality of conventional truth refers to the second set of three qualities, the qualities of true pathway minds. This is how we arrive at the eight qualities of the Dharma Gem.

Of the four noble truths, then, the last two noble truths – true stoppings and the true pathway minds – are known as the Rare and Supreme Gem of the Dharma. The true stoppings are something pure, they are pure of all impossible ways of existing. Because of that, true stoppings are characterized in the homage verse as being neither totally non-existent nor truly existent, neither both truly existent and non-existent, nor something other than either truly existent or non-existent. Since they cannot be intellectualized or fully understood in the context of conceptual analysis with words, they are parted from words to make it definite. True stoppings are only an object known by the highly realized, the aryas; they are not cognitive objects of the the conceptual cognition of ordinary beings that intellectualize about them. These are the qualities of true stoppings, which have serene stillness and are stainless.

In summary, the first quality of the Dharma Gem, which is one of the qualities of true stoppings, is that it is unimaginable. It is beyond the conceptual thought of ordinary beings. The second quality is that it is without the two, referring to being without disturbing emotions and karmic impulses. Since it is a state without these two, it is free of the emotional obscurations that prevent liberation. This is what is called the quality of being without the two. The third quality is that it is without conceptual thought. Conceptual thought is the source of incorrect consideration of phenomena and so being without it indicates the abandonment of the second set of obscurations: the cognitive obscurations with respect to all knowable phenomena, the obstacles preventing omniscience.

True stoppings have two types of purity. There is the natural purity of being naturally parted from truly established existence, referred to by the first of the three qualities, being unimaginable. There is also the purity of being parted from the fleeting stains of the two obscurations. These two purities are referred to by the second and third qualities: being without the two and without conceptual thought. These three qualities are the qualities of true stoppings that are the first of the two aspects of the Dharma Gem.

The next three qualities are the qualities of true pathway minds, the second aspect of the Dharma Gem. These three qualities, as mentioned in the text, are that they are pure, clarifying, and on the side of being an opponent – an opponent to disharmonious factors. These points are illustrated by reference to the sun.

The sun is pure in the sense that smoke or clouds do not obscure it. Likewise, fleeting stains do not obscure the true pathway mind. The sun is clarifying; it makes all forms and visible objects clear and dispels darkness. The true pathway minds have different levels, but each level is free of an increasingly greater degree of obscuration. Since they are an antidote for the various obscurations, true pathway minds act as a basis for making their objects clear. This allows for a non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness (emptiness).

In this way, we have the qualities of the Dharma Gem. We have the three qualities of true stoppings and the three qualities of true pathway minds. Similar to what we had in the qualities of the Buddha Gem, the last two of the eight qualities summarize the first six. The text refers to this with the words, summarized under true stoppings and true paths of the mind. The two can also be understood in terms of the two truths. Deepest truth is equivalent to true stoppings and conventional truth corresponds to true pathways of mind. Whichever way we take the two truths here, the deepest truth or the true stoppings summarize the first set of three qualities and the conventional truth or true pathways summarize the second set of three qualities.

Decisive Conceptual Cognition of Voidness

True pathways of mind refer to those minds with a non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness as its object, a type of valid cognition that we do not have at the beginning. We first need to have a cognition of voidness based on a decisive, valid conceptual cognition of voidness that relies on a verbal line of reasoning. After some time, if we develop such conceptual cognition as a good habit of mind, we will gain a non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness that does not directly rely on a line of reasoning formulated in words.

In the Mahayana system, known as the vast vehicle of mind, when a bodhisattva first achieves this non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness, they have attained a first-level bhumi-mind of a bodhisattva. Once a person has achieved such cognition of voidness, they do not create new karmic potentials for being reborn again in any uncontrollably recurring situation of samsara. They also will never again act solely to advance their selfish purposes.

Before an aspirant can have such a non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness, they need to have come to a decisive understanding of voidness based on listening to teachings on it and contemplating or thinking conceptually about them. In this way, practitioners come to a decisive, correct understanding of what voidness is. This is done with a great deal of analysis based on lines of reasoning and logic.

The actual meaning of voidness is something that is discussed directly in the scriptures of the Prajnaparamita Sutras or the Sutras on Far-reaching Discrimination. However, these texts are extremely deep and profound and thus extremely difficult to comprehend. In fact, this topic of voidness is referred to as “the profound.” Even though this is an extremely profound point, it is possible to get a decisive understanding of it based on logic and reasoning. To gain this decisive understanding of voidness, it is necessary to use all of the appropriate lines of reasoning. Then, through our own rational thought processes of inferential cognition, based on these lines of reasoning we can get a decisive understanding of the meaning of the profound topic of voidness as it is discussed in the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

When we have gained a decisive understanding of voidness based on the rational processes of logic and reasoning, we will have confidence that we accurately understand its correct meaning. With this confidence in our understanding, we will be able to go on to achieve the non-conceptual, straightforward cognition of voidness. All of this is possible.  

First-Level Bhumi-Mind

At this point, as a bodhisattva with a first-level bhumi-mind, as I mentioned, we no longer accumulate new karmic potential for uncontrollable rebirth in samsara, and we no longer have selfish motivations. We become extremely joyful and have complete confidence in the meaning of voidness, as explained in the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

In addition, we gain complete confidence in the validity and correctness of all the Buddha’s scriptural texts. When, through the process of logic and reasoning, we gain total confidence in the subject matter, namely voidness, we also gain complete confidence in the words or scriptures that have voidness as their subject matter. With total confidence in these scriptures, we will have total confidence in the source of these scriptures. In this way, we will have total confidence in the validity of the Buddha.

Based on this total confidence in the validity of the Buddha, we will have total confidence in everything that he said, specifically, his statements that if we act constructively, the result will be rebirth as a human or a god. If we act destructively and negatively, the result will be rebirth in one of the worse states. Thus, we will have total confidence in such types of statements from the Buddha concerning behavior and its results.

We cannot gain confidence in the scriptural statements that, from constructive actions comes happiness and from destructive actions come unhappiness, simply on the basis of logic and reasoning. These topics cannot be established by logic and reasoning but are established based on the validity of scriptural authority. When we become convinced of the validity of the Buddha as a valid authority, we will gain confidence in all that he taught. Such confidence can only be established through the force of the inference cognition of Buddha’s scriptural authority.

The Sangha Gem

The next verses deal with the third vajra point, the Sangha Gem. The homage in the text read:

(13) I bow to those who see that since awareness has a self-nature of clear light, the disturbing emotions have no true essential nature, who, by realizing the perfect, namely that all who wander lack a true identity and are serenely stilled of extremes, see that total enlightenment permeates continually in all, and who possess an attitude that is unobstructed and possess the sight of deep awareness that has as its object limited beings’ total purity and infinitude.

The text continues:

(14) Because of its sight of deep awareness, which is of how things exist, the extent of what exists, and what is inner, and (because of) its purities, the Assembly of those with the mindset who never turn back is something that possesses peerless good qualities that are corrections of inadequacy.
(15) Because it realizes that those who wander have an actual nature that is serenely still, it is of how all exists. And that is because their disturbing emotions are finished from the start, because their self-natures are perfectly pure.
(16) Because it sees with an attitude that realizes the ultimate thing to be known – that the actual nature of an omniscient awareness is present in all beings whose awareness is limited – it is something that has the extent of what exists.
(17) Any realization like this is something to be known and then seen by each one individually. Because in the stainless sphere there is no attachment and no impediment, it is pure.
(18) Because due to its sight of deep awareness and purities there is the peerless deep awareness of the Buddhas, the highly realized (Assembly) who never turn back are a source of safe direction for everyone with limited bodies.

Qualities of the Sangha Gem

The Gem of the Sangha, the Assembly of highly realized aryas, has eight qualities, which are summarized by the three qualities of realization and the three qualities of liberation. The three qualities of realization are that sight of their deep awareness sees how thing exist, the extent of what exists and is inner. The three qualities of liberation are referred to as its purities: partings from the obscurations that are attachments (indicated by the words, there is no attachment), partings from the obscurations that impede (indicated by the words, no impediment). and partings from obscurations of inferior motives (indicated by the words, it is pure).

The deep awareness of how everything exists has as its object limited beings’ total purity. The object of the deep awareness of the extent of everything that exists is referred to as infinitude.

These qualities refer to arya bodhisattvas or highly realized dedicated beings that have seen voidness non-conceptually. During their total absorption on the sphere of all things, the sphere of reality, dharmadhatu in Sanskrit, they have the deep awareness or realization of how everything exists. During the subsequent realization phase of their meditation, they have the deep awareness or realization of the extent of what exists.

When these bodhisattvas realize the perfect – in other words, when they have the realization of how everything exists, the deep awareness of voidness – they see, that all who wander lack a true identity and are serenely stilled of extremes. In other words, they see a source, dharmadhatu, that is naturally pure Through this awareness, they abandon the obscurations that are attachment. When they have the awareness of the extent of what exists, they become aware of infinite objects, and have no impediment to their comprehension. As the text says, they see that total enlightenment permeates continually in all and possess an attitude that is unobstructed. As a result, they are free from the obscurations that impede.

With this realization, the bodhisattvas are able to proceed through the stages of developing the ten bhumi-levels of a bodhisattva mind. They do this through their own efforts. This is because any realization like this is something to be known and then seen by each one individually. This is deep awareness that comes from within and does not rely on an external source. This deep awareness which is inner is the third of the first three qualities.

Through this process, the bodhisattva’s deep awareness increases and goes far beyond the deep awareness of listeners (the shravakas) or self-realizers (the pratyekabuddhas). In this way, they abandon the obscurations of inferior motives, the motivations of shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, which is the third quality of the second set of three.

If we were to take the time to fit together all of the parts of these verses as we did with the qualities of the other two Gems, it would take an extremely long time. So, we’ll leave it at this.

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