Uttaratantra: The Textual Sources for the Seven Vajra Points

Proper Motivation and Explanation of the Title and Homage

Before beginning, we set the motivation of wishing to listen to these teachings in order to actually achieve the state of enlightenment in order to benefit everyone. If we set this type of motivation, the benefits of listening to these teachings will be equal to the number of all beings, since we have dedicated our hearts for the benefit of all.

The great master Asanga is the source of these teachings. He was one of two great pioneers of the teaching in India. Buddha gave many different teachings according to the different levels of minds, great and small. This particular teaching comes from the Vast Vehicle or Mahayana teachings of the Perfection Vehicle, the vehicle of far-reaching attitudes, particularly the far-reaching attitude of discriminating awareness or wisdom.

Asanga was extremely interested in spreading the teachings of the perfection of wisdom, Prajnaparamita. Therefore, he went and received many teachings at the feet of the great Maitreya. Asanga heard the various teachings from Maitreya, which are gathered together into the Five Treatises of Maitreya. This text, A Treatise on the Vast Vehicle of the Mind – the Furthest Everlasting Continuum is one of those five texts. Asanga then returned to this world with these five teachings of Maitreya and spread the Vast Vehicle teachings far and wide.

The everlasting continuum mentioned in the title refers to the mental continuum and the methods for ridding oneself of the stains on the mental continuum. The word that is translated as furthest can also be translated as peerless, or nothing more supreme, and has the connotation of fundamental. The word shastra or treatise can be defined as something that helps us to cut away or get rid of disturbing attitudes, while giving us protection from the fearsome situations of our compulsive existence.

The homage offered by the translators is as follows:

I prostrate to all the Clear Evolved Buddhas and the spiritual hero bodhisattvas.

This refers to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. When we speak of a Buddha, it is someone who is totally clear-minded and fully evolved. “Clear-minded” means that their minds have been cleared of all ignorance. The Buddha is “fully evolved” in the sense of being fully evolved to know all things. A bodhisattva is someone who is dedicated to purification and growth for themselves and others.

We can understand this in terms of the three types of ethical self-discipline. Bodhisattvas have the ethical self-discipline of restraining from all negative actions. This is the meaning of the term purification. Bodhisattvas also have the ethical self-discipline to involve themselves in all types of positive actions. This is indicative of their dedication to growth. Because they have the ethical self-discipline of working to benefit others, bodhisattvas have a heart dedicated to others. When the homage states I prostrate, it means that I bow or pay homage to the Clear Evolved Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

 Introduction and Overview of the Seven Vajra Points

The actual body of the material is presented in seven points, as is given in the first verse:

(1) The Buddhas, the preventive measures of Dharma, the Assembly, and the source, the purified state, the enlightening qualities and finally the enlightening influence of the Buddhas – the body of all indicative compositions, when gathered in brief, is these seven diamond-strong vajra points.

The seven points are called the seven diamond-strong points. A diamond or vajra is a jewel that is strong and difficult to make a hole in. In accordance with this analogy, these seven points are topics that arise out of the discriminating awareness that comes from listening, thinking and meditating. They are called points because they are spoken about in terms of the context of this text, and in terms of the words with which the text was composed. These points can be discussed in terms of either the sutras (the Buddha’s expositions on themes) or the various individual works of the great Indian commentators (the indicative compositions, the treatises).

The first three points are the Clear Evolved Ones or the Buddhas, the preventive measures or the Dharma, and the assembly or the Sangha. The source for these points is the The Sutra Inciting Exceptional Resolve. The next two vajra points or topics are the discussions of the source of the three, namely Buddha-nature, and its enlightening qualities. Their source comes from The Sutra of Increase without Any Obstacle. The next point concerns the state of purification and growth, referring to enlightenment. This is found in The Sutra Requested by Shrimaladatta. The final topic is the enlightening influence and comes from The Sutra of a Filigree for Beholding the Buddha’s Deep Awareness That Enters All Objects.

All these points are discussed together in one scriptural text, The Sutra Requested by King Dharani Ishvara. The expositions on themes or sutras of the Buddha and various treatises are named in various ways. They can be named by using an example, a synonym, the name of the person who requested that particular text, the name of the person who actually spoke the text, the place or time the text was given, or the subject matter or topics discussed.

The Three Rounds of Transmissions and Scriptural Sources

The Buddha manifested his total enlightenment, his state of clear-mindedness and complete evolvement, under the bodhi tree at the Diamond-Strong Seat of Bodhgaya. Then he went to Varanasi and set into motion the first round of transmission of the preventive measures, called “the first turning of the wheel of Dharma,” by presenting the teachings of the four noble truths, the four facts seen as true by highly realized beings, the aryas.

The second round of transmission of the teachings was given at Vulture’s Peak and this is known as the round of transmission of there being no indication of truly self-established existence. The third round of transmission of the preventive measures was given at Vaishali and is known as the round of measures dealing with excellent discrimination or divisions.

The subject matter of these three rounds of transmission is as follows: The first round describes how phenomena have a truly self-established existence. The second round teaches that phenomena lack a truly self-established existence. The third round is a method for discriminating between those phenomena that have a truly self-established existence and those that do not. The third round of transmission of the preventive measures was given in answer to a question asked by the bodhisattva Paramartha Samudgata. He asked why it is that in the first round of transmission the Buddha said that phenomena have true existence, while in the second round the Buddha said that they don’t. The Buddha answered with a sutra called the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, The Sutra of Unraveling the Intended Meaning, which has ten chapters. In the seventh chapter, called The Chapter Requested by the Bodhisattva Paramartha Samudgata, the Buddha speaks of how to distinguish between those phenomena that have true existence and those phenomena that do not have true existence. 

Later, Asanga, one of the two pioneers of this school of thought, wrote three texts in which he gave the vanguard teachings on things existing only in terms of mind. These three texts are called Differentiating the Middle from the Extremes, Differentiating Phenomena and Their Actual Nature and A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras. In these three texts, the two texts on differentiating and the text on the filigree of Mahayana Sutras, Asanga presents as the ultimate level, phenomena existing only in terms of dependence on mind. He doesn’t offer an explanation or presentation of phenomena not having self-established existence.

The three texts were among the various teachings Asanga received from Maitreya. The Chapter Requested by the Bodhisattva Paramartha Samudgata comes from The Sutra of Unraveling the Intended Meaning, which is the sutra source for the seven vajra-points. The treatise source is the three texts composed by Maitreya and received by Asanga. Based on those, Asanga composed The Five Texts on the Stages and The Two Texts on the Collections of all those sources. The sutra and scriptural treatises by Maitreya are the scriptural sources for the third round of transmission of the preventive measures.

In the Abhisamayalamkara, A Filigree of Realizations, Maitreya states over and again how things lack true identities. The text discusses and presents the nature of the different paths of the Three Vehicles, the order of them, and so forth. It explains these in a clear fashion taking as its source the explanations found in the various versions of the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

The fifth text of Maitreya, The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, discusses the ultimate level, free from all mental fabrications of true existence. It takes as its source the three versions (expanded, medium and brief) of the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, which is the sutra on Buddha-nature, the core nature allowing for authentic transformation.

The Two Vanguards of India

The great Asanga was one of the vanguards of the view that things only existed in terms of mind. He wrote the texts about this in order to be able to explain and make clear Buddha’s way of presenting things. Although he wrote about this seemingly less sophisticated presentation of phenomena, it is quite clear from his other commentaries that Asanga had the subtlest understanding of voidness and reality.

Nagarjuna was the teacher who propagated and clarified the teachings on the most refined understanding of voidness. Nagarjuna posited that everything is free from the mental fabrications of truly self-established existence. Thus, there were two vanguards of teachers of India, Asanga and Nagarjuna. Asanga represented the vanguard of the extensive teachings and Nagarjuna the vanguard of the profound teachings.

Nagarjuna does not quote any specific sutra as the source of these profound teachings. Asanga however, did explain what constitutes a definitive text and what is a text requiring interpretation. This explanation is found in his teachings on the seventh chapter of The Sutra of Unraveling the Intended Meaning.

Although Nagarjuna did not directly quote any of the scriptural sources for his teachings, he explained the general meaning that came from sources. Nagarjuna is called the spiritual father of his disciple Aryadeva, and neither of them quoted actual scriptural sources. Another disciple of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, wrote a commentary Nagarjuna’s Root Verses for the Middle Path, Madhyamaka, Called Discriminating Awareness. This commentary is called Prasannapada, The Clarified Words.

There is a saying that just as there are the two great sources of light in the sky, the sun and the moon, on the Earth there are the two texts by Chandrakirti that make things clear. There is the text The Clarified Words, Chandrakirti’s commentary on the sutra topic, and The Illuminating Lamp, his commentary on the tantric topics.

This text, The Clarified Words by Chandrakirti, and two texts by later authors, The Lamp for Discriminating Awareness: A Commentary on “Root Madhyamaka” by Bhavaviveka and Beholding the Middle Path, Madhyamaka by Kamalashila state that the source for this line of Nagarjuna’s profound teachings is The Sutra Indicated by the Bodhisattva Akshayamati.

Uttaratantra, The Furthest Everlasting Stream, discusses that there is ultimately only one vehicle of mind and presents the entire teachings on voidness. The source for all of these is The Sutra Indicated by the Bodhisattva Akshayamati. Additionally, The Sutra Requested by King Dharani Ishvara is the source from which all of the seven points are derived. This is mentioned in the second verse of the text, which says:

(2) The sequential connection of these that is due to their defining characteristics, in the order in which they are to be understood, is as in The Sutra (Requested) by King Dharani. From its introduction, one is to be aware of three of its points, while four from its delineations of the Dharma measures of those with the mindset and of the Triumphant Ones.

To review, the first three points of the seven vajra points are the Clear Evolved Ones, the preventive measures and the assembly – in other words, the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha – and they come from the introductory chapter of the sutra. The last four of the seven vajra points have as their source other chapters of the sutra, as indicated by the second half of the second verse.

The third verse discusses their sequential order:

(3) From the Buddhas, the Dharma; from the Dharma, the highly realized arya Assembly; from the Assembly, the essential factor (the womb), the deep awareness source (up to) the endpoint, its attainment. And from the attaining of that deep awareness, the supreme purified state, endowed with the powers and so forth, the Dharma measures that bring meaningful benefit to all limited beings.

From the Clear Evolved Buddhas comes the preventive measures of Dharma, and from the Dharma measures comes the highly realized arya Sangha assembly. From the arya Sangha assembly comes essential factor (womb), the source from which comes the attainment of the endpoint of our deep awareness. Attaining this deep awareness, we attain the supreme purified state of enlightenment that possesses the enlightening qualities that bring an enlightening influence to benefit to all limited beings.

Overcoming Difficulties in Study

These words are very difficult to understand. Do not get discouraged, but rather allow these words to make an impression on your mind. Later, when we study these things in depth, we will come to understand the subject matter. When we listen to the teachings, various attitudes arise. If the teachings appear easy to understand, we may feel that the whole thing is very trivial and child’s play. If, on the other hand, we feel that the teachings are very difficult to understand, we may give up and fall asleep. It is also difficult for the person who is giving the teachings. To give teachings that are very simple or very hard to understand is also hard for the teacher.

Therefore, when hearing points that are easy to understand, don’t forget about them, thinking they are trivial. Try to pay attention and put them all into practice. When hearing difficult points, don’t feel discouraged and give up. If we persevere and study, we will be able to understand even the most difficult points. If we study with the attitude that we couldn’t possibly understand something, then there is no way we will ever understand it. However, if we approach it with the attitude that we will understand, then we will be able to understand it.