The 64 Qualities of a Buddha’s Speech

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Introduction and Sources

A Buddha’s enlightening speech has 64 good qualities or facets. The list of 64 derives from Indicating the Enigmatic Qualities of a Thusly Gone (Buddha) beyond the Realms of Imagination (De-bzhin gshegs-pa’i gsang-ba bsam-kyis mi-khyab-pa bstan-pa, Skt. Tathāgata-acintya-guhya-nirdeśa). When sixty facets are enumerated, as in several commentaries to Maitreya’s Filigree of Mahayana Sutras (Theg-pa chen-po mdo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahāyāna-sūtra-ālaṃkāra), qualities number 60 through 63 of the above list are omitted.

Here, we shall present the list of 64 in accordance with the explanations of Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa) in his Ocean of Clouds of Praise Pleasing to Manjushri (’Jam-dbyangs mnyes-par byed-pa’i bstod-sprin rgya-mtsho), as elaborated by the Seventh Dalai Lama (rGyal-dbang bsKal-bzang rgya-mtsho) in his Commentary to (Tsongkhapa’s “Ocean of) Clouds of Praise (Pleasing to Manjushri”) (bsTod-sprin ’grel-ba).

In general, no matter how many beings simultaneously ask different questions to a Buddha, each in his or her own language, a Buddha can answer them all instantly and perfectly with one pronouncement. Each being will hear Buddha’s pronouncement in his or her language and with equal volume, no matter how close or far each is standing.

List of the 64 Qualities

  1. Enlightening speech is moistening. Clean water can flow everywhere, soften the earth, and make all growth viable. Likewise, a Buddha’s speech enters everyone’s ears in accordance with each person’s disposition and either makes his or her positive potential (merit) germinate as roots for a purified state (byang-chub, Skt. bodhi) of liberation or enlightenment or fosters whatever spiritual growth has already occurred.
  2. It is smooth. Just as the touch of divine, heavenly clothes is soft and gives pleasure to the body, likewise when we hear a Buddha’s speech, it gives us mental pleasure similar to the luxurious comfort we see in this example.
  3. Enlightening speech goes straight to the mind, in the sense that it indicates how our mental consciousness needs to apprehend the clear meaning of the two truths, dependent arising, and so on.
  4. The mind finds it sensible, since it never speaks in a ridiculous manner, or with ungrammatical or broken language.
  5. It is perfectly correct, since the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) for its arising is the deep awareness (ye-shes) that realizes fully the total extent of what exists.
  6. Enlightening speech is unstained, since it is spoken on the basis of having got rid of all root and subsidiary disturbing emotions and attitudes, along with their tendencies.
  7. It is sparkling clear, since it never uses words or expressions not commonly known to ordinary people.
  8. It brings harmony to the ear, since it has the power to vanquish all the out-of-tune outlooks of extremist positions.
  9. It is proper to be listened to, since it gives the listener the determination to be free (renunciation) from samsara by actualizing just what it says.
  10. It cannot be damaged, since it cannot be outshone or faulted by extremist opponents in debate.
  11. The speech of a Buddha is pleasing, since it brings mental happiness to whoever hears it.
  12. It is taming, in the sense that it allows us to tame our disturbing emotions by indicating the antidotes to apply against the three poisonous states of mind – longing desire, hostility, and naivety.
  13. It is never harsh, since it never prescribes harsh, extremist methods such as sitting between five fires or standing for years on only one foot. It teaches means for avoiding all extremes, and methods that are never harmful for this or future lives.
  14. It is not cruel, since it does not lack methods for recovering from transgressions of the various trainings. It does not preach eternal damnation, but teaches many effective means to surmount any downfall, such as rejoicing in the constructive actions of others.
  15. It is thoroughly taming, since it indicates three vehicles of mind for spiritual progress to suit the needs of disciples having any of the three types of family-traits (rigs-gsum) – those of a listener (nyan-thos, Skt. śrāvaka), a self-evolver (rang-rgyal, Skt. pratyekabuddha), or a bodhisattva.
  16. Enlightening speech is pleasing to the ear. It is so pleasant to hear that we automatically turn our ears to it and have no mental wandering.
  17. It refreshes the body, since upon hearing it, we become so mentally absorbed that we achieve a stilled and settled state of shamatha (zhi-gnas) with its attendant physical sense of being fit.
  18. It soothes the mind, by eliminating all doubts and relieving the torturous discomfort of indecisive wavering (doubt).
  19. It makes the heart happy, since, in indicating the specific and general definitions of things, it eliminates our unawareness of these objects.
  20. Enlightening speech gives rise to happiness and bliss. This is because, by indicating what is the superficial (conventional) and what is the deepest (ultimate) abiding nature of all things, it brings about the riddance (abandonment) of our disturbing discrimination with which we misconceive nonstatic (impermanent) situations to be static (permanent), problems (suffering) to be happiness, phenomena lacking true identities to have such identities, and so forth. It establishes awareness of the facts of reality.
  21. It never leaves us disappointed. This is because having listened to it, if we think about and build up as a habit (meditate on) the meaning of what we have heard, we will actualize and achieve the results just as were described. In this way, we will never regret that our listening to it was pointless or did not yield a meaningful result.
  22. A Buddha’s speech is worth knowing completely, since by listening to it we can develop and come to abide with the outstanding discriminating awareness (shes-rab) that arises from listening.
  23. It is worth fitting all its details together to make sense. This is because by thinking about its meaning to see how it makes sense from the points of view of the four axioms (rigs-pa bzhi), we will come to abide with the causes for developing the outstanding discriminating awareness that arises from thinking. The four axioms for examining the Dharma are (a) dependency, (b) functionality, (c) establishment by reason, and (d) the nature of things.
  24. Enlightening speech is clear in all details, since it shows the Dharma without the closed-fisted attitude of those teachers who purposely conceal or hide things, such as explaining some measures and not others, or explaining only the words and not their meaning.
  25. It makes us happy, for we see that by relying on it, stream-enterers can achieve liberation by ridding themselves of their emotional obscurations (nyon-sgrib) and bodhisattvas can achieve enlightenment by ridding themselves of their cognitive obscurations (shes-sgrib).
  26. It makes us feel encouraged. It inspires anyone who has not yet beheld reality to develop the wish to engage in what it explains, in order to accomplish his or her aims.
  27. Enlightening speech makes us know things completely, since it shows us perfectly those things that are unimaginable and cannot be grasped by conceptual thinking, such as the abiding nature of reality and the deep awareness that can realize this nature straightforwardly and nonconceptually. It can show the unimaginable laws of impulsive karmic behavior and its results, the unimaginable objects enjoyed by the absorbed concentrations of great yogis, the unimaginable objects enjoyed by a Buddha’s deep awareness, and the unimaginable power of medicines and mantras.
  28. It causes us to fit details together to make sense. This is because it shows us, without any mistakes, those things that are imaginable and can be pondered and grasped by conceptual thinking, such as the five aggregate factors of our experience, the twelve stimulators (skye-mched bcu-gnyis, Skt. dvādaśāyatana) and eighteen sources (khams bcu-brgyad, Skt. aṣṭādaśadhātu) of our cognitions, the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections), and so on.
  29. Enlightening speech is logical, since it is perfectly correct in terms of three points for analysis. It is not undermined by (a) valid straightforward cognition (valid bare perception) or (b) valid inferential cognition and (c) it is not contradicted by its own former or later statements or by its statements of definitive (nges-don, Skt. nītārtha) or interpretable meanings (drang-don, Skt. neyārtha).
  30. It is pertinent, since it never teaches anything that does not suit the listener or the occasion, such as showing Mahayana measures to someone with Hinayana traits. It always indicates precisely those measures that are needed and appropriate for the listener.
  31. A Buddha’s speech is free of the fault of needless redundancy, even though on one occasion, for one meaning, it may appear to be repetitious since it provides many synonyms. These similar expressions, however, may be indicating progressively higher levels of the understanding of something. There can be many reasons for giving these synonyms. They can aid our understanding, help those with mental wandering not to miss the point at that occasion, give others the opportunity to expand on what has been said, and help dull-witted persons to understand and not forget the meaning. Since there may be homonyms, with one sound having several meanings, these synonyms can help eliminate the misconception that the sound has one of its irrelevant meanings. They can help us understand the various names with which something is referred to in the literature, help us put together the words and meanings to be understood, indicate to us that the speaker has full command of the subject, and plant seeds in us to gain similar mastery ourselves. Thus, although there may be repetition, there is no fault of needless redundancy.
  32. Enlightening speech is like the powerful roar of a lion, in that it terrifies the extremists who would try to assert their distorted, antagonistic views.
  33. It is like the bellowing call of a divine being’s elephant, never hesitant or shy to speak out.
  34. It is like the thunderous roll of a dragon’s roar, vast and difficult to fathom in its depth and extent.
  35. It like the voice of the King of the Nagas, so majestic and noble that everyone listens.
  36. It is like the melodious voice of the heavenly musicians (dri-za, Skt. gandharva) (those who sustain themselves on fragrances). Nothing is smoother or more pleasant to hear.
  37. A Buddha’s speech is like the melodious call of the ancient song-bird. It continues from topic to topic without any break and, even after it has ended, it leaves us with the strong wish to hear it again.
  38. It is like the melodious voice of a great divine Brahma, as it reverberates clearly and sonorously for a very long time.
  39. It is auspicious like the cry of the ancient pheasant, for it indicates that we will accomplish our aims for not only whatever might be perishable based (’jig-rten-pa, mundane, worldly), but also for those things with a basis beyond perishing (’jig-rten-las ’das-pa, supramundane).
  40. It is authoritative like the command of an Indra, a king of the gods, since no one could ever transgress or obstruct it.
  41. It is like the sound of a battle-drum, arousing us to be victorious over demonic forces (bdud, Skt. māra) and extremist outlooks.
  42. Enlightening speech is without any feeling of self-conceit. When a Buddha indicates the Dharma, although others may praise his words and say, “Well-said,” he never has any disturbing emotions arising from this praise, with which he would grasp at himself as being the best.
  43. It is without any feeling of self-despair. Even if others say he has explained something poorly, a Buddha never feels discouraged, depressed, or downtrodden at the thought that he has been criticized.
  44. Enlightening speech enters into everything that has, is, or will happen, since it reveals and prophesies all phenomena already-passed, present, or not-yet-come.
  45. It never is clipped short or has any words missing. Since a Buddha never becomes tired, he never forgets or omits anything he intended to say because he was exhausted.
  46. It never leaves anything uncompleted, since a Buddha works all the time for the sake of everyone and never ignores or discards for even a moment someone in need of being tamed.
  47. Enlightening speech is without any feeling of inadequacy, since when a Buddha explains the Dharma, he has no fears or self-doubts of thinking, “If I debate with an extremist opponent, I might be unable to hold my position.”
  48. It is without any compelling feelings of desire or attraction, since someone who has overcome and gained all has no attachment to receiving service, respect, praise, or material objects.
  49. It is joyously exhilarating. The more a Buddha explains, the more he feels free of mental fatigue and physical discomfort.
  50. An omniscient one’s speech is pervasive. Since he has totally mastered the five major fields of knowledge (rig-gnas lnga), his explanations of the Dharma are related and fit in well with these five topics. The five major fields of knowledge are: (a) art and craftsmanship, (b) medicine, (c) languages and grammar, (d) logic, and (e) inner or exceptional self-knowledge.
  51. It stimulates growth, since it is of meaningful benefit to all limited beings (sentient beings) whether they are rigid and need new positive potential planted in their mental continuums to act as a root, or they are not rigid and can have their rooted potential be made to increase.
  52. A Buddha’s speech is continuous. It is never the case that sometimes he feels like explaining the Dharma measures and, at other times, he is too tired or cannot be bothered. Further, when he teaches, he explains without ever breaking the continuity of his flow. He never pauses, hesitates, says “uh,” or is at a loss for words.
  53. It is related. A Buddha does not explain by using just one word, phrase, or expression without any context, but uses many related examples and phrases that are well-connected.
  54. Enlightening speech has all languages complete in it. When a Buddha speaks in a certain tongue, although it has only a single nature of being one language, yet divine beings (gods), humans, nagas, creeping creatures (animals), clutching ghosts (hungry ghosts), and so on each understand what he says in accordance with his, her, or its own sounds and dialect.
  55. It suits and satisfies everyone’s powers. When a Buddha teaches one point, such as how no situation ever remains static, each one who hears his words understands them in accordance with his or her power of belief in fact, perseverance, mindfulness, concentration, intelligence, and so forth. For instance, each one will understand in terms of what he has respectful belief in and will feel totally pleased and satisfied with the explanation.
  56. Enlightening speech cannot be faulted. Since a Buddha never acts counter to what he has promised, no one can say that he failed to keep his word. Likewise, when he promises certain results will follow from adopting specific Dharma measures, this cannot be faulted, since anyone who correctly adopts these measures actualizes that result.
  57. It never deviates. No matter where or when it may be, when the time comes when someone’s mental continuum is ready to be ripened, an omniscient one’s speech will bring it to maturity without losing a moment.
  58. It never is in a nervous haste. Enlightening speech is steady and calm, not in a rush of confusion and jumble.
  59. A Buddha’s speech resounds to the entire circle of those around him. Whether the listener is close or far, everyone hears his voice with equal volume the same as if he or she were sitting right up front.
  60. Enlightening speech stills our infatuated attachments.
  61. It tames our deep hostilities.
  62. It clears away our naivety.
  63. It puts an end to the demonic forces of mara. When we practice the meaning of what it describes, we can gain victory over the four types of such interference – the disturbing emotions and attitudes, the five aggregate factors of experience, death, and the sons of the gods (namely, the distorted extremist views of the non-Buddhist Indian philosophical systems).
  64. And finally, the enlightening speech of a Buddha can make everything take on a supreme aspect since, when explaining the Dharma, it can use anything well-known in the world as an example and explain in relation to it.