The Qualities of Buddha Activity

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Introduction and Source

Without any effort or preconceived plans, the physical, verbal and mental faculties of a Buddha spontaneously exert an enlightening influence (’phrin-las, Skt. samudācāra, Buddha-activity) on others, which continues without interruption and extends to everyone without partiality. Maitreya has given nine examples in his Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra) by which to understand how this effortless influence operates.

The Nine Examples

(1) The essential nature (ngo-bo) of a Buddha’s enlightening physical faculties reminds us of an Indra, a King of a Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods. Without any effort or conscious thought on the part of such a divine and powerful lord, his physical form is reflected on the earth when its surface is smooth and polished like a beryl. When humans behold his reflected image, they are so enchanted they develop the wish to achieve such a magnificent and majestic form themselves. Likewise, when we behold the thirty-two excellent signs (mtshan-bzang, major marks) and eighty exemplary features (dpe-byad, minor marks) of the body of a Buddha reflected on our awareness when we have purified and made our minds clear, we automatically wish to achieve the same and will be influenced to build up the causes for it.

[See: The 32 Major Marks of a Buddha’s Physical Body]

(2) The essential nature of a Buddha’s enlightening verbal faculties reminds us of a great drum of the divine beings (the gods). In a Divine Realm of the Thirty-three Gods, there is a magnificent drum which, without any player, automatically resounds to arouse the divine beings out of their torpor to fight with the would-be divine (asura, anti-gods) attacking their realm. This it does by continually transmitting the message of the four hallmarks of the Dharma (chos-kyi sdom-pa bzhi), also known as the four sealing points for labeling an outlook as being based on enlightening words (lta-ba bka’-btags-gyi phyag-rgya-bzhi). These four are that (a) all affected phenomena are impermanent (nonstatic), (b) all tainted phenomena are problematic, (c) all phenomena are devoid and lacking an impossible “soul,” while (d) a nirvana release is a pacification and something constructive. Likewise, a Buddha’s enlightening speech, without any effort, inspires everyone to rise above a lack of awareness, fight with his or her disturbing attitudes and negativities, and attain either a superior rebirth or a superlative state of liberation or enlightenment.

(3) The essential nature of a Buddha’s enlightening mental faculties is reminiscent of the monsoon clouds. During the summer in India, monsoon clouds cover the sky and pour down a constant and steady rain everywhere. In this way, without any intention to do so, they cause the fields to bear their crops. Likewise, the omniscient awareness and intense loving concern of a Buddha’s enlightening mind reach out to all beings everywhere, and spontaneously rain forth a shower of Dharma to cause a crop of positive qualities to grow in their minds.

(4) The enlightening influence of a Buddha’s physical and verbal faculties taken together reminds us of a great divine Brahma. A Brahma is the first divine being to appear in any world-system and lives on the plane of ethereal forms (form realm). Without ever leaving his domain, he effortlessly manifests himself in the realms of the divine beings on the plane of sensory desires (desire realm). By his appearance and words, he inspires them to outgrow their desires for sensory delights and transcend to his higher plane of existence. Likewise an omniscient one, without ever leaving his Dharmakaya (Corpus that Encompasses Everything), effortlessly manifests himself in countless realms and, by the enlightening influence of his physical and verbal faculties, leads everyone out of his or her uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence.

(5) The enlightening influence of his mental faculties is like the sun. Without any conscious intention, the sun remains in the sky and shines forth light in all directions to eliminate darkness and stimulate growth. Likewise, the enlightening mental faculties of a Buddha remain in the sphere of a Svabhavakaya (a Corpus of Essential Nature) and yet shine forth the light of the deepest awareness of everything to all directions. This radiates both day and night to even the gloomiest corners of existence to eliminate the darkness of unawareness and bring about all spiritual growth.

(6) The enigmatic (gsang-ba, secret, hidden) aspect of his enlightening mind is like that of a wish-granting gem. A wish-granting gem is rare to find, but can fulfill everyone’s dreams and hopes for mundane things (things that are perishably based). Similarly, the omniscient awareness and intense loving concern of a Buddha are a rare supreme gem that grants everyone’s wishes for even supramundane spiritual attainments (things that are beyond perishing). This they do by effortlessly indicating the preventive measures of Dharma. How both of these work to grant others’ wishes is an enigma hidden from the scope of understanding of limited minds.

(7) The enigmatic aspect of his enlightening speech is like that of an echo. The sound of an echo arises out of many causes assembled together. It resounds effortlessly and communicates well, yet it cannot be located anywhere. Likewise, it is an enigma how enlightening speech spontaneously arises because of the needs of limited beings and how it communicates the Dharma to everyone far and wide without ever being findable within or outside its source.

(8) The enigmatic aspect of his enlightening body is like that of space – a lack of impediment for spatial existence. Such a lack of impediment pervades everywhere and lasts forever as that which effortlessly allows for everything to exist in three dimensions. Space is not a form of material phenomenon and yet seems to be high in the sky or far away on the horizon. Likewise enigmatic is how enlightening physical faculties pervade everywhere as that which effortlessly allows for all positive qualities to exist, and how they last forever, or at least until all uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence has come to an end. They are not a form of material phenomenon and yet appear to be enacting the twelve enlightening deeds.

[See: The Twelve Deeds of a Buddha]

(9) Lastly, the compassion of a Buddha is reminiscent of the earth. Without any conscious effort or will, the earth acts as the support and source out of which everything grows. Likewise, a Buddha’s compassion functions effortlessly as the support and source out of which everyone’s positive potentials can act as roots for spiritual growth.


In short, the enlightening influence exerted by a Buddha’s physical faculties has the quality and skill of being able, through countless miraculous emanations, to help limited beings to their spiritual goals. That exerted by his enlightening speech has the quality of being able to answer everyone’s questions and eliminate all their problems through teaching the preventive measures of Dharma. The enlightening influence exerted by his omniscient mind has the quality that, through its power of perfect absorbed concentration, it can eliminate everyone’s disturbing attitudes. This it does through its awareness of the Dharma measures appropriate for each being to take in order to remove his or her emotional and cognitive obscurations.

The enlightening influence of a Buddha inspires us to develop all good qualities and positive virtues so as to correct ourselves of all inadequacies. In Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayālaṃkāra), Maitreya has differentiated twenty-seven types of enlightening influence: the enlightening influence for us to:

  • Have auspicious, positive thoughts
  • Know the methods for cultivating the minds of others
  • Gain an ever deeper understanding of the Four Noble Truths and to be able to lead others to this understanding
  • Feel encouraged and inspired to work for others
  • Engage ourselves in bodhisattva conduct
  • Establish a firm foundation of ethical self-discipline in order to be of meaningful benefit to both ourselves and others
  • Achieve the various spiritual pathways of mind (paths), and so forth.

Whatever positive accomplishments we make are all due to (1) the karmic impulses of thought, speech and behavior that arise from and act as positive potentials on our mental continuums and (2) the enlightening influence of the Buddhas. These two forces are of equal strength and when they are in the same direction, we make great progress. The enlightening influence amplifies our noble impulses and we are very strongly drawn to constructive action. But if the two have opposite polarity, then the enlightening influence by itself cannot override our negativities. When we turn, however, from being a predominantly negative and destructive person into being someone more positive, the change will be prompted by the enlightening influence acting as a circumstance to cause noble impulses and favorable circumstances to ripen out of our previous potentials. This most readily happens through the instrumentality of meeting with a qualified spiritual master with whom we have a close bond or link from previous lives.