Preparatory Understandings Needed for Persons of All Three Scopes

Three Types of Spiritual Persons

To continue with the text, the next verse reads: 

(2) Since (practitioners) come to have small, intermediate, and supreme (scopes), they are known as the three types of spiritual persons. I shall therefore write about these specific divisions, clarifying their defining features.

This verse presents the system of three different levels of persons: those having the initial, intermediate and advanced levels of motivations. Atisha states that he intends to explain the nature of this classification system and its features. 

Another way of describing the path to Buddhahood is that it is a graded process, progressing step by step:

  • The path of someone of the initial scope leads to higher status (mtho-ris) – namely, a higher rebirth
  • On that basis, the intermediate path leads to a state of definite goodness (nges-legs), a term shared in common for both liberation and enlightenment, but here meaning liberation
  • On that basis, the advanced or supreme path leads to Buddhahood itself. 

This scheme of persons of three scopes is another means of ascribing names to these different stages of practice. 

“Higher status,” the goal of someone of initial scope, refers specifically to the higher status of a rebirth as a human being or as a god. What we all possess right now is a higher status rebirth as a human being. We have this as our working basis, a precious human rebirth. If we ask, “How were we able to have achieved this working basis of a human body?” it’s as the result of the efforts that we’ve made in previous lifetimes, specifically as the result of the positive, constructive actions we’ve done that have served as karmic causes for bringing about a human rebirth in this life. However, now, if we examine ourselves honestly, we see that we’re not building up any further causes to obtain such precious human rebirths again in the future. If we don’t build up the causes, such rebirths won’t come about. 

The reason for us not obtaining a precious human rebirth in the future is not because we are not acting as fervently as Milarepa. If we were acting like he did, this would mean that we were working to attain enlightenment in our own lifetime, as Milarepa in fact did achieve. If we were to attain enlightenment in our own lifetime, then actually we would not need a precious human rebirth in our next lifetime. However, it’s not that we have attained enlightenment and so don’t require another precious human rebirth as a working basis. And since that is not the case, then we are not going to obtain precious human rebirths in future lifetimes because we are not working for that attainment.

The reason we would not be working toward precious human rebirths in the future is because, presently, we concern ourselves completely with gaining things to eat and drink, clothing to wear, and housing, position and fame for this lifetime alone. Because we’re completely involved with only these pursuits, we’re not working to obtain precious human rebirths in future lifetimes. 

To be clear, it’s not that we are seeking enlightenment in this lifetime as Milarepa did, and thus we will not need a precious human rebirth as a working basis to continue to work toward enlightenment. We’re not working to obtain future precious human rebirths because we’re totally involved in the affairs of this lifetime alone. If we continue like this, then in future lifetimes, not only will we not be able to obtain enlightenment, but we also won’t even be able to obtain a precious human rebirth that could act as the basis for achieving enlightenment.

Let’s put aside the fact that we’re not going to be able to obtain a precious human rebirth in a future lifetime. Still in terms of this lifetime, we should consider that no matter how much material wealth we have, we’re not going to be able to carry it into any type of future lifetime at all. To work exclusively to gather and accumulate material goods, to harm our enemies and help only our friends – such types of aims can be pursued in this lifetime even by animals. If animals and human beings can do these same types of things, the fact that we’re called “human beings” is just in terms of name alone. We’re not really behaving like human beings in the full sense of the word. 

We hear or read in this text this term “person,” meaning “human being,” purusha in Sanskrit. The connotation here of this word is someone who is able to accomplish an aim and purpose. If someone is able to work and accomplish the aim of achieving a higher status rebirth as a human being or a god in their next lifetime and onwards, then such a person is known as a “human being.” This is the connotation of the word purusha in Sanskrit as it is used in the text for the persons of the three different levels of motivation. Therefore, it’s very important to make efforts in the various methods described as the path of a person of initial scope who’s working for a higher status. This is the same word that we’re talking about, the word “person,” purusha.

The Aggregates — Body and Mind

We can all understand that we have two things, a physical body and a mind, or consciousness. We also know how there can be happiness, unhappiness and suffering on both the physical and the mental planes. The body, these rough physical aggregates that we all have, is connected with consciousness. However, we also know that consciousness or awareness itself is separate from what is connected with consciousness, namely our bodies.  

In terms of eye consciousness, there is the awareness of different colors and shapes, for instance white, red and so forth; in terms of ear consciousness, the awareness of different sounds; with the nose, we have the awareness of different smells; with the tongue, the awareness of different tastes; and with the body, we have awareness of tactile sensations such as something being smooth or rough. These are the different types of sensory consciousnesses or types of awareness that we have. We all understand that we have these things.  

Each of these different types of sensory awareness is exclusive to its particular type of object. For example, the eye consciousness can be aware of something being either white or red, and the body consciousness can be aware of tactile sensations being either rough or smooth. However, the eye consciousness cannot perceive the tactile sensations of rough or smooth and, likewise, the body consciousness cannot be aware of the visual sensations of something being either white or red. Each of the consciousnesses takes an exclusive type of object to itself. 

Aside from these different types of sensory consciousness, we also have mental consciousness or awareness. When we see with our eyes a pink flower, the pink flower appears to our eye consciousness. Later, when we go home and we think about this flower, a mental image of it appears to our consciousness. The image is actually a semblance of something. It resembles the flower but is not actually the flower itself. In this way, we can understand that there’s a slight difference in what appears to the mental consciousness and what appears to the eye consciousness. Again, there’s a similarity; the image is a semblance of it. 

Some people say that the semblance, mental image, or appearance (snang-ba) – all these are different ways of translating the same word – is the flower itself. Nonetheless, we can’t say that this mental image or appearance of the flower is actually the flower itself because, if the flower were destroyed and we still had a mental image of it, then that would have to constitute the existence of the flower. We can’t say that the flower would exist at that time. We should understand quite well the difference of how we have the physical body and these different types of awareness or consciousness.  

Continuity of Awareness

If we have awareness or cognition – another way of translating the same word, shes-pa – then the cognition that we have at present is a continuity of the cognition of the previous moment. Likewise, the present moment of cognition will act as a cause for our next moment of cognition, and, in that way, there will be continuity, a mental continuum. At the very first moment of our conception in the womb, there is awareness or cognition. This awareness that exists at the time of conception is similar to what we were just discussing about our present moment of awareness. It also must have an immediately prior moment of awareness that acted as the cause for its continuity. 

This awareness at the moment of conception could not have come about from no cause at all. It doesn’t all of a sudden arrive out of nowhere. It must have been preceded by a previous moment of awareness to act as its condition for bringing it about. By this line of reasoning, the awareness that exists at the moment of conception has as its antecedent a moment of awareness from a previous lifetime. Likewise, it follows that the last moment of awareness that we will have in this lifetime will generate a next moment of awareness in a future lifetime.  

The physical body, though, is not something that came from a previous lifetime into this lifetime and that goes from this lifetime into a future lifetime. It’s only the stream of continuity of awareness that comes from a past lifetime to this lifetime and continues into future lifetimes. It’s awareness that passes from lifetime to lifetime. This is something that we should try to understand well. If we understand this distinction between the physical body and awareness, then we should understand as well that there’s happiness and suffering experienced with both of these, both on the mental and the physical side. 

On the basis of the body, we can have a lot of different types of unhappiness, such as the unhappiness and suffering when experiencing pain and sickness. In order to bring about some physical happiness and eliminate physical unhappiness and suffering, we engage ourselves in all sorts of methods to accumulate material things. We engage in business, agriculture, or trade, or we indulge in all sorts of different “pleasurable” things in order to try to bring about happiness based on our bodily comfort and pleasure. 

However, on the basis of these endeavors, we can also experience a great many problems. For some, engaging in these pursuits can, in fact, bring about a great deal of material progress for themselves. But, although there are people who work a great deal and do accumulate a great deal of material wealth on this basis, there are also people who work very hard yet neither succeed nor manage to accumulate any great amount of material wealth. There are also those who don’t have to work very hard, like those people who were born into a wealthy family and, based on just the slightest amount of effort or on no effort at all, they succeed very well materially. But no matter what type of material situation we’re in, no matter how much wealth and possessions we have, we can all recognize that it doesn’t bring about complete mental happiness. If we think about this, we will come to understand it.  


Let’s say somebody works for 40 years and tries to accumulate as many material possessions as they can, and that this person does manage to accumulate a great deal. This person, however, can then come to realize that these things are not permanent and that they’re not going to last forever. They can understand the impermanence of it all and that people too are impermanent and won’t last forever.

Even the people who lived during the first eons, people with a lifespan of a countless number of years and who had tremendous material wealth, all of them are gone now. None of them are still around. We see that material objects aren’t things that last forever, and that people also don’t last forever. 

The worldly type of life that someone engages in is something that just goes around in a circle. For example, in the spring we do spring-related work, and in the summer, we do the summer work, and in the fall, the fall work, and in the winter, the winter work, and then it goes back to spring. It just continues like this with no end. Even within a day, there’s the work that we do in the morning or the afternoon or the evening. It’s just an endlessly repeating cycle.  

Living in this way, there’s no end to the type of worldly routines that we can get ourselves into. In general, we can say that worldly work is something that has no end. However, there is a time when the ordinary worldly work that we do will come to an end. However, it doesn’t end in a very nice state or condition. It will end when we give up this body. 

If we think about it, we can see how we spend our entire lives in worldly pursuits trying to accumulate as much material wealth as possible. We may even succeed in doing this as we get older and older; however, in fact, what happens is that as we’re getting older and older, our condition is becoming more and more difficult. In the end, we just reach a very pathetic state in which we are totally weak. This is something that is just a fact of life. We can all understand this. 

Dharma Activity or Worldly Career?

Now, Dharma activity, or spiritual activity, is something very different. In the beginning, it’s very difficult and we have to put a great deal of effort and work into it in order to bring about happiness. But the nature of the work is such that, with sustained effort, the work improves and the happiness resulting from it gets better and better. It is something that does have an end; it can reach its completion. When the Dharma work is completed, what state are we in? It’s in a state of complete happiness and ultimate joy. This is the type of state that Dharma work ends in. 

The progress of the Dharma practitioner can be likened to the progress of the waxing moon. It starts off with very little and then builds up slowly and slowly until it becomes totally full. This represents how a Dharma practitioner’s career starts with a great deal of difficulty in the beginning but then reaches a state in which all good qualities are complete. On the other hand, a worldly career is something better likened to the waning moon. It may start out in a very full state, but as we get older, our worldly activity and all of the progress get less and less until our life ends with nothing. 

We can think about the attainment of enlightenment as a type of Dharma career. It is possible that we can attain enlightenment in this very lifetime, and, if we attain this state in this lifetime, then it’s no longer a matter of working to achieve a higher status rebirth in our next lifetime. However, if we don’t happen to attain enlightenment in this very lifetime, and we haven’t done something about attaining higher status rebirths in our future lifetimes, then we’ve made a big mistake.  

Initial Scope

The various methods for accomplishing higher status rebirths in our next lifetimes are all discussed in the teachings of the initial scope. This is addressed in the text in the next verse:  

(3) Anyone who takes keen interest in himself or herself (achieving), by some means, merely the happiness of uncontrollably recurring samsara is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope.

When Atisha says in the text working for merely the happiness of uncontrollably recurring samsara, this is referring to happiness to be experienced in a rebirth as a human being, or as someone very affluent, such as a king, or the proverbial chakravartin, a world emperor; or it means rebirth as a god such as Brahma, Indra or one of the kings of any of the various god realms. On the initial scope, our aim is this type of worldly happiness. However, with such a rebirth, where Atisha says by some means, it should be that we work fervently to adhere to the ethical self-discipline of restraining ourselves from committing the ten destructive actions. 

What we need, then, is a method to avoid worse rebirths, and the method is to have a strong confident belief in the principles of karmic cause and effect, and on the basis of this, restrain ourselves from committing any of the ten destructive actions. Thus, anyone who works fervently and has as their aim achieving a very prosperous state of rebirth as either a human being or a god, complete with all the types of pleasures and happiness that can be had in that state, is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope

Outline of the Preparatory and Initial Scope Practices

Before we engage in the actual practices of someone of initial scope motivation, we first need to understand the proper way of relying on a spiritual master. We must also think about how this precious human rebirth that we have is complete with what are known as the “eight leisures and ten endowments” – the eight temporary respites (dal-ba brgyad) from the eight situations of no leisure and the ten enrichments (’byor-ba bcu) with situations conducive for practice. These two points, the way to rely on a spiritual master – so-called “guru devotion” – and thinking about the fully endowed human rebirth are a preliminary training common to persons of all three scopes, those of the initial, intermediate and advanced level motivations.   

With these two as a preliminary, then the actual main body of the teachings we follow on the initial level has four topics: 

  • The first is meditation on impermanence. 
  • The next is meditation on the suffering of the three lower realms. 
  • The third is taking refuge.
  • And lastly, thinking about karmic cause and effect. 

But first, we need to explain the preparatory understandings and practices we need as a shared foundation for the entire graded path.

Relying on a Spiritual Teacher

Relying on a spiritual master is divided into two points in the outline:

  • The first is cultivating confidence in the spiritual teacher as the root for success in the practices. 
  • The second is continually being mindful of the kindness of the spiritual master.  

When the texts speak about cultivating confidence as a root or basis, this refers to being able to distinguish the spiritual master who is teaching us the Dharma as actually being a Buddha. It doesn’t matter about other gurus; let’s leave them aside. Specifically, this refers to the guru or spiritual master who is teaching us the Dharma. Based on acknowledging and respecting their good qualities, we need to think that they are a Buddha. Whether or not we will develop insights or realizations is directly proportionate to the amount of confidence we have in this belief. 

If we don’t distinguish our guru as being a Buddha, then even if they were in fact the Buddha, we would not be able to gain any insights or realizations from their teachings. On the other hand, if we do distinguish them as a Buddha, then even if this person is not actually a Buddha, we will still receive the inspiration of a Buddha. This type of confident belief is therefore extremely important.  

We can understand this more readily from a story. Once, in Tibet, there was a mother whose son went to India. The mother asked the son to, when he returned, please bring her back a tooth of the Buddha. However, the son completely forgot about this. When he came back, as he was approaching his mother’s house and could see it in the distance, all of a sudden, he remembered and thought, “Oh no, I have to bring a Buddha-tooth back for my mother!” He looked all around and saw the skull of a dog on the ground and so he took one of the dog’s teeth and presented it to his mother as the Buddha’s tooth. With strong faith and belief in the tooth, she was able to receive much inspiration from it, as though it were really the Buddha’s tooth. 

Once we are able to distinguish our guru as a Buddha, we should try to stay mindful of their kindness. The way that we try to remember this kindness and stay mindful of it is to think about how our guru is teaching us all the methods for not having to be reborn in one of the three lower, unfortunate states of rebirth. The guru is teaching us methods so as not to have to be reborn in uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence at all. He or she is teaching us the methods and practice to be able to attain the full enlightenment of a Buddha. In this way, we should remember and stay mindful of the kindness shown to us.  

What follows is not just appreciating and being mindful of this kindness, but also to think about paying it back, to equal this kindness. In other words, we want to pay it back in the sense of doing something that is deserving of this kindness and help. The way that we can bring ourselves up to this level of kindness and repay it is to actually practice the teachings as our guru instructs. Milarepa said, “The only way that I can pay back or equal myself up to the kindness of my guru would be for me to practice as he says.” Therefore, this is the best way to pay back the kindness of a Buddha.  

This is only an initial and short explanation about some of the aspects of how to rely properly on a spiritual master. It’s something extremely crucial and important, but here we’re only able to discuss it in brief. 

These are the two points, then, in the outline regarding relying on a spiritual teacher: generating root confidence in the guru and continually staying mindful of the guru’s kindness.  

The Eight Leisures of a Precious Human Life

After these points, we can think about the preciousness of the human body that we’ve attained and how difficult it is to obtain it. The first point of this is to recognize the precious human body that we all have as a working basis. What is involved here?  

First of all, we have the so-called “eight leisures.” “Leisures” mean temporary respites from eight situations of no leisure in which we would lack the ability to study, learn and practice the Dharma, or in which that ability would be seriously hampered. If we’re temporarily free of these eight states of no leisure, then we have the eight states of leisure. There are four non-human and four human such states.

The four non-human states of no leisure are having been reborn as:

  • A hell creature
  • A hungry ghost (preta, clutching ghost)
  • An animal
  • A long-lived celestial being, a god.  

The four human states of no leisure are having been reborn:

  • In a place or time where the Buddha doesn’t come – for instance, during one of the dark eons we were discussing before 
  • In a completely uncivilized place among barbarians or savages where there’s no spiritual practice whatsoever. In this case, we may be human, but it would be a human state of no leisure. 
  • Severely disabled or mentally challenged, or unable to hear, speak, or see, or with little ability to learn because of other major physical, mental or emotional difficulties. Although it’s not impossible to study and practice the Dharma when reborn with such conditions, it is much more challenging.
  • Even if we’ve been born with conditions and circumstances conducive for Dharma study and practice, nevertheless, strongly holding destructive, antagonistic views, such as being completely negative toward any type of spiritual training, having no belief in cause and effect, and so on.

The Ten Endowments of a Precious Human Life

In addition to having temporary respites from these eight situations of no leisure to study and practice the Dharma, our precious human lives are enriched with the so-called “ten endowments.” These are endowments of the conditions and circumstances that are the most conducive for Dharma study and practice. There are five personal endowments from our own sides and five societal ones from the sides of others. 

The five personal endowments from our own sides are having been reborn:

  • As a human being. We need to understand “human being” as having the connotation we’ve previously explained. To be a human being just concerned with collecting food, shelter and warmth for this lifetime is something that animals do as well and doesn’t constitute being human. To be human in this context is to be concerned with improving future lifetimes and so forth and working toward that aim. 
  • With sufficient physical and mental faculties for being able to study and practice
  • In a central region. What this refers to, for example, is to be born in places where His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives or visits and, in this way, being able to meet with the teachings directly. Understood in this way, where we live here would be considered part of a central region. 
  • Not having committed any of the heinous crimes in some previous lifetime. There are five heinous crimes that are the most serious types of destructive actions that can be committed, such as killing our mother or father. Most of us are endowed with not having committed such things in the past. 
  • Having a respectful belief in the teachings.   

These are the five personal endowments from our own sides, and we have all of these complete.  

The five societal endowments on the basis of the sides of others are having been reborn when: 

  • Buddhas have come. Even though Buddha Shakyamuni came in the past and then passed away, nevertheless, at present we have such living Buddhas as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Therefore, this constitutes living in a time when Buddhas have come. 
  • Living Buddhas are teaching the Dharma. 
  • The teachings are enduring – not during the time, for instance, of the eons of disintegration. 
  • The spiritual community of the Sangha – those who actually follow these teachings and put them into practice – is also present.  
  • Patrons are supporting Dharma practice, and not where or when spiritual life is outlawed. 

These comprise the five societal endowments. 

How do we meditate on these points? We can meditate on them the first thing each morning when we wake up. When we open our eyes, we can realize where we are and say to ourselves, “Wow, I didn’t die last night and find myself in one of the hot hells in which my body is inseparable from the fires all around me.” We could go on to think, “If I woke up and found myself in one of the hells, what would I do now?” Likewise, we can review all these different leisures and endowments and think, for instance, “What if I woke up and found myself as a hungry ghost, not only would it be impossible to find any food or drink, but I couldn’t even hear the words ‘food’ or ‘drink.’ If I were like that, what would I do now?”

This is something we should think about. Likewise, we could imagine if we woke up now and found ourselves in a very wealthy family, but we are a heroin addict or a regular user of psychedelic drugs, or something like that which completely distorts and disturbs the mind, then what would we do? Therefore, what we should do, in fact, is rejoice and be very, very happy. Recognize that we have a precious human rebirth with a complete set of eight leisures and ten endowments. 

This is a brief description of the way that we meditate on recognizing the fully endowed precious human rebirth. Having obtained a precious human rebirth, and using it as a basis, we can attain the enlightened state of a Buddha.  

There’s no difference whatsoever between Jetsun Milarepa and us with regard to the human body that we have, or he had, as a basis for Dharma practice. It’s really a wonderful thing to have such a precious human rebirth as a working basis with which to attain enlightenment. If we were to have £100,000, we would be extremely happy and we would rejoice. But far more than that, we should rejoice and feel happy about the fact that we have our precious human rebirths. This is the first point of recognizing the precious human rebirth fully endowed with the leisures and endowments.  

Question about Purification

What are the heinous crimes and is there nothing that can be done to purify these or prevent their horrible consequences?

First, a more literal way of translating and defining this term “heinous crime,” is a “negative act after which there is no intervening space.” What this refers to is that there are certain extremely heavy destructive actions that, when anyone who commits them dies, immediately result in their rebirth in the lowest of the hell realms. Nothing else will happen in between. This is the connotation of these particular types of destructive actions. They have that type of karmic result.  

The first thing we need to do to avoid this is to develop a great deal of apprehension and fear about this fate ever happening to us. For instance, if we were to have mistakenly eaten poison, and then discovered that we’ve just eaten poisonous food, we would feel extreme regret. Therefore, the first thing we need to think about is whether or not we’ve committed one of these really heavy acts and what the consequences of this will be. 

For example, if we killed our father, think that the consequence of this will be immediate rebirth in the lowest hell realm. This would lead to a great deal of fear and apprehension, and we would feel great regret about the negative action that we’ve done. If we feel this strong regret, this begins to purify our having to experience this karmic result. We have to recognize that what we did was wrong. 

The second thing that we need is an attitude of complete resolve, with which we firmly decide that never again are we going to commit such a destructive action. 

Following this, the third thing that we need to do is to visualize in front to us an image of refuge – for example, a Buddha image. There are various meditative techniques of visualization, imagining nectars and lights flowing from this refuge image to purify ourselves of all the negative karmic potentials from such terrible acts. We need to do these visualizations while reciting various mantras, such as OM MANI PADME HUM, or the Buddha’s mantra, or the 100-syllable Vajrasattva mantra. 

In addition to this, we should think of all other living beings and how all of them may also have committed a great many destructive actions and built up strong negative karmic potential. We should wish that all of them will not have to suffer the consequences and that they be purified of these negative potentials. We do this entire process in order to purify everybody, not just ourselves. In doing so, the purification process becomes even stronger.  

Purification through Meditation on Voidness

The main method of purification, however, is meditation on voidness. First of all, let’s specify the different types of heinous crimes or most heavy negative actions. They are killing our mother or our father, killing an arhat, causing a schism in the monastic community or Dharma community, or drawing blood with harmful intentions from the body of a Buddha. Even though a Buddha can’t in fact be killed, nevertheless the heinous crime is to make preparations and try to murder a Buddha, throwing rocks or by some other means. 

With these types of most destructive actions, meditation on voidness acts as the strongest means of purification. We need to understand that there are three things involved. There’s the negative karmic potential, there’s the person who has built up this negative potential, and there’s also the destructive action that was committed that built up this negative potential. There can be no negative potential unless there were actually a person who built up this negative potential. Likewise, there could be no person who has built up this negative potential unless there were a destructive action that was actually done for the negative potential to be built up. 

Thinking in this way, we see that these three factors arise dependently on each other. None of them exist by themselves. We need to understand how they do exist: a negative karmic potential, a person who built it, and the action itself. The existence of these three can only be established interdependently on each other, with none of them having their existence established truly and independently from its own side. It isn’t, for example, that someone can be established as being solidly existing as a sinner; instead, the existence of anything can only be established interdependently on other things. This understanding of voidness acts to purify even more strongly than anything else.

The Four Powers for Purification

There are four powers for purification: 

  • The first is the power of regret. 
  • The second is the promise never to commit such an action again in the future. 
  • The third is the power of reaffirming our ethical foundation. This refers to generating the compassion with which we think to purify everybody that has built up a similar type of heavy negative force. This acts as a foundation or basis for the purification. 
  • The fourth is the power of the opponent actions that we do, referring to any type of constructive actions such as lighting butter lamps, making offerings, prostrating, circumambulating, setting up representations of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, or helping the sick and the poor, or doing charity work. Anything like this would act as a positive, constructive action and serve as a counteracting positive force against our negative potentials.

For instance, we can think of the example of Jetsun Milarepa, who in the early part of his life killed more than 30 people with black magic. His spiritual master, Marpa, set him the task of building a nine-story tower out of rocks several times. He had to do this using only his own physical effort, which acted as a means for purifying himself of the heavy negative karmic potential of having killed earlier in his life. In particular, if we have this attitude of wishing everybody to be freed from suffering and to have happiness, this type of love and compassion is a very strong method for purifying ourselves of negative karmic potential.    

We can see an example from the life story of Asanga, who spent twelve years trying to gain an actual vision of Maitreya. After three years of working very hard in his retreat without any results, he came out of his retreat very discouraged. However, then he saw someone who had an iron rod that he was rubbing with a piece of silk. He asked this man, “What are you doing?” and the man said, “I’m making a needle by rubbing away the iron.” He added, “If you work hard enough you can make a needle out of an iron rod.”  

Asanga decided, “If he can work so hard just to make a needle, I can work even harder.” He went back into his retreat for another three years and this type of experience repeated. Every three years he got discouraged and saw something like this and went back to his retreat until twelve years had passed. Today, we can actually go to where his retreat took place. It’s in India near Vulture Peak; there’s a place above Rajgir where there are the hot springs and the cave where this all happened. 

At the end of these twelve years, when Asanga came down again, he saw a dog in a very pathetic condition on the road. The backside of the dog had huge open wounds infested with small maggots, and the dog was barking ferociously. Asanga saw the suffering of this poor creature and developed a great deal of compassion for it. This came from being mindful and alert and thinking about its suffering. Therefore, what he thought to do was to help out. 

He cut a piece of flesh from his own thigh and placed it on the ground. He wanted to take the maggots off the wound of the dog and place them on the piece of flesh from his thigh so they would still have something to eat. He also wanted to remove them in such a way as to not hurt the maggots and realized that doing so with his hands would kill them. So, he bent down, with his eyes closed, and stuck out his tongue to be able to take the maggots off with it to relieve the dog’s suffering. But bending down with his eyes closed and his tongue out, he couldn’t make contact with the dog. As he opened his eyes, instead of this wretched animal, there was the actual form of Maitreya. In fact, this dog had merely been an emanation of Maitreya.  

This whole process of purification that allowed Asanga to be able to receive this vision of Maitreya was due to the fact that Asanga developed such strong compassion for this dog. Asanga, a little bit indignant, grabbed hold of Maitreya and asked, “I’ve been working for twelve years trying to see you and how come you haven’t appeared before now?” Maitreya replied, “I’ve been here with you all along these twelve years, but because of the heavy obscurations and impurities of your previously built-up negative karmic potentials, you haven’t been able to see me. But I’ve been there all along.” As evidence, he said, “Look here at the bottom of my robes. All during these twelve years when you blew your nose and spat mucus on the ground, here it is. It’s all dried up here on my robe. Nevertheless, because of your great compassion today, this has purified you of all these karmic obstacles and obscurations, and now you’re able to see me.”  

Then Asanga took Maitreya and put him on his shoulders and paraded through the town wanting everybody to come out and meet Maitreya. He went parading around town like this saying to everybody, “Come meet Maitreya.” However, nobody was able to see anything because they too were all obscured by their impure karmic potentials. Consequently, everybody said, “There’s the crazy Dharma freak Asanga who has just gone mad trying to practice the Dharma.” There was, however, one old lady who saw the right leg of Maitreya on his shoulder. That was because she was a little bit purified of negative karmic potential.

After that, Maitreya took Asanga up to his god realm and taught him various scriptural texts. Asanga stayed there for one morning of the gods; however, when he came back down to earth he discovered that 50 human years had passed during that time. When he had left for this god realm, he was about 30 years old, and when he came back down, he was still in the form of a 30-year-old man. He lived a life of 300 years and during that entire period he never aged. He always stayed in the same form of a 30-year-old after his descent from this god’s realm.  

Therefore, if we openly admit the wrongs that we have done in the past, and apply the four opponent powers, as we have described them, then it is possible to purify ourselves of even the heaviest negative karmic potential from these heinous crimes. If that’s possible, then there’s no need to mention purifying ourselves of more minor types of destructive things that we might have done. It’s very important to have regret for the destructive things that we’ve done in the past, and likewise to have very strong resolve and promise not to commit these destructive actions again in the future.  

The Buddha himself said that the result of these heavy destructive actions is rebirth in the unfortunate states; however, likewise, it was the Buddha himself who said that if we apply these four opponent powers, we can purify ourselves of this negative potential. Destructive actions have no good aspects to them at all, only faults. Nonetheless, there is one good point about the negative karmic potential from having committed them and that is, if we openly admit that what we have done was wrong and apply the four opponent powers, then this negative karmic potential can be purified away. That’s the good point about them, that they can be purified.  

Now we know a little about destructive actions and the negative karmic potential they build up. We’ll stop here for now.