The Sutra of Recollecting the Three Jewels (Part 1)
by Khenchen Appey Rinpoche
This is the teaching known as The Sutra Recollecting the Three Jewels. In this sutra, what does “jewel” mean? The Sanskrit word ratna has been translated into the Tibetan language as dkon.mchog. The Tibetan translation of the word ratna is not a literal translation. The translator at that time thought that if it were translated into Tibetan as “jewel,” there would be the possibility of it being understood as a gem, gold, silver, coral, and the like. So the translator decided to translate the term as dkon.mchog, which means “excellent rarity” or “rare excellence.” The translator himself revealed this. In the Uttara Tantra, when he was explaining the meaning of “rare excellence,” the Victorious Maitreya said, “Generally, there are six characteristics of something that is very precious: it is rare, stainless, powerful, attractive, superior to other things, and unchangeable.”
What does “recollecting” mean? Recollecting means keeping in mind whatever any person already knows to be the qualities of the Three Jewels. If someone were to ask, “What are the benefits of recollecting the qualities of the Three Jewels?,” it is said that one of the benefits to arise through recollecting the qualities of the Three Jewels is the production of faith. Examples of this faith in the Buddha are that producing faith in the Buddha who shows the path to temporary and ultimate bliss will lead you to taking refuge in the Buddha; it will lead you to producing the Enlightenment Thought for the sake of other sentient beings that is a cause for attaining the state of complete Buddhahood; and it will also motivate you to engage in virtuous actions, such as prostrations and making offerings to the Buddhas. Now, producing faith in the Dharma will inspire you to study the Dharma. After understanding what you have studied, you will then desire to put that into practice. Producing faith in the Sangha will cause you yourself to spontaneously aspire to gain the state of a Bodhisattva, and it will also create a desire within you to make offerings to other Bodhisattvas.
In brief, faith will create a desire within you to engage in virtuous actions. It will lead you to take refuge in the Three Jewels. It will also inspire you to perform such practices as the Seven-Limbed Practice, which is dedicated to the objects of refuge who are endowed with infinite qualities. If you do not have faith in the Three Jewels, no Dharma qualities will be able to arise within your mind. In a sutra it is said, “A flower will not arise from a burnt seed.”
There is enormous merit in remembering the qualities of the Three Jewels. Previously, when the Buddha Kashyapa was teaching, a girl walked by that area and heard the Buddha teaching. In her mind she thought that the Buddha Kashyapa had a very pleasing voice, and because of this she produced faith in the qualities of his voice. Due to the merit arising from this, in her next life she obtained rebirth in one of the heavens. So it was said by the Buddha. If you are able to gain such a result from just recollecting a single quality of a Buddha, then there is no question of the merit accrued by studying, contemplating, and meditating on the qualities found in the sutras and their commentaries.
The Sanskrit word sutra is translated in Tibetan as mdo. The sutras are to be understood as the collection of many different topics spoken by the Buddha. This particular sutra is known as The Sutra of Recollecting the Three Jewels. When the translator began translating this sutra from Sanskrit into Tibetan, he added the words “Prostrations to the Omniscient One.” This sutra is divided into three sections: recollecting the qualities of the Buddha, recollecting the qualities of the Dharma, and recollecting the qualities of the Sangha.
[FIRST, TO EXPLAIN THE RECOLLECTION OF THE BUDDHA:]
There are two sources that explain the first of these, recollecting the qualities of the Blessed Buddha. These are the sutras of the Hinayana school and the sutras of the Mahayana school. According to the first, the Hinayana sutras, his qualities are described in the following manner:
Thus the Blessed One is called the One Gone to Suchness, the Foe Destroyer, the Perfectly Accomplished Buddha, the One Who Possesses Knowledge and Its “Feet,” the One Who Has Gone to Bliss, Knower of the World, the Charioteer Who Tames Sentient Beings, and the Unsurpassable Teacher of Gods and Humans.
The part described here at the beginning of this sutra is the Hinayana version of The Sutra [of Recollecting the Three Jewels]. Up to this point, it seems that there are different translations of the qualities of the Buddha. If we explain this in accordance with the word order in the Hinayana sutra, there are some inconsistencies. Since the word “Buddha,” for example, is omitted [in the Hinayana sutra], a person trying to explain it as it is written would have a difficult time. For this reason, the words “Thus” and “the Blessed One” are placed side by side. Further, if someone were to continue explaining those words from the sutra, they would need to explain the nine qualities of the Buddha starting with “the Blessed One.” In any case, we see that the one who possesses those nine qualities is known as Buddha. This is the meaning of the sutra. Both Asanga and Vasubandhu similarly described it in their two commentaries on the sutra.
Among those nine qualities enumerated in the quote from the sutra, the first one is [that the Buddha is] “the Blessed One” (Tibetan bchom.lden.’das; Sanskrit bhagavan). The meaning of this first quality is that the Buddha is called “the Blessed One” because he has destroyed the enemy that obstructs the attainment of enlightenment. Someone might ask, “What obstacle did the Buddha have?” Just when the Buddha was about to attain enlightenment [under the Bodhi Tree], the Mara of the Son of the Gods created a lot of obstacles for him. Therefore, the Buddha’s main obstacle was the Mara of the Son of the Gods. So the Buddha is known as “the Blessed One” because he attained enlightenment after having defeated that demon. Furthermore, another meaning of “the Blessed One” is that the Buddha destroyed either the three afflicting emotions [i.e., desire, hatred, and ignorance], as understood from the twelve limbs of Interdependent Origination, or the two obscurations [of the afflicting emotions and knowable things]. Therefore, he is called “the Blessed One.”
Normally, in the Sanskrit language, this term, “the Blessed One,” is known as bhagavan. The first part of this word, bhaga, means “to destroy,” “fortunate,” or “excellence.” The second part of that word, van, means “to possess.” Therefore, it means “the one who possesses the quality of destroying,” or “the one who destroys the things that have to be destroyed.” The second part of the word means “the one who possesses those qualities that need to be possessed.” So a person like this is known as bhagavan or bchom. lden. He is also known as “the Blessed One” because he possesses all good qualities.
Now, the second part of the word [bchom. lden.’das, namely,] ’das, was added on by the Tibetan translator. The reason for this is that the word leg.lden. can be substituted for the word bchom.lden. The term leg.lden. refers to worldly gods. In order that the word leg.lden. not be understood to mean “worldly gods or higher beings,” the translator added the word ’das to differentiate it [i.e., bchom.lden.’das] from leg.lden or bchom.lden. The word bchom means “defeating the four Maras”: the Mara of the Afflicting Emotions, such as attachment and aversion; the Mara of the Aggregates, such as the impure aggregates arising from ignorance and the like; the Mara of Death, such as the one who dies by the power of his [or her] individual karma while not having any choice over the matter; and the Mara of the Son of the Gods, who is a god within the realm of desire and who creates obstacles to Dharma practitioners. So bchom.lden means that the Buddha has already overpowered all four of these Maras.
There is also another connotation of this, known as leg.pa.gdrup, which means six excellences or six virtues. What do the “six virtues” mean? First, it can mean six excellent qualities. The first of these six virtues is the excellent quality of power. Here, this denotes that no scholar is able to criticise the Buddha by saying such things as “the logic and reasoning you use in relation to the teaching of the Dharma is incorrect.” The second excellent virtue is the excellent quality of body. The Buddha’s body is very beautiful — even more beautiful than the body of the gods. The third excellent virtue is the excellent quality of glory. The reason for this is that the field of the Buddha’s activities is extraordinarily vast and the Buddha has an infinite number of perfectly trained disciples. The fourth excellent virtue is the excellent quality of fame. His fame has spread to wherever his disciples reside. The fifth excellent virtue is the excellent quality of transcendental wisdom. Through his wisdom, the Buddha has the realisation of knowing all knowable things within the relative and ultimate truths. He knows all things unerringly. The sixth excellent virtue is the excellent quality of diligence. The Buddha can effortlessly and untiringly perform different activities for millions of sentient beings in a single moment.
The second epithet [of the Buddha] is “the One Gone to Suchness” (Tibetan de.zhin.shek.pa; Sanskrit Tathagata). The meaning of this appellation is unmistakably knowing the nature of all things as they are. This quality emphasises that the Buddha is the perfect teacher. For this reason the Buddha has this title “the One Gone to Suchness.” The main reason for calling him “the One Gone to Suchness” is that no matter what teaching the Buddha might give, it always shows the true nature of all phenomena. It is not otherwise. The Buddha has never taught anything that is a perverted wrong view. For this reason, the Buddha is called “the One Gone to Suchness.”
The third epithet is “the Foe Destroyer” (Tibetan dgra.bchom.pa; Sanskrit arhat). The first syllable of this word in Tibetan, dgra, refers to delusional afflicting emotions, such as attachment, hatred, and the like, that arise within our minds. Those afflicting emotions are called “enemies” because they cause obstacles to the practice of virtues. Due to this they also throw us into suffering, and so they are called enemies. Since the Buddha has destroyed all the afflicting emotions, he is called “the Foe Destroyer.” And so it shows that the Buddha has gained the perfection of the abandonment of the afflicting emotions.
The fourth epithet is “the Perfectly Accomplished One” (Tibetan yang.dag.par.dzogs.pa’i.sangs. rgyas; Sanskrit samyaksambuddha). What does “the Perfectly Accomplished One” mean? The one who has accomplished all the qualities of enlightenment and who has accomplished all knowledge is called “the Perfectly Accomplished Buddha.” The Buddha is one who has realised the wisdom that knows all knowable things in a completely perfect way. This explanation shows that the Blessed Buddha is the one who possesses the perfection of realisation. For this reason, it shows that the completely and perfectly enlightened Buddha is the teacher who is superior to other teachers. For example, the Foe Destroyers of the Shravakas possess the quality of a Foe Destroyer because they have abandoned all the afflicting emotions that arise within their own minds. However, they do not have the ability to teach without making some mistakes and they do not know all phenomena as they truly are. Also, the teachers of the heretical schools, such as Hinduism, do not have all these qualities [such as abandonment of the afflicting emotions within their own minds, teaching without fault, and knowing phenomena as they truly are].
The fifth epithet is “the One Who Possesses Knowledge and Its Feet” (Tibetan rig.pa.dang.zhabs. su.ldan.pa). These two terms show the path to attain Buddhahood. If someone were to ask, “practice of what kind of path will help you attain Buddhahood?,” then this is explained in the following manner. First, to explain “knowledge” from the phrase “knowledge and its feet”: Suppose, for example, you need to walk to another country. To do this you need both eyes and feet. In this example, knowledge is analogous to eyes, and feet are analogous to the basis on which you stand and by which you move. So when you walk you look through your eyes and you move with your feet. Similarly, to attain the state of Buddhahood you need both knowledge and basic practice. From among the three higher trainings, knowledge refers to the training of wisdom. “Feet” refer to the other two higher trainings — the training of moral conduct and the training of meditation. These last two play the role of being the basis, or foundation, of wisdom. In brief, this shows that through practicing the three higher trainings the state of Buddhahood is attained.
With respect to wisdom, it is the mind that realises the true nature of phenomena. Moral conduct is to be understood as the mind that is committed to relinquishing non-virtuous actions. With respect to meditation, since at this point we don’t have freedom over our own mind, our mind is not able to rest in one place [i.e., it is distracted]. One-pointed concentration is needed to enable the mind to penetrate into the true nature of phenomena. However, during the recitation of sadhanas [Vajrayana Deity recitation practices] or the performance of rituals, there are chances for the mind to rest in one place or focus on some virtue. That very state of mind is called meditation.
Here is another way to explain this: “knowledge” is understood as the Right View from among the Noble Eightfold Path, while “feet” are understood as the seven remaining limbs of the Noble Eightfold Path. So all eight parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are needed to reach the City of Liberation. Yet again, another way to explain this is that “knowledge” refers to the three supernatural perfections of direct realisation, and “feet” refer to other perfections, such as the perfection of moral conduct.
The sixth epithet [for the Buddha, i.e., “the One Who Has Gone to Bliss,”] is known in Sanskrit as sugata (Tibetan bde.war. gsheks.pa). Su means “bliss” or “happiness.” Gata means “going.” Further, this is explained as: By relying on a pleasant path, you arrive at a pleasant destination. So, understand sugata to mean that you use a pleasing path to reach a happy destination. In some other traditions, the path is not pleasing or happy. For example, in the practice of Hinduism, some practitioners will immerse themselves for a long period of time in cold water during the winter, while others will sit or lie upon a bed of thorns. By these actions, they inflict much pain upon themselves. However, the followers of the Buddha do not practice Dharma in that manner. For them, through a pleasant path and through pleasant Dharma practices, they are able to attain Buddhahood. Thus, sugata means “going pleasantly.” Hindu practitioners claim that if you are too inclined toward the happiness of body and mind, then desire will arise. For that reason they believe that one should practice austere penances. However, these types of Hindu spiritual practices are regarded as faulty by Buddhists. Why do we say this? When you are too happy, you become desirous. Similarly, by inflicting pain upon your body and mind, torturing yourself, you will become depressed and that will lead to anger. Therefore, the performance of virtuous activities is the method that will free you from the entrapment of worldly existence. In other words, through these mind-pleasing methods you will attain liberation from the bonds of samsaric existence. Whatever practice you engage in, you should make sure that your action will lead you to the attainment of freedom from worldly existence. Otherwise, just engaging in an action of penance is meaningless and will never lead you to a higher result.
Further, if we look in detail about the meaning of the term sugata, then we see that su refers to “good,” “never falling back,” and “complete” or “without exception.” Gata is to be understood as the Buddha’s qualities of relinquishment and realisation. If you were to explain the word good simply in relation to both the Buddha’s quality of relinquishment and his quality of realisation, then the first syllable su should be understood as “not relapsing” with respect to the quality of relinquishment. Once the Buddha has relinquished the afflicting emotions, they will not return. So the Buddha’s quality of relinquishment is a complete abandonment. For example, once you are cured from the disease of smallpox, this disease will never return for the rest of your life. Similarly, once you relinquish the afflicting emotions, such as selfclinging, then no matter what external or internal conditions may appear, self-clinging will never arise within you again. For that reason the Buddha is called “Sugata.” This means that the Buddha has gained perfect and complete relinquishment.
Next, we will explain the term sugata in relation to the Buddha’s realisations. Since the Buddha perfectly realises all knowable things, we address him as “Sugata.” For example, it is similar to a vase full of water to which not even one more drop can be added. Other teachers who impart the Dharma, such as Arhats, Shravakas, and Pratyekabuddhas, have relinquished the afflicting emotions of obscurations so that these afflicting emotions will not return. However, they do not possess the quality of realising all knowable things. Therefore, teachers of other schools do not have the dual qualities that are suggested by the term sugata. The meaning of the qualities of the Buddha, or Sugata, is explained in great detail in Dharmakirti’s Pramanavartika as “good,” “not falling back,” and “without exception” in relation to the Buddha’s qualities of relinquishment and realisation. Also, in the words of the sutra, the Buddha’s names and the qualities of his enlightened activities, such as Knower of the World, Tamer of Sentient Beings, Unsurpassable One, Charioteer Who Tames Sentient Beings, etc., are all explained in great detail. However, here we are explaining them briefly.
The seventh epithet is understood as “Knower of the World” (Tibetan ’jig.rten.mkhyen.pa). Since Buddha knows the races and predispositions of all his disciples, he is addressed as “Knower of the World.” The Buddha knows which disciples have faults, which ones are progressing, which ones are about to go to lower births, and which ones have already arrived in the lower realms. The Buddha has the power to see all this. Further, he has the ability to see which ones need to be placed on the path to higher rebirth from the lower realms and which ones have already been placed on the path to liberation. So, Buddha is an omniscient one and is recognized as the “Knower of the World.”
The eighth epithet is known as “ the Unsurpassable Charioteer Who Tames Sentient Beings” (Tibetan skyes.bu.’dul.ba’i.kha.lo.sgyur. ba.bla.na.med.pa). Why is the Buddha known as “the Unsurpassable Charioteer Who Tames Sentient Beings”? Having seen the movements from birth to birth of sentient beings, the Buddha destroys the afflicting emotions of living beings who are fortunate enough to be able to attain the path leading to the City of liberation. For those beings, the Buddha will steer them along that path.
What does “charioteer” mean here? It is similar to one driving a horse cart or some other vehicle. In accordance with the predispositions and abilities of sentient beings, the Buddha leads them onto the path of liberation. For this reason, the Buddha is addressed as “Charioteer” and “Tamer of Beings.”
“Unsurpassable” should be understood to mean that there is no one superior to the Buddha who can lead sentient beings to the state of liberation. In the sutras there are several reasons cited as to why the Buddha is matchless. Sentient beings who are difficult to discipline can be tamed only by the Buddha. Even those whose mental continuum was filled with delusion were able to be tamed by the Buddha. For example, the Buddha’s younger brother, Nanda, had a difficult time being apart from his wife Pundarika due to his attachment to her. Through very skillful means, the Buddha convinced his brother to become a monk. He then led him in the practice of meditation, and finally Nanda attained the state of Arhatship. Another case involved Angulimala, a frightful and ferocious killer whose mind was filled with anger and hatred. Just hearing his name brought great terror to the hearts of people. Generally speaking, Angulimala was a very famous person due to his renown as a fearsome mass murderer. However, through the Buddha’s assistance, he became a monk and entered the path. Even then, he still frightened people. One time he was listening to the Buddha’s teaching along with an assembly of others that included King Prasanjit of Sarvasti. During the teaching Angulimala happened to cough, and even this caused the king to tremble. In yet another case, there is the story of a dimwitted Stavira monk. During his studies his teacher asked him to memorise the syllables om and bhu. When he tried to memorise the syllable om, he would forget the syllable bhu. When he memorised bhu, then he would forget om again. Even this person was also trained by the Buddha. In order to purify his obscurations, the Buddha first had him clean the shrine room of the monastery. Through this and other skillful means, the Buddha was able to cause him to purify his afflicting emotions and obscurations. Later, he became a learned monk. Not only that, but the Buddha placed him in meditation practice, and later he attained the state of Arhatship. In a similar way, there was another Stavira monk by the name of brtan.rgya.’od.srung who was a very proud and arrogant person. He possessed many qualities, such as clairvoyance and the ability to display miraculous feats. Due to this, he was very haughty and conceited. In order to discipline him, the Buddha himself displayed many miraculous acts. In his mind, though, even when the Buddha demonstrated so many miraculous feats, this monk continued to believe that he had more special qualities than the Buddha. In order to tame him, the Buddha continued to display even more miracles. Finally, this caused the monk to produce true faith in the Buddha. He then received teaching from the Buddha and eventually attained the state of Arhatship.
The ninth epithet is “the One Who is the Teacher of Gods and Humans” (Tibetan lha.dang.mi.rnam. kyi.ston.pa). Generally, the Buddha gives teachings to all sentient beings, without bias and regardless of their race. However, though the Buddha teaches all beings, gods and humans are the only two types of living beings who are capable of practicing the path of liberation. Foe Destroyers (Arhats) are of two kinds: god Foe Destroyers and human Foe Destroyers. There is no such category as animal Foe Destroyer. Therefore, the principal disciples of the Buddha are gods and humans. For this reason, the Buddha is addressed as “the Teacher of Gods and Humans.”
These nine phrases in the Hinayanists’ rendition of this sutra refer back to the Buddha being known as “the Blessed One.” Therefore, this last phrase, “the Teacher of Gods and Humans,” completes the enumeration of terms referring to the Buddha who has the nine qualities that have just been explained.
If someone were to ask, “Who is the Buddha?” we would have to say that that unique person who possesses these nine qualities is none other than the Blessed Buddha. The meaning of the Sanskrit term bhagavan [usually translated as “the Blessed One,” as explained above,] can sometimes also be interpreted as “known as.” Therefore, without using the term “Blessed One,” it is all right to translate the phrase as follows: the one who possesses the nine qualities is “known as the Buddha.”