Seeking the “I”
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

All the problems we encounter in samsara: the cycle of repeated death and rebirth, have their source in the ignorance that grasps at things as though they were self-existent. Our situation in this cycle is similar to being trapped in a large building with many rooms and doors, but with only one door leading out. We wander hopelessly from one part of the building to another, looking for the right door. The door that leads us out of samsara is the wisdom that realises the emptiness of self-existence. This wisdom is the direct remedy for the ignorance which is both cause and effect of clinging to self, and which believes the self or “I” to be inherently and independently existent. In other words, the I appears to be something it is not: a concrete, unchanging entity, existing in its own right, and our ignorant mind clings to this mistaken view. We then become addicted to this phantom I and treasure it as if it were a most precious possession. Wisdom recognises that such an autonomously existing I is totally non-existent and thus, by wisdom, ignorance is destroyed. It is said in the Buddhist scriptures that to realise the correct view of emptiness, even for a moment, shakes the foundations of samsara, just as an earthquake shakes the foundations of a building.

Each of us has this instinctive conviction of a concrete, independently existing I. When we wake up in the morning we think, “I have to make breakfast,” or “I have to go to work.” Thence arises the powerful intuition of an I which exists in its own right, and we cling to this mistaken belief. If someone says, “You’re stupid,” or “You’re intelligent,” this I leaps forth from the depths of our mind, burning with anger or swollen with pride. This strong sense of self has been with us from birth — we did not learn it from our parents or teachers. It appears most vividly in times of strong emotion: when we are mistreated, abused or under the influence of attachment or pride. If we experience an earthquake or if our car or ‘plane nearly crashes, a terrified I invades us, making us oblivious to everything else. A strong sense of I also arises whenever our name is called. But this apparently solid, autonomous I is not authentic. It does not exist at all.

This does not mean that we do not exist, for there is a valid, conventionally existent I. This is the self that experiences happiness and suffering, that works, studies, eats, sleeps, meditates and becomes enlightened. This I does exist, but the other I is a mere hallucination. In our ignorance, however, we confuse the false I with the conventional I and are unable to tell them apart.

This brings us to a problem that often arises in meditation on emptiness. Some meditators think, “My body is not the I, my mind is not the I, therefore I don’t exist,” or “Since I cannot find my I, I must be getting close to the realisation of emptiness.” Meditation which leads to such conclusions is incorrect, because it disregards the conventional self. The meditator fails to recognise and properly identify the false I that is to be repudiated and instead repudiates the conventional or relative I that does exist. If this error is not corrected it could develop into the nihilistic view that nothing exists at all, and could lead to further confusion and suffering rather than to liberation.

What is the difference, then, between the false I and the conventional I? The false I is merely a mistaken idea we have about the self: namely, that it is something concrete, independent and existing in its own right. The I which does exist is dependent: it arises in dependence on body and mind, the components of our being. This body-mind combination is the basis to which conceptual thinking ascribes a name. In the case of a candle, the wax and wick are the basis to which the name “candle” is ascribed. Thus a candle is dependent upon its components and its name. There is no candle apart from these. In the same way, there is no I independent of body, mind and name.

Whenever the sense of I arises, as in “I am hungry,” self-grasping ignorance believes this I to be concrete and inherently existent. But if we analyse this I, we shall find that it is made up of the body — specifically our empty stomach — and the mind that identifies itself with the sensation of emptiness. There is no inherently existing hungry I apart from these interdependent elements.

If the I were independent, then it would be able to function autonomously. For example, my I could remain seated here reading while my body goes into town. My I could be happy while my mind is depressed. But this is impossible; therefore the I cannot be independent. When my body is sitting, my I is sitting. When my body goes into town, my I goes into town. When my mind is depressed, my I is depressed. According to our physical activity or our state of mind, we say, “I am working,” “I am eating,” “I am thinking,” “I am happy,” and so on. The I depends on what the body and mind do; it is postulated on that basis alone. There is nothing else. There are no other grounds for such a postulation.

The dependence of the I should be clear from these simple examples. Understanding dependence is the principal means of realising emptiness, or the non-independent existence of the I. All things are dependent. For example, the term “body” is applied to the body’s components: skin, blood, bones, organs and so on. These parts are dependent on yet smaller parts: cells, atoms and sub-atomic particles.

The mind is also dependent. We imagine it to be something real and self-existent, and react strongly if we hear, “You have a good mind,” or “You’re terribly confused.” Mind is a formless phenomenon that perceives objects, and is clear in nature. On the basis of that function we impute the label “mind.” There is no functioning mind apart from these factors. Mind depends upon its components: momentary thoughts, perceptions and feelings. Just as the I, the body, and the mind depend upon their components and labels, so do all phenomena arise dependently.

These points can best be understood by means of a simple meditation designed to reveal how the I comes into apparent existence. Begin with a breathing meditation to relax and calm the mind. Then, with the alertness of a spy, slowly and carefully become aware of the I. Who or what is thinking, feeling, and meditating? How does it seem to come into existence? How does it appear to you? Is your I a creation of your mind, or is it something existing concretely and independently, in its own right?

Once you have identified the I, try to locate it. Where is it? Is it in your head…in your eyes…in your heart…in your hands…in your stomach…in your feet? Carefully consider each part of your body, including the organs, blood vessels and nerves. Can you find the I? If not, it may be very small and subtle, so consider the cells, the atoms and the parts of the atoms.

After considering the entire body, again ask yourself how your I manifests its apparent existence. Does it still appear to be vivid and concrete? Is your body the I or not?

Perhaps you think that your mind is the I. The mind consists of thoughts which constantly change, in rapid alternation. Which thought is the I? Is it a loving thought…an angry thought…a serious thought…a silly thought? Can you find the I in your mind?

If your I cannot be found in the body or the mind, is there any other place to look for it? Could the I exist somewhere else or in some other manner? Examine every possibility.

Once again examine the way in which the I appears to you. Has there been any change? Do you still believe it to be real and existing in its own right? If such a self-existent I still appears, think, “This is the false I which does not exist. There is no I independent of body and mind.”

Then mentally disintegrate your body. Imagine all the atoms of your body separating and floating apart. Billions and billions of minute particles scatter through space. Imagine that you can actually see this. Disintegrate your mind as well, and let every thought float away.
Now, where are you? Is the self-existent I still there, or can you understand how the I is dependent, merely attributed to the body and the mind?

Sometimes a meditator will have the experience of losing the I altogether. He cannot find the self and feels as if his body has vanished. There is nothing to hold on to. For intelligent beings this experience is one of great joy, like finding a marvelous treasure. Those with little understanding, however, are terrified, or feel that a treasure has just been lost. If this happens, there is no need to fear that the conventional I has disappeared — it is merely a sensation arising from a glimpse of the false I’s unreality.

With practice, this meditation will bring about a gradual dissolution of our rigid concept of the I and of all phenomena. We shall no longer be so heavily influenced by ignorance. Our very perceptions will change and everything will appear in a new and fresh light.

Closely examine the objects, such as forms, that appear to your six consciousnesses, analyzing the way in which they appear to you. Thus the bare mode of the existence of things will arise brilliantly before you.

These lines from The Great Seal of Voidness, a text on mahamudra by the first Panchen Lama, contain the key to all meditation on emptiness. The most important factor in realising emptiness is correct recognition of what is to be discarded. In the objects appearing to our six consciousnesses there is an existent factor and a non-existent factor. This false, non-existent factor is to be discarded. The realisation of emptiness is difficult as long as we do not realise what the objects of the senses lack, ie, what they are empty of. This is the key that unlocks the vast treasure house of emptiness.

But this recognition is difficult to achieve and requires a foundation of skillful practice. According to Lama Tsongkhapa, there are three things to concentrate on in order to prepare our minds for the realisation of emptiness: first, dissolution of obstacles and accumulation of merit; second, devotion to the spiritual teacher; and third, study of subjects such as the graduated path to enlightenment and mahamudra. Understanding will come quickly if we follow this advice. Our receptivity to realisations depends primarily on faith in the teacher. Without this, we may try to meditate but find we are unable to concentrate, or we may hear explanations of the Dharma but find that the words have little effect.

This explanation accords with the experience of realised beings. I myself have no experience of meditation. I constantly forget emptiness, but I try to practice a little Dharma sometimes. If you also practice, you can discover for yourselves the validity of this teaching.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche 50..jpg


The Haunted Dominion of Mind
by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

In old Tibet, practitioners went to charnel grounds, springs, haunted houses, haunted trees, and so on, in order to reveal how deeply their practice had cut to the core of their fears and attachments. The practice of cutting through our deepest attachments and fears to their core is called nyensa chödpa. Nyensa chödpa means “cutting through the haunted dominion of mind.” It is not that I am encouraging you to go to these haunted places to test yourself, but it’s important for all practitioners to understand the view behind nyensa chödpa, because until we are challenged we don’t know how deep our practice can go.

We may be established practitioners; we may be comfortable with our practice and working with our minds; everything could be going smoothly. As my teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche used to say, “Practice is easy when the sun is on your back and your belly is full.” But when difficult circumstances arise and we are completely shaken from within, when we hit rock bottom, or when something is haunting us and we feel completely vulnerable and exposed to all our neurosis, then it’s a different story.

Challenging circumstances expose to us how much we have learned from the buddhadharma, how much we have learned from the tantra, and how much we have learned from our meditation practice and the experience of our mind. But we don’t need to wait for challenging circumstances to uncover our hidden fears and attachments. We don’t need to wait for our bliss bubble to pop, for a dear one to die, or to find out we have a fatal disease. There is plenty of opportunity to practice nyensa chödpa right here in our own minds. There is plenty of opportunity because there is plenty of self-clinging.

The haunted dominion of mind is the dominion of self-clinging. It is the world of self and all the hopes and fears that come with trying to secure it. Our efforts to secure the self give rise to all the negative emotions. If we were not so concerned with cherishing and providing for the self, there would be no reason for attachment. Aggression, too, would have no reason to arise if there were no self to protect. And jealousy, which shows up whenever we think the self is lacking something, would have no impetus to eat away at our inner peace because we would be content with the natural richness and confidence of our own mind. If we had no need to shield all of the embarrassing things about the self that make us so insecure, we would have no cause for arrogance. Finally, if we were not so fixated on the self, we could rely on our innate intelligence rather than let our stupidity escort us through the activities that bring us so much pain time and time again.

So emotions themselves are not the cause of the problem. Yet until we reach down to the very root of our negative emotions, they will be there, standing in line waiting to “save” us from our fundamental insecurities. Unless we let go of grasping to the self with all its egotistical scheming to save itself in the usual manner, we will only continue to enforce a stronger and stronger belief in the solidity of the self. If the aim of practice is to free ourselves from our endless insecurities, then we must cut through self-clinging. Until we do, self-clinging will define our relationship with the world, whether it be the inner world of our own mind or the world outside of us.

From the perspective of the self, the world is either for us or against us. If it is for us, its purpose is to feed our infinite attachments. If it is against us, it is to be rejected and adds to our infinite paranoia. It is either our friend or our enemy, something to lure or reject. The stronger we cling to a self, the stronger grows our belief in a solid, objective world that exists separate from us. The more we see it as solid and separate, the more the world haunts us: we are haunted by what we want from the world and we are haunted by our struggle to protect ourselves from it.

The many problems we see in the world today, and also encounter in our own personal lives, spring from the belief that the enemy or threat is “outside” of us. This split occurs when we forget how deeply connected we are to others and the world around us. This is not to say that mind and the phenomenal world are one and that everything we experience is a mere figment of our imagination. It simply means that what we believe to be a self, and what we believe to be other than self, are inextricably linked, and that, in truth, the self can only exist in relation to other. Seeing them as separate is really the most primitive way of viewing and engaging our lives.

To see the connectedness or interdependence of all things is to see in a big way. It reduces the artificial separation we create between the self and everything else. For instance, when we hold tightly to a self, the natural law of impermanence looms as a threat to our existence. But when we accept that we are part of this natural flow, we begin to see that the entity we cling to as a static, immutable, and independent self is just a continuous stream of experience composed of thoughts, feelings, forms, and perceptions that change from moment to moment. When we accept this, we become part of something much greater — the movement of the entire universe.

What we experience as “our life” results from the interdependent relationship between the “outer” world — the world of color, shape, sound, smell, taste, and touch — and our awareness. We cannot separate awareness — the knower — from that which is known. Is it possible, for instance, to see without a visual object or to hear without a sound? And how can we isolate the content of our thoughts from the information we receive from our environment, our relationships, and the imprints of our sense perceptions? How can we separate our bodies from the elements that it is composed of, or the food we eat to keep us alive, or the causes and conditions that brought our bodies into existence?

In fact there is little consistency in what we consider to be self and what we consider to be other. Sometimes we include our emotions as part of the self. Other times our anger or depression seem to haunt or even threaten us. Our thoughts also seem to define who we are as individuals, but so often they agitate or excite us as if they existed as other. Generally we identify the body with the self, yet when we fall ill we often find ourselves saying, “My stomach is bothering me,” or “My liver is giving me trouble.” If we investigate carefully, we will inevitably conclude that to pinpoint where the self leaves off and the world begins is not really possible. The one thing we can observe is that everything that arises, both what we consider to be the self and what we consider to be other than self, does so through a relationship of interdependence.

All phenomena depend upon other in order to arise, express themselves, and fall away. There is nothing that can be found to exist on its own, independent and separate from everything else. That self and other lack clearly defined boundaries does not then mean that we are thrown into a vague state of not knowing who we are and how to relate to the world, or that we lose our discerning intelligence. It simply means that through loosening the clinging we have to our small, constricted notion of self, we begin to relax into the true nature of all phenomena: the nondual state of emptiness, which transcends both self and other.

Having gone beyond dualistic mind, we can enjoy the “single unit” of our own profound dharmakaya nature. The “singularness” of emptiness is not single as opposed to many. It is a state beyond one or two, subject and object, and the self and the world outside; it is the singular nature of all things. Upon recognising the nature of emptiness, our own delusion — the false duality of subject and object — cracks apart and dissolves. This relieves us of the heaviness produced by the subtle underlying belief that things have a separate or solid nature. At the same time we apprehend the interconnectedness of everything and this brings a greater vision to our lives.

Cultivating a deep conviction in the view of emptiness is what the practice of nyensa chödpais all about. Nyensa refers to that which haunts us: clinging to the self and all the fears and delusion this produces. Chödpa means “to cut through.” What is it that cuts through our clinging, fears, and delusion? It is the realisation of emptiness, the realisation of the truth. When the view of emptiness dawns in our experience, if even only for a moment, self-grasping naturally dissolves. This is when we begin to develop confidence in what is truly possible.

Impressed by the yogi Milarepa’s unwavering confidence in the view of emptiness, the Ogress of the Rock, while attempting to haunt and frighten him, made this famous statement, which illustrates the view of nyensa chödpa very well. She said,

This demon of your own tendencies arises from your mind, if you don’t recognise the [empty] nature of your mind. I’m not going to leave just because you tell me to go. If you don’t realise that your mind is empty there are many more demons besides myself. But if you recognise the [empty] nature of your own mind, adverse circumstances will serve only to sustain you, and even I, Ogress of the Rock, will be at your bidding.

To understand emptiness conceptually is not enough. We need to understand it through direct experience so that when we are shaken from the depth of our being, when the whole mechanism of self-clinging is challenged, we can rest in this view with confidence. When challenging circumstances arise, we cannot just conceptually patch things up with the ideas we have about emptiness. Merely thinking, “Everything is empty,” does little service at such times. It is like walking into a dimly lit room, seeing a rope on the ground, and mistaking it for a snake. We can tell ourselves, “It’s a rope, it’s a rope, it’s a rope,” all we want, but unless we turn on the light and see for ourselves, we will never be convinced it is not a snake, and our fear will remain. When we turn on the light, we can see through direct experience that what we mistook for a snake was actually a rope, and our fear lifts. In the same way, when we realise the empty nature of the self and the world around us, we free ourselves from the clinging and fear that comes with it. It is essential that we have conviction based upon experience — no matter how great or small that experience is.

Without this conviction we may run up against a lot of doubts about our meditation practice when difficult circumstances surface. We may wonder why our meditation isn’t working. If meditation does not serve us in difficult times, what else can we do to rescue ourselves from the horror and fear we have inside? What about all the years of practice we have done? Were we just fooling ourselves? Was our practice ever genuine at all?

In times like these we need not get discouraged about our ability to practice. Coupled with open-minded questioning, challenging circumstances can help deepen and clarify the purpose of our path because they expose how far our practice has penetrated to the core of self-clinging. Although these experiences often shock or disturb us, they bring our attention to the immediate experience of clinging and the pain it generates, and we begin to think about letting go.

We may have had the experience of letting go of our clinging and resting in the nature of emptiness many times in the past, but have not yet developed trust or conviction in that experience. We may feel certain in the moment of seeing our ordinary confused perceptions collapse, but unless we trust that experience, it will not affect the momentum of our ordinary confused habits. Quickly we will return to believing in our experience as solid and real. However, if we are able to trust the direct experience of emptiness, we can, through hindsight, bridge that understanding with our present experience. We rely on the recollection of our direct encounter with the view to change the way we ordinarily respond to difficult situations.

On the other hand, even if we do have some conviction, it is not as if because we have let go once — “That’s it!” — we’ve let go completely and we will never cling again. Habitual mind is like a scroll of paper: when you first unroll it, immediately it curls back up. You need to continually flatten it out, and eventually it will stay. Our constant challenge as practitioners, the true focus of our practice, is reducing the attachment we have in the core of our mind.

As we approach the haunted dominion with less fear, we may actually find some intelligence in the experience of being haunted: although we continuously try to secure the self, instinctually we know that we cannot. This instinctual knowledge comes from an innate intelligence that sees the dynamic, ungraspable nature of all things. It observes things arise and fall away, both happiness and suffering and the changes of birth, old age, sickness, and death. When we cling to self and other, our mind feels deeply conflicted and fearful because clinging is at odds with our inner intelligence. Of course, we are not clinging because we want to suffer; we are clinging because we want to avoid suffering. But clinging by its nature causes pain. When we let go of grasping and turn toward our innate intelligence, we begin to experience a sense of ease in our minds and we begin to develop a new relationship with that which ordinarily haunts us.

As practitioners interested in going beyond delusion, we may find ourselves intrigued by the haunted dominion of mind. We may find that, rather than trying to avoid pain, we want to move closer to that which haunts us. Emboldened by the experience of emptiness, we can question the solidity or truth of our fears — maybe things don’t exist as they appear. In fact, each time we see through the haunted dominion of mind — when we see its illusory or empty nature — we experience the taste of true liberation. This is why the great yogis of the past practiced in haunted places such as charnel grounds. Places that provoke the hidden aspects of mind are full of possibilities for liberation. In this way, the haunted dominion — whether it is a charnel ground or the dominion of fear that results from our own self-clinging — serves as the very ground of our realisation.

We don’t need to cling to the self to enjoy life. Life is naturally rich and abundant. There is nothing more liberating and enjoyable than experiencing the world around us without grasping. We do not deprive ourselves of experience if we forsake our attachments. Clinging actually inhibits us from enjoying life to its fullest. We consume ourselves trying to arrange the world according to our preferences rather than delighting in the way our experience naturally unfolds.

We can find so much appreciation of life when we are free of the hopes and fears related to self-clinging — even of all the problems we generally try to avoid and dread, such as old age, sickness, and death. The ability to appreciate all aspects of our mind really says something about mind’s magnificent potential. It shows us that the mind is so much greater than the confusions, fears, and unrest that so often haunt us. It show us that our personal suffering and the world of suffering “outside” of us are nothing more than the inner and outer world of our own delusion — samsara.

Nyensa chödpa is cutting through the mind of samsara. What could be much more haunted and fearful than samsara? What could be a greater benefit than getting beyond samsara and our own self-grasping? What could be more meaningful than recognising that samsara — that which has made us so fearful and shaken — is by nature the nondual nature of emptiness itself? If we do the practice of nyensa chödpa in our everyday life, it is a wonderful way to live this life, and the work we do will measure up in the end.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche 35.




































































































Ven Bai Yun (白云老禅师) 9.

Within the sky-like empty mind, habitual tendencies and disturbing emotions are just like clouds and mist. When they appear, they appear within the expanse of empty mind. When they remain, they remain within the expanse of empty mind. And when they dissolve, they dissolve in that same expanse of empty mind.

— Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche

Guru Rinpoche 80

The Challenge of Other Religions
by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

For many religious people, accepting the legitimacy of other faith traditions poses a serious challenge. To accept that other religions are legitimate may seem to compromise the integrity of one’s own faith, since it entails the admission of different but efficacious spiritual paths. A devout Buddhist might feel that acceptance of other spiritual paths as valid suggests the existence of ways other than of the Buddha toward the attainment of enlightenment. A Muslim might feel that acceptance of other traditions as legitimate would require relinquishing the belief that God’s revelation to the Prophet, as recorded in the Qur’an, represents the final revelation of the highest truth. In the same vein, a Christian might feel that accepting the legitimacy of other religions would entail compromising the key belief that it is only through Jesus Christ that the way to God is found. So the encounter with an entirely different faith, which one can neither avoid nor explain away, poses a serious challenge to deep assumptions.

This raises these critical questions: Can a single-pointed commitment to one’s own faith coexist with acceptance of other religions as legitimate? Is religious pluralism impossible from the perspective of a devout person who is strongly and deeply committed to his or her own faith tradition?

Yet without the emergence of a genuine spirit of religious pluralism, there is no hope for the development of harmony based on true interreligious understanding.

Historically, religions have gone to great lengths, even waging wars, to impose their version of what they deem to be the one true way. Even within their own fold, religions have harshly penalised those heterodox or heretical voices that the tradition took as undermining the integrity of the inviolable truths that the specific faith represents. The entire ethos of missionary activity — that is, the focus on bringing about active conversion of people from other faiths or no faiths — is grounded in the ideal of bringing the “one true way” to those whose eyes remain unopened. In a sense, one might even say that there is an altruistic motive underlying this drive to convert others to one’s own faith.

Given this history and given the perception of conflict that many religious people feel between maintaining the integrity of their own faith and the acceptance of pluralism, is the emergence of genuine interreligious harmony based on mutual understanding possible at all? Scholars of religion speak of three different ways in which a follower of a particular faith tradition may relate to the existence of other faith traditions. One is a straightforward exclusivism, a position that one’s own religion is the only true religion and that rejects, as it were by default, the legitimacy of other faith traditions. This is the standpoint adopted most often by the adherents of the religious traditions. Another position is inclusivism, whereby one accords a kind of partial validity to other faith traditions but maintains that their teachings are somehow contained within one’s own faith tradition — a position historically characterised by some Christian responses to Judaism and Islam’s relation to both Judaism and Christianity. Though more tolerant than the first position, this second standpoint ultimately suggests the redundancy of other faith traditions. Finally, there is pluralism, which accords validity to all faith traditions.

So, with these considerations as background, how does a follower of a particular religious tradition deal with the question of the legitimacy of other religions? On the doctrinal level, this is a question of how to reconcile two seemingly conflicting perspectives that pertain to the world’s religious traditions. I often characterise these two perspectives as “one truth, one religion” versus “many truths, many religions.” How does a devout person reconcile the perspective of “one truth, one religion” that one’s own teachings appear to proclaim with the perspective of “many truths, many religions” that the reality of the human world undeniably demands?

As many religious believers feel, I would agree that some version of exclusivism — the principle of “one truth, one religion” — lies at the heart of most of the world’s great religions. Furthermore, a single-pointed commitment to one’s own faith tradition demands the recognition that one’s chosen faith represents the highest religious teaching. For example, for me Buddhism is the best, but this does not mean that Buddhism is the best for all. Certainly not. For millions of my fellow human beings, theistic forms of teaching represent the best path. Therefore, in the context of an individual religious practitioner, the concept of “one truth, one religion” remains most relevant. It is this that gives the power and single-pointed focus of one’s religious path. At the same time, it is critical that the religious practitioner harbours no egocentric attachment to his faith.

Dalai Lama 159.

As deluded beings with heavy karma, we can hardly understand the ultimate meaning of the teachings from the enlightened ones. Nevertheless, we can get closer to their wisdom through diligent learning.

— Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche

Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche (法王如意宝晋美彭措) 22.

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.


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, 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; 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; 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’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 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. 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 ’ 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.’’i.kha.lo.sgyur. 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. 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.”

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