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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > Overview of the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes (Six Perfections) > Session One: Bodhichitta and the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes in the Context of the Two Networks

Overview of the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes (Six Perfections)

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Session One: Bodhichitta and the Six Far-Reaching Attitudes in the Context of the Two Networks

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:24 hours)


Yesterday we were speaking about bodhichitta and we saw that there was relative and deepest bodhichittas. Relative bodhichitta is aimed at our own individual, future enlightenment which has not happened yet, but on the basis of our Buddha-natures and a great deal of effort and work on our parts, it’s something that definitely is possible to achieve. And because we are convinced that it is possible to achieve and we have an accurate idea of what it is, then with relative bodhichitta we aim at actually what that future enlightenment is – what it will be, its qualities and so on – with two intentions: the intention to achieve that enlightenment through the realistic methods that will actually bring us there, and to benefit all beings as much as is possible by means of that attainment. We understand fully that we are not going to become an omnipotent god that can just snap the fingers – doesn’t even need to snap the fingers – and everybody’s problems will go away. That’s impossible. But we can teach others by actual instructions, and by our example, how to reach enlightenment. Then it’s up to them to actually do it.

States of Mind that Accompany Bodhichitta

And that bodhichitta is accompanied by various other states of mind that are simultaneous with it, which are part of our motivation for aiming to achieve enlightenment. These states of mind are focused on not our future enlightenment; they’re focused on all beings – which means absolutely every sentient being (or being with a limited body, a limited mind) absolutely equally, so we’re talking about every insect, everybody – with love, the wish for them to be happy and have the causes for happiness, and compassion, which is the wish for them to be free of suffering and free of the causes of suffering. So the love is aimed actually at the happiness and welfare of those sentient beings, and it’s the wish for it to increase and for it to grow. And the compassion is aimed at their suffering; it’s the wish for them to be free of that.

We have to be clear what these states of mind are focusing on and how they are focusing on them, in order to be able to actually generate them. Otherwise we have no idea of what in the world to do with my mind and my feelings when I am meditating on love or compassion, or bodhichitta for that matter. And compassion, as His Holiness explains, has as part of it the… not just wishing that their problems go away without having any idea or conviction that it’s actually possible for them to get rid of their problems; it’s based on understanding that it is possible for them to get rid of them. Otherwise it’s a pointless wish. It is also accompanied by an understanding of how they can get rid of their problems. It’s not that some savior, some omnipotent savior, is going to save them; it has the courage to actually help them to overcome these problems. There’s understanding – t here’s always understanding – with these emotions, these feelings, these positive feelings.

And we also have, accompanying our bodhichitta, another state of mind or emotion, or however you want to call it, which is called the exceptional resolve or resolution (lhag-bsam, Skt. adhyashaya). So focusing on all beings equally and their situations, then this is the exceptional resolve that His Holiness sometimes refers to. This is universal responsibility; it’s not just the courage to try to help them, but absolute decided resolution: “I’m going to try as much as possible to help them, to benefit them. I take responsibility, a sense of responsibility, to actually do it, do something about it.”

And so love, compassion, universal responsibility, bodhichitta. These are all quite individual states of mind, although they all go together of course, but it’s important not to confuse them but to have a clear idea of each of them – what they are, what it is focusing on, how it focuses on its object – in order to have our state of mind not missing anything, to have it properly.

Deepest bodhichitta is focused on how that enlightenment exists, our future enlightenment that we’re aiming for. In other words, it’s focused on voidness.

A Note about Red and White Bodhichitta

I should just mention, since sometimes people come across this in tantra and it can be quite confusing, that in the highest class of tantra, we speak about white and red bodhichittas. Now, these are forms of very subtle material phenomena, physical phenomena. These are not states of mind. These are very subtle… difficult to find a good word, but let us call them sparks of creative energy that each of us has. And in the highest class of tantra, in the very advanced stages of it, once we gain the ability to do this – which is incredibly difficult to gain, that ability – then we can move these very subtle creative energies within our body and dissolve them into the heart chakra in order to be able to achieve or access the subtlest level of mind. It’s called the clear light mind (’od-gsal). And then use that for focusing on voidness and achieving enlightenment, because it’s the most efficient level of mind.

And so these are substances and methods that we work with, these white and red bodhichittas, in order to actually achieve deepest bodhichitta, this clear light mind focused on voidness. And so often in Buddhism the name of the result is given to the cause, they say, and so the result – which is bodhichitta, deepest bodhichitta – that name is given to, as an alternative name, to these two types of creative subtle energy within the body. That’s what is white and red bodhichitta – are why they’re called bodhichittas.

Just so you don’t get confused, because I know that can be terribly confusing when we come across those names. At our level of practice, this is something we are not at all involved with. Very, very advanced. Also, so that people don’t get confused, both men and women have both white and red bodhichittas. And so although there are different levels of grossness of it, we shouldn’t associate them with the grossest representations of them and think that only men have one and only the wife and only women have red; that’s incorrect.

Aspiring and Engaged Bodhichitta

Now, within relative bodhichitta – we continue our review here – within relative bodhichitta, there’s the wishing stage (smon-sems, aspiring bodhichitta) of it, which is we wish to achieve that enlightenment to benefit everyone, and then the engaged state (’jug-sems), in which we actually engage our self in the behavior, conduct, that will actually bring us to this goal. So first we develop the wishing state, then the engaged state.

And that wishing state has the merely wishing phase (smon-sems smon-pa-tsam, merely aspiring state of aspiring bodhichitta), when we merely wish to achieve enlightenment, and then what’s sometimes translated as the promised or committed stage (smon-sems dam-bca’-can, pledged aspiring bodhichitta), with which we are very strongly resolute and decide that we’re never going to turn back from this. And when we achieve that engaged state of bodhichitta, of relative bodhichitta, that is the stage that entails, as part of that, taking the bodhisattva vows. They go together. It’s not that you can develop engaged bodhichitta without taking the bodhisattva vows. It means taking the bodhisattva vows, in which we…

A vow (sdom-pa, Skt. samvara) is a… it’s the shaping of the mind, shaping of our conduct, which is to… it sets certain boundaries that we are not going to transgress. “I’m going to avoid praising myself and putting down others because I’m attached to getting fame, and people liking me, and love and money, and all of that.” These type of things that we commit ourselves to not do, because if we were to do that, that would damage very much our ability to help others. We’re just exploiting others and saying, “I’m the best,” like you would have, let’s say, in general, people who are running for an office in government and wanting to do it just to have power, and so they campaign: “I’m the best and the other candidate is terrible, the devil.” You can’t trust somebody like that. That damages very much their ability to help others, because actually they are just aggrandizing themselves in order to get power. For this reason, the whole election and campaigning process is very alien to the Tibetans and very difficult for them to conceive of or participate in, because to campaign the way that it’s done in many countries in an election just goes totally against all the bodhisattva principals. “I’m the best. The other guy is no good.”

Shantideva, the great Indian master who wrote Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (Bodhicharyavatara), wrote: “In the case of undertakings that we did just sort of all of a sudden, or that we did without examining very well, then it’s proper afterwards to reconsider ‘ Shall I do it?’ or to give it up. Can I do it, or is this something I can’t do? But in the case of the bodhisattva vows and working to achieve enlightenment, this is something which has been examined very deeply by the Buddhas, and I have examined it very, very well myself, and so how can I ever turn away from it?” And so this is a very important line, in two verses, that is saying that before we take the Bodhisattva vows, this engaged bodhichitta, that it’s important to study these vows, it’s proper to study them (they’re on my website, with full explanations, under the vow section on to see and examine: the Buddha said, “Well, if you want to reach enlightenment, this is what we need to avoid if we really want to benefit others,” and then examine ourselves very well: “Is this something I can follow or not follow?” And then you take it. It’s not something that you do just all of a sudden because everybody else is doing it and there’s some lama here that is giving the vows, so that we do without really having examined very well. So Shantideva points that out very clearly. (At the moment it’s only in English on the website but eventually it will be available in other languages, including Russian.)

The Far-Reaching Attitudes

For actually keeping the bodhisattva vows, what does that entail? That entails, basically, developing the six… the Sanskrit word is paramita (pha-rol-tu phyin-pa); it’s usually translated as perfections, but I prefer a more literal translation of it, which is the far-reaching attitudes. It will take us very, very far, all the way to the other shore, which is enlightenment.

In Indian Buddhism there are a number of different systems, and in one of them (the Svatantrika it’s called), according to this system, only the state of a Buddha – I mean, this is where the word would be more in the sense of a perfection – when in the state of a Buddha, that these would be the actual far-reaching attitudes. What we work with as a bodhisattva (and even before we become a bodhisattva, when we have taken these bodhisattva vows) … because, as I explained yesterday, we only really become a bodhisattva when we have this uncontrived bodhichitta – we don’t have to go through the process of: “ Everybody’s been my mother” and so on in order to feel it, and we have it all the time, day and night, that you actually become a bodhisattva … but the process, the stages before Buddhahood, would just be – these far-reaching attitudes would be – an approximation of the actual thing.

Whereas in the Prasangika system then both the stages – from the bodhisattva vows onward to Buddhahood, as well as in Buddhahood – both of them would be called the “far-reaching attitudes.”

So, regardless of which system we follow, we’re talking about the same thing. I mentioned that because some of the Tibetan schools follow one and some follow the other.

Translator: And the second school is the…?

Alex: Prasangika.

Translator: Prasangika and Svatantrika.

Alex: These are divisions within Madhyamaka. If these are just names to you, it doesn’t matter. Either it has meaning or it doesn’t have meaning to you. It’s just so that you don’t get confused, because you may hear it explained differently from teachers from different Tibetan traditions.

Also I should mention that these six… or there’s also a further explanation of ten, in which four further ones are basically divisions of the sixth one, far-reaching discriminating awareness or wisdom. So whether we speak of six or, in a more full form, ten of these far-reaching attitudes, these are states of mind – attitudes – they are not necessarily a form of behavior, although they shape our behavior: we act, put them into practice, as much as we can according to the situation, abilities, and so on. But what we’re working to develop are these attitudes, these states of mind. Shantideva makes that very, very clear.

Also we shouldn’t think that a system of ten far-reaching attitudes is exclusive to Mahayana. We also have it in Hinayana, in Theravada. It’s a slightly different set of ten: many of them are the same but there are some which are different. And again, as we mentioned, the difference between the Hinayana and the Mahayana – because they practice many of the very same things – is whether or not the dedication… whether or not the positive force is being dedicated toward achieving liberation or toward achieving enlightenment. So they practice ten, which include many of these, with dedication that that positive force contribute to their liberation.

So we should never think that Hinayana practitioners don’t work to benefit others and they’re not generous and so on, patient and so on. Of course they are. And they have love, and they develop compassion, and all of these things. So in the Mahayana texts, they sort of take the Hinayana position to an extreme – that you’re only working selfishly to benefit yourself, and you don’t care about others – in order to point out the extreme that we need to avoid. We shouldn’t think that actual, especially present day, Theravada practitioners are like that. We can find Mahayana practitioners who are like that, just as well as finding Hinayana practitioners who are like that.

So this is a method that’s used in the Prasangika school of Mahayana, Madhyamaka, which is to take things to the absurd, extreme conclusion in order to help people to avoid the dangers that might be present in a certain way of thinking. And so just as the absurd, extreme conclusion of working to achieve liberation would be that you’ve become completely selfish and you don’t care about anybody else – you don’t do anything to help others, you don’t have love and compassion – s imilarly, one could say the absurd conclusion, extreme conclusion of Mahayana would be that you just go out and help everybody and help everybody, and like that, and you never work on trying to overcome your own anger and attachment and so on, which would likewise be a great mistake. So we need to understand the methodology which is used here and not fall to the very mistaken position of sectarianism, to think that Mahayana is so strongly critical of Hinayana. That’s why in the bodhisattva vows there are several of them which deal with not putting down Hinayana.

So let’s stay with the abbreviated… the basic system of six far-reaching attitudes. And here these six are:

  • generosity (sbyin-pa)
  • ethical self-discipline (tshul-khrims)
  • patience (bzod-pa)
  • joyful perseverance (brtson-’grus)
  • mental constancy (bsam-gtan, mental stability)
  • and discriminating awareness (shes-rab). That’s often called wisdom, but wisdom is used to translate so many different technical terms which are all different, that really to just use that word loses all the distinctions between these many terms, and so I use discriminating awareness here for this particular term.

We’ll get into the definitions as we go along. And I use mental constancy, by the way, rather than concentration because it’s more extensive than just simple concentration.

The Two Networks

We also mentioned that in order to reach enlightenment – in order to reach any of the goals within Buddhism, spiritual goals – we need to strengthen and build up the two networks. These two networks we all have to a certain extent, as part of Buddha-nature; it’s not as though you start from zero. But we need to strengthen them, build them up further and further. And, depending on the dedication of them, they either can be samsara-building (that we don’t do anything, any type of dedication, and it just goes to improve samsara for us) or liberation-building (we dedicate it for liberation) or enlightenment-building (we dedicate these two for reaching enlightenment). So, again, dedication is extremely crucial here.

And these two networks network because everything in it connects and networks and reinforces each other. And it grows; it’s not just like a collection of stamps. So one is… it’s usually translated as the collection of merit (bsod-nams-kyi tshogs, Skt. punyasambhara), which is not a collection of points, but it is the… Merit actually means positive force – and so it’s the network of positive force – from doing constructive things and so on. And then there’s the network of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi tshogs, Skt. jnanasambhara), which is sometimes called the network of wisdom, but it’s a different term from discriminating awareness. So helping others, for example, just without any dedication – of course that’s going to improve our samsara; unless we dedicate it for liberation or enlightenment, it’s not going to contribute to that.

Assigning the Far-Reaching Attitudes to the Two Networks

In the general Mahayana presentation that we divide these six far-reaching attitudes into these two networks, we have one system. And if we do it according to Prasangika, which is a special division of Mahayana, we have another way of dividing it. Now, to understand this, it helps us to understand: “Well, what is the purpose of these networks? What do they do?” As I also explained earlier this week, with enlightenment we have… they can be divided in many ways, but we have the sometimes called Buddha-Bodies or Corpuses, because they are actually a network of various things and not just a body like this body, but it’s a network of many, many things. And so we have the Dharmakaya (chos-sku, Corpus Encompassing Everything), which is the whole network of the omniscient mind of a Buddha and the voidness of that mind and so on. And then there is the network of enlightening forms (gzugs-sku, Skt. Rupakaya, Corpus of Forms), so that there’s subtle forms (Sambhogakaya (longs-spyod rdzogs-pa’i sku, Corpus of Full Use)) and gross forms (Nirmanakaya (sprul-sku, Corpus of Emanations)). There are many, many forms a Buddha can appear in – m illions of forms – simultaneously, so that’s why it is called a network; it’s not just one body. And a Buddha knows everything simultaneously. So it’s not just one thing. A network.

So these two networks, the enlightenment-building network… if we speak in terms of Buddhahood, they are like… In Buddhism we speak of many, many different types of causes – six different types of causes – and many different types of conditions. Very, very complex. But there is one type of cause: if we use an example, it would be like the dough for making a bread. It’s the substance that becomes the bread, but you no longer have the dough when you have the bread. The dough, in a sense, transforms into the bread when it’s cooked.

And so these enlightenment-building networks are like the dough: they transform into, they’re the substance out of which… From the network of positive force – that transforms into this network of enlightening forms, to help others. And the network of deep awareness is the dough that turns into, transforms into, the network of Dharmakaya, the omniscient mind of a Buddha. But you need both to accomplish either. They have to support each other. You can’t just achieve one and work on one. The two have to go together.

So for each of these, one acts as the dough. For each of these enlightening networks of a Buddha, one of the enlightenment-building networks will act as the dough and the other one will be like the heat of the oven. The dough is not going to just turn into the bread without the heat of the oven. And so, in this way, they support each other. You need both in order to achieve any of the Bodies of a Buddha – each of the Bodies, the Corpuses of a Buddha, the networks of a Buddha.

So, as I said, there are two ways of dividing the six far-reaching attitudes into these two enlightenment-building networks. According to the general Mahayana one, the far-reaching networks… Now we’ll have to do it one at a time so you get it straight, and I’ll respond. So now we will give the list, according to general Mahayana, which of the six contribute to which of these two far-reaching networks, enlightenment-building networks. General Mahayana.

According to this, for the enlightenment-building network of positive force: First of all generosity, and then ethical discipline. And then patience has three different forms, and so two of the forms of patience – the patience of not getting angry at difficulties that you have with others, and the patience of not getting angry at your own problems. These contribute to the network of positive force.

Now, which ones contribute to the network of deep awareness? First of all, the far-reaching attitude of discriminating awareness, and far-reaching mental stability, and the third type of patience, the patience of not becoming frustrated at the difficulties in practicing Dharma.

The far-reaching attitude of positive enthusiasm, or joyful perseverance, contributes to and strengthens both networks.

Now, in Kalachakra (which some of you may become familiar with next week with Kirti Tsenzhab Rinpoche in Lithuania) it speaks of three networks, three enlightenment-building networks. So here the third one is the network of ethical discipline. And in this classification scheme the ethical discipline – w hich had, in the general Mahayana one, been contributing to the network of positive force – this is now taken separately, as building up a network of ethical discipline.

So why don’t we take a few minutes break here.