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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > The Qualities of a Buddha's Omniscient Deep Awareness

The Qualities of a Buddha's Omniscient Deep Awareness

Alexander Berzin, 1979

Revised excerpt from
Dhargyey, Geshe Ngawang. (Berzin, Alexander, ed.). An Anthology of Well-Spoken Advice, vol. 1. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1982.

Order the original text directly from Snow Lion Publications.

Introduction and Sources

Maitreya’s Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamaya-alamkara) delineates twenty-one categories of untainted deep awareness (zag-med ye-shes sde-tshan nyer-cig) of a Buddha’s omniscient mind. Often, four of these categories are singled out when describing the qualities of a Buddha’s omniscience:

  • the ten forces (stobs-bcu),

  • the four (guarantees) about which he is fearless (mi-‘jigs-pa bzhi),

  • the four perfect awarenesses of individual points (so-so yang-dag-par rig-pa bzhi),

  • the eighteen unshared features of a Buddha (sangs-rgyas-kyi chos ma-’dres-pa bcu-brgyad). 

When, in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra), Maitreya mentions the sixty-four qualities of a Buddha, the thirty-two excellent signs of an enlightening body are the thirty-two qualities that are ripenings (rnam-smin) of a network of positive force (collection of merit). The ten forces, four guarantees, and eighteen unshared features are results that are states of being parted (bral-‘ bras) – being parted from all mental obscuration – and their attainment comes about from a network of deep awareness (collection of wisdom). 

Although the thirty-two enlightening physical features are ripenings, they are not ripened results (rnam-smin-gi ‘bras-bu). This is because ripened results are always unspecified phenomena (neither constructive nor destructive), whereas the excellent signs of a Buddha are always constructive. 

Since results that are states of being parted are static (permanent) phenomena and cannot be affected by anything, the thirty-two enlightening mental features are constant and unaffected by anything. In this sense, although the acquirement (thob-pa) of an enlightening mind of a Buddha has a beginning but no end, the deep awareness (ye-shes) of a Buddha has neither a beginning nor an end. A fully developed network of deep awareness is the obtaining cause (nyer-len-gyi rgyu) of merely the attainment of these types of deep awareness, but the deep awarenesses themselves are not created by anything. Not only are the thirty-two types of deep awareness eternal and uncreated, but also, as aspects of omniscient awareness, they cognize all validly knowable phenomena simultaneously, without ever a break, and thus their objects also never change. 

[See: The Thirty-two Excellent Signs (Major Marks) of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body. See also: Causes, Conditions, and Results.] 

The Ten Forces of a Buddha’s Omniscient Mind

(1) The force of being omnisciently aware of the appropriate and inappropriate relations between various types of impulsive karmic behavior and their result. Also included here is knowing what is correct and incorrect, and what can and cannot be achieved. 

(2) The force of being omnisciently aware of the karmic impulses (constructive, destructive, or mixed) and the non-karmic untainted impulses that anything is the ripened result of. He is aware of the karmic causes of everything that happens to everyone, even of a simple headache. 

(3) The force of being omnisciently aware of the various spiritual aspirations (mos-pa) of all limited beings (sentient beings): the inferior ones for this life, the middling ones for liberation, the superior ones for enlightenment, and those that are concealed (unconscious or expressed unclearly). In this way, he can guide each being accordingly. 

(4) The force of being omnisciently aware of the source of everyone’s cognitions, as well as the source of their enlightenment (khams, their Buddha family-traits, Buddha-natures). He knows where all their thoughts, ideas, and misunderstandings have come from and also those factors in each of them that will lead to their realization of their fullest potential. In this way, he can correct all others when they have gone astray and draw out their strongest points. 

(5) The force of being omnisciently aware of the superior and less-than-superior levels of everyone’s powers (dbang-po). Thus, he always teaches others in accordance with their intelligence and abilities so that they never become discouraged. 

This refers to knowing the levels of the twenty-two powers of limited beings, grouped into six categories:

  • the six cognitive powers of their visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile sensors and the mental one of their intelligence, 

  • the two regenerative ones of their male of female reproductive organs, 

  • the sustaining one of their life-force, 

  • the five powers to experience or feel the results of their constructive or destructive actions, namely the power of their feelings of physical or mental happiness or unhappiness, and of neutral feelings

  • the five powers to part themselves from attachments to perishably based phenomena (worldly, mundane phenomena) – namely, the powers of their respectful belief, joyful perseverance, mindfulness, concentration and discriminating awareness,

  • the three powers to part themselves from attachments to phenomena with a base beyond perishing (supramundane phenomena), namely their three untainted powers – the  powers of their seeing pathway minds (path of seeing), accustoming pathway minds (path of meditation), and their pathway minds as liberated beings (arhat). 

(6) The force of being omnisciently aware of the pathway minds (paths) that lead to every type of goal – to the three purified states (byang-chub, Skt. bodhi) of shravaka arhats, pratyekabuddha arhats, and bodhisattva arhats (Buddhas), as well as to rebirth in any of the six samsaric realms. 

(7) The force of being omnisciently aware of all states of mental stability (bsam-gtan, Skt. dhyana), meditative achievements of absorbed concentration for gaining liberation (rnam-par thar-pa ting-nge-‘dzin snyoms-‘jug, Skt. vimoksha-samadhi-samapatti), and meditative states for cleansing away mental defilements (kun-nas nyon-mongs-pa rnam-par byang-ba, Skt. samklesha-vyavadana), and thus can lead limited beings on from these states. 

There are four states of mental stability: the first through the fourth states of mental stability, associated with the plane of ethereal forms (form realm). 

There are nine meditative achievements of absorbed concentration for gaining liberation: the meditative attainments (snyoms-‘jug, Skt. samapatti) of the absorbed concentrations (ting-nge-‘dzin, Skt. samadhi) of (i-iv) the four states of mental stability associated with the plane of ethereal forms and of (v-viii) the four meditative states associated with the plane of formless beings (formless realm) – when these eight absorptions are made into the nature of pathway minds leading to liberation or enlightenment – and (ix) the meditative attainment of a stopping (‘ gog-pa’i snyoms-‘jug, Skt. nirodha-samapatti) during an arya’s total absorption (mnyam-bzhag, Skt. samahita) on voidness (emptiness). 

There are eight meditative states for cleansing away mental defilements: the absorbed concentrations of (i) viewing forms of material phenomena on the basis of one’s own physical body, and (ii) not on such a basis, (iii) harmonizing so as to eliminate interference, such as analyzing ugly and pretty objects to overcome feelings of repulsion or attraction, (iv-vii) the meditative states associated with the plane of formless beings, when such absorptions are made into the nature of pathway minds leading to liberation or enlightenment, and (viii) the meditative attainment of a stopping. 

(8) The force of being omnisciently aware, with constant mindfulness, of all his own and others’ previous rebirth situations, in sequence. Because of this, a Buddha knows the karmic connections he has with everyone. 

(9) The force of being omnisciently aware of the death, transference (‘ pho-ba), and future rebirth of everyone up to his or her enlightenment, and then where each will manifest subsequently. Thus, when he teaches someone, he knows what he is doing and what will be the exact results in all future lives. 

(10) The force of being omnisciently aware of the degree of depletion of the various tainted factors (zag-pa zad-pa) on each limited being’s mental continuum. He cannot be fooled by anyone and knows precisely how much more work needs to be done in order to bring that individual to his or her spiritual goal. 

The Four Guarantees about Which a Buddha Is Fearless

Since they cannot be disclaimed, there are four guarantees (dam-bca’-ba, promises) that a Buddha is fearless to make. The first two concern what is of meaningful benefit for himself, while the second two concern what will be of meaningful benefit for others. Thus, he is fearless in guaranteeing:

(1) his own realizations (of all qualities and skills),

(2) his own states of being rid (of each and every mental obscuration),

(3) what others must rid themselves of (namely, the emotional obscurations [ nyon-sgrib] if they wish liberation and, in addition, the cognitive obscurations [ shes-sgrib] if they wish omniscience), 

(4) the opponent forces (for others to rely upon in order to remove all their mental obscurations). 

The Four Perfect Awarenesses of Individual Points

Having rid himself all cognitive obscurations, a Buddha has perfect awareness of the individual points of:

(1) all the Dharma,

(2) all their levels of meaning,

(3) all the exact words (with which to express them, so that he can teach them equally effectively in every language),

(4) all aspects of knowledge, so that he can teach with self-confidence (spobs-pa, Skt. pratibhana) anything anyone wishes to learn and turn it into a pathway mind leading to a purified state of liberation or enlightenment. This last understanding is referred to as that of his own self-confidence. 

The Eighteen Unshared Features of a Buddha

The eighteen features of a Buddha that are not shared with those of lesser attainment – specifically, with shravaka or pratyekabuddha arhats – concern four general aspects of a Buddha: his behavior, realization, enlightening influence (‘ phrin-las, Skt. samudacara, Buddha-activity), and deep awareness. 

The Six Unshared Features Grouped under a Buddha’s Behavior

(1) A Buddha’s physical composure can never be ruffled. Wherever he goes and whatever he meets, he is never fooled by appearances. He is always calm and clear. 

(2) A Buddha’s enlightening speech never cries out or makes meaningless sounds. No matter what happens, he is never shocked or surprised, and never exclaims anything in anger, pain, or pleasure. Furthermore, a Buddha does not have any melodies, songs, or meaningless phrases compulsively going through his head, and he never mindlessly hums or mutters to himself. 

(3) An omniscient Buddha’s enlightening mind never forgets anything or anyone. 

(4) There is never a time when his mind is not totally absorbed on voidness. 

(5) He never has even the slightest recognition or feeling of anything existing in a way other than the way in which it actually exists. Having rid himself of his cognitive obscurations concerning all knowables, he never experiences his mind giving rise to discordant, deceptive appearances of true existence

(6) A Buddha is never so indifferent as not to check on others. He always cares about everyone equally and keeps a constant watch to see who is ready to make spiritual progress so as to help him or her accordingly. When someone is ripe, he never forgets to show him or her the way. 

The Six Unshared Features Grouped under a Buddha’s Realizations

(7) His intention to help everyone never declines. This is due to the force of his great compassion, as he cares for everyone as a mother would for her only child. 

(8) His joyful perseverance to help everyone never declines. He is never reluctant to go anywhere or do anything, even for the sake of one wandering being

(9) His mindfulness of everyone’s situation never declines. It requires no effort for an omniscient one to be aware of all beings. His awareness is like an enormous clear mirror reflecting the total extent of what exists. 

(10) His absorbed concentration never declines. He is always totally focused on voidness, no matter what he does. 

In the list of these unshared features given in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, this feature is omitted and replaced by the fact that the sight of his deep awareness, which is utterly freed from all mental obscuration, never declines. 

(11) His discriminating awareness of voidness never declines. 

(12) His state of being utterly freed from the two types of mental obscuration never declines. 

The Three Unshared Features Grouped under a Buddha’s Enlightening Influence

All the actions of a Buddha’s enlightening (13) physical, (14) verbal, and (15) mental faculties are preceded upon and carried through with deep awareness. 

Because he has deep awareness simultaneously of both appearances and their voidness of true existence, he can exert an enlightening influence on everything around him while always maintaining his omniscient awareness. 

The Three Unshared Features Grouped under a Buddha’s Deep Awareness

A Buddha’s deep awareness permeates everything, in seeing (16) the time already-passed (‘ das-pa’i dus), (17) the time not-yet-come (ma-‘ongs-pa’i dus), and (18) the time presently-happening (da-lta-ba’i dus), all without any attachment or impediment. 

Time is an amount or length of duration measured in the continuum of the occurrence of a karmic causal action and its result, and is a nonconcomitant affecting variable (ldan-min ‘ du-byed) – a nonstatic (impermanent) factor that is neither a form of physical phenomenon nor a way of being aware of something and which is imputable on the mental continuum of a being. 

A Buddha has no attachment to what he can see because he has rid himself of all emotional obscuration, and no impediment because he has no cognitive obscuration.