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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > The Three Divisions of Buddha's Enlightening Words

The Three Divisions of Buddha's Enlightening Words

Alexander Berzin
March 2007

There are three divisions of Buddha’s enlightening speech (sangs-rgyas-kyi bka’-gsum), differentiated according to the dominating condition (bdag-rkyen) of their origin:

  • Enlightening words spoken from Buddha’s own lips (zhal-nas gsung-pa’i bka’). Examples include The Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness (Shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa’i mdo, Skt. Prajnaparamita Sutra; Perfection of Wisdom Sutras).

  • Permitted words (rjes-su gnang-ba’i gsung) are passages in sutras not actually spoken by Buddha himself, but permitted for describing the context within which Buddha taught. Examples include introductory passages explaining where and when a sutra was delivered, which disciples later added when they remembered the sutras word for word and then gave the details of its deliverance, the audience, and so on. From among the twelve scriptural categories, examples include ethical narratives (gleng-bzhi, Skt. nidana) and, elsewhere, connecting passages (mtshams-sbyor, Skt. samdhi) and helping passages (mthun-‘gyur).

  • Enlightening words inspired by Buddha (byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’) are enlightening words not actually spoken by Buddha, but spoken by someone else, through Buddha’s inspiration.

[See: The Twelve Scriptural Categories.]

Enlightening words inspired by Buddha are of three types:

  • Enlightening words inspired by Buddha’s body (skus byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’), such as those spoken by bodhisattvas in question and answer sessions among themselves, held in Buddha’s presence. An example is The Sutra of the Ten (Arya Bodhisattva) Levels of Mind (mDo-sde sa-bcu-pa, Skt. Dashabhumika Sutra).

  • Enlightening words inspired by Buddha’s speech (gsung-gis byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’). An example is The Sutra of Relieving the Remorse of the Arya Ajatashatru (‘Phags-pa ma-skyes dgra’i ‘gyod-pa bsal-ba’i mdo, Skt. Aryajatashatru Kaukrtyavinodana Sutra).

  • Enlightening words inspired by Buddha’s mind (thugs-kyis byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’).

Enlightening words inspired by Buddha’s mind are of three sorts:

  • Enlightening words inspired by the power of truth on Buddha’s mind (thugs bden-pas byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’) refers to how Buddha’s intentions or wishes can influence the experience of others so that they are inspired to understand an aspect of his teachings. For example, by the power of the truth on Buddha’s mind, certain people may become inspired to experience the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves as a Dharma teaching.

  • Enlightening words inspired by the compassion on Buddha’s mind (thugs thugs-rjes byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’). For example, through the inspiration of Buddha’s compassion, someone with no knowledge or acquaintance with Dharma may nevertheless spontaneously and unintentionally utter words that communicate the Dharma to others.

  • Enlightening words inspired by Buddha’s absorbed concentration (thugs ting-nge-‘dzin-gyis byin-gyis byin-gyis rlabs-pa’i bka’). For example, through inspiration from Buddha’s being totally absorbed in the absorbed concentration that expresses the multiplicity of phenomena, known as “the appearance of the profound,” Avalokiteshvara delivered The Heart of Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness: The Vanquishing Lady Surpassing All (bCom-ldan’das-ma shes-rab-kyi pha-rol-tu phyin-pa’i snying-po, Skt. Bhagavati Prajnaparamita Hrdaya; The Heart Sutra).

[See: The Heart Sutra .]