The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > The Twelve Enlightening Deeds of a Buddha

The Twelve Enlightening Deeds of a Buddha

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

According to the Mahayana tradition, the thousand Buddhas who will come to our universe during this fortunate eon are all examples of a supreme Nirmanakaya (mchog-gi sprul-sku, a corpus of supreme emanation bodies). Each of the thousand Buddhas has attained an enlightened state long ago.  When each of them manifest during this eon, each will emanate himself simultaneously on the Southern Island-Continent (Southern Continent) of each of the billon world-systems in our universe and simultaneously enact on each of them the twelve enlightening deeds (mdzad-pa bcu-gnyid) of a Buddha. 

Just as Buddhas indicate Sambhogakaya (longs-sku, a corpus of bodies of full use) constantly without any break of continuity, the same is true of their Nirmanakaya corpus of bodies and their enactment of the twelve enlightening deeds.  When these twelve are not occurring in one universe, a Buddha is indicating them in others. 

List of the Twelve Enlightening Deeds 

(1) Transferring to a Southern Island-Continent from a Pure Land of Joy (dGa’- ldan, Skt. Tushita), after having transferred his throne there to the next Buddha for the eon, Maitreya Buddha.

(2) Entering his mother’s womb 

(3) Taking birth 

(4) Becoming skilled and learned in the arts

(5) Enjoying himself with his wife and her circle

(6) Setting forth from family life as a renunciate (rab-tu byung-ba)

(7) Undergoing difficult ascetic practices 

(8) Proceeding to a seat for enlightenment under a bodhi tree

(9) Taming the demonic forces (bdud, Skt. mara

(10) Manifesting full enlightenment

(11) Setting flow rounds of transmission of the preventive measures of the Dharma (turning the wheel of the Dharma)

(12) Demonstrating a total release from all suffering (mya-ngan-las ‘ das-pa, Skt. nirvana) by passing away. 

Variants

In The Furthest Everlasting Continuum (rGyud bla-ma, Skt. Uttaratantra), Maitreya lists an additional enlightening deed:

  • Taking birth in a Pure Land of Joy prior to transferring to a Southern Island-Continent. 

If this is counted as the first of the twelve deeds, then entering his mother’s womb and taking birth are counted together as one deed. Alternatively, there are considered to be thirteen enlightening deeds on the plane of sensory desires (desire realm), and the above twelve in the human realm. 

In other sources, a further enlightening deed is given as:

  • Causing the sun of his hallowed Dharma measures to set from the perishable based world.