Buddha-Nature, Day One of a Discourse on Uttaratantra
Bodh Gaya, India, January 17, 1982
Translated by Alexander Berzin and revised, January 2008
[with explanatory notes in violet between square brackets]
Part Two: The First Three Verses of Chapter One
Explanation of the Title
With these points in mind, let us now turn to the text. The title of this classic is, in Sanskrit, Mahayana-uttaratantra Shastra and in Tibetan Theg-pa chen-po rgyud bla-ma'i bstan-bcos (A Treatise on the Vast Vehicle of Mind: The Furthest Everlasting Continuum). As for the explanation of the title, Mahayana, meaning a vast vehicle of mind, can be either a causal vehicle that leads to a goal or a resultant one to which one is led. Out of modest and vast such vehicles, this is a vast one; and when we say vast, there are seven points by which it is vast.
(1) It is vast in aim, as it is aimed at the most extensive scriptural texts of prayers, enlightening deeds, and so on. (2) It is vast in what it actualizes, namely the meanings of the texts. (3) Vast in deep awareness, it has the complete levels and stages of deep awareness all the way to the goal of enlightenment. (4) It is vast in joyous perseverance, to help all limited beings (sentient beings) and to reach the highest state of enlightenment to be best able to do so. (5) Vast in undertakings, it is a vehicle of the mind to engage in what will bring about the aim of the two intentions [superior rebirth and the superlative states of liberation and enlightenment], and further it has (6) a vastness of skillful methods, to actualize those two noble goals. Finally, (7) it is vast in its enlightening influence, to bring about what is of meaningful benefit to self and others. A vehicle of mind with seven excellent qualities like these is what is called mahayana, a vast vehicle of the mind.
Among the classics that discuss such a vast vehicle, some treat the bodhisattva pathway minds and arya bodhisattva levels of a bhumi mind; others concern the very nature of reality; and so on. There are many such topics. Here, since the text indicates primarily the cleansing of the everlasting continuum of the mind when it is tarnished with fleeting stains, and thus since it concerns the everlasting mental continuum, it includes the term tantra, meaning everlasting continuum, in its title. Moreover, the word tantra has the connotation of something that goes on and on with continuity, something that continues over time with connection from prior to later moments. We can undoubtedly understand something from that connotation as well.
Further, everlasting continuums may also refer to meanings discussed by words or the words of texts discussing them, as is the case when the word tantra refers to the secret mantra teachings. In addition, an everlasting continuum may mean something fit to be a foundation. Because the text primarily discusses the fact that good qualities can be developed and faults removed on the basis of the everlasting continuum of the mind as a foundation presently tarnished with fleeting stains, the term everlasting continuum can undoubtedly also imply this meaning. We cannot explain the term, however, as meaning tantra from the pair: sutra and tantra.
Furthest or, literally, superlative in the sense of ultimate, means latest or last, and is referring to the last or third round of Dharma transmission, with The Sutra on the Essential Factor for Accordant Progress, and so on. This is the furthest, latest, or superlative, ultimate transmission. Because these furthest or latest expositions indicate how to actualize ever-higher good qualities on the basis of our presently stained everlasting mental continuum, it is the furthest everlasting continuum.
Lastly, it is a treatise or, literally, an indicative composition, in that it indicates the meaning of the sutras that have this as their subject matter. Thus, the text is called A Treatise on the Vast Vehicle of Mind: The Furthest Everlasting Continuum. That is the explanation of the title. Here, the author has chosen a title in terms of the subject matter discussed, hasn't he?
I prostrate to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
This is the homage offered by the eye-opening translators of the text into Tibetan.
The presentation of the main body of the text now follows. There can be many outlines here, but since I do not have any grounds for certainty in making a definitive one, it is not necessary to give an outline.
The Buddhas, Dharma, Assembly,
and the source,
and finally enlightening influence
of the Buddhas:
The body of all treatises, when gathered in brief,
Consists of these seven vajra points.
If we ask what is the subject matter discussed in The Furthest Everlasting Continuum, it is the seven vajra points. If we ask why is this subject matter given the name vajra, meaning diamond-strong, it is because the seven are so profound that except for their being objects of experience that aryas can know – those who have achieved paths of mind of high realization [from straightforward, nonconceptual perception of voidness] – they are beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings, beginners such as ourselves. Thus, they are difficult to realize and since, once realized, they are points that are of great meaningful benefit, they are called diamond-strong vajras. Moreover, since nothing can shatter or destroy the points discussed in the text, which are so profound and difficult to realize, they are diamond-strong vajras. Thus, the collection of words that indicate them constitutes an explanation having seven diamond-strong vajra points.
If we ask what are the seven vajra points, they are (1) the Buddhas, the ultimate type of beings that we can become, the endpoints of evolution to what is of most meaningful benefit to self and others, the totally clear and fully evolved ones. Then, there are (2) the preventive measures of the Dharma that they proclaim, namely the verbal and realized Dharma. Next is (3) the Assembly or Sangha, those intent on a positive goal, who have actualized the Dharma measures correctly, the intent assembly. (4) The source (khams, Skt. dhatu) refers to "Buddha-nature", namely, the family trait of a Clear Evolved Buddha (sangs-rgyas-kyi rigs ,Skt. buddhagotra ). It is called the womb containing a Thusly Gone One (de-shegs snying-po, Skt. tathagatagarbha) or the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One (bde-gshegs snying-po, Skt. sugatagarbha), referring to the actual nature of the mind when tarnished by fleeting stains.
Then there is (5) the purified state of enlightenment or, literally, the state of purification and growth (byang-chub , Skt. bodhi). When, in addition to, on the basis of, and because of the natural purity of mind, one removes the fleeting stains through the power of opponent forces, then one has the stainless state of purified growth, the enlightenment of a Buddha. On the basis of such a state, there are (6) the enlightening qualities (yon-tan, Skt. guna), which are corrections of all inadequacies. Specifically, there are the thirty-two qualities that are "ripenings." These are the enlightening qualities of a Buddha. What is continually connected with these qualities is (7) a Buddha's enlightening influence ('phrin-las, Skt. samudacara, Buddha-activity). These are the seven. The text adds the word finally to enlightening influence from these seven vajra points undoubtedly to make the count certain. Thus, the text reads "... qualities and finally enlightening influence... these seven vajra points." Do you understand?
If we ask did our guiding light Maitreya put together these seven vajra points on his own or did he have scriptural sources from the sutras of our universal teacher, the vanquishing master Shakyamni Buddha; he did have such scriptural sources. If we ask which sutras were his source,
The sequential connection of these
That is due to their defining characteristics,
In the order in which they are to be understood,
Is as in The Sutra (Requested) by King Dharani.
Specifically, Shakyamuni Buddha indicated the seven vajra points in The Sutra Requested by the Bodhisattva King Dharani Ishvara. Nevertheless, Maitreya undoubtedly gathered together meanings and points from many sutras, such as from The Sutra on the Womb Containing a Thusly Gone One, The Sutra of the Arya Goddess Shrimala Sinhanada, The Sutra Inciting Exceptional Resolve, The Sutra Requested by the Maiden Vimala, and The Prajnaparamita Sutras. Thus, in explaining in accordance with what Shakyamuni Buddha indicated on numerous occasions with such sutras as The Sutra Requested by King Dharani, Maitreya had a scriptural source in the Vanquishing Master's sutras.
Now, if we ask how The Sutra Requested by King Dharani indicates these seven vajra points,
From its introduction, one is to be aware of
three of its points,
While four from its delineations
of the Dharma measures
Of those with the mind-set
and the Triumphant Ones.
The introductory chapter of The Sutra Requested by King Dharani indicates the three points of the Three Rare and Supreme Gems. The commentaries indicate how it does this with many quotations from the sutra. As for the remaining four points: the source, enlightenment, its qualities, and enlightening influence, these derive from its delineations of the Dharma measures of those with the mind-set and the Triumphant Ones.
The sutra explains the source, Buddha-nature, with its delineation of sixty methods that those with the mind-set of bodhichitta, namely bodhisattvas, use for purifying their Buddha-nature source. If we ask what are the sixty Dharma measures that those with the mind-set of bodhichitta use for purifying their Buddha-natures, they are as found in the commentaries.
First are the four adornments that make these bodhisattvas' behavior beautiful, namely the three trainings and the vital measures (gzungs, Skt. dharani). These are the four adornments. Then, since these bodhisattvas have achieved the awareness that illuminates the hallowed Dharma and have separated themselves from the darkness of naivety, they make very clear the gateways of the Dharma through mindfulness, intelligence, realizations, Dharma, and so on. There are these eight types or aspects of a bodhisattva's illuminating awareness.
Then, there are the sixteen aspects of their compassion. Bodhisattva compassion is aimed at limited beings sick with problems and, through an internal division of these beings as its objects, there are, for instance, individual aspects of compassion aimed at limited beings who have come under the control of various distorted views of reality. We may distinguish limited beings who have four inverted views, those who grasp at things in terms of "me" and "me, as their possessor," and those with the five types of obscurations. Further, there are those with attachment to objects of the six types of cognitive stimulators, those with the seven types of pride, and so forth. The sixteen divisions of compassion derive from its being aimed at such types of limited beings.
Then there are the thirty-two types of enlightening influence that bodhisattvas have. Bodhisattvas have the influence to waken others from the sleep of their naivety, the influence to connect with the broad and extensive Mahayana teachings those with limited awareness who have aspirations for the more modest Hinayana teachings, the influence to connect with the wish for Dharma those whose wishes are not for Dharma, and so on. Bodhisattvas have thirty-two such types of enlightening influence. This makes sixty Dharma measures all together. The chapter of The Sutra Requested by King Dharani that presents these sixty measures through which bodhisattvas purify their Buddha-natures indicates in a thorough fashion the source that is to be purified. That covers the Dharma measures of those with the mind-set.
As for the Dharma measures of the Triumphant Ones, the chapter that delineates the Dharma measures of the triumphant Buddhas indicates the remaining three, namely stainless enlightenment, its qualities, and enlightening influence. If we ask what are the Dharma measures of the triumphant Buddhas' enlightenment, these are the sixteen aspects of compassion characterizing the state of enlightenment. They are called rootless and non-abiding, serenely stilled and stilled beyond, possessing natural clear light, having nothing to adopt or reject, and so forth. Enlightenment has sixteen Dharma measures like this and, having attained them, triumphant Buddhas have great compassion with sixteen aspects, differentiated according to a difference in the objects at which it aims. The compassion of a Buddha aims at limited beings who have not attained each of these sixteen measures respectively and who have not realized the meaning of the manner in which enlightenment abides. The chapter that presents these sixteen aspects of compassion in the state of greatest purification and growth indicates enlightenment.
The Buddhas' good qualities are indicated with the ten forces, the four proclamations about which Buddhas are fearless, and the eighteen measures unshared with arhats (liberated beings). Further, as each of these thirty-two qualities – the ten forces, four fearless proclamations, and eighteen unshared measures – acts as an uncommon cause for bringing limited beings under their enlightening influence, this delineation indicates the Buddhas' enlightening influence as well. That covers the delineation of the Dharma measures of the Triumphant Ones.
If we ask what is the order in which to understand the seven vajra points, or what is the way to involve ourselves with them in sequence,
From the Buddhas, the Dharma;
From the Dharma, the Arya Assembly;
From the Assembly, the womb, deep awareness,
the source (up to its) ultimate attainment.
Attaining that deep awareness, (one attains)
supreme enlightenment, the powers,
and so forth,
And possesses the Dharma measures that bring
meaningful benefit to all limited beings.
In general, if we explain the steps within the context of our perishable world, for example in the case of the universal spiritual leader, the Lion of the Shakya Clan, first he indicated the enlightening deed of manifesting his prior state of Buddhahood. Thus, the Buddhas come first, don't they? Then, it is from the Buddhas that rounds of transmission of the verbal Dharma measures are set flowing and from that come the rounds of the realized Dharma. Because of that, the text says, "From the Buddhas, the Dharma."
Once the triumphant Buddhas have set flow rounds of transmission of the Dharma like this, then when, on the everlasting mental continuum of someone who has practiced them correctly, there arises the quality of having seen with straightforward perception the four true facts (four noble truths) and so on, this person reaches the level of being a member of the Arya Sangha, the assembly of highly realized beings who have beheld reality. Thus, because it is from the Buddhas' enlightening speech, or rather from the Dharma set flowing by its rounds of transmission of the Dharma measures, that the Arya Assembly comes about, the Arya Assembly comes next. As it says in the text, "from the Dharma, the Arya Assembly." This explains the order in which we are to understand them.
Now comes from the Assembly, the womb. Through the members of the Arya Assembly purifying the Buddha-nature sources that are on their everlasting mental continuums – in other words, through the actual paths of the mind that they develop purifying their Buddha-natures of the fleeting stains that tarnish them – the ultimate endpoint is that they manifest enlightenment, a state of greatest purification and growth. Then, since the qualities and enlightening influence are born from their attainments of enlightenment, the text says "from the Assembly, the womb."
Actually, several different ways to explain this point appear in the commentaries. For example, from the Arya Assembly comes the dissolving of tarnishes from their Buddha-natures, the womb containing a Thusly Gone One. From this dissolving of tarnishes from their Buddha-natures or family-traits, the good qualities – literally, corrections of inadequacy – come to increase, don't they? From the Assembly, the womb connotes this as well.
Then come the words the womb, deep awareness, the source (up to its) ultimate attainment. According to one commentarial tradition, the Arya Sangha's development of progressive levels of highly realized mind purifies the Buddha-nature source within each of them. If we ask up until when does this source remain or what is the boundary for this source or womb containing a Thusly Gone One; then, according to one commentarial tradition, the essential factor deep awareness is the stainless deep awareness of a Buddha. Up until the ultimate or final attainment of this stainless deep awareness of a Buddha, the actual reality of the mind [the voidness of the mind] when it is with the characteristic of not having been rid of all its fleeting stains is what is called the source. In other words, up until the ultimate attainment of the womb deep awareness, the actual reality of the mind is tarnished with fleeting stains. If we think in terms of the uninterrupted path of mind at the final moment of continuity of someone as a limited being, then it is up until this stage, when its fleeting stains are all gotten rid of, that the actual nature [namely, the voidness] of deep awareness is called the source or womb containing a Thusly Gone One.
Alternatively, if we still take the womb deep awareness as the deep awareness of a Buddha, then since it is from being aimed at the Buddha-nature source or womb containing a Blissfully Gone One [the voidness of one's stained deep awareness] that one must make manifest the stainless womb deep awareness, it is like the name of the result being given to the cause. In other words, womb containing a Thusly Gone One as the cause is being given the name of its result. [The voidness of one's stained deep awareness is being called the womb deep awareness, the deep awareness of a Buddha.] One needs to focus on the womb containing a Thusly Gone One in order to manifest the result, namely stainless enlightenment. If there were no womb containing a Thusly Gone One, the result would not come about – it would not do if the womb were not present as the cause. Therefore, the name of the result is being given as the name of its cause. If we think only in terms of the unaffected actual nature encompassing everything [namely, voidness], then it is explained like that.
Now, if we comment on this in connection with what is understood with tantra and explain in terms of the mind of clarity and awareness, it is a different matter all together, isn't it? However, if we take it in accordance with the paramita tradition of far-reaching attitudes (the sutra tradition), then we must think in terms of an unaffected (unconditioned) phenomenon.
As for the extent of the pervasion between the womb containing a Thusly Gone One and the naturally abiding family-trait, this is something I do not know very clearly. When we speak of the womb containing a Thusly Gone One, then, as comes later in the text concerning what establishes the existence of Buddha-nature family-traits, there are three points that establish them. Moreover, from the point concerning the existence of family-traits, when the text goes on to explain the family-traits, it explains two of them. It explains the naturally abiding family-traits [such as the voidness of the mental continuum] and the evolving family-traits [such as the network of positive force (collection of merit).] Since the text explains two types of traits, do we understand the womb containing a Thusly Gone One (tathagata-garbha) as being all these family-traits (gotra)?
Even if we do consider them like that, then since the naturally abiding traits are static (permanent) and, as we say in logic, if you include in a set both elements that are static and elements that are functional phenomenon (nonstatic, impermanent), then the set is to be considered static, we would have to conclude like that rule of logic. Even though the womb containing a Thusly Gone One includes elements that are not static in addition to some that are not functional phenomena; nevertheless, speaking in general, we would inevitably have to say it is static. On the other hand, there are undoubtedly those who say that the womb containing a Thusly Gone One refers exclusively to the naturally abiding family-traits, which have existed without any beginning. I do no know how to decide on this matter.
[Addressing the most learned masters in the audience,] so what could it be? What is the pervasion between the womb containing a Thusly Gone One and the naturally abiding family-traits? Are they the same, or how do we set them? One of you speak up; I do not know clearly myself. When we say the womb containing a Thusly Gone One, do we need to think in terms of it pervading in general both the evolving traits and the naturally abiding ones, or should we think only in terms of the naturally abiding traits?
You say it is a general term. If we look at the classic texts, it seems as though this should be the case. There are two types of family-traits: the traits that have been present with the mental continuum without beginning and those that arise from pure training. Then, if it is a womb containing a Thusly Gone One, it is not pervasive that it is an unaffected phenomenon. Yet, it is said that the womb containing a Thusly Gone One is unaffected. What does it say in the various monastic college textbooks? Abbot Emeritus Khen Rinpoche and then Tsultrim-rinchen, the two of you tell me. You are holders of the two [main Gelug] opinions.
First Khen Rinpoche, tell me, is there mention or not in your textbooks of which has greater and which has less pervasion? It has? What does it say? The family-traits are taken as more pervasive. Then, the womb containing a Thusly Gone One is taken as the naturally abiding family-trait, is it? It is exclusively the naturally abiding trait, isn't it; and the evolving family-traits are not included as it. Correct? So then, if it is a womb containing a Thusly Gone One, it is pervasive that it is an unaffected phenomenon.
Now, what is the difference concerning this in the textbooks of your monastic college, Tsultrim-rinchen? Does it say that the evolving traits are not included as the womb containing a Thusly Gone One? They say they are not, correct? Well then, what is the pervasion between the womb containing a Thusly Gone One and the naturally abiding family-traits? What does it explain? What does it set for the womb containing a Thusly Gone One? The actual nature of the reality of the mind, does it? And, is this the naturally abiding family-trait? I see; the textbook does not actually present it like that.
When the Sakyas explain the causal everlasting continuum of the all-encompassing foundation, Kyentsey-wangchug in his Notes on the Paths and Their Results says that the source, the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One, is the simultaneously arising clear light mind; and, out of being affected or unaffected, it is an affected (conditioned) phenomenon. Out of affected phenomena being either a form of physical phenomena, a way of being aware of something, or an affecting variable that is neither, it is a way of being aware of something; and out of the two true phenomena (two truths), it is a superficially true phenomenon (a superficial truth, relative truth, conventional truth) that conceals something deeper. He says that, doesn't he?
However, Mangto Ludrub-gyatso says in his works that it is a deepest true phenomenon (deepest truth, ultimate truth), doesn't he? Thus, among the learned Sakya masters, this is a point upon which the learned Sakya masters give varying explanations. Then later on, I think it was the learned Sakya master from Kham, Dezhung, who wrote a refutation of this [position, that it is a deepest true phenomenon.]
When it [the womb containing a Thusly Gone One] is explained as the actual nature of the mind when tarnished with stains and asserted as that, then when it [the actual nature of the mind] is cleared and evolved as a Buddha, it is not counted [as a womb any more]. However, when we think in terms of the causal everlasting continuum of the all-encompassing foundation, taken in terms of mere clarity and awareness, how are we to understand this? When it is spoken of as acting as the foundation for the coming about of all three – samsara, nirvana, and the paths of the mind – then would it not be better to count it in the deep awareness of the level of being a Buddha?
Gen, do you take the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One as pervasive with being unaffected? You say it is? No, it is not pervasive. The womb containing a Blissfully Gone One is not pervasive with being unaffected. The all-knowing Gyeltsab Jey himself has said in his works that the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One is to be explained as three-fold and these include the parts or factors on the mental continuums of limited beings that allow for a Buddha's enlightening influence to enter and affect them. There is the enlightening influence for superior rebirth and the enlightening influence for the superlative states of liberation and enlightenment. Correspondingly, there are the factors for the enlightening influences for what is superior and what are superlative to enter. This makes the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One lose its position of being unaffected. After discussing that point, Gyeltsab Jey includes among the essential factors or this womb the abilities or potentials for generating a Buddha's qualities as explained in the sutras. These qualities have nowhere to go other than being affected phenomenon.
Furthermore, in A Commentary on "The Sutra on Highly Realized Deep Awareness for the Point of Going Beyond," the supremely triumphant Seventh Dalai Lama has said that the mind of mere clarity and awareness is a womb containing a Thusly Gone One, and it evolves to the state of a Buddha. Thus, concerning the womb containing a Thusly Gone One, the voidnesses of them are unaffected phenomena, but within the set of their elements, one can undoubtedly explain that there are affected phenomena. This is probably the case even in terms of the sutras. What Gyeltsab Jey said, after all, was strictly and solely in terms of the sutras. Thus, in terms of them as well, the womb containing a Thusly Gone One is not pervasive with being an unaffected phenomenon.
Nevertheless, as for being unaffected and being a naturally abiding family-trait, could there be among the naturally abiding traits some that are affected phenomena? I have a little indecisive wavering concerning this. If we try to understand the evolving traits and the naturally abiding traits from the point of view of the terms for them, when we say naturally abiding traits, they are traits that, without beginning, have been abiding as parts of ourselves. Evolving traits are traits that come about newly from circumstances and conditions and which, through fertilization by conditions such as listening to the Dharma, are fit to evolve to become the Buddha-bodies that are affected phenomena. They are the traits that come about from a perfect adopting of Dharma measures.
This being so, then although mind's nature of mere clarity and awareness changes from moment to moment, nevertheless since it cannot be set as something the nature of which did not exist before and has to be made anew, it turns out to be something with no beginning, doesn't it? Because of that, when we speak of family traits that have been present without beginning or traits that have been abiding as our self-nature, we need to consider, for instance, primordial mind or simultaneously arising deep awareness. They are present with no beginning; they are not made anew by circumstances; they are not affected fleetingly by causes and conditions. These are points that we must ponder like this in terms of tantra. And, whether it is inappropriate to call them naturally abiding traits, I really do not know.
The paramita classics, the sutras, set only voidness as the naturally abiding family-trait. So, are there differences here? Are the ways of explaining in the context of The Furthest Everlasting Continuum and in the paramita sutras somewhat different, or is it that in terms exclusively of the sutras, the naturally abiding family traits are pervasive with being unaffected phenomena, but in terms of the sutras and tantras together, they are undoubtedly not pervasive? I really do not know. In any case, that is the way it is. The essential factor deep awareness, the source (up to its) ultimate attainment.
Attaining that deep awareness refers to the fact that up until attaining the deep awareness of a Buddha, it is called the source, the womb containing a Blissfully Gone One. Then, from having purified the mind of its fleeting stains together with their propensities, comes a state of purified growth, supreme enlightenment. Based on that, come the qualities of the powers and so forth: attaining that deep awareness (one attains) supreme enlightenment, the powers, and so forth. The final line of the verse, and possesses the Dharma measures that bring meaningful benefit to all limited beings refers to a Buddha's enlightening influence, which brings about what is beneficial for all limited beings. That is the explanation of the order in which we are to understand the seven vajra points. Let us leave it here for today.
May whatever I have just explained all be put into practice. May whatever positive force I have built up from explaining the Dharma contribute toward all beings accordantly achieving it.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (25%)