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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 6: Major Indian Mahayana Texts > Overview of the Eight Sets of Realizations in Abhisamayalamkara

Overview of the Eight Sets of Realizations in Abhisamayalamkara

Alexander Berzin
February 2002, revised July 2006

[As background, see: The Five Pathway Minds (The Five Paths): Basic Presentation.]

Basic Features

One of the major Mahayana sutra texts studied by all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism is Filigree of Realizations (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), a commentary by Maitreya on the Prajnaparamita Sutras (phar-byin mdo, Sutras on Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness, Perfection of Wisdom Sutras). It receives such emphasis in the Tibetan traditions – and not in the Indian or East Asian Mahayana ones – perhaps because Haribhadra, the author of its main commentary, was a disciple of the mid-eighth century Indian master Shantarakshita. Shantarakshita was the first Indian master to visit Tibet.

In this text, Maitreya explains the stages of the realizations (rtogs-pa) gained with the five pathway minds (lam-lnga, five paths) that lead to the three purified states (byang-chub, Skt. bodhi).

The five pathway minds are:

  1. the building-up pathway mind (tshogs-lam, path of accumulation),

  2. the applying pathway mind (sbyor-lam, path of preparation),

  3. the seeing pathway mind (mthong-lam, path of seeing),

  4. the accustoming pathway mind (sgom-lam, path of meditation),

  5. the pathway mind needing no further training (mi-slob-lam, path of no more learning).

The three purified states are those of

  1. a shravaka arhat,

  2. a pratyekabuddha arhat,

  3. a bodhisattva arhat – meaning in this context, a Buddha.

The first two purified states are Hinayana; the third is Mahayana.

The realizations are primarily of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths or of voidness, organized into eight sets of realizations (dngos-po brgyad, eight phenomena). Each is comprised of many exemplifying topics (mtshon-byed-kyi chos), seventy all together, with each topic having numerous divisions. The sets, topics, and divisions form overlapping networks. Practitioners progress by attaining the five pathway minds linearly, one after the other, by gaining these networks of realizations.

[See: The Sixteen Aspects and Sixteen Distorted Ways of Embracing the Four Noble Truths.]

The eight sets of realizations are in three groupings:

  1. The three sets of realized awareness of the mother texts (yum mkhyen-pa gsum). The mother texts refer to the Hundred Thousand, Twenty-five Thousand, and Eight Thousand Verse Prajnaparamita Sutras.

  2. The four sets of applied realizations (sbyor-ba bzhi, four yogas).

     

  3. The resultant Dharmakaya (‘bras -bu chos-sku).

The Three Sets of Realized Awareness

The three sets of realized awareness are groupings of realizations gained by three sets of aryas (‘ phags-pa, highly realized beings), those who have gained nonconceptual cognition of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths. The three are organized into basis, pathway, and resultant stages and thus, in a complex manner, are cumulative. They are studied, however, in reverse order to their attainment, in order to inspire interest in developing them.

  1. Omniscient realized awareness (rnam-mkhyen) encompasses the realizations that are exclusive to Arya Buddhas. Arya Buddhas are synonymous with Buddhas.

  1. Pathway realized awareness (lam-shes) encompasses the realizations that are common to all bodhisattva aryas, including Buddhas.

  1. Basis or fundamental realized awareness (gzhi-shes) encompasses the realizations that are common to all three types of aryas – shravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva – including shravaka and pratyekabuddha arhats and Buddhas.

The Four Sets of Applied Realizations

The four sets of applied realizations are groupings of realizations that bodhisattvas apply while progressively attaining the Mahayana pathway minds leading to enlightenment.

  1. The realizations applied throughout the complete set of Mahayana pathway minds (rnam-rdzogs sbyor-ba) encompass the factors, from among the three sets of realized awareness, that one works with in common while having the four Mahayana pathway minds up to Buddhahood, from a building-up pathway mind to the final phase of an accustoming pathway mind. These include, for example, understanding the two truths (bden-gnyis) and working with shamatha (zhi-gnas, stilled and settled state of mind, calm abiding) and vipashyana (lhag-mthong, exceptionally perceptive state of mind, special insight).

  1. The ever-sharper applied realizations (rtse-sbyor) encompass the increasingly higher specific realizations that one gains at each of the stages of the Mahayana pathway minds, from an applying pathway mind to the final phase of an accustoming pathway mind.

  1. The accumulative applied realizations (mthar-gyi sbyor-ba) encompass the realizations that build up, one on the other, from the initial attainment of a Mahayana building-up pathway mind to the phase immediately preceding the last phase of an accustoming pathway mind, and which give confidence in the three sets of realized awareness. These include, for example, the six far-reaching attitudes (perfections), which build up one on the other.

  1. The realizations applied at the last phase (skad-cig-ma’i sbyor-ba) encompass the final realizations gained on the last phase (moment) of a tenth level bhumi mind within the scope of an accustoming pathway mind, and which bring enlightenment.

The Resultant Dharmakaya

  1. The resultant Dharmakaya is the corpus of omniscient realizations encompassing everything and which is gained with Buddhahood. This set encompasses all four corpuses (bodies) of a Buddha.

The Interweaving of the Eight Sets of Realizations into Networks

The eight sets of realizations interweave as networks to describe the path and the result:

  • The second through the seventh sets interweave as networks to describe the path.

  • The first three and the eighth sets interweave to describe the result.

Moreover, the realizations of practitioners at each stage of the path are networks comprised of different combinations of the eight sets:

  • Bodhisattvas with Mahayana building-up pathway minds have the fourth and sixth sets of realizations. Hinayanists (shravakas and pratyekabuddhas) with Hinayana building-up pathway minds have none of the eight sets of realizations.

  • Bodhisattvas with Mahayana applying pathway minds have the fourth through the sixth sets. Hinayanists with Hinayana applying pathway minds have none of them.

  • Arya bodhisattvas with Mahayana seeing pathway minds have the second through the sixth sets. Arya Hinayanists with Hinayana seeing pathway minds have only the third.

  • Arya bodhisattvas with Mahayana accustoming pathway minds up to the phase immediately preceding the last phase before Buddhahood have the second through the sixth sets. Arya Hinayanists with Hinayana accustoming pathway minds up to the phase immediately preceding the last phase before Hinayana arhatship still have only the third.

  • Arya bodhisattvas with the last phase of Mahayana accustoming pathway minds before Buddhahood have the second through the seventh sets. Arya Hinayanists with Hinayana accustoming pathway minds before Hinayana arhatship still have only the third.

  • Arya Arhat Buddhas (equivalent to Buddhas) have the first three and the eighth factors. Hinayana Arya Arhats still have only the third.

 

Paths Building Up Applying Seeing Accustoming
up to
Last Phase
Last Phase No Further Training
Mahayana 4, 6

4 to 6

2 to 6

2 to 6

2 to 7

1 to 3, 8

Hinayana

none

none

3

3

3

3