By Acharya Zhiguang
At Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain in July 2015
About the Author
Acharya Zhiguang was born Zheng Fu in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province of China. He became a Buddhist at an early age. During the past thirty years, he has studied Sutra and Tantra teachings of Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Theravada tradition and Japanese Buddhism from more than ninety masters in China’s Han and Tibetan areas, Sri Lanka, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, India and more. He has also studied traditional Chinese culture. He has been teaching the Dharma to benefit sentient beings since 1993.
Acharya Zhiguang has no sectarian bias. He advocates that Buddhists should uphold the principle of the Buddha and equally respect all Buddhist sects with pure lineages. For many years, Acharya Zhiguang has been making relentless efforts to revitalize Buddhism as a whole by promoting communication and unification among different Buddhist sects and committing himself to the preservation and transmission of the teachings of various Buddhist sects and lineages.
The Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha is short but concise, containing the essence of Dharma practice. It summarizes the key practices of Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana into four points: developing Bodhicitta, following spiritual teachers, practicing endurance and gentleness, and living in solitude. If we practice as taught in this Sutra, we will surely enlighten ourselves and others and attain Buddhahood.
This brief commentary combines the teachings of Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, from which we can see that the basic Sutra and Tantra teachings in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism are essentially in common.
Foreword 1 by Tenzin Chöchok, the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche
Foreword 2 by Khenpo Tenzin Lhakpa of the Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy
The Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
1. Explanation of the title of the Sutra
2. Introduction to the translator of the Sutra
3. The prologue of the Sutra
4. The main body of the Sutra
4.1 First practice: “One should generate the supreme Bodhicitta, and never go back even at the cost of one’s life.”
4.2 Second practice: “One should associate with virtuous friends closely, and never abandon them even at the cost of one’s life.”
4.3 Third practice: “One should be enduring and gentle, and not let hatred arise even at the cost of one’s life.”
4.4 Fourth practice: “One should live in solitude and avoid distractions even at the cost of one’s life.”
4.5 Summary of the Four Practices
5. Circulation of the Sutra
By Tenzin Chöchok, the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche
This profound yet easily understandable text is authored by Lama Jigme Tenpe Nyima (Acharya Zhiguang). Integrating relevant Mahayana scriptures, it consists of four parts:
1. Giving rise to Bodhicitta
2. Associating closely with spiritual teachers
3. Cultivating compassion and patience towards people or spirits who harm us
4. Avoiding distractions of the mundane world and concentrating on Dharma practice at a solitary place
I believe that if we can diligently hear, contemplate and practice this teaching, it is certain that great accomplishments will be achieved in this life and future ones. And at this I deeply rejoice!
Tenzin Chöchok, the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche, October 6, 2018.
བླ་མ་འཇིགས་མེད་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ་ནས་བརྩམ་པའི་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་གཞུང་དང་འབྲེལ་བའི།1བྱང་ཆུབ་མཆོག་དུ་སེམས་སྐྱེད་པ། 2 མཚན་ལྡན་དགེ་བའི་བཤེས་གཉེན་བརྟེན་ཚུལ། 3 གནོད་བྱེད་རྣམས་ལ་བྱམས་དང་སྙིང་རྗེ་་སྒོ་ནས་བཟོད་པ་སྒོམ་ཚུལ། 4 འདུ་འཛི་སྤང་ནས་དབེན་པའི་གནས་སུ་སྒྲུབ་པ་བྱེད་ཚུལ་སོགས་ས་བཅད་་བཞིའི་ཁོངས་སུ་སྡུས་པའི།ལེགས་བཤད་རྨད་དུ་བྱུང་བ་གནད་ཟབས་ལ་གོ་བདེ་་བ་ཞིག་ཡིན་པས། འདི་ཉིད་ལ་གསན་བསམ་ལྷོད་མེད་དུ་མཛད་ན། འདི་ཕྱིའི་དོན་ཆེན་འགྲུབ་པའི་ཡིད་ཆེས་དང་་རྗེས་་སུ་ཡི་རངས་ཞུ།
By Khenpo Tenzin Lhakpa of the Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy
Of ultimate truth is the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas.
This text explains it by integrating the teachings of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.
Pray！May this precious Dharma teaching spread far and wide.
May all sentient beings benefit from it now and forever.
Khenpo Tenzin Lhakpa, November 23, 2018
The Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
Translated by Tripitaka Master Divakara from Central India during the Tang Dynasty under the Emperor’s order
Thus have I heard. The Buddha was dwelling at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti at one time, together with the Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus. At that time, the Lord Buddha said to the Bhikshus, “Now that you have attained immeasurable benefits, you should pursue the unsurpassable perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood. Why is that? The Buddhahood is supreme, in both the Worldly and Supramundane Conditions. In future lives, those who vow to pursue the enlightenment of Buddhahood should follow the Four Practices. What are the Four Practices? First, one should generate the supreme Bodhicitta and never go back even at the cost of one’s life. Second, one should associate with virtuous friends closely, and never abandon them even at the cost of one’s life. Third, one should be enduring and gentle, and not let hatred arise even at the cost of one’s life. Fourth, one should live in solitude and avoid distractions even at the cost of one’s life. All good men, know that the Bodhisattva-mahasattvas should follow these four practices.” Then the Buddha spoke the following verses:
Whoever seeks the supreme enlightenment needs to generate Bodhicitta.
They must practice diligently and rely on spiritual teachers.
Whoever practices endurance is praised by the Buddha as a strong person.
The sages live in solitary places, fearless like lions.
Then after speaking the verses, the Buddha added, “If those who have wisdom and great compassion can follow the above four practices, they will liberate themselves from birth and death, escape from the net of Mara, attain supreme enlightenment, and reach the Great Nirvana.”
When the Buddha had spoken this sutra, all the Bhikshus and the Bodhisattvas rejoiced greatly. They accepted and upheld the words of the Buddha, bowed in obeisance and departed.
The Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
Note: See the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha, Order No. 263, Vol. 29, Re-translated Sutras apart from the five major sutra groups of the Mahayana canon, Qianlong Tripitaka.
A Brief Commentary on the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha
First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to His Eminence Namkha Rinpoche and all the Dharma friends in the Rigdzin Community for giving me this opportunity to study with you the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha.
Many people asked me how to start learning Mahayana Buddhism. I told them that they should learn the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas. That is, firstly, they should generate the supreme Bodhicitta. Secondly, they should associate with spiritual teachers closely. Thirdly, they should cultivate endurance and gentleness. Fourthly, they should live in solitude. Then, they can practice Mahayana Sutra and Tantra teachings such as the Six Paramitas (Six Perfections).
The reason for this is that a Mahayana practitioner will lose his goal if he fails to generate the great Bodhicitta to seek Buddhahood and liberate all sentient beings, as if he were on an aimless voyage, drifting around on the sea and unable to reach the opposite shore.
If one has the right goal but fails to follow a spiritual teacher to learn and practice the Dharma correctly under the teacher’s guidance, he will become lost like a boat without a helmsman, and will be unable to progress towards the supreme Buddhahood.
If a Mahayana practitioner does not cultivate endurance and gentleness, he will become weak during the long journey as he practices benefiting and enlightening both himself and others, and he will be unable to persist towards the ultimate enlightenment.
If a beginner of Mahayana Buddhism does not live in solitude, diligently cultivating discipline, concentration, and wisdom to extinguish his greed, hatred, and ignorance, then he, like an oil lamp without a cover, will not make steady progress, and will easily go backward under adverse conditions.
So, we should start with the four practices of Bodhisattvas as taught by the Buddha when we learn and practice Mahayana Buddhism. None of these four practices should be left out.
This sutra is short and concise. It teaches us the goal and the principles required for learning and practicing Mahayana Buddhism. It summarizes all the essential practices of Mahayana Bodhisattvas into four points, which are easy to remember. By practicing these teachings, we will surely enlighten ourselves and others, keep away from demonic obstacles and attain Buddhahood.
As far as I know, Namkha Rinpoche has given teachings on The Words of My Perfect Teacher many times, so you must have already known a lot about it. There are many similarities between this Sutra and The Words of My Perfect Teacher. So, I think you may feel familiar with this lecture.
1. Explanation of the title of the Sutra
Let’s look at the title of the Sutra first, the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha. As indicated by the expression “spoken by the Buddha”, the Sutra was taught by the exalted Buddha personally. It is directed to Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana. The “four practices” are the four key points of Dharma practice that we must grasp as Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana. Through study of this Sutra, we can see that many teachings in The Words of My Perfect Teacher have their origins in Buddhist scriptures.
2. Brief introduction to the translator of the Sutra
In the Chinese Tripitaka (Dazangjing), I have found three scriptures related to the four practices of Bodhisattvas. One of them is the Sutra on the Four Mahayana Practices translated by Siksananda. It is an expansive text, in which homage is paid to Vairocana Buddha at the beginning. Among the scriptures from the Tang Dynasty, it is one that has connections with Tangmi (Tantric Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty). The other two scriptures are two different versions of the same sutra, both translated by Master Divakara. The title of the first version is the Sutra on the Four Mahayana Practices Spoken by the Buddha. The second version is the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha, which we are going to study today.
Master Divakara was a prominent Buddhist monk from the Nalanda Monastery of India during the Tang Dynasty. Many Buddhist masters such as Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, Tilopa and Naropa all studied in the Nalanda Monastery. Many eminent Chinese Buddhist masters, such as Master Hsuan Tsang, also studied there.
According to historical records, Master Divakara admired Master Hsuan Tsang very much and was deeply intrigued by the Tang Dynasty. He vowed to go to China to spread the Dharma to benefit the sentient beings there. He was well versed in Tripitaka, was proficient in the Five Sciences, and was especially adept at Tantric mantras. He was not just a Dharma master of Tripitaka, but also a master of Tantric mantras. After he arrived in China, his most important work was translating Buddhist scriptures. So, he was also a great translator. He translated thirty-four volumes of eighteen sutras in total.
Master Divakara was the first master to translate the scriptures about Cundi practice into Chinese. The Buddha Pronounces the Sutra of the Great Cundi Dharani, the Heart of the Mother of Seven Koti Buddhas, which was translated by Master Divakara, is an important scripture in Tangmi. Maha Cundi Bodhisattva is one of the major Yidam deities in Tantric Buddhism. I have received the transmission of Maha Cundi practice from my exalted master ─ His Eminence the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche. This is a very precious practice. It was introduced into China in the Tang Dynasty, and was first translated by Master Divakara. It later had a widespread influence in China. Many people practiced it and it became a very important part of Tangmi.
Master Divakara also translated another very important Tantric scripture which is called the Usnisa Vijaya Dharani Sutra. It also became widely practiced in China. The emperor of the Tang Dynasty at that time ordered all the monks and nuns in China to chant it twenty-one times every day. So, it is clear that Master Divakara had made great contribution to the spreading of Tantric Buddhism in China.
Ancient India consisted of five regions: Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central India. Master Divakara came from Central India. After conducting intensive research, Matsunaga Yukei, a Great Acharya of the Shingon Sect in Japan, concluded that Tantric Buddhism was at its peak in central and southern India during the 7th and 8th centuries AD when many Buddhist masters practiced Tantric Dharma. Thus, it can be inferred that Master Divakara was also very proficient in Tantric Buddhism.
I have taught two of the sutras translated by Master Divakara before.
In May 2013, I taught an important sutra translated by Master Divakara at Daigo-ji Monastery of Shingon Sect in Japan. It is called the Mahayana Sutra of No-Letter Dharma Gate All Pervasive Illuminating Treasure, and was taught personally by the Buddha. It mainly discusses several key points of practice of Bodhisattvas. It also teaches how to recognize our own Tathagatagarbha or Buddha Nature. This sutra states: “Suppose in future lives, among good men and good women, there are those who have committed sins, such as the five rebellious acts. After hearing this Dharma Gate, whether they copy this sutra, read and chant it, or explain it by themselves, or persuade others to copy it, read and chant it, or explain it, I can see that these individuals will not fall to the evil realms. All their hindrances ─ afflictions, karma and retribution ─ will be eliminated. In future lives they will have the ‘five eyes’. They will receive empowerment from all Buddhas.” Therefore, reading this sutra gives you empowerment from all Buddhas. It is also stated in the sutra that: “If sentient beings in future lives are able to hear this rare Dharma Gate, it should be known that they had already acquired immeasurable merit and wisdom long ago; that they in effect serve me and make offerings to me; that they in effect carry on the great Bodhi course of the Buddha; that they will certainly achieve eloquence; that they will certainly arrive in pure Buddha Lands; that when their lives come to an end, they will certainly see themselves surrounded by Amitabha Buddha and all his Bodhisattvas; that they will constantly see me on Vulture Peak Mountain and see a multitude of Bodhisattvas like these here; that they have already acquired the inexhaustible Dharma treasure; that they will gain past-life knowledge; and that they will never fall to the evil realms.” So, it is quite clear that this sutra is rare and sublime.
Early this year, I taught another sutra translated by Master Divakara, The Buddha Pronounces the Sutra of the Great Cundi Dharani, the Heart of the Mother of Seven Koti Buddhas. It is a scripture on Cundi Tantric teachings first translated into Chinese by Master Divakara. It explains the Maha Cundi practice in great detail. It also teaches many virtuous practices, such as the practice of peace, the practice of growth, the practice of power and the practice of force, as well as the methods to cure diseases and make one wiser. The Maha Cundi practice enables you to fulfill all your wishes. In particular, the sutra teaches many practices of Fire Puja.
So, these are the two sutras translated by Master Divakara that I have taught before. Today we are going to study another sutra translated by him, the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha.
3. The prologue of the Sutra
“Thus have I heard. The Buddha was dwelling at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Garden in Shravasti at one time, together with the Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus.”
There are six main points in this paragraph. All the Buddhist sutras have six signs, or “six perfections”, to prove that they are authentic. This is the prologue of the sutra.
(a) Perfection of Faith
“Thus” represents the Perfection of Faith. The word “thus” means it is exactly what the Lord Buddha has taught.
Many of the sutras of the Buddha were retold by Venerable Ananda. Venerable Ananda had such a supreme memory that he could recite all the sutras taught by the Buddha. Today we also have many so-called “Venerable Anandas”, all types of “voice recorders”. There once was a saying that went, “The great ocean of Dharma flows into the heart of Ananda.” Nowadays the Dharma is still like the ocean, but it all flows into the recorders (Audience laughed). So, I hope that the Dharma will flow into your heart, not just into the recorders. If the Dharma cannot enter our hearts, they will mean nothing to us.
(b) Perfection of Hearing
The expression “have I heard” refers to the Perfection of Hearing. It means that the Buddha gave the teachings that way and I heard them that way. There are no alterations, just like a recording made by a voice recorder.
All the Buddhist sutras begin with the expression “Thus have I heard”. There are four reasons for this:
(1) To remove the doubts of listeners
After the Buddha entered Nirvana, the whole Sangha gathered together and decided to compile all the teachings of the Buddha. They went to Venerable Ananda and asked him to retell the Buddha’s teachings because he had the best memory. While Venerable Ananda was reciting the Buddha’s teachings, the assembly began to wonder. They wondered whether Venerable Ananda had already attained Buddhahood, whether Buddha Shakyamuni was back again, or whether some other Buddha had come. This was because the signs and fine features of Venerable Ananda were very close to those of the Buddha. The Buddha had thirty-two excellent signs, and Venerable Ananda had thirty. So, Venerable Ananda was just a little inferior to the Lord Buddha in terms of beauty. Actually, he became a monk solely because he found the Buddha was better-looking than him. He asked the Buddha, “Why do you look so dignified?” And the Buddha replied, “I will tell you if you become a monk.” Then Venerable Ananda became a monk. So, if the Dharma teachers are good-looking, it will be easier for them to spread the Buddhist teachings. Otherwise, it might be a little difficult for them to do so. Just kidding!
Some people had the above three doubts when Venerable Ananda recited the Buddha’s teachings. They no longer had such doubts when Venerable Ananda said “Thus have I heard” because they realized that he was only repeating the words of the Buddha. This is the first reason why the expression “Thus have I heard” is placed at the beginning of all sutras.
(2) To follow the instructions of the Buddha
When the Buddha was about to enter Nirvana, Venerable Ananda asked him the following four questions:
The first question was, “We all take the Buddha as our teacher when the Buddha is present in this world. But who will be our teacher after the Buddha’s passing?” The Buddha replied, “You should take the Vinaya (the Disciplines) as your teacher.”
The second question was, “We all rely upon the Lord Buddha when he is present in this world. But who should we rely upon after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha responded, “You should rely upon the Satipatthana (the four foundations of mindfulness).”
The third question was, “The Buddha disciplines the ill-natured Bhikshus with his power and virtue when the Buddha is present in this world. But how should we deal with those Bhikshus after the Buddha’s Nirvana?” The Buddha replied, “Simply ignore them.”
Then the fourth question was, “What should we put at the beginning of all the sutras after the Nirvana of the Buddha?” The Buddha said, “You should put the expression ‘Thus have I heard.’”
(3) To settle disputes
The third reason is to settle disputes among the Buddha’s followers. With this expression at the beginning of the sutra, it is made clear that this is what the Buddha taught and what I, Ananda, heard personally without any alterations. It’s known to all that Venerable Ananda was foremost in learning, and he was able to retain all things he heard. So, there would be no disputes among the Buddhist followers.
(4) To distinguish the sutras from other scriptures
The fourth reason is to distinguish the Buddhist sutras from other scriptures.
(c) Perfection of Time
The Perfection of Time is indicated by the expression “at one time” in the sutra. All Buddhist sutras have a time, a place and participants. The structure of the sutras is somewhat like meeting memos nowadays. The time, place and participants of the Dharma teachings are all recorded in the sutras. The place and participants are generally described in detail, while the time is not. Someone may ask, “Why does it say ‘at one time’? What time is this ‘one time’ exactly? Why doesn’t the sutra record the exact date?”
This is because the Buddha had enormous wisdom. When the Buddha gave the teachings in a nation, the audience was not limited to the sentient beings of that nation. There were also beings from other nations, not only human beings and but also other life forms, even heavenly beings, and dragons, what we call “the eight groups of transmundane beings”. Since the times of different places or realms are all different, it is simply impossible to record just one specific time.
According to ancient Buddhist masters, “one time” is the time when the capacities of the students match with the Buddha’s teachings. When the conditions of the sentient beings are ripe and the Buddha decides it is time to give the teachings, this moment is the “one time”. From this point of view, today is also “one time” for us. So, this is the Perfection of Time.
(d) Perfection of the Master who Teaches Dharma
The Buddha represents the Perfection of the Master who teaches Dharma. Who is the Master? It is the Lord Buddha! The Lord Buddha does not refer to any other Buddhas; it only refers to the root teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, the Dharma Lord of our Saha world. According to Tantric scriptures, the Lord Buddha had already attained Buddhahood long ago, and he manifested his presence in this world in order to benefit sentient beings.
(e) Perfection of Place
The expression “at the Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Garden in Shravasti” indicates the Perfection of Place where the Dharma teaching was given. The term “Shravasti”, translated into Chinese as “Feng De Guo”, means “the kingdom of abundant merit”. Shravasti was one of the sixteen major kingdoms in India at that time, and its king was called Prasenajit. The place where the teachings were given was called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Garden”.
Why is it called the “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Park”? It is because all the trees in the Jeta Grove in the garden were an offering made by Prince Jeta, while the land of the garden was an offering of a wealthy elder named Anathapindada. It is said that Anathapindada once traveled to another kingdom and heard the Buddha’s teachings there. He then had unparalleled faith in the Buddha. He told himself that he must invite the Buddha to his own kingdom to teach such supreme Dharma. He went back to his kingdom and started to look for a proper place for the Buddha to teach. He went to many places and finally discovered the most beautiful place, which was the garden of Prince Jeta. So, he tried to buy this garden from the prince. However, Prince Jeta didn’t want to sell it because it was so beautiful. Anathapindada pleaded with the prince again and again. The prince then decided to scare him off with an extravagant demand. The prince said to Anathapindada, “If you can cover the land of my garden with gold, then I will sell it to you.” Normally no one could be so rich, but Anathapindada was no ordinary man. According to historical records, he was a great Tertön. His eyes could see what was hidden underground or in the rocks. Many Master Tertöns in Tibetan Buddhism could retrieve many precious Dharma teachings. Anathapindada specialized in retrieving gold. So, he retrieved a lot of gold, and covered the entire garden with it. The prince then felt awkward because he had to keep his word. He said, “Okay, all the areas covered with gold will be your offering to the Buddha. But all the trees in the garden will be my offering to the Buddha.” So, this garden was finally called “Jeta Grove in Anathapindada Garden”(the trees of Jeta and the land of Anathapindada). The Buddha gave many teachings in this precious garden, and Anathapindada gained enormous merits.
(f) Perfection of Audience
The last one is the Perfection of Audience, meaning those who were listening to the teachings. The sutra mentions “together with a Sangha of twelve hundred and fifty great Bhikshus”. So, the audience was mainly the twelve hundred and fifty Bhikshus at that time. They were the retinues who followed the Lord Buddha all the time. According to the Sutra on the Four Mahayana Practices, there were also innumerable Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas at the assembly. So, the number of the audience should be very large. This is what we call the Perfection of Audience.
There are many definitions of the term “Sangha”. In Hinayana, “Sangha” means a group of four or more Bhikshus who stay together in harmony in the Six Ways. In Mahayana, it means the Bodhisattvas of the first Bhumi or higher. In Vajrayana, according to Mipham Rinpoche, all the yogis who practice the Generation and Perfection Stages can be called a Vajrayana Sangha. For example, our Rigdzin Community can be called a Vajrayana Sangha.
4. The main body of the Sutra
Next is the second part of the sutra, the main body. Just like Dharma practices consist of three parts, the beginning, the main part and the conclusion, now let us get to the main part.
In the main body of the sutra, it says: “At that time, the Lord Buddha said to the Bhikshus, Now that you have attained immeasurable benefits, you should pursue the unsurpassable perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood. Why is that? The Buddhahood is supreme, in both the Worldly and Supramundane Conditions.”
The Lord Buddha said that all the attending Bhikshus had attained great benefits from their Dharma practices. The benefits of the Dharma are enormous. But sometimes it is hard for us to explain them to people because they are so enormous that we don’t know where to start. It’s just hard to explain in a few words.
The day before yesterday, I delivered a lecture at the Council of European Union, titled as “The Secret to Happiness”. There were so many people attending the lecture that there weren’t enough seats for all of them. I figured that the majority of the audience might not have known about the Dharma before, so I explained to them what Buddha meant and what Dharma was. First, I quoted, “Being happy and carefree, hence the name Buddha”, a simple and easily understandable definition of “Buddha” from a book called A Treatise on the Mind by Master Daoxin, the Fourth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism in ancient China. Then I explained what Buddha was. It meant a state free of all afflictions. In Chinese, Nirvana was translated as Yuanji (perfection and stillness). “Perfection” means all the merits are perfect. “Stillness” means all the defects have been overcome and all the afflictions have been eliminated. That’s why Master Daoxin said, “Being happy and carefree; hence the name Buddha.” What is Dharma? Dharma is the way to make us happy and free of worries. I think that the audience could understand more easily in this way.
The Buddha said to the Bhikshus that, “you had attained great benefits from Dharma practices; however, you should not be satisfied but should move on to pursue the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood.” Among the attendees at the time, many Bhikshus had attained the enlightenment of Sravakayana (Voice Hearer) and Pratyekabuddha (Solitary Realizer), so they were mostly Arhats. But the Buddha wanted all the practitioners to pursue the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood instead of staying in the state of Arhat.
Then the Buddha said, “Why is that? The great Buddhahood is supreme, in both the Worldly and Supramundane Conditions.” Why should we pursue the supreme enlightenment? Because only the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood is incomparable and unrivalled in both Worldly and Supramundane Conditions. This is why sometimes it is also called Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi, meaning the supreme perfect enlightenment.
According to The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the so-called liberation means being free from the ocean of sufferings in Samsara. It’s also said in the book that there are three types of enlightenment: Sravaka, Pratyeka, and supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood. Obtaining any of these three types of enlightenment is called liberation. From the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, we should pursue the supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood. The benefits of liberation are elaborated in the Chapter of Benefits of Liberation in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
The first thing the Buddha mentioned in the main body of this sutra is that we must have the correct goal. In Buddhism there is a saying, “If the causal ground is false, its fruit will be distorted.” That is, if the cause is not decent, neither will the result; if the motivation is wrong, then the outcome can’t be right. So, we must have the correct motivation and goal.
It then says in the sutra, “In the future lives, those who vow to pursue the enlightenment of Buddhahood should follow the Four Practices.” The Buddha taught this sutra not only to the attendees, but also to people like us. One common problem we have is that we have poor memory. We’ll have difficulty in remembering the teachings if they are overly complicated. The Buddha must have foreseen this (Audience laughed), so he summarized the key practices into four points, known as the Four Practices, making it easier for us to remember.
4.1 First practice: “One should generate the supreme Bodhicitta, and never go back even at the cost of one’s life.”
It then says in the Sutra, “What are the Four Practices? First, one should generate the great Bodhicitta, and never go back even at the cost of one’s life.” Lord Atisha once said that the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists is whether they take refuge in the Three Jewels, and the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana is the generation of Bodhicitta. Because this sutra is aimed at teaching the Mahayana Bodhisattvas, the first key point is generating Bodhicitta. If we don’t have Bodhicitta, we are definitely not Mahayana Buddhists.
But it’s not easy to generate Bodhicitta. I have studied a lot of teachings on Bodhicitta and listened to the teaching on The Words of My Perfect Teacher several times, as well as A Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Master Shantideva, the Seven Points of Developing a Good Heart by Lord Atisha, and also the Eight Verses for Developing a Good Heart by Geshe Langri Tangpa. After having studied the Dharma for so long, I think that it is not easy to generate Bodhicitta.
There was a Buddhist master in Tibet. Once he encountered a flood that was rushing towards him along the road. Right when the water was getting close to him, he picked up a small rock and made a wish, “If my Bodhicitta is genuine, the flood will stop right here.” Then he put the rock down in front of him. The flood stopped literally right where the rock was.
We can try this method to test our Bodhicitta if we encounter a flood in the future. But this is a bit risky. (Audience laughed.) You’d better not do so if you are not sure about your Bodhicitta, otherwise you may be swept away by the flood. (The Acharya and the audience laughed.) Just kidding. I am sure all of you must have Bodhicitta. (The Acharya and the audience laughed.)
(a) Brief Introduction to Steps to Develop Bodhicitta in the Preliminaries of Longchen Nyingthig in Tibetan Buddhism.
The method of generating Bodhicitta in The Words of My Perfect Teacher is very unique. It starts with the practice of the Four Immeasurables. Unlike the common practicing sequence of the Four Immeasurables, it begins with practicing impartiality to have an even-minded attitude towards all beings, enemies or loved ones, and then moves on to practices of loving kindness, compassion as well as empathetic joy. This method is the unique instruction of Nyingma school. After completing the practices of the Four Immeasurables we can start to practice the relative Bodhicitta, by cultivating firstly the aspirational Bodhicitta and then the engaged Bodhicitta. These are well elaborated in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
I was very lucky to have listened to some extraordinary teachings of Dzogchen (the Great Perfection) by H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche when I visited the Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy (“Larung Gar Academy”) for the first time in 1997. At the time, I hadn’t done any preliminary practices before. H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche required those who missed the preliminary practices to complete them. So, he assigned Khenpo Tsültrim Lodrö to impart to us the transmission of the preliminary practices of Longchen Nyingthig tradition. That’s when I started to practice them. At that time, I also practiced a little on generating Bodhicitta, but I felt very ashamed that I did not seem to have any strong feelings or profound experience during the practice. Although I have little Bodhicitta, I am deeply moved every time I read the teachings about Bodhicitta in Buddhist scriptures or those given by the lineage masters. So, sometimes I probably have slightly generated a semblance of Bodhicitta.
(b) Introduction to Bodhicitta Teachings in the Exhortation to Resolve upon Bodhicitta in Chinese Buddhism
Just like in Tibetan Buddhism, there are also many Bodhicitta teachings in Chinese Buddhism.
There’s a great master named Xing An in Chinese Buddhism. He once gave a precious teaching known as the Exhortation to Resolve upon Bodhicitta in the Asoka Monastery in the city of Ningbo. The Asoka Monastery is a very famous pilgrimage site for a lot of people because a piece of the skull relic of the Buddha is enshrined there. We all know that if we bring forth Bodhicitta in front of holy objects such as the relics of the Buddha, the resulting merit will be enormous. When Master Xing’an was giving this teaching to his followers, he deliberately asked everyone present to generate supreme Bodhicitta before the relic of the Buddha.
My hometown is Ningbo. I visited the Tiantong Monastery and the Asoka Monastery frequently in my childhood. I once listened to a teaching on the Exhortation to Resolve upon Bodhicitta given by a great master in the Asoka Monastery and felt great blessings. After that, I vowed to keep the precept against killing and become a vegetarian.
In the Exhortation to Resolve upon Bodhicitta, Master Xing’an talked about ten essential instructions on generating Bodhicitta from ten different perspectives.
(1) To remind ourselves about the immense loving-kindness of the Buddha
From The Words of My Perfect Teacher, we’ve learned that all happiness of everyone comes from the blessings of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and our virtuous teachers. Even the gentle touch of a breeze on the face in hot summer comes from the blessing of the Buddha and our virtuous teachers. If there were no Buddha, life in Samsara would be in absolute darkness, no light at all. It is the Buddha who has brought light to all sentient beings.
In A Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, it is stated that:
“Like a flash of lightning that illuminates a dark cloudy night,
In an instant releasing brilliant brightness,
It is due to the powerful blessings from the Buddha,
That a momentary kindness arises in people’s mind.”
That is to say, even a kind thought lasting for only a split second comes from the blessings of the Buddha. We also owe it completely to the Buddha’s kindness that we have the precious human life and the rare opportunity to hear the Dharma today. So, the loving-kindness the Buddha has given us is incomparable.
Since we’ve learned the kindness of the Buddha, it is unacceptable that we do not want to repay it. Therefore, we must generate Bodhicitta to attain the supreme enlightenment in order to enlighten the infinite sentient beings like the Buddha does. Only in this way can we repay the kindness of the Buddha.
(2) To remind ourselves about the kindness of parents
All sentient beings have been our parents before. How should we repay the kindness of parents in all the lives we’ve lived? We must give them temporary and ultimate benefits. The best way for us to do so is to develop Bodhicitta and attain the supreme enlightenment. This has been explained in detail in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
(3) To remind ourselves about the kindness of our spiritual teachers
Parents give us the physical body. Spiritual teachers give us the life of wisdom, which is more important.
Without spiritual teachers, it is impossible for any sentient being to attain Buddhahood. All Buddhas in the past, present and future attain Buddhahood because they follow the spiritual teachers. Without our masters, we don’t even know what the Three Jewels are. Because of our karmic obstacles, we cannot communicate with the Buddha in person to receive his teachings. However, our compassionate masters come and impart Buddha’s teachings to us. From this perspective, the kindness of our masters surpasses all that of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions and the Three Periods.
The experience I have gained during my thirty years of Dharma practice can be summarized in one sentence, that is, we must follow the spiritual teachers.
In the Great Commentary on the Preliminary Practices of the Great Perfection, there is a citation of the teachings from the Ekottarikagama as follows: “All the pure practices are taught by the spiritual teachers. Even the Buddha himself learned from his teachers on the path of obtaining enlightenment.” So, we need to know very clearly that the kindness received from our teachers is beyond comparison.
Knowing the incomparable kindness of our masters, we can only repay them by following their footsteps, to cultivate Bodhicitta like them, to attain enlightenment like them and to enlighten all sentient beings like them.
(4) To remind ourselves about the kindness of our benefactors
Benefactors are those who provide for us. No one can survive without others, especially for practitioners like us. Apart from the blessings of our masters and the Three Jewels, we also need support from many others for our achievements. We are greatly indebted to them, because we wouldn’t be able to continue our practice without their support. So, we need to understand their kindness and repay them.
How can we repay their kindness in the best way? We simply must cultivate Bodhicitta and attain the supreme perfect enlightenment as soon as possible.
(5) To remind ourselves about the kindness of all sentient beings
All sentient beings have been our parents before. From this perspective, of course we should cultivate Bodhicitta for them.
Meanwhile, in order to become Bodhisattvas, we need an object for cultivating Bodhicitta. In the Practices and Vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, the Buddha said that, “Great compassion arises due to sentient beings. Bodhicitta arises due to great compassion. Perfect enlightenment arises due to Bodhicitta.” Because there are sentient beings, we can develop the great compassion. Because of the great compassion, we can generate Bodhicitta. Because of Bodhicitta, we can attain Buddhahood in the future. So, all sentient beings are very important to us.
(6) To remind ourselves of the sufferings of life and death
Because we understand the sufferings in Samsara, we generate Bodhicitta.
It is stated in The Words of My Perfect Teacher that “There is no happiness at all in Samsara, just like there is no trace of fragrance in a cesspit.” Of course, it is hard for the people in this modern world to understand the meaning of this statement. I suggest that you go find a toilet in a remote area if possible, so you can experience and understand all this. Modern people think that all the toilets are clean. (The Acharya laughed.)
Nowadays, materials in our society are so abundant that sometimes we are not able to generate renunciation. A few days ago, we had a conversation with a friend in Europe. He said, “The human life is happy, and Samsara is good. Why should we question that?” This is why we say that it is quite difficult for beings in heaven to practice the Dharma. Because they have little suffering. So, it’s taught in Buddhism that suffering is very good for us. The Buddha said we should regard suffering as our teacher. Suffering is our master. Only when we understand the suffering in Samsara, can we understand the afflictions of all sentient beings. Then we can generate genuine great compassion, and then we can develop the supreme Bodhicitta.
(7) To respect our own Buddha nature
We should respect ourselves, and our own Buddha nature.
Why? Because the Buddha and all of us have Buddha nature. The Buddha has attained Buddhahood, yet we are still trapped in Samsara, even though we have the same Buddha nature. So, we should feel ashamed of ourselves because we have failed our Buddha nature. This is what we mean by saying “one is a Buddha when awakened, and an ordinary being when confused”. One should become a Buddha so as not to fail his Buddha nature. To become a Buddha, one should cultivate Bodhicitta first. This is also a very important reason for cultivating Bodhicitta. If we do not cultivate Bodhicitta and become a Buddha, we are failing our Buddha nature.
(8) To repent our negative karma
In A Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, it is stated that “Bodhicitta is like fire at the end of a kalpa that can destroy serious sins in an instant.” Just one thought of Bodhicitta can eliminate immeasurable karmic obstacles. It is also stated that “The tree of Bodhicitta constantly bears fruits; it never fades but flourishes increasingly.” One thought of Bodhicitta can accumulate immeasurable merits for us.
The karmic obstacles result in our sufferings in Samsara. If we do not want to suffer, we must cultivate Bodhicitta diligently, so as to eliminate the negative karmas and accumulate merits. Moreover, when we have developed Bodhicitta, there’s little chance for us to produce negative karmas. So, Bodhicitta is one of the most powerful ways to eliminate negative karmas.
(9) To aspire to gain rebirth in the Western Pure Land
There are a lot of obstacles working against our Dharma practice in this Saha world, while in the Pure Land there are plenty of favorable conditions. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, including our lineage masters such as H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche always encouraged us to aspire to be reborn in the Western Pure Land. The Larung Gar Academy holds an Ultimate Bliss Dharma Assembly every year, during which all the participants do the Amitabha practice together. Generally, you need to develop Bodhicitta in order to gain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
After we’re reborn in the Pure Land, we will not go backwards in our practice. In the Saha world, we go backwards in our practice easily. Of course, there’s one exception. That is, the high-level Bodhisattvas will never go backwards no matter what difficulties they encounter. These Bodhisattvas don’t need to go to the Western Pure Land. I believe that many tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism are the warriors in Samsara, so they don’t necessarily need to go to the Pure Land. We should pray for their longevity and eternal presence in this world so that they can continuously enlighten the sentient beings in Samsara.
(10) To remind ourselves to keep the Dharma alive forever
The tenth reason for generating Bodhicitta is to try to keep the Dharma alive forever.
As long as the Dharma exists in this world, there are hope and light for the sentient beings. Why do we pray for the longevity and presence of all the great masters in the world? This is because the Dharma can exist only when they do.
The Dharma is very precious. Without it, the whole world would be in total darkness. Being a Buddhist, we must generate Bodhicitta, and follow the steps of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and lineage masters, to spread the Dharma and benefit all sentient beings. If no one generates Bodhicitta, and no one learns, inherits, or spreads the Dharma, it will fade and even perish. Therefore, we have to cultivate Bodhicitta to preserve and spread the Dharma, as well as to benefit all sentient beings.
The ten points above are why Master Xing’an believed we must generate Bodhicitta. They are elaborated in greater detail in the Exhortation to Resolve upon Bodhicitta. Today I only give a very brief introduction.
(c) Bodhicitta teachings of the “Four Great Vows” widely propagated by different Buddhist traditions
In Chinese Buddhism, the following four verses are usually chanted when it comes to cultivating Bodhicitta:
Sentient beings are innumerable; I vow to enlighten them.
Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to eliminate them.
Dharma doors are immeasurable; I vow to master them.
The path of the Buddha is unsurpassable; I vow to fulfill it.
According to Buddhist scriptures, all the Buddhas in the past, present and future generate Bodhicitta with these four verses. If we aspire to save all sentient beings, who have all been our dear parents in our past existences, we must eliminate all our own afflictions first. Since we have immeasurable afflictions, we need various Dharma doors (various doctrines, also known as the “eighty-four thousand Dharma doors”) to subdue them. According to the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, every Dharma practice taught by the Buddha is aimed at helping sentient beings overcome different types of afflictions. In order to address the innumerable afflictions, we must vow to master the immeasurable Dharma doors. In the end, we will attain the supreme Buddhahood.
(d) Ultimate Bodhicitta in Tangmi
There are many kinds of Bodhicitta in the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings given above are mainly about the worldly Bodhicitta.
There is a deeper elaboration of Bodhicitta in Tangmi. There is a Tamgmi sutra called the Mahavairocana Sutra. It says, “What is Bodhi? It is to know the mind as it truly is.” What is Bodhi? It is to truly realize the nature of our mind. This is Bodhicitta, the ultimate Bodhicitta. This definition of Bodhicitta is the same as that in the teachings of Dzogchen.
What are the requirements for Tangmi practitioners? In Tangmi, if a practitioner wants to engage in Yidam deity practices or other secret practices, they must first realize the nature of mind. According to some Tangmi masters, if you can abide in the true nature of your mind, your body, speech and mind will become the Three Mysteries of the Buddha. In other words, when you abide in the true nature of mind, your body, speech and mind would become the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. These statements can be found in the sastras of previous lineage masters.
Therefore, the teachings of Bodhicitta are actually unfathomably profound. The Buddha said that one should never forget Bodhicitta, or abandon Bodhicitta even at the cost of losing one’s life. So, Bodhicitta is extremely important.
The above is the first key point given by the Buddha to Bodhisattvas to cultivate Bodhicitta. It is the most important element in Mahayana Buddhism. Without Bodhicitta, we are not genuine Mahayana Buddhists.
4.2 Second practice: “One should associate with virtuous friends closely, and never abandon them even at the cost of one’s life.”
The second key point the Buddha taught in the Sutra is to “associate with virtuous friends”. The “virtuous friends” here refer to spiritual teachers, our masters. There are many teachings in the Buddhist scriptures on how to follow spiritual teachers.
Two years ago, I gave a brief introduction of the Lotus Sutra in the city of Lausanne in Switzerland. This sutra is known as the king of all sutras. In the “Devadatta” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha stated that he attained Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi （the unsurpassable perfect enlightenment) because he had followed a virtuous teacher. The Lotus Sutra says, “It is because of the virtuous teacher Devadatta that I was fully endowed with the Six Perfections, benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy, impartiality, the Thirty-two Major Characteristics, the Eighty Secondary Characteristics, coloring of burnished purple-gold, the Ten Powers, the Four Kinds of Fearlessness, the Four All-embracing Virtues, the Eighteen Distinctive Characteristics, and Ubiquitous Supernatural Power. It is all due to the virtuous relationship with Devadatta that I attained complete enlightenment and extensively saved innumerable beings.” The Buddha explained clearly in this sutra that he attained the perfect supreme enlightenment because he had followed the virtuous teacher and studied the Lotus Sutra in his past life.
In the same chapter of the Lotus Sutra, there is another story about how a naga girl at the Dharma assembly attained Buddhahood in one lifetime. This naga girl, who was only eight years old, had followed Bodhisattva Manjushri in the sea and had also studied the Lotus Sutra. At last she “attained Buddhahood in an instant” right at the venue where the Buddha was teaching the Lotus Sutra. She thus demonstrated the attainment of Buddhahood in one lifetime.
In the Chapter of Entering the Dharma Realm in the Avatamsaka Sutra, there is also a famous story about following virtuous teachers, in which a young child named Sudhana (“Child of Wealth”) visited and received teachings from fifty-three teachers, and at last became enlightened in one lifetime.
(a) Three types of virtuous teachers
Great Master Zhiyi of the Sui Dynasty of China was the founder of Tiantai school of Buddhism, known as the Little Shakyamuni of the East. In his work titled The Essentials of Practicing Samatha and Vipasyana Meditation, he categorized the spiritual friends into three types as follows:
(i) The externally-supportive spiritual friends. It refers to people who support us from outside where we practice the Dharma. They mainly provide us with the necessities of life such as clothing, food, housing and transportation, so that we can practice the Dharma with no worries. Without these friends, we will have nothing to live on, thus unable to sustain our Dharma practice, so they are very important to us.
(ii) The identical-practice spiritual friends. It refers to those who practice the Dharma with us. All the Dharma practitioners in a Sangha or a Buddhist centre can be considered as such friends. They can encourage and help each other. So, in this sense, all those who practice with us are also our virtuous friends or teachers. The great Tertön Karma Lingpa also taught that “those who practice with us are our teachers”.
(iii) The instructive spiritual friends. It refers to the teachers who teach us the Dharma. They are the most important of the three types because all of our Dharma practices come from their teachings.
(b) The three things the virtuous teachers use to tame our minds
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, it says that there are three things that the virtuous teachers use to tame us. What are the three? This sutra says, “The first is consistent gentle words; the second is consistent scolding; and the third is gentle words and scolding combined. In this sense, the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas are the genuine spiritual teachers.”
The first thing is “consistent gentle words”. That is, the teachers teach and transform us with very gentle words of loving kindness all the time. The second is “consistent scolding”, that is, they always use harsh and critical words to teach and help us. The third is “gentle words and scolding combined”. That is to say, they sometimes speak to us lovingly and kindly, and at other times scold us harshly.
Since the Buddha already said so in the sutra, it seems that the teachers should scold us when necessary. As we can see from history, the methods that the virtuous teachers used to teach and transform living beings did vary greatly.
Some teachers seem to be the first kind we talked about earlier. As we can see from the biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, it seems that the Buddha never got angry. I have read the biography of the Third Patrul Rinpoche, and it seems that he also never got angry.
Some teachers seem to be always angry. For example, the great translator Marpa Lotsawa always seemed to teach his disciples by scolding or beating them. As can be seen in the biography of the Mahasiddha Milarepa, this is exactly what he had experienced when he followed Marpa and studied with him. It looks like Marpa had tortured Milarepa badly, but in reality Marpa had done that out of great compassion.
However, this wrathful way of taming sentient beings wasn’t invented by Marpa. Tilopa, who was the Guru of Marpa’s own Guru, also taught his disciples in such a way. Naropa, the Guru of Marpa, underwent twelve major hardships and twelve minor hardships when he was following Tilopa and studying with him. How did Naropa finally attain enlightenment? Tilopa bashed Naropa on his head with the sole of his shoe and knocked him out, and when Naropa woke up, the realization of Mahamudra arose in him.
In history there is a similar case of a person attaining enlightenment after being beaten. The lama of the Third Patrul Rinpoche, Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, also often liberated sentient beings in such a wrathful way. It is said that he used to carry a shotgun with him every day, running around and killing many animals. But he had such great transcendental power that he could bring the killed animals back to life.
Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje had great reputation. One day, he was invited to attend a Dharma assembly and give teachings at a monastery. He went there with his only ritual instrument, a shotgun. When everyone was ready to receive his teaching, he took out his shotgun and fired a shot into the sky, and at this very moment many people attained the realization of Dzogchen. So, for those whose capacities are mature, even a gunshot can be the best empowerment for them.
One day when the Third Patrul Rinpoche visited his master Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, the master was completely drunk and shouted at him, “Hey, come over if you dare.” Patrul Rinpoche went over, and his master grabbed his hair and threw him to the ground. Smelling alcohol on the master’s breath, Patrul Rinpoche thought to himself, “Even a Mahasiddha like him is drunk like this and behaves improperly.” Then the Buddha’s teachings on the negative impacts of alcohol instantly came to his mind. At that moment, Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje let go of him and said, “Can’t believe you had such a bad dualistic thought in your mind. You old dog!” Then he spat on his face, put out his pinky finger in disgust and walked away. Patrul Rinpoche immediately realized that his master had in fact given him the most powerful blessing to lead him to a direct experience of the nature of mind. He then immediately abided in concentration and the realization of Dzogchen arose instantly in him like the sun.
For this reason, Patrul Rinpoche signed many of his works with the name “Old Dog”. He said that it was the most secret Dharma name bestowed by his master Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje.
Masters use all kinds of different ways to transform sentient beings. But the most important thing is that we should have sincere faith in our master. If we possess utterly pure faith, we will get immeasurable blessings from our masters.
(c) The three key points in following the teachers according to the Dharma
It is well explained in The Words of My Perfect Teacher on how to follow the teachers properly. However, because it contains so many teachings, it is impossible to talk about all of them this time. Besides, many of our Dharma friends may have heard about these teachings already. So, I just want to talk about three key points.
How to follow the teachers properly? According to The Words of My Perfect Teacher, there are three key points: (1) examine the master; (2) follow him; and (3) practice and learn his wisdom.
(1) Examine the master
First, we need to examine the master to see if he is truly a qualified spiritual teacher with all the merits and virtues. In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche sets forth many criteria for a master. However, a master with all the merits and virtues is quite rare. Masters like H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche are very precious.
Nevertheless, as mentioned in The Words of My Perfect Teacher, a master should at least have genuine Bodhicitta. If he possesses it, he will surely lead his disciples to the path of liberation. If we are certain that the master has complete Bodhicitta or even greater merits, we should study with him wholeheartedly.
(2) Follow the master
As for the teachings on how to follow the masters, I would like to mainly pick the key points in the Treasury of Precious Qualities, one of the famous works of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, for us to study here.
(i) Five metaphors
In the Treasury of Precious Qualities, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa explained how to follow masters with the following five metaphors:
“Like sick men who rely on their doctors and like travelers on their guides,
Like the fearful on the brave and merchants on their leaders,
Like seamen on their helmsmen,
All those who dread birth, death and ignorance,
Should rely on teachers.”
In the first metaphor, we are compared to sick men. We need to rely on our master as sick men do on a good doctor.
In the second metaphor, we are compared to travelers on a scary journey. We need to rely on our master as travelers do on a brave escort.
The third metaphor indicates that we should rely on our master as we would rely upon brave companions to save us from the terror and harm caused by foes, bandits or wild beasts.
According to the fourth metaphor, we need to rely on our master in order to attain Buddhahood, as those traveling merchants who seek treasures need to rely on their leader.
The fifth metaphor shows that we need to rely on excellent teachers in order to free ourselves from the Samsara of birth, death and afflictions just like we need to rely on the helmsmen on a ship in order to cross the ocean.
(ii) Ten key requirements
In the Treasury of Precious Qualities, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that there are ten key requirements for a good disciple to rely on his teacher properly: “Have faith, wisdom, intelligence and great compassion. Respect precepts, be serene and disciplined in thoughts, words and deeds. Be broad-minded and generous, have pure vision and reflect upon your own shortcomings.”
(1) Have faith. Disciples should see their teacher as the real Buddha.
(2) Have wisdom. We must understand the purpose of our teacher’s skillful means, and know that, no matter whether our teacher is kind to us or angry with us, he only does that out of compassion to subdue our attachment. We must firmly believe that everything our teacher does is simply meant to help us attain Buddhahood as soon as possible.
(3) Have intelligence. It means that disciples should have extensive learning and knowledge, be able to accept and maintain faith in all Dharma teachings by the masters, and understand that all their teachings are intended to subdue our negative emotions.
(4) Have great compassion. Disciples should be compassionate for all beings who experience suffering, with nobody to rely on.
(5) Respect precepts. Disciples should respect all the precepts bestowed by their teachers and observe these precepts fully. We must strictly abide by whatever precepts that we have vowed to keep.
(6) Be serene and disciplined with our “Three Doors”. This means that we should be very serene and disciplined in our thoughts, words, and deeds. To put simply, we should accept the teachers’ teachings very readily and follow them very willingly.
However, it is rather difficult to do this. In the Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, it says, “The living beings of Jambudvipa have stubborn and obstinate natures, difficult to tame, difficult to subdue.” Our mind is like a wild horse very difficult to tame. When you want it to go east, it goes west instead. If we really rely on the teachers to learn and practice Vajrayana Buddhism, we need to diligently tame our thoughts, words and deeds. I remember that the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche once told us that a disciple should be soft like cotton.
(7) Be broad-minded. As disciples, we should accept all behaviors of our teachers and Dharma friends from the heart, and maintain this type of broad-minded character.
(8) Be generous. Disciples should have a generous heart, be unsparing of their belongings, and be willing to offer all their possessions to their teachers.
There were many great monks and masters who had done this. I remember that it is stated in the biography of Longchen Rabjam, that he had done such a thorough offering to his teachers five times throughout his life. It’s said that H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche had also done such offerings. That’s why they both achieved enlightenment.
(9) Have pure vision. I remember that the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche taught us in particular about samaya vows after giving us an empowerment in Bhutan. He mentioned one very important vow, which was to have pure vision. You need to visualize and firmly believe that the teachers and all Dharma practitioners are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
In addition, one very important point about being a disciple is that we should have very few impure or evil thoughts. Although such thoughts seem to be almost inevitable, we should at least be aware of them immediately when they arise. If we have some negative thoughts, we need be able to transform them instantly.
(10) To reflect upon one’s shortcomings. At the end, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that a disciple must have a sense of shame. The sense of shame means reflecting upon your own shortcomings and being ashamed of them. You should know that all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, teachers and the Three Jewels know about your shortcomings, so you must be introspective towards yourself and correct them.
These are the ten precious qualities that, according to Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, a Vajrayana disciple should have. Vajrayana disciples should rely on their teachers according to these teachings.
(iii) Other metaphors
It says in the Treasury of Precious Qualities:
“Please the teachers with intelligence. Restrain the anger like obedient horses. Act like boats sailing back and forth without weariness. Withstand any circumstance like a bridge. Be unmoved by heat and cold like an anvil. Be obedient and meticulous like servants. Sweep away ignorance like a sweeper. Avoid arrogance like a yak with broken horns. These are the correct acts for disciples to rely on their teachers.”
In this text, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa explained the attitudes that we should have while following the teachers. They are actually the same as the “Nine Attitudes” mentioned in the Avatamsaka Sutra:
Like filial children
Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa said that disciples should do their best to serve their teachers, act according to the teacher’s wishes at all times, and avoid anything that would displease him. When I was following the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche and studying with him, there was a period of time when I was always beside him. Rinpoche once taught me a very important secret instruction. He said, “you should ask your teacher’s permission on everything you want to do except for going to the toilet.”
This teaching made me realize that disciples should let their teachers guide all their acts instead of deciding for themselves. Of course, we might not have such good karma to stay beside the teachers all the time or ask them for guidance on everything, so I think the most important thing is that we should always remember their teachings. When we deal with things, we should act according to the related teachings that the teachers have given us.
Like obedient horses
No matter how harshly the teachers scold, beat or punish us, we should not be resentful, not even a trace of hatred. Instead we should behave like tame horses.
Earlier we talked about the harsh methods that some masters use to tame beings. And we can see that such powerful means often cause disciples to attain sudden enlightenment. So, you should be secretly glad when you encounter these situations.
As a disciple, when the teacher asks you to do something, you should not be tired of running back and forth to accomplish it. Instead, you should be like a boat sailing back and forth without weariness.
From the biography of Lord Atisha, we learned that he had several disciples, and among them, the chief disciple was named Dromtönpa, who served as the attendant of Lord Atisha by taking care of him, doing cleaning and translation for him. Another disciple was A-me Jangchub Rinchen, who was in charge of cooking for Lord Atisha. There was also a disciple called Gönpawa, who, having been taught by Lord Atisha, stayed in his room every day and practiced his teachings.
But in the end, the level of achievement of these three disciples was as follows: the attendant Dromtönpa had the highest rank, the second place was the cook A-me Jangchub Rinchen, and the last was Gönpawa who had meditated and practiced in his room. We can see from here that the merits gained by offering service to the teachers are far greater than by doing other practices. This is a very important key of Dharma practice.
Like a bridge, an anvil, a servant, a sweeper, and a yak with broken horns
Disciples should be able to withstand and take on all tasks from the teachers, like a sturdy bridge. They should stand with all difficulties and hardships, be unmoved by the heat in summer and the cold in winter, like a blacksmith’s anvil. They should absorb and follow all teachings from the teachers, like loyal servants to their masters. They should uproot their conceit and be humble, like a sweeper on the floor. They should abandon all arrogance and show respect to all, like a yak with broken horns.
To my understanding, these amazing teachings of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa on how disciples should correctly rely on their teachers are all aimed at helping disciples to get rid of their ego. Why is there Samsara? Why do we have sufferings? The root cause is our ego. So, the teachers’ purpose is to destroy the disciples’ ego. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche once said: “A true teacher will crush all your pride and conceit, and make you deeply realize that worldly values are totally worthless. He is a bright mirror that clearly shows your reflection. He is also a killer that dismembers your ego thoroughly.”
It is not easy to understand this, and even more difficult in modern society. If a teacher treats his disciple the way Marpa Lotsawa treated Milarepa, he may be taken to court for violating human rights. So, being a teacher is not easy, and somewhat risky.
Making offerings in the “three ways to please the teacher”
How can we attain enlightenment in the shortest time? The key lies in pleasing our teachers. It is clearly said in many Tantric scriptures that if you please your masters, you will obtain extraordinary accomplishments.
There are two examples in The Words of My Perfect Teacher. The first is the story of how Naropa followed Tilopa and the second is how Milarepa followed Marpa Lotsawa. Both Naropa and Milarepa attained the ultimate enlightenment by pleasing their masters.
In the Treasury of Precious Qualities by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, it says:
“If you make offerings to the teacher with your belongings and serve the teacher with great respect by words and deeds, the merits gained will never fade. Out of the three ways of pleasing the teacher, practicing Dharma is the best.”
There are three ways to please the teachers. The least preferable way is making offerings to the teachers with money or goods. The more preferable way is serving them devotedly through our deeds, words and thoughts. The best way is by strictly following the teacher’s instructions, never acting again his teachings. and putting whatever he teaches into practice with determination despite all hardship. This is called the offering of Dharma practice, and it enables us to attain extraordinary accomplishment.
The Tantra of the Array of Samayas says:
“What’s better than meditating for a hundred thousand kalpas,
On a deity with all the major and secondary marks,
Is thinking of the teacher for an instant.
What’s better than reciting mantras for tens of millions of times,
Is a single prayer addressed to the teacher.”
Of all practices in Vajrayana, the most important one is Guru Yoga.
So, I always remember my masters and practice Guru Yoga in my daily practices. I think remembering the masters should be able to bring in immeasurable merits. I often pray to my masters including Guru Padmasambhava. I have great faith in Guru Padmasambhava because I had dreamed of him three times in 1996 before I set off to Tibet for Dharma study. I believed that it must be Guru Padmasambhava calling me, so I left for Tibet to study Tibetan Buddhism in 1997.
I remember my masters such as H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and the Fifth Patrul Rinpoche when I practice Guru Yoga every day. The main part of my studies in Tibet actually started in the Larung Gar Academy, so I think that its founder H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche gave me enormous kindness.
Of course, in my mind, all the teachers I have followed, including Guru Padmasambhava, H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche and Patrul Rinpoche, are all one, whether they are of Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Southern or Northern tradition.
In a word, I have few merits myself, but one of the practices I often do is remembering my masters. All my experiences in over 30 years of Dharma practice can be summed up in one point, namely, relying upon the virtuous teachers. It is all due to the blessings of the teachers that an inferior person like me can contribute a little to the Dharma and all beings. So, I have made a vow that I shall take refuge at the feet of virtuous teachers and be their disciple in all my future lives.
(c) Learn and follow the teachings and actions of the teacher
As Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa stated in the Treasury of Precious Qualities:
“Like swans that swim in a gorgeous pool,
Like bees gathering nectar from the flowers,
It is rare to accompany the teacher all the time.
Be tireless in following the teacher’s teachings,
To taste, through faith, his perfect qualities.”
He’s saying that just like the swans swimming in a gorgeous pond will not roil the water but relish every moment in it, and like the bees flying into the flowers will not damage them but gather their essence, we should accept and uphold the teacher’s teachings tirelessly, joyfully and enthusiastically, and act accordingly. We should let the wisdom and merits in the teacher’s mind flow into our own mind through faith and diligence, like pouring the nectar from one bottle to another.
H.H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche once said that if a master who truly intends to benefit sentient beings is performing some virtuous activity, no matter what he is doing, the disciples should not miss out on such an opportunity and should try to take part in it by all means, physically or financially. Like a drop of water having entered the ocean will not exhaust until the ocean dries up, if we can get involved in the virtuous activities of the master, the waterdrop of our aspiration will enter into the vast ocean of merits of the master, and consequently our merits will never be exhausted. It is clear that such merits are far greater than the self-centred ones.
So, when the masters are carrying out the great Bodhisattva deeds, we should, according to the circumstances and our ability, participate in their causes of spreading the Dharma teachings and benefiting sentient beings. In the Abhidharmakosa-Sastra, Bodhisattva Vasubandhu described the collective karma with a metaphor as follows: “When the soldiers in a troop set out to do one thing together, all of them equally share the retribution as the ones who actually do it.” This is the power of collective karma. The aspiration and the merits of the master are incomparably enormous. Although our power is very little, if we can add our little power into the master’s causes of spreading the Dharma and benefiting sentient beings, we will simultaneously obtain the same limitless and boundless merits as the master.
There is a metaphor: suppose there is a swift horse that runs so fast that it can run a thousand miles in one day. Suppose there is also a fly. If it tries to fly one thousand miles, it might die from it. However, there is a way for the fly to travel one thousand miles easily, that is, it can ride on the back of the horse. When the horse has run 1,000 miles, so has the fly. This metaphor was told by a Tibetan lama.
But I think we can slightly change this metaphor in this modern time. If the fly has sufficient merits and wisdom, it can sneak onto an airplane so as to travel even farther and more comfortably. I think we can compare the master to the airplane today.
Likewise, whatever meritorious activities our masters are doing, we should participate as much as we can. Like a fly riding an airplane, it would be fairly easy for us to reach a very distant place.
As stated in the Treasury of Precious Qualities by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa:
“For those aspired to engage in the actions of enlightenment,
When seeing virtuous teachers accumulating
both merits and wisdom,
We should try to be involved in teachers’ work,
Even just by carrying messages or sweeping the floor.
Tasks like these bear supreme merits
Which will help us reach the Path of Liberation.”
Therefore, of all the extraordinary sources of refuge and prime opportunities to accumulate merit, there is none greater than the virtuous teachers.
(d) Faith ─ the key to following the teachers in the correct way
In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the master is described as the union of the Three Jewels through reasoning and quoting from Buddhist scriptures. It says: “The teacher embodies the essence of all the past, present and future Buddhas. His body represents the Sangha, his speech represents Dharma, his mind represents the Buddha, so the teacher is the union of the Three Jewels…. As it goes in the verse: ‘The teacher is the Buddha；the teacher is Dharma；the teacher is also the Sangha; the teacher is the one who accomplishes everything. The teacher is Glorious Vajradhara.’” It also says that, “Since the teacher takes as his disciples degenerate beings like us, whom none of the thousand Buddhas of the Good Kalpa could save from this sinful world, his compassion and kindness have exceeded that of all Buddhas.”
So, the qualities of our masters are no different from those of all Buddhas, but the kindness of our masters to us is greater than that of all Buddhas. It is also stated in the Essence of Nectar-Stages of the Path to Enlightenment written by the Tibetan senior master Yeshe Tsondrü: “The followers rely on the master, who is equal to the Buddha in true nature. He constantly guides his disciples using the nectar of holy Dharma, and his kindness is far greater than that of all Buddhas.”
Imagine what it would be like if our masters did not come to help and save us from Samsara? We would most likely be trapped in darkness, cyclic existence and sufferings forever. Although we have Buddha statues and Buddhist scriptures, we cannot communicate directly with the Buddha, nor can we understand the true meaning of the scriptures. Without our masters, it would be impossible for us to be truly freed from Samsara. The masters are the supreme source of blessing to us. If we have full faith in our masters, we can attain enlightenment and Buddhahood with no difficulty.
Let me tell you a story.
At the time of the Buddha, there was a monastery called the Pine Monastery with over 100 resident monks in the suburbs of Rajgir, where the Buddha often gave Dharma teachings. In a village near the monastery, there was a devout Buddhist laywoman who had great faith in the Dharma. In order to be able to listen to Dharma teachings every day, she asked the monastery to send a Bhikshu each day to her house to receive her offerings. After the offering, she always earnestly asked the Bhikshu to give her Dharma teachings. So, all the monks in the monastery knew that this devout laywoman was quite experienced in hearing, contemplating and practicing the Dharma.
One day, it was the turn of an old Bhikshu to receive the offerings from her. His name was Mahara and he became a monk only one day ago. Though he appeared to be a senior Bhikshu, he hadn’t started learning the Dharma yet. Knowing his ignorance, he was afraid to meet the lady who was proficient in the Dharma, but he couldn’t go against the arrangement of the monastery. With no choice, he tramped over the path toward the woman’s house.
Seeing the old Bhikshu, the lady had great faith in him because he appeared to be a senior practitioner. She respectfully offered Bhikshu Mahara a very abundant meal. After he finished eating, the woman prostrated before him and asked him to teach the Dharma. This is called: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” It is not so easy to receive offerings. After enjoying a nice meal, you have to give Dharma teachings.
The old Bhikshu fell in a dilemma. The delicious meal he just had didn’t feel very nice any more at this moment. Because he just became a monk the day before and hadn’t listened to any Dharma teachings, he sat there and started racking his brain for what to say next. (The audience laughed.) Just like me now. This Bhikshu thought for a long time, and finally came up with two words: “So painful!”
As the lady regarded him as an accomplished senior Bhikshu, she felt extraordinary faith and reverence towards him. She was even visualizing this old Bhikshu as a Buddha or Bodhisattva. When she heard him say “So painful”, she instantly recalled the teachings about sufferings in Samsara and developed a strong determination to be freed from it. She contemplated on the truth of suffering and unexpectedly attained Srotapanna (the First Stage of Enlightenment in the Theravada Tradition) at the moment. She then went into a deep meditation.
Seeing the woman entering meditation, the old Bhikshu ran hastily back to the monastery. Arising from meditation, the woman found that the old Bhikshu was gone and thought that he had flown away with supernatural power. She took a valuable object as her offering to the old Bhikshu and went to the Pine Monastery to thank him for helping her attain the enlightenment of Srotapanna.
This is the story in which “Mahara started practicing the Dharma at an elderly age. This unlearned offering receiver worried about having to teach in return. While he was distressed at his ignorance, the respectful listener attained Srotapanna”. That’s why the disciple’s faith is of utmost importance. If the disciple has faith, he will attain enlightenment even if the master only says two words. Since I have said so much, have any of you attained enlightenment? Just a joke. (The Acharya laughed.) So, the most important key to enlightenment lies in our faith.
In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, there is another story that can prove this also.
There was an old lady in Tibet whose son frequently went to India for business. The old lady said to her son, “Please bring me a sacred object of the Buddha from India for me to worship.” She asked her son many times, but he forgot every time and returned with nothing for his old mother.
One day, the son was going to India again and his mother said to him, “This time you must bring something back, or I’ll kill myself in front of you.” But the son forgot again to bring his mother the holy object when he returned from India. He thought to himself, “This is no good. My mother will surely kill herself.” Right when he was worried, he suddenly saw a dog’s dead body on the side of the road. He pulled out a tooth from the dog’s mouth, and wrapped it with a very nice Hada scarf. Upon arriving home, he told his mother that it was a tooth of the Buddha.
The mother enshrined the tooth in the prayer hall with great faith and worshiped it every day by prostrating before it and making offerings to it very reverently as if she was facing the real Buddha and praying with complete faith. Later, many Sariras (holy relics) grew out of this dog tooth. At last when the old lady was dying, there were many auspicious signs of liberation from Samsara such as rainbows and halos.
These two stories fully show the importance of faith. If you have faith, the blessings from the Buddha will reach you by any means. So, faith is the key for us to attain all accomplishments.
There is a crucial practice in Tibetan Buddhism called the Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas, one of the lasting legacies of Master Nguluchu Thogme Zangpo (also known as Bodhisattva Wu Zhu Xian) of the Sakya Lineage. He wrote in the Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas: “When virtuous teachers are relied upon, your faults come to an end and your good qualities grow like the waxing moon. Cherish spiritual teachers even more than your own body ─ this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.”
One very important point in the thirty-seven practices of Bodhisattvas is about how to eliminate all bad karma and increase all merits, that is, one should regard virtuous teachers as more important than oneself.
From the Buddhist sutras and the works such as The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the Treasury of Precious Qualities, and the Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas, we can see that all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as eminent monks and great masters, hold that relying upon virtuous teachers is one crucial factor for us to be saved from Samsara and attain Buddhahood.
So, interaction with a spiritual teacher is a serious matter for us to face. If we serve and make offerings to our teacher, the resulting merits shall be enormous. On the other hand, if we hold wrong views about our teacher or do harmful things to them, the bad karma we generate will thereby also be enormous. We need to be very prudent on this.
When following spiritual teachers, we should avoid disrespect to them. If there is any disrespect in our actions, speech and thoughts, we must repent to purify them as quickly as possible.
If we are irreverent to the teachers, it’s not the teachers who will experience loss. The teachers will lose nothing, but we will face grave consequence.
There were 84 Mahasiddhas in India. One of them was named Savaripa and he was a hunter. While hunting one day he encountered another hunter. The hunter asked him, “How many animals can you kill with one arrow?” Savaripa answered, “I can kill one animal with one arrow.”.Then that hunter said, “I can kill 300 animals with one arrow.” Savaripa replied, “Is what you are saying true? It’s impossible!”
At this moment, 500 animals suddenly showed up. This very powerful hunter then said, “Now I will kill 300 animals with one arrow.” Although Savaripa was also a hunter, somehow a little mercy arose within him. He said, “It’s a bit too cruel to kill 300 animals. 100 is good enough.” So, indeed, that very powerful hunter killed 100 animals with just one arrow. Savaripa admired him with the utmost sincerity, and asked, “Can you take me on as your student to teach me this powerful archery?” That powerful hunter said, “I can take you on as my student, but you must obey what I say.” This powerful hunter was actually the incarnation of Avalokitesvara.
Afterwards, this powerful hunter told Savaripa, “In order to learn archery, the first step is to quit eating meat for a month.” Savaripa promised that he’d be a vegetarian for a month. A month later, the powerful hunter came back to find out that Savaripa did keep his promise, so he taught him to reflect and meditate on the sufferings of Samsara. (My guess is that he may have taught the first half of The Words of My Perfect Teacher: the difficulty of finding the freedoms and advantages, the impermanence of life, the principle of cause and effect, and the defects of Samsara.) Then the powerful hunter taught him to generate great compassion. At last he gave him the teachings of Emptiness. Gradually, under the guidance of the Bodhisattva, Savaripa totally became a Buddhist practitioner and practiced continually in the mountains for 12 years. At last he attained the enlightenment of Mahamudra. The archery training certainly failed, but he gained great accomplishment.
Afterwards, following the instruction of his teacher Avalokitesvara, Master Savaripa remained in Samsara to help and save sentient beings. There were two practitioners at the time: one of them was a great pandita named Maitripa and the other was Prince Sakara. After hearing about the accomplishment of Master Savaripa, Maitripa and Prince Sakara set out to visit the master out of admiration.
However, when they met Savaripa, they found he was accompanied with two consorts who were killing living beings. Upon seeing this picture, these two practitioners had different thoughts in their minds. Prince Sakara instantly experienced incredible faith. He thought that the method Savaripa was using to help and save beings was extraordinary and the being that were killed were very lucky for they must have all been released from Samsara. So, he prostrated to Master Savaripa and after the master imparted a pith instruction to him, he instantly attained realization of Mahamudra and his body turned into the rainbow body. Because of his full faith, he assimilated with the master in an instant and immediately attained the same accomplishment as the master.
However, the great pandita Maitripa had a few erroneous thoughts at the first sight of the master. But when he witnessed the accomplishment of the prince, he immediately realized his own fault and corrected his wrong view instantly. So, the master conferred empowerment upon him and gave him precious teachings, and consequently he attained the great wisdom of realizing the truth of Dharma Realm. But because he had lost faith in front of the master this once, he never attained the accomplishment of rainbow body in his life; he instead gained the realization of Mahamudra during the intermediate state between death and rebirth.
There are many other stories that show the importance of following the virtuous teachers. So, the Buddha said in this Sutra of Four Practices of Bodhisattvas that, the second key method for Bodhisattva practice, which is exceptionally important, is to rely upon virtuous teachers according to the Dharma. This is the quickest way to attain enlightenment.
(e) The eight rules of serving a Vajra Acharya
We have learned earlier that the exalted Buddha talked about four key points of the practice of Mahayana Bodhisattvas in the Sutra. Now let’s review the first two key points that we’ve studied previously: the first one is that we must generate Bodhicitta; the second one, which is even more important, is to rely on a spiritual teacher. We have talked a lot about the teachings of Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa on how to rely on a teacher in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
We will continue and talk about the way of relying on a vajra Acharya as taught in the Vajragarbharatnaraja Tantra, which is considered as a scripture of the Anuttarayoga Tantra in the Tripitaka of Chinese Buddhism.
In Chinese Tantric Buddhism, the translation of Tantric scriptures started before the Tang Dynasty and continued until the Song Dynasty. During that period, a great number of Tantric scriptures were translated from Sanskrit into Chinese. Those translated in the Tang Dynasty are mostly the Kriya, Charya and Yoga Tantra, with a small part of them being Anuttarayoga Tantra. A good number of those translated in the Song Dynasty are Anuttarayoga Tantra, including the very famous Hevajra Tantra and the Guhyasamaja Tantra in Tibetan Buddhism. They are considered to be extremely important in the Anuttarayoga Tantra, especially highlighted by the New Translation traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. As we all know, Nyingma is the Early Translation tradition, whereas Gelug, Sakya and Kagyü are the traditions of the New Translation. Basically, the Lam Dre teachings (the Path and the Fruit) of the Sakya tradition originate mainly from the Hevajra Tantra. According to the comparison between the Chinese and Tibetan versions of Tripitaka, both the Hevajra Tantra and the Guhyasamaja Tantra also exist in Chinese Tripitaka, and they are called the Sutra of Ritual Procedures of Great Compassion and Emptiness Wisdom of Vajra King and the Sutra of the Supreme Esoteric Teachings of the King on Threefold Vajra Karmas of All Tathagatas. According to the texts available to us, many of the Tantric scriptures translated during the Song Dynasty belong to the Anuttarayoga Tantra.
Today, I’m going to introduce a teaching from an Anuttarayoga Tantric scripture translated during the Song Dynasty. It is called the Vajragarbharatnarāja Tantra, which teaches us the ways of serving Vajra masters. In this scripture, there is a dialogue between King Indrabhuti and Bodhisattva Vajrapani as follows:
“At that time, King Indrabhuti asked Bodhisattva Vajrapani: “What are the eight rules of service? Bodhisattva Vajrapanire said: “First the disciples should never call their master by his first name. Second, they should always call themselves ‘shizu.’ Third, they should help the master to carry his shoes. Fourth, they should clean the room. Fifth, they should make the bed or throne for the master. Sixth, they should make full-length prostrations. Seventh, they should not harm the master. Eighth, they should have faith in the master’s instructions and teachings. These are the eight rules by which the disciples should serve their Vajra master.”
King Indrabhuti asked Bodhisattva Vajrapani: “I heard that there are eight rules of serving a Vajra Acharya. Could you please tell me what they are?”
Then Bodhisattva Vajrapani responded that first the disciples should never call their teacher directly by his first name. Generally speaking, we should call our teacher in the most respectful way. Second, we should call ourselves “shizu**” (literally, “at the master’s feet”) in a humble way. Third, we should help the teacher to carry his shoes. Fourth, we should help our teacher to clean his room. Fifth, we should make the bed or throne neatly for the master. Sixth, we should often make full-length prostrations to our master. Seventh, we should not harm our master in any way. Generally speaking, we should never do anything that would go against the will of our master. We should respect and protect everything of the master. Eighth, we should have great faith in all the teachings that the master gives to us, and should keep practicing them. These are the eight rules by which the disciples should serve their Vajra Acharya.
It is also stated in this scripture that a Vajra Acharya should observe on his disciples in these eight aspects for a certain period of time, and if they act properly in these aspects with concentration and persistence, he can then take them on as Tantric disciples. That is, if a Vajra Acharya sees that his disciples can serve him by these eight rules and can persevere with it, he then can give them the profound empowerments and Tantric teachings. This is a very important teaching in this scripture. Of course, I think many of our Dharma friends are doing very well in this regard, but there are still some who don’t do it well, like me.
I remember when I was listening to the teaching of Khenpo Sodargye on the Fifty Stanzas of the Spiritual Teachers at the Larung Gar Academy, Khenpo Sodargye said that during the Proper Dharma Age, the disciples were used to serving their masters exactly in these ways; and they would do their best to please their masters so that they could attain enlightenment quickly. He then said that in the current Dharma-ending Age, things are probably going in the opposite way, which means that now the masters have to serve their disciples in these ways, because if the masters make the disciples unhappy, they would immediately say “Bye-bye! I’m leaving.” So, Khenpo Sodargye said jokingly that in this Dharma-ending Age, we as the masters may need adapt by using these methods to serve our disciples and make them happy.
Ok, that’s all about how to follow spiritual teachers for now.
4.3 Third practice: “One should be enduring and gentle, and not let hatred arise even at the cost of one’s life.”
Thirdly, the Buddha held that the most important quality of a Mahayana Bodhisattva is “being enduring and gentle, and not let hatred arise even at the cost of his life.” In this Dharma-ending Age, there are many negative circumstances and sentient beings have to go through tremendous sufferings. As a Mahayana Bodhisattva, we are facing a lot of obstacles in practicing and spreading the Dharma to benefit sentient beings. We must have the quality of endurance if we want to achieve accomplishment.
There are three types of endurance specifically stated in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
(a) Endurance when wronged
This means that we have to endure the unkind deeds that others do to us. This is the endurance in the interactions between people. As we can see in people around the world, a lot of their sufferings come from interpersonal problems. As Dharma practitioners, we are also faced with the same problems. The people around us don’t understand us, and we can’t get along well with them. Especially when we set out to spread the Dharma in order to benefit the beings, we will encounter even more such obstacles. The great masters of the past also experienced many harmful deeds of others when they were spreading the Dharma. We, as Mahayana Bodhisattvas, must endure such deeds. It is stated in A Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that “One thought of hatred can destroy all merits and blessings accumulated from making offerings to Buddhas during the past thousands of kalpas,” and “No sin is worse than hatred, and no difficulty is harder than endurance; therefore we should strive to cultivate endurance using all that we’ve learned.”
As regards those who harm us, we should not only refrain from hatred towards them, but should respond with loving kindness and compassion instead. Such endurance is also one key practice of the Mahayana Bodhisattvas.
“To Bodhisattvas who desire the pleasure of virtue,
all the harms to them are like precious treasures.
Therefore, suppressing hatred toward all beings and
cultivating endurance is the Bodhisattvas’ practice.”
That is to say, if some people are unkind to us, we should know this is a great opportunity of practice for us, so we should not generate hatred towards them.
In the Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Langri Tangpa, there is a similar teaching as follows:
“Whenever I see ill-natured beings,
Or those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or sufferings,
I will cherish them as something rare,
As though I’d found a priceless treasure.”
It means that the evil beings do terrible things to others simply because they are driven by their negative karma. We should not hate such people but feel sympathy for them instead, for they are very pitiful. Encountering such people can inspire us to generate compassion and practice the Paramita of Patience, so we should cherish them like a priceless treasure.
If you want to be a Bodhisattva, you will often have to meet a lot of people. Generally speaking, most of the people who want to get close to a master or a Bodhisattva are in fact seeking help. They usually tell you a lot about their troubles. So, if you are determined to be a Bodhisattva, you should better be prepared because you will hear a great deal of troubles every day. I heard that there’s an organization in America that did a worldwide research on which profession had the highest suicide rate, and the statistics showed that it was the profession of psychiatrist. To my understanding, the reason why this profession is associated with such a high suicide rate is that psychiatrists often have to listen to patients who pour out their troubles on them. If they cannot transform these troubles afterwards, they may simply have a nervous breakdown themselves. As a Bodhisattva, your situation will be even more miserable than those of psychiatrists. First of all, you don’t have regular office hours. Whenever people need you, you will have to be available, with no time limit. You can’t say “I will charge you for this much money per hour.” Sometimes the person will talk to you through the whole night till the next morning, and you will have to listen with great compassion. You can’t show impatience, otherwise it would be against the principle of compassion in Buddhism. As a Bodhisattva, if you don’t have very strong endurance, you would have committed suicide multiple times. Patrul Rinpoche wrote in The Words of My Perfect Teacher that those who can truly benefit all beings must at least attain the first Bhumi (the first stage of the ten stages of Bodhisattvahood). Because a Bodhisattva of the first Bhumi has realized emptiness, he won’t be overwhelmed by such situations.
It is also said in the Lotus Sutra that there are three conditions to meet if one wants to preach the Lotus Sutra, namely, “entering into the abode of the Buddha, wearing the robe of the Buddha, and sitting on the throne of the Buddha.” What is the abode of the Buddha? Where is it? There is no physical address for it. The abode of the Buddha is “the great compassionate heart.” What is the robe of the Buddha? It’s not designer clothing but “the robe of gentleness and forbearance.” Where is the throne of the Buddha? The throne of the Buddha is “Emptiness,” meaning to abide in the truth of Emptiness. Therefore, if you want to be a Bodhisattva who preaches the Lotus Sutra, first, you need to “enter into the abode of the Buddha,” which means you need to have the great compassionate heart; second, you need to “wear the robe of the Buddha,” which means you need to be gentle and forbearing, being able to endure the good times and the bad; last, you must also “sit on the throne of Emptiness,” which means you need to abide in the truth of Emptiness constantly.
(b) Endurance to bear hardships for the Dharma
We should endure all the hardships and difficulties we experience when seeking and practicing the Dharma, for instance, adverse physical environment, such as extremely hot or cold weather, insufficient material conditions and so forth. We must endure them in order to practice the Dharma. It is rather hot here these two days. When I was studying at the Larung Gar Academy, there were a lot of bitterly cold days. One winter, the Academy held a Vidyadhara Dharma Assembly, and everybody was chanting the mantra of the Nine Yidam Deities of Avalokiteshvara. How cold was it? At the time I had a tiny shack there. It was at a prime location in the central area of the Academy, right behind the Lama Assembly Hall. It was around 1998, and the cost for a shack at the Academy was RMB 3000, which was fairly cheap. I heard that nowadays it costs over RMB 100,000. Since the shack was built with wood planks, it was freezing inside during winter. And it was very simple and crude, only one room to be used as bedroom, prayer room and kitchen at the same time. I remember that we went out to get a bucket of water and left it beside the bed. Actually, there was no bed, just a wood board placed on the floor with bedding on top. The next morning this bucket of water turned into ice. Now you can imagine how cold it was.
On top of that, the living conditions back then were not as good as today. Now they have a food market at the Academy, as well as many restaurants. We had nothing like these at that time. I remember once I ate potatoes every day for four months. Besides potatoes, what I ate the most there was instant noodles. At the time, one of my lamas, the Great Khenpo Tenzin Lhakpa said to me jokingly: “If you and me do retreats, a bag of tsampa (roasted barley flour, Tibetan staple foodstuff) for me and a carton of instant noodles for you will be just fine.” Back then, the living conditions were very harsh. But for the sake of seeking and practicing the Dharma, I think all these hardships and difficulties are indeed worth it completely. For a Mahayana Bodhisattva, the quality of endurance is indispensable. During the thirty years of my study and practice, I had a lot of such experiences.
Of course, comparing to what many ancient great masters had experienced as written in their biographies, the difficulties we have had are not even worth mentioning. Especially Master Milarepa, I have read his biography so many times, and it has been such a tremendous inspiration to me. When I encounter some difficulties, if I read the biography of Milarepa, I would think they are not a big deal.
(c) Endurance to face the profound truth without fear
For example, we must enduringly accept profound teachings such as
the truth of Emptiness and the Great Perfection, and must not harbor any wrong views about them or disparage them, otherwise we would commit what is called “the harmful act of rejecting the Dharma,” which creates very bad karma. When Lord Atisha was teaching Emptiness in India, two Bhikshus were listening to his teachings. They were very pleased upon hearing that ego had no intrinsic existence, but when they heard that phenomena had no intrinsic existence either, they couldn’t stand it and exclaimed, “That’s terrifying!” When they heard the Heart Sutra, they blocked their ears and ran away.
At the time of the Buddha, there were some grossly arrogant monks who, when they heard the profound teachings on Emptiness, vomited blood and died, and were reborn in the hells. Therefore, it is important for us to sincerely respect and have confident faith in the profound teachings and the virtuous teachers who impart them. At the very least, even if we cannot have confident faith due to the limitations of our own mind, we should never criticize them.
The Buddha said in the Buddha’s Last Bequest: “Endurance is a virtue which cannot be equaled even by keeping the precepts and undertaking the austere practices. Whoever is able to practice endurance can be truly called a great and strong man.” It’s said in the Chapter of Fighting in the Dirghagama Sutra (the Longer Agama Sutra): “You are so ignorant to think that I’m fearful of evil. I see endurance as the foremost merit in the first doctrine. The worst of all evils is hatred over hatred. Being devoid of hatred over hatred is the best among all fighting strategies.” Moreover, “If one has great strength yet endures the strengthless, this is the foremost strength and best kind of endurance. The foolish call themselves strong, but this strength is not truly effective. If one holds endurance according to the Dharma, this strength is invincible.”
Endurance is the greatest strength. Not only can endurance bring us immeasurable merits, it can also cause us to have a noble and dignified appearance in the future. Based on this causality, it can be deduced that those who have a dignified appearance most likely owe it to having practiced endurance in the past. If we think our appearance could be better, we probably need to work harder on practicing endurance, because the secret of true beauty lies in endurance. I guess many women are happy to hear this. Now they’ve learned the secret of true beauty, and there is no need for cosmetic surgeries anymore. Practicing endurance is much safer than cosmetic surgeries. Besides, it brings you immeasurable merits. All right, today I have taught you the secret of beauty. (Laughs)
4.4 Fourth practice: “One should live in solitude and avoid distractions even at the cost of one’s life.”
Fourthly, the Buddha said that as a Mahayana Bodhisattva, one should “live in solitary places and abandon distractions even at the cost of one’s life.”
In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the importance of solitary places is also mentioned. We must stay in a solitary place if we are to practice the Dharma. If we don’t give up all the noises and distractions, and do not stay at a solitary place, it is impossible for true meditative concentration to arise in our mind. Today at the Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre, which is such an extraordinary place of tranquility, I am greatly rejoiced to see so many Dharma friends doing retreat here. It was also through solitary retreats that many great lineage masters in history achieved extraordinary accomplishments, such as Milarepa, Longchen Rabjampa, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu and Patrul Rinpoche. I once did a seven-day solitary retreat in the cave where Patrul Rinpoche had done retreats. Staying in a solitary place is a wonderful thing.
Solitary places are where all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as all the lineage masters like to stay and practice, because there are no noises or distractions. The era we are now living in is one of extreme distractions. There are so many forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV, computers, phones and the Internet. Our mind can be distracted very easily. These are all obstacles if we want to focus on practicing meditative concentration. There are other things that are also obstacles to meditation practices, such as various activities of industry, agriculture and commerce, as well as too many complicated relationships among people.
Generally speaking, if not transformed by Dharma practice, all interpersonal relations are for one or more of the following four purposes: to collect debts, to repay debts, to repay kindness, or to seek revenge. Let’s think about the people around us who act in this way. Of course, we shouldn’t think that way about our Vajra Dharma friends, because they are all Bodhisattvas and the karmic energy between Vajra Dharma friends is pure and clean. But many relationships in the society are for one or more of these four purposes. There are some people to whom you often have to give money, meaning you owe them from previous lives; there are some people who often give you money, meaning they owe you from previous lives; there are some people who are very good to you and make you very happy, meaning they’re here to repay you the kindness that they owed you in previous lives; while there are some people who do great harm to you and make you overwhelmed with pain, meaning they’re here to revenge.
All these relationships are caused by the various karmic seeds that we planted in the past. So, first of all, we should try our utmost to generate compassion towards them. Secondly, we must stop doing negative things to them in order to avoid worsening the negative karma and result.
When we are in a solitary place, we can temporarily free ourselves from these numerous and complicated karmic relationships, which is exceptionally helpful for practicing meditative concentration and attaining enlightenment. In solitary places, there are no loved ones for us to desire, nor enemies for us to hate, so it’s rather easy for us to cultivate merits in our mind through Dharma practice.
Patrul Rinpoche wrote in The Words of My Perfect Teacher: “Simply having the wish to go to solitary places and taking seven steps in their direction is worth more than making offerings to all the Buddhas in the ten directions for as many kalpas as the Ganges sands. Not to mention the merit you would gain if you were to go and abide there in person.” Therefore, I am rejoiced very much for the merits that all the Dharma friends gain from practicing in this retreat centre.
Patrul Rinpoche also said that, being at solitary places, even if you don’t practice very deliberately and diligently, the merits of renunciation and Bodhicitta will still arise naturally, so will all the other excellent qualities of the Right Path, and all your actions will spontaneously switch to virtuous ones. Patrul Rinpoche added that, being at noisy places, even though you work very hard to curb your afflictions such as desire and anger, it will be difficult to succeed; if you stay in a solitary place, all the afflictions of desire, anger and ignorance will diminish by themselves, and various merits of Dharma practices will arise in your mind stream easily. It all indicates the vital importance of living in solitary places.
Many people always think themselves very capable, and always want to go out to help beings, but they usually end up with such a result: they go to the cities to spread the Dharma and rescue beings, but in the end, they are transformed by others. Just like a bottle of boiling water being poured on ice in a world of ice and snow, it melts a small piece of ice at the beginning, but in the end, it turns into ice as well. That’s why the great Khenpos at the Larung Gar Academy back then always advised us to remain at solitary places instead of moving around.
The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas also advocates that the practitioners should stay in a solitary place. It says:
“Confusion will decrease being away from adverse situations.
Good karma will increase living without distractions.
Firm comprehension of the Dharma will come along with pure mind.
Living at tranquil places is the practice of Bodhisattvas.”
If you stay away from negative environments, your confusion, greed, hatred and ignorance will all decrease. Without distractions, virtuous activities will increase naturally, the mind will become tranquil, firm comprehension of and conviction in the Dharma will automatically arise, and then right views will emerge. Therefore, Dharma practitioners should live in solitary places.
Many sutras mention the merits of living in solitary places. In Tangmi, there is a sutra called the Mahayana Sutra of Mental Contemplation during Earlier Births, which is considered as the king of all sutras. It talks about the ten benefits of living in solitary places as follows: “The Buddhas of the Three Periods have peacefully dwelt in quiet places away from noisy distractions, so their myriad Dharma practices were enhanced and they attained Buddhahood as a result. Pratyekabuddhas, Shravakas and all sages have done the same to attain enlightenment. Living in solitary places has ten benefits, which can help one to achieve three kinds of enlightenment.” If we want to attain Buddhahood, or the fruition of Shravaka or Pratyekabuddha, we all need to keep away from noisy distractions and live in solitary places. The most important thing for Buddhist practitioners is to diligently practice the threefold training in discipline, concentration and wisdom. Without the foundation of “discipline and concentration”, it is impossible to attain “wisdom”. Living in solitary places is very helpful for holding precepts and practicing concentration, that’s why it is very important.
One of my teachers once gave me some teachings of Drukpa Kagyu. According to Drukpa Kagyu tradition, you should first do retreat in a cave to practice Mahamudra meditation. After having completed the strict retreat, you need to go back to the mundane world and do something very special. What are you supposed to do? You are supposed to become a beggar. As a beggar, you will encounter all kinds of different situations. Some people may give you good food, while others may curse you or beat you. You will encounter various situations. This is the time to test the quality of your Dharma practice. Will you still be able to abide in the wonderful state of mind you experienced during the retreat? This is the perfect test. If you can pull through all these situations while maintaining the marvelous state of realization you gained during the retreat, it means you are ready to go around and save sentient beings. Otherwise, you will have to continue to do retreats.
For practitioners with a high level of realization, it makes no difference whether they live in a solitary place or in a noisy city, because their mind is still and tranquil. There are two kinds of solitude: solitude of the body and solitude of the mind. Solitude of the body means that you stay at a solitary place and diligently practice discipline, concentration and wisdom; solitude of the mind means that even though you live in a bustling city, you are still able to keep your mind undistracted, devoid of desire, anger and ignorance, and are able to constantly maintain the state of mindfulness. If, regardless of what kind of environment you are in, you can constantly dwell in the enlightenment of the non-duality of emptiness and existence, then the environment won’t matter to you anymore. In this case, you can go ahead and do many things to benefit sentient beings. But for most practitioners who haven’t attained the solitude of the mind, staying in solitary places is still the best choice for them.
One of my dreams since childhood has been to live in solitary places for my entire life. But unfortunately, this dream never comes true. I think it requires great merits to live in solitary places. I have been trying hard to accumulate the merits, hoping that I would have more time to do retreat in a solitary place as you are doing now.
4.5 Summary of the Four Practices
“All good men, Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas should follow these four practices.” The Buddha said that all the great Bodhisattvas should generate Bodhicitta, follow spiritual teachers, cultivate endurance and gentleness, and live in solitary places.
Then the Buddha summarized all the above teachings using the following verses:
“Whoever seeks the fruition of enlightenment needs to generate Bodhicitta.” One needs to generate Bodhicitta first in order to attain the supreme Buddhahood. It is impossible to become a Buddha without Bodhicitta.
“They must practice diligently and rely on spiritual teachers.” We should practice the Dharma diligently and vigorously, but we must do so under the guidance of the virtuous teachers.
“Whoever practices endurance is praised by the Buddha as a strong person.” The Buddha praises those who practices endurance as the most powerful persons. The Bodhisattvas should practice endurance diligently.
“The sages live in solitary places, fearless like lions.” The solitary places are where the sages stay. With their body and mind abiding in solitude, they are devoid of distractions, free from delusions of desire, hatred and ignorance, and are detached from worldly disputes and conflicts. With no fear of life and death, with no hindrance in their minds, they live like fearless lions.
“Then after speaking the verses, the Buddha added, ‘If those who have wisdom and great compassion could follow the above four practices, they will liberate themselves from birth and death, escape from the net of Mara, attain the supreme perfect enlightenment, and reach the great Nirvana.’”
What are the most important qualities of Bodhisattvas? It is compassion and wisdom. “Those who have wisdom and great compassion” refer to Bodhisattvas. If Bodhisattvas can follow the above-mentioned four practices, they can liberate themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth, break free from all nets of Mara, and then attain the supreme perfect enlightenment and the great Nirvana.
5. Circulation of the Sutra
The last paragraph says: “After the Buddha taught this sutra, all the Bhikshus and the Bodhisattvas rejoiced greatly. They accepted and upheld the words of the Buddha, bowed in obeisance and departed.”
The Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas Spoken by the Buddha is short, but it contains the quintessence of Dharma practice. If we follow the teachings in this Sutra, we will definitely be able to enlighten ourselves and others, and fulfill the Buddha Path. The Mahaparinirvana Sutra mentions four steps to attain Buddhahood: “Firstly, one should follow spiritual friends; secondly, one should listen to the Dharma attentively; thirdly, one should contemplate Dharma teachings; and fourthly, one should practice according to the teachings.” The most important thing about Dharma practice is to follow spiritual teachers. Next, we need to learn and contemplate properly every word of the Dharma teachings and, based on the correct understanding, we need to put these teachings into practice tirelessly. We can all attain Buddhahood through these four steps. I hope you will diligently contemplate and practice the teachings of this Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas after today’s lecture.
By studying the Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas, we can see that many teachings in The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche have their origins in the Buddhist scriptures. We can also learn that the basic Sutra and Tantra teachings in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism are essentially in common. I have studied the teachings of many lineages and finally realized that they are actually the same.
I believe that everyone here must have great merits to be able to follow the purest and most outstanding lineage of Longchen Nyingthig. I hope that you cherish such precious merits. The Words of My Perfect Teacher mentions the difficulty of finding the Freedoms and Advantages. So, it is rare to have a human body that is free from the Eight Circumstances of Lack of Freedom and has the Ten Advantages. Such a human life is hard to obtain. Sometimes we say in brief that the human body is precious. But this “human life” is not just any human life; it refers to the human life that is free from the Eight States without Freedom and has the Ten Advantages.
H.H. Moktsa Rinpoche from the Kathok Monastery once told me a joke. One day, he was teaching the preciousness of the human life to some students from the Han region of China, and one of them asked a question, “Lama, it seems that you may have made a mistake. Have you ever been to the Han region of China? Have you ever been to Chengdu? There are so many people! There are traffic jams every day and people everywhere. What is so precious about this human life anyway?” In fact, the precious human life we are talking about is not just any human being on the street. It refers to the human life which is free from the Eight Circumstances of Lack of Freedom and has the Ten Advantages. This is the precious human life.
Among the human lives endowed with all the freedoms and advantages, those who are Vajrayana practitioners are rarer and more precious. Also, among Vajrayana practitioners, those who have entered sublime lineages such as Longchen Nyingthig in particular, are the most precious of the precious and the rarest of the rare. If you enter such lineages and become the disciple of a qualified master, you are very likely to attain Buddhahood within this lifetime. So, many of you are already among the most precious of the precious and the rarest of the rare. You should be thrilled for yourselves.
Besides, I believe you are already following the four key practices taught in this Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas. So, actually, you do not need me to give you these teachings because many of you are already doing these four practices very well. The reason why I share these teachings with you today is to increase your devotion, because devotion is the most important source of enlightenment.
Finally, I sincerely hope that all the Dharma friends will in this lifetime attain the same accomplishments as the lineage masters, and follow their footsteps to spread the Dharma and benefit sentient beings. This is my wish.
It is a great honor to study with you here in the Namkha Dzong Retreat Centre in Spain. Because of limited time, I haven’t elaborated this Sutra of the Four Practices of Bodhisattvas, and I have mainly explained it briefly based on the common teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. I do not have much wisdom, so if His Eminence Namkha Rinpoche and our Dharma friends find any mistakes or inadequate explanations that I have made, please let me know to help me improve. Thank you!