Overview of the Perfection of Wisdom

Prajñāpāramitā | Tibetan MastersKhenpo Pema Vajra

English | བོད་ཡིག

Khenpo Pema Vajra

Khenpo Pema Vajra

Further Information:

Words from the Lineage Masters to Clarify Maitreyanātha's Vision

An Overview of the Perfection of Wisdom’s Ornament of Realization

by Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Vajra

Oṃ Svasti!

Your body of signs and marks like gold refined from the twofold accumulation,
Is encased in a lattice of myriad light rays of wisdom and love,
King of the Śākyas, without equal throughout all three realms,
Fourth guide of this fortunate aeon, bestow virtue and goodness!

You are the emanation of the buddhas’ secret body, speech and mind blazing with a thousand marks of radiance,
Who assumed an immortal vajra form in the lotus lake of Sindhu,
Powerful Lord of the victorious ones, Padmasambhava,
I venerate you: place your jewel-like upon the crown of my head!

This sweet-sounding melody bringing auspiciousness to the three worlds,
Is an adornment for the ears of Brahmā and other great beings.
Most sublime speech of the great and incomparable Sage—
May the splendour of this cool, pacifying nectar remain long into the future!

The concentrated essence from the ocean of profound and vast Dharma teachings,
The point of entry for the great bodhisattva heirs of the victorious buddhas,
The route along which all the buddhas of the three times must travel—
This is the great pathway of the transcendent perfection of wisdom!

I offer here a feast of wise discourse, gathered as concentrated essence
From the ocean-like scriptural tradition of the great pioneer,
The excellent teachings of the marvellous approach of vast conduct,
Given by the Buddha’s regent, the Invincible One, bodhisattva Ajita
.

Having begun with these few verses, I will now set about presenting a summary of the essential instruction composed by Lord Maitreya, in which he explains definitively the stages of realization, the hidden meaning of the prajñāpāramitā, the ‘great mother’ who produces four types of noble offspring.

Our perfect teacher, the fourth guide of this fortunate aeon, taught the perfect assembly, consisting exclusively of those with the mahāyāna potential, wisdom as vast as space and compassion like a mighty river. He gave them the perfect teaching, the intermediate turning of the wheel of Dharma on the absence of characteristics, in the perfect place, upon the summit of Vulture’s Peak in Rajgriha, at the perfect time, when the assembly of disciples had gathered.

The meaning that is expressed in these teachings such as the vast sūtra in one hundred thousand verses, the intermediate sūtra in twenty-five thousand verses and the brief sūtra in eight thousand verses, is divided into the profound and the vast. The direct teaching on the theme of emptiness was definitively explained by the glorious lord Ārya Nāgārjuna in his Collection of Middle Way Reasoning, thereby establishing the tradition of profound view. The hidden meaning on the stages of realization was clearly explained by the regent Maitreya in his treatise The Ornament of Clear Realization, with which he established the tradition of vast conduct, and it is this which concerns us here.

Therefore I will now give just a brief overview of this treatise of essential instructions on the mother prajñāpāramitā, The Ornament of Clear Realization, which is the route along which all the victorious ones of the three times must travel and the single pathway taken by the bodhisattvas who are the heirs to the victorious ones. In this, there are three sections: the title which has an expressive meaning, the text itself which contains the meaning that is expressed, and the translators’ colophon.

I. The Title

The first section has two parts: the actual title and the translators’ homage.

1. The Actual Title

The first is as follows: “In the language of India: Abhisamayālaṃkāra nāma prajñāpāramitā upadeśa śāstra.”

The Verses on Vinaya[1] says:

Śrāvasti, Sāketa, Campakā,
Vārāṇasī, Vaiśalī,
And Rājagṛha—these six
Are understood to be the major towns.

India, the land of the Āryas, is understood as the location of these six major towns. So it says that the title of this treatise is given in the language of these places. When this is translated into Tibetan it is as follows: shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan ces bya ba (The Ornament of Clear Realization, the Treatise of Essential Instructions on Transcendental Wisdom). It is necessary for the title to be given like this, in both languages, because it engenders confidence in the teaching, creates a predisposition for [the Sanskrit] language, and blesses the mind.

2. The Translators’ Homage

“Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas!” This is the homage identifying which piṭaka the text belongs to, in accordance with the decree made at the time of King Tri Ralpachen. It was made in order that the translators might complete their work of translation without any obstacle.

II. The Meaning of the Actual Text

This has three parts: (1) the introductory elements that precede the explanation, (2) the nature of the text that is to be explained and (3) the ways of concluding the explanation.

1. The Introductory Elements

This has two parts: (i) the expression of veneration, the element that generates inspiration in disciples, and (ii) the demonstration of purpose and connection, the element that leads the learned to engage with the treatise.

i. The Expression of Veneration

At the beginning of his composition, Venerable Maitreya includes the treatise’s subject matter, the threefold knowledge, within his expression of homage. He does this for his own benefit, to show that he is acting in accordance with other great beings, and for the benefit of others, so that disciples may be inspired and gradually develop the wisdom that comes from listening, reflecting and meditating, and, in so doing, ultimately attain enlightenment. The text says:

Through all-knowledge, you lead the peace-seeking śrāvakas to perfect quiescence,
Through path-knowledge, you enable those who benefit beings to bring about the welfare of the world,
Endowed with you, the omniscient Sages can teach in various ways—
Homage to you, the Mother of the buddhas and hosts of śrāvakas and bodhisattvas.

In this, Maitreya pays homage to the prajñāpāramitā, the ‘mother’ of the four types of noble offspring—śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas and fully enlightened buddhas. She is the one who, through the base-knowledge [in this quotation ‘all-knowledge’], leads the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, those followers of the hīnayāna who seek peace and happiness for their own benefit, to the realm of nirvana in which all mental afflictions and sufferings are completely pacified. She is the one who, through the path-knowledge, makes it possible for the bodhisattvas, the buddhas’ heirs who work to benefit beings, to establish worldly beings in the temporary happiness of the higher realms and secure their ultimate well-being by leading them to the definitive goodness of whichever of the three types of enlightenment matches their karmic destiny. She is also the one who, through the knowledge of all aspects, makes it possible for the transcendent and accomplished enlightened sages to give the various definitive and provisional Dharma teachings, the means of expression, complete with all the aspects of that which is to be expressed, the Dharma of realization.

ii. The Demonstration of Purpose and Connection

The commitment to compose the treatise is given indirectly by means of the demonstration of purpose and connection, which is as follows:

These points, taught by the buddha,
Are not experienced by others.
By mindfully reflecting on the meaning of the sūtras,
Which teach the ten actions[2] of the Dharma,
The intelligent will come to see, and so
The purpose of composing this text
Is to make these points easy to understand.

Following the expression of veneration, Maitreya proceeds to eliminate the doubts of less intelligent readers who might think that this treatise, The Ornament of Clear Realization, has no subject matter, no purpose, no ultimate purpose and no connection. He thus gives them the confident assurance that it does in fact possess these four. Not only that, so that people might reasonably believe that it possesses more than just these four, and enquire further into the text, he begins by revealing the subject matter. This is the path and its result as taught in the eight topics, consisting of the three knowledges which comprise the object, the four applications which comprise the cause, and the result which is the dharmakāya, as taught by the fully enlightened teacher in the Mother Prajñāpāramitā. Secondly, as the ultimate purpose, he shows that omniscient buddhahood is not something that can be attained or experienced by anyone besides the bodhisattvas who are the buddhas’ heirs, and that it must be gained through mindfully reflecting on the meaning of the prajñāpāramitā sūtras, which teach the bodhicitta of the bodhisattvas and the ten pāramitās, the activity for accomplishing the Dharma. Thirdly, he gives the purpose, stating that the aim of writing this text is to make the points of these sūtras straightforward and easy to understand. Fourthly the connection, which is given indirectly, is that on the basis of this treatise one can understand the points of the sūtras, and thereby practise in the proper way, so as to attain the level of omniscient buddhahood.

2. The Nature of the Text that is to be Explained

This has three sections: (i) an explanation in terms of eight realizations for those who prefer elaborate explanations, (ii) a sixfold explanation for those who prefer medium-length explanations, and (iii) a three-fold summary for those who prefer summaries.

The first of these has two parts: an explanation of the structure of the text and an elaborate explanation of the different sections. When explaining just the structure of the treatise, there is a brief explanation in terms of the eight topics and a more detailed explanation in terms of the seventy points. It is said that by explaining it in this way, later when it comes to the detailed explanation, one will not mix up the different sections, and it will be easier for the teacher to teach, and for the student to listen.[3]

i. The Eight Topics

The explanation in terms of the eight topics is given in the following fifteen stanzas, beginning with:

The transcendent perfection of wisdom
Is perfectly explained by means of the eight topics.

This means that when one explains the meaning of the prajñāpāramitā sūtras in terms of the eight topics, the meaning of the scriptural prajñāpāramitā (the means of expression), as well as the path prajñāpāramitā and resultant prajñāpāramitā (that which is expressed) is covered entirely and without mistake. So this is how it should be taught.

An illustration of prajñāpāramitā is the wisdom that arises from meditation, which is gained through the three noble paths of the Mahāyāna, and is realization of the absence of true reality in all phenomena.

Its definition is: ‘The wisdom of directly realizing the non-conceptual simplicity of all phenomena, which has arrived at, or will lead one to, non-abiding nirvana.’ As it says in The Condensed Sūtra:

Thoroughly comprehending the absence of true reality in all phenomena—
This is the activity of the supreme transcendent perfection of wisdom.

The master Dignāga said:

Prajñāpāramitā is non-dual wisdom,
The very state of a tathāgata.
Yet since they have this as their objective,
The term is also applied to the scriptures and the path.[4]

The non-conceptual wisdom that is present in the meditative absorptions of the buddhas and sublime bodhisattvas is the primary instance, and that which is present during their post-meditation a more common instance, of the definitive prajñāpāramitā; whereas the scriptural prajñāpāramitā and that of the path of aspirational practice are only nominally prajñāpāramitā.

As for its parameters, prajñāpāramitā is present from the mahāyāna path of seeing through to the level of buddhahood.

The literal meaning of the term is mentioned in The Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras:

It is explained because it is knowledge of the ultimate.

Knowledge that is focused on emptiness is wisdom, which causes one to transcend saṃsāric existence and the peace of nirvāṇa.

The difference between the eight realizations, eight topics and eight chapters is explained in The Summarizing Lamp:

The realizations are stages of mental development,
The eight topics are the points to be verbally expressed,
And the chapters are the means of expression—so Śānti taught.

As this indicates, the realizations are mentioned when referring to how they arise in the individual’s mindstream, the topics in terms of the meaning that is to be expressed, and the chapters from the point of view of the expressing text itself.

What then are the eight topics? The text says:

Knowledge of all aspects, knowledge of the path,
Then the knowledge of all,
Completely perfect realization of all aspects,
Reaching the summit, the progressive,
Complete and perfect awakening in a single moment,
And the dharmakāya—these are the eight topics.[5]

The definitions of these eight will be given gradually below.

The first, the knowledge of all aspects (or omniscience) is defined as knowing directly, and in a single instant, all aspects, without exception, of things in their real nature and in all their multiplicity. It can be divided into the omniscience of knowing the nature of things and the omniscience of knowing all that there is.

The second, path-knowledge, is defined as a knowledge of the path of training leading to realization of the authentic limit of reality, by means of perfecting, maturing and purifying, and realizing that all the paths of the three vehicles lack true reality. It can be divided into the three path-knowledges that understand the paths of the three vehicles.

The third, base-knowledge, is defined as the limited knowledge that realizes all phenomena included within the bases (i.e., the aggregates, elements and sense spheres) to be empty of the self of the individual. It can be divided into two: the base-knowledge of the śrāvakas and that of the pratyekabuddhas.

The fourth, the complete application of all aspects, is defined as the bodhisattvas’ yoga of meditation in which the three [knowledges] of bases, paths and aspects are brought together within the unborn nature beyond conceptual elaboration, in order to master the realization of the threefold knowledge.[6] It can be divided into the twenty applications, such as the non-abiding application, the application of non-application, the application of the profound, and so on.

The fifth, culminating application, is defined as the bodhisattvas’ yoga which is based on the complete application of all aspects, and in which one has gained mastery in the meditation combining threefold non-arising. It can be divided into seven, those of the stages of warmth, summit and the rest on the path of joining.

The sixth, progressive application, is defined as the bodhisattvas’ yoga in which one meditates on the aspects of threefold knowledge sequentially in order to stabilize the realization in which the knowledge aspects of the threefold knowledge arise all at once. It can be divided into thirteen, including, for instance, the progressive application of the pāramitā of generosity.

The seventh, application of awakening completely and perfectly in a single moment, is defined as the bodhisattvas’ yoga in which one reaches the culmination of the progressive meditation on threefold knowledge. It can be divided into four, including, for example, realizing in a moment all dharmas that are not completely matured.

The eighth, the resultant dharmakāya, is defined as the ultimate fruition of practising the applications, which possesses various undefiling qualities.

As it says in The Two Truths:

Since it is the body of all dharmas,
Since it is the support for all inconceivable qualities,
Since it is the essential nature found through logic,
It is the dharmakāya of the protectors.

This can then be divided into the four of the svābhāvikakāya and so on.

There is no need to present anything more than these eight, which are the real subject matter or ‘realizations’ of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, while to present less than these would be insufficient, so their number is definite. You might wonder why the number is fixed at eight. It is because for an individual to become enlightened, there must definitely be the factors of the three objects of knowledge to be understood, the four paths of practice to be applied, and the ultimate result of the dharmakāya. As it says in The Summarizing Lamp:

Three knowledges as objects to be understood,
Four applications at the time of meditation,
And the ultimate result that is dharmakāya.

Why is the number of things to be known fixed at three? Let’s give an example. Having heard of the qualities of a wish-fulfilling jewel, we will make efforts to obtain one. In a similar way, the knowledge of all aspects with its twofold benefit for oneself and others is taught first, in order to inspire enthusiasm for the result, so that a person will strive to attain enlightenment. When we have heard this we will apply the methods, and therefore the path-knowledge—which details the complete and unerring path or methods for attaining this goal—is taught. Then, since we will need to know potential pitfalls or adversities we might face so that we might avoid them, the base-knowledge is taught.

If we understand well in this way the result which is to be attained, the path through which it is attained, and the potential pitfalls or adverse factors, then this includes all the things which are to be known as we eliminate misconceptions through study. The Precious Lord, Glorious Atiśa said:

At the time of study and reflection,
There is complete ascertainment of the result,
The cause and any unfavourable factors.

Why then are the applications of the practice fixed at four in number? It is not sufficient merely to ascertain the three knowledges and arrive at some understanding. In order to realize the fruition it is necessary to meditate and take this [understanding] into our experience. In this regard, there are certainly four aspects. There is the complete application of all aspects, the profound practice of arousing the non-conceptual wisdom beyond conceptual elaboration in meditative equipoise when it had not been aroused in the mind before. There is the culminating application through which this [wisdom] takes on the most supreme form that can be achieved through worldly and supermundane meditations. There is the progressive application, the vast practice of the post-meditation phase in which we attain stability in the samādhi endowed with the most supreme of all aspects. And finally, there is the momentary application in which, having gained this stability, we reach the limit of the causal stage or path. So this number too is fixed. As it says in The Summarizing Lamp:

At the time of meditation there is application,
Gaining temporary results, finding stability,
And perfection by reaching the limits of the causal.

There is also a definite number in terms of the result. By means of the application of all aspects and the culminating application we realize the perfect abandonment for our own benefit and attain the dharmakāya of effortless and spontaneous accomplishment, and, by means of the progressive and momentary applications, we make evident the perfect realization that is the support for benefitting others and gain omniscient wisdom, at the same time gaining the rūpakāya and enlightened activity.

The result is definitely the single dharmakāya, because it is certain that this alone is the ultimate result of coming to a definitive conclusion about the basis by means of study and then practising the four applications.

The Seventy Points

Within the elaborate explanation that is given by means of the seventy points, there are three sections: the elaborate explanations of (1) the objects, the three knowledges, (2) the path, the four applications, and (3) the result, the dharmakāya.

1. The Three Knowledges

This has three parts: the elaborate explanations of (i) the knowledge of all aspects, (ii) the path-knowledge and (iii) the base-knowledge.

i. The Knowledge of All Aspects

The knowledge of all aspects is illustrated by ten factors. What are they? The root text says:

Generation of bodhicitta, spiritual instructions,
The four branches of definite separation,
The foundation of accomplishment—
The nature of the dharmadhātu,
The objects of focus, the objective,
The armour, the activities of engagement,
Accumulation, and definite emergence—
These are the Sage’s knowledge of all aspects.[7]

As regards the way in which these [ten factors] indicate [the knowledge of all aspects], the scholars of the past made three different assertions. [They explained] that since these ten are the causes for attaining omniscience, the result is being pointed out by means of its causes. As the precious Lord [Atiśa] said:

The result of perfecting the ten causes, omniscience itself.

Alternatively, some have asserted that they indicate the subject by means of its objects. This is because the three kinds of objective[8] show the result and the remaining factors reveal the causes, and also since the objects of focus are all phenomena, these [ten factors] demonstrate all knowable things, and because the knowledge of all aspects is a knowledge of all aspects of cause and effect.

It is also said that these are the most important things for someone who is pursuing liberation, and so by teaching just these ten which are the most things to know, it is possible to give an indication of total omniscience. As it says in [Pramāṇa]vārttika:

Knowing through this the total number of insects
Holds no purpose for us whatsoever.
It makes known the points to be adopted or avoided,
As well as the methods for doing so. This is held to be entirely valid,
Although it does not make everything known.
Whether or not one perceives distant things,
One perceives exactly what is required.

Within the more detailed explanation of the factors that identify omniscience in these ways, there are four parts: (a) an explanation of the generation of bodhicitta, the nature of the path, (b) an explanation of the spiritual instructions which refine it, (c) the result of these instructions, the stages of definite separation, and (d) how to put the meaning of the instructions into practice unerringly.

1. Generating Bodhicitta

Regarding the essence of the generation of bodhicitta, it is said:

Generating bodhicitta is: for the sake of others,
Longing for complete and perfect awakening.

As regards the bodily support for the methods to generate bodhicitta, it is not necessary to be a human being in general or someone possessing the prātimokṣa vows and so on in particular, because it is taught in the Path Knowledge Sūtra and other sūtras that bodhicitta arose in gods, nāgas, yakṣas and other such beings. There are three aspects to the mental support: faith that is directed towards the victorious buddhas, compassion directed towards sentient beings, and a desire to practise the activity of the bodhisattvas. The Jewel Lamp Sūtra says:

With faith in the buddhas and buddhadharma,
And faith in unsurpassable awakening,
The mind of a great being arises.

And The Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras says:

Its root is held to be compassion.

Asaṅga and his brother Vasubandhu asserted that the mental states of attention (sems pa) and intention (‘dun pa) are illustrations of the generation of bodhicitta, but this is only nominally true. The assertion of Ārya Vimuktasena and Ācārya Haribhadra that the illustration is the mental consciousness that is the supporting foundation of all positive phenomena is definitive.

The definition is just as it is given directly in the root text: a special state of mind, concurrent with the main mental consciousness, that is a desire to attain the omniscient state of complete awakening for the sake of the objective, which is to free all other sentient beings from the causes and effects of saṃsāra and establish them in the three levels of enlightenment according to their karmic fortune.

It can be subdivided in terms of essence into two, aspiration and application. As the bodhisattva Śāntideva said:

Understand that, briefly stated,
Bodhicitta has two aspects:
The mind aspiring to awaken,
And actual application. Just as one understands the difference
Between wishing to go and travel itself,
The wise should understand these two,
Recognizing their difference and order.[9]

These two are distinguished according to whether or not the aspiration to strive for complete awakening is accompanied by actions of the body and speech, and whether or not the vow is taken as part of a ritual ceremony. It should be stated that the bodhicitta of aspiration is present from the lesser path of accumulation onwards, while the bodhicitta of application is present from the middling path of accumulation.

When divided in terms of how it arises, there are two categories: relative bodhicitta which is gained through coarse signs and generated by rituals, and absolute bodhicitta which is gained through the subtle nature of reality and generated through the power of meditation. Regarding the former, it says in The Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras:

Through the power of friends, through the power of the cause and through the power of sources [of virtue],
Through the power of study and by being accustomed to virtue,
The unstable and the stable arise—
These are taught as the bodhicitta introduced by another.

Bodhicitta can thus be generated through these five powers, and among them the first is unstable, while the four later ones are stable. But both [the stable and unstable] are bodhicitta generations that are introduced by perceiving the speech of another, one’s spiritual guide.

Regarding the second type, it says in the same text:

Since it arises from delighting[10] the buddhas,
Perfectly gathering the accumulations of merit and wisdom,
And the wisdom that does not conceptualize phenomena,
It is said to be most sublime.

We receive instruction from the perfect teachers, the fully enlightened buddhas, then train in the perfect practice, gathering the two accumulations for one incalculable aeon, and gain the perfect realization, seeing directly the absence of self-identity in all phenomena. Absolute bodhicitta, therefore, is that which is obtained through gaining familiarity with the practices of śamatha and vipaśyanā, having developed our mind in these three ways, so that it takes on the nature of the absolute.

If bodhicitta is divided in terms of its parameters, then as it says in The Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras:

The generation of bodhicitta on the various stages,
Is called ‘aspirational’, ‘pure noble intention’,
And ‘full maturation’, as it is said elsewhere,
And likewise ‘free from all obscurations’.

As it says, there are four types of bodhicitta generation: that which arises from ‘aspiration,’ which is present from the path of accumulation onwards; the ‘pure noble intention’ which is present from the first bhūmi onwards; ‘full maturation’ from the eighth bhūmi onwards; and ‘free from all obscurations,’ which is present at the level of buddhahood.

Making divisions according to the way the commitment is made yields three categories. Wishing to gain freedom for oneself only after all other sentient beings are established in the state of enlightenment is the shepherd-like commitment; wanting to attain enlightenment together with all others is the boatman-like approach; and wishing to attain enlightenment oneself first and then to liberate others is the king-like commitment.

As for the benefits of generating bodhicitta, as the ultimate result, one will reach the level of a victorious buddha, and more immediately one will be called an heir of the buddhas, and become an object of veneration for all gods and human beings. This is explained in Bodhicaryāvatāra:

Like the alchemists’ supreme elixir,
It takes this ordinary, impure human form,
And makes of it a buddha’s priceless body—
Such is bodhicitta: let us grasp it firmly! For the very instant that bodhicitta is born
In the weary captives enslaved within saṃsāra,
They are called heirs of the bliss gone buddhas,
Honourable to gods, humans, and the world.[11]

To put it simply, the amount of merit gained by generating bodhicitta is equal to space and inconceivable. As it says in The Sūtra Requested by Vīryadatta:

If the merit of bodhicitta
Were to take physical form,
Even the whole of space itself
Would not contain its vastness.

Since generating bodhicitta is the initial entry point to the vast waves of activity by means of which the bodhisattva heirs of the buddhas attain the omniscience of buddhahood, I have explained its categories in some detail, elaborating on the definition, but now we turn to the twenty-two divisions according to its parameters, which are mentioned in this text. The root text says:

Then there are its twenty-two aspects:
Similar to the earth, gold, the moon and fire,
A treasure, jewel-mine and the ocean,
A vajra, mountain, medicine and guide, A wishing jewel, the sun and a song,
A king, a treasury and a great highway,
An excellent horse and a spring of water,
Sweet-sounding music, a river and a cloud.

The twenty-two similes from earth to cloud refer to the essence of the generation of bodhicitta itself, from the generation of bodhicitta that is concurrent with the initial intention (‘dun pa) to the bodhicitta concurrent with the dharmakāya. Thus there are twenty-two categories, which can be understood through twenty-two analogous factors, on account of the similarity between the examples and their referents.

1) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the initial intention (‘dun pa) to strive towards unsurpassable complete enlightenment is likened to the earth, because it functions as a support for all the virtuous dharmas of enlightenment and its causes.

2) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the wish (bsam pa) to sustain the continuity of this initial intention is likened to gold, because this excellent wish to bring benefit and happiness, which encompasses the six pāramitās, does not change until buddhahood.

3) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with a noble intention (lhag bsam) is likened to the waxing moon, because all the virtuous dharmas, the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment and so on, develop further and further.

4) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with application (sbyor ba) of the threefold knowledge beyond arising is likened to fire, because it burns away the kindling of the obscurations which obstruct an understanding of the object, the threefold knowledge.

5) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of generosity is likened to a great treasure, because it brings satisfaction to all beings through Dharma and material wealth, and yet it is never exhausted.

6) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of ethical discipline is likened to a mine of jewels, because it provides a basis for the arising of all the precious qualities such as the strengths.

7) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of patience is likened to the great ocean, because with it we remain unperturbed by unwelcome events, such as fires or coming under armed attack.

8) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of diligence is likened to a vajra, because with it our confident trust in unsurpassed enlightenment is stable and impervious to evil influences.

9) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of meditation is likened to the most majestic of mountains, because with it our samadhi is immovable and cannot be distracted by focusing on concepts.

10) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of wisdom through which one realizes the two kinds of selflessness is likened to a great medicine, because it thoroughly pacifies all the illnesses of the emotional obscurations such as attachment and the cognitive obscurations such as thoughts of perceived objects.

11) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of skilful means is likened to a virtuous guide, because with compassion and skilful means, no matter whether we enjoy great wealth or suffer loss, we will not forsake the welfare of all sentient beings.

12) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of aspiration is likened to a wish-fulfilling jewel, because with it all our prayers of aspiration will be fulfilled just as we desire.

13) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of strength is likened to the sun, because it ripens completely the crop of virtue within the minds of disciples.

14) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the pāramitā of primordial wisdom is likened to the song of a gandharva, because when we have it we can teach and inspire the minds of disciples with the sweet melodious sound of Dharma.

15) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the supercognitions is likened to a great king, because with it we have the unimpeded power that enables us to accomplish the welfare of others.

16) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the accumulations of merit and wisdom is likened to a treasury, because it is the source of an inconceivable gathering.

17) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the thirty-seven aspects of enlightenment is likened to a great highway, because with it we can follow the approach taken by all the noble ones.

18) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with a compassionate concern for others’ welfare and the clear insight (vipaśyanā) of realizing how all phenomena lack true reality is likened to an excellent horse, because it easily carries us to non-abiding nirvana, without straying into the extremes of saṃsāric existence and quiescence.

19) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the mnemonic retention (dhāraṇī) of remembering words and meaning without fail and the confidence of teaching others unimpededly is likened to a spring of water, because with it we can retain all that we hear, and teach it so that it does not go to waste.

20) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the joyful Dharma celebration of teaching the four summaries [or seals] of the Dharma is likened to joyful music, because with it we can proclaim the melodious sound of Dharma to disciples who long for liberation.

21) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the single path to be traversed is likened to the flow of a river, because with it we can engage continuously in impartial actions for others’ welfare, responding automatically with compassion and wisdom, in the realization of the equality of knowing and what is known.

22) The bodhicitta generated in conjunction with the dharmakāya is likened to a cloud, because when with it we can display all twelve deeds, such as residing in Tuṣita and the rest, and in so doing bring about the full harvest of beings’ benefit and happiness.

These twenty-two categories of bodhicitta, which are explained in this way, represent all types of generation of bodhicitta, both causal and resultant. As regards their parameters, the first three belong to the path of accumulation, the next one to the path of joining, and the ten types of bodhicitta endowed with generosity to primordial wisdom are present on the ten bhūmis included within the paths of seeing and meditation. The five categories [of bodhicitta] endowed with the superknowledges and so on belong to the special path of the tenth bhūmi. The final three, endowed with a joyful celebration of Dharma and so on, belong to the preparation, main part and subsequent part of the level of buddhahood.

This was the explanation of generating bodhicitta, the first factor that illustrates the knowledge of all aspects.

2. Spiritual Instructions

Secondly there are the spiritual instructions which refine the generation of bodhicitta. They are defined as: ‘Means of expression which unerringly teach the path to be pursued by someone who has generated bodhicitta focused on unsurpassable and perfect awakening and the methods for attaining the qualities of the fruition.’ They can be divided into common instructions teaching the mahāyāna path only partially and superior instructions (meaning all the words of the buddha and the treatises), which teach the path and result of the mahāyāna completely and without error.

The individual who receives the instructions is someone who has just generated the mind of bodhicitta or someone at the level of aspirational practice, who has gained the meditative concentration of a continuous flow of Dharma. The ones from whom we receive instructions are spiritual guides capable of teaching the mahāyāna instructions, especially the buddhas themselves. It says in The Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras:

And that time, through a steady flow of Dharma,
One seeks extensive instruction from the buddhas,
In order to develop calm abiding (śamatha)
And expansive wisdom.

Spiritual instructions can be divided into thirteen aspects. As it says [in the root text]:

Instruction in the practice and the truths,
The Three Jewels of Buddha and the rest,
Non-attachment, the indefatigable,
And taking up the path completely,
The five eyes, six qualities of supercognition,
And the paths of seeing and meditation.
Understand that it is tenfold in character.

The first, instruction concerning the essence of the practice itself, is to teach what is to be practised, all the activities of the bodhisattvas, and the way in which they are to be practised, which on the absolute level means having no clinging to reality because of being without the three conceptual spheres, and on the conventional level means viewing things as like an illusion.

Then, secondly, there is the instruction on the objects, the four truths. This is an instruction on how we should practise adopting and avoiding while being without four kinds of fixation: fixating on suffering as what is to be known, fixating on its origin as what is to be abandoned, fixating on cessation as what is to be attained, and fixating on the true path as what is to be relied upon in the mind.

Thirdly, there is the instruction concerning the support, the Three Jewels. This is the instruction which teaches that one should take refuge, since this is necessary in order for the qualities of the path which have not yet arisen to arise, and to ensure that those qualities which have arisen do not diminish but continue to increase further and further. In addition, it teaches the objects of refuge, the three jewels of the great vehicle, each possessing eight excellent qualities, and the way in which one should take refuge, viewing the Buddha as one’s guide, the Dharma as one’s path and the sangha as companions, whilst at the same time recognizing that they are like illusions and not clinging to them as real.

Fourthly, there is the instruction on training in the diligence of non-attachment to the comforts of body, speech and mind, so as to overcome the laziness of engaging in negative behaviour that conflicts with the practice. The fifth is the instruction on indefatigable diligence, the antidote to the laziness of inactivity, and the sixth is the instruction on the diligence of taking to the path completely, which is the antidote to the laziness of self-contempt.

The seventh is the instruction on the five eyes, which ultimately lead one to attain enlightenment, and more immediately bring skill in the methods for accomplishing one’s own and others’ welfare. They are:

  1. the physical eye, seeing all the forms of the three thousandfold universe;
  2. the divine eye, perceiving the deaths and rebirths of all beings throughout the ten directions;
  3. the wisdom eye, knowing the reality of all conditioned and unconditioned phenomena;
  4. the dharma eye, knowing without obstruction the keenness of the faculties of all noble ones and the words and meaning of the twelve sections of the excellent teachings; and
  5. the buddha eye, perceiving directly all the aspects of all that exists in its nature and in all its multiplicity.

This instruction also teaches how to train by regarding the phenomena of the six pāramitā, which are the causes for attaining these five eyes, as being like an illusion on the relative level, and realizing that ultimately they are reality itself, which is beyond conceptual elaboration.

The eighth is the instruction on training in the six supercognitions in order to establish beings in the equality of the dharmatā, receive the loving care of the noble ones, meet attractive objects, receive the veneration of the gods, receive the prophecy of one’s enlightenment, and so on. They are:

  1. The supercognition of miraculous abilities, such as causing the ground to shake and emanating light.
  2. The supercognition of the divine ear, detecting all the sounds of the world, whether loud or soft.
  3. The supercognition of reading the minds of others, perceiving all the thoughts in beings’ minds.
  4. The supercognition of recollecting former lives, recalling the details of one’s own and others’ innumerable previous lives.
  5. The supercognition of the divine eye, seeing in detail all the forms of the beings of the ten directions as they die and take rebirth.
  6. The supercognition of the exhaustion of defilements, making evident the primordial wisdom that is the antidote overcoming the two obscurations so that they can no longer arise.

This instruction also teaches how to develop these six in one’s mind on the conventional level, while on the ultimate level pacifying conceptual elaborations completely.

The ninth is the instruction on generating in one’s mind the sixteen moments of the path of seeing (such as acceptance of suffering, understanding of suffering and so on), which function as the antidote to the imputed factors that are to be abandoned through seeing. It teaches how to generate them without fixating on them as real, like a magician observing his own magical creations.

The tenth is the instruction on how to meditate on the mahāyāna path of meditation, the antidote that overcomes the co-emergent factors to be abandoned through meditation, while recognizing that the factors to be abandoned and their antidotes are inseparable.

Since these ten instructions alone will perfectly provide a person with all that is needed in order to become enlightened, their number is definite.

This was the second factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

3. The Aspects of Definite Separation

Thirdly, the aspects of definite separation which are the results of instruction, are the aspects of definite separation that occur on the path of joining as a result of practising the points of the instructions. They are defined as the clear realizations that arise after the mahāyāna stage conducive to liberation [i.e. the path of accumulation], and are included within the level of aspirational practice.

[The path of joining] can be divided into the four stages of warmth, summit, acceptance and supreme attribute. These are superior to the equivalent stages on the śrāvakas’ and pratyekabuddhas’ path of joining in five ways: the three of focus, aspect and cause, as well as the spiritual guide and the explanations of the four types of thought.[12]

In order for the path of joining to arise, one must have the bodily support of a human being on any of the three continents,[13] or of a god of the desire realm or any of the six dhyāna levels.[14]

The essence [of the path of joining] is a mundane type of wisdom deriving from meditation, in which the mind that evaluates the meaning of selflessness is operating conceptually and based on language.

The individual stages are identified as follows:

The samādhi in which one gains an experience of warmth is a realization of how things which appear as objects, such as forms and so on, are only mental designations and not truly established. This is the initial stage of accepting the conception of certainty regarding the Dharma.

Summit, the samādhi of increasing experience, is the further development of this experience of the Dharma, gained through practising with stable diligence and without becoming attached to what one has realized.

Acceptance, the samādhi through which one begins to engage with one aspect of reality itself, is the result of this diligent application, the remaining in mind alone by thinking, “These objective appearances are nothing but my own mind!” in order to overcome distraction towards the images of perceived objects.

Supreme attribute, the subsequent samādhi, is what follows immediately after overcoming distraction towards the objects of perception in this way. It is the recognition that the perceiving subject too is devoid of any inherent nature. And after this one will be brought into contact with the non-conceptual wisdom of the path of seeing.

Each of these four stages of the path of joining can be further divided into lesser, middling and greater stages, leading to twelve divisions in all.

This was the third factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

When it comes to practising the points of the spiritual instructions in the proper way, there are four factors: the potential, which is the support for practice, the focus of practice, the objective of the practice, and the essence of practice itself.

4. The Potential

The mahāyāna potential[15] is defined as: ‘The absolute space of reality (dharmadhātu), which when purified becomes the cause of unsurpassable awakening.’

Generally, the śrāvaka schools claim that the potential of the noble ones is the mental state of freedom from passionate attachment. The Mind Only school makes two claims. Its followers say that the conditioned potential is the potential for undefiling phenomena to arise as a special quality of the six sense sources or on the basis of the all-ground. By contrast, the unconditioned potential is the mind’s intrinsic nature or fundamental condition, which is naturally luminous and present at all times by its very own essence, and from which nothing is to be taken away and to which nothing is to be added. The Middle Way school asserts that the potential is the unconditioned dharmadhātu, which is not fabricated in any way, and which is present as the fundamental nature of the mind. It is this latter assertion that applies here.

The subdivisions of the potential are given in the root text:

The six stages of realization,
The antidote and the abandonment,
That which consumes them both completely,
Wisdom and loving compassion,
That which is not common to the disciples,
The stages of benefitting others,
And effortless engagement in wisdom—
This is how the potential is understood.

When realizing selflessness, there are the four stages of definite separation and the paths of seeing and meditation, making six stages altogether. There is also the antidote, the unimpeded path, and the abandonment, the path of total release, as well as the practice for overcoming the cognitive obscurations, which eliminates the concepts of abandonment and antidote. There is the practice of wisdom and the skilful means of great compassion, the practice of the path that is not common to the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha disciples, the practice of benefitting others in stages according to their karmic fortune, and the practice of effortlessly engaging in wisdom. This is how the thirteen different Dharma practices it supports are given as the thirteen subdivisions of the supporting potential.

This was the fourth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

5. The Focus of the Practice

Focus is defined as any object of focus which becomes an object of the bodhisattva practitioner’s knowledge.

The divisions of the focus are given in the root text:

The objects of focus are all phenomena,
But especially the virtuous and so on,
As well as mundane realizations
And those beyond the world,
Defiling and undefiling phenomena,
The conditioned and the unconditioned,
Qualities common to the disciples,
And those which are exclusive to the Sages.

At first bodhisattvas think, “What should I adopt, what should I abandon, and what should I regard impartially?” This is how there comes to be a focus on the three categories of virtuous, non-virtuous and neutral.

Then with regard to the virtues that are to be adopted, they think, “What should I adopt first? And what later?” This is how there comes to be a focus on the two categories of mundane and supermundane. When they wonder what is to be abandoned by means of the supermundane path, and what is its essence, they understand it to be the defiling and undefiling, and so they focus on these two. When they wonder what is the focus of the undefiling path, they realize that it is the conditioned relative and the unconditioned absolute, so they focus on these. They then consider, “Since the noble ones are distinguished in terms of the unconditioned, what are the results of focusing on the unconditioned?” When they see that there are certain qualities held in common with the disciples such as the śrāvakas, and other qualities which are exclusive to the buddhas, there comes to be focus on these two.

We enter into the practice once we have gradually focused like this, from the first category of virtues up to the final category of the uncommon qualities, such as the strengths, so these are the eleven objects of focus of the practice.

There are no parameters for focus, because it encompasses all knowable phenomena.

This was the fifth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

6. The Objective of the Practice

The objective is defined as the ultimate fruition, the attainment of which inspires bodhisattvas to engage in the practice.

Its divisions are given in the root text:

The mind of the most supreme of beings,
Abandonment and realization—these three,
These three types of greatness
Should be understood as the objective of the naturally arisen.

Awakening, the most supreme state among sentient beings, is the great supremacy; the great abandonment overcomes the two kinds of obscurations completely; and the great realization is the perception of all that exists in its nature and in all its multiplicity. The buddhahood that has these three kinds of greatness should be understood as the objective of the naturally arisen bodhisattvas.

As for its parameters, it is present only at the level of buddhahood.

This was the sixth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

The essence of the practice itself is given in four parts:

  1. armour-like practice, donning armour in order to practise the mahāyāna,
  2. the practice of engagement, engaging in the practice,
  3. the practice of accumulation, bringing the engagement to a conclusion, and
  4. the practice of definite emergence, reaching the conclusion.
7. Armour-like Practice

Armour-like practice is defined as activity to accomplish the twofold welfare, based on the bodhicitta of the mahāyāna, and put into practice by including aspects of all six within each of the pāramitās.

It is called “armour-like” because it cannot be penetrated by adverse factors, and it is present from the path of accumulation onwards.

Its divisions are given in the root text:

Within each one, such as generosity,
Are included aspects of all six.
This is how the armour-like practice
With its six sets of six divisions is explained.

  • The generosity included within each pāramitā is to dedicate the practice towards enlightenment, sharing it with all beings by thinking that as we are practising ourselves we also lead others to the practice.
  • The ethical discipline included within each is not to combine the practice with the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas’ attitude of considering only one’s own welfare.
  • The patience included within each is to remain unperturbed by one’s own adversities and the false practices undertaken by others.
  • The diligence included within each is to feel increasingly enthusiastic about practising the six pāramitās for the benefit of others.
  • The meditation included within each is to practice while focusing one-pointedly on others’ welfare and omniscience.
  • The wisdom included within each is to dedicate towards enlightenment on the relative level and on the ultimate level to avoid a presumptuous attitude by not focusing on the three conceptual spheres.

They are practised with all six aspects included in each pāramitā, so that when they are grouped together there are six armour-like practices, and when they are given in detail, there are thirty-six.

This was the seventh factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

8. The Practice of Engagement

The practice of engagement is defined as a practice to accomplish the twofold benefit for the sake of unsurpassed awakening, which is based on the bodhicitta of the mahāyāna, and in which one engages in the mahāyāna means of the principal results of meditation.

A basic form of the practice of engagement is present from the path of accumulation onwards, and a special form is present from the middling stage of supreme attribute on the path of joining.

This practice can be divided into nine engagement practices, based on the fact that the mahāyāna has nine objects of engagement. They are as follows:

The dhyānas and formless absorptions, generosity and so on,
The paths and the four such as loving kindness,
That which is beyond conceptual focus,
The purification of the three conceptual spheres,
The objective and the six supercognitions,
And the knowledge of all aspects—
Understand that to practise engaging in these
Is to ascend in the great vehicle.

  1. The bodhisattva engages in the dhyānas and formless absorptions in order to turn away from distraction towards objects of mind and remain firmly concentrated on the object of focus.
  2. Since this mind of stable concentration should then be trained in the two accumulations, the bodhisattva engages in the six pāramitās such as generosity.
  3. Since this gathering of the accumulations creates a deep yearning for the nature of reality, the bodhisattva engages in the paths of seeing and meditation in which this is realized.
  4. Gaining the paths of the noble ones causes enthusiasm for benefitting others, so the bodhisattva engages in the four immeasurables.
  5. Engaging in benefitting others can create its own ties of attachment, so the bodhisattva engages in the absence of conceptual focus in all phenomena
  6. When this bodhisattva-yogin who has realized the absence of inherent reality engages in practice, it is without fixating on subject, object or action as real, so that the three conceptual spheres are completely purified and all things are viewed from the perspective of a conjurer of illusion.
  7. In order to ensure that the bodhisattva’s actions—which do not conflict with the two truths in this way—lead to the goal that is the ultimately aiming, he or she engages in the objective, the three types of greatness.
  8. The bodhisattva diligently engages in the six supercognitions in order to know the minds of others and so on, since these are principal causes for the exertions directed towards the objective.
  9. Those who have attained the supercognitions think, “Now, I will attain the knowledge of all aspects!” and so, by developing tremendous enthusiasm for enlightenment, they engage in omniscience.

This was the eighth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

9. The Practice of Accumulation

The practice of accumulation is defined as a practice to accomplish the twofold benefit for the sake of unsurpassed awakening, which is based on the bodhicitta of the mahāyāna, and which leads one directly to great awakening.

Generally, a basic accumulation is present from the path of accumulation onwards, but here since it mainly refers to the realization of emptiness and the direct cause for the result of awakening, the first fifteen accumulation practices are present at the greater stage of supreme attribute, and the accumulation practices of the bhūmis and the antidote are present on the ten bhūmis included within the paths of seeing and meditation.

Regarding its divisions, it is said [in the root text]:

Loving concern and the six such as generosity,
Śamatha, vipaśyanā and
The path on which they are united,
Skill in means,
Primordial wisdom and merit,
The path, retention (dhāraṇī), the ten bhūmis,
And the saṃsāric antidote—these should be known
As the stages of the accumulation practice.

There are seventeen types of accumulation practice:

The accumulation of compassion, which is the wish to establish innumerable sentient beings in the three levels of awakening.

The six accumulations of the six pāramitās, which are the methods for establishing them there.

The three accumulations included within meditative equipoise: śamatha, which is to concentrate one-pointedly on the welfare of beings; vipaśyanā, which is the realization that the object of śamatha is beyond conceptual focus; and the path of uniting these two, through which one avoids falling into the extremes of saṃsāric existence or the peace of nirvana.

The [accumulation] included within the category of non-equipoise, skilful means, which is to act for the welfare of beings, engaging in the six pāramitās while bringing to mind the knowledge of all aspects.

The [accumulation] included within the view, the wisdom of realizing the twenty types of emptiness.

The [accumulation] included within action, the 101 categories of samādhi, from the samādhi of faring as a warrior to the untainted samādhi in which there is total freedom because it is sky-like and devoid of attachment. These are the [accumulations of] merit since they provide a basis for benefitting beings and are causes for gaining great quantities of merit.

The [accumulation] included within the accomplishment of the result, the path, which is in essence the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment, and which is mainly present on the paths of seeing and meditation.

The [accumulation] included within holding to a focus, retention, which is the ability to remember the words and meaning of the teachings through mindfulness and wisdom, and also secret mantras and the cause of acceptance.

Then there is [the accumulation of] the bhūmis, which leads to the increasing of supermundane wisdom and acts as a support for relative qualities.

Finally there is the accumulation of the antidotes which overcome the eight types of dualistic conception that are to be abandoned on the paths of seeing and meditation.

This was the ninth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

10. The Practice of Definite Emergence

The practice of definite emergence is defined as a practice to accomplish the twofold benefit for the sake of unsurpassed awakening, which is based on the bodhicitta of the mahāyāna, undoubtedly leads one directly to the ultimate destination, and is included within the special path of the tenth bhūmi.

It can be divided into eight practices of definite emergence, based on the fact that there are eight things into which one emerges, or ‘destinations’. As it says [in the root text]:

The objectives and equalness,
The welfare of sentient beings and the effortless,
The definite emergence transcending extremes,
The definite emergence with the character of attainment,
The actual knowledge of all aspects and
Definite emergence with the path as its object—
Understand that the practice of definite emergence
Is characterized by these eight aspects.

  1. The definite emergence into the objective, which is characterized by the threefold greatness.

  2. The definite emergence into realization of the space-like equality of all phenomena by means of primordial wisdom.

  3. The definite emergence into acting for the welfare of innumerable and immeasurable sentient beings by means of compassion.

  4. The definite emergence into effortless and spontaneous accomplishment of the welfare of others by means of the inseparable combination of wisdom and compassion.

  5. The definite emergence into the nirvana that is beyond the extremes of saṃsāric existence and the peace of nirvana.

  6. The definite emergence into that which has the character of attaining all the various types of abandonment and realization that can be achieved in the three vehicles.

  7. The definite emergence into the actual knowledge of all aspects, in which one knows non-conceptually and in a single moment all aspects of knowable phenomena.

These seven are present at the level of buddhahood, the ultimate destination.

  1. The definite emergence into the summit of the special unimpeded path that is directly connected to omniscience, which is the definite emergence into the ultimate stage of the path.

The actions of a subject possessing special skilful means and wisdom which have these eight ultimate destinations as their object are practices bringing definite emergence, so they are to be understood as the eight practices of definite emergence.

The first seven destinations are present on the path of no more learning, and the final one is present on the path of training.

This was the tenth factor illustrating the knowledge of all aspects.

Omniscience, which is illustrated by the above ten factors, is the main thing to be understood at the beginning when one is coming to a definitive conclusion through study and reflection, then it is the most important of the aspects to be meditated upon when practising the four applications, and finally it is the major result to be attained when reaching the end of the path. That is why I have explained it in some detail. Now, I will describe the remaining topics, such as path-knowledge only briefly.

ii. Path-Knowledge

There are eleven factors which illustrate path-knowledge. As it says [in the root text]:

The stages of eclipsing and so on,
[The paths of disciples and rhino-like pratyekabuddhas,
The path of seeing that yields greater benefit,
Bringing qualities in this and other lives.
Functions and aspiration,
Eulogy, veneration and praise,
Dedication, and rejoicing,
The unsurpassable activities of mind,
Accomplishing and the ‘extremely pure’—
The practices of the path of meditation.
This is how the path-knowledge
Of the skilful bodhisattvas is explained.]

Firstly, there is the support among the branches of path-knowledge, which is a person who possesses bodhicitta and has forsaken arrogance.

Secondly, there are the three paths which have the branches. Among these, the path of the śrāvaka disciples is defined as the limited wisdom that realizes just the selflessness of the individual. When divided, it can be illustrated by the two paths of joining and seeing.

The path of the rhinoceros-like pratyekabuddhas is defined as the limited wisdom that realizes the ‘one-and-a-half selflessnesses.’ Its divisions are the same as for the śrāvaka [path-knowledge].

The bodhisattva path is dealt with in two sections.

The mahāyāna path of seeing is defined as the supermundane wisdom realizing the two selflessnesses prior to the development of the undefiling path of meditation. It is divided into sixteen moments.

The path of meditation has two sections.

The products of the path of meditation are defined as the benefits that are the results of the path of meditation. There are six subdivisions.

The path of meditation which has such products is itself divided into two, the tainted and untainted[16] paths of meditation.

The first of these, the tainted path of meditation has three factors, the first of which is the aspiring path of meditation, and this is defined as a tainted path of meditation on which one apprehends with certainty the fact that the Prajñāpāramitā has qualities. It can be divided into twenty-seven kinds of aspiration. The benefits of the aspiring path of meditation are defined as the praise spoken by the buddhas and higher bodhisattvas who are delighted by the bodhisattvas practising the aspiring path of meditation. There are twenty-seven divisions. The dedicating path of meditation is defined as a tainted path of meditation on which one dedicates virtuous actions towards complete awakening for the sake of others. It has twelve subdivisions. The rejoicing path of cultivation is defined as a tainted path of meditation on which one joyfully celebrates one’s own and others’ virtuous actions. It has twelve subdivisions.

Secondly, the untainted path of meditation has two factors. The accomplishing path of meditation is defined as an untainted path of meditation, which is the cause for the ultimate realization. It has five divisions, such as the intrinsic (ngo bo nyid). The completely pure path of meditation is defined as an untainted path of meditation, which is the cause for the ultimate abandonment. Its nine subdivisions are the nine antidotes that overcome the factors to be abandoned through meditation.

This were the eleven factors illustrating the path-knowledge of the supports, the bodhisattvas.

iii. Base-Knowledge

There are nine factors which illustrate base-knowledge. The root text says:

Due to knowledge, not remaining in saṃsāric existence,
And out of compassion, not remaining in quiescence,
Distant because of being unskilled in methods,
And not distant because of being skilled in means,
Unfavourable factors and their antidotes,
Application and its equality,
And the path of seeing of the śrāvakas and so on—
This is how the all-knowledge is described.

The first, the base-knowledge of not remaining in saṃsāric existence due to wisdom, is defined as the wisdom that causes one to avoid the problems of saṃsāric existence with the knowledge that understands the absence of true reality.

The base-knowledge of not remaining in quiescence due to compassion is defined as the wisdom that causes one to avoid the problems of quiescence through the force of generating the superior intention of bodhicitta.

The base-knowledge that is distant because it is not a skilful method for generating the resultant Prajñāpāramitā is defined as clinging to concepts regarding (i) what is to be known, (ii) the path, and (iii) its result, and being unable to apply the antidote to conceptual perception.

The base-knowledge that is not distant because it is a skilful method for generating the resultant Prajñāpāramitā is defined as the knowledge that has the special features of skilful means and wisdom.

Unfavourable base-knowledge is defined as that which is to be abandoned by the bodhisattvas because it is restricted by a mistaken perception of the nature of the bases.

Antidotal base-knowledge is defined as the knowledge that is capable of functioning as an antidote to conceptual perception, because it involves the realization that the bases lack true reality.

The application of base-knowledge is defined as the meditation which is practised once attachment to the bases of form and so on has been brought to an end, and which indicates, in an indirect way, the applications of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. It is divided into ten applications.

The equality of the application is defined as any aspect of the meditation of the application of base-knowledge putting an end to the mistaken presumption of subject and object. It is divided into forty because there are four kinds of presumption absent in each of the ten applications.

The mahāyāna path of seeing is defined as a newly gained insight into the truth that is free from the thirty-two conceptual projections, and which indicates, in an indirect way, the path of seeing of the hīnayāna.

These were the nine factors illustrating the base-knowledge.

Following these thirty points which encapsulate the object, the threefold knowledge, there are four sections explaining in detail the structure of the four applications, the complete application of all aspects, culminating application, progressive application and momentary application.

iv. Application of All Aspects

There are eleven factors pertaining to the complete realization of all aspects. As the root text says:

Aspects together with their application,
Qualities, faults, characteristics,
Factors conducive to liberation and definite separation,
The assembly of irreversible disciples,
The equality of saṃsāric existence and quiescence,
And unsurpassable pure fields,
These are the completely perfect realization of all aspects,
Together with the last one that is skill in means.[17]

Firstly, aspects are defined as objects or particular facets of knowledge that are taken as the objects of meditation in the application. There are 173 types.

The second factor, application, is defined as the yoga of meditation combining the threefold knowledge in order to master realization. It is divided into twenty, such as the application of great hardship and long duration.

Qualities, the third factor, are defined as those factors which are obtained temporarily and ultimately through the practice of application. There are fourteen subdivisions, such as overcoming the power of the māras.

Faults, the fourth factor, are defined as the activity of the māras, obstructing the development of application and its further progress. There are forty-six subdivisions.

Characteristics, the fifth factor, are defined as the knowledge that illustrates the essence or potential of application. There are the ninety-one subdivisions.

The sixth factor, conducive to liberation, is defined as the path at the stage when the approach to unsurpassable enlightenment has not taken on the nature of the faculties of complete purification.

The seventh factor, that which is conducive to definite separation, is defined as the wisdom of the stage of aspiring conduct, which is mainly the outcome of meditation and has the particular aspect of focusing on sentient beings.

Irreversible disciples, the eighth factor, are defined as great beings in whom there are definite signs of not falling into either [extreme of] existence or peace. They are of three kinds: those on the paths of joining, seeing and meditation.

The ninth factor, the application of the equality of saṃsāric existence and quiescence is defined as the application in which one cultivates the realization that saṃsāra and nirvāṇa have no intrinsic reality.

The tenth factor, the application of purifying realms, is defined as the application for removing imperfections in both the environment and inhabitants of the realm in which one will become awakened. It has two aspects: the application of purifying the outer environment and the application of purifying the inhabitants.

The eleventh factor, the application of skill in means is defined as the application of knowing when it is timely or untimely to manifest the ten aspects of skill in means.

These eleven represent the full or perfect realization of all the aspects of the threefold knowledge. This is why they are the eleven factors of the complete application of all aspects.

v. The Culminating Application

The second application, the culminating application, has eight factors.

As it is said:

Its signs, progress,
Stability, complete abiding of the mind,
The paths called “seeing” and “meditation”
Which are for the respective
Fourfold conceptions
The fourfold remedies,
Uninterrupted meditative concentration,
And wrong accomplishment
Are the culminating clear realization.[18]

The signs of the culmination of mastering an understanding of non-arising are explained as those factors which indicate the indicate the highest form of the combined meditation, and which are included within the stage of warmth. There are twelve subdivisions.

Progress [or development], the second factor, is defined as the aspect of increase which indicates that the combined meditation has reached its peak, and which is included within the stage of summit on the path of joining. It is divided into the sixteen forms of progress.

Definite stability, the third factor, is defined as the culmination of the process of stabilizing one’s particular realization of the threefold knowledge and the attitude of not forsaking the welfare of sentient beings, at the stage of acceptance on the path of joining. When divided, stability is of two types.

Complete abiding of the mind, the fourth factor, is defined as the culmination of one-pointed focus on joyfully celebrating the four types of bodhisattvas’ initial generation of bodhicitta and so on, at the stage of supreme attribute.

The culmination of the path called ‘seeing,’ the fifth factor, is defined as a combined meditation which has reached its peak and which serves as an antidote to the concepts abandoned exclusively through the path of seeing.

The application of the path called ‘meditation,’ the sixth factor, is defined as a combined meditation which has reached its peak and which serves as an antidote to the concepts abandoned exclusively through the path of meditation.

On each of these two paths of seeing and meditation, there are four types of antidote, which are remedies to the percept-thoughts of engaging and percept-thoughts of avoiding and the perceiver-thoughts of the substantial and perceiver-thoughts of the imputed. There are four aspects, two for each of the two paths of application and engagement.

The seventh factor, unimpeded samādhi, is defined as a combined meditation which has reached its peak and which is the direct cause of omniscience.

The eighth factor, mistaken practice to be avoided, is defined as an ignorant mind which holds the two truths to be in conflict. There are sixteen subdivisions.

Of these eight culminating realizations, the first seven have the nature of culmination and the eighth is something to be abandoned through culmination. Thus, these are the eight factors of culmination.

vi. The Progressive Application

There are thirteen progressive factors. As the root text says:

…the progressive
[Has] thirteen aspects.[19]

This is the yoga of a bodhisattva who meditates on the aspects in their progressive sequence in order to attain stability in the realization of the threefold knowledge, and who therefore practices the six progressive applications of generosity and so on, from the progressive meditation on generosity up to the progressive meditation on wisdom, and, similarly, the progressive recollection of the buddhas, in which one considers how the qualities of the buddhas are ultimately beyond focus and then on a relative level brings them to mind in the proper sequence. It is similar for the remaining recollections of the dharmas, the saṅgha, discipline, giving and the gods. One brings to mind the virtuous, non-virtuous and neutral dharmas, the assembly of irreversible disciples, the discipline of refraining from harm, gathering virtue and benefitting others, giving the dharma and material charity, and those noble ones born among the gods, and for each one ultimately remaining without focus, and then on a relative level bringing to mind the various aspects in the proper sequence. The progressive application of essential unreality is a gradual meditation which follows the realization that all phenomena ultimately lack inherent existence. Thus, there are three aspects for the recollection of the three jewels and ten remaining aspects, making thirteen progressive factors altogether. This does not mean that they are meditated upon separately, one at a time, but that when one is meditating progressively on the aspects of the threefold knowledge one should meditate in a way that all thirteen factors are complete within each aspect. Thus, these are the thirteen factors of the progressive.

vii. The Instantaneous Application

There are four factors within the instantaneous application. As the root text says:

One single moment
Brings full and complete awakening:
In terms of its characteristics, it has four aspects,[20]

The application of the instant in which all phenomena are brought into complete and perfect awakening, which is a moment of the completion of an act, may be divided conceptually into four: the realization within a single instant of (i) all phenomena which have not reached maturation, (ii) all phenomena which have reached maturation, (iii) the absence of characteristics in all phenomena, and (iv) the non-duality of all phenomena. Thus there are four factors to the instantaneous application.

These were the thirty-six points included within the four applications.

viii. The Dharmakāya

Now, there is an elaborate explanation of the resultant dharmakāya. The basis for division is the enlightened body of the buddhas, and the nature of this division has four aspects. As it is said:

The essential nature, involving perfect enjoyment,
And likewise the other body of emanation,
And the dharmakāya together with activity,
These are perfectly explained as the four aspects.[21]

The first of these four, the svābhāvikakāya, is defined as the aspect of enlightened form distinguished by two-fold purity, the natural purity of basic space of reality and the purification of all the adventitious defilements.

The second, the sambhogakāya, is defined as a form body (rūpakāya) which appears only to the bodhisattvas among the students to be tamed, is the basis for the arising of the nirmāṇakāya, and is adorned with the major signs and minor marks.

The third, the body of emanation which is other than these two, is defined as a form body (rūpakāya) which arises from the ruling condition of the sambhogakaya and which appears to pure and impure beings who are to be tamed and brings them benefit.

The fourth, the wisdom dharmakāya, is defined as the ultimate wisdom arising from the total transformation at the level of buddhahood and providing the basis of the twenty-one sets of immaculate qualities.

The activity of the dharmakāya, which is given here as an auxiliary topic, consists of the twenty-seven varieties of enlightened activity mentioned in the text from:

Taming beings through pacifying activity,
And the four means of magnetizing,

Until:

And bringing them to nirvana.
Thus, the activity of the dharmakāya
Is asserted to be of twenty-seven types.

These can be condensed into the three categories of leading beings to the basis of the path, the path itself and the result of the path.

Thus there are four realizations of the resultant dharmakāya. Activity is not counted separately since it is the activity of the dharmakāya.

This concludes the elaborate explanation of the eight topics and seventy points.

ii. Sixfold Explanation

Secondly, there is a sixfold explanation of the realizations for those who prefer a medium level of elaboration. As the root text says:

The characteristics and their application,
Its highest levels, the sequence,
The conclusion and its result,
This is an alternative summary, into six.

Thus, the three kinds of knowledge are ‘characteristics’ of what is to be cultivated or what is to be generated in the mind. The application of all aspects is the ‘application’ of that meditation. The culminating application refers to the occasion when this application reaches its ‘highest levels.’ The progressive application is the occasion of cultivating this evenly in the correct ‘sequence.’ The instantaneous application is the occasion of the ‘conclusion’ of that progressive meditation on the realization of the threefold knowledge. The dharmakāya is the occasion of the ultimate ‘result,’ the maturation of cultivating the four applications. This presentation in six realizations is made mainly from the perspective of their definite sequence.

iii. Threefold Summary

There is also a three-fold explanation for those who favour brevity. As the text says:

The object, which has three aspects, the cause,
Which is the nature of the four applications,
And the resultant dharmakāya with its activity—
This is another summary, into three.

The three knowledges are referred to as the ‘object,’ the four applications as the ‘cause,’ and the dharmakāya together with its activity as the ‘result.’ This explanation, according to which all the points of the Prajñāpāramitā are condensed into three realizations, is given mainly in terms of their definite number and as a way of avoiding the fault of repetition.

This concludes this overview based on the pith instructions of the oral tradition passed down by the masters of the lineage. Here I have explained the meaning of the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures that teach, without error, the entire path (and its result) followed by the bodhisattva heirs of the victorious buddhas who seek the omniscient state of perfect buddhahood for the benefit of all infinite sentient beings.

By venerating this wish-fulfilling gem of the Prajñāpāramitā,
The essence drawn from an ocean of Dharma, profound and vast,
Placing it atop a lofty victory-banner of excellent explanation,
May great rains of benefit and joy fill the world in all directions!

May the immaculate tradition of the Abbot, the Master and Dharma King,
Who caused the lotus grove of Buddha’s teachings to blossom in the Land of Snows,
Blaze like the fierce light of the sun, and always remain,
Without ever setting, even to the end of existence!

May this excellent path which delights the buddhas and their heirs
Like the ornament on the crown of the king of nāgas,
Be seized excellently by the three ways of the learned,
And may all be auspicious for the buddhist teachings to spread in all directions!

This was written by Pema Vajra as an elegant discourse to mark the joyous occasion when the fifth incarnation of Dzogchen Rinpoche, the Lord of Siddhas, was first requested to take his seat on the great golden throne. [22] May it be virtuous! May positivity abound!

Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2007. Revised and published on lotsawahouse.org, 2015.


  1. Skt. Vinayakārikā, Tib. ‘dul ba tshig le’ur byas pa by Viśākhadeva (sa ga’i lha).  ↩

  2. i.e., the ten pāramitās.  ↩

  3. Patrul Rinpoche (spyi don) says: “Maitreya recognizes that, just as a jockey who has seen the racecourse is better able to direct his horse, by setting out the divisions of topics in the treatise’s elaborate explanation it will be easier for a teacher to explain without going astray or getting muddled up.”  ↩

  4. From Summary of the Eight Thousand Verses.  ↩

  5. Abhisamayālaṃkāra v. 4cd-5.  ↩

  6. i.e. the first three topics: knowledge of all aspects, path-knowledge and base-knowledge.  ↩

  7. Abhisamayālaṃkāra vv. 6-7  ↩

  8. Great mind, great abandonment and great realization.  ↩

  9. Bodhicaryāvatāra, I, 15 & 16  ↩

  10. rab mnyes. Some versions of the Sūtrālaṃkāra have rab bsnyen, i.e., serving or venerating.  ↩

  11. Bodhicaryāvatāra, I, 10 and 9. The two verses are given in this order in Khenpo Pema Vajra’s text.  ↩

  12. There is a typographical error in the text here. It says bstan bcos rtog pa, which I believe is wrong. It could possibly be read as ldan chos rtog pa, following Patrul Rinpoche’s Sher phyin mngon rtogs rgyan gyi ‘bru ‘grel, but there seems to be wider disagreement here as to how to read the corresponding line of the root verses. In Stcherbatsky and Obermiller (and in ACIP) this line of v.26 is given as rnam rtog bzhi po ldan brten pa. The Varanasi (1993) (and ACIP) edition of the ‘grel pa don gsal has bsten pa, and in the Vajra Vidya Institute version (2002) of the ‘grel pa don gsal it reads sten pa, while other versions I have in my possession write it as rten pa and even brtan pa.  ↩

  13. Excluding the northern continent of Uttarakuru (Tib. sgra mi snyan).  ↩

  14. The level of access to the first dhyāna, the ordinary and special main parts of the first dhyāna, and the second, third and fourth dhyāna.  ↩

  15. Skt. gotra, Tib. rigs.  ↩

  16. Patrul Rinpoche (spyi don) explains that ‘tainted’ (zag bcas) here means involving dualistic perception.  ↩

  17. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, vv. 13-14  ↩

  18. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, vv. 15-16  ↩

  19. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, v. 17  ↩

  20. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, v. 17  ↩

  21. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, v. 18  ↩

  22. Tulku Thondup dates the enthronement of the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Dorje (1872–1935) to 1875 (See Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Boston: Shambhala, 1996, p. 256).  ↩

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