How the Teacher Generated Bodhicitta Etc.

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Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

Buddha Śākyamuni

How Our Supreme Teacher Generated Bodhicitta and Other Topics[1]

by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö

As regards our supreme, compassionate Teacher, the Sūtra of Repaying Kindness[2] says that at some point in the distant reaches of beginningless time, when he was an ordinary person possessing all the fetters, he fell, through the power of karma, into the hell realm called Fiery Carts. There he became a strong man, who, together with a companion, was made to pull a cart containing the hell-guardian Bull-Headed Abang.[3] When his companion was so worn out that he was unable to pull the cart, the strongman said to Abang, "Have some compassion for him." This so enraged Abang that he struck the strong man in the neck with an iron trident and killed him. This purified the negativity of a hundred aeons, and he was freed [from the hell]. A long time later, he became a potter’s son called Bhāskara[4] in the south of Jambudvīpa and felt such intense devotion to the Buddha Mahāśākyamuni that he offered him a cupful of soup and five cowries and made the aspiration that begins, "O sugata, may I and others have a form…"[5] With this, he first set his mind upon supreme awakening. The Sūtra of the Fortunate Aeon[6] says:

In a former life, when I had a lowly status,
I offered some soup
To the Tathāgata Śākyamuni
And first set my mind on supreme awakening.

This is how he first generated bodhicitta. Then, for the gathering of the accumulations the basic vehicle considers that the first incalculable aeon lasts from the time he was the potter’s son and Mahāśākyamuni came into the world until the age of the Tathāgata Rāṣṭrapāla.[7] During this time he venerated seventy-five thousand [buddhas]. During the second incalculable aeon, from the time he was the brahmin’s son who offered seven blue utpala flowers to Dīpaṃkara until the time of the Sugata Indradhvaja, he venerated seventy-six thousand [buddhas]. During the third incalculable aeon, from the time he was a king who gave offerings to the Sugata Kṣemaṅkara and constructed a stūpa for his remains until he became a renunciant and generated bodhicitta before Buddha Kāśyapa, he venerated and delighted seventy-seven thousand [buddhas], it is said.

The Treasury[8] says that the first incalculable aeon lasted from the time of Śākyamuni until that of Ratnaśikhī, the second until Dīpaṃkara, and the third until Vipaśvin. Then the Buddha spent a hundred aeons creating the causes for the excellent physical signs. When he was the son of a brahmin he stood on one leg before the Buddha Puṣya, who was absorbed in meditative equipoise on the fire element, and circumambulated him for seven days. He offered praise with the verse that begins, "Leader of beings, there are no…"[9] He thus gathered nine aeons’ worth of accumulations. Then, after ninety-one further aeons, when the Buddha Kāśyapa came to the world [the future buddha] was the son of a brahim who took him as his guru. Having thus created the causes for the physical signs, he became what is known as a bodhisattva of certain status. Having perfected the causes for creating the excellent physical signs, he was born in Tuṣita as Śvetaketu as a bodhisattva with one further rebirth. Then he became Siddhārtha in Jambudvīpa, a bodhisattva in his final birth. With that physical support, at dusk he tamed Māra at the Vajra Seat, at midnight he settled in meditation, and at dawn he actualized the vajra-like samādhi. According to the Mahāyāna tradition, the first incalculable aeon corresponds to the first bhūmi of aspiring conduct, the second incalculable aeon corresponds to the second to seventh bhūmis, and the third incalculable aeon corresponds to the remaining stages up to and including the tenth bhūmi.

The Great Commentary on the Eight Thousand Verses[10] explains thirty-three incalculable aeons.

Concerning the inception of the incalculable aeons, the Compendium of the Great Vehicle[11] says:

Possessing the strength of goodness and aspiration,
Having a stable mind and progressing exceptionally,
The bodhisattva begins the process
That lasts three incalculable aeons.

When these four factors are obtained at the beginning of the path of accumulation that is said to mark the beginning of the incalculable aeons. Then, as Prince Vīryakārin, the son of King Vijaya, he received teachings from the Tathāgata Arciskandha and by venerating the buddha and his entourage for six hundred and sixty million years attained the first bhūmi. For the second incalculable aeon, at the time of King Handsome Appearance[12] in Golden City the teacher was the merchant Prajñābhadra, who received teachings from and venerated the Tathāgata Ratnāṅga for a thousand years. By thus gathering the accumulations he actualized the seventh bhūmi. During the third incalculable aeon, when he was brahmin’s pupil named Kumāramegha in the vicinity of the Lotus Palace of King Jitāri he offered five utpala flowers to the Sugata Dīpaṃkara. He then spread out his golden hair like a mat upon the ground and pledged, "If you do not grant me a prophecy [of future awakening], I will emaciate myself." The Tathāgata knew this and, placing his feet upon the hair, issued a prophecy: "In future you will become the Buddha known as Śākyamuni." At this, the future Buddha was overjoyed and levitated to a height of seven palm trees. He actualized many hundreds of billions of samādhis and reached the eighth bhūmi.

Thereafter he took many further births as Śakra, Sunetra, and so on, always working for the welfare of sentient beings, until finally at the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa when the human lifespan was twenty thousand years he became a brahmin’s son who served many buddhas and gathered the accumulations for an incalculable aeon. He thereby actualized the tenth bhūmi. Through the vajra-like samādhi at the end of the continuum of the tenth bhūmi he thoroughly eliminated the obscurations together with their habitual tendencies with no possibility of their return—the perfect elimination. And by gaining the wisdom that knows the nature of knowable things and the things themselves in all their multiplicity—the perfect realization. He thus gained great awakening with the nature of the three kāyas: the sambhogakāya as the consummate benefit for oneself, the nirmāṇakāya as the consummate benefit for others, and the dharmakāya as the support for both. The nature of these three or the realization of the dharmadhātu of twofold purity inseparable from immaculate qualities, is then the svabhāvikakāya. As The Ornament of Realization says:

The svabhāvikakāya of the Sage
Has the nature and the character
Of all the aspects of total purity
When immaculate qualities are won.[13]

And concerning the one whose major and minor marks are resplendent in Great Akaniṣṭha:

Since the one with thirty-two signs
And eighty minor marks
Enjoys the Mahāyāna,
This is said to be the Sage’s enjoyment body (sambhogakāya). [14]

Concerning the uninterrupted activity to benefit the infinite sentient beings to be tamed:

The kāya that brings benefit
Impartially to beings in various ways
For as long as existence itself remains
Is the Sage’s unending nirmāṇakāya.[15]

In this way, the supreme teacher, the Lord of Sages, carries out what are classed as his twelve most important deeds within this realm. The Sublime Continuum says:

He manifests birth
And then departs from the Tuṣita realm,
Enters the womb and is born.
He masters artistic disciplines,
Enjoys the company of queens,
Renounces the palace, practises austerities,
Arrives at the seat of enlightenment,
Conquers the forces of Māra,
Perfectly awakens, turns the Dharma Wheel,
And passes beyond sorrow.
These are the deeds he reveals
Throughout wholly impure realms
For as long as existence endures.[16]

The turning of the first Wheel of Dharma took place in Vārāṇasī. The second, intermediate turning occurred at Vulture’s Peak Mountain. The final turning of the Dharma Wheel took place in Śrāvastī and elsewhere. That these turnings occurred simultaneously is suggested by the Exposition of Intention, which says:

The singular and engaging vajra word,
Which is non-conceptual and unerring,
Takes on various aspects
According to the dispositions of disciples.

The first council took place in the Nyagrodha Cave, which was seen to be sufficiently secluded. The second council was convened when the monks of Vaiśālī were practising ten fundamental transgressions. Aśoka acted as the patron for the arhat Yaśas in Vaiśālī’s temple of Kaśmipuri.[17] Seven hundred arhats assembled, rejected the ten transgressions, and compiled the teachings. The third council took place at the Kusana monastery in Kashmir under the patronage of King Kaniṣka of Jālandhara. The elder arhat by the name of Siṃha[18] gathered five hundred arhats including Purnika, five hundred bodhisattvas including Vasumitra, and five hundred ordinary paṇḍitas, and together they established the eighteen schools as authoritative and compiled the teachings.

Undivided, without beginning, middle or end,
Non-dual, beyond the three, stainless and non-conceptual,
The nature of the dharmadhātu, which is empty,
Is seen by the yogin in meditative equipoise.

As there is no one in this world more learned than the Victorious One,
And the highest reality is not known fully except through omniscience,
Therefore, do not tamper with the sūtras which the Ṛṣi himself set out.
To do so would spoil the Sage’s tradition and harm the sacred Dharma.

The five disciples of the first retinue were Ājñātakauṇḍinya,[19] Aśvajit,[20] Bhadrika,[21] Vāṣpa,[22] and Mahānāman.[23]

| Translated by Adam Pearcey with the generous support of the Khyentse Foundation and Terton Sogyal Trust, 2021.


Tibetan Edition

'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros, "bdag cag gi ston mchog thugs rje can 'di drin lan bsab pa'i mdor gsung tshul/" in 'Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros kyi gsung 'bum. 12 vols. Bir: Khyentse Labrang, 2012. W1KG12986 Vol. 9: 65–72

Secondary Sources

Bu ston rin chen grub. bde gshegs bstan pa'i gsal byed chos kyi 'byung gnas. BDRC W1923. 1 vol. Beijing: krung go bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1988.

Butön Rinchen Drup. Butön's History of Buddhism in India and Its Spread to Tibet: A Treasury of Priceless Scripture. Trans. Lisa Stein and Ngawang Zangpo. Boston, MA: Snow Lion Publications, 2013.

Kunzang Pelden. The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2007.

Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé. The Treasury of Knowledge Books Two, Three and Four: Buddhism’s Journey to Tibet. Trans. Ngawang Zangpo. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2010.

Tshul khrims rin chen. "sde dge'i bstan 'gyur dkar chag gtam ngo mtshar chu gter 'phel ba'i zla ba gsar pa/" in gsung 'bum/_tshul khrims rin chen/. 11 vols. Kathmandu, Nepal: Sachen International, Guru Lama, 2005. Vol. 11: 1–1351

Version 1.0-20211208

  1. The original is untitled; this title has been added by the translator.  ↩

  2. thabs mkhas pa chen po sangs rgyas drin lan bsab pa'i mdo, Toh 353.  ↩

  3. Tib. a wa glang mgo. This name occurs in several Chinese sources as 阿傍 (hence the spelling here of Abang), although it appears here as a wa in Tibetan and in some other Tibetan sources as a ba.  ↩

  4. Tib. snang byed. Padmakara Translation Group render this as Abhakara.  ↩

  5. The well-known prayer continues: "…An entourage, a life-span, a pure realm/ And sublime marks of perfection/ Exactly like you."  ↩

  6. Bhadra­kalpika, Toh 94.  ↩

  7. Tib. yul 'khor skyong  ↩

  8. i.e., The Treasury of Abhidharma (Abhidharmakośa) by Vasubandhu.  ↩

  9. The verse continues: "...other great spiritual practitioners like you in all the realms of the gods./ In this world too there are none, nor even in the realm of Vaiśravaṇa./ In the supreme abodes, the palaces of the gods, there are none, nor in any direction, cardinal or intermediate, are they to be found./ On the whole face of the earth with its mountains and its forests, where could any ever be?"  ↩

  10. Abhisamayālaṅkārāloka (Toh 3791) by Haribhadra.  ↩

  11. Mahāyānasaṃgraha by Asaṅga (Toh 4048).  ↩

  12. Tib. mdzes snang  ↩

  13. Abhisamayālaṃkāra VIII 1.  ↩

  14. Abhisamayālaṃkāra VIII 12.  ↩

  15. Abhisamayālaṃkāra VIII 33.  ↩

  16. Uttaratantra II, 54–56.  ↩

  17. In other sources, including Butön’s History, the name is given as Kusmapuri.  ↩

  18. Tib. seng ge. This name does not appear to be attested in other sources.  ↩

  19. Tib. kun shes kau Di N+ya  ↩

  20. Tib. rta thul  ↩

  21. Tib. bzang ldan  ↩

  22. Tib. rlangs pa  ↩

  23. Tib. ming chen  ↩