by Andreas Kretschmar | 233,817 words

The English translation of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (“entering the conduct of the bodhisattvas”), a Sanskrit text with Tibetan commentary. This book explains the bodhisattva concept and gives guidance to the Buddhist practitioner following the Mahāyāna path towards the attainment of enlightenment. The text was written in Sanskrit by Shantideva ...

Here Khenpo Kunpal mentions that a buddha teaches in three types of miraculous displays [cho 'phrul rnam pa gsum]: through his body, speech, and mind. The powerful miraculous displays [cho 'phrul / nus pa'i 'phrul] performed by a buddha differ significantly from the magical displays [rdzu 'phrul / rdzun ma'i 'phrul] performed by an arhat. The miraculous displays of a buddha greatly surpass the magical displays of an arhat. At the beginning of a teaching a buddha sits in silence for a short period of time and then sends forth manifold light rays from the curled hair between his eyebrows, from his mouth, or from the center of his heart.

In the Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Ratna-kūṭa and the Avataṃsaka, many individual light rays emanating from the Buddha are described in detail; hundreds of different light rays are mentioned by name. The light rays penetrate and pervade one billion world systems ('the third order of a thousand world systems'[1]) the entirety of which is the activity realm of one single buddha. These light rays emanated by the Buddha invite all beings within one billion world systems who, through former karma or aspirations, have a connection with the Buddha.

In this way, in preparation for giving a particular teaching, the Buddha would send out light rays, gathering all beings yet to be included into his entourage. Sometimes the Buddha's light rays reach directly to a particular place in order to gather specific beings into his assembly. At other times, infinite light rays spiral through a myriad of entire universes to summon all appropriate beings dwelling there into the Buddha's presence. This is the miraculous display of the magical power of the Buddha's body when he teaches the dharma.

Once the audience has been gathered, the Buddha performs a miracle with his tongue, inspiring faith [dad pa] and trust [yid ches] in the newly gathered audience. It is said that his tongue covers a trichiliocosm—one billion world systems—in an inconceivable way. This is one aspect of the miraculous display of magical powers stemming from the infinite qualities of the Buddha's speech. The Buddha gained these infinite qualities of speech through the practice of abandoning lying for countless aeons, rebirth upon rebirth, as he traversed the bodhisattva path.

In general, the Buddha is endowed with thirty-two major marks and eighty minor signs. The most precious of all the marks and signs is the major mark of Buddha's speech endowed with the sixty aspects.

The following example well illustrates the unfathomable degree of merit represented by the Buddha's speech.[2] If one were to combine the total accumulation of merit of every single ordinary sentient being, as well as that of all śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, and then were to further multiply this by ten, proportionally this would still equal only the minute degree of merit contained in but a single hair in a single pore [ba spu'i khung bu gicg] on the surface of the Buddha's body.

If one were in turn to combine the total accumulation of merit contained within all such pore hairs found on the Buddha's body and were to multiply this by one hundred, then this would represent the enormous scale of merit necessary to manifest just one of the eighty minor signs [dpe byad] found on the body of the fully enlightened Buddha.

Were one then to again add up the total accumulation of merit represented by all of the Buddha's eighty minor signs taken together and were then to further multiply that by one thousand, this would illustrate the tremendous scale of merit required to manifest any one of the thirty-two major marks [mtshan], except for the curled hair between his eyebrows [smin mtshams kyi mdzod dzod spu], the uṣṇīṣa [gtsug tor], and the dharma conch [chos dung].

Leaving aside these three final marks, if one were to combine the accumulation of merit that represents the other twenty-nine marks and multiply this by ten thousand, only then would there be the sufficient accumulation of merit necessary to manifest the curled hair between the Buddha's eyebrows.

If we again multiply the merit contained in the curled hair between the Buddha's eyebrows by one hundred thousand, only then would there be a degree of merit sufficient to manifest the uṣṇīṣa which appears at the top of the Buddha's head. Finally, it would be necessary to multiply all the merit contained within the uṣṇīṣa by one trillion to accumulate the prodigious degree of merit necessary to manifest the dharma conch, which actually refers to the voice or speech of the Buddha.

In general, each and every sentient being can comprehend and understand the Buddha's speech. All the words the Buddha speaks resound in the particular language of each being who hears him. What the Buddha teaches exactly accords with the state of mind and capacities of each listener. Whatever he says is clear, pleasant, soft, inspiring, and so on. Thus, the Buddha's voice is lauded as 'one voice with an ocean of facets' [gsung gcig la yan lag rgya mtsho].

As the body of the fully enlightened Buddha is endowed with perfection, whatever he does—whether walking, sitting, lying down, strolling, and even down to the slightest movement of one fine hair in a pore of his skin—will always benefit beings. It is taught that the Buddha himself is always in perfect harmony with the character [khams], capacities [dbang], and thoughts [bsam pa] of whoever beholds him.

For all other beings, the Buddha's mind can only be spoken of inferentially, indirectly, through deductive reasoning [rjes dpag]. No one other than another buddha can directly [mngon sum] comprehend the Buddha's mind.

As Buddha Śākyamuni said,

“Except for me or those like me, beings should not fathom beings”

[nga dang nga 'dra ba ma gtogs gang zag gi tshod gang zag gis bzung ba mi bya'o].

This statement means: except for Śākyamuni, or those like him who have attained buddhahood, ordinary beings should not try to fathom the spiritual level of other beings, let alone attempt to discern the mind of a buddha.

In the Damamāko-sūtra [mdo 'dzangs blun], the Buddha compared practitioners to the fruit of the mango tree:[3]

1) Some practitioners are like mango fruits that are ripe on the outside but are not ripe on the inside [amra'i 'bras bu phyi rol smin la nang ma smin pa dang 'dra]. Some practitioners may externally appear to be exemplary monks or bodhisattvas, when, in fact, they are ridden with afflictions inside.

2) Some practitioners are like mango fruits that are ripe on the inside but have not yet ripened on the outside [amra'i 'bras bu nang smin la phyi rol ma smin pa dang 'dra ba]. Such practitioners will appear to be quite ordinary when they are in truth great bodhisattvas, endowed with immeasurable qualities. Such was the case with Śāntideva.

3) Some practitioners are, on the other hand, likened to mango fruits that are neither ripe on the inside nor the outside [amra'i 'bras bu phyi rol kyang ma smin la nang yang ma smin pa dang 'dra ba]. These are pseudo-practitioners, who outwardly display coarse behavior full of character defects while inwardly being overwhelmed with a gamut of afflictions such as aggression, jealousy, greed, and so forth. These 'practitioners' do not really look like practitioners, and, in fact, they are not.

4) Finally, some practitioners are like mango fruits that have ripened both on the inside and on the outside [amra'i 'bras bu phyi nang gnyis ka smin pa dang 'dra ba]. Such is the case with great masters like Milarepa or Longchenpa. Outwardly, they live a life of impeccable virtue, abiding in the discipline and conduct of a monk or a bodhisattva.

Internally, such masters are endowed with immense qualities of discipline, samādhi, and knowledge. As they are perfect in their conduct and in their qualities, people automatically revere them.

This illustrates that, having no means to judge other practitioners or to fathom the level of practice any other being may have reached, we should not judge others at all. Simply practicing pure perception [dag snang] toward them is far better.
Text section 50:

Here, Khenpo Kunpal continues introducing the qualities of the fully enlightened Buddha. The Buddha's mind is utterly impartial, free of any subjective judgement or bias. The Buddha perceives not the slightest difference between a demon and a god, between a faithless person and the most devout.

The Buddha's mind knows everything, whether near to him or far from him. The Buddha always directly knows what every single being is doing, saying, and thinking at any given moment of time throughout the past, present, and future. Thus, when it is said that the Buddha is omniscient, this is literally true.

The Buddha is endowed with the miraculous display of an all-communicating mind [thugs kun tu brjod pa'i cho 'phrul]. The Buddha manifests a miraculous display through his body, his voice, and his mind. The miraculous display of his body and voice appears through form and color, as for instance his tongue displaying emanations of multicolored rainbows. Through the all-communicating miraculous display of the Buddha's mind, he knows the outer as well as the inner conditions of the bodies and the minds of all sentient beings without exception.

When he teaches, Buddha presents the dharma in a way that precisely accords with the minds [blo], capacities [dbang po], as well as all of the latent tendencies [bag la nyal ba] of each person present in his audience. Beings are classed as having high, average, or lesser capacities to understand the dharma, and Buddha is able to teach the dharma in a manner that corresponds exactly to each being's state of mind. Although those who constitute his audience are beings of vastly differing capacities, yet in the course of a single teaching session the Buddha can simultaneously guide each of those present in a manner appropriate to their level of understanding.

People's various mindsets and mental capacities [blo] are the direct result of the merit they may or may not have accumulated in former lifetimes. When we speak of the individual capacities [dbang po] unique to a particular person, this refers to the degree to which he possesses any of these following five capacities [dbang po lnga]:

  1. the capacity of faith [dad pa'i dbang po],
  2. the capacity of diligence [brtson 'grus kyi dbang po],
  3. the capacity of remembering [dran pa'i dbang po],
  4. the capacity of meditation [ting nge 'dzin gyi dbang po], and
  5. the capacity of knowledge [shes rab kyi dbang po].

Taken together, these five capacities enable an individual to truly practice virtue [dge ba sgrub pa'i dbang po]. Being endowed with these five capacities is no small accomplishment. Their presence in oneself indicates that one has practiced extensively in former lifetimes.

For example, through the power of practicing meditation in former lifetimes, it is possible that one could realize the dharmakāya at the very moment one hears the Buddha's teachings, or even at a moment of merely remembering the Buddha. On the other hand, a person of lesser capacities will require a far longer period of time to gain such realization and will be liberated from the cycle of rebirth only gradually. The term capacity is also used to refer, in a general way, to a person's 'physical and mental condition' [lus sems kyi dbang po], particularly when speaking of the condition of his five sense organs [dbang po lnga].[4]

Even a tiny insect will benefit to some degree from hearing the Buddha teach. In contrast, beings with impaired sense organs, such as the deaf or the blind, will as a consequence be unable to perceive various aspects of the Buddha's miraculous displays of body, speech, and mind. This obstruction of the sense faculties results from a previous accumulation of negative deeds. It is said that the more acutely developed a being's sense organs are, the better will that being be able to absorb the Buddha's teachings.

What are the latent tendencies [bar la nyal] Khenpo Kunpal mentions here? Latent tendencies means 'hidden tendencies', because latent tendencies are highly deceptive. Latent tendencies function as a hidden agenda ['gog gyur gyi chos] that both oneself and others generally tend to be unaware of.

It often happens, for example, that a person's mind may be dominated by desire while expressing itself outwardly through anger ['dod chags la gnas ste zhe sdang la 'gyur ba]. Conversely, a person's mind may be dominated by anger and aggression and appear outwardly full of desire.

All this illustrates how a person's latent tendencies often differ from their outward conduct. Such tendencies are frequently so deceptive that you can easily fail to observe them in yourself. Similarly, you can easily note that you sometimes have no idea what compels you to behave and to react in certain ways. Your habitual patterns [bag chags], both positive and negative, may be quite obvious to others while remaining completely hidden from yourself. It also happens that when you appear to be expressing positive qualities, hidden negative tendencies and behavior patterns may be hiding in the shadows of your being.

In contrast to these types of obscurations which sentient beings possess, the Buddha knows perfectly all the mental and physical dispositions, capacities, and latent tendencies of those in his audience. He clearly sees each being's hidden agenda; nothing can be hidden from the Buddha's wisdom mind.

In a single teaching, Buddha elucidates many vehicles [theg pa, skr. yāna] of the dharma to many types of beings. The Buddha never expounds the Hīnayāna teachings separately to an audience of lesser capacity, moving on to expound the Mahāyāna teachings to another audience of intermediate capacity, before finally presenting the Vajrayāna teachings to an audience of the highest capacity.

A further profound quality of the Buddha is that he is at no time in any way separated from all sentient beings [kha bral rgyu med]. This is because the wisdom mind of the perfectly enlightened Buddha permeates the minds of all sentient beings throughout the three times, not excluding a single one. This is the result of having fully realized buddha nature [bde bar gshegs pa'i snying po].

In fact, the dualistic minds [sems] of sentient beings have never for an instant been separated from their own inherent buddha nature. Buddha nature is the very essence of the dualistic mind. The Buddha is one in whom the direct realization of the buddha nature is fully awakened. The Buddha's activity is to awaken this realization of the buddha nature within the experience of all sentient beings. This inevitable function of the enlightened state means that as long as sentient beings exist in any of the infinite world systems, buddhas will definitely continue to manifest on their behalf.

While the qualities of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind are inconceivable to the minds of beings, for their sake his teachings appear in their minds through the medium of words and letters. The individual listener's capacity is t he only thing that ever limits the potential impact of the Buddha's teaching. As one might imagine, a tenth level bodhisattva will undoubtedly perceive a different depth of meaning in the Buddha's teaching than will an ordinary person. Thus, it is said the same teaching will be perceived on many different levels by different members of the Buddha's audience.

In general, there are two ways of listening to the Buddha's teachings. First is to try to understand the words [tshig] and their meaning [don]. Secondly, and more important, is to try to understand how these teachings can actually benefit one's own mind, how they can be applied to one's mind and thus transform it.

An example of the first way of listening is that of a rich person who simply counts his money. The example of the second way of listening is that of a person who ponders how to use his money for some beneficial purpose. This helps us understand that the first style of learning characterizes pedantic scholars and intellectuals [rtog ge ba], while the latter is that of the genuine practitioner. The teachings of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism emphasize that the second manner of listening must be applied when receiving oral instructions [man ngag] from a master.

The Buddha performs miraculous displays in order to instill faith and trust in the minds of his audience. Only when faith and trust have developed can one really listen to the teachings with a properly attentive and suitably open mind. Merely listening to the teachings without faith and trust will inevitably cause many important elements of the teachings to remain hidden.

Footnotes and references:


The term 'third order of thousand (world systems)' [stong gsum], often translated as 'three thousand-fold world systems', means 1.000 to the power of three, which equals one billion single world systems. One single world system ['jig rten gyi khams] includes Mount Sumeru, sun and moon, the four continents, the worlds of the gods of desire and the world of Brahmā. The sum of 'a thousand single world systems' is called 'the first order of a thousand worldsystems' [stong dang po / stong dang po'i jig rten gyi khams / stong spyi phud kyi 'jig rten gyi khams] or 'the lesser order of a thousand world systems' [stong chung ngu'i 'jig rten gyi khams], which means 1.000 to the power of one.

One thousand 'lesser order of a thousand world systems' constitute 'the middle order of a thousand world systems' [stong bar ma'i 'jig rten gyi khams] or 'the second order of a thousand world systems' [stong gnyis pa; skr. dvi-sāhasra / stong gnyis pa'i jig rten gyi khams], which means a thousand to the power of two or one million separate world systems.

One thousand 'middle order of a thousand world systems' make 'the large order of a thousand world systems' [stong chen po'i 'jig rten gyi khams] or 'the third order of a thousand world systems' [stong gsum pa; tri-sāhasra], also called 'the third order, the larger order of one thousand world systems' [stong gsum gyi stong chen po'i 'jig rten gyi khams; skr. tri-sāhasramahāsāhasro loka-dhātuḥ], which means a thousand to the power of three or one billion separate word systems—a trichiliocosm. For further details see Buddhist Cosmology, Illuminator, Myriad Worlds; and Prince Jiṇ-Gim's Textbook.


See mi pham mkhas 'jug, pages 329-330 and Gateway to Knowledge Vol. III, pages 246-249.


See mdzangs blun, story 16, dge tshul gyis tshul khrims bsrungs pa'i le'u, pages 153-154; Nāgārjuna's Letter, page 46.


The five sense organs [dbang po lnga; skr. pañcendriya] are 1) eye [mig gi dbang po; skr. cakṣurindriya], 2) ear [rna ba'i dbang po; skr. śrotrendriya], 3) nose [sna'i dbang po; skr. ghrāṇendriya], 4) tongue [lce'i dbang po; skr. jihvendriya] and 5) body [lus kyi dbang po; skr. kāyendriya].

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