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 ...

Having surveyed the qualities displayed by a buddha teacher when he teaches, as well as having considered how the minds of those in the Buddha's audience respond to the Buddha's qualities, we come next to how an arhat teacher expounds the dharma. Most importantly, an arhat teacher adheres to a special three-fold purity [dag pa gsum] when expounding the dharma. This three-fold purify depends on the pure capacity of the listener [nyan pa po'i snod dag pa], the pure speech of the teacher ['chad pa po'i ngag dag pa], and the pure topic of the discourse [gsung rab kyi brjod bya dag pa].

What does the pure capacity of the listener refer to? If the student is not suitable, an arhat teacher will not teach the dharma. The phrase if the mind-stream (of the listener) is a suitable vessel [rgyud snod rung ba gyur na] means that the student is an appropriate vessel for the teachings, that he has the capacity to understand them. The arhat teacher knows exactly what sort of teachings will best benefit a qualified student.

Initially, an arhat teacher examines the students to discover whether or not they may be proper vessels for receiving teachings. An arhat is able to directly perceive the minds of others through supernatural perception [mngon shes]. This clairvoyant knowing of others' minds is the supreme manner of examination. For one lacking such higher capacities, the next best way of examining students is to observe their conduct [bya ba byed pa]. The third and least effective way is to examine people by questioning them. In these ways the arhat teacher can see for himself directly whether or not the mind of the student is suitable to receive the dharma.

Nevertheless, the limitless wisdom-knowledge of a buddha teacher far surpasses the arhat teacher's supernatural perception of the minds of others. For example, an arhat must first enter into meditative samadhi; only then can he discern the minds of others. The limitless wisdom-knowledge of a buddha teacher knows everything simultaneously at all times.

What is meant by the pure speech of an arhat teacher? An arhat is 'someone who has defeated the (inner) foes of afflictions [nyon mongs pa'i dgra bcom pa] through realizing the selflessness of personal identity [gang zag gi bdag med]. Having overcome the obscurations of afflictions [nyon sgrib], an arhat has been freed from the gross levels of ignorance [gti mug], attachment ['dod chags], aversion [zhe sdang], pride [nga rgyal], and jealousy [phrag dog]. An arhat's speech and words are utterly pure [ngag tshig dri ma med pa], never mingled with afflictions, since his mind has been freed from the subjective bias of afflictions.

The arhat can speak of nothing other than the dharma; even if requested, he would not engage in mundane conversation about worldly matters. An arhat has not, however, fully extinguished ignorance. Since he has not yet realized the selflessness of phenomena [chos kyi bdag med], he still retains a subtle ignorance.

Concerning the pure topic of his discourse, the third aspect of the three-fold purity observed by an arhat teacher, since an arhat has the dhāraṇī of perfect recollection [mi brjed pa'i gzungs]—the capacity to remember perfectly the dharma teachings he has heard—he can repeat verbatim the teachings spoken by the Buddha. An arhat neither adds any element of his own nor omits anything from the teachings he has heard; further, he is never mistaken or confused about the meaning of the teachings.

Hearing the dharma from an arhat teacher is to hear authentic words that the arhat himself heard in the presence of the Buddha. This authenticity has always been safeguarded because the Buddha's teachings have been handed down from arhat to arhat, through the generations of the heirs to the doctrine.

The arhats are also called 'listeners' or śrāvakas [nyan thos], because they 'hear' [nyan] and 'listen' [thos] to the Buddha's teachings. As they have first listened to and then proclaimed the teachings to others [gzhan la sgrog par byed pa], they are also called 'listeners' and 'proclaimers' [thos sgrog]. Arhats repeat only the words of the Buddha. In this way, we can see that when an arhat teaches, all three purities are fully present.

Traditionally, arhats recite the Buddha's words repeatedly to themselves, contemplating [bsam] the meaning again and again. Internalizing teachings in this way through pondering their meaning, the content of the teachings remains with them at all times. This is what is meant by their thoroughly 'familiarizing' [sgom] themselves with the teachings.

This sequence of absorbing the teachings is generally known as listening, contemplating, and gaining familiarity; also commonly called study, contemplation, and meditation [thos bsam sgom gsum]. The word 'meditation' denotes 'familiarization' [sgom, skr. bhāvanā]. Through this sequential approach arhats gain realization and can accurately pass the teachings on to their students. This rigorous standard of training has led to Buddhism's great scholastic tradition, which has been retained to the present day.

Even in these times, teachers of Buddhism ought to follow the example of the arhat as a model for their own teaching. This is the most respectful way to present the teachings of the Buddha. The authenticity and integrity of the Buddha's teaching are definitely preserved; neither is anything added nor is a single detail of the Buddha's complete teaching omitted.

The term 'turning of the wheel of dharma' [chos kyi 'khor lo bskor ba] refers both to the Buddha's original transmission of the dharma and to the ancient method of passing on the genuine content of the Buddha's teachings. At the time of the Buddha, the teachings were not written down but were transmitted from mouth to ear and committed to memory by those who had heard them. The Buddha taught the entire three piṭakas,[1] and his arhat students retained everything in their minds.

This they faithfully passed on to their students, who in turn preserved them intact in their minds, passing them on to their students. This precious oral transmission of the authentic teachings of the Buddha passed from master to student in an unbroken lineage can rightly be called the 'turning of the wheel of dharma'.

Footnotes and references:


The three piṭakas [sde snod gsum] are the sūtra piṭaka, the vinaya piṭaka and the abhidharma piṭaka. For a detailed explanation see Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, pages 78-80.

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