The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines
Degé Kangyur, vol. 29 (shes phyin, ka), folios 1.a–300.a; vol. 30 (shes phyin, kha), folios 1.a–304.a; vol. 31 (shes phyin, ga), folios 1.a–206.a
Translated by Gareth Sparham
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
First published 2022
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The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines is one version of the Long Perfection of Wisdom sūtras that developed in South and South-Central Asia in tandem with the Eight Thousand version, probably during the first five hundred years of the Common Era. It contains many of the passages in the oldest extant Long Perfection of Wisdom text (the Gilgit manuscript in Sanskrit), and is similar in structure to the other versions of the Long Perfection of Wisdom sūtras (the One Hundred Thousand and Twenty-Five Thousand) in Tibetan in the Kangyur. While setting forth the sacred fundamental doctrines of Buddhist practice with veneration, it simultaneously exhorts the reader to reject them as an object of attachment, its recurring message being that all dharmas without exception lack any intrinsic nature.
The sūtra can be divided loosely into three parts: an introductory section that sets the scene, a long central section, and three concluding chapters that consist of two important summaries of the long central section. The first of these (chapter 84) is in verse and also circulates as a separate work called The Verse Summary of the Jewel Qualities (Toh 13). The second summary is in the form of the story of Sadāprarudita and his guru Dharmodgata (chapters 85 and 86), after which the text concludes with the Buddha entrusting the work to his close companion Ānanda.
This sūtra was translated by Gareth Sparham under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Translator’s Acknowledgments
This is a good occasion to remember and thank my friend Nicholas Ribush, who first gave me a copy of Edward Conze’s translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines in 1973. I also thank the Tibetan teachers and students at the Riklam Lobdra in Dharamshala, India, where I began to study the Perfection of Wisdom, for their kindness and patience; Jeffrey Hopkins and Elizabeth Napper, who steered me in the direction of the Perfection of Wisdom and have been very kind to me over the years; and Ashok Aklujkar and others at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who taught me Sanskrit and Indian culture while I was writing my dissertation on Haribhadra’s Perfection of Wisdom commentary. I thank the hermits in the hills above Riklam Lobdra and the many Tibetan scholars and practitioners who encouraged me while I continued working on the Perfection of Wisdom after I graduated from the University of British Columbia. I thank all those who continued to support me as a monk and scholar after the violent death of my friend and mentor toward the end of the millennium. I thank those at the University of Michigan and then at the University of California (Berkeley), particularly Donald Lopez and Jacob Dalton, who enabled me to complete the set of four volumes of translations from Sanskrit of the Perfection of Wisdom commentaries by Haribhadra and Āryavimuktisena and four volumes of the fourteenth-century Tibetan commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom by Tsongkhapa. I thank Gene Smith, who introduced me to 84000. I thank everyone at 84000: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and the sponsors; the scholars, translators, editors, and technicians; and all the other indispensable people whose work has made this translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines and its accompanying commentary possible.
Around me everything I see would be part of a perfect road if I had better driving skills.Where I was born, where everything is made of concrete, it too is a perfect place.Everyone I have been with, everyone who is near me now, and even those I have forgotten—there is no one who has not helped me.So, I bow to everyone and to the world and ask for patience, and, as a boon, a smile.
Acknowledgment of Sponsors
We gratefully acknowledge the generous sponsorship of Matthew Yizhen Kong, Steven Ye Kong and family; An Zhang, Hannah Zhang, Lucas Zhang, Aiden Zhang, Jinglan Chi, Jingcan Chi, Jinghui Chi and family, Hong Zhang and family; Mao Guirong, Zhang Yikun, Chi Linlin; and Joseph Tse, Patricia Tse and family. Their support has helped make the work on this translation possible.
In the introduction to his translation of The Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom in Ten Thousand Lines,1 Gyurme Dorje has given a clear account of the Tibetan tradition’s explanation (1) of the origin of the Perfection of Wisdom in the words of the Buddha on Gṛdhrakūṭa Hill in Rājagṛha some 2,500 years ago, (2) of the way the Perfection of Wisdom became extant in our world through the efforts of Nāgārjuna, and (3) of the Perfection of Wisdom’s place in the vast corpus of the Buddha’s words as “the middle turning of the wheel of the Dharma.” He has also given a brief account of the conclusions arrived at by the Western research tradition, which suggest that the Perfection of Wisdom may have originated in the south of the Indian subcontinent, perhaps the Andhra region, but more likely first began circulating in the far northwest of the Indian subcontinent. A prophecy in the text translated into English here provides some support for this conclusion. In chapter 39 the Buddha says to Śāriputra, “with the passing away of the Tathāgata this perfection of wisdom will circulate in the southern region,” and “from the country Vartani [the east] this deep perfection of wisdom will circulate into the northern region.” A comparison of early fragments of a Perfection of Wisdom in the Gāndhārī language, written in Kharoṣṭhī script and dated ca. 75 ᴄᴇ, with an early translation of a Perfection of Wisdom text into Chinese by Lokakṣema in the middle of the second century ᴄᴇ has led the Western research tradition to the tentative conclusion that the Perfection of Wisdom first circulated in written form in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent some 2,000 years ago.
About the Perfection of Wisdom Manuscripts
The text translated here into English is the one found in the Degé Kangyur with reference to the other Kangyur editions contained in the Comparative Edition (Tib dpe bsdur ma). Both the original handwritten Indic manuscript (or manuscripts) on which the Tibetan translation of The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines was based and the original handwritten manuscript of the earliest Tibetan translation are lost. There is, however, a large, nearly complete birch bark manuscript of a Perfection of Wisdom text written in Sanskrit in a Gilgit-Bāmiyān type alphabet that shows surprising similarities to the alphabet later used for the translation of Indian Buddhist texts into Tibetan. Stefano Zacchetti2 calls the birch bark manuscript, unearthed in northwest India in Gilgit in 1931, the “[Larger] Prajñāpāramitā from Gilgit,” and he dates it to “between [the] 6th and the beginning of the 7th century.” It is not misleading to say it is similar in the main to the Tibetan translation that is the basis of the English translation presented here. It is not, however, exactly the same, and it certainly was not the Indic manuscript on which the Tibetan translation of the Eighteen Thousand was based.
Besides the Gilgit manuscript there are the Śatasāhasrikā (Hundred Thousand) and Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā (Twenty-Five Thousand) groups of Indic manuscripts, mainly originating from collections in Nepal that are similar in many respects to the Tibetan text that is the basis of the English translation presented here. There are a considerable number of these relatively recent manuscripts, dating at the earliest to the seventeenth century. Pratāpacandra Ghoṣa published a heroic Sanskrit edition (1902–13) of the first section (khaṇḍa) of the Hundred Thousand that runs to 1,676 pages! Takayasu Kimura (2009–14) has published the Sanskrit of the Hundred Thousand equivalent up to about chapter 32 of the 87 chapters translated here (up to halfway through the sixth of the twelve volumes of the Tibetan translation of the Hundred Thousand in the Kangyur). The Hundred Thousand is obviously much longer than the Eighteen Thousand but is similar in many respects.
Kimura has also published a complete Sanskrit edition of Haribhadra’s version of the Twenty-Five Thousand (1986–2009). This version is one of the two bases (together with the Gilgit manuscript) for Edward Conze’s (1984) magisterial translation called The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. Kimura’s Sanskrit edition of the Twenty-Five Thousand is also similar in many respects to the Tibetan translation of the Eighteen Thousand that is the basis of the English translation presented here.
The Title: Eighteen Thousand
According to Stefano Zacchetti, Bodhiruci (fl. beginning of the sixth century), a translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese, is the first to explicitly mention an Eighteen Thousand.3 Bodhiruci lists it, among other texts, as one of the three sizes of what he calls the Larger Perfection of Wisdom. We have not determined with certainty if Bodhiruci meant Eighteen Thousand as an actual title of a Perfection of Wisdom text or simply as a description of the length of a text.
In A Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripiṭaka,4 the first entry is Xuanzang’s huge Dabanruoboluomi jing (Long Perfection of Wisdom, finished ca. 659). A text in fifty-nine fascicles and thirty-one chapters is included as part of it. Based on the K’yuen-lu (Nañjio’s transliteration) written in 1287, which compares Perfection of Wisdom works in the Tibetan canon and the Chinese canon, says it “agrees with the Tibetan Pragñāpāramitā in 18,000 ślokas.”5
We have not been able to read Xuanzang’s translation, so we cannot say with certainty whether or not the name Eighteen Thousand is found there, but speaking generally, in Chinese Buddhism bibliographical material is organized based on the person (the translator and so on) rather than genre or title, certainly after Fei Changfang’s Lidai sanbao ji (Record of the Three Treasures throughout Successive Dynasties, published in 597). It therefore remains to be conclusively determined whether the name Eighteen Thousand is actually used by Xuanzang to identify this part of his long translation or whether it is, again, just a description of the length of part of a longer book.
In the Denkarma, the catalog of Buddhist works translated into Tibetan compiled in the early years of the ninth century by the translators Paltsek (dpal brtsegs) and Lui Wangpo (klu’i dbang po), the Eighteen Thousand comes third in the first subdivision of Mahāyāna sūtras. Later the two translators include in their list of commentaries on Mahāyāna sūtras The Long Explanation of the One Hundred, Twenty-Five, and Eighteen Thousand (Toh 3808).6 So, we can say with certainty that a Perfection of Wisdom text in Tibetan identified by the name Eighteen Thousand existed by about the year 820.
Edward Conze gives the name Aṣṭādaśaprajñāpāramitā (The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines) to the later part of the Gilgit manuscript (starting from folio 188).7 Other scholars have followed him, describing fragments of Perfection of Wisdom texts that correspond to parts of the Gilgit manuscript as fragments of the Eighteen Thousand. But Zacchetti persuasively argues that Conze has made a mistake. He says Conze takes the early part of the Gilgit manuscript to reflect the text of the Twenty-Five Thousand and the later part the Eighteen Thousand because of an inconsequential mistake on the part of the Gilgit scribe. Zacchetti says the scribe accidentally wrote chapter 48 instead of 38 at the end of the chapter following chapter 37. Not all the chapters in the Gilgit manuscript have both titles and numbers. Conze noticed that the next chapter in the Gilgit manuscript after the chapter mistakenly numbered 48 that has both a title and number is chapter 50, with the title Avinivartanīyaliṅganirdeśa (Teaching the signs of irreversibility). Conze also noticed that it corresponded to chapter 50 in the Tibetan translation of the Eighteen Thousand, which has the same title (Teaching the signs of irreversibility). This is the reason, Zacchetti argues, that Conze mistakenly said that the scribe “calmly chang[ed] from the version in 25.000 Lines to the version in 18.000 Lines (at f. 187/188) without telling anybody about it.”8 Zacchetti concludes that the Gilgit manuscript in fact reflects “a single version of the Larger PP” and says that trying to decide if it is a version of the Twenty-Five Thousand or Eighteen Thousand is “a futile question.”9
The research of Zacchetti and other modern scholars10 presupposes that the Eighteen Thousand begins with an original compiler and undergoes changes over time. The shorter Eight Thousand represents an earlier (more original) version, and the different longer texts, including the Eighteen Thousand, reflect later changes. Heuristically, given that an origin is being investigated, this is a helpful presupposition. The research, however, has not identified an original, and one suspects never will. If it finally proves to be the case that no original can be identified it will corroborate the view set forth in the Eighteen Thousand itself, that a sacred book or tradition, when sought for in reality, is nowhere to be found.
The Structure of the Eighteen Thousand
Gyurme Dorje has already set forth the structure of a Perfection of Wisdom text based on the Tibetan tradition that privileges The Ornament for the Clear Realizations (Abhisamayālaṃkāra). According to that tradition the Eighteen Thousand, like the Ten Thousand, is one of the six major texts, which is to say the Eighteen Thousand makes a presentation of all eight clear realizations (abhisamaya) set forth in the Ornament for the Clear Realizations. The Eighteen Thousand also includes as its eighty-fourth chapter another of the six major texts, the verse summary of the entire Perfection of Wisdom that circulates as a separate text called The Verse Summary of the Jewel Qualities (Ratnaguṇasaṃcayagāthā). It also includes as its eighty-third chapter the Categorization of a Bodhisattva’s Training, one of the important eleven minor Perfection of Wisdom texts that circulates separately under the name The Maitreya Chapter or The Questions of Maitreya.
By contrast, what follows is the structure based on Vasubandhu’s or Daṃṣṭrāsena’s Long Explanation of the One Hundred, Twenty-Five, and Eighteen Thousand.11 Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364), the famous scholar and editor of the Kangyur, characterizes this as one of the four accepted ways to approach the Perfection of Wisdom corpus, and for the fourteenth century writer Dölpopa Sherap Gyaltsen it is the only way.
According to that structure, there are five major divisions [I–V] and eleven sections [(1)–(11)].
After the statement of the place and time (“Thus did I hear at one time. The Lord dwelt at Rājagṛha on Gṛdhrakūṭa Hill . . .”) and the list of śrāvakas and bodhisattvas in the retinue and their excellent qualities, the Lord Buddha, the Blessed One, sets up his seat and sits in meditation. He displays miraculous powers—emitting light that goes to the ends of the cosmos, shaking the cosmos, and creating a magical canopy of flowers above his head. The light illuminates buddhas and their retinues in different worlds in the ten directions, prompting bodhisattva students to come to attend the discourse, thereby completing the huge retinue.
II. Brief Exegesis
Following the introduction there is the single statement by the Lord at the beginning of chapter 2: “Here, Śāriputra, bodhisattva great beings who want to fully awaken to all dharmas in all forms should make an effort at the perfection of wisdom.” This says it all in brief. The reader should understand that the Lord remains silent after saying this.
III. Intermediate Exegesis
Then, beginning the intermediate exegesis there is Śāriputra’s question (2.2), “How then, Lord, should bodhisattva great beings who want to fully awaken to all dharmas in all forms make an effort at the perfection of wisdom?” followed by the Lord’s response. Śāriputra’s inquiry raises the following questions: What is a bodhisattva and a great being? What is it to want fully to awaken to all dharmas in all forms? What is “making an effort”? And, what is the perfection of wisdom? Śāriputra’s inquiry thus introduces the reader to (i) bodhisattva great beings, (ii) all dharmas, (iii) the perfection of wisdom, (iv) full awakening, and (v) making an effort—that is, actually putting the perfection of wisdom into practice. These five provide the outline of the intermediate exegesis.
Informing both the Lord’s statement and Śāriputra’s question is the important word want—a word that signals a bodhisattva’s compassionate aspiration because it references a bodhisattva’s motivation. Hence, what truly informs the statement is bodhicitta (“the thought of awakening”), a technical term for a special altruism. This section has two parts: (1) the explanation for and by Śāriputra that goes from chapter 2 through chapter 5 and (2) the explanation for and by Subhūti, from chapter 6 through chapter 21. This two-part section corresponds to the first chapter of the Eight Thousand.
IV. Detailed Exegesis
The detailed exegesis of the opening statement goes from chapters 22 to 82. It comprises an explanation of the conceptual and nonconceptual perfection of wisdom in a detailed exposition based on relative and ultimate truth for the sake of those who understand from a longer explanation. The explanation is subdivided into (3) an explanation for the head god Śatakratu (chapter 22) and (4) an explanation by Subhūti (chapters 23–32). (5) Then there is an explanation that includes an exchange with Maitreya (chapter 33) and (6–9) three more sections associated with Subhūti and one with Śatakratu. (10) A second explanation for Maitreya is chapter 83, titled “The Categorization of a Bodhisattva’s Training.” Conze and Iida (1968) call it Maitreya’s Questions. It is included in the Twenty-Five Thousand and the Lhasa edition of the Hundred Thousand but not the Degé edition of the Hundred Thousand.
Chapter 84 is the summary in verse for Subhūti that circulates separately as The Verse Summary of the Jewel Qualities. In the Eighteen Thousand it is not divided into chapters. (11) Chapters 85 and 86 are a summary of the earlier chapters in the form of a story about Sadāprarudita’s quest to find his teacher Dharmodgata and learn the perfection of wisdom, and the final chapter is a short one in which the Lord entrusts the perfection of wisdom to Ānanda and the retinue rejoices.
What Does the Eighteen Thousand Say?
In essence, the Eighteen Thousand says that attachment to sacred texts and sacred traditions is the greatest impediment to awakening. For a modern reader the major difficulty when reading the Eighteen Thousand is therefore the lack of knowledge of the specific sacred texts and traditions the Eighteen Thousand references.
We have seen that the opening chapter of the Eighteen Thousand sets the scene and describes the retinue, in which, we are told, are many worthy ones as well as bodhisattvas. Worthy ones are those who, by definition, have reached the final goal explained in the fundamental texts that record the Buddha Śākyamuni’s teachings for those who seek their own liberation. Bodhisattvas are those who privilege the teachings given by him to and for bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna texts like the Eighteen Thousand.
Both the fundamental texts and the Mahāyāna texts like the Eighteen Thousand make a presentation of the dharmas. In the English translation we have sometimes left the word dharma untranslated, sometimes when appropriate rendered it “phenomenon,” and sometimes when appropriate “attribute”12 or “quality.” When it is capitalized, Dharma means the doctrine, as in “turn the wheel of the Dharma.” The doctrine can be either the books (words) or the meanings, in particular the meanings as they are found in the mindstreams of those who have a proper understanding.
The dharmas set forth in the fundamental texts are basic to an understanding of the tradition that the author of the Eighteen Thousand treats as sacred. In the fundamental texts these dharmas are in two categories: the dharmas of defilement (saṃkleśa) and the dharmas of purification (vyavadāna). Included in the former are the first two of the four noble truths, which comprise, among others, the aggregates, sense fields, constituents, contacts, feelings arising from contacts, and the twelve links of dependent origination. All describe the ordinary practitioner (the so-called “suffering” being).
Included in the purification dharmas that are covered by the last two noble truths are the thirty-seven dharmas on the side of awakening (ending with the eightfold noble path), the three gateways to liberation (emptiness and so on), and the eight results of the practice (beginning with the stream enterer and ending with the worthy one). They describe the state of the practitioner progressing toward the goal and when the goal is reached. Worthy ones, the first part of the intended audience of the Eighteen Thousand, do not need to be taught these dharmas. Just the word rūpa (“form”), the material reality that locates a particular individual, at the beginning of a list is enough for a worthy one to know what is intended. Thus, the Heart Sūtra says “no form . . . no eyes . . . no truth of suffering,”13 and so on.
Modern readers unfamiliar with the sacred tradition set forth in the fundamental texts can read, for example, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words. Alternatively, the fundamental texts can be learned from the Eighteen Thousand, which presents them in a very clear and accessible manner. But a modern reader unfamiliar with the dharmas set forth in the fundamental texts can get confused, because at the same time that the Eighteen Thousand is setting them forth with veneration, it is exhorting the reader to reject them as an object of attachment.
Thus, chapter 3 of the Eighteen Thousand begins with the monk Śāriputra asking, “How then should bodhisattva great beings practice the perfection of wisdom?” to which the Lord responds, “They do not see form. Similarly, they do not see feeling, perception, volitional factors, or consciousness either.” “They do not see” means that they reject it as an object of attachment. It does not mean that the aggregates, and so on, are not there or are not something they should know. Worthy ones obviously know the aggregates and so on, because it is the basic teaching of the truth of suffering, the first words the Buddha Śākyamuni uttered to the five companions when he returned to the Deer Park outside Vārāṇasī after reaching awakening.
The Eighteen Thousand does not only focus on the fundamental Buddhist teachings and caution the reader to avoid taking them as objects of attachment, but it also references the sacred teachings of the Eighteen Thousand and other Mahāyāna texts and stresses that bodhisattvas, the second part of the retinue described in the Introduction chapter, should avoid attachment toward them. It does this first by expanding the list of basic purification dharmas to include all the possible qualities of bodhisattvas, among which are “the four detailed and thorough knowledges, the four fearlessnesses, the five undiminished clairvoyances, the six perfections, the six principles of being liked, the seven riches, the eight ways great persons think, the nine places beings live, the ten tathāgata powers, the eighteen distinct attributes of a buddha, great love, and great compassion.”
The second way the Eighteen Thousand says that the sacred Mahāyāna tradition must be rejected as an object of attachment is by negating the mental representations (the ideas or names) of the defilement and purification dharmas. The recurring message of the Eighteen Thousand is that all dharmas without exception lack any intrinsic nature (svabhāva). A Mahāyāna practitioner—a worthy one or an advanced bodhisattva—who has learned this lesson sees dharmas as they are supposed to appear, as lacking any intrinsic nature and with only a nominal or conventional reality. This, and the sacred tradition that teaches it, can become an object of attachment as much as anything else. To “settle down on” (abhiniviś) something is to be negatively attached to it.
Even though the texts, practices, and results of the fundamental and the Mahāyāna traditions are equally rejected as objects of attachment, the Eighteen Thousand extols the Mahāyāna tradition as most excellent for its wide range and concomitant benefits, and for undercutting itself, as it were, by extending the analysis of the person (the selflessness of a person understood by those who know the basic dharmas taught in the fundamental texts) to all phenomena. The Eighteen Thousand says that reliquaries, statues, books, practices, knowledge, and anything wholesome and beneficial are good, but only to the extent that they do not become objects of attachment. It also preaches the value of skillful means for benefiting others in whatever way is helpful to them. The Eighteen Thousand says of itself that it is special, as a book, to the extent that the knowledge it conveys is the source of all that is beneficial. But if, as a book, or even as the knowledge the book conveys, it becomes an object of attachment, it results in the exact opposite of what, in its own terms, it preaches. When the Eighteen Thousand praises itself and says that even writing out one word of it is more beneficial by far than the words of the fundamental texts or the wisdom of the worthy ones, it is not setting forth some new tradition that transcends the problem of attachment.
SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTERS
The first chapter sets the scene. It is in two parts: an introduction shared with many other sūtras and an introduction unique to the Perfection of Wisdom. The first part, beginning with “Thus did I hear at one time,” describes the qualities of the arhat monks and most important nuns and ends with a description of the bodhisattvas, including many of their names.
The second part describes the Buddha, always called “Lord” (bhagavat), or occasionally Tathāgata, setting up and taking his seat and then demonstrating the three miraculous powers. The miraculous power of meditative stabilization causes light to radiate from the Buddha’s major marks and minor signs and from the different parts and pores of his body, causes the radiation of natural light, and causes light to radiate from the tongue faculty in particular. The miraculous, wonder-working power magically creates a great tower out of flowers and, having done so, suspends it in midair and so on. And finally, the miraculous dharma-illuminating power illuminates buddhas dwelling in different worlds, prompting their bodhisattva retinues to make the journey to attend the discourse to follow.
This chapter begins the discourse proper with the single, all-encompassing statement: “Here, Śāriputra, bodhisattva great beings who want to fully awaken to all dharmas in all forms should make an effort at the perfection of wisdom.” The key term here is “want” (kāma). The bodhisattva great beings “want to fully awaken.” This is the great central statement of the compassion unique to the Perfection of Wisdom and other Mahāyāna scriptures, described as wanting (kāma) everything of use to others both in the interim and ultimately—the daily necessities and the necessities for different levels of liberation for all beings according to their capacities—making “beings who are blind . . . see shapes with their eyes,” and so forth, and the miraculous powers to “blow out with one puff of breath the fire in the great billionfold world system when the eon is burning up,” and so forth.
The chapter ends with a discussion of celibacy. The compassionate sons and daughters of good families want to be born into a bodhisattva’s family. This leads the gods to think that a perfect practitioner remains celibate, like the Buddha, until awakening, which prompts Śāriputra to ask if a practitioner has to have a family or has to be celibate. The Lord replies that there are many types of practitioners, but those who understand the deep perfection of wisdom like a magician, who uses magic to make a show of dallying with, enjoying, and acting gratified by the five sorts of sense objects in order to bring beings to maturity, is not contaminated by them. The chapter ends with the statement, “Alternatively, bodhisattva great beings speak disparagingly of sense objects: ‘Sense objects are ablaze, disgusting, murderous, and against you.’ So, Śāriputra, bodhisattva great beings take to these sorts of sense objects in order to bring beings to maturity.”
A practitioner exists conventionally but not ultimately. All the possible physical or mental marks through which one might “see” or apprehend a practitioner, all the names of those things, even all the ultimate or conventional realities of a practitioner, their deficiencies and perfections, are ultimately unfindable, and so too with awakening and the practice. Thus, one pursues the practice of the perfection of wisdom by avoiding the extremes of naïve realism and nihilism through understanding the imaginary, other-powered, and thoroughly established natures of all dharmas. Such an insight surpasses that of the practitioners of fundamental Buddhism exemplified by Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana.
One practices the perfection of wisdom when “engaged with the emptiness of form,” and so on. This teaches the thoroughly established nature. There is no connection between the practice and the defilement dharmas that define the suffering state, no engagement with a practice that disconnects the practitioner from those defilement dharmas, and no connection between the purification dharmas and the perfection of wisdom. Still, practitioners conventionally exist, so the members of the community of irreversible bodhisattvas practicing the perfection of wisdom are enumerated based on where they were before coming to this world, and so on, and where they will be born and what they will demonstrate prior to their complete awakening.
The retinue praises the Lord’s discourse on the perfection of wisdom as “the calm and gentle perfection . . . the space-like perfection, it is the perfection of the emptiness of particular defining marks, it is the perfection endowed with all good qualities.” The Lord extends his tongue, illuminating the perfection of wisdom in all worlds for all beings. They all come and worship the Lord and generate the altruistic aspiration to become buddhas to teach this same doctrine for the benefit of beings. The Lord then smiles because he sees with clairvoyance that the compassion generated by monks in the retinue as they listened to the discourse will cause them all to become fully awakened buddhas in the future.
All teaching by śrāvaka trainees or the gods is through the Tathāgata’s power and does not contradict the true nature of phenomena. This statement comes at the beginning of the Eight Thousand and begins the summary verses in chapter 84 of the Eighteen Thousand.
The word bodhisattva is used again and again but ultimately is not a word for anything. The form aggregate and so on are just designations, just labels used conventionally to aid comprehension, and similarly with the sense fields and so on, all the parts of the body—the skull and neck bones down to the bones in the feet—and all external things such as grass and leaves; even all the buddhas are just names and conventional terms. Since this is so, the bodhisattva practitioners understand that the fundamental doctrines of the four noble truths—that the aggregates, sense fields, and constituents and the like are impermanent rather than permanent, suffering rather than pleasurable, and so on—are just names to make things known for the benefit of beings, and practice accordingly. Similarly, “standing without mentally constructing any phenomenon,” the bodhisattvas cultivate the basic, shared practices set out in the fundamental Buddhist scriptures. These are systematized as the thirty-seven dharmas on the side of awakening. And beyond those the bodhisattvas cultivate the unique bodhisattva practices of the six perfections and the powers and fearlessnesses, up to the eighteen distinct attributes of a buddha.
Bodhisattvas should not settle down even on an ultimate, undivided true reality as the final referent of the name bodhisattva. Those who do not tremble in the face of such a reality, or perhaps lack of reality, are practicing the perfection of wisdom.
From the practice of the perfection of wisdom that sees all phenomena as dharma designations, not absolute truths, all the benefits of fundamental and bodhisattva practice arise, included among which are all the meditative stabilizations starting from the bodhyaṅgavatin and siṃhavijṛmbhita meditative stabilizations and ending with the ākāśāsaṃgavimuktinirupalepa meditative stabilization.
The practice enables bodhisattvas to avoid “hardheadedness,” the “love for dharmas.” This is when a practitioner loses track of the purpose of practice—the welfare of others—and sees the realization of reality, the attainment of peace, or even altruism as an end in itself. Hardheaded bodhisattvas fall to the śrāvaka level, bereft of the guiding compassionate principle of the bodhisattva. The absence of hardheadedness is flawlessness, or the secure state of a bodhisattva. Here the bodhisattvas do not falsely project anything even while knowing all and practicing all for the sake of others.
Even the sublime thought of awakening (bodhicitta) is just a label, so how does it operate in bodhisattvas in the flawless state? That “thought is no thought because the basic nature of thought is clear light.” It is clear light because it is not together with or free from any shortcoming, any accompanying afflictive emotion, or any intention to enter into a śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha nirvāṇa. Such a thought, the clear light, neither knows nor does not know, neither exists nor does not exist. It is the state in which all phenomena “are just so.”
In conclusion, Śāriputra praises Subhūti’s explanation as authentic and in accord with the Lord’s intention and says, “in this perfection of wisdom is detailed instruction for the three vehicles in which bodhisattva great beings should train on the level of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas.”
Subhūti rhetorically poses a hypothetical question. If all phenomena are just names, just dharma designations, then practice is futile. So, “which bodhisattva will I advise and instruct in what perfection of wisdom?” In response Subhūti says that phenomena are conventional terms for the inexpressible true nature of things that cannot be expressed as anything at all. It is just because of that that all starting places for practice, all practices, and all attainments are tenable. Bodhisattvas who are not terrified by this reality are irreversible from full awakening.
All phenomena are empty. Form is empty of form. The twelve links of dependent origination are empty. Ignorance is empty of ignorance, up to old age and death are empty of old age and death. All phenomena are empty, so bodhisattvas practicing the perfection of wisdom are standing by way of taking no stand on anything. Hence, bodhisattvas do not march under the banner of any letters, words, or statements, under the banner of the four noble truths, under the banner of emptiness, or under the banner of anything else. To do so is to have descended into grasping at “I” and “mine” and to practice without skillful means. Bodhisattvas do not grasp at anything because grasping requires a differentiation through language based on causal signs (nimitta), and bodhisattvas see causal signs just as śrāvakas see afflictive emotions. An afflictive emotion is based on settling down on a causal sign for things as real. That causes attachment and hatred. These same causal signs cause bodhisattvas without skillful means to settle down on a basis, path, and set of results as real. This is the case because the religious mendicant Śreṇika, a śrāvaka, gained nirvāṇa by listening to this teaching because it led him to avoid a belief in causal signs. Śreṇika achieved nirvāṇa by realizing that even nirvāṇa could not be grasped through a causal sign. Similarly, bodhisattvas master such a nirvāṇa but do not actually enter into it until their prayers that are vows are fully carried out and they have brought beings to maturity, purified a buddhafield, and fully awakened to perfect, complete awakening.
Śāriputra asks Subhūti what does not exist and cannot be apprehended. Subhūti says all phenomena do not exist because all phenomena are empty of an intrinsic nature. A bodhisattva’s mind is never separated from a buddha’s mind because all phenomena are separated from an intrinsic nature. An intrinsic nature is not something real. All phenomena are without defining marks. Training in that way, bodhisattvas go forth to the knowledge of all aspects because nothing has been produced and nothing has gone forth. Everything is empty. Even the ultimate is empty of an intrinsic nature. Training in the perfection of wisdom like this, bodhisattvas get close to awakening.
Thinking “I am practicing the perfection of wisdom” is a lack of skillful means, a practice that occasions something, or a practice of an enactment (abhisaṃskāra). Not only does it not even lead to śrāvaka nirvāṇa, it leads to the suffering of saṃsāra. Bodhisattvas who do not have such beliefs and mistaken notions have skillful means because, in reality, there are no dharmas apart from emptiness. Bodhisattvas do not assert any dharma or practice but know all dharmas are the same insofar as they have never been produced, and bodhisattvas remain in the sarvadharmānutpāda meditative stabilization up to the ākāśāsaṃgavimuktinirupalepa meditative stabilization. The awakening of such bodhisattvas is prophesied, but only conventionally, not ultimately, because none of the meditative stabilizations ultimately exist. The Lord compliments Subhūti, “the foremost of śrāvakas at the conflict-free stage,” for his explanation.
Everything is in the state of absolute natural purity where there is no production or defilement, where nothing appears or is enacted. Employing the two meanings of the Sanskrit word vid (“to exist” and “to know”), the Lord says form, and so on, do not exist in the way foolish, ordinary people take them to be, and because they do not exist, they are ignorance. Nothing goes forth, nothing rests. Those who mentally construct a starting point, progress, and a goal do not train in the perfection of wisdom. Those who do not apprehend any phenomenon go forth to the knowledge of all aspects.
Everything is like an illusion. Everything is just a name and conventional term that in reality is not produced. Bodhisattvas who understand that go forth to the knowledge of all aspects. This frightens new bodhisattvas without spiritual friends. To accept and teach the four noble truths in an absolutist way, apprehending the words as ultimately true, is to fall under the sway of Māra and bad friends. These bad friends dissuade bodhisattvas from this perfection of wisdom, saying that it is not the true doctrine of the Tathāgata. The bad friend may be Māra disguised as a buddha, setting forth an absolutist doctrine that takes the four noble truths as an absolute, and the doctrine of awakening for the sake of others through training in the perfection of wisdom as absurd. The bad friend says that if everything is empty there is no point, dissuading the bodhisattvas from the bodhisattva’s career. Sometimes Māra the bad friend approaches in the form of a mother or father saying rather than stay in the world with all its tortures, make hard work meaningful by working for nirvāṇa; sometimes Māra the bad friend approaches in the form of a monk teaching the doctrine of the four noble truths in an absolutist way.
Explaining the word bodhisattva from many different angles, the text says the basis in reality of the word bodhisattva is no basis at all. The track left by a bodhisattva is like the track left by a bird in space. There is no basis in reality for light, even the light of a tathāgata.
There follows a list of all phenomena, starting with ordinary wholesome phenomena like honoring parents, and so on, and the nine perceptions of the repulsive state of a body after death, as well as all the other levels of ordinary mindfulness and meditation. It also lists the ordinary unwholesome phenomena like the ten unwholesome actions, and so on; extraordinary phenomena (those same phenomena informed by an understanding of their illusory and ultimate nature); and phenomena without outflows—the purification dharmas in the mindstreams of buddhas, shared in common with other practitioners, and unique to the practice of those following the buddhas.
The Lord, Śāriputra, and Subhūti explain the term great being from many different angles. A great being is foremost among all the stream enterers, and so on; sees the ultimate nature of beings and treats them all the same and works for them all equally; never entertains a negative thought toward them; cares about the doctrine; perfects the meditative stabilizations and all the other purification dharmas; and is not attached even to the greatest thought, bodhicitta.
Śāriputra asks why all ordinary foolish beings are not free of attachments and the sense of possession, and Subhūti says that in reality they are, just as the mind of a buddha in its intrinsic nature is without attachment and any sense of possession. All phenomena are equally empty and pure.
Pūrṇa says a great being is armored with the great armor of the interwoven six perfections based on a concern for all beings. Each of the six perfections of giving, morality, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom incorporates all the other five perfections, and all thirty-six subdivisions of the perfections are informed by the understanding that all phenomena are like illusions, devoid of any intrinsic nature. The practice of them is always focused on and dedicated to the knowledge of all aspects. Such a practice of the perfections brings the bodhisattva close to the very limit of reality—nirvāṇa. With skillful means, entering into all the meditative states without relishing them, taking birth through compassion but not through the force of meditative attainment, turning over everything to perfect and complete awakening for the sake of all beings, bodhisattvas are truly great beings delighting all the buddhas and bodhisattvas in the ten directions.
Śāriputra asks Pūrṇa why a great being’s vehicle is great. It is a great vehicle because when great beings practice the perfection of giving, and so on, it carries them higher and higher through the states of immeasurable love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, and higher and higher through the first to the fourth concentrations and through the four formless absorptions of endless space, endless consciousness, nothing-at-all, and neither perception nor nonperception. In the Great Vehicle bodhisattvas are absorbed in and emerge from all those meditative stabilizations and absorptions without falling to the śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha level.
The Great Vehicle is a knowledge of all the emptinesses, meditative states, and aspects of the four noble truths by way of not apprehending anything, so it is not a knowledge in any of the three periods of time or in any of the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness. In this sense it is a knowledge that is no knowledge at all. At the same time, the Great Vehicle is of infinite expanse, including all practices and attainments, including maturing beings, purifying a buddhafield, and complete and perfect awakening.
How does the Great Vehicle proceed higher and higher? It does so as a practice of all the purification dharmas by a practitioner set on the knowledge of all aspects who does not apprehend anything at all. The practitioner, “from the first thought of awakening up until sitting at the site of awakening,” intentionally appropriates bodies to look after the needs of beings, roams from buddhafield to buddhafield, and listens to the teaching of the buddhas without any notion of buddhafields or beings to benefit. Finally, the practitioner gains the knowledge of all aspects and turns the wheel of the Dharma so that all the buddhas raise their voices in praise.
Armed with great armor the bodhisattvas enter into a variety of bodies and demonstrate the practice of the six perfections, pervading all world systems with light and shaking the earth, blowing out all the fires in the hells, and so on. Demonstrating the perfection of giving, bodhisattvas cause beings to emerge from the hells and other bad rebirths and be reborn as gods and humans, understanding the performance of the perfections to be illusory, doing everything like a magician, conjuring up worlds made of beautiful materials, and giving food and whatever else beings require or enjoy. The mind of the bodhisattva is always set on the knowledge of all aspects and always concerned with the welfare of every living being, working to establish them in whatever attainment is appropriate to their dispositions, but always knowing the illusory nature of phenomena. That is, the bodhisattvas know that all phenomena, even the knowledge of all aspects, are without defining marks, are not made, and do not occasion anything because there is nothing that could make them, just as in a dream. For this reason, form and so on, all the defilement and purification dharmas, are not bound and are not freed. Nothing is freed because nothing exists, just as in a dream.
Subhūti asks a series of questions: “Lord, what is the Great Vehicle of bodhisattva great beings? Lord, how have bodhisattva great beings come to have set out in the Great Vehicle? Where will the Great Vehicle have set out? Where will the Great Vehicle stand? Who will go forth in the Great Vehicle?”
The response to the first question occasions an explanation of all purification dharmas both as a personal practice and as a practice modeling the dharmas as a demonstration for others. It lists and explains the eighteen emptinesses and the meaning of each of the names of all the meditative stabilizations. Similarly, it lists and explains the four applications of mindfulness, occasioning a long explanation of mindfulness of the body through awareness of its makeup as sense faculties and their objects, of physical activity, of breathing, of the body’s constituent elements and different types of filth, and of what it looks like after death. It also explains the rest of the thirty-seven dharmas on the side of awakening, the three meditative stabilizations on emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness, the eleven knowledges, and each of the three faculties—the faculty of coming to understand what one does not understand, the faculty of understanding, and the faculty of having understood. There is a further explanation of the stages of meditative stabilization between the desire realm and first concentration level, and from there to the highest formless absorption; of the ten mindfulnesses (of the Three Jewels and so on); and of the four immeasurables and each of the four concentrations, four formless absorptions, eight deliverances, and nine serial absorptions. There is also an explanation of each of the ten powers, four fearlessnesses, four detailed and thorough knowledges, and eighteen distinct attributes of a buddha, and, finally, a detailed explanation of the types of dhāraṇī based on the letters of the Karoṣṭhī alphabet.
In response to Subhūti’s question about how bodhisattvas come to have set out in the Great Vehicle, the text says that bodhisattvas do so by ascending from the first of the ten levels up to the last. For each of the ten levels there are a different number of purifications, first set forth in lists and then individually explained in a second section. A bodhisattva great being on the tenth level is called a tathāgata. To reach that level bodhisattvas practice all six perfections, and so on, with skillful means, passing beyond the Śuklavipaśyanā, Gotra, Aṣṭamaka, Darśana, Tanū, Vītarāga, Kṛtāvin, and Pratyekabuddha levels. These are all the fundamental Buddhist attainments of stream enterer, and so on, that bodhisattvas master but do not fully actualize. It then says the practitioner “pass beyond these nine levels and stands on the buddha level.” Even the unshared bodhisattva practice of mastery of all levels as a demonstration for the benefit of others is illusory and transcended. At that point the bodhisattva on the tenth level is modeling the perfect life of a fully awakened being, which is also transcended for the final authentic full awakening.
In response to the question “From where will the Great Vehicle go forth?” the text says that a mahāyāna (“great vehicle”) is equivalent to a niryāna that means both “going forth” and “devoid of a vehicle.” The Great Vehicle includes all phenomena and all practices because all are illusory and none has any defining mark. Reality, emptiness, and the unmarked do not go forth from anywhere, and an illusion does not go forth, either. “That vehicle does not move.”
In response to the question “Where will the Great Vehicle stand?” the text says it stands nowhere because all phenomena stand nowhere, since even the intrinsic nature of reality is empty of the intrinsic nature of reality. All phenomena, all the noble beings in the results of basic practice, and even the bodhisattva practice stand nowhere.
In response to the question “Who will go forth in the Great Vehicle?” the text says no one will go forth in the Great Vehicle because a self, a being, and so on cannot be apprehended anywhere, nor can any of the dharmas that might locate such a being be apprehended. Everything is absolutely pure in its nature and knows no increase or decrease. Nothing is apprehended because everything is empty.
The Great Vehicle is great because it surpasses the world. It is like space in that it encompasses all the perfections up to the dhāraṇīs, and just as you cannot apprehend space as coming or going, and just as time is equally just time in all time periods and does not come and go, so too with the Great Vehicle.
The Great Vehicle surpasses the world because the world is a construction. The Great Vehicle is equal to space. The directions of space do not make themselves known. Space cannot be qualified by size, color, time, defilement, or purification, as something that should be understood, as free from greed and so on, and there are no levels or paths or results in space. You cannot hear or see or remember space, and it is not included anywhere. In space no thought comes into being, and similarly with the Great Vehicle. The dharma-constituent (dharmadhātu), space, and beings are infinite because, playing on the similarity of the Sanskrit words sattva (“being,” “state of being”) and sattā (“state of existence”), to be is not to exist, and spaces are states that do not exist, and so too with all phenomena. Just as the state of nirvāṇa has room for all beings, so too does the Great Vehicle.
All dharmas are unmoving, so the Great Vehicle does not move. The basic nature of all dharmas does not come, does not go, and does not remain. There is no before, middle, and after to the journey of the Great Vehicle because all time periods are empty of those time periods.
To talk about the Great Vehicle is to talk about the perfection of wisdom because both include all wholesome dharmas. Ultimately there is no difference between any phenomena, so bodhisattvas train in them to master them and demonstrate them to those who benefit from them, not for any goal. This is because all phenomena are illusory and share the same defining mark—no mark at all.
How is it possible to give instructions to bodhisattvas who cannot be found in any of the three time periods, are unproduced, and are without a limit? A bodhisattva is just a word and cannot be apprehended. The instructions are given with the understanding of that reality.
Śāriputra poses many questions and Subhūti, in response, says beings (“states of beings”) are not asserted to be at any limit—before, after, or in between—because they are nonexistent (“states of nonexistence”), and the same holds true for all phenomena and practices. There are no bodhisattvas to whom one can give instructions, because form and so on are empty of form and empty of every other dharma. Bodhisattva is just a name plucked out of thin air. The Lord says “self” again and again, but it has absolutely never come into being because it does not exist and is not found, and the same holds true for all phenomena. All phenomena thus are the nonexistence of an intrinsic nature because an intrinsic nature arisen from a union (sāmyogika) does not exist. What does not come into being has no basic nature, so it cannot be instructed or give instruction, and yet it is just an unproduced bodhisattva that practices the perfection of wisdom by not seeing any phenomena other than those that have not come into being. Such bodhisattvas see all phenomena as like illusions and are not scared when given instructions in the perfection of wisdom. The practitioner sees no phenomena at all.
Expanding on the responses he provided to Śāriputra in the previous chapter, Subhūti again explains what a bodhisattva and the perfection of wisdom are and what an investigation of phenomena entails. Using different etymologies, he says a bodhisattva is so called because bodhi (“awakening”) is itself one’s state of being (sattva). To awaken to a phenomenon means to know it without settling down on it as ultimately real, to know it through, and as, the different names for it. The perfection (pāramitā) of wisdom is so called because it has “gone far off” (āram itā) or “gone to the other side” (pāram itā) of all phenomena.
In a final exchange, Śāriputra and Subhūti say ordinary beings are not already in nirvāṇa or awakened even though all beings and all dharmas are equally not produced and only like illusions, because an unproduced being or dharma has no attainment or clear realization. There are no difficult practices that bodhisattvas have to undertake to reach the goal. Bodhisattvas simply work for the welfare of all beings knowing that everything is unproduced and empty and like an illusion. Attainment and clear realization happen in a nondual way. They exist as mere conventions. The forms of life that arise from afflictions and karma and the purification dharmas are all just conventional terms for the benefit of beings. As for nonproduction, it is not there because something real or not real does not happen—it is the way things are.
The doctrine has never been taught because no words have ever been produced. No confidence giving a readiness to speak, and none of the categories and phenomena to be explained, have ever been produced. Everything is empty of a basic nature, so nobody can take any fixed position in regard to anything.
Still, the path to awakening is purified by an integrated practice of the six perfections. There are ordinary and extraordinary perfections. The practice of the ordinary perfection of giving is being generous while still attached to the idea of self, the idea of other, and the idea of giving. The extraordinary perfection of giving is free from those attachments. The other perfections are similar. As for the path that is purified, it is the path that includes every practice and result that beings of different dispositions might feel attracted to. It includes all the purification dharmas, and the practice of them all is work at the extraordinary perfection of wisdom. This is the work that all the buddhas of the three time periods have engaged in.
Śāriputra says that all beings who would be bodhisattvas always pay attention to the goal, the knowledge of all aspects, in order to be of benefit to beings even though they do not know it. Subhūti agrees, but not when you take the statement as a statement of an absolute truth. Bodhisattvas do not continually pay attention to the goal of the knowledge of all aspects to be of benefit to beings by turning the wheel of the Dharma, because all phenomena are nonexistent and empty.
This exposition of the doctrine by Subhūti causes the worlds to shake, and the Lord smiles because, simultaneous with it, in a billionfold world system buddhas teaching the same doctrine cause billions of beings to produce the thought of unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening.
The assembled gods all, like the sun, emit light, but the light of the Tathāgata, a natural light that is not the maturation of any action, totally eclipses it. The head god, Śatakratu, the one who has performed a hundred of the most complex rituals, asks Subhūti to teach. Subhūti says that even the gods with the greatest accomplishment, even the accomplishment of nirvāṇa, must produce the thought to become awakened for the sake of all beings by training in the perfection of wisdom, and they have the capacity to do so. The perfection of wisdom is to demonstrate the four noble truths, the twelve links of dependent origination, and all the purification dharmas with the thought that by doing so one will gain the knowledge of all aspects for the sake of all beings.
The practice puts one part of the picture together with all the other parts, mastering all the doctrines and practices while making a detailed and thorough analysis, thinking, “They are selfless, they are not me, and they are not mine.” The thought of awakening, bodhicitta, is a motivation that leads to the planting of wholesome roots—the roots that grow into the awakened state that is of ultimate benefit to self and others. The thought is the wholesome roots in the sense that it remains steady, growing stronger. And it is a dedication in the sense that it remains set on awakening for the sake of others. And yet none of these stages in bodhicitta ultimately exist. They are separated from each other as ordinary enactments and yet ultimately are exactly the same. The bodhisattva practitioner-god thus practices the perfection of wisdom by not settling down on any part, seeing the ultimate unity of the parts and their illusory difference.
The Lord praises Subhūti for his exposition, and Subhūti reflects how the Lord, as a bodhisattva, engaged in just this practice of the perfection of wisdom. Feeling a sense of gratitude, Subhūti then teaches the perfection of wisdom to the gods. The gods then think they cannot understand a word Subhūti is saying, and Subhūti says he has said nothing, just as nobody in a magical creation says anything. When the gods think this is deep, Subhūti says there is nothing deep. When they ask if nothing has been designated, Subhūti says nothing—awakening is not teachable.
The speaker, listener, and teaching are like a dream. Everything is like a dream. Only the great śrāvakas and bodhisattvas, only those with wholesome roots that have been planted well, will receive such a teaching that is not the object of speculative thought.
In the perfection of wisdom, the vehicle of the śrāvakas, the vehicle of the pratyekabuddhas, and the bodhisattva’s buddha vehicle are taught in detail as performance for the sake of others, because all phenomena are empty.
Then the head of the gods magically produces a rain of flowers and Subhūti uses them as an example for practice. Bodhisattva-gods should not train in anything because of not seeing anything. Bodhisattva-gods do not see anything because everything is empty of an intrinsic nature; they train without making a duality out of practice and result, or out of knowledge and an object known. Training in the perfection of wisdom like that, the gods go forth to the knowledge of all aspects.
All the perfect instructions Subhūti gives to the gods are given through the sustaining power of the Tathāgata, but they are not sustained by anything, because all phenomena, even emptiness and reality, are not sustained by anything, are not held up by or powered by anything. Nothing is conjoined with or disjoined from reality such that it could be sustained by it. It is just this isolation that is its sustaining power.
The gods shout out in delight at this exposition of the perfection of wisdom that presents three vehicles without presenting any phenomena to be apprehended at all. Bodhisattvas training in this perfection of wisdom are called tathāgatas.
The Lord says to the gods that when he was a brahmin student in Padmāvatī practicing the six perfections and all the other purification dharmas by way of not apprehending anything, the buddha Dīpaṃkara prophesied that in the Fortunate Age, after incalculable eons, he would become the Buddha Śākyamuni.
He says to the gods that the perfection of wisdom will protect them and all others from harm, so they should take it up and practice it. The gods say they will always protect the perfection of wisdom and those practicing the perfection of wisdom, because it is the source of all the good in the world.
The perfection of wisdom is greatly beneficial. It brings benefit to beings through teaching the three vehicles. It prevents conflict and interreligious animosities. The gods naturally guard and protect, and the buddhas and bodhisattvas naturally take notice of, those practicing the perfection of wisdom, because of their demonstration of generosity, morality, forbearance, and so on. They are without any conceit because of seeing all the training they demonstrate as empty, just a demonstration for the benefit of others.
Even if attacked, the attack does no harm, even when fighting on the front line. Nothing can get through to hurt someone training in the perfection of wisdom.
There is great benefit from worshiping the physical remains of a tathāgata placed in a reliquary, but that does not compare with the benefit from admiring even just the perfection of wisdom as a physical book, because the physical remains of a tathāgata can be traced back to the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of wisdom, from which the relics of a tathāgata’s physical body originate, is the teacher. The Three Jewels and all their benefits come from having the knowledge of all aspects, so the benefit of worshiping even just the physical book that explains it is far greater.
Why, then, do people not know this? Why do so many worship statues and reliquaries of the Tathāgata, but not the perfection of wisdom? It is because an admiration for the perfection of wisdom that teaches the thought of awakening and the illusory nature of all practices and attainments is not easily gained. How many beings even admire basic morality and the Three Jewels more than the experiences of saṃsāra? It is extremely rare to admire the thought of awakening; it is even rarer to admire the thought of awakening as just an empty demonstration.
Great is the merit gained from building a reliquary of gold, jewels, and so on to hold the remains of a tathāgata’s body. But even just writing out the perfection of wisdom and admiring it produces even greater merit. Even if as many beings as can be imagined were to make as many huge reliquaries as can be imagined and worship the remains of tathāgatas placed in them, it still would not produce as much merit as that which issues forth from just writing out the perfection of wisdom and admiring it, because all ordinary and extraordinary wholesome acts and attainments come from the perfection of wisdom. All the benefits here and in the beyond derive from it because the thought to fully awaken to everything that could benefit any being anywhere at any time informs the perfection of wisdom.
Just reciting the perfection of wisdom turns back those of other faiths who want to criticize it. There is no value in attempting to teach it to those who have decided it is no good. Māra cannot stand it and wants to sow confusion, but the head god, seeing this, just recites the perfection of wisdom and Māra turns back. The other gods rejoice and throw flowers into the air.
Ānanda asks why, of the six perfections, the perfection of wisdom is privileged. It is because the other perfections become perfections when they are informed by wisdom. When the practitioner dedicates the training in the perfections to the knowledge of all aspects in a nondual way, within knowing that all phenomena are empty and illusory in nature, they become perfections.
The good qualities that issue forth from the perfection of wisdom are innumerable and immeasurable. Bodhisattvas training in the perfection of wisdom attract all the gods who come to admire or listen. The beneficial presence of those celestial beings is known by a special fragrance, so the place where there is a copy of the perfection of wisdom in written form, or where it is being practiced, should be kept clean and decorated beautifully. Training in the perfection of wisdom, bodhisattvas feel physically and mentally at ease, have good dreams, hear the perfection of wisdom being taught everywhere, see tathāgata reliquaries and the people worshiping them, and are filled with enthusiasm and energy.
The perfection of wisdom, even just in book form, is more valuable than an entire world filled with reliquaries containing the material remains of tathāgatas, but still it cannot be seized on and taken up. Ultimately it does not bestow any benefit. The perfection of wisdom deserves worship. Just as the other gods worship the throne of the head god when he is not there, so too all beings come to worship the perfection of wisdom as the place where all the tathāgatas and all good qualities are located. The perfection of wisdom cannot be located anywhere; there is no causal sign through which it can be grasped. To see the Tathāgata is to see the perfection of wisdom. For a bodhisattva to recite the perfection of wisdom is equivalent to the buddhas teaching the twelve divisions of the teachings—the discourses, melodious narrations, predictions, and so on. It is equivalent to even an infinite number of tathāgatas in every direction doing so, because all the tathāgatas issue forth from the perfection of wisdom, which is the source of their knowledge of all aspects.
Bodhisattvas who have written out the perfection of wisdom, borne it in mind, recited it, mastered it, properly paid attention to it, and illuminated it for others face no problems, just as a debtor pursued by creditors is safe with a rich ruler. Nothing can get at such bodhisattvas, just as a tremendous celestial jewel wards off all sickness and keeps poisonous snakes and so on away, and just as such a jewel keeps the temperature constant and turns clear water into water of different colors. Great benefits issue forth from respecting and worshiping the reliquaries, just not nearly as much as issues forth from the perfection of wisdom. Just as the merit from worshiping a reliquary is not as great as the merit from worshiping the perfection of wisdom, the merit from writing out the perfection of wisdom and worshiping it is not as great as from giving it to others to worship. Even more merit comes from giving an explanation of it to others, because from the explanation come the attainments of the three vehicles. “Because bodhisattvas have come about from the perfection of wisdom; tathāgatas, worthy ones, perfectly complete buddhas have come about from bodhisattvas; and śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas have come about from tathāgatas.”
Bodhisattvas rejoice in a wholesome deed and dedicate the merit from that to awakening for the sake of all beings. Just this surpasses the merit from a deed done only for the benefit of the one who does it. Bodhisattvas put together the vast merit made from rejoicing in all the activities of all the buddhas and their teaching and in the training and achievements of śrāvakas, making it into something shared in common with all beings and dedicating it to awakening. But even as the bodhisattvas do so, the objective supports (the wholesome activities, the beings, and the awakening) that come together in that rejoicing and dedicating state of mind do not exist and cannot be apprehended. A proper dedication is made within understanding that the thought of awakening, all the wholesome and beneficial acts it motivates, the rejoicing in those, the dedication of them to awakening, and awakening itself have never been produced but are just illusory.
Belief in and admiration for the perfection of wisdom—in the sense of all that is for the benefit of beings—gets stronger and stronger when this is understood and put into practice. Bodhisattvas new to the practice who do this practice of rejoicing and dedication while grasping at causal signs have a wrong perception, wrong thought, and wrong view. A dedication made to awakening while grasping at causal signs is like food with poison in it. The dedication should be done in the way all the tathāgatas have done it, within comprehending the true nature of all phenomena as without differentiating marks. Admiration and belief, rejoicing and dedication, do not belong to the three realms or three time periods. Nothing dedicates anything to anything. When dedication is done properly, the merit from it is immense. The gods praise this dedication and billions of gods from other worlds approach and give praise. The Lord says to them that the greatest dedication offered by billions of gods who have produced the thought of awakening while apprehending something is not as meritorious as the dedication done without apprehending anything. The dedication done without grasping, without rejecting, without falsely projecting, without acquiring, and without apprehending the wholesome roots—with the thought that there is no production, no cessation, no defilement, and no purification of a dharma—is the supreme dedication.
All wholesome dharmas come from the perfection of wisdom, so it should be treated as the Teacher. The perfection of wisdom is like the eyes that guide the other perfections. One finds and produces the knowledge of all aspects within oneself by not finding and producing any phenomenon. This is the training in the perfection of wisdom. Still, one forsakes the perfection of wisdom by thinking it is pointless. One has confidence in the perfection of wisdom as a training in the knowledge of all aspects by not having confidence in any phenomenon or in the attainment of any result.
If the perfection of wisdom is indeed in accord with the praises heaped upon it, why do so many have no interest in it, or worse, reject it out of hand as inauthentic doctrine? Someone who comprehends this doctrine is someone who has heard it and admired it in many past lives. Those who worshiped the buddhas in past lives while apprehending something are those who find the doctrine offensive. When they oppose the teaching of the perfection of wisdom, the source of such benefit, their action brings the most terrible results in the future. Their future suffering is so terrible it should not even be talked about, because it would make the listener’s heart burst.
Those who have fallen into the clutches of bad friends and do not have the requisite wholesome roots do not believe in the perfection of wisdom; they cannot accept the emptiness of all phenomena. There is no saṃsāra or nirvāṇa. Everything is pure. The purity of the final result, the knowledge of all aspects, and the purity of the suffering aggregates is the same purity.
Purity is deep, illuminating, does not go from one form of life to the next, is undefiled, knows no attainment or clear realization, does not come into being anywhere, and does not help or hinder anything or take hold of any truth. Some apprehend this perfection of wisdom through a causal sign and make it into an absolute truth. They are far from the perfection of wisdom. If they apprehend even the finest qualities of a buddha, they have attachment. The attachment happens when they perceive the thought of awakening, the path, what knowledge comprehends, the results of the training—all the buddhas of the three time periods and their qualities—and, rejoicing in it for the sake of all beings, turn it over to the knowledge of all aspects. It is attachment because all these have no basic nature. To teach others the perfection of wisdom they must practice the perfection of wisdom without any perception of it. To entertain any notion of tathāgatas, wholesome roots growing into awakening, or complete nirvāṇa is to have attachment.
The tathāgatas give an excellent explanation of the doctrine of the perfection of wisdom, but it does not make anything better or worse; like praising or criticizing space, it does not change anything. To train in the perfection of wisdom is to train in space. This enables the trainee to become armed with an armor that withstands all the hardships endured in looking after the needs of others. The gods and others are not needed to guard the space-like perfection of wisdom. Just the practice of it guards against everything. Nothing can hurt a trainee who does not falsely project anything.
The gods magically reduplicate the performance of the teaching of the perfection of wisdom with the same words, the same interlocutors, the same gods, and the same buddha in all the ten directions. The Lord says that the future buddha Maitreya will teach exactly the same doctrine in exactly the same way. Like a great jewel this perfection of wisdom relieves all suffering and brings all results. It apprehends nothing, causes nothing to be left behind, and causes nothing to be attained. It is not a clear realization. The gods cheer this turning of the wheel of the Dharma that is no turning at all.
Subhūti lists one hundred and seventy-three qualities or aspects of the perfection of wisdom. The head god and Śāriputra praise the perfection of wisdom and say that those who train in it have had respect for it in their past lives. They practice it by not apprehending anything, including the practice itself. Those able to practice the perfection of wisdom are irreversible from perfect, complete awakening, and their awakening is prophesied by the buddhas. They know that this is so, just as a person who has come through a dense jungle knows a city is near when they see the first clearings on the edge of the jungle, or a person who has set off to see the ocean knows it is near when the land flattens out and treeless dunes appear, or they know spring has come when the buds appear on the trees, or when a pregnant woman feels the feelings that portend the birth of her child.
Subhūti says everything in the perfection of wisdom is to benefit others in myriad ways. It incorporates everything that makes people happy. Those who practice it do so in order to reach awakening for the benefit of the world. They master and demonstrate all practices for others, in accord with their capacities and propensities, and yet the practice is done within seeing that there is nothing to be taken away and nothing to be added to inconceivable reality.
The perfection of wisdom is valuable and, just like wealth, attracts danger and has to be protected. Māra tries to hinder those copying out, or reading, or practicing the perfection of wisdom. However, Māra is unable to do so because the buddhas always stand behind those training in the perfection of wisdom. The presence of the perfection of wisdom depends on the wholesome roots of the trainees.
First the perfection of wisdom circulates in the south, then in Vartani (the east), and from there it goes to the northern regions, protecting beings from future bad rebirths. In the last five hundred years it is the perfection of wisdom that does the work of the buddhas. But even when it has spread widely in the northern regions there will be many bodhisattvas there without the good fortune to hear the perfection of wisdom, or who will be frightened off by it. Those who do train in it have become familiar with it in lifetimes gone by. They are committed to the welfare of others and in the presence of the buddhas declare their commitment. But even those without familiarity from past lives will, through gradually practicing giving and so on, build up wholesome roots and be reborn in more fortunate forms of life where they will hear and respond positively to the teaching. All who strive to train in the six perfections will finally do so.
The hindrances faced by those training in the perfection of wisdom are many. Among them are being overly confident about what the perfection of wisdom is and pontificating about it and fooling around when making copies of the perfection of wisdom; being turned off by not finding in the perfection of wisdom specific historical references to oneself and one’s situation, and privileging books that teach only the fundamental Buddhist practices; wanting to be a good monk or nun to get respect from the wider community and, in order to do so, privileging books that help with that aim even after learning about the perfection of wisdom; learning the fundamental practices from the perfection of wisdom and making oneself out to be an expert who then explains them in an absolutist fashion; and turning the perfection of wisdom as a book or knowledge or practice into an absolute. Even settling down on the perfection of wisdom as inconceivable and beyond letters in an absolutist fashion is a hindrance, as is getting distracted by ordinary affairs, or becoming fascinated by books on fundamental Buddhist practices so that one neglects the perfection of wisdom. Besides these hindrances, there are also all the various incompatibilities that occur between students and teachers. All these constitute hindrances to the perfection of wisdom.
Just as a mother with many children is looked after by her offspring because they feel a sense of gratitude when they think of how she gave birth to them and taught them about the world, so too bodhisattvas and buddhas feel a sense of gratitude and look after the perfection of wisdom that gave birth to them and teaches them the categories of the aggregates, three realms, and so on, all the unshared purification dharmas and the knowledge of a buddha, and all of them as being ultimately without an intrinsic nature and conventionally like illusions. They feel a sense of gratitude and look after the perfection of wisdom because it has also taught them to know how different beings feel and think, and all the wrong views that people entertain, including the different types of wrong view based on a belief in going on and on forever or being completely annihilated. It has also taught them the true reality of all phenomena and the perfect, complete awakening of a tathāgata to that reality.
The perfection of wisdom is deep because all phenomena are empty, not produced, and do not come and go. The tathāgatas use conventional labels as ordinary conventional terms, not as ultimates. The defining marks of phenomena are not generated out of the phenomena themselves. They are all empty of marks. There is no mark of space. Reality remains what it is regardless of what is or is not taught, regardless of what is or is not known. The Tathāgata illuminates the diversity of phenomena by illuminating ultimate reality, illuminating illusory diversity and ultimate sameness. The Tathāgata illuminates all the mental states of a bodhisattva on the path to awakening and illuminates the great love and compassion and so on of bodhisattvas through their absence of any differentiating marks. They show gratitude to and appreciation for the perfection of wisdom because she gives birth to and illuminates phenomena for bodhisattvas and tathāgatas. They do so by recollecting that nothing has been done or experienced. The perfection of wisdom gives birth to and reveals all beneficial dharmas just because neither the perfection of wisdom nor any dharma is produced or revealed. The perfection of wisdom also reveals them by properly saying what they are from the conventional and ultimate perspectives.
The work of the buddhas that has made the perfection of wisdom available to the world is tremendous, inconceivable work. This work is the labor to protect, look after, and benefit living beings.
All dharmas are inconceivable and equal to the unequaled. There is no conceiving them because their intrinsic nature is inconceivable. They are immeasurable because there is nothing with which to measure them.
Just as a great king delegates all the work of the kingdom, similarly, all the work of the bodhisattvas and tathāgatas is delegated to the perfection of wisdom that incorporates everything of benefit to all, in accord with their capacities and inclinations.
Bodhisattvas master but do not actualize all the realizations and attainments of all stream enterers and other śrāvakas included in the perfection of wisdom. This attainment of bodhisattvas is called “the forbearance for the nonproduction of dharmas.” Even though billions of śrāvakas have entered into nirvāṇa and billions of bodhisattvas have entered into awakening, thanks to the perfection of wisdom there is neither less nor more of it.
Those who immediately believe in the perfection of wisdom in this life have definitely been humans before, or gods in Tuṣita in the presence of Maitreya. They are like cows that do not let go of their calves. Others will be overwhelmed when they hear the perfection of wisdom and black out. Those who hear and practice the perfection of wisdom a bit but then move on to something else are those who heard it in prior lives but did not put what they heard into practice. Those are the new bodhisattvas. They have faith and enjoy the perfection of wisdom but do not train fully in it.
Those who are adrift in an ocean without anything to hold on to sink and drown. Similarly, those who have just faith without a true basis in ultimate reality slowly degenerate in their training in the perfection of wisdom and fall to the śrāvaka level. When you carry water in a mud pot that has not been fired, it dissolves the pot and everything is lost. Those without skillful means who train in the perfection of wisdom are similar. If a ship has not been well joined and caulked it will sink on its voyage. Those with skillful means who have faith without taking anything as a basis reach the knowledge of all aspects. A decrepit old man cannot stand alone but with helpers under both arms can move. Similarly, with the assistance of the perfection of wisdom and skillful means one reaches the knowledge of all aspects and does not fall to the śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha level.
Bodhisattvas are not assisted if, when they give, they think “I am giving” and so on, falsely projecting a giver, a gift, the act of giving, and so on. Those free from those constructions are assisted by the perfection of wisdom and skillful means and will go to the farthest limit.
There are neophyte bodhisattvas and bodhisattvas who are firm in the training. The former ones have faith but can waver. They must write out the perfection of wisdom, read it aloud, memorize it, and so on. They must worship it and must find teachers to teach it properly, teachers who explain the practice of the six perfections without forming any ideas about them. The bodhisattvas who are firm are those who do what is difficult. They are the world’s refuge, resting place, final ally, island, leader, and support. They teach others the authentic perfection of wisdom and take them to the farther shore where all phenomena are a unity because they have neither come nor gone.
The attributes, tokens, and signs that bodhisattvas are irreversible from awakening are the absence of greed, hatred, and confusion, and so on. Armed with the armor that knows all phenomena are illusory, they will never be upset at any hardship involved in working for beings and will never give up on impossible beings and enter śrāvaka nirvāṇa.
Meditation on the perfection of wisdom is the disintegration of meditation on the perfection of wisdom. An irreversible bodhisattva is not attached to any phenomenon, always practices the six perfections, and, familiar with the perfection of wisdom from the past, is not daunted by what the training entails.
The perfection of wisdom is deep because ultimately the defiled state of form and so on is the same as the purified state of awakening. At first the Tathāgata thought that the perfection of wisdom would be too difficult for self-centered people habituated to dualistic thinking to understand, and he desisted from teaching it. The perfection of wisdom is a doctrine that is in harmony with reality.
The elder Subhūti takes after the Lord because he teaches with emptiness as his point of departure. He takes after him because in suchness he is the same as the Tathāgata, because all dharmas and the Tathāgata are the same in suchness.
The universe shakes from this exposition, and the gods strew flowers. Sixty monks without skillful means enter śrāvaka nirvāṇa because they apprehend a difference in dharmas and have not entered into the secure state of a bodhisattva. They were attached to the thought that they were giving gifts, being moral and patient, persevering, entering into concentration, and being wise. Even though the meditation on emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness of those bodhisattva monks and of the monks with skillful means was the same, the bodhisattvas with skillful means cultivated love, compassion, and so on and finally became awakened. The goal of the bodhisattva monks without skillful means was the same goal defined by bodhicitta, but still they fell to the śrāvaka level because of being separated from the perfection of wisdom and skillful means. They are like a huge bird with stunted wings that takes off for a long flight but has to set down before reaching the goal.
Bodhisattvas who, from the start, practice the six perfections guided by the perfection of wisdom and skillful means, always with attention fixed on the knowledge of all aspects, do not fall to the śrāvaka level.
There is an argument over whether awakening is hard to gain or easy to gain. Subhūti says awakening is easy because all dharmas are empty and there is nothing to be attained, while Śāriputra says it is quite the opposite, because it would never occur to space to think, “I will become awakened,” and yet bodhisattvas, knowing all dharmas are like space, still become fully awakened. Subhūti says nobody is irreversible from awakening because no phenomenon ever turns back from anything to anywhere. Śāriputra objects that, in that case, the presentation of three vehicles does not make sense, and Pūrṇa chimes in to ask if Subhūti believes in a single awakening, not three. Subhūti says there are no awakenings because in emptiness nothing can be apprehended.
The Lord praises Subhūti’s exposition and then Subhūti says that to go forth to perfect, complete awakening, bodhisattvas must treat all beings the same, must see them all as relatives and close friends, and must never have a negative thought toward them. For their sake bodhisattvas must do every practice and so on, master every śrāvaka level, and enter the secure state of a bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas must personally do all this and encourage and help all others to do it, too, but always without apprehending any phenomenon.
Another sign that bodhisattvas are irreversible from awakening is being firm in their understanding of the illusory nature of phenomena and not being reborn under the power of afflictive emotions. They are bodhisattvas who, as ordained persons, keep clean and act appropriately. Even when Māra shows the hardships of saṃsāra, urges these bodhisattvas to enter into the peace of śrāvaka nirvāṇa, and says the perfection of wisdom is just fantasy, they remain unmoved.
Māra says the perfection of wisdom is a nihilistic doctrine, but bodhisattvas investigate and see that liberation and awakening are possible because phenomena lack an intrinsic nature. Bodhisattvas who fall to the śrāvaka level have turned back, are reversible, while bodhisattvas who do not do so are irreversible. Irreversible bodhisattvas make a show of living an ordinary householder’s life to bring beings to maturity, but they do not use their status or powers for self-gratification. When they are ordained, they do not hoodwink people who have faith in them and are never swayed by those who question the perfection of wisdom and insist that only the fundamental Buddhist texts are authentic. They distinguish the spiritual from absolutism. Their attitude to texts is inclusive. They ensure that the words of the tathāgatas are not lost. Regardless of the language, who is speaking, or where it is said, they protect all the texts of the tathāgatas, knowing them because of a dhāraṇī based on doctrines and benefits—that is, they know them because they know the ultimate and conventional nature of phenomena.
The deep places are emptiness and so on, which is to say, nirvāṇa unseparated from all the illusory phenomena practiced for the sake of all beings. Bodhisattvas motivated by the thought of awakening are always irreversible from awakening, obsessed with becoming awakened for the welfare of others, like a man with a strong libido who has set up a date with a beautiful woman and thinks of nothing but having sex with her. The strength and intensity of the bodhisattvas’ thought of awakening stops any of the faults that would cause them to turn back and enter śrāvaka nirvāṇa. The merits they amass are incredible in comparison to the merits of stream enterers and so on. All the fundamental Buddhist practices of the śrāvakas are extremely important, and engaging in them produces great merit. But the merit does not compare with even a fraction of the merit gained when the practices are performed as models for the benefit of others, with a mind set on perfect awakening, within knowing the ultimate and conventional nature of all practices and results.
The thought of awakening is there from the beginning of the practice, motivating the bodhisattvas to reach the goal, awakening. It is not the first or the last instant in the continuity of the bodhisattvas’ unbroken motivation that results in the attainment of that goal. Like a wick getting burned up, not by the first tongue or the last tongue of flame, but nevertheless being burned up, so too with the thought of awakening and the attainment of awakening. Bodhisattvas gain all ten bodhisattva levels and reach awakening, always motivated by the thought of awakening, but that thought is never produced and ultimately never moves from suchness or ultimate reality. The movement of thought, the habitual ideas that come up, are absent, but not because the causal signs that occasion them have disintegrated.
This chapter is about action and the purification of a buddhafield. If somebody actually murders someone, and if somebody else does so in a dream and on awakening thinks that what happened in the dream actually happened and is happy about it, it is the same. The effects of actions are based on the state of mind when the act is done. There has to be an objective support and intention. In the absence of those there is no result. Ultimately there is no karmic cause and effect, but there is on the conventional level.
Śāriputra asks Maitreya, who is in his last life before awakening, if the practice of the perfections results in awakening. Maitreya says ultimately there is no Maitreya there to answer, and nobody to be responded to. Śāriputra is a worthy one, but there is nothing there that can be apprehended that makes him a worthy one.
Bodhisattvas get closer to awakening by providing all beings with what they need in their day-to-day lives, ensuring that later all beings in their buddhafield will have the enjoyments of gods. Similarly, seeing ugliness and people with missing limbs, they practice morality; seeing hatred, they practice patience; seeing laziness, they practice perseverance; seeing those separated from the four immeasurables and so on, they practice concentration; and seeing ignorance all around, they practice wisdom so that all beings in their buddhafields will be free from those faults. They practice so that in their buddhafields there will be none of the terrible forms of life and polluted environments, and no acquisitiveness, caste identities, despots, social injustices of all types, or the ordinary problems that come with an ordinary body. They practice so that they will have not one but billions of buddhafields for all beings.
A nun in the retinue, sister Gaṅgadevī, states her commitment to such a practice of the six perfections and worships the Lord with golden-colored flowers. He predicts her future awakening as the buddha Suvarṇapuṣpa.
Bodhisattvas master all meditations but do not actualize their results. A bodhisattva who radiates love and kindness and shows the way to freedom without actualizing the results of the meditations on emptiness and so on, like a bird on the wing that moves through space without alighting anywhere, and like an archer who keeps a series of arrows up in the air by shooting them one after the other, is like a good-looking hero, an expert in weaponry and all crafts and vocations, loved by many persons, who, having gained great wealth, can lead relatives out of the dense jungle where they are caught, keeping them happy and hopeful without poisoning their minds against their enemies and opponents.
Bodhisattvas do not cross the very limit of reality into complete nirvāṇa until all the work is done. Bodhisattvas do not forsake beings, remaining in the emptiness meditation without actualizing the śrāvaka nirvāṇa until all beings are no longer afflicted by ignorance. Bodhisattvas free them from the causal signs that occasion the differentiation and valuation of male and female, different realms and so on, and from pointless wishes for future attainments, even the attainment of the knowledge of all aspects. Bodhisattvas practicing mastery of the three fundamental practices of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness in this way are irreversible from awakening. There are not many who master the śrāvaka and bodhisattva practices without becoming attached to them as absolutes.
A sign that bodhisattvas are irreversible is that even in dreams there is no attraction to śrāvaka nirvāṇa, and so on, and that upon waking from seeing the suffering of the world in a dream, the determination to help beings is even stronger. Another sign is unleashing the controlling power of truth to stop flames engulfing villages and exorcising demons. These signs can give an opening to Māra. The successes make the bodhisattvas think, “Wow! I did that,” and thereby think that their awakening is prophesied when in fact they are not yet at a level where it is. Māra makes those bodhisattvas go astray by falsely predicting their awakening, which they believe because the prophecy includes all sorts of details they mistakenly think only a buddha could know. These bodhisattvas do not actually know the signs of an irreversible bodhisattva. And during their careers, as long as they do not come to terms with their misplaced pride, their pride in being bodhisattvas and not just śrāvakas, they run the risk of falling to the śrāvaka level and entering nirvāṇa. It is like a monk who incurs any one of the four root downfalls. He is no longer a monk. It is similar with this misplaced pride. Bodhisattvas who look down on other bodhisattvas incur an even worse downfall. Māra also confuses these bodhisattvas about the value of strict retreat in isolation, giving them a misplaced pride that theirs is a certain path on which they are irreversible from awakening. In fact, isolation is mental isolation, that is, freedom from all attachments and the false sense of superiority. Bodhisattvas in retreat who return to a settlement and speak badly of those bodhisattvas who are engaged in worldly life out of a misplaced sense of pride in their own religious practice are vulgar and gross. They are like a robber who steals the authentic spiritual practice from bodhisattvas.
Bodhisattvas must distinguish true spiritual friends from false ones. Buddhas and śrāvakas who expound the teachings of the Tathāgata are a bodhisattva’s friend. The basic Buddhist practices of the thirty-seven dharmas on the side of awakening are included in the six perfections and are a bodhisattva’s friend. To bring beings to maturity bodhisattvas should gather students in four ways: giving gifts, kind words, beneficial actions, and consistency between words and deeds. Bodhisattvas gather those attracted to fundamental Buddhist teachings by practicing the thirty-seven dharmas on the side of awakening. The defilements they counteract arise because beings grasp as “I” and “mine” phenomena empty of any defining mark.
The merit from worshiping a billion beings who become human and gain awakening is not as great as the merit from staying attentive to the perfection of wisdom and teaching it to others. Those attentive to the perfection of wisdom generate stronger and stronger love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The merit from worshiping and looking after them is immense. If a bodhisattva who has bodhicitta and is attentive to the knowledge of all aspects were to lose that precious thought, it would be like a person getting the finest diamond and then losing it. It would be unbearable. All the person would think about would be getting it back. But ultimately even bodhicitta has no intrinsic nature. Ultimately reality does not move from reality.
The wholesome roots from practicing all the other practices are not as strong as those gained from practicing the perfection of wisdom, from which those other practices all issue forth. Those who hear and practice the perfection of wisdom have strong wholesome roots. Even a person who produces one instant of bodhicitta informed by the perfection of wisdom makes more merit and is blessed with strong wholesome roots. That practice surpasses all other practices and brings the person closer to the tathāgatas.
Such a practice also rouses Māra to seek a way to infiltrate the mind of the practitioner to prevent awakening. If there was a time before when the practitioner’s belief in the perfection of wisdom was not complete, if the bodhisattva believes their attainment is real and feels entitled to admiration, if the practitioner is unsure what the perfection of wisdom is and entertains certain reservations about the perfection of wisdom, or if the practitioner is without spiritual friends, it provides Māra with the opportunity. Māra makes terrible things happen in the world to hinder the continuity of the practitioner’s thought of awakening. For example, Māra makes practitioners glib so that they can give great talks and get crowds to listen, building up a false sense of their own excellence. Māra rejoices at that, thinking that those in the realms under his control are increasing in number. When Māra sees a bodhisattva become sectarian, he rejoices and encourages the fight with other śāvakas and other bodhisattvas. When he sees a bodhisattva envious of another, more advanced bodhisattva, Māra rejoices. For as long as those envious thoughts engendering animosity toward another bodhisattva last, for that many more eons the bodhisattva will have to practice to reach the goal, although sincerely facing up to the grossness of such thoughts and making a confession prevents Māra from achieving his aim. Bodhisattvas should not live together with śrāvakas, but if they do, they should feel no malice toward them. When bodhisattvas are together with other bodhisattvas they should treat them as their teachers. In that way they pursue an equal and proper training in the perfection of wisdom.
All phenomena are the same in emptiness. There is no ending, becoming detached, or cessation of anything that decreases reality. Māra cannot infiltrate and break a bodhisattva who trains in light of this, and the training leads to awakening and the turning of the wheel of the Dharma. It ensures a perfect human rebirth not through the force of earlier karma but through compassion, the purification of a buddhafield, and all the buddhadharmas. Bodhisattvas practicing like this are as rare as nuggets of gold and silver in the Jambū River. Just as more people think they have a chance to be a local ruler than a wheel-turning emperor, more people seek the śrāvaka attainments than a bodhisattva’s perfect awakening. The training for awakening includes all trainings, just as the view of the perishable collection incorporates all wrong views. When you die and the life faculty leaves, every other faculty shuts down as well, and so too with the perfection of wisdom and the other perfections.
Out of admiration for bodhisattvas who have produced the thought of awakening, the head god strews flowers. The wholesome root planted by those who rejoice in the thought produced by those bodhisattvas is greater and greater relative to the level those bodhisattvas have reached. The merit is infinite even for those who have just set out on the path. They are pleasing to the tathāgatas, and Māra cannot harm them because of the amount of merit they amass. Those who amass such merit should turn it all over so the root grows into awakening.
It does not occur to space or to a magical creation to think, “I am far from one thing and close to another.” There is no thought in space and there is no thought in ultimate reality. Conceptualization and thought construction are totally absent.
Still there are the five forms of life and the stream enterers and so on. Ordinary beings motivated by error pile up karma that matures into different forms of life. Stream enterers and so on escape from that stream of suffering existence because they are free from all thought construction.
The training is not ultimately worthwhile because the goal is not ultimately worthwhile. The gods rejoice in bodhisattvas who have produced the perfection of wisdom and engage in such training without falling into nirvāṇa before the goal is reached. It is not difficult to avoid nirvāṇa, but it is difficult to work for the welfare of beings because beings are like space, worthless. Those who do so are those who do what is difficult and deserve praise. They are tussling with space. Even a billion Māras cannot hinder bodhisattvas whose training is endowed with two sets of two qualities: “They view all dharmas as emptiness and they do not give up on all beings,” and “They are true to their word and watched out for by the lord buddhas.” The Lord is thrilled when he sees bodhisattvas engaged in such training. He sees and is thrilled by bodhisattvas following the buddha Akṣobhya by training in this perfection of wisdom, even if they are not yet at the end of their training. In this training there is neither attainment nor attainer. There is no change in reality whether the training is done or is not done.
The head god praises Subhūti for his exposition. Subhūti does not apprehend any perfections or anything else in which to train. The Lord agrees, and when the gods shower petals on him, six thousand monks in the retinue state their aspiration to enter into the dwelling in the perfection of wisdom that Subhūti has demonstrated. Prompted by Ānanda, the Lord then prophecies the future awakening of the six thousand monks in the eon called Tārakopama, when all will become buddhas called Avakīrṇakusuma. The Lord then entrusts Ānanda with the teaching of the perfection of wisdom and says, “If I am dear to you and you have not given up on me, then, Ānanda, love this deep perfection of wisdom, make it dear, and do not give up on it. One way or the other you must not let even just a single line of this deep perfection of wisdom go to waste.” Complete awakening is reached only by training in the perfection of wisdom. It is the training of all buddhas. If any of the Lord’s teaching is explained, the Lord is happy, but never as happy as when even one line of the perfection of wisdom is explained. The good that comes from explaining just one line surpasses the good from explaining the śrāvaka training for nirvāṇa to billions of people, even just giving an authentic explanation for a second, because in that second the bodhisattva would personally want to reach awakening and would want all other beings to do so as well.
The Lord miraculously causes the buddha Akṣobhya teaching his retinue to appear before the assembled retinue and then causes the entire vision to disappear. Just as they cannot be seen, all phenomena are beyond the field of vision. Nothing sees anything. One trains in the perfection of wisdom but does not think one can take the measure of it, just as one cannot take the full measure of space. You can measure the words in books, but you cannot measure the perfection of wisdom, because it is inexhaustible. Everything good and all the buddhas who have reached awakening come from this perfection of wisdom, but it has not been depleted. The Lord extends his tongue, with which he had covered his face, and says it could never speak a falsehood. He urges Ānanda to take care of the perfection of wisdom.
Just as space is inexhaustible, so too the perfection of wisdom, form and so on, and awakening are inexhaustible. Insight into dependent origination and there being no beginning or end is the distinctive attribute of a bodhisattva seated at the site of awakening who reaches the knowledge of all aspects. Through that insight, the bodhisattva realizes the emptiness of all phenomena, and Māra realizes that the bodhisattva is about to be awakened and feels a stab of pain.
Bodhisattvas model the thirty-six subdivisions of the six perfections. Standing in the perfection of wisdom, bodhisattvas perfect concentration with the two meditative stabilizations, the siṃhavijṛmbhita and the viṣkandaka. With greater and greater mental agility and insight bodhisattvas enter into and leave absorption in the meditative states of the three realms, interspersing them with entry into the cessation absorptions and into ordinary, unconcentrated states. Knowing their ultimate and illusory nature, bodhisattvas are able to leave one state and enter into another, leaping from one state to another, transcending accomplishments that are in ultimate truth no accomplishment at all.
Bodhisattvas with such a skillful practice of the perfections have been at it for billions of eons serving countless buddhas, building up large wholesome roots. All the perfections are equally perfections, but the perfection of wisdom is foremost, like the four continents around which the heavens revolve, or like a wheel-turning emperor who obtains that status when in possession of the seven precious treasures. Just as scoundrels cannot violate a woman with a husband and opponents cannot defeat a well-armed soldier, Māra cannot harm the practice of the other perfections when they are joined with the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of wisdom goes together with the other perfections, leading them. The perfection of wisdom views the ultimate nature of all phenomena. Bodhisattvas who form any notion of training in the perfections are far away from the perfection of wisdom. Just as the different branches of a wheel-turning emperor’s army accompany the emperor, so too the other perfections are present with the perfection of wisdom.
If all the perfections are empty of an intrinsic nature, how, by training in them, do bodhisattvas reach awakening? Bodhisattvas see that beings suffer because the ordinary state of beings is a distorted state of mind. They model the six perfections for them, but when giving them gifts, they do not see a giver, recipient, or act of giving and so on. Among all the perfections the perfection of wisdom is the most important because it models taking hold of all beneficial phenomena, standing in the knowledge of all aspects, but without standing anywhere, without any attachment or clinging to anything as ultimately real. From that training comes the greatest merit. Bodhisattvas who cling to the states they are in as they model the perfection of wisdom for others are no longer training in the perfection of wisdom and will not be able to accomplish great compassion, the training in the six perfections, and final awakening.
To bring beings to maturity, bodhisattvas train in the six perfections. Bodhisattvas are just like those who want to eat mangos, planting them, watering and tending the growing plants, weeding from time to time, and when ripe eating the fruit.
Bodhisattvas standing in the perfection of wisdom are helped by the buddhas and bodhisattvas, cultivate every type of knowledge and meditation, become the heirs apparent, are handsome, are ready to speak and extremely articulate, know grammar and all the other branches of knowledge, know the ultimate and conventional, and are skilled in everything.
The merit from making a gift to a tathāgata and a gift to a tathāgata conjured up by a tathāgata are equal, and the work of a tathāgata and the work of a tathāgata conjured up by a tathāgata are equal. Words are used for the benefit of others. You should not complicate reality, which is one and isolated from the words and signs for things. All phenomena, practices, and results are like illusions. Their ultimate reality is unchanging.
The bodhisattvas’ training is a difficult practice, like growing a cutting in space. With just a cutting, its root, buds, leaves, and flowers are not known to the farmer, but still branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits will grow from that trunk, and the farmer will make use of the leaves and so on. Similarly, bodhisattva leaves, as it were, liberate beings from the three terrible forms of life, the flowers are excellent rebirths as humans and gods, and the fruits are the results of stream enterers and so on. A bodhisattva is a tathāgata because of the benefits that come from a bodhisattva—among them, giving rise to a tathāgata.
Bodhisattvas undertake the bodhisattva practices for the welfare of beings, purify a buddhafield, gain the knowledge of all aspects, turn the wheel of the Dharma, establish beings in the three vehicles, and then pass into nirvāṇa in the element of nirvāṇa without any aggregates left behind.
The merit of producing the thought of awakening surpasses all the merit from attaining every śrāvaka attainment; the merit of attaining each higher bodhisattva level surpasses the merit from each lower level; and the merit of a tathāgata surpasses all.
The first thought of awakening is set on the knowledge of all aspects. The knowledge of all aspects has a nonexistent thing as its objective support, its dominant factor is mindfulness, its aspect calmness, and its defining mark the absence of a defining mark. Not only the knowledge of all aspects, but all phenomena have no intrinsic nature and are therefore nonexistent things. Bodhisattvas practice with skillful means, mastering everything without ultimately settling down on anything. Bodhisattvas continue with this training until awakening.
Bodhisattvas train in all the purification dharmas, woven around the six perfections, first serially and finally in a single, unique instant. Ultimately the bodhisattvas’ practice does not decrease or increase anything, is not a practice of anything for anything, and is not done in a dualistic way. Reality remains the same. Conventionally, assisted by spiritual friends, bodhisattvas produce the thought of awakening and learn all the doctrines and train in the six perfections, purify a buddhafield, and cause beings to be brought to maturity. With those wholesome roots bodhisattvas stay close to spiritual friends and the buddhas, serving and worshiping them. If they do not stay close to them, they do not gain the correct understanding of the perfection of wisdom. Guided by them, bodhisattvas train correctly in the six perfections. They practice all the practices that lead to the results and attainments of śrāvakas and adepts but do not become saddled with those results. They never move from their intrinsic nature, never realize anything, and are without any thought construction. This is their perfection of wisdom through which they enter into the secure state of a bodhisattva. They do so having mastered all paths through nonattachment to them, through seeing that their ultimate nature is the same, the absence of an intrinsic nature. Nevertheless, all the levels and paths and results are conventionally different. Thus, the knowledge of all path aspects is the bodhisattvas’ forbearance for the nonproduction of dharmas. The bodhisattvas who know the knowledge of path aspects know all shared and unshared practices and paths. This enables the bodhisattvas to enter into the different aspirations of beings with different personalities and dispositions.
The perfection of wisdom is called the noble Dharma and Vinaya. All phenomena have no differentiating marks. None is conjoined with or separated from anything else. Thus the afflictive emotions and other negative factors removed by following the Vinaya training are absent in the training in the perfection of wisdom, which abides in the ultimate nature of all phenomena, and all the phenomena taught in the Dharma, all the differentiating marks of all the knowledges and attainments set forth in the doctrines, do not ultimately exist either. In this sense they are complete. The disintegration of them all is the practice of the perfection of wisdom. The perfection of wisdom is without the duality of existent and nonexistent things.
There is not even ordinary patience in ultimate reality, so ultimately bodhisattvas do not achieve forbearance for the nonproduction of dharmas by mastering them all but not settling down on them. There are no clear realizations, there are no obstructions, there is no saṃsāra, and there is no path to the cessation of suffering.
The Buddha previously engaged in all the practices—cultivated detachment from sense objects, desisted from unwholesome acts, perfectly accomplished meditative states without relishing the experiences, manifested a performance of miraculous power, apprehended the causal signs but avoided falsely considering them fact, and with wisdom of the unique instant, fully awakened to unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening—but without engaging in a false projection of any of them. Bodhisattvas also enter into the training in the six perfections and all the practices of clairvoyance and so on serially and then in a single, unique instant. While serially cultivating the giving branch of the perfection of giving, up to the wisdom branch of the perfection of wisdom, the bodhisattvas pay attention to the absence of any intrinsic nature in each of them and pay attention to the knowledge of all aspects that is the goal. Similarly, bodhisattvas complete all the special powers and attributes of a buddha, and the major marks and minor signs of a buddha, through cultivating them serially within the training in the six perfections without any perception of something that exists or does not exist.
Just the absence of any apprehended object is attainment and clear realization, and all the gradual attainments and clear realizations happen because of that absence. All the trainings are the same, and to train in one is to train in them all, from giving up to clairvoyance. All are incorporated in a single thought. Bodhisattvas engage in the training in each without a dualistic thought. The giving of gifts up to the use of clairvoyance happens spontaneously with a pure and uncontaminated state of mind. The morality includes all moral standards. The patience is ordinary patience in the face of abuse and hardship, and it is forbearance that is a disinterested mastery of all phenomena through seeing their ultimate nature. The perseverance gives incredible powers and abilities to help others. Even on the verge of death the bodhisattvas are working to help others. The concentration achieves every mental state, except the state of a tathāgata, without relishing any of them, and the wisdom perfects the three meditative stabilizations on emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness without seeing anything as truly existent or established. To train in the six perfections is to train in all the perfections that incorporate all training as if in a dream.
Ordinary people falsely consider phenomena to be real and become predisposed to the unwholesome. Bodhisattvas teach them that all phenomena are empty dependent originations, all arising on account of error. Skillfully the bodhisattvas model for them giving, morality, and so on.
Bodhisattvas help beings by teaching and modeling for them any practice that helps them. The extent of the bodhisattvas’ generosity is unlimited. When giving gifts to those who are helped by generosity, bodhisattvas make no distinction between offering to a buddha or to an animal and will give limbs away, and even go to any terrible place for their sake.
Bodhisattvas teach various doctrines to all beings, including the gods. Included in this are the explanations of ordinary and extraordinary dharmas, the former the ordinary meditations on uncleanliness and the shared meditations on calm abiding and so on, and the extraordinary being the entire list of purification dharmas, explained in detail, one by one. Here are included detailed descriptions of each of the thirty-two major marks and their causes, as well as the eighty minor signs. This is the amazing gift of Dharma that is part of the first of the four ways of gathering a retinue.
Bodhisattvas also teach the knowledge of alphabets and how letters collapse into and expand from a single letter and so on. This is done even though bodhisattvas cannot apprehend any of these dharmas.
Just as a tathāgata’s magical creation magically creates millions of other magical creations and establishes them in different practices without anything happening at all, so too with the bodhisattvas training in the perfection of wisdom.
Beings do not know that all phenomena are the same—like an illusion without any intrinsic nature—and are therefore caught in suffering. They are located in unreal names and causal signs. Names plucked out of thin air and causal signs cause attachment. Causal signs are not existent. Were they to exist, bodhisattvas would not awaken to awakening. The material reality of a person, full of holes like foam, does not come from or go anywhere. Its ultimate reality does not deviate from the way things are. Other phenomena are similar. Bodhisattvas know difference but without complicating the true nature of dharmas because nothing can be apprehended. Nothing is trained in, nothing is gained. A magician uses a prop to makes all sorts of things appear to an audience. A bodhisattva trains others in that way. Bodhisattvas speak about the dharma-constituent as it really is, the same before as it is afterward.
The ultimate reality (1) of the result and (2) of the beings that want to attain that result are the same. Beings are naturally in a perfect state, at the very limit of reality. The very limit of reality is not different from the limit of beings, from their infinite number, or from their ultimate nature. By skillful means bodhisattvas lead beings, conventionally, to the realization of reality by teaching the six perfections on the conventional level, always together with the emptiness of giver, recipient, and gift, and so on. Bodhisattvas personally engage in the training to model it for others and to encourage others to train in it. There is no movement from or to anything in reality. Bodhisattvas liberate beings by causing those snared in error to be established in the absence of error, error that is itself not error because it is just a thought construction. The absence of thought construction is the absence of error because in its absence there is no grasping at self and so on.
The path is just the comprehension of emptiness. The emptiness that is reality remains unchanging. It is not different from the diversity of the suffering world, the path to freedom, and the results. Nothing is removed, nothing added. Beings simply do not know reality as it is and live grasping at “I” and “mine.” Bodhisattvas do not complicate reality with their teaching, just as space does not complicate space; they do not practice within duality. They do not take anything up or not take anything up. Subhūti is a worthy one in nirvāṇa. A bodhisattva reaches perfect, complete awakening. Both are just designated by ordinary convention. In reality nothing is accumulated or diminished, nothing is helpful and nothing harmful.
A bodhisattva, like a person conjured up by a magician, realizing that there is no place of departure, path, or attainment, neither endeavors nor desists from the endeavor. This is the bodhisattvas’ skillful means.
There are not even people for whom the bodhisattvas feel compassion. The distorted minds of those people have mentally constructed the form aggregate, and so on, and settled down on them as real. All phenomena have no real basis, and the mind constructing them has no real basis. Bodhisattvas approach these illusory beings as illusory beings and model what is appropriate to liberate them from error, knowing the liberation is illusory, and the error illusory too. It is amazing that bodhisattvas keep at it, given that nothing is there that can be apprehended. Again, the chapter explains the armor in detail—that from having produced the first thought the bodhisattvas train in the perfection of wisdom to mature beings and purify a buddhafield, modeling the six perfections such that each of the six incorporates all six.
The training in the six perfections incorporates every training. Awakening is possible because every training in which bodhisattvas train is empty. If beings knew this there would be no reason for bodhisattvas to train. The presentation is only for their sake. Training is an enactment. There is no training, no phenomenon at all that can be apprehended through its own intrinsic nature. No false sense of superiority arises in bodhisattvas engaged in the training. Bodhisattvas are not located in any of the meditative states, first because all the states are empty, and second because the bodhisattvas are never satisfied with an accomplishment until perfect, complete awakening.
Bodhisattvas eliminate the final physical, verbal, and mental bases of suffering. As long as there is the notion of anything, there is a basis of suffering. Bodhisattvas offer abundantly to the buddhas and purify a buddhafield.
As for śrāvaka stream enterers and so on, there is no rebirth in the terrible forms of life, and the same is true for bodhisattvas who have only just produced the authentic thought of awakening. They take perfect human rebirths. The Buddha took rebirth as animals intentionally through skillful means not available to śrāvakas. There is no wholesome dharma that bodhisattvas, starting from the first production of the thought onward, do not complete. A bodhisattva takes rebirth in a terrible form of life, like a being magically produced by a tathāgata, and does not experience suffering. The bodhisattva does not actually turn into an animal any more than a being magically produced by a tathāgata does. All is done for the sake of others. There is no wholesome dharma bodhisattvas do not produce. All are included in the perfection of wisdom. Bodhisattvas produce the clairvoyances and could not be awakened without them. Through their power, bodhisattvas are able to go anywhere, to see whatever is of benefit, and to teach in those places. A bodhisattva does not feel happy or unhappy about whatever happens through the power of the clairvoyances, just as a being magically produced by a tathāgata does not.
The buddhadharmas (the qualities of an awakened being) are the bodhisattva dharmas (the qualities of a bodhisattva). Awakening is the full awakening to all those dharmas. Awakening happens through the wisdom of the unique instant. The first half of that instant, so to speak, is the bodhisattva’s awakening to all dharmas. This is like the difference between the state of a candidate for stream enterer and a result-recipient stream enterer. You cannot say of either that they are not a stream enterer. With the elimination of all the residual impression connections comes complete awakening.
Karmic cause and effect is empty of differentiating marks, but those who do not understand that behave badly or well and accumulate karma with or without outflows. The former end up in terrible forms of life, the latter as humans or gods. Among them, bodhisattvas train in the six perfections, become absorbed in the final meditative stabilization, awaken to perfect, complete awakening, and work for the welfare of suffering beings. If beings knew that phenomena are empty of differentiating marks, no bodhisattva would set out for awakening. Foolish beings settle down on the nonexistent things they have constructed. Bodhisattvas explain the four noble truths to them and make a presentation of the Three Jewels. In fact, beings do not enter nirvāṇa because of knowing the truth of suffering and so on; they do so because of knowing the sameness, in emptiness, of the four truths. This sameness is their ultimate absence. Reality remains, whether the tathāgatas teach it or do not teach it. Bodhisattvas awaken to the sameness of the truths by not apprehending any phenomenon, thereby entering into the secure state of a bodhisattva and standing on the verge of all the śrāvaka attainments, but without actualizing them. Even when attaining perfect, complete awakening, a bodhisattva does not fall down onto it as though from the sky onto the highest peak. It is seeing all phenomena for what they actually are, empty of an intrinsic nature.
All the attributes of śrāvakas and buddhas have not been made by karma any more than all the problems of those in terrible forms of life. All are ultimately not produced. Foolish, ordinary people do not know that phenomena are, in their nature, nonexistent things, and because of thought that has arisen on account of error, they accumulate a variety of karma. A path that delivers practitioners to the results is not a real thing, and neither are the results. Just as there is no underpinning reality for somebody dreaming a dream and experiencing a sense of gratification through enjoying the five sorts of sense objects, there is no underpinning reality that is a basis on which beings accumulate karma. Nobody accumulates karma, just as no karma is accumulated by a reflection on the surface of a mirror and so on. The appearance coaxes beings into believing it is true. No defilement and no purification happen on any path.
The sameness of all phenomena is purification. Even so, bodhisattvas produce the thought of unsurpassed, perfect, complete awakening, thinking, “I will complete the perfections and every good quality that benefits beings,” knowing they are illusory. In reality, even the bodhisattvas are illusory, so no illusion is training in any illusion. That the Tathāgata has fully awakened is a designation by ordinary convention. Ultimately there is no clear realization at all.
Sameness is where there is no existing thing, no intrinsic existence, and nothing that has been expressed. It is not the support and not within the range of anyone. In sameness nothing has a distinguishing feature. Ordinary beings and tathāgatas are the same. Phenomena with different marks come to have the same mark because of emptiness. Bodhisattvas remain in sameness, in emptiness, while working for the benefit of others.
The training in giving gifts and so on is done without moving from the ultimate, without moving from sameness. Whatever the perfection of a phenomenon, the phenomenon is empty of that. When one magical creation has created another magical creation, there is nothing real there that is not empty. “This is a magical creation, this is an emptiness” is a contortion.
Some phenomena are magically created by afflictive emotions, some by actions; some are magically created by śrāvakas, some by pratyekabuddhas, some by bodhisattvas, some by tathāgatas. Even nirvāṇa, a phenomenon that does not coax you into believing it is true, is just an illusion. Ultimately, there will never be anything called “the emptiness of an intrinsic nature” that has to be understood.
In this chapter there is a vocabulary not utilized in the rest of the Eighteen Thousand. Maitreya and the Lord investigate the relationship between a name and what it refers to. Names are plucked out of thin air. Any name can be given to anything. From that perspective all things, including the names, are nothing beyond imagination and unconnected with reality. But the things to which names are given are only known through those names, not from their own sides. When looked for, these things arise from causes and conditions, from ignorance and thought projections that motivate actions. These things are all the same in that they cannot be apprehended. In true reality they are all without any difference. Therefore, all phenomena from form up to the knowledge of all aspects should be viewed from the perspective of three natures: imaginary, conceptual (the term “other-powered” is not used in this chapter), and the dharma’s ultimate nature (again, “thoroughly established” is not used). Understanding this, a bodhisattva does not enter into nirvāṇa but willingly takes a body and reenters the world for the benefit of others.
This summary in verse circulates separately as The Verse Summary of the Jewel Qualities (Toh 13). Here it is not divided into chapters. The first verses say that the Tathāgata is speaking through the voices of the other interlocutors, that the perfection of wisdom cannot be apprehended through any causal sign, and that the mendicant Śreṇika gained nirvāṇa through listening to the perfection of wisdom. These verses follow the order of the Eight Thousand. The verses then generally follow the order of the Long Perfection of Wisdom and give a very helpful summary up until the end of the second of the three volumes of the Degé Kangyur Eighteen Thousand. The verse summary ends with an explanation of each of the six interlinked perfections, the maturation of beings, the purification of the buddhafield, and awakening.
This is a summary of the Eighteen Thousand in the form of a story about Sadāprarudita’s quest to find his teacher Dharmodgata and learn the perfection of wisdom. Sadāprarudita sees the tathāgatas in a vision and wants to know where they have come from and where they went. He starts on his journey but realizes he is lost. He hears a voice from the sky telling him where to go and how to listen and learn. Having heard about the perfection of wisdom, he enters deep into meditation and hears more about it. He must find the way to go and make great merit in order to experience it in reality. Without any material wealth, like a perfect monk, he sells his flesh and blood in the marketplace, earning the admiration of a wealthy merchant’s daughter and her family. He tells them everything that has happened and they enter into his quest and accompany him on his journey. Finally, they actually arrive in the wonderful city in which Dharmodgata lives, and Sadāprarudita again retells his entire story. Dharmodgata tells him the tathāgatas are not produced, so they have come from nowhere and go nowhere. All phenomena are like a dream without any ultimate reality. Having heard the perfect explanation of the perfection of wisdom, the earth shakes, the gods rejoice, and great joy and unshakeable resolve are born in all the retinue. Then Dharmodgata meditates for seven years. Sadāprarudita again gives even his blood to prepare for the teaching to be given when Dharmodgata emerges. He learns the doctrine of the perfection of wisdom in which all dharmas are the same, free from false projections and without limit.
The Lord entrusts the perfection of wisdom to his personal attendant Ānanda and tells him to take care of it as he has taken care of his teacher. The retinue praises the teaching of the Lord.