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Activities of a buddha

Activities of a buddha

Part of a series of teachings on Essence of Refined Gold by the Third Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Sonam Gyatso. The text is a commentary on Songs of Experience by Lama Tsongkhapa.

The Buddha’s enlightening influence

  • Activities of a buddha
  • Helping sentient beings progress on the path

Essence of Refined Gold 19 (download)

Questions and answers

  • How to focus on the teachings amidst distractions in daily activities
  • Examples of holy or virtuous objects

Essence of Refined Gold 19: Q&A (download)

Let’s start our next teaching. Let’s begin by cultivating our motivation and really think of the kindness that we’ve received from so many sentient beings. Even if sentient beings sometimes act in a disturbing way to us, that’s no reason to lose sight of the immense kindness they’ve shared with us. They’re under the influence of afflictions and karma, so of course sentient beings are going to do disturbing things. Of course they’re going to make mistakes. We shouldn’t expect anything other than that. If we have that in our mind then when sentient beings make mistakes, we don’t get upset by them—but instead we’re able to look and have compassion for them and still see them as kind and have a wish to benefit them. With that wish to benefit them we aspire for the highest enlightenment in order to be able to most effectively benefit them by leading them on the path to full enlightenment as well. Let’s cultivate that motivation as a reason for listening and sharing the Dharma together tonight, so that we’ll know how to practice the Buddha’s teachings.

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels

We’ve been looking at the section on refuge in the third Dalai Lama’s text. I’ve paused for a while here at this topic to bring in some other materials from other texts. I think it’s very beneficial for you to get a broader idea of what the Three Jewels are, and how to take refuge in them—because they are our spiritual guides. We start out all our practices and everything we do saying, “I take refuge.” This gives us more information to contemplate so that we will know what to actually feel and what we mean when we say, “I take refuge.”

You might be wondering, “Well, how does this relate to my daily life? There are other teachings that talk about anger and attachment and these things, and here we are and you’re telling me about the ten powers of the Buddha and he’s radiating these bodies all over the place. How does that relate to my daily life? How am I supposed to practice this?”

Benefits of knowing the qualities of the Buddha

Well, it does relate to our daily life and there is a strong connection. First of all, when we know the qualities of the Buddha, we will have a better idea of where we are going on the path. In other words, yes, we’re trying to control our anger and have better relationships with people—but what’s the long term goal of our practice? Who do we really want to become? What person do we really want to become? When we hear the qualities of a Buddha, that gives us an image, a role model, of where I’m going in my spiritual practice, how I ultimately want to be. With that, that puts in better perspective why we’re trying to work with our attachment and our anger, and not let them get out of control.

When we first come to the Dharma we might be seeking methods just to have a happier life and not be so emotional. The techniques of thought training and working with the emotions are very good for that. Here we want to go a step further and we want to work with our emotions, not just so we can have a happier life but so that we can really develop our spiritual capability to the ultimate.

What does that look like to develop our spiritual capability to the ultimate? When we say, “I want to become a Buddha,” what in the world does that mean? When we study these qualities of the enlightened ones that’s giving us more perspective on the long-term goal of our practice. We’re trying to subdue the unruly emotions, not just so we can feel better in this life but so ultimately we can become a fully enlightened buddha and really be able to be of benefit. This is what a fully enlightened buddha does. That’s one benefit of learning about these qualities of the Buddha.

Another reason why we learn about them is because when we understand better what a buddha is than we understand who our spiritual guide is. It’s very important when we’re doing a spiritual practice to be really clear about who our spiritual guides are. It’s not like, one day I take refuge in God, and the next day in Moses, and the next day in Buddha, and the next day in Mohammed, and the next day in somebody else. We’re trying to know who our spiritual guide is, what is the path the spiritual guide is teaching, and what is the path that spiritual guide has actualized, because that’s what we’re going to become.

When we hear about these qualities of the Buddha, we know better what our refuge is and why we are taking refuge in the Buddha. Someone may come up to you and say, “Why are you taking refuge in the Buddha? Who in the world is this Buddha guy that you’re taking refuge in? He was just some human being who lived 2500 years ago, and what did he know?” If you know the qualities of the Three Jewels—the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—then you know how to answer that question and you’re able to say, “The Buddha wasn’t just an ordinary human being. He manifested that aspect and these are his real qualities. He didn’t just die and stop existing, but the Buddha still exists, and this Buddha is still available to guide us.”

We know how to answer that question when people say, “Well, who is the Buddha and why are you following his guidance?” We’re clear in our own mind about why we listen to the Buddha’s advice because when you hear his magnificent qualities, you go, “Oh, that’s why I want to listen to advice, because this guy is pretty special!” It helps deepen our faith, and the thing is that when we deepen our faith in the Buddha, and when we have a better attitude about what the Buddha’s virtuous qualities are, then we know better what virtuous qualities we want to cultivate right now. We can become like the Buddha. We learn how to cultivate those virtuous qualities. It helps us just be clear overall, about where we’re going and what we’re doing.

Now you know why we’re going into more depth about the qualities of the Three Jewels. You see it does relate to our life and it does relate to our Dharma practice in the long term.

Qualities of the Buddha’s enlightening influence

Last time we talked about the four fearlessness of the Buddha. We talked about the ten powers of the Buddha. Today I want to talk about the qualities of the Buddha’s enlightening influence, because sometimes we speak about the Buddha’s qualities of body, speech and mind, and then also the Buddha’s quality of enlightening influence. The term for enlightening influence is trinley. The “ley” in trinley is the same word that’s translated as karma. It’s kind of like the Buddha’s enlightened activities, how the Buddha actually acts in order to benefit us. The Buddha is always acting to benefit us—he has all these abilities.

We talked last time about being able to emanate many bodies, manifest whatever sentient beings need in a particular moment, and guide sentient beings according to their interest, according to their faculties, according to their disposition. We have to understand here how the Buddha helps us because the Buddha can only help us, and his enlightening activities can only be effective to the extent that our karma allows it. Our karma and the Buddha’s enlightening influence are kind of about the same strength. If our karma and the Buddha’s enlightening influence go in the same direction then we’re very receptive to the teachings; we can make a lot of progress. But if we have a lot of negative karma and a lot of obscurations, then the Buddha’s enlightening influence cannot override it.

The example that’s always given is the sun that’s shining right now at the Abbey. It’s going everywhere, especially when it’s really high in the sky. From the side of the sun there is no hindrance to where its light goes because its light radiates everywhere. If you have a bowl that’s turned upside down, the sunlight can’t go inside that bowl. It hits the top of the bowl but it’s upside down, so it can’t go inside. The sunlight being unable to go inside the bowl is not the problem of the sun. It’s the problem of the bowl. Similarly, the Buddha’s enlightening influence is radiating out everywhere and the Buddha’s ability to help us is radiating everywhere. If we have a lot of negative karma, or if our mind is very distracted by our attachments, our grudges, and all of our worldly concerns, then that means that our mind is more like an upside-down bowl, in which case the sun can’t shine in it.

A lot of the time, when we’re doing purification practices, when we’re accumulating virtue and positive potential or merit, what we’re trying to do is make our mind more receptive to the Buddha’s enlightening influence. We’re trying to turn that upside-down bowl, slowly lifting one edge and getting it a little bit more and a little bit more. Each time the edge gets higher, more of the sunlight can shine inside where the bowl is. It’s like if we change from a person who has a lot of negative thoughts into a person who has more positive thoughts, the Buddha can really benefit us in a much greater way. We’re able to really receive the Buddha’s enlightening influence, so this is a lot of what we are trying to do. For this reason, we listen to the instructions of our spiritual teachers in order to practice them and make our minds more receptive; then the Buddha can appear in many different ways and guide us in many different ways.

The enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind

Sometimes we speak about the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body. That means that the Buddha can manifest in countless emanations that radiate out in the universe and help sentient beings attain their spiritual goals. There may be what looks like people in our life that we assume are ordinary sentient beings but they might actually be emanations of the Buddha. They don’t wear name tags saying, “Hi, I’m an emanation of the Buddha and I’m here to benefit you!” That’s not the way it happens. Rather, the Buddha just has this spontaneous ability to emanate forms, to be able to say the right thing, the right advice, or somehow do what’s going to be able to benefit each sentient being at a particular time. That’s an enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body.

Through the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s speech, he is able to answer sentient beings’ questions and he’s able to solve their problems through teaching them the Dharma. The Buddha’s chief way of benefitting us is by teaching the Dharma. It’s not by giving us blessed water. It’s not by giving us a blessed dream. It’s not by doing a puja for us. It’s not by giving us pills and things like that. The best way the Buddha benefits us is by teaching us the Dharma. Now why is that? It’s because it’s through learning the Dharma that we learn how to practice.

Blessed water, it’s just water and it actually only purifies our mind if we know how to think about it when we drink it. All the strings, all the paraphernalia that you find in Buddhism, how is that teaching us how to control our own minds? Unless we know how to control our own minds we’re just as lost as before. Whereas it’s really through the Buddha’s speech that he teaches us the methods to deal with our minds. That’s how we really know how to practice and solve our own problems.

Then, through the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind, through the various types of concentration the Buddha is able to enter into, the Buddha knows the aptitudes, levels of realization, and so forth of other sentient beings’ minds. He knows what teachings are appropriate for that sentient being. That’s the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind. It’s through this enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind that we’re able to develop so many good qualities and know how to practice.

How the Buddha’s enlightening influence affects us

In Abhisamayālamkāra it talks about 27 types of enlightening influence. I won’t go through all of them, but these are some of the ways the Buddha’s enlightening influence can affect us. For example, when we’re receptive vessels, the Buddha can influence us so that we have positive and auspicious thoughts. Well, how does the Buddha do that? It’s not because he has a magic wand and goes, “Whammo, you’re going to have positive thoughts!” If the Buddha could do that, he would have done it and we would have had positive thoughts by now. It’s again through teaching us the Dharma that we learn how to think and how to have good motivations.

The Buddha influences us also so that we know better the methods to help other sentient beings ourselves, because we always say we want to benefit sentient beings. Through listening to teachings, being a receptive vessel ourselves, we learn how exactly to do that. The Buddha’s enlightening influence also helps us to deepen our understanding of the four noble truths and to be able to share that deeper understanding of the four noble truths with other sentient beings. Since the four noble truths are the basic outline of all the Buddha’s teachings, having a deeper experiential understanding of them benefits us and enables us to be of greater benefit to others. That comes about through the Buddha’s enlightening activity.

Another way the Buddha’s enlightening activity affects us is that it helps us to feel encouraged and inspired to work for the benefit of others. I think that’s quite an important thing, because sometimes we may be working for the benefit of others and then some sentient being does exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to teach them to do. We get discouraged and we get fed up and we just say, “Oh these sentient beings! Oy vey, what am I going to do?” When we are recipients of the Buddha’s enlightened activity, we feel encouraged and inspired to work for sentient beings. We have the tools at our fingertips to deal with our own mind so that we prevent discouragement, so that we’re able to remedy our own discouragement about the path, or about sentient beings.

Another way the Buddha’s enlightening influence touches us is that it inspires us to engage in the bodhisattva deeds. We feel really uplifted and we want to engage in the bodhisattva practices. Our mind feels stronger, it’s more courageous. With that mental attitude of strength and courage, we can try the bodhisattvas’ deeds and they don’t seem so daunting. When our mind feels weak, when we’re sitting there saying, “Oh, waah! Oh, I’m so incompetent and my tummy hurts. What’s wrong with me, my life is such a mess!” When we’re sitting there, wallowing in our own self pity, we have no mental energy to spare to do the bodhisattva deeds, do we? All of our mental energy is completely consumed, spinning around me, I, my and mine.

That’s our experience, isn’t it? We get so self-preoccupied, “Oh this is wrong in my life and that’s wrong in my life. I try so hard and I have so many obstacles. I always have such a good motivation but nothing ever works out the way I want it to!” We do this all the time, don’t we? This is kind of our record and so when our mind is like that, our mind has no strength. It’s a very weak mind and what makes our mind weak is its self-centeredness. It’s because we’re just sitting there moping all around about ourselves.

When we turn our attention away from ourselves—and toward other sentient beings—our mind becomes stronger. Then we have some energy to engage in the bodhisattva deeds and really work for the benefit of sentient beings. When we work for the benefit of sentient beings, that itself is the reward. Instead of having in the back of my mind, “Well, I’m going to work for sentient beings and then they’re going to appreciate me, they’re going to respect me, they’re going to talk nice about me, then they’re going to give me presents.” No, we’re not looking for any kind of reward like that. Just to have the opportunity to benefit somebody, that is the pleasure and the reward itself, nothing further than that. Just engaging in the bodhisattva deeds seems so blissful, so happy, because the mind is feeling strong and confident and encouraged. When our mind feels that way, this is a sign that we’ve really received the Buddha’s blessings and the Buddha’s enlightening influence.

The Buddha’s enlightening influence helps us establish ethics

The Buddha’s enlightening influence also helps us to establish a firm ethical base to benefit ourselves and others. The enlightening influence inspires us to take the five precepts, to take the monastic precepts, to take the bodhisattva vow, to take tantric initiation and the tantric vow.

Also, the Buddha’s enlightening influence helps us to achieve the various paths. We talk about the five bodhisattva paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and no more learning. Through receiving the Buddha’s enlightening influence, we learn how to do the practices to actualize those paths, to transform our own minds into those paths. That’s how the Buddha’s enlightening influence affects us. When we understand that, we want to make ourselves into the most receptive vessel that we can, in order to receive that enlightening influence.

It’s because we know that, without effort, the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind radiates out this enlightening influence which is continuous and extends to every living being—it’s always there—we want to make our mind the proper receptor. The Buddha is like a radio station that’s on 24/7, and our doing the practice is turning our own radio on. If our own radio is off, there’s no way we’re going to hear any program, so we have to turn our radio on.

The Buddha’s enlightened influence is effortless and spontaneous

There are a few different qualities of the Buddha’s enlightened influence. One is that it’s effortless. The Buddha doesn’t have to sit there and survey the world, “Okay, it’s Monday morning, who needs some help? There’s Joe over in that universe over there. I think maybe, if I put enough energy into it, I can emanate a body over there and help Joe.” No, it’s not like that. A Buddha’s enlightened activity is effortless.

The Buddha is able to do this because of having accumulated so much merit before, having so much practice, and having trained in the bodhisattva deeds so much. The Buddha knows in advance how to benefit sentient beings. “This sentient being over here that just came out of the womb, 20 years from now they’re going to need a teacher. I can manifest now and appear in the world, and then meet them 20 years from now and be able to teach them the Dharma.” All of that happens completely effortlessly and it’s done according to the particular circumstances of different sentient beings.

The students that are trainable and that have the aspiration to develop bodhicitta, those are the ones that it’s easiest for the Buddha to benefit. The Buddha doesn’t think, “I’m going to teach this person this particular teaching.” He just knows their inclinations, their dispositions, and those teachings just come out automatically without a lot of forethought. A Buddha also doesn’t have to spend time thinking, “Well, I should benefit sentient beings. I really don’t feel like it today, but I know I should benefit sentient beings.” Buddha doesn’t have that problem; instead, due to compassion, the enlightening influence just flows automatically.

We see here one aspect of the Buddha’s enlightening influence, which is that it’s effortless and it’s spontaneous. It isn’t planned and preplanned and done with effort. That happens because a Buddha is a fully enlightened being. What we’re doing on the path is we’re trying, with effort, to do the bodhisattva’s actions and generate bodhicitta and so on. As we do it, it just becomes more habitual and then eventually we get to the point where the bodhisattva’s deeds, the Buddha’s deeds, are just spontaneous because our mind is so well trained.

The first quality is that it’s effortless and spontaneous. The second quality is that it’s uninterrupted, and so the Buddha’s actions just flow. They’re not sporadic, like for a little bit or a little while and then the Buddha has to rest, something like that. Because the Buddha has fulfilled the two collections—the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom—all of the Buddha’s enlightened activities are uninterrupted and continuous.

Nine examples of the Buddha’s enlightened influence

There is one text called Uttaratantra; the Tibetan title is Gyü Lama and the English title is The Sublime Continuum. It’s by Maitreya and it gives nine examples of the enlightened influence and how it works. I thought I would talk about those examples. A lot of the examples have to do with Indian culture, so bear that in mind.

1) Having a beautiful form like Indra

The essential nature of the enlightened influence of the Buddha’s body is like the god Indra. Indra is one Hindu god and Indra pays homage to the Buddha. Without thought or effort Indra’s physical form is reflected on the earth when it’s smooth and it’s polished. When sentient beings perceive it, they wish to attain such a beautiful form, such a beautiful body. Similarly, when we see the 32 signs of a Buddha, or the 80 marks, these are signs and marks of a Buddha’s body. As we come in contact with those, then we generate the aspiration to attain the same kind of body and that invigorates us to create the causes to attain the Buddha’s body, the “form body.”

When we talk of the 32 signs, it’s like when you look at the Buddha image on your altar: he has the crown protrusion, there’s the curl of hair in his eyebrow, there’s the long ear lobes. If you look at his hands there are webs between the fingers, his arms are very long, his hair is curled to the right. There are all these different signs, physical signs of a great being. The Buddha receives these great signs by creating great positive potential or merit. That’s a whole other topic, actually, to go through—the 32 signs and the 80 marks. We won’t do that at this time. Some people, the way their mind works, is when they look at the Buddha’s body they feel so inspired by just looking at the Buddha’s body that they think, “I want to generate a body like this. How do I do it? How do I create the causes for it?”

When you do the nyung ne practice, there’s one prayer in it where you’re talking about Chenrezig, offering praises to Chenrezig and saying Chenrezig’s hands are soft like lotus petals, and all these kinds of things. For many people, the way their minds work is they hear about the qualities of Chenrezig and they look at a painting of Chenrezig—these long, narrow, beautiful eyes, and these arms stretched out, and this white radiating body. And they think, “Wow, I would like a body like that. I’m tired of this kind of flesh-and-blood body. I want to have a body like Chenrezig.” They feel invigorated and inspired. That’s what we call the essential nature of the enlightening influence of a Buddha’s body. It inspires us to gain that body.

2) Like the great drum without a player

The essential nature of the enlightened influence of the Buddha’s speech is like the great drum in the God Realm of the Thirty-Three. In the desire realm of gods there’s one realm called the God Realm of the Thirty-Three because there are 33 special gods in it. In that realm there’s a great drum, and that drum doesn’t need anybody to play it. It makes the sound of the teachings by itself and it arouses all these gods who live in that realm to come out of their torpor and to do something constructive.

Just like that drum without a player, the essential nature of the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s speech, without effort, arouses us to rise up above our ignorance and to fight with the defilements and to attain a good rebirth, liberation, and enlightenment. It’s like a great drum that has no player but it makes sound and activates the gods to fight their torpor. Here the Buddha’s speech helps us to fight our torpor and engage in practice.

3) Like monsoon clouds raining on all

The third example of the essential nature of the enlightened influence of the Buddha’s mind is being like monsoon clouds. If you have ever lived in India during the monsoons, the clouds pour steady rain everywhere. It’s raining everywhere and there’s no intention for the clouds to rain, they just do so because that’s the way they are, and they cause the crops to grow. The monsoon rains are very important; that’s the example. Likewise, the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, which are the essential nature of the Buddha’s mind—the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion reach out to all sentient beings everywhere and shower the Dharma upon them and cause the crop of virtue to grow in their minds. Isn’t that a beautiful image? I think that’s such a beautiful image of the Dharma: the Buddha’s wisdom clouds going out everywhere and showering the teachings on sentient beings and then the crop of virtue growing.

Actually, there’s one prayer we say before we do the teachings. At the Abbey we chant this prayer before we have teachings every time, and it goes, “Venerable holy gurus, in the space of your truth body, from billowing clouds of your wisdom and love, let fall the rain of the profound and extensive Dharma in whatever form is suitable for subduing sentient beings.” We have a very beautiful melody for chanting that. This is requesting the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind to be like those billowing clouds of wisdom and compassion, and to rain down the profound and extensive Dharma in whatever form is suitable for us so that we can grow the crop of virtue. That’s the third example of the Buddha’s enlightening influence—it’s like the monsoon clouds.

4) Like Brahma manifesting simultaneously

The fourth example is the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body and speech together. This is like Brahma. Brahma is one god in the god realm, a worldly god. Without leaving his own god realm, he is able to manifest in the realm of the desire-realm gods. By his appearing and speaking to these lower gods, he inspires them to go beyond their attachment to sense pleasure and to develop single-pointed concentration so that they can be born as a Brahma god in this higher god realm. Brahma, without leaving his own realm, manifests in this lower realm to help the gods there who are open to it, to create the causes so they can abandon their attachment to sense pleasure and attain the higher realization of concentration. They can be born as a Brahma-realm god; that was the example.

Then, how it relates is similarly, the Buddha—without leaving the dharmakāya mind, without leaving the truth body—effortlessly manifests in countless realms and, by his physical appearance and his speech, leads sentient beings from samsara. Here’s Buddha abiding single-pointedly in the ultimate nature of reality—he’s immersed in the direct perception of the ultimate truth. At the same time without leaving that state, the Buddha effortlessly, without any thought, manifests in all these various realms to benefit sentient beings. Buddhas by their physical appearance and by their speech, they’re able to lead sentient beings out of samsara. I think that’s quite beautiful. When you study some of these things they seem so far out, but I think it’s incredible because it really pulls your mind out of this present day, everyday daily mind that we have: “I have to go here and I have to go there, and the world’s falling apart, blah blah blah.”

We get so stuck in just our vision of this life. But when you hear about these qualities of the Buddha, it kind of takes your mind and completely pulls your mind out of that narrow vision of this life. It gets you to think, “Wow, at the same time I’m sitting here worrying about picking up the kids from school and getting to work on time (stuck in my little thing), here’s the Buddha spontaneously, effortlessly, without leaving the ultimate nature of reality, manifesting bodies in all these different realms to teach sentient beings according to their disposition and lead them out of samsara.” Then you go, “Wow! That’s going on at the same time that I’m just sitting here, self absorbed.” It pulls you out of your self-absorption—at least for me it does when I think about these things.

It’s very hard to continue to be so self-absorbed when you think about the Buddha’s qualities because they’re so vast, throughout the whole universe, effortlessly, spontaneously doing all this. It’s remarkable and it puts into perspective all of our little problems that we get hung up on. Do you get what I mean? We get so hung up on our little-bitty problems, “Oh, my computer doesn’t work today. Oh, everything is going wrong. Oh, my car broke down today. Everything is wrong. Oh, I have a headache, what am I going to do?” We get so stuck in our limited view and that makes us miserable. When we think about the Buddha’s qualities it’s like, “Whoa, hey, there’s a whole world out there and my mind needs a bigger vision here besides me, I, my and mine.”

5) Like the sun shining in all directions

The fifth enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind is like the sun. This is the analogy I gave you before, that without any intention the sun stays in the sky and it shines in all directions, eliminates the darkness in the world, and also stimulates growth. Similarly, the Buddha’s mind remains in the sphere of the ultimate nature of reality and yet it shines the light of wisdom in all directions all the time. By doing so, it eliminates the darkness of ignorance and it stimulates spiritual growth in the minds of the disciples who are open and receptive.

6) Like a wish-granting gem

The sixth way of the enlightening influences is the secret aspect of the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind. It’s secret or hidden in that it is difficult for us to even think about. This is like a wish-granting gem. This is from Indian mythology; it is a gem that you find in the sea and it’s very rare, and whatever you wish, it can fulfill your wishes. All you have to do is wish for it and it comes about, but it’s restricted to fulfilling worldly wishes. It can’t fulfill your Dharma wishes but it can make you rich, it can bring Prince Charming into your life, it can get you your new rollerblades and your promotion and everything you want, the best chocolate cake in the world. This is the benefit of the wish-granting gem.

The secret aspect of the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s mind is similar in that the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion, they are rare like the wish-fulfilling gem and they can fulfill everybody’s spiritual wishes. They grant attainments by effortlessly teaching the Dharma. How the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion manifest and effortlessly teach the Dharma—and grant our wishes for spiritual progress and spiritual attainment—this is an enigma, a puzzle to our very limited mind. That’s why it’s called a secret or hidden aspect of the enlightened influence of the Buddha’s mind, because we can’t understand how this works. Our minds are too limited.

7) Having speech like an echo

The hidden aspect of the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s speech is like an echo. An echo arises due to many causes: it resounds effortlessly, it communicates well, and yet we can’t locate it anywhere. Where in the world is an echo? You can’t say where it is—it’s not locatable in that way. The Buddha’s speech is like that and it’s hard for us to understand. It’s hidden to us how the enlightened speech spontaneously arises because of sentient beings’ needs and how it communicates the Dharma to everyone, everywhere, without us being able to find the Buddha’s enlightened speech anywhere. We can’t find it, locate exactly where it’s coming from. We can’t say it’s radiating out of this supernova or somewhere like this, but it arises due to causes. It effortlessly communicates well and it spontaneously communicates the Dharma to sentient beings according to their needs.

8) Having a hidden aspect like empty space

The eighth one is the secret aspect, or the hidden aspect, of the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body. The analogy here is like space, empty space. Space pervades everywhere, it lasts forever, and without any effort it allows everything to exist in it. Space is not material, yet it’s everywhere. Similarly, it’s hard for us to grasp how space works, so similarly the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s body pervades everywhere. It effortlessly allows all positive qualities to exist and to grow, it lasts forever until samsara ends, and it’s not material at all.

The Buddha’s body is not material at all and yet it appears, for example, in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha. Then the Buddha is enacting the 12 deeds of a nirmāṇakāya Buddha, a teaching Buddha, in our world. A Buddha like Shakyamuni, who begins the turning of the Wheel of Dharma in a particular place, usually enacts 12 deeds. For example: being born, getting schooled, renouncing, getting enlightened, and teaching the Dharma; there are twelve deeds like that. The Buddha’s body effortlessly manifests in that appearance. For example Shakyamuni Buddha who looked like an ordinary sentient being and did all of those things but actually, the Buddha’s life was a very skillful way of teaching us about how we need to practice. I think it’s very helpful sometimes to look at the Buddha’s biography and think of how the Buddha lived, and take that as an example of how to live ourselves, how to practice ourselves.

9) Like the earth supporting everyone with compassion

The ninth and last aspect of, or analogy of, the enlightening influence of the Buddha, is the compassion of the Buddha, the enlightening influence of the Buddha’s compassion. This is like Earth; without any effort, Earth supports everything. It’s the foundation for everything and it’s the source from which everything grows. Similarly, the Buddha’s compassion functions effortlessly, as a support and as a source, from which everyone’s merit can act as roots of spiritual growth. The Buddha’s compassion supports, and it’s the source which inspires our minds to think and to have positive thoughts, positive attitudes, and positive emotions which act as roots for our own spiritual growth. These are the nine analogies from Uttaratantra about the Buddha’s enlightening influence.

It’s a lot of material, but it’s good to know in your meditation. If you’ve taken notes then go back and read your notes and really think about them. Think of the analogy and how that works and then think of the enlightening influence of the Buddha and how it’s similar to that analogy. It helps you to understand the Buddha’s influence and it really can be tremendously inspiring in our mind to think about the Buddha’s activities like this. It just really inspires our mind.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.

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