Gem of Wisdom for Daily Reflection: 

The Four Truths And Other Enlightened Factors Of The Noble Beings

Shakyamuni Buddha once had a discussion with bodhisattva mahasattva Manjushri on how sentient beings become ensnared in samsara, and by what means should one apply to attain liberation from this hapless dilemma. The Blessed One begins by first exposed the conceptual errors in viewing phenomena as real, and how this obscurations of the mind can be rectified through cultivating the right view of the noble beings in relation to the four truths, the four application of mindfulness, the eightfold paths, the five faculties, and the seven branches of enlightenment.

The exchange of their dialogue covers the Mahayana doctrine that the notion of the self and the conceptual fixation to it are the origin of karma which cause the arising of samsara. It also highlights a range of mental projections that created problems on the path. The resulting discourse is preserved in the Bodhipaksanirdesa Sutra - The Noble Mahayana Sutra Of The Factors Conducive To Enlightenment. The following is the concise text based on the Tibetan translation of the Bodhipaksanirdesa Sutra:

In Sanskrit: Aryabodhipaksanirdesa Namamahayana Sutra

In Tibetan: Pakpa Changchub Kyi Chok Tenpa Shyejawa Tekpa Chenpö Do

Homage to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas!

Thus have I heard:

At one time, the Bhagavan was residing at Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha accompanied by a great assembly of five hundred fully ordained monks and bodhisattvas mahasattvas such as Maitreya and Manjushri.

It was there that the Bhagavan said to the youthful Manjushri, “Manjushri, having their minds misled by the four misconceptual views of perceiving misery as joy; impermanent as permanent; impure as pure; and the non-existence of a self as owning a self, sentient beings are impervious to the knowledge of the four truths as recognised by the noble beings, and hence unable to cross beyond the deluded state of samsara.”

There and then, the youthful Manjushri requested the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, please reveal to us how the views of sentient beings prevent them from crossing beyond samsara.”

“The Bhagavan then replied, “Manjushri, it is because they are misled by the conceptual notions of a self and the delusion of owning a self that they are unable to cross beyond samsara.”

“Why is it so? Manjushri, it is because whoever holds on to the dualistic view of a self and others will cause the arising of karma.”

“Manjushri, the unsuspected ignorant beings, not aware of the essencelessness of phenomena, perceives them with the dualistic notion of a self and others. These views are the causes of the arising of three types of karma related to body, speech and mind. By conceptualising what is of essencelessness as real, they develop the notions of attachment, aversion and confusion.”

“If they renounce the worldly life for monkhood, they start to entertain the notions such as l possess moral ethics, I am pursuing a spiritual life, I shall cross beyond samsara, l shall attain nirvana, I shall attain freedom from suffering.”

“They start to label phenomena as this is virtuous and that is non-virtuous.”

“They subscribe to their own fixation of what are to be abandoned; what are to be embraced; what are sufferings, origin of sufferings, cessation of sufferings, and the path to be followed.”

“They abide by their own conceptual interpretation of what they deemed as impermanent, unbearable, excruciating and the notion that they shall break away from these conditioned states.”

“Overwhelmed by the disillusion caused by excessive thinking to identify the characteristics of phenomena, they started to entertain the notion that whoever identifies those phenomena will recognise the truth about suffering.”

“Thus convinced by their own conceptual projection, they become increasingly disturbed and petrified by their lack of understanding on how to abandon these phenomena which they perceived as the origin of sufferings.”

“Their mind then become obsessed with the thought, ‘I must actualise cessation in accordance to what I know about cessation’, ‘I must cultivate the path’. They go the remote places alone and through focusing on the phenomena, through focusing on their disillusion, through their disenchantment and resentment of all phenomena, and wishing to abandon them, they attained a conditioned state of tranquility.”

“They think, ‘l have attained the state of an arhat; I am liberated from all suffering’. When the time comes at the end of their life, they are frightened by the impending rebirth awaiting them and with a mind besieged by the turmoil of doubts about the Buddha’s enlightenment, they are reborn in the hell realms.”

“Why is it so? It is because all those phenomena which they perceived as real, existed only in their imagination and have no essence of its own to support their own self-arising.”

The youthful Manjushri then asked the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, how should one perceive the four truths of the noble ones?”

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever perceives all conditioned phenomena as unconceived has understand suffering. Whoever perceives all phenomena as unbegotten has discarded the origin of suffering. Whoever perceives all phenomena as inseparable from nirvana has attained the cessation of suffering. Whoever perceives the essencelessness of all phenomena has cultivated the path.”

“Manjushri, whoever perceives the four truths of the noble ones in this way does not conceptualise, cognise nor differentiate, ‘these phenomena as virtuous or non-virtuous’, ‘these phenomena are to be discarded or that are to be realised’, ‘their origins are to be identified and discarded,’ or ‘cessation is to be attained and path is to be cultivated’.”

“Why is it so? It is because they perceive those phenomena through the recognition of reality that is free of attachment, aversion or confusion, and because they recognised these phenomena are merely the fabricated projection of delusion. For these reasons, they do not embrace nor reject them.”

“Remained non-attached to the conditioned phenomena of the three realms, they perceive all three realms as uncreated, like a magical illusion, a dream, an echo, an optical anomaly.”

“By perceiving the nature of all phenomena in the same manner, they become free from the attachment and aversion towards all beings.”

“Why is it so? It is because they do not perceive phenomena with neither attachment nor aversion. With minds as expansive as space, they do not perceive the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha as separate entity nor do they perceive all phenomena as the representation of emptiness, nor do they experience uncertainty about any phenomenon. Where there is no uncertainty, there is no clinging. Because there is no more clinging, they will attain absolute nirvana.”

“Manjushri, because bhiksu Subhuti understands all phenomena in this way, he does not prostrate at the feet of the Tathagata.”

“Why is it so? It is because if he does not perceive even himself, how would it be possible for him to perceive the Tathagata?”

The youthful Manjushri then asked the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, how should one perceive the four applications of mindfulness?”

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, I will in the future explain the application of mindfulness that thoroughly examines the unbecoming aspects of the body. “

“I will explain the application of mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates the arising and ceasing of feelings. “

“I will explain the application of mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates the mind with regard to the quality of arising and ceasing. “

“I will explain the application of mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates phenomena that leave no notion of them as one inseparable whole.”

Upon hearing this, the youthful Manjushri asked the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, how should one perceive the four applications of mindfulness?”

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, perceives them as the inferred speech of the Tathagatas, which is not easy to comprehend.”

“Bhagavan, please reveal to us how to cultivate the four applications of mindfulness,” requested Manjushri.

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, perceives the body to be like space is the applications of mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates the body.”

“Manjushri, whoever does not regard feelings as existing neither inside, outside, or non-existent, is applying mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates feelings.”

“Manjushri, whoever comprehends the mind to be no more than a label is applying mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates the mind.”

“Manjushri, whoever does not regard phenomena as virtuous, non-virtuous, or neither virtuous nor non-virtuous, is applying mindfulness that thoroughly contemplates phenomena.”

“Manjushri, this is how the four applications of mindfulness are to be perceived.”

“Bhagavan, please reveal to us how to perceive the eightfold path of the noble ones,” requested Manjushri.

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever perceives all phenomena as of sameness in essence, non-dualistic, and not individually distinguishable possesses the right view.”

“Manjushri, whoever perceives phenomena by means of not conceptualising or falsely speculating, possesses the right intention.”

“Manjushri, whoever by means of having meditated on the sameness of all manifestations, perceives all phenomena as undefinable to express possesses the right speech.’

“Manjushri, whoever perceives all phenomena without causing the arising of karma due to pure view possesses the right action.”

“Manjushri, whoever avoids causing the increase or decrease of phenomena by means of abiding in the sameness of livelihood possesses the right livelihood.”

“Manjushri, whoever disciplines one’s effort without exertion nor initiates the arising of karma possesses the right effort.”

“Manjushri, whoever is mindful of any phenomenon without exerting oneself in applying mindfulness possesses the right mindfulness.”

“Manjushri, whoever perceives phenomena in an unperturbed natural meditative state of awareness without labelling them possesses the right concentration.”

“Manjushri, this is how the eightfold path of the noble ones is to be perceived.”

“Bhagavan, please reveal to us how to perceive the five faculties,” requested Manjushri.

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever has the conviction to perceive all phenomena as unbegotten by virtue of them being intricately unbegotten possesses the faculty of faith.”

“Manjushri, whoever does not have to mentally surrender any phenomenon due to the absence of dualistic notions possesses the faculty of diligence.”

“Manjushri, whoever does not have to recollect or to be mindful of any phenomenon due to non-clinging to the objects of discernment possesses the faculty of mindfulness.”

“Manjushri, whoever is free from the perspective of dualistic notion and perceives all phenomena as non-dual possesses the faculty of concentration.”

“Manjushri, whoever perceives phenomena as intrinsically inseparable from the essence of voidness, recognising their baseless propensity for self-arising and the non-existence of independent identity, possesses the faculty of wisdom.”

“Manjushri, this is how the five faculties are to be perceived.”

“Bhagavan, please reveal to us how to perceive the seven branches for enlightenment,” requested Manjushri.

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever perceives phenomena as void of existence due to the absence of mindfulness and attention possesses the right mindfulness for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever is detached from the clinging of phenomena and does not regard phenomena as virtuous, non-virtuous, or neither virtuous nor non-virtuous, possesses the right discernment of phenomena for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever has eliminate the notion of being attracted to or abhorred by the three realms, possesses the right diligence for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever has eliminate the dualistic notion of euphoria and sorrow with regarded to conditioned states, possesses the right joy for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever has the mental pliancy to nullify one’s perspective of phenomena, possesses the right pliancy for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever is free of all mental distraction, having deconstructed the effect of phenomena, possesses the right samadhi for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, whoever remains impartial to the influences of phenomena, possesses the right equanimity for enlightenment.”

“Manjushri, this is how the seven branches of enlightenment are to be perceived.”

“Manjushri, I declare whoever perceives the four truths of the noble ones, the four applications of mindfulness, the eightfold path of the noble ones, the five faculties, and the seven factors of enlightenment, have transcended samsara, crossed over to the other shore, attained lasting happiness and fearlessness, having unloaded the burden of worldly concern, free of the grasping and the stains of afflictions; they are the arhats, the renunciants, the brahmins, the all-knowing seers who are cleansed and pure; they are the heir of the Buddha, the heir of the Sakya,  they have nullified all obstacles on the path and no longer besieged by the fever of defilement; they are the bhiksus, the noble ones and the perfect victory banners.”

“Manjushri, those with such fortitude are worthy of reverence and offerings from the worlds with its gods.”

“For these reasons, Manjushri, those bhiksus who strive to provide opportunity for others to practise generosity through their alm rounds, who strive to pacify the influences of mara, who strive to transcend samsara, who strive to attain liberation from suffering, should apply themselves diligently on these Dharma.”

As this teaching was transmitted, thirty-two thousands gods attained realisation of this discourse. The entire assembly with its gods, humans, asuras, gandharvas led by bodhisattva mahasattva Manjushri made offering of mandarava flowers to the Bhagavan and spoke  these words:

“Whoever hears this discourse will succeed in their endeavour to renounce the worldly life under the auspices of the Tathagata. Whoever hears this discourse with absolute faith will attain the ultimate goal of the bodhisattva path.”

At the same instant, Eight thousands and one hundred bhiksus attained liberation beyond birth. Forty-two thousands bodhisattvas attained the forbearance towards the unborn nature of phenomena. Tremors appeared six times across the trichiliocosm of a billion worlds with its palaces of maras, landscapes, as offering of mandarava flowers was falling from heaven.

After this discourse was given, the youthful Manjushri, the great shravakas, and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, gandharvas praised the Bhagavan by saying: “Well said! Well said! How marvellous this discourse has been delivered! How rare indeed! How rare!”

The entire assembly rejoiced and paid homage to the Bhagavan before they depart.

This concludes the Noble Mahayana Sutra of the Factors Conducive to Enlightenment.

In the Tibetan translation of this sutra: Pakpa Changchub Kyi Chok Tenpa Shyejawa Tekpa Chenpö Do (འཕགས་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་ཕྱོགས་བསྟན་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོའི་མདོ) which is based on the Degé Kangyur, only four of the seven categories of the factors conducive to enlightenment are mentioned. This omission was addressed in the Chinese translation of the same sutra Foshuo Dacheng Shanjian Bianhua Wenshushili Wenfa Jing (佛說大乘善見變化文殊師利問法經) which covers all thirty-seven factors in seven categories.

According to The Great Volume of Essential Etymology (Mahavyutpatti), the seven categories are:

  1. the four applications of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna, drenpa nyewar shyakpa shyi);
  2. the four opponent powers (prahāṇa, yangdakpar pongwa shyi);
  3. the four bases of supra-mundane power (ṛddhipāda, dzutrul gyi kangpa shyi);
  4. the five faculties (indriya, wangpo nga);
  5. the five powers (bala, top nga);
  6. the seven branches of enlightenment (bodhyaṅga, changchup kyi yenlak dün);
  7. the eightfold path of the noble ones (aṣṭāṅgamārga, ’pakpé lam yenlak gyépa).

The three missing categories of ‘the four opponent powers, ‘the four bases of supernatural power’, and ‘the five powers’ that are omitted in the Tibetan translation, but appeared in the Chinese translation are as follows:

The youthful Manjushri asked the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, how should one perceive the four opponent powers?”

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever perceives the essencelessness of the twelve links of dependent origination which gives rise to conditioned phenomena, possesses the diligence to avoid generating any negative states that have not arisen; abandon negative states that have arisen; generate the state of virtue that have not arisen; and prevent any arisen states of virtue to deteriorate and to cultivate further more of these qualities.”

“Whoever maintains the pure view of conditioned phenomena that is void of the intention to attach, abandon, or neither attach nor abandon, attains the samadhi of these four opponent powers.”

“What then is the state of the mind? The mind, by progressing from the four opponent powers, has attained the samadhi of supra-mundane power that abides in a state of equality with all phenomena.”

“Manjushri, this is how the four opponent powers are to be perceived.”

The youthful Manjushri then asked the Bhagavan, “Bhagavan, how should one perceive the five powers?”

The Bhagavan replied, “Manjushri, whoever perceives the non-arising property and the non-existing identity of phenomena, possesses the power of faith.”

“Manjushri, whoever is on the bodhicitta path that is void of the intention to attach, abandon, or neither attach nor abandon, possesses the power of diligence.”

“Manjushri, whoever has abandon attachment to memory and is free of fixation possesses the power of mindfulness.”

“Manjushri, whoever is free of the attachment to identity possesses the power of samadhi.”

“Manjushri, whoever is free of the attachment to perception, right till the attaining of nirvana, possesses the power of wisdom.”

“Manjushri, this is how the five powers are to be perceived.”

This concludes the missing passages from the Tibetan translation of the Noble Mahayana Sutra of the Factors Conducive to Enlightenment.

In Mahayana, the thirty-seven factors conducive to enlightenment play an essential part as a succession of five paths (lam nga) to be cultivated as one journeys towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment. These five paths are:

  1. The path of accumulation (tsoklam)
  2. The path of joining (jorlam)
  3. The path of seeing (tonglam)
  4. The path of meditation (gom lam)
  5. The path of no-more-learning (mi lobpé lam)

The five paths also have a closely connected correlation with the progress on the bodhisattva path of the ten bhumis (sa chu). These are ten successive stages of bodhisattva practice on the path to enlightenment. The ten bhumis are:

  1. The first bhumi of perfect joy (rabtu gawa)
  2. The second bhumi of stainless purity (drima mepa)
  3. The third bhumi of luminous being (ö jepa)
  4. The fourth bhumi of radiance (ö tro chen)
  5. The fifth bhumi of impossible to conquer (shintu jankawa)
  6. The sixth bhumi of clearly actualised (ngöntu gyurpa)
  7. The seven bhumi of the one who goes far (ringtu songwa)
  8. The eighth bhumi of the immovable (miyowa)
  9. The ninth bhumi of excellent awareness (lekpé lodrö)
  10. The tenth bhumi of dharma cloud (chökyi trin)

The path of accumulation

The path of accumulation is the stage of understanding. It signifies the journey of progress which begins from the taking of the bodhisattva vows; the arising of relative bodhicitta in both aspiration and action; the wish to cultivate absolute bodhicitta and the applying of effort to gather the accumulation of merit.

The factors conducive to enlightenment at this stage are meditating on the four applications of mindfulness, practising the four opponent powers and cultivating the four bases of supra-mundane power. It is the first three preliminary stages of developing the right conducts for an aspiring ordinary bodhisattva who takes the first step on a path towards the first bhumi of the arya bodhisattva.

The path of joining

The path of joining is the stage of experience. It signifies the increase of wisdom which begins with the aspiring ordinary bodhisattva applying one’s effort in cultivating the five faculties, and the subsequent elevating of the five faculties into the five powers. It is the last two preliminary stages before an ordinary bodhisattva gaining entry into the first bhumi of the arya bodhisattvas.

The path of seeing

The path of seeing is the stage of realisation. It signifies the first direct experience of absolute bodhicitta when an ordinary bodhisattva attains entry into the first bhumi to become a  arya bodhisattva by utilising the seven branches of enlightenment.

The path of meditation

The path of meditation signifies the journey of progress from the second bhumi to the tenth bhumi, by utilising the eightfold path of the noble ones. The main focus is to meditate on, and get familiar with, the truth one realised from the path of seeing, that all delusions are without essence or substance. Through meditating on this insight by abiding in the non-conceptual awareness of emptiness where there is no abiding, one refines and elevates one’s transcendental wisdom while eliminating the increasing more subtle cognitive defilements that surfaced from the all-ground alaya consciousness.

According to the Compendium of Abhidharma (ngönpa küntü) composed by Asanga (Tokmé) from the perspective of the Chittamatra, the Mind Only school (semtsampa) - which adopts the belief that all animated and inanimated phenomena are merely the manifestation of the mind due to the arising of habitual tendencies from the all-ground alaya consciousness - there are four hundred and fourteen cognitive defilements on the path of meditation to be relinquished in order to attain the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment.

The path of no-more-learning

The path of no-more-learning signifies one has reached the eleventh bhumi of completely radiant (küntu ö) by utilising the omniscience of vajra-like samadhi that has completely purified even the most subtle cognitive defilement to attain the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment of a samyaksam-buddha - an arya bodhisattva who has attained the ultimate state of buddhahood, and decided to lead others likewise to reach the perfect enlightenment.

In summary, it is more important to take to heart the pith instructions than to receive a great many teachings. You are encourage to study this teaching to check whether or not your practice accords with what is presented here. You should practice the Dharma authentically with your body, speech, and mind. Remember the bodhisattva’s motto of ‘let it go’, ‘others first’, ‘do it now’. May the success of liberation come presently to those who apply themselves.

This teaching entitled ‘The Four Truths and Other Enlightened Factors Of The Noble Beings’ is presented here by Tenzin Gyalpo Drakpa Gyaltsen Dondrup Dorje as his homage to all the Buddhas of the three times in ten directions. May all beings have the karmic condition to put these advice into practice.