Buddhahood in This Life

Section One: The Explanation for Those Inclined toward the Elaborate

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The Explanation for Those Inclined toward the Elaborate

THE DHARMAKĀYA BUDDHA called “the Adibuddha, the Guide Changeless Light,” who is also known as Śrī Samantabhadra and whose form is endowed with the major and minor marks, exists without ever moving from the uniform transcendent state.33 The potentiality34 of his pristine consciousness manifests in five aspects as the sambhogakaȳa, the five families of victors with colors and complete ornaments, and the fathers and mothers along with their retinues. [3a] The sambhogakāya’s compassion arose as the Victor Mahāvajradhara, whose transcendent state never moves from the state of dharmatā, endowed with the six higher perceptions.35 Through his great compassion and skillful means, Mahāvajradhara arrived on the Amolika rock in the Trāyastriṃśa heaven. Having seen the inconceivable variety of dispositions of the minds of sentient beings to be tamed, apart from teaching inconceivable doors of taming Dharma and categories of vehicles, for those of the very best capacity he taught the tantras of the unsurpassed secret natural Great Perfection. That is the position of Paṇḍita Vimalamitra.36

It is said that the intimate instruction of explanation includes four subjects:


1.The external explanation of tantra through the perfections of the nidāna37 for the benefit of those inclined toward elaboration

2.The internal explanation of the subjects of the text for the benefit of those inclined toward slight elaboration

3.The secret explanation of the definitive intimate instruction for the benefit of those inclined toward less elaboration [3b]

4.The utterly secret unsurpassed totally complete explanation of the concise meaning of the intimate instruction for the purpose of those inclined toward the least elaboration

Sovereign King, listen! In the future here in Tibet the deceptive words of a clever māra will arise, “Teaching a Dharma that is not a sūtra or a tantra of the Buddha is wrong.” In order to sever such doubts, at that time the intimate instruction method of explaining the tantras taught by Buddha Vajradhara should be explained.

1. Now then, in addition, the external explanation of the tantra of the perfections of the nidāna for the benefit of those with elaborate minds is explained with the five perfections: place, teacher, retinue, teaching, and time. Since it is the source of the Dharma, the Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

. . . and plants five kinds of seeds

in the first nidāna that produces the tantra.


The basis is the five divisions.

The Union of the Sun and Moon Tantra states:

The great secret tantras

are explained by the five perfections. [4a]

As such, by teaching it as fivefold, since the basis to be tamed in the continuum of the person to be tamed is located within the five aggregates, the five perfections are taught as the taming antidotes. The perfection of place is explained for the purpose of purifying the aggregate 39of matter, the teacher for consciousness, the retinue for perception, the teaching for sensation, and the perfection of time for mental formations.

Further, the Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

For each individual to be tamed

there are five aggregates to tame.

That which tames them is the nidāna.

If explained in detail, there are forty-five methods of explanation. In the context of practice, nothing is shown apart from symbolic understanding.

Further, the nidānas become two, meaning the secret uncommon nidāna explained in our own texts and the common nidāna explained in the same way as in other vehicles. Apart from these two, the validity together with the rejection of contradictions is explained. Further, the Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

The body is the two kinds of nidānas:

[. . .] the specialness of the uncommon38

is the sign of superiority over all vehicles. [4b]

This is the meaning of the statement from the Union of the Sun and Moon Tantra:

Common and uncommon.

The Uncommon Nidānas

1.1 The uncommon nidāna is comprised of three parts: (1) the five perfections of the character of reality,39 (2) the five perfections of practicing the path, and (3) the five perfections of the ultimate result.


The Character of Reality

The mode of existence of reality has two: (1) the basis of the essence, reality, and (2) the basis of the body’s structure.

The Perfections of Reality The five perfections of the essence, reality: The perfection of place is dharmatā free from proliferation,40 not established through any characteristic, and not established within the experiential range of words and syllables. Since the teacher (the mode of the existence of things) does not exist even as a word upon which proliferation is based, he is not established in terms of faces and hands because he is not established as a nominal proliferation. The perfect retinue for such a teacher is the self-originated,41 self-arisen42 display of dharmatā. The perfect teaching for such a retinue is one’s own vidyā, the ultimate teaching — though it originates, it is self-originated; though it arises, it is self-arisen without being created by any cause or condition; [5a] and it is free from arising and perishing. Though it is present pervading all, its characteristic cannot be understood by anyone. As such, since place, teacher, retinue, and the Dharma to be explained meet in the natural reality of things, the perfect time is called “without beginning or end.” The Heap of Jewels Tantra states:

From the nonexistent empty source of phenomena

the primordial Adibuddha

has always turned the wheel of Dharma

as the intrinsic sound of empty dharmatā

through the special pristine consciousness of vidyā

without a beginning, middle, or an end.


The Unwritten Tantra states:

Amazing! Listen retinue of sublime appearances! The vidyā of reality manifests as the unceasing vidyā of the method of appearances.

The String of Pearls Tantra states:

I am the teacher, the retinue, and the teaching.

I am the retinue that I gather. I am the collator.43

The Structure of the Body The five perfections of the body’s structure: the perfect place is the celestial mansion of the precious heart cakra in which the nāḍīs in the maṇḍala of one’s body meet. Since that is the location, [5b] it is the source of all qualities; it is perfect. The meaning is that an inestimable collection of kāyas and pristine consciousnesses exist in a single body with pure endowments and leisures. That body causes liberation from bondage through subtle material particles. Through such a recognition of the body as the place, proliferation of other is severed. That is a critical point of the Great Perfection beyond activities and effort.

The perfect teacher in such a place as that is Samantabhadra, self-originated as the king, one’s knowing consciousness.44 Pervading all, he is the teacher present as the nature of the pristine consciousness that knows all phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. Since he is the teacher, knowing consciousness arises as a diversity without ceasing. Since there is liberation on the basis of that diversity, there is liberation from objects and cognitions of consciousness.45 Since such a teacher is self-arisen in oneself, it is a critical point of the Great Perfection that is beyond activities and effort.

If it is wondered what is the retinue for such a teacher, he exists 42surrounded by the five kāyas, the five pristine consciousnesses, the five lights, the five wisdoms, the five vāyus, and so on, which will be extensively explained below. [6a] Since those are the retinue, because they gather and attend, they appear as a diverse pure display. Since those [five pristine consciousnesses] arise from one’s body, they are called “the five self-originated pristine consciousnesses.” Those pristine consciousnesses liberate one from the bondage of external and internal ideation.

If it is asked what Dharma is to be explained to such a retinue, it is the bliss of the nonconceptual pristine consciousness based on the nāḍīs, vāyus, and bindus. Since that is also the teaching, there is buddhahood based on this. Since it is perfect, the qualities of buddhahood are fully perfected because one practices based on any of those [nāḍīs, vāyus, and bindus]. That causes liberation from the bondage of sensations of pleasure and pain. Since those qualities originate from oneself and arise from oneself, it is a critical point of the Great Perfection free from other efforts.

As such, the location is the body, the teacher is vidyā, the retinue is the kāyas and pristine consciousnesses, and the teaching is the intimate instruction of the method of nāḍīs, vāyus, and bindus. When these meet in the present body, because it is the perfect time, the purpose is accomplishing buddhahood.

If the result of buddhahood is not accomplished now, since it is accomplished with difficulty later on, the purpose is to make progress. [6b] If one wonders why that is a perfection, it is perfect when there is a meeting of the sublime Dharma, the teacher, the special buddhafield, oneself (born of a family of good karma and good fortune), and one’s devotion to the utterly secret, unsurpassed, special Dharma. Since there is no impediment to awakening, therefore the bondage by the formations of karma, affliction, and secondary affliction are severed in the present. As such, because the basis, one’s unfabricated mind, arose as the essence of the sole reality, there is no need to search elsewhere for the place, etc. Thus, that is called self-originated pristine consciousness. In that respect the Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:


At the beginning of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa,

the aggregates of combined elements arose

from the self-originated unfabricated state.

The vāyu and mind (the cause and condition) in the center of

the four elements — earth, water, fire, and air —

[all] merge, thus generating the celestial mansion.

Unfabricated self-originated vidyā,

totally pure of delusion,

is the retinue of the method of great bliss gathered in the body.

Since the kāyas, pristine consciousnesses, wisdoms, and vāyus

are inseparable and are not perceived to be diverse,

the Dharma of the great bliss of the method of nāḍīs and vāyus [7a]

is explained in accordance with individual experience.

The past, present, and future do not exist.

Never separated, completely inseparable,

all is self-originated pristine consciousness.

The Perfections of Practice

1.1.2 Now, the perfections of practice:46 when practicing in such a place, the perfections are also explained in five subjects.

Within those are two: (1) the basis practiced as trekchö is the explanation of the reality of entities and (2) the path practiced as thögal is the perfect place, the external dhātu and internal dhātu.

The perfect teacher is the vajra chains. The perfect retinue is the kāyas and bindus. The perfect teaching is one’s nonconceptual vidyā. The perfect time is the meeting of these in the gaze. [The Union of the Sun and Moon Tantra] states:47


Through the distinction of the outer and inner condition,

already arisen, one’s vidyā is the teacher.

The kāyas, pristine consciousnesses, and bindus,

a nonconceptual category, arose as the retinue.

The practice instruction is the principle of the teaching.

Cultivating that is also the time. [7b]

The Perfections of the Result

1.1.3 As such, the ultimate result which that path manifests is the perfect place, the dharmadhātu. The perfect teacher is the essence, the pristine consciousness of one’s vidyā, the all-knowing buddha. The perfect retinue is the enjoyment of the inconceivable display of kāyas and pristine consciousnesses. The perfect teaching is immaculate great bliss. The perfect time is the manifestation of realization. The Blazing Lamp Tantra states:

The great appearance (a nonindividuated and undifferentiated totally inseparable state) manifests from the maṇḍala of emptiness, the basis (manifesting as limitless). Unceasing vidyā self-arose from the dimension48 of the basis of great primordial intrinsic clarity (self-arisen as the unceasing enjoyment of the great self-appearance). From this state, this inexpressible meaning was taught, is being taught, and will be taught.

That is the uncommon explanation of “the nidāna of the meaning to be explained.”

The Common Nidāna

1.2 Now, the explanation of the common nidāna in conformity with the common vehicles and mere citations. The words [8a] that illustrate the 45subject to be illustrated are realized on the basis of the discourses of the Buddha free from stains of addition and omission. Those words were spoken by the teacher of the three kāyas.

The dharmakāya teaches through blessing. The sambhogakāya teaches through its own essence. The nirmāṇakāya teaches through well-formed phrases, teaching by means of the sixty tones.

If it is asked in what place it is taught, it is taught in the place of the dharmakāya, the dharmadhātu palace, Akaniṣṭha; the place of the sambhogakāya, Gaṇḍavyūha; and the location of the nirmāṇakāya, Alakāvatī, pure Tuṣita, Vajrāsana, and so on.

If it is asked by which teacher it is taught, the dharmakāya teacher is Samantabhadra and the sambhogakāya teacher is Vairocana. There are three for the nirmāṇakāya. The actual nirmāṇakāya for the dharmakāya called “Mahāvajradhara” is Śrī Vajrasattva. The nirmāṇakāya of the Vajra family is Vajrapāṇi. The nirmāṇakāya for taming the six kinds of migrating beings with methods is the six munis.

If it is asked to which retinue it is taught, the dharmakāya teaches to the retinue of the assembly of devatās of self-appearing pristine consciousness, the inconceivable five families of peaceful and wrathful deities. [8b] The sambogakāya teaches with symbols to the retinue that arises for the benefit of migrating beings, which is none other than the five fathers who are the nature of method, Akṣobhya and so on; the five mothers who are the nature of wisdom, Akaśadhateśvarī and so on; the bodhisattvas, Kṣitigarbha and so on; and the eight female bodhisattvas, Lāsyā and so on. The nirmāṇakāya teaches through words to an inestimable transcendent retinue of buddhas, bodhisattvas, mahāśrāvakas and so on, together with an inestimable mundane retinue of the eight great devas, the guardians of the directions, planets, asterisms, devas, nāgas, asuras, and gandharvas who have all taken worldly forms. Those are explained in the nidāna of the String of Pearls Tantra.

If it is asked what perfect Dharma is taught to such retinues, the dharmakāya taught the inexpressible meaning. The sambhogakāya 46taught the six self-originated syllables.49 [9a] The nirmāṇakāya taught inconceivable sūtras and tantras.

If it is asked when these were taught, the dharmakāya unceasingly teaches when realization self-appears. The sambhogakāya teaches when dharmatā appears as aspects,50 meaning in a pure vision. The nirmāṇakāya teaches for as long as saṃsāra is not emptied through the generation of supreme bodhicitta, teaching from an infinite lifespan down to that of one hundred years. Such teachings are called “the temporary perfect time.” The Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

The basis has five divisions.

The location is held to be three . . .

Thus the perfections are extensively explained through three. The Heap of Jewels Tantra states:

The dharmakāya (intrinsically free of grasping)

teaches Dharmas without proliferation

(which come from the nonabiding, intrinsically exhausted mind

without having been spoken and without being spoken now,

in a state of total uniformity)

with speech free of characteristics

in the self-appearing palace free of proliferation

to a retinue inseparable from himself.

The sambhogakāya (pure intrinsic clarity) [9b]

disseminates Dharmas of pure insubstantiality

(which come from the mind that unifies the five pristine consciousnesses)

from the tongue of pure light rays

with speech of great bliss without proliferation

in the palace of the five pure lights


to the retinue of the kāyas of the five families.

Also, the six syllables

are explained as totally self-originated without being spoken.

The nirmāṇakāya (without clinging),

the source of the Dharma in his own place for taming,51

disseminates the Dharmas for any capacity

(which come from his mind of intrinsically clear memory)

with his tongue (an organ free of grasping)

with verbally proliferated speech

teaching the Dharma of the enumerated vehicles.

As such, the self-arisen three kāyas

satisfy the minds of all sentient beings,

bodhisattvas, and buddhas

and likewise fulfill the hopes of migrating beings.

Thus, the common nidāna is explained.

1.3 As such, the validity of demonstrating two kinds of nidānas: the so-called uncommon nidāna, “Thus I explained at one time,” intends the depth of the intrinsic meaning because it shows the teaching is not spoken by someone else. [10a]

The common one, “Thus I heard at one time,” intends broadness because it is spoken in conformity with what is widely known.

Further, the Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

For the purpose of superiority over others,

the uncommon is applied to the body;

the essentials are gathered into the essence [. . .]52

and for explaining compatibility with the other vehicles,

there is the common nidāna.

If it is asked what is the purpose for such a teaching as the two nidānas, “Thus I taught at one time” is teaching within the retinue with 48the discourse of the teacher because it is shown to be ultimately superior to other lineages. It is a phrase for the purpose of creating confidence in the collator, which means “because other migrating beings attained buddhahood, you should have confidence and listen to this tantra that I have taught, which is secret to others in other buddhafields.” The Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

The speech of the teacher teaches the retinue;

the supreme amazing collator is the lord of the teaching. [10b]

“Thus I heard at one time” is a phrase of the collator. Through fear that others will not have confidence in the collator himself, “Heard by me” removes doubt in order to generate confidence in his own retinue because there is no intermediary between the teacher and himself.

The Realms and Transformations of Sound Tantra states:

The common nidāna

is explained for creating confidence

in the collator’s own retinue.

The tamer arises from the field to be tamed

to make the dispensation remain.

Regarding the rejection of contradictions, if it is claimed that demonstrating two nidānas is contradictory, are “taught” and “heard”53 then contradictory? Is there a contradiction between these two categories?

1) If it is claimed that there is a contradiction between “Thus I explained54 at one time” and “Thus I heard at one time,” the consequence would be that the Guhyagarbha Tantra’s statement, “Thus I explained at one time, ” is contradicted.

2) If it is said that “Thus I explained at one time” exists, but “Thus I heard at one time” does not exist, is this absence true or false? If it is true, the existence of “Thus I heard at one time” is truly contradicted. [11a] If false, that directly contradicts your claim.

3) Further, if it is claimed that “Thus I explained at one time” is a 49substitute for “Thus I heard at one time,” does this statement originate from the teacher of the tantra or is it your own concept? If the former, you are confused. If the latter, it is an exaggeration. If it is claimed to be interpretable, here it is also claimed to be interpretable.

4) Further, if the existence of “Thus I heard at one time” is correct, it also is established as correct because its absence would be incorrect; in other words, there is no contradiction with the teaching by the teacher being heard by the collator.

If it is claimed that there is a contradiction, then clearly it is the claim of a māra or a type of non-Buddhist tīrthika who speaks confusing words.

In general, when the facts are stated, some sūtras and tantras say “taught” and some say “explained.” Other tantras say “heard.” Others say both, yet others say neither. However, this must be understood to be noncontradictory.

If it is claimed that there is a contradiction between these two categories, then the following are contradictory because two occur as a pair: the explanation of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa as a pair; the two truths in the perfection vehicle; both name and text in common Secret Mantra; [11b] creation and completion, and method and wisdom as a pair in Secret Mantra.

Thus the outer explanation of the tantras through the principle of the nidāna for the benefit of those with elaborate minds is explained.

Samaya. Sealed, sealed, sealed.


  33.   Dgongs pa.

  34.   Rtsal.

  35.   Skt. abhijñā; Tib. mngon shes.

  36.   This section is an expansion of the introduction in NB.

  37.   The opening line of a sūtra or a tantra; for example, “Thus have I heard at one time.”

  38.   The last two verses are drawn from reply 9, as given in the Illuminating Lamp concerning the nidānas.

  39.   Gnas lugs.

  40.   To be “free from proliferation” means that dharmatā cannot be thought of as existing, not existing, both, or neither.

  41.   Rang byung.

  42.   Rang shar.

  43.   Following ADZ.

  44.   Shes rig.

  45.   Rnam shes.

  46.   The text departs here from NB.

  47.   The text presents a truncated citation: rang rig sngon ’byung ston pa rtse/. The full citation is: rang rig ye shes sngon byung bas// shes rab rang byung ston pa chi/.

  48.   Klong, often translated as “space” or “dimension,” translates the Sanskrit word āvṛta, which bears the connotation of hidden, covered, enclosure, etc.; hence here I am translating it as “dimension.” It also can render dhātu.

  49.   NB: rang ’byung yi ge med pa. These are image

  50.   This is a pun on the Tibetan name of the sambhogakāya, Vairocana, i.e., rnam par snang mdzad.

  51.   These two lines are missing from NB.

  52.   This line is drawn from reply 9, as per note 38 above.

  53.   Bstan and thos, respectively.

  54.   Bshad.

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