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     Tibetan Buddhism-3

This text and pictures are  published under the permission of
The Office of Tibet,
the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London. 

The Body, Speech and Mind of a Buddha

The Body of a Buddha

What is a Buddha? A Buddha is someone who has abandoned all unwholesome action, all obstructions to knowledge and their remnants. When one abandons unwholesome action, an imprint remains on the mind which acts as an obstructions to knowledge, just as when one drops an onion from one's hand, a smell remains on it. The Buddha has abandoned even the last remnants of these obstructions to knowledge. He perceives the reality of all phenomena directly and has fully developed compassion through meditation, so he spontaneously works for the welfare of all beings. Over countless aeons, he has accumulated limitless merit through the practice of the perfections of giving, ethics, practice and effort and has meditated with a firmly stabilized mind on the antidote to the conception of an inherently existent self-emptiness.

From the point of view of Tantra, he meditated on deity yoga, employing the many subtle and powerful means of Tantra, which enables one to attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.

Although there may be countless Buddhas in any aeon, in the present aeon 1002 Buddhas are to appear as such, of whom four have already appeared. They are already enlightened, but take birth as humans to demonstrate the twelve deeds of a Buddha and guide sentient beings towards enlightenment. The tantric path to enlightenment is peculiar to Shakyamuni's teaching and is otherwise very rare. Shakyamuni taught the sutras to ordinary disciples, in the form of a Buddha. However, he taught superior disciples the tantras in the form of a king or in the aspect of various meditational deities.

There are many ways of representing the body of the Buddha. Though they may reveal different aspects, all are the Buddha's body in nature and offerings made to them are equal to those made to Buddhas themselves. Thus, the Buddha may be portrayed as a monk, like Buddha Shakyamuni, as slightly wrathful meditational deities such as Heruka, or Guhyasamaja, or as female deities such as dakinis, as wrathful male or female deities with ugly forms and animal heads, or as embracing consorts. There are also occasions when Shakyamuni Buddha is represented as a rabbit or an elephant, recalling exemplary deeds he performed in such lives during his career as a Bodhisattva.

Similarly, religious images are also made of Arhats, those beings who have attained personal liberation, religious protectors and Lamas. If the image is a statue, it can be made of any material, whether clay, stone, wood or metal and while there are no restrictions on size, it must strictly adhere to the prescribed proportions and so forth. Whatever material is used, such images should be respected equally, a statue should not be valued more highly than another because it is made of gold and the other of clay. The same is true of two-dimensional images, which in Tibet were most commonly paintings on cloth, block prints or murals.


The Buddha's Speech or Dharma

From the point of view of experience, the Dharma is ultimately the abandonment of afflictions and obstructions to knowledge in a being's mental continuum. The way to attain this true cessation is to follow a true path. The means of communicating this understanding is the speech of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which in written form comprises the collection of scriptures. Both of these are also referred to as the Dharma. When the Buddha spoke, countless beings each found in his words what benefitted him or her most and could understand it in his or her own language.

Shortly after the Buddha's passing away, memorised collections of his teachings were recited in four different Indian languages, including Sanskrit. Later these were translated into Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and so forth. The Tibetan canon includes the Kangyur, about 108 volumes consisting of translations of Buddha's own words, and the Tengyur, about 200 volumes of commentries to teachings contained in the Kangyur composed by Indian scholars, and some commentaries to those written by later Tibetan scholars. Recently, translations of Buddhist texts have also begun to appear in Western languages. No matter what language is used to convey them, what distinguishes such texts or teachings is that their meaning is conducive to sentient beings' achieving enlightenment. This is reflected in the subjects dealt with by Buddhist teaching. The Buddha is said to have given 84,000 instructions, which elaborate on all the afflictions and the means of overcoming them. When condensed, these can be included in the Three Baskets of Doctrine- so called because the original palm-leaf texts in India were contained in baskets. The Basket of Discourses explains the three trainings of ethics, meditative stabilization and wisdom, the Basket of Discipline explains ethical discipline and meditative stabilization, and the Basket of Knowledge explains the divisions of phenomena.

When the Buddha was passing away, some people complained that he was leaving nothing behind to show them the way to enlightenment. To this the Buddha replied that they would find what they needed in the texts recording the meaning of his words.

To show appreciation and respect towards the Buddha's teachings, some texts were written out in gold, silver and other precious substances, especially the Discourse on the Perfection of Wisdom. In general, scriptures are kept carefully in a high clean place, also to denote respect. In temples, the statue of the Buddha, which may form the principal object of offering, is generally flanked by high stacks of books of scriptures which represent his speech.


The Buddha's Mind

To represent the Buddha's mind, which is free of all obstacles and has acquired all knowledge, and to gain merit by paying respect to it, people have built stupas.

The many aspects of a stupa symbolize many things, such as the ten wholesome actions, great compassion and the ability to help all sentient beings.

Stupas were erected at the sites of Buddha Shakyamuni's birth, renunciation, attainment of enlightenment and his passing into Parinirvana, as well as being built over the relics of previous Buddhas.

Circumbulating them is a means of accumulating merit. In Magadha, an Indian kingdom at the time of the Buddha, there was an old stupa reduced to a mere mound. The Buddha circumbulated it, and when asked why, answered that there were holy relics within it.

In response to a question from the gods of the Heaven of Thirty-three, the Buddha explained what to place as relics in a stupa.

These are the four types of relics:

After the Buddha's passing away and the cremation of his body, the people of many kingdoms argued over possession of his remains. A disciple finally settled the dispute by dividing the remains into eight, each portion being enshrined in a stupa in each kingdom. The custom of erecting stupas over the remains of great saints and lamas also continued in Tibet. In some cases, for example the Dalai Lamas, the whole body was enshrined.

Stupas can be of any size and can be made of any suitable material. Relics, other than the four described above, such as statues, clothes or scriptures are also acceptable. For example, in Tibet, sets of thousands of stamped clay images would commonly be made to be placed in stupas.

The Vajra and Bell and beads

The Vajras

The Dorje

Vajras may have nine, five or three spokes. The spokes of a peaceful Vajra meet at the tip whereas those of a wrathful vajra are slightly splayed at the end. When paired with a bell their length can vary from four finger-widths to twenty-eight finger widths.

The upper sets of spokes of a five-spoked vajra symbolize the five wisdoms, which are:

  • The mirror like wisdom-that which reflects all sense perceptions is purified when one attains enlightenment and becomes the mirror like wisdom.
  • The wisdom of equality-arises after all the feelings of pleasantness, unpleasantness and indifference have been purified.
  • The wisdom of individual analysis-arises when the factor of discrimination, which distinguishes one object from another is purified. It enables one to benefit each sentient being according to his or her needs and disposition.
  • The wisdom of accomplishing activity-arises when the basic ability to perform acts according to particular circumstances is purified.
  • The wisdom of the sphere of reality-arises when consciousness is purified and becomes the mind that is the seed of the wisdom truth body of a Buddha. The five lower spokes symbolize have five mothers.


The Bell

The Vajra

A bell can be eight, twelve, sixteen, eighteen or twenty two finger-widths in height. Its base must be round, above which is a vase surmounted by the face of the goddess Prajnaparamita. Above these are a lotus, a moon disc and finally a vajra.

The hollow of the bell symbolizes the wisdom cognizing emptiness. The clapper represents the sound of emptiness. The eight lotus petals are the four mothers and four goddesses and the vase represents the vase containing the nectar of accomplishment.

Paired with the vajra the bell represents wisdom, and as wisdom and method are an undivided unity so the vajra and bell are never parted or employed separately.



Beads are mainly used to count mantras which can be recited for four different purposes:

  • To appease,
  • To increase,
  • To overcome, or
  • Tame by forceful means.

The beads used to count mantras intended to appease should be of crystal, pearl or mother of pearl, and should at least be clear or white in colour. A rosary for this purpose should have one hundred such beads. Mantras counted on these beads serve to clear away obstacles, such as illness and other calamities, and purify one of unwholesomeness.

The beads used with mantras intended to increase should be of gold, silver, copper or lotus seeds and a rosary is made of 108 of them. The mantras counted on these serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit.

The beads used with mantras which are intended to overcome are made from a compound of ground sandal wood, saffron and other fragrant substances. There are twenty-five beads on this rosary. The mantras counted on them are meant to tame others, but the motivation for doing so should be a pure wish to help other sentient beings and not to benefit oneself.

The beads used to recite mantras aiming at subduing beings through forceful means should be made from raksha seeds or human bones in a string of sixty. Again, as the purpose should be absolutely altruistic, the only person capable of performing such a feat is a Bodhisattva motivated by great compassion for a being who can be tamed through no other means, for example extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions, visualized as a dense black ball.

Beads made of Bodhi seed or wood can be used for many purposes, for counting all kinds of mantras, as well as other prayers, prostrations, circumambulations and so forth.

The string common to all beads should consist of nine threads, which symbolize Buddha Vajradhara and the eight Bodhisattvas. The large bead at the end stands for the wisdom which cognizes emptiness and the cylindrical bead surmounting it, emptiness itself, both symbolize having vanquished all opponents.

The Four Harmonious Brothers

Long ago in the dense jungle near Kashi (Varanasi) lived a grouse, a hare, a monkey and an elephant. They dwelt together in peace and harmony. Wishing to know which among them was the eldest so that they might accord each other appropriate respect, the grouse asked each of them to tell how they first remembered seeing a particular tree. The elephant and the monkey recalled seeing it when it was the same size as themselves, the rabbit had drunk dew drops off it when it had but two leaves, while the bird said that he had eaten some seeds and that the tree had sprouted from his droppings. Discovering their proper order of seniority in this way they went about with the monkey riding on the elephant's back, the hare on its shoulders and the grouse perched on top of the hare.

They decided to enter the path of virtue by observing the five basic moral deeds, avoiding: killing, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants. Having made these the basis of their own conduct, they set out to teach them to the other animals in the forest. The resulting harmony brought great peace and prosperity to the kingdom.

One day, the king and queen and their ministers asked a clairvoyant hermit to tell them the cause of their good fortune. He explained that it was because of the animals' good conduct. When they expressed a wish to see the animals, the hermit told them it was unnecessary for they could achieve the same by following the same precepts. This they did and the kingdom enjoyed great wealth and prosperity. Subsequently they were reborn as gods..

Eight auspicious symbols

Right-coiled white conch

The white conch which coils to the right symbolises the deep, far-reaching and melodious sound of the Dharma teachings, which being appropriate to different natures, predispositions and aspirations of disciples, awakens them from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own and others' welfare.

Precious umbrella

The precious umbrella symbolises the wholesome activity of preserving beings from illness, harmful forces, obstacles and so forth in this life, and all kinds of temporary and enduring sufferings of the three lower realms, and the realms of men and gods in future lives. It also represents the enjoyment of a feast of benefit under its cool shade.

Victory banner

The victory banner symbolises the victory of the activities of one's own and others' body, speech and mind over obstacles and negativities. It also stands for the complete victory of the Buddhist Doctrine over all harmful and pernicious forces.

Golden fish

The golden fish symbolises the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, and migrating from place to place freely and spontaneously, just as fish swim freely without fear through water.


The golden wheel symbolises the auspiciousness of the turning of the precious wheel of Buddha's doctrine, both in its teachings and realizations, in all realms and at all times, enabling beings to experience the joy of wholesome deeds and liberation.

Auspicious drawing

The auspicious drawing symbolises the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs. Similarly, it represents the union of wisdom and method, the inseparability of emptiness and dependent arising at the time of path, and finally, at the time of enlightenment, the complete union of wisdom and great compassion.

Lotus flower

The lotus flower symbolises the complete purification of the defilements of the body, speech and mind, and the full blossoming of wholesome deeds in blissful liberation.

Vase of treasure

The treasure vase symbolises an endless rain of long life, wealth and prosperity and all the benefits of this world and liberation.

Buddhist Hand Gestures

The Gesture of Turning the Wheel of Dharma

The thumb and index finger of the right hand stand for wisdom and method combined. The other three raised fingers symbolize the teaching of the Buddhist doctrine, which leads sentient beings to the paths of the beings of three capacities. The position of the left hand symbolizes the beings of the three capacities, who follow the combined path of method and wisdom.



The Gesture of Pressing the Earth

The right hand gestures pressing the earth. The position of the left hand symbolizes meditation. Together, they stand for the Buddha's overcoming of hindrances while meditating on emptiness.

The Gesture of Meditation

The nerve channel associated with the mind of enlightenment (Bodhichitta) passes through the thumbs. Thus, joining of the two thumbs in this gesture is of auspicious significance for the future development of the mind of enlightenment.


The Gesture Supreme Accomplishment and Meditation

The gesture of the right hand symbolizes bestowal of supreme accomplishment. That of the left hand symbolizes meditation. Together, they stand for the Buddha's power to bestow supreme and general accomplishments on his disciples, while he meditates on emptiness.


The Gesture of Turning the Wheel of Dharma and Meditation

The gesture of the right hand stands for turning the wheel of Dharma, while that of the left hand symbolizes meditation. The two conjoined symbolize teaching the Dharma while in meditation on emptiness.

Altar Offerings

In every Tibetan home, a place is reserved to make offerings to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Spiritual Community. The Three Jewels are often represented by a statue or thanka painting, a scripture and a stupa or a reliquary object. Before them is space to set up a set of standard offerings, represented by bowls of water, and the occasional torma ritual cake or other offerings of food. The water in the bowls would be changed every morning. For a practitioner, such offerings provide a basis for transformation into unsurpassable offerings.

According to the Buddhist scriptures, all the faults in the universe are the result of sentient beings' disturbing emotions. Instead of dwelling on the faults to be seen in our offerings, but imagining them as pure and faultless, we create an imprint for purifying our minds of obstruction and defilement. Therefore they are imagined as pure and beautiful as possible, incorporating the best of everything existing in the past, present and future and the ten directions of the universe. The exalted beings to whom we make offerings do not apparently consume the physical substances before us. Nevertheless, as a basis for acquiring merit, such physical offerings should be clean, made of the best substances, attractive to ourselves and acquired through honest means. Consequently, they will form a better basis for imagining perfect offerings.

When preparing to make offerings, we should begin by meditating

on the wisdom of great bliss and emptiness, imagining it has taken the form of the offering. When making the offering, we should think of it as empty of intrinsic existence. 1n this way, we purify the offering of its ordinary aspects and also purify our minds. We should abandon any thought of immediate benefit, especially in relation to ourselves in this life. It is also important not to entertain doubts about the quality of our offering and whether or not it pleased the exalted being to whom we presented it. Instead think that the deity' rejoiced at the offering and generated great bliss from partaking of it.

Water-bowl Offerings

The traditional set of offerings, commonly represented by bowls of water, derives from the customary offerings presented to an honoured guest in ancient India. The first bowl contains clear water for the newly arrived guests to drink. The water should be imagined as pure as nectar and offered in vessels made of precious substances. In the second bowl is water for the guest to wash his or her feet; a reminder that in India people walked barefoot. In the third bowl are flowers, reminiscent of the crowns of flowers offered to women and the garlands offered to men. Masses of fragrant, beautiful flowers can be called up in the imagination. In the fourth bowl is incense, an offering to please the sense of smell. In the imagination billowing clouds of fragrant incense are offered. The fifth offering, pleasing to sight, is bright light commonly in the form of a lamp, which like the sun and the moon illuminates darkness. This light is imagined to be so clear that you can see even the smallest atoms without obstruction. Sometimes coloured lights are offered and imagined to be emanating from nectar. In Tibetan tradition different colours are believed to have various healing properties. Coloured or not, the light offered should be very clear. Light is imagined as dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Shariputra, the Buddha's main disciple renowned for his intelligence, had, in a previous life, offered a bright light before a stupa. As a result he was reborn with great intelligence. The sixth offering consists of a bowl of scented water. Intended to soothe the mind, it is applied at the heart. Seventh is an offering of food, commonly in the form of a torma or ritual cake. In India, this offering traditionally contained three sweet substances: molasses, honey and sugar and three white substances: curd, butter and milk. In Tibet, these would be mixed with tsampa or parched barley flour to make an offering cake. The result is like ambrosia, pleasing in colour, form, smell, and taste. Eighth is an offering of sound. It is not represented on the altar, but can simply be imagined as beautiful music..