The Jewel of the Sangha

The Third Vajra-point pays homage to the Noble (Ārya) Bodhisattvas. There are two types of sangha—one bearing the features of ordinary beings the other bearing the auspicious mark of the Tathagatas—or self-realized beings. Ordinary beings, i.e., worldlings or the puthujjana are blinded by obscurations that prevent them from entering the path of the Self-realized Noble Ones. The Ratna in this Vajra-point is describing the latter whose mind is blessed with discerning the true import of the Buddhadharma. Once again this is presented with the specified-format of paying direct homage to these Blessed Self-realized Ones by highlighting their salient characteristics. Then it enumerates the eight qualities of the Noble-Sangha.

Takasaki:

Now, from the Jewel of the Doctrine of the Great Vehicle, there arises the Jewel of the Community of Bodhisattvas who are abiding in the irreversible state*. Therefore, immediately after [the explanation of] the former, we have one śloka referring to the latter.

Takasaki’s extensive footnote regarding this “irreversible state” is included in full due to its critical import:

* avaivartika (= avinivartanīya)  About the equivalence of this state to the Bodhisattva’s “bhūmi” or “vihāra” there is a variety among the Mahāyāna texts. At the beginning of the development of the ‘bhūmi’ theory, there seems to have been 4 divisions of states on account of the Bodhisattva’s rank, namely: prathamacittotpādika, caryāpratipanna, avaivartika & ekajātipratibaddha or abhiseka . Besides this division, the division of 10 stages also seems to have an old history and as a result of the combination of both, the former 4 have got their place among 10 stages, being ranked as the 1st, 3rd, 7th & 10th, respectively.

Confusion occurred after the appearance of the Avatamsakasūtra which established the 41 stages of Bodhisattva, ranking the old 10 stages at the beginning under the name of 10 vihāra’s, and newly creating the 10 bhūmi ‘s, Pramuditā & c. as the highest group of Bodhisattva’s stages. As for ‘avaivartika’, it is regarded on one hand as the name for the 7th ‘vihāra’ but on another hand, as being equivalent sometimes to the 1st bhūmī, sometimes to the 7th bhūmi. Here the commentator seems to have used the term ‘avaivartika’ as indicating the Bodhisattva on the 1st bhūmi. (Cf. S. p. 15, 1. 13).

Hence the “irreversible state” is in reference to after completing the 1st bhūmī:

The first bhūmi is called Durārohā (Difficult-to-enter). There is a call to cultivate the knowledge of the impermanence of all things and a resilient refusal to become entangled in the foolish and self-empty affairs of samsara, thereby never becoming enslaved to such phenomena. One begins to develop awareness of supernal Buddhafields and discerns wholeheartedly the nature of undivided bodhipower. There is a refusal now to be chained to Mara’s delusion of clinging to skandhic-personality and the delusion of becoming entrapped in evil destinies. In developing this Right Understanding the devas in the assembly joyfully promised abiding protection to the maturing garbhachild.

(Kārikā 3.)

I bow before those who, having understood perfectly
The extremity of non-substantiality of all the worlds as quiescent*,
Because of their perception of the unreality of defilements
Through the brightness of the innate pure mind of all the world,
Perceive the Buddhahood penetrating everywhere;
Those whose intellect is unobscured,
And whose eye of Wisdom has its objects
In the pureness and infinitude of the living beings.

*Obermiller’s footnote:

The saint’s (Ārya Bodhisattva) intuition of the Absolute. The background of the unreality of the Individual (pudgala-nairūtmya and of the separate elements (dharma-nairūtmya) is the Absolute quiescent by nature (in the aspect of which all separate entities are) unreal.

And whose eye of Wisdom: seeing through the Eye of Tathata:

The Dharma Eye of Tathāta is the exclusive domain of the Shining Ones. All others can approach IT with faith but still do not KNOW IT AS IT IS IN ITSELF. Thus, gradually being in accord with the Unborn Buddha Mind will empower one to become aware of Prime Reality—in essence, nurturing the growing dharma-seed (bodhichild) That Alone can Know the Dharmadhātu.

Takasaki:

§ 1. Manner and Extent of the Perception of the Community.

What is shown by this śloka?
Because of its purity of perception by introspective knowledge,
So far as its manner and extent are concerned,
The Community of irreversible Bodhisattvas
[Is endowed] with the supreme qualities.

By this it is explained, in brief, that the Jewel of the Community of irreversible Bodhisattvas is endowed with supreme qualities, because of its purity of perception by supermundane knowledge, with respect to two aspects, [manner and extent] i.e. ‘being as it is’ (yathāvad-bhāvikatā) and ‘being as far as ‘ (yāvad-bhāvikatā).

**”Knowledge of reality” includes “two sorts of knowledge of reality” (“the true state of dharmas as they are in themselves “(yathāvad-bhāvikatā),” that sort which consists of [knowing] the phenomenal aspect of dharmas, as they are in totality” (yavād-bhāvikatā) [Tung-Ming Chao, from An Analysis of “knowledge of reality” in the Tattvārtha Chapter of the Bodhisattvabhūmi of the Yogācārabhūmi- śāstra.]

  1. yavad-bh.: The limit of all kinds of purity and impurity. The “all” means the five skandhas, the six inside bases (dyatanas) and the six outside dyatanas.
  2. yathavad-bh.: The tathatas of all pure and impure dharmas; the seven tathatas. (Ah-yueh Yeh: paper, A Study of the Theories of Ydvad-bhdvikatd and Yathdvad-hdvikatd in the Abhidharma-samuccaya.)

In short, these qualities of knowledge empowers the realized-sangha to see the nature of all phenomena as they are. Also, they are empowered to see the true nature of the wider Reality (Dharmadhātu) As It Is: Yathabhutam.

a) Right Manner of Perception (yathāvad-bhāvikatā).

Their manner [of perception] is ‘as it is’,
Because they have understood the quiescent nature of the world,
And this [understanding] is caused by
The purity [of the innate mind] and
Their perception of the defilement as being destroyed from the
Outset.

Here, ‘being as it is (yathāvad-bhāvikatā)’ should be understood thus: because, [with respect to the manner], they (i.e. Bodhisattvas) have understood the extremity of non-substantiality (nairātmyakoti) of the whole world called Individualities and Separate Elements (pudgala—dharma-ākhya) as it is (yathāvat). And this understanding, relating to the non-annihilation of Individualities and Separate Elements because of their nature of absolute quiescence from the outset, is produced, in short, by two causes. Namely, because of their perception of the innate brightness (prakrtiprabhāsvaratā) of the mind, and because of their perception of ‘being destroyed from the outset ‘ (ādiksaya), i.e. the extinction of defilements on the mind. Here, these two, i.e. the innate brightness of the mind and the defilement on the mind, are quite difficult to be understood in relation to the fact that, in the immaculate sphere, there is no succession of a second mind because both minds, good and bad, act together as one and the same. Therefore, it is said:

“O Lord, a good mind is momentary; it cannot be afflicted by defilements. The bad mind is [also] momentary; even this [bad] mind cannot be afflicted by defilements. O Lord, defilements cannot touch that mind. [And the mind cannot be touched by the Defilements]. O Lord, how is it possible that the mind, of untouchable character, can be afflicted by darkness? O Lord, still there is defilement and there is defiled mind. Moreover, O Lord, the meaning that the mind purified by nature is defiled is difficult to be understood”

*From Vasubandhu and the Absolute:If the Monistic-Essence were not the background [sole Reality] of the defiled [duality], then the duality would somehow subsist on its own.”

**The Vajrasamādhi Sutra also helps to clarify this apparent confusion:

Apratisthia Bodhisattva then addressed the Buddha: “Lord! Through what skillful means can one transform the defiled consciousness of sentient beings so that they can access the amala (ultimate-fruition consciousness transformed from the eighth consciousness)?”

The Buddha replied, “All the buddhas, the tathagatas, constantly transform all the [defiled] consciousness of sentient beings by means of the One-Enlightenment so that they can access the amala. Why? As all sentient being are endowed with Self-Enlightenment (primordially enlightened), the buddhas, constantly awaken all beings by guiding them to regain Self-Enlightenment. Once enlightened, all the defiled consciousnesses will be [realized to be] void, calm and non-arising. Why? [Because] the Absolute Self-Nature is motionless.”

*Yea, the Bodhisattva’s mission is to steer all sentient beings towards a vocation of resting in serene fortitude in the True Bodhi-Womb of the undefiled Tathagatagarbha—beyond the beyond in noble acquiescence to the Truth that shatters all barriers.

b) Unlimited Extent of Perception (yāvad-bhāvikatā).

Their extent [of perception] is ‘as far as’,
Because they perceive the existence
Of the nature of Omniscience in all living beings,
By the intellect reaching as far as
the limit of the knowable.

Here, ‘being as far as (yāvadhhāvikatā)’ should be understood thus: because [with respect to the extent], they perceive the existence of the Matrix of the Tathāgata in all living beings, up to those who are in the animal kingdom, by means of the supermundane intellect (lokottara-prajñā) which reaches as far as the limit of all knowable things. And this perception of Bodhisattvas takes place in the first Stage of the Bodhisattva, because [verily in that Stage], the Absolute Essence is realized in the sense of all-pervading (sarvatraga).

The Noble Sangha perceives the essence of the Bodhi-seed within all sentitalia as abiding within the womb of Deathless-Suchness. *As far as* emphasizes the full all-encompassing nature of this transcendent enterprise—likened unto Indra’s Net. A good “ambient” focal-tool for this event can be found in the music of the superlative Japanese composer, Stomu Yamash’ta, in particular in his electronic avant-garde masterpiece: the Iroha Series. In Iroha-Ka, the third (my favorite) LP of the series there is a final track entitled, As-Far-As,  a hypnotic sequential “loop” (created via the use of a sequencer) that somehow draws-one-in to the mystical-import of this AS-Far-AS event:

The full video of this composition is available on our video-page.

§ 2. Introspective Character of Bodhisattva’s Perception.

Thus, what is called understanding in such a way
That is the perception by one’s own wisdom.
It is pure in the Immaculate Sphere,
Because it is free from attachment
and has no hindrance.

Thus, the Bodhisattvas’ perception is an Immaculate One (they perceive through the Sphere of Suchness), being free from all defiled-garbha.

Obermiller:

That which thus represents the Transcendental Intuition, the Path (of the Saints) is to be viewed as the Divine, superhuman, introspective perception, peculiar to the (Mahayanistic) Saints which has nothing in common with (the knowledge) of other people. In short, this introspection, being compared with other (ordinary) and incomprehensive knowledge, is spoken of as being perfectly pure out of 2 motives.

What are these 2? (Answer:)—1) It is free from attachment and 2) it (penetrates into the essence of everything cognizable) through being unimpeded. Now (the knowledge of the Bodhisattva) is free from attachment since it has for its object the Germ of the living beings in its perfectly pure nature, this through the intuition of the Absolute. (At the same time) as (the Saint) possesses the complete knowledge of Empirical Reality he has for his object everything cognizable without any limits. On account of this, his cognition is completely free from impediments.

Takasaki:

§ 3. Superiority of Bodhisattva’s Community.

Through the purity of their perception by wisdom,
It is superior as [being the same as] Buddha’s Wisdom
Therefore, the Saints abiding in the irreversible state
Are [worthy of being] the refuge of all living beings.

Perfected through the Wisdom of Buddha-gnosis, the Bodhisattva’s sangha is indeed worthy of being a safe sanctuary for sentient beings.

There is no mention of the Jewel of Community of the Śrāvakas, immediately after the Jewel of Community of the Bodhisattvas, because the former is not worthy of being worshipped. Indeed, there is no wise man who, having known the distinction of qualities between Bodhisattvas and Śrāvakas, casting off the new-moon-like Bodhisattvas, who have the lustre-disk of Wisdom and Compassion filling with great accumulation of merits and knowledge for the Great Enlightenment, and are standing in the illumination over the group existence (gana—samtāna) of innumerable living beings and entering the way favourable for going toward the full-moon of the supreme Tathāgata, tries to bow before the Śrāvakas, who in their turn, although having attained certain limited superficial knowledge, are standing in the illumination for their own existence (sva-samtāna) like stars. Indeed, even those Bodhisattvas who have resolved to attain the Enlightenment for the first time by the quality based upon the purity of altruistic intention, can overcome the holy Śrāvakas who are pitiless, indifferent to the nourishment of others, although having attained perfect purity of immaculate moral conduct and discipline.

Takasaki’s footnote best extrapolates this passage:

* The whole passage illustrates the comparison between Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Srāvakas by an example of moon and stars, saying that the Buddha is like the full moon, Bodhisattvas are like the new moon; both of them have illumination for others, while the Srāvakas, being like stars, have light only for their own illumination.

This concludes by clarifying how the Bodhisattvas, even though they may lack the extensive merits of the Srāvakas, are still morally superior in their compassion and their capacity for bodhicitta (enlightened consciousness).

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