Gem of Wisdom for Daily Reflection: 

The source material of the Q&A is provided by Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche who was given the title Vajra Acharya (Dorje Lopon) by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche during the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo in Bodhgaya, recognising him as a Vajra Master who is entrusted to transmit the Vajrayana teaching. Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche is the Spiritual Director of Pathgate Institute and the English publishing editor of three volumes of Nyingma Tibetan prayer texts sanctioned by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche.

1. Q: What is Buddhism?

   A: Buddhism  (nang pa chö) is a spiritual faith based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha (sangye shakya tubpa) who attained the state of enlightenment (changchup) in the sixth century B.C. It offers a path of liberation from the repeated cycle of worldly suffering known as samsara (khorwa) through the awakening from ignorance (ma rigpa) by means of recognising the causes and consequences of dependent origination (tendrel du jungwa), and thus eradicating all traces of craving (sepa) to bring forth the cessation of sufferings (dukngal) and gives rise to the lasting peace of nirvana (nya ngen lé dé pa). The entire path is sum up by the following verses in the Sutra on the Vows of Individual Liberation (so sor tar pé do): 

  • In English: Abandon all unwholesome actions; Cultivate all virtues; Purify all thoughts in one’s mind; This is the teaching of all the buddhas. 
  • In Chinese: 諸惡莫作 zhū è mò zuō;眾善奉行 zhòng shàn fèng xíng;自淨其意 zì jìng qí yì;是諸佛教 shì zhū fó jiào
  • In Tibetan: སྡིག་པ་ཅི་ཡང་མི་བྱ་ཞིང༌ dik pa chi yang mi ja zhing; དགེ་བ་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་པར་སྤྱད་ gewa pün sum tsok par ché; རང་གི་སེམས་ནི་ཡོངས་སུ་འདུལ་ rang gi sem ni yong su dül; འདི་ནི་སངས་རྒྱས་བསྟན་པ་ཡིན་ di ni sang gyé ten pa yin.


2. Q: What is a buddhist?

   A: Buddhist (nang pa) is a term refers to a person who is aspired to become liberated from the conditioned existence of samsara (khorwa) by accepting the Buddha’s view of the four seals (dom zhi) that all composite phenomena are impermanent, all contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering, all conditioned phenomena are devoid of self-arising existence, and nirvana is peace. In Tibetan, nang refers to that of the inner aspect and pa refers to a person. Together, nangpa refers to a person who established the foundation of the three refuges and internalises the threefold trainings of discipline, meditation and wisdom in the pursuit of the truth within the nature of the mind, recognising happiness and suffering are merely conceptual projection of the mind itself and is not dependent on external circumstances.


3. Q: What is the foundation of the three refuges?

   A: The foundation of the three refuges is the commitment of one’s confidence in taking refuge (kyab dro) in the awakening state of the Buddha (sangyé); in the teachings of the Buddha (chö); and in the assembly of enlightened beings (gendün). There are four types of refuges:

  1. The outer reliance of taking refuge in the Three Jewels (könchok sum) - the Buddha as our guide, the Dharma as the path and Sangha of arya bodhisattvas as our companions.
  2. The inner reliance of taking refuge in the Three Roots (tsawa sum) - the Lama as the guru; the Yidam as the tutelary meditation deity; and the Khandro as the female wisdom deity who confers support and blessings on the meditator.
  3. The secret reliance of taking refuge in the energy channels (tsa); the subtle energy (lung) and the essence-drop (tiklé) to attain the intrinsic natural state of bodhichitta (chang chub kyi sem). 
  4. The ultimate reliance of taking refuge in the three kayas (ku sum) within the nature of our mind (rigpa) - the essence of voidness (ngowo tongpa); the cognizant nature of luminosity (rangshyin salwa); and the unobstructed compassionate energy (tukjé gakme).


4. Q: What is a Buddha?

    A: Buddha (sangyé) is one of many honoric title referring to a supreme enlightened being of omniscience who is fully awakened from the slumber of ignorance and is henceforth free from the bondage of conditioned existences. Epithets that are commonly used include The Omniscient One (thamched khenpa), Tathagata (deshyin shekpa), Sugata (dewar shekpa), Bhagavan (chomdendé), Lokavudu (jigten khenpa), Foe Destroyer (dra chompa) and countless others.


5. Q: What is the teaching method of a Buddha?

    A: Buddha teaches by means of the threefold miraculous display (chotrul nampa sum): 

  • Miraculous manifestation of form (ku dzuntrül gyi chontrül) to cater for the different karmic conditions of sentient beings. This may range from the supreme nirmanakaya in the form of an ordained such as Shakyamuni Buddha, the sambhogakaya of the primordial Buddha or a deity such as Vajrasattva, and also indirectly through utilising various samples of phenomena.
  • Miraculous display of speech (sung jé su ten pé chontrül) to cater for the diversity of languages used by the six classes of sentient beings.
  • Miraculous mind transmission (tuk kün tu jö pé chontrül) to cater for the different level of mental faculties of students simultaneously in a gathering.


6. Q: What is Enlightenment?

    A: Enlightenment (changchup) is a state of awakening from the ignorance (ma rigpa) of not knowing the karmic law of cause and effect, the truths on suffering and cessation, and the virtues of reliance on the Three Jewels (könchok sum) of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to purify the four veils (dribpa shyi) of karmic obscurations (lé kyi drip pa), emotional obscurations (nyön drip pa), cognitive obscurations (shé drip pa), and habitual obscurations (bak chak kyi drip pa), that inhibit the revelation of our true nature to us.  There are three types of enlightenment: 

  • Enlightenment of the Hearers: Shravakas (nyenthö) motivated by the four noble truths (pakpé denpa shyi) and wish to be free from the conditioned existence of samsara by following the hinayana path (tek men) of renunciation and striving to liberate oneself by focus their view single-pointedly on the selflessness of the individual through the nine stages practice of the mind-abiding meditation (sem nepé tab gu). By gradually pacifying the mental distraction related to the desire realms (dö kham) and the form realms (zuk kham) with the four dhyana meditative-absorption (samten shyi), they may progress onto the formless absorptions of the four perception spheres (kyemché mu shyi).  Their goal is to accomplish one of the four fruition levels of stream-enterer (gyün shyukpa), once-returner (len chik chir ongwa), non-returner (chir mi ongwa) and arhat (drachompa).
  • Enlightenment of the Solitary Realisers: Pratyekabuddhas (rang sangyé) realise the selfless characteristics of phenomena through reflecting on the twelve links of dependent origination (tendrel yenlak chunyi) and aspire to attain awakening by their own effort by leading a life of ascetics and accomplish a higher level of realisation than the shravakas due to their accumulation of merit and wisdom for a hundred kalpas while the state of shravakas is attained due to the accumulation of merit of only sixteen lifetimes. Pratyekabuddhas prefer teaching through display of miraculous acts instead of verbal discourses.
  • Enlightenment of the Buddhas: Bodhisattvas (chang chub sempa) motivated by the arising of bodhicitta (chang chub kyi sem), the compassionate wish to attain full realisation for the sake of all sentient beings in order to establish all beings without exception in buddhahood (sang gyé kyi gompang). Abiding by the bodhisattva vows (jang dom) and follow the path of the middle way (uma) that stays clear of the dualistic perception of the extremes, they come to recognise the total selfless characteristics of both the individual and the phenomena. Through meditating on the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (changchub kyi chok kyi chö sumchu tsa dün) and perfect themselves through the activities of the six paramita (parol tu chinpa druk), they accomplish the practices of the ten bhumis (sa chu) that lead them to the fully realised state of buddhahood - the accomplishment of the Dharmakaya, the Absolute Body (chö ku) for their own benefit, and the accomplishment of the Nirmanakaya, the Emanation Body (tulku) and the Sambhogakaya, the Enjoyment Body (longku) for the benefit of others.


7. Q: Which are the enlightened qualities unique to a Buddha?

   A: A Buddha has many unique qualities. According to the Abhidharma (chö ngönpa), there are eighteen distinctive qualities unique to a Buddha  (sang gyé kyi chö ma dré pa cho gyé):

  • Power over life (tsé la wangwa) : mastery over when to renounce their life or to live for as long as they wish to remain indefinitely due to their perfect practice of generosity in the past.
  • Power over mind (sem la wangwa) : mastery over their meditative states due to their perfect practice of meditative concentration in the past.
  • Power over life necessities (yojé la wangwa) : materialise at ease the life necessities and riches to satiate the need of all sentient beings due to their perfect practice of generosity in the past.
  • Power over karmic action (lé la wangwa) : mastery over the unfolding of karmic action as they wishes due to their perfect practice of discipine in the past.
  • Power over birth (kyewa la wangwa) : manifest at ease as they wishes in a variety of births, of specific form, at specific location due to their perfect practice of discipine in the past.
  • Power over aspirations (möpa la wangwa) : empower to fulfil the wishes of their disciples on the path of training due to their perfect practice of forbearance in the past.
  • Power over prayer (mönlam la wangwa) : empower to fulfil the aspirations of prayers due to their perfect practice of diligence in the past.
  • Power over miracles (dzutrul la wangwa) : mastery over the display of miracles as they wishes  due to their perfect practice of meditative concentration in the past.
  • Power over wisdom (yeshe la wangwa) : possess the primordial wisdom which knows without impediment all that can be ascertain in the past, present and future due to their perfect practice of transcendental wisdom in the past.
  • Power over dharma (chö la wangwa) : empower to give the transmission of the twelve branches of buddhadharma to fulfil the wishes of their disciples due to their perfect practice of transcendental wisdom in the past.
  • Fearlessness in declaring oneself having attained the omniscience of enlightenment (chö tam ché ngön par jang chup pa la mi jik pa).
  • Fearlessness in declaring oneself having eliminated all passions and delusions (jik pa mé pé né).
  • Fearlessness in proclaiming oneself having eliminated all obstacles and doubts in Dharma practices (ngé par jung pé lam tön pa la mi jik pa).
  • Fearlessness in proclaiming oneself having attained emancipation from all sufferings (chos thams cad mkhyen pa la mi 'jigs pa).
  • Equanimity toward those who listen with respect (dül ja gü pé nyen pa la chak pa).
  • Equanimity toward those who do not listen with respect (gü pé mi nyen pa la dangwa).
  • Equanimity toward those who listen with respect and those who do not listen with respect (dré mar juk pa la nyi ka min pa).
  • Immeasurable compassion (nyingjé): the wish of loving-kindness and heartfelt sincerity that all sentient beings to be free from suffering and its causes.


8. Q: Which are the enlightened activities unique to  the Buddhas ?

  A: The enlightened activities (trinlé) of the Buddhas are characterised as being spontaneously fulfilling, perpetual and all-pervasive (tak khyab lhündrub). Since sentient beings are incalculable in number throughout space, the enlightened activities of the Buddhas manifested continuously and spontaneously accomplishing all beings without effort. 


9. Q: What is the definition of sentient beings in Buddhism?

    A: Sentient beings  (sem chen) are living beings who possess a mind that is defiled by illusions and are subjected to the forces of karmic imprints which caused them to transmigrate repeatedly within the six classes of beings of the desire realms, form realms and formless realms. The six classes of beings are gods, asuras, human, animals, hungry spirits and hell beings. Those sentient beings who have attained the accomplishment of the first bhumi and above are not subjected to rebirth by karmic forces but do so voluntarily out of their compassionate wishes to liberate all sentient beings from samsara are known as bodhisattvas (chang chub sempa), the awakened sentient beings.


10. Q: Why are there differences between the four fearlessness of the buddhas and the bodhisattva?

     A: There are differences because all buddhas inevitably entered parinirvana (yongsu nyangdé) due to the lack of merit of sentient beings to support their continuous corporeal presence in the world while their presence in the form of sambhogakaya and dharmakaya are indiscernible by ordinary sentient beings, and the visible presence of bodhisattvas who choose to take birth in the world for the sake of all sentient beings. The four fearlessness of bodhisattvas are:

  • Fearlessness in retaining buddhadharma in the mind at all times and in the elucidation of their meaning.
  • Fearlessness in distinguishing different spiritual faculties of sentient beings and offer remedies of buddhadharma appropriate to the eliminating of their causes.
  • Fearlessness in clarifying and resolving doubts that arise from the practice of buddhadharma.
  • Fearlessness in answering clearly without hesitation to any questions on buddhadharma.

For description of the four fearlessness of the buddhas, you may refer to the previous question on ‘Which are the enlightened qualities unique to a Buddha?’


11. Q: What is Dharma?

      A: Dharma (chö) in general refers to a diversity of conditioned  phenomena:

  • Dharma or buddhadharma is the doctrine of the Buddha (sung rap) which are the transmission of preventive measures to liberate us from suffering and it’s causes while promoting the ultimate goal of full awakening.  
  • Dharma is also a term used to describe: the path (lam); truth (den pa); reality (chö nyi); nirvana (nya ngen lé dé pa); meritorious karma (sönam); phenomena subjected to changes (jung gyur); mental experiences (yi kyi yül); rules (ngé pa); life (tsé); spiritual traditions (chö luk). 


12. Q: How did Dharma come to this world?

     A: According to the teachings of the Nyingmapa, the primordial Buddha Kuntuzangpo who is inseparable from the sphere of Primordial Purity, displaying infinite emanations in innumerable universe to teach and benefit countless beings. For the benefit of sentient beings in this world, he manifested in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha and left behind a vast treasury of teachings which can be classified into extensive form, middle form and short form, and from which twelves branches and nine vehicles emerge.


13. Q: Which are the twelve branches of buddhadharma?

      A: The twelve branches of buddhadharma (sungrab yenlak chunyi) are:

  • Sutra (dö dé) - discourse on a specific topic that is appropriate for the occasion to invoke positive joyful response from those present to inspire them to develop faith in the three jewels of the buddha, dharma and sangha.
  • Geya (yang kyi nyé pa dé) - introduction or summaries of a sutra that are presented as poetic verses of stanzas at the beginning or end of a sutra. 
  • Vyakaraṇa (lung ten pé dé) - examine the past lives and offer prophecies for the future as a means to illuminate the main points in a sutra. 
  • Gatha (tsik su ché pé dé) - teachings presented as verses in the format of a stanza which summarise the main theme of a sutra. 
  • Udana (ché du jö pé dé) - discourse of inspirational aphorisms which include a section of prose followed by a verse to inspire the arising and affirmation of faith in buddhadharma. 
  • Nidana (leng zhi dé) - explanation and guidance given after the occurrence of a specific event. 
  • Avadana (tok pa jö pé dé) - biographical accounts of buddhas and bodhisattvas presented as the testimonies of their realisation.
  • Itivrttaka (dé ta bu jungwé dé) - narratives of historical events as parables to illuminate specific principle of virtues.
  • Jataka (kyé pé rap kyi dé) - birth stories of the former lives of the buddhas.
  • Vaipulya (shin tu gyé pa) - lengthy complex sutra such as the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines (sher chin tong trak gya pa).
  • Abidhutadharma (mé du jungwé chö kyi dé) - accounts of marvellous accomplishments of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
  • Upadesa (ten la pap pé dé) - definitive exposition on specific doctrine such as nature of reality.


14. Q: Which are the nine vehicles of buddhadharma?

   A: The nine vehicles (yana) of buddhadharma are divided into three sets of three vehicles:

  • The first three vehicles are of the Sravaka, Pratyekabuddha and Bodhisattva were given to large assemblies in Varanasi, Vulture Peak, Vaisali and other locations. After the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha into nirvana, there were three gatherings of the Arhats to assemble the teachings of the Sravaka and Pratyekabuddha. The teachings of the Bodhisattva were collected by Maitreya and Manjushri, and later propagated by Nagarjuna and other great masters.
  • The next three yanas are the three Outer Tantras: Kriya, Upa, and Yoga Tantras. The Kriya Tantra was taught at Neranjana, and at Alkapuri - the Pure Realm of Vajrapani. The teachers appeared in the form of the three bodhisattva mahasattva (chang chub sempa sempa chenpo) of Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri and Vajrapani, who are the embodiment respectively of the compassion, wisdom and power of the Buddhas. The teachings of Upa and Yoga Tantra were given by Shakyamuni Buddha in the form of Buddha Vairocana in the realm of the 33 Gods in Akanishtha Heaven to Vajrapani. 
  • The remaining three yana are the Inner Tantras: Maha Yoga, Anuyoga and Ati Yoga. Maha Yoga Tantra is further divided into two classes - Gyude (Tantra Class) and Drupde (Class of the means of attainment). Maha Yoga was disclosed by Lord Buddha in the form of Buddha Vairocana, to Vajrapani, on the peak of Malaya Mountain and in the Akanishtha Heaven. Anuyoga Tantra was first revealed by Lord Buddha in the form of Kuntuzangpo and Dorje Sempa at Gyalmopuri to the King of Lanka and many others. Ati Yoga was revealed to only a few selected disciples by Kuntuzangpo in the form of King Kunjed at Gyalmopuri and Samburi Park. 


15. Q: What is the common foundation of the nine vehicles?

    A: The fundamental pure nature of the mind is the common foundation of the nine vehicles which can also be categorised into common and uncommon paths.


16. Q: Which are the common and uncommon paths?

       A: The practice of sutrayana which includes both Theravada and Mahayana vehicles is known as the common path on which the causal vehicle is used as the means to attain enlightenment. Uncommon path is referring to the practice of tantrayana which utilises the resultant vehicle as the means to attain enlightenment.


17. Q: What are the characteristics of the causal vehicle?

    A: The casual vehicle’s main focus is to create the causes of future enlightenment through the practices of the paramita (parol tu chinpa). Since the accumulation of merits and wisdom are practised separately in a gradual process of purifying one’s mind of faults and karmic imprints, it takes the duration of one great aeon (maha kalpa) of lifetimes to reach the first bhumi, a second great aeon to reach the eighth bhumi, and a third great aeon to attain full enlightenment. 

Note: one great aeon is approximately 1,344 billion human years. 


18. Q: What are the characteristics of the resultant vehicle?

      A: The resultant vehicle starts its journey to enlightenment by applying oneself to think and to behave in the same manner as if one has already attained buddhahood. By the tantric means of using desire-attachment (döchak) as the path which combines the accumulation of merits and wisdom as one practice to transform worldly desires into the pristine state of awakening, the result is a vast reduction in time to attain the ultimate goal of full enlightenment.


19. Q: Which are the prerequisites for the practice of tantrayana?

A: Tantrayana is the union of skilful means and wisdom. Prerequisites for tantric practices are:

  • Access to qualified vajra master - the cause of receiving blessings of the Buddhas.
  • Firm faith in the teachings - the cause of realising the supreme buddhadharma.
  • Commitment to bodhisattva vows - the cause of generating compassion for all beings.
  • Commitment to pure samaya -  the cause of receiving support from the deities.
  • Commitment to renunciation -  the cause of liberation from samsara.
  • Commitment to bodhicitta -  the cause of attaining full awakening.
  • Right view of emptiness and dependent origination -  the cause of eliminating ignorance.


20. Q: What are the characteristics of tantrayana?

      A: The characteristic of tantrayana are:

  • Perceiving one’s guru as Buddha - the practice of guru yoga.
  • Perceiving oneself as deity - the practice of deity yoga.
  • Perceiving guru and deity as non-dual - the unification of all vehicles as one single vehicle.


21. Q: What are the activities of tantrayana?

      A: The activities of tantrayana are:

  • Maintain meditative unification with the yidam.
  • Maintain calm abiding that is free from conceptual notions of phenomena.
  • Maintain purity of body as the deity.
  • Maintain purity of environment as the mandala or pure land of the deity.
  • Maintain purity of enjoyment as offering with bliss and emptiness.
  • Maintain purity of the three doors through positive actions of body, speech and mind.


22. Q: What are the qualities of buddhadharma?

       A: Buddhadharma has five supreme qualities:

  • Buddhadharma is not an intellectualised sectarian belief system based on speculative presumption but the illumination of the universal law of nature based on the Buddhas' enlightened direct experiences of natural phenomena.
  • Buddhadharma is not based on faith alone but can be scrutinised and verified by all beings who can put it to the test and experience the ultimate truth for themselves.
  • Buddhadharma is timeless and the abiding truth it embodies remains unchanged across the three times of the past, present and future. 
  • Buddhadharma is a path of liberation that guarantees to fulfil the full potential of precious human birth leading one to become the heir of the Buddha and attain the ultimate state of peace and happiness,
  • Buddhadharma is an intrinsic cognizance of the wise and can be realised only by the noble beings who are naturally humble and accommodating before the truth and have accepted their personal responsibility to attain the perfect union with the buddha nature of the ultimate truth. 

According to the commentary of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra Shastra (tek pa chen po gyü la mé ten chö)  on buddha nature, Buddhadharma has the following qualities: 

  • It is a path of purity that is free from emotional obscuration.
  • It is a path of clarity that is free from cognitive obscuration.
  • It is a path of remedy that has vanquish both emotional and cognitive obscurations.
  • It is a path of cessation that is inconceivable since it is beyond intellectual investigations. 
  • It is a path of cessation that is absolutely peaceful since it is beyond the influences of karma and emotion.
  • It is a path of cessation that is unfathomable since the Buddhas have perfected every quality that is spontaneously-present.


23. Q: What are the compositions of buddhadharma?

     A: Buddhadharma has two aspects: Dharma of transmission; and Dharma of realisation:

1. Dharma of transmission (lung gi chö) consists of twelve branches of buddhadharma within the collections of Tripitaka - the Three Baskets (denö sum): Vinaya (dulwa), Sutra (do), and Abhidharma (chö ngönpa).

  • Vinaya provides guidance on how to develop pure discipline of conduct (tsultrim kyi labpa) through avoiding negative actions and adopting positive actions. 
  • Sutra is the collection of the Buddha’s testaments on how to cultivate immovable faith (yiché pé dépa) and samadhi meditation (tingédzin) in accordance to the absolute truth (döndam denpa) as spoken by the Buddha in response to the questions and requests of the devotees. 
  • Abhidharma presents the complete classification of all the topics in the sutra from the point of prajnaparamita (sherab kyi pharol tu chinpa), the transcendental wisdom of directly realising the non-conceptual oneness of all phenomena that leads one to the original nature of jnana (yeshe), the uncontrived primordial wisdom of non-abiding nirvana (mi nepé nyangdé) which manifests as the three enlightened bodies of the Buddhas - Dharmakaya (chö ku) the Truth Body; Sambhogakaya (longku) the Enjoyment Body; and Nirmanakaya (tulku) the Emanation Body.

2. Dharma of realisation (tokpé chö) is the nurturing of a virtuous mind that manifest as meritorious activities of the body and of the speech through the training in the skilful means of perfecting discipline to purify non-virtuous views and non-virtuous actions by the doctrine of the vinaya; of perfecting meditation to stabilise right view, right motivation and right action by the doctrine of the sutra; of perfecting wisdom to eliminate the root causes of ignorance by the doctrine of the abhidharma.


24. Q: Which are the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma?

      A: The three turnings are referring to the three cycles of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings:

  • At the first turning of the wheel of Dharma, Lord Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths common to both Theravada and Mahayana traditions at Varanasi.
  • At the second turning of the wheel of Dharma, Lord Buddha reveals the Mahayana teaching at the Vulture Peak on the absolute truth that is devoid of characteristics and conceptual definition as detailed by the Prajnaparamita Sutra in One Hundred Thousand Verses.
  • At the third turning of the wheel of Dharma, Lord Buddha reveals the Vajrayana methods for discriminating between phenomena that have self-established existence, and phenomena that possess none. These transmissions were given at different times and locations in the human realm, and the realms of the gods and the nagas.


25. Q: How do you define the Four Noble Truths?

    A: Four Noble Truths (pakpé denpa shyi) are defined as that which reveals that the self-established existence of phenomena are due to the gathering of conditions as seen by the arya beings:

  • The truth of suffering which is to be comprehend (dukngal kyi denpa).
  • The truth of origin of suffering which is to be discarded (künjungwai denpa).
  • The truth of cessation of suffering which is to be implemented (gokpai denpa).
  • The truth of liberation from suffering which is to be followed (lamkyi denpa).


26. Q: What is the definition of a sangha?

      A: Sangha is defined as follows:

  • Anyone who has received the Refuge Vows and holds firm to the avoidance of the non-virtuous actions of body, speech and mind and follows the threefold training of discipline, meditation and wisdom is deemed as a member of a sangha (gendün). 
  • According to the Vinaya (dulwa), sangha is a term referring to any community of four or more buddhist monks or nuns who maintain straight discipline of Pratimoksha Vows (sotar gyi dompa). 
  • According to the Mahayana (tekpa chenpo), both ordained and lay practitioners who are committed to maintain pure samaya (damtsik) of Bodhisattva Vows and Tantric Vows can be referred to as member of a sangha. 
  • Sangha can also be divided into two unique classes - the outer sangha and the inner sangha.


27. Q: How do you define the outer sangha?

      A: The outer sangha is defined by two main types :

  1. The four classes of the sangha of shravakas (nyenthö) and pratyekabuddha (rang sangyé).
  2. The noble sangha (pakpa gendün) of realised arya bodhisattvas (pakpa chang chub sempa).


28. Q: What is the sangha of shravakas and pratyekabuddha?

      A: The four classes of the sangha of shravakas and pratyekabuddha are:

  • Stream-enterers (gyün shyukpa) - those who follow the Hinayana Path and have to take seven more births in the desire realm to purify the obscurations related to emotions and to the perception of the self.
  • Once-returners (len chik chir ongwa) - those who have progressed from stream-enterers and need to take birth one more time in the desire realm to eliminate the residues of emotional obscurations related to the desire realm.  
  • Non-returners (chir mi ongwa) - those who have progressed from once-returners and have completely extinguished all the emotional obscurations and no longer need to take birth in the desire realm.   
  • Arhats (drachompa) -  those who have attained the realisation of the true nature of conditioned existence and transcended the samsaric cycle of birth and death. There are two kinds of arhats: those with attained the state of nirvana with residue during one’s lifetime and those who entered the state of nirvana without residue at the time of death. Residue here is referring to the remaining influences of the five skandhas (pungpo nga) - the five psycho-physical aggregates of forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.


29. Q: What is the noble sangha of arya bodhisattvas?

      A: The noble sangha of arya bodhisattvas are those exalted beings who have reach the path of seeing (tonglam) and entered the first bhumi of perfect joy (rabtu gawa) as a direct result of them being able to perceive the truth of reality through the non-conceptual practice and meditation of samadhi (ting ngé dzin). 


30. Q: Which are the qualities of the noble sangha?

     A: The noble sangha has six qualities of awareness and liberation (rig drol gei yönten drug) according to Maitreya’s Uttaratantra Shastra:

  1. Awareness of the profound nature of conditioned phenomena. 
  2. Awareness of the vast array of conditioned phenomena in all their diversity.
  3. Awareness of discriminating awareness wisdom.
  4. Liberation of emotional obscurations and attachment.
  5. Liberation of cognitive obscurations and obstacles.
  6. Liberation of obscurations associated to shravakas and pratyekabuddhas.


31. Q: How do you define the inner sangha?

      A: Inner sangha is the assembly of dakinis (khandroma) and vidyadharas (rigdzin). 


32. Q: Which qualities and  activities are unique to the dakinis?

     A: Dakinis (khandroma), the female wisdom deities, can manifested through different aspects and activities to support tantric practitioners on the path by the four activities (lé shyi) of pacifying obstacles (zhiwa); increasing merits (gyé pa); magnetising the beings of the three realms (wangwa); and subjugating belligerent forces (drak po). They may manifest in the form of a vajra master (dorje lopon), as tutelary meditation deity (yidam), or as the wisdom deity who protects the integrity of tantric transmissions. There are four main classes of dakinis with various aspects in relation to the trikaya - the three bodies of the Buddha.


33. Q: Which are the four main classes of dakinis? 

      A: The four main classes of dakinis (khandro) are: 

  1. Secret dakinis who are the emanation of the Great Mother of Wisdom - Prajnaparmita (yum chenmo) - the emptiness aspect of the Mahayana teachings.
  2. Inner dakinis who are the guardians of the tutelary meditation deity’s mandala - the wisdom treasury of the Vajrayana teachings.
  3. Subtle dakinis who are the subtle physical form of the dakinis attained through the tantric practice of working with the energy channels (tsa); the subtle energy (lung) and the essence-drop (tiklé) to attain the subtle body that corresponds to the emergence of an enlightened mind. 
  4. Human dakinis who are the realised yoginis such as Yeshe Tsogyal and Machig Labdrön.


34. Q: How should dakinis be perceived in relation to the trikaya? 

      A: Dakinis are perceived in relation to the trikaya as follows:

  1. Dharmakaya dakinis - the emanation of Samantabhadri (Kuntuzangmo) which encompass the domain of the Dharmadhatu where all phenomena arise. 
  2. Sambhogakaya dakinis - the emanation of tutelary meditation deities (yidam) used in Vajrayana practices.
  3. Nirmanakaya dakinis - the realised yoginis who are the emanation of the enlightened aspects of the Five Buddha Families of the Vajra, Ratna, Padma, Karma and Buddha.


35. Q: How do you define vidyadharas? 

      A: Vidyadharas (rigdzin) are the pure mind awareness holders, capable of remaining in a state of pure awareness inseparable from the nature of their rigpa - the primordial mind. There are four classes of vidyadharas (rigdzin nampa shi).


36. Q: Which are the four classes of vidyadharas? 

      A: The four classes of vidyadharas (rigdzin nampa shi) are: 

  1. Matured Vidyadharas (namin rigdzin) - this include vidyadharas on the paths of accumulation (tsoklam) with focus on the amassing of merits, and vidyadharas on the paths of joining (jorlam) which cultivate the conditions leading to the direct insight of non-conceptual wisdom. The vidyadharas at this stage still posses ordinary bodies but their mind have matured into dharmakaya.
  2. Vidyadharas with Power over Life (tsewang rigdzin) - noble arya beings (pakpa) on the paths of seeing (tonglam) who have utilised the practice of non-conceptual samadhi (tingédzin) to enter the first bhumi of perfect joy (rabtu gawa), their mind have matured into the dharmakaya and their bodies are purified and transformed into the subtle body of the immortal. 
  3. Mahamudra Vidyadharas (chakchen rigdzin) - vidyadharas on the paths of meditation (gom lam), by which 414 greater, middling and lesser erroneous correlation with phenomena of the desire realms (dö kham), form realms (zuk kham) and formless realms (zuk med kham) are relinquished, with their mind having merged with the wisdom mind of the meditation deity and their bodies having transformed into the form of the yidam. 
  4. Spontaneously Accomplished Vidyadharas (lhundrup rigdzin) - vidyadharas on the paths of no-more-learning (mi lobpé lam) - vidyadharas approaching the final stages of attaining full enlightenment of the five buddha kayas - dharmakaya (chö ku), saṃbhogakaya (longku), nirmanakaya (tulku), svabhavikakaya (ngowo nyi ku), and vajrakaya (dorje ku).


37. Q: Which qualities and activities are unique to the vidyadharas?

      A: The qualities and activities which are unique to the vidyadharas are described in the Eight Great Sadhanas of Heruka (drubpa kagyé) which was compiled by Vajradharma (Dorjé Chö) - the peaceful emanation of Vajrapani (Chakna Dorje). These eight cycles of Mahayoga transmissions were first revealed at Deché Tsekpa to the eight vidyadharas of India which included Humkara, Manjushrimitra, Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, Dhanasamskrita, Vimalamitra, Rambuguhya and Shantigarbha. Padmasambhava later gave the Kagyé transmission, both general cycle and individual cycle of yidam deity, to his twenty-five Tibetan disciples of which eight were referred to as the eight vidyadharas of Tibet (pö kyi rigdzin gyé), for having displayed exceptional signs of the qualities and activities of their respective yidam deity. These eight vidyadharas are: 

  • Trisong Deutsen who mastered the enlightened qualities of Chemchok Heruka.
  • Namkhé Nyingpo who mastered the enlightened mind of Yangdak Heruka.
  • Nupchen Sangyé Yeshé who mastered the enlightened body of Yamantaka.
  • Gyalwa Chokyang who mastered the enlightened speech of Hayagriva.
  • Yeshe Tsogyal who mastered the kilaya activities of Vajrakilaya.
  • Palgyi Yeshé who mastered the liberating sorcery of Mamo Bötong.
  • Langchen Palgyi Sengé who mastered the spirits taming ability of Jikten Chötö.
  • Vairotsana who mastered the subjugating mantra of Möpa Drakngak.


38. Q: What is Rigdzin Düpa ?

     A: Rigdzin Düpa - Gathering of the Vidyadharas - is the inner lama practice from the Longchen Nyingtik mind-terma (gong ter) revelation of Jikme Lingpa. At the age of twenty-eight during an  evening meditation, he received from the wisdom dakinis in his vision a casket containing 5 yellow scrolls and 7 crystal beads which he was instructed to swallow. Instantly, the words and meanings of the Longchen Nyingtik terma were awakened in his mind. The ritual of Rigdzin Düpa is customarily performed on the 10th day of the Tibetan month to invite the presence of Guru Padmasambhava to commemorate the heritage of his enlightened activities in the world.


39. Q: What is the difference between pure lands and Buddha fields?

      A: The difference between pure land and Buddha fields are as follows:

  • Pure lands (dag pa'i zhing) can be the pure realms that the arya bodhisattvas dwell within the samsaric multiverse, and where Buddhas teach in the form of sambhogakaya, such as Zangokpalri - the Copper-Colourd Mountain of Glory - in Ngayab Ling, the continent of the rakshasas (sinpo), where Guru Rinpoche as the regent of Vajradhara (Dorje Chang) currently resides and gives Kagyé transmission to the vidyadharas there. 
  • Buddha-fields (sangye kyi shying) are usually referring to the pure lands manifested from the great vows of the Buddhas for the rebirth of their devotees such as the Radiant Lapis Lazuli Pure Realm of Medicine Buddha (Sangyé Menla), and the Pure Realms of the five families (rik ngé shying kham) which include:
  1. Abhirati (Ngönpar Gawa) - Pure Realm of Manifest Joy presided over by Aksobhya (Mikyöpa) of the Vajra family. 
  2. Śrīmat (Paldangdenpa) - The Pure Realm of the Magnificent presided over by Ratnasambhava  (Rinchen Jungné) of the Ratna family. 
  3. Sukhavati (Dewachen) - The Blissful Realm presided over by Amitabha (Nangwa Tayé) of the Lotus family. 
  4. Karmaprasiddhi (Lerab Drubpa) - The Pure Realm of Perfect Action presided over by Amoghasiddhi  (Dönyö Drubpa) of the Karma family. 
  5. Akanishtha (Omin) - The Pure Realm of Blazing Mountain presided over by Vairochana   (Nampar Nangdzé) of the Buddha family. 


40. Q: How can we purify past negative actions and restore positive conditions?

     A: To purify past negative actions, breach of vows and to restore positive conditions, here are some of the most effective practices:

1. Apply the four opponent powers (shakpé tob shyi) in accordance to the sutra:

  • Power of regret (nyejé sünjin gyi tob)  - feeling remorse for past negative actions.
  • Power of remedial action (nyenpo künchö kyi tob) - use of antidote to pacify negative actions.
  • Power of resolve (dompé tob)  - determination not to repeat a negative action.
  • Power of support (ten gyi tob) - consolidate one’s reliance on the Three Jewels, and never abandon bodhicitta.

2. Vajrasattva meditation - daily purification practice. 

3. Narak Kong Shak - the supreme confession for purifying all violations and breaches of vows performed on the 10th and 25th days of the lunar month.

4. Sojong - the practice of confession to remove negativities, replenish virtues and to purify misdeeds for the ordained performed on the 15th and 30th days of the lunar month.

5. Nyung Ne - the fasting retreat to purify negative karma and to accumulate merit and wisdom, performed on auspicious days of the lunar month.

6. Gutor - ritual to pacify negativities and obstacles in the world performed one week before the start of the Tibetan New Year (losar).