Some Reflections on Enlightenment
The following questions and answers which focus on the topic of "enlightenment" have been brought together from various teachings, public talks, and a private interview.
Q: Your Holiness, could you talk in descriptive terms about the nature and mind of the Buddha?
Sakya Trizin: Buddha nature is the great primordial wisdom is at all times a great bliss without any thoughts. However, activities for the benefit of sentient beings shine non-stop, because the Buddha accumulated great merit and great wisdom which will be fully ripened into these two fruits. So through the great wisdom, they are completely free from obscurations, completely awakened. Obscurations will never touch them. Since the Buddha possesses infinite wisdom, faults will never touch them. Just as the sun shines and the darkness disappears, the wisdom shines and the obscurations completely disappear. At the same time, it is out of great compassion. Since we believe that Buddha does not see impure visions, Buddha does not see ordinary beings; however, out of great compassion, he performs great compassionate activities everywhere and at all times.
Q.: Does a Buddha see suffering?
Sakya Trizin: A Buddha never sees impure visions. Just like a man who is awakened from sleep can never see the dreams.
Q.: Does a Buddha's consciousness ever vary? For example, when he's meditating.
Sakya Trizin: No, the Buddha never has off-time. One unique thing that differs a Buddha from bodhisattvas is that bodhisattvas have off time and on-meditation, but for Buddha, there's no off or on, all the time remains in dharmadhatu or ultimate reality. And without intentions, without thoughts, the Buddha spontaneously turns the great wheel of activities constantly.
Q.: So the Buddha wouldn't make a distinction between himself and his perceptions?
Sakya Trizin: No, it's all pure matter and pure realms.
Q.: In ancient times, it was reported that there was a debate between the Tibetan school of Buddhism and the Chinese school of Buddhism concerning whether the enlightenment is gradual or sudden. Could you talk about that event?
Sakya Trizin: Yes. You see the debate was between the Indian master Karmasilla and the Chinese abbot. The Chinese abbot said that his teaching bestowed instant enlightenment: one didn't have to follow a gradual path, it happened in one moment. One didn't have to depend on accumulation of merits and purifications. He gave the example that the gradual path is the monkey climbing on a tree, and the instant path is the garuda landing on a tree. So the Karmashilla asked where the garuda came from. It couldn't come from space or from the sky. If it flew from the ground then it is an example of gradual and not instant. How could it come from sky? So thus Karmashilla won, and at the debate there was the Tibetan king as witness. He made the law that no one should follow the Chinese teachings, all must follow the Indian teachings.
Q.: Are there moments when an individual can realize enlightenment for a few seconds at a time?
Sakya Trizin: Not the full enlightenment. To get the full enlightenment, you have to go through the whole process. But for a glimpse of clear light, it could arise, not accidentally, but at special times as when receiving the empowerment or when one is in the presence of gurus or great images.
Q.: Could you talk a little about the distinction between deep dreamless sleep and an enlightened state. Not that they're alike, but in our experience, deep sleep might be the closest we come to the dharmakaya experience?
Sakya Trizin: It is said in certain texts that the best opportunities to experience clear light are during dreams or at the time of death. At those times one is in a state where one can witness one's thoughts.
Q.: Could you talk about when the next Buddha to come, Maitreya? Does he exist now?
Sakya Trizin: Yes.
Q.: Could you talk about what the tradition says about him?
Sakya Trizin: The Lord Buddha, before he descends from heavenly realms to this earth, will enthrone the Maitreya as his representative in the heavenly realms, and he said that after his enlightenment and his teachings, he should come down from the earth and give the teachings. So at the period when Lord Shakyamuni Buddha is over, there will be a gap, and then the Maitreya Buddha will come and give the teachings.
Q: How is the Sambhogakaya obtained?
Sakya Trizin: Through the practice of methods. The path is two-fold. First of all, at present, we have the absolute truth and relative truth. Due to this, the path is also two-fold. Method includes compassion, generosity, and moral conduct. These are all part of the method side. Through the method side of the path you accumulate enormous amounts of merit. When you get enlightenment all the merit ripens at once. The result of all the merits is the sambhogakaya, which is the highest physical form of Buddha. It remains in the Buddhafields all the time bestowing teachings to all the highest forms of Bodhisattvas.
Q: You mentioned earlier that there was suffering in all the states of existence. Does that include the Buddha-realms as well?
Sakya Trizin: No, no. The buddha-realm is not in this realm. The round of existence consists of six realms. Three are called lower realms and three are called higher realms. The three lower realms are the hells, hungry ghosts and animals' kingdom. The three higher realms are the human realm, the devas' realm (devas means gods), and asura which means demi-gods.
Q: In the discussion of the third line you said liberation needs the right causes and conditions. You said the cause is compassion and the root is bodhicitta. What is the third thing in this list?
Sakya Trizin: It is the condition. Condition is the skillful means.
Q: I have a question about buddhafields and purification. When one visualizes a buddafield, and when it is purified, is it the same basic ground that once purified, becomes a pure land?
Sakya Trizin: Yes, the person who is practicing when he gets enlightenment, then wherever he gets enlightenment, that whole thing becomes a pure land.
Q: Do pure lands arise without our visualization? Does the person visualize them and does the deity enter the visualization, or does it arise itself without our visualization?
Sakya Trizin: I think it will all be a part of one's own realization. When the mind gets enlightenment, then all the surrounding deities as well as the whole realm just appears. Our own present impure vision also just appears, due to our own defilements and karma. Due to these we have our present vision.
Q: Can the Buddha see the impure vision as well as pure vision?
Sakya Trizin: This has different explanations, but according to our tradition the Buddha does not see the impure vision. As I mentioned before, the man who is awakened from sleep, does not see the dreams.
Q: What is the difference between the deities and the Buddhas?
Sakya Trizin: The deities, as I mentioned before, are ultimate primordial wisdom taking different forms in order to help sentient beings. There are peaceful deities, wrathful deities, some are very simple deities and some are very complex deities. It all depends on the level of the practitioners' mind. In order to suit every level, the deities appear in different forms. They have very special symbolic meanings.