If one wishes to fully understand
All Buddhas of the past, present, and future,
One should contemplate the nature of the Dharma Realm3:
Everything is only a creation of the mind4.

“Who and what am I?” “Why do I exist?” Each of us, during some part of our life, wonders about these questions. While we are aware of our own being, we don’t actually know how or why we came to be. Our existence poses a great mystery. Our views of who we are and why we’re here, consciously or unconsciously, affect every moment of our lives. The Buddha was both troubled and fascinated by these questions. He was troubled, in that life unexamined, unsolved seemed meaningless; he was fascinated, in that the solution to this deep riddle was accessible, within reach, almost beckoning.

The teaching of the Buddha, known as the Dharma, grew out of his personal discovery, his awakening to “things as they really are.” Indeed, the word Dharma literally translated is “law”, meaning the universal laws that govern all of reality. These laws are eternal. A Buddha is merely a human being who discovers these laws of reality and compassionately makes them known for others. Buddhism explains the mystery of existence in a way that we can both understand and not understand. This was for a reason: enlightenment must be directly experienced, not simply explained. Properly taught, it should awaken in us a sense of great wonder; a resolve to seek enlightenment ourselves. The Buddha taught that:

1. All of existences is a creation the mind. The true nature of our mind has no particular location in space and no beginning or end in time. It is not born and does not die. The realization of this true nature is known as Nirvana5 – something so profound and extraordinary that it cannot be described in words or conceived in thought. It can only be known by direct realization. Because of its profundity, the Buddha spoke of Nirvana in terms of what it is not:

There is, Monks, that realm, wherein there is no earth, no water; no fire, no air; no sphere of infinite space, no sphere of infinite consciousness, no sphere of nothingness, no sphere of thought nor lack of thought6. There is not this world or a world beyond, or both together, or sun or moon. This, I say, Monks, has no coming, no going, no staying, no passing away, and no arising without support; without duration and without any basis. This, indeed, is the end of suffering7.  

2. Because of ignorance we experience our “self” within Samsara8, the realm of birth and death. This unreal “self” undergoes limitless suffering. This suffering is perpetuated life after life as long as we thirst for the pleasures of existence in Samsara.

3. The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is to point the way to the elimination of ignorance that covers over our true nature. Once we have awakened to it, out of great compassion, we strive to help all beings to also awaken to their true nature; to liberate all that lives. Thus, personal enlightenment and universal enlightenment, self and others, become one and the same.

When you can see that the mountains, the rivers, the great earth and all that originates from them, are things within your own inherent nature; that the Three Realms of Existence are only the mind, and that the myriad dharmas are only consciousness; once you attain that state, then everything, every phenomenon is devoid of origination and cessation. Everything you see – the mountains, the rivers, the great earth, the plants are all one true Reality9.

The Four Noble Truths & The Bodhisattva’s Four Magnificent Vows

In the Buddha’s teaching, the problem of existence and its solution are precisely expressed in the Four Noble Truths and the corresponding Bodhisattva’s Four Magnificent Vows. The Four Noble Truths are best described by an analogy. The First Truth diagnoses the symptom of an illness and the Second determines its cause. The Third Truth describes the final cure of the disease once the cause has been eliminated, and the Fourth prescribes the medicine or treatment that will bring about the cure. The Four Magnificent Vows extend these same truths beyond oneself to include all living beings. Thus in numerous discourses the Buddha said:

Formerly and now, also, it is just suffering and the cessation of suffering that I teach10.

Bodhisattva is a Sanskrit word. It is a compound made up of the two words: bodhi which means “awakened” or “enlightened”; and sattva which means “being”. A Bodhisattva is both an “awakened being” and “one who awakens beings”. He is one imbued with great wisdom and compassion who simultaneously strives to perfect his own awakening along with his ability to awaken all other living beings. When the Bodhisattva has totally perfected these, he becomes a Buddha, one already perfected in wisdom and compassion.

Part I of Buddhism: A Brief Introduction is divided into chapters on each of the Four Truths and Vows. A final chapter explains the meaning of Sangha. Each chapter begins with passages from the Sutras to illustrate each of the Vows and Truths.


BTTS = a publication by the Buddhist Text Translation Society which is
available to the public.
1 "Sutra" literally means a “string” or “thread”. Important words or brief phrases in religious teachings strung together were thus called Sutras by analogy with the string or thread with which a garland of flowers is made. All Buddhist Sutras were transmitted orally for the first three or four hundred years after the Buddha passed into ultimate Nirvana. The teachings were originally taught in the various dialects of the people. In about the second or first century BC the Sutras started to be written
down in various Indic-languages. The largest collection of Sutras in the Theravada or Southern Tradition of Buddhism has survived in the Pali language. The Pali Canon consists of five groups of Sutras called Nikayas. The Northern Tradition was originally recorded in Sanskrit and Sanskrit derivative languages. However, a very small fraction of these have survived to this present time in Sanskrit. Fortunately, ancient
monks-scholars from India and China began to translate the Sutras of the Northern Tradition into Chinese beginning in approximately the first century AD. Through their work, which lasted for many centuries, the vast majority of Mahayana Sutras have survived in Chinese.
2 Majjhima Nikaya I 265
3 “Dharma Realm” is a special term in Buddhism which most closely corresponds to the meaning of “reality”. “Dharma” has three basic meanings. (1) “Law”, which refers to the Buddha’s teaching in which he reveals the universal laws or truths that govern all of reality. In this sense of the Buddha’s teachings, it especially refers to the spiritual practices he taught. (2) “Duty” refers specifically refers to one’s duty in
life in accordance with one’s station, or it can mean one’s religious or spiritual duty. (3) a “thing” or “phenomenon” in the broadest sense. The Dharma Realm is the totality of the realm of all beings and states and the complex ways in which they interact and interpenetrate. It is the whole limitless universe. The nature of the Dharma Realm is the true mind of all living beings. Our mind pervades the entire Dharma Realm, and the Dharma Realm is not apart from our true mind.
4 Praises in the Suyama Heaven, Chapter 20, Flower Adornment Sutra.
5 nir means “not” and vana is literally “effort of blowing”. The origin of the word probably refers to a smith’s fire, which “goes out” or “becomes extinguished” if no longer blown on by the bellows. A frequent simile is that of a lamp’s ceasing through exhaustion of wick and oil. The ancient translators of Sanskrit Sutras into Chinese interpreted Nirvana to mean “without origination or destruction”.
6 These last four spheres are the four heavens in the Formless Realm. Refer to Appendix I: A chart of Samsara (the Realm of Birth and Death).
7 Udana, Pataligamiya Vagga, Sutra No. 1.
8 Refer to Appendix I: A Chart of Samsara (the Realm of Birth and Death).
9 Venerable High Master Hsuan Hua’s commentary to the Shurangama Sutra, Volume 1, BTTS.
10 Maha-Parinirvana Sutra of the Pali Canon.


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