«A Teaching by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche Given at Orgyen Dorje Den (circa 1992) Orgyen Dorje Den, 2244 Santa Clara Ave Alameda, CA 94501 Table ...»
The Three Symbolic Supports of the Dharma:
Teaching on the Benefits of Constructing
Statues and Stupas
A Teaching by
Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche
Given at Orgyen Dorje Den (circa 1992)
Orgyen Dorje Den, 2244 Santa Clara Ave Alameda, CA 94501
Table of Contents
The Three Symbolic Supports of the Dharma:
Opening Comments: The Importance of Motivation
The Benefits in Four Parts
Part 1 - The General Benefits of Building the Three Supports Part 2 - The Benefit of Building Buddha Statues: The Supports of Enlightened Body Q&A Part 3 - The Benefit of Building Stupas: The Supports of Enlightened Mind Part 4 - The Benefits of The Supports of Enlightened Speech Concluding Remarks: Motivation, Purity of Mind, and Bodhicitta Opening Comments: The Importance of Motivation This teaching is all about the benefits of building stupas, statues, monasteries, and writing dharma texts. It is good to understand the benefits clearly, so we can apply them in our daily life.
This is not a teaching that we need to sit down and practice every day, morning and night.
There are immense benefits to building stupas, statues, monasteries, and writing dharma texts, but they all depend upon our motivation. Everything depends upon our motivation. If we have a very pure motivation, then even though our action may appear to be non-virtuous, actually it is virtuous.
The Kunzang Lame Shalung tells a story of how in Tibet, there were many small temples with many stones arranged in rows which were imprinted with OM MANI PADME HUNG, and OM BENZAR GURU PADME SIDDHI HUNG. On one side of these rows, someone had placed a tsa tsa. One day it was raining really badly, and a person came along and thought, “This rain is going to spoil this tsa tsa; I must protect this tsa tsa.” So he looked here and there for something to protect it with, but all he could find was an old piece of torn shoe. So he placed it over the tsa tsa to protect it. Actually, the torn piece of shoe was really very dirty, but his motivation was good, because he only wanted to protect the tsa tsa.
Then another person came along and thought, “Who did this? This tsa tsa is really very pure, and some stupid person put this old piece of torn shoe over it. This tsa tsa must be respected, and this piece of shoe is really very dirty.” So he removed the shoe and threw it away.
Then the text says that although the two men’s actions were completely opposite -- the one who put the torn piece of shoe on the tsa tsa, and the one who took it off -- both accumulated the same amount of merit, because both had the same purity of heart: one wanted only to protect it, and the other thought the shoe was dirty and wanted only to respect and purify it.
Similarly, if we have a good motivation when we build stupas, temples, or dharma centers, or write dharma texts, since the main subject is dharma, we will definitely accumulate merit; but if our motivation isn’t pure, and many negative thoughts and emotions are arising within us, even though we might be practicing in a dharma center, we will accomplish nothing, and we’re certainly not applying the proper antidote to our negative emotions. So it is very important to remember our motivation at all times.
If we have a good motivation when we help someone, we will accumulate merit. For example, if a person is addicted to drugs, and doesn’t have much money, he’ll need more money to buy drugs; otherwise, he can’t have peace of mind. If this person asks us for money, and we want to be generous, so we give him one, two, or three dollars, we will accumulate merit. But if we give him money and think, “He’ll use it to buy more drugs, then he’ll become even more spoiled,” that is a non-virtuous, negative emotion, and we won’t accumulate any merit. But if we think, “If I give him money, and am really kind to him, he will just go buy more drugs and spoil himself,” and we refuse to give him money, because we thought of him, we will accumulate merit.
Our motivation is very important. Whether we are listening to teachings, doing practice, or making a simple offering to the altar, we should try to have a pure motivation, and generate compassion and bodhicitta. You are all old dharma practitioners, and must have heard many times from many lamas how important it is to generate compassion and bodhicitta. It is basic. If we don’t have pure motivation, and compassion and bodhicitta, then the mantras we accumulate will produce some kind of energy, but they won’t be the cause for enlightenment. To attain enlightenment, we must generate compassion and bodhicitta.
The Benefits in Four Parts This text was written by Schechen Gyaltsap, a great Nyingma scholar and practitioner who achieved realization. The author says there is a very detailed explanation of the many benefits of building stupas, statues, monasteries and writing texts in the Kangyur, but he has given here a condensed version of these benefits.
Part 1 - The General Benefits of Building the Three Supports The first part of this teaching is the general benefits of building the three supports. The second part is the special benefits achieved through pure motivation and pure activity. And the third part is the benefits achieved through making lots of offerings and paying respect. The last part is dedicating whatever merit has been accumulated through virtuous thought, speech, or action for the enlightenment of self and others, and making prayers of aspiration.
The first part, the benefits of building the three supports, begins with a quote from the Sutra: “The sons of the Buddha, the great Bodhisattvas, are very skillful when they accumulate merit.
They are able to ripen the minds of sentient beings into true practice.” There are many methods to accumulate merit. We need to take into account the capacities of various individuals, the kind of accumulation they wish, and what virtuous thoughts, speech and actions generate lots of merit; then we can ripen the minds of sentient beings.
The Buddha gave three sermons, and each and every one was according to the right time, the capacity of people’s minds, and their desires and wishes. He always gave teachings in a way that would exactly suit the people, so they could really get into them. We can’t always start with the highest teachings, like on emptiness and the true nature of phenomena and the mind. Even though these are very profound teachings, some people won’t be able to understand them, and won’t feel easy with them. That is why the Buddha gave teachings according to each person’s mind.
The Buddha gave many methods to subdue our wild, uncontrolled minds. Some sentient beings are subdued by a great bodhisattva, others by a Sravakabuddha monk or Arhat, and others by a Pratyekabuddha. Pratyekabuddhas have accumulated a lot of merit and wisdom in their previous lifetimes, and just have one lifetime left before they achieve the state of Arhat. There are two kinds of Pratyekabuddhas: those who like to stay in a group, like the parrot, and those who like to stay alone, like the rhinoceros.
The second type of Pratyekabuddha accumulated merit and wisdom in their previous lifetimes. They don’t have a master in this lifetime. They are born when the Buddha and his teachings are not present, and everything in the universe is just ordinary. They go to graveyards and meditate on the bones, and think, “How did this bone get here? Oh, this is a bone of some creature who died. How did this creature die? Because of samsara. How did this creature get in samsara? Due to desire and attachment. How did attachment arise? Due to feelings of happiness, suffering, and equanimity. How did these feelings arise? Due to objects, senses and activity.” Objects, senses and activity are one of the 12 branches of interdependent origination, known collectively as feelings, or sensations. First we see an object, then we think it is nice and we feel happy, or we think it is awful and feel sad, then we become attached and want it, or we feel aversion and want to keep it away. Then, according to these feelings, we act.
Then the Pratyekabuddhas think, “Where do feelings come from? They come from the five sense organs and faculties. Where did the five sense organs and faculties come from? They came from the consciousness being going into the mother’s womb. Where did the consciousness being come from? It came from the activity of its previous lifetime. Where did that activity come from? It came from ignorance.”’ Then the Pratyekabuddhas understand that samsara came from ignorance, and if they apply the antidote of transcendent wisdom, there will be no ignorance. If there’s no ignorance, there’s no activity. If there’s no activity, there’s no consciousness being going into the mother’s womb. If there’s no consciousness being going into the mother’s womb, no body is generated. If there’s no body, there are no faculties. If there are no faculties, there are no objects. If there are no objects, there’s no feelings. If there’s no feelings, there’s no attachment. If there’s no attachment, there’s no samsara. And if there’s no samsara, there’s no birth or death.
So Pratyekabuddhas go back from the result, into the true cause of samsara. Then they understand that if there is no true cause of samsara, there is just nirvana. Then they begin to meditate on the absolute true nature, the transcendent wisdom. Then, when they achieve all four stages of the Hinayana realization, and become an Arhat, they subdue all negative emotions and actions.
There is a little controversy in Tibetan Buddhism between the Hinayana and Mahayana concerning subduing actions. Phagpa Lamchung (Phagpa means Arhat, and Lamchung was his name) was a great Arhat who realized the identitylessness of self. He was liberated from samsara because he had subdued all negative thoughts, which according to Abidharma Kosh, there are about 98 of. But even though Phagpa Lamchung subdued all 98 negative emotions, and was a realized arhat, he had to suffer and die from hunger. This means that even though he subdued all 98 negative thoughts of the three realms -- the desire realm, form realm and formless realm, which also contain the six realms -- he still couldn’t purify his previous karma, and he had to die from hunger.
When Pratyekabuddhas achieve the state of Arhat, they never give teachings. They perform miracles, like flying, fire burning from the tops of their heads, and sleeping in the sky -- then naturally people feel very devoted, and want to do virtuous actions. This is how Pratyekabuddhas subdue the minds of sentient beings.
Some beings are subdued by the gods Indra, Vishnu and other Hindu gods. In Buddhism, these Hindu gods are called dharma protectors. In a text called “The Specialized Praise to the Buddha,” by a great Hindu brahmin and scholar of the four vedas, he tells the story of how in the 10th or 11th century, his family worshipped Shangkhar. There were also many great Buddhist scholars and practitioners in the area, and his brother also liked Buddhism. So the two brothers, one a great Hindu scholar, and the other a good Hindu who also had faith in Buddhism, would debate about which was best: Hinduism or Buddhism.
One day the mother heard them arguing. She asked them, “Why are you always quarreling?
I give you food, clothing, and everything you need to do your own study, so why are you always quarreling?” Then the boys explained that they weren’t quarreling, they were trying to come to a decision about who was the most perfect: Shangkhar or Buddha. They told her that one of them had more Buddhist ideas, and the other more Hindu ideas, and they were debating to see which religion was the best. Then the mother told them to stop debating, and go ask Shangkhar himself.
On the way to see Shangkhar, they went through many nice forests with lots of fruit trees.
Then they saw Shangkhar’s wife, Hum Uma, who knew immediately why they had come, and welcomed them in. At that time, Shangkhar had invited all of the Buddha’s followers, the great Arhats, over for lunch, and everyone was really busy. The two brothers waited a while, lunch was offered, and Uma brought them many fruits she had picked from the jungle. Then, after a while, all of the Buddha’s followers made prayers of dedication and left.
Then Shangkhar invited the two brothers in, telling them he knew why they had come. He said he too served the Buddha’s followers, and had confidence and faith in the Buddha’s teachings, so they could feel comfortable worshipping the Buddha too. So they got their answer.
Hindus believe in the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, and Indra, but they also pray to Buddha.
So even the gods can subdue and tame people’s minds. Some beings are subdued by nagas, others by miracles, and others by the great Bodhisattva kings, like King Indrabodhi.
There is a short story in the Bodhisattva text about a Bodhisattva king from the country Pemachen. At that time, many people were suffering from an incurable disease. So the King called all of his great doctors together, and the doctors decided they needed the flesh of the rohida fish to cure the disease. The King asked the doctors where this rohida fish could be found, and they told him it was very difficult, and could only be found in a big ocean. Then the King went to the top of his palace, made a prayer that he would die and be reborn as a really huge rohida fish, that his people would eat him and be cured of their disease, and may he not die until all had eaten his flesh, then he threw himself down from his six-story palace and died.
The King was immediately reborn in the ocean as a really huge rohida fish, then he waited for his people to find him. Then one person came along, and the fish told him that if he ate his flesh, he would be cured of all disease. He said that in his previous lifetime he had been the King of the country Pemachen, and to go tell everyone there to come and eat his flesh. So the man ate a little flesh, then went and told everyone about the fish, then all of the people started coming.
So first the fish would lay on one side, and when the people had finished eating all the flesh on that side, he would turn over to the other side. Then when they finished that side, he would turn over again, and due to his strong bodhicitta and aspirational prayer, that side would be completely recovered. Then again, when they finished eating that side, he would turn over and the other side would be recovered. In this way, he cured all of his subjects.