A Teaching on Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s Parting from the Four Attachments
by His Holiness Sakya Trizin (Part 3)

When receiving Dharma teachings it is important to first generate right motivation, and to have right conduct and right perception. This teaching,
Parting from the Four Attachments, is a very important teaching in our Sakyapa tradition. It was given by the Bodhisattva Manjushri directly to the founder of the Sakya Order, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. The teaching consists of four lines:

“If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.
If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.
If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought.
If grasping arises, you do not have the view.”

We previously examined the first and second lines of this teaching. I will briefly summarize the meaning of the first two lines here. The first line is, “If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.” This shows the path to avoid the terrible suffering of the lower realms and to be continuously reborn in the higher realms. To follow this path, one needs to abandon all non-virtuous deeds and to diligently practice virtuous deeds. This path is called the small person’s path because its goal is still within the cycle of existence; thus it is a very basic or inferior spiritual path.

The second line of the teaching is, “If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.” This explains that suffering exists not only in the lower realms, but also in the higher realms; even the nature of the higher realms is suffering. The higher realms appear to be a mixture of suffering and happiness. But in reality it is all suffering, because everything is impermanent. All compounded phenomena are impermanent, and all things that are impermanent have the nature of suffering.

In order to develop the wish to be completely free from every part of samsara, it is necessary to develop renunciation thought. In order to develop renunciation thought, the teachings associated with the second line explain in detail both the suffering of samsara, and the reason that we are caught up in samsara, which is the law of cause and effect.

When you realize that the entirety of samsara is nothing but suffering, then you no longer have any wish or place to stay, just as when a lake is frozen, swans have no place to stay, or when a forest is burnt, birds have no place to stay. Thus, realizing that the entirety of samsara is nothing but suffering, one very sincerely and whole-heartedly wishes to seek liberation. This type of path, on which one seeks liberation for oneself, is called the middle person’s path.

Today’s teaching focuses on the third line which is, “If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought.” Based on the second line, we realized that all of the worlds of existence are nothing but suffering and we developed the sincere wish to be free from those experiences. In setting out to accomplish that result, we perform many inferior and middling virtuous deeds and finally achieve the state of personal liberation, which is the realization of the Pratyekabuddhas and Sravakas, or Buddha’s disciples. These two types of personal liberation are great in the sense that all gross suffering and its causes have been completely eliminated.

Personal liberation, however, is not the final goal. While personal liberation is great compared to samsara because one is free from suffering, one’s good qualities are not fully developed because only the obscuration of the defilements has been removed. In the state of personal liberation, one is still bound by the obscuration of knowledge which blocks one from achieving full enlightenment.

Because one’s good qualities are not developed to their fullest potential, one cannot benefit other sentient beings, and thus neither one’s own nor others’ purposes are fulfilled. Attaining personal liberation is also the greatest obstacle to accomplishing full enlightenment because having reached that state, one remains there for a very long time. Similarly, if one builds a house, it is difficult to tear it down and rebuild it again in a different way. Personal liberation is therefore the greatest obstacle to accomplishing full enlightenment.

Once when Lord Buddha was in India , his disciple Ananda was about to give a teaching to five hundred disciples. Just before he began, Manjushri appeared. Ananda requested Manjushri to give the teaching instead. It is said that if Ananda had given the teaching, all five hundred disciples would have achieved the nirvana of personal liberation. After Manjushri gave the teaching, however, it became apparent that all five hundred disciples would be reborn in the hell realms.

Seeing this, Ananda reported to the Buddha, “Today, Manjushri did something very bad. If I had given the teaching, all of the disciples would have accomplished nirvana. But because of Manjushri’s teaching, now they will all fall into the hell realms.” The Buddha replied, “What Manjushri did was right. If you had given the teaching, they would have accomplished nirvana, but it would have been very difficult for them to achieve full enlightenment; it would have taken a very long time. Due to Manjushri’s teaching, all of their negative karma ripened very quickly, so although they will fall into the hell realms, they will begin the path towards full enlightenment and reach the highest attainment faster than they otherwise would have.”

This story shows that it is not right to seek liberation only for one’s own purpose. The goal for which we all should aim is full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Such enlightenment does not arise without a cause, does not arise from an incomplete cause, and does not arise from the wrong cause and conditions. For example, if one plants a rice seed during the winter, then although the correct seed was planted, still rice will not grow. Likewise, if one plants a wheat seed, rice will not arise. To grow rice, one needs a rice seed as well as the proper temperature, moisture, and time. All of the correct causes and conditions must be present in order for the rice to grow.

In a similar way, accomplishing full enlightenment requires the proper seed, the proper cause, and all of the necessary conditions. As it is said in the Mahavairocana Tantra, “The root cause of enlightenment is great compassion, and the conditions are enlightenment mind, and the performance of skillful means.” By possessing the root cause, the conditions, and performing skillful means, one will accomplish full enlightenment. In order to accomplish these three, one needs to meditate on loving kindness, compassion, and enlightenment mind, and to observe the precepts of the Bodhisattva’s behavior.

Loving Kindness

First one needs to develop loving kindness. In the beginning, it is difficult for most of us to develop loving kindness toward all sentient beings. For this reason, the pith instructions include four steps for developing loving kindness.

The first step is to meditate on loving kindness for one’s relatives, who are objects of attachment, toward whom one can more easily develop loving kindness. The second step is to meditate on those toward whom one is indifferent, who are considered to be the objects of ignorance. The third and more difficult step is to meditate on loving kindness toward one’s enemies who are the objects of anger. The fourth step is to meditate on loving kindness for all sentient beings.

To practice the first step, which is meditation on loving kindness toward one’s relatives, the mother is often recommended as the object of meditation. This is because our mothers gave us life, gave us our very bodies, and taught us at a young age what is right and wrong, among many other things. Actually, one can meditate on whatever friend or relative is dearest.

The first step has three stages: first recall one’s mother, then remember her kindness, and finally meditate on loving kindness toward her.

The first stage is to recall one’s mother. Think that she has been one’s mother not only in this life, but in many other previous lifetimes. We have been caught in samsara since beginningless time, have lived innumerable lives, and so have had countless mothers. As Nagarjuna said, “The Earth would not suffice for making pills the size of juniper seeds equal to the number of mothers that one has had.”

It is also said in the sutras, “There is not enough water in the four oceans to equal the amount of milk that one’s mothers have given one.” Not only in this life, but in innumerable lifetimes she has given one so much milk. In addition to being one’s mother, she has also been other relatives such as one’s father, brother, sister, and so on.

It is said that if those who have been one’s father were stacked one upon another like horses or elephants, they would tower over the world of Brahma. All of the gifts that one has received from these relatives would also tower over Brahma’s realm. 

The second stage is to remember one’s mother’s kindness. Her first act of kindness was giving one a body. After carrying one’s body around in her womb for nine or ten months and enduring the strains of heaviness and fatigue, she endured the pain of giving birth, even risking her own life.

Her second kindness was giving one life. After being born, one was just like a tiny worm that does not know anything and cannot do anything. With a loving heart, she protected one from fire, water, and falls, looked upon one with loving eyes, fed one with food from her own tongue, and cleaned dirt from one’s body with her own hands.

If she had not cared for one as a baby, because babies are unable to survive on their own, one would surely have died. But she did not let one die, thus her second kindness was giving one life. Children know almost nothing, but she taught one everything, including how to talk and how to act. It is said in some commentaries that actually the first guru in one’s life is one’s own mother.

One’s mother gave all of her most precious possessions and even risked her life for the benefit of her children as they grew up. She also taught all different types of knowledge and tried to establish her children in human society on an equal footing with everyone else. Today, each of us has grown up, are able to receive the precious teachings, and have the opportunity to practice the Dharma due to our mother’s kindness. Without her kindness and care we would not have such opportunities.

Thus we should remember that at the very beginning of this life our mothers gave us life, gave us our body, and even up to this very moment have given us so much else. In addition to their kindness in this life, they have similarly given so much benefit, so much love, and so much care in many past lives. In this way, remember one’s mother’s kindness.

The third stage is to meditate on loving kindness. What is loving kindness? Loving kindness was described by the great Indian master Acharya Chandrakirti, “Great loving kindness is said to be a way to accomplish benefit for living beings.”

After recalling one’s mother and remembering her kindness, we must then pay back all of the kindness, benefit and care that she has given. The way to benefit one’s mother is to make her happy—physically happy, mentally happy, and to have her possess the cause of happiness.

To do this, first generate loving kindness that is linked with enlightenment mind. Think, “I must help my kind mother to be happy and to have the cause of future happiness.” Then generate loving kindness that is linked with intention by thinking, “I wish that she would be happy and have the cause of happiness.” After that, generate loving kindness that is linked with a prayer by praying, “May the Guru and Triple Gem help my mother to be happy and to have the cause of happiness.”

In this way, first practice loving kindness toward one’s mother or toward whomever one feels closest. After practicing with one’s closest relative, expand the practice to include other relatives, friends, neighbors or people with whom you have connections.

The second step is to meditate on loving kindness toward those beings for whom one is indifferent. This includes all beings with whom you do not have any connections, good or bad—the countless sentient beings that one has never seen or heard. It is important to practice loving kindness toward them because although they appear as strangers at the moment, they are also one’s own previous mothers, fathers, and relatives.

As we have discussed, we have been caught in samsara since beginningless time and have lived innumerable lives. Throughout that time, these beings toward whom we are currently indifferent have often been our mother or father. At that time, they gave us the same care and the same benefit that our present mother has given us in this life. Therefore, we must generate loving kindness toward them in the same way that we practiced it with our current mother.

The third and more difficult step is to meditate on loving kindness for one’s enemies or those who cause obstacles for us. This practice is important because the same people who today appear as our most hated enemies are in reality our own previous mothers, fathers and dear ones. Due to the change of life, we cannot recognize each other from these past lives. Seeing one another now as enemies, we bring each other great suffering.

But we should recognize that these enemies have been very kind to us in the past. In addition they also bring us great benefit in the current life, because by appearing as our enemies, they crush our pride and bring us the opportunity to develop patience. They also give us the chance to pay back all of the kindness and benefit that they showed us in previous lives. Their appearance as enemies is none other than their return to receive back the love and benefit that they gave us so often in the past.

The final step is to meditate on loving kindness toward all sentient beings without any exception or discrimination. Practice in the same way as before, focusing on all sentient beings of the six realms. First recognize them as our mothers, then remember their kindness, and finally repay them by generating loving kindness. Practice in this way until a genuine and natural feeling of loving kindness toward all sentient beings arises in one’s mind.

If while doing this practice the mind feels anger toward one’s enemies and cannot develop loving kindness, remember that anger creates much more harm for oneself than for one’s enemies. The only way to avoid that harm is to overcome anger, and the only way to overcome anger is through the practice of loving kindness. In this way, remember the consequences one will face by indulging in anger, remember all of the benefits of practicing loving kindness, and thus generate genuine loving kindness.

The sutras state, “It is far more meritorious to practice a single moment of loving kindness toward sentient beings than to make offerings vast enough to fill the entire universe.”


Thus having trained the mind well in loving kindness, one should then practice compassion.

The reason we practice loving kindness before practicing compassion is that in order for compassion toward sentient beings to arise, we must first see them as lovable, for example by seeing them as our mothers. If we cannot first see them as lovable, compassion will not arise. When we become able to see all of them as our mothers or dear ones, then we become able to wish them to be happy and to have the cause of happiness. After generating this wish, if we then examine the nature of samsara, we see that sentient beings actually lack happiness. The majority of beings are experiencing great suffering, and out of ignorance they are also creating the causes of even more future suffering. When we can see that all mother sentient beings suffer, then compassion arises. Thus loving kindness serves as the path to compassion, and compassion arises based on suffering.

One may wonder, “What is compassion?” Chandrakirti stated, “Completely saving living beings who are endowed with suffering is great compassion.” As Chandrakirti explained, having seen unbearable suffering, the mind that wishes beings to be freed from it is called compassion.

Compassion is developed by practicing step by step. The steps to practicing compassion are similar to the four stages in the practice of loving kindness. The first stage is to meditate on compassion for one’s relatives, then for those beings toward whom one is indifferent, then for enemies, and finally for all sentient beings.

In practicing compassion toward one’s relatives, start as before by recollecting one’s mother and remembering her kindness. Visualize one’s mother, whether she is alive or deceased, in front of oneself, and think, “Because my very kind mother is suffering and without happiness, I must have compassion for her.”

Although she desires to be free from suffering and the cause of suffering, one can see that her present condition is suffering and is creating the cause of future suffering. Then think, “I must free my mother from such suffering and its cause.” After meditating on this, link that thought with enlightenment mind, then with intention, and finally with prayer to the Guru and Triple Gem that one’s mother may be free from suffering and its cause. One may focus on whichever of these three methods is most effective for one’s own mind.

After performing this meditation on compassion for one’s mother, again expand the focus to include other relatives, friends and neighbors; beings toward whom one is indifferent; enemies; and finally all sentient beings. Practice in this way until a genuine inner feeling of compassion arises—not artificial compassion, but natural compassion for all sentient beings without exception. The cultivation of compassion by this method will in turn help enlightenment mind to arise.

Enlightenment Mind

Even though one may sincerely wish that all sentient beings be happy and free of suffering, in reality the opposite is true; every sentient being is suffering. Due to loving kindness and compassion, having seen this, one cannot remain idle. It is necessary to make efforts to rescue sentient beings from the suffering of samsara, but at the moment, we lack the knowledge, the skill, and the power to do so. We are completely bound by our own karma and defilements, and are blown about helplessly by the winds of karma.

Just as a crippled mother is powerless to save her child, in the same way we are unable to rescue sentient beings from samsara. This is true not only for us, but also for very powerful worldly deities such as Brahma and Indra, and even for the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas who have already reached nirvana. None of them are able to save sentient beings.

Who is it that can save sentient beings? Only fully enlightened Buddhas are able to do so. Just a single ray of light shining from the Buddha’s body can save countless sentient beings in a single moment.

Understanding this, a real inner urge arises within oneself to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. This sincere wish is known as wishing enlightenment mind. Having made that wish, all of the efforts one exerts in fulfilling it are known as entering enlightenment mind.

From beginningless time up until this moment, we have cared solely for ourselves and worked solely for our own benefit. Every exertion we performed was for our own benefit alone. But by acting in this way, all we have actually accomplished is more and more suffering.  So this time, instead of caring for ourselves, we must care for others.

As Shantideva said, “All the sufferings that beings experience in this universe arise from caring for oneself, and all the happiness that beings experience in this world arise from caring for others.” If we had already practiced caring for others in our previous lives, we would not still be in samsara—we would have already attained liberation and enlightenment. The cause of our not having cared for others is the natural tendency to care for ourselves. This is a very gross mistake. The way to correct it is to ignore oneself and to totally devote one’s energy and efforts to benefiting other sentient beings.

When developing enlightenment mind, it is important to proceed step-by-step, as before. We have spent so many lifetimes caring for ourselves alone that regardless of how much we like or love other beings, there is still a sense of difference between ourselves and others—our number one concern is still ourselves.

The first step, therefore, is to train in viewing others as equal to oneself. Think that just as oneself wishes to be free from suffering, so too, all other sentient beings have the same feeling, the same wish. Because other sentient beings have the same wish, just seeking happiness for oneself alone is not right. In this way, view other sentient beings as equal in importance to oneself.

When one has become accomplished in this, proceed with the meditation of exchange. This meditation is called tong len in the Tibetan language. Tong means to give and len means to take. In this practice, instead of caring for oneself, one cares for others. Take all of the physical pains and mental sufferings of sentient beings as vast as space onto oneself. In return, give one’s own body, wealth, and virtuous deeds of the past, present and future, without any attachment or clinging to all other beings. While performing the exchange, one should recite the words that accompany the meditation.

Performing this practice crushes self-cherishing and self-clinging. Taking all of the suffering of sentient beings onto oneself and sincerely wishing for their benefit accumulates great merit. In this way, the most immediate benefit of this practice is actually received by oneself. This exchange meditation is one of the main practices of a Bodhisattva.

The Bodhisattvas’ Conduct

Another of the main practices of a Bodhisattva is to preserve the precepts. In a general sense, the practice or behavior of a Bodhisattva is to abandon harming others and to benefit them as much as possible.

In particular, Bodhisattvas’ main practice is the six perfections: generosity, moral conduct, patience, diligence, meditation and wisdom. Practice of these perfections cultivates the good qualities of mind. The first five are included in the method aspect of the path, while the sixth is the wisdom aspect. Of the six perfections, wisdom is the most important.

If the other perfections are performed without being linked to wisdom, the actions are just ordinary virtuous deeds. However, when they are linked with wisdom, they become perfections.

In order to link the other perfections with wisdom, abandon clinging to what is known as the three cycles. In the example of generosity, the three cycles are the recipient, such as a beggar; the giver, such as oneself; and that which is given, such as food or clothing. As long as there is clinging to these three cycles as separate and real, even though an action may be generous, one is not performing the perfection of generosity.

We should understand that at the relative level, the three cycles exist, although on the ultimate level they do not. In reality there is no recipient, no giver, and nothing that is given. All are like an illusion or a dream. In dreams we see an object, a subject, and other things, but when we awaken, all of these are gone without a trace.

Similarly, the three cycles appear like an illusion but in reality they cannot be found. Wisdom that is without clinging to the three cycles is known as the perfection of wisdom. When the other perfections, generosity, moral conduct, patience, diligence, and meditation are linked with this wisdom, they become perfections, which are the actual cause of attaining full enlightenment.

Put another way, when the other perfections are devoid of wisdom, they are like a blind person; the perfection of wisdom is like a person with sight. When a person with sight leads a blind person, both of them progress toward full enlightenment.

The practice of these six perfections brings to maturation the good qualities of one’s mind. In addition, there are other practices such as the four means of gathering adherents, which are giving, speaking pleasantly, encouraging others to practice, and practicing very diligently oneself, which serve to bring others’ minds to maturation. Detailed explanations of these may be found in many great commentaries, such as the Akashagarbha Sutra, Sikshasamuccaya, Bodhisattva Caryavatara and Ratnavali, among others.

This completes the explanation of the third line of Parting from the Four Attachments, which explains the entire Bodhisattva’s path. On this path, one seeks full enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. It is therefore known as the great person’s path.

Source: Cho Trin, Volume 2, Number 1
>continue to Part 4 (final part)

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