Sutra on the Eight
Wholeheartedly, day and night, a disciple of the
Buddha should recite and meditate on the eight realizations discovered
by the mahasattvas, the great beings.
THE FIRST REALIZATION
awareness that the world is impermanent. All political regimes are
subject to fall; all things composed of the four elements 
are empty and contain the seeds of suffering. Human beings are composed
of five skandhas, aggregates, 
and are without a separate self. They are always in the process of
change--constantly being born and constantly dying. They are empty of
self, without sovereignty. The mind is the source of all confusion, and
the body is the forest of all impure actions. If we meditate on these
facts, we can gradually be released from samsara, the round of birth and
THE SECOND REALIZATION is the awareness
that more desire brings more suffering. All hardships in daily life
arise from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition can
relax, their bodies and minds free from entanglement.
THE THIRD REALIZATION is that the human
mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This
causes impure actions to ever increase. Bodhisattvas however, always
remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in
peace in order to practice the Way, and consider the realization of
perfect understanding as their only career.
THE FOURTH REALIZATION is the awareness
that laziness is the cause of all setbacks. For this reason, we must
practice diligently- destroying the unwholesome mental factors, which
bind us, conquering the four kinds of Mara, 
and freeing ourselves from the prisons of the five aggregates and the
three worlds. 
THE FIFTH REALIZATION is the awareness
that ignorance is the cause of the endless round of birth and death.
Therefore, bodhisattvas always remember to listen and learn in order to
develop their understanding and eloquence. This enables them to educate
living beings and bring them to the realm of great joy.
THE SIXTH REALIZATION is the awareness
that poverty creates more hatred and anger, which in turn creates more
evil. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas consider everyone,
friends and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone's past
wrongdoings, nor do they hate even those who are presently doing evil.
THE SEVENTH REALIZATION is that the
five categories of desire 
all lead to difficulties. Although we are in the world, we should try
not to be caught up in worldly matters. A monk, for example, has in his
possession only three robes and one bowl. He lives simply in order to
practice the Way. His precepts keep him above attachment to worldly
things, and he treats everyone equally and with compassion.
THE EIGHTH REALIZATION is the awareness
that the fire of birth and death is raging, causing endless suffering
everywhere. We should take the Great Vow to help everyone, to suffer
along with everyone, and to help all beings arrive at the realm of great
These eight realizations are the discoveries of great beings,
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have diligently practiced the way of
compassion and understanding. They have sailed the Dharmakaya 
boat to the shore of nirvana, 
But then they return to the ordinary world, having abandoned the five
desires, with their minds and hearts directed toward the noble way,
using these eight realizations to help all beings recognize the
suffering in this world. If the disciples of the Buddha recite these
eight realizations and meditate on them, they will put an end to
countless misunderstandings and difficulties; moment after moment and
progress toward enlightenment, leaving behind the world of birth and
death, dwelling forever in peace.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SUTRA
This sutra was translated from Pali to Chinese by the
Parthian monk, An Shih Kao (Vietnamese: An The Cao), at the Lo Yang
Center in China during the later Han Dynasty, 140-171 A.D. It is not
certain if the Pali version is extant. The ancient form of this sutra is
the culmination of several smaller works combined, just like the
Forty-two Chapters Sutra and the Sutra on the Six
Paramitas. This sutra is entirely in accord with both the Mahayana
and Theravada traditions.
Each of the eight items discussed can be a subject of
meditation, and each of these subjects can be further divided. Although
the form of the sutra is simple, its content is extremely profound and
marvelous. The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great
Beings is not an analysis of anything. It is a realistic and
effective approach to meditation.
THE CONTENT OF THE SUTRA
The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great
Beings contains eleven essential subjects for meditation. I will
discuss these subjects along with the eight realizations.
The first realization explains and
clarifies the four basic subjects of Buddhist meditation: (a)
impermanence, (b) suffering, (c) no-self, and (d) impurity. We must
always remember and meditate on these four principles of reality. As
mentioned in the sutra, if someone meditates on these facts, he or she
will gradually be released from samsara, the round of birth and
a. Impermanence - the impermanent nature of all things:
From moment to moment, all things in this world, including human life,
mountains and rivers, and political systems, are in constant
transformation. This is called impermanence in each moment. Everything
passes through a period of birth, maturity, transformation, and
destruction. This destruction is called impermanence in each cycle. To
see the impermanent nature of all things, we must examine this
closely. Doing so will prevent us from being imprisoned by the things
of this world.
b. Suffering - the emptiness of all things: The ancient people of
India said that all things are composed of four elements: earth, air,
water, and fire. Acknowledging this, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
understand that when there is a harmonious relationship among the four
elements, there is peace. When the four elements are not in harmony,
there is suffering. Because all things are created by a combination of
these elements, nothing can exist independently or permanently. All
things are impermanent. Consequently, when we are caught up in the
things of the world, we suffer from their impermanent nature. And
since all things are empty, when we are caught by things, we also
suffer from their emptiness. Awareness of the existence of suffering
leads us to begin to practice the way of realization. This is the
first of the Four Noble Truths. 
When we lose awareness of and do not meditate on the existence of
suffering in all things, we can easily be pushed around by passions
and desires for worldly things, increasingly destroying our lives in
the pursuit of these desires. Only by being aware of suffering can we
find its cause, confront it directly, and eliminate it.
c. Selflessness - the nature of our bodies: Buddhism teaches that
human beings are composed of five aggregates, called skandhas in
Sanskrit. If the form created by the four elements is empty and
without self, then human beings, created by the unification of the
five skandhas, must also be empty and without self. Human beings are
involved in a transformation process from second to second, minute to
minute, and continually pass through the impermanence in each moment.
By looking very deeply into the five skandhas, we can experience the
selfless nature of our bodies, our passage through birth and death,
and emptiness. Thereby destroying the illusion that our bodies are
permanent. In Buddhism, no-self is the most important subject for
meditation. By meditating on no-self, we can break through the barrier
between self and other. Since we are no longer separate from the
universe, a completely harmonious existence with the universe is
created. We see that all other human beings exist in us and that we
exist in all other human beings. We see that the past and the future
are contained in the present moment, and we can penetrate and be
completely liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Modern science
has also discovered the truth of the selfless nature of all things. In
the following paragraph written by the British biologist Lyall Watson,
we can see the truth of no-self through the eyes of a scientist. Lyall
Watson is not a student of Buddhism, but his approach corresponds
entirely with the principles of dependent origination and no-self.
Scientists who meditate continuously on the selfless nature of their
own bodies and minds, as well as the selfless nature of all things,
will one day easily attain enlightenment.
d. Impurity- the nature of our bodies and minds: Impurity means the
absence of an immaculate state of being, one that is neither holy nor
beautiful. From the psychological and physiological standpoint, human
beings are impure. This is not negative or pessimistic, but an
objective perspective on human beings. If we examine the constituents
of our bodies from the hair on our head to the blood, pus, phlegm,
excrement, urine, the many bacteria dwelling in the intestines, and
the many diseases present waiting for the opportunity to develop, we
can see clearly that our bodies are quite impure and subject to decay.
Our bodies also create the motivation to pursue and attempt to satisfy
our desires and passions. That is why the sutra regards the body as
the place where misdeeds gather. Let us now consider our psychological
state. Since we are unable to see the truth of impermanence,
suffering, and the selfless nature of all things, our minds often
become the victims of greed and hatred, and we act wrongly. So the
sutra says, "The mind is the source of all confusion."
2. "More desire brings more suffering"
is the basis of the second realization. Most people define happiness as
the satisfaction of all desires. There are five types of desire. 
These desires are boundless but our ability to realize them is not, and
unfulfilled desires always create suffering. When desires are only
partially fulfilled, we continue to pursue their complete fulfillment,
and we create more suffering. Even when a desire is fulfilled, we suffer
when its fulfillment terminates. It is only after we become completely
exhausted from this incessant pursuit that we begin to realize the
extent to which we were caught in the insatiable net of desires and
passions. Then we can realize that true happiness is really a peaceful
state of body and mind, and this can only exist when our desires are
few. Having few desires and not seeking fulfillment through the pursuit
of the five desires are great steps towards liberation.
3. Knowing how to feel satisfied with
few possessions destroys desire and greed. This means being content with
material conditions that allow us to be healthy and strong enough to
practice the Way. This is an effective way to cut through the net of
passions and desires, attain a peaceful state of body and mind, have
more time to help others, and be free to realize the highest goal--the
development of concentration and understanding to attain realization.
Knowing how to feel satisfied with few possessions helps us avoid buying
unnecessarily and becoming part of an economic system that exploits
others, and it enables us to decrease our involvement in the pollution
of our environment.
4. Diligent practice destroys laziness.
After we cease looking for joy in desires and passions and know how to
feel satisfied with few possessions, we must not be lazy, letting days
and months slip by neglectfully. Great patience and diligence are needed
day and night to continually develop our concentration and
understanding--the endeavor of self-realization. We must use all of our
time to meditate on the four truths of impermanence, suffering,
selflessness, and impurity, the first four subjects of meditation. We
must penetrate deeply into the profound meaning of The Four Foundations
of Mindfulness, 
practicing, studying, and meditating on the postures and cycles
(becoming, maturing, transformation, and destruction) of our bodies, as
well as our feelings, sensations, mental formations, and consciousness.
We should read sutras and other writings, which explain
meditation--correct sitting and controlling the breath, such as the
Satipatthana Sutta and the Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra.
We have to follow the teachings of these sutras and practice them in an
intelligent way, choosing the methods which best apply to our own
situation. As necessary, we can modify the methods suggested in order to
accommodate our own needs. Our energy must also be regulated until all
the basic desires and passions--greed, anger, narrow-mindedness,
arrogance, doubt, and preconceived ideas--are uprooted. At this time we
will know that our bodies and minds are liberated from the imprisonment
of birth and death, the five skandhas, and the three worlds.
5. Concentration and understanding
destroy narrow-mindedness. Among the basic desires and passions,
narrow-mindedness has the deepest roots. When these roots are loosened,
all other desires and passions--greed, anger, doubt, and preconceived
ideas--are also uprooted. Knowing this, we can make a great effort to
meditate on the truths of impermanence, no-self, and the dependent
origination of all things. Once the roots of ignorance are severed, we
can liberate not only ourselves, but also teach others to break through
the imprisonment of birth and death.
The first four subjects of meditation are to help us attain
liberation. The next four subjects have the aim of helping others attain
liberation, thus clearly and solidly uniting Theravada and Mahayana
6. When practicing generosity, we
should consider everyone equal. Some people think that they can only
practice generosity if they are wealthy. This is not true. Some people
who are very wealthy do practice generosity, but many give alms with the
aim of gaining merit, profiting, or pleasing others. People whose lives
are grounded in compassion are seldom rich, because they share whatever
they have with others. They are not willing to enrich their lives
financially at the cost of others' poverty. Many people misunderstand
the Buddhist expression "practicing generosity" to mean when casually
giving five or ten cents to a beggar on the street. In fact, the
practice of generosity is even more beautiful than that. It is both
modest and grand.
Practicing generosity means to act in a way that will help
equalize the difference between the wealthy and the impoverished.
Whatever we do to ease human suffering and create social justice can be
considered practicing generosity. This is not to say that we must become
active in any political system. To engage in partisan political action
that leads to a power struggle among opposing parties and causes death
and destruction is not what we mean by practicing generosity. Practicing
generosity is the first of the six paramitas. 
Paramita means to help others reach the other shore, the shore of
liberation from sickness, poverty, hunger, ignorance, desires and
passions, and birth and death.
How can a person practicing "knowing how to feel satisfied
with few possessions" also practice generosity? It is by living simply.
Almost everyone who spends his or her life serving and helping others,
sacrificing himself or herself for the sake of humanity, lives simply.
If they live their lives worrying about making money and gaining merit,
how can they practice generosity? Mahatma Gandhi lived a very simple
life; nevertheless his merit helping humanity and saving human beings
was immeasurable. There are thousands of people among us who live very
simply, while being very helpful to many, many others. They do not have
as large a reputation as Gandhi, but their merit is no less than his. It
is enough for us just to be a little more attentive and aware of the
presence of people like these. They do not practice generosity by giving
money which they do not possess, but rather by giving their time,
energy, love, and care--their entire lives.
Practicing generosity in a Buddhist context means not to
discriminate against anyone. Even though among the poor and destitute
there are cruel persons and kind persons, we must not exclude the cruel
ones from our practice. Because poverty brings anger and hatred, poor
people are more inclined to create evil. As the sutra states,
"Bodhisattvas consider everyone, friends and enemies alike, as equal.
They do not condemn anyone's past wrongdoings, nor do they hate even
those who are presently doing evil." This expresses the spirit of
Mahayana Buddhism. Poverty creates anger, hatred, and wrongdoings. If we
teach Buddhist philosophy through lectures, but do not practice
generosity to ease the suffering of others, we have not yet attained the
essence of Buddhism. We should practice generosity with compassion and
not disdain, without discriminating against people who, because of their
poverty, have caused anger and hatred.
7. While living in society, we should
not be defiled by it. We must live in harmony with society in order to
help others, without being caught by the five desires, living like the
lotus flower, which blooms in the mud and yet remains pure and
unstained. Practicing the way of liberation does not mean avoiding
society, but helping in it. Before our capacity to help becomes strong
and solid, we may be defiled by living in society. For this reason,
Bodhisattvas meditate on the detrimental nature of the five desires and
firmly decide to live simply in order to practice generosity without
discrimination. Thus, living in society and not being stained by it is
to practice the six paramitas.
8. We should create in ourselves the
firm decision to help others. We must make a deep and solemn vow to
overcome the difficulties, dangers, and suffering that may occur while
helping others. Since the suffering in society is limitless, the
willingness and devotion to practice the way of helping others must also
be limitless. Thus, the Mahayana spirit is an endless source of energy,
which inspires us to practice generosity without discrimination. With
the Mahayana spirit, we can withstand the many challenges and
humiliations encountered in society and be able to continue to practice
the Way. This will bring great happiness to others. Only with the
Mahayana spirit can we realize the following topics taught by the Bao
Wang San Mei Lun (Vietnamese: Bao Vuong Tam Muoi Sastra):
meditating on the body, do not hope or pray to be exempt from
sickness. Without sickness, desires and passions can easily
- While acting
in society, do not hope or pray not to have any difficulties. Without
difficulties, arrogance can easily arise.
meditating on the mind, do not hope or pray not to encounter
hindrances. Without hindrances, present knowledge will not be
challenged or broadened.
working, do not hope or pray not to encounter obstacles. Without
obstacles, the vow to help others will not deepen.
developing a plan, do not hope or pray to achieve success easily. With
easy success, arrogance can easily arise.
interacting with others, do not hope or pray to gain personal profit.
With the hope for personal gain, the spiritual nature of the encounter
speaking with others, do not hope or pray not to be disagreed with.
Without disagreement, self-righteousness can flourish.
helping others, do not hope or pray to be paid. With the hope of
remuneration, the act of helping others will not be pure.
- If you see
personal profit in an action, do not participate in it. Even minimal
participation will stir up desires and passions.
- When wrongly
accused, do not attempt to exonerate yourself. Attempting to defend
yourself will create needless anger and animosity.
- The Buddha
spoke of sickness and suffering as effective medicines; times of
difficulties and accidents as times of freedom and realization;
obstacles as liberation; the army of evil as the guards of the Dharma;
difficulties as required for success; the person who mistreats one as
one's good friend; one's enemies as an orchard or garden; the act of
doing someone a favor as base as the act of casting away a pair of old
shoes; the abandonment of material possessions as wealth; and being
wrongly accused as the source of strength to work for justice.
In the paragraph explaining the eighth realization, it
should be noted that the Mahayana Buddhist practice of the six Paramitas
is contained in this sutra:
The 1st Paramita, giving = the sixth realization
The 2nd Paramita, observing the precepts = the second, third and
The 3rd Paramita, diligent effort = the fourth
The 4th Paramita, endurance = the eighth
The 5th Paramita, concentration = the first
The 6th Paramita, understanding = the fifth
The style, content, and methodology of The Sutra on The
Eight Realizations are consistent and logical. It is a very practical
and concise sutra. But this discussion of the content is only intended
to serve as a preliminary guideline. To fully benefit from this sutra,
we must also practice and observe its teachings.
PRACTICING AND OBSERVING THE SUTRA ON THE EIGHT
To practice and observe the Sutra on the Eight
Realizations of the Great Beings, choose a time when your body and
mind are completely relaxed, for example after taking a comfortable
bath. You can begin by lighting a stick of incense to give the room a
pleasant fragrance. Then, take the Sutra and slowly read it to discover
its deepest meanings. Relate the words of the sutra to your own life
experiences. It is through your own life experiences that you can
understand any Sutra's content and not through someone else's
explanation of it.
Each time you sit in meditation, thoroughly examine each
subject of the Sutra. The more you meditate on each subject, the more
deeply you will discover the profound wisdom contained in the Sutra. It
would be helpful for you to also read other sutras, such as the
Anapanasati Sutta of Mindfulness on Breathing and the
Satipatthana Sutta. Both are profound and concise works which will
complement the Sutra on the Eight Realizations. These two sutras
explain in practical detail how to progress step-by-step towards
realization. If you combine the method of following and relaxing your
breathing, as described in these two sutras, with meditation on the
eleven subjects described in The Sutra on the Eight Realizations;
you will easily succeed in achieving your aim of realizing your own
The content of the Sutra on the Eight Realizations
is grounded in both Mahayana and Theravada viewpoints. Please treasure
this Sutra. When I was seventeen, and in my first year of novice studies
at a Buddhist Monastery, I had to study and memorize it. This enabled me
to easily combine the meaning of the Sutra with the meditation of breath
counting. From this period until now, 35 years have passed and this
Sutra is still an invaluable torch lighting my path. Today I have the
opportunity to present it to you. I am grateful to this deep and
miraculous Sutra. I join my hands and respectfully recite, "Homage to
the precious Sutra on the Eight Realizations."
In 1978, I asked the La Boi Press to give this sutra away
in order to pray for those boat people who drowned in the South China
Sea and the Gulf of Siam in the prior three years, and also for those
who had the chance to survive so that they can find a new home somewhere
in the world. In 1987, I asked Parallax Press to publish a new English
edition in order to make it available for western readers and refugees
in the west.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Written in 1978 while the author was conducting a project
to rescue boat people in the South China Sea.
 Also known as
the "Eight Enlightenment Sutra".
 Earth, air,
 Forms, feelings,
perceptions, mental formations, consciousness.
mental factors, five skandhas, death, distractions (e.g. fantasies or
 Desire and
passion, form (without desire and passion), formlessness (only mental
 Being wealthy,
being beautiful, being ambitious, finding pleasure in eating, being
 The body of the
teaching of awakening.
 Liberation from
birth and death.
 Suffering, the
Cause of Suffering, the End of Suffering, the Eightfold Path.
 See note
 Body, feeling,
state of mind, mental contents.
observing the precepts, diligent effort, endurance, concentration,
(Originally from http://www.investigations-israel.com/sangha/library.html.
Reformatted with interlinks and note  added.)