The Five Paths and Ten Levels

(This teaching on the Bodhisattva Paths & Levels comes from a commentary on the Graduated Path to Liberation or Lam Rim by Geshe Rabten. The original teaching was given in Dharamsala in 1969 & was first published in 1972 by Cambridge University Buddhist Society. It was republished in March, 1980 by Publications for Wisdom Culture.)

There are 5 paths on which a Bodhisattva develops in succession:

  • Sambharamarga = the path of equipment
  • Prayogamarga = the path of training
  • Darshanamarga = the path of seeing
  • Bhavanamarga = the path of intense contemplation
  • Vimuktimarga = the path of freedom

When the Bodhicitta has been developed until it is natural & an intrinsic part of his being, the Bodhisattva has completely obtained the sambharamarga (which has lower levels below this point). Then he gets many spiritual powers (siddhi), such as psychic power (mahabhijna) enabling him to know other people's thoughts, to know the past & future events of other beings' lives, to fly, to multiply his body, and so on. A Bodhisattva is not someone who practises techniques specially to get a particular power; these powers come naturally. But he is able to put them to good use because they help him to see the karma, spiritual development and potentialities of other beings and to see whether they are in a state where they can be helped to escape from samsara. He can see where he can receive teachings from the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas in the various Buddha-fields. He also obtains many other virtues.

The most important thing now is for him to meditate on shunyata which is still not clear to him. When shunyata becomes clearer to him, he reaches prayogamarga; this is the stage immediately preceding his becoming an Arya-bodhisattva. He becomes much stronger in his meditation & spiritual powers & can overcome even more subtle defilements.

After much meditation he feels that his mind & shunyata are one, like water poured water (though this is not actually the case). He reaches the darshanamarga & becomes an Arya-bodhisattva. He has a very great increase in powers & at this stage makes no new karma. He still ha sold karma & some defilements. He starts getting powers to eradicate past karma & still deeper defilements. Because there are many different layers of avarapa, they have to be removed one by one; the Bodhisattva can remove more & more as his powers grow stronger. There are ten layers of klesavarapa. It is like when we wash clothes. We need different degrees of detergent to remove different degrees of dirt. At this stage the Bodhisattva has removed the first stage of klesavarapa because he has clearly seen shunyata as being evident. It is as if something is covered with 10 cloths. Here, the first one is removed. The Bodhisattva has greater wisdom because there are fewer coverings to hide reality. In the first 2 margas the avarapas are suppressed but can still rise again. In the darshanamarga one layer is removed for ever & cannot return.

There are 10 levels of Arya-bodhisattva:

1 Pramudita

the joyous

2 Vimala

the stainless

3 Prabhakari

the light-maker

4 Arcismati

the radiant

5 Sudurjaya

the very hard to conquer

6 Abhimukhi

the turning-towards

7 Durangama

the far-going

8 Acala

the unshakeable

9 Sadhumati

the good mind

10 Dharmamegha

the cloud of Dharma

Pramudita is reached in darshanamarga & all the other nine in bhavanamarga. At each level the Bodhisattva has greater virtue & has overcome more defilements. In the scriptures, the numbers of increases in virtue are given for each level. At some levels they are innumerable. All these levels are a connected stream. One layer of klesavarapa is removed at each of the first 7 levels. At the 8th, acala, the remaining 3 are removed so that the Bodhisattva is entirely free of klesavarapa. In this respect he is equal to the lower arhats but the virtue he has collected is much greater. These defilements are all removed by meditation on shunyata. At the level acala there is particularly strong growth in the strength of this meditation. At the 9th level, sadhumati, he begins to remove jneyavarapa. This is very subtle & difficult to perceive. If we put some garlic or onion in a pot & then remove it, the taste still remains. In the same way, although klesa has gone, this avarapa still remains. At sadhumati the Bodhisattva is out of samsara but his wisdom is not quite perfect. He can now recognise & thus begin to remove jneyavarapa, the only remaining obscuring factor. If this is not removed he cannot help beings to the full extent of a Buddha. The depth to which he can help beings depends on the depth of his wisdom.

Klesavarapa is like a cut which gives pain. Jneyavarapa is like the painless scar when the cut has healed but not finally disappeared. Dharmamegha is the level immediately before Buddhahood in which the last traces of jneyavarapa are taken away. The removing of avarapas is like removing increasingly fine & wispy veils. The development of greater spiritual power is like having stronger & stronger binoculars to see more & more clearly. At the Buddha stage all the avarapas are gone. Even a small part of a Buddha's mind can see all things clearly at the same time. If there is even a tiny cloud in the sky there is still a small shadow on the earth. When this cloud disappears the sun can shine everywhere. At dharmamegha the Bodhisattva meditates on shunyata with perfect concentration. He sees it clearly & completely, but he cannot see phenomena at the same time. A Buddha can see both shunyata & phenomena at the same time. Things have shunyata - emptiness of independent self-existence - but they are not shunyata. At the moment that this final trace of jneyavarapa disappears, phenomenal existence suddenly appears at the same time as shunyata. At this time a Buddha can see phenomenality & shunyata at the same time even with his eye perception. This is also true for the other sense perceptions. At the time of becoming a Buddha he knows the deepest nature of everything. He gets the final virtues of body - he can without difficulty multiply himself an infinite number of times - and speech - he has no difficulty in giving teaching to any being.

The virtue of a Buddha's speech is unlimited. If a 1,000 people each ask a different question in a different language at the same time, the Buddha, by saying just one word, can answer all their questions immediately. We do not have the inner power to do this kind of thing because of our avarapas. There are other virtues of a Buddha's speech: swetness, softness, an attraction that makes people want to listen, a quality that gives a feeling of peace to those who hear it, and so on. In all there are 64 virtues of a Buddha's speech. In many different sutras are to be found the different virtues of body, speech & mind.

There are 112 different virtues of a Buddha's body. The duty of a Buddha is to help beings. If it is helpful, in one second he can multiply himself as many times as there are beings, or can manifest as any kind of being, trees, water, and so on. This always & only to help beings out of samsara.

To receive such help, beings must also contact the Buddha from their own side. At night, when the moon is shining on the surface of a lake which is clear & smooth, the light can shine on all parts of it, but if the surface is disturbed or overgrown the moon cannot penetrate. When it is smooth & clean, the moon is reflected clearly in it, the reflection being just like the moon in the sky. In this same way, the Buddha's help goes out to all beings equally. It is the receptivity on the side of beings that varies. Beings must, for their part, make contact with the Buddha. If it were not so he would have already have taken all beings out of samsara. A Buddha has the ultimate Mahakarunika, so he would not leave beings in suffering if by his own efforts alone he was able to take them out of it. If you clap your left hand with your right, your left hand must be there to receive the blow otherwise there is no sound.

When all coverings are removed & the power of the virtue that he has built up is at its full height there is nothing a person cannot do. His body can multiply indefinitely & he can give teaching on all levels, from the beginning to the goal. The virtue of a Buddha's mind is that even a small part of it knows the reality of everything. This Buddha stage is the effect of many causes achieved through an enormous amount of Dharma practice.

After the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, had finished his teaching on Earth, all the beings there at that time who had the karma to see and hear him had done so, & so he went to continue his work in other realms. This form has finished, but he can still help beings in other forms. Buddhas can take ordinary forms such as a friend, guru, and so on.

Top of page