Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings

Sutra 1 of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings2

Day and night, at all times,

Buddha’s disciples should

mindfully 3 recite and contemplate

the eight realizations 4 of Great Beings.


The First Realization 5:

All the world is impermanent.

The earth is fragile and perilous.

The four great elements 6 inhere in suffering 7 and emptiness 8.

In the five skandhas 9 there is no self 10.

All that arise 11, change, and perish,

are illusive, unreal, and without a master.

Mind is the root of evil 12;

body a reservoir of sin 13.

Thus observing and contemplating,

one gradually breaks free from birth and death 14.


The Second Realization:

Excessive desire is suffering.

Birth, death 15, and weariness in life

all originate from greed and desires.

Desiring less, being empty of effort 16,

body and mind are at ease and free.


The Third Realization:

The mind is insatiable,

always seeking, thirsty for more,

thus increasing our sins 17.

Bodhisattvas 18 renounce such conduct.

Always remember to follow the Way,

be content and at peace with poverty 19,

with wisdom as the sole vocation 20.


The Fourth Realization:

Indolence 21 leads to degradation.

Always practice with diligence 22,

vanquish all vexations 23,

subdue the four maras 24,

and escape the prison 25 of the skandhas and realms.


The Fifth Realization:

Ignorance 26 leads to birth and death.

Bodhisattvas are always mindful

to study and learn 27 extensively,

to increase their wisdom

and perfect their eloquence 28,

so they can teach and enlighten all beings,

and impart great joy to all.


The Sixth Realization:

Poverty and hardship 29 breed resentment,

creating harm and discord.

Bodhisattvas practice dana 30,

beholding the friendly and hostile equally 31;

they neither harbor grudges

nor despise malicious people.


The Seventh Realization:

The five desires 32 are perilous.

Even as laity, be not sullied by worldly pleasures;

think frequently of the three robes 33,

the tiled bowl 34, and instruments 35 of Dharma;

aspire to the monastic life

and cultivate the Way with purity;

let your actions be noble and sublime,

showering compassion on all.


The Eighth Realization:

Birth and death are like a blazing fire

plagued with endless afflictions and suffering.

Vow to cultivate the Mahayana 36 mind,

to bring relief to all;

to take on infinite sufferings 37 for sentient beings 38,

and lead all to supreme joy 39.


These are the eight realizations of Great Beings,

Buddhas 40, and bodhisattvas.

They practice the Way with diligence,

develop compassion, and cultivate wisdom.

They sail the ship of dharmakaya 41

to the shore of nirvana 42,

returning again to samsara 43

to liberate sentient beings.

With these eight principles,

they point out the Way,

so that all beings may awaken

to the sufferings of life and death,

relinquish the five desires, and

cultivate the mind on the noble path.

If Buddha’s disciples recite these eight realizations,

in thought after thought 44,

they will eradicate countless sins,

advance on the bodhi path 45,

promptly attain enlightenment,

be forever freed from birth and death,

and always abide in joy.

1. sutra 佛經. A Buddhist scripture containing the dialogues or discourses of the Buddha.

2. Great Beings. Highly enlightened beings; beings with great virtue and deeds; bodhisattvas and buddhas.

3. mindfully. Sincerely, with great concentration; whole-heartedly.

4. eight realizations. What one must understand and strive to become a Great Being such as the Buddha.

5. first realization. The foundation of the eight realizations; the teaching of impermanence, suffering, emptiness, and no-self.

6. four great elements 四大. Earth (solid or dry matter), water (liquid or wet matter), wind (air or motion), and fire (heat or energy). They comprise all matter.

7. inhere in suffering. All worldly things are impermanent, and prone to bring suffering.

8. emptiness 空. Both the self and all phenomena are without independent existence or inherent, fixed characteristics. They are impermanent, mutable, and mutually dependent; their individuality is in appearance only.

9. five skandhas 五蘊. Five aggregates—form, feeling, conception, volition, and consciousness (色受想行識). Form refers to our body or the physical world, the other four are of the mind. Ordinary beings see themselves as composed of these aggregates. When we analyze them deeper, we find no real substance.

10. no self 無我. Emptiness of an independent, consistent self or self-identity. What we perceive as “self” is actually an illusive ego.

11. all that arise… All composite things are conditional, always changing, and perishable. One should see beyond their appearance. There is not a master-controller.

12. root of evil. All harmful actions come from deluded thoughts.

13. reservoir of sin. The body is both an instrument of sin and the outcome of past transgressions prone to suffering.

14. free from birth and death. To escape the endless rebirth cycle and attain nirvana.

15 birth, death. Where there is birth there is death, which is full of suffering. The endless rebirth cycle, known as samsara, is a result of desires arising from delusion.

16 empty of effort (wu-wei)無為. Free from contrived effort; free from clinging and attachments; unconditioned; absolute. Being wu-wei also means inner peace obtained by having no desires. Also translated as “unconditioned Dharma” where appropriate.

17 sin. Misdeeds, actions that lead to harm and suffering.

18 bodhisattvas 菩薩. One who, with infinite compassion, vows to become a buddha and to liberate countless sentient beings. A bodhisattva practices all six paramitas (perfections), but it is the prajna paramita that ultimately brings true liberation. Bodhi: enlightenment, to awaken. Sattva: sentient beings, beings with consciousness.

19 at peace with poverty. The bodhisattva is not distressed by physical hardship; true poverty is poverty of virtue, not material comfort.

20 wisdom as sole vocation. “Wisdom” means the understanding of the truth. To acquire such wisdom is essential for the bodhisattva.

21 indolence. Sloth or laziness easily leads to moral misconducts.

22 practice with diligence. To attain the Way requires diligent effort.

23 Vexations. Klesas 煩惱(pronounced “kleshas”) — greed, anger, and ignorance; causes of suffering; defilement of the mind; the chronic mental states that vex the mind and distress the body.

24 four maras. Maras are obstacles to cultivation. 1. Kleshas 煩惱魔, 2.skandhas 陰魔, 3. death 死魔, and 4. deva-mara 天魔, the celestial evil tempter.

25 prison. The skandhas and realms are like a prison. The “realms” refer to the 18 spheres 十八界: six senses 六根 (eye, ear, etc.), six sense objects 六塵 (form, sound, etc.), and six consciousnesses 六識.

26 ignorance. Ignorance of the true nature of the “self” and life. From ignorance comes desires and hatred, which in turn lead to samsara.

27 study and learn. Bodhisattvas need to learn many ways of liberation in order to help wide groups of people.

28 eloquence. Ability to convey the teaching well and to answer difficult questions.

29 poverty and hardship. Easily lead to resentment, which in turn may produce otherwise undue and uncalled-for bad karma with many people.

30 dana 布施(檀那). Charity. The first of the six paramitas (perfections) practiced by a bodhisattva. There are 3 types of generosity: giving of material, giving of solace (comfort, protection, removal of fear, etc.), and giving of Dharma.

31 equally. Bodhisattva understands all beings are fundamentally equal; they have no hatred towards evil or malicious people.

32 five desires. Desire for sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch. Alternatively, desire for wealth, lust, fame, food, and sleep. They are harmful, not pleasurable.

33 three robes. Traditionally Buddhist monks wear only three robes.

34 tiled bowl. Monk’s begging bowl can be tiled or metal.

35 instruments. Implements that are used in Buddhist services or daily life of a Buddhist monk. These three are symbols of monastic life.

36 Mahayana 大乘. The great (maha) vehicle (yana). It is the bodhisattva path which leads to Buddhahood. This involves devotion to the liberation of all beings and the perfection of wisdom. Mahayana mind: the bodhi mind, the enlightened mind, the buddha nature within all of us. To cultivate the Mahayana mind means to commit to the buddha path.

37 take on sufferings. A bodhisattva is willing to self-sacrifice for others. But a true sacrifice is to eliminate the ego and help others to eliminate the ego and attain enlightenment.

38 sentient beings. All living beings with sentience; beings that have awareness. They include devas (gods or heavenly beings, asuras (demi-gods 阿修羅), human beings, animals, hungry-ghosts, and hell-beings. Unlike buddhas and bodhisattvas, they are all trapped in samsara, but have the potential to become buddhas.

39 supreme joy. The joy of perfect enlightenment; the joy of nirvana

40 buddhas. “The enlightened one.” There are many buddhas in the past, present, and future; all sentient beings can become buddhas by practicing prajna paramita.

41 dharmakaya 法身. The Buddha has three bodies (kaya): dharmakaya, the truth body, which is formless, unborn, our original nature; sambhogha-kaya 報身, the bliss body, which can only be seen by great bodhisattvas; and nirmana-kaya 化身, the transformation body, which is the historical Buddha seen by ordinary beings.

42 nirvana 涅槃. The state free from all desires and suffering; ultimate bliss and tranquility.

43 samsara 生死、輪迴. The relentless cycle of birth and death in which unenlightened beings are deeply entangled. By extension it means this world of afflictions and suffering.

44 thought after thought. One deviant thought can lead to grave peril; one pure thought can eliminate great sin.

45 bodhi path 菩提道. The path to awakening, to becoming a Buddha. Therein lies lasting joy.