How can Buddhahood be described?

Earlier this summer, in Bristol, Lama Jampa completed his teaching of Chogyal Phagpa’s Garland of Jewels which he began teaching a couple of years earlier. This final section of the text focused upon the question of how the goal of the path, Buddhahood, can be described.

Despite this last chapter being an advanced one, there was much here to inspire all, including people coming afresh to the teachings, even those who may have missed all the previous sections of the text. It is wise for one to know where the path leads, that one is setting out on. And, of course, we are all beginners on the path, taking refuge afresh, as we do each day, in the Buddha and His teachings.

Introducing the topic, Lama Jampa said that the need for dualistic concepts, implicit within any  attempt to render a topic comprehensible, make it something like an impossible task to adequately describe Buddhahood.

Dualism is the mechanism of ignorance. We mistake the nature of reality through trying to fit it into dualistic frameworks: “It is truly existent or it is truly non-existent.” “It is eternal or it is perishable.” Whereas ultimate reality, awakening to which a buddha has done, is finally irreducible to words and concepts. They cannot touch it. Just as the sky cannot be painted upon, cannot be grasped, cannot be coloured, neither can the nature of reality which is what a buddha’s mind has recognised and come to be one with.

So, all language used to describe Buddhahood has to be, in a way, metaphorical. Words and concepts cannot touch Buddhahood, they are used metaphorically to inspire us.

Even so, many things can be said about Buddhahood to inspire us – like a finger pointing beyond itself.

Through use of words we can get some approximate idea of what a buddha is like – through use of words that are breaking as soon as they are used.

This can inspire us towards seeking discovery of these qualities within ourselves. 

It is also helpful for us – to keep us aware of our own unconquered egotism – to have Buddhahood described as extraordinarily different, through pictures painted with astonishing qualities.

Perhaps to ease us in to the topic, the Lama put it into the simplest terms for us:

We can say that Buddhahood is a way of seeing and a way of being.

What, then, are the qualities that can provide us with a hint at the nature of this enlightened way of seeing and being?

Enumeration of the thirty two qualities of the Buddha – bearing in mind what the Lama said about metaphorical use of language – provides an answer to this question and it forms the main substance of this chapter.

This enumeration of thirty two was not invented by Chogyal Phakpa. They are drawn from the canon of Mahayana shastras composed by Indian masters such as Arya Asanga and they still hold good to this day. Its presentation is quite technical, being divided into sections: powers, qualities and faculties of a buddha.

Even for the person unfamiliar with the more advanced terminology used, perhaps encountering the teaching for the first time, the Lama offered priceless nuggets to take away as inspiration.  Further study of notes taken at the teaching will help us to deepen our understanding and strengthen our resolve to practice towards meditative recognition of its profound meaning.

We conclude this post with two more of the inspiring nuggets which Lama Jampa gave us on that day.

Whereas we are continually bumping up against the world, a buddha is always perfectly present in body, speech and mind. His speech is always perfectly attuned to the present situation – saying only what is necessary –  whereas our speech can often be quite inappropriate.

A buddha is fearless – like a beautifully non-violent lion – in his proclamation of the Dharma because he or she has no self interest, no territory to defend. Because there is no self clinging in a buddha’s mind, there is no self protectiveness.

Lama Jampa returns to Bristol on Saturday 2nd. October to begin teaching from another of Chogyal Phagpa’s texts, Instructions to the Emperor, composed as a guide to the path for his disciple Kublai Khan. Please see the website for further details.  

Please note that posts in this blog are not intended to represent full accounts of teachings given by the Lama. They focus on particular aspects of teachings that the authors think may be of interest to people coming new to the Dharma, and other fellow students. They represent the understanding of the authors who bear responsibility for the content. Please address any comments to