4 things you (may) need before you can be enlightened

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Over the centuries, the lives of countless enlightened and self-realised sages have been studied and investigated, contrasting how they were prior to and after enlightenment, searching for clues as to what may aid other seekers in reaching total and complete liberation. Through this investigation several common qualities have been found which, if developed, aid the spiritual seeker to reach their goal.

In Vedanta, traditionally, there are four qualities (sadhana catustaya in Sanskrit) that a person should cultivate prior to engaging with the higher teachings of vedanta. These qualities, or qualifications,  are deemed necessary to have, at least in some degree, before enlightenment can subsequently be achieved.

A similar notion that a certain level of attainment or qualification is required before higher teachings are taught are found throughout spiritual traditions, including many ‘no-path’ schools such as Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Zen (all types of Buddhism).

The idea is that without these qualities being present the seeker may have many insights and epiphanies, but the results will be unstable, with insights often coming and going, the results being a continued sense of lack and frustration. In a more mature seeker this may result in so-called ‘flip-flopping’, when the seeker has repeated experiences of being enlightened only to find, much to their dismay, that these experiences also end and suffering resumes.

The idea is that without these qualities being present the seeker may have many insights and epiphanies, but the results will be unstable, with insights often coming and going, the results being a continued sense of lack and frustration.

Conversely, when a seeker has developed these qualities, when exposed to the higher teachings of vedanta they make quick progress and quickly attain moksha (Freedom), which does not come and go.

Below Shankara, that great proponent of advaita vedanta (non-duality), tells us that these qualities are more important than other factors in attaining moksha. This quote is taken a text attributed to Shankara called vivekachudamani, one of his most famous texts and one of my favourites when I was a seeker:

Ultimate success in spiritual endeavours depends chiefly upon the qualifications of the seeker. Auxiliary conveniences such as time and place all have a place indeed, but they are essentially secondary.
Vivekachudamani by Adi Shankara, verse 14

The 4 Qualities (sadhana catustaya)

Here are the 4 qualities, sometimes known as the ‘4 Ds’, (with the Sankrit word in brackets):

  1. Discrimination (viveka): being able to tell the difference between what is permanent and what is transient
  2. Dispassion (vairagya): not desiring what is transient/impermanent; turing away from the impermanent towards what is permanent
  3. Discipline (samadisatkasampatti): dropping trivial activities and turning towards the teaching and what is permanent.(Samadisatkasampatti  more literally refers to the six treasures, each of which will be discussed in later posts).
  4. Desire for freedom (mumuksutvam): this helps overcomes the ups and downs that life may bring and enables the seeker to overcome obstacles along the way.

There are several texts that outline these 4 qualities, perhaps the most succinct being Shankara’s Vivekachudamani which I have already mentioned above:

17. He alone is considered qualified to inquire after the supreme Reality (Brahman), who has discrimination, detachment, qualities of calmness etc., and a burning desire for liberation.
18. Great sages have spoken of four qualifications for attainment which, when present, succeed in the realization of Brahman and in the absence of which the goal is not attained.
Vivekachudamani by Adi Shankara, verses 17 & 18

Risk Factors vs qualifications

Before we look at each of the qualities in turn (in forthcoming articles), I would like to give my view. I don’t think these qualities are definite prerequisites for Freedom or self-realisation, important as they are. I think of them more as risk factors – ie. there may be an increased risk of enlightenment if these qualities are cultivated. Having the qualities does not guarantee enlightenment, and not having them does not bar one from Freedom.

It should be obvious really, but just because a particular tradition states something is necessary, doesn’t mean it is so – that’s my take on things at least. For me this Freedom is so simple, beyond simple actually, as it already is, that the whole notion of qualifications seems a bit arbitrary.

That being said, I do think they are of importance, and understanding and practising them will benefit many seekers, both in terms of increasing their day-to-day happiness, and in  terms of realising Freedom.

It has been said that this knowledge of the four qualities required for enlightement has come about by looking at and studying the lives of hundreds of spiritual seekers and knowers-of-Freedom (Jnanis) and seeing if they had anything in common. When we go through each of the four qualities I hope that you will be able to see, in a commonsense way, how these qualities work together and the principles that underlie them, and how they can indeed aid the attainment of moksha (the realisation of Freedom).

At the same time I feel it is important that we bear in mind that there are also inherent problems with the notion of qualifications which must also be understood if one is to engage with them effectively, namely that the very idea of a progressive path to Freedom (implied by the need for qualifications) can itself be an obstacle to realising that-which-already-is.

I will explore each of the above 4D’s in turn in forthcoming articles.

Tibetan Buddhism: Free and Easy by Gendun Rinpoche

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This is a beautiful and profound ‘vajra poem’. It was given spontaneously by Gendun Rinpoche, a late Tibetan Buddhist rinpoche (teacher), during a talk to his disciples. A book of his teachings called Heart Advice from a Mahamudra Master is highly recommended and teaches all the essentials of Tibetan Buddhism from someone who has a genuine experience of the truth that lies behind the words.

Happiness can not be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present,
in open relaxation and letting go.

Don’t strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises
in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
and become attached to it,
passing judgment upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically,
again and again, time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It’s like a vivid rainbow which you pursue
without ever catching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness
do not exist as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don’t believe in the reality of good and bad experiences;
they are like today’s ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there –
open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness,
this freedom and natural ease.
Don’t search any further
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing –

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

Dzogchen: Self-liberation in the fundamental nature


Here are some more verses from the Kunjed Gyalpo (The Supreme Source), one of the most important texts in Tibetan Buddhism and Dzogchen. These words point the reader directly towards Enlightenment. See my earlier posts on the Kunjed Gyalpo here and here.

In the except below the first section initially directs us to listen to these teachings and realise the inherent liberation that is already present ‘without needing to alter anything’.

The second section indicates there is no need for special practices, or to speak or act in a particular way in order to get this.

In fact, as per the third section below, in trying to find your ‘authentic condition’ (which is self-liberation), you deny it and prevent liberation manifesting itself.

As I am in the authentic condition,
all phenomena self-liberate in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the retinue of disciples, too, self-liberates in the fundamental nature.

As all self-liberates,
there is no need to correct the body posture or visualise a deity.
There is no need to correct the voice or speech.
There is no need to correct the mind through meditation.

By correcting oneself,
it is not possible to find the authentic condition,
and without finding the authentic condition,
one cannot self-liberate.
In this way one does not achieve the state of equality of the fundamental nature.

Excerpt from The Supreme Source (Kunjed Gyalpo), Chapter 29

So, what are we to do? We are essentially told that ‘you are already realised’ or ‘you are already whole’, but perhaps we don’t feel realised or whole.

We are told that no practice can take us to where we already are, but then what do we do?

The Kunjed Gyalpo exhorts us to listen to these teachings, absorb them, and see their truth directly!

But how to do this, the spiritual seeker asks.

There is no how, for in asking how you have already posited and given reality to the separate self that is looking for answer, that is looking to get somewhere. By asking how, there is already the implication that this is not it. But this is it!

The Supreme Truth and the way to it cannot be described. Only wrong ways can be described, hence the language is of negation – ‘no need to correct’….’By correcting oneself…one does not achieve’. The scripture tells us what not to do, not what to do.

The ancient method is to first listen (sravana) to the teachings repeatedly, then secondly to contemplate them and think them over (manana). This helps to develop an intellectual understanding of the teachings first, following which meditation and integration of the teachings (nididhyasana) can occur. This can occur gradually, or perhaps suddenly, without warning, a moment of clear seeing arises and the teachings that were once theoretical suddenly spring to life.

Early Buddhist Writings

A few years ago I read some of the earliest Buddhist texts that we currently know of and was shocked at how different they are to what is generally taught as being Buddhism today. Even Theravada Buddhism, which has the claim of being the oldest surviving school of Buddhism, often presents its teachings in very different ways. These early teachings were direct, forceful and devoid of complexities and lengthy philosophising. They reminded me much more of the pithy statements of Zen and Dzogchen Buddhism, which is surprising as these Buddhist schools are chronologically much later developments that occurred roughly 1000 years after the Buddha’s time. Continue reading

A rant: kicking spiritual seekers in the balls

“And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”

Buddha, Diamond Sutra

I’ve been reading several blogs and other writings aimed at spiritual seekers who have everything laid out so clearly. They have the map to spiritual enlightenment all put together ready for mass consumption. They say things like you are Pure Consciousness or Pure Awareness.

All the concepts are lined up ready to be taught by the bearded guru and gobbled up by the next willing namaste-wielding student greedy for the big E. Here, let the Kunjed Gyalpo metaphorically kick the spiritual-seeker-in-you in the balls (if you’ll forgive my sexism): Continue reading

The Supreme Source 3: Dzogchen ‘instructions’

Instructions from the Supreme Source


‘Listen! As all self-liberates there is no need to correct the body posture or to visualise a deity. There is no need to correct the voice or speech. There is no need to correct the mind through meditation. By correcting oneself, it is not possible to find the authentic condition, and without finding the authentic condition, one cannot self-liberate’

Chapter 29, p. 166

The Supreme Source 2: Dzogchen teachings


In my previous post I introduced this book which contains arguably the most important text in Dzogchen, the Kunjed Gyalpo, with Dzogchen itself considered by many to be the height of Buddhist teachings. If true, this would mean that this text is the ‘creme-de-la-creme’ of spiritual instruction.

For me the text is sublime and poignant and complete. Whilst I think many other teachings are just as ‘high’, reading it makes my heart open and sing, and I offer you some extracts, with my thoughts interspersed with the aim of highlighting important aspects of Dzogchen teachings.

Continue reading

The Supreme Source 1: Our True Nature


‘The aim of Dzogchen is the reawakening of the individual to the primordial state of enlightenment which is naturally found in all beings’

Thus states the first line on the back-cover of this treasure-trove of a book. This book is a comprehensive book on Dzogchen, which some say is the highest teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, and is based upon the translation of one of the most ancient and perhaps most important Dzogchen texts, the Kunjed Gyalpo.

Continue reading