The Qualities of Buddhahood: A Brief Sketch
Ven. Khenpo Appey Rinpoche

Suffering or unsatisfactoriness is a basis and indisputable fact of life. Suffering afflicts all living creatures without exception, even though they try their utmost to escape it and to obtain happiness. A perceptive and sympathetic individual cannot help being grieved by this all-pervasive suffering, for he knows that all other sentient creatures are the same as himself in their longing for happiness. Suffering thus can also become an occasion for compassion - the deeply felt desire to free other creatures from their miseries. The Mahayana Buddhist, moreover, does not stop at just generating this compassionate attitude. He or she also comes to the conclusion that the only one with ability truly to free others from sorrow is a Perfectly Awakened Buddha. And that Buddhist therefore resolves, for the sake of saving and benefitting all sentient creatures, to achieve the matchless attainment of Buddhahood.

The mere thought or resolve to attain Awakening is, of course, by itself not enough to bring about its attainment. Buddhahood can only arise through its correct causes, and not in the absence of those causes or from the wrong causes. These correct causes are the energetic cultivation, over an extremely long period of time, of the six perfections (paramita) of the Bodhisattva and the two preparatory assemblages of merit (punya) and Gnosis (jnana). In order to strengthen one's resolve to cultivate those causes of Buddhahood it is helpful to acquaint oneself with just what sorts of attainments it consists of. Therefore I shall here briefly explain the main qualities of Buddhahood, according to their five traditional divisions of body, speech, mind, qualities, and activities.


According to the Sravakayana schools, the "bodily aspects" or "body" (kaya) of the Buddha is twofold. The undefiled Gnosis of the Buddha's mind - His perfect realization of the Truth of the Path - is the "dharma-body" (Dharmakaya). The physical form of the Buddha Sakyamuni who was born in Lumbini and who attained Buddhahood at Bodh Gaya is held by them to be the "form-body" (Rupakaya).


The Dharmakaya consists of three inseparable realizations: 1) the Dharmadhatu of the original pure nature of mind, 2) the Dharmadhatu of the purity of mind that occurs through the freedom from all adventitious stains or faults, and 3) the attainment of Gnosis that is without impurities (asrava). The Gnosis or Transcendant Knowledge furthermore includes twenty-one categories of characteristics free from the impurities. These include the thirty-seven factors conducive to Awakening, the four limitless attainments, the eight liberations, and so forth.


Three main characteristics of the "enjoyment-body" are 1) that it is possesses the thirty-two physical marks of Buddhahood, 2) that it has the eighty auspicious physical characteristics, and 3) that it engages itself in teaching only the Mahayana. These characteristics can be learned about in more detail elsewhere.


The "emanation-body" is the doer of various enlightened activites for the welfare of all sentient creatures. It is constantly active, manifesting wherever there are beings to be trained, and will continue to manifest as long as realms of cyclic existence (samsara)are not emptied of sentient beings. There are three types of "emanation-bodies": 1) "born emanations": these are the Buddha's manifestations as gods, dwelling in such divine realms as Tusita, 2) "fashioned emanations": these are numerous and include the various different forms projected by the Buddha for the sake of converting and benefitting others, such as vina (lute) player by which Supriya, the king of the Gandharvas, was converted, and 3) "the highest emanation": this is the emanation which manifests the attainment of Buddhahood in the world, such as our great teacher, Sakyamuni.


In addition those "bodily" qualities, the Buddha has many unique qualities of voice. The Buddha, for instance, can reply simultaneously to many questions, answering at the same time in many languages. These remarkable qualities are usually taught through an enumeration of sixty-four of them. These include sweetness of voice, the sound of which increases the roots of merit of the listening disciples; gentleness, which soothes the minds of others by its sound; and captivatingness, which appeals to the minds of all listeners. The list of sixty-four qualities, however, is not an exhaustive enumeration, it merely indicates through examples the great number and diversity of these qualities.


Enlightened mind is Gnosis (jnana. It is the only one, but it possess several aspects, and in that case we speak of four Gnoses. The first of these is the "mirror-like Gnosis", which is the portion of Gnosis that is free of both apprehending subject and apprehended object. The second is the "Gnosis of equality", which is that portion of Gnosis that abides neither in cyclic existence nor in the extinction of Nirvana. The third is the "discriminative Gnosis", which is the portion of Gnosis that understands objects in their multiplicity and variety. The fourth is "action-accomplishing Gnosis", which is the portion of Gnosis through which the Buddha understands the personalities and dispositions of sentient creatures.

On the other hand, when Gnosis is taught as being two-fold division are as follows. First there is the Gnosis through which the Buddha perceives the ultimate reality of all knowable things exactly as it is; this is the Gnosis if the level of ultimate reality. Second there is the Gnosis through which the Buddha perceives all knowable things in their variety and multiplicity; this is the Gnosis of the surface level of truth.


The qualities (gunas) of Buddhahood constitute the fourth traditional category through which Buddhahood is described. These to some extent overlap with the other categories, and normally they are taught as numbering sixty-four. These are the thirty-two qualities of the dharma-body, and thirty-two of the form-body.

The first group of thirty-two qualities has three subdivisions: the ten powers (bala), the four fearlessnesses, and the eighteen characteristics specific to the Buddha. The powers of Buddhahood include the power consisting of the knowledge of what is possible and impossible, the power of knowledge that takes actions and their consequences as one's own, and the power of the knowledge of the various mental dispositions of sentient creatures. The four fearlessnesses are the imperturbable confidences through which the Buddha sets forth in an ntagonistic assembly, His attainments of Gnosis and the elimination of all defilements, and by which He teaches for the benefit of others' salvation and the things which obstruct the spiritual path. The eighteen characteristics specific to the Buddha include such characteristics of conduct as His being free from mistakes and accidents, His lack of nonsenscial utterances, His lack of non-concentrated or non-meditative states, and His freedom from lapses of memory.

The second group of thirty-two qualities, those of His physical form, consist of the thirty-two marks of the great individual. These include the image of a spoked wheel on His palms and soles, flat soles of the feet, a thin membrane between the fingers, the protuberance (usnisa) on the top of His head, and the curled tuft of hair between His eyebrows.

As with the other qualities of enlightenment, these do not in any way exhaust the Buddha's qualities, for they are limitless and infinite like the sky. Just as however far one may proceed in any direction through space one will never reach the end of space, so too, we can never list all the qualities of Buddhahood. However many we enumerate there are always more and more to be mentioned.


The activities of Buddhahood can be explained according to two different principles. First of all they can be taught in terms of the levels towards which they are directed. The Buddha's activities 1) establish disciples on the basis of the spiritual path, i.e. in suitable physical existences such as in human existences, 2) they establish disciples on the paths of practice, i.e. on the path of accumulation, application, seeing, etc., and 3) they establish the disciples in the spiritual fruit or result, i.e. in perfect Buddhahood.

The second way in which the activities can be explained is in terms of how they manifest. They appear 1) effortlessly and spontaneously, 2) without discrimination or favouritism, 3) as identical with the activities of all Buddhas, 4) as a continual and never-ending process, 5) through varied skilful methods, 6) in ways that are suited to the disciple, and 7) as a protection from the faults of both cyclic existence and Nirvana.

The above are a mere indication of the range and nature of the Buddha's activities. In fact, He is able to accomplish limitless activities in each and every moment. And these activities always continue, never faltering, for as long as cyclic existence continues.


Our scriptures teach that merely to hear the name of the Buddha will cause the hearer to attain a human existence in the future. And they also state that hearing that exalted name will establish in the minds of sentient creatures a seed which will ultimately ripen into Buddhahood. Because speaking about the Buddha is so great beneficial, I consider myself fortunate to have been able here to explain a little about the Buddha's glorious qualities and attainments.


The Venerable Khenpo Appey Rinpoche was abbot of Dzongsar University in Eastern Tibet before he came to India. He belongs to the Ngor subsect of the Sakyapa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He received his early monastic training and education in the province of Kham in Eastern Tibet where he was born. Later he moved to the Ngor Monastery in Central Tibet. Throughout his active and industrious life, he has performed numerous prescribed retreats almost continuously and has also given many teachings and initiations.

He left Tibet during the Chinese invasion and has since been residing in India. Together with His Holiness Sakya Trizin, they were the main motivating forces behind the founding of the Sakya College of Buddhist Philosophy in 1972 in Mussoorie, India. Venerable Khenpo Appey Rinpoche was the first Principal of Sakya College.

Until 1967, he was tutor to His Holiness Sakya Trizin in scriptural matters. He is an outstanding scholar and is an authority on Buddhist philosophy, logic, and ethics.