Lerab Ling, 12 May 2009
During a private interview in Lerab Ling, Rinpoche was asked about the eight great bodhisattvas who are also known as the ‘eight close sons’ of the Buddha.
“We know that a book by Mipham Rinpoche includes stories about the eight bodhisattvas,” Rinpoche was asked. “Has been translated?Jamgon Mipham, A Garland of Jewels: The Eight Great Bodhisattvas. Woodstock, NY: KTD Publications, 2007. And would Rinpoche summarize each section very essentially, describing the main purpose of practising each of these bodhisattvas and their specific interest or speciality?”
Rinpoche immediately replied, “What do you want to know for?”
“Because they are mentioned in various practices and texts,” said the students, “but when they come up, most of us don’t know who they are and what the represent.”
The Eight Close Sons
The eight close sons are:
- Maitreya the Regent
1. Manjushri: ‘Gentle Voice’
Wisdom is very important for all of us. If you have perfect wisdom, the moment you hear about the qualities of the ten bhumis and five paths, you will be able to actualize them in your mind. The embodiment of this wisdom is Noble Manjushri (‘Gentle Voice’).
2. Avalokiteshvara: ‘All-seeing One’
Once you have great wisdom, it is also important that you think of others and are concerned about their welfare – this is compassion. For Buddhists, the embodiment of compassion is Lord Avalokiteshvara, the ‘All-seeing One’. However, the Hindus think of him as the creator or protector of the world.
3. Vajrapani: ‘Vajra-in-his-Hand’
All the buddhas have power and strength, without which there’s not much you can do. The embodiment of all the buddhas’ power and strength is the Lord of Secrets, Vajrapani.
4. Protector Maitreya: ‘Loving One’
We need to train our minds so that we can think that all sentient beings are our own children and love them like a mother; we therefore train in the four immeasurables. All the other qualities we develop on the path – the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment, for example – spring from our cultivation of the four immeasurables. The embodiment of this kind of love is the Protector Maitreya.
5. Noble Akashagarbha: ‘Essence of the Sky’
All the sentient beings who dwell beneath the sky are held in the buddhas’ egalitarian and compassionate embrace, in just the same way the sky shelters all sentient beings without bias or partiality. The power of this unbiased compassion is embodied in the form of the Noble Akashagarbha.
6. Kshitigarbha: ‘Essence of the Earth’
Similarly, the earth provides a ground which supports and holds all six classes of sentient beings, as numerous as space is vast. The essence (garbha) of the earth (kshiti), is Kshitigarbha – the ‘Essence of the Earth’, and it is thanks to this great ground that it was even possible for the six realms of sentient beings to come into being. As a result of the power of noble Kshitigarbha’s aspiration prayers and compassion, every word or gesture of compassion expressed by the one thousand and two buddhas of this ‘good kalpa’ has been focused in a single instant of Kshitigarbha’s compassion – all this is explained in the Sutra on the Tenth Mandala of KshitigarbhaDaśacakra-kṣitigarbha-sūtra, sa’i snying po 'khor lo bcu pa’i mdo. Dg.K. mDo sde, vol. Zha, ff.100a-241b (Toh. 239) (P.905).. And this is why Kshitigarbha’s power to benefit is so great.
7. Samantabhadra: ‘Universal Excellence’
Samantabhadra embodies compassion for all beings, free from partiality (not favouring those close to you over the rest), and not mixed with attachment and aversion. Samantabhadra is like a jewel – for example, the fabled wish-fulfilling jewel – that grants you whatever you pray for, spontaneously and without effort.
8. Nivaranavishkambhin: ‘Remover of Obstacles’
Every mental poison and obscuration must be completely eliminated before the lotus of enlightened wisdom blossoms. The elimination of obscurations – meaning fundamental ignorance – is the most important aspect of the path, and Noble Nivaranavishkambhin is its embodiment.
Nature of the Eight Close Sons
These eight close sons manifest when the eight collections of consciousness are purified within basic space. Right now this consciousness is impure, but when purified within basic space, it transforms into the eight close sons; so consciousness is by nature the eight close sons.
What I have told you today is what the Buddha – the Bhagavan – said about the eight close sons in many sutras. Buddha also went into great detail about the names of each of these bodhisattvas, about how just hearing their names brings blessings, and about each of the close sons’ aspiration prayers, their individual powers, and so on.
In the language of the secret mantra Vajrayana language, “the eight close sons are the purity of the eight consciousnesses within basic space”. However, the Mahayana describes them differently.
Mipham Rinpoche wrote offering practices to the eight close sons and a commentaryMipham Rinpoche composed a sadhana focusing on each of the eight close sons, and a short prayer (2 pages) of homage and praise to the eight bodhisattvas. For the commentary see: Jamgon Mipham.A Garland of Jewels: The Eight Great Bodhisattvas. Woodstock, NY: KTD Publications, 2007.. Even more profound than these texts is a prayer that appears at the beginning of the Collection of Praises section of Jamgön Kongtrül’s collected works. In this prayer, Kongtrül Rinpoche praises each of the eight close sons individually‘jam dpal gzhon nur gyur pa’i rnam thar phyogs gcig gi cha shas cung zad bsngags pa nor bu rin po che’i rgyal po dbyer med pa’i ye shes rgya mtsho grangs med pa rjes su sgrog pa’i sprin gyi char (rgya chen bka' mdzod vol 1, p.11-83) – it is a wonderful practice.
“Are there any really learnèd masters in Kham these days?” asked the Panchen Lama
“Based on the praise to the eight close sons that he wrote,” replied Khyentse Wangpo, “I would say yes: Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Tayé.”
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo then showed Panchen Rinpoche the prayer. He was so amazed that he immediately folded his hands and said, “The ocean of his qualities is really beyond imagining”.
That should do for this short presentation.
Translated by Gyurmé Avertin
Edited by Janine Schulz