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The 9 Qualities of the Buddha

The 9 Qualities of the Buddha

Samatha meditation on buddho is a form of buddhānussati, meditation focused on the qualities of the Buddha. In this method, the meditation object (the object you focus on) is initially the sound of the mantra buddho, pronounced as ‘bodaw’.

Later, when the concentration is high, you can switch to the mental recitation of buddho and then, for example, to the object of breath (ānāpānasati) or the practice of vipassana meditation (insight meditation).

When practicing the buddho meditation system, you focus the mind on the qualities of the Buddha, you keep the intention with the Buddha. Using sound as an object of meditation makes it easier to develop concentration in the beginning because sound is a very clear object that has more and more layers that can be heard as concentration increases, and because it shields your mind from the ambient sound which is often a great distraction during meditation, especially in the West.

Although sound is a relatively easy meditation object, you cannot achieve jhāna (absorption concentration) by focusing on it. This is possible but still very difficult when you have switched to the mental recitation of buddho. In the first case, the making of sound is the limiting factor, in the second case, the reason is that as you progress in practice, the emphasis becomes more and more on aligning yourself with the qualities of the Buddha that are incorporated in buddho.

Even if you cannot reach jhāna while meditating on the sound of buddho, you can develop very high concentration with it. You can normally reach jhāna if the strength of the jhāna factors (mental factors developed specifically through samatha meditation) and the purity of your mind is sufficiently high and the object lends itself to unification, i.e. the difference between self and object disappears. The qualities of the Buddha are so great and numerous that this unification is very difficult. At the same time, the grandeur of the qualities means that the concentration needed to stay focused on them must also be of a very high order. In other words, although achieving jhāna is very difficult, the jhāna factors are indeed developed to of a very, very high degree.

As the strength of the jhāna factors increases and the depth of your concentration on the Buddha increases, your connection to the underlying qualities becomes stronger and you embody them more and more within yourself.

If your concentration is very deep and steady, you may start to see mental images of Buddhas that you have never seen before and all sorts of wonderful things may happen. In addition to the jhāna factors, by connecting with the Buddha, you develop many beneficial mental qualities in the wake of your effort. Ahba has sometimes indicated that by practicing only this form of meditation, you could reach the safe harbor of Nibbāna (Nirvana) without having to switch to another object or focus specifically on vipassanā.

Still, for most of us ordinary mortals, if the concentration is deep and firm enough and when the teacher indicates it, it helps to change the samatha meditation object or start vipassanā meditation.

But what are the qualities of the Buddha we talk about all the time? It is good to realize that the Buddha and the Arahants who attained liberation (Nibbāna) after him do not differ in this most essential part, the liberation. This is the same in all cases. The difference between the Buddha and all who came after him lies in other aspects, such as the degree of concentration and the mental powers that with it, the depth of understanding and knowledge of all things, and the ability to teach others.

The latter aspects also differ among the Arahants, both in antiquity and among modern meditation masters. In Thailand, for example, Ahba is known for his unequaled concentration and wisdom with respect to all things, including the worldly. This distinguishes him from other well-known meditation teachers.

Where many meditation teachers only give advice about meditation and the Dhamma, Ahba’s extends his teaching and advice to all aspects of life. If you are staying at Ahba’s monastery, it is not uncommon to see other known meditation teachers or alleged Arahants visit him for special instructions on how to deepen concentration, or specific knowledge of the Abhidhamma or worldly matters. Also, Ahba is often invited by such teachers to dedicate and bless statues or temples in their monastery with the power of his mind.

So the liberation does not differ, the underlying qualities and tendencies do. The Buddha stands unrivaled at the top in a number of aspects. If we look at the Pali Canon, the ancient writings of Theravāda Buddhism, nine specific qualities of the Buddha are mentioned.

This happens in a very common verse that was often repeated by disciples or upcoming disciples in the time of the Buddha. Even today in countries like Thailand and Myanmar this verse is chanted by the monks every morning and evening. In the Pali the verse reads as follows:

Yo so bhagavā araham sammā-sambuddho, vijjā-carana-sampanno sugato lokavidū, anuttaro purisa-damma-sārathi satthā deva-manussānam buddho bhagavā.”

In English this can roughly be translated as:

“That Blessed One is such since he is accomplished, fully enlightened, endowed with [clear] vision and [virtuous] conduct, sublime, the knower of worlds, the
incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.”

To take a better look at these qualities, it helps to number them:

  1. accomplished (araham)
  2. fully enlightened (sammā-sambuddho)
  3. endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct (vijjā-carana-sampanno)
  4. sublime (sugato)
  5. the knower of worlds (lokavidū)
  6. the incomparable leader of men to be tamed (anuttaro purisa-damma-sārathi)
  7. the teacher of gods and men (satthā deva-manussānam)
  8. enlightened (buddho)
  9. blessed (bhagavā)

We will now consider the meaning of each of these terms.

1. Accomplished (Araham)

The word araham (the worthy one or saint) is a conjugation of the better-known word Arahant, which refers to those who have reached the highest, namely the fourth and final stage of liberation. In the verse it is indicated that the Buddha was an Arahant. In principle, anyone who has achieved complete liberation on the basis of the path taught by him is also a Arahant. But the Buddha was the first, the highest, the most skillful. According to the Visuddhimagga, one of the most valued Buddhist works, araham further has the following five meanings. The Buddha is araham because he:

  1. stands far away (araka) from the mental defilements (kilesa),
  2. has destroyed the enemy (ari), namely the mental defilements, and therefore he is accomplished (arahanta)
  3. has destroyed all spokes (ara) of the wheel of rebirth (ara-ham),
  4. is worthy (araha) to receive gifts (araham),
  5. can do no harm, even in secret (rahabhava).

2. Fully Enlightened (Sammā-Sambuddho)

The Buddha was fully awakend because he understood the straight path of the Four Noble Truths. He fully and correctly understood what had to be understood (unsatisfactoriness), left behind what had to be left behind (the cause of unsatisfactoriness), achieved what had to be achieved (the end of unsatisfactoriness), and developed what had to be developed (the path leading to the end of unsatisfactoriness).

He has rediscovered the Dhamma, the truth or true nature of things, the universal laws, on his own, without a teacher who has shown him the way. This distinguishes him from anyone who understands these same truths by their own effort afterwards, for as long as sāsana (the teaching of the Buddha) exists it is always practiced on the basis of the way the Buddha taught.

3. Endowed with Clear Vision and Virtuous Conduct (Vijjā-Caraṇa-Sampanno)

Vijjā means (higher) knowledge, and caraṇa good behavior (or practice) that gives direction to a noble disciple and leads him to immortality (Nibbāna).

In general, perfection in vijjā does not mean that the Buddha was omniscient about all things at all times. However, he could know everything he wished by directing his mind towards it. In this sense, he was omniscient because there was nothing in the universe that he could not have known if he wished to do so. The knowledge of  ‘ordinary’ Arahants depends on the depth of their concentration and insight, but no Arahant can match the full knowledge of a Buddha.

However, the ancient scriptures (for example, the Sāmaññaphala Sutta) also mention specific things when it comes to the Buddha’s vijjā. His ability to remember countless past lives and to see the place of rebirth of other beings after their death. His knowledge (and skill) of the supernatural powers resulting from concentration such as multiplying one’s own body, being able to walk through obstacles such as walls and mountains, to fly, to walk on water, and the divine eye and ear with which things far away and near can be seen and heard in all worlds. Also, the Buddha could know like no other the minds and qualities of other beings.

The most important knowledge, however, is the knowledge of destroying the impurities (kilesa’s) that keep us trapped in samsāra (the endless wandering from life to life). Destroying the kilesa is equivalent to reaching Nibbāna¸ the liberation of samsāra.

Carano, the behavior of the Buddha in general, was perfect. He could not show any behavior that was harmful to himself or other beings. His behavior was always fully in accordance with the Dhamma. The latter, by the way, applies to all Arahants, an Arahant cannot behave immorally.

Thus, the Buddha never showed misbehavior, was moderate in eating and sleeping, was always mindful with full energy and guarded his senses with full effort at all times, and he possessed the highest mastery of concentration and the jhānas.

4. Sublime (Sugato)

Sugato can most literally be translated as ‘he who has reached the right destination’, a reference to achieving the bliss of Nibbāna. Therefore, sugato can also be translated as ‘the Lucky One’, or sublime,  and in that sense it is often used as a name for the Buddha.

According to the Visuddhimagga, however, sugato has more meanings. The Buddha is sugato because he has traveled the path in the right way, he has gone to a good place, he has traveled the path irreversibly, and because he speaks correctly.

The meaning is therefore twofold. First, sugato is a reference to the blissful Nibbāna, the good destiny the Buddha reached and in this sense it also refers to the very beneficial effect on the world that his awakening had through the teaching he gave to others to walk this path themselves. Second, the Buddha only spoke what was true, correct, and beneficial during his teaching.

5. The Knower of Worlds (Lokavidū)

The Buddha saw with his mind all the worlds, whether they were far away or close by. By all worlds we mean on the one hand all the planets and the like in our universe (the Buddha taught that there are thousands of world systems in our universe where life exists), on the other hand all spheres of existence from the underworlds to the immaterial heavenly realms. Through his supernatural ability, the Buddha could manifest himself in all these worlds, in all locations.

However, not only did he know all locations, but with his mind, divine eye and ear he could know all beings he wanted to know, and see and hear what he was directing his attention to. He is therefore the knower of all locations and all beings.

A third meaning is that next to the literal worlds he also saw through the world of conditioned formations (saṅkhāra) completely. The arising and decay of all things and the path to liberation from the conditioned, namely the unconditioned Nibbāna.

6. The Incomparable Leader of Men to be Tamed (Anuttaro Purisa-Damma-Sārathi)

Anuttaro means as much as unparalleled, purisa-damma refers to those who receive the gift of Dhamma and sārathi means guide or leader. The Buddha could, like no other, fully attune his teaching to the listener. He had the greatest possible knowledge of people’s tendencies and paramis (high mental qualities) and could adapt his teachings specifically to this. Sometimes he taught with a single gesture or a single sentence, sometimes with a long speech, sometimes with a whole series of speeches or long guidance.

If someone had the parami’s to understand the Dhamma, the Buddha could teach them. Where ordinary people would soon give up, the Buddha possessed infinite mettā (loving-kindness), karunā (compassion), muditā (mercy) and upekkhā (equanimity) with which he accompanied his disciples.

7. The Teacher of Gods and Men (Satthā Deva-Manussānam)

Where ordinary people or teachers sometimes try to make contact with devas (divine beings) in order to receive instruction from them, the reverse is true for the Buddha. Creatures from all worlds, including the kingdoms of heaven, came to him for instructions. Even the highest gods saw in the Buddha a teacher who could help them.

Apart from honorable people, ascetics, and beings from the higher heavenly realms, however, among his listeners were also known assassins such as Angulimala, Alwaka and Nalagiri, hundreds of robbers, cannibals and so on.  The Buddha could lead all these creatures to the safe harbor of Nibbāna.

That makes him the unsurpassed teacher of men and gods.

8. Enlightened (Buddho)

Buddho initially seems to be a repetition of the second quality sammā-sambuddho. In that sense it is also the same grammatical conjugation of buddha or Buddha that is used in the second quality.

Here, however, buddho specifically refers to being awakened, having discovered the truth. The Buddha has fathomed the Four Noble Truths and has completed the Eightfold Path. Whereas sammā-sambuddho emphasizes the right way and the full and independent aspect of his awakening, buddho emphasizes the awakening itself and the Buddha’s ability to teach others the path to this awakening.

Where the ordinary citizen of the world does not realize that he is being lived by moha (ignorance), lobha (desire or desire) and dosa (anger), and so is caught in a kind of sleeping state in the infinite round of samsāra, the Buddha has awakened from this slumber.

Another way to translate buddho is as ‘the one who knows’. This is the translation that the forest monks from northern Thailand often use when they focus on buddho during meditation. The idea is that this knowing also comes up in the practitioner.

During samatha meditation on buddho as we practice it, buddho refers to all the qualities mentioned in this text because all these qualities are part of the awakened mind of the Buddha, which is what buddho essentially refers to.

9. Blessed (Bhagavā)

This, together with buddho, is the most commonly used name of the Buddha, sometimes even composed as buddho bhagavā.

‘Blessed’ is above all a term that expresses the deep respect and tribute to him as the highest of all beings in all worlds, distinguishing himself from all beings by his special qualities such as the highest possible dominion over his mind and body and the deepest and most subtle understanding of Dhamma (truth).

It is for this reason that the Buddha is rightly honored as bhagavā.

The Advantages of Focussing the Mind on the Qualities of the Buddha

In the Visuddhimagga the following is written:

As long as [the meditator] recollects the special qualities of the Buddha in this way, “For this and this reason the Blessed One is accomplished, … for this and this reason he is blessed,” then: “On that occasion his mind is not obsessed by greed, or obsessed by hate, or obsessed by delusion; his mind has rectitude on that occasion, being inspired by the Perfect One”.

So when he has thus suppressed the hindrances by preventing obsession by greed, etc., and his mind faces the meditation subject with rectitude, then his applied thought and sustained thought occur with a tendency toward the Enlightened One’s special qualities. As he continues to exercise applied thought and sustained thought upon the Enlightened One’s special qualities, happiness arises in him. With his mind happy, with happiness as a proximate cause, his bodily and mental disturbances are tranquilized by tranquillity. When the disturbances have been tranquilized, bodily and mental bliss arise in him. When he is blissful, his mind, with the Enlightened One’s special qualities for its object, becomes concentrated, and so the jhāna factors eventually arise in a single moment. But owing to the profundity of the Enlightened One’s special qualities, or else owing to his being occupied in recollecting special qualities of many sorts, the jhána is only access and does not reach absorption (appana). And that access jhāna itself is known as “recollection of the Buddha” too, because it arises with the recollection of the Enlightened One’s special qualities as the means.

When a bhikkhu is devoted to this recollection of the Buddha, he is respectful and deferential towards the Master. He attains fullness of faith, mindfulness, understanding and merit. He has much happiness and gladness. He conquers fear and dread. He is able to endure pain. He comes to feel as if he were living in the Master’s presence. And his body, when the recollection of the Buddha’s special qualities dwells in it, becomes as worthy of veneration as a shrine room. His mind tends toward the plane of the Buddhas. When he encounters an opportunity for transgression, he has awareness of conscience and shame as vivid as though he were face to face with the Master. And if he penetrates no higher, he is at least headed for a happy destiny.

Now, when a man is truly wise,
His constant task will surely be
This recollection of the Buddha
Blessed with such mighty potency.

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Buddha, Dhp 276