Differentiating the Levels of Those of Holy Virtue

This essay was written by Lazhen in 2009

The titles “person of great holiness and virtue” and “great Bodhisattva” have appeared in large quantity over the internet recently. The “production” of those titles is still increasing. But when a quality inspection of those titles is made–my heavens! Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of those titles are like sham and poor products. Nonetheless, there are still those ignorant and stubborn people who time and time again say that so-and-so is a person of great holiness and virtue or their master so-and-so is a great Bodhisattva. I have even heard of people who have no abilities at all yet who shamelessly boast that they knew a long time ago they were the manifestation of such-and-such great Bodhisattva, and so on. A few days ago, I skimmed a few so-called Buddhist books. Like the internet, there were numerous references to such-and-such person being one of great holiness and virtue in this present time or such-and-such person being a great Bodhisattva in this present time. What is even more laughable is that some ignorant people use names such as “Zhang Bodhisattva” or “Li Bodhisattva” all day long to refer to people who recklessly make up and speak a few Buddhist terms. Hearing or reading all these names, it would seem that we are not in the Dharma Ending Age on earth. Rather, it would seem we are in the Western Paradise of Ultimate Bliss where Bodhisattvas and those of holy virtue are everywhere. You truly don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this phenomenon. In order to help living beings develop right view, I should seriously discuss the issue of who a person of holy virtue is.

What is meant by “one of holy virtue”? A holy being is one who has realized nirvana and has in body and mind extricated himself from the six paths of samsara. Such a being can be called a holy one. Thus, there are very many levels in this category of holy beings. ArhatsBodhisattvas, and Buddhas are all holy ones. However, there are great differences in the realization states of these holy beings of the Three Vehicles. Although Arhats are holy beings, they cannot be called “beings of holy virtue.” That is because they have not cut off attachment to the false notion that things are real. Their state of virtue is not lofty enough. Their state of realization is limited. “One of holy virtue” starts with the foundation of a holy being who has realized nirvana and builds upon that foundation. He generates bodhicitta based on great compassion. He is unselfish, selfless, and is not attached to the false notion that things are real. He feels it is his responsibility to save living beings by leading them to accomplishment and liberation. Thus, he has virtue that is based on sign-less bodhi. Only those Bodhisattvas with such a state of virtue can be called beings of holy virtue.

More specifically, there are four fruits, the last of which is Arhatship. One who attains the first fruit, called srotapanna or stream winner, can be called a holy being. One who attains the second fruit is a sakrdagamin or once returner. One who attains the third fruit is an anagamin or non-returner. One who attains the fourth fruit is an Arhat. These four fruits are attained by Sravakas and Pratyeka-Buddhas. Arhats have ended the cycle of birth and death and realized nirvana. They have cut off attachment to self but are still attached to the false notion that things are real. They are compassionate and have reached “beginning-level, rigid enlightenment.” They have not generated wisdom. They have control over their own births and deaths and have the six great supernatural powers. However, because they do not have wisdom, they often make mistakes when expounding the sutras and the dharma. They cannot explain the Buddha’s dharma teachings in a perfect and correct way. As a result, they still have many deficiencies when it comes to edifying and saving living beings. Those who have reached the first and second fruits are still bound by the cycle of birth and death. A srotapanna or stream winner goes through seven more births and deaths before he extinguishes all defilements. A sakrdagamin or once returner will go through one more birth and death. An anagamin or non-returner has attained the fruit of not returning. Of these four fruits, only the Arhat has thoroughly extricated himself from the fetters of birth and death. Therefore, although the abilities of Arhats are great, the depth of their insight and virtue is still inadequate when compared with insight and virtue of Bodhisattvas. The power of Arhats is weak especially in the area of leading living beings to liberation, which makes it very difficult for them to succeed in this area. It is easy for them to deviate from right view. They have some accomplishments in the Five Vidyas, but their accomplishments are on the “beginning, rigid” level.              

Above the level of Arhats are Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are on one of ten stages, from the first “stage of joy” to the tenth “stage of the dharma-cloud.” Bodhisattvas have already ended the cycle of birth and death and realized nirvana. They have cut off attachment to self. They are either gradually cutting off attachment to the false notion of that things are real or have thoroughly cut off such attachment. They have bodhicitta. They have generated wisdom. The higher their stage, the more complete their wisdom is. Bodhisattvas on all ten stages are, of course, beings of holy virtue. Their state of virtue is noble. Their state of realization is magnificent. However, there are extremely large differences in realization among each of the various Bodhisatva stages. Such differences cannot be calculated by using the concept in arithmetic where one plus one equals two. Rather such differences in realization can be described as multiple increases that we find in solid geometry. The realization of a first-stage Bodhisattva cannot be compared with the realization of a second-stage Bodhisattva. Additionally, a first-stage Bodhisattva cannot understand the realization of a second-stage Bodhisattva. That is why there is the adage, “First-stage Bodhisattvas do not understand the matters of second-stage Bodhisattvas.” The difference in realization between tenth-stage Bodhisattvas and first-stage Bodhisattvas can only be described with the Chinese saying “as far apart as heaven and earth.” As the Yuqielunji states, “Bodhisattvas on the tenth ‘stage of the dharma-cloud’ have inconceivable wisdom and its associated practices. All living beings, Sravakas, Pratyeka-Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas on the first stage to the ninth stage cannot match them.” All Bodhisattvas have a level of proficiency in the Five Vidyas that corresponds to their state of realization and that transcends the level of ordinary people.           

Bodhisattvas who are above the tenth stage, namely, eleventh and twelfth stage Boddhisattvas, are Mahasattvas. Strictly speaking, only Mahasattvas can be called “great Bodhisattvas” or “beings of great holiness and virtue.” Mahasattvas have great fame, make great vows, carry out great actions, and save a great many living beings. There are those who contend that Bodhisattvas above the seventh stage are called “great Bodhisattva Mahasattvas.” However, no matter what, only those whose state of virtue and realization match those of the magnificent Bodhisattva Mahasattvas can be called a great Bodhisattva or being of great holiness and virtue. Such titles cannot be used to refer to Arhats or Bodhisattvas on the first several levels, whose wisdom is not yet perfect, whose mastery of the Five Vidyas is not yet complete, and who still have remnants of attachment to the false notion that things are real. Above Mahasattvas are “equal enlightenment Bodhisattvas” and “marvelous enlightenment Bodhisattvas.” In the case of the former, their enlightenment is equal to that of a Buddha, and in the case of the latter, their enlightenment is as marvelous as that of a Buddha. Examples of this are Kuan Yin Bodhisattva and Manjushri Bodhisattva. Above equal enlightenment and marvelous enlightenment Bodhisattvas are Buddhas, who have realized supreme, perfect, and correct enlightenment, who have perfectly realized the three bodies and four wisdoms, and who have united with the universe.

Using these terms seems to be a simple matter these days. Every so-called dharma king, venerable one, rinpoche, or great dharma teacher can steal these terms, and, like a coat, wear them on their own body. However, I wonder whether all of you have carefully considered the inner meaning of these terms. Arhats and Bodhisattvas are not just a couple of terms. Each of those two appellations represents its own state of supernatural powers and wisdom. Leaving aside Bodhisattvas for a moment, do all of you understand what the state of just an Arhat is? An Arhat has the six types of supernatural powers: the supernatural power of the heavenly eye, the supernatural power of the heavenly ear, the supernatural power to read minds, the supernatural power of unimpeded bodily travel, the supernatural power to know past lives, and the supernatural power of extinguishing all “outflows” or defilements. What do these six supernatural powers mean? To put it in terms easier to understand, they mean the following: the ability to sit there and observe all phenomena in the universe; the ability to hear things far away in all directions; the ability to know what everyone is thinking; the ability to travel thousands of miles in an instant or even fly through space, traveling back and forth among the various worlds; and the ability to see 300 years into the past and 500 years into the future. This is a description of just a portion of the six supernatural powers. The six supernatural powers blend with one another and also undergo many changes. What amazing abilities they are!                        

When Sakyamuni Buddha went to the country of Nan to save living beings, how did the Arhats travel there? They traveled through the air using their supernatural power of unimpeded bodily travel. Moreover, they arrived there in different physical forms. The Buddhist nun Mahaprajapati led 500 Buddists nuns, all of whom were Arhats. What type of realization did they have? They could sit in the air, stand in the air, lie in the air, emit light from their entire body, emit fire, emit water, and undergo all kinds of changes in their physical form. Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana, who was an Arhat, was able to extend his hand from this earthly realm to the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods. Venerable Mahakasyapa, who was an Arhat, was able to stand on the peak of Mount Sumeru and summon disciples of Sakyamuni Buddha, who were spread in all directions, in order that they meet and collect all the sutras of the Buddha. The voice of Venerable Mahakasyapa spread throughout the billion worlds!

Now let us take a look at those who currently claim to be a great Bodhisattva, dharma king, venerable one, rinpoche, great dharma teacher, or great layperson. Which one of them has those supernatural abilities I just mentioned? They don’t even have the supernatural abilities of a srotapanna or stream winner, who has attained the first fruit leading to Arhatship. At most they are good teachers who lead others to the Buddhist way. Most of them use high-sounding words and have no real skills, yet they brazenly call themselves great Bodhisattvas! Such reckless use of appellations is evil conduct!

Buddhist disciples, do not regard the Buddha-dharma of the Buddha as being so cheap. Do not continue to insult the Buddha-dharma by constantly calling this person a great Bodhisattva and that person one of great holiness and virtue. Read the sutras, such as the Sutra of the Buddha-Stage and the Sutra of the Ten Stages. See what level of astounding realization a great Bodhisattva Mahasattva must have. Putting aside the realization of a Mahasattva for the moment, even a first-stage Bodhisattva is able to transform his one body into 100 bodies. “He can move 100 worlds, go to 100 worlds, and illuminate 100 worlds. He can liberate 100 sentient beings. He can live for 100 eons. He can see 100 eons into the past and 100 eons into the future. He is able to choose correctly among the 100 dharma methods. He is able to manifest 100 bodies.” This is just a first-stage Bodhisattva. You can just imagine what inconceivable realization a great Bodhisattva Mahasattva or even a Buddha, who is supreme, must have. How could it possibly be that such realization is equal to the worldly characteristics of ordinary people whose six sense organs are still tied up with the six objects of the senses? Such people do not even have the power to telepathically move one hair. How could they possibly move 100 worlds? Four walls are enough to block them completely. How could they possibly go to 100 worlds? Their eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body are locked in the physical shell of an ordinary person. Upon what basis can these ignorant, ordinary people who lack abilities be called great Bodhisattvas? In this Dharma Ending Age on earth, even a few Arhats cannot be found. How, then, could there possibly be so many great Bodhisattvas?

If there really were so many great Bodhisattvas, the US$20,000,000 “Blue Platform Verification” award would have long ago been won by someone and used to build temples. If there were so many great Bodhisattvas, how could that $20,000,000 award not have been won after all these years? Doesn’t that fact clarify this issue of great Bodhisattvas? Moreover, the magnificent H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has said that members of the “Blue Platform” are waiting for a Bodhisattva to win that award, not a Mahasattva. Isn’t the import of such words worth pondering?

There are even those who go so far as to say that they are Kuan Yin Bodhisattva or Maitreya Bodhisattva. If you really are, then please duplicate the “Boulder With Mist” that is part of the “Blue Platform Verification.” A Bodhisattva has proficiency in the Five Vidyas. Moreover, Kuan Yin Bodhisattva is an ancient Buddha and Maitreya Bodhisattva is the highest-level Mahasattva. If you really are who you claim to be, show a little of your realization in the Five Vidyas that a tenth-stage Bodhisattva would have. Place inside a carved out hole in a faux boulder a little auspicious mist that never disperses. That should be an easy task if you are who you claim to be. How could you possibly be unable to do that? If you cannot do it, then you should close your mouth, pay attention to your conduct, and earnestly be the ordinary practitioner that you are. Don’t shamelessly hoodwink your disciples into insulting the holy names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas! 

One must undergo a test and verification of realization to determine whether one is a holy being and, if so, what level of a holy being one is. It is not a matter of calling yourself a holy being or being labeled a holy being by practitioners who are ordinary people. Such a test has been required from ancient times to the present. Venerable Ananda said that he had realized enlightenment. Venerable Mahakasyapa tested him by having him enter the hall through a key-hole. Throughout history, after someone in any of the sects of exoteric Buddhism became enlightened, eminent monastics were called upon to verify his enlightenment. Such a verification is actually a test of that person’s holy realization. It has never been the case that someone would say he himself is a certain holy being or Bodhisattva and that would be conclusive. This is all the more true in the esoteric dharma. Starting from the time of Guru Padmasambhava, tests have been required. There are many different kinds of tests and dharma practices, such as the test where one engages in seven types of debate on the Hetu-Vidya Three Branch Treatise, the test to qualify one as a master, and the test to determine if one has attained holy realization. Vajra acaryas must especially pass a test that proves to living beings what vajra power they have corresponding to their level of realization. This provides living beings with a basis to select in whom they would like to take refuge. There are many kinds of tests to determine one’s vajra power. Testing with a mani stone, testing with a vajra pill, casting a lot upon a mandala, testing with bodhi holy water, forming a mandala through a stone, and other methods have been used since ancient times to test one’s vajra power. 

However, over the past few decades, many demons and ordinary people have mingled into the ranks of greatly virtuous people. As described above, these shams who passed themselves off as being real became so-called “great Bodhisattvas.” In order to cover up their own ineptitude, they hid the dharma booklets relating to those tests. This has gradually evolved into today’s absurd situation in which one calls oneself a holy being or one’s disciples together decide that one should be called a holy being. In order to prove that they have a little vajra power, these ordinary people who pretend to be holy people often leave their handprints or footprints on boulders. It now seems that everyone is leaving their handprints or footprints on boulders. As I said before, this type of thing that was not directly witnessed by many people is not credible. In a true test of vajra power, there must be at least seven masters and ten witnesses who attend the test. In short, the more witnesses there are at the test site, the better. The person tested must manifest his vajra power in front of many people. He must transfer the vajra power that he has cultivated onto a vajra pill the size of a mung bean and make that inanimate vajra pill move about on its own.

Another example involves colored sand. A person of great holiness and virtue practices dharma to demonstrate his vajra power. He thereby causes a mandala or a seed character made of colored sand on the surface of a large flat stone to penetrate the stone and form the same design on the sand in the covered mandala plate underneath that large flat stone. This is a vajra power that establishes a mandala through a stone. Only Mahasattvas of great and holy virtue above the tenth-stage have such vajra power. They are able to master the external four great elements.

Another example is when a vajra pill is on the palm of holy person who has vajra power. That person can telepathically make the vajra pill tremble, move around, fly back and forth in the air, or even go through walls or disappear. How the vajra pill moves around and what changes it undergoes vary with each case. This clearly demonstrates the level of realization of the person who practices this dharma.

Based on orthodox dharma, I will now clearly tell everyone the different levels of holy beings that correspond with the different manifestations of vajra power during a test of vajra power using a vajra pill. I hope that practitioners will use this as the correct standard by which to differentiate holy beings.

ARHATS: Sravakas and Pratyeka-Buddhas realize four fruits: the first fruit is srotapanna or stream winner, the second fruit is a sakrdagamin or once returner, the third fruit is an anagamin or non-returner, and the fourth fruit is an Arhat.

VAJRA POWER MANIFESTED BY THOSE ON THE LEVEL OF ARHAT: They have the vajra power to awaken a vajra pill by telepathically making it tremble or shake. The vajra pill is on the ground or on a level object and is covered by an upside-down transparent dharma bowl. Inside the bowl, the vajra pill trembles, shakes, or moves about on its own. One can determine which of the four fruits the person tested has reached by knowing how much he can make the vajra pill tremble, shake, or move about. The realization described above is the realization of Arhats. Arhats are not Bodhisattvas. Those who falsely claim to be Bodhisattvas are committing a great offense by speaking falsely in that way. Arhats can be called holy beings or good teachers who lead others to the Buddhist way. However, they are not beings of great holiness and virtue.

BODHISATTVAS: The path of Bodhisattvas has ten stages: (1) the stage of joy, (2) the stage of freedom from defilement, (3) the stage of emission of light, (4) the stage of glowing wisdom, (5) the stage of overcoming the difficult, (6) the stage of manifestation of reality, (7) the stage of far-reaching, (8) the immovable stage, (9) the stage of wondrous wisdom, and (10) the stage of the dharma-cloud.

VAJRA POWER MANIFESTED BY THOSE ON THE LEVEL OF BODHISATTVA: They have the vajra power to make a vajra pill move about a great deal. When a vajra pill is on the palm of a Bodhisattva, he can utter an order and thereby make the vajra pill jump about and dance on his palm. Moreover, when the vajra pill is in an upside-down dharma bowl, a Bodhisattva must telepathically make it leave the surface it is on and go into the air space of that bowl. That is, the vajra power of a Bodhisattva must be able to make a vajra pill that is inside an upside-down, transparent dharma bowl with no openings rise on its own into the air space of that bowl and circle, go back and forth, go up and down, and zigzag. The vajra pill must fly rapidly; however, it is often the case that it does not hit the bowl when flying.

The level of a Bodhisattva is determined by the vajra pill’s strength of movement, speed, and number of times it changes course after it rises into the air. Of course, a Bodhisattva is a being of holy virtue.                    

MAHASATTVAS: Mahasattvas are great Bodhisattvas on the eleventh or twelfth stage.

VAJRA POWER MANIFESTED BY MAHASATTVAS: Mahasattvas have unhindered vajra power. They can telepathically make a vajra pill fly into the air, circle, and go back and forth. Moreover, they can utter a word and the vajra pill will penetrate through a transparent, upside-down dharma bowl with no openings, will fly around in the air space of that dharma bowl, will suddenly disappear without a trace, having penetrated through and gone outside that dharma bowl, and will land right in the middle of a mandala image of a higher than tenth-stage Bodhisattva, all without harming the dharma bowl in the slightest.

It goes without saying that a great Bodhisattva with such realization is a person of great holiness and virtue. However, such a person is not necessarily a true great Mahasattva. A true great Mahasattva must demonstrate his holy vajra power by establishing a sand mandala under a flat stone. This is a requirement. Otherwise, the person is not a great Mahasattva.

The above is a list of standards based upon the dharma. One will have a level of vajra power that corresponds to the level of accomplishment one has attained through cultivation. The movement of the vajra pill will show and correspond to the level of one’s cultivation and realization. The vajra pill will not move more or less than it should move to correspond to that level. The law of cause and effect (karma) produces such a result and sets the level.

Practitioners, remember that now is the Dharma Ending Age. Holy persons and Bodhisattvas are very few. You must differentiate people based on the dharma. Be very careful. The titles “great Bodhisattva” and “one of great holiness and virtue” are not secular, polite expressions used to flatter people. You are not permitted to use such titles to address everyone you see. When you incorrectly identify someone by recklessly acknowledging him as a Bodhisattva or person of holy virtue, you commit the offense of treating the Buddha-dharma disrespectfully. Moreover, if a person who is called “great Bodhisattva” or “one of great holiness and virtue” does not have the corresponding vajra power realization yet still accepts such title with no qualms, no apprehension, and no shame, and even openly and falsely claims that he is so-and-so great Bodhisattva, then he is violating the precepts by speaking a great falsehood and is deceiving living beings. If he is a holy person, his karmic retribution will be descent into the vajra hell.* If he is an ordinary person, his karmic retribution will be descent into the hell of uninterrupted suffering.

Of course, there is another type of situation that must be explained. There are dharma teachers and rinpoches who are modest and introspective. Their moral character is noble and pure. The foundation of their lives is great compassion. Although they are not yet able to demonstrate their vajra power and are not true holy beings, they nonetheless are good teachers who lead others to the Buddhist way or are virtuous monastics. They, too, are models for living beings to emulate. Actually, it is very difficult to be a good teacher who leads others to the Buddhist way or a virtuous monastic. Such people are very amazing. Through their pure and noble moral conduct, they move living beings to learn the Buddha-dharma expounded by H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III in His recorded dharma discourses. Their merit is great.

However, there are those who are never satisfied with being a good teacher who leads others to the Buddhist way or a virtuous monastic. They wholeheartedly want to make themselves into great Bodhisattvas. Wanting to be a Bodhisattva is a good thing. However, you must go through purifying cultivation in accord with the dharma before you can ultimately attain that goal. The titles “Bodhisattva” and “one of holy virtue” are not like business signs that exaggerate or use words recklessly with no consequences. You must earn such titles by demonstrating vajra power realization that meets the standards set by the dharma. It is not a matter of casually calling yourself those titles. If you are not qualified to be called such titles, then you are not qualified. In such case, to still insist on calling yourself those titles is of no use. Practitioners in general are not qualified to apply such titles to themselves.

In today’s world, there are many people with the title H.H., which signifies a great Bodhisattva; the title H.E., which signifies a Bodhisattva; the title venerable one; and so on. In most cases, they are not worthy of such titles. Many people with the title H.H., which signifies a great Bodhisattva, are not even on the level of a venerable Arhat because they do not have the realization of an Arhat. Strictly speaking, it is possible that they might not even be on the level of a good teacher who leads others to the Buddhist way.

I will give another real example so you can see the whole picture. Mindrolling Trichen, who was the supreme dharma king of the Nyingma sect of Tibetan esoteric Buddhism, abided for a long time in the dream yoga meditation state. Can you find even a few people in any of the sects in Tibet whose realization truly exceeds the realization of Dharma King Mindrolling Trichen? Still, Dharma King Mindrolling Trichen was only the incarnation of venerable Ananda, an Arhat. Who are you compared to Dharma King Mindrolling Trichen? This supreme dharma king of the Nyingma sect who had amazing supernatural abilities was just an Arhat. What supernatural abilities do you have that justify your calling yourself a Bodhisattva or one of holy virtue?

Earnestly practice. Do not recklessly seek things out of extreme greed and vain glory. There is a saying in northern China, “If you do not have that diamond, do not take that porcelain work.” If you give endless speeches to show off or to seek lucrative offerings, and if through great self-pride you recklessly call yourself a Bodhisattva of great holiness and virtue, yet in fact you have no supernatural abilities or wisdom, then you will force yourself and your disciples into hell. Remember this!

*Vajra hell is a place where holy beings who received inner-tantric vajra seeds and who violated the precepts receive karmic retribution. The difference between that hell and the hell of uninterrupted suffering (avici) is that ordinary beings receive karmic retribution in the hell of uninterrupted suffering. After those living beings finish receiving such karmic retribution and leave that hell, they continue their wandering in the six realms of samsara. Conversely, after those in the vajra hell finish receiving their karmic retribution and leave that hell, they return to their holy position, which does not change. Their supernatural powers and realization are the same as before. Still, the torment experienced in the vajra hell is not the slightest bit less than the torment experienced in the hell of uninterrupted suffering. Such torment is incomparable and uninterrupted. 


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