Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha

May 28, 2016; revised October 1, 2018; April 26,2020

Introduction

1. It is traditional to start a meditation session with an homage to the Buddha (Namaskāraya):

  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

and then to recite the supreme qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha.

Here is a recital of the Namaskāraya by the Venerable Thero (you need to adjust the volume control on your computer). It is normally recited three times:

Download
The 24 Supreme Qualities

2. There are nine, six, and nine supreme qualities attributed to the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha respectively.

  • These are listed and discussed in several suttā in the Dīgha Nikāya of the Tipiṭaka.
  • For example, see, “10. Dhammādāsadhammapariyāya” section of the “Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta (DN 16).
  • The Buddha tells Ven. Ananda that when one becomes a Sotapanna, one would begin to understand these qualities and will have “unbreakable faith” in the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha (Tiratana, or Three Jewels.)

3. The 24 supreme qualities are called “suvisi guṇa“, where suvisi means 24 and guṇa are the qualities. There are two main ways to interpret and utilize these 24 qualities.

  • Chanting of these qualities can provide a calming effect for the mind and is normally done before a formal meditation session; see, “Tisarana Vandana and Its Effects on One’s Gati“.
  • Meaning of the word “vandanā” is “va” + “andha” +“nā”, where “va” is for “vaya” or destroy, “andha” is for blind, and “nā” is for “nyāya” or the procedure for getting rid of moral blindness and attaining Nibbāna. The path to attaining Nibbāna is encoded in the Tiratana vandanā. We will discuss this in detail in a future post.
  • Also,  this chanting is alternatively called Tiratana vandanā (where Tiratana means the Three Jewels) OR Tisarana vandanā (where Tisarana means “guidance from the Three Jewels”). It is imperative to recite them correctly.

Here is a recording of the Tiratana vandana by the Venerable Thero (You need to control the volume level on your computer):

Download
  • The recital should break at places where there is a coma to state each quality separately, and should not break in the middle (e.g., no breaks in anuttaro purisadamma sārathi); see below.

4. These qualities can only be stated partially, and can never be fully grasped. If a person with a mathematics Ph.D. teaches addition/subtraction to a first-grade student, that student cannot fully appreciate the capabilities or qualifications of the teacher. When the same student grows up and learns higher mathematics later from the same teacher at a university, he can appreciate the capabilities of the teacher more.

  • In the same way, the qualities of the Three Jewels can be appreciated only with more learning of Dhamma. In fact, when I first wrote the original post on this subject more than a year ago, my understanding was much less than now. In the meantime, I have understood more and also experienced the power of the recital of these qualities.
Supreme Qualities of the Buddha

5. Correct Recital: itipi so bhagavā arahaṃ sammāsambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno sugato lokavidū anuttaro purisadammasārathi satthā devamanussānaṃ buddho bhagavā’ti.

  • It is imperative to break the phrase “itipi sō” to two words; “” means “him”.
  • Most people recite it as a single word “itipisō” and that gives not only an incorrect but a derogatory meaning: “pisō” is for “pisācha” or a “lowly being like a preta“. 
  • itipi sō Bhagavā” means “because of (the following qualities) he (Buddha) is”.

6. There are 9 qualities of the Buddha stated in the above verse.  Each quality is said to be impossible for a human being to describe fully.

  • As one learns more and more Dhamma, one truly begins to understand the value of a Buddha. It is said that an Anāgāmi can better understand the qualities of a Buddha than a Sōtapanna, and an Arahant even better.

7. Here are the list of the 9 qualities:

  • Arahaṃ – “A” + “rahaṃ” or not a trace of defilement (attachment for sense pleasures) left.
  • Sammāsambuddhō – “San” +”” + “sambhava” + “uddha“, or who discovered the way to dissociate from this suffering-filled world by removing “san“; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.
  • Vijjācaraṇasampanno – “Vijjā” (science or knowledge)+ “caraṇa” + “san” + “pannō“, or perfectly knowledgeable about how the world arises (out of “san“).
  • Sugatō – Ultimate in “su” + “gati” or “good qualities”.
  • Lōkavidu – “Lōka” + “vidü“, or having the ability to examine and explain any of the three worlds that encompass everything: world of mental formations (Saṅkhāraloka), world of beings (Sattaloka), world of things (Okasaloka).
  • Anuttaro purisadammasārathi – “Purisa” here is not a gender: purisa dhamma are the highest qualities; “anuttara” means unmatched.
  • Satthā devamanussanan – Teacher of celestial and human beings.
  • buddhō – Perfectly Enlightened, uprooted all “bhava” (bhava uddha).
  • Bhagavā or Bhagavath – “Bha” + “ga” + “vatha” – Able to examine a living being’s origin in many different ways. Here “Bha” is bhava or existence and “ga” means connection or relationship, and “vatha” is the form of any being.

8. The above are, of course, not the only meanings. Since each word describes the infinite qualities of the Buddha, there are other meanings as well. Thus it is best not to really get hang-up on the translations above.

  • It is best to get an idea of what these qualities and ALWAYS recite them in Pāli. As one’s understanding grows, one will realize the meanings better.
  • Pāli is a phonetic language. Meanings come via sounds. Thus what is imperative is to be able to recite the Pāli phrase above to the best to one’s ability. I have provided the recordings at the end of the post, where my teacher Thero recites them as they should be recited.
Supreme Qualities of the Dhamma

9. There are six supreme qualities of Dhamma:

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī’ti

First, Bhagavathā Dhammō is the Dhamma taught by the Buddha.

  • Svākkhāto –  leads to the removal of sansaric suffering via getting out of the 31 realms. Here “svakkata” (“sva” for “self” and “akkata” or “akrutha” or “akriya” means putting out of action) means getting rid of the concept of a “me” (asmai māna). It is not about whether a “self” exists or not; it is rather to realize that nothing in this world is worth to be considered “mine”.
  • Sandiṭṭhika –  It allows one to comprehend “san” (“san” + “diṭṭhi“), the key reason for the existence in this world; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansara (or Samsara)“.
  • Akalikō – This Dhamma does not change over time; it is the same Dhamma that is delivered by all Buddhas (“a” + “kālika“). Another meaning is that it leads to the removal of darkness (due to avijjā); here “kalu” means “black” or “darkness”.
  • ehipassikō – “Ehi” + “passika” or defilements can be removed (“passika“) when each ärammana comes to the mind (“Ehi“). One does not wait to remove defilements in a formal meditation session. Rather, one takes care of that at each instant when an immoral thought comes to the mind (with Ānāpānasati or Satipaṭṭhāna). See, “Is Ānāpānasati Breath Meditation?
  • ōpanayikō –  “Ōpa” + “naikō“, where “Ōpa” means “upata” or “origins” and “nyāya” means the principle or nature. Thus it means one can comprehend how each existence (bhava and jati) arises.
  • Paccattam vedittabbō vinnuhi- “paccayā” can be understood by looking at the origins (veda or vedic): vedittabbō. “Vinnu” means the hidden can be seen (like something hidden in a vessel by piercing it). Anything in this world arises due to  Paṭicca Samuppāda. Thus, Dhamma allows one to “see-through” how this whole world, together with all the suffering arises.  
Supreme Qualities of the Saṅgha

10. Here it must be noted that Saṅgha is not bhikkhus. Saṅgha means the Nobles or Ariyā, those who have attained one of the magga phala. (Saṅgha means one who has removed  “san“, i.e., “san” + “gha“).

Suppaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, ujuppaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, ñāyappaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, sāmīcippaṭipanno bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho yadidaṃ cattāri purisayugāni aṭṭha purisapuggalā, esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho āhuneyyo pāhuneyyo dakkhiṇeyyo añjalikaraṇīyo anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassā’ti.

11. Bhagavatō Savakasanghō means Noble disciples of the Buddha. The first four phrases describe four Noble qualities: Suppaṭipanno, ujuppaṭipanno, ñāyappaṭipanno, and sāmīcippaṭipanno.

  • Paṭipanno means “having such quality”: “Su” means goodness and morality; “uju” means straightforward and not crooked in character; “nāya” means ñāṇa or wise; “sāmici” means pleasant to associate. Thus it is easy to what is meant (succinctly) by those phrases. But as with all these qualities, it is not possible to describe them fully in words.

12. “Yadidaṃ cattāri purisayugāni aṭṭha purisapuggalāmeans thus described eight types of persons (aṭṭha purisapuggalā) of four Noble (purisa) lineages. Eight types come when each stage is divided into two, for example, Arahant magga and Arahant phala.

13. Then starting with “esa bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho” (i.e., those Noble disciples of the Buddha), five more qualities are stated:  āhuneyyo pāhuneyyo dakkhiṇeyyo añjalikaraṇīyo anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassa.

  • In those words, “neyyō” means niyama dhamma or core principle of nature; also called “nyāma“. Then “āhu” means “grasped”, “pāhu” means “inseparable” or “fused together”, “dakkhi” means “see”. Thus those disciples have clearly seen the core principles of nature (Paṭicca Samuppāda), have grasped them, and will not be separated from them ever.
  • Because of that, they can dissolve and remove the causes (food) that fuel the sansaric journey: anjalikaraneeyō. Here “an” means “āhara” or causes, “jali” is water (dissolve), and karaṇīyo means “do”. Another meaning of “an” is “horn” with sharp tips (as in a bull), which can hurt others; here añjalikaraṇīyo means dissolving them (by cultivating Metta) so that they cannot hurt others.
  • Anuttaraṃ puññakkhettam:  anuttara is unmatched, puñña is meritorious, and khetta is for a field. Thus it means these disciples are like fertile fields, that can provide unlimited resources to others (just like a well-cultivated field can provide food for many).

More audio files are at: “Sutta Chanting (with Pāli Text)“.

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