Supreme Qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha

May 28, 2016; revised October 1, 2018

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

  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa
  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa
  • Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa

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

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

2. There are altogether 24 supreme qualities of the Tiratana or Three Jewels: Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. These are called “suvisi guna“, where suvisi means 24 and guna 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 Gathi“.
  • Meaning of the word “vandanā” is “va” + “andha” +“nä”, where “va” is for “vaya” or destroy, “andha” is for blind, and “nä” is for “nyāya” or the procedure for getting rid of moral blindness and attaining Nibbana. The path to attaining Nibbana 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):

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

3. 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 mean time, I have understood more and also experienced the power of the recital of these qualities.

Supreme Qualities of the Buddha (Budu Guna)

Ithipi sō Bhagavā, Arahan, Sammāsambuddhō, Vijjācharanasampannō, Sugatō, Lokavidū, Anuttarrō purisadamma sārathi, Satthä devamanussānan, Buddhō, Bhagavā ti.

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

1. There are 9 qualities of the Buddha, and each 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.

2. Here are the list of the 9 qualities:

  • Arahan – “A” + “rahan” or not a trace of defilement (attachment for sense pleasures) left.
  • Sammasambuddhō – “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)“.
  • Vijjacharanasampannö – “Vijjä” (science or knowledge)+ “carana” + “san” + “pannō“, or perfectly knowledgeable about how the world arises (out of “san“).
  • Sugatō – Ultimate in “su” + “gathi” 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 (Sankharaloka), world of beings (Sattaloka), world of things (Okasaloka).
  • Anuttarö purisadammasarathi – “Purisa” here is not a gender: purisa dhamma are the highest qualities; “anuttara” means unmatched.
  • Satthä devamanussanan – Teacher of celestial and human beings.
  • buddhō – Perfectly Enlightened, uprooted all “bhava“.
  • Bhagavä 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.

3. The above are of course not the only meanings. Since each word describes 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 Päli. As one’s understanding grows, one will realize the meanings better.
  • Pali is a phonetic language. Meanings come via sounds. Thus what is imperative is to be able to recite the Pali 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 (Dhaham Guna)

There are six supreme qualities of Dhamma:

Sankkathō, Bhagavathä Dhammō, Sanditthikō, Akalikō, Ehipassikō, ōpanayikō, paccattam vedittabbō vinnuhi ti.

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

  • Sankkathō –  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”.
  • Sanditthika –  It allows one to comprehend “san” (“san” + “ditthi“), 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 avijja); 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 anapana or satipattana).
  • ōpanayikō –  “Ōpa” + “naikō“, where “Ōpa” means “upatha” or “origins” and “nyāya” means the principle or the nature. Thus it means one can comprehend how each existence (bhava and jathi) arises.
  • Paccattam vedittabbō vinnuhi- “paccaya” 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  paticca samuppada; thus, Dhamma allows one to “see through” how this whole world, together with all the suffering arises.  

Supreme Qualities of the Sangha (Sangha Guna)

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

Supatipannō, Bhagavatō Savakasanghō. Ujupatipannō, Bhagavatō Savakasanghō. Nayapatipannō, Bhagavatō Savakasanghō. Sämichipatipannö, Bhagavatō Savakasanghō. Yadidam chattari purisayugāni atta purisapuggalā, esa Bhagavato Savakasanghō, Āhuneyyō, pāhuneyyō, dakkhineyyō, anjalikaraneeyō, anuttaram punnakkhettam lokassa ti.

2. Bhagavatō Savakasanghō means Noble disciples of the Buddha. The first four phrases describe four Noble qualities: Supatipannō, Ujupatipannō, nāyapatipannö, and Sämichipatipannö.

  • Patipannö means “having such quality”: “Su” means goodness and morality; “uju” means straightforward and not crooked in character; “nāya” means nana or wise; “sāmichi” 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.

3. “Yadidam chattari purisayugāni atta purisapuggalāmeans thus described eight types of persons (attapurisa puggala) of four Noble (purisa) lineages. Eight types comes when each stage is divided into two, for example, Arahant magga and Arahant phala.

4. Then starting with “esa Bhagavato Savakasanghō” (i.e., those Noble disciples of the Buddha), five more qualities are stated:  Āhuneyyō, pāhuneyyō, dakkhineyyō, anjalikaraniyō, anuttaram punnakkhettam 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 (paticca samuppada), 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 karenneya means “do”. Another meaning of “an” is “horn” with sharp tips (as in a bull), which can hurt others; here anjalikaraneeyō means dissolving them (by cultivating metta) so that they cannot hurt others.
  • anuttaram punnakkhettam:  anuttara is unmatached, punna is meritorious, and ketha 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).

You can download the above audio files below by clicking “DOWNLOAD”. You can play it there or right-click on the screen and choose “save as..” to save to your computer.

Download Download

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

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