Introduction: The Eight Realizations


             Insight Meditation Society – Houston, January 05 -19, 2015

                                                   Thuyet Nguyen


THE FIRST REALIZATION is the awareness that the world is impermanent. All political regimes are subject to fall; all things composed of the four elements are empty and contain the seed of suffering. Human beings are composed of the five skhandas, aggregates, and are without a separate self. They are always in the process of change – constantly being born and constantly dying. They are empty of self – without sovereignty. The mind is the source of all confusion, and the body is the forest of all impure actions. If we meditate on these facts, we can gradually be released from samsara, the round of birth and death.

THE SECOND REALIZATION is the awareness that more desires bring more suffering. All hardship in daily life rise from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition are able to relax, their bodies and minds free from entanglement.

THE THIRD REALIZATION is that the human mind is always searching for possessions and never feels fulfilled. This causes impure actions to ever increase. Bodhisattvas, however, always remember the principle of having few desires. They live a simple life in peace in order to practice the Way, and consider the realization of perfect understanding as their only career.

THE FOURTH REALIZATION is the awareness of the extent to which laziness is an obstacle to practice. For this reason, we must practice diligently to destroy the unwholesome factors that bind us, and to conquer the four kinds of Mara, in order to free ourselves from the prisons of the five aggregates and the three worlds.

The FIFTH REALIZATION is the awareness that ignorance is the cause of the endless round of birth and death. Therefore bodhisattvas always try to remember to listen and learn in order to develop their understanding and eloquence. This enables them to educate living beings and bring them to the realm of great joy.

THE SIXTH REALIZATION is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and activities. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas consider every one, friends and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone’s past wrong doings, nor do they hate those who are currently causing harm.

THE SEVENTH REALIZATION is that the five categories of desire lead to difficulties. Although we are in the world, we should try not to be caught up in worldly matters. A monk, for example, has in his possessions only three robes and a bowl. He lives simply in order to practice the way. His precepts keep him free of attachment to worldly things, and he treats everyone equally and with compassion.

THE EIGHTH REALIZATION is the awareness that the fire of birth and death is raging, causing endless suffering everywhere. We should take the Great Vow to help everyone, to suffer with everyone, and to guide all beings to the realm of great joy.

  • The Sutra on The Eight Realizations of the Great Beings, A Buddhist Scripture on Simplicity, Generosity and Compassion. Translated from the Chinese into Vietnamese, with Commentary, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Translated from Vietnamese into English by Diem Thanh Truong, and Carole Melkonian. Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1987.

When Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh became seriously ill last year, we prayed for his speedy recovery. We also read excerpts from his inspiring books Present Moment Wonderful Moment and Teachings on Love on this occasion – both are published by Parallax Press. The passages in the latter reminded me of this Sutra.

In gratitude for your kindness, I want to introduce to you this Sutra with his Commentary (1). It is a treasure of wisdom. It would be a learning experience for me. Initially, I thought we could take turns to read it aloud, then we would have discussions afterward in two sessions. We have two sessions approved for this purpose. After further thought, I came to the conclusion that this approach is inadequate. The reasons are as follows:

  • I was concerned that those who are new to Buddhism may not grasp the meaning of the Sutra and Commentary during the normal course of discussion.
  • There is not enough time for the desired scope. In addition to the general issues highlighted in the Commentary, the sangha members are also interested in the impact of the current issues on our daily life. They include: advances in technology and quality of life, neuroscience and wellbeing, disparity in wealth, immigration, living simply in the 21st century, and climate change, to name a few.

I adopted the following approach to meet the sangha’s needs:

  • Make copy of the Sutra with Commentary available for your review.
  • Discuss the desired scope in the second bullet in a series of talks. They will be derived from the teaching in the Sutra with Commentary (1), the materials covered in the reading of Teaching on Love during the prayer session, and from another book by the same author, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. I will provide some supplemental information from other sources.

At the end of the second session, if you are interested in continuing the dialogue, we can request approval for more sessions. I am hopeful we will have extension for at least one more session.

I am grateful to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh for his teaching, and to those who are cited in the talks. I am responsible for any errors in my talks for which I humbly, and sincerely apologize.

Finally, I am grateful to Ginger for letting me have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you, and to learn from you.

Let’s now begin our first dialogue.