Sutra on the Eight
Wholeheartedly, day and night, a disciple of the Buddha should recite
and meditate on the eight realizations discovered by the mahasattvas, the
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 
and contain the seeds of suffering. Human beings are composed of five skandhas,
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 desire brings more suffering. All hardships in daily life arise
from greed and desire. Those with little desire and ambition can 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
that laziness is the cause of all setbacks. For this reason, we must practice
diligently- destroying the unwholesome mental factors, which bind us, conquering
the four kinds of Mara,  and freeing 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 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 more hatred and anger, which in turn creates more
evil. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas consider everyone, friends
and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone's past wrongdoings,
nor do they hate even those who are presently doing evil.
THE SEVENTH REALIZATION is that the
five categories of desire  all 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 possession only three robes and
one bowl. He lives simply in order to practice the Way. His precepts keep
him above 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 along with everyone,
and to help all beings arrive at the realm of great joy.
These eight realizations are the discoveries of great beings,
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have diligently practiced the way of compassion
and understanding. They have sailed the Dharmakaya 
boat to the shore of nirvana,  But then they return
to the ordinary world, having abandoned the five desires, with their minds
and hearts directed toward the noble way, using these eight realizations
to help all beings recognize the suffering in this world. If the disciples
of the Buddha recite these eight realizations and meditate on them, they
will put an end to countless misunderstandings and difficulties; moment
after moment and progress toward enlightenment, leaving behind the world
of birth and death, dwelling forever in peace.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SUTRA
This sutra was translated from Pali to Chinese by the Parthian
monk, An Shih Kao (Vietnamese: An The Cao), at the Lo Yang Center in China
during the later Han Dynasty, 140-171 A.D. It is not certain if the Pali
version is extant. The ancient form of this sutra is the culmination of
several smaller works combined, just like the Forty-two Chapters Sutra
and the Sutra on the Six Paramitas. This sutra is entirely in accord
with both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions.
Each of the eight items discussed can be a subject of meditation,
and each of these subjects can be further divided. Although the form of
the sutra is simple, its content is extremely profound and marvelous. The
on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings is not an analysis of
anything. It is a realistic and effective approach to meditation.
THE CONTENT OF THE SUTRA
The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings
contains eleven essential subjects for meditation. I will discuss these
subjects along with the eight realizations.
The first realization explains
and clarifies the four basic subjects of Buddhist meditation: (a) impermanence,
(b) suffering, (c) no-self, and (d) impurity. We must always remember and
meditate on these four principles of reality. As mentioned in the sutra,
if someone meditates on these facts, he or she will gradually be released
from samsara, the round of birth and death.
- the impermanent nature of all things: From moment to moment, all things
in this world, including human life, mountains and rivers, and political
systems, are in constant transformation. This is called impermanence in
each moment. Everything passes through a period of birth, maturity, transformation,
and destruction. This destruction is called impermanence in each cycle.
To see the impermanent nature of all things, we must examine this closely.
Doing so will prevent us from being imprisoned by the things of this world.
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- the emptiness of all things: The ancient people of India said that all
things are composed of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Acknowledging
this, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas understand that when there is a harmonious
relationship among the four elements, there is peace. When the four elements
are not in harmony, there is suffering. Because all things are created
by a combination of these elements, nothing can exist independently or
permanently. All things are impermanent. Consequently, when we are caught
up in the things of the world, we suffer from their impermanent nature.
And since all things are empty, when we are caught by things, we also suffer
from their emptiness. Awareness of the existence of suffering leads us
to begin to practice the way of realization. This is the first of the Four
Noble Truths.  When we lose awareness of and do not
meditate on the existence of suffering in all things, we can easily be
pushed around by passions and desires for worldly things, increasingly
destroying our lives in the pursuit of these desires. Only by being aware
of suffering can we find its cause, confront it directly, and eliminate
- the nature of our bodies: Buddhism teaches that human beings are composed
of five aggregates, called skandhas in Sanskrit. If the form created by
the four elements is empty and without self, then human beings, created
by the unification of the five skandhas, must also be empty and without
self. Human beings are involved in a transformation process from second
to second, minute to minute, and continually pass through the impermanence
in each moment. By looking very deeply into the five skandhas, we can experience
the selfless nature of our bodies, our passage through birth and death,
and emptiness. Thereby destroying the illusion that our bodies are permanent.
In Buddhism, no-self is the most important subject for meditation. By meditating
on no-self, we can break through the barrier between self and other. Since
we are no longer separate from the universe, a completely harmonious existence
with the universe is created. We see that all other human beings exist
in us and that we exist in all other human beings. We see that the past
and the future are contained in the present moment, and we can penetrate
and be completely liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Modern science
has also discovered the truth of the selfless nature of all things. In
the following paragraph written by the British biologist Lyall Watson,
we can see the truth of no-self through the eyes of a scientist. Lyall
Watson is not a student of Buddhism, but his approach corresponds entirely
with the principles of dependent origination and no-self. Scientists who
meditate continuously on the selfless nature of their own bodies and minds,
as well as the selfless nature of all things, will one day easily attain
the nature of our bodies and minds: Impurity means the absence of an immaculate
state of being, one that is neither holy nor beautiful. From the psychological
and physiological standpoint, human beings are impure. This is not negative
or pessimistic, but an objective perspective on human beings. If we examine
the constituents of our bodies from the hair on our head to the blood,
pus, phlegm, excrement, urine, the many bacteria dwelling in the intestines,
and the many diseases present waiting for the opportunity to develop, we
can see clearly that our bodies are quite impure and subject to decay.
Our bodies also create the motivation to pursue and attempt to satisfy
our desires and passions. That is why the sutra regards the body as the
place where misdeeds gather. Let us now consider our psychological state.
Since we are unable to see the truth of impermanence, suffering, and the
selfless nature of all things, our minds often become the victims of greed
and hatred, and we act wrongly. So the sutra says, "The mind is the source
of all confusion."
2. "More desire brings more suffering"
is the basis of the second realization. Most people define happiness as
the satisfaction of all desires. There are five types of desire. 
These desires are boundless but our ability to realize them is not, and
unfulfilled desires always create suffering. When desires are only partially
fulfilled, we continue to pursue their complete fulfillment, and we create
more suffering. Even when a desire is fulfilled, we suffer when its fulfillment
terminates. It is only after we become completely exhausted from this incessant
pursuit that we begin to realize the extent to which we were caught in
the insatiable net of desires and passions. Then we can realize that true
happiness is really a peaceful state of body and mind, and this can only
exist when our desires are few. Having few desires and not seeking fulfillment
through the pursuit of the five desires are great steps towards liberation.
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3. Knowing how to feel satisfied with
few possessions destroys desire and greed. This means being content with
material conditions that allow us to be healthy and strong enough to practice
the Way. This is an effective way to cut through the net of passions and
desires, attain a peaceful state of body and mind, have more time to help
others, and be free to realize the highest goal--the development of concentration
and understanding to attain realization. Knowing how to feel satisfied
with few possessions helps us avoid buying unnecessarily and becoming part
of an economic system that exploits others, and it enables us to decrease
our involvement in the pollution of our environment.
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4. Diligent practice destroys laziness.
After we cease looking for joy in desires and passions and know how to
feel satisfied with few possessions, we must not be lazy, letting days
and months slip by neglectfully. Great patience and diligence are needed
day and night to continually develop our concentration and understanding--the
endeavor of self-realization. We must use all of our time to meditate on
the four truths of impermanence, suffering, selflessness, and impurity,
the first four subjects of meditation. We must penetrate deeply into the
profound meaning of The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, 
practicing, studying, and meditating on the postures and cycles (becoming,
maturing, transformation, and destruction) of our bodies, as well as our
feelings, sensations, mental formations, and consciousness. We should read
sutras and other writings, which explain meditation--correct sitting and
controlling the breath, such as the Satipatthana Sutta and the
Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra. We have to follow the teachings of
these sutras and practice them in an intelligent way, choosing the methods
which best apply to our own situation. As necessary, we can modify the
methods suggested in order to accommodate our own needs. Our energy must
also be regulated until all the basic desires and passions--greed, anger,
narrow-mindedness, arrogance, doubt, and preconceived ideas--are uprooted.
At this time we will know that our bodies and minds are liberated from
the imprisonment of birth and death, the five skandhas, and the three worlds.
[Back to Sutra]
5. Concentration and understanding
destroy narrow-mindedness. Among the basic desires and passions, narrow-mindedness
has the deepest roots. When these roots are loosened, all other desires
and passions--greed, anger, doubt, and preconceived ideas--are also uprooted.
Knowing this, we can make a great effort to meditate on the truths of impermanence,
no-self, and the dependent origination of all things. Once the roots of
ignorance are severed, we can liberate not only ourselves, but also teach
others to break through the imprisonment of birth and death.
The first four subjects of meditation are to help us attain
liberation. The next four subjects have the aim of helping others attain
liberation, thus clearly and solidly uniting Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist
[Back to Sutra]
6. When practicing generosity, we
should consider everyone equal. Some people think that they can only practice
generosity if they are wealthy. This is not true. Some people who are very
wealthy do practice generosity, but many give alms with the aim of gaining
merit, profiting, or pleasing others. People whose lives are grounded in
compassion are seldom rich, because they share whatever they have with
others. They are not willing to enrich their lives financially at the cost
of others' poverty. Many people misunderstand the Buddhist expression "practicing
generosity" to mean when casually giving five or ten cents to a beggar
on the street. In fact, the practice of generosity is even more beautiful
than that. It is both modest and grand.
Practicing generosity means to act in a way that will help
equalize the difference between the wealthy and the impoverished. Whatever
we do to ease human suffering and create social justice can be considered
practicing generosity. This is not to say that we must become active in
any political system. To engage in partisan political action that leads
to a power struggle among opposing parties and causes death and destruction
is not what we mean by practicing generosity. Practicing generosity is
the first of the six paramitas.  Paramita means
to help others reach the other shore, the shore of liberation from sickness,
poverty, hunger, ignorance, desires and passions, and birth and death.
How can a person practicing "knowing how to feel satisfied
with few possessions" also practice generosity? It is by living simply.
Almost everyone who spends his or her life serving and helping others,
sacrificing himself or herself for the sake of humanity, lives simply.
If they live their lives worrying about making money and gaining merit,
how can they practice generosity? Mahatma Gandhi lived a very simple life;
nevertheless his merit helping humanity and saving human beings was immeasurable.
There are thousands of people among us who live very simply, while being
very helpful to many, many others. They do not have as large a reputation
as Gandhi, but their merit is no less than his. It is enough for us just
to be a little more attentive and aware of the presence of people like
these. They do not practice generosity by giving money which they do not
possess, but rather by giving their time, energy, love, and care--their
Practicing generosity in a Buddhist context means not to discriminate
against anyone. Even though among the poor and destitute there are cruel
persons and kind persons, we must not exclude the cruel ones from our practice.
Because poverty brings anger and hatred, poor people are more inclined
to create evil. As the sutra states, "Bodhisattvas consider everyone, friends
and enemies alike, as equal. They do not condemn anyone's past wrongdoings,
nor do they hate even those who are presently doing evil." This expresses
the spirit of Mahayana Buddhism. Poverty creates anger, hatred, and wrongdoings.
If we teach Buddhist philosophy through lectures, but do not practice generosity
to ease the suffering of others, we have not yet attained the essence of
Buddhism. We should practice generosity with compassion and not disdain,
without discriminating against people who, because of their poverty, have
caused anger and hatred.
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7. While living in society, we should
not be defiled by it. We must live in harmony with society in order to
help others, without being caught by the five desires, living like the
lotus flower, which blooms in the mud and yet remains pure and unstained.
Practicing the way of liberation does not mean avoiding society, but helping
in it. Before our capacity to help becomes strong and solid, we may be
defiled by living in society. For this reason, Bodhisattvas meditate on
the detrimental nature of the five desires and firmly decide to live simply
in order to practice generosity without discrimination. Thus, living in
society and not being stained by it is to practice the six paramitas.
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8. We should create in ourselves the
firm decision to help others. We must make a deep and solemn vow to overcome
the difficulties, dangers, and suffering that may occur while helping others.
Since the suffering in society is limitless, the willingness and devotion
to practice the way of helping others must also be limitless. Thus, the
Mahayana spirit is an endless source of energy, which inspires us to practice
generosity without discrimination. With the Mahayana spirit, we can withstand
the many challenges and humiliations encountered in society and be able
to continue to practice the Way. This will bring great happiness to others.
Only with the Mahayana spirit can we realize the following topics taught
by the Bao Wang San Mei Lun (Vietnamese: Bao Vuong Tam Muoi Sastra):
While meditating on the body, do not hope or pray to be exempt from sickness.
Without sickness, desires and passions can easily arise.
While acting in society, do not hope or pray not to have any difficulties.
Without difficulties, arrogance can easily arise.
While meditating on the mind, do not hope or pray not to encounter hindrances.
Without hindrances, present knowledge will not be challenged or broadened.
While working, do not hope or pray not to encounter obstacles. Without
obstacles, the vow to help others will not deepen.
While developing a plan, do not hope or pray to achieve success easily.
With easy success, arrogance can easily arise.
While interacting with others, do not hope or pray to gain personal profit.
With the hope for personal gain, the spiritual nature of the encounter
While speaking with others, do not hope or pray not to be disagreed with.
Without disagreement, self-righteousness can flourish.
While helping others, do not hope or pray to be paid. With the hope of
remuneration, the act of helping others will not be pure.
If you see personal profit in an action, do not participate in it. Even
minimal participation will stir up desires and passions.
When wrongly accused, do not attempt to exonerate yourself. Attempting
to defend yourself will create needless anger and animosity.
The Buddha spoke of sickness and suffering as effective medicines; times
of difficulties and accidents as times of freedom and realization; obstacles
as liberation; the army of evil as the guards of the Dharma; difficulties
as required for success; the person who mistreats one as one's good friend;
one's enemies as an orchard or garden; the act of doing someone a favor
as base as the act of casting away a pair of old shoes; the abandonment
of material possessions as wealth; and being wrongly accused as the source
of strength to work for justice.
In the paragraph explaining the eighth realization, it should
be noted that the Mahayana Buddhist practice of the six Paramitas is contained
in this sutra:
The 1st Paramita, giving = the sixth realization
The 2nd Paramita, observing the precepts = the second, third and seventh
The 3rd Paramita, diligent effort = the fourth realization
The 4th Paramita, endurance = the eighth realization
The 5th Paramita, concentration = the first realization
The 6th Paramita, understanding = the fifth realization
The style, content, and methodology of The Sutra on The
Eight Realizations are consistent and logical. It is a very practical and
concise sutra. But this discussion of the content is only intended to serve
as a preliminary guideline. To fully benefit from this sutra, we must also
practice and observe its teachings.
PRACTICING AND OBSERVING THE SUTRA ON THE EIGHT REALIZATIONS
To practice and observe the Sutra on the Eight Realizations
of the Great Beings, choose a time when your body and mind are completely
relaxed, for example after taking a comfortable bath. You can begin by
lighting a stick of incense to give the room a pleasant fragrance. Then,
take the Sutra and slowly read it to discover its deepest meanings. Relate
the words of the sutra to your own life experiences. It is through your
own life experiences that you can understand any Sutra's content and not
through someone else's explanation of it.
Each time you sit in meditation, thoroughly examine each
subject of the Sutra. The more you meditate on each subject, the more deeply
you will discover the profound wisdom contained in the Sutra. It would
be helpful for you to also read other sutras, such as the Anapanasati
Sutta of Mindfulness on Breathing and the Satipatthana Sutta.
Both are profound and concise works which will complement the Sutra
on the Eight Realizations. These two sutras explain in practical detail
how to progress step-by-step towards realization. If you combine the method
of following and relaxing your breathing, as described in these two sutras,
with meditation on the eleven subjects described in The Sutra on the
Eight Realizations; you will easily succeed in achieving your aim of
realizing your own self-nature.
The content of the Sutra on the Eight Realizations
is grounded in both Mahayana and Theravada viewpoints. Please treasure
this Sutra. When I was seventeen, and in my first year of novice studies
at a Buddhist Monastery, I had to study and memorize it. This enabled me
to easily combine the meaning of the Sutra with the meditation of breath
counting. From this period until now, 35 years have passed and this Sutra
is still an invaluable torch lighting my path. Today I have the opportunity
to present it to you. I am grateful to this deep and miraculous Sutra.
I join my hands and respectfully recite, "Homage to the precious Sutra
on the Eight Realizations."
In 1978, I asked the La Boi Press to give this sutra away
in order to pray for those boat people who drowned in the South China Sea
and the Gulf of Siam in the prior three years, and also for those who had
the chance to survive so that they can find a new home somewhere in the
world. In 1987, I asked Parallax Press to publish a new English edition
in order to make it available for western readers and refugees in the west.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Written in 1978 while the author was conducting a project
to rescue boat people in the South China Sea.
 Also known
as the "Eight Enlightenment Sutra".
 Earth, air,
 Forms, feelings,
perceptions, mental formations, consciousness.
mental factors, five skandhas, death, distractions (e.g. fantasies or forgetfulness).
 Desire and
passion, form (without desire and passion), formlessness (only mental functionings).
 Being wealthy,
being beautiful, being ambitious, finding pleasure in eating, being lazy.
 The body of
the teaching of awakening.
from birth and death.
the Cause of Suffering, the End of Suffering, the Eightfold Path.
 See note
 Body, feeling,
state of mind, mental contents.
 Giving, observing
the precepts, diligent effort, endurance, concentration, understanding.
(Originally from http://www.investigations-israel.com/sangha/library.html.
Reformatted with interlinks and note  added.)