Lankavatara: Stages of enlightenment

The spirit blows where it wills; you hear its voice but see not whence it comes and whither it goes. Thus is everyone who has emanated from the spirit. (John 3).

Lankavatara Sutra

The Fourth Chapter, “On Intuitive Understanding”

It is like a man crossing a river in a dream. For instance, Mahamati, suppose that while sleeping a man dreams that he is in the midst of a great river which he earnestly endeavours with all his might to get across. But before he succeeds in crossing the river he is awakened from the dream, and once awakened he thinks: “Is this real or unreal?” He thinks again: “No, it is neither real nor unreal. By reason of the habit-energy of discrimination which has been accumulated by experience through beginningless time, as multiplicities of forms and conditions are seen, heard, thought, and recognised there is the perception and discrimination of all things as existent and nonexistent. For this reason my manovijnana (discriminating mind) experiences even in a dream all that I have seen.”

In the same way, Mahamati, after passing through the first up to the seventh stage, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas of the eighth stage of Bodhisattvahood (p. 215) observe that when they have an intuitive understanding of the nature of all things there is no more rising in them of discrimination, since all things are seen as like Maya, etc.

Therefore, observing that there is the cessation of all grasping and grasped, which rise from one’s craving for things, and observing how the mind and what it has carries on its discrimination, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas never relax their efforts to practise the teachings of the Buddhas.

Mahamati, they will exert themselves to make those who have not yet attained the truth attain it. For the Bodhisattvas, Nirvana does not mean annihilation. As they have abandoned thoughts of discrimination evolving from the citta, manas and manovijnana, they attain the realization that all things are unborn. And, Mahamati, in the Dharma there is neither gradation nor continuous succession: here we teach [only] the truth of absolute solitude (viviktadharma), in which the discrimination of all forms is quieted. So it is said:

1. The abodes and the stages of Buddhahood are established in the Mind-only which is formless; this was told, is told, and will be told by the Buddhas.
2. The [first] seven stages are of the mind, but here the eighth is formless. The two stages, [the ninth and the tenth,] have [yet] something to rest themselves on; the stage that remains is mine.
3. Self-realisation and absolute purity — this stage is my own; it is the highest station of Mahesvara, the Akanishtha [heaven] shining brilliantly.
4. Its rays of light move forward like a mass of fire; they who are bright-coloured, enchanting and auspicious transform the triple world.
5. Some worlds are being transformed while others have already been transformed; there I preach the various vehicles that correspond to my own stage.
6. (p. 216) But the tenth is the first, and the first is the eighth; and the ninth is the seventh, and the seventh is the eighth.
7. And the second is the third, and the fourth is the fifth, and the third is the sixth. What gradation is there where formlessness prevails?

End of the Fourth Chapter, “On Intuitive Understanding”


Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The-Lankavatara-Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit. (

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