Understanding the Eight Realizations of Great Beings

“The Sutra of the eight realizations of great beings” is one of the oldest and most influential Buddhist Sutra.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on this profound sutra explains in detail how to embody the Buddhist ideals of simplicity, generosity, compassion and ultimately reach towards the goal of Enlightenment.

Let’s find out how the wisdom contained in this 2500 years old Sutra on the eight realizations of great beings can be applied in our day to day life to reach our highest potential.

1) The first realization is the awareness that the world is impermanent.

It may sound nihilist in nature but delving further into it will open doors of infinite possibilities for you.

How many of us use terms like “I am an angry person”, “I am an anxious person” or “I am an impatient person” to describe ourselves?
How many times do we get stuck in old and repetitive patterns instead of attempting new things just because we have been through a failure or had bad experiences in relationships or career?

How many times do we throw our hands up in the air and say “This is who I am. I can’t change.”?

Well, it’s mostly because we don’t understand the magical essence of this realization, that ‘There is always a new “present moment”.’

Each new moment is a “death” of how we used to be and “birth” of what we can be.

“Uncertainty Means Possibilities in Life.” ~ Sadhguru

Everything is impermanent and constantly changing and evolving based on its intent and experiences. The world around us as well as the thoughts, emotions or feelings inside us are constantly changing.

When we develop the habit of mindfulness through Buddhist meditation practices like Vipassana, we observe that our thoughts, emotions and body sensations arise and fall moment to moment and they are not permanent aspect of who we are.

This knowledge is extremely empowering because once we know that our thoughts, feelings and dispositions are affected by impermanence as much as any other thing, we do not get caught in the web of despair and hopelessness when we have negative thoughts.

When we gain control of our inner terrain through mindfulness, we do not get scared of uncertainties or impermanence in the outer world instead we open ourselves up to a world of infinite possibilities because we are flexible to respond to them efficiently.

2) The second realization is the awareness that more desire brings more suffering.

This realization requires careful contemplation because it can be highly misinterpreted otherwise. It does not mean that all desire is bad but it points out that ‘more’ desire leads to ‘more’ suffering.

We are the most evolved species, endowed with a unique ability to use imagination and plan our future actions. This ability to desire and want acts as a great impetus for reaching our highest potential and contributing to the society but the problem arises when our desires turn into greed or excessive craving.

Living in a highly consumerist society, we are bombarded with subtle and not so subtle stimulus that generates unlimited wants and desire in us. We are being led into a trance of unconscious consumerism, inauthentic lifestyles and materialism. Even kids today are not untouched by this.

The solution lies in being authentic to ourselves and developing an ability to think for ourselves. I personally ask myself the following things while dealing with desires.

1) “Do I really want to do this; is it my calling or I want to do it because I saw someone else doing it?”

If we really follow this practice sincerely, we will let go of all the fluff stuff that is acquired and focus on our true wants and desires.

2) “What is the end goal of this desire? Before jumping head on into action and acting on every impulse and desire, I contemplate on the end goal of the desire and take action accordingly.”

3) I keep in mind that desires and cravings are also subject to impermanence like everything else.

This helps me in setting up a flexible goal, course correcting on the way if the situation demands and also being able to recognize the point where excessive desire turns into burden of craving and needs to be let go off.

3) The third realization is that the human mind is always searching for fulfillment outside and it never gets fulfilled.

“Mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” ~ Robin Sharma

The nature of mind is that it is insatiable and constantly seeks fulfillment. It is up to us to feed it wholesome input so that it works for us and not against us.

Mind is a beautiful tool that helps us to make choices. The kind of choices that it makes depends on how we train it.

A mind that is ignorant will make poor choices leading to craving, discontent, anger, or anxiety whereas a mind that is trained will make positive choices leading to contentment and joy.

The practice of meditation in Buddhist philosophy is to train our mind and perceive things as they are in the moment and respond efficiently.

4) The fourth realization is the awareness that laziness is an obstacle to practice and must be overcome.

Spirituality is a personal and inward journey. It is not something that we just practice in a yoga class or meditation cushion but translates into how we live each moment of our life. Therefore it is important to be true to ourselves and be committed to our practice.

We must overcome any laziness or hindrance that impedes our practice.

Hindrances can come in the form of “I’ve got it” trap or “I don’t have time or place for meditation” trap or “It is not showing any results, I might just quit” trap.

This is where our commitment to practice comes in play. One practice that I follow to stay committed is that I maintain a spiritual diary to note down my daily experiences and actions. It helps me to contemplate and rectify my mistakes faster.

If we follow this practice, the spiritual diary can become our best friend and mentor and help us to make steady progress on our spiritual.

5) The fifth realization is the awareness that ignorance is the cause of endless round of birth and death.

Lifelong learning and practice is at the heart of the fifth realization.

Being mindful every moment means welcoming each moment as it is. It means we become open to all new experiences, new information and opportunities and work on improving ourselves continuously so that we can become positive agents of change for ourselves as well as the society.

6) The sixth realization is the awareness that poverty creates hatred and anger, which creates a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and actions. When practicing generosity, bodhisattvas consider everyone friends and everyone alike.

Maitri bhavana is a core concept of Buddhism which means – loving kindness for all sentient beings.

This practice encourages one to practice compassion towards all beings and to not hold any grudges or hatred towards anyone.

They also encourage material generosity in addition to loving kindness and compassion.

“Do give gifts! For poverty is a painful thing. One is unable, when poor, to accomplish one’s own welfare, much less that of others.” (Large Sutra of Perfect Wisdom)

An important aspect to be kept in mind while practicing generosity is ‘intent.’ The giver should give without any thought of any possible reward or appreciation in return. The giving should be done in the spirit of service and selflessness.

7) The seventh realization is the awareness that five categories of desires lead to problems and difficulties.

The five desires that arise from our sense of touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing are wealth, beauty, fame, food and sleep.

Like we discussed, it is not the need for these things in themselves that is perilous but the depth of our craving or excessive greed that leads to suffering.

Through mindfulness, we can learn to distinguish between our positive desires and our cravings. We can pursue the positive desires while keeping in mind the principles of impermanence and causality in mind and let go of our unnecessary cravings.

8) The eighth realization is the awareness that the fire of birth and death is raging, causing endless suffering everywhere. To take the great vow to help all beings, to suffer with all beings, and to guide all beings to the realm of great joy.

If we look at the idea of birth and death as changes being brought in ourselves by experiences, we will learn that we are as dynamic as we can get.

We realize that no matter what the experiences, the good, the bad or the neutral, they will pass or we have the capacity to respond to them in a mindful way and remain flexible even while dealing with intense situations.

Through practice of compassion and Maitri bhavana, we are aware of the pain and suffering of others. Although, we can’t shoulder the suffering of the entire world but we try our best to empower others through our example.

If we contemplate on these eight realizations and imbibe its essence into our lives, we will be able to alleviate suffering and realize our highest goal of liberation.

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Forever Can Be

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Shweta Advani
Shweta Advani
A former HR consultant turned philosopher. Empathy and intuition are the gifts that I wrap up as healing insights into my writing and share with the fellow travelers on the spiritual journey.
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