Insights from Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche

What is the significance of the number 84,000 in the name “84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha”?

In the video below, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s upcoming young teachers, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, shares his thoughts on the importance of the number 84,000, explains why he feels that sutras remain important, and offers reflections on his own sutra study.

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Why is it “84000”? Particularly the number 84,000. The significance of the 84,000 is that we have the three poisons: ’dod chags , zhe sdang, and gti mug [desire, anger, and ignorance]. I am sure you have seen it in pictures or in drawings. There will be a drawing of a rooster, a snake, and a pig.

wheel of life
A wall mural on the “Wheel of Life” taken from the Dzongsar Monastery in Derge. The image contains pictorial illustrations of teachings such as Three Poisons, Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, Six Realms etc.
Photo: Kungyal

The pig represents ignorance, the snake represents anger, and the rooster represents desire or attachment. We say in Buddhism that for these three, the Buddha taught, for each of these three poisons, he taught 21,000 ways of dealing with it.

So, for desire, nyon mongs ’dod chags bstan pa’i gnyen po, mngon pa nyis khri zhi stong [the 21,000 teachings of the Abhidharma, the antidote for desire], mngon pa [Abhidharma] is all about the wisdom. I think it is called the Tripiṭaka actually, the Three Baskets, the Buddha’s three teachings for the three poisons—how to [cultivate] the opposite of the three poisons. Mngon pa’i sde snod [Abhidharmapiṭaka] is actually all about wisdom increasing teachings. It is more about the Buddha, particularly from the Buddha of Wisdom, Mañjuśrī, of course.

For the desire, it is the 21,000 Vinaya teachings, gdul ba’i sde nyis khri bzhi stong [the 21,000 teachings of the Vinayapiṭaka]. For desire, because desire and attachment is all about desiring for people, desiring for others. With that, Buddha taught 21,000 teachings and methods on how to deal with that, on the Vinaya stage. It is all about discipline, the rules of the monks and of course the rules of the lay practitioners.

And now when it comes to the ignorance, gti mug, what the Buddha taught is the 21,000 volumes or teachings, the method of how to deal with ignorance. That is from the teachings of mngon pa [Abhidharma], as I have said before. Mngon pa is the teachings of the Buddha’s wisdom, all about wisdom and all about diligence, and how is the method, and how to practice, and how to go against ignorance and to put more effort in practice. That is the Buddha of Wisdom, Mañjuśrī.

And for the third one, anger. Mdo sde [Sūtrapiṭaka] is actually what we call the teachings or compiled of the sharing of discussion from Buddha to his disciples. It is like a dialogue. Yes, precisely, like a dialogue between the Buddha and his followers. All the dialogues about the teachings, mainly the teachings of the Buddha, so that he taught 21,000 volumes for this in order to [be the] opposite and to improve and to deal with the anger, mdo sde [Sūtrapiṭaka].

For all three poisons, dug gsum cha mnyam bstan pas gnyen po ru [the teachings which are an antidote for all three poisons equally], again he taught 21,000 volumes. So 21, 21, 21, 21, four times is 84,000. That is the significance of the 84,000 teachings.

Is studying sūtras necessary?

I may not be able to say directly or correctly…but what I can say is that if it is possible, I think that it is very great not just keeping [the sūtras]. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is always mentioning and really advising us all to read the Tripiṭaka, the teachings of the Buddha, the 84,000 teachings. Not to just keep it in the volume, not just to keep it in our house, but to read it and practice and apply it to oneself. He said the Buddha taught for us to apply and to practice, not to keep it in the house. So yes, I think if we can do it, it will be very beneficial and helpful.

What sūtra inspires you most?

Many sūtras are quite, I wouldn’t say infinite, but sort of helped me to understand a few things more, mainly about when the Buddha talks about, what we call shes rab snying po [Heart Sūtra, Skt. Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya], the Mother of All Emptiness. It is about the teachings that are like a dialogue. When the disciple asks the Buddha if there is existence or non-existence, so Buddha explains about how non-existence is, what is the meaning. When he talks about there is no such thing as “I,” one’s self, one’s body, ear, eye, body, flesh, blood, bone. He explains that each and every detail is breaking down all of this and saying that there is no such thing as existence.

That actually really helped me when I was learning with my tutor, he always used to tell me about that, and it helped me a lot. I think we, I don’t know what it is called, how to say it in English or in Sanskrit, but in Tibetan we call it shes rab snying po’i mdo, the Mother of All Emptiness (Heart Sūtra).

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