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.
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.