The four seals (Skt. caturmudrā; T. phyag rgya bzhi ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་; C. siyin 四印) are considered to be the fundamental tenents of Buddhist philosophy in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
These seals are described as "disguishing characteristics" of Buddhism. From the Tibetan Buddhist perspective, "if all these four seals are found in a path or a philosophy, it can be considered the path of the Buddha.”
This formulation is also sometimes used in the East Asian Buddhist tradition; the East Asian tradition also refers to the three dharma seals.
The Four Seals in English
There are multiple translations of the expression of the four seals into English.
Geshe Thupten Jinpa translates the four seals as follows:
- All conditioned phenomena are impermanent and suffering
- All contaminated phenomena are, by nature, suffering
- All phenomena are empty of self-existence
- Nirvana is true peace.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche translates the four seals as follows:
- All compounded things are impermanent
- All emotions are painful
- All phenomena are without inherent existence
- Nirvana is beyond description
The Four Seals in Tibetan
The four seals are expressed in the Tibetan language as follows:
The four seals are referred to by different names in the Tibetan language. For example:
- ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་ (Wyl. phyag rgya bzhi) - the four seals
- ཆོས་རྟགས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་ (Wyl. chos rtags kyi phyag rgya bzhi) - four seals proving the dharma
- བཀར་བཏགས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་ (Wyl. bkar btags kyi phyag rgya bzhi) - the four seals which distinguish the view
- ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྡོམ་བཞི་ (Wyl. chos kyi sdom bzhi) - four summaries of the dharma
Significance of the Four Seals
The four seals are said to be the hallmark of the Buddha’s teaching, and it is often said that the mark of a real Buddhist is that he or she accepts these four. On the physical level, taking refuge is said to be the entrance to the Buddhist path, and that which serves to distinguish Buddhists from non-Buddhists. But in terms of right view, these four statements encapsulate the uniqueness of the Buddha’s teachings and set the Buddhadharma apart from all other religions and philosophies.
Origin of this expression
Phillip Stanley has noted that the four seals do not appear in the early Tibetan sources on Buddhist terminology, the Mahavyutpatti, Madhyavyutpatti, or Kawa Paltsek's Memoranda on Dharmic Enumerations (Wyl. chos kyi rnam grangs kyi brjed byang). According to his research, the first Tibetan author to mention the four seals was Longchen Rabjam in his Treasury of Philosophical Tenets. The scholar Butön mentions 'three seals', an enumeration that is also to be found in Indian sources, such as Shakyaprabha's Prabhāvatī ('od ldan).
Formulations in other traditions
The formulation of the basic tenets, or dharma seals is expressed differently in other traditions.
In East Asian Buddhism, it is more common to identify three, rather than four, dharma seals. The three dharma seals are:
Three marks of existence
In the Theravada tradition, and the three marks of existence are:
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Dalai Lama 2000, p. 101.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Khyentse Rinpoche, Dzongsar (March 1, 2000). "Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma". Lion's Roar. Retrieved Dec 5, 2018.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Four seals
- ↑ chos_rtags_kyi_phyag_rgya_bzhi, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
- ↑ bkar_btags_kyi_phyag_rgya_bzhi, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
- ↑ chos_kyi_sdom_bzhi, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
- ↑ From: D. Phillip Stanley,The Threefold Formal, Practical, and Inclusive Canons of Tibetan Buddhism in the Context of a Pan-Asian Paradigm (Doct.Diss.), University of Virginia, 2009, pp. 149-154
- Dalai Lama (2000), Dzogchen, Ithaca: Snow Lion
- Khyentse Rinpoche, Dzongsar (March 1, 2000). "Buddhism in a Nutshell: The Four Seals of Dharma". Lion's Roar. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
- Nhất Hạnh, Thích (1998). The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation : the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Other Basic Buddhist Teachings. Broadway Books. ISBN 9780767903691.
- Yun, Hsing (2008). "The Core Teachings". Buddha's Light Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 9781932293326.
- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What Makes You Not a Buddhist (Shambhala publications, 2007)
- Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Indisputable Truth (Rangjung Yeshe, 1996)
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dzogchen (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2000), pages 101-106
- The Dalai Lama, Essence of the Heart Sutra (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002), pages 91-97
- Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, The World of Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995), pages 37-39
- Mipham Rinpoche, Gateway to Knowledge Vol. 4 (Rangjung Yeshe publications, 2012)
- Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö, The Four Seals of Dharma, downloadable here