Origin of the Four Seals?

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manjusri
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Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by manjusri »

Does anyone know when these were first formulated and by whom? I am also curious if they can be found in the Theravada? I believe I was introduced to them through a teaching given by HHDL. Thanks, everybody.
Malcolm
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Malcolm »

manjusri wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 1:55 am Does anyone know when these were first formulated and by whom? I am also curious if they can be found in the Theravada? I believe I was introduced to them through a teaching given by HHDL. Thanks, everybody.
They are found in several sutras. I once ran a search on them in Tibetan canon to see where they could be found. I don’t remember the ore use sutras, but they are found in whole and in parts in several sutras.
"Conceptuality is great ignorance,
causing one to fall into the ocean of samsāra."
—Māyājālamahātantra
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Dhammanando
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Dhammanando »

manjusri wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 1:55 am I am also curious if they can be found in the Theravada?
Yes and no, depending on what you mean.

Are the four propositions that constitute the seals found in Pali sources? Yes, all four are in the suttas.

Are all four ever listed together under the name catulakkhaṇa? No.

Or under some other name? No.

Are the four propositions individually referred to as lakkhaṇas? No, only the first three are.

Are they ever presented as a criterion for whether or not a teaching can be accepted as Buddhist? No, not even in commentarial sources.

Is the word lakkhaṇa (= Skt. lakṣaṇa) ever glossed as a "seal". No, in Pali sources it's consistently understood to mean a "characteristic".
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Astus
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Astus »

manjusri wrote: Sat May 08, 2021 1:55 am Does anyone know when these were first formulated and by whom? I am also curious if they can be found in the Theravada? I believe I was introduced to them through a teaching given by HHDL. Thanks, everybody.
They are mentioned in the Ekottaragama, scroll 18, chapter 26.1, in sutras numbered 8 and 9 (T125, p639a2-12, p640b5-18), as the four fundamental dharmas (四法本末: all compounded are (all) impermanent (一切諸行(皆悉)無常), all compounded are suffering (一切諸行苦), all compounded are without self (一切諸行無我), nirvana is rest/eternally tranquil (涅槃休息/為永寂)). Suttacentral gives AN 4.185 and SN 47.13 as parallels, but they do not contain those four.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
Malcolm
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Malcolm »

This term, chos/bka' rtags kyi phyag rgya bzhi, the seal of the four characteristics of the Dharma appears to have entered Tibet in the 11th century. It is a late Mahāyāna term for what constitutes the śrāvakayāna basic criteria for authenticating the Buddhist teachings. They are explained as seals because these four features are held to be like the seal or decree which a minister uses to invoke the authority of the king. This term is found in native Tibetan texts as early as the 12th century, and probably earlier.

The formula, "all compounded phenomena...nirvana is peace" is found in Sthiramati's commentary on the Mahāyānasūtralaṃkara, which was translated in either the 11th century by an obscure translator named Che Tashi (Lce bkra shi) with an Indian.
"Conceptuality is great ignorance,
causing one to fall into the ocean of samsāra."
—Māyājālamahātantra
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Kim O'Hara »

I seem to remember that the "Three Marks of Existence" are similar in that they are all discussed in the sutras but not as a group, and that they only became a named, identifiable, group much later.

:coffee:
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Malcolm
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Malcolm »

Malcolm wrote: Sun May 09, 2021 5:32 pm This term, chos/bka' rtags kyi phyag rgya bzhi, the seal of the four characteristics of the Dharma
Sorry, the four seals of the…
"Conceptuality is great ignorance,
causing one to fall into the ocean of samsāra."
—Māyājālamahātantra
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Astus
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Astus »

Malcolm wrote: Sun May 09, 2021 5:32 pmThe formula, "all compounded phenomena...nirvana is peace" is found in Sthiramati's commentary on the Mahāyānasūtralaṃkara, which was translated in either the 11th century by an obscure translator named Che Tashi (Lce bkra shi) with an Indian.
The Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra was translated to Chinese in the early 7th century by Prabhākaramitra, and it uses the term four Dharma seals (四法印; T31n1604_p0646a15). The same term is also found in the Vimalakirti sutra commentary (T38n1776_p0442a25) by Huiyuan 慧遠 (523~592, a disciple of Kumarajiva), and that seems to be the earliest occurrence of 四法印 based on a simple CBETA search, but probably there are texts preceding it.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
Sentient Light
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Re: Origin of the Four Seals?

Post by Sentient Light »

Astus wrote: Mon May 10, 2021 8:03 am
The Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra was translated to Chinese in the early 7th century by Prabhākaramitra, and it uses the term four Dharma seals (四法印; T31n1604_p0646a15). The same term is also found in the Vimalakirti sutra commentary (T38n1776_p0442a25) by Huiyuan 慧遠 (523~592, a disciple of Kumarajiva), and that seems to be the earliest occurrence of 四法印 based on a simple CBETA search, but probably there are texts preceding it.
nyanasagara from the Buddhist subreddit (not sure if they're on this forum at all) sent me some screenshots a week or two ago from Bhaviveka, where in a series of argumentations for the validity the Mahayana sutras, he mentions the Mahayana teachings do not conflict with, and accord with, the dharma seals.

So that's another 6th century CE reference to the seals, independently of the Chinese canon.

Several years ago, I read a Jan Nattier paper where she argued that perhaps the Three Marks of Existence was mistranslated into 'seals' and that the Chinese developed this concept. It seems users here could've debunked that immediately, but seeing it referenced unambiguously as dharma seals to verify buddhavacana outside of the Chinese textual tradition convinced me Nattier's wrong on this.

Spurred by your mentioning of the Chinese translation of the Mahayanasutralamkara, I wanted to check if we might be able to check this usage against the Tibetan version, if it wasn't translated from the Chinese, and if so, I think we could make a case for the four dharma seals being dated to at least the 4th century with Asanga.

http://lirs.ru/lib/Mahayanasutralamkara ... n,2004.pdf Thurman's translation of the Tibetan.

The intro establishes the Tibetan appears to have been translated from the Sanskrit, not the Chinese. And on page 194 of hte text, we have:
The remedies taught for these (false habits) are the three concentrations on voidness91
and so on, and the four epitomes of the Dharma.92
The footnote reads:
Sthiramati gives his version of the four epitomes (P Mi 2147 ff): all created things are
impermanent; all contaminated things are suffering; all things are selfless; peace is Nirvana
So very clearly the four seals here. I don't think that's open-and-shut, and we'd have to look at the datings of the Sanskrit versions and if there are any differences there, but it looks to me like this may be an early-ish concept in the northern transmission.
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