Three levels of spiritual capacity

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Glorious Atisha

The three levels of spiritual capacity (Tib. སྐྱེས་བུ་གསུམ་, kyebu sum, Wyl. skyes bu gsum) are described in the teachings on the gradual path (lamrim), which derive from Atisha's brief but important text Lamp for the Path of Awakening. They are as follows:

  1. Those of lesser capacity (Skt. adhama puruṣa; Tib. སྐྱེས་བུ་ཆུང་བ་, kyébu chungwa, Wyl. skyes bu chung ba) are inspired by a wish to attain the higher states within samsara as human beings or as gods.
  2. Beings of middling capacity (Skt. madhyama puruṣa; Tib. སྐྱེས་བུ་འབྲིང་བ་, kyébu dringwa, Wyl. skyes bu ‘bring ba), the followers of the shravaka and pratyekabuddha paths, seek liberation from samsara for themselves alone.
  3. Those of greater capacity (Skt. uttama puruṣa; Tib. སྐྱེས་བུ་ཆེན་པོ་, kyébu chenpo, Wyl. skyes bu chen po), the bodhisattvas, are motivated by the wish to lead all beings to perfect buddhahood.


Atisha describes the three levels in the following verses (3-5) from Lamp for the Path of Awakening:

Those who strive by any means
To gain only the pleasures of samsara
For themselves alone—
Such people are called 'lesser' individuals.
Those who turn their backs on worldly pleasures,
And avoid any harmful actions,
Striving for peace for themselves alone—
Such individuals are said to be 'intermediate'.
Those who long to put a complete end
To all the sufferings of others
Through the sufferings of their own experience—
Individuals such as these are supreme.

Alternative Translations

Teachings Giver to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading