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The Four Seals of the Heart Sutra
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Sravasti Abbey, 5-7 September 2009

The following is from a 3-day retreat at Sravasti Abbey in which Ven. Chodron gave teachings on the Four Seals of Buddhism.

Part 1: 5 September 2009

Audio [75 min] : Download mp3 file
Transcription : Download pdf file

Ven. Thubten Chodron talks briefly about the Heart Sutra and about why we perform offering and praises to the Buddha and why we generate refuge and bodhicitta. She opens the talk by listing the Four Seals of Buddhism:

  1. All composed phenomena are impermanent. (All composite phenomena are transient.)
  2. All composed phenomena are in the nature of dukkha. (All contaminated phenomena are unsatisfactory by nature.)
  3. All phenomena lack a self, lack a substantial essence. (All phenomena are empty and selfless.)
  4. Nirvana is peace.

The rest of the teachings delve into the first seal and many aspects of impermanence and how to use it in our Dharma practice and life.


  • Accepting change and fantasizing about what change happens in your life
  • Impermanence, depression and grief
  • Family relationships: Do we cause each other’s happiness or grief?
  • Is it possible that someone who is depressed or mentally ill in this lifetime is suffering as a result of previous lives’ karma?
  • Does it work to do purification practices for others?
  • If someone is mentally ill in this life and does a lot of harmful actions, are they going to suffer in the next life?

Part 2: 5 September 2009

Audio [80 min] : Download mp3 file
Transcription : Download pdf file

A lively discussion between Venerable Chodron and her students, starting with the following questions and comments.


  • To understand impermanence deeply do you need to understand dependent arising and emptiness first?
  • Some things don’t seem to be changing except for the passage of time, are they permanent?
  • The idea of a creator god who is both permanent and changing seems acceptable when no examination is made.
  • Is there nothing beyond our human understanding? Could a creator god just be beyond our understanding?
  • At what point do we gain more understanding?
  • The sense of a permanent “I” that remains even thought we intellectually understand impermanence; the concept of a soul (permanent, partless, and independent self) that is unchanging
  • The direct realization of subtle impermanence is done by the mental, not sense, consciousness (via yogic direct perception).
  • Supernormal powers are also mental consciousnesses, not sense consciousnesses
  • What’s the role of the five senses in learning the Dharma?
  • How does motivation affect learning non-Dharma materials like getting a college education?
  • Can you explain further the impermanence of the self, body, and mind?
  • What happens to the body after death and the mind after death?
  • Are “mind” and “soul” just interchangeable words? Isn’t it just semantics?
  • Is there anything that is permanent? Is impermanence a permanent phenomenon?
  • The concept of a permanent self seems to be a naturally innate concept rather than one that is acquired by philosophy.

Then Venerable Chodron delves into the second seal. She explains the three types of dukkha: dukkha of dukkha, dukkha of change, pervasive conditioned dukkha. Lastly the third seal is elucidated. She relates the Four Seals to the Four Noble Truths, explaining how we can become liberated from samsara by relating the principles to our daily experience.

Part 3: 6 September 2009

Audio [64 min] : Download mp3 file
Transcription : Download pdf file

Venerable Thubten Chodron continues with a deeper look at the Third Seal: all compounded phenomena are in the nature of emptiness. She explains how the mind keeps us in cyclic existence. She discusses how labeling objects "mine" leads to self-grasping of persons and phenomena. She discusses the meaning of "empty" and "selfless" and how things exist in relation to the mind by being conceived and labeled.

Part 4: 6 September 2009

Audio [58 min] : Download mp3 file
Transcription : Download pdf file

Venerable Chodron and her students discuss summaries from their breakaway groups about what we take for granted, what to prioritize in our lives and death. She closes by explaining the Fourth Seal.

Part 5: 7 September 2009

Audio [47 min] : Download mp3 file
Transcription : Download pdf file

Venerable Thubten Chodron follows a recitation of the Heart Sutra explaining how the bodhisattva path is outlined in this beautiful sutra. She enumerates the five paths that culminate in becoming a manifest and complete Buddha. She parallels this with setting the stage on Vultures Mountain where the Perfection of Wisdom teaching was given, providing a historical context for the Heart Sutra teaching.



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