Four seals

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The four seals (Tib. སྡོམ་བཞི་, dom shyi, Wyl. sdom bzhi) or the four hallmarks of the Buddha's teachings (Skt. caturlakṣaṇa; Tib. ལྟ་བ་བཀའ་རྟགས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་, Wyl. lta ba bka' rtags kyi phyag rgya bzhi) are:

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All that is conditioned is impermanent,
All that is tainted is suffering,
All phenomena are empty and devoid of self,
Nirvana is peace.
༈ འདུ་བྱེད་ཐམས་ཅད་མི་རྟག་ཅིང༌།
མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ་ཞི་བའོ། །

Significance of the Four Seals

These 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. Of course, taking refuge is the real entrance to the Buddhist path, and that which serves to distinguish Buddhists from non-Buddhists, but in terms of the View, these four statements encapsulate the uniqueness of the Buddha’s teachings and really set the Buddhadharma apart from all other religions and philosophies.


An early version of the four seals is to be found in the Pali Canon[1], in the form of the 'three marks or seals of existence' (Skt. trilaksaṇa; Wyl. phyag rgya gsum), which do not include the seal: 'nirvana is peace'. This fourth seal appeared during the development of Mahayana Buddhism.[2]

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).[3]


  1. In texts such as the Dhammapada.
  2. Philippe Cornu, oral teaching given in Paris.
  3. 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

Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading

  • 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

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