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The eight branches (Wyl. yan lag brgyad) for gathering the accumulation of merit, which appear in chapters 2 and 3 of the Bodhicharyavatara are:
- Prostration, or offering respect and homage
- Taking refuge
- Confession of negative actions
- Requesting the buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma
- Requesting the buddhas not to pass into nirvana
- Dedication of merit
This set usually only has seven branches or parts but, in this case, taking refuge is added as an eighth part.
The Eight Branches as Antidotes to the Five Poisons
Through practising the seven or eight branches, the five disturbing emotions are reduced, the accumulation of merit is gathered without any hardship, and all obstacles for developing bodhichitta are removed. More specifically:
- Making offerings is a remedy for miserliness and acts as an antidote against craving and attachment.
- Paying respect counteracts pride and offering prostrations overcomes arrogance.
- Taking refuge turns us away from taking wrong paths, while developing bodhichitta turns us away from lower paths.
- Confession is an antidote for ignorance. We accept and acknowledge all the mistakes based on ego-clinging that we have ever committed in this life and in all former lifetimes. Normally, we are not willing to admit our wrong actions and on this basis of clinging, we try to defend the validity of our mistaken actions. Confessing negativity, or unskillful actions which we have consciously committed, has the purpose of completely eliminating our clinging to what is wrong, our holding on to what is unvirtuous and our attachment to ignorance.
- Rejoicing is an antidote to envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy come from the fear that others might be better than ourselves, or that they have something that we lack. Rejoicing in the qualities, achievements, and merit of others destroys our grasping to this fear.
- Requesting the buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma is another remedy for ignorance since, when the buddhas turn the wheel of Dharma, the sun of wisdom arises.
- Praying that the buddhas do not enter into nirvana is also an antidote to ignorance. Furthermore, it has the purpose of assuring that the Buddha’s teaching remains for a long time. It also incorporates the request for the longevity of one’s teacher or spiritual guide. The teacher is the root of the Dharma. The transmission of the ‘Dharma of transmission’ and the ‘Dharma of realization’ is based on one’s teacher and spiritual guide. Without a teacher, one is cut off from the root of the Dharma. Therefore, we request the buddhas, bodhisattvas and teachers to remain for a long time.
- Dedication is giving to others all the merit that we have acquired through our practice.
In some practices aspiration prayer (Wyl. smon lam) is added to the traditional seven branches as the eighth branch.