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Lam-rim Topics : Lam-rim Study and Practice

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Sep 2, 2008)

The Path to Enlightenment

Doubts About Lam-rim
After meeting Rinpoche for the first time, a student’s father had started to learn lam-rim, but he was from a Theravadin background and had many doubts about the lam-rim. He thought that Tibetan Buddhism was created by Tibetans and did not come directly from the Buddha. He asked Rinpoche if he could chant any time and anywhere, for example, in the bathroom or while lying down to sleep. 

My most dear, most kind, most precious wish-fulfilling __ and father,
Thank you very much from your kind message. Regarding your father’s questions: yes, he can do the mantras anywhere he wants to. That is completely fine. Please find attached a morning meditation for __ and for your father, and also a link to a bodhicitta booklet, which you may already have.

I want to mention that the lam-rim came from Lama Atisha, who came from India, and the Buddhadharma came from India, from the Buddha.

The whole sutra and tantra came into Tibet and was practiced there. From that, so many buddhas and bodhisattvas happened in Tibet, as well as arhats, who blessed the whole country. Tibet is unbelievably, unbelievably blessed, because so many practitioners had realizations and subdued their minds. So many people practiced—not only monks and nuns, but also lay people—in so many caves, which were full of practitioners; and in so many mountains, but now they are ruined. They really practiced and renounced their lives, and it is because of this that Buddhism has lasted a long time. Even when communist China took over Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many high lamas had to escape, then the great monasteries were reestablished in India and Nepal, so now Buddhism has been able to spread all over the world and especially in the West.

So sutra and tantra came from India. It was translated from the Kangyur, which is the Buddha’s teachings of 100 volumes, and then the Tengyur, which is the commentaries by Asanga and many great pandits from India, from Nalanda Monastery.

There are more than 200 volumes in the Tengyur, which was translated into Tibetan and has been practiced and studied in Tibet. So you can see the Kangyur, the Buddha’s teachings, came from India, and the Tengyur, the commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings, which came from many Indian pandits, who came from India. So originally it all came from the Buddha in India, then later it was practiced by Tibetans. So many numberless buddhas, bodhisattvas and arhats came from this, then actualizing the path they wrote it down. What they wrote is similar; it is the basis of the pandits’ commentaries (Tengyur) and the Buddha’s teachings (Kangyur). If it is contradictory to those teachings, then it is wrong. This is the way to check it is pure Buddhism.

So the basis, the essence of sutra, the root of the path to enlightenment, is guru devotion, renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness. Then there is the tantric path (not Hindu tantra but Buddhist tantra), the generation and completion stage, the two kayas—the dharmakaya and rupakaya. So this is what is to be achieved. There are the four levels of tantra [Kriya (Action), Charya (Performance), Yoga and Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra].

So this is basic explanation that all these teachings came all from the Indian pandits and from the Buddha.

Buddha has taught not every single teaching, but most. There were 84,000 teachings taught by the Buddha, including the Hinayana, Pali teachings, and also the Mahayana teachings. So by practicing the Pali Hinayana teachings, we can achieve the four noble truths: true suffering, the true cause of suffering, the true cessation of suffering and the true path—the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. So we can be completely free from the oceans of samsaric suffering, the ocean of sufferings of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings.

By practicing the Mahayana teachings, which were taught by Buddha, which have sutra and tantra; by practicing the sutra path, the Paramita teachings, we can achieve the whole path, on the basis of the Hinayana. So the whole path—the five paths and ten bhumis—can be achieved. We can achieve the state of omniscient mind, the total cessation of disturbing-thought obscurations and subtle thought obscurations, and we can complete all the realizations, with nothing missing. Then we are able to liberate the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment, the state of omniscient mind. So all this happens by having compassion for every sentient being.

I am sorry it became long, but for your understanding, I am explaining this.

With much love and prayers...

 

The Quickest Path to Enlightenment
A student asked Rinpoche what practices he should do to quickly achieve enlightenment for the sake of all mother sentient beings. He also asked about his yidam, if knowing that would enable him to quickly achieve enlightenment. Rinpoche gave& the following advice.

My dear Jonathan,
Thank you for your kind letter expressing your holy wishes. The ultimate goal of life is to liberate each numberless sentient being from each realm in the ocean of samsara’s suffering. Therefore, we need to achieve enlightenment. To do so as soon as possible, my observation came out for you to practice Guhyasamaja as your main deity. Besides that, you can also take the initiations for Hayagriva and Gyalwa Gyatso, when the opportunity arises.

Regarding your first question, I have already answered it during the teaching. Lama Tsongkhapa asked Manjrushri, the embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom, “What is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment?” Manjrushri answered, “Purify defilements and collect extensive merit.” There are so many practices to purify defilements and collect extensive merits, such as Vajrasattva, and prostration to the Thirty-five Buddhas and the ten-direction Buddhas, Dharma, Sangha and scriptures, which are all your gurus. There are so many other practices to do with Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and sentient beings, such as generating loving compassion. The stronger the compassion we generate for sentient beings, the quicker we achieve enlightenment. For example, look at Maitreya and Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha generated stronger compassion so he achieved enlightenment quicker, because his bodhicitta was stronger.

Tong-len practice is extremely good and we collect limitless skies of merit. When we give our merit from the past, present and future, as well as our body and material things, this results in happiness from now up to enlightenment, including all happiness in this life and future lives, and liberation from samsara. There is so much to give and when we give to each sentient being, we collect limitless skies of merit so many times. Tong-len is giving our happiness to other sentient beings and experiencing all their suffering. With this incredible practice, we can achieve enlightenment quicker. When we take on the suffering of others, we collect incredible, limitless skies of merit. This is the very heart of the Mahayana teachings; the brave heart developing bodhicitta. Strong compassion serving others is the quick way to achieve enlightenment.

The other most powerful purification is obtaining advice from the guru and doing service for the guru. This collects the most extensive merit and purification. Whenever we are able to please the virtuous friend, we purify any heavy negative karma and collect the most extensive merit. This is something to achieve, all the time, because all attainment comes from pleasing the guru. We have to know about the great obscuration of harming the holy body and holy mind, criticizing the guru, of heresy arising and giving up the guru. These are very heavy obscurations, and include breaking advice. This is something into which we have to put every single effort. Do not create these heavy obstacles and do collect extensive merit. If we become careless about this, we create obstacles and suffer endlessly in the lower realms, and we cannot achieve enlightenment.

Secondly, one-pointedly requesting the guru, is guru yoga. We see the guru as Buddha by looking at Buddha’s quotations and reasoning on this. Then, one-pointedly request the guru to grant blessings and realizations. Do this strongly every day. We receive blessings from the guru in our heart by seeing the guru as pure, with no mistakes. This is like pouring water over the seed of a fruit, which then grows and later produces a flower and fruit to enjoy, like enlightenment.

Thirdly, the actual body of the practice is meditation on mind training on the path to enlightenment. The root of the path is guru devotion, the three principles of the path, the two stages of tantra, the completion stage, then enlightenment. Until we attain the realization of bodhicitta, we must put effort into the lam-rim outline on guru devotion. No matter how many months or years it takes, we must do guru devotion. Next meditate on lower capable beings. Spend six months or one year training  the mind on the lower capable being topics, by following the outlines of the perfect human rebirth up to karma. Finish the perfect human rebirth topic in two days or one week, depending on how elaborately it is done. Next, train the mind on the middle path, then bodhicitta, then emptiness. After this, go back to the topics for which we haven’t attained the realization, and train again.

Then practice tantra, with a commitment or sadhana, after achieving a stable realization of bodhicitta. After this, train in the generation and completion stages of tantra. First, practice the generation stage, then the completion stage. Train in our life like this. Another way is to train the mind in guru devotion every day until we achieve realizations. The most important is guru devotion, then the lam-rim, which is the root of the path to enlightenment. If the root is not there, we cannot have realizations of the path and we cannot achieve enlightenment, bodhicitta, and great compassion for sentient beings.

After taking the samaya vows as the basis for attainment, if we cannot preserve them, then there is no attainment; so much depends on that. Even for lay people, there are pratimoksha vows, bodhisattva vows and tantric vows. After taking an initiation, there are samaya vows. Preserving these vows is even more important than our life, because without them we can’t attain enlightenment. It is like the five lay vows and abstaining from the ten non-virtues. Without the pratimoksha vows, we can’t practice the bodhisattva and tantric vows.

So, my answer to your question is including what Manjrushri explained to Lama Tsongkhapa, and also what I explained as the heart practice. Please take care of your life with Dharma and bodhicitta.

 

Special Qualities of Buddhism
Rinpoche wrote this message in a book he gave to a student.

Many other religions have good things to offer different people for their happiness and peace. But what is missing in these other religions is the complete path to liberation and enlightenment—total renunciation of the whole of samsara. If you study and check, you will not find such things mentioned there.

The other very special things missing in other religions are right view (emptiness) and bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is not just a kind, generous mind; it is the ultimate good heart, which is developed in a step-by-step way. The first step is to realize (1) the root of the path: guru devotion, next is (2) the realization of renunciation of this life and renunciation of future lives, and then comes (3) bodhicitta.

Why these three are so important, not only for your own complete, inner development, but especially for others, is because there are numberless other sentient beings who want happiness and do not want suffering and they need your help. So, you have the responsibility to help them. But without renunciation you cannot achieve liberation, without bodhicitta you cannot achieve enlightenment, and without right view you cannot cut the root of samsara, which is delusion and karma. Without cutting the root and cause of all the sufferings of samsara, you can never be liberated from all of samsara’s sufferings, which means you cannot liberate others from suffering.

This is something you need to know in order to practice Dharma, the knowledge that leads to awakening.  

Different Traditions
A student wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice on practicing in different traditions. Rinpoche replied to her and then she wrote a second letter about her commitment to the path of Lama Tsongkhapa. Her second letter and Rinpoche’s reply are below.

Student's Letter:

Dear most kind Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche,
I offer you my heartfelt praises, my aspirations to free all beings from samsara, my Dharma practice, and positive actions. I am still working hard on my ngon-dro, and I offer you whatever positive actions have been generated from this, as well as any other positive actions that I may have accidentally committed.

I wanted to thank you immensely for your continual prayers and guidance. I am continuing to deepen my commitment to the path of Lama Tsongkhapa. Living here has been very challenging for me and I'm getting lots of practice in transforming obstacles. I have realized, among many things, that trying to weave two traditions into my daily practice was not benefiting my mind, and so I am focusing all my prayers and energy on the path of Lama Tsongkhapa and your advice, as best I can. I feel happiness deep down when I practice Lama Tsongkhapa, and I'm beginning to really appreciate how precious this path really is. My practice is helping me realize that enlightenment is all in my mind, it is my responsibility, no one can "make" me enlightened. My mind has to make this happen, so I must work very hard and not dwell so much on what is happening outside. I am realizing that if the mind lacks proper motivation, or is unaware of the subtleties of ego fixation, even the most powerful teaching, lama, or relic cannot make much difference. It is all up to me to utilize the precious and complete teachings of Lama Tsongkhapaand my precious guru to transform my mind. So, in this way, I am deepening my practice and trying to let go of grasping to appearances and focus on training my mind more and more. This is so difficult, and I am easily distracted. Please, please continue to make lots of prayers for me so that my mind loosens its grip on distractions and realizes more and more the teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa and guru devotion, so that I may reach enlightenment in this lifetime. I promise your prayers will not go to waste.

Please, most kind lama, may you live long, may your students follow your advice perfectly, may you forever remain until we reach enlightenment. With all my love, I dedicate my deepest wishes to benefit all beings, to the Maitreya project, to your good health and long life.

With all my love, please live long!

Love Susan xxxxxx

Rinpoche's Response:

Rinpoche replied with a handwritten card that said on the inside, "Thanks for being so sweet!”

My dearest of dearest Susan,
I have received your kindness. Yes, I am inspired by your wonderful letters, your great inspiration on the path to enlightenment.

Now you have come to know by yourself, after my advice to you, that when one studies one tradition clearly, then one can integrate certain practices into that tradition. At the beginning it can be complicated, one can be confused, because one doesn't know how.

Now you have your own experience, what fits for you, and what is comfortable and clear. Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings have everything to achieve full enlightenment. Especially clear are the most important points of sutra and tantra. Even many famous meditators make mistakes. With Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, there is clear understanding, easy, quick realizations, and one makes less mistakes. You should know that you are extremely fortunate to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and practice them. It is extremely important to practice Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. This way you will be able to meet Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings in future lives.

To meet Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings is extremely difficult, to be born in Amitabha’s pure land is much easier. One lama in Tibet asked Pachen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen whether he would be reborn in the pure land. Pachen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen said, “Yes.”

Then he asked whether he would meet Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings in his next life. Pachen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen said, “Very difficult.”

Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings have unified sutra and tantra. In the pure land of Amitabha, there is no tantra. It is only with tantra that you can become enlightened in one lifetime. So, those bodhisattvas born in Amitabha pure land have to pray to be born in the southern continent to have realizations, such as guru devotion.

With big love and prayer,

Lama Zopa