Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), Tsongkhapa's classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a twelve-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English. The transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. Webcast recordings of these teachings are available through His Holiness’ official website.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala.

Day Five, Morning Session, July 14 2008

Transcript # 7


His Holiness: [Chanting in Tibetan]

Becoming a Buddha1

His Holiness: Now we… Buddhist refuges are Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. So we usually recite buddha saranam gachame, dharma saranam gachame, sangha saranam gachame. Or namo buddhaya, namo dharmaya, namo sanghaya.

Now Buddha, or Dharma, Sangha…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we speak about the three jewels—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—as objects of refuge, they can be the causal objects of refuge and resultant objects of refuge.

His Holiness: So the very purpose to pray to Buddha is oneself ultimately to become buddha. So from the Buddhist viewpoint, our final destination is buddhahood.

The seed of Buddha—the subtle mind. With its very nature—absence of independent existence. So you see, that very nature—at the basis of change. And that also is the very fact, the very factor leading to the possibility of elimination of all wrong views.

So now, in order to achieve buddhahood, firstly we should achieve sangha—sangham saranam gachame. Now what is the real sort of qualification of Sangha, becoming Sangha? It’s Dharma. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So what qualifies someone as having attained the state of Sangha is the realization of the true Dharma within. And Dharma here is the truth of cessation—true cessation—and the path leading to the cessation. So the instant one has actualized the path within oneself, then at that point one has become a Sangha.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we speak of the three jewels and the Sangha here, at the initial stage is the Sangha status on the “learner” stage. And then, of course, when you become fully enlightened you become “no more learners,” you attain the “no more learners” stage.

However, if we look at it from the point of view of resultant objects of refuge, the three jewels, then as Maitreya points out in his Sublime Continuum (Uttaratantra) where in fact the Buddha himself can be seen as the embodiment of all the three jewels—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

His Holiness: So from this level to buddhahood, the way to…the way of progress…

Thupten Jinpa: …progress…

His Holiness: …that’s the gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha. Now that’s the way.

So sometimes I jokingly, you see, am telling people gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha also has the meaning of this physical sort of life. Young child, then later… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …A teenage youngster.

His Holiness: Then… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then prime of youth.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, then middle age, and then old age.

His Holiness: So gate gate paragate parasamgate - bodhi soha means death. In that case, our final destination is those cemeteries…

Thupten Jinpa: …cemeteries.

His Holiness: That’s our final destination. So we already, I think, are at the stage of, perhaps in my case, I think fourth already. Some of these young people maybe third or second, like that. So that’s nothing, nothing valuable, nothing sacred.

So therefore now gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha must be this mind, the ordinary present—our mind.

Although the desire for happiness—always there. The desire to overcome suffering— always there. But the seed of suffering—within us. All the creators of these problems— within us.

So we have to eliminate, you see, these things. This is the possibility—even with [this] lifetime. I think if you seriously experiment, you gain some experience. So that gives us conviction. Ah! There is a possibility -gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi soha—on the mental level. It is possible!


Tranquil Abiding and Special Insight

His Holiness: [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for this ordinary level of mind to move forward to progressively higher states, as explained before, the most important elements that we need to cultivate are the practices of tranquil abiding… sorry, the union of tranquil abiding and special insight—shamatha and vipassana.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now we will read from book three, volume three.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the third section of Lamrim Chenmo opens with a salutation that, “I pay respectful homage at the feet of the venerable… those venerable masters who are embodiments of great compassion.” And then it opens by stating that the manner in which… the way in which one trains in the last two perfections is as follows.

So earlier we were talking about how the training in the practices of the three higher trainings constitutes the heart of the path to liberation. So within that context, the practice of cultivating calm abiding (tranquil abiding) and special insight belongs to the higher training in meditation and higher training in wisdom.

And in the context...if we relate this to the context of a practitioner aspiring for attainment of buddhahood, then the structure of the path is presented within the framework of six perfections. And in that framework, the cultivation of tranquil abiding and special insight belongs to the last two perfections: perfection of concentration and perfection of wisdom.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this section Tsongkhapa divides into the following broad outlines, where he lists them as the following:

1. The benefits of cultivating serenity and insight
2. How tranquil abiding and insight include all states of meditative concentrations, and
3. The nature of tranquil abiding and insight, and
4. Why is it necessary to cultivate both, and
5. How to be certain about their sequence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we will now read from the section that deals with the explanation of the method by which one trains in these two practices individually.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this is then is divided into three sections:

The method of training in the cultivation of tranquil abiding;
The method of training in the cultivation of special insight; and
How to unite the two.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we talk about cultivating tranquil abiding and special insight, we need to understand that actually what we are talking about is, essentially, cultivation of faculties that are naturally present within our mind.

If you observe... if we observe our states of mind, within our cognitive experiences we will see that there is, for example, within our mind a certain quality of our mind which enables us to maintain our focus on a chosen object and allows us to retain that attention. And that aspect of our mind is the quality of concentration.

And similarly within our mind, naturally, we also possess the ability to differentiate and discriminate various... differentiate various characteristics of the chosen object. So that aspect of the quality of our mind is intelligence—the faculty of intelligence—or wisdom.

So when we are talking about the practice of tranquil abiding and special insight, essentially what we are doing is to really develop those natural faculties that we have and to perfect them.

Preconditions for Tranquil Abiding

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now in the case of the first practice, which is tranquil abiding, essentially, as explained before, what we are doing is to try to develop that natural faculty that we have, which enables us to retain our attention on a chosen object. So what we are trying to do is to apply effort, and by applying effort, to develop that faculty, that quality of our mind, and cultivate familiarity with that process.

And in this way that quality of our mind becomes more and more developed and enhanced. Because this quality of our mind, being part of the phenomena that belongs to the conditioned domain, therefore it is a phenomena that is dependent upon, contingent upon, its causes and conditions. So therefore the more we cultivate the conditions that would give rise to it, the more effective and powerful that quality of the mind will become.

So that essentially, in the actual practice, what is required is constant application of our faculty of mindfulness and faculty of awareness, or meta-awareness, samprajnana, shay shin. And, in addition to this, one also needs to remove the obstacles that come in the way of our cultivation of this… development of this faculty. And at the same time create the right conditions, seek the right conditions that would enhance the development of that natural faculty. So these practices fall under the heading of what is called seeking the prerequisites—seeking the prerequisites for cultivating tranquil abiding.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with respect to the prerequisites that one must seek to cultivate tranquil abiding, such as seeking a place of solitude, having the favorable conditions at easy disposal, easy access and so on—in Asanga’s Sravakabhumi (Levels of the Disciple) he lists thirteen such prerequisites for the cultivation of tranquil abiding. However, in Kamalashila these thirteen prerequisites are kind of summarized and presented in the list of six prerequisites.

In Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, when he talks about the prerequisites for cultivating tranquil abiding, he cites from Asanga’s text. However Asanga’s text, list, includes those four practices which Tsongkhapa has already described in Lamrim Chenmo in the context of post-meditational period practices such as: maintaining a healthy kind of appropriate eating habit, food habit; and relation to one’s sleeping patterns; and guarding one’s doors of the senses; and acting in the world with a greater sense of awareness. These were already explained in the section dealing with the practices of the after-session periods.

Meditation Posture

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So Tsongkhapa then explains the actual practice of cultivating tranquil abiding in the two main outlines: he says, “How to cultivate serenity on that basis” which is divided into two: which are “Preparation” and the “Actual Practice.”

Then in the section on the preparation he explains how to develop the meditative posture and the actual meditative process.

So the first outline deals with the need to adopt an appropriate physical posture. And since, in the practice of tranquil abiding, our main aim is to develop and cultivate and enhance our single-pointedness of our mind, therefore the physical posture really has a big impact. So, for example, if you try to do the practice by lying down instead of sitting upright, then the fact of lying down tends to bring your mind to a much more relaxed, kind of, you know, lazy state. So therefore it’s better to keep your body upright.

And traditionally, when explaining the appropriate posture for meditation, one speaks of the seven-fold posture of Vairocana. Sometimes, when you add the respiration process, we call it the eight-fold posture of Vairocana.

So these seven deal with:2

1. The posture of your legs. And the legs can be either completely cross-legged or half cross-legged as you normally would sit. And, in any case, you need to adopt a posture that is… for your legs that does not put too much strain on your knees. Otherwise you will lose your focus. So that is one.

And then your hand posture, you can put...perform the meditation gesture with your left palm underneath and placing your right palm on top of it. And if you relate it to the posture according to the Vajrayana practice, then the preferred position is to have your two thumbs touching each other so that it forms a triangular shape there. So that’s how the…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And your two arms should not be touching your body but rather kept slightly outstretched so that also next to your... also between your two arms there forms a natural triangular shape.

1. And then the next is your spine. And the spine should be kept straight. And the text describes the kind of posture as like, “Your spine should be straight as an arrow.”

2. And then the next one is your teeth. And, but you should keep them in a natural state. Don’t grit your teeth but rather keep them natural. And if you don’t happen to have teeth then you have no choice anyway. And then for your lips, again you should keep them in a natural posture.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In fact those who do not have teeth, you know, their lips look quite impressive because they’re kind of, slightly stretched.

And then the next is your eyes, and the text says that we should keep our eyes slightly downcast, focused upon the...at the level of the tip of our nose. So if you have a large...

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, the tongue should be…

His Holiness: Lips

Thupten Jinpa: Yes…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So you keep your lips in their natural position. Don’t force any posture on them.

4. And then next is the tongue. The recommendation is to keep it slightly curled so that you touch the upper palate of your...the roof of your upper palate. And the advantage of that is that, for example, if you happen to really enter deeply into a meditative state, then this posture will protect you from having saliva drooping down. And also because of that, the position of the tongue, it has a natural effect of making your breathing less forceful. So that also has a benefit of ensuring that your mouth doesn’t get unnecessarily dry. So those are the reasons why you keep your tongue in that position.

5. And next is the position of the eyes, so you keep them slightly downcast and glancing at the point of the tip of your nose. And if you happen to have a large nose rather like Joshua Cutler, then you wouldn’t have a problem because you can see the tip of your nose quite easily. But if you are like the Asians, like Vietnamese, Chinese or Tibetans, then you would have a rather flat nose. Then you shouldn’t really try hard to see the tip of your nose because that is going to cause so much strain on your eyes. So basically keep it kind of slightly downcast.

6. And then next is… the position of your head, again, slightly bent, and…

His Holiness: Closed eye or open eye, just natural. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Natural.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So as to the position of your eyes, as much as possible you should keep them in their natural position, slightly downcast and not deliberately close them. Because if you close them and do your meditation, then the moment you open your eyes, then your meditation gets disturbed.

In fact since a meditative state is being cultivated at the level of the mental consciousness, not at the level of the sensory experience, therefore when you meditate with your eyes slightly open and kept in the natural state, once in a while naturally they will close, but then that’s okay. But keep it kind of natural.

And so that if you learn that habit, then because the meditation is taking place at the level of mental consciousness, after a while, because of being in that state, whatever happens to be in the field of your vision will not affect you, because you become in a sense kind of oblivious to the sensory stimuli. Rather you’ll be able to maintain, and remain in, that meditative state. So in other words, don’t try to keep them closed, just keep it naturally. And when you occasionally close them that’s fine, but keep it natural.

And then the position next is the position of the head, slightly bent.

1. And then, finally you have the position of the shoulders, and keep them slightly again natural but slightly extended.

2. And then finally is the breathing process. Again the breathing should not be too harsh or too slow, but rather again at a natural pace.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, on page 31, Tsongkhapa actually describes what kind of pace of breathing that you should avoid in the context of tranquil abiding meditation. And he writes in the second para , “Your inhalation and exhalation should not be noisy…” so that when you breathe there is a lot of noise; or “…forced…” so that you are breathing too deeply as if it is coming out of your abdomen; “…or uneven…” so, you know, in other words he says, “…let it flow effortlessly, ever so gently, without any sense that you are moving it here or there.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However, one must bear in mind that, in different instructions on meditation, slightly the positions will differ, for example, particularly the eye position.

Here Tsongkhapa is describing the posture of the eyes in the context of general meditation practice of cultivating tranquil abiding. But in other contexts, for example in the Kalachakra Tantra, then the posture of the eyes are recommended to be kept really looking upwards and then you know, keeping your eyes open and looking upwards, whereas in Dzogchen meditation, you look straight in front of you. So depending upon the context, the instructions on some of the postures will differ.

Flawless Concentration: The Five Faults and their Eight Antidotes

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the second outline, the actual “Meditative process”, is described in the following sub-headings.

Tsongkhapa explains them: “How to develop flawless concentration” and “What to do while focusing”, sorry, what should… “Who should meditate on which objects,” “Synonyms of the objects of meditation…object of meditation” and so on.

So within the first outline he explains this, “What to do prior to focusing the attention on the object of meditation;” “What to do while focusing on the object” and “What to do after having focused one’s attention on the objects”.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In the actual explanation of how to cultivate the flawless concentration, Tsong kha pa proceeds with the citation from Maitreya’s Differentiation of/Discrimination of the Middle and the Extreme. In this text Maitreya speaks of five flaws of meditation and the eight antidotes against these faults.

The five faults are listed as: a form of laziness or indolence; and forgetting of the object; and mental excitement/excitation and mental laxity as counted as one; and the fourth is failing to apply the antidotes when mental excitation or mental laxity arises; and then the fifth one, fifth obstacle or fault, is excessive application of exertion.

Especially at more advanced levels when the quality of the mental stability is very firm, then in those moments, in those stages, then application of effort in fact becomes counter-productive, so therefore one needs to maintain a state of equanimity. So inappropriate application of effort or exertion is also a fault.

Corresponding to these five faults, eight antidotes are identified. So in relation to the first fault, which is laziness or indolence, Asanga lists four antidotes. These are faith or confidence, and aspiration, and effort, and pliancy.

And the faith here refers to a kind of a feeling of trust in the quality and benefits, based upon the awareness of the benefits of meditative stabilization and so, and particularly by reflecting upon the benefits which are the physical and mental suppleness. Because when you attain meditative stabilization it leads... it gives you physical and mental pliancy that enable you to make your body and mind serviceable. And so this… and also you can apply your body and mind at your will.

So these are, of course, benefits of concentration which are common to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist practitioners. So since here, in this lam-rim context, we are cultivating tranquil abiding with the ultimate aim of applying it to our understanding of the ultimate nature of reality—because without tranquil abiding, vipassana, the special insight, cannot arise—so we recognize the special benefits of having gained tranquil abiding. So by reflecting upon these qualities then you develop kind of a deep trust in the efficacy and in the benefits of meditative concentration. So this is what is meant by faith or trust.

Second is, based on that trust or faith, the interest, aspiration, to cultivate that state arises in you. And then on the basis of the aspiration and interest brought forth by this confidence and trust, then your willingness to apply the effort will arise. So in this way, the problem of the fault of laziness or indolence is overcome.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with relation to the second fault, which is forgetfulness, forgetfulness of the object of meditation—the main antidote here is the cultivation of mindfulness.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And corresponding to the third fault, which is the mental excitation and mental laxity, when they arise, the antidote that needs to be applied is meta-awareness, awareness, or meta-awareness, samprajnana.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with respect to the fourth fault, which is the failure to apply the necessary antidotes when excitation and laxity arise, the antidote to that is the cultivation of the intention to apply it.

And the fifth fault, which is the inappropriate application of exertion or effort… and here, because in some contexts the application of effort is counter-productive because it could undermine the quality and stability of the meditative state, therefore here the counterforce is cultivating equanimity.

Choosing an Object of Meditation

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa explains the next outline, which is what to do at the moment when you are focusing your mind on the object of attention. And this is explained in terms of two sub-headings: first “identifying the object of meditation”; and the second, how to apply one’s attention to those objects.

So in the context of identifying the appropriate object of one’s concentration, generally in the text... in general one can choose for one’s object of meditation any external or internal phenomena. For example, one can choose just a pebble or a twig or a stick as an object of meditation to cultivate single-pointedness. Similarly one can choose an internal mental state such as an experience of a feeling as an object of meditation, and cultivate single-pointedness on that basis. For example, if you look at the teaching on the four foundations of mindfulness—the foundation of mindfulness on body, on feelings, on mind, and on mental objects—you can see that these meditations include both external and internal objects as the object of one’s meditation.

However when the meditation object is explained in general, four main types of objects are identified. One is referred to as the pervasive object, and second is the object that is appropriate to the experience or emotional temperament of the individual practitioners. So here the point is that due to whatever factors past or present, individuals may have different temperaments, emotional kind of styles. And whatever emotion type may be more dominant within an individual person, corresponding to that, one needs to choose objects that would be more effective. So that’s the second type of object.

The third type of object is referred to as the object of the wise or the learned. And here it includes those fields of knowledge in relationship to which one is cultivating an understanding. So you choose these objects, including enumerations of lists and stuff, and then cultivate single-pointedness in relationship to them.

And the fourth is a specific object you choose in order to diminish your afflictions. So these are the four main types or classes of objects that are identified.


Meditating on the Mind

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa explains, identifies, the particular object that is relevant to our present context. And here, generally speaking, when we are talking about an appropriate object that we choose for our meditation of tranquil abiding or shamatha, one can choose, as explained before, something… an external object, a material object or one can also choose internal phenomena…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So even when we use... take an external object to be our object of meditation, what we are focusing upon is not the physical thing itself, but rather the image of the physical thing that we create in our mind, and that becomes the object of our concentration.

One can also choose as internal phenomenon...phenomena such as one’s channels, drops, and the energies that flow within the channels and so on. And also, kind of a more profound object that one can choose for one’s meditation on tranquil abiding is one’s own mind.

And more profound than that is choosing emptiness as one’s object of meditation for tranquil abiding. So when we choose emptiness as the object of one’s meditation on tranquil abiding, this already presupposes that you have realized emptiness. And so this practitioner would have already gone through a process of analysis and have discerned, realized, emptiness through this process and have already attained the correct view of emptiness.

And then, having identified, experienced, emptiness, one takes emptiness as the object of one’s meditation and then cultivates a single-pointedness in relation to this. And this is a process…what is referred to as seeking meditation on the basis of the view, seeking meditation on the basis of a view. And this kind of approach is really possible only for a handful, a few, whose mental faculties are really advanced.

But the approach presented in the Lamrim Chenmo here is really seeking the view on the basis of meditation. So here the practitioner is trying to cultivate tranquil abiding first. And then on the basis of tranquil abiding, then one begins to apply analysis and gain realization of emptiness. So this is the general procedure here.

And so, however, if you choose your own mind as the object of your meditation on tranquil abiding, then this approach is quite kind of common in the approach of the Mahamudra practices, the Great Seal, and the Great Perfection, Dzogchen, practices, where meditation on single-pointedness on mind is the main focus in cultivating tranquil abiding. So if we do that within the context of a path that is common to sutra and tantra, then we do not make distinctions about the various levels of subtlety of consciousness. But if we bring in the highest yoga tantra perspective, then one can also differentiate the different levels of subtlety of consciousness, and choose a more subtle level of consciousness as the object of meditation on tranquil abiding.

And so, however, the problem is, in order to do this...

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here also we need to take into account a different understanding of what is meant by meditation, and how they differ with relation to the object, and how that object figures in that meditation. For example, when you meditate on impermanence or no-self, then you are taking impermanence and no-self as the object of your meditation. They become the content of your meditation.

Whereas if you meditate on compassion or loving kindness or faith, devotion, then you are not taking faith, devotion, or compassion as the object of your meditation, but rather, you are cultivating your own mind in that state.

So similarly when you do meditation on mind, the nature of mind, particularly at the subtle level, where clear light becomes the main object of your meditation, here in fact you are trying to cultivate your mind in the state of clear light. So this is a different kind of role the object plays. And...

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However, when you are focusing on the mind, then mind becomes the object of your meditation. However, in order to do this, first of all, you need to...

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we say, you know, your mind should focus upon the mind, we should not have the impression that we are talking about a single instance of mind somehow looking at itself, because that would mean self-cognition. What we are talking about is, kind of, a quieter process that is happening at a very minute temporal frame. So for example, one can see that the immediately latter instance of a mental state is focusing upon the immediately preceding instance.

So the problem is in order to do this kind of meditation where you take mind as the object of your tranquil abiding—first of all you need to identify the object, and you need to have some understanding of what mind is. And the problem is in our normal day-to-day experience, our mind is so dominated either by external stimuli or internal sensations.

So either our mind is just directed totally outward and takes on the form of whatever objects come in our way, in the field of our experience, or our mind... we experience our mind in the form of internal sensations. So... and caught in this way of experiencing the mind, it feels as if the actual nature of the mind itself gets somehow obscured either by the perceptions of the external world or the sensations of the internal experiences. So the essential nature of the mind, which is this mere knowing and subjective experience, this quality somehow gets obscured.

So in order to overcome this, one needs to find a way of somehow capturing this essential quality of the mind, which is mere luminosity and knowing. And to do this one needs to meditate, which would involve somehow ensuring that your focus is not, kind of, you know, hijacked by certain recollections of past experiences nor by thoughts projecting into the future some kind of anticipation, or hope, and so on. And we need to prevent the mind looking backwards and prevent the mind looking forward into the future and somehow maintain in the present moment.

And the problem is because our mind is so dominated by this kind of looking backwards and, you know, forwards, when you try to prevent those kinds of processes, and when you experience the mere present, one feels as if one experiences a kind of an emptiness. Now this is, of course, not the emptiness in the philosophical sense, this is a mere absence, and initially it may be just a fleeting experience. But, as you habituate, as you familiarize in this practice, you... one will be able to stretch that period of time during which you experience this absence.

So in this way…so when we say identify the mind as the object of your meditation, we are not talking in the intellectual sense. We are talking in an experiential sense. So through this meditation you will be able to experience a sense of mind in the form of this absence. And then gradually the essential quality of the mind on the conventional level, which is this mere luminosity and knowing, will become more and more obvious. And once you have that, you then take that as the object of your meditation and cultivate shamatha or tranquil abiding on that basis.

Meditating on an Image of the Buddha

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here in Lama Tsongkhapa’s text, the Lamrim Chenmo, he recommends taking the image of the Buddha as our object of meditation on tranquil abiding. Of course, partly it is easier and partly also it has a very special significance for the Buddhist practitioners. So given this, for other practitioners of other religious traditions, they can choose an object that will have a special significance to their own practice such as the image of Jesus Christ or maybe even a cross.

His Holiness: Oh, I am wondering, an Islam practitioner, what kind of image—Mecca? I don’t know. [continues in Tibetan]

Robert Thurman: Calligraphy

His Holiness: Allah ...[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: [in Tibetan]

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Robert Thurman: It looks like an anagram, like a mantra. Looks like that.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if we choose the image of the Buddha as the object of our meditation of tranquil abiding, then earlier, Professor Thurman was suggesting in the case of the Muslim practitioners maybe they can use the calligraphy, you know, the letters of the name of Allah.

So if we choose the image of the Buddha as the object of meditation, it is beneficial to choose a slightly smallish size, because the smaller size of the image can have the effect of making your mind more alert. And then also, as much as possible, imagine this image to be quite bright like a light. And the more bright and quality of light that you bring in, it will have the effect of ensuring that your mind does not sink into a form of mental laxity. And also you should try to imagine this image to be rather heavy. So this kind of weight, by imagining this image to be kind of rather weighty, it will have the effect of protecting you from the arising of mental scattering and mental excitation.

Mindfulness and Meta-Awareness (Vigilance)

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Having chosen the appropriate object for your meditation on tranquil abiding, then in the actual practice, when you are cultivating single-pointedness of mind, one needs to apply and maintain mindfulness in a very undistracted manner. So the maintenance and application of mindfulness is really the key. And it is the mindfulness that will ensure that you do not lose your attention from the object that you have chosen, the object of your focus.

However, whether or not you lose your object (your attention from the object of your meditation) as a result of arising of distraction or mental laxity, that role needs to be... is performed by application of the faculty of meta-awareness, awareness that monitors whether excitation or mental laxity has arisen. So it’s the mindfulness that ensures that your attention is retained on the chosen object, and it is meta-awareness that monitors whether or not you have lost your object.

So the two main obstacles are really mental excitation and laxity. So the excitation, mental excitement, really belongs to the family of attachment, and this tends to be more easily occurring in us because of our long habituation to things that attract us. So mental excitation is a problem that will arise much more easily. And of course the effect of the arising of mental excitation is to distract our mind. And so when mental excitation arises, then it is an indication that your state of mind is too uplifted. So one needs to find a way of dampening it down.

And so the main counter, kind of antidote, against this is to find a method that would bring the state of your mind to a slightly more dampened state. And here, meditating upon impermanence or a recollection of your understanding of the suffering of conditioning, conditioned existence, these things can be very effective because it will immediately have the effect of dampening your mind so that it is brought down to a more kind of... less uplifted state of mind.

When mental sinking arises, this is a state of mind where, although you may have not lost your object, but there is no alertness. So the mind is kind of slightly in a relaxed state of mind. So when that happens, the reason why that happens is because your mind is not lifted enough. Your mind is in a very downcast state. And the antidote against this is to apply a method that would bring the level of your mind to a more uplifted state.

And to do this one can reflect upon the benefits of cultivating bodhicitta, the awakening mind. One can reflect upon the benefits of the wisdom of emptiness, or the correct view. And one can also contemplate upon the preciousness of the human existence and the opportunity it accords us. So by reflecting upon these facts you can create a sense of joy in you, and this joy will uplift your state of mind. So in that way one will be able to overcome the problem of mental laxity. So in this way one needs to apply the antidotes when these, either of these two obstacles, arise in the mind.

Breath Meditation; Length of Meditation Sessions

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: For many of us who are on the beginner’s stage, then choosing the breathing process as the object of our meditation may be actually very beneficial. Because the advantage of this is that it’s not as subtle as choosing mind as the object of meditation, nor is it too gross as choosing an external material object as our meditation object. So choosing simply our breathing process and applying our… directing our focus and attention simply on the breathing process itself can be a very effective way of doing this shamatha meditation.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example one can choose the breathing process—the inhalation and exhalation—as the object of one’s meditation and then place one’s mind, one’s awareness, simply on that. And maintain the focus for a hundred rounds, or a thousand rounds, of the breathing.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Some of my acquaintances who are meditators, they told me that when they choose their breathing, their breath, as the object of meditation and maintain their awareness simply upon the breathing for up to a hundred rounds or a thousand rounds, then the mind becomes really settled.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So also in the Vajrayana practices, meditation practices, breathing exercises are described as a preliminary stage before going into the actual Vajrayana sadhana practice. And so these breathing practices involve nine rounds of breathing.

And so it seems that breathing meditation is very effective, particularly for us even in our day-to-day life. When we find our mind in a disturbed state or agitated or irritated state, simply drawing our attention to our breath and doing breathing and focusing on that has an immediate effect of bringing down this level of disturbance that has been caused by the earlier emotions or states of mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So of course that type of breathing exercise is more like taking a respite, a temporary kind of relief. It’s not that effective but it’s more of a… taking a rest.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example in responding to adversity or some difficulties, breathing exercises may provide a temporary relief, but it is only a rest from that dealing with that problem. The more effective, of course, lasting approach is to reflect upon dependent origination—interdependence of things—reflecting upon their impermanence and also cultivating the wisdom of emptiness. And reflecting deeply upon the benefits of bodhicitta, awakening mind, and so on. These will, of course, be much more effective and powerful practices.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So as to the number of sessions and the length of sessions, there is no fixed number. So here for the beginners, generally it is recommended to keep the sessions short but have more frequency. So it’s better to have shorter sessions but more in number. And so as you progress and advance in your practice, then while retaining the quality that you are able to bring when you do these short sessions, so while retaining the quality then you can gradually increase the length of the session. So that’s a better approach.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So on that basis, by adopting the right length of the session and applying the actual practices as described in formal sitting, then one progressively will go through the attainment of the nine stages of mental development culminating in the attainment of tranquil abiding—shamatha—which is characterized by the attainment of physical and mental suppleness or pliancy. And once you have that quality of mental pliancy and have attained tranquil abiding—shamatha—then on that basis one is able to then cultivate vipassana—special insight.

And in the lam-rim, this particular section goes on to explain how a kind of a mundane type of vipassana can be cultivated on the basis of tranquil abiding. So with that, the explanation on the section of Lamrim Chenmo dealing with the cultivation of tranquil abiding is completed.

Special Insight: Why Insight Is Needed, Why Serenity Is Not Enough3

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the next main outline is the method by which one cultivates special insight in relation to suchness—the reality.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the opening section of Tsongkhapa’s presentation of special insight, which is on page 107, I think it’s Chapter 7 of the book [vol. 3], he cites from Samadhi Raja Sutra (King of Meditation Sutra) where Buddha states the following:

“Although worldly persons cultivate concentration,
They do not destroy the notion of self.”

The point that is being made in this sutra citation is that, although people who attain tranquil abiding and on that basis cultivate special insight that involves comparing the characteristics of the states of the desire realm and higher realms, and on that basis cultivate attainment of the form and formless states—although they have attained heightened states of mind— because the focus here is more on the characteristics of the different realms, therefore so far as the grasping at one’s own self is concerned, these meditations leave the grasping at self totally intact and untouched. And because of this, the grasping remains in them.

And so long as the self-grasping remains in the individual, then as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition) where he says, “Where there is self, then… there is the notion of the other.” And on the differentiation of self and other then attachment and aversion arise which then give rise to a whole host of problems.

Similarly from our own personal experience, we can attest to what Chandrakirti states in his Entering the Middle Way when he says that first we grasp at the notion of “I am,” “self” and then from there we grasp at things as “mine.” So we know that when there is a strong grasping at self, then the grasping at things that belong to you—things that are related to you, including your own friends and families—the stronger that grasping is, the stronger it leads to attachment, aversion and so on.

And in fact one thing that is common, one insight that is common to all the Buddhist schools, is the recognition that it is the grasping at self that lies at the root of the afflictive mental states such as attachment and aversion. So it is grasping at the self that gives rise to these afflictions. That insight is common to all schools of Buddhism.

Because the meditation on tranquil abiding and mundane vipassana based upon it do not touch and do not undermine this grasping at self, even the person who has attained such an advanced state is vulnerable to the arising of these afflictions.

Therefore the sutra says that, “Afflictions return and disturb them.” So the point being made here is that although in those heightened meditative states gross levels of afflictions may have been temporarily kind of diminished, but because the seeds of these afflictions have not been removed, eliminated, therefore when the conditions arise, then these afflictions will resurface. And then as the sutra gives the example: “As they did with Udraka, who cultivated concentration in this way.” So Udraka was historically one of the earlier teachers of the Buddha, so Buddha is giving Udraka as an example of this.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So continuing the citation from the sutra in the latter section, Tsongkhapa cites on page 108 another quotation from the same sutra when he cites the following:

"If you analytically discern the lack of self in phenomena
And if you cultivate that analysis in meditation…"

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the citation goes, “This will cause the result, attainment of nirvana.”

So what the sutra is stating is that if, in contrast, the person is able to discern the lack of self in all phenomena by means of critical analysis that discriminates into the characteristics of phenomena—and particularly the lack of selfhood in the sense of all phenomena being devoid of existence in their own right by means of an inherent nature— then as one cultivates the familiarity of that understanding and develops a deep sense of ascertainment and conviction, and internalizes that understanding within oneself, then one will be able to recognize all phenomena in the light of an illusion-like quality.

And so when that happens, this insight will undermine the grasping at self. And since the grasping at self (which is the deluded mental state) is not an inseparable, essential quality of the mind itself, then as a result of gaining insight into the nature of mind, this grasping at this deluded state of mind can be removed. And in this way the pollutants of the mind will be eliminated, and in this way this will lead to the attainment of nirvana. So the sutra states that, “This will cause the result, attainment of nirvana.”

And then the question arises, are there any other gateways or doors to liberation other than the realization of no-self, whether there is an alternative second door, or a third door? And then here the Buddha states that, “There is no peace…” (or there is no tranquility) “…through any other means.”

And here, as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition), given that loving-kindness and so on do not directly counteract, oppose, ignorance—they cannot eliminate ignorance. So here the sutra is also stating that although cultivation of loving-kindness and so on are conditions necessary to attain Buddhahood, but because they do not directly oppose or counteract the perspective of self-grasping, they cannot be the antidote powerful enough to eliminate them. It is only the realization of no-self that is the antidote that will eliminate the grasping.

Relying on Definitive Sources4

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the actual…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the actual section on how to train one’s mind in the cultivation of special insight… this is explained in four broad outlines:

First is seeking the prerequisites for cultivation of special insight;
Second is the various kinds of divisions of special insight; and
Third is the actual method of meditating upon… cultivating special insight; and
Fourth is the measure of having attained special insight.

So with respect to the first, which is the prerequisites for cultivating special insight, many of the prerequisites that are common to cultivating tranquil abiding have already been explained. But here since, in order to cultivate special insight in relation to emptiness (which is what we are concerned about here), one needs to first of all cultivate the understanding of emptiness (which is the object in relation to which we are seeking special insight) so one needs to cultivate, develop, an understanding of emptiness at least at the intellectual level. So this is one of the main prerequisites that one must cultivate, one must seek.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now with relation to the question to cultivating the understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, which is the focus of our practice here, in general as explained before, all the Buddhist schools share the adherence to upholding the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma, these being:

All conditioned phenomena are impermanent,
All contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering,
All phenomena are empty and devoid of selfhood, and
Nirvana is true peace.

However, as to how the Buddha’s teaching on no-self or anatman is understood, there is a divergence of understanding among the Buddhist schools depending upon how one understands the teachings.

So here if you look at the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s teachings reflect a recognition of the diversity among his followers in terms of mental dispositions, spiritual inclinations and philosophical inclinations and so on. So there are because of this… corresponding to this, there is a diversity of teachings.

For example, Nagarjuna, for example states in Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where he acknowledges that sometimes the Buddha has said that things possess final existence, sometimes he has said things do not possess final existence and so on. And in fact in the Seventy Stanzas on emptiness Nagarjuna explicitly states that when it comes to understanding the Buddha’s way, this is a matter that is difficult to fully penetrate.

The point he is making is the need to understand and discriminate between what teachings of the Buddha can be taken at their literal face value or what teachings of the Buddha need to be interpreted further; in other words, the need to differentiate between those that are interpretable and those that are definitive.

So for example, there are sutras by the Buddha, teachings by the Buddha, where he says that the five aggregates, the skandhas, are the burden and the one who is carrying that burden is the carrier. So in this passage, statement, Buddha explains as if over and above the five aggregates there is a carrier that is a person, so almost as if he is suggesting a reality of a self that is somehow independent of the five aggregates.

Similarly there are other sutras where Buddha states that ‘person’ does not exist, karma exists and then the aggregates exist, so he makes these distinctions. Similarly, there are other sutras where he says that the external objects do not exist, but mind exists truly. And then of course you have sutras where true existence is negated across the entire spectrum of phenomena, both internal and external. So…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example in the Heart Sutra, we read the following statement that, “Even the five aggregates”… “Even with respect to the five aggregates one must view them as being devoid of inherent existence.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Also in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras starting from the category of form, the first of the five aggregates, up to the end of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment which is the last of the four noble truths, or starting from form to omniscient mind of the Buddha, in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, all of these are presented as having… being devoid of intrinsic nature. They are primordially tranquil, calmed and so on.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So given the diversity of teachings that we find in the Buddha’s teachings, statements that we find in the Buddha’s teaching, historically there evolved among the Buddhist schools different positions on whether or not, first of all, one can make such distinctions between definitive and non-definitive sutras.

For example, the Vaibhashika school, on the whole, will reject that kind of differentiation and maintain the position that all the Buddha’s statements are definitive. Within the Sautrantika school, one branch of that school, those that follow primarily the path of reasoning (now this is kind of guess-work again), I believe that they accept the principle of the need to differentiate between definitive and non-literal teachings of the Buddha’s sutras.

In any case… so there are two camps. One camp that does not make such differentiations and maintains all of the Buddha’s statements to be definitive; another camp that accepts the need to differentiate between those sutras that are literal and definitive and those sutras that are not definitive.

And even in the Buddha’s own teachings, for example in the Samdinirmocanna Sutra (Sutra Unraveling the Intent of the Buddha) there is a hermeneutics which explains the interpretation of the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma, where the first and the second are identified as being non-definitive, and then the third turning of the wheel of Dharma as being definitive.

So the problem is, although the Buddha states that in his own sutra, but when it comes to making the determination—which sutra is definitive and which sutra is not definitive— we cannot rely entirely on scripture, because if we rely on scripture then the whole kind of process, project, of making the differentiations becomes untenable.

The only way in which we can do this is by means of reasoning and analysis. So in short, any statements of a sutra that in the process of subjecting it to critical analysis, if it proves to be not contradictory to reason and then… which can be supported by reason, that would be accepted as definitive. And those sutras which, when subjected to critical analysis, the statements prove to be untenable and contradictory to reason, then these will be accepted as non-definitive. So it is only by means of applying reasoning and critical analysis that one can really differentiate between what is definitive and what is non-definitive in the Buddha’s teachings.

His Holiness: Yes, that’s all. Now break.  


1 See Guy Newland, From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 11 “Serenity,” corresponding to transcript pp. 1-18. [Return to text]

2 See eight-fold list in the Great Treatise, vol. 3:31. The main topics are the same but the order and numbering given by His Holiness differ slightly. Transcript editors added numbers for a total of eight. [Return to text]

3 See Newland, ch. 12 “The Purpose of Emptiness,” pp. 137-139, corresponding to transcript pp. 18-23. [Return to text]

4 See Newland, ch. 12: 139-141. [Return to text]