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 Two, Afternoon Session, July 11 2008

Transcript #3


Questions for the Dalai Lama

His Holiness: Sorry. 15 minutes late. Oh, some questions, yes.

Thupten Jinpa: [The questions below in quotation marks are from members of the audience.]

“Your Holiness, how is it possible to go about living an everyday life working at a job, paying bills, taking care of family and so on, but without grasping?”

His Holiness: Without grasping...[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the question is how do you understand the idea of grasping here? So for example, in relation to others, if in your engagement with others, if the engagement is tainted by forms of grasping such as strong attachment, craving, or aversion, anger and so on, then that form of grasping is undesirable.

But on the other hand, when you’re interacting with other sentient beings, with awareness of that other person’s needs or suffering or pain, then you need to fully engage with that other person’s pain and be compassionate and be engaged with that. So there is some form of attachment, some form of engagement.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in fact Buddhist masters have used the term, the very word “attachment,” in describing the quality of compassion for others. For example, in the salutation verse of Haribadhra’s Commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom text, there he talks about compassion that is attached to other sentient beings. And, similarly, I cited Nagarjuna’s text where Nagarjuna says that in the person in whom the realization of emptiness has arisen, then attachment for other sentient beings will spontaneously arise.

“How do you define true happiness?”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the context of the four noble truths, when we are talking about suffering and happiness, then the notion of happiness is also not just from a positive characterization of the state, but also negatively characterized as a state that is free from suffering and its causes. So we are talking about a notion of happiness that is more lasting, so it’s a lasting happiness.

His Holiness: Then generally perhaps, happiness… usually I sort of consider happiness means deep satisfaction. So, for example, some physical hardships or some suffering can bring satisfaction. So such things in that category still something is positive. So then satisfaction on the level of physical satisfaction and mental satisfaction. Now here mainly mental level satisfaction. So as I mentioned earlier, physical suffering, physical hardship, can bring mental satisfaction. So in this sense, in this context, happiness is more mental level satisfaction.

Thupten Jinpa: “Your Holiness, would you please explain…”

His Holiness: Perhaps, furthermore, mental level satisfaction with help of awareness, then good. Sometimes, out of ignorance, some mental satisfaction also is possible. Isn’t it? It’s very temporary. Shortsighted.

Thupten Jinpa:  “Your Holiness, would you please explain the method and the uses of analytic meditation?"

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: “Would you please explain the method of how to use analytic meditation?” Analytic meditation.

His Holiness: Analytical? [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: This topic will come later.

“If suffering is caused by mind, what is one to do when facing environmentally difficult situations externally that are hard to change? For example, if a spouse or father is an alcoholic, should the partner or the child stay and seek happiness, despite the partner’s drinking, or take the children and seek life without the drinker?”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: The line here, the suffering being “caused by the mind,” is too general because even in the Buddha we accept the presence of mind. So the cause of suffering is not just the mind itself but it’s an undisciplined, untamed mind.

His Holiness: [discussion in Tibetan with Thupten Jinpa]

Thupten Jinpa: Of course here it depends upon how you define what you mean by happiness here.

His Holiness: In general sense, of course I think there are external conditions, external sort of causes, factors… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, generally speaking, there are, of course, conditions that are external and some conditions that are internal.

His Holiness: ...and so sometimes…

Thupten Jinpa: …so then, of course, one has to think what’s the best course of action?

“If there is no inherent self, what part of the mind transmigrates?”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: This will come later.

“How do you overcome the sadness and anger from a difficult childhood?”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan then English] I think generally I think of the sixth…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we will discuss that in the context of the discussion of the perfection
of forbearance.

“Your Holiness, you said that we relate to events based on our perceptions, not on what is reality—that we need to differentiate between our perception and the reality. How will we know the reality and not be influenced by our perceptions?”1

His Holiness: This morning when I used the words the ‘reality’ and ‘appearance’ that’s within the context of two truths. But generally, I think one event, one thing, if you look from one angle you cannot see the full picture. One event, in order to know that, you have to look from various different angles.

Even a physical thing, from one dimension you cannot see the full picture. With three dimensions, or four dimensions, or six dimensions—then you get a clearer picture about the reality.

So, in order to know the reality, you have to look from various angles and from various dimensions. Otherwise when you see from one dimension it appears to be something, but there are always possible gaps between appearance and reality. Like that. So therefore investigation is very, very essential. So through investigation the gap between appearance and reality can be reduced. Only through investigation. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So earlier when I was talking about the gap between perception and reality, it was within the context of the teaching of the two truths…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …because we were discussing this in the context of trying to understand what lies at the root of our suffering, particularly the root of the afflictions, which is the grasping at true existence of things. And once you recognize that this grasping, this ignorance grasping at the true existence of things, engages with the events of the world primarily on the level of perception, on the level of appearances, and then grasps onto it, one comes to recognize that this does not accord with the actual reality, and one will be able to then gradually undermine the grip of that grasping. So that’s what we were talking about.

Qualities of the Teacher2

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now we will read from the text.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we were talking about the qualities that are relevant on the part of the teacher, and particularly the teacher who is going to give instructions to the students on the basis of the actual instructions of the Buddha, all of which are aimed at bringing about the realization of our temporary, immediate aim of gaining fortunate rebirth into higher realms, and the long-term and ultimate aim of attainment of liberation.

And since this is the teaching, the person who is imparting the instruction needs to possess the qualities that are necessary for imparting such actual instructions because the quality and the effectiveness of the teaching would, to a large extent, depend upon the quality of the teacher. For example, when we choose a school, to a large extent the quality of the school is really determined by the quality of the professors and the teachers who are working in that university or school.

Similarly here, the effectiveness of the teaching to some extent is going to be determined by the quality of the teacher. So, generally speaking, the Buddha has outlined in various texts the kind of qualities that are necessary to the specific level of instructions, whether it is the master of a Vinaya practice or whether it is the master of a Vajrayana teaching, Highest Yoga Tantra. In all these cases there are specific qualities that are mentioned by the Buddha.

And here in the lam-rim context, the teacher that we are looking for is someone who is able to impart instructions that would encompass the practices of all the three persons of all the three levels of capacities. The key qualities that are mentioned are the ten qualities that are listed in Maitreya’s Ornament of Mahayana Sutras.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in Tsongkhapa’s text (which is on page 71 of volume one) having cited a particular stanza from Maitreya’s Ornament of Mahayana Sutras, then Tsongkhapa writes the following. He says that:

“It is said that those who have not disciplined themselves have no basis for disciplining others. Therefore gurus who intend to discipline others’ minds must first have disciplined their own. How should they have been disciplined? It is not helpful for them to have done just any practice, and then have the result designated as a good quality of knowledge. They need a way to discipline the mind that accords with the general teachings of the Conqueror. The three precious trainings are definitely such a way.”

So this is quite a powerful statement that Tsongkhapa is saying, that the way in which the master should have disciplined his or her own mind is according to the teachings of the three higher trainings.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So since the instruction…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So since the instructions that we are talking about, by which the students are being led, are instructions primarily related to the attainment of liberation, and since the principal practices that constitute the path to liberation are really the practices of the three higher trainings, so therefore on the part of the teacher who is giving such instructions, he or she must himself or herself embody the knowledge of the three higher trainings.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And since the teacher is imparting an instruction that is not just for attainment of liberation but also attainment of full enlightenment of buddhahood, therefore one needs to present a path that encompasses the practices of bodhicitta, great compassion and so on. Therefore the qualities relevant on the part of the teacher include also having compassion and awakening mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So one of the qualities listed in Maitreya’s text is realization of suchness or realization of ultimate truth, and this partly reflects a kind of a philosophical view of the author, because the presentation is according to the Mind Only School, where a distinction is drawn between selflessness of persons and ultimate reality. So the wisdom in the context of the three higher trainings is identified with wisdom of no-self and the additional quality, realization of suchness, refers to the Mind Only School’s understanding of realization of selflessness of phenomena.

Qualities Needed by the Student

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, when identifying the qualities relevant on the part of the student, Tsongkhapa identifies the three main qualities: being objective, endowed with the faculty of intelligence, and having interest.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when searching for understanding the nature of reality, objectivity of standpoint is very important. The objective stance is very important because otherwise one will be swayed by one’s own biases and wishes. So therefore it will come in the way of actually understanding the actual reality.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the second quality is being endowed with intelligence, and intelligence here refers to critical intelligence which has the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, what is correct in what is incorrect. And so the kind of intelligence we are talking about here is that of a critical, inquiring type.

This suggests that at the beginning one needs to have a form of skepticism, a kind of a doubt, because when you have doubt and skepticism, then this will lead to questioning. And when you go through questioning, then there is a real possibility of leading one to a deeper understanding of the fact. And therefore, on the other hand, if you approach right from the beginning with a single-pointed faith, then it wouldn’t open up questions. So having that skepticism and a critical intelligence becomes very important.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So because of this, if you look at many of the classical Indian texts, an emphasis has been made upon identifying what is the subject matter of a particular text, what is the purpose of gaining understanding of that subject matter, what is the long-term ultimate purpose of gaining such knowledge, and then what is the interrelation between these three factors.
The point here is that, because these texts are written for persons with a critical faculty, then a person with a critical faculty, when they engage with the text, they are going to first of all check what is the main subject matter of the text, what is the benefit and purpose and aim of gaining that knowledge, and what is the long-term final objective of the subject matter, and so on.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, therefore, even in the texts, we have expressions that relate to the different ways in which people engage with the text. One is those of slightly inferior faculty approach the text primarily more from faith and devotion, and those of a kind of higher critical faculty of mind approach a text more from the point of view of understanding the reality that is presented.

Relying on the Spiritual Teacher

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then Tsongkhapa explains the actual process by which one relies upon the spiritual mentor on the level of one’s mind, what state of mind one should adopt, and also in actual practice, in physical action.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we read from page 86, towards the end of the explanation of the process by which one must rely upon a spiritual mentor particularly through action, Tsongkhapa writes the following. (This is the third paragraph.) He raises the question,

“We must practice in accordance with the guru’s words. Then what if we rely on the gurus, and they lead us to an incorrect path or employ us in activities that are contrary to the three vows? Should we do what they say?”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa responds to this query that he raises, and he writes:

“With respect to this, Gunaprabha’s Sutra on the Discipline states, ‘If the abbot instructs you to do what is not in accord with the teachings, refuse.’ Also the Cloud of Jewels Sutra states, ‘With respect to virtue, act in accord with the gurus’ words, but do not act in accord with the gurus’ words with respect to nonvirtue.’ Therefore you must not listen to nonvirtuous instructions.” And then he writes, “The twelfth birth story…” (referring to the Jataka Tales) “…clearly gives us the meaning of not engaging in what is improper.”3

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, to give an example: for example, with respect to master Atisha, among all the teachers, his principal teacher whom he considered to be the most important teacher, was Serlingpa. And Serlingpa was particularly revered by Atisha for his teachings on bodhicitta and the awakening mind. However Serlingpa’s own philosophical standpoint represented that of Mind Only school, so just because Serlingpa happened to be Atisha’s most important guru does not mean that Atisha would follow his guru’s instructions in every field. So Atisha, while being a devout student of Serlingpa, when it came to philosophical understanding of the Buddha’s teaching, he adopted the Madhyamika, the Middle Way school, rather than his teacher’s Mind Only standpoint.

The Process and Meaning of Meditation4

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then towards the end of this section, Tsongkhapa presents a summary of the manner in which one needs to relate to one’s spiritual mentor, and here he divides that section into two parts: the actual process itself and the refutation of misunderstanding or misconceptions.
His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the first section that deals with the actual process, Tsongkhapa explains it according to two parts. One is what needs to be done during the actual formal sitting meditation, and what activities one should engage in during the post-meditation periods. During the actual, formal sitting session, here, with respect to this proper reliance on the spiritual teacher, the main practices that are presented are primarily in the format of the seven-limbed practices and also six preparatory practices.

And then he explains what kind of activities one should engage in during the post-meditation periods as well, which would include maintaining a balanced habit with relation to one’s food, diet, and also learning to utilize even one’s sleep as a period towards enhancement of Dharma practice—and then guarding the gateway of the doors of the senses and living with a greater sense of awareness. So these are the main after-session practices.

And the point here is to engage in one’s Dharma practice in such a way so that both the formal sitting sessions and post-meditation sessions each can complement each other, so that the periods during the formal sitting sessions will enhance the virtuous activities during the post-meditation periods. And the practices and activities during the post-meditation periods will enhance the quality of your meditation during the formal sitting practices, so that each complement each other—so that you find a way in which the entire twenty-four hours of your day can be utilized towards the accumulation of merits and also enhancement of virtue.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the second outline, when he talks about refuting misunderstandings pertaining to meditation, the main point Tsongkhapa is making is the importance of analytic meditation.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the Tibetan equivalent of the English term meditation is gom (bhavana in Sanskrit), and what this indicates or suggests is a form of deliberate cultivation and familiarization. Generally ‘goms pa is habituation or becoming familiar. But sgom pa is an active verb which indicates an agency who is deliberately involved in cultivating a particular form of familiarization.

His Holiness: [begins in Tibetan] …I think nobody from as soon as he wakes up in early morning (or early morning or late morning—I think some of you may be late morning when you get up) I think nobody at that moment expects, “Oh, today I should have more trouble. I should have more sort of fight. Or more anger.” I think nobody feels like that. Instead, from that moment, “Oh, today I wish for a very peaceful day, very leisurely day and happy day.” That way, I think.

Yet, you see many problems. So on this planet I think among six billion entire human beings, nobody wants trouble. But there is plenty of trouble. Most of this trouble essentially man-made trouble. Clear. So, one way, nobody wants trouble. At the same time there are a lot of man-made problems or trouble.

So the reason, the problem… the point is we want something good. But our mind is fully dominated by afflictive emotions. Afflicted emotions come out of ignorance, all levels of ignorance—ultimate ignorance and also some grosser levels of ignorance. Simply, we do not know the reality; we just look from one angle and then decide, “Oh, this is bad. This is good.” Like that.

So now here meditation means—try to control our mind. That means we should not let our mind be dominated by ignorance or by these afflicted emotions. So to just wish, “Oh, my mind should not be dominated by ignorance or afflicted emotions”—the emotion is very powerful. Destructive emotions are very, very powerful. They won’t listen to our wish. So the only thing is—we have to cultivate countermeasures for all these afflicted emotions. That’s the only way to reduce the afflicted emotions.

So in order for the development of the countermeasures, we cannot buy from a shop. Or those sophisticated machines, you see, cannot produce these things. So only through mental effort. Now—that is the meaning of meditation. Like that.

So the familiarization about these counter-forces, through that way, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, even sometimes life after life—the effort still continues life after life. Then gradually these counter-forces, because of habituation, you see, gradually increase and increase. The positive side increases, the negative side automatically is reduced, because these two things cannot remain together. It is contradictory. Like that. [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this certain part of the text here, Tsongkhapa therefore makes the following point. He says that the problem with us is that we are dominated by our mind, and our course of actions and everything is dictated by our mind. However our mind is, in turn, dominated and dictated to by the afflictions, so it is under the power of the afflictions. And so because of this, although what we truly wish for is happiness, but we end up, you know, enduring suffering. And this is the reason why this is the case.

Analyzing Afflictions and Their Antidotes5

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we compare our own states of mind, we will recognize that the undisciplined and untamed states of mind are those aspects of the mind that we are very familiar with. And because of long habituation over many lifetimes, they tend to be very powerful, and they are also quite spontaneous and natural when they arise. Therefore, when we cultivate the direct antidotes against them, in a sense we are learning new sets of skills. We are learning actually a new way of thinking—a new way of being.

Therefore initially, these antidotal forces are going to be very weak because we are learning something kind of quite new. But however over time, as we cultivate, our habituation will increase. And as our habituation to the antidotal forces becomes more and more strengthened, then their opposites, which are the undisciplined states of mind including the afflictions and the afflicted emotions, they will come to decrease in their force. And that’s the way in which the processes work.

And secondly, one thing that needs to be done is also to recognize that how, when we talk about afflictions, we are talking about a tremendously diverse phenomenon. And afflictions are in some sense very opportunistic. Wherever they find their ways, they can manifest themselves in many different ways. So we have to understand first of all, the various ways in which afflictions take their form and how they tend to appear to us.

For example, if we look at attachment and anger, then attachment we see as kind of a friend. Attachment is that quality of our mind which tends to attract others towards us, so it helps us bring together the conditions that we deem helpful for our survival.

Similarly anger and hatred tend to be those mental states that help us deal with obstacles that we don’t find desirable, and they are there to help us protect against these obstacles that we don’t want. So anger and hatred arise as almost like a kind of a trusted friend, there to protect us.

So we can see how, first of all, afflictions are so diverse and secondly, how there are ingenious ways in which afflictions can appear to us. And so therefore, in correspondence to the diversity of the afflictions, we also need to cultivate very rich, diverse antidotes as well, corresponding to them. Therefore, for example, Buddha, when he gave the Dharma, he taught eighty-four thousand heaps of teachings.

And similarly if you look at the commentarial literature that helps explain the Buddha’s teachings, for example, by Nagarjuna and his disciples and many other great Indian masters, there are so many extensive treatises. But the ultimate aim of all of these teachings, including the Buddha’s sutras, is really one—which is to help us deal with untamed states of mind and bring about its transformation.

Because the afflictions that disturb our mind are so diverse and they can manifest in so many different forms (and also they can manifest differently to different individuals) therefore, to suit the need of all the diverse practitioners and also to come up with the appropriate antidote against specific forms of afflictions, there are all these diverse teachings that we find.

And so, not only must we understand the afflictions themselves. Secondly, we have to understand their functions. Thirdly, we have to understand their causes, both internal and external conditions that give rise to these afflictions. And on that basis, we need to then cultivate these antidotes within us. Because even after simply recognizing the destructiveness of the afflictions, if we just simply make a wish that, “May they go away,” that approach is not going to be effective at all. So this simple recognition of their destructiveness is not adequate. We need to deliberately cultivate the antidotes within us.

Now how do we cultivate these antidotes within us? We do so through different levels of understanding: the level of understanding derived from learning; the level of understanding derived through critical reflection; and the level of understanding derived through meditative practice.

So the first level of understanding really arises on the basis of either listening to a teaching from a teacher or on the basis of oneself studying the text and so on. So you cultivate the intellectual understanding of the various characteristics of the afflictions and the appropriate antidotes and so on.

Then, on the basis of that understanding, you then need to critically reflect upon it repeatedly and deepen your understanding so that you arrive at a point where there is a genuine sense of conviction in their efficacy. So at that point you have arrived at the second level of understanding—the understanding derived through critical reflection.

And on these two levels, the analytic approach is the primary form of meditation. So the meditation takes particularly an analytic form on these two levels. And so, now when you are engaging in the critical reflection and using analytic methods, analytic meditation, then one needs to use also forms of reasoning taking into account particularly the four principles, which are the four avenues by which we engage with reality. So this is the principle of nature, the principle of dependence, the principle of function, and on the basis of these three principles, the principle of evidence.

So to give an example with relation to the nature of mind, we can say that the fact that mind is a phenomenon whose essential characteristic is that of knowing and luminosity— that is a principle of nature. Similarly, within the mind, all the mental states are by their very nature subject to change. They change on a moment-by-moment basis. They are transient. And that is again a principle of nature.

And furthermore in the mental domain, we also see there is a law of contradiction, opposing forces. For example, we know that hatred and anger towards someone is contradictory to loving-kindness and compassion towards that person. So these two opposing forces contradict each other. Similarly for example, even in the external world, we see opposing forces like heat and cold. They oppose each other so that they cannot coexist without one undermining the other. Similarly in the mental world you will have opposing forces, and the fact that there is this law of opposing forces is again part of nature, so that that belongs to the principle of nature. So you take these into account.

And then on the basis of that, then when you apply cause-and-effect relations, then you are using the principle of dependence.

And then, on the basis of recognizing these causal relations, then we will also come to understand specific functions of different mental states. Each of them has their own separate functions. Then here we are taking into account the principle of function.

And then on the basis of these three principles—nature, dependence, and function—then we can use logical evidence. Given this, such and such will follow. Given this, such and such will be the consequence. So on that basis, we will come to be able to apply the understanding of these principles and therefore apply the correct antidotes against the various aspects of the untamed mind—and bring about the knowledge.

So on the basis of this analytic meditation, when you then move on to the third level of understanding, there the primary approach will be more absorptive meditation where there is less analysis, but the primary approach is to maintain a single-pointed placement of mind upon the concluded fact.

And on that basis, as your single-pointed experience of that fact becomes more and more evident, then one will move finally to understanding derived from meditative practices. So in this way the transformation really takes place.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So what becomes clear is the role of the analytic meditation here. So when we talk about understanding developed on the basis of learning and critical reflection, one needs to use the faculty of intelligence.

Therefore the human form of existence is really a form of existence that is endowed, equipped, with the best faculty of intelligence. And therefore for a dharma practitioner, having the human existence becomes very important.


Thupten Jinpa: [continued] So in Tsongkhapa’s text he then explains that…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, having relied upon a spiritual teacher then he explains how to make one’s…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Stages of Training the Mind: Practices for Persons of Three Capacities6

Thupten Jinpa: ... the stages by which one then trains one’s mind. And this is divided into two sections. The first is how to motivate oneself into training the mind, and the second is the actual training process itself.

In this first section, how to motivate oneself to engage in a Dharma practice, here one of the important points that he makes is recognizing the preciousness of human existence. There, first of all, he explains the characteristics of human existence, of leisure and opportunity. And then the fact that this form of human existence has great purpose and is purposeful and, third, that it is rare to find such a human existence in the future.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then explaining how to actually make one’s human existence meaningful, he explains, first, a general presentation of the path, and then…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: …and then the actual practice of how to make that human existence meaningful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then in the actual presentation of the general structure of the path, Tsongkhapa introduces the concept of the practices of the persons of three capacities, and defines each of them. So for example, in defining the person of initial capacity, he cites from Atisha’s Lamp, where he reads:

Know to be “least” those persons
Who diligently strive to attain
Solely the joys of cyclic existence
By any means, for their welfare alone.

So this gives the definition of what constitutes someone as a person of initial capacity. And here the primary aim of the practitioner is to really seek happiness in mundane terms; then his or her approach is again influenced by that motivation.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then next, Tsongkhapa (citing from Atisha) defines the person of middle capacity, and here he cites the following:

Those persons are called “medium”
Who stop sinful actions,
Turn their backs on the joys of cyclic existence,
And diligently strive just for their own peace.

So here the reference is to those individuals whose main motivation is to seek freedom from cyclic existence on the basis of a deep sense of disenchantment towards all forms of cyclic existence—the joys of cyclic existence. So here the reference to sinful actions is not to be understood in a conventional sense but rather it refers to the afflictions in general, or sinful here refers to those activities that lead to birth in cyclic existence.

So these are practitioners who, disenchanted by all forms of joys of cyclic existence, then turn away from this, and on that basis, diligently strive for their own freedom—peace and tranquility in the sense of freedom from cyclic existence. And these are practitioners characterized as being of middle capacity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in practitioners of medium capacity, the main practices on the path that they will engage in will be the three higher trainings. And also, particularly in the context of the higher training in wisdom, the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment also falls within that category. So these are the main practices they will engage in to bring about the realization of their aim, which is the freedom from cyclic existence for their own sake—that peace and tranquility.

And then next Tsongkhapa defines the person of great capacity, and here he cites from the Lamp, and it reads:

Those persons are called “superior”
Who sincerely want to extinguish
All the sufferings of others
By understanding their own suffering.

So here Atisha is explaining those practitioners who, on the basis of their own experience of suffering, extend that to all other beings and come to recognize the need to bring about the end of suffering of all beings. And on that basis, they develop an aspiration to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, and from that motivation engage in the practices such as cultivation of the ultimate awakening mind and the conventional awakening mind, the six perfections and so on. And these practices therefore are part of the practices relevant to the practitioner of great capacity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So these three practices that are relevant to the persons of these three capacities can be viewed from the point of view of their aims. So in the teachings related to the initial capacity, the aim is to attain fortunate rebirth. And the aim of the practices of the middle, medium, capacity is to bring about the realization of the liberation from samsara, which is part of definite goodness. And the aim of the practices and teachings of the great capacity is to bring about the attainment of Buddha’s omniscient state. And also, as explained before, when we talk about Buddhadharma or Buddhist spirituality, it has to be defined in terms of whether or not it contributes towards the attainment of liberation.

So we explained how the attainment of liberation defines the Buddhadharma. However when it comes to actual practice, one must proceed in a gradual manner, in proper sequence. So although the aim is to attain liberation, on the first stage, as Aryadeva points out in the Four Hundred Stanzas, on the first level one must avert from the de-meritorious actions.

So here, before one can actually counter, directly counter, the afflictions, one needs to first of all tackle the behavioral expressions or manifestations of these afflictions. So these would be the negative, destructive actions of body, speech and mind that one engages in, as presented in the morality of abstaining from the ten negative actions.

And if you look at the kind of the principle behind the formulation of the ethics of the morality of abstaining from the ten negative actions, the main point there, at least in Buddhist ethics, is dealing with the consequences of anger and hatred. Therefore avoidance of harming others, causing harm to others, is the key principle there. And so at this level, the practitioner is trying to not directly challenge the afflictions themselves but rather deal with the behavioral expressions and manifestations of these afflictions. So this is the level of initial capacity.

And then at the second level, as Aryadeva’s text points out, in the middle, one needs to cease grasping at self. So here, then, it is the afflictions themselves that are being directly targeted and eliminated.

And then on the third level which Aryadeva points out, finally one must bring about an end to all distorted views. So here this relates to the practices of the great capacity where not only the afflictions themselves but even the propensities created by these afflictions and their imprints are also being removed. So you can relate the three practices of the three capacities in those manners as well.

The Sequence of Practice7

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at the teachings and practices of the three capacities, the sequence and the order is really definite, because one cannot jump on to the practices of the middle capacity and higher capacity (or great capacity) without laying the foundation of the initial capacity.

Also if you look at it, what is happening in the context of these three practices is that by engaging in the practices that are relevant to the initial capacity, the practitioner learns to turn away from obsessive concerns about this life and moves more toward the concerns of the future life. So that kind of turning occurs on the basis of the practices of the initial capacity. Then on the next level, by reflecting deeply upon the nature of suffering in samsara, the person is also able to turn away from attachment to and preoccupation with the concerns of the next life as well.

So then on the basis of these two, turning away from obsessive preoccupations with the concerns of this life and a future life, one then is able to develop a deep sense of disenchantment towards cyclic existence as a whole and develop a genuine yearning or aspiration to gain freedom—and also understand the need for freedom.

So once you have gained that, when you then shift the focus, and extend that same awareness and realization on to other sentient beings, then compassion arises, and it takes you to the next level, which is the practices of the great capacity. So even in terms of the way in which our mind progresses in terms of the stages of transformation, the order of the sequence is determined.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the lam-rim literature, sometimes the phrase is used that one of the qualities of the lam-rim teachings is that it is beneficial and effective with respect to practitioners of any level of mental capacity. And the point here is that depending upon what is your mental inclination and primary spiritual motivation, you can find the practices that are appropriate for the fulfillment of that aspiration in the lam-rim teachings.

For example, if the practitioner is that of initial capacity, where the primary aspiration of the practitioner is to gain freedom from potential suffering in an unfortunate realm of existence in the next life, then within that context, that practitioner can relate to the Dharma from within the framework of the four noble truths.

So here, the suffering that needs to be identified is the evident suffering, particularly of an intense form, that is found in the unfortunate realms of existence. And then the origin of suffering here would be the negative actions that one would commit that involve inflicting harm upon others, so that would be karmic action. And then the afflictions would be not the three poisons in general, but rather the more specific forms of them, covetousness, harmful intention, and wrong views. And so these will be the equivalent of the afflictions.

Then the path, the equivalent of the path, would be the adopting of the morality of abstaining from the ten negative actions; that would be the path. And the cessation would be the temporary freedom that one would gain as a result of attaining a favorable rebirth.

So you can see, within that context, all the four noble truths can be present, and in fact the aspiration is to seek freedom from negative, unfortunate rebirths. Therefore that is the aspiration, and all the practices and conditions that are necessary for the realization of that aim are all fully present in the context of the teachings of initial capacity.

So in the lam-rim text approach, after explaining the sufferings of the lower realms of existence, then the actual practices are presented in terms of taking refuge in the three jewels from whom you seek refuge from unfortunate rebirths. And then on that basis one engages in the practices of following the law of karma. So here you have all the practices complete.

However there are other alternative presentations, where the elements of the practices are sequenced slightly differently, divided slightly differently. For example in the approach of turning away from false attitudes, for example in Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Elements of the Path, there, recognition of the preciousness of human existence and awareness of its transient nature, impermanence, are related to the practices of initial capacity. And then contemplation on the law of karma and reflection upon the sufferings of the lower realms are actually included in the practices of the middling capacity, where these are used as a basis for developing a deep sense of disillusionment towards samsaric existence and cultivating true renunciation.

So sometimes different approaches tend to divide the elements of the teachings slightly differently, but in lam-rim, in this text, all of these are brought into the practices of the initial capacity so there is a completeness to the entire practices.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Beginning the Practice: Impermanence8

Thupten Jinpa: So then in explaining the actual way to take full advantage of the life of leisure and opportunity, then Tsongkhapa explains this in terms of training the mind in the stages of the path shared with the person of small capacity. And the first of these is developing a state of mind that strives diligently for the sake of future lives. It is in this context that meditation on cultivating awareness of impermanence and death is presented.

And the teaching on impermanence is a very important teaching of the Buddha. For example, if you look at the public sermon on the four noble truths, impermanence is one of the characteristics of suffering. In fact the presentation of the four noble truths is done with each noble truth with four characteristics, so altogether there are sixteen characteristics that explain the understanding of the four noble truths, and among the four characteristics of suffering the first is impermanence.

And similarly in the Buddhist tradition, we speak of four seals of Buddhism—that 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. So these are the four seals. Again here the first one is the fact of impermanence of all conditioned phenomena.

So in these teachings such as the four noble truths and the four seals, when the Buddha is teaching impermanence, of course the main understanding of an impermanence is a subtle level of impermanence. In the context of the practices of initial capacity, the understanding of impermanence is not really at that subtle level, but more at an evident, grosser level where we understand impermanence in terms of death or cessation.

So for example if we take human existence or a life of a sentient being, then when the continuity of that particular life comes to an end, that is seen as the impermanent nature of that birth. So awareness of death is the main impermanence understanding that is being cultivated here. And this is also crucial because awareness of death and impermanence is what is going to counter our habitual tendency to grasp at the permanence of our own existence. And it is this kind of grasping at the permanence of our own existence that often leads to all forms of trouble.

Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels9

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, then having cultivated the awareness of death and impermanence, one then reflects upon the suffering of the lower realms.10 And then when explaining on that basis the actual method by which one brings about the fulfillment of the aspiration, then this is explained in terms of two practices.

One is first establishing the basis by taking refuge in the three jewels, and then on that basis, one learns to live according to the laws of karma. And the reason why taking refuge in the three jewels is explained is that, generally speaking, in observance of morality, of abstaining from ten negative actions in themselves, there is nothing uniquely Buddhist. So in order for these practices of morality to be… to become a Buddhist practice, they need to be grounded upon taking refuge in the three jewels. And when it comes to the specific aspects of the workings of karma at this initial level, at this point, then faith becomes an important factor to develop the conviction in them.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then in the section dealing with taking refuge in the three jewels, Tsongkhapa explains this in terms of identifying what kind of conditions are necessary on the part of the person who is seeking refuge; who or what are the objects that are worthy of being a refuge; the manner in which one must seek refuge in them; then what are the precepts that one must observe as a result of taking refuge; and then what are the benefits of taking refuge.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when presenting the practices of going for refuge in this lam-rim text, the presentation is made in such a way that it takes for granted that the practitioner is already a Buddhist.

However, if you look at other approaches, such as in the second chapter of Dharmakirti’s Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition), where Dharmakirti presents a series of reasonings that establishes the possibility of attaining liberation, and similarly in Chandrakirti’s commentary [the Clear Words] on the 24th chapter of Nagarjuna’s text Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, there is a very clear and important explanation which is relevant here.

This is because, for example, in the 24th chapter, Nagarjuna raises all the potential objections from the Buddhist realists or Buddhist essentialists who raise the question (as we had in one of the questions earlier today)—that if everything is devoid of inherent existence, then cause-and-effect relationships will not be possible. In that case then the Dharma becomes untenable, and if the Dharma becomes untenable, there cannot be Sangha and therefore there cannot be Buddha. Therefore the three jewels become untenable, and if the three jewels become untenable, then the four noble truths become untenable. So the whole edifice of cause-and-effect relations breaks down.

So in response to this, Nagarjuna actually turns the tables on the opponent and says that, in effect, within the worldview where one presupposes inherent existence, in fact the causal relations become impossible. Because if emptiness is not tenable then dependent origination becomes untenable, and if dependent origination becomes untenable then cessation and the path leading to cessation—all of these will become untenable.

Because when we speak of emptiness, we are not talking about mere nothingness or nonexistence, but rather we are talking about emptiness of existence by means of inherent nature, existence by means of self-defining nature.

So if emptiness becomes untenable, then there is no possibility of dependent relations being upheld, and if that is not possible then the whole cessation and the path and everything fall down. So in Chandrakirti’s commentary, the exposition of these series of arguments and the line of thinking is most excellently described. So for someone who takes refuge in the three jewels, understanding at least some aspects of these explanations may be very helpful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this will come later on so we can discuss…

Selflessness and Liberation11

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this relates to the question we had earlier, “If there is no inherently existing self, what transmigrates?” And so this relates to this question. And part of the problem is coming from the fact of not fully understanding the meaning of no-self, the teaching of no-self.

When Buddha speaks about there being no ‘self’, he is not rejecting the existence of a self of the person. There is a person who accumulates action. There is a person who experiences the consequences of that action. What is being rejected is that, if we analyze the nature of our self, although in reality the self, or the person, exists in dependence upon the physical and the mental elements that make up the individual’s existence, but in our naïve perception of ourselves we tend to kind of assume a self that is somehow a kind of a master that reigns over, that rules over, our body and mind, that somehow is independent of them. So then it is that kind of self— that we assume to exist— that is being negated. So generally when Buddhism says there is no ‘self’, it is this kind of conceived self, this conception of self, that is being rejected.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in particular, when the teaching on emptiness is presented on the basis of using dependent origination, the fact that things come into being in dependence upon other factors, that things are dependently designated, the fact that these are used as a kind of basis to demonstrate the emptiness of phenomena itself suggests some form of existence that is being recognized.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So what is required on the part of the practitioner when taking refuge in the three jewels is, first of all, to have some understanding of the possibility of cessation in general, and particularly the possibility of cessation in oneself. So from here, when we talk about cessation in the Buddhist context, we are talking about the possibility of all the pollutants of the mind, the afflictions, being dissolved and cleansed within the nature of mind itself. So, in order to understand the nature of cessation, some degree of understanding of emptiness becomes indispensable.

And so furthermore when we talk about the origin of suffering, the afflictions, and particularly if one’s understanding of afflictions is deep, then one needs to understand afflictions at their root, which is the fundamental ignorance. And as I explained before, depending upon what your understanding of the ultimate view of reality is, it’s going to have a difference on how you define fundamental ignorance.

So, in any case, to have a deeper understanding of the subtle level of ignorance, again some understanding of the way in which things really exist, which is the nature of reality, becomes again essential. Similarly, when we talk of suffering, suffering at its very subtle level, again to have that understanding of emptiness becomes important. So therefore to really take refuge in the three jewels in the most ideal manner, some degree of understanding of emptiness becomes very important.

Emptiness and Refuge12

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, for example, when we go for refuge of the Buddha and say buddham saranam gachhame,” “I go for refuge to the Buddha,” the Sanskrit term buddha has two different connotations. One is: buddha can mean cleansing of the faults or pollutants. But it can also mean flourishing or development, such as the blossoming of the petals of the lotus. This is referred to as buddha.

However in the Tibetan equivalent of the term, both of these two aspects of the meaning are brought together, and the composite term is created that is sang gyay. And sang gyay means ‘to be awakened’ or ‘to cleanse,’ and gyay pa means ‘to develop, to blossom’, or ‘to flourish’, so both of these meanings are brought together.

Similarly the Sanskrit term for buddhi, in Tibetan jang chup is used, where again both meanings of the term are brought into a single composite term. And although at the level of buddhahood, total cleansing of all the faults and total perfection of all the qualities may be simultaneous, but in the process one needs to proceed by eliminating the obscurations first.

So because, when it comes to the Buddha’s enlightened qualities of the mind, insofar as the kind of cognition of reality is concerned, that quality is naturally present in our minds. It’s not a new quality that needs to be cultivated afresh. The process primarily involves removing the obstacles that obscure the expression of that natural cognitive quality. And so long as the obstacles are present, they obscure, and then this natural quality doesn’t become awakened.

So therefore in the Tibetan word, sang is put first and gyay pa, the development of perfection, comes later. So the main point is that to really understand the significance and meaning of going for refuge, one needs to have some understanding of the objects of refuge.

And here, too, some degree of understanding of the teaching on emptiness again becomes important because one needs to understand what is meant by buddhahood, and how buddhahood is defined in terms of cleansing and dissolving of all the pollutants within the nature of mind itself, and how enlightenment and un-enlightenment are defined in terms of the state of mind itself, whether it remains in ignorance or whether it becomes awakened. So this is what defines samsara and nirvana, enlightenment and the un-enlightened state. So therefore even to understand the concept of buddhi or enlightenment, some understanding of the teaching on emptiness becomes crucial.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So similarly when we say dharmam saranam gachhame, I go for refuge to the Dharma, the Sanskrit term dharma has the connotation of something that holds you or something that protects you. So again here, in order to fully understand the significance of these terms, some understanding of emptiness becomes crucial as well.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Similarly when we take refuge in the sanghasangham saranam gachhamesangha literally means those who aspire for goodness. And goodness here is defined, identified with, cessation. So again, to understand the meaning of sangha, some notion of understanding of cessation and emptiness becomes important.

The Law of Causality, Karma13

His Holiness: [begins in Tibetan]… the law of causality… [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, preceded by taking refuge in the three jewels, one then needs to understand the law of karma, causality. So when we talk about the law of karma, we are talking about, in general, the law of causality itself—and karma is a subset of the law of causality. So karma refers to a very specific kind of causal relation where, when we use the word karma, karma literally means action. And when we talk about action we’re talking about an activity involving an agent with an intention. So karma, karmic law, refers to a causal process that is begun by an agent with an intention. And that intentional act creates a chain resulting with its consequences. So this law of causality is referred to as the karmic law of causality.

So, when we talk about karma, principally here we are talking about causal events which are related to a sentient being’s experience of pain and pleasure, happiness and suffering. So when we are talking about experiences we are talking about mental phenomena, and therefore when we talk about the events at the mental level, then their causes must also principally belong to that category of phenomena as well. Therefore when we talk about karma we are principally referring to one of the mental factors that are present in the state of mind of the person. So within the Buddhist schools, Vaibhashika and Prasangika sometimes also include physical actions as belonging to karma, but generally other schools identify karma principally as a mental factor.

His Holiness: So, now 4:17. Okay. Finish now. Stop.  


1 See Guy Newland, From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 6:72. [Return to text]

2 See the Great Treatise, vol. 1, ch. 4:69-84 for this section and the following sections “Qualities Needed by the Student” and “Relying on the Spiritual Teacher.” See also Newland, From Here to Enlightenment, ch. 6:65-68. [Return to text]

3 This story is recounted in footnote 132 in the Great Treatise, vol. 1. [Return to text]

4 See Great Treatise, vol. 1, ch. 5-6 pp. 93-117. See Newland, ch. 6:68-69. [Return to text]

5 See Newland, ch. 6:69-72. [Return to text]

6 For this and next topic see Great Treatise, vol. 1, ch. 8:129-141; also I, ch. 9-10. See also Newland, ch. 7:75-77. [Return to text]

7 See Newland, ch. 7:77-79. [Return to text]

8 See Great Treatise, vol. 1, ch.9:143-160. See Newland, ch. 7:79-80. [Return to text]

9 See Great Treatise, vol. 1, chapters 11-12. See also Newland, ch. 7:80–81. [Return to text]

10 See Great Treatise, vol. 1, ch.10:161-175. [Return to text]

11 See Newland, ch. 7:81-82.[Return to text]

12 See Newland, ch. 7:82-83. [Return to text]

13 See Newland, ch. 7:83-84. [Return to text]