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A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Main obstacle to generating a good heart

The main obstacle to becoming a good-hearted person is anger. Anger is the opposite of the good heart and is very harmful. It has harmed us in the past, it is harming us now and it will harm us in the future.

We can see how anger harms us in this life, disturbing our mental peace, making our relationships difficult. But it does not stop there. The results of anger will also harm us in the future as we accumulate very powerful negative karma, which will propel us into lower rebirths in our future lives. Anger harms in the past because all the roots of virtue accumulated in the past are destroyed when we get angry.

Mental unhappiness causes anger to arise in our minds and it arises when:

  1. others create problems for our loved ones and ourselves, or
  2. we and our loved ones are prevented  from getting what we want, or
  3. we see that everything is going well for people whom we dislike.

Is there any point in becoming unhappy with these conditions? It is not going to make our problem disappear. On top of that, it makes us miserable. If matters can be changed for the better, there is no reason to feel unhappy. If we cannot do anything about the situation, again, we have to stop our minds from becoming unhappy since that serves no purpose at all but only generates additional suffering for ourselves. The point here is to keep the mind happy.

For the other party who is creating difficulties for us, our unhappiness does not rid us of this person or make him change his mind towards us. It is even possible that our unhappiness will make him happier.

Some of the reasons we have mentioned can be reflected upon in meditation, which helps us to familiarise ourselves with these lines of reasoning. There is no better meditation than familiarising ourselves with the antidotes to anger. Then, when anger arises in our minds, we can recall them and apply them immediately. Of course, we may not be successful in the beginning, but if we persevere, and with greater familiarity with such thoughts, we will improve.

You should do this on your own by spending some time – maybe 15-20 minutes – thinking about these points in stages, sorting them out in your own mind while reflecting on your own experiences.

Meditation exercise (I)1

First, recall a time when anger or hatred arose in your mind. Did you feel happy or was the feeling unpleasant? When you encounter some problems and you are feeling upset and angry, or there is a lot of hatred in your mind, examine that feeling and experience. Is it good or bad?

It is very obvious when we look at our own experiences. We can conclude that when we are angry, there is a lot of unhappiness in our minds which we neither want nor need. That being the case, we have to think of ways and means to get rid of such mental unhappiness.

It is very beneficial when we have faith in the Buddha’s teachings and the workings of karma. It is obvious that anger disturbs and makes us unhappy. Worse still, anger destroys a thousand eons of virtue that we have accumulated in the past.  It is also obvious that as soon as we are angry, or when the anger has been festering in our minds for a long time, it blocks the generation of a virtuous state of mind, making it very difficult for the mind to be positive and virtuous. Anger also harms us in the future, by causing us to take rebirth in the lower realms. We should reflect deeply on how anger harms us in these different ways.

Next, we examine the causes of anger. What makes us upset – a person, an incident or a situation? As mentioned in the text,2 the cause of anger or hatred is mental unhappiness. Do our experiences accord with what is said in the text?  Is it true that anger is experienced when the mind is unhappy in some way? It becomes clear that first we feel unhappy, then that mental unhappiness leads to anger or hatred.

We then have to examine what is causing our unhappiness. The text points out that the main cause of mental unhappiness is attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. For example, we feel unhappy when someone behaves in an unfriendly or abusive way towards us. Because the “I” or “me” is harmed, we get angry and unhappy.

Let us take as an example the experience of being verbally insulted by someone. We first become unhappy, then anger and hatred follows.  The condition for that mental unhappiness and anger is hearing those unpleasant words.

At that point we should reflect: “The words have already been said. Can my anger change what has already occurred? Sooner or later, my critic will finish what he has to say.” So think: “Are we able to change the situation by remaining angry? Can the insults be retracted if we continue to be angry?” Thinking in this way, it becomes clear that getting angry serves no purpose at all. The insults have been uttered. The words cannot be taken back. Our anger is useless as we are unable to change the situation. Furthermore, our anger only disturbs and makes our minds unhappy.

There would be some purpose to our anger if it could eliminate the situation that is upsetting us. But we can see that is not so. Our anger also has no effect on the other party who is insulting us. Instead, we are the ones experiencing the mental unhappiness and disturbance.

After examining this from every possible angle, the conclusion has to be that anger does not serve any beneficial purpose whatsoever. It only harms and makes us unhappy. Based on this conclusion, we should be convinced that anger is bad for us and be determined not to give in to it in the future: “I must try to stop my anger from arising.” We must remember, “I have to be very careful to take care of my mind, especially when anger is about to arise.”

We should not think like this only occasionally but we should rely on our mindfulness and vigilance all the time. When we become habituated to this way of thinking, together with our application of mindfulness and vigilance, it will become easier to stop anger from arising.

Everything we see or experience seems to exist very solidly from its own side.  Anger arises based on that appearance. At the present moment, we may think there is no way we can curb our anger. It is very difficult to subdue anger completely, but even then we can familiarise our minds with the antidotes, by meditating on some of the points I have mentioned. With greater familiarity, we will definitely be able to stop anger from remaining in the mind for long and even when it arises we will be able to stop it quickly. This is definitely achievable.

If we do not train our minds in this way, we will continue to live with our anger, becoming angrier with each passing day. The days become months, the months become years. When we do nothing about our anger, we spend our whole lives like that.

It will not take you longer than 10 minutes a day to reflect on these points. You should reflect on them daily for at least a week. This is not optional. This is something you must do. After a week, if you find it beneficial, then, of course, you can continue with the reflection. But you must try this out for at least a week. 10 minutes is not a long time. It is your responsibility to put aside those 10 minutes. When you see its usefulness, you will be motivated to do it and you will be able to make the time. But if you do not want to do it, you will not be able to find any time, even if you are not working, and free the whole day.

Some students wonder what our studies have to do with their lives. They do not see its usefulness or benefit. That is understandable. We can study and listen to many teachings, but when we do not reflect on them and try to apply them to our daily lives, we always remain the same. Therefore, we have to critically analyse how our studies can be integrated into our lives. When we do not meditate in this way, the teachings will never benefit the mind. This is my way of persuading you to do this homework.

You may have a lot of daily commitments but it remains to be seen whether the mind changes as a result of merely reciting prayers and doing sadhanas alone. I think it is very difficult for the mind to improve when you simply spend all your time doing prayers without doing any reflection. But when you spend just 10 minutes every day, continuously for, say, a month, thinking about how to stop anger, you will be able to assess its usefulness at the end of the month.

Whether this happens or not depends on you experiencing it for yourself. Please do not misunderstand; I am not saying that you should discard your commitments and stop your daily prayers. Since you have made the promise to do so, you have to continue with your prayers, but do them happily.

Meditation exercise (2)

This is another piece of meditation homework for you to reflect on for the next couple of weeks. Put aside 10 to 15 minutes every day and reflect on the following points. If you can, reflect on all of them in the sequence given. If you do not have the time, then choose and meditate on the points you find most useful.

1. Visualise on the crown of your head your meditational deity and root guru. Remember that your meditational deity is inseparable in nature from your root guru.

2. Next, generate the motivation for doing this practice: “In order to achieve the enlightened state of my guru deity, I must perfect my practice of patience.”

3. Visualise that you are surrounded by all sentient beings, including your enemies who are in front of you, and make a mental pledge: “Even if all sentient beings were to rise up as my enemies, I will not be angry with them.” Making this kind of mental promise is particularly beneficial and helpful if you can sustain this mental commitment for the duration of your meditation session. You can promise to keep this commitment for 10 minutes, a longer period of time or even for a whole day, like the way you observe the eight Mahayana precepts.

4. In dealing with anger, it is imperative to reflect on the faults and disadvantages of anger. It is mentioned in the text, “There is no transgression like hatred.”

Anger not only destroys merits accumulated in the past, present and future but when anger is present in the mind, there is no room for virtuous states of mind to arise. For instance, when we dislike and are angry with someone, we are unable to rejoice even when that person is doing a virtuous action. Due to the presence of anger in our minds, we are unable to see the good qualities of that person. It also becomes difficult to generate positive thoughts towards the people who are close to our object of anger, such as their friends and relatives. It is also said that anger prevents the generation of higher spiritual qualities.

The opposite of anger is the practice of patience. As mentioned in the text, there is “no fortitude like patience.” With patience, we have the mental space to generate positive thoughts even towards our enemies.

5. Anger arises when we are harmed in some way, be it our bodies, possessions or reputation. Focusing on our enemy, we should check (1) whether it is the nature of that person to harm us, or (2) whether that tendency to harm us is adventitious (i.e., not inherent)?

If it is the nature of that person to cause problems for us, then there is no reason to be angry with him. Such anger would be like begrudging fire for having the nature to burn. When you put your hand in the fire, your hand is burnt. It would be foolish to be angry at the fire.

Different people have different natures. If the object of our anger is a troublesome person who usually speaks harshly, understanding that that is his nature, we will be less likely to become angry when he behaves badly. Even if anger arises, we would be able to stop it quickly and not be so bothered. We can see this from our own experience.

We may know that person to be good-hearted but due to certain causes and conditions coming together, he/she gets angry and harms us. This would be an adventitious fault on the part of the person. It would be good to find out why that person is behaving in such a way and not be angry or upset with him.

6. Now focus on ourselves. We want happiness and do not want suffering yet we allow ourselves to get angry with other people. Our behaviour contradicts our wishes and is completely inappropriate.

We are unable to bear being harmed in little ways and become angry, but our negative response means that we are accumulating the propelling /throwing karma for ourselves to be reborn in the lower realms. We destroy our own roots of virtue. We should realise how extremely foolish we are. Why? Because we are choosing to not sacrifice small sufferings to ward off the greater suffering of rebirth in the lower realms. When we endure small sufferings (by not becoming angry), then we do not have to experience the greater suffering of rebirth in the hells. So we need to correct our foolish behaviour.

7. Next, let us focus on our bodies, which are the bases for experiencing the pain of being harmed by weapons and so forth.

Our bodies are as fragile as a water bubble, unable to bear even the prick of a thorn. When attacked, besides the attacker and the weapon he uses, our bodies also contribute to the experience of pain. The very existence of this body lends itself to suffering. If we did not have such a body in the first place, we would not be harmed when attacked. Therefore, both the external conditions and our bodies are equal in contributing to our experience of pain when we are attacked. Since that is so, there is no reason for us to be angry only at the attacker or his weapon.

We tend to place the blame entirely on the attacker and never blame our own bodies. We need to stop thinking like this by understanding that the mere existence of our bodies plays a part in our experience of suffering and pain.

We have looked at some of the ways to weaken anger by focusing on :

  1. our enemies,
  2. ourselves, and
  3. our bodies.

Many reasons are given in the text, but they can be condensed into these three points above.

8. In addition, if you can, reflect on how the enemy has no freedom but is controlled by other factors. He gets angry and engages in harmful activities because he has no choice. But this is not how the enemy appears to us. We see him as being very solid, existing inherently without depending on causes and conditions, and we react by getting angry with him. We can stop this by reflecting on how he does not exist independently but is also subject to causes and conditions. We should see the enemy as an apparition or a dream. As long as the causes and conditions come together for the production of an event, that event will happen.


Notes

1  This meditation was set as a piece of homework to be done by the students.  [Return to text]

2  Chapter 6 of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds by Shantideva. [Return to text]

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Placing imprints in our mental continua

The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is summarised in the three principal aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view.

Since we now enjoy the favourable conditions of having obtained this precious human rebirth and meeting the teachings, even if we cannot generate the realisation of the three principal aspects of the path in our minds, at the very least, we should put effort into placing stable imprints of these teachings in our mental continua.

Imprints can be placed in our mental continua through hearing, reflecting, meditating and familiarising ourselves with the teachings. How does this work? Imprints that come from hearing arise from the activity of listening to the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path. Without listening to these teachings, we would not receive any imprints through hearing. In the same way, this applies to reflection and meditation as well.

The strength of those imprints of the teachings would vary in power in dependence on the manner in which we engage in the activities of listening, reflection and meditation.

It is very arrogant of us to expect the teachings to come of their own accord into our minds, without our exerting any effort to familiarise ourselves with them. When we do not put in the effort from our own side to receive and familiarise ourselves with the teachings on the three principal aspects of the path, and to secure imprints of these teachings in our mindstreams, nothing will happen.

We need to remember that we have obtained this human rebirth now and we have some knowledge of what is to be abandoned and cultivated. Capitalising on this opportunity, we must place strong imprints of the teachings in our minds and keeping this in mind, we must then engage in the act of listening to the teachings.

Reaping benefit from the teachings depends on us

Whether the teachings will benefit us or not does not depend on the teachings. It depends on how we apply them, whether we reflect on them and mix the teachings with our minds.  We cannot expect the teachings, from their side, to change our minds if we do not do anything with them. There are some people who think, “What is the use of coming for teachings? The Dharma is not benefiting me.”  This is not the fault of the teachings but rather reflects their failure to relate the teachings to their minds.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often mentions that there is a noticeable difference between someone who accepts and practises the Dharma and someone who does not. Why? The person who practises the Dharma is a happier person who is more able to handle difficulties and problems when they arise, as compared to someone who has no faith or Dharma. Someone who accepts the teachings should have the ability to apply the teachings for a beneficial purpose and to use them to deal with problems and difficulties.

Taking the medicine 

The Buddha said in the King of Concentration Sutra:

I have explained this very good teaching.
Yet if you, having heard it, do not practise correctly,
Then just like a sick person holding on to a bag of medicine,
Your illness cannot be cured.

This verse applies to us because we may have listened to many teachings but we still find it difficult to reflect on their meaning and are unable to put them into practice. That is why we do not see any improvement in ourselves.

In fact, it sometimes seems that we are experiencing even more mental unhappiness and suffering than before. This is the fault of not having reflected properly on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard. We are just like the patient who carries around the bag of medicine without taking any. When we do not take the medicine, there is no way that we can recover from our sickness.

We need to reflect on the meaning of the teachings that we have heard, in order to remove our problems and the suffering which have been with us, and which we have endured for a very long time.

We need to understand that the Buddha is actually referring to us when he talks about the patient carrying the bag of medicine. We need to put down the bag of medicine, open it and start taking the medicine. It is not enough to just hear the teachings. We must start reflecting on them.

We are now studying the text, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, which contains many wonderful pieces of advice and teachings. It may be difficult to put the teachings into practise immediately but, at the very least, we should reflect on the meaning of the words found in the text. We should not simply leave it at the level of listening or looking at the words. We have to try to reflect on the meaning of the words themselves.

It is important to reflect on, as much as we can and to the best of our abilities, what we have learnt, and the meaning of whatever prayers we may be reciting.

Why is it that we remain as we are and do not seem to change and improve? It boils down to the fact that we did not reflect on what we had heard.

All of us have to try our very best to reflect on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we had heard and try to improve our own minds, because improving the state of our minds is an individual responsibility.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s holy wish for the centre is to produce good-hearted human beings, not simply students with some intellectual understanding of the teachings. That is his real wish. We should all try our very best to make this happen. It is not easy. It is difficult but we have to try our best.

Advice by Gungtang Rinpoche: Our sad situation

It is important to reflect daily on whatever you have heard and found beneficial from the teachings. Use whatever you have  heard and apply it in your daily life. If you do not  use the teachings in this way,  you  accomplish little by merely listening.

This is advice from the teachings of Gungtang Rinpoche called Songs of Expressing Sadness. In one of these songs, he laments that although, in reality, it is the guru who shows us the path and protects us in this life and all our future lives, in practice, we make our own decisions without relying on him.

We may think or even say that there is a need for us to rely on the instructions of our teachers  and recognise  that our guru is the embodiment of the three refuges. But, in our daily lives, we do not pay any heed to his advice or consider our teacher’s instructions to be important.

Gungtang Rinpoche points out now we have attained this precious human rebirth of leisure and opportunities that is very difficult to achieve and which gives us the opportunity to accomplish so much. We know this and can even explain it to others. Yet when we examine our lives carefully, most of the time we are spending them doing meaningless things. When we reflect in this way and realise this, it is a cause for regret and something to be very sad about.

Rinpoche’s advice is  very good and beneficial especially if we are able to remember it in our daily lives. For example, when we can explain to others the benefits of this perfect human rebirth, but do not put it to good use ourselves, then we are in fact wasting our own precious human rebirth.

In our daily lives we treasure our possessions and wealth and take great care to protect them  from thieves and robbers. But we are not very careful with our life span, which is being exhausted and stolen every moment by the Lord of Death. We should be very sad about this also.

We also pursue and hanker after teachings and instructions on hidden phenomena, which are not perceivable or manifest, such as emptiness, bodhicitta, tantra and so forth. But we do not pay any attention to those instructions that deal with subjects that are very obvious and accessible, such as death and impermanence. Again, this is a very sad situation.

I am quoting some extracts from this set of advice as they are short and would be most beneficial if you can remember them in your daily life.

Proper reliance on the words of the texts 

Just as an elderly person needs a walking stick to walk properly, we need to rely on and memorise the words of the texts in order to understand the meaning of the teachings. In order for us to really learn the teachings, first, we must have a really good grasp of the words of the text that we would have memorised.1

But memorising the words alone is not enough when we do not pay any attention to or reflect on the meaning of those words. For example, if we sit in a puja, reciting the prayers without reflecting on their meaning, we are no better than parrots. This is not the correct way to do pujas. If we teach a parrot to recite OM MANI PADME HUM it can recite that 108 times quite easily. But that is about it.

Without reflection on the meaning of the words of the teachings that we have received, we will be unable to correct any wrong or mistaken understanding on our part. The teachings should be investigated in depth.

In order to study the scriptures of the Buddha, first, we must rely on the words. We must know the words of the text. But that alone is not sufficient. We must also reflect on the meaning of those words.

That way of studying is not done here due to the lack of time. In the monasteries, we memorize all the root texts that we are studying and read the commentaries. But here, when the different verses are being explained, at the very least, we can check whether we are able to understand the meaning of each of those verses.

The quality of the meditation 

The difference between a Buddhist who has studied and reflected on the teachings extensively (hereinafter referred to as ‘A’) and a Buddhist who has done neither (hereinafter referred to as ‘B’) can be seen in the quality of their meditation. ‘A’ will be able to meditate in a very extensive way while ‘B’ will find difficulties in sustaining his meditation.

When reciting the refuge prayer, at the mere mention of “Sang gyä” (Buddha in Tibetan) ‘A’ will be able to reflect in the following way: “Who is the Buddha? He is in the entity of the four holy bodies2 and is someone who has eliminated all faults and perfected all his good qualities.” Being familiar with such reflections, ‘A’ is able to recall many different aspects of the refuge practice instantly and his faith in the Buddha increases.

When ‘B’ recites, “Sang gyä” however, he may only recall the Buddha as the historical figure who achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree over 2,500 years ago. It would be difficult for someone like ‘B’ to have any deep sense of faith. If this is so for a person like ‘B,’ then obviously there would be even less faith in someone who has not even heard of the historical Buddha.

When ‘A’ recites “chhö” (Dharma in Tibetan), he will immediately understand that there is conventional and ultimate Dharma, and the object of refuge here is not merely the physical scriptures themselves, but their  contents, which clarify the true path3 and true cessation.4

Understanding that the Dharma is the actual refuge and thinking that, “This is what protects me,” will definitely increase ‘A’s’ faith. He will then generate the faith of aspiration, which is the mind that aspires to actualise the Dharma.

When ‘B’ recites “chhö,” he may only recall the physical texts and he is unlikely to have the same level of faith as ‘A.’

When ‘A’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la” (I go for refuge to the Supreme Assembly), he understands immediately that the Sangha Jewel refers here to all the arya beings, including the hearer superior beings, the solitary realiser superior beings and the bodhisattva superior beings.

He knows the inconceivable qualities of these holy beings, and in particular, how the superior bodhisattvas practise at each level, actualising all the ten perfections and how they achieve the higher realisations on the path. Based on such understanding and knowledge, irreversible faith will arise in ‘A’s’ mind towards these arya beings and he will aspire to emulate their example. ‘A’ will never give up his faith in the Three Jewels regardless of whatever conditions he may encounter.

When ‘B’ recites, “Tshog kyi chhog nam la,” he will only remember that the Sangha refers to the ordained community and he is reminded to be respectful towards them.  With such limited understanding, it is very difficult to have real faith in the Sangha Jewel because it is difficult to see all ordained persons as pure and perfect and one may end up criticising them or questioning the benefit of ordination.

The difference between ‘A’ and ‘B’ is very clear from simply examining the quality of their refuge practice. The Buddhist who has studied will have stable and irreversible faith while the Buddhist who does not study will give up his faith easily when faced with the smallest obstacle.

We should put into practice, familiarise ourselves with and reflect upon whatever we have learnt. Even if we engage in extensive listening and reflection, it would not be beneficial without such mental familiarity.

Using the earlier example of refuge, we can apply it to other topics and see the difference between engaging in practice with understanding and with little or no understanding. When we realise the benefits of studying and reflection, the aspiration to do so will arise naturally from our own side. When this happens, no matter what difficulties we encounter, we will try our best to come to class and listen to the teachings.

Lama Tsongkhapa said, “At the outset, seek extensive teachings. In the middle, reflect on whatever you have learnt. In the end, day and night, put into practice the understanding of the teachings that you have ascertained. This is what I have done. You who want to follow after me should do likewise.”


Notes

1 This advice was intended for those studying in the monasteries.  [Return to text]

2 The four holy bodies of the Buddha are the Truth Body (made up of the Wisdom Truth Body and the Nature Body) and the Form Body (made up of the Enjoyment Body and Emanation Body).  [Return to text]

3 The antidotes to our afflictions.  [Return to text]

4 What we achieve once all our afflictions are abandoned.  [Return to text]

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

CHAPTERS
Introduction
Four Noble Truths
Bodhicitta
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

The preceding is, briefly, an explanation of the reasons for meditation and a description of the path up to the buddha stage. If we really want to practise the Buddhist Dharma, we must first know what suffering is and realize the way in which we exist in samsara. To get out of samsara, we must have strong faith in the Buddha, and then practise as the Buddha taught. We should consider how other beings are also suffering in samsara, and out of compassion for them, we must wish to reach the buddha stage in order to help them.

It is important to try to find the right understanding of Dharma. Even if we buy a watch, which only needs to last for a few years, we try to find a good one. Because Dharma is not just for ourselves in this life, but for all beings in all lives, it is much more important to find the right and best understanding of it. If we want to trust another person, first we have to know that the other person is honest and reliable; we can only determine this by what the other one says or does. In the same way, we can have faith in the Buddha only by knowing what he taught, by looking at our experiences to see whether it is reasonable, and by practising it to see if it gives good fruit or not. Then our faith will be indestructible.

Terms

The terms are given first in English, followed by the Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents. The syllables in brackets provide a phonetic Tibetan pronunciation. Diacritical marks have not been used on Sanskrit letters. The explanations are intended only to expand briefly on the use of the term in this text. For exact transliteration and for more general definitions and a wider range of applications, the reader is referred to the glossaries of other publications concerning the sutra path in Buddhism, as well as to such dictionaries as Monier-Williams' A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, and Chandra Das' Tibetan-English Dictionary.

  1. The four noble truths; caturaryasatya; bden.pa bzhi (den.pa zhi).
  2. Suffering due to suffering; suffering of misery; duhkha duhkhata; sdug.bsngalgy sdug.bsngal (dug.ngal gyi dug.ngal).
  3. Suffering due to change; viparinama duhkhata; ’gyur.bai sdug.bsngal (gyur.wei dug.ngal).
  4. All embracing suffering due to mental formations; suffering of being conditioned; samskara duhkhata; khyab.pai 'dus.byed gyi sdug.bsngal (khyab.pai du.je gyi dug.ngal).
  5. Volitional action of body, speech and mind; karma; las (ley). The Sanskrit term karma is generally used. Karma is of three types: skillful, unskillful, and neutral.
  6. Mental defilement; klesha; nyon.mongs (nyon.mong). There are two forms of mental defilements: harmful inclinations, and the mistaking of the way things appear to exist for the way they actually do.
  7. (Literally) circle or sphere; mandala; dkyil.'khor (kyil.kor). The Sanskrit term mandala is used most often. A mandala can be the physical circular object used for making offerings, the symbolic universe that is being offered, or the special abode or environment of the one who is receiving the offering.
  8. The intermediate state between one's death and one's next rebirth; antarabhava; bar.do (bardo).
  9. Desire; attachment; rag; 'dod.chags (dod.chag);
    Aversion; anger; hatred; dosha; zhe-sdang (zhe.dang);
    Ignorance; mental darkness; moha; gti.mug (ti.mug). These three comprise the three poisons.
  10. Ignorance regarding the self of persons; pudgalatmadrishti; gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa (gang.zag gi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa);
    Ignorance regarding the self of phenomena; dharmatmadrishti; cho.kyi dag.dzin gyi ma.rig.pa).
  11. Carrying; vehicle; yana; theg.pa (teg.pa).
  12. The mind motivated or dedicated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings; the altruistic intention; the awakening mind; bodhicitta; byang.chub kyi sems (jang.chub kyi sem).
  13. Wisdom; prajna; shes.rab (she.rab). Method; means; upaya; thabs (tab).
  14. Buddha field; buddha kshetra; sangs.rgyas kyi zhing (sang.gye kye zhing).
  15. Ten levels or grounds; dashabhumi; sa.bcu (sa.chu).
  16. "The Oceans of Clouds of Praises"; stod.sprin rgya.mtsho (do.trin gya.tso). This is a prayer in praise of the bodhisattva Manjushri, which contains a description of a buddha's qualities of body, speech and mind.
  17. Perfection; paramita; pha.rol tu phyin.pa (pa.rol tu chin.pa).
  18. Lha Lama Yeshe Ö; (Devaguru Jnanaprabha). This king was a descendant of King Langdarma (gLan-dar-ma), who was responsible for eradicating the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet.
  19. Verses 19 and 20 of Je Tsongkhapa's prayer The Beginning and the End (thog.mtha.ma (tog.ta ma)).
  20. Calm abiding; shamatha; zhi-gnas (zhi.nay). Calm abiding is the perfection of mental concentration.
  21. Analytical, or investigative, meditation; vicharabhavana; dpyad.sgom (je.gom). Discursive analysis of the true nature of the meditation object.
  22. Concentration meditation; sthapyabhavana; 'jog.sgom (jo.gom). Following discriminating or analytic meditation, one then single-pointedly places the mind on the meditation object. This practice is an aspect of calm abiding.
  23. Diamond posture; vajrasana; rdo.rje.gdan (dor.je den). This asana is called the diamond posture or pose because in this position, one can sit firmly, "indestructibly," unmovingly, for a long period of time.
  24. Scattered attention; agitation; mental excitement; auddhyata; rgod.pa (go.pu).
  25. Torpor; sinking; lethargy; nirmagnata; bying.ba (jing.wa).
  26. Mindfulness; remembrance; recollection; smrti; dran.pa (den.pa).
  27. Clear comprehension; awareness; mental spy; samprajdnya; shes.bzhin (she.zlzin).
  28. Subtle torpor; sukshmanirmagnata; byin.ba phra.mo (jing.wa tra.mo).
  29. Insight meditation; heightened insight; vipashyana; Ihag.mthon (Ihag.thong).

Teachings about the four noble truths, bodhicitta, the five paths and ten levels, and the six perfections
The Graduated Path to Liberation is a rendering in English of teachings given by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, in 1969. It follows the traditional lam-rim (graduated path) format, which originated with the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and has been passed down through an unbroken succession of Indian and Tibetan masters.

CHAPTERS
Introduction
Four Noble Truths
Bodhicitta
The Five Paths and the Ten Levels
The Six Perfections
Conclusion and Notes

To become a buddha, a bodhisattva has to practise six perfections: 17

  1. the perfection of giving (dana paramita)
  2. the perfection of morality (shila-paramita)
  3. the perfection of patience (kshanti-paramita)
  4. the perfection of energy (virya-paramita)
  5. the perfection of meditation (dhyana-paramita)
  6. the perfection of wisdom (prajna-paramira)

Perfection of Giving

This perfection is divided into four categories: the giving of property, Dharma, refuge, and active love (maitri).

  1. The giving of propertyFor most of us, basic material needs such as food and clothing are the types of property easiest to give. High bodhisattvas, however, are capable of giving their eyes, flesh, and even their lives. The object we give is not the actual giving—it is only the means for giving. The real activity of giving is the strong decision to give freely, without avarice. In this way, even if we possess nothing, we can practise giving, because giving depends on our state of mind, not on the object being given. Milarepa had only a small cloth to wear and lived on nettles, but he still practised the ultimate perfection of giving. In the beginning when we try to start this practice, we may find that even the giving of money or material things is difficult, but when we have completed the perfection of giving, the giving of anything, even our own flesh, will be easy. To practise the perfection we need a very strong desire to help others and a very strong will. But if our motive for giving property is to gain fame, for instance, this is not the practice of giving at all.
  2. The giving of DharmaThe giving of Dharma means that one gives, with pure mind, the true teaching to other beings. This type of giving is more beneficial than the giving of property. Possession of property helps for only a limited time, while Dharma is lasting and more deeply helpful. A person with property may still be suffering, but Dharma can not only remove this suffering, it gives the person a new wisdom eye as well. Included in the bodhisattvas' work to attain buddhahood is the aim to give Dharma as fully as possible to all beings.
  3. The giving of refugeTo give refuge means that we work to save and protect the lives of all living beings. For instance, if we put water creatures stuck in the mud back into water, we are practising this kind of giving. The person who truly wants to put an end to war and killing is practising the refuge aspect of this perfection. If the life of any being is in danger, we have to help in any way we can. The practice of giving refuge results in very good fruit immediately and deeply.
  4. The giving of active loveThe practice of active love is the wish to give real happiness to all beings. By just having this wish, we cannot directly help beings straight away, but if it is cultivated it will eventually have great results. The immediate fruit of this practice is that no spirits can harm the practitioner.All these kinds of giving help in two ways—they help other beings and they help ourselves. If we practise giving solely for our own benefit, it is not true giving.

Perfection of Morality

The perfection of morality has three aspects:

  1. The first aspect is the protection of our body, speech and mind from performing unskillful deeds. We have the tendency to act unskillfully, and this tendency needs to be controlled. We protect ourselves from acting this way when we stop using our body, speech and mind in harmful ways. We can think of our body, speech and mind as three naughty children, and of ourselves as their parent trying to keep them occupied in a room. Immediately outside the door of the room is a dangerous precipice, which represents the harmful things to which the children are attracted. Whenever they try to run out of the room, we have to pull them back inside to safety. If we let our body, speech and mind go as they will, we shall experience much suffering in the future. This protection of body, speech and mind is the first aspect of morality.
  2. The second aspect is to protect others in the same way as we protect ourselves. For instance, when someone is about to kill an animal and we demonstrate that it is wrong to do so, we are protecting that person from committing harmful actions.
  3. When we perform any skillful deed, this automatically protects us from performing any unskillful ones. This substitution of skilful action in the place of unskilful is the third aspect of the perfection of morality.

Perfection of Patience

There are three types of patience:

  1. Patience when we are harmed by others.When we are harmed bodily or mentally by others we should not react by getting angry or harming them in return.
  2. Patience when we are suffering.When we suffer, we point to someone or something outside ourselves as the cause. The immediate reason for our suffering may be something outside, but the deep, or underlying, cause is our own karma, which is of our own doing. The fruit or our actions must come back to us. If a person stabs us with a knife, this injury had to happen to us. We cannot point to anyone outside ourselves as the cause. If, because of our religion, we have to leave our country and endure great suffering, this circumstance has been produced by ourselves. We should think that the seed of suffering has already been sown, therefore it must grow. This way of thinking reduces the power of suffering over us. We have to start practising patience with very small sufferings; later we shall be able to be patient with very large ones. As a result of having practised the perfection of patience, a bodhisattva can withstand any suffering whatsoever for the sake of beings.In Tibetan history there is a story that shows clearly how beneficial the practice of this type of patience can be. Some years after king Langdarma had eradicated the first spreading of Buddhism in Tibet, a king of western Tibet, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö 18 decided to reestablish and propagate the pure Dharma in the land. For this purpose he went in search of a sufficient amount of gold with which to invite the very best Indian pandits to Tibet. While on his search he was imprisoned by the king of Garlog, who demanded as ransom Lha Lama Yeshe Ö's weight in gold. But when Yeshe Ö's nephew came with the gold, the old king refused to leave the prison, saying that his life was almost over and that instead the nephew should bring a pandit from India. The nephew then was able to invite Atisha from Nalanda, and Atisha re-established the pure Buddha Dharma in Tibet.Not only did this king willingly forsake his own freedom for the sake of others, but he also did not try to retaliate against the person who had captured him. To harm someone who is harming us does not make sense from a religious point of view. When we seek revenge against others who appear to be hurting us, it does not relieve our own pain, but only gives rise to new suffering for us by creating more karma. If, because we have caused pain to others, they turn around and beat us with a stick, the immediate cause of the pain is the stick, but the person wielding the stick is reacting against our own action, which itself was caused by our being in the grip of an overpowering mental defilement. So logically, our anger should be directed against our own mental defilements. Anger with other beings is very stupid and serves only to create more suffering for us. A country, being attacked by another, fighting back, returning the aggression, is like a hungry person taking poison.If all people were to practise patience it would bring real peace into the world, but those with no experience of Dharma find it very hard to believe in the efficacy of the practice of patience. If someone who is struck returns the blow, that person sets up a chain reaction with no end, but if one party shows patience, as a result others will do so also. We find this notion in the Christian tradition, when Jesus urged us to turn the left cheek to those who strike us on the right. In the Tibetan tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa composed two verses in which he prayed, 19

    When I remember, see or hear living beings
    speaking harshly or hitting me
    may I meditate on patience,
    and, avoiding anger, speak instead of their good qualities.

    By developing, in the stream of my being, the pure wish,
    which is based on bodhicitta,
    holding other beings dearer than myself,
    may I quickly bestow supreme buddhahood on them!

    The harm given us by the body, speech or mind of others is like a sword, arrow or spear. The practice of patience is the good armor of protection against this; possessing it, we cannot be injured. If we do not practise patience, trying instead merely to avoid conflict and say nice things and be friendly to everyone, we shall be unable to behave like this to all the countless beings, but with patience we shall be constantly protected from harm. If we walk along a very rocky path, it is impossible to remove all the stones from the way, but strong shoes protect us from all possible injuries.

  3. The patience of keeping concentration.The third kind of patience is that of keeping concentration on meditation, or anything else concerned with Dharma, without allowing distracting influences to harm the practice.

Perfection of Energy

This means energy for Dharma. There are three kinds:

  1. The first is the energy of the mind that stops the desire for unprofitable things. If we have a strong desire for ordinary things disconnected from Dharma, it disrupts our Dharma practice. Although we have to do everyday things, if our fondness for them is greater than our fondness for Dharma, our attention is taken away from our main work. A person may concentrate and work very hard, but if the goal of all that effort is a worldly one, then, according to Dharma, that person is lazy. People who really want to practise Dharma are in a hurry even when eating or excreting, so as not to waste time. Energy for worldly things is weakness; energy for Dharma is real strength. This aspect of the perfection of energy speeds us quickly towards the final goal. Having energy for Dharma practice, the real purpose of life, prevents our being distracted by worldly goals. It protects us from all kinds of bad things.
  2. The second kind of energy protects us against tiredness. For instance, a meditator who suffers from such tiredness that even the mere sight of the meditation place brings on sleep, overcomes this weakness by this kind of energy. One way to stop this fault is to consider the fruit of meditation or Dharma practice; if we bear this in mind, bodily tiredness does not make us lose our energy. People at work do not suffer very much from tiredness because they are thinking of the money they will get. If we consider the great fruit of practising Dharma wt will work hard at it. High lamas living in the mountains with very little food and sleep are not tired and complaining; rather they are very happy, because they see that the fruit of their work is near. These lamas have many different ways of practising Dharma: some are always teaching; others live alone in the mountains and accept perhaps one or two pupils.
  3. The third kind of energy is the confidence that we are not too small, weak or stupid to obtain the fruit of Dharma practice. Weakness of this kind stands in the way of achievement of the object. It can be overcome by thinking that the highest buddhas and bodhisattvas also once had only delusion, lived in samsara, and were worse than ourselves. By practising Dharma, they reached the highest stages of perfection; we can do the same. No one has perfect virtue from the beginning; when children first go to school they cannot even read or write, but later they learn to do not only that but many other things as well, and some become great scholars. The Buddha said that even insects living in excrement can become buddhas. If we bear all this in mind, we shall find no reason why we cannot practise Dharma.

The three kinds of energy overcome three weaknesses: the first that the mind will not turn to Dharma; the second is the fatigue we experience when we practise; the third is the doubt we have in our own ability to achieve the aims of Dharma. The person who wants to get to the top of a mountain has first to turn to the path, second, to keep going and not give in to laziness, and third, not to falter and think, "This is possible for strong people, but not for me.

The scriptures teach that all virtue follows from energy. With energy, someone who is not intelligent can get the Dharma fruit. A person who is intelligent but lazy will not get the fruit, and the intelligence is useless and wasted. With both intelligence and energy, there will be the greatest success. There is a simile in the scriptures that if the dry grass on a mountain catches fire and the wind fans it, the whole mountainside will catch fire, but if there is no wind the fire will go out straight away. Intelligence is like the fire and energy like the wind. If a person has intelligence and no energy, nothing will be accomplished. Thus the perfection of energy is essential for achieving the goal.

The Perfections of Concentration and Wisdom

Concentration must be on an object. It is very important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for concentration meditation is zhi.nay; nay means to "dwell" or "stay," and zhi means "in peace." In a practical sense, then, zhi.nay means to live peacefully without busy-ness, and is often translated as "calm abiding." 20 If we do not examine it carefully, our mind seems quite peaceful; but if we really look inside, it is not peaceful at all. Our mind is not able to stay on the same object for a second. It flutters around like a banner in the wind; as soon as we concentrate on one thing, another comes to disturb it. Even if we are living on a high mountain or in a quiet room or cave, our mind is always moving. If we go up to the top of a high building in a busy city we can look down and see how much turmoil there is, but when we are moving around within the crowd, we are only aware of a little of the bustle. Among the various mental factors, there is constant movement between conflicting elements; these factors always lead the mind. The movement of a banner fluttering in the wind Is not caused by the banner itself but by the wind. Mind is like the banner and the mental factors are like the wind. This constant movement stops the mind concentrating on an object for long. Of our mental factors, the defilements are stronger than the good qualities. We usually do Dot try to control them, and even when we do, it is very difficult because for a long time we have been in the habit of always following them. Concentration or calm abiding occurs when our mental factors are purified and thus our mind is able to dwell peacefully on the object.

There are two kinds of meditation: analytical meditation 21 and concentration meditation. 22 It is necessary to use both kinds of meditation to remove delusion and reach the goal. Some people say that thinking and learning about Dharma are not meditation, but the scriptures say that these activities are in fact also kinds of meditation. If we do not think carefully and know the nature of the object we cannot concentrate well. The bustle within the mind is mind-produced; to quiet it, therefore, action by the mind itself and nothing external is required. The primary action must be by the mind; on this basis, factors such as a suitable place and the meditation posture can help.

The place in which we practise concentration should be clean, quiet, close to nature, and pleasing to us. Our friends should be peaceful and good. Our body should be healthy, not sick. Sitting in the correct position also helps. For meditation, there are seven aspects of the ideal posture:

  1. If it is not painful, the vajra posture, 23 with the legs crossed and the feet resting upturned on the thighs is best. However, if sitting in this position causes pain and distracts the mind, the left foot should be tucked under the right thigh and the right foot should rest on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk must be as straight and erect as possible.
  3. The arms should be in a bow shape, not resting against the sides of the body or pushed back; they should be at rest but firm. The back of the right hand should rest in the palm of the left; the thumbs should be level with the navel.
  4. The neck should be curved slightly forward, with the chin in.
  5. The eyes should be focused straight along the sides of the nose.
  6. The mouth and lips should be relaxed, neither open nor tightly shut.
  7. The tongue should be pressed gently against the palate.

These are the seven aspects of the vajra posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path, but each also has a practical purpose. The legs crossed and the feet on the thighs make a locked position. We can lock ourselves firmly in place with legs crossed and the feet on the thighs as described above; positioned like this we could sit in meditation for a long time, even for months, without falling. The straightness of the body allows for the best functioning of the channels carrying the airs on which the mind rides in our bodies. If the body is straight these channels will not be blocked. The position of the arms is also to allow the best functioning of these channels. If one looks too high one can easily see something distracting; if the head is too low one gets pain in the neck or becomes sleepy. The mouth should not be closed so tightly that breathing is difficult if the nose is at all blocked; nor should it be open so widely that strong breathing causes the fire element of the body to increase with high blood pressure resulting. If the tongue is pressed against the palate, the throat and mouth will be kept moist. These are the immediate reasons for the meditation posture. Very rarely, people's arrangement of the inner channels is different, in which case they need a different position.

By just sitting in the vajra posture we achieve a good frame of mind, but the main work has to be done by the mind itself. If a thief enters a room, the way to remove him is to go in and throw him out, not just to shout from the outside. Similarly, if we are sitting on the top of the mountain while our mind is wandering in the village below, we shall not be able to develop concentration.

There are two enemies of concentration. One is busy-ness, wildness, or scattered attention; 24 the other is sleepiness, torpor, or sinking. 25 Our attention is distracted when a desire arises and the mind immediately races after it. Whenever the mind goes after anything other than the object of concentration, this is wild or scattered, mind. Sleepiness, or torpor, occurs when the mind is sleepy and not alert. If we want to concentrate well, we have to overcome these disturbances. If there is a beautiful picture on the wall of a dark room, we need a candle to see it, but if there is a draught, the flame will flicker and we shall not be able to see it properly. If there is no draught but the flame is very weak, there will not be enough light and we shall still not be able to see the picture. If there are neither of these difficulties, the flame will be strong and steady and we shall be able to see the picture clearly. The picture is like the object of concentration, the flame is the mind, the wind is scattered attention and the weak flame is torpor.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration, the first of these disturbances is more common. The mind immediately flies away from the object to other things. This can be seen if we try to keep our mind on the memory of a face; it is immediately replaced by something else. It is very difficult to quell these disturbances because, over many lives, we have built up the habit of following them, while we have not developed the habit of concentration. We may find it very hard to develop new habits of mind and leave old ones behind, but concentration is the basic necessity for all higher meditation and for all kinds of mental activity.

Mindfulness 26 and awareness consciousness 27 are the antidotes to scattered attention and torpor respectively. The drawing here represents an aspiring meditator, who is following the path of meditative stages that ends in the accomplishment of calm abiding and the beginning of the practice of insight meditation. At the bottom of the page we see the practitioner, who holds a rope in one hand and a hook in the other, chasing after an elephant led by a monkey. The elephant represents the meditator's mind; a wild or untrained elephant can be dangerous and wreak enormous destruction, but once trained will obey commands and do hard work. The same holds true for the mind. Any suffering that we have now is due to the mind being like a wild, untrained elephant. The elephant also has very big footprints; these symbolize the mental defilements. If we work hard at improving our mind it will be able to do very great work for us in return. From the suffering of the hells to the happiness of the buddhas, all states are caused by the behaviour of the mind.

At the start of the path the elephant is black, which represents torpor or sinking of the mind. The monkey leading the elephant represents scattering of the mind. A monkey cannot keep quiet for a moment—it is always chattering or fiddling with something and finds everything attractive. In the same way that the monkey is in front leading the elephant, our attention is scattered by the sense objects of taste, touch, sound, smell, and vision. These are symbolized by food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume, and a mirror. Behind the elephant is a person, who represents the meditator trying to train the mind. The rope in the meditator's hand is mindfulness and the hook is awareness. Using these two tools the meditator will try to tame and control his mind. Fire is shown at different points along the path to represent the energy necessary for concentration. Notice that the fire gradually decreases at each of the ten stages of zhi.nay, as less energy is needed to concentrate. It will flare up again at the eleventh stage, when we start practising insight meditation.

In the beginning, just as the elephant following the monkey pays no attention to the person chasing behind, the practitioner has no control over his or her mind. In the second stage, the practitioner, who has almost caught up with the elephant, is able to throw the rope around the elephant's neck. It looks back; this is the third stage, where the mind can be restrained a little by mindfulness. Here a rabbit is on the elephant's back, symbolizing subtle torpor, 28 which previously might have seemed to be a state of concentration, but now can be recognized for the harmful factor that it is. In these early stages we have to use mindfulness more than awareness.

At the fourth stage the elephant mind is more obedient, so less pulling with the rope of mindfulness is necessary. By the fifth stage the elephant is being led by the rope and hook and the monkey is following behind. At this point we are not much disturbed by scattering or distracted attention; mostly we have to use awareness instead of mindfulness. In the drawing, the sixth stage of practice is depicted with the elephant and the monkey both following obediently behind the practitioner, who does not have to look back at them. This means that the practitioner does not have to focus continually on controlling the mind, and the absence of the rabbit shows that the subtle torpor, which appeared at the third stage, has now disappeared.

Upon reaching the seventh stage, the elephant can be left to follow of its own accord and the monkey takes leave; the practitioner has no more need to use the rope and hook—scattered attention and torpor occur only mildly and occasionally. At the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white and follows behind the practitioner; this shows that the mind is obedient and there is no sinking or scattering, although some energy is still needed to concentrate. At the ninth stage the practitioner can actually sit in meditation while the elephant sleeps peacefully nearby; at this point the mind can concentrate without effort for long periods of time-days, weeks, or even months. The tenth stage, where we see the meditator sitting on top of the elephant, signifies the real attainment of calm abiding. At the last, eleventh, stage, the meditator is sitting on the elephant's back holding a sword. At this point the practitioner begins a new kind of meditation called "higher vision," or insight meditation. 29

If we practise the calm abiding type of meditation, we might use an image of Buddha as our object of concentration. The first thing we do is look at it very thoroughly. Then we start meditating. In meditation we do not look at the object with our physical eyes but focus with the mind's eye. At first our memory of it will not be at all clear, but even so, we should not try to force it to become clear—this is impossible at the start. The important point is to keep our attention focused on it, clear or otherwise. The clarity will eventually come naturally.

At the beginning, concentration is very difficult; the mind always turns this way and that. When we persist in the practice, however, we shall find that we are able to keep our mind on the object for one or two minutes, then three or four minutes, and so on. Each time the mind leaves the object, mindfulness has to bring it back. Awareness has to be used to see if disturbances are coming or not. If we carry a bowl full of hot water alone a rough road, part of our mind has to watch the water and part has to watch the road. Mindfulness has to keep the concentration steady, and awareness has to watch out for disturbances that may come. As we saw in the drawing, we need progressively less mindfulness after the initial stages, but then our mind, tired from fighting the scattering of attention, produces torpor.

After a while there comes a stage where the meditator feels much happiness and relaxation, which is often mistaken for the true state of calm abiding; in fact, however, it is subtle torpor, which makes the mind weak. If we continue our practice with energy, this subtle torpor will also disappear. When we have removed this disturbance, our mind becomes clearer and more awake, and thus the object of our meditation is seen more clearly. As our perception of the meditation object increases in clearness and freshness, our body will be sustained by our peace of mind, and we shall not have hunger or thirst. Eventually, a meditator can continue like this for months at a time. The feeling experienced in the mind at this stage cannot be described.

If we look at a piece of cloth with our eyes we can see it, bur not in great detail. But a person who has concentrated on it well with the mind's eye can see it very clearly in all details. When we die our mind becomes weaker, but if we practise meditation then our mind, at this time, will actually become fresher and clearer. Normally, dying people experience delusions and fears which lead to a bad rebirth. If, however, we have meditated well, then during the death process our mind will be concentrated on Buddha, Dharma and so forth; this helps very much for the next birth.

The scriptures say that in the ninth stage of the practice of calm abiding, even if a wall crashes down next to the meditator, he will not be disturbed. As the meditator continues to practise, his body and mind experience a special pleasure; this feeling marks the attainment of the final goal of calm abiding. The meditator's body feels light and tireless, symbolized in the drawing by the person flying. His body has become very supple, and his mind can be turned to any meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The meditator feels as though the object and his mind have become one.

Although at the ninth stage of calm abiding we feel very happy and peaceful, this is not the real end of meditation. Firm concentration on the object is still not the complete achievement. Now the meditator can combine concentration with an examination into the real nature of the object of meditation. After continuing the simultaneous practice of both types of meditation, a special pleasure arises from the seeing into the object. "Seeing the object" involves seeing whether an object is suffering, seeing if it is permanent or changeable, and looking for the highest truth to be found about the real nature of the object. In Tibetan, the name for this meditation with insight is lhag.thong; lhag means more, or higher, and thong to understand or realize. 29 Through this kind of meditation the mind obtains more understanding of the object than it can through simple concentration; when this practice has been perfected, the mind can turn to anything. The perfection of lhag.thong gives great spiritual satisfaction, but if one is satisfied merely with this, it is like having an aeroplane built, ready to fly, but left on the ground.

The mind can be turned to deeper and higher things. It has to be used on the one hand to overcome karma and defilements, and on the other to obtain the virtues of a buddha. For this, the object can only be emptiness, or shunyata; other meditations prepare the mind for this final object. If we have a very good torch that can show up anything, we have to use its light to find what is important. The root cause of all our trouble is ignorance. We have to use our knowledge of emptiness to dispel ignorance; we must use our mind, purified by calm abiding and special insight, to cut the root of the tree of ignorance. In the drawing, at this stage, the practitioner is holding a sword, symbolizing the realization of emptiness, to cut the two black lines symbolizing the two obscurations: the defilement-obscuration and the knowledge- obscuration.

The realization of emptiness is essential to remove ignorance. Once we come close to a thorough understanding of emptiness we are on the way to the perfection of wisdom—the complete comprehension of emptiness.

A teaching on the meditative practice of calm abiding (shi-nä)

Concentration is important in both Dharma practice and ordinary life. The Tibetan word for the practice of concentration is shi-nä (zhi-gNas). Shi means peace and means to dwell; shi-nä, then, is dwelling in peace or being without busyness.

If we do not carefully watch the mind it may seem that it is peaceful. However, when we really look inside we see that this is not so. Mind does not rest on the same object for even a single second. It flutters around like a banner flapping in the wind. No sooner does mind settle on one object than it is carried away by another. Even if we live in a cave on a high mountain the mind moves incessantly. When we are on the top of a tall city building we can look down and see how busy the city is, but when we are walking on the streets we are aware of only a fraction of the busyness. Similarly, if we do not investigate correctly we will never be aware of how busy the mind really is.

Primary consciousness itself is pure and stainless, but gathered around it are fifty-one secondary mental elements, some of which are positive, some negative and some neutral. Of these secondary elements, in ordinary beings, the negative ones are stronger than the positive. Most people never attempt to gain control of these secondary mental elements; if they did they would be amazed at how difficult such a task is. Because the negative elements have dominated the mind for countless lifetimes, overcoming them will require tremendous effort. Yet shi-nä cannot be experienced until they have been totally subdued.

Thus the busyness of the mind is mind-produced. This means that a mental rather than a physical effort is required to eliminate it. Nonetheless, when engaging in an intensive effort to develop shi-nä it is important to make use of certain secondary factors of a physical nature. For example, the place where one practises should be clean, quiet, close to nature and pleasing to the mind. And friends that visit should be peaceful and virtuous. One's body should be strong and free from disease.

The practice of concentration requires sitting in y proper posture, to which there are seven points:

  1. Legs crossed and feet resting on the thighs, with soles turned upward. If this causes too much pain, it distracts from concentration. In which case, sit with the left foot tucked under the right thigh and the right foot resting on the left thigh.
  2. The trunk set as straight and erect as possible.
  3. Arms formed into a bow-shape, with elbows neither resting against the sides of the body nor protruding outward. The right hand rests in the left palm, with the thumbs touching lightly to form an oval.
  4. The neck straight but slightly hooked, with the chin drawn in.
  5. Eyes focused downward at the same angle as the line of the nose.
  6. Mouth and lips relaxed, neither drooping nor shut tightly.
  7. Tongue lightly held against the palate.

These are the seven points of the correct meditational posture. Each is symbolic of a different stage of the path. Also, there is a practical purpose in each of the seven:

  1. Having the feet crossed keeps the body in a locked position. One may eventually sit for a long period of time in meditation, even weeks or months in a single sitting. With legs locked, one will not fall over.
  2. Holding the trunk straight allows maximum functioning of the channels carrying the vital energies throughout the body. The mind rides on these energy currents, so keeping the channels working well is very important to successful meditation.
  3. The position of the arms also contributes to the flow of the energy currents.
  4. The position of the neck keeps open the energy channels going to the head and prevents the neck from developing cramps.
  5. If the eyes are cast at too high an angle the mind easily becomes agitated, if at too low an angle the mind quickly becomes drowsy.
  6. The mouth and lips are held like this to stabilize the breath. If the mouth is held too tightly shut, breathing is obstructed whenever the nose congests. If the mouth is help open too widely, breathing becomes too strong, increasing the fire element and raising the blood pressure.
  7. Holding tongue against the palate avoids an excessive build-up of saliva and keeps the throat from parching. Also, insects will not be able to enter the mouth or throat.

These are only the most obvious reasons for the seven points of the meditational posture. The secondary reasons are far too numerous to be dealt with here. It should be noted that the nature of the energy currents of some people does not permit them to use this position and they must be given an alternative. But this is very rare.

Although merely sitting in the vajra posture produces a good frame of mind, this is not enough. The main work, that done by the mind, has not yet even begun. The way to remove a thief who has entered a room is to go inside the house and throw him out, not to sit outside and shout at him. If we sit on top of a mountain and our mind constantly wanders down to the village below, little is achieved.

Concentration has two enemies, mental agitation, or busyness, and mental torpor, or numbness.

Generally, agitation arises from desire. An attractive object appears in the mind and the mind leaves the object of meditation to follow it.

Torpor arises from subtle apathy developing within the mind.

In order to have firm concentration these two obstacles must be eliminated. A man needs a candle in order to see a painting which is on the wall of a dark room. If there is a draught of wind the candle will flicker too much for the man to be able to see properly and if the candle is too small its flame will be too weak. When the flame of the mind is not obstructed by the wind of mental agitation and not weakened by the smallness of torpor it can concentrate properly upon the picture of the meditation object.

In the early stages of the practice of concentration mental agitation is more of a hindrance than torpor. The mind is continually flying away from the object of concentration. This can be seen by trying to keep the mind fixed on the memory of a face. The image of the face is soon replaced by something else.

Halting this process is difficult, for we have built the habit of succumbing to it over a long period of time and are not accustomed to concentration. To take up the new and leave behind the old is always hard. Yet, because concentration is fundamental to all forms of higher meditation and to all higher mental activity, one should make the effort.

Mental agitation is overcome principally by the force of mindfulness and torpor by attentive application. In the diagram representing the development of shi-nä there is an elephant. The elephant symbolizes the meditator's mind. Once an elephant is tamed, he never refuses to obey his master and he becomes capable of many kinds of work. The same applies to the mind. Furthermore, a wild and untamed elephant is dangerous, often causing terrible destruction. Just so, the untamed mind can cause any of the sufferings of the six realms.

[[{"fid":"7159","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][_weight]":"0"},"type":"media","link_text":null,"field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_object_name[und][0][value2]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][tid]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][timezone]":"","field_exif_imagedescription[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][tid]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][timezone]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][value2]":"","field_iptc_keywords[und][0][_weight]":"0"}},"attributes":{"alt":"Click to see larger image","height":303,"width":200,"style":"float: right; margin-left: 8px; margin-right: 8px; width: 200px; height: 303px;","class":"media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]At the bottom of the diagram depicting the development of concentration the elephant is totally black. This is because at the primary stage of the development of shi-nä mental torpor pervades the mind.

In front of the elephant is a monkey representing mental agitation. A monkey cannot keep still for a moment but is always chattering and fiddling with something, being attracted to everything.

The monkey is leading the elephant. At this stage of practice mental agitation leads the mind everywhere.

Behind the elephant trails the meditator, who is trying to gain control of the mind. In one hand he holds a rope, symbolic of mindfulness, and in the other he holds a hook, symbolic of alertness.

At this level the meditator has no control whatsoever over his mind. The elephant follows the monkey without paying the slightest attention to the meditator. In the second stage the meditator has almost caught up with the elephant.

In the third stage the meditator throws the rope over the elephant's neck. The elephant looks back, symbolizing that here the mind can be somewhat restrained by the power of mindfulness. At this stage a rabbit appears on the elephant's back. This is the rabbit of subtle mental torpor, which previously was too fine to be recognized but which now is obvious to the meditator.

In these early stages we have to apply the force of mindfulness more than the force of mental attentive application for agitation must be eliminated before torpor can be dealt with.

In the fourth stage the elephant is far more obedient. Only rarely does he have to be given the rope of mindfulness.

In the fifth stage the monkey follows behind the elephant, who submissively follows the rope and hook of the meditator. Mental agitation no longer heavily disturbs the mind.

In the sixth stage the elephant and monkey both follow meekly behind the meditator. The meditator no longer needs even to look back at them. He no longer has to focus his attention in order to control the mind. The rabbit has now disappeared.

In the seventh stage the elephant is left to follow of its own accord. The meditator does not have to give it either the rope of mindfulness or the hook of attentive application. The monkey of agitation has completely left the scene. Agitation and torpor never again occur in gross forms and even subtly only occasionally.

In the eighth stage the elephant has turned completely white. He follows behind the man for the mind is now fully obedient. Nonetheless, some energy is still required in order to sustain concentration.

In the ninth stage the meditator sits in meditation and the elephant sleeps at his feet. The mind can now indulge in effortless concentration for long periods of time, even days, weeks or months.

These are the nine stages of the development of shi-nä. The tenth stage is the attainment of real shi-nä represented by the meditator calmly riding on the elephant's back.

Beyond this is an eleventh stage, in which the meditator is depicted as riding on the elephant, who is now walking in a different direction. The meditator holds a flaming sword. He has now entered into a new kind of meditation called vipasyana, or higher insight: (Tibetan: Lhag-mthong). This meditation is symbolized by his flaming sword, the sharp and penetrative implement that cuts through to realization of Voidness.

At various points in the diagram there is a fire. This fire represents the effort necessary to the practice of shi-nä. Each time the fire appears it is smaller than the previous time. Eventually it disappears. At each successive stage of development less energy is needed to sustain concentration and eventually no effort is required. The fire reappears at the eleventh stage, where the meditator has taken up meditation on voidness.

Also on the diagram are the images of food, cloth, musical instruments, perfume and a mirror. They symbolize the five sources of mental agitation, i.e. the five sensual objects: those of taste, touch, sound, smell and sight, respectively.

Most people take the mental image of a Buddha-form their object of concentration in order to develop shi-nä. First one must become thoroughly familiar with the object that one will focus on. This is done by sitting in front of a statue or drawing of the object for a few sessions and gazing at it. Then try sitting in meditation, holding the image of the form in mind without the aid of the statue or drawing. At first your visualization of it will not be very clear nor will you be able to hold if for more than a few seconds. Nonetheless, try to hold the image as clearly and for as long a period as possible. By persisting you will soon be able to retain the image for a minute, then two minutes and so forth. Each time the mind leaves the object apply mindfulness and bring it back. Meanwhile, continually maintain attentive application to see if unnoticed disturbances are arising.

Just as a man carrying a bowl full of water down a rough road has to keep one part of his mind on the water and another part on the road, in shi-nä practice one part of the mind must apply mindfulness to maintain steady concentration and another part must use attentive application to guard against disturbances. Later, when mental agitation has somewhat subsided, mindfulness will not have to be used very often. However, then the mind is fatigued from having fought agitation for so long and consequently torpor sets in.

Eventually, a stage comes when the meditator feels tremendous bliss and peace. This is actually only extremely subtle torpor but it is often mistakenly taken to be real shi-nä. With persistence, this too disappears. The mind gradually becomes more clear and fresh and the length of each meditation session correspondingly increases. At this point the body can be sustained entirely by the mind. One no longer craves food or drink. The meditator can now meditate for months without a break. Eventually he attains the ninth stage of shi-nä, at which level, the scriptures say, the meditator is not disturbed even if a wall collapses beside him. He continues to practice and feels a mental and physical pleasure totally beyond description, depicted in the diagram by a man flying. Here his body is inexhaustible and amazingly supple. His mind, deeply peaceful, can be turned to any object of meditation, just as a thin copper wire can be turned in any direction without breaking. The tenth stage of shi-nä—or actual shi-nä, is attained. When he meditates it is as though the mind and the object of meditation become one.

Now the meditator can look deeply into the nature of his object of meditation while holding all details of the object in his mind. This gives him extraordinary joy.

Here, looking into the nature of his object of meditation means that he examines it to see whether or not it is pure, whether or not it is permanent, what is its highest truth, etc. This is the meditation known as vipasyana, or higher insight. Through it the mind gains a deeper perception of the object than it could through concentration alone.

Merely having shi-nä gives tremendous spiritual satisfaction; but not going on to better things is like having built an aeroplane and then never flying it. Once concentration has been attained, the mind should he applied to higher practices. On the one hand it has to be used to overcome karma and mental distortion, and on the other hand to cultivate the qualities of a Buddha. In order to ultimately accomplish these goals, the object of meditation that it takes up must be voidness itself. Other forms of meditation are only to prepare the mind for approaching voidness. If you have a torch with the capacity to illuminate anything you should use it to find something important. The torch of shi-nä should be directed at realization of voidness for it is only a direct experience of voidness which pulls out the root of all suffering.

In the eleventh stage on the diagram two black lines flow out of the meditator's heart. One of these represents klesavarana, the obscurations of karma and mental distortion. The other represents jneyavarana, the obscurations of the instincts of mental distortion. The meditator holds the wisdom-sword of vipasyana meditation, with which he plans to sever these two lines.

Once a practitioner has come close to understanding voidness he is on his way to the perfection of wisdom. Prajna-paramita, the ultimate goal of the development of concentration.

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

PERFECT ABANDONMENT AND PERFECT REALIZATION

To become a completely enlightened person, a buddha, we must fulfill two levels of achievement-the "level of perfect abandonment" and "the level of perfect realization." In order to achieve perfect realization we need to travel the structured spiritual path. We begin by cultivating great compassion. When great compassion arises in our mind, the Mahayana seed has been activated within us. We are then able to generate the altruistic mind of enlightenment, or bodhicitta, which we can also call the bodhisattva spirit. As we progress through the five spiritual paths-the path of accumulation, the path of preparation, the path of seeing, or insight, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning-we also progress through what are known as the "ten spiritual grounds of bodhisattvas." When we complete the five paths and ten grounds, we reach the state of highest enlightenment. We keep on discarding what are known as the "objects of abandonment" along the way-the things we must get rid of in order to progress-and we continue accumulating realizations. Eventually, we will have what is known as "omniscient wisdom," the all-knowing wisdom of a buddha. That is the perfect realization.

Perfect abandonment is something we can accomplish by way of eliminating the two major mental obscurations-the obscurations to personal liberation and the obscurations to the omniscient state. We should slowly try to purify the negativities we have already accumulated and try not to create new ones. We are not able to remember our past lives but we should try to understand the existence of former lives through inference from our present one. In this life, we do not find it difficult to do the wrong things. It seems so natural and easy to engage in negativities that it's as if we are magnetically drawn to them. From this we can infer that in many previous lifetimes we created and accumulated tremendous negativities that we need to purify.

If we just keep on repeating negative actions without purifying them, after some time we might lose all hope and think that nothing can save us. It all feels too much. It seems impossible to purify our negativities and to stop creating more because it has become a way of life. Let's say we have taken out a loan. If we don't pay back anything, the interest keeps on accumulating and after some time the debt becomes totally unmanageable. The wise thing to do is to pay the loan back slowly in small installments. If we do this, then one day we will have paid back all the money we borrowed and we won't need to worry any more.

In the same way, we need to purify our old debt-like negativities and not acquire new loan-like negativities. If we don't do that, but let them go on piling up, they become so powerful, so intense and captivating, that we may lose faith in our ability to purify them. These negativities then precipitate our rebirth in any one of the three unfortunate states, where we remain for eons. It is better not to fall into that kind of state in the first place. Strive instead for perfect abandonment and perfect realization.

INTEGRATING BODHICITTA AND THE WISDOM OF EMPTINESS

If your goal is just to be liberated from cyclic existence, then the wisdom that perceives emptiness is the essential realization because that is the liberating path. If you don't have that wisdom, this cycle of compulsive rebirths will keep on spinning like a wheel and you will just keep wandering around within it. However, in order to follow the complete path that can lead to perfect abandonment and perfect realization, you have to integrate bodhicitta with the wisdom of emptiness.

Bodhicitta is even more essential than the wisdom of emptiness for reaching buddhahood. Cultivating the wisdom that realizes emptiness is certainly wonderful and powerful, but if that kind of wisdom is not integrated with the altruistic mind of enlightenment, you won't be able to fulfill the two types of collection-the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom-or to attain the two enlightened bodies-rupakaya and dharmakaya.

You must learn how to cultivate bodhicitta, the bodhisattva's attitude, and you must follow and meditate on this way. It is not enough just to pray and hope that you may some day be able to experience bodhicitta. Nor is it enough to simply recite mantras and do your daily prayers. Of course, by doing prayers, reciting mantras and making such aspirational wishes, you are no doubt creating positive energy or merit, but if you don't cultivate the techniques for actually generating bodhicitta, you will never ever experience it. If you don't have the experience of bodhicitta, you must make every effort to cultivate it, and those of you who do shouldn't just stop there-you must make every effort to enhance this mind of enlightenment further.

At the same time, you must remember that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the only antidote to all your delusions, and without getting rid of your delusions, enlightenment is just a daydream. Again, simply making prayers, reciting mantras and sitting in a beautiful posture is not going to do the job. Until you achieve the paths of the transcendental beings-the path of seeing and beyond-you cannot stop creating new karmic actions that precipitate your rebirth in cyclic existence. When you have gained direct experience and realization into emptiness, you will be able to see the law of karmic action and result as if it were functioning right under your nose.

Someone with excellent eyesight is not going to make the mistake of falling off a cliff. Likewise, when you have direct experience of and realization into emptiness, you will no longer create any new negative karmic actions that send you over the cliff's edge into bad rebirths. This is not something that you should just keep at the back of your mind. It is something that you must clearly understand and in which you must develop confidence.

In an abbreviated version of the Wisdom Gone Beyond, or the Perfection of Wisdom, we find that of the six perfections, it is the perfection of wisdom that liberates us from our delusions. If the perfection of wisdom is eliminated, the remaining five can no longer be called perfections. The other perfections of giving, ethics, enthusiastic perseverance, patience and concentration are like auxiliary practices that enable us to develop this wisdom. The perfection of wisdom is likened to someone with perfect eyesight, while the other five are compared to five blind friends. The perfection of wisdom is the guide that can lead the others to their destination.

PREPARING TO MEDITATE ON EMPTINESS

The wisdom realizing emptiness as the final mode of existence ultimately arises through meditation practice, so we need to learn the techniques of meditation. When we enter this spiritual path, it is not enough just to study and listen to teachings. It is more important to do our practices. This also includes the practice of purification and the practice of the two accumulations of merit and wisdom. To be able to meditate on emptiness, we must first study or listen to teachings on the subject. Another important part of the process is to cultivate the causes and conditions that will prepare us to be suitable practitioners of emptiness. We have already reviewed the preliminaries that are covered in Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun. In particular, there are four preliminaries that we must understand and cultivate before proceeding with our study and meditation on emptiness.

  • We should contemplate the preciousness of our human life, which is characterized by all kinds of freedoms and enriching factors.
  • We need to contemplate the inevitability of our own death and the impermanence of all phenomena.
  • We have to study the infallible law of karmic actions and their results.
  • Based upon all these contemplations, we should cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the repetitive cycles of existence.

Of these preliminaries, perhaps the most important is cultivating the determined wish to be liberated from cyclic existence. Having studied and practiced these to a certain extent, we should then focus on the practice of emptiness. We always need to reconnect to our spiritual goal; remember that the reason we are studying and trying to engage in spiritual practice is because we want to become buddhas for the sake of all other sentient beings. As we have seen, even if we have the wonderful attitudes of immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable equanimity and immeasurable joy, without the wisdom realizing emptiness, we cannot eliminate our root ignorance. Only this wisdom can cut through our innate self-grasping. Some people may think, "Maybe if I go for some profound tantric empowerments, that will do the magic for me." However, simply attending and receiving initiations is not going to do the job either. When we take empowerments we commit ourselves to certain practices and vows that we are required to keep. If we break these commitments, we will take a bad rebirth. Therefore, if we are unprepared, receiving empowerments can become an obstacle instead of a benefit.

Let's say there is a source of water but the amount of water is far greater than you need and you lay a pipeline to drain off enough for yourself. Keeping the commitments of empowerments or initiations is as important as keeping that pipeline intact. If any cracks, holes or blockages appear in the pipe-in other words, if you break your commitments -you may think that you have maintained the connection to the source, but you are not going to receive any benefits or blessings from it. These will all seep out of the cracks and holes or simply not get through at all. Although it is good to receive tantric empowerments, keeping the accompanying commitments is much more important.

OBSTACLES TO MEDITATION-LAXITY AND EXCITEMENT

There are two major obstacles to meditation-laxity, or mental dullness, and excitement, or distraction. It is very important to learn to recognize laxity and excitement in both their coarse and subtle forms. If you don't, you can end up doing the wrong kind of meditation. Many Buddhist meditators have failed to recognize subtle laxity as an obstacle and have thought their meditation to be very advanced, thus wasting a lot of time. In his lam-rim text, the Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa emphasizes the importance of recognizing precisely what the subtle forms of both laxity and dullness are.

Our mind should have clarity as well as a good grip on the object of meditation. If we don't have clarity, coarse laxity sets in. Sometimes we may have good clarity but our grip, our mental hold, on the object of meditation is loose. This means that our problem is subtle laxity. Laxity can be caused by many things, and as we identify these causes we can make the necessary adjustments to deal with them. For example, we experience coarse laxity if we eat too much food. The result is that we feel heavy and start to fall asleep. Eating at improper times or eating foods that are too rich can also cause laxity, as can depression or disappointment.

At such times we need to inspire ourselves not to get stuck in this state. One of the ways to do this is by remembering the pre-eminent qualities of the enlightened beings and how much effort they have made to become what they are and to help us, who are still trapped within samsara. In this way, we are reminded how much harder we need to work in our practices. Another way of dealing with laxity or mental sleepiness is to try to bring what we call the "brilliance of light" into our mind-to switch on the internal light of illumination. If that doesn't work, we should go and wash our face or take a walk. In short, to deal with laxity we should refresh ourselves.

Excitement or distraction happens when our mind is not really staying on the object of meditation. When we are sitting on our meditation cushion, we may begin to think about many things, either good or bad. There is a mental agitation that churns out all kinds of thoughts and ideas, such as all the things we have to do that day. When we do a good meditation we notice pins and needles in our feet and pain in our knees, but when we are distracted for the whole session, we don't feel any pain at all. When our mind wanders in this way, ego, pride and arrogance emerge and become a cause of excitement. Our minds become totally distracted and we are no longer meditating. We may begin to think about how other people see us or about our own personal history. We should not let such discursive thoughts enter our mind. We should not think about our profession or family matters, or about food, drink or gossip. It is better to think about these things before we start our meditation and take care of them then. If any such thoughts arise during meditation, we should stop them then and there and not allow them to function in our mind.

MEDITATING ON EMPTINESS

In his concluding verse of a stanza in the Three Principal Paths, Lama Tsongkhapa writes, "Just like that, when you have understood and realized the vital points of the three principal paths, you should seek solitude, generate your power of enthusiasm and strive for the ultimate goal." The three principal paths are:

  • The determined wish to be liberated, sometimes simply described as "renunciation."
  • Bodhicitta, the altruistic mind of enlightenment.
  • The wisdom perceiving emptiness.

We must study these points, contemplate the teachings on them and then cultivate them through meditation. It takes time to gain spiritual realizations. When you study or listen to the teachings you don't get experience. You can only get experience through meditation. Without meditation you can never experience the wisdom of emptiness, and without this wisdom you can never counteract your delusions. The whole purpose of meditation is to achieve stability of mind, to enhance its potential and to gain freedom from difficulties and unwanted problems. Basically, there are two types of meditation- single-pointed, or stabilizing, meditation and analytical, or insight, meditation. Meditation means familiarizing our mind with whatever the object of meditation is. In order to practice meditation we must have an object to focus on. As we focus on this object, we try to keep our mind unperturbed and undistracted. In this way, we cultivate some intimacy and familiarity with the object of meditation. As I mentioned earlier, you can't simply sit keeping your mind free from all thought and imagine you are meditating. You are never going to achieve anything out of a blank mind.

Calm abiding, or single-pointed meditation, is where you simply try to set your mind on a chosen object. You can use anything you like as your focus and you then try to concentrate on that object without getting distracted by anything else. Calm abiding (shamatha) meditation is a very stabilized state of mind. In itself, it is not a really great achievement. You might attain some higher level of consciousness or develop some psychic abilities through calm abiding, but that's about it. In Buddhist practice, we don't feel complacent when we have calm abiding but use it more like a vehicle in which we can ride to the state of enlightenment. Our purpose for cultivating singlepointed concentration is not just to have a calm mind, but to use this mental stability to be able to practice much higher things and ultimately reach the state of enlightenment.

Calm abiding alone cannot counteract our afflictive emotions, our deluded states mind. We have attained calm abiding many times in previous lives. In this present life, we should try to use it in a more meaningful way-to deeply penetrate the ultimate nature of reality, the way in which everything actually exists. With this stable mind, we use analytical meditation to cultivate insight into and realization of emptiness. Calm abiding is very helpful for this, because our mind is so stable and firm that it can really focus on emptiness without distraction. Lama Tsongkhapa states that "riding on the horse-like calm abiding and using the sharp weapon of the middle way, you can cut through the net of distorted perceptions and grasping."

This example comes from ancient times when warriors would ride into battle on horseback. They had to have a good horse, sharp weapons and a strong, healthy body. Thus equipped, they could win battles. Putting this into a spiritual context, we need to ride on the good horse of calm abiding; if you're riding a bad horse, it will throw you off. The sharp, sword-like wisdom realizing emptiness is the real weapon we need. As well, we have to maintain the healthy body of pure discipline, or ethics. With these qualities we can overcome our actual enemy-the delusions within ourselves.

In the text, we find three major outlines dealing with selflessness and illusory perception. First we have to establish the view of the selflessness of a person. Then we have to establish the selflessness of phenomena. Once we have directly perceived both types of selflessness in meditation, when we come out of the meditative state we can see all persons and everything else that exists as illusions.

With respect to emptiness, we should practice analytical meditation more than calm abiding, especially at the beginning. We need to establish what emptiness is-what it is that we're going to meditate upon-so we start with analytical meditation. We have to go through a process of reasoning in order to establish what emptiness of inherent, or true, existence actually is. We do this by developing an understanding of dependent arising. We then use this understanding to establish what emptiness is. We then fix our mind on emptiness as our object of meditation and concentrate single-pointedly upon it. If we try to concentrate on emptiness without first understanding what it is, our meditation will not work.

We do meditation for a purpose, and we must try to bring that purpose to mind when we meditate. Some people think that meditation is simply a good way to relax from the everyday stresses of life. That is not what meditation is for. At the very least, our motivation should be to gain freedom from the pains and problems of samsara. If you want to have a higher kind of motivation, then based upon your own experience of not wanting pains and problems and wishing for peace and happiness, you should think about how all other sentient beings have the same wish. You should then practice meditation in order to liberate all sentient beings, yourself included, from all forms of suffering and bring lasting peace and happiness to all.

It doesn't matter what kind of meditation you are going to do, if your mind is excited and distracted, you must first try to bring it to a peaceful level. This is why we need calm abiding. We all have to breathe. So, based upon the natural vehicle of breath, try to contain your mind and deal with its excitement. When you breathe out, remain aware of the exhalation of breath and when you breathe in, remain aware of the inhalation of breath. One exhalation and one inhalation constitute what is known as one round of breath; count from seven to twenty-one rounds to calm your mind.

Use your own natural rhythm. Don't exaggerate the process by breathing more heavily or strongly than normal. That would be artificial. When you breathe in and out, that gentle or natural breath should be through your nostrils not through your mouth. If you mess up in your counting, it means that your mind got distracted. If you try to do this focused meditation on your breath right after you return home from work, it might prove a little difficult, but you should be able to do it after taking a little rest. Through this kind of focused meditation on your natural process of breathing, you are basically trying to bring your mind back to whatever is your object of meditation. Once your mind is brought to a certain relaxed state, you can begin your actual meditation. Maybe you want to meditate on the impermanence of life, on death and dying or on the infallible workings of the law of karmic actions and results. Maybe you want to do guru yoga meditation, where you visualize your guru or teacher. The same preparation should be done for any other kind of meditation including meditation on bodhicitta or the perfect view of emptiness.

Many people have the notion that meditation is easy, that you just close your eyes, sit properly and put your hands in a certain gesture.

Sitting like that is just a posture. It's not meditation. We must know how to meditate. The Indian master, Acharya Vasubandhu, in his Treasury of Knowledge, states that you should be abiding in ethical discipline and should have received teachings on the practice you are trying to do and contemplated their meaning. When you have really understand the practice, you are ready for meditation. It's a process. If you do it that way, you won't go wrong.

BETWEEN SESSIONS

The text states, "In between meditation sessions, be like a conjurer." How can we be like a conjurer? Our usual perception of things is that they appear to exist from their own side. They seem to have a kind of solidified and fixed nature. However, there is a disparity between the way phenomena appear to our perception and the way they actually exist. So, between sessions, we should try to understand that the way things appear to us as fixed and independently existent is like a magician's trick. We must also understand that we ourselves are the magician who created this trick, for it is our own faulty perception that sees things as existing independently. We should always try to see through this illusion, even as we interact with it. Most people perceive all things as if they existed inherently and grasp at and cling to that perceived inherent existence. There are other people who perceive the appearance of inherent existence but don't grasp at it-things appear to them as if they existed in and of themselves, but they are aware that things don't really exist in that way. Then there are people who are free of both appearance and grasping. Not only do these people not grasp at things as if they existed independently but to them, things don't even appear to exist in that way. The difference between these kinds of people is illustrated in the following example.

In ancient India (and still today in some parts), there were magicians who created optical illusions to entertain people. Using only rocks and sticks, they could create beautiful magical illusions of horses and elephants. The spectators, whose visual perception was influenced by the magician's incantation, would actually see horses and elephants and believe them to be real. The spectators are like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent and who also grasp at things as if they existed in that way. The magician himself would also see the horses and elephants, but the difference was that he knew the tricks he was playing; he knew he had created them. The magician is like those people to whom phenomena appear as inherently existent but who know that things don't actually exist that way. There would also be people whose consciousness had not been affected magical incantations-they wouldn't see any horses or elephants, so they wouldn't grasp at them. They are like people for whom there is neither the appearance of nor the grasping at the inherent existence of phenomena.

Ordinary people like us-ordinary in the sense that we have not realized what the ultimate nature of phenomena is-experience both the appearance of and the grasping at true and inherent existence. Things appear to us as if they exist truly, objectively and independently and we grasp at this perceived mode of existence because we think that things really do exist in this way. On the other hand, those who have gained direct insight into emptiness may also experience the appearance of inherent existence of phenomena, but they don't grasp at this appearance because they know the truth of how things actually exist. Then there are the aryas, transcendental beings who have directly and non-conceptually experienced what emptiness is. When they are in meditative equipoise on emptiness, neither does inherent existence of phenomena appear to them nor is there grasping at such existence.

The reason you keep going round and round in this compulsive cycle of rebirths is that you do not understand ultimate reality. When you engage in your practices, you shouldn't do so with the idea that maybe, in some mysterious way, your practice is going to make you enlightened in the far distant future or that perhaps it will help ward off some negative influence. You must do your practices for the purpose of cultivating bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness.

When you make offerings, recite mantras or help the poor and needy, you should dedicate the merit of such actions to gaining these realizations. To really understand emptiness, you must meditate consistently over a number of years and continually do purification and accumulation practices. But don't let this dishearten you. Through constant effort and with the passage of time, you will definitely come to understand emptiness.

DEDICATION

We need to properly dedicate the merit we have gained through studying this teaching. Let us dedicate our collective merit for the flourishing of Buddhadharma, the source of benefit and happiness for everyone throughout the universe, and for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the other great masters from any spiritual tradition. May they live long and be successful in fulfilling their visions and dreams for sentient beings.

May spiritual communities throughout the world and spiritual practitioners of all kinds remain healthy, happy and harmonious and be successful in fulfilling their spiritual aspirations. May this and other world systems be free from all kinds of unwanted pains and problems, such as sickness, famine and violence, and may beings experience peace, happiness, harmony and prosperity.

Last, but not least, let us dedicate our collective spiritual merit for all sentient beings to be free from the fears and dangers of the two types of mental obscuration and from all kinds of pains and problems and may we all quickly reach the state of highest enlightenment.

A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

THE WISDOM THAT PERCEIVES EMPTINESS

We have already dealt with training our mind in cultivating conventional bodhicitta, or the conventional mind of enlightenment. We now need to look at how to cultivate ultimate bodhicitta-the mind of enlightenment that deals with emptiness. The mind training text we are studying presents actual instructions for cultivating the ultimate awakening mind. In certain texts such as this one, you will find that the conventional mind of enlightenment is presented first and followed by the ultimate mind of enlightenment. In other texts, the order of presentation is reversed. The reason has to do with the mental faculties of Mahayana practitioners. For those with sharp faculties, emptiness is presented first. For those with relatively less sharp faculties the conventional truth is taught before the ultimate.

There are four major traditions within Tibetan Buddhism- Gelug, Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya. We may find differences between them in terminology or the emphasis of certain practices, but they are all authentic Buddhist traditions. The Kagyu and Gelug traditions use the term mahamudra-"The Great Seal"-to talk about emptiness, whereas the Nyingmapas use the term dzog-chen-"The Great Perfection"-to refer to the same thing. In the Nyingma tradition, there is a tantric practice called atiyoga, which means the pinnacle, or topmost, vehicle. This could be compared to dzog-rim, the completion stage practice of the Gelug tradition, which is the most exalted practice of highest yoga tantra.

When people hear about The Great Perfection of the Nyingmapas they may think that this tradition has something that other Tibetan Buddhist traditions do not, but this is not the case. Each of these traditions is talking about the ultimate nature or reality, which we also call the profound Middle View, or Middle Way. Also, some people might think that because dzog-rim practice is said to be very profound, it must be a quick and easy way to reach enlightenment without having to do meditation. It is never like that. Meditation is as essential in Tantrayana as it is in Sutrayana. It's not as if in tantric practice you just do some rituals, ring the bell-ding! ding! ding!- and then you get enlightened. No; you have to meditate.

As the great Atisha tells us, the way to conduct one's studies of meditation and contemplation in order to realize the true nature of emptiness is by following the instructions of Nagarjuna's disciple, Chandrakirti. Lama Tsongkhapa elucidates the view of emptiness in accordance with the system of Arya Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti. It is within Lama Tsongkhapa's mind-stream that we find the presence of the buddhas of the three times, and I am going to explain emptiness in accordance with Lama Tsongkhapa's way.

WHY DID THE BUDDHA TEACH EMPTINESS?

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, taught the profound middle path-the way of the wisdom perceiving emptiness, or selflessness- in order to liberate us from samsara. It is by way of perceiving and experiencing emptiness that we will be able to counteract our basic sense of ignorance, or grasping at self.

There is a passage from the sutras: "Thus, not being able to realize that which is known as emptiness, peaceful and unproduced, sentient beings have been helplessly wandering in different states of cyclic existence. Seeing this, the enlightened one has revealed, or established, emptiness through hundred-fold reasoning." What this tells us is that we ordinary sentient beings, who are unable to see the ultimate nature of everything that exists, create all kinds of negative karmic actions for ourselves and face unwanted problems and sufferings as a result. All the teachings Buddha gave either directly or indirectly point to what emptiness is. This is because the sole purpose of Buddha's teaching is to free all of us from the causes of suffering.

TRUTH AND FORM BODIES

For us to reach the state of enlightenment we need to understand the basis, the path and the result. The basis consists of the two truths, the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. The path is method and wisdom, or skillful means and awareness. The result consists of the two enlightened bodies-the form body, or rupakaya, and the truth body, or dharmakaya. First we must study the view of emptiness as presented by enlightened beings. This is our basis. Then, as trainees on the path, we need to integrate method and wisdom. We must never separate method and wisdom from one another. If we focus on one and forget the other, we are going to get stuck. Eventually, as a result of this practice, each of us will reach the enlightened state and be able to realize the form body and the truth body.

Although nominally different from each other, these enlightened bodies actually share the same nature. For example, Avalokiteshvara, whom Tibetans call Chenrezig, can manifest in innumerable ways to work for sentient beings, yet all these manifestations are Avalokiteshvara. When we become buddhas we will do so in the form of the buddhas of the five families, the five dhyani buddhas. So, you may ask, what happens when I become a buddha, a completely awakened being? Having actualized the form and truth bodies, you will be working solely to help others become free from cyclic existence. You will be constantly working for their benefit until samsara is empty of all sentient beings.

The primary cause for accomplishing the enlightened form body is the practice of method, the collection of positive energy, or merit. The primary cause for accomplishing the truth body is the collection of wisdom, or insight, particularly the wisdom realizing emptiness. This does not mean that accumulating either merit or wisdom alone will allow us to reach the state of enlightenment. When we understand that the wisdom realizing emptiness is the primary cause for the truth body, implicitly we should understand that in order to accomplish that body we must practice method as well.

THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE OF SUBJECTAND OBJECT

Everything that exists can be classified into objects or subjects. There isn't any phenomenon that doesn't belong to one of these two categories. However, object and subject-the observed and the observer -are actually mutually dependent upon one another. If there is no object, there cannot be an observer of that object. This is what Chandrakirti states in his Supplement to the Middle Way: "Without an object, one cannot establish its perceiver."

There is a line from the mind training text that says, "Consider all phenomena as like a dream." This does not mean that everything that exists is a dream, but that it can be compared to a dream. If you miss this emphasis, then when you read in the Heart Sutra, "no ear, no nose, no tongue" and so forth, you will interpret this passage to mean that those things don't exist at all, which is a totally bizarre notion. This is the position of the nihilist-someone who rejects even the conventional existence of phenomena. We know that the things in our dreams don't really exist, that they are dependent upon our mind. Also, for us to experience a dream, the necessary causes and conditions must come together. First we have to sleep, but if we go into a very deep sleep then we're not going to dream. Just as a dream occurs as a result of certain causes and conditions, such is the case with everything that exists. Every functional phenomenon depends upon causes and conditions for its existence. This is a fact of reality. Nothing exists in and of itself, inherently, or objectively. Everything exists dependently, that is, in dependence upon its parts, and so we say that things are emptyof inherent, or objective, existence.

The next line in the stanza reads: "Analyze the nature of unborn/unproduced awareness." What this means is that this subjective mind, or consciousness, is not born or produced inherently, in and of itself. As much as objective phenomena are to be seen like dreams, which arise from their causes and conditions and are empty of inherent existence, subjective phenomena, too, exist dependently and are empty of inherent existence. We must analyze the non-inherent nature of our awareness, or mind.

With the line, "Consider all phenomena like a dream," we are primarily dealing with the observed, or the object. When we discuss awareness we shift our focus onto the observer, or the subject. If you perceive that objects don't exist independently, or inherently, then what about their subjects? Do they exist inherently? Again, the answer is no. Just like the object, the subject does not exist inherently, in and of itself. Just as objects and their perception exist dependently, so does the person who is experiencing and interacting with the objects and perceptions. The observed and the observer are both empty of inherent existence.

INTELLECTUAL AND INNATE FORMS OF IGNORANCE

Ignorance is the grasping at inherent existence, especially the inherent existence of the self. There are two forms, the intellectual and the innate. The intellectual form of ignorance-grasping at the inherent existence of "I," or self-is found in those whose minds have been affected by some kind of philosophical ideas, but the innate form exists in the mind of every sentient being.

The type of grasping at inherent existence that is presented in the Abhidharmakosha, the Treasury of Knowledge, and its commentaries is the intellectual form. If this were to be taken as the root cause of samsara, then our position would have to be that only those whose minds have been influenced by philosophical concepts could possess the root cause of cyclic existence. According to this view, birds and other animals couldn't have this cause of cyclic existence because they can't study or be influenced by philosophy. It is certainly true that yaks and goats don't sit around discussing philosophy, so they don't have the intellectual form of grasping at self. However, the root cause of samsara exists in the mind-streams of allsentient beings who are trapped in cyclic existence.

The text provides a quote from the Supplement to the Middle Way to clarify this point. "Even those who have spent many eons as animals and have not beheld an unproduced or permanent self are seen to be involved in the misconception of an I." What this passage is telling us is that beings who remain in the animal realm for many lifetimes do not possess the intellectual grasping at self but they do have the innately developed form of ignorance. Therefore, the root cause of cyclic existence cannot be intellectual but must be the innately, or spontaneously, developed ignorant conception that grasps at the self.

INNATE IGNORANCE IS THE ROOT OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE

We need to ask ourselves what the original root cause of cyclic existence is. How did we get here in the first place? Having discovered this cause, we can then apply the method to counteract it. Due to our ignorant attachment to self, we grasp at and get attached to everything that we perceive as being ours and at anything that we think will help to make us happy. This is the root delusion. When we discuss the process of coming into and getting out of cyclic existence- taking rebirth and becoming liberated-we talk about what are known as the twelve links of interdependent origination. In the mind training text, there is a quote that spells out three of these twelve links, which are the main reasons we remain in samsara.

Our innate self-grasping ignorance is the root cause of samsara, so ignorance is the first link. It is because of this ignorance that we create karmic actions, therefore the second link is called karmic formation. This refers not only to bad karmic actions but also includes positive and neutral ones as well. These karmic actions then deposit their latencies upon our consciousness, or mind-stream. Our minds carry the imprints of all the good and bad karmic actions we have created, and when any of these karmic imprints get activated, they can precipitate all the other links and lead to our rebirth either in either a positive or a negative state.

There are six types of sentient beings in cyclic existence. Of these six, three are relatively fortunate types of rebirth and three are unfortunate. Under the influence of ignorance we could create positive karmic actions and, as a result, take one of the good rebirths as a human being, a demigod (asura) or a god (sura). For a positive karmic action to lead to a fortunate rebirth it must be activated by positive conditions. However, even someone who takes a good rebirth is still bound to cyclic existence.

Similarly, under the influence of the delusions of ignorance, attachment or aversion we might create negative karmic actions. These leave imprints on our mental consciousness such that when they are activated by other negative actions or conditioning factors, we can be reborn in one of the three bad migrations. Great negativities precipitate rebirth in the hells. Negativities of medium intensity precipitate rebirth as a hungry ghost. Small negativities can still cause us to be reborn in the lower realms as some kind of animal. Karmic formations connect us to our next conception in our mother's womb, which is the tenth dependent link of existence. These three links of ignorance, karmic actions and existence are very important. To substantiate this point we have a quote from Arya Nagarjuna's Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness, "Actions are caused by disturbing emotions." In other words, the karmic actions we create can be traced back to our innate self-grasping, which is the origin of our disturbing emotions, or delusions. Nagarjuna continues, "Karmic formations have a disturbed nature and the body is caused by karmic actions. So, all three are empty of their own entity." This means that because ignorance, karmic formations and existence all interact with one another to cause our rebirth, they are therefore all empty of inherent existence.

We should train ourselves to clearly ascertain the way in which we enter cyclic existence because then we can work to reverse this process. Once we have put an end to our delusions and contaminated karmic actions we will achieve the state of liberation. This is what Nagarjuna refers to in his Fundamental Wisdom Treatise when he says, "You are liberated when your delusions and contaminated karmic actions are exhausted." We must all understand that any situation we go through is nothing but our own creation-the results of our karmic actions. Usually when things go wrong we find someone else to blame as if others were responsible for our wellbeing. If we can't find other fellow beings to blame then we blame inanimate objects like food. Either way, we always view ourselves as pure and separate from things.

Again, we can use the example of a seed to understand karma. If the seed is not there in the first place, then even if all the other conditions needed for growth are present, we are not going to see any fruit.

MIND TRAINING, DEVELOPING EMPTINESS

In the same way, if we ourselves do not create any good or bad karmic actions, conditioning factors alone cannot bring us any good or bad results. However, once we have created these actions, they can be activated or ripened by other conditions. It is in that sense that other people can act as conditioning factors to activate our good and bad karmic actions. Even the kind of food we eat can be a conditioning factor to activate certain karmic actions we have created. Even so, it is the karmic actions themselves that are the most important factor in bringing good and bad situations upon us. We should adopt positive actions and abandon negative ones because it is us who will experience their results. We should feel that every good and bad experience is the result of our own seed-like karmic actions. This is a very good subject for meditation.

We should understand that the ignorance of grasping at self, which all of us have within our mind-stream, is the very ignorance that locks us like a jailer within the walls of samsara. In the diagram of the wheel of life, which depicts the twelve dependent links, a blind person represents ignorance. We are blind with regard to what we need to abandon in our lives-to what we should not be doing-and also blind to what we need to cultivate in our lives-to what we should be doing. Just as an untrained blind person will create a big mess around himself or herself, so we make a mess of our lives. And we continue doing this, repeating the whole process of samsara and perpetuating a cycle that is very difficult to stop.

We all wish for happiness, but the happiness that we experience is very small. We don't want any kind of pain or problem, but innumerable pains and problems befall us. Deep down we are motivated by the ignorance of grasping at self and engage in different kinds of karmic actions, which bring forth all kinds of experiences. The wisdom that realizes selflessness is the direct antidote to our ignorant self-grasping.

All of us who want to reach the state of highest enlightenment must combine the practice of the two aspects of the path-skillful means, the extensive aspect of the path, and wisdom, the profound aspect of the path-as presented by the two great pioneers of Buddhadharma, Arya Asanga and Arya Nagarjuna respectively. First, we must recognize that the innate ignorance of self-grasping is the root cause of cyclic existence, or samsara. Then we have to deal with the presentation of selflessness, or emptiness, which is the antidote to this ignorance. The Tibetan word, rig-pa, literally means "to see," and ma-rig-pa means "to not see." Ma-rig-pa is translated as "ignorance" while rig-pa is translated as "wisdom." In other words, wisdom directly opposes, or counteracts, ignorance. Rig-pa doesn't just mean any kind of awareness or wisdom-it refers specifically to the awareness, or wisdom, that realizes emptiness.

GRASPING AT SELF AND PHENOMENA

There are two kinds of objects of this ignorant grasping-the grasping at the self of persons and the grasping at the self of phenomena. Both kinds of grasping are misconceptions because the focus of both is non-existent. The grasping at the self of persons means perceiving a person to exist inherently and objectively. This grasping is an active misconception because it is projecting something that doesn't actually exist. The self does not exist in and of itself-it is not inherently existent -however, our innate self-grasping perceives the self, or I, to exist in that manner. Our self-grasping, or ego-grasping, (dag-dzin in Tibetan) actually serves to fabricate the way that the self appears to exist for us. Similarly, grasping at the self of phenomena means that a person perceives phenomena to exist inherently and objectively. There isn't a self of phenomena but our grasping makes one up. It exaggerates and fabricates a self of phenomena and then grasps at its supposed inherent reality. So, we can talk about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. When we refute the inherent existence of a person, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person, but when we refute the inherent existence of anything else we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

What we mean by "a person" is a projection, or label, that is placed onto the collection of someone's five physical and mental aggregates of form, feeling, discriminative awareness, conditioning factors and consciousness. When we take a person as our basis of investigation and think that this person exists in and of himself or herself, that is what is called "grasping at the self of a person." If we grasp at the inherent existence of the aggregates, that is, at any part of a person, whether it be a part of body or mind, that is called "grasping at the self of phenomena." This is described as including all things from "form to omniscient mind." In Nagarjuna's Precious Garland, it is stated, "So long as the aggregates are misconceived, an I is misconceived upon them. If we have this conception of an I, then there is action that results in birth." What this passage is saying is that as long as we grasp at the physical and mental constituents, or aggregates, as being truly and inherently existent, then we will have the misconception of a truly existent I. Due to this grasping we create karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth and cause us to become trapped again and again within cyclic existence.

The object of our grasping at the self of a person is an inherently existing self. This is something that doesn't exist at all, yet our grasping makes it feel as if that kind of self truly exists and we cling to it in this way. Similarly, the object of the grasping at the self of phenomena is an inherently existent self of phenomena. From these two innate forms of grasping come attachment to the happiness of I. Attachment to one's own happiness actually depends upon the concept of "my" and "mine"-my feelings, my possessions, my body, my family etc. As Chandrakirti states in Supplement to the Middle Way, "At first there arises the conception of and attachment to I, or self, and then there arises the conception of and attachment to mine." We experience the grasping at the self of a person, and this grasping then induces the grasping at the self of phenomena, which is the grasping at mine. Due to the strength of our clinging to these feelings of I, my and mine, we are not able to see the fallacy of seeking self-happiness. This attachment obscures our mind and we are unable to see what is wrong with it.

From being attached to ourselves we become so attached to our things and different parts of our bodies that some of us even change our appearance through plastic surgery. If we weren't attached to our I, we could be totally liberated and free, like Milarepa. He turned a strange greenish color from eating nettles, but this didn't matter to him because he wasn't attached to his appearance. As we look into this mirror of teaching, we can see a different kind of reflection of ourselves-one that shows us how we grasp at things and how attachment arises within us.

It is important for us to understand that "I" and "mine" are not identical. If we can't differentiate between these two, we will have problems later on. The object of our innate grasping at self is the "I" not the "mine," because mine includes the physical and mental aggregates. Chandrakirti explains that if the aggregates of the person were the object of our innate grasping at the self of a person, then we should be able to perceive our aggregates as being I, which we are not able to do. Also, if the aggregates are taken to be the self, then we have to assert that there are five selves because there are five aggregates. The kind of conception that arises with regard to the aggregates is not the conception of I but the conception of mine. We do not think about our ears or our nose as our self, but as things belonging to our self. In the same way, when we investigate our mind, we don't find any part that is I.

We should examine, investigate and analyze the mode of apprehension of our innate grasping at self. In other words, how does our innate grasping perceive the self to exist? What does our innate ignorance perceive? What does it grasp at? We should always focus upon our own condition and not point our finger at someone else's ignorance. Having discovered this, we must then find the means of generating a different kind of perception, one that directly contradicts the mistaken one that grasps at self. This perception is the perfect view of emptiness, or selflessness. However, in order to realize this view, we first have to be clear about what this view actually is. We need to establish the correct view of emptiness.

USING A BASIS TO DESCRIBE EMPTINESS

There is no way to reveal emptiness nakedly or directly because we must use words and terminology. It is only through conventional terms that emptiness can be revealed. In other words, there is no way to discuss emptiness without using something as a basis. For example, when we talk about the emptiness of forms, these forms constitute the basis upon which their emptiness is then established. This is also

the case with any other phenomenon-sound, smell, taste and so forth. Everything around us is characterized by emptiness and so our body or any other phenomenon constitutes the basis upon which we can then understand its emptiness.

In the Heart Sutra we read that "Form is emptiness and emptiness is form." This means that the ultimate nature of form is emptiness and that emptiness relates to form. Emptiness is not the same as form, but in order to understand emptiness we have to take form into consideration as our focal object. Without dealing with a form, we cannot understand its emptiness. There is a line of a prayer that states, "The wisdom gone beyond (emptiness) is beyond words and expression." The Tibetan translation suggests that it is also beyond thought. This means that without depending upon a basis you cannot even conceptualize what emptiness is.

The same thing is stated by Arya Nagarjuna in his Root Wisdom Treatise, where we read, "Without depending upon conventional terms or terminology, one cannot reveal the ultimate truth or reality." When we deal with emptiness, however, it may have nothing to do with form at all. In certain mental states, for example, we don't perceive forms; for instance, when we are in a deep sleep. Even so, it is empty.

When we deal with the selflessness of a person, the basis for that selflessness is the person. Therefore, it is in relation to the person that we establish the person's emptiness. When we deal with a person's aggregates (body, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and so forth), we are dealing with a different kind of basis, one that is the selflessness of phenomena. The text tells us that with regard to what is being refuted, there is no difference in subtlety between establishing the selflessness of a person and establishing the selflessness of phenomena. So, once we understand the selflessness of a person, we don't have to repeat our reasoning over again to understand the selflessness of phenomena. We can simply shift our focus onto another object while remembering the same reasoning with which we realized the selflessness of a person. This is what the great Indian master Aryadeva was saying in his Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle View when he stated, "The view of an object is the view of everything else."

THE OBJECT OF NEGATION, OR REFUTATION

In order to realize what selflessness or emptiness is, we must first understand its opposite. What is the antithesis of selflessness? What is it that we are trying to refute, or negate, in order to establish what emptiness is? What we are refuting is the way that our innate selfgrasping perceives the self as existing truly, inherently and objectively. Therefore, we say that inherent, objective or true existence of the self is the "object of refutation" or the "object of negation." The object of refutation, or negation, is the thing that we are denying exists. There are a few terms that may sound different from one another but which, in the context of Prasangika-Madhyamaka (the school of philosophy that we are studying here), all mean the same thing. They are "existing by way of its own characteristic," "existing from its own side," "existing in and of itself," "inherent existence," "objective existence", "independent existence" and "true existence." Also, the terms "I," "self" and "person" all mean the same thing.

We can speak about the object of refutation on two levels-the object of refutation by reasoning and the object of refutation by scriptural authority. Inherent existence is the object of refutation by one's own valid reasoning, because nothing exists in and of itself without being imputed by terms and concepts. The object of refutation according to scriptural authority, however, is the grasping at that object, such as the grasping at the inherent, or true, existence of the self. Even though it is an object of refutation, that grasping actually does exist. There is no inherently existent self; however, there is grasping at the self's inherent existence as if it existed inherently. Therefore, the object of refutation by reasoning (inherent existence) refers to something that does not exist, but the object of refutation according to scriptural authority (grasping at inherent existence) refers to something that does exist.

Let us say that we want to investigate the emptiness of a particular form, such as a vase. As we analyze the vase, we must remember that we cannot perceive its emptiness by negating its very existence. Perceiving the vase's emptiness is not the same as concluding that the vase does not exist at all. If we refute, or negate, the conventional existence of the vase, then we have fallen into the extreme position of the nihilist. We have annihilated the vase's very existence and, as a result, we are not going to discover its emptiness. So, if we are not refuting the conventional or nominal existence of form in our search for emptiness, what is it that we are refuting? What is it that doesn't really exist? What we are refuting and what does not exist is the inherent existence of form. If we want to hit a target with an arrow we need to be able to see exactly where that target is. In the same way, to understand what emptiness is, we must be able to precisely identify what it is that is being refuted.

REFUTING TOO MUCH AND NOT REFUTING ENOUGH

If we overestimate the object of negation then we will be refuting too much, but if we underestimate the object of negation we won't be refuting enough. An example of refuting too much is when we take conventional existence and inherent existence to be one and the same, concluding that because phenomena don't exist inherently they must not exist at all. When we take this position we are denying the existence of everything and have become nihilists. Remember, conventional existence and true existence do not mean the same thing.

If we deny the existence of everything then we won't be able to assert the distinction between the two types of phenomena-deluded phenomena (which includes our contaminated karmic actions and delusions, or afflictive emotions) and the liberated aspect of phenomena (which includes the spiritual paths, the true cessation of suffering and so forth). We won't be able to talk about the infallible law of karmic actions and their results because we will be asserting that its existence is merely a hallucination. If we cannot present the existence of both contaminated and uncontaminated phenomena, then we cannot present the complete structure of the path leading to spiritual liberation.

On the other hand, if we underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, that is as much of a problem as refuting too much. Certain schools of Buddhism assert only the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena. Other schools assert both types of selflessness. Within each of the four schools of Buddhist thought-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka- we find sub-schools. In the Madhyamaka, or Middle Way, school we find two major sub-schools, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka, or Inference Validators, and the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, or Consequentialists. The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school's presentation of emptiness is considered the most authentic and it is this presentation that we are studying. The schools of Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka all present an assertion of deluded states of mind that we find in Jamgon Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso's Treasury of Knowledge, the root text of which is the Abhidharmakosha.

The Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, however, presents in addition to these delusions, a subtle form of delusion that the other schools have not been able to identify-the conceptual grasping at inherent existence. Except for the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, all the other Buddhist schools assert the inherent existence of phenomena. They assert that if things don't exist inherently, they can't exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, who are in the same school as the Prasangikas, make a distinction between the true existence of phenomena and the inherent existence of phenomena. They say that things do exist inherently, from their own side, but that they do not exist truly. Their explanation for this distinction is that things exist from their own side as well as being posited by thought, or concept. According to them, a phenomenon exists as a combination of existence from its own side and of the mental thought imputed onto it.

They don't include the conceptual grasping at inherent existence as a subtle delusion. Therefore, the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka and other Buddhist schools, apart from the Prasangika-Madhyamaka, have not been able to refute enough in order to establish selflessness or emptiness. In other words, the object of negation identified in their schools is inadequate.

There are many people who try to meditate on emptiness, but I believe that those who really know such meditation are very few. If you overestimate the object of negation and refute too much, you are off track, and if you underestimate the object of negation and don't refute enough, you again miss the point. It's like a mathematical equation. The text cautions us that we have to be very precise in identifying what is to be refuted and refute exactly that amount-no more and no less.

HOW INNATE IGNORANCE PERCEIVES SELF AND PHENOMENA

We have seen how the innate form of ignorance is the root cause of our being in samsara, therefore, we must study how this ignorance perceives or apprehends its object, be it a person, a person's thoughts or a physical thing. Naturally, ignorance apprehends its object in a distorted way, yet how exactly does our innate ignorance perceive things? It perceives things to exist in and of themselves, from their own side, by way of their own characteristics and without being imputed by terms and concepts. However, this is not the way in which things actually exist. In fact, this kind of existence is a complete fabrication.

There is a popular Tibetan children's story that illustrates this point. A lion was always bothering a rabbit, so the rabbit began to plan a way to get rid of him. The rabbit went to the lion and said, "I have seen another beast even more ferocious than you." The lion was outraged by this notion because he felt that he was the king of all the animals. The rabbit said, "Come with me, I'll show you," and took the lion to a lake and told him to look into the water. The lion looked carefully into the water and when he saw his own reflection, he thought it was actually another lion. He bared his teeth at his own reflection but it did exactly the same thing back at him from the water. The rabbit said, "You see that dangerous animal down there? He is the one who is more ferocious than you and if you don't kill him, you won't be the strongest guy in the forest." The lion became even angrier and jumped right into the water. He struggled and splashed for a while but could not find the other lion, so he crawled out onto the bank. The poor lion looked really confused and bedraggled, but the rabbit, laughing to himself, said, "I think you didn't dive deep enough; try again." So, the lion went even deeper into the lake and eventually drowned trying to fight with his own reflection. We have seen that the ignorance of self-grasping is of two kinds- an intellectual form and an innately developed form, and we have established that it is the innate ignorance, the innate self-grasping, that is the root cause of all our problems. So, how does this innate form of ignorance perceive or grasp at I? Without knowing this, even if we try to engage in analytical meditation on selflessness we will never understand it. If a thief has run into a forest, his footprints will be in the forest. If we look for his footprints in the meadow, we will never find the thief.

Also, we must have a clear idea or picture of what inherent or selfexistence is. If the I were inherently existent then how would it exist? Until we can precisely identify the inherent existence of I, we will never be able to realize the absence of the inherently existing I, that is selflessness. It is for that reason that the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, states in his Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, or Bodhisattvacaryavatara, that until you identify the object of grasping at true existence you won't be able to understand its non-existence; its lack of inherent, or true, existence. Therefore, we need to make a great deal of effort to identify how the I appears to our innate form of ignorance. It is relatively easy for us to understand that we do have this innate grasping at our self but we have difficulty seeing exactly how this grasping perceives the I to exist. Once we are sure that we have found the object of refutation, then in order to realize what emptiness is, we have to refute that object.

We all know that snow is white but it is possible that someone with certain sensory defects will perceive snow as yellow. That is an example of a distorted perception that misconceives the true color of snow. In a similar way, our grasping at self is a distorted perception that misconceives the self to exist in and of itself. The valid perception of snow as white invalidates the perception of snow as yellow. In the same way, our grasping at I is invalidated by the wisdom that perceives selflessness. When we actualize and experience this wisdom, then the grasping at self must leave because we understand that the way in which the self actually exists is the opposite of the way that our self-grasping perceived it.

Through this reasoning, we are trying to establish that the self could not exist in and of itself. As we refute the inherent existence of I, what we are establishing on the other hand is selflessness. If the self does not exist inherently, then how does it exist? It exists being empty of inherent existence. This is how we establish selflessness. We will deal with this topic from different perspectives and angles so that we can really understand it.

The self is apprehended as existing objectively, in and of itself. The example given in the text is a person who is completely ignorant about the fact that the reflection of a face in the mirror is not the real face. Like the lion in the story, such a person cannot tell what is real from what is not real.

WHAT IS SELF?

When someone calls you by your name, by the time you respond there is some kind of concept or picture of yourself that has emerged in your mind. You may not get a very clear or lucid concept of this self, but you do experience some kind of rough imagery of yourself before you answer. This self is something that seems to exist independently of anything else. It's a sort of solid point, a fixed entity that is just there by itself. It's very important for each of us to personally find out where this image of self or concept of I comes from. Does it come from the collection of our body and mind? Or does it come from a single part of our body or mind?

If an I exists then we should be able to find it within either our body or our mind. We have to analyze each part to find where the sense, concept, or image of I comes from. Let's say that your name is John. Who or what is John? You should investigate from the hair of your head down to your toes whether or not any particular part of your body is John. When you have eliminated one part, go on to the next. Then do the same kind of analytical meditation on your mind. Like your body, your mind also has many parts, so you should try to find out whether any one part of the mind can be identified as I. There are many levels or kinds of mind and every one has its preceding and subsequent moments. You have to look at every minor detail and ask yourself, "Is this moment responsible for the sense of I?"

Westerners love to do research; this is a good topic to research. If you feel that your concept or image of I comes out of a particular part of yourself, be it body or mind, then that is what you identify as being your self. You might think, for example, that your sense of I comes from your brain. However, because each aspect of your body and mind has multiple parts, then logically, you must have that many I's or selves within you. Mind is a whole world in itself, with many states and levels. So which one is the self?

At the end of your analytical meditation, you will not be able to pinpoint any part of your body and mind as being an inherently existent I. At this point you might get scared because you haven't found yourself. You may feel that you've lost your sense of identity. There is a vacuity-an absence of something. However, when you really develop certitude of the absence of an inherent I, you should then simply try to remain in that state of meditation as long as you can. As your understanding of the absence of self improves, then outside your meditation sessions you will be able to realize that although the self seemed to exist inherently, this perception was simply the result of your innate grasping. Next time someone calls your name, try to do this examination.

The mind training text states that when we investigate how our innate conception of I apprehends the self to exist, we must make sure that our investigation is not mixed up with the intellectual grasping at self. The text reads, "Detailed recognition of this comes about through cultivating a close relationship with a spiritual friend of the Great Vehicle and pleasing him for a long time." Thus, if we want to comprehend every detail and subtlety of this issue, it is essential that we consistently rely upon a qualified Mahayana guide.

DEPENDENT ARISING

At the end of your analysis it may seem as though no conventional realities or phenomena exist, including the law of karmic actions and results. However, they do exist-they just don't exist in the way that you thought they did. They exist dependently; that is, their existence depends upon certain causes and conditions. Therefore, we say that phenomena are "dependently arising." All the teachings of Buddha are based upon the principle of the view of dependent arising. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his Three Principal Paths, "…it eliminates the extreme of eternalism." This means that because things appear to your perceptions to exist only conventionally or nominally, their true, or inherent, existence is eliminated. The next line says, "...it eliminates the extreme of nihilism." So, when you understand emptiness you will be able to eliminate the idea of complete nonexistence. You will understand that it is not that things are completely non-existent, it is just that they exist dependently. They are dependent arisings.

In Arya Nagarjuna's Root Wisdom Treatise, he says that there isn't any phenomenon that is not dependently existent, therefore there isn't any phenomenon that is not empty of independent, or inherent, existence. Dependent arising is what we use to establish emptiness. Everything exists by depending upon something else, therefore everything is empty of inherent existence. When we use the valid reasoning of dependent arising we can find the emptiness of everything that exists. For example, by understanding that the self is dependently arising, we establish the selflessness of a person.

An example we could use is the reflection of our own face in the mirror. We all know that the reflection is not the real face, but how is it produced? Does it come just from the glass, the light, the face? Our face has to be there, but there also has to be a mirror, enough light for us to see and so on. Therefore, we see the reflection of our face in the mirror as a result of several things interacting with one another. We can investigate the appearance of our self to our perception in the same way. The self appears to us, but where does this appearance come from? Just like the reflection of the face in a mirror, it is an example of dependent arising.

This is quite clear in the case of functional things such as produced, or composite, phenomena, but there are other phenomena that are not produced by causes and conditions. However, they too exist dependently, that is, through mutual dependence upon other factors. For example, in the Precious Garland, Nagarjuna talks about how the descriptive terms of "long" and "short" are established through mutual comparison. "If there exists something that is long, then there would be something that is short." This kind of existence is dependently arising, but it is not dependent upon causes and conditions. So, dependent arising can mean several things. As we practice analytical meditation on emptiness we need to bring these different meanings into our meditation.

Dependent arising also refers to how everything is imputed by terms and concepts. Everything is labeled by a conceptual thought onto a certain basis of imputation. There is the label, there is that which labels things and then there is the basis upon which the label is given. So, phenomena exist as a result of all these things and the interaction between them. In his Four Hundred Stanzas, Aryadeva says, "If there is no imputation by thought, even desire and so forth have no existence. Then who with intelligence would maintain that a real object is produced dependent on thought?" In the commentary, Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, we read, "Undoubtedly, those that exist only through the existence of thought and those that do not exist when there is no thought are to be understood as not existing by way of their own entities, just as a snake is imputed onto a coiled rope." The example I gave earlier is how perceiving snow as yellow is a distorted perception. The example of distorted perception given here is mistaking a coiled rope for a snake.

Several conditions and factors need to come together for a person to misapprehend a coiled rope as a snake. It's not enough just to have a coiled rope in a corner on a bright day. No one is going to be fooled by that. There has to be some obscuration or darkness and distorted perception in the mind as well. Only then can the misapprehension take place. Even if we analyze every inch of that coiled rope we will not find a snake. In the same way, even if we analyze every aspect of self or phenomena we will not find inherent existence.

In the mind training text we find the following explanation. "An easier way of reaching a conviction about the way the innate misconception of self within our mind-stream gives rise to the misconception of self of persons and phenomena is that, as explained before, when a rope is mistaken for a snake, both the snake and the appearance of a snake in relation to the basis are merely projected by the force of a mistaken mind. Besides this, from the point of view of the rope, there is

not the slightest trace of the existence of such an object [as a snake], which is merely projected by the mind. Similarly, when a face appears to be inside a mirror, even a canny old man knows that the appearance in the mirror of the eyes, nose and so forth and the reflection is merely a projection. Taking these as examples it is easy to discern, easy to understand and easy to realize that there is not the slightest trace of existence from the side of the object itself." The moment that a person thinks that there is a snake where the coiled rope lies, the appearance of a snake arises in that person's mind. That appearance, however, is nothing but a projection.

Similarly, although there isn't a self that exists independently and objectively, our grasping misapprehends the self to exist in that way. So then how does the self exist? Like any other phenomenon, the self exists imputedly. It exists by labeling, or imputation, by terms and concepts projected onto a valid basis of imputation. We must be able to clearly distinguish between the imputed self that is the basis for performing karmic actions and experiencing their results, and the inherently existent self that is the object that needs to be negated. When we consider our own sense of self, we don't really get the sense of an imputed self. The feeling we have is more as if the self were existing inherently. Let me explain how the labeling, or imputation, works. People use names for one another but those names aren't the person. The words "John" and "Francis" are merely labels for a person. Just as the reflection of a face in a mirror does not exist from the side of the face, in the same way, the names John and Francis don't exist independently. The names are applied to a valid basis of imputation -that is, the person. When you apply a label onto any base of any phenomenon, it works to define that thing's existence-a vase, a pillar, a shoe and so forth. They are merely labels applied to their respective valid bases of imputation.

There is a common conceptual process involved in labeling things. Things don't exist from their own side, but they are labeled from our subjective point of view and that's how they exist. Let's take the example of a vase that we used earlier. In order to understand the selflessness, or emptiness, of the vase, we need to refute its inherent, true or independent existence, just as we have to refute the inherent, or true, existence of a person in order to understand the selflessness of a person. We must also be able to establish what a vase is conventionally or nominally because we cannot annihilate the conventional reality of a vase.

Conventionally, a vase exists. It is made out of whatever materials were used to create it. It has hundreds and thousands of atoms and then there is its design, the influence of the potter and so forth. All these factors contribute to the production of a vase. So, a vase exists as a mere labeling, or imputation, onto the various factors that form its conventional existence, that is, its valid basis of imputation. If we look for what is being imputed, if we look for "vase," we cannot find it. Just as we cannot find the imputed vase through ultimate analysis, we cannot find the imputed person through ultimate analysis.

The person, self or I is neither the continuity nor the continuum of a person, nor his or her collection or assembly of aggregates. So, what is a person? Chandrakirti gives the example of how the existence of a chariot depends upon the collection of its various parts. In today's terms we could use the example of a car. When we examine a car we discover that no single part is "car." The front wheels are not the car, the back wheels are not the car, neither is the steering wheel or any other part of it; there is no car that is not dependent upon these individual parts. Therefore, a car is nothing but a mere imputation onto its assembled parts, which constitutes its valid basis of imputation. Once the various parts of a car have been put together, the term "car" is imputed onto it. Just as a car is dependent upon its parts, so too is everything else.

Chandrakirti continues, "In the same way, we speak of a sentient being conventionally, in dependence upon its aggregates." So, we should understand that a person also depends upon his or her collection of aggregates. No one aggregate is the person, self, or I, yet there isn't a person who is not dependent upon their aggregates. A person or sentient being is nothing but a label projected onto his or her valid basis. As we find stated in the mind training text, "Such a technique for determining the selflessness of the person is one of the best methods for cognizing the reality of things quickly. The same reasoning should be applied to all phenomena, from form up to omniscient mind."

REFUTING INHERENT EXISTENCE THROUGH VALID REASONING

We need to use our intelligence to establish that the way in which our innate ignorance perceives the self to exist is not really the way that the self exists at all. This is what we call "refuting inherent existence through valid reasoning." It is not enough to say, "Everything is emptiness" or "Things don't inherently exist." We need a process of sound reasoning to back up this viewpoint. Once we have that, we will understand that there isn't anything that exists objectively. However, this is still only an intellectual understanding. We have to develop an intimacy between our perception and the true understanding of emptiness.

When we gain what is known as "definite ascertainment"-certitude with regard to the absence of inherent existence-we will be able to realize emptiness experientially. To substantiate this point, the mind training text offers a quote from the Indian master Dignaga's Compendium of Valid Cognition. "Without discarding this object, one is unable to eliminate it." This is telling us that once we have discovered the object of apprehension of our self-grasping-that is, the inherently existent self-we then need to train our mind to get rid of the idea of this object from our perception.

We must be aware of three examples of mistaken approaches to emptiness. The first example is of people who don't even allow their minds to investigate what self and selflessness are. They just never engage themselves in these questions. People with this kind of attitude will never be able to cultivate the wisdom realizing emptiness because they haven't made any kind of connection with the concept. Again we find a quote from Dignaga's Compendium: "Since love and so forth do not directly counter ignorance, they cannot eliminate that great fault." What this tells us is that even if we cultivate any or all of the four immeasurables-immeasurable love, immeasurable compassion, immeasurable joy and immeasurable equanimity-we still will not be able to understand selflessness. However wonderful these attitudes may be, they do not directly counteract the way in which our innate grasping perceives the self to exist.

The second example is given in another quote from the text: "We acquaint ourselves with a non-conceptual state in which thoughts about whether things are existent or non-existent, whether they are or are not, no longer arise." This refers to people who remain in a blank state of mind during their meditation, without investigating the nature of existence. They stop all kinds of conceptual thoughts. It's almost as if they are in a state of nothingness. Such people also will not understand selflessness, for they have exaggerated the object of refutation and refuted too much. They consider every conceptual thought as if it were the object of refutation; as if to allow a conceptual thought to enter one's mind would be to accept the inherent existence of that thought. They view all thought processes as something to be abandoned. Therefore, they don't think about anything at all. They have confused what is being refuted through valid reasoning-the inherent existence of the self, or I-with something that actually conventionally exists, that is, a thought. In other words, they have taken conventional existence as being identical with inherent existence.

If the wonderful attitudes of love, compassion, joy and equanimity cannot directly counteract our innate self-grasping, how can thinking about nothing achieve this aim? If we stop thinking about anything, that is not a meditation on emptiness because we are not allowing the wisdom understanding emptiness to arise. If we could ever reach the state of enlightenment by this method we would be buddhas without omniscient wisdom or compassion, because we would not have let anything arise in our minds. I encourage you to investigate this for yourselves.

The next example of this mistaken approach to emptiness is, "If, in meditation, following analysis of the general appearance of what is negated, our analytical understanding differs from the meaning intended or we meditate merely on a non-conceptual state in which we do not recognize emptiness, no matter how long we do this meditation, we will never be able to rid ourselves of the seed of the misconception of self." What this is saying is that if we refute inherent existence through valid reasoning and then meditate on something else, our meditation is not going to work. The text continues, "The third mistaken approach is to have established something other than the view of selflessness through analytical awareness so that when we meditate, our meditation is misplaced." We will never realize selflessness with this approach either, because we have disconnected the focus of our valid reasoning from the focus of our meditation. This is, as the text describes, "like being shown the racetrack but running in the opposite direction."

INTERPRETATIONS OF EMPTINESS BY EARLIER MASTERS

In order to realize what selflessness is, we have to understand the self that does not exist. Different schools of Buddhist thought have different interpretations in regard to this. The commentary on one of Lama Tsongkhapa's greatest works, The Essence of Eloquent Presentation on that which is Definitive and that which is Interpretable, tells us that Tsongkhapa asserted that many earlier Tibetan masters, although endowed with many great qualities, somehow missed the true meaning of emptiness. By "earlier Tibetan masters" Tsongkhapa is referring to the period after the eighth century when Acharya Padmasambhava and Abbot Sangharakshita were invited to Tibet and also to the period after the eleventh century, including the arrival of Atisha up until the time of Tsongkhapa in the fourteenth century.

What Lama Tsongkhapa meant was that in terms of the aspect of the path, which has to do with method or skillful means, these masters had innumerable great qualities such as bodhicitta. They had perfected the method aspect of Buddhism, but somehow many of them had missed the view of emptiness. They couldn't quite grasp it completely. Then, in the eleventh century, the great Indian master Atisha was invited to Tibet. He composed a very beautiful text called Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, and with this work Atisha refined the complete teachings of the Buddha, including both sutra and tantra.

In the fourteenth century, Lama Tsongkhapa realized the view of emptiness with the help of the deity, Manjushri. Tsongkhapa said that in order to understand emptiness, our understanding must be free from the two extremes of refuting too much and refuting too little. Some earlier Tibetan masters did not precisely identify the object of refutation. They asserted that the ultimate truth is findable under ultimate analysis. This is a case of underestimating the object of refutation. They have not refuted enough and, in so doing, have missed the view of emptiness. We need to purify much negativity and accumulate great merit in order to realize emptiness. If such great masters can miss it, we can easily miss it as well.

EMPTINESS INDIFFERENT BUDDHISTS CHOOLS

There are four essential points of Buddhism called the "four seals"- every composite phenomenon is impermanent; everything that is contaminated or deluded is suffering in nature; everything that exists is selfless, or empty; and nirvana, or liberation, is peace. All Buddhists accept these four points as definitive teachings, but in regard to the third point-that all phenomena are selfless, or empty-different Buddhist schools have different interpretations.

Theravadins interpret the third seal as meaning only that there is no self of a person. This Buddhist tradition does not accept the selflessness of phenomena. Within the four major tenet schools of Buddhism-Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka -we find different assertions and presentations with regard to selflessness, and also in regard to the object of refutation. The two lower schools are the Vaibhashika-sometimes called Particularists or Realists-and the Sautrantika-Followers of Sutra. Like the higher schools, the tenets of these schools say that there isn't a self-sufficient and substantially existent self of a person. However, they also only assert the selflessness of a person and not the selflessness of phenomena.

As we go higher in Buddhist philosophy we find the Cittamatra, or Mind Only, school of thought. Their presentation is different. They talk about two types of selflessness, the selflessness of persons and the selflessness of phenomena. According to the Mind Only school, it is the "duality between subject and object" that is the object of negation or the thing that one is denying exists. They establish the selflessness of phenomena by saying that the subject and its object have the same nature and that it is the division between subject and object as being separate entities that is the object of negation. In other words, the subject and object are empty of being dual and separate entities.

The Mind Only school talks about three different categories of phenomena -"imputed phenomena," which do not exist by way of their own characteristics, and "thoroughly established phenomena" and "dependent phenomena," which do exist by way of their own characteristics.

As mentioned before, in the Middle Way school we find two subschools -the Prasangika-Madhyamaka and the Svatantrika- Madhyamaka. These two philosophical schools present selflessness differently. The Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school also talks about two kinds of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena. They agree with the Mind Only school that the selflessness of a person is easier to understand than the selflessness of the phenomenal world. They agree with the Mind Only School and the other two Buddhist schools as far as the selflessness of a person is concerned, but their selflessness of phenomena is different.

Most Buddhist schools assert that if something does not exist from its own side or by way of its own characteristics, it does not exist at all. The Svatantrika-Madhyamikas, however, assert that things do exist by way of their own characteristics but do not exist truly. So, according to this school, the terms "true existence" and "existing by way of its own characteristics" are not synonymous. The Svatantrika- Madhyamaka school asserts that everything exists as a combination of projection and inherent existence. They believe that things exist partly as a result of our mind's conceptual projections, or imputations, and partly from their own side. They believe that nothing exists in and of itself without labeling, or conceptual imputation, and this assertion is their object of negation, but they believe that things do exist from their own side to some degree. In other words, phenomena possess a characteristic that we can call objective existence.

In the highest Buddhist school of thought, the Prasangikas, it is said that nothing exists from its own side, even to the slightest extent. Everything is imputed, or labeled. Unlike other schools, they assert that the selflessness of a person does not simply mean that there is no self-sufficient or substantially-existent person. They talk about a person not existing inherently, or in and of itself. According to the Prasangikas, the "emptiness of true existence" and the "emptiness of inherent existence" mean the same thing. Like the Mind Only and Svatantrika-Madhyamaka schools, the Prasangikas assert two types of selflessness, the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

However, in terms of what is being refuted, they assert that there isn't any difference between them. One is just as easy to understand as the other because the process of discovering them is the same. Supposing that you as the meditator want to focus on the selflessness of I, using the person as the basis. When, through reasoning, you perceive the selflessness of I, as you shift your focus onto any other object or phenomenon you can understand the selflessness of that phenomenon by the power of the same reasoning. You don't need to re-establish the selflessness of phenomena using some other method.

For the Prasangika school, there is not even a subtle difference between the selflessness of a person and the selflessness of phenomena.

When we realize that a person exists through mere labeling by terms and concepts and does not exist in and of itself we have realized the selflessness of a person. Taking phenomena as our focus, when we realize phenomena as mere labeling by terms and concepts and not existing in and of themselves, we have realized the selflessness of phenomena. There is a difference with regard to the basis of imputation, but there isn't any difference between the two types of selflessness in terms of what they actually are. It is for that reason that Chandrakirti states that "selflessness is taught in order for sentient beings to be liberated from cyclic existence. The two kinds of selflessness are simply posited on their bases of imputation." When we take a person as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of a person. When we take any other phenomenon as the basis of imputation, we are dealing with the selflessness of phenomena.

According to the Svatantrika-Madhyamikas and the three schools below them, phenomena are not just names or labels. They assert that phenomena should be findable under what is known as "ultimate analysis." When things are found under this type of analysis, they say we can validate the existence of these phenomena. When something is not findable under this kind of analysis, they are not able to assert its existence.

The assertion of the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school is totally different. According to the Prasangikas, nothing should be findable under ultimate analysis. If something is found then that thing must truly exist, and it is true existence, or findability under ultimate analysis, that is the object of refutation according to this school. Arya Nagarjuna said, "Knowing that all phenomena are empty like this and relying on actions and their results is a miracle amongst miracles, magnificence amidst magnificence." So, even though we understand the emptiness of all phenomena, we still rely upon the understanding of the infallible nature of cause and effect.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, the terms "existing by way of its own characteristic," "inherent existence" and "true existence" all mean the same thing. For the Prasangikas, all these terms describe the object of negation-the kind of existence that is being refuted or negated. For that reason, our innate grasping at the inherent existence of the self (that is, the innate grasping at the self, existing by way of its own characteristics) is a distorted perception. It is exactly that distorted perception that needs to be cut through and eliminated by cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness.

THE MEANING OF I, OR SELF, INDIFFERENT BUDDHIST SCHOOLS

All Buddhist schools of thought agree that the I, or self, constitutes the focus of our innate grasping. Where they differ, however, is in terms of what a person is. Certain lower Buddhist schools assert that a person is their five physical and mental aggregates. Other schools say that it's just the mind that is the person and not the other aggregates. In the Mind Only school there is one sub-school that follows a sutra tradition and another that follows reasoning. The sutra followers of the Mind Only school assert that the mind is the person.

The majority of Buddhist schools assert six consciousnesses-the five sensory consciousnesses (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness and body consciousness) and mental consciousness. In addition to these six consciousnesses, however, the sutra followers of the Mind Only school talk about "deluded mental consciousness" and "mind basis of all," sometimes translated as "store consciousness." According to them, the mind basis of all is the person and as such it is the focus of the deluded mental consciousness. Those who assert this position say that all our karmic actions deposit their imprints on this particular consciousness.

According to Bhavaviveka, the great Indian master of the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, the person is a stream of mental consciousness. So, according to these two schools, when we create karmic actions, the imprints of these actions are stored or deposited on this mind-stream. The reason that the sensory consciousnesses don't store any of these imprints is because they only function here and now. When we die they cease to exist. They are confined to this existence and so cannot become connected to our future lives. Bhavaviveka has presented his position or assertion of what a person is in his work called Blaze of Reasoning.

Now, all the Buddhist schools of thought agree that the person, or self, is an imputed phenomenon-something that is imputed onto its aggregates. Yet, when you ask many of them to pinpoint what that imputed self is, the examples they give are some kind of substantially existent self, or person. Such is the case with some of the assertions we have just been considering. According to the Buddhist school of thought below the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka school, in order to know whether something exists, its existence must be proved by a valid cognition. According to these schools, when we look for a phenomenon it should be findable under analysis. When you find something under such analysis, that thing is said to exist by way of its own characteristics. If you don't find something, then that means that thing doesn't exist at all. However, according to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, things should not be findable under ultimate analysis. If you find something, you've gone wrong. That is how the Prasangika position totally opposes that of these other schools.

According to the Prasangika-Madhyamaka school, when you investigate self, you will not find anything such as a person existing from its own side at the end of your analysis. A person is merely a projection that is imputed onto the aggregates. If you do find a person existing from its own side, it should be inherently existent, existing in and of itself, which is impossible because things exist dependently.

THE DIFFICULTY OF UNDERSTANDING EMPTINESS

These are very technical points and you need to take time to think about them. After contemplating the profundity of these teachings, you may simply come to the conclusion that the wisdom realizing emptiness is too difficult to achieve. It is important to understand that however difficult it is, with perseverance and the passage of time, you will be able to see progress within yourself and gain this wisdom. This is simply the law of nature. If we keep doing something, through the power of familiarization, it gradually becomes easier to do.

You may find it very hard even to conceptualize the view of emptiness, especially at the beginning, but think positively and make continuous effort. If you keep inspiring yourself, you can develop what is called an "affinity" with the view of emptiness-an inkling of what it all means, even if you don't yet have a full understanding. You develop a positive doubt about the nature of reality, a question as to whether things actually exist in the way that they normally appear to you. Such positive doubt is somewhat in tune with what we might call the "music" of emptiness and is said to be very beneficial and powerful. The text states that, "Buddha, the transcendent subduer, prophesied that the protector, Nagarjuna, would establish the unmistaken, definitive and interpretable meaning of emptiness as the essence of his teaching." The commentary given on these lines explains that before he spoke on emptiness Buddha knew that ordinary people would find it difficult to understand these concepts. So, even though you may find it very difficult to follow this teaching, you must never give up hope. Determine that you are going to make every effort to understand and please remember that it is better to put your effort into these matters by trying to understand them slowly. After all, if you don't want to suffer any more, you have no choice!

DEFINITIVE AND INTERPRETABLE TEACHINGS

All the teachings of the historical Buddha are contained in the sutras and can be classified into two groups-definitive teachings, which need no elucidation, and interpretable teachings, which require explanation. A definitive teaching is one that can be accepted literally, in the way that Buddha presented it. An interpretable teaching is one that, if it were accepted as it is literally presented, would cause misunderstanding. The Buddha predicted the coming of two great spiritual pioneers, Arya Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga, who would illustrate the real meaning of his teachings and distinguish both their definitive and interpretable nature.

There is a sutra passage that states, "Father and mother are to be killed. The subjects and the country are to be destroyed. Thereby you will attain the state of purity." This passage is obviously an example of Buddha's interpretable teaching, as it requires interpretation. The background to this passage is something that took place in the ancient Indian city of Rajgir, in the present state of Bihar.

Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha who was always trying to compete with him, befriended a young prince named Ajatashatru. Devadatta poisoned the prince's ears, saying that his father the king was clinging to the throne. He plotted with the prince to have the king assassinated so that Ajatashatru could take his place. Devadatta also plotted to kill the Buddha because he was jealous of Buddha's spiritual attainments. Devadatta told the prince, "I have a beautiful plan. Your father often invites the Buddha and his followers for alms, so you should ask the Buddha and his entourage to lunch. Dig a big fire pit right before the entrance to your palace and cover it so that it's well hidden. Buddha always walks ahead of his monks so, when he steps onto the pit, he will fall in and burn to death." The prince argued that the Buddha was too clever to be deceived, but Devadatta told him that, to be certain, he should poison Buddha's food in case the first plan didn't succeed.

One day, when the king was not at home, the young prince invited Buddha and his monks to the palace for lunch. He constructed a fire pit and poisoned the food just as Devadatta had instructed him. However, when Buddha placed his foot on the hidden fire pit, it instantly turned into a beautiful lake covered with lotus flowers. Buddha and the entire sangha walked safely across the lake on these flowers and entered the palace. The young prince was totally amazed and immediately confessed to Buddha that he wouldn't be able to serve the lunch because it was poisoned. Buddha told him to go ahead and bring the food anyway. When his meal arrived the Buddha blessed it and ate it without any harm coming to him. Meanwhile, the assassins who had been sent by the prince had caught his father.

Before they killed him, the king asked them to take a message back to his son. The message read, "By killing me you have committed two heinous crimes of boundless negative karma because I am your father and an arhat, having already achieved the state of freedom." When Ajatashatru received this message he felt tremendous remorse for his actions. The emotional burden was so great that he felt he would die right then and there. He decided to go to the Buddha and tell him everything. Buddha wanted to give the prince more time to do confession and purification and so he told him, "Father and mother are to be killed and if you destroy the king and his ministers and subjects, you will become a pure and perfect human being."

Of course, at that moment the prince didn't understand the meaning behind the Buddha's statement, but later on when he had given it more thought he realized that the terms "father" and "mother" stood for contaminated karmic actions and delusions and that these were to be killed, or destroyed, within himself. The remainder of the passage meant that other negativities associated with negative karmic actions and delusions also needed to be destroyed in the sense of being purified, and by doing that the prince would be able to attain the state of pure and perfect liberation.

The Heart Sutra is another example of an interpretable sutra, because it contains many statements that require explanation. For example, it doesn't make any sense to say "no ear, no nose, no tongue," and so forth. We know all these things exist. We need to understand that what Buddha really meant by these terms is that the ear, nose and tongue don't exist inherently.

An example of Buddha's definitive teaching is the sutra that presents the "four seals" of Buddhism. As I mentioned before, the four seals are that every composite phenomenon is impermanent, that which is contaminated is suffering in nature, everything that exists is empty, or selfless, and nirvana is peace. This teaching doesn't require any additional interpretation.

When we don't know how to differentiate between the definitive and interpretive teachings of Buddha, we get really confused. The Tibetans say that we make porridge of our misunderstanding. There is a very popular statement from the sutras: "O bhikshus and wise men, you should analyze and investigate my teaching just as a goldsmith analyzes gold. Just as a goldsmith tests gold by cutting it, rubbing it and burning it, so should you examine and investigate my teaching. Do not accept my teaching just out of devotion to me." So, just as a goldsmith tests gold in three ways, so should we examine and analyze the validity of Buddha's teaching through what are known as the "three types of valid cognition."

First, there is "direct valid perception." Then there is "inferential valid perception," which is not direct but based on reasoning. Finally, we use another form of inferential valid perception, which is more like a form of conviction based upon authentic reasoning. Having applied these three kinds of investigation, when we discover the refined goldlike teaching of Buddha, we should then adopt and practice it.

Buddha taught different things to different people at different times and under different circumstances. So, one thing we must do is understand the context of the situation in which he gave the teaching and to whom it was addressed. Without taking all these factors into consideration we cannot understand Buddha's intention. This is why it is important to study both the definitive and the interpretable teachings.

Another reason we talk about the three types of valid cognition, or perception, is that we find three different types of phenomena in the world. There are manifest objects, or obvious phenomena-those we can directly perceive with our senses. Then there are other kinds of phenomena that are hidden or concealed-we cannot perceive them directly and so we need to use inference in order to understand them. These phenomena need to be realized through valid reasoning and that is why we talk about inferential valid cognition. Third, within these concealed phenomena, there are those that are even more subtle and obscured. In order to perceive these, we need to rely upon authoritative or what are called "valid statements" by an unmistaken enlightened being. This is how we develop the conviction to perceive more obscured phenomena. For example, the text mentions that the great Indian master Atisha follows the elucidation of Arya Nagarjuna in terms of presenting emptiness. Therefore, Atisha's presentation of emptiness is authoritative and valid and the author advises us that we can feel confident in following it.

Teachings on the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text.
Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave this commentary on the Heart Sutra to Saraswati Buddhist Group, Somerset, England on August 17 -20, 2007. The commentary is edited by Andy Wistreich.

Read the Heart Sutra, a Perfection of Wisdom text. You may also download the commentary in a pdf file.

5. Meditation on Emptiness

The Object of Negation 

When meditating on emptiness it is important to be able to identify the object of refutation or negation. Without such knowledge it is like trying to catch a thief without being able to identify him. If you cannot identify the thief, not knowing what he looks like, it is very difficult to catch him. Similarly when we meditate on emptiness something needs to be negated, and without knowing what it is one will find it very difficult to make that negation.

If when trying to describe the thief one wants caught to somebody, one can say only that he has a round head, two eyes and two legs, this information is of little use to the thief-catcher because so many people fit the description. It is not precise. However, knowing what uniquely distinguishes the thief from everyone else, the thief-catcher will know for sure when she has found the right person.

In meditating on emptiness, whether the basis of your analysis is a person or a phenomenon, once you know what the object to be negated is, if you look in the basis for that object, on failing to find it you will realise emptiness. Realising emptiness means realising the meaning of emptiness.

The person uses phenomena, specifically the aggregates. If the person were self-existent he or she would be completely independent of all causes and conditions, of anything in fact. The only place where it makes sense to look for the object of negation, a self-existent person who is completely independent of anything, is within the aggregates. This is because the person actually exists depending on the aggregates. In a sense, the person exists on or in the aggregates. The person is based on the aggregates.

To try to find the self-existent person, one should look within the aggregates, the person’s basis of imputation. When analysing and searching for that self-existent person within the aggregates, and failing to find it, one realises or understands the meaning of emptiness. The emptiness thus realised is the selflessness of the person and one gains certainty of it with a valid mind, through one’s own logical analysis.

This is important because thinking there to be no such thing as a self of a person, or a self-existing person based merely on being told as much is insufficient. One must know exactly what one seeks, understanding what the object of negation is, and then must search for it oneself within the basis of designation of the person. Having looked and searched for it, not finding it means one understands emptiness.

How can one know whether or not one’s meditation on emptiness has been successful and effective? Having a clear idea of what one searches for, the object of negation - when meditating on the selflessness of the person, the self-existent person - one searches for it within the aggregates. One enquires whether that self-existent person is any one of the aggregates individually, the group of the aggregates or whatever. Having searched exhaustively, not having found it means it does not exist. Recognising this shows the meditation on emptiness to be a success.

The Risk of Nihilism

When looking for the object of negation, the self-existent person, within the aggregates, one fails to find it. Not finding it means finding that it does not exist. That means you have found or realised emptiness. However, approaching meditation on emptiness without a clear idea of the object to be negated, and simply looking for the person within the aggregates one fails to find the person. Simply looking for the person within the aggregates, without qualifying it with the object of negation, one fails to find that too. Thus, by looking for and failing to find the person within the aggregates there is the risk of concluding that the person does not exist.

This causes one to take emptiness as a form of nihilism, whereby whatever is empty does not exist. This is because in seeking the object within its basis of designation one fails to find it, suggesting it does not exist. Thereby meditation on emptiness may become a form of nihilism. As a result one could deny that karma and refuge exist and eventually abandon or reject emptiness itself. As a result of rejecting emptiness, one is born in the lower realms in a future life, specifically in the hell called "the hell of unrelenting torment". In this case one’s meditation on emptiness will have been ineffective, and will have gone extremely badly.

In the process of searching for a self-existing person, when thinking “I this and that,” an appearance of an "I" existing from its own side is produced. Such an "I" or person existing from its own side is what one should seek.

If instead one looks for the person within the aggregates asking oneself if it is the aggregates, part of the aggregates, the collection of the aggregates and so forth, one will not find it. Likewise one does not find the watch when seeking a watch within its parts, enquiring whether it is this part of the watch, the front or the back, this cog, that cog and so on. Taking this to mean the watch does not exist is a mistake. When meditating on the selflessness or emptiness of the person, if, having failed to find it one takes that to mean the person does not exist, this spreads over to other areas leading one to think that refuge, karma and so forth do not exist.

Thus the emptiness on which one meditates will be a nihilistic emptiness - a form of nihilism. When taking the things on whose emptiness one meditates to be non-existent, one’s meditation kind of annihilates them. The ripening result of meditating through misunderstanding emptiness like that is birth in the hell of unceasing torment.

Whilst every other kind of negative action (karma) can be purified there is no way to purify the fault of nihilism. One can only experience the ripening result. This is the meaning of the scriptural statement that when a person of limited intelligence approaches emptiness mistakenly, it brings about their downfall.

One will not find the person when seeking it within the aggregates, the person’s basis of imputation. Moreover, when seeking a self-existing person within the aggregates this is not found either. Thus there is a similarity between these two in the sense one fails to find either the person or the self-existing person within the aggregates. However, in the second case, not finding a self-existing person when looking for it within its basis of designation, the aggregates, equals finding it does not exist, which means realising it does not exist, and that is realising emptiness.

In the case of looking for the person within the aggregates, not finding it neither means to have found it not to exist nor that one has realised its non-existence. Nevertheless, one might make the mistake of thinking that the failure to find it means it does not exist.

Furthermore one could infer from that misunderstanding that like the person, other conventional phenomena do not exist from the perspective of the wisdom of meditative equipoise of the Arya when single-pointedly and non-conceptually experiencing meditation on the true nature of reality, emptiness. Since the person does not appear within the perspective of that meditation, the person does not exist for such a meditation. The only thing that exists and appears for that meditation is ultimate truth. Conventional phenomena do not appear for it because conventional phenomena are false. Being untrue1, they do not appear.

One might think that because conventional phenomena do not appear to or exist for that meditation they do not exist at all. Moreover one might think that when an Arya is absorbed single-pointedly in meditation on this non-conceptual realisation of the true nature of reality, he or she realises the non-existence of all conventional phenomena, and so annihilates them. This misunderstanding of emptiness will lead to the ripening result of birth in the hell of unceasing torment.

In fact the non-existence of conventional phenomena from the perspective of the Arya’s wisdom of meditative equipoise single-pointedly meditating on the nature of reality, emptiness is itself emptiness. Their non-existence from the perspective of that meditation is emptiness. There are two ways to misunderstand that, meaning there are two faults that may follow.

One fault is thinking that the view of emptiness is a nihilist position since conventional phenomena like karma and refuge do not exist from the perspective of that meditation. In other words, one thinks that because for the direct perception of emptiness conventional phenomena do not exist, emptiness means the non-existence of everything. To such a misunderstanding it seems that emptiness is the non-existence of or annihilates conventional phenomena. Therefore, although not rejecting emptiness one mistakenly thinks it means that conventional phenomena like refuge, karma and so on do not exist at all.

The other fault is rejecting emptiness as wrong or bad, for being like nihilism. When taking the view of emptiness to be a nihilistic position because it seems that emptiness annihilates things, one might conclude that emptiness is wrong. This follows because for the meditative equipoise of the Arya directly realising emptiness, conventional phenomena do not exist. That meditation realises they do not exist, so one might mistakenly conclude that meditation on emptiness annihilates conventional phenomena. This fault can lead the person to rebirth in the lower realms.

In the commentary it explains that a mistaken approach to the view due to low intelligence or limited wisdom brings about one’s downfall. The afore-mentioned two wrong approaches to emptiness can cause this. The same passage continues to say that a poisonous snake grabbed hold of in the wrong way will bite and poison one, though it cannot bite someone who knows how to take hold of it.

Conventionally Existing Phenomena and Emptiness

We cannot see the very subtle profound qualities of an enlightened being, but we have seen neither their non-existence, nor that the Buddha lacks them. One should not believe them to not exist just because of not seeing them. Likewise, it is natural that conventional phenomena do not appear to the wisdom of meditative equipoise of the Arya. Reality is all that mind focuses on, and all that appears to that mind is the ultimate truth of emptiness.

Though it is the nature of that meditation that conventional phenomena do not appear to or exist for it this does not mean that that mind has realised them not to exist. It is simply that they do not and cannot appear to such a mind.

There is a big difference between not realising something and realising that that thing does not exist. For example, the eye consciousness cannot experience or realise sweet, salty and sour flavours, and so on, but that does not mean the eye consciousness realises they do not exist. Similarly, the eye consciousness cannot hear or realise sounds, but this does not mean it realises that they do not exist.

In the same way, although we ordinary beings are unable to perceive, understand or realise the subtle qualities of the enlightened beings, this does not mean that through not seeing or understanding them, we understand and realise they do not exist.

The self-grasping mind looking at the person thinks that a self-existent person is there. The object of negation - in terms of the person, the self-existent person - appears to our mind, so to that very mind there is an appearance of the person being self-existent. It is not possible for a person who does exist and a self-existent person to appear separately. They appear to that mind as completely indistinguishable.

It is impossible to perceive only a self-existent person without the person itself appearing. These two appear mixed and indistinguishable because they cannot appear separately. One negates the self-existent person by meditating on emptiness using various forms of analysis to realise that there is no such thing. The appearance of the conventionally existing person disappears at the same time as that negation.

Because of that, when you negate the self-existent person it seems as though the conventionally existing person has also been refuted. However, you have not realised the conventionally existing person to be non-existent; you have realised there to be no such thing as a self-existent person.

For example, if you ask someone not to sit here but to move elsewhere, when they go they take their shadow with them. You do not separately tell their shadow to go, nor tell them to take their shadow with them. You merely ask the person to go, but their shadow goes along with them. This is similar and shows how meditation on emptiness does not imply the non-existence of conventionally existing phenomena such as refuge and karma.

Student: To ascertain the object of negation one must separate the appearance of the truly existent from the validly existent person, yet because we are ordinary beings, whenever the person appears to us it appears along with an appearance of inherent existence. Before we have realised emptiness how can we make that separation effectively in order to actually find the object of negation?

Khensur Rinpoche: The way to separate them is through thinking that the object of negation is a self-existent person that exists from its own side completely independent of causes and conditions. That is the thing to be negated. Get an idea of a self-existent person that exists completely independent of causes, conditions and anything else. Then recognise how the person actually exists depending on various causes and conditions and so forth. Thereby realise that because of being dependent, the self-existing one is a mistake and does not actually exist.

Several other options are available of reasoning showing that the self-existing person does not exist. However, the clearest, simplest and most straight forward is thinking about how the person is dependent.

Same student: It is very difficult to separate the validly existing person from the appearance of the inherently existing person.

Khensur Rinpoche: Everything that appears automatically appears not as dependent, but rather as self-existent. Things appear as independent, so use analysis to investigate whether "self-existing" things exist as they appear. Using the insight into dependent arising, see that they do not.

Same student: If one is having problems with that would it help to first establish that the conventionally existing person does exist, because of functioning for example, and then go on to establish that the truly existent person does not exist?

Khensur Rinpoche: Yes, one should recognise how the person does exist. There is a person who comes and goes, sits and eats, sleeps and so on. Then we need to realise that that person appears as if self-existent, meaning as existing independently, and then we analyse whether there is such a person.

Another student: I find the idea of being in a state where neither the "I" that is independent of causes and conditions nor the conventionally existing "I" arises a little bit frightening. I am wondering how you re-emerge from that experience to be able to function again? Do you just wait for some pain, for instance for your knee to hurt, to think “Ah, that’s conventional existence” or is there a meditative process, a way of analysing that there are indeed conventional realities?

Ven Steve Carlier: In other words if you have got to the point where there is a direct perception of emptiness, with no appearance of any kind of conventional phenomena, at what point would you reaffirm their existence?

Student: Clearly there are beings that have this meditative experience and then function. They do not just sit there for the rest of their lives, but they go out and function. How do they arrive at this place where they can function in conventional reality?

Khensur Rinpoche: When they come out of the meditation and just go about their normal activities, they are able to think very clearly how even though at that time there was no appearance of conventional phenomena nonetheless they do exist. That is the time of the meditation break.

Ven Steve Carlier: It is at the time of subsequent realisation.

Khensur Rinpoche: When they rise from their meditation they can see very clearly that although there was no appearance of the person during the meditation, nevertheless there is a conventionally existing person that can come and go, sit, sleep, and eat and so on.

The mantra of the Perfection of Wisdom, TAYATHA GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA is recited in the Heart Sutra.

GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI contains five sets of syllables which can be understood in connection with the five paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning.

The first two syllables are each translated as "Go!" Thus there is "Go! Go!" Next is PARAGATE, "Go beyond!" and PARASAMGATE, "Go perfectly beyond!" Finally, BODHI basically means "Go to enlightenment!" and literally means to set up or place the basis or the foundation of enlightenment, so it means "Attain enlightenment!"

The whole mantra means "Go! Go! Go beyond! Go perfectly beyond! Go to enlightenment!" or "Attain enlightenment!"

Imagine a criminal imprisoned in a cell or dungeon for life. After he has been there a long time a friend visits and advises him, “Don’t stay here any longer! You must do something to get out, to get free of this!” The friend explains the route out, with all the shortcuts and secret passages. The friend explains, “You have to go here, and there; there are actually four paths or legs on this journey. When you have gone through all four segments of the path, finally you will be completely free and will never have to come back and undergo this kind of bad experience again.” The path to enlightenment is like this.

First is the path of accumulation on which one mainly accumulates merit. Then, on the paths of preparation, seeing and meditation, one principally uses wisdom to progress along the path, although that wisdom must be reinforced by the method side of compassion and so forth. Thus, although during this phase method and wisdom must be practised inseparably in combination, the main driver is wisdom. For example, on the path of seeing, although it must be bolstered with the method side, it is mainly wisdom which eliminates the intellectually acquired obscurations. Then on the path of meditation the innate obscurations must be eliminated in several stages. Once both types of obscurations are eliminated one achieves the fifth path which is enlightenment.

This means the journey across the ocean of cyclic existence to liberation relies mainly on the wisdom realising emptiness. One gradually eliminates the obscurations and faults in the mind through practicing the perfection of wisdom (developing the realisation of emptiness) and thus gradually achieves enlightenment.

At the outset of the waxing phase, there is a very fine crescent of the new moon. That thin sliver of a crescent of the new moon puts an end to the total darkness. Before waxing began, only darkness was in the moon’s place. Instead now, although predominantly dark it is no longer totally so. The very fine crescent eliminated the complete disc of darkness, of which less than a disc remains now. As the moon waxes, its light gets fuller and fuller, and what is being eliminated gets increasingly less until finally the full moon eradicates the finest, most subtle level, the final sliver of darkness.

Similarly, as we progress on the path, our wisdom is somewhat weak initially and can eliminate only the greatest, most superficial and gross obscurations. As the wisdom gets stronger and stronger it has the capacity to dispel increasingly subtle obscurations. On the path of seeing2 one has strong enough wisdom to enable one to eliminate the grosser obscurations in the sequence of the sixteen moments of the path of seeing. These wisdom processes are called forbearances and liberation. Then on the path of meditation the remaining, more subtle obscurations are eliminated in nine cycles. There are nine cycles of the path of meditation called the three great, three middling and three smaller cycles.

Notes

Although true conventionally or relatively, ultimately they are untrue.  [Return to text]

The path of seeing is the initial point of the dawning of the direct non-conceptual realisation of emptiness. This realisation is developed and deepened in the path of meditation which follows. [Return to text]

 

By Gelek Rinpoche in New Delhi, India, 1980

Gehlek Rinpoche (1939—) was born in Tibet and studied at Drepung Monastery and later in India, where he gained his lharampa geshe degree. After publishing many important texts and teaching Dharma in India, in the 1980s he came to the USA, where, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he is now spiritual head of the Jewel Heart Buddhist centers in America and abroad.

This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre on 25 April 1980. First published in Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. Now appears in the 2005 LYWA publication Teachings From Tibet.

Lama Tsongkhapa taught that we should practice both contemplative meditation and concentration meditation. In the former we investigate the object of meditation by contemplating it in all its details; in the latter we focus single-pointedly on one aspect of the object and hold our mind on it without movement.

Single-pointed concentration [samadhi] is a meditative power that is useful in either of these two types of meditation. However, in order to develop samadhi itself we must cultivate principally concentration meditation. In terms of practice, this means that we must choose an object of concentration and then meditate single-pointedly on it every day until the power of samadhi is attained.

The five great obstacles to samadhi are laziness; forgetfulness; mental wandering and depression; failure to correct any of the above problems when they arise; and applying meditative opponents to problems that are not there, that is, they are purely imaginary.

Laziness

The actual antidote to laziness is an initial experience of the pleasure and harmony of body and mind that arise from meditation. Once we experience this joy, meditation automatically becomes one of our favorite activities. However, until we get to this point we must settle for a lesser antidote to laziness—something that will counteract our laziness and encourage us to practice until the experience of meditative ecstasy comes to us. This lesser antidote is contemplation of the benefits of samadhi.

What are these benefits? Among them are attaining siddhis very quickly, transforming sleep into profound meditation and being able to read others’ minds, see into the future, remember past incarnations and perform magical acts such as flying and levitating. Contemplating these benefits helps eliminate laziness.

Forgetfulness

The second obstacle to samadhi is forgetfulness—simply losing awareness of the object of meditation. When this happens, concentration is no longer present. Nagarjuna illustrated the process of developing concentration by likening the mind to an elephant to be tied by the rope of memory to the pillar of the object of meditation. The meditator also carries the iron hook of wisdom with which to spur on the lazy elephant.

What should we choose as an object of meditation? It can be anything—a stone, fire, a piece of wood, a table and so forth—as long as it does not cause delusions such as desire or aversion to arise. We should also avoid an object that has no qualities specifically significant to our spiritual path. Some teachers have said that we should begin with fire and later change to swirling clouds and so forth but this is not an effective approach. Choose one object and stick to it.

Many people choose the symbolic form of a buddha or a meditational deity as their object. The former has many benefits and is a great blessing; the latter provides a special preparation for higher tantric practice. In the beginning we can place a statue or painting of the object of meditation in front of us and look at it as we concentrate. But as it is our mind, not our eyes, that we want to develop, this should be done only until familiarity with the object is gained. The most important point is to settle on one object and not change it. There are stories of great saints who chose the form of a yak as their object but generally it is better to select an object of greater spiritual value and not change it until at least the first of the four levels of samadhi is attained.

Consistency in practice is also important. Once we begin we should continue every day until we reach our goal. If the conditions are perfect, we can do this in three months or so. But practicing an hour a day for a month and then missing a day or two will result in minimal progress. Constant, steady effort is necessary. We need to follow a fixed daily schedule of meditation.

Let’s say our object of concentration is the symbolic form of the Buddha. The first problem is that we cannot immediately visualize the form clearly. The advice is this: don’t be concerned with details—just get a sort of yellowish blur and hold it in mind. At this stage you can use an external image as an aid, alternating between looking at the object and then trying to hold it in mind for a few moments without looking. Forgetfulness, the second of the five obstacles, is very strong at this point and we must struggle against it. Get a mental picture of the object and then hold it firmly. Whenever it fades away, forcefully bring it back.

Wandering and depression

This forceful holding of the object gives rise to the third problem. When we try to hold the object in the mind, the tension of this effort can produce either agitation or depression. The forced concentration produces a heaviness of mind and this in turn leads to sleep, which itself is a coarse form of depression. The subtle form of depression is experienced when we are able to hold the object in mind for a prolonged period of time but without any real clarity. Without clarity, the meditation lacks strength.

To illustrate this with an example: when a man in love thinks of his beloved, her face immediately appears radiantly in his mind and effortlessly remains with clarity. A few months later, however, when they are in the middle of a fight, he has to strain to think of her in the same way. When he had the tightness of desire the image was easy to retain clearly. This tightness is called close placement [Tib: nyer-zhag; Skt: satipatthana]. When close placement is lost, the image eventually disappears and subtle depression sets in. It is very difficult to distinguish between proper meditation and meditation characterized by subtle depression, but remaining absorbed in the latter can create many problems.

We must also guard against the second problem, mentally wandering away from the object of meditation. Most people sit down to concentrate on an object but their mind quickly drifts away to thoughts of the day’s activities, a movie or television program they recently saw or something like that.

Pabongka Rinpoche, the root guru of both tutors of the present Dalai Lama, used to tell the story of a very important Tibetan government official who would always put a pen and a notebook beside his meditation seat whenever he did his daily practices, saying that his best ideas came from mental wandering in meditation.

Our mind wanders off on some memory or plan and we don’t even realize that it’s happening. We think we are still meditating but suddenly realize that for the past thirty minutes our mind has been somewhere else. This is the coarse level of wandering mind. When we have overcome this we still have to deal with subtle wandering, in which one factor of the mind holds the object clearly but another factor drifts away. We have to develop the ability of using the main part of our mind to concentrate on the object and another part to watch that the meditation is progressing correctly. This side part of the mind is like a secret agent and without it we can become absorbed in incorrect meditation for hours without knowing what we are doing—the thief of mental wandering or depression comes in and steals away our meditation.

We have to watch, but not over-watch. Over-watching can create another problem. It is like when we hold a glass of water: we have to hold it, hold it tightly, and also watch to see that we are holding it correctly and steadily without allowing any water to spill out. Holding, holding tightly and watching: these are the three keys of samadhi meditation.

Failure to correct problems

The fourth problem is failure to correct problems such as depression or wandering. The antidote to depression is tightening the concentration; the antidote to wandering is loosening it.

When counteracting depression with tightness, we must be careful to avoid the excessive tightness that a lack of natural desire to meditate can create; we have to balance tightness with relaxation. When our mind gets too tight like this we should just relax within our meditation. If that doesn’t work, we can forget the object for a while and concentrate on happy thoughts, such as the beneficial effects of bodhicitta, until our mind regains its composure, and then return to our object of meditation. This is akin to washing our face in cold water.

If contemplating a happy subject does not pick us up, we can visualize that our mind takes the form of a tiny seed at our heart and then shoot this seed out of the crown of our head into the clouds above, leave it there for a few moments and then bring it back. If this doesn’t help, we can just take a short break from our meditation.

Similarly, when mental wandering arises, we can think of an unpleasant subject, such as the suffering nature of samsara.

When our mind is low, changing to a happy subject can bring it back up; when it’s wandering, changing to an unpleasant subject can bring it down out of the sky and back to earth.

Correcting non-existent problems

The fifth obstacle is applying antidotes to depression or wandering that are not present or overly watching for problems. This hinders the development of our meditation.

The meditation posture

The posture we recommend for meditation is the seven-point posture of Buddha Vairochana. Sit on a comfortable cushion in the vajra posture with both legs crossed and your soles upturned. Indians call this the lotus posture; Tibetans call it the vajra posture. It is the first of the seven features of the Vairochana posture. If you find this or any of the other points difficult, simply sit as is most convenient and comfortable.

The seven-point posture is actually the most effective position for meditation once you develop familiarity and comfort with it, but until then, if one of the points is too difficult you can substitute it with something more within your reach.

Keep your back straight and tilt your head slightly forward with your eyes cast down along the line of your nose. If your eyes are cast too high, mental wandering is facilitated; if too low, sleepiness or depression too easily set in. Don’t close your eyes but look down along the line of your nose to an imaginary point about five feet in front of you. In order not to be distracted by environmental objects, many meditators sit facing a blank wall. Keep your shoulders level, your teeth lightly closed and place the tip of the tongue against the front of your hard palate just behind your top teeth, which will prevent you from getting thirsty when engaging in prolonged meditation.

The meditation session

Start your meditation session with a prayer to the lineage gurus in connection with your visualization. Then go directly to concentrating on your chosen object, such as an image of the Buddha.

At first, your main difficulty will be to get hold of the mental image; even getting a blurred image is difficult. However, you have to persist.

Once you have succeeded, you have to cultivate clarity and the correct level of tightness, while guarding against problems such as wandering, depression and so forth. Just sit and pursue the meditation while watching for distortions. Sometimes the object becomes too clear and you break into mental wandering; at other times it becomes dull and you lose it to sleep or torpor. In this way, using the six powers and the four connecting principles,1 you can overcome the five obstacles and ascend the nine stages to calm abiding, where you can meditate effortlessly and ecstatically for as long as you want.

In the beginning, your main struggle will be against wandering and depression. Just look for the object and as soon as you notice a problem, correct it. On the ninth stage, even though you can concentrate effortlessly for a great length of time, you have not yet attained samadhi. First you must also develop a certain sense of pleasure and harmony within both body and mind. Concentrate until a great pleasure begins to arise within your head and spreads down, feeling like the gentle invigorating warmth of a hot towel held against your face. The pleasure spreads throughout your body until you feel as light as cotton. Meditate within this physical pleasure, which gives rise to mental ecstasy. Then when you meditate you have a sense of inseparability with the object—your body seems to disappear in meditation and you sort of become one with the object; you almost want to fly away in your meditation. After this you can fix your mind on any object of virtue for as long you want. This is the preparatory stage, or the first level of samadhi. Meditation is light and free, like a humming bird in mid-air drinking honey from a red flower.

Beyond this you can either remain in samadhi meditation and cultivate the four levels of samadhi or, as advised by Lama Tsongkhapa, turn to searching for the root of samsara. No matter how high your samadhi, if you do not cut the root of samsara, you will eventually fall.

Lama Tsongkhapa likened samadhi to a horse ridden by a warrior and the wisdom that cuts the root of samsara to the warrior’s sword. When you have gained the first level of samadhi you have found the horse and can then turn to the sword of wisdom. Unless you gain the sword of wisdom your attainment of samadhi will be prone to collapse. You can take rebirth in one of the seventeen realms of the gods of form but eventually you will fall. On the other hand, if you develop basic samadhi and then apply it to the development of wisdom you’ll be able to cut the root of samsara as quickly as a crow takes out the eyes of an enemy. Once you’ve cut this root, you are beyond falling.

Notes
1. See His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Opening the Eye of New Awareness, pp.53-66.


This talk was extracted from the FPMT Education Department's Discovering Buddhism at Home readings, Module 8, "Establishing a Daily Practice." It was taken from Liberation in Our Hands, Part II, Appendix F: "How to Meditate on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”, by Pabongka Rinpoche, pp. 323-344. Original translation by Art Engle. Reprinted with permission from Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press.A Teaching With Special Emphasis on The Methods of an Experiential Instruction


Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

A Teaching With Special Emphasis on
The Methods of an Experiential Instruction,
Expressed Openly And in Plain Words
as if Pointing With a Finger to
Each Element of Practice

In response to a written request from Dragom Choktrul Rinpoche of the Shodo Monastery in Kham, the incomparably beneficent, glorious and kindhearted one, the Supreme Savior Dorjechang Pabongkapa Dechen Nyingpo, composed the following work unexpectedly and at a time when he was extremely busy and faced with many responsibilities. What is included here are the instructions on how to gain the realizations from Relying on a Spiritual Friend through Refuge.

PART ONE: INSTRUCTION ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ANALYTIC MEDITATION AND ON THE KEY ELEMENTS OF HOW TO PRACTICE IT

I pray that my mind and those of all lineage disciples
Become steeped in dharma through the power and blessings
Of the father, Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang,
And those of his lineage of spiritual sons.

Having found a form that is valuable and hard to find,
And having perceived the eight worldly dharmas1 to be the play of fools,
Those friends who strive single-mindedly in their pursuit of an ultimate goal are
marvelous indeed!

When we are proud of our wide learning, our efforts at teaching and studying,
And we are even sure that we could explain a hundred scriptures,
Though our minds have not improved the least bit spiritually,
It is because we lack the analytic meditation that combines understanding with experience.

A mere semblance of listening, study, and understanding
Can generate both strong faith and listening wisdom2 about the topics of leisure and fortune, Impermanence, aversion,3 and so on; but they have not arisen through analytic meditation.
Such wisdom is nothing more than right judgment4 and so eventually it fades away.

You run a risk by failing to generate soon after this wisdom
The genuine experience that comes from reflection.
Many persons become insensitive to dharma5 when they allow
The former awareness to fade away before they can generate the latter.6

Once you are overcome by insensitivity to dharma, your mind stream
Becomes ruined and you are incapable of being tamed,
Even by the Lam-rim or the blessed words of your guru.
So apply yourself to the profound method for avoiding insensitivity to dharma.

This is achieved through the blessings of your guru’s speech,
Along with your own efforts to listen to dharma properly.
So, however much understanding you gain through hearing dharma, it’s vital
To generate soon afterward the understanding which comes from reflection.

How, then, do you generate the understanding which comes from reflection?
Analytic meditation is the exercise of eliciting experiential realizations
By contemplating a particular meditation topic from every standpoint
And in every way, using scriptural citations and sharp reasoning.

For instance, if you set forth as the object to be established that your guru is a Buddha,
Advance again and again those cogent arguments that will prove he is a Buddha;
For this is the means of eliciting the conviction that he is a Buddha.
Practicing this strenuously and repeatedly is what we refer to as analytic meditation.

Indeed, the primary aim for all the meditation topics—such as leisure and fortune,
Impermanence, renunciation, generating enlightenment mind, and the correct view—
Is to elicit sure understandings of them by engaging in sharp analytic meditation.

Even though this analysis only brings you the first elements
Of the experiential awareness that derives from reflection,
You will never be overcome by insensitivity to dharma
And you will have firmly planted the roots of your spiritual experience.
So train yourself skillfully in the ways of analytic meditation.

Moreover, analytic meditation is a unique quality of our system.
It is not recognized even partially in any tradition that stands
Outside the range of our Jamgon Lama’s7 enlightened speech.

The need for analytic meditation, how to practice it, and so on
Are taught in the Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment [Lam-rim Chen-mo].
By careful study and reflection on these points you’ll realize
That they represent an extraordinary quality of our teaching system.

To merely review a series of topics in your mind is reflective meditation;8
This is not what we call cultivating analytic meditation.
Neither is it analytic meditation to memorize the words of a teaching
And then rehearse their meaning in your mind.

To memorize the essence of every one of the path’s stages, as well as their order, number, and so on,
And then to recall each essence, order, and number individually
Is also just reflective mediation, not analytic meditation.

Therefore, as I said earlier, analytic meditation consists of
Setting forth a single topic as the object to be established,
And then repeatedly analyzing it with scripture and profound reasoning
As the means of generating a sure understanding.

For instance, when we reflect again and again on the reasons
Why we think that a particular object is attractive,
We develop strong desire. This is “analytic meditation” toward
An object of attachment, and it increases our active desire.

Likewise, when we recall again and again how a terrible enemy
Has harmed us, our hatred greatly increases.
This represents analysis toward an object of hatred,
And it ignites our “experiential awareness” of hatred.

Let’s shift now to the spiritual domain, where the aim is to increase
An experiential awareness of different virtuous minds by repeatedly contemplating
The various reasons that will elicit them, as I just described with desire and hatred.

What you must do here is contemplate over and over again
The most penetrating of scriptural citations and arguments,
And in particular those arguments which are the most effective
For eliciting a spiritual transformation within your mind.

If the repeated contemplation of just a single argument
Evokes a sense of ever-growing anguish in your mind,
Such as you might feel on hearing of your mother’s death,
This is a sign that you are succeeding; so continue striving.

But if repeated contemplation of a single argument grows stale
And your mind remains unmoved, this means your practice is not succeeding.
It’s also a forewarning against becoming insensitive to dharma.
So combine supplications to your guru with fervent acts that accumulate merit
And remove obstacles.9 Then try again to cultivate the meditation topics effectively.

Some persons at this point10 develop sudden and powerful feelings of faith,
Impermanence, renunciation, and so on, even without having practiced meditation.
They become joyously enthusiastic, thinking these are true spiritual realizations.
But soon after, when the intensity of such feelings completely disappears,
We see that they become saddened at the loss of these sentiments.
However, these are nothing but limited sensations that arise on the basis
Of transitory perceptions; they aren’t true spiritual realizations.
There is no need whatsoever for you to become proud
When such feelings arise or become dejected when they fade.
Still, because they are a sign that you have received blessings
From your guru and tutelary deity, you should strive to make them firm.

True realizations are the experiential awarenesses of faith, impermanence, and so on,
Which come forth in succession after meditating continuously with wisdom’s discerning power.
These represent inferential knowledge and, unlike the feelings mentioned earlier, they never fade away.

Moreover, you must learn the skillful technique for eliciting realizations.
Begin by meditating on all the points contained in the individual topics,
From serving a spiritual teacher to generating enlightenment mind.
Do so just long enough to become proficient in each of them.
Then meditate again on serving a spiritual teacher up through generating
Enlightenment mind, in order to elicit contrived experiential realizations.
Then do the same again, in order to elicit uncontrived experiential realizations.

When you have become familiar with these topics to the point of feeling sure
That you know how to meditate on them and that you are able to generate the realizations, we call this becoming proficient.

A spiritual awareness which arises after continuous reflection
On many scriptural citations and reasonings, but which fails to arise
Without such reflection, is called a contrived experiential realization.

An uncontrived experiential realization is one which arises distinctly,
As soon as you bring a subject to mind and irrespective
Of any prolonged reflection, like the desire for sense objects
That arises in your mind without any need of prolonged contemplation.

When understanding and experience combine thus in your mind,
This marks the first dawning of spiritual realization.
Moreover, for some meditation topics the realizations arise easily;
They can be generated even after practicing for only seven days or so.
For other topics, the realizations arise after several days or weeks.
For still others, they are difficult to generate even after a year or more.

For instance, it’s easy to realize the certainty of death;
But the uncertainty of the time of death is very hard to realize.
It’s extremely easy to realize how nothing except dharma can help
At the time of death. Such differences hold true for the other topics as well.

Therefore, don’t continue meditating obstinately on those topics
For which realizations come easily; instead, move on to the next point.
Likewise, don’t think that the topics which are difficult to realize
Are taking too long. No matter how long they take, even months or years,
Continue meditating until you generate the appropriate realizations.

Finally, you need only practice reflective meditation toward
Those earlier topics which you have already mastered
And those later ones for which you have yet to gain realizations.
So focus single-mindedly as you analyze and contemplate the one topic you are currently practicing.

PART TWO: INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO DEVELOP THE SPIRITUAL REALIZATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH PROPERLY SERVING A SPIRITUAL TEACHER

Now that I’ve instructed you on how to carry out properly
The key elements involved in practicing analytic meditation,
What is the first topic to which you should apply analytic meditation
And how should you apply analytic meditation to it?

Analytic meditation need not be applied to the three introductory topics,11
The preliminary practices,12 and so on. Therefore, the practice
Of analytic meditation should begin with the topic of how to serve a spiritual teacher.

If you contemplate skillfully for about seven days the benefits
Of serving a teacher and for about seven days also the faults
Of failing to serve a teacher, you will produce a mental transformation.13

The next topic is the root practice of cultivating faith,
Which is extremely important but also difficult to realize.
Yet no matter how many months or years it takes to complete,
Don’t think that it’s taking too long. Practice it one-pointedly
Until you succeed in eliciting a mental transformation.

Moreover, if you contemplate too many points during a single period,
Your practice will become reflective meditation, not analytic meditation.
Therefore, during each period contemplate just one topic.
For instance, make the topic “Vajradhara affirmed that our guru is a Buddha”—
The first of the four in this section14—the only one you wish to verify.
Then, with scripture and sharp reasonings as proof, apply yourself and contemplate
This very topic for the entire period until you generate a sure understanding.

Just as on the first day, cultivate this topic the next day and the next day after that.
Cultivate it for a month and for a second month as well.
Continue practicing this way until you elicit the true experiential awareness.
When the experiential awareness emerges, switch to the next topic.

After you have realized a topic, contemplate it with reflective meditation alone.
However, don’t move on to a later topic before you have gained realizations of those which precede it;
The later topics cannot be realized before the earlier ones.
Therefore, strive vigorously to elicit a realization of the initial topic.15
After eliciting an experiential realization of this topic,
Undertake to practice in a similar way the second one—
That a guru is the agent for all the Buddhas’ activities.

After gaining a realization of that topic, go to the next one—
That even nowadays all Buddhas act on behalf of sentient beings.
Meditate by applying the intense analysis of scripture, reasoning, and your guru’s instruction.
Just as you cultivate this topic the first day, continue doing so
The next day and the one after that—for days, months, or even years
Until you succeed in eliciting the proper experiential realization.

You must bring forth the realization which perceives that your guru
Is truly a Buddha. And since this very topic is much more crucial
Than all the others, devote yourself to it with great effort.

After gaining this realization, then go to the next topic,
The one that is called “Our perceptions are unreliable.”
Cultivate it by intensely applying the technique of analytic meditation.
When you have practiced this way and truly perceive
That your guru embodies the actual nature of all the Buddhas,
And when all the Buddhas and your guru appear to merge as one,
You have generated the realization that relates to serving a spiritual teacher.

Once you have elicited realizations of the four points that comprise
“The root practice of cultivating faith,” then also generate successive realizations
Of the four that comprise “recalling the spiritual teacher’s kindness.”
You should briefly contemplate as well the topic of pleasing your guru through action.

PART THREE: INSTRUCTION ON AN EXTRAORDINARY MEDITATION TECHNIQUE THAT WILL BRING YOU GREAT PROGRESS

After properly gaining, in the manner described, the spiritual realizations
That relate to generating faith and respect toward your spiritual teacher,
You should set out to elicit in succession the realizations for the topics
Ranging from leisure and fortune to generating precious enlightenment mind.

However, the realizations that relate to serving a spiritual teacher,
In which you cultivate a faith which perceives your guru as a Buddha,
Are difficult to generate without practicing for months or even years.
Therefore, carry out this extraordinary meditation instruction,
So that you can make progress quickly in gaining experiential realizations.

Devote one period of each day to the subject of serving a spiritual teacher.
Meditate on the topics in the manner that was described above.
Devote one period to eliciting realizations of those topics beginning with
Leisure and fortune, by analyzing them according to the established order.

First, this will further your realizations about serving a teacher.
Second, through gradually improving your understanding of the topics
That relate to persons of lesser and moderate capacity—
Namely, leisure and fortune, impermanence, suffering, and so on—
These lesser and moderate realizations will reach an advanced level
By the time you complete the subject of serving a spiritual teacher.

And if you also pursue the first stages of analyzing the correct view,16
You will make swift progress, simultaneously developing and completing
Experiential realizations of the three principal elements of the path.17
For instance, if you plant walnut, peach, and grape seeds together,
Their trunks and branches and flowers will develop simultaneously
And you can enjoy the fruit of all three at the same time.

Therefore, divide each day’s meditation periods into three parts.
During one part, meditate only on serving your spiritual teacher;
During one part elicit successively the realizations for the topics
Ranging from leisure and fortune to precious enlightenment mind;
And during one part apply analytic meditation to the profound view.

PART FOUR: INSTRUCTION ON DEVELOPING THE SPIRITUAL REALIZATIONS THAT RELATE TO LEISURE AND FORTUNE

So when you divide your meditation into these three periods,
The way to contemplate serving a spiritual teacher is as I explained before.
And the way to gain the realizations starting with leisure and fortune
Is first to identify what the essence of leisure and fortune is.

Reflect on what it would be like if you had been born into any of the inopportune conditions18
And how fortunate you are not to have been born there in this life.
Don’t consider the qualities of leisure and fortune in a shallow or detached manner;
Reflect again and again, applying sharp analytic meditation
So that you will imbue yourself with a deep awareness of how you currently possess them all.
When you are overcome with joy, like a pauper who has found a treasure,
Then you have generated the realization of identifying leisure and fortune.

Next switch to the topic of viewing leisure and fortune as having great value,
And repeatedly scrutinize it with the subtle analysis of scripture and reasoning.
You will have realized the great value of leisure and fortune
When you become distressed if even an instant of time is vainly spent.

Then go on to the next meditation topic, the difficulty of finding
Leisure and fortune, and reflect on it with powerful analytic meditation.
When you become as upset about being idle for even an instant
As another person would if he spilled a bag of gold dust into a river,
Then you have realized the difficulty of finding leisure and fortune.

PART FIVE: DEVELOPING THE SPIRITUAL REALIZATIONS THAT RELATE TO IMPERMANENCE

Turn now to the meditation topics that relate to impermanence.
You are sure to develop mental transformations by first meditating
For about a week on the six disadvantages of failing to recall death
And then for another week or so on the six advantages of recalling death.

After that, practice the three reasons that death is certain.
The first reason is that the Lord of Death is certain to appear
And cannot be turned back by any means. With great determination,
Apply analytic meditation to this topic no matter how many days or months it takes.

After achieving that experiential awareness, the next topic to verify
Is that your life span does not increase and is constantly growing shorter.
Cultivate it by practicing analytic meditation forcefully.

After achieving that experiential awareness, apply analytic meditation
To the next topic—that there is little opportunity
To practice dharma even during the time you remain alive.

But the truly extraordinary and unequaled instruction for recalling death
Is contained in the topic called “Meditating on the nature of death.”19
Through it, recollection of impermanence can be generated easily.
In the outline that gives the order in which to present the teachings,
This topic is placed after the set of nine points20 for meditating on death.
But a key instruction for how to put the teachings into practice is that you should meditate on it here.21

So when you’ve used the three reasons to determine that death is certain,
Consider what the various stages in the dying process will be like.
By meditating on this, you will feel a sense of overwhelming terror.

When you contemplate again and again the experiences that will befall you,
Applying analytic meditation to the meanings contained in writings
Like the one that I composed urging recollection of impermanence,22
You will be so dismayed that you cannot stay on your meditation seat.

If after meditating in this way you feel great terror,
As though you were experiencing your actual death now,
And if your reflection on the stages of death is so vivid
That they seem real and cause your heart to jump suddenly in fear,
This is the measure that you have realized the certainty of death.

After that, practice analytic meditation with total concentration,
Applying it to the sole topic that your life span is uncertain—
The first reason23 in the root category called “The uncertainty of the time of death.”
There is no certainty that your death will not come this very moment.
You should contemplate this fact by applying analytic meditation
From every standpoint and in every way.

Here is a key instruction that is both secret and profound,
About how to recollect that the time of death is uncertain.
You see and hear directly about the uncertainty of other persons’ lives.
Death strikes by means of many causes, suddenly and unexpectedly.
Some persons die while they are walking.
Some die while they are eating, others while talking.
Some persons die while laughing, others while they are running.
Some who are strong and agile die performing athletic feats.
One moment they are persons; the next they are corpses.
One moment they are alive; the next they are gone.
As you contemplate again and again the nature of these occurrences,
Analyze yourself as well, using sharp reasonings such as these:
“I have exactly the same nature as these persons.”
“How can I be sure that I won’t die this very moment?”
“How can I be sure that I won’t be a corpse this very night?”
“How can I be sure my funeral rites won’t be performed tonight?”
“How can I be sure I won’t be laid to rest in a cemetery tonight?”

You will generate the proper realization by recalling
That you can never be sure when Yama, The Lord of Death,
Will grip you in his jaws and then crush you with his fangs.
Recall how you are locked in the throes of battle with this arch enemy
And that you can’t be sure he won’t kill you right now.

After that, meditate on the next topic, how the factors that bring death
Are many while the factors that sustain life are few.
After gaining this experiential awareness, go on to the next reason
And apply analytic meditation intensely to the topic which addresses
How your body and life force are as fragile as a water bubble.

When you have forcefully applied these techniques for contemplating
The three reasons that relate to the uncertainty of the time of death,
You’ll think. “I can’t be sure I won’t die this very minute.”
As you lie down, you’ll wonder, “Will I wake up tomorrow morning?”
When you get up, you’ll wonder, “Will I go to bed tonight?”
While going somewhere, you’ll wonder, “Will I come home again?”
As you return, you’ll wonder, “Will I ever go back there again?”
You’ll wonder, “Which will come first, tomorrow or my next life?”
“Will death arrive before I can finish eating my bag of tsamba24?”
“Which will come first, the end of this pot of tea or death?”
You’ll think, “There’s no certainty I won’t depart this very moment.”
When you develop an impatience which thinks, “I have no time, I have no time,”
Then you’ve generated the realization of the uncertainty of death.

Realization of the certainty of death comes with relative ease.
However, it’s more difficult to realize the uncertainty of the time of death.
So don’t think to yourself that the latter topic is taking too long.
Continue with your practice for days, months, or even years.
Meditate with single-minded resolve until you produce a mental transformation.
After generating this realization, go on to the next topic—
That nothing except holy dharma can benefit you at the time of death.

For as many days and months as are needed, contemplate these three reasons:
That neither friends, nor wealth, nor body are of any help.

But once you perceive that nothing except dharma benefits you at death,
No further practice is needed; for this very understanding is the measure of realization.
Because this topic is easy to realize and need not be practiced long,
A key point is to go on to the next subject after you have gained the proper awareness.

PART SIX: HOW TO DEVELOP THE SPIRITUAL REALIZATIONS THAT RELATE TO THE SUFFERING OF THE LOWER STATES

Although the topic of meditating on the suffering of the lower states
Is taught separately from how to perform the act of taking refuge,
The ideal way in which to practice them is to take refuge
Right after reflecting on each aspect of the lower states.

Still, a powerful and effective instruction for the novice practitioner
Is to meditate initially on the suffering of the lower states alone,
Separately from the act of taking refuge.
Then, after gaining the first stages
Of experiential realization, you should cultivate the two practices jointly.

Among the areas of the three lower states, begin by meditating on
The suffering of “Revivals”, which is the first of the hot hells.
After generating the perception that you have actually taken birth there,
Contemplate its sufferings as though you are really experiencing them.

You may think, “It would be agonizing to take birth in such a place;
But I am only imagining this. It is not a real experience.”
Though it is just your imagination and not a real experience,
Your mind contains the seeds of accumulated and undiminished karma
That have the power to hurl you into the Revivals hell.

So have no doubt; when these seeds are activated and rendered potent
In the limb called “being,”25 you will definitely fall into that place.

If it frightens you now merely to contemplate such a place,
What will you do when you are actually born there?

Contemplate how you will manage to endure suffering like that.
Contemplate how you will manage to bear such a long life span.

Meditate alternately and with conviction, then, on these two ideas:
That you have actually been born there and that you are certain to be born there.
When you develop an intense desire to seek immediately
A means of liberation and a refuge that can save you from this peril,
And this brings on such great apprehension that you even
Lose your appetite for food, this is the measure of having generated
An experiential awareness of the suffering in the lower states.

Likewise, strive to meditate in the manner that was just described,
Intensely and with single-minded determination, until you generate
The realizations that relate to the individual sufferings experienced
In Black Lines, Compression, Screams, Great Screams,
Conflagration, Great Conflagration, and Unrelenting Torment.26

After that, apply this same method of contemplation
To the four great adjacent hell regions and the eight cold hells.
Don’t reflect as though you were watching some remote spectacle.
Reflect instead that you have actually been born in these places
And that you are certain to be born there. After meditating intensely
On what you experience there and how you will have to undergo terrible
And intense suffering for a very long time, an unbearably strong pain
Will penetrate your heart as before, and cause you to lose all contentment.

When you develop an intense desire to seek a means of liberation and a refuge
That can save you, this is the mark that you have generated the proper realization.

To enhance your practice when meditating on the suffering of the hells,
Read their descriptions in the Sutra on Well-composed Recollection
And examine carefully the specific sufferings of these regions
As they are depicted in drawings. After doing this, reflect:
“As soon as I cast off this physical form, I, too, will become
A victim of these very same conditions. What shall I do then?”
Recalling this again and again is the best way to improve your practice.

After that, generate a state of awareness in which you imagine
That you have actually become each type of hungry ghost and animal.
Though at this time you haven’t really become these beings,
Your mind is a storehouse filled with myriad forms of projecting karma
That will surely cause you to be born there before very long.

So reflect: “When that happens, these are the experiences I will undergo.”
Then ponder all the activities you will engage in—both while walking and at rest—
When you actually take birth as different types of hungry ghosts
Or as a dog, a donkey, a worm, a bird, a deer, and so forth.
Also ask yourself: “How will I be able to endure all this?”
To enhance this practice, read as well about the suffering of hungry ghosts
And animals as described in the Sütra on Well-composed Recollection.

Meditate this way until you think,
“I wish I could close the door to the lower states this very moment,”
Or “How wonderful it would be to find a means of closing it right now.”
When you also take up, ever so quickly, strenuous forms of practice,
These are the signs that you have generated the appropriate realization,
As the scriptures describe in the story of Ananda’s two nephews.27

PART SEVEN: TRAINING YOURSELF IN THE PRACTICE OF TAKING REFUGE

After generating, as described, the realizations that relate to the suffering in the three lower states,
You will also develop the desire to find a refuge that can save you from this plight.
When this occurs, you are ready to contemplate how the Triple Gem
Is the only true refuge and to reflect on their various qualities.

You will elicit a mental transformation by reflecting for about seven days
On the four reasons that explain why they are a worthy object of refuge.
After that, meditate on a Buddha’s physical, verbal, and mental qualities, and on the qualities of his activities.
Do this in accord with your intellectual powers, either in brief
By following the explanations that appear in the Lam-rim writings
Or in detail by following those presented in major philosophical treatises,
Such as the two Ornaments, the Higher Science,28 and the like.
The measure for having generated the proper experiential realization is to develop an intense faith that cannot be reversed.

Meditate similarly on the qualities of the dharma and the sangha—Either in brief as taught in the Lam-rim or in detail as taught
In the major treatises. The measure for having generated this realization
Is again to develop a strong faith which cannot be overcome,
Through having recognized the qualities of this system’s Triple Gem—
That is, our teacher, his teaching, and those who practice the teaching.

After eliciting a realization of this topic, do the same for each of those
In the section called “learning the distinctions.”
The measure for having generated
This realization is to be able to apprehend clearly the distinctions
Associated with each aspect of the Triple Gem.

After eliciting that realization, go to the next topic, which addresses
How to take refuge by professing faith in the Triple Gem.
Reflect:“I accept my guru and the Buddha as the ones who teach me how to find refuge;
I accept the holy dharma gem as the actual refuge;
And I accept the sangha as the companions who help me to find refuge.”
The measure of this experiential realization is to gain the conviction
That you could accept only the Triple Gem with such strong faith,
Because no other teacher, refuge, or followers are their equal.

After generating this experiential realization, the next topic
Is to take refuge by disavowing faith in any other tradition.
Reflect carefully how our teacher, the Buddha, and his teaching
Are the sole point of entry for those who seek liberation,
And how they are superior by virtue of possessing six distinctions.29
Reflect as well how other teachers and their teachings—
Such as the doctrines of Bon, the tirthikas,30 great worldly gods,
And all those teachings and teachers different from this dharma—
Are inferior in that they possess six opposite distinctions.
Through reflecting thus, bring forth a heartfelt conviction of how
Our supreme teacher, his teaching and those who follow it are the sole refuge,
And how no other tradition whatsoever is a true refuge.

The measure of realization is reached when this keeps you from generating
Even the slightest thought of wanting to take refuge in someone else.

After that, you will elicit a mental transformation by meditating
For about seven days on the benefits of taking refuge and also for about a week
On the precepts to be observed. So exert yourself with heartfelt conviction.

Because it does not take very long to generate realizations
Of the meditation topics associated with taking refuge,
Study and reflect on the explanations found in the major scriptures.
Learn as well to meditate on them with single-minded determination;
For the virtuous qualities of the Triple Gem are as vast as space,
As numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges, and as deep as the ocean.
Moreover, the three realms are too small to hold the merit that is gained
By recognizing and developing faith toward even a portion of them.
So devote yourself to this practice earnestly and vigorously.

PART EIGHT: HOW TO COMBINE THE ELEMENTS OF TAKING REFUGE AND REFLECTING ON THE SUFFERING OF THE LOWER STATES IN ORDER TO MEDITATE ON THEM JOINTLY

After properly eliciting separate realizations as described above,
For the topics of reflecting on the suffering in the lower states
And recalling extensively the virtuous qualities of the Triple Gem,
You should practice taking refuge in a way that combines the two subjects.

The two causes which form the basis for the act of taking refuge
Are the fear of being tormented by the suffering in the lower states
And the faith which believes that the Triple Gem alone have the power to save you.
The actual essence of taking refuge is the mental act in which,
Based on these causes, you entrust yourself from your heart
To the Triple Gem as the object which can save and protect you.

If you were to fall into the lower states, you would not be able
To find a refuge, nor would you even know how to take refuge.
Thus, it’s crucial that you begin right now to practice taking refuge.
You should do this by reflecting carefully on the words
Composed by the Lord Shantideva, which begin at the phrase
“With eyes that peer about in terror” and continue up to
The line “Please free me quickly from this source of fear.”31

Furthermore, the way of devoting yourself fully to these points
And meditating on them extensively is to carry out the following practice:
First emanate from the heart of the guru on the crown of your head
A complete object of refuge, which becomes seated in front of you.
Then visualize all sentient beings of the six classes surrounding you.
After that, begin by meditating on the suffering of Revivals.

Imagine you are actually there, so vividly that it fills you with terror.
Then reflect that you need not be afraid, because the saving refuge
Of the Guru and Triple Gem—who are sitting in the space before you—
Possess the power that can save you from this plight.
Finally, hold in your mind the thought that you beseech this object of refuge
From the bottom of your heart to save you and all sentient beings
Right now from this suffering of Revivals, while you diligently repeat
The refuge formula aloud many times over.

Do the same for the other hot hells—
Black Lines, Compression, Screams, and the rest—
As well as for the four adjacent hell regions,
The eight cold hells, the hungry ghosts, animals, and so on.
Meditate on all their various sufferings, taking each one separately.
Then recite the refuge formula aloud, after you have contemplated each topic.

These key points make for a practice that is truly wonderful.
Nowadays, many persons recite the refuge formula a prescribed number of times.
But they repeat the formula without having gained any knowledge

Of the topics just described, such as the causes and essence of taking refuge,
Its virtuous qualities, distinctions, or the professing of faith and disavowal of other religions,
Such practice is mere verbal striving, mere words, mere counting.
How could this ever represent a genuine form of taking refuge?
What can you accomplish by a refuge practice which fails to enter the door
To the inner faith of Buddhism and which is performed as though it were a form of punishment?

So if you want to undertake a prescribed number of refuge recitations,
Perform them here,32 while reflecting extensively on the various topics;
This will ensure that your efforts are carried out most effectively.


Footnotes

1. Concern with experiencing pleasure and pain, concern with material gain or not getting, concern with receiving praise or blame, concern with experiencing agreeable sounds, etc. and disagreeable. Back to text

2. This is a reference to the first of three levels of wisdom – derived from listening. The other two are wisdom derived from reflection and wisdom derived from meditation. Wisdom derived from listening only represents correct judgment; therefore, it is not knowledge in the epistemological sense. Moreover, as the text notes later on in this section, the main purpose of analytic meditation is precisely to generate the second type of wisdom, that which is born of reflection, because this does represent knowledge—more specifically, inferential knowledge. Back to text

3. That is, aversion for the defects of samsaric existence. Back to text

4. Traditional Buddhist epistemology defines seven types of cognitive awareness. Only two of these—inference and direct perception—have the capacity to represent knowledge. The other five, including right judgment, do not. Back to text

5. This is a condition which occurs when a person gains some learning of the dharma but fails to put it into practice. As a result, his mind becomes hardened to the dharma and he fails to achieve any spiritual self-discipline. Back to text

6. The “former awareness” is the wisdom which derives from listening; the “latter” is the wisdom which derives from reflection. Back to text

7. Je Tsongkapa. Back to text

8. shar gom. While reflective meditation represents a valid form of practice, it is important to distinguish it from analytic meditation. The point being made here is that only analytic meditation represents the true method for generating uncontrived experiential realizations. Back to text

9. Examples of acts that accumulate merit are making offerings, rejoicing at one’s own virtue and that of others, and so forth. Two practices that remove obstacles are confession and making prostrations. Back to text

10. That is, after having listened to Lam-rim teachings and studied related texts, but without having practiced analytic meditation. Back to text

11. These are the first three divisions of the Lam-rim teaching: (1) the greatness of the origniator of the dharma teaching, (2) the greaness of the dharma teaching itself, and (3) the correct method of listening to, and teaching, the dharma. Back to text

12. The six preliminary practices are: (1) Cleaning the place and setting up the altar, (2) Arranging well-obtained offerings, (3) Positioning oneself and generating refuge and bodhicitta, (4) Visualizing the field of merit, (5) Offering a 7-limb prayer and mandala, and (6) Making requests. Back to text

13. This phrase is equivalent in meaning to “eliciting an experiential realization.”Back to text

14. The section of the lam-rim outline entitled “How to regard our guru as a Buddha.”Back to text

15. In this context, the initial topic is the one entitled “Vajradhara affirmed that our guru is a Buddha.” Back to text

16. This topic should be pursued in a third period of each day. See next paragraph. Back to text

17. Renunciation, enlightenment mind, and the correct view. Back to text

18. The eight inopportune conditions are: being born as a hell-being, craving spirit, animal, in a barbaric country, as a long-living god, with imperfect senses, having wrong views, or when a Buddha has not come into the world. Back to text

19. You can find this in Pabongka Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, pages 133-138. Back to text

20. The nine reasons that are included in the three root categories. Back to text

21. That is, after contemplating the three reasons associated with the certainty of death. Back to text

22. This poem is called Heart Spoon: Encouragement through Recollecting Impermanence, available from the FPMT Education Department or Wisdom Publications. Back to text

23. Like the first root category, the second is also comprised of three reasons: (1) the life span of a person in the Jambudvipa is uncertain, (2) the factors that contribute to death are many and those that sustain life are few, (3) our bodies are extremely fragile. Back to text

24. Roasted barley flour, a common staple food in Tibet. Back to text

25. This is the tenth limb of the twelve-part teaching on dependent origination also commonly referred to as “becoming”. Back to text

26. These are the seven remaining hot hells. Back to text

27. See Liberation in Our Hands, p. 177 (Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press) Back to text

28. Ornament of Realizations (Abhisamayalamkara), Ornament of Mahayana Sutras (Mahayanasutralamkara), and Treatise on the Higher Science of the Mahayana (Mahayanottaratantrasastram). Back to text

29. The six are (I) a Buddha is without faults and has fulfilled all virtuous qualities; (2) a Buddha’s teaching bestows the fruit of happiness through a path that is easy to traverse; (3) the teaching enables you to move against the flow of samsara‘s current; (4) the teaching removes the mental afflictions; (5) the teaching does not deceive those who seek liberation; and (6) the teaching is singularly virtuous and enables you to eliminate faults. See Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment [Lam-rim Chen-mo] by Lama Tsongkhapa. Back to text

30. A particular group of religious practitioners. Back to text

31. Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Chapter 2, verses 45-53. (A translation by Vesna and Alan Wallace is available from Snow Lion Publications.) Back to text

32. That is, the appropriate occasion for carrying out such a practice is when you have reached this stage in the Lam-rim teachings. Back to text