The Easy Path - Introduction
The Sanskrit word bodhi is usually translated into English as "enlightenment." When one attains bodhi, one becomes a buddha—an enlightened or awakened being. To attain such an enlightened state, you must purify all negative qualities and fully actualize all good qualities, such as wisdom, love, and compassion. This book explains the essential practices for attaining such an enlightened state in accordance with a seventeeth-century work by Panchen Lama Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen, Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: Practical Instructions on the Easy Path to Omniscience—in brief, Easy Path. The word "omniscience" in the title is essentially a synonym for enlightenment, or buddhahood. "Practical instructions" indicates that this text provides pragmatic advice that completely reveals the subject.
The Tibetan term lamrim, the "stages of the path," describes a genre of literature that was initiated in Tibet by the great Indian master Atisha when he composed his famous Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. In that classic text, Atisha showed how to integrate the vast range of Buddhist teachings into one's own practice of the path by describing how individuals progress through three "scopes" or levels of motivation for spiritual practice. Among the many texts written in Tibet on the stages of the path, there are a set of eight great lamrim texts that are considered especially important. These eight include the extensive, medium, and brief lamrim texts by Lama Tsongkhapa; Easy Path by the First Panchen Lama; Swift Path by the Second Panchen Lama Losang Yeshe; Essence of Refined Gold by the Third Dalai Lama; Manjushri's Own Words by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama; and Path of the Excellent Scriptures by Dakpo Ngawang Drakpa. So this book examines one of those eight especially great texts.
The Tibetan term delam, here being translated as "easy path," could also be taken to mean a "path to bliss." De connotes ease, happiness, well-being, and bliss. As this text involves tantric methods, it does indeed teach a path that can lead you to great bliss. However, the main sense of delam in our title is of an easy path—easy because it combines the methods of sutra and tantra—to travel to the state of omniscience. Of the eight great texts, Easy Path and Swift Path are particularly related to tantra, the Vajra Vehicle. Swift Path is a commentary on Easy Path. Their titles contain these words—swift and easy—because of their relation to tantric practice, for tantric methods enable rapid progress to enlightenment when employed skillfully.
For example, one special technique explained in this text is the visualization of nectar descending from your spiritual teacher into yourself. Such visualizations are not found in teachings based solely on the Sutra Vehicle. There you may find light rays emanating from buddhas and bodhisattvas but not the descent of nectar blessings from your spiritual teacher. If you can visualize clearly the light rays and nectar of five colors in the context of guru yoga as taught in Easy Path, then this leaves powerful imprints that will later ripen as enlightened qualities. Visualizing nectar leaves imprints to realize the illusory body as taught in the completion stage of highest yoga tantra, and visualizing light rays leaves the imprint to realize the completion-stage clear light; visualizing the five colors leaves imprints to realize the five enlightened wisdoms. This is one way that Easy Path takes advantage of the techniques of Buddhist tantra.
Because this text contains such elements of tantric practice, it allows you to attain realizations more quickly and easily than you could by practicing only the path of the perfections based solely on the teachings in the Buddhist sutras. If you travel to enlightenment through the path taught in the sutras without engaging in tantric practice, then it takes many lifetimes stretching across eons to attain buddhahood. Five different spans of time are taught in the sutras for the bodhisattva's journey to buddhahood, each with its own simile. Some bodhisattvas travel like a bull cart, taking forty eons; some travel like an elephant, taking thirty-three eons; some travel like the sun and the moon, taking ten eons; some travel like an arhat's magical power, taking seven eons; and some travel like a buddha's magical power, taking three eons.
Buddha Shakyamuni was among this fastest category, attaining enlightenment by training for three eons. This trajectory can be mapped to the Buddhist explanation of the five paths and ten grounds. Such a bodhisattva takes one eon, involving many rebirths, to traverse the first two of the five Mahayana paths—the paths of accumulation and of preparation. The bodhisattva then takes a second eon to travel from the first bodhisattva ground, which is attained on the path of seeing, up to the seventh bodhisattva ground along the fourth path, the path of meditation. Continuing on the path of meditation, the bodhisattva then takes a third eon to traverse from the eighth bodhisattva ground through the tenth bodhisattva ground, thereby attaining the final path of no-more learning, full enlightenment. There are some special cases mentioned in the sutras of bodhisattvas—such as Ever-Crying Bodhisattva—who travel the path more quickly due to extremely powerful guru devotion. But in general it's quite clear that it takes eons to attain full enlightenment when one exclusively practices the Sutra Vehicle.
Practicing the path in a way that integrates the practice of the sutras with the practice of tantra allows one to attain full enlightenment much more swiftly. Through highest yoga tantra, one can even achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime. Of course, doing so requires a lot of effort. But when compared to a path that requires eons, this approach integrating sutra and tantra is indeed much easier!
In addition to integrating tantric practice, Easy Path has other special, sacred qualities. One is that it contains secret techniques from the Tushita Emanation Scripture. This scripture was given directly to Lama Tsongkhapa by Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. It is a volume of teachings but not one made of paper and ink; it is visible only to very highly realized masters. Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen was able to read this Tushita Emanation Scripture, and some say that he quoted long sections of it when writing the Guru Puja. He also included some special techniques from this scripture in Easy Path, which makes this text very essential and effective. Easy Path also contains special instructions for practice that were only transmitted orally from teacher to student, from Lama Tsongkhapa down through a line of great masters until they reached Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen. He was the first teacher to write those instructions down, and they are included in Easy Path, making it very special and effective for practice.
Another quality of Easy Path is that it belongs to the lineage of Kadampa oral instructions. After the time of Lama Dromtonpa, the great disciple of Master Atisha, there arose three Kadampa traditions—Treatise Followers, Oral Instruction Followers, and Stages of the Path Followers. The Treatise Followers would study the stages of the path in the context of also studying classical Indian treatises such as Maitreya's Ornament for Clear Realizations, Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Way, and so forth. Stages of the Path Followers would study extensive texts in this tradition such as Drolungpa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Teachings, Gampopa's Ornament of Precious Liberation, and so forth. Geluk practitioners of this style meditate based on the study of texts like Tsongkhapa's Great Treatise and Middle Length Treatise on the stages of the path. By contrast, this Kadampa lineage of Oral Instructions Followers is the easiest to practice. One engages in practice based upon concise, very clear instructions descending from Atisha's essential oral advice. These essential teachings have been incorporated into Easy Path, and this concise work distills all the teachings of Buddha. Those readers who have busy lives and lack time for extensive studies may find instructions like these very useful for practice.
A Summary of the Stages of the Path
The stages-of-the-path tradition shows us how to progress along the entire path to buddhahood step by step. The purpose of these instructions is to lead you to buddhahood. I mentioned earlier that three scopes, or levels of motivation, for spiritual practice are described in this tradition. The small-scope practitioner is motivated to attain good future rebirths. This is the lowest motivation that actually qualifies a practice as genuine spirituality. The middle-scope practitioner is motivated to attain permanent liberation from the samsara, the cycle of suffering rebirth. And the great-scope practitioner is motivated by great compassion to attain full enlightenment in order to lead all other sentient beings to enlightenment as well. By practicing the stages of the path, you aim for buddhahood for all beings, and along the way, you naturally gain good rebirths and liberation from samsara as well.
The practice of the stages of the path can be summarized in three steps: setting your motivation in accord with one of those three scopes, practicing the eight meditations, and carrying out the practices of the three scopes.
When setting your motivation in accord with the small scope, you renounce the mundane concerns of this life and generate a sincere wish to achieve good rebirths in future lives. For the middle scope, you renounce not just this life's concerns but all of samsara by analyzing the faults of samsara; you then generate the wish to attain liberation—nirvana. For the great scope, you renounce self-cherishing; cherishing others, you strive to attain enlightenment for their benefit.
There are eight meditations or contemplations that accord with those three scopes. Four contemplations accord with the small scope:
- The precious human rebirth
- Death and impermanence
- The sufferings of the lower realms
- The laws of karmic causality
Two contemplations accord with the middle scope:
- The faults of samsara
- The benefits of nirvana
Two contemplations accord with the great scope:
- Relative bodhichitta
- Ultimate bodhichitta
Engaging in these contemplations naturally leads you to the third general point of carrying out practices of the three scopes. The small-scope practices are taking refuge in the Three Jewels and making effort at taking up what leads to happiness and abandoning what leads to suffering. The middle-scope practices are generating the wish to achieve nirvana and practicing the three higher trainings. For the higher scope, you generate the awakening mind—bodhichitta—and practice the six perfections and the four ways of gathering disciples.
If you've studied the stages of the path before, you may be wondering why relying on a spiritual teacher doesn't appear in this summary. It's because relying on a teacher is the prerequisite for engaging in these practices properly. When you look at broad outlines of texts on the stages of the path, the first section is on how to rely properly on a teacher and second is how to train in the path. Relying on the teacher comes first and is a separate point because it should be carried through all the other practices. A very important point for successful practice is conjoining all your other contemplations and meditations with guru yoga. The Third Panchen, Palden Yeshe, has explained that we should take the lama as the life, the very essence, of our practice by meditating constantly on guru yoga. Integrating such guru yoga with all our practices is an essential instruction for practicing Easy Path.
Analytical and Stabilizing Meditation
The main Tibetan word for meditation, gom, literally means "familiarization," and in the case of meditation that means "familiarizing with a virtuous mind." When we focus on some virtuous, positive topic, bringing it to mind again and again and holding the mind on it, that's meditation. For example, focusing your mind on the truth of impermanence is meditating on impermanence. If you're familiarizing your mind with attachment or anger, then that's not meditation because those are not virtuous states of mind.
There are two different styles of meditation: analytical and stabilizing. Analytical meditation entails using reason to contemplate a virtuous topic. We often use faulty reasoning to develop unhealthy states of mind. For example, when we're developing craving we repeatedly exaggerate the good qualities of the desired object, totally neglecting its faults. Through such distorted thinking, we cause our craving to get stronger and stronger. With virtuous objects, however, our thinking is realistic! For example, if you contemplate how others very much want happiness just as you yourself do but are meeting with suffering, you will generate compassion—a realistic, positive state of mind.
The process of repeatedly running through thoughts about a subject from many angles is similar whether we're cultivating unhealthy or virtuous mental states. When cultivating mental states, reasoning into them repeatedly, familiarizing your mind with them increases their strength. Virtuous mental states are virtuous and lead to happiness because they accord with reality; they are based on reason. As you go through the stages of the path as taught in Easy Path, you'll see that all of the meditations aside from calm abiding are analytical meditations. For example, to generate bodhichitta, you first develop an understanding of the teachings on that topic, and then you repeatedly contemplate the correct lines of reasoning until bodhichitta arises.
The other kind of meditation is cultivating stable concentration to develop calm abiding, or shamatha. Here you place and then focus your mind on a single object, not letting the mind drift away to any other object of focus. Some scholars say that any concentration practice actually requires analytical meditation. Say the object you are concentrating on is an image of the Buddha. In that case, you first contemplate the details of that image—its colors and shapes—and these scholars view this as a form of analytical meditation. Or say your object of focus is devotion to your spiritual teacher: first you contemplate the reasons for generating a feeling of faith, and then you focus on that single-pointedly. In terms of practice, it's very important for us to combine those two kinds of meditation. This is the most effective approach.
Progressing in Your Practice
I mentioned earlier that the three scopes of practice are differentiated by your motivation. Actually, whether or not what you're doing is spiritual—is Dharma practice—is determined by your intention. If your motivation is spiritual, then every act can become Dharma practice. If you're doing an action motivated toward comfort and happiness in this life, you're not practicing Dharma. When your intention is aimed at benefiting your own future lives, you've entered into the small scope of spiritual practice. At that point, you've not yet entered the path to enlightenment, but you are practicing some Dharma. The middle-scope motivation, wishing to be free from samsara, makes whatever action you are doing a Dharma practice directed into the path to liberation. The great-scope motivation entails doing an action with the intention to overcome self-cherishing and to practice great compassion for others.
It's extremely important to understand this key point: everything depends on your intention. Even if you are giving away money or food to others, if your motive is self-aggrandizement, then you're not doing a spiritual action. Even if you're doing something that looks harmful, if the intention is good, then the action is positive. For example, cutting another person might appear negative and cause him or her pain, but when a surgeon cuts open a patient, the doctor's positive motivation makes that a positive action. Similarly, if a parent scolds her child out of sincere love, this is positive. So if you want to engage in Dharma practice, then you should begin by spending time setting up a pure motivation.
Having set a pure motivation, you then engage virtuous activity. And, when you've completed a particular action, you dedicate whatever virtue or good karma you've created to goals that accord with your spiritual motivation. Having dedicated, your practice becomes complete. Setting a pure motivation, engaging in positive actions, and dedicating should be integrated into all of your practices and ultimately into all aspects of your life.
Now in terms of formally practicing the stages of the path, three major topics appear repeatedly in the text. I'll explain them once here at the beginning. You should then apply them to each of the meditation topics that will come. These three points are what to do before meditating, during the meditation session, and between sessions.
What to Do Before the Meditation Session
Before meditating, very clearly develop a pure motivation and then engage in the preliminary practices. I'll go into detail below about how to do each of the preliminary practices, which are very important for creating fertile conditions for realizations to grow in your meditation. Those preliminary practices are taught in detail for practicing the meditations of the stages of the path, and you also must engage in them when doing tantric practices. They aren't explained in the same way in tantra, but if you do a retreat on a tantric deity, you first have to clean up your place, arrange your cushion, set your motivation, put out offerings, and so forth.
Before doing a preliminary practice such as cleaning your meditation area or setting out offerings, you should set your motivation clearly, making sure that you are actually practicing Dharma as you do the preliminaries. And at the end of the preliminaries, you should dedicate your merit.
If you're doing a few sessions per day, then the preliminary practices should be done in the first session. They are optional for the later sessions of the same day. If your mind is agitated, then you can do some breathing meditation such as the nine-round breathing to settle your mind, visualize your spiritual teacher atop your head, and then simply begin meditating. If you have time to do the preliminaries again, then that's good, but if not then you can just do them in the first session of the day.
Also, if you don't like reciting texts such as those for the generation of the merit field and the preliminary practices, then you can simply see the merit field there and do the preliminaries from your heart without extensive recitations.
The Meditation Session
After the preliminaries comes the actual meditation session. It's good to do two, three, or four meditation sessions per day. The details on how to meditate on each topic will come as we discuss the various sections of Easy Path. In general, you practice until you gain some realization. So it's best to review most of the topics from the stages of the path only briefly, spending more time on a single topic until you gain some realization. You might stay with a topic for a month or more until some experience begins to arise. When you practice continuously on a topic such as relying on a spiritual teacher, you'll eventually gain an understanding of it—a sense that "Ah, that's how it is!" This is not yet the realization, but it's a sign you're getting closer.
Then there are two types of realization: contrived and uncontrived. Contrived realizations only arise when you make effort, methodically contemplating various reasons and examples to give rise to experience. For example, when you're at the level of contrived realization of properly relying on a spiritual teacher, an intense emotional experience of devotion and faith arise for you when you actively contemplate the lines of reasoning for this topic. Uncontrived realizations come vividly and spontaneously without your having to make a conscious effort any longer.
When most people think of an object they desire, genuine craving arises without any delay or effort. Uncontrived realizations are like that in that positive experiences arise vividly, instantaneously, and without any effort as soon as your mind comes in contact with the topic. For example, if you have uncontrived realization of guru devotion, just seeing your spiritual teacher gives rise to strong devotion. You no longer need to bring to mind lines of reasoning, examples, or quotations from scriptures. Instead, through the force of your previous training, the genuine experience arises without effort. So it's good to begin with focusing your meditations mainly on reliance on the spiritual teacher, and then when some realization of that topic has been attained, move on to spending most of your time on precious human rebirth, and so forth, all the way up to meditation on calm abiding and special insight.
To effectively make such progress, it's best to begin with relatively short sessions. Stop your meditation sessions while you're still enjoying meditation, before the mind has become bored or dull. Meditate on one point, then pause and check if you've been focused. Each part of your practice should be done mindfully and well. So meditate a bit, and then pause to see how you're doing. Be sure that your motivation is still clear, that you're deeply engaged in the practice, and that you're enjoying the meditation. It's the same when doing tantric sadhana practices; you shouldn't just recite the words. Check up on yourself, and if you haven't been doing the contemplations and visualizations clearly and mindfully, then pause and go back to redo them. In this way, you can be fully confident that you are doing each part of the practice well and will thereby progress naturally!
What to Do Between Meditation Sessions
Our last general point is what to do between meditation sessions. This includes your time spent eating, sleeping, walking, driving, working, and so forth. Of course, usually we don't meditate much, and so most of our time is spent "between meditation sessions." Therefore, post-meditation time is more important for your spiritual practice than the actual meditation sessions! Also, how you conduct your life between sessions determines your success in meditation itself. So I want to explain in some detail how to keep your mind positive between sessions and in this way illustrate how to both make your meditation support your daily life and make your daily life support your meditation.
In one sense, meditation is like studying in a class, and mindfulness between sessions is like doing your homework. You must work at both to succeed. Of course, if you're with your spiritual teacher, then you can offer service to him or her between sessions, and it's also very beneficial to engage in extensive preliminary practices such as making offerings between sessions. When you're focusing in your meditation practice on a particular topic from the stages of the path, it's good between sessions to read books related to that topic.
But many people are quite busy and don't spend most of their time meditating or reading. Therefore I'd like to share some very profound advice for busy people. During the Buddha's time, King Prasenajit was extremely busy working for his kingdom, so he went to the Buddha to ask for advice regarding how to practice Dharma in that context. The Buddha gave him three instructions: generate bodhichitta, rejoice, and dedicate. This instruction from the Buddha is also excellent for your practice during daily life.
It's a mistake to think that generating bodhichitta, the altruistic mind bent on enlightenment, is only for formal meditation sessions. While it's difficult to realize uncontrived bodhichitta, it's quite easy to generate a bodhichitta motivation any place and any time. You don't need to go on a retreat or have single-pointed concentration. All you have to do is develop a clear intention to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Practitioners of the past would adopt this motivation when they set out from home in the morning, thinking that all their activities outside that day were directed toward attaining enlightenment for all sentient beings. Then when they came home they'd generate that same intention. When walking or eating, you can think that you're doing that for the benefit of all sentient beings. Even in the restroom you can generate that kind of intention! Generating bodhichitta is very powerful; it makes whatever you're doing into a Dharma practice and a cause of your enlightenment. This excellent and easy practice can be totally integrated into your daily life. Particularly when you're interacting with others, it's easy to make mistakes, harming others or engaging in negative actions. So again at those times, generating bodhichitta is an excellent protection.
The second practice advised by the Buddha for busy people is rejoicing. Rejoicing is also a very important practice that you can do any time, anywhere. Gungtang Rinpoche, a famous lama from eastern Tibet, said that rejoicing is a method for accumulating great merit even while you're lying down to rest. Ordinarily when lying around, you may find yourself worrying about work or craving for objects of your attachment. This is of no spiritual benefit, and even on a worldly level, not getting what you want causes you suffering. Even getting what you want may not bring happiness to your life! So it's much more beneficial to stop thinking such thoughts and to turn your mind to rejoicing. Rejoicing is simply cultivating happiness in the positive actions of others and in the good things that happen to others, thinking "How wonderful for them!" Rejoicing makes you happy while you're practicing it and also generates a great deal of good karma, which will follow you into your future lives. Also, rejoicing in other's good actions and their results is a powerful antidote to jealousy, which otherwise causes so much suffering.
And there's so much that you can rejoice in! You can think joyfully about the marvelous deeds of the buddhas that led them to enlightenment and also their constantly helping other beings. Then you can joyfully think of bodhisattvas who are practicing the six perfections. And you can similarly think of the actions of hearers (shravakas) and solitary realizers (pratyekabuddhas). Sometimes Mahayana practitioners think of these kinds of Buddhist adepts as lower beings, since their activities are not driven by the bodhichitta intention that characterizes the bodhisattva path. But in reality their activities are similar to those of the buddhas. Their equanimity is so profound that if someone were applying scented water to their right foot while someone else were chopping off their left foot, they wouldn't discriminate, preferring one over the other. Like this, the qualities of hearers and solitary realizers are inconceivable to us, and we can rejoice in the fruits of their practice.
And then you can bring to mind your own good actions and those of other ordinary persons. You can reflect joyfully on everything from great deeds of compassion down to sharing a bit of food with another. There's no end to things we can rejoice in. Having thought extensively of how amazing and wonderful others' good actions are, you can then pray: "May I be able to do as they have done!"
From generating bodhichitta and rejoicing, you'll create lots of good karma. Then you engage in the third practice advised by the Buddha, dedicating the merit from these practices for great purposes. Dedication directs the positive energy of our good actions so that it ripens in line with our bodhichitta motivation—that is, in our own buddhahood, which supremely equips us to secure the happiness of others.
We'll look at some other advice on how to train between meditation sessions when we come to the instructions on this subject in Easy Path.
The Greatness of the Teacher
Before we come to the topics discussed in Easy Path, there are a few important points that don't appear in this text but are covered in more extensive texts such as Tsongkhapa's Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and Pabongka Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. These points should be explained prior to teaching any text on the stages of the path, and so I'll explain them here. The first of them is showing the greatness of the teacher.
The lineage of these teachings on the stages of the path to enlightenment ultimately goes back to the Buddha, the unsurpassed teacher. These teachings derive from the small, medium, and large Perfection of Wisdom sutras, which the Buddha taught on Vulture's Peak in Rajagriha, India. The specific genre of teachings called the stages of the path to enlightenment (lamrim) began when the great Indian master Atisha came to Tibet in the eleventh century and composed there his Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The eight great texts on the stages of the path mentioned earlier and all the other many texts on the stages of the path composed in Tibet connect back to Atisha's Lamp for the Path, and any text of this type should include all of the essential points of Atisha's text. In his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa begins with a biography of Atisha. He explains that he does so because one can say that his text is also composed by Atisha—that the entire lineage of teachings on the stages of the path belongs to the great master Atisha. I won't tell Atisha's biography here because you can read about that in other books.
In addition to the Buddha's teachings from the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and Atisha's teachings from the Lamp for the Path, texts like this one on the stages of the path are also adorned and informed by the teachings given by Maitreya in his Ornament for Clear Realizations, which itself is a commentary on the hidden meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras.
Topics such as the greatness of the teacher and the greatness of the teachings are not topics that you will have to sit on your cushion to meditate upon single-pointedly, but they are very important. Reading the biographies of past great masters like the Buddha, Atisha, and Maitreya expands your faith and enthusiasm. The root of practice is faith, and so understanding these points supports your practice of the path.
The Greatness of the Teachings
The next preliminary topic is the greatness of the teachings, which is covered by explaining the three qualities and the four greatnesses of these teachings.
It Contains All the Teachings of the Buddha
The first of the three qualities is that the teachings on the stages of the path contain within them all the teachings of the Buddha. This is particularly true of Easy Path. It encompasses all the subject matter of the sutras and of the tantras as well. Lama Tsongkhapa wrote of the stages of the path that:
Easy to Practice
The second quality is that it is put into practice very easily. When the practices for a beginning practitioner are given, it shows how to decrease craving for happiness of this life. When the practices of the middle scope are given, it shows how to eliminate craving for happiness of future lives. When the practices of the great scope are given, it shows how to eliminate self-cherishing. More easily than other teachings, it instructs us in a way that allows us to apply the Dharma to our lives.
Adorned by Instructions of Two Gurus
The third quality is that it's superior to other teachings because it's adorned by the instructions of the two great gurus. Atisha's instructions on the stages of the path combine the two great lineages of Mahayana teachings. One of these is the Lineage of Extensive Deeds, which was passed from the Buddha to Maitreya to Arya Asanga; this lineage came down to Lama Serlingpa, who taught it to Atisha. This teaching lineage contains two powerful techniques for realizing bodhichitta—the seven-point cause-and-effect method and the method of equalizing and exchanging self with others; the stages-of-the-path instructions contain both of these, making it superior to teachings that only contain instructions for the paths of hearers and solitary realizers. The other is the Lineage of the Profound View, which was passed from Buddha to Manjushri to Arya Nagarjuna; this lineage came down to Atisha via his teacher Avadhutipa. This lineage contains the instructions on the Prasangika Madhyamaka view of emptiness, which makes it superior to instructions that accord with other philosophical tenet systems.
Recognize Teachings as Free of Contradiction
Next we'll turn our attention to the four greatnesses of these teachings. The first is the greatness of allowing you to recognize that all the teachings are free of contradiction. This is important because it sometimes happens that people develop wrong ideas and prejudices. Sometimes those who exclusively follow the teachings in the sutras discriminate against the Vajra Vehicle, and some Vajra Vehicle practitioners discriminate against those who don't practice tantra. Some meditators wrongly hold that studying and contemplating Dharma texts is unconnected to meditation practice— Actually, every Buddhist teaching is aimed at helping individuals to progress toward buddhahood. Each individual has his or her own unique capacities, and the teachings exist to help them cultivate these. If you study Easy Path, then you'll see how the various teachings of the Buddha are not contradictory and are designed for an individual's practice of the path.
See Scriptures as Personal Instructions
The second greatness is allowing you to understand how to take all the scriptures as personal instructions for practice. This point is very important. If you haven't studied the stages of the path, then when you study other texts it's easy to get overwhelmed, feeling that they are too big or that you can't see how they'll help your practice. However, if you study and practice this text, then you'll be able to see all the other texts and teachings of Buddha as related to this teaching. Once you've studied this, you can comprehend all the other teachings of the Buddha, seeing how they function to help lead you to enlightenment.
Discover the Intention of the Conqueror
The third greatness is allowing you to easily discover the intention of the conquerors. Conquerors here refers to the buddhas who have conquered all of their inner enemies—the afflictive emotions and negative imprints in their minds. So by studying and practicing Easy Path, you will come to understand the thoughts and intentions of the buddhas. In particular, you'll gain an understanding of the three principal aspects of the path—renunciation, bodhichitta, and the correct view of emptiness—and even the meaning of the generation and completion stages of highest yoga tantra. Studying this text allows you to understand all these subjects easily, without much effort. If you study other texts like Maitreya's Ornament for Clear Realizations, which is very extensive and requires much effort, you still may not understand the intentions of the buddhas. But if you study this much briefer text, then it bestows the benefit of understanding the thoughts and intentions of the buddhas.
Save from Great Wrongdoing
The fourth greatness is that it allows you to save yourself from great wrongdoing. "Great wrongdoing" here refers to creating the heaviest negative karma of abandoning the Dharma. If you think that the Dharma you yourself practice is the real Dharma and that what others practice is not really Dharma, you are rejecting Dharma teachings. Studying and practicing the stages of the path allows you to appreciate the whole range of Dharma practices.
How to Listen to the Dharma
Benefits of Dharma Study
The next point is the correct manner of listening to or studying the Dharma. Since both the author and the teachings are great, you gain many benefits by studying Dharma. You create much merit through study.
Early in his life, the Buddha gave up his kingdom and family to pursue the Dharma. The Buddha also sacrificed so much in his previous lives in order to receive Dharma teachings. The Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish says he was once born as a king and went to ask a brahman meditator for teachings. The brahman told him that he'd teach him the Dharma only if the king agreed to receive one thousand stabs with one thousand iron spikes. The future Buddha agreed, sacrificing his life in that way to receive just four lines of teachings. In another life, he sacrificed himself by jumping into a pit of fire to hear just a few verses of Dharma teachings. While practicing the path, the future Buddha went through so many hardships and sacrifices for the sake of teachings, and he greatly emphasized the importance of the teachings.We too should recognize how precious the Dharma teachings are. We shouldn't be lazy or careless when it comes to listening to teachings!
The Jataka Tales, a collection of stories of the Buddha's past rebirths, have a verse on this topic that begins by saying that "Study is a lamp dispelling the darkness of ignorance and a supreme treasure never stolen by thieves." Study dispels the darkness of ignorance in our minds. Also, the wealth of understanding gained by study can never be stolen by others; it will be with you forever. Knowledge is a reliable wealth.
That verse also says that study "is the best friend who teaches you the proper way." Knowledge gained through study is your best friend. When you have difficult times, your understanding will help you and allow you to distinguish between bad choices and good ones to take to build a better life for yourself.
That verse also says that study is an "unchanging friend even for someone who has fallen on misfortune." Conventional friends, relatives, and partners can leave you when you're going through misfortune. If you have Dharma understanding, it will never leave you even in the worst of times and will give you strength in facing them.
And that verse says that study "is the harmless medicine for the illness of sorrow." It's the real medicine for us who are sick with ignorance, healing our sufferings. Through Dharma you learn how to avoid doing bad karmic actions, which cause suffering, and how to overcome ignorance, which is the root cause of samsara.
Just listening to or studying Dharma is a way to create positive karma. As we listen it may not have an immediate effect, but it brings benefit in the future. You leave imprints as you listen, then those imprints will look for you in the future and will bring benefits. Master Vasubandu recited ninety-nine volumes of texts in a retreat while a pigeon sat nearby. By the power of hearing those teachings recited, the pigeon was reborn as a human being, becoming the scholar Sthiramati.
There's also the story of a man who, when he was quite old, had the opportunity to hear some teachings from the great master Nagarjuna. When the old man died, he took rebirth as a boy in India and, due to the imprints of having heard those teachings, he grew up to become the great scholar Nagabodhi.
During the Buddha's time, there was once an old man walking with a cane to attend a teaching of the Buddha. On his way to the teachings, he accidentally stepped on a frog, injuring it. He picked up the frog and carried it to the teaching place, and the frog heard some teachings of the Buddha. The frog then was reborn in a heavenly realm through merely having heard the teachings of Buddha. These are just a few illustrations of why it's very precious and beneficial to listen to teachings.
Fault of an Upside-Down Cup
When studying Dharma, we must be free from three faults. The first fault to be avoided is to be like an upside-down cup. An upside-down cup cannot retain or hold anything. If you let your mind wander to other places or if you fall asleep during teachings or while studying, then you're like an upside-down cup. Also don't meditate on emptiness, visualizations, or other topics while studying if that may interfere with your hearing all the teachings. Even meditation on the topic your spiritual teacher is teaching on is a mistake if doing so causes you to miss hearing the words of teachings themselves! You should have an attitude bringing your ear and your mind together as one. If your mind drifts away, then you miss some of the teachings. So conjoin your mind with your ear faculty to not miss any of the teachings.
Fault of a Contaminated Cup
The second fault is to be like a contaminated cup. If you have a cup with a bad odor, putting food in it will ruin the food. Listening to teachings with the wrong motivation is similar. If you attend teachings intending to gain fame, accumulate wealth, or heal an illness, this contaminates your mind. If you're of small scope, then motivate to gain a better future life, if you're of middle scope then motivate to free yourself from samsara, and if you're of great scope then motivate to attain buddhahood to liberate yourself and all sentient beings from all kinds of suffering. Don't listen to teachings with counterproductive expectations of samsaric happiness.
As a practitioner of the stages of the path, you should particularly generate great compassion by thinking of each sort of suffering that beings in the six realms of samsara go through. Reflect on the particular sufferings of beings in the lower realms—hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, and so forth—feeling the greatly compassionate wish to free all those beings from all their sufferings. As you read this book, you should cultivate that sort of motivation.
You should definitely have concern for others while studying these teachings. Keeping in your heart only your own happiness of this life doesn't bring any benefit even in this life, let alone future lives. Keeping a pure mind and a good heart is very beneficial as you study and will definitely lead you to be able to actually benefit others in the future! So simply studying with that motivation benefits others. It creates a cause that will lead to the result of your later being able to directly help others.
If you set up a proper intention for studying this teaching—to bring benefit to all sentient beings—that motivation makes every word you read and even every step you take toward the book a virtuous action. The right motivation makes study itself into virtuous Dharma practice.
Developing such a compassionate motivation is also a way of serving and pleasing the buddhas. The buddhas are omniscient and only want to help all sentient beings. Your cultivating a good heart wishing to benefit others all the time helps to fulfill the buddhas' compassionate wishes. It's also the best offering you can make to them.
Fault of a Leaky Cup
The third fault while studying or listening is to be like a leaky vessel. If you listen to a teaching and understand something at the beginning but then forget before it's over, this is having a mind like a leaky cup. So listen very carefully and then remind yourself again and again so you do not forget.
Six Faults to Avoid
Master Vasubhandu's Reasoning for Explanations describes the six faults to avoid when studying. The first is pride, thinking things like, "I'm a genius—I'm so brilliant and I know more than others." The second is lack of respect; if you don't respect your teacher and the Dharma, you cannot digest the Dharma. The third is lack of interest, which stops you from appreciating the teachings. The fourth is having a wandering mind; if you let your mind drift away from the teaching place and you don't focus, then you won't get any benefit. The fifth is narrow-mindedness, which here refers to having a dull mind that doesn't catch any teachings; if you do meditation on emptiness while listening to teaching, that's also a fault of listening. The sixth is displeasure, which refers to occasions like when you attend a long teaching session and get tired or frustrated, which becomes an obstacle to listening to teachings. Sometimes when you listen to teachings, you cannot understand the meaning and you get tired. In that case, reflect on the benefits of hearing a teaching, thinking how it leaves positive imprints on your mindstream, and this will make you happier and give you courage to listen well.
The stages-of-the-path texts teach three faults to avoid and Vasubhandu lists six. If you analyze it, you'll see that all six can be encompassed by the previous three.
Six Helpful Ideas
The next point is to rely on six helpful ideas related to studying the teachings. These are thinking of yourself as a sick person, thinking of the Dharma as medicine, thinking of your spiritual teacher as a skilled doctor, thinking that practicing Dharma intently will cure your illness, thinking of the Tathagata as a holy being, and wishing that the Dharma remains for a long time.
Yourself as a Sick Person
Thinking of yourself as a sick person means to see how you're subject to many kinds of suffering. Tibetan medicine teaches that three factors are the main causes of physical illness—imbalances in your wind element, bile, or phlegm. Similarly, in the mind there are three main causes of suffering—the three poisons of ignorance, desire, and anger. You first recognize that you have these causes in your mind and then that you are subject to suffering because of them and therefore need a cure.
Dharma as Medicine
Dharma practice is the medicine that eliminates those three poisons that are the inner causes of the sickness of samsaric suffering.
Guru as Doctor
If you're diagnosed with an illness by your physician, he or she will prescribe a treatment specifically designed to treat that illness. Similarly, when relying on a guru, view him as a doctor who prescribes specific Dharma practices to cure your sickness and its causes in your mind—your delusions and afflictive emotions.
Dharma Practice as Cure
Even if you receive instructions from your guru, if you don't digest those instructions by putting them into practice, then they won't cure your inner sickness. That would be like filling a prescription from your physician but never taking the medication; it can't help your illness if you leave the medication in the cabinet. The Buddha himself taught, "I cannot take out your suffering with my hands and neither can I transfer my realizations to you; you must understand the nature of reality to attain liberation." We ourselves have to put the teachings into practice; otherwise there's no way to eliminate our faults and our suffering. This point really emphasizes your responsibility for putting what you learn into practice!
The Tathagata as a Holy Being
Tathagata is another name for the Buddha. Seeing the Tatagatha as a holy being benefits us. All these teachings come from the Buddha. Seeing him as a holy being helps us to listen well and to apply his teachings energetically in our lives.
Wish That Dharma May Long Remain
The Buddha went through so many difficulties to share the Dharma in this world. If it remains long in this world it benefits beings more. Our focus on preserving the Dharma is a way of repaying the kindness of the Buddha.
Coordinating Your Study with the Six Perfections
You can coordinate your study of Dharma with the six perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom. If you give your time or even your life to learn Dharma, this is generosity. Offering flowers, water bowls, or a mandala in your study place is also practicing generosity. Abandoning the three and the six faults of listening mentioned earlier is a practice of the perfection of ethics. Bearing others' upsetting words or actions when studying without getting angry is a practice of the perfection of patience. Another kind of patience is voluntarily taking on difficulties to accomplish your goals. A third kind of patience is called "dwelling in the truth of the Dharma," which refers to dwelling on a true understanding, not rejecting it, so as to allow it to counteract your own wrong understandings and negative emotions. All of these can be applied when studying. If you experience fatigue when studying, for instance, bearing that is a way of practicing the perfection of patience. The perfection of joyous effort comes when you take great pleasure and joy in listening to teachings or reading Dharma books. If you are mindful and have stable focus when studying, this is the perfection of concentration. Regarding the sixth perfection, the perfection of wisdom, if you can clearly distinguish between good and mistaken instructions when you are listening, this is a practice of wisdom. Understanding the emptiness of the three spheres—how the author, the teaching, and you the reader are empty of inherent existence—is also a practice of integrating your study with the perfection of wisdom. If you have doubts, presenting those doubts to your teacher is another way of practicing the perfection of wisdom.
Regarding listening to the teachings, finally I'd like to note that it's important to have both respect and faith for the teacher and the teachings. Respect and faith each arise in different ways. Respect comes through understanding the kindness of the teacher. Faith in the teacher and in the Dharma itself arises from experience. As you listen to the teachings and then put them into practice, when you experience the pacification of your own afflictive emotions through your practice, this experience naturally gives rise to faith.
How to Teach the Dharma
The outline of how to teach the Dharma has four sections: bringing to mind the benefits of teaching, generating respect for the teacher and the teachings, knowing what to think and do while teaching, and distinguishing between those you should and those you should not teach. These points parallel the ones above about listening.
Bringing to Mind the Benefits of Teaching
When teaching Dharma you should contemplate the great benefits of doing so and not be motivated by afflictive emotions. If while teaching you are craving offerings from your students, that's inappropriate. If you're teaching in a highly visible manner while craving acclaim or more disciples, that's deluded as well. If while teaching others you are hoping they'll notice how wise or learned you are, that's also harmful. Instead of these worldly motives, recall instead the immense spiritual benefits of sharing the Dharma.
Generating Respect for the Teacher and the Teachings
The "teacher" in this context refers to the Buddha himself. The Buddha was initially like us, and then he practiced the Dharma, purifying all his negative qualities, and became a fully enlightened being. Then he gave the Dharma for us. Whatever Dharma we have comes from Buddha. So when teaching Dharma we pay respect to the source of the Dharma—the Buddha.
Since the Dharma is so precious, out of respect for it one usually sits on a throne while teaching. After the Buddha passed into nirvana, when Ananda was collecting his teachings he sat on a throne made of the robes of five hundred monks stacked together out of great respect for those teachings. When the Buddha himself delivered the Perfection of Wisdom discourses on Vulture's Peak, he set up his own throne out of respect for the liberating Dharma. He knew that whatever qualities he'd gained had come from the Dharma, and thus he saw how very precious it was. Following such examples, when we teach we should also pay respect to the Dharma by sitting on a throne, even setting it up ourselves if possible.
Knowing What to Think and Do while Teaching
A verse of advice regarding teaching says:
Abandon stinginess in your teaching—to not give full instructions, holding some back, is a form of miserliness. Also when teaching, don't dwell on yourself, singing your own praises by saying things like "I received this teaching from this person, and then I did this and that." Don't talk about yourself too much. Shake off drowsiness, recollecting the great benefits of teaching so that enthusiasm overwhelms any fatigue. When teaching, voluntarily accept any difficulties, discomforts, or unfavorable circumstances that may otherwise distract you and focus on teaching. Don't give space for jealousy to arise; criticizing other views or religions out of attachment or anger is inappropriate. When you've received requests from students to teach, don't postpone the teachings but follow through in a timely manner. Whenever you give teachings, teach out of love and compassion for your students.
The five attitudes to maintain when teaching are similar to the six helpful attitudes described above in the section on how to study. These five attitudes are to view yourself when teaching as like a doctor, to view the Dharma as medicine, to view the listeners as patients, to see the Buddha as a holy being, and to wish for the Dharma to remain for a long time.
Teach clearly without confusing your disciples. Don't abbreviate too much—give a complete explanation. Don't speak too quickly or too slowly; speak at a moderate pace.
Before teaching, engage in three kinds of cleansing: outer, inner, and secret. Outer cleansing means taking a bath or shower and putting on new, clean clothes. Inner cleansing refers to doing confession or purification practices if you have committed some nonvirtuous actions. It also refers to restoring your broken vows and commitments. Secret cleansing is generating bodhichitta motivation. Another sort of cleansing is suchness cleansing, which entails meditation on emptiness.
Before sitting on a throne, make three prostrations to the throne while visualizing all the lineage gurus of that particular teaching stacked one atop the other. After prostrating to those lineage gurus, get on the throne and imagine they all dissolve into you. Then snap your fingers and recite verses about impermanence while bringing impermanence to mind. Once you sit on the throne or cushion, offer a mandala and then reset your motivation. Sometimes lamas will touch the text to their head, honoring the text while re-establishing their motivation.
Distinguishing between Those You Should and Those You Should Not Teach
It is said you should only teach if you've been requested to do so. In general students should request teachings with faith, and teachers should wait to teach until requested. However, if you see someone who's an appropriate vessel and you see that the time is right, then you can make an exception and give the teaching. The texts mention twenty-six behaviors that you should check regarding students' behaviors. For example, if someone is sitting, don't give them teachings while you're standing. If someone is lying down, don't teach while you're sitting. And don't teach someone who is sitting higher up than you.
This concludes the discussion of how to listen to and teach the Dharma. We turn now to the preliminary practices and the beginning of the Panchen Lama's text.
The Easy Path by Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa and Guhyasamaja Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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