Practicing the Path - Preface

A Commentary on the Lamrim Chenmo
 

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Dear readers of this precious lamrim teaching,

The reason we need to practice Dharma is because we all need happiness. All of us—even the insects that can be seen only through a microscope—keep busy, running to achieve happiness. In this world people use so many thousands of methods to be healthy, to have a long life, to be harmonious, to have success in business, to have wealth and material prosperity. People use so many thousands of methods to have a good reputation and power in this life, to make themselves beautiful, to be loved by others, and to have friends. However, even though they use so many thousands of methods, all of these methods are external, while in fact the originator fulfilling the wishes for happiness and any success is the mind— one’s own mind. The actual root of all happiness and suffering comes from within, from one’s own mind. That is the main cause.

The pure mind unstained by ignorance, anger, and attachment and the good heart that cherishes and benefits others produce all temporary and ultimate happiness. The mind stained by ignorance, anger, attachment, and self-cherishing thought is the originator of all of the problems of our past, present, and future lives. Negative thoughts not only produce one’s own suffering, but also harm others.

The positive, healthy, peaceful, inner-happy mind, on the other hand, not only gives you all temporal and ultimate happiness, it also stops you from harming all living beings and instead causes you to benefit all living beings—especially when there is the good heart, letting go of “I” and cherishing others. This mind causes all temporal and ultimate happiness for yourself and also fulfills the wishes of sentient beings equaling the limitless sky. It causes temporary and ultimate happiness—happiness in this and all future lives as long as one is in samsara, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, and the peerless happiness of enlightenment.

Therefore you can see that, even thinking in terms of your own happiness, since you dislike even the smallest discomfort that you may experience in a dream, there is the greatest urgency to practice Dharma immediately, which means to transform your mind into a positive, healthy mind with virtuous thoughts. When the mind is transformed from a negative, impure, unhealthy, and disturbed state, you achieve all your own happiness and numberless sentient beings also achieve happiness. But as long as there is no change to the mind, as long as the mind does not become Dharma, no matter how much you try all those other external means, you will encounter obstacles and problems in life, one after another.

There will be so many difficulties in your life and so much unhappiness and misery in your heart. Your inner life will be filled only with suffering, depression, guilt, disappointment, and anguish. No matter how much education, and intelligence you have, and no matter how much extensive knowledge you have acquired, your inner life and your heart will always be empty and you will feel unhappiness. There will always be jealousy, pride, anger, desire, self-centered mind, and so forth, and these will always torture and abuse you, not giving you any freedom or peace.

Your mind has every potential because your mind has buddha-nature. Not only that, but you also have a precious human body qualified with eight freedoms and ten endowments that allows you to make use of this buddha-nature. Therefore, you have all the potential to become free forever from every problem, including the cycle of death and rebirth and all the sufferings between—old age, sickness, the suffering of being unable to get the objects you desire, and the suffering of, even after obtaining them, being unable to experience satisfaction because of the worry and fear of losing them. You can not only become free from the suffering of pain, but also you can become free forever from the suffering of change—from the suffering experience of the temporary samsaric pleasures which are only in the nature of suffering. You can also become free forever from pervasive compounded suffering. Wherever you reincarnate in the six realms, not just in the evil-gone realms—the realms of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, and animals—but also in the realms of the happy transmigratory beings—the humans, suras, asuras, and even the form and formless realms where there is no suffering of pain and suffering of change—in all these realms you are under the control of karma and the contaminated seeds of delusion. That is why all of these realms are in the nature of suffering.

The seeds of delusion are within the aggregates. They are carried by the consciousness and they compound suffering by causing delusions to rise, which motivate karma and create samsara again. In order to cease the cause of all suffering—delusions and karma—you need to actualize the remedy, the antidote, which is the complete path to liberation within your own mind. Therefore, in order to make this most precious life, which is found just once, most meaningful, of course you must practice Dharma. But it is not enough to practice Dharma just to cause happiness in the next life, nor is it sufficient to practice Dharma to achieve liberation. Rather, you must practice Dharma in order to achieve enlightenment so that you can liberate all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to enlightenment.

For this, you need to actualize the cause of enlightenment, and that has to be a path that is unmistaken and complete. Just knowing one meditation, such as Vipassana, and practicing only that your whole life cannot produce enlightenment. With that alone, you cannot even free yourself from the suffering of samsara because even to do this you need to actualize the whole path of method and wisdom. Also, spending your whole life meditating on the conventional nature of the mind, the mere clarity of mind—with just that alone you cannot be liberated from samsara.

Even when you practice a complete path, that path must not be chaotic and random. If it is complete but chaotic and random you cannot achieve enlightenment, which means you cannot do perfect work for sentient beings. Therefore, you have to practice the whole path to enlightenment and you must do so in the correct order.

The lamrim is a Mahayana teaching for a fortunate being to go to enlightenment. It is well expounded by the Two Great Charioteers, Nagarjuna and Asanga. It was originally composed by Lama Atisha who was the crown of the great pandit-scholars and highly-attained ones of India. When Buddhism had become corrupt in Tibet due to much misunderstanding and confusion regarding the practices of sutra and tantra, Lama Atisha wrote the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which integrates the Hinayana path, the Mahayana-Paramitayana path, and the Mahayana-Mantrayana path. He arranged all of these teachings taught by the Buddha into a graduated practice, showing that they are not contradictory to one another, but rather that they are all necessary for one person to achieve enlightenment.

The lamrim is the essence of Lama Atisha’s understanding and realization of the path to enlightenment. It is also the essence of the understanding and realization of the Dharma King of the Three Realms, Lama Tsongkhapa, who wrote the most extensive commentary to Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This lamrim text contains the essence of all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha without anything missing and all of this is set up in a graduated practice for one person.

If you do not take the opportunity to practice a most precious teaching such as this lamrim, the graduated path, then even if you have stable singlepointed concentration that can last for eons, there is nothing special about it because with that attainment alone the highest you can hope to achieve is the formless realm—another samsaric realm. Even if you have psychic powers, such attainments are nothing special because even intermediatestate beings have clairvoyance—as do lower realm beings such as pretas, ordinary spirits, and hell beings. Even if you are a human being and you can fly, that is nothing special, because birds and insects can also fly.

Also, actualizing the lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment, is a completely new experience, something we have never had before. It is not something that we have repeated many times in the past. Without lamrim realizations, such as the renunciation of samsara, none of the actions we do become the cause to achieve liberation from samsara—not even our spiritual practices. Without the lamrim realizations, such as the right view, none of our actions, including our spiritual practice, become a remedy to samsara—so we cannot eliminate the root of samsara. Without bodhichitta, none of our actions in daily life become the cause to achieve enlightenment, so we cannot achieve enlightenment. Without lamrim, even tantric practice cannot become Dharma—spiritual practice—and there is the danger that it may become a cause of rebirth in the lower realms of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, or animals.

One Kadampa Geshe said that when you read the lamrim it shakes the whole 84,000 teachings of the Buddha. Why? Because the lamrim is the heart of the entire Buddhadharma.

ABOUT LAMA TSONGKHAPA

This book is Yangsi Rinpoche’s commentary on the Lamrim Chenmo, or Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, by Lama Tsongkhapa, which was completed in 1402, near Reting in Tibet. Reting is a very important holy place. It was the seat of Lama Atisha’s translator Dromtonpa—the continuity of whose reincarnation is His Holiness the Dalai Lama—and the place where the Kadampa tradition began. Lama Tsongkhapa gave this commentary on the stages of the path to enlightenment in a hermitage very near Reting, and that is also where he wrote it down.

Lama Tsongkhapa is the crown of the learned, highly attained ones in the snow land of Tibet. This is expressed in the prayer called Migtsema, which Lama Tsongkhapa wrote for his guru, Lama Rendawa. Initially, Lama Tsongkhapa offered this prayer to his guru, but Lama Rendawa responded by offering it back, remarking that it was more appropriate for Lama Tsongkhapa himself.

Lama Tsongkhapa received teachings from Manjushri directly as disciple and guru. He consulted with Manjushri, who is the embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom, and with his guidance clarified every subtle point of sutra and tantra. He clarified what had not been realized before and he cut and eliminated all wrong understandings and doubts. Therefore, whatever is Lama Tsongkhapa’s understanding—this commentary itself as well as many other philosophical teachings on sutra and tantra—can also be said to be a teaching of Manjushri. Not only that, but there is a whole story that Lama Tsongkhapa himself is Manjushri.

One of these stories explains that Lama Tsongkhapa’s mother gave birth to him on the road as she was taking animals to the mountain. After giving birth, she did not look after him but left him there and continued on with the animals. When she returned, she thought the baby would have been eaten, but instead he was completely protected—sheltered by ravens. After this, she took the baby back home. From the spot where the blood dropped as the baby was born a sandalwood tree arose, and its leaves are imprinted with one hundred thousand images of Manjushri’s holy body as well as with the syllable Dhi. People take the skin off this tree and give it to women who are pregnant because eating it makes it easy for them to give birth. When we went to Tibet fifteen years ago, an English nun named Sarah saw the syllables very clearly on the tree when the bark was peeled off by a Western monk who knew the story. At that time, the caretaker got upset because he felt that the way the monk was touching the holy tree was not respectful. The caretaker explained to them that scientists had come to investigate how the syllables could get into the tree through the bark, but they could not explain it.

Therefore, it can be said that Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings are Manjushri’s teachings. And Lama Tsongkhapa is also the embodiment of Chenrezig, Vajrapani, and Maitreya. There are other stories that prove this.

Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo is an incredibly clear, moving-themind teaching. As far as the preliminaries are concerned, since details are also explained by other lamas, Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized with just a few words the vital points that make up the practices to collect extensive merit and bring very powerful purification. Lama Tsongkhapa put the greatest amount of effort and time into clarifying points and eliminating misunderstandings where previous famous meditators made mistakes. Especially, he clarified and eliminated misunderstandings about the emptiness of the four schools and particularly the most subtle one, the Prasangika school view of emptiness, which explains that while phenomena are empty, they exist merely by being labeled by mind, and that while they exist they are empty. Lama Tsongkhapa gave so much clarification and explanation on this incredible Middle Way view, devoid of the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. He eliminated all wrong views which harm the acceptance of karma, the law of cause and effect. Other well-known meditators and learned ones had a wrong view of reality—of the emptiness of phenomena—which harmed the law of cause and effect because they were unable to put together that while cause and effect functions it is empty, and that while it is empty cause and effect functions. This is the Middle Way, and without realizing the Middle Way view of emptiness, which is the Prasangika view, you cannot cut the root of ignorance forever.

For example, the Hashang view negates not only the delusions, but any thought that arises, bad or good—even loving-kindness, compassion, and bodhichitta, which bring peace and happiness for oneself up to enlightenment and which bring peace and happiness including enlightenment to numberless other sentient beings. Generally speaking, all of sentient beings’ past, present, and future happiness arise from bodhichitta.

Lama Tsongkhapa also gave extensive clarification on the very important points of tantra that previous yogis did not clarify, such as clear light and the illusory body.

Some of Lama Tsongkhapa’s incomparable teachings are the Lamrim Chenmo, The Medium Treatise on the Stages of the Path, Essence of Eloquence: Distinguishing the Interpretable and the Definitive Meanings, and Commentary to Nagarjuna’s “Root Wisdom.” Then, Ngagrim Chenmo, or the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Tantra, the Graduated Completion Stage, the Clear Light, and the Good Explanation of the Golden Garlands. Through his use of valid reasoning and quotations, Lama Tsongkhapa gave an extremely clear explanation of the Buddhadharma—sutra and tantra. He made it so easy for sentient beings to have correct understanding and practice, and to have realization without confusion. Even the late head of the Nyingma School, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, commented in his History of the Tibetan Four Mahayana Traditions, while treating the history of the Gelug tradition, that Lama Tsongkhapa gave the clearest explanation of Buddhism.

Therefore, you readers of this commentary will certainly derive immense benefit from it—even if you have read other lamrim texts. Even if you have read elaborate lamrim texts such as Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, which presents the complete teachings in a simple and clear way, still when you read the Lamrim Chenmo there is so much richness in it, like cream, and so much depth and profundity. It is so moving for the mind—every line and every word is like this. Nothing is meaningless. This is generally the quality of Lama Tsongkhapa’s work, how he presents the teachings—giving a very wide view and depth. He clarifies all of the very important points of the practice, and that is why his writings are so beneficial for the minds of those who are practicing and why many ascetic meditators, even renounced monks, carry the Lamrim Chenmo wherever they go.

Wherever you are in the world—on a very isolated mountain or under the ocean—study and meditate and allow your mind to become the stages of the path to enlightenment by putting this into practice. This makes life so meaningful. Living life like this is the richest life, the best life. This is the way to get out—it is the best way to get out of the ocean of samsaric suffering that we have been drowning in from time without beginning.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, YANGSI RINPOCHE

Yangsi Rinpoche is the incarnation of a very well-known Lharampa Geshe who was outstanding among the well-learned ones of the greatest monasteries of Tibet—Sera, Ganden and Drepung—where Buddhist philosophy was studied in extensive depth, covering all the five major texts and after that learning tantra extensively. His name was Geshe Ngawang. He was the teacher of Geshe Sopa Rinpoche, who among the great teachers is an extremely rare one, most outstanding. Geshe Sopa was a professor at the University of Wisconsin since 1967 and is also the guru of Lama Yeshe and myself, taking care of me for around thirty years by teaching Dharma and other things.

The very clear proof that Yangsi Rinpoche is Geshe Ngawang’s incarnation is that when his teacher, the ex-Abbot of the Lower Tantric College, Geshe Drubtob-la, was teaching Yangsi Rinpoche Madhyamaka, Geshe Drubtob-la remembered that in the past Geshe Ngawang-la had given him a very subtle and vital explanation on one of the points and that this special explanation was not in the text. Gen Drubtob-la was struggling to recall what it was and then Yangsi Rinpoche very easily brought up that point. That made Gen Drubtob-la feel certain that Yangsi Rinpoche was the real Geshe Ngawang-la, and even though he is one of the most learned teachers of sutra and tantra at Sera Monastery, Gen Drubtob-la cried.

Yangsi Rinpoche entered Kopan Monastery and lived there for around five years before going to study at Sera Monastery. He completed his studies at Sera Je, took the examination, and received a Lharampa Geshe degree. He studied extremely well and because of that this book will also help your understanding.

The other most important quality of Yangsi Rinpoche is that he has done very good guru devotion practice. That does not mean always reciting prayers, such as Migtsema and the guru’s mantra. It means correctly devoting to the guru with thought and action—for example, practicing the nine attitudes of correctly devoting to the spiritual friend as explained by Lama Tsongkhapa. Because of his very good practice of guru devotion, this book can be of great benefit to tame the mind and soften the heart, and to bring realizations. If one has broken the samaya with the guru then it is difficult for the disciple to generate realizations and to have successful practice. Also, the disciple might receive pollution and make the same mistake. So in the monasteries, those who really understand well and correctly the practice of devotion to the spiritual friend also understand that this is the most important thing in order to achieve realizations of the path to enlightenment and to complete the works for self and the works for others.

I thank the author Yangsi Rinpoche and also the readers of this book.

I, Thubten Zopa, bearing the name of the incarnation of the Lawudo Lama, the very least follower of Shakyamuni Buddha, dictated this to a student, the English nun Sarah at Aptos House, Kachoe Dechen Ling, November 2002.