Practicing the Path - Selections

A Commentary on the Lamrim Chenmo


560 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9780861713462

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In the outline of the root text, the first topic is establishing the excellent qualities of the author in order to substantiate the authentic source of the teachings. The second topic is knowing the excellent qualities of the Dharma in order to generate respect for the instructions. The third is how to teach and listen to the Dharma. And the fourth is the actual advice guiding the disciple on the stages of the path to enlightenment.

All of the Dharma is rooted in the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Over time, Buddha’s teachings have been further clarified by the great commentaries of the Indian masters, which in turn have been meditated upon by great yogis who not only practiced, but also actually achieved the experiences of those practices. These three criteria assure us of the excellent qualities of the Dharma. The Lamrim Chenmo was composed by Lama Tsongkhapa, but has its source in the Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom, the explicit teachings on wisdom given by Buddha himself. As a commentary to the Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom, Maitreya wrote Ornament of Clear Realization, which focuses on the method aspects of the path. Then Lama Atisha wrote Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, a commentary on Ornament of Clear Realization, which establishes the path and practice for individuals of three scopes, or three levels of capacity. However, Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment is very, very abbreviated—it is only about three pages long. Thus, for the benefit of the beings of future generations, Lama Tsongkhapa wrote this extremely detailed explanation of Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment called the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, or the Lamrim Chenmo.

In a manner of speaking, we can say that the composer of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment is also the composer of the Lamrim Chenmo. Of course, if we were to debate it, we would have to accept that this is not directly so, since it is clear that Lama Atisha did not actually compose the Lamrim Chenmo. However, some scholars say that Lama Tsongkhapa is the same mental continuum, or the reincarnation, of Lama Atisha. And others say that rather it is because the meaning of the Lamrim Chenmo is no different than the meaning of Atisha’s text that Lama Atisha can be considered the author of both.

The Lamrim Chenmo begins with the discussion of its composer in order to inspire us to develop faith, which is the basis upon which our minds will transform. The lineage masters of the text are mentioned in order to create the understanding that the result of spiritual practice does not arise out of nowhere. When we reflect on the biography of any one of these great spiritual masters, we see that each has an exemplary life story characterized by the extensive training and practice that enabled the attainment of realizations. These names are not mentioned merely in order to authenticate this particular subject matter. The subject matter of the lamrim totally validates itself.


Lama Atisha’s ordination name was Dipamkara Sri Jñana. “Lama Atisha,” as he is known in Tibet, was a name offered by Jangchub Oe, the Tibetan who invited Lama Atisha to Tibet. The name Atisha means “most excellent one.” Lama Atisha was the crown jewel of all the learned beings of ancient India; he had the most extensive knowledge, the most extensive compassion, and was the most excellent in every aspect. In this presentation of the biography of the teacher, first we will discuss the perfect circumstances into which he took birth. Secondly, we will discuss the many ways that he studied and acquired knowledge. And thirdly, we will discuss how he put all this knowledge into service to benefit others.

Lama Atisha was born in Bengal, in the eastern part of present day India, around the year 982 c.e. He was born the second son of three into a royal family. From his youth he was known for his exceptionally altruistic mind and his incredibly good nature. From as young as ten years old, Lama Atisha naturally felt a sense of refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. He understood the nature of refuge perfectly, as well as all the qualities of the objects of refuge, and at a young age he was able to explain them all for the benefit of others.

As a prince, Lama Atisha was brought up to take over the leadership of his father’s kingdom. However, in his biography it is stated that from a young age he had many dreams in which wisdom beings spoke to him, warning him that it would be a terrible loss if he were to become totally distracted by the quagmire of worldly existence. As a result, Lama Atisha sought out the spiritual path, and studied with the most excellent teachers of the time, such as Lama Rahula Gupta Aradhuti. He became extremely proficient in the study and practice of all the teachings of Buddha in both the Sutrayana and the Tantrayana. At the age of twenty-nine, Lama Atisha took the vows of full ordination from the Mahasangika abbot Shilarakita. From that point forward, his practice of ethics became extremely inspired. Even when traveling Lama Atisha carried a stupa, and upon creating any small nonvirtue, he purified it immediately in front of the holy object.

Throughout the course of his life, Lama Atisha was known to have studied with 157 great masters. And yet, even after such extensive study with so many teachers, Lama Atisha still wondered, “What is the quickest way to attain enlightenment?” This question led him to Lama Serlingpa, from whom he learned the various techniques for cultivating bodhichitta and the principles of thought transformation, and trained in the precepts of the bodhisattva vow. Lama Atisha completed the common training in concentration through the nine stages of placing the mind, took tantric vows, and, through his secret practice of the generation stage, Lama Atisha obtained the level of uncommon single-pointed concentration. On the basis of this he accomplished the wisdom of the combined practice of superior insight and concentration, which are common to the outer schools, as well as the uncommon wisdom practice of the completion stage.

Through the course of his study and practice Lama Atisha generated bodhichitta, and then returned to India where he taught extensively. He was renowned for his excellence in dialectics, and in Bodhgaya he had great debates with practitioners of other schools, emerging victorious time and again. Within the Buddhist schools, Lama Atisha corrected and cleared away all doubts and wrong views, and was well respected by all the philosophers of the time. In this way he accomplished many activities of benefit for sentient beings and the Dharma.

During the time of Lama Atisha, the Dharma was very well established in India, but in Tibet there was a lot of controversy surrounding it. Initially, the teachings of Buddha were brought into Tibet by various Dharma kings who acted as patrons. Later on, there was a particular king in Tibet known as Langdharma who was opposed to Buddhism and made it his life’s mission to destroy it. After he passed away, the teachings were slowly revived in Tibet, but with its revival there arose a lot of distortion and misunderstanding as to what exactly Dharma was. At that time in Tibet, people who studied sutra did not accept tantra, and people who had some understanding of the tantric teachings did not accept the teachings of the sutras at all. They had no idea how to combine these two aspects of Buddha’s instructions into a single path to enable one individual to attain enlightenment.

During this time, King Lha Lama Yeshe Oe sent some of the best young scholars from Tibet to India to study, and wished to invite the most exceptional teachers from India to Tibet to re-establish Buddhism. In the course of his travel to India to extend this invitation, Lha Lama Yeshe Oe himself was captured, held hostage, and eventually executed. His relative Jangchub Oe then sent the great translator and scholar Naktso Lotsawa to India with an offering of gold to extend the invitation to Lama Atisha. Eventually Naktso Lotsawa and his company of scholars managed to meet with Lama Atisha, and told him of the miserable condition of the Dharma in Tibet and of the incredible lengths that Lha Lama Yeshe Oe and Jangchub Oe had taken to benefit the Dharma, and invited Lama Atisha to come to Tibet.

Upon hearing their story, Lama Atisha said that he would think about their request. He then petitioned his monastery, and was granted permission to go on the condition that he return to India within three years. During this time, Lama Atisha had a vision of Arya Tara in which she told him that a trip to Tibet would bring forth great benefit. In particular, Arya Tara told him that if he met with a lay disciple there, together they could accomplish much for the Dharma and sentient beings. However, Arya Tara also told Lama Atisha that if he made the trip to Tibet, his life would be shortened by twenty years. But Lama Atisha decided that if his presence in Tibet would bring such incredible benefit for Dharma and sentient beings, it would be worthwhile.

When Lama Atisha arrived in Tibet, Jangchub Oe requested teachings that would benefit beings by way of instructions on cause and effect and bodhichitta. Jangchub Oe did not request the quickest method to attain enlightenment, but rather the type of teachings that would most benefit the people at that time—a means of practice by which they could incorporate the entire scope of the teachings of both sutra and tantra into their spiritual path. Thus, Lama Atisha was inspired to compose Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which is the root of all the lamrim teachings. This is why Lamp for the Path begins with the words “At the instigation of the fortunate disciple Jangchub Oe.”

Most of us have taken a great many empowerments, initiations, and oral transmissions of various tantric deities. And yet in actuality, the profound practices of tantra can only be established upon the foundation of the training in the three paths. In general, we say that we have received such and such an initiation of such and such a deity, and so forth. In reality, however, the level of empowerment received is only in accordance with the level of the practitioner. Merely being in the audience when the empowerment is going on does not mean that we receive it. Practitioners who have spontaneous renunciation mind, spontaneous wisdom knowing emptiness, and spontaneous great compassion definitely receive the perfect empowerment. If, however, we are able to generate renunciation, wisdom, and compassion only with great effort, we take the initiation on another level. Then again, if we are totally ignorant of renunciation, wisdom, and compassion, we receive the empowerment at the level of a blessing.

If we take an initiation with the motivation of achieving long-term benefit for ourselves and for other sentient beings, it is definitely possible that we can experience a positive result. But sometimes in the Tibetan community people do not have this motivation, but rather feel great enthusiasm for empowerments and long-life initiations where there are lots of blessed things to drink and take home. People feel as if they receive some kind of blessing from the initiating lama simply for being there. However, their interest in practicing the three paths or learning about the lamrim is not as great. This way of thinking has not yet taken hold in Western communities, and we should take care not to let this happen in the future.

Of course, when we hear about attaining enlightenment “quickly and even more quickly,” as it says in the tantric texts, naturally we are drawn to the concept. Yet in order to accomplish such a result, we must create its causes. The concept of bliss and emptiness that is taught in tantra is founded in the sutra teachings. The teachings on the perfection of wisdom in the sutras are exactly the same as those in tantra—as taught by Nagarjuna, all phenomena are merely labeled and empty of inherent existence by the reasoning of dependent arising. In order to ensure that the levels of our practice are in accordance with our capacity, the study of the Sutrayana is essential.

To return to Lama Atisha, although he had promised to spend only three years in Tibet, he was continuously requested by his main disciple Dromtonpa to stay longer. Despite this, at the end of the three years, Lama Atisha began his journey home, but was barred from crossing into India by a local war at the border. Thus, in accordance with Dromtonpa’s request, Lama Atisha remained in Tibet after all.

Eventually, Naktso Lotsawa returned to India with Lama Atisha’s composition of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. It was traditional in the ancient monasteries of the time for the great learned masters to compose writings that were then presented and examined before their peers. If a particular composition met all expectations, the text was highly praised. However, if a text contradicted scriptural authority or logic, it was totally disregarded. Lama Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment was presented at such a yearly event and was unanimously commended, with the comment that Lama Atisha would never have written such a text as this had he remained in India, because there was absolutely no reason for him to do so since Dharma was already so well established. Lama Atisha had written this extremely beautiful text on the stages of the path to enlightenment in order to suit the circumstances of the Tibetan people. All the Indian masters of that time praised this work and said that Lama Atisha’s presence in Tibet had been no less beneficial than his presence in India, and thereby allowed him to remain there. By that writing in itself, they felt that Lama Atisha’s time had been truly well spent.

Perhaps you feel I am only telling a story, but actually this is a very meaningful story. To hear a biography such as this one is very beneficial, since knowing the life stories of such teachers can inspire you to remember their kindness in ensuring that the Dharma exists in your life today. In the present there is a great danger of forgetting the effort and determination of the past great masters. If you think about their kindness, you will develop faith, which will make your mind suitable to receive blessings. Also, by remembering the kindness of such eminent teachers as Lama Atisha and their incredibly wondrous, virtuous work in the service of the Dharma and sentient beings, you will accumulate great stores of merit. The biographies of the great teachers of the past should serve as examples upon which to model your own practice.


When we contemplate the eminent qualities of the author of the Lamrim Chenmo itself, Lama Tsongkhapa, we should be aware of the extensive listening, study, and meditation that he engaged in, and the internal experience of those practices that he accomplished. In Lines of Experience, Je Tsongkhapa says: “I, the yogi, practice this way. You who are interested in liberation should practice likewise.” It is in the context of knowing the way in which he practiced that we establish his greatness.

In the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, Lama Tsongkhapa was born as a brahmin. During this lifetime, he offered Buddha a crystal rosary and made prayers that he would be able to benefit sentient beings and spread the teachings of Buddha without concern for personal hardship and so on. As a result of these prayers, Lama Tsongkhapa was born into the world in eastern Tibet around the year 1357. At the age of three he took his first lay vows, and at eight he took the vows of a novice monk. When he was sixteen years old, Lama Tsongkhapa came to Central Tibet to further his education.

Later in his life, having studied and practiced extensively, Lama Tsongkhapa developed the wish to travel to India to increase his understanding of the Madhyamaka, or Middle Way, view, and also of the Guhyasamaja and Chakrasamvara tantras. While he was considering leaving Tibet, he was warned by an Indian yogi that travel to India would bring him renown as a scholar and abbot, but would hinder his ability to benefit sentient beings by shortening his lifespan considerably. Therefore, Lama Tsongkhapa remained in Tibet in order to be of the greatest possible benefit to others.

Although he studied the philosophy of the Madhyamaka extensively, to ordinary observation Lama Tsongkhapa manifested the appearance of having difficulty ascertaining the final difference between the views of the two Madhyamaka schools. On the advice of Arya Manjushri, he undertook extensive purification and accumulation practice at Ulca Choling, south of Lhasa, on the basis of which he clarified all doubts and realized the perfect Madhyamaka view. It was following this that he began the composition of the Lamrim Chenmo.

The Gelug tradition, which considers Lama Tsongkhapa its founder, derives its name from the monastery that Lama Tsongkhapa built in Tibet called Ganden. The Tibetan word Gelugpa means “practitioner of the system of Ganden.” Also, in earlier times, those practitioners who were particularly strong in the tradition of Vinaya, or the practice of ethics, wore small yellow hats. It is said that Lama Tsongkhapa thought this was auspicious, and thus wore a yellow hat himself. The tradition of calling Gelug practitioners the “Yellow Hats” thus derives from this. Yellow hats are still worn today in the Gelug tradition for ceremonies and special events.


There are two ways of approaching our study of the Dharma. We can listen to and study the teachings seeking to overcome our negative thoughts, or we can listen to and study the teachings with the wish to acquire an intellectual knowledge of the subject matter, without interest in dealing with our emotions. The correct way to study a spiritual path is with the intention to use the knowledge we gain to subdue our negative states of mind. It can sometimes happen that a person develops a very good understanding of a spiritual path and is able to explain it quite well, but is unable to actually put it into practice.

For example, in Tibet there was a geshe who was very learned in many subjects, but unfortunately was unable to put his learning into practice. After he passed away he was reborn as a ghost with a donkey’s head, donkey’s hooves, and a human’s body.

In Tibet before 1959, students of the major schools would gather in the winter for a great debate. They would have six weeks of serious study of Dharmakirti’s Commentary on the “Compendium on Valid Cognition,” a text on logic and reasoning. The winter in Tibet is very cold, so all the monks would put their upper robes over their heads to keep warm. It was said during those times that it was particularly important to win the midnight debate sessions, because you could never be certain with whom you were debating since all the monks had covered heads. You could be debating with the donkey-headed monk and not know it, and in that situation a loss could create a lot of obstacles. However, if you came out victorious, it was considered very auspicious, and your wisdom was sure to increase. In the evening all the monks would gather together in a circle before the debating session, and each monk would have to clap his hands. A particular monk would clap, then the one next to him would clap, and so on, all the way around the circle. This was also a way to check for the donkey-monk, as he couldn’t clap—for he had no hands.

Therefore, in the monasteries if a person studies very well, but cannot put that study into practice, we sometimes joke that that person will be reborn as a donkey-headed monk.


The lamrim is especially renowned for having as its main objective the purpose of subduing the mind of its negativities. There are four great qualities of the lamrim teachings, which demonstrate how they can benefit us.

The first is that when we understand the lamrim, all of the teachings of Buddha—the sutras, the tantras, the teachings on the perfection of wisdom, and so forth—appear to our minds as complementary. Superficially, the views of the four philosophical views of Buddhism—the Sautrantika, Vaibashika, Chittamatra, and the Madhyamaka schools—may sometimes appear contradictory. But for someone who is truly interested in cultivating the pure view of ultimate truth, understanding the Vaibashika view becomes a condition enabling that person to understand the Sautrantika view; understanding the Sautrantika view becomes a condition enabling that person to understand the Chittamatra view; and understanding the Chittamatra view becomes a condition enabling the correct comprehension of the Madhyamaka view.

We all regard the wisdom that realizes emptiness as something very, very important, and we have a great wish to develop our understanding of it. If we go about it correctly, we study the views of the four schools in the above order. If we do so, when we eventually begin our study of the Madhyamaka view, our understanding will be very solid and pure because our foundation is so strong. However, if we focus on the Prasangika viewpoint alone, without examining the other schools, we actually do not have a very sound basis for developing that wisdom. In particular, if we do not have a clear idea of the object to be negated from the point of view of the lower schools, it will be difficult to have a clear picture of the object to be negated from the point of view of the higher schools. According to the view of the Prasangika-Madhyamika, or the Middle Way-Consequentialists, the object to be negated is very, very subtle and very difficult to apprehend without understanding the grosser objects to be negated of the lower schools.

We can understand that all the Buddha’s teachings are complementary in terms of one person’s path to enlightenment by using the analogy of a tree. The fruit—the ultimate attainment—is enlightenment. Some of the teachings are the root, some are the branches, some are the trunk, some teachings are the leaves, and so forth. All of them together lead to the fruit. That is how it should appear. The study of lamrim empowers us to see the noncontradictory nature of all the various aspects of the teachings. This is the first greatness of the teachings.

The second greatness of the lamrim teachings is that they allow us to realize all of Buddha’s teachings as personal advice. While it may be very easy for us to perceive some of the subjects within the lamrim as clear counsel for our practice, when we begin to study the philosophical explanations of the view and so forth, we may find ourselves thinking that this is merely a great deal of intellectual information, and we may feel that it is difficult for us to see how they relate to our lives. We might feel that one part of the teachings is intended to serve us solely as an intellectual experience, while another part is intended for practice. If we differentiate the Dharma into parts that are practiced and parts that are solely informative, we are making a big mistake. Whatever the scripture or whatever the explanation, there is no such differentiation. To think that any portion of the teachings is not to be practiced means that we are incurring the transgression of abandoning the Dharma. Moreover, if we are unable to see some of the teachings as personal instruction, it is hard for us to have faith and respect for them, and we run the risk of coming to disregard these teachings, or thinking less of them, or creating the profoundly negative karma of abandoning the Dharma altogether.

For example, there is no doubt that the cultivation of the altruistic mind of bodhichitta, that is, renouncing self and cherishing others, is a subject that is meant to be practiced. What is the origin of this subject? Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization says that cultivating the mind of bodhichitta is only for the benefit of others, and in order to fulfill the wishes of this mind of bodhichitta, we have to attain enlightenment. What is the source of this explanation? Its source is the sutras, the teachings of Buddha himself.

All of the teachings of Buddha should appear as a form of practice for us to undertake. To have studied Dharma very extensively but be unable to apply it to our own lives is like training a horse to race, and then taking it to the racetrack and letting it run all over the place. Once the teachings appear as personal advice, as instruction for us to practice, we have the basis to generate realizations. The lamrim is like the reins of the horse that guide it in the right direction, and the philosophical explanations are the horse itself. The sign that we have really grasped the lamrim is that we are able to derive a very clear understanding of whatever philosophical text we study, based on our background in lamrim.

You can go about studying the lamrim in two ways. One way is to study the lamrim first, and having grasped all its main points, continue on to study the scriptures that further expand upon those points. In this way the lamrim becomes like a key that opens all the volumes of scripture, and the other texts further clarify the points as explained in the lamrim. The second way is to study the scriptures very extensively first, and then study the points of the lamrim using this background knowledge.

For example, in order to develop a more profound understanding of the section on superior insight in the Lamrim Chenmo, we need to rely upon the explanations given in texts such as Root Wisdom of the Middle Way, by Nagarjuna, and Illumination of the Thought of the Middle Way, by Lama Tsongkhapa. These texts contain detailed commentary that can help us to develop our understanding of superior insight. Likewise, in order to gain a more profound understanding of the section on calm abiding in the Lamrim Chenmo, we can turn to commentaries on the meditative states and the formless realms, such as the Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras and Ornament of Clear Realization, two of the five texts by Maitreya. In order to gain understanding of the depth and profundity of the practices of bodhichitta, the four noble truths, the twelve links of dependent origination, or cause and effect, again we should rely on the explanations in Ornament of Clear Realization and the second section of Dharmakirti’s Commentary on the “Compendium on Valid Cognition.” To really come to understand impermanence, we should study the first section of Commentary on the “Compendium on Valid Cognition,” which contains an in-depth explanation of the logic and reasoning of subtle impermanence. Of course, the lamrim itself explains these points, but studying the additional commentaries will allow us to comprehend the full depth and profundity of the subjects.

I am not telling you all of this to overwhelm you. There are different traditions as regards the approach to explaining the scriptures. Among the lineage masters there are the Kadampas of the instruction lineage and the Kadampas of the textual lineage. The Kadampas of the textual lineage use the resources of many scriptures to explain the finer points of one particular subject in great detail. I’ve heard it said that the Gelug tradition tends to follow the Kadam tradition that studies the scriptures extensively.

The third greatness of the lamrim is that through our studies of this path we are able quickly to realize the ultimate intention of Buddha. What is the ultimate intention of Buddha? What does Buddha want us to practice and understand? What is Buddha teaching us? As stated in many prayers and practices, the essence of the teachings is contained in the three principal paths: renunciation, bodhichitta, and the wisdom that realizes emptiness. These are the paths that have been praised by all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. These three paths are the ultimate intention of Buddha, and the lamrim—the graduated path to enlightenment—is what enables us to realize them quickly.

The fourth greatness is that the study of the lamrim will cause us to spontaneously cease mistaken actions. This refers in particular to the mistaken action of abandoning Dharma.

These four great qualities should encourage us to study and practice the lamrim. If we don’t understand the benefits, we may lack enthusiasm or interest in this path. By coming to appreciate the extraordinary qualities of the lamrim, our studies become meaningful, the understanding that we generate in relation to our studies becomes meaningful, and the meditations that we engage in on this basis become meaningful as well.


In order to inspire us to listen and study, the next points address the benefits of teaching and listening to the Dharma.


We listen to teachings in order to learn how to protect ourselves from our own nonvirtue and negativity. The teachings of the path and practice of the small scope protect us from the limited mentality whereby we work only for the benefit of this one brief lifetime. The teachings of the path and practice of the medium scope protect us from being attached to the temporary pleasures of cyclic existence. The teachings of the path and practice of the great scope protect us from getting caught up in the attainment of our own individual liberation alone. The teachings of Madhyamaka philosophy protect us from the two extreme views: the view of total nonexistence, and the view of eternalism. In the same way, the teachings of the path and practice of the Mahayana protect us from the extremes of cyclic existence and nirvana’s peace. Through listening, we attain liberation. Whatever listening that we do—whether it be listening to lamrim teachings or to the various philosophical explanations of the path—the goal of every moment of it is to attain enlightenment, and the purpose of that attainment is to benefit sentient beings.

We make a lot of mistakes in our life due to not knowing. The first step to eliminating this pattern is to listen. Listening gives us the insight into what to eliminate and what to cultivate in our practice. It is the best way to increase our wisdom, intellect, and insight. As our wisdom and insight increase, our ignorance will lessen. It should be very clear to us that we do all this listening for the purpose of being able to implement the teachings in our life. Whatever we listen to, we should then try to integrate into our thoughts and actions. Through such means we can free ourselves from the prison of karma and delusions.

Through listening we develop the force of understanding, and through the force of understanding we cultivate the force of meditation. It is through the force of meditation that we become able to cultivate the antidotes to the delusions that bind us to cyclic existence. If we have only a little experience listening, then we will have only a little understanding, and thereby very little meditation and very little cultivation of the antidote. Results are dependent on their causes. If the cause of listening is extensive, deep, and profound, then our understanding will be deep and profound, and our meditation too will be deep and profound. Also, if we listen to the teachings with an attitude of faith and respect, the mind of faith becomes a condition for our listening to bear fruit.

The Three Faults of Container

In the Lamrim Chenmo, the advice on listening is given within the context of abandoning the three faults of container and cultivating the six discriminating attitudes. The three faults of container are established on the basis of the container of our own minds. Our minds should not be like a container with a hole, a container that is upside-down, or a container that is dirty.

A container with a hole cannot keep anything inside. In the same way, we should not listen to the teachings with a mind that does not hold them—if the nectar of the Dharma is poured in and nothing remains in our mind, we possess the first fault of the container. We should listen with our eyes looking at the teacher, our body facing the teacher, our ears hearing the words of the teacher, and so forth.

An upside-down container is being physically present, but mentally someplace else, like in front of the computer sending an email.

A dirty container is, for example, listening to the lamrim teachings with a selfish motivation, such as the wish to achieve more happiness for oneself alone.

The Six Discriminating Attitudes

The activity of listening should also be adorned with the ornament of the six discriminating attitudes. These are recognizing oneself as a patient, recognizing the teachings as the medicine or the treatment, recognizing the teacher as the physician, recognizing that diligent practice will cure the sickness, recognizing Buddha as a holy being, and recognizing that the Dharma should be preserved for a long time.

The first of the six is the discriminating attitude whereby one sees oneself as a sick person. On the path of the small scope, the thought of clinging to this lifetime is the sickness that afflicts us. On the path of the medium scope, the sickness is the thought of clinging to the wish for the happiness of future lives within cyclic existence—whether a human rebirth or rebirth in the form or formless realms. On the path of the great scope, the sickness is the self-cherishing thought of clinging to individual liberation from cyclic existence. In a more general sense, when we look at ourselves as a sick person, the sickness can refer to our failings and mistakes in terms of the lamrim. For example, in the first stage of the path our attitudes of despising, disregarding, or being faithless and disrespectful toward our spiritual teachers is the sickness. If we are able to ascertain our failings in relation to each of the subjects of the lamrim, whatever teaching we are listening to will automatically become the medicine.

When we recognize the sickness, and when we are introduced to the teachings as the antidote or the medicine, we automatically understand the third discriminating attitude: seeing the teacher as the physician. Even if we cannot see a spiritual teacher as an enlightened being, if we see the teachings as the antidote to our ailments, we will naturally see the teacher as the physician.

Please remember that you should not limit the practice of the six discriminating attitudes to those times when you are formally listening to teachings. Rather, you should apply them at all times, whether you are sitting in teachings or whether you are meditating in your room.

Although most of us could probably say that we have listened to many teachings, if we have failed to apply the six discriminations, we are not really getting the taste of what we have heard. Even if we listen to every possible teaching, if we lack the attitude of the six discriminations, our mind can shut down toward Dharma. It is really important that we do not let this happen. If we develop this shut-down mentality toward the lamrim in particular, we will become totally helpless. Normally we use water to put out fire, but if we create a mental barrier against the lamrim, then it is as if the water itself has caught fire, and there is no remedy for that.

The six discriminations may appear minor because no great explanation accompanies them, but actually they are essential to learning the Dharma. The benefits of the study of the Dharma will be carried forward lifetime after lifetime. Therefore, we should try to make whatever study we engage in effective, right up until the time of our death. All of the teachings that we have heard should manifest in our actions and in our mind. If our relationship with the study of Dharma never moves past the level of mere information, it’s like eating only the skin of a piece of fruit, without ever tasting the flesh inside. Of course, the skin of the fruit has a pleasant taste, but the inside of the fruit is much richer.

By following the first four of the six discriminating attitudes, we are able to generate the fifth, which is seeing Buddha as a holy being. Buddha is considered a holy being because he recognized the subject matter of the lamrim, practiced it, attained the result, and taught what he had learned and experienced. Therefore Buddha is considered the source of the Dharma. We should try to train our minds to recognize this to be true. Additionally, according to the advice of Pabongka Rinpoche, we should try to see the person from whom we are receiving the teachings on the lamrim as a holy being as well.

Having seen the value of the Dharma in our life through the previous five methods, we realize that just as it has been greatly beneficial for us, it could also be beneficial for others. By the force of that thought, we generate the attitude of wishing the Dharma to be long preserved for the benefit of sentient beings, which is the sixth discriminating attitude.

Many Western students have experienced the sixth discriminating attitude to some degree. Although people from the West in general don’t seem to have many physical problems, you do have many mental problems. Having received great benefit through the force of the Dharma teachings, you are inspired to bring the teachings to your own countries, to benefit all of your friends and others who are suffering. This is the sixth of the six attitudes: wanting the Dharma to be long preserved for the benefit of others.


Again I would like to mention that I am not explaining the points of the path to you here with the idea that I have extensive knowledge or great understanding that I want to share with you. Rather, I am taking this opportunity to explain because in explaining, I have the opportunity to look into the mirror of the teachings and see the image of all my own failings and mistakes. Likewise, as you listen, the Dharma teachings should be like a mirror in which all of the mistakes and failings of your own body, speech, and mind are reflected.

From the side of the teacher expounding the Dharma, the Dharma should be taught with the awareness of its benefits, with respect for the Dharma, and with the knowledge of the difference between suitable and unsuitable students.


In the Sutra of the Inconceivable Mind, it is stated that there are twenty benefits of explaining the Dharma. Of these twenty benefits, the first six benefits are in the karmic category of what we call results which are similar to the cause.

The first benefit of the six is that by teaching the Dharma to others you are able to keep the ideas fresh in your mind, meaning that you will not forget the Dharma.

The second benefit is that your knowledge becomes experiential. For example, by explaining a subject such as emptiness over and over again, you begin to understand it very clearly in your own mind. On this basis you can develop the wisdom of meditation, and your intellectual knowledge will become an experience.

The third benefit is gaining knowledge or intellect. If you have the experiential knowledge gained through meditation, you would of course also have attained the ordinary intellectual knowledge of the subject matter.

The fourth benefit is that whatever knowledge you have acquired becomes very firm and stable through the process of teaching it. Let’s say, for example, that you are training in the bodhisattva’s path and someone comes along and says: “This is an incredible, admirable path that you are undertaking, but it’s extremely difficult and you are better off working toward individual liberation.” If your knowledge is not stable, you may be persuaded to abandon training in the bodhisattva’s path. In the same way, if you are trying to realize the highest philosophical view of the emptiness of inherent existence, and someone comes along and tries to encourage you to accept a lower view, if your knowledge is not firm and stable, you may be convinced. If someone talked you out of a Prasangika viewpoint into a Svatantrika viewpoint it wouldn’t be so harmful, but if someone talked you out of a higher viewpoint into a viewpoint such as the view of nothingness, where the method is to empty the mind of any kind of focus or intention, it could cause a lot of trouble. If, however, your knowledge of that subject matter has become very firm through teaching it, you are less likely to be persuaded.

The fifth benefit is that through the analysis you naturally engage in while teaching, whatever you have learned through correct assumption becomes the wisdom of inferential valid cognition.

The sixth benefit is that as you become familiar with this conceptual wisdom, it becomes the direct perception of seeing, of meditation, and so forth. Each of the first six benefits arises from the previous one. Again, these six benefits are the results that are similar to the cause, and the cause is teaching Dharma itself.

The seventh through tenth benefits are the results of separation, which means that due to explaining Dharma, you will be separated from certain negative actions.

The seventh, eighth, and ninth benefits are that teaching lessens the three effects of your poisonous minds: the obsessive mind of attachment, the aggressive mind of anger and hatred, and the mind of ignorance.

The tenth benefit is that because your delusions have been comparatively weakened, your mind comes under their control less frequently.

The eleventh to the nineteenth benefits are in the category of the immediate results of teaching the Dharma.

The eleventh is that you come under the care of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

The twelfth is that you come under the protection of all the Dharma protectors.

The thirteenth is that even the worldly gods will help you, so that your power, influence, and magnificence will be enhanced.

The fourteenth benefit is that when you teach the Dharma without any expectations of material gifts, reputation, or respect, other people will not criticize you.

The fifteenth is that you come under the loving care of your spiritual teachers and become an object of faith and trust for your spiritual friends. The sixteenth benefit is that your speech becomes ethical and virtuous, naturally free from the vices of speaking harsh words and so forth.

The seventeenth is that as a result of this, your own wisdom is enhanced, and when you are in the company of many other learned people, you have a sense of fearlessness and confidence in yourself.

The eighteenth is that you will have more and more happiness of mind. The nineteenth benefit is that when you teach Dharma with a pure motivation, you become an object of praise and admiration in the eyes of even those individuals who have attained very high levels of the paths and grounds.

The twentieth benefit is categorized as the ripening result: due to practicing the generosity of giving the Dharma, in future lifetimes you will always enjoy and never lack the teachings.

When you speak of the Dharma to others, at a minimum you should have experienced the certainty of faith that arises from extensive listening. Of course, if you have the certainty arising from understanding, that is even better. And if you have the certainty arising from extensive meditation, that is the very best. At first, when you have the opportunity to talk about the Dharma to somebody new, you might find that you feel a sense of hesitation or worry that you might make mistakes. That thought is sometimes rooted in the eight worldly dharmas, whereby you concern yourself with your own reputation and so forth. If instead, you can consider this activity a practice that you are undertaking on the advice of your spiritual teachers, and as long as you have the basic motivation to completely benefit others, you will be able to overcome your doubts and hesitation.

Generating Respect for the Dharma and the Teacher

The next point in the text concerns generating respect for the Dharma and the teacher. Welcoming the teacher with incense and so forth and making a special formal seat for him or her is not just a Tibetan tradition. It is a mode of conduct that has existed since the time of Buddha himself. We show such respect out of consideration for the preciousness of the Dharma that is being taught.

Also, before receiving teachings we should remember to remove any obstacles that may exist by recalling the meaning of emptiness and reciting the short sutra on the perfection of wisdom, the Heart Sutra. This may seem strange to you, as on the one hand we talk about taking all sentient beings as the objects of our compassion, while on the other hand, upon teaching texts and giving empowerments, we chase away interferers. So what is really going on when we offer the gift of a ritual torma cake, or recite the Heart Sutra and clap our hands to remove obstacles? When we do these things, we are trying to eliminate the negative mind that grasps the “I” and the manifestations of the three poisonous states of mind that may appear in the form of interferences. These are the obstacles that we are targeting. In reality, we are removing states of mind, as opposed to targeting sentient beings. Sentient beings, it is understood, are always the object of our compassion.

Those Whom We Should Teach and Those Whom We Should Not Teach

The next point is differentiating between those whom we should teach and those whom we should not teach. The sutras say that it is not appropriate to give Dharma teachings without first being requested to do so. To talk about the Dharma to somebody who doesn’t wish to hear it is like advertising on television. Even if someone does make such a request, we are still advised to consider whether that individual is a suitable receptacle for the teachings or not. In general, we should not offer the Dharma to people who have no aspiration, no interest, or have not asked.

It is further advised that it is better not to talk about Dharma to someone who is just standing around, or lying around, to someone who is seated higher than you and in grandeur, or while taking a walk. Teaching in these types of situations is considered disrespectful since the mind is not favorably turned toward the Dharma at these times.

At the end of the teachings we should always make extensive dedications for the long existence of the teachings in this world, and the well-being and enlightenment of all sentient beings.

When we teach and listen to the Dharma correctly, this effort in itself will purify all of our past negative karma of disrespecting Dharma. It will also prevent us from creating further negative karmic obscurations in relation to the Dharma. However, if we talk about the most profound topics of the Dharma but lack the proper motivation, the correct action, and the completion of the action, rather than being an antidote to the negative states of mind, whatever we do will only become a support for them.