Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Vol. 5 - Introduction
A fortunate human life, with freedom and opportunity such as we have now, is so incredibly special. On the basis of this very life we can completely free ourselves from suffering and its causes and attain genuine happiness and lasting peace. We cannot find such peace and happiness through acquiring material goods, because this does not remove our mental afflictions, those of attachment, hatred, jealousy, pride, ignorance, and so on. We can find genuine happiness only by actualizing the stages of the path to enlightenment.
Lamrim literally means “stages of the path.” A spiritual path or any of its stages is a special kind of realization. So the lamrim is really a series of realizations culminating in enlightenment. We cannot jump from a lesser realization to a higher realization—there are many steps involved. Je Tsongkhapa gathered together various teachings of Buddha and placed them in a specific order to show us how to develop these realizations gradually.
The words of Buddha are contained in one hundred large volumes of the Kangyur, each of which emphasizes a different subject. Some texts explain impermanence and emptiness, whereas others focus on suffering and compassion, and so on. When we approach such a vast collection of books, it is difficult to know where to find specific teachings or in what order to read them. Tsongkhapa’s presentation of the lamrim places them in a precise order relevant for the practitioner. This systematic organization of Buddha’s teachings was first introduced to Tibet by the great Indian master Atiśa. Following his innovation, other scholars and practitioners used this format to further explain the extensive collection of Buddha’s word. Tsongkhapa wrote three different lamrim texts. Among these the Lamrim Chenmo or Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment is the most extensive version. It is a detailed presentation of the Buddhist path to enlightenment incorporating many quotations from the Kangyur as well as passages from the scriptures by great Indian and Tibetan scholars; it also includes stories and examples of earlier Tibetan scholars and yogis. This volume that you are reading now is a detailed commentary on the insight chapter of Je Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo.
The Lamrim Chenmo is like a window through which we can see a vast landscape. All the different features of the view from it, such as trees, rivers, and sky, do not fit into the space of a small window—yet we can see them there. Likewise, though relatively short, the Lamrim Chenmo introduces us to the ultimate goal and shows us how to get there. It tells us what inner obstructions we need to remove and how to remove them, and what realizations we need to develop and how to develop them. The entire path to enlightenment is presented in the Lamrim Chenmo, and in particular a full explanation of how to develop the perfection of wisdom is explained in this volume.
THE CORRECT MOTIVATION
As spiritual practitioners our goal in life is not just to experience temporary sensual pleasures such as good food and comfortable accommodation. Sleeping when we are tired and eating when we are hungry provides short-term satisfaction and relief from manifest suffering. But real spiritual practitioners are dissatisfied with such transitory pleasures; they want to attain the everlasting peace and happiness of enlightenment. Enlightenment is not an external place; it is not some paradise we can fly to by physical means. Enlightenment is an inner state of being. To attain it we must accomplish our own mental purification— no one can do it for us. We engage in spiritual practice to purify our mindstreams, gradually removing mental afflictions and other inner obstructions. These levels of mental development constitute the path to enlightenment. Just as in the Western system of education—where first you have elementary school, then you go to high school, and then on to professional training—the lamrim method consists of three sets of progressively more advanced practices to purify and train the mind. We begin with the practices for beings of lesser spiritual capacity, motivated by a wish to prevent rebirth in the lower realms and attain the temporary goal of a good rebirth. Then, wishing to be free from all samsaric rebirths, including the upper realms, we move on to the practices for those of medium spiritual capacity. After that we engage in the practices for beings of great spiritual capacity in order to attain complete enlightenment. These practices are for courageous bodhisattvas, whose main wish is to benefit others and alleviate their suffering; for this purpose alone they are willing to undergo any hardship in their effort to attain enlightenment. Spiritual practitioners of all three capacities generate the desire to achieve their respective goals through learning about the paths. But desiring to attain the goal is not enough. Each person has to engage in the particular methods and actualize the particular paths that result in their desired goal. In other words, we must study and practice the Dharma precisely as explained in the teachings.
The practice of Dharma begins with morality, which refers to any kind of virtuous activity that leads to liberation or enlightenment. We engage in Dharma practice when we read a Dharma book, when we listen to a Dharma teaching, and when we meditate on its meaning. Our Dharma practice is our main refuge. Going for refuge to the Dharma does not mean that we put external Dharma objects in a high place and go for refuge to them! That is not real Dharma refuge. We take real refuge in the Dharma within our own mindstreams. For example, if we take monastic vows and keep them purely, this inner practice will protect us from misery and suffering. It will lead us to liberation.
The Sanskrit word dharma, or chos in Tibetan, has many meanings. The root of the Sanskrit word dharma is dhṛ, which means “hold.” Anything that exists, whether virtuous or nonvirtuous, holds its own identity and is dharma or chos. So one meaning of the word chos or dharma is that which “holds its own identity” (rang gi ngo bor ’dzin pa), which is equivalent to “exists.” In this sense, dharma refers to all phenomena or existent things. But when we go for refuge to the Dharma, the word dharma has a different meaning. It specifically refers to religious truth or virtuous conduct. In this context, “hold” indicates “holding away from lower rebirth.” Virtuous things have a special power to hold, not just in terms of holding their own identity but in terms of holding us away from falling into misery. Any virtuous activity, such as generosity, morality, and patience, as well as any realization of truth within our own mindstreams, is our Dharma refuge. We should think, “Now I want to rely on this Dharma; this Dharma has the ability to protect me.” Instead of regarding certain things on the altar or something in space as Dharma, we should regard the Dharma within us as the real Dharma. Our own Dharma is more important. People usually do not think like this. They forget their own Dharma and think of the Dharma as something external.
Practitioners of lesser spiritual scope fear the misery of rebirth in the lower realms and want to be free from that in their future lives. So they strive to be born in higher realms and to have a good life as a human or a god. Although a higher rebirth is only temporary, it is beneficial. It is extremely fortunate to be born where there is an opportunity to hear the Dharma teachings and learn about the truth. If we act on this properly, we can progress higher and higher on the spiritual path. We have the potential to attain permanent cessation of our own suffering or even complete enlightenment for the benefit of others. Both of these are possible because we have four excellent qualities: a human body with clear sense organs; the necessary conditions of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine, obtained without too much difficulty; helpful religious friends and spiritual teachers who present the excellent teachings of Buddha; and the power to accomplish our Dharma activities. The last quality refers to being able to complete whatever we undertake. Some people cannot carry their activities through to the conclusion. They begin to do something but soon give up and start something else; then before they finish that, they turn to something else yet again. It is an excellent quality to have a natural inclination to complete whatever we start—especially to carry our spiritual practice through to the end.
In order to improve our mind and to progress from path to path, these four qualities are essential. Without these four excellent qualities we cannot develop either the method side of the path—compassion, patience, and so on—or the wisdom side of the path—an understanding of the ultimate truth of emptiness, or śūnyatā. Humans who lack these four qualities, and beings such as animals who have taken lower rebirths, cannot complete the accumulations of method and wisdom. It does not matter how beautiful one’s body may be, being born as an animal is an obstacle to spiritual development. This is true even if one is born as a pampered pet belonging to a rich owner. Pets in the West are so well cared for; they have excellent food, a beautiful home, and are much loved and cherished. But even though they have such luxuries, they do not have the mental capacity necessary for attaining enlightenment. However much you might talk to an animal and even give it teachings on the Lamrim Chenmo, it will just shake itself and walk away. Maybe, if it is in a good mood, it will wag its tail. That is all it can do.
Taking birth as a human or god is not a perfect goal. Even if you are born healthy, wealthy, and famous, maybe as royalty with magnificent possessions and power, it is not totally faultless. It is not a state of final liberation or enlightenment. It is merely the result of previous virtuous action or karma; as soon as that result is finished you will descend to the lower realms if you have not created additional virtuous karma. Recognizing this, you evolve into a person of middling spiritual capacity and want to become completely free from samsara, not just from the lower realms.
What is samsara? Dharmakīrti explains in his Commentary on Valid Cognition (Pramāṇa-vārttika), where he introduces the four noble truths:
Suffering is the samsaric aggregates. (5.147a)
Samsara is not primarily external, like the sky and trees, though these things are part of the situation. Samsara is the collection of one’s own contaminated aggregates, which have arisen through the power of karma and mental afflictions. Samsara is one’s own continuous rounds of birth, sickness, aging, and death—all in the nature of suffering. This process has no beginning, and we keep creating it over and over again. Therefore samsara is called cyclic existence. Nāgārjuna says in his Precious Garland (Ratnāvalī):
As long as there is grasping at the aggregates,
Then there is grasping at myself.
If there is grasping at myself there is action,
And from these there is rebirth. (1.35)
“Grasping at the aggregates” is mentioned first because as soon as the aggregates appear, they appear to exist inherently—and because of that appearance, we usually hold them to exist inherently. Based on holding the collection of one’s own body and mind as inherently existent, each of us holds them to be inherently “me” or “mine.” This egotistic view immediately results in aversion to unpleasant experiences and desire for pleasant experiences. Motivated to gain good things for oneself and avoid painful things, we create both nonvirtuous and virtuous karma, which eventually gives rise to another birth. It would be wonderful if nothing happened to us after we died, no matter how much and what kind of karma we created in this life! But that is not what happens. We will be reborn in accordance with the karma we have created. In the next stanza Nāgārjuna explains how this occurs:
The three paths, without beginning, middle, or end,
Circle around like a wheel of flaming torches;
Continuously revolving, they cause each other:
This is cyclic existence. (1.36)
In this context the “three paths” are the samsaric paths: the thoroughly afflictive path of mental afflictions, the thoroughly afflictive path of contaminated karma, and the thoroughly afflictive path of suffering or contaminated rebirth. Here the term afflictive does not refer just to the mental afflictions. It includes all the misery of samsara that comes along with rebirth. These three paths do not have a beginning, middle, or end—just like the riddle “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” it is impossible to locate an original cause. From one point of view it is the mental afflictions that create karma, and then karma creates suffering and birth. From another point of view it is birth that gives rise to the mental afflictions, which then create karma, suffering, and yet another birth. So everything circles around like a wheel: We are born, age, and finally die. Then we are born again, create karma, and experience suffering, aging, and death. It is like the appearance of a ring of fire created by spinning a wheel of firebrands around on a dark night. This looks like a complete circle of light but is just a single torch moving quickly through points in space. In each place there is only a momentary point of light; the fast movement makes it look like a continuous circle. Samsara is like that—its different components mutually generate one another so they seem like a continuous circle. In this way we have been cycling around without beginning or end.
All the miseries of samsara arise from mental afflictions created by ignorance. These mental afflictions pollute and influence our actions. If we cut the root of our afflictions, our actions will become pure. As a result, we will cease to have contaminated aggregates. So to become free from suffering, we need to cut the root of the mental afflictions: ignorance. Ignorance is the innate misunderstanding that things truly exist as they appear to our ordinary perception. Until we develop a correct understanding that things have an illusion-like nature and do not exist as they appear, we act under the power of ignorance. How can we cut the root of ignorance? The only weapon is the supreme wisdom understanding emptiness, the ultimate truth. Such wisdom is called superior insight. We need to develop this special insight because without it we cannot achieve freedom from samsara or attain full enlightenment.
Buddhahood, or full enlightenment, is the highest spiritual goal. A courageous bodhisattva yearns to become a buddha because only a buddha can lead all sentient beings to perfect peace and happiness. This supreme altruistic intention is known as bodhicitta—the mind or heart of enlightenment. Buddha taught various special practices to his bodhisattva disciples. All these practices are included, directly or indirectly, within the six perfections: generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyous effort, meditative concentration, and wisdom. Each of the first five perfections has its own special qualities, and when combined they are like a powerful vehicle that can transport us to another place; but without the sixth they lack direction. Wisdom is like the eyes of a careful driver who steers the vehicle so as to arrive at the desired destination: enlightenment. In a similar analogy, blind people need someone with sight to take them to a particular place. They need a guide who can see the path and any obstacles on it in order to arrive at their destination. In the Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom (Ratna-guṇa-saṃcaya-gāthā) Buddha says:
The multitude of blind people, without a leader,
Cannot see the route, so how can they enter the city?
The first five sightless perfections, without wisdom,
Have no leader, so they cannot reach enlightenment. (7.1)
Blindly engaging in any spiritual practice without wisdom will not lead to the final fruit of enlightenment, yet if we want to arrive at supreme buddhahood, we need more than wisdom alone. Just as a bird needs two wings to fly in the sky, we also need two wings—method and wisdom—to reach the highest goal of enlightenment. The first five perfections are called method. The sixth is wisdom. Wisdom alone is not enough, and method alone is not enough. Only when we have completed the collections of both wisdom and method and joined them together, like a pair of wings, can we fly to buddhahood. Candrakīrti puts it like this in his Introduction to the “Middle Way” (Madhyamakāvatāra):
With great white wings of the conventional and ultimate reality,
The king of swans soars ahead of common beings.
Borne aloft by the powerful wind of virtue,
He reaches the far shore of the ocean of royal qualities. (6.226)
In the first four volumes of this series, I commented in detail on Tsongkhapa’s explanation of the method side of practice—from the fundamental practices on the path for those of lesser spiritual scope through to the development of bodhicitta and the practice of the first five perfections for those who have great spiritual capacity. Attainment of any spiritual goal, whether individual liberation from samsara or complete enlightenment for all beings, depends on wisdom. We can say that all the teachings on the method side are directly or indirectly for the purpose of presenting the perfection of wisdom. Śāntideva says in his Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds (Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra):
All these branches were taught
By Buddha for the sake of wisdom. (9.1a–b)
We need to develop superior wisdom, or insight, to uproot the fundamental cause of suffering within our own mindstream. All types of suffering arise from their general and particular causes—contaminated actions of body, speech, and mind. The suffering of cyclic existence includes pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral experiences, which result from contaminated virtuous, nonvirtuous, and neutral actions, respectively. Contaminated actions include all actions that are propelled by ignorance. Ignorance is not a simple case of not knowing the truth; it is the opposite of knowing the truth, a fundamental misunderstanding of reality. Upon perceiving things to exist objectively, as if bearing their identity from their own side, ignorance grasps them as existing in that way. If something appears ugly, the mind of ignorance holds it to be ugly objectively; if something appears beautiful, it holds it to be beautiful objectively. To a mind influenced by ignorance things appear to exist from their own side, independently of being perceived; then a manifest mind of ignorance naturally arises that holds the appearance to be true. But that appearance is not reality; nothing really exists as it appears to our ordinary awareness.
There are many aspects or factors of our mind, each of which may also be called a mind. Ignorance is one of the six root mental afflictions, and it misapprehends the way things exist. Ignorance is a very deep and powerful mental factor that influences other aspects of our mind. It causes us to grasp things incorrectly, and we act on that wrong conception. Any ordinary actions propelled by ignorance lead to cyclic existence, including virtuous contaminated actions. Ignorance also gives rise to all our other mental afflictions, such as attachment, hatred, jealousy, and pride. We can see in our daily lives how much these mental states control our minds. Through the power of these afflictions we engage in nonvirtuous actions, whether verbally or physically. Nonvirtuous actions can only ever lead to misery in the end. The fundamental cause of all these problems is ignorance.
Ignorance is the root of all suffering, including rebirth itself. So we need to ask ourselves, Can I get rid of ignorance? Tsongkhapa addresses this question in a stanza praising Buddha and his profound teaching:
Ignorance is the root of all
The manifold misery in the world,
So he teaches dependent arising—
The seeing of which reverses it.
To remove ignorance we need to apply its antidote: a special kind of wisdom that sees the truth of dependent arising. In order to see everything as dependently arising, we must understand the emptiness of inherent existence, śūnyatā. Emptiness and dependent arising have the same profound meaning. They are like two sides of the same coin. Emptiness does not mean nothingness or nonexistence; it means that all things lack something—they are empty of inherent existence. To say that a thing is empty of inherent existence means that it does not exist independently of a perceiving mind. There are different ways of being dependent, ranging from gross to subtle: dependent on causes, dependent on parts, and dependent on imputation by mind. When Tsongkhapa says that a realization of dependent arising will reverse ignorance, he is referring to the subtlest understanding of dependent arising: nothing exists inherently from its own side, independently of a mind that perceives or conceives it. If we do not comprehend emptiness, we cannot see the truth of dependent arising or relativity. A direct realization of emptiness, corresponding to the subtlest level of dependent arising, clears away ignorance.
CHEWING HARD BONES
The insight chapter in the Lamrim Chenmo provides a full explanation of how to develop the perfection of wisdom—the superior insight that understands the true nature of reality. However, this is a very complicated subject and it covers a vast area. Tsongkhapa even discusses wrong views so that we students can learn their pitfalls and see how to negate them. He shows us how misinterpretations can be eliminated and replaced by the right view. Some of the quotations from the sutras and the great Indian commentaries are very difficult to interpret, and their implications are hard to understand. It is like chewing hard bones to reach the juicy marrow. But no matter how tough they may be, it is important to work with these teachings. So let us look a little more closely at ignorance and its opposing force, wisdom.
Fundamental ignorance is often referred to as the egotistic view. The great Indian scholar and spiritual master Śāntideva says:
All the injuries, harm, fear,
And suffering that exist in the world
Arise from the egotistic view;
What use is that great devil to me?
The combination of the egotistic view with a profoundly selfish attitude gives rise to every unkind thought and harmful attitude toward others. We mistakenly think that pleasure, wealth, success, and fame are desirable and appropriate goals in life. Day and night, from birth until death, we try to gain these “goods” for ourselves. Automatically we follow our desires for attractive objects of the five senses and continuously hanker for pleasure. We want to have the best and to be the best and are always trying to obtain desirable things and avoid unpleasant things. If someone else gets the things we want, we become jealous and angry. We may even want to destroy those things or hurt those people. This harmful attitude is rooted in the egotistic view. When such a nonvirtuous attitude arises, we can see clearly how the egotistic view is functioning and how it dominates our awareness.
What is the egotistic view? Is it something external with horns or tusks? Is it something that you carry around in a bag? No. It is our own ignorant mind that grasps strongly at “I” or “me” as though it were an independent entity. Candrakīrti says:
First, thinking “I,” grasping at a self arises;
Thinking “This is mine,” attachment to things arises.
Thus sentient beings are powerless, like a bucket on a water wheel;
I bow to the bodhisattvas’ compassion for them.
As soon as we think “I” we think “mine.” We are attached to my body, my house, my friend, my town, my country, and my world. Out of attachment we perceive “I” and “mine” on this side and “others” on that side. At a primitive level we do not want others to have good things—we do not even want them to exist! We think that only “I” and “mine” are worthy of existence. Even if we do not explicitly think this way, this attitude is always present under the surface. From the moment we get up in the morning, the thought of “I” and “mine” arises. We worry about what we will do today, what we will gain, what we want to get rid of, and so on. These thoughts are based on the egotistic view.
Śāntideva calls it “the devil.” When something goes wrong, we consider ourselves innocent and blameless. We immediately blame others. We may even think we are the victim of some evil external force. But the real devil is present in our heart, in our mind: it is the egotistic view that grasps at a truly existent “I” based on the five aggregates. We think of this “I” as unique, enduring, and perfect. We feel we are the best, most deserving, and most precious person in the whole world. We honestly believe there is nobody as wonderful as “me,” there is nobody better than “me.” Based on that attitude we indulge in all kinds of selfish behavior, harming others in thought, word, and deed. In this way we hurt ourselves most of all—for our actions give rise to many problems in our present life and result in our future rebirth in the lower realms. This selfish, egotistic attitude is the source of all suffering. Therefore it is the real devil. If we manage to see that our real enemy is this inner foe, then we will stop feeling any desire for it. When we no longer want this inner enemy, then we will determine how to destroy it. So to do this, first we must clearly recognize that our greatest enemy is our own egotistic view.
The egotistic view gives rise to all kinds of selfish attitudes, which are the opposite of universal love and compassion. If we remove the egotistic view from our mindstream, then those selfish attitudes can no longer arise because they have no basis. Until then, however, the cause of those selfish attitudes exists within us. Can those selfish attitudes ever give rise to bodhicitta, the desire to attain enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings? No, they cannot, because selfish attitudes and bodhicitta are completely opposite attitudes. When selfish attitudes are active in our mind, then there is no bodhicitta active at that time, and thus there is no Mahayana practice. If there is no Mahayana activity, how can we attain buddhahood? No matter how many times we say “I want to become a buddha,” this will not happen if we create causes that lead in the opposite direction. So in order to get rid of the cause of selfish attitudes, we must get rid of the egotistic view.
The term egotistic view is a convenient way of referring to what is literally called the “view of the perishable collection.” It is important to have a clear understanding of what is meant by this phrase. In general the phrase “perishable collection” refers to the five aggregates.4 The term “perishable” indicates that the aggregates are transitory, changing moment by moment. The term “collection” indicates that they are not a partless unit. In a special sense the phrase “perishable collection” may also refer to the person that is merely imputed on the five aggregates—for the person or self is both transitory and nonunitary.5 According to some non-Buddhist philosophical systems, the self or soul is a permanent, single unit without parts; it is not an aggregation of several transitory elements that are then identified as a whole and given a name. Buddha showed that there is no such permanent, partless self. The self that exists is impermanent and composed of parts and merely imputed on a perishable collection, the aggregates. Now, contrary to what its name suggests, the phrasing “view of the perishable collection” refers to a distorted mind that holds the self to be not a perishable collection at all! Although the phrasing suggests that this view holds its object to be a perishable collection, in fact it grasps its object wrongly as inherently existent. This wrong view grasps the self, which is imputed on the aggregates, to be inherently existent. It holds the self to exist in a way that is opposite to what is really the case. This view of the perishable collection is the fundamental ignorance that is the root of samsara.
The main thing to consider is the way in which the self exists and the way in which it does not exist. Everybody has a self; it exists in dependence on its causes, on its parts, and on its basis of imputation. There is a correct way of apprehending the self and a wrong way of apprehending the self. The basic object in both cases is the conventionally existent self. There is no problem with this self. The problem is with how it is held by the mind perceiving it or conceiving it. The object held by the correct way of viewing the self does conventionally exist—it is the self held to be dependently existent. But the object held by the wrong way of viewing the self does not exist at all—it is the self held to be inherently existent. That object held by the egotistic view is the self that is to be negated. Actually there are two kinds of self to be negated: the self of persons and the self of phenomena. Although the basis is different (a person or a phenomenon), the object negated—inherent existence—is the same in both cases. The egotistic view concerns only the self of persons. Moreover, it only apprehends the self of persons based on the subject’s own aggregates. You cannot have an egotistic view based on someone else’s body and mind. You do not think of someone else’s aggregates as “I” or “me” in any way; you only think of your own aggregates as such.
The egotistic view that grasps at a self of persons creates all the misery in the world. Every sentient being is under its power and totally lacks freedom. We cannot choose when we die, when we are born, or where we are born. We do not know what today will be like or what will happen next in life. Everything that we experience is under the influence of our past karma. Candrakīrti uses the example of a bucket on a water wheel to illustrate this. In ancient India water was obtained from wells by means of wheels with attached buckets. When the wheel went down, the buckets descended; when the wheel circled up, the buckets ascended. The buckets had no freedom of their own. In a similar way we sentient beings have no independence; we are trapped in cyclic rebirth due to the power of our karma. We have had many lives, one after another continuously, sometimes going up into human and celestial realms and sometimes going down into animal, hungry ghost, and hell realms. Good karma takes us up and bad karma carries us down.
Until this point in time we may have tried to control our experiences on a temporary basis by creating good karma and avoiding bad karma. But because we have not tried to get rid of the root of contaminated karma, our rebirths continue owing to the force of cause and effect, and we remain traveling in samsara. The last line of Candrakīrti’s stanza praises great bodhisattvas who understand the truth. Having uprooted their own causes of suffering, they have great compassion for sentient beings that continue to suffer. They fervently want them to be free of those causes and work selflessly toward that goal.
This is the key point. You are receiving these teachings in order to understand the supreme wisdom that removes all misery and its causes. I shall do my best to explain Tsongkhapa’s great insight chapter. However, I do not see myself as someone who really knows the meaning of all the quotations he has collected. Please do not think that I am omniscient and you are stupid. In this commentary I share what I have understood, through the teachings I have received and through my own studies. I have the lineage of transmission of the complete Lamrim Chenmo. However, I have not heard a detailed explanation of this section on superior insight. It is rare to receive an extensive teaching on wisdom. Even in Tibet and India, a great number of scholars and teachers with the capacity to benefit and train others teach only the first half of Lamrim Chenmo in detail. Once they get to the insight chapter, where the subject is śūnyatā, they go through it very quickly. Perhaps even some of these great lamas do not understand it. So although I received some teaching on it and developed a deeper understanding of it through debate and studying various commentaries, I too enjoy this opportunity to further chew these hard bones.
Some of these bones are very hard indeed, and you may not be able to swallow them right now. But at least you will know they are there. Even if you do not understand the ideas perfectly, you are trying. This is a rare and excellent opportunity.
HOW TO PROCEED
So how should we use our human rebirth with excellent qualities? We should use it to achieve a definite spiritual goal in this life. Instead of falling under the influence of the mental afflictions, we should practice the spiritual path to develop the wisdom that understands the ultimate truth. Maitreya says in the Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras (Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra- kārikā):
Never go under the power of delusions
And do not pervert your actions. (17.2c–d)
The direct realization of emptiness will gradually free us from ignorance, attachment, and hatred. In addition, we must take care that the activities we undertake are not motivated by selfish egotistic attitudes. To properly understand what to do with our body, speech, and mind, we need a special kind of wisdom that understands conventional reality. Both kinds of wisdom—the wisdom that understands ultimate reality and the wisdom that understands conventional reality—are powerful and necessary attributes. Without them, any abilities we have might fall under the sway of delusions and turn into something evil. Thus wisdom is the essence of the Lamrim Chenmo teaching.
Do not read this volume on wisdom with the aim of becoming a scholar. Do not arrogantly think, “Now I will know śūnyatā.” Base your motivation on a deep appreciation of all the previous stages of the path explained in the Lamrim Chenmo, particularly the wish to free all beings from the causes of suffering. The altruistic intention of bodhicitta is the motivation for coming to understand the essence of both sutra and tantra. By studying and practicing the lamrim method in this way, you can develop the wisdom that is free of wrong views and beyond the power of delusions. The wisdom that sees ultimate truth is the weapon that directly severs the root of all mental afflictions. Developing this wisdom gradually reduces and eventually removes even the subtlest obstruction to perfect knowledge. If we do not develop the wisdom that realizes śūnyatā, we will not get rid of the source of the mental afflictions—even if we realize all the other stages of the path, from relying on the spiritual teacher up to developing bodhicitta. Remember this as you make your way through the book. Contemplate your life’s wonderful potential and generate in your heart a beneficial motivation. Then with great patience and joyous enthusiasm, gently chew on these teachings and slowly try to digest them. That is how to use your mind in the best possible way.