Author Topic: The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment  (Read 1867 times)

Offline Tsongkhapafan

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The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
« on: January 24, 2010, 05:09:31 pm »
I thought it would be an auspicious start to post this teaching from Venerable Geshe-la that was printed in a magazine some years ago.  Enjoy!

The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Inner Peace
As you know, we all wish for happiness and work very hard to fulfil this wish. From this point of view, there is no difference between people living in eastern countries and western countries. Although everybody seeks happiness and strives to achieve it, human happiness and peace are decreasing year by year, while problems and suffering increase. Even the environment nowadays is causing our health to deteriorate. It is difficult to find anywhere in the world which is unpolluted. The air we breathe is impure, our food is contaminated by chemicals, and because of this disease is on the increase. When we first meet people they may seem very healthy, but if we check we will find that everyone has problems, both physical and mental. Because our delusions or negative minds are so strong it is very difficult for anyone to maintain a peaceful mind.

Why can we not find the happiness we are searching for? It is because we are looking in the wrong place. We believe that happiness is found in developing our material world, yet no matter how materially wealthy we become our happiness never increases, indeed our suffering only seems to get worse. This clearly indicates that the way in which we search for happiness is not correct, and that we must seek happiness from a different source.

As Bodhisattva Shantideva says, the only source of pure happiness is the practice of Buddha's teachings, Buddhadharma. Through the practice of Buddhadharma we can cultivate a peaceful mind, and when our mind is peaceful we are happy, even when external conditions are very poor. On the other hand, if our mind is not peaceful we can never be happy, even if we enjoy the very best external conditions. We can see this clearly through our own experience. The source of real happiness is the development of inner peace. Without developing inner peace there is no outer peace, and no real happiness at all.

It may seem that the problems we face exist outside our mind, but if we look at this more carefully we will realize that they come from within. Even though external conditions may be difficult, by keeping a calm and peaceful mind we will not experience them as problems and our mind will remain happy. Happiness and suffering depend upon the mind. If our mind is happy, we are happy. As human beings we need certain basic conditions to sustain our lives, but to experience real happiness we need to cultivate peace of mind without which even the most luxurious external conditions will never bring us happiness. Instead they may only cause us greater suffering. We know this to be true. I feel that Buddhadharma therefore accords with our own experience.

In daily life we often meet with problems, perhaps with our family or at work, and these easily make us angry or depressed. At such times it is very helpful to go to our meditation room if we have one, or to our bedroom, and meditate to calm our mind and gain the inner strength to overcome our problems. Our worries and unhappiness will disappear and we will experience inner peace. Gradually we will notice a big difference in our lives. We will see that meditation not only removes our own problems, but also improves our relationships with our family and friends and makes them happy too.

Kadam Dharma
Whenever we meditate on or listen to Dharma teachings, we should do so with the precious motivation of bodhichitta, the wish to become enlightened for the benefit of all living beings. To generate bodhichitta we begin by developing a strong intention to benefit all beings. Developing this intention is very important because, although at present we may not have the ability to benefit all beings, this intention is so pure that eventually we will actually gain this ability. We should contemplate, 'All countless living beings are my dear mothers and they are all experiencing suffering. How can I bear this? I must protect them. Because only a Buddha, an enlightened being, can actually protect all living beings, I must attain enlightenment.' Once we generate this determination we then hold it single-pointedly for as long as possible.

In these difficult times, to attain full enlightenment, the final spiritual goal, it is extremely important to practise Kadam Dharma or Lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment. When the Tibetan King Yeshe Ö invited Atisha to Tibet, Atisha accepted mainly so that he could teach Kadam Dharma to the Tibetan people. From then on, Tibetans found it very easy to integrate all Buddha's teachings into their daily life. If we did not have Lamrim today, we would easily be confused by the great range and diversity of Buddha's teachings.

Buddha gave 84,000 different teachings to address the differing needs and problems of all living beings. Because these teachings vary so much in content and presentation, without Lamrim we would see many contradictions within them. In particular, those who study Buddha's philosophical teachings would have great difficulty in putting those teachings into practice, and no matter how extensive their knowledge became it would never lead to good results. If Dharma understanding remains merely intellectual, there is even a danger of its being misused.

We may have a strong wish to become a spiritual person instead of remaining ordinary, but without knowing how to begin, make progress on, and complete the path to enlightenment, as explained in Lamrim, we will be unable to engage successfully in spiritual practice.

During these spiritually degenerate times it is extremely difficult for us to solve our problems, control our minds, and develop a good heart, without a special practice such as Lamrim. Without Lamrim we will not know the real meaning of samsara, or the meaning of liberation. We will not even know the meaning of ignorance, though we possess it in abundance. By listening to and studying Lamrim instructions we will gain knowledge of all these points. We will come to understand the essential meaning of all the different teachings of Buddha and, most importantly, we will know how to put them all into practice. We can thus appreciate why the Lamrim instructions became the main body of Buddha's teachings after Atisha presented them in Tibet.

From a practical point of view all Buddha's teachings are included within the practice of Lamrim. Fortunately, although Lamrim is so extensive and profound, it is also very simple. Lamrim is an open teaching which is suitable for everyone. Not only Buddhists but also non-Buddhists can listen to Lamrim teachings and put them into practice. Lamrim is like medicine for the sufferings that arise from anger, attachment, and ignorance. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to, study, and practise Lamrim.

Those with experience of Lamrim will find Dharma teachings in everything they encounter, and in this way transform all their daily activities, even watching television or listening to the radio, into Dharma practice. We can practise Dharma without the need to give up our jobs or normal relationships, combining all our everyday activities with Lamrim and transforming them into the spiritual path. In this way all our activities become meaningful and lead to great results. Eventually we can completely unify our daily life and Lamrim practice. Lamrim is therefore a very special and unique spiritual teaching; I say this with confidence from my own experience.

Making Spiritual Progress
Through the practice of Lamrim we will learn how to control our mind and cultivate inner peace, and through this solve our daily problems and find greater happiness in this and in future lives. Especially by practising Lamrim we can make great progress along our spiritual path.

For instance through successful training in the meditation and practice on relying upon the Spiritual Guide, we experience the reversal of our previous lack of faith in our Spiritual Teacher and in Dharma, such that our faith is deep and unchangeable. This is the single most important realization we can achieve. This faith is the root of the spiritual path and the very life of Dharma practice, for without it we will not receive any spiritual blessings or attain realizations.

By successfully training in the meditation and practice on our precious human life, we experience the reversal of our previous lack of interest in pure Dharma practice. With this reversal we are inspired to use our human life in the most meaningful way possible, and we always have the strong wish to take the essence of our precious human life by practising Dharma purely. Working merely to have enough food and improve our external conditions is not the essential meaning of human life. Having a good job may be temporarily useful, but once we have stopped working and are travelling towards our next life it ceases to have any meaning and so lacks real essence.

To take the real essence of our precious human life we need to gain: (1) protection from lower rebirth, (2) protection from rebirth within samsara, and (3) full enlightenment. These three attainments are called the 'essence' of human life because it is only human beings who can achieve them. Non-humans such as animals do not have this great good fortune. Dogs, for example, may be highly intelligent, able to fight their enemies and care for their families, but no matter how intelligent or well-trained they are, they have no opportunity to gain protection from lower rebirth. For them, Dharma teachings mean nothing, and hearing them is like wind blowing in their ears.

Atisha identified three levels of Lamrim practitioners that correspond with these three levels of attainment: those of initial scope, intermediate scope, and great scope. Through practising Lamrim we will develop the strong wish to gain protection from lower rebirth, and with this wish we can then engage in the specific methods taught within Lamrim to gain this protection. This is the main focus of practice for a person of initial scope. There are two types of person of initial scope: ordinary and special. The first practise Lamrim to solve their present human problems and gain immediate happiness, whereas the second practise Lamrim to gain happiness in future lives.

Those with the strong wish to gain protection from samsaric suffering and who concentrate on the methods for attaining liberation are persons of intermediate scope, and those with the strong wish to become a Buddha, an enlightened being, with the motivation that seeks to benefit all living beings and who concentrate on the methods for attaining enlightenment are persons of great scope. To be a great scope being means almost the same as being a Bodhisattva. Through studying Lamrim we can gauge which level of spiritual practice we have reached and understand how to extend the scope of our spiritual development.

As explained by Geshe Dromtönpa, Atisha's teachings of Lamrim are called Kadam Dharma. The term 'Kadam' is Tibetan. 'Ka' reveals Buddhas teachings, 'dam' reveals Atisha's Lamrim teachings. The unification of these two is known as Kadam Dharma. Practitioners of Kadam Dharma are known as Kadampa Buddhists.

By successfully training in the meditation and practice on death and impermanence we experience the reversal of our previous attachment to this life. With this reversal our Dharma practice will become pure, and we will easily receive great results.

By successfully training in the meditation and practice on the sufferings of the lower realms we experience the reversal of our previous lack of fear of lower rebirth. Unless we establish genuine protection from lower rebirth in our mind, we are in danger of being reborn in a lower realm. Just as animals have the seeds, or potential, for attaining a human mind in the future, so we have the potential for an animal mind. If we die with a negative thought this potential may ripen, causing us to be reborn as an animal such as a pig or a fish. Enlightened beings see this clearly, and they warn us that we need to protect ourselves from such dangers.

By successfully training in the meditation and practice on refuge and karma we experience the reversal of our previous lack of protection from lower rebirth. With this reversal we achieve actual protection from lower rebirth. This is necessary because we cannot be sure that we will attain liberation or enlightenment in this life, and if we die before we attain these, we have no idea what will happen to us in the future. We need to prepare now to enjoy a human life in all our future lives so that we can continue with our spiritual practice until we reach our final goal.

By successfully training in the meditation and practice on the disadvantages of samsara we experience the reversal of our previous lack of renunciation. With this reversal we will have a strong, continuous wish to attain permanent inner peace, or nirvana, and this wish will open the door to liberation. By successfully training in the meditation and practice on the three higher trainings we experience the reversal of our previous lack of the permanent inner peace of liberation. With this reversal we will attain actual liberation from suffering. Liberation means the continuous experience of inner peace, life after life. By successfully training in generation stage meditation and practice we experience the reversal of our ordinary appearances and conceptions. With this reversal we purify our mind and thus experience only pure objects - a pure environment, pure enjoyments, and pure beings.

By successfully training in completion stage meditation and practice we experience the reversal of our subtle dualistic appearances. It does not matter if you don't know at present what dualistic appearances are, you can understand about them later. The meditations and practices of generation stage and completion stage, which give rise to the tenth and eleventh reversals, are exclusive to Highest Yoga Tantra.

When we attain the complete reversal of subtle dualistic appearances through completion stage meditation, we have reached our final goal, full enlightenment. In this way, we fulfil the wishes of our bodhichitta mind, and from that moment onwards we are able to benefit all living beings equally. The experience of these eleven reversals are the real attainments or siddhis that we attain through Dharma practice. In the root text of Training the Mind Geshe Chekhawa says: 'The indication of having trained is reversal.' This means that if we experience any of these eleven reversals it is a clear sign that we are practicing Dharma purely.

The Meaning of Enlightenment
We should understand the meaning of 'enlightenment'. When I first came to the west, I wondered how the Tibetan word for enlightenment, 'jangchub', could be translated into English. But I think the English word 'enlightenment' is very beautiful. Although both Buddhists and non-Buddhists use the word 'enlightenment', I think their understanding of its meaning is very different. If we ask people what they think enlightenment is they may talk of 'seeing the light' or of attaining a 'body of light', so I think they probably believe that enlightenment refers to external light. However, Buddhist enlightenment is inner light of omniscient wisdom.

Our ignorance of self-grasping is inner darkness that obscures our understanding of ultimate truth and prevents us from seeing the true nature of things. Fortunately this inner darkness is not permanent, but changes, sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing. Through the kindness of Buddha Shakyamuni we have many special methods for improving our wisdom, and by practising these methods together with training in love and compassion for all living beings, we can eliminate ignorance completely from our mind.

When our mind is completely free from ignorance and its imprints, we will attain the inner light of omniscient wisdom which has the nature of bliss. According to Tantra, at that time our continually residing body and mind, as well our environment become the nature of blissful omniscient wisdom.
We should start now by improving ourselves, gradually become a Bodhisattva and eventually become an enlightened being, a Buddha. Because all obstructions to knowing will have been removed from our mind, we will be able to see everything - past, present, and future - directly and simultaneously. We will have completed our training in love and compassion, and have the ability to benefit all living beings without exception by bestowing blessings, guiding them along spiritual paths, and emanating whatever they need for their happiness. How wonderful!
« Last Edit: January 24, 2010, 05:11:05 pm by Tsongkhapafan »

Offline Caz

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Re: The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2010, 03:51:36 am »
Might i suggest that you provide us with a running commentary toward the meditation practises of the Lamrim this will be good for this section.

This eBook Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom, in three volumes, is being distributed freely at the request of the author Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The author says: "Through reading and practicing the instructions given in this book, people can solve their daily problems and maintain a happy mind all the time." So that these benefits can pervade the whole world, Geshe Kelsang wishes to give this eBook freely to everyone.

We would like to request you to please respect this precious Dharma book, which functions to free living beings from suffering permanently. If you continually read and practice the advice in this book, eventually your problems caused by anger, attachment and ignorance will cease.

Please enjoy this special gift from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who dedicates: "May everyone who reads this book experience deep peace of mind, and accomplish the real meaning of human life."


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