The Four Themes of Gampopa in Drugpa Kagyu

This evening I’d like to speak about the graded path of practice as we find in the Drugpa Kagyu (‘Brug-pa bka’-brgyud) tradition written by the great Tibetan master of the 16th century, Padmakarpo (Pad-ma dkar-po).

Buddha's Structure for His Teachings: The Four Noble Truths

Buddha spoke of the four noble truths. These are four facts seen as true by those who have non-conceptual perception of reality. He spoke of various situations that we all face which are true sufferings, although most of us might not recognize all of them as such:

We have the obvious pain and suffering and unhappiness and sadness.

And we also have our ordinary type of happiness, which although it might seem to be very nice, nevertheless, it has a lot of shortcomings. We’re never satisfied, we never have enough, it doesn’t last, and when it ends we have no idea what is going to come next. Also, if it were truly true happiness, then the more we had the better it would be, but for instance the happiness we have of eating our favorite food, the more we eat, eventually it’s going to turn into a stomachache.

But underlying both of these is the type of body and mind and emotions and so on that we all have that are the support, the basis for this up and down of life. And this basis of this type of body and mind is something which continues, we go on lifetime to lifetime to lifetime with this type of basis. So the real deepest level of suffering is the ongoing basis for the other types of suffering, the ups and downs of life.

But Buddha spoke of a second noble truth which are the true causes of this syndrome to continue and continue. And that is basically our unawareness about cause and effect in terms of our behavior and our unawareness of reality.

The point being that our experience – body and mind, etc., emotions, feelings – is going to go on forever, with no beginning, no end, from a Buddhist point of view; we’re talking about rebirth, rebirth with no beginning and no end. But the point being that this continuum doesn’t need to be a basis for the up and down sufferings of our usual type of life; it’s possible to get rid of that.

But as long as our mental continuums, as long as our minds are mixed with this confusion and naivety, then that’s going to produce anger, it’s going to produce attachment, desire, greed, these sort of things and that’s going to perpetuate sometimes feeling happy, sometimes feeling unhappy, things going well, things going terribly, and more and more problems over and over again and it’s just going to perpetuate itself.

Buddha said it was possible to achieve a true stopping of all of these problems, so that our mental continuum goes on free of all these problems, free of having any unawareness or confusion, free of having disturbing emotions, free of what we call “karma,” the impulsive behavior that is based on these disturbing emotions.

The way to achieve that true stopping – these problems are not going to go away just by themselves – is to gain what we call a true pathway mind; “true path” is how it’s sometimes called. It’s talking about a state of mind, a state of understanding, with which we directly oppose our lack of understanding or our misunderstanding. If we have understanding, then we no longer will have the confusion and the problems – the disturbing emotions, impulsive behavior, etc. will no longer arise.

So we have the most basic teachings of the Buddha. And in order to gain these true pathways of mind, these true understandings, it’s necessary to hear the teachings, think about them, and meditate on them, which means to build them up as a beneficial habit. And there are many ways of doing this. We often hear of two ways: the gradual way by stages, so there are those people that need to go step by step, and there are those for whom it happens all at once.

But with things happening all at once, this doesn’t mean that you walk in off the street having absolutely no understanding or no experience and you meet a spiritual teacher and the magic wand on your head or the vase and that’s it, you’re enlightened. It certainly doesn’t mean that. But rather what it means is that everybody travels and makes progress in stages all the way up to a certain point where you have non-conceptual cognition or understanding of reality. That takes a very, very long time and a great deal of practice, many, many lifetimes.

At that point, depending on how much positive force you’ve built up, for some special people then the subsequent stages at which you’re able to stay with that full non-conceptual cognition of reality all the time, not just in meditation, but all the time, that phase – most people will need to work in stages – for a very, very small minority that will happen all at once. That’s what it’s talking about, that last phase, whether it’s going to still be a gradual process or happen all at once. So for all of us, we’re going to need to follow a graduated path, at least up to a very, very advanced point.

Now, when we talk about a graduated path, what that means is that we need to first get an understanding of one thing and then on the basis of that you add something further and on the basis of that you add something further and so on, like building the stories of a tall building.

Buddha taught an enormous amount of teachings, and therefore the various Indian masters, and later Tibetan masters as well, tried to put them in some sort of order that would make sense in terms of how each of us would develop. The way that the Buddha taught was, basically, he lived with his monks and they were invited for lunch at various people’s houses and after lunch the patron said, “Buddha, please say something to us,” so then Buddha would say something. In that way you had all these various sutras, but they were not organized in a singular type of practice. So what we have in the Tibetan tradition, based on certain things that started in the Indian tradition, are various systems of organizing these teachings.

This is actually quite different from the way that the Chinese approached the same problem. The Chinese come from a society, a civilization that is very much based on hierarchy, with an emperor on the top. And their translators would go to India, come back with a big bag of books that they just sort of took off the shelf or got from some place somewhere. And they translated them and they didn’t know what in the world to do, so they made hierarchies out of those. So different schools developed that made a hierarchy and eventually said, “And this book is the top, this is the king.” They ordered it that way. So they said, “The Lotus Sutra is the best,” or this sutra or that sutra, depending on the school.

But the Tibetans never did that. Based on the teachings of one Indian master who came to Tibet in the early eleventh century, Atisha, the way that the Tibetans approached, based on this Indian’s teachings, was to put the teachings into one system of development, how every person would be able to develop. In other words, what does each person in their own spiritual development need to build one on top of another. So a very different way of approaching the same problem of what do you do with this vast array of Buddha’s texts.

Lam-rim: The Three Scopes

So, Atisha formulated this in terms of three scopes (skyes-bu gsum) or three levels of motivation or persons who have this type of motivation.

The first, initial level is to aim to improve future lifetimes. In other words, now we have a precious human life and that’s not going to last. And it’s only on the basis of this type of human life that we’ll be able to really make spiritual progress. And so the initial aim is to make sure that we continue to have that type of precious human rebirth.

Then the intermediate level is to aim to get free of uncontrollably recurring rebirth or samsara. In other words, if we now will continue to have a precious human rebirth, the whole point is to stop this whole process of rebirth under the influence of our confusion, disturbing emotions, karma, etc., so that our mental continuum will go on without various forms of suffering. That’s aiming for liberation.

Then the advanced scope is to realize that everybody is in the same situation. We are all interconnected with each other; we all depend on each other. Therefore it would be only proper that we work to help everybody overcome the same suffering situation. And in order to do that, we need to become a Buddha, enlightened, which means beyond liberation to develop to the point where we understand all the interconnections between everything – that’s called omniscience – so that we understand what are the specific causes of the problems of each individual being and what would be the result of anything that we would teach them, so that we know what’s the best method to help them reach liberation and enlightenment as well.

In Atisha’s presentation, Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-me), he only has one verse each on the initial scope and the intermediate scope and then an enormous amount of detail concerning this advanced scope. Now, there were various Tibetan masters in the century after Atisha and they developed this basic framework in various assorted ways. And within these frameworks that they developed, they put in more and more different pieces of the Buddha’s teachings.

Parting from the Four Types of Clinging

One early Sakya master for instance, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (Sa-chen Kun-dga’ snying-po), formulated this path in terms of parting from the four types of clinging (zhen-pa bzhi-bral). And this was to part ourselves or get out of clinging to this lifetime, so that corresponds to this initial scope. And parting from clinging to future lives, so that’s when we aim for liberation. And then parting from clinging for our own purposes and turning to working for the purposes of others, that’s the advanced scope. And then parting from clinging to impossible ways of existing to go to the actual reality, the ways things do exist, which is the method that we need to follow in general.

Overcoming the Four Hindrances

Then we get Gampopa in the Kagyu tradition. He was a disciple of Milarepa. He lived at the end of the eleventh century/beginning of the twelfth. And he wrote several texts. In the West we are familiar with mostly just one of them called The Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Dam-chos yid-bzhin nor-bu thar-pa rin-po-che’i rgyan) and here he brought in the teachings on Buddha-nature into an array of teachings, which is talking about the basic factors that will enable us to become a Buddha. So he spoke about first of all the cause for being able to follow this whole path, which is Buddha-nature. And the supporting basis is the precious human life. And the condition for being able to get success is a healthy relation with a spiritual teacher. And then the means is to follow the teacher’s instructions.

He presents this in terms of overcoming the four hindrances (gegs-bzhi), which is fairly parallel to parting ourselves from the four types of clinging. We have to overcome attachment to the enjoyable objects of this lifetime, so once again turning from just clinging to this lifetime and working for future lives. Then overcoming our attachment to the happiness of samsara, once again working for liberation. And then, attachment to the happiness of the complacent peace of liberation, so teachings then to go on to the advanced scope of work for the purposes of others. Then the last hindrance is not knowing the means to attain enlightenment and here, instead of speaking about the teachings on reality, he speaks about the teachings for developing the bodhichitta aim to achieve enlightenment.

I mention all of this because there are so many different ways of formulating the spiritual path and when we get to the Drugpa Kagyu formulation, we’ll see that Padmakarpo draws on many of these different ways of organizing the teachings. And so it’s very important to appreciate that there’s nothing special about any of these. They’re all dealing with the same topics, with the same material, and just ordering it in a different way.

Other Organizational Schemes

Some masters will explain all of this material in terms of basis, path, and result. We also have a presentation in terms of each of these areas a view, so a view on reality, a meditation, and the type of behavior. We have a presentation in terms of what’s called the four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma (blo-ldog rnam-bzhi). I guess they’re all just talking about the same thing, but they’re organizing it in a different way.

When we approach this material as Westerners, we come from the Biblical traditions in which we have this concept of “one God, one truth, one book.” Because of that, when we turn to Buddhism, we want to have one truth. And you read all these different versions and you say, “But what is the real thing?” And, “This is the one. What my school teaches, what my teacher teaches is the one truth, the one path.” That is not at all the Buddhist way.

The Four Themes of Gampopa

Gampopa's Version

In addition to these various schemes that I just mentioned, there’s another very important one, which Gampopa wrote in another text, not translated into our Western languages. And this is the text which is the basis for the Drugpa Kagyu presentation, because Padmakarpo wrote a commentary to it, basically. And the short version of the title of this text is A Precious Garland for the Supreme Pathway Minds (Lam-mchog rin-po-che’i ‘phreng-ba).

In Jewel Ornament of Liberation, basically Gampopa followed the style of Atisha, in the sense that he gave very little explanation of the initial and intermediate scopes and disproportionately much, much more for the advanced scope. This is what Padmakarpo writes in his introduction to his text. But in this second text, Gampopa gives a much more complete extensive explanation of all three scopes and this was probably for teaching the Dharma to larger groups.

In this text, Gampopa mixed together two schemes of presentation. One was these three scopes of motivation and the other was what came to be known as the four themes or four dharmas or four teachings – however you want to translate it – of Gampopa, the four themes of Gampopa (dvags-po chos-bzhi). These are (1) having the Dharma function as Dharma. This word I’m translating as “function” literally means “to go,” so have the Dharma go or function or work as, now the word “dharma” means a “preventive measure,” so as something that will help to prevent suffering. Then (2) having the Dharma function as a pathway mind. Then (3) having the pathway minds eliminate confusion. And then the last is (4) having confusion dawn as deep awareness.

Layagpa's Version

What’s very interesting is that many different masters from different traditions afterwards understood these four to mean slightly different things and included different portions of the teachings under each of these four categories, so there’s no standard presentation of these four. In fact, Gampopa himself has two different presentations of these four. One was in this text that I just mentioned that becomes the basis in the Drugpa Kagyu tradition. And another one was put together by one of Gampopa’s direct disciples. He was called Layagpa (Lho La-yag-pa Byang-chub dngos-grub). And he put together what he called a Root Text for the Four Themes of Gampopa or, more fully, The Text Known as “The Four Themes of Gampopa,” mNyam-med dvags-po'i chos-bzhir grags-pa'i gzhung) and then a commentary Ornament for Clarifying the Essence: A Commentary on “The Text Known as ‘The Four Themes of Gampopa,’” (mNyam med dvags po'i chos bzhir grags pa'i gzhung gi 'grel-pa snying po gsal ba'i rgyan), basically putting down what he had heard from Gampopa as a root text and then his commentary on it. That implies that Gampopa probably taught it in many different ways depending on the audience and who knows what else.

In this version from Layagpa, this earlier version from what we have in the Drugpa Kagyu, the first theme corresponds to the initial scope. The second theme corresponds to both the intermediate and advanced scopes together. Then the third theme corresponds to tantra. Now, in Atisha’s original presentation of the three scopes he already brings in tantra, so Gampopa is picking up on that and including it here in the path. Tantra is very advanced practice of meditation which is aimed at reaching enlightenment, but works with Buddha-nature and various Buddha-figures that one imagines oneself to be like, working with the energy-systems and so on. And then the fourth theme in this formulation is correlated with the mahamudra teachings. Mahamudra teachings deal with, basically, meditations on the nature of the mind, based on the teachings on Buddha-nature, which already Gampopa introduced in Jewel Ornament of Liberation.

Longchenpa's Version

Now, when you look at the development of these four themes, we get it in Nyingma, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a text Precious Garland for the Four Themes (of Gampopa), (Chos-bzhi rin-chen ‘phreng-ba) by Longchenpa (Klong-chen Rab-'byams-pa Dri-med 'od-zer), the great formulator of the Nyingma system, and he throws in there also not only sutra – the basic teachings of the three scopes – he also throws in tantra, he also throws in dzogchen, which would be the Nyingma not exact equivalent of mahamudra but very similar.

Sangwayjin's Version

Also slightly before our Drugpa Kagyu formulation, we have yet another formulation of it An Extensive Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path for the Three Scopes of Spiritual Seekers, (sKyes-bu gsum-gyi lam-rim rgyas-pa khrid-su sbyar-ba) by Sangwayjin (gSang-ba’i byin). Sangwayjin was a master of the Kadampa tradition. And he makes these four themes, the first one is sort of the basis for everything and then the second is the initial scope, the third is the intermediate, and the fourth is advanced. And he doesn’t include any tantra in it.

Gorampa's Version

Then you also have a presentation Discourse Notes on the Attitude-Training “Parting from the Four Clingings”: Key to the Profound Essential Points (Blo-sbyong zhen-pa bzhi bral-gyi khrid-yig zab-mo gnad-kyi lde'u-mig) by Gorampa (Go-ram-pa bsod-nams seng-ge), a Sakya master. He mixes the four themes with the parting from the four clingings. And you have an earlier Sakya... so you see we have this huge different amount of variety.

Padmakarpo's Version

But let’s get to our Padmakarpo presentation A Sun for the Pathway Minds of the Persons of the Three Scopes (Summarized in Terms of) an Explanation of the Four Themes of Gampopa, (Dvags-po’i chos-bzhi rnam-bshad skyes-bu gsum-gyi lam nyin-mor byed-pa.) Here he combines the three scopes with the four themes of Gampopa and then for each of them he presents it in terms of a view, a meditation, and a type of behavior. He mixes a lot of systems together.

What is important, I think, is to try to understand in terms of our own personal development, whether were following the Drugpa Kagyu or any of these other multiplicity of traditions that use these four themes, to have some understanding of what do these four themes actually mean in terms of a person’s development. If we can understand what that means, then we can try to see how there’s many different ways for developing this state of mind that they’re speaking about. Because you see, the actual teachings which are filled in this structure, you find them in all the traditions, so there’s nothing particularly special about the presentation here. I think important is the idea of how the spiritual development of a person, specifically ourselves, is formulated and what does it really mean in practical terms.

Having the Dharma Function as a Preventive Measure

Gampopa called the first of these four having the Dharma function as a preventive measure, literally “having the Dharma go as Dharma.” Longchenpa and Sangwayjin changed the terminology a little bit and called it “having the mind function as a preventive measure.” “Having the mind go toward the Dharma” is a way of translating the same three words. That word “go” can mean “to go as the Dharma,” “as a preventive measure,” or it could be “go toward the Dharma.” Tibetan language is vague in that sense that things can be interpreted in several ways. “Dharma” means “preventive measure,” it’s something that you do... the Sanskrit word literally means “to hold you back,” so it is something that holds you back or helps prevent suffering. That’s why I translate it as a “preventive measure.” It’s what we do beforehand, a teaching that we follow, an instruction that we follow to prevent suffering.

Here what Gampopa is talking about is, “OK, you have the teachings,” – “Dharma” also means “the teachings” – “but do you really apply the teachings as a preventive measure?” Do you really put it into practice, taking it seriously, that “If I practice this, I will be able to avoid suffering.” This is the state of mind that one has to have in approaching the teachings that “This is really something that will work to prevent my suffering.”

What is included in the instructions for how to do this – in this original formulation by Gampopa that Padmakarpo comments on, we find that it’s called the worldly vehicle of gods and humans. It’s the term that he uses. The vehicle – we use this word “vehicle” a lot in Buddhism – it’s a vehicle of mind, it is a way of thinking which will act as a vehicle to take us someplace, to a goal. Here it’s the goal of better rebirth, the main emphasis being a precious human rebirth, but also rebirth in the various god realms as well. Basically what we want to do is to prevent worse rebirths. And it says in the text, this helps to prepare you for liberation, but it isn’t going to actually bring you there.

So what are the teachings that will actually prepare us for this? Padmakarpo now presents it in terms of a view, meditation, and behavior. So what’s the view? This is the topic of what’s usually translated as “refuge and karma.” What does that mean?

“Refuge,” I don’t care for that translation. It actually means a safe direction. It’s a direction that we put in our life, working toward what the Buddhas have achieved in full and what the highly realized beings have achieved in part. What a Buddha has achieved is – we go back to these four noble truths – true stopping of the causes of suffering and obviously suffering itself. A Buddha has achieved that and achieved the level of understanding, the pathway minds that will bring that about. So, a Buddha has achieved all of that in full and what’s called the Arya Sangha are those who have achieved it in part, but not in full yet. So we want to go in that direction.

That means we understand that if we can achieve a true stopping, which means that they never occur again, these causes for suffering in our mental continuum, our confusion etc., that if we really could get rid of that, that would prevent suffering, it would prevent the problems and we’re totally convinced of that, so “That’s the direction I want to go in in my life.”

When we talk about safe direction or refuge, it’s in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Dharma is referring to these true stoppings and true pathway minds. Having the Dharma go toward the Dharma or as Dharma – there are many meanings that we can understand in that, but what it’s saying is: take the teachings as a way to proceed toward the Dharma jewel, to refuge as a preventive measure. That is the ultimate preventive measure – get rid of all the causes of suffering and you have prevented all suffering.

How do we start to go in that direction? Well, we need to at least continue to have a precious human life, or some god-realm life with which it’s somewhat possible to follow the Dharma, but not as fully as with the precious human one. But they’re both included here.

And when you go in that direction, it’s to understand karma, cause and effect in terms of our behavior. If we understand that destructive behavior leads to gross unhappiness and suffering and pain, and that constructive behavior leads to happiness, then – at least initially, it’s initial scope – to prevent gross suffering then we avoid destructive behavior. Having the Dharma function as a preventive measure here covers the initial scope teachings in the lam-rim graded stages.

The view here is the view of safe direction, or refuge, and karmic cause and effect. The meditation is meditation on karmic cause and effect. And the behavior is to accomplish or do constructive behavior and rid ourselves of destructive behavior, which is what leads to gross suffering.

Having the Dharma Function as a Pathway Mind

The second theme of Gampopa is having the Dharma function as a pathway mind. That which is translated as “path” is referring to a state of mind, a pathway mind. And this corresponds to the intermediate scope teachings in the graded path.

In fact, if we look at the long title of Padmakarpo’s text, he called it A Sun for the Pathway Minds of the Persons of the Three Scopes of Lam-rim Summarized in Terms of an Explanation of the Four Themes of Gampopa. So he says it right there in his title that he’s putting together these four themes and the three scopes.

When we talk about pathway mind, what we’re talking here about is a true pathway mind, one that actually will bring us to liberation. So this is speaking in terms of what leads to liberation, not necessarily what’s leading to enlightenment, that’s a step further. And for this, what we have to work on getting rid of are the emotional obscurations. These are the disturbing emotions of attachment and anger and so on. And these are based on confusion about how persons exist – how we exist, how others exist.

As I said, the initial type of confusion is about cause and effect, so that was what we were working on with the first theme of Gampopa, this initial scope. The second confusion concerns reality and now we’re starting to work with that here. Concerning reality what is the situation is that our minds project all sorts of impossible ways of existing – and then we believe in it. We’re naive and we believe that it corresponds to reality.

We know this in extreme forms, for instance paranoia, “Everybody is against me.” Our mind projects that and then we believe it and we are very disturbed. We’re all doing this all the time on much subtler levels that we don’t even recognize. And so we have this type of projection of impossible ways of existing. It’s called grasping – we project it, perceive it, and believe it – all of that’s included in this word “grasping,” so we grasp for these impossible ways of existing. It can be with respect to persons or with respect to all phenomena.

And these impossible ways of existing are on many different levels of subtlety. There are two levels of subtlety regarding persons and then a deeper level of subtlety regarding all phenomena. According to the Kagyu tradition, in order to gain liberation we only need to understand these first two levels of impossible ways of existing with respect to persons, that’s sufficient.

On one level, there’s confusion about how we exist in terms of teachings about a soul that we might have been taught from some doctrinal system, specifically an Indian non-Buddhist one. This would be the view that the soul, that’s me, “I’m the soul,” it’s called atman, is something that never changes, is a partless monolith, either the size of the whole universe, or some tiny little spark. And it can exist completely separately from a body and mind and goes on from one set of body and mind to another. That you could be taught and believe and then view yourself that way. And we have typical Indian systems of belief which realize that we are one with the universe, we’re all one. That’s a soul which is partless and of the size of the universe. This type of teaching.

And then on a subtler level what automatically arises – you don’t have to be taught this – is that there’s a me that can be known separately from any basis. For instance, we look in a mirror and, “I see myself,” as if I see me, as opposed to “I see a body, and on the basis of the body I see ‘me.’” But no, you think, “I see me.”

Or “I hear my friend on the telephone.” Well, is that my friend? No, actually it’s a vibration of some diaphragm and I’m calling that a voice and, on the basis of that, I’m calling it my friend. But we don’t think like that, “I’m talking to my friend.”

Or “I want somebody to love me for myself. Just love me, not my body, not my mind, not my money, not anything; just I want somebody to love me, for myself,” as if there could be a me separate from all of that. Of course, on the basis of that, we want to get things to us like love and affection, so there’s grasping. And if we don’t get that, then we’re angry and we project certain things and all sorts of emotional problems arise.

Here the view for having the Dharma function as a pathway mind, this intermediate scope, is to understand that there’s no such thing as this type of soul, that’s impossible. Then the meditation is knowing the various drawbacks of samsara – uncontrollably recurring rebirth – that occur based on confusion about how we exist. And then the behavior that’ll bring us to liberation is what’s called the three higher trainings.

In terms of thinking of the faults of samsara, that includes here the difficulty of finding a precious human rebirth, death and impermanence, all of that, which in many other formulations would be in the initial scope – here it’s in the intermediate.

Then these three higher trainings are in ethical self-discipline – there’s a big discussion of vows here. Then higher concentration, it’s the teachings on shamatha. And Padmakarpo gives full extensive teachings on how to achieve shamatha and various different methods for doing that and then a little bit on vipashyana as well. All of that’s usually included in the advanced scope teachings in other presentations. Here he puts it in this intermediate scope.

And then higher discriminating awareness, it’s usually translated as “wisdom,” to discriminate between what’s correct and what’s incorrect. And here Padmakarpo gives a huge discussion of the sixteen aspects of the four noble truths, full presentation of the thirty-seven facets that lead to liberation, extensive presentation of the twelve links of dependent arising... a tremendous amount of teachings here, which in most other presentations are not given here at all.

Having Pathway Minds Eliminate Confusion

The third theme is having pathway minds eliminate confusion. So, we don’t just want a pathway mind that leads to liberation, that was the second theme, but we want a pathway mind that will eliminate all confusion, so that we achieve the state of a Buddha.

Confusion is referring to a confused way of perceiving or cognizing reality, so it’s based on unawareness: we’re unaware of how things exist or we imagine they exist in an incorrect way. In the Kagyu formulation Padmakarpo follows, they say that unawareness of reality when it concerns persons, that is the basis for disturbing emotions – anger, hostility, etc. – so that type of unawareness is a disturbing emotion and is included in the emotional obscurations that you get rid of when you achieve liberation.

But there’s another, more subtle level of unawareness which is called “the unawareness that is not a disturbing emotion,” and this is an unawareness free of the type of unawareness concerning a person – that the person could be known all by itself and so on – but we have a deeper type of unawareness which is concerning how all phenomena exist.

This is not so easy to understand because then we have what’s called “disturbing emotions that are not included in the disturbing emotions,” which in other traditions, like in the Gelug tradition, would be called subtle desire or subtle anger. This is actually very difficult to identify what they are. They’re not really concerning a me or persons, but – the way it’s formulated here in this text – it’s seeing things either from an eternalistic point of view or a nihilistic point of view. So either that things exist eternally all by themselves or that they don’t exist at all. Here we want to have a pathway mind that eliminates this type of confusion. This we will need in order to achieve enlightenment.

Here the view is called the view of the two truths and this is speaking about conventional or superficial truth and the deepest truth. The Kagyu way of presenting it that Padmakarpo agrees with is these are talking about how we view things, either from the point of view of our ordinary mind, that would be conventional truth about them, or how somebody who sees reality non-conceptually would perceive them, that’s deepest truth.

From our usual point of view, we see things in a deceptive type of way. It seems to exist in an impossible way, but that is a stepping stone for being able to understand on the deepest truth they exist devoid of all of that. It’s called “voidness.” So, the deepest truth – they are devoid of these impossible extremes.

These various extreme ways of existing would be implied by various conceptual frameworks. If we conceptualize things existing in some sort of solid category as a thing, then that is this eternalist extreme, or if we think that “Well, they don’t exist like that,” but we think of that conceptually, then we put them into the box of the category of not existing at all. So, this view is devoid of or beyond those extreme formulations. That’s the view of the two truths.

The meditation is practice of meditation on what’s called the joined pair. And that’s referring to how we combine compassion and the bodhichitta aim to reach enlightenment to benefit everybody together with this understanding of reality. That’s the pair that they’re talking about here being joined together.

For instance, meditating on recognizing everybody has been your mother and kindness of the mother and love and compassion and so on up to bodhichitta and then gaining the five pathway minds you get the discriminating awareness of reality or voidness – so combining it in that type of way. And Padmakarpo explains several different ways of combining them.

Then the behavior is the behavior of the six far-reaching attitudes or the six perfections; so generosity, ethical self-discipline, patience, perseverance, mental stability and discriminating awareness. In this presentation both of Gampopa and in Padmakarpo there’s very little explanation of these six. Gampopa explained it in huge detail in Jewel Ornament of Liberation, so he doesn’t explain it so much here.

What’s also quite noticeably missing in this text is any mention of the relation with a spiritual teacher. It’s not mentioned at all. But again it has to be supplemented from Jewel Ornament of Liberation. That tells us that in order to really study this material in Drugpa Kagyu that we have to study it from the material from several texts, from several sources. There’s a lot in this presentation which is not found in Jewel Ornament, and certain things found in Jewel Ornament of Liberation are not here.

Having Confusion Dawn as Deep Awareness

The fourth theme, the last one, having confusion dawn as deep awareness, is referring to a little bit about tantra, but mostly about mahamudra. Remember, in the other presentation of Gampopa of the four themes, he made the third theme completely about tantra and the fourth theme about mahamudra and combined the intermediate and advanced for the second theme. Here the intermediate is the second, the advanced is the third, and he combines tantra and mahamudra with the fourth. Obviously, there’s no one way which is correct, even for Gampopa.

Even the name of this fourth theme is slightly different in different versions. Sangwayjin calls it having confusion arise as bodhichitta. But basically what we’re saying here is following a path that will transform and get our confusion to what is underlying it.

The way that Padmakarpo explains it, he says if still a little bit of confusion arises, then we need a stronger method, and this is yet a stronger and more subtle type of method. However, it doesn’t mean it’s an easier one. And so in one part of this it talks about the tantra method of representing and transforming various disturbing emotions etc. into various Buddha-figures, which represent the purity underlying them.

And when he talks about mahamudra here, he talks about the stainless basis, path, and result, so he brings in that classification scheme. This the stainless basis is Buddha-nature, the pure nature of the mind. When we talk about the pure path or the stainless path, here’s where we have the view, meditation, and behavior.

  • The view is mahamudra, which is the pure nature of the mind is free from extremes and here it’s not clear that he’s speaking either about the mind as a way of knowing something or the mind as the way in which that exists.
  • The meditation is on what’s called stainless clear light. But that’s not referring to the subtlest consciousness as you have in tantra, but is referring to again the nature of reality that’s parted from the two extremes.
  • And the behavior is to recognize whatever arises or whatever one meets with and that’s to basically see that all appearances are manufactured by the mind.
  • And then the stainless result is the attainment of enlightenment.

What’s interesting here is that when he’s speaking about having the disturbing emotions dawn or confusion dawn as deep awareness, what it’s saying is that if you let – through mahamudra method – the disturbing emotions settle down and you see the nature of them, you get to the void nature of the mind.

Whereas if we look at Longchenpa’s presentation of this in the Nyingma tradition he speaks quite... when we talk about confusion, it’s each of the disturbing emotions. And there he presents this whole system that there’s the five types of deep awareness, sometimes called the “five Buddha-wisdoms,” and underlying the structure of each of the disturbing emotions is a type of deep awareness with which the mind functions, every mind functions. So, if we have great longing desire for someone, if we relax and let that strong hold loosen, then what you find is just the basic structure of individualizing something. It’s just pointing out one individual thing, but with attachment you make it into something special and then, “I have to have it.”

In summary, if we look at these four themes of Gampopa, despite the fact that they can be explained in many different ways and many different basic teachings can be classified under them in many, many different ways, nevertheless it indicates a very helpful way of approaching the spiritual path:

If we’re going to follow the Dharma teachings, (1) first we have to take them seriously as a method for helping us to prevent or avoid suffering. Then (2) we need to follow the Dharma, these teachings, as an actual pathway of mind that will lead us to liberation, not just prevent suffering, but go all the way to liberation. And then (3) we have to further that pathway mind that’s an understanding of reality, we have to further progress that pathway mind to eliminate the deepest forms of confusion, so that we achieve enlightenment.

These three correspond in this way of understanding quite well with the three scopes of lam-rim, the graded path. And then (4) in this whole process if we find that we need yet a further method, then what we need to see is that underlying the disturbing emotions etc., this confusion, if we can just calm down, we will discover the pure nature of the mind. And so it’s not so much that the third theme is not going to get us to enlightenment, so we need the fourth. It’s sort of that the fourth reinforces our conviction in the third.

I went into a bit of detail about these texts, primarily because they’re not available in any Western languages, so it’s perhaps helpful, especially if we’re going to follow a tradition like the Drugpa Kagyu, to have some idea of what their basic way of formulating and presenting the teachings are. And what we learn is that each tradition has its own special way of presenting the teachings in the sense of how it organizes them, but the basic teachings are exactly the same in all the traditions; it just differs in the organizational scheme.