I make requests to you, O Peerless Protector, Lion of the Shakya Clan. Like the pathway of the gods, your supreme omniscience pervades everything validly known. Like rays of moonlight, your compassion beautifies the crowns of the heads of wandering beings. Like a wish-granting gem, your enlightening influence is a treasure providing everything wished. May all be constructive and excellent for every wandering being.
I make prostrations respectfully to you, O Sakyapa, difficult to address by name. You are Manjushri, incorporating the deep awareness of all Triumphant Ones of the three times. You are Avalokiteshvara, having pledged to protect all wandering beings of the three planes of samsaric existence. You have assumed a human form to lead wandering beings in this age of degenerations.
Here, I shall expound the uncommon guidelines for the essential points of Mahayana in response to repeated requests made by you, O lustrously virtuous-minded one. By the strength of the positive potential that you have built up in the past, you have attained a human bodily basis for actualizing the hallowed Dharma and, with your spontaneously accomplished wealth, you have made offerings to the teachings and to those upholding them.
To bring about benefit to the entire world, though not requested to do so, the fully enlightened Buddha expounded a massive amount of Dharma in accord with the dispositions, wishes and dormant potentials of those needing to be tamed. The full extent of it all was gathered into the Far-reaching Perfection Vehicle (Paramitayana) and the Diamond-strong Vehicle (Vajrayana).
The Major Main Points of Sutra Explained from the Classic Texts
The first of these (Paramitayana) has two aspects:
- The major, main practices explained from the classic texts
- The practices of them through the essential points of the quintessence teachings.
Of these two, in terms of the major, main points explained in the classic texts, Guardian Gonpo Maitreya,
- In A Filigree of Realizations, spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of the eight sets of realizations that are the meaning of The Sutras of Far-Reaching Discriminating Awareness (The Prajnaparamita Sutras).
- In A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras, he also spoke of graded stages of the path, but here, in terms of the intended points of the various Mahayana sutras – (Buddha-nature) family traits, aspirations for the Dharma, and so on.
In A Precious Garland, the Supreme Arya Nagarjuna spoke of:
- Higher status and definite goodness, as what are to be actualized
- Those with belief in facts and discriminating awareness, as those actualizing them
- Graded stages of the path, as what cause them to be actualized.
The Masterful Teacher, Acharya Aryadeva, spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of:
- Having taken Buddhahood as the object of focus, abandoning the four reversed (considerations)
- Cutting off the disturbing emotions, together with their causes, which are the obstacles preventing completely perfected bodhisattva behavior
- And then, having made yourself a suitable vessel for the very nature of reality, (actualizing) the teachings on the nectar of the very nature of reality as the actual main point.
Acharya Shantideva, in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, spoke of graded stages of the path for actualizing Buddhahood in terms of:
- Having a bodily basis with respites and enrichments
- On that basis, practicing the six far-reaching attitudes – the essential nature of bodhisattva behavior
- And joining them with pure prayers.
The Venerable Atisha spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of:
- Persons of initial scope who, having abandoned clinging to this life, work to actualize merely their own aims in future lives
- Persons of middling scope who, having abandoned the pleasures of samsaric rebirths, work to actualize merely their own liberation
- Persons of advanced scope who work to actualize Buddhahood for the sake of benefitting all limited beings.
The Illustrious Shri Chandrakirti spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of:
- Training, while being an ordinary being, in the three minds of compassion, bodhichitta and non-duality
- And then, having attained the stage of an arya, a highly realized being, progressing through the ten bhumi-level stages of mind by means of the ten far-reaching attitudes
- And actualizing the Three Corpuses of Bodies of a Buddha.
This tradition, elucidated without reversed (explanations) by these expounders (of graded stages of the path), who have majestic command of what is established as the intended meanings of the Mahayana Basket (of Sutras), is truly remarkable. Yet, although it can be understood by those who have studied the (extensive) tradition of the classic texts and trained their minds with it, it cannot be understood from just these few (words) here.
The Practices of the Classic Sutra Texts through the Essential Points of the Quintessence Teachings
Second, as for practicing the meanings of them through the essential points of the quintessence teachings, in general there are extremely many (manuals), but what have become the principal ones are:
- The one given to Atisha by Lama Serlingpa
- The one given to the Sakyapa Lama by Gonpo Manjushri.
The Quintessence Teachings Given to Atisha by Lama Serlingpa
Of these two, the first presents (seven points for mind training):
- As the basis for developing a bodhichitta aim – (1) actualizing (the teachings on) the four topics: (a) the difficulty of finding (a human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, (b) death and impermanence, (c) karmic cause and effect, and (d) the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.
- As the precursory practices (for developing a bodhichitta aim) – training, for a long time, in love and compassion and then, as the principal (method), (2) mainly meditating on bodhichitta through exchanging self with others and, at the appropriate time, meditating on deepest bodhichitta.
- As auxiliaries to this path – (3) transforming adverse circumstances into a path to enlightenment, (4) condensation of the practice in one lifetime, (5) the measure of having trained the mind, (6) the close-bonding practices for mind training and (7) the points to train in for mind training.
Practicing these is an outstanding path that is not conspicuous but is very effective.
In Tibet, Atisha did not impart this to anyone else besides the spiritual friend Geshe Dromtonpa. The Geshe, in turn, did not impart it to anyone else besides the Three Precious Spiritual Brothers. From them it spread widely. Its Tibetan discourse is a great path (of practice) as renowned as the sun and the moon. For its practice, see the texts by the Bodhisattva Chodzongwa and his spiritual son and by the Great Being, Mahasattva Zhonnu Gyalchog.
The Quintessence Teachings Given to Lama Sakyapa by Gonpo Manjushri
Now, on this occasion, (I shall present) what Gonpo Manjushri bestowed upon Lama Sakyapa. Although it is similar to the main points of practice as those of the above, the divisions of the subject matter and the arrangement of their topics are more especially outstanding than in the other.
Moreover, it is said that when the Great Sakyapa Lama, Kunga Nyingpo, was twelve years old, he undertook a retreat to actualize Manjushri and, within six months, had a vision of him, in which Manjushri spoke to him, saying,
If you cling to this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner. If you cling to samsaric rebirth, you do not have renunciation, the determination to be free. If you cling to your own benefit, you do not have a bodhichitta aim. If grasping arises, you do not have the view.
The complete practices of the Far-reaching Paramita (Vehicle) are contained in these lines.
As for the meanings of these lines, they are:
- When you have parted from clinging to this life, your mind has gone toward the Dharma
- When you have parted from clinging to samsaric rebirth, you have made the Dharma function as a pathway of mind
- When you have parted from clinging to your own benefit, you have made the pathway minds eliminate confusion
- When you have parted from clinging to the four extremes, you have made confusion dawn as deep awareness.
When You Have Parted from Clinging to This Life, Your Mind Has Gone toward the Dharma
Of these four main points, the first (when you have parted from clinging to this life, you have made your mind go toward the Dharma) has meditation on three topics:
- Firstly, as a preliminary, the difficulty of finding (a precious human rebirth with) respites and enrichments
- As the actual fundamental part, death and impermanence
- As an auxiliary to the path, karmic cause and effect.
The Difficulty of Finding a Precious Human Rebirth with Respites and Enrichments
Firstly, for meditating on the difficulty of finding (a precious human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, sitting on a comfortable cushion, repeat many times taking the safe direction of refuge in the gurus and the Precious Gems. Then make requests with the four lines, “May my mind go toward the Dharma,” and so on. Then, after enhancing your bodhichitta aim, thinking, “I shall attain Buddhahood for the sake of benefitting all limited beings,” contemplate as follows like this:
“This (precious human) body with respites and enrichments, in terms of its essential nature, is difficult to find complete with the eight respites and the ten enrichments. In terms of its causes, it is difficult to find since you need to have actualized (a great store of) constructive (karmic potential) and it is very rare to have anything constructive on this mental continuum.
“In terms of numbers, in general among the six classes of wandering beings, the lower and lower the class, the more (beings) there are than the higher and higher ones. But we can see with bare perception the number of insects living in a marsh and in a pile of wood during the summer monsoon. There are not as many people in the entire world. Thus, (a precious human rebirth) is difficult to find.
“From the point of view of examples, if you throw peas at the side of a wall, it is difficult for any to stick. Or it is more difficult than for a turtle to stick its neck through the hole in a yoke tossed about by the wind on the vast sea.”
Therefore, without wasting in any way this (human rebirth) with respites and enrichments, found just once, meditate, thinking, “I shall practice (the pure Dharma) for the sake of my future life and beyond.”
Death and Impermanence
Secondly, as for meditation on death and impermanence, after taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, meditate, thinking, “I will definitely die, since, having been born, there is no one who has stayed alive forever without dying. Not merely that, but further there is no assurance when I will die or not die. Since the circumstances for dying are many and the circumstances for staying alive are few, I will definitely die. When the time of death arrives, nothing can turn it back, such as medicine or healing rituals. None of these will help when I die and, after death, except for Dharma, none of my circle and none of my possessions will follow with me.” Meditate thinking like that and resolve to part with your clinging to this life.
As this is the main method for making your mind go toward the Dharma, then whenever you have good food to eat, good clothes to wear and are surrounded by a large circle of friends, meditate, thinking, “Now I have this and that, like that, but one day I shall have to part with them and go on alone; they have no essence,” and resolve to part with your clinging to the affairs of this life.
Karmic Cause and Effect
Thirdly, as for meditation on karmic cause and effect, after taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, contemplate, “Having obtained a precious human rebirth with respites and enrichments, difficult to find like this, then, since it is impermanent, therefore, before I die, I must abandon every kind of destructive behavior and practice as many constructive deeds as possible. The reason is that the ripening result of the ten types of destructive behavior is rebirth in one of the worse rebirth states.
“Regarding the results that correspond to their causes, for those that correspond to their causes in my experience, it is explained that these will come about: from taking the life of others, I will have a short life, from taking what has not been given, I will be deprived of my wealth, and so on. As for the results that correspond to their causes in my behavior, it will come about that I will want to repeat again whatever destructive actions I had become habituated to and, as a result of that, it will come about that I will fall to a worse rebirth and so on, with no opportunity to escape. And as for the results from the actions of persons, I will be born in a place that is foul-smelling and has dust storms.” Therefore, contemplate, thinking, “I will definitely abandon (destructive behavior).”
(Then continue), “Likewise, the ripened result of the ten constructive actions is rebirth in the better states of rebirth. Regarding the results that correspond to their causes, as for those that correspond to their causes in my experience, from abandoning taking the lives of others, I will have a long life and so on. As for those that correspond to their causes in my behavior, I will want to act in this and that constructive way. As for the results from the actions of persons, I will be born in a pleasant-smelling place, and so on.”
Therefore, contemplate, thinking, “As these come about, I must definitely put into practice (constructive behavior).”
When You Have Parted from Clinging to Samsaric Rebirth, You Have Made the Dharma Function as a Pathway of Mind
Concerning the second (parting), “When you have parted from clinging to samsaric rebirth, you have made the Dharma function as a pathway of mind,” contemplate on the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.
The Disadvantages of Samsaric Rebirth
After taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, (contemplate this): “This samsaric existence with its three planes does not go beyond having suffering as its self-nature. In the hot hells, there are the sufferings of your body being burned by fires, slashed by weapons, and so on. In the cold hells, there are the sufferings of extreme cold, and your flesh and bones shatter into pieces. In the neighboring hells, there are the sufferings of being stuck in a pit of flaming molten lava. If such types of sufferings were to befall my body, I would not be able to bear even a mere fraction of them.
“As for the clutching ghosts, they have the terrible sufferings of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, exhaustion, and fear. Animals have many sufferings. Those that live in the depths devour one another, while those that are scattered around are used for labor or exploited. Humans have the sufferings of changing status from high to low, not finding what they wish for, meeting with what they do not wish for, being parted from loved ones, and so on. These can be seen with bare perception.
“The celestial beings, the gods on the plane of sensory desires, as well, when they receive the portents of death and the portents of being close to death, their mental suffering is worse than the physical sufferings of the beings in the hells. The gods on the planes of ethereal objects and of formless beings – although they do not have any manifest suffering, nevertheless, since, at some point, they will fall to a lower rebirth and will have the experience of all the various sufferings of the worse rebirth states, uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth on the three planes of compulsive existence does not go beyond having a self-nature of suffering.”
Therefore, contemplate, thinking, “After having abandoned all the various states of rebirth, I must attain the topmost achievement of liberation.”
Up to here, if correlated with the graded stages of the path of the persons of the three scopes, this completes the paths of persons of initial and middling scopes. And then, as with the great master Serlingpa’s approach, the four foundational Dharma teachings as the preliminaries are also complete.
When You Have Parted from Clinging to Your Own Benefit, You Have Made the Pathway Minds Eliminate Confusion
Concerning the third (parting), “When you have parted from clinging to your own benefit, you have made the pathway minds eliminate confusion,” meditate on love, compassion, and bodhichitta.
Regarding the first of these (love), contemplate, thinking, “Liberation from the sufferings of samsaric rebirth for myself alone is not sufficient. All the limited beings on the three planes (of compulsive existence) have exclusively possessed the kindness of having been my mothers and fathers a multitude of times. But, especially, this root mother (of my present lifetime) first carried me in her womb and, when I was born outside it, took care of the life of this being that resembled an emaciated bug. After that, she nurtured me with food, clothes and so on.”
Having remembered the extent of the kindness that she has shown you, contemplate, thinking, “I must establish her in a state of happiness, since this mother of mine has been so kind.”
Then, remember the kindness that your other relatives, your enemies who have inflicted harm, and even suffering beings, such as those in the three worse states of rebirth and so on, have shown you over beginningless samsaric rebirths. Meditate on this until love, wishing to establish all of them, too, in a state of happiness, arises on your mental continuum.
Second, as for meditation on compassion, after remembering the kindness of this root mother of yours, meditate, “Although this kind mother of mine must be parted from suffering, it is awful that she is now living a life in the nature of suffering. How wonderful it would be if she were parted from suffering. I shall establish her in a state that is parted from suffering.”
Likewise, remembering the kindness, as before, of (all other) wandering beings, meditate on compassion wishing that they, too, be parted from suffering. Since, if you do not develop love and compassion on your mental continuum, you will not be able to develop a genuine bodhichitta aim, it is very important to make effort in these two. They are the roots of the entire Mahayana Dharma.
Third, as for meditation on bodhichitta, there are three points:
- Aspiring bodhichitta
- The bodhichitta equalizing self and others
- The bodhichitta exchanging self with others.
As for the first of these (aspiring bodhichitta), meditate, “Although my kind parents in samsaric rebirths throughout the three planes of compulsive existence must be endowed with happiness and must be parted, as well, from suffering, I do not have the ability to do that right now. Not only that, but also the great worldly beings, such as Brahma, Indra and so on, and those who are beyond being worldly – the shravaka listeners and pratyekabuddha self-realizers – do not even have it. Who has it? Since only a fully and perfectly enlightened Buddha has it, I shall attain the topmost achievement, becoming a fully enlightened Buddha, for the sake of benefitting all limited beings. And then I shall free from the ocean of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth my kind mothers and fathers.”
This is the indispensable cause for actualizing becoming a Buddha. When you have this state of mind, whatever roots of constructive potential you have built up all become causes for coming to be a fully enlightened Buddha. There are many praises of this that are spoken of in The Mahayana Basket of Sutras.
Equalizing Self and Others
As for the meditation on equalizing self and others, meditate thinking, “Since, just as I wish to be happy, all limited beings also wish to be happy; therefore, just as I work to bring about my own happiness, I need also to work to bring about happiness for all limited beings. And just as I do not wish to have suffering, all limited beings also wish not to have suffering; therefore, just as I work to eliminate my own suffering, I need also to work to eliminate the sufferings for all limited beings.”
Exchanging Self and Others
As for the meditation on exchanging self and others, imagine before you this root mother of yours and meditate thinking, “This mother has been so kind but, oh dear, she lives (a life) in the nature of suffering. May all her suffering and destructive behavior ripen on me, and may I come to experience (their results). May all my happiness and constructive behavior ripen on her, and may this mother attain Buddhahood.”
Likewise, you need to meditate, individually, with respect to your other relatives, to limited beings that you have seen or heard of, to enemies who have caused you harm, and to suffering beings such as those in the worse states of rebirth. Finally, after gathering into yourself, collected all together, the sufferings of all limited beings, then meditate that your happiness and constructive potentials become the causes, provisionally, for whatever resources they wish for and, ultimately, for their attainment of Buddhahood.
Since this is the essence of Mahayana practice, the secret words of all the Buddhas of the three times, then, although it might be useful to give the reasons for the necessity of meditating like this, scriptural quotations that make it be known, and (an analysis) to disperse doubts about the method for meditating, I shall not elaborate since it would become too long.
From aspiring bodhichitta up until here, as explained before, you definitely need to have as a preliminary taking the safe direction of refuge and enhancing your bodhichitta aim. In addition, meditating on guru-yoga as well would be excellent.
At the conclusion of your meditation sessions on all these points to focus on, seal them with prayers of dedication and, further, remain mindful of them throughout all your activities – moving about, walking, sleeping or sitting.
When You Have Parted from Clinging to the Four Extremes, You Have Made Confusion Dawn as Deep Awareness
Concerning the fourth (parting), “When you have parted from clinging to the four extremes, you have made confusion dawn as deep awareness,” in the tradition of another quintessence teaching, there are the two – a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha and an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana. Further, for vipashyana, there is meditation on the selflessness of persons and meditation on the selflessness of phenomena.
Nevertheless, in this tradition, during the period of total absorption, there is meditation on three points:
- Appearances are established as being of the mind
- The mind is established as being illusory
- What is illusory is established as being without a self-establishing nature.
During the subsequent attainment period, there is the practice of the view that everything is like an illusion and a dream, without clinging to anything.
If you meditate on whatever you want, without relying on the quintessence teachings of your lama, then it is a great basis for confusion and mistakes. Since you will not be able to know about this through mere words, I shall not elaborate on it.
However, what is beneficial in the short term is that whatever roots of constructive force you have established, it is very important not to have the arrogance of thinking, “I am the agent of this constructive act, the constructive act is this, and therefore I have done this constructive act.” There is no fault, however, if, for the sake of encouraging others to engage in constructive acts, you make known that “I have done a constructive deed like this,” so long as you do not conceal any mistakes you have made.
Therefore, whenever you establish a root of positive force or accomplish some everyday mundane activity, if you remain mindful, thinking, “It is like a dream, or it is like an illusion,” it will act as a cause for realizing the view. Since that is the case, it is important to maintain such mindfulness like that.
Like this, there are four stages to this path:
- As for the first, since you are working to actualize your aims for your future lives and beyond, it is called, “having your mind go toward the Dharma.”
- As for the second, since you are working to actualize the pathway minds to liberation, having abandoned samsaric existence, it is called, “making the Dharma function as a pathway of mind.”
- As for the third, since you are acting in accord with the vast vehicle of Mahayana, having abandoned wishes for the modest vehicle of Hinayana, it is called, “making the pathway minds eliminate confusion.”
- As for the fourth, since you are acting in accord with the meaning of the abiding nature of reality, having abandoned the extremes of the mental fabrication of grasping for extremes, it is called, “making confusion dawn as deep awareness.”
While practicing the main points of the path like this and leading your everyday life, then to make your body meaningful, make prostrations and circumambulations. To make your speech meaningful, offer praises to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and read profound sutras. To make your mind meaningful, meditate on love, compassion, and bodhichitta. To make your wealth meaningful, make offerings to the Three Precious Gems, help and show respect to the monastic community, and so forth. If you join all these with pure prayers, it is certain that you will attain complete Buddhahood endowed with all good qualities and no faults.
Condensation of the Essential Points in Verse
To put into verse the condensed essential points once more:
Understanding, full well, the difficulty of finding a bodily basis for accomplishing pure Dharma and that it’s impermanent, in the nature of something that perishes quickly, to readily accept to be ever vigilant to adopt what is positive and discard what is negative – this is the first step.
Seeing endless numbers of wandering beings in the sea of samsara, caught in the jaws of the monsters of suffering, to develop renunciation, being keenly interested in liberation’s dry land, beyond all sorrow – this is the second step.
Remembering the kindness of wandering beings, equal to space, who have over and again been your father and mother and helped you so much, to accomplish the aims of others with love, compassion, and supreme bodhichitta – this is the third step.
Understanding that all these things, as they appear, are from your own mind and that mind itself, being merely a network out of causes and conditions, is like an illusion, and that illusion is parted from mental fabrication, to meditate on the abiding nature of reality – this is the fourth step.
Having made offerings, on all occasions, to the Triple Gem and abandoned, in stages, your destructive bits, and satisfying, with your generous giving, the poor and downcast who lack a protector, if you join these with a dedication prayer, having the purity of the three circles involved, it is certain that you will come to have your provisional and ultimate purposes fulfilled.
Having condensed, with this, the essential points of the Mahayana path, now, with wishes to be of some help, I present this to you, O patron of the teachings, as a gift to hold dear to your heart. Having put all this into practice, may you accomplish all aims.
The householder bodhisattva, Ralö Dorje, who, through having undividable confident belief in the precious teachings, has become a pious patron of those upholding the teachings, has requested me, saying, “I need a guideline from your enlightening speech that is a detailed training that will be of benefit to the divine Dharma.” In the face of that, I, the Buddhist monk Sonam Sengge, have written this at the sacred retreat of Dokhar (mdo-mkhar) on the third day of the waxing moon in the constellation Pleiades. Later, I shall offer you the essential points concerning karmic cause and effect, together with the quotations from the sutras that are their sources. May all be auspicious; may all be constructive.