Parting from the Four Clingings: Its Context and Source

Verses of Homage and Promise to Compose

The name of this text is Discourse Notes on the Mind Training “Parting from the Four Clingings”: Key to the Profound Essential Points (Blo-sbyong zhen-pa bzhi-bral-gyi khrid-yig zab-don gnad-kyi lde’u-mig). It was written by the great Sakya Master, Gorampa (Go-ram-pa bSod-nams Seng-ge) (1429-1489). It begins:

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.

With this verse, Gorampa pays homage to Shakyamuni Buddha, Chief of the Able Sages.

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, Gorampa pays homage to the extremely kind Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (Sa-chen Kun-dga’ snying-po), the ennobling, impeccable Jetsun Sakyapa, inseparable from Jetsun Manjushri and from the Greatly Compassionate One, the Highly Realized Arya Avalokiteshvara.

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.

This is the promise to compose. The lustrously virtuous-minded one refers to Gorampa’s patron, Ra Lö Dorje (Ra Lod rdo-rje).

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).  

There are no teachings that cannot be included in either the Sutra Vehicle or Tantra Vehicle.

The Major Main Points of Sutra Explained from the Classic Texts

The first of these (Paramitayana) has two aspects: (1) the major, main practices explained from the classic texts and (2) 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 (mNgon-rtogs rgyan, Skt. Abhisamayalamkara), 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 (Phar-byin mdo, Skt. Prajnaparamita Sutras). 

The eight sets of realizations (mngon-rtogs brgyad) are the three sets of realized awareness of knowable phenomena (shes-bya mkhyen-gsum), the four sets of applied realizations of practice (nyams-len sbyor-ba bzhi), and the resultant Dharmakaya (‘bras-bu chos-sku).

In A Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras (Theg-pa chen-po mdo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutralamkara), he (Maitreya) 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 (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali), the Supreme Arya Nagarjuna spoke of (1) higher status and definite goodness, as what are to be actualized, (2) those with belief in facts and discriminating awareness, as those actualizing them and (3) graded stages of the path, as what cause them to be actualized. 

Higher status (mngon-mtho) refers to rebirth in one of the three better rebirth states. Definite goodness (nges-legs) refers to liberation and enlightenment.

The Masterful Teacher, Acharya Aryadeva, spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of (1) having taken Buddhahood as the object of focus, abandoning the four reversed (considerations), then (2) cutting off the disturbing emotions, together with their causes, which are the obstacles preventing completely perfected bodhisattva behavior, and then, (3) 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.

Aryadeva expounded these in The Four Hundred Verse Treatise (bZhi-brgya-pa'i bstan-bcos kyi tshig-le'ur byas-pa, (Skt. Catuhshataka-shastra-karika). The four reversed considerations (phyin ci-log bzhi) are considering (1) what is unclean as clean, (2) what is suffering as happiness, (3) what is impermanent as permanent, and (4) what does not have an impossible “self” as having an impossible “self.”

Acharya Shantideva, in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, spoke of graded stages of the path for actualizing Buddhahood in terms of (1) having a bodily basis with respites and enrichments and, (2) on that basis, practicing the six far-reaching attitudes – the essential nature of bodhisattva behavior – and (3) joining them with pure prayers. 
The Venerable Atisha spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of (1) persons of initial scope who, having abandoned clinging to this life, work to actualize merely their own aims in future lives; (2) persons of middling scope who, having abandoned the pleasures of samsaric rebirths, work to actualize merely their own liberation; and (3) persons of advanced scope who work to actualize Buddhahood for the sake of benefitting all limited beings. 

Atisha expounded these in Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-ma, Skt. Bodhipathapradipa).

The Illustrious Shri Chandrakirti spoke of graded stages of the path in terms of (1) training, while being an ordinary being, in the three minds of compassion, bodhichitta and non-duality; and then, (2) 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 (3) actualizing the Three Corpuses of Bodies of a Buddha. 

Chandrakirti expounded these in A Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s "Root Verses on) the Middle Way" (dBu-ma-la ‘jug-pa, Skt. Madhyamakavatara). The Three Corpuses of Bodies of a Buddha are (1) Dharmakaya, a Corpus Encompassing Everything, (2) Sambhogakaya, a Corpus of Bodies of Full Use, and (3) Nirmanakaya, a Corpus of Emanation Bodies.

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.

Gorampa is saying that the full meanings of the extensive classic literature cannot be understood without extensive study. So, if you ask, “If it’s not possible to practice the full meanings of these classic texts, then how can the meanings of the classic texts be practiced through quintessence teachings?” then Gorampa continues:

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 and the one given to the Sakyapa Lama by Gonpo Manjushri.  

The Quintessence Teachings Given to Atisha by Lama Serlingpa

The large number of manuals of quintessence teachings mentioned here refer to those that have been propagated in the Land of Snows, Tibet. The quintessence teaching that Lama Serlingpa imparted to Atisha concerned the seven-point mind training. The Sakyapa Lama refers to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and the quintessence teaching that Manjushri imparted to him concerned the mind training “parting from the four clingings.” 

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. 

The Three Precious Spiritual Brothers (sku-mched rin-po-che rnam-pa gsum) to whom Geshe Drontonpa (‘Brom-ston-pa rgyal-ba’i ‘byung-gnas) imparted these teachings were the bodhisattvas Geshe Potowa (dGe-bshes Po-to-ba Rin-chen gsal), Geshe Chenngawa (dGe-bshes sPyan-snga-ba Tshul-khrims 'bar) and Geshe Phuchungwa (dGe-bshes Phu-chung-ba gZhon-nu rgyal-mtshan).

Its Tibetan discourse is a great path (of practice) as renowned as the sun and the moon.  

The Tibetan discourse refers to Seven Point Mind Training (Blo-sbyong don-bdun-ma) by Geshe Chekawa (dGe-bshes ‘Chad-kha-ba). 

For its practice, see the texts by the Bodhisattva Chodzongwa and his spiritual son and by the Great Being, Mahasattva Zhonnu Gyalchog.

The Bodhisattva Chodzongwa (rGyal-sras Chos-rdzong-ba) is Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo (dNgul-chu Thogs-me bzang-po) and his short discourse text is Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices (rGyal-sras lad-len so-bdun-ma). His spiritual son refers to Palden Yeshe (dPal-ldan ye-shes), who wrote the excellent text The Great Ear-to Ear Transmission of Mind Training (Blo-sbyong snyan-rgyud chen-po). Zhonnu Gyalchog (gZhon-nu rgyal-mchog) was the author of Mind Training: A Compendium of Well-Spoken Advice (Blo-sbyong legs-bshad kun-btus).

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 main points of practice refer to those of the Seven Point Mind Training, explained above.

the divisions of the subject matter and the arrangement of their topics are more especially outstanding than in the other. 

The Five Jetsun Sakya Patriarchs (Sa-skya rje-btsun gong-ma lnga) are like the fountainheads of the Sakyapa teachings. They are called the “Three White Masters (dkar-po rnam-gsum) and the Two Red Masters (dmar-po rnam-gnyis).” The reason they are called the Three White Masters is that, being celibate laymen observing the full lay vows, they wore white robes.  Of these, the main one was the Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo. His biological sons, as well as his unequivocal spiritual heart sons, Sonam Tsemo (bSod-nams rtse-mo) and the Precious Jetsun Dragpa Gyaltsen (Grags-pa rgyal-mtshan), also wore white robes as celibate laymen. They were learned scholars and accomplished practitioners with majestic command of actualizations. These three are called the “Three White Masters.”

Manjushri Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (‘Jam-dbyang Sa-skya Pandi-ta Kun-dga’ rgyal-mtshan) was born to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s fourth son, Palchen Öpo (dPal-chen ‘od-po). His brother was Zangtsa Sonam Gyaltsen (Zangs-tsha bSod-nams rgyal-mtshan). Guru of the Wandering Beings of the Three Planes, Chogyal Pagpa (Chos-rgyal ‘phags-pa) as well as Guardian of Wandering Beings, Drogon Chagna Dorje (‘Gro-mgon Phyag-na rdo-rje) and so on were born to Zangtsa Sonam Gyaltsen. Both Manjushri Sakya Pandita and Drogon Chogyal Pagpa were fully ordained Vajradhara monks and so they were called the “Two Red Masters.” These were the Five Sakya Patriarchs. The Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo was like the deep source from which all of them derived.

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was, firstly, a descendant of the gods of clear light; intermediately, a descendant of the stainless Kon (‘Khon) clan; and finally, the son of Sakyapa Kon Konchog Gyalpo (Sa-skya-pa ‘Khon dKon-mchog rgyal-po).  All the previous ancestors of the Sakyapa clan down to his father, Kon Konchog Gyalpo, had exclusively been accomplished masters who had relied on the path of the Nyingma tantras from the Old Translation Period. But when it came to Kon Konchog Gyaltsen’s time, he followed the Sarma tantras of the New Translation Period. He listened to and contemplated on the extensive teachings that he received from the translator Drogmi Lotsawa (‘Brog-mi Lo-tsa-ba) and other gurus of the New Translation tantras.

Kon Konchog Gyalpo had one son and that was Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. Up until Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was eleven years old, his father, Kon Konchog Gyaltsen imparted to him all the tantric empowerments and guidelines that he possessed. Then, when he was only eleven years old, his father passed away. After his father had passed away, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s mother, Machig Zhangmo (Ma-gcig zhang-mo), who was a venerable deep awareness dakini, requested the astrologers to calculate his astrological chart. The result of the astrologer’s calculations was that if, in a single day at the hour of an auspicious star, they can lay the framework for the building of a stupa as a place to house the texts of Kon Konchog Gyaltsen’s own collected works, then enthrone Kunga Nyingpo as the regent of the monastery and then make a grand commemorative offering to a large gathering of monks to mark the death anniversary of Kon Konchog Gyalpo, they said; there was an auspicious sign that from then on the political power and spiritual teachings of the Sakyas would expand like the waxing moon. 

Based on the strength of the compassion of his mother, the deep awareness dakini Makye Jomo (Ma-skyes jo-mo), relying on that prediction, they put together and created the collected works, laid the framework for the building of a stupa and made the death anniversary offerings all in a single day. They then invited to the monastery the great guru named Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drag (Ba-ri Lo-tsa-ba Rin-chen grags), a learned scholar and an accomplished practitioner who had always been cared for by the Greatly Compassionate One, Arya (Avalokiteshvara) and the Jetsun Guardian (Jetsun Manjushri). After that, Bari Lotsawa, acting as both substitute father and teacher, nurtured Kunga Nyingpo as if his own son. It was Bari Lotsawa who raised Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to the high rank of a great spiritual teacher.  

Once, Bari Lotsawa told Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, “You are the son of an eminent father, and your family lineage, unlike others, is more especially outstanding. Because of that, you need to have great qualities. To acquire great qualities, you need to have great discriminating awareness, great wisdom. Acquiring great discriminating awareness will not come about unless you rely on a special discriminating awareness deity. Since the one that you have a connection with from many previous lifetimes is Jetsun Manjushri, you should recite the sadhana practice for actualizing Jetsun Arapacana Manjushri. After that, he imparted the subsequent permission and quintessence teachings of the Jetsun Arapacana Manjushri.

In Sakya, there is a meditation practice cave, famous nowadays, called the “Cave for Actualizing Manjushri.” He sent Sachen Kunga Nyingpo to remain in it for six months in a meditation retreat. In the early part of the retreat, he had nightmares in which horrible things happened, such as a large white lion coming and trying to harm him. When he reported these to his guru, he told him that this was the emanation of an illusion by Gonpo Pehar. He told him that if he entrusted himself to the King of the Forceful Ones, Trogyal Achala, and the Jetsun Tara as his yidam meditation deity and made requests to them, the nightmares would be averted. He then imparted to him the subsequent permission and quintessence teachings of Jetsun Tara and the subsequent permission of Trogyal Achala as his Dharma protector.

After that, as his daily practice, he performed the Manjushri sadhana in the mornings and, in the afternoons, he meditated and recited the mantra of Trogyal Achala and made requests to Jetsun Tara. Trogyal Achala averts all interferences to your lifespan, while Jetsun Tara averts all inner interferences. 

After six months of his main practice of Gonpo Manjushri, in the space before him, not as a dream or a pure flash experience, but with bare cognition he beheld in a circle of rainbows in the space (before him) Jetsun Manjushri, with a body the color of refined gold, with beautiful adornments and sword in hand, seated on a precious throne in the posture of the Triumphant One, Gyalwa Maitreya. Together with the bodhisattvas Akshayamati (Blo-gros mi-zad-pa) and Pratibhanakuta (sPobs-pa brtsegs-pa) and an assembly of other bodhisattvas, he came to him in the space before him in a pure vision that he beheld with bare cognition. From Jetsun Manjushri’s heart, a sword of discriminating awareness, like a shot flaming arrow, sped toward and disappeared into Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s heart. Based on dependent arising from this auspicious sign, emanations of Manjushri have appeared seven successive times to the descendants of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo. It is said that this dependently arose from that.

After this sign, Manjushri imparted to Sachen these few lines, “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.” It is said that, at that time, Sachen’s mental continuum was uplifted with inspiration as if having taken rebirth into a state of inconceivable discriminating awareness, self-confidence, and deep absorbed concentration. 

Those lines are called “parting from the four clingings” and its lineage is a near one (coming from Manjushri and not tracing back with an unbroken lineage to Shakyamuni Buddha). As (indicated when) we recite when making requests to the lineage of the Jetsun Sakyapa, “To the great teacher, the fully enlightened Buddha, guru for wandering beings, to his chief bodhisattva son, Gonpo Manjushri, to the Jetsun Sakyapa cared for by him, we make requests at your feet, our supreme unparalleled refuge.” Thus, the lineage that has passed down through Chogyal Pagpa, overlord with full mastery of both the Dharma teachings and the complete five secular fields of knowledge, and so on is a very recent near lineage. 

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.

This is saying that all the essential points of the Mahayana sutra practices are condensed in it.

As for the meanings of these lines, (1) when you have parted from clinging to this life, your mind has gone toward the Dharma; (2) when you have parted from clinging to samsaric rebirth, you have made the Dharma function as a pathway of mind; (3) when you have parted from clinging to your own benefit, you have made the pathway minds eliminate confusion, (4) when you have parted from clinging to the four extremes, you have made confusion dawn as deep awareness.

These are the four main points of the outline, which Gorampa correlates with the “four themes of Gampopa” (dvags-po chos-bzhi). The four extremes are existence, nonexistence, both and neither.