Main Points of the Intermediate Scope Teachings

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Brief Review of the Initial Level of Motivation

The teachings for someone of an initial level motivation have five main points to meditate upon: awareness of the preciousness of the fully endowed human body and the difficulty of obtaining it, death, impermanence and the suffering of the lower realms, refuge, and the law of cause and effect. 

By contemplating these points very carefully and, specifically, by following the law of cause and effect, we accumulate a great deal of positive force from our constructive acts. This not only protects us from having to fall to a lower rebirth in our next life, but also ensures rebirth in one of the higher realms, with perfect opportunities to practice Dharma either as a human or a divine being. This outcome is definite if we follow the law of cause and effect and do positive actions. 

We find the exact same teachings on the initial level of motivation in the Kagyu tradition in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. We also find this in the Nyingma tradition’s lam-rim, the graded path teachings of Kunzang Lama’i Shelung and in the many famous lam-rim texts of the Gelug tradition. In this discourse we are speaking of the Bodhipathapradipa, the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, by the great Atisha. This is the actual root text for all the mentioned teachings and takes as its source the Prajnaparamita, or Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, the direct teachings of the Buddha.

At the time of the Buddha, people were of very sharp intelligence and directly studied the sutra teachings of the Buddha. These served as the graded, lam-rim course. Today, if we follow the teachings of the initial scope, based on the sutras, we can definitely prevent ourselves from having to be reborn in one of the three unfortunate states, and furthermore can ensure that we attain a perfect rebirth as either a human or divine being. 

The intention of a person of the initial level of motivation is to prevent falling to lower realms, and to ensure rebirth in the future as a human or divine being. If we spend our life collecting masses of material possessions and wealth, it will bring us suffering no matter what type of fortunate rebirth we have. Possessions and wealth are not enough; at best, we will only be reborn into another state of suffering that is not ultimate happiness. In the past, we built up a great deal of positive karmic force which has resulted in our current form. But this body is neither long-lasting nor does it provide real happiness. It is going to perish and pass away. Even if we are born a king among divine or human beings, there is still nothing except suffering. Therefore, we must see that all of these states are in the nature of suffering and seek a method for liberation from rebirth in uncontrollably recurring existence. 

Intermediate Level of Motivation

The teachings that deal with the methods for liberation from rebirth in uncontrollably recurring existence are more advanced than those of the initial level. They are known as the intermediate scope teachings. In the root text, Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, the intermediate scope teachings are given in one verse, which reads: 

(4) Anyone with the nature to turn his or her back on the pleasures of compulsive existence and to turn back negative impulses of karma, and who takes keen interest in merely his or her own state of peace, is known as a person of intermediate spiritual scope.   

While the initial scope refers to those who work fervently toward the happiness of uncontrollably recurring existence, the intermediate scope is a more advanced state of motivation. Here, we renounce worldly pleasures, seeing that they have no essence at all. This is a higher level of motivation. 

The Pervasiveness of Suffering

If we ask why we should turn our backs on the various types of worldly pleasures and accomplishments, it is because the greater the worldly possessions, the greater the suffering and problems experienced as a result. For instance, holding a very high position creates problems because the higher the position, the more the criticism and difficulties we get. We’re constantly scared of losing our position and, if we do lose it, we worry in about improving our situation and regaining a higher one. This whole process is suffering from start to finish.

As a merchant, for example, we may have a lot of problems and worry about how to sell our goods, how to build up inventory to sell, and how to yield a return on our investment. It is nothing but problems and worries. Regardless of how much material wealth and money we amass, or how many relatives and friends we have, or what type of home we acquire, we will find we still grow old. This is the suffering of growing old and the various problems that arise with aging. The suffering of old age comes on very gradually, and therefore we don’t see it clearly; however, it creates a tremendous amount of suffering. If the aging process were to happen overnight, it would seem as though we were instantly putting on the mask of an old person and the suffering would be enormous. The suffering that we experience with growing old is very difficult to handle. 

There is also the suffering of sickness. At present, we might not be sick, but it is certainly possible for us to become sick at any time and experience terrible problems. When we become sick, even if we have a really nice home, we have to go to a hospital. Just as we thought about the suffering of death in the initial level of teachings and practice, likewise, with this the intermediate scope, we should contemplate these sufferings. 

Even if we are a very famous person, a well-known king or whoever, when we die, our body is going to be buried, cremated, or whatever the customs are, and our life will be finished. At the time of death, even if we are a very famous army general or soldier, we die in a very pathetic way, unable even to pull the trigger of a gun. As well, no matter how strong the wild animal, how far they are able to leap and jump, how loudly they roar when alive, at the time of death they are not able to do anything. These are things we can observe for ourselves. At the time of death, no matter how many things we have built up or attained, we have to leave them all behind. We have to leave behind everything that we have worked so hard to gather. It is like a child building little houses out of sand that in the end either collapse or are swallowed by the sea and disappear. Our lives are like that. 

Seeing the Nature of Our Material Possessions as Suffering

Anything that we have in this lifetime – our house, car and jewels – come from the force of our previous constructive actions. Don’t be attached to these things. We should see them as established only in terms of mental labeling and understand their nature in terms of our mind and how they have come about. We shouldn’t have great attachment to them. 

We should also realize that the amount of suffering we have in uncontrollably recurring existence is directly proportionate to the amount of material possessions we own. The more possessions we have, the greater our suffering. The Buddha was born a prince but renounced his position. He then practiced difficult ascetic practices for six years and was ultimately able to manifest enlightenment. Likewise, Atisha, the author of the text we are studying, was born in Bengal into a royal family but gave up his princely position to become ordained as a monk and intensively practice Dharma. It is quite difficult to see that all the material possessions and pleasures of uncontrollably recurring existence have no essence and are in the nature of suffering. This is very difficult to see, but we should try to meditate on and understand this. 

No matter how many material goods we have, we always just want more. Even if we had the material wealth of an entire country, we would still think of trying to get the wealth of yet another country. No one is ever satisfied. We never have the feeling that “This is enough, I am satisfied, and I don’t want anymore.” We can see this as well with the example of food. If we have a very delicious eight-course meal today, tomorrow we will still want another. We are not satisfied, and never think that we have had enough; we always want more and more.

The Lack of Certainty

There is no certainty in life at all. Yesterday’s friend can become an enemy today and vice versa. We can see how, even in one lifetime, our social position can change very much. We could be a very high official and, after that, be thrown in jail. After that, our very high official position may even be restored. There is no certainty at all. Things are always changing. 

In Tibet, we have seen from our own experience that there were kings or rulers of certain areas; yet in 1959, when the Chinese took over, these same kings and rulers were deposed and forced to give up their ways of life. They became very poor and wore poor clothes. We have all directly seen this type of change. When leaving Tibet and traveling through Bhutan, the highest official there was extremely wealthy and well-dressed. He rode a very fine horse and went everywhere to help others. At that time, the people who came from Tibet were extremely poor and in a very difficult situation with nothing to eat or drink. Five or six years later, this same official was killed in a civil dispute within the inner circle of the Bhutanese government. Likewise, in India over the years, we have seen that the ruler of India has changed two or three times. We can see that there is no essence at all to such high positions. 

We should see that no matter how many worldly goals we attain, they have no essence at all, and we should understand, as it says here in the text, that all worldly pleasures are actually nothing but suffering and problems. 

For the initial scope, we think mainly of the suffering of the lower, more unfortunate states of uncontrollably recurring existence; however, with the intermediate level of motivation we expand our contemplation to all the suffering involved with being born anywhere in uncontrollably recurring existence. This is much more difficult to see, but we should try to realize that no matter what type of worldly pleasure we might experience in uncontrollably recurring existence, it is nothing but suffering and problems. 

For instance, we might live in a hot country that, even if, at the moment, it is very pleasant, at other times we still suffer from too much heat. The so-called pleasures that exist anywhere in uncontrollably recurring existence are nothing but suffering. This is something we should try to understand. If we sit for too long, even if we are sitting comfortably, our bottom will start to hurt. Even the pleasure of sitting down turns into suffering and we have a strong feeling of wanting to get up. Then, if we stand up and walk around for too long, our legs become tired and, again, we want to sit down. 

If we think about it, there is nothing but suffering involved in uncontrollably recurring existence. Whatever worldly pleasures we might see, we should not think, “Oh, I wish I had that,” and then take pleasure in running after them. Some people have too many material goods and drive themselves crazy thinking about them. We have this type of suffering too.

There are also some people who become very wealthy, only to spend their time and money taking drugs. They might even kill themselves. In the end, none of this wealth has any essence or meaning. If we have $100,000 and try to start a business, the whole idea is to try to build up more and more money. This just creates more problems. Businesspeople often have to borrow money in order to make more money. Then they’re constantly involved in the problems of making money, borrowing and repayment. If we think about it, $100,000 should be enough. There is no reason to borrow money in order to make more money. It is a never-ending hassle. When somebody in that position borrows money, they borrow a lot because they want to make a lot. There are a lot of problems, difficulties and suffering involved in this. For example, it is not always easy to find somebody who is going to lend large sums of money, and then once we get it, we’re always worried about repayments. 

No matter what type of worldly things we have, we can see that great attachment and obsession bring suffering. Therefore, we need to develop detachment and then, as the text says, turn his or her back on the pleasures of compulsive existence and to turn back negative impulses of karma. We need to turn away from worldly pleasures. “Worldly,” in this sense, refers to uncontrollably recurring existence, samsara, and the need to develop detachment from all the so-called pleasures of this world. 

As before, the general method to get rid of all the suffering of uncontrollably recurring existence is to turn away from committing destructive actions. These include not only the ten specific destructive actions that we discussed elsewhere, but, likewise, turning away from the main disturbing emotions and attitudes, the three poisons that infect our mental continuum. We must turn away from these as well, because the main cause of being reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence is disturbing emotions and attitudes. 

The Three Root Disturbing Emotions and Attitudes  

The 84,000 disturbing emotions and attitudes aren’t outside us like 84,000 soldiers in a battlefield somewhere. They are actually in our own mental continuum. Of the 84,000 disturbing emotions and attitudes, three are like the generals of a vast internal army and are the root of all disturbing emotions and attitudes. We should realize that these three generals are in our own mental continuum and not on an external battlefield.

What are these three root disturbing emotions and attitudes? They are desire (attachment), hostility (hatred), and closed-minded unawareness (ignorance). The strongest is the naivety of closed-minded unawareness. Again, there isn’t a great general wearing the stars of closed-minded unawareness. It is inside our own mental continuum. What is this unawareness? It is being unaware of the true nature of reality; the true nature of reality is obscured. We will call being unaware of the true nature of reality “unawareness.” 

The Cause of Obscuration: “Me”

What causes this obscuration? It is the sense of “I” or “me.” Everybody experiences this. First, we have to recognize how thinking about “I” and “me” comes about. For example, somebody accuses us of being a thief. We instantly respond, “Who? Me, a thief?!” In that situation, the sense of “me” arises very strongly. Likewise, if we are about to fall over a cliff, the feeling of “me” comes on very, very strongly as in, “I am about to fall!”

When the sense of “me” comes on strongly, we should investigate and think about it. We should question where or what is the “me.” For example, we can ask if this “me” is our head, our arms, or our legs? If the “me” were our head, two arms and two legs then, in fact, we would have five “me’s.” If someone’s name is John and if his head, arms and legs were John then, in fact, John would have five Johns. If we die and our body is cremated, then the “me” would become nonexistent. If the “me” is burned in the fire, then there would be no future rebirths; however, that is not the case. There is no way of saying that any part of our body is the “me.” 

In this process of investigation, we might then feel that the mind is the “me,” that the consciousness is the “me.” In the philosophical tenets of the Buddha’s teachings from the schools of the Svatantrikas downwards, the mind or consciousness is considered to be the “me.” This is one of the philosophical positions. However, if the mind were the “me,” then it would be impossible to think of “my mind” or “my consciousness,” because, for example, in order to speak about “my shirt,” the implication is that “me” and the shirt are two different things. We can understand this simply from the point of view of language. If we speak of “my mind,” it implies that the “me” and the mind are two different things. Since we can speak in terms of my mind, my head and my arm, then we can understand just from the point of view of language that the “me” is not any of these things. 

If we think about this quite a lot, we might all of a sudden come to think, “I don’t exist at all!” But that won’t do because the “me” isn’t something that is totally nonexistent either. If there were no “me” at all, then when somebody slaps us in the face, we wouldn’t feel any pain. Yet we do feel pain. It hurts when somebody slaps us in the face. 

How Does the “Me” Exist?

So, how does this “me” actually exist then? The “me” exists in terms of the five aggregates. These five aggregates are the mental and physical faculties that constitute the basis upon which the “me” is established in terms of mental labeling. 

To understand this a little better, let’s imagine we wanted to become a high official one day. It would not be proper to just address ourselves with an official title before actually being appointed. Only after we have completed all the education and training and have been chosen to be an official would it be appropriate. At that time, people would give us an official title, and everybody would begin to think of us in terms of being an official. Likewise, we also begin to think of ourselves as an official. Eventually, it appears to us as though we inherently are this official, and not only because we have been given the title of an official. We have to realize what is nonexistent: we have the title of an official, but we do not inherently exist as an official. If that were the case, we would already be an official without other people needing to give us the title. 

All phenomena exist in the same way. If, all of a sudden, we were to install a stove and cooking appliances in a particular room, we would call the room a “kitchen.” Likewise, if we were to bring tables, chairs, and silverware into the room, we could call it a restaurant, and it would become a restaurant. However, this room is not inherently any of these things and only is established as these things when it contains such objects and is mentally labeled as such on the basis of them.

Even if the “me” does not have truly established existence, we still have strong grasping for it. From grasping at a truly existent “me,” we also develop grasping for all the things that are “mine.” So, we have, for example, “my friend,” and “my enemy.” Grasping at persons as being “my friend,” we develop desire and attachment. Grasping at persons as being “my enemy,” we develop anger and hostility. All 84,000 disturbing emotions and attitudes are generated out of this unawareness of the true nature of reality, and the desire and hostility that arise due to it. 

The Direct Opponent to Grasping

Therefore, we can see that at the root of all of our problems is this attitude that grasps at “me” as having truly established existence. All the disturbing emotions and attitudes arise from this. Since such a truly established “me” does not exist, then the “me” that understands the total absence the truly established existence of the “me” acts as a direct opponent for eliminating the mind that grasps at an “me” as having a truly established existence. 

Therefore, we should try to understand and recognize the way we grasp for a truly established “me” with a truly established, self-established identity and develop an understanding of how the “me” lacks a truly established identity. This is the identitylessness, the selflessness, of a “me.” We should try to understand how these two ways of thinking – that the “me” has a truly established identity and that it totally lacks one – are the complete opposite of each other.  

Training in Higher Ethics, Concentration, and Discriminating Awareness  

These things are extremely difficult to understand. In order to gain understanding, Je Tsongkhapa himself did three and a half million prostrations and made many mandala offerings on a mandala plate made out of stone, rubbing them until he completely rubbed away the skin on his wrist. He made many other offerings as well in order to build up the positive force to understand these crucial points.

What we need to do is build up a great deal of positive force ourselves and hear and study the teachings over and over again from the great texts. It will then be possible to actually understand them. This is how it is explained. 

If we develop this wisdom, the discriminating awareness of the lack of an impossible “me” of a person, it can eliminate all disturbing emotions. It is because of disturbing emotions and attitudes that act compulsively under their influence we build up karmic potential. If we eliminate disturbing emotions and attitudes, then naturally we also eliminate building up further karmic potential. In the past, we built up a great deal of karmic potential to be reborn in various states in uncontrollably recurring existence. However, if we put an end to the disturbing emotions and attitudes, then these karmic potentials will not ripen. It is like we have a grain of rice, but if there is no water or fertilizer, then the rice will not grow and will remain a dry seed. The same thing happens to the seeds of karmic potential. If we eliminate all the disturbing emotions and attitudes, they will remain dry and not ripen. 

So, the discriminating awareness that understands the identitylessness of the “me” puts an end to disturbing emotions and attitudes. This is known as training in higher discriminating awareness. To achieve higher discriminating awareness, we need the mind to be free of mental wandering and dullness, and able to remain fixed. We need to train the mind to be able to stay absorbedly on one object with a stilled and settled state of mind. This is the training in higher concentration. In order to develop this higher concentration, we need as a basis, to maintain the ethical self-discipline of refraining from the ten destructive actions. Maintaining this type of ethical self-discipline is training in higher ethical self-discipline.

These are the three higher trainings: the training in higher discriminating awareness; the training in higher concentration; and the training in higher ethical self-discipline. If we develop these three trainings in our mental continuum, they are known as “the realization teachings” of the Buddha. If we have developed the realization of the three higher trainings in our mental continuum and are preventing them from degenerating there, then we are upholding the realization teachings of the Buddha. If we try to teach and spread these realizations to others, then we are causing the realization teachings to increase. If we work to prevent the realization teachings from degenerating in a general area or country, then we are cultivating or taking care of the teachings. These three things are known as upholding, causing to increase, and cultivating or taking care of the teachings. 

The scriptures that teach about the training in higher ethical self-discipline are known as the Basket of Vinaya. Vinaya means “the rules of discipline.” The texts that deal with teachings on developing the training in higher concentration are known as the Basket of Sutras. And the texts that cover the topic of training in higher discriminating awareness are known as the Basket of Abhidharma. Abhidharma means “general knowledge.” These three sets of texts together are known as the Three Baskets or the Tripitika in Sanskrit. If we listen to, think about and meditate upon the teachings in these texts, we are upholding the scriptural teachings of the Buddha. 

Thus, it is certain that there are two types of teachings: the realization teachings and the scriptural teachings. It is also definite that there are just these two types of teachings. What is known through these teachings is anything that teaches us how to attain either the higher rebirth status of being born as a human or a divine being or the definite goodness of liberation or the enlightened state of a Buddha. This is the defining characteristic of a teaching as it is being used here.

Review of Aspects of the Intermediate Scope

So, in the intermediate scope, we train ourselves in these three higher trainings. Specifically, we work to develop the discriminating awareness that understands the identitylessness of the “me.” This then acts as an opponent to the disturbing emotions and attitudes and helps us overcome the unawareness at the root of being reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence. As a result, we no longer have to be reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence or samsara. 

We need to develop the attitude of not wishing to become a king or acquire a great deal of wealth and things like that. We should be completely detached from these things because we see that they have no essence at all. We need to have the level of spiritual development where, even in dreams, we don’t wish for these things. Of course, often in our dreams we wish to be prosperous and have a high position as a king or have wealth. Nevertheless, in fact, we have to develop the level of stability in our motivation that we don’t even dream about such things. We should have the intention of not wishing for any of these worldly pleasures, to see that they have no essence at all, and are only in the nature of suffering. We need to develop this type of intention in which we are not interested in these things. The actual action that we need to follow, based on this intention, is to take and keep the vow of restraining ourselves from the ten destructive actions. 

There are three sets of vows: the pratimoksha or the vows of individual liberation, the bodhisattva vows, and the tantra vows. For the intermediate scope, this means keeping the one-day or novice or layperson vows, or the vows of a novice or fully ordained monk. What is involved at this level of motivation is focused on not committing the ten destructive actions. Likewise, the type of thinking that we need is to become detached and turn away from all of the so-called worldly pleasures, because they have no essence and are only within the nature of suffering. 

An additional criterion needed to qualify as someone of the intermediate scope is the wish to attain release from all the suffering of uncontrollably recurring existence. We should wish to put an end to it, to pacify all of it, and to attain what is known as nirvana or the state beyond sorrow. This intention, at this stage, concerns only ourselves. We aspire to attain liberation for ourselves. A person of intermediate scope is someone who is working to attain liberation for their own sake. With this goal, they work to develop the discriminating awareness that understands the lack of the impossible “me” of a person. 

Thinking of Others

However, we need to consider the fact that we are not the only ones stuck in this suffering of uncontrollably recurring existence. Everybody is in the same position and therefore we should work to liberate everybody. Working for the liberation of others isn’t the actual intention of someone of the intermediate scope, however, we shouldn’t train ourselves in exactly the way that someone of the intermediate scope behaves. Rather, thinking in a more extensive way, we should further train ourselves by thinking of liberating everybody. If we are truly unable to think in terms of liberating and working for everybody’s sake and can only think in terms of working for our own liberation, then, by following these teachings of the intermediate scope, it is still definitely possible to become liberated from having to be reborn in uncontrollably recurring existence. 

To reiterate, the intermediate level involves understanding that all of the pleasures of worldly existence have no essence at all. The action involved is to develop the ethical self-discipline of refraining from the ten destructive actions, and also to use the various methods for stopping the disturbing emotions and attitudes from arising. The result of doing all this will be the complete elimination of all suffering. 

If we practice in this way with the basis of the human body that we have now, we can achieve this goal. However, our own liberation is not going to be of great help because if only we were free of all suffering while everybody else is not, we couldn’t be happy. This will not do. It is not enough. 

Just as we don’t want to suffer in the lower realms when thinking about the initial level, it is the same on the intermediate level, but on a broader scope. We understand that all situations in uncontrollably recurring existence, including all the pleasures, have no essence at all and are only in the nature of suffering. We wish to be free from suffering and likewise so does everybody else. Therefore, we have to wish for everybody to be free from all of their sufferings just as we wish ourselves to be free. The subject matter upon which we meditate in the intermediate level is referred to as the “four noble truths.” 

The Four Noble Truths

What are the four noble truths? The first is the noble truth of true suffering. An example of true suffering is this tainted body with the tainted aggregates that are nothing but suffering. This is a noble truth of true suffering. The fact that there is no certainty or satisfaction in uncontrollably recurring existence is another example of true suffering.

The second is the noble truth of the true origin of suffering. This refers to the source from which all suffering arises. All suffering arises from karma, disturbing emotions and attitudes. They are the true source of all suffering. Therefore, they are the noble truth of the true origin of suffering. Of these first two noble truths, true sufferings are the result, and true origins of suffering are the causes of these results. Together, these first two truths are the deluded side of the noble truths. 

Discriminating awareness, the wisdom the understands the identitylessness of the “me,” is the opponent force that eliminates the cause of all sufferings. When we take discriminating awareness as a pathway consciousness, it is what is known as the noble truth of a true pathway mind, a true path. This discriminating awareness that understands the lack of an impossible “me” or “soul” of a person is a true path and therefore is the noble truth of a true pathway mind. When we develop this true pathway mind, it acts as an opponent to eliminating the grasping at an “me,” which is the root of all suffering. Therefore, we accomplish what is known as an elimination of this unawareness. The parting of our mental continuums from these true origins of uncontrollably recurring existence is known as the true stopping or the noble truth of true stoppings. These true stoppings are a result, and the true causes are the true pathways, the noble truth of true pathway. The second two noble truths are the purifying side of the noble truths. These two truths clean away the disturbing emotions and attitudes.

There is a mantra called “the essence of dependent arising” (rten-’brel snying-po) that we frequently recite: Om ye dharma hetu prabhava, hetun teshan tathagathohya vadate, teshanca yo nirodha, evam vadi maha-shramanaye svaha. It is a Sanskrit sentence that means: “Om, whatever phenomena have originated from a cause, the Thusly Gone One has in fact spoken of the cause of them; and whatever is the stopping of them has been likewise spoken of by the Great Ascetic, Svaha.” 

In Sanskrit, yedharma means “those things,” meaning all things that have come from a cause. This refers to all suffering coming from the causes of suffering: the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and unawareness. The latter half of the mantra refers to what stops all this suffering, and this is the noble truth of the true pathway mind, that which eliminates all the disturbing emotions, attitudes and unawareness. The one who has spoken this is the Great Ascetic, the Thusly Gone One, referring to the Buddha. 

In short, the mantra conveys the method for eliminating the cause of all suffering as the discriminating awareness that understands the lack of an impossible “me” of a person as taught by the Buddha. This four-line Sanskrit mantra incorporates all of the Buddha’s first teachings on the four noble truths. The essence of what is discussed here is that all of our suffering comes from these sources of delusion, and we should rely on the various methods for eliminating them. 

This has been a presentation of the Four Noble Truths.