10 H.H. Dalai Lama ‘08: Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: So when we talk about the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare, here the principal element is the cultivation of compassion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: So when we talk about the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare, here the principal element is the cultivation of compassion.

10 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo

Day Three, Afternoon Session, July 12, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part two. The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. Links 1-3: Ignorance, Karma, Consciousness. Links 4-12 Name and Form, Senses, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Grasping, Becoming, Birth, Aging and Death. Interactions of the Twelve Links Over Lifetimes. Benefits of Reflecting on the Twelve Links. Interdependence of Ethics, Concentration and Wisdom, The Three Higher Trainings. The Stages of the Path for the Practitioner of Greatest Capacity.

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

Thupten Jinpa: So the next outline we’ll be dealing with is the one on twelve links of dependant origination.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now when you look at the teachings on the twelve links of dependant origination, effectively this is an elaboration of the Buddha’s teachings on the four noble truths, where two sets of causes and conditions, causes and effects, were presented. So in the twelve links of dependant origination beginning with ignorance, Buddha explains how the origins of suffering, including the afflictions and karma, give rise to suffering.

For example, it begins with an affliction which is ignorance which then gives rise to volitional actions. And then on the basis of that, it creates the aggregates which are the basis of actual feelings of suffering and pain and which then lead to the sensory faculties, then feelings, then culminates in aging and death, including experiences of lamentation and sorrow and so on.

So in the presentation on the twelve links of dependant origination, Buddha presents the sequence in which, or the process by which, the origin of suffering gives rise to the whole chain of suffering. And indirectly, what the Buddha is presenting is also the reversal process which is that, when you bring about an end to the origin of suffering, then you will also bring an end to the suffering itself. So, indirectly, the Buddha is presenting the cause and effect set belonging to the enlightened class—the cessation and the path.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the importance of this is also underscored in the Buddha’s own teachings. For example in the Vinaya texts, Buddha advises the monks to have a depiction of the wheel of life that illustrates the twelve links of dependant origination on the wall outside the monasteries and temples.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: If you look at the twelve links of dependent origination, these twelve links fall into three main categories of phenomena. The first, eighth and the ninth belong to the category of afflictions, and the second and the tenth belong to the category of karma, volitional action. And the remaining belong to the category of suffering. So when we are talking about suffering here, we are not talking only at the level of sensations or feeling, but rather the truth of suffering.

Links 1-3: Ignorance, Karma, Consciousness

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So also, if you look at the twelve links of dependent origination, some of the links are referred to as the propelling factors, and some are referred to as the propelled links. And then there are also other links which are referred to as the completing links, and then the completed results or completed links. So in this case, what this presentation does is to explain the temporal sequence in which these twelve links occur. Also it provides an understanding of how this life and the future life are linked through these twelve chains, twelve links, in the chain of dependent origination.

So for one cycle of twelve links to be complete, at least two lifetimes are required, and so, if it is longer, then there will be a third lifetime during which one cycle of the twelve links will come to be exhausted. So what this does is, it explains the relationship between the causes in a particular lifetime and the effects in another lifetime.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the first link in the chain of twelve links is ignorance and, although there are certain Buddhist masters who identify ignorance in terms of a mere unknowing, but here most Buddhist masters identify it as a more active form of mis-knowing. And so when we’re talking about ignorance we’re talking about the fundamental ignorance which is the first link within the chain of twelve links. So, of course, as explained before, depending upon how one understands the ultimate nature of reality to be, how you understand the content of that ignorance will differ.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for the ignorance which is the first link in the twelve links of dependant origination, broadly speaking, we can identify two principal types. One is the fundamental ignorance that is distorted in relation to the nature of reality, and then another type of ignorance which is distorted in relation to the law of cause and effect. However, the second type of ignorance is more contemporaneous with the actual committing of the action whereas the first type of ignorance is the real ultimate cause.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the second link, which is referred to as the volitional…volition, really refers to the karma itself.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the third link is consciousness, and in consciousness, the link of consciousness, there are two temporal stages. One is the causal stage which refers to the consciousness at the moment immediately after the karmic act has ceased, and it gets imprinted upon consciousness. So that consciousness is the causal stage of consciousness link, and when new rebirth occurs as a result of that karmic action, the first instance of the consciousness at the rebirth stage is referred to as the resultant stage of consciousness. So the consciousness is divided into two temporal parts.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then, with relation to the third link of consciousness, Tsongkhapa states that, although in the sutras six classes of consciousness are mentioned, but here when we talk about consciousness as the third link, he says that it refers primarily to foundational consciousness according to those that accept the notion of foundational consciousness, that is, alaya. And if one does not subscribe to the notion of foundational consciousness, then it refers to the sixth mental consciousness which is the basis. Basically it is the consciousness which serves as the basis for the imprints of the karma that is carried over.

So those that accept the notion of foundational consciousness are primarily the followers of what is known as the Mind Only School belonging to…that follows after the sutra, sorry—that follows after the scriptures, including Asanga, for example. Asanga presents various arguments to prove the presence of foundational consciousness. And one of the main premises for this is that one needs to posit a stable basis for the storing of the seeds of karma, and it needs to be a neutral state of mind, and it needs to be also a stable state of mind.

And however, when an advanced bodhisattva practitioner, a bodhisattva, enters into an uncontaminated state of non-conceptual wisdom and then at that moment, at that state, the imprints of the karma still need to be carried on, or imprints still need to be carried on (and since no non-virtuous states of mind exist at that point) there must be a neutral consciousness, whose continuity must still remain, that must carry the seeds of the karma. And therefore, they posit this more stable continuity of consciousness referred to as the foundational consciousness. But one of the main kinds of the driving force behind this is the assumption that there must be a continuity of consciousness that must be findable when you search for its essence. And it is this…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, when you search for the essence of the self, a true referent of the term self, there must be something that is substantial that can be found at the end of this analysis, so they posit foundational consciousness as being that continuity of consciousness. However, those that do not accept the notion of foundational consciousness then will accept the sixth mental consciousness to be the repository of the karmic seeds, imprints.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So these latter schools, sorry, these latter masters, will then take the sixth mental consciousness to be constituting the identity of the individual, the identity of the person.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However those Buddhist masters that reject any notion of intrinsic existence, svabhava, they reject the whole approach of presupposing the need to find something substantial when you search for the essence of the person. For them, when you search for the essence of the person, the only fact that one can refer to as the person is the “mere I,” the label “I.” Therefore from their point of view, although consciousness (at the point when karmic action ceases) which gets imprinted may be a temporary repository of that seed, but the long term basis of these imprints is really this “mere I.”

Links 4-12 Name and Form, Senses, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Grasping, Becoming, Birth, Aging and Death

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the fourth link is name and form.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So fifth is the sensory basis. Sixth is the contact. Seventh is feeling. So I’m not going to elaborate on these.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the eighth and the ninth: eighth is referred to as craving, and the ninth is referred to as grasping. The ninth is referred to as appropriation. The difference between these two is that craving relates more to internal sensations and experiences whereas the ninth is a form of attachment relating more to the external objects.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So ninth refers to the attachment to the objects which give rise to different sensations in us.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the ninth has an element of a kind of reaching out, wanting and yearning for that thing, which gives rise to the feelings in us, the sensations in us.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the tenth is becoming, and this actually belongs to the category of karma. And it is an advanced state of karma where the karma has been fully activated, and it’s in the state of becoming. And here the text again distinguishes between two stages. One is called a kind of an ‘entering’ type of becoming; this is before the death. And the second stage of the becoming is referred to as the ‘entered’ state of becoming where the person has already taken the intermediate state of existence.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So although the text says that the second and the tenth belong to the class of karma, but to be more specific, the tenth is not really a karma as such because karma refers to an action, and the action has long ceased in the past. Whether it is verbal or physical or mental, the action has already ceased, and it has remained in the form of an imprint or seed.

So the tenth is a state where the karmic imprint has reached a point of great potency where it has become activated. So one can understand the continuum of the karma in terms of successive stages of this imprint, or one can understand the continuum of the karma in terms of continuation of the disintegrated state, zhig pa, of that karma. But in any case, it’s not that karma itself because the karma has long ceased. It’s the continuity of the karma.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So eleventh is the birth, and twelfth is aging and death.

Interactions of the Twelve Links Over Lifetimes

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if we think about how these twelve links in the chain of dependant origination come to be complete with relation to an individual cycle in a birth in samsara: for example as the result of a particular karma, if it projects, propels only one rebirth, then just before the rebirth, the karmic imprint will be activated and its potency brought to the fore. And then the next rebirth takes place, and then that cycle of twelve links comes to be exhausted.

But sometimes you can also have a single karma propelling or projecting a hundred lifetimes, in which case, although the earlier links may be one and the same links, but from the tenth link onwards, each birth will have one becoming which is the karmic stage and then the remaining links.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So…thinking about the way in which the twelve links belonging to one cycle of rebirth come to be complete, one can envision the scenario where, although the fundamental ignorance has arisen (which then gives rise to a volitional action) and karma is created, but before this particular karma is activated through craving and grasping, it is conceivable that before that happens, a whole new cycle of twelve links can be created.

So a new instance of fundamental ignorance arises which then leads to another karmic action and then creates a whole chain, so that before one round of the twelve links is completed, one can imagine many different cycles being created in between. So, for example, from this morning up to now, during this day when we are listening to the teachings and spending time here in this hall, you know, as a result of fundamental ignorance, we may have created many new karmas which will each have its own cycle.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in this context Tsongkhapa writes, on page 321, the final para, he says that, “Alternatively, motivated by ignorance about the meaning of self….” “This being…,” sorry, the penultimate paragraph:

This being the case, actualization should be understood as follows: nonvirtuous compositional activity that is motivated by ignorance about karma and its effects deposits latent propensities of bad karma in the consciousness. This makes ready for actualization the group of factors of a miserable rebirth that begins with the resultant period consciousness and ends with feeling. Through repeated nurturing by craving and grasping, these latent propensities are empowered, and birth, aging, and so forth will be actualized in subsequent miserable rebirths.

Alternatively, motivated by ignorance about the meaning of selflessness, meritorious compositional activity—such as ethical discipline within the desire realm, or invariable volitional acts (Thupten Jinpa’s translation uses “volitional acts;” the Great Treatise uses “compositional activity.) such as the cultivation of meditative serenity within the higher realms— deposits latent propensities of good karma in the consciousness. This makes ready for actualization the group of factors beginning with the resultant period consciousness and ending with feeling for, respectively, a happy rebirth in the desire realm or rebirth as a deity in the highest realm.”

Benefits of Reflecting on the Twelve Links

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: There is another passage that I want to read from Tsongkhapa’s text where he writes, on page 322, it’s the third paragraph, after the citation from Nagarjuna, when he writes:

When you reflect on your wandering in such a way through cyclic existence, the twelve factors of dependent arising are the best method for generating disenchantment with cyclic existence. Contemplate your projecting karma, the virtuous and nonvirtuous karma that you have accumulated over countless eons, that has neither issued forth fruitions nor been eradicated by antidotes. When craving and grasping in the present lifetime nurture them, you wander through happy or miserable realms under their control. Arhats have immeasurable projecting karma accumulated when they were ordinary beings, but are free of cyclic existence because they have no afflictions. Once you have reached a firm conviction about this, you will hold the afflictions to be enemies and will make an effort to eradicate them.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Immediately after what we have just read, Tsongkhapa writes:

With regard to this, the great spiritual mentor Pu-chung-wa engaged in mental training, or mind training, based solely on the twelve factors of dependent-origination and made the stages of the path simply a reflection on the progression through and cessation of these links. (Thupten Jinpa translation is “links” rather “factors” in the Great Treatise citation.) That is, he explained that reflection on the progression through and cessation of the twelve links of miserable realms is the teaching for persons of small capacity and then reflection on the progression through and cessation of the twelve factors of the happy… two happy realms is the teaching for persons of medium capacity. The teaching for persons of great capacity is to assess their own situation according to these two practices [of persons of small and medium capacities]. They then develop love and compassion for living beings, who have been their mothers and have wandered through cyclic existence by way of the twelve links, train themselves in the wish to become a buddha for the sake of these beings, and learn the path to this end.”

So what Tsongkhapa is explaining here is that there exists a lam-rim instruction based on Pu-chung-wa’s teachings where Pu-chung-wa correlates the teachings on the twelve links of dependant origination within the context of the practices of the three scopes, three capacities.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with that, the explanation of the stages of the path relevant to the person of intermediate capacity is completed.

Interdependence of Ethics, Concentration and Wisdom, The Three Higher Trainings

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: The fourth outline of that section is really “Ascertaining the nature of the path to liberation,” and it is under this heading the presentation of the practices of three higher trainings are presented.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with relation to the explanation of the three higher trainings, as we discussed in the teaching on the twelve links, the root of cyclic existence is identified to be ignorance. And the nature of that ignorance is, in general in Buddha’s explanation, identified as grasping at self-existence. And so here self-existence, self-grasping, primarily refers to grasping at the self-existence of the person.

However, according to the Buddhist school that applies critical analysis in the most refined manner, then the understanding is that the difference between the selflessness of phenomena and selflessness of persons is not a function of subtlety of the understanding of no-self, but rather the difference between the two is that of the subject upon which the selflessness is qualified. Therefore, when it comes to the actual content of these two selflessnesses, there is no difference of subtlety.

So from this perspective, then the root of cyclic existence, which is ignorance, here refers to grasping at true existence of all phenomena, inherent existence of things. So even in the case of grasping at self-existence of persons, which, from the point of view of first person takes the form of grasping at an ‘I’, the thought, ‘I am’, which is referred to as the “egoistic view grasping at the thought, ‘I am’,” (jig ta), that grasping at ‘I’ really arises on the basis of grasping at the physical and mental aggregates.

Therefore the antidote against this ignorance needs to be a state of mind that directly opposes the perspective of this grasping. So for example, Dharmakirti states in Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition) where he says that because loving-kindness and so on do not directly oppose the perspective of ignorance, they cannot act as an eradicating antidote against ignorance.

What is needed is an antidote that would directly oppose the perspective of the ignorance itself, and there, what is required is the wisdom realizing no-self, selflessness. And so here, the wisdom realizing no-self and grasping at self—both are focused on the same object, but they perceive the same object in dramatically, diametrically opposed ways. And it is that type of antidote that needs to be cultivated.

So therefore when it comes to defining the path leading to liberation, among the three higher trainings, the principal path really is the path of wisdom. And here wisdom refers not just to realization of emptiness alone. The realization of emptiness has to occur at a very advanced level where there is total clarity in one’s understanding of emptiness. And that kind of realization of emptiness with total clarity can—in a non-conceptual manner—can only arise if the practitioner has gained special insight with relation to emptiness. And the special insight with relation to emptiness can only arise if he or she has attained physical and mental suppleness and the bliss that is associated with that, that is derived on the basis of an application of analysis.

However, in order for that to occur, first of all, there needs to be a basis, a foundation, which is the tranquil abiding, shamatha, wherein the individual has attained physical and mental suppleness brought about by application of the single-pointedness of the mind. And so therefore practice of, attainment of, calm abiding or tranquil abiding becomes indispensable. Therefore the second training, which is the training in concentration, becomes essential.

However, in order to attain this training on concentration, which involves gaining freedom from various internal distractions, one needs to first of all…. And also the attainment of the tranquil abiding and this advanced level of concentration is really a function of the application of mindfulness and awareness, or meta-awareness, or introspective awareness. And so one needs therefore to refine these two faculties and apply them, which would then lead to the attainment of tranquil abiding.

In order to do that, on the first stage one must cultivate these two faculties. And this is done by observing sound ethical discipline where one learns to apply the faculty of mindfulness and awareness with respect to one’s own behavior and action, so that one fine-tunes the application of these two faculties so that initially one learns to turn away from the external, gross levels of distractions and then eventually leading to turning away from the internal distractions. Therefore the first training, which is the higher training in morality, becomes essential. So it is in this way the three higher trainings, the practices of the path of the three higher trainings, becomes indispensable as the path to liberation.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So with that, the explanation on the stages of the path pertaining to the middle scope or intermediate scope is complete.

The Stages of the Path for the Practitioner of Greatest Capacity

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: [to the audience] Did you bring the second volume with you?

His Holiness: No? [continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So we’ll read from the beginning of volume two.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: In the opening section of the stages of the path relevant to the practitioner of greatest capacity, Tsongkhapa cites two quotations from Nagarjuna’s… it’s not Nagarjuna’s… Chandragomin’s Letter to a Student, and so after the second quotation he writes the following. He says that, “Therefore…” This is on page 15 of Volume II.

Therefore, the Mahayana is the origin of all the goodness14 of self and others; the medicine that alleviates all troubles; the great path traveled by all knowledgeable persons; nourishment for all beings who see, hear, remember, and come into contact with it; and that which has the great skill-in-means that engages you in others’ welfare and thereby indirectly achieves your own welfare in its entirety. One who enters it thinks, ‘Wonderful! I have found what I am looking for.’ Enter this supreme vehicle with all of the ‘strength of an excellent person’ that you have.”

His Holiness: Yes.

Thupten Jinpa: So these words are really powerful.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when Tsongkhapa talks about how it is the source of the goodness of self and others, how it is the medicine that dispels the downfall of all beings, and how it is the great path that has been traversed by all the great beings, this really accords with a stanza from Shantideva in his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, where Shantideva writes that:

Therefore one should ride the horse of bodhicitta, the awakening mind, that dispels all forms of weariness and exhaustion,” or weariness and discouragement, “and travel from a place of joy to a place of joy. And what intelligent person would not venture on such a journey.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Similarly in Maitreya’s text, which is an aspirational prayer related to the bodhisattva Maitreya, there is a stanza which reads (describing the quality of bodhicitta, the awakening mind) it says that:

Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is that which brings to an end the road, the path, to the lower realms. It leads, it opens up, the path to birth in the fortunate realms, and it also leads someone to a state beyond aging and death, and to the bodhicitta I pay homage.”

So the point being made here is that, although the primary purpose and ultimate aim of the practice of awakening mind is to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, but if one engages fully in the practices of bodhicitta then all these other aspirations—the aspirations of the initial capacity which is to attain favorable rebirth and the aspiration of the middle capacity which is to attain freedom from cyclic existence—all of these can be achieved in the process.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So having said that, we have to also recognize that there is no possibility of just jumping straight to the bodhicitta practice without actually going through the practices of the initial and middle, intermediate capacity. Because, for example, if we look at what is meant by awakening mind, bodhicitta, awakening mind is defined in terms of a state of mind which is composed of two aspirations, and these are aspiration for the attainment of buddhahood and aspiration to bring about other sentient beings’ welfare.

So when we talk about the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare, here the principal element is the cultivation of compassion, and as we discussed before, attainment of, realization of great compassion depends upon realization of having a true renunciation. And the true renunciation, which is the aspiration to attain, genuine aspiration to attain freedom, requires initially turning away from excessive concerns about, excessive attachment to, the concerns of this life.

So you can see that, in terms of the progression of the mind and the stages of development, there is a kind of a sequence, and so one cannot just jump onto a bodhicitta practice and ignore the practices of the initial and middle capacity. Therefore, in Tsongkhapa’s text, when the practices of… stages of the path of the initial and middle capacities are described, he doesn’t present them as something that is independent of the practices of bodhicitta.

Therefore he characterizes these practices as stages of the path shared with the person of initial capacity, and stages of the path shared with the person of middle capacity. And the point here is that these practices are preliminary stages to a bodhisattva practitioner whose ultimate aim is to engage in the practices relevant to the person of great capacity.

His Holiness: So, good night.

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chen-mo), Tsongkhapa’s classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a 12-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English.

These transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. The audio files are available from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center’s Resources and Linkspage.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala. It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-one-afternoon-session-july-10-2008