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

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The only way in which we can do this is by means of reasoning and analysis.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The only way in which we can do this is by means of reasoning and analysis.

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

Day Five, Morning Session, July 14, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part two. Meditating on the Mind. Meditating on an Image of the Buddha. Mindfulness and Meta-Awareness (Vigilance). Breath Meditation; Length of Meditation Sessions. Special Insight: Why Insight Is Needed, Why Serenity Is Not Enough. Special Insight: Why Insight Is Needed, Why Serenity Is Not Enough. Relying on Definitive Sources.

Meditating on the Mind

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then Tsongkhapa explains, identifies, the particular object that is relevant to our present context. And here, generally speaking, when we are talking about an appropriate object that we choose for our meditation of tranquil abiding or shamatha, one can choose, as explained before, something… an external object, a material object or one can also choose internal phenomena…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So even when we use… take an external object to be our object of meditation, what we are focusing upon is not the physical thing itself, but rather the image of the physical thing that we create in our mind, and that becomes the object of our concentration.

One can also choose as internal phenomenon…phenomena such as one’s channels, drops, and the energies that flow within the channels and so on. And also, kind of a more profound object that one can choose for one’s meditation on tranquil abiding is one’s own mind.

And more profound than that is choosing emptiness as one’s object of meditation for tranquil abiding. So when we choose emptiness as the object of one’s meditation on tranquil abiding, this already presupposes that you have realized emptiness. And so this practitioner would have already gone through a process of analysis and have discerned, realized, emptiness through this process and have already attained the correct view of emptiness.

And then, having identified, experienced, emptiness, one takes emptiness as the object of one’s meditation and then cultivates a single-pointedness in relation to this. And this is a process…what is referred to as seeking meditation on the basis of the view, seeking meditation on the basis of a view. And this kind of approach is really possible only for a handful, a few, whose mental faculties are really advanced.

But the approach presented in the Lam-rim Chen-mo here is really seeking the view on the basis of meditation. So here the practitioner is trying to cultivate tranquil abiding first. And then on the basis of tranquil abiding, then one begins to apply analysis and gain realization of emptiness. So this is the general procedure here.

And so, however, if you choose your own mind as the object of your meditation on tranquil abiding, then this approach is quite kind of common in the approach of the Mahamudra practices, the Great Seal, and the Great Perfection, Dzogchen, practices, where meditation on single-pointedness on mind is the main focus in cultivating tranquil abiding. So if we do that within the context of a path that is common to sutra and tantra, then we do not make distinctions about the various levels of subtlety of consciousness. But if we bring in the highest yoga tantra perspective, then one can also differentiate the different levels of subtlety of consciousness, and choose a more subtle level of consciousness as the object of meditation on tranquil abiding.

And so, however, the problem is, in order to do this…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here also we need to take into account a different understanding of what is meant by meditation, and how they differ with relation to the object, and how that object figures in that meditation. For example, when you meditate on impermanence or no-self, then you are taking impermanence and no-self as the object of your meditation. They become the content of your meditation.

Whereas if you meditate on compassion or loving kindness or faith, devotion, then you are not taking faith, devotion, or compassion as the object of your meditation, but rather, you are cultivating your own mind in that state.

So similarly when you do meditation on mind, the nature of mind, particularly at the subtle level, where clear light becomes the main object of your meditation, here in fact you are trying to cultivate your mind in the state of clear light. So this is a different kind of role the object plays. And…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: However, when you are focusing on the mind, then mind becomes the object of your meditation. However, in order to do this, first of all, you need to…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So when we say, you know, your mind should focus upon the mind, we should not have the impression that we are talking about a single instance of mind somehow looking at itself, because that would mean self-cognition. What we are talking about is, kind of, a quieter process that is happening at a very minute temporal frame. So for example, one can see that the immediately latter instance of a mental state is focusing upon the immediately preceding instance.

So the problem is in order to do this kind of meditation where you take mind as the object of your tranquil abiding—first of all you need to identify the object, and you need to have some understanding of what mind is. And the problem is in our normal day-to-day experience, our mind is so dominated either by external stimuli or internal sensations.

So either our mind is just directed totally outward and takes on the form of whatever objects come in our way, in the field of our experience, or our mind… we experience our mind in the form of internal sensations. So… and caught in this way of experiencing the mind, it feels as if the actual nature of the mind itself gets somehow obscured either by the perceptions of the external world or the sensations of the internal experiences. So the essential nature of the mind, which is this mere knowing and subjective experience, this quality somehow gets obscured.

So in order to overcome this, one needs to find a way of somehow capturing this essential quality of the mind, which is mere luminosity and knowing. And to do this one needs to meditate, which would involve somehow ensuring that your focus is not, kind of, you know, hijacked by certain recollections of past experiences nor by thoughts projecting into the future some kind of anticipation, or hope, and so on. And we need to prevent the mind looking backwards and prevent the mind looking forward into the future and somehow maintain in the present moment.

And the problem is because our mind is so dominated by this kind of looking backwards and, you know, forwards, when you try to prevent those kinds of processes, and when you experience the mere present, one feels as if one experiences a kind of an emptiness. Now this is, of course, not the emptiness in the philosophical sense, this is a mere absence, and initially it may be just a fleeting experience. But, as you habituate, as you familiarize in this practice, you… one will be able to stretch that period of time during which you experience this absence.

So in this way…so when we say identify the mind as the object of your meditation, we are not talking in the intellectual sense. We are talking in an experiential sense. So through this meditation you will be able to experience a sense of mind in the form of this absence. And then gradually the essential quality of the mind on the conventional level, which is this mere luminosity and knowing, will become more and more obvious. And once you have that, you then take that as the object of your meditation and cultivate shamatha or tranquil abiding on that basis.

Meditating on an Image of the Buddha

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here in Lama Tsongkhapa’s text, the Lam-rim Chen-mo, he recommends taking the image of the Buddha as our object of meditation on tranquil abiding. Of course, partly it is easier and partly also it has a very special significance for the Buddhist practitioners. So given this, for other practitioners of other religious traditions, they can choose an object that will have a special significance to their own practice such as the image of Jesus Christ or maybe even a cross.

His Holiness: Oh, I am wondering, an Islam practitioner, what kind of image—Mecca? I don’t know. [continues in Tibetan]

Robert Thurman: Calligraphy

His Holiness: Allah …[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: [in Tibetan]

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Robert Thurman: It looks like an anagram, like a mantra. Looks like that.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if we choose the image of the Buddha as the object of our meditation of tranquil abiding, then earlier, Professor Thurman was suggesting in the case of the Muslim practitioners maybe they can use the calligraphy, you know, the letters of the name of Allah.

So if we choose the image of the Buddha as the object of meditation, it is beneficial to choose a slightly smallish size, because the smaller size of the image can have the effect of making your mind more alert. And then also, as much as possible, imagine this image to be quite bright like a light. And the more bright and quality of light that you bring in, it will have the effect of ensuring that your mind does not sink into a form of mental laxity. And also you should try to imagine this image to be rather heavy. So this kind of weight, by imagining this image to be kind of rather weighty, it will have the effect of protecting you from the arising of mental scattering and mental excitation.

Mindfulness and Meta-Awareness (Vigilance)

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Having chosen the appropriate object for your meditation on tranquil abiding, then in the actual practice, when you are cultivating single-pointedness of mind, one needs to apply and maintain mindfulness in a very undistracted manner. So the maintenance and application of mindfulness is really the key. And it is the mindfulness that will ensure that you do not lose your attention from the object that you have chosen, the object of your focus.

However, whether or not you lose your object (your attention from the object of your meditation) as a result of arising of distraction or mental laxity, that role needs to be… is performed by application of the faculty of meta-awareness, awareness that monitors whether excitation or mental laxity has arisen. So it’s the mindfulness that ensures that your attention is retained on the chosen object, and it is meta-awareness that monitors whether or not you have lost your object.

So the two main obstacles are really mental excitation and laxity. So the excitation, mental excitement, really belongs to the family of attachment, and this tends to be more easily occurring in us because of our long habituation to things that attract us. So mental excitation is a problem that will arise much more easily. And of course the effect of the arising of mental excitation is to distract our mind. And so when mental excitation arises, then it is an indication that your state of mind is too uplifted. So one needs to find a way of dampening it down.

And so the main counter, kind of antidote, against this is to find a method that would bring the state of your mind to a slightly more dampened state. And here, meditating upon impermanence or a recollection of your understanding of the suffering of conditioning, conditioned existence, these things can be very effective because it will immediately have the effect of dampening your mind so that it is brought down to a more kind of… less uplifted state of mind.

When mental sinking arises, this is a state of mind where, although you may have not lost your object, but there is no alertness. So the mind is kind of slightly in a relaxed state of mind. So when that happens, the reason why that happens is because your mind is not lifted enough. Your mind is in a very downcast state. And the antidote against this is to apply a method that would bring the level of your mind to a more uplifted state.

And to do this one can reflect upon the benefits of cultivating bodhicitta, the awakening mind. One can reflect upon the benefits of the wisdom of emptiness, or the correct view. And one can also contemplate upon the preciousness of the human existence and the opportunity it accords us. So by reflecting upon these facts you can create a sense of joy in you, and this joy will uplift your state of mind. So in that way one will be able to overcome the problem of mental laxity. So in this way one needs to apply the antidotes when these, either of these two obstacles, arise in the mind.

Breath Meditation; Length of Meditation Sessions

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: For many of us who are on the beginner’s stage, then choosing the breathing process as the object of our meditation may be actually very beneficial. Because the advantage of this is that it’s not as subtle as choosing mind as the object of meditation, nor is it too gross as choosing an external material object as our meditation object. So choosing simply our breathing process and applying our… directing our focus and attention simply on the breathing process itself can be a very effective way of doing this shamatha meditation.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example one can choose the breathing process—the inhalation and exhalation—as the object of one’s meditation and then place one’s mind, one’s awareness, simply on that. And maintain the focus for a hundred rounds, or a thousand rounds, of the breathing.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Some of my acquaintances who are meditators, they told me that when they choose their breathing, their breath, as the object of meditation and maintain their awareness simply upon the breathing for up to a hundred rounds or a thousand rounds, then the mind becomes really settled.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So also in the Vajrayana practices, meditation practices, breathing exercises are described as a preliminary stage before going into the actual Vajrayana sadhana practice. And so these breathing practices involve nine rounds of breathing.

And so it seems that breathing meditation is very effective, particularly for us even in our day-to-day life. When we find our mind in a disturbed state or agitated or irritated state, simply drawing our attention to our breath and doing breathing and focusing on that has an immediate effect of bringing down this level of disturbance that has been caused by the earlier emotions or states of mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So of course that type of breathing exercise is more like taking a respite, a temporary kind of relief. It’s not that effective but it’s more of a… taking a rest.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example in responding to adversity or some difficulties, breathing exercises may provide a temporary relief, but it is only a rest from that dealing with that problem. The more effective, of course, lasting approach is to reflect upon dependent origination—interdependence of things—reflecting upon their impermanence and also cultivating the wisdom of emptiness. And reflecting deeply upon the benefits of bodhicitta, awakening mind, and so on. These will, of course, be much more effective and powerful practices.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So as to the number of sessions and the length of sessions, there is no fixed number. So here for the beginners, generally it is recommended to keep the sessions short but have more frequency. So it’s better to have shorter sessions but more in number. And so as you progress and advance in your practice, then while retaining the quality that you are able to bring when you do these short sessions, so while retaining the quality then you can gradually increase the length of the session. So that’s a better approach.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So on that basis, by adopting the right length of the session and applying the actual practices as described in formal sitting, then one progressively will go through the attainment of the nine stages of mental development culminating in the attainment of tranquil abiding—shamatha—which is characterized by the attainment of physical and mental suppleness or pliancy. And once you have that quality of mental pliancy and have attained tranquil abiding—shamatha—then on that basis one is able to then cultivate vipassana—special insight.

And in the lam-rim, this particular section goes on to explain how a kind of a mundane type of vipassana can be cultivated on the basis of tranquil abiding. So with that, the explanation on the section of Lam-rim Chen-modealing with the cultivation of tranquil abiding is completed.

Special Insight: Why Insight Is Needed, Why Serenity Is Not Enough

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the next main outline is the method by which one cultivates special insight in relation to suchness—the reality.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in the opening section of Tsongkhapa’s presentation of special insight, which is on page 107, I think it’s Chapter 7 of the book [vol. 3], he cites from Samadhi Raja Sutra (King of Meditation Sutra) where Buddha states the following:

Although worldly persons cultivate concentration,
They do not destroy the notion of self.”

The point that is being made in this sutra citation is that, although people who attain tranquil abiding and on that basis cultivate special insight that involves comparing the characteristics of the states of the desire realm and higher realms, and on that basis cultivate attainment of the form and formless states—although they have attained heightened states of mind— because the focus here is more on the characteristics of the different realms, therefore so far as the grasping at one’s own self is concerned, these meditations leave the grasping at self totally intact and untouched. And because of this, the grasping remains in them.

And so long as the self-grasping remains in the individual, then as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika(Exposition of Valid Cognition) where he says, “Where there is self, then… there is the notion of the other.” And on the differentiation of self and other then attachment and aversion arise which then give rise to a whole host of problems.

Similarly from our own personal experience, we can attest to what Chandrakirti states in his Entering the Middle Way when he says that first we grasp at the notion of “I am,” “self” and then from there we grasp at things as “mine.” So we know that when there is a strong grasping at self, then the grasping at things that belong to you—things that are related to you, including your own friends and families—the stronger that grasping is, the stronger it leads to attachment, aversion and so on.

And in fact one thing that is common, one insight that is common to all the Buddhist schools, is the recognition that it is the grasping at self that lies at the root of the afflictive mental states such as attachment and aversion. So it is grasping at the self that gives rise to these afflictions. That insight is common to all schools of Buddhism.

Because the meditation on tranquil abiding and mundane vipassana based upon it do not touch and do not undermine this grasping at self, even the person who has attained such an advanced state is vulnerable to the arising of these afflictions.

Therefore the sutra says that, “Afflictions return and disturb them.” So the point being made here is that although in those heightened meditative states gross levels of afflictions may have been temporarily kind of diminished, but because the seeds of these afflictions have not been removed, eliminated, therefore when the conditions arise, then these afflictions will resurface. And then as the sutra gives the example: “As they did with Udraka, who cultivated concentration in this way.” So Udraka was historically one of the earlier teachers of the Buddha, so Buddha is giving Udraka as an example of this.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So continuing the citation from the sutra in the latter section, Tsongkhapa cites on page 108 another quotation from the same sutra when he cites the following:

“If you analytically discern the lack of self in phenomena
And if you cultivate that analysis in meditation…”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the citation goes, “This will cause the result, attainment of nirvana.”

So what the sutra is stating is that if, in contrast, the person is able to discern the lack of self in all phenomena by means of critical analysis that discriminates into the characteristics of phenomena—and particularly the lack of selfhood in the sense of all phenomena being devoid of existence in their own right by means of an inherent nature— then as one cultivates the familiarity of that understanding and develops a deep sense of ascertainment and conviction, and internalizes that understanding within oneself, then one will be able to recognize all phenomena in the light of an illusion-like quality.

And so when that happens, this insight will undermine the grasping at self. And since the grasping at self (which is the deluded mental state) is not an inseparable, essential quality of the mind itself, then as a result of gaining insight into the nature of mind, this grasping at this deluded state of mind can be removed. And in this way the pollutants of the mind will be eliminated, and in this way this will lead to the attainment of nirvana. So the sutra states that, “This will cause the result, attainment of nirvana.”

And then the question arises, are there any other gateways or doors to liberation other than the realization of no-self, whether there is an alternative second door, or a third door? And then here the Buddha states that, “There is no peace…” (or there is no tranquility) “…through any other means.”

And here, as Dharmakirti points out in his Pramanavarttika (Exposition of Valid Cognition), given that loving-kindness and so on do not directly counteract, oppose, ignorance—they cannot eliminate ignorance. So here the sutra is also stating that although cultivation of loving-kindness and so on are conditions necessary to attain Buddhahood, but because they do not directly oppose or counteract the perspective of self-grasping, they cannot be the antidote powerful enough to eliminate them. It is only the realization of no-self that is the antidote that will eliminate the grasping.

Relying on Definitive Sources

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the actual…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the actual section on how to train one’s mind in the cultivation of special insight… this is explained in four broad outlines:

First is seeking the prerequisites for cultivation of special insight;
Second is the various kinds of divisions of special insight; and
Third is the actual method of meditating upon… cultivating special insight; and
Fourth is the measure of having attained special insight.

So with respect to the first, which is the prerequisites for cultivating special insight, many of the prerequisites that are common to cultivating tranquil abiding have already been explained. But here since, in order to cultivate special insight in relation to emptiness (which is what we are concerned about here), one needs to first of all cultivate the understanding of emptiness (which is the object in relation to which we are seeking special insight) so one needs to cultivate, develop, an understanding of emptiness at least at the intellectual level. So this is one of the main prerequisites that one must cultivate, one must seek.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now with relation to the question to cultivating the understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, which is the focus of our practice here, in general as explained before, all the Buddhist schools share the adherence to upholding the four fundamental seals of Buddhadharma, these being:

All conditioned phenomena are impermanent,
All contaminated phenomena are in the nature of suffering,
All phenomena are empty and devoid of selfhood, and
Nirvana is true peace.

However, as to how the Buddha’s teaching on no-self or anatman is understood, there is a divergence of understanding among the Buddhist schools depending upon how one understands the teachings.

So here if you look at the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s teachings reflect a recognition of the diversity among his followers in terms of mental dispositions, spiritual inclinations and philosophical inclinations and so on. So there are because of this… corresponding to this, there is a diversity of teachings.

For example, Nagarjuna, for example states in Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where he acknowledges that sometimes the Buddha has said that things possess final existence, sometimes he has said things do not possess final existence and so on. And in fact in the Seventy Stanzas on emptiness Nagarjuna explicitly states that when it comes to understanding the Buddha’s way, this is a matter that is difficult to fully penetrate.

The point he is making is the need to understand and discriminate between what teachings of the Buddha can be taken at their literal face value or what teachings of the Buddha need to be interpreted further; in other words, the need to differentiate between those that are interpretable and those that are definitive.

So for example, there are sutras by the Buddha, teachings by the Buddha, where he says that the five aggregates, the skandhas, are the burden and the one who is carrying that burden is the carrier. So in this passage, statement, Buddha explains as if over and above the five aggregates there is a carrier that is a person, so almost as if he is suggesting a reality of a self that is somehow independent of the five aggregates.

Similarly there are other sutras where Buddha states that ‘person’ does not exist, karma exists and then the aggregates exist, so he makes these distinctions. Similarly, there are other sutras where he says that the external objects do not exist, but mind exists truly. And then of course you have sutras where true existence is negated across the entire spectrum of phenomena, both internal and external. So…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example in the Heart Sutra, we read the following statement that, “Even the five aggregates”… “Even with respect to the five aggregates one must view them as being devoid of inherent existence.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Also in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras starting from the category of form, the first of the five aggregates, up to the end of the thirty-seven aspects of the path to enlightenment which is the last of the four noble truths, or starting from form to omniscient mind of the Buddha, in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, all of these are presented as having… being devoid of intrinsic nature. They are primordially tranquil, calmed and so on.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So given the diversity of teachings that we find in the Buddha’s teachings, statements that we find in the Buddha’s teaching, historically there evolved among the Buddhist schools different positions on whether or not, first of all, one can make such distinctions between definitive and non-definitive sutras.

For example, the Vaibhashika school, on the whole, will reject that kind of differentiation and maintain the position that all the Buddha’s statements are definitive. Within the Sautrantika school, one branch of that school, those that follow primarily the path of reasoning (now this is kind of guess-work again), I believe that they accept the principle of the need to differentiate between definitive and non-literal teachings of the Buddha’s sutras.

In any case… so there are two camps. One camp that does not make such differentiations and maintains all of the Buddha’s statements to be definitive; another camp that accepts the need to differentiate between those sutras that are literal and definitive and those sutras that are not definitive.

And even in the Buddha’s own teachings, for example in the Samdinirmocanna Sutra (Sutra Unraveling the Intent of the Buddha) there is a hermeneutics which explains the interpretation of the three turnings of the wheel of Dharma, where the first and the second are identified as being non-definitive, and then the third turning of the wheel of Dharma as being definitive.

So the problem is, although the Buddha states that in his own sutra, but when it comes to making the determination, which sutra is definitive and which sutra is not definitive, we cannot rely entirely on scripture, because if we rely on scripture then the whole kind of process, project, of making the differentiations becomes untenable.

The only way in which we can do this is by means of reasoning and analysis. So in short, any statements of a sutra that in the process of subjecting it to critical analysis, if it proves to be not contradictory to reason and then… which can be supported by reason, that would be accepted as definitive. And those sutras which, when subjected to critical analysis, the statements prove to be untenable and contradictory to reason, then these will be accepted as non-definitive. So it is only by means of applying reasoning and critical analysis that one can really differentiate between what is definitive and what is non-definitive in the Buddha’s teachings.

His Holiness: Yes, that’s all. Now break.

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. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-five-morning-session-july-14-2008