Leveling Out All Conceptions

Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana: Self is the root of negative actions.

Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana: Self is the root of negative actions.

Leveling Out All Conceptions

A Commentary on the “Leveling out all Conceptions”

Seeking refuge, I pay homage to the precious spiritual teacher Protector Serlingpa, and to the entire lineage of this master and his disciples. Pray, bless me!

Embodiment of wisdom and great compassion, the protector Serlingpa once said to Atisha. ‘O my son, if you wish to serve others in these degenerate times, you must distill the sacred words of all three collections of discourses, scriptures, and reasonings, as well as all the heartwood instructions of the spiritual teachers, and practice them in one sitting. To accomplish this you need the teachings I shall now give you, teachings that will make you invulnerable to sickness, harm, interference from obstructive forces, demons, or upholders of false teachings, and any other adverse conditions and impediments.’ Then, he taught the following:

Level out all preconceptions,
Bring forth the force of all antidotes,
Cultivate the aspiration that embodies all wishes,
And seek the path where all paths converge.
These are the antidotes, the four enlightened factors.
They are essential to tame places that are far from dharma,
They are essential too in times of degeneration
To help bear negative samsara and its misguided ways.

The meaning of these verses is as follows. It is essential to level out conceptions whenever they arise, to crush them at their very source. Examine them, reflecting, ‘Where does this conception appear? To what sense faculties does it appear? In what shape and color does it appear?’ Treat it like a venomous snake or rabid dog, not allowing it near you. Flatten it the moment it arises by applying its antidote. Never let yourself be influenced of laziness. It is stated in sutra,

O, attachment, I’ve now discerned your root:
You arise from great proliferation of conceptions.

Again [we read in sutra],

Preconception is the great ignorance
That casts you into the ocean of cyclic existence.

The Entering the Middle Way states,

Ordinary beings are chained by conceptions,
While the yogis free of conceptions become released.
That which reveals the conceptions to be false
Was taught by the learned as fruits of a thorough analysis.

All the sacred words and treaties of the Great Vehicle, like these here cited, state that conceptions are a great obstacle to the attainment of enlightenment. It is therefore vital to not let laziness overcome you. This means that if you harbor too many thoughts you will not reach the final goal. Therefore even in relation to the profound truth that will liberate you remain without proliferation [of thoughts] and concentrate all your energies on this single objective, destroying the conceptions.

It has also been stated in sutra that all forms of mental engagement are the acts of negative forces. Therefore coordinate all your aspirations, relate all the grounds and paths, such as the paths of accumulation, seeing, and meditation, to the destruction of conceptions as they arise by applying their antidotes. Continue this until the attainment of full enlightenment and the state of omniscience.

In brief, ensure that every time a conception surfaces there too is its antidote, because you concentrate all your aspirations into destroying the conceptions by means of their antidotes. In just this way, always walk any path treading and crushing conceptions.

These four factors, belonging to the class of enlightened phenomena, are to be adopted.

Then, Serlingpa taught the following:

Adverse conditions are one’s spiritual teacher,
Ghosts and possessor spirits, the Buddha’s emanations.
Sickness is a broom clearing away negativity and obstructions,
The sufferings are ornamentation of ultimate reality’s expanse.
These are the four thoroughly unenlightened factors,
They are essential to tame places that are far from dharma,
They are essential too in times of degeneration
To help bear negative samsara and its misguided ways.

The meaning of these lines is this. When undesirable and adverse conditions such as sickness and pain befall you, they should become an impetus for you to also take on the sickness and suffering of all sentient beings. You should take these on in your mind, without any reservation, and rejoice at having taken them upon yourself en mass. Similarly, give to [other] sentient beings whatever favorable conditions such as happiness and peace that you may enjoy, and rejoice at helping them accomplish their accumulations. Further, whatever the events that give rise to perception of forms, sounds, smells, tastes and so forth, when you search for them they are no where to be found. Therefore place your mind in the truth of their unfindability. Reflect ‘These are a spiritual teacher to me, a catalyst [directing my thoughts] to the ultimate. These are favorable conditions for my attainment of enlightenment.’ [Thinking this] rejoice!

When harm is caused by spirits of the dead, ogresses, regional spirits and so forth, make this a catalyst for wholeheartedly taking upon yourself whatever harms and suffering [other] sentient beings may experience. Rejoice, thinking ‘I have certainly taken [these harms from them].’ Give to perpetrators of harm whatever they desire from your body, such as flesh, blood and so forth, because from compassion, loving kindness and the altruistic mind aspiring for enlightenment, this giving turns into factors conducive to your attainment of enlightenment. This is how they assist you [on the path] to enlightenment. Therefore, all these malevolent forces are emanations of the Buddha, and you should cultivate an inconceivable degree of joy and respect towards them.

Again, when you are free of sickness, make this a catalyst for giving to [other] beings your happiness, together with its causes. [Reflect that] doing so helps all sentient beings accomplish the fulfillment of their wishes. Rejoice, thinking that your happines and its causes have [therefore] served their right purpose. They are [like] brooms to sweep away your negativity and obstructions. This giving makes it impossible for negativity and obstructions to [leisurely] rest within you for even a single moment.

As many sufferings arise, there are as many ways to search for them. Since all these sufferings have never existed, there uncountable ways of not finding them [when you search]. Thus, all this is a great ostentatious display of reality’s ultimate expanse for you take into your path of ‘a hundred abandonments and a hundred realizations.’ [In this way] meditate and rejoice!

These are the four thoroughly unenlightened factors, which are to be discarded.

Again, the following was taught:

It is the great counterpoint to false happiness,
It is the great drawing to a close of miseries.
It is the charm that attracts misfortunes,
And it is the additional wish on top of those least useful.
These are the four antidotes of misguided ways,
They are required in places that are far from dharma.
They are essential too in times of degeneration,
To help bear negative samsara and its misguided ways.

The meaning of these lines is this. The counterpoint to pleasures such as [those derived from] food, drink, wealth, fame, and so forth, obstacles to the pursuit of virtuous activity, is to be modest in your desires and practice inner contentment. [In fact] follow pain with pain. If your leg hurts, go for circumambulation; if your back hurts, do prostration. If you suffer from greed, give away to others. If you are attracted to distractions, enter into retreat. If you take delight in gossip, cut your speech [maintain silence]. If you suffer great misfortunes, which are most undesirable, such as becoming the target of a negative publicity, a [vicious] dispute, a magical spell, malicious gossip and so forth, make these means, taming the malevolent ghost of self-grasping. Welcome them as auspicious, like charms for attracting good fortune. Calling out for more, generate courage and feel that as a consequence of all these useless events that are now befalling you, you can tame this self, and never again be reborn into the cycle of existence. [In this way] add this wish [to all of this] and strive to achieve the strength to practice the three kinds of forbearance. These are [then] the four factors of misguided ways that are the objects of a thorough application of the antidotes.

Again, the following was taught:

Self is the root of [all] negative actions;
It is the one thing to be discarded with decisiveness.
The other is a source of enlightenment;
It is the one thing to be embraced with enthusiasm.
These two teachings condense those to be relinquished and their antidotes,
They are vital in places afar from dharma
They are essential too in times of degeneration,
To help bear negative samsara and its misguided ways.

The meaning of these lines is this. As the self is both the source of all undesirable events and the root of all negative deeds, do not cherish it but discard it with total abandon. [Think this:] if enemies want it, they should have it. If ghosts want, they should have it. If they are not in haste, they should cook it and eat it; if in haste, they should take it away with them. In this way tear yourself into pieces and serve the wellbeing of all sentient beings, thereby casting aside your own self-interest and striving for other’s wellbeing with vigor. As this is the unexcelled source of enlightenment nurture [other] sentient beings with compassion and take upon yourself [their] sufferings. These are the two teachings that bring to an end the [process of] relinquishment and [the application of] antidotes. For they are the distinctive adverse conditions of the great beings.

Discard with decisiveness, and let go with abandon;
Dismantle with thoroughness, and let it be with tenderness.
These are the four seals of emptiness.
They are vital in places afar from dharma
They are essential too in times of degeneration,
To help bear negative samsara and it’s misguided ways.
If one practices in this way,
Beings will be released and free of bondage.

The meaning of these lines is this. Throw far away all conceptions of object and subject. [Instead] place your mind at ease in that ultimate expanse which is free of conceptual elaboration, a mind vividly devoid of conceptualization and absent of any binding fetters. Do not chase after an earlier instance of cognition, do not anticipate future [instances of cognition], and let the present be as it is, free of clinging. Let it be at ease in its natural state, uncontrived and devoid of exaggeration and denigration. These are the four seals of emptiness. If you practice in this manner you will not be chained in the cyclic existence by karma but will attain liberation.

If you take on any practice other than this, hardened sentient beings in this degenerate age will not be tamed. Yet if you practise this you will be invulnerable to obstacles, and the wellbeing of [other] sentient beings will be easily achieved.

[The master Serlingpa] taught thus. I have presented [here] the teachings of peerless Serlingpa exactly in accordance with his words.

The Tantra of Amoghapasha states,

Wisdom is indicated by ‘enlightenment,’ while ‘heroic being’ refers to the skilful means. It is with these two the welfare of [other] sentient beings will be achieved.

Again, [we read in] the Drop of Liberation according to Guhyasamaja,

Then, with compassion alone as the ground,
Enlightened qualities will arise without exception.

Again [we read],

If the root compassion is absent,
Bearing difficulties cannot be sustained.

The Sutra Perfectly Assimilating the Qualities of Avalokiteshvara states,

Who so ever aspires to swiftly attain full enlightenment should not train in many different spiritual disciplines. What is that sole discipline [that should be pursued]? It is great compassion. Whoever possesses great compassion possesses all teachings of the Buddha within his palm. He [or she] shall achieve [his goal] without effort and without exertion. In brief, the great compassion is the root of all teachings.

This instruction seems to have been given to Atisha, protector of [all] beings, by his spiritual teacher Serlingpa Chökyi Drakpa to help tame places that are far from the dharma.