The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment

The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment

by Atisha Dipamkarashrijnana (982-1054)

Homage to the Bodhisattva, the youthful Manjushri.

  1. 1  I pay homage with great respect
    To all the Victorious Ones of the three times,
    To their teaching and to those who aspire to virtue.

Urged by the good disciple Jangchup Wö,
I shall illuminate the lamp
For the path to enlightenment.

Understand there are three kinds of persons
Because of their small, middling and supreme capacities.

  1. I shall write clearly distinguishing
    Their individual characteristics.
  2. 3  Know that those who by whatever means Seek for themselves no more Than the pleasures of cyclic existence Are persons of the least capacity.
  3. 4  Those who seek peace for themselves alone, Turning their back on worldly pleasures And avoiding destructive actions
    Are said to be of middling capacity.
  4. 5  Those who, through their personal suffering, Truly want to end completely All the suffering of others
    Are persons of supreme capacity.
  5. 6  For those excellent living beings, Who desire supreme enlightenment, I shall explain the perfect methods Taught by the spiritual teachers.
  6. 7  Facing paintings, statues and so forth
    Of the completely enlightened one, Reliquaries and the excellent teaching, Offer flowers, incense — whatever you have.
  7. 8  With the seven part offering
    From the [Prayer of] Noble Conduct, And with the thought never to turn back Till you gain ultimate enlightenment;
  1. 9  With strong faith in the Three Jewels, Kneeling with one knee on the ground And your hands pressed together, First of all take refuge three times.
  2. 10  Next, beginning with an attitude Of love for all living creatures, Consider beings, excluding none, Suffering in the three bad rebirths – Suffering birth, death and so forth.
  3. 11  Then, since you want to free these beings From the suffering of pain, From suffering and the causes of suffering, Arouse immutably the resolve
    To attain enlightenment.
  4. 12  The qualities of developing Such an aspiration are Fully explained by Maitreya In the Array of Trunks Sutra.
  5. 13  Having learned about the infinite benefits
    Of the intention to gain full enlightenment By reading this sutra or listening to a teacher, Arouse it repeatedly to make it steadfast.
  6. 14  The Sutra Requested by Viradatta Fully explains the merit therein. At this point, in summary,
    I will cite just three verses.
  7. 15  If it possessed physical form,
    The merit of the altruistic intention Would completely fill the whole of space And exceed even that.
  8. 16  If someone were to fill with jewels
    As many Buddha fields, as there are grains Of sand in the Ganges,
    To offer to the Protector of the World,
  9. 17  This would be surpassed by
    The gift of folding one’s hands
    And inclining one’s mind to enlightenment, For such is limitless.
  1. 18  Having developed the aspiration for enlightenment, Constantly enhance it through concerted effort.
    To remember it in this and also in other lives,
    Keep the precepts properly as explained.
  2. 19  Without the vow of the engaged intention, Perfect aspiration will not grow.
    Make effort definitely to take it,
    Since you want the wish
    For enlightenment to grow,
  3. 20  Those who maintain any of the seven Kinds of individual liberation vow, Have the ideal [prerequisite] for
    The Bodhisattva vow, not others.
  4. 21  The Tathagata spoke of seven kinds Of individual liberation vow. The best of these is glorious pure conduct, Said to be the vow of a fully ordained person.
  5. 22  According to the ritual described in
    The chapter on discipline in the Bodhisattva Stages, Take the vow from a good
    And well qualified spiritual teacher.
  6. 23  Understand that a good spiritual teacher
    Is one skilled in the vow ceremony,
    Who lives by the vow and has
    The confidence and compassion to bestow it.
  7. 24  However, in case you try but cannot Find such a spiritual teacher, I shall explain another
    Correct procedure for taking the vow.
  8. 25  I shall write here very clearly,
    As explained in the Ornament
    Of Manjushri’s Buddha Land Sutra
    , How, long ago, when Manjushri
    Was Ambaraja, he aroused
    The intention to become enlightened.
  9. 26  “In the presence of the protectors,
    I arouse the intention to gain full enlightenment. I invite all beings as my guests
    And shall free them from cyclic existence.
  1. 27  “From this moment onwards Until I attain enlightenment, I shall not harbour harmful thoughts, Anger, avarice or envy.
  2. 28  “I shall cultivate pure conduct,
    Give up wrong-doing and desire
    And with joy in the vow of discipline Train myself to follow the Buddhas.

28 “I shall cultivate pure conduct,
Give up wrong-doing and desire
And with joy in the vow of discipline Train myself to follow the Buddhas.

  1. 30  “I shall purify limitless Inconceivable lands And remain in the ten directions For all those who call my name.
  2. 31  “I shall purify all my bodily
    And my verbal forms of activity.
    My mental activities, too, I shall purify And do nothing that is non-virtuous.”
  3. 32  When those observing the vow
    Of the active intention have trained well
    In the three forms of discipline, their respect For these three forms of discipline grows, Which causes purity of body, speech and mind.
  4. 33  Therefore, through effort in the vow made by Bodhisattvas for pure, full enlightenment, The collections for complete enlightenment Will be thoroughly accomplished.
  5. 34  All Buddhas say the cause for the completion Of the collections, whose nature is
    Merit and exalted wisdom,
    Is the development of higher perceptions.
  6. 35  Just as a bird with undeveloped Wings cannot fly in the sky, Those without the power of higher perception Cannot work for the good of living beings.
  1. 36  The merit gained in a single day
    By one who possesses higher perception Cannot be gained even in a hundred lifetimes By one without such higher perception.
  2. 37  Those who want swiftly to complete The collections for full enlightenment, Will accomplish higher perception Through effort, not through laziness.
  3. 38  Without the attainment of calm abiding, Higher perception will not occur. Therefore make repeated effort
    To accomplish calm abiding.
  4. 39  While the conditions for calm abiding
    Are incomplete, meditative stabilization
    Will not be accomplished, even if one meditates Strenuously for thousands of years.
  5. 40  Thus maintaining well the conditions Mentioned in the Collection for Meditative Stabilization Chapter, Place the mind on any one Virtuous focal object.
  6. 41  When the practitioner has gained calm abiding, Higher perceptions will also be gained,
    But without practice of the perfection of wisdom, The obstructions will not come to an end.
  7. 42  Thus, to eliminate all obstructions
    To liberation and omniscience,
    The practitioner should continually cultivate The perfection of wisdom with skilful means.
  8. 43  Wisdom without skilful means
    And skilful means, too, without wisdom Are referred to as bondage.
    Therefore do not give up either.
  9. 44  To eliminate doubts concerning
    What is wisdom and what skilful means, I shall make clear the difference Between skilful means and wisdom.
  1. 45  Apart from the perfection of wisdom, All virtuous practices such as The perfection of giving are described As skilful means by the Victorious Ones.
  2. 46  Whoever, under the influence of familiarity With skilful means, cultivates wisdom
    Will quickly attain enlightenment —
    Not just by meditating on selflessness.
  3. 47  Understanding emptiness of inherent existence, Through realizing the aggregates, constituents And the sources are not produced
    Is described as wisdom.
  4. 48  Something existent cannot be produced,
    Nor something non-existent, like a sky flower. These errors are both absurd and thus
    Both of the two will not occur either.
  5. 49  A thing is not produced from itself,
    Nor from another, also not from both, Nor causelessly either, thus it does not Exist inherently by way of its own entity.
  6. 50  Moreover, when all phenomena are examined As to whether they are one or many,
    They are not seen to exist
    By way of their own entity,
    And thus are ascertained As not inherently existent.
  7. 51  The reasoning of the Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness, The Treatise on the Middle Way and so forth Explain that the nature of all things
    Is established as emptiness.
  8. 52  Since there are a great many passages, I have not cited them here, But have explained just their conclusions For the purpose of meditation.
  9. 53  Thus, whatever is meditation
    On selflessness, by not observing An inherent nature in phenomena, Is the cultivation of wisdom.
  1. 54  Just as wisdom does not see
    An inherent nature in phenomena,
    Having analysed wisdom itself by reasoning, Meditate on that non-conceptually.
  2. 55  The nature of this worldly existence,
    Which has come from conceptualization,
    Is conceptuality, thus the elimination of Conceptuality is the highest state of nirvana.
  3. 56  Therefore the Subduer also has said
    That the great ignorance of conceptuality Makes us fall into the ocean of cyclic existence. Resting in non-conceptual stabilization, Space-like non-conceptuality manifests clearly.
  4. 57  The Retention Mantra Engaging in Non-conceptual Realization says that when Bodhisattvas non-conceptually contemplate This excellent teaching, they will transcend Conceptuality, so hard to overcome, And eventually reach the non-conceptual state.
  5. 58  Having ascertained through scripture And through reasoning that phenomena Are not produced nor inherently existent, Meditate without conceptuality.
  6. 59  Having, thus, meditated on suchness, Eventually, after reaching “heat” and so forth, The “very joyful” and the others
    Are attained and, before long,
    The enlightened state of Buddhahood.
  7. 60  If you wish to create with ease
    The collections for enlightenment
    Through activities of pacification,
    Increase and so forth, gained by the power of mantra,
  8. 61  And also through the force of the eight
    And other great attainments like the “good pot”– If you want to practise secret mantra,
    As explained in the action and performance tantras,
  9. 62  Then, to receive the preceptor initiation,
    You must please an excellent spiritual teacher Through service, valuable gifts and the like

As well as through obedience.

  1. 63  Through full bestowal of the preceptor initiation By a spiritual teacher who is pleased,
    You are purified of all wrong-doing
    And become fit to gain powerful attainments.
  2. 64  Because the Great Tantra of the Primordial Buddha Forbids it emphatically, Those observing pure conduct should not Take the secret and wisdom initiations.
  3. 65  If those observing the austere practice of pure conduct Were to hold these initiations, Their vow of austerity would be impaired Through doing that which is proscribed.
  4. 66  This creates transgressions which are a defeat For those observing discipline.
    Since they are certain to fall to a bad rebirth, They will never gain accomplishments.
  5. 67  There is no fault if one who has received The preceptor initiation and has knowledge Of suchness listens to or explains the tantras And performs burnt offering rituals,
    Or makes offerings of gifts and so forth.
  6. 68  I, the Elder Dipamkarashri, having seen it Explained in sutra and in other teachings, Have made this concise explanation
    At the request of Jangchup Wö.
    This concludes the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment by the great master Dipamkarashrijnana. It was translated, revised and finalized by the eminent Indian abbot himself and by the great reviser, translator and fully ordained monk Geway Lodrö. This teaching was written in the Temple of Tholing in Zhang Zhung.

This translation has been excerpted from Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (New York: Snow Lion Publications, 1997), commentary by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, translated and edited by Ruth Sonam.