The presentation of the system of Buddhist Philosophy and Meditation in the tradition of Je Tsonkhapa (on the basis of the Tibetan texts and the oral Lamrim- and Lojong-teachings of modern Tibetan Lamas by Irina Urbanaeva
It is known that the period of “the earlier spread” of Dharma in Tibet began with the invitation of the great Indian Pandita Shantarakshita (723-787) and great yogi Padmasambhava in the reign of the king Trison De’utsen (742-810). During this period Tibet was in the situation of making a choice the way in which the Buddhadharma should be practiced.
It was uncertain what was more preferable in Tibet: whether a gradual Path to Enlightenment that was grounded in the Indian tradition or a quick Path that was spread by Chinese monks, especially by the one who was well-known as Khashan.
It is a well-known fact that the philosophical dispute between Kamalashila (a disciple of the great abbot Shantarakshita) and Khashan (Moheyan) took place at the end of the 8th Century in the monastery Samye. Kamalashila won the competition and by the king’s edict the Indian tradition was established in Tibet.
Although the development of Tibetan Buddhism was affected by the Chinese Buddhist tradition and many of the first translations were made from Chinese [Budon], nevertheless just the teachings of Indian Pandits diffuse everywhere in Tibet to form the Tibetan own tradition of the representation and practice of the system of Dharma.
The king Trison De’utsen formulated to Kamalashila three requests: (a) the request to describe the method of verification of the teaching of Selflessness which can be relied upon; (b) the request to describe the way the Dharma must be practiced during the session of meditation; (c) the request to describe the result of such meditation of selflessness.
At the three requests of the Tibetan king three texts were composed by Kamalashila with one headline ‘Stages of Meditation’ (in Sanskrit - Bhāvanākrama, in Tibetan - bsgom rim bar pa).
The first one described the beginning of Buddhist meditation on emptiness (Shunyata). In the second one the subject of the Boddhicitta and Right View is explained. In the third one close consideration of the fruit of meditation of selflessness with the opposition to Khashan was given.
As a reaction to the doubts and the objections concerning the contents of those texts Kamalashila wrote the text called ‘The light of Madhyamika’ (in Sanskrit - Madhyamālok).
He became the first Indian scholar who composed significant Buddhist texts in Tibetan with the view to meet the needs of the Tibetan people and dispel the misunderstandings on the Dharma’s practice then spreading there.
Therefore Kamalashila played a unique role in the process of the spread and flourishing of the Buddha’s Dharma in a complete and unmistaken form in Tibet. Today those texts are known as one compact text that is explained by His Holiness Dalai Lama.
The first stanza of this text is the following: “Homage to the youthful Manjusri. I shall briefly explain the stages of meditation for those who follow the system of Mahayana sutras.
The intelligent who wish to actualize omniscience extremely quickly should make deliberate effort to fulfil its causes and conditions” [Stages of Meditation 2001, p. 10].
This text describes how a spiritual Path can be developed in the mindstream of a Buddhist practical man in a proper sequence.
Thus it is emphasized that spiritual practice is gradual.
The teaching called Stage of the Path became very representative for the Tibetan tradition of the explanation and meditation of Buddhadharma since the period of “the later spread” of Dharma in Tibet, when great Indian scholar Atisha Dipamkarashrijnana (980-1053) arrived in Tibet and the Revival of Buddhism began there.
There is among the numerous teachings and texts of Atisha1 one very worthy text called Boddhipathapradipa (‘Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment’).
The Dharma King Jangchub Öd of Ngari (Western Tibet) asked Atisha to give teachings that were practical and easy to follow rather than profound. So Atisha wrote the Boddhipathapradipa.
So there was established the Tibetan line of the transmission of the Lamrim-teachings on the Stages of the Path since this Atisha’s text and its oral commentaries by his followers especially by main disciple Dromtonpa. Dromtonpa are understood to be a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, who became a spiritual father of the Kadam-tradition.
Although there was among a few of Kadam’s Lineages a separate Kadam Lineage of the Graded Path, called “bka’ gdams lam rim pa”, the teaching on the Stages of the Path (Lam rim) became in Tibet not only one separate Lineage but the basis of the whole Tibetan system of Dharma’s representation.
I think it is a specific characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism that was not peculiar in it during the earlier period when the Ningma Tradition was established and flourished. “The (roots) of the Sakya, Kagyud and Gelug Traditions were all three interwined in this Old Kadam Tradition from which they each subsequently emerged” [Jamyang Kyen-tse Rinpoche Cho-kyi Lo-dro 1993, 7].
As was written by Jamyang Kyentse Rinpoche (1896 -1959), the founders of Sakya and Kagyud were Kadampa’s disciples. Concerning Je Tsonkhapa, who is recognized as an incarnation of Guru Rinpoche, as Jamyang Kyentse Rinpoche wrote, Je Tsonkhapa was a disciple of Lamas of Nyingma, Kagyud and Sakya.
So he was taught traditions of all Tibetan schools, and all Kadam Lineages (Lineage of Textual Explanations, Lineage of the Graded Path, Lineage of the Oral Teaching) were received by him. The Nyingma Tradition did not stay apart from such an influence of Kadam Tradition, namely the teaching on the Stages of the Path. The Nyingma’s Lamas were then studying Kadam teachings too.
The unique properties of the Kadam Tradition are that (1) all the words of the Buddha and the commentaries on them to be necessary for the Enlightenment of one person are explained in it; (2) there are the Stages of the Path to be realized by each who aspires to the Buddhahood.
These two characteristics are common in all Tibetan schools but they are expressed most systematically and theoretically, in my view, in the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa.
Although there were for explanation of the stages of the path two old traditions of Asanga and Nagarjuna, the Stages of the Path (Lamrim) is their integrated system of explanation.
It is such a presentation of the stages of the path to the Enlightenment that is made in the context of the teaching of the Prajnaparamita-sutras.
“Generally the Stages of the Path is categorized as a text on the perfection of wisdom” [H.H. the Dalai Lama 1996, 7]
Thus, all Tibetan Traditions conceived the Teaching on the Stages of the Path called Lamrim The Lam-rim explains systematically what kind of meditation one should do first, which he should as the second step, the third step and and so forth. Therefore, it is called stages or order of the Path.
On the basis of the works and the tradition of the oral teachings of Je Tsongkhapa and his great followers one can say that the Stages of the Path (Lamrim) are not only practical system but also a unique type of practical philosophy so that it is an integral form of the fundamental Buddhist doctrines (Doctrine On the Depended Arisen (in Tibetan – rten-‘brel), Doctrine On the Four Noble Truths and theory of the Two Truth).
The concentrated expression of all these doctrines is called the Four Seals of Right View.
These Four Seals involve the following: all compounded phenomena are impermanent, every existence ‘with fall’ is suffering, all phenomena are void and without self nature, and nirvana is peace.
Concerning elucidating of these basic affirmations one can say that the philosophy of the Prajnaparamita on which the Mahayana is grounded, is more profound than the philosophy of the Abhidharma that is the basis of the Hinayana.
Nevertheless the understanding of the Prajnaparamita as a philosophy and system of meditation depends on the knowledge and the meaning of the philosophy and methods of Hinayana.
For this reason Je Tsongkhapa in his own representation of the Buddhadharma in the text ‘Lamrim chen-mo’ used as the theoretical basis the teaching on the Four Noble Truths and relied upon the Abhidharma as well as the Prajnaparamita.
Je Tsongkhapa’s having explained the Stages of the Path in the context of the teaching on the Four Noble Truths has emphasized that the Tibetan Buddhism is an authentic form of the Dharma.
He considered the Four Truths in the same order as the Buddha: the first is the Noble Truths of Suffering (sdug-bsngal bden-pa); the second is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering (kun-‘byung bden-pa); the third is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of the Suffering (‘gog-bden); and the fourth is the Noble Truth of the Path to Cessation of Suffering (lam-bden).
This is the order of the explanation of the Four Truths according to the specific goal of the knowledge of those Truths.
It is the thing that the ignorance about the reality is the root of the samsara and because of the ignorance all activities of the human beings and other beings for happiness cause endless sufferings which emerge from the nature of the cyclic existence.
The Buddha and also Je Tsongkhapa due to the great compassion elucidate the nature and all kinds of the suffering at first.
To generalize, the Four Noble Truths according to their presentation in the Tibetan tradition are a system of very practical methods of transformation of the mind, which are grounded on the profound ontological and epistemological teachings which have transcendental characteristics.
By this approach it is emphasized that Buddhist philosophy is a theory, nevertheless the metaphysical and epistemological problems as such are not most important.
Therefore the Four Truth are presented not in the order of theirs causation although causal approach seems to be right2. This important specific feature of Buddha’s presentation of his Teaching is explained by Je Tsonkhapa: as opposed to all different systems of philosophy, the Buddhist philosophy is opened and developed for the purpose of Liberation and Enlightenment but not for the purpose of intellectual knowledge as such.
The teaching called Stages of the Path (Lam-rim) is the basis of the practice not only in Gelug tradition but in all Tibetan schools.
For example, although the Seven Treasures (in Tibetan – mdzod bdun) of great Longchenpa is not especially Lamrim-text, there is explained the stages of the path.
The fundamental text of the Nyingma tradition called the Oral Transmission of the Lama (in Tibetan – kun bzang bla-ma’i zhal lung) of Dza Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) explains the entire stages of the path.
“Practice of the great breakthrough of the Nyingma tradition is possible only on the basis of the stages of the path” [Dalai Lama 1996, 7].
There is especial Lam-rim text of Nyingma called ‘The Jewel Ladder. A preliminary Nyingma Lamrim’ of Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorjee (Terdak Lingpa, 1646-1714(1357-1419)).
Similarly there is Lam-rim of Kagyud tradition of Dvagpo Lharje who is well-known as Gampopa (1079-1153). It is ‘Jewel Ornament of Liberation’(in Tibetan – dam –chos yid-bzhin nor-bu thar-p rin-po-che’i rgyan3). The Three Tradition and Three Visions in the Sakya school also explain the stages of the path. One can to say, all these Tibetan schools, even they use different terminology, they all are the same teaching on the Stages of the Path.
As opposed to the other main and minor Tibetan traditions4, in the theoretical and the practical tradition of the Gelug school it is declared that the Stages of the Path is of importance most of all.
The texts of Tsongkhapa as well as the Lamrim-texts of some Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas5 form “eight great guidances of the Stages of the Path” which are recognized as the main sources of Lamrim in Gelug tradition. According to the point of view of eight great Lamrim-texts one can say that all Buddhist teachings are the Stages of the Path or Lamrim.
There are four kinds of eminence and three unique characteristics of Lamrim-teaching which are to be taken into consideration [Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs 2008, p. 64]6.
The first kind of eminence of Lamrim is that an explanation of all teachings of the Buddha as non-contradictory is given: Lamrim helps understand that all Buddhist teachings are the elements of one Path to Enlightenment.
In compliance with this view the whole meaning of the Path must be found in each meditation.
The second kind of eminence of Lamrim is that there is an explanation that all Words of Buddha and its commentaries are the instructions (man ngag) which are to be taken into practice by each person who aspires to the Liberation and Enlightenment.
As was elucidated by Pabongka Rinpoche in his well-known text called ‘Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs’, Lamrim has one universal structure of the subjects and every Lamrim-text, an abridged one or a detailed one, may be a reliable guidance to the Enlightenment if it contains the whole structure of the Path [Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs 2008, p. 71].
The third kind of eminence is that Lamrim facilitates understanding of the ultimate thought of the Victorious One.
The fourth kind of eminence of Lamrim consists in the fact that Lamrim break off every negative karma that arises.
The first unique characteristic of Lamrim is the synthesis of all subjects of the Sutrayana and the Vadjrayana and presentation of the whole contents of the Word of Lord Buddha.
The second unique characteristic of Lamrim is the easiness of the practical realization.
The third unique characteristic of Lamrim as opposed to other Buddhist teachings is that it is an especially sacred teaching owing to possessing of both traditions of the Mahayana.
One is the tradition of Arya Nagarjuna and the second is the tradition of Arya Asanga. Even ‘the Abhisamayalankara’ does not possess this characteristic.
Je Tsongkhapa was a great scholar and very highly realized yogi. It is not necessary for me to dwell here on his greatness.
It is enough to mention the words of His Holiness Dalai Lama who said, “among the multitudes of eminent personalities of Tibet, his status as a great scholar and meditator is unparalleled” [Dalai Lama 1988, 21].
One can say Je Tsongkhapa’s all eighteen volumes are devoted to the explanation of the way in which we can integrate what we learned and channel it into our mental stream.
Among the eighteen there are certain works “related to rituals such as for making rain and so forth, but otherwise all these volumes present very profound aspects of the doctrine”, especially the most difficult points, “have been analyzed in them using numerous logical process” [Dalai Lama 1988, 21]. His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasized that Gelug tradition has a unique quality.
It is a system for very thorough and detailed study of sutra and tantra. Owing to such a system there is the meditation “more powerfull in bringing about transformation of the mind” [Dalai Lama 1988, 22].
The especially system of the stages of the practice which joins both Sutra and Tantra and grounded on the Wisdom Gone Beyond is presented in the text of Guru Yoga called ‘Lama Choepa’. There are concentrated in this system of the practice, which is uncommon tradition and ear-whispered transmission coming from Je Tsongkhapa, all the transmissions which had come from India and also the short lineage which Je Tsongkhapa received was directly from Manjushri.
Apart from that, this unique system of meditation consist many instructions which are grounded on the spiritual experience of Je Tsongkhapa and other great Tibetan Masters of past and today.
Through the meditation according to system of ‘Lama Choepa’ one can in one life-time to sow all “seeds” and obtain all results in succession, if one practices correctly.
One can to say the ‘Lama Choepa’ is most effective and whole Lamrim.
Inasmuch as generally the Lamrim texts are categorized as a text on the perfection of wisdom, so the contribution of very importance was made by Je Tsongkhapa on the understanding of the some subtlety meanings of conventional and ultimate truths which are concerning the perception’s manner of Aryas when there are being in meditation of Vipashyana.
Before Je Tsongkhapa Tibetan Lamas were thinking that the Arya during his meditation on the selflessness not received in his perception any kind of the objects, therefore, according to theirs understanding, generally all objects are not exist.
Or else the matter is that, if as a conventional truth has not an existence at all. Je Tsongkhapa elucidated that a fact an Arya not percept any things during a meditation session is not to understand as all things not exist at all.
The matter is that the mind work to one order when is meditating on the emptiness and to another order after this meditation. Only Buddha’s mind is able to meditate on the emptiness and to perceive the existent objects in the same time.
I received the transmission of those unique system of the philosophy and meditation from my root gurus, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his disciple venerable Geshe Jampa Thinlay.
When viewed shortly, is showed in the Je Tsonkhapa’s tradition that the Teaching of the Buddha is the profound and extensive way to gain a natural state of own mind, and actually, control is its natural state. Buddhist meditation teaches us to understand our own nature.
The nature of mind being understood it became easier to control the mind.
One can to say the practice of Lojong (Mind Training) is the opening and awakening of the nature of the mind.
“The precious awakening mind is the nectar providing the state of immortality” [Namkha Pel 1992, p. 9].
In the system of Mind Training in the tradition of Je Tsonkhapa’s of great importance is the Bodhicaryāvtāra of Śāntideva (VIII ).
Śāntideva explained the way the highest level of philosophical view of Mahayana inspires a vast path to the Liberation and the Buddhahood.
Usually His Holiness transmits this text and its commentaries joining with the text Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun written by Nam-kha Pel who was a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa and in his Lojong text is exposed the oral teaching of his Lama.
Generally the methods of Mind Training are grounded on the profound teaching of Buddha.
Thus in Precious Gargand (of Advice for a King) Arya Nagarjuna says,
“May their avil bear fruit for me
May all my virtue bear fruit for others”.
According to the words of Je Tsongkhapa that the instructions of The Seven Point Mind Training in the tradition of Chekawa’s “seems to be an instructions derived from the exalted Shāntideva’s text, therefore it must be explained according to that”, there are explained in Gelug-tradition mainly the Chekawa’s transmission of The Seven Point Mind Training.
The purpose of my papers is not to argue that the Gelug tradition is better than another.
Such ideas can be confirmed only a representative of some sectarian views.
The approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my other Lamas is non-sectarian.
My main intention consist to emphasize that the Je Tsongkhapa’s system of presentation of Dharma, which explained the way the effect of meditation depend on the level of the philosophical understanding of the reality, is most suitable and appropriated for the modern people, because they are highly educated and intelligent.
Today is of very importance also his advice concerning the view that there are two types of Buddhist scriptures, one for scholastic studies and one for actual practice. Je Tsogkhapas elucidated that such a view is mistaken.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote, “Lama Tsongkhapa himself said that if Lamrim Chenmo becomes a book for solely intellectual study, that will be the cause for the degeneration of the doctrine” [Dalai Lama 1988, 69].
That is like that Lama Yeshe said, “Many people misunderstand Buddhism.
Even some professors of Buddhist studies look at just the words and interpret what the Buddha taught very literally. They don’t understand his methods which are the real essence of his teachings” [Lama Yeshe 1998, 34].
For this reason is much important to explain the features of this very effective system of Buddhist practice which are needed we, the peoples this time of five degenerations, that transform bad time into good ones.
- Budon – History of Buddhism (Chos-‘byung)/by Bu-ston The Jewelry of Scripture /Translated from Tibetan by Dr. E. Obermiller. – Heidelberg 1931; In Kommission bei O. Harrassowitz, Leipzig (In Russian: Будон Ринчендуб. История буддизма / Пер. с тиб. Е.Е. Обермиллера; пер. с английского А.М. Донца. – СПб.: Евразия, 1999)
- Dalai Lama 1988 – H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The Union Of Bliss And Emptiness: A Commentary on the Lama Choepa Guru Yoga Practice /Traslated by Thupten Jinpa. – New York: Snow Lion Publications
- H.H. the Dalai Lama 1996 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Abridged Stages of the Path to Enlightenment //CHÖ YANG. – Norbulingka Institute, 1996. – P. 3-22
- Jamyang Kyen-tse Rinpoche Cho-kyi Lo-dro 1993 – The Opening of the Dharma: a Brief Explanation of the Essence of the Buddha’s Many Vehicle/by Jamyang Khentse Rinpoche Cho-kyi Lodoe //Four Essential Buddhist Texts ( H.H. The Dalai Lama, First Panchen Lama, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. – Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works nd Archives. 1993.
- Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs – Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs su gtod pa’i man ngag zab mo tshang la ma nor ba mtshungs med chos kyi rgyl po’i thugs bcud byang chub lam gyi rim-pa’i nyams khrid kyi zin bris gsung rab kun gyi bcud bsdus gdams ngag bdud rtsi’i snying po zhes bya ba bzhugs so / Detailed presentation of the lam rim chen mo of Rje Rinpoche; written on the basis of Skyabs-rje Pha-bong-kha-pa Bde-chen-snying-po’s lectures. Compiled by the Ven. Khri-byang Rinpoche in 1957. – Published by: Sermey Library, Sera Monastic University. – Second Edition: 2003. – Printed and Bound by: Classic India Publications, Delhi. (In Russian: Ламрим: Освобождение в наших руках (Lam rim rnam grol lag bcangs / Пабонгка Ринпоче. Изд. Тиб. Текста: Триджанг Ринпоче; пер. с тиб., вступ. статья и коммент. д-ра филос. Наук И.С. Урбанаевой. – Т.1, кн. 1, 2 – Улан-Удэ: Изд-во БНЦ СО РАН, 2008)
- Lama Yeshe – Lama Yeshe. Becoming Your Own Therapist: An Introduction to the Buddhist Way of Thought/Edited by Nicholas Ribush. – Boston: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 1998.
- Namkha Pel – Mind Training Like the Raya of the Sun by Nam-kha Pel/Translated by Brian Beresford & Edited by Jeremy Russel. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1992 (In Russian: Намкха Пел. Лочжонг «Лучи солнца» (blo sbyong nyi ma’i ‘od zer bzhugs so): Тренировка ума, подобная лучам солнца) /Пер. с тиб., предисловие и комментарий И.С. Урбанаевой. – Улан-Удэ: Изд-во БНЦ СО РАН, 2006)
- Śāntideva – Śāntideva. Bodhicāryāvatāra: Вступление в практику Бодхисаттв (byang chub sems dpa’i spyod pa la ‘jug pa zhes bya ba bzhugs so)/ Пер. с тиб., примеч. и вступ. статья д-ра филос. наук И.С.Урбанаевой
- Stages of Meditation 2001 – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Stages of Meditation /root text by Kamalashila, translated by Venerable Geshe Lobsang Jordhen, Losang Choephel Gangchenpa, and Jeremy Russel. – Itaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2001.