Views on Meditation Process in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” by Tsonkhapa by Chimeg Oyun

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Gelukpa is a Buddhist direction that has long tradition not only in Tibet, but also in Mongolia and continued to exert influence on the social life of these countries.

Theoretical basis of this direction is represented by its founder Tsongkapa’s main work “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”. The author of the report considered this work as the socio-philosophical basis of Gelukpa.

One of the interesting parts of this work is meditation process, in which Tsongkhapa reflected his views on subject in opposition to some other views on this point.

Meditation process is considered in almost whole of “Lam-rim”, but specially emphasized in the last parts of this work, that is dedicated to last two paramitas, concentrative meditation and discriminative awareness. Meditation process is summarized as the teaching about tranquillity and extraordinary vision.

In the past, meditation process was associated with yogis and was realized as an extraordinary process, being carried out in caves or any other solitary places.

However, in the last few decades, meditation is widespread as a training, directed to relaxation, brain rest, forming of healthy state of body and mind.

According to Tsongkhapa, ideas on tranquillity and extraordinary vision represent mediation learning, first of all directed to realisation of the essence of Buddhist religion through categories and concepts of sutras, to real practice of suppressing of one’s dirtiness of mind.

The author interprets that on the same time, meditation process in the context of Tsongkhapa’s ideas, is the process of penetrating into the essence of things inherent in all people, and specially organised for effectiveness of the process and aimed at understanding of things’ essence.

( 4) However, as a Buddhist philosopher, whose purpose was forming people’s world outlook through the Buddhist teaching with it’s view on worldly life, meditation process in his teaching as a process of thinking over things also was aimed to understand the life experience and realization of the Buddha through his teaching and concepts of later day thinkers.

Significant part of the Buddhist philosophy literature is dedicated to the methods and succession of the process of thinking over things. Special consideration of process of thinking over things in the earliest of world religions, Buddhism, as a main condition of comprehension the nature of things, accumulation of special experience moreover of long standing Indian tradition is connected with the own purpose of this religion to attain enlightenment.

On the other hand, special activities of meditation process in Buddhism were aimed to comprehension of Shunyata.

So, methods of meditation process in main cases were differentiated depending on concepts of Shunyata, and peculiarities of distinguishing one direction from another were connected with the concept of Shunyata and had been reflected in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” by Tsonkhapa.

As for the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi,” ideas on the process of meditation in this sutra show us that it is aimed to comprehension of traditional Buddhist outlook on own experience.

By the way, it should be mentioned that in Tsongkhapa’s work had been shown availability of diverse views and concepts on meditation process, that were cited on some examples of Indian and Chinese thinkers’ views.

It could be noted that incidentally, within methods of meditation process, seen as wrong by Tsongkapha, those, which he mentioned as widespread in Chinese Buddhism, are evidently belonged to Chan-Buddhism.

A person, specially engaged in the process of meditation, yogi, is named in Tibetan Naljorpa , and Eguzer in Mongolian, and defined in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”:“so far Suchness is acted by yogi, it is preached as by Eguzer…” (1, 119a – 197b). Results and peculiarities of this cognitive process of thinking and analyzing in mind are expressed by Tsonkhapa as follows: “At incomparable intuition…from the “Prajna-Paramita’s Counsel”. “Through analyzing one’s own mind all dharmas will lodge in one’s own mind”…

As preached in the “Secret Abstract”, “This dharma lodges in the sky vajra. Dharma and dharma’s nature are not” and in “Lankavatara” sutra: “Support just on mind and not analyze on outer sense” (1, 213a).

This process consists of three “stages”, or “steps”:

  • Aiming neither more than to mind
  • Aiming to Suchness
  • Intuition without phenomenon

If in that number “on first two steps tranquillity and extraordinary vision are created through containing meditation and analysing meditation” (1, 212b – 213a), the third step, named “intuition without phenomenon” expresses the final result of the meditation process.

Although the “real tranquillity and extraordinary vision” is a concept, connected with the most holy, highest cognitive level, tranquillity and extraordinary vision express peculiarity of human process of thinking through meditation by analysing, based on meditation by containing, while concepts of “intuition without sign” and “intuition without phenomenon” express the final cognition at the peak of the meditation.

Containing meditation and analyzing meditation

According to the ideas of the treatise, process of meditation is the process of containing the image of the aimed object in mind and analyzing or acting in mind with it and consists of two steps of containing meditation and analyzing meditation. “Containing meditation” is the name not for the process of looking and observing through eye knowledge, but for the process of creating its image in inner mind, while analyzing meditation for the process of decomposing analysis of the created image.

As it is preached in “Commentary”, “all world and world-beyond knowledge in Mahayana, and Hinayana is the result of tranquillity and extraordinary vision” and is commented by Tsonkhapa as follows: “Tranquillity and extraordinary vision are not mind knowledge, found by meditation process. All those knowledge are the result of this two” (1, 136a).

So tranquillity and extraordinary vision is not knowledge, found at the end of meditation process, but all mind knowledge are born as the result of these two and tranquillity with extraordinary vision contain meditative knowledge as a whole.

Since in general, meditation process as a whole is collected in turn to tranquillity and extraordinary vision, although all knowledge in Mahayana and Hinayana are not considered as the result of tranquillity and extraordinary vision, all Samadhi higher than mind, which is one-tipped (unanimous) in boon aim, is collected in turn to tranquillity, while all boons of discriminative awareness, which decomposes separately essence of Suchness and of all empirical things, is collected in turn to extraordinary vision.

And in this sense there is no any contradiction to consider knowledge of three chariots as the result of tranquillity and extraordinary vision.


Nature of tranquillity is defined by Tsongkhapa as follows: “real tranquillity as it is preached in “Commentary”:“ Sitting alone in solitude truly contain inside and act those dharmas, performed in perception, constantly settle down inside mind that performance perceived in mind, which is acted in mind, by acting in perception.

When that one’s body, who had been entering that way and had been many times placing in it, became very learned, and that one’s mind became very learned, this state is named tranquillity.

Through constant settling down and acting over its sense without distracting to other objects, mind will become gradually concentrated in a purpose involuntarily. If joy for very learned body and mind appears, that Samadhi is tranquillity (1, 136b).

According to Tsongkhapa’s views on tranquillity, that is created through containing meditation, “containing meditation” is the name for absorption of mind for its aim, without distraction.

For settling down perceived objects and concentrating in mind, attention should be not wandering on other things, but should be containing only the aimed objects.

Practices, directed to mastering in full concentration, and grades of this concentration are reflected in concepts of five hindrances (obstacles) of Samadhi, nine grades of mind state and four actings of mind (3).

Tsonkhapa also defines tranquillity as quieting of distraction to outer objects and enjoying constant involuntary entry into the aimed object, staying in very learned position of mind”(1,152a).

By the way of containing and settling down the perceived things in mind, getting used to constant contemplation of the aimed object in mind, that mind comes to a state of involuntary concentration itself to the aimed object, and by reaching the state of very learned body and mind, the real tranquillity will be created.

Tranquillity could be compared to a state, when thought is constantly situated in mind and unable to get out from it. In this situation decomposing and analyzing contemplation is not carried out.

Depending on Tsongkhapa’s views on tranquillity, reflected in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”, the following conclusions about initial, basic period of reflecting activities, named containing meditation, can be made:

1. Reflecting activities are first of all a process of creating an image of mind. It seems that Tsonkhapa’s words “гэтэлгэгч Maitreya also tied up even dharma’s name, it should be known as the path of tranquillity” mean, that during meditation process not terms, but an image of contemplation is being formed.

Words about “abstaining from an image of mind” in the following part, defining extraordinary vision, testify this understanding.

2. This image of mind, being created during process of meditation on the stage of “containing in mind” is accompanied by a certain sensation of this object.

In the part of above mentioned quotation from “Commentary”, namely “act those dharmas, performed in perception, constantly settle down inside that perceived performance, which is acted in mind”, words “that performance, perceived in mind” show that image of mind is accompanied by a certain sensation of that object.

3. An image, meditated for a long period and got used to, could be compared with those thoughts, which came into use and are not getting out. But on the stage of containing meditation analyzing activities are not undertaken.

Extraordinary vision

Essence of extraordinary vision is defined by Tsongkhapa as follows: “Real extraordinary vision as in that sutra is, “ reaching a state of body, which is very learned, and, being in that state, abstain from image of mind, catch and act those dharmas, performed in perception, in inner mind separately by the object and the image of Samadhi action, and act with admiration.

What is distinguishing the essence of knowledge, represented by the object and the image in Samadhi action, deep, distinguishing very deep, and rummaging utterly, analyzing utterly, bearing, desiring and specially differing, viewing and rummeging, that is extraordinary vision.” (1,137a)

Extraordinary vision is the process of analyzing the meaning of the object of mind after settling down it in mind and lodging in tranquillity (1,137b). This process is aimed to full realisation of the image of mind, created preliminarily, on the basis of all-round detailed analysis.

On the basis of Tsongkhapa’s views on extraordinary vision a process of analyzing meditation appears as follows:

1. Process of analyzing meditation is the process of “entering into the object of mind” on the basis of all round analysis of the preliminary created image. Judging from some works of fighting arts, highly connected with Buddhist philosophy, training in “entering into the image” of cat or other animals or, in certain mode, “attaining of the supernatural power”, is a similar process.

2. As for the method of “entering into the image” it is “view”.

The subject of the “view” in the part of extraordinary vision is a person (pudgala) and a person’s Non- Ego, dharmas and dharmas’ Non-Ego and presentation of relative and absolute truth.

3. Realization, coming as the result of analyzing mediation, is also represented by a certain “feeling” and being a “feeling” not always could be expressed by “words”.

It can be observed from one’s reflection, that “real comprehension” is also expressed by a certain feeling.

Sharing one’s comprehension, or telling in words goes next and things, which comprehended through own meditation are expressed by “own words”.

“Own words” are certainly restricted by available words of personal contact, and is a relative term. But here we mean a difference between copying other’s words and expressing something, realized by own experience, through common words.

I remember examples, when Marxist dogmas about connection between speech and mind sometimes led to impoverished consequence that “being not good in speech mean being not good in thinking”.

Such consequence comes from undistinguishing the processes of telling (and writing) through others’ words and of process of searching expressions for telling others own experiences.

On the basis of Tsongkhapa’s teaching about tranquillity and extraordinary vision, conclusions on, what is meditation and what does the succession of containing meditation and analyzing meditation looks like, appear as follows:

Meditation is a process of thinking activities, aimed to creation of an image of mind.

These thinking activities based not on looking out to the world, but on creating of an image of the object in inner mind, as it is shown by Tsonkhapa’s words: “Samadhi is created not by eyes knowledge, but by mind knowledge”.

By the way, it could be mentioned that within some views, critisized by Tsonkhapa, he named views about comprehension of Shunyata through staring at “trees and stones”.

As for the process of that thinking activities, it goes through creating of an image of the object of reflection, accompanied by the feeling of that object, which followed by the deepening of the object’s feeling through analysis of its essence and by “entering into that image”.

Maitreya’s words, cited by Tsonkhapa, in full are “гэтэлгэгч Maitreya also tied up even dharma’s name, it should be known as the path of tranquillity.

The path of extraordinary vision should be known, as it is preached, as analyzing in depth that’s sense, and since perception is contained in mind, depending on truly lodging, and dharmas are differed in very depth, there are tranquillity and extraordinary vision, so, depending on truly Samadhi, it is preached, that containing mind is tranquillity and discriminative awareness, which differs in very depth, is extraordinary vision (1,137a – 137b).

Concerning the succession, although at the beginning of the process tranquillity is searched, and consequently, extraordinary vision is meditated, these two are closely connected processes of creating an image of the object of thinking, settling down it in mind and all-round analyzing of the settled image, and the aims of meditation process are also not differentiated.

Such is the peculiarity of this process, that extraordinary vision is created on the base of tranquillity.

If so, Tsonkhapa is questioning in his treatise, how should it be understood, that “there is Tranquillity with realization of Shunyata and extraordinary vision without realization of Shunyata” (1,137b) and also that “what was preached, that “some persons found extraordinary vision, but not found tranquillity.

They will diligently act on tranquillity, depending on extraordinary vision?” (1,141a). Kernel of the question is that extraordinary vision, which appears “depending on tranquillity” is told here as the first in succession.

Answering to this question Tsongkhapa says, that here “tranquillity higher than the first real dhyana, is not differentiated.

Tranquillity higher than the first dhyana, is created, depending on the realization of four truths” (1,141).

So, although tranquillity, on the one hand, is the process of getting attached to the aim of mind through concentration and absorption, or the name for creating of an image and settling down it in mind, on the other hand, it is the tranquil state of mind in result of extraordinary vision, when the sense of things has been reached.

As for extraordinary vision, although it is the great realization, found as the result of analyzing the image, contained in mind, by the “view”, it could be not only extraordinary vision of Shunyata, but could be realization of lower grade.

An argument to show this interpretation is right, is seen in Tsonkhapa’s idea “is this Samadhi and discriminative awareness, aimed to Shunyata, or not, should be found out from the point whether that intellect trailed or not trailed as its’ object two Non-Ego” (1,138a).

In other words, is it Samadhi and discriminative awareness, aimed to Shunyata, or not, depends on what is meditated.

If Samadhi and discriminative awareness aimed to Shunyata, it means meditating on Non-Ego.

As for the succession, it is the same and extraordinary vision is created through meditation, based on tranquillity.

Otherwise, any realization, which is reached at the end of analyzing contemplation, depends on creating of an image of mind, or, just on tranquillity.

So, for the meditation process as a whole, it can be concluded, that although meditated concepts are deepening during the process, at any level it goes as a process of analyzing meditation, which depends on containing meditation, or, tranquillity is created at first, and extraordinary vision next.

As it is mentioned in the treatise, these meditation principles are preached in many sutras as “Get. Gol”, “Bodhisattva’s stages”, “Shravaka’s stages”, “Prajna-paramita’s Counsel”, in three grades by Shantideva and Kamalashila.

Intuition without phenomenon.

Buddhist concepts of tranquillity and extraordinary vision, representing meditation skills in general, aim for Buddhist Enlightenment. The concept of “intuition without phenomenon”, the third stage, or step, implies the final result of meditation process.

The concept of incomparable intuition belongs to tantras. In Tsongkhapa’s “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”are mentioned mainly two differences of tantras: grade of arising and grade of completing. “Grades on the Path to Bodhi” belong to the grade of arising.

Nevertheless, at the end of his treatise, Tsongkhapa emphasizes that “this summing up of the grades on the path to Bodhi, dedicated to good recognition of mistakes on the path, which leads to mastering of intuition through many good preachinsg, based on main teachings of sages, for finding clear Samadhi, general to all the grades of non-Buddhists and Buddhists, to Mahayana and Hinayana, to two kinds of Mahayana an to upper and low grades of tantra” (1,222b).

“Intuition without phenomenon” is not speciallyconsidered in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”. However, highest levels of the cognitive process of realizing the essence of all things are reflected in detail within the part of absolute truth. Stage, where absolute truth, or Suchness is reached, is defined as follows: “When nothing is seen, Suchness is seen” (1, 203b), “When Suchness is percieved, containing should be contained neither more than in sense of term knowledge. As for the transcendental realization of the Buddha, not containing is its meaning” (1,205b).

Otherwise, although the stage of realization of the all things essence is told in a manner of containing of all things in mind, truly it is the state, when nothing is contained.

At the stage of finding the absolute truth and becoming the Buddha, “knowledge” of this absolute truth is not manifested by any image, word or expression.

At this stage all ”is seen by seeing nothing”. Citing the corresponding passage from the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”, we have the following: ”When the absolute truth is found by transcendental knowledge of the Buddha, knowing Suchness, it is as in “Commentary to “Entering…” (“Entering to the deeds of Bodhisattva” by Shantideva): “Essence of this was not seen as an image, wasn’t it? So, asked, in which way was it seen?

It should be answered: “Truth is, nevertheless it is seen by no seeing, and nothing being seen, Suchness was seen, thus it was preached”,…“at the Buddha’s stage, mind and run, which proceeds from mind, transformed for ever”,…”if all these, aimed by the power of ignorance darkness, are at Suchness, its should be aimed by intuitive, devoid of defilement transcendental knowledge of the Sublime one, but it was shown that through seeing nothing Suchness of all those was seen.

Though, having been, hindrance could become aim, not having been aimed, emptiness of hindrance means knowledge - this way it is contained.

Sense of preaching, that no seeing is the highest of seeing, should be known the same way.

This was as it is told in the “Abstract”: “The Buddha showed, that not seeing the colour, not seeing the knowledge, not seeing either senses, nor seeing perception (huran uildehui) , nor seeing thinking process, which time cognition and intellect don’t see mind, that time dharma has been seen” (1, 203a-203b).

In such way, the final result of meditation, clear realization /ilt medel/, intuition was shown in the “Grades on the Path to Bodhi”.

In time of meditating extraordinary vision, analytic contemplation has taken place on the basis of “view” through abstaining from the image of mind, and in time of completing of this process, dissolution in the image took place and whatever like an image vanishes. Names for that are “clear knowledge”, clear realization, “making clear at body”.

Judging from ideas of Tsongkhapa’s treatise, where he considered in detail two truths, relative and absolute, and also differences within absolute truth, it can be said, that the”real absolute truth “is not knowledge (in sense of accumulated knowledge of facts and data - Chimeg) (1,207b), otherwise, it is the state, inexpressible by words, it is the realization, when all thinking activities stopped, and in “absolute” sense it is a state, comparable to death.

We can note, that in ordinary life somebody’s death is told as “to have become the Buddha” (4).

Moments of absolute truth, or of deep realization, happen in ordinary life, and the concept of “momentary appearances” in mind according to “Abhisamayalankara” and “Seven meanings” seem to express the final moments of “mind intuition”, which had been made “clear at body” (3, 3a-3b; 19b)

Key words: Tranquillity, Extraordinary vision, Intuition without phenomenon, Entry to the image, Feeling, Stoppage


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