The lamrim, the gradual path to enlightenment, gives a concise and comprehensive picture of the Buddhist path to awakening. This outline of the lamrim meditations is intended to be used to supplement the audio recordings on Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path. The outline can also be used on its own as a study guide.
Once we have generated bodhicitta, we must engage in the six far-reaching attitudes (the six paramitas or six perfections) to complete the accumulation of positive potential and the accumulation of wisdom that are needed to attain enlightenment. These six practices—generosity, ethical discipline, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom—become far-reaching attitudes when they are motivated and held by the altruistic intention. They are purified and realized when they are held by the wisdom realizing the emptiness of the circle of three: the agent, action, and object. Therefore practice each far-reaching attitude with the motivation of bodhicitta, seal it with an understanding of emptiness, and dedicate the positive potential for the enlightenment of ourselves and all others.
Each far-reaching attitude should be practiced together with the others. For example, the ethics of generosity is not to harm others while giving. The patience of generosity is not to become angry if those we give to are unappreciative or rude. The joyous effort of generosity is to take delight in giving. The concentration of generosity is to maintain an altruistic intention while giving and to give without distraction. The wisdom of generosity is to reflect upon the emptiness of the circle of three. Integrating the practice of each far-reaching attitude into the others can be understood from this example.
The far-reaching attitude of generosity
Generosity is the wish to give our body, possessions, and positive potential to others without the wish to receive anything—including appreciation—in return. The three types of generosity are:
- Giving material possessions to those in need, including people you know and don’t know, and people you like and don’t like.
- Giving protection to those in danger: travelers, insects who are drowning in water, children who are fighting, etc.
- Giving wise advice and Dharma teachings to those who need them. This includes helping to calm friends who are angry, saying prayers and mantras out loud so animals nearby can hear them, leading meditations, and teaching the Dharma.
For each of these:
- Think about what you can give
- Think about to whom you can give and how you can give
- Cultivate the altruistic intention and then imagine giving
Meditating in this way prepares you to actually give in your daily life.
Conclusion: Have a sense of what, how, and to whom you can give, and take delight in the opportunity to give.
The far-reaching attitude of ethical conduct
Ethical conduct is the wish to abandon harming all others. For each of the following types of ethical conduct, contemplate:
- Your motivation for doing it
- The actions involved in doing it
- Abandoning destructive actions, for example, refraining from the ten destructive actions.
- Engaging in constructive actions, for example, joyfully taking opportunities to act constructively.
- Benefiting others by:
- Helping the suffering or sick
- Giving counsel and advice to those who are obscured or ignorant of means to help themselves
- Providing help to those who need it to realize their goals
- Protecting those who are afraid, in danger, or about to be killed or injured
- Comforting those who are grieving, whose relative has died, or who have lost their social position
- Helping the poor and needy
- Providing for those who are in need of a place to stay, such as the poor, Dharma practitioners, and travelers
- Helping to reconcile those who quarrel and seek to be in harmony
- Supporting those who wish to practice the Dharma and act constructively
- Stopping those who are acting negatively or are about to do so
- Using clairvoyant powers, if one has them, to prove the validity of the Dharma if all other methods fail or to stop others’ negative actions.
Conclusion: Feel joyful to practice ethical conduct with altruism and an awareness of emptiness.
The far-reaching attitude of patience
Anger (or hostility) can arise towards people, objects, or our own suffering (such as when we’re sick). It arises due to exaggerating the negative qualities of a person, object, or situation, or by superimposing negative qualities that aren’t there. Anger then wants to harm the source of the unhappiness. Anger (hostility) is a generic term that includes being irritated, annoyed, critical, judgmental, self-righteous, belligerent, and hostile.
The disadvantages of anger
By reflecting on your own experiences, examine if anger is destructive or useful.
- Are you happy when you’re angry?
- Do you see a pattern in the type of situations in which you become angry or the people with whom you get angry? What effect does this pattern have on your life?
- How do you feel when you’re angry? Underneath the anger, is there hurt? Fear? Sadness? Anger often makes us feel powerful when inside we feel powerless. Getting in touch with the feeling under our anger can help us understand it better.
- Do you communicate with others effectively when you’re angry? Do you aggressively lash out at them? Do you withdraw and not speak?
- What is the effect of your actions on others? Does your anger bring about the happiness that you desire?
- Later when you’re calm, how do you feel about what you said and did when you were angry? Is there shame, guilt, or loss of self-esteem?
- How do you appear in others’ eyes when you’re angry? Does anger promote mutual respect, harmony, and friendship?
Conclusion: Seeing that anger and resentment destroy your own and others’ happiness, determine to observe when it arises in you and to apply the Dharma antidotes to subdue it.
The antidotes to anger
Patience is the ability to remain undisturbed in the face of harm or suffering. Being patient does not mean being passive. Rather, it gives us the clarity of mind necessary to act or not to act. Each of the following points is a different method of reducing anger. Take an example from your life of a time you were angry and practice looking at the situation from this new perspective.
- Whether or not what the other person says is true, there is no reason to get angry when you are criticized. If what the other person says is true, it is like being told you have a nose. Both the other person and you know this is true, so there is no reason to be angry about it. You should simply acknowledge your mistake. On the other hand, if someone blames you for something you didn’t do, it is as if the person said you have horns on your head. There’s no reason to be angry at something that is untrue.
- Ask yourself, “Can I do something about it?” If you can, anger is out of place because you can improve the situation. If you can’t, anger is useless because nothing can be done.
- Examine how you got involved in the situation. This has two parts:
- What actions did you do recently to prompt the disagreement? Examining this helps you understand why the other person is upset.
- Recognize that unpleasant situations are due to your having harmed others earlier this life or in previous lives. Seeing this as the principal cause, you can learn from past mistakes and resolve to act differently in the future.
- Remember the kindness of a disagreeable person (enemy). First, he or she points out your mistakes so you can correct them and improve. Second, the enemy gives you the opportunity to practice patience, a necessary quality in your spiritual development. In these ways, the enemy is kinder to you than your friends or even the Buddha.
- Give the pain to your selfish attitude by recognizing it is the source of all your problems.
- Ask yourself, “Is it the person’s nature to act like this?” If it is, there’s no reason to be angry, for that would be like being annoyed with fire for burning. If it isn’t the person’s nature, anger is also unrealistic, for it would be like getting angry at the sky for having clouds in it.
- Examine the disadvantages of anger and holding a grudge. Having done so, you will want to give them up because you want to be happy and they cause only suffering.
- Recognize that it is the other person’s unhappiness and confusion that makes the person harm you. Since you know what it’s like to be unhappy, you can empathize and have compassion for the other person.
The far-reaching attitude of joyous effort
Joyous effort is taking delight in what is virtuous and worthwhile. To cultivate it, we must counteract the three kinds of laziness:
- Procrastination and sleep. Do you put off Dharma study and practice? Do you sleep more than your body needs? Do you like to lie around and do nothing? If so, meditation on death will help you to not waste time being slothful.
- Attachment to worldly affairs and pleasures. Do you keep busy doing things or worrying about things which are not very important from a Dharma viewpoint? Are you attached to worldly success, worldly pleasures, and activities that are not very meaningful in the long run? If so, reflect on the disadvantages of cyclic existence. This will help you to see the futility of being attached to cyclic existence, invigorate your desire to be free from it, and enable you to set your priorities wisely.
- Discouragement and putting yourself down. Do you tend to be self-critical and judgmental? Do you have difficulties with self-esteem? Remember your Buddha nature and reflect on your precious human life. This will uplift your mind so you can recognize your potential.
Conclusion: Develop a sense of courage and joy so that you can engage in the three types of joyous effort:
- Withstanding discomfort to work for others’ welfare (armor-like joyous effort)
- Doing all constructive action motivated by the altruistic intention
- Working to benefit others
The far-reaching attitude of concentration
Concentration is the ability to focus single-pointedly on a constructive object. Unlike the other far- reaching attitudes, analytical meditation is not done on the far-reaching attitude of concentration. Instead, the points below are practiced to develop stabilizing or single-pointed meditation. You can apply the points when you do stabilizing meditation, for example, on the breath or the visualized image of the Buddha.
By examining your mind, notice when the five deterrents to concentration arise:
- Laziness: feeling that meditation is difficult and being reluctant to make the effort
- Forgetting the instructions on how to develop calm abiding or forgetting the object of meditation (your concentration on the object of meditation is not stable)
- Laxity (heaviness or unclarity) or excitement (distraction to an object of attachment)
- Not applying antidotes to the above deterrents
- Applying the antidotes when they are not needed
When the deterrents arise, apply one of the eight antidotes.
To counteract laziness:
- Confidence: knowing the benefits and results of calm abiding
- Aspiration: wishing to practice calm abiding
- Enthusiastic perseverance: having delight and eagerness to practice
- Flexibility: having serviceability of body and mind while meditating
To counteract forgetting the object of meditation:
- Mindfulness: remembering and staying on the object of meditation
To counteract distraction, laxity, or excitement by noticing their presence:
- Introspective alertness
To counteract not applying antidotes to the deterrents:
- Application of appropriate antidotes
To counteract applying antidotes when it is not necessary:
- Equanimity: refraining from applying antidotes when it’s not necessary
The far-reaching attitude of wisdom
Wisdom is the ability to analyze what is virtuous and non-virtuous as well as the ability to perceive emptiness, the lack of inherent existence of all persons and phenomena. Understanding dependent arising aids in understanding the emptiness of inherent or independent existence.
All phenomena (including people) depend on other factors for their existence. They are dependent in three ways:
- All the functioning things in our world arise depending on causes. Pick any object and reflect on the various causes and conditions that were necessary for it to come into existence. For example, a house exists because of so many non-house things that existed before it—building materials, designers and construction workers, etc.
- Phenomena exist by depending on their parts. Mentally dissect a thing to discover all of the different parts that compose it. Each of these parts is again made of parts. For example, your body is made of many non-body things—limbs, organs, etc. Each of these, in turn, is composed of molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles.
- Phenomena exist in dependence on their being conceived and given a name. For example, Tenzin Gyatso is the Dalai Lama because people conceived of that position and gave him that title.
Conclusion: Because nothing exists on its own, see that things are more fluid and dependent than you previously thought.
The four-point analysis for meditating on emptiness of the person, oneself:
- Identify the object to be refuted: an independent, solid, inherently existent person. Think of a time when you felt a strong emotion. How does the “I” appear at that time?
- Establish the pervasion: If such an independent self existed, it would have to be either one and the same with the mental and physical aggregates or completely separate from them. There is no other alternative.
- Examine all the parts of your body and all aspects of your mind. Are you any one of them? Determine that the “I” is not one and the same as the body or the mind, or a combination of the two.
- Try to find a self that is independent from your body and mind. Can your body and mind be in one place and “I” in another? Determine that the self is not separate from the body and mind.
Conclusion: The self does not exist in the way you previously felt it did. Feel the lack of such an indepen- dent and solid self that needs to be defended.