photo gallery
medical clinics
tibet projects
stupas for peace
tsering art school
shechen archives

The Great Medicine Which Conquers
Clinging To the Notion of Reality

Steps in meditation on the enlightened mind

Root text by Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal
Explained by by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche

Part nine of a monthly series.

Between practice sessions,
Develop generosity and the other paramitas,
Without the three concepts.

Try to establish the nature of mind during meditations sessions. In between sessions do not stray into ordinariness. Instead, develop the six paramitas or the “six transcendent perfections. “ They are “transcendent,” free from the three concepts, and therefore help us to create merit and wisdom. The three concepts are: the subject who acts, the object of the action, and the action itself.

Let’s use the first paramita of generosity as an example of how this works. First, rest in a state that is free of the notion of holding on to an “I” as the subject who performs the act of generosity. Then, release any grasping to the object of generosity — the recipient of our help whose gratitude is usually expected. Lastly, there should be no grasping to the act of generosity itself. If we are completely free from these concepts, then we are practicing the true or “transcendent” generosity that can ferry us to the other shore beyond samsaric existence.

There are different kinds of transcendent generosity. The first has to do with the giving of material things, such as food, clothing, and other necessities with pure intention and no second thoughts, hidden agenda, or ulterior motives. Greater still is to give whatever we have or to surrender our most treasured possessions or to give up clinging to our dearest friends or relatives. Beyond that, but only applicable to bodhisattvas who have truly realized the meaning of emptiness, there are no limits to what can be given. A bodhisattva on the first bhumi will have no qualms or hesitations about sacrificing his own limbs or even his own life for the benefit of others.

The second kind of generosity is the gift of the Dharma. This also has various levels. We can give texts or funds so that people can study or enter the path, and so on. To make Dharma teachings available on a vast scale, thus benefiting all beings is the best gift. This is what great masters do when they teach countless students.

The third type of generosity is to give protection from fear, assist the sick and the destitute, protect those in danger, and above all to protect life. One way to do this is to buy animals before they are slaughtered or free fish that have been caught.

Any act of generosity is, of course, extremely positive. However, transcendent generosity requires that we be free from strong clingings to the notion of “I” or the giver, the recipient, and to the actual act of giving itself. Only then will it be “transcendent” and help us to progress on the path of enlightenment.

The second of the six paramitas is discipline, which also has three aspects. The first is to avoid the ten non-virtuous acts. The second aspect is to actively engage in the ten virtuous actions with an altruistic mind. The third aspect is to perform all actions for the benefit of others, thus creating incredible benefit for all.

The third paramita is patience: the complete abandonment of anger and ill will. It too has three main aspects. The first is to remain undisturbed by those who harm or mistreat us in any way. We should maintain perfect forbearance and patience towards them, despite any ill treatment we might suffer. The second aspect is to experience suffering with a positive frame of mind, using it to progress on the path and increase compassion. The great Kadampa masters said, “Your mind should be turned towards the Dharma; your Dharma practice should be turned towards becoming a renunciate. Your life as a renunciate should be focused on the thought of death; and your death should be focused on occurring in an empty cave.” View this kind of renunciation and determination as a joy, not as a difficult burden.

The third aspect is to have patience toward the hardships of spiritual practice. Anything we encounter on the path, such as extreme heat or cold, should not hinder us. We need to have perfect patience and the capacity to endure anything without feeling upset. The ultimate aspect of patience is to accept the most profound meaning of the teachings without fear. Some people feel anguish or fear simply by thinking about emptiness. We need not feel frightened. In fact what we need is to fearlessly open to the vast view, in order to realize the meaning of emptiness.

The fourth paramita is diligence. In this case, diligence is the joy that is associated with striving toward a noble purpose. The first kind of diligence is like donning a suit of armor. You feel a strong determination that whatever outer circumstances occur, you will always follow the example of the great masters of the past with utmost determination and perseverance. Second is the diligence of application, which is to dedicate all your strength to the immense task of Dharma practice. Do not feel that this is too difficult or that you can postpone this. Instead, determine to enter the practice right now without any further delay.

The third type of diligence is the diligence that is never satisfied – the feeling that you have never done enough. We often think, “Oh, this is certainly enough,” when engaging in activities such as meditation, reciting mantras or actively benefiting others for a short while. Instead of harboring this complacent thought, be like a hungry yak. When a yak is eating grass its eyes are not looking at the grass it is eating, but at the grass further ahead. Similarly, never feel you have done enough and always look for new opportunities to practice. Maintain constant effort until you reach enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Please remember that to develop a stable concentration (samadhi) requires discipline. Without discipline your meditation will never progress.

The fifth paramita is meditative concentration, known as dhyana in Sanskrit. There are three kinds of dhyana. The first leads to a state of ease and serenity, the second to the accomplishment of spiritual qualities, and the third to benefiting others directly.

We need to avoid certain obstacles that can occur on the path to concentration. The first obstacle is to become enticed by spiritual experiences of bliss, lights, clarity, absence of discursive thoughts, and so forth. When this happens, we can mistakenly become like a child who, seeing lots of colorful things, gets absorbed in them. Do not give great importance to these meditative experiences. The second obstacle is to become attached to the experience of emptiness and to its ultimate meaning.

Once you have overcome these pitfalls, rest in equanimity in the ultimate nature of mind beyond discursive, conceptual thoughts. This is the genuine meditative concentration of the sugatas or those who have realized the ultimate nature of things.

Your mind should be neither too tense nor too lax when you meditate. A mind that is tense and constricted can create a perfusion of thoughts that can carry you away into distraction. In contrast, a mind that is too relaxed has a tendency to sink into a torpor or even sleep. Avoid these two extremes and preserve a clear mindfulness whether your mind is in a state of distraction or falling into dullness.
In a continuous and balanced way, keep your mind focused upon the object of concentration. Of course thoughts will arise, but try not to give too much importance to them and simply allow them to vanish by themselves. Your concentration should be one-pointed, continuous, and lucid. Whenever it becomes too slack or too tense, apply the proper antidote, and you will eventually develop a well-focused and one-pointed concentration.

While training in shamata, you will progress through various levels of experience that eventually lead to an increasingly calm mind. In the beginning the mind is unruly and agitated. The idea of controlling thoughts seems as difficult as catching a writhing snake in your hand. When you try to stabilize the mind it keeps running in all directions.

Normally, we do not pay attention to the condition of our minds. In effect, we do not realize how many thoughts we actually have. So, as we start paying attention and try to sit quietly we might have the sense that our thoughts are actually increasing. However, our thoughts are not actually increasing, only our awareness of them is. We are merely becoming aware of how agitated our mind has been all along. This state of mind can be compared to the rushing water of a waterfall.

This restless, deluded mind creates and perpetuates all of our mental afflictions and sufferings. Please develop a strong determination to tame this wild mind. As Shantideva said in the Way of the Bodhisattva, “There is no difficult task that cannot become easy if we persevere and become skilful through training.”

When you pacify these wild thoughts and gross emotions you still might have cascades of thoughts that follow one after the other in a chain reaction. These thoughts are like a fast-flowing stream cascading down a mountainside. Nonetheless, if you persevere in your meditation, fewer thoughts will arise and your mind will remain more peaceful and focused.

Actually there are still many subtle, almost invisible thoughts creating a constant background static. Imagine looking at a big river in the distance. It’s water looks still. However, when you approach the banks, you will see that the river is moving, steadily flowing all the time. When this happens in your meditation, you will need to persevere in your training to maintain your concentration and progress. This is called “familiarization.”

When the subtle thoughts subside, you will have attained the stage of “steadiness.” You will be able to stay focused on the object of your meditation without any distraction. This is like a calm ocean that usually remains calm, except when disturbed, occasionally, by the wind. Although at this stage your mind can remain calmly concentrated and without mental constructs, noises, physical sensations, and so forth still can disturb the sense of peacefulness. If you continue to persevere and attain perfect concentration, the mind will effortlessly remain on any chosen object without difficulty, strain, or disturbance. It will remain vividly and clearly focused, and nothing will shake the calm. This is like a great mountain that cannot be shaken by winds.

During your training various experiences may occur such as visions, feelings of bliss, and so forth. Though a sign of progress, these are still tainted by ignorance and are not wisdom experiences. So, whatever happens, never get infatuated by them, but simply persevere in your training. By doing so your mind will become clear and serene. Your body will feel blissful and very light, almost as if it were fluffs of cotton wool. These are the signs of purification and are indications that your training is progressing. Please remember that developing stable concentration (samadhi) requires discipline. Without discipline your meditation will never progress.

The sixth paramita is wisdom of which there are also three types. The first is the wisdom born from study. The second is the wisdom that arises from profoundly reflecting upon the teachings and dispelling all doubts, confusions, misconceptions, and hesitations. In this process, you gain certainty about the meaning of all that you have heard or studied. Wisdom born from meditation can develop once you have this certainty. Put effort into integrating the teachings into your personal experience and cultivating them. This process will cause the teachings to become second nature. As a result, you will eventually realize the primordial wisdom. The main goal of the trainings on discipline and concentration is to increase wisdom.

Any practice you do should include the three steps of generating bodhichitta, practicing the six paramitas, and dedicating the merit. To practice free from the concepts of subject, object, and action and to dedicate any benefits to the good of all beings is to follow the excellent path that unites the accumulations of merit and wisdom.

To be continued next month

Translated by Ani Jinba Palmo.

back to Teachings