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
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
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.