Make your own free website on

Keys to Great Enlightenment
by Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen
(extracts from the book used with the permission of Geshe Gyeltsen)


Acknowledgements and Technical Notes

The Preliminaries
Preparation for Practice

Graduated Path to Enlightenment & Levels of Attainment

 Medium Attainment

 Highest Attainment

Commentary on Eight Verses of Thought Training
(Lo-Jong Tsig-Gy-Ma, Root Text composed by Kadam Geshe Langri Tangpa)

Commentary on Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices
(Gyl-S Lag-Len So-Dun-Ma, Root Text composed by Bodhisattva Togmey Zangpo)

 Tong-Len Practice

Back to: Notes & Transcripts

Back to: Thubten Shedrup Ling Index


To the long life of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and all the Holy Masters of the Buddhadharma.
To the Teachings of the Buddha, may they endure for a very long time.
To the Sangha community, may they abide in pure morality, be free of any schism, and succeed in their studies and contemplations.
To all beings, may they be free from suffering and attain Great Enlightenment.
May all nations be free from illness, famine, wars and conflicts.
May lasting peace prevail and endure forever.

Return to the Index


Keys to Great Enlightenment is based upon two meditation courses given by the Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen to students of Thub-ten Dhargye Ling as commentaries to the classical root texts: Eight Verses of Thought Training by Geshe Langri Tangpa and The Thirty- Seven Bodhisattva Practices by the Bodhisattva Togmey Zangpo.
Our most sincere thanks are extended to Lobsang Gyaltsan for contributing his wonderful skill and dedication in translating the author's oral teachings from Tibetan into English during the original meditation courses.
The commentaries were transcribed and revised by Gary Schlageter and Karen Gudmundsson. Under the supervision of RobertStone, these working texts were then proofread and edited with the help of Pat Aiello, Paul McClelland, Nancy Nason, and others. Revised drafts were checked with the author for clarification and corrections. Overall preparation of the final draft of the book was carried out by Pat Aiello, Karen Gudmundsson, Gary Schlageter, and Robert Stone. Book design and layout was skillfully performed by Mooky Ben-David. Printing of the final draft was carried out Pat and Gabriel Aiello, whose generosity and assistance is deeply appreciated.
Above all, sincere gratitude goes to the author, Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, for his kindness in giving the oral commentaries and for his supervision of the project. May this book fulfill its purpose in providing students interested inKeys to Great Enlightenment is based upon two meditation courses given by the Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen to students of Thubten Dhargye Ling as commentaries to the classical root texts: Eight Verses of Thought Training by Geshe Langri Tangpa and The Thirty Seven Bodhisattva Practices by the Bodhisattva Togmey Zangpo.
Our most sincere thanks are extended to Lobsang Gyaltsan for contributing his wonderful skill and dedication in translating the author's oral teachings from Tibetan into English during the original meditation courses.

The commentaries were transcribed and revised by Gary Schlageter and Karen Gudmundson. Under the supervision of Robert Stone, these working texts were then proofread and edited with the help of Pat Aiello, Paul McClelland, Nancy Nason, and others. Revised drafts were checked with the author for clarification and corrections. Overall preparation of the final draft of the book was carried out by Pat Aiello, Karen Gudmundsson, Gary Schlageter, and Robert Stone. Book design and layout was skillfully performed by Mooky Ben-David. Printing of the final draft was carried out Pat and Gabriel Aiello, whose generosity and assistance is deeply appreciated.
Above all, sincere gratitude goes to the author, Venerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, for his kindness in giving the oral commentaries and for his supervision of the project. May this book fulfill its purpose in providing students interested in Buddhism with practical instructions for engaging in the Bodhisattva path.

Technical Notes

These commentaries focus on practical applications, not on developing a scholarly work. Thus, technical details have been kept to a minimum. Tibetan proper names have been written in simplified phonetics to assist the reader.
When Sanskrit words appear, they have been written without diacritical marks, but h's have been used where this helps pronunciation as in case of words such as bodhichitta and shunyata.
Italics are used for indicating root text verses, quotations, titles of cited texts, and some foreign words.
A glossary of terms and a bibliography are presented at the end of the book to assist the reader that desires further background information.

Return to the Index


All people wish for great happiness and joy, but for a number of reasons, many times we suffer from recurrent problems, pain, frustration and anguish. Even though we have many modern conveniences that make our lives temporarily easier, many of us often focus on the immediate pleasure, and are unaware of the cost and resultant suffering of what we imagined would bring us happiness. For example, when buying a new house one usually experiences joy upon the initial purchase. But soon this joy can turn to anxiety about the mortgage payments, burglaries and costly repairs. This example illustrates the truth about most objects of enjoyment in our lives. It is common that an object cultivated for happiness instead turns into suffering and problems.
To obtain true happiness, we actually need to destroy the cause of suffering. Two thousand five hundred years ago Shakyamuni Buddha set forth methods for guiding people to find true peace and establish a state of complete freedom. Based on compassion and wisdom, the idea behind those methods works to benefit both the people practicing, and others who come into contact with them.
The meditations and practices described in the commentaries on Eight Verses of Thought Training and The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices, that Venerable Geshe Gyeltsen so generously provides, describe the two main actions (collecting merit and purifying negativities that we must do to achieve lasting peace and happiness).
The Eight Verses of Thought Training are very simple but quite profound. They emphasize day-to- day activities which form a focus for bringing about positive thought transformation. Some of the topics in the Eight Verses include: Seeking Enlightenment to Benefit Others and Holding Others as Dear, Seeing Others as Supreme, Preventing Delusions, Holding Difficult People as Dear, Accepting Defeat, and Regarding those that Harm Us as a Teacher.
The second commentary, The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices, describes the actual practices of a person (a Bodhisattva) who is on the path to Great Enlightenment. By emulating their activities, negativities become purified and merit is accumulated. We then become more like a Bodhisattva and eventually become a Bodhisattva.
These texts can be put into practice today. With continuous study and application of what we learn, unrewarding selfish ways of existence are replaced with enlightened thoughts, speech and actions based on compassion and love for others. The result of these practices is a real benefit to ourselves as well as for others.
The beneficial results of the practice will not necessarily be readily visible, but like water dripping on a rock, these positive actions will make their mark of increased peace and tranquillity.
We thank Venerable Geshe Gyeltsen for presenting these commentaries in a very practical way. Through his own example, he is enabling us to achieve lasting happiness for ourselves and others.
With the wish that all readers of this book derive as much benefit from these commentaries as we have.

Students of Thubten Dhargye Ling

Return to the Index


There are two main things one must do to become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. These are to purify all our negativities and to collect the necessary merit. To do this first we have to cultivate relative bodhichitta and absolute bodhichitta. Relative bodhichitta is the aspiration to attain Great Enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. Absolute bodhichitta is the experiential realization that all phenomena are void of inherent self-existence. These two types of bodhichitta unlock the door to the Mahayana path.
In order to obtain these two types of bodhichitta, one needs the proper teaching. The purpose of this book is to guide students in first developing bodhichitta and then achieving Great Enlightenment.
The commentary on the Eight Verses of Thought Training explains the methods for developing the two bodhichittas. After one has properly achieved bodhichitta, one needs to engage in the actions of the Bodhisattvas. Therefore, the second commentary, The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices, focuses on how to become a Bodhisattva by practicing the thirty-seven verses set forth in the text.
After repeated requests from my students, I gave commentary on these most precious root texts in 1988. I am grateful to Lobsang Gyaltsan, a very qualified translator, for his ability to translate my teaching of these texts from Tibetan into English.
After doing retreats, students who attended requested that the teachings be made available for study. I felt that these teachings would not only benefit the students from the course but would benefit anyone sincerely interested in studying Dharma.
I encourage all serious students to read these commentaries slowly. Think about what is being taught and then genuinely take the time to contemplate on the meaning. Then meditate, so the true meaning of the words becomes experiential for you. In addition, check with your own teacher to receive additional explanation on these subjects. This will enable you to internalize the meaning of both texts.
Whoever wants to completely help other sentient beings without discrimination must attain Buddhahood. In order to attain Buddhahood, one must complete all the action of the Bodhisattvas. In order to do this, one must become a Bodhisattva. To become a Bodhisattva, one has to have bodhichitta. So, the practices that develop bodhichitta are the keys that unlock the doors for entering the Bodhisattva Path and the achievement of all subsequent results. The two bodhichittas are the keys for both the sutra path and the tantra paths. Thus, this book is aptly entitled Keys to Great Enlightenment.
Whoever wishes to go into the mansion house of the Mahayana, Sutra and Tantra, will need to receive the keys of bodhichitta and the Bodhisattva deeds. May you swiftly achieve both of these for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen
Thubten Dhargye Ling
Los Angeles
May 1989

Return to the Index

Preparation for Practice

Motivation for Studying Dharma
In order to achieve happiness for ourselves as well as for all other beings, we need to practice Dharma. And in order to have a sound practice, we need to understand what we have to practice. The practice of Dharma is relevant both to our personal conduct and to our relationships with other sentient beings. Therefore, the practice of Dharma becomes a very important activity in our life.

The initial step for starting a Dharma action is to develop a proper motivation. This produces a proper session. To substantiate this, we can quote the great Lama Tsong Khapa who said that if our mind is kind or noble, then so will be our path and the teachings. The kind of Mahayana thought we need to correctly generate is a sincere wish to attain Great Enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings. The topic of discussion is, of course, a Mahayana teaching, so our effort should be to make ourself a Mahayana being, as well.

Our topic is the quintessence of the eighty-four thousand teachings of the Buddha. It is the system of the supreme vehicle (yana), which helps the fortunate practitioner on his way towards Enlightenment. It is one of the most supreme paths, highly admired by the great beings like Maitreya, Manjushri, and a great many other Bodhisattvas. It was introduced by great trailblazers such as Arya Asanga and Nagarjuna and is the heart essence of the practices of the great Atisha and Lama Tsong Khapa. So, in short, it is the essence of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment or Lam Rim.

Return to the Index

Suffering and the Cause of Suffering

Just as we detest suffering, so do all other sentient beings. Since we detest suffering, it becomes our duty to eradicate our present suffering and also to prevent the suffering that might happen in our future lives. This becomes our personal duty.
If suffering could be eradicated by means of wealth alone, then rich people should be totally free from suffering. But that is not necessarily the case. In fact, we know that they may suffer as much or more than we do. To illustrate this point, Nagarjuna says in Letter To A Friend (Suhrillekha) that there are some nagas who have many heads. The more heads they have; the more suffering they endure. This example illustrates the fact that external wealth only causes more suffering. The more we have, the more suffering we are likely to face, and the more troubles we attract. In order to remove the suffering totally from our life or our being, we must remove its cause.
What is the cause of suffering? There are two causes: actions (karma) and delusions. When we talk about actions and delusions, we are referring to our own actions and our own delusions that need to be conquered. We cannot conquer somebody else's karma or delusions. Rather, we should conquer our own--that is within our means. To remove our suffering, we have to remove the delusions from our mind. But just saying mantras or prayers will not work. What we need to do is to sit down and meditate.

Return to the Index

The Method for Freedom from Suffering

We cannot eliminate our suffering by means of material objects because material objects do not have the power to eliminate it. We have to gain freedom from a different source. The means by which we can achieve total freedom from all suffering--from all our present and future suffering, as well as all the suffering of other sentient beings--is through Dharma practice, through meditation.

How do we meditate? This is a skill we need to learn. Vasubhandu advises us that, "One should keep very pure moral conduct and be very well-informed." So, as well as maintaining pure morality, we must become well- informed. We do this by receiving teachings from the Lamas and studying the texts which illuminate the subject matter. We need good information and good teachings because without them we cannot properly conduct our meditation. If we have not heard anything about a subject, we cannot understand its meaning. To emphasize this point, the great Sakya Pandita said, "One who is trying to meditate without proper learning is like an armless person trying to climb a rock." We need sound learning, and the way to obtain it is by thorough study.

Return to the Index

How to Extract the Essence of the Dharma Teachings

When we learn a new concept, we should not just stop there. Rather, once we have understood the meaning, we should think about it repeatedly until it becomes a part of our mind. Only then will our meditation be successful. So, we need to follow this procedure: First, gain understanding by listening and by studying; second, think repeatedly about what we have heard; and third, meditate single-pointedly on the concept. These are the three wisdoms: the wisdom of learning, the wisdom of thinking upon what we have understood, and the wisdom received from meditation. These come consecutively, and because studying and listening to the Dharma is the first step, it is the foundation for the other two and thus becomes very important for our personal life. Even if we have received a certain teaching once or twice, we should not be complacent about hearing it again. Instead, we should try to receive teaching on Dharma subjects as many times as possible and then meditate on them. I know some monks who take teachings on certain texts as many as 20 or 30 times and, even then, would like to receive more teachings. So, the more times we hear teachings, the better it is for our understanding. Many lames say that if you attend teachings frequently, even on the same subject, you may not hear anything new, but you will understand something new.

We need to remember that every time we attend a teaching we may gain new understanding even if we are already familiar with the subject. That is a gift from our teachers. Their advice is filled with blessings. Any time we hear a teaching, we can learn some new way to understand it, to adapt it and make it a part of our life, and to bridge the distance between the teachings and our mind. We should not listen to the teaching as a separate entity. Instead, we should try to blend the teaching and its message with our mind. Let them blend into each other; let them go together--that should be our goal. If our mind and the teaching go in two different directions, then even though the teaching may be extremely inspirational or blessed, we will not receive any lasting benefit.

Return to the Index

Regarding the Teachings as a Mirror

We should regard the teaching as a mirror in which we check our actions. Whenever we study or look deeply into Dharma, we should be able to see clearly the reflection of our improper behavior and improper thought.

When we view our bad behavior in the mirror of the Dharma, we should not get upset. We should remember that our purpose in studying Dharma is to expose and uproot our delusions. Still sometimes, when we attend a teaching, we may regard some part of it as a harsh criticism of our lives or as a view we do not agree with. We may even get upset, but that is not the way it should be. There is a Tibetan proverb which illustrates this point, and I would like to share it with you. During one discourse, the lama advised a group of students not to kill lice. But one student was very fond of killing lice, so he did not like that teaching. In fact, it upset him very much. That night, when he returned to his home, he was still upset. So, he got hold of a louse and he said, "Now bring your Lama here to protect you!" The point is that the student lacked the ability to use the mirror of the Dharma to check his actions. Upon hearing the teachings, he should have been able to acknowledge his own mistakes and resolved to learn how to stop himself from killing in the future. He should have been able to make a strong determination not to kill.

Let's remember that whenever we hear or study Dharma, we should make note of the things we should learn, as well as the ways we can implement them. The important thing is to use the Dharma like a mirror. Just as we look in the mirror in the morning for any sign of a black spot on our face, we can use the mirror of the Dharma to find the black spots in our minds or actions. Once we find the black spots, we can remove them. For that reason, we compare the Dharma to the mirror.

The key point is to have the correct motivation when we listen to a teaching or study Dharma. Once we adopt the correct motivation, listening and study will be easy. Please keep the proper motivation in your mind at all times.

Return to the Index

The Qualities of Those Attending a Teaching

We need to discuss the attitude with which we should attend the teachings. The Lam Rim teachings discuss the qualifications of the master as well as the students.

The Qualifications of the Master

The teacher should not only have an intellectual grasp of the subject, but, more importantly, he should also be practicing the teaching in his own life. The teacher should have the following ten qualities
(1) Well-composed behavior
(2)a peaceful mind due to single-pointed concentration
(3) a peaceful mind due to discriminating wisdom
(4) excellent knowledge
(5) enthusiasm
(6) complete training in the scriptures
(7) understanding of shunyata
(8) skill in presenting the Dharma
(9) compassion for the students
(10) sustained patience.

The Qualifications of the Listener

We have already discussed the motivation with which we should attend the teachings. We need to have a proper attitude. The three elements of the correct attitude are proper motivation, attentiveness, and the ability to retain whatever we have received.

In addition, we should approach the teachings as well as our daily life and daily practice, with the six intentions discussed in the Lam Rim Chenmo. These six intentions are as follows:

1) To regard ourselves as being seriously ill with an illness from many delusions;

2) To seek a good doctor who can cure us of our illness our delusions;

3) To regard the teachings as a pill or medication--to recognize that even though we may have found a skillful doctor, we can be cured only by the medication--the teaching itself is the true antidote for our illness;

4) To hold Dharma in high esteem, just as the patient would value the medication he takes;

5) To regard ourselves as chronic patients who must continue the medication program in order to be cured, to persist and be consistent in our daily practice, and to always revere the teachings and the teachers;

6) To be determined to stay on course in our Dharma practice, to decide every single morning to maintain our practice according to the teachings we have receive.


Return to the Index

Graduated Path to Enlightenment and Levels of Attainment

The Lam Rim first teaches us about the human rebirth: how it is very valuable with its freedoms and endowments, as well as how it is difficult to obtain and easy to lose. It also teaches us about impermanence and death. Following this comes the teachings on the law of cause and effect or karma, on the suffering of the three lower realms, on taking refuge, and so on.
How can we achieve the maximum meaning in this life? We need to look for some activity or action that makes it have maximum meaning. It is that meaningful action that we are discussing here. The essence we can extract out of this life is divided into three levels of attainment; initial, medium, and highest.

Return to the Index

Initial Attainment

The result of having the initial attainment as our goal is that we are assured of being reborn in one of the three fortunate realms of happiness either the deva (celestial-god) realm, the asura (demigod) realm or in the human being realm. The means by which we achieve this initial attainment is through Dharma works or practices. The kind of Dharma practice that enables us to achieve that result is to abstain from the ten non-virtuous activities and to engage in the excellent moral conduct of the ten virtuous deeds. Cultivation of morality should not be for a day or two, or a month or so, but it should be very persistent and continue for the whole month, the whole year, and even for the span of a lifetime. We should be able to keep lifelong morality.

Additionally, this morality has to be supported by the six paramitas. If we can create within ourselves the qualities to become a very good person, then we will have received at least a minimal benefit out of this human rebirth through such means. Not only should it be supported by the six paramitas, but it should be well-connected with pure prayer or pure dedication. When we talk about dedication, we do not mean a single dedication for the entire life; we mean that every prayer or session, whether an hour long or only a few minutes should conclude with a prayer of dedication. In order for us to attain this level of achievement, we need to cultivate the properties of a very good person, with proper character.

This attainment is achieved through realization of key topics set forth in the Graduated Path to Enlightenment (Lam Rim). These topics include (1) Guru Devotion, (2) Precious Human Rebirth and the Difficulty of Obtaining It, (3) Death and Impermanence, (4) Certainty of Death, (5) Uncertainty of the Time of Death, (6) What Actually Helps at the Time of Death, (7) Types of Rebirths, (8) Refuge, (9) Karma or the Law of Cause and Effect, (10) Ten Types of Karmic Actions, (11) Suffering of Being in Samsara, and (12) Dissatisfaction of Samsara.

Return to the Index

Guru Devotion

In Lam Rim, we introduce the Dharma teachings by discussing how to properly cultivate a spiritual master. The section on Guru Devotion covers three topics: The benefit of cultivating a guru; the loss or disadvantage of not cultivating a guru; and the negative consequences if we antagonize the guru- disciple relationship.

The main idea is that we should regard our guru as a real Buddha and try to have immense respect for him. This attitude is extremely beneficial for our spiritual development, so we should always remind ourselves of the kindness of our guru. Daily, we need to fortify ourselves with the good wish: "Not only in this life, but in all my future lives, may I always be in contact with these great Mahayana spiritual masters like the one that I have at this moment."

Return to the Index

Precious Human Rebirth

The next topic presented in the Lam Rim is the Precious Human Rebirth with its freedoms and richness. Again, I would like to quote the great Lama Tsong Khapa, who says that our present human rebirth with its freedoms and endowments is far more valuable than a wish-granting gem. This human rebirth is extremely rare to find, and it can be enormously meaningful and helpful for us. It has great potential. But if we allow it to go by without meaningfully living our lives, then we will not gain any meaningful results and may even have regrets. This human rebirth is adorned with the eight freedoms and ten endowments if we were to lose it without having achieved anything meaningful out of this life, then certainly this would be a great loss.

How can we keep this life from becoming empty and not achieving any meaning? We need to look for some activity or action that makes it meaningful. It is that meaningful action-Dharma work and action-that we are discussing here. The essence we can extract out of this life is divided into three levels of achievement: initial, medium, and highest. If we want to achieve the minimal benefit of this human rebirth, we should at least try to avoid a rebirth in the lower realms or the hell realms or make an effort to liberate ourselves from any chance of falling into any of those lower realms. That is the least we can do with this human rebirth. But just the assurance of not falling into any of the lower realms is not good enough. We have to look further into permanently closing the door to the lower realms and assuring ourselves a rebirth in high status with happiness and prosperity.

Return to the Index

Death and Impermanence

We also need to deliberate on our own death and on impermanence. This is important because if we fail to reflect on death, then we will indulge in negative actions without thinking.

On the other hand, if we do realize the inevitability of death, we see that many things are not as important as we once thought, and we learn to set priorities. This helps us to follow the paths that are explained in the teachings.

Return to the Index

Certainty of Death

After we understand the benefits of thinking about death, we need to contemplate death itself and to convince ourselves of the certainty of our own death. Intellectually, we know that we are going to die, but we still try not to think about it. We do need to think about it and to realize that we will die.

Return to the Index

Uncertainty of the Time of Death

Uncertainty of the Time of Death
We also need to convince ourselves that we never know when we will die, that the time of our death is uncertain. Even though I wake up this morning as a human being, I can never be sure that I will not die by the evening and be reborn as an animal in a place where there is no water, food, or other necessities of life. This fills my whole being with fear and terror. Do I have any assurance that this will not happen to me? We need to think about that. Many of the older students have heard this several times before, and the new ones may not have heard it yet. We must repeatedly think about the uncertainty of the time of our death as the beginning of our Dharma practice.

Return to the Index

What Actually Helps at the Time of Death

What proves to be most valuable at the moment of death? We need to consider that. Does any of the wealth we have acquired give us any support at that moment? We need to consider that, too. Our parents and our friends are they of any help then? The fact is, at the moment of our death, others may share our concern and want to do everything they can to help us, but it is simply beyond them to help at that moment. We start the journey alone and in darkness.

The only friend that can help us at that time is our Dharma practice, if we have done any. Our proper Dharma practice proves to be our dearest and most unfailing friend. It is not the only thing to go with us because our negativities follow us, too. We have to realize that at the moment of death, nothing is of greater help than our Dharma practice. We need to make a firm determination to continue with a very sound Dharma practice.

Return to the Index

Types of Rebirths

We need to consider where we may go once we leave this life. There are only two possible destinations: either the lower realms of suffering or the higher realms of happiness. Of these two possibilities, we are most likely to go to the lower realms. The reason for this is that the cause for rebirth in the lower realms is our own negative thoughts and actions. We do not need to learn negative thoughts and actions from anyone else. We learn them automatically or instinctively, and as a result, we are closer to the lower realms. On the other hand, the cause of a rebirth in the higher realms is the practice of pure morality, patience, and so on. These practices require much effort and hard work from us right now. We need to think, "How would it be for us, if we were in one of those lower realms? Would we be able to tolerate the unbearable sufferings we would experience in those realms?" We also need to ask ourselves, "Can anybody help me out of that situation, or not? Is there anything that can give me refuge?"

Return to the Index


Definitely, there is a refuge. We can be helped by the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge in these three is very important. Many of us feel that if we have taken refuge once, it is sufficient, but that is not true. We should try to take refuge as often as possible. The more times each day we can go for refuge, the better. What distinguishes whether or not we are a Buddhist is determined by the presence of the proper refuge in our mind. If we want to be a true Buddhist, then we need to take proper refuge in a pure or proper manner each day. Moreover, taking refuge becomes the foundation for all of the higher Buddhist vows, including the Pratimoksha vows, the vows of monks and nuns (bhikshus and the bhikshunis), the Bodhisattva vows and the Tantric vows. If we want to receive any of these three higher vows, we must first take refuge to build the foundation. When we are to receive an initiation such as Avalokiteshvara, it also begins with taking refuge. Again, refuge is the foundation, and we build the initiation upon it. Therefore, taking refuge is very important for all of us.
What are the objects of refuge? There are three: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The primary refuge is the entire community of Buddhas. The Buddha refuge also includes all of our teachers who teach us the unmistaken path and its stages.
The Dharma refuge has two aspects: the true Dharma refuge, which is the noble path and insights, and the actual freedom from all negativities. These qualities abide in the mind of the Buddhas. The second aspect is the relative Dharma refuge, which are the written scriptural texts and the written teachings of the Buddhas. It is very helpful if we treat the relative Dharma refuge, the texts, as the true Dharma refuge. We should have great respect for our Dharma books. We should not misuse them by leaving them on the bare ground or using them as a cushion to sit on. If we do any of those things, it shows a great disrespect toward the teachings and becomes a heavy negativity.

The Sangha refuge supreme community includes the Bodhisattvas, the Shravakas, the dakas or dakinis, and all the dharmapalas who have attained the Arya path or the transcendental path.

We need to understand that if we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha, they will not fail us. We need to understand the infallibility of that refuge. Not only are they capable of giving us refuge, but they are worthy of being our refuge. For instance, the Buddha is totally free from fear and can relieve others from fear as well. Moreover, he extends his great compassion equally to all beings. If one praises the Buddha and another insults him, the Buddha shows equal compassion to both, and he helps both, whether they benefit him or not. It does not matter. Unlike us, Buddha helps everybody equally. We need to realize that whither or not we receive help is actually up to ourselves. It is beyond any shadow of doubt that Buddha has the power to help us, but he can do so only if we take refuge in him.

Return to the Index

Karma or the Law of Cause and Effect

Taking refuge is not enough. We must also follow the instructions regarding which actions we should take and which actions we should avoid. If we do not, even though we take refuge, we will not achieve nirvana or liberation. We need to realize how important the law of karma (cause and effect) is, and that it is the root of all happiness and prosperity. Once we have strong faith in and respect for the law of cause and effect, once we realize that good action brings happiness and negative action brings suffering we can learn to refrain from negative actions and practice only good.

There is much discussion about karma in the Lam Rim Chenmo, but the important thing we need to remember is that the results of every action are certain. Whatever karma we have created bears similar results. This does not mean that every karma has to bear a result, for there are modifying conditions; we can spoil the seeds. For instance, although we may commit a negative action, we can confess to purify that action and make that seed impotent. Thus, it is said that there is no negative action that cannot be cleansed with the four antidotes or four opponent powers of purification.

We must also realize that any action we have committed, whether virtuous or non-virtuous, will keep on multiplying and compounding day after day. Once we realize this, we can learn to purify every negativity we have committed on that day. We simply cannot afford to let it continue because if we do, even a minute negative action can become huge after some time. We fall into the depth of the negativities if we let a single small one go by. Moreover, we need to recognize that if we haven't committed a particular action whether a virtuous or non-virtuous one, we will not receive the result or face the consequences. To experience the result, we must commit the action ourselves. For instance, the karma created by Tashi would not bear fruit on Ngodrup, nor would the karma created by Ngodrup bear its results on Tashi. Tashi and Ngodrup are two different people.

Return to the Index

Ten Types of Karmic Actions

How many types of karma are there? To summarize them, there are ten types. We can refer to the ten white paths of action and the ten black paths of action. The ten negative paths or the black karmas include three negative actions of the body: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct; four negative actions of speech: lying, slandering, harsh talk, and idle gossip; and three negative actions of the mind: covetousness, ill-will and false views. If we have done any of these ten, we should feel a very strong remorse or regret for our actions. Also, we should try to refrain from committing such actions in the future. The ten white paths of virtue are the opposites of the ten non-virtuous actions.

Return to the Index

Suffering of Being in Samsara

After we have some insight into karma, we need to think about the general suffering of being in samsara. This general disadvantage of being in the vicious cycle of samsara is the uncertainty of our status. We may have a tendency to think that our enemies will always be our enemies and our friends will always be our friends. But this is not so, enemies can easily change into friends and friends into enemies. In what way does our understanding of uncertainty as a general characteristic of samsara help us? Usually we create a lot of unnecessary karma because we have a fixed idea of enemy as enemy and friend as friend. Because of that we keep on committing negative karma, but once we realize the uncertainty of our status, we create less.

Return to the Index

Dissatisfaction of Samsara

The next topic is the unsatisfying nature of samsara. Any samsaric pleasure, no matter how much we indulge in it or how much we enjoy it, never truly satisfies us. There is no samsaric pleasure about which we can say, "I haven't experienced that." We have been cycling in samsara since beginning less time. We have been everywhere and have enjoyed every single samsaric happiness. But do we have anything to show for it right now? No. The pleasures are gone.

We also need to think about how being in samsara requires us to lose our body repeatedly. Every time we lose our bodies and our lives, we experience tremendous trauma not only for ourselves but also for our friends, relatives, and everybody who surrounds us during that life. It is the most traumatic experience we go through in our personal life, and we go through this not once, but repeatedly. Why do we repeatedly have to give up the form we have taken for a particular life? Why are we reborn again and trapped again in the vicious cycle of rebirth? Delusion and karma are the causes of samsara, and they are very much present at this moment. Thus, to stop the cycle of repeated rebirth, we must get rid of delusion and karma.

Another negative attribute of being in the chain of samsara is the fluctuation of our status. At times we are at the top of cyclic existence and at others we are on the bottom. For instance, one who enjoys the highest life as a human being, such as a king, may after death take rebirth on the glowing iron surface of hell and become indistinguishable from the heat which consumes the body itself becoming one of the lowest beings imaginable on the surface of hell. Such fluctuations happen in samsara. Anyone, including professors, actors, singers, and the like, who enjoy a huge number of fans and admirers may fall into the lower realms and undergo excruciating pain and suffering alone. For that reason, the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, wrote in one of his poems for Avalokiteshvara that all the higher ones soon become slaves who are walked upon by everybody. He also wrote that the beautiful physique of the peasant is like flower of autumn: it soon vanishes. All of our riches are like borrowed ornaments that we may enjoy for a brief moment but then must return. What we need to learn from these messages is that all samsaric things lack meaning or essence. It is best to take this kind of advice very personally, as if given to us alone by the author. If we can receive every teaching in that way, at that level, it works very effectively.
In addition, one of the demerits of samsara is being alone without friends. We might not think this is true. We tend to think, "I have lots of friends my parents, my relatives and so on, I have many friends." However, if you think seriously, that is not really so. When we speak of being alone and friendless in samsara, we do not mean throughout one's life. Rather, we are specifically referring to life's two crucial moments: at birth and at death. These are the two hardest times of our existence, and we must go through them alone without the benefit of friends. This is what is meant by the unfriendliness of samsara. Therefore, we should seek out a real friend who can aid and accompany us at that critical moment. That friend is our Dharma practice, and we should cultivate that friendship from now on.

Return to the Index

Review of the Lam Rim Topics (For Initial Attainment)

We started by discussing guru devotion, then went on to the cultivation of the spiritual master, and the disadvantages of being in the vicious cycle of samsara. If we have the realization of the freedom and preciousness of this human rebirth, if we understand the difficulty of obtaining such a rebirth, and, more importantly, if we have the realization of impermanence and death, we can reduce our total preoccupation with the pleasures of this life. If we do not, then we can never find the time for Dharma practice because we will always have something else to do. So, it is very important for us to work towards becoming less preoccupied with seeking happiness for this life only.

We have also discussed the infallibility of the law of cause and effect, the law of karma, as well as the general and specific suffering of cyclic existence or samsara. Thinking properly on these topics can also help us reduce our preoccupation with this life and enable us to achieve a better rebirth. The realization of death helps us to have a very strong desire to renounce samsara. It makes us unwilling to take rebirth within samsara under the influence of karma and delusion, and once we have escaped samsara, we can return out of compassion and love for sentient beings. This can happen as a Bodhisattva.

Return to the Index

Medium Attainment

If we wish to achieve medium attainment during this human rebirth, which is liberation from samsara (cyclic existence), we need to cultivate and realize the meaning of the following Lam Rim meditations; namely, strong renunciation of samsara and realization of shunyata.

First, we need to develop a strong renunciation or a strong urge to break free from the samsara. We can develop such an urge to break free from samsara by changing our attitude towards cyclic existence (samsara) itself, so that we perceive it as a glowing iron surface or as a hot ember. The cyclic existence which we are discussing does not require us to look or travel to a distant place or even out of our neighborhood, but rather it is in our every action through which we produce more causes for us to be bound to this ember-like samsara. We produce more and more causes each and every day, don't we? This cyclic existence is analogous to a hot iron surface, but we fail to perceive it in that way. As it says in the Lama Chopa, we see cyclic existence as a very beautiful park. In the Lama Rhoda, it is wished that we become able to sever this attitude- towards samsara. The reason we have this misconception is because we have almost become insane. For those who are mentally insane or incapacitated, it is immensely difficult for them to see even the worst prison as a prison. Under the very strong influence of the three poisonous delusions, hatred, attachment, and ignorance. We fail to see cyclic existence as a most dreadful place; instead we see it as something very desirable. What we need to understand is that cyclic existence is very unpleasant to live in. A right conception or right perception of cyclic existence helps develop the urge to remove ourselves from it. For instance, we would not want to live in a dangerous place surrounded by fear for even a single moment. We would want to try and get out of it as soon as we can.

We need to contemplate these concepts because they don't come easily to our mind. With continuous contemplation, we reach a point where we do not wish to stay in cyclic existence at all. When a very sincere, strong urge to be released from cyclic existence comes to our mind, that is the point at which we have developed a very strong renunciation. We have a strong wish to get out of cyclic existence, but the wish alone does not deliver us. The final deliverance final deliverance from cyclic existence can only be achieved with insight into emptiness.

The wisdom of shunyata can sever the very root of cyclic existence. We need to understand that without the help of the wisdom that understands shunyata, even if we spend our entire life in meditation, we cannot break ourselves free from cyclic existence. There is no way out without the help of the wisdom of shunyata. It is the key tool or key weapon with that we can cut the very root of ignorance, and thus cut the root of hatred and attachment which stems from ignorance. Initially we need to develop renunciation and then work towards the development of insight into the wisdom of shunyata.
We can break free from samsara with the help of the wisdom of shunyata. Whenever we develop direct non-conceptual understanding or insight into shunyata, from then on we do not create any new causes to be reborn into cyclic existence. And in addition to that, all the karmas that we might have accumulated in the countless number of lives prior to that moment can be effectively eliminated with the help of the newly-discovered insight. To substantiate this, I will quote from Arya Deva's Four Hundred Stanzas of Madhyamika (Catuhshatatika) where he says, "Even a doubt about inherent existence which inclines towards the right conclusion, that alone will tear samsara into pieces." Whenever we successfully put an end to delusive obscurations and successfully obtain the liberation for ourselves, then at that moment we have achieved the medium essence of this human birth. Once we are out of samsara, then there is no relapse. We cannot be reborn in samsara. We gain a permanent freedom from cyclic existence, and we are not subject to suffering from then on.

Return to the Index

Highest Attainment

If we wish to achieve the highest level of attainment during this human rebirth, which is the state of Great Enlightenment, we need to realize the meaning of the following Lam Rim meditations: Great Compassion, by either of the two special methods; Engaging in the Bodhisattva activities; and Completing the Five Paths and the Ten Bodhisattva Stages (Bhumis).

We still have some obstacles that need to be overcome, and there is more to be obtained. What we need to do to enable us to overcome all the obstacles and achieve the final attainment or achievements is to enter into the Mahayana path. As we enter the Mahayana path, the first step is the development of Great Compassion (mahakaruna). There are methods or steps that we can follow to help us develop this great compassion. If we follow the supreme method set forth by the great Shantideva, we try to cultivate Great Compassion by the profound method of exchange of oneself with others.

If we follow the steps or traditions set forth by the great Maitreya and Arya Asanga, then we need to develop the following seven steps: (1) recognizing all sentient beings as our mother, (2) recollection of their kindness, (3) an attitude to repay their kindness, and (4) cultivating Great Love towards all. Contemplation on Great Love produces (5) Great Compassion as its result. It comes quite rapidly and arises in our mind. When we have developed this Great Compassion, we become a member of the Mahayana family. It is almost like a passport. Further development and familiarization with great compassion produces (6) the Exceptional Thought. This is an Exceptional Thought in the sense that it is much more forceful due to the strength of our compassion. Our mind has become more forceful and much stronger. A result of the Exceptional Thought is (7) the precious bodhichitta.

The difference between Exceptional Thought and Great Compassion is that with Great Compassion we have a very strong wish or desire that all sentient beings be free from suffering, but we do not have the exceptional sense of personal responsibility that says, "I will look for the means to make them free from suffering." At the Exceptional Thought stage, we accept that personal responsibility. As a result, if we have managed to cultivate the bodhichitta, then we have truly become a Bodhisattva.

The level of attainment that we aspire determines the resultant attainment which we achieve. Maximum attainment should be our goal because it enables us to truly have the means to be of greatest benefit to others and also to fulfill our highest personal goals.

Achieving the Highest Attainment during this lifetime is not something that is beyond our means. However, this task requires us to cultivate the proper outlook and to engage in activities that achieve this result. The following two texts help us to do this. The Eight Verses of Thought Training explains clearly how to develop the mind needed to achieve the Highest Attainment, i.e. the two bodhichittas, and The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices explains the activities we must do in order to be a Bodhisattva.

Return to the Index

Outline of the Root Verses

Eight Verses of Thought Training

(The commentary by Geshe Gyeltsen will not be provided here. Keys to Great Enlightenment is available through Snow Lion Publications.)

The topics covered by this chapter are:

1. Seeking Enlightenment to Benefit Others and Holding Others as Dear
2. Seeing Others as Supreme
3. Preventing Delusions
4. Holding Difficult People as Dear
5. Accepting Defeat
6. Regarding those who Harm Us as a Teacher
7. Exchange Self with Others
8. Seeing All Phenomena as Illusion

Return to the Index

The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices

(The commentary by Geshe Gyeltsen will not be provided here. Keys to Great Enlightenment is available through Snow Lion Publications.)

The topics covered by this chapter are:

Supplication and Promise by the Author
1. Enthusiastic Perseverance
2. Abandoning the Birthplace
3. To be Free from Distractions
4. Preoccupation with this Life
5. Avoiding Evil People
6. Treasuring the Spiritual Master
7. Taking Refuge
8. Refraining from Negative Deeds
9. Desiring Liberation
10. Generating Bodhichitta
11. Exchanging Self with Others
12. Dedicating Body, Wealth and Virtues
13. Accepting the Negativities of Others
14. Returning Praise for Insult
15. Seeing Enemies as Spiritual Teachers
16. Giving Unconditional Love
17. Remaining Humble when Criticized
18. Taking on the Suffering of Others
19. Avoiding Arrogance
20. Eliminating the Enemy Within
21. Abandoning Sensory Indulgences
22. Dispelling Belief in Inherent Existence
23. Seeing Attractive Objects as Rainbow-Like
24. Seeing Undesirable Things as Illusory
25. Perfecting Generosity
26. Perfecting Morality
27. Perfecting Patience
28. Perfecting Enthusiastic Perseverance
29. Perfecting Concentration
30. Perfecting Wisdom
31. Getting Rid of Faults
32. Avoiding Bringing Up Other Faults
33. Abandoning Attachment to Households
34. Not Returning Harsh Words
35. Eliminating Bad Habits
36. Being alert
37. Dedicating All Merit
Dedication by the author.

Return to the Index

Tong-Len Practice

Five Categories of Tong-Len
1. Equality of Oneself and Others
The first topic to contemplate is that we are all equal. When we say we are equal, we do not mean we all have the same appearance, size, or build. As explained in the Guru Puja (Lama Chopa), all sentient beings are equal in that we all dislike even the smallest suffering, and we have an insatiable desire for happiness. The more happiness we have, the more we want. Realizing this, we should have the same concern and cherishing for others that we have for ourselves.

When we start to practice this, we can first start with our spouse, our friend, or with whomever we live. If we are able to equalize our concern for these beings with the concern we have for ourselves, then we can gradually expand the boundary to our neighbor, then the neighbors after that, and so on.

2. Disadvantages of Self-cherishing
The second topic is the disadvantages of selfishness. We need to come to the realization that all the suffering and all the things that we do not like stem from selfishness or self-cherishing. For that reason, the Guru Puja likens self-cherishing to a chronic illness. In fact, it is far worse than the most contagious disease because it serves as the cause of all undesired suffering and illness in our life. Whenever we experience suffering in the form of illness or negative situation, we should confront our own self-cherishing and say to ourselves, "You are responsible for all this suffering." Every single day we have to point the finger at our own self-cherishing and accept that it is responsible for all our suffering.
The grasping of ego or self-cherishing becomes one of the biggest monsters, or the evil spirit. We need to realize that it is our worst enemy, and it lives within us. So, for that reason we need to work and look for the means that will remove or bring this enemy under control.

It says in Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara that all the suffering and the bad predicaments in this world are the result of self-cherishing or being concerned only for the happiness of ourselves or regarding ourselves as more precious than others. Conversely, Shantideva states in the last two lines, that all the existing happiness in this world is the result of caring for or cherishing others. He says of the grasping of the ego, "What use is that monster in me?"

3. The Benefits of Cherishing Others
"All happiness is the result of cherishing others," said Shantideva. Similarly, in his Lama Chopa, Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyeltsen says, "The thought of cherishing others and wanting to lead them to happiness is the source of limitless realizations and great qualities." Therefore, even if the entire community of sentient beings arises as my enemy, in return may I be able to cherish every one of them in my own life. Similarly, verse six says, "When one whom I have benefited with great hope undeservedly hurts me very badly, may I view him as my supreme lama."

In the Seven Point Thought Training, Geshe Chekawa says to contemplate the kindness of all sentient beings and to remain grateful to them. Furthermore, Shantideva says, "I do not need to talk more about the benefits of cherishing others because you can just understand by comparing how much Buddhas gain with how little we have achieved."

Shakyamuni Buddha started out equal to all sentient beings, but because he had the capacity to care for others and developed bodhichitta, he achieved Great Enlightenment. Because we have not developed our capacities as Buddha did, we still remain sentient beings unable to advance. In Lama Chopa it says "Ordinary sentient beings work only for themselves, whereas Buddhas work for others." By understanding this example, we can gain the motivation to learn to exchange ourselves with others. The difference between the Lama Chopa and the Bodhicharyavatara are just the words used; the basic message is the same. If we keep studying the different texts it is extremely helpful because it gives us different ways of looking at things and helps us expand our understanding.

4. Exchange
The fourth topic is the actual exchange of the self with others. What we must do here is replace our previous self-cherishing thoughts with thoughts of cherishing others and ignore our own selfish concerns. Here is an illustration: If there are two mountains and we are on one of them, that one becomes our side, the second mountain becomes the other side. But if we are on the second mountain looking at the first mountain, that one becomes the other side. So, we have to change our point of reference regarding who we cherish most. In this manner we need to replace our self-cherishing thoughts with thoughts of cherishing others.

5. Giving and Receiving Meditation
The fifth topic is Giving and Receiving Meditation (Tong-Len) which is the actual meditation about the act of giving and receiving. The four preceding topics form the firm foundation for the Tong-Len meditation practice.

Return to the Index

Actual Meditation

Visualize the Field of Merit
When we have attained the proper body position, we visualize the field of merit. There are several types of merit field visualizations from the Lam Rim that we can do. Two are listed below: The first is a more extensive visualization for advanced students. Whereas the second visualization is abbreviated for beginning students or for advanced practitioners with limited time.

Extensive Visualization
We visualize at eye level, in the space in front of us, the Merit Field (Tsog Shing). In the center we visualize a huge throne on top of which is a smaller throne and higher up in the center is our root guru and other gurus around him. We should visualize Shakyamuni Buddha as the principal figure of the merit field. To the right of Shakyamuni Buddha, we visualize Maitreya surrounded by the lamas of the expansive conduct lineage, i.e., the lamas of the paths and stages. On the left of Shakyamuni Buddha, we visualize Manjushri and gurus of the profound wisdom lineage. At the center, right behind and above him, we visualize the lineage gurus of blessed practices. In front of Shakyamuni Buddha, we visualize the root guru with all of the subsequent lineage gurus down to our present guru. They are all encircled by the meditational deities of the four classes of tantra.

Since there are countless meditational deities (yidams), we have to believe that the entire community of meditational deities are on that spot. We also need to visualize the presence of all of the 1000 Buddhas of the fortunate era, the eight medicine Buddhas, thirty-five confession Buddhas, and so forth. We have to feel the presence of all of the countless Buddhas in the space in front of us. Just below the Buddhas, we visualize the presence of the Bodhisattvas. We must be as imaginative as possible so that we feel the presence of limitless numbers of Bodhisattvas. Below them we visualize the presence of arhats and arya beings, and the Pratyeka Buddhas and Shravakas. Just below them, we visualize the presence of all the dakas and dakinis including all the dakas and dakinis who are beyond the world. The bottom row is encircled by all the dharmapalas, including those that are beyond the world such as six-armed Mahakala, Kalarupa, and so on. We have to believe very strongly that the presence of all these beings are like the constellation of stars in the sky.

Abbreviated Visualization
We visualize at eye level two arm lengths away Buddha seated on a large golden throne. The throne is adorned with precious jewels and supported at each of the four corners by a pair of snow lions. His seat consists of a large open lotus on top of which rest two radiant discs a white moon disc and a golden sun disc--rest one on top of the other. These three objects represent the three principal realizations of the path to Great Enlightenment: the lotus, renunciation or compassion; the sun, emptiness; and the moon, bodhicitta.

Buddha is seated in the full-lotus posture smiling beautifully at all beings. He is clad in saffron- colored robes and radiating golden light. The palm of his right hand rests on his right knee. His left hand holds a bowl filled with nectar resting in his lap. The nectar represents the teachings that cure our deluded states of mind.
Buddha's loving, compassionate gaze looks at each of us with total acceptance free from all judgment or favoritism. His whole being radiates love and omniscience streaming from his heart to ours. These rays fill us with courage and strength to successfully complete the practice of Giving and Receiving. It is important for us to keep in mind the inseparability of the Buddha and our guru.

Visualizing the Field of Sentient Beings
After we have visualized the object of refuge or merit field, we need to envision our own father on our right and our own mother on our left. Immediately behind us, visualize all our relatives, siblings, and good friends. Immediately in front of us we should visualize our worst enemies or those we simply don't like. In front of us we also visualize animals we fear such as snakes, birds, scorpions, etc. In short, we need to imagine very strongly the entire community of sentient beings in the six realms all around us. But we should visualize them all in the form of human beings who are experiencing internally the respective suffering of the particular realm they belong to, like the hell realm, etc. That is how we should imagine them--all undergoing the most unbearable suffering of their particular place but externally in the form of human beings. Just the sight of these beings should help produce a strong, forceful compassion inside of us. And in the center, we should make every strong forceful wish for the immediate end to their suffering. More than that, we need every strong wish to remove all the causes. We should think, "How wonderful it would be, if we could remove their delusions and bad actions. " By thinking more about this, we develop stronger compassion (removing suffering from all others) and loving kindness (giving happiness to all others).

Visualizing the Six Realms
The six realms are representations of our own mental afflictions and the resultant suffering. Each realm has its own level of suffering proportional to its causes. The first three realms are referred to as the lower realms and the last three, the upper realms. These realms are the result of our karma. The three lower realms are the result of bad karma. The three higher realms are the result of good karma. A brief description of the six realms and some specific causes are as follows:

1. Hell Realm
The most oppressive is the unbearable torture by heat. The suffering of the cold hell is intolerable freezing. In another section of the hell realm people hit each other with weapons and the body is severed into thousands of pieces. The general cause of entering into the hell realm is hatred and anger.

2. Hungry Ghost Realm
Hungry Ghosts undergo severe hunger and thirst. The root cause of their predicament is miserliness or selfishness.

3. Animal Realm
These beings suffer from sickness and death, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, in addition to the continuous fear of being devoured, and extreme stupidity. The primary cause of their malaise is due to ignorance.

4. Human Realm
The primary difficulties experienced in the human realm are birth illness, aging, and death. In addition, suffering is caused by fighting between nations, neighbors, and individuals. In some places, people experience hunger and lack of shelter. If we want to look deeper into the tremendous amount of suffering we only need to look at the newspaper, radio, or the television. All of the causes of human difficulties are attachment, anger, and ignorance.

5. Asura (demigod) Realm
The demigods, even though they are good looking and their existence is relatively trouble free, suffer severe anguish--fighting with each other and the Gods--attempting to reach the more bountiful God Realm. The cause of their troubles is a result of jealousy.

6. Deva (Celestial-God) Realm
The devas have a good life with everything they could ask for. Before they die, however, they receive a premonition of their death and their next place of birth. Also, the deterioration of the body is slow and painful. The root cause of their sorrow is attachment.

The more deeply we think about the individual suffering of the six realms and their causes, the stronger will be our compassion.

The Technique
We will broadly cover the technique of how to conduct our meditation of Tong-Len (Receiving and Giving). Of all the practices that we can do, this practice is one of the most important. If we can do this in our daily practice, it will prove to be an indispensable tool.
In the meditation on Tong-Len, we should concentrate on people who are oppressed with suffering, seriously ill, mentally disturbed, poor, downtrodden, social outcasts, or otherwise experiencing difficulties. Focus primarily on these people but also include all beings.

We need to visualize all the sentient beings surrounding us. We receive from them, their sufferings and negativities in the form of dark colored rays which ooze out of these beings and come towards us.

These rays represent three things: (1) their suffering, (2) the source of their sufferings--their karma and delusions, and (3) their illusions or their obscurations that block the understanding or direct insight of all phenomena. These three are all the problems sentient beings have, including their suffering, quarrels, dissatisfactions, and so on

We should visualize dark rays coming from every sentient being just as we see vapor coming from the damp ground on a hot day. We need to visualize the dark rays as suffering from the sentient beings of the six realms--from the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and devas. These rays collectively join together, gather strength, and build up energy like a small cloud. We visualize this potent, highly-concentrated black cloud in front of us. While we hold it there for a moment. At the center of our heart we visualize a black bubble representing our illnesses, suffering, negative karmas, delusions, and, most importantly, our self-cherishing. Inhaling this externally concentrated, smoke-colored black cloud through our nose, the dark mass drops on top of the visualized internal black bubble located inside our heart. These dissolve into each other to become completely destroyed and disappear. When we are through with this, we should have an immense sense of purification and relief. We should think that we have mentally purified all sentient beings and have placed them in a state of peace. We should now visualize a faultless society, where no one is in hospitals, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, and that true peace prevails.

Next, we send out white light rays representing the essence of our body, wealth, and merit. Emanating from our heart, it touches every sentient being, and transforms them according to their present need. So, those who desperately need medicine receive medicine; those who need clothes receive clothes-- whatever they need at that moment they receive. The white light, originating from the heart, is exhaled out through the nose, and saturates the entire space, instantaneously satisfying the needs of every sentient being. This is one way of visualizing Tong-Len, the practice of Receiving and Giving.

When we finish such a meditation, we should reflect on the fact that the meditator, the meditation, and the object of our meditation are all void of inherent existence.

Return to the Index

Back to: Notes & Transcripts

Back to: Thubten Shedrup Ling Front Page