Hello everyone. I am very happy to communicate with you through this One Mind Lecture Series, a platform for teachings in Chinese. For this first class, we have chosen “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. Some of you might recall a few months back, during the Spring teachings, when I mentioned I wanted to give a series of teachings in Chinese. Finally, I now have the opportunity and the time to officially start this lecture series. I remember the first time in my life that I was able to systematically deliver teachings in Chinese; it was on the Heart Sutra. That was a few years ago. Ever since then, I have not been able to schedule another public teaching in Chinese. The main reason is because I often feel that my Chinese is not good enough, especially when it comes to teaching a more systematic, academic or comprehensive discourse, I always feel that I lack the courage to undertake such a task.
Recently, I used about six months to try out teaching in Chinese on a small scale, sort of like an experiment. After the lessons ended, I felt the results were not bad. It gave me the chance to train and improve my Chinese, and I feel more confident giving teachings in Chinese now. This is how this series of teachings in Chinese came about. In addition, with the ongoing pandemic, it is hard for us to meet one another. I noticed that online classes are becoming a popular trend so I came up with this idea to conduct the teachings online. I would like to take this opportunity to systematically talk about some topics in Dharma, and to slowly share with everyone all that I have seen, heard and learned in Dharma.
Next, I would like to talk about why I have chosen to teach the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is, of the many people whom I have come into contact with, especially those who speak Chinese, there seems to be a lack of a holistic understanding of Tibetan Buddhism. They only have a basic understanding of it. This is because there are not a lot of courses that offer a very systematic explanation, going from easy to advanced study of Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, in Chinese. This is coupled with the fact that some of the philosophies in Buddhism are profound and not easy to understand. I find that many people lack this kind of comprehensive or step-by-step study of Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Some people just lack knowledge, but there are others who have misunderstood, or are not very accurate in their understanding.
I hope this course on the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment ” as part of the One Mind Lecture Series, will be a good opportunity for those who have never been exposed to Tibetan Buddhism and who are beginners to gain a good, solid foundation. For those of you who are more familiar with Tibetan Buddhism, I feel this is also a very good opportunity to engage in more systematic, comprehensive, step-by-step,sequential learning. So I hope you will all be able to calm your mind, and now in a gradually progressive way, let us explore together and let us learn together.
Although I did not receive much formal education, I studied a little bit of Chinese when I was young, but I did not learn it properly, so I am not very proficient. Of course, I can speak some Chinese, but I am also trying to improve it. I just want to take this opportunity to share with you some knowledge of Dharma, especially that which I think is of more use to everyone, content which might be lacking in the Chinese language or some basic knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism. I hope, through this course, everyone can build up a very complete and correct understanding of Dharma. I feel very fortunate and grateful to be able to do something for everyone in this way.
It is known among many that There are countless treatises, pith instructions, and doctrines in Tibetan Buddhism. Why then did we choose Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” specifically for this teaching? First of all, in my personal opinion, the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is one of the most representative works of Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand, it is because of its author, Lord Atisha. He was an Indian Pandita, a scholar and an eminent monk. He was the most influential Indian master and scholar in Tibetan Buddhism. For example, although Padmasambhava’s contribution to Tibetan Buddhism is also unsurpassable, he did not produce such a work as the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. Of course, Atisha wrote a lot of other books too, not just “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”, but this one is the most fundamental, core and complete of all his works..
On the other hand, the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is a book that has had a deep influence on Tibetan Buddhism as a whole. First of all, its author, Lord Atisha, was the founder of the Kadam tradition, which is one of the earliest lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, earlier than Kagyu, Sakya, Gelug and the other major sects. The “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”, from a very general point of view, is a book that came out before the formation of all the contemporary sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It is precisely for this reason that it is well-recognized, not only among the four major sects but all other sects, as a very authoritative work. For example, the writings of the Kagyu school might not be fully embraced by other schools, but “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is an all-encompassing work that is fully recognized and accepted by all the different schools in Tibetan Buddhism.
The founder of the Gelug sect, Tsongkhapa, in his book “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”, mentioned the importance of the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. He felt that, compared to Atisha’s other works, it was the more important work; that it was the most fundamental, distinguished and complete work. Tsongkhapa offered three reasons for his claim. The first reason, he said, is that the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” combines both teachings of Sutrayana and Tantrayana. Generally, many treatises espouse the teachings of Mahayana or Vajrayana and so forth, in a very targeted way. For example, the treatises of Mahayana will only touch upon Mahayana, Vajrayana only on Vajrayana but “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is not the same. It is not targeted at any particular school of Buddhism; not only does it cover the teachings of both Sutrayana and Tantrayana, it includes the doctrines from all three vehicles of Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.
A lot of people associate Tibetan Buddhism with Vajrayana or they think Tibetan Buddhism basically covers the contents of Tantra, or what they call Tantric practice. However, it is not quite so. Tibetan Buddhism is not just about practicing tantra, it is not just Vajrayana; actually, it includes all three vehicles of Buddhism. For example, in our shedras or monastic colleges of Tibetan Buddhism, students need to complete the systematic and complete study of the “Five Maitreya Texts”, which are based purely on the teachings of Mahayana, and have hardly any content on Vajrayana. Similarly, Mahayana also includes the teachings of Hinayana, such as the Abhidharma. Nevertheless, some people think that Tibetan Buddhism does not include Hinayana or that Tibetan Buddhists only practice secret tantras. This statement is incorrect. In fact, the shedras of Tibetan Buddhism require this kind of education system similar to that of the Five Maitreya Texts, which lays out the Buddhist philosophy in a systematic, complete and sequential way. Even within Buddhism, this is rare. So in order to study Tibetan Buddhism, one should definitely not just focus on learning Tantrayana or the teachings of Sutrayana, one has to study the teachings of all three Buddhist schools of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. We need to understand, study and practice all of them. This is the significance of Tibetan Buddhism.
Let us return to the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. It is a book that covers all the teachings of Hinayana and Mahayana, of the lesser and greater vehicle. Atisha himself felt that as a Buddhist practitioner, one has to learn all the three vehicles of Buddhism, including the lesser vehicle. As long as it is Dharma, a practitioner should study all the teachings, there is not one that does not need to be studied, or that should be discarded or abandoned. No. All should be studied and practiced. This is because all three complement one another; they have an interdependent relationship, and not one of the teachings can exist independently. It is not as if you can study Mahayana and ignore the Hinayana or other teachings. This is one of the reasons why Tsongkhapa felt that “Lamp for the Path of Enlightenment” is Atisha’s most fundamental and complete work.
The second reason for his high regard of the book is on taming the mind. Tsongkhapa claimed that the book is important because at the heart of its argument, or rather the main thrust of the book, is subduing one’s mind. That is to say, it aims at improving us, lifting our minds and the conditions of our mental state. In other words, “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is a book that is written on the basis and for the purpose of cultivating a tamed mind. We all know that some of the Buddhist discourses are very academic and theoretical. Their main contents do not tell us directly how to attain a calm-abiding mind or how to cultivate and tame the mind, but explain it ,in an academic way, which for us, can be difficult to understand or hard to apply in practice. However, even though “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is also a discourse, it adopts a more direct language telling us how to tame our minds. So, for those of us who are beginners, it is much easier to study, grasp and understand. It is also more practical and realistic. If it were a purely theoretical or academic book, it might not be very practical for many of us. It might be hard to apply it directly in our lives. So, “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is very suitable for us living in the modern age. It not only covers a wide range of topics, but is aimed at taming the mind. For us, the contents are easier to apply and practice.
The third reason for “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is the combination of the schools of the “Profound View” and “Vast Action”, or in other words, , the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) and Yogacara (Mind Only) schools. The book not only covers Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana , as I have mentioned before, but Atisha also combines the two main schools of thought within Mahayana. In addition, among Atisha’s teachers, there were some who specialized in Madhyamaka and some in Yogacara. Atisha included all the pith instructions he received from his teachers, both from Madhyamaka and Yogacara, in the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”. Therefore, the book is an all-encompassing and inclusive work. Two of the mainstream thoughts within Mahayana are also combined in this book. The contents are universal, rich, very complete and combine the key teachings of Hinayana and Mahayana. This is why it is such an outstanding book that stands out from the rest.
Those are the reasons why “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is Atisha’s most fundamental and complete work. Next, let us consider this book not just in comparison with the other works of Atisha but with all of the Buddhist discourses, and understand why it is so different from them. Tsongkhapa summed them up in four reasons in Lamrim. Let us now talk about these four reasons.
The first reason is its “distinctiveness in connecting all sacred teachings as non-violating”. What does this mean? “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” is especially important and distinguished compared to other Buddhist discourses. The first one, simply put, is that it enables us to understand and discern the relationship between all sacred teachings—that they are not contradictory, that they are not against one another. What do “sacred teachings” mean here? In fact, in the original Tibetan version, the word “sacred” does not appear, it simply means Buddhism or Dharma. “Sacred teachings” here mean the dharma teachings of Buddha. What do dharma teachings mean here? They refer to all the things to be known, to be given up, to be proven, to be practiced by those who wish to attain liberation, whether they are human beings, heavenly beings or any sentient beings. Dharma that is spoken accurately and exactly without mistakes, and without inversions. In other words, dharma that is spoken by the Buddha, this is “sacred teachings”. Next is “non-violating”. What does “non-violating” mean? In other words, it means a relationship that is not contradictory, not clashing, not going against each other and not in conflict. So what we mean here is that we should understand what the Buddha taught, whether it belongs to the lesser or greater vehicle. They all point to the ways by which we as human beings can attain liberation. Some of Buddha’s teachings are more basic and fundamental, they make up the core teachings. Whereas, some teachings are more supplementary, auxiliary or subsidiary. Regardless, if you want to become enlightened, you must learn all these methods and practice them.
Especially for bodhisattvas, what are their goals? Their goal or wish is to be able to help and benefit all sentient beings. In order to achieve this goal, they need to be able to handle the gotra of sentient beings, that is their different potentials for levels of attainment, whether they have the Bodhisattva potential or the Arahat potential. Of course, we are not talking about the different levels such as the caste system in India, but the levels in Dharma terms that pertain to one’s level of attainment and disposition. As bodhisattvas who want to liberate all sentient beings, they have to benefit all kinds of beings, not just Mahayana practitioners. As bodhisattvas, they have to be able to apply the antidote accordingly in order to meet the different needs and conditions of all sentient beings. Mahayana bodhisattvas not only need to liberate sentient beings who have Mahayana potential, they have to liberate beings with Hinayana potential too. Under such a premise, if you want to be a bodhisattva, you must understand all the teachings of the three vehicles. That is to say, knowing and understanding the teachings of the three vehicles is the crucial and important tool and means for bodhisattvas to realize their goal of liberating all sentient beings. We should not feel that since we are disciples of the greater vehicle, Mahayana practitioners, there is no need for us to study the classic texts of Hinayana,. Nor should we look down upon the teachings of the lesser vehicle. This is wrong. One of the reasons we sometimes have this idea of underestimating or belittling the lesser vehicle, is that we think that Mahayana and Hinayana are contrary to each other, or that the two are incompatible and in conflict with each other. This is what we mean when we say “all sacred teachings are non-violating”, the “non-violating” here means that between Mahayana and Hinayana, there is no contradiction or conflict. In fact, they are mutually compatible and we need to study and practice both teachings.
For example, in general, in order to study Mahayana Buddhism, there are two parts of the study to enter the gates of Mahayana. There are two key points. One of them is “ordinary” or “common”. What does “common” here mean? It means the commonalities with Hinayana. In other words, the teachings of Hinayana should also be studied and practiced by Mahayana practitioners. Of course, there is a small portion of the teachings such as that of living in solitude, which is not too necessary, but the rest of the teachings should be studied. In short, the contents of the lesser vehicle should also be studied by the disciples of the greater vehicle. They are the basic teachings for practice. What is the second part? It is “uncommon”. This refers to teachings which do not need to be studied by Hinayana practitioners, but are requisite for Mahayana practitioners. It does not have too much of a connection with Hinayana. Thus, to be able to enter the gate of Mahayana, one has not only to study and practice the teachings of the bigger vehicle, at the same time, one should also study the teachings of the lesser vehicle.
Lord Atisha’s disciple, Dromtönpa who was a Kadampa Master, once said, “One who knows the teachings of the four directions, who practices all the sacred teachings, is my master”. This statement is also mentioned in “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”. The translation of “teachings of the four directions” here might not be easily understood. In Tibetan, it refers to the complete teachings of Dharma, almost like a square with its four edges to represent completeness and comprehensiveness. It means to encompass all the teachings of the lesser , greater,and tantric vehicles, all three vehicles.
Why did Dromtönpa use such a sentence to praise his teacher? This is because he felt that anyone who is able to achieve a complete and comprehensive understanding towards the three vehicles of Buddhism, to study and practice all of the teachings of the Dharma, such a person is my guru, and he is Lord Atisha. So, here we can see that, actually, when Atisha was in India, he was such an eminent monk ,recognized and revered by all the different sects in Buddhism. It is known that in India, there were a lot of conflicts between the greater and lesser vehicles. Even within the lesser vehicles, there were, for a long time, schisms and arguments among the different schools, such as the Sarvastivada and the Mahasanghika. Nonetheless, for Lord Atisha, he respected everyone and did not discriminate among the three vehicles and various schools. He respected them all, and so he was also very well-respected and revered by all. This might be the personal charisma of Lord Atisha, a characteristic that made him stand out from the rest of the people.
So, here we see that whether it be Mahayana or Hinayana, we need to understand, learn and master their teachings. After we have done that, we will realize how they are not contradictory or conflicting. This is the significance of “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”; it contains and expounds the core teachings of the three vehicles. This is what makes the work so extraordinary and special, so we should study it well. Moreover, we should learn to apply it in our lives. That is all for today. Thank you.