Essence of Nectar Commentary

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English | བོད་ཡིག

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

A Few Words of Commentary

To Clarify The Essence of Nectar: Graduated Stages of the Path—Advice for Renunciant Meditators

by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

Namo gurubhyaḥ!

Having paid the greatest respect to my supreme guru,
The supreme master of oceanic maṇḍalas,
I shall now explain concisely the meaning
Of the advice that I myself have written.

This has three parts: 1) the introduction, which opens the composition, 2) the actual composition, and 3) the conclusion which brings the composition to a close.


This has two parts: 1) the opening homage, and 2) the promise to compose.

1. Opening Homage

(1) Masters whose kindness is unequalled,
Wisdom kāyas of the victors and their offspring—
With heartfelt faith, I prostrate to you,

I offer prostration – not as mere lip service, but with vast heartfelt devotion – to the masters who show me the spiritual path. They are wisdom embodiments of the capacity, knowledge, and love of all the victorious buddhas and their offspring, the bodhisattvas, throughout the ten directions, their kāyas appearing in whichever ways are suitable to subdue and ultimately liberate those to be tamed. The dharma that flows from their speech is the true path, and, as this leads directly to the resultant state of true cessation, their kindness dramatically exceeds that of the Buddha himself and is therefore "unequalled".

2. Promise to Compose

And here reveal a few pieces of profound advice.

That is to say, I shall here reveal some pieces of advice that bring together – essentially, in few words – the profound meaning of emptiness from the path of the perfections and the profound methods of mantra.


This has two parts: 1) an elaborate explanation and 2) a concluding summary.

1. Elaborate Explanation

This itself has two parts: 1) training in the common path of the six perfect actions, and 2) training in the special path of mantra.

1.1. Training in the Common Path of the Six Perfect Actions

This has two parts: 1) The root of the path, reliance upon a spiritual friend, and 2) the actual way of reliance, training under the teacher’s guidance

1.1.1. The Root of the Path, Reliance Upon a Spiritual Friend

(2) Whoever renounces the world,
Aspiring to achieve the highest enlightenment,
Must initially seek out a teacher of the spiritual path,
And serve that spiritual friend in three ways.

An intelligent person renounces the world, the circle of existence (saṃsāra), and aspires to achieve the highest enlightenment free of the two extremes (of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa). Therefore, you must initially take pains to seek out a spiritual teacher who possesses all the qualifications specified in the texts related to each vehicle and is skilled in teaching the spiritual path to freedom. Having found such a spiritual friend, you should serve them in three ways: the best service is through practice; the middling is through offering physical and verbal assistance; and the lowest is to please them through material offerings.

1.1.2. The Actual Way of Reliance, Training Under the Teacher’s Guidance

This has two parts: 1) the way to train on the path in general, and 2) the ways to train more specifically. The General Way to Train on the Path

(3) According to his advice, stabilize your mind
By knowing what to adopt and what to avoid,
Apply yourself to receiving and contemplating the teachings,
And awaken the wisdom that comes from meditation.

Having committed yourself to a master, listen carefully and act according to their advice, taking it to heart. Consider how hard it is to find a life of leisure and freedom, and reflect on how easily it may be lost by contemplating both the coarse impermanence of things and the subtle impermanence of continua. At the time of death, we must simply follow our karma and, no matter where we might be reborn, whether in the higher or lower realms of saṃsāra we will not avoid suffering. Therefore, to bring about a cessation of this suffering, we must know how to adopt the earnest practice of the three higher trainings and become skilled in the ways to avoid the destructive emotions and actions (karma), which serve as suffering’s origins. Rely on these essential points of the four truths.

In order to realize true cessation, it is imperative to generate the wisdom that arises from meditation. This depends on methodical meditation, which, in turn, depends on contemplating and initially hearing or studying the teachings. Such a sequential approach is essential for progress to be made. At the beginning, therefore, listen to and study the teachings by learning the terminology. Then, with clear intelligence engage progressively in contemplation on the basis of conceptual imagery. Finally, once you have perfected your analysis of the points arrived at through the profound wisdom born of contemplation and become familiar with them through single-pointed equipoise, you will awaken the wisdom born of meditation, which engages with the meaning itself. The Specifics of Training on the Path

This has two parts: 1) how all practices are included in the three higher trainings, and 2) the ways to develop pure view and conduct. How All Practices Are Included in the Three Higher Trainings

(4) By not transgressing your vowed training,
You’ll achieve the state beyond regret,
From which, it is said, single-pointed concentration
And the perfect discrimination of Dharma will arise.

The sūtras show the structure of practice:

Venerable monks, once you are familiar with morality, you will be able to abide in meditative concentration for long periods. And once you are familiar with meditative concentration, wisdom will arise.

Following this sequence, begin by gaining certainty in the Vinaya Piṭaka through study and reflection. The essence of this is to guard the vows correctly, avoiding any transgression of the points of training for whichever vows of individual liberation and bodhisattva conduct you have taken. Through this, your mind will remain unspoilt by faults and downfalls, and you will have no regrets. This will make your mind serviceable, so that it can be used to develop single-pointed concentration through which you may enter and arise from the many gateways to meditative stabilisation that unite calm abiding (śamatha) and special insight (vipaśyanā) – the essence of what is taught mainly in the Sūtra Piṭaka. The quintessence of the instruction found in the Abhidharma Piṭaka is the extraordinarily perfect discernment of phenomena (dharmas), which arises from meditation. The sūtras and śāstras teach this extensively. As the master Nāgārjuna puts it:

Train continually in superior discipline,
Superior wisdom and a superior mind.
There are more than a hundred and fifty monastic vows,
Yet all are included in these three.[1] The Ways to Develop Pure View and Conduct

This has two parts: 1) a brief overview, and 2) a detailed explanation. Brief Overview

(5) Through lesser, excellent and extraordinary application
Of the three higher trainings,
You may bring about the result of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas or complete enlightenment;
Seeing this, perfect your view and conduct.

In general, whichever spiritual approach you adopt, be it the greater or lesser vehicle, the essence of the path is an earnest application of the three higher trainings. In this, a lesser attitude is to seek only one’s own salvation; an excellent motivation is one of pure altruism; and a special attitude is the wish to accomplish others’ benefit as swiftly as possible. Each of these yields its own effects: the lesser attitude results in the state of an arhat (foe destroyer) as a śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha; the excellent motivation results in the state of complete and perfect enlightenment, and there are variations as to how quickly this is achieved, whether within a single lifetime and so on. For this reason, it also makes a difference whether one’s view is merely to realize the selflessness of the individual, to realize the selflessness of all phenomena, or to realize how all phenomena are the indivisibility of the two truths. Seeing this, settle upon the pure view and train in the pure conduct that is embraced by such a view. The Verses that Summarise the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtras:

Charity – wisdom comes before the act of [perfect] charity.

This shows how wisdom must come before all the other perfect actions of a bodhisattva. Master Āryadeva explains the reasons behind this:

To lapse from ethics is preferable
To lapsing from the view.
Through ethics, a higher birth is won,
Whereas through the view, the supreme state.[2] Detailed Explanation.

This has two parts: 1) how to develop a pure view, and 2) how to develop pure conduct. Pure View

This also has two parts: 1) how to ascertain the selflessness of persons, and 2) how to ascertain the selflessness of phenomena. Ascertaining the Selflessness of Persons

(6) Initially, use your intellect to analyse thoroughly
The co-emergent and imagined self;
You’ll not find it a naturally established,
Singular or multifaceted entity.

To develop a pure view, initially consider incorrect views such as the twenty peaks of the mountain of belief in the transitory collection, the three hundred and sixty erroneous views and so on. These are all mistaken worldly views, and no matter how great their number, they all have one thing in common: adherence to a self of persons, which is the object to be negated. All sentient beings have a notion of a self that is co-emergent [with the aggregates]. In addition, tīrthikas believe in an imagined self that is permanent, singular and independent.

Let us subject these beliefs to analysis. If the self exists as a naturally established entity, it must do so either as inherently one with, or separate from, the five aggregates. Were it one with the aggregates, then since the aggregates are five in number, there would be five selves. It is illogical to propose that the self takes up the aggregates, because that would require the self to be a separate substance, standing apart from the five individual aggregates. However, this isn’t the case. On a conventional level, then, the ‘I’ is merely a designation [projected onto] the aggregates; ultimately, the aggregates are devoid of an inherently existent identity or self. Using such forms of reasoning to develop definitive understanding, you will not find a tangible, naturally established self. Ascertaining the Selflessness of Phenomena

This has four parts: 1) the apprehended, 2) the apprehender, 3) non-dual wisdom, and 4) how to do away with all grasping. The Apprehended

(7) Furthermore, the objects this self regards,
When broken down into gross and subtle, and in directional parts,
Are found to be mere conceptual imputations,
Each designated with its respective name.

Furthermore, the ‘self’ clearly perceives objects outside itself, such as the environment and other beings, and inner objects, such as its own aggregates and elements. Yet coarser objects can’t truly exist, since they arise from the coming together of many subtle particles. These subtle particles are said to arise from the coming together of several ‘partless’ or indivisible particles. If such particles existed they would have no parts, sides or directions, such as front, back, right, left, above, below and so on. Contact between them would therefore be impossible, and the formation of gross phenomena would likewise be unfeasible. If they had six parts, the theory that they are partless would become untenable. Such reasoning impacts on all phenomena, along with their particular defining characteristics. All are nothing but conceptual imputations and cannot be established as existing in and of themselves, even on a molecular level. For example, for a wooden pillar to be truly established it would have to exist even before the felling of a tree and crafting of its trunk — even then it should be recognisable as a pillar. This, however, is clearly not the case. It is only after the wood has been crafted, installed in a building, where it supports roof-beams that the designation ‘pillar’ is suddenly applied. Understanding how everything is similar to this will undermine grasping at true existence. The Apprehender

(8) The various perceptions which grasp at these objects,
Like the experiences and experiencer in a dream,
Are all dependent on what is actually false,
So how could they themselves be real?

The various perceptions which grasp at objects arise temporarily in dependence on external objects and are thus not truly existent, just as the objects that appear in a dream, such as Mount Meru, buildings, homes and so on, are unreal. For this reason – the fact that the objects of your dreams lack true existence – the mind that experiences them, the dreaming mind, likewise lacks true, autonomous existence. Having arisen in dependence upon what is actually false, how could the subject itself be real? It is not. Non-Dual Wisdom

(9) Even the experience of this wisdom of non-duality
Must be investigated with the reasoning of the three times.
Without grasping at arising, cessation or anything between,
The extremes of elaboration will never be met with again.

Having seen that both subject and object lack true existence, we might wonder whether the experience that is direct perception of the wisdom of the non-duality of apprehender and apprehended is truly existent. The answer is that it is not, because it is not established as having the nature of the three times.

If we separate the wisdom of non-duality into the three phases of past, present and future, we can ask whether these connect or not. Were they to connect, all moments of time would merge into one another, and notion of periods of time would be lost. If, on the other hand, they did not connect, they would remain separate and unrelated.

The past has already ceased and therefore cannot be real. The future is yet to come and therefore likewise cannot exist. This leaves only the present moment to investigate. There are many lines of reasoning we might use. Does it have colour or shape? Is it substantially existent or not? Is it a singularity or a plurality? As it cannot be found when investigating along such lines, it cannot be real.

You might say, ‘It must exist, I realize it!’ Well then, how do you realize it? As a mental event or main mind? The former has already been disproved, for if a subject lacks true existence, how can its object be truly existent? As for the latter, a single mind cannot be both comprehender and the object of comprehension at the same time.

Not only that, if non-dual wisdom truly exists, it must have arisen from a cause, at which time was its cause destroyed or not? If the cause was destroyed and became non-existent, nothing existent could possibly arise from it, for a seed that has ceased can no longer function as a cause.

Alternatively, if the cause was not destroyed, then, at the time of its fruition or result, it will be impossible to distinguish cause from effect, negating the logic of producer and produced. Accordingly, there can be no initial birth, and therefore, in the end, cessation also becomes impossible. If both birth and cessation are non-existent, nothing can lie between them. Since they can be established only in dependence on one another, the grasping at arising, cessation and what lies between only seems real from the perspective of a deluded mind. They can not be established in reality and are therefore devoid of true existence.

You might wonder whether non-existence itself is the fundamental nature of things. It is not. For something to be completely non-existent requires there to be existence, and throughout time without beginning there has been no such thing. Existence and non-existence together don’t comprise the fundamental nature; they are natural opposites and can't abide together, as all the previous modes of reasoning have shown. Moreover, aside from existence and non-existence, no third category of phenomena is possible.

Use these profound modes of reasoning to investigate the nature of things, and you will never again meet with the extremes of elaboration. In this way, all the elaborations that stem from belief in intrinsic existence will be thoroughly pacified. How to Do Away with All Grasping

This has two parts: 1) how to do away with all grasping, and 2) how to settle after analysis. How to Do Away with All Grasping

(10) Objects to be negated—all elaborations—
Are also primordially and naturally unobservable;
So the negation—freedom from elaborations—
Is also not truly established.

Having taken analysis and reasoning to its conclusion, the objects to be negated — all the elaborations of existence, non-existence, both and neither — will be seen to be devoid of true existence. Based on these same lines of reasoning, they will also be seen as primordially empty of natural existence.

The general idea of the elaboration, the gathering of the four [objects of negation] is likewise not truly established, since the individual bases for their formation do not exist. Therefore, all elaborations concerning both the general and particular have no truth to them. To establish their negation is what it means to be free from elaboration, and even that isn’t truly real. Negating the non-existent cannot possibly establish existence. In reality, therefore, even non-elaboration does not truly exist. Concerning the mind that abides in inconceivable suchness, devoid of all notions of grasping and fixation and with all ideas of elaboration thoroughly pacified, Master Nāgārjuna says:

It is not known through other sources, it is peace;
And not through mind’s constructs can it be built.
It is free of thought and undifferentiated:
This describes the characteristic of suchness.[3]

And the protector Śāntideva says:

When both real and non-real are absent from before the mind,
There remains nothing more to do
But rest in perfect peace –
Free of all conceptual activity.[4]

There are a great many such quotations.

In essence, at the level of relative truth, how things appear accords with the interdependence of their unique causes and conditions; they are not non-existent. However, with regard to ultimate truth, the fundamental nature of things, phenomena arise in dependence on conditions; they are not existent. If an object is established it is interdependent, and whatever is interdependent is empty. Thus, appearance and emptiness are a unity, as a sūtra makes clear:

Whatever depends upon a condition for its birth isn’t born;
For the nature of something born is that it cannot truly exist.
That which relies upon a condition can only be empty;
Therefore, there are no truly existent dharmas.[5]

And the Master Nāgārjuna writes:

Because there is nothing that isn’t dependently arisen,
There is nothing that is not empty.[6]

This has been a brief overview of the views of the Hearers (śrāvakas) and Solitary Realisers (pratyekabuddhas), those of the Great Exposition School (Vaibhāṣika) and the Sūtra School (Sautrāntika) as well as of the Mind Only (Cittamātra) and Middle Way (Mādhyamika) schools of Autonomists (Svātantrika) and Consequentialists (Prāsaṅgika). The Meditative Absorption that Follows Analysis

(11) Similarly, by investigating objects in the same way,
You’ll come to find the subject which is beyond expression—
The genuine expanse, an inconceivable place of rest.
This is what we call ‘settling meditation’.

By using these various modes of reasoning sequentially and investigating the objects to be evaluated, there will come a time when objects are freed from all projection and reification, beyond conceptualisation. At that time, the analysing subject will also transcend thought and expression, just as fire is naturally extinguished when its fuel is spent. As the protector Śāntideva says:

When an object has been thoroughly analysed,
There remains no basis for analysis.
Without a base, the subject does not arise,
And this indeed is said to be nirvāṇa.[7]

At the conclusion of such analysis, you’ll experience the primordial, naturally pure expanse, free of any other form of mental engagement — the natural state that is inconceivable. Settle without the slightest distraction, and all the elaborations of main mind and mental activity will be naturally pacified. This is what we call ‘settling meditation’. Ārya Maitreya says:

In this, there is nothing whatsoever to take away
Nor the slightest thing to be added.
To perfectly behold the true nature
Is to see perfectly, complete liberation.[8]

There are many other such statements. The Way to Develop Pure Conduct

(12) Should you wish to approach the state of buddhahood—
By means of compassion’s illusory nature—
For the sake of all dreamlike beings,
Who have not realized the nature through this approach,

If you do not realize natural and profound emptiness through this approach, you’ll become attached to phenomena and their characteristics and accumulate actions (karma) motivated by attachment, aversion and confusion, which will lead to all the various forms of suffering within unending saṃsāra. While none of these truly exist, beings experience them as if in a dream.

Recognise these beings as your past mothers, recall their kindness, and develop the wish to repay it. Wishing that they might have happiness is love; wishing that they might be free of suffering is compassion; and accepting responsibility for actually bringing this about is noble intention.

Ultimately, acceptance and rejection, pleasure and pain, and so on are by nature non-existent. Yet, as long as these experiences are left unexamined on a relative level, working for others’ sake is similar to an illusory person healing an illusory patient. You must attain the level of complete and perfect awakening, wherein all qualities of abandonment and realization are perfected for your own sake, while for others’ sake you know all the methods for subduing those to be trained. Seeing this, aspire with single-pointed determination to gain such a result, and set about gathering all the correct and necessary causes within yourself by adopting the supreme oceanic trainings of a bodhisattva, such as the six perfect actions, four means of gathering disciples, and so on.

The basis for practice is a deep appreciation for, and certainty in, the union of the two truths as the ground. The path is to train in method, pure conduct arisen from emptiness conjoined with the essence of compassion, which is the integration of the collections of merit and wisdom. And the result is to achieve non-abiding nirvāṇa, the union of the two buddha bodies (rūpakāya and dharmakāya). As the master Nāgārjuna writes:

The rūpakāya of a buddha
Arises from the collection of merit.
And, in brief, the dharmakāya,
Dear king, arises from the collection of wisdom.[9]

And the protector Śāntideva says:

Through the conduct of emptiness conjoined with the heart of compassion,
All ensuing merit will be pure.

There are countless statements to this effect.

Therefore, all occasions of practising generosity, guarding ethical discipline and so on should be embraced with the ultimate truth – that everything is beyond any and all elaboration – and, on the relative level, the special intention of wishing to lead those who haven’t realised this ultimate truth to the state of buddhahood. This way, all your actions will be perfect and pure.

There are many classifications of conduct, which can be known from the Bodhisattva Piṭaka. All the paths of the transcendent perfections (pāramitās) may be summarised as the three higher trainings; and even these may be further condensed into two: meditative concentration and wisdom both belong to the view, for which they are the support and supported, whereas ethical discipline belongs to conduct. This concludes the brief summary of how to develop pure view and conduct.

Through an attitude of renunciation, you will not be attached to the three worlds of saṃsāra. With relative bodhicitta, you’ll not be attached to the fulfilment of your own aims and, with ultimate bodhicitta, elaborations will be pacified, and you will not be attached to notions of real things or characteristics. Train your mind progressively in these three.

1.2. Training in the Special Path of Mantra

The means of training in the path of mantra is divided into 1) a general overview of the gateway to the path and 2) the essence of the path itself together with its results.

1.2.1. Overview of the Gateway to the Path

(13) You should swiftly achieve the most excellent wisdom,
By taking the highest Vajra Vehicle,
Which is distinguished by its methods
And is the earnest endeavour of the learned.

To achieve the most excellent wisdom of awakening as swiftly as possible a bodhisattva who is of the highest acumen should take up the Vajra Vehicle of Highest Yoga, which is distinguished, not from the perspective of the object, mere emptiness, but according to the methods whereby the subject arises as the deity or wisdom of great bliss. Even among those of the bodhisattva family, this is reserved for the noble-minded with the sharpest faculties.

1.2.2. The Essence of the Path Together with Its Results

All mantric paths may be included within the two categories of ripening and liberation. The following verse explains the first of these, empowerments (abhiṣeka) that ripen:

(14) Nāḍī, prāṇa and bindu—wisdom’s elements—
For them to awaken into the resultant four kāyas,
You should know how to plant continually the seeds
Of the four empowerments, of both cause and path.

The four wisdoms supported by nāḍī, prāṇa and bindu are each to be purified of their respective defilements through rendering evident their respective elements and pure realms, which all have the nature of basic space. This awakens the resultant state of the four kāyas.

For this, empowerment must first be received from a qualified master, at which time the specific defilement to be purified and means to purify it will be introduced. Then, with full conviction in the path of secret mantra, you take on the mantra vows and samaya followed by the four complete empowerments. This is the causal empowerment. Subsequently, you can receive empowerment again from the guru, or, having maintained the vows of secret mantra, you yourself may perform the ‘self-entry into the maṇḍala’ (bdag ’jug) and receive the empowerments again. This the path empowerment. These are just some of the ways you may continually plant the seeds of the four empowerments.

You might wonder why it is appropriate to receive empowerment continually. There are inconceivable reasons. For example, all aspects of the Vajrayāna, whether of ground, path or fruition, are included within and brought about through empowerment, while the unique methods of the creation and completion phase yogas serve to enhance the wisdom of the four empowerments. The Path

This has two parts: 1) a brief overview, and 2) an elaborate explanation. Brief Overview

(15) With the condition of the stages of generation and completion,
And the close friend of the mantric precepts,
Combined with the secondary cause of conduct;
You’ll find the state of union within this lifetime.

Purifying the mind through the stages of the common paths is the support. This prepares the ground for the four maṇḍalas, into which, the supported, the seeds of the four empowerments, may then be sown.

The conditions that allow the seeds to germinate and grow are the two phases: the generation phase through which ordinary perception is transformed into the pure perception of the deity, entourage and environment; and the yoga of the completion phase, through which divine perception is transformed into wisdom. These are like water, fertiliser, warmth, moisture, and so on.

Just as shoots and flowers develop in stages when protected from unfavourable conditions and supplied with favourable ones, similarly here the support or ‘close friend’ on the path is to maintain pure conduct through the vows and samayas that constitute the discipline of mantra.

The combination of these three stages of conduct provides the most extraordinary of methods and serves as the immediate cause for the attainment of the level of union on the path of training and the path of no-more-training within this very lifetime. It is said that the seeds planted by the mantra vehicle will, at best, ripen to harvest in a single day. As the gentle protector Sakya Paṇḍita puts it:

The seeds planted by the mantra vehicle
Will ripen to harvest in a single day.
If the methods of Vajrayāna are known,
Awakening will occur in a single lifetime.[10] Elaborate Explanation

This has three parts: 1) determining the view as the ground, 2) practising meditation as the path, and 3) the conclusion, how the result is actualized. Determining the View as the Ground

(16) With the correct realization of emptiness—
Averse to the extremes of elaboration—
If you can arrive at the essence of great bliss
You’ll come to see the indivisible nature of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa.

As explained above, the genuine nature is inexpressible emptiness, which is ‘averse’ to the extremes of elaboration, in the sense that it has never occupied them. When the mind that realizes this correctly is brought into the essence of great bliss through profound methods, then, just as the taste of āmalaka (emblic myrobolan) is greatly improved through mixing it with milk and the heat of a sandalwood fire is seven times greater than that of ordinary fire, the experience of emptiness induced through these extraordinary methods is especially exalted. While the indivisible nature of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is understood only as a general notion through the vehicle of the perfections, it is seen directly through the view of mantra. As the mighty vajra holder Jetsün Drakpa Gyaltsen says:

The wisdom of empowerment, the view of the path,
Is essentially one with what is experienced as a buddha.
The analogy of the moon shows its degrees of realization. The Practice of Meditation as the Path

This has two parts: 1) the supporting creation phase, and 2) the supported completion phase. The Supporting Creation Phase

(17) With your gross body, speech and mind
Perfected as deity, mantra and dharmakāya,
It’s certain that you’ll reverse the common bewilderment
Of birth and decay within the three worlds.

The glorious Saṃpuṭa Tantra:

By initially reflecting on emptiness,
The impurities of beings are cleansed,
And in the empty field of a person’s body and so forth,
The intelligent sow the seeds.

At first, comprehend through your own individual awareness how all the phenomena of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are simply the projections of secondary mental states. These mental states themselves arise from primary mind, which is by nature the inexpressible union of clarity and emptiness. Having established this as a basis, do not stray from the experience but apply it equally to the extremely coarse outer appearances of the three realms and the coarse inner experience of the three doors [of body, speech and mind], and thereby purify these and any other attached impure perceptions, refining them as deity, mantra and dharmakāya. This counters all aspects of common delusion, such as the three outer worlds—desire, form and formless—and the arising of the inner aggregates, as well as their decay and the intermediate state. You thus recognise the ground and means of purification. When you have gathered the collection of merit as a preliminary in this way, to rest within the evenness of the wisdom of natural luminosity purifies the stages of death and the formless realm. To arise as a seed-syllable from within this state purifies the intermediate state and the form realm. Finally, to view all as the deity, the union of appearance and emptiness, and perform activities such as making offerings, singing in praise of the deity, mantra repetition, the various activities of the maṇḍala and so on, purifies the state of birth and the desire realm.

Throughout these stages, it is mainly your own defilements that are purified and taken as a path in order to bring about ripening and induce the resultant wisdom of the three kāyas. This is therefore known as the generation phase of methods. The Supported Completion Phase

(18) To uproot the attachment of any clinging,
Through the yoga of the subtle nāḍī, prāṇa and bindu,
Activate the vital points of the subtle body
And directly induce the wisdom of great bliss.

To view the gross doors of body, speech and mind as deity, mantra and so on is excellent. Still, any attachment of clinging to this mode of perception must be uprooted. This is achieved by the method of activating the vital points of the subtle body through the yoga of the subtle nāḍī, prāṇa and bindu.

Initially apply the key points of the body, yogic exercises and the practices that bind the limbs to purify the subtle channels. Next, apply vajra repetition, the practice of union [vase breath] and so forth, to purify the subtle wind and allow it to enter the central channel. Once the subtle wind has been brought under control, kindle the wisdom fire of tummo, and practice the yogas of blazing and dripping in order to cause the subtle drops to melt. This will induce warmth within the body, which will, in turn, cause the wisdom of great bliss to develop in stages. Then, to enter into union with a consort, real or imagined, will directly induce the example and actual wisdom of co-emergent great bliss.

At this point, you will have traversed the greater stage of the mantra vehicle’s path of accumulation through the practice of generation phase yoga. Sustaining the combined practice of tummo and subtle wind-energy then brings you to the stages of warmth and peak on the path of joining. Thereafter, enhancing the practice through methods involving your own or another’s body causes you to attain the acceptance and supreme attribute stages. At their conclusion, the example wisdom from the stage of the great supreme attribute, which is brought about through the direct cause of a consort, becomes a partial vision of actual wisdom as you attain the first of the bodhisattva grounds. Then, as you gradually progress, you attain the realization of the nine remaining bodhisattva grounds that comprise the path of meditation. The Conclusion, How the Result is Achieved

(19) When bliss and emptiness come together,
Through this extremely subtle union,
The clear light of training and no-more-training,
You’ll achieve the state of Vajradhara, with its seven aspects of union.

When, at some point, the ultimate result is attained, it combines the great bliss of method explained above and the emptiness that results from this method in indivisible union as extremely subtle actual wisdom. From the moment that its nature is first seen until the conclusion of the greater path of meditation, it is the clear light of training. Then, within that experience, in the very instant that the elaborations of the illusory kāya of the learner’s union dissolve, there is the clear light of no-more-training and the attainment of dharmakāya. Without moving from that state, it is as explained:

The kāya of perfect enjoyment, the union of great bliss, which is naturally non-existent,
Is filled with compassion that arises continuously and uninterruptedly.[11]

Thus, you attain the three kāyas and the level of the great all-pervasive Vajradhara distinguished by the seven branches of union.[12]

This was a mere overview of the path and result according to the highest approach of Vajrayāna.

2. Concluding Summary

This has four parts: 1) advice on the need for a stable attitude of renunciation as the foundation of the path, 2) advice on the need to realize your nature—indivisible emptiness and compassion—the essence of the path itself, 3) advice on the need to train in the two stages as a method to swiftly actualize the result, and 4) advice on training in the ultimate practice of mahāmudrā, the path of devotion.

1. Advice on the Need for a Stable Attitude of Renunciation as the Foundation of the Path

(20) There is no need to say much, so, in essence:
Through thoroughly disregarding the affairs of this life
And striving to reach the state of liberation,
You form the basis for all subsequent paths.

There is no need for lengthy explanations. In essence, you must train your mind by recognising the difficulty of gaining a precious human life and reflecting on impermanence and death. Through this you will see that happiness, well-being and renown within this life are as insubstantial as a positive dream, and you will decisively turn away from any fleeting fancies based on hope and fear. At death, you will not simply disappear into nothingness but be reborn in the three realms according to your karma. Wherever you might end up, you will still not escape suffering. Seeing this, turn your mind away from saṃsāra as a whole. Then, with a mind that is determined to be free, strive to reach the state of liberation. These are the foundations for all the paths of virtue that have been explained and are like well-prepared soil. Without them, it will make no difference how much you might exert yourself; you will not even reach liberation, let alone omniscience.

As Master Nāgārjuna says:

Give up all your efforts to stop this;
Act as if your hair or clothes had suddenly caught alight,
And do your best to avoid rebirth –
There is no greater goal or need than this.[13]

2. Advice on the Need to Realize Your Nature, Indivisible Emptiness and Compassion, the Essence of the Path Itself

(21) The realization of the way of abiding—the insubstantial nature—
And the mode of appearances—unobstructed dependent arising—
Conjoined with love for all beings,
Comprise the actual paths.

As it is said:

Here, appearances themselves are not negated;
Rather, it is the cause of suffering,
Grasping at them to be true, which is to be dispelled.

There is no need to halt the mere appearance of phenomena. You must realize that on the ultimate level all conceptual elaborations caused by clinging to “I” and “mine,” the bases for the delusion of true existence, categorised as individuals and phenomena, are by nature beyond arising. The way things appear then depends upon their respective causes and conditions, which is why actions (karma) and their results and so on occur without obstruction. Have great compassion for those who haven’t realised this nature, and focus on the means of dedicating all that you do to others’ welfare, out of love for them. This is the main part of all the virtuous paths that have been explained and is comparable to a seed.

As the glorious Candrakīrti says:

Hearers and those halfway to buddhahood are born from mighty sages,
And buddhas are born from bodhisattvas.
Compassion, non-duality and bodhicitta,
These are the causes of the children of the Conqueror.[14]

And the gentle protector Sakya Paṇḍita says:

The completely awakened Buddha,
The source of benefit and lasting happiness,
Arose from a bodhisattva, who in turn arose
From bodhicitta – compassion and emptiness conjoined.[15]

3. Advice on the Need to Train in the Two Stages as a Method to Swiftly Actualize the Result

(22) The ultimate, the wisdom of the natural state,
And the conventional, the generation and completion stages,
Naturally arising in accordance with the stages of method,
Comprise the path’s exalted Dharmas.

The ultimate wisdom of the natural state arises through empowerment and the practice of the two stages: the generation stage yoga in which all conventional appearances arise as the kāya of the deity, and the completion stage through which this divine appearance arises as the wisdom of great bliss. In these stages of profound methods, what arises is like a rainbow in a clear sky and therefore lacks any true nature. Its manifestation is the unimpeded wisdom of great bliss, and its expression appears as the kāya of the deity. In this way, to rest in meditative equipoise beyond all elaborations of meditator and objects of meditation is the profound method by which the result of the virtuous path is swiftly achieved. It is a special feature and similar to crops consecrated through mantras. As master Nāgārjuna says:

For those firmly abiding in the creation phase,
Who aspire to the perfection phase,
The perfect buddhas taught this method,
In a manner resembling the rungs of a ladder.[16]

4. Advice on Training in the Ultimate Practice of Mahāmudrā, the Path of Devotion

(23) Finally, through the practice of guru yoga,
All ordinary subjects and objects
Arise as the great-seal of fervent devotion:
This is the excellent life-pillar of the path.

Finally, the ultimate of all paths is as follows. Just as the guru appears as the lord of the maṇḍala at the causal phase when bestowing the four empowerments, during the path phase, too, you must practice the profound yoga of meditating on the guru as inseparable from the lord of the maṇḍala. As a result, ordinary objects will appear as the guru’s enlightened body, speech and mind, and the subjective mind that clings to this and that, as well as the innate mind and its features, will dawn as the essence of the guru’s great wisdom.

In short, through this most profound of blessings, in which awareness is clear and lucid and its radiance vivid devotion, all objects and the subjective mind will dawn naturally as the co-emergent Great Seal (Mahāmudrā). To remain in meditative equipoise, extending the duration of this experience without modifying it in any way is like the excellent life-pillar that extends to all paths. As glorious Saraha says:

When the guru’s blessing enters your heart,
It is like seeing a treasure held in the palm of your hand.

The master Vajraghaṇṭapāda says:

That which came to me in an instant
Through the guru’s blessing alone,
The hidden meaning of Cakrasaṃvara,
I shall now explain in stages.

And as the special explanations of lord of yogis Virūpa make plain, the rationale behind the “profound path of the guru” as found in scripture, reasoning and pith instructions is inconceivably vast.


This has two parts: 1) the adorning prayer of dedication, and 2) the concluding colophon.

1. Prayer of Dedication

(24) Ema! By this fine, short explanation
Of the meaning of the vast and profound,
May all, both animate and inanimate,
Arise as the web of magical apparition!

“Ema!” as an initial expression of wonder means that this is difficult to realize, but that when it is realized it is extremely meaningful. I wrote this fine, short explanation according to my understanding gleaned from the vast collection of the Perfection Vehicle and the profound Vehicle of Mantra. Through the virtue of this, may all the world’s animate beings and the inanimate world itself arise as the blissful web of magical apparition. May habits of transmigration be arrested. May everything transform into the support and supported Heruka, within which the three kāyas are inseparable, and may the benefit of self and others be effortlessly accomplished in this very lifetime.

2. Colophon

As requested by the yogi of the supreme vehicle, Chöying Palden, who is dedicated to the single-pointed pursuit of accomplishing the heart [of spiritual practice] and has caused the lotus bud of intelligence to bloom with the nectar of perceiving the all-pervading vajra-queen’s wisdom and, as such, is fearless in his understanding of many points of the outer and inner sciences, this was composed by the ignoramus, the untrained and bewildered ascetic, Jamyang Khyentse, who wrote down whatever came to mind, at the isolated spot of Jangchup Chöling. Sarvadā maṅgalam!

The colophon is straightforward and doesn’t require further elaboration.

I have once again briefly elaborated
Upon the meaning of the profound and vast instructions.
I dedicate the merit of this, so that all beings
May achieve the state of omniscience.

Chöying Palden, who requested me to write the root text The Essence of Nectar: Graduated Stages of the Path Advice for Renunciant Meditators, is an extraordinarily bright, learned individual with exceptional qualities, a yogi single-pointed in his aim to accomplish the heart of the Dharma. He made a further earnest request for a commentary to the root verses and accompanied his request with a floral scarf of celestial silk, adding that the text should be of whatever length I felt appropriate. Accordingly, I, the vidyādhara monk, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, wrote this concise commentary by hand at Samdrup Chöding, a monastic college that upholds the tradition of the great omniscient Bodongpa. I openly confess any mistakes. May the light of positivity cause the lotus buds of clear intelligence to bloom in full. Sarvadā kalyāṇam bhavatu![17]

| Translated by Sean Price and revised and edited for Lotsawa House by Adam Pearcey. © Shechen Translations, 2021. With thanks to Karl Brunnhölzl and Malcolm Smith for their assistance in identifying several sources, and to Kedar Prado for help with the Sanskrit.


Tibetan Edition

mkhyen brtse'i dbang po. "spong ba bsam gtan pa la gdams pa'i gtam/ lam rim bdud rtsi'i snying po/" in gsung 'bum/_mkhyen brtse'i dbang po/. BDRC W21807. 24 vols. Gangtok: Gonpo Tseten, 1977–1980. Vol. 23: 135–162

Secondary Sources

Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend with Commentary by Kangyur Rinpoche. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2005.

Sakya Pandita. A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes: Essential Distinctions among the Individual Liberation, Great Vehicle, and Tantric Systems. Trans. Jared Douglas Rhoton. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Shantideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1997 (revised 2006)

Version 1.4-20240214

  1. Letter to a Friend (Suhṛllekha), 53.  ↩

  2. Four Hundred Verses (Catuḥśataka), XII, 11  ↩

  3. Root Verses of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā) XVIII, 9  ↩

  4. Bodhicaryāvatāra IX, 34  ↩

  5. From The Questions of the Nāga King Anavatapta (Anavataptanāga-rājaparipṛcchā), Toh 156.  ↩

  6. Root Verses of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā) XXIV, 19  ↩

  7. Bodhicaryāvatāra IX, 110  ↩

  8. Abhisamayālaṃkāra, V, 21 and Uttaratantra Śāstra, I,154  ↩

  9. Ratnāvali 212  ↩

  10. Clear Differentiation of the Three Sets of Vows (sdom gsum rab dbye), 120. See Sakya Pandita. A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes, p.111  ↩

  11. These two lines appear in Vāgiśvarakīrti’s Saptāṅga (yan lag bdun pa) Toh 1888.  ↩

  12. kha sbyor yan lag bdun. Seven qualities of a sambhogakāya buddha: complete enjoyment, union, great bliss, absence of a self-nature, presence of compassion, being uninterrupted and being unceasing.  ↩

  13. Letter to Friend (Suhṛllekha), 104  ↩

  14. Madhyamakāvatāra I,1  ↩

  15. From Thub pa dgongs gsal  ↩

  16. From The Five Stages (Pañcakrama; rim pa lnga).  ↩

  17. The Sanskrit means “May there always be auspiciousness!"  ↩

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