Stages of Meditating on Prajñāparamitā

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Patrul Rinpoche


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Excellent Explanation from the Scriptural Tradition

A Brief Guide to the Stages of Meditating on the General Themes of the Ornament to the Prajñāpāramitā

by Patrul Rinpoche

Homage to the Buddha!

Homage to the learned and accomplished Indians and Tibetans,
Who knew the reality of the three wisdoms to be known,
Trained in the path of the four applications to be taken to heart,
And arrived at the dharmakāya, the fruition to be attained.

There are two ways in which a fortunate individual can put into practice the infallible method for realizing the ultimate fruition of the dharmakāya, namely contemplation and application.

1. Contemplation

There are three things that must be understood for the attitude of bodhicitta to arise correctly in the mind:

  1. The ultimate fruition that is to be attained. If we do not understand this, we will not know the focus for the bodhicitta of aspiration.

  2. The character of the path by means of which this is attained. If we do not know this, we will not know the practices of the bodhicitta of application.

  3. How to avoid potential pitfalls on the path. If we do not know this, we will not develop ultimate bodhicitta, and emptiness and compassion will not be brought together in unity.

In the beginning, therefore, we must contemplate as follows:

Throughout beginningless time, all sentient beings—who are none other than my own dear mothers, who cared for me with such kindness—are forever cast about in the waves of the ocean of suffering and experience all manner of misery. How pitiful is their condition! I shall now develop the strength of my diligence so that I can offer all these mother-like sentient beings a refuge from all their suffering and inspire them to reach a state of happiness.

By thinking in this way, we develop the compassionate attitude which lies at the root of the Mahāyāna.

When we can no longer bear the fact that beings suffer, and we feel just like a mother without arms who must watch helplessly as her child is swept away in a river our buddha nature or potential (rigs) has been awakened, and we are ready to receive the profound teachings.

We then begin by thinking:

As I set about accomplishing the welfare of all sentient beings, if I myself am not free from the sufferings of saṃsāra, and I do not even know the method for overcoming them, how could I possibly expect to be of help to others? I wonder if there is a way to accomplish the welfare of all limitless sentient beings effortlessly and without hardship. If there is, I vow to put all my efforts into accomplishing it!

Once this thought has arisen, the next stage is to tell ourselves:

Kye! Child of noble family, such a method does in fact exist. You must realize all-knowing wisdom by training progressively in stages, beginning with the generation of bodhicitta for the sake of all beings. Then, you must teach others the path that you yourself have followed. In this way, you will spontaneously accomplish the welfare of all limitless sentient beings, effortlessly and without hardship.

You might wonder what this all-knowing wisdom is like. The phrase “that you yourself have followed” points out the result by means of the causes. The wisdom of all aspects is the ultimate result of gradually accomplishing the ten factors—generating bodhicitta and the rest. The phrase “teach others [the path]” indicates the subject by means of its objects. It is because of understanding the objects of the ten points, such as bodhicitta, through the wisdom of all aspects that one can explain them to others.

You might wonder why it is that when it comes to understanding omniscience, it is not taught by means of its own defining characteristics, but by its causes and objects instead. This is because it is not possible to explain omniscience without identifying it by means of these two. For example, when we explain visual cognition, we say that it arises due to its causes, such as the eye faculty, or we describe the perception of objects such as blue. But we cannot describe it without referring to either of these two. It is similar here.

Then again, you might wonder whether ‘knowledge of all aspects’ (or omniscience) means knowledge of all knowable phenomena without exception. Or, if it is simply a knowledge of ten points, how this could be said to be omniscience? These ten must certainly be known if one is to accomplish the welfare of others without effort, so they are stated because of their primary importance. Still, this does not mean to say that other things besides these are not known. Just as someone who can see a needle at a distance will easily see a knife lying nearby, by understanding these difficult points one will automatically come to understand other things that are easier to learn.

There are some who claim that knowing these ten points entails knowing all knowable things without exception. On the basis of the statement that “the focus is all phenomena”,[1] they think they are all included here. But that does not follow logically. For example, bodhisattvas practising on the path understand the objects of focus on the path, including the meditation on the emptiness of all phenomena and so on, but that does not mean that they know all these phenomena. The principle is similar here. One could also say that a person who focuses on abandoning and adopting with regard to what is positive, negative or neutral understands these three categories, and of course all things can be included within them, but it does not follow that understanding these three categories entails knowledge of all phenomena.

Furthermore, the fortunate individual may wonder, “Now, since I must do all that I can to attain this wisdom that knows all aspects in this way, what kind of path must I train in to bring this about?” Well, since the result must correspond to the cause, it is necessary to train in a path that corresponds to this effect. When one is working for the welfare of sentient beings, given that they all have different inclinations and capacities and therefore cannot all follow the same path, it is necessary to understand all the paths of the three vehicles and to have some direct experience of them, so that one can reveal them to others. With this kind of attitude, one must train the mind in the wish to benefit others. This becomes the cause for the arising of the bodhicitta of application within the mind.

Then, the practitioner reflects as follows: “Towards this end, I shall train myself in the paths of all three vehicles. But since I am pursuing the ultimate Mahāyāna alone, I will need to understand correctly the distinctions between higher and lower paths and avoid straying onto lower paths.” With this thought, and without parting from the means that is great compassion, he or she must meditate on the meaning of suchness, in which the bases—the aggregates (skandha), elements (dhātu) and sense sources (āyatana)—are seen to be devoid of the thirty-two conceptual projections (or superimpositions). In this way, it will not be long before ultimate bodhicitta is generated in the mind.

The three knowledges are sequential: each is the cause of what follows and is the result of what came before. Therefore, when they are to be understood through study and reflection and taken as the objects of the generation of bodhicitta, the knowledge of all aspects is mentioned first. This is to inspire aspiration toward the ultimate result, which is attained as the first alone. Nevertheless, the order in which they arise in an individual’s mind is as follows. First, there is direct realization of the absence of self-identity in all the phenomena which are [referred to as] the bases, and then the development in the mind of extraordinary great compassion, which makes this approach superior to lesser paths. Then there is perfection, maturation and purification through teaching disciples of the three classes according to their own specific path, and through this the result, which is the knowledge of all aspects, is made evident. In connection with this sequence, at the conclusion [of the third section] the text says:

Likewise, this and also this,…[2]

Here, they are summarized beginning with the base-knowledge.

Therefore, since the characteristics of these three are determined without error through study and reflection, after which they are taken as the object of bodhicitta, they are referred to as “characteristics” in the context of the summary as six realizations and as “the object, the threefold cause” in the context of the summary as three.[3]

Thus, when determining that which is to be known (i.e., the three knowledges) through study and reflection—whether the objects illustrate the subject, or the subject illustrates the objects—it is the single wisdom of the knowledge of all aspects alone that examines these dharmas.

These dharmas are of course the objects of the knowledge of all aspects, but they are also the objects of the path-knowledge of the bodhisattvas. Indeed, they are not only objects of these first two knowledges but also of the base-knowledge of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. Understanding this will serve to cut through any conceptual projections regarding the characteristics of all phenomena included within saṃsāra, nirvāṇa and the path.

When taking these [three knowledges] as the objects of bodhicitta, one makes the following vow: “As the objects illustrate the subject, I must develop in my own mind all the various types of realization related to the three vehicles or four types of individual, so that I can understand these objects and carry out such actions.” This then qualifies as genuine bodhicitta according to the great vehicle. As the Ornament of Sūtras says:

Skilled in universality of vehicle and wisdom… [4]

Thus, to pledge oneself from the beginning to the universal vehicle and universal wisdom is the supreme commitment.

Therefore, when connecting these three [knowledges] to bodhicitta, they are definitely causes of the [bodhicitta of] aspiration and application and ultimate bodhicitta, as explained above. They are also causes of the three stages of interest (’dun pa), intention (bsam pa) and noble intention (lhag bsam). According to this sequence, first one develops an interest in pursuing what is to be attained, the knowledge of all aspects. Then, one develops the intention to pursue the benefit of others through knowledge of the path, which is the cause [of the knowledge of all aspects]. Furthermore, by training in avoiding the potential pitfalls of lower paths and not dwelling in either of the two extremes, one’s intention is freed from self-interest and becomes noble intention. It is easy to understand how one engages in the other levels of bodhicitta, such as engagement (sbyor ba) and the rest.

These three [knowledges] can also be related to the accomplishment of the Three Jewels in our own minds, as explained in the commentary to the Sublime Continuum.[5] First, teaching the wisdom of buddhahood through the knowledge of all aspects corresponds to “completely and perfectly awakened with regard to all phenomena.” Second, teaching all the paths of the three vehicles in the context of the path knowledge corresponds to “perfectly turns the wheel of Dharma.” Third, teaching the different realizations of individuals following higher and lower vehicles in the context of the base-knowledge corresponds to “encircled by an infinite gathering of disciplined disciples.” This is merely another enumeration.

In these contexts, base-knowledge is taught explicitly in the texts of the sūtras themselves to be the antidotal base-knowledge of not remaining in the two extremes. The unfavourable base-knowledge of falling into either extreme is thus to be understood indirectly, and because the various realizations of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are not explained directly the text says that it [i.e., the base-knowledge] is “not experienced by others.”[6]

There might therefore be some potential for the arising of a trace of doubt here in less intelligent minds concerning the explanation that base-knowledge is a potential pitfall, a means for generating path-knowledge in the mind, and a cause for the arising of ultimate bodhicitta. Yet, in fact, once one eliminates all the unfavourable pitfalls, and the genuine knowledge of the bases—which is the antidote to all projection and denial—develops in the mind, it is knowledge of the path of Mahāyāna and also ultimate bodhicitta. One also gains an understanding of the paths of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas in the process, so there is no contradiction. Moreover, the paths of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are explained in the context of the path-knowledge so that one might guide individuals of those types. One develops realization of selflessness according to the lesser vehicle—without this conflicting with the path of the greater vehicle—so that one can guide others. The base-knowledge to be avoided is taught to be the superimposition of clinging to true reality possessed by those following the lesser vehicle, which does conflict with the Mahāyāna approach, as well as the one-sided extreme of quiescence for one’s own benefit and so on. Thus, the two are not simply reiterated.

When these three knowledges are related to the five subsequent realizations, the application of all aspects and the culminating application are mainly applications of base-knowledge, whereas the progressive and instantaneous applications are applications of path-knowledge, and the resultant dharmakāya is the actual knowledge of all aspects. Therefore, the eight can be grouped into three based on a distinction between contemplation and application. The homage also teaches these three, which is why it is said that the meaning of the entire scripture is included in the homage.

When relating the four applications to the two knowledges we used the term “mainly.” That is to say, explaining them in this way, based on the most important connections, helps in developing an understanding of the relationships between paths, their sequence and what they include. It is not to say, however, that they are related in every respect, just as with the explanation of the application of all three knowledges at the time of the complete application of all aspects.

The meaning that the noble ones taught and the learned explained,
Which is well determined by the three kinds of wisdom,
This is the essential meaning of the threefold knowledge.
I wonder: would it not be difficult to explain it any other way?

2. Application

The second general theme is the application of the Mahāyāna path. This has two sections: 1) the application of all aspects, though which one gains proficiency in realization, and 2) the progressive application, through which one stabilizes realization.

1. Gaining Proficiency in Realization: Application of All Aspects

“Gaining proficiency in realization” means that having understood the characteristics of all knowable phenomena—as indicated by the three knowledges—one takes the various realizations of the three vehicles as objects of aspiration, but as yet one has still not gained even the slightest quality of realization. As an example, consider a poor servant who knows and calculates all the wealth and possessions of her rich employer, but cannot take any of it, even so much as a single needle, for her own.

What we call gaining mastery in realization, therefore, means to meditate on all aspects—from the aspect of impermanence in the beginning through to the aspect of ultimate enlightenment itself—in the manner of the indivisible unity of the two truths, so as to generate realization of what was not previously realized.

Then, what stabilizes realization is connecting all earlier and later meditations that previously arose in the mind and actualizing them in the proper sequence. In addition, one becomes familiar through study and reflection with whatever has not previously arisen, develops the aspiration that it will arise, and diligently stabilizes familiarity with all realizations that one has already developed. Consider as an example how children first learn to read. They begin by learning each syllable, reading the basic letters such as ka, kha and the rest, then the suffixes, prefixes and so on. This is comparable to the application of all aspects. Later on, they learn to read combinations that include several of the letters already learned, as in words like “sangs-rgyas” [meaning Buddha]. Then again through becoming increasingly familiar they can become more skilled. This is comparable to the progressive application. The culminating and instantaneous applications are the points at which one reaches complete familiarity with the other two applications; they are not separate methods of practice.

There are four occasions when the application of all aspects becomes perfectly familiar:[7]

1) On the mundane path, the culmination of the path of joining occurs when qualities develop in the mind, such as the sign of a definitive remedy that will suppress the four types of perceiver-thought and percept-thought as well as its increase. There can be no higher realization arising from mundane meditation than this.

2) Through the noble path, first the culmination of the path of seeing occurs when the non-conceptual wisdom of the path of seeing arises in the mind as a remedy that eradicates the four types of perceiver-thought and percept-thought, which are abandoned through the path of seeing. There can be no higher realization of the meditative equipoise in which dharmatā is seen directly than this.

3) Subsequently, the culmination of the path of meditation occurs when the remedy that eradicates the four types of perceiver-thought and percept-thought that are abandoned through the path of meditation arises in the mind and one masters the accomplishment of all worldly benefit and happiness through the meditation on all aspects. There can be no samādhi cultivated by those on the path than this.

4) Thereafter, the culmination of the ultimate path occurs when even subtle attachment and appearance of the two truths as distinct, good and bad or in conflict has been abandoned and the non-conceptual wisdom that is indicated by the three of focus, aspect and cause arises in the mind. This is so because there are no further intervening paths before the ultimate fruition, dharmakāya.

The occasion of perfect familiarity for the progressive application is the instantaneous. When a single inexhaustible quality is made manifest, this is the occasion of the culmination of the path, when all the inexhaustible qualities that have previously been realized are made manifest in a non-dual way, without characteristics. This and the culmination of the unimpeded mentioned above are distinguished only conceptually as meditation and post-meditation; they are not actually distinct.

Therefore, the real trainings to be cultivated are the application of all aspects and the progressive. Moreover, in accordance with the sequence in the text, the culminating application arises in the mind based on the application of all aspects. This suggests that the meditation develops progressively, but this is simply the sequence in which they are explained as pairs of cause and effect; it is not the sequence of how they are practised in meditation. When meditating, both are present in the meditation practice right from the beginning stage. For example, this is also how the progressive is explained in terms of study and reflection.

Thus, let us explain how these two applications relate to the practices, as a mere introduction to illustrate how they are meditated upon. First, for the application of all aspects, the aspects of the three knowledges are grouped into 173 aspects, which are the objects for meditation. Among these, let us take the first aspect of base-knowledge, the aspect of impermanence, as an example of how to meditate. The objective aspect (don rnam) is the way that all phenomena in the category of the conditioned abide as a stream of connected moments with the nature of arising and ceasing. The cognitive aspect (shes rnam) is to meditate upon this very fact of impermanence so that all misconceptions are eliminated through scriptural authority and logical reasoning. On the paths of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas this alone is sufficient. In the Mahāyāna approach, however, one must develop the realizations of all vehicles, so this much would be insufficient; one must take both the objective and cognitive aspects as objects and meditate upon them through application.

Although there are said to be twenty applications [within the complete application of all aspects], three of these are merely divisions of the manner of realizing the three knowledges and fifteen are divisions of parameters. Thus, as far as the actual meditation is concerned, there are only two: the non-abiding application (mi gnas pa’i sbyor ba) and the application of non-application (mi sbyor ba’i sbyor ba). In this respect, “non-abiding” meditation is meditation in which fixation (zhen spyod) towards objects has ceased. [8] In the present context, since the actual aspect of impermanence is the object, non-abiding application means not maintaining any mental fixation, because of understanding that even the knowledge of impermanence is just a conventional or relative realization, while from the ultimate perspective there is no true reality even to impermanence.

Understanding impermanence to be empty in this way, even the meditating mind is found to be emptiness beyond any extreme. There is no observation of someone practising something as a form of yoga. Even the term “meditation” is therefore a conceptual projection; in reality, there is not so much as an atom’s worth of meditation to be done. This understanding is referred to as “the application of non-application” because it is the understanding that there is no meditation to be applied either objectively or subjectively. This is the meditation that puts a stop to fixation towards the subjective. [9]

These two applications are also referred to as the cessation of alternative abiding and yoga—yoga being synonymous with application. We can also explain these using alternative Dharma terminology: these two are precisely what is meant by “without object or act of meditation.” Non-abiding application refers to the absence of any object of meditation, and application of non-application refers to the fact that there is no act of meditation.

Moreover, the non-conceptualization that is explained as the meaning of the Mother Prajñāpāramitā is precisely this—not to entertain notions based on attachment to the reality of either the objective or subjective. Alternatively, one might say that “non-abiding” means that since there is no reality to objects, the mind does not cling to anything; whereas “application of non-application” means that this non-clinging to anything is the supreme of yogas. This touches upon the same crucial point as the so-called meditation of non-meditation. It is just as the Ornament of Mahāyāna Sūtras says:

Meditation in which there is no view
Of meditation is held to be supreme.[10]

Therefore, since this is the ultimate practice, which is to meditate on the meaning of the Mother Prajñāpāramitā, we must strive sincerely to eliminate all misconceptions of this crucial point. Otherwise, to treat this as merely ancillary, because it is based on relatively few words in the text itself, and instead to drone on expertly about all kinds of meaningless points would only serve to sever one’s connection with the Dharma of profound meaning.

Therefore, the many scriptural traditions and meditation manuals of the thousands of learned and accomplished masters of India and Tibet all come together in this single point of non-attachment, just as a single bridge might span a hundred streams. When you understand this, you will see that there is no need for passionate, heated debates which spring from mistaking a simple difference in terminology for actual contradiction. Indeed, I believe that contentment born of confident trust and faith in all traditions is a sign of having studied the Prajñāpāramitā.

This does not mean that you should remain as you are out of a nihilistic view, thinking that there is nothing to meditate on because all phenomena are emptiness. The point is to understand that on the ultimate level all phenomena—illustrated by objects and subjects—are, by their very nature, free from conceptual elaboration, unborn and beyond the conceptual mind, and therefore not to get caught up in grasping attachment to anything. At the same time, on the illusory relative level, you must practise with the three principles: beginning with the generation of bodhicitta, practising the main part without conceptual reference, and dedicating [merit] at the end. If you practise in this way, meditating (in the manner of non-meditation) on all aspects—from the impermanence of the conditioned through to the aspect of enlightenment itself—and develop this in your mind, that is the supreme method of meditating on emptiness according to the Prajñāpāramitā. As it is said:

A craftsman skilled in carpentry creates forms
Of men and women, who perform all actions.
Likewise, a bodhisattva skilled in wisdom activity
Performs all actions with non-conceptual wisdom.[11]

This is similar to the explanation in the context of base-knowledge where it is said that all phenomena are indicated through the seven aspects of perceptual experience and meditated upon by means of fourfold non-presumption (rlom med bzhi).

Meditating in this way brings about all the various realizations of the three vehicles in the short term. Ultimately, they are all purified within the single expanse of non-attachment that is emptiness beyond conceptual elaboration. The intelligent should know that it is precisely this inseparable unity of appearance and emptiness, or skilful means and wisdom, in which the two accumulations are brought together, that is the unsurpassable, excellent path that delights the victorious ones.

In this context, there are several aspects, such as the strengths and fearlessnesses and so on, which are aspects of the wisdom of a buddha and are not meditated upon directly at the moment. Nevertheless, they are meditated upon by cultivating the intention and aspiration to generate them in the mind in future. It is also said that once attaining the bhūmis, even though these are not actually present, some semblance of them is generated in one’s continuum.

2. Stabilizing Realization: Progressive Meditation

Thus, one brings together all aspects of threefold knowledge in 173 aspects and meditates on each according to the indivisible unity of the two truths through the complete application of all aspects. Then, one stabilizes the realizations that arose in the mind at the time of the application of all aspects. This is done by meditating on them in sequence with increasing rapidity and linking successive meditations, and by meditating on them so that so that every [aspect] is complete within each one.

Let us illustrate this through the meditation on the aspect of the truth of suffering in connection with the first knowledge. First one focuses on each aspect, such as impermanence, suffering, etc., then one develops a stable confidence in how on the relative level everything conditioned lacks permanence. Additionally, one understands these as emptiness on the ultimate level, so that there is no presumption or attachment. Meditating on the progressive arising of the inseparable unity of these two within the mindstream is meditation on the application of all aspects. Any aspects that arise in the mind in this way are refined again and again by bringing them to mind in the proper sequence—such as impermanence, suffering, emptiness and selflessness—in one moment of the completion of an act after the next. Moreover, the other three aspects are included within the single aspect of impermanence, because it is explained that “suffering comes about due to impermanence” and since conditioned phenomena are like flowing chains of events, they are also empty and selfless. Thus, one considers how all aspects incorporate the rest and thereby develops familiarity.

Now, you might wonder how this meditation on the various aspects such as impermanence constitutes the progressive application, since the text explains this application in thirteen points such as recollecting the Buddha. These thirteen are indeed elements of the gradual meditation, but they are not the main practice. In this respect, the Three Jewels are the support, because taking refuge is the foundation of all paths. The recollection of the deities provides a witness for the cultivation of the path. The following seven constitute the mode of meditation, since for each aspect one meditates on how the six-times-six pāramitās are complete and how this is embraced by emptiness. Recollecting giving and discipline and adopting them both brings about all the favourable conditions for practising the path, a physical support in the higher realms and an abundance of resources. They are thus useful for continuing the training in future lives as well.

The actual meditation is therefore identified in the context of the intermediate realizations:

Defining characteristics, their application,
Their culmination and their sequence.[12]

If we understand the word “their” here to refer to the aspects of the threefold knowledge, then it follows that the aspects of the threefold knowledge are the objects of the gradual meditation. Whereas if we understand the same word to refer each time to what precedes it, then the gradual must refer to the gradual sequence of the culmination of the application of all aspects. In any case, it is certain that the object of the gradual meditation is none other than the object of meditation at the time of the application of all aspects.

Given that the object of the gradual meditation is none other than the object of meditation in the application of all aspects, you might wonder why these are presented as two distinct realizations. This is on account of their difference in terms of emphasis and so on. The application of all aspects is primarily a meditation on how all phenomena, as illustrated by the aspects of the threefold knowledge, are emptiness beyond elaboration. By contrast, the progressive [application] is primarily a training to develop strength in the samādhi of all aspects, motivated by great compassion. Moreover, the application of all aspects emphasizes the meditative equipoise while the progressive [application] emphasizes the post-meditation.

We speak of meditation and post-meditation in relation to these two applications, but this is not like what we experience in our current state of mind, when meditative equipoise means a time of even composure in samādhi and post-meditation means the phase of ordinary activity that takes place after rising from that state. Here, meditative equipoise refers to the state in which noble beings who have attained the bhūmis rest with non-conceptual wisdom in even composure in the sphere beyond characteristics. And post-meditation refers to what follows, when they exercise the strength of their samādhi meditation on all aspects.

At the moment, as beginners, when we practise meditating on the [application] of all aspects, we bring impermanence and the rest to mind and meditate once we have established their emptiness. Then for the progressive [application], without parting from this emptiness, we bring each aspect to mind in sequence and refine it. So, to us it appears as if there is only a difference in terms of meditation, according to whether each aspect is meditated on in turn or many are brought together, or in terms of the emphasis on emptiness or the aspects. It does not seem as if there is a difference in terms of meditation and post-meditation. However, for those who have reached the bhūmis, there is no need during the meditation on all aspects to establish the emptiness of each aspect one by one and then meditate on how they are beyond arising. All dualistic perception of subject and object has been purified within the expanse of non-conceptual wisdom, like salt dissolving into water. Moreover, the ultimate, which is beyond the conceptual elaborations of the ordinary mind, has been made evident. This is the meditative equipoise. For noble beings, the situation is just as in the Ghanavyūha Sūtra when the teachers of Sudhana show the liberating power of their own samādhi. In this way, great waves of bodhisattva activity, including generosity, are accomplished through the power of samādhi alone. Therefore, post-meditation refers to the actualization of the samādhi that includes all aspects through the gradual meditation.

Although the meditative equipoise of the noble ones does not involve meditation on different aspects since all conceptual elaboration is utterly pacified, this does not mean that it is completely devoid of any aspect. For example, in the context of the culmination of the path of seeing, it is said:

That in which generosity and so on
Are each included one within another,
Brought together in a moment’s acceptance
Is the path of seeing here. [13]

Thus, the path of seeing in this context is explained as having the nature of the six-times-six (i.e., thirty-six) pāramitās. Similarly, all aspects of the three knowledges are complete within the meditative composure in which conceptual elaboration has been pacified within non-conceptual wisdom. Therefore, this is also what is meant by the term “awakening completely to all aspects.” [14]

On the seven impure bhūmis, all the ocean-like activity of the bodhisattvas during post-meditation is accomplished based on the samādhi of all aspects. Still, they are not able to train with this [activity] being of a single taste within the absolute space beyond characteristics. On the seventh [bhūmi] the samādhi without characteristics is present, but it involves effort, so the [application of] all aspects and the gradual meditation are distinct. From the eighth bhūmi onwards, through the samādhi of emptiness endowed with the supreme of all aspects, all the boundless, inconceivable qualities of a tathāgata are progressively attained within undefiled absolute space. This being so, the welfare of self and others is brought about spontaneously through the effortless path without characteristics. This is the stage of training in the application of the equality of existence and quiescence. It thus marks the beginning of the unity of both the [application of] all aspects and the progressive meditation. On the unimpeded path at the end of the continuum, there is the final supreme quality of the purification of defilements within absolute space. The sixteen conflicting views based on holding the two truths to be distinct are abandoned without trace, and the meditation and post-meditation of the application of all aspects and the progressive cultivation become indivisible. Wisdom and samādhi are evenly balanced. This is the manifestation of instantaneous wisdom.

Moreover, in many sūtras such as the Fortunate Aeon and King of Samādhi, numerous gateways to bodhisattva activity are listed, such as the samādhi of extending equality and so on, but they are all included within this progressive samādhi.

As regards the necessity for meditating on these two, without the meditation on all aspects, in which one meditates on the emptiness of all phenomena, one could not abandon the two obscurations together with the habitual tendencies and attain awakening with its realization of the equality of all phenomena. Whereas without the progressive cultivation in which one gains mastery over all knowable phenomena during the post-meditation, one could not attain omniscience itself, in which making evident just a single undefiling quality causes all such qualities to manifest. This is equivalent to what is said in the Sublime Continuum:

The purification of the adventitious afflictions,
Is said to be, in short, the result
Of non-conceptual wisdom.
The definitive attainment of the dharmakāya
That is endowed with the supreme of all aspects,
Is shown to be the result of wisdom
Of the ensuing attainment [i.e. post-meditation].[15]

To put it very simply, these two [applications] constitute the ultimate practice of the Mahāyāna and are causes for attaining the ultimate two kāyas of a buddha. They therefore incorporate a plethora of qualities, such as emptiness and compassion, wisdom and skilful means, the paths and bhūmis, the paths of seeing and cultivation, wisdom and samādhi, abandonment and realization, the nature and multiplicity of things, the dharmakāya and rūpakāya, and so on. According to some they are of a single essential nature; while others say they are similar, or differ in extent, or are related as cause and effect. This is all a matter for further investigation.

On the [paths of] accumulation and joining, one’s mind is still caught up in clinging to reality and one is not yet freed from karma and the afflictions, so it is necessary to meditate primarily on emptiness and [the application of] all aspects. Then, having reached the bhūmis, one primarily works to secure others’ welfare and thus mainly practises the progressive meditation that is the cause of the wisdom of omniscience. This is why it is said that having reached the culmination one practises the progressive meditation, and also why it is said, “Their culmination and their sequence...”[16] That is how this point should be explained.

Some people say that teachings that reveal profound emptiness, which is sky-like, free from complexity and beyond the ordinary mind, are for supreme individuals, such as the noble ones; whereas sūtras of the final turning and their commentaries, which are concerned with conduct, are for beginners. Such claims do not correspond to the tradition of the victorious buddhas and their bodhisattva heirs. What, for instance, would be the point of explaining the taste of treacle to someone who already has a mouth full of treacle? Or of arranging an elaborate feast for a newborn baby? Likewise, why explain the profound truth to noble beings who have already realized that truth for themselves? Anyone who has not realized the intrinsic nature of reality on the path of seeing and not become accustomed to the samādhis of the path of cultivation, let alone the vast activities of the bodhisattvas who have reached inconceivable liberation, will not yet be able to train in the genuine six pāramitās. As it is said:

When factors incompatible with generosity have declined,
And one possesses wisdom that is non-conceptual,
All that one wishes for can be fully brought about—
These are the three aspects of bringing beings to maturity.[17]

The point can thus be understood through examining such statements on the definitions of the six pāramitās.

Then again, there are some who say that once one has realized emptiness, there is no need to train in vast activity. This kind of talk is really a deceitful lie, because it is only through realizing emptiness that one can train in such activity. How could anyone who has not yet realized emptiness ever perform such feats? Can an infant still in its cradle dance before a crowd of spectators?

What then, you might wonder, is the point of engaging in this activity after having realized emptiness? Aren’t practices such as generosity undertaken purely for the sake of realizing emptiness? Such thinking demonstrates a failure to grasp even the most basic principles of the Mahāyāna path; it is to mistake inferior paths for the greater vehicle. The expression of veneration states: “Who through path-knowledge helps the altruistic to benefit the world…” As this shows, the ultimate concern of the bodhisattvas is others’ welfare. Thus, to fulfil completely the aspirations of all infinite beings through vast activity such as generosity is the main practice of the Mahāyāna path. Without directly realizing emptiness, one will not understand the equality of self and other, and therefore one’s activity will not be completely pure. That is why direct realization of emptiness is a preliminary to the vast waves of bodhisattva activity. Yet how could it be the ultimate pursuit of the Mahāyāna path? The Ornament of Sūtras says:

Having fully realized the nature of reality,
They then train in higher discipline,
Higher concentration and higher wisdom.[18]

In the context of the divisions of the bodhisattvas, too, it is said that those on the seven impure bhūmis dwell in activity.

Still, some might think that activity is necessary in order to refine the mindstream but is not the ultimate goal of the Mahāyāna path. They might point to the sūtras in which the Buddha says that until the eighth bhūmi, buddhas do not make a prophecy because one is still dwelling in activity. Then, once one attains the eighth bhūmi, all activity is entirely transcended, so the prophecy is issued. The meaning here is as explained above. Until the seventh bhūmi, there is not an effortless path beyond characteristics, and non-conceptuality is not brought together in inseparable unity with activity for others’ welfare. There is therefore still some slight clinging to the reality of the activity, so one is said to dwell in activity. After attaining the eighth bhūmi, effortlessness beyond characteristics is made manifest. Therefore, since one is free from even the slightest fixation upon activity, it becomes spontaneously accomplished, and one is said to be beyond activity. Still, it is said that at this stage there is a risk of entering the non-conceptual, absolute space of quiescence, which would be a nihilistic form of nirvāṇa. The buddhas therefore exhort bodhisattvas repeatedly, encouraging them to work for others’ benefit. If activity were not the ultimate point of the path, what would be the point of such exhortation?

Then again, you might claim that if practices such as generosity are not undertaken for the sake of realizing wisdom, this contradicts the following statement from the Bodhicaryāvatāra:

All these branches of the Dharma
The Sage taught for the sake of wisdom. [19]

However, wisdom (prajñā) here means the non-dual primordial wisdom (jñāna; ye shes) of the buddhas, as in the statement by Ācārya Dignāga:

The transcendent perfection of wisdom
Is non-dual primordial wisdom, which is the tathāgata. [20]

When it comes to identifying the essence of this wisdom, the text’s wisdom chapter says:

When the notions of real and unreal
Are absent from before the mind,
Then, there is no other possibility
But to rest in total peace, beyond concepts.[21]

Thus, the text identifies wisdom as the absolute space beyond conceptual elaboration. It then goes on to refute the objection that consequently the form body (rūpakāya) would not arise for others’ benefit:

As the wishing jewel and tree of miracles
Fulfil all hopes and wishes,
Likewise, through their prayers for those to be trained,
Victorious buddhas appear within the world.[22]

You might accept this, but still insist that the most important element of the Mahāyāna path is the wisdom that realizes selflessness, that the Mahāyāna path pursues the state of enlightenment in which the two obscurations have been relinquished, and that this must be made evident through profound wisdom. In response, we may ask why you still persist in this mistaken view and continue to cling stubbornly to inferior paths as the Mahāyāna. That which is pursued through the Mahāyāna path is not buddhahood in which the two obscurations have been relinquished. As the expression of veneration says, “With whom the Sages are endowed, so that through omniscience they teach in varied ways….” In this context, the individuals are the buddhas, the method is omniscience, and the result is turning the Wheel of Dharma. If the ultimate pursuit is enlightenment why mention a further result?

Therefore, on both a temporary and ultimate level, the most important pursuit of the Mahāyāna path is others’ welfare. As for the real means of accomplishing this, at the path stage it is bodhisattva activity such as generosity, and at the fruition stage it is the enlightened activity of buddhahood itself. In both cases, the most important preliminary or cause for bringing this about is wisdom—which is why wisdom is described as supreme and primary.

The Verse Summary says:

That which comes before generosity is wisdom,
Which similarly precedes discipline, patience,
Diligence and meditation.
It preserves virtuous dharmas, ensuring they do not go to waste.[23]


How could a multitude of blind folk, who lack a guide
And who do not know the way, ever find the city?
Likewise, without wisdom, the five pāramitās are blind
And, without their guide, will not reach awakening.[24]

This says that wisdom must take the lead, like a guide for the blind. Having first developed realization of the non-conceptual wisdom of emptiness in the mindstream, one strives to benefit others for countless aeons through vast bodhisattva activity, including generosity and the rest. Thus, one realizes the authentic limit through perfecting, maturing and purifying—this is the unerring configuration of the path.

In explanations of the sequence of the six pāramitās, it is said that not being unduly concerned with possessions is a form of discipline, and observing discipline is itself a form of patience. Thus, each is said to be the cause of what follows and the result of what precedes it. It is also said:

Generosity, therefore, yields a wealth of possessions,
Discipline leads to higher realms, meditation overcomes afflictions;
Whereas wisdom removes all emotional and cognitive obscurations,
It is thus supreme, and its cause is studying this.[25]

Such statements, which involve qualitative distinctions, are made in reference to the generosity and so on of ordinary beings. This explanation also applies to the earlier quotations from Bodhicaryāvatāra.

For this reason, when one trains in generosity and the other pāramitās on the paths of accumulation and joining in order to refine one’s mindstream and gather the accumulations, this is merely a cause for the profound view to arise in one’s mind; it is not a practice of vast bodhisattva activity, and these are not even the authentic six pāramitās, because not even one of the four characteristics is present:

  • They are not done with a presence of non-conceptual wisdom.
  • Incompatible factors have not diminished.
  • They do not fulfil completely the hopes and wishes of beings.
  • They do not establish beings in any of the three levels of enlightenment according to their particular karma.

Moreover, since neither the four qualities have been accomplished nor the seven types of attachment [26] overcome, they lack the criteria of transcendent perfections (pāramitā). Meditation on repulsiveness by śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, for example, does not qualify as the pāramitā of meditative concentration according to the Mahāyāna.

Learned individuals will understand these points through an analogy. When a skilled doctor uses the precious substance mercury to heal beings’ sickness, he begins by purifying the mercury, cleansing and washing it, then heating it up. Once it has been detoxified, it can be combined with different medicines and used to heal a variety of diseases. As in this example, bodhisattvas generate precious bodhicitta in their minds—the sole cause for eliminating all the ills of existence and quiescence. As long as they are still ordinary beings, they have the poison of self-centred desire, and must therefore grow accustomed to the profound [view of] emptiness. When the nature of reality is made evident on the path of seeing, they understand the equality of phenomena, and are purified, thereby shedding all the stains of self-centred desire. Then, by applying the non-conceptualization of the three spheres to all the vast activities of the bodhisattvas, with the marvellous diligence that comes from disregarding selfish concern, they heal all the diseases that come from beings’ emotional and cognitive obscurations.

Furthermore, the passage in the Sūtra Requested by the King of Dhāraṇīs [27] that employs the example of cleaning a jewel also demonstrates the very same sequence of the path. The first two parts are easy to understand, but later references to the discourse of the irreversible wheel are explained in the commentary on the Compendium of Sūtras (Sūtrasamuccaya) and elsewhere as the path that unites great compassion and the wisdom of emptiness. ‘Complete purity of the three spheres’ refers to bodhisattva activity, such as generosity, which is practised without any concept of the three spheres. Supreme and noble Nāgārjuna cites this passage in his Compendium of Sūtras to establish that ultimately there is only a single vehicle. The text explains that one begins by developing disenchantment with saṃsāra by reflecting on impermanence, suffering and so forth, then engages in the profound and vast elements of the Mahāyāna. This proves that the paths of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are mere stepping stones on the way to the Mahāyāna. The noble bodhisattva Asaṅga cites the same passage in his commentary on the Sublime Continuum and says that it explains how bodhisattvas gradually refine their characters. He thus establishes the element of the tathāgatas, saying that what is to be refined is the pure element that is the buddha-nature.

These two explanations are essentially similar. Both pioneering masters assert the same sequential path: the first stage of which involves refining the mind by [reflecting on] impermanence, suffering, etc.; the second stage making evident the nature of reality that is the profound view, through the teaching of the three gateways to liberation; and the third stage training in the vast activity of the bodhisattvas, through the teaching of the irreversible wheel and the teaching of the complete purity of the three spheres. Someone who knows how to reconcile the flawless writings of these two supreme ornaments of this world and how to bring them together in practice may rightly be called learned. To focus instead on debating out of the kind of attachment and aversion that spring from clinging to a position might precipitate the grave karma of abandoning the Dharma but it will never result in liberating the mind through study.

In short, the main objective of the Mahāyāna path is the activity of a buddha, which establishes all sentient beings throughout the universe in the unsurpassable state of perfect buddhahood. This is why the bodhisattvas’ sources of virtue are inexhaustible and infinite. As The Aspiration to Good Actions says:

Sentient beings are as limitless
As the boundless expanse of space;
So shall my prayers of aspiration for them
Be as limitless as their karma and afflictions!

Were it not so, and the Mahāyāna had as its temporary objective merely the realization of emptiness and as its long-term objective the attainment of buddhahood, wherein the mind is freed from the bonds of the two obscurations, bodhisattvas’ sources of virtue would be exhausted with this attainment and would therefore be finite. This would resemble the attainment of nirvāṇa without remainder by means of lesser paths.

Such explanations as these are superfluous because they establish only what has been proven already by great saints of the past. Still, there are some like me, of inferior intellect, who first arouse bodhicitta through seeing the qualities of the buddhas and who aspire to buddhahood when seeing the qualitative distinctions of the vehicles. In short, they might presume that attitudes which are no more than plain compassion qualify as bodhicitta of the great vehicle. They might believe that on the path there is absolutely no need to train in generosity and the other pāramitās after realizing emptiness. They might misunderstand the statement that the path of meditation consists of cultivating familiarity with what is seen on the path of seeing. As a result, they might think that enlightenment can be gained through nothing more than becoming increasingly familiar with non-conceptual wisdom after attainment of the path of seeing. They might not know that it is the bodhisattvas’ bodhicitta and conduct that distinguish the Mahāyāna from the Lesser Vehicle; and think it is the view of emptiness alone that makes the difference. They might assume that something belongs to the Mahāyāna if it includes seemingly profound language about the view and meditation, without any mention of altruistic intention or application. They might consider the two flawless traditions—of the Profound View and Vast Conduct—to be as incompatible as fire and water. Or they might cling one-sidedly to the Buddha’s teachings of either the middle or the final turning and believe that either alone would suffice. I freely admit that in the hope of benefitting anyone who holds such partial views I have emphasised and reiterated this point, even at the risk of repeating myself.

Moreover, I also wish to address fortunate individuals of future generations who might feel a desire to train unerringly in the path laid out in Mahāyāna texts. Even while at the stage of ordinary beings, such individuals should rely upon the introductory mind-training techniques presented in such texts as the Bodhicaryāvatāra and the graded path (lam rim) teachings. Through these, they should rectify their characters, transforming them from inflexible and rigid to supple like leather and straight and true as an arrow. Then, relying on texts such as the glorious protector Ārya Nāgārjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, they should eliminate any conceptual projections that involve clinging to extremes with regard to the profound view. They should eradicate even the slightest concepts in which there is fixation upon reality and come to a definitive understanding of the view beyond conceptual constructs. Not content with this alone, they should look into the profound teachings of the final turning and the flawless scriptural tradition of the buddha’s regent and his followers, so that their minds turn towards the unsurpassable conduct of Samantabhadra. They should not rush themselves with talk of ‘just a single lifetime,’ as if drying wet hide by putting it straight in the fire. Instead, they should refer to the unimaginably vast, ocean-like activity of the bodhisattvas. Their deeds, which are based on the gateway to inconceivable liberation, measured according to the extent of space and of sentient beings, are as limitless as the universe. As it is said:

Let my bodhisattva acts be beyond measure!
Let my enlightened qualities be measureless too!
Keeping to this immeasurable activity,
May I accomplish all the miraculous powers of enlightenment![28]

In this way, they might develop an interest in, and aspiration towards, this flawless tradition of the victorious ones and their heirs, in which the framework is provided by this great highway of the mother of the buddhas, profound and vast. How wonderful that would be!

The path of the great vehicle is profound and vast.
The key is to blend profound and vast without conflict,
Whoever realizes this approach to the profound and vast
Will be cared for by this Mother of the victorious ones.

The result of practising by means of this special contemplation and application will be the dharmakāya together with its enlightened activity. This can be understood from the text itself.

Generally, whatever the heirs of the victorious ones aim for through their initial motivation that is the ultimate fruition. Therefore, the main objective of the bodhisattva path is great everlasting, all-pervasive and spontaneously accomplished activity for the benefit of beings until saṃsāra is empty. The support for this is the dharmakāya, and this dharmakāya has aspects of abandonment and realization. Of these, the main ruling condition for enlightened activity for beings’ benefit is the realization of the wisdom dharmakāya. As stated in the presentation of the main body of the text:

Dharmakāya, together with enlightened activity…

And the summary of the clear realizations says:

The result—the dharmakāya and enlightened activity…

The manifestation of omniscient wisdom is of course a sign of having abandoned the two obscurations together with habitual tendencies. Still, some assert that even in the lesser approach, a śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha becomes an arhat without remainder by abandonment, so that there is no longer any foundation for the two obscurations. If so, it is impossible to distinguish between the results of the greater and lesser vehicles in relation to abandonment, and they can only be distinguished based on realization of the dharmakāya and enlightened activity. On account of this, and because the initial motivation is unerringly pointed out by the generation of bodhicitta, it was said above that the objective of the Mahāyāna path is not buddhahood in which the two obscurations are abandoned. Nevertheless, this does not contradict the fact that this is what is to be accomplished in others' minds as the ultimate objective or result. Although buddhahood and omniscience are occasionally described in separate terms, they are ultimately inseparable.

When the eight clear realizations are presented as ground, path and fruition, there are two explanations, according to whether or not one refers to a cause, as in the summary of the clear realizations, which says:

The object, the threefold cause.

In reality however, these are just the same. As the ground, the threefold knowledge is definitively understood through study and reflection; then one practices the path by meditating on the four applications; and as the fruition, one actualizes the dharmakāya.

There is also the explanation in terms of contemplation and application, as I have provided here. Here, each can be said to have its own aspects of ground, path and fruition.

First, before one can train in altruistic activity through the knowledge of all paths, in order to make evident the fruition of omniscience, one has to realize how all the phenomena of the bases—the aggregates, elements and sensory sources—are devoid of the thirty-two types of conceptual projection.

Second, one meditates on emptiness by means of the application of all aspects, having understood how all the phenomena within threefold knowledge, i.e., the basis, consist of the three types of non-arising. On that basis, as the path that develops in one’s being, one stabilizes through the progressive application all the wisdom of realization. Through this, one attains the temporary fruition of the culminating and instantaneous [applications], and manifests the ultimate fruition, which is the dharmakāya together with enlightened activity. Then, until saṃsāra is emptied, there is enlightened action for others’ benefit—vast, uninterrupted, effortless and spontaneously accomplished.

I have written this by relying upon the learned masters,
Who have flawlessly upheld the views of the noble one,
The peerless commentator on the precise intention of
The Mother of the buddhas, which is so difficult to fathom.

There is a little here which is not set out in other commentaries,
But was taught only indirectly in the excellent explanations
Of many learned scholars; and I have also taken care
To ensure that it accords with Maitreya’s other treatises.

The profound Mahāyāna Dharma is a powerful thing,
And it is taught in the sūtras that there are many faults
For one who creates Dharma or introduces innovations.
If this is such a work, I sincerely confess and apologise.

Still, on account of my heartfelt devotion to this excellent path
Of the profound supreme vehicle and because of my acquaintance
With its many works, both the sūtras and the commentaries,
I feel confident there is no contradiction in the ultimate message.

Through the boundless merit of this composition,
May hell beings, pretas, animals and asuras
Be forever freed from their negative ways,
And take birth in the victorious Maitreya's presence!

Knowing that if I were to write a brief overview according to the explanations of the great Jetsün Tsongkhapa on the view of Ārya Vimuktasena, who was as famous throughout Jambudvīpa as the sun and moon on account of his peerless commentaries on the intention of the Ornament to the Prajñāpāramitā, it would be of immediate benefit to some of my closest Dharma friends, and that it might be suitable too for the supreme lord of refuge, I, the old dog Abu, wrote this during some breaks between sessions in the hermitage of Nakchung ('Little Forest'). May it be virtuous and auspicious! Virtue!

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2004. Revised and updated with the generous support of the Khyentse Foundation, 2018. First published on Lotsawa House, 2019.


Tibetan Editions

SGa – dPal sprul 'Jigs med chos kyi dbang po. "Sher phyin rgyan gyi spyi don bsgom rim nyung ngu gzhung lugs legs bshad" in dPal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i gsung 'bum, Gangtok: Sonam Topgay Kazi, 1970-1971. Vol. 3: 695–734 (W21857)

SGb – dPal sprul 'Jigs med chos kyi dbang po. "Sher phyin rgyan gyi spyi don bsgom rim nyung ngu gzhung lugs legs bshad" in dPal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i gsung 'bum, Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 2009. Vol. 5: 184–226.

Other Primary Sources

dPal sprul 'Jigs med chos kyi dbang po. dPal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i gsung 'bum. 8 vols. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 2009.

______. Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa'i rgyan gyi spyi don. In dPal sprul o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i gsung 'bum, Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 2009. Vol. 4: 1–533.

Padma badzra, "Sher phyin mngon rtogs rgyan gyi spyi don byams mgon dgongs pa'i gsal byed bla ma brgyud pa'i zhal lung" in rDzogs chen mkhan po padma badzra'i gsung thor bu. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2001, pp. 36–74 (Translated here).

Thub bstan brtson 'grus phun tshogs. mKhan chen Thub bstan brtson 'grus kyi gsung 'bum. 2 vols. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang. 2011.

______. Shing rta'i srol 'byed bshad mdo 'grel thsul sogs sher phyin 'chad pa'i sngon 'gro. In Thub bstan brtson 'grus phun tshogs kyi gsung 'bum, vol. 1: 239–66. Mysoorie, India: Nyingma Monastery, Mkhan-po Padma-śes-rab. 1985? (Translated here)

______.Bstan bcos chen po mngon rtogs rgyan gyi lus rnam bzhag gi 'grel pa 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i zhal lung. In mKhan chen Thub bstan brtson 'grus kyi gsung 'bum, vol. 2: 103–122 (Translated here)

______. Bstan bcos chen po mngon rtogs rgyan gyi lus rnam bzhag gi 'grel pa 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po'i zhal lung. In Acharya Pema Tenzin (ed.), Abhisamayālaṅkāramahāśāstrakāya-vyavasthātikā abhaya dharmendra-mukhāgama-nāma by Ven. Khenpo Tsondu. Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1988.

Secondary Sources

Brunnhölzl, Karl. Gone Beyond: The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Kagyü Tradition. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2010–11.

______. Groundless Paths: The Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, The Ornament of Clear Realization, and Its Commentaries in the Tibetan Nyingma Tradition. Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2012.

Conze, Edward, trans. Abhisamayālaṃkāra. Serie Orientale Roma 6. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medi ed Estreme Oriente. 1954.

______. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. Gravenhage: Mouton & Co. 1960.

Obermiller, Eugene. Prajñāpāramitā in Tibetan Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

Ricard, Matthieu. Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings of Patrul Rinpoche. Boulder: Shambhala, 2017.

Version: 1.2-20220122

  1. I, 41  ↩

  2. Abhisamayālaṃkāra III, 16.  ↩

  3. See the concluding two verses of Abhisamayālaṃkāra.  ↩

  4. III, 3. In his commentary, Asaṅga explains that there are four aspects to the term ‘universal’ here. ‘Universality of beings’ refers to the fact that one enters this vehicle with the intention of benefitting all beings; ‘universality of vehicles’ indicates that one must learn all three vehicles; ‘universality of wisdom’ indicates that one must master the two kinds of selflessness; and ‘universality of nirvāṇa’ means that since saṃsāra and the peace of nirvāṇa are indivisible, there should be no viewing them in terms of their respective faults or qualities.  ↩

  5. This is from Asaṅga’s commentary. The relevant section is as follows: “The transcendent conqueror is fully enlightened with regard to the equality of all phenomena, perfectly turns the wheel of Dharma and has an infinite gathering of extremely disciplined disciples.” According to Asaṅga, the three lines show the sequence in which the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Saṅgha arise.  ↩

  6. From Abhisamayālaṃkāra I, 2.  ↩

  7. Here I am following the blockprint edition (SGa), which reads: de yang rnam rdzogs sbyor ba goms pa rab tu gyur pa’i gnas skabs bzhi ste/ There is a typographical error in SGb, which reads: de yang rnam rdzogs sbyor ba goms par bcu gyur pa’i gnas skabs bzhi ste/ However, Brunnhölzl (2012: 592) appears to accept the latter reading.  ↩

  8. Elsewhere in his writings, in his Brief Introduction to the Bardos, Patrul Rinpoche defines the non-abiding application as “eliminating clinging to good and bad in outer objects” (phyi yul gyi bzang ngan gnyis kyi zhen pa bcad).  ↩

  9. In Brief Introduction to the Bardos, Patrul Rinpoche defines the application of non-application as “non-thinking or undistracted non-meditation, which is simply resting in the natural state” (mi bsam/ mi yeng mi sgom/ rang bab ‘dug pa’o/).  ↩

  10. IX, 79ab  ↩

  11. Prajñāpāramitārthasaṃgraha XXVI, 8  ↩

  12. Abhisamayālaṃkāra IX, 1ab.  ↩

  13. Abhisamayālaṃkāra V, 21.  ↩

  14. A note in the Tibetan (both SGa and SGb) here says that this expression is synonymous with Dzogchen.  ↩

  15. II, 10–11  ↩

  16. Abhisamayālaṃkāra IX 1b.  ↩

  17. Mahāyānasūtralaṃkāra XVI, 8.  ↩

  18. Sūtrālaṃkāra XX, 17.  ↩

  19. IX 1ab  ↩

  20. Prajñāpāramitārthasaṃgraha 1ab.  ↩

  21. Bodhicaryāvatāra IX, 34  ↩

  22. IX, 35.  ↩

  23. Prajñāpāramitāsaṃcayagāthā IV, 5.  ↩

  24. Ibid. VII, 1.  ↩

  25. Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra-ratnagotra-vibhāga V, 6.  ↩

  26. According to Ārya Asaṅga’s commentary on the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, where they are explained in connection with the pāramitā of generosity, the seven kinds of attachment are: 1) attachment to possessions, 2) postponing the practice, 3) being satisfied with just a little practice, 4) expectation of something in return, 5) karmic results, 6) adverse circumstances, and 7) distractions.  ↩

  27. Dhāraṇiśvararājaparipṛcchāsūtra.  ↩

  28. From The Aspiration to Good Actions.  ↩

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