Monday, May 25, 2009

The Three Principal Paths

The Three Principal Paths (Lam-Tso Mam-Sum) is a very concise presentation of the entire Gradual Path (Lam Rim) teachings composed by Lama Tsongkapa (1357-1419). Tsongkhapa is considered one the greatest philosopher-contemplative-scholars Tibet has ever produced. The Three Paths of Renunciation, Spirit of Enlightenment, and Correct View of Reality—are the essential knowledges one cultivates to achieve full awakening.

The 12-week Gradual Path Towards Contemplative Living course taught at Tibet House is based on the Three Principal Paths; one month of four classes having been assigned to each of the three principals. The entire path from misery to complete freedom and happiness can be traced over the course of these 12- weeks.

Weeks 1-4 covered Renunciation, the abandoning of compulsive living that results in our experience of suffering. The Four Noble Truths showed how we suffer due to attachment and anger based on misperception of reality, and how happiness and freedom are possible if we adopt a contemplative life based on ethics, mental training and wisdom. The key skill taught during the first month was mindfulness meditation, used to calm the mind from its compulsive reactive patterns, in order to create the opportunity for choice in how to respond to experience with discrimination and care.

Weeks 5-8 covered the Spirit of Enlightenment (Bodhicitta), the wish to attain freedom for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Four Fold Exchange of Self and Other showed how we are fundamentally no different from all other beings, the downfall of our self-preoccupation and the joy of altruism. Through this framework we see how the cultivation of wisdom, particularly of interdependence, naturally gives rise to compassion for others. The key skills taught during the second month were loving kindness meditation (metta) and giving and taking meditation (tong-len), used to reverse self-centeredness into care for others. Here we used compassion as the ultimate medicine to destroy the misperception of separateness at the root of our own suffering, thereby allowing us to taste the happiness born of our interconnectivity.

Weeks 9-12 covered the Correct View of Reality, discussed negatively as the emptiness or lack of inherent existence in phenomenon and positively as the interdependence or co-arising of the appearance of things. The Seven-limb Prayer showed the possibility of growing past self-imposed limitations by exposing our minds and hearts to the optimal care of our mentor. The fact that we can learn, grow and change is possible because of emptiness, the lack of any fixed, inherently real notion of self or things. The key skills taught during the last month were the Jewel Tree and Mentor-boding visualizations. Here we exposed the mind to emptiness by dissolving ordinary appearance and reconstructing optimal guides and environments based on active imagination. Once in a safe healing environment and in the presence of our mentor guides we are able to project and introject our innate goodness, confidence and optimal healing capacity. For more on the psychodynamics of mentor-bonding see an earlier post.

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path
Fourteen verses written by Lama Tsong Khapa

Respectfully I prostrate to the Exalted Mentor.

1. As far as I am able, I shall explain the essence of all high teachings of the Awakened, the path that all warriors of love commend, the entry point for the fortunate seeking freedom.
2. Listen with a pure mind, fortunate ones who have no craving for the mundane pleasures of life, and who to make leisure and fortune meaningful, strive to turn their minds to the contemplative path, which pleases the Awakened.
3. There is no way to end, without pure renunciation, this striving for pleasant results in the ocean of life. It is because of their mindless yearning for life as well that beings are bound, so seek renunciation first.
4. Leisure and fortune are hard to find; life is not long; think of this constantly, that will cease compulsivity for this life. Think over and over how cause and effect never fail, and how endless suffering is for those living habitually; that will cease compulsivity for the future.
5. When you have meditated thus, and feel not even a moment's desire for the good things of mundane life, and when you begin to think both night and day of achieving complete freedom, you have found Renunciation.
6. Renunciation, though, can never bring the total bliss of matchless Awakening, unless it is motivated by the highest aspiration; and so, the wise seek
the the high wish for the Spirit of Enlightenment.
7. They are swept along on four fierce river currents; chained up tight in past deeds, hard to undo; stuffed in a steel cage of grasping "self"; smothered in the pitch-black of misperception.
8. In a endless rounds of habitual and mindless living, they are born, and in their births, are tortured by three sufferings without a break; think how all your countless mother beings feel; think of what is happening to them; try to develop this highest wish to achieve enlightenment for their sake.
9. You may master renunciation and the wish, but unless you have the Wisdom perceiving reality, you cannot cut the root of compulsive living. Make efforts in ways, then, to perceive interdependence.
10. A person has entered the path that pleases the Awakened when, for all objects, in the mundane existence or beyond, he sees that cause and effect can never fail, and when, for him, they lose all solid appearance.
11. You have yet to realize the connection between the mere appearance and emptiness of things.
12. At some point they no longer alternate but come together; just seeing this connection never fails to bring realization that destroys how you mindlessly attach to objects,
 and then your analysis with view is complete.
13. In addition, mere appearance prevents the non-existence extreme, while emptiness prevents attachment to inherent existence; and if you see how emptiness manifests in cause and effect, you will never be persuaded by extreme views.
14. When you have ascertained the essential points of each of the three principal paths explained, then go into deep contemplation, noble friend, make mighty efforts,
and quickly attain freedom.

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