Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s Stages of the Path, Volume 2

The Virtuous Beginning: The Starting Content

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The Virtuous Beginning: The Starting Content


IN ORDER TO EXPLAIN the stages of the path (lam rim) to enlightenment called Oral Transmission of Mañjuśrī, this text is separated into three outlines:

1. The virtuous beginning: the starting content

2. The virtuous middle: the explanation of the meaning of the text

3. The virtuous end: the concluding content

The first outline, the virtuous beginning, has two parts:

1. The expression of homage

2. The pledge to compose the text


The expression of homage contains a supplication to the Lord of Teachings, the Teacher Bhagavān, and likewise to Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga, to Jowo Jé Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (982–c.1055), the sole divinity, to the gentle protector Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), and to Khöntön Paljor Lhundrup (1561–1637), from whom the great Fifth Dalai Lama received the teachings of the experiential guide on the stages of the path.

Thus, the first expression of homage to the Teacher Bhagavān is as follows:


Born from the nurse2 of the moon (the ocean), the two collections, the union of method and wisdom,

the supreme fruit of a hundred tastes of omniscience of all aspects

is ripened on the tips of the far-reaching branches of the marks and signs,3 favorable to see.

Supreme among beings, friend of the sun,4 wish-granting tree, bestow good fortune!

This verse expresses the qualities of the guardian of the teachings, the lord of sages, the Teacher, supreme among beings and friend of the sun, by depicting him in the form of the wish-granting tree. [2] What qualities does he have? “Supreme among beings” is in reference to his enlightened deeds. The Buddha is the ultimate refuge because he possesses the dharmakāya and rūpakāya—the dharmakāya for one’s own welfare, 3and the rūpakāya for the welfare of others. These are the culmination of the qualities of a buddha’s body, speech, and mind, which accomplish the welfare of sentient beings through spontaneous and effortless enlightened deeds. Thus, “supreme among beings” can refer to the supreme enlightened deeds that are suitable for the dispositions and inclinations of all sentient beings. The enlightened deeds have arisen from actualizing the qualities of the dharmakāya—the mind omniscient of all aspects—and thus in this analogy the dharmakāya is manifest on the tips of the far-reaching branches of the Buddha’s marks and signs of the body, favorable to see, possessed by the one who is represented as a wish-fulfilling tree ripe with fruits of a hundred tastes.

Alternatively, one might wonder if his possession of the ultimate rūpakāya for others’ benefit that is favorable to see—that is, the rūpakāya adorned with marks and signs, whose nature is inseparable from the pristine wisdom dharmakāya—and his possession of both bodies of immeasurable qualities—namely the dharmakāya for one’s own benefit and the rūpakāya for others’ benefit—is a manner of possession that is changeless, permanent, and self-arisen, or whether they arose in dependence on causes and conditions.

The answer is that they are entirely arisen in dependence upon causes and conditions. Moreover, they are arisen in dependence upon the force of meditation on the path. Thus, the analogy used here is the far-reaching branches and ripened fruits of a hundred tastes belonging to a wish-granting tree that fulfills hopes. It is arisen from the nurse, or ocean,5 that is the union of method and wisdom. The Buddha’s nature is that of the two ultimate bodies: the rūpakāya for others’ benefit, favorable to see, a body adorned with marks and signs, not of flesh and bone, not a coarse aggregation, but in the nature of pristine wisdom—in brief, of inseparable nature with the enlightened mind—and the dharmakāya for one’s own benefit, which is a single pristine wisdom realizing modes and varieties,6 and which is the mind directly realizing all phenomena in a single instant like a gooseberry placed in the palm of one’s hand. Both arise from the force of complete habituation with the limitless two accumulations that are continuously familiarized with in order to easily achieve omniscience for an extended time over eons and eons. This is the marvelously complete cause that is bodhicitta and the method-conduct of generosity and so forth that is conjoined with it, and the pristine wisdom realizing emptiness, [3] both not separated but united as wisdom conjoined with method, and method conjoined with wisdom.

Moreover, for the sake of sentient beings who are the intended beneficiaries of the enlightened deeds, the actualization of those bodies, of which there are various divisions of two, three, and four, is to act for the welfare of sentient beings unceasingly by way of the twenty-seven enlightened deeds7 and so forth, until the end of space, under the influence of great compassion. As explained by Nāgārjuna in his Precious Garland of the Middle Way, there is nothing within Buddhism that is not included among the accomplishing agents for high status or definite goodness. 4Moreover, since accomplishing high status depends upon the dharma of nonviolence, it requires faith in the dependent origination of cause and effect. Accomplishing definite goodness requires an understanding of the suchness that is the dependent origination of imputed existence acting as a direct antidote to the apprehension of true existence. Thus, Nāgārjuna states, “In brief, faith and wisdom.” Through making praises with great faith in the guide, the Śākya lion, who became the supreme among beings through being skillful in excellently instructing on the two principles of Dharma—faith that accomplishes high status, and wisdom that accomplishes definite goodness—we supplicate him to bestow good fortune. [4]

In accordance with this, the gentle protector, king of Dharma, Lama Tsongkhapa authored the following homage in his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path:

To the one whose body was formed by ten million perfect virtues,

whose speech fulfills the hopes of limitless beings,

whose mind sees all objects of knowledge as they are,

I bow my head to the chief of the Śākyas

The message of the first line, that buddhahood is entirely arisen through a perfect collection of causes, pertaining to the dependent origination of cause and effect, is an incredibly significant point. To gain a thorough understanding of this one must know the presentation of the four truths. Perfectly ascertaining the presentation of the four truths requires understanding the presentation of the two truths, in which they are distinguished as being one nature but different isolates.

As for the second line of this verse, “whose speech fulfills the hopes of limitless beings,” the hopes of beings for their temporary happiness and for their ultimate happiness both arise only in dependence upon compatible causes. This principle of dependent origination in which 5accomplishing temporary and ultimate happiness requires eliminating the discordant conditions and accomplishing the concordant conditions for either temporary or lasting aims was taught by the Buddha through his enlightened deed of speech. The Buddha possesses a body that is the miracle of emanation, speech that is the miracle of teaching, and a mind that is the miracle of total forbearance. That his speech, the miracle of teaching, is principal among his three miracles is taught in the Treasury of Knowledge, and also in the treatises on the perfection of wisdom sutras. In particular, the protector Nāgārjuna praises the Buddha for teaching subtle dependent arising:

I prostrate to the Lord of Sages,

who taught dependent origination

by which he abandoned

birth and disintegration.

And likewise, the majority of the protector Nāgārjuna’s praises of the Lord of Sages are offerings of praise by reason of his teaching dependent origination. Likewise, Jé Rinpoché Tsongkhapa states:

Out of all your deeds,

your deed of speech is supreme. [5]

Thus, even more than the aforementioned dependent origination of cause and effect, the teaching of subtle dependent origination, i.e., the suchness of dependent origination, is principal among his enlightened deeds of speech.

Alternatively, with respect to the line “whose speech fulfills the hopes of limitless beings,” instead of applying the meaning only to a limitless number of sentient beings, if it is taken to mean “whose speech fulfills the aims of diverse beings of limitless dispositions and inclinations, accordingly,” then one can understand the existence of 6different styles of scriptural teachings, which, from a first, literal, reading deceptively appear to be taught to persons of different continua. Yet, in the stages of the path treatises they are arranged as a path for the three types of beings and their practice is consolidated for a single sitting session. This is because, with respect to the different vehicles proclaimed by the Teacher, (1) one must practice what was taught for when one’s mental capacity is inferior, (2) it is suitable to practice what was taught for when one’s mental capacity has slightly developed, and (3) one is capable of practicing what was taught for when one’s mental capacity has become supreme. Thus one can see that these different stages that were taught on account of the vastness of attitudes and aspirations, the depth of wisdom, and so forth, are actually to be practiced by a single person in a single sitting session. Therefore, I think that the feature of the emergence of the Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna and four tenet systems can be posited from the perspective of vastness in attitude, or aspiration, and depth of wisdom.

What is the necessity and reason for the Buddha to teach differently from the perspective of wisdom? It is due to the different presentations of the view related to objects. [6] For example, although the views of coarse selflessness of persons and coarse selflessness of phenomena are not the final view, through the superimpositions of the innate apprehension of true existence that apprehends phenomena in our continua as truly existent, external forms, sounds, and so forth appear as outwardly existent objects regardless of whatever name is imputed. On top of that they appear to exist from the side of the object as the referent of the conception that apprehends them.

Whether that mode of apprehension is innate or not, since there are such appearances to our awareness, the agents that cause them to cease also need not be totally contrary to those. Even though something permanent, unitary, and independent does not appear to an innate awareness, things spontaneously appear as permanent, unitary, or autonomous, and therefore due to a single person having many 7levels of subtlety of self-grasping, one needs to know how to bring the means of subduing those into one’s practice.

In any case, as noted above, the fact that all profound and vast Dharma taught by the Buddha is categorized as either an accomplishing agent for high status or definite goodness is as it is said in Nāgārjuna’s Precious Garland of the Middle Way: “In brief, faith and wisdom.”

The accomplishing agent for high status is faith in the process of cause and effect arisen from an understanding of dependent origination. The accomplishing agent for definite goodness is the understanding of the suchness of dependent origination—that is, dependent imputation—and the application of it as the direct antidote to the apprehension of true existence.

With respect to the third line, “whose mind sees all objects of knowledge as they are,” the root of the Buddha’s capability to proclaim all Dharma teachings, beginning with the dependent origination of cause and effect and the dependent origination of dependent imputation, arises from his being endowed with a mind that is omniscient of all aspects—of all modes and varieties of phenomena without exception. It states in the verse of homage of Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realization:

Through its perfect possession the subduers taught these varieties having all aspects . . .8

By reason of possessing these qualities, the Great Fifth’s homage praises the Bhagavān’s body from the viewpoint of excellent causes, his speech from the viewpoint of excellent results—or enlightened deeds—and his mind from the viewpoint of excellent nature, or excellent attributes of its nature. [7]

The verse of homage to Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga is as follows:


I praise those known as the two great trailblazers,

the renowned ones who transcended the domain of existence,

skilled in lifting up the vast and profound Dharma on the

back of the turtle of explanation, debate, and composition

when it sank into the inferior ocean of the world.

Due to being similar to great trailblazers who force their way down a path with large wheels, thereby making it easier for other small-wheeled vehicles to move with ease, Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga are known as “the trailblazers who opened the way.” Since these two great beings excellently unraveled the exact intention of the victor, allowing numberless individuals, regardless of their country, to study them, they are similar to great trailblazers. They are openers of a path that restored the way of the sage’s words after they had declined, and they developed what had not declined.

With respect to this, there are many categories of Buddhadharma in general, and Mahāyāna Dharma in particular, and from that perspective it is incredibly vast. Likewise, from the perspective of profundity, because the meaning of emptiness is a very difficult point, Mahāyāna doctrine easily declines due to lack of understanding and misinterpretation. It is for this reason the kind Teacher came to the land of āryas, and was followed by the “seven successors to the teachings,”9 great beings who upheld the Dharma. However, after a while, when the degeneration of the Mahāyāna teachings became so great, Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga appeared in succession, in accordance with the scriptural prophecies of the Teacher. They opened a path in which they created a revival of the kind Teacher’s Dharma in general, and specifically of the vast and profound Dharma, both of which were temporarily defiled by the stains of lack of realization and wrong understanding, and had incurred degeneration. In doing so they opened the way for the vast proliferation of the Buddha’s system of teachings. [8] For this reason Nāgārjuna is called the opener of the trailblazer way of the Madhyamaka School, 9and Ārya Asaṅga is called the opener of the trailblazer way of the Yogācāra School.

The ancient story depicted here of the turtle—one of the ten avatars of Viṣṇu—who lifted up the earth when it disappeared into the depths of the ocean, comes to us from the oral history of pre-Buddhist India.

Praise is expressed via this metaphor to the two trailblazers, the stainless renowned ones who transcended the domain of existence, who, through their noble deeds of explanation, debate, and composition—portrayed as the turtle—were skilled in lifting the vast and profound Dharma system of the Mahāyāna—broad like the earth—that disappeared into the inferior ocean of the Hīnayāna sutras that were taught generally by the Buddha Bhagavān to common disciples.

In brief, the two supreme beings, protector Nāgārjuna and Ārya Asaṅga, are offered heartfelt praise for thoroughly illuminating the Bhagavān Teacher’s general Dharma, and in particular his vast and profound Mahāyāna Dharma throughout the world at the right time.

Following that, the expression of homage to the glorious, incomparable Jowo Jé Atiśa, is as follows:

In the cool land surrounded by snow mountains,

Atiśa dispelled the darkness of wrong views

with the bright sun of Mahāyāna Dharma,

simultaneously permeating Tibet with the light of the Subduer’s teachings.

This highly extolled supreme being was born into a royal line in current day Bangladesh, formerly ruled by India. Eventually he ordained in the Buddhist tradition and was called Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna. He rose to the top among scholars of his own and all other schools of thought, and practiced to the level of his knowledge, and thus was a scholar-practitioner with a thoroughly tamed mind. This supreme being went to Tibet and spread the teachings with great kindness. [9]


Regarding this, the Buddhist Dharma was first spread in the cool land encircled by snow mountains during the time of the Tibetan king Thori Nyantsan, and in particular during the time of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (617–650). During the time of the Dharma king Tri Songdetsen (742–796), the three known as the Abbot, Ācārya, and Dharma King gathered together and established a tradition of the Buddha’s teachings that included Mahāyāna, Hīnayāna, and Tantrayāna, which gradually became as bright as the sun. However, following that, from the time of the Tibetan king Lang Darma onward, when the dire situation unfolded of the great degeneration of the Victor’s teachings, Atiśa, the greatly kind, once again cleared away all darkness of lack of realization and wrong understanding with the powerful radiance of pure scripture and logic of the sun of the Buddha’s teachings in general and in particular the Mahāyāna Dharma, and simultaneously pervaded the entirety of Tibet with the light of the nonerroneous teachings of the Subduer. He is thus praised.

In particular, the Incomparable Jowo Jé Atiśa arrived in Tibet and, having determined the dispositions, inclinations, and situation of the country of the Tibetan people, authored Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, a treatise to concisely guide them on the stages of the path of the three beings, the intention of the Victor. Thus, Atiśa is also praised from the point of view of Lamp for the Path being the original model of all well-known teachings known as “stages of the path to enlightenment.”

The verse of general praise for the upholders of the Kadam tradition, beginning with Dromtön Gyalwé Jungné (1004–64), the chief disciple of the incomparable Jowo Jé, is as follows:

How wondrous this Kadam tradition that pervades all directions,

whose excellent teachings are the supreme wish-fulfilling jewel, [10]


that, placed at the pinnacle of the victory banner of listening, contemplation, and meditation,

fulfills ultimate aspirations.

This special extolling of greatness that captivates the heart means the following: by placing the excellent teachings of Atiśa, the supreme wish-fulfilling jewel that accomplishes all hopes of myriad beings, at the pinnacle of the victory banner, beautified with the symbols of triumph over the army of ignorance that was accomplished by means of the actions of the three spheres of explanation and accomplishment, the Jowo Kadam tradition, pervading all directions, which fulfills all temporary and ultimate aspirations of oneself and others without exception, is indeed marvelous.

All topics of the triple basket of the Buddha’s word are contained within Atiśa’s scriptural tradition of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment and other invaluable teachings such as his Bodhisattva’s Garland of Jewels and so forth. Moreover, the entirety of the triple basket can be unlocked via the key of Lamp for the Path. Thus, the marvelous approach known as the “sevenfold divinity and teachings of the Kadam tradition” was comprised of (1) the internally and externally pure Dharma of the three types of beings in which the style of practice takes the Victor’s teachings as practical instructions without forsaking a single word, and (2) reliance on the four deities of (a) the Teacher Bhagavān, because he is the deity who is the lord of teachings; (b) the most exalted Avalokiteśvara, because he is the deity of compassion; (c) Venerable Tārā, because she is the deity of enlightened deeds; and (d) Acala, because he eliminates obstacles. On top of this, a system renowned as the “New Kadam,” emphasizing the path of unsurpassed secret mantra in which the meditation deities Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, and Vajrabhairava are practiced inseparably, arose from the system of practice of the gentle protector, the Great Lama Tsongkhapa, and thus a verse of homage for Jé Rinpoché in this context follows:


Through merely raising the vast hundred-spoked vajra of your finely analytical intelligence, [11]

you destroy the mountains of faulty explanations of countless treatises by the stained and confused,

while simultaneously defeating all subtle-bodied arrogant asuras, malicious antagonists, nascent in the womb.

May the omniscient Tsongkhapa, the unprecedented Devendra, learned, righteous, and good, reign!

The meaning of this praise and homage is as follows: one can infer from the system that is the supreme legacy of the gentle protector Tsongkhapa’s many excellent works—that eliminated all faults of nonrealization and wrong understanding of the Victor’s teachings and that were taught through the experiences of his realizations of the stages of the path that arose within him—that this protector possesses an incredibly vast and strongly analytical intelligence. His collected writings—spanning eighteen volumes—might not seem to be many when compared to the collected works of the omniscient Butön (1290–1364) and so forth. Yet they possess vast analytical perspectives on myriad textual systems, and through the power of his excellently written contributions—eloquent works of quality that tackle difficult topics through his perfected understanding of such myriad textual systems—he destroyed the forces of faulty explanation; that is, erroneous commentaries of textual systems by those confused by wrong understanding or possessing the stains of a lack of realization of the crucial points of the Subduer’s intentions behind his teachings of sutra and mantra, and he simultaneously stripped all malicious antagonists of the power of their arrogance. May the omniscient Jé Tsongkhapa, the unprecedented marvelous great being, learned, righteous, and good, who upholds the teachings, portrayed here as Devendra, be victorious!


Next follows a praise incorporating the name of Khöntön Paljor Lhundrup from the region of Phabong, from whom the Great Fifth Dalai Lama received the practice guide of the stages of the path:

When the sun of the Victor set at the western mountain

obscured by karma and affliction,

you, lord of tutors, rose from the eastern mountain of my inferior intellect, [12]

Khöntön, friend of the jasmine flower, are the ornament on my crown.

Through the glory (pal) of your virtue in the beginning, middle, and end,

you endlessly bestow the wealth (jor) of holy Dharma,

and through your mastery from Mañjuśrī entering your throat,

you are the spiritual friend who is the source of the spontaneously accomplished (lhundrup) four bodies.

Not only did the Great Fifth receive cycles of teachings on the stages of the path from this venerable lama, but it was Khöntön Paljor Lhundrup who initially introduced him also to the teachings of the gentle protector, the great Tsongkhapa of the New Kadam, and the crucial points of secret mantra from the early translation period, and for this reason he is venerated as one of his principal root gurus.

How are the qualities of this master lauded in these verses? By stating “I honor, Khöntön, lord of all tutors, at the crown of my head, O you the friend of the kunda flower, that is, the full moon, who arose from the surface of the eastern mountain of inferior intellect and dispelled the darkness when the sun of the Victor’s teachings subsided at the western mountain, obscured by karma and affliction.” Moreover, through the glory of this spiritual friend Khöntön Paljor Lhundrup’s enlightened deeds, 14virtuous in the beginning, middle, and end, he endlessly bestows the wealth of the holy Dharma, and due to mastery that is akin to a state of Mañjuśrī himself entering into his throat, the Great Fifth respectfully bows to this great spiritual friend, his tutor who easily confers buddhahood that is by nature the four bodies.

The cool moonrays of your white deeds

cause the ocean of eloquent speech to swell

from which comes the wish-fulfilling jewel of well-being in current and future lives,

you bestow to eliminate destitution in samsara and nirvana.

In particular, the great streams of instructions of Nesur [and the three Kadam brothers]

Potowa, Chenga, [and Phuchung]

that flow from the ever-cool Anavatapta Lake of the master and disciple—

Dīpaṃkara, the defender of five hundred, and his spiritual son—

have poured into the ocean of my mind.

Thinking of the great debt of their kindness

I will never be able to repay them [13]

until I reach the far shore of enlightenment.

Reflecting on this, I close my palms together at my heart.

Through the force of the deeds of speech of vast dissemination of the Dharma systems of sutra and tantra of this spiritual friend expanding the ocean of teachings that contend with the hundred thousand rays of the full white moon, the glory of benefit and happiness in this and future lives, similar to a wish-fulfilling jewel, is bestowed, and thus he 15has become the lord of benefactors10 who dispels all suffering without exception in samsara and nirvana.

In particular, thinking of the kindness of their directing into the ocean of my mind the cool river of the tradition of instructions of the glorious, incomparable Jowo Jé Dīpaṃkara, supreme ornament on the crowns of the five hundred, and his chief disciple Dromtön Gyalwé Jungné, and likewise that excellently transmitted by the three Kadam brothers—Geshé Potowa Rinchen Sal (1027–1105), Chen-ngawa Tsultrim Bar (1038–1103), and Phuchungwa Shönu Gyaltsen (1031–1106)—goosebumps arise when the Great Fifth contemplates that he cannot repay their kindness until he reaches the essence of enlightenment. Thus he spontaneously presses his palms together at his heart.


Next, the pledge to compose the text:

The nature of bodhisattva conduct is vast like the sky,

and the intended meaning of reality is subtle like atoms.

Thus, when someone like me takes on the burden of expressing it,

it is like measuring the ocean with a mango seed.

As illustrated by the topic to be explained by this treatise, which is principally bodhicitta, and that takes as preliminaries to that the paths of the small and middle scope beings, the conduct of bodhisattvas is vast like the sky, and the intended meaning of final reality is incredibly difficult to realize, like subtle atoms, [14] and thus the Great Fifth compares his taking on the burden of composing a vast and profound treatise to an attempt to measure the breadth of the ocean with a mango seed. However, he states the following:


Yet, it is not that I call this treatise a guide

from merely having glanced at a text or having received an oral transmission.

The essence of the nectar of the speech of supreme lineage holders,

integrated into my own authentic experience, swirls within the jewel capsule of this treatise.

The Great Fifth indicates this is a vast and profound treatise that is incredibly prodigious. He does not label this text a guide based on his having merely glanced at written teachings or received a quick reading transmission. Rather, he listened well to the nondegenerated speech imbibed with the fragrance of blessings of transmission from one qualified sublime guru to the next, and that which he listened to he did not leave at the level of mere words of advice, but he incorporated mentally, giving rise to authentic experiences within his mindstream. Thus, the essence of this nectar swirls here in this invaluable capsule, this stages of the path scripture called Oral Transmission of Mañjuśrī. Together with showing the greatness of this treatise, he has thus made the pledge to complete the text.

I will now take the opportunity to weave some slight commentary into this masterpiece. He furthermore states: This [treatise] is a summary of the entirety of the Sugata’s teachings. In order to practically apply this guide on the stages of the three types of beings that leads persons of good fortune to buddhahood . . .

The Great Fifth has not utilized detailed outlines in his text, but rather comments in the style of a summary of Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path. Moreover, topics related to special insight were written using Tsongkhapa’s Middle-Length Stages of the Path as a basis. Thus, this commentary will be an explanation on the basis of the main outlines from the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path with some minor omissions and additions. [15]


As such, the guide to the stages of the path to enlightenment has four parts:

I. Showing the greatness of the teaching’s author in order to indicate its pure origin

II. Showing the greatness of the teaching in order to engender respect for the instructions

III. How to listen to and explain the teachings possessing the two greatnesses

IV. The stages of guiding disciples with the actual instructions

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