Stages of the Buddha’s Teachings

1. Preliminaries

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1. Preliminaries

1. Homage and need for composing the work1

Having bowed with reverence to the teachers,

the treasury of all good qualities,

I, a person of weak intellectual power, have made a compendium

by uniting what was scattered here and there.

In the section on not giving up the spiritual mentor from the Compendium of Trainings,2

it is stated that the starting point of all advice is, in brief,

to never give up the noble spiritual mentor.

Deeds, faith, the thought of awakening, and the like

come from him, and he is a treasury of all good qualities.

2. How to find a religious teacher and rely on him

The right way to seek out a spiritual mentor and rely on him

is to emulate the way of our mentor.

We should not seek out many; we should invest our life for the one we’ve sought.

It’s not fit for a person who has not cultivated the mind to seek many.

These days we behave like an ox in autumn or summer

that sniffs at everything and becomes engaged with nothing;

our way has come to be

to listen to everyone without holding anyone as our teacher.

A lack of respect for his instruction and for all his explications of the Dharma

is the main reason our insight declines.

Therefore, as long as we have not examined our relationship with a teacher, there are not many [obligations].3


Once we have examined and adopted a teacher, we must respect him.

Then we will not be deprived of our teacher in the future.

That is the nature of things: karma does not vanish.

When someone from Tsang asked about the way to rely [on the teacher, he was told that]4

we should devote ourselves to the teacher with the notion that he is a buddha.

This notion when it is not genuine leads nowhere.

It must be generated in this way whether he is a teacher of the secret mantra

or of the path of the perfections.

The story of the Nepalese Hangdu can be presented in this context,5 and

Fifty Verses about the Guru also [prescribes] the same manner toward both [sutra and tantra teachers].6

In the teacher, the buddhas of the three times appear to us.

To a bodhisattva who has mastered the ten bodhisattva levels, they appear in the enjoyment body (saṃbhogakāya).

They appear here as is appropriate for the recipient.

When we honestly regard the teacher as a buddha

and follow him in this way, to enjoy our share of the teachings

is not just like enjoying our share of material things. [2]

The whole way of relying on the spiritual mentor is contained in this.

Since all good qualities depend on the teacher,

someone who is never separated from him

will achieve all purposes in no more than an instant.

To one who is endowed with great faith and wisdom

the teacher will give the whole instruction at one time.

Even if you have fully acquired knowledge and understanding,

if you practice and do not stay with him but live separately,

no good qualities will arise from this,

and even if some good qualities have arisen, they will vanish quickly.

Even if your wisdom is weak, as long as the root of faith is there

and you always stay with the teacher without separation,

all the teachings of the Buddha are fully contained in him.

Therefore you should always remain with him full of respect

and always consider the teacher’s good qualities, not the faults.


With regard to the teacher’s body and speech, whatever his deeds,

never think of it as something to either adopt or reject.

If you speak about him as you would about aged cheese and the like,7

and think accordingly, everything will become rotten.

If you harbor doubts about his instructions,

there will be no blessing at all; that’s the way it is.

Trust, therefore, in his actions and teaching.

In this way the blessing will arise.

While ordinary beings act as spiritual mentors,

they will never be without flaws.

Therefore never ponder their flaws

but always think about their virtues.

In this way the blessing will reach you.

Turning away [from this attitude] will cause you to not meet [a spiritual mentor in the future].

Moreover, you need to know the right time to approach him.

To follow him is something very precious.

In this way, all aims will be accomplished.

Not observing the appropriate time

is a serious transgression.

All good qualities depend on the teacher;

Even pratyekabuddhas up to the stage of the highest worldly realization rely on a teacher.8

Therefore please the teacher in every possible way.

First become acquainted with him through material offerings and respect.

When you have become acquainted, there are two obligations

with regard to the noble field of merit,

and the true way of fulfilling these obligations

is to practice according to his words.

To [attempt to] please him by honoring him without practicing

is not the way to behave toward the teacher.9

In the Hinayana, everyone who knows the Tripiṭaka,

even a householder who is not equipped with the thought of awakening,


is worth listening to, he says,10 though this can be difficult.

In the Mahayana, however, someone may know the Tripiṭaka,

but if he is not equipped with the thought of awakening, he is not suitable at all;

even if you listen to him, no good qualities will arise.

The Mahayana depends on the blessing [of the teacher].

If [a Mahayana teacher] possesses the four kinds of readiness in speech,11

you must listen with respect, no matter what he may do, says [Potowa].

The teachings will never be corrupted by the faults of the person [who teaches].

This does not contradict what was said above [about the need of choosing your teacher carefully]

but refers to the fact that those who have reached a certain level [3]

perceive [any teacher] as a buddha.

As long as you have not trained [your mind], it is as stated above; there is no contradiction.

This is as in the case of Buddhajvāla’s question12

and the story of Ratnabhadra.13

It’s the way in all the traditions of Mahayana

that everything comes from pleasing the teacher, so this is critical.

When the teacher has become greatly pleased,

any practice will lead to the great purpose [i.e., liberation] itself.

If you turn away from that,

no blessing at all will arise, even if the teaching is complete.

Therefore you should please him with all your energy.

If you persevere with unceasing respect

and please him with great effort,

then even if the teacher has given up his life and

the blessing has not arisen during this lifetime,

you will not be deprived of the teacher in the future; this is the truth,

because your karma does not vanish.

As it says in the section on gratitude at the beginning of the Compendium of Trainings,

the extent of the teacher’s blessing

lies not in itself but rather in you.


If you are not grateful and have no faith in him,

it would be of no benefit at all

if even Mañjuśrī or Avalokiteśvara were to appear before you.

But as long as you have faith, respect, and gratitude toward him,

the blessing will arise accordingly,

even if the teacher is not fully endowed with all good qualities.

Therefore it is essential to have faith and gratitude.

In the passage on the fault of abandoning the Dharma from the Compendium of Trainings,14

it is said, about being tamed or not being tamed by another,

that we are tamed by the one in whom we have faith.

Therefore, we should not hear the noble teaching from a person

in whom we have no faith.

If we have no respect for the teaching and the teacher,

this will cause our insight to decline.

Therefore we should listen to the teacher in whom we have confidence;

then the blessing will reach us.

In the initial section of the Letter to a Friend,15

it is said that if we do not have respect for the teachers,

it would be of no benefit even if we were to rely directly on the Buddha himself.

This is as in the case of Sunakṣatra:16

Even though he devoted himself [to the Buddha] for twenty years,

could recite the twelve sections of the sutras,

and had attained the first level of contemplation,

because he did not have any faith in the Buddha,

it was predicted that

the wholesome roots would be completely severed

and he would remain in the hells for many eons.

But if you respect a teacher who has the thought of awakening

and listen to him, then whether he is learned or not,

his blessing will reach you.

Therefore it has been said that respecting the teacher, without arrogance,

is of the utmost importance.


When it is stated in the Lamp for the Path that “it has to be explained clearly,”17

what is clearly explained there is the mental capacity of a buddha.

If you wonder how our sole lord [Atiśa] was capable of making this clear,

he had mastered all the instructions of the most important systems on Jambudvīpa:18 [4]

the transmission coming from Nāgārjuna, that coming from Buddha Maitreya,

the tradition of the Three-Necked One,19 and so on.

Kusali possessed all these instructions,

then his disciple Kusali the Younger,

and also [Atiśa’s teacher] Serlingpa; that’s why our sole lord was capable of doing so.

Moreover, he had three teachers who possessed supernatural knowledge:

Avadhūtipa, whom he served for seven years,

and Yamāriyogin and the Lama of Blessing [Ḍombhipa].

First he learned from Yamāriyogin20 the views of the Cittamātra school;

then he obtained the understanding of the Madhyamaka school.

The Lama of Blessing appeared in a dream,

and lord Atiśa obtained a special contemplation.21

Therefore Atiśa was truly blessed by him.

When someone asked to be instructed, Atiśa agreed.

[In one case Ḍombhipa said to a novice monk:] “You have no karmic connection with me. Ask him [i.e., Atiśa].”

When the novice had made offerings to Atiśa for four or five days

and offered a little [betel] at his feet, Atiśa’s kindness embraced him,

and the mandala of Heruka became manifest.

In this way Atiśa was endowed with the personal instructions of the teachers

and had also seen the faces of the meditation deities;

he was learned in all five fields of knowledge22

and therefore was able to make the path to awakening clear.

Thus, when we seek the personal instructions coming from this lineage,

we have to enter the path to awakening,


but we should not pursue it in a random way;

for if we do, it would be extremely difficult for it to be the right path.

3. How to contemplate the teacher with faith and respect

In the passage “As taught by the teachers,”23

what has been taught is personal instruction. Whatever good qualities arise

in your mind, they are the blessing of the teacher.

Always remembering him in this way, the blessing will reach you completely.

If you reject him, you will know what you have heard from your teacher

but will think that it has arisen from the cleverness of your own insight.

If you reject him, no blessing will arise from him,

you will not meet the spiritual mentor in the future,

and even if you do meet him, his teaching will be useless.

When you have understood this, you should practice constantly, as stated above.

When teaching the passage on the teacher in the chapter on moral discipline,24

[Potowa] cited Atiśa himself as the source.

In the section on the spiritual mentor in the Questions of Subāhu Tantra25

and other sources, it has been written that

generating the thought of awakening and similar things can also be done with any teacher.

As long as he possesses one eighth or so of the [sixteen] qualities,

it is right to accept [any such teacher] in the age of discord.26

Otherwise the transmission would be interrupted.

People who wish for liberation

should rely on a single teacher they have examined,

not on all kinds of different ones.

Otherwise even the traces of the teachings received before will perish, [5]

and they will end up seeing the teacher’s faults


but not his virtues within.

This is just like when a robe is dragged here and there:

The dust sticks to it because it is rough,

but a jewel hidden under the dust does not stick to it.

Take the words of Rinchen Lama as an example27

and sever all doubts about your own teacher;

even if the Buddha came in all his glory,

you should listen to no other teacher anywhere.

You should also cultivate great pride [in having such an excellent teacher].

When you behave like a stupid dog running around in the street,

you will never reach what you are longing for:

This is what this spiritual mentor has said. The one who is most kind

is the teacher for ordinary persons.

When our minds have been trained by him, we see him as an emanation body (nirmāṇakāya),

and still later, we also see him as an enjoyment body (saṃbhogakāya).

Therefore, out of these, the kindness of the first one—

the teacher for ordinary persons—is particularly great,

and so we should always remember his kindness.

According to the passage on the four reliances,

faith in the definite meaning and the interpretable meaning and the like28

must be gained from the explanation of the teacher.

It cannot be gained merely from written texts.

Our faith is in our sole lord [Atiśa].

Things like the thought of awakening and the path of the six perfections

lie in the lineage that comes from Ārya Maitreya,

the lineage of the philosophical system of Master Nāgārjuna

as interpreted by Master Candrakīrti,

and the Yogācāra-Madhyamaka of the tradition of Avadhūtipa,29

the teacher Atiśa himself followed for seven years;

having established these through the four reliances,

we must put them into practice.


4. How to really embark on Buddhist practice

When someone sets out to embark on the teaching of the Buddha,

is born human, and is fully capable30

—when there is a teacher who is endowed with all good qualities

and the disciple is able to be guided,

and when the disciple is also worthy of being guided on the path—

then the teacher should take care of the disciple

like a wise mother nurtures her little son.

He should be given as much as he can grasp and apply.

If he is given too much before he is big and well developed, he will die.

To make him grow up swiftly,

there is no other method than guarding him in this manner;

just as, the moment a poor farmer has sown the seeds,

he longs for the fruit but there is no choice [but to wait].

The way a teacher should instruct a disciple

is like the way a good mother feeds her inexperienced little son

or a wise nurse heals a sick person.

Even if we want something, [the teacher] does not give it, and he controls how much we can grasp. [6]

We will understand [his instructions] according to what we have experienced in our minds.

[Potowa said:] When Jolek was sick, three of us were his attendants.

There was a famine and we did not have enough provisions.

We wanted to go elsewhere as soon as possible,

and for this reason we wanted him to recover quickly.

Although the remedy against the illness worsening is to eat good food,

we gave him only a little bit, out of fear that otherwise [his illness] might increase.

The spiritual mentor [Dromtönpa] helped us understand the teaching [in the same careful manner].

In this way, teacher and student should be without too much fervor.

Provided someone is born human and is capable,

the teacher will prepare such a student in the following manner:

After the student has reflected on the nature of the teacher’s virtues,


the teacher delivers him into refuge and thereby makes him a Buddhist.

Then he leads him from [contemplation of] the difficulty of obtaining a precious human body

to contemplation of death.

After that, he teaches him the ten wholesome and the ten unwholesome actions:

how to think about them, how to meditate on them, and how they must be studied.

Then, through constantly thinking about the four noble truths,

the student must be taught that samsara is full of defects.

When the student has understood that others are just like himself [in wanting to avoid suffering and find happiness],

the teacher should introduce him to love and compassion toward all.

When the student has thereby generated the thought of awakening and is endowed with it,

within is contained all the teachings in their entirety;

it is like sending one’s last will by the wind.31

Therefore the student must be introduced in this way

and cannot advance all of a sudden, in one leap.

This can also be known from the scriptures.

When [Potowa] expounded Atiśa’s Lamp in Ganggya

and explained how the successive steps are studied,

he told the story of the smith from Dokham as an example,

[in which the smith said,] “I do as I have been instructed by my father.”

Jotsun asked for a teaching for the aged, [but Potowa answered:]

“In your youth, you always looked after your immediate needs.

Now you are old and have turned toward the Dharma,

and it has become a pressing need. However, my teaching is just as it is;

I do not have one teaching for the old and another for the young.”32

5. How to reflect on the recollection of the Three Jewels

Therefore, first you must bring to mind the recollections.33

With respect to the cause and result [of becoming a buddha, the first recollection],

the cause is the practices of a bodhisattva:


Recollect how, when he has acted according to the six perfections,

he gathers the two accumulations.

As to the result, there is both a benefit for himself and a benefit for others:

The benefit for himself consists of the acts of abandonment and wisdom;

the benefit for others consists of the acts of compassion and blessing.

Having recollected in terms of a buddha’s cause and result in this way again and again,

you gain faith in all the buddhas’ good qualities.

Also, as it says in the King of Meditation Sutra,

“You must be instructed,” and so on.34

When this [faith] is obtained, all teachings are obtained. [7]

In the passage on recollection from the Letter to a Friend,

it is said that the root of all teachings is faith,

and this in turn rests on the recollection of the Buddha.

If you genuinely recollect the virtues of the Buddha,

the recollection of the Dharma and Sangha will arise by themselves.

Therefore you should recollect the ten virtues and so on;

all good qualities of the Buddha are completely contained in them.

Thereby you subsequently recollect his words: the Dharma.

First, give up wrong deeds by contemplating actions and their results.

Then establish the wish for liberation by contemplating the cycle of rebirth.

Then establish the wish for the highest goal by contemplating sentient beings.

Having recollected the Dharma by contemplating these topics,

reflect in the same way on those who study it: the Sangha.

Through this contemplation, you recollect the Sangha, being pleased with it.

You recollect generosity and moral discipline, one being the cause for the other.

With regard to deities, you think of them as the noble masters.35

If someone has not comprehended the very existence of the Buddha,

it is like the gentleman from Lo:

By comprehending Teu Nagong,


he gained faith in the explanation about the lineage of the teachers

that stems from the Buddha, and so he gained [faith in the existence of the Buddha].36

When you have comprehended what his good qualities are like,

you have comprehended the whole teaching.

If you have not comprehended them, how can you have faith?

In the passage on the seven jewels from the Letter to a Friend, it is said that

of the two—practicing faith and practicing wisdom—

practicing wisdom is higher.37

Nevertheless, so long as we don’t see the truth,

we must practice just this very faith.

Within all teachings—those of karmic actions and their results, and all the others—

the Buddha must be recollected as the witness.

We will not get anywhere through our own reasoning.

Therefore we should make following through faith most important.

When we take refuge in the Three Jewels,

we are protected by their blessing and by the scriptures.

If you have faith in your refuge, you also have faith in the scriptures,

and when you have faith in the scriptures, this bestows blessing;

they are the original source from which the blessing originates.

If you turn away from them, you are also not protected through the blessing.

As long as you see things as really existing,

do not think that refuge is like an illusion,

much less that it is [empty] like the sky!

Reflect on it as real with pure acceptance;

if you do not do this, you will be attached to yourself,

and because refuge is not taken as real, no respect for it will arise.

Therefore this is declared to be very important,

and you must reflect on it in this way. [8]

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