RESPECTFULLY I PROSTRATE at the feet of those venerable holy beings filled with compassion.
Blessed One, lord of this Endurance world (sahā loka),
Buddha’s regent, Maitreya, lord of the Dharma,
Mañjughoṣa, sole father of those gone to bliss (sugata),
Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga, foretold by the Victor,
bowing to you with respect I will here explain
once more, in a summary fashion, the stages
of the path of profound view and vast conduct
for the sake of making them easy to access.
The Dharma to be presented here explains how the fortunate are led to the level of buddhahood through the stages of the path to enlightenment. It summarizes all the points of the Victor’s scriptures, follows the tradition of the two great trailblazers Nāgārjuna and Asaṅga, constitutes the Dharma system of supreme beings who progress to the level of omniscience, and contains without omission all the stages to be practiced by the three types of persons.
The scholars of glorious Vikramaśīla Monastery considered it vital to commence with three preliminaries: the greatness of the author of the Dharma teachings, the greatness of the Dharma, and the way to explain and listen to the Dharma. In accordance with that, this guide to the stages of the path to enlightenment has four parts: (1) showing the greatness of the author so as to demonstrate that this Dharma is a pure source, (2) showing the greatness of the Dharma so as to generate respect for the instructions, (3) how the Dharma possessing those two greatnesses should be listened 6to and explained, and (4) the stages by which a student should be guided through the actual instructions.
SHOWING THE GREATNESS OF THE AUTHOR SO AS TO DEMONSTRATE THAT THIS DHARMA IS A PURE SOURCE
Generally speaking, the present instructions are the ones that the venerable protector Maitreya gives in his Ornament for Clear Knowledge (Abhisamayālaṃkāra). They are based specifically on Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradīpa),  so that its author is also the author of the present text. Other than under the name of the great master Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna, he is also widely known as the glorious Atiśa. His greatness is threefold: how he took birth in an excellent family, how he obtained his excellent qualities on that basis, and how he performed deeds for the sake of the teachings after obtaining the excellent qualities.
HOW ATIŚA OBTAINED HIS EXCELLENT QUALITIES ON THAT BASIS
This has two parts: how he obtained the excellent qualities of vast scriptural knowledge and how he obtained the excellent qualities of realization of its correct accomplishment.
HOW ATIŚA OBTAINED THE EXCELLENT QUALITIES OF VAST SCRIPTURAL KNOWLEDGE
By the age of twenty-one, Atiśa had studied the four areas of knowledge common to Buddhists and non-Buddhists (languages, logical reasoning, crafts, and medicine) and was an excellent scholar. In particular, the great Drolungpa4 relates how, at the age of fifteen, Atiśa heard Dharmakīrti’s Drop of Reasoning (Nyāyabindu) just once and then defeated in debate a non-Buddhist5 intellectual renowned for his erudition. This spread Atiśa’s fame far and wide.
Then he requested a complete empowerment from the glorious master yogi of the main temple on Black Mountain, the guru Rāhulagupta, who had received direct visions of Hevajra and a prophecy from Vajraḍākinī.  He was given the secret name Jñānaguhyavajra. Up to the age of twenty-nine he studied the Vajrayāna under numerous highly realized gurus and thereby became knowledgeable in all the texts and instructions. When the thought “I am the great master of secret mantra” occurred to him, ḍākinīs appeared to him in a dream and showed him several volumes of tantra he had not seen before, which lowered his pride.
Both in his dreams and directly, Atiśa’s gurus and personal deities then advised him that vast benefit would accrue for the teachings and many beings if he took the appropriate monastic vows, and upon their encouragement he sought ordination. The great upholder of monastic discipline Śīlarakṣita, an elder of the Mahāsāṃghika tradition who had attained the concentration of single-pointed focus on ultimate reality belonging to the path of preparation, officiated as abbot and gave him the name Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna.
Up to the age of thirty-one, Atiśa studied the higher and lower baskets of scriptures of the Buddhist dialectical and metaphysical traditions,6 and in particular, for twelve years, the Great Detailed Explanation (Mahāvibhāṣā) under Guru Dharmarakṣita in Odantapuri. As he was very well versed in the scriptures of the four original traditions,7 he had an infallible grasp of the finest details of ways of behavior that should be adopted and discarded according to the different traditions, such as the monastic rules concerning giving and receiving alms.
HOW ATIŚA OBTAINED THE EXCELLENT QUALITIES OF REALIZATION OF ITS CORRECT ACCOMPLISHMENT
Generally speaking, all the scriptural teachings by the Victor are contained in the three precious baskets, so likewise all the realized teachings are contained in the three precious trainings.8
ATIŚA’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE TRAINING IN ETHICS
In this regard the training in ethics is often praised in the scriptures and in the commentaries as the foundation of all excellent qualities, such as the trainings in concentration and wisdom. Therefore it is necessary, first of all, to have qualities of realization that are based on the training in ethics. In this regard there are three kinds.
HOW ATIŚA POSSESSED THE HIGHEST PRĀTIMOKṢA VOWS
Having received the vows of a fully ordained monk, Atiśa guarded them the way a yak guards its tail. A yak is so attached to its tail that it would sooner risk its life to save a strand of tail hair caught on a tree than part with it, 9even when threatened by a hunter. That is how Atiśa guarded the foundation of the trainings he had undertaken in every detail, to say nothing of the major rules, so that he came to be called the Elder (sthavira) who is a great upholder of monastic discipline. 
HOW ATIŚA POSSESSED THE BODHISATTVA VOWS
Atiśa practiced numerous instructions for training in bodhicitta, which is rooted in love and compassion. Especially, following Serlingpa,9 he trained long in the highest instructions passed on from venerable Maitreya and Mañjughoṣa through Asaṅga and Śāntideva. Thereby bodhicitta, which cherishes others more than oneself, arose in his heart. This aspiring bodhicitta gave rise to engaged bodhicitta, and he never transgressed the rules of the Buddha’s offspring on account of his excellent behavior, his engagement in the trainings following his promise to train in the vast conduct of bodhisattvas.
HOW ATIŚA POSSESSED THE TANTRIC VOWS
Owing to the fact that he had gained the concentration of the generation stage in which one’s own body is seen as that of a deity and of the completion stage of the indestructible vajra mind, Atiśa became chief among yogis. In particular he guarded his commitments properly without transgressing the prescribed rules.
He not only courageously undertook the trainings in the ethics of the three vows, he also upheld them as promised. He kept the vows without transgressing their respective rules, and even if he transgressed them ever so slightly, he very quickly purified this with a suitable ritual for restoring the given vow.
ATIŚA’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS WITH THE TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION
His training in concentration has two aspects. As for the common aspect,10 he achieved the supple mind of śamatha, and as for the uncommon aspect, he gained the utmost stability of the generation stage. Moreover, he trained in the yogic awareness disciplines for three (or perhaps six) years.11
ATIŚA’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS WITH THE TRAINING IN WISDOM
His training in wisdom has two aspects. As for the common aspect, he obtained the concentration of special insight, which is the union of śamatha and special insight. As for the uncommon aspect, he obtained the extraordinary concentration of the completion stage.
HOW ATIŚA PERFORMED DEEDS FOR THE SAKE OF THE TEACHINGS AFTER OBTAINING THE EXCELLENT QUALITIES
The deeds he accomplished for the sake of the teachings are of two types: his deeds in India and his deeds in Tibet. 
HIS DEEDS IN INDIA
At the temple of great enlightenment in Bodhgāya, Atiśa defeated the misguided proponents of non-Buddhist doctrines three times by means of the Dharma, thereby maintaining the Buddha’s teachings. He also eliminated the taints of ignorance, misconception, and doubt with regard to the higher and lower Buddhist systems, whereby he spread the teachings. Thus he was regarded by all schools as a crown jewel free from partiality.
HIS DEEDS IN TIBET
Lha Lama and his nephew12 sent the two great translators Gya Tsöndrü Sengé and Naktso Tsultrim Gyalwa to India one after the other. Since they took great pains again and again to invite Atiśa, he traveled to Upper Ngari during the reign of Jangchup Ö and was requested to provide a pure form of the Buddha’s teachings. Thereupon he spread the teachings by composing Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, a text bringing together all the points of sūtra and tantra and condensing them into applicable stages, as well as other texts. Specifically he spent three years in Ngari, nine years in Nyethang, and five years elsewhere in Central Tibet and Tsang, teaching the fortunate all the scriptures and instructions of sūtra and tantra. He thereby restored the teachings that had declined, caused those that remained to flourish, and corrected those that had been polluted by the 11errors of misconception, ensuring that the precious teachings were freed from all flaws.
There are three conditions for excellence in the composition of a text clarifying the Sage’s intentions: being learned in the five areas of knowledge;13 having received instructions on how to put into practice the meaning of those texts, which can be traced back to the instructions of the perfectly complete Buddha in an unbroken lineage of exalted masters; and having received the permission to teach through the vision of a personal deity. A text should be composed with at least one of these causes for excellence, and it will turn out all the more excellent if all three are complete. This great master Atiśa possessed all three.
As for help from personal deities, Naktso’s Praise says:
From the glorious Hevajra,
from heroic Lokeśvara,
from noble reverend Tārā, and others,
you had visions and permissions.
Thus in dreams and through direct perception,
you perpetually listened to teachings
on the holy, profound, and vast Dharma.
Atiśa held numerous lineages of gurus, such as the lineage of the common vehicle and the lineage of the Mahāyāna, which itself has two — the Pāramitāyāna and the secret Mantrayāna.14 He held three lineages in the Pāramitāyāna: the lineages of the view and of conduct, with the latter  having been passed on in two lineages, one from Maitreya and one from Mañjughoṣa. In the secret Mantrayāna he had received five types of transmission15 as well as many other lineages, such as the lineage of tenets, the lineage of blessings, and lineages of various instructions. The gurus from whom he heard instructions directly are mentioned in the Praise:
The gurus you always relied on were
the many who had accomplished siddhis:
Bhadrabodhi, and Jñānaśrī.
In particular you held
the profound and vast instructions
that had passed from one to another
all the way from Nāgārjuna.
It is well known that Atiśa had twelve gurus who had attained siddhis and many others too. It has already been explained that he was learned in the five areas of knowledge. For all these reasons, this master was able to establish the Victor’s intentions skillfully.
Such a master as this had an inconceivable number of students in India, Kashmir, Oḍḍiyāna, Nepal, and Tibet, though the main ones were the four great scholars in India who matched the master himself in their exalted knowledge: Pindo Ācārya, Dharmākaramati, Madhyasiṃha, and Kṣitigarbha. Some add Mitraguhya as a fifth. In Ngari, it was the great translators Rinchen Sangpo and Naktso as well as the ordained king Jangchup Ö. In the province of Tsang, it was Gargewa and Gö Khukpa Lhetsé; in Lhodrak, Chakpa Trichok and Gewa Kyong; in Kham, Naljorpa Chenpo [Jangchup Rinchen], Gönpawa, Sherab Dorjé, and Chadar Tönpa; and in Central Tibet, there were the three, Khu, Ngok, and Drom.16 Among these it was nevertheless the great lineage holder Dromtönpa Gyalwai Jungné who had been prophesied by Tārā and who further spread the exalted activities of his guru.
This is a summary description of the author’s greatness. You should come to understand it more extensively in the great biographies.
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