The Instruction of Gampopa: A Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. Part Four
March 8 @ 9:30 am - 1:00 pm
In the words of Gampopa: “To all future individuals devoted to me who think they cannot meet me: Please read the treatises composed by me, such as Precious Garland and The Ornament of Precious Liberation. It will be no different from meeting me personally.” Since he has said this, you fortunate ones devoted to Lord Gampopa, please be diligent in the propagation of these texts.
In the Precious Garland, Gampopa outlines in twenty-eight categories what practitioners of varying levels need to know in order to perfect their spiritual practice. He gives precise instructions on the correct view, meditation and conduct, and offers frank answers to common questions concerning obstacles to Dharma practice.
Here is an excerpt from the teachings.
2/ The Ten Necessary Things
Gampopa then presents ten things that are necessary in order to practice Dharma.
The first of these is a stable commitment to the practice of Dharma in general, and to continuing the specific format of practice you are doing until you finish it. If you do not have this commitment, you will be easily swayed by the opinions, advice, and conversation of others, and you will not get anything done. In order to maintain a strong commitment, you must have a detailed and accurate knowledge of the essential points of the practice you are doing. This commitment will arise through considering the previous ten causes of loss.
The second thing that is necessary is, through faith and diligence, to accomplish the wishes and instructions of your lama. Faith is a delight in practicing and accomplishing the instructions you are given because you recognize the benefits of doing so.
Through the possession of this strong faith and intense diligence you are able actually to put the instructions of your lama into practice.
The third thing that is necessary is to put the instructions of your lama into practice faultlessly, with skill and understanding. Although the instructions are without defect, the way you implement them could be defective. For example, if you attempt to practice secret mantra without having any renunciation for samsara and without having generated any bodhicitta, then although the instructions of secret mantra are profound and faultless, your practice of them will have the defect of being totally ineffective and will not generate any qualities whatsoever. Therefore, it is important to put Dharma into practice in a skillful way, with an understanding of the correct sequence of practice.
The fourth thing that is necessary is to persevere in practice through a correct insight into the meaning of the teachings and a strong confidence in the teachings. This means putting the instructions of the lama into practice without mistaking their meaning and in accordance with the lama’s intentions of how they should be practiced. This is where sherab (or prajna in Sanskrit)-which means knowledge-comes in because it is only by means of an inquisitive insight into the meaning of the instructions you receive that you will be able to practice them properly. Furthermore, this practice must be prolonged until you generate the full extent of qualities that are possessed by your lama and come to the same realization as your lama. You persevere in practice by means of a stable faith or confidence in the value and efficacy of the practice.
Thus the fourth thing that is necessary is correct perseverance in practice through insight and confidence.
The fifth thing that is necessary is to maintain mindfulness, attentiveness, and carefulness. You must be mindful of what conduct to adopt and what to abandon. You must be attentive and aware of the extent to which you are employing mindfulness. Finally, you must be careful to repair any lapses or deviations you may make from mindfulness and attentiveness. If you apply these three qualities, your body, speech, and mind will be unstained by the defects of faulty conduct. If, on the other hand, you lack mindfulness, you will not remember what is to be adopted and what is to be abandoned. If you lack attentiveness, nothing in your conduct will allow you to pay attention to what you are doing. Even if you remember what you should be doing, you will not be able to do it because you are lost. If there is no carefulness, when you start to get lost in faulty conduct, you will have no way to bring yourself back because you will not have the habit of paying careful attention to what you are doing. The result of lacking these three qualities is that your vows and samaya will be impaired. Therefore, before you meet with the enemies of distraction, you must gird yourself with the armor of mindfulness, attentiveness, and carefulness, so that when you are “attacked” you will not be destroyed.
The sixth thing that is necessary is also made up of three points: the armor of commitment, courage, and stability in practice. Through the armor of commitment, you do not waiver in your commitment to practice. Through courage, the obstacles and problems that arise during life or during practice do not affect you. You do not allow these obstacles and problems to dissuade you or turn you away from practice. Through your commitment and courage, you build a stability in your practice that is unwavering and devoid of fear, and that prevents you from being pulled away from practice by suddenly arising conditions. If you allow yourself to be turned aside from practice by the slightest little incident, obstruction, or interruption, then you are worse off than any worldly person. People in mundane activities have great forbearance when faced with interruptions and obstacles. Thus it is all the more important for people practicing Dharma to show that same commitment and courage.
The seventh thing that is necessary is freedom from attachment (chag may) and the absence of addiction (zhen may). The Tibetan phrase for this quality means,literally, “not letting your nose-rope be grabbed by others.” A nose-rope is used on a cow so it can be led easily. If you are free of any kind of attachment or addiction to specific places and people, to your possessions, to pleasant experiences of the five senses, or to desirable objects that can be experienced with the five senses, then you are in control of yourself and no one else can control you. However, having attachment to pleasant conditions and particular situations is the same as having a ring through your nose with a rope attached to it and handing the end of the rope to someone else who can pull you wherever they want you to go. Only by wrapping your nose-rope around your own head and not giving it to someone else can you practice Dharma.
The eighth thing that is necessary is that your practice be embraced by threefold excellence. The first of the three excellences is pure motivation in the beginning. At the beginning of any session of practice you generate the thought or intention that through this practice all sentient beings may be brought to the state of complete buddhahood. The second excellence is that during the main body of the session you maintain an even placement of the mind in a state free of elaboration, free of conceptual reification of the practice. The third excellence is that at the end of the session you seal the practice by the dedication of not only the merit accumulated in that session but also the merit accumulated by all sentient beings in the three times-past, present, and future. All merit is dedicated to the complete liberation and omniscience of all beings. If your practice is embraced by this threefold excellence in the beginning, the middle, and the end, it results in the twofold accumulation of merit and wisdom. By means of the correct motivation, meditation, and dedication, you gather the accumulation of merit. By means of sealing the entire practice through nonconceptuality that is free of elaboration, you gather the accumulation of wisdom.
The ninth thing that is necessary is the firm development of loving-kindness and compassion, through which you benefit others in both direct and indirect ways. Loving-kindness is the desire that all sentient beings possess happiness and the causes of happiness. Through loving-kindness, you engage in the conduct that is necessary in the short run to bring direct benefit to beings. For the long run, and as the indirect benefit, you make the aspiration that, through your practice, all sentient beings may come to attain the supreme happiness of the state of buddhahood. Compassion is the desire that all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. With this motivation you benefit sentient beings directly by freeing them from situations of suffering, and indirectly through the aspiration that your practice be a cause of their total liberation from all the sufferings of samsara.
The tenth necessary thing is that through the application of knowledge or insight (sherab) you avoid the defect of reification. This consists of, first, the intellectual understanding, and second, the realization or direct experience, that all the things we experience possess no substantiality and no inherent characteristics. The first is understanding that all things we experience are, from their own side, unestablished as anything other than mere experiences-they are mere elaborations or fabrications. The second is the correct full realization that the actual nature or way of abiding of all things is without elaboration, that is, free from being stained by their apparent characteristics.
This text is divided into lists of ten, and we have now covered the first two of these. A proper understanding of each set depends on the recollection of the previous set. The meaning of the second set is best found by an examination that is grounded in an understanding of the first set, and what we go through as we continue will be based on understanding what we have gone through previously. For example, if you were to look at one of the later lists of ten, it would not make much sense out of the context of the material that precedes it. Therefore please do not forget these first two sets of ten.
Gampopa lived from 1070 to 1153. was born in Central Tibet and trained as a doctor. At age 26, when his family succumbed to an epidemic, he promised his wife on her deathbed that he would become a monk and devote his life to Buddhism. He eventually met the great yogi Milarepa and became his foremost student. He founded the system of Mahamudra which combines the tantric teachings of the great siddhas of India with the graduated path teachings of Atisha. Among his many writings the two most influential are The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and A Precious Garland of the Supreme Path. For those with faith in Gampopa, studying his text can be “exactly the same as receiving teachings directly from him.”