(re-translated by Sherab Chen)
Translator’s note: The following is an English translation of the root text made by Alexander Berzin (Sources: The Berzin Archives: The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin; with minor changes*). This is followed by our English translation of Gosok Rinpoche’s teaching.
The Three Principal Aspects of the Path (Lam-gtso rnam-gsum)
by Jey Tsongkhapa (rJe Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang grags-pa)
translated by Alexander Berzin, 1983; revised 2003
I prostrate to my ennobling, impeccable gurus.
(1) I shall try to explain, to the best of my ability,
The essential meaning of all the scriptural pronouncements of the Triumphant Ones,
The path praised by the Triumphants’ holy offspring,
The fording passage for the fortunate desiring liberation.
(2) Listen with a clear (mind), O fortunate one,
Whose mind would rely on the path pleasing to the Triumphant
Through being unattached to the pleasures of compulsive existence
And eager to make meaningful your life of respites and enriching factors.
(3) Since taking keen interest in the pleasurable fruits of the ocean of compulsive existence, without pure renunciation
Is no method for (achieving) the peace (of liberation) –
In fact, by craving what is found in compulsive situations,
limited beings are completely bound –
First, strive for renunciation.
(4) By accustoming your mind that there is no time to waste
When a life of respites and enrichments is so difficult to find,
Turn from your obsession with the appearances of this life.
By thinking over and again about the problems of recurring rebirth
And that (the laws of) behavioral cause and effect are never fallacious,
Turn from your obsession with the appearances of future (lives).
(5) When, by accustoming yourself in this way, you never generate, for even an instant,
A mind that aspires for the splendors of recurring samsara,
And you develop the attitude that day and night always is interested keenly in liberation,
At that time, you have generated renunciation.
(6) But since even this renunciation, if not held with the development
Of a pure bodhicitta aim, will not become a cause
For the splendors and bliss of a peerless purified state (of enlightenment),
Those with sense generate a supreme bodhicitta aim.
(7) Carried by the currents of the four violent rivers,
Tied by the tight fetters of karma, hard to reverse,
Thrown into an iron-mesh pit of grasping for true identities,
Completely enshrouded in the heavy gloom of the darkness of unawareness,
(8) Unrelentingly tormented by the three types of suffering,
Life after life in limitless compulsive existence –
Having thought about the condition of your mothers
Who have found themselves in situations like these,
Develop a supreme bodhicitta aim.
(9) Even if you have built up as habits renunciation and a bodhicitta aim,
Still, if you lack the discriminating awareness of realizing the abiding nature of reality,
You will be unable to sever the root of your compulsive existence.
Therefore, make effort in the methods for realizing dependent arising.
(10) Anyone who has seen that (the laws of) behavioral cause and effect
Regarding all phenomena of samsara and nirvana are never fallacious,
And who has had fall apart the sustaining supports of his or her (cognitions)
aimed (at inherent existence), whatever they might have been,
Has entered the path pleasing to the Buddhas.
(11) Appearances are nonfallacious dependent arisings
And Emptiness is parted from any assertions (of impossible ways of existing).
So long as you have these two understandings appearing to you separately,
You still have not realized the Able Ones’ intention.
(12) But when, not in alternation, but all together at once,
Your certitude from the mere sight of nonfallacious dependent arising
Causes all your ways of taking objects (as inherently existent) to fall apart,
You have completed discerning the correct view.
(13) Further, when you know how appearance eliminates the extreme of existence
And Emptiness eliminates the extreme of nonexistence,
And how Emptiness dawns as cause and effect,
You will never be stolen away by views that grasp for extremes.
(14) When you have understood the points of these three
Principal aspects of the path, as they are,
Rely on solitude and, by generating the power of joyful perseverance,
Quickly realize, my son, your immemorial goal.
[* Minor changes in terminology/spelling: lama=>guru; bodhichitta=>bodhicitta; voidness=>emptiness]
I. The Preliminary
The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, namely, Renunciation, Bodhicitta and the Correct View of Emptiness, are the three essences for a practitioner who wants freedom and enlightenment to rely on in his practice actualizing the freedom and enlightenment. Renunciation refers to the determination to be freed from samsara ; Bodhicitta is the practitioner’s inspiration aimed at [becoming fully enlightened in order to] free all mother sentient beings and one self from Samsara. Furthermore, if one wants to be freed from the bondage of samsara and achieve the Buddhahood, one must also practice in union with the realization of the abiding nature of reality, that is to say, the insight realizing Emptiness. Because these three are indispensable as foundation and method in practicing the path (to enlightenment), they are called the Three Principal Aspects of the Path.
Je Tsongkhapa once composed a stanza which says: “It is extremely rare that we can fully obtain the eight conditions of leisure and the ten opportunities in this life. Because we have been, in countless recurring rebirth of Samsara, migrated in the three miserable realms and experienced great suffering – at those times, we were unable to learn the Buddha Dharma; even though we also have been born in the happy realms of humans and heavenly beings, but if no Buddha came to world to teach or if the teachings of the Buddha were not preserved, we would be still unable to learn and practice the Buddha Dharma. Therefore, we should definitely make efforts to practice it in this life time when we meet the Dharma, and only by doing so can we make our life perfect and meaningful.”
The human life a practitioner obtained is not merely a body of flesh, but is a human life that possesses unlimited potentials and is extremely rare. If we commit those non-virtuous karmas under the force of those non-virtuous mentality, we will certainly fall into the three miserable migrations and experience endless sufferings; nevertheless, if we engage our this life on those virtuous deeds and on the cultivation of merits, we will be born in the happy realms of humans and heavenly beings; and even the extremely fortunate state such as that of Indra and Brahma can be achieved by the great merits accumulated by a practitioner in this one life. And of course, if one makes a further step to set up a pure motivation and to practice the Buddha Dharma diligently, one can definitely achieve the supreme omniscient Buddhahood.
The rareness of a human life surpasses that of a wish-fulfilling jewel. A wish-fulfilling jewel may grant fulfillment one desires in this life, but if one engage the human life in the practice of the Dharma, one will be able to free from recurring samsara and obtain the perfect Buddhahood (which a wish-fulfilling jewel cannot grant). We often feel immediately sorry and remorseful, and complain to hell when we just lost some worldly properties; yet to this human life which is more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, we do not pay attention and waste it carelessly. Not only are we not knowing the great opportunity of meeting the Dharma this life time and not making effort to practice it, we instead are committing numerous non-virtuous karmas which will lead us to miserable migrations – this is a big sorry!
The emphasis of practice is not on external behaviors, but on how to correct our motivation and how to subdue the mind. This is the main point for a practitioner to focus on thoroughly. After having listened to any Dharma, we need to put that into practice; and only through practice can we gradually cleanse the obstacles of negative karma and gain in our mind-stream all the realizations along the Path, and to eventually free ourselves from Samsara. In the beginningless recurring rebirth (Samsara), one had certainly had the opportunity to listen to the Buddha’s teachings, but because of not putting that into practice, one is still bond in Samsara and unable to release oneself from it. Therefore, we practitioners need to reflect on ourselves that, if we were unable to put the Dharma we had listened into practice, we should generate a remorseful attitude and begin to practice it diligently, so to make our life more meaningful.
All of us hope to follow gurus, Buddha and Bodhisattvas in all our lives; however, when we really examine what we are actually doing, we find that we are constantly committing negative karmas – this is rather contradictory to our wish. If we don’t change, our goal (freedom from Samsara and Buddhahood) will never be realized. That goal is only to be achieved when our mind and action are in accordance to that goal. The Buddha says, “The Buddha cannot pull out sentient beings from suffering; he cannot cleanse their negative karmas with water; neither can he transfer his realization into the mind-streams of sentient beings. He can only proclaim to them the Dharma and teach them to practice it accordingly. Only through constant and diligent practice can one achieve realization in the Dharma, free oneself from Samsara, and fulfill his desire of ultimate peace and happiness.”
The only reason by which we obtain human state in this life time is that, in our previous lives, we held moral conducts pure and set up a desire to be born in the happy realms as human and heavenly beings. Without pure moral conduct and a desire to be born in happy realms, such result is utterly impossible to be obtained. Therefore, we practitioners should generate a strong decision that we cherish this rare opportunity, to make effort in practicing the Dharma, and not to waste any time. Just like that we have paid a high price to rent some facility but do not to utilize it, thinking “we would utilize it well next time when we rent it again,” – not spending our this precious human life in a meaningful way is the same foolish thought and behavior as this!
A human life is however, characterized by three certainties: (1) it is mortal, (2) the time of death is unpredictable, (3) at the time of death, only positive and negative karmas will accompany one (in rebirth). Upon the time of death, not a single item among all the power and wealth one acquired in his or her entire life time can be taken along with. The only continuation is the mind-stream, and karmas, positive or negative, follow the mind-stream to the next rebirth. Therefore, those negative karmas accumulated by the mind running after wealth and fortune become the very heavy burdens that pull oneself into the three types of miserable migrations in the future! The sufferings in the miserable realms are unbearable. However, there is also no true peace and happiness even when we are reborn as human and heavenly beings. Because the so called happiness we could experience there is not lasting but vanishing fast. In fact all of our experiences are in the nature of three types of sufferings, namely suffering-of-suffering, suffering of change and all-pervasive suffering. The true peace and happiness is achieved only when we are freed from Samsara and attain a full enlightenment, which in turn are results of taking advantage of this life to practice the Dharma diligently. If we keep obsessed with the fanciful pleasures of this life (which are in reality true-sufferings), and in particular if we keep accumulating negative karmas, we will be stranded in the recurring samsara without a chance to get off.
Every sentient being desires happiness and wants to avoid suffering. Therefore, a practitioner should not only aim at freeing oneself from Samsara, but also should strive for helping all other beings to be freed from Samsara and to obtain the ultimate happiness. To fulfill this Bodhicitta inspiration, one must first achieve the Buddhahood, because only a Buddha possesses such a supreme power. To achieve Buddhahood, one must rely on and follow the quintessential instructions imparted by a qualified guru in the practice of the pure Buddha’s teachings. Only by this means can one achieves Buddhahood and benefit countless sentient beings.
II. The Actual Practice
The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment is a summary of the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, and it presents the doctrines from two Mahayana lineages, namely the Profound View propounded by Nagarjuna and the Vast Deeds propounded by Asanga. Instructions from these two lineages were passed down through many accomplished masters until Atisha who integrated the instructions of the Profound View and that of the Vast Deeds, and composed The Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment (skt. bodhipathapradipa, tib. byang chub lam kyi sgrom ma). This integrated tradition is further passed down through many lineage teachers to Je Tsongkhapa, who greatly promoted and developed this tradition and composed The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (byang chub lam rim che ba). This is then preserved by many accomplished masters till today. We are also inherited many commentaries on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment made by masters in the history, such as Manjushri’s Instruction on the Stages of Path to Enlightenment composed by the Fifth Dalai Lama; and, as the very essence of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment teachings, the Three Principal Aspects of the Path is especially precious and rare.
As we have mentioned above that we practice to achieve Buddhahood (full enlightenment), for this purpose it is very necessary to know the right method of practice, and to know in the process of practice what are the obstacles one needs to overcome and what are the realizations one needs to achieve. A practitioner needs to reply on and follow a guru’s teaching and oral instruction to recognize all the obstacles in one’s practice, and then put the teachings on the Stages on the Path to Enlightenment into actual practice; only then can one gradually attain realizations and eventually achieve Buddhahood. The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is the most quintessential instruction in this context.
The Principal Aspects of the Path is imparted by Manjushri directly to Je Tsongkhapa, in a way just as a guru gives special teaching to his disciple. Je Tsongkhapa then taught this to one of his disciples, Ngawang Dapa, who recorded the teaching and became the first lineage holder of it.
The lineage teaching developed into different oral traditions, and the division of the text is also presented differently. The original resource I myself based on is that given by the Forth Jamyang Rinpoche of the Labrang Monastery at Gansu. His division of the text is identical with that in the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, which are: (1) Showing the greatness of the teaching’s author in order to establish that it is of pure origin; (2) Showing the greatness of the teaching in order to engender respect for the instructions; (3) How to listen to and explan the teachings; (4) How to lead students with the actual instructions.
(updated: January 1, 2013)
Translator’s note: This English translation is ongoing. Updates will be made on the website in a timely manner – please stay tuned!