Understanding Buddhist Ethics: Study of Jamgon Kongtrul's Treasury of Knowledge

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There are 4 chapters in this volume (from a compendium of 10) that expound on Buddhist Ethics.


Chapter 1 -- Qualities & relationship of the spiritual teacher and student.

Chapter 2 -- Vows of personal liberation.

Chapter 3 -- The commitments of awakening mind

Chapter 4 -- The vows and pledges of secret mantra



It is hoped that each Monday i will be able to extract a passage, beginning from chapter 1 on, and put it here for reflection. If anyone would like to comment, discuss or pose questions, please feel free to do so, with the full understanding that i too, am a student here, with very basic understandings of the teachings. Hence, any mistakes, misunderstandings and assumptions in the ensuing replies are solely due to my own limitations of Buddhadharma, and should not in any way reflect or tarnish the impeccable work that is to be laid forth here.


May the Buddhadharma dispel the darkness of ignorance.

May all beings rejoice in conditions conducive to happiness!



For a start, its a good idea to give here an overview, based on the Foreword.


Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye was a most prominent 19th century Buddhist master in Tibet. His prominence and great respect comes from all the sublime work he had done to compile, together with Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the major works from the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools of that time, including many near-extinct teachings. Its said that without the efforts of these two masters in collecting and printing out the texts, the suppression of Buddhism in Tibet by the communists would have been far more damaging.


The collections, together more than 100 volumes, were compiled into what is now known as The Five Great Treasuries. Of these, the Treasury known as The Encompassment of All Knowledge discusses the path to freedom, describing the three disciplines of ethics, contemplation and wisdom. It covers the Buddha's teachings from the sutras and tantras, the main commentarial traditions and essential instructions along with such traditional subjects of learning as medicine, art & linguistics. This work (The Treasury Volumes) does not just touch on one topic here and there but encompasses all areas of knowledge with unprecedented clarity and thoroughness.



The text we are about to reflect on is a translation of the section of this Treasury that deals with the Three Vows, the essence of the practice and application of what Buddha Shakyamuni taught in the three collections of teachings known as the Tripitaka and the four divisions of Tantra.


(up next: passage from chapter 1)

Edited by C T
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A contextual overview of the meaning of Buddhist ethics according to the text. (Prelude to the main body of study).


At the start of the book, Jamgon Kongtrul begins with a presentation of the qualifications of both the spiritual teachers who embody the different systems of ethics and their disciples, the trainees of these systems. The text explains the process whereby teachers and disciples establish and cultivate a proper spiritual relationship, which, once it has been established, provides a foundation from which teachers can expound the Buddha's doctrine and disciples can receive the teachings. The author then provides a detailed description of the three major system of ethics, or vows, within the Buddhist tradition.


In Buddhism, vows are viewed in many ways, depending on the context of the discussion, but generally the ethical systems are designated as three sets of vows, as two sets of vows, or as one all-inclusive vow. The three sets of vows spoken of throughout all divisions of the Buddhist scriptures are those of personal liberation, of meditative absorption, and of the uncontaminated vows. These are essentially identical to the three forms of training on the Buddhist path: the development of morality, meditation, and wisdom. In fact, in order to gain the different types of enlightenment of their systems, proclaimers (sravakas), solitary sages (pratyekabuddhas) and bodhisattvas must forsake disturbing emotions and other obstacles on their paths by cultivating an uncontaminated discriminative awareness which is developed by training in wisdom. This discriminative awareness is grounded in mental quiescence achieved by training in meditation, and mental quiescence is developed on the basis of training in pure morality.


The proclaimers' system speak of two sets of ethics, each with three vows: the vows of a lay practitioner, novice, and monk/nun; and the vows of body, speech and mind. The three vows in the scriptures of the Universal Way (Mahayana) refer to the processes of refraining from the unwholesome, of aiming at acquiring good qualities, and of working for the benefit of all living beings. These are also known as the three trainings, or ethics, of the bodhisattva.


The tantras speak of four sets of ethics, each with three vows. The first set includes the commitments of awakening mind, the vows related to the creation phase, and those related to the completion phase. The second set includes the pledges of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind. The third set, as taught by the great adept Vitapada, consists in not conforming to the practice of accepting what is good and rejecting what is bad with respect to any physical, verbal, or mental action. The fourth set includes the vows of personal liberation, the bodhisattva commitments, and the pledges of the awareness holder (vidyadhara).


The tantras also speak of two types of ethics: the common pledges and the uncommon pledges. The common pledges are those received during the vase initiation, and the uncommon ones are received at the time of the irreversible vajra-master initiation. According to a different explanation, the two types of ethics in the tantras refer to the vows related to the creation phase and those related to the completion phase, also known as the outer and inner vows. Moreover, when the tantric adept assumes all the vows of personal liberation, the bodhisattva commitments, and the tantric pledges, he or she maintains these ethics in both their outer and inner aspects.


All of these systems of ethics in the Buddhist tradition, whether presented in a threefold or twofold form, were proclaimed by the Buddha to be contained in a single system of ethics: that of the Perfection of Wisdom. This is clearly stated in the Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Discourse:


Just as the rays of the sun radiating through space

Dispel all obscurity throughout the firmament,

The Perfection of Wisdom outshines the other perfections

All of which are its precepts and are included within it.


Can we call the Perfection of Wisdom a vow or ethic? The answer is found in the same scripture:


Our Guide taught that it is the lack of clinging to [the concept of]

vow or no vow

that is the true vow or ethic.


Among these various classifications of vows, the three vows that are the subject of this particular work of Kongtrul are the vows of personal liberation (pratimoksa), of awakening mind (bodhicitta), and of the awareness holder (vidyadhara). These three vows, or systems of ethics, embrace all forms of spiritual practice set forth in the Buddhist doctrine. Their integrated presentation is nonetheless found only in the Way of Secret Mantra. The higher ethics of the bodhisattva and the awareness holder are prescribed in the ways of neither the proclaimers nor the solitary sages, since followers of these ways believe them to be unnecessary for the attainment of their goal of enlightenment. Indispensible to the proclaimers and solitary sages are the personal liberation vows, on the basis of which, once trainees have developed the intention to attain enlightenment, they cultivate mental quiescence and insight and thereby reach their goal.


According to the Way of Secret Mantra, the tantric vows are crucial to the attainment of unsurpassable enlightenment, but a yogin must also assume the bodhisattva and personal liberation vows. Therefore, the tantras instruct practitioners to safeguard all three forms of ethics. In fact, the preliminary rite for a tantric initiation includes procedures for the conferral of the personal liberation and bodhisattva vows, while the main part of the initiation includes the conferral of the tantric vows. Moreover, prior to engaging in the phases of creation and completion (the main aspects of tantric observance), the practitioner must affirm the personal liberation and bodhisattva vows. While continuously striving to avoid root infractions of the tantric vows, the yogin must also safeguard the personal liberation and bodhisattva ethics.


To understand the importance of the three forms of ethics on the tantric path, it should be noted that most of the mandala rituals include specific procedures for assuming the three vows. When disciples make a petition in order to receive the vows, with the words, "Bestow on me the pledges...", they are requesting the tantric vows. With the words, "Bestow on me also awakening mind...", they are requesting the bodhisattva commitments, and with the words, "Bestow on me also refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha...", they are requesting the vows of personal liberation. The three vows are actually assumed as the initiating master proclaims first the tantric vows, as stated in the Indestructible Peak, with the words "The pledges of the five families..."; then the bodhisattva vows with the words "In addition, the other fourteen...."; and the personal liberation vows with the words "You should not kill living creatures....".


The Ritual of Confession provides clear evidence that the two lower forms of ethics must precede the main part of the tantric path, which consists of the phases of creation and completion. One of the major tantric vows is not to "transgress the Buddha's words"; this pledge addresses the necessity of safeguarding the vows of the two lower systems of ethics as well as the tantric ones. That a yogin must follow all three ethics is also stated by Sakya Pandita, the master of the doctrine:


[First one] searches for a spiritual master

And then receives the four initiations.

One thereby becomes a possessor of the three vows.




Endowed with the three vows

And the knowledge of the profound points of the two phases...



All of the different forms of spiritual practice taught by the Buddha are encompassed by the three vows: the discipline (vinaya) and the common doctrine constitute the training undergone by the proclaimers; the perfections (paramitas) and the common doctrine, the training of bodhisattvas; and the uncommon doctrine, the training undergone by the followers of the tantra, or Indestructible Way. The proclaimers' training is summarised in the following citation from the Personal Liberation Discourse:


Do not do any evil,

Engage in excellent virtue,

And tame your mind:

This is the Doctrine of the Buddha.


Here, the trainee first assumes the ethics of renouncing harm to others and the basis of harm, thereby conforming to virtue and rejecting evil. The proclaimers' training pertains to the ethics of personal liberation inasmuch as these ethics are defined as the forsaking of injury to others, along with the basis of such injury.


The bodhisattvas' training is summarised in this citation from the Indestructible Tent:


Contemplation of the mind

As the indivisibility of emptiness and compassion

Is the supreme doctrine of the Buddha,

Of the Dharma, and of the Sangha.


The bodhisattva first develops compassion and then, using skillful means to realise perfect enlightenment, merges the relative awakening mind with the understanding of emptiness. This method pertains to the bodhisattvas' ethics inasmuch as the bodhisattvas' ethics are defined as the special factor that makes it possible to achieve perfect enlightenment.


The tantric training is encapsulated in the Indestructible Peak:


The ripening [initiation] and the liberative path are the supreme doctrine of enlightenment of the Buddha.


Tantric training falls into two classes: the ripening initiation, which plants a seed in the disciple in order to consecrate ordinary body, speech, and mind as inseparable from and unified with Vajradhara's body, speech, and mind; and the liberative path, which gradually brings that inseparability to an apex. These two pertain to the tantric ethics inasmuch as tantric ethics are defined as the ripening and liberative aspects.


I will now mention a few points about each of these three systems. First, the personal liberation vows are defined as the intention, attended by correlated mental factors and grounded in an attitude of renunciation, to forsake both harming others and the basis of harm.


If vows lack an underlying motivation of renunciation, they are not true personal liberation vows. Vows assumed with the desire to gain a divine or human condition in the next life are known as a "wish to excel", and ethics maintained out of fear of punishment, sicknesses, demonic forces, and other problems of this life are known as "ethics to protect one from fear". These are not the ethics of personal liberation, because they lack the spirit that renounces the cycle of existence (which is the highest liberation in the context of the Buddhist Path).


Does this mean that followers of other religions lack correct morality? The answer is found in Vasubandhu's own Commentary on the Treasury of Phenomenonology:


Others do have a valid morality. However, their morality is not equal to the ethics of personal liberation, because it is bound to conditioned existence and does not lift one eternally from what is unwholesome.


In the preceding definition of the personal liberation vow, "harming others" refers to the seven unwholesome acts of body and speech (killing, stealing, etc). "Basis of harm" denotes unwholesome mental states (covetousness, malice, and bad views) that underlie physical unwholesome acts. Thus, although there are seven classes of personal liberation vows, all of them consist in forsaking the ten unvirtuous acts. Many Tibetan scholars agree in defining the personal liberation vows in this way. The meaning of "intention attended by correlated mental factors" is explained in the Compendium of Phenomenology:


When a particular virtue is present, other factors such as intention, attentiveness, or discriminative awareness will accompany it. The predominant factor among these will become the nature of that virtue. As a consequence, the other concomitant mental factors will also turn into the same nature. In this context [of personal liberation], the main factor is intention, but attendant mental factors also become the vow.


Personal liberation is of two types: that of the proclaimers and that of the universalists. These types are differentiated with respect to their focus or goal, that of the first being the attainment of a lesser form of enlightenment for the sake of oneself alone; that of the second, perfect enlightenment, for the sake of all living creatures. Personal liberation vows may be received in the proclaimers' ceremony, the universalists' ceremony, or a tantric initiation; therefore, the glorious Sakya patriarchs have declared that the personal liberation vows permeate all three sets of vows.


Second, the ethics of awakening mind of the Universal Way are defined as the special factor for the accomplishment of perfect enlightenment. In terms of focus, there are two awakening minds: one is the simple aspiration to be awakened; the other, the mind that ventures to awaken. As for its nature, awakening mind has both an ultimate aspect and a relative one. Awakening mind correlated with the stages of demarcation of the path yields an awakening mind based on appreciation, an awakening mind of noblest intention, an awakening mind fully matured, and an awakening mind that has forsaken all impediments. Furthermore, twenty-two types of awakening mind are described by examples or metaphors, form 'earth-like' up to 'cloud-like'.


The Sakya patriarchs speak of three aspect of the mind that aspires to awakening: the simple aspiring mind, the actual formation of an aspiring mind, and the safeguarding of the aspiring mind from deterioration. The venturing awakening mind also has three corresponding aspects: the simple venturing mind, the actual formation of a venturing mind, and the safeguarding of the venturing mind from deterioration.





To be continued -- The difference between aspiring and venturing minds.




(late edit to tidy up missing letters, etc.)

Edited by C T
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The difference between aspiring and venturing minds.



Firstly, aspiring mind is the mind that desires to awaken for the sake of others. The second is the mind that desires to travel the path to awakening for the sake of others. When these two minds arise but are not held by commitment, they are the simple aspiring and venturing minds subsumed under the mental factor of aspiration.


Held by commitment, they become the formation of the aspiring and venturing minds, consisting mainly in the intention to forsake factors incompatible with the awakening mind itself. From this point forward, the essence of all bodhisattva practices is that of safeguarding the aspiring and venturing minds from degeneration. Thus, for the generation of an actual aspiring and venturing awakening mind, the mind must be held by commitment.


Some scholars believe that the aspiring and venturing minds pertain only to the relative awakening mind, not to the ultimate awakening mind. The Ornament of Realizations, however, states that all aspects of a bodhisattva's awakening mind are included in the aspiring and venturing minds. When it says, "The formation of the awakening mind for the sake of others...", it provides a general description of awakening mind that embraces both the relative and ultimate ones.


In summary, the bodhisattva commitment is defined as the special factor for realizing perfect enlightenment and as the intention attended by concomitant factors to forsake elements incompatible with awakening mind. The commitment may be assumed in a ceremony in common with the proclaimers' personal liberation vows, in the special ceremony of the universalists, or during a tantric ritual.


Thirdly, the vows of an awareness holder are defined by the Ven. Drakpa Gyaltsen in the following way:


The awareness holders' vows are the blessing of the form of the deity or of pristine awareness.



The awareness holders' vows apply to all four sets of tantra. With respect to the three lower tantras, in the yoga with signs, they are the blessing of the form of the deity; and in the signless yoga, the blessing of pristine awareness. In the Highest Yoga tantra, with respect to the phase of creation, they are the blessing of the form of the deity; and with respect to the phase of completion, the blessing of pristine awareness.


The mandala rites, in accordance with the etymology of the "initiations of the five awarenesses", explain the meaning of "awareness-holder vows". Awareness refer to the five pristine awarenesses which are the transformation of the five emotions, such as unawareness. "Holder" refers to both the process of actualization and the actualization of the five pristine awarenesses. The "vow" of such an awareness holder is defined as the special skillful means that protects one from objectifying concepts and as an intention (attended by concomitant factors) to forsake incompatible factors.


What does the vow protect? From what does it protect? How does it protect? The Sanskrit term mantra is composed of man for mano, "mind", and tra, "to protect"; the vow protects the mind. Mind is defined here as the six consciousnesses (or eight, when the last one is subdivided) which arise from the contact of the senses with their objects.


The vow protects the mind from concepts that cause it to cling to the attributes of ordinary appearance or to those of the deity. "Attributes" here are the individual aspects of the objects, and "conception" is the clinging to the reality of these particular aspects.


Protection is effected through the ripening and liberating aspects of the Indestructible Way, which are superior to those of the Universal Way, which in turn are superior to the forms of practice of the lesser spiritual ways.


Tantric vows are assumed in the course of an initiation in two ways: through promise and through ritual. At the time of the preparatory part and entrance to the mandala, one assumes the pledges through a promise. If one does not participate in the main part of the procedure, however, one is not authorized to safeguard those pledges. At the completion of the vajra-master initiation of each of the four classes of tantra, one assumes the main tantric pledges through ritual.


As for the tantric pledges of the Highest Yoga tantra, those assumed through a promise are similar to those of the lower tantra. Those assumed through ritual are related to the phases of creation and completion.


The first are assumed at the conclusion of the vase initiation, since the vase initiation is a precondition for the cultivation of the phase of creation. The pledges of the phase of completion are assumed at the conclusion of the higher initiation, since the three higher initiations are ripening factors for the phase of completion.


Tantric pledges may be assumed in the presence of a master who has attained a stage of awakening or a master who is the physical manifestation of awakening. Generally, however, the disciple is an ordinary person and is initiated by a master who is also an ordinary person; in such a case, the disciple must find a master who possesses the qualifications set forth in the tantras. These are summarized in the Fifty Verses on Devotion to the Spiritual Master:


A genuine spiritual master is steadfast and disciplined,

Intelligent, patient, honest and sincere,

Knowledgeable in the application of mantra and tantra,

Compassionate, learned in the treatises,

Master of the ten fields of expertise,

Proficient in the drawing of mandalas,

Competent in expounding the Secret Mantra,

Honorable and upright in all aspects of life.


Please bear these points in mind.




This introduction to understanding the meaning of vows and ethics in the context of the study & discussion of the texts and passages to follow was given by HH Sakya Trizin at Dehra Dun, India, on the 1 of June, 1996.

Edited by C T
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Fundamental to the Mahayana path (up to & incl Great Perfection, Mahamudra, Madhyamika) is the Teacher-Student relationship. Buddhist Ethics begins with an elucidation of the context for training in ethics in accordance with the requirements of this path, of which it is said that when a sincere, genuine, dedicated relationship is built between a trainee and a teacher, many of the obstacles that will otherwise be encountered can be avoided.


The first chapter describes the qualifications of both the spiritual teachers who represent the three systems of ethics and their disciples. Kongtrul Rinpoche emphasizes that, in order for the teachings to contribute to one's knowledge and development and ultimately reveal one's primordial condition of enlightenment, a living example, the spiritual master, is essential.


Each of the three ethical systems is demonstrated by its own teachers -- the monastic preceptor for the Individual Way, the bodhisattva instructor for the Universal Way, and the vajra master for the Tantric Way -- who must meet strict qualifications. One master can assume all the various roles of teachers as long as he or she meets all the of the requirements for each type of teacher as specified in each system.


To help the aspirant choose a suitable teacher and avoid a bad one, thereby eliminating major perils and obstacles on the path, Kongtrul Rinpoche outlines the knowledge and virtues to look for in a teacher and warns of possible faults. He notes, however, that at the present time it is hard to find an ideal master; therefore, one must work with one who shows more qualities than faults.


Often, students seek the perfect master without first determining whether they themselves are qualified disciples. To enlighten naive students, Kongtrul Rinpoche provides a brief description of the qualities disciples must have. He adds that, due to present time, just as it is difficult to find an ideal master, in the same vein, good disciples are also hard to find, therefore, a teacher must accept those who, even though they have faults, are willing to learn and to put into practice the teachings of the Buddha.


To work with a teacher involves following certain guidelines, such as developing the right motivation; carrying out acts of offering, respect, and service; and, above all, proving for oneself the validity of the teacher's message. Indications that the student is not working with a guide in a proper way include mixing with bad friends, passing time in an idle way, and showing excessive concern with one's own welfare. Of utmost importance in the teacher-student relationship is the tool of faith, which is said to be the source of all the student's wholesome qualities.


Kongtrul Rinpoche also discusses the methodology whereby exposition of the doctrine is made meaningful, the qualities and kinds of expertise the teacher needs to demonstrate while instructing disciples, different ways of instructing, and the proper way for disciples to listen to the teaching.


Following on, Rinpoche then presents in detail the three ethics, or vows. These ethical systems are not simply sets of rules; they are primarily the practical applications and outcomes of different Buddhist theories. The three ethics are linked to three different existential choices, or models, proposed in the Buddhist way: the monk or renunciate; the layperson who remains involved in the world, while working towards an altruistic awakening; and the tantric adept, a sharp-witted layperson who works towards awakening while enjoying sense pleasures. These choices do not preclude one another; a monk, for example, may embody all three by being simultaneously a renunciate, a bodhisattva, and a tantric adept.


The ethics of personal liberation, which embody the way of renunciation that permeates the Individual Way serve as the means for securing personal freedom from the cycle of existence by renouncing the causes of suffering. Its precepts are mainly concerned with the physical aspect of existence. Although precepts for lay Buddhists are included, the model of the monk best exemplifies this approach.


The ethics of awakening mind, the path of the bodhisattva, are chiefly concerned with mental disposition. Despite the fact that its points of training are generally explained through examples that relate to the monastic life, this approach remains definitely a Universal Way that best fits the layperson who is involved in the world.


The ethics of the awareness holder in the Secret Mantra Way provide the basis for the process of "reawakening" the pristine awareness of great bliss, which is the ultimate nature of the mind. Its approach is grounded in the non-violence and altruism of the previous two 'vows', but its special feature is that it is a way of transformation (Tib. gyur lam) rather than one of renunciation. It is mainly concerned with the mind as clear light, which is the underlying nature of being.


Kongtrul Rinpoche's presentation of ethics is connected to the so-called affinity for awakening and the concordant path that nurtures such affinity. Whereas the goal of the various Buddhist paths is achieving awakening either for one's own or others' welfare, the connecting thread between one's ordinary condition and the state of awakening is the affinity, or potential, for awakening. Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana define spiritual affinity in different ways.


In Hinayana (Individual Way), the 'exalted affinity' spoken of by Analysts means a detachment from conditioned existence and worldly possessions characterized by contentedness and few desires. That affinity is nurtured by the personal liberation vows, which are consistent with the attitude of detachment and cause it to blossom into freedom from disturbing emotions, the state of perfect peace of a saint (arhat).


In the Mahayana (Universal) path, the affinity is known as the buddha-nature (tathagatagarbha) in its twofold aspect, intrinsic and evolved. The 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, explained that the intrinsic affinity is the unborn character that is the very nature of the mind, attended by impurities. The evolved affinity is the unceasing radiance of the very empty nature of mind, attended by impurities. The union of the nature of mind and its radiance is called the "union of the two impure dimensions of enlightenment" (the impure dharmakaya and rupakaya, respectively). Nurtured by the bodhisattva commitment in its two aspects, related to the relative and ultimate awakening minds, such twofold affinity blossoms into the two pure dimensions of enlightenment.


In Vajrayana (Secret Mantra), the affinity is said to be the nature of the innate pristine awareness of great bliss. As it is unceasingly present from the level of an ordinary being until buddhahood, it is known also as causal continuity (tantra). When such affinity is nurtured by the concordant vows of the two phases of creation and completion of the Highest Yoga Tantra, the method continuity, it blossoms into the state of Buddha Vidyadhara (awareness holder), the resultant continuity.

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The Ethics of Personal Liberation


The focus of the ethics of personal liberation is to control impulses that lead body and speech to undertake negative actions. Because such actions are always linked to limiting emotional patterns, Individualists, in addition to observing ethics, must train in the discriminative awareness that realizes selflessness in order to attain perfect peace, the state of cessation of such patterns. Furthermore, for that meditation to be stable, mental concentration must also be cultivated. Thus, personal liberation ethics are essentially identical with training in morality, meditation and wisdom. Although the aim of the monk's vows and other personal liberation vows appears to be restraint from unwholesome physical behaviour, it would be misleading to view those vows reductively, because their implicit aim is to overcome limiting mental patterns.


The foundation of these ethics lies in the precepts relating to taking refuge and the four 'root', or crucial precepts that prohibit murder, theft, lying and adultery. Refuge relates to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha: the first is understood as the Teacher, the second as the teachings, and the third as the community (here, the monastic one in particular).


Originally, taking refuge was primarily an expression of faith that distinguished a follower of the Buddha from practitioners of other religions. Refuge marked the beginning of an earnest undertaking of the Buddhist path. In higher forms of Buddhist view and methods of implementation, refuge takes on deeper layers of meaning, and in the ultimate sense means taking refuge in "the Buddha within", the realisation of the natural and unmodified intrinsic awareness lying within oneself.


The four root precepts prohibit the four actions that would undoubtedly cause suffering for others and also compromise the tranquility of one's mind, thereby destroying one's chance to develop meditation and gain discriminative awareness needed to uproot cyclical existence.


When the Buddhist community was first being formed, taking refuge in front of the Buddha was all that was needed for one to be accepted as a monk. Gradually, because of the misbehaviour of monks and for other reasons, rules were instituted, for the most part, limited and to a particular temporal and social context. Many were intended not only for the welfare of the monks themselves, but also for the community's internal harmony and external social respectability.


Rules gained more importance; to be a monk became a matter of maintaining specific rules and regulations rather than a matter of freely heading into a spiritual life. Eventually, to enter the Buddhist community, the aspirant needed to assume vows, and vows came to represent a commitment to abide by the entire body of rules. Such vows were not simple promises. Instead, they were 'generated' in the candidate through a series of conditions and requisites usually by the abbot, and the primary requirement of these vows was to adopt an attitude of disengagement from cyclic life.


As the vows develop into an 'entity', the identification of its nature became an important matter, which explains the various assertions Kongtrul Rinpoche presents, based on detailed analyses, on the nature of the vows. The conclusions would have little relevance to the keeping of the rules themselves but would definitely be relevant to determining at what point a vow is lost.


Personal Liberation vows are basically of two kinds: those that prohibit actions such as killing and lying, which are considered unwholesome for anyone who commits them; and those that prohibit actions such as eating in the evening, which are improper only for monks and nuns. The first kind involves a concept of 'natural evil', or 'absolute morality', which is probably influenced by the realist philosophical view held by the Analysts, to whom the tradition of personal liberation is undoubtedly connected. That also explains, to some extent, why the personal liberation vows are compared to a clay pot -- once broken, it cannot be repaired.


Kongtrul Rinpoche discusses in detail the various classes of personal liberation: the precepts of the purificatory fast and the vows of the layperson, the male and female novices, the female postulant, and the monk. He also briefly examines the series of monastic rites, including confession. The vows of a nun, regrettably, are not included because, as Kongtrul Rinpoche explains, the ordination of nuns was never introduced into Tibet (at that time).

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Re: This earlier

The vow protects the mind from concepts that cause it to cling to the attributes of ordinary appearance or to those of the deity. "Attributes" here are the individual aspects of the objects, and "conception" is the clinging to the reality of these particular aspects.

Is this 'deity' being treated or spoken of- as an actual, conscious, living, volitional, figure ? or, as a symbolic one ?(-perhaps representative of or - an anthropomorphism -of an abstract point).

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Re: This earlier

The vow protects the mind from concepts that cause it to cling to the attributes of ordinary appearance or to those of the deity. "Attributes" here are the individual aspects of the objects, and "conception" is the clinging to the reality of these particular aspects.

Is this 'deity' being treated or spoken of- as an actual, conscious, living, volitional, figure ? or, as a symbolic one ?(-perhaps representative of or - an anthropomorphism -of an abstract point).

In this context, i am thinking that 'deity' refers to any non-ordinary appearances. Abstractions could be a good way to describe it, although some non-ordinary thought-forms (as in, visualisations of holy objects, images, cosmic beings, etc.), when concentrated to an extreme, can cause the abstractness to fall apart, and in some reported cases, actual manifestations of thought-forms can occur. (Some of Alexandra David-Neel's works contain accounts of such manifestations). But i digress, since its not really related to the topic. The main point is to bear in mind that taking vows can create the auspicious mental frame needed to abandon clinging.


For example, the advice is quite specific: Do not cling to the attributes, which are the individual aspects, whether perceived as real, or imagined. Furthermore, it states that the mind is allowed to form concepts, because that is what the mind does, but by being conscious of the vows, then the real cause of suffering, which is clinging to these concepts, will dissipate in time. I suppose, at this juncture, 'deity' can also be classified as a conceptual being, one that exists not apart from the mind.


Thank you for the interest in this study. :)

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Personal Liberation vows are basically of two kinds: those that prohibit actions such as killing and lying, which are considered unwholesome for anyone who commits them; and those that prohibit actions such as eating in the evening, which are improper only for monks and nuns. The first kind involves a concept of 'natural evil', or 'absolute morality', which is probably influenced by the realist philosophical view held by the Analysts, to whom the tradition of personal liberation is undoubtedly connected. That also explains, to some extent, why the personal liberation vows are compared to a clay pot -- once broken, it cannot be repaired.


Is the idea here that the first kind of broken vow is a break indicating that one really isnt embracing of the wholesome spirt of the vow ( and engages in say cruelty or evil ) knowing full well that such is unfit,, and the other kind of broken vow is basically a technicality which is done for good reasons? (so its fixable or justifiable)

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Personal Liberation vows are basically of two kinds: those that prohibit actions such as killing and lying, which are considered unwholesome for anyone who commits them; and those that prohibit actions such as eating in the evening, which are improper only for monks and nuns. The first kind involves a concept of 'natural evil', or 'absolute morality', which is probably influenced by the realist philosophical view held by the Analysts, to whom the tradition of personal liberation is undoubtedly connected. That also explains, to some extent, why the personal liberation vows are compared to a clay pot -- once broken, it cannot be repaired.


Is the idea here that the first kind of broken vow is a break indicating that one really isnt embracing of the wholesome spirt of the vow ( and engages in say cruelty or evil ) knowing full well that such is unfit,, and the other kind of broken vow is basically a technicality which is done for good reasons? (so its fixable or justifiable)

I think what the passage intends to say is that there are major and minor vows, some of which are applicable to those who have taken ordination, and some to laypersons.


Depending on the tradition, certain major vows, if broken, cannot be repaired. These vows are usually related to taking of life, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct (or in the case of monks and nuns, celibacy), divisive speech, and the consumption of intoxicants. Those who seek ordination have to abide by a whole list of other precepts, divided into classes. The first class of vows are those mentioned above, the 2nd class are known as Remainder vows, the 3rd class are the 120 Downfalls, the 4th class covers confession, and the 5th class are the 112 Misdeeds to avoid. These classes are again sub-divided into major and minor infractions -- its quite extensive altogether.


Monks and nuns who break major vows have to go thru a lengthy process to determine all the implications. This process involves first the meeting of a group of appointed peers of the same level for resolution; if no resolution can be reached, then the matter is passed on to another appointed group of monks who are more senior, and if it still remains unresolved, then it goes yet again to another group of monks who are again more senior to the previous, until finally, if still no resolution can be reached, finally the matter goes to the abbot and his close advisors. This of course do not apply to laypersons.


The above is pertinent only to one particular tradition within Tibetan Buddhism which im familiar with. Other traditions within Tibetan Buddhism could also have different rules and applications, and im quite sure the Theravadin tradition has completely different rules again. Regardless of the differences, the vows belonging to the First Class remain exactly the same across all schools and traditions.

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The Ethics of the Mind of Awakening


The focus of the commitments of the mind of awakening is the training to be followed on the bodhisattva path. As these commitments are centred on the awakening mind itself, its causes, nature, varieties (the aspiring and venturing, the relative and ultimate), and so forth are explained in detail before the training itself is described.


The actual cultivation of the awakening mind, attended by specific points of training, is presented from the perspective of the lineage of the profound view, which was inspired by Manjushri and transmitted to Nagarjuna, Shantideva, and others, and the magnificent deeds lineage, which was inspired by Maitreya and transmitted to Asanga, Chandragomin, Atisha, and others.


These two systems are basically the same, and certain aspects of training are common to both. The common training includes the three forms of ethics for the bodhisattva, which are to shun non-virtue, acquire wholesome qualities, and work for the benefit of others, and the implementation of the six perfections: generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.


Nagarjuna's system allows anyone who is willing and sufficiently intelligent to take the commitments of the aspiring and venturing awakening minds simultaneously, either in front of a master or alone in the imagined presence of buddhas and bodhisattvas. As long as one preserves the mind that aspires to awaken, the commitments are not lost. A damaged commitment can be restored in a dream through supplication to the bodhisattva Akashagarbha; the bright trainee restores damaged commitments through the understanding of the unborn nature of things. The points of training are followed according to one's ability, and the commitments are taken for a period as long as one estimates one can safeguard them.


In Asanga's system, only a person who holds one of the seven sets of personal liberation vows is entitled to assume the awakening-mind commitments, and such a person does so gradually (in different ceremonies), first accepting those of aspiration and then, once he or she has gained proficiency, those of venturing. It is recommended that one assumes the commitments in the presence of a qualified master. If a major infraction has been committed with great emotional involvement, the commitment is deemed to be lost and must be taken anew. (Here, Kongtrul Rinpoche adds an enigmatic note from the great Dzogchen master Longchenpa, which says that the commitment, once it has deteriorated, cannot be retaken more than three times.) The infraction should be confessed in the presence of vow holders. According to this lineage, the trainee must safeguard all of the points of training from the very beginning and must promise to keep the commitments until he or she attains enlightenment, not just for a selected period of time.


Nagarjuna's system seems more lenient and less influenced by monasticism than that of Asanga, whose points of training are more complex. Presumably, differences in the two traditions stem from their different emphases: the profound view lineage stresses the knowledge aspect of the path; the lineage of magnificent deeds, the conduct, or method, aspect.


Historically and psychologically, the bodhisattva's path is halfway between the paths of renunciation and transformation. The peacock whose feathers grow more colorful as a result of eating poison symbolizes the bodhisattva, who remains unpolluted and grows more radiant as his or her involvement in the world deepens. Accordingly, the Cluster of Jewels Scripture says:


Just as the paddy and cane-sugar fields are nurtured by the ordure of the village,

likewise, the sprout of the awakening mind is nurtured by the ordure of the

emotions of a bodhisattva.


Such images clearly show that the Universal Way transcends the Individual Way's form of renunciation, which regards "objects of desire...as poisonous leaves." This transcendence of strict renunciation holds the seed of the principle of transformation, which is developed to its fullest extent in tantra.


The Universal Way prescribes a set of personal liberation vows that are not radically different from those of the Individualists. Because Universalists are distinguished for their noble intention of seeking enlightenment in order to serve all living beings, nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference in principle between their form of observance and that of the Individualists. Moreover, since the philosophical trends underlying the Universal Way stress the selflessness of phenomena and, in particular, the Centrists speak of the non-reality of all appearances, how could morality, or ethics, in the bodhisattva path be asserted as absolute rather than as a variable factor dependent on conditions? The Universal Way therefore exhibits a flexible approach to the personal liberation vows and goes so far as to say that a bodhisattva may engage in the seven unwholesome actions of body and speech if motivated by love and compassion. As Shantideva says:


The Compassionate One, in his broad vision,

Gave permission even for what is prohibited.


Owing to its focus on mental disposition, the ethics of the awakening mind, if damaged, can be renewed or repaired by the bodhisattva, just as a golden vessel can be repaired by a skilled goldsmith.




Next -- The Ethics of the Awareness Holder

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Ethics of the Awareness Holder



The awareness-holder pledges of the Secret Mantra Way aim to dissolve the patterns of movement of dualistic conceptions by reawakening, through special means, the blissful pristine awareness that has always existed as the core of being. As this pristine awareness finds its support in the seminal essence, to dissolve the patterns of movement has the sense of blocking the movement or emission of seminal essence, which is the starting point of cyclic existence in a double sense (emission meaning both the beginning of dualistic representations and the conception of a new being in the womb).


The natural "vow", or "reality", in the tantras is that everything is permeated by innate pristine awareness. The "vow" of implementation consists in the phases of creation and completion, which bind dualistic appearances within blissful pristine awareness. The final, resultant "vow" is the spontaneous arising of all subjective appearance as enlightened dimensions and pristine awareness.


Only with a very elastic conception of the term can tantric vows be designated as moral obligations. For that matter, the very purpose of the vows is to overcome the dualistic judgement of good and bad, from the beginning of the path up to realization of the pristine awareness that is the origin of all phenomena, conditioned or otherwise.


In assuming the vow of tantra, no distinction is made among candidates, who may even be prostitutes or butchers; however, one should be interested in and capable of maintaining the pledges. As a precondition for all subsequent tantric conduct, aspirants must conform to the four great pledges: to believe in the law of cause and effect, to take refuge, to develop the awakening mind, and to be initiated.


Kongtrul Rinpoche discusses the tantric vows according to the traditions of both the ancient and the new tantras. The ancient ones are followed primarily in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism; the new, in the Kagyu, Geluk, and Sakya schools.




Tantric Pledges in the New Schools


The new schools categorize the tantras into four main classes. Each has its own sets of pledges, which share the single aim of dissolving dualistic conceptions but are distinguished by the use of different and gradually more intensely blissful experiences, ranging from the delight born from looking at a consort to that experienced in sexual union with a consort. All these "vows", or "conducts", are included in pledges concerned with skillful means and those concerned with wisdom, or in the vow of EVAM, the single union of bliss and emptiness, the reality that pervades all seasons of being, from the ground up to the fruition of enlightenment. Included within the tantric pledges are some of the vows of personal liberation and other commitments incorporating the spiritual practices of the Way of the Perfections.


In Highest Yoga Tantra, pledges are interpreted in terms of their provisional and definitive meanings, the creation and completion phases, and their relation to the five Buddha families. An adept of the phase of creation may perform, for others' welfare, actions prescribed in the provisional meaning which would be strictly prohibited by the personal liberation vows. The hidden, or definitive meaning of interpretable pledges is largely related to the phase of completion and the various techniques dealing with winds, channels and semen.


The Highest Yoga Tantra is distinguished from the three lower tantras in that it teaches a deity yoga based on the awareness of inseparability of oneself as the deity ("symbolic deity" or samayasattva), and the pristine-awareness deity ( jnanasattva ) invited from space. This tantra dispenses with many of the lower tantras' observances related to cleanliness, white foods, and outer purification which involve the concept of a deity different from and superior to oneself.


Because the "binding agent" of dualistic conceptions is the pristine awareness of great bliss, many of the pledges in the Highest Yoga Tantra concern pristine awareness and the outer and inner means for its actualization, such as the action seal, the imaginary seal, and the great seal, or the semen which is the support of the pristine awareness of bliss. The tantric path is deemed the "resultant way", because the practitioner transforms his or her own ordinary body, speech, and mind into the deity's and thereby realizes enlightened body, speech and mind. The result is buddhahood. For this reason, the pledges are also presented as those of a buddha's body, speech and mind. Moreover, the spiritual master is the medium through which the enlightened activities of all the buddhas shine; therefore, the most important of the fourteen vital pledges is never lose respect for one's master. Several other pledges prescribe the proper relationship to the vajra master and vajra siblings.


The prescribed conduct for adepts of the Highest Yoga Tantra who dwell in a state of uninterrupted contemplation prohibits the performance of symbolic hand gestures, building stupas, drawing mandalas, paying homage to masters other than one's own, and other external good deeds, all of which are required by lower tantras. Once practitioners have gained mastery of pristine awareness, they are beyond vows and transgressions, acceptance and rejection, good and bad conduct, and other creations of dualistic thought. For these yogins, the pledge is an "all-embracing observance" that takes place spontaneously.


Numerous methods of restoration of tantric pledges are mentioned, such as the fire ritual, recitation and meditation on Vajrasattva, and so forth. Higher tantric pledges associated with higher initiations are to be restored by understanding the intrinsically pure nature of one's own mind. Tantric pledges, though strict, are likened to a dented vessel that can be restored to its original form through one's own efforts.




Tantric Pledges in the Ancient Schools.


In the ancient tantras, the pledges are described in relation to the Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga systems of tantra. The general ones not radically different from those of the new tantras, while the specific, exceptional, and ultimate ones are flavored by the language and the views of these three inner tantras.


The pledges are classified as those with and those without the limits to be observed. Those with limits are associated with compassion and are said to be assumed gradually, in dependence on intitiation. Those without limits, which are the very realization of reality, are said to be gained instantaneously, without ritual. The latter are said to be most wonderful and to exceed all others, but practitioners of "weak aspiration", who have not had the realization of reality, are advised to observe the pledges with limits to be observed.


Pledges in the system of Atiyoga, or self-perfection, reflect the "third way" -- that of intrinsic freedom. Included among its general pledges are vows typical of personal liberation and others of a tantric nature, most likely because this system is placed by the Nyingmapas at the peak of (i.e., as the result of) nine spiritual pursuits.


Although included within the three inner tantras -- Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga -- Atiyoga does not belong to the path of transformation. it speaks of primordial state of being that cannot be polluted by unawareness or actions stemming from unawareness, and is therefore beyond the sphere of purification and the means of purification. It does not involve pure and impure visions, and it is beyond the sphere of transformation and the means of transformation.


The pledges of self-perfection comprise four exceptional pledges. Two are related to the practice of "cutting through", and two are related to the practice of the "direct leap". These do not involve prohibitions; these pledges represent the view and method of implementation of this system. The two pledges of "cutting through" are to realize that all phenomena are primordially non-existent and to drop all clinging to appearances and allow all appearances to flow into the state of reality through the cultivation of natural intrinsic awareness unbounded by the sense of an observer. The two pledges of the "direct leap" are, first, to abandon an external spiritual quest by finding the buddha within oneself through the cultivation of the four visionary appearances out of one's inner radiance, and second, to dissolve all things into the state of reality through the experiential knowledge that the entire universe is simply one's own natural intrinsic awareness.


In concluding his discussion of the three ethics, Kongtrul Rinpoche provides an extremely terse résumé of the process of spiritual development for individuals following the Individual, Universal, and Secret Mantra ways. These serve as introductions to themes that are developed fully in the later sections of The Infinite Ocean of Knowledge.






Kongtrul Rinpoche's work provides a clear and masterly exposition of Buddhist ethics, and it is particularly useful in that the three different ethics of the three spiritual pursuits -- Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana -- are presented together, allowing the reader to make a comparative analysis. At first, the volume of material may seem overwhelming. Eventually, however, as the material is assimilated, a synthesis of its contents will arise in one's mind in the form of a simple understanding. That understanding will be relevant to all situations in one's life and will guide one on the compassionate path to knowledge.





Next: Chapter 1 - The Qualities of the Spiritual Teacher and Student

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In assuming the vow of tantra, no distinction is made among candidates, who may even be prostitutes or butchers; however, one should be interested in and capable of maintaining the pledges. As a precondition for all subsequent tantric conduct, aspirants must conform to the four great pledges: to believe in the law of cause and effect, to take refuge, to develop the awakening mind, and to be initiated.


How does this work? :) Since many of the prostitute's customers are married, and the butcher is performing the act of harming and killing all day long?

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How does this work? :) Since many of the prostitute's customers are married, and the butcher is performing the act of harming and killing all day long?

Apparently the tantric vows make no distinctions among those who take up the path.


I suppose before one assumes the tantric path there will have arisen in the mind some level of deeper understanding of conventional and ultimate truth, emptiness, transformation, non-duality, the inseparability of phenomena, impermanence, etc. Such knowledge will have helped reform certain fixations in the mind, turning it more receptive to seeing things beyond their 'normal' or conventional meanings. A rigid way of seeing things is exactly what the practice of Buddhist tantra can dismantle more quickly than other practices or paths. Not to say these paths are inferior, but the approach is different, and often makes it safer for initiates to follow.


Tantra is more for those who have developed resolute confidence in the teachings, which says that ultimately everything is like an illusion. While this is the most freeing aspect of Buddhadharma, it is also fraught with danger in the minds of those without the necessary faith & resolve. In order to generate and increase this, the preliminaries are put together, and trainees are encouraged to first train (usually for many years) with these before undertaking the tantric path. All the different Buddhist traditions have their own set of prelims, with many common aims and ethics shared. It is the observance of these ethics at the beginning that firms the mind so that when everything is dismantled later on the tantric path, the practitioner will not become ungrounded and lose his or her sanity. The whole progression of the Buddhist path has a lot of safety rails put in place to avoid spiritual mishaps, premature entry to esotericism, and so on. These rather strict guidelines, unfortunately, are often ignored due to impatience, greed, and also arrogance. One of the aims of learning Buddhist ethics is precisely to counter such obstacles so that one gains unmistaken & complete sight of what is essential and what is not, aka Discriminating Awareness Wisdom.


A good beginning meditation to gain insight into this Wisdom mind is to first learn to temporarily drop preconceived notions and pre-formed judgements we have been holding tightly in regards to right and wrong. This helps to pacify mental reactivity to enable the mind to find its real nature, and to rest in its true state, unperturbed by whatever thoughts rise and fall there. After a while, these notions can be seen to arise again, but eventually their activity becomes less and less frequent -- over time, as mindfulness increase, they (the notions we hold) lose their solidity, our mental capacities become more malleable, and this is when ripeness for undertaking the higher yoga tantras begin.

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To take advantage of life's leisure and endowments

Upon approaching the Buddha's teaching, the source

of all happiness and well-being,

First find and then follow a spiritual guide.


It is said that life is precious and to be cherished. It is short, filled with uncertainties and when it will end nobody knows for certain. Death can happen at anytime, so the teachings encourage practitioners not to squander away this perfect opportunity to practice in order to liberate oneself from the fetters that binds one to the ever-revolving wheel of existence.


Buddhadharma is no longer difficult to hear in this realm. Only humans possess all the necessary faculties to study Dharma. No other being in any of the other realms are endowed with the sort of intelligence and discerning attributes that is needed in order to attain the fruits of liberation from the rounds of birth and death.


In order to swiftly attain the path from the beginning until perfect completion, which is buddhahood, it is advised that one begins by searching for a qualified spiritual guide and then follow his or her guidance with patience and devotion. By turning the mind in such a manner, the individual is creating the causes for a life that will yield positive results through fulfilling all the necessary requirements to enable similar future causes to arise unceasingly.



The Bodhisattvas' Jewel Garland points thus:


Cultivate love and compassion,

And make your bodhicitta stable.

Avoid the ten unwholesome actions,

And make your faith and confidence strong.


Whenever you see your master or preceptor,

Offer to serve them with devotion and respect.

Those who possess enlightened vision

And those first setting out on the path --

Regard them both as your spiritual teachers.



The search for a master comprises of three initial criterias: the first is reflecting upon the uniqueness of the Buddha's teaching, as its described in the Interwoven Praises:


Your doctrine is the sole path, easy to enter,

It grants supremacy and has no flaw.

Propitious in the beginning, middle and end:

No one has taught a doctrine like yours!



The teaching of the Buddha provides the sole path to liberation. Easily entered, it ultimately grants none other than supreme attainment. The Buddha's doctrine is flawless, a perfect antidote to attachment and other afflictive emotions. It is propitious because all stages of its practice -- first listening, then reflection, and finally making it a living experience -- become the seed for the attainment of higher levels of existence and liberation. For these reasons, the Buddha's doctrine represents, in every respect, the source of all happiness and well-being. These features are not found in the doctrines of other teachers, but are exclusive to the teachings of the Buddha. Accordingly, the bodhisattva Shantideva composed this prayer:


May the doctrine, the only cure for suffering

And the source of all happiness,

Be supported and honored

And endure for long!



The second step is valuing this precious human life. The Reunion of Father and Son Scripture states:


Having shunned all of the eight fetters of life

And found the marvellous endowments so rare to obtain

Wise ones who have come to have faith in the doctrine of the Joyful One

Engage in the right spiritual practice.



Only by having faith in and following the Buddha's teaching can we take full advantage of our human lives that are replete with leisure and endowments.


The third step is considering the need for a spiritual guide. The Transcendent Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines states:


A bodhisattva, great being, who wishes to attain ultimate, authentic, and perfect awakening,

should first approach, work with, and honor spiritual guides.



What kind of spiritual guide should one look for? The Collection of Spontaneous Utterances points out:


Since by relying on an inferior, one regresses,

On an equal, one stagnates,

And on a superior, one excels,

Keep in touch with a spiritual guide superior to yourself.


If you study with a master

Far superior to yourself in ethics,

Contemplative tranquility, and wisdom,

You can even excel the master.



Master Longchenpa poetically summarises why a good spiritual guide is useful:


Just as a patient is in need of a physician,

People of a just ruler, a lonely traveller of an escort,

A merchant of a guild-master, a boatman of a sturdy boat,

So, likewise, in order to calm the emotions, to make evil harmless,

To overcome birth and death, and

To cross the ocean of fictitious being,

You must rely on a Teacher.


If someone were to praise only partially

Such a person who is a helper of living beings,

And whose qualities are so vast,

He would have to say:


As he makes them cross over the ocean of fictitious being

he is a steersman,

An incomparable leader of those who have started the journey,

He is the bright lamp dispelling the darkness

of the loss of pure awareness.


He is the wish-granting tree from which comes

the happiness of all who are alive.


He is the auspicious jewel by which all desires

are spontaneously fulfilled.


He is the countless rays of the sun

of great kindness.


He is the moon with its white light of prosperity and happiness,

removing afflictions.

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The need for a guide can be determined from scripture, logic, and similes.

The necessity of working with a spiritual guide can be determined from (1) scriptures, (2) logic, and (3) similes.

Scriptures [A]

There are countless scriptural references to the need for working with a spiritual guide. The Condensed Transcendent Wisdom Scripture states10:

Worthy students who respect spiritual teachers Should always remain close to learned masters Because from them the virtues of the wise spring.

The Flower Array Scripture states11:

O child of the universal family, all your virtuous qualities issue from your spiritual guide. You can encounter and receive instructions from one only if you have cultivated merit and wisdom for oceans of eons. Otherwise, to meet a spiritual guide may prove more difficult than coming upon the most rare of gems. Therefore, never tire of honoring your spiritual guide.



Given that a student wishes to attain the state of an omniscient buddha, the basic premise is that it is necessary for him or her to work with a spiritual guide. The reason is that the individual does not know how to cultivate merit and wisdom or to clear away obscurations. Examples consistent with this proof are the enlightened ones of the three times. The converse can be illustrated by solitary sages12 and other examples.

Similes [C]

Many similes illustrate [the need for a spiritual guide]. For example, the Biography of Shri Sambhava states13:
Spiritual teachers are like guides because they set us on the path of the perfections.


The Biography of the Lay Practitioner Achala states14:
Spiritual guides are like escorts because they escort us to the state of omniscience.

The Flower Array states15:
Spiritual guides are like ferrymen because they carry us across the river of cyclic life.




This section has two parts: (1) an overview, and (2) an explanation. The first of these has two parts: (1) types of spiritual guides, and (2) their qualifications.

Overview [A]
Types [1]

A spiritual guide may be an ordinary human being, a bodhisattva, a buddha in manifest or enjoyment dimension Suited to the four phases of the disciple's growth. There are four types of spiritual guide: ordinary human beings, bodhisattvas, the manifest dimension of a buddha, and the enjoyment dimension of a buddha. These four are suited to the four phases [of our spiritual growth]. At the beginning of our quest, it is impossible for us to come in touch with buddhas or bodhisattvas who have reached the higher stages of awakening. Therefore, we have to work with ordinary human beings as our spiritual guides. When the obscurations caused by our previous deeds have cleared, we can meet bodhisattvas on higher stages of awakening.16 As we reach the highest level of the path of accumulation,17 we can encounter the manifest dimension of a buddha. Then, as we attain the higher stages of awakening, we can come in contact with the enjoyment dimension of a buddha as our spiritual guide. At the beginning of our quest, when we are still trapped in the dungeon of our emotions and previous deeds, we cannot consider
working with higher spiritual guides because we will not see as much as their faces! We first must seek a spiritual guide who is an ordinary human being. When our path has been illuminated by the light of his or her speech, we will come to meet higher spiritual guides. Therefore, the kindest of all is the spiritual guide who is an ordinary person.18

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I'm wondering if I have a different edition than C T? :(

Most likely the same. Some of the quotes i've taken from other sources as reference and support.

Don't worry about it.


Just to explain, the reason for the temporary lapse is that im currently being distracted by a couple of other books recently purchased which is taking up most of my free time.


Will be back soon!

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This section has two parts: (1) reasonings for the need to work with a teacher, and (2) the benefits of working with a teacher as taught in the scriptures.

Reasonings [A]
The Victorious One said: ÒBy devoting yourself to a spiritual friend, You will attain the full, accomplished, unique, and perfectly
immaculate path to liberation. By trusting me now as your spiritual guide, you will gain freedom from suffering. Consider these reasons!


The Victorious One, the compassionate teacher, proclaimed [the need to study with a master] with this advice: By working with a
spiritual guide, you will attain the full, accomplished, unique, and immaculate path to liberation.83 Now, by trusting me as your spiritual guide, you will easily gain freedom from the suffering of existence. Consider these reasons and examples!


The scriptures state:
Ananda, it is like this: Spiritual guides and virtuous companions are the fulfillment of the path to liberation.

Letter to a Friend states84:
Reliance on a spiritual guide fulfills oneÕs path to liberation, said the Sage. Therefore, devote yourself to a spiritual friend As did the many who attained peace by relying on [the Buddha as] their teacher.

The Benefits as Taught in the Scriptures
Many other benefits that accrue from studying with a spiritual guide are taught in the scriptures. In addition to the above, many benefits of working with a spiritual guide are mentioned in the discourses and tantras.


The Flower Array
Scripture,85 for example, states:

Bodhisattvas who are under the guidance of spiritual guides will not fall into miserable forms of life. Able to discriminate good
from evil, they do not engage in what is unwholesome. They shun all sources of distraction and escape from the ÒcityÓ of cyclic
existence. They will not contravene the bodhisattva's training and they stand above all worlds. They will not be easily overcome
by emotions and previous actions. Therefore, children of the Universal family, always keep these benefits in mind and follow your spiritual guides!

The salient points of the many scriptural references on this subject
are summarized in the words of the all-knowing DrimŽ zer (Longchenpa)86:
The benefits of devoting yourself to a spiritual master are limitless: You embark upon the perfect path, discern what is authentic,
Cultivate merit and enhance pristine awareness, clear away obscurations, dispel hindrances, Attain the stature of a holy person,
And swiftly reach the city of freedom.


Furthermore, [the scriptures] mention the following benefits: we come closer to enlightenment; the victorious ones are pleased with us; we never lack spiritual guides; we never fall into miserable forms of life; the negative consequences of our past deeds and emotions will not defeat us; our deeds never contradict the bodhisattvasÕ conduct; and we always bear this conduct in mind. Our positive qualities thereby steadily increase, and we achieve all temporal and ultimate objectives. Furthermore, by revering a spiritual guide, the results of past deeds [that would lead to] miserable forms of life are met and exhausted in this life as the experiences of only slight mental or physical affliction, or even just in dreams. So vast is its merit that to venerate
a spiritual guide far surpasses other forms of virtue such as making offerings to an infinite number of buddhas. On the other hand, if we relate to the spiritual guide in a wrong way, we may be afflicted by many sicknesses and beset by malevolent
influences during this life. In future lives, we may experience countless sufferings in miserable existences. We will not acquire any new qualities, and we will lose the qualities we now have. Because of these destructive consequences,


the Vajrapani Initiation Tantra states87:
O Lord of Secrets! How should the disciple regard the teacher?
You should think of him as you would the Blessed One, the Buddha.
Similar statements are found in the collection of Universalist scriptures and the scriptures on discipline. Thus, we should never form an overly critical attitude toward the spiritual guide but should devote ourselves to him or her with even greater respect than for the Buddha. The merits of honoring one's spiritual master are inconceivable.

As the Guhyasamaja [Tantra] says88:
There is far greater merit in venerating a single pore of the masterÕs body than in worshiping all the buddhas throughout all time and space.

The Biography of Shri Sambhava Scripture states89:
By pleasing the spiritual guide, one attains the enlightenment of a buddha. In summary, limitless virtues, manifest [in this life] and in the next, are acquired by venerating spiritual teachers. Merit and pristine awareness are enhanced to their fullest extent; all hindrances caused by adverse circumstances subside; fame and prosperity increase; and enlightenment is swiftly attained.


Generally, anything we do, wholesome or unwholesome, in relation to significant persons such as a spiritual master, preceptor, teacher, sick person, practitioner of the Buddhist teachings, bodhisattva in his or her final existence, exalted proclaimer, exalted solitary sage, or one's own parents yields extremely powerful results.


Vasubandhu's Treasury [of Phenomenology] states90:
Helping parents or the sick Even though they may not be exalted And honoring spiritual teachers or bodhisattvas in their final
existence Are said to yield inconceivable merits.

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