By Khempo Ringu Tulku
In Mahayana Buddhism, we talk of three different categories of persons according to their different mentalities. Depending on what we call their "aspiration", how big, how deep it is, we differentiate between:
- small individuals,
- medium individuals,
- great individuals.
Small individuals follow the Dharma in order to get peace in this life or to be born in a higher realm and get pleasure and comfort in the next. For them, the Buddha has given simple teachings, a simple code of conduct, which is called the ten virtues. They detail how to live a good life, how to become a good human being. Their basic principle is not to harm anybody.
There are ten unwholesome things:
3 related to the body:
1. to kill a man
2. to steal
3. sexual misbehaviour
4 related to speech:
4. to lie
5. to slander
6. to say harsh words
7. to indulge in useless gossips
3 related to mind:
8. to hate somebody and have mischievous thoughts
9. to envy someone else's good fortune and not rejoice
10. to hold wrong views.
If we abstain from doing those ten unwholesome deeds and reverse them, then we practise the ten virtuous deeds.
Out of these ten, the seven unwholesome deeds related to body and speech can sometimes become virtuous deeds if they are done with a very good, pure motivation. But the three unvirtuous actions of the mind can never become good, because the mind is the most important.
Now we come to the second category of persons, the Medium individuals.
They follow a spiritual path because they are aware of the miseries of being born again and again in this world and they want to get rid of them, to get out of the circle of Samsara. To these people, the Buddha has given the teachings of the Hinayana, what we call the basic teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the system of monastic rules of the Vinaya, with five different stages which are:
1. Upasaka and Upasika or lay followers
2. Getsul, male and female (novice monk or nun)
3. Gelong (fully ordained monks)
4. Gelongma (ordained nuns)
5. Guenyen, which is a one day observance of the precepts.
In this tradition, the four different stages are described as
- the streamliner,
- the once-returning,
- the never-returning,
- the Arhat.
"Arhat" means "subduer of the enemy".
An Arhat has subdued all his mind-poisons: aversion, ignorance, attachment, etc... and reached Nirvana, which is the cessation of all sufferings.
The third group are The Great Beings.
Their purpose in practising the spiritual path is not only to become Buddhas themselves for themselves, but also to bring all other sentient beings to the same state of Buddhahood. They are called Bodhisattvas and are said to be of three different kinds:
The Bodhisattvas like a King:
His intention is first to become a Buddha, then to help all sentient beings to become Buddhas. Like a king would do, he first tries to get all facilities for himself, then to help his subjects.
2. The Bodhisattvas like a Captain:
His intention is to take all sentient beings along with him to the state of enlightenment, like a captain who sails together with his passengers and brings them along with him to the shore.
3. The Bodhisattva like a Shepherd:
His intention is to deliver all sentient beings first, to lead them to enlightenment, to the state of Buddhahood, and then only to become a Buddha, like a shepherd who will bring all his sheep to a safe shelter and then only go home himself. Avalokiteshvara belongs to this category.
The Bodhisattva Yana has Five Paths and Ten Stages.
The Five paths are called:
3. Seeing or Insight
5. No more learning
1. The Path of Accumulation
The first path starts at the moment when we really wish, from the bottom of our heart, that other sentient beings might become Buddhas and to engage ourselves in a practice for this to happen. This intention, this aspiration is called Bodhicitta. The Buddha Sakyamuni is said to have engaged on this path of accumulation when he was born in hell. While he was driving a chariot in hell, he saw that his companions were beaten mercilessly by the driver. His compassion for them was so intense that he said "Let them be free, I will myself carry their burden!" From then onwards, he walked on the Bodhisattva path. This path is very long, because one has to earn lots of merits and purify a lot of bad karma. It is said that an individual can spend countless aeons at this stage.
There are two different views or theories as to how one becomes a Buddha:
According to the first, when he sat under the Bodhi tree for the very first time, the Buddha was only the last level of the accumulation stage. In one sitting, he crossed all the remaining four stages and became a perfectly enlightened Buddha by the morning.
The second view is more popular among the Mahayanists. The Buddha had become a perfectly enlightened being even before taking birth as Gautama, the prince of the Sakya family, and it is only out of compassion, in order to guide sentient beings, to teach them the right path, that he demonstrated enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
2. The Path of Preparation
After having accumulated lots of merits for a long time, there comes a time when one really gets close to seeing the ultimate nature of things, the truth. It is a very short stage. Just after getting that warmth, or feeling of delight, we get a glimpse of the actual reality or truth.
3. The Path of Seeing
This glimpse of the Buddha Nature, or of Shunyata, is called the third path or path of insight. This stage corresponds to the "stream-enterer stage" of the Hinayana and to the first of the ten bhumis of the Bodhisattva yana. We have now seen the truth, but we still have many subtle obscurations that are still to be purified before we can fully attain enlightenment.
4. The Path of Meditation
From then onwards starts the path of Meditation, which corresponds to the ten bhumis of the Bodhisattvas which are called:
1. the very joyous 6. the approaching
2. the stainless 7. the gone-afar
3. the luminous 8. the immovable
4. the radiant 9. the good intelligence
5. the difficult to overcome 10. the clouds of dharma
Up to the seventh stage, two kinds of obscurations remain to be removed before getting to enlightenment. The first kind is what we call the mind-poisons: attachment, aversion, ignorance and their combinations. The second kind is the obscuration of knowledge, which means that very subtle dualistic concepts are still present in the mind. The first type of obscuration is totally purified, wiped out, at the seventh stage, and the last three stages purify the second type of obscuration.
These ten stages are sometimes connected to the practice of the ten paramitas, each transcendent wisdom being perfected at one particular stage.
5. The Path of No-More Learning
Having travelled the four previous paths successfully, we attain Buddhahood or complete enlightenment. This is the last stage, which is therefore called "No more learning".
The whole path towards enlightenment is included in these 5 paths and 10 stages.
When we become a Buddha, we have not only cleared away all the obscurations, but also gained all the positive accumulations.
To become a Buddha, the seed of Buddhahood must have been present from the start. This seed of Buddhahood is always present in all sentient beings although it is not visible at present, because it has been obscured by different kinds of defilements.
Q. You told us in a previous teaching that at the moment of death, we see a kind of light and if we recognise it, we can become enlightened. In that sense, can we say that death is the great initiation? Then why do we have to do all this, follow those strenuous paths and practices, as we all have a chance at death?
A. It is not easy to recognise the light at the moment of death, though it is possible. It happens, but not often. Those who recognise it in the Bardo state have practised a lot in the past. This is not at all contradictory, but rather complementary. Moreover, the Bardo teachings are Tantric teachings, which are far more skilful than the Mahayana teachings. When we say that we realise the ultimate reality, what we talk about is not that we become Buddha at that moment, but that we get a glimpse of the truth and still have to purify a lot of obscurations after that glimpse at the ultimate reality.
Q. Is it possible to say from oneself or another person that he/she is at this or that stage of the Bodhisattva training?
A. Yes. There are different signs from which we can understand whether he/she really is at one stage or another. If somebody is interested, there is a Sutra called the "Sutra of the ten Bhumis" on that subject.
Q. In the case of "a Bodhisattva like a shepherd", how is it possible that someone who is not enlightened can help and guide others?
A. He is not yet enlightened, but he has completed all the stages of the Bodhisattva training which is, in every or most respects, like a Buddha. Like Chenrezig for instance. Therefore he can really guide other people.
I would like to have some explanations on the meaning of karma purification.
According to the Theravada teachings I received, we will get results according to our actions. It is never really possible to purify one's karma. Here, we hear about this possibility of purifying bad karma and not only to create positive karma in the present.
The karma, as you have rightly understood, is action and reaction. So if there
is a positive action, there is a positive reaction. If there is a negative action, there is a negative reaction. According to the force of the action, we have four different kinds of karma: one is the immediate reaction in this very life, the second is the reaction in the next life, then some karmas have a reaction that will come some time, but that time is not definite, and finally, there is some sort of karma that may or may not produce a reaction. Because of these four types of karma, of actions and reactions, the actions you do, positive or negative, have different levels or timing of reaction. The more forceful actions, positive or negative, will have the quickest, most immediate result. About cessation or purification of karma, if you realise the nature of the mind poisons, and purify them, then the negative actions cannot accumulate any more, and you have cut off the source of negative karma. If you fully realise the Buddha nature, or the ultimate reality, then you have purified all the karma of the past, but still you cannot do away with the results of this karma. If they are very forceful, the results of this karma can be experienced even at a very high stage of realisation, but in that case it will be with such a light form, such an insignificant impact that it is meaningless. There is a story relating to this. While walking in the forest, thorns stuck under the Buddha's feet. He explained it in this way: "I killed someone a very very long time ago. If I had not become a Buddha in the meantime, I should have been killed by this time. But now, it has only this effect !".
Q. We are not here in a Buddhist country. How is it then that we can now almost immediately receive such high teachings as Tantra, when we see that the path to follow, Hinayana, Mahayana, is so long and complex? Is it because we will soon be facing very deep changes, big world events, or because we are close to the end of a cycle?
It is not like that. Those who want to practise the teachings of Hinayana will
receive them. Those who want to practice Mahayana will receive Mahayana teachings. It is the same with Vajrayana. But Hinayana is included in Mahayana. Mahayana and Hinayana are both included in Vajrayana, as its basis. When you receive the teachings of tantrayana, you also receive at the same time the teachings of Hinayana an Mahayana.
As to the high teachings of Tantrayana, the teachings themselves are not so important. If you ask for the teachings, you will receive them. But what is important is how you practise them. Traditionally, it was found that if one tries to practise it stage by stage, the foundation becomes strong, and therefore the result is better, except for exceptional beings who can immediately practise at the highest level and still get result. It is mainly a question of what people want to practise. The time, the period we are living in may have some effect too: it is a very fast one, we do not have much time and we want to get everything quickly. Since the tantric teachings are said to give very swift results, maybe this is why tantric teachings are so widely taught and appreciated.
Q. What does Rinpoché think of Tilopa's saying:" Don't think, don't meditate, just leave your mind in it's natural state." To whom did he say this, what kind of person was it addressed to?
A. That is part of Mahamudra teachings and meditation.
Q. Does it correspond to the tenth level of Bodhisattva training?
A. No, no, this is just a technique of the Mahamudra meditation. The person who is meditating this way can either be at the first stage, or second, or last stage. It does not necessarily correspond to any particular stage. The stages we were talking about are levels of experience and attainment, whereas this meditation is technical. Even we, who have not attained any Bhumi, can practice it.
Q. Did he mean that eventually everything is meditation?
A. Yes, you meditate according to this and if you really get an insight, you reach the first stage through it.
Q. When we are reborn, do we still have the level of attainment we reached in the previous life, and if yes, how does it manifest? For instance, as a child, is it immediately present or do we have to learn it all over again, though in a quicker way?
A. Most of the time, you are at the same level, but sometimes, you have what we call "obscuration of the womb". Afterwards, it comes back very quickly.
Q. Is it the reason why the Tulkus have to study again?
A. (laughter) I think so.
Q. So we can see a child who suddenly has a level of realisation much bigger than his parents? That seems quite strange ! A child that is much wiser than his parents? That is very unlikely.
A. Don't you think it is possible?
Q. As the world is not dualistic, what does enlightenment lead to? If Samsara is Nirvana, emptiness is equal to form, so when we have gone the whole path, do we arrive at anything, is it worth starting it? Is it really a path?
A. Nirvana is actually right here, it is just a kind of realisation. It is only our eyes that are not open. When our eyes are open, then it is here. A Zen master called it the "Gateless Gate", which means that in order to reach Nirvana, you have to cross a gate, but when you have crossed it, you realise that there was no gate at all. It is something like that. When you have reached the last stage, when you have gone all the path, you realise that there was no path at all.
Q. A bad action causes bad karma, and it can be purified in some extent, but for instance if I steal from you Rinpoche, but afterwards give back what I have stolen, the initial offence remains, so I cannot purify my action unless Rinpoche forgives me. If I take this as an example for all karmic formations, how can I ever purify the offences I made?
A. It is like this: when you take something from me which has not been given to you, it is a bad action. How bad it is depends on your motivation and intentions, but you have done a bad thing and from it, you will get a bad reaction. If you give it back or compensate, it is a good action. How good it is also depends on your motivation. You will get the reaction of both. One will not compensate for the other.
© Ringu Tulku