The Excellent Path To Enlightenment

The following article is from the Spring, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
140 pp. #EXPAEN $12.95


The vow to perfect oneself in order to perfect others is called the thought of enlightenment, or bodhichitta. This implies that every single action, word, or thought, even the most trival, is dedicated to the good of all beings. To accomplish the good of others, we must first perfect ourselves, by purifying and transforming our minds. This is the aim of what we call the preliminary practices, which establish the foundations of all spiritual progress.

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) was one of the foremost philosophers, poets, and meditation masters of the Mahayana, mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. The official head of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism at the time of his death, Rinpoche was highly respected by thousands of students in Tibet and throughout the world.

In this book Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche explains a standard practice text composed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) on the Vajrayana preliminaries: taking refuge, generating the thought of achieving enlightenment for the sake of all beings, performing the meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva to remove hindrances on the path to enlightenment, offering the mandala to accumulate merit and wisdom, and developing proper reliance on a spiritual teacher.

Clear, direct and personal, these instructions illuminate the heart of Vajrayana practice. Included here are the Tibetan text as well as the mantras and prayers commonly recited in conjunction with this practice.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter entitled The Three Supreme Methods:

The framework which gives this practiceas well as any other practice or activity we undertakeits strength, is that of the three supreme methods: the preparation, in which we generate bodhichitta, the wish to act and practice for the sake of all beings; the actual practice, during which we remain free of distractions, clinging and concepts; and the conclusion, in which we dedicate the merit for the sake of all beings. These three methods must be applied to any kind of practice, whether generation phase, perfection phase, Great Seal, Great Middle Way, or Great Perfection. Without these three supreme methods, there is no point in doing any practice.

The preparation is the generation of bodhichitta. This is a skillful means that not only increases the value of our practice but is the very reason for our doing it. Modern technology, for example, uses very powerful machines to accomplish in one hour the same work that it would take a hundred people to do by hand. Similarly, when we undertake an action with the pure intention of benefiting others, that intention is the skillful means that makes the action infinitely beneficial and effective. As the mind has a far greater effect on the quality of an action than the body or speech, when you begin a practice, first turn your mind inwards and check your intention.

The correct way to think is as follows: Of all living beings there is not a single one who has not been my parent in a past life. Now they are all immersed in the ocean of suffering. They all want happiness, but do not know how to get it. I wish to help them, but do not have the ability to do so. I must therefore progress towards enlightenment, so that I can gain the ability to free all sentient beings from their suffering and ignorance.

You should approach everything you do in this way, even actions that seem insignificant, like reciting a single mani, or walking once around a temple or stupa. Do everything with the thought, May this be for the sake of all beings. To recite OM MANI PADME HUNG even once brings boundless merit: it will close the doors to the lower realms and lead to rebirth in the Buddhafields. But if that single recitation of the mani is reinforced with the attitude of bodhichitta, its benefit will increase continuously throughout many lives. The reason for this is that if we dedicate an action for the sake of all beings, the benefit of that action will be as infinite as is the number of beings. To recite a hundred million manis without dedicating them to the welfare of all beings would be of far less benefit than to recite just a hundred manis for the sake of all beings.

The main part, or actual practice, must be free of concepts and clingings. Ideally this means to have full realization of emptiness, the void nature of phenomena But this is not easy to understand in the beginning. The main point for us, therefore, is to concentrate fully on the practice, with body, speech and mind acting in accord. If we use our bodies to do prostrations, for instance, while carrying on an ordinary conversation, with our minds full of attachment and hatred, the movements we make will be merely mechanical and almost useless. Instead, we need always to combine body, speech and mind in our practice, using our bodies to prostrate, our speech to recite the refuge prayer, and our minds to concentrate on the meaning of prostrations. We should remember that when we place our folded hands at our forehead, we are paying homage to the body of the Buddhas. When we place them at our throat, we are paying homage to their speech, and when we place them at our heart, we are paying homage to their mind. Then, when we touch the ground with our foreheads, two hands and two knees, we pay homage to the body, speech, mind, qualities and activities of the Buddhas; at the same time the five poisons present in the minds of all beings, including ourselves, are transformed into the five wisdoms. It is this kind of precise mindfulness that we need to maintain. Even by ordinary standards, a good worker is someone who is always mindful of what he is doing. His body is concentrated on the job, he uses his speech to discuss what has to be done and what needs to be avoided, and he uses his mind to think carefully about the work he is doing. If we do not do likewise, we may well end up like the tailor who was always looking out of the window and chatting to everyone else in the workshop while he sewed: he found that he had stitched the garment he was making to his own clothes!

When we say that the actual practice must be free from concepts and clingings, this means that it must be free from attachment, self-infatuation, scattering thoughts and so forth. However vast an offering you might make, even ten thousand silver coins, you should never think, Oh! I've made such a big offering! It will be enough for the rest of my life. I shall reap the fruit of my actions and enjoy their karmic result. I doubt whether anyone has ever made such a large offering. There is no point in making an offering with such a small-minded attitude; its value is extremely limited. You should wish that your offering be multiplied without limit. If you offer one million, make a wish that you will be able to offer two. At the same time, it is important to remain free of pride. There are four ways to waste a generous action: to hope for a reward, to boast to others about it, to regret having done it, and to omit dedicating its merit to all beings. In short, a good action must be completely free from second thoughts and expectation; ideally, it should be free of the concepts of a doer, an object and an action.


A good action must be completely free from second thoughts and expectation; ideally, it should be free of the concepts of a doer, an object and an action.

When you practice, your mind must be free of poisonous thoughts, or you will spoil the whole thing. However positive your actions, words and thoughts are, if they are adulterated with attachment, anger and pride, they will have as little benefit as delicious food mixed with poison. If you are able to purify your body, speech and mind together, you will become like a spotless garment, perfectly cut and stitched, or like a precious stone, a diamond or a sapphire, without the slightest irregularity or flaw.

The third of the three supreme methods, the conclusion, is the dedication of merit, which will cause the fruit of this merit to increase continually instead of being exhausted as soon as it is enjoyed. Whether you have done one prostration or a thousand, offered one butter-lamp or a thousand butter-lamps, you should pray, I dedicate the merit of this offering I have made (representing all the positive actions I have done in the past, am doing now, and shall do in the future) for the sake of all sentient beings throughout space, especially those whom I perceive as enemies. When you make this dedication you must be very clear about what you are doing, as if you were handing a present to each and every living being. You should not think that this merit is divided up between all the beings, but that each and every being receives the full amount of it.

Any action that is associated with these three supreme methods, even if it is not an obviously great act like reciting hundreds of millions of mantras or offering huge sums of money, will nevertheless have real, immeasurable benefit.

It is because of the pure and vast intention of bodhichitta that the Great Vehicle or Mahayana is called great. Without bodhichitta, we might call ourselves practitioners of the Great Perfection, the Great Seal or the Great Middle Way, but we will still be on the narrow path of selfishness.

If you have these three supreme methods, you have everything you need. If you do not have them, there is no way to progress. Genuine practice is something that has to be developed; it requires a sustained effort. We have to transform ourselves. If, from the very beginning, we were completely free from attachment and anger and constantly had the infinite number of sentient beings in mind, we would already be realized and would have no need to practice in the first place. But this is not the case. This is why we need to keep in mind the meaning of the teachings and to watch vigilantly over the actions of our body, speech and mind. If we practice in this way, we will progress along the path without much difficulty. Just as one can see from a child's behavior, when he eats and so on, that he has been well brought up, so too, the positive transformation of our minds will be apparent in our actions.

In our everyday activities we should be able to retain the understanding we have found in meditation. Otherwise, though we may think that we have reached a high level of meditation, we will stumble over the first obstacle we encounter, and we will be unable to deal with the various circumstances that beset us in daily life. Meditation and post-meditation periods should reinforce and complement each other. If they do not, it is hard to achieve liberation.

In the beginning, practice is not very easy; in the middle it is not really stable; but in the end it becomes quite natural. This is why it is when we first start on the path that we should make the greatest effort. It is important to remember this. ä_æ

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