Stages of the Path
Today we will discuss the path of insight. This is tough to understand. It is not easy because we do not have genuine absorption and insight. Those who do have stability and are realized and calm would find these teachings easier to understand. That is why meditation practice is important. That is why study, contemplation, and meditation must go together. Yesterday we discussed concentration. One can achieve great qualities from meditative equipoise, such as seeing past lives. But this does not mean you have special insight. We forget what happened in this life, so it’s a wonder how we could know the previous life.
Special insight could also be called critical insight. You analyze precisely and see the nature of samsara and enlightenment. In incisive awareness your mind is calm and clear and you penetrate reality and see that which cannot be seen directly. There is nothing to see but you have the confidence you have seen it. The path of insight begins after the highest worldly state. The practice of samadhi is common to Buddhists and Non-buddhists. Based on samadhi you can penetrate with special insight. It focuses on the four noble truths. The four truths are the map for all Buddhism, Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Sometimes people tell me I’m tired of hearing of suffering. But we have to convince ourselves and see the suffering directly. Suffering and its cause are the reason we wander in samsara. While we suffer, we create the cause of more suffering. Above samsara are the last two truths, nirvana and the path to nirvana. In Hinayana you work for you own salvation. If you are concerned for all beings you practice the Mahayana. If you utilize deity yoga practice, that is Vajrayana. But the four noble truths are the foundation. There are four special insights corresponding to each of the four noble truths, which makes sixteen. There are eight patiences and eight awareness. Patient acceptance of suffering leads to awareness. When you realize emptiness directly you see mind is baseless. You may be slightly frightened and maintaining this realization requires patient acceptance. This is the third kind of patience mentioned in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, not being overwhelmed by the dharma. Bodhicitta is essential for developing this. After that follows awareness. Each noble truth has two of these, so there are eight patiences and awarenesses. In the equipoise of patient acceptance you realize mind directly. Following this is a state like post meditation. Patient acceptance is seeing the suchness of all phenomena. One sees the three marks in the first truth, suffering, impermanence, and emptiness. Suffering arises from causes and conditions and that realization is emptiness. Otherwise suffering is so concrete and substantial. But if you have good meditation, look carefully and you will see no independent agent. Because we conceptualize and make things so concrete, when we see things as insubstantial we are frightened. If we can sustain that realization, that is patient acceptance. The next kind of patience is continuous patience leading to discriminating awareness. This is a post meditative state where you see everything as illusion. When we hear emptiness we are not frightened. There are two types of people, those who are not frightened of emptiness because that have not yet realized it, and those who are not frightened because of their great experience. So there are four of these for each of the four truths, making sixteen aspects in all. These practices are not so easy. They require a deep mind to penetrate.
Why is this path called the path of insight? Because you realize the four noble truths, which were not seen before. When we have things good we forget the truth of suffering. But enlightened beings never lose their sense of suffering because their awareness is much more acute. It’s like a hair in the palm, which we don’t feel, compared to a hair in the eye. For enlightened beings samsara is like a hair in the eye. This is not just a Buddhist belief, it is reality and we need to see this is how the world is. At this stage one realizes the seven branches. The first is perfect mindfulness. It is perfect because no conditions can disturb it. When the buddha became enlightened millions of maras could not disturb him. Similarly Milarepa could not be disturbed by demons. When you are sure of emptiness no matter what comes around it cannot disturb you. The next branch is perfect discrimination. Your insight is so strong and sharp. Then there is branch of perfect perseverance. Then there is the perfect joy branch. You recognize who you are, like the son meeting his mother. When they meet how much joy there is. This is called unafflicted joy. In is not affected by conditions. You have joy because you have a greater ability to help sentient beings. The next branch is perfect relaxation. You relax in enlightened mind. That is the best place for your vacation. Then there is the perfect absorption branch. This absorption is imbued with perfect insight and is not ordinary absorption. They are a unity, just as you cannot separate a flower and its fragrance. The next branch is perfect equanimity. You see the suchness of all things.
The path of meditation comes next. There are two paths of meditation, the path of worldly insight and beyond worldly insight. The worldly path consists of the successive states of absorption. The first four absorptions are called the world of pure form. The four formless absorptions are called the formless world. The four formless absorptions are infinite consciousness, infinite space, nothingness, and neither perception nor non-perception. So this is the path of worldly meditation. There are three benefits of this path. It suppresses afflictive emotions. They are not uprooted, but they are calmed down, like mud settling in calm water. It establishes the qualities of the four immeasurables. There is a better chance to establish these qualities when the mind is not disturbed. And it is the cause to be reborn in the world of pure form. When your concentration is good, you don’t forget what you study. If your mind is not here, you won’t remember. So that is the importance of meditative concentration. Otherwise when we come here and here a talk and discuss it, when we leave the room the talk is left on the cushion. The third benefit is that it creates the basis for special insight. So these are the three important benefits.
On the meditative path beyond the world there is the further development of calm abiding and special insight focussed on the two types of primordial wisdom. During the path of insight there were two patiences and two awarenesses for each of the four truths making sixteen. One becomes familiar with the eight awarenesses on the path of meditation in the four stages of the form world and the first three of the four stages of the formless world. The path of the awareness of phenomena is to familiarize yourself with their suchness. You have to uproot all the habits of worldly way of seeing things. You must familiarize yourself with the effulgence of uncontrived luminosity. This is the way it is. Everyone is endowed with it, but it is obscured. Seeing nothing is special insight. There is nothing to grasp or fixate on. The state of neither perception nor non-perception cannot become a foundation of special insight. It is merely worldly because the mind is so unclear.
Why is this called the path of meditation? Because one becomes familiar with what one has achieved on the path of insight. At this stage there is the eightfold path. Its real practice comes on the path of meditation. Perfect view is the view free of the two extremes. Perfect conception are seeing samsara as suffering and enlightenment as overcoming it. Perfect speech is speech in accord with the dharma, like Milarepa had. Perfect action is action for the dharma. Right livelihood is not deceiving or harming others. It is not easy, but achievable. Right effort is the effort you make to enlightenment. Right mindfulness and absorption we have discussed. They are combined with special insight.
The next path is the path of perfection. After the vajra like absorption one actualizes the natural awareness, the natural clarity and effulgence of the mind. The awareness of the exhaustion of the mental afflictions and the unborn nature.. Milarepa once said all objects are the manifestation of the mind. This mind is luminosity and that mind cannot be identified. In the mustard seed there is oil. If you ask when the oil came into the seed, it was always there. Like this, all sentient beings have buddha nature. If you want oil from the seed you must bring all the conditions together. This is such a profound subject, but because of his compassion the Buddha taught it.
The vajra-like samadhi is at the end of the ten bhumis. It totally uproots all adventitious stains and reveals the mandala of enlightenment. It is called vajra like because it is unobstructed, hard, stable, of one taste, and all pervasive. Unobstructed means it cannot be affected by the actions of the world. Hard means it cannot be destroyed by obscurations. Stable means it cannot be shaken by discursive thoughts. One taste means the pervasive nature of the mind is like space. It is no different wherever you are. It has one taste like sugar cane. The mind of all beings has the same nature. So we respect all sentient beings. All pervasive means it absorbs the suchness of all objects of knowledge. It is like knowing all straws are hollow after seeing that one straw is hollow. After this samadhi the primordial awareness arises exhausts all the causes of suffering and which can identify all the causes of suffering. When the causes of suffering are exhausted, so is its result. This primordial awareness observes the exhaustion of the causes and non-production of the result. It is called the path of perfection because all the practices are perfected. One enters the city of nirvana. This is why it is called the path of perfection. All the obscurations of knowledge are dispelled. At this stage there are ten attainments. The first eight are the perfection of the eight fold path. Then there is the full liberation of no more training. And there is the perfect attainment of primordial wisdom.
These ten are included in the five unafflicted skandhas. Perfect speech, perfect action, and perfect livelihood are in the heap of moral ethics. .Perfect mindfulness and perfect absorption are in the heap of absorption, unafflicted samadhi. Perfect view, perfect conception, and perfect awareness are in the heap of discriminating awareness. Perfect full liberation is in the heap of full liberation. Perfect primordial awareness is in the heap of perfect primordial awareness. You see the face of your original mind. You go into the realm of uncontaminated dharmas.
Q: Why is it said the afflictions are suppressed in samadhi.?
A: When the meditation is over they arise again.
Q: Can you match the unafflicted skandhas with the afflicted skandhas?
A: No they are different, like water and fire.
Q: To uproot samsara do you need bodhicitta?
A: Of course you need it, but you also need meditation. A bird needs two wings to fly.
Q: Do you need to do a three year retreat to achieve enlightenment?
A: For a beginner, yes.
Q: Can you discuss the highest worldly dharma. Is it merely conceptual?
A: No. It’s like the heat that arises prior to fire.
Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen
Tibetan Meditation Center
May 28 2007