A LAMP FOR THE PATH TO LIBERATION
'A Way to Cultivate a Profound Absorption of Tranquil Abiding and Penetrative Insight'
by the Very Venerable Dezhung Lungrik Tulku III, Kunga Tenpa'i Nyima (1905-1987)
Salutation to the Guru! 1 In order for individuals of good fortune and karma who have entered the path of
the unsurpassable vehicle to attain the goal of their striving, completely awakened enlightenment, it is
necessary that they train either directly or indirectly in the six paramitas (generosity and so forth) which
are the conduct of bodhisattvas, the children of buddha.
GENERAL CONTEXT OF SHAMATHA-VIPASHYANA
Technical Terms: What concerns us particularly at this point is a very brief explanation of the meditation
methods for developing samadhi, 2 or profound absorption. Training in shamatha, 3 or tranquil abiding, as the
essence of meditative stability and in vipashyana, 4 or penetrative insight, as the essence of wisdom, leads to
samadhana, or the settling of the mind in a state of equipoise.
Various Approaches: There are three approaches to developing shamatha-vipashyana meditation. The
first is cultivation of vipashyana which is preceded by shamatha. The second is cultivation of shamatha
preceded by vipashyana. The third is meditation which integrates shamatha and vipashyana from the very
first. For individuals of good karma, which has awakened devotion for a guru combined with exertion and
wisdom in them, it will not make any difference which approach is taken; each will prove easy. However, for
duller individuals any delay in achieving a flawless and firm stability of mind would jeopardize the chance of
meditating on the perfection of wisdom. If the mind is stabilized as part of the process of discovering an
experience of correct view, this has a simultaneous effect on sharnatha and vipashyana. Traditionally, what is
said to be required from an approach is an easy method for guiding students and a comfortable method for
promoting the student's own discovery of experience.
Function of Shamatha: First you cultivate shamatha and then you meditate to awaken vipashyana. This is
stated in various sutras and commentaries. Shamatha is required as a basis for discarding afflictive emotions
by yogins of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist disciplines. Furthermore, every yogin in both Hinayana and
Mahayana practice must develop this samadhi. In the Mahayana proper, all yogins of Mantrayana and
Paramitayana will find it necessary to develop shamatha. It is the most important factor for all yogins as a
basis for traveling the path.
We have been born today in times of fivefold degeneration, and the kind of people who, like me, want to
direct their intelligence to the practice of meditation, should understand that it is greatly relevant to cultivate
shamatha first. The reflection of the moon is not clear in troubled water ! A lamp must have two qualities to
drive away darkness so that you can see a fresco; it must be illuminating and undisturbed by wind. A mind
which is never free from discursive thought even for an instant will never recognize the primordial awareness
of vipashyana. Even if you achieve a somewhat hazy recognition of this awareness, you will not achieve
PRACTICE OF SHAMATHA
Six Prerequisites: The process of cultivating shamatha, moreover, requires isolation of body and mind,
since meditation will not develop if the beginner becomes distracted. For that isolation, you must rely on
the six prerequisites of shamatha. These are:
(1) dwelling in a supportive environment,
(2) having few wants,
(3) being contented,
(4) discarding the busyness of many projects,
(5) maintaining pure discipline, and
(6) discarding conceptual thoughts of desire, attachment, and the like.
Elements of the Path of Shamatha: When you dwell in isolation and cultivate a profound absorption in
shamatha, you encounter five flaws which should be discarded, and you rely upon eight techniques which
are their antidotes. You use six powers [described later in the text] to develop shamatha. You employ nine
methods to achieve a mind at rest. These nine methods carry four attendant attitudes. As you become familiar
with all the above, five experiences of meditative stability arise successively, and what is known as "shamatha
endowed with intense pliancy" results.
Five Flaws: The five flaws which inhibit meditative stability are:
(1) laziness, which is the mind's lack of involvement with virtue,
(2) forgetfulness of advice for cultivating samadhi, even though the mind is involved with virtue,
(3) laxity (the mind becoming dull and torpid) or agitation (the mind not resting), even though you do not
forget the advice for cultivation of samadhi,
(4) non-application, or not seeking antidotes to laxity or agitation, even when you notice these flaws, and
(5) (over) application, or searching too intensely for an antidote, so that the mind is not stable.
Eight Antidotes: Among the eight antidotes for discarding the five flaws, the antidotes for laziness (the first
flaw to be discarded) are four:
(1) zeal in seeking samadhi purposefully,
(2) exertion in persevering in samadhi,
(3) confidence due to seeing the positive qualities of samadhi, and
(4) pliancy as the result of perseverance.
Of these, zeal is the environment for samadhi, and perseverance is remaining within that environment.
Confidence is the cause of zeal, and pliancy is the result of perseverance. Among these, the principal
factor necessary to achieve these qualities is exertion.
Since exertion is the key to successful shamatha, laziness is a flaw when you develop samadhi. It is important
to exert yourself with diligence. Abandon laziness through mindfulness of the defective nature of samsara,
through mindfulness of the opportunities and freedom of the human existence which is so difficult to find, and
through mindfulness of death and impermanence.
Forgetting advice is a flaw when you persevere in samadhi. Its antidote is (5) mindfulness. Mindfulness does
not consist only of not forgetting the mind's object of attention. It is also the mind's single-pointed focus on
this object, which is endowed with a finely-tuned sureness that sharpens intelligent awareness.
Laxity and agitation are both flaws when you are resting in the equipoise of samadhi. Their antidote is (6)
alertness. Alertness means minutely discerning whether laxity or agitation has or has not arisen. A superior
intellect would be capable of discarding laxity and agitation just as they began to arise. A middling intellect
would become conscious of these flaws immediately after they arose. Even an inferior intellect would become
conscious of laxity and agitation before too long an interval had passed, and discard them.
The profound absorption of shamatha has two particular features. It is endowed with the sharpness of clarity,
and with a single-pointed focus on the mind's object of observation. The flaw of laxity, then, obstructs clarity,
while the flaw of agitation obstructs single-pointedness. This is why laxity and agitation become the principal
impediments to the realization of completely authentic, samadhi. It is said that if you do not know how to
recognize laxity and agitation in their coarse and subtle aspects, or how to arrest them, it will be impossible for
even shamatha to arise, let alone vipashyana. In this instance, to achieve samadhi you require a method for
preventing the mind from being distracted from its focus, and also the consciousness of whether distraction
has occurred or not. The first method used to achieve this is mindfulness, the second alertness. If the object
of observation is forgotten due to a slackening of mindfulness, the focus of attention is lost immediately upon
distraction. Mindfulness is fundamental for not forgetting this focus. The mind is to be fixed upon an object of
observation, distinctly mindful of it, without the slightest distraction. It is said, that mindfulness has been lost
with the mere arising of distraction, should it occur.
You might wonder at the difference between dullness and both laxity and agitation. Dullness refers to
unclarity in the focus of attention, with a heavy sensation of mind and body. Coarse laxity occurs when
the mind seems to fall into obscurity and the strength of mindfulness weakens. It then lacks an aspect
of clarity and transparency, even though the mind does not shift from the focus of attention. When you
lose the finely-tuned certainty about the focus even slightly, subtle laxity has occurred even though factors
of clarity and transparency are present. The antidotes for these problems are to reflect on the qualities of
the Three Jewels, to create a mental image of luminosity, and to apply the techniques recommended for
blending breath, mind and space.
Subtle agitation occurs when the mind shifts slightly, and will not rest unwaveringly on its focus
of attention. In that case, you must meditate relying on the techniques of mindfulness and alertness
as antidotes. Coarse agitation occurs when the mind shifts to objects of fascination, and is not stable
even though you rely on mindfulness and alertness. The antidotes for this are to meditate on
impermanence, the three lower states of existence, and the sufferings of samsara, and to apply the
techniques recommended for radically cutting through agitation.
Non-application is a flaw when you become lax or agitated. The antidote is (7) to apply the appropriate
technique for discarding laxity or agitation, as immediately as you become aware of their occurrence. Now,
if your mind is too tightly concentrated on its object of attention, there will be an element of clarity, but due
to the preponderance of agitation it will be difficult to find an element of stability. If the mind is overly relaxed
without a great deal of tension, there will be an element of stability, but due to the overbalance of laxity it will
be difficult to find an element of clarity.
You must weigh your own experience. The proper balance comes from thinking, "If I were to stimulate my
awareness even this much, agitation would arise;" and then relaxing slightly. You might also think, "If I were
to let go even this much, laxity would arise;" and then apply slight stimulation. Try to remain in the gap
between these two alternatives, restraining the mind from shifting and agitation. When the element of stability
has arisen, evoke in its turn the element of clarity which has sharp intelligent awareness, watchful for laxity.
While faultless samadhi will be accomplished through maintaining the alternation of these two (clarity and
stability), do not trust the mere transparency of mind, for this lacks an element of that clarity which sharpens
the certainty with which the mind apprehends its object.
When you continue the application of antidotes when even subtle laxity and agitation have been cut through
and the mind begins engaging continuously in samadhi, this over-application is also a flaw. Its antidote is to
relax and settle the mind in (8) equanimity, without applying any antidotes to laxity or agitation.
Six Powers, Nine Methods and Four Attitudes: To achieve the above samadhi, it is necessary that six powers
be incorporated. These are the powers of:
(1) hearing (i.e., study)
(5) perseverance, and
(6) total familiarization,
All of these are required to employ successively the nine methods for settling the mind, which in turn carry
four attendant attitudes. These four are the attitudes of:
(1) involvement with tension,
(2) involvement with interruption,
(3) involvement without interruption, and
(4) effortless involvement.
The Nine Methods are:
(1) settling the mind, which comes about through hearing,
(2) settling the mind continually through contemplation,
(3) settling the mind repeatedly and
(4) more intimately through mindfulness,
(5) disciplining and
(6) pacifying the mind through alertness,
(7) pacifying the mind thoroughly and
(8) settling the mind single-pointedly through perseverance, and
(9) settling the mind in equipoise through total familiarization.
The first two of these methods carry the first attitude (of tense involvement). (The third) through the seventh
method carry the second attitude (of interrupted involvement). The eighth method of settling the mind carries
the third attitude (of uninterrupted involvement). The ninth method carries the fourth attitude (of effortless
Five Experiences: As well, as we pass through these nine situations five experiences arise:
(1) movement, like a cascade of water down a cliff-face,
(2) attainment, like a torrent in a deep ravine,
(3) familiarization, like a meandering river,
(4) stability, like an ocean free of waves, and
(5) consummation, like a mountain.
The Nine Methods in Detail: Now, if we present direct instructions for practice to complement these
experiences, there are nine actual methods to promote stability of the mind:
(1) settling the mind,
(2) settling the mind continually,
(3) settling the mind repeatedly,
(4) settling the mind more intimately,
(5) disciplining the mind,
(6) pacifying the mind,
(7) pacifying the mind thoroughly,
(8) applying technique [i.e., settling the mind single-pointedly], and
(9) settling the mind in equipoise.
(Method one:) First, you must have four things to settle the mind:
(a) an unwavering focus for attention,
(b) an unmoving body,
(c) unblinking eyelids, and
(d) a clear image of the focus.
(l-a) For the first of these, in an environment which is isolated and pleasing place an attractive and impressive
form of the Tathagata (a drawing or whatever), or else a blue flower or a blue patch of silk or cloth (since these
will not irritate the eyes). Place the object so that it will not move, and set it at an appropriate distance in front
of you. While a variety of things are mentioned as objects of observation used to focus attention, fixing the
mind on the form of the Buddha, since it is a recollection of the buddha principle, is to attain illimitable merit.
This image is particularly effective as a field for purifying obscurations. At the time of death, you will recall the
buddha principle. If you cultivate the path of mantra, this mental focus is particularly effective to prepare you
for deity-yoga. Many such functions are spoken of.
Train yourself in the impression that the Buddha himself is actually appearing, without considering the form
to be drawn or cast. Furthermore, do not base your shamatha on your sensory consciousness, but hold the
mental object in your mind. Finally, it is sufficient to merely visualize the general shape.
As another method, you may count or pay attention to the outbreaths and inbreaths of respiration. This
method is said to be of especially great benefit, since it is an excellent technique for purifying obscurations
and achieving longevity.
(I-b) Second, since physical posture and gaze are important for shamatha, one is encouraged to arrange the
legs in the cross-legged vajra posture, to place the hands in the mudra of equipoise four fingers below the
navel, to straighten the spine like an arrow, to set the shoulders back, to draw the chin in to press gently on
the vocal cords, to relax the lips without parting them or smiling while touching the tongue to the palate, and
to gaze steadily at a space eight inches in front of the tip of the nose. As the breath moves in and out, it should
not be noisy or panting or ragged. Instead, you should inhale naturally, slowly and gently without the slightest
sensation. Do the same as the outbreath arises. Sit unwaveringly on a comfortable seat in this way, and observe
these rules for meditative stability in their entirety.
(I-c) Third, gaze at your focus with steady eyes. Close your eyes so that they are half-covered by the eyelids.
If the eyes water or the like, let the gaze fall to wherever it is comfortable, without rubbing the eyes with the
hands. If itching occurs, pay no attention but instead rest the gaze intently on your focus.
(I-d) Fourth, without indulging in discursive analysis about the quality, etc., of the abject, let the image itself,
whatever it is, arise scintillatingly clear to your non-conceptual awareness. [These are all the points of the first
phase of settling your mind.]
Method two:) Settling the mind continually: since that kind of settling will not last long at first, settle little by
little, extending the duration.
Method three:) Settling the mind repeatedly: having recognized when distraction occurs, bring the mind back
to the object of observation itself.
Method four:) Settling the mind more intimately: use mindfulness to focus the mind on its object of observation,
so that it does not become distracted.
Method five:) Disciplining the mind: should laxity or agitation arise, discipline the mind with antidotes, utilizing
an enthusiastic attitude toward the positive qualities of samadhi.
Method six:) Pacifying the mind: if the mind becomes uncomfortable due to causes such as distraction, pacify
the mind by focusing it on the object of observation.
Method seven:) Pacifying the mind thoroughly: if covetous attitudes or conditions non-conducive to meditative
stability arise, pacify them by relying on your focus of observation.
Method eight:) Settling the mind one-pointedly: when the mind does not shift, because the methods for
discarding laxity and agitation have been applied, just settle in that.
Method nine:) Settling the mind in true equipoise: because of the influence of familiarization, this is the stage
when samadhi happens of its own accord, without effort being necessary. This is termed 'one-pointed shamatha
of the desire-realm mind,' until the bliss of pliancy arises. Once this bliss has arisen, you have achieved what is
termed 'authentic shamatha included in the stages of meditative stability.
For each of these nine methods, you should employ the appropriate means described above for discarding
flaws and relying on the eight antidotes. Among these, you will recognize the two extremes of laxity and
agitation as the principal faults to be discarded.
Remedies for Laxity and Agitation: In the case of laxity, reduce the quantity of food eaten before a session of
meditation. Sit on an elevated seat. Use thin clothing and cushions. Recite refuge and supplication prayers in a
loud voice. Meditate with the body tensed. In case of agitation, the opposite methods will eliminate the problem.
When laxity and agitation have been pacified, meditate in a relaxed state.
The Five Experiences Explained: If you undertake meditation in this way, your mind will first encounter an
uninterrupted flow of thoughts, one on the heels of another, impossible for the conscious rational mind to
measure. Although these thoughts existed prior to your practice, your mind was not resting in equipoise and
you were unaware of this condition. In becoming aware now, you might wonder, "Thoughts are even more
numerous than before. Does this mean that my meditation is not developing?'' But in fact you have achieved
the first stage of authentic experience, described as being 'like a cascade down a rock-face.' This stage is the
recognition of thoughts.
When such an experience occurs, continue meditation without slackening off, and try rather to cut off
arising thoughts as much as possible. Meditating in this way, while one thought follows on the heels of
another, you will feel that the activity of thoughts comes to rest once in a while, only to feel that thought
immediately resumes again. This vacillation is the second stage of experience, described as being 'like
water in a deep gorge.' This is the easing of thoughts.
Once more pursuing meditation assiduously in that vein, at a certain point you will experience a breakthrough
into a non-conceptual state of mind, as though the activity of thoughts were arrested like the respiration when
you gasp. By meditating and focusing your awareness keenly on that state, occasionally a mental state with the
quality of transparency will occur, and continue until thoughts arise, or 'pop up' again. This is the third stage of
experience, described as being 'like water pooling at the meeting of three valleys.' This is the exhaustion of
Continuing to meditate by extending the duration of the previous experience, you will feel a calming of most of
the activity of thoughts, with the mind coming to rest one-pointedly. In such a state, while one thought extends
itself, then a second, they are calmed immediately. This is the fourth stage of experience, described as being 'like
a wave-covered lake.' This is the experience of the wave-like quality of thoughts.
Further to this, by resting in equipoise in the same vein as previously, you will experience a calming of all arising
and subsiding of thoughts, while the mind rests one-pointedly with an aspect of clarity. This is the fifth stage of
experience, described as being 'like a lake free from waves.' This is the calming of thoughts.
Shamatha Training: If at that point you cannot discover an element of the brilliantly clear transparency of
consciousness, even though involvement in thoughts is calmed and the mind abides one-pointedly, you have
only achieved a shamatha that 'throttles' thoughts. So meditate until such time as the one-pointed stability of
mind is permeated with this quality of brilliant, clear and transparent consciousness, like a lamp undisturbed by
wind. When such meditation has caused a definite aspect of clarity to arise using a mental focus, turn the mind
inward without regard for its focus, and rest it completely focused on this aspect of clear consciousness itself.
Using antidotes to clear away laxity and agitation should they arise, relax all effort and rest quiescent in the
brilliant clarity of the transparency of consciousness.
If while meditating and 'paring down' in this way, you find that settling in equipoise goes badly at the start
of a session but improves towards the end, you need some tightening-up. Meditate with one-pointed
intensification. If after such intensification the mind shifts and does not wish to stay put, or physical and
mental discomfort occur, this indicates that there is too much intensity. Meditate in a relaxed state, eat
moderately whatever food agrees with your constitution, and restore your strength with sleep (without
upsetting your normal daily and nightly rhythms). Once your constitutional strength has been restored, you
can meditate strenuously.
Once you have worked through the nine steps of mental abiding, and 'one-pointed shamatha of the
desire-realm mind' has been achieved, the mind will identify effortlessly with its focus and abide
automatically in that state during all activities. When you simply let go without thinking particularly
of anything, external sensations will be interrupted and an experience will arise as though mind were
mixing with space. When you come out of that state, it is as though the physical body suddenly
reappeared, and as an aftermath passion and aggression and so forth wane in strength and do not last.
When experiences of clarity are greatest, you might feel that you could count the very atoms in a pillar
or what have you. Appropriate experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-conceptual awareness arise, and
even sleep seems mixed with profound meditative absorption, while dreams become for the most part
pure. Although such samadhi, seemingly valid and seemingly tranquil in a crude way, must be achieved
as the basis for the paths of all traditions (Buddhist and non-Buddhist), it is not even authentic shamatha
if it is not pliant at this point. And how can there be penetrative insight without authentic shamatha?
Accordingly, you may or may not experience bliss, clarity, and non-conceptual awareness connected with
the meditation of resting in equipoise on 'thatness.' You must become skilled in the key points of the path,
and you should not exaggerate a few brief flashes of mental stability as being some profound process.
Through acclimatizing yourself to such a one-pointed mind of the desire realm, body and mind become
attuned. This is termed 'pliancy. The mind, becoming mastered like a well-disciplined horse, can be placed
at will in any virtuous state. The mind is blissful, completely freed of future potential for negative states
such as unhappiness due to anxiety and so forth. By the power of this mental bliss, a finely-attuned energy
moves through the body. The body is free of heaviness and other impediments to its functioning which
contain potential for future negative states. The spinal column feels like a stack of golden coins, the body feels
light as a ball of cotton. Bliss, feeling as though the body were flooded throughout by a warm flow of milk, is
manifested in pliancy of the body, which can function at will in the practice of virtue. Such pliancy is coarse at
first, growing progressively more subtle. From these initial coarse and subtle phases, eventually a total
completion of this pliancy clearly occurs. While the coarse phase of pliancy distracts the mind, gradually the
strength of this distraction weakens, and a subtle phase of pliancy sets in, light as a shadow, acting as a
complement to undistracted meditative absorption. This is termed 'shamatha included in the stages of meditative
stability.' Whatever meditation technique you employ, whether it be generation-phase [utpattikrama] or
completion-phase [sampannakrama], becomes authentic.
Alternative Descriptions of Shamatha. The foregoing topics represent an extensive presentation of the
way profound meditative absorption is achieved. More concisely, you rest upon your focus for meditation
because of an enthusiasm for meditative absorption. This effort grows to be uninterrupted, and mindfulness
is maintained continuously. Laxity and agitation are then discarded by alertness. Once faults are absent, one
settles in equipoise. Through repeated practice of these five, enthusiasm, effort, mindfulness, alertness, and
equanimity, the mind becomes free from distraction and abides unwaveringly and excellently of its own accord.
Moreover, according to various presentations in practical instruction manuals, one may achieve shamatha
through four factors:
1) settling the mind with enthusiasm,
2) arousing effort in practice,
3) maintaining meditation with alertness, and
4) abiding on the focus in equipoise.
You can find discussion of two factors, generating enthusiasm and abiding on the focus for meditation,
in other works. There is an even more concise treatment of these topics which refers to the single factor
of settling the mind on a focus and resting in that state as much as possible.
Specific Antidotes for kleshas: Moreover, there are what are termed 'techniques for completely purifying
what has been committed,' in that they are used as the particular frameworks for purifying past reinforcement
of conflicting emotions such as passion, and preventing their recurrence.
Of these five, the antidote for desire-attachment is to focus on the unattractive. You can focus on internal
unattractiveness, such as the hair, body hair, feces, urine, and so forth; or on external unattractiveness like
putrefaction, desiccation, and so on.
The antidote for aggression is to focus on loving-kindness. This involves engendering attitudes of wishing
benefit and happiness to all. Enemies, friends, and strangers [literally, 'intermediate ones,' i.e., those who evoke
no extreme reaction one way or the other are treated equally.
The antidote to apathy is to focus on the process of dependent arising. Think about the twelve links of
dependent arising such as ignorance and so forth, or the dependent arising of karmic fruition and such.
The antidote to arrogance is focusing upon a precise analysis of the elements of one's psycho-physical
makeup, and examining individually the factors of the six elements of earth, water, fire, air, space, and
The antidote to indulging in discursive thoughts is focusing upon inhalation and exhalation of breath. This
makes the achievement of shamatha extremely easy, guarding the mind from wandering elsewhere by watching
or counting cycles of respiration moving in and out and so on.
The second major topic is how to achieve vipashyana or penetrative insight. This is the essence of prajna or
wisdom. For the time being we are not concerned with "extraordinary" vipashyana techniques. These are
meditations to establish a definitive and certain experience of the primordial awareness of mahamudra. Here we
will briefly discuss how to practise vipashyana as defined with reference to the essential elements of the path
common to the sutras and tantras.
There are Four Topics in this Discussion:
1) meditation on the egolessness of the individual personality,
2) meditation on the egolessness of phenomena,
3) meditation on emptiness endowed with the essence of compassion, and
4) meditation to integrate shamatha and vipashyana.
Definition of Technical Terms: To begin with, we must define the distinction between 'the self (or ego) of
an individual personality' and 'the self (or ego) of a phenomenon.' After recognizing this distinction, we must
further understand both of these to be non-existent. Therefore, you should understand that the term 'individual
personality' refers to the impression we have of continuity of the skandhas or aggregates which are bound up
with intelligent awareness. 'Ego of the individual personality' means the concept of and attachment to 'I' and
'me,' taking this perceived continuity to be in itself something permanent and unitary. 'Egolessness of the
individual personality' means the understanding that this ''self' has no self-nature.
'Phenomena' refers to the elements of experience and the aggregates associated with this individual self. 'Ego
of phenomena' means the concept of and attachment to these as things which exist on their own. 'Egolessness
of phenomena' means the understanding that these "things" have no self-nature.
General Context for Vipashyana Practice: In order to practise the import of these statements, first to place
yourself in an isolated environment and take refuge in and fervently supplicate your guru(s) and the three
jewels. Then meditate for a long time on bodhicitta, until you are completely motivated by great compassion.
When your reliance on a focus for shamatha has instilled your mind with some rudimentary stability, think as
"Alas! Our mind-in-itself in its genuineness is inherently luminous and clear. In and of itself, it is primordially
free from all extremes of elaboration. It is illuminating and empty and remains without bias or division. But even
while this is so, we wander endlessly in samsara, due to the concept of 'I' and 'me' sustained by a lack of
realization that this is so. Here we are continually afflicted by manifold suffering because we indulge in nothing
but confusion. We are like lunatics, sustained by the impression that these false appearances are true. In fact,
they arise from the ingrained habitual tendencies of subject-object distortion, and are as it were over-inflated,
hollow and fickle.
"Now, relying on the practical instructions of my sacred gurus, I will master the unsurpassable mystery of the
mind. This is the profound pith of the import of all the teachings that are found in the eighty-four thousand
collections of Dharma spoken by the tathagatas of the three times. I will not come under the influence of the
disturbing force of naively clinging to things as 'real'!"
I. Meditation on the Egolessness of the Individual Personality: Tighten up body and mind, and maintain
yourself in a singularly comfortable state of mind without introspective analysis. Then focus then on the
skandhas, the aggregates of experience which are intimately associated with the mind.
Form these ideas again and again: "The concepts of' I' and 'mine' are confusion. We reason this by inquiring
if there were such a "self,' which would it be, name or body or mind? A name is not a self, because it is merely
a convenient label. The physical body is not a self, because "the body" merely designates an aggregate of
many things such as flesh and blood, organized in a particular way. As well, from the crown of the head to the
soles of the feet, within or without, there is no self. It is not appropriate designate the mind a 'self,' because the
mind of the past moment has ceased to exist, and the mind of the future moment has not yet arisen, while the
mind of the present moment is on the point of immediately ceasing to exist. Therefore, this "self ' boils down to
nothing but a baseless distortion [conventionally valid yet ultimately unreal.]"
II. Meditation on the Egolessness of Phenomena: "Similarly, the myriad appearances in the external
environment, such as mountains, buildings, and so forth, ultimately are not products of some other
agent, whether Fate, God, the four elements, or atoms, and whatever. Rather, they boil down to nothing
but things appearing to be what they are not. This is sustained by confusion, due to a thorough
distortion of my mind through those habitual tendencies which maintain cyclic existence. These
appearances are, for example, exactly analagous to the towns and horses and elephants and so forth
appearing in a dream." Develop certainty about this unreality assiduously, by reflecting on it for a
Consider also that because the objective appearances of your experience are analagous to dream appearances
in this way, even the consciousness conceiving of them (like the consciousness experiencing a dream) cannot
in any way be established as something in and of itself. So all phenomena included in the dualistic appearances
of subject-object experience have only the qualities of confusion, falsity, and deception.
Turn the mind inward, and look long and directly [literally, "nakedly"] at the natural quality of momentary
consciousness free from all its obscuring overlays of subject and object. When experience arises in a
crystal-clear and direct manner, and you try to discover where that clear, intelligent awareness originally
comes from, you cannot find any causal factor to begin with. The mind is pristine emptiness without
origination. When you try to discover where the essence of mind-itself is located at present, it is not located
anywhere outside or inside the body, or between the two. It cannot be established as something with colour or
shape. However much you seek it, you cannot find it. The mind is immaculate transparent clarity without being
localized. Finally, when you try to discover where the mind ceases, it is not limited to any specific result. The
mind is intense bliss without cessation.
In this way, the mind is free from and beyond the three limitations of cause, result, and definable essence. Its
fundamental quality is brilliant nakedness in emptiness, while the natural texture of the clarity which experiences
the emptiness is transparency. The mind's experiential awareness is not impeded in any way. Nothing is
established the clarity, and luminous dynamic awareness is not impeded by the emptiness. Settle the mind
directly, nakedly and vividly in this ineffable sphere. It is unfixated luminosity and emptiness free from limit,
without division. It is indescribable and passes beyond the intellect.
At least, settle the mind without hesitation or fixation, ineffably. If discursive thought arises, cut through it
suddenly as it springs up, without prolonging the thought, and settle without fixation. Initially, settle the mind
by tightening strictly; later, settle the mind by relaxing loosely; finally, settle the mind without anticipation or
To summarize, settle the mind effortlessly in a sphere in which there is nothing to be 'meditated,' and never
waver from that luminous, empty, non-fixated dynamic awareness. Practise this way again and again, intensely
and for short periods. Meditate to improve the quality, without causing a falling out between mind and
III. Meditation Uniting Emptiness and Compassion: When finishing a meditation session, before you have
interrupted the activity of your meditative stability remind yourself, "The nature of all phenomena is free from
limitation, without bias and indescribable, transcending the intellect, groundless and without basis, like space.
But how worthy of compassion are these beings, my old mothers [in previous lives], who are unaware of this
and entertain only deluded experiences, bound by the tight fetters of ego and dualism. For their sakes, I will at
all costs attain the state of omniscient complete buddha-hood, the actualization of mind-itself, beyond limit and
supreme!" Dedicate the virtue of your practice with this in mind.
Even in post-meditation periods, it is a very great blessing for establishing an inclination towards the
correct view, if you recite quotes such as this from the profound sutras of definitive meaning aloud;
Magicians emanate forms, creating a multitude of horses, elephants, chariots. However these appear,
they are nothing whatsoever; know all phenomena to be like that! Reciting aloud, you exert yourself
for the welfare of beings while taking the point of view that whatever appears is empty form, like an illusion.
IV. Meditation integrating Shamatha and Vipashyana: This is a unifying practice which blends two elements
in 'one taste,' in a yoga which is not meditation "on" anything. One element of this practice is not having any
mental construct whatever during shamatha, because all potential discursive thought has been pacified. The
other element is not discovering anything for the mind to construct during vipashyana, because all exaggeration
has been cut through with thoroughly precise wisdom. As is said in the Mahayanasutralarnkara; This path of unification is to be known as summation.
The way to integrate shamatha and vipashyana is for the most part described above. This integration
should never be practised without the wisdom to perceive its three elements (i.e., the yoga to be cultivated,
the technique of meditation, and the individual meditator) to be without self-nature. From this state, settle
the mind directly and vividly, without differentiating the inseparable essences of the two factors, i.e., the
shamatha which rests one-pointedly on the aspect of appearance without impeding the luminosity of dynamic
awareness, and the vipashyana which realizes mere appearance as unborn.
If the element of stability is dominant, sharpen the edge of your discriminating awareness. If the mind is not
stable due to too vigorous a search for wisdom, settle the mind relaxedly. By alternating tension and relaxation
in this way, you achieve an integration of these two by which all potential deviations are cut off.
If you are not aware of these essential keys, no matter how great the element of stability in your shamatha is,
you will stray into one or another of the four mental stabilizations. No matter how noble the scope of your
vipashyana is, you will stray into one or another of the four formless realms. Therefore, it is extremely important
to practise to cut off all potential deviations in samadhi!
Even in post-meditation periods, you should not let your senses run far afield over their objects, but you
should perceive all appearances merely as avenues for the expression of a dynamic awareness which does
not stray from [its own] basic spaciousness. Act according to your capabilities for the welfare of beings. At
the very least, when doing formal practice and engaging in various activities, it is important to rely over and
over on the reminder that all appearance is like a dream and like an illusion, since this causes an inclination
towards the arising of a completely pure view in the thread of your being.
Conclusion: This profound view of the Middle Way is the life-force of the paths of both sutra and tantra.
There is no chance for a genuine tantric path to come about without this view, especially in the secret
mantra path of anuttarayoga. In order to discover the view of the Middle Way, the following are crucial: the
purification of previously committed evil deeds through four powers; intense supplication, which effects
unification of the guru with the venerable Manjushri, and the accumulation [of merit and awareness] through
performing the seven offices of worship together with the mandala offering; and the purification through the
influence of the ordinations and precepts you have undertaken.
Colophon: This text, A Lamp for the Path to Liberation, which explains the way to cultivate the samadhi of
shamatha-vipashyana, was written to benefit the practice of my Dharma friends from Kagyu Kunkhyab
Choling. It was abridged, from resumes of the writings of learned and accomplished ones of the past, by the
bhusuku named Kunga Tenpa'i Nyima, whose title is Dezhung Lungrik Tulku. By its virtue, may all creatures
swiftly attain omniscient primordial awareness!
1 Traditionally, works by buddhist authors begin with an invocation such as this one. The invocation
expresses the writer's devotion and humility in composing the text, and indicates the particular approach
which the author wishes to adopt. Here, Dezhung Rinpoche is identifying the guru principle, the guiding
factor in the individual's spiritual development, with Manjushri, bodhisattva of wisdom, to underline the
importance of intelligence in the effective cultivation of meditative discipline. The archetype of Manjushri
also holds central importance in the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism to which Rinpoche
belongs and which is famous for its emphasis on scholastic excellence.
2 Samadhi (Sanskrit) implies 'deep or intense meditation': the Tibetan term, ting,nge.'dzin, literally means
"holding to the deep."
3 "Etymologically, calm abiding (shamatha, zhi gnas) is explained as the mind's abiding (stha, gnas) on an
internal object of observation upon the calming (shama, zhi) of distraction to the outside." (Jeffrey Hopkins,
Meditation on Emptiness [London: Wisdom Publications, 1983], p.67.)
4 "Etymologically, special insight (vipashyana, lhag mthong) means sight (pashya, mthong) exceeding (vi, Ihag) that of calm abiding because a clarity is afforded through analysis, different from the non-analysis during calm abiding." (Hopkins,op. cit., p.92.). The Sanskrit word 'samadhana' means 'settling or placing in equipoise.'