Lam (path) Rim (stages) or The Path is a Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist text and is described as an essential distillation of the Buddha’s teachings. Condensed into an integrated approach, it is an escalated path to help a practitioner achieve the very same liberation from the samsaric wheel of cyclic existence through enlightenment. Just as the Buddha taught, enlightenment is definitely possible within a single lifetime given the right causes and conditions.
LamRim ChenMo is the full name of the text better known as The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, published in 1402 by Je Rinpoche, Tsong Khapa Losang Drakpa (1357 – 1419). He is said to have been written it after a five-year long retreat where he finally achieved full enlightenment. So we know there is great validity in The Great Treatise as well as the root text on which it was based, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, an earlier but shorter text by Atisha Dipamkara Shrijnana (982 – 1054). Tsong Khapa expanded on the original LamRim into three volumes so as to make the Path accessible to learners of varying capacities and aspirations. Not everyone is karmically ready to attain enlightenment in this lifetime but may be able to work towards a higher rebirth in the next life.
Both texts are highly revered as a brilliant condensation of the Buddha’s 84,000 teachings into a proven methodology with stages for cultivation towards enlightenment. It also contains what you need to know about Buddhadharma and many a Mahayana Buddhist place would start a beginner on this text right away as part of its Basic Buddhism course. Remember, the Buddha’s mission was to teach the end of suffering and that can only happen when one is enlightened. So the end point or ultimate goal is enlightenment and if you believed in it, then the two texts will be your guide book. They are written for the individual practitioner on his or her own cushion. With these two texts, one has a clear methodology to first, start cleaning up our act and then gradually moving on to taming our mind. Along the way, we learn how to reduce afflictions that upset our daily practice of calm and equanimity and how we can be more mindful of causes and conditions for more wholesome fruits from our practice.
Is the Path just for the Buddhist? Yes, because Buddhists live for the next life. Even if enlightenment is not attained in the present lifetime, they believe that whatever effort they made in this life will accrue to the next life. No, because like the Dalai Lama would remind everyone in his talks, one does not need to be a Buddhist to benefit from any of the Buddha’s teachings. He is all for non-sectarianism. So don’t feel that reading the book will compel you to change your chosen faith. It doesn’t work like that. In fact, if you like, here’s a link to a free pdf download of Atisha’s “A Lamp”. It’s a commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama compiled from the teaching he gave on the two texts. His Holiness has this knack for making confounded things simple and clear and this is in our opinion a great introduction to what Tibetan Buddhism is all about. We are not Buddhists but truly appreciate his teachings and wish him a long life as such!
Many paths up the same mountain – Patanjali yogasutras
You know as well as we do there are as many paths up the same mountain of self-realisation as there are roads to Rome. Just as we said before, Vedanta and yoga sutras predate the Buddha’s teachings and the Buddha as a king in the making, must have been schooled in these ancient texts and rituals of the Vedas and sutras. Which is no surprise if you sat in a Vedanta class and go, hey, isn’t that what the Buddha taught? Yes, and it is believed that the Buddha retained the best in the Vedas while eschewing the concept of an external God that must be appeased. During his time, rituals had overrun spirituality and the Buddha wanted to redress that as well.
So, do yogis of the Vedanta bent have anything similar to The Great Treatise where they have kind of collected everything essential into one book? Yes, there is actually one that really stands out because it offers a similar freedom and liberation from suffering offered by the Buddha. Samadhi. Also known as enlightenment. This text is none other than Patanjali’s Yoga sutras as well as something like 20 other sutras on the practice of yoga that were written to complement the philosophy of the Upanishads.
As starters, we recommend one of the best commentaries ever written on Patanjali: Four Chapters of Freedom by none other than the root guru of our spiritual teachers in India, Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Freedom from what? Freedom from your mind, the-one-who-seeks-to-be-the-master-puppeteer. In our humble opinion, Swami-ji’s book should always have an honoured place beside our yoga mats and meditation cushions as a constant reminder that our spiritual practice is a journey towards self-realisation both off and on the mat and cushion.
There is no enlightenment without meditation
The thing about all these great texts that are essentially a science of the mind is that the reading must be fully supported by a dedicated practice to meditation. There is really no other way to know the mind. One can choose from many meditation traditions and they all work on the same premise: There is no enlightenment without meditation. It is the same with The Great Treatise which needs to be balanced with the meditation practices of shamatha and vipashyana that is, if one wanted to keep the Mahayana tradition complete on the Path. Cognitive learning is one thing while meditation is where it allows for an experiential knowing to happen. Meditation cultivates the necessary wisdom and insight to truly internalise the teachings.
Commentaries on The Great Treatise
Our own favourite commentary of The Great Treatise is “From Here to Enlightenment”, a compilation of the six days of teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at LeHigh University in July of 2008 using his own personal copy of the great text, one of the few things he took when he fled Tibet. What’s more, there are videos on Youtube of all the six days that His Holiness taught at the university thus creating an excellent companion for the book. We hope these videos are still available at the time you read this post. Although the Dalai Lama taught in his native language, Tibetan, he was fully supported by his most excellent translator, Dr. Thupten Jinpa. All these will make for a fitting introduction to the Path.
We will leave you to make up your mind about The Great Treatise. Buddhism is a science of the mind, a philosophy and not a religion so no one needs to feel like they have to become a Buddhist just to benefit from the teachings. Geshe-la says the very same thing in the video below. We should allow ourselves to collect any gems we find along the way on our spiritual search. To be nonsectarian, as the Dalai Lama would say, makes for world peace.
~ ॐ ~