Ultimate stages of the path: Introduction

The fundamental reason why I am a Kadampa Buddhist is because I have been convinced of its merits on the basis of weight of argument.  In the Kadampa teachings, I have found valid and indeed definitive reasons establishing its truth.  On the basis of being convinced of its validity, I have put the instructions into practice and found them to be reliable – in other words, they work as advertised.  The definitive reason for every Kadampa teaching is the truth of emptiness.  Emptiness can be logically and experientially established as true – it does not require a leap of faith to believe, it can be shown to be true.  From this, the entire Kadampa path can be established as true.  Practicing the path conjoined with an understanding of its emptiness is the ultimate, or definitive, way of practicing it.  Therefore, it is quite important to understand the emptiness of each main aspect of the path.

Every stage of the path is a mental action.  Just as the act of giving becomes a “perfection of giving” when the act of giving is motivated by bodhichitta, or the wish to become a Buddha, so too any stage of the path becomes an “ultimate” stage of the path when it is practiced from the point of view of ultimate truth, emptiness.  For example, reliance upon the spiritual guide becomes “ultimate reliance upon the spiritual guide” when we engage in the conventional action of reliance upon the spiritual guide conjoined with and infused by the wisdom realizing emptiness.  The ultimate perfection of any stage of the path, therefore, is to engage in the conventional action of that stage of the path motivated by bodhichitta and conjoined with and infused by the wisdom realizing emptiness.  Or more succinctly, the ultimate perfection of any stage of the path is engaging in that stage of the path motivated by ultimate bodhichitta.  The purpose of the next series of posts is to explain my understanding of how to engage in the ultimate perfection of all of the stages of the path – specifically, the ultimate perfection of the 21 lamrim meditations, of the 6 perfections, of the two stages and of the final result.

For this reason, over the next series of posts I will explain my understanding of the emptiness of each stage of the path of both Sutra and Tantra.  I do not in any way claim that this explanation is correct, rather I am just sharing my understanding as it is in the hope that if there is some validity to what I am saying it might prove useful to others; and if it is wrong, somebody will correct me so that I can improve my understanding.

I have explained previously my understanding of emptiness.  You can find it under the “emptiness” category on the right.  But briefly emptiness says there is nothing other than mere creations of mind.  Everything is constructed by mind, and there is nothing real behind any of these constructions.  Everything is a mere karmic appearance of mind.  They nonetheless function as the dance, or inner workings, of the mind.  The key to understanding the Prasangika view of emptiness (the ultimate view according to Sutra) is to make the distinction between “the basis of imputation” and “the imputation itself.”

This can be illustrated with a couple of simple examples.  The basis of imputation of a “fleet” is “a bunch of ships.”  The collection of the ships is the basis of imputation and upon this collection my mind imputes the mental label “fleet.”  The fleet itself is nothing more than a mere mental projection or imputation.  If I go looking for a real fleet, I find none.  None of the individual ships is the fleet and if I take away all of the ships there is no fleet to be found anywhere.  From this, we can see that the “fleet” is nothing more than a creation or projection of mind.  Using the same logic, a “forest” is nothing more than a mere mental imputation on “a bunch of trees” and an “army” is nothing more than a mere mental imputation on “a bunch of soldiers.”  The fleet, forest and army are all mere imputations by mind.

We might object, “OK, yes, I see how fleet, forest and army are mere imputations by mind, but there are nonetheless ships, trees and forests that are actually there.”  But closer examination reveals this is incorrect.  What is a “ship”?  It is a mere mental imputation on a collection of “hull, engine, deck and interior rooms.”  The ship is not any one of these things individually and if I removed them all there is no ship to be found anywhere.  The same is true for the “engine”, it is a mere mental imputation on some pistons, belts, frame and spark plugs.  Each of these in turn is also just a mere mental imputation on the collection of even smaller parts.  We can continue this way until we get to the “atom”, which is just a mere mental imputation on “a collection of electrons, protons and neutrons.”  And even these are being smashed these days into smaller and smaller parts by particle accelerators.  No matter how small we go, we never find anything other than once more a mere mental imputation imputed on the basis of some collection of even smaller parts.  There is no end to this.  From this we can see that the entire world is nothing more than a giant Christmas tree of mental labels.  When you strip away everything that you can validly identify as just a mental label, you find absolutely nothing!  There is nothing there behind any of the labels – everything is dream-like creation of mind.

What then are these mental labels themselves?  They are the individual waves on the ocean of our mind.  In the ocean, there are many different waves which we can mentally distinguish one from another.  But in reality, they are all by nature the same ocean.  There are not actually distinct waves, rather it is just our mind that labels them as such.  It is the same with everything else.  Every phenomena, every person every thing, is just a different wave on the ocean of our mind.  They are not actually distinct from one another, rather it is just our mind that labels them as such.  As explained in the Tantric teachings, the conventional nature of our mind is omniscient great bliss and the ultimate nature of our mind is emptiness, so the final nature of the ocean of our mind is the union of great bliss and emptiness.  The Sutra Prasangika view establishes that all things are mental waves, the Tantra Prasangika view (the final, ultimate view according to Tantra) says the nature (or ocean) of these waves is our mind of great bliss and emptiness, and the two are inseparable – you cannot have a wave without its underlying ocean.

So what creates the individual waves?  Our karma.  Karma is mental action.  Each time we engage in a mental action, it reshapes in some way the ocean of our mind creating different waves.  By definition, virtuous mental actions function to make the waves of our mind more tranquil, peaceful and calm;  and non-virtuous mental actions function to make the waves of our mind more turbulent, unpeaceful and agitated.  Each and every stage of the path is a mental action.  Our training in the stages of the path is nothing more than a training our mind in abandoning those mental actions that make the ocean of our mind unpeaceful and agitated, and instead training our mind in engaging in those mental actions that make the ocean of our mind more calm and indeed translucent.

What follows over the next 30 posts will be an explanation of how we train in the 29 main mental actions on the path conjoined with ultimate bodhichitta, and how doing so functions to make the ocean of our mind increasingly peaceful until eventually it settles into a complete inner stillness of a blissful meaning clear light.  From this, we then arise as a “great wave” of a  Buddha that effortlessly functions to lead all beings to the same state.

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