In the last post I explained the first two of five things I try use to maximize the power of my lamrim meditations. In this post, I will explain the next two.
3. Meditate on the interrelationships between the various Lamrim meditations.
Each Lamrim meditation informs the others. When we first start practicing Lamrim it seems like they are 21 separate meditations. In reality, the Lamrim is one practice with 21 parts. The first stage is to train in each one individually to gain some initial experience. The second stage is to then meditate on the interrelationships of say, meditaiton 1 with the other 20; then we move onto the interrelationships between meditation 2 and the other 20, and so forth through the cycle. The third stage is to ‘churn the milk of Dharma’ to extract its quintessential butter, conventional bodhichitta. We synthesize all the Lamrim and develop pathways that go from any Lamrim meditation down into conventional bodhichitta. It is a bit like a funnel, where we can pour water into any part of it, and it eventually goes to the little hole in the bottom. The little hole in the bottom is conventional bodhichitta.
The fourth stage (according to Sutra) is to then use this conventional bodhichitta to meditate on emptiness. This ultimate bodhichitta (conventional bodhichitta meditating on emptiness) is like the ocean, and everything else are like the rivers which empty into the ocean. We need to train where by meditating directly on ultimate bodhichitta, we are indirectly meditating on everything else. We need to synthesize the Lamrim down to its essence, ultimate bodhichitta.
If we try to jump straight to the final object, ultimate bodhichitta, it would be like trying to fill the ocean without any rivers or lakes emptying into it. The first four stages are all about ‘finding the object of meditation’. So we have been practicing our Lamrim ‘horizontally.’ Now, in the fifth stage, we need to practice all of this vertically, in other words with deeper and deeper levels of concentration. So we first bring all of this to the first mental abiding, then the second, the third, and so on until we have brought the entire Lamrim to the state of Tranquil Abiding. If we can do this, there is a great chance that we will be able to very quickly gain a direct realization of emptiness, which we then continue to meditate upon until we have removed the two obstructions (delusion obstructions and their imprints) and become a Buddha.
When we view our Lamrim practice in this way, we see how things develop, how they interrelate, what the path is to enlightenment, and what we need to actually do to get there. We easily see how we can spend our entire lifetime deepening our familiarity with the Lamrim. When we see clearly how this is a lifelong practice (and indeed lifetimes practice) then we have the right frame of mind for our practice.
4. Meditate like a good scientist.
We in the West have a natural faith in science. In science we do controlled experiments so that we can test a precise relationship. The conditions of the experiment are set up to test a very specific thing. We need to approach our Lamrim practice in the same way.
How do we do this? When we are meditating on death, for example, we should take ‘as a given’ all the other 20 meditations. So we temporarily set aside all doubts we have on the other 20 meditations, and ‘choose’ to have complete conviction in all the others. So for example, we choose to have complete conviction that we have a precious human life, and that if we die there is a huge risk of us falling into the lower realms. With this conviction in the context of the meditation we then engage in the meditation on death. We focus our efforts on resolving all doubts we have about the meditation we are on, and we suspend all doubts we have about everything else.
This enables us to focus on exploring the precise nature of the meditation that we are doing. Then we move on to the next meditation, and suspend all doubts of the previous meditation by ‘choosing to believe’ and then allow ourselves to work through our doubts on the meditation we are currently on (for example, the sufferings of the lower realms).
This is an extremely powerful method for engaging in our Lamrim practice. If we try this, we will notice a huge qualitative difference in the power of our Lamrim meditations. Just to give an example, let’s say we are meditating on renunciation, and normally in the meditations on death and lower rebirth we are resolving our doubts about reincarnation, etc. If we haven’t resolved all our doubts on reincarnation, even if we go through the motions of a meditation on renunciation, it will have no power to move our mind. But if we choose to suspend our doubts (temporarily) and take as a hypothetical given that rebirth does occur, then we will be able to generate very precisely the mind of renunciation.
In science, we call this type of activity ‘controlled experiments’; in math, we call this partial differentiation. We take as given everything else, and then examine a precise relationship. We then cycle through everything one by one, adjusting what we take as given and what we are examining precisely as is appropriate.
Each object of meditation then becomes a scientific hypothesis we test in the meditation itself. This proceeds in a cycle: First, we have a general understanding of the object of meditation we would like to test. Then, we consider our own experience, logical reasons, examples, analogies, etc., to test the validity of this particular meditation object. We will then arrive at some sort of more refined conclusion on the object. Our hypothesis will have been improved. We then, in the meditation break, put our conclusion into practice and test it against our real life experiences. This real life experience then becomes further “data” or “evidence” which enables us to better refine our understanding the next time we come to this particular meditation. We continue in this way, gradually transforming the Dharma from ideas into hypotheses, and then from hypotheses into spiritual axioms, and then from spiritual axioms into personal truths.