This is a long quote! But it gives an over-view of the structure of teachings of the dharma.
If you’re lucky you get a taste of the ‘whole’ and then can access the different aspects from that perspective, or you can work from the aspects to the whole. Either way is valid. Ringu Tulku’s last sentence emphasises the need to start at the beginning yet he also states that when he himself got the ‘end’ teachings he then worked backwards from there. Our states will vary, but whichever way you go the tale of Gampopa and Milarepa, at the end, is instructive!
Just to note that there are nine yanas in the Nyingma system as explained in the audio talk the view of dzogchen. Ringu Tulku Rinpoche is a lama in the Kagyu tradition.
Traversing the Path of the Buddha INTRODUCTION (abridged)
In the Buddhist teachings the necessity of acceptance is often mentioned, but sometimes this is misinterpreted to mean a kind of passivity. With this attitude one might say, “If someone gives me a slap in the face, he can give me another. Whatever happens I’ll just accept it.” This is not quite what is meant, and our acceptance should be more active. If we try to deny death, for instance, and avoid thinking and talking about it, this is not acceptance in the Buddhist sense. Milarepa knew that no one can escape from death, that it will surely come, as an unalterable fact. He saw the problem clearly, in an unconfused way. Consequently, he did not try to avoid it, but exerted every effort to work on it. Once we see our problem clearly with open eyes, we will be able to overcome it. When Milarepa said that he meditated on the inevitability of death to the extent that he attained deathlessness, it meant that he had no more fear of dying. This is the true transformation we need to achieve. It does not mean that he did not die. He did. Yet, since he understood death completely, in its true perspective, it did not haunt him anymore. Once we are able to deal with our problems and work upon them in this way, even the inevitability of our own death, which is usually regarded as something extremely negative and frightful, will no longer constitute a problem. Whereas, as long as we are incapable of the type of fearlessness that Milarepa attained, our problems will remain severe.
Why did the Buddha feel compelled to leave his palace and seek the Dharma? Because he found that the fundamental problems each human being has to face cannot be avoided. We cannot escape from dying, falling ill, aging, getting what we do not want, not getting what we do want, and so on. Seeing this, he tried to find a solution. In this context, we can only work on ourselves. We work on our own hearts and minds. Our mind is the practice. We ourselves are the practice.
The teachings of the Buddha are the expression of his own experience, which he conveyed in accordance with the different and specific requirements of individual people. Human beings differ so much in terms of their levels of spiritual development, their capacities, mentalities, and attitudes, that one way of teaching could never suffice for everybody. For this reason the Buddha gave many teachings and provided a multitude of different approaches. He started with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, and then proceeded to a more advanced level of philosophy and meditation. This again was presented even more deeply and directly in a third cycle of teachings.
In this way, the Buddha’s teachings were written down in different sutras and tantras, each dealing with a specific subject matter on a specific level. The Buddha himself did not categorize his teachings, but to facilitate study and understanding they have been put into categories. These have emerged as three sets of teachings known as Shravakayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Nowadays in the West, the Shravakayana is commonly called “the Hinayana.” This term is not quite appropriate, though, as it literally means “small or lesser vehicle” and thus bears a falsely belittling connotation. From the Buddhist point of view these threeyanas or vehicles are not separate from each other. They constitute, in their entirety, the one and complete teaching given by the Buddha. This complete teaching was originally written down in Sanskrit and later translated into Tibetan. In Tibet it is preserved in either one hundred and one or one hundred and three volumes, according to different systems of presentation. These volumes are of different sizes, ranging from six hundred to more than twelve hundred pages, and are collectively known in Tibetan as the Kangyur. Together they comprise the entire teaching of the Buddha and present it in terms of threeyanas, or vehides. Their followers today are called Theravadin, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhists, respectively.
Of these, Theravadins rely mainly or even solely on the Shravakayana sutras as their basis of understanding and practice. There is a slight distinction between the terms “Shravakayana” and “Theravada,” with the name “Theravada” originating in the following way. After the Buddha’s parinirvana, or visible presence passing from this world, it was part of a monk’s discipline to recite the Vinaya, the set of rules observed by an ordained person, every fortnight. A certain division developed among the monks regarding this tradition. The elder ones wanted to do the recitation in Pali, a more colloquial form of Sanskrit, while the younger and more erudite monks preferred to recite in Sanskrit. The term thera denotes a senior monk and thus the name “Theravada” came about in reference to these senior monks. From India, Theravada Buddhism went mainly south and is now to be found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and so forth. Mahayana Buddhism, based upon the Mahayana sutras, spread to China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Vajrayana Buddhism developed mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and to a lesser extent in Japan, China, and Korea.
Vajrayana Buddhism aims at presenting the entirety of the Buddha’s teaching. The teachings of the Shravakayana and Mahayana are not considered as being separate from it. All three vehicles form an integral system of instruction, and their categorization is just for the sake of easier understanding. The Shravakayana contains the most fundamental teachings. Without this basis it is not possible to understand the Mahayana or Vajrayana. The relationship of the three yanas can be illustrated in terms of three concentric circles. The outer circle is the Vajrayana. It embraces and encompasses the other two. The next is the Mahayana, which embraces the Shravakayana at the center. Alternatively, their relationship can be illustrated in terms of the levels of a mountain. In this metaphor, the Shravakayana forms the base, the Mahayana the bulk, and the Vajrayana the peak. Whatever is taught in the Shravakayana system is not rejected by the Mahayana or Vajrayana teachings. It is just further clarified and revealed to open the way for our under-standing to develop into ever deepening levels, until true depth is attained.
The teachings of the three yanas should not be discussed and presented on just an academic or intellectual level, we would come away having memorized yet another piece of information. Instead of that, we have to learn how to put the teachings we receive into practical use, how to make them into our path and integrate them into our daily lives.
When I received Maha Ati and Mahamudra instructions, I thought, “This is wonderful, but I cannot do it without having taken the preceding step.” So! retraced my steps evermore back to the actual starting point. At first we will be looking for a swift way out and be attracted by teachings that say, “If you practice this in the morning, you will be enlightened in the evening, and if you practice this in the evening, you will be enlightened in the morning.” When statements like that are misunderstood, they can arouse false expectations. We will hope for a quick result and an easy way to achieve it.
This happened even to Milarepa. At first, he had been an extremely powerful black magician who was able to launch hailstorms and so forth. Then finally he repented of his evil deeds and wanted to practice the Dharma. The first teacher he turned to had mastered a very high and effective instruction. Being slightly proud of that, he said to Milarepa, “You are very fortunate. My teaching is such that whoever practices it in the morning will be enlightened in the evening and vice versa.” This flattered Milarepa, and he thought to himself, “I am really a very special person. First I was a black magician and with just a little effort attained great powers. Now the practice of the Dharma is even easier. I am a genius!” After having bestowed the necessary instructions, the teacher advised him to practice. A week later, he went to Milarepa’s retreat and inquired as to his results. Milarepa replied, “Since your instructions will yield such quick results, I have not yet started to practice. I had a rest first.” Then the teacher realized that he had been too rash and said, “Being so fond of my teaching I have been bragging too much. These instructions are not suitable for you. You must go and find Marpa.” Hearing this name, Milarepa was instantaneously filled with great faith and followed the advice. Then, following that, Marpa gave him real trouble before even accepting him as a disciple. It can happen, therefore, that someone practices in the morning and is enlightened in the evening, but it needs some doing.
Then again, anything that is worthwhile is not easy. For instance, when it is said that it is possible to reach enlightenment in one lifetime, this has to be understood in the right way. Of course it is possible, but only if a genuine understanding is gained and then applied accordingly. It depends on the degree to which we understand everything that needs to be practiced, and then on the degree to which we actually practice it. As for the term “enlightenment” itself, there is also sometimes a slight misunderstanding. When we hear about reaching enlightenment, there is the tendency to think, “Now I am not enlightened, but in the future I will reach this goal.” According to the Vajrayana, though, enlightenment is nothing other than the realization that we are already enlightened. It is probably for this reason that the Vajrayana teachings seem so easy. What they express is the fact that reaching enlightenment is not something that can be compared to climbing a mountain, to struggling hard and then finally reaching the top. Enlightenment is not obtained from somewhere else. Once we know how to look and see everything clearly as it is, without any delusion, this is enlightenment. For this reason, the concept, “I have to reach enlightenment in one lifetime,” this kind of struggling and fighting attitude, can almost become a hindrance. Through our practice of Dharma we should become increasingly more relaxed, up to the point where we almost do not want to reach enlightenment anymore. So when it happens, we might say, “What I thought was so big is just that simple.” Thus an attitude based upon struggle is difficult.
The methods of the Vajrayana are not accessible through understanding alone. They offer simple techniques, and then the experience has to come from ourselves, once the techniques are understood correctly. In this way these methods are very effective and strong. At the same time, they are not so easy to apply, because we normally do not trust these methods. Our assumptions and concepts that form our intellectual understanding do not allow us to follow them. These techniques need to be to carried out in an experiential way; they simply need to be applied and thereby turned into our own experience. Not being used to such an approach, we will not find them easy. Furthermore, once we are able to apply these methods, we will have to work hard.
Milarepa’s best disciple was Gampopa. After he had received all the necessary instructions and gained genuine experience of them, Milarepa told him togo to a mountain called “Gampodar” near the Nepalese border, where he would find his disciples. When Gampopa was ready to leave, Milarepa accompanied him part of the way, until they had reached a small stream. Here Milarepa said, “Now you go, my son.” Then he hesitated and said, “I have not given you my most secret instruction, though, but maybe I should not do so either.” Gampopa prostrated himself many times, offered a mandala, and entreated him to bestow this teaching. Milarepa would not be moved, and so finally Gampopa went on his way. After he had crossed the water and reached the far bank, Milarepa called him back and said, “After all, you are my best disciple. If I do not give this teaching to you, to whom else should I give it?” Gampopa was filled with joy and prostrated himself over and over again, expecting a very sublime and outstanding instruction. Then, Milarepa turned around and, lifting his clothes, showed Gampopa his backside. It was covered with innumerable scars from meditating sitting on rocks for so long. He said, “Look, my son. This is my final and most secret instruction!”
It is therefore vital to start at the beginning to provide a sound working basis.
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