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Lam Rim Contents

Some new Dharma students adopt an attitude that studying Lam Rim is beneath them, that it is some kind of low level practice. But anyone who is practicing a teaching not found in the Lam Rim is not practicing anything that was taught by the Buddha.

That is simply because the Lam Rim encompasses all his teachings in a step-by-step graded system where each step builds upon the previous step.

“Lam Rim,” also known as the “Stages of the Path,” is a key concept in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a systematic approach that outlines the progressive stages a practitioner should follow to achieve enlightenment. Lam Rim teachings were originally introduced to Tibet by Atisha and were later expanded upon by various Tibetan masters, most notably Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 CE).

In most presentations, there are commonly three stages or scopes that outline the path to enlightenment. These stages are designed to cater to individuals with different levels of spiritual capacity and aspiration.

      1. The Scope of Individuals of Lesser Capacity
      2. The Scope of Individuals of Medium Capacity
      3. The Scope of Individuals of Greater Capacity

The first stage is known as the Foundational Lam Rim or Ngöndro.

Objective: avoiding a lower suffering rebirth in the future life, and gaining a happy rebirth as a human or a god. This stage serves as the preliminary stage of practice and focuses on laying the groundwork for more advanced practices. It typically includes the following components:

1. Taking Refuge: Cultivating faith and trust in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) and making a formal commitment to follow the Buddhist path.
2. Generating Bodhicitta: Cultivating the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
3. Purification Practices: Engaging in practices like Vajrasattva meditation to purify negative karma and obscurations.
4. Mandala Offerings: Symbolically offering the entire universe to the enlightened beings, acknowledging their qualities, and seeking their guidance.

In addition to these foundational practices, there are contemplations that are often included in the Foundational Lam Rim. These contemplations help establish a proper mindset and understanding for the spiritual path. They may include:

– Recognizing the unsatisfactory nature of cyclic existence (samsara).
– Renunciation: Cultivating a strong aspiration to be free from suffering.
– Contemplation of the preciousness of human life.
– Reflection on impermanence and death.
– Contemplation of the law of cause and effect (karma).

These contemplations serve to:
– Recognize the preciousness of human life and its potential for spiritual growth.
– Reflect on impermanence and the certainty of death to motivate spiritual practice.
– Contemplate the law of cause and effect (karma) to understand the importance of ethical conduct.

By engaging in the practices and contemplations of the Foundational Lam Rim, practitioners establish a strong foundation for their spiritual journey and prepare themselves for the more advanced stages of the Lam Rim path.

The second stage is the Intermediate Lam Rim or Lam Chung:

Objective: becoming free from the whole of cyclic existence; free of uncontrolled rebirth due to the force of delusion and karma. The Intermediate Lam Rim focuses on the main body of the path, providing a systematic guide to cultivating wisdom and compassion.

This is the stage of  Integration and Application:

– Integrating the teachings into one’s daily life.
– Cultivating mindfulness and awareness.
– Applying the teachings to overcome afflictive emotions and habits.
– Engaging in practices to benefit others.

It includes the following teachings:

1. Emptiness: This teaching delves into the understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, emphasizing the concept of emptiness and dependent origination. It explores the non-inherent existence of phenomena and the interdependent nature of all things.

2. Six Perfections (Paramitas): The practice of the six perfections —generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic effort, concentration, and wisdom— is undertaken to purify the mind and accumulate merit. These perfections are essential for the cultivation of virtue and the development of a compassionate heart.

3. Bodhisattva Ethics: This aspect emphasizes the importance of ethical conduct in the Bodhisattva path. It involves upholding moral principles and engaging in compassionate actions for the benefit of all sentient beings.

4. Generating Bodhicitta: The cultivation of bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings, is revisited and deepened in this stage. It encompasses both the aspiration to achieve enlightenment and the practical application of compassion in daily life. The two types of Bodhicitta: “the mind that aspires to awaken, and the mind that ventures to do so.” —Śântideva

The third scope, the Advanced Lam Rim or Lam Dre

Objective: to achieve full enlightenment in order to free all universal living beings from suffering and lead them to the fulfillment of their highest potential, enlightenment. The Advanced Lam Rim focuses on the profound teachings and practices that lead to the attainment of full enlightenment. At this level, practitioners delve into advanced practices that accelerate their progress on the path to Buddhahood. The key components of the Advanced Lam Rim are as follows:

1. Tantra: This involves the introduction to Vajrayana or Tantric practices. Tantra employs advanced meditation techniques and deity yoga to transform ordinary experiences into the path to enlightenment. Through Tantra, practitioners learn to harness the power of their mind, emotions, and experiences to propel them more rapidly towards spiritual realization.

2. Completion Stage Practices: In this stage, practitioners concentrate on advanced meditation techniques, such as the six yogas of Naropa. These practices enable them to realize the subtlest nature of the mind and ultimately attain Buddhahood swiftly. The Completion Stage practices are known for their ability to accelerate spiritual progress and lead to profound insights into the nature of reality.

3. Guru Yoga: Establishing a close and profound relationship with one’s spiritual teacher is a central aspect of the Advanced Lam Rim. By developing a genuine connection with a qualified teacher, practitioners receive blessings, guidance, and wisdom on the path to enlightenment. Guru Yoga is considered essential for receiving the full transmission of the teachings and empowering the practitioner to progress swiftly.

4. Mahamudra and Dzogchen: These are the highest teachings in Tibetan Buddhism, and they lead to the direct realization of the nature of the mind and ultimate enlightenment. Mahamudra and Dzogchen offer profound meditative practices that facilitate a direct understanding of the nature of reality, transcending conceptual limitations, and attaining spiritual liberation.

The rationale behind the Advanced Lam Rim is to provide practitioners with the most powerful and effective methods for achieving Buddhahood in this very lifetime.  This requires the solid foundation gained in the earlier stages of Lam Rim and are typically undertaken with the guidance of a qualified teacher.

By engaging in these advanced practices, you can expedite your spiritual growth, deepen your wisdom, and cultivate profound compassion for all sentient beings. The Advanced Lam Rim represents the culmination of the path, offering the most profound insights and practices to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings that have feelings.