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Lamrim History

Atisha (Atīśa Dīpaṅkara Śrījñāna, 982-1054) was an Indian master who played a significant role in the development of the Lam Rim teachings. He traveled to Tibet in the year 1042 AD where he is credited with reforming Tibetan Buddhism.

He came from Nalanda, a renowned Buddhist center of learning in India, where the Kadampa lineage had already developed a system of gradual path teachings known now by the Tibetan name, Lam Rim.

Atisha studied and practiced these teachings before bringing them to Tibet. In Tibet, he wrote Bodhipathapradīpa (The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment). It is believed to have been composed in the 11th century, around the years 1020-1050 AD. As one of the earliest Lam Rim texts, it is considered a key text and has served as a foundational framework for other later texts on Lam Rim.

“The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” (Bodhipathapradīpa) outlines the stages of the path to awakening, providing instructions on various aspects of practice, such as ethics, meditation, and wisdom. It presents a systematic approach to spiritual development, which is a characteristic feature of the Lam Rim teachings.

The Lam Rim teachings were further refined and expanded upon by Tibetan masters, particularly Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug school, and other Tibetan scholars and practitioners.

Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) is one of the most influential texts that expounds on the Lam Rim teachings.

The foundations of the Lam Rim teachings can be traced back to Indian Buddhist masters, such as Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, who laid the groundwork for the gradual path approach.

Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teachers (lamas and geshes) continue to teach and practice the Lam Rim tradition, adapting it to the needs of modern practitioners.

Why is Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo so highly regarded?

Lamrim Chenmo, “The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment,” is highly regarded for several reasons:

1. Comprehensive and Systematic: The Lamrim Chenmo provides a comprehensive and systematic presentation of the entire path to enlightenment, from the foundational practices to the advanced stages. It covers a wide range of topics, including ethics, meditation, wisdom, and the cultivation of bodhicitta (the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings).

2. Integration of Teachings: Tsongkhapa skillfully integrates teachings from various Buddhist traditions, including the Mahayana and Vajrayana, as well as teachings from Indian and Tibetan Buddhist masters. He harmonizes these teachings into a coherent framework, making them accessible and relevant to practitioners of different backgrounds.

3. Clarity and Precision: Tsongkhapa’s writing style is known for its clarity, precision, and logical organization. He presents complex concepts in a systematic manner, making it easier for readers to understand and apply the teachings in their practice.

4. Emphasis on Study and Practice: The Lamrim Chenmo emphasizes the importance of both study and practice. Tsongkhapa encourages readers to engage in a thorough study of the teachings to develop a deep understanding. At the same time, he emphasizes the need for diligent practice, as the transformative power of the teachings can only be experienced through direct application.

5. Preservation of Lineage: Tsongkhapa’s work played a significant role in preserving and transmitting the Lam Rim teachings within the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. His disciples, such as Gyaltsab Je and Khedrub Je, further propagated and expanded upon the teachings, ensuring their continued transmission and practice.


Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo is highly regarded for its comprehensive coverage of the path to enlightenment, its integration of diverse teachings, its clarity and precision, and its emphasis on both study and practice. It continues to be studied and practiced by countless practitioners as a guide to spiritual development in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The Lamrim tradition draws from centuries of Buddhist thought and teaching methodologies. Atisha’s work is considered a culmination and refinement rather than a wholly original creation. There were precursors to Atisha’s presentation that he likely drew upon and modified.

One significant precursor to Atisha’s Lamrim is the Indian Buddhist scholar Asanga’s “Stages of the Path” teachings, also known as the “Five Paths of Mahayana Buddhism.” Asanga’s work was foundational in structuring the progression of spiritual development, emphasising the stages a practitioner must traverse to attain enlightenment. Asanga’s teachings were part of the curriculum at Nalanda, one of the most renowned centres of Buddhist learning in ancient India.

Furthermore, the Lamrim tradition is deeply rooted in the teachings of the Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna, particularly his “Letter to a Friend” (Sanskrit: “Suhṛllekha”) and “Precious Garland” (Sanskrit: “Ratnavali”), which outline the path to enlightenment and the practice of the Bodhisattva path.

Additionally, the teachings of the Indian Buddhist philosopher Chandrakirti, particularly his commentary on Nagarjuna’s “Madhyamakakarika” (Middle Way Verses), influenced the development of the Lamrim. Chandrakirti’s elucidation of the Middle Way philosophy provided a philosophical basis for understanding the nature of reality and the path to liberation.

Atisha, during his time at Nalanda and later in Tibet, synthesised these teachings along with other Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions to create what is now known as the Lamrim. He structured the teachings into a systematic and progressive path, making them accessible and practical for practitioners of varying capacities.

Therefore, while Atisha’s Lamrim is a significant milestone in the presentation of the Buddha’s teachings, it is built upon a rich tradition of Buddhist thought and scholarship that predates him, particularly the teachings of Asanga, Nagarjuna, and Chandrakirti. Atisha’s contribution lies in his skillful synthesis and presentation of these teachings for the benefit of practitioners.