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Six-Session Guru Yoga Commentary by Geshe Tashi Tsering of Chenrezig Institute

For a formatted downloadable version, please see:

This transcription has been very lightly edited, and has not been checked by Ven. Lozang Zopa. All mistakes, omissions, additions, errors, erratic spelling and bizarre punctuation are due solely to the transcriber.

Six Session Guru Yoga.

Teacher: Geshe Tashi Tsering

Translator: Ven. Lozang Zopa

Transcribed: Carolyn McLeod

Chenrezig Institute; 8th April, 2003.

Tape 13.

Since we have the vows of a Bodhisattva it s important that we go through the enumeration of the eighteen root downfalls and the forty-six secondary offences that correspond to the Bodhisattva vows. Doing so counts as guarding the vows and its important to guard the vows we have. They describe different ways of guarding the vows. Of the different ways to guard the vows, one is the way of guarding the vows through knowing what is incompatible with them. This is the main manner for guarding the vows that one employs when going through these root downfalls and secondary offences. The root downfalls, together with the root downfalls of mantra, are found in the Six Session Guru Yoga text, but the forty-six secondary offences are not.

It s excellent if you understand the meaning of the vows that you are enumerating. Even if you don't understand their meaning, at least think that these are vows that you should be keeping and these are things that you should try and guard against.

Given that there are forty-six secondary offences we can say that there are many secondary offences but they fall into different categories. The first seven are incompatible with the generosity of giving dharma and virtues. The next nine are incompatible with ethics, the next four are incompatible with patience and the next three are incompatible with joyous, or enthusiastic, effort. Even if you don t understand the meaning of each individual vow, you can gain a general understanding that you have these classes of secondary offences that are incompatible with either one of the six perfections or something else, so that you have a more general understanding of the content of your vows.

Having covered the section of secondary offences that are incompatible with joyous effort, we move on to number twenty-four, which begins the secondary offences that are incompatible with concentration. It reads: - If you want to place the mind in equilibrium, but out of bitterness or laziness, do not go to others to receive personal instructions on absorption, it is a secondary offence of Not seeing the meaning of absorption. This can also be translated as Not exerting yourself for the purposes of absorption.

It s very important that we bring the six perfections such as generosity, ethics and concentration to their conclusion to develop them to their utmost extent without being satisfied with just developing some semblance of each one of these. Thus, it s important that we listen to teachings repeatedly and reflect on them again and again, returning to meditate and familiarise with them on a regular basis.

These are the vows of a Bodhisattva; that means that Bodhisattvas have to guard them. We have taken the Bodhisattva vows but have not yet become Bodhisattvas, so it stands to reason that it s all the more important for us to guard them as well, don't you think!

There is something called, excellent hearing. The word, hearing here, in Tibetan, is [?] which comes from the three hearing, reflection and meditation, so we know that there are implications beyond merely hearing to this word. This excellent hearing has different aspects: - there is hearing a great deal; hearing many times; hearing with many. It seems there are many distinctions here, in Tibetan, the word for many [mung?] appears in each term so we have, hearing a great deal, hearing many times and hearing with many this last is a interesting distinction for it seems that listening to teachings with many people, what we might call our dharma friends, helps us to retain and even ascertain what has been taught.

The twenty-fifth reads: - If you embrace and do not try to dispel any one of the five obscurations that hinder concentration, it is a secondary offence of Not acting to purify the obscurations to absorption. The five obscurations that hinder concentration are mental factors; even disturbing emotions, which we covered in lo rig. They are: 1. excitement and regret 2. ill will 3. drowsiness and dullness 4. yearning for sensory objects and 5. doubt.

The twenty-sixth reads: - If you crave the bliss of concentration and consider the experience and taste of it to be an important quality, it is a secondary offence of Considering the taste of concentration to be an important quality.

There is such a thing as being attached to the concentration of meditation. We speak about the importance of calm abiding but, although cultivating calm abiding is important, we don t strive to attain calm abiding simply because there is a certain pleasure of body and mind associated with it. There is a special form of bliss or pleasure of body and mind that one attains when one develops calm abiding. If you were to strive to accomplish calm abiding solely to attain that special type of pleasure, then, in that case, your action would be a cause for samsara and would not act as an antidote to suffering.

Let s keep in mind what the master Kamalashila said and that s: mental distraction is like the root of suffering because mental distraction provided the opportunity for the arising of disturbing emotions and therefore, negative actions. Calm abiding is therefore important in that it helps to stem or stop mental distraction that otherwise opens the door for these causes of suffering, such as the disturbing emotions.

Thus it says: - The three preceding secondary offences are incompatible with Concentration.

Number twenty-seven reads: - If you have the view that Hinayana practitioners need to study, hold to and train in the words and meaning of the Hearer s Canon, Bodhisattvas do not, and were to propound that, it would be a secondary offence of Abandoning the Hearer s Vehicle.

If that s the case, why is it a root downfall to remain for seven days in the house of a Hearer?

Student. Your bodhicitta might diminish.

Geshe-la. One would think then that by studying and holding to and training in the words and meanings of the Hearer s Canon there would also be the danger of one s bodhicitta diminishing.

Student. Some of the practices of the Hearers are the foundations for the Bodhisattva practices.

Geshe-la. Therefore?

Student. Not repeated by Ven. Lozang Zopa.

Geshe-la. Of course. What you say is indeed correct that we cannot abandon them. But, here it's speaking about holding to and training in the words and meaning of the Hearer s Canon.

Student. If you were to study it with a bodhicitta motivation?

Geshe-la. If one were to study the Hearer s Canon motivated by bodhicitta, how would that study proceed? Can you describe the way in which one would study in that respect?

Is there such a thing as studying, holding to and training in the teachings of Christianity with a bodhicitta motivation? Is there such a thing?

Student. Yes, because Christians could be Bodhisattvas.

Geshe-la. That Bodhisattva amongst the Christians is a Buddhist? Is that what you are staying? Is that Bodhisattva amongst the Christians a Buddhist? Possible, isn t it [Geshe-la in English]

Geshe-la is not saying that your answer is insufficient. He acknowledges the possibility that there could be someone studying the Christian teachings with a Bodhisattva motivation a Bodhisattva studying the Christian teachings. Is that Bodhisattva a Buddhist?

It follows that such a person is a Buddhist because they have, in their continuum, the two aspirations of the mind of enlightenment.

Student. Saying a person has freed themselves from suffering and they want to help free others from suffering; I would suppose that they could do so without ever having heard about Buddhism.

Geshe-la. The answer is becoming less and less clear. We return to the original statement that is it possible that there can be someone who studies Christian teachings with bodhicitta motivation? We could give the following example:- somebody who has the two aspirations of the mind of enlightenment and studies the Christian teachings in order to benefit those people who have an affinity towards the Christian teachings. In order to help those who have an affinity towards the Christian teachings, in some respects, demands that the individual has knowledge of Christianity and to accomplish such a goal, they study Christian teachings.

Bodhisattvas are working to accomplish the well being of all sentient beings. Yet all sentient beings are not Buddhists they belong to all sorts of different religions. It would therefore be difficult to accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings solely through Buddhism.

Hence, the Bhagavan Shakyamuni Buddha said in the Correct Extremes: know all paths; develop all paths and enact the actions of all paths. To encourage a person to enact the actions of all paths, is to encourage a person to look after others by means of such paths the techniques offered there.

Of course, one necessarily has to study, hold to and train in the words and meanings of the Hearer s Canon. It follows that such is necessary because it is necessary for a Bodhisattva to look after those trainees who are Hearers. If you think about it in these terms, you come to the conclusion that it s quite clear; it's possible that there be Bodhisattvas studying the Christian teachings.

You also said that it's possible that there are Bodhisattvas amongst Christians, in other words a Christian who is a Bodhisattva. Geshe-la agrees that it is indeed possible that there are Bodhisattvas amongst Christians. Now, as to whether or not they are Buddhists from our perspective, we say they are Buddhists. That raises the question, well are they Christians? to which Geshe-la would respond, adopting the way of a Christian they are doing so that they may better look after those disciples who have an affinity towards Christianity. They are not Christians because they are striving for the Buddhist enlightenment.

Araya Asanga is the pioneer of the Mind Only tradition, yet many people say that he s not a Mind Only proponent. The Consequentialists say that he s a Consequentialist. They say that he pioneered the mind only system in order to look after disciples who felt inclined towards that.

Once again, in these terms, Jesus must have been a Bodhisattva or a Buddha. So as Buddhists, we ve got to say that he is a Buddhist. So we take all those great qualities found in Christianity and call them Buddhist. [L/L; A/L]

It comes back to this point of needing to accomplish the welfare of others so it s going to be necessary to study a great number of things in working for the welfare of others. Geshe-la remembers saying something similar to what we have just been talking about in the past. Do you remember this?

When Geshe-la was speaking in this way about how it's important to study different things to accomplish the welfare of others, to adopt the way of Christians and so on and so forth, one man said to Geshe-la, if that s the case, then you might have to wear a shirt and pants to accomplish the welfare of sentient beings, won t you? Geshe-la said, I m praying that, in this life, I don t have to. [L/L; A/L]

There s some truth to what he said isn t there a real Bodhisattva is going to have to do it. Geshe-la said that since he s not a Bodhisattva there s no danger.

On this point of looking after non-Buddhist and so forth; they say that the time you spend in studying non-Buddhist schools, religions and so forth, for the purposes of your being better able to serve beings inclined to such, should be in the afternoon. In the morning you do your practices, meditation and study the Buddhist tradition; in the afternoon after having eaten and it's time to relax, then you can turn your attention to studying the non-Buddhist schools. [Geshe-la in English: therefore after lunch I English class my have, then I sleeping] [A/L]

What are the conceptions about the apprehended that aught to be turned away from? Do you see that maybe there s some contradiction arising between the need to turn away from certain things in respect of the Mahayana path and the advice that we find here?

Student. The conceptions regarding the apprehended that are that which are to be turned away from are basically referring to needing to abandon the apprehension of true existence with respect to certain things.

Geshe-la. In focusing upon the paths and results of the Hearers, to apprehend as true existence objects to be turned away from, is a wrong consciousness, isn t it? In a sense, the question is, is the apprehension of true existence a wrong consciousness?

What s the focus? In this case, you would probably say that the focus is that the paths and results of the Hearers are objects to be abandoned. When you want to clarify this and get more specific about what is really being referred to then you add this phrase, with respect to the Mahayana paths. You have objects to be turned away from in respect to the Mahayana paths. It follows that the paths and results of the Hearers are objects to be turned away from in respect to the Mahayana paths. It follows that they are not, because they are objects that need to be practiced, as stated in this text.

Student. [Inaudible.]

Geshe-la. So you are saying they are neither things to be turned away from nor things to be practiced?

Student. Inaudible.

Geshe-la. Maybe you could respond to it by saying, well, when you re speaking about Hinayana paths and Mahayana paths and so forth, there are those paths that are unique to or uncommon to the Hinayana path, but there are many paths that are also held in common by both.

Both Hearers and Mahayana s need to take the misapprehension of self as the primary object to be abandoned, and therefore, they are both going to emphasise the meditations on selflessness in their meditation. The Hearers are focused more on the selflessness of persons. Just as the meditations on selflessness are common to both, so is the intention to definitely emerge.

If we return to the Buddha's advice given in this text The Correct Limits, he says, know all paths; which is to say, gain an understanding of all paths, including the paths that are unique to the Hearers. When he says, develop all paths, he is saying develop all paths that are held in common with the Mahayana. When he says, to enact the activities of those paths, he s saying that you can demonstrate or teach such activities to the relevant people.

The next one speaks about this, it says: - If you neglect the Bodhisattva s Canon while there are still things you should apply yourself to in it, and apply yourself to the Hearer s Canon, it is a secondary offence of Applying the Hearer s Vehicle.

If your emphasis is on the Mahayana practice, then your emphasis and study would be on the Bodhisattva s Canon. On the side, you can pursue your study on the Hearer s Canon. Since we took the vows of a Bodhisattva then we are acknowledging that we are making the practices of the Mahayana our emphasis, correct?

The twenty-ninth reads: -If, while there are things you should apply yourself to in the Buddha's teaching, you do not apply yourself to them but apply yourself to the Tirthika treatises, it is the secondary offence of Exerting effort in non-Buddhist treatises where no effort should be made.

As a Buddhist, your emphasis is in studying the Buddhist treatises and as explained earlier, when waking up and falling asleep, you can spend some time studying the other.

Geshe-la in English: English very important, but my not knowing, so fall asleep.

Number thirty reads: - Though there may be a need to apply yourself to the Tirthika treatises, if your delight in that remains throughout the beginning, middle and end, it is a secondary offence of Delighting in the efforts made in non-Buddhist treatises.

In general, the beginning, middle and end are regarded as being quite important, as in this famous quote; the two actions are important in the beginning and the end; thus, great emphasis is place in the beginning and the end.

It acknowledges that there may be a need to apply yourself to the study of these treatises. Such possible situations of need would be if you have to help or try to benefit those who have an affinity towards such things, or if you need knowledge of the systems in order to properly respond to questions.

Number thirty-one reads:- If you make disparaging remarks about any teaching in the Bodhisattva s Canon to the effect that This teaching is inferior , The teaching of it is inferior , The teacher of it is inferior or this will not benefit sentient beings , it is a secondary offence of Abandoning the Mahayana. This is mainly focusing on disparaging; it's inappropriate to disparage.

Number thirty-two reads: - If, out of pride or anger, you praise yourself and/or belittle another, it is a secondary offence of Praising oneself or belittling another. [End side a]

Number thirty-three reads: - If, out of pride or laziness, you do not receive useful explanation and commentaries on the Dharma, it is a secondary offence of Not going somewhere for the sake of Dharma.

Number thirty-four reads:- If, in failing to adopt the attitude that the person who propounds Dharma to you is a teacher and not showing him the proper esteem and so forth, you ignore him, scorn him and rely only on his good words and not upon their meaning, it si a secondary offence of Belittling that and relying upon the letter.

The preceding eight secondary offences are incompatible with Wisdom. These 34 secondary offences are incompatible with the six perfections of gathering virtuous dharmas.

It seems that we have now covered 34 secondary offences. That s it. It would be good to enumerate them regularly and also, when you have time, to read over them and think about their meaning. This has great benefit.

We speak about attaining Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. This means that we need to continue to work to accomplish the welfare of others, of course that entails from that aspiration or wish, but that s not easy, is it. We have to do all sorts of things to try to accomplish the wellbeing of all sentient beings.

As it says in the third chapter of Shantideva s Way of the Bodhisattva, may if be medicine for those who are ill, may I be a nurse for those who are ill, may I be bridge for those who need to cross the water, and a boat, a raft and so on and so forth. This prayer embodies the basic sentiment of a Bodhisattva, which is: May I be whatever is required by other sentient beings.

It s clearly the case, when we consider others who have an affinity towards another religions tradition and it becomes of importance to try to help them through whatever means are available to us. Basically, it's important for us to try to be whatever is most important for those who are in need whatever that may be. In light of that, we should definitely not disparage without purpose the teachings of another religions tradition. It's one thing to engage in discussions about other religious traditions, trying to establish the logical validity or the soundness of their system we even do that within Buddhism, where the higher tenant schools will engage in discussion about some of the lower Buddhist schools and about how logically viable they are, but that s quite removed from disparaging something without a purpose. We definitely should not disparage other systems without purpose.

Any questions? If there are no questions, we are going to leave it there; some of you are tired.

Question. The 25th secondary offence mentions these five obscurations that hinder concentration. First is this paring of excitement or regret. Why word it like this when it s more common to speak of excitement and laxity or these other words that connote dullness?

Geshe-la. Here, regret refers to the regret that is one of the four variable or changeable mental factors it can be either virtuous or non-virtuous. To regret virtue is non-virtue, to regret non-virtue is virtuous. Here, it's presented as being an obscuration or obstacle to absorption, to concentration. Does that answer your question?

When excitement is linked with laxity or sinking, as it is sometimes called, then we are dealing with the pair that are unique with the cultivation of calm abiding and the special category of absorption. Excitement is necessarily understood as a disturbing emotion, because it's understood as attachment. Not only does laxity have to be a non-virtue it doesn t have to be a disturbing emotion. Are there instances of it that are virtuous? Is there virtue in laxity? How would you explain subtle laxity?

Student Not having clarity with the object that one is focused upon.

Geshe-la. That s coarse laxity.

Student. Can subtle laxity be neutral as opposed to virtuous or non-virtuous?

Geshe-la. Palden has said that there is no virtue in subtle laxity. Until we come to a conclusion about this point, please don t bring up any others.

There is indeed instance of virtue in subtle laxity. For instance, take a Buddhist who is working to accomplish calm abiding and focuses on an image of Buddha. It follows that there are instances of subtle laxity because there is a time in which such an individual has the aspect of clarity but lacks the aspect of precision or sharpness. Is there such a time? Having the aspect of clarity, but lacking the aspect of precision is how we understand subtle laxity. Such a mind is virtuous because we are dealing with a mind that is focused upon an image of the Buddha's body.

The mind can be clear with respect to the object that it is meditating on, but it lacks this vivid alertness. 

Student. Has it lost the object in some way? [Rest inaudible and not repeated by Ven. Lozang Zopa.]

Ven. Lozang Zopa. That might factor into it but typically a very literal translation would be sharpness, like in the sharpness of a knife. Of course you can see how intensity factors into it. I m not going to say that intensity is an inappropriate translation, but literally its sharpness; maybe precision.

Geshe-la. This word, which Geshe-la is using, [?] probably would work well as intensity as opposed to [?] but in any case, they are concepts to be understood with respect to one another. You can have your mala in your hand and be quite relaxed and not very intense about turning the beads over in your hand that would be contrasted with the time when you are more intensely turning the beads over in your hand. This [?] which is intensity or vividness, is like being on the ball. It's important when we are meditating to be on the ball, to be intense in a sense, as long as you understand it in this context. You don t want to be overly relaxed. It is said that the duration of one s meditation is not the most important factor. Rather, it s important that one has both clarity and precision or intensity in one s meditation.

If in meditating, your mind lacks this aspect of sharpness or precision, then it's important to intensify the mind.

If in trying to reintroduce the aspect of precision, you find that you are unable to, at that point you should take a break from the session; go outside and clear your head. You shouldn t force it.

Geshe-la was under the impression that it says many times in the Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand that meditating when one is subject to subtle laxity is a waste of time.

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