[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]
I am using the text Essence of Ambrosia: A Guide to Buddhist Contemplations as a source for this series. The original text was composed by Jetsun Taranatha (1575 – 1634 CE), translated into English by Willa Baker (Lama Palmo) and was published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in 2005. I also want to express gratitude to Khenpo Choejor Gyamtso of Dorje Ling Buddhist Center in Atlanta for recently offering a series of teachings on Essence of Ambrosia. Khenpo-la gave very clear instructions and explanations of this text, along with some related topics. Khenpo-la’s teachings have motivated me to further practice.
Taranatha’s Essence is organized into 64 ‘contemplations’ which are designed to be followed sequentially as a gradual, step-by-step meditation practice, hence a ‘lamrim’ (stages of the path). As mentioned in a previous post, the root text for this lamrim model is Atisha’s A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment which designates persons of three ‘scopes’ or ‘capacities’ – the person of lesser capacity, the person of average capacity and the person of greater capacity. A breakdown of these three capacities goes something like this…
1) Lesser capacity – people who seek the pleasures of cyclic existence.
2) Average capacity – people who have turned away from worldly pleasures, avoid destructive actions and who seek peace for themselves alone.
3) Greater capacity – people who recognize the nature of samsara is suffering and want to end completely the suffering of others.
From this we can see that the three ‘capacities’ have to do with the principal motivation of ones life. So, for instance, the person of lesser capacity is motivated by worldly pleasures, the person of average capacity is motivated by renunciation (yet for themselves alone) and the person of greater capacity is motivated by renunciation and bodhicitta. This will become even more apparent (and include other details) as we proceed through the stages of the path. It is also to be noted that motivations can change and this is one of the main purposes of the contemplation practices in Essence, to lead step-by-step towards cultivating the aim of a person with greater capacity. One of the instructions that Khenpo-la gave was to progressively go through each of these contemplations, starting from the beginning. Even if we think we might be a person of a different capacity, the contemplations are still helpful reminders. And sometimes we might think we are at one stage when we are really at another. The ego can be a tricky thing!
It is also to be noted that people who are part of different traditions or schools of Buddhadharma can conceivably have the orientation of any one of these stages. For example, there can be Theravadins who are practicing from the stage of greater capacity and Mahayanists who are practicing from the stage of average capacity, etc.
Contemplation 1 stands on its own. Contemplations 2 through 21 focus on the motivation of lesser capacity, contemplations 22 through 33 focus on the motivation of average capacity and contemplations 34 through 64 focus on the motivation of greater capacity. I have decided to follow along with the text, supplemented by Khenpo-la’s instructions, and go through the contemplations as part of my regular meditation practice for a while. I will document some of my reflections here as I do so.