Ignorance, Attachment, Aversion


“All types of karma are tainted by the ignorance of not realizing the natural state. Ignorance leads to self-cherishing. Action that is motivated by self-cherishing becomes the cause of cyclic existence. If I wonder whether I have this affliction of ignorance, I need only examine my mind. I do not know the nature of cyclic existence, nor when or how it began. I do not know the nature of liberation or the methods of attaining it. I do not even know how to become certain about these things. It is possible I may have a rudimentary understanding through study and reflection, but when I examine the way things appear in my own mind, no matter how I look at it, finding truth is like trying to imagine a distant country I have never visited. I am left with just a vague, blurry, uncertain concept. Because I do not understand the condition of cyclic existence and liberation, doubts about ultimate truth arise. From that, all wrong views, such as clinging to a self where there is no self, arise; hence, all wrong views proceed from basic ignorance.

Furthermore, initially I am attached to my body and mind. Based on that, I become attached to other sentient beings – [sexual partners], my close friends, servants and so forth. I also become attached to things – food, clothing, possessions, my house, field, wealth, goods, country and so forth. The sense of painful mental longing and liking I feel towards my body and possessions is the emotional affliction of attachment. Based on this, pride, greed, and jealousy arise.

Towards anything that harms me or my possessions, I feel aversion. With a feeling of discomfort, I fixate mentally on sentient beings who harm or threaten to harm me or anything I hold dear. This mental state is anger or aversion. Sometimes I even become angry at inanimate objects. For example, a place or dwelling may trigger mental discomfort. I may become irritated that my field is flooded by a river. All of these are examples indicating the presence of aversion. The coarse mental state arising from strong anger that wishes to harm others, wrath, irritation, malice and so forth are all forms of aversion.

Since these three poisons [of ignorance, attachment, and aversion] cause me and all sentient beings to wander in cyclic existence, I will abandon them as much as possible. I will recognize the emotional afflictions that arise in my continuum and identify the actions that proceed from those afflictions.”

[From Essence of Ambrosia by Tāranātha]

Calm Abiding

Meditator by Nathan Phaneuf


I’ve been continuing my close reading of Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This is the root text for the many lamrim texts that followed. The copy I have includes the root text in both English and Tibetan, and a commentary by Geshe Sonam Rinchen (translated by Ruth Sonam).

Last night’s reading included verse 38

Without the attainment of calm abiding,
Higher perception will not occur.
Therefore make repeated effort
To accomplish calm abiding.

Some context; Indo-Tibetan traditions present two primary types of meditation that go hand-in-hand with each other; śamatha (calm abiding) and vipaśyanā (insight). As an aside, these aren’t the only types of meditation, but they are fundamental in both sutra and tantra. In short, śamatha signifies a deep level of tranquility that arises when the meditator is able to calm the mind and its stirrings and thereby attain one-pointed concentration on the chosen object of meditation. Vipaśyanā means “clear-seeing”, “insight”, “higher perception”, and signifies the ability to see into, or directly perceive, the essence, reality, or nature of the object of meditation.

What follows is part of Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s commentary on verse 38;

The heightened state of concentration [śamatha] which forms the basis for this [i.e. vipaśyanā] is the same whether attained by Buddhists or non-Buddhists. When accompanied by sincere refuge in the Three Jewels it is a Buddhist practice. When accompanied by a strong wish to gain freedom from cyclical existence it acts as a cause for liberation, while the intention to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings makes it a Mahayana practice.

A calmly abiding mind is necessary for attaining special insight according to the sutra tradition and for attaining the stages of generation and completion in the practices of tantra. While Atisha stresses its importance as the foundation for higher perception, Shantideva and other great masters point out that only through special insight into reality can we eliminate the ignorance which lies at the root of cyclic existence, and that such special insight cannot be developed without a calmly abiding mind.

[Footnote; I have been practicing śamatha. It is slow going, but my efforts have not been wasted]

Teacher of Gods and Humanity

Buddha, Indra, Brahma

Buddha, Indra, Brahma

Śāsta deva-manusyānam – “teacher of gods and men (i.e. humanity)”. This is one of the titles of Buddha Shakyamuni. While many may be familiar with Buddha Shakyamuni’s role as a teacher for human beings, it is interesting to note that in traditional Buddhist cosmology, many of the the gods and goddesses (i.e. devas and devis) are themselves not fully liberated from samsara. Buddhadharma speaks of the Three Realms or Three Worlds (Trailokya); the Kāmaloka (Desire Realms), Rūpaloka (Form Realms), and Arūpaloka (Formless Realms). The Kāmaloka is further categorized into the Six Realms, thus:

Deva-gati, the God Realms

Asura-gati, the Titan Realms

Manusya-gati, the Human Realms

Tiryagyoni-gati, the Animal Realms

Preta-gati, the Hungry Ghost Realms

Naraka-gati, the Hell Realms

According to lamrim teachings, all of these six realms are samsaric in nature, meaning all six realms are tinged with dukkha (suffering/unsatisfactoriness) to varying degrees. According to this view, while devas and devis (gods and goddesses) may live an incalculably longer existence than humans, and may enjoy pleasures and delights unheard of in the human realm, they too die, and by the force of their karma, may again take rebirth in one of the six realms.

When generating bodhicitta, Buddhist practitioners will often contemplate the various realms, and the forms of suffering related to them, and with the vast expanse of beings in mind, generate compassion for them all. It is also not uncommon for Buddhists to do practices to prevent them from taking rebirth in the god realms because this can be seen as a distraction from attaining full liberation and enlightenment (i.e. becoming a Buddha). The human realm is considered ideal because it is, in a sense, “mixed” in that there is both pleasure and pain, joy and suffering readily evident. This can awaken the intention to attain liberation. Comparatively, in the hell realms the suffering is so great and constant that it is extremely rare for a being in these realms to take up Dharma practice, and in the god realms, the joy is so great that practice is often neglected as well, and the fall from such an existence, the loss of the enjoyment of the god realms, often provokes deep suffering.

May all beings have happiness and its causes.
May all beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all beings never be separated from bliss without suffering.
May all beings be in equanimity, free of ignorance, attachment and aversion.

The Purpose of Dharma Practice

H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama

H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama

What is the purpose of the Dharma? Just like other spiritual traditions, Buddhadharma is an instrument for training the mind–something we use to try to work out the problems that we all experience; problems that originate mainly at the mental level. Negative emotional forces create mental unrest, such as unhappiness, fear, doubt, frustration and so forth; these negative mental states then cause us to engage in negative activities, which in turn bring us more problems and more suffering. Practicing Dharma is a way of working out these problems, be they long-term or immediate. In other words, Dharma protects us from unwanted suffering.

Buddhadharma means bringing discipline and inner tranquility into our mind. Therefore, when we talk about transforming our mind and developing inner qualities, the only way we can do this is to utilize the mind itself. There is nothing else we can use to bring about such change. Thus, we should realize that much of what we do not desire–unwanted events, unhappiness and suffering–actually comes about as a result of our mistaken way of viewing the world and our destructive thoughts and emotions. These negative minds create both immediate unhappiness and future suffering as well.

Underlying all of this is a fundamental ignorance, a fundamentally flawed way of perceiving reality. In Buddhism, this is called “self-grasping,” or “grasping at self-existence.” Since this is the case, the way to eliminate negative aspects of mind and the suffering they create is to see through the delusion of these mental processes and cultivate their opponent–the wisdom that is correct insight into the ultimate nature of reality. Through cultivating this insight and applying it as an antidote, we will be able to dispel the suffering and undesirable events in our lives.

[From Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment by H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama]

Jonang Lamrim – Part 7 (A Suggested Method)

Buddha Shakyamuni

Buddha Shakyamuni

For ease of reference I have created this post which can be used for the opening and closing of each of the lamrim contemplations in this series. This is the suggested order for each session:

  1. Homage
  2. Offering 
  3. Seven-Branch Prayer (3 x’s)
  4. Lineage Supplication
  5. Lamrim Contemplation
  6. Dedication of Merit

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Jonang Lamrim – Part 6 (A few words on cosmology)

[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]

The next section of Taranatha’s Essence of Ambrosia is titled,

The Freedom and Endowments of a Precious Human Life

This section consists of Contemplations 2 through 4 which are, Contemplation 2 – The Difficulty of Obtaining a Precious Human Life with its Freedoms and Endowments, Contemplation 3 – The Probability of Being Reborn Human and Contemplation 4 – Why This Human Life is Important. Before getting into what is meant by the various freedoms and endowments I feel it might be helpful to offer a very general overview of Buddhist cosmology coming from the Indo-Tibetan tradition, though also noting that most of this roots back to the Abhidharma (one of the Three Baskets of the Pali Canon) so is somewhat consistent here with the Theravada school as well.

This background is assumed in the text but may not be as familiar to all of the readers who visit this blog. Also note I am neither a scholar nor a monk. I am a student and lay-practitioner with only about 10 years of Dharma study and practice under my belt. For a more in-depth understanding I recommend contacting a qualified lama, monk and/or scholar. That said, I do make effort to stay informed and to share what I have learned with as much care and accuracy as is possible. Like any of the material here on Vajra Vehicle, all errors and/or omissions are mine alone. As mentioned elsewhere, please know I always welcome questions, feedback, critiques, corrections and/or suggestions. I invite you to comment if you are reading this and you have something you would like to share. In fact, this offer stands for all of the posts on this blog. Now, on to some cosmology…

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Jonang Lamrim – Part 5 (Contemplation 1)

[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]

To honor the copyright holder of the translation of Essence of Ambrosia I am using,  I will not simply be typing up all of the instructions from the book verbatim for the contemplations. Rather, I will be including select passages (under fair use) and then summarizing parts of the additional sections. I encourage anyone who wants to follow this Lamrim to 1) find a teacher and 2) buy the book. Yet it is my hope that this series will motivate some to actually engage in the Lamrim practices. These are sutra level meditations, open to all.

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Jonang Lamrim – Part 4 (Intro Contemplation 1)



[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]

Continuing with the theme of Contemplation 1 (Relying on a Spiritual Master)  from Taranatha’s Essence of Ambrosia, I thought it might be helpful to offer some insight from an outside source. Taranatha’s lamrim is concise compared to lamrims from other lineages (for example, Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, a much larger text with copious amounts of commentary). Taranatha appears to be aiming for a very practical text, like an instruction manual to guide students through various sequential meditations (each of the contemplations). It also appears that Taranatha anticipated lamas teaching this text to include supplemental material and additional background or instructions  We know this because in the text Taranatha offers various asides directed to the lamas – suggestions and so forth that they might incorporate into the teachings.

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Jonang Lamrim – Part 3 (Intro -Contemplation 1)



[This is part of an ongoing Lamrim series. All related posts can be found here.]

 Contemplation 1 – Relying on a Spiritual Master, the Root of All Paths

To rely on something means to have confidence in it, to consider it to be, well… reliable. This confidence is typically based on some kind of experience in which the thing has proven to be dependable.

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Jonang Lamrim – Part 2 (Intro Continued)

Essence of Ambrosia

[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.

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