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]


Vajradhara and 84 Mahasiddhas

“According to the great Tibetan scholar Lama Taranatha (sixteenth to seventeenth century) in his ‘History of Buddhism in India’, Vajrayana Buddhism can already be located in the time of Nagarjuna (first to second century) in the jungles of India, among a small group of isolated and anonymous meditators who followed this path to realization. These masters, known as siddhas (‘perfected ones’), were practitioners of the unconventional traditions of highest or innermost tantras. According to Lama Taranatha, these masters passed their lineages of practice and realization to only one or perhaps a very few disciples. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche says that ‘the Tantras of the Inner Yanas, the highest teachings of Buddhism, were introduced into India under the strictest secrecy.’ By the eighth century, we hear of the existence of eighty-four mahasiddhas, or ‘great siddhas’, who lived throughout India, following the Vajrayana traditions, and who taught, performed wonders, and transmitted the Vajrayana teachings to chosen disciples. As we shall presently see, the siddhas played a central role in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet, and subsequently Tibetan siddhas carried on the teachings of their Indian counterparts in the Tibetan environment down to the present.

“The siddhas were men and women who, in their pretantric lives, often found themselves in situations of great distress, dislocation, and suffering. For them, as for Gautama Buddha, ordinary life held no hope of relief and no ultimate promise of satisfaction. Typically, they encountered a guru who accepted them as disciples and admitted them into Vajrayana practice through the abhisheka, or initiation liturgy. Subsequently, they spent many years practicing intensively. Sometimes their practice was carried out in cremation grounds or in solitary retreat. At other times it was carried out in the world, but secretly. Tantric gurus were known for their uncompromising and even ruthless approach to the spiritual path. Not infrequently they would place their disciples in difficult or degraded circumstances to teach them the renunciation of comfort, status, and security, and to free their minds for the ultimate. Eventually, their tutelage complete, the disciples attained realization and themselves became known as siddhas.

“The siddhas often brought their realization back into the world, where they pursued ordinary lives as men and women lay practitioners, representing all levels of society, working as kings, scholars, blacksmiths, sweepers, and so on. In this way, they used ‘ordinary life’ as the vehicle for their teaching and the transmission of their lineages. The eighty-four siddhas sometimes remained anonymous, appearing as unexceptional, unspiritual people within conventional society. At other times they exhibited their realization in shocking and unconventional ways. Sometimes they were called crazy (nyonpa), referring to their uncompromising expression of ultimate wisdom and compassion within conventional society, behavior that seemed ‘crazy’ by ordinary standards.”

[From Indestructible Truth – The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism by Reginald Ray]

Essence of the Tathagatas

Jestsun Taranatha

Jestsun Taranatha

“So, from primordial time, all that is ultimately consumed within the exalted dimensions, types of pristine awareness, qualities, and enlightened activities abides within the essence of the tathgatas. When someone becomes a Buddha, these are not then newly acquired but are merely separated from the defilements that have eclipsed them.”

[From The Essence of Zhentong by Jetsun Taranatha]

In other words, according to this teaching the innate quality of your mind is ultimate clarity, or Awakeness. However, for most of us this Awakeness is obstructed by habitual patterns, conditioning, and various forms of obscuration. This situation has been likened to a mirror covered in dust and grime. The mirror is there beneath the dust. Wipe the dust away, and the mirror will shine forth.

According to this teaching, buddha-nature is not something you presently lack, and can later acquire. Buddha-nature is something you already have, it is the very essence of your mind. The difference between ordinary beings and fully enlightened buddhas is that the latter have removed the obstructions that prevent this Awakeness from shining forth. This is a task of Dharma practice, to remove the obstructions and obscurations. There are innumerable methods available for doing this, applicable to beings of different capacities and dispositions.


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 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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Jonang Lamrim – Part 1 (Intro)

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

I have been attending teachings from  Khenpo Choejor Gyamtso on Jetsun Taranatha’s ‘Essence of Ambrosia‘ – the principle lamrim text of the Jonang lineage. I have decided to begin a new series of posts dedicated to this topic. I feel this will aid me in reviewing the teachings as well as perhaps benefiting others by sharing some of my reflections here.

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I tend toward the view that lineage is important. While I consider myself a non-sectarian, and by this I mean that I will not disparage any of the authentic schools of Buddhadharma (Theravada, Zen, Mahayana/Vajrayana, Pure Land, Tendai, Shingon and others), or even other traditions for that matter (as long as they do not cause harm to others or breed things like hatred, etc), I have found that in my own practice and ongoing relationship with the Dharma, I have been extremely blessed by the lineage I consider my spiritual home – the Jonang.

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