The Beliefs and Practice of Lamrim Meditation
In studying Eastern religions and beliefs, one may come across Tibetan Buddhism and its many complex doctrines. In Tibetan Buddhism, a human being’s main purpose is to achieve Buddhahood, a state of existence that is liberated from attachment, anger, confusion, and jealousy. A true Buddha also strives to help all other sentient beings achieve this enlightenment. One way of spreading this philosophy and leading this way of life is through the practice of Lamrim.
What is Lamrim meditation?
Literally meaning “stages of the path,” the Lamrim is a step-by-step guide into becoming a Bodhisattva. It is said that through the mastery of the Lamrim, a person liberates himself from all suffering and achieves peace like no other, a peace that cannot be changed or broken. Lamrim meditation is a set of instructions that has led many to enlightenment as it combines the Hinayana and Mahayana teachings in one single practice. By lovingly, patiently, and joyfully practicing Lamrim, the reins of suffering and pain shall be removed and we will be set free.
What does Lamrim meditation teach?
There are three kinds of persons according to Atiśa (or Atisha) as he introduces the Lamrim. Human beings are classified based on the motivation of their spiritual practice. There are those of modest motive, which refers to people who wish to be rebirthed into better lives. On the other hand, those of medium motive seek peace and abandonment of earthly desires. This motive speaks about personal liberation, while the last one is more universal in nature. Those with high motives have reflected on their lives and their own suffering and therefore aim to liberate all other beings of any suffering.
While there are many versions and elaborations of the Lamrim by Atiśa, teachers of Tibetan Buddhism stay true to the 11th-century text called “A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment.” This text serves exactly as that: a lamp for those who find the Path darker, more mysterious and longer than expected. With this guide, many are helped to achieve enlightenment or to at least stay on the Sacred Path. It is also based on this text that many ways to practice Lamrim meditations is grounded upon.
The Lamrim is a gradual and steady guide for those who want to be awakened. It recognizes the tediousness of the process of enlightenment but believes that it can be achieved through consistent practice. Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyasto, a founder of an international Buddhist union of Kadampa Buddhism, lists down 21 meditations typically covered in a three-week cycle of daily meditations. It starts with recognizing “Our precious human life” and ends with “Relying upon a Spiritual Guide.”
Also, in a book entitled “Guided Meditations on the Lamrim: The Gradual Path to Enlightenment,” Venerable Thubten Chodron begins her guide with an explanation of Buddhist philosophies for those who are not familiar the culture. The first 3 meditations in the book introduce the concepts of attachment, the nature of the mind, and the cycle of life. You can read more about Venerable Thubten Chodron here.
What does the initial level practitioner or modest motive person focus on?
Lamrim meditation for the initial level practitioner begins with an introspection of one’s life and actions. It is a time to question one’s purpose and to reflect on how fortunate one is to be human. The guide also discusses our worldly concerns and attachments to things like praise and approval, sensual pleasures, material possessions and so on. The Lamrim teaches us how these things are the root of our suffering. Practitioners are then asked to contemplate on their mortality, the inevitability, and uncertainty of death. It also discusses karma and what things can be destructive to one’s purification. The Lamrim also teaches about constructive actions and how one can own up to mistakes with regret but without guilt. Through this initial level, we become at peace with our humanity and repair the damages we have caused in the past. By doing so, we prepare ourselves for high rebirth or for the next level of spiritual practice.
What does a middle-level practitioner or medium motive person learn from Lamrim?
The second level of Lamrim meditation teaches us of the cycle of life: how one suffers from it and how to gain determination to free oneself from this cycle, with the end goal being liberation–the Buddhist concept of nirvana. Medium motive persons contemplate on the difficulties we experience during birth, death, separation, disappointment, and being the effects of our own karma. It also teaches the causes of this cyclical life and the antidotes that lead to real awakening. The second level prepares those who meditate with the Lamrim for the highest level by teaching the importance of equanimity. That means caring about all creatures without any bias or attachment, equally and unequivocally.
What does one attain as a high-level practitioner or high motive person?
High-level practitioners of Lamrim meditation recognize all other beings and himself as creatures seeking happiness. It teaches how the self and others are one and the same, and how every sentient being has extended us kindness all our lives. With this realization must come gratitude, peace, compassion and, above all, love. The ultimate goal and the only way to happiness is to extend love to all beings, may they be strangers, animals or creatures from other realms of existence. Bodhisattvas also seek to eliminate any form of suffering experienced by anyone or anything and are determined to live and breathe love and compassion. Only then, from this altruistic intention (or bodhicitta), can one begin the journey to being fully enlightened.
The next meditations of the Lamrim focus on the far-reaching attitudes of generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom. Through these steps, one realizes the value of courage to achieve joy, the fluidity of all things and the non-existence of the self.
Finally, the Lamrim also recognizes the importance of having a Spiritual Mentor, especially for Westerners unfamiliar with Buddhism. While this part originally came before the other meditations in the Lamrim, in modern times, it is essential to study the previous meditations and understand the philosophies of Buddhism before seeking a mentor. One important thing to do when choosing a Spiritual Guide is having a good relationship with your mentor. Without a guide, one’s cyclic existence will keep on regenerating. One must, therefore, find another person who will teach him as Buddha himself would and must practice their mentor’s teachings with reverence.
Lamrim meditation is a process that cannot be simply defined through words. One can read about and study Lamrim as often and as deeply as they want. However, only consistent practice and the application of its concepts to daily life can make one fully absorb its ideology and lead to a truly enlightened life.