From Here to Enlightenment

An Introduction to Tsong Khapa's Classic Text: The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

Author : Dalai Lama and translated and edited by Guy Newland

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Book Details

  • Publisher : Snow Lion Publications
  • Published : 2012
  • Cover : Hardback
  • Pages : 202
  • Size : 236 x 160mm
  • Category :
    Tibetan Buddhism: Gelug
  • Catalogue No : 24284
  • ISBN 13 : 9781559393829
  • ISBN 10 : 1559393823

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When the Dalai Lama was forced to go into exile in 1959 he could only take a few items with him. Among these cherished belongings was his copy of Lama Tsong Khapa's classic text, Lam rim Chenmo, or Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. This text distills all of the essential points of Tibetan Buddhism, clearly unfolding the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment. In 2008, celebrating the long awaited completion of the full English translation of Lam rim Chenmo, the Dalai Lama gave an historic six day teaching at Lehigh University, USA to explain the meaning of this great text to Westerners. In fact, underscoring its importance, it is the longest teaching that he has ever given to Westerners on just one text. Conversely, Westerners had never before had the opportunity to receive such a complete teaching that encompasses the totality of the Buddhist path from the Dalai Lama. From Here to Enlightenment makes this momentous event available for a wider general readership.

"Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path is one of the great classics of world spirituality. An encyclopedic work, it guides the reader from the contemplations of the novice to the most sublime meditations of the expert. The greatest living heir to the intellectual and spiritual legacy of Tsong Khapa, no one is better equipped to introduce readers to the Great Treatise than His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Deeply profound, and yet interspersed with the Dalai Lama's characteristic wit and humour, this book brings Tsong Khapa's book to life.Six hundred years may have elapsed since the writing of the Great Treatise, but the Dalai Lama shows how very relevant Tsong Khapa's thought is even in the twenty-first century." Jose Cabezon.

"Presents the first ever complete exposition by the Dalai Lama in the West of the great Tibetan classic Tsong Khapa's Great Treatise on the Path to Enlightenment. In producing this volume, Guy Newland has undertaken a fresh translation of the Dalai Lama's teachings with care, diligence, and insight, resulting in a rare work in English on Tibetan Buddhism that is lucid, engaging, and a real joy to read. I recommend anyone interested in engaging with Tsong Khapa's great classic to first read From Here to Enlightenment." Geshe Thubten Jinpa.

"Among the Dalai Lama's many pedagogical skills, one of the most impressive is his ability to provide compelling commentary on the classical treatises of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. Among Tibetan treatises, there is none more famous than Tsong Khapa's Lam Rim Chen Mo. Here, in ways that are at once accessible, insightful and illuminating, His Holiness sets forth a text that he has studied since he was a child in the Potala, a text he knows like no other." Donald Lopez.

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I AM HONORED to welcome this amazing book. In it, His Holiness the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet (b. 1935) gives a concise but comprehensive teaching of the quintessential instructions that are set forth in magnificent detail by Jey Rinpoche, Tsong Khapa Losang Drakpa (1357-1419) in his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Tsong Khapa wrote the work in 1402, in the fourth year after his complete enlightenment, high in the Yama-tongue Cave on the Oeudey Gungyal Mountain above the hermitage at Olkha, where he had spent his five-year retreat. During the subsequent years he was bent on only one thing—to fashion the liberative teachings of the Buddha and his numerous successors up to Atisha (982-1054) into a high-efficiency escalator of a path to enlightenment, accessible to the widest possible variety of human beings. In the beginning of the current century this great work was marvelously translated into English by the students of the Venerable Geshe Wangyal. To celebrate that work, in 2008 His Holiness came to the United States and gave an introduction to the practices, which is beautifully recorded in this From Here to Enlightenment. I was fortunate to be present at Lehigh University when that happened; but reading this book now, I am astounded at how much I missed at the time—it is like looking into a multifaceted clear jewel with a stronger magnifying glass: when the teaching is before you in a text you can see more shapely depths and more beautiflu reflections.

It gives you everything you need to enter upon the great stages of the path. Yet it is short and simple, never over the head of a beginner, while at the same time challenging the more experienced student into renewed inquiry and deeper insight and refinement. It is the kind of concise quintessence that could only be delivered by this truly great teacher of the potentials and realities of human wisdom and compassion.

At the beginning of the Great Stages, Tsong Khapa himself goes into the details of the greatness of the teaching it transmits, which he received from his illustrious predecessor, Atisha, through the seminal works Lamp of the Enlightenment Path and Stages of the Enlightenment Path, which were fundamental to the Kadam order of Tibetan Buddhism. One of the warrants of the greatness of a teaching is the greatness of the teacher, and Atisha’s greatness is clear from his biography, his huge impact on India and Tibet, and especially from the legacy he left in the form of the “Four-Square Path” to an authentic reception of the Buddha’s teachings. The corners of this square are: 1) all teachings are to be understood as free of contradictions; 2) all discourses take effect as practical instructions; 3) the Victor’s intention is thus easy to discover; and 4) thereby the abyss of abandoning the Dharma is avoided. A thousand years later this four-square path remains the surcfirc way to avoid sectarianism in Buddhism, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the living exemplar of staying fair and squarely on it, as he amply demonstrates in this precious work. His Holiness’ own practice, unclaimed but evident attainment, and careful, eloquent communication come clearly through this work and open wide the door for the student to embark on the Stages of the Great Path!

His Holiness begins by sharing his own three main life commitments: as a human being, upholding the essential human values of intelligence and compassion; as a Buddhist monk, who wholeheartedly embraces within the principles of the four-square path all the great religious traditions outside Buddhism, mentioning especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and even the spiritual traditions of secular humanism; and as a Tibetan, who seeks peaceful reconciliation with all people, reaching out with love and understanding especially to the Chinese people, who on an ordinary human level would count as Tibet’s worst enemies.

Further, within Buddhism, he explains how he respects as elder the Theravada teachings, which he calls the Pali tradition, and the Mahayana traditions, which he calls the Sanskrit tradition, within which he counts the Chinese Buddhists also as his elders. But then he proclaims both Tsong Khapa and himself to be heirs of the Indian Buddhist Nalanda University tradition, descending from Nagarjuna, Arya Asanga, and others, and shares with us the intense joy he derives from opportunities of teaching Indian students and returning their long lost intellectual and spiritual treasures to their minds and hearts: "I am especially moved, so very deeply touched, when I have the chance to give Buddhist teachings to Indian Buddhists. Everywhere in the world that I go to teach, my whole message is nothing but ancient Indian thought. That’s all there is. For example, the message of nonviolence, ahimsa—this is the Indian tradition. And everything I am teaching here about the path to enlightenment—this is the treasure of the Nalanda tradition. When I teach my Indian friends, I think of how we kept alive in Tibet the treasure that they largely lost over the centuries. It gives me an incredible feeling of happiness to return this to them."

Reading this passage forcefully reminded me about how urgently His Holiness (along with the late Geshe Wangyal) wants us all to see to the translation of the library of Nalanda University, the works of its great Pandita scholar/practitioners that are collected in the Tibetan Tengyur, into English, Chinese, and modern Indic and European languages. Finally, he acknowledges how Tsong Khapa’s Great Stages illuminates Atisha’s organization of the path, building on how it had already been beautifully deployed by the Kagyu master Gampopa (1079-1153), the Sakya master Sapan (1182-125 i), and the Nyingma master Longchenpa (1308-1364), thus showing the harmony between Tsong Khapa’s Great Stages and the core teachings of the other main Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

Turning to the actual tcachiiigs of the path, His Holiness goes through the whole set ot thcmcs that Atisha and Thong Khapa have drawn forth from the Sutras as central to the individual’s development: the preciousness of human life and its purpose, coarse and subtle impermanence and immediacy of death, the workings of karmic causality, the inevitability of suffering in the egoistic life-cycle, the magnificence and blissfulness of universal compassion as it opens up into the spirit of enlightenment of the bodhisattva, and the all-important highest teaching of the transcendent wisdom of selflessness, emptiness, and universal relativity (dependent origination or arising, and dependent designation). In all of this, chapter by chapter, he extracts the quintessence of each stage and shares it so generously in such a concise way; it is positively breathtaking in its precision and sweep. Periodically, just as he did when he personally delivered the teaching, he pauses and responds to big questions from typical students and practitioners, which very much adds to the accessibility of the ideas taught.

In the last few chapters, His Holiness works smoothly through the complexities of some of the main Centrist (Madhyamika) philosophers, such as Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti, Shantarakshita, and Tsong Khapa, and the subtleties of the dialectical (Prasangika) and dogmatic (Svãtantrika) interpretations of emptiness and the two realities, conventional and ultimate. He actually makes these topics clear and understandable, at least giving enough orientation to motivate the student to inquire further more deeply. And he ends with a hearty encouragement and the invitation to us all to undertake the journey on the path to our own Buddhahood, not just holding that out as something other people have, or some other great masters have attained, but urging us to aim for the inconceivably free and joyful way of being that we all have access to by developing the potential clear light blissful wisdom latent in the mind of each of us, whether we are Buddhist or not.

In conclusion, if the greatness of a teaching is important to motivate us to study it, and the greamess of its teacher is an important clue to that greatness, then the greatness of this world teacher, the Buddhist monk Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama, as exquisitely revealed in this concise and lucid hook, is a really important clue to the still unfailing vitality of these stages of the path to full enlightenment, helpful to open-minded people of all faiths or nonfaiths in the pluralistic spiritual culture of our world era.

Robert A. F. Thurman

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