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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 47 t Stepping-stones to Wisdom tulku thondup explains how a simple candle offering lays the ground for enlightenment. THE ATTAINMENT of enlightenment requires that we perfect the twofold paths or trainings. The first training deals with “skillful means,” practices to accumulate merit, such as meditation on compas- sion, devotion, and serving others. Skillful means include, among other trainings, countless rituals and forms, ranging from a simple candle offering to the intricate performances of a feast ceremony. The second training has to do with “wisdom”— meditations to realize and perfect wisdom, the emp- tiness nature. To realize wisdom, we must transcend rituals and concepts. Unfortunately, this has led some students to belittle rituals, and indeed all skillful means, as peripheral to what they see as the essence of Bud- dhism. However, as Longchen Rabjam says, “With- out skillful means, wisdom will not arise.” Skillful means are essential to attain buddhahood. But they are also not enough. The great saint-poet Saraha wrote: The realization of emptiness without compassion Will never lead you along the sublime path. But meditation on compassion alone Will leave you [in samsara] and also not lead you to liberation. Trainings on skillful means and wisdom are not opposites like fire and water but symbiotic like heat and moisture for a spiritual harvest. We need both, just as birds need two wings to fly. As long as we are enslaved by afflicting emo- tions, even if we think that we have realized emp- tiness, we would be mistaken. Dromtonpa once asked his teacher, Jowoje, about the highest dharma teaching of all; Jowoje answered, “Emptiness with the essence of compassion.” Dromtonpa then asked how it could be possible that many meditators, even though they claim to have realized emptiness, are still driven by hatred and anger. Jowoje replied that such claims were empty. “Had they realized true emptiness,” he said, “their body, speech, and mind would be gentle—like a cotton ball.” If we try to meditate on emptiness without train- ing in skillful means, we risk merely falling into the absence of thoughts. This is a neutral state that neither generates merit nor leads to wisdom. Kamalashila says, “to not think anything is to aban- don wisdom, whose very character is pure discern- ment.” Patrul Rinpoche writes, Gazing one pointedly with subtle grasping; Resting in a neutral state, a state of blankness; And engaging in conceptual labeling – Such meditations are, I would think, faulty, my heart sons. That’s why I believe that it is more important for me, as a beginner, to focus on skillful means, for they are the stepping-stones to realize wisdom. Certainly, rituals performed without appreciation have little effect. An example is offering a candle before a Buddha image merely because our ances- tors did but without any dharmic understanding. Also, rituals that are driven by ego or result in con- flict and confusion can become demeritorious—this can be true even of building temples or wearing robes. We need to watch our motivation. Once, Ban Gung-gyal was expecting visitors, so he arranged some nice offerings at his altar to impress them. Catching himself, he threw a handful of dust across the offerings in self-disgust. Hearing this, the great Phadampa remarked, “Of all the materials ever offered in Tibet, Ban’s fistful of dust is the best.” Tulku THONDuP RINPOCHe was born in east Tibet and trained from childhood at Dodrupchen Monastery. A former visiting scholar at Harvard university, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the author of Boundless Healing and Masters of Meditation and Miracles. michaelKrigsman Form vs essence