Friday, August 13, 2010

Experiencing the Lam Rim

In the latest FPMT news highlight, it was mentioned that Lama Zopa Rinpoche said that FPMT students had studied a lot of Lam Rim and it is time they experience the Lam Rim. I totally welcome such advice by Rinpoche. And I am particularly intrique that he uses the word "experience". It is interesting that he used the word because traditionally the word used is realising the Lam Rim. However, from my own experience sharing and talking dharma with people in Buddhist forums especially, some Buddhists have a misunderstanding of the word "realisation". They mistaken this word for "attainment" and think that it is a level almost impossible for ordinary people to achieve, at least not without going through rigorous meditation retreats and other practices. Actually the two words are not the same, although in other contexts it could also mean "attainment". Therefore, I think that it demonstrates Rinpoche's vast wisdom to use the word "experience" instead.

For "realisation of Lam Rim" to happen or in order to experience the Lam Rim, you do not need such high levels of practices. You only need persistence and consistency in doing each step of the Graduated Path properly. If you only hurriedly go through the sentences in the Lam Rim long, medium or short vesions, then it will not result in experiencing the Lam Rim. Most Tibetan Buddhists of any Lam Rim tradition (note: whether one calls it "Lam Rim" or another name is besides the point) do not even know there is such thing as experiencing the Lam Rim, much less to even experience it. And without experiencing the Lam Rim, they have even gone on to practicing the higher Vajrayana tantric practices. Clearly this is already not following the advice in Lam Rim. But there are some masters who allow this to happen because in this degenerate age, if the strict rules are not relaxed (important pre-conditions of having Lam Rim experience before taking the tantric practices are not so emphasised nowadays), there may be many higher practices that will eventually not have a single practitioner at all. It will mean the tradition or lineage of that practice will be dead. Would you rather see the lineage practice dead (even though the texts might survice but if there are no expert gurus to teach it to you, you will unlikely to master it) or to disemminate the practice lineage properly according to traditional ways, without any relaxation of rules/steps? It is a case of choosing either the devil or the deep blue sea, if you ask me. I have no answer to this. But for me personally, I still have a choice. It's not like I don't. I can still experience the Lam Rim, at least a little bit, before embarking on the higher practices. For others, Lam Rim seems to be basic, boring stuff. They are more attraced to six yogas of Naropa, Vajrakilaya practices and they can't wait to start practicing Dzogchen, Mahamudra and even dakini practices. In actual fact. Lam Rim is the road map to Buddhahood itself, no matter what specialised practice you engage in later. You always must come back and refer to the road map to make sure you are still on-track and have not gone down the wrong road. In fact the advice by the Gelug masters before practising tantra is to have the experience of the three principle aspects of the path, i.e. renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness. Remember, all you need is the experience of these three, not the attainment of emptiness. For example, when you see the faults of samsara in a direct profound way and consistently seek to liberate from it, then you have achieved the experience of renunciation. Even a little bit of it is good before embarking on the basic Kriya tantric practice. And a more stabilised experience of these three is preferable before embarking on the highest yoga tantra.

But what does it mean to experience the Lam Rim? As far as I know, in the beginning stages of Lam Rim, experiencing the Lam Rim can make a person feel very down and also it could be a frightening experience. Once you have experienced it, in the beginning it comes to you from time to time in flashes while awake as well as in dreams while asleep. If it is frightening experience, especially when experiencing the tortures of hell, you will wake up screaming and in cold sweat! This is not a joke. When you experience the impermanence of the human life, you will have a deep feeling that everything you do is unimportant anymore because you are going to die soon. Sometimes this will lead you to just sit and do nothing, or it will spur you to be more determined to do your dharma practices. These Lam Rim experiences could affect your daily emotions. So, be careful and deal with it by swifting your focus to experience the bodhicitta for all sentient beings! , swift your attention to focus on empiness. That's another reason why we need all three principle aspects fo the path. You need to experience it to know what I am talking about. I know about it because I have read it somewhere. :)

Even though these experiences could be scary and affect our emotions, but these are the important stages for us who are treading the Lam Rim path to go through. If you skip all these experiences, and embark straight to the high tantric yogas, you will not have the necessary basic grounding "protection" to avoid a possible downfall. I could be wrong but I personally regard these Lam Rim experiences as the true protectors in one's Buddhist practice (no matter what practice we do). There is less likelihood for one to go astray in the cultivation path if one has eperienced the Lam Rim. Even if without any attainments at the end of one's life, these Lam Rim expereinces (once stabilised in one's mind-stream), your life will not be wasted away in vain. Whatever Lam Rim you have experienced will be deeply embedded in the far-reaches of your consciousness. It will not disappear until you reach you goal of Buddhahood.

How do you gain Lam Rim realisations? As adviced in the Lam Rim texts, do the contemplative meditation for each step of the Lam Rim. I believe there are many books available on this and many gurus who will be willing to teach it to you and so I need not elaborate here. During the time of Pabongkha Rinpoche, he was asked by his guru to do contemplative meditation on a single topic for many months and only proceeded if he has some experience. That is how he became so good in the Lam Rim teachings. And that is also why I totally believed in his atttainments. Yes, now I am using the correct word "attainment". So let's work hard together to get some experience of Lam Rim, ok? Cheers and have a good day!

No comments: