Finding a Shift

by Lim Han Nee

8 May 2009 - 7:02pm Comments Off

The Lamrim, the “Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”, contains all 84,000 teachings of Lord Buddha, as he gave them more than 2,500 years ago. Lord Buddha gave 84,000 teachings to address the 84,000 mental afflictions of sentient beings, which are the root causes of our suffering.

Over the years, the teachings have continued to reach out and to be made accessible to the minds of all beings with our different dispositions and capacities.

These teachings have come down to us, in an unbroken lineage, from Buddha Shakyamuni to the great Indian pandit, Atisha (who compiled the 84,000 teachings by combining the two lineages – the Wisdom lineage of Nagarjuna and the Method lineage of Asanga – into his concise work called the “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment”). It was Atisha who had brought Buddha’s teachings to Tibet and it was there, in Tibet, that he wrote this first Lamrim text.

The unbroken lineage of the Lamrim was passed to the great Tibetan scholar and teacher, Je Tsongkhapa, who elaborated on Atisha’s text to enable the people of his time to understand the profound text. He wrote three versions of the Lamrim – the Great Lamrim, the Middling Lamrim and the Short Lamrim. From Lama Tsongkhapa, the Lamrim lineage came down to Pabongka Rinpoche, to H.H. Zong Rinpoche and to our Lama, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche.

With the blessings of our Lama, the first Lamrim class was held in March 2008. The Lamrim course is conducted by Mr Ngeow Voon Chin, Liaison of the Kechara House Education Committee, with the assistance of members of the committee. The course takes us on a step-by-step Dharma path from the Preliminaries and Initial Scope, through the Middle/ Intermediate Scope, to the Great Scope. The goal of the Initial or Lower Scope practitioner is to be free from rebirth in the Lower Realms of samsara; that of the Intermediate Scope is liberation from the cycle of rebirths in samsara; and that of the Mahayana Great Scope is to attain full Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.

Each weekly class is structured in the following way: We begin with a short prayer and guided meditation on the previous week’s topic, followed by reading and explanation from the Lamrim text and course notes, and then by listening to our Lama’s video teachings on that week’s Lamrim topic. Then, we have a cell-group discussion and end with recitation of the Dedication prayers.

How and Why the Lamrim Class Means So Much to Me

As the lotus unfolds its radiance
From bud to bloom,
So too does the mind open itself
To the precious Dharma.

A Dharma course, like the Lamrim, is totally unlike an academic course such as a degree course in English Literature, or a professional course such as an MA in Education. I came to this realisation somewhere at the start of this personal experiential journey that Mr Ngeow was taking us on. As Mr Ngeow took us through the paces of meditation, with the previous week’s topic as the object of our meditation, and through the explanation and discussion on the current week’s topic that followed, it slowly dawned on me that each Lamrim class was setting the “focus” of our Dharma practice for that week.

Initially when Mr Ngeow repeatedly and consistently urged us, in meditation, to “mix the mind” with the object of meditation, my mind was still too distracted to stay still, focus and absorb this. But slowly, after much meditative reflection and examination of the mind in between Lamrim classes, the mind is now starting to still itself and open up to this “mixing of the mind” spiritual exercise.

As we continue our Dharma journey into the intermediate scope of the Lamrim, this practice of constantly examining the mind is beginning to take its hold in me. I know it will take a long time before I can see the self for what it really is and only then will I be free of the subtly insidious yet steel-like grip of “self- grasping” which is the root cause of all my heartaches and my problems. Yet I have made a start, even though it is just a brief glimpse of the real self every now and then, when in meditative repose.

In the Lamrim class, every question asked elicits different responses. Mr Ngeow has explained that our responses reflect our level of realisation of the Dharma. It has been a humbling experience for me to have given simplistic responses most of the time. The time of sharing Dharma in cell-group discussions is taken to a new level when each of us learns to be open and accepting of others’ views and not to be arrogant and to cling to our views as the best one.

Altogether, I am happy that I decided to make attending the weekly Lamrim class my commitment. I feel that my mind has opened up and there is a slow (though mostly imperceptible) shift away from centering on the self.

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