The Importance of Lamrim Outlines by Dagpo Rinpoche
To achieve inner realisations of the spiritual path to enlightenment, it is necessary to learn, contemplate and meditate Lord Buddha’s teaching. As the Guide taught for 45 years and as he continually adapted his discourses to his listeners, his teaching is very extensive and diverse. Not to speak of all Buddha’s words, just those translated into the Tibetan language constitute a vast body of discourses – sutras and tantras – that is far too extensive for a person to be able to master each and every one.
Fortunately, a category of treatises called lamrim (stages of the path) sums up the very essence of the entire cannon and arranges it in the order in which it is to be practiced, making it readily usable. These works do not contain all the words of the cannon but they do embody their essential meaning. To master a lamrim it is vital to familiarize your mind with its outline or synopsis (“sapchey” in Tibetan).
Such outlines not only provide all the material to meditate, the also present it in the precise sequence to be followed. Furthermore, they give the exact nature of each quality to be achieved and provide the correct number of points to contemplate with respect to any given topic. By thoroughly acquainting yourself with a lamrim’s outline, you can hope to fully accomplish the stages of the path to enlightenment.
Once the structure provided by an outline for training on the spiritual path is firmly anchored in your mind, no matter what expositions of the teaching you hear or which works on Buddhism you read, you will know exactly where the material covered fits in the greater scheme of your spiritual development. When you hear an explanation of the four noble truths, for example, you will be able to place it in the context of the path shared with beings of intermediate capacity and add what you hear to what you have already understood of the topic.
To better understand an outline’s role an analogy can be drawn with the organization of a kitchen. Once you have arranged your kitchen or pantry so that there is a fixed place for everything and even possibly specific containers for each foodstuff, things become easy. When you come home from shopping you know where everything goes. Later, when you prepare your food, you know exactly where to find each item and everything is ready for use. If you lack such an organization and you bundle all your foodstuffs into a single container, e.g. flour, eggs, tea, salt, they become unusable. It is the same for spiritual knowledge.
Reprinted with permission from Dagpo Rinpoche’s Preface to The Precious Master’s Instructions by Kyabje Pabongkha Dorje Chang. Translated by Rosemary Patton under the guidance of Dagpo Rinpoche. Editions Guepele (France) December 2005.
A brief Lamrim outline
The following is an extremely brief outline of the major topics of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.
1. Preeminent qualities of the compilers
2. Preeminent qualities of the teachings
3. How the teachings should be studied and taught
4. How to guide students to enlightenment
4. A. How to rely on spiritual teachers as the root of the path
1. What to do during the actual session
a. 6 preparatory practices
b. How to cultivate reliance on our teachers
c. How to conclude the session
2. What to do between sessions to develop reliance on our teachers
4. B. Stages for training the mind
1. Being persuaded to take advantage of our precious human life
2. How to take advantage of our precious human life
A. Training our minds in the stages in common with a person of initial motivation striving for the happiness of future lives
1. Taking an interest in benefiting future lives
a. Remembering death
b. Advantages and disadvantages of 2 kinds of rebirth
2. Methods for benefiting future lives
a. Taking refuge
b. Conviction in actions and their effects
B. Training our minds in the stages in common with a person of intermediate motivation striving for liberation from cyclic existence (Contemplating the Four Noble Truths)
1. Developing an interest in liberation
a. Purpose for proclaiming truth of suffering first
b. Meditation on suffering
2. Becoming convinced of the nature of the path
a. Causes of suffering
3. Leaving the body and taking rebirth
b. Actually becoming convinced of path to liberation
1. The kind of body with which we can break out of samsara
2. The kind of path with which we can break out of samsara
C. Training our minds in the stages of a person of higher motivation – striving for enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings
1. Advantages of bodhicitta
2. How to develop bodhicitta
a. Actual stages
b. How to take bodhisattva vows
3. Engaging in bodhisattvas’ conduct
a. General conduct
1. Six perfections
2. Four ways of gathering students
b. Practicing the last two perfections
1. Calm abiding
2. Special insight
c. Special path of tantra
More detailed Lamrim outlines
The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: The Lam Rim Chen Mo by Tsong Khapa. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Snow Lion/Shambhala Publications.
Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment by Pabongka Rinpoche / Trijang Rinpoche. Translated by Michael Richards. Wisdom Publications. Download a PDF of the outline here.
Guided Meditations on the Stages of the Path by Ven. Thubten Chodron, Snow Lion/Shambhala Publications, which contains a Lamrim outline and a CD with recordings of guided Lamrim meditations. Download a PDF of the outline here.
Lam-Rim Outlines: Extended Beginners’ Meditation Guide complied by Ven. Karin Valham, Wisdom Publications.