A PATH OF IRREVERSIBLE TRANSFORMATION
A middle way between extremes
Many of the world’s great religions speak of the path, or the way, to salvation, liberation, or enlightenment. The foundation of Buddhist teaching can be expressed in terms of the Four Noble Truths, the fourth of which is the Truth of the Path. It was for the sake of finding the path to complete and irreversible freedom from suffering and its inner causes that Gautama left his royal palace at the age of twenty-nine and suffered many austerities before he discovered the “middle way”—free from the extremes of sensual indulgence and severe asceticism. Following in his footsteps over the ensuing centuries, Buddhists have sought to reach the path to liberation and enlightenment, and to proceed along that path to its culmination.
Living and practicing in accord with Dharma
Within the context of leading a virtuous life, Buddhism emphasizes the theme of practicing “Dharma,” a term lacking ready translation into any European language. Devoting oneself to the practice of Dharma entails embracing a worldview, forms of meditation, and a disciplined form of conduct, all of which lead to a sustainable, genuine sense of well-being.
A Dharma-based worldview is one that is in accord with reality, specifically with respect to the true nature of suffering, the inner causes of suffering, the nature of freedom from suffering and its causes, and the path to such freedom (which together comprise the “Four Noble Truths”).
Meditation here refers to a wide array of methods for cultivating exceptional levels of mental health and well-being through training in mindfulness, samadhi (or meditative concentration), and enthusiastic effort.
Dharma-based conduct entails following a way of life that is in accord with one’s authentic worldview and that supports and nurtures the meditative cultivation of one’s mind.
By devoting one’s life to the practice of Dharma—that is, by arousing a steadfast motivation to reach the path of irreversible transformation towards liberation, by balancing one’s mind through the cultivation of deep samadhi, and by gaining key insights into the nature of the mind and reality as a whole—one eventually reaches the Path (Sanskrit, marga). Then one can proceed steadily towards the fulfillment of one’s timeless longing for freedom and transcendence, and never—in this life or any future lifetime—fall back into the endless, meaningless cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death.
A stable mind
But what does it take to actually reach this irreversible Path? According to millennia of Buddhist teachings, one of the indispensable prerequisites for reaching such a path is the development of a clear and stable mind. Full achievement of this state allows one to maintain key insights without letting them fade. This mental stability supports the various practices and qualities required to reach any given path.
The lineage emphasized in our Centers for Contemplative Research, the lineage of the 19th-century Tibetan visionary, Düdjom Lingpa, follows the Mahayana Path. To reach this particular path, along which one gathers, or “accumulates,” the vast merit necessary to gain unwavering insight into the ultimate nature of reality, it is said that one must first develop uncontrived bodhicitta.
An uncontrived resolve
This bodhicitta, or the resolve to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, is a state of mind that can, with effort, be developed incrementally. But for it to become uncontrived, that is, arise spontaneously as the undercurrent and motivation for all one’s activities, whether waking or sleeping, one must first gain a very stable state of mind. Practically, how could one maintain such a vast and extraordinarily benevolent state of mind in a steady stream, if one’s mind had not yet achieved a profound degree of stability through freedom from the five obscurations, namely, hedonism, ill-will, laxity-and-dullness, excitation-and-anxiety, and afflictive uncertainty?
Thus, in order to realize and sustain uncontrived bodhicitta, one must first attain the crystal clear, blissful, and nonconceptual state of concentration known as shamatha, by which those five obscurations are subdued, and a subtler dimension of consciousness is accessed. This is the aforementioned stability of mind, the indispensable foundation for reaching any path.
As discussed in the section on the inner and outer prerequisites for attaining shamatha, in order to realize such a clear and stable state of mind throughout one’s waking and sleeping hours, one must dwell within conducive conditions for intensive, single-pointed practice. Optimally, one should practice in a state of silent retreat, withdrawn from distractions such as sensory and conceptual stimulation.
A unique emphasis
It is one of the principal goals of the Centers for Contemplative Research to provide such conducive conditions, where dedicated contemplatives may practice single-pointedly with the aspiration and intention to reach such an irreversible Path, and then travel along that Path, into higher and higher realizations of the Great Vehicle (or Mahayana). While the full achievement of shamatha (technically, “access to the first dhyana”) is indispensable for reaching the Path, it is commonly overlooked or marginalized in Buddhist practice today. In our CCRs we emphasize the practice of shamatha, complemented by the cultivation of the four immeasurables—compassion, loving-kindness, empathetic joy, and impartiality—as our approach to reaching the Path and following it to its culmination in perfect enlightenment.
Listen to a teaching on the importance of reaching the Path:
Merging Mind and Space and The Importance of a Genuine Path