The Middle Stages of Meditation

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By ACHARYA KAMALASHILA

In the words of the Superior Nagarjuna,

If you wish to attain the unsurpassed enlightenment
For yourself and the world,
The root is generation of an altruistic thought
Which is stable and firm like a mountain,
An all-embracing compassion
And a transcended wisdom free of duality.
Homage to the youthful Manjushri.

I shall briefly explain the stages of meditation for those who
follow the system of Mahayana Sutras. The intelligent who wish to actualize omniscience extremely
quickly should make a deliberate effort to fulfil its causes and conditions.
It is not possible for omniscience to the produced without causes, because if it were everything
could always be omniscient. If things were produced without reliance on something else, they could
exist without constraint – there would be no reason why everything could not be omniscient.
Therefore, since all functional things arise only occasionally, they depend strictly on their causes.
Omniscience too is rare because it does not occur at all times and in all places, and everything
cannot become omniscient. Therefore, it definitely depends on causes and conditions.
Also from among these causes and conditions, you should cultivate correct and complete causes. If
you put the wrong causes into practice, even if you work hard for a long time, the desired goal
cannot be achieved. It will be like milking a (cow´s) horn. Likewise, the result will not be produced
when all the causes are not put into effect. For example, if the seed or any other cause is missing,
then the result, a sprout, and so forth, will not be produced. Therefore, those who desire a particular
result should cultivate its complete and unmistaken causes and conditions.
If you ask, ” What are the causes and conditions of the final fruit of omniscience?” I, who am like a
blind man, may not be in a position to explain (by myself), but I shall employ the Buddha`s own
words just as he spoke them to his disciples after his enlightenment. He said, “Vajrapani, Lord of
Secrets, The transcendental wisdom of omniscience has its root in compassion, arises from a cause –
the altruistic thought, the awakening mind of bodhicitta and the perfection of skilful means.”
Therefore, if you are interested in achieving omniscience, you need to practice these three:
compassion, the awakening mind of bodhicitta and skilful means.
Moved by compassion, Bodhisattvas take the vow to liberate all sentient beings.
Then by overcoming their self-centered outlook, they engage eagerly and continuously in the very
difficult practises of accumulating merits and insights.
Having entered into this practice they will certainly complete the collection of merits and insights.
Accomplishing the accumulation of merit and insight is like having omniscience, itself in the palm
of your hand. Therefore, since compassion is the only root of omniscience, you should become
familiar with this practice from the very beginning.
The Compendium of Perfect Dharma reads, “O Buddha, a Bodhisattva should not train in many
practices. If a Bodhisattva properly holds to one Dharma and learns perfectly, he has all the
Kamalashila – The Middle Stages of Meditation
Buddha`s qualities in the palm of his hand. And, if you ask what that one Dharma is, it is great
compassion. ”
The Buddhas have already achieved all their own goals, but remain in the cycle of existence for as
long as there are sentient beings. This is because they possess great compassion. They also do not
enter the immensely blissful abode of nirvana like the Hearers. Considering the interests of sentient
beings first, they abandon the peaceful abode of nirvana as if it were a burning iron house.
Therefore, great compassion alone is the unavoidable cause of the non-abiding Nirvana of the
Buddha.
The way to meditate on compassion will be taught from the outset. Begin the practice by meditating
on equanimity. Try to actualize impartiality towards all sentient beings by eliminating attachment
and hatred.
All sentient beings desire happiness and do not desire misery. Think deeply about how, in this
beginningless cycle of existence, there is not one sentient being who has not been my friend and
relative hundreds of times. Therefore, since there is no ground for being attached to some and
hating others, I shall develop a mind of equanimity towards all sentient beings.
Begin the meditation on equanimity by thinking of neutral person and then consider people who are
friends and foes.
After the mind has developed equanimity towards all sentient beings meditate on loving-kindness.
Moisten the mental continuum with the water of loving-kindness and prepare it as you would a
piece of fertile ground. When the seed of compassion is planted in such a mind, germination will be
swift, proper and complete. Once you have irrigated the mind stream with loving-kindness,
meditate on compassion.
The compassionate mind has the nature of wishing all suffering beings to be free from suffering.
Meditate on compassion for all sentient beings, because the beings in the three realms of existence
are intensely tortured by the three types of sufferings in various forms. The Buddha has said that
heat and other types of pain constantly torture beings in the hells for a very long time. He has also
said that hungry ghosts are scorched by hunger and thirst and experience immense physical
suffering. We can also see animals suffering in many miserable ways: they eat each other, become
angry, and are hurt and killed. We can see human beings too experiencing various acute kinds of
pain. Not able to find what they want, they are resentful and harm each other. They suffer the pain
of losing the beautiful things they want and confronting the ugly things they want, as well as the
pain of poverty.
There are those whose minds are bound by various fetters of disturbing emotions like craving
desire. Others are in turmoil with different types of wrong views. These are all causes of misery,
therefore they are only in intense pain like being on a precipice.
Gods suffer the misery of change. For example, signs of impending death and their fall to
unfortunate states constantly oppress the minds of gods of the desire realm. How can they live in
peace ?
Pervasive misery is what arises under the power of causes characterized by actions and disturbing
emotions. It has the nature and characteristics of momentary disintegration and pervades all
wandering beings.
Therefore, see all wandering beings as immersed in a great fire of misery. Think that they are all
like you in not desiring misery at all: Alas! All my beloved sentient beings are in such pain. What
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can I do to set them free ? and make their sufferings your own. Whether you are engaged in onepointed
meditation or pursuing your ordinary activities, meditate on compassion at all times,
focusing on all sentient beings and wishing that they all be free from suffering.
Begin by meditating on your friends and relatives. Recognize how they experience the various
sufferings that have been explained.
Then having seen all sentient beings as equal with no difference between them, you should meditate
on sentient beings to whom you are indifferent. When the compassion you feel towards them is the
same as you feel toward your friends and relatives, meditate of the universe.
Just as the mother responds to her small, beloved and suffering child, when you develop a
spontaneous and equal sense of compassion towards all sentient beings, you have perfected the
practice of compassion. And this is known as great compassion.
Meditation on loving-kindness begins with friends and people you are fond of. It has the nature of
wishing that they meet with happiness. Gradually extend the meditation to include strangers and
even your enemies. Habituating yourself with compassion you will gradually generate a
spontaneous wish to liberate all sentient beings. Therefore, having familiarized yourself with
compassion as the basis, meditate on the awakening mind of bodhicitta.
Bodhicitta is of two types: conventional and ultimate. Conventional bodhicitta is the cultivation of
the initial thought that aspires to attain unsurpassable and perfectly consummated Buddhahood in
order to benefit all wandering sentient beings, after having taken the vow out of compassion to
release all of them from suffering. That conventional bodhicitta should be cultivated in a process
similar to that described in the chapter on moral ethics in the Bodhisattvabhumi, generating this
mind by taking the Bodhisattva vow before a master who abides by the Bodhisattva precepts.
After generating the conventional awakening mind of bodhicitta, endeavor to cultivate ultimate
awakening mind of bodhicitta. The ultimate bodhicitta is transcendental and free from all
elaborations. It is extremely clear, the object of the ultimate, stainless, unwavering, like a butter
lamp undisturbed by the wind.
This is achieved through constant and respectful familiarity with the yoga of calm abiding
meditation and special insight over a long period of time.
The Unravelling of the Thought S utra says, ” O Maitreya, you must know that all the virtuous
Dharmas of Hearers, Bodhisattvas or Tathagatas, whether worldly or transcendental, are the fruits
of calm abiding meditation and special insight.” Since all kinds of concentrations can be included in
these two, all yogis must at all times seek calm abiding meditation and special insight. Again the
Unravelling of Thought Sutra says ” The Buddha has said it must be known that the teachings of
various types of concentrations sought by my Hearers, Bodhisattvas and Tathagatas are all
contained in calm abiding meditation and special insight.”
Yogis cannot eliminate mental obscurations merely by familiarizing themselves with calm abiding
meditation alone. It will only suppress the disturbing emotions delusions temporarily. Without the
light of wisdom, the latent potential of disturbing emotions cannot be thoroughly destroyed, and
therefore their complete destruction will not be possible. For this reason the Unravelling of the
Thought Sutra says, `Concentration can suppress the disturbing emotions properly and the wisdom
can thoroughly destroy their latent potential. `
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The Unraveling of the Thought Sutra also says,
Even if you meditate with single-pointed concentration
You will not destroy the misconception of the self
And your disturbing emotions will disturb you again;
This is like Udrak`s single-pointed meditation.
When the selflessness of phenomena is examined specifically,
And meditations are performed on the basis of the analysis,
That is the cause of the resultant liberation;
No other cause can bring peace.
Also the Bodhisattva Section says, ” Those who haven`t heard these various teachings of
Bodhisattva Collection and have also not heard the implemented teaching on Monastic Discipline,
who think that single-pointed concentration alone is enough, will fall into the pit of arrogance due
to pride. As such, they cannot gain complete release from rebirth, old age, sickness, death, misery,
lamentation, suffering, mental unhappiness and disturbances. Neither do they gain complete
liberation from the cycle of the six states of existence, nor from the heaps of suffering mental and
physical aggregates. Keeping this in mind the Tathagata has said that hearing the teachings will help
you gain liberation from old age and death.”
For these reasons, those who wish to attain the thoroughly purified transcendent wisdom by
eliminating all obscurations should meditate on wisdom while remaining in calm abiding
meditation.
The Heap of Jewels Sutra says: Single-pointed concentration is achieved by adhering to moral
ethics. With the achievement of single-pointed concentration, you meditate on wisdom. Wisdom
helps you to attain a pure pristine awareness. Through pure pristine awareness your moral conduct
is perfected.
The Meditation on Faith in the Mahayana Sutra says: “O child of the noble family, if you do not
abide by wisdom, I cannot say how you will have faith in Mahayana of the Bodhisattvas, or how
you will set forth in the Mahayana.”
“O child of the noble family, you should know that this is because Bodhisattvas`faith in Mahayana
and setting forth in the Mahayana occurs as a result of contemplating the perfect Dharma and reality
with a mind free of distraction.”
A yogi`s mind will be distracted to various objects if he cultivates only special insight without
meditating on a calmly abiding mind. It will be unstable like a butter lamp in wind. Since clarity of
pristine awareness will be absent, these two (special insight and a calmly abiding mind) should be
cultivated equally. Therefore, the Sutra of the Great and Complete Transcendence of Suffering says:
“Hearers cannot see Buddha-nature, because their single-pointed absorption is stronger and wisdom
is weaker”.
“Bodhisattvas can see it, but not clearly, because their wisdom is stronger and their single-pointed
concentration is weaker. Whereas Tathagatas can see all, because they possess a calmly abiding
mind and special insight to an equal degree.”
Due to the power of calm abiding meditation, the mind will not be disturbed by the breeze. Special
insight eliminates every stain of wrong views, thus you will not be affected by (the views of) others.
The Moon Lamp Sutra says: ” By the force of calm abiding meditation, the mind will become
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unwavering, and with special insight it will become like a mountain. ” Therefore, maintain a yogic
practice of them both.
Initially the yogi should seek the prerequisites that can assist him in actualizing calm abiding
meditation and special insight quickly and easily.
The prerequisites necessary for the development of calm abiding meditation are: to live in a
conducive environment; to limit your desires and practice contentment; not being involved in too
many activities; maintaining pure moral ethics and fully eliminating attachment and all other kinds
of conceptual thoughts.
A conducive environment should be known by these five characteristics – there is easy access to
food and clothes; a good habitation free of evil beings and enemies; a good place free from disease;
with good friends who maintain moral ethics and who share similar views; and a place visited by
few people in the daytime and little noise at night. Limiting your desires refers to not being
excessively attached to many or good clothes, such as religious robes, and so forth. The practice of
contentment means always being satisfied with any little thing, like inferior religious robes, and so
forth. Not being involved in many activities refers to giving up ordinary activities like business;
avoiding too close association with householders and monks; and totally abonding the practice of
medicine and astrology.
Even in the case of statement that a transgression of the Hearers`vows cannot be restored, if there is
regret and an awareness of the intention not to repeat it, and an awareness of the lack of a true
identity of the mind that performed the action, or familiarity with the lack of a true identity of all
phenomena, that person`s morality can be said to be pure. This should be understood from the Sutra
on the Elimination of Ajatashatru`s Regret. You should overcome your regret and make special
effort in meditation.
Being mindful of the various defects of attachment in this life and future lives helps eliminate
misconceptions in this regard. Some common features of both beautiful and ugly things in the cycle
of existence are that they are all unstable and subject to disintegration. It is beyond doubt that you
will be separated from all of these things without delay. So, meditate on why the self should be so
excessively attached to these things and then discard all misconceptions.
What are the prerequisites of special insight ? They are relying on holy persons, seriously seeking
extensive instruction, and proper contemplation.
What type of holy person should you rely on ? One who has heard many (teachings), who expresses
himself clearly, who is endowed with compassion and able to withstand hardship.
What is meant by seriously seeking extensive instruction ? This is to listen seriously with respect to
the definitive and interpretable meaning of the twelve branches of the Buddha`s teachings. The
Unraveling of the Thought Sutra says: “Not listening to superior beings` teachings as you wish is an
obstacle to special insight.” The same sutra says, “Special insight arises from its cause, correct
view, which in turn arises from listening and contemplation.” The Questions of Narayana Sutra
says, “Through the experience of listening (to teachings) you gain wisdom, and with wisdom
disturbing emotions are thoroughly pacified. ”
What is meant by proper contemplation ? It is properly establishing the definitive and interpretable
sutras. When Bodhisattvas are free of doubt, they can meditate single-pointedly. Otherwise, if doubt
and indecision beset them, they will be like a man at a crossroads uncertain which path to follow.
Yogis should at all times avoid fish, meat, and so forth, should eat with moderation and avoid foods
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that are not conducive to health.
Thus, Bodhisattvas who have assembled all the prerequisites for calm abiding meditation and
special insight should enter into meditation.
When meditating, the yogi should first complete all the preparatory practices. He should go to the
toilet and in a peasant location free of disturbing noise he should think, I will deliver all sentient
beings to the state of enlightenment. Then he should manifest great compassion, the thought
wishing to liberate all sentient beings, and pay homage to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the
ten directions by touching the five limbs of his body to the ground.
He should place an image of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, such as a painting, in front of him or in
some other place. He should make as many offerings and praises as he can. He should confess his
misdeeds and rejoice in the merits of all other beings.
Then, he should sit in the full lotus posture of Vairochana or the half lotus posture on a comfortable
cushion. The eyes should not be too widely open or too tightly closed. Let them focus on the tip of
the nose. The body should not be bent forward or backward. Keep it straight and turn the attention
inwards. The shoulders should rest in their natural position and the head should not lean back,
forward or to either side. The nose should be in line with the navel. The teeth and lips should rest in
their natural state with the tongue touching the upper palate. Breathe very gently and softly without
causing any noise, without labouring and without unevenness. Inhale and exhale naturally, slowly
and unnoticeable.
Calm abiding meditation should be achieved first. Calm abiding is that mind which has overcome
distraction to external objects and spontaneously and continuously turns towards the object of
meditation with bliss and pliancy.
That which properly examines suchness from within a state of calm abiding is special insight. The
Cloud of Jewels read, “Calm abiding meditation is a single-pointed mind; special insight makes
specific analysis of the ultimate.”
Also, from the Unraveling of the Thought Sutra: “Maitreya asked, `O Buddha, how should (people)
thoroughly search for calm abiding meditation and gain expertise in special insight ?` The Buddha
answered, `Maitreya, I have given the following teachings to Bodhisattvas:
Sutras; Melodious Praises; Prophetic teachings; Verses; Specific Instructions; Advice from Specific
Experiences; Expressions of Realization; Legends; Birth Tales; Extensive Teachings; Marvelous
Teachings; Established Doctrine and Instructions.
`Bodhisattvas should properly listen to these teachings, remember their contents, train in verbal
recitation, and thoroughly examine them mentally. With perfect comprehension, they should go
alone to remote areas and reflect on these teachings and continue to focus their minds upon them.
They should focus mentally only on those topics that they have reflected about and maintain this
continuously. That is called mental engagement.
“When the mind has been repeatedly engaged in this way and physical and mental pliancy has been
achieved, that mind is called calm abiding. This is how Bodhisattvas properly seek the calmly
abiding mind.
“When the Bodhisattva has achieved physical and mental pliancy and abides only in them, he
eliminates mental distraction. The phenomenon that has been contemplated as the other object of
inner single-pointed concentration should be analyzed and regarded as like a reflection. This
reflection or image, which is the object of single-pointed concentration, should be thoroughly
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discerned as an object of knowledge. It should be completely investigated and thoroughly
examined. Practice patience and take delight in it. With proper analysis, observe and understand it.
This is what is known as special insight. Thus, Bodhisattvas are skilled in the ways of special
insight.”
The yogis who are interested in actualizing a calmly abiding mind should initially concentrate
closely on the fact that the twelve sets of scriptures with sections for Sutras, Melodious Praises, and
so forth, can be summarized as all leading to suchness, that they will lead to suchness, and that they
have led to suchness.
One way of doing this meditation is to set the mind closely on the mental and physical aggregates,
as an object that includes all phenomena. Another way is to place the mind on an image of the
Buddha. The King of Meditative Stabilization Sutra says:
With his body of gold in color,
The lord of the universe is extremely beautiful.
The Bodhisattva who places his mind on this object,
Is referred to as one in meditative absorption.
In this way place the mind on the object of your choice and, having done so, repeatedly and
continuously place the mind. Having placed the mind in this way, examine it and check whether it
is properly focused on the object. Also check for dullness and see whether the mind is being
distracted to external objects.
If the mind is found to be dull due to doziness and mental torpor or if you fear that dullness is
approaching, then the mind should attend to supremely delightful object such as an image of the
Buddha, or a notion of light. In this process, having dispelled dullness the mind should try to see the
object very clearly.
In this process, distraction should be eliminated and with the rope of mindfulness and alertness, the
elephant-like mind should be fastened to the tree of the object of meditation. When you find that the
mind is free of dullness and excitement and that it naturally abides on the object, you should relax
your effort and remain neutral as long as it continues thus.
You should understand that calm abiding is actualized when you enjoy physical and mental pliancy
through prolonged familiarity with the meditation and the mind gains the power to engage the
object as it chooses.
After realizing calm abiding, meditate on special insight thinking as follows: All the teachings of
the Buddha are perfect teachings and they directly or indirectly reveal and lead to suchness with
utmost clarity. If you understand suchness, you will be free of all the nets of wrong views, just as
darkness is dispelled when light appears. Mere calm abiding meditation cannot purify pristine
awareness, nor can it eliminate the darkness of obscurations. When I meditate properly on suchness
with wisdom, pristine awareness will be purified. Only with wisdom can I realize suchness. Only
with wisdom can I effectively eradicate obscurations. Therefore, engaging in calm abiding
meditation I shall search for suchness with wisdom. And I shall not remain content with calm
abiding alone.
What is suchness like ? It is the nature of all phenomena that ultimately they are empty of the self of
person and the self of phenomena. This is realized through the perfection of wisdom and not
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otherwise. The Unraveling of the Thought Sutra reads, ” `O Tathagata, by which perfection do
Bodhisattvas apprehend the identitylessness of phenomena ? `Avalokiteshvara, it is apprehended by
the perfection of wisdom.` “Therefore, meditate on wisdom while engaging in calm abiding.
Yogis should analyze in the following manner: a person is not observed as separate from the mental
and physical aggregates, elements and the sense powers. Nor is a person of the nature of the
aggregates and so forth, because the aggregates and so forth have the entity of being many and
impermanent. Others have imputed the person as permanent and single. The person as a
phenomenon cannot exist except as one or many, because there is no other way of existing.
Therefore, we must conclude that the assertion of the worldly “I” and “mine” is wholly mistaken.
Meditation on the selflessness of phenomena should also be done in the following manner:
phenomena, in short, are included under the five aggregates, the twelve sources of perception and
the eighteen elements. The physical aspects of the aggregates, sources of perception and elements
are, in the ultimate sense, nothing other than aspects of the mind. This is because when they are
broken into subtle particles and the nature of the parts of these subtle particles is individually
examined, no definite identity can be found.
In the ultimate sense, the mind too cannot be real. How can the mind which apprehends only the
false nature of physical form, and so forth, and appears in various aspects, be real ? Just as physical
forms, and so forth, are false, since the mind that does not exist separately from physical forms, and
so forth, which are false, it too is false. Just as physical forms, and so forth, possess various aspects
and their identities are neither one nor many, similarly, since the mind is not different from them, its
identity too is neither one nor many. Therefore, the mind by nature is like an illusion.
Analyze that, just like the mind, the nature of all phenomena too is like an illusion. In this way,
when the identity of the mind is specifically examined by wisdom, in the ultimate sense it is
perceived neither within nor without. It is also not perceived in the absence of both. Neither the
mind of the past, nor that of the future, nor that of the present is perceived. When the mind is born,
it comes from nowhere, and when it ceases it goes no where because it is inapprehensible,
undemonstratable and non-physical. If you ask, what is the entity of that which is inapprehensible,
undemonstratable and non-physical ? The Heap of Jewels states: ” O Kashyapa, when the mind is
thoroughly sought, it cannot be found. What is not found cannot be perceived. And what is not
perceived is neither past nor future nor present.” Through such analysis, the beginning of the mind
is ultimately not seen, the end of the mind is ultimately not seen and the middle of the mind is
ultimately not seen.
All phenomena should be understood as lacking an end and a middle, just as the mind does not have
an end or a middle. With the knowledge that the mind is without an end or a middle, no identity of
the mind is perceived. What is thoroughly realized by the mind too is realized as being empty. By
realizing that, that very identity, which is established as the aspect of the mind, like the identity of
physical form, and so forth, is also ultimately not perceived. In this way, when the person does not
ultimately see the identity of all phenomena through wisdom, he will not analyze whether physical
form is permanent or impermanent, empty or not empty, contaminated or not contaminated,
produced or non-produced and existent or non-existent. Just as physical form is not examined,
similarly feeling, recognition, compositional factors and consciousness are not examined. When the
object does not exist, its characteristics also cannot exist. So how can they be examined ?
In this way, when the person does not firmly apprehend the entity of a thing as ultimately existing,
having investigated it with wisdom, the practitioner engages in non-conceptual single-pointed
concentration. And thus the identitylessness of all phenomena is realized.
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Those who do not meditate with wisdom by analyzing the entity of things specifically, but merely
meditate on the elimination of mental activity, cannot avert conceptual thoughts and also cannot
realize identitylessness, because they lack the light of wisdom. If the fire of consciousness knowing
phenomena as they are is produced from individual analysis of suchness, then like the fire produced
by rubbing wood it will burn the wood of conceptual thought. The Buddha has spoken in this way.
The Cloud of Jewels also states, ” Those skilled in discerning the faults engage in the yoga of
meditation on emptiness in order to get rid of all conceptual elaborations. Such a person, due to his
repeated meditation on emptiness, when he thoroughly searches for the object and the identity of the
object, which delights the mind and distracts it, he realizes them to be empty. When that very mind
is also examined, it is realized to be empty. When the identity of what is realized by this mind is
thoroughly sought, this too is realized as empty. Realizing in this way one enters in the yoga of
signlessness.” This shows that only those who have engaged in complete analysis can enter into the
yoga of signlessness.
It has been explained very clearly that through mere elimination of mental activity, without
examining the identity of things with wisdom, it is not possible to engage in non-conceptual
meditation. Thus, concentration is done after the actual identity of things like physical form, and so
forth, has been perfectly analyzed with wisdom and not by concentrating on physical form, and so
forth. Concentration is also not done by abiding between this world and the world beyond, because
physical forms, and so forth, are not perceived. It is thus called the non-abiding concentration.
(Such a practitioner) is then called meditator of supreme wisdom, because, by specifically
examining the identity of all things with wisdom, he has perceived nothing. This is as stated in the
Space Treasure Sutra and the Jewel in the Crown Sutra, and so forth.
In this way, by entering into the suchness of the selflessness of persons and phenomena, you are
free from concepts and analysis, because there is nothing to be thoroughly examined and observed.
You are free from expression and with single-pointed mental engagement you automatically enter
into meditation without exertion. Thus, you very clearly meditate on suchness and abide in it. While
abiding in that meditation, the continuity of the mind should not be distracted. When the mind is
distracted to external objects due to attachment, and so forth, such distraction should be noted.
Quickly pacify the distraction by meditating on the repulsive aspect of such objects and swiftly
replace the mind on suchness.
If the mind appears to be disinclined to do that, reflecting on the advantages of single-pointed
concentration, meditate with delight. This disinclination should be pacified by also seeing the
defects of distraction.
If the function of the mind becomes unclear and starts sinking, or when there is a risk of it sinking
due to being overpowered by mental torpor or sleep, then as before quickly attempt to overcome
such dullness by focusing the mind on supremely delightful things. Then the object suchness should
be held in very tight focus. At times when the mind is observed to be excited or tempted to become
distracted by the memory of past events of laughter and play, then as in the earlier cases pacify the
distraction by reflecting on such things as impermanence, and so forth, which will help subdue the
mind. Then, again endeavor to engage the mind on suchness without applying counter forces.
If and when the mind spontaneously engages in meditation on suchness, free of sinking and mental
agitation, it should be left naturally and your efforts should be relaxed. If effort is applied when the
mind is in meditative equipoise, it will distract the mind. But if effort is not applied when the mind
becomes dull, it will become like a blind man due to extreme dullness and you will not achieve
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special insight. So, when the mind becomes dull, apply effort and when in absorption effort should
be relaxed. When, by meditating on special insight, excessive wisdom is generated and calm
abiding is weak, the mind will waver like a butter lamp in the wind and you will not perceive
suchness very clearly. Therefore, at that time meditate on calm abiding. When calm abiding
meditation becomes excessive, meditate on wisdom.
When both are equally engaged, keep still, effortlessly, so long as there is no physical or mental
discomfort. If physical or mental discomfort arises, see the whole world like an illusion, a mirage, a
dream, a reflection of the moon in water and an apparition. And think: “These sentient beings are
very troubled in the cycle of existence due to their not understanding such profound knowledge.
Then, generate great compassion and the awakening mind of bodhicitta thinking: “I shall earnestly
endeavor to help them understand suchness. Take rest. Again, in the same way, engage in a singlepointed
concentration on the non-appearance of all phenomena. If the mind is discouraged, then
similarly take rest. This is the path of engaging in a union of calm abiding meditation and special
insight. It focuses on the image conceptually and non-conceptually.
Thus, through this progress, a yogi should meditate on suchness for an hour or half a session in the
night or one full session or for as long as is comfortable. This is the meditative stabilization
thoroughly discerning the ultimate, as taught in the Descent into Lanka Sutra.
Then, if you wish to arise from the co ncentration, while your legs are still crossed think as follows:
“Although ultimately all these phenomena lack identity, conventionally they definitely exist. It this
were not the case, how would the relationship between cause and effect, and so forth, prevail ?
The Buddha has also said,
Things are produced conventionally;
But ultimately they lack intrinsic identity.
Sentient beings with a childish attitude exaggerate phenomena, thinking of them as having an
intrinsic identity when they lack it. Thus attributing intrinsic existence to those things that lack it
confuses their minds, and they wander in the cycle of existence for a long time. For these reasons, I
shall endeavor without fail to achieve the omniscient state by accomplishing the unsurpassable
accumulations of merits and insights in order to help them realize suchness.”
Then slowly arise from the cross-legged position and make prostration to the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Make them offerings and sing their praises. And make vast
prayers by reciting the Prayer of Noble Conduct, and so forth. Thereafter, engage in conscious
efforts to actualize the accumulations of merit and insight by practicing generosity, and so forth,
which are endowed with the essence of emptiness and great compassion.
If you act thus, your meditative stabilization will actualize that emptiness that possesses the best of
all qualities. The Jewel in the Crown Sutra states, ” Donning the armor of loving-kindness, while
abiding in the state of great compassion, practice meditative stabilization that actualizes the
emptiness possessing the best of all qualities. What is the emptiness possessing the best of all
qualities ? It is that which is not divorced from generosity, from ethics, from patience, from effort,
from meditative stabilization, from wisdom and not divorced from skilful means.” Bodhisattvas
must rely on virtuous practices like generosity as means to thoroughly ripen all sentient beings and
in order to perfect the place, body and manifold retinue.
If it were not so, what would be the causes of these fields, the field of Buddhas and so forth, that the
Buddha spoke about ? The omniscient wisdom possessing the best of all qualities can be
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Kamalashila – The Middle Stages of Meditation
accomplished through generosity and other skilful means. Therefore, the Buddha has said that
omniscient wisdom is perfected by skilful means. Therefore, Bodhisattvas should also cultivate
generosity and other skilful means and not only emptiness.
The Extensive Collection of All Qualities Sutra also says, “O Maitreya, Bodhisattvas thoroughly
accomplish the six perfections in order to attain the final fruit of Buddhahood. But to this the
foolish respond, “Bodhisattvas should train only in the perfection of wisdom. What is the need for
the rest of the perfections? They repudiate the other perfections. Maitreya, what do you think of this
? When the king of Kashi offered his flesh to the hawk for the sake of pigeon was it a corruption of
wisdom ? Maitreya replied, ” This is not so. The Buddha said,” Maitreya, Bodhisattvas accumulated
roots of merits through their deeds in conjunction with the six perfections. Are these roots of merits
harmful ? Maitreya replied,” O Buddha, this is not so. The Buddha further spoke,” Maitreya, you
have also correctly practiced the perfection of generosity for six aeons, the perfection of ethics for
sixty aeons, the perfection of enthusiastic perseverance for sixty aeons, the perfection of meditative
stabilization for sixty aeons, and the perfection of wisdom for sixty aeons. To this the foolish
respond: “There is only one way to attain Buddhahood. And that is the way of emptiness.” Their
practice is completely mistaken.
A Bodhisattva possessing wisdom but not skilful means would be like the Hearers, unable to
engage in the deeds of Buddhas. But they can do so when supported by skilful means. As the Heap
of Jewels says, “Kashyapa, it is like this. For instance, kings who are supported by ministers can
accomplish all their purposes. Similarly, (when) the wisdom of a Bodhisattva is thoroughly
supported by skilful means, such a Bodhisattva also performs all the activities of a Buddha.” The
philosophical view of the path of Bodhisattvas is different and the philosophical path of the non-
Buddhists and Hearers are also different. For example, since the philosophical view of the path of
non-buddhists perversely observes a (truly existent) self, and so forth, such a path is completely and
always divorced from wisdom. Therefore, they cannot attain liberation.
The Hearers are separated from great compassion and devoid of skilful means. Therefore, they
single-mindedly endeavor to achieve Nirvana. In their path, Bodhisattvas enshrine wisdom and
skilful means, so they endeavor to achieve the non-abiding Nirvana. The Bodhisattva path consists
of wisdom and skilful means and, therefore, (they) attain the non-abiding Nirvana. Because of the
power of wisdom, (they) do not fall into the cycle of existence and due to the power of skilful
means, (they) do not fall to Nirvana.
The Hill of Gaya Head Sutra says, ” The Bodhisattva path, in short is twofold. The two are skilful
means and wisdom.” The First among the Supreme and Glorious also says, ” The perfection of
wisdom is the mother and expertise in skilful means is the father.”
The Teaching of Vimalakirti also says,”What is bondage for Bodhisattvas and what is liberation?
Upholding a life in the cycle of existence devoid of skilful means is bondage for Bodhisattvas. (But)
to lead a life in the cycle of existence with skilful means is liberation. The skilful means not
conjoined with wisdom is bondage, (but) skilful means conjoined with wisdom is liberation.”
If a Bodhisattva cultivates mere wisdom, (he) falls to the Nirvana desired by Hearers. Thus, it is like
bondage. And (he) cannot be liberated to non-abiding Nirvana. So, wisdom separated from skilful
means is bondage for Bodhisattvas. Therefore, just as a person chilled by the wind seeks the
comfort of fire, so a Bodhisattva cultivates the wisdom of emptiness along with skilful means to
eliminate the wind of wrong view. (But he) does not (endeavor) to actualize it as the Hearers do.
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Kamalashila – The Middle Stages of Meditation
The Ten Qualities Sutra says, ” O son of a good family, it is like this. For instance, a person who is
thoroughly devoted to fire, who respects it and regards it as guru will not think: “Because I respect,
honor and venerate fire, I should hold it in both hands.” This is because he realises that to do so
would give him physical pain and cause mental discomfort. Similarly, a Bodhisattva also is aware
of Nirvana, but also does not try to actualize it. This is because he realizes that by doing so he
would be turning away from enlightenment.
If he relies merely on skilful means the Bodhisattva will not transcend the ordinary level and thus
there will only be bondage. Therefore, (he) cultivates skilful means along with wisdom. By the
power of wisdom, Bodhisattvas can transform even the disturbing emotions into nectar, like poison
under the tantric spell. There is no need to express (the goodness) of generosity, and so forth, which
leads to naturally elevated states of existence.
The Heap of Jewels states, “Kashyapa, it is like this. Due to the power of tantra and medicine a
poison may not cause death. Similarly, since the disturbing emotions of Bodhisattvas are under the
power of wisdom, they cannot cause them downfalls. Therefore, due to the power of skilful means
Bodhisattvas do not abandon the cycle of existence; they do not fall to Nirvana. Due to the power of
wisdom, (they) eliminate all objects (misconceived as truly existent) and therefore (they) do not fall
into the cycle of existence. Thus, they attain the non-abiding Nirvana of Buddhahood alone. The
Space Treasure Sutra also says, “Because of the knowledge of wisdom, Bodhisattvas eliminate all
disturbing emotions and due to their knowledge of skilful means, they do not abandon sentient
beings.” The Unraveling of the Thought Sutra also says, ” I have not taught that someone who is not
concerned for the welfare of sentient beings and who is not inclined to realize the nature of all
composite phenomena will achieve unsurpassable and perfectly accomplished Buddhahood”.
Therefore, those interested in Buddhahood must cultivate both wisdom and skillful means.
While you are meditating on transcendental wisdom or while you are in a deep meditative
absorption, you cannot engage in skilful means such as practicing generosity. But skilful means can
be cultivated along with wisdom during the preparatory and postmeditative periods. This is the way
to engage in wisdom and skilful means simultaneously.
Moreover, this is the path of Bodhisattvas in which they engage in an integrated practice of wisdom
and skilful means. This is cultivating the transcendental path that is thoroughly imbued with great
compassion focussing on all sentient beings. And while practicing skilful means, after arising from
meditative absorption, you practice generosity and other skilful means, without misconception like
a magician. The teaching of Akshayamati Sutra says, ” What is a Bodhisattva’s skilful means and
what wisdom is actualised?” The Bodhisattva’s skilful means is thinking and placing the mind
closely on sentient beings with great compassion while in meditative absorption. And engaging in
meditative equipoise with peace and extreme peace is wisdom. There are many more such
references. The Chapter on Controlling Evil Forces also says: “Furthermore, the perfect activities of
Bodhisattvas refers to conscious efforts by the mind of wisdom and the collection of all meritorious
Dharma by the mind of skilful means. The mind of wisdom also leads to selflessness, the nonexistence
of (inherently existent) sentient beings, life, sustenance and person. And the mind of
skilful means leads to thoroughly ripening all sentient beings.
The Existence Collection of All Qualities Sutra also states:
Just as a magician endeavors
To let his creation go,
Since he already knows the (nature of his) creation,
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Kamalashila – The Middle Stages of Meditation
He has no attachment to it.
Similarly, the three worlds are like an illusion,
Which the wise Buddha knew about
Long before he knew the sentient beings in these worlds
And had undertaken efforts to help them.
It is because of the Bodhisattva`s practice of wisdom and skilful means that it is said: In their
activities they remain in the cycle of existence, but in their thought they abide in Nirvana.
In this way, become familiar with generosity and other skilful means that are dedicated to
unsurpassable and perfectly accomplished enightenment, having the essence of emptiness and great
compassion. In order to generate the ultimate awakening mind of bodhicitta, as was done earlier,
practice calm abiding meditation and special insight as much as you can in regular sessions. As it
was taught in the Pure Field of Engagement Sutra, always familiarize yourself with skilful means
by closely placing mindfulness on the good qualities of Bodhisattvas who work for the welfare of
sentient beings at all times.
Those who become familiar with compassion, skilful means and the awakening mind of bodhicitta
in this way will undoubtedly excel in this life. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will always be seen in
dreams, and other pleasant dreams will also occur, and appreciative gods will protect you. There
will be immense accumulation of merits and insight at every moment. Disturbing emotions and
other bad states of existence will be purified. You will enjoy much happiness and mental peace at
all times and a great many beings will cherish you. Physically too you will be free of disease. You
will attain supreme mental facility, and thus you will achieve special qualities like clairvoyance.
Then you will travel by miraculous power to innumerable worlds, make offerings to the Buddhas
and listen to teachings from them. At the time of death too you will be reborn in special families
and places, where you will not be separated from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Thus, you will
effortlessly accomplish all accumulations of merit and insight. You will have great wealth, a large
following and many attendands. Possessing a sharp intelligence, you will be able to ripen the mind
streams of many beings. In all lives such a person will be able to recall past lives. Try to understand
such immeasurable advantages that are also described in other sutras.
In this way, if you meditate on compassion, skilful means and the awakening mind of bodhicitta for
a long time with great admiration, the mind stream will gradually become thoroughly purified and
ripened. Then, like producing fire by rubbing together pieces of wood, you will accomplish your
meditation on the perfect reality. You will thus achieve an extremely clear knowledge of the sphere
of phenomena free from conceptual elaborations, the transcendental wisdom free of the impeding
nets of conceptual thought. The wisdom of ultimate bodhicitta is stainless like an unwavering butter
lamp undisturbed by the wind. Thus, such a mind in the entity of ultimate bodhicitta is included
within the path of seeing which apprehends the selfless nature of all phenomena. Through this
achievement you enter into the path focussing on the reality of things and you are then born in the
family of Tathagatas, you enter the stainless state of a Bodhisattva, turn away from all wandering
births, abide in the suchness of Bodhisattvas and attain the first Bodhisattva level. You can find
more details of these advantages in other texts such as the Ten Spiritual Levels. This is how
meditative stabilization focussing on suchness is taught in the Descent into Lanka Sutra. This is
how Bodhisattvas enter into the non-conceptual meditation free from elaborations.
In this way, a person who has entered the first level, later on in the path of meditation familiarizes
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Kamalashila – The Middle Stages of Meditation
himself with the two wisdoms of the transcendental state and the subsequent wisdom and skilful
means. In this way he gradually purifies the subtlest accumulation of obscurations that are the
object of purification of the path of meditation. And in order to achieve higher qualities he
thoroughly purifies the lower spiritual levels. All purposes and objectives are completely fulfilled
by entering the transcental wisdom of the Tathagatas and by entering the ocean of omniscience. In
this way by gradual practice, the mind stream is thoroughly purified. The Descent into Lanka
explains this. The Unraveling of the Thought too reads, ” In order to achieve those higher levels, the
mind should be purified just as you refine gold, until you realize the unsurpassable and perfectly
consummated Buddhahood.
Entering the ocean of omniscience, you possess impeccable jewel-like qualities to sustain sentient
beings that fulfil your previous positive prayers. The individual then becomes the embodiment of
compassion, possessing various skilful means that function spontaneously and work in various
emanations in the interest of all wandering beings. In addition, all marvellous attributes are
perfected. With total elimination of all defilements and their latent potential, all Buddhas abide to
help every sentient being. Through such realization, generate faith in the Buddhas, the source of all
wonderful knowledge and qualities. Everyone should endeavor to actualize these qualities.
The Buddha thus said, “The omniscience transcendental wisdom is produced with compassion as its
root, the awakening mind of bodhicitta as its cause and is perfected by skilful means.”
The wise distance themselves from jealousy and other stains;
Their thirst for knowledge is unquenchable
Like an ocean
They retain only what is proper through discrimination,
Just like swans extracting milk from water.
Thus, scholars should distance themselves
From divisive attitudes and bigotry.
Even from a child
Good words are received.
Whatever merit I derive,
With exposition of this middle path,
I dedicate for all beings
To actualize the middle path.
The Second Part of the Stages of Meditation by Acharya Kamalashila is here completed.
Translated and edited in Tibetan by the Indian abbot Prajna Verma and the monk Yeshe De.
Translated and edited in English by Ven. Geshe Lobsang Jordhen, Lobsang Choephel Gangchenpa
and Jeremy Russell – published with the commentary of HH the Dalai Lama by Snow Lion 2001.

[Layout by Jampa Namgyal – Milan, Italy, August 2007]
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