The Three Stages of the Path
Teaching by Lama Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
September 1998, Vancouver, BC, Canada

So now I'd like to talk about the essence of Lam Rim. The Lam Rim text has three main scopes, we call "scopes" -- the First Scope, Second Scope and Third Scope. The First Scope is focused on how to liberate oneself from the sufferings of the lower realms and also how to liberate from the sufferings that are like the sufferings of the three lower realms. Now we talk about three lower realms: the hell realm, hungry ghost realm, and animal realms. So there's so much suffering in the hell realms, there's no doubt. No need to even talk about. And there's lots of sufferings in the hungry ghost realms, or preta realm. And there's lots of sufferings in animal realms. Animals suffer a lot, due to abuse and torture by people, and animals losing their territories, place, home, and animals preyed on by other animals and so forth. There's so much suffering in animal realm.

So the First Scope focused on how to liberate sentient beings from the sufferings of the three lower realms and how to liberate myself from the sufferings of the three lower realms. Also how to liberate oneself from the sufferings that we experience in our daily life and other people's lives, those sufferings are like the sufferings of the three lower realms.

Many people suffer so much -- have physical sufferings, illness, disease, and all kinds of physical sufferings. Mental sufferings: trauma, deep trauma, childhood trauma, and being a victim of war, victim of abuse, and so on and so forth. And victim of abandonment and rejection -- and so much suffering, mental sufferings. Physical sufferings, such as disease, poverty, and discrimination, and all kinds of sufferings people go through. We also go through, from time to time. Some people have more suffering, some have less. And these sufferings that we go through are like the sufferings of the hell realm. Sometimes people feel they are in hell. In reality, you are in the human realm, you have human body, but it's really not much difference in some ways. I mean, when you listen and when you look at the sufferings that people go through in third world countries, like in China and India and Africa, and Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Tibet and East Timor, and so forth. So much torture and horror people go through, endless suffering, cycle of suffering -- physical suffering and mental suffering. So you feel like you are in the hell realm. These people who torture you and abuse you and traumatize you, they are like the guards of the hell realm.

Also, there is suffering that people suffer, we have suffering like the sufferings of the preta realm. Hunger and thirst, physically suffering. Malnutrition, lack of food, lack of drink, lack of medicine, lack of comfort, lack of sleep, and so forth. And also many people have greed, and that is like being in hungry realm. So much greed. A lot of people have material possessions, they have a very good job and a good house, and car and so on, investments, pension, and so on and so on. They have plenty money, plenty things, more than enough for two lifetimes. Still greedy, always thinking, "Not enough. I need more and more and more." More security, more investments, more security. Feel very insecure, wanting more. And then involved in some kind of corruption, bribery, and so forth. So much suffering, and then embarrassment and shame. So that kind of mental attitude and behavior we call "hungry ghost," suffering of hungry ghost. Human beings, we experience the suffering of the hungry ghosts.

And we also experience the suffering like animals, because we are not free. Usually in a Dharma teaching, in Lam Rim says animals are not free, because animals are used by people, like horses, camels, and dogs, and sheep, and yaks, and cows, and buffaloes and so on, chickens, and so forth. People use them constantly. And many people don't have love towards animals. They don't treat animals like part of their family, unfortunately. People should treat animals like their family, but people don't. People treat them like a machine. Even machine deserve love and care. So animals are victims, suffer a lot.

Now, human beings are also like animals. Many ways there's no difference between animals and human beings, because many human beings are victim and used by others. People using people all the time. You know, they use each other. So many people are like slaves. And many people, we don't call them slaves, and we don't call ourselves slaves, and according law there is no slaves. And the government says there's no slaves, and society says most parts of the world, now there's no slaves. But many times, we don't understand. We are really slaves of technology, slaves of big corporations, slaves of big industry, and slaves of powerful people, powerful companies, and so on. We are slaves. We are like animals, many times, barely surviving. And due to overwork, we suffer, and hard work, we suffer. We become sick and die. So human beings have so much suffering like animals.

So the First Scope is focused on how to liberate ourselves from these types of sufferings. So the Lam Rim explains refuge. We should take refuge. If we take refuge, then we can be saved from these sufferings, and lesser and lesser. We need to take refuge. We have to be free. If you are slave, you have to try to escape. If you are animal who is slave, you have to try to escape. We need to take refuge. And we have to go somewhere -- safe place. So we must take refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Buddha is our teacher, holy teacher. Buddha is the one who showed us the path of enlightenment. So we must take refuge to Buddha, and cultivate devotion and trust to the Buddha, and take refuge to the Buddha. And Buddha is teacher. Buddha is like the doctor, Buddha is like psychologist, Buddha is like counselor. Buddha is counselor, psychologist, doctor, physician, therapist. And we must go to therapist. When we're suffering, we must go to counselor and psychologist, or whatever. We must go, take refuge. Otherwise, we suffer, if we refuse, if we being stubborn. We suffer. So therefore we must take refuge to Buddha.

And Dharma is the medicine. After going to doctor, the doctor give us prescriptions, and we must take the medicine, we must take it. According to prescription, we must take it, three times daily. Twice daily. And with warm water, or cold water. And we must take medicine according to prescription, according to advice. So then there will be possibility of cure, and become well, become healthy, perfectly healthy again. Likewise, the Dharma is the medicine. Dharma is the path. Dharma is the teaching.

And the Buddha said to us, "I am a teacher. I am only teacher. I cannot wash your unwholesome karmas by my hand. I cannot wash your sins and karmas. I am a teacher. I show you the path. Now you have to follow the path, the Dharma. You have to accept Dharma. You have to experiment Dharma. You have to study and analyze and meditate." Buddha also said, remember Buddha also said, "Don't follow me with blind faith. I'm only teacher. I'm showing the path to you. You study, experiment. If this work for you, then go ahead. If it doesn't work for you, then try different Dharma." So the Dharma is the path. Dharma is actually the ultimate path. We rely on the Dharma, not rely on the person. Buddha also said, "Do not rely on the words. Rely on the meaning. And don't follow the words literally." And he said, "Do not rely on the person." Buddha also said, "Don't rely on the guru. Don't rely on masters. Don't rely on some other person who calls himself or herself 'wise man'. And ultimately you follow, rely on the Dharma. That's the most important."

So if you rely on the Dharma, if you practice Dharma, then when we see human beings have problems, we have problems, teachers have problems, and the Dharma will always stay with us. Dharma is always with us. Dharma is always the protector. Dharma protects us. Dharma liberates us, from everyday suffering. And from the three lower realms, rebirth in the three lower realms. And also suffering, like the suffering of the three lower realms. So we take refuge to the Dharma. And also take refuge to Sangha, spiritual community, spiritual friends. We must share our practice with others.

So the First Scope emphasis on this. There's various topics. I won't talk about tonight, there's no time. And emphasis on refuge -- how to liberate oneself from the sufferings of the three lower realms and sufferings like the three lower realms that we experience in this life as a human being.

Then the Second Scope focused on how to liberate ourselves completely from the cycle of life, cycle of samsara. Because, o.k., if we liberate ourselves in everyday life -- sufferings, miseries of everyday life, and we work very hard, work very hard to help ourselves. Try to become better human beings, good human beings, healthy human beings, physically, mentally, and practice Dharma and do all kinds of practice, yoga and so forth, achieve longevity, good health and so forth, do lots of practice. We save ourselves, become healthy and happy human beings, and perhaps holy -- some kind of holy person, and live long. Have good health and longevity.

But, what about next life? Can we live the same way? Or life after life? What happens after this life? What happens? We don't know. No guarantee. We don't know. It all depends on karma. We're not sure where we're going to be reborn. And it all depends on karma. See, if as a Buddhist, or if you do believe in karma and reincarnation, or if you think there is reincarnation, or life after life, and if you think the karma is too, then we also think about next life. So we would like to have realizations next life. And also we want to do something good for the future life. Not for myself, not only for myself. For others, because we are all interconnected.

So we're not sure what happens next life. It all depends on karma. So therefore, what kind of rebirth one can have. It depends on karma. Wholesome karma leads to good rebirth. Unwholesome karma leads to bad rebirth. And wholesome karma leads us to good life, and unwholesome karma leads into bad life, you know, suffering. So depends on the karma. Therefore it is very important to practice mindfulness and awareness of law of cause and effect, the karma.

Now as I said before, karma, when we're talking about karma, it's not only my karma. My karma is not only created, or dependent upon myself alone. It is not possible. I can't create karma all by myself, without others. So my karma is connected with everybody else. It's all kind of interconnected. Therefore, if I'm very aware about my karma, mindful of my karma, and trying to create good karma, everyday life, then I can also create some good karma, good energy for others. Create good condition for others. We are all interdependent. So it is important to meditate on law of cause and effect, and karma.

So the Second Scope is focused on mainly karma. And also how to liberate oneself from this cycle of life, how to liberate oneself from death and bardo and rebirth, and from cycle of samsara. How to liberate completely from samsara. This is the focus of the Second Scope.

OnwardOnward to Three Stages, p.6 

Back Back to Rinpoche's Teachings