OPL7: three prerequisites and four obstacles

Before we step onto the path to buddhahood, or set out in our boat to the other shore, let’s take a moment to make sure we’ve packed everything we need for the trip, and consult our map for a brief preview of what lies ahead.

We’ve explored in some depth the three prerequisites or necessities Gampopa says are essential if we aspire to follow the path all the way to its result:

  1. buddha nature, the potential to fully awaken through the complete development of wisdom and compassion: check, all beings have that;
  2. a precious human existence to serve as the support for this process: check, if we didn’t have the freedoms, resources, and interest to practice the dharma, we wouldn’t be studying OPL; however, if we don’t actualize it in this life through study, contemplation, and meditation, we may not be so lucky next time around;
  3. an authentic teacher as our guide, escort, and navigator through the hazards of the path: check, we have this through the Kagyu Lineage and its realized teachers.

This brings us to the path itself, the fourth topic, the instructions of the teacher, which comprise the next 16 chapters and the bulk of OPL: the how-to of awakening.

But wait! If we have everything we need to wake up, why aren’t we buddha already? In a sense, we are, since we all possess buddha nature or potential; but, as Gampopa said at the outset of OPL, until we recognize our true underlying nature and learn how to operate from it, we will remain stuck in the confusion of samsara. Here Gampopa explains that we aren’t able to operate as buddha yet because we have fallen under the influence of four obstacles that prevent us from uncovering our true nature:

  1. attachment to the activities of this life
  2. attachment to the pleasures and distractions of samsara
  3. attachment to the well-being of personal peace
  4. not knowing how to go about awakening

In other words, we are often too busy with our jobs and other worldly activities (however necessary and/or commendable they may be) to meaningfully engage in practice. Even if we’re not too busy, in our leisure time we may allow our practice to be crowded out by the more immediate pleasures of distraction and entertainment (which these days might be summed up in a single handy, mesmerizing device). Even when we do find time to practice, we may settle for peaceful states of meditation that make us feel good, rather than pushing through to fully realize the nature of mind, which automatically includes the wish to liberate all beings through love and compassion. And finally, even without the first three obstacles, if we don’t know how to go about awakening, we can’t accomplish it.

How to overcome each of these obstacles is the substance of the main section of the book, chapters 4-19, the instructions of the dharma master. Our attachment to the activities of this life will fade when we truly understand the impermanence of everything that makes up our world and our concept of who we are (chapter 4). Our attachment to fleeting pleasures and entertainment, including our fabulous phones, will diminish as we begin to grasp the depth and extent of the suffering of samsara, and that how we use our body, speech, and mind (karma) is laying the groundwork, moment by moment, for our future (chapters 5 and 6). Our attachment to personal peace will open up as our concern for others increases through love and compassion (chapter 7). And by learning how to cultivate bodhicitta we will be able to progress steadily toward full awakening (chapters 8-19).

Finally, once we have an overview of the entire path, in the last two chapters Gampopa treats us to a preview of our life on that other shore, as buddha, completely awake, free of all confusion and suffering, accomplishing the benefit of beings spontaneously just by radiating who we truly are.

Related posts: “The Quest for the Wish-fulfilling Gem!”

Class recording: no specific class on this summary; all classes are here or in blogroll at right

Next: impermanence of the composite