The Great Treatise by Tsongkhapa

Tsong-kha-pa. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Transl. by The Lam Rim Chenmo Translation Committee. Editor’s Preface by Joshua C. Cutler. Foreword by Robert Thurman. Introduction by D. Seyfort Ruegg. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 2000-2004. Hardcover, vol. 1 (2000): 434 pages; vol. 2 (2004): 295 pages; vol. 3 (2002): 445 pages.

Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), founder of the Gelug school of Vajrayāna Buddhism, was one of the foremost spiritual adepts of Tibet. He was also a consummate scholar with numerous works to his credit. His best-known composition, which qualifies as a world classic, is his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (in Tibetan: Lam-Rim Chenmo). As the title suggests, this work systematically and lucidly maps the path to enlightenment from a Tantric perspective.

The present translation in three volumes is a remarkable accomplishment and a great gift to all students and practitioners of Vajrayāna. This is the first time that Tsongkhapa’s magnum opus is available in English in its entirety, and it has taken the translation committee many years to complete this task—a worthy effort for such a magnificent work.

Modeled after Atīsha’s Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment, the Lam-Rim Chenmo is no mere commentary on the traditional sources available to Tsongkhapa. Rather it is an independent, original summation of Buddhist teachings from the vantage-point of Vajrayāna. It testifies not only to Tsongkhapa’s superb command of the teachings of all three vehicles—Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna—but also to his personal spiritual realization, which allowed him to cast valuable light on even the most abstruse and obscure aspects of the path.

Appropriately enough, Lama Tsongkhapa begins his work with Atīsha’s unique contribution to the lam rim teachings and then goes on to explain why the teachings are truly great, how they should be studied and taught, and why reliance on a qualified teacher is so important. Step by step, the reader is introduced to all the significant theoretical and practical aspects of the path, so that he or she obtains—with Tsongkhapa’s wonderful guidance—a mental image of the organic interconnectedness of the various teachings. Whether Je Tsongkhapa speaks about the nature of suffering, the levels of meditation, the practice of exchanging self and other, the six virtue perfections, the will to attain enlightenment for the sake of others, the nature and practice of emptiness, or the union of insight and calm abiding, this great master always speaks from the strength of his own practice and thus his words can awaken or strengthen bodhicitta in others.

All too often, Western practitioners of Buddhism become fixated on the “higher” Tantric meditations before they have even understood, never mind trained in, the foundational practices. Needless to say, they typically meet with difficulties and failure. The present work offers a corrective to this widespread faulty orientation.

The teachings given open-handedly in this key text are essential for anyone hoping to enter into, or attain success in, the higher (Tantric) stages of the path. The wisdom found in the nearly 1200 pages of this work is truly astonishing and liberating. As Robert Thurman mentions in his Foreword, Je Tsongkhapa’s treatise can cause a “paradigm shift” in the reader: from a self-centered individual concerned with his own happiness to abodhisattva for whom the happiness of others has become an ultimate concern. May it be so!

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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