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Hinayana Series: The Path of The Noble Ones

Buddhism is a journey into the depths of one’s heart and mind, the inner reality of one’s essence, an exploration of who we are and what we are. This spiritual journey is nothing more and nothing less than discovering this inner reality.
— Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche 

HIN201: July 11 to August 29, 2016  (no class on Labor Day, Sept 5)
HIN202: September 12 to Nov 7, 2016

Mondays 7:00-8:30 PM

Buddhism is not a religion in the usual sense of the word. It is a method of investigation that allows you to work skillfully with the positive potentials and negative energies of your own mind. The teachings of the Hinayana represent the most fundamental instructions of the Buddha, which are central to everything that follows. Hinayana studies, therefore, are basic to any training in Buddhism.

In the Nalandabodhi Path of Study, Hinayana studies introduce you to Buddhism as a science of mind, or method of investigation. Your study of the Hinayana continues for one year, divided into two courses: The first course covers the ground or view of Hinayana, and the second covers the Hinayana path and its results.

The Hinayana View (HIN 201)

This course introduces you to the Hinayana as the indispensable foundation of the three-yana system of Buddhist study (Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana). Then you will learn the main elements of the Hinayana view, through a detailed examination of the building blocks of the Buddhist science of mind.

The Hinayana Path and Fruition (HIN 202)

The second course, Hinayana Path and Fruition, shows you how the view is applied through the practices of the Hinayana path, where you will explore techniques of mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

These 17 weeks include 2 exam days and 2 buffer classes, one at the end of each course. Buffer classes are optional in case the students and the facilitators need extra time.

Each course has an exam. These exams are already written up, or the facilitators can write their own. There are several ways of running the exam. No grades are given but feedback is expected.

More details:

Questions? Please contact Carmen Rumbaut crumbaut@hotmail.com or Stuart Horn stuarthor@gmail.com.

Price per course is $40 for Nalandabodhi members and $65 for non-members, plus the cost of course materials available in the Nalanda Store.

Hinayana course

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Paramita of the Month: Transcendent Wisdom

June is the sixth month of the year, and its arrival brings heralds the sixth paramita of prajña, transcendent wisdom. The text below comes from H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s “The Heart of Compassion”.


The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva

(verse 30)

In the absence of wisdom, perfect enlightenment cannot be attained
Through the other five perfections alone.
Therefore, to cultivate wisdom combined with skillful means
And free from the three concepts is the practice of a bodhisattva.

The paramitas of generosity, discipline, patience, endeavor, and concentration can help you to accumulate merit, but they are still associated with concepts. Only wisdom can perfect the accumulation that leads you to realize primordial awareness free of all concepts. Generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, and concentration could be likened to five blind men who, without the eyes of wisdom, would never be able to find their way to the citadel of liberation. Indeed, only when accompanied by wisdom do they deserve the name paramita, “transcendent,” or literally “gone to the other shore”—the shore across the ocean of suffering and ignorance, beyond the concepts of samsara and nirvana.

Transcendent wisdom has three aspects, which are stages in its progressive realization: first, the wisdom of the learning acquired through hearing the teachings; then, the wisdom that arises through reflecting on the meaning of these teachings; and finally, the wisdom that arises from meditating.

You, the practitioner, should first of all be like a bee going from flower to flower collecting nectar. At the stage when you are listening to and studying the teachings, learn all of them carefully, in both words and meaning. Then, you should be like a wild animal. Not satisfied with a mere theoretical understanding, go and live in mountain solitude where you can be free of all the busy involvement of ordinary life. Be self-sufficient and firm in one-pointed practice as you discover directly for yourself the profound meaning of the teachings. Finally, as you put the teachings into practice and integrate them with your being, you should be like a peg driven into hard ground. Unshaken by thoughts during meditation, remain unwavering. Cut away all limiting concepts of existence and nonexistence from within, and directly encounter the face of the ultimate nature of everything.

So here we have come to the very heart of the paramitas. Wisdom is not only the most important of the six—it is their very life force. To realize wisdom is the ultimate goal; it is the reason why all the branches of the teachings are explained.

For the first aspect of wisdom, to perfect the wisdom of the learning acquired through hearing the teachings, the scriptures to be studied include all the Mahayana teachings, which are referred to as “profound and vast.” The profound teachings are those that expound emptiness, and the vast teachings those that explain the different stages on the bodhisattva path—the five paths, the ten bhumis, and so on. The profound teachings are found in sutras such as the King of Concentrations Sutra and the Great Compendium Sutra. The vast teachings are found in The Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, The Ornament of True Realization, and other texts. There are other treatises that explain the wisdom intention of the Buddha’s words in a way that is easy for later followers of the Buddha to understand. You should hear all of these teachings from a qualified teacher.

However, hearing the teachings alone is not quite enough—even animals can hear the sound of the Dharma being taught. The second stage is to develop the wisdom that arises through reflecting on the meaning of these teachings. Think about what you have heard and extract the essential meaning from it so that the teachings do not just remain as intellectual knowledge. It is important to develop confidence in the meaning of the Dharma, and be sure you have understood it correctly. Whatever you are going to practice has to be considered very carefully. Clarify all your doubts and hesitations with your teacher. In particular, remember clearly what your teacher tells you about all the obstacles that can arise, and what deviations from the path you might find yourself making. Then, when you are ready to put your instructions into practice, it will be like setting out on a journey with full knowledge of all the different conditions you are likely to encounter, and all the money you will need to meet your expenses on the way.

Some teachings belong to the category in which the meaning expounded is provisional or expedient, or of relative truth; others to that in which the meaning is direct and definitive, or of absolute truth. Of the two, the absolute meaning is the more important, so you should put your effort into recognizing that absolute meaning and becoming familiar with it. The more you study and reflect on the teachings of the scriptures and of the rediscovered treasures, the more your understanding, your confidence, and your certainty as to the meaning of the teachings will grow. When gold is being refined, the refining processes, such as melting and drawing off the pure metal, are repeatedly applied. In the same way, refine your understanding by reflecting, over and over again, on the meaning of the teachings so that you develop a clear confidence in their absolute meaning.

Study and reflection will cut through your more gross misconceptions. But the subtler ones can only be dispelled by meditation, and by integration of the absolute wisdom that arises from it into your very being. To engender it, go to a secluded place and stay as much as possible in meditation, practicing shamatha and vipashyana—sustained calm and profound insight—to realize emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena. This is the wisdom that arises from meditation. To have recognized that all phenomena are empty by nature is to have recognized the ultimate point of all the teachings.

Through the understanding of emptiness, you will perceive no difference between yourself and others. You will be free of self-cherishing, compassion will arise spontaneously, and you will benefit beings without any effort. Even great bodhisattva acts such as giving your life for another’s benefit will not be difficult for you, and you will be able to perform altruistic deeds effortlessly over many kalpas. Everything happens without effort because it all takes place within the continuum of the realization of emptiness. Here generosity, patience, and all the other perfections now truly merit the term paramita, as they are utterly beyond the realm of delusion. For a bodhisattva who has realized emptiness, the number of beings to be liberated and the time it might take to liberate them arouse feelings neither of discouragement nor of pride. Dawning freely in your enlightened mind is an all-inclusive compassion, devoid of all concepts of subject and object. Having realized the sameness of self and others, you remain as unchanging as primordial space.

A thorough, experiential understanding of emptiness is the only antidote to the belief in an “I”, in a truly existing self. Once you recognize emptiness, all your attachment to such a self will vanish without a trace. Realization will blaze forth like a brilliant sun rising in the sky, transforming darkness into light.

At first, until you actually recognize emptiness, you have to gain an understanding of it through deep and careful reflection on the teacher’s pith instructions. Then, when you first recognize it, your experience of emptiness will not be stable. To improve it, blend meditation and postmeditation periods. Try not to fall back into ordinary delusion, but to maintain the view of emptiness in all your daily activities. Meditation and the path of action will mutually enhance each other. Finally, you may reach a point where there is no difference between meditation and postmeditation, a point at which you no longer ever depart from emptiness. This is called the realization of great sameness. Within that great sameness, compassion for all beings will arise spontaneously—for the more you realize emptiness, the less there will be any impediment to the arising of compassion. With it will come a natural ability to benefit others without effort, in the same way that if, among a hundred blind people, one of them were to recover his sight, he would be able to guide all the others.

Without the realization of emptiness, both love and compassion are limited and narrow. As the Bodhisattva-bhumi explains, there are three successive levels of boundless love, compassion, joy, and impartiality Consider love to start with. At first, boundless love is focused on sentient beings. Remembering that all beings have been your parents, you wish that they may all have happiness. This is a form of love that everyone, from ordinary people to bodhisattvas, has in common.

At a second stage, boundless love has phenomena as its reference. The practitioner, while recognizing that in absolute truth nothing has any inherent existence, wishes nevertheless that within the illusory, dreamlike reality of relative truth all beings may find happiness. Love of this kind is unknown to ordinary people, but is common to practitioners of the Basic Vehicle (shravakas and pratyekabuddhas) and to those of the Mahayana (bodhisattvas).

The third and highest level of boundless love is nonreferential, beyond any concept of an object. From the outset of the meditation, the practitioner knows that the nature of both self and others is emptiness, free of all conceptual elaborations, like the sky. That intrinsic lack of substantial existence, omnipresent and vivid, unceasingly radiates a love that is lucid and spontaneous. This kind of love is, by nature, free of all concepts and without any goal. It is beyond the three ideas of there being a subject, an object, and an action. It is only found in the Mahayana.

These three successive approaches can be similarly applied to boundless compassion, joy, and impartiality.

The practice of the paramita of wisdom should be done in stages to begin with. First, divide your practice into meditation periods during which you meditate on emptiness, and postmeditation periods in which you try to improve your understanding of the view of emptiness by studying the philosophical system of the Madhyamika, until you attain certainty in it. The Madhyamika view leads to an understanding of the two truths. The recognition of the absolute truth is helped by understanding how all phenomena arise through a combination of causes and conditions.

As your practice becomes more stable, it will no longer be necessary to meditate intentionally on emptiness; it will be integrated into your understanding. You will reach a point when you see that emptiness and compassion, emptiness and phenomena, and absolute and relative truth, are intrinsically one, rather than being in each case two separate entities like the horns of a goat. The vaster your view of emptiness, the clearer your understanding will be of the infinite ways phenomena can manifest in accordance with the law of cause and effect. And it is from emptiness inseparable from compassion that a bodhisattva manifests.

This is the ultimate fruit of all the different teachings of the Mahayana and Mantrayana, of Madhyamika, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen. The most important point of these teachings is to realize them through your own experience, and no mere proliferation of words will be of much help to you in doing that. To put it simply and directly, developing perfect wisdom in your mindstream is the actual practice of the bodhisattvas.

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Paramita of the Month: Meditation

As we begin the month of May, we arrive at the penultimate of the six paramitas: meditation. Here are some texts to contemplate.

Meditation Cushion

The Bodhicharyavatara (excerpt)


After cultivating diligence, set your mind to concentrate,
For those whose minds are slack and wandering
Are caught between the fangs of the affliction.

Verses on Work and Meditation

Khenchen Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche
(Songs of Realization)

In this day and age, when people fly in the sky like birds,
In this day and age, when people travel under the ocean like fish,
In this day and age, when people see a variety of empty fomrms,
In this day and age, when people hear a variety of empty sounds,
Meditating while in motion makes Samadhi increase.

Work is meditation’s friend.
Work is meditation’s focal support.
Therefore, while you work,
Relax naturally and uncontrived,
Know that memories are self-liberated.
Know that all thoughts are self-liberated.

Wild Awakening (excerpt)

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

When we close our eyes and meditate, when we look at our mind, it is not simply blank. It is not merely a big black hole. When we look at that mind, it is full of energy – it is a field of energy. This is similar to the experience of modern physicists examining an object under a powerful microscope. Although they do not find any solidly existing atoms, what they see is full of energy. There is a sense of complete or all pervasive luminosity at this point.”

An Introduction to Mahamudra Meditation (excerpt)

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

We basically have two parts to ourselves, one of which is our body and the other our mind. Because we can see and feel our bodies, we tend to think that they are more important. But actually, if you look at your experience closely you’ll see that your mind is, in the end, more important. It has been said that our body is really like a servant who is employed or commanded by our mind, which is like a monarch. When our mind is happy, we experience a well-being that extends to our physical body. When our mind is in a positive state, our physical and verbal actions will automatically be positive as well. When our mind is aware, clear and lucid, our actions will be more effective.

So, working with our mind, making our mind happy, positive and lucid is extremely important. Basically, there s no other way to do this than working with the habits that accrue in our mind. We’re constantly getting used to things, developing habits of doing things which may be positive or negative and the way to work with the mind, with our state of mind, is to cultivate positive and constructive habits and no longer invest in the negative or destructive ones.

The ultimate result in meditation practice is described in our tradition as Buddhahood, or awakening. When we talk about Buddhahood or the Buddha, it sounds like we’re talking about some kind of god. But in fact this is not what it means at all. The word Buddha means to wake up. For example, in the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit word Buddha, there are two syllables. The first syllable, “sang,” means to purify or remove. It means to transcend or let go of all the problems that otherwise afflict one’s mind: sadness, regret, aggression, jealousy, arrogance, ignorance, apathy and so on. The second syllable in Tibetan is “je,” which means to expand or flourish. It means that when you can let go of, or transcend the problems that have afflicted your mind, then all of your innate qualities, which have up to that point  been bound, restricted or held in by those problems, can flourish freely. These are the qualities of wisdom, awareness, compassion, kindness, love and so on.

Now the source of these two aspects of awakening; the removal of defects and the natural flourishing or growth of good qualities, is the practice of meditation.”

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Tara Practice

The practice of Green Tara can help overcome fear and anxiety, enabling one to open up to one’s own heart of compassion. The practice consists of visualizations, songs, and prayers, composed by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.

Nalandabodhi, Center for American Buddhism Seattle holds Tara practice sessions most Thursdays from 7:00 pm – 8:15 pm in the main shrineroom. Meditation instruction is available.

Tara practice is offered on Thursdays unless there is a conflicting program. Refer to the Nalandabodhi Seattle Calendar page to confirm that practice is taking place.

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Paramita of the Month: Diligence

Our monthly paramita practice is that of diligence, or, as it is sometimes known, exertion. The teaching below comes from H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, as transcribed for us by David McKinney.

Rice Farmer

From “The Heart of Compassion”, H.H. Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary on The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva.



Merely for their own sake, even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas
Make efforts like someone whose hair is on fire trying to put it out;
Seeing this, for the sake of all beings,
To practice diligence, the source of excellent qualities, is the practice of a bodhisattva.

To awaken and develop all the paramitas, diligence is vital. Diligence is the joyous effort and active determination to carry out positive actions, without any expectations or self-satisfaction.

Diligence has three aspects. The first, called “armorlike diligence,” is to develop a joyous courage and fortitude, which you wear like armor against discouragement. The second is “diligence in action,” which is to set about accumulating merit through the practice of the six paramitas without delay or procrastination. The third is “diligence that cannot be stopped,” an insatiable and unremitting energy to work for the sake of others. Diligence should permeate the practice of the other paramitas, and invigorate them all.

The first kind, armorlike diligence, is to put on the armor of a strong and courageous determination that you will never fall prey to obstacles created by the four demons (negative emotions, attachment to comfort, physical sickness, and death) but will persist, come what may, in your efforts to accomplish the extraordinary activities of a bodhisattva until you have established all beings in enlightenment.

The second kind, diligence in action, is determined perseverance in the actual application of that wish. Feeling a great joy to be able to practice, to travel the five paths and attain the ten levels, you enthusiastically undertake endless meritorious activities, particularly study, reflection, and meditation. Engaging in all this, sustain an indomitable courage and never fall prey to discouragement, laziness, or procrastination.

The third kind, diligence that cannot be stopped, is the insatiable energy to work constantly for the sake of others. Day and night, engage in every possible way, directly or indirectly, in your thoughts, words, and deeds, to benefit beings. If you are not able to help them directly, you should keep nothing in your mind but the benefit of others, and dedicate everything you do toward their attainment of buddhahood. Never feel self-satisfied because of the few good qualities you may have been able to achieve, and never be diverted from your aims by people’s abuse or other adverse circumstances. Just remain determined to continue constantly until you reach your goal.

Each of these three kinds of diligence has its opposite in a corresponding kind of laziness.

The first kind of laziness is the wish for nothing but your own comfort. It manifests as a tendency to sleep and idleness, to crave immediate satisfaction and comfort, and in so doing to ignore the Dharma. The antidote is to meditate on death and impermanence.

The second kind of laziness is a faint-heartedness. You feel discouraged before you have even begun trying to do something, because you think a person like you will never reach enlightenment no matter how hard you try. The antidote is to strengthen your fortitude by reflecting on the benefits of liberation and enlightenment.

The third kind of laziness is a neglect of your true priorities. You become stuck in negative and unproductive habits. Forgetting or ignoring deeper aims, you stay preoccupied solely with matters limited to this life. The antidote is to realize that all such ordinary concerns are invariably causes of suffering alone, and to cast them far away.

People work with great endeavor, day and night, to accomplish things that are merely for their own comfort, fame, and power–in other words, for things that in the long term are utterly meaningless. Of the hardships you may undergo for the sake of the Dharma, however, not a single one will be without meaning. The difficult situations you experience will help you to purify the negativity accumulated in many past lives and to gather merit as a provision for lives to come. They are sure to be meaningful.

Without diligence, bodhicitta and the activities of a bodhisattva will have no means to take root and grow in your mind. As Padampa Sangye said:

If your perseverance has no strength, you will not reach buddhahood;
People of Tingri, make sure you don that armor.

The Buddha Shakyamuni is renowned for having brought the paramita of diligence to its ultimate perfection. The power and merit generated by his endeavor over countless lifetimes could have brought him rebirth a thousand times over as a universal monarch, but instead he chose to direct all his efforts toward achieving enlightenment. As followers of the Buddha, we should use the story of his life and the stories of great saints of the past as inspiring models. Jetsun Milarepa, for example, displayed incredible endeavor, enduring many hardships to achieve his profound aims. Vairochana left for India in search of the Dharma at a very young age, undergoing fifty-seven unbearable difficulties to obtain the teachings and often coming close to losing his life. He and the other great translators of Tibet encountered tremendous hardships on their travels–the burning heat and the fevers then endemic in the Indian plains, the harsh animosity of local rulers, and so forth. Nevertheless they persevered and succeeded in bringing the authentic Dharma back to Tibet.

You are living today in countries where the Dharma has only just begun to take root, like a fragile new shoot in the ground. Only your sustained diligence will bring it to fruition. Depending on the effort you put into study, reflection, and meditation, and to integrating what you have understood into your spiritual practice, accomplishment may be days, months, or years away. It is essential to remember that all your endeavors on the path are for the sake of others. Remain humble and aware that your efforts are like child’s play compared to the oceanlike activity of the great bodhisattvas. Be like a parent providing for much-loved children, never thinking that you have done too much for others–or even that you have done enough. If you finally managed, through your own efforts alone, to establish all beings in buddhahood you would simply think that all your wishes had been fulfilled. Never have even a trace of hope for something in return.

A bodhisattva must have far greater diligence than a shravaka or pratyekabuddha, because the bodhisattva has taken the responsibility of accomplishing the ultimate happiness of budhahood not only for himself but for countless beings. As it is said:

The hero who carries the burden of all beings on his head has no leisure to walk slowly.


Since I and all others are tied by a hundred bonds,
I must multiply my diligence a hundred times.

To increase your diligence, reflect on how impermanent everything is. Death is inevitable and may come suddenly and very soon. Think how shallow and superficial this life’s ordinary concerns really are in that light, and how free you could be if you could turn your mind away from them. If you suddenly realized that in your lap, in a fold of your clothes, a venomous snake was hiding, would you wait to take action—even for a second?

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