The Path to Awakening, translator Lara Braitstein ,2014
Meditation is so much in the popular psyche that all sorts of misinformation is floating around. When was the last time you heard something like “I am going to go on a retreat, align my chakras, and get my Zen on!” This is mostly the outcome of marketers selling the latest fad related to yoga, mostly by not understanding what yoga, Zen or meditation truly is. There are those people who are trained to know that these fad ideas are inaccurate, and they come from all the traditional backgrounds that you would expect: the highly trained Zen practitioner, the meditating yogi, Christian mystic, the Kabbalist, the Sufi, and in the case of the Path to Awakening, the Tibetan Buddhist monk Shamar Rinpoche.
From the beginning this book is not for the faddist looking to align his chakras to get his Zen on because that person’s Zen probably ends at the local Artisan Brewery. No, the tradition of meditation that the Rinpoche is discussing is based in the time tested practices of ‘yoga’ and meditation that the Buddha has delineated for us. What the Rinpoche is actually discussing is related to the ‘higher doctrine’ in Buddhism which consists in the analysis of the data of experience in accordance with a number of traditional categories. This higher doctrine is known as Abhidhamma, and all properly trained adherents of Buddhism, as is the Rinpoche here, are more than familiar with it.
The ancients figured out that there were six types of temperaments and that meditation subjects should be given to individuals based on their temperament. Those six temperaments are Greed, Faith, Hate, Intelligence, Delusion, and Discursiveness. The Abhidhamma texts give several ways to determine a person’s disposition, from their posture, their approach to what they do, their attitude to food, the way they look at things, and their mental states. For example, some mental states associated with the Greed-type might be deceitfulness, conceitedness, fickleness, and love of finery. (Conze, 1977) These types of teachings can be found in profound texts like Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification)
Shamar Rinpoche presents to the reader a selection from this ancient tradition that is associated with Buddhist teachers from Tibet, paying respect to the fact that if not for the Tibetans, many works like Visuddhimagga and others would be lost to us. The text he presents here, by way of translator Lara Braitstein, is the Rinpoche’s arrangement of the root lines and detailed commentary on Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training (from the translator’s introduction). The text, presented in the aforementioned Abhidhamma style, is easy to read and practical. The Rinpoche’s compassionate presentation of the steps that Chekawa Yeshe Dorje set forth explains what is termed Shiné or calm abiding. The ordinary Shiné presents the basics of meditation, as it is classically known. In a fascinating direct connection to the aforementioned Abhidhamma texts, the Rinpoche gives other Shiné practices to overcome distractions as, and after ordinary Shiné is accomplished.
The aids to counter distractions are pretty much what resolve some of the negative aspects of several temperaments mentioned above. For Desire he sets forth the practice of concentration on the repulsiveness of the body. For Anger he sets forth concentration on compassion and loving-kindness (something we note the Tibetan monks are exemplars, if only H.H the Dalai Lama is our sole example). The remedy for pride being contemplating – Where am I –the text gives instruction for that. Finally, the remedy for ignorance being the understanding of the Buddha’s 12 links of interdependence. All of this, requiring more than the cursory study of someone who just wants to get their Zen on, is an accurate and compassionate depiction of the ways of a truly sincere meditator, the ways of the ancient, revered tradition of meditation, a way of calming the mind and discerning the real.
This little book packed with excellent practices and information is a treasure for the serious meditation student, no matter what their background. I will chime in with the Venerable Rinpoche in saying: may any positive benefits created by this attempt to relay information regarding this great work be reserved for all sentient beings, and for any errors in presentation based in the arrogance or delusion of the writer I apologize to the learned sages of all the meditative traditions.
Reference: Conze, E. (1977). Buddhist Scriptures. New York: Penguin.