Many people are looking for the entire picture of Tibetan buddhism, and this English edition of the "Lam Rim Chen Mo" is one of the most suitable works to get this entire picture. All the stages of the path of liberation are covered in their natural, logical sequence.
It is wonderful that such a thing exists: that it is possible to have a general and complete understanding of the path.
Reading and hearing, studying the teachings allows us to then contemplate their true meaning, that is, come to a personal understanding and conviction that the topic at hand is indeed true, relevant and workable. That is what contemplation is all about: coming to such a workable conviction.
Contemplative understanding is then the basis for meditation, or applying the workable conviction in daily life, until it becomes second nature, thereby transforming our life.
In this way we progress, step by step, from understanding to natural conviction to application to effortless realization.
It is therefore very, very beneficial to acquire a taste for this type of literature - which is itself often a gradual process. It may seem very dry in the beginning, but once you acquire a taste for a certain aspect of the teachings, you will want to read the entire chapter, and then marvel at the profound logic. Once you have a few of such experiences you will understand that other chapters just "might" contain equally valuable treasures, and slowly acquire a taste for them as well, by reading the text and pondering its profound meaning. Drawing our attention to the parts that we tend to ignore then proves to be the quickest way to true understanding!
This is why it is taught that by these very teachings you come to understand how all of the scripture are instructions for actual practice, and that these teachings cover all stages of the path in their natural sequence. Marvelous! Your intelligence, no matter what your present level, will develop naturally, and soon you will encounter understandings not previously met.
I started out with some attractive chapters or topics, and only much later my curiosity for the other parts of the book developed. And even then it took a while to translate the "script" into recognition in daily life. But now I use it as a reference: when I want to have a more thorough understanding of a certain aspect, I study from this book, by looking at its various parts and looking how it fits into the total picture (or mandala of the teachings).
Once you learn how to acquire a taste for this basic, foundational literature of "lam-rim" (graded path) and "lojong" (mind training), you can soon continue into the wisdom literature of "prajnaparamita" (transcendent perfection of wisdom), "tathagatagarbha" (primordially enlightened disposition), "madyamika" (middle way of no dualistic extreme), "secret mantra" (path of swift accomplishment through deity meditation), "mahamudra" (great seal of ultimate bliss), "dzogchen" (great completion in total awareness), and so on.
This "Lam Rim Chen Mo" belongs to a category of literature that is a direct legacy of Atisha, the great Indian master of the early 11th century, whose student founded the Kadampa school, one of the earliest denominations of Tibetan buddism.
These Kadampa teachings still form the basis of training in all four Buddhist schools and their monastic colleges, each school having its own slight variation in interpretation. Most of these have now been translated in English, so you can choose from among the following:
* Geluk school: the "Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam Rim Chen Mo)" (subject of the present review) is the classic that belongs to this school;
* Kagyu school: "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation" (ISBN 1559390921) is the famous classic by Gampopa, founder of the Kagyu school, by seamlessly integrating the Kadampa teachings of the gradual path with the Mahamudra teachings of the non-gradual path;
* Sakya school: "The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception" (ISBN 0861713680);
* Nyingma school": "Treasury of Precious Qualities" (ISBN 1570625980) by Jigme Lingpa.
Although each of these four works cover the same main subject, they are not necessarily exactly the same. Which work you choose for study will probably depend on your main spiritual teacher, if you have one.
What I particularly like about the "Lam Rim Chen Mo" in its present English edition, is that the subject is covered in full detail, separated by chapters with clear titles, for easy reference. So it is very suitable as a Western student's manual.
From the Editor's Preface: "The "Lam Rim Chen Mo" has the special feature of blending the three types of persons (those of small, medium, or great capacities) with the three principal aspects of the path (the determination to be free, the spirit of enlightenment, and correct view."
For those of higher capacity this means: travelling from the intent of acquiring a better life in the future; to the intent of liberation from samsara; to the mahayana intent of an open, compassionate heart with sacred outlook and pure vision, in order to liberate all sentient beings.
In this English edition, there are three volumes: the first volume covers the training of small and medium scope; volume two covers the mahayana training of superior scope; of which volume three covers the training in meditative serenity (shamatha) and wisdom insight (vipashyana).
From the Foreword: "Jey Tsongh-kha-pa's "Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment" is one of the greatest religious or secular works in the library of our human heritage. It presents a stunning vision (...) locating the precious jewel of an individual human embodiment at a critical moment of personal evolution. It provides this revelation in such a way that individual readers can be moved to achieve a fundamental paradigm shift in their vision of their lives: from having been a self-centered, this-life-oriented personal agent struggling with the currents and obstacles around them (...) to becoming a magnificent awakening being, soaring (...) in marvelous evolutionary flight toward an unimaginably beautiful destiny of wisdom, love, and bliss - buddhahood, or simply the supreme evolutionary glory attainable by any conscious being.
I like this literature tremendously, because it allows me to understand the foundation of the entire spiritual path, in the context of Tibetan buddhism in particular, but comparatively in the context of many other wisdom traditions and religions as well. Acquiring its taste has provided the condition, for me, for opening into endless study, imagination, reflection, meditation.