In the Forward of the free ebook “Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment”, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there are a couple of paragraphs that caught my attention. They seemed to sum up perfectly for me the importance of the Lam Rim teachings and how they are a the foundation to all our other practices, including the tantra.
Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen says:
“Buddhism originated from its founding teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, who gave 84,000 forms of teaching. Lam-rim means “stages of the path to enlightenment.” It was the great Indian master, Atisha, who wrote the first lam-rim text, A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which condenses all 84,000 teachings into a single body of work. Atisha wrote this text in Tibet at the request of a Tibetan king. He then sent the text to India, where all the great realized scholars and mahasiddhas received it with praise and appreciation. It must be due to the good fortune and merit of the Tibetan people, they said, that Atisha had composed such a wonderful text.
Atisha’s lam-rim text is very brief but extremely profound, and Lama Tsong Khapa knew that without some further explanation, many people would not be able to understand everything that it contained. Taking Atisha’s lam-rim as the root text, Lama Tsong Khapa elucidated the teachings in three different versions: the Great Lam-rim, the Middling Lam-rim and the Short Lam-rim.
I believe that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has very deep reasons for giving these lam-rim teachings. Many of us wish to practice the tantric path with the sincere hope of achieving complete enlightenment as soon as possible. For us to become completely enlightened through the practice of tantra, however, there are some essential preliminaries that we need to practice first. To be truly qualified to practice tantra, we need to cultivate the three principal paths—renunciation, bodhicitta (the altruistic mind of enlightenment) and the wisdom realizing emptiness. The lam-rim teachings cover all these subjects in great detail.
If we cannot achieve realization of these paths before engaging in tantra, we should at least have familiarized our mind with them and gained some experience in their practice. In this respect, the lam-rim teachings are indispensable guides. We find explanations of the three principal paths throughout all the Buddha’s teachings but what the lam-rim does is to present them in a manner that is relatively easy to comprehend and practice.