Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Jeff H
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Tue Nov 01, 2016 2:56 pm

First, of all, I apologize for dominating this thread and my over-long posts so far! I'm trying to lay some groundwork for myself, to better engage in a systematic review of lam rim, starting with this first text, with which I'm not familiar.

So at this point, could we take an overview of The Hymn of Experience before launching into verse by verse analysis? In my opinion, the beauty of lam rim is that it provides an overall structure of the path to enlightenment to be used as a model to more easily wrap one's mind around this vast endeavor. That is, for me, at my stage, the best way to approach things.

My first question is, does anyone know why it is called the hymn of experience?

Second, I went through to parse the movement of the verses (based on my numbering here). This is how I understand the different sections. Do others see it differently?

1-5: Lineage of Buddha’s teaching
6-10: Power and scope of the lam rim
11-16: Teacher, Precious Life, Death, & Refuge
17-20: Purification, Karma, & Renunciation
21-22: Mental transformation as the key to the path
23-34: Six Perfections (Generosity; Morality; Patience; Joyful Effort; Concentration; Wisdom)
35-37: Concentration & Wisdom must work together to destroy the delusions
38-39: (seems to echo 35-37)
40-41: Meditative emptiness & post-meditation illusion-like appearance; method/wisdom join
42-43: Having purified yourself in the common path, ally with a tantra teacher
44-45: Dedication
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Lobsang Chojor
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Tue Nov 01, 2016 3:57 pm

Hi Jeff, thank you though, I think when we move onto the next text we shall take an overview of the text before launching into verse by verse analysis?
Jeff H wrote:My first question is, does anyone know why it is called the hymn of experience?
I think this implies that it is based of Tsongkhapa's experience of practicing the dharma, given his usage of:
Je Tsongkhapa wrote:I, a yogi, practiced like this.
You who desire liberation, should do likewise.
Anyone got a different interpretation?
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Fri Nov 04, 2016 10:50 pm

Sorry for an absence for a few days, I've been really busy but that should be it for now, I am going to start from verse 15 as I think that's where we got up to (I've merged 15 and 16 as this is how the FPMT document has it).
Je Tsongkhapa wrote:15.
Although there is no certainty that after death
You will not be reborn in the bad migrations,
The Three Jewels will definitely protect you from this fear,
Therefore, steadfastly take refuge in them and never degenerate their precepts.
I think this is Tsongkhapa showing us the importance of the three jewels and that your individual practice is what will protect you.
16.
In addition, think well about the results of black and white actions,
  • Black actions are harmful/non-virtuous - remember them so we avoid commiting them again
  • White actions are non-harmful/virtuous - remember them so we rejoice and commit them again
Maybe the story of Geshe Ben Gungyel could help with this? Geshe Ben Gungyel was a kadampa master who prior to ordination was a theif; rather than doing prayers he was tasked with watching his mind and to help with this he created piles of stones, black for negative thoughts and white for positive thoughts.
And depend on the correct practice of that to be adopted and that to be rejected.
This reminds us to evaluate teachings and not rely on reputation
I, a yogi, practiced like this.
You who desire liberation, should do likewise.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Sat Nov 05, 2016 5:06 pm

I think v.15-16 take us through three major ideas: fear of rebirth leading to refuge leading to understanding karma.

REBIRTH: At my stage of development, I can’t possibly know where my mental continuum will take me for my next rebirth. It’s by no means certain that I’ll get another human rebirth just because I call myself a Buddhist and practice at my infantile level. I’m struggling to identify, purify, and reverse the “black karmic” habits of timeless prior rebirths. Am I correctly distinguishing black from white actions? How deep is my motivation to purify? Am I really less self-centered and less prone to grasp at inherent existence than I was a mere 10 years ago? This is the uncertainty of rebirth. Elsewhere Tsongkhapa shows that the evidence indicates a higher likelihood that my continuum is going to lower rebirths before it re-emerges in another precious human life.

REFUGE: That is the urgency that I need to apply to my present situation. I need to seize this opportunity now, while I can. For that purpose I can rely on the Three Jewels. By investing my trust in Dharma, and applying myself to the best of my ability, I can be sure that my vision will clarify at least a little, and that I will make at least some incremental progress toward overcoming my delusions. Refuge is my only hope and standard.

KARMA: I don’t know where it comes from, but I once heard that Buddha said only two things are necessary: to begin the path and to complete it. That is what I need to install in my mind. And that is what this initial scope of lam rim attempts to do: firmly establish the path in my mind. Inculcating my mind with the path, at this stage, means using the fear of rebirth to trigger refuge and spur my concentrated efforts to understand karma. That means to internalize how and why negative actions are so terribly harmful to myself and others.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Sun Nov 06, 2016 3:28 pm

I guess Lobsang hoped to generate more interest with this lam rim thread, and I’d very much like to see that happen. I’ve posted in the hope people would comment on, question, and/or challenge the things I’ve put up. Lam rim as a path is different than much of what I see discussed on DW. I dabbled in Zen many years before I came to Buddhism, but it didn’t address the analytics that I, personally, still need. I’m impressed with the devotion of Pure Land practitioners, but that method doesn’t resonate with me. I studied, from the outside, the principles of Vajrayana, but I consider it over my head, requiring a leap that I’m not yet ready for. Dzogchen has a certain dominance on DW and I intend to read Malcolm’s book as soon as it’s released, but it has not been my karmic reality to meet a Dzogchen teacher and receive instruction. Regarding both Vajrayana and Dzogchen I apply the principle, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

What has “appeared” for me is a clear direction within lam rim. I am on the sutrayana path. I cannot be in a hurry because, as far as I can know right now, I’m at the very beginning of a journey of three incalculable eons. I’m not envious of or discouraged by Malcolm’s assurance of Buddhahood in this life. Many have gotten there before both Malcolm and me, and many more will do so before I do. I have a lot of basic groundwork to do. And lam rim is a marvelous work plan for that groundwork. We all want enlightenment as soon as possible, but that doesn’t mean we can skip steps that are necessary for our personal development.

Below is an excerpt from a quote Conebeckham posted here. The quote emphasizes the “lesser vehicle” sutrayana, whereas we in the lam rim are Mahayana sutrayana followers, but I think the distinction being made is important for those of us embracing the lam rim path.
A distinction has to be made. While the sutra and tantra approaches are equally the teachings of the Buddha, and ultimately have the same intention, a distinction needs to be made between the attitude toward appearances that is encouraged in the sutra, especially in the lesser vehicle, and the attitude toward appearances that is proscribed in tantra.

From the point of view of the vajrayana, our worst problem is self-denigration, the denigration of our aggregates, elements, and senses as impure. From the point of view of the sutras, in particular of the Vinaya and so forth — the common vehicle — these aggregates, elements, and sense are stated to be impure, troublesome, filthy, and so on. One attempts to cultivate disgust for them as a basis for the achievement of freedom. But in the vajrayana one does not cultivate disgust for the aggregates, elements, and senses.

[From a teaching on Essence of Wisdom: Stages of The Path, Part 3 by Lama Tashi Topgyal. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Full teaching available from the KPL bookstore as an MP3 download.]
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Sun Nov 06, 2016 7:15 pm

I hope this helps Jeff, I hope this discussion will help you :)

If you want help tracking your "karma", I j=know of an IOS app called Karma Tracker, I haven't found one for Android yet (I use "Karma" becuase it's more related to the story of Geshe Ben Gungyel above)
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Tsongkhapafan » Sun Nov 06, 2016 7:38 pm

Jeff H wrote:From the point of view of the vajrayana, our worst problem is self-denigration, the denigration of our aggregates, elements, and senses as impure. From the point of view of the sutras, in particular of the Vinaya and so forth — the common vehicle — these aggregates, elements, and sense are stated to be impure, troublesome, filthy, and so on. One attempts to cultivate disgust for them as a basis for the achievement of freedom. But in the vajrayana one does not cultivate disgust for the aggregates, elements, and senses.

[From a teaching on Essence of Wisdom: Stages of The Path, Part 3 by Lama Tashi Topgyal. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Full teaching available from the KPL bookstore as an MP3 download.]
I think this is incorrect. The reason for practising generation stage and completion stage of Tantra is the recognition that the ordinary appearances of our aggregates is impure. We want to practise generating new, pure appearances of the body, mind, enjoyments, environment and deeds of an enlightened being. Through this correct imagination, we will attain the supreme state of enlightenment.

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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Malcolm » Sun Nov 06, 2016 7:42 pm

Tsongkhapafan wrote:
Jeff H wrote:From the point of view of the vajrayana, our worst problem is self-denigration, the denigration of our aggregates, elements, and senses as impure. From the point of view of the sutras, in particular of the Vinaya and so forth — the common vehicle — these aggregates, elements, and sense are stated to be impure, troublesome, filthy, and so on. One attempts to cultivate disgust for them as a basis for the achievement of freedom. But in the vajrayana one does not cultivate disgust for the aggregates, elements, and senses.

[From a teaching on Essence of Wisdom: Stages of The Path, Part 3 by Lama Tashi Topgyal. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Full teaching available from the KPL bookstore as an MP3 download.]
I think this is incorrect. The reason for practising generation stage and completion stage of Tantra is the recognition that the ordinary appearances of our aggregates is impure. We want to practise generating new, pure appearances of the body, mind, enjoyments, environment and deeds of an enlightened being. Through this correct imagination, we will attain the supreme state of enlightenment.
Hahahah TKF imagines that his form aggregate looks like this in actuality:
vairocanayabyum.jpg
vairocanayabyum.jpg (44.4 KiB) Viewed 1445 times

Anyway, TKF, the subject of the thread is LAM RIM not SNGAGS RIM.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Tsongkhapafan » Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:16 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Tsongkhapafan wrote:
Jeff H wrote:From the point of view of the vajrayana, our worst problem is self-denigration, the denigration of our aggregates, elements, and senses as impure. From the point of view of the sutras, in particular of the Vinaya and so forth — the common vehicle — these aggregates, elements, and sense are stated to be impure, troublesome, filthy, and so on. One attempts to cultivate disgust for them as a basis for the achievement of freedom. But in the vajrayana one does not cultivate disgust for the aggregates, elements, and senses.

[From a teaching on Essence of Wisdom: Stages of The Path, Part 3 by Lama Tashi Topgyal. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Full teaching available from the KPL bookstore as an MP3 download.]
I think this is incorrect. The reason for practising generation stage and completion stage of Tantra is the recognition that the ordinary appearances of our aggregates is impure. We want to practise generating new, pure appearances of the body, mind, enjoyments, environment and deeds of an enlightened being. Through this correct imagination, we will attain the supreme state of enlightenment.
Hahahah TKF imagines that his form aggregate looks like this in actuality:

vairocanayabyum.jpg


Anyway, TKF, the subject of the thread is LAM RIM not SNGAGS RIM.
I don't suppose you know that lamrim is both Sutra and Tantra because the presentation of lamrim contains all the Buddha's teachings?

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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Malcolm » Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:20 pm

Tsongkhapafan wrote:
I don't suppose you know that lamrim is both Sutra and Tantra because the presentation of lamrim contains all the Buddha's teachings?
You don't suppose you know that in the Gelug system, Sngags rim (stages of mantra) follows Lam rim (stages of the path), in the order of presentation? This thread concerns Lam Rim. While it true that in Lam Rim literature, there is always at the end a brief pitch for the necessity of practicing Vajrayāna for attaining the aims of Mahāyāna, the stages of mantra are not presented in any detail whatsoever in the 18 famous Lam Rim treatises, not even in the Lam Rim treatise of your beloved Pabhongkha.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Ayu » Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:57 pm

That's right. Tantra is only mentioned at the end on a few pages (In "Lam Rim Bring Pa" 5 of 592). This cannot be called "it contains Tantra".
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Sun Nov 06, 2016 9:31 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Tsongkhapafan wrote:
I don't suppose you know that lamrim is both Sutra and Tantra because the presentation of lamrim contains all the Buddha's teachings?
You don't suppose you know that in the Gelug system, Sngags rim (stages of mantra) follows Lam rim (stages of the path), in the order of presentation? This thread concerns Lam Rim. While it true that in Lam Rim literature, there is always at the end a brief pitch for the necessity of practicing Vajrayāna for attaining the aims of Mahāyāna, the stages of mantra are not presented in any detail whatsoever in the 18 famous Lam Rim treatises, not even in the Lam Rim treatise of your beloved Pabhongkha.
Yes. This is exactly my understanding, and practice of lam rim. This thread is Lobsang's, but from my perspective its relevance is having the opportunity to discuss the graduated stages, starting from the bottom. Personally I don't see it as a suitable place to reconvene the previously locked "Ultimate Truth" thread.

From the "Foundation of All Good Qualities" (FPMT version),
Tsongkhapa wrote:...
Once I have pacified distractions to wrong objects
And correctly analyzed the meaning of reality,
Please bless me to generate quickly within my mindstream
The unified path of calm abiding and special insight.

Having become a pure vessel by training in the general path,
[Then] Please bless me to enter
The holy gateway of the fortunate ones:
The supreme vajra vehicle.
...
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Sun Nov 06, 2016 9:50 pm

Jeff H wrote:Yes. This is exactly my understanding, and practice of lam rim. This thread is Lobsang's, but from my perspective its relevance is having the opportunity to discuss the graduated stages, starting from the bottom.
I'm glad we agree Jeff, my plan was to work from the bottom and slowly extend the text with greater detail.
Tsongkhapa wrote:Having generated the common path necessary for
The two supreme Mahayana paths, the causal and resultant,
Rely on a protector, a skillful master,
And enter the great ocean of the classes of tantra.
So in this text, tantra doesn't come until verse 42, and it supports the idea that we need to work on our sutra ability, which is from the ground up in the Lam Rim.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Tue Nov 08, 2016 6:03 pm

:focus:
Je Tsongkhapa wrote: 17.
Until you attain a body with pure characteristics,
You will not make progress in your practice of the supreme path;
Train in the causes for becoming free from those impurities.
Since your three doors are defiled by negative actions, downfalls, and stains,
I am not to sure about this part, does anyone know what the three doors are?
18.
It is particularly important to purify karmic obscurations;
Therefore, continuously cherish reliance on purification with the four forces.
I, a yogi, practiced like this.
You who desire liberation, should do likewise.
This reminds me of the story, "Atisha would purify any negativity, no matter how small, immediately. Even in public or when riding his horse, as soon as he noticed a breach of his ethics, he would stop what he was doing, drop to one knee and then and there, purify it with the four opponent powers—the powers of dependence, regret, remedy and restraint."

The Four Powers are the powers of dependence,regret, remedy and restraint. The power of dependence is taking refuge; the power of regret is confessing and recalling all negitivities; the power of remedy is the practice (ie. Vajrasattva, practice of the 35 confession buddhas); and the power of restraint is vowing not to do the action again (usually said "for a day, an hour or at least a few seconds" to avoid lying to a buddha).
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Tue Nov 08, 2016 7:42 pm

I believe the three doors refer to the actions of body, speech, and mind because those are the means by which we act out our present defilements and generate new ones. Shantideva goes into great detail about posting mindfulness and introspection to maintain constant vigilance over everything one thinks/feels, says, or does. The analogy I think of is airport security: mindfulness is the scanning machine and introspection is the security agent; the scanner must work properly and the agent must constantly monitor and take appropriate action.

I agree about the four opponent powers. Another way to remember them is: regret, reliance, remedy, and resolve. The sequence should be a natural reaction to something we know for certain is harmful. If I realize I have just taken some kind of poison, I immediately regret it. I don't waste time with guilt or explanations, I just viscerally wish I hadn't done it. I desperately look for someone I can rely on to help me neutralize the harm, like a qualified doctor. Then I carefully follow whatever remedy they recommend. When the danger is past, I resolve within myself to find ways to avoid the same situation in the future.

If we truly understand the dire consequences of our deluded actions and internalize the meaning of attachment, hatred, and ignorance as poisons, then these four steps will naturally follow.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Tue Nov 08, 2016 9:41 pm

Jeff H wrote:I believe the three doors refer to the actions of body, speech, and mind because those are the means by which we act out our present defilements and generate new ones. Shantideva goes into great detail about posting mindfulness and introspection to maintain constant vigilance over everything one thinks/feels, says, or does. The analogy I think of is airport security: mindfulness is the scanning machine and introspection is the security agent; the scanner must work properly and the agent must constantly monitor and take appropriate action.
Thanks Jeff your analogy is really helpful, I do remember these being in Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Bay of Life.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Wed Nov 09, 2016 4:49 pm

Well, Lobsang, it's unfortunate that it seems to just be you and me, lobbing a few lam rim thoughts back and forth here. I see there's a little bit of readership (479 views, as I write this), but I think even that only spiked when Malcolm and Tsongkhapafan briefly wrestled off their "Ultimate Truth" mat into this thread.

It's interesting to me that lam rim is a common practice which is open to full discussion and practice by anyone. By "common" I mean both senses: intended for ordinary practitioners; and a shared basis for even the highest practices. Threads that tiptoe around secret teachings, or fiercely defend conflicting understandings of what emptiness is, or speculate on how or what fully enlightened beings experience are generally much more popular. (I enjoy them very much, too!)

Lam rim requires no empowerment at the outset and it's not a hidden teaching. Bodhisattva vows can be practiced before they are formally "taken". The six bodhisattva deeds are powerfully practical ways to conduct oneself long before they become the perfections.

I don't doubt for a minute that there are, proportionally, a great many very highly accomplished individuals on DW. I'd say we've got scholars, deep meditators, devoted ritualists, and people with genuine realizations. But the rest of us, who do not yet fit any of those descriptions, must necessarily comprise the vast majority of DW participants and lurkers. Lam rim is for all of us.
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Wed Nov 09, 2016 7:14 pm

I agree Jeff it is unfortunate but I do notice we have a few guests reading so hopefully we can benefit them as well as improve our understanding.
Je Tsongkhapa wrote:If you do not put effort into contemplating true sufferings – the faults of cyclic existence –
You will not develop the wish for liberation.
If you do not contemplate true origins – the steps for entering cyclic existence –
You will not understand how to cut the roots of cyclic existence.
I think this is meant as a refutation of eternalism, with the "true sufferings" being birth, aging and death.
Therefore, rely on weariness, definite emergence from existence;
And cherish the knowledge of what binds you to cyclic existence.
I, a yogi, practiced like this.
You who desire liberation, should do likewise.
We are bound to cyclic existence by our ignorance (correct me if I'm wrong), which is removed by compassion and wisdom.

Do you think I've missed anything? :namaste:
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Jeff H » Wed Nov 09, 2016 9:36 pm

So returning to our current text, verses 19 & 20, I think you are right, Lobsang, but I think that Tsongkhapa is making reference to the Wheel of Life, which gives these verses more depth.

The Wheel of Life is more than a sequential list showing the cycle of suffering, it is an interactive study and meditation guide. The basic list is this:

1. Ignorance is the basis for 2. Karmic activities, which give rise to 3. Consciousness in the form of cause-consciousness (karmic seeds) and effect-consciousness (resultant karmic experiences). These experiences generate 4. Name & Form, which is to say, a living being. The being develops 5. Senses Sources with which it constantly scans its environment for stimuli. Each stimulating experience is a 6. Contact, or actual interaction, which generates 7. Feelings, specifically meaning pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral reactions. Up to this point (#7) we’ve followed habitual karmic reactions on auto-pilot. But we have the option here, by means of strong habituation to virtuous responses, to divert the next step, 8. Craving in a positive direction (although it has to be spontaneous, not conscious). Craving is the tendency to follow or continue a specific delusion, whether positive, negative, or neutral. 9. Grasping amplifies the craving. Grasping at anything (including white or black karma) assures us of continued 10. Existence. Existence is a cause that is named for its effect because at this point 11. Birth then 12. Aging & Death are sure to follow.

This sequence is parsed in many different ways in meditation, to better understand both the generative flow and also the deconstructive process of reversing the flow. But I think in these verses Tsongkhapa is referring to the characterization of the 12 nidanas into: Afflictions, or delusions (1, 8, & 9); giving rise to the Causes, or karmas (2 & 10); resulting in the Sufferings (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, & 12). The sufferings in turn generate more afflictions, and so it goes.

I think that here he is telling us to learn this deeply, in order to really understand how wearisome it all is. “Definite emergence” is a term used to describe renunciation, “a mind intent on liberation”. So, since he addresses “you who desire liberation”, I think he’s saying desire isn’t enough. We’ve got to fully internalize the fact that there is absolutely no redeeming value in continuing samsaric lives at all.

[DISCLAIMER: I need to state clearly that I am not a teacher (although I may seem to be playing one in this thread)! I am passing along things I have learned along the way, but I have no authority whatsoever. That is why it would be better if there were more knowledgeable practitioners creating a dialogue here. Meanwhile, it’s helpful for me to trot this stuff out in response to this root text.]
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Re: Lam Rim Discussion: Part 1

Post by Lobsang Chojor » Wed Nov 09, 2016 10:25 pm

Thanks Jeff, you definitely have more textual experience than I do.

I'll echo your disclaimer: I am also not a teacher (although it seems both of us are playing one in this thread). I am just analysing the root text similar to how my teachers do and presenting them similarly to my teacher does.
ༀ་ཨ་ར་པ་ཙ་ན་དྷཱི༔ Oṃ A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhīḥ

"Morality does not become pure unless darkness is dispelled by the light of wisdom"
  • Aryasura, Paramitasamasa 6.5

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