The Lamrim (Tibetan meaning ‘graded path’) is an ingenious presentation of all the Buddha’s teachings.
The step-by-step approach to the teachings was set out by the great Atisha (982 – 1052 A.D.) in his important work, Lamp for the Path of Awakening. All the schools of Tibetan Buddhism adopted the Lamrim genre.
This Lamrim divides beings according to three levels of spiritual motivation in relation to the teachings on the gradual path:
(1) Those of lesser motivation (who aim to achieve the higher states within samsara as human beings or as gods).
(2) Those of a middle motivation (who seek liberation from samsara for themselves alone).
(3) Those of greater motivation (who are motivated by the wish to lead all beings to perfect buddhahood).
Geshe Tenzin Zopa in his Foreword to the book Gradual Awakening by Miles Neale states the following:
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The great eleventh-century Nalanda pandit Lama Atisha understood this well, and with a mighty heart of wise compassion he set out to marshal the Buddha’s eighty-four thousand teachings – found in hundreds of scriptures and thousands of verses – into a logical, sequential, and practical road map to help guide spiritual seekers on the path, from ordinariness to liberation on to full and final awakening.
This unique style of teaching came to be called Lamrim, or the Gradual Path to Enlightenment, and, attesting to its beauty and effectiveness, has been preserved in all lineages and schools of Tibetan Buddhism for the past thousand years.
One of the unique features of the Lam Rim is that it recognizes an alternative to the path of sudden, spectacular enlightenment and instead proposes a more modest, gradual awakening.
From the beginning of Tibet’s history of receiving dharma transmissions from India, with the great debates involving the eighth-century Indian scholar Kamalashila, it was clear that for the masses the gradual process of studying, contemplating, and embodying insights over the course of a sustained, lifelong practice would be most appropriate and beneficial.
While all methods have their validity and are useful for practitioners of various dispositions, the gradual approach explained in these pages is as relevant to modern students as it was to Tibetans centuries ago.
According to Lama Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the essence of the entire path to awakening can be distilled into three main realizations: renunciation, the mind that relinquishes distortions, afflictive emotions, and compulsions, as well as their unfavourable results; Bodhicitta, the mind set on awakening for the benefit of others; and wisdom, the mind that directly perceives the ultimate reality of emptiness and interdependence.”
Source: Neale, Miles. Gradual Awakening: The Tibetan Buddhist Path of Becoming Fully Human. Foreword by Geshe Tenzin Zopa. Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2018.
Above excerpt is from the Foreword by Geshe Tenzin Zopa (pages ix-x).