The series of smaller and larger lamrims by Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357–1419) are now the best-known examples of the lamrim genre.

They range from the very concise Summary of the Lamrim (Lam rim bsdus don) in just twenty-five verses to his very extensive summa, the Great Lamrim (Lam rim chen mo), whose complete title is The Stages of the Path of Awakening: A Treatise that Expounds Exhaustively All Stages of Practice of the Three Spiritual Types.

Information about Tsongkhapa’s opus is widely disseminated in English.

In his colophon, Tsongkhapa says that he did not adhere closely to the words of the fundamental work of the tradition (i.e., Atiśa’s Lamp for the Path to Awakening), except for the general definitions of the three spiritual orientations, thinking that the wording of that text was easy.

He mentions that he gathered essential points from many lamrim treatises. Tsongkhapa thus acknowledged that much of his Great Lamrim was not entirely (or even mainly) based on Atiśa’s Lamp. Instead, he had combined within it various traditions.

Still, in its overall structure, his work belongs to the lamrim genre proper, and its ultimate inspiration in that respect was clearly Atiśa’s Lamp.

Tsongkhapa also quotes the Blue Compendium of Geshé Dölpa many times in his Great Lamrim, and though he does not name it explicitly as a major source, it belongs among the “many other lamrim treatises” that he mentions.

Source: Dolpa. Stages of the Buddha’s Teachings: Three Key Texts (Library of Tibetan Classics Book 10) (p. 23). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.

Further Notes

Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelug school, wrote one of his masterpieces in the lamrim genre. It is entitled LamrimThe Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path of Enlightenment (Tib. Lam-rim Chen-mo).

This lamrim text divides spiritual practitioners into three scopes, based on the motivation of their religious activity. The three kinds of persons are:

(1) Persons of modest scope;

(2) Persons of medium scope; and

(3) Persons of high scope.

Persons of modest motivation seek for happiness within samsara; their motive is to achieve high rebirth.

Persons of medium motivation seek for their own ultimate peace and abandon worldly pleasure.

Persons of high motivation, based on insight into their own suffering, seek to stop the suffering of all beings.

The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment by Tsong-Kha-Pa  has been translated into English and is presented as a three-volume series.

The first volume sets forth all of the preliminary practices for developing the spirit of enlightenment (bodhicitta).

The subsequent volumes focus on the motivation and practice of the bodhisattva, with the final volume offering a detailed presentation of meditative serenity (shamatha) and insight (vipashyana).

(Source: Tsong-Kha-Pa. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Volume 1): Volume One. (Kindle Locations 24-27). Kindle Edition.)

Atiśha’s disciples formed a school known as the Kadam, most of whose traditions were absorbed into the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, which was founded by the great Tsongkapa (1357-1419).

Many Kadam and Gelug lamas wrote lamrim commentaries, and the most famous was Tsongkapa’s master work, The Great Stages of the Path (Lamrim Chenmo).

Pabongka Rinpoche followed the general outline of this text in an important 1921 discourse that was to become Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.

However, while Tsongkapa’s work has a more scholarly emphasis, Kyabje Pabongka’s work focuses on the needs of practitioners. It goes into great detail on such subjects as how to prepare for meditation, guru yoga, and the development of bodhichitta. Thus Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand is a highly practical text.

Finally, there are four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and all have lamrim-style teachings, but the Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu schools do not emphasize the lamrim as does the Gelug. Although generally in the Gelug monastic curriculum the lamrim is not taught to the monks until quite late in their careers, it is often the first teaching given to Westerners. And, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand has been the lamrim that Gelug masters teach most.

(Source: Pabongka. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: A Concise Discourse on the Path to Enlightenment [Kindle Locations 551-556]. Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.)

Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand

A commonly used outline for lamrim teachings today is in the English translation from Tibetan of Liberation in the Palm of your Hand by Pabongka Rinpoche.

An abbreviated and annotated outline follows to show the structure of this lamrim.

  • Greatness of the author of the lamrim, to establish the authenticity of the teaching
  • Greatness of the lamrim itself, to gain respect for it
  • How the instructions are to be received and given
  • How students are to be guided through the subjects
  • How to rely on a spiritual guide
  • How to train one’s mind on the basis of the correct way to rely on the spiritual guide

The path shared with persons who have a modest scope motivation (striving for a rebirth in the upper realms)

  • Reality that this life will end and that one will die
  • Suffering in a rebirth in the lower realms (a rebirth as a hell being, a hungry ghost, or an animal, which one wants to avoid)
  • (so one takes) Refuge in the three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
  • (and adjusts one’s behaviour of body, speech and mind according to the) law of cause and effect, that is karma

This will lead one to a favourable rebirth within cyclic existence in the human realm, demigod realm, or god realm.

The path shared with persons who have a medium scope motivation (striving for liberation from cyclic existence)

  • Truth of suffering (in cyclic existence in general, including the favourable rebirths)
  • Truth of the causes of suffering (the afflictive emotions, especially ignorance)
  • The truth of cessation (there is a state that is free of suffering and its origins)
  • The truth of paths (the way to attain this state free of suffering and its causes by practising ethics, concentration and wisdom)
  • Presentation of the 12 links of dependent arising

The training in the medium scope path will lead to the development of the wish to be liberated from all un-free rebirths in cyclic existence due to the power of afflictive emotions.

The path of persons who have a high scope motivation (striving for complete buddhahood)

  • Advantages of the mind of enlightenment (the wish to become a buddha for the welfare of all sentient beings)
  • The way to develop the mind of enlightenment
  • The 7-point instruction in seeing all sentient beings as one’s mothers (from previous lives and contemplating their kindness towards oneself)
  • Instruction on how to exchange one’s self-interest for others’ interest (by looking at the drawbacks of self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others)
  • The way to train one’s mind after developing the mind of enlightenment
  • Training in the six perfections of: generosity, ethics, patience, joyful effort, concentration, and wisdom

Source: Taken and adapted from