Article Index

Basic Program Syllabus

1. Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

“With study comes understanding; but this must be put to use. It is therefore vital to put as much as one can of what one has studied into practice…”

Lama Tsongkhapa

The celebrated system of teachings known as the Stages of the Path (lamrim) represents a synthesis of the entire path to enlightenment. Presented in a clear and concise form, these teachings are easy to understand and apply in meditation. Instruction begins with the preliminary practices, and then progresses through the essential practices of the ‘beings of the three scopes,’ including correct guru devotion, renunciation, the altruistic wish for enlightenment, and the view of the middle way. As a foundation and context for Buddhist practice, this subject is a key element of the Basic Program.

TEXT: Tsongkhapa, Middling Exposition of the Stages of the Path

2. Heart Sutra

“Form is empty, emptiness is form; form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form…”

Shakyamuni Buddha
(The Heart of Wisdom Sutra)

Among the most famous of all the Buddhist scriptures, the Heart Sutra reveals the truth of emptiness through a short exchange between two of the Buddha’s most illustrious disciples, Chenrezig and Shariputra. Traditional commentary expands on the cryptic style of the sutra to clarify the exact nature of the wisdom realising emptiness and the ‘method’ practices that are its essential complement, relating these two aspects of practice to the five levels on the path to enlightenment. The brevity and profound nature of the Heart Sutra have made its recitation popular as an effective means for dispelling obstacles to spiritual endeavour.

ROOT TEXT: Shakyamuni Buddha, The Heart of Wisdom Sutra
COMMENTARY: Tendar Lharampa, Jewel Light Illuminating the Meaning: A Commentary to the Heart of Wisdom

3. Mahayana Mind Training

“And thus bodhisattvas are likened to peacocks: they live on afflictions – those poisonous plants. Transforming them into the essence of practice, they thrive in the jungle of everyday life. Whatever is presented they always accept, while destroying the poison of clinging desire…”

Dharmarakshita, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons

The Mahayana path is characterised by the bodhisattva’s aspiration to become a buddha for the sake of all beings. The means to develop and enhance this extraordinary attitude are revealed in a genre of teachings, at once practical and radical, known as ‘mind training,’ or ‘thought transformation’ (lojong). Dharmarakshita’s Wheel of Sharp Weapons is one of the most esteemed mind training teachings, and a powerful weapon to cut through our true enemies – the grasping at a self and the self-cherishing that oppose altruistic intent and prevent lasting happiness and peace.

4. Engaging in Bodhisattva Deeds

“For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide, to dispel the misery of the world.”


The teaching on the bodhisattva’s deeds is based on Shantideva’s inspirational verses on Mahayana aspiration and practice, composed more than a thousand years ago and still widely regarded as the most authentic and complete guide for the practitioner dedicated to the enlightenment of all beings. This highest of motivations lies at the heart of the Guide, which ranges in scope from simple, practical techniques for developing generosity and dealing with destructive emotions, up to the most refined discussion of ultimate truth. Due to its authenticity and relevance for everyday life, this classic is probably cited more often in teachings by Tibetan Buddhist masters than any other Buddhist scripture.

ROOT TEXT: Shantideva, Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds
COMMENTARY: Gyaltsab Je, Commentary to (Shantideva’s) ‘Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds’

5. Mind and Cognition

“All human accomplishment is preceded by correct cognition.”


Mind and Cognition (lo-rig) begins with the study of mind, both in its valid and distorted forms. In addition a number of important themes are introduced, including the relationship between subject and object, supramundane (yogic) knowing and the connection between thought and reality. An introduction to Buddhist psychology forms the latter part of the teaching, where the various positive and negative emotions, as well as the cognitive states relevant to practice of a liberating path, are identified and defined.

TEXTS: Yongdzin Purbu Chok, Explanation of the Presentation of Objects and Object-Possessors As Well As Mind and Cognition and Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, Clear Exposition of the Modes of Minds and Mental Factors: A Necklace for Those of Clear Mind

6. Tenets

"My doctrine has two modes: advice and tenets. To children I speak advice, and to yogis, tenets"


Based on the idea that the Buddha taught different things to different people in line with their capacities, Tibetan scholars systemised the numerous trends in Indian Buddhist thought and taught the four schools of Tenets (drub-ta) as a means to approach the most profound philosophical teachings via more accessible levels. The text that is the basis for study of this subject gives a brief overview of the assertions on minds, objects, selflessness and the nature of attainment within each of the schools, culminating in the tenets of the most highly esteemed school, the Madhyamaka.

TEXT: Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen, Presentation of Tenets

7. Ornament for Clear Realisation (Fourth Chapter)

"By the knower of all, hearers seeking pacification are led to peace; By the knower of paths, those benefiting migrating beings accomplish the welfare of the world; By the perfect possession of it, the subduers teach the varieties possessing all aspects; To these mothers of the Buddhas, together with the host of hearers and bodhisattvas – homage.”


Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Realisation is the root text for the study of the levels of realisation related to enlightenment according to the Madhyamaka school. This important scripture, traditionally the basis for extensive study in the monastic curriculum, makes explicit these levels which are otherwise presented in only a hidden manner in the Buddha’s Perfection of Wisdom teachings. From among the seventy topics covered by the Ornament, the eleven topics of chapter four have been selected for commentary in the Basic Program curriculum, with an emphasis on the first topic.

ROOT TEXT: Maitreya, Ornament for Clear Realisations
COMMENTARY: Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen, General Meaning of the Fourth Chapter

8. Sublime Continuum of the Mahayana – First Chapter: The Tathagata Essence

"I bow to the one who, with no beginning, middle, or end, has a serene stillness and is clear-minded and fully evolved who became clear from his own aspects and once clear, shows fearless, constant paths of the mind to bring realisation to those with no realisation …"


One of the major texts studied in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Maitreya’s Sublime Continuum clarifies the meaning of our Buddha potential, in particular the emptiness of the mind that allows evolution to a state of complete enlightenment. The first chapter of this work, which explains four related ‘vajra’ subjects – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and Buddha potential – will be the focus of this teaching.

ROOT TEXT: Maitreya, Sublime Continuum of the Mahayana
COMMENTARY: Gyaltsab Je, Commentary on Maitreya’s ‘Sublime Continuum of the Mahayana’

9. Grounds and Paths of Secret Mantra

“In brief, the buddhahood achieved over countless eons, you will attain in this birth, through the most excellent bliss, or the state of Vajradhara.”

Samputa Tantra

Grounds and Paths of Secret Mantra offers a concise overview of the structure of the tantric path, widely acclaimed in Tibet as the swiftest and most sublime means to realise buddhahood. Tantra distinguishes itself in particular through a unique combination of method and wisdom, achieved through meditation on the perfect form of a buddha as completely devoid of true existence. Kirti Lobsang Trinley’s commentary presents the most important features of the four classes of tantra as well as the initiation procedures and particularities of the deity yoga related to each class.

TEXT: Kirti Lobsang Trinley, A Brief Presentation of the Path of Vajrayana OR Ngawang Palden, The Illumination of the Texts of Tantra: The Principles of the Grounds and Paths of the Four Great Secret Classes of Tantra. 

A. Seventy Topics

Seventy Topics is an important study of the entire sutra path to enlightenment as presented in the Ornament for Clear Realisations, including all the fundamental features of the basis, path and goal in the Mahayana. The Topics are listed and each is defined and explained in turn.

B. The Three Basic Bodies: Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth

Death, intermediate state and rebirth underpin samsara, the condition of repeated rebirth impelled by previous action and delusion. But they are also the three ‘basic bodies’ of Highest Yoga Tantra practice, forming the bases for altruistic transformation into the Truth, Enjoyment and Emanation Bodies of a Buddha. This transformation is brought about by means of simulating in meditation the stages of the death process that result in manifestation of the clear light mind. Therefore, this teaching explains in detail both the death process and the way it is brought into the path to enlightenment.

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