Kagyu Changchub Chuling

A center for the practice and study of Vajrayana Buddhism founded by His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path by Lama Je Tsong Khapa

Event Leader: 
Zopa Herron
KCC Urban Center

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path by Lama Je Tsongkhapa:  Study, Contemplate, Meditate on Bodhicitta, Wisdom and the Determination to be Free

POSTPONED to later in the year

You are invited for a day to study a favorite text of Zopa Herron's Gelugpa teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Three Principal Aspects of the Path is a compact, seminal, major, fascinating, powerful overview of the Mahayana Path to Enlightenment by Je Lama Tsongkhapa, the head of the Gelug Lineage, all in three pages.*

All teachers of all Tibetan lineages encourage study as well as meditation, so we can have an accurate blueprint of where we are and where we want to be. This powerful brief text, like a flash of lightning in a dark night, is a map of the Mahayana Path (the Second Turning) from wherever we are now as students to full awakening.  

From Zopa:

"I really love this text. When I lived at Sravasti Abbey, we recited it often and received oral teachings on it from Venerable Thubten Chodron. I hope you can join me in learning and enjoying this day together."

The following quotes are from Geshe Sonam Rinchen, author of a commentary on Tsongkhapa’s text entitled, The Three Prinicpal Aspects of The Path:

Many factors are necessary for us to free ourselves but the essential prerequisite is a strong wish for freedom.
We will never attain supreme enlightenment without the altruistic intention to do so for the good and happiness of all living beings.  
We must cut through the very root of cyclic existence, which is possible only with the correct understanding of reality.

*Lama Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) was born in northeast Tibet. He began his study and practice of the Dharma at age seven. Throughout his life, he was dedicated to developing the correct understanding of reality and emphasized that good ethics are a necessary basis for achieving full awakening. It is taught that Lama Tsongkhapa received teachings directly from Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, who instructed him to do intense meditation for six years, beginning at age 35. Lama Tsongkhapa established Ganden Monastery, which grew to train thousands of dedicated monastic practitioners who gained many realizations. 

Resources for the class and for future study:

-Required:  "The Three Principal Aspects of the Path," from Pearl of Wisdom, Book 1 by Venerable Thubten Chodron [see below]

-Recommended:  A commentary on the text, a paperback book, The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, Snow Lion publishers.  Available in the KCC bookstore or at SnowLionPub.com. 

-Recommended:  A marvelous set of online teachings from Jan Willis and others at: http://thubtenchodron.org/buddhism/02-lam-rim/03-three-principals-of-the-path/

The Three Principal Aspects of the Path

(This is the entire text. Titles below added by Zopa for clarity)

I bow down to the Venerable Spiritual Mentors.  I will explain as well as I am able, the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror (Buddha), the path praised by the Conquerors and their spiritual children, the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation.

Listen with clear minds, you fortunate ones who direct your minds to the path pleasing to the Buddha and strive to make good use of freedom and fortune without being attached to the joys of cyclic existence.


For you embodied beings bound by the craving for existence, without the pure determination to be free (renunciation) from the ocean of existence, there is no way for you to pacify the attractions to its pleasurable effects.  Thus, from the outset seek to generate the determination to be free.

By contemplating the freedoms and fortunes so difficult to find and the fleeting nature of your life, reverse the clinging to this life.  By repeatedly contemplating the infallible effects of karma and the miseries of cyclic existence, reverse the clinging to future lives.

By contemplating in this way do not generate even for an instant the wish for the pleasures of cyclic existence.  When you have day and night unceasingly, the mind aspiring for liberation, you have generated the determination to be free.


However, if your determination to be free is not sustained by the pure altruistic intention (bodhicitta) it does not become the cause for the perfect bliss of unsurpassed awakening. Therefore the intelligent generate the supreme thought of awakening.

Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers*, tied by the strong bonds of karma which are so hard to undo, caught in the iron net of self-grasping egoism, completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance.

Born and reborn in boundless cyclic existence unceasingly tormented by the three sufferings**--by thinking of all mother sentient beings in this condition, generate the supreme altruistic intention.


Even if you meditate upon the determination to be free and the altruistic intention, without the wisdom realizing the ultimate nature you cannot cut the root of cyclic existence.  Therefore, strive for the means to realize dependent arising.

One who sees the infallible cause and effect of all phenomena in cyclic existence and beyond and destroys all false perceptions (of their inherent existence) has entered the path which pleases the Buddha.

Appearances are infallible dependent arisings, emptiness is free of assertions (of inherent existence or non-existence).  As long as these two understandings are seen as separate, one has not yet realized the intent of the Buddha.

When these two realizations are simultaneous and concurrent, from the mere sight of infallible dependent arising comes definite knowledge which completely destroys all modes of mental grasping.  At that time, the analysis of the profound view is complete.

In addition, appearances clear away the extreme of (inherent) existence.  Emptiness clears away the extreme of non-existence.  When you understand the arising of cause and effect from the viewpoint of emptiness, you are not captivated by either extreme view.

In this way when you have realized the exact points of the three principal aspects of the path, by depending on solitude, generate the power of joyous effort and quickly accomplish the final goal, my spiritual child.  

By Je Tsongkhapa

*The four powerful rivers are: ignorance, sensual desire, craving for self and rebirth and wrong views.
**The three sufferings (dukkha) are: dukkha of pain, dukkha of change and all pervasive conditioned dukkha.