What makes for a ‘pure’ Buddhist tradition?


According to the tradition of Nalanda, whenever a Spiritual Guide teaches Dharma he or she begins by explaining three purities. Whenever we listen to, read, or teach Dharma these three purities are necessary: a pure mind on the part of the student, pure speech on the part of the Spiritual Guide, and pure Dharma. The mind of the student is pure if he or she is free from holding wrong views, has faith in the Spiritual Guide and in the Dharma that is taught, and has a correct motivation. The speech of the Spiritual Guide is pure if it is unmistaken and clear, if he or she received it from an authentic Spiritual Guide, and if the oral transmission and lineage teachings have blessings. The Dharma is pure if it reveals the entire path that leads to enlightenment, presents each point unmistakenly, and has been handed down in an unbroken lineage from Buddha Shakyamuni. The Dharma that is explained here, the Lamrim, is pure because it possesses these three necessary conditions. Therefore, our task as readers is to make sure that our own mind is pure while we read, contemplate, and meditate on the meanings that are explained. Principally, we need to develop a good motivation by thinking:

Now I have a supreme opportunity to attain Buddhahood and lead others to the same state. To become enlightened I need to practice all the stages of the path. Therefore, I am going to study these instructions and put them into practice.

If we read Lamrim with such a pure intention we shall increase our collection of merit moment by moment. There is nothing more meaningful that we can do with our lives. For myself, the author, there is no greater meaning in my life than to teach and explain pure Dharma. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Joyful Path of Good Fortune: the Complete Buddhist Path to Enlightenmentpp. 3-4, © 1990, 1995)

It is the tradition of both Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa to base all their teachings on the word of Buddha and never to teach anything that contradicts Buddha’s teachings. According to these two great Teachers, unless an instruction is referred to in either the Sutras or the Tantras it cannot be regarded as an authentic Buddhist teaching, even if it is a so-called ‘terma’, or ‘hidden treasure text’. Whenever they gave teachings or composed texts, both Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa quoted liberally from both the Sutras and the Tantras. In this way they showed their great respect for Buddha’s original teachings and emphasized the importance of being able to trace instructions back to them.

In Ornament for Mahayana Sutras, Maitreya says that throughout the entire universe there is no one wiser than Buddha. Buddha understands directly and simultaneously all objects of knowledge and realizes the true nature of all phenomena. If we have faith in Buddha we should practice only those instructions that do not contradict his teachings. If we follow instructions that contradict Buddha we will make no spiritual progress and our practice will cause the degeneration of the Buddhadharma in this world. Similarly, if we claim to be a Buddhist Teacher but give teachings that contradict Buddha we will be destroying Buddha’s doctrine. Therefore, if we consider ourselves to be Buddhists we should take great care to practise only those teachings that come originally from Buddha. We should be careful not to be influenced simply by the reputation of a particular Teacher or book, but should check to see whether or not they are authentic. Even if we are told that by hearing a particular teaching or by reading a particular book we will attain enlightenment quickly, we should still be cautious and examine its authenticity first. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Great Treasury of Merit: How to Rely Upon a Spiritual Guidep. 41, © 1992)