Bearing the Fierce Trident

Aspiration, Wisdom, & Diligence on the Path.


If there were no dhatu of Buddhahood,
Suffering would never make us sad.
There would be no desire for nirvana,
Or effort and aspiration to that goal.

Many factors guide our path as dharma students. Prime among these are aspiration, wisdom, and diligence.


Aspiration: What we hope to accomplish

Individuals’ aspirations direct the flow of their lives. For the spiritually inclined, what they expect to achieve on the path guides their view and practice.


In simple terms, our mundane aspiration is what we aim to achieve, our initial goal. On the path, our aspiration is connected with the particular tradition or lineage that draws the student’s appeal. 


As someone who has entered the Buddhist path, we should explore our motivation for practice and what drives us in this direction. For those who have evolved to the Mahayana, the motivation of bodhichitta is supreme, but what I am discussing here is more rudimentary: why would someone begin a spiritual quest in the first place? Some want redemption, some want piety, and others are drawn to a particular spiritual attainment they read about somewhere. This fundamental spark is the level of motivation I am addressing here. In my case, I was moved to enter the path, hoping to reduce the suffering I created for myself and those around me. Nevertheless, the motivation and aspirations of individuals vary according to their experiences. 


My reason for addressing aspiration is to allow us to examine what brought us to the path in the first place and recognize that beginning as a defining factor in the expression of our Dharma Path. Our aspiration of practice is the spark that lights the entry to our spiritual path.


Our initial motivation is simply a connection that has the potential to become an authentic spiritual practice. In my case, I was hoping to reduce the suffering I created for myself and those around me. In my martial arts training, I often encountered the word “zen,” which struck a spark. I found a local Buddhist center and began to listen to and read teachings. One day, I came across the word “Dzogchen,” and the spark that “zen” had inspired burst into an inferno. I had mistaken zen as my path when I connected with Dzogchen. The words sounded similar, which was enough to motivate the beginning of my journey.


I encourage you to follow your evolution. As you progress, becoming more and more patient and gentle, please review your aspirations and let them evolve, guiding them with the knowledge, insight, and experience you accumulate along the way.


“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

We are fortunate to have a spiritual inheritance that puts the supramundane wisdom of the entire practice lineage in the palm of our hands. We can practice as our aspiration guides us and be skillfully carried to the profound mahāyāna no matter our initial motivation.


As Patrul Rinpoche writes in “Words of My Perfect Teacher:”


The Mantrayana can be entered by many routes. It contains many methods for accumulating merit and wisdom, and profound skilful means to make the potential within us manifest’ without our having to undergo great hardships. The basis for these methods is the way we direct our aspirations: 

Everything is circumstantial 
And depends entirely on one’s aspiration.

And Nagaruna in the “The Precious Garland of Advice for the King:”


It is renowned [in Great Vehicle scriptures] that motivation determines practices and that the mind is most important.

Wisdom: the capacity or ability of a student to understand and implement the Dharmic concepts and methods.

Our aspiration highlights the motivation of a spiritual seeker as the impetus for the spiritual pursuit. Our capacity for progressing on the path is connected to our wisdom. 


The Nyingma tradition has nine “yanas” or vehicles to guide students of differing capacities. Each vehicle facilitates an experience within the student’s understanding. Different personal advantages come into play when discussing a student’s capacity: faculties of the body, speech, and mind. These faculties directly relate to the freedoms and advantages of a precious human birth (See Chapter 1 “Finding Rest in the Nature of Mind”, Lonchen Rabjam).


A student’s capacity influences every element of their dharma path and understanding this capacity is essential in implementing dharma practice. For instance, Longchen Rabjam speaks of a student’s capacity at the most fundamental level of practice in his “Great Chariot.”


Taking refuge is the ground of every path.
Lesser people do so, fearing the lower realms.
The two intermediate kinds are afraid of the state of samsara.
The greatest have seen all the aspects of samsaric suffering,
Finding others’ suffering to be unbearable.
They fear the happiness of a personal nirvana.

The fundamental aspect of understanding capacity as both teacher and student is a critical genesis that directs the path once begun, steering the teachings that the guru reveals and the empowered practices. The guru will reveal teachings that speak directly to and simultaneously work to expand that capacity. In the long run, a student’s capacity can even affect the strength of the lineage itself. As Longchen Rabjam states: 


Students who are qualified to receive these teachings show indica­tions of a capacity to uphold them. This ensures that, once the very pin­nacle of the heart essence has been entrusted to them, the teachings will last for a long time so that the tradition in which innumerable beings of different kinds are led along the path to enlightenment will not be im­paired. 


Chapter 9 of Longchen Rabjam’s “Finding Rest in the Nature of Mind” discusses the Vajrayana at length, and capacity is often referenced as a guide to the practices to be appropriately engaged. Additionally, the edition of this text translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, has a chapter entitled “The Tathagatagarbha,” which reveals the importance of the student’s capacity in connecting to their innate potential for Buddhahood. All of these factors contribute to a student’s relationship, understanding and practice of the methods of training. A qualified guru, and attentive student can skillfully adapt and expand a student’s capacity as they traverse the path.


Diligence: The disposition of practice and effort a student is willing to undertake in that training.

Taking into consideration the earlier two topics of initial motivation and capacity, the third factor required on the Buddhist path is diligence or effort. What are you willing to do to achieve your spiritual goals? If we do not try, we will not be liberated. We must engage the path to recognize, stabilize, and actualize our mind’s nature.


Now you have attained a precious vessel,
Free of every defect, perfect, lauded by the Buddha.
If you do not store in it the riches of the twofold aim for self and others,
You will but bind yourself within the prisons of saṃsāra.
– “Finding Rest in the Nature of Mind” Longchen Rabjam

and the Bodhicharyavatara says:


If I do not make an effort from now on
I will simply go ever lower and lower still…

The only variable remains which method to employ on that trail to freedom. Working with a qualified guru face-to-face, receiving instructions, and resolving questions are essential in this regard. In engaging with a guru with a committed, honest connection, they will get to know you, and you will get to know yourself. Each student will have individual circumstances requiring specific applications and practices, and if the student is willing to engage wholeheartedly, you will progress. I, for instance, am extraordinarily lazy. I prefer unelaborate practices, less memorization, and simple instruction. It’s not better or worse; it’s just my circumstances.


Different types of teachers, too, have propensities and strengths, as do the teachings themselves. It is common for teachers to refer students to other teachers or schools for a curriculum better suited to their needs or those that hold lineages for specific beneficial practices. We have seen this adaptation in our Sangha. One case was when students requested a Guru Rinpoche-centric preliminary practice text, and Khachab Rinpoche obliged with what we now have as the Younge Ngondro. Again, when students requested straightforward instructions on accessing the immediacy of the natural state, Rinpoche responded with the Ngondro Gomtri (text and commentary published as Secret Path of the Siddhas). A guru will always consider the students’ needs, even when teaching is refused. Practices will certainly yield progress, but tailored, suitable teachings will always render a quicker progression.


This three-part discussion encourages students of the dharma to take an active role in their practice. Knowing yourself is the first step in knowing your nature; reflective work is the foundation of all meditational practice.


As a yogin with a pure mind looks inward, 
awareness, without underlying support or basis, is free of labels.
-Choying Dzod, Longchen Rabjam