The death of the Seventh Dalai Lama, a monk of deep meditation and vast erudition, heralded the end of Tibet's efflorescence as a spiritual culture. Faithful to the spirit of Tsong-Kha-Pa's mysterious work and to the brilliant statesmanship and religious guidance of the Great Fifth, he had heroically faced hostile forces which sought to control Tibet. Preserving the lines of spiritual instruction and the sanctity of his office, he restored the temporal authority of the Dalai Lama and fixed the pattern of Tibetan government which persisted until the exile of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in 1959. The Eighth Dalai Lama, leaving much of the administration of daily affairs to others, pursued a scholarly and contemplative life. Unfortunately, events destroyed the peaceful conditions forged by the Seventh Dalai Lama, and the resulting disasters were as much due to Tibetans as to outsiders.
In 1768 Prithivi Narayan, the ruler of Gurkha, a minor principality west of the Nepal valley, invaded the kingdoms of Patan, Katmandu and Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur) and seized the whole valley. Shortly thereafter he conquered Jumla and Mustang and invaded parts of Western Tibet without encountering resistance from either Lhasa or Beijing. A few years later, the Third Panchen Lama, renowned for his wisdom and insight, yielded to the urgent and frequent invitations of the Manchu emperor to visit Beijing. He made the arduous journey to China in 1779 and was received with high honours. He used the goodwill generated by his presence in Beijing to press for the autonomy of the Dalai Lama's government, but he died in 1780 before he could achieve his aims. His brother, Tenpe Nyima, became the Fourth Panchen Lama, and in accordance with the Third Panchen Lama's testament, he was given total control of Tashilhumpo's enormous wealth. A second brother, who had become a high-ranking monk in the Karmapa Order in Nepal, claimed a share of these resources for himself. When Tenpe Nyima refused to recognize the claim, his brother prevailed on the willing Gurkhas to invade Tibet.
In 1792 the Gurkhas sacked Tashilhumpo, the sacred seat of the Panchen Lama. This affront to China's largely symbolic suzerainty and the high esteem in which Tenpe Nyima was held by the emperor compelled the Chinese to launch a massive retaliatory force which eventually drove the Gurkhas back into Nepal. Although the Fourth Panchen Lama was restored to his throne, the Chinese forced upon the Gurkhas a peace which recognized Tibet as having a special and subordinate relationship to China. Neither the Dalai Lama nor the Tibetan government was consulted in this arrangement, and though the Chinese were not in a position to face resistance to the treaty, it marked the end of Tibet's autonomous dealings with the rest of the world. Tibet withdrew behind its borders, adopted a xenophobic attitude and eventually became the 'forbidden land' which inspired romantic novelists in the late nineteenth century.
When the Eighth Dalai Lama died in 1804, the Chinese attempted to alter the traditional methods of discovering his reincarnation by introducing a lottery amongst the most promising candidates. The Tibetans rejected the idea, and after some intense encounters, the Ninth Dalai Lama was recognized by Tibetans and Chinese alike. He lived only ten years, and during that time Tibet was governed by a regent. When his successor died in his twentieth year, a number of Tibetans came to suspect foul play. The Eleventh and Twelfth Dalai Lamas also died just about the time they were to assume full spiritual and temporal authority. Although historians have tended to look for Chinese machinations in these untimely deaths, the fragmentary evidence available suggests otherwise. Tibetans themselves disagree regarding the role of the regents in this rapid succession of Dalai Lamas. Some suspect poison in every case, and there is some evidence for this point of view, particularly in the light of similar attempts made on the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Others understand these deaths as the result of karma, holding that Tibetans had so completely failed to honour the work of Tsong-Kha-Pa and the Fifth Dalai Lama that they had made it impossible for their successors to survive for long in the polluted land.
The last strong Manchu emperor, Ch'ien Lung, died in 1799, and though the dynasty survived for more than a century, internal rebellion and foreign intrigues weakened its capacity to influence affairs far from the capital. The regents at Lhasa were quick to grasp the significance of this change in Manchu fortunes and they sought to take advantage of it, but their power lasted only so long as the Dalai Lama was a minor. Tenpe Nyima lived through most of this tumultuous period, and as the obscuration of the office of Dalai Lama continued through a series of incarnations, he found himself increasingly the effective representative of Tibetan spiritual unity. Ruling from Tashilhumpo, which remained essentially independent of Lhasa, he acted as the spiritual head of the whole country. While he was careful to do nothing to weaken the prestige of the Dalai Lamas, he sought to remain faithful to the precepts of his predecessors and to avoid being ensnared in the politics of Lhasa. The skill with which he carried out his difficult duties won the profound respect of the Tibetan people and the Chinese government. When he died in 1853, a quarter of a century before the birth of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, many Tibetans thought that the light had finally gone out of Tibet.
Despite the onerous duties imposed on the Fourth Panchen Lama by time and circumstance – the restoration of Tashilhumpo, governing all the Gelukpa monasteries, ministering to the people and preserving the sacred lineages against internal disintegration – he was a man of meditation and contemplation. For him, all truth could be found in the Teaching of Buddha, and the greatest representative of that Teaching was Tsong-Kha-Pa. He wrote extended commentaries on short works of Tsong-Kha-Pa meant to be taken as root texts. These brief poems encompass the Bodhidharma in a form which is as easy to memorize as it is difficult to understand. A monk who had memorized a root text could contemplate it wherever he went and during any activity, and he could turn to a commentary for advice on how to translate the spirit of the text into an unfolding series of meditative practices. In his commentary on Tsong-Kha-Pa's Three Principles of the Path, the Fourth Panchen Lama provided a complete programme for meditation centred on the principles of renunciation, bodhichitta and right view.
The aspirant to this form of meditation begins by carefully preparing himself and the place for meditation – cleaning the room, installing some suitable object of devotion, making a pure offering and assuming a posture of meditation. The meditator then takes the fourfold refuge:
He imagines light and nectar streaming from the objects of refuge to heal and purify all beings. Placing himself under the beneficent protection of the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – he seeks to arouse bodhichitta through renunciation.
He then imagines a great assembly of lamas and deities gathered around Buddha. Their light enters into his being, purifies it and passes into the world for the sake of all beings. Perceiving in the mind's eye a glorious rain of nectar which falls upon living beings and purifies them, he beholds the objects of refuge dissolving into light which in turn dissolves into Tsong-Kha-Pa, who becomes a brilliant light in the place between the eyebrows.
The aspirant should next imagine his guru in the form of Tsong-Kha-Pa, seated on a cushion of sun and moon and lotuses.
Vajradhara is discerned seated in the heart of Buddha, and Buddha is seated in the heart of Tsong-Kha-Pa. He is enthroned on a rainbow, along which are ranged great teachers. Two beams of light radiate from his heart, the right bearing the lineage of Maitreya, which represents mahakaruna, universal compassion, and the left carrying the lineage of Manjushri, which represents the profound wisdom of shunyata, the Void.
Once the meditator is firmly fixed in this condition of consciousness, he performs the sevenfold act of worship, in which he makes offerings, acknowledges his wrongdoing in mind and body, welcomes every virtuous activity, requests the Buddhas to turn the wheel of Dharma, petitions all teachers to remain in the world and offers any merit gained to all living beings. Having offered a mandala and invoked the Great Teachers, he is ready to begin the two phases of meditation – contemplation of the teachings and complete meditation. Beginning with an unconditioned recognition that all one has received comes from one's guru, one seeks to honour what one can never repay by assimilating the three principles of the Path.
In conjunction with this teaching one should dwell upon the fact that Opportunity for real meditation comes only when one lays down an ethical foundation for practice, takes up the paramitas and offers both to all living beings.
To begin to accomplish the ends set out, one has to meditate on universal suffering, which is the quintessence of samsara, the world of appearance and delusion. So long as one finds some aspects of samsara enjoyable, one has failed to penetrate its fundamental nature. Only through a realization of its root nature will one engender the motivation for emancipation which sustains a pilgrim on the Bodhisattva Path. Renunciation of the wiles of samsara is only part of the task set for the aspirant. One has to make a positive effort to arouse bodhichitta, beginning with the cultivation of equanimity. By thinking of some individual who has neither helped nor harmed one, towards whom one feels neither attraction nor aversion, and by consciously vowing to have equanimity towards all living beings, one begins to develop bodhichitta. One then thinks of the most attractive individual one knows or can imagine and repeats the exercise.
Finally, one should contemplate some individual who is exceedingly unattractive to oneself and consciously make the same invocation. When one has done all this to some degree, one should deliberately extend the same line of thought to all beings, known and unknown, visible and invisible.
Equanimity is the basis for meditating upon the seven steps to arouse bodhichitta. The first step involves asking the question "Why are all living beings my relatives?" One should consider the fact that, since there is no beginning to samsara, there is no beginning to one's births in some form or another. Since one has taken birth innumerable times, all living beings may have been one's mother at one or another time. One is related over time to all that exists, and since time is an aspect of samsara and ultimately an illusion, one should bring awareness of this universal relatedness into the present moment. Doing so will profoundly affect the way one conducts oneself with others. When one has realized the truth of universal relationship, one should undertake the second step, meditation upon the self-sacrificial dana or loving kindness one's mother showered upon one. In light of universal interdependence, one can gradually extend one's gratitude to all beings for the kindness of which one has been a beneficiary. The third step involves thinking again of beings towards whom one is impartial, attracted or feels revulsion. Knowing that each individual has shown great kindness to one at some time, one should respond with dana and recognize that differences which presently exist are the consequences of karma.
These three steps constitute a prolonged meditation upon what one has received and they aim to engender gratitude. The fourth step turns from what one has received to what one should want to give in return. An individual can never fully repay all beings in one life or even in many, but he can nurture a profound longing to help them free themselves from samsara and suffering. He will begin to awaken the positive dimension of the Bodhisattva vow, pledging himself to serve others in thought, word and deed. Such thoughts move naturally to the fifth step, which is the radiation of love towards all beings. As an exercise, one can begin by extending love in one's mind to those close to one, then to those towards whom one is attracted, then towards those one dislikes and finally towards all beings.
The sixth step involves meditation upon mahakaruna, supreme compassion for all beings. When one can engender an authentic current of compassion, one can then take a vow to help redeem all beings from the trammels of delusion. The seventh step is meditation upon bodhichitta itself. In doing so, one should think:
To the degree that one awakens bodhichitta, one can perform the activities of the Bodhisattva. One should make bodhichitta one's sole motivation and practise the six paramitas from that standpoint. This effort works alchemically on one's own nature and radiates outwardly through the world. During meditation, one consciously works on oneself; between periods of meditation, one should seek to put the paramitas into practice in relation to others. In doing so, one makes use of the three doors – body, speech and mind – by exercising beneficent control over what passes through them. Rather than remaining a deluded victim who victimizes others in turn, one begins to become a compassionate influence in the world. Whatever the activity – sleeping, eating, bathing or speaking to others – one conjoins the activity to bodhichitta and transmutes the endless round of action and reaction into a gradual process of emancipation. In healing oneself, one ministers to others without imposition or visible action.
This vast cycle of meditation reaches its conclusion in meditation upon right view, which centres on the knot of the personal ego. Meditation on the phenomenal ego – the sense of self as it is experienced from moment to moment – is limited and not ultimately helpful. One has to meditate upon the innate ego, the source of the phenomenal 'I'. It is the sense of self which persists through sleep, which abides in the heart and which reacts to blame and injustice against oneself. Once innate egoism is identified, one can use four keys to dispel its grip on consciousness. The first key is a careful analysis of how one perceives the innate 'I'. Although it seems to persist amidst changes in states of consciousness and external conditions, it is never wholly separated from the transient skandhas or aggregates – form, feeling, limited perception, conditioned activities and conditional consciousness. Recognizing the dependency of this 'I' upon the conditions it claims to stand beyond, one can negate it.
The second key requires logical clarity: either the innate ego is the same as or different from the five skandhas. Once one has clearly decided which option is exclusively true, one can use the last two keys. If one is convinced that the 'I' is the same as the skandhas, then one can use the third key which denies true sameness. If the innate ego is identical with the skandhas, then either there are five coexisting egos – one for each skandha – or the five skandhas are really a single unified aggregate. A little reflection will show that both alternatives are absurd. If, however, the 'I' is taken to be different from the aggregates, the fourth key is used to deny true diversity. If the 'I' is different from the skandhas, it should be analysable. Any one of the aggregates can be indirectly identified by removing the other four. Removal of all five should reveal the innate ego. But this cannot be done. The 'I' which claims to be independent and seems to be dependent is, in fact, non-existent. If one focusses on this truth in one-pointed meditation, the core delusion of a deep-seated personal ego will be dissolved gradually. From the standpoint of realization, one comes to recognize the unreality of all manifest existence; from the standpoint of perception, one beholds shunyata, the Void. When these two standpoints are held together in one-pointed meditation, one achieves the meditation of equipoise like space. Having gained that, samsara will appear as a magical illusion.
Although the cycle of meditation is undertaken by the aspirant to the Bodhisattvic Path on his own, he understands its stages through his guru's instruction. The magnificent panoply of symbols remains a sealed book to the disciple until his teacher opens it for him by explanations which fit the symbols to his particular nature. When he begins to assimilate what is gleaned in meditation, the invisible benediction of the guru guides him at every moment. This Presence reminds the disciple that the effort he puts forth is not for himself alone but for the sake of all sentient beings. As one's meditation draws to a close, one should offer all that has been accomplished to the welfare of living beings. Relying on the guru's grace and guidance, one gives all credit to him. The final dedication which brings the cycle of meditation to a close might be taken as the motto of the life of the Fourth Panchen Lama, who sought in harsh and hostile conditions to serve all beings with compassion and integrity: