Ground, Path, and Fruition

His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge


I would first like to say a few words in English. I am very happy to be in Munich, especially at the Shambhala Center and also to have been invited by Karma Dhagpo Gyurme Ling. You are working together and have invited me, which makes me very happy. All teachings come from Lord Buddha and are the same, particularly in the Kagyu School. Even though there are different teachers in the Kagyu Lineage who established centers in the West, such as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and other great masters, nevertheless, they established the centers within the Kagyu Lineage. The Head of the Kagyu Lineage is His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa. Since we are belong to the same Lineage, family, and have the same Lineage-holder, it is very good that you are working and hosting Lamas together.

Lord Buddha's teachings are very profound and so vast that an explanation would take many years. They can be summarized under three headings, expressed in the three trainings of knowledge, meditation, and conduct. All teachings are contained in the Tripitaka Scriptures, which are the Vinayapitaka, the Sutrapitaka and the Abhidharmapitaka. Furthermore, the essence of all teachings is summarized in the four classes of Tantra.

How can the teachings of Sutrayana and Tantrayana be applied in daily situations? First, it is of utmost importance to understand what ground, path, and fruition mean so that one is able to realize them correctly through practice. The Buddhadharma itself is perfect. If a practitioner does not understand the meaning of ground, path, and fruition correctly, he or she can err. The view of the Mahayana, "The Great Vehicle," is exceptional.

The Ground

What is the ground? It is the basis or fundamental view of Buddhism as to the true nature of all appearances and experiences. Buddhism embraces the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Some students interpret the Mahayana teachings wrongly and conclude everything is empty, that nothing exists – a mistaken interpretation. Lord Buddha's words have been precisely written down for us. Scholars and Siddhas have compiled many commentaries. For example, the great master Nagarjuna perfectly explained the view that all things by nature lack independent and inherent existence.Through the inspiration of the coming Buddha Maitreya, the great yogi Asanga perfectly elaborated the profound view that teaches the five paths and ten Bodhisattva bhumis or "levels to fruition," which is Buddhahood. Both transmissions of Nagarjuna and Asanga originated with Buddha Shakyamuni and are known as the "Two Noble Chariots." The chariot of the deep view was taught by Nagarjuna and explaines the truth about the empty nature of all dharmas, "phenomena." The chariot of vast activity was transmitted by Asanga through the inspiration of Maitreya Buddha and explains the skilful means of developing Bodhichitta while traversing the five paths and ten levels of a Bodhisattva's journey to enlightenment.


We need to remember that the Two Noble Chariots accord with Lord Buddha's words. Both transmission lineages are deep and vast. They are deep because they clarify the true nature of reality; they are vast because they clarify the profound paths and levels to fruition. The Buddha's teachings are only deep because they are vast and only vast because they are deep. Using the example of the ocean: An ocean is not characterized by depth only, because it is vast; it is not characterized by expanse only, because it is deep. Both definitions describe an ocean correctly. Since the Buddha's teachings are vast and deep, the view is also vast and deep - like an ocean - and is merely limited by restricted assumptions, such as the belief that things eternally exist of their own accord or the idea that things do not exist at all. The supreme view is beyond notions and beliefs. A sincere student of the Buddhadharma walks in the middle.

The middle view, "Madhyamaka" in Sanskrit, means being free of any extreme views and teaches that relatively appearances validly exist and that ultimately appearances lack independent existence, i.e., are empty of inherent existence. A Madhyamaka practitioner realizes that the two truths - the validity of relative appearances and experiences and of their ultimate, true nature - are indivisible. We see that there are two truths, two values of being. The connotation of the word "relative" was translated as "deceptive" from Sanskrit into Tibetan and describes a non-reflective and erroneous apprehension of phenomena. Usually, one simply accepts the presence of appearances and defines anything that exists in reliance upon one's restricted beliefs. If a practitioner investigates and reflects relative existents, as the Buddha suggested and taught, he or she will find that nothing by nature possesses an own identity, i.e., all things are actually empty of self-existence. The relative view means seeing that things appear; the ultimate view is realizing that all apprehended appearances are devoid of independent existence.

I think everyone understands the relative and ultimate truths and only spoke of them because one clings to an apprehending subject and apprehended objects as discordant and real. One's erroneous cognition distracts from engaging in practices to progress spiritually. One hears about the Buddhadharma, falsely shuns the apparent world as "bad," and chases after what one calls "the absolute," the "good." Clinging to appearances as true existents is an extreme; clinging to an ultimate reality is another extreme. One needs to be free of clinging to either the one or the other altogether.

Some students learn about the Buddhadharma and then want to have nothing to do with the apparent world. It has even happened that they refuse to eat, defying anything they consider mundane. This isn't the meaning of the Buddha's words. Lord Buddha described apparent reality and never negated the concrete world we experience. He clarified the truth of reality and showed how it actually is. Many students think that fleeing from what appears within and without leads them to the truth, a fundamental mistake that I wish to warn you about.

The error that can arise is assuming once emptiness has been realized, nothing at all exists any more. While abiding in meditative composure of stillness and calm, a knowledge arises which enables one to see that all things are free of coming and going, of being and non-being, of both being and non-being, and of neither being nor non-being. After having rested in meditative equipoise, the apparent world is there, as it was and as it is, and does not disappear. A sincere practitioner understands and sees that existents are appearances and that what appears does not truly exist as it seemingly appears to do. One needs to sincerely know that the two truths are inseparable – there is no need to divide them. Ascertaining this truth is realizing the ultimate view.

While a yogi rests in meditative equipoise, he or she naturally realizes that all things are empty of inherent existence, are actually beyond such mental formulations as "existent" and "non-existent." During post-meditation, he or she apprehends phenomena with an understanding that all things are free of an own entity and therefore clearly appear. He or she experiences no contradiction or controversies, rather the truth of reality. I hope to have clarified that the two truths or two realities of being are inseparably one.

Again, everything in and around us is there, which does not mean that what is there is not empty. Everything in and around us is empty, which does not mean that what is empty is not there. Things appear due to emptiness, a theme difficult to understand. For example, I have laid my mala on the table, so it is there. The non-existence of the mala on the table has ceased, i.e., existence and non-existence, there-ness and non-there-ness, exclude each other. Either there is an existent or there is no existent. In this example, the mala is on the table.

As far as the relative and ultimate truths are concerned, one needs to know that while things appear they are by nature empty and that because of being empty they appear. The two truths do not imply that before a student treads the path of the Buddhadharma there is total there-ness and emptiness gradually slips in during meditation or a Lama brings it along and distributes it to the audience. Emptiness does not mean that a practitioner meditates, realizes emptiness at a certain point, and after practice sessions needs to put things back into place so that they function again. Things appear because they are empty of inherent existence, therefore emptiness and clarity are not in opposition, rather they are inseparable. Understanding the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity is the supreme view. If a student investigates how things are, he and she non-mistakenly come to know that all phenomena are empty of inherent, self-supporting existence. Clinging to an analytical understanding of emptiness brings the danger of straying into an intellectual understanding that nothing exists.

I want everyone to know that emptiness is a central theme in Lord Buddha's instructions and distinguishes it from other religions. In contrast to other religions, belief is of no relevance in Buddhism, rather Lord Buddha taught how to ascertain that all appearances are there since they are by nature empty of inherent existence. It is not the case that an opinion can become a belief in Buddhism, that Vajrayana once originated in Tibet and is a religion one is now free to blindly follow. It is not the case that one believes in the Yidams employed in Tantric practices. One needs to understand the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity, and then one can recognize that all meditation practices are skillful means to realize the truth of the Buddha's instructions. Knowing this, a practitioner can – wakefully aware – tread the path that Lord Buddha showed.

The Path

What is the path in the sequence of ground, path, and fruition? We saw that the ground means realizing the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity, ascertaining the relative and ultimate truths. The path evolves from the ground. The path is the unity of compassion and superior knowledge of emptiness. Should practitioners focus their attention on emptiness only, they would become very uptight; should they focus their attention on compassion only, they would become very attached. Actually, superior awareness is won by critically scrutinizing appearances and experiences in order to know the actual nature of existents. Fixing one's mind on this knowledge makes a practitioner very rigid and inflexible. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for such a student to develop the openness of compassion that is needed to achieve omniscience. The practices of compassion are skillful means to balance the mind from falling into the extreme of nihilism. Knowledge of emptiness and openness of compassion must be practiced together in order to experience and manifest fruition.

Someone who only develops compassion has attachment to presence. Someone who only gains certainty of emptiness feels frustrated and becomes uptight. Training in great compassion and superior knowledge must be practiced together, referred to - because both are involved - as "the development of Bodhichitta," which alone leads to the experience of emptiness that encompasses all qualities of being. If one fails to practice both together, one will encounter tremendous difficulties.

I would also like to say that doing a three-year retreat does not solve problems. Through the wonderful activity of Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, many centers have been established all over the world and quite a few practitioners enter a retreat. Some fail, leave the retreat early, or experience difficulties afterwards. This is not due to the retreat as such nor to the Buddhadharma, rather the great path consists of developing immeasurable compassion and awareness of natural emptiness together. When a practitioner becomes discouraged because he or she lacks sufficient compassion or is attached to emptiness, then difficulties arise. If someone in retreat does not understand that the practices of great compassion and superior knowledge need to be unified, he or she will fail. If both are practiced together, then it works very well.

Believing a deity of visualization practice truly exists is an extreme, an erroneous view. Visualization practice of the creation phase of meditation is skillful means of compassion; developing the experience of emptiness is the purpose of the completion phase of each practice. Again, both stages of meditation - those of presence and of emptiness - must be practiced together. Not knowing the meaning of this inseparability, practitioners do not know what to generate and what to dissolve or why they are practicing the creation and completion stages of visualization practices in the first place. They will be completely confused about both aspects of every meditation practice and all efforts would be in vain.



What is fruition in the sequence of ascertaining the ground and manifesting the path? I have clarified that the path consists of unifying compassion and superior knowledge. Fruition evolves from the ground and path. It is described as having two aspects: it benefits oneself and it benefits others. If one realizes the unity of both, one appreciates the limitless activities of all Buddhas, who have attained the two virtues, the Dharmakaya and the two form Kayas.

I have elaborated ground, path, and fruition. If you understand them correctly, then you will experience no obstacles while practicing the path to enlightenment
Meditation Practice

How does one manifest the ground, path, and fruition? By developing the three knowledges that arise from hearing Lord Buddha's instructions, from contemplating the teachings, and from meditating or becoming habituated to the Buddhadharma. The all-knowing Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, wrote in The Mahamudra Prayer: "By studying the scriptures, may I become free of the obscuration of ignorance. By contemplating the instructions, may I subdue the darkness of ignorance. By the light arising from meditation, may what is shine forth just as it is. May the luminosity of the three prajnas increase immeasurably." This verse means that as ignorance is overcome, wisdom gradually unfolds, and as the darkness of doubt is dissevered, lucidity naturally shines forth.

Every living being possesses innate wisdom, which is momentarily obscured – more so in some, less so in others. It is not the case that there is a living being who is not endowed with primordial wisdom. In order to reveal the innate wisdom equally abiding within everyone, one engages in meditation practices. Meditating Noble Manjushri is such a means. I explained that one needs discriminating wisdom or superior knowledge when one pursues the Buddhadharma and for all situations in life. If one does not have knowledge, one will experience many difficulties. For example, should somebody want to help others but not be skilled, he or she will not succeed, in fact, may even cause more harm. With skillful means, even a little help is very beneficial. It is not the case that some have no knowledge, since everyone without exception is endowed with the innate potential that is momentarily obscured. It is possible for an individual to reveal his or her essence by meditating a Yidam such as Manjushri.

Every Yidam practice commences with taking refuge and generating Bodhichitta, the supreme motivation to attain enlightenment for the welfare of all sentient beings without exception. Practitioners need to know that all living beings living in the expanse of space do not realize their essence, are therefore fettered by ignorance, and consequently experience unceasing suffering that conditioned existence entails. Contemplating that all beings are entangled in knots of pain, compassion arises in us, compassion that is the wish to help. One therefore takes refuge in the highest being, the Buddha, in the highest state which is free of attachment, represented by the Dharma teachings, and in the highest community of practitioners who show the way, the Sangha. Then one generates Bodhichitta by resolving to develop all-encompassing wisdom and all-embracing compassion, which enable one to truly lead others to liberation from suffering, after one has realized this for oneself.

Within the Mahayana, there are the causal path, called "Sutrayana," and the path of fruition, called "Vajrayana." What distinguishes them? Sutrayana teaches the practices to perfect the view. Vajrayana, also called "Tantrayana," teaches the practices to perfect the means. Why is Sutrayana called "the causal vehicle?" Attachment to apparent phenomena diminishes through the practice of contemplating impermanence, emptiness, etc., the causes to eventually realize the truth of reality. Why is Tantrayana called "the vehicle of fruition?" An intellectual understanding of the view does not suffice to realize the totality of being. One needs to practice the skillful means taught in Tantrayana by applying the result while on the path. Whichever Yidam a practitioner meditates, every Yidam is a skillful means to eliminate impure perceptions and to transform ordinary cognition into primordial wisdom. This does not mean concrete or abstract appearances are negated, removed, or that purity is newly attained. It simply means realizing the purity of being, which is realizing primordial wisdom, the adamantine ground.

Human beings have many emotions, such as desire, attachment, and so forth. It isn't easy to give up clinging to a self, even though one learns that clinging to a self is the cause of all emotions, which inevitably bring suffering. This is why practitioners visualize themselves as a deity; they gradually learn to give up clinging to a self with all its insufficiencies through the practice of deity-yoga. This is why the wisdom deities visualized in a specific Yidam practice are invoked and offerings are presented to them. For example, one first invites someone to one's home, offers them a comfortable seat, serves them food and a refreshing drink, and then one plays music for them to enjoy. One has a pleasant time together, a natural custom that has been integrated into Tantrayana. One should not think that one invites truly existing deities and offers them food and nice things so that they perform ceremonies on one's behalf and would leave mad if one had neglected being hospitable. Invoking the deities is a skillful means to purify impure perceptions, impure cognition.

The purpose of the creation and completion stages of meditation practice is to diminish and eventually eliminate mind's attachment to existents and non-existents so that realization of emptiness and manifestation of clarity simultaneously shine forth. And one needs to remember that every practice one does concludes with a dedication prayer of any merit one has been able to accumulate for the welfare of all living beings.

Questions & Answers

Question: How does a beginner implement the three trainings?

Rinpoche: A beginner needs to train in the three knowledges that arise from hearing, contemplating, and meditating the Buddhadharma. You should not think that a beginner first hears, then contemplates, and at an advanced level meditates. All three trainings need to be practiced together. If one doesn't reflect and then meditate on what one has heard, one remains ignorant of the meaning.

Next question: What is the balance between studying emptiness and meditating on emptiness?

Rinpoche: Knowledge of emptiness evolves from meditation. It is impossible to truly realize the empty essence of all things without meditation practice. Nevertheless, it is good to intellectually become aware of the fact that everything exists on account of interdependent origination. But it is not that easy. You need to practice. You will then see the inseparability of appearances and emptiness.

Student: Through the practice of calm abiding?

Rinpoche: The experience of emptiness engenders qualities of clarity. It is impossible to realize emptiness through calm abiding meditation practice alone.

Next question: How do we develop compassion in our practice?

Rinpoche: Your understanding will expand as you pursue your studies. Great compassion needs to be developed by first resorting to artificial means. Genuine compassion gradually arises from meditating on limitless love. These practices are first imagined and then arise spontaneously. Sometimes we experience spontaneous and natural love and compassion for short moments, evidence that we possess the potential.

Following question: Should we consider negative feelings as empty?

Rinpoche: Oh yes. It is an exceptional factor in Buddhism that we learn to recognize the essence of anger the moment it arises so that we are able to control it.

Next question: Is detachment a prerequisite to realize emptiness?

Rinpoche: Tilopa told Naropa, "Appearances do not fetter you, only your attachment to them." Tilopa continued, "Stop being attached." Appearances do not delude, rather attachment to them. I have explained that the world and relative appearances are not bad. This is the point: Appearances themselves are not false.

Student: If you know this, what do you do?

Rinpoche: The best thing would be to generate Bodhichitta, the wish that all beings attain liberation. It is recommendable to ask the teacher you are studying with for his inspiration and advice. Bodhichitta is the means to eliminate hindrances.

Next question: If wisdom is the result, how do we deal with it in the beginning?

Rinpoche: Knowledge itself is not a result; rather realization of the truth of all things with knowledge is the result. Realization arises from hearing, contemplating, and meditating the Buddhadharma, from meditating a deity such as Manjushri.

Next question: Is there a connection between knowledge and rhetoric when we meditate Manjushri?

Rinpoche: Oh yes. A deity of wisdom encompasses all fields of study, and linguistics is a field of study.

Next question: I hear and contemplate the teachings. How do I meditate them?

Rinpoche: While you are listening to the teachings you are developing the knowledge that arises from hearing. If you don't forget the teachings and reflect them, then you are developing the knowledge that arises from contemplation. Should you only hear the instructions and forget them, you would not have knowledge. You engage in practice by integrating what you have learned and then the knowledge that arises from meditation evolves. I explained the inseparability of emptiness and clarity. I did not present a specific meditation practice, because these instructions are the basis for all meditations, whether we are engaged in calm abiding practices, Yidam visualization practices, or are training in Bodhichitta. If you integrate these teachings in your practice, knowledge from meditation will unfold.

Thank you very much.


Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained

And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.

May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara

That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha, and then

Lead every being without exception to that very state!

May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,

And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!

May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.

May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).

Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception

swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.


The teachings were presented at Karma Dhagpo Gyurme Ling in Munich, Germany, 1987. Translated from Tibetan into German by Christoph Klonk and translated into English by Gaby Hollmann, responsible and apologizing for any mistakes. Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang in Pullahari, Nepal. May virtue increase!