Essential Tibetan Buddhism, p. 176-202

Tsong Khapa’s Medium-Length
Transcendent Insight

Part I
Benefits of Meditating on Quiescence and Insight

The Buddha stated in the Elucidation of Intention Sutra that all mundane and transcendent excellencies of Individual and Universal Vehicles are the effects of mental quiescence and transcendent insight.

One might object, "Well, aren’t quiescence and insight themselves excellencies of character of one who has already attained the fruits of meditation? In that case, how is it correct for all those ecellencies to be the effects of those two?"

Since actual quiescence and insight, as will be explained, are indeed excellencies of character of one accomplished in the fruits of meditation, it is granted that all excellencies of Individual and Universal Vehicles are not their effects. However, there is no contradiction, since all samadhis beyond one-pointedness toward virtuous objectives are classified under the heading of "insight." With this in mind, the Lord said that all excellencies of the three vehicles are the effects of quiescence and insight.

He further states in the Elucidation of the Intention Sutra: "If a person practices quiescence and insight, he will become liberated from the bondages of bad conditioning and signification." Ratnakarashanti explains in the Instruction in Transcendent Wisdom that this means that "bad conditioning" bondages, which are the instincts lying in the mental processes capable of generating ever-increasing distorted subjectivities, and "signification" bondages, which create those instincts in the form of prior and posterior attachment to distorted objects, are abandoned by insight and quiescence, respectively. Now those are the benefits of what are designated as "quiescence" and "insight," and the meaning is the same even if you do not so designate them, as when you designate them the benefits of "meditation" and "wisdom." They still are to be known as the benefits of these two, quiescence and insight.

How the Two Contain All Samadhis

The Buddha also stated in the Elucidation that all samadhis of Individual and Universal Vehicles that he ever mentioned are included in quiescence and insight. Therefore, since those eager for samadhi cannot possibly explore all separate categories of samadhis, they should explore thorougly the method of cultivation of quiescence and insight, which provide a general framework for all samadhis.

The Identification of Mental Quiescence

Buddha states in the Elucidation: "One sits alone in isolation, one absorbs oneself within, one impresses in the mind the well-considered teachings, and one goes on impressing this within the mind continuously, the very mind that is doing the impressing. Entering in this way and repeatedly abiding therein, when physical and mental fluency emerge, it is called ‘mental quiescence.’ This means that when the mind no longer vacillates but works continuously, naturally abiding with its chosen object, and when the joyous ease of mental and physical fluency is produced, then that samadhi becomes (actual) mental quiescence. This is produced just from holding the mind within without wavering from its chosen object and does not require any realization of the thatness of things. 

The Identification of Transcendent Insight

The Buddha said in the Elucidation, "Then, after attaining the physical and mental fluency, one abandons the mode of keeping the mind focused on one thing, and one individually investigates the well-considered things arising as internal images in the realm of the samadhi; one confronts each one of them. Thus, with regard to those objects of knowledge that arise as images in the objective sphere of samadhi, their discernment, investigation, examination, thorough analysis, tolerance, acceptance, differentiation, viewing, and discrimination; all these are called ‘transcendent insight.’ And in this way, the Bodhisattva becomes expert in transcendent insight."

According to Ratnakarashanti and Asanga, quiescence and insight are not differentiated according to their chosen objects, since each of them can take either ultimate or relative as their object. There is such a thing as an insight that does not realize voidness. Therefore one is called "quiescent stability" because it is a quieting of the mind’s attraction toward external objects and a stabilizing of the mind on the inner object. And the other is called "transcendent insight" because there is an "intensifying" or "excelling" experience.

Now there are some who assert that quiescence is the lack of the sharp clarity of the intellect through keeping the mind thought-free, and insight is the presence of such sharp clarity. But they are mistaken, since such contradicts all of the above explanations, and since that difference is merely the difference between samadhi afflicted by depression and samadhi without depression. All quiescence samadhis must definitely be cleared of depression, and all samadhis free of depression definitely arrive at sharp clarity of mind. Therefore we must recognize whether or not a samadhi or wisdom is oriented toward voidness by whether or not the intellect involved understands either of the two selflessnesses, since there are innumerable samadhis that have bliss, clarity, and thoughtfulness without having any interest in the objective ultimate reality. It is established by experience that to generate insight it is not enough to hold the mind completely free of thought and not discover the view that understands the real situation. Failure to understand voidness in no way precludes the development of nondiscursive samadhi. By the power of holding the mind thought-free for a long time, one develops fitness of neural energies. This is marked by the arisal of joy and bliss in body and mind; so lack of realization of voidness does not preclude the creation of bliss. Once that has been created, by the power of the vividness of the feeling of bliss, clarity dawns in the mind. Therefore one cannot represent all blissful, clear, and thought-free samadhis as realizing thatness. Thus, while it does happen that nondiscursive bliss and clarity occur in samadhis realizing voidness, it also often happens in samadhis not at all oriented toward voidness. So it is necessary to distinguish the difference between the two. 

Reason for the Necessity to Meditate on Both

Why is it not sufficient to meditate on quiescence and insight one by one but rather to meditate upon both together?

For example, if one is in a temple at night and wishes to view the wall paintings and so lights a lamp, one can see the painted deities quite clearly if one has both a bright lamp and it is undisturbed by the wind. If the lamp is not bright, or if its brightness is too agitated by the breeze, one cannot see the deities clearly. Similarly, to view the impact of the profound, one can see thatness clearly if one has both the wisdom that ascertains unerringly the import thatness and also the unwavering concentration that stays focused on its chosen object. Even though you might have the nondiscursive samadhi, which stays put without being distracted elsewhere, if you do not have the wisdom to be aware of the real situation, however much you may cultivate that samadhi, it will be impossible for you to realize the real situation. And, even if you have the view that understands selflessness, if you do not have the stable samadhi where the mind stays put on one point, it will be impossible for you to see clearly the impact of the real situation. Therefore both quiescence and insight are necessary.

Then what is the way in which quiescence must precede insight? Here the generation of insight is in the context of the common individual who has not previously generated meditative realization and must newly do so. In that context, except for the exceptional way, to be explained below, in which a distinctive subjectivity for the realization of voidness meditates on selflessness, in the usual context of the Transcendence Vehicle and the three lower Tantra divisions, analytic meditation is necessary, since without practicing analytic meditation, which cultivates wisdom’s analysis of the import of selflessness, meditating realization will not emerge. Now in that case, one seeks the understanding of selflessness, repeatedly analyzing its meaning, before one has achieved quiescence, and if quiescence has not been achieved already, it is impossible to achieve based on that sort of analytic meditation. Further, while quiescence is achieved by the practice of focusing meditation apart from analysis, there is no method to practice insight apart from the practice of quiescence. Therefore insight must be sought subsequently; and therefore, ultimately, you cannot get around the order that quiescence is first sought and then insight is meditated based on the achieved quiescence.

Of course this order of quiescence and insight is in terms of their initial development. Once attained, there is no fixed order, since sometimes one will first meditate insight and later quiescence.

Tsong Khapa’s Medium-Length Transcendent Insight