Verse 1 contains the pledge to compose:
I will explain as well as I am able the essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror, the path praised by the Conquerors and their spiritual children, the entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation.
"I will explain as well as I am able"
- Lama Tsongkhapa humbly expresses his wish to do a good job explaining this short text with very deep, vast meaning.
- This is his promise to complete the book he is now starting.
"The essence of all the teachings of the Conqueror"
[Alternate translation: "The essence of the Victorious Ones' teachings"]
- This essence refers to the practices associated with the three levels of capacity.
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with renunciation, both the desire to leave cyclic existence and the ultimate renunciation of giving up all obscurations.
- It implies the determination to be free because all the Buddha's teachings are aimed towards liberation.
- It also correlates with wisdom, the correct understanding of reality.
"The path praised by the Conquerors and their spiritual children [Conqueror's children]"
- The Buddhas have "conquered" all the defilements and obscurations.
- Therefore, they and their spiritual children (the bodhisattvas) praise the path that leads to full enlightenment.
- From HHDL's commentary:
"…in this context the ‘Conqueror's children' refers to those born from the mind of the Buddha, those who have generated the mind of enlightenment. You become a Bodhisattva or child of the Buddha only if you have this altruistic aspiration for enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are called offspring of the Buddha's mind, because they are born from qualities found in the mindstream of the Buddha."
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with bodhicitta, the loving and compassionate altruistic intention that cares more about the lasting happiness of others than about oneself. This is the path the Buddhas and bodhisattvas praised.
"The entrance for the fortunate ones who desire liberation"
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with wisdom (correct view) because it's the realization of emptiness that cuts the ignorance which is the root of cyclic existence.
- That wisdom is the entrance into liberation for we fortunate ones who have all the conditions necessary to practice.
- Only the understanding of selflessness (emptiness) can do this; there's no other door to peace.
- From HHDL's commentary:
"The last line of the verse implies right view, as the attainment of liberation is dependent on whether you have realized emptiness. So, these [last] three lines summarise the meaning of the determination to be free, the mind of enlightenment, and view of emptiness that are explained in this text."
Verse 2 encourages the reader to study and practice:
Listen with clear minds you fortunate ones, who direct your minds to the path pleasing to the Buddha, and strive to make good use of leisure and opportunity without being attached to the joys of cyclic existence.
"Listen with clear [pure, open, calm] minds [open hearts]"
- Approach the teachings mindful of the six recognitions and free from the faults of the three pots.
- This is a request to listen well and carefully, showing the kind of motivation we need to have when hearing these teachings.
"You fortunate ones"
- This refers to those who have the time, opportunity, and inclination to practice the Dharma because of this precious human life.
- It also means those who aren't caught up in attachment to the pleasures of cyclic existence.
"Who direct your minds to [rely on] the path pleasing to the Buddha [the path that pleases the Victors]"
- We turn our mind to the Dharma, the path, because we see its value and because we want to be free of suffering and its causes.
- This is the unerring path (without mistakes) and the complete path (with nothing missing).
- We feel a strong conviction about the path to enlightenment.
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with wisdom, in that the correct view is what actually cuts ignorance, the root of cyclic existence.
"And strive to make good use [meaning] of leisure and opportunity [freedom and riches]"
- We don't want to waste this precious human life in which we have all these favorable conditions for practicing the Dharma.
- From HHDL's commentary (relates to how we fortunate ones can make good use of this precious human life and all our resources:
"…unless pleasure and happiness are brought about through transforming the mind, it is not possible to achieve lasting happiness through external means, however favourable the external conditions may be. Happiness and discomfort are very much dependent on our mental attitude.
So it is important that we should bring about some internal transformation of the mind. Since lasting happiness can only be attained in this way it is important to rely on the power of the mind and to discover the mind's ultimate nature.
There are many diverse teachings in different religious traditions on how to bring about such transformation. The Buddha's teaching, which we are discussing here, contains a clear, detailed and systematic explanation."
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with bodhicitta, in that practicing the Dharma and generating the altruistic intention is the best use of our precious human life.
"Without being attached to the joys of cyclic existence"
- We don't need to destroy our pleasure in the delights of cyclic existence or ignore them, but we must overcome our addictive craving for them.
- We don't want these joys to distract us or take us away from our Dharma practice.
- Re: the three principal aspects of the path—This line correlates with renunciation, in that we want to give up cyclic existence, because even its joys are in the nature of suffering; thus we don't want them to distract us.