Applying the Three Supreme Methods

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We can apply the Three Supreme Methods1དམ་པ་གསུམ་ = also known as the Three Noble Principles - see: dampa sum. to ensure that all that we do, both in our practice and during work and other post-meditation activity, is directed towards enlightenment. They are also known as "good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end". According to Patrul Rinpoche in The Words of My Perfect Teacher (from the section "The Proper Way to Listen to the Spiritual Teachings"):

  • Good in the beginning: Before beginning, arouse the bodhicitta as a skilful means to make sure that the action becomes a source of good for the future;
  • Good in the middle: While carrying out the action, avoid getting involved in any conceptualization, so that the merit cannot be destroyed by circumstances;
  • Good in the end: At the end, seal the action properly by dedicating the merit, which will ensure that it continually grows ever greater.

The Three Supreme Methods are referred to in a popular quotation from Longchenpa:

"Begin with bodhicitta, do the main practice without concepts,
Conclude by dedicating the merit. These, together and complete,
Are the three vital supports for progressing on the path to liberation."

The following brief practice to apply the Three Supreme Methods in work or other post-meditation activity was composed by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.


Composed by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

If one approaches an offering of service with basic good intention, then one accumulates merit, but when the three wholesome attitudes known as the Three Supreme Methods are genuinely applied, an outwardly mundane task can even become a paramita.

[1. Intention]:

[To apply the Supreme Methods, begin by refining your intention, thinking you will perform the work for the sake of all sentient beings. Remember you are not making an offering of service to boost your self-gratification, recognition, or mileage points. As Shantideva said, look upon yourself as a utensil and think]:

I have offered my body to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to go across the water
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

[Since it is going to be very difficult to remember to apply the three wholesome attitudes with every page you photocopy or every stroke of the scrub brush, before beginning a day of volunteer work, students should recite the following prayer]:

Even the remembrance of your name
Dispels the hope and fear of nirvana and samsara.
From now until attaining enlightenment,
I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Following all the bodhisattvas of past, present, and future,
May I emulate their infinite activity to free beings from suffering.
Eventually may I manage to surrender everything I have -
My time, my space, my belongings, and even my very limbs -
For the sake of all beings.
With that aim, I shall begin by sacrificing my energy and time today to . . .
(insert whatever the task is - copying, cleaning the teaching hall, shoveling snow, etc).

[2. Emptiness]:

[To apply the second wholesome attitude, avoid the pride that shadows your good intention. Remember that the work and its accomplishment is an illusion. If you can maintain this attitude throughout your task it is ideal, but most likely you will forget. So immediately after reciting the prayer above, you should reflect in this way]:

Whatever I do today is ultimately just a concept.
Relatively, there is a necessary structure
Just as there is in dreams.
Though when dreaming there is no true direction,
When I dream of falling I fall down towards the earth,
Not up towards the sky.
Ultimately, the direction makes no difference -
Since I never fell -
But in the relative world of the dream,
The construct of “the way to fall” is still needed.
So I shall do my job as properly as possible.

[3. Dedication]:2The dedication is verse X:55 from Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara..

And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.

[Ideally, you will do this when you finish your work, but since you may forget, the merit can be offered at the beginning by thinking]:

I will dedicate whatever virtue results from my actions to all sentient beings.

Artwork: Longchenpa, Tibet (unknown artist).

Last updated June 22, 2020