The Dalai Lama's annual spring teachings are based on two texts: The classic Bodhisatvacaryavatara (Entering the Conduct of an Awakening Being) and the 3rd Dalai Lama's short Lamrim text, "The Essence of Superfine Gold." Tomorrow is day 3 of 10; it has been great so far.
Lamrim means "the graded path," which implies "the stages of the path to enlightenment." It is a classic way of presenting the Mahayana Buddhist teachings in a progressive way, as a preliminary for the practice of Tantric Buddhism. It is organized into three successive explanations, the first for the student of "lesser" capacity, the second for the "middling" capacity, and the final for the "greater" capacity. Capacity is both refers to intellectual power and depth of the motivation.
It is explained that there are a variety of motivations for spiritual practice, ordered into lesser, middling, and greater as well, with two levels each:
A)The lesser of the lesser is the motivation to practice religion or virtue in order to gain something later in this life (ie. "Cadillac Christians," getting connections, gaining freedom from fear of death, gaining wealth or prestige for self, family or friends). This is the motivation for many.
B)The greater of the lesser is the motivation to practice religion in order to escape negative rebirths in the future, either in a hellrealm, as a wandering spirit, or as an animal. Note that this is the motivation for the vast majority of Christians and Muslims (and maybe Jews).
A)The lesser of the middling motivation for spiritual practice is to be reborn in a higher realm, either as a human, a demigod or a god in heaven. This is generally the highest motivation for religion in Christianity, believing in God and praciticing good deeds according to His plan in order to be with Him in Heaven in eternity.
B)The higher of the middling motivation is practicing religion with the genuine intention of escaping suffering forever, which is the attainment of nirvana. Note that attaining nirvana for oneself is not the highest goal.
3)The Greater: Generally speaking, the Greater motivation for practicing virtue is to help all other beings attain Buddhahood as well as yourself. This is where the juice of Lamrim and the Mahayana Buddhist path is: Developing the correct motivation for practicing Dharma (for the sake of everyone) and then training in that path. That is why Santideva's classic text, the Bodhisatvacaryavatara, is so important and prolific.
I'll update sometime this week on something interesting from the Bodhisatvacaryavatara...