Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism by Reginald A. Ray (Shambhala) Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet by Reginald A. Ray (Shambhala) are companion volumes that can be read together or apart. It is approaching 30 years or so that authentic Tibetan Buddhist teachings became generally available in America for Americans. Ray is a Buddhist scholar who is also a disciple of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado; where Ray now teaches.
These two books represent a brilliant synthesis of the general outlines and assumptions, degrees and types of Buddhist practice within the Tibetan American tradition as it has become popular in American religious practice and thought. Ray is pretty clear about the narrow scope of his writing. It is not Tibetan religion per se that is being described but the uniquely evolving hybrid that is adapting to American spiritual needs. Seen baldly in such a light, the volumes might be seen as a product of this synthesis, but that does not mean what Ray writes is inaccurate, quite the contrary. Learning Tibetan Buddhism can be an overwhelming emotional intellectual whirlwind of strange demonesque gods and bodhisattvas, complex, time-consuming rituals, complex and simple meditations, and mountains of scriptures with even more massive commentaries. In Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism, Ray not only provides an accessible new introduction to the history, the religion, and the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism, which may quell the concerns friends and relatives of new practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Ray provides important relevant context to what Tibetan Buddhism is trying to do and historical and religious explanations that makes intelligible these practices to outsiders and neophytes alike.
The information presented in these volumes gives a Tibetan overview of the whole of Buddhist tradition with some special pleading toward a new emerging nonsectarian ecumenical Buddhist practice that attempts to embrace and transcend postmodernisms so that a devout Catholic or Jew can remain within their own tradition and still seek enlightenment from a Tibetan guru. Even if one is not so blithe to such a pluralistic eventuality these volumes come close to explaining what Tibetan Buddhists are up to and what one is likely to be challenged to do if one is persuaded toward Buddhist practice. And as popular marketing these books should work wonders. They are likely to attract many newcomers to experiment with Buddhist practice and at the same time calm the fears of people who do not understand what all the fuss is about. It is unlikely that those of serious narrow religious conviction will actually be tolerant enough to read these volumes, but for parents and friends concerned about a youths choice to practice Buddhism, they provide a reasonably honest portrait of what Tibetan Buddhism has been coming to meaning within America and Western Europe today.
With meticulous care and poignant specify, Ray tells how Buddhism ended up in Tibet from the great universities of Mahayana teachings in India. We are regaled with fantastic tales of scholar monk saints pioneering into the Tibetan frontier, laying the foundation for various schools of Buddhist practice that developed over the centuries. Ray is neither popularizing nor secularizing the images and history of Tibetan Buddhism, nor does he diminish its magical and mythical elements. Ray introduces to a shamanic cosmos populated gods and demons, an animistic cosmos that also integrates the major agnostic and antimetaphysical tenets of Buddhism, highlighting the resulting practices and their schools. Ending Indestructible Truth, Ray shows how the various schools of Madhyamika, Buddhist centrist philosophy, developed to current consensual particle and debate today. It is fare to say that Indestructible Truth offers a fine introduction to Tibetan Buddhism as Mahayana practice. The recently published Secret of the Vajra World continues to unveil the meaning of Tantric practice within Tibetan Buddhist American context. Many fine points are offered,explaining rationales for teacher worship (not the zombie mind-control so common in the media but a sort of high ethical introject, or transference for personal maturation), visualization of gods and goddesses, the meaning of mahamudra and dzogchen, and the importance of retreat. Both Indestructible Truth and Secret of the Vajra World represent important landmarks for explaining how Tibetan Buddhism is becoming Americanized and how Buddhism is appealing to those with spiritual longings. If you want to get a good idea about what Tibetanism Buddhism is in America then these two books provide a grand roadmap. Highly recommended
The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin, translated by Matthieu Ricard, edited by Constance Wilkinson, Foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama (Snow Lion) The autobiography of the Nyingmapa Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol (1781-1851) is one of the master works of the Tibetan religious heritage. It is a simple and moving account of the life of a wandering hermit from childhood until his ultimate spiritual realization. It vividly reflects the values and visual imagery of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the social and cultural life of early 19th-century Tibet. It poetry and rich collection of sage lore reminds of the wonderful The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa: The Life-Story and Teaching of the Greatest Poet-Saint Ever to Appear in the History of Buddhism translated by Garma C.C. Chang (Shambhala) Changs work first became available in the early 1960s and was highly valued by students of Tibetan Buddhism as his humane songs brought to life the prescriptive visions of Tantric Buddhism. Likewise Matthieu Ricard has created a work of art in his translations of The Life of Shabkar. Remaining true to the poetic beauty of the Tibetan original he has for the first time presented this important work to the west. Also, his notes and appendixes on historical and Buddhist backgrounds are invaluable. For the first time the reader is presented with the life of a Tibetan saint and his lineage formerly largely unknown among western students of Tibetan Buddhism.
PRISONERS OF SHANGRI-LA by Donald Lopez ($25.00, hardcover, 272 pages, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0226493105)
As America continues its second century of being spell bound by Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, we need to consider what is human fact against what is romantic fiction. Lopez's fascinating new book is the perfect place to start a consideration of this blend of cultures, desires, fantasies and human longings. Lopez's study explores and explodes a host of assumptions, opinions and myths that we Westerners have constructed about Tibet. PRISONERS OF SHANGRI-LA clarifies both the complexities of Tibetan Buddhist religion and the willful confusions of western enthusiasts.
Charting the flights of Western fantasies of Tibet and its Buddhist legacy, Lopez presents fanciful visions of Tibetan life and religion, ranging from the utopian to the demonic. He examines, among much else, the politics of the term "Lamaism". a pejorative name for Tibet's religion; the various theosophical, psychedelic, and New Age purposes served by The Tibetan Book of the Dead; the strange case of the Englishman with three eyes; and the unexpected history of the most famous of all Buddhist mantras, om manipadme hum. Throughout, Lopez demonstrates how myths of Tibet pervade both the products of pop culture and learned scholarly works. This work should appeal to any have felt the allure of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.
PRISONERS OF SHANGRI-LA is a provocative analysis of the romance of Tibet, a romance that, even as it is invoked by Tibetan lamas living in exile, ultimately imprisons those who seek the goal of Tibetan independence from Chinese occupation. Lopez explores the mirror-lined cultural labyrinths that have been created by Tibetans, Tibetophiles, and Tibetologists, labyrinths that we may map but in which we also must wander.
In many ways this popular study builds upon the insights
developed in Lopez's recent anthology CURATORS OF THE
BUDDHA: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism (University of Chicago Press) It is
the first critical history of the study of Buddhism in the West and the first work to
bring the insights of colonial and postcolonial cultural studies to bear on this field.
After an overview of the origins of Buddhist studies in the early nineteenth century, the essays focus on important "curators of the Buddha" such as Aurel Stein, D. T. Suzuki, and Carl Jung, who, as they created and maintained the discipline, played a significant role in disseminating knowledge about Buddhism in the West. The essays bring to life many of the important but
unexamined social, political, and cultural conditions that have shaped the course of Buddhist studies for more than a century - and have frequently determined the understanding of a complex set of traditions. Contributors Charles Hallisey, Gustavo Benavides, Stanley Abe, Luis Gomez, Robert Sharf, and Donald Lopez challenge some of the most enduring ideas in Buddhist studies: that Zen Buddhism is, above all, an experience; that Tibetan Buddhism is polluted, or pristine; that the Buddha image is of Greek or Roman origin; that the classical text supersedes the vernacular, as the manuscript supersedes the informant; and many others. Chronicling the
emergence of the academic study of Buddhism in Europe and America within the context of the ideologies of empire, this volume provides a long overdue genealogy and clears the way for a far-reaching reconception of the discipline.
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. is professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan.
Among his other works are ELABORATIONS ON EMPTINESS: Uses of the Heart Sutra (Princeton University Press).
The Heart Sutra is perhaps the most famous Mahayana Buddhist text, traditionally regarded as a potent expression of emptiness and of the Buddha's perfect wisdom. This brief, seemingly simple work was the subject of more commentaries in Asia than any other sutra. In Elaborations on Emptiness, Lopez explores for the first time the elaborate philosophical and ritual uses of the Heart Sutra in India, Tibet, and the West. Included here are full translations of the eight extant Indian commentaries. Interspersed with the translations are six essays that examine the unusual roles the Heart Sutra has played: it has been used as a mantra, an exorcism text, a tantric meditation guide, and as the material for comparative philosophy. Taken together, the translations and essays that form Elaborations on Emptiness demonstrate why commentary is as central to modern scholarship on Buddhism as it was for ancient Buddhists. Lopez reveals unexpected points of instability and contradiction in the Heart Sutra, which, in the end, turns out to be the most malleable of texts, where the logic of commentary serves as a tool of both tradition and transgression.
Technical Note and Acknowledgments
1. Who Heard the Heart Sutra?
2. The Commentaries of Vimalamitra and Atisa
3. The Heart Sutra as Tantra
4. The Commentaries of Kamalasila and Srisimha
5. The Heart Sutra as Sadhana
6. The Commentaries of Jnanamitra and Prasastrasena
7. The Heart Sutra's Mantra
8. The Commentaries of Mahajana and Vajrapani
9. The Heart Sutra as Exorcism
10. Commentators Ancient and Postmodern
INNER REVOLUTION: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness by Robert Thurman, ($24.95, hardcover, 322 pages, Riverhead Books, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN: 1573220906) .
One of Time magazine's twenty-five most influential people of 1997, Thurman writes with a prophetic voice in the spirit of Thoreau and Emerson. Not only does he unravel the attraction of Tibetan Buddhism for the West and America, but he weaves a remarkably tight argument for ecological consciousness, a genuine and widespread wish to care for our common mother earth.
Much of our worst environmental destruction has come from our exaggerated sense of the sovereign, static, isolated self. From that perspective, everything else is alien, disconnected, and so we were thrown into a state of mutually lethal tension with them. Our much vaunted Western civilization took a wrong turn all the way back in the Hellenic era, which is evident in Shantideva's famous shoe leather analogy for our having made control over outer nature a priority over control of inner nature: "Who doesn't want to hurt his feet when he walks the rough and brambly earth has two choices; either cover the earth with leather or make himself a pair of sandals." We in the West have been vainly trying to make the earth into a perfect softball, sewing it up in the leather of protective material smoothness, trying to save human sensitivity by changing and rearranging the outer environment. The Indian and Tibetan enlightenment movement of Shantideva took the other turn. It decided that the "foot" of the sensitive human mentality should learn to protect itself with the "sandal" of self-mastery, that internal understanding and control is more practically achievable than total control of the infinite external.
However, India and Tibet, while they did not disregard the external sciences, focused on sandal making to the exclusion of developing control of the outer world. In Tibet, the external sciences were neglected in recent centuries, and the physical infrastructure became deficient. The culture of inner modernity needs our outer sciences just as we need its inner sciences.
These four grounds for hope: the reawakening of the human love of peace; the esteem for individual freedom; the craving for nondual wisdom that unites the spiritual and the material; and the acceptance of ecological relationship, resonate intriguingly with four of the five principles of the politics of enlightenment: nonviolence, transcendent individualism, education, and altruistic relationship. The fifth, global democratism, is exemplified in His Holiness the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama himself, in his version of Buddhist modernism.
We are at what some call the end of history, waiting either for oblivion or for the advent of cool heroes who can put their lives on the line for peace, as past ages' hot heroes did for glory. We have seen the progress of the enlightenment movement in India and Tibet coming down to us here and now. How can this movement assist our entire civilization to weather the crisis we face?
Clearly the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and those Tibetans who stand nonviolently with him against the oppression of China's government are just such heroes, persisting against all odds to challenge the backward thinking leaders of the world's most populous nation.
Robert A. F. Thurman, Ph. D., the first American Tibetan Buddhist monk, has taught at
Harvard and Amherst and is currently Je Tsong Khapa professor of religion at Columbia
University. He was the subject of a recent New York Times Magazine feature article and has
appeared on many major network broadcasts about Tibet and India. Among his four children
is actress Uma Thurman. His other classic studies include the popular anthology Essential Tibetan
Buddhism (Harper San Francisco) and the masterwork The Central
Philosophy of Tibet : A Study and Translation of Jey Tsong Khapa's 'Essence of True
Eloquence' (Princeton Library of Asian Translations) The paperback edition is the
first full study, translation, and critical annotation of the
Essence of True Eloquence by Jey Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), universally acknowledged as the greatest Tibetan philosopher. Robert Thurman's translation and introduction present a strain of Indian Buddhist thought emphasizing the need for both critical reason and contemplative realization in the attainment of enlightenment. Truly one of the major translations of this century.
CONSECRATION OF IMAGES AND STUPAS IN INDO-TIBETAN TANTRIC BUDDHISM by Yael Bentor ($156.00, hardcover, Brill's Indological Library, Vol 11, Brill Academic, ISBN: 9004105417)
The present work is an investigation of the Indo-Tibetan ritual for consecrating images, stupas, books and temples. It is based on a thorough examination of the relevant Tibetan textual material contained in Tantras,commentaries, ritual manuals and explanatory works on consecration. As rituals are meant to be performed, this textual study is combined with observations of performances and interviews with performers. The book opens with a general discussion of certain principles of tantric rituals and the foundations of Indo-Tibetan consecration. The main part focuses on a specific performance of the ritual in a Tibetan monastery located in the Kathmandu Valley.
This volume contributes to the often neglected field of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist rituals. It is concerned with the sacred nature of objects for worship as well as with the main Buddhist tantric transformation into a chosen tantric Buddha. Bentor's blend of close textual analysis with sharp and repeated observation of Buddhist rituals represents a pioneering account of Tibetan Buddhist practice and a fine bridge to the possiblities of comparative liturgy in Buddhist Christian dialogue.
Yael Bentor, Ph. D. (1991) in Tibetan Studies, Indiana University, is a Lecturer in Tibetan Buddhism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her major research field is Indo-Tibetan rituals. She is author of several articles on this subject published in scholarly journals.
A study of consecration rituals is concerned with the foundations of the sacred nature of objects for worship. The present work examines this sacred nature through a study of the Indo-Tibetan ritual for consecrating images, stupas, books and temples. The consecration of these objects is accomplished by the main Buddhist tantric ritual of transformation through which also human practitioners turn themselves into a chosen Buddha. Indo-Tibetan consecrations are included within the general category of cho-ga (vidhi), a term which might be very broadly translated ritual or ritual method. In a large number of Tibetan monasteries the performance of rituals is the primary undertaking of most monks. Even in monastic educational institutions monks devote part of their time to rituals. Almost all forms of Tibetan meditation are highly ritualized and therefore fall within the category of ritual as well. Furthermore, ritual texts constitute a significant part of nearly every Tibetan library. Western scholarship, however, has not yet adequately reflected this Tibetan preoccupation with rituals.
At a very early stage of their monastic studies every Tibetan novice concentrates on the memorization of the major ritual works of their particular tradition. A certain number of monks do not undergo any other formal training in Buddhist ideas or practices. Training in rituals and engaging in their performances constitute their main course of study. Most monks in Tibetan monasteries in India and Nepal, however, attend a monastic school for novices until the age of eighteen to twenty where they are taught the foundations of Buddhist doctrine. While attending these schools and even at colleges of higher education, monks are constantly engaged in ritual performances. During all Tibetan holidays and auspicious or inauspicious days, organized monastic rituals are performed in the main assembly hall of every Tibetan monastery, monastic colleges included. Each of these monasteries performs additional rituals whenever there are special requests (which means at least several times each month), in which all monks participate. Graduation from a monastic college does not at all imply an end to ritual duties. For example, most of those who attain the dge-bshes degree in the Dge-lugs-pa tradition need to join for about two years one of the tantric colleges where they not only study tantra, but also perform rituals. This formal education through rituals and constant preoccupation with them undoubtedly have a significant influence on the perceptions of these monks with regard to their tradition. Therefore, the study of ritual texts and performances will shed light not only on one of the main preoccupation of the majority of monks, but also on their preconceptions.
In addition to fundamentals of rituals, manuals have embedded in them various theoretical concerns. Madhyamika doctrines, for instance, are incorporated into rituals such as the mirror initiation, the offering of Suchness, dissolution of the object of generation into emptiness, etc. The intricate and seemingly-paradoxical relationship between the performer and the Buddha or yi-dam-inferiority of the practitioner in the face of the Buddha, transformation of the practitioner into that Buddha, and the employment of the powers of the Buddha or yi-dam by the practitioner-finds varied expression even within a single ritual. Various theories on the act of making offerings to the Buddha and to images found in verses accompanying such offerings may also shed light on the perception of the Buddha. Buddhist legends are reflected in other passages. All these serve as primary sources for the monks' understandings of their own traditions, and so should be of primary concern to any scholar wishing to make general assessments of Tibetan monastic religiosity. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The great majority of studies on Tibetan Buddhism focus on scholastic and philosophical aspects. Yet, the greatest Tibetan intellectuals today, as in the past, engage themselves not only in Buddhist philosophy, but in ritual performances as well. Eminent teachers of all Tibetan schools frequently preside over rituals. The great majority of works in the collected writings of most Tibetan teachers are devoted to rituals. If the tradition itself does not divide philosophy from ritual, there is no justification for the fact that ritual is so often belittled or ignored by scholars of Tibetan Buddhism.
Since Tibetan rituals are very little studied, one of their most crucial, but also elusive aspects remains very little understood. This is the yeshes sems-dpa which in the case of consecration is invited into the image or snipa. Even though most Tibetan works are not very explicit with regard to the nature of the ye-shes sems-dpa, they do characterize it by apparently contradictory qualities. On the one hand the ye-shes sems-dpa is said to be similar (dra) to the visualized damtshig sems-dpa. In the very fundamental tantric process, practitioners first visualize the yi-dam. Into this visualization, called the dam-tshig sems-dpa, the ye-shes sems-dpa, which is similar to it, is invited. The two are then fused into non-duality. This process indicates that the ye-shes sems-dpa resembles the yi-dam which is visualized in one's mind. On the other hand, the ye-shes sems-dpa is described as pervading the entire universe down to the tiniest particle with its presence. Therefore, the meditator should realize that the invited ye-shes sems-dpa is more than the visualized yi-dam. Moreover, that which embodies the stupa or image is not only the nonduality of the ye-shes sems-dpa but the non-duality formed by the absorption of the ye-shes sems-dpa into the dam-tshig sems-dpa. Any use of concrete terms for that which is present in the consecrated image or stupa would collapse its transcendental, and therefore sacred, nature. A certain degree of mystery must be maintained with regard to the most fundamental objects of worship and reverence.
The ye-shes sems-dpa is said to correspond to the dharma body. The dharma body is understood in both specific and inclusive meanings. The latter includes the form bodies (i.e. sambhoga-kaya and nirmana-kaya) as well. Also consecrated stupas or images may be understood to consist of both the dharma and form bodies, in an analogy to Buddhas themselves. The conception of stupas and images as form bodies can be found in a very common verse recited during the main part of the consecration which invites the 'descending entity' to enter the image as all the Buddhas entered the womb of Mayadevi from Tusita heaven. This emulates the first of the deeds of the Buddha which, according to Mahayana ideas, led to his emanation in the world as a human being. This kind of invitation clearly expresses the notion that the stupa or image is not only an embodiment of the dharma body but also of the form body. Indeed, the great majority of explanations found in the consecration literature concerning the purpose of the consecration refer to consecrated stupas and images as serving a role similar to the presence of the Buddha himself. Such a stupa or image provides means for interaction with the sacred in conventional terms while keeping the ultimate terms in the background.
Another term which is closely related to ye-shes sems-dpa, is Lha, which is also used for translating the Sanskrit word deva, has manifold meanings. It means various deities of Indian origin, such as Brahma, and others of probable Tibetan origin. It also may be used to refer to protectors such as Dpal-Idan Lha-mo. Lha also indicates one of the six realms of beings, kings and sometimes even recently deceased persons. More important for the present work are the meanings of Lha which refer to Buddhas, bodhisattvas and yi-dams. Here are included those which are invited to be present in stupas and images through the consecration ritual. Indeed, Lha is also used as a synonym for ye-shes sems-dpa.
The types of religious objects that receive consecration are the most revered Buddhist objects of devotion that are considered to be receptacles of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. The receptacles of the Buddha's body are images and thang-kas; the receptacles of the Buddha's speech are books and dUranis; and the receptacles of the Buddha's mind are stupas and tsha-tshas. Here the word "receptacle" will be used, as the most general term, for all of these sacred objects. Tibetan temples usually contain examples of all three categories of receptacles. Laypeople usually try to have at least some representation of each of the three types of receptacles on the family altar as well. It is by means of the consecration ritual that these religious objects are made sacred.
A number of rituals accompany the construction of a Tibetan receptacle. These open, well in advance of the actual construction, with a ground-ritual for procuring and blessing the site. During the construction, the ritual of depositing the relics or dharanis is performed. Only upon the completion of the receptacle does the consecration ritual per se take place. Consecration may be repeated on an annual basis or upon the visit of a high lama who is often requested to reconsecrate existing receptacles. When a receptacle requires considerable restoration a ritual is performed in which the Lha that was invited to abide in the receptacle through the consecration ritual is requested to reside temporarily in a specially prepared miffor for the duration of the restoration.
For a study of a ritual, which is at least in part based on a textual tradition spanning more than a thousand years, a thorough textual analysis must be presumed. Further, organized monastic rituals are based primarily on textual material. At the same time, rituals are meant to be performed. Thus a philological approach cannot by itself pretend to represent a ritual within a larger range of religious ideas and practices. On the other hand, without being first familiarized with the texts used, it would be nearly impossible to follow the elaborate ritual steps and procedures of the performance itself. Therefore a diachronic study of Tibetan consecration texts is combined here with observations of performances and interviews with performers and religious experts.
Brill's Indological Library includes monographs,text editions, translations, collaborative volumes, and handbooks of Indological interest in the widest sense.
SKY DANCER: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel by Keith Dowman ($18.95, paper, 397 pages, notes, reprint edition of the 1984 edition, index, Snow Lion, ISBN: 1-55939-065-4)
Women have a special place in the Tantra and Yeshe Tsogyel, consort of the great guru Padmasambhava, is the most famous of the enlightened women of Tibet. Few works deal with the spiritual practices and evolution of female aspirants and for this reason SKY DANCER is virtually unique in the vast biographical literature of Tibet. In the mythical history woman is instated in her eminent position, and a path of meditation and existential praxis is traced for initiates to emulate Tsogyels experiences And her detailed instructions to her disciples are as relevant today as they ever were. The text is important not only as an inspiration, guide and teacher but also as an historical work shedding light upon the heroic period of Tibetan history, the period of the kings and empire. It is a revealed text, originally written in the ninth century and then rediscovered by the witty and nonconformist master, Taksham Nuden Dorje in the seventeenth century. Translated into English for the first time, SKY DANCER is a great work of literature universally admired by the Tibetans for its lyrical beauty as well as its profound message. Keith Dowmans essays on the historical and religious background, the early Tibetan lineages and womans place in the tradition introduce readers to the Tantra and elucidate the main points touched upon by the text. SKY DANCER or Dakini (a mystical term for a female Buddha) is an important milestone in Western understanding of the Tantric tradition.
Keith Dowman has spent fifteen years in Banares, India, and in the Himalayas studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism. He is now principally involved in translation and interpretation of Tibetan texts so that the message of the Tantra can be assimilated by Western society. His previous books are Buddhist Masters of Enchantment: The Lives and Legends of the Mahasiddhas (Inner Traditions), Power Places of Kathmandu: Hindu and Buddhist Holy Sites in the Sacred Valley of Nepal (Inner Traditions), a guide to pilgrimage in Nepal and the travel guide, The Sacred Life of Tibet (Thorsons Publishers).
MOTHER OF KNOWLEDGE: The Enlightenment of Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal by Nam-mkhai snying-po, translated by Tarthang Tulku ($17.95, paper, 244 pages, glossary, index, Dharma Press 0-913546-91-7)
Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal was the youngest of three daughters born to a local nobleman. She was a reincarnation of the goddess Sarasvati, and many miraculous events took place at her birth. One in particular seized the imagination of her family: The small lake that bordered on their village suddenly expanded greatly in size. From this, her father gave his daughter the name mTsho-rgyal, which means vast ocean .The name Ye-shes, which she received later, refers to unending primordial wisdom. In Sanskrit her name would be Jnanasagara.
Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal was so unusually beautiful that by the time she was twelve years old, suitors from all the surrounding regions had come to seek her hand in marriage. Her parents feared that a decision in favor of one of the powerful lords would provoke the wrath of the others, and in the end, they decided that they would have to send Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal away.
Until that moment, the young girl had lived an idyllic life, but now her fortune rapidly changed. Sent away from home, her wishes to lead a life devoted to religious practice brushed aside, Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal tried to escape into the mountains, but to no avail. For several years she suffered greatly, until at last she came to the attention of King Khri-srong ldeu-btsan, who took her as one of his queens. Soon after, to show his faith in the Dharma and in Padmasambhava, the king symbolically gave his teacher his entire kingdom, and allowed mTsho-rgyal to go with Padmasambhava as the Gurus disciple. Thus, by the age of sixteen the fortunate girl had become a student of the greatest tantric master of the age.
Once she had become Padmasambhavas student, Ye-shes mTshorgyal soon mastered the basic teachings of the Sutras and the sastras. After she matured her understanding in the inner, outer, and esoteric teachings, she was given the complete teachings of the inner Tantras, the Maha, the Anu, and the Ati, and in particular the oral teachings of the Atiyoga, known in Tibetan as rDzogs-chen.
After achieving great realization, Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal devoted nor life to instructing others and encouraging them in their practice; although she underwent many hardships herself, she overcame even the greatest obstacles for others. She brought inconceivable benefit to so many people, it is difficult to imagine how much suffering she removed from the world. Her songs of realization brought her listeners immediate understanding, and her very presence radiated joy. She performed many miraculous deeds, only a small number of which are recounted in this volume. Her intelligence, perseverance, devotion, and pure motivation all were exceptional, even in the company of the many accomplished masters who were Padmasambhavas disciples. As well as being the most important woman in the rNying-ma lineage, truly Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal was one of Padmasambhavas greatest disciples. She occupies a place of central importance within the Vajrayana and especially the lineage of Padmasambhava, the great teacher who embodies the enlightened state. For Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal received all of Padmasambhavas teachings, as if the contents of one vessel were poured into another. Traditionally she is compared to a crown, a jewel, a leader, and a guide. Her accomplishments and realizations have seldom been equaled, and the merit of her actions is beyond description.
But Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal is by no means the only important woman in the tradition. As Padmasambhava himself said: "Male or female there is no great difference. But if she develops the mind bent on enlightenment, to be a woman is better." The female energy is especially respected in Padmasambhavas lineage, having a special place in the enlightened transmission-for it could be said that all of Padmasambhavas teachings came to us through Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal.
She is one of the greatest in the tradition of those who preserved Buddhist texts, especially the esoteric texts of the rDzogs-chen tradition. Teachings of both the oral and treasure tradition passed through her; and after Padmasambhava left Tibet, Ye-shes mTsho-rgyal and gNubs-chen Sangs-rgyas ye-shes worked closely together to transmit the teachings of the heart of realization, which are necessary for the rest of the teachings to bear fruit.
Adapted from the introduction
IMMORTALITY AND REINCARNATION: Wisdom from the Forbidden Journey by Alexandra David-Neel ($12.95, paper, 132 pages, index, Inner Traditions 0-89281-619-8
Alexandra David-Neel was a great adventurer who explored the meaning of reincarnation and death in this interpretation of Esoteric Buddhism. Her description of the bardo was one of the best offering some clarification to Evans-Wentzs pioneering efforts. Well work reading.
THE SECRET LIVES OF ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices by Barbara Foster & Michael Foster ($32.50, hardcover, The Overlook Press; ISBN: 0879517743)
This brightly new edition of their previous David-Neel biography, Forbidden Journey, offers a more complex portrait of the occult explorer and a better account of her adventures. THE SECRET LIVES OF ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL is the definitive biography of the woman Lawrence Durrell called "the most astonishing of our time." She was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned; few have led a life of adventure equal to hers, or made so much of it.
In Tibet and Sikkim, David-Neel lived among hermits and shamans, bandits and pilgrims. She had a torrid love affair with the handsome Maharajah of Sikkim and studied with a genuine master in a cave high in the Himalayas. Herself a Buddhist, David-Neel knew firsthand the Tibet of magic and mystery closed to other travelers from the West, the secret mystical practices of Tibetan Buddhism including out-of-body travel, telepathy, vampiric Shamanism, and tantric sex. After returning to France, she wrote some thirty books, among them the best-selling My Journey to Lhasa (Beacon Press), Initiations and Initiates in Tibet (Dover) and Magic and Mystery in Tibet (Dover). She has had a profound influence on, among other things, Beat culture and the emergence of an American Buddhism. The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects (City Lights Books) is still a tribute to commonsense esotericism. Her account of Immortality & Reincarnation (Inner Traditions) provides a sentient account for the doctrine of rebirth and a naturalistic approach to the idea of immortality.
With additional source material available, including the secret files of the India Office, the authors revisit their subject. The result is a vividly detailed chronicle of David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day. This comprehensive survey of David-Neel's life and the hidden practices of Tibetan Buddhism provides the deep background for a renewed interest in Tibet from the Western world.
Barbara Foster has written extensively in women's studies. She is assistant professor in the library department at Hunter College, City University of New York. Michael Foster is the author of Freedom's Thunder and other novels.
BUDDHAS LIONS: The Lives of the Eighty-Four Siddhas by Abhayadatta, translated by James B. Robinson ($17.95, paper, 403 pages, notes, bibliography, Tibetan text, index, Dharma Press, 0-913546-61-5)
The Tibetan text is a translation of a Sanskrit text written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century by Abhayadatta. The book is essentially a collection of short biographies, though these narratives, while clearly anchored to historical figures and traditions, could perhaps best be considered as hagiography, writings from within a living tradition honoring holy or exalted individuals.
The eighty-four siddhas, in general, represent all those throughout the ages who have, within a single lifetime, attained direct realization of the Buddhas teachings. In particular, these eighty-four siddhas brought about the flowering of the Tantric tradition during the later period of Indian Buddhism. While the exact dates for individual siddhas are by no means certain, we do know that this tradition was most prominent from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, particularly during the Pala dynasty. When Buddhism took firm root in Tibet, the siddhas provided important links between Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, giving life to lineages which have continued in Tibet up to the present.
The eighty-four individuals represented here are thus honored both for what they accomplished for themselves direct realization of the Buddhas teachingsand for what they did for others. The siddhas, after attaining success in the Vajrayana practice, guided innumerable living beings to liberation before they themselves left the world. The siddhas and their lineages are therefore venerated in a two-fold way: first, because through the power of their own efforts, they successfully followed the Vajrayana path and won the highest spiritual attainment. Secondly, their personal verification of the path guaranteed that those who followed their tradition were indeed following a path leading to success.
As Buddhism passed into Tibet, the criterion for a valid religious doctrine was considered to be its connection with the Indian doctrines of the Buddha as carried on by those whose understanding was like a Buddha. Living examples of what it meant to be successful in practice, the siddhas, like all of the great teachers of Buddhism, preserved the doctrine by embodying it in themselves; they transmitted a living lineage. By following such a lineage, one follows the teachings of the Buddha himself and travels a path that can lead to liberation within ones lifetime.
In order to reach this goal, the Buddha taught that one must develop the wisdom (Sanskrit prajna, Tibetan shes rate) that comes from unifying both knowledge and practice. Traditionally, there are three progressive phases in the accumulation of this transforming wisdom: the knowledge gained by hearing the doctrine (since learning in classical India relied strongly on an oral transmission); the knowledge gained by critical reflection (since one must not simply memorize the data, but also sift and absorb it); and the knowledge produced in meditation (this knowledge being tradition that one can take on all the power and freedom of divinity by ones own spiritual effort. All that is required is the guidance of the guru and the willingness to follow the teaching through. By transforming all experience into meditation, the siddhas realized ultimate truth.
Because the siddhas were able to speak from the wisdom gained in the highest meditations, they offered a different perspective than those who relied merely on the wisdom gained by study and reflection. The internal transformation of consciousness, which is the winning of siddhisuccess in practicefreed the siddha to act in whatever way would be most efficacious to transmit the doctrine. Understanding that all activity can be an expression of Buddha-nature, the siddhas at times exhibited very unconventional behavior. Many of the siddhas adopted the path of the yogin, and traveled from place to place teaching whoever was ready to hear the holy Dharma; in many cases, the siddha emanated a great light from his body, and even rose in the air to preach to the multitudes.
Over the years, the word siddhi, meaning success, came to imply the extraordinary powers or accomplishments which result from success in meditational practice. Since a siddha was one who possessed the siddhis, or magical powers, the word siddha came to carry a connotation of magician or wonderworker. However, the Buddhist tradition distinguished carefully between the two meanings of siddhi. The highest siddhi is enlightenment, which is the transmundane siddhi of transcendent success. These transmundane siddhis are the unique or not shared siddhis, obtainable only by the Buddhist path. The magical powers of the shared siddhis that are a natural by-product of meditation and yogic practice, and which are obtainable in any yogic or shamanic tradition that cares to develop them. The Indian tradition, so fond of lists, has enumerated several sets of these siddhis, including control of the elements, knowledge of the elixir of immortality, possessing the gem that grants whatever one desires, having the powers of clairvoyance, and so forth.
While both types of spiritual success are superior to the ordinary life, the transmundane is by far the highest. Yet the worldly siddhis (powers of success) generally come first, and there is some danger that the siddha-to-be may mistake these newly-won abilities for liberation. If he does so, instead of winning liberation, he may give himself over to a subtle kind of bondage, for by allowing himself to be beguiled by lesser powers, the siddha prevents himself from taking that one step further to total liberation. In order to continue his development and to win complete success, the siddha, after obtaining siddhi, must work for the benefit of all living beings; only then does he gain the highest knowledge. Magical powers, although an inevitable part of the yogic practice, serve merely as a sign of incipient success.
Buddhism has always been known for its break with the caste system of the Hindus, for the Buddha never refused to preach the Dharma to anyone on the basis of social standing. But while the Buddhist doctrine (unlike the Vedic tradition, which is to be taught only to the three highest castes) was free of the rigid social structure attendant upon the caste system, Buddhism did function within Indian society. As the various divisions of caste and occupation became progressively stronger, many individual Buddhists could not help but be influenced by it to one degree or another.
Through these stories we are shown examples of householder exemplars who embody the tantric way of living enlightenment. In this account of the Siddhas their remarkable example has been bowdlerized for puritanical dispositions and their apparent radicalness has been normalized as serving some hidden norm. In many ways the stories of these Siddhas provides an important social and psychological critique to minds too eager to embrace the some orthodoxy rather than the untrammeled reality of realization.
The now out of print Masters of Mahamudra : Songs and Histories of the Eighty-Four Buddhist Siddhas (SUNY Series in Buddhist Studies) by Abhayadatta, edited and translated by Keith Dowman in 1986 is a less apologetic rendering.
LEAVES OF THE HEAVEN TREE: The Great Compassion of the Buddha by Padma-chos-phel, translated by Deborah Black ($ 25.95, paper, 477 pages, index, 22 color plates, Dharma Press; 0-89800-283-4)
Some time ago, when I first came upon this volume of one hundred and eight Jatakas, it occurred to me that these accounts, combined with their traditional illustrations, would make a very appealing publication. The original Tibetan text, the sTon-paiskyes-rabs-dpag-bsam-khri-shing by Padma Chophel, is an abridgment of Ksemendras Bodhisattvavadana-kalpalata, preserved in the Tanjur in transliterated Sanskrit and Tibetan translation. In this combined form, Ksemendras work is 1,386 pages (693 double folios) and two volumes in length.
Ksemendra was an eleventh-century Kashmiri poet, famous in his day, who wrote elegiac verse. His elegant language, based on complex aesthetic conventions, makes subtle use of words that reward slow and careful reading. But in the Kaliyuga, this dark and pressured age, readers have little time to savor the twelve course feasts of the past. Padma Chophel, writing in the nineteenth century, took upon himself the task of making these wonderful accounts more accessible to the general Tibetan reader. Taking care to retain the feeling of the original, he shortened most of the stories and simplified the language. The offered here hold a special place in the Buddhas teaching. The Buddhas disciples came from all walks of life; not all were able to appreciate or even to understand many of his more profound philosophical teachings. Using his past lives as illustrations, the Buddha was able to explain essential teachings in a way all could clearly comprehend. Even the most sophisticated among his followers could delight in these informal presentations of philosophical topics.
As these accounts clearly demonstrate, the Buddha often taught the relationship between cause and effect in a way that entertained as well as enlightened. Buddhist masters through the centuries have continued this style of teaching, knowing that philosophical truths do not have to be presented in their full complexity to be effectively conveyed. I hope todays reader will also take these teachings to heart and be inspired to apply them to daily life.
In these accounts, the Buddha presents clear and basic precepts accepted by all Buddhists: karma, or the cause and effect of action unfolding through lifetime after lifetime, and the importance of developing wisdom and compassion. However, the underlying theme of each account is the practice of the six perfections, the main focus of the Bodhisattvas actions: giving, moral practice, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.
A Bodhisattva, in practicing the perfections, goes beyond even the most extraordinary actions of ordinary people. He carries all activity to the point of transcendence, where, cleansed of all residues of self-centered concern, it becomes perfected .Thus, while these teachings are not esoteric, not tantric, and not secret, they are essential teachings for anyone intent on traveling the path to complete, perfect enlightenment.
Readers will find an illustration of each of the hundred and eight accounts in the collection of twenty-two thankas reproduced in this volume. The original set of thankas illustrating these Jatakas was made under the direction of the Mahapan. dita Dharmakara Situ Chokyi Jungnay. Later, another set of these thankas was created following the same format and style.
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