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Focus on Nyingma Tibetan Tradition

APPARITIONS OF THE SELF: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary by Jigme Lingpa, Jigs-Med-Glin-Pa Ran-Byun-Rdo-Rje, translated and introduced by Janet Gyatso ($39.50, hardcover, 384 pages, Princeton University Press; ISBN: 0691011109)

APPARITIONS OF THE SELF is a groundbreaking investigation into what is known in Tibet as "secret autobiography," an exceptional, rarely studied literary genre that presents a personal exploration of intimate religious experiences In this volume, Janet Gyatso focuses on the outstanding pair of secret autobiographies by the famed Tibetan Buddhist visionary, Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), whose poetic and self-conscious writings are as much about the nature of his own identity, memory, and the undecidabilities of autobiographical truth as they are narrations of the actual content of his experiences.

Gyatso is among the first to consider Tibetan literature from a comparative perspective, examining the surprising fit,  well as the mis-fit, Western literary theory with Tibetan autobiography. She examines the intriguing questions of why Tibetan Buddhists produced so many autobiographies (far more than other Asian Buddhists), and how autobiographical self-assertion is possible even while Buddhists believe that the self is ultimately an illusion. Also explored are Jigme Lingpa’s historical milieu, his revelatory visions of the ancient Tibetan dynasty, and his meditative practices of personal cultivation. The book concludes with a study of the subversive female figure of the dakini and the implications of her gender, her sexuality, and her unsettling discourse for the autobiographical subject in Tibet.

Janet Gyatso is Associate Professor of Religion at Amherst College. She is the editor of In the Mirror of Memory: Reflections on Mindfulness and Remembrance in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.

To distinguish a Tibetan cultural product by bringing it into fields of discourse that render it comparable and contrastable to the products of other cultures benefits not only Tibetan Buddhists and those who would study them. It also impacts upon constituencies that have no intrinsic interest in Tibetan matters as such.

Western literary theorists and cultural historians have long held dear the existence of autobiography, along with a cluster of other factors, among them a sense of personal individuality, as unique markers of modern Western identity. While it is hardly the case that Tibetan autobiography matches Western autobiography in every respect, the fact that there exist notable "family resemblances" problematizes the reputed uniqueness of the latter. The study of Tibetan autobiography and its concomitant concepts of the person serves to correct the record, yielding a more complex picture of world literature and the place of Western representations of the self therein. While it has become imperative in recent years to focus upon difference, and thereby to curtail romantic projections of self upon the other, respect for the other also entails a recognition of practices that, despite undeniable differences, nonetheless accomplish purposes similar to those of Western cultural institutions.

Most important, the recognition of a variant that still shares features with the familiar provides a basis from which to engage the foreign material seriously, and thus to learn from it. Recently, autobiography theorists have become interested in the different ways the genre is approached by women, or by people who are injecting divergent cultural conceptions and, especially, other senses of self, into this mode of writing. A key question that readers will bring to Tibetan Buddhist autobiography is how such an eminently self-obsessed genre can be written by someone who believes the self to be an illusion. At a time when postmodern critics have declared autobiography to be dying along with the demise of essentialism, it is provocative to learn that in Tibet it was precisely the introduction of the ideology of "no-self" that marked the dawn of self-written stories of the self. The observation not only inspires a reconsideration of our historical understanding of what the Buddhist doctrine of no-self really meant for its own adherents; it also suggests that even an autobiographer as alien as Jigme Lingpa might give us some ideas about how to understand and represent autobiographically our own recognition of the self’s nonessentiality.

With these broad issues on the horizon, this book has as its overt focus the detailed analysis of an outstanding pair of Tibetan autobiographical writings. While a secondary aim is to pave the way for future comparison of Tibetan autobiography with other works in world literature, the complexity of this single example is already such that it requires much discussion on its own ground before meaningful comparisons can be made. The book is organized with these concerns in mind. After a brief introduction to Jigme Lingpa and the genre of secret autobiography, I present a translation of the works themselves: Dancing Moon, an account of Jigme Lingpa’s significant religious experiences, and Dakki’s Secret-Talk, a narrative of the events and visions associated with his major scriptural revelation. The chapters following these texts study in some detail how the literary, institutional, and religious scenes in which Jigme Lingpa was situated contributed to his autobiographical self-representation. Chapter I reflects upon the place of the subgenre of secret autobiography in the Tibetan literary milieu, and the sociohistorical reasons for the development of Tibetan autobiographical writing in the first place. This is the most explicitly comparative chapter in the book, for it considers critical issues raised in literary theory, and suggests both parallels and contrasts with European and American autobiography as well as with the literatures of China and India. Chapter 2 turns to the specifics of Jigme Lingpa’s particular sociohistorical. location, looking at his other, more conventional autobiography to gain a sense of his public persona, the institutions with which he was associated, his relationships with students and Patrons, and especially how the material reported in the secret autobiographies affected, and was affected by, the rest of his career. Chapter 3 moves into the substance of Jigme Lingpa’s secret autobiographical account. One of the most arcane, yet most central, components of Jigme Lingpa’s secret autobiographical self is his identity as a "Treasure discoverer," by virtue of which he simultaneously achieves personal uniqueness and connects his identity to a mythic vision of Tibet’s past and present. Jigme Lingpa remember his Treasure destiny in key passages of the secret autobiographies, which I read closely in this chapter. Chapter 4 surveys the other elements of Jigme Lingpa’s religious ideologies and practices that become ingredient in his secret self-portrait. Tantric visualization, sexual yoga, and Great Perfection theory all had far-reaching impact upon how Jigme Lingpa portrayed both the outer form and the inner experiences of his embodiment.

Chapter 5 departs from a description of normative doctrines and practices and engages instead in a literary analysis of their actual representationand transformation in autobiographical writing, bringing inconsistencies and discrepancies to the fore. Yet while Jigme Lingpa’s robust autobiographical self could seem at odds with the classical Buddhist norms of emptiness and no-self, I find that his self-portrait equally betrays his embeddedness in that very tradition. The undecidable "dancing moon" at the bottom of Jigme Lingpa’s secret autobiographies turns out to represent quite well a Buddhist principle such as "unformulatedness" (if such a non-thing can be represented). A similar destabilizing tendency is uncovered in chapter 6, which proceeds in a feminist key This chapter explores the "dakini-talk" in the secret autobiographies, whereby the female figure of the dakini becomes the ultimate safeguard against self (or gender) reification, or indeed any simplistic dismissal of the metaphysical and ethical tensions recognized in Jigme Lingpa’s Buddhism.

The multivalent that Jigme Lingpa thematizes in his secret autobiographies parallels the shifting methodological register I have assumed in reading and writing about it. This corroboration can be seen either to confirm the appropriateness of my approach or to reveal its overdetermination. I would like to think that the very recognition of this project’s complexity, which compelled me sometimes to appropriate, and sometimes to reject, aspects of at least three intellectual orientations the traditional Tibetan, the Buddhological, and the literary critically precisely what would best facilitate the representation of Jigme Lingpa’s own complexly ironic position visavis his visionary experience.

Yet the main factor that determined the heterogeneous perspective of this book ultimately rendering it, like Jigme Lingpa’s visionary figure, "neither a Mongol nor a monk"has doubtless been the proclivities of the researcher herself. If it cannot be said that the centrality of the undecidable in Jigme Lingpa occasioned the nature of my approach to his work, it is certainly the case that my personal liking for the undecidable determined my initial choice of subject matter. Genetically, it seems, immersed in a perpetual identity crisis (the etiology of which I shall save for my own autobiography), I have long obsessed over questions regarding the self, memory, destiny, independence, and subjectivity, questions that are not so very different from those that Jigme Lingpa raises. That the terms in which he explores them and the stories with which he associates them are foreign to the ones I have inherited is hardly a deterrent. On the contrary, I am eager to learn how anyone from any quarter negotiates the tensions between tradition and individuality, inner and outer, self and other. This is not to say that for me to share with Jigme Lingpa the conviction that the self is ultimately a construct means that we hold such a view for the same reasons, nor does it prevent me from scrutinizing his presentation of this view with the kind of critical attitude that only someone from outside his tradition could muster. Nevertheless, I am intensely curious to see how someone who has devoted himself to the doctrine that attachment to self is the cause for bondage can reconcile a metaphysics of emptiness and an ethics of generosity with an individualistic psychology of passionate self-conviction and a personal style of freedom, unconventionality, and originality. This multiple coincidentia oppositorum is the heart of the dynamics of Jigme Lingpa’s secret autobiographies, it is the reason for my own attraction to them, and it means that I am reading them not only as relics of an exotic culture but also as a philosophical literature that I find personally engaging. Such a reading does not compromise a critical distance from the texts, nor does it deny a vast cultural distance; it simply means that I am taking them seriously and, I hope, encouraging other readers to do the same.

FOOTSTEPS ON THE DIAMOND PATH (Crystal Mirror Series, Vols. 1-3) edited by Tarthang Tulku ($18.95, paperback, 277 pages, includes bibliographical references and index, Dharma Publishing; ISBN: 0898002435)

Many of the articles in this volume were first published in the early 1970s in volumes of Crystal Mirror. These early volumes of Crystal Mirror are no longer in print, and it seemed valuable to make most of the articles available in a single new volume, although in a different order. It has also seemed worthwhile to include some short works adapted from the Tibetan that originally appeared in Gesar Magazine. If we were redoing these adaptations today, we would certainly make changes, paying more attention to precise terminology. Still, many people have found these short selections helpful, and this seems a good opportunity to make them more readily available.

Several articles retain the informal tone of the early Crystal Mirrors. In preparing the articles for publication, the staff of Dharma Publishing has done some editing, largely for consistency, but also because over the years we have learned something about how to present these materials, and we wanted to pass on the benefit of that knowledge to our readers. In some cases, a more complete or even more accurate treatment of the same subject can be found in later volumes of the Crystal Mirror Series, but it has still seemed useful to include a particular selection here, removing errors where we were aware of them. In the case of some articles by Tarthang Tulku, we sought and received permission to make fairly substantial changes, partly to fit the new organization of the book, and partly to clarify the meaning.

The book is organized around the themes of lineage, teachings from the tradition, and teachings for the West and includes a few adaptations from works by great Nyingma masters. There is some thematic overlap from one section to another, which seems unavoidable in a volume like this; perhaps such overlap may allow the reader to see similar themes in different lights and help to generate new perspectives. In Part Three, Teachings for the West, all articles are by Tarthang Tulku unless otherwise indicated.

It has been a great joy to work on these selections. In the essays where the presentation has been substantially shifted, the teachings themselves have seemed to guide the reshaping, their tremendous value shining through the vocabulary and syntax. In one sense, reading and rereading these essays is like discovering in a small way the timelessness of the Dharma; in another it is like recovering hidden treasures. We hope that our readers whether they are long familiar with Dharma Publishing books or are discovering them for the first Time will also respond with joy to these selections and will find them beneficial for both study and practice.

Finding a Perfect Teacher

THE WORDS OF MY PERFECT TEACHER: (Sacred Literature Series) by Dpal-Sprul O-Rgyan-'Jigs-Med-Chos-Kyi-Dban -Po, by Patrul Rinpoche  ($25.00, paperback, 512 pages Revised edition, Shambhala; ISBN: 1570624127)

For more than a century, THE WORDS OF MY PERFECT TEACHER has served as a guide to the spiritual practices common to all four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the classic commentary on the preliminary practices of the Longchen Nyingthig cycle of teachings the great spiritual treasure of the Nyingmapa school, the oldest of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The author, Patrul Rinpoche, makes his subject accessible through a wealth of stories, quotations, and references to everyday life. His sense of poetry and irony, and his warm, colloquial style infuse the text with the atmosphere and vitality of an oral teaching.

This second, revised edition is the result of a detailed and painstaking comparison of the original Tibetan text with the English translation by the Padmakara Translation group. The new edition also includes translations of a postface written a century ago by the first Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and a new preface by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

PATRUL RINPOCHE 1808-1887 was one of the greatest Tibetan teachers of the nineteenth century. Famous for his precise and direct style, he shunned high monastic office and lived the life of a homeless wanderer, writing his book in a rustic hermitage under an overhanging rock.

THE WORDS OF MY PERFECT TEACHER: a Guide to the Preliminaries for the Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse from the Great Perfection, sets out the paths of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism without any conflict between them.

It contains all the teachings, including the Steps of the Path for those of the three levels of understanding, along with the Three Main Themes of the Path; the Three Perceptions, preliminaries for the Path and Fruit; the Buddha Nature as the cause, precious human life as the support, the spiritual friend as the impetus, his instructions as the method, and the kayas and wisdoms as the result, these representing the confluence of the Kadampa and Mahamudra traditions; and the Nyingma path in terms of determination to be free through disgust for samsara, faith through confidence in the effect of actions, bodhicitta through striving to help others, and pure perception of the utter purity of everything there is.

For all teachings on all practices, whether preliminaries or main, this text is indispensable. That is why, at this fortunate time in which the Buddha’s precious doctrine is beginning to shine its light throughout the world, this book has been translated in the profound hope that being of enormous worth and little danger, and covering as it does all the essential points of the  contact with it may be fruitful, and that it may become the object of study, reflection and meditation. That followers of the Dharma teach or listen to this text is of great importance.

In the Nyingmapa school, to which Patrul Rinpoche belonged, and which is the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, there are two kinds of transmission. There is the kahma  or oral lineage, passed on from teacher to student over the centuries, and there is the miraculous direct lineage of Terma or Spiritual Treasures. These were hidden in the eighth century by Padmasambhava and his great woman disciple Yeshe Tshogyal, to be discovered in later ages at the appropriate moment. THE WORDS OF MY PERFECT TEACHER is an explanation of the preliminary practices of the Longchen Nyingtik, The Heart-Essence of the Vast Expanse, a spiritual treasure discovered by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa (1729-1798).

Jigme Lingpa See (review above for his autobiographies) was a prodigy who became immensely learned with almost no study, through arousing his wisdom mind in a series of long meditation retreats. He received the Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse in a series of visions of Longchenpa, a great lama of the fourteenth century.

Longchenpa systematized the Nyingmapa doctrines in his astonishing Seven Treasures and other works, which cover all aspects of the Buddhist teachings, and in particular discuss fully the subtleties of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. He also wrote extensively on the teachings of the other schools, but these works have been lost. Although Longchenpa lived several centuries before him, he was in fact Jigme Lingpa’s principal teacher.

Jigme Lingpa first practiced and mastered the teachings he had discovered, and then passed them on to a few close disciples who were capable of becoming pure holders of the doctrine. One of these was Patrul Rinpoche’s teacher, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu, who after spending a considerable time with Jigme Lingpa in central Tibet, returned to Kham (the eastern region of the country). There he undertook the practice of what Jigme Lingpa had taught him, living on a remote mountainside in a mere depression in the ground, without even a cave for shelter, and with only wild plants for food. He was indifferent to comfort and convenience, determined to let go of all worldly considerations and concentrate on the goal of ultimate realization. Gradually disciples gathered around him, living in tents on the windswept hillside. One of these was the young Patrul, who received from him, no less than fourteen times, the teachings contained in this book. Subsequently Patrul also studied with many other great lamas of the day, including the highly unconventional Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje, who directly introduced him to the nature of the mind.

Throughout his life Patrul Rinpoche emulated the uncompromising simplicity of his master. Although he had been recognized in his childhood as an incarnate lama, or tulku his name is an abbreviation of Palgye Tulkuand would normally have had a high position in a monastic establishment, he spent his life wandering from place to place, camping in the open, in the guise of an ordinary beggar. If he was offered gold or silver he would often just leave it lying on the ground, thinking that wealth was only a source of trouble. Even when he had become a famous teacher, he would travel around unrecognized, living in the same simple and carefree manner. There is even a story of a lama he met on his travels who, thinking he was a good fellow who might benefit from such an extraordinary teaching, taught him this very text. On another occasion he traveled with a poor widow, helping her to cook and to take care of her children, carrying them on his back. When they arrived at their destination, Patrul Rinpoche excused himself, saying he had something important to do. The woman heard that the great Patrul Rinpoche was teaching at the monastery. She went there to watch, and was amazed to see her travelling companion on the throne instructing a vast assembly. At the end of the teaching he asked that all the offerings be given to her.

To his students he was immensely kind, but also immensely tough. He treated beggars and kings in exactly the same way. In all situations his only interest was to benefit others, and he would always say whatever would be most useful, regardless of social niceties.

THE TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIP: A Translation of the 'Explanation of the Master and Student Relationship, How to Follow the Master, and How to Teach the Dharma
by Kon-Sprul Blo-Gros-Mtha-Yas, translated Ron Garry, introduction by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodu Thaye ($14.95, paperback, 264 pages, Snow Lion Publications; ISBN: 1559390964)

It is crucial for students of Vajrayana Buddhism to find an authentic wisdom teacher, and know how to properly rely upon that teacher in order to awaken to their Buddha nature and thereby attain full enlightenment. As Buddhism is still relatively new in the West, we don’t always know how to go about this essential task. Fortunately, the topic has never more been more thoroughly explored, and the ideal relationship more clearly delineated, than by the unsurpassed Tibetan teacher Jamgon Kongtrul Lodu Thaye in the tenth chapter of his monumental Buddhist encyclopedia, The Treasury of Knowledge.

Translated by Dr. Ron Garry, this essential text clearly lays out what credentials and qualities every student should look for in a wisdom teacher, why a wisdom teacher is necessary, and how the relationship between this teacher and disciple best develops once it is established. With chapters such as How to Seek the Wisdom Teacher, Why a Wisdom Teacher Is Necessary, Categories and Qualifications of the Master, and How to Choose a Wisdom Teacher, this authoritative work places into the hands of every student all he or she needs to know to undertake the most fundamental and important step on the path: finding a qualified wisdom teacher.

This book also includes a teaching by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche that explains for Western students the critical importance of the teacher student relationship in Buddhist practice.

"I highly recommend this book because it shows us in a clear and concise way how to create and nurture this relationship" from the foreword by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodu Thaye (1813-1899), popularly known as Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, was a pivotal figure in eastern Tibet’s nonsectarian movement and one of the most outstanding writers and teachers of his time. In his monumental Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Treasury of Knowledge), he presents a complete account of the major lines of thought and practice that comprise Tibetan Buddhism.

Many Western students, although unprepared and under qualified to receive spiritual transmissions on certain levels, force themselves into the teaching situation. Without a strong foundation, not only are they utterly unequipped to help others, they actually bring harm upon themselves. Children who eat like this win vomit their food, and adults who act like this will end up confused.

In the Buddhist tradition, one is meant to gradually proceed from the lower vehicles to the higher. This tradition does not take one from the higher to the lower. From the relative point of view, you must build a house from the ground up, not from the roof down. When you go to the top of a house, you approach from the bottom. Perhaps a helicopter can land directly on the roof, but even the helicopter has to take off from the ground. The dharma path begins by developing the wisdom of hearing the teachings, contemplating, and meditating. The dharma path requires you to examine your own faults by constantly observing the nature of cyclic existence. In this way, the dharma will truly be of benefit to your mind stream, and the relationship you develop with the teacher will be invaluable.

These days, many students choose to receive spiritual teachings from just about every direction they are available. It may be useful to consider the need to have a strong trunk that can support the many branches that are meant to beautify the tree. If the trunk of one’s developed qualities is strong, then it is excellent to improve upon that basis. Generally, whenever students see faults in the teacher and when teachers see faults in the students, it is a sign of the individual’s own shortcomings. In particular, if someone has formally entered the path of Buddhism and has developed a strong relationship with a spiritual teacher from whom vows and instructions have been received, and then turns on the teacher and actually sees and expresses faults of the teacher, it is very negative. Forget about expressing a fault of the teacher; to even express a fault of one of the sangha members causes one to break the vows of refuge. This accumulates the karma of abandoning the dharma.

Expressing the faults of the root teacher is the same as finding fault with the Buddha. When you take the vows of refuge you repeat, "I take refuge in the teacher; I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the dharma; I take refuge in the sangha." To express fault in the sublime objects of refuge only serves to blatantly demonstrate your own shortcomings. If care is taken from the very beginning, then there should be no problem; but unfortunately these days most people like to excitedly jump in and make a big splash that is noisy so that others can take note of it. If someone is a true follower of the Buddha, whether teacher or student, then their delusions should be decreasing and it should be obvious that a true effort is being made to do so. If the antidotes for desire, anger, pride, jealousy, and so forth are being applied, it will be apparent in the outer mannerisms of the practitioner. Such a person should have less delusion and self cherishing than ordinary people. If so, then it is good. Whether that person is male, female, ugly, old, poor, or rich, the authentic presence of a true practitioner will be apparent, if you know how to look for it. Check for yourself to see if this is true or not. You are the one who should be intelligent enough to know if the food can fit in your mouth and be digested or not. Even if someone is world-renowned for their scholarship, if they verbally abuse and look down upon others, especially their own spiritual teachers and practitioners of the same tradition, then who will really respect them in the end? Any time you express the faults of others, you automatically express your own. It is important to be careful from the very beginning. At least, don’t try to hide your own faults, like a cat who covers his own excrement, and intentionally expose the faults of others. Try to practice the opposite.

I offer the prayer that the aspirations of all sincere practitioners may be accomplished in accordance with the dharma, bringing a shower of blessings that descend to nourish all beings who seek the path to true freedom.

Tarthang Tulku

ENLIGHTENMENT IS A CHOICE by Tarthang Tulku ($16.95 paperback , Dharma Publishing; ISBN: 0898003008)

ENLIGHTENMENT IS A CHOICE presents the scope are depth of Buddhist teachings clearly and directly. Each of these forty-five essays, drawn from boo and articles that span thirty years of work for the Dharma in the West, illuminates a particular face of Buddhist philosophy and practice. The essential include teachings on karma, compassion, the Bodhisattva path, meditation, and the nature Vajrayana practice, with major sections devote sacred art and Dharma in the West.

Anyone interested in Buddhism and in his perspectives on knowledge and freedom will find much of value here. The truths these teachings convey inspire us to consider enlightenment as universal destiny; they awaken joy and open possibilities a more satisfying way of life.

As young man, Tarthang Tulku received extensive training in Buddhist are practice in Tibet. From 1962 to 1968, he taught philosophy at Sanskrit University in India. For the past thirty years, he has lived and worked in the United States. He is the author of fifteen books and the founder of Dharma Publishing and Dharma Press, Institutes, Odiyan Country Center, and the World Peace Ceremony.

CALM AND CLEAR by Lama Mipham, translated by Keith Dowman ($12.95, paperback, 127 pages, Dharma Publishing; ISBN: 091354602X)

This little work presents unique methods for clearly apprehending the emotions and other elements of experience through meditation. Outlining this method in a step-by-step fashion and describing the successive stages of analysis, this practical instruction manual leads the reader to vital knowledge of his or her own mind and of her or his place in the world.

CALM AND CLEAR is a unique exposition of the Nyingma method of meditation. Translated from the original Tibetan, it comprises two practice-oriented meditation texts by Lama Mipham (1846-1914), one of the most brilliant teachers in Tibet’s history.

In search for the nature of reality, "The Wheel of Analytic Meditation" employs a traditional Buddhist analysis of the body and mind to dissolve conditioned concepts and unexamined assumptions which inhibit deep understanding. "Instructions on Vision in the Middle Way" is a continuation text which is intended to lead the serious student step-by-step in the practice of meditation.

Mipham, a famous Nyingma lama of the last century, was a major contributor to the intellectual movement that stimulated a scholastic and practice-oriented revival throughout all of Tibet. Following directly in his lineage, Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, founder of the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center and the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, California, supplies an extensive commentary on each of the verses.

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