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Entries in Tibetan Buddhism (15)


In Translation: Great Perfection in the Palm of Your Hand

Essential Advice for Solitary Meditation Practice was written by Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) at the behest of a retreatant, Rikzang Dorje, in residence at Dudjom Rinpoché’s three-year retreat center, Ogmin Pema Ösel, in Tibet. This profound teaching contains within it the entire path of Great Perfection (Dzogchen), including how to prepare oneself for retreat, how to discern a proper location, as well as key instructions on view, meditation and conduct, including direct advice on how to bring your experiences onto the path.

In three-year retreat, my teacher, Lama Tharchin Rinpoche—who was one of those fortunate retreatants for whom Dudjom Rinpoche wrote this text—would refer us to this text over and over again. It seemed that the answer to every question on meditation we posed would be found in Essential Advice for Solitary Meditation Practice. We all found this to be true, and it continues to be my treasured companion.

The text is divided into three parts: Preparation, Main Practice and Post-meditation. What follows is the Main Practice section in its entirety, with brief excerpts from the Preparation and Post-meditation sections.

—Ron Garry, translator

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Give and You Shall Receive

Among Buddhists in the West, the traditional practice of giving is often considered a lay virtue aimed at achieving a better rebirth in the next life. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this understanding, it has a serious drawback: giving is often assumed among more serious practitioners to be a relatively lesser practice in Buddhism, superseded by the elite forms of ethics, scholarly study and meditation. This assumption is inaccurate and has led to a unbalanced, distorted version of Buddhism, not only among scholars but also among Western practitioners.

Descriptions of the practice of giving are found, as is well-known, in the earliest Buddhist texts. Perhaps surprisingly, at least for some, the giving practices outlined there possess much depth, subtlety and sophistication, and certainly do not conform to the prevalent stereotypes of “lay Buddhism.”

In the early texts, the practice of giving articulates the way in which (usually) lay donors and their renunciant (monastic and yogic) recipients establish relationships with one another. As the texts emphasize, the renunciants make the first gesture of giving by presenting themselves to the lay person as a potential “field of merit” or “object of offering.” In practical terms, this means that on their alms rounds they turn up at the door of a home and offer their willing—and generous—availability for a relationship with the lay person living there.

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Who Am I?

In this teaching on the wisdom chapter of Shantideva’s The Way of the Budhisattva, His Holiness the Dalai Lama dismantles the belief in self by examining the nature of body, feelings, mind and phenomena.

In The Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryavatara), Shantideva’s presentation of the identitylessness, or selflessness, of phenomena is explained first by means of the four mindfulnesses—mindfulness of the body, of feelings, of mind and of phenomena.

So, according to Shantideva’s text, first we reflect upon the nature of our own body. This is done by contemplating the body’s general and specific characteristics, for example, the aging process and the impure substances that constitute bodily existence. Generally speaking, meditating on the mindfulness of body, reflecting upon the nature of our own body, is the approach explained in the Hinayana scriptures. However, we can extend this contemplation to the nature of the body, feelings, mind and phenomena of all beings, who are limitless like space. Then it becomes a training of the mind according to the Mahayana path. When we contemplate the emptiness of these four factors—body, feelings, mind and phenomena—we are practicing a mindfulness meditation focused on the ultimate truth.

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In Translation: The View of the Conquerors

The Great Image is the biography of the great Tibetan translator Vairotsana1, one of the earliest translators of tantric texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan and an important figure in the Nyingma tradition, the oldest of the four schools of Buddhism in Tibet. Recorded by his foremost disciples, this biography contains not only the details and events of Vairotsana’s life, but also the history of the Ati Yoga (Dzogchen) doctrine in general and the historical background of the Buddhist doctrine in detail, including how it appeared in the celestial and human realms through the mind lineage of the conquerors, the symbol lineage of the vidyadharas, and the hearing lineage of individuals.

This excerpt traces the Dzogchen lineage of the human realm, in India, beginning with Prahevajra (Tib., Garab Dorje), who received the transmission directly from the sambhogakaya buddha Vajrasattva. Brief biographies of each lineage holder precede short spontaneous songs (dohas) through which the teacher transmits the Dzogchen view, followed by the student’s expression of his or her realization.

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The Guru and the Great Vastness

For a follower of the Hinayana or Mahayana paths, there are the sutras and the shastras. The sutras contain the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, whereas the shastras are commentaries composed later by a disciple of the Buddha, such as Nagarjuna. Moreover, there are instructions on how to practice. For instance, many chapters of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva contain very clear instructions.

Studying the dharma can be compared to learning how to drive. There is a driving manual that explains what things are, how they work, the rules of the road and so on. Similarly, the sutras and shastras contain the basic knowledge you need in order to practice the dharma. When you actually learn how to drive, you receive personalized instructions based on your individual skills, your driving teacher’s style and the various practical situations you encounter. These are not necessarily presented in the same order as the information in the manual. Instructions can come in most unexpected ways.

In Vajrayana, there are the tantras as well as the pith instructions. For centuries, dharma practitioners have studied the tantras while practicing according to the pith instructions. Some students place great emphasis on the tantras, the actual texts which contain the theory of the view. Those who are intellectually or academically oriented can get quite caught up in explanations and theories. Other students who are more emotionally oriented tend to get caught up in the instructions. This was a common fault in the past and continues to be so today.

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