Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism

Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism

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by Reginald A. Ray

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is one of the most thorough introductions to the Tibetan Buddhist world view
ever published; at the same time it is also one of the most accessible. The
author presents complex and sophisticated teachings and practices in
nontechnical language, using engaging stories and personal anecdotes to
illustrate his points.



is one of the most thorough introductions to the Tibetan Buddhist world view
ever published; at the same time it is also one of the most accessible. The
author presents complex and sophisticated teachings and practices in
nontechnical language, using engaging stories and personal anecdotes to
illustrate his points.

presents Tibetan Buddhism in its traditional form but also shows how the
Tibetan traditions are applicable to the problems and challenges of modern life
in the West.


Tibetan Buddhism is introduced not as an exotic religion, but rather as an
expression of human spirituality that is having a profound impact on the modern
world. In addition, it presents the point of view of meditation and the
practice of the spiritual life, paying special attention to contemplative
practice and meditation as taught in the Kagyu and Nyingma schools.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ray presents the material so that Westerners can assimilate and use it. He doesn't shy away from explaining difficult concepts, offering an approachable text that doesn't talk down to the reader."— Library Journal

"A rich and rewarding read."— The Middle Way

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People and Place

Buddhism was, until recently, the major form of religious belief and practice
throughout the regions where Tibetan civilization prevailed. Beginning sometime
prior to the seventh century CE, Buddhism began to make its appearance in
Tibet, and it developed from that time to become the major religious
orientation of the Tibetan people. In its prime, Tibetan Buddhism was one of
the world's most vital, diverse, and spiritually profound traditions. After
some fourteen centuries of free and well-favored development, Buddhism and
indeed Tibetan civilization as a whole suffered calamitous attack under the
1949 Chinese invasion and subsequent political appropriation and repression of
Tibet. At the same time, as is often said, Tibet's loss was the world's gain,
for since the Chinese occupation hundreds of thousands of Tibetans fled into
exile. Among these were many gifted teachers who have, since the 1960s, been
presenting their traditions to the rest of the world. There are now hundreds of
groups of non-Tibetans practicing Tibetan Buddhism, on virtually every
continent, in every major city, and in many out-of-the-way places; and the
tradition is studied in many colleges and universities, both Western and Asian.

civilization flourished throughout an extensive portion of Asia, including both
the region we think of as Tibet proper, "political Tibet," and also
other areas extending into other political entities. These include principally
portions of Assam in the east, Bhutan, Sikkim, and parts of Nepal to the south
and southwest; and Ladakh to the west. Although heavily damaged in
Chinese-occupied Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism continues to be practiced in these
other Tibetan cultural locales.

proper is bordered on three sides by stupendous mountain ranges, from twenty
thousand to nearly thirty thousand feet in height—in the south the Himalayas,
to the west by the Karakoram range, and to the north by the Kunlun range (see
map). These mountains are completely impassable for most of the year and even
in the best of seasons presented the traveler with dangerous and sometimes
insurmountable obstacles. Although open to the east, the seemingly endless
deserts, plains, and lower mountains meant that anyone wishing to travel from
Central Tibet to Beijing, for example, could plan on an eight-month journey.
While these physical barriers did not completely isolate Tibet from the rest of
the world, they certainly impeded outside influence. Tibet's relative isolation
was reinforced by cultural and geopolitical factors. Up until the Chinese
invasion of 1949, Tibet had functioned as a kind of buffer between British
India to the south, Russia to the north, and China to the east. These great
powers preferred a steady state in which outside meddlers did not enter Tibet
and thus kept it cordoned off. Within Tibet itself, the highly conservative
religious culture was not welcoming to outsiders. The combined result of
geographical, political, and cultural factors meant that up to the middle of
the twentieth century, Tibetan civilization was able to develop its own unique
character and to suffer the encroachments of modernity in a much more gradual
and incidental way than most other traditional cultures.

order to understand the character and diversity of Tibetan Buddhism, it is
important to know something about Tibetan geography, as it has impacted Tibetan
politics, society, and culture. The territory of Tibet proper may be divided
into three roughly equal sections. The northern third of the country is a vast,
uninhabited desert, cut by mountain spurs and ranges. For most of the year it
is bitterly cold and swept by fierce winds. Although in the past no one lived
there, it was periodically visited by hunters and by traders seeking salt,
soda, and borax. The middle third of Tibet, although still high and cold, is
made up of rolling hills and grasslands, interspersed with lofty mountain
ranges and great lakes. Here Tibetan nomads, incredibly hardy and tough, tended
their flocks of yak, sheep, and goats, living in felt tents year round, and
moving with the seasons to find the best pasture lands. The southern third of
the country is composed of a series of river valleys that, although still high,
are (because of their more southerly latitude) relatively moist, temperate, and
fertile when compared with the rest of Tibet. It was in this southern third of
Tibet that most of its some three million people lived, in hamlets, small
villages, and a few larger towns, supporting themselves mainly by farming.

inhabited regions of Tibet were quite diverse in social and political
configuration, and this diversity was reflected in the arena of religion as
well. Central Tibet, made up of the districts of U and Tsang along with several
other provinces, was a particularly rich farming region, and the location of
the greatest population density and the largest towns. Society here was defined
by large estates owned by wealthy nobility, and also by landed peasants and
landless fieldworkers. Owing in part to its concentration of people and its
relative wealth, Central Tibet was politically the most centralized of the
Tibetan regions and also socially the most hierarchical and stratified. This
region and particularly Tibet's largest town, Lhasa, was the seat of the Dalai
Lama and the site of his famed residence, the vast Potala, with its thousands
of corridors, rooms, and temples. Central Tibet and Lhasa were also the
stronghold of the Geluk school and included the largest monasteries in the
country. It was here that, since the seventeenth century, the Tibetan central
government was located, headed by the Dalai Lama and staffed by monks of the
ruling Geluk sect and nobility loyal to them. The Sakya school was also strong
in Central Tibet with its central seat in Sakya.

Tibet, known as Kham, includes the valleys of several great rivers (the
Salween, Mekong, and Yangtze) and the pastureland between them. Although more
spread out, Kham had a population roughly equal to that of Central Tibet. Owing
to its proximity to China, a number of important trading routes lay in Kham,
along with several major towns including Derge and Chamdo. Kham was politically
more decentralized than central Tibet, and its different regions were governed
sometimes by hereditary princes and sometimes by lamas from their monastic
seats. The Nyingma and Kagyu schools were particularly strong here, with a few
medium-sized monasteries in the valleys and numerous retreat centers in the
surrounding hills and mountains.

in northeastern Tibet, was inhabited mostly by Tibetan nomads with their flocks
and also by Mongolian herdsmen who were likewise followers of Tibetan Buddhism.
It is here that the sacred lake of Kokonor is found and also that Tsongkhapa,
the founder of the Geluk sect, was born. Owing to its ever-moving nomadic
population, Amdo was less politically centralized than either Central Tibet or
Kham, and the various nomad groupings were mostly self-governing. Owing to
Geluk conversions in the area, the Geluk sect was particularly strong, having a
number of large monasteries. The Nyingmapas were strong here as well and also
had a number of large monastic establishments.

other Tibetan cultural regions existing today outside of the areas of Chinese
occupation show similar social, cultural, and political diversity. Tibetan
areas of India and Nepal are mostly agricultural in nature, with the various
schools all represented. Bhutan and Sikkim have populations composed of
Tibetans, partly Tibetanized hill peoples, and immigrants from Nepal. These are
also primarily farming areas and have been dominated by the non-Geluk orders.
In the more mountainous areas, until the Chinese occupation closed the routes
to Tibet proper, trade provided a major form of livelihood.

it was that although Central Tibet was nominally the seat of the ruling Geluk
sect, in fact the various regions of Tibet were quite autonomous both
politically and culturally. Several factors contributed to this relative
independence. For one thing, the large distances and relatively poor
communication between Central Tibet and the various other regions meant that
each area was able to develop its own character. In addition, the various
Tibetan regions were culturally diverse, each with its own particular history,
its own way of speaking, and its own dress, food, artistic traditions, and so
on. Furthermore, different Tibetan regions predominated in one or another types
of social setup: some were relatively populous, centralized agricultural
states; others were still agricultural, but more sparsely populated and spread
out; still others were essentially nomadic; and others were urban, containing
merchants, the nobility, government officials, artists, with the social
diversity implied by such a mix. The relative independence of the different
areas was also encouraged by the fact that the style of Buddhism followed in
the different regions differed, as did local shamanic ritual practices.
Finally, Tibetans as a people tend to be fiercely independent and are not
particularly amenable to outside control of their affairs. A Golok (or Golog),
from northeastern Tibet, gives expression to this sense of independence—even
from the Geluk rule from Central Tibet—in this speech quoted by John Rock:

cannot compare us Golog with other people. You obey the laws of strangers, the
laws of the Dalai Lama, of China, of any of your petty chiefs. You are afraid
of everyone. And the result is that you are afraid of everything. And not only
you, but your fathers and grandfathers were the same. We Golog, on the other
hand, have from time immemorial obeyed none but our own laws, none but our own
convictions. A Golog is born with the knowledge of his freedom. . . . Our tribe
is the most respected and mighty in Tibet.

spite of all this diversity, certain patterns bound Tibetan civilization
together more or less as a unified whole. Primary was, of course, the Tibetan
language, spoken throughout these various areas, in various dialects. Second
only to language, Tibetan culture was unified and defined by Tibetan Buddhism
itself, providing a history, a worldview, and a manner of living more or less
characterizing all Tibetans, including those who were not nominally Buddhist,
principally the followers of Bön. Institutionally, the culture was bound
together by the importance of monasteries, whether large or small, to every
Tibetan whatever their region or manner of livelihood. Even—perhaps
particularly—among the nomads, the monasteries played a central role, not only
for religious purposes but for the medical services its lamas could provide,
mediation in times of dispute, protection in conflict, storage of grain, and so

correct understanding of Tibetan Buddhism, both in its homeland and in exile,
is not possible without an appreciation of the diversity of Tibetan culture as
well as its unity. It may be argued that the dharma throughout Tibet has, as is
often said by Tibetans, to have "one single taste." At the same time,
it is clear that there is no one style or tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that
can stand as a standard for the rest. The more scholastically and politically
oriented Geluk school is no more definitive of Tibetan Buddhism than the more
meditative lineages of the Nyingma and the Kagyu. Those who lived in the huge
monasteries of Central Tibet could take no particular pride of place over
meditators residing in small hermitage communities or the solitary hermits
living walled up in a cave, in retreat until death. The strength and vitality
of Tibetan Buddhism lay, perhaps, in its ability to include and accommodate so
many different manifestations of human spiritual aspiration and practice.

an age in which world culture is becoming more and more standardized, this is
certainly a point worth considering. Buddhists in Tibet might disagree over
which view was the more profound or which approach the most effective, but few
would dispute that the very fact of religious diversity in Buddhist Tibet came
directly from the hand of the Buddha himself, as one of his greatest gifts to
his followers. With this view in mind, then, let us consider the rich and
varied landscape of Tibetan Buddhism, both as it existed in its homeland and as
it is now beginning to flower in the modern period in the rest of the world.

Meet the Author

Reginald A. Ray, PhD, is a faculty member at Naropa University and is President and Spiritual Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, which is dedicated to the practice, study, and preservation of the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa. He is also the author of many books, including Indestructible Truth and In the Presence of Masters.

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Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
This book is a full university course in Tibetan Buddhism--its roots, its heroes, its evolving schools, and its spiritual practice as the wayfarer experiences it. Ray is a patient, passionate teacher who takes time to clearly explain the pathways and peaks of Buddhist philosophy and practice. I'd definitely recommend it for any student of the subject. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization