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From the Translator's Introduction
The commentary translated in these pages is unusual and rare. Even within the Nyingma school, it appears to be little known outside the direct teaching lineage of its author, Mipham Rinpoche. We received the transmission and explanation of it in the course of teachings given by Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, who received it from his father, Kangyur Rinpoche, who in turn received it from Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, one of Mipham’s closest disciples. But if the commentary is a rarity, its subject matter, the seven-line invocation of Guru Padmasambhava, is one of the best-known prayers in the Tibetan Buddhist world. It is treasured and recited wherever the Precious Master, Guru Rinpoche, is revered—especially in the Nyingma school, which traces its origins to the dawn of Buddhism in Tibet. It is the primary supplication of the Guru, regarded, as the embodiment of all refuges, the personification of all enlightened beings, and the exemplar of all subsequent masters and teachers of the tradition. In the Nyingma school, no practice session, no meditation, no sadhana begins without three recitations of the Seven-Line Prayer, and as we can see from the colophon of the present commentary, it is not unusual for practitioners to devote months and even years of their lives to the accumulation of vast numbers of recitations of this prayer.
For many Westerners, even those who are attracted to Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche must seem a strange and enigmatic figure. As the tantric Buddhist master from Oddiyana (a region perhaps located in what is now Pakistan), who according to the records visited Tibet in the eighth century, there is little prima facie reason for doubting his historicity. And yet the traditional literature concerning him, which includes several full-length biographies, is filled with marvels and miracles of the kind that we would normally associate with legend and myth. Let us briefly review the main points of Guru Rinpoche’s life and his relationship with Tibet and its people.
Guru-Yoga and the Seven-Line Prayer
The overall significance of the Seven-Line Prayer is perhaps best appreciated in relation to a practice called guru-yoga, or “union with the nature of the guru.” Although the importance of a spiritual teacher is spoken of at all levels of Buddhist teaching, it is in the Vajrayana especially that the finding and attendance upon a qualified master or guru is emphasized as the indispensable prerequisite for the successful implementation of the practice. The purpose of guru-yoga is to purify and deepen the disciple’s relationship with his or her teacher. It is introduced as one of the preliminary practices, and it remains crucial—in fact its importance increases—as one progresses through the more advanced levels of the tantric path. The cultivation of devotion to the guru and the blending of one’s mind with his or her enlightened mind is, in the words of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “the most vital and necessary of all practices and is in itself the surest and fastest way to reach the goal of enlightenment.” But what actually is a guru? The nature and importance of this crucial figure is perhaps most easily understood in the context of the doctrine of the Buddhanature.
The progress of the mind toward enlightenment is often spoken of in terms of the two accumulations of merit and of wisdom. These correspond to the two kinds of bodhichitta, relative and ultimate, which are respectively the practice of compassion and the wisdom of emptiness. The two accumulations are together said to “result” in the state of Buddhahood. However, it should be understood that, as the teachings emphasize, this ultimate goal of the path is not compounded or newly produced; it is not something acquired. It would perhaps be more accurate to speak of enlightenment in terms of the actualization or uncovering of something already present in the mind itself.
This something, this “element,”is the so-called Buddha-nature. It is the innermost essence of the mind, which remains, and has always remained,unsullied by the delusions, defilements, and sufferings of samsara. The Uttaratantra-shastra gives many illustrations of how the Buddha-nature remains hidden, long buried in oblivion, in the depths even of the most deluded and vicious of beings. And the long and gradual evolution of the mind toward enlightenment really consists in the removal of the obscuring veils, produced by karma and defiled emotion, that conceal this inner treasure—a treasure that, like a piece of refined gold hidden in the ground, is already perfect, replete with all the qualities of enlightenment. The Buddha-nature, the nature of the mind, is neither spoiled by the state of samsara nor improved by the attainment of nirvana.
When considering the long process whereby Buddha-nature is uncovered, it is important to remember that, according to Buddhist teaching, the apparently external world and the mind that observes it are not two completely separate spheres. They are intimately linked. In brief, the kind of phenomena that beings perceive is closely dependent on the inner condition of their minds; and this is true to such an extent that it is often said that the world is “mind-created.”As the mind evolves and the veils of defilement that conceal the Buddha-nature are attenuated through the cultivation of positive thoughts and actions, changes are detected in the outer world. The signs of the Dharma begin to appear.
In the early stages, this may be no more than the brief noticing of symbols of the teachings: prayer-flags, for example, a picture of a stupa, an attractive image of the Buddha, an interesting press article about the Dalai Lama, and so on. Gradually, one’s interest in the Dharma becomes more clearly articulated, and eventually an encounter with the teachings will occur. One will meet with Buddhist practitioners and teachers, and thanks to them it will be possible to enter the path and engage in the practice. None of this is mere chance occurrence. The appearance of the Dharma in one’s outer world and the growth, or rather the unfolding, of the Buddha-nature from within correspond to each other like answering echoes. Finally, after a period of long preparation (which may extend over many lifetimes), the time will come when a truly qualified guru, endowed with perfect realization and enlightened skill, will appear within the disciple’s environment. And thanks to a spiritual aptitude born of great reserves of positive spiritual energy or merit, the disciple will be able to perceive, more or less, the character of such a teacher as he or she really is. Later, as obscurations are further removed, the compassion and blessings of the teacher and the pure, unfeigned devotion of the disciple will meet and there will come a moment when the master is able to indicate directly, and the disciple is able to recognize for the first time, the true nature of the mind, the Buddha-nature. In such a context, this Buddha-nature is often referred to as the inner or ultimate guru. As Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche says,
On the absolute level, the teacher is one with the very nature of our own mind, which is itself the essence of Buddhahood, the tathagatagarbha . . . Through the outer or relative teacher and his pith instructions, we can bring ourselves to the realization of the inner or absolute teacher, which is awareness itself.
It could perhaps be said that the appearance of such an authentic master in the perceptions of the disciple is the final and most perfect apparition of the disciple’s Buddha-nature projected into outer experience. It is the culmination of a long and converging process at the end of which the outer and inner gurus finally coincide. It is a moment of revelation when the disciple inwardly recognizes the nature of the mind and outwardly experiences a spontaneous, uncontrived conviction that his or her teacher is Buddha indeed. The face of the inner guru is revealed, and the minds of master and disciple mingle inseparably together. There are many accounts of this extraordinary event to be found in the lives of the great practitioners of the past.
For Nyingmapas, Guru Rinpoche is the archetype of such a teacher, the “perfect teacher” who is able to place the disciple directly in the enlightened state. In a very real sense, he is our own Buddha-nature. “Meditate upon the Guru,” Yeshe Tsogyal once said,“as the glow of your awareness.” This is doubtless why Guru Rinpoche appears in the world as such a marvelous figure, totally transcending the limitations of ordinary humanity. He concentrates within himself all the enlightened qualities of self-arisen wisdom, our Buddha-nature, which is ever present beyond the confines of space and time. As Guru Rinpoche declares to King Trisongdetsen in the biography of Yeshe Tsogyal,
From the Lotus-field of Great Felicity,
Devoid of place or bearings, nowhere found,
A globe of light, the vajra body, speech, and mind
Of Amitabha free from birth and death,
Came down upon a lotus cup, uncaused, unwrought,
Floating on an ocean vast, unbounded.
Thence am I.
No father, no mother, no lineage have I.
Wondrous, I have arisen by myself.
I was never born, and neither shall I die.
I am the Enlightened, I the Lotus-Born.
It may be that some people who feel drawn to Buddhist teachings have yet to meet a fully qualified teacher. Others, for whom this meeting has occurred, may still need to refine their way of seeing their teacher to the point where the master-disciple relationship becomes meaningful in the way that we have tried to describe. Until that moment comes, one is encouraged to practice the guru-yoga using Guru Rinpoche as the meditative support. This technique consists of the visualization of Guru Rinpoche, the invocation of his presence, prayers and the recitation of his mantra, the visualized reception of his blessing, and the mingling of one’s mind with his in a state of clear, nonconceptual awareness.
If practitioners have sufficient confidence in their own teacher in this present life, it is of course possible, and indeed very effective, to practice this yoga in relation to them, visualizing them as they appear in ordinary life. But this kind of confidence, completely unspoiled by the tiniest moment of hesitation, is extremely rare. For the most part, one is encouraged to visualize one’s teacher in the form of Guru Rinpoche, considering that they are inseparable. By doing this, it is said that the obscurations and doubts that prevent one from actually perceiving (as distinct from merely believing) one’s teacher to be a Buddha are removed. Last but by no means least, it is important to remember that the practice of guru-yoga often demands that the meditator should also visualize him- or herself in an exalted form, as Yeshe Tsogyal, for example, appearing in the form of Vajra Yogini. The reason for this is that guru-yoga is a kind of meditative “preview” of the meeting of the perfect teacher and the perfect disciple that we have just described: the ultimate encounter in which the Buddha-nature, the inner or ultimate guru, is both revealed and recognized.
Given the central role that Guru Rinpoche plays in the practice of guru-yoga, it is easy to appreciate the significance of the Seven-Line Prayer, the great and powerful invocation that unfailingly effects the presence of the Guru. It is no ordinary formula but appears, like Guru Rinpoche himself, from another dimension. Just as the Guru has arisen miraculously without the need of human parents, so too the Seven-Line Prayer is said to have manifested spontaneously without the agency of human authorship. It is the “natural resonance of indestructible ultimate reality.” The dakinis were the first to hear and make use of it, and they transmitted it to the human world when need arose.
Guru-yoga (when based on Guru Rinpoche) and the Seven-Line Prayer are inextricably linked.And just as guru-yoga remains crucial at every stage of the Vajrayana path, so too the Seven-Line Prayer is relevant at all levels of the practice. Outwardly, it records Guru Rinpoche’s birth and place of origin; it celebrates his accomplishment and implores his blessing. Inwardly, its every word is shown to be heavy and pregnant with meanings that distill in concentrated form the whole of the Vajrayana. The Seven-Line Prayer is like a lovely, many-faceted jewel that receives and concentrates within itself the light of the entire path, reflecting it back with sparkling brilliance.
Regarding the origin of his commentary, Mipham refers in the colophon to an event that triggered the abrupt appearance in his mind of the hidden meaning of the prayer. We shall probably never know what it was that provoked this sudden epiphany, but it is interesting to note that the language Mipham uses suggests that the commentary itself is not an ordinary composition but a treasure teaching, specifically a “mind-treasure,”or gongter. If that is so, the text is itself a teaching by Guru Rinpoche himself, concealed long ago within the mind of his disciple, from which it was destined to reemerge when the right circumstances presented themselves, without the need for the discovery of the traditional yellow scrolls or some other material support.
There is no denying the beauty and profundity of this wonderful text. Whatever may be the nature of its origin, it is written with the elegance and clarity that are the hallmarks of all Mipham’s writings. Even so, it is a difficult text for the translator mainly because it contains many quotations from the tantras, which are famous for the subtle elusiveness of their style. We have done our utmost to secure the meaning of these citations, consulting learned authorities as often as we could. Yet despite our best efforts, there are some texts whose meaning has, to our conscious knowledge, escaped us—and there may of course be others that we have misunderstood without realizing it!
* * *
In Orgyen’s land, upon its northwest rim,
On lotus, pistil-cup, and stem,
Wondrous, supreme mastery you found
And as the Lotus-Born you are renowned.
A ring of many dakinis encircles you,
And in your footsteps practicing we follow you.
To grant your blessings, come, we pray.
Guru Padma Siddhi Hung