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In the Presence of Masters: Wisdom from 30 Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Teachers

In the Presence of Masters: Wisdom from 30 Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Teachers

by Reginald A. Ray

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Thirty of the most creative, eloquent, and energetic Tibetan Buddhist teachers of Westerners in recent decades are featured in this collection of teachings that are certain to be highly treasured by all students of Buddhism. The contributors are masters who helped establish Buddhism in the West, founding centers in North America, Great Britain, Australia, and Europe;


Thirty of the most creative, eloquent, and energetic Tibetan Buddhist teachers of Westerners in recent decades are featured in this collection of teachings that are certain to be highly treasured by all students of Buddhism. The contributors are masters who helped establish Buddhism in the West, founding centers in North America, Great Britain, Australia, and Europe; publishing books in English; and gaining recognition among Western Buddhists. Their teachings, drawn exclusively from the spoken word as given in talks and seminars, convey the directness and power for which the oral tradition is so valued in Buddhism.

The book highlights the teachings of the practice lineages, the branch of Tibetan Buddhism that emphasizes meditation practice, personal experience, and spiritual realization. Selections are thematically organized, including topics such as the major approaches to the spiritual path, meditation and other practices, Buddhist ethics, tantric practice, and the role of the teacher.

Includes the following teachers:

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche • Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche • Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche • Deshung Rinpoche • Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche • Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche • Dudjom Rinpoche • Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche • The Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche • Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche • Gen Lamrimpa • The Third Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche • Kalu Rinpoche • Venerable Khandro Rinpoche • Khenpo Könchog Gyaltsen • Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche • Lama Lodö • Lama Thubten Yeshe Rinpoche • Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche • Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche • Ringu Tulku Rinpoche • Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche • Sogyal Rinpoche • Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche • Thinley Norbu Rinpoche • Thrangu Rinpoche • Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche • Tulku Thondup Rinpoche • Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche • Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This dialogic anthology can function for novices as a primer on Buddhism or be used as a springboard to meditation for more advanced practitioners. Ray, a professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University, gathers thoughts from modern Tibetan Buddhist teachers like Ch gyam Trungpa, Sogyal Rinpoche and the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa-all of whom are familiar with Western sensibilities and are experienced at adapting Buddhist dharma for Euro-American students. The format is simple: Ray introduces a topic and then allows these venerable teachers to hold forth, building their thoughts upon one another as if they were in an actual conversation. The book is divided into three basic sections, dealing with Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism; before each section, Ray offers an accessible introduction in which he outlines the main issues facing each major Buddhist division. The section on Vajrayana, the most esoteric and tantric tradition, gives the lamas the opportunity to talk about the importance of lineage and tradition, while the section on Mahayana opens the floor for discussion of compassion. Occasionally, a contributor's thought seems out of place or out of context, but for the most part the artificial-dialogue format works remarkably well. A concluding section offers the lamas' thoughts on the feasibility of the transmission of the dharma to the West. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Part One: The Buddha

Life, His Aspects, and His Legacy

Sometimes it is said that Shakyamuni Buddha plays a less prominent role in Tibetan tradition than in, for example, Theravada. The reason given is that the
Tibetans speak of several bodies of the Buddha, of a larger array of teachings than the early schools, and of other celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas who play important roles in meditative and ritual life. It might be more accurate to say that, within Tibetan Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha is understood in a more expansive way than in some other traditions.

As the following passages show, Tibetans consider the human person, Shakyamuni
Buddha, with unparalleled reverence and devotion. Tibetans might have had spontaneous visions of him (1.1) and felt his ever ready availability (1.2). In
Tibetan tradition, the Buddha is seen as an exalted and inspiring example for all who aspire to realization. He was an ordinary person who, unsatisfied with received or partial truths, through his dedication and exertion, found a new way (1.3). He was, in fact, a revolutionary who freed himself from what was conventionally accepted and attained the pinnacle of enlightenment itself
(1.4). His attainment of the realization of egolessness (1.5) meant that he was utterly insignificant but, because of that, the "world enlightened one"(1.6). From that point onward, the Buddha's sole purpose was to lead beings to that same awakening (1.7). The method he taught was meditation (1.8).
Tibetan tradition emphasizes the Buddha's compassion: he was not trying to create a new "ism," but gave himself utterly to the world, teaching and showing others the solitary path that he had found to the full realization of what a human being can be (1.9).

One of the most interesting aspects of the practice lineage approach is its understanding of the Buddha's attainment and its relation to us. There is a strong sense that the Buddha's experience of the awakened state is accessible to us through the practice of meditation. While in some interpretations, the
Buddha's awakening is considered so exalted and so far off as to be an object of devotion but not emulation, in the practice lineage, it is precisely that awakening that should be sought by meditators in this life. The great devotion felt toward the Buddha is not because he is different from us, but rather because he has shown us what we are and can be. He was the first to find this,
the one whose attainment was complete and perfect, and the one who opened the door for the rest of us.

The object of devotion is not just the immediately manifest human Buddha, but rather the Buddha in his full reality, majesty, and humanity. These three aspects are known as the three bodies of the buddha. What made Gautama the
Buddha was his discovery of an awareness within his own human experience that is beyond birth and death, beyond being and nonbeing. This "fundamental nature," as it is called, is the "ultimate body"
of the Buddha. His corruptible form, his human body, is known as his "created body"
Because of his attainment, he was able to show himself to his disciples and later followers in a transcendent body, one made of form and light but not substance,
known as the "body of enjoyment"
"three bodies" are not really three, but three different aspects of the same person, Shakyamuni Buddha (1.10). The essence of this person (the
is beyond all manifestation, any kind of being or nonbeing (1.11, 1.12), and it is this that makes the human person what he is
and defines his glorious aspect
The three
not only define Shakyamuni, but also represent our own enlightened nature that,
again, becomes accessible to us through practice (1.13). And the three
manifest in and through our own paths (as spaciousness, compassion, and skillful means)
(1.14). While there is one
that is the same for all buddhas, there are multiple human
and celestial
In Tibet, the tradition knows much of these other buddhas and, as we shall see below, in the tantric practices, the celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas play an especially important role.

Tibetans hold that during the Buddha's lifetime, he gave three cycles of teachings known as the three turnings of the wheel of dharma. These all relate to
"view," or the way in which one understands reality as one progresses along the path to awakening. The first turning concerns the individual's lack of a substantial "self", the second teaches the emptiness of individual self as well as all external phenomena, and the third outlines the doctrine of buddha-nature (1.15, 1.16). These three can be summarized in the phrase: "mind; there is no mind; mind is luminosity" (1.17). The
Buddha also taught three bodies of increasingly subtle and advanced contemplative and meditative practices known as the three
(the lesser vehicle), Mahayana (the greater vehicle), and Vajrayana (the diamond vehicle), to be considered in the next section. A buddha appears and teaches us, not because he has to, but because of our needs and the vows he made prior to enlightenment (1.18). The Buddha's teachings on view and on practice were passed down from generation to generation in India and eventually came to Tibet beginning in the seventh century. It is this legacy of Buddha
Shakyamuni, along with creative Tibetan amplifications and developments of that legacy, that makes up Tibetan Buddhism today (1.19).

vivid moment of recollection 1.1

I was eight I [learned] . . . about the life of the Buddha. I could visualize him among his monks in their saffron robes, for one day I had had a vivid moment of recollection. When I read about the death of his mother, seven days after his birth, I seemed to share his loss.

Trungpa Rinpoche

Buddha is readily available

Lord Buddha said, "I am always in front of the one who has faith."

Khyentse Rinpoche

Buddha was an ordinary human being

Buddhism was founded by the Buddha about twenty-five hundred years ago. What we know about the Buddha is that he claimed to have seen the reality of things and to have gained enormous insight into the nature of the human condition. He did not claim to be an incarnation of some higher being nor to be a messenger of any kind. Neither did he say that he was an intermediary between some higher reality and human beings. He said that he was an ordinary human being who applied himself through the practice of meditation and was able to purify his own mind, so that insight was born in him, enabling him to see things as they are. And Buddha also said that this ability can be developed by anyone.

Kyabgon Rinpoche

Buddha was a great revolutionary

[Gautama discovered] that wherever one is trying to learn, it is necessary to have firsthand experience, rather than learning from books or from teachers or by merely conforming to an already established pattern. That is what he found, and in that sense Buddha was a great revolutionary in his way of thinking. He even denied the existence of Brahma, or God, the creator of the world. He determined to accept nothing which he had not first discovered himself.

Trungpa Rinpoche

Buddha's discovery 1.5

Buddha discovered that there is no such thing as "I," ego. Perhaps one should say there is no such thing as "am," "I am." He discovered that all these concepts, ideas, hopes, fears, emotions, and conclusions are created out of one's speculative thoughts and one's psychological inheritance from parents and upbringing and so on. We just tend to put them all together.


Buddha's insignificance 1.6

Buddha had no ground, no territory. So much so that he was hardly an individual. He was just a grain of sand living in the vast desert.

Through his insignificance he became "the world enlightened one," because there was no battle involved.

Trungpa Rinpoche

Buddha's sole purpose

Buddha's sole purpose for giving teachings is to enable us to recognize our empty, cognizant nature, to train in that and to attain stability.

Urgyen Rinpoche

Buddha's method: Meditation 1.8

The method that the Buddha discovered is meditation. He discovered that struggling to find answers did not work. It was only when there were gaps in his struggle that insights came to him. He began to realize that there was a sane, awake quality within him which manifested itself only in the absence of struggle. So the practice of meditation involves "letting be."

Trungpa Rinpoche

Buddha did not intend to create a new ''ism'' 1.9

Buddha did not intend to create a new "ism." An intention to create a new system, a new faith, or a new philosophy would be contradictory to the discovery of absolute truth, which is the main emphasis and aim of Buddhism.
The fruition of Buddhist meditation is realization of the absolute truth, which enables one to remove every stain of ignorance so that genuine kindness,
genuine wisdom, genuine common sense, and a genuine human nature can be discovered and realized.

Khandro Rinpoche

Who is the Buddha? His three bodies 1.10

At the Dharmakaya level, his mind is the vast expanse of omniscience which knows all things exactly as they are. At the Sambhogakaya level, which transcends birth and death, he continually turns the Wheel of Dharma. At the Nirmanakaya level . . . he achieved complete Enlightenment near the Bodhi tree at Vajra
Asana, India. He then turned the Wheel of Dharma three times for the benefit of sentient beings.

Khyentse Rinpoche

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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