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About the Author
Anne C. Klein is professor and chair of Religious Studies at Rice University. She is also a founding director and resident teacher of Dawn Mountain, a center for contemplative study and practice in Houston. Her publications include Path to the Middle (SUNY Press), Unbounded Wholeness, coauthored with Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (Oxford University Press), and Knowledge and Liberation (Snow Lion Publications).
Read an Excerpt
The Instructions on the Preliminaries to the Great Perfection Teaching Called 'Heart Essence of Vast Openness', the Sacred Word of Lama Gun-sang, was written by Ba-drul Jik-may-chö-gi-wang-bo (dPal-sprul'Jigs-med-chos-kyi-dbang-po, born 1808). Each word in his title is meaningful. 'Perfection' (rDzogs) means that there is no higher practice. It refers to the perfection of the five paths and ten grounds of the Mahayana and suggests all the auspicious qualities of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
'Great' (Chen) means that there is no greater or more expansive teaching. It signifies that this teaching belongs to the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) and not the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). The Mahayana has two types of paths, sutra and tantra. The Great Perfection (rDzogs-chen) teaches both, but is itself included within the tantric path. It contains the full meaning of all sutras and tantras.
What does 'Vast Openness' (kLong-chen) mean? This is the openness (kLong) of thought of the Truth Body (Dharmakaya) as well as of all Conqueror Buddhas. Because its extent is limitless, it is called great or vast (chen).
The thought of Buddha has three forms, that of the Truth Body, the Complete Enjoyment Body (Sambhogakaya) and the Emanation Body (Nirmanakaya).
The Truth Body is the body of emptiness that is beyond all elaborations of thought, the ultimate truth fully realized. How is this? The Truth Body, whichis the nature of Peace, has passed beyond all conceptions of object and subject; it is a state of having extinguished all elaborations of thought, and from its essence the Body of Complete Enjoyment arises. The Truth Body is like a clear glass, and the light coming from it is the Complete Enjoyment Body, a pure, eternal manifestation in form of the highest truth. Emanations from the Complete Enjoyment Body manifest in any form necessary to tame and help sentient beings. Each is an instance of an Emanation Body.
There are special female deities known as Mothers and Sky Goers for whom this teaching is as precious as the essence of their own heart. To those who cherish it, it is known as the 'Heart Essence' (sNying thig).
The preliminaries taught here are of two types: common external and special internal preparations. Both are pre-requisite practices for final teaching in accordance with the doctrine of the Great Perfection.
At the end of this long title, there is a shorter secondary one, 'The Sacred Word of Lama Gun-sang.' He was the lama of the author, Ba-drul Jik-may-chö-gi-wang-bo, who wrote the book based on his teacher's lectures. 'Sacred Word' means the unmistaken word that Lama Gun-sang spoke to him.
Before beginning the actual text, the author makes an obeisance, saying:
I bow down to the glorious lamas having great inconceivable compassion.
What does 'inconceivable' mean? It is the inconceivability of subject and object. This compassionate mind does not conceive of subject and object; it does not posit inherent existence (svabhava-siddhi) to an external object. A being with this compassion does not think that an inherently existent external object is cognized by an inherently existent internal mind. Is this 'inconceivable', which is a negative expression, a sign of nihilism? Not at all. The negative indicates that the ordinary type of mind cannot conceive such compassion. Ba-drul Rin-bo-chay [the Precious Ba-drul] is paying obeisance to lamas who have this compassion, and he calls them 'glorious'.
'Glorious' also refers to the glory of Lama Gun-sang himself, who freed himself from cyclic existence (samsara) so that there is no chance of his ever suffering again. It also refers to his glory with regard to others his compassion for those still in cyclic existence. The lama's special realization or mode of cognition prevents him from falling into cyclic existence.
There are two types of realization, visionary and cognitive, and within the visionary there are many different types. Here we will talk mainly about the visions of appearance, emptiness, and bliss.
Just as there are many different objects that appear to our eye consciousness, so there are many objects that appear to our mental consciousness. These are visions of appearance. The factor of objects appearing to a consciousness without an inherently existent subject and object being posited is the vision of emptiness. When the vision of emptiness the absence of the signs of subject and object is seen, a bliss is generated within the person, and this is the vision of bliss. Ba-drul Rin-bo-chay bows down to the glorious lamas who have all these qualities.
He also pays homage to the Nying-ma transmissions:
I bow down to the lamas of the three transmissions, those through the Conqueror's thought, through the symbols of Knowledge Bearers [and through persons' ears]. Their fortune far surpassing that of other people, they were sustained by the excellent and perfected their own and others' welfare.
Lama Gun-sang belongs to the Nying-ma order of Tibetan Buddhism. This has three transmissions, through the Conqueror's thought, the symbols of Knowledge Bearers, and ears. The transmission through the Conqueror's thought passes directly from the Complete Enjoyment Body, the pure eternal manifestation of the truth, to the trainee. This is a case of mental transmission where one being transmits his thought to another directly without words and symbols. The Complete Enjoyment Body, which in this case is Samantabhadra, transfers whatever he knows directly to the minds of his students. Disciples who appear directly to a Buddha can receive such instruction.
The second transmission is through the symbols of Knowledge Bearers. When thought cannot be directly transmitted, it is necessary to depend on symbols. For example, at a crossroad there are signs indicating directions; through seeing them you know where to go. There are no words involved, you understand them through certain arrangements of colour and shape. Vajradhara himself transmitted understanding to his students by using signs and symbols. He originated this transmission, and five different types of beings gods, dragons, demons, lichavis, and yakshas passed on the transmission after receiving it from him. Knowledge Bearers, those who bear knowledge of suchness in their minds, transmit this tradition. Knowledge of suchness, the immutable nature of all objects, is the means to escape from cyclic existence; without this knowledge you are trapped.
For those who cannot understand the teaching transmitted through signs and symbols there is a transmission through ears. Here the teacher's thought is expressed in words which enter the ear. How is the teaching done? One way is through empowering blessings, another through hearing scriptures, and a third through initiation. In dependence on such transmission, one engages in practice and actualizes the truth.
Ba-drul Rin-bo-chay next bows down to Long-chen-rap-jam (kLong-chen-rab-'byams), a great Nying-ma master:
I bow down to the omniscient king of doctrine [Long-chen-rap-jam] who gained the thought of the Truth Body in the sphere of extinguishment of phenomena, who saw the pure land of the Enjoyment Body appear in the sphere of clear light, and who aids the welfare of living beings by showing Emanation Bodies to trainees.
Long-chen-rap-jam understood the Truth Body in the sphere of extinguishment which is the nature of phenomena. This refers to the gradual extinguishment of conceptuality within one's own mind. Like a fire burning fuel, the mind consumes conception by working with it. Long-chen-rap-jam understood this sphere of extinguishment which is the final nature of objects.
The homage also refers to seeing the appearance of the pure land of the Enjoyment Body in the sphere of clear light. What is clear light? It is the substance of our dreams and visions. At first it is difficult to meditate on the clear light of sleep or dream because you find it hard to dream. But gradually you learn to increase dreaming. When a yogi does this, he increases his dreams to the point where he has them even before falling asleep. Then his dreaming gradually decreases, and finally the whole process turns into an experience of something like empty space. At that time it is possible for a very special mind endowed with bliss, clarity and non-conceptuality to appear from within. If you are able to cause this clear light to shine, you can know the minds of others.
If such practices and attainments exist, then why are there not many clairvoyants and mind-readers? Too many people spend their time on worldly affairs and do not meditate enough. However, if the activities of this life are laid aside and effort is directed toward meditation, one can develop many wonderful qualities. Long-chen-rap-jam attained the clear light and in it was able to see the pure lands of the Enjoyment Bodies.
An Enjoyment Body has five definite features, those of teacher, retinue, doctrine, time and place. The explanation of these five features is very difficult to believe. The first definite quality is the teacher, who is the Enjoyment Body himself and who lasts forever. The retinue consists only of tenth-ground Bodhisattvas. The doctrine is that of the wordless Mahayana, which is taught continuously by the Enjoyment Body that never needs to rest. The time indicates that the wheel of teaching never stops turning.
Excerpted from Tantric Practice in Nying-ma by Khetsun Sangpo Rinbochay. Copyright © 1982 by Jeffrey Hopkins. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.