Books

The Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism

WHAT SHOULD I READ?

Marital Arts: A Review of The Tale of the Incomparable Prince

Tulku Thondup
Edited by Harold Talbott
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1996.
383 pp., $35 (cloth).
John Giorno

The Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is said to have originated with the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra. But the first master of these teachings was Garab Dorje. Born in the Swat Valley in present-day Pakistan, shortly after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, Garab Dorje was the first human to receive the Dzog Chen (Great Perfection) teachings. Longchen means “great vastness,” Nyingthig means the “heart” or “innermost essence,” and the Longchen Nyingthig is the absolute nature of mind, arising as teachings.

This collection of teachings was revealed as terma [found treasure] by Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), directly from Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363). In his devotional practice, Jigme Lingpa experienced a series of visions of Longchen Rabjam. Longchen Rabjam, an important master, had condensed all the Nyingthig teachings that came before him, which resulted in revitalizing the ancient Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

The lives of the early masters, from Garab Dorje to Guru Padma Sambhava (ninth century), are unique in that they displayed extraordinary attainments and super-human powers. For instance, through the Trekcho and Togyal practices of Dzog Chen, many meditators realized the absolute nature of mind. Through Trekcho, which means “cutting through,” they realized the empty nature of all phenomena, and through Togyal, the luminous nature of mind. Many masters realized what in that tradition is called “the rainbow body of light.” At the time of death, they are said to have dissolved their mortal bodies into pure light, leaving behind only their hair, fingernails, and toenails. The rainbows are said to be the display of “wisdom light” in the process of dissolving their consciousness into absolute nature: Buddhahood.

Masters of Meditation contains a wealth of exemplary tales, compiled by Tulku Thondup, an incarnate Tibetan lama and disciple of H.H. Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, the present throne-holder of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage. Among my favorite legends is the story of Dola Jigme Kalzang who lived during the nineteenth century, the main disciple of the first Dodrup Chen Rinpoche. At the end of his life, Jigme Kalzang was walking alone on a street in China, when he saw a thief about to be burned alive. Seated upon a copper horse that was heated from inside by a fire, the thief was screaming for help. Feeling compassion for the man’s plight, Dola Jigme Kalzang told the authorities that the prisoner was not guilty and that he himself was the actual thief. By the time his disciples found him, it was too late. He had been executed in the thief’s place, giving his life in ransom for an unknown suffering person in an unknown street.

The most famous master of miracles in the Tibetan tantric Buddhist tradition of the last few centuries was Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800�1866), who demonstrated the power of his enlightened mind by performing such acts as vanishing for days to pure lands, bringing murdered beings back to life, and leaving imprints of his body on numerous rocks as if on mud.

The best story, however, is in some respects the plainnest and least extraordinary of all. Nyshul Lungtok (1829�1901), a student of the illustrious Dzog Chen master, Patrul Rinpoche, was completely accomplished in Trekcho and Thogal practices, but had not yet grasped the true nature of mind. Every day at dusk, Paltrul would do a meditation session on the training on Namkhaaa Sumtruk, a practice called “eating the sky”, stretched out on his back on a new woolen carpet on a piece of grassy field the size of his body. One evening, while Paltrul was lying there as usual, he asked Lungtok, “Lungche [Dear Lung]! Did you say that you do not know the true nature of mind?” Lungtok answered, “Yes, sir, I don’t.” Paltrul said, “Oh, there is nothing not to know. Come here.” So Lungtok went to him. Paltrul said, “Lie down, as I’m lying, and look at the sky.” As Lungtok did so, the conversation went as follows:

“Do you see the stars in the sky?”

“Yes.”

“Do you hear the dogs barking in Dzog Chen Monastery (at a far distance)?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that is meditation.”

At that moment, Lungtok attained confidence in the realization in itself. He had been liberated from the conceptual fetters of “it is” or “it is not.” He had realized the primordial wisdom, the naked union of emptiness and intrinsic awareness, the Buddha Mind.

Though it hardly matches the miraculous tales related elsewhere in“Masters of Meditation and Miracles,”this simple story illustrates perhaps better than any other in the volume how the guru ultimately shows his disciple the true nature of his own mind. And this, after all, is what lineage is all about. While the categories below were devised to address particular interests, each individual book was chosen for its appeal to, and value for, a general audience.

Old Classics

The Long Discourses of the Buddha

Translated by Maurice Walshe

Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987.

Classic translation of the Buddha’s original teachings.

Moon in a Dewdrop: The Writings of Zen Master Dogen

Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi

San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985.

Stunning wisdom from one of Zen’s most influential and provacative philosophers.

Vimilakirti

Translated by Robert A.F. Thurman

Lotus Sutra

Translated by Burton Watson

New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

The most venerated scripture in the Mahayana canon.

Dammapada

New Classics:

The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction

by Richard H. Robinson and Willard L. Johnson

Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997.

A lucid, comprehensive history of Buddhism from its beginnings in India through its transmission to the West.

How to Meditate: A Practical Guide

by Kathleen McDonald

Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1984.

A down-to-earth introduction to the principles and techniques of meditation.

A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of the Spiritual Life

by Jack Kornfield

New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

An experienced therapist and meditator discusses the enduring significance the Buddhist path in our lives today.

Entering the Stream: An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings

Edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chödzin Kohn

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993.

A balanced selection of classical and modern writings on the basic concepts of Buddhism.

Buddhism in Practice

Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.

A new anthology of translated texts illustrating the vast scope of Buddhist practices in Asia.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

by Pema Chödrön

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997.

Sane, practical advice for getting through life’s rough and tumble.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

by Chögyam Trungpa

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1987.

Indispensable discussion of common pitfalls on the spiritual path.

The Myth of Freedom

by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1988.

Lectures on spiritual freedom and ways to arrive at it in our lives.

What the Buddha Taught

by Walpola Rahula

New York: Grove Press, 1974

A reliable introduction to the Buddha’s life and teachings.

Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

by Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D.

New York: Hyperion, 1994.

A guide to mindfulness by one of America’s foremost healers.

Zen Mind Beginner's Mind

by Shunryu Suzuki

New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1996.

Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice.

The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment

by Roshi Philip Kapleau

New York: Anchor Books, 1965.

An inside look at the world of Zen.

Mindfulness in Plain English

by Venerable Henepola Gunaratana

Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1992.

A nuts-and-bolts, step-by-step guide to Insight meditation

Being Bodhisatvas

by Shantideva

Translated by Stephen Batchelor

ZEN

Taking the Path of Zen

by Robert Aitken Roshi

San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982.

Inspirational presentation of the practice, lifestyle, rationale, and ideology of Zen Buddhism.

Nothing Special: Living Zen

by Charlotte Joko Beck

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

A celebrated Zen teacher explains why spirituality and everyday life are not only compatible but inseparable.

Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice

by Thich Nhat Hanh

New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1974.

Unique explication of the central elements of Zen philosophy and practice.

Tibetan

The World of Tibetan Buddhism

by Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

Concise and penetrating overview of the Tibetan Buddhist path to enlightenment.

Essential Tibetan Buddhism

by Robert A.F. Thurman

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

An accessible survey, using Tibetan texts, of the basic teachings and varieties of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

by Sogyal Rinpoche

San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

A new vision of living and dying from the heart of the Tibetan tradition.

The Excellent Path of Enlightenment

by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 1996.

A classic introduction to the practices and techniques of Vajrayana.

Theravada

An Unentangled Knowing: The Teachings of a Thai Buddhist Lay Woman

by Upasika Kee Nanayon

Barre, Massachusetts: Dhamma Dana Publications, 1995.

Uncompromising teachings from one of modern Thailand’s foremost teachers of Dhamma.

The Mind and the Way: Buddhist Reflections on Life

by Ajahn Sumedho

Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

A radically simple approach to developing a life filled with love and wonder.

The Path of Purification

by Bhandantacarya Buddhaghosa

The Experience of Insight

by Joseph Goldstein

Santa Cruz: Unity Press, 1976.

LovingKindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

by Sharon Salzberg

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1995.

An inspiring illustration of ways to cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity in our lives.

Life of the Buddha

Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsetps of the Buddha

by Thich Naht Hahn

Parallax Press, 1991.

The life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, beautifully written and drawn from a wide variety of Asian sources.

Encounter With the West

How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America

by Rick Fields

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1981.

The engaging story of Buddhism’s long and improbable journey to America.

The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture

by Stephen Batchelor

Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 1994.

The 2,000 year saga of Buddhism’s encounter with the Western World.

Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism

by Sandy Boucher

Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

A survey of voices from women who are changing the face of Buddhism in America.

Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

by Mark Epstein, M.D.

New York: BasicBooks, 1995.

A Harvard-trained psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner discusses how Eastern spirituality can enhance Western psychology.

Women's Views

Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism

by June Campbell

New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1996.

A study of the significance of the female in the philosophy and symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism.

Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism

by Miranda Shaw

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

An exploration of the creative, independent role of women in the founding of Tantric Buddhism.

Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism

by Rita M. Gross

Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993.

A fresh look at the role and status of women in the history and future of Buddhism.

Buddhist Women on the Edge

by Marrianne Dresser

Walking on Lotus Flowers: Buddhist Women Living, Loving and Meditating

by Martine Batchelor

London: Thorsons, 1996.

Western and Asian women from several Buddhist traditions and all walks of life write from-the-heart about their experiences.

Women of Wisdom

by Tsultrim Allione

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

A former nun reflects on her experiences with Tibetan Buddhism.

Profiles and Autobiographies:

Zen in America: Five Teachers and the Search for an American Buddhism

by Helen Tworkov

New York: Kodansha, 1989.

Bare Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life

by Joan Tollifson

New York: Bell Tower, 1992.

The intense and moving memoir of a disabled woman’s tumultuous search for spirituality.

Ambivalent Zen: A Memoir

by Lawrence Shainberg

New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.

Shainberg’s hilarious and all-too-human account of his struggles with Zen practice.

Thank You and OK! An American Zen Failure in Japan

by David Chadwick

New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1994.

Engaging and light-hearted memoir of a Texas-raised American turned Zen practitioner.

A Journey in Ladadk

by Andrew Harvey

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983.

Classic travel memoir of discovery and spiritual adventure.

Street Zen: The Life and Work of Issan Dorsey

by David Schneider

Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993.

The remarkable transformation of a drug-addicted street hustler to a Zen saint.

* Many of the books listed here may be obtained through Tricycle Buddhabooks: 1-800-950-7008.

Mdo Mkhar Tshe Ring Dbang Rgyal

Translated by Beth Newman

HarperPerennial: New York, 1997

319 pp., $13.00 (paperback).

It’s not surprising that The Tale of the Incomparable Prince - which its publisher calls “the only pre-exile Tibetan novel” - is full of surprises. An epic tale that builds to a thundering Buddhist sermon, it also disarms modern readers with plenty of romance, lust, intrigue, and violence.

The 18th-century courtier who wrote it, Mdo Mkhar Tshe Ring Dbang Rgyal, seems to have been a novelist in spite of himself. As the translator, Beth Newman, notes in her introduction, he was a powerful political figure who held numerous positions (including Prime Minister) in a time of great turmoil. Trained in Buddhist monastery schools, he believed that religion and politics were “inextricably mixed.” But on the way to delivering its religious message, his novel also provides plenty of timeless psychological insight.

Ms. Newman suggests various literary models for the story, including the life of the Buddha and Hinduism’s great epic, the Ramayana. But the first half of the book will also remind readers of Homer’s stories of the Trojan War.

Two men are in love with the same wondrous woman. Prince Kumaradvitiya is from the land of Joyous Groves. In looking for a wife, he has settled on a princess named Manohari, who not only has a considerable attachment to him from a previous life but is also “the most incredibly beautiful woman in existence.” Unfortunately, for various diplomatic and financial reasons, she has been promised to Prince Devatisha of the Kingdom of Myriad Lights, an unrepentant reprobate who is in no way worthy of her. Kumaradvitiya vows to use any means, including warfare, to win her.

Like many great heroes, Kumaradvitiya has a brilliant and talented friend, almost his equal. This friend, Bhavakumara, travels to Myriad Lights ahead of the prince in order to undermine the kingdom. One wonders why he bothered. Kumaradvitiya , when he arrives, is such an adept in martial arts as to be virtually untouchable.

Meanwhile, back in Joyous Groves, King Suryamati, the prince’s father, has fallen for a teen-age girl. No problem so far: multiple marriage were de rigueur for these feudal lords. But the wily minister who is father to the young woman puts a condition on their union. If they have a male heir, the child must be crowned king. Suryamati knows this is not right, but he can’t control himself. As Kumaradvitiya charitably puts it, the older man has been “swept away by the strong current of the karmic river.”

In truth, Kumaradvitiya isn’t especially disturbed by his father’s shenanigans. For one thing, the new male heir turns out to be an absolute paragon, “the summit of a mountain of virtues.” Furthermore, this new heir will enable Kumaradvitiya to renounce the world and devote himself to his religion. Despite his enormous prowess as a warrior, Kumaradvitiya has been aware all along that his present life will merely lead to more rebirths and a continued existence on the wheel of sorrow. It is only by conquering desire itself that he will achieve liberation.

Of course, his new life is not without pitfalls. When Kumaradvitiya becomes a temporary regent and opens up his coffers to beggars, he nearly bankrupts the kingdom. His decision to retreat to the forest breaks the heart of his elderly mother. And for a while he even rejects the faultless Manohari, revealing a misogynistic bent. At this point, he begins to sound like an aging Leo Tolstoy. And yet, even when Kumaradvitiya is at his crankiest, his adventures lure us with their sophisticated prose and powerful verse. Westerners with an interest in Buddhism will find it fascinating to read a novel that incorporates this religious world view. But anyone with an interest in literature will recognize “The Tale of the Incomparable Prince” as a classic story.

 

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