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CLOUDLESS SKY: The Mahamudra Path of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu School The Third Jamgon Kongtrul
Edited and translated into German by Tina Drasczyk and Alex Drasczyk. English translation by Richard Gravel. Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1992. 135 pp., $10.00 (paperback).
CLOUDLESS SKY IS THE FIRST-and last-book by the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. He was killed in an auto accident in India in April 1992, at the age of thirty-seven. It is not possible to read these teachings without being aware of the fact that this austere, masterful work is what he has left us.
The text originated at a 1987 seminar on the theme of a vajra song by the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lodro Thaye. The song itself, a spontaneous expression of the teachings, is followed by the author's commentary and a short question-and-answer section on mahamudra (the experience of transcendental wisdom). This "path of liberation," similar to dzogchen (the state of complete awakening), consists of the central teachings of the true nature of mind: a cloudless sky.
This book will be most valuable to advanced students, those who already have established an ongoing connection with Jamgon Kongtrul the Third, and those who want to deepen or develop one now that he is no longer present on this plane. In the purity of its vision, it can be a door that opens, even for a moment, onto the meaning of ground, path, and fruition.
As with most such texts, the teachings are highly abstract. Also, commentary has been translated from Tibetan into German and then into English, never an ideal method in terms of immediacy; here the result is smooth but rather pedantic. Kongtrul himself calls this vajra song "quite complicated" but well worth the struggle as it contains everything necessary for practice. The vivid imagery of parts of the song and the calm, detached explanations complement each other. The appendix contains a brief biography of Kongtrul, a "Supplication to the Kagyu Gurus," and a glossary.
Cloudless Sky is meant to be used with the intensity oral transmission requires. Kongtrul says, "one should concentrate on every word and internalize its meaning," using specific instructions "to understand and transplant within oneself the meaning of the song. . . ." In a stanza many of us may identify with, the First Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche says:
I am unworthy, but my guru is good.
Though born in the dark age, I am very fortunate.
Though I have little perseverance,
the oral instructions are profound.
A more typical section involves shamatha, a form of meditation in which the mind rests in itself. The song says:
In short, in meditation:
One-pointedness means that mind is
still as long as one wishes,
Seeing the very nature of ordinary
Simplicity means the realization of
One taste means liberating
All possible dualistic fixations
Nonmeditation means transcending all sophistries of meditation and nonmeditation,
The exhaustion of habitual patterns.
After a long explanation, the author says,
"One realizes that wisdom or dharmakaya is not something external to be gained. Rather, it is a matter of resting in a state of oneness, of experiencing and recognizing the present moment of awareness."
Then he gently and uncharacteristically concedes, "However, this is easier said than done."
Cloudless Sky is a highly formal work. Even the students' questions are almost as theoretical as the commentary: "What are the sixty-four qualities of a buddha?" or "Are the four yogas actualized on the bodhisattva bhumis?" The trust and surrender that Kongtrul says are necessary to follow the mahamudra path will also help the reader explore the text, in addition to the necessary oral instructions from a teacher. When a student asks how one can be certain of adopting the proper view, he answers, "This is precisely why it is so important to have a spiritual friend on the path." Cloudless Sky is perhaps most valuable as part of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's transmission, a way for him to continue to function as guide and spiritual friend.
Rebecca Radner is a San Francisco poet, reviewer; and teacher.