More Precious Than Gold Dust

Barbara Stewart

The Tsadra Foundation Series

Fittingly, two of the first four books in the Tsadra series are by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-18991. whose joint commitment to scholarship and meditation practice inspired the foundation's mission. The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrul: A Gem of Many Colors ($34.95, cloth) was translated and edited by Richard Barron (Chokyi Nyima), an esteemed translator of major Tibetan works for over thirty years. Kongtrul, one of Tibel's finest and most prolific writers, is known for founding the ecumenical Rime movement to end the destructive chauvinism among the four Buddhist sects. In this graceful account of a vanished way of life, he writes about his journeys, his friends, and his efforts to make peace between tribes, as well as his studies, meditation experiences, and dreams. Half a world away, the West was seeking another kind of enlightenment through industry and progress, and Kongtrul's tales remind us of the enormous gaps between the two worldviews. At one point he writes, "I also came close to encountering someone with whom I had an issue of broken samaya connection, which caused me to suffer from extremely high blood pressure." (The term samaya refers to a tantric practitioner's indelible commitment to the vajra master and the path of sacred outlook.)

Sacred Ground: Jamgon Kongtrul on 'Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography"
($24.95, cloth) is Kongtrul's travel guide for the path of awakening through meditation, along with his directions to Kham, in eastern Tibet, where he built his hermitage. In this text, translated from Tibetan for the first time, Kongtrul describes the connections between the outer and inner journeys, and gives instructions for finding specific sacred spots. The translator, Ngawang Zangpo (Hugh Leslie Thompson), a Westerner living in California, has included an account of his own travels to Tsadra while his teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, was living there.

Ngawang Zangpo also translated Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times ($29.95, cloth), which contains four different biographies of Padmasambhava, the ninth-century Indian saint who tamed the "red-faced cannibal demons" of Tibet and introduced them to Buddhism. Tibetans revere him as the second Buddha. There are two renditions of Padmasambhava's life by Jamgon Kongtrul and by Dorje Tso, Padmasambhava's disciple and contemporary, as well as an account from the Bon point of view by Jamyang Kyentse Wongpo, a master of both Buddhism and Bon, Tibel's indigenous religion predating Buddhism. The fourth version, by Taranatha, a sixteenth-century Tibetan historian, is based on Indian and early Tibetan documents.

The latest volume in the Tsadra-Snow Lion collaboration is Machig's Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chod ($29.95, cloth), translated by Sarah Harding of Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. This is the first complete English translation of the most famous text on the life and teachings of Machig Labdron, an eleventh-century female saint and yogini. Machig originated Mahamudra Chod, a powerful practice to quell evil, hatred, and negativity by summoning those forces and offering oneself to them. As a Mahayana meditation, it is rooted in the idea of working for others' liberation and putting their needs before one's own. In this vivid practice of ultimate generosity, the practitioner visualizes the flesh and blood of her dismembered body being offered to satiate the hungry ghosts, hell beings, and all beings of the six realms. The text also includes the story of Machig's life, as told to a fourteenth-century holder of her lineage.

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