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THE HEART TREASURE OF THE ENLIGHTENED ONES: The Practice of View, Meditation, and Action
Commentary by Dilgo Khyentse Translated by The Padmakara Translation Group
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1992.
260 pp., $15.00 (paperback).
There's no time, no time!
There's no time to rest!
When suddenly death is upon
you, what will you do?
Now you'd better start practicing
the sublime Dharma right away;
Now, quick, hurry-recite the
"This discourse,"-says the conclusion of this newly translated book by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche-"was written by that ragged old fellow Apu Hralpo, ablaze with the five poisons."
Apu is a Tibetan honorific. Hralpo more or less means dressed like a bum. And "ablaze" means-accord ing to one meditation mastertransforming the poisons of ignorance, hatred, and so on.
The ragged fellow is Patrul Rinpoche, who lived in eighteenthcentury Tibet on a "windswept mountainside," eating wild roots, owning not a single thing, casually losing any gold or jewels offered by followers, and with urgency, great and self-deprecating humor, and impeccable logic teaching the dharma. He is known today as one of the great practitioners of dzogchen, considered the highest of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and a founder of the Rime, or nonsectarian movement, which rejuvenated the state of Tibetan dharma, caught up as it was in politics and bickering.
"No one ever heard him just chat about ordinary worldly goings-on," says a short biography at this book's end.
He rarely spoke anyway, and when he did it was in a blunt and very direct way, uncomfortable for anyone hoping for flattery. His presence inspired awe and respect, even fear at first, and only people who genuinely needed his spiritual guidance would approach him. But all those who persisted ended up finding it very difficult to part from him.
Fortunately for us, Dilgo Khyentse, Patrul's twentieth-century counterpart in Buddhist knowledge and realization, the Nyingma master who died in 1991, did speak, often and at length. Here, in The Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, he interprets Patrul's eighty-two verses, sweeping through the dharma from the First Noble Truth through the nature of emotions and senses to the means of escaping the whole mess. It tramps rapidly through the three paths of Buddhism: from the IIinayana or Theravada path of stilling the mind, through the Mahayana path of compassion for oneself and others, to the Tantrayana path of devotion to the guru.
Like Enlightened Courage, another Khyentse book translated by the Padmakara Group, this is clear enough for newcomers and sophiticated enough for seasoned students. And like the previous book, a series of talks on Atisha's SevenPoint Mind Training, this one is satisfyingly complete. One gets a full picture of the dharmic way of life.
One of the first verses in Heart Treasure says,
Not long ago your conciousness
was wandering alone.
Swept by karma, it took its
Soon, like a hair pulled out of
Leaving everything behind,
you'll go on alone.
The arguments for letting go of worldly worries continue-logically and inexorably, but with a light touch. It doesn't make senseKhyentse says over and over, with exhortations, examples, jokes, and parables-to keep chasing one's tail and ignore the dharma.
The first section covers a whole range of the pain and futility of worldly life:
This body of ours, which we cherish so dearly, will turn into a corpse that our friends and family will only want to dispose of as quickly as possible.
So, Khyentse urges, put your life in the hands of the compassionate Buddha, in Chenrezi, who, we are told, once took the time to free a bunch of writhing worms from a pit, so moved was he by their suffering. The instructions are specific and practical-imagine your loved ones being slashed by the Lord of Death, and practice extending that empathy out to acquaintances, enemies, strangers, thus making others more important than oneself. "At present," Khyentse says,
We do not have the ability to offer our own heads, limbs and flesh, as the great bodhisattvas did, and in fact at our level it would be wrong to attempt such offerings; so we begin by offering our body mentally.
And while we are doing that, he suggests we take a look at precisely what we are offering. "If you continue investigating, you will find that there is nothing anywhere, not even a single atom, that has a verifiable existence." This "voidness" exists hand in hand with the colorful display of things, phenomena. Glimpsing this allows one to loosen one's death grip on oneself, one's ego.
The way to do this, according to these teachings, is to meditate, to recite the six-syllable Mani mantra (Om Mani Padme Hum) and look at the mind while it is still and while it is restless.
Specific traps are explored here in some detail: the five poisons of hatred, jealousy, desire, ignorance, and pride, as well as the five aggregates-the five elements which, combined, make up confused human existence. Thus is pain caused, harm done, time wasted.
Have we had enough of the realm of illusion, that is, one's confused and speedy life, Khyentse asks in the final section:
We humans are always busy competing with one another, buying, selling, making, destroying. . . . Animals are always busy feeding, hunting, watching for danger, rearing their young. The more you do, the more you have to do and the more your hardships multiply-but the final outcome of all your toil and trouble will last no longer than a drawing on water with your finger.
Death is closing in. So, the book concludes, it is utterly sensible to skip the frivolity, look closely at one's mind, make an effort to still it, master it, and understand its nature, and develop compassion for others and devotion to the Buddha. These teachings could not be more definite in their opinions and instructions, though of course, as Khyentse points out, it's up to the reader to sew these teachings into the fabric of his or her life.
A thorough gentleman, Patrul apologizes at the conclusion for his presumption should his listeners already know all this. "I have just been prattling on and on but so what? My theme is of great worth and its meaning unerring."
Most readers, indeed, will come away energized, amused, and inspired.
Barbara Stewart is a freelance writer in New York.