Thrangu Rinpoche has been recognized as one of the foremost teachers of Buddhism alive today. He has had a thorough training in Buddhist studies and has done extensive meditation practice in his native Tibet and then in exile in India. For the last twenty years he has been sharing this knowledge with Buddhist practitioners in the West. He is known for giving very comprehensive presentations and for making difficult subjects clear for the beginner and advanced practitioner a like.
The History of Buddhism in India is the third in a series of introductory books on Buddhism. It follows The Three Levels of Buddhist Practice and The Four Ordinary Foundations of Buddhist Practice. This book begins with the life of the Buddha and describes his fundamental teachings. The Buddhist teachings were not written down at the time and could have been easily lost except for the fact that Buddhist held three great councils. The History then goes on to describe these councils and to tell how they are important. Rinpoche then goes on to describe how the great Mahayana and Vajrayana movements came about and how these were related to the great monastic universities of India. Finally, Thrangu Rinpoche presents a discussion of the ten sciences - Buddhist teachings which are not part of the Dharma, but which support the dharma. It is hoped that when the reader finishes this book he or she will have a much better idea where the various schools and important personalities of Buddhism fit in with the Buddhist teachings.
With the realization in the West that material objects don’t bring any genuine comfort and happiness, there is a renewed interest in spiritual matters. The West has looked east and found that there is a culture which preserved a profound religious practice and literature and thought which existed and was practiced in India beginning 500 B.C.E. Unfortunately, in the tenth century of our era the Moslem invasion of India almost completely eliminated the Buddhist tradition from the land it originated in. However, this great tradition of art, science, literature, rhetoric, philosophy, and medicine was preserved first by gallant Chinese and then Tibetan scholars who traveled south for thousands of miles under harrowing conditions seeking the truth, the Dharma, collecting these great works and brought them back to their countries where they were meticulously translated, preserved, and studied and practiced.
As a result of these courageous Tibetan translators, this whole corpus of material was preserved; but more important than that, the Buddhist practices that were learned were learned in their entirety until they were completely mastered before being passed on to the next student. As a result Tibet is an extraordinary country in the world which has a large number of highly realized men and women who can describe and explain these Buddhist practices far beyond any scholar or Western professor can because they have practiced the teaching in their fullest extent.
Other countries, of course, have great practicing traditions, but unique to Tibet was the tulku system in which this information was passed down from one reincarnation to the next. In other words, when His Holiness Karmapa, who is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, dies, he writes a letter before his death detailing his name and the name of his next set of parents, and the town where he will be reborn. When that child is found, the child is carefully tested to see if he can pick out objects of his in his previous life from those belonging to others. The Karmapa then selects the reincarnations of the hundreds of enlightened tulkus of his lineage by seeing their rebirth, parents, and place of birth in his meditation.
The reason for explaining the tulku system is that the author of this series on The History of the Kagyu Lineage is the reincarnation of the Thrangu Tulkus who have been known for centuries for being great scholars. The present ninth incarnation, Thrangu Rinpoche has been recognized as an outstanding scholar who also is realized. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 and destroyed almost all the monasteries where Buddhism was taught and burned almost all the books preserving this precious heritage, Thrangu Rinpoche fled to India and was eventually given the job of rebuilding the Kagyu lineage shedra which was to carry on the teachings because he was the most knowledgeable member of this lineage.
In 1979 Thrangu Rinpoche was invited to the West and began a series of yearly visits to Samye ling in Scotland where he shared his vast knowledge with Western students. He first taught on the Uttara Tantra and the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Interspersed with commentaries on the great works, he gave teachings on Dharma topics for Western students. His book on A History of Indian Buddhism was part of these teachings.
It is therefore fitting to begin a history of the Kagyu lineage with a summary of the Buddhas teachings and a description of Buddhism before the translators brought it to Tibet.
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