The Venerable Khenchen
This text has been called a “prayer”, and “aspiration”, and a “chant”. This text is a prayer in that we pray to Dorje Chang to help us in our practice but it is a Buddhist prayer which means we do not believe that there is some higher power up there who if pleased gives us what we want and if displeased gives us nothing. Thrangu Rinpoche has said we should realize that what we are trying to do is open ourselves up to receive the blessings (Tib. Chin lap) of the lineage. The present book contains The Kagyu Lineage Prayer; An Introduction to Showing the Path of Liberation; The Superior Qualities of the Lineage Gurus; The Foundations Practices; Meditation; Notes; Glossary; The Glossary of Tibetan Terms; and The Bibliography.
In the year 1959, Buddhism faced the cataclysmic destruction of the mahayana teachings when the Chinese began decimating the monasteries of Tibet and burning and carting away their contents. Stored in these monasteries were practically the only texts left from the great Buddhist Universities of India which were destroyed in the 12th century of our era. Valiant pilgrims from China and Tibet had come to India from the fourth to twelfth centuries and collected these precious Buddhist teachings and brought them back to their countries to be translated and studied and practiced and preserved.
Fortunately, in our time some Tibetan lamas had foresight to see this most recent destruction of Buddhism in Tibet and to have escaped to India. Almost immediately they began the searching of the libraries of Nepal and Bhutan and even the modem libraries of the Far East West and Europe to begin the reconstruction of these great teachings. But in Tibet the Buddhist teachings were not just an academic pursuit to be studied by scholars or a point for arcane discussions of fine points; rather they were also meditated upon and put into practice in daily life and taught to others as a whole new way of thinking about how the universe was constructed.
Thrangu Rinpoche, the author of this text and also one of these great scholars who has devoted his life to reconstructing these teachings for the world remembers that a number of years before 1959 he and Trungpa Rinpoche were with His Holiness the Sixteen Karmapa and the Karmapa said to Trungpa Rinpoche that he would some day spread the Buddhist teachings to the west. Thrangu Rinpoche must have wondered at the time why western Tibet would need a teacher to spread the teachings. So in 1959 these three great lamas escaped and Trungpa went on to study at Oxford and to set up numerous centers through Europe d North America while Thrangu Rinpoche spend almost two decades in India with His Holiness Karmapa preserving and teaching the young Tibetan lamas the Buddhist teachings.
Thrangu Rinpoche has said that he assumed that this would be his life’s work and he would never have to come to the West and teach because Trungpa was already there doing that work. But that was not to happen because in 1977 His Holiness Karmapa asked Thrangu Rinpoche to prepare a short teaching that summarized the Buddhist path from a practice standpoint that could be used for Westerners. Thrangu Rinpoche did this using the Kagyu Lineage Prayer (Tibetan, Dorje Tungma) as his outline and this became his first leaching for Westerners. Thrangu Rinpoche was soon afterwards invited to teach in Samye Ling in Scotland (one of the same places Trungpa Rinpoche began) and began an extensive set of teaching to Western students. In the intervening Iwo decades he has traveled extensively to the West and has given over a hundred different major teachings a large portion of which are in the Namo Buddha archives.
While this is Rinpoche’s first teaching, it contains details which cannot be found in subsequent teachings. Therefore this teaching is an important work beyond its historical significance.
One may ask, “What are these teachings of Buddhism that are so profound that they have been preserved for almost two millennia and why are they relevant in our modern world?” The answer lies in that when great meditators looked into their mind using the techniques taught by the Buddha they found that not only they, but all beings, are searching for a lasting happiness. They found that our happiness of eating some new kind of food, of buying a new car or computer, of finding a new mate, of being praised for some kind of action or work, of finding a new living situation, of becoming rich all leads to only a temporary happiness which inevitably leads to some bad turn of events and unhappiness. They found that this is simply how the mind works. When the mind gets one thing that it desires, it then begins to crave something more difficult to obtain. One lama explained it in this way: He had left Tibet where there were no roads, no cars; no electricity, no plumbing and the winters were six months of brutal cold in houses with little heat. When he came to the United States, he thought he had come to paradise—one of the god realms. But when he began interacting with Westerners, he found that although they had all the food they wanted, cars that took them everywhere, electricity and plumbing in their houses, and so much money; these Westerners were very unhappy and had just as much troubles and worries and sorrows as the Tibetans.
The great Buddhist meditators looked within their mind and found the reason we cannot find lasting happiness is that the outside world of trees and rocks and human relationships is actually a fantastically complicated and ever-changing illusion. This illusion of the arising and falling of phenomena has no enduing or true meaning except what the mind puts on it.. The Buddhist term for this, to greatly simplify, is that phenomena is “empty” and the study of how this elaborate illusion is created and how we “buy into it” is the study of the Middle-way teachings.
We have this very Middle-way teaching because they were collected and preserved by Tibetan and Chinese pilgrims a thousand years ago. We have this teaching also because the meaning, not just the words of these teachings were passed down from student to disciple in an unbroken lineage. Because of this it is possible for modem students to attain true and enduring happiness. So we see the path of liberation relies on a path of lineage as well as a study of the true nature of phenomena. The understanding of these Middle-way teachings and also the vajrayana meditation practices to develop the realization of these teachings are not intuitive or common knowledge. This is why Thrangu Rinpoche began his teaching of Western (and also Eastern) students with this work called the Path of Liberation detailing a map of the path of Buddhist practice.
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