The Meaning and Purpose of Dharma

The following quote by my teacher, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, is an outstanding short definition of what dharma is and how it can directly influence our day-to-day lives. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

‎”What we really need is knowledge, an understanding of the essence of Dharma, of the teaching of Buddha. Dharma indicates the dimension of everything that exists, and the teaching of the Buddha is called dharma because it is a key to discovering the nature of all phenomena through an understanding of our true condition. This is really the principle point, and when we discover our true nature it is like discovering everything.”—Chogyal Namkhai Norbu


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Library of Tibetan Classics

Ornament of Stainless LightThe Library of Tibetan Classics is an extraordinary endeavor. The collection will eventually include thirty-two volumes, many of which include multiple unique texts. The translations range from core works by eminent masters of the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages, to the arts, medicine, and history.

The scope of the LOTC is unprecedented in the realm of Tibetan to English translation and publishing projects. Wisdom Publications released the first volume, Ornament of Stainless Light: An Exposition of the Kalacakra in 2004 to coincide with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s bestowal of the Kalacakra empowerment in Toronto. I attended that particular event and purchased my copy there. I have been hooked ever since.

There are now eight volumes in print and each one truly is a treasure. Not only for the expert translation, design, and wisdom they contain but because they represent the enduring power and strength of the Tibetan literary tradition. A tradition so profound that it has the capacity to capture our hearts and transcend the cultural confines of their origin, even in the face of powerful adversaries that sought to destroy it.

Each time a new volume is printed it’s like Christmas for me. I just have to find more space on the bookshelf.

Click here to browse the available translations and learn more about this remarkable collection.

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Homage to the Natural State

Homage to the natural state.
the spontaneous manifestations of freedom and bondage spring fourth from the primordial purity of the five elements whose nature is the five wisdoms.
The three vajras of sentient beings, present from the beginning come fourth as action, energy, and mental concepts. Naturally liberated in their own state absolute freedom is continually present in the dimension of life, free from the limitations of duality and animate versus inanimate.
Once introduced to our self-perfected state through the kindness of masters, doubts are melted by the warmth of experience. Complete integration is free of effort, like a flower turning toward the sun.

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Lama Tharchin Rinpoche’s Final Words of Advice

tharchinLama Tharchin Rinpoche was a truly extraordinary teacher who touched the lives of countless beings. His friends and students at Vajrayana Foundation have released a translation of Rinpoche’s final words of advice that he hand wrote before passing away this past July.

You can read it here.

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What is a Buddhist?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about what is and is not a Buddhist. Much of that discussion has been inspired by the recent shootings committed by Aaron Alexis in Washington D.C..

The responses have been quite polarized, and have ranged from regurgitation of media assumptions to excommunicatory sentiments toward Alexis himself. These responses are misguided, misinformed, and poorly argued.

Rather than adding to the mix of speculation about a particular individual and his actions I think it would be more useful if we address the actual questions behind the label of “Buddhist”.

There seem to be three camps in this discussion; the non-Buddhist observer with no direct experience of the tradition, the pop-Buddhist who self-identifies but has little experience or thinks that parts of the tradition that don’t appeal to them can be discarded, and those who take a more traditional or orthodox approach to the teachings.

The non-Buddhist observer seems to feel that attending temples, meditating, or reading Buddhist literature is what makes one a Buddhist. This of course is far from an accurate or thorough examination of the tradition. While the pop-Buddhists think that self-identification is what makes one a Buddhist. This is extremely problematic because it often leads to picking and choosing and thus following an incomplete path that arguably isn’t a path at all once key components have been removed. In the case of American pop-Buddhists these elements are usually karma and rebirth. Unfortunately the removal of these concepts and teachings renders the second and third noble truths inert and essentially neuters the methodologies of liberation.

The traditionalist adheres to the idea that formal refuge and an adherence to the four (or three in Theravada) marks of existence; impermanence, dukkha, emptiness or non self, and that nirvana is beyond concepts are the keys to being a Buddhist.

The problem with all three of these definitions is that they are external. They represent how individuals talk about themselves or display their behavior to others. To put it simply, they are nothing more than social constructs. I would argue that what makes one truly a Buddhist is something deeply personal. Something that cannot be expressed through any of the three external methods above.  In order to know if the Dharma has truly manifested in an individual at the beginning, middle, or end of the path is profoundly intimate and in my opinion is as non-conceptual and free of elaboration as the fruit of practice itself. It is simply not for others to see or know.

However we identify, it is meaningless, and even more meaningless are our assertions about someone else’s standing within the varying Buddhist communities. Perhaps this is a good reason why great teachers like the Dalai Lama stress kindness as a practice. Anyone is capable of showing kindness and all living things are capable of experiencing it. Kindness transcends labels we apply to our spiritual traditions and the semantics that define them and lands firmly in the realm of direct experience, and experience is what makes an individual firmly rooted in the path.

In my opinion Buddhists are extremely rare. Many are trying, but it’s hard work. The hardest work any of us will ever do, in any of our lifetimes.

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Book Review: Treasury of Precious Qualities

TPQTreasury of Precious Qualities by Jigme Lingpa falls into the literary and teaching category of Lam Rim, the most famous of which is the Lam Rim Chenmo of Je Tsongkhapa. Tsongkhapa’s Lam Rim is so famous in fact that many people think it is THE Lam Rim text and have little or no knowledge of other works within the genre when in fact there are many traditional and modern works that meet the criteria.

Shambhala Publications and the Padmakara Translation Group have spent many years translating and publishing a two volume translation of Jigme Lingpa’s pithy Lam Rim text. The volumes also contain extensive and detailed commentaries by Kangyur Rinpoche (1897-1975). The symbiosis of Jigme Lingpa’s terse root text and the remarkably detailed and nuanced commentary of Kangyur Rinpoche produces a remarkable guidebook through the paths and stages of Buddhist practice, from the first thoughts of renunciation all the way to the fruits of Dzogchen.

Book One covers the gradual path of the sutras and Book Two focuses on Vajyrana and Dzogchen. I have been using Book One as a reference for years and there is no doubt that Book Two will serve the same purpose. After just recently reading the second volume I can say that it is unique in its clarity and generosity of information. They are an invaluable resource to serious, traditional students of Tibetan Buddhism who don’t read Tibetan.

You can find the books here.

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Song of Advice for Giving Up Meat

PemaDuddul2I was a vegetarian for years. Strict, rigid, and quite high on myself and low on those who ate meat. To put it simply, I was a fanatic. Much to the benefit of myself (and those around me) my attitude changed and I have become much more gentle in my opinions. I also started to eat meat again, voraciously at times. After experiencing both extremes I think I have found some kind of middle ground, at least in my own mind.

As I get older I have also noticed that I just feel better when I consume a vegetarian diet. That said, this post is a bit of a selfish reminder to be more disciplined and mindful in my consumption. That and I think the text by Nyala Pema Dudul that I have posted below is an eloquent reminder of how our decisions impact others (and ourselves of course) on an everyday basis.

Nyala Pema Dudul was a remarkable master and terton who lived during the 19th century.

You can read more about him here.

And his biography has been recently published by Shang Shung Publications. I was extremely honored to do some proofreading on this edition and can say that it is inspirational and fascinating.


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