A Gathering of Brilliant Moons - Selections

Practice Advice from the Rime Masters of Tibet

Deepen your meditation with advice on Buddhist practice from celebrated masters of Tibet’s nonsectarian rimé tradition.

 

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Part  I:  Worldly Counsel

1. Facing Your Mind

Jamgön Kongtrul and Dudjom Lingpa
Translated by John Canti

Two Voices, One Message: Don’t Look Elsewhere

Individuals at the highest levels of attainment in the Tibetan Buddhist world, whether in past centuries or more recent times, have by no means conformed to a uniform stereotype. Their lifestyles and personalities vary enormously. Indeed, according to Mahāyāna tradition, manifesting in a variety of forms to “train beings according to their needs” is how enlightenment should manifest at the emanational, nirmāṇakāya level. The texts I have translated here are by two authors with very different lifestyles. Both were great nineteenth-century masters—masters primarily in the sense of prodigious spiritual accomplishment, but also in the sense of widely recognized literary skill. There, however, many of the obvious similarities end.

Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813–99) needs little introduction, for his is the first name that comes to most people’s minds at any mention of nineteenth-century ecumenical masters. He is undoubtedly one of the most important figures of the time. Steeped in learning, a lifelong monastic, with  an established institutional role and widespread recognition, Kongtrul could hardly be more different than his younger contemporary, the visionary yogin and tertön Trakthung  Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904), who had a minimum   of formal education, received little by way of teachings and transmissions (at least from human masters), and for much of his life led a materially precarious and peripatetic existence outside any formal affiliations, surrounded by his followers, consorts, and large family.

Descriptions of Kongtrul are so formal and laudatory that it is difficult to unearth details of his personality, but from his own autobiography and other writings, we get the impression of a dignified monk with immense learning worn lightly, great discipline, and a tendency to self-deprecation. He traveled widely but also spent long periods immersing himself in literary projects, performing retreats, and exchanging transmissions. Dudjom Lingpa, we know, was a physically powerful man, direct and uncompromising. A white-robed yogin with a mane of long hair, wearing large earrings, he is said to have had a presence that was both awe-inspiring and terrifying. He spent most of his life in a series of encampments and settlements, moving often but mostly within the confines of Mar, Ser, and Do, three river valleys of Golok in eastern Tibet.

Despite their undoubted differences, however, these two great masters had more in common than appearances might suggest. To start with, Kongtrul, too, was a visionary and a tertön. More important still, the overwhelming concern of both masters was the authentic use and transmission of the very essence of the Buddhist path in all its forms, and the fruit of that concern can be seen in the large cohorts of exceptionally accomplished practitioners that each of them trained, taught, or inspired.

Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo, of course, are the masters usually taken to be the origin of the nineteenth-century Buddhist renaissance in eastern Tibet that has become known as the rimé—nonsectarian or ecumenical—movement. Kongtrul had seen for himself that without a change of perspective, Buddhism as practiced in the Tibet of his day was in danger of becoming a series of fossilized systems divided by sectarian bias and divorced from genuine spiritual experience. Worse, sectarian rivalry (often for patronage) had on occasions become a pretext for feuds, open conflict, and even warfare. In his own lifetime Kongtrul had seen at least three such periods of major upheaval. He and other contemporary lamas responded to this state of affairs with an openness and respect for the texts and transmissions of all authentic lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. They made extraordinary efforts to identify practices, texts, traditions, and lineages that were little known or in danger of extinction, to receive and study them, and to ensure their future transmission.

Combating sectarianism and resisting institutional hegemony was a major concern for Kongtrul and Khyentsé, and the impetus they created had far-reaching effects on many other masters of their time and afterward. But the fact that later observers called it the “rimé movement” can give rise to an impression that nonsectarianism was its sole defining characteristic. In fact, “renaissance” seems a better term. The movement was, in essence, a broad-based return to truer Buddhist values. It may have been triggered by the specter of religious bigotry in an extreme and institutionalized form, but it had plenty of positive qualities to promote and not only negative trends to combat and resist.

Indeed, were anti-sectarianism alone taken as the criterion for belonging to this remarkable movement, Dudjom Lingpa would not qualify. He can hardly be described as ecumenical, working as he did entirely within his own revelations, which themselves were firmly based on the system of the Nyingma tantras and the Great Perfection. Geographically, too, while much of Kongtrul and Khyentsé’s activity was centered on the region of Degé, Dudjom Lingpa, farther east in Golok, was an outlier who had little direct contact with the other masters identified with the phenomenon. Nevertheless, he is often considered to have been part of it. What characterizes most of the masters identified with the rimé movement is that they recognized the dangers of narrow scholasticism, of an overemphasis on institutional concerns, and of spiritual dishonesty in all its forms; in Dudjom Lingpa’s case, his whole life was a vigorous rebuttal of those impediments. He may not have been explicitly nonsectarian, but neither was he sectarian: his own tradition was entirely outside any established structure, and he did not promote it above any other. He saw it simply as the path on which his followers could attain enlightenment—and this, according to all accounts, they did in droves. No less than thirteen of his disciples are known to have attained the rainbow-light body (jalü), and many more to have reached advanced levels of realization. If giving rise to a  wide and vigorous lineage of influential teachers is taken to be the very stuff of which a Buddhist renaissance is made, Dudjom Lingpa should certainly be included. In  addition to his own spiritual descendants,   he had another resource unavailable to Kongtrul: his eight sons and several grandchildren were all recognized as incarnations of different lineages, and went on to make important contributions to Buddhist culture and practice. His legacy in Golok has proved exceptionally vigorous to the present day.

Among the writings of masters like these, shaldam is the most personally expressive genre. The longer poems translated in this chapter, one from each author, are both in the most classic shaldam format. Addressing a particular individual practitioner, they set out frank advice about what would be the most essential elements in terms of attitudes, practice, and lifestyle for that person to make his or her life—a substantial number of Dudjom Lingpa’s shaldam are addressed to women—meaningful and spiritually fruitful. Despite being nominally directed to the needs of a specific individual,  the fact that they were subsequently preserved and published implies that they were felt likely to be useful to others.

In keeping with their purpose, they are expressed in language close to colloquial forms and yet at the same time fashioned with considerable literary skill, ranging from the witty to the sublime. Kongtrul’s piece here is in plain language but impeccably structured. Dudjom Lingpa’s two songs are more original, from a literary point of view. The longer one utilizes concise and elegant phrasing and makes use of a variety of metric rhythms. Kongtrul’s focus is on mastering and understanding the mind, but around this central thread he weaves in other essential elements of the path, such as renunciation, reflection on death and impermanence, devotion to a teacher, and the union of emptiness and compassion. Dudjom Lingpa gives more individualized advice on lifestyle and livelihood, and then evokes the path and goal in the specific terminology and framework of the Great Perfection. Despite their stylistic differences, both authors answer the same question: in order to attain realization, what does the person being addressed need to do?

Kongtrul’s Words of Advice for Lhawang Tashi

Kongtrul’s voluminous writings cover a vast range of topics and genres yet seem to include relatively few pieces that can be specifically categorized either as shaldam or as spiritual songs (gur).The work translated here, Words of Advice for Lhawang Tashi, is a shaldam found in his Treasury of Extensive Teachings (Gyachen Kadzö), which is itself a compilation of those of his writings that did not belong in any of the other themed treasuries.

In the colophon of this poem, Kongtrul refers to himself as “old,” so he presumably wrote this advice later in life. The woodblock, unlike those of most of the other texts in the volume, has its own title page and appears to have been originally prepared for independent printing. otherwise, I have so far been unable to discover anything about the circumstances or date of the piece, or about the identity of the Lhawang Tashi to whom the advice is addressed.

Kongtrul opens with a stanza of obeisance and invocation that includes both Padmasambhava and the Kagyü masters, an unorthodox combination but one certainly coherent with his own eclectic points of reference and personal history. He then launches straight into his theme, the importance of examining, understanding, guarding, and mastering one’s own mind.

He sets course for this theme with a wonderfully blunt quote from a short Tengyur  text  by Atiśa:

When with others, watch your speech,
but when with no one, watch your mind.

To cite an Indian work as his starting point—while a convention common to many genres of Tibetan writing—helps Kongtrul cement the link to an era uncluttered by sectarian bias. Atiśa’s terse, frank advice is an important reminder of how far back the shaldam tradition goes. This is also the case when, toward the end of the poem, Kongtrul takes a stanza from the Way of the Bodhisattva:

To those who wish to guard their minds,
I press my palms together and implore them:
sustain, with all your  efforts,
both mindfulness and vigilance.

Here Śāntideva, in his own innovative way, addresses his readers directly with an exhortation to guard their minds at all costs by maintaining mindfulness and vigilance.

True to these textual foundations, despite occasional references to Mantrayāna notions, the main framework of this piece is built squarely on the general Mahāyāna tradition. Mind, Kongtrul says, is the sole basis of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa, and the difference between buddhahood and suffering is simply a matter of whether the mind is purified. He takes the reader through a sequence of consequences, sadly familiar to any practitioner of meditation, of a Buddhist attempting to practice the path but not paying proper attention to the mind and its nature.

In each case, he says in a key passage, the problem is to have been “led along by a mind you’ve not made self-sufficient.” To make the mind self- sufficient is the first step toward recognizing its nature; it is the confident independence that comes from not expecting gratification, help, or salvation from anywhere else—not out of bravado or resignation, but simply through recognizing that one’s own mind is the very basis of all one’s experiences.

He continues, giving examples of seeking elsewhere what can be found only in the mind: a quiet place, a teacher, a practice, freedom from distractions, and so forth. Kongtrul reminds us that, similarly, the only way to be rid of enemies is to combat the mind’s hostility; that the only way to have all we want is to stop the mind wanting so much; that a positive mind is  what leads to higher rebirths; and that understanding mind’s nature is what brings liberation. So, too, the only way to put an end to the suffering caused by negative states of mind and the actions to which they lead is to look at the mind’s very nature.

Hence the crucial importance of guarding the mind, as the passage from Śāntideva underlines. Now, guarding the mind, in terms of choosing carefully what to do and what not to do, might seem to be unnecessary for someone with a true realization of the ultimate sameness of all phenomena, their single taste as simply the magical display of mind. But for beginners, Kongtrul advises, it is essential to combine a lofty view with actions that are finely considered; here he is abridging a well-known formulation by Padmasambhava, “My view is as high as the sky, but my actions finer than barley flour.” Kongtrul follows up this advice by recommending a series of sobering reflections on the impermanent nature of life.

Once again, he returns to the realization of the very nature of the mind. When that realization is maintained, just as it is, everything will be seen as both clarity and emptiness. Evoking the spontaneous compassion that is then engendered toward those who do not have that realization, he identifies emptiness and compassion with ultimate and relative bodhicitta, and he emphasizes their unity as a crucial point of the sūtra and mantra teachings. Rounding off his advice in a final summary, he signs off with the customary self-deprecating colophon.

Kongtrul’s language in this piece is simple, as if he did not want his clear message to be attenuated by unfamiliar expressions, or the reader to be distracted by displays of literary prowess. But while the poem is straightforward and without ornamentation, it is also composed with such a sure touch that what he says can hardly be interpreted as mere earnestness. The meter he uses throughout is a regular one of seven syllables (rabga), with a standard, alternating stress (in prosodic terms, catalectic trochaic tetrameters, as in William Blake’s The Tyger). This is the same meter used by the Tibetan translators for the two Tengyur texts from which he quotes—perhaps Kongtrul matches them deliberately, as if to affirm the associations.

As testified by other shaldam in the Treasury of Extensive Teachings, Kongtrul was certainly capable of more complex metrical forms. He was also expert in the kāvya style of ornate poetics, with its usage of metaphorical language, alliteration, wordplay, and other ornamental forms that he himself described in detail in his chapters on poetics, prosody, and synonymics in book 6 of the Treasury of Knowledge. Here, he remains straightforward and sober by choice.

For the translation, I have accordingly tried to keep the language and phrasing simple and to avoid excessive jargon and technical terms. While matching Kongtrul’s masterful simplicity would be difficult, my aim was to stay at least in the same register. To tighten the lines of verse into a regular meter would require not only more skill than I have at my disposal, but would also mean introducing artificial “poetic” constructions that would give the translation a more contrived feel than the original. I have nevertheless attempted to keep a regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables in order to retain the verse format and make the piece easy to read aloud. I have also, for the most part, kept a line-by-line correspondence with the original so that the English translation can be read alongside the Tibetan text.

Dudjom Lingpa’s Song for  Chokdrup, Novice of Abum and Untitled Song

Collectively, the twenty-one volumes of Dudjom Lingpa’s writings are usually known as his Treasure Teachings (Terchö), for they consist almost entirely of the treasure texts that he revealed. Even some of his autobiographical texts are considered terma or treasure revelations. The texts presented here, however, are from the only section of his writings that are not deemed terma, a 240-folio collection of brief shaldam in the form of 132 strikingly original spiritual songs, most of them between one and four folios in length.

The first of the two songs by Dudjom Lingpa translated here is addressed to Chokdrup, a novice of Abum. After briefly invoking Guru Padmasambhava,  Dudjom  Lingpa reminds his disciple of the unique qualities of a human existence with all of the freedoms and advantages, and exhorts him to make the right choices while he can, evoking the feelings his disciple may have on his deathbed if he fails to take the right path. He stresses the importance of being content with whatever one’s material circumstances may be, and of being aware how rare true realization is. When he advises Chokdrup not to ignore his own need for sustenance, Dudjom Lingpa speaks from experience: he himself had to work hard to secure adequate resources for himself and his followers without institutional support, and without compromising either his freedom or his ethical principles. This advice is reinforced by four quatrains that sketch categories of so-called Dharma practitioners whose solutions to the problem of sustenance (doing business with the saṅgha’s wealth, performing rituals for money, chasing academic status, and so forth) he must not emulate. Dudjom Lingpa then summarizes what is meant by true meditation practice, true postmeditation practice, and true application of the pith instructions.

Then comes a sudden change of mood. Until now, the first part of the song has been in a meter of eight syllables (jengak), each line starting with a stressed syllable followed by three stressed-light pairs (trochees) and a final stressed syllable. But here, heralded by the interjection “Ai!” the song abruptly changes rhythm. It first changes to three lines—outlining the view—that have a nine-syllable (bṛhatī) meter of two trochees, a dactyl (stressed-light-light), and a final trochee. This may serve to draw attention to the central, pivotal status of these lines in the song. Then, starting surprisingly with the fourth line of this same stanza, he changes to lines of ten syllables made up of two stressed-light-light-stressed-light sequences (tetrameters of alternating dactyls and trochees). This lilting meter is maintained until the end of the song.

Each stanza is preceded by further, abrupt interjections (such as “Hé hé!” and “Ya ya!”). The instructions continue but now take as their focus inspiring descriptions of the very experiences of realization. They briefly cover the Great Perfection’s view, meditation, and practice of trekchö (the approach based on primordial purity), the four visions of thögal (the yoga of light based on spontaneous presence), and the ultimate fruit. Dudjom Lingpa concludes with a colophon, still part of the song, in which the time-honored tradition of self-deprecation takes the form of his disclaiming his own advice as the ravings of a madman.

The second translation, which has no named addressee, is one of the shortest songs in the collection, a mere eight lines. Its meter is one of regular trochaic tetrameters except for the last line—three trochees followed by three final, stressed syllables. Instead of following one of the customary patterns, such as advice structured on the stages of the path, it starts off with a seemingly straightforward evocation of the pure buddhafields that one might aspire to reach as a result of disciplined practice. The description of this agreeable prospect is maintained for the first five lines of the text. Arriving at the sixth line, however, the reader suddenly realizes that Dudjom Lingpa’s first five lines were intended as irony. The true, unsurpassed buddhafield (okmin, Akaniṣṭha) is the state free of all such projections; it is simply the realization of the view. It is a spontaneously present state, not a destination involving notions of somewhere else to be reached.

Brief though it is, this song is almost a summary of both Kongtrul’s poem and Dudjom Lingpa’s longer shaldam. Both of the longer pieces stress how important it is not to be taken in by the notion that enlightenment is a state to be found elsewhere, or in another time, when it is actually already present as the nature of mind, “the real thing,”  right now.  And that, indeed,  is ultimately what is meant by the term buddhafield, just as Kongtrul says in the fifth verse of his poem.

Dudjom Lingpa’s style in these songs is poetically expressive and has an uncontrived elegance, even in passages where the terminology is precise and verging on the technical. Remarkably, it is said that he composed his writings in a single-stage process, dictating them to scribes, and often working on several texts in parallel. He would stride around as he spoke or chanted them, loudly. It is perhaps this spontaneous, oral, inspired quality that gives these songs their particular character. The translator’s task here is a daunting one, and I cannot claim to have done anything approaching justice to the originals. Their meaning, at least, is not especially obscure, and in these pieces there is little of the play on words, deliberate ambiguity, metaphorical allusion, or any of the other kinds of literary ornamentation with which some of my colleagues in this volume have had to contend.

Dudjom Lingpa’s descriptions of the experiential stages of the path draw mostly on general Great Perfection  terminology,  but  he  does  supplement his descriptions with some characteristic terms of his own. An example is   his frequent use of the word ngoma, which means “true” or “genuine”—the opposite of false or fake, with the sense of what is really there. It is a useful term, being an everyday word implying the truth, the real thing, and which does not ascribe any ontological status to it. In order to preserve this particularity of his writing, I have tried to be consistent in translating ngoma as “the real thing,” even when different paraphrases might have produced a better flow. one instance that deserves comment is in Dudjom Lingpa’s unique formulation of the view mentioned above:

In the space of the true nature is everything, all of saṃsāra and nirvāṇa,
the real thing without objectivity, interpenetrating,

knowing without a self, present as the guru—
the king of all views; do you recognize it in its own ground?

While the first line sets out what is often called in Great Perfection terms “the ground,”  the true nature or dharmatā, likened here to space, the second line describes the phenomenal world. In the deluded state, this is seen as made up of the objects of the senses; but ngoma, “the real thing,” is, he says, “without objectivity, interpenetrating” (yulmé sangthal)—as described in other Great Perfection texts. His third line, in a word pattern matching the second line, refers to the aspect of awareness: “knowing without a self,” followed by “present as the guru,” identifying the nature of awareness with  the nature of the guru, and perhaps also suggesting that awareness itself becomes the practitioner’s mentor and guide.

This, then, is the view—the crucial point—as he chooses to express it here in these three lines. In the fourth line comes his big question to Chokdrup, the “pointing-out”: can he recognize that view, not just in theory, not just dualistically “knowing with a self,” but as it really is, “in its own ground”?

If the very particular style and flavor of Dudjom Lingpa’s language are hard to convey fully in translation, the rhythm and song-like quality of these pieces are far more difficult. Translation of verse from one Western language into another is expected to include some representation of the original meter and verse structure; from Tibetan, this is more challenging. Tibetan, with its detachable particles and coalesced word forms, is easy to compress and expand. English, with its irregularly stressed polysyllables, auxiliaries, and prepositions, is rarely as brief or as rhythmic. I have tried to maintain, at least, the division into lines, as in the Kongtrul shaldam. I have also experimented with the use of layout to do what I cannot do with metric stress.

In the first two thirds of the longer song, using the device of breaking each line near the start, after a word or two, I have attempted to reproduce something of the meter of the Tibetan, which I have described above. In    this particular meter, the word chosen as the first of the two initial stressed syllables is often one with a key semantic importance—at least near the beginning of the poem where it is most noticeable. This is a hard act for the author to maintain for long, so its precision tends to fade away as the poem progresses.

To preserve some trace of this structure, I have tried to keep a semantically important word or phrase at the beginning of each line before the interruption of the line break. The result is contrived, and a little obtrusive at first reading, but with familiarity (I hope) becomes less so. As a solution, it remains unsatisfactory and inelegant. But, despite having been tempted to abandon it several times, I have left it in place in the hope that it might stimulate others to seek better methods.

In the final third of the song, I have used italics to mark off the central three-line statement of the view (described and excerpted above), which is made distinct in the original by having a different meter of its own. The characteristic Tibetan interjections I have simply reproduced phonetically; they could have been translated into some approximate equivalents in English (oh! Hey! Aha! Yeah! Lo!), but this, I think, would have created a slightly comical feel. The lilting meter of the final part of the song proved impossible to reproduce, but its tendency to create a caesura halfway through the line comes through in the translation and has, where syntax allowed, been emphasized with a comma.

Having heard some of Dudjom Lingpa’s songs chanted to a traditional melody of eastern Tibet, I cannot help thinking how much richer the experience of hearing them in English might be if they were set to music. I look forward to the day when an appropriate musical genre might evolve, and they could take on a multidimensional texture.

But even in translation—divested, inevitably, of some of their original form—the essence of these striking poems, alive with the wise advice and authentic experience of their very different authors and composed with such brilliance, retains its timeless freshness. Their message can speak to us today much as it must have done to their original recipients.

Acknowledgments

I am most grateful to Pema Wangyal Rinpoché for the reading transmission of the poems, and for clarifying some points of the Dudjom Lingpa songs; to Khenchen Pema Sherab and Khenpo Tenzin Norgye for their careful checking of the various versions of the Tibetan of all three poems; to my colleagues at the “Translating Buddhist Luminaries” conference in Boulder, 2013, for their helpful comments; to Geoff Barstow for kindly reading and commenting on my final draft; to Holly Gayley for her invaluable help and input; and to the Tsadra Foundation, without whose generous support this project in particular, and my translation work in general, would not be possible.

WORDS OF ADVICE FOR LHAWANG TASHI

by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé

I go for refuge to the Lotus Guru.
By the blessings of the masters of the instruction lineage,
may those with faith direct their minds to Dharma,
and take the path to irreversible freedom.

Atiśa, Lord of the Land of Snows,
condensed his advice into these two points:
“When with others, watch your speech,
but when with no one, watch your mind.”

The root of wrongdoing is, indeed, the mind,
and most wrongdoing happens using words;  
so both need guarding, always.

Saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are but your own mind—
there’s  not a  speck that comes from somewhere else.
All joy and sorrow, right and wrong, the noble and the lowly—
such things are merely notions in the mind.

If you purify your mind, it’s buddhahood,
the place you are becomes a buddhafield;
do what you will, it’s all within the ultimate nature,
and all that appears is the detail of wisdom’s display.

If you fail to purify your mind,
you find faults even with a buddha,
you get angry even with your parents,
and most of what appears seems hostile.

In endless waves of hoping, fearing, lusting, hating,
your human years of useless human life run out.

Whoever you’re with, you don’t get on;
wherever you are, you don’t feel happy;
whatever you have, it’s  never enough;
the more you get, the more you need.

As life’s apparent dramas take you first this way, then that,
some thought of practicing Dharma may occur to you—
but while you’re still about to do it, life will just run out.

When first you feel a fresh determination to be free,
whatever it may take, you’re ready for it all;
but then you harden, and can’t even give away a needle.

When the devotion you feel is still new,
you think of nothing but the teacher;
but then time passes and you see him with perverted views.

When your faith and inspiration are still new,
on top of one practice you take up yet another;
but as you age they all just fade away.

When first you find a suitable companion,
you treasure his life far more than your own;
but then you lose interest and treat him with aversion.

At root in all these instances is to be led along
by a mind you’ve not made self-sufficient.
Once capable of mastering  your mind:

You need not seek an isolated place elsewhere;
when thoughts are absent, that’s an isolated place.

You need not search outside to find a teacher;
mind itself is the enlightened teacher.

You need not fear you’re missing out on some practice;
being free of distraction is the essence of all practice.

You need not purposefully get rid of each distraction;
apply mindfulness and vigilance, and on their own distractions will
subside.

You need not be afraid of the defilements arising;
for, taken as their very nature, they are wisdoms.

Apart from this momentary mind of yours,
there is no other saṃsāra or nirvāṇa that exists—
so I beg you, be constantly on watch over your mind!

Unless you tame your mind within,
there’ll be no end to enemies without.
But if you tame hostility within,
you’ll be at peace with all the enemies on earth.

Without contentment in your mind,
acquire what you may—you’ll  still be like a  beggar.
But with renunciation, a person who’s content inside
is always rich without possessions.

The propensities of joy arising in your mind
when rightfully engaged in ordinary affairs,
in Dharma practice, or in meritorious deeds
will bring you rebirth in the higher realms;
yet that’s impermanent and still saṃsāra,
while if you look at the very nature of that joy,
to see it’s  empty is the basis  of the path to liberation.

In all affairs, religious ones as well as worldly,
your wrongful acts will bring you suffering;
and if you follow after your defiling thoughts—
of anger, hatred,  attachment, and the rest—
that’s what causes rebirth in the lower realms,
and the sufferings there cannot even be imagined.
So, no matter what defilements and sufferings may arise,
look at their very nature, and they will vanish into emptiness;
apart from that, there is no other wisdom somewhere else.

Never separating from this mind of yours,
it’s crucial to constantly guard your mind.
To guard your mind includes all teachings.

As  Śāntideva said, on how to guard it,
“To those who wish to guard their minds,
I press my palms together and implore them:
sustain, with all your efforts,
both mindfulness and vigilance.”
To put in practice what he says is vital.

Therefore, although whatever may appear to all six senses
is but the magical display of mind itself—and so
to act on things selectively, rejecting and adopting, is deluded,
and best of all is taking as the path their single taste—
for all beginners such a lofty view
should be combined with fine-grained action.

The freedoms and advantages of a human life being hard to find,
reflect repeatedly on death and on impermanence.
Develop strong conviction in the never-failing fruits of your actions.

Each time you see or hear of others dying,
please take it as a sign and teaching for yourself.

Each time you see the summer turning into winter,
remind yourself that everything’s impermanent.

Each time you see the bees so busy making honey,
recognize how pointless is your need for wealth.

Each time you see a ruined house or empty market,
recognize your home and household as the same.

Each time you witness people torn away from those they love,
remind yourself of your own close ones, too.

Each time you see a person facing sudden adverse times,
remind yourself how that may happen to you, too.

Yourself and others, just as in a dream,
have not a speck of true existence.

Without adulterating your mind with fabrications,
maintain its natural state, its very essence:
you’ll realize everything, inside or out, is emptiness,
clarity and emptiness together, like the sky,
and that’s  the ultimate mind of awakening.

Yet beings who do not know that things are so
wander in saṃsāra through the power of dualistic thoughts,
experiencing suffering; so when, toward them all,
a measureless compassion, unfabricated, arises in you by itself,
that’s the relative mind of awakening.

Compassion, free of grasping, realizing things are empty;
emptiness, spontaneously manifesting in the rising of compassion—
to unite them is the heart of both the sūtra and the mantra
teachings;
apply your experience to this fundamental point.

Bring to bear on them, as means for their arising in you,
whatever meritorious actions you can manage;
pray to the Three Jewels
and apply the vital points regarding devotion to your teacher.

Refrain from all wrongdoing to yourself or others,
exhort yourself to all the virtuous action that you can,
and from the Great Vehicle’s mind of awakening
and from the purest dedication, never let yourself depart.

At the behest of Devendra, one whose qualities
shine with virtuous intentions like the waxing moon,
a monk called Lodrö Thayé, an old man
with only three ideas, has written this advice.

May your lifespan and attainment of the Dharma reach their furthest
extent,
and may you spontaneously accomplish the two fulfillments!

Sarvasiddhirastu maṅgalaṃ.

 

Two Songs of Advice

by Traktung  Dudjom Lingpa

1. A Song for Chokdrup, the Novice of Abum

Lord,
sublime embodiment of all present, past, and future buddhas;
Protector,
sovereign of the hundred families, Lake-Born Lord,
present
inseparably in the wheel of ultimate reality at my heart, throughout
all three times—
take care of me, now and always!

Its worth
is small, but if to have this old man’s brief advice
just now
seems so important—very well, then, just for you,
for my part,
I shall sing and sing away my crazy song!

The point is,
now, you have a human life with freedoms and advantages.
The benefits
it brings you, you should bear in mind and not forget:  
to travel
on the path of freedom—it’s your carriage;
to cross
the ocean of existence—it’s your boat;
to gather
merit that endures—it’s your support;
to attain
supreme and common siddhis—it’s your stimulus;
and upward
on the swift path of great bliss—your escort.
To  have
this life, indeed, must be the fruit of past good deeds.

Here
is the frontier between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa;
here
is where you cross or fall back—and that is up to you.
Your life
till now you’ve spent on acts with no real meaning;
and now,
what’s left for you to live is like the fading evening sun.
Actions
that will bring you joy or sorrow, the choice is yours.
For you
the day you’ll die will dawn, and then
the wealth
of the whole wide world will be of no avail.
Uneasy
and forlorn, you’ll depart for your next life
with none
of your dear ones, near or far, to protect you.
Do not
forget that! Quick, apply yourself to Dharma!

A  single man
to feed and clothe, but with the thought of bothering no more,
far off
to other places you might wander like an errant dog—
but there
you’ll never feel quite satisfied with what you have,
and in the  end
the risk of demons overpowering you is great;
whatever valuables
you might acquire will just be snatched by others.
This life
of yours is like a fleeting dream,
it’s  nothing more—
so never think that you’ll be here forever.
These days,
among this age’s  final dregs,  reflect:
your life,
how long it will last is so uncertain;
true fathers,
the authentic teachers, how rare they are!
The Dharma,
those accomplishing its view and meditation are so few;
its goal
is perfectly attained by nobody at all.
Weigh up
these things—and quick, apply yourself to Dharma.

A lifetime
won’t suffice for all the work you have to do,
your activities
are many, and you have no time to finish them.
But the careless
who spend a lifetime living on the saṅgha’s wealth—
their tasks
are never-ending, those restless merchant monks—
such people
are not for you; stay true to yourself alone.

Shamelessly,
others break their vows, pretending to be ngakpas,
confused
old uncle-lamas obsessed with having powers,
traders in suffering,
those aging priests and village exorcists—
such people
are not for you; stay true to yourself alone.

Fame-craving
practitioners of chö who beat up ghosts,
those  creating hells
of self-destruction, great lamas in appearance,
or seeking greatness
through vilifying and espousing intellectual tenets—
such people
are not for you; stay true to yourself alone.

 

Hoarders of books
who never study and reflect,
self-infatuated
lopöns, their status built by other people,
scholars
babbling so conceitedly but with no hearts—
such people
are not for you; stay true to yourself alone.

Stay
in a pleasant grove with all your requisites at hand;
your body,
leave as it is without fabrication, like a corpse;
your speech,
leave as it is without fabrication, like a mute’s;
your mind,
leave as it is without fabrication,  free of conceptual extremes.
That
is the very pinnacle of all meditation practice.

While doing
any task or activity, at any time,
within wisdom,
primordial, vast, and all-pervading,
to allow
naturally present gnosis its own freedom—
that
is the most sublime of all true postmeditation practice.

Experiences,
happy or sad, good or bad—whatever may arise,
not fabricating
or changing them, just let them be;
to recognize
but not cling to them, that is the crucial point;
this
is the very pinnacle of all instruction.

Your mind’s
long drawn-out plans need cutting short.
Right now
apply yourself to practicing for death alone.

Ai!
In the space of the true nature is everything, all of saṃsāra and
nirvāṇa,
the real thing without objectivity, interpenetrating,
knowing without a self, present as the guru—

the king of all views; do you recognize it in its own ground?

Hé hé!
The primordial natural state, once encountered as your very essence,
needs no meditating on or practice; just give it its full freedom.
Buddhahood was always there, and you discover it just where it is;
that lasting state of well-being, here it is for sure!

Ho ho!
Ever-present gnosis is continuous, like a river’s flow;
there is nothing you need block or achieve—let go of all activities,
and good or bad, let how you act be uncontrived, the real thing.

Ya ya!
Naturally present primordial radiance, in the wheel of enjoyment,
to the eyes of wisdom, manifests as a spectacle;
the experience increases, matures to reach its culmination,
and the yoga of dharmas’ exhaustion unfurls fully in well-being.

Yé yé!
When the yoga of dharmas’ exhaustion emerges in the vase body,   
in the manifesting of the ever-perfect qualities you find confidence:
here is the real thing, the king of the dharmakāya itself,
and great transference in the radiance of the rainbow-light body is
certain.

Kyé ho!
Your primordially free nature is nothing other than itself;
yet, by letting that self-arisen gnosis have its own autonomy,
make it the real thing, the experience of unmistaken well-being,
and on the path of omniscience you’ll be free—the real thing.

Having no way to refuse the request you made,  
I, the foolish and contemptible Dudjom Dorjé,
have responded with this ditty in the form of insane ravings,
which I  hereby give to Chokdrup, the novice of Abum.

Virtue!  Excellence! Jayantu.

2.  Untitled Song

Pleasant, comfortable, pure celestial realms,
if you keep your vows and samayas, are not far away;
soon you’ll reach the level of liberation
where, remote from the domain of existence’s suffering,
there are cheerful places unsullied by sin, the pure fields—

It’s liberation from such ideas that’s the true Akaniṣṭha
which, if you realize the  view, is the real thing, there by itself;
without needing to depart or arrive, you’ll get there just like that. 

Written by Dudjom.