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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
67 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Reviews proclaimed, “I, a silken lion, do not need a palace./ The lion’s glacial heights are my palace./ Anywhere I like, I shake my turquoise mane,/ Roaming about, enjoy- ing any snow ravine.” Many of the songs in the biography demonstrate Dudjom Rinpoche’s ability to express the Dzogchen view in poetry of sublime beauty and with instruc- tions of immediate clarity. He inspired many of the present generation of lamas through his words and personal guid- ance, and his humility, realization, and refinement are wonderfully reflected in the writing of his close disciple, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal. Brilliant Moon, though presented as the autobiography of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, is actually much more. The autobiography does occupy the center of the book, but the materials around it are not mere window dressing. There are numerous forewords that precede the autobiography, and recollections that follow it, which serve to reflect, clarify, and draw one closer to the uniqueness of the being they evoke. In his foreword, Dzongsar Khy- entse Rinpoche reflects on the contrast between his teacher’s apparent disre- gard for clothing, often receiving guests (including royalty) half-naked, and the care and elegance with which he wore the exquisite costumes for the perfor- mance of ritual practices. He concludes that for Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the purpose of adhering to these traditions “was not to impress people, but to create an atmosphere of inspiration.” Dzong- sar Khyentse Rinpoche’s foreword, along with those by the Dalai Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche, and Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, serves as inspiration guiding the reader toward encountering the auto- biography itself as a source of blessings. From the first page, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s humor and humility gives the reader a sense of his inimitable voice. The traditional declaration of reluctance to compose an autobiography (itself often an occasion for ornate poetic showing- off) exemplifies the characteristic earthy, wry style of the author: “In my case, the dung heap of my defects makes Mount Meru look small, and even though I was able to grow a sprout of the appearance of holy qualities, it could not survive but has withered into a yellowish green and is now on the verge of drying up.” The content of everything that follows contradicts this critical self-assessment in every way. The tenderness and grati- tude with which Dilgo Khyentse recalls his childhood connection with Mipham Rinpoche conveys more of the meaning of devotion than countless treatises on the topic. His youthful struggle to pur- sue a life devoted to study and practice rather than assume his responsibilities to manage his noble family’s estate sheds light on the difficult choices made by someone whose life was often considered predetermined. The accounts of his years spent in meditation retreat, his recogni- tion as an incarnation of Jamyang Khy- entse Wangpo, and his studies with the greatest lamas of his time are all related with an unadorned simplicity and gentle- ness, as if there were nothing particularly remarkable about these events. The recollections of his disciples, patrons, and relatives that make up the final section of the book offer a variety of perspectives of this remarkable figure. We learn how Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s own extraordinary abilities and dedica- tion enabled him to play a leading role in the revival of Buddhism in occupied Tibet (visiting twice himself), and that many of the most famous lamas in the West revered him as a guru, including the Dalai Lama, Chögyam Trungpa, Sogyal Rinpoche, and Dzongsar Khy- entse Rinpoche, among others. Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche (the grandson of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche) contributed an essay called “My Grand- father, My Guru,” which contains many touching anecdotes from his childhood. He also wrote “Death and Rebirth,” an essay that describes the many omens that pointed toward Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s death and the efforts by his disciples to prolong his life, as well as the dignity with which he eventually passed from the world. This final section also introduces Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s reincarnation, now a fifteen year-old boy, who has spent his life studying at the monasteries in Nepal and Bhutan, where his previous incarnation resided. Stylistically, the two biographies dif- fer in significant ways. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal’s Light of Fearless Indestructible Wisdom was originally written in Tibetan, and it retains many of the literary conven- tions of classical Tibetan biography. The prose narrative of Dudjom Rinpoche’s life is interwoven with his letters, songs, and teachings, as well as the stanzas of a 211-verse poem that Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal composed about his guru. The challenges that this poem poses for readers who are unfamiliar with this Tibetan literary form are addressed by the author’s personal introductory essay and Toy-Fung Tung’s helpful “Essay on Tibetan Poetry” in an appendix. Although reading classical Tibetan poetry does require some effort from the reader, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal’s mastery of the form and the excellent translation ensure that the reader’s efforts will be amply rewarded. Brilliant Moon’s combination of personal remembrances about a great teacher and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s own straightforward autobiography make for a highly readable collection— one that offers both profound insights into the nature of reality and down-to- earth reflections on the experiences of daily living. Both books also make gen- erous use of photographs (and drawings in the case of Dudjom Rinpoche) that reveal the powerful physical presence of each lama. The portraits of these two extraor- dinary lamas that emerge from their biographies provide a vivid image of perfection that will inspire and delight those encountering these teachers for the first time and will deepen and strengthen the connections held by those who were fortunate enough to have met them in person.