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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
winter 2005| 70 |buddhadharma Verses express the essence of the six bar- dos, and they present in very concise form the essential instructions on how to attain liberation in each of these conditions. Chapter 4 is a great treasure, a beautiful and profound teaching on the Dzogchen view, here entitled “The Introduction to Awareness: Natural Liberation through Naked Perception.” This text has already been translated in full three times, and in my opinion Gyurme Dorje’s version is the clearest and most accurate. It is an extended instruction pointing out the nature of mind or awareness, a teaching of spontaneous self-liberation, grounded in the natural perfection of our being. Three chapters (5–7) specifically relate to the hundred peaceful and wrathful dei- ties. Chapter 5 is a visualization practice of the entire mandala, intended as a con- cise daily practice for the followers of this tradition. Chapter 6, the “Hundredfold Homage,” describes each of the deities by means of a short verse, which the prac- titioner recites while performing prostra- tions. Here, one by one, the deities are identified as the “natural purity” of the five poisons, the skandhas, the elements, the senses and their objects, and all kinds of negativity. The purpose of these prac- tices is to recognize that every aspect of our ordinary experience is in its essence the awakened state. The emphasis is always on “liberation without renuncia- tion.” It is a path not of renunciation, nor even of transformation, but of the direct realization of our true nature. This is what is called self-liberation, or natural liberation. Chapter 7 is a ritual of confes- sion before the deities, which includes a wonderfully named section, the “Plaintive Confession of Rampant Egohood.” The whole text is extremely moving, contrast- ing the immeasurable vastness, freedom, and bliss of the awakened state with the petty, limited, and destructive attitudes in which we imprison ourselves. Just read- ing through it arouses intense feelings of sorrow, remorse, and compassion. Chapters 8–10 are directly concerned with death and dying. The first of these provides instructions on recognizing the signs of approaching death, powerfully reminding us of impermanence and urg- ing us to prepare ourselves. It includes a detailed description of the actual proc- ess of death, which can be read aloud as guidance to a dying person by his or her spiritual teacher. It is followed by a companion text on averting untimely death, a process graphically known as the deception of death. As well as providing excellent dharma advice on matters such as letting go of fear and attachment and arousing compassion as one’s motiva- tion, these chapters also contain some very strange and rather startling material derived from folklore. Chapter 10 on consciousness transfer- ence gives instructions on how to direct one’s consciousness into a higher state at the very moment of death. This practice is now being taught quite widely in the West according to various traditions, and this text gives a very clear account of it. It must be emphasized, however, that no one should try to practice it without the guidance of an experienced teacher. Chapter 11, “The Great Liberation by Hearing,” is the heart of the whole work. In it the consciousness of the deceased is guided through the experience of death, the visions of the nature of reality arising as the multitude of deities, the confronta- tion with past actions and the judgment of the all-seeing Dharma King, and finally the desperate search for a new birthplace. The many wonderful descriptive pas- sages, conveying the terror and confusion of the disembodied consciousness and the awe-inspiring appearance of the dei- ties, are excellently done. I very much like the phrase “O Child of Buddha Nature,” by which the dead person is addressed. Indeed, with a few reservations, I consider this translation to be superior to all the pre- vious ones, including my own. The defects of that version, done more than thirty years ago in collaboration with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who unfortunately had very little time to work with me on it, were caused by my lack of experience in study- ing this type of text, as well my lack of understanding of their profound contents. Gyurme Dorje suffers from neither of these shortcomings, and he has had the good fortune of copious time and collaboration with many respected lamas. “The Great Liberation by Hearing” is followed by the three aspirational prayers associated with it, also familiar from earlier translations. The prayers vividly evoke the terrors and trials of the journey through the bardo states, calling on all the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities for guidance and protection. Chapter 13 is particularly charm- ing, a previously untranslated masked drama illustrating the fate of two recently deceased men when they arrive before Yama, the judge of the dead, who is sur- rounded by his fierce, animal-headed attendants. Each of the two men are accompanied by a white deity and a black demon, representing their good and bad conscience, who act just like lawyers for the defense and prosecution. The first to appear is a former butcher, who took delight not only in killing animals but in cheating his customers, beating his par- ents, destroying the environment, and abusing the dharma. He makes the age- old excuses of poverty and ignorance for his crimes. In the first place, he had to pro- vide for his “many female dependents,” but, most significantly, he did not believe in karma, rebirth, or the existence of the hells, since he could find no evidence for them. “If I had known when I lived in the human world that all this actually existed, I would never have committed negative actions,” he pleads. But his protestations are in vain, and he is dragged away to the realms of hell. Then comes a former merchant who led a mainly virtuous life, even though his bad conscience accuses him of some very serious crimes, including the murder of his father! Surprisingly, this is not pursued or explained, and because of his many positive actions, he is sent on the path to a higher rebirth. The final chapter of the book is “Liberation by Wearing.” It contains a collection of mantras, embodying the compassionate energy and enlightened intention of all the peaceful and wrathful deities. It is recommended that it be read aloud, in conjunction with the “Great Liberation by Hearing,” at the time of death. The mantras can also be written down and worn as an amulet, for as the text says, “liberation may occur through seeing, hearing, recollection, or contact [with them].” Some of the previous translations of these texts have contained considerable errors and even quite serious misunder- standings of their basic principles, but the reader need not have doubts about the reliability of Gyurme Dorje’s work. The translation is excellent and entirely faith- ful to the Tibetan. Most importantly, he illuminates it by his genuine understand- ing and insight. Any reservations I may have are on stylistic grounds. Gyurme Dorje has developed his own distinctive terminology to convey key concepts and