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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 65 |winter 2006 Francesca Fremantle is the author oF Lumi- nous EmptinEss: undErstanding thE tibEtan book of thE dEad. she lives in london. feature reviews thinley Norbu Rinpoche is a renowned writer and teacher in the Nyingma tradition. He is the eldest son of the late Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, who was the incarnation of the nineteenth-century terton Tragtung Dudjom Lingpa. In this wonderful vol- ume, Thinley Norbu presents his own commentaries on a treasure text revealed by Dudjom Lingpa and also on a short prayer composed by his father, who was one of the greatest realized masters to escape from Tibet and to bless the West- ern world with his teachings. The first and largest section of the book is Thinley Norbu’s commentary on an abbreviated version, prepared by his father, of the Vajrayana preliminary prac- tices from the “New Treasures of Dud- jom.” These preliminaries are undertaken as a foundation for the main practices of Vajrayana. However, they should not in any way be regarded as simply for begin- ners. They are each of tremendous signifi- cance in their own right and contain the whole essence of the path. The commen- tary makes this abundantly clear, and it should be essential reading for all aspiring Vajrayana practitioners. a Masterful Guide to vajrayana Practice The four common, or outer, prelimi- naries are: contemplations on the rarity of precious human life, impermanence, karmic cause and result, and the suffer- ing of samsara. The uncommon, or inner, preliminaries consist of going for refuge, arousing bodhicitta, mandala offering, purification through Vajrasattva, and guru yoga, with the addition of transfer- ence of consciousness (phowa), and “the generosity of offering one’s body” (this appears to contain the extremely simpli- fied essence of chod, which is sometimes added in more elaborate form to the pre- liminary practices). One does not need to be a follower of this particular tradition in order to enjoy the book and discover immense riches within it. The author uses the root text as the basis for the most profound and penetrating teachings as he ranges widely over a vast spectrum of topics. For exam- ple, the four outer preliminaries will be familiar to most Buddhists, but however much one may have heard and contem- plated these basic principles, fresh and illuminating insights can be found here. The commentary also clarifies many aspects of Vajrayana that may be strange or puzzling to those who are not familiar with it, and at the same time offers deeper understanding and renewed inspiration to those who are already practitioners. This is especially true of the long sec- tion on developing bodhicitta, which covers the entire path up to the final accomplishment of Dzogchen. Thinley Norbu summarizes the views of the main philosophical traditions, pointing out the ways in which each is valid and at the same time incomplete; he describes in detail the bodhisattva path, with commen- tary on the ten bhumis and ten paramitas; he gives an account of the creation and completion stages of Vajrayana, show- ing that all the deities dwell within our own bodies and naturally manifest for the benefit of beings; and he explains the attainments of the four levels of aware- ness-holder (vidyadhara), through which “all appearances encompassing every- thing are seen as the five buddha families, the male and female bodhisattvas, and the inconceivable appearance of all pure lands and palaces of mandalas.” The heart of this section is a profound instruction on meditation, which occurs in connection with the paramita of sama- dhi, or meditation, but is linked to every aspect of the path in a flow of intercon- necting elucidations. After a wonderful description of the state of undistracted awareness, he gives a wealth of practical advice for both beginners and more expe- rienced meditators. The essence of medi- tation is “abiding in evenness,” defined a cascadinG waterfall of nectar By thinley norbu shambhala Publications, 2006 336 pages; $24.95 (hardcover) reviewed by francesca fremantle