Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, the 12th-century physician from Dakpo who entered monastic life after his wife and two children died in an epidemic, and who went on to “unite the two streams” of practice and establish the Kagyu Lineage that continues to flourish today, began his A-Z guide to the path of awakening with a concise introduction that makes a compelling case for why we should go to all this trouble in the first place. But what, exactly, is wrong with life as we know it?
First: a note on the translation. Each translation of the introduction to Ornament of Precious Liberation (henceforth OPL) / Jewel Ornament of Liberation (henceforth JOL) has its merits. But I’m not fully satisfied with any of them, so I’m going to share my own translation. I don’t think it’s perfect, either, but it’s closer to the way Gampopa’s original text speaks to me.
It’s worth noting that Gampopa is the easiest of all Tibetan authors to read. His style is simple, concise, and to the point, no fancy language, nothing superfluous, no frills. In fact, in his Primer for Classical Literary Tibetan, my all-time favorite Tibetan grammar textbook, John Rockwell, Jr., selects OPL/JOL as the first text for new Tibetan readers to practice their skills on.
Back to the OPL/JOL intro: Without further ado, here is Gampopa’s case for why we need to study, contemplate, and practice the dharma, and what a tragedy it will be if we don’t:
“Generally speaking, all phenomena can be categorized as either samsara or nirvana. With regard to what we call samsara, its nature is emptiness, it manifests as confusion, and it is characterized by suffering. With regard to what we call nirvana, its nature is also emptiness, it manifests as the exhaustion and disappearance of all confusion, and it is characterized by freedom from all suffering.
“Who is confused in samsara? All sentient beings of the three realms.
“What is the basis of this confusion? Confusion is projected onto emptiness.
“What is the cause of confusion? Fundamental ignorance.
“How does confusion manifest? As the experience of the six types of beings.
“Is there a metaphor to describe confusion? It is like sleep and dreams.
“When did confusion begin? There has been confusion since beginningless time.
“What’s the problem with being confused? All experience is suffering.
“When will confusion transform into wisdom? Not until unsurpassable awakening is attained.
“For anyone who thinks confusion may clear up by itself: samsara is known to be endless.
“So, in light of the reality — that samsara is nothing but confusion, how much suffering it involves, how long it lasts, and that it will never liberate itself — from this day forward, we must make every effort to attain unsurpassable awakening.
“What does this effort require? Those with discernment will come to know unsurpassable awakening through six topics, summarized as: cause, support, condition, method, result, and activity, as follows:
“It is necessary to know the cause of unsurpassable enlightenment; the state of being that serves as a basis for its accomplishment; the condition that encourages its accomplishment; the means by which it is accomplished; the result of its acccomplishment; and the enlightened activity that ensues from its accomplishment.
“These will be explained in the following order:
“The cause: buddha nature.
“The support: the most precious human existence.
“The condition: the spiritual friend or teacher.
“The result: the enlightened bodies (kayas) of perfect buddhahood.
“The activity: the nonconceptual accomplishment of the benefit of beings.
“This is merely an outline of the main points of the text, each of which will be explained in detail.”
Just in case you need a quick summary: If we experience suffering, that is a sure sign that we are stuck in samsara, a state of relentless pain ranging from dissatisfaction to tragedy, brought about through seeing things in a confused way, not the way they really are. There is an alternative — only one — called nirvana, which is freedom from confusion and hence complete freedom from suffering. Who wouldn’t want that? The bad news: samsara will never transform into nirvana unless we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of clearing up our confused way of seeing things. As Tai Situ Rinpoche put it in his commentary on The Third Karmapa’s Mahamudra Prayer, “Whatever it took Milarepa to become enlightened, it will take us too. If we think we will become enlightened by taking a nice warm bath every day, watching television, going to different restaurants, and enjoying our life, this is a ridiculous notion.” The good news: we can do this, Gampopa is going to tell us exactly how, and he has already laid out the path for us in his list of six topics.
In the first three chapters, Gampopa will explain the first three topics, which are the prerequisites we need in order to begin our journey on the path to full awakening. Stay tuned!
Class recording 10.11.2018: click here or in blogroll at right