Category Archives: Gampopa OPL

OPL9: Chapter 5: the suffering of samsara

The title may tempt you to skip this chapter — who wants to hear more about suffering! Indeed, Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation includes vivid descriptions of the six realms of samsaric existence as places we could be reborn into, depending on which obscuring emotions we are most caught up in in this life. But — it is also where you will find the key to complete liberation from the whole thing. And freedom is what we want, right? (It’s actually worth checking in with ourselves from time to time to make sure.)

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OPL8: chapter 4: impermanence of the composite

With chapter 4, we arrive at the heart of Gamopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation. Here, in the instructions of the dharma master, which comprise the next 16 chapters of the book, the actual path begins, and our first stop is to really contemplate the impermanence of everything we experience, including ourselves.

You may recall that, according to Gampopa, understanding impermanence is the antidote to the first obstacle to realizing our buddha nature: attachment to the activities of this life. We have so many compelling things on our to-do list — tasks and responsibilities, projects and plans, emails, appointments, news, housework, homework, workouts, meals, shopping, gardening, on and on, ad infinitum — that the forward momentum can carry us along from the moment we wake up until night comes and we fall into bed, or at least onto the couch in front of the TV (see obstacle two). Does that sound like your day?

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OPL6: The condition: relying on an authentic teacher

Waking up in this life is the most difficult and most consequential thing we could possibly imagine. Why would we think that we could do it ourselves? Why would we not want to take advantage of others who have been there? … Lineage offers a sort of context for the journey. It offers a vision of what is possible … [and] gives a sense of affiliation with those great men and women who have gone before … [Yet] at the same time that we draw from and depend on a lineage, it is also completely up to us.”

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OPL5: Chapter 2: The support: a precious human existence

So now we have a compelling reason to want to wake up, AND our first prerequisite is checked off! The first prerequisite, buddha nature, is pretty much all good news: this simple and powerful potential to purify all our obscurations and to fully develop wisdom and compassion is naturally possessed by all beings without exception. If there’s any bad news, it’s temporary and doesn’t apply to everyone: it’s that some beings are much closer to realizing buddha nature than others, per the five degrees or stages described by Gampopa — but if you’re reading this, there’s no bad news for you. You’re almost certainly in the mahayana stage, the best jumping off point for the path.

Next among Gampopa’s six topics on the path: we need a framework or support for realizing our full potential, and this time there’s definitely good news and bad news.

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OPL4: Chapter 1: The cause: buddha nature

In truth, anyone who practices with great effort cannot fail to reach enlightenment. Why? Because all forms of conscious life, including ourselves, possess its prime cause. Within us is buddha nature.” ~ Gampopa OPL, translated by Ken Holmes.

We got the bad news right off the bat in Gampopa’s introduction to OPL: the confusion and suffering of samsara will never clear up without hard work on our part. Fortunately, he leads off the first chapter with the good news: if we do that work, the result is guaranteed. In this chapter, “we” includes not only present students of the dharma, but all humans whatever their material situation or belief system; and not only humans, but all beings, from the highest gods to our cherished pets to the earthworms in our garden to the most miserable denizens of literal or psychological hell. We all meet the first and most important of the three prerequisites for buddhahood. We all have the potential to wake up.

Why should we believe this? Gampopa backs up his guarantee with three categories of evidence:

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OPL3: The case for awakening

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?

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OPL2: A note on translations and titles

The very first English translation of Gampopa’s 12th-century guidebook to awakening, by the German scholar Herbert Guenther, was published in 1959, and reissued in 1971 with a cover design and foreword by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It thus has excellent credentials and blessings, and it made available to the West for the first time the systematized Kagyu path to awakening from A to Z.

I still find Guenther’s translation occasionally the most spot-on (in my opinion), but it was a pioneering effort, and he translated the title as The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. This title has stuck for 60 years, even though we now know it to be slightly incorrect.

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OPL1: Who was Gampopa?

Here begins our next class, on the essential comprehensive Kagyu guide to the path of awakening, Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation, aka, Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Class info is above, in “About the Gampopa OPL study guide.”

When Guru Vajradhara Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa (Situ Rinpoche) began broadcasting an intensive course on Ornament of Precious Liberation some years ago from his home seat of Sherabling in India to his worldwide network of Palpung monasteries and centers, including PTC, he spent the first six sessions on Gampopa’s life. He explained that if we didn’t understand what an extraordinary being Gampopa was, we would not appreciate how extraordinary his teachings were.

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