Thursday, July 08, 2010

Longchenpa's Prophetic Message to Western Buddhists

Klong-chen rab-'byams-pa, or Longchenpa (1308 - 1364) needs no introduction. There is no aspect of Buddhism as it was practiced in Tibet that is not touched -- and touched profoundly -- by his smallest word. Longchenpa is indeed identical with Guru Rinpoche.

Among the works written late in his life is the following, beautifully translated by Ken McLeod as Thirty Pieces of Sincere Advice. We have featured Mr. McLeod's really rather stunning work here before, and recommend a click-'o-the-link to his treasure trove of Dharma. Like most translators, he could also use your support, so when you visit his site, give serious thought to generosity.

Now, despite the title of this post -- which is deliberately stinky -- there is no hermeneutic evidence that Longchenpa wrote the following for those in the West who are sporting with "teaching" Buddhism and "building" Buddhist institutions. Taken literally, anyone would be disposed to say that he wrote it as a reflection of conditions and observations in 14th century Tibet. 

However, I defy any intellectually honest person to read these words and say they are not prophetic. I defy anyone to say they are not applicable -- and that is uniquely applicable -- to those in the West who like to think themselves wildly involved with transplanting Buddhism as practiced in Tibet, whether we are talking about indigenous Westerners or the legion of lamas who have come to tame them. 

Maybe we should not confine this to Westerners, but also include the empire builders of Taiwan, Singapore, India, and elsewhere -- everywhere the dreaded words "we need ... " are uttered -- so if it seems I have unfairly singled out Westerners, then I do apologize, albeit not very sincerely.

Matter of fact, to relieve the problem of specific censure or approbation -- which I have admittedly introduced with the single-minded intention of disturbing you enough to actually read the translation --  I defy anyone, anywhere to read these words and not see themselves.

Because what we have here is a handy catalog of all the stuff that gets in the way -- all the stuff that keeps on getting in the way -- all the stuff we do instead of doing what we should be doing. Here, in a few terse passages, is the road map into and out of every practitioner's blind canyon.

This work is not confined to any one time or place. 

This work arises because we are human. 

Read, memorize, or print out and stick on the wall.

Prophecy is not about then, but now.


From the infinite sky of your pristine awareness, the totality of experience,
and the great clouds of your aspirations and prayers
Warm rays of compassion and showers of elixir stream down,
Ripening the three forms in the fields, your students' minds.
I bow to you, my teacher, my protector, supreme among the Three Jewels.

With stronger aspirations I might have joined the practice lineage.
I didn't make the effort and now enter the twilight of a meaningless life.
I intended to follow the ancient masters, but I've given up and I see others like me.
So, I'll outline these thirty pieces of sincere advice to evoke some determination in me.

Too bad! You've built up a large following, one way or another.
You look after a large institution where all the right conditions are present.
But it's all just a basis for conflict and ideas like "This is mine."
Live alone - that's my sincere advice. 

In public ceremonies you heal children or subdue demons.
You give your capabilities away to the crowd.
Because you really want food and money, your own needs cloud your judgment.
Tame your own mind - that's my sincere advice. 

You collect a lot of pledges from the poor
And use them to build big monuments, help the needy, and so on.
The good works you do cause others to live badly.
Goodness must be in your mind - that's my sincere advice. 

You've taught the Dharma to others because you wanted to be famous.
You cleverly keep a large circle of admirers around you.
To take these to be real is the seed of pride.
Limit your projects - that's my sincere advice. 

You earn money by trading, charging interest, cheating or other dishonest ways.
Although you make large offerings with your accumulated wealth,
Good actions based on greed lead to the eight conventional concerns.
Cultivate non-attachment - that's my sincere advice. 

Although you think you're serving the welfare of beings
By acting as a guarantor, witness or advocate to help settle others' disputes,
Your own opinions will inevitably assert themselves.
Don't be concerned - that's my sincere advice. 

Your political power, wealth, connections, good fortune and reputation
May spread all over the world.
When you die, these things will not help you at all.
Work at your practice - that's my sincere advice. 

Managers, assistants, directors, and such
Provide the infrastructure for both communities and religious institutions.
But your involvement in such matters gives rise to worry and concern.
Limit your business - that's my sincere advice. 

You take what you need, images, offerings,
Books, cooking gear, whatever, and stay in solitude.
Right now you have it all together but later difficulties and disputes arise.
Don't need anything - that's my sincere advice. 

In these difficult times you may feel that it is helpful
To be sharp and critical with aggressive people around you.
This approach will just be a source of distress and confusion for you.
Speak calmly - that's my sincere advice. 

Intending to be helpful and without personal investment,
You tell your friends what is really wrong with them.
You may have been honest but your words gnaw at their heart.
Speak pleasantly - that's my sincere advice. 

You engage in discussions, defending your views and refuting others'
Thinking that you are clarifying the teachings.
But this just gives rise to emotional posturing.
Keep quiet - that's my sincere advice. 

You feel that you are being loyal
By being partial to your teacher, lineage or philosophical tradition.
Boosting yourself and putting down others just cause hard feelings.
Have nothing to do with all this - that's my sincere advice. 

As you carefully go over the teachings you've studied
You may think that picking out others' mistakes is real understanding.
You will just build up a lot of negative fixations.
Keep your perception clear - that's my sincere advice. 

Mindless talk of emptiness ignores causation.
You may think the ultimate teaching is that there is nothing to do,
But when you stop the two ways of growing , your practice will wither.
Cultivate these two together - that's my sincere advice. 

You think that you will enhance your practice by taking a partner
And transforming sexual energy in the context of the third empowerment,
But the path of non-retention has snared many great meditators.
Keep to the natural path - that's my sincere advice. 

Giving empowerments to those who aren't ready,
Or even distributing sacred materials in large gatherings,
Leads to abuse and causes commitments to be broken.
Be precise - that's my sincere advice. 

You may think that you practice deliberate behavior
By going naked in public and shocking people in other ways.
Such actions just cause ordinary people not to trust the Dharma.
Be impeccable - that's my sincere advice. 

You work at being ethical, learned, and noble
So that you will be the best person in your district.
But from this peak you can only fall to a lower status.
Be moderate - that's my sincere advice. 

Wherever you live, in towns, spiritual communities or in isolation,
Don't seek out special friends.
Don't be close or at odds with anyone, no matter who is around.
Be independent - that's my sincere advice. 

Maybe you appear deferential and appreciative
To your faithful supporters who provide you with your livelihood,
But in deceiving others you only entangle yourself.
Treat everyone equally - that's my sincere advice. 

Countless books on divination, astrology, medicine and other subjects
Describe ways to read signs. They do add to your learning,
But they generate new thoughts and your stable attention breaks up.
Cut down on this kind of knowledge - that's my sincere advice. 

You stop arranging your usual living space,
But make everything just right for your retreat.
This makes little sense and just wastes time.
Forget all this - that's my sincere advice. 

You make an effort at practice and become a good and knowledgeable person.
You may even master some particular capabilities.
But whatever you attach to will tie you up.
Be unbiased and know how to let things be - that's my sincere advice. 

You may think awakened activity means to subdue skeptics
By using sorcery, directing or warding off hail or lightning, for example.
But to burn the minds of others will lead you to lower states.
Keep a low profile - that's my sincere advice. 

Maybe you collect a lot of important writings,
Major texts, personal instructions, private notes, whatever.
If you haven't practiced, books won't help you when you die.
Look at the mind - that's my sincere advice. 

When you focus on practice, to compare understandings and experience,
Write books or poetry, to compose songs about your experience
Are all expressions of your creativity. But they just give rise to thinking.
Keep yourself free from intellectualization - that's my sincere advice. 

When a thought arises, the key is to look right at it.
When you know about mind, the key is to be right there.
Although there isn't anything to cultivate, the key is to keep cultivating.
Keep yourself free of distraction - that's my sincere advice. 

Act from emptiness knowing the effects of your actions.
When you understand not doing, observe the three vows.
With non-referential compassion work to help beings
Keep the two ways of growing inseparable - that's my sincere advice. 

I've studied with many learned and masterful teachers and received their profound instruction.
I've read some profound sutras and tantras and understood a little of them.
But I don't practice what I know. It's too bad. I just fool myself.
So, for me and those like me I offer these thirty pieces of sincere advice.

May the good from writing these verses with this attitude of determination
Guide all beings out of the desolation of existence and bring them great joy.
May we follow the way of the buddhas of the three times, their followers and the ancient masters,
And become their great and powerful offspring as well.

Thirty Pieces of Sincere Advice was written by Tsultrim Lodru out of some slight feelings of determination. Ken McLeod translated this work because it spoke to him. Tenpa reprinted this work because it flat out shouted to him.

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7 reader comments:

Cliff said...

Fantastic to read this again and again! Thank you for the timely sharing!

Anonymous said...

For true right time space proves no distance! In the omnipresence of wisdom how could I not bow down?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Many good points in this piece.

The blog posts though contain a contradiction as a theme. The posts repeatedly judge and criticize Western Buddhists and others, but at the same time promote ideas of "one taste", etc. encouraging non-judgemental / non-opinion forming observations... ????

Are not all Buddhists and their practice, etc., just manifestations of their varying karma, etc., and as HH Dalai Lama states, there are many religions to help many diverse kinds of people (He states it is similar to many different kinds of medicines), and in the same sense many varieties of Buddhism will arise to help many types of sentient beings. Why do you think it should just be one way and you do not apply the "one taste" non-judgmental attitude you have to other things to your dharma observations as well?

Editor said...

How do you know?

Nightprowlkitty said...

Thank you for linking to Ken's site, what a treasure!

I believe the Tibetan lamas have done a wonderful job planting seeds of dharma here in the West. Yes, we are savages in so many ways and have a long way to go in understanding, but I believe with all my heart that something wonderful has taken root here -- all the stupas across the US, for example, pacifying the local deities, and for every practitioner who falls into the glamour of appearances and fame there are many who we don't hear about who are practicing with devotion and energy.

I am optimistic about Tibetan Buddhism's power to liberate sentient beings here in the West. It may not happen in my lifetime but I do believe it will happen in the next couple of generations.

meg said...

wonderful to read these teachings again: and let's remember that while the pith instructions apply, we are not tibetans, but westerneres. the beauty of buddhism is that it has always adapted to the places in which it landed: and it will again. for the most part we are not monastics and it is not sensible to demand that we become monastics. the monastic path is lovely but not for most, especially in these times, so while the heart advice is well done, it must be adapted to survive these dark times.

Unknown said...

You think that you will enhance your practice by taking a partner
And transforming sexual energy in the context of the third empowerment,
But the path of non-retention has snared many great meditators.
Keep to the natural path - that's my sincere advice.

What of healing those who feel they have been wounded by the western practice of circumcision? Can anything be done other than hoping for a more fortunate rebirth?