I’ve never really studied Lojong thoroughly—which won’t come as a surprise to most of you reading this post. You’ve all seen me breaking such commitments as, “Don’t ponder others’ flaws,” or “Don’t strike a vulnerable point,” or especially, “Don’t be irritable,” and “Don’t be temperamental”. Actually, as I read the list, I can’t see one commitment that I have managed to keep. Ach ja. That’s what comes from being one of the generation so-called Buddhist practitioners who jumped in at the deep end in the 80s and have been flailing around in a quagmire of misunderstanding ever since. I’m definitely “difficult to train”; in fact, the very idea of “training” is anathema to me. Which is why putting Lojong teachings into practice would do me quite a lot of good.
This is one of the reasons I’ve recently read—and enjoyed enormously—To Dispel the Misery of the World written by the great 15th century master Ga Rabjampa, and translated by Adam Pearcey for Rigpa Translations. True, I probably wouldn’t have opened it at all had Adam not been a friend and very kind answerer-of-stupid-questions, or had I not been to his 21st birthday party (a homemade cake and a couple of cups of an unidentifiable French alcoholic beverage—it was the last time I smoked a cigarette, come to think of it) at Lerab Ling a lifetime or so ago. But I did, and he does, so I have, and am glad.
It’s a very beautiful looking book, I must say, but one of the disadvantages of such a gorgeous cover is that it is so easy simply to gaze at the photo in wonder and forget about opening the thing up—a strong temptation in this case, which I guess future book makers should take into consideration. On the other hand, or should I say page in this context, there are an awful lot of really beautifully designed books these days, but this is one of the few whose content merit the designer’s effort.
The first thing to point out, I suppose, is that it is a book of pith instructions. Not hard to work out, given the “Whispered Teachings” part of the subtitle. And true to the spirit of pith instructions, the teachings presented here, while completely authentic and true to their tradition, follow their own logic most elegantly. But for those whose bible is Trungpa Rinpoche’s Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness, there are one or two surprises in store. For example, Trungpa Rinpoche’s “point one” covers Guru Yoga and the ‘four thoughts’ or ‘four reminders’ (or whatever your favourite translation for these profoundly transformative contemplations), in a couple of hundred words. In To Dispel the Misery of the World it takes up around 70 pages!
Then, instead of leaping into absolute bodhicitta, Ga Rabjampa reinstates a line that he says has often been omitted from the root text, “Once stability is reached, teach the secret” which means, he tells us, “Once stability in relative bodhichitta has been reached, then absolute bodhichitta, which is kept secret from those not yet ready to receive it, can be taught.” The upshot being that the order here is reversed and we find ourselves instantly propelled into the midst of one of the most detailed descriptions of tonglen and ‘exchanging self for others’ I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. And so, if your reason for reading this text is to learn how, practically speaking, to go about developing love, compassion and bodhichitta, you’ll find everything you need right here.
The text is, as Tibetan tradition demands, peppered liberally with quotations from great and familiar texts—Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend, for example, and of course The Way of the Bodhisattva—as well a number I hadn’t come across before (not being much of scholar). One of these is repeated a couple of times and is from the sutras. It is included to encourage us to feel grateful to our mothers in the section about how to meditate on love. See if it works for you:
All the breast milk that we drank
when each sentient being was our mother
is greater in volume than all the water
contained within the four great oceans.
Sadly, my black sense of humour and general lack of appreciation of mothers find it hard to read these words without reference to a number of disturbing images that flicker, unwanted, through my degenerate mind, so clearly, I have a very limited capacity. But this is certainly no reflection on the excellent teachings on developing love through contemplating the love of our mother that appear here in a very moving practice that’s combined with Guru Yoga, and also includes a meditation on compassion. It’s just an instance of how a modern, sick mind unravels itself.
Having completed the ‘holy secret’ of how to arouse relative bodhichitta, we discover, again in a very detailed way, how to practise shamatha and vipashyana meditations—absolute bodhichitta. In this section Ga Rabjampa relies heavily on teachings by Kamalashila from his Stages of Meditation II, which are clear and extremely pragmatic. Then come what I think Trungpa described as the ‘slogans’, and finally a conclusion.
For a five hundred year old text, it’s surprisingly pertinent, at least to this aging modern mind, and has been translated with meticulous care and grace. Let me know what you think. It’s an auspicious first from Adam, though, and I pray it will be followed by many, many more translations of texts from that glorious golden era.