Gampopa 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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Gampopa 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. What, exactly, is wrong with life as we know it?

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Gampopa 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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Gampopa OPL1: Who was Gampopa?

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 KTC, 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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Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche’s visit to KTC Monastery October 2018

KTC had a wonderful visit from Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche October 20-22, 2018. There’s a page on the KTC website about the visit, including a link to the teachings he gave while there. A public talk with Q and A (October 22 at 7:30pm) is free of charge, accessible without a password from computers and accessible on phones with the password FREE. (There is a charge for the other teachings to help defray expenses to bring visiting teachers to KTC and to help support KTC’s livestream for the benefit of those who are unable to travel to KTC for the teachings.

Note: On the free video, there is no audio until Kalu Rinpoche’s arrival at about 19 minutes.Share on Facebook

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OPL: where we are and notes to come

In our Thursday afternoon class, we’re currently studying Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation, the classic handbook for traveling the path to buddhahood from A to Z.  Since September we’ve completed the first three chapters, the three prerequisites for traveling the path: 1) the cause, buddha nature; 2) the basis or support, the precious human existence; and 3) the condition that brings about the fruition of the first two, the spiritual friend or dharma teacher. During the last two classes before our holiday break, Lama Jinzang led us through the five topics of chapter 3: why we need a teacher to guide us along the path, the different types of dharma teachers, how to recognize an authentic teacher, how to work with a teacher, and the benefits of doing so.

We are now on hiatus for the holidays until early January, at which point, having gathered the prerequisites, we will step directly onto the path with an eye-opening explanation of everyone’s favorite topic: impermanence. It is summarized in one of the most evocative quotations, in my opinion, from OPL or any other source:

“The three worlds

are as fleeting

as autumn clouds.”

It’s been an unusually busy fall for me, but I expect to get class notes up for these initial topics very soon (at least by January), and after that, I’ll post the notes every week, as I did for the 37 practices. More on the Gampopa OPL class is here (and above, under “About the Gampopa study guide“).

Meanwhile, audio of all classes to date is here. This link can always be found to the right under “Blogroll” and at the top of the page under “About the Gampopa study guide.

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And let it begin with me

Before I get started on the Gampopa Ornament of Precious Liberation class notes, here’s a short presentation I gave a couple of weeks ago at an interfaith prayer service in Richmond, Virginia. Organized by Chaplain David Curtis at Westminster Canterbury Retirement Community, the service’s theme was how peace can be lived in different areas of life: self, home, community, and the world. While Buddhism would have been a natural fit for peace within self, I addressed how it views the possibility of peace in the world.

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37 practices: full translation and guided meditations

I’ve just posted the complete translation of the 37 practices on the 37 practices translation page (at the top of the screen).

I’ve also added a page for audio of guided meditations we’re doing this month as part of our abbreviated “37 practices summer camp” program, meeting Thursdays from 1:00-1:45 pm via Zoom until we begin our next class, Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation, in the fall. More info on this in the 37 practices wrap-up post. We hope to see you there.

The guided meditations are at the same link as audio of the 37 practices classes, which can also be found under the “blogroll” heading on the right hand side of the screen.Share on Facebook

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37 practices: mindfulness, vigilance and integrity (35 and 36, part 2)

Mindfulness, vigilance and … a loophole!  Each and every verse resonates with me, but I feel that in particular verses 35 and 36 are the heart of the 37 practices. As I said in the post on these verses, linked above, each of the preceding practices in fact depends on mindfulness and vigilance. To review: mindfulness knows what will help us awaken and what will dig us deeper into samsara; and vigilance knows which one we are doing.

We’ll get to the loophole in a bit.

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37 practices: the wrap-up

Last week, almost exactly a year after we began, we finished the text of The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. by Gyalse Ngulchu Togme Zangpo, whose name translates as “the bodhisattva of Silver River, Excellent Asanga,” a venerable 14th-century Tibetan monk and hermit who wrote the verses as a reminder to himself. More about Togme Zangpo can be found in the first post of the series, prelude.

By my count, fourteen people attended virtually all of our 41 sessions over the entire year, and another eight attended occasionally or for a particular period of time. We were fortunate to have Lama Jinzang from KTC with us for the last half-dozen classes. I’ve been told that a few other people who weren’t able to attend on Thursday afternoons have been following the class just via the website and recordings. I wanted to keep it small enough that it would feel like a family and everyone could be an active participant, but we may have a few slots open when we continue in the fall for the next topic (see below). Let me know if you’d like to join us (those already in the class need not reply — you are automatically included).

Several class participants have shared their thoughts briefly on what this year of study has meant to them:

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