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.
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 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.
KTC had a wonderful visit from Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche October 20-22, 2018. Videos of his teachings are available at this link. There is a fee for most of them to help support visiting teachers and livestreaming of teachings. However, the public talk with Q and A on October 22 at 7:30pm (the final video) is free of charge. (If a password is requested, type in FREE. Note: On the free video, there is no audio until Kalu Rinpoche’s arrival at about 19 minutes.)
Meanwhile, for a brief summary of the main points of Kalu Rinpoche’s teachings at KTC, click “continue reading”:
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.
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.
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.
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:
I haven’t translated the concluding verses yet. For now, please refer to the translation in Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s The Heart of Compassion, by the Padmakara Translation Committee, or any other translation in any of other commentaries.
The final four verses and colophon of The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva consist of standard explanations and disclaimers that conclude many of the classic texts in one form or another. Togme Zangpo is quite thorough about following this tradition. But just because they are standard doesn’t mean they’re not worth studying. In fact, they contain a number of important points we should pay close attention to.
In order to dispel the suffering / of beings numberless as space is vast,
To dedicate the merit of my practice / to everyone’s complete awakening,
With wisdom purified of three domains: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 37 audio above.
Exactly a year after we began our study of the 37 practices, we have arrived at the end, which is the same as the end of all our practices: dedication of any virtue, merit, and benefit to the enlightenment of all sentient beings. It is taught that no practice is complete until we have dedicated the merit. In fact, dedication is one of the three aspects that make any practice we do authentic or genuine: refuge and bodhicitta at the beginning, the main practice in the middle, and dedication at the end.
Many years ago I asked Lama Norlha Rinpoche if he could recommend a practice for me to do while falling asleep. He instructed me to do taking and sending meditation (verse 11) but said I must always remember to dedicate the merit before falling asleep. Since I was hoping for a practice that would seamlessly take me through the transition from wakefulness to sleeping and not give me a chance to get lost in thinking, staying awake to dedicate the merit at the end seemed to defeat the purpose of my request. But that’s how important it is to never do any practice without dedication.
From the commentaries: In his book Traveling the Path of Compassion, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, reveals the neat trick Togme Zangpo accomplishes with verse 37:
35. To use mindfulness and vigilance to crush emotional reactions
Once reactivity becomes a habit / it’s hard to turn its energy around.
To overpower it without delay, / by wielding mindfulness and vigilance,
The moment a reaction first begins — / attachment or another poison:
This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 35 audio above
36. To use mindfulness and vigilance to benefit others
To sum it up, whatever I am doing, / in all my conduct and my practices,
Through constant mindfulness and vigilance / to monitor the state of mind I’m in,
Directing it to others’ benefit: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 36 audio above. Note that the audio places “constant” in a different position in line 3. The written translation is the updated version.
In these two verses, Tokme Zangpo sums up the bodhisattva path into the partnership of mindfulness and vigilance, and shows us two ways to work with these two qualities to achieve a bodhisattva’s aims. If we reflect on the preceding 34 practices, each and every one of them depends on mindfulness and vigilance, and we develop each practice by stabilizing our mindfulness and vigilance more and more so that they become more and more continuous.
What is meant by mindfulness and vigilance? Last week, Lama Jinzang shared with us the definitions given by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, in his recent teachings on the 37 practices in New York City. I haven’t listened to session 5 yet, in which he teaches these verses, so I will pass along his definition based on my notes from Lama Jinzang’s summary: mindfulness is remembering what is right and what is wrong, and vigilance (aka, alertness) is remaining conscious of what our body, speech, and mind are actually doing, i.e., being aware of whether we are practicing according to our understanding of the dharma — or not.
In his indispensable online Tibetan-English dictionary The Illuminator, Lama Tony Duff defines mindfulness as follows: “In the context of calm abiding, mindfulness holds the mind in place and alertness keeps watch over the situation to ensure that mindfulness is operative.” Off the cushion, mindfulness can be applied in any situation, and vigilance or alertness is also on the job to monitor whether we are being mindful — or distracted, e.g., under the influence of a negative emotion — in any given moment. Lama Tony describes mindfulness and alertness as “necessary co-partners.”
So, then, what are the specific applications of mindfulness and alertness on the bodhisattva path? That is what verses 35 and 36 are here to tell us.