Enlightened Journey: Buddhist Practice as Daily Life
Edited by Harold Talbott
Shambhala Publications: Boston (1995).
288 pp., $16.00 (paper).
Enlightened Journey offers the reader inspiration and discouragement in equal measure. Tulku Thondup’s description of the mind is profoundly resonant: we feel viscerally the truth that our minds are simultaneously enlightened and obscured, that we wander in a dreamlike state that nonetheless contains some weirdly hidden element of clarity. In fact, the book reads much like that. We feel hopeful, excited, and inspired, believing that we too can become enlightened Buddhas, enjoying the simultaneous, all-knowing cognition that Thondup compares to a near-death experience; but the practices intended to convey us toward that state are presented with daunting complexity.
The first half of Enlightened Journey describes basic Buddhist attitudes, mostly in the context of Tibetan cultural practices. It is the tragedy of the Tibetan diaspora that its holiest artifacts are often leached of meaning when translated outside of their cultural context. A list of the iconographic meanings contained in an image of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, for example, may seem dry to some readers, or else imbued with an exoticism that leads the mind into memorization and cataloguing rather than toward examining the nature of one’s own experience. The Tibetan Buddhist terms may overwhelm some readers, even as they whet the appetite of others. The style of presentation is clear and lucid, but nearly flavorless throughout; and the chapters seem a little disorganized.
The second half of the book consists of detailed explanations of the Longchen Nyingthig Ngondro, the fundamental practice offered by the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, to which the author belongs. (As he explains in a brief early chapter on his own life story, Tulku Thondup was recognized as the reincarnation of a celebrated religious teacher of the Dodrupchen monastery in eastern Tibet). Much of what is here is said elsewhere; but many times the author’s descriptions offer an unexpected sweetness of meaning, or a fresh angle of vision, or a greater depth of understanding. Indeed, for one who is practicing the seemingly endless Ngondro, there can hardly be too much guidance.
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