Enlightened Living: Teachings of Tibetan Buddhist Masters
Translated by Tulku Thondup. Edited by Harold Talbott.
Shambhala Publications: Boston, 1990.
178 pp. $12.95 (paperback).


In these cynical times, when political and religious scandals hit the newspapers daily and the erosion of an ethical basis for personal and community-based behavior seems to be in full swing, it is refreshing to find a work that might be characterized as a Buddhist guide for the ethically perplexed. Enlightened Living is a collection of eight essays on the ethical dimension of everyday living. Translated by the contemporary Tibetan scholar Tulku Thondup, these selections have taken much of their inspiration from the earthy, nomadic life experiences of several Tibetan lamas of the Nyingma lineage, notably Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887), the First Dodrup Chen Rinpoche (1745-1821), and the Third Dodrup Chen Rinpoche(1865-1926). In addition, there is one piece by the central Tibetan visionary and mystic, Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa(1730-1798).

Two pieces by Patrul Rinpoche typify this collection. In “The Heart Essence,” the author conveys ethical insight by means of an exchange between an old beggar man and a brash, know-it-all kid. Through the voice of the old man, the arrogance of the young man is mocked:

A man who has good qualities but no bad ones is rare ….
Tempered iron, sharp and flexible, is rare! …
If you don’t have to face a serious situation,
Anybody can be a good person in his mother’s kitchen.

Quite different is the tone of “Holy Dharma Advice: A Drama in the Lotus Garden.” In this essay, Patrul Rinpoche presents a tragic, almost Wagnerian tale about two lovers. Wide Wings, a golden bee, is despondent over the death of his mate, Sweet Lotus Voice, a turquoise bee. The loss of the beloved is the occasion that allows the author to depict the very swiftness of death and the importance of purposeful action in the moment.

The translator, Tulku Thondup, is the author of numerous studies of the history and culture of Tibet. Forced out of Tibet in the Fifties, Tulku Thondup is a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University.

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