Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems

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A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage (A Spiritual History of the Teachings of Natural Great Perfection) was written by the Nyoshul Khenpo, Jamyang Dorjé.  We are fortunate to have access to it courtesy of the fluid translation by Richard Barron, whose dharma name is Chökyo Nyima.  He has been translating Tibetan (oral and written) for over 30 years.  He was among the first Westerners to do the first 3+-year retreat under the 2nd Kalu Rinpoche. 
Besides A Marvelous Garland, he translated Buddhahood Without Meditation, and he is working on Longchenpa's  "Seven Treasuries" of which at least 3 volumes have already appeared: The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding, The Basic Space of Phenomena and A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmissions.   For Snow Lion Publications, he translated The Autobiography of Jamgön Kongtrul.
A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems is the only comprehensive history of the Longchen Nyingtik (Nyingma) lineage, the heart of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) Tibetan Buddhist teachings.  It is not only an invaluable guide for practitioners but also provides fascinating glimpses of the history and cultural traditions of south central Asia.
Nyoshul Khenpo (1931-1999) was a most knowledgeable teacher and an accomplished Dzogchen practitioner.  Yet in his book this modern master, not deviating from tradition, humbly refers to himself as "an old dodderer who is as stupid as a yak (8.)
In this extensive, even encyclopaedic, work -- it is close to 700 pages long and contains more than 230 different spiritual biographies -- he sheds light on the development of the method and the integrity of its continuity.   At the same time, we learn about the life and times of these realized masters whose collective experience spans a millennium.  

Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote the Introduction, reveals that by age 25 Nyoshul Khenpo was  already a great master and considered a mahasiddha by the people.  The khenpo was among the 30 survivors out of a group of 900 that managed to make it to Nepal, and he bore a scar from a Chinese bullet from that dreadful time.  The great, now departed masters, Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Kyentse, were among his teachers.

It is virtually impossible, and certainly presumptuous for this very poor practitioner, to write a review of this impressive work of such great scope and detail.  Instead, I offer some extracts from the text concerning the life of Longchenpa, who at one time studied under the third Gyalwang Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (101,) and whom many consider second only to Padmakara (Guru Rinpoche.)
From Chapter 5:  Longchen Rabjampa Drime Ozer

. . .  when Longchenpa was twenty-seven, he set out to meet Rigdzin Kumaradza in the Yartokyam Uplands, where the latter and some of his students were living in felt tents.  As soon as he saw Kumaradza, Longchenpa knew with certainty that before him was Vimalamitra in person. The guru himself was extremely delighted and said, "Last night I dreamed of an amazing bird, which I was told was of divine origin, surrounded by a flock of a thousand smaller birds.  They took my texts and flew away in all directions.  When I saw you, I immediately knew you would become a holder of my lineage of spiritual teachings. "

That spring and summer, while Longchenpa waited to receive teachings from Kumaradza, the camp moved nine times, from one empty valley to another. So exhausted was Longchenpa's body and so worn his clothing that even the young monks and watchdogs spurned him.  On the evening before the teachings were to begin, two administrators came to him carrying a large basket and asked, "O scholar of Samye, where is your contribution to the cost of the teachings?  They begin tomorrow, and we are taking up a a collection of seven loads of barley."

He replied, "I haven't even a single measure of barley, but since the guru told me that I would receive the teachings form him, I have stayed on."

They left, admonishing, "If you cannot be responsible for your contribution to these teachings, who will cover your share?"

He thought to himself, "Since in previous lifetimes I did not gather sufficient merit, even though I have waited with such hardship I am now to be denied the teachings for lack of a material contribution.  I must leave, but am so embarrassed to be around the other people here that I will make sure I reach the lower end of the valley before anyone awakens tomorrow morning."

Having made this plan, he went to sleep and arose before dawn.  Just then, someone came to summon him, saying, "O scholar of Samye, come right now into the guru's presence."

He thought, "I am all ready to leave, but it would not do to ignore the guru's command," and so he went to Kumaradza.  Smiling, the guru said to him, "Don't be so concerned!  Sit down and have some tea."  He then sent for the administrators and told them, "I will cover the cost of the teachings for this scholar, so don't bother him about it.  I would rather he attend than all of the others who intend to listen to my teachings."

Later the guru told him, "In a dream, I met a scholar who I was told was Vimalamitra, wearing a scholar's cap and carrying a text.  He said t o me, "This fellow Drime Ozer is a holy person who has prayed and aspired to safeguard my teachings.  You, Zhonnu Gyalpo, will give him the pith instructions  in their entirety.  He will become the custodian of your teachings and a protector of the Dzogchen teachings."   ~ pps. 103-104.

Later in the same chapter, from the section called Teaching Activities:

When he first gave the Nyingthik teachings to many fortunate candidates at Shuksep in the Nyepu Uplands, Ozer Gocha offered him a volume of the Nyingtik teachings for his inspection.  Longchenpa realized this volume had been given to him once before by the protective goddess Sokdrupma.   At that time, he had been speaking with one Lama Remawa when a black woman approached, placed a volume in his hands, and vanished without a trace.  

Remawa saw that the volume was a text entitled The Heart Drop of the Dakini.  Amazed, he brought this to Longchenpa's attention.  Knowing that the visitation had been an exhortation by the goddess Sokdrupma, the master made a commitment to teach The Heart Drop of the Dakini at the Chimpu Uplands.

During the middle month of autumn in a Hare Year, when he was thirty-two, he taught the cycle to eight fortunate men and women at Rimochen in the Chimpu Uplands.  At some point during the empowerment, the glorious goddess of mantra, Ekajati, took possession of a yogini.   When the other students expressed doubts about the authenticity of what had taken place, Longchenpa replied, "This woman has truly been possessed by a dakini.  Since I am a yogin who has realized that mind and the sensory appearances it perceives are of one taste, this will present no obstacle."

Thereupon the yogini prostrated to her guru and, looking toward the mandala, said, "Why is there no peacock feather?"

Longchenpa replied, "I have visualized it in my mind."

She retorted, "How could such a spiritual symbol be imagined?"

Longchenpa then removed the tripods supporting three vases on the shrine and placed these vases in a row.  He proceeded to perform the ritual in a very precise manner, whereupon the yogini folded her hands and exclaimed, "This is wonderful!"  However, when he pronounced the word rigs as rig, dropping the final letter, she cried out, "No, no!  It's pronounced rigs!"   And when Longchenpa recited the mantra, the yogini said to him, "Imitate my way of doing it!"  Then, in the language of the dakinis, she chanted the mantra slowly to a haunting melody.  During the main part of the empowerment, she sang a song about the view and meditation that are without conceptual speculation:

Though the mind that is free of meditation may be enjoyable,
oh, how happy is the meditation that is free of the mind!

She stated, "These meager offerings will never do,"  and offered a sweet song instead.  During the gunachakra, when the consecrated alcohol was served to the guru, the yogini said, "This is the samaya substance of the dakinis, so by all means partake."  And she served it to him until there was none left.   Inspired, the gathered students danced and sang, experiencing a one-pointed and utterly lucid state of mind, far beyond the ordinary experience of deep sleep.

They actually saw the phantomlike forms of dakas, dakinis, and protective deities.  A black woman appeared and said, "The first portion of the flour you offered is stale," while the oath-bound protector Vajrasadhu took the form of a white man who said, "You neglected to put an ornament of red meat on my torma offering."  The protector Jomo Dangla came as a white man seeking a torma offering, but refused the torma of meat that was given to him.  Hosts of dakas and dakinis raised a ceremonial parasol over Longchenpa's head and circumambulated him; they shouted syllables like "Hum" and "Phat," making a terrific din.   Many such miraculous events took place.  One of the yogins present was terrified and said, "Tonight heaven and earth have changed places.  These beings must be bent on having our flesh and blood!"  Likewise, other protective deities such as Ode Gungyal, Nyenchen Tanglha, and the seven Menmo sisters came to receive their torma offerings.

Vajravarahi actually appeared to them, her form blue-black and ornamented with jewels and bones.  She conversed with Longchenpa, saying, "Tonight is an occasion of great significance.  I have come to observe your worthy students. How is your guru's health?"

Longchenpa replied, "This year his health has been failing. What will happen?"

The dakini responded, "How could an emanation of a buddha experience obstacles? He is thinking only of those he is to guide. Don't you realize that he is Vimalamitra appearing in Tibet?"

"How much longer will he live?" asked Longchenpa.

"He will live at least until the next year of the Sheep.  After that, it is not certain that those he guides will be sufficiently worthy for him to live any longer."

"Hasn't my guru Kumaradza enjoined me to help others?"

"Indeed, he has."

"If I practice intensively, will I attain the body of light? Or, if I work to serve others, of how much benefit will that be?  How many years will I live?"

She replied, "Even if you attain the body of light, you must benefit other beings.  Definitely serve others.  You will live another thirty years."

Longchenpa asked, "Which are the guardian deities of my teachings?"

"There are so many.  All of your guru's guardians are also yours. In particular, your guardian is Dorje Yundronma.  Thus your ability to to help others is associated with her direction, the southwest, and there your ability to help others in a future lifetime will be even greater than it is now."

Longchenpa pressed her further.  "Well, is that due to my teaching of The Heart Drop of the Dakini?  Is it appropriate for me to confer empowerment and instructions?"

"Yes, of course! No fault, no fault at all.  You are without question the custodian of these teachings." ~ pps. 106-108.

Besides detailed accounts such as the one above, A Marvellous Garland also contains numerous small portraits in the style of woodcuts, and extensive charts of the lineage holders and their relationship to one another.   There is also a section of Prayers, and an interesting Afterward that sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the publication of the book.  There are extensive Notes at the back, and an index of Names, of Places and, of Titles. 
Relation of Dzogchen to Mahamudra

Dzogchen (Skt. Maha-Ati) is primarily a Nyingma practice.  The corresponding supreme method for Kagyu lineages is known as Chagchen (>Tib. chakgya chenpo, Skt. Mahamudra,) which is also taught in the Kadamapa, or Gelug, denomination.  However, On the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen is a popular topic for discourse, and several primarily Kagyu teachers, eg. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, are fully qualified to teach both. 

Traleg Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyu once explained, "There is no real difference. The difference is how you understand the two traditions. In Dzogchen they say you become realized by seeing the nature of the mind and by seeing mind as delusion.  But in Mahamudra we do not make that distinction between mind and the nature of mind."

A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems makes a great gift!


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