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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems makes a great gift!