Vajra and Lotus

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The 3rd book from KTD Publications is The Vajra Garland and The Lotus Garden: Treasure Biographies of Padmakara and Vairochana.  It comprises two further namthars (revealed life stories.)  Both are the expression of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye "the Great" in the form of narrations by Yeshe Tsogyal.  These English translations are the work of Lama Yeshe Gyamtso.

Lama Yeshe Gyamtso

Lama Yeshe (Peter O'Hearn) is from Montreal, "the Paris of North America," where his family had ties to one of the major English dailies.  The milieu, familial and cultural, undoubtedly enhanced his talent for languages and contributed to the comprehensive and subtle command of vocabulary that makes his translations not only accurate but delightful.

In the late 1970s, Peter attended Dawson College, a multi-cultural institution that is the  largest of Quebec's English language community colleges.  He then went on to McGill University.  He became a student of the Second Kalu Rinpoche (d. 1989) and, in a notable video recording from those days, the self-effacing transparency of the skilled interpreter is already apparent.

Determined to deepen his training and commitments, Peter completed two 3-year+ retreats under the direction of Lama Norlha, and is qualified to guide others.  That is, the "lama" (guru) designation is not a mere honorary one, so when Lama Yeshe renders into English the following excerpt he knows what he is talking about:

What moves is mind.
Its nature is awareness.
If primordial purity is realized,
They are said to be one.
Wisdom is the primordial purity of consciousness.

When resting evenly,
That abiding in emptiness
Is the recognition of dharmakaya.
The lucidity is said to be sambhogakaya,
The movement nirmanakaya.

Those three are one in the expanse.
If you remain in equality without ever straying,
That exhaustion of dharmas,
That transcendence of the intellect,
Is svabhavikakaya.

~ Ch. 18, “His Achievement of Beings' Benefit in the Land of Li,” The Lotus Garden, A Biography of Vairochana.

Lama Yeshe no longer holds full monastic vows but, fully committed to helping beings in samsara, he also knows its suffering.  He knows the implications when he translates from the Tibetan such lines as these:

Don't leave this woman, Yeshe Tsogyal, behind!
Hold me in your compassion!

Guru Padma answered,
"You couldn't reach the rakshasa land in this body.
For a time, continue to benefit beings in Tibet.
We are inseparable, and will meet in the ranks of vidyadharas."
In that way he did not give his permission for me to leave,
And I remain to benefit beings.

            ~ Ch. 10: "His Departure and Subduing of the Rakshasas in the Southwest," The Vajra Garland: Treasure Biography of Guru Padmakara.

From 1991-1993, Lama Yeshe served as resident lama at Rigpe Dorje Centre in Montreal (when it was on St-Jacques street.)   Then he was invited to be the primary translator at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, NY, the main seat of the Karma Kagyu in the Americas.   He currently resides nearby and is the father of a young daughter.

For a translator, who is himself a practitioner, there are sometimes special considerations.  Lama Yeshe knows the flavour of the situation when he writes:

Then Vimalamitra, Humkara,
Shri Singha, and other pandits and siddhas
Said to him, "Vairochana, you are unlike others.
We have blessed you as the son of our hearts.
You have now received
All of the most profound instructions.
Keep them secret!

“When you return to Tibet,
Don't teach these instructions right away.
It would cause misunderstandings.
Why? Because this dharma
Does not easily fit into the intellect.
So teach the dharma of the sutras.

“A time will come for the teaching
Of these instructions,
But don't disseminate the essence of profound dharma
In the presence of the unreceptive.
Teach it only to those who earnestly seek it,
And not to those whose faith is just in the mouth.

“Don't exchange instructions and awareness
For illusory wealth and possessions.
Kings rule over everyone,
But they don't rule over dharma.

“Don't break the seal!
If you gain a reputation for learning,
Slander will come from India.
Don't proclaim your reputation!

“Say, 'I don't have it! I don't know!'
Since Tibet is a borderland,
A land of demons,
There will be much doubt.
Obstacles will come!

“However, if you possess instruction,
Wherever you go will be the realm of disciples.
Don't lose your dharma texts!
Always be ready to run!

“Don't forget your gurus!
Always pray from your heart!
If you keep your samaya,
You will be protected by our compassion."

Vairochana offered each of them
A measure of gold powder in gratitude.
Each of his masters gave him
A support for his practice.

~ Ch. 9, "Slander of His Dharma Teaching, and the Averting of Obstacles," The Lotus Garden: Treasure Biography of Vairochana, the Great Emanated Translator:

Also, a translator often has to leave home to work in a new milieu, where frequently is found a complex interplay of politics, influence and personality.  There can be perils. 

When Vairochana the Translator (fl. 750 CE) reached Tibet and the court of King Trisong Detsen:

He stayed there, turning various dharmachakras.
The Indians were displeased
And discussed him.
They decided to send three runners
To Tibet to spread slander.

Three atsaras were sent and reached Tibet.
They went into the crowd at a market
And said, "The king of Tibet is a fool!
He has been deceived!

“The man who calls himself Vairochana
Is a demonic evil magician!
He didn't bring back the authentic dharma for which he was sent!
He has brought to Tibet
A lot of ruinous, evil spells.

“If he is permitted to teach,
All Tibet will fall to ruin!
If he is prevented and killed,
Your land will be saved!
The dharmaraja of India is benevolent.
For Tibet's sake we three were sent."

The queen met with all the Bönpo ministers.
They said, "It is true!"
And rewarded the three atsaras.

They discussed the situation
And assembled before the king, saying,
"This Vairochana is a deceiver, a liar.
He did not get the holy dharma for which he was sent!

“He has returned with all sorts
Of ruinous, evil spells!
The king of India, in his supreme benevolence,
Knowing that Tibet would be ruined,
Sent messengers fleet of foot.

“They told us, 'This Tibetan boy didn't get dharma!
He learned evil spells!
Don't let this bringer of disaster live!
Kill him!'
As he will harm Your Majesty,
Pass sentence on him now!"

The king replied,
"None of this is true!
It is slander born of jealousy.
Arrest those three messengers!
Throw them into a dungeon!
Vairochana is my guru.
Whose law is it to punish the innocent?"

But in this case, the interference of others leads to the outsider's imprisonment and it is not easy for him to regain his freedom. 


The Importance of Tibetan Translations

The book is dedicated to His Eminence the 4th Jamgön Kongtrul, who in the Foreward wrote (vii) that, among all various translations of Buddhist teachings:

. . . those into the Tibetan language were beautified by the inclusion of both sutra and tantra, and were distinguished by freedom from error, addition, and omission.  Today all impartial scholars praise these translation, . . .  .

 Pre-eminent among them

. . . the great translator Vairochana possessed a vast and brilliant intellect.  His  skill in translation was peerless. His ability to put the vast and profound ocean of dharma into words was as amazing as someone finding all space within a mustard seed or all the water of the ocean within a vase.  All subsequent translators have placed him above them as a jewel on their crowns.

His single-mindedness of purpose is expressed in chapter 11, "Turning the Dharmachakra in Gyalmo Tsawarong" of The Lotus Garden:

Vairochana answered,
"My name is Vairochana. My family is Vairochana's,
The family of body. My clan is the Apo Dong.
I come from Tibet. I have nowhere else to go,
And there is nothing I want other than this:
This place is the realm of my disciples,
Because of previous karma.
I have come here to teach authentic holy dharma."
. . .  .

But nevertheless:

They cast Vairochana into the frog pit.
After seven days the king, queens,
And ministers went to look.
Vairochana's body was utterly unharmed.

The Buddha Vairochana decorated his head.
All the turtles faced away from him.
Amazed, they brought him out of the pit.
The king was remorseful and frightened.

After Vairochana receives profound apologies, he recounts his past existences:

“In the past, in this place,
I was born as an ascetic,
A pratyekabuddha called Purnajnana.
I placed my saffron robes in sunlight,
And allowed birds to eat the lice that emerged.

“As a result, I was cast into the louse pit.
When I was born as a foolish sheep,
I ate many of the frogs here alive.
As a result, I was cast into the frog pit.

“Karma, causation, doesn't just disappear!
Therefore, all of you, be very careful
In your actions, because of their results!"
Saying that and other things,
He taught a great deal about causation.

And that, as Lama Yeshe writes (xi) in his Introduction, is the main purpose of these namthars.  For, despite the fact that these people are "utterly unlike us in one sense" -- we are not emanations of Amitabha, for example  -- yet "all of the qualities demonstrated by Guru Rinpoche and Vairochana are said by them to exist within us right now." 

However, we have to work at attaining this potential.  As His Eminence Tai Situ is known to say, "There is no buddha-by-accident; that will never happen."

  • Click here to purchase this interesting and inspiring book.

two further:  He also translated Precious Essence: The Inner Autobiography of Terchen Barway Dorje [The Bardor Tulku.] 


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