There are times that I just sit back and wonder “What the hell am I doing reviewing this book?” I mean, seriously, walking from a Zen practice into a book on Mahamudra is like walking from a simple, focused and minimalistic sitting room into a room full of stoned Keibler Elves puking multi-colored streamers. Its like going from a Scotch on the rocks to a Mai-Tai laced with LSD. Its like strolling out of an accountant’s convention in WallaWalla Washington and falling smack-dab into Mardi-Gras.
Are you picking up the comparison yet?
Anyway, the book, “A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Atiyoga” was a fantastic (although dense at times) and illuminating (but sometimes difficult) read. The manner in which the concepts were presented was convoluted and difficult to follow at times. It took me the first chapter to really get used to the presentation. The book is a translation of a text by Karma Chagme (who illustrates everything through reference to sutras that I *blush* never heard of) with commentary from Gyatrul Rinpoche. Unlike some of the commentaries that I have read in the past however these commentaries were interspaced throughout the text rather than at the end of each chapter or as footnotes. This took me some time to follow well enough to garner an understanding of the information. The combination of the two was both whimsical and blunt delving into the Dharma. You may giggle a bit at first but the message hits home.
“Spacious Path” is a book that required a second reading to gain an appreciation of the insightful wisdom within. Some texts simply require more experience and practice before any benefit is gained. I found myself skipping over much of the primary text and diving almost exclusively into the commentaries.
The commentaries by Gyatrul Rinpoche were wonderful. Being a noob (and at times a boob) when it comes to the Vajrayana practices of deity visualization and other such esoteric craziness, it was a pleasure to read his personal and pragmatic take on, what to an outsider like myself, topics that can seem very ethereal and (frankly) somewhat loopy. His conversations with the reader are well-grounded, logical and approachable to novices. In particular the chapters “The Cultivation of Quiescence” and “The Cultivation of Insight” provided a base of study familiar to those with a Zen inclination…
By training the body through the practice of the adhisaras [Buddhist physical excersises ~ The Management] – in this case, sitting in the proper posture, with the proper mudras – although you are ostensibly working with the body, you are indirectly subduingand stabilizing your mind.”
Commentary on the process of deity visualization and practice were similarly presented and expounded upon. It was a refreshingly simply and unique presentation of a practice that it misunderstood and challenging.
For those unfamiliar with him here is a bit on Gyatrul Rinpoche from the Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies
Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche was born in 1924 in China near the Tibetan border. At the age of 7 he was recognized to be a tulku, or consciously reincarnated teacher, by the great meditation masters Chokyi Lodro and Tulku Natsog Rangdrol. Rinpoche was trained at Payul Dhomang Monastery in eastern Tibet by such adepts as Sangye Gon, Tulku Natsok Rangdrol, Payul Chogtrul Rinpoche, and Apkong Khenpo. Rinpoche spent many years in solitary retreat with his root guru Tulku Natsog, moving from one isolated location to another. In 1959, with the Communist invasion of Tibet, Rinpoche fled to India, where he lived for 12 years. Then, H.H. the Dalai Lama and H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche requested Gyatrul Rinpoche to move to the West to teach the Dharma. In 1976, Rinpoche was appointed as H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche’s spiritual representative in America.
Traveling to many countries over the past 30 years, Rinpoche has touched the hearts of thousands of people and founded many Buddhist centers. These include Tashi Choling, Orgyen Dorje Den in the San Francisco Bay area, Norbu Ling in Austin, Texas, Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, and a center in Ensenada, Mexico.
The take home mesage is that this book was not as “practical” as the title suggested but it provided a fun forray into a realm of pratice with which I have had very little experience. Perhaps not the best book to jump into with no experience since the topics covered seemed to be more applicable to direct teaching rather than in a the form of a do-it-yourself book. However, with more experience, I am sure the more subtle teachings become apparent.
However frustrating and challenging the first time round though, I feel that this book is ripe for another go-around in a year or two. Maybe after I am abit more versed in some of the topics. So this book is definitely recommended for more those more advanced (or at least better educated non-practitioners) in Vajrayana practice and not some shitty little Zennie like myself.
That said, the style of the work and the amazing commentary sold me on Gyatrul Rinpoche and I am picking up “Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen” and “Natural Liberation: Padmasambhava’s Teachings on the Six Bardos” for some future exploration into the wonderfully colorful world of “Shit I Don’t Understand!”