Becoming the Compassion Buddha - Preface
Lama Thubten Yeshe gave these teachings at Chenrezig Institute in tropical Queensland, Australia, July 5–16, 1976, during his third visit to Australia. Set in 160 acres of hills inland from the Sunshine Coast, 100 kilometers north of the city of Brisbane, Chenrezig Institute was the ﬁrst Dharma center of Lama Yeshe’s in the West. The land was oﬀered by some of his students at the end of the ﬁrst course given by Lama in Australia, in September
1974, and the center was built during the following year.
Seventy people listened to the teachings and participated in the retreat that encompassed them and continued afterward. These teachings were preceded by a month-long course on the path to enlightenment (lamrim), taught by Kyabje Thubten Zopa Rinpoche; such lamrim teachings are classically a prerequisite for hearing tantric teachings.
These teachings are a commentary on a short practice called The Inseparability of the Spiritual Master and Avalokiteshvara: A Source of All Powerful Attainments. Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezig in Tibetan, is the buddha of compassion. This practice was written by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama when he was nineteen years old (at the repeated requests of a disciple). It is a guru yoga practice in which the buddha to be visualized is in the aspect of the guru (in Tibetan, lama) in his usual form, in this case His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This practice belongs to the ﬁrst of the four levels of tantric practice called kriya, or action, tantra.
As practiced in tantra, the most advanced teachings of Lord Buddha, guru yoga is crucial to the development of our innate potential for perfection, enlightenment, and its essential meaning is expressed perfectly by the title of His Holiness’s text: that the guru and the Buddha are to be seen as one. Pabongkha Rinpoche says in his Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: “If the guru is not the Buddha, then who is?” And Lama Yeshe says in chapter 3, “By practicing guru yoga, you learn to understand that in reality, the guru is inseparable from the compassion and wisdom of Avalokiteshvara. Then you start to see the inseparability of these qualities and yourself.”
Traditionally, before giving an empowerment into any tantric practice, the lama granting the empowerment, or initiation, gives teachings on the lamrim. The “Editor’s Introduction” provides an overview of these teachings. In the “Prologue,” Lama Yeshe introduces the concept of mahamudra, the essential teaching of the following commentary on the guru yoga of Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezig.
In “Part One: Lord Buddha’s Teachings,” Lama Yeshe describes the differences in approach between sutra and tantra. In “Part Two: Guru Yoga,” Lama gives a verse-by-verse commentary on the text itself. In “Part Three: Mahamudra,” he elaborates on the essential practice of guru yoga, leading practitioners through various meditations: how to become one with the gurubuddha, how to manifest oneself as Avalokiteshvara, how to recite the mantra, and so forth, all hinging upon mahamudra, the emptiness of one’s mind. And in “Part Four: Mahamudra Is Always Here,” Lama Yeshe explains how to trust our own wisdom and how to bring Lord Buddha’s teachings into every minute of our lives.
Essentially, tantric meditation is sophisticated psychology: marvelous and radical methods for quickly perfecting the extraordinary potential for clarity, joy, compassion, and the other positive qualities that Buddha says are innate within all of us. It is easy to misunderstand tantra, however—and to mystify it. Lama Yeshe’s genius is in his seemingly eﬀortless ability to bring tantra down to earth without diminishing it, to make it real, to show us how to bring it into our everyday lives. If we treat our spiritual practice as some rareﬁed thing, Lama shows, then we are missing the point completely.
Lama Yeshe devoted most of his short life—he passed away in 1984 at the age of forty-nine—to guiding his students, the majority of whom are from the Western world. He met the ﬁrst of them in the mid-1960s and, after establishing a monastery on Kopan hill near Kathmandu in Nepal, attracted thousands more to the courses he taught, there and around the world in the centers his students had established, until he passed away.
Lama Yeshe was unsurpassed in his qualities. Living his life as a humble monk, he was in reality “a great hidden yogi,” according to Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, his spiritual heir. And as a supreme communicator of Lord Buddha’s views about the human experience, he made them utterly irresistible to his listeners. When Lama Yeshe taught, enlightenment was a real possibility.
The ten meditations that Lama Yeshe guides the reader through are highlighted throughout the text and listed altogether in appendix 2. There are eight steps, but each meditation does not necessarily cover all eight: one, for example, includes all except step 7, and another mentions only one step. Also, some meditations only briefly mention the steps, so, when doing these, flesh out the appropriate steps, taking them from meditation 1, which explains the visualizations most extensively, or from variations that Lama gives in the later meditations. In all cases, for step 2 one needs to refer to the practice, the sadhana, appendix 1. All meditations should be preceded by the prayers of refuge, bodhichitta, etc., in the sadhana. The words in bold type show the new visualizations that Lama adds to each meditation as the course progresses.
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© Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, Becoming the Compassion Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2003)
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