dinsdag 2 mei 2017

Studying the Abhisamayalankara at the Rigpa Shedra 2017

Many khenpos, whether Nyingma or Sakya, consider two subjects very important: abhidharma and prajnaparamita. And besides being important, they are not easy to understand. So for these subjects they always encourage their students to make some extra effort. Even the Buddha himself told Ananda, that if he were to forget some teachings of him, that would be admissible, but if he were to forget even a single word of the prajnaparamita teachings, that would be a serious fault.

The prajnaparamita teachings contain the teachings on emptiness. The explicit meaning of these teachings has been expounded by Nagarjuna, and the hidden meaning by Buddha Maitreya, who revealed it to Asanga in the Abhisamayalankara or Ornament of Clear Realization

The Abhisamayalankara describes the entire journey of the bodhisattva, from the generation of bodhichitta to the attainment of full omniscience. It is here were the famous quote defining bodhicitta or the mind of enlightenment is found:
Arousing bodhicitta is: For the sake of others,
Longing to attain complete enlightenment.
Bodhicitta is where the journey of the bodhisattva begins, and is the first of the seventy points of the text. The text is notoriously terse and might seem to be a bit scholastic. But if you can read beyond the endless lists, there is a treasure of information to be found. It is like an encyclopedia of the Dharma, containing all you need to know. Despite its difficulty, in the end it is a precious manual which explains to the bodhisattva how to journey to enlightenment, what happens when you meditate on emptiness, and what are the dangers one should look out for. But since this topic is so profound, many ordinary beings like us might be a bit puzzled as to what the text is saying.

We studied the commentary by Mipham Rinpoche, the White Lotus Garland, which has not been written by him personally but compiled by his students based on his teachings and then approved by Mipham himself. It is a word by word commentary, so it is quite concise and good for beginners. But behind those few words, there are a lot of important discussions, which one would ideally also familiarize oneself with. Those discussion can be found in Patrul Rinpoche's Overview (or also called General Topics, both being translations of chidon ).

Teacher and translator
While studying, it is very useful to have some smaller texts which summarize the content and supply definitions on the side, for example The Seventy Points of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra by Khenpo Tsöndrü or An Overview of the Perfection of Wisdom's Ornament of Realization by Khenpo Pema Vajra. All these can be found in the prajnaparamita series on Lotsawa House.

For those who aspire to reach perfect scholarship, it is obviously essential to also look at the Indian commentaries, notably those of Haribhadra  and Arya Vimuktisena.

Teachers and students on a refreshing walk
in the Himalayan mountains surrounding Pharping
As for other materials, there is a book by Thrangu Rinpoche, presenting the text even more simply, which is excellent for beginners. Karl Brunnhölzl has done a major contribution to the study of this text with his three volumes on this text. In Gone Beyond volume 1 and 2, the Kagyu commentaries can be found, and in Groundless Paths the Nyingma point of view is represented by Patrul Rinpoche's chidon and word by word commentary, supplemented by sections of Mipham Rinpoche and others in the end notes. In general the translations are good, but often the English is unreadable (a kind of German-English) and unnecessarily difficult to understand, and the translations are not completely without mistakes. Also the strategy to take one commentary and then cut up the others and put them in the footnotes is not one I endorse; although there is much duplication in the commentaries, each deserves its own full translation.

Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche giving an overview of madhyamaka and prajnaparamita 
A final note should be made regarding Patrul Rinpoche's famed chidon. For reasons we can only guess at, Patrul Rinpoche took Tsongkhapa's famous Golden Garland and copied it mostly verbatim. Some scholars, including Brunnhölzl, say that therefore there is no real Nyingma commentary. But Patrul Rinpoche did not blindly copy over Tsongkhapa's commentary, itself of course also based on his teachers explanations and finally grounded in the Indian commentaries and the Abhisamayalankara itself, and carefully left out sections which he did not agree with and supplemented the text with clarifications of his own.

If you are serious about Buddhism, there is no way around the Abhisamayalankara. Despite some minor hardships one might encounter while studying it, this sublime commentary summarizing all the prajnaparamita Sutras has to be studied.

Sogyal Rinpoche visiting Asura cave in Pharping

Students lighting butter lamps

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