Big news, y’all. I’ve been sitting on it all week, but now it’s ready to, um, hatch.
Mongolian Buddhism was suppressed and its practice declared illegal under Soviet-style Communism for about 70 years. This means that there is a huge chunk of the current Mongolian population that was unable to receive an education in basics of its religious culture. Strengthening general Buddhist education among Mongolia’s lay people is definitely one area my teacher wants our Mongolian Buddhism Revival Project to help with. Such education, obviously, requires quality books on Buddhism available in modern Mongolian language. There are very few such books, even 20 years into Mongolia’s re-established religious freedom, save for several versions of Je Tsongkhapa's Lam Rim Chenmo.
In Tibet, one of the most beloved volumes for learning the outer and inner preliminaries of Vajrayana Buddhism was written by the great 19th c. Nyingma lama Patrul Rinpoche. Called Kunzang Lamai Zhelung in Tibetan, a wonderfully readable translation has become a bestseller in the West under the title The Words of My Perfect Teacher. In the more than 100 years since its composition, it has been studied by trained Mongolian monks in the original Tibetan, but it has never before been available in common Mongolian. Until now.
Our friend Lama Erdenebat (pictured here meeting with Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo at KPC last year) approached me this past spring, saying he was sponsoring a translation of this text and he anticipated it would be done before the year was out. Would our project be interested in seeking additional resources to make a first printing possible? We enthusiastically agreed and just before I left for America this summer I applied to Khyentse Foundation for the funds. They said we wouldn’t have a reply for us until November, so imagine my surprise when I received an email at the beginning of this week informing us that Khyentse Foundation was awarding us the full amount we requested!
We couldn’t be more thrilled, anticipating the benefit that will come to Mongolians fortunate enough to read the first edition. It will be a large book (the English edition is well over 400 pages), and necessarily cost a bit more. Khyentse Foundation’s grant, however, will allow for at least half of the first printing to be distributed for free.
The Words of My Perfect Teacher is so lucid and filled with memorable anecdotes from Indian and Tibetan Buddhist history. As it says in the Translator’s Introduction to the English version:
“Patrul Rinpoche’s work is not a treatise for experts but a manual of practical advice for anyone sincerely wishing to practice the Dharma. He wrote it in a style that could speak as easily to rough nomads and villagers as to lamas and monks. In fact he claimed that it was not really a literary composition at all, but that he had simply set down the oral instructions of his own teacher as he himself had heard them. The particular magic of the book is that we feel we are Patrul Rinpoche’s own students, listening to his heartfelt advice, based on the oral tradition that he received from his own teacher and the deep experience of years of practice.”
The Words of My Perfect Teacher explains the initial contemplations that turn one’s mind away from pointless worldly goals and toward the state beyond suffering, enlightenment: the difficulties of finding a human rebirth with all of the freedoms and endowments that make true spiritual practice possible; the unpredictable and inevitable impermanence of life and everything else; the defects of samsara, the six realms in which the unenlightened involuntary rebirth according to their karma; the infallibility of that karma, the results accrued through positive or negative actions; and how to properly follow a spiritual teacher.
These contemplations are followed by advice on the “uncommon preliminaries”: taking refuge in the Buddha, the Buddha’s teaching (dharma), the community of Buddhist followers (sangha), and the lama as embodiment of all three; arousing bodhicitta, the compassionate and loving attitude of seeking enlightenment so that one may then lead all others to that same state; purification meditation on Buddha Vajrasattva; accumulating vast merit through offering of the mandala, a visualized arrangement of universal generosity; and receiving all the blessings of a pure enlightened lineage through the meditation practice of guru yoga. There are also sections on the profound “body offering” practice of chöd (known as lujing in Mongolia) and phowa, the transference of consciousness at the time of death to Buddha Amitabha’s pure land known as Dewachen.
We are so grateful to Khyentse Foundation that now these precious teachings can be made available to the general Mongolian public.