Foreword to Matthew Akester’s translation of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
Many of us need much more than books and teachings, no matter how profound they are. We need to have the example of an actual person who truly embodies these books and teachings in all they do – even if that person is someone from the past.
It’s like an engineer whose own life and work are inspired by knowing about the pioneers who created the first airplane, designed the Panama Canal, or sent the first man to the moon.
Likewise, for those of us who have had a little glimpse of emptiness, compassion and the wisdom of the Buddha, it is inspiring to learn what the great masters of the past have done and how they spent their time and energy. And among these masters, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo shines like the Morning Star.
And who better to record the life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo than one who was both the great master’s disciple and also his guru – a truly remarkable relationship that already tells us something special.
For all these reasons and more, Matthew Akester’s translation of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, now offered by Khyentse Foundation to celebrate the master’s 200th Anniversary, must really be treasured.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Introduction to Zhang Weiming’s Chinese Translation of of Jamgon Kongtrul’s Life of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
One of the many habits we human beings have developed over the millennia, is that we love to record the history of a country or a society, and use it as a reference as we plan for a better future for our children. Buddhists are no exception, recording detailed accounts of the lives of Buddha Shakyamuni and his disciples, as well as the history of how the Buddha’s teachings spread to different societies all over the world.
Generally speaking, I feel the study of history is extremely rewarding, not in terms of assessing the value of what has been done before in order simply to do things exactly the same way again, but as a way of appreciating how the teachings of the Buddha have been adapted, interpreted and used by the different cultures into which Buddhism has been integrated.
For those of us with a limited capacity to understand, the profound dharma, and especially the Buddhist philosophies of interdependence and emptiness, often become a kind of highly intellectual entertainment-if not a mystifying abstraction. For us to have a real life example of one who actually lived Buddhist philosophy is so important, because it’s only through such an example that the teachings become tangible and alive for us, to the point where we realize we can actually apply them to our own minds and lives.
Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Kunga Tenpe Gyaltsen, otherwise known as Pema Osel Dongak Lingpa, is the supreme example of someone who truly lived the Buddha’s teachings, and one of his many remarkable and admirable qualities was his endurance. Throughout his life he sought out more than one hundred and thirteen gurus, requested teachings from them and then, rather than just consigning those teachings and practice methods to notebooks, actually practiced and realized them. Even then he wasn’t satisfied, because he went on to gather and publish these teachings, and ensured the continuation of the lineages by passing them on to many of his most trusted disciples, like Jamgon Kongtrul, Mipham Rinpoche and Jamgon Loter Wangpo.
The purpose behind all this indefatigable activity wasn’t to win himself fame or wealth, but rather it was a response to a deep and overriding anxiety about the future of the dharma, which, during his life, was in decline in Tibet. To that end, he would seek out the holders of rare lineages, and if, for example, they happened to be illiterate, he would teach them how to read, so that he could receive the teachings and empowerments from them and ensure that no lineages would be lost. Many of the teachings of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are only available to us today thanks to his tireless pursuit of endangered lineages.
On top of that, when he was asked which school he belonged to, he would insist on saying, “I’m a follower of Shakyamuni Buddha!” -rather than, a Nyingma, or a Kagyupa, or a Sakya, or a Gelupa- to emphasize his commitment to the spirit of Rime, which even today is considered to be quite a radical movement that encourages non-sectarianism. In the context of Tibetan history, for him to maintain such an attitude was almost inconceivable.
This is the biography of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo written by none other than his close disciple and guru Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, who was himself the equal of the incomparable Khyentse Wangpo.
Unfortunately, those of us living in this degenerate time secretly long for drama and entertainment as we open the pages of a book about such a great figure. I therefore worry a little that the astonishingly profound messages that can be found in each of the verses that the great Jamgon Kongrul Lodro Thaye wrote in this biography, will be entirely overlooked.
Actually, to describe this text as a “biography” is in itself a gross understatement, as it contains the complete path of all the yanas. With a little effort, as we listen to its words we might even be able to realize the true meaning of its title, “rnam thar”, which means “Liberation Upon Hearing”. In any case, my hope is that at the very least some of those who read or hear this text will make a connection with Lord Manjushri himself.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
June 16, 2008