Book: Perfect Clarity: A Tibetan Buddhist Anthology of Mahamudra and Dzogchen
Translated By: Erik Pema Kunsang
Compiled By: Marcia Schmidt
This book is a collection of carefully selected excerpts from the works of various Tibetan masters from the last thousand years. It is expected that the reader will have some passing familiarity with meditation and of the praxis of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. If you do1, it’s not hard to get into. It striking how practical the instructions are (given the age of some of them), and often, quite straight forward. It’s also interesting to contrast Tibetan Buddhism with Srivaishnavism or other Indian traditions, where the object of meditation is not just the breath (as in Theravada), but various demigods, and frequently, one’s Guru. One starts the practice by offering supplications to the gods. There’s constant emphasis on devotion:
For completely realizing this teaching.
Always concentrate on devotion
To the guru, the Lord of Uddiyana,
And apply your body, speech, and mind to what is virtuous
– Jamgon Kongtrul
Devotion is more important than scholarship.
– Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
Considering that Tilopa and Naropa, Indian monks regarded as pivotal figures in various Tibetan Buddhist lineages, are from Bengal, I would be really interested in a comparative study of the evolution of Vajrayana and Bengal Vaishnavism.
Perfect Clarity2 is not meant to be read cover-to-cover, though I did exactly that. Consequently, I found it repetitive after a while. The pith of the instructions are always the same, even while being presented in a distinctive manner by different teachers over the centuries. My favourites are the ones from Pema Karpo and Mipham Rinpoche, easiest and most direct for this modern mind to understand.
I am not sure why I am still reading books like this though. They end up being variations on the same theme. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche does say at the beginning, “Have you heard of anyone who recognized nondual awareness simply by reading books?” Given that he’s the Tulku, he’s probably right. Why do I still read these sorts of books? At least part of the answer is curiosity, an attempt at answering the question: how does this compare with the contemplative traditions I am familiar with? The rest is entertainment.