The Tibetan literary tradition tells spiritual followers ‘ inspiring life stories.
He couldn’t refuse to call it a bid. It was not a gangster that sent a letter to Tishi Repa but rather from the emperor of China of the 12th century praising the spiritual virtues that the Tibetan master possessed and inviting him to become emperor’s tutor.
The emperor will give you every blessing on spiritual and secular affairs if you fulfill his wish and come to China, “he said. And so, Tishi Repa, sadly, went to China to become the Emperor’s mentor. If you can not follow the Emperor’s wish, you will never have another happy day.
This rather juicy tale is one of many stories of great spiritual masters of Tibet found in Blazing Splendor: The Rangjung Yeshe Publications of Tulku Urgyen Rimpoché (2005), a book which depicts Tibetan literary traditions, namtar, a spiritual autobiography.
Nonetheless, Tulku Urgyen didn’t want to get a namtar— his own accomplishment was too modest. And so Erik Pema Kunsang, his translator and close friend, invited Tulku Urgyen to tell stories about his great spiritual teachers.
One elements that are frequently found in the namtar include the students, the text and the influence they share. This has certainly helped Buddhists in Tibet retain centuries-old transmission lines. The namtar The Great Terton, for example, is based on the lines of the famous 19th-century master and his four sons, Tulku Urgyen, who was the great-grandson of the first Chokgyur Lingpa, Tsikey Chokling Rinpeche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpocé, Mingyur Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoché.
Since the time of Padmasambhava, which led Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century, the Namtars were written. One of Padmasambhava’s most popular stories is Yeshe Tsogyal, a legendary tale about Padmasambhava. Modern namtars were more prosaic, but a modern mind considers many things supernatural.
I’m fascinated by namtars, and I’ve recently read a series. I am now loving the name of the contemporary lam Sogan Rinpoche, a Chinese Communist trainee in Tibet. He is frank about how despotic rule has drained the spirit from much of the Buddhism that it permits in the Dreams and Truths of the Ocean of Mind: Memoirs of Pema Lodoe, Sixth Sogan Tulku in Tibet. Notwithstanding that challenge, Sogan has been identified from afar as the reincarnation of a well-performed lama by the 14th Dalai Lama (who lives in exile in India).
Sogan Rinpoche had been luckily trained in Dzogchen by Khenpo Munsel (1916-1993), one of the greatest teachers of our time. Sogan is one of the Tibetan teachers who have spent 10 years living in the United States but now lives near the Dalai Lama compound in Dharamsala, India.
His namtar fulfills some of the aims of the genre: sharing how lineages continue to transmit traditional techniques, inspiring readers to consolidate their own practice and demonstrating how masters address their own problems. Khenpop Munsel relies on his philosophical outlook to survive almost two decades in Chinese communist concentration camps, including the torture and near-hardiness camps. Sogan Rinpoché explains how he used their practice to resolve challenges and challenge— Sogan Munsel relies on his spiritual perspective for his survival in China’s communist camps.
Namtars motivate people who practice intensively, so it is often recommended that people read in long retreats. But withdrawal or no, I feel that namtars have a particularly important place today because they give a strong commitment to spiritual activity, which in this age in the West is relatively rare.
Carefulness in every corner of life, even in schools and businesses, is far more common. It’s fantastic— I have been in favor of bringing meditation to a broader audience to relieve some of the misery inherent in simple living, not to mention an improvement in stress these days when for example, we are available 24 hours a day on our phones (there was a day when you left work and lived at home distracted by worries about work–a lifestyle which disappeared).
And awareness actually alleviates some degree of suffering. When I examined the best of our book’s peer-reviewed science studies of meditation, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes your mind, brain and body, my friend Richard Davidson, the professor of psychology who founded the Center for Healthy Minds in Wisconsin-Madison, we found that even beginners benefited from conscientiousness by being calmer, and less easily disturbed
But another old friend and author of the stress reduction focused on focus, Jon Kabat-Zinn, (the most studied method of awareness), has long called on his teachers to undergo more rigorous training in vipassana retreat, which is the meditative practice from which attention is extracted. In 1970, my very first teacher in consciousness in Bodhgaya, India, Anagarika Munindra told me that it was good to teach everyone consciousness, as nearly all of them were sponsored and at least some of them would be interested in studying and practicing vipasana more closely.
Ehich takes me to a second source of western meditation: intense and long retreat in the sense of a certain lineage. The stream goes on with traditional Buddhist teachers and lessons which began in Asia and traveled to the west.
While attentiveness (like yoga) is growing to millions, this intense tradition of retreat appesals to far less: even though awareness is widespread, some deep into relatively rare, prolonged retreats.
When Davidson’s laboratory took 14 long-term professionals one by one to scan their brains, among other measurements, the difference was quite clear. The findings from EEG suggest that these yogis seem to include a special brain condition for the rest of us— a high power gamma wave usually occurs in a split second if we have a creative perception or deep sensory experience.
Your dedication to practical work is incredible. The lifetime hours of meditation range between 12,000 and 62,000 hours of life. The three-months traditional Tibetan retreat is around 10,000 hours of work. It is three months and three days. And this is, of course, not counting the hours a practicer has from the cushion for meditative sensitivity.
Returning to namtar: These spiritual autobiographies tell about the lives of men and women who have spent their lives in this region. The father of Tulku Urgyen did retreat for 33 years; Tulku Urgyen himself did so for 24 years or so. The namtars describe, almost by definition, exceptional figures whose spiritual commitments could be beyond what most of us would expect. Nonetheless, these professionals are a powerful example of what we all can do and show us how we can take this journey just one more step down.