Book Reviews

Essence of Mind TrainingEssence of Mind Training:
The text is the result of a teaching given by the author at Tibetan Buddhist Centre of Philadelphia from November, 1995 to March, 1996. It explains clearly the Lam Rim, Stages of the Path of mind training that a practitioner must practice in order to make oneself capable of understanding the true teaching of Buddha, its practice and finally attaining the Buddhahood. The notes on the Four Tenets and the Dzogchen are equally revealing for the understanding of the Buddhist concept of mind and its nature.

The book is well recommended for those who wish to study in brief the Buddhist philosophy in general and mind training in particular. It is a good book to start your mind get set to a self-less journey of the Bodhisattvas.

Commentary on the Thirty Seven Practices of a BoddhisattvaCommentary on the Thirty Seven Practices of a Boddhisattva.
JBE Volume Three, 1996: Garfield
Review Journal of Buddhist ethics
ISSN 1076-9005

HH the Dalai Lama, trans Acarya Nyima Tsering. Commentary on the thirty seven practices of a boddhisattva. Dharamsala: library of Tibetan works and archives,
1995x+106 pages, ISBN: 81-85102-97-X, Rs 120.

Reviewed by
Jay L.Garfield
Department of Philosophy
University of Tasmania

In 1974, fifteen years after coming into exile in India from Tibet, HH the Dalai Lama conferred the Kalachakra Initiation to a large assembly in Bodh Gaya. On that occasion he gave three days of oral teachings on the brief verse text by Ngulchu Gyalsas Togmed Zangpo (1295-1369 CE), The Thirty seven practices of a Bodhisattva. In honour of the sixtieth birthday of HH the Dalai lama, Acharya Nyima Tsering has produced a fine annotated translation of these teachings. The talks here transcribed were addressed in part to monk scholars, but primarily, as is HH the Dalai lama’s general practice on such occasions, to the large lay audience. As a consequence, the present volume will be of principal interest to Buddhist Practitioners or to those interested in the ramifications of Buddhism for everyday life, as opposed to the scholarly or philosophical community. That is not to say, however, that there is not a lot of gold for the Buddhist scholar, or in particular, for the teacher of Buddhist religion or philosophy in this short text.

The root text covers the basic bodhisattva practices, with a special emphasis on the practices associated with morality and altruism. While of course the moral standard is set rather high, and the text is aimed most directly at serious renunciants, it is remarkable in its emphasis on practices or on descriptions of practices that are appropriate to lay practitioners as well. Moreover, it is a particularly valuable text for lay persons in virtue of the unusual degree to which it explains and justifies each of the practices in question.

HH the Dalai lama emphasizes both of these distinctive features of the text in his commentary, developing a sustained discourse on the practice of Buddhism in everyday life, with not only remarkably detailed, concrete advice on how to lead a Buddhist life, but also sophisticated philosophical justification of this advice. The language is straightforward, clear and precise. But the commentary is also richly analytical, with extensive references to the madhayamika metaphysical and epistemological underpinnings of the bodhisattva’s career, drawing especially heavily on the work of Nagarjuna and throughout his long career. Hence the text is also a valuable resource for those interested in the relationship between the metaphysical (wisdom) side of Mahayana Buddhism and the ethical (practice) side and hence in the relationship between an understanding of emptiness and the cultivation of compassion. While the context for the development of these connections is always that of everyday lay life, the philosophical exposition in that context is precise and compelling. This text is hence also a fine introduction to philosophy for practitioners as well as a fine discussion of the practical implications of Buddhist philosophy of scholars.

The present text represents one of the earliest discourses of HH the Dalai Lama translated into English. It is hence also a valuable addition to the English language biography for those interested in the evolution of HH the Dalai Lama’s thought and expression, per se. Those readers will discover a remarkable consistency between the concerns, philosophical outlook and even verbal formulations between this text and present oral and written presentations of Buddhist philosophy by HH the Dalai Lama. The same themes are emphasized —the relation between insight and compassion; the centrality of the practice of exchange of self for others; insight into impermanence and mindfulness of death as foundations of practice. The concrete examples to make abstract points for which HH is justly famous are put to effective use here. The canonical sources on which HH the Dalai Lama draws are the same today as they were 1974. This does not so much reflect any stagnation in his thought, which has certainly evolved in response to interaction with western scholars and ideas. Rather it is remarkable testimony to the depth and maturity of his thought and pedagogical and expository abilities over two decades ago.

The translation is first rate. Indeed one of the impressive features of this volume is the degree to which the easy conversational style and rhythms of speech of HH the Dalai Lama are preserved in English. This is no mean feat. Those familiar with his oral style could not fail to recognize the author in this English translation. But this stylistic felicity has been achieved without any sacrifice of lexical accuracy. This is Acharya Nyima Tsering’s first published translation, and it augurs well for his career. There is one significant shortcoming of this volume: it is deficient in annotation. The commentary contains numerous quotations from and references to canonical sources. These are almost never bibliographic information on the root text itself or on the career of the author of the root text. The fact that volume is aimed primarily at a lay practitioner audience explains, but does not excuse these lacunae, for the volume is of interest to the scholar as well. Moreover, the serious practitioner can be expected to follow up references and to read further. The lack of appropriate annotation makes this unnecessarily difficult. The volume is well-produced: it is free of errors and clearly typeset. It is an easy book to read and to consult. It is highly recommended for those interested in Buddhism in everyday life, in the bodhisattva ideal, and in the relationship between metaphysics and ethics in Mahayana Buddhism, as well as to anyone interested in the life and teachings of HH the Dalai Lama.