In this age of strife, these vital instructions for the great mysteries
Are mingled with the authoritative writings of the analytic approach.
Those knowledge holders who are not different from me
Will make my vision clear.
Masters of this teaching, the expression of the awakening beings of the three families,
And those blessed with natural talent, enjoy and make use of it.
An age of strife? This is traditional religious rhetoric, or, to be more accurate, this is the rhetoric of traditional religions, most of which look to the past for models of human behavior and society. The further back in time one goes, the more noble and greater people were. Buddhism is no different. The cosmology of traditional Buddhism is based on a myth of the progressive devolution of human behavior and society. Modern thinking, though it carefully avoids the label “religious”, is based on the equally questionable myth of progressive evolution — to a higher consciousness and an ideal society based on higher consciousness or technology.
Basically, we are going nowhere, but we seem to be going there faster than ever.
However, what Jigmé Lingpa says next is important. “These vital instructions for the great mysteries/Are mingled with the authoritative writings of the analytic approach.”
In earlier verses, Jigmé Lingpa has been clear that the analytic approach is different from direct awareness practices such as Great Completion. Because the analytic approach is inevitably based in concept and language, it cannot bring us into the direct experience of, say, the various kinds of releasing described in the preceding verse. Peter Sloterdijk, in “You Must Change Your Life”, uses the example of throwing a discus.
“One can only carry out a throw of a discus by throwing it; no amount of chatter about discuses and the right way to throw them can replace the throw itself, and neither the biographies of throwers nor the bibliography of throwing literature will lead a single step further.”
One can train in the philosophy and reasoning of the analytic approach or one can train in the contemplative practice of direct awareness. They are two different disciplines. One does not necessarily lead to the other, nor is either a necessary pre-condition for the other. In Tibet there were people who trained in one or the other (basically monastic college scholars and the mountain hermits) and there were some who trained in both. One title for such individuals was scholar-master (མཁས་གྲུབ་), those able both to teach with authority because of their scholastic training and to teach and guide others in practice because of their contemplative experience. These individuals were highly revered and became the models to which most people aspired. While this blend of analytical philosophy and contemplative practice did much to ensure a solid line of transmission through the centuries, it is not without problems, perhaps the most significant being the tendency to rely on definition, analysis and reason for contemplative practice and not one’s own experience, refined and deepened with the guidance of an experienced practitioner.
Jigmé Lingpa was a self-taught person himself and thus less invested in the analytic approach than his institutionally trained colleagues. If I were to put what he says here in my own words, it would be, “Don’t get caught in this mishmash. Find someone who knows what I’m talking about and work with him or her.”
In the last two lines, he states explicitly that he is not writing for everyone, but for those who have already mastered such practice and for those who have natural talent. Such a statement goes strongly against the egalitarian anti-elitist sentiments in modern society, but let’s be practical for a moment. While I might learn something at a physics seminar taught by Richard Feynman or Albert Einstein, a fully trained physicist who is conversant with their research is probably going to learn a lot more. There are levels of practice and ability. That is why we train, to improve our understanding, our skills and our abilities. The more we know, the more we can appreciate and the more we can learn.
The guidance Jigmé Lingpa offers here is not for beginners. Milarepa started with a similar practice, Buddhahood without Meditation. He took the instruction “Do nothing” literally. He didn’t do anything. Fortunately, his dzogchen teacher saw that this practice wasn’t going to work for Milarepa and sent him to Marpa. Under Marpa’s guidance, Milarepa developed the understanding, skills and abilities he needed to practice. In the same way, most of us, if we practice this way without preparation, will end up doing nothing and going nowhere, but in the wrong way. This is why, in traditional contexts, texts such as this one were sealed, to be shown and taught only to those who could benefit from them.
A few talented people will be able to make immediate use of the instruction Jigmé Lingpa offers here. For most of us, though, the subtlety and depth of these teachings reveal themselves as our understanding and abilities develop and then we can enjoy and engage them.