Jigme Lingpa: A Guide to His Works
It is hard to overstate the importance of Jigme Lingpa to the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This itinerant yogi, along with Rongzom Mahapandita, Longchenpa, and-later-Mipham Rinpoche, are like four pillars of the tradition.
He is considered the incarnation of both the great master Vimalamitra and the Dharma king Trisong Detsen. After becoming a monk, he had a vision of Mañjuśrīmitra which caused him to change his monks robes for the white shawl and long hair of a yogi. In his late twenties, he began a long retreat during which he experienced visions and discovered termas. A subsequent retreat a few years later was the container for multiple visions of Longchenpa, the result of which was the Longchen Nyingthig tradition of terma texts, sadhanas, prayers, and instructions.
What many consider the best source for understanding Jigme Lingpa's relevance, and his milieu is Tulku Thondup Rinpoche's Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet. While the biographical coverage of him only comprises about 18 pages, this work provides the clearest scope of the overall world of Jigme Lingpa, his line of incarnations, and the tradition and branches of teachings that stem from him. Here is Tulku Thondup Rinpoche's account of his revelation of the Longchen Nyingtik.
"At twenty-eight, he discovered the extraordinary revelation of the Longchen Nyingthig cycle, the teachings of the Dharmakāya and Guru Rinpoche, as mind ter. In the evening of the twenty-fifth day of the tenth month of the Fire Ox year of the thirteenth Rabjung cycle (1757), he went to bed with an unbearable devotion to Guru Rinpoche in his heart; a stream of tears of sadness continuously wet his face because he was not in Guru Rinpoche's presence, and unceasing words of prayers kept singing in his breath.
He remained in the depth of that meditative experience of clear luminosity ('od gsal gyi snang ba) for a long time. While being absorbed in that luminous clarity, he experienced flying a long distance through the sky while riding on a white lion. He finally reached a circular path, which he thought to be the circumambulation path of Charung Khashor, now known as Bodhnath Stūpa, an important Buddhist monument of giant structure in Nepal.
In the eastern courtyard of the stūpa, he saw the Dharmakāya appearing in the form of a wisdom ḍākinī. She entrusted him with a beautiful wooden casket, saying:
For the disciples with pure mind,
You are Trisong Detsen.
For the disciples with impure mind,
You are Senge Repa.
This is Samantabhadra's mind treasure,
The symbolic scripts of Rigdzin Padma[sambhava], and
The great secret treasures of the ḍākinīs. Signs are over!
The ḍākinī vanished. With an experience of great joy, he opened the casket. In it he found five rolls of yellow scrolls with seven crystal beads. At first, the script was illegible, but then it turned into Tibetan script. One of the rolls was the Dug-ngal Rangtrol, the Sadhana of Avalokiteshvara, and another was Nechang Thukkyi Drombu, the prophetic guide of Longchen Nyingthig. Rahula, one of the protectors of the teachings, appeared before him to pay respect. As he was encouraged by another ḍākinī, Jigme Lingpa swallowed all the yellow scrolls and the crystal beads. Instantly, he had the amazing experience that all the words of the Longchen Nyingthig cycle with their meanings had been awakened in his mind as if they were imprinted there. Even after coming out of that meditative experience, he remained in the realization of intrinsic awareness,
the great union of bliss and emptiness.
Thus, the Longchen Nyingthig teachings and realization, which were entrusted and concealed in him by Guru Rinpoche many centuries earlier, were awakened, and he became a tertön, the discoverer of the Longchen Nyingthig cycle of teachings."
The Works of Jigme Lingpa
The Lam Rim
The Treasury of Precious Qualities, in two volumes in English, is a lamrim (stages of the path) text that goes from the foundations of Buddhism all the way through Dzogchen.
Volume One covers the basics of the sūtra teachings, but in such vivid and moving detail, it stands alone in its power to move the mind. Topics include: the value of human existence; impermanence of the outer world and living beings; the paths depending on beings' capacities; karma; the sufferings of samsara; the four wheels of practice; refuge; the four boundless attitudes; bodhichitta; and the pāramitās.
Volume Two covers the Vajrayāna approach; the tantric teachings of the vidyādharas; the ground of Dzogchen; the path of the practice of Dzogchen; and the result—the kāyas and wisdoms.
These two volumes received the Shantarakshita Award for Excellence in Translation.
Steps to the Great Perfection: The Mind-Training Tradition of the Dzogchen Masters is a compilation of teachings on the seven contemplations, an ancient system of mind-training (lojong) teachings that has been preserved as part of a rare set of instructions on Dzogchen, or the Great Perfection. This book is a unique take on the practice because, although the lojong teachings of the Kadam tradition are well known, this is the first time the mind-training teachings from the Dzogchen tradition have been presented in an English translation. Most Western scholars and practitioners are unaware that such mind-training techniques even exist in Dzogchen. The contemplations themselves are vividly described, and some unfold as dramatic stories in which the meditator imagines himself or herself as the main character. Thus, they are quite accessible for beginning practitioners.
Ngöndro: The Foundational Practices
Perhaps the most famous aspect of Jigme Lingpa's Longchen Nyingtik is the ngöndro or foundational practices that all practitioners complete before going on to more specialized practices. It is this text that is the basis for works such as Patrul Rinpoche's Words of My Perfect Teacher, and the Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher.
Cortland Dahl compiled and translated a set of works on these practices, Entrance to the Great Perfection: A Guide to the Dzogchen Preliminary Practices, and this includes two works by Jigme Lingpa.
The first is Instructions on the Common Great Perfection Preliminaries of the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse. This covers the four thoughts (the freedoms and advantages we have, impermanence, the shortcomings of samsara, and karma) and the benefits of liberation and serving a spiritual teacher.
The second is Instructions on the Unique Great Perfection Preliminaries of the Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse. This includes the practices of refuge, generating bodhichitta, mandala offerings, purification practice through Vajrasattva, and guru yoga.
On the specific subject of guru yoga, part of Jigme Lingpa's cycle of Longchen Nyingtik includes an outer guru yoga practice entitled Wish Fulfilling Jewel. Commentaries on this by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche are available as Guru Yoga and in slightly longer form as Wish-Fulfilling Jewel: The Practice of Guru Yoga according to the Longchen Nyingthig Tradition (the latter is also included in the third volume of his Collected Works.)
Tantra and Dzogchen
Deity, Mantra, and Wisdom: Development Stage Meditation in Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, includes Jigme Lingpa's Ladder to Akaniṣṭha: Instructions on the Development Stage and Deity Yoga. [Note, the paperback edition releases February, 2020]. As translators Cortland Dahl and Andreas Doctor describe,
"Jigme Lingpa provides an overview of the theory and practice of the development stage, balancing philosophical inquiry with instructions on the more practical aspects of tantric meditation. The first section of the text presents the theoretical framework for development stage practice. . . .
As the basis for his presentation, Jigme Lingpa draws primarily from the Mahāyoga tantras and the commentarial literature of this tradition. Not surprisingly, his discussions often center on the Tantra of the Secret Essence, the most influential Mahāyoga scripture. He also gives considerable attention to less well-known texts, however, such as the Tantra of the Perfect Secret and the Heruka Galpo Tantra. In terms of philosophical interpretation, his views often mirror those of Longchenpa (kLong chen pa, 1308–1364), whom he met face-to-face in a series of three transformative visions and whose writings deeply influenced his own.
. . . Jigme Lingpa discusses the links between the various elements found in development stage meditation, the aspects of saṃsāra they are meant to purify, and the result that ensues once the practice has been perfected. In the second section, the focus is on practice. Here, Jigme Lingpa outlines the stages of meditation, offering practical advice on how to identify and surmount obstacles and progress in practice. The text concludes with a presentation of the fruition of development stage practice. In this section, Jigme Lingpa frames his discussion around the levels of realization and the various aspects of the enlightened state. . . .
In characteristic style, Jigme Lingpa does not shy away from difficult points and controversial topics when discussing the development stage. His tendency to tackle difficult issues head-on does not always make for easy reading, but it does offer the reader an insight into the depth and subtlety of tantric theory and the difficult issues that have occupied someof the great saints and scholars of the Vajrayāna tradition. For this reason, Ladder to Akaniṣṭha is valuable not only as a manual on the theory and practice of the development stage, but also as an introduction to the complex tantric philosophy of the Tantra of the Secret Essence and the Mahāyoga tradition as a whole."
Here is Andreas Doctor, one of the translators, discussing the book:
The Fearless Lion's Roar: Profound Instructions on Dzogchen, the Great Perfection by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche includes his commentary on Jigme Lingpa’s The Lion’s Roar That Vanquishes the Diversions and Errors of Hermits Who Meditate upon the Heart Essence which is translated here in full.
Both the above work and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's third volume of his Collected Works (and the ebook-short entitled Pith Instructions) includes A Wondrous Ocean of Advice for the Practice of Those in Retreat in Solitude along with the respective commentaries by each.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama brings up Jigme Lingpa throughout his Dzogchen: Heart Essence of the Great Perfection. A new edition is out in April, 2020.
In July of 2020, we are reissuing Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse, a collection of translations by Anne Carolyn Klein of Jigme Lingpa, Adzom Paylo, Mipham Rinpoche, and Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche. This will include access to audio of chants that act as supports to the practices of the Longchen Nyingtik in both English (with Professor Klein and her sangha) and Tibetan by the incredibly voiced Jetsun Kacho Wangmo. Here is one of the tracks of her chanting Calling the Lama from Afar.
One of the most important practice cycles from Jigme Lingpa's Longchen Nyingtik is the "Rigdzin Düpa", or "Gathering of Vidyādharas". This sadhana, the main inner Guru sadhana, includes of ritual and meditation manuals which bring together tantra and Dzogchen. The book Gathering of the Vidyadharas: Text and Commentaries on the Rigdzin Düpa, includes three works by Jigme Lingpa: a prayer invoking his incarnations, The Casket of Siddhis which is a recitation manual, and The Crucial Points of Visualization for the long-life practice. Other contributors to this work include Patrul Rinpoche, Khenpo Chemchok, Khangsar Tenpé Wangchuk, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and Jamgon Kongtrul.
Jigme Lingpa's Yeshe Lama [a new revised and updated edition will be available in April, 2020] is the most important practice manual on the Great Perfection teachings of the Nyingma tradition. Jigme Lingpa stated, "Realization of the pure awareness that transcends the mind is the specialty of the Great Perfection." Beginning with the preliminary prerequisites, the entire Great Perfection path is spelled out clearly and succinctly in this work, which is meant to be studied and practiced by qualified practitioners who are committed to completing the prerequisites before entering the path of Dzogchen.
Note that even to open this book, one must have received empowerment and have been introduced to the nature of the mind by a qualified master. The teachings and practices taught in Yeshe Lama encompass the innermost cycle of upadesha teachings and clearly define the Dzogchen practices of trekchö, cutting through to original purity, and tögal, crossing over with spontaneous presence. These are the swift practices that can lead to the attainment of the rainbow body and the complete attainment of buddhahood, and this is the same path that has been followed by many of the great spiritual adepts of India and Tibet. Consequently, if one studies and trains in the Yeshe Lama correctly and with deepest respect and diligence, the possibility of enlightenment within one lifetime is within reach.
Note that this is a restricted text, and here is the translator of it, Sangye Khandro, explaining why:
While not by Jigme Lingpa, Anam Thubten's Into the Haunted Ground: A Guide to Cutting the Root of Suffering discusses and features Jigme Lingpa's Chöd. Part 2 moves chapter by chapter through the sections of The Dakini’s Laughter Chöd sadhana by Jigme Lingpa: refuge, bodhicitta, mandala, guru yoga, feast practice, and dedication. Even though the sections are part of a particular liturgy of a formal practice, his teachings are not exclusive to it but rather present the sadhana’s profound principles as life lessons.
A new biography is forthcoming in Shambhala Publications' Lives of the Masters series by Kurtis Schaffer. Here he is discussing why he chose Jigme Lingpa as his subject.
Another excellent source for shorter translations of Jigme Lingpa's work is the priceless Lotsawa House section on Jigme Lingpa.
And for a more academic take, Janet Gyatso takes a look at Jigme Lingpa's secret autobiography in her Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary
Finally, Sam van Schaik has made some very interesting contributions on Jigme Lingpa including an article on Jigme Lingpa's thob yig, "a genre of writing in which the author establishes the lineage for each of the texts for which he holds transmission" as well as a scholarly analysis of his collected works.