Luminous Essence is a complete introduction to the world of tantric thought and practice. Composed by the renowned Tibetan master Jamgön Mipham (1846–1912), the text provides an overview of the theory and experiential assimilation of a seminal tantric scripture, the Tantra of the Secret Essence (Guhyagarbha Tantra).
Embodying the essence of tantric practice, this text has been a central scripture in Tibetan Buddhism for well over a thousand years. Mipham's explanation of this text, translated here for the first time, is one of the most celebrated commentaries on the Tantra of the Secret Essence,which today occupies an important place in the tantric curriculum of Tibetan monastic colleges.
One may wonder whether or not the mantras created by the buddhas and those created by Brahma and other such figures are equal in strength. There is a difference between these two categories from the point of view of appearance, as the former are blessed by the buddhas to benefit those in need of guidance. Those mantras that are determined to be such by valid scriptures are unparalleled.
One may further object that since all sounds are symbolic gateways to complete liberation, the number of mantras taught with respect to those in need of guidance should also be limitless. Moreover, since the root letters are blessed, all that is derived from such syllables would be said to be mantra.
Yet again, since the Buddha’s enlightened speech, in all its various forms, knows no partiality or bias, everything would be enlightened speech. If this is the case, the objection goes, why should mantra recitation have different effects than ordinary chatter and so forth?
Mantras, however, are believed to be divine and are recited with faith for this reason, whereas this is not the case with other forms of speech. Moreover, if a mantra is thought to be something ordinary and not seen for what it is, it will not be able to perform its intended function.
Mantras are like nonconceptual wish-fulfilling jewels. Infusing one’s being with the blessings of mantra, like the form of a moon reflected on a body of water, necessitates the presence of faith and other conditions that set the stage for the spiritual attainments of mantra. Just as the moon’s reflection cannot appear without water, mantras cannot function without the presence of faith and other such factors in one’s being.
Photo by Alison Wright from The Spirit of Tibet
Nevertheless, this is not to say that simply hearing the sound of the Thus-gone One’s awareness mantras through the power of the inconceivable emanations of the Buddha is completely pointless.
The Fundamental Intent of Mañjuśrī explains:
Reciting the mantras of the thus-gone ones Is, in this way, beneficial. Even those who throw a glance, Will become followers
Therefore, from the perspective of the way things appear conventionally, blessings occur once the mantras of the Buddha’s teachings come together with one’s own devoted interest. Because the right causes and conditions have been assembled, blessings do indeed arise, just as a sprout will shoot up once a seed, water, and the other necessary conditions are in place, and like the blessings that occur when an individual with a pure being meets with a disciple who sees him or her as realized.
-Composed by the renowned Tibetan master Jamgön Mipham (1846–1912)
Luminous Essence is a specialized guide meant for initiated tantric practitioners. To fully appreciate and assimilate its message, it should be studied under the guidance of a qualified teacher by those who have received the appropriate empowerments, reading transmissions, and oral instructions.
Jamgon Mipham (1846–1912), one of the great luminaries of Tibetan Buddhism in modern times, has had a dominant and vitalizing influence on the Nyingma School and beyond. He was an important member of the Rimé, or nonsectarian movement, which did much to strengthen and preserve the entire tradition.
Ju Mipham Rinpoche or Jamgön Mipham Gyatso (1846-1912) was one of the most renowned Nyingma masters of his time.