Timeless Rapture

The following article is from the Autumn, 2003 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

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Throughout history awakened ones have celebrated the rapture of mystical states with inspired verse, sung extemporaneously. This book offers a rare glimpse into the mysticism of the Shangpa Kagyu lineage, a tradition based mainly on the profound teaching of 2 women. This compendium of spontaneous verse sung by tantric Buddhist masters from the 10th century to the present includes translations as well as short descriptions of each poet's life and a historical overview of the lineage.

Ngawang Zangpo's fluid translation and rich commentary truly brings us into the presence of the extraordinary masters of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition. -As we listen to their verse, we are transported by their devotion, awakened wisdom, and blessing to the Vajra world that has become their home. Lama Drupgyu Tenzin

A selection of excerpts from Timeless Rapture follow.

In Nepal, I once translated for a Tibetan lama visited by both Westerners and Tibetans. As the private interviews were given at random, I stayed in the room while he spoke directly with Tibetans who came for his advice. On one occasion, an ordinary Tibetan woman in her 40s-50s asked a question, which I hadn't listened to, and which the yogi began to answer in normal, conversational language. He then abruptly switched into song. He continued for a few minutes, singing his advice to her in verses that seemed to me both fluid and impromptu. It was stunning. There was a naked meeting of minds between them that produced the song. Yes, if one were technical about it, there was a singer and a listener, two bodies and two faces, one of which had tears streaming down it. But there were less than two minds in that encounter, or even less than one mind: there was only non-dual wisdom and the song that emerged from it.

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye compiled these songs in the nineteenth century, mainly from the autobiographies of the lineage's masters. What is clear from the first song is that this collection mainly gathers songs of spiritual teachings. Western readers have fallen in love, just as Tibetans do, with the songs of Milarepa and of Shabkar. Those realized masters were wandering yogis, who sometimes sang of profound teachings they'd received and practiced but often imparted down-to-earth advice to the good people they met. They would also sing of their surroundings, for these men often lived in the wilds, and their songs allow us to share their awe in the presence of enlightenment, reflected in the spiritual master who appears in symbolic form in nature, in all appearances.

As Kalu Rinpoche sings:

Thus the whole universe―visible, audible, and conceptual

Pointing out to myself and others the direct apprehension of the underlying reality,

Is nothing but the gesture of my lama.

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Above illustration of Jamgon Kongtrul by Chris Banigan [from Snow Lion's The Treasury of Knowledge series)

Milarepa and Shabkar invite us to participate in that experience. Nevertheless, Kongtrul's choice of the Shangpa masters' songs reflects a different concern. He has mainly included songs of teaching. They do not transport us to the hills and valleys of Tibet but to terrain familiar to all Buddhists―the questions of how to live a meaningful life, how to confront death, and how to enter and remain within the sacred sanctuary of the mind's nature, enlightenment.

Lamas of every tradition―Gelug, Sakya, Nyingma, and Kagyu―have received and practice the Shangpa tradition. The lineage is extremely discreet but not exclusive; it silently pervades the Himalayan region yet is centered nowhere. In this the Shangpa lineage resembles another lineage of tantric meditation begun by a woman: the Severance (Clio), established by Machik Lapdron, a Tibetan reincarnation of one of the Shangpa lineage founders, Sukasiddhi. Her spiritual children as well have always preferred the freedom of homelessness, the exhilaration.

The Wisdom Dakini known as Sukasiddhi received full empowerment into a sacred circle emanated by the illustrious master Virupa and in one night reached awakening's eighth stage. She then met Buddha Vajra Bearer and became inseparable from the Honored Buddha Selfless One. She sang this song to bestow the essential instructions on her fortunate disciples:

Disengaged from the six senses' domains,

Not thinking is the path of transcendence.

The absolute expanse has no concepts.

Freedom from mental activity is Great Seal.

Don't meditate! Don't meditate! Don't meditate with the mind!

The mind's meditation amounts to deluded thoughts.

Thoughts bind you to cyclic existence.

With release from the mind, there is no meditation.

In space, emptiness without awareness,

Tame the root of the mind endowed with awareness.

Tame its root and relax.

Metripa

The illustrious accomplished master Shavari accepted as his direct, disciple Metripa, who received a prediction that he would reach Great Seal's supreme accomplishment during the intermediate state after death. Conqueror Metripa, also known as Advayavajra, was chief of infinite numbers of spiritual heroes and dakinis and lord of the profound teachings of dwelling without mental activity in the essential, ultimate nature of mind.

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