An Ocean of Blessings

Heart Teachings of Drubwang Penor Rinpoche

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Penor Rinpoche
Translator(s): 
Ani Jinba Palmo
  • New York, NY: 
    Penguin Random House
    , November
     2017.
     224 pages.
     $44.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781559394697.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche (1932-2009) was an illustrious Tibetan Buddhist master of the 20th century. Born in eastern Tibet as one of the reincarnate lamas (sprul sku) of the Palyul monastery, Rinpoche received his spiritual training from Choktrul Rinpoche (1894-1959) and some of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist masters of his time. In the late 1950s, after fleeing Tibet in order to preserve Buddhist teachings, Rinpoche began the arduous task of re-establishing the Nyingma teachings in Bylakuppe, located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. In addition to helping to re-establish Buddhism in Tibet when he returned there in 1982, Rinpoche also served as the head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. 

An Ocean of Blessings represents the first published collection of Rinpoche’s spiritual advice. It presents segments from a series of eighty-five introductory lectures on Buddhism given by Rinpoche at Palyul Retreat Center in upstate New York between 2000 and 2008. At the request of Rinpoche’s disciples, Ani Jinpa Palmo selected, compiled, and produced written translations based on recordings of Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso’s oral translations of Rinpoche’s lectures. Editor Michael Tweed edited her translations, and rearranged the material by topic. The end result is a volume that preserves the essence of Rinpoche’s lectures, but in a format suitable for publication in the Euro-American market.

The lectures belong to the genre of “spiritual advice” or “oral instructions” (zhal gdams) which carry a special status in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They consist of oral advice on spiritual practice, directly transmitted from master to disciple. Pithy and personal, such instructions bear an immediacy and a straightforward quality often described as “directly striking the heart.” Such instructions are especially treasured by disciples not only for their practicality, but also because they are considered to bear the blessings of the teacher, especially in the context of the practice of guru yoga. 

The book is divided into three parts, which in turn contain chapters devoted to specific topics related to Buddhist practice. Part 1 addresses the basis of the Buddhist path, beginning with the importance of generating a proper motivation and how to rely on the Buddhist master. It continues with foundational topics known as the “outer preliminaries,” as well as more advanced concepts such as emptiness and Buddha nature. Following chapters on how to address negative emotions that arise along the Buddhist path and how to apply mindfulness to one’s practice, part 1 concludes with a biography of Padmasambhava and a description of the Dzogchen teachings. There are significant parallels between part 1 of this book and Patrul Rinpoche’s (1808-1887) classic masterpiece, The Words of My Perfect Teacher, a text cherished not only by the Nyingma lineage but by Tibetan Buddhists across sects. 

Part 2 focuses on more concrete aspects of Buddhist practices (such as refuge, bodhicitta, and guru yoga) and the rationale behind them (for example, the concept of accumulating merit). It concludes with a section on the “Three Excellences,” another cornerstone of Tibetan Buddhist practice that is explained in detail in The Words of My Perfect Teacher. Part 3 continues to address aspects of practice (such as perseverance and conduct), and also the topic of spiritual accomplishment, visions, and obstacles. It concludes with sections on the tradition of making sacred medicinal pills (sman sgrub), at which Penor Rinpoche was adept, and a biography of the treasure revealer Terchen Mingyur Dorje (1645-1667) who revealed the Namchö cycle of teachings, of which Penor Rinpoche was a lineage holder. 

In this work, Ani manages to render Penor Rinpoche’s straightforward and lucid oral teaching style in a manner that directly strikes the heart of readers. Her ability to render both the content and style of his teachings so effectively in English is a testament to how closely she worked with this master, serving as his oral interpreter beginning in the 1990s. While this book represents an invaluable resource for Buddhist practitioners around the world, it also offers a significant contribution for academic scholars of Buddhism. Penor Rinpoche was one of the most significant masters of the Nyingma lineage in the 20th century, and this publication offers an edited record of his spiritual advice to Buddhist practitioners. It would be helpful for academics in particular if the editors and translators of this volume could make Rinpoche’s teachings available as a web resource in their unedited form. An index would also have been helpful to assist readers in locating topics throughout the book independently from the table of contents. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rachel H. Pang is Lester D. Coltrane III Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Davidson College.

Date of Review: 
June 26, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Penor Rinpoche (1932-2009) was one of the most well-known Nyingma and Dzogchen masters of the twentieth century. Rinpoche was the third head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and the eleventh throne-holder of the Palyul lineage. Considered an incarnation of Vimalamitra, Rinpoche received his full spiritual training in Tibet before escaping to India in 1959. He subsequently established Namdroling Monastery in Southern India and also taught extensively throughout the world. Rinpoche had many Tibetan and international students, and in the 1980s he recognized the first Western female reincarnate lama, Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (Alyce Louise Zeoli). 

Ani Jinpa Palmo is a Dutch Buddhist nun who was ordained over three decades ago in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She was the interpreter for Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and has translated many of his works, including Rinpoche's autobiography, Brilliant Moon. Ani currently resides in India and Nepal.

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