The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra

Teachings, Poems, and Songs of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage

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Translator(s): 
Sean Price
Adam Kane
Gerardo Abboud
  • Boulder, Co: 
    Shambhala
    , December
     2017.
     200 pages.
     $24.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781559394680.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Supreme Siddhi of Mahamudra: Teachings, Poems, and Songs of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage is a compilation of twenty-one works from fifteen authors that provides a sampling of the vast literature on Mahamudra or “The Great Seal,” one of the most important meditation practices in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Both the translators’ introduction, authored by Adam Kane, and the introduction from Tsoknyi Rinpoche outline two primary goals of this work—to provide readers with access to a number of important works on Mahamudra from the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, and to introduce and promote the Drukpa Kagyu lineage itself. The introductions to this compilation also tell us that it is intended as a resource for readers who practice within the Drukpa Kagyu meditation tradition. As a collection of English translations of Tibetan works, it is primarily directed at a “convert” Buddhist audience: in this case, people practicing some form of Tibetan Buddhism who are likely of non-Tibetan ethnic and cultural heritage.

But despite the missionizing intention and narrow target audience indicated in its introductory material, the book could just as easily provide a wonderful complement to the doctrinal component of any course on Tibetan Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy and meditation in an academic classroom setting. The translations are lucid and accessible, and the texts represent a diverse sampling of literary styles, doctrinal systems, and approaches to teaching Mahamudra meditation. Because many of the Tibetan authors translated here are interested in relating Mahamudra to the broader Buddhist tradition, their works can be integrated into a wide range of topics that are generally addressed in any course on Buddhism. The authors represented in the volume also span a millennium of Buddhist history in India and Tibet. Thus, in the hands of a skilled instructor, these works could provide a useful starting point for broader classroom discussions of Buddhist literature, doctrine, and history. Perhaps most importantly, they also allow these discussions to be grounded in what students who sign up for a course on Buddhism are often most interested in learning about—Buddhist meditation and philosophy. 

While the translations themselves are undoubtedly a useful resource for educators and students in both academic and non-academic settings, the introductory material to the volume falls short of providing readers with a sense of just what is distinct or unique about the Drukpa Kagyu lineage. For instance, the translators’ introduction describes the primary characteristics of the Drukpa Kagyu as devotion, renunciation, and bodhicitta or “the wish to attain awakening in order to free all beings from suffering” (xii). The same statement could be made about almost any Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition. The introduction from Tsoknyi Rinpoche is a bit more effective in this respect and contains a concise introduction to one of the unique doctrinal systems of the lineage, “the five special teachings of the Drukpa Kagyu.” But Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s treatment of the history of the Drukpa Kagyu still falls short of providing readers with enough of a sense of the unique history and identity of the lineage itself. Surprisingly, both introductions contain little to no information on the figures from the Drukpa lineage whose works are featured in the collection. For instance, the four works in this collection from Pema Karpo constitute nearly forty percent of its content, and this author is easily one of the most important figures in the Drukpa Kagyu lineage, yet we learn little to nothing about him in either introduction.

In part, this problem likely stems from a general avoidance of any discussion of Tibetan Buddhist sectarianism and sectarian identity in works that are published for the “convert” Buddhist market. The pious fictions one encounters in classical Tibetan historical writing imply that many Tibetan authors may have perceived the messiness of history as a possible threat to the broader soteriological goals of their traditions. This perception seems, at times, to have made its way into modern publications intended for “convert” audiences. In this genre of literature, one gets the sense that the history of sectarianism in Tibet, so critical to the formation of Tibetan Buddhist lineages, institutions, and identities, is somehow considered an obstacle to meditators and the soteriological goals they pursue. In the current work, the tendency to avoid this history has compromised one of the two primary goals of the book. As a result, this collection of translations successfully accomplishes its goal of providing readers with an introduction to Mahamudra literature in the Drukpa Kagyu tradition, but it is far less effective in providing the reader with an introduction to the Drukpa Kagyu lineage itself.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Adam Krug has a doctorate in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a specialization in Buddhist Studies and South Asian Religions.  His dissertation, The Seven Siddhi Texts: The Odiyāna Mahāmudrā Lineage in its Indic and Tibetan Contexts, focuses on a collection of Indic works that became widely recognized in Tibet as some of the earliest treatises from the Indian Buddhist siddhas on the practice and theory of Mahamudra.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sean Price became a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in 1994 and has since studied at various monastic institutes in India and Nepal; he has resided at Shechen Monastery, Nepal, since 1999. He has translated numerous Mahamudra and Dzogchen texts and has worked at the Tsadra Foundation as Director of Tibetan Publications since 2009.

Adam Kane has studied and translated at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal. His MA thesis was on Pema Karpo’s explanation of the Four Yogas of Mahamudra.

Gerardo Abboud was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and starting in the early 1970s, lived in India and Nepal for fourteen years. Since 1986, Abboud has been president of the Dongyuling Center, Argentina, which offers free teachings on Buddhist theory and practice. He is the English interpreter for several Kagyu lamas and since 1992 has served as the Dalai Lama’s interpreter in Latin America.

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