About 1,300 years ago, in the 8th century, the great Tibetan King Trisong Detsen invited two Indian Buddhist masters to Tibet, and authorized a decades-long project to translate thousands of important Sanskrit spiritual texts into Tibetan. In many cases, the original Sanskrit manuscripts are lost forever, and all that remains are the Tibetan translations.
Five hundred years after the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, in 1391, a boy was born into a poor farming family. By the age of 18 he was already known as one of the most esteemed scholar-saints in Tibet, and had been given the name Gedun Drupa.
In 1447 (age 56) Gedun Drupa, with the full support of the Tibetan King at the time - Tri Lhawang Gyaltsen - founded the Tashi Lhunpo monastery which, for the next 350 years was the largest and most vibrant of Tibetan monastic universities(1).
After 17 years leading this thriving group of Buddhist monks, Gedun Drupa died in 1474 (83 years old), and was posthumously named the first Dalai Lama. The word Lama meaning one who lives the highest spiritual principles, the word Dalai meaning the ocean. So Dalai Lama can be understood as a title - he who embodies the ocean of highest spiritual principles.
The Birth of the Second Dalai Lama
Immediately upon the death of the first Dalai Lama, the highest Buddhist scholars began searching for his reincarnation. It was one year later in 1475 that a child was born to a well-known Tantric master, and legend has it that as soon as the child could speak, he began describing his past lives. In particular, he claimed to be Gedun Drupa (the first Dalai Lama) - and at the age of four began requesting to be sent to his "home" the Tashi Lhunpo monastery. The child was able to describe many of the students in Tashi Lhunpo by name and in familiar detail.
His father trained him in various enlightenment systems until age eight, and then sent his precious son to his "home" the Tashi Lhunpo monastery where he took his full ordination vows as a Buddhist monk at the age of 11 and was given the name Gedun Gyatso.
At the age of 18 he was assigned as first abbot of a large Tibetan monastery, then at age 23 Gedun Gyatso set out on a 20 year pilgrimage to study with other masters, learn, practice and teach. In these years he gained a large following throughout Tibet.
Like his predecessor the first Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso was deeply accomplished in the secret teachings of enlightenment, and was referred to as "Master of the Three Worlds" - the physical plane, the subtle plane, and the highest causal plane.
Gedun Gyatso, the second Dalai Lama, died in 1542 at the age of 67, but during his lifetime he was a generous teacher, and he wrote extensively - thousands of pages of lessons, sermons, and explanations. These lessons were written for the benefit of his closest students, often to clarify his oral teachings, and they always included specific instructions for his students to practice and achieve enlightenment - or final liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
He explains in his writings many secret topics such as bi-location (apparently a common ability in advanced practitioners on the causal plane), transfer of consciousness, and the proper way to release the body at death to re-integrate with higher dimensions of light.
In his writings, as all Buddhist scholars, he frequently and respectfully refers back to Buddhist texts and great teachers of the past - which he assumes his students are familiar with.
But here is what is most important about Gedun Gyatso's trove of writing. In some of his writings he repeats oral transmissions which he received from his teachers and from direct vision - into the highest Tantric Yogic techniques, exercises, experiences, and initiations.
Generally, these oral teachings and initiations are never discussed beyond direct teacher-student transmission. But our generous guru Gedun Gyatso crosses these boundaries. In clear, simple language he describes the multi-layered steps one must take to prepare for the secret initiations. He re-transmits the oral instructions on Tantrik enlightenment practices that dated back at least 800 years before his birth, nearly 1,500 years from today.
For these reasons, the writings of Gedun Gyatso, the second Dalai Lama, give us the clearest picture we have of a highly enlightened, practicing, teaching Buddhist monk who wishes his students to succeed, so speaks clearly and openly about the highest "secret" teachings of Tantric Buddhism.
The bulk of Gedun Gyatso's writing would be familiar ground for most Buddhists today - expounding on the most traditional Buddhist teachings, but several of his lessons touch on the higher tantric yoga practices of fully enlightened beings.
It would be difficult, to say the least, for someone in our current crazy world to genuinely perfect these techniques - because they require isolation and complete dedication. A level of mental focus which may no longer be possible in our modern world.
"When you can maintain this rotating image clearly in your mind for one sixth of a day (four hours), you will experience the nectar light pour through the crown..."
So these secret techniques and initiations are not practical for most of us to accomplish. Then what should we take from these ancient writings?
In preface to the highest Tantrik teachings, Gedun Gyatso describes two stages of practice - the generation stage (the preliminary preparations), and the actual practice itself - the completion stage.
"In order to take up the higher practices of Vajrayana (the "Thunderbolt Vehicle" or "Diamond Vehicle") one must first transform into a proper vessel for the secret teachings by ripening one's stream of being."
"Abide well in the generation stage yogas with the wish to accomplish the completion stage, this is the proper gradation of Vajrayana practice."
"The merit gained in a single day by one who prepares himself cannot be gained even in a hundred lifetimes by one who has not worked to develop such higher perception."
Not only are the very highest teachings impractical for us in the modern world - he's telling us "Don't worry - there's a lifetime of learning and development in the generation stage - the preparation." As he says, "abide well in the generation stage" and keep the desire to achieve/experience more.
So what is the generation stage, the preparatory work required before the highest secrets can be understood?
Here is the gist of the preparatory work to be accomplished in the generation stage, according to Gedun Gyatso (1475 - 1542). These are the practices to "ripen your stream of being" to become a worthy vessel for the higher teachings and techniques.
- Establish habits and lifestyle conducive to practice.
- Clear the mind of all illusions.
- Establish softness of body - the dissolution of the physical body.
- Establish softness of speech - kind speech without hint of selfish motivations.
- Establish softness of action - kind actions are the outer manifestation of your inner compassion.
- Study of wisdom - build your practice on the enlightened transmissions of the masters.
These practices are referred to as the "generation" stage of the work, while the deeper practices, techniques and visualizations which result in the ultimate realization of your own light and the release from cyclic rebirth, are referred to as the "completion" stage of the work.
He tells us to abide patiently in the purification work because the completion stage techniques rely on the purification of your own life force, and that rushing through the process before one is properly prepared (softened/purified/receptive) leads to far more suffering than one who is simply happy and patient abiding each day in the generation stage.
Regardless of the path you choose to your own enlightenment, the preparation stage work is the common theme to spiritual advancement.
Softening, yielding, surrendering, purifying - all these lead us to an inner world of peace and balance.
So our goal is to abide calmly and patiently in the generation stage and apply these principles in our own lives. Pure body, pure speech, pure action, pure wisdom, and clearing all illusions from our thinking.
- In the 1600's and 1700's more than 5,000 monks are reckoned to have lived permanently in Tashi Lhunpo with 2,000 more monks and scholars visiting. Visitors were welcome to stay for one night, or a lifetime. Then in 1791 the Tashi Lhunpo monastery - beacon of spiritual enlightenment for centuries - was destroyed by war, resurrected in a much smaller version, until that monastery again was finally destroyed in 1966 by the Chinese Cultural Guard who led crowds to burn scriptures, smash statues and throw all valuables into the river, although some items are said to have been saved from that disaster. In 1972, under the guidance of the Dalai Lama, the Tashi Lhunpo monastery was rebuilt in Southern India, where you can visit today with more than 400 monks - many of them Tibetan monks in exile in India - who follow the same principles practiced in Tibet.