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Robin Kornman on the The Rain of Wisdom

Robin Kornman, one of the original members of the Nalanda Translation Committee, recorded these recollections two years before his death in 2007. For more on Robin, see Remembering Robin by Larry Mermelstein.





Foreword to The Rain of Wisdom

by Chögyam Trungpa



 

I am very pleased to present this translation of The Rain of Wisdom, the Kagyü Gurtso. I feel highly inspired by the translation work that I and my students have done. I am realizing for the first time that the basically theistic English language has now been blessed by the Practice Lineages and is becoming a great medium for expressing the nontheistic, enlightened dharma. I and my translators have worked very hard and feel somewhat proud of what we have produced.

When I was eight my tutor recommended that I use the life of Milarepa as part of my reading practice. I remember clearly the illuminated manuscript of Milarepa's life that I used. Occasionally I would look at the illustrations and try to understand the contents. Reading this text not only improved my literacy, but aroused my feeling for the Kagyü tradition and my admiration of Milarepa's life and his asceticism.

I wept and laughed as my reading practice went on. Sometimes my tutor thought that I was weeping because I missed my mother, or because I was trying to get out of the harsh discipline that was part of my training. I used to tell him, "No, I'm crying because of what I am reading." So this reading had a profound effect on me. In fact, reading this book inspired me to compose beginning-level songs myself, which at that point I did by trial and error.

The sense of dedication and exertion that is expressed in the life examples and songs of our Kagyü forefathers is something one can never forget. The Practice Lineage of the Kagyü tradition inspires one to become fully involved in a heartfelt connection with the teachings. From my childhood until the present day, each time I open The Rain of Wisdom and read a few passages it makes me appreciate the hardships that our forefathers endured for the sake of future generations such as ourselves.

The Kagyü tradition is said to be the most stubborn and honest in following its heritage. We take delight in our heritage. Doubt, challenge, hesitation—in brief, any form of second thoughts—are not regarded as obstacles, but rather as fuel to push us further and cause our devotion and heartfelt longing to blaze, to increase our intense desire to follow the example of our forefathers. So we, as Kagyüs, have thrived on the transmissions of our forefathers, and sustained and nourished ourselves in reading and reciting their vajra songs along with their life stories.

As for myself, the older I get, the more of a Kagyü person I become. Aging in this way is wonderful. My thanks and appreciation to the forefathers.

Because of the destruction of Tibetan tradition and the disruption of the Kagyü dharma by the recent Communist takeover of Tibet, out of humble duty and with the inspiration of the Practice Lineage, I have accomplished some small deeds to enable the Practice Lineage to be kindled further. Here in North America and the Western world, a group of sincere students has gathered around me—dedicated practitioners who are free from arrogance, students who do not lean on their Kagyü religion in order to glorify their individual egos. I am immensely thankful to my students, particularly to my Vajra Regent, Ösel Tendzin, and to the guidance of my own teacher.

Needless to say, I am thankful to the splendor and magnificence of His Holiness the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. His manifestation and existence are so fortunate and powerful for us in this dark age. The propagation of the Kagyü dharma is always within his empire. The brilliant sunshine of His Holiness's kindness, as well as that of Khyentse Rinpoche and Dudjom Rinpoche, has encouraged me in continuing my teaching in the Western world. Through their kindness they have acknowledged my transformation from a pebble to gold, and they have given me further responsibility as vajracarya and vidyadhara in the modern world, so that I can teach continuously and further the dharma of the Practice Lineages.

Nonetheless, even with such encouragement from the present lineage fathers and my devoted students, I have been left out in the cold as full-time garbageman, janitor, diaper service, and babysitter. So finally I alone have ended up as captain of this great vessel. I alone have to liberate its millions of passengers in this dark age. I alone have to sail this degraded samsaric ocean, which is very turbulent. With the blessings of the lineage, and because of my unyielding vow, there is obviously no choice.

The readers of this book should reflect on the value and the wisdom which exist in these songs of the lineage in the following ways. First there are the life examples of our forefathers to inspire our devotion. There are songs which help us understand the cause and effect of karma and so illuminate the path to liberation. There are songs which give instruction in relative bodhicitta, so that we can realize the immediacy of our connection to the dharma. Some are songs of mahamudra and transmit how we can actually join together bliss and emptiness through the profound methods of coemergence, melting, and bliss. Other songs show the realization of Buddha in the palm of our hand.

Needless to say, these songs should be regarded as the best of the butter which has been churned from the ocean of milk of the Buddha's teachings. Reading these songs or even glancing at a paragraph of this literature always brings timely messages of how to conduct oneself, how to discipline oneself, and how to reach accomplishment. Furthermore, these songs are very pithy and direct. Their wisdom is both old and new. It is old because it is a tradition of twenty-five hundred years; it is new because it directs itself to one's very moment of mind, at this very second.


The third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)

This thangka belonged to Trungpa Rinpoche and is currently displayed at the Shambhala Centre in Halifax, Nova Scoita. Used here by permission of Lady Diana Mukpo, the thangka was photographed by Marvin Moore.

 

These songs should not be regarded as ordinary poetry, as a purely literary endeavor. They are the insight of our forefathers, conceived, described, and proclaimed. The reason we refer to them as songs is because they are based on the melody of circumstance, and on meditative experience. They are cosmic onomatopoeia, the best expression of sanity. Traditionally they are known as vajra dohas.

These vajra dohas of the Kagyü forefathers are read annually in the celebration of the parinirvana of Milarepa by a group of students who have accomplished the preliminary discipline of entering into Buddhism, taken the vow of benevolence of the bodhisattva path, and also glimpsed the power of vajrayana, so that they are not fearful, but further inspired. Students are also advised to read this book for instructions when their life is filled with disruption and uncertainty and neurosis. Even reading only one passage is better than going to a psychiatrist or taking a dose of aspirin. This is not a myth: from my personal experience these songs do provide a kind of staircase of liberation. They actually enable us to interrupt our perpetual subconscious gossip, awaken ourselves on the path, and energize ourselves so that we can help others.

The songs of Tilopa point out the indivisibility of samsara and nirvana so that whatever arises is neither rejected nor accepted and we can recognize naked and raw coemergent wisdom on the spot. The songs of Naropa bring realization of one taste, so that pain and pleasure are no longer connected with hope and fear. The songs of Marpa Lotsawa describe how to establish a relationship with samsaric society, when to join in and when to transcend. These songs of the great Lotsawa instruct us in going beyond our body and mind neurosis, so that we can realize the unity of synchronized mind and body and thus become great warriors.

The songs of Milarepa tell us how we can free ourselves of both loneliness and claustrophobia through the extraordinary ascetic exertion of joining together nadi, prana, and bindu. The songs of Gampopa inspire us in the supreme samadhi that quells neurotic tendencies. As it is said in the Samadhirajasutra, by achieving ultimate samatha-vipasyana and realizing the great bliss, we can follow all the stages of the path. The songs of the Karmapas enable us to transcend hope and fear. Through total devotion, the blessings of auspicious coincidence are realized, so that we become genuine dharmic people.

The songs of other lineage holders point out to us the guru in our mind as one taste, and emptiness and compassion as a way to soften ourselves into decent human beings. They arouse in us the realization that cause and effect of karma is inevitable and bring the revulsion and renunciation that come from seeing that the samsaric scheme is futile and impermanent. Many of these songs act to clear obstacles and generate exertion in practice. According to tradition, each lineage holder has composed hundreds of thousands of songs of this nature. Some of these songs that were recorded appear in this particular text.

The essence of all the songs can be epitomized by the four dharmas of Gampopa. These are: (1) one's mind becomes dharmic; (2) that dharma practice becomes path; (3) in following that path, confusion is removed; (4) having removed confusion, everything dawns as wisdom.

The first dharma is the ground, where our mind becomes dharmic so that we and the dharma are no longer separate entities. We develop true renunciation and have a sense of revulsion towards samsara. The second dharma is the path. When our mind goes along with the dharma, the dharma becomes path, and any obstacles, whether extreme or ordinary, become a part of our journey. The third dharma is the fruition. As the journey is taking place, the process of the journey liberates us from confusion and anxiety. We are delighted by our journey and we feel it is good. The fourth dharma is the total vision. When we are able to overcome confusion and anxiety, even our anxiety is not regarded as antidharma or antipath. Cosmic wakefulness takes place.

So to begin with, the lineage songs are genuine and precise. Then, because of their genuineness, we find them powerful and helpful. And because we can follow them easily, insight does not come as an unusual climax; it is simply the natural and obvious clarity of wakefulness. In this way the Kagyü dharma is good and genuine. We are so privileged to be in the world of the Kagyü dharma.

I dedicate this book, The Rain of Wisdom, and its translation to all sentient beings without exception. May they benefit by it—those who oppose the Kagyü dharma of Vajradhatu as well as those who join in. Without exception, anyone who has had the slightest contact with our Kagyü dharma, whether with positive or negative reactions, is bound to become liberated.

With my humble duty, I remain a mere speck of dust. Since the forefathers wish to burden me with the responsibilities of a vajracarya and vidyadhara, I remain a humble servant of the Practice Lineage.

The Vidyadhara,
Vajracarya the Venerable Chökyi Gyatso,
the Eleventh Trungpa
March 4, 1980