Fundamental Texts of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism – Commentaries by Geshe Sonam

Fundamental Texts of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

In this series, Geshe Sonam will introduce key texts of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition in chronological order from most recent to most ancient. These texts are “fundamental” because they offer foundational teachings in the key aspects of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Each text will be taught in two-month increments by Geshe la, not rushing, but covering it thoroughly and explaining it, and then later alternating to the next volume. Once students understand the breadth and depth of the texts, we may choose to complete the entire series of texts from beginning to end, returning to each until it is finished, or embark on a topic from the FPMT Basic Program.

Text 1: Words of My Perfect Teacher by Dza Patrul Rinpoche

Words of My Perfect Teacher is the most recent of our texts in this series of teachings. The great scholar-yogi Dza Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887 CE) composed it while on solitary retreat. The texts begin with the common preliminary teachings on impermanence, karma, and suffering – topics that lead the mind towards dharma. The topics of refuge and bodhicitta are elucidated with a rich variety of analogies and stories that inspire the mind and heart with their relevance. The second part of the text covers the uncommon preliminaries – gateways to the Vajrayāna such as mandala offerings, Vajrasattva Practice, and the Chod Severance.

The commentary on The Words of My Perfect Teacher will begin on Sunday, March 10th and go for approximately 8 weeks. You can learn more here. 

Text 2: The Oral Transmission of Mañjuśrī Stages of the Path to Enlightenment by the Fifth Dalai Lama

The Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682 CE) composed The Oral Transmission of Mañjuśrī as a contribution to the by-then well-established genre of Lam Rim texts – the texts on the stages of the path to enlightenment which aim to present the path to Buddhahood in a systematic, easy to practice manner. The text can be seen as a condensed presentation of topics found in Je Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, emphasizing an approach to the material as practical instructions for meditation.

An outline of the topics covered that underpin the Lam Rim genre of teachings can be found here: Lamrim Outline – Jangchup Lamrim

Text 3: Stages of Meditation by Kamalaśīla

Kamalaśīla (740-795 CE) was an Indian Buddhist scholar from Nālandā monastery who accompanied Śāntarakṣita to Tibet at the request of King Songtsen Gampo. His three texts on Bhāvanākrama, the Stages of Meditation seek to establish a correct understanding of the practices of śamatha  (concentration) and vipaśyanā (special insight) for a genuinely liberating meditative practice. The three volumes of the Bhāvanākrama are expressed with exhaustive references to the Mahāyāna canon presented in a way that the reader can directly apply to their practices of hearing, contemplation, and meditation. This text is said to be one of the most important of the Indian Mahāyāna gradual approach to enlightenment, in which the practitioner cultivates the path according to a roadmap of stages.

Text 4: Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra/A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Śāntideva

Śāntideva (c. 8th century CE) is perhaps the most well-known of the great scholars of the ancient Indian Buddhist Monastery Nālandā. He composed the beautifully poetic text of the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra in around the year 700, and its influence on Indo-Tibetan Buddhism cannot be overstated. In beautifully poetic verse with rich analogies, the treatise presents the journey of the bodhisattva from the first initial wish to arise the mind of bodhicitta, through the cultivation of the six perfections, to the result of perfect and complete enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. This seminal text of the Mahāyāna traditions will provide students with a rich understanding of the bodhisattva practices and how they can be cultivated in view, meditation, and conduct.