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Saturday, 18 May 2019 08:30

Tibetan Treasures

Note: Two editions of the same book, under different tittles - the original and a newly revised edition.

Treasures on the Tibetan Middle Way

Treasures on the Tibetan Middle Way - coverTreasures on the Tibetan Middle Way
— by Herbert V. Guenther

[ Originally published in the Netherlands, c1969, under the title, Tibetan Buddhism Without Mystification , by E. J. Brill, Leiden. ]

While various religious and philosophical systems attempt to satisfy the intellectual and emotional craving for explanations of life's mysteries, Tibetan Buddhism seeks rather to bring about a re-evaluation of this craving itself. Thus traditional Western studies of Buddhism, in seeking to fit the teachings into pre-conceived rationalist systems or to dismiss them as mystical meaninglessness, have missed or misconstrued the essential message.

In this ground-breaking work, originally titled Tibetan Buddbism Without Mystification , the world's foremost Tibetologist, Herbert V. Guenther, presents the Buddhist teaching as a dynamic process that leads us to reconsider our underlying assumptions concerning the nature of goals and their realization, and especially progress along a spiritual path.

YamantakaThe lengthy introductory section provides an insightful overview of the basic Buddhist doctrines as they developed among the different schools. There follow translations of four instructional texts composed by the tutor of the 8th Dalai Lama. These terse texts outline the stages of the Buddhist path as taught by the sect of the Dalai Lamas - the Gelugpa - and provide penetrating insights into the profound significance of the Buddhist view.

Dr. Guenther's unique approach, combining important concepts of contemporary psychology and philosophy in an in-depth study of the indigenous culture, makes this one of the best introductions yet written to the complex and often mis-represented Tantric Buddhist tradition in Tibet.

Concise yet uncompromising in its approach, the work is a provocative piece of de-mystification and an ideal example of how a scholarly work can yield meaningful results for anyone interested in religious, spiritual, or philosophic pursuits.

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Tibetan Buddhism Without Mystification

Tibetan Buddhism Without Mystification - coverTibetan Buddhism Without Mystification
- The Budddhist Way from Original Tibetan Sources
— by Herbert V. Guenther

This work is divided into two sections. The first is called "The Buddhist Way", and is an exposition of the main elements constituting Buddhism, with special reference to Tibetan schools. The second, "The Tibetan Sources", is made up of four works from the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism which are here translated, by the author, into English for the first time. Mr. Guenther has chosen to emphasize this particular school because, he says, "I wanted to bring out the specific merits of the Gelugpa writers: the clear distinction between the various philosophical trends that were developed by the four major schools of thought in India and continued in Tibet; the preeminent interest in epistemological problems; and their traditionalism" (p. vii). It should also be noted that the Gelugpa is the most influential school of Tibetan Buddhism, having both the Dalai and Panchen Lamas as members.

All four texts were written by the tutor of the Eighth Dalai Lama (1758-1805), Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan. The titles of these texts are as follows:

  • The Gold-Refinery bringing out the very essence of the Sutra and Tantra Paths
  • The Specific Guidance to the Profound Middle View or the direct Message of Blobzang
  • The Secret Manual revealing the Innermost Nature of Seeing Reality or the Source of all Attainments
  • The Instruction In the Essence of the Vajrayana Path or the Shortcut to the Palace of Unity

Mr. Guenther remarks that the present Dalai Lama had complained to him that the philosophical and religious merits of Tibetan Buddhism have all too often been overlooked or distorted for the purpose of catering to the "mystery monger". Mr. Guenther has, in his commentary and translations, set himself the admirable task of correcting this imbalance. He also states that the Tantras, both in themselves and in relation to the Sutras, have been generally misrepresented to Western students.

6-arms Mahakala ShadbhujaThe four texts cited above were chosen both for their informative value and their ability to clear up many of these misrepresented aspects. The author enumerates four specific characteristics of his translations. First, he stresses "the value of mystic experience"; second, he has "refrained from etymologizing"; third, he has also refrained "from rediscovering neo-Hegelian trends in Buddhism"; fourth, the last-mentioned procedure has resulted in "a revision of almost all key terms in Buddhist texts and the introduction of new renderings." The original Tibetan texts are appended at the end of the book.

In the first part of his book, Mr. Guenther has attempted to revitalize the concepts and symbolism of Buddhism by re-expressing many key ideas in an existentialist vein, while at the same time rejecting "Continental" existentialists, or at least some of them, for their concept of man. This procedure makes for interesting and stimulating interpretations and explanations of Buddhism, perhaps because Buddhism lends itself more naturally to being expressed in terms of modern "process" philosophy than does Christianity, which, when similarly treated, leaves one with the impression that something is being "put over" on one.

At any rate, Mr. Guenther has presented to us a work of first rate importance in the field of Tibetan studies, and English speaking students owe to him a debt of gratitude for his illuminating translations.

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