Long-life wish-paths are a wondrous manifestation of Vajrayana. I am continually bemused by the fact that people often see them merely as pleas for Lamas to live longer. Students attending public teachings have often asked about the rôle of long-life wish-paths within a lineage—such as the Aro gTér—which is based in Atiyoga. This question arises from the concept that Dzogchen is somehow removed from the sphere of devotion – and that it is too abstract and rarefied to deal with the individual lives of Lamas. Ideas such as these arise mainly from the dilutions of non-dual teachings which have become popularised in the West. “Surely,” people have said, “it is the principle of the Lama which is important – and one should really include all Lamas rather than specifying particular Lamas in a limited way – because Dzogchen is beyond limits”. Dzogchen is indeed beyond limits – but we the practitioners are certainly not. This is an idea which falls into the trap of ultimatism to which intellectuals in particular are inclined to fall prey.
Devotion is vitally and viscerally important in terms of Dzogchen – because without it there is no basis for approaching the Lama who gives transmission. If one understands the remarkable nature of the Dzogchen teachings then one would naturally be overcome with devotion for the source of transmission. The meaning of devotion is ‘rapturous insight’ or ‘perfect appreciation’ – the open-ended appreciation which sees the value of the Lama. It is an exponential vector of joy and enthusiasm. If we do not see value directly in the Body, Speech, and Mind of the Lama – then there can be no devotion and no transmission. Without transmission there is no Vajrayana – and so Vajrayana depends on devotion to the Lama. Genuine devotion arises from understanding and from the experience of authentic practice. When we have a real sense of practice, then we see immediately that the Lama knows the entire field of samsara and nirvana. He or she knows our confusion – and equally, he or she knows our realised potential. The comprehension of such a fact must be concomitant with an sense of release which is so intense that one ‘burns with devotion’. When we realise that the Lama enjoys our neuroses because he or she perceives them as the distortion of our enlightened nature – and therefore holds the essential key to our liberation, what else is possible but profound happiness. In this sense devotion is concomitant with self-respect, rather than a feeling of worthlessness in the presence of someone totally beyond us. That fact that the Lama feels that I am a workable proposition is the guarantee that liberation is possible.
Devotion is not a matter of emotional neediness – aimed at a human focus which will hold our projections. Yes – I know the psychotherapeutic view, and it does not interest me. If you are a Buddhist—if you have authentically taken refuge—it will not interest you greatly either. This is not to say that there is no value in psychotherapy – but it is not the arbiter of what is accepted and what is rejected in terms of Dharma – particularly Vajrayana.
Devotion, then, is a matter of seeing value – in the Lama, and in ourselves in connection with the Lama. We are often introduced to the things we value in life by others whose opinions we respect. When we lack experience of certain areas we can be impressed in terms of the accounts of others. It is no different with long-life wish-paths. These beautiful poems of appreciation comprise the way in which our Lamas are viewed by those who have a clearer view of them than we may have. In this respect, long-life wish-paths serve to remind us of who our Lamas are. We can lose sight of the terrific opportunity we have for realisation. We can lose sight of the many ways in which we may have changed as a result of studying and practising with our Lamas. We can lose sight of the powerful experiences of transmission which have occurred and the inspired moments when the teaching has exploded the horizon of our conventional habit-ridden reality. We can even lose sight of the immense kindness of our Lamas. We can lose sight of so much. We can lose appreciation for the food we eat and for the many wonderful sights, sounds, fragrances, flavours, and textures of our existence – and when we do, our lives become dreary. Until we attain realisation we have to continually re-awaken ourselves to our sense fields and to whatever it is that we value.
The long-life wish-path is an extremely valuable means of re-awakening our sense of who the Lama is. We learn to see our Lamas through the eyes of someone with acute appreciation. A corollary exists in terms of taking one’s husband or wife for granted – inasmuch as the interest of a third party can awaken us to how much we value our partners. With the long-life wish-path, however, appreciation for the Lama is not aroused through the fear that we might lose the Lama in the same way we might lose a partner to another suitor – but by the fact that we might lose the Lama to another life. The sense of possible loss goes hand-in-hand with appreciation. It is when those we love have serious illnesses or when we fear for their safety that we re-discover how much we love and value them and thus a long-life wish-path should inculcate both the preciousness of the moment and the knowledge that the moment can be lost. When we chant a long-life wish-path we should have the sense of continuity and curtailment. We wish our Lamas to live forever – and yet we know that they will pass on. This knowledge that they will pass on could very easily bring tears to one’s eyes when one practises. Without this emotion and intense appreciation, therefore – we miss something crucial. When we chant a long-life wish-path at the end of our practice session – it is not simply a way of concluding our practice with the wish that our Lamas will live long, but a crescendo of devotion after which we could well feel elated and electrically present.
Khandro Déchen and I wanted to make these Nyingma long-life wish-paths available to a broader audience. Our reason for suggesting this new addition to the Aro gTér website, is a reaction to the current trend toward eviscerating Vajrayana – ripping the heart out of Dharma and marketing it as methodology. The Lama—the vajra master—is the heart and living tissue of Vajrayana, which some wish to avulse. We wanted to present these long-life wish-paths as a statement that devotion is not merely an eastern modality or a fashion amongst the politically incorrect. Authentic devotion is inseparable from clear intelligence, and if one reads the long-life wish-paths included in this Nyingma collection – it becomes obvious that it is not possible to practise Vajrayana without it. The rôle of the vajra master is central – and without the vajra master, there is no Vajrayana.
Long-life wish-paths are awareness-poems for the cultivation of the perfect appreciation of devotion. Just as a poem can inspire emotions in the reader or listener – so can long-life wish-paths inspire or re-awaken devotion in the practitioner. One should not merely chant these lines out of a sense of duty or relegate them to the rank of religious observance – these short texts often have profound meaning and one can therefore study them as one would study a text. These texts are written from the perspectives of the various vehicles of Vajrayana – and so by studying a collection of them – one becomes adventitiously privy to astounding teachings in miniature.
To those with an open heart and an open mind long-life wish-paths are a treasury of incomparable pith instructions – self-secret, inasmuch as they are often overlooked. When Khandro Déchen and I requested Dung-sé Thrin-lé Norbu Rinpoche to write a long-life wish-path for Kyabjé Künzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam’phel, what we received was beyond our wildest expectations. We received a text which was so rich in teachings that we gave commentary on it for several days in Austria when we first received it. The text of the long-life wish-path covered the three inner tantras as well as giving precise detail of the character of the gö kar chang-lo’i dé. It is a beautiful text written with incredible wit and precision, and it opened our eyes with regard to our Root Lamas.
Often Lamas will have several long-life wish-paths and from one perspective it could seem that more than one would be redundant. To say this, however, would be similar to saying that one photograph is sufficient – or that memory is sufficient. In our collection of long-life wish-paths we include three which were written for Tharchin Rinpoche, and each one is extraordinary in its own right. In this sense a collection of long-life wish-paths for one Lama is a way of expanding one’s appreciation of the Lama and simultaneously gaining deeper insights into Vajrayana.
We would encourage those who wish to practise the inner tantras—and Dzogchen in particular—to pay special attention to the long-life wish-paths of the Lamas and to take a closer look at the enormous wealth of teaching they contain.