Why keep the teachings unaltered? Why give ‘lungs’?

 Lama Jampa teaching on buddha nature in Manchester, 1st July

Lama Jampa teaching on buddha nature in Manchester, 1st July

A central topic of Lama Jampa’s teaching in Manchester last weekend was the buddha nature. This is a topic, when taught with subtle precision and fidelity, from which we can gain confidence and faith in dharma and in our own ability to practise it.

The Lama explained that he believes the teachings should be maintained exactly as they have been passed down from teacher to student over the centuries. How else could we have any confidence that they could work for us, as they have done for our Lama and all those masters and practitioners who came before him?

Hearing the teachings this weekend, it was clear that the instructions for meditation, and the explanation of how those instructions take effect, are very precise as well as being very subtle. They are also particular to the system being set out in this text and should not be mixed with other systems to be found in other texts.

It is their very precision and particularity, as the Lama said, that provides the reason to keep to the traditional Buddhist procedure of giving the reading transmission [Tib: lung] of each original text, as well as line by line translation of its content. In his presentation of the teachings, the Lama does provide some additional explanation of the lines in the text but this is only to highlight the meaning.

As Lama Jampa himself explained, trying to study the teachings without having received the lung means we have not received their blessing, which comes through their authentic transmission. To study dharma texts in this way is worthless and may even be harmful.

All of this means that we have been given the same teachings that Lama Jampa himself has received and studied and meditated on. In this way, as a westerner like ourselves, he gives us a perfect example of where these teachings lead when they remain unaltered and undistorted. This is how he himself received the teachings – so why would he cheat us and give us something different? After all, one thing we can see is that the teachings received in their original form have worked for Lama Jampa.

Simply hearing the teachings once or reading them through afterwards or trying to practise them without further guidance is not sufficient for us to develop realisation. We have to work with them in a step by step manner in consultation with the Lama, for he himself has gone through the process of facing all the challenges that the teachings throw up and therefore can help us to deal with such challenges as they crop up for us, as they surely will.  

Reading Lama Jampa’s new book Wisdom in Exile and hearing him introduce it at its recent launch in London, it is clear that his knowledge and understanding of European religious and intellectual traditions and his ability to talk about these far outshines those of the vast majority of us. It would have been easy for him to combine the two streams of western thought and Buddhism into a new and superficially appealing ‘Buddhism for westerners’. However, as he argues in Wisdom in Exile, all such attempts to do this – and he points to several unfortunate examples – will only lead to corrupt forms of dharma that quickly lose their the power to transform our self-centredness and lead us to liberation.

From all this, we can see why discerning students want to receive teachings that have remained unaltered from their original form. The approach followed by our teacher, Lama Jampa Thaye, is understood by his students as being the most authentic and reliable. That is why we ask him to give us reading transmissions and line by line explanations of texts. In any case, he has made it perfectly clear he has no intention of doing otherwise!

Forthcoming Reading Transmission at Kagyu Ling

Lama Jampa will be visiting Kagyu Ling at the end of July to give the reading transmission (lung) for the Kagyu Ngondro (Preliminary Practices) and its commentary The Torch Of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul. The lung will be given over two evenings, 31st July and 1st August.

Torch of Certainty Lung
Two evenings at Kagyu Ling:

Monday 31st July 7.00pm & Tuesday August 1st 7.00pm