Few teachers in the West possess both the spiritual training and the scholarship to lead us along the path to enlightenment. Robert Thurman is one such teacher. Now, in his first experiential course on the essentials of Tibetan Buddhism, adapted and expanded from a popular retreat he led, Thurman -- the first Westerner ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself -- shares the centuries-old wisdom of a highly valued method used by the great Tibetan masters. Using a revered, once-secret text of a seventeenth-century Tibetan master, along with a thorough explanation for contemporary Westerners, The Jewel Tree of Tibet immerses you fully in the mysteries of Tibetan spiritual wisdom. A retreat in book form as well as a spiritual and philosophical teaching, it offers a practical system of understanding yourself and the world, of developing your learning and thought processes, and of gaining deep, transforming insight.
Tibetans think of their cherished tradition of Buddhism as a "wish-fulfilling jewel tree" for its power to generate bliss and enlightenment within all who absorb its teachings. Happiness, in fact, is the true goal of Tibetan spirituality, and the wish-fulfilling jewel tree will put you on the road to that reachable goal. This beautiful jewel-tree imagery, which acts like a mandala or a yoga pose to focus your attention on truths larger than yourself, will help you break through worn-out ideas and habits, strengthen positive abilities, develop more energy and creativity, and change your life -- and future -- for the better. As Thurman writes, "Readers learn to cultivate the sensitivity and appreciation to love more fully, feel compassion more intensely, and become a fountain of cheerfulness for all they meet and know."
Because the path to enlightenment requires more than sitting in meditation, The Jewel Tree of Tibet offers a rich, intellectually riveting course with many specific spiritual practices, including: eleven steps to create the spirit of enlightenment, here and now; the truths and stories of the ancient Indian and Tibetan sages; and guided meditations to experience the blessings of the wish-fulfilling jewel tree. You can do these practices with others or on your own, while living your daily life. And as you travel this road to deeper self-realization, self-understanding, and infectious happiness, you will also learn how the principles of Tibetan Tantra can open the doors to "infinite compassion and continuity," and how to discover states of consciousness that transcend even death.
One of the most explicit teachings of the steps to the path of enlightenment available, explained by a skilled Western teacher, The Jewel Tree of Tibet will enable you to honor the full subtlety and hidden depths of the Tibetan Buddhist path and realize at last its deeper mysteries and rewards -- for yourself and others.
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February 09, 2005
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Excerpt from The Jewel Tree of Tibet by Robert Thurman
This book began as an intensive retreat with a small group of students. It is a teaching on the steps on the path of enlightenment that is common to all the forms of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetans have taken teachings from all kinds of Buddhism, especially those preserved and developed in India over fifteen hundred years before they traveled to Tibet. But there in Tibet, Buddhism was made into a systematic method for people to practice and perform in order to become perfectly enlightened in this life, or in a short number of lives, starting from wherever they started.
This is what we'll aim to practice on this retreat, on this quest for enlightenment in book form. You'll start wherever you are in your life, today. We'll retreat into one of the greatest sacred wisdom texts of Tibetan knowledge of the soul, called The Devotion to the Mentor, in which a glorious wish-fulfilling gem tree is used to focus our minds. We're on a quest to contemplate this great text line by line, so that we come to understand its full, rich meaning, the brilliant reflections of its many facets guiding us, lighting up our awareness. And we'll take this awareness with us, out into the world, into our lives. It is a powerful text, just the reading of which has the capacity to lift you out of your individual self and into a perspective of unity, refreshing your individuality immeasurably. It will help you cultivate the sensitivity and appreciation to love more fully, feel compassion more intensely, and become a fountain of cheerfulness for all you meet and know.
The steps on the path of enlightenment in this text are a distillation of the vast profusion of healing techniques dispensed by the Shakyamuni Buddha -- the historical Buddha -- to his many thousands of disciples, two thousand five hundred years ago. I first encountered The Devotion to the Mentor and the jewel tree, in this life, forty-two years ago, when I met the Very Venerable Geshe Wangyal at his monastery in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, which was in a little pink tract house on East Third Street in Freewood Acres. He read to me a version of this same enlightenment path, the way to a higher quality of being, that had been written by the great south Indian philosopher sage Nagarjuna in the second century c.e. Nagarjuna had written it as Letter from a Spiritual Friend to his friend and disciple the south Indian King Udayibhadra, whose name means "King Happily Good."
My teacher read this text aloud in a Tibetan translation, accompanying it with a commentary written by a great fourteenth-century Tibetan lama, and as he read he would translate and explain in English to me and my friend Chris. The three of us would sit together in the chapel room or out in the yard of the little pink house that served as a monastery in New Jersey, under the spell of the great wish-fulfilling jewel tree of Tibet. Then, in the evening and late into the night, I would memorize the Tibetan, learn the text's meaning, and meditate on the steps and themes -- incorporating it all into my mind and psyche and spirit.
The fresh and reasonable vision of life, the deep meaning of existence, the imminence of freedom, the vast horizon of my human potential -- all this leapt out at me from these words in the lovely Tibetan script, block-printed on beautiful, long, fibrous pages. I loved Nagarjuna and his friend the king. I loved the Tibetan alphabet, so logical and elegant. I felt totally at home in it.