A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path
I guess I was expecting more of a “Buddhism for idiots” type of book when I picked up A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen (a title which means, roughly, “great abbot”). For better or worse, that’s not what this book is. Before I read the book, I knew nothing of Buddhism except that some people call it a philosophy rather than a religion and Buddhist nuns have to shave their heads upon joining their order. I don’t know why I knew those two things and nothing else, but nevertheless I was pretty ignorant of all things Buddhist.
A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path is commentary based on The Jewel Treasury of Advice: A Hundred Teachings From the Heart by Drikung Bhande Dharmaradza (1704-1754). Each of the 103 verses—plus some introductory verses—is taken as its own piece of wisdom and expounded upon in one to four pages by Gyaltshen. I read through it as one would a novel—not something I’d recommend since there’s a lot of material and quite a bit of repetition from one verse’s exposition to the next. (The preface by the editor warns of the repetition, but I didn’t pay much attention to that until I started thinking, “Hey, didn’t we go over this already?”) In fact, the author and editor anticipated reading the book in sections so that each verse would be contemplated fully before going on. Each verse and commentary is a complete thought and could have its own review, so writing about the entire book in such broad terms is difficult.
Most of the verses in The Jewel Treasury of Advice end with the words, “This is my heart’s advice.” Gyaltshen writes, “[Bhande Dharmaradza] is giving this advice from his heart, completely for the benefit of others. So we should sincerely take it into our heart.” I liked the Advice about the Six Perfections the most. The six perfections are: generosity, moral ethics, patience, perseverance, meditative concentration, and wisdom awareness. While I don’t think reading this book all the way through like a novel is a good idea, I also don’t think a reader should read the verses out of order. The author of the commentary mentions words like samasara, dharma, and skandha, and only defines them the first time. If the book is read out of order, those definitions are lost to the reader, although there is a glossary of terms and names at the end.
This book works better as a meditation tool for those who have already been introduced to Buddhism. It does not work well as an introductory text, despite what the title might suggest.