Natural Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings & Vajra Songs
Natural Great Perfection is a collection of stories, songs, commentary, and history, mostly as told to Lama Surya Das by Nyoshul Khenpo. Nyoshul Khenpo was a renowned Tibetan Buddhist monk (until his doctor told him he’d be much happier if he found a wife), and Lama Surya Das was his student and is a highly regarded teacher of Buddhism and meditation from New York.
The book begins with the story of how Khenpo was considered weak by his father and then, inspired by his female relatives, became a monk. What’s most striking is his take on the various stages of his life—some lived in luxury and some in severe hardship. He outlines living as a king and living as a beggar, punctuating with the words, “what a spectacle!”
Indeed, his attitude is inspiring. In addition to the story of his life, he offers his teachings on dzogchen. Dzogchen consists of three aspects: view, meditation, and action. A relative newcomer to Buddhism needn’t feel intimidated by the songs—“songs” seems to have been used to mean verses or prayers—as they are followed by very thorough commentary. In fact, the entire book is pretty straightforward and accessible, even with limited knowledge of Buddhist jargon and practice. Essentially, the message is similar to the message of Daniel Odier in his book, Desire: The Tantric Path to Awakening, that the most advanced stage of Buddhism is actually the simplest, philosophically speaking. Rules, regulations and practices aside, the basic realization of non-dualism (no spirit and matter or human and God) is the goal and there is no work involved in recognizing one’s true nature except to simply recognize it.
The book ends with a curious chapter that reads like something out of the Book of Numbers from the Bible, only instead of explaining who was the father of whom ad infinitum, it describes from whom each lama received his authority to teach the wisdom of Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism. This is apparently very important among a certain crowd, given that it’s addressed in nearly every book about Buddhism available. Full disclosure: I skimmed that chapter.
Overall, this book will be of interest to anyone attracted to Vajrayana Buddhism as well as those curious about religion in general, particularly comparative religious philosophy—it is fascinating how similar religions are when stripped of ceremonies and rules and reduced to simple philosophical theories. As such, it’s a good read for all those seeking enlightenment, both intellectual and spiritual, via any path.