The Profound Treasury Volumes
In recent years, I have focused on sharing teachings from the three volumes of The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, which I had the good fortune to compile and edit. These volumes are a treasure trove of dharma and include profound and detailed discussions of the Buddhist view and meditation practices. It is particularly inspiring that these books are so lively and accessible, filled with penetrating insights and mind-stoppers throughout.
In his Profound Treasury teachings, the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche talks about practice and study as being like the two wings of an airplane: we need both of them. It is said that the mark of study is gentleness and the mark of practice is the taming of emotional upheaval. So, in approaching these books, balancing study time with practice time is highly encouraged.
Where do such teachings come from? What is their true source? Fundamentally, they come from nonduality, from nondual wisdom. That’s the ultimate context from which all dharna arises. The challenge for anyone presenting the dharma is to find ways to awaken nondual wisdom through dualistic methods: through words, through gestures, through forms and rituals.
The Profound Treasury volumes are such tools. They are designed to awaken your understanding, to awaken your heart, to awaken your mind, and to give you a more fulfilled, peaceful life.
The World of Tibetan Buddhism
While Nonconceptual wisdom provides the fundamental context for these teachings, a further context is provided by vajrayana Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. This includes the lineages and traditions from which Trungpa Rinpoche arose and within which he was thoroughly trained in the old style within Tibet. The Vidyadhara referred over and over again to two lineages of Tibetan Buddhism as his heart traditions: the Kagyü, which is also referred to as the practice lineage, and the Nyingma, or ancient tradition.
Along with those two streams, Trungpa Rinpoche was steeped in Ri-me, the unbiased or nonsectarian tradition. Ri-me draws from the richness and the practices of all the great teachers, no matter what school they may be identified with. In the modern world the attitude of Ri-me extends beyond the bounds of Buddhism to include all the great wisdom traditions. It is an open-minded approach of recognizing wisdom wherever you encounter it, in whatever form it arises—not just when it is wrapped up with a bow or in dressed in a robe.
The Invasion of Tibet
Among the many influences and circumstances that came together to make these books possible was the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese. Students who study with Trungpa Rinpoche in the West are the beneficiaries of that violent takeover, which led to a diaspora of Tibetans all over the world. Prior to that, Tibet was very isolated, and for most people, such teachings were completely unavailable.
I think it is important to acknowledge that tragic historical circumstances brought Trungpa Rinpoche to the West. Our access to these teachings comes at the cost of tremendous suffering and much loss of life. After his own grueling escape by foot over the Himalayan mountains, Trungpa Rinpoche never again returned to his homeland. You can imagine how hard it must have been to leave behind his country—its culture, his societal standing, his monastery, his family—to leave that all behind and start over at every level. Our good fortune to engage with this stream of teachings is a result of that tragic legacy.
Encounters with Western Culture
Trungpa Rinpoche first encountered Western culture when he arrived in Great Britain in the 1960’s, and later in North America in the early 1970’s. An avid student of Western culture, the forms he introduced reflect his remarkable ability to syncretize different traditions. He soon began to present his teachings in the English language.
In North America, Trungpa Rinpoche made a close connection with many Zen teachers. Those friendships were influential in terms of choosing how best to present dharma to modern Westerners. For example, Trungpa Rinpoche’s close association with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi inspired him to emphasize intensive group meditation practice for his Western students, a form very much inspired by Zen practice. If you think about it, in bringing the dharma to the West, it was as if he was cooking this incredible meal with ingredients from many sources.
Early Years in the West
At pivotal points in his life, the Vidyadhara pondered what to do with the weight of the cultural and wisdom heritage that he held—how to convey that heritage in such different times, in such a different culture, in such a different situation altogether. He could have just set himself up as a lama somewhere, with a few students around. He could have made that work, and he probably would have led a much easier life if he had done so. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he took a fresh approach. He cleared the slate and let something new arise, something appropriate and skillful in these times and this culture. The Profound Treasury teachings infuse traditional teachings with that quality of freshness and immediacy.
As students started gathering around him, Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged them to be both serious practitioners and to engage in the ordinary world and its challenges. If he sensed that students were trying to escape from the world, he sent them back to wherever they wanted to escape from. And if he sensed that a student was using worldly busyness to avoid their meditation practice, he sent them back to their meditation cushion.
From 1973 to 1986, Trungpa Rinpoche conducted thirteen three-month seminaries and gave over three hundred talks. Each year his talks were transcribed and made into sourcebooks. These transcripts—twenty-five in all—provided the source material for the Profound Treasury books.
Typically, each seminary would begin with a meditation intensive lasting one to two weeks, followed by a study period focusing on the hinayana. This would be followed by another meditation intensive, and the mahayana study period. Finally, there would be a third practice intensive, followed by the vajrayana study period.
During the practice periods students would spend the entire day in meditation, alternating between sitting and walking meditation practice. During the study periods, in addition to the main course, which was taught by Trungpa Rinpoche, students took classes taught by other students. Both the teachers and students participated in oral examinations at the end of each study period.
Trungpa Rinpoche was quite proud of the seminary form with its alternation of deep practice and intense study. As he told his students: “I would like to introduce learning and practicing at the same time. That has always been the Kagyü style. We always practice and we always study. It is not particularly complicated.”
After each seminary, transcripts of his talks were published. This allowed students to review the material from previous years as he was presenting new teachings. As the years went by, the body of teachings that he built upon grew larger and larger. In keeping with the intimate nature of these teachings, access to the seminary transcripts was restricted to students who had personally attended a Vajradhatu Seminary.
Trungpa Rinpoche was quite conservative in his approach and he was careful to protect the integrity of the dharma he was transmitting. However, it was always his wish that ultimately even his highest teachings be made available to the world, to enable more people to come to know the dharma in a sophisticated way‚ with a more penetrating and profound understanding. In light of this, Trunpga Rinpoche indicated to his publisher, Sam Bercholz, and his senior editors that in the future he wanted them to edit and publish his seminary teachings for the benefit of Buddhist practitioners and scholars. That is what led to the Profound Treasury project.
The Three Volumes
The Tibetan vajrayana tradition takes a very systematic approach to the dharma, providing a roadmap for students to follow from the very beginning to the very end. This approach is called lamrim, which simply means “stages of the path.” The student journey is divided into three stages: hinayana, mahayana, and vajrayana. Profound Treasury volumes follow the progression of these three stages, with each book corresponding to a particular yana. In the Profound Treasury, the Vidyadhara goes through this progression as a seamless journey from the very initial point of looking at yourself and wondering what’s wrong, all the way up to the endpoint, or enlightenment.
Volume One: The Path of Individual Liberation
The first volume introduces core Buddhist teachings, with an emphasis on personal development through meditative discipline and study. It includes extensive teachings on meditation practice and the cultivation of mindfulness, awareness, and friendliness. The hinayana is called the narrow vehicle, not in the sense of narrow-mindedness or that it is lacking in some way, but in the sense of narrowing down to the bare bones, precise, true, and raw. Nothing is added or subtracted—it is immediate, clear, and simple. The hinayana is considered the essential foundation for the entire path.*
Volume Two: The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion
The second volume introduces teachings on wisdom and compassion, with an emphasis on cultivating the attitude of a bodhisattva, or compassion warrior. It includes teachings on mind training and the slogans of Atisha. The mahayana is known as the “great” or “wide” vehicle due to its abundant compassion and wisdom. There is a natural quality of expansion and magnanimity. The bodhisattva or enlightened warrior provides a model for fearless commitment to acting for the benefit of all beings.
Volume Three: The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness
The third volume introduces the vajrayana path. It includes teachings on mahamudra and maha ati and on vajrayana meditation practices and world view. The vajrayana, or “indestructible vehicle” is also referred to as tantra. This vehicle is based on diving wholeheartedly into the colors and energies of the world and the richness of perceptions in order to manifest the awakened state on the spot.
The basic progression is very simple: first work on yourself, then help others. To begin with, we have to work with our own shit or we won’t be much help to anyone. If we aren’t willing to look into our own minds, our own hearts, our own regrets, our own plans, our hopes, our delusions, our obstacles, etcetera, we won’t be of much benefit to others. So the idea of starting with the hinayana is very practical. That’s one thing I like about the dharma: it’s so practical. It says, “Okay, work with yourself, but work with yourself with the intention of preparing yourself to be able to contribute something to others. You need to prepare yourself to be able to reduce the suffering in this world, the confusion in this world, the utter chaos in this world.”
That is a little bit about the origins and structure of The Profound Treasury. It really is a map, and it really can lead you to your destination. But as Trungpa Rinpoche often said, “It is up to you, sweethearts!”
*Note: In Tibetan Buddhism, the term hinayana refers to the first of three stages of the path. It does not refer to a specific school of Buddhism, such as the Theravada tradition.