Finding and reading this book was an unusual and humorous event for me, my lama would probably read into it more -that I’m on the right path- I’ll just say it happened. So I saw the cover of this book from a distance and my first thought was that it looked like the various covers and handouts created by Lama Jinpa, only when I looked closer did I realize it was about our Lama and Lama Jinpa himself had helped with the book. That is all I needed to decide to get the book.
This book is an autohagiography of H.E. Lama Tsering Wangdu, a beautiful and gentle soul, as well as a wise and forceful chödpa. This tale follows him from the events of his crazy wisdom life from birth to the present day, including a meta-story section about being approached by Joshua Waldman to write the text.
Now as someone recognized as a master of his tradition it should not be surprising that parts of his story seem pulled straight from the tales of the Boddhisattvas and great yogis of the past. Born with a caul on his face and teaching his mother the mantra of Buddha Amitabha when first learning to talk (9) you can expect he would lead an interesting life.
In his youth he was transferred to a monastery and in his tale you see the political side of power in a temple that one might not expect. He came to age balanced between his family life and his religious life during the time of the Chinese invasion. Though lucky enough to be out of Tibet at the time you can read of the pain this caused him and his family.
Much of the book is focused on his wanderings as a chödpa performing chöd in the wilderness of Tibet, Bhutan, and India. The miracles, visions, and events he experienced were fascinating, if at times hard to believe. This section of the book proved to me very insightful because it showed me the role that chöd has in the life of the master I’m studying under; it takes it out of realm of the “classroom” and into his life.
The Dalai Lama said to Lama Wangdu “Padampa Sangye has no community of practitioners. It’s important that you establish one for the tradition” (164) and this book is part of that process as well as detailing the amazing events that led to Lama Wangdu founding his temple and then seeking out students to train in the dying practice of chöd. What surprised me is this book contains some basics on performing chöd, which in personal correspondence was warned against attempting without having received the blessing of Machik. None the less I will trust that the bare basics revealed in the text are nothing that could harm a practitioner if they did not have the blessing and that Lama Wangdu knew what he was doing.
While the story itself is quite engaging Lama Wangdu is not an author and the book doesn’t read like a story. In fact the best analogy I have is the type of rambling tale your grandparents tell you. It’s interesting, has lots of information in it, but doesn’t always follow a coherent narrative and occasionally a detail is lost. For example at one point Lama Wangdu mentions meeting his wife in a specific town, but we never hear of her or their relationship again. It took me a bit of time to get used to this style but once I did I found the cadence almost endearing.
For students of chöd and chödpas this is a great look into the life of one of the masters of our practice, but students of Buddhism in general it is still a great tale of a wandering yogi and his spiritual journey.