Mirror of Mindfulness
One day at the big white monastery in Boudha, I climbed the stairs as usual to pay respect to the abbot and my teacher, an incarnate lama by the name Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. His visiting room is quite large and has many beautiful old statues on the shrine and stunning painted scrolls decorating the walls.
Again, it is a delight to visit Rinpoche and sit in his warm-hearted and joyful presence. Let's say that it's on such a day that he hands me a small Tibetan text that is reproduced from handwriting and says:
“This is from the Gyalwang Karmapa's library,” referring to one of his three main teachers, the sixteenth in the line of Karmapa incarnations, known as Gyalwang which means king of conquerors.
“Both he and our lord of refuge, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, have several times suggested that in the future I should use this text and others by the same author to teach students from abroad.”
The author turns out to the yogi-scholar Tsele of Vulture's Nest, and the Karmapa had personally brought his collected works into exile in India.
“It must be very precious,” I thought, and Rinpoche continued, “This little book is like a map to guide you through life and death. It has both very simply advice and profound explanations of the tantric perspective. I want you to translate it into English.”
Over the next month a draft translation was made. Both Rinpoche and his father, Tulku Urgyen, kindly unpacked the text for me. Many of the key words used in the tantras are almost impossible to understand for a layman—some are even deliberately shrouded in metaphorical language. It is entirely thanks to their generous wisdom that I wrote the following introduction:
The Mirror of Mindfulness is a commentary on the bardo states and is well known to advanced practitioners in Tibet. Together with Tsele Natsok Rangdrol's works on the Mahamudra and Dzogchen systems, it forms a trilogy that encompasses the most subtle oral instructions of Vajrayana practice. It is the aspiration of Tulku Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche that these important texts are made available to English-speaking practitioners.
The author, Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, was recognized as a reincarnation of Milarepa, Tibet's famous yogi. He studied with many learned and accomplished masters, both philosophy and oral instructions. In the latter part of his life he remained in retreat and gained the realization of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.
In The Mirror of Mindfulness, he joins the teachings from Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Moreover, he does this in a way that can be applied to a student's individual level of meditation experience. This practical guidebook on how to face all events during life and death takes as its main theme the four bardos that together cover the whole cycle of living, dying, the after-death state, and taking rebirth.
The Tibetan word bardo literally means "intermediate state," the gap or period between two events, a transition period in the series of changes a sentient being undergoes in an endless chain of births and deaths called samsara.
In order to read this book with an open mind, one must reevaluate the worldview of materialistic nihilism that most Westerners have been brought up with and for the most part simply take for granted. If one decides that a human being is merely one of nature's accidents, a biological organism which is born, tries to survive and reproduce, and then dies, leaving nothing but a corpse of material particles, then there is not much opportunity for spirituality. This nihilistic viewpoint is based on ordinary people's perceptions.
An enlightened being like the Buddha, on the other hand, teaches according to an extraordinary insight into life and reality. This enlightened insight can be tested through one's own experience. The Buddha taught that the physical body is only a temporary dwelling and not as important as the inhabitant, the consciousness, which is a continual stream of cognition.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche
Photo by Jurek Schreiner
The Mirror of Mindfulness is not merely an esoteric lesson in the pointlessness and futility of worldly concerns. Tsele Natsok Rangdrol gives the key points of the Practice Lineage on dealing with the situation in each of the four bardos—that is, how to face the situation directly and take advantage of the opportunities that each bardo presents, in accordance with the oral teachings of the lineage masters.
The Buddha taught the following conditions for liberation from the cycle of samsaric rebirths and the attainment of enlightenment for the welfare of others: being a human being, meeting a qualified master, receiving the oral instructions, and applying them to one's experience through practice. This book summarizes such oral instructions and offers practical advice that is meant to be taken personally.
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche wrote in his foreword to the translation:
“Death and rebirth are very important for everyone. Tibetan Buddhism contains many teachings on these topics, and this text is especially suitable, as it is easy to understand. The author's style is very clear, precise, and direct. Both Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche have recommended The Mirror of Mindfulness for my students to study. Please read it carefully and take the meaning to heart. I pray that an understanding of these teachings may be of benefit to all beings.”
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s introduction:
The most learned Tsele Natsok Rangdrol was the body-emanation of the great translator Vairochana, and he attained the pinnacle of learning and accomplishment of the masters of the Land of Snow. Also known as Kongpo Gotsang Natsok Rangdrol, he was unmatched in his three qualities of scholarship, virtue, and noble-mindedness.
Among the five volumes of his collected works, I considered that this explanation of the bardos would benefit everyone interested in the dharma. The words are clear and easy to understand, and lengthy scholarly expositions are not emphasized. This text, easy to comprehend and containing all the key points and very direct instructions, results from following the oral advice of a qualified master.
In order to help the foreigners who are presently interested in the dharma to gain true confidence, I, old Dilgo Khyentse, encouraged my disciple Erik Pema Kunsang to translate this book into English. Therefore, may everyone trust in this.
Written on the twenty-fifth day of the first month of the year of the Earth Dragon.
You can order the book here: