The Copper-Colored Mountain

Jigme Lingpa on Padmasambhava’s Pure Land
Georgios Halkias & Christina Partsalaki
Snow Lion 2022

Review by Andy Lukianowicz

copper coloured mountainThere is a wonderful scene in a Peter Pan film, when the bad pirate threatens a shaman, asking him how he feels about his upcoming death, and the shaman replies with a grin, ‘Ah, death, the last adventure!’. The pirate then blasts him with his bluderbuss, and you see the shaman smiling as he hurtles towards a future he is primed and ready for; shortly afterwards the pesky pirate gets blasted too, and the terrified look on his face…..

Where to go, what to do? The Nondro recites: ‘Death is real, comes without warning, this body will be a corpse.’  

Prof. Halkias, who has also provided us with the marvellous ‘Luminous Bliss’, on the not so well known history of Amitabha Pure Land Buddhism in Tibet [in Japan Shin Buddhism it is the most widely practised Buddhist path, aptly known as the ‘easy path’, advocating surrender to and reliance on tariki, the Infinite Love, Power and Light of Amida Buddha guiding us to rebirth in Sukhavati] has, together with Christina Partsalaki written an equally illuminating book on rebirth in Zangdok Palri, Padmasambhava’s Lotus Light Palace in the Copper-Colored Mountain, Guru Rinpoche’s Pure Land.

The book expounds on Jigme Lingpa’s ‘Secret Path’, an aspiration prayer composed by Jigme Lingpa while on retreat at Samye Chimpu during a mystical vision of PadmaSambhava in union with his consort Kharchen Yeshe Tsogyal. In the Longchen Nyingthig inner nondro, guru yoga practitioners visualize themselves as Vajrayogini at the center of the Glorious Copper Colored Mountain and Guru Rinpoche inseparable dissolves into their body. It can also be recited and practised independently, by Vajrayana practitioners who are not yet sure of their mastery of their practice when their time of death approaches, as a means of attaining rebirth in Paddmasabhava’s Pure Land, a better place to hear and practise teachings, through their faith and devotion. 

Arranged in three parts, the book guides the practitioner inward and upward along Jigme Lingpa’s Secret Path through Padmasamhava’s Lotus Light Palace, ‘laid out in mnemonic form as a pithy account of practical instructions and esoteric insights corresponding to the outer, inner and secret interpretations of the Nyingma teachings’. The outer perspective reads as a Mahayana aspiration for rebirth in a nirmanakaya pure land; the inner, describes the sambhogaka luminosity of Vajrayana; and the secret, introduces the abiding dharmakaya inner nature of Dzogchen. The very structure of the Palace in three tiers allows an upward movement from the ground floor where nirmanakaya Padmasamhava presides to the middle floor of sambhogakaya Padmapani and the top floor of dharmakaya Kuntuzangpo-Amitabha. Also interesting is the subtle way Jigme Lingpa’s Secret Path  mirrors Zangpo Drakpa’s Leu Denma Seven Chapter Prayer to Padmasambhava, perhaps the best known and best loved prayer to Padmasabhava among the Nyingmapas.

The first part comprises the first 6 stanzas and offers a description of the topography of the Copper Colored Mountain and a detailed description of the structure of Padmasambhava’s surmounting Lotus Light Palace. The second part, comprising stanzas 7 to 14,  focusses on the three levels of the Lotus Light Palace, examining the trikaya principle, the three kinds of transmission, three kinds of offerings and tripartite register of the nine vehicles. The third, concluding part, comprising stanzas 15 to 19, pertains to esoteric meditations and instructions, treating the ten stages and five paths of bodhisattva Mahayana, the stages of Vayrayana deity practice, then the extraordinary wisdom lama level of Dzogchen. This leads to the aspiration to be ushered into Padmasabhava’s Pure land by welcoming dakinis [in Amida’s Sukhavati it is Amida himself, his accompanying bodhisattavs and monks who receive practitioners into Sukhavati]. 

A word of warning: aspire to the highest level, Padmasambaha’s Pure Land is bordered by and thus inhabited by the land of the rakshasas, and you don’t want to go to their areas!

Of course, ultimately the Pure Land is in us, in our heart; although some great Chinese and Japanese Pure Land masters have stated that this doesn’t preclude the existence of a Pure Land also billions of miles to the west.  

This book is a miracle of study and research, where almost every sentence is footnoted with many quotations from scholarly western language books and canonical text in translated form available to western readers. The authors/translators/editors give a general overview also with detailed explanations of the three series of Dzogchen teachings [mind, space and pith, semde, longde and menangde/upadesha; this last explained according to its four modes of liberation; also mentioned is Sri Simha’s division into four cycles] and of Dzogchen practice, from the initial korde rushen pointing up the difference between mind [sem] and nature of the mind [sem-nyid], progressing to its two styles of practice, trekcho and togal [and yangthig] including summaries of the four lamps and of the four visions of togel; the explanations though concise are exhaustive and thorough. A well-deserved heart-felt thanks for such a wonderful work.  

And very timely, especially for some at the stage of life when, in the words of Robert McCrum, ‘every third thought’ is about death; if the second thought is about sex, as Freud would have it, then let the first thought [the only thought?] of those of us who might not succeed to Jalu be one of aspiration for rebirth in Guru Rinpoche’s Pure Land. 


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