Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation / -- Herbert V. Guenther, trans., -- Berkeley: Shambhala, 1971. (1079-1153) is among the most important figures in the history of Buddhism, particularly, Tibetan Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism more generally.  The Jewel Ornament of Liberation is perhaps his most important work.  The Jewel Ornament is among a set of works that provide an outline of the path toward liberation, beginning with the most elementary doctrines of Buddhism and proceeding to the most advanced stages of enlightenment.  It is written in clear and direct language which makes it an engaging treatise for readers with a limited background in Buddhism.  The path begins with truely internalizing the motive to attain genuine enlightment.  This is in contrast to other motives, for example, becoming renowned for being spiritually advanced or attaining the superhuman powers that were believed to be gained upon becoming enlightened. explains that once one becomes motivated by a genuine desire for enlightenment, one should seek out a community of spiritual friends, viz., people who are also dedicated to the path to enlightenment, and to separate from those who are still entangle in worldly affairs.  By surrounding oneself with spiritual friends, one establishes an environment in which progress toward enlightenment becomes easier.   The reader should be prepared, however, for long accounts of the more unpleasant aspect of life including decay and death. This is preparatory to recognizing the transitory nature of life and renouncing attachment to the world.  The Jewel Ornament goes on to provide illuminating accounts of a number of critical Buddhist concepts:  the transitory nature of the world, the viciousness of samsara (the world of experience), karma and its results, benevolence, compassion, and the acquisition and training in an enlightened attitude.

The last half of the work is an account of the six perfections (paramitas), the five paths to enlightenment, the spiritual levels, and the perfection of Buddhahood and its activities.  The six perfections are among the most significant ideas in the Mahayana tradition, especially as it is developed in Tibetan Buddhism.  They are generosity, morality, patience, vigor, concentration, and wisdom.  By cultivating these virtues, one proceeds along the path to becoming a bodhisattva, i.e., an enlightened being who renounces to goal of perfect enlightenment (buddhahood) for the purpose of relieve the world of suffering and bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment.

Indeed, there are very few works that compare to The Jewel Ornament of Liberation for its clarity and insight.  It stands among the best primary works in the history of Mahayana Buddhism.