Anyone who has been attracted to Tibetan Buddhism, whether by the complex beauty of its art or the brilliance and humor of its teachers, should read this book. Secret of the Vajra World is an engaging, informative survey of the Vajrayana path by Reginald Ray, a Western student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Buddhist studies teacher at Naropa University and the University of Colorado. The book provides a helpful historical review and commentary on the Buddha’s teachings, emphasizing the second and third turnings of the wheel of dharma as well as the teachings on emptiness, Buddhanature and the three natures of reality: in short, the foundation for most of Tibetan Buddhism.
While warning against mistaking descriptions of meditation for the actual experience, Ray presents the vast array of Vajrayana practices, from formal foundation practices through Tantric deity practices and subtle inner yogas. He includes an excellent discussion of the meaning and traditional approach to the abhishekas, or empowerment ceremonies, known to many Westerners only as colorful public events. The author also addresses Western reservations such as fears of losing individuality by giving a teacher too much power, the distaste for prostrations and mantra repetitions, and suspicions about Tibet’s tradition of the tulku, or reincarnate lama.
Among the book’s most beautiful and evocative passages are those on mahamudra and dzogchen, the formless “non-meditations.” Comments by Trungpa Rinpoche, Urgyen Tulku and Namkai Norbu are presented to convey the intense rawness, spaciousness and joy of open awareness. The Tibetan Buddhist view of death and after-death experiences is clearly explained as well. The book also includes a detailed description of H. H. the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa’s passing in an Illinois hospital, and how this event opened the minds and hearts of the medical staff.
Many of us have been inspired by stories heard on retreat of the great Indian and Tibetan practitioners, and there are several such stories found here. Ray has also included accounts such as that of an American wife and mother describing both her two-month retreat at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia and a three-year retreat she attended with her husband.
The book concludes with the author’s views on Tibetan Buddhism as a desirable and workable path for Westerners, and how it does and does not fit into the psychological niche that Buddhism often occupies in America. Ray writes:
Other broad domains of Tibetan Buddhist experience, the selfless devotion and veneration toward one’s teachers and guides, seen and unseen; the invisible world of spirits, ancestors, bodhisattvas and buddhas; the cosmos alive with wisdom and meaning; the synchronicity and final indivisibility of oneself and the outer world, of one’s karma and reality itself; the miraculous and magical elements that increasingly appear as one matures—all these would seem to have no direct counterpart in typical conventional Western psychological and therapeutic models. . . . The psychology offered by Tibetan Buddhism and particularly the Vajrayana is thus more extensive in its scope and more openly daring and demanding in its means than one typically finds in Western psychologies. And it is finally more empowering because it leads us to a place where all views are transcended and/or liberated to make the unprecedented discoveries that make up the substance of one’s true life.