In these crazed, power-driven times, how rare it is to discover someone who deeply explores the inner world of spiritual presence and shares their findings with those of us numbed by the beguiling distractions of the modern age. Brilliant Moon (Dawa Rabsel) is the name of an unusual spiritual master of the twentieth century, known to his peers and students everywhere as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–1991). This long-awaited book is the record of Rinpoche’s autobiographical reflections, and the fruition of fifteen years’ labor by the Dutch translator and ordained Buddhist nun Ani Jinba Palmo. Ani Jinba also translated a number of audiotapes of Rinpoche’s students and peers reflecting with poignant nostalgia on the range and depth of this modern saint. In the short space here, I can only hint at the importance of this volume—the record of a profound inner spiritual life, of Tibet’s cultural heritage, and of the lasting impact of one man on an entire generation of surviving masters and students. (As evidence of Khyentse Rinpoche’s continuing influence, Shambhala Publications is now preparing a three-volume series, The Collected Works of Dilgo Khyentse, to be published in 2010, marking the 100th year of his birth.)
Like Prince Siddhartha, who rejected worldly affairs in favor of seeking answers to the riddles of life and suffering, Khyentse Rinpoche was born to privilege and wealth in eastern Tibet yet yearned for the silence of retreat. Ultimately he was able to spend over twenty years in solitary spiritual pursuits. In the following poetic images, he contrasts the allure of the world with the beckoning solitude of retreat:
In our splendid, elegantly structured, lofty home,
A pleasant place amidst well-plowed grain fields,
Whatever recreation, tasty food and drink,
And soft, fine clothes I receive, my mind never feels happy!
A beautiful self-arisen cavern, untouched by humans,
With a cool shelter of trees swaying to and fro,
Embraced within gently drifting, misty clouds above;
I feel like taking such a sacred rock cave as my home!
And yet, and yet . . . he did not remain in isolation. He brought the harvest of his inner life back into the world. He was the spiritual advisor to the Queen Mother of Bhutan as well as the primary spiritual tutor to a generation of “the best and brightest” lights of Tibet’s diasporic children. Dzongsar Khyentse reminds us, in his forward to this volume, that Dilgo Khyentse embodied the three precious qualities of a true master: he manifested the outward quality of learning (composing twenty-five volumes on Buddhist topics); the inward quality of discipline (accomplishing the spiritual essence of all four major Tibetan Buddhist lineages); and the secret quality of kindness (with a gentle encouraging manner).
Wise knowing (khyen) combined with subtle kindness (tse)—here was a true Khyen-tse for our times, and this volume is the record of that remarkable incarnation. May it inspire jaded materialists to look again at their fleeting life plans. May it awaken self-satisfied “Buddhists” to open their hearts to the rich world of suffering as the ground of their practice.