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Generous Wisdom: Commentaries on The Jatakamala, Garland of Birth Stories by The Dalai Lama

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Item Code: IHF001
Author: H.HThe XIV Dalai Lama
Publisher: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8186470506
Pages: 106
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 130 gm
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Book Description
From back of the book

Generous wisdom

Generous wisdom is a set of four commentaries on the Jatakamala: Garland of birth stories of Buddha given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the annual great prayer festival that follows Tibetan New Year, in Dharamsala keeping alive the tradition started by Tsongkhapa in 1409. This work is probably the first of its kind for it is not just a story-telling but brings new meaning to life when one reads through the book.

Though the theme of this work is the perfection of generosity of the bodhisattvas, His Holiness speaks comprehensively on other perfections such as ethics and patience. He also speaks at length on such concepts as karmic action, dependent-arising and the four classes of reason applied in Buddhism to study phenomena, which correlate with modern scientific methodology.


"It is Buddhism which represents the Tibetan identity." This is the conviction central to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV has taught in his recent "Commentaries" on The Jatakamala Garland of birth stories. A representative four "Commentaries"-here translated for the first time- have been included in this collection.

. Generosity and reason

All of them have for their theme, as do the stories upon which they are based, the practice of generosity, first of the Buddhist six perfections. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned by Tibetans from these "Commentaries," then, is to rediscover their true identity by being generous. That this lesson might well apply to other people regardless of nationality goes without saying.

Generosity is not all of Buddhist practice, nor of any valid human endeavor, of course. His Holiness "Commentaries" counsel a whole range of behaviors in a wide array of life situations. Thus a second major emphasis becomes clear; any action must derive from a right understanding of one's faith. In order to understand Buddhism, he repeatedly notes, we must study it, testing both our powers of rational analysis and the rationality of the Buddha's teachings. In remarks pointed at those in his audience returning home soon to Tibet, he emphasizes the indispensability of such study, as a practice more important than preserving icons of the Buddha in their homes, or even than the rebuilding of temples and monasteries. In this respect he emphasizes as well the need generally to fully develop our human potential by looking inward, not just continuing to strive for improved material, outward circumstances. It is by training our minds that we regain "courage;" this quality has traditionally defined Tibetan identity as especially "civilized."

In the "Commentaries," His Holiness practices what he preaches. He asks us too specifically understand- in addition to the Six perfections- the concepts of dependent arising, view and conduct, the ten negativities and the ten positive actions, the three poisonous delusions, the Four noble Truths, and much more. The end sought through this study is summed up in his repeated admonition to "completely subdue one's mind." If you think that's easy, try it. Or try another, apparently simple practice insisted upon by His Holiness: "Do your best" and do it according to your own inner standard (call it conscience), not just according to society's knowledge and judgment of your deeds.

Although every idea which His Holiness expresses eventually finds itself tied to the Buddha's sometimes philosophically abstruse teachings, he does not hesitate to stress the practicality rather than the piety or profundity of certain ideas. Often he startles his audience into the present moment, as when he says, "This is not just religious talk. It has application to our secular lives." Included in such advice on everyday living, for example, are the following admonitions which are, while simply true, too easily forgotten: "Money and power facilitate our happiness and the solving of our problems, but it is clear that they are not the primary cause of happiness and solving our problems."

"When a day seems to be long, it [idle gossip] makes our day seem shorter. But it is one of the worst ways in which we waste our time…In short, [it] prevents us from doing any kind of work."

Methods of presentation in the "Commentaries" and this edition :

Certain portions of the "Commentaries" stand in extreme contrast to such proverbial wisdom, however. The "kind of work" demanded in order to understand them can elicit frustration and doubt rather than recognition. This is true, I think, for a couple of reason, first because even most well educated readers are alien to the intensely logical mind set acquired by monks of the Gelugpa order through many years of training in dialectics and debate. Second, these ideas, before fully comprehended, are nevertheless driven home repeatedly, as if for purposes of memorization in monastic training. The tendency of most modern translators and editors, continuing a long-standing Tibetan teaching method, to render in full such marathons of analysis, is maintained here with respect to two of the "Commentaries." At the same time, we have sought to avoid possible negative responses from "lay readers" by placing the most difficult passage found in these two "Commentaries" into "Appendix A." Indomitable scholars can open the cupboard door to it if they so choose. They may find there the marrow of His Holiness' teachings.

Although I am by no means deeply versed in the subtleties of the Tibetan language, translator Tenzin Dorjee is, and some further liberties have been taken with the text. The "Commentary" given in 1985, on "TV, The head of a Guild," has been treated selectively, thus to serve as a concise yet conclusive statement of the moral imperative which the "Commentaries" place upon our practice of generosity. That imperative requires of us, by the example of the protagonist's courage in giving even at the risk of his life, comparable giving in our "relatively better, more comfortable situations." It should be noted too that the protagonist displays not only unswerving courage but also clear minded skill in disputing a personified force of evil which threatens to dissuade him from his typical acts of generosity. In sum, his capacity to think on his feet allows him to implement his firm resolve. We should emulate to the best of our ability this Bodhisattva- for that is what each protagonist is, as well as the Buddha in an incarnation before his birth as Shakyamuni-be motivated by him, His Holiness tells us.

In 1988, the "Commentary" on "IX, The story of Visvantara" to a large extent mirrored that given on the same story in 1987. Only the main ideas of the 1988 "Commentary" have been included. We have been sure to retain and emphasize its conclusion, which re-states one of His Holiness' main themes, that "we should study the teaching to the best of our individual capacity and intelligence."

The two other "Commentaries" in this collection have, however, bee reproduced in their entirety. They are on "VII, The story of Agastya" (1986) and on "IX, The story of Visantara" (1987). They exemplify the two characteristic directions which these four "Commentaries" take, as mentioned above. On the one hand, His Holiness will forcefully instruct his audience on the moral imperatives of everyday life, as he does in the former. On the other hand, he will explore Buddhist philosophy in depth, as he does in the latter. Of course, a bit of both is included in each; things are rarely just black and white.

In either case, his procedure is consistent: he provides introductory comments; reads a Tibetan text of the story (re-telling and commenting on it as he reads); and then provides concluding comments further applying the story to our lives. This is not to say that the procedure shows a "fidelity" to the text characteristic of literary criticism. The text often becomes the occasion for observations that circle far from the narrative action. One thing leads to another by a process of thought association, then the observations return to his central concern- talking to Tibetans candidly about matters of belief and consequent social and civic obligation. In fact, what have been termed "Introductory Comments" in the text are less introductions to what is in the stories than they are an expression of what is on His Holiness' mind. Moreover, there is no analysis of the characters. A western reader of the Jatakamala is tempted to find contrary motives in the characters' actions, especially when reading the stories as secular art. (Why did Prince Visvantara "really" give away his wife and children? Could there have been unresolved conflict- the heart of neurosis- between his householder's obligations and his religious aspirations?) But this is not the Tibetan way. The concern is not psychological but strictly moral- and to an extent poetical, as will be considered below. The motivation of each Bodhisattva is, without question, understood as absolute altruism. He is solely a moral exemplar in what he does.

Such an approach is consistent with the tradition underlying: Commentaries" on the Jatakamala. The procedure has traditionally been to read from one of the six "Kadampa Books," usually the Jatakamala. The reader/commentator has been a Dalai Lama only when he has reached hid maturity; otherwise, it has been done by the Ganden Tripa. The first of the commentators was Tsong Khapa. This tradition, begun in the world's most remote place, the "land of snows," has continued for a long, long time.


Commentary I "IV, The story of the Head of a Guild"15
Introductory Comments15
The Story16
His Holiness' Comments while reading and telling the story19
Concluding Comments20
Commentary II "VII, The story of Agastya"23
Introductory Comments23
The Story37
His Holiness' Comments while reading and telling the story41
Concluding Comments48
Commentary III "IX, The story of Vasvantara"53
Introductory Comments53
The Story69
His Holiness' Comments while reading and telling the story73
Concluding Comments77
Commentary IV "IX, The story of Visantara"79
Introductory Comments79
Concluding Comments79
Appendix A81
Appendix B87
Appendix C93
Appendix D97
**Sample Pages**

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