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Frankly, I am a little incredulous that no one else has yet written a review of this utterly fantastic, extraordinary work, so I am taking it upon myself to offer a few words of praise and thanks to everyone involved in making it possible. To say this is a "fantastic," "astounding," "brilliant," or "extraordinary" book is to fall hopelessly short of describing the precious treasure of wisdom, compassion, and deep insight contained between its covers. And it is obvious that Thomas H. Doctor has put a great deal of skill, devotion, and care into translating Mipham Rinpoche's commentary on Shantarakshita's classic into English, for which I am very appreciative. Make no mistake, to understand the meaning of this root text and its commentary is to understand what many learned Tibetan masters consider to be the very highest, most developed philosophical position in all of Buddhism, and that is really saying a lot!
Of course, it would be absurdly cliché to say "anyone who is a serious student of Buddhism must read this text," but I am going to say it anyway, because I'm convinced that it's true. Anyone who really wants to understand how the profound systems of Nagarjuna (Madhyamaka), Asanga (Mind-Only), Prasangika Madhyamaka (Buddhapalita/Chandrakirti, etc.), Svatantrika Madhyamaka (Bhavaviveka, Jnanagarbha, etc.), and Buddhist valid cognition in the tradition of Dignaga and Dharmakirti are all reconciled and synthesized into a fundamentally non-contradictory and compatible stance must read this work: there is simply no getting around it. As demonstrated in the jargon in the preceding sentence, this can be a challenging work, at times. How could we expect anything else, given the scope of what Shantarakshita and Mipham Rinpoche set out to do? Their works explicitly confront, clarify, and uproot even the most basic, commonly held assumptions we tend to make about our everyday experience: that this "I" or "ego" is real, that "entities" exist, that all these appearances are "out there"...
Luckily, we are in the very capable hands of Thomas Doctor, so the directness, clarity, and juiciness of Mipham Rinpoche's brilliant, playful mind--and the profundity of Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalamkara--really come across in the text. Because the book is very readable and engaging, I didn't have to struggle over the language of every sentence; the English rendering is very clear, precise, and accessible. Is Speech of Delight profound? Yes. Extremely deep and multi-layered? Yes. Requiring attention? Yes. Complicated, at times? Yes. But by no means is this work rendered in the impenetrable and often unnecessary "philosophese"-language that I find so off-putting and boring. To the contrary, I find this book to be a very fascinating read, and constantly catch myself unconsciously uttering things like "amazing!," "wow!," "Oh, my God!," and so forth, as I slowly move through the text. To speak plainly, if you are interested in Buddhist philosophy, this book will likely blow your mind.
A few words on the authors of the text are in order, since the compositions in Speech of Delight flow directly from their wisdom minds and direct experience. Shantarakshita literally brought Buddhism from India to Tibet in the eighth century, and his fame as both a scholar and practitioner is so renowned that the mere mention of his name invokes deep awe and abiding respect in the minds of nearly all practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. He co-founded the great Samye Monastery, the first monastic university in Tibet, and was regarded as an emanation of Vajrapani. Commonly known as "Khenchen Bodhisattva" and the "Great Preceptor," Shantarakshita ordained the first seven monks in Tibet--these were the first native Tibetans to hold the Buddhist monastic vows. Mipham Rinpoche writes that Shantarakshita was the most learned scholar of Buddhism, that he was unequalled in all the world, and that he could fearlessly walk as a lion among the most exalted thinkers of any philosophical tradition, Buddhist or otherwise, without any doubt or hesitation whatsoever. Not only that, but he was a peerless upholder of the Vinaya, whose perfect conduct was completely beyond reproach from any being, mundane or enlightened. As the abbot of Nalanda, he had studied and mastered the entire scope of Buddhist knowledge and philosophy, and his profound philosophy that united Madhyamaka and Mind-Only (known as Yogachara-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka) is, chronologically speaking, essentially the final stage of Buddhist philosophical evolution. Mipham Rinpoche explains that it is solely due to the kindness, wisdom, and aspirations of this great, holy being--Abbot Shantarakshita--that the Dharma flourished in the Land of Snows. He is very clear about that point.
As for the great Ju Mipham Namgyal Gyamtso, he is also counted among the most well-respected Buddhist masters of all time, particularly within the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He composed over 288 works spanning the entire scope of Buddhist study and practice, as well as secular subjects, thereby revitalizing the scholarship of the Old Translation school and contextualizing this school's unique view among the other Indo-Tibetan traditions and their philosophical positions. So influential were Mipham Rinpoche's works that they became textbooks in the Nyingma shedras, and Mipham Rinpoche himself became universally recognized among those who knew him--including his illustrious teachers Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, and Patrul Rinpoche--as the very embodiment of Manjushri, totally unassailable in debate. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the "Great First Khyentse" himself, once remarked that Mipham was the most learned person alive, and that if he were to write down even a fraction of Mipham's qualities, previous lives, and emanations, they would not fit in a text the size of the large Prajnaparamita. His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche--the great regent of Guru Padmasambhava during the 20th century--was not mincing words when he explained that practitioners and scholars needn't study all the Buddhist texts and commentaries to understand the authentic Nyingma view: they just need to read and study the works of great beings such as Rongzompa Chokyi Zangpo, Kunkhyen Longchenpa, and Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche. This is the true speech of holy beings.
I'm no expert on philosophy, I'm not a Tibetan translator, and my experience on these philosophical topics is very limited. But I have had the great fortune and privilege of receiving, exploring, and working a little bit with these teachings through some of the very accomplished Khenpos of Tibetan Buddhism, and I have really learned a lot from reading this book. Actually, I must confess that I'm only about halfway through the book right now, but am moving right along and can't wait to see what happens next. (; I was completely hooked by the "Framework for the Explanation" section that is Mipham Rinpoche's extensive overview of Shantarakshita's text. This introduction to the actual commentary is one of the clearest and most illuminating expositions of Buddhist philosophy that I have ever come across, period. What is the relationship between relative and absolute truth? How does one establish their union? What is the nature of phenomena? Of mind? How do relative appearances exist on the strictly conventional level? What is the best way to usher practitioners into the realization of absolute truth? What is the difference between valid cognition that examines the relative and valid cognition that examines the ultimate? Are they compatible? How can relative appearances be reconciled with their absolute nature? Is it misleading to talk about and describe absolute truth, as the Svatantrikas do? Should we jump right in and point to the uncategorized ultimate, as the Prasangikas do? Are these two approaches fundamentally contradictory? How does one establish that no entities, in fact, exist at all? And once we establish that, how do things actually function on the level of appearances?
Obscure though these topics may sound, they are immediately relevant to anyone interested in using logic and reasoning to uproot the fundamental assumptions and habitual way we tend to see things all the time. Mipham Rinpoche writes that it is rare to find someone even reading these texts, let alone studying them, but thanks to the efforts of skilled translators like Thomas Doctor and the guidance of teachers like Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and the great upholders of all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism, we are graced with the opportunity and privilege of accessing these masterpieces in the English language. Again, I offer my thanks to everyone involved in bringing this book to fruition, and I can't recommend Speech of Delight enough. Though it is traditionally said that a dog cannot judge the qualities of a lion, I (the dog) have a great deal of faith in the wisdom words of the great Abbot Shantarakshita, Mipham Rinpoche, and my own masters (the lions). I hope this review has been helpful to anyone contemplating reading or studying this text. If you are so inclined, I say go for it!