Ray offers an accessible introduction to the origins, cosmos and cultural context of Tibetan Buddhism. Easier to follow than other intros (like Thurman's Essential Tibetan Buddhism), but doesn't ignore important details. Especially good delineation of the four principal schools. If Ray included a discussion of the important role of the indigenous Bon religion in shaping modern Tibetan Buddhism, I missed it. Focused more directly on the knowledge component of wisdom than on experience. Still Ray's explanations burned through the fog of my confusion
"By reconnecting with the wisdom, sanity and warmth that . . . characterize our most basic nature," Tibetan Buddhism offers us a way to address the suffering and alienation in our lives, Reginald Ray writes (p. 449). Professor Ray teaches Buddhism at both Naropa University and the University of Colorado in Boulder. Focusing on Tibetan Buddhism, his 495-page book is among the best introductions to Buddhist history, teachings, and meditation practice that I have ever read. Ray's goal is to demonstrate that Tibetan Buddhism offers us a "living truth" powerful enough to lead "us ever more deeply into the unknown territory of what our life is" (p. 1). "Beneath the surface of our modern speed, ambition, and self-importance," he writes, Tibetan Buddhism provides "an ancient path" and a "way back" to a more meaningful experience of human life than the scientific and materialistic one evolving today (pp. 2; 57).
Ray approaches his often esoteric subject matter in terms readily accessible to those of us without his scholarly background in Tibetan Buddhism. His book unfolds in four parts. Part One, "The Sacred Environment" (pp. 15-63), presents the traditional Tibetan view of "the sacred cosmos, with its living elements, forces, and beings and the critical role of ritual as a means for communicating with the unseen world" (pp. 3, 450). In Part Two, "Tibet's Story" (pp. 65-225), Ray travels to "wild and remote places" (p. 173) to describe the Buddhist history of Tibet beginning in India, and examines practitioners including Naropa (pp. 154-159), Marpa (pp. 159-164) and Milarepa (pp. 165-172), whose struggles enabled the lineage of Buddhist dharma to be transmitted from generation to generation (p. 450). In Part Three, "Core Teachings" (pp. 227-360), he describes the sophisticated teachings, practices, and results of the Buddhist path in nontechnical terms, frequently using personal anecdotes to illuminate his points. Part Four, "Buddhist Philosophy" (pp. 361-449) discusses Tibetan Buddhist perspectives of "the three turnings of the wheel of dharma" (pp. 450-51).
For anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism, its history, culture, teachings or practices, or for anyone curious about how simply "sitting down to explore one's own mind" (p. 450)is relevant to our modern world "with its unprecedented levels of technology, information, and materialism" (p. 449), this book should not be missed.