Many books about Buddhism are written from the academic point of view. For practitioners (particularly of the Kagyu lineage) who want wonderful advice about specific practice issues, this is one of the best books available. The translation is excellent; clear and illuminating, the translator has also captured some of the author's intelligence and sense of humor. As someone who practices Shamata (Zhinay) and Ngondro, I have found this an indispensible resource.
During his lifetime, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche was widely regarded as a realized master by great teachers in all lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He spent nearly fifteen years in solitary meditation in the mountains of Tibet, and achieved great realization. In this book, presenting teachings he gave at Kagyu Droden Kunchab in San Francisco, Rinpoche demonstrates his famed gentleness, humor, breadth of understanding and acceptance, and ability to vividly bring the dharma alive to Western students.
The text discusses practices central to the Vajrayana path in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Kagyu tradition stresses experience and contemplation as the mode of integrating the teachings, and the practices discussed here reflect that emphasis. Rinpoche gives clear, detailed instructions about each of the practices, but never fails to remind the reader that an authentic teacher and guide is essential to integrating them and assisting our development.
The ordinary preliminary practices are meditations on the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to Dharma--precious human existence, death and impermanence, karma, and samsara (the suffering of aimlessly cycling through existence). Rinpoche lucidly explains how these meditations help provide the discipline necessary for consistent practice and give rise to the hunger for the transformation that the "extraordinary" practices make possible.
"Extraordinary" here means just that--beyond the ordinary, or basic, practice of meditating on the Four Thoughts. In the Kagyu lineage, these practices are refuge and prostrations, Dorje Sempa (Vajrasattva) purification, mandala offering, and guru yoga. Each of these practices plays a vital role in helping to release our habitual clinging to self-created visions of identity that obstruct an understanding of true reality.
The sections on the vows and commitments explain the foundations for understanding the moral underpinnings of daily practice--how we prepare and tend to the ground on which to build a dharmic home. Rinpoche also discusses modes of meditation and introduces Mahamudra, a highly advanced topic.
The book is a useful tool for anyone interested in an introductory overview of the Vajrayana, and is essential as an introduction to those choosing to undertake the journey on this beautiful and liberating path.