Written by Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles: The Longchen Nyingthig Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is a collection of summarized biographies of important knowledge-holders within the tradition of Longchen Nyingthig, the mind treasure (terma) revealed to Jigme Lingpa through his visions of Longchen Rabjam. The first part of the collection gives the reader a historical and doctrinal perspective on Tibetan Buddhism, focusing on the mythology of transmission and a description of Dzogchen, of which Nyingthig are the highest teachings. The second part is composed of the aforementioned biographic summaries, starting with the Dharmakaya and ending in the current Dodrupchen Rinpoche. Included in this line is a biography of the Tulku Thondup’s teacher, Kyala Khenpo Chechok Thondrup (1893-1957).
Considering that this work is a collection of summaries, and that many of their lives are summarized elsewhere, I will instead discuss themes across the various life stories. The summaries primarily focus on their lives after they begin to study Buddhism. Childhood stories usually relate to miraculous signs of their status as incarnations. Some summaries also discuss institutional achievements, such as the building of monasteries, founding of scriptural colleges or establishing annual teaching programs, though the majority emphasize miraculous deeds and meditation practice. Their deaths tend to be uniformly miraculous: the early mythical figures up to Padmasambhava attain light bodies while later figures are cremated and ringsel and other relics appear in the ashes. Some mystically bequeath testaments to their principal disciple(s). Sometimes rainbows are seen and flowers rain from the sky.
One of the most prominent themes of this work is transmission. In this collection, each figure often appears as an important character within the biographies of their teachers and disciples. Though often the details are repeated, sometimes additional anecdotes or dialogues are included in these teacher/disciple biographies that give us more specific details about the character of the religious figure at different times. A large part of each biography is used to discuss the reception and transmission of texts, and thereby preserves an important cultural and literary feature of Tibetan Buddhist biographies. Another major theme is the importance of miracles and their connection to meditative practice. A sub-theme would also be the use of prophecy, used to establish the next knowledge-holders within the lineage, and is especially important to the incarnation lines of Jigme Lingpa and his disciple, Jigme Thrinle Ozer, the first Dodrupchen.
As one might expect, as the narrative process towards the 20th century, the description of the miraculous and visionary achievements becomes less spectacular, but they are still spoken about with great reverence. This suggests that these miracles have a religious meaning outside of their direct effects. In this case, the miracles are meant to signal the charisma of an important figure, and therefore are meaningful even when they seem insignificant compared to the deeds of mythical figures such as Padmasambhava. Tulku Thondup suggest that this discrepancy between the past and present exists because we have become “strangers to the true power of our hidden truth” (75). Yet well into the 18th century, explicitly supernatural deeds were performed by figures such as Do Khyentse and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, the mind and body incarnations of Jigme Lingpa, respectively.
Overall, in presenting summaries Master of Meditation and Miracles fails to capture much of the original context(s) of the source (auto)biographies, but does allow us to understand how past figures are contextualized within the current tradition. At the same time, it is also a book presented by a Tibetan Buddhist in translation for a primarily western audience, and therefore might represent a performance of a kind of historicity more than an emic understanding of the relationship between present Longchen Nyingthig knowledge-holders to their predecessors.