A Garland of Views

Reviewed by Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo

A Garland of Views (man ngag lta ba’i phreng ba): A Guide to View, Meditation, and Result in the Nine Vehicles by Padmasambhava, Jamgon Mipham and Padmakara Translation Group.

Shambhala Publications 2015. Hard Cover and Kindle.

This is the way of great teachers such as Guru Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and Longchenpa, and what they have taught throughout history.
— Dzigar Kongtrul on A Garland of Views

Every moment of unenlightened existence is shaped by how we understand the nature of reality. Although cultivating awareness of this may not be on our To Do list, Nyingma vajrayanists should know that cultivating correct views of reality is, in one way or the other, the essence of the path.

A Garland of Views

According to Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo, this is the only extant work by Padmasambhava which is not a re-discovered teaching (terma) but a transmitted teaching (kama) catalogued in the Tengyur, the commentarial corpus of Buddha’s teachings. It is also presented as a note to Chapter 13 of the Guhyagarbha Tantra.

The subject of the various views of reality (lta ba)—unenlightened, enlightening, and enlightened—is vast and intellectually demanding. Given that it is fundamental for the Nyingma, nothing could be more welcome than Padmasambhava’s concise yet not merely synoptic exposition.

A Garland of Views (so-called because it arranges in a continuous sequence, like a garland, the different views, higher and lower, and summarizes their purpose) brings together in a few words the meaning of all the vehicles, in the form of a pith instruction that is easy to remember.
— Garland of Views, pg. 97

Mipham also informs us that that Padmasambhava composed this “as he was about to leave Tibet.” Hmmm… last minute pith instruction, anyone? In any case, it was a gift to King Trisong Detsen at Red Cliffs (Drakmar) behind Samye.

A Garland of Views not only presents the views of reality which do not lead to enlightenment and those that do, it also expands on the view and method of Great Perfection, the ultimate, true view of reality.

Here, Padmasambhava instructs on how to attain conviction in the view of Great Perfection through the four avenues of understanding, the three characteristics of direct comprehension, the four branches of yogic practice and, lastly, the four stages of entering the mandala. Some of this material was new to me.

In conclusion, the text returns to a general view of the different trainings according to the views of mundane individuals, listeners, bodhisattvas and unsurpassable individuals and then completes with a statement regarding those for whom the text is intended and a simple colophon.

Yes, all this—in thirteen pages—which is exactly why Padmasambhava is known as the Precious Spiritual Guide (Guru Rinpoche)!

A Treasury of Gems

We should thank our lucky stars every day that Padmakara Translation Group included Jamgon Mipham’s (1846-1912) notes on A Garland of Views and a topical outline as well.

A Treasury of Gems spans some seventy pages and is well laid out in alignment with Padmasambhava’s words. Great for in-depth study.

In summarizing the view of Great Perfection, Mipham wrote:

All [the phenomena of samsara and nirvana] are, by nature, the manifest, perfect enlightened state from the very beginning; they are not something that is newly accomplished by means of the path.
— Garland of Views, pg. 67

Mipham’s explanations were invaluable to me in comprehending Padmasambhava’s section on the method of Great Perfection mentioned above. (Pgs. 63-89).

Compared to A Garland of Views, A Treasury of Gems will be more accessible to most of us. However, I feel such excitement at having a Padmasambhava canonical text in my own hands that it would be impossible to choose between the two.

The Dharma is infinitely rich. This book can be appreciated for its intellectual depth and pragmatism and it can also be experienced like a banana split on Sunday afternoon!

How to Use this Book:

Besides using this book for learning and study, it is an aid to investigating our own views of reality—discovering them, modifying them and observing their impacts.

As Westerners, we are prone to evaluating our teachers and meditation experiences, but how often do we inquire, What view(s) of reality am I holding? How could it be improved?

The value of knowing about the views of reality is in using them. They are to be lived not only understood or left inside books.

Let’s learn and practice what Padmasambhava taught.


A Garland of Views: A Guide to View, Meditation, and Result in the Nine Vehicles by Padmasambhava, Jamgon Mipham and Padmakara Translation Group. Shambhala Publications 2015. Hardcover and Kindle

Three other translations of Garland of Views:

Karmay, Samten G. The Great Perfection, A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill, 2007. http://abhidharma.ru/A/Dzogchen/Content/Raznoe/Great%20Perfection.pdf pgs. 152-???

Geshe Thubten Jinpa at tibetanclassics.org. Used when the Dalai Lama taught this text over a two-day period in Miami in 2004.

Keith Dowman, in Flight of the Garuda, pgs. 181-195. After reviewing a few passages, as a translator myself, I cannot recommend this work.

Lama Yeshe Dechen Wangmo is a lineage holder of the Dudjom Dakini Heart Essence (mkha 'gro thug thig). Based on thirty-eight years of vajrayana study and practice and her knowledge of literary Tibetan, she offers inspiration, teaching and guidance. In 2002, she established Jnanasukha Foundation as a venue for the teachings of Yeshe Tsogyal and the female buddhas. Since then, the Foundation has generated several initiatives such as support for the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal in Tibet, pilgrimages to Tibet, scholarships, grants and humanitarian aid. www.jnanasukha.org