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  highland eyes   Highland Eyes – Buddhist Songs

Highland Eyes is a collection of fourteen songs that present the main topics in the Buddhist path, particularly the vajrayana traditions of Kagyu, Nyingma and Shambhala. Most of the songs were written in retreat as a way of furthering contemplation of compassion, death and dying, our natural wisdom or buddha nature, the dream-like nature of experience and creating enlightened society. A few of the songs were written outside of retreat for particular occasions, notably the title track, Highland Eyes, which was written for the anniversary of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s passing.

Buddha Nature                            

Everything That We Know            

If You're Looking For The Present 

The Sun Is Empty                        

As I chose the songs for the album I wanted to offer a collection that presented as many aspects of the path to realization as possible. I am not an enlightened person so the songs are a distillation of my understanding of what I have received from my teachers. They are what I bring to my meditation practice. If there are mistakes in the music, they are mine, and what is accurate is there as a result of what I’ve been taught. My aspiration is that this music is useful to you in your life.

About the Cover:

The cover and disk graphics for the Highland Eyes album were painted by Betsy Brown, an artist and buddhist practitioner from New Hampshire. In the middle of the watercolor is a stupa, a traditional buddhist monument symbolizing enlightenment and embodying the life of the teacher, in this case Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This stupa is in a broad meadow in the forests above Karme Choling in Barnet, Vermont. When Betsy painted it, the stupa had just been redecorated by a master artist from Pullahari Monastery in Nepal. To the left of the stupa are the pine trees of the Vermont woodlands. On the right is the ridge of the last mountain pass one must to cross to reach Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s monastery in Tibet, Surmang Dutsi Til. Above are sun and moon which symbolize wisdom and compassion. Many thanks to Betsy her beautiful paintings.

One third of the profits from web sales of this album will be split between the Konchog Foundation, http://www.konchok.org/ and Pullahari Monastery, http://www.jamgonkongtrul.org/pullamona.htm

MP3 Purchases: iTunes   /   Rhapsody
CD Purchases: USA: www.samadhicushions.com   /   Europe: www.garudatrading.com

Notes on the Songs

Here are some brief notes on the songs. If you’d like to know more, there are some recommended readings at the bottom of the page.

The Sun Is Empty

This is a song about how emptiness (the teachings that our mind and experience are interdependent and free of independent identity) and the teachings on buddha nature (that all beings are fundamentally sane and possess all the qualities of a buddha) go together. Experientially this culminates in the highest meditation, mahamudra, the dance of realized feminine and masculine principles—wisdom and compassion.

Buddha Nature

This song is explores buddha nature more deeply by expressing some key points from a very famous exposition of the topic by a teacher named early Indian named Asanga. I wrote this song at the end of two months of study of Asanga’s text while at Pullahari monastery in Kathmandu. Besides a series of images for how our true nature is hidden beneath the stains of our confusion, the song brings out some of the crucial points in contemplation of buddha nature. It is very important know that we have goodness and sanity at our core. Confidence that sanity is the foundation of everyone’s being is the way to proceed towards enlightenment.

Having Kindness

This song was inspired by the teachings of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche on bodhicitta, awakened heart. The development of kindness and warmth towards others, along with compassion for their suffering is the wellspring joy and happiness for our family, friends and the whole world.

The Eyes Are A Dream

The images in this song are drawn from the twenty kinds of emptiness, a traditional way of categorizing our mind and experience in order to examine their nature. I used the word dream rather than emptiness in each line in the song because it is easier to sing, and because a great teacher, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, said that if we have trouble realizing emptiness it is alright to have a sense that everything is a dream. The image of our experience being like a dream is often used as a way to point beyond our fixed way of looking at ourselves and the world. Seeing things from this perspective allows us to be more open.

Everything That We Know

This is a song about the emptiness of thought and experience based on the Prajnaparamita sutras, a central collection of texts in Mahayana Buddhism. Emptiness, in everyday experience outside of meditation, means to regard things as not substantial, but dreamlike. It is a philosophical topic on one hand, and experiential on the other.

Whenever we get a felt sense or trust in the meaning of a profound topic the best thing to do is to stabilize our confidence. Then later when we can use that stability while we examine profound topics more deeply. People say that an easy way to understand emptiness is through thinking about or contemplating interdependence. If we understand the interdependence of our mind and the world of our experience it is easier to see the dramas in our lives as illusory. This will lead to a state of mind that is open, spacious and relaxed.

When You’re Dead

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition is famous for its instructions on what to do while we are dying, when consciousness separates from the body and when we are taking rebirth. This song is a presentation of some of the key instructions about death.

If You’re Looking For The Present

I enjoy this song a lot. It is about how there is no way to find the present, the past or the future. It seems like there is time, but time is impossible discover it when we really look for it.

Raindrop Lullaby

I wrote this song after a very pleasant, short retreat.

The Twelve Links

The Buddha was asked how a mindstream could have a series of lives if there was not a concrete identity moving from life to life. He responded by teaching the twelve links of interdependent origination. The twelve links are a way to explain how we have a life, a body, rebirth and so forth without any of it being real at the same time. We usually think that we have to have a solid thing like a billiard ball that is reincarnating in order to have a next life. This twelve-stage process is one of the most complex explanations of causality in Buddhism. Monasteries in Tibet have a mural painted at their front door showing the twelve links through the images described in this song.

Ever Awakening

This is another song based on the Buddha Nature text. I was very happy when I wrote this song because when I finished a reading of the text I felt strongly that the truth underneath our confusion is a sane, gentle and kind state of being. This is a big emphasis in Buddhism because for the most part we ignore, forget or disbelieve what’s at the core of us. Because of disbelief or ignorance we wind of doing all sorts of irrational things. This seems to come from some kind of fear of who we actually are. However, when we relax into who we are things are more workable and we are more capable to enjoy life and help others.

There Are So Many Ways We Die

One contemplates death and dying as a way to inspire a more balanced approach to life. When we see we are mortal, when we know for sure how fragile our own and other’s lives are, we become more kind, caring and able to love. From that perspective meditation practice and compassionate action become more fluid and straightforward.

Blessings Wisdom

This song is about mahamudra meditation, the type of final meditation in the Kagyu path. This type of meditation is beyond the grasp of the intellect, yet the descriptions of it and the techniques of the meditation practice lead one to the experience of mahamudra. I became inspired one night on retreat and wrote this song.

Highland Eyes

This song was written for as remembrance for the anniversary of the parinirvana, the passing into nirvana, of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. For students this is an important time. When the Buddha passed away, it was his final teaching to his students, the most important teaching—impermanence. If we meditate closely on impermanence, it is said that all aspects of the path, and in particular compassion and emptiness, will become clear to us.

The song is a guru yoga, a means of connecting to the mind and heart of the teacher through devotion. The song recounts the life of Trungpa Rinpoche from his birth and training as a monk in Tibet; to his time in England and pivotal retreat in Bhutan; his early years in North America teaching at Naropa University and meeting Suzuki Roshi; his formal presentation of the three yanas at his seminaries; his campaigns with the Dorje Kasung, his transformation of military form into a discipline of freedom from aggression; and finally his presentation of the Shambhala teachings, the teachings on enlightened society.

Mind Is A Luminous Mirror

This song, like the last one, is a Shambhala Buddhist song. Shambhala Buddhism is the main transmission which Chogyam Trungpa gave to the West. It is, one could say, the transmission of dharma for the materialistic age we live in. It comes as a blend of several traditions of Buddhism: the Tibetan Kagyu and Nyingma traditions which grew from Indian roots, the approach of Zen with influences of Rinzai, Soto and Shingon, the Gesar tradition of Tibet, and Theravada—mixing all these with Western expressions of sanity and dignity. Trungpa Rinpoche once said that he liked Japanese precision, Tibetan richness and American scale. He also appreciated British form and etiquette. These secular and non-secular expressions of richness come together in Shambhala dharma.

The example of the spiritual warrior is central to the Shambhala tradition. Just as the bodhisattva is figure one aspires to emulate in Mahayana Buddhism, the warrior is the model emulated in the Shambhala tradition. One way of etymologizing the Tibetan for bodhisattva, chang chub sempa, is warrior of enlightened mind.

TLGD mentioned toward the end of the song is short for Tiger Lion Garuda Dragon. These are the four dignities or the four ways a warrior abides. They are the ways a warrior helps the world. Tiger expresses warrior’s meekness, gentleness. The lion is perky, disciplined and fearless in the face of obstacles to dignity. The Garuda, a mythical bird which hatches fully grown, expresses outrageousness, the willing to communicate with any situation. The inscrutable dragon is the embodiment of the wealth of enlightened society, always evolving like the seasons.

Mukpo is the family and clan name of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his heir, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Chogyam Trungpa considered those who genuinely understood the principals of Shambhala to be part of the Mukpo clan, warriors of Shambhala.

Suggested Readings

What follows is a fraction of what is available for any one of these topics. This short list is based mostly on what I was reading when I wrote these songs.

The Sun Is Empty, Everything That We Know, If You're Looking For The Present
Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche Open Door to Emptiness, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Buddha Nature, Ever Awakening
Buddha Nature, Arya Maitreya, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs, Changeless Nature: Thrangu Rinpoche

Having Kindness
Rousing Bodhichitta, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Vajradhatu Publications, Halifax.

The Eyes Are A Dream
“The Twenty Kinds of Emptiness,” Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Shenphen Ösel, Volume 3, Number 1, April 1999, www.shenpen-osel.org.

When You're Dead
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Chögyam Trungpa and Francesca Fremantle
Mind Beyond Death, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
The Bardo Guidebook, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Tsogyal Rinpoche

Raindrop Lullaby, Blessings Wisdom
The Rain of Wisdom, Nalanda Translation Committee
Clarifying The Natural State, Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, Eric Pema Kunsang

The Twelve Links
Dependent Origination, Thrangu Rinpoche; Namo Buddha Publications, Boulder.

Highland Eyes
Born in Tibet, Shambhala Publications, Boston
Warrior King Of Shambhala, Jeremy Hayward
Chogyam Trungpa, His Life And Vision, Fabrice Midal

Mind Is A Luminous Mirror

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa

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All songs © 2008 Walker Blaine. All rights reserved.