My suggestion would be to divide the twelve months of the year into lamrim meditations and then meditate on each subject for one month or two weeks to finish the whole lamrim in one year. . . . To meditate like this each year, wow, wow, wow! That would be great. Your life would be so rich and you would be getting closer to realization and closer to enlightenment. At the time of death you can be happy and satisfied that you spent enough of your life practicing Dharma.
—Lama Zopa Rinpoche
When I first came across this advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche during the summer of 2013, it immediately struck a chord. “Great! That’s my new year’s resolution!” I thought. On January 1, 2014, I sat down on my cushion with Pabongka Rinpoche’s Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, full of virtuous excitement at the prospect of working my way through the lamrim over the coming year. For a few days I conscientiously followed my new routine, identifying suitable passages from the substantial volume in front of me and doing my best to listen, reflect and meditate on their meaning. Then I missed a day, started again, missed another day, then missed a few days in a row, and eventually had to admit that I’d lost momentum and sadly it just wasn’t going to happen.
Four months later I found myself in eastern Oregon, USA. Following an FPMT Inc. meeting in Portland, my husband and I decided to spend a few days exploring cowboy country. Late one afternoon we followed a dirt track down a lonely canyon in our little red rental car and just before sunset reached a small settlement where time seemed to have stood still. Apparently we were the first overseas guests at the town motel since some German engineers the year before. What would it be like to live in such an isolated place? I wondered. Where would I find my inspiration? In the town’s general store I found an answer, in the form of a small lilac-covered book: a “Daily Devotional” of spiritual quotes and stories for each day of the year.
That’s when I had the idea to create a Buddhist version of this homely volume: a 365-page daily route map through the lamrim that would consist entirely of extracts from the teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and provide the best possible chance of fulfilling Rinpoche’s advice in the rough and tumble of modern life.
My first step was to gather together all of Lama’s and Rinpoche’s lamrim teachings, both published and unpublished, and identify suitable passages that aligned with the outline provided by Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. I was fascinated to discover how even the most radical of Lama’s teachings generally presented a traditional line of reasoning—albeit in his own unique style and language. I marvelled afresh at the ability of Lama and Rinpoche to dissect the problems of modern life with such dazzling precision, and their ever-imaginative use of storytelling and metaphor (even in a second language) to patiently reiterate the same points over and over again. There was so much compelling material that it often seemed an impossible task to choose the most appropriate text for each page—a pearl among pearls—and add it to the garland.
Just as the lamrim teachings themselves can lift us up and cast us down, my two years of working on this volume both plunged me into despair and filled me with rejoicing. After over thirty years “in the Dharma” I was horrified to see how many topics I’d avoided, how few I’d understood, and even how little I had absorbed when I revisited passages that I’d been working on the previous month. It was a humbling experience of the many obstacles to Dharma study and practice. A late night or a grumpy mood made it almost impossible to progress the work, whereas saying extra prayers, making offerings or carrying out practical kindnesses for others would suddenly restore my flow. As the task neared completion I felt distraught, my only comfort being that I eagerly look forward to making daily use of Lamrim Year myself.
I hope and pray that this volume will prove similarly powerful and meaningful for you. May the profound methods and extraordinary wisdom of these teachings assist each of us in deepening our understanding and practice so that we can swiftly lead ourselves and all other beings out of suffering to perfect and unassailable happiness and peace.
Lamrim Year wouldn’t exist without the generous encouragement and support of Nick Ribush, founder and executive director of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. Nick not only embraced the idea immediately but provided unfettered access to the enormous wealth of material contained in the Archive. Although a wonderful job has been done of organizing and preserving that material, I’m excited by how much is still waiting to be edited and shared. Huge thanks to Nick and to all the LYWA team and benefactors for the life-changing opportunity I’ve had to work on this project and for the extraordinary role you’ve played in preserving the teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche for future generations.
When Sandy Smith kindly agreed to get involved with Lamrim Year, her professional skills, decades of Buddhist study and rigorous approach took the project to a whole new level. As our emails whizzed back and forth between Australia and the UK, it was a joy to work together on what we hope might prove to be a whole new genre for FPMT publications. I am also indebted to Gordon McDougall, who as editor of the FPMT Lineage Series is probably more familiar with the lamrim teachings in the Archive than anyone else, and has been unstinting in his patient and good-natured support.
Lamrim Year is dedicated to the long lives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Tenzin Ösel Hita, recognized reincarnation of Lama Yeshe. Without our teachers we are lost. May their lamrim teachings open our hearts, dispel all our misconceptions, and empower us to bring about a world full of peace and happiness.