As a professional psychotherapist and someone who has had a long-term engagement with the Buddhist teaching of Dzogchen, I’ve become used to wearing two hats. In fact, I can hardly remember a time where I have not been a fence-straddler.

It’s a trait which shows up in this book. The two hats in this instance are those of someone who is writing about the tradition to which they have been devoted for almost fifty years, and someone who has discovered the value of Buddhist academic scholarship for – surprisingly – the cultivation of faith.

In the first section, Who’s Who within the tradition’s lineage, I have not only retold the legends but also – and this is a little unusual for books written for those practising the tradition – revealed in some cases where the legends have come from. When I do this it is immediately apparent that most were written many hundreds of years after the events they recall, and that they are certainly not histories as we would understand the word, but rather narratives whose intention is to teach and evoke devotion.

Similarly, in the section on ideas, What’s What, I have occasionally stepped out of the box of simply representing the tradition, and have instead written about it from slightly outside. The origins of this are actually quite straightforward. Over the many years of my engagement with the Dzogchen teachings there have been a number of things that I could not understand and which did not seem to me to add up. This is where I have turned to scholars of the tradition. Buddhist scholarship can sometimes appear obtuse and opaque, but it is more than often clarifying. I have discovered repeatedly that when something does not make sense it is because layers of Buddhist thought have become compressed together. Knowing something of this history helps to tease things apart; what we are left with is an appreciation of a thousand years of yogic experience that repeatedly attempts to express what is ultimately ineffable.

And this neatly takes us back to the cultivation of faith. If the life stories of the saintly and wise are all made up and the ideas just a ragbag of Buddhist bits and bobs how could one possibly be so devoted? For me the answer is simple: this is not just a handbook for a rather esoteric form of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a demonstration of how such a tradition may make the transition into a secular society that, while it no longer believes in fairy tales, is able to appreciate deeply the value of human creativity when it is for the good.

Nigel Wellings