Thursday, April 30, 2009

Treasure Trove of Zung: Mantra Rolls for Free Download

Time for a new prayer wheel? Time to maintain the one you already have? Need the mantras for the tsa tsa? Click here. This is one of my favorite places on the net: Dharma Downloads, courtesy of the Karma Lekshey Ling Institute. Everything should be like this.

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Prayer Wheel, or Installation Art?

From Hungary, comes a prayer wheel powered LED display, installed in the Himalayas (above). I am not sure what all this means, I am not sure why it was done in the first place, but here it is. You know, a couple of years ago, my small daughter had an idea to make prayer wheels that shine mantras on the walls as they revolve. Maybe we can take a little of this, a little of that, and come up with a LED prayer wheel.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 30, 2009

Today is the lunar 7th, because our calendar has the 6th as an omitted day, so here we go again. Diversity is the spice of life, don't you think? Anyway, today is the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. It seems like only yesterday. Today is Tiger, Li, Red 7, not a bad day for prosperity rituals.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Light A Virtual Butter Lamp: Updated

It had to happen sooner or later. Click here to light a virtual butter lamp for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's long life.

UPDATED: Here is another "sooner or later" addition, inspired by the Vatican, and available from Nepal for USD $15.00 Those of you who are new to Buddhist kitsch may laugh, but this is going to sell like hot tsampa on a cold day, and I give it... what.... twenty-four hours, on the outside.... before they start making these in China. They just have to round up enough toxic chemicals and faulty wiring.

Go ahead and be snooty, but I want one for every room in the house. I hope it uses those flickering Christmas tree bulbs.

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Did Padmasambhava Visit America

Over at TBRC, they have The All Pervading Melodious Sound of Thunder: The Outer Liberation Story of Terton Migyur Dorje online and available for sampling, which is a good thing. I have been reading this with great interest, and find several passages most memorable.

Of particular interest is this quotation from the Pema Kathang, wherein Guru Rinpoche states:

"Six types of person are given authority to reveal treasures:
One who is harmed by enemies will have authority over concealed treasures,
One whose loved ones all die will have authority over concealed treasures,
One who is in danger of being afflicted by leprosy will have authority over concealed treasures,
One who lives a life of poverty will have authority over concealed treasures,
One who always falls into debt will have authority over concealed treasures,
One who lacks power will have authority over concealed treasures.

"Tertons who reveal concealed treasures
Will not be born everywhere;
Like anise, nettles and other medicinal herbs
They will be born in a place beyond the five-peaked mountains of China,
To the north of Lake Mansarovar,
And to the northwest of Danakosha lake in Oddiyana.

"If a terton who is a descendent of a king is born,
a plant with white flowers will grow,
When the terton enters the womb, the flower bud will appear
When the terton is born, the flower will blossom
One of the parents will die
When the terton reveals the treasure the flower will be in full bloom
Dakinis, dharma protectors, the eight classes of gods and demons will assemble.

"When the flower is full blown, like sitting in the midst of a violent battle
Gods and evil spirits with mental bodies will create obstacles.
Appearing in different forms of illusory appearances like
Female spirits born out of desire,
Spirits assuming the form of monks who have transgressed their vows
and are born out of anger, and
Spirits assuming the form of ngagpas who are samaya violators and are born out of ignorance.
Through these and other such manifestations they will change the minds
of tertons.

"Hindrances will come from hostile gods, spirits, and men
Some as serious as being unable to reveal treasures and causing danger to one's life
Some as small as posing danger to humans' wealth and food.
At this time forces of dark evil spirits will increase
The lords who have authority over treasure will be jealous and
They are driven by karmic forces; one should be cautious and not lead them astray.

"When the fortunate ones meet my treasures
They will meet two types of gods, spirits, and men: calm and hostile.
The malevolent gods and spirits of Tibet and China will assemble
And bring all misfortune while acting supportive
All the unfavorable circumstances will gather."

Now, to find out how Migyur Dorje reflected all of this, and ultimately overcame this, you'll have to buy the book (even the picture of Guru Rinpoche's personal seal is worth the price of admission), which seems like a good idea, as his is a fascinating story. For example: stupas in which his relics are enshrined are known to have almost miraculous healing properties, as I myself can testify to be true. 

However, here I am not so much concerned with Migyur Dorje, as I am with certain issues raised by the above quotation, and the oft-posed question:

"Do you think Padmasambhava ever visited America?"

Elsewhere, I have read remarks attributed to Chatral Rinpoche, one hopes correctly, to the effect of, "Padmasambhava never visited America, so why should I want to go there?"

Yet, I have personally heard His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche state his certainty that Padmasambhava not only visited, but remained in residence for some considerable time.

Note that we are not discussing whether Padmasambhava is here now -- I believe with all my heart that he is -- but whether he was here in the past.

We have already had the benefit of three different tertons disclosing mind treasures in the United States, so it does give one pause....

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Thirty-Four Years Ago Today

"They say time changes all it pertains to, but your memory is stronger than time... "
--Merle Haggard

There is, in some ways, a lot I could say, but I don't know that it means very much anymore. 

That's "T.D. Latz," one of the Cherokee Channel crew, up there trying to make himself useful, but the fact is, nobody knew what to do.

I guess bodhisattvas come in many shapes and sizes, and the bodhisattva inside each one of us has his or her moments as necessity dictates. Maybe the moments make the bodhisattvas; maybe the bodhisattvas make the moments.

It is not always pretty. It is not always convenient. It is not always what we expect. It is not always what we think it should be.

Here is one of the most famous photographs ever taken: February 1, 1968. The man with the gun is Brigadier-General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who at the time was Chief of the South Vietnamese National Police. 

This photograph horrified the world, back when the world could still be horrified. I once had a lama tell me that, because the photograph helped shorten the war, then all participants were bodhisattvas.

The man who took the picture, Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams, spoke out when General Loan died in July 1998, saying, " The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him." 

And indeed, very few people knew, and even fewer cared, and as cancer took him slowly away, there was only this forgiveness for the man who fired the shot seen 'round the world.

So, now... that war is over, thirty-four years ago today. 

Newer wars have come and gone, but these are all the same war, aren't they?

Today I send prayers to my readers in the Socialist Republic of Viet-Nam, and to my children, that you may always know how to be merciful -- even unto those who themselves do not know, and that if you are called upon by history -- whether as witness or author of a moment, you try to remember that things are not as they seem nor are they otherwise.

One merely tries to do what is right at the time.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 29, 2009

Today is Rat, Zin, Yellow 5. If you have important requests to make, today is the day. Not a bad day to get engaged. This is an excellent day to make offerings to the Nagas.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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There Are Prayer Flags, And Then There Are Prayer Flags

Somebody sent this photo to me. I think it is from South America, but I am not sure. In any event, this is a truly beautiful display, and I do not know why they are so seldom seen outside of Tibet. If you know who did this, send a comment. I want to congratulate them.

Usually, you would have a gyaltsen on the center pole. The best ones are the little two or three foot copper ones (gilded), because they won't add much weight. Believe it or not, things like this are a serious engineering challenge, because of wind loads. You can see in the photo below that they have used cloth gyaltsen on the central mast, and lowered the angle of the side flags. This is the common sort one usually sees. 

Maybe some people do not honestly believe in the efficacy of prayer flags, thinking them quaint, and giving them lip service... but maybe they don't truly understand the how and why. I think as you get older, you ask yourself why so many highly evolved people spend so much time with prayer flags... I could cite numerous examples but I won't... and eventually you decide, "Oh, well, might as well join in."

That is the wrong way to approach the matter.

You have to involve your heart.

Prayer flags are of actual and in many cases substantial benefit to sentient beings, and by placing as many as we possibly can, we are doing something of a very direct character to help others.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Benefit of A Thousand Lights and Flowers

"Those who offer one thousand lights or one thousand blue Utpala flowers or who make the pinnacle of a Stupa, or who make the Holy Form will be reborn when Maitreya Buddha shows the deed of gaining enlightenment, and receive his first Dharma teaching"
--Arya Maitreya Sutra 

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Potala Painters, and Prayer Wheel Makers

I know I will regret this... they will become so famous and sought-after that I won't be able to afford them... but here goes anyway, because these fellows deserve all the help they can get.

If you are in the United States, looking around for someone to paint your temple, paint your statues, help with elaborate tormas, or simply paint your house, I suggest you visit Potala Painters and see what they can do for you.

Once you get the place painted, you'll need at least one serious prayer wheel. The quickest way to accomplish that is to (1) whip out the letter of credit, and (2) contact Shanker Tamraker, in Nepal.

(Note to our many readers in Bhutan: send in the names of some Bhutanese suppliers, won't you? The best Bhutanese shop in the 'States could use some help fending off the Nepali competition.)

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 28, 2009

Today is Pig, Gin, Green 4. Not a bad day for running errands, but no prayer flags today.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Sa Chog: Tibetan Earth Ritual Examined

Elsewhere we have touched on what some might, with equal measure of grace and truth, characterize as "Tibetan feng shui;" a rather murky and complicated Sino-Indian amalgam, as are many things ascribed to Tibet. We took notice of a work by Martin Mills, entitled "Re-assessing the Supine Demoness: Royal Buddhist Geomancy in the Srong btsan sgam po Mythology." You can click the link to consult that, and examine our brief exchange with the author in the comments.

However, here we are taking notice of a work by Alexander Gardner, entitled "The Sa Chog: Violence and Veneration in a Tibetan soil ritual." This is a rather well done bit of business that I commend to everyone with interest in the subject. 

Before constructing a "funeral pyre, temple, stupa, and so forth, there is need of a sa chog to properly reckon with the serpent." So sayeth Karma chags med, in the seventeenth century, and our Mr. Gardner explains why, and a good bit of how, this is accomplished.

Highly endorsed.

Once again, I owe notice of a jewel to one of my two favorite sites on the 'net: here.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 27, 2009

The Lunar 3rd. Today is Dog, Kham, Blue 3. Not exactly a bad day to make offerings to the Nagas (not a particularly good one either), but a wedding? Scratch marriage off your list today.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Digital Himalaya

I wonder how we missed mentioning this really splendid resource: Digital Himalaya.

Click the link and go exploring. I spent an hour rummaging around, and came up with a number of treasures. Etienne Bock's "Coiffe de pandit," (Revue d'Etudes Tibetaines) is a case in point. Easily the most erudite study of lama hats in the open literature. You'll find your own treasures, so what are you waiting for? Everything should be like this.

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Something Truly Useful

One of the finest things anyone can do is to collect, respectfully display, and make offerings to our sacred books. Many people do not understand this, and some even remark, "Why should I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy books I cannot understand and will never read?"

Yet, these same people will happily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy bronze images, or painted tangkhas, not realizing that they are identical with the books. It isn't what Buddhism looks like, but what it says that ultimately matters.

Under ordinary circumstances, the statues will not get down off the altar and speak to you, nor will the tangkhas climb down from the walls. But, there is always the potential that you -- or someone who comes after you -- will read the books.

In the photograph above, you see a lovely idea: something truly useful to do with your time and resources. 

I hope that this photograph inspires you to preserve and honor our shared heritage, and I wish you all the best of fortune.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 26, 2009

The Rigpa Calendar has this as the lunar 1st of the third Tibetan month: the Kalachakra New Year. We have this as the lunar 2nd, Bird, Khen, Black 2. Confusing? Yes, it is, but tomorrow it all comes together: Rigpa has it as the lunar 3rd and so do we.

Anyway, today is not bad for prayer flags. If you have something important to do, today is the day.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thousands Celebrate H.H. Dalai Lama in California

Crowds estimated as "well in excess of ten thousand" turned out for His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama at the University of California Santa Barbara yesterday, and a number "at least three times larger" is expected at the University of California Berkeley today, prompting police officials to close the city's streets.

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Samayavajra Theme

The theme for this year's Men-Tsee-Khang calendar is Samayavajra (Damtsig Dorje), and the suggestion seems to be there is the potential for disharmony and disunity arising from broken commitments. They explicitly ask everyone to perform the following mantra 108 times each day throughout the year, to ward off ill effects:


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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 25, 2009

Today is the first day of the 4th Chinese month and the 3rd Kalachakra month, Monkey, Dwa, White 1. Today is a good day to relax with movies, and a dinner out,  but make sure you have a good babysitter. Not a bad day for prayer flags. Please note that the Men-Tsee-Khang calendar has tomorrow (Sunday) as the lunar first.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Prayer of Truth Dispelling the Dangers of Disharmony


Great Loving Victorious One, Maitreya Buddha,
Transcendentally Sublime, Compassionately Gazing Chenresig,
Wrathful Victorious Hayagriva,
Fully Accomplished Totally Pure Tara and so forth,
Merely hearing your holy names eliminates all dangers,
Objects of Refuge in the nature of compassion, please pay attention!

When the sentient beings of this time of quarreling and five degenerations,
Through the explosion of the great ocean of evil karma and jealousy,
Are tormented by the intensive suffering of fighting and quarreling,
Please dry this up by the power of transcendental wisdom and compassion.

By letting a great rain of the nectar of loving-kindness fall upon us migratory beings,
Who are engulfed in the conflagration of hatred fire,
Please grant blessings for us to recognize each other as our father and mother,
And increase happiness and auspiciousness.

May the multitudes of the vicious evil spirits
Who enter the mental continuum and
Change it instantly to the mind of asura,
From now on, never run into this area, this country, and this world!

I now pray for all the sentient beings who died in wars,
To abandon from this time immediately,
all evil karmas with their cause and effect,
And be reborn in the Blissful Field of Sukhavati
And then lead all others to that Pure Land.

Please bless all Samsaric beings
Who are suffering from the cycle of birth and death,
To have long life, good health, and pacify all quarreling and fighting.
May all beings possess the ten virtues, have rainfall in season,
Always enjoy good harvest, and for all dwellings and their inhabitants,
Always to have auspiciousness, and may such blessings increase!

Through the ultimate reality whose nature is pure,
And by all phenomena whose nature is ultimate reality,
By which cause and effect are undeniable,
By the compassion of my guru, Mind-Seal Deity, and Rare Sublime Ones,
May these pure extensive prayers be completed.


Through the merits gained from reciting this prayer:
May it cause all the peoples' hearts to be filled with loving-kindness,
bodhicitta, and the thought to only benefit, and not harm.
May the sun of peace and happiness arise, and may any wars that are happening
stop immediately.
May there be harmony, peace, and may there never be violence again.

[When there was civil strife and warfare in Kham, and all efforts at peacemaking had failed, the great yogi Thangtong Gyalpo came. Just by saying these words and sprinkling flowers, the minds of those blinded by jealousy and anger were completely pacified, and the war ceased. Therefore, this is blessed vajra speech. The above was translated by Zopa Rinpoche in September 2001 and edited by Lama Thubten Namdrol in November 2002.]

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 24, 2009

Today is lunar 30, Sheep, Khon, Red 9. Call up those people who owe you money and tell them today is a good day to pay. Clean the house and lay in some firewood. The weather might get cooler.

(Right now, the humidity where I am is murderous.)

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 23, 2009

Today is lunar 29, Horse, Li, White 8. I wouldn't hang prayer flags today. Today is a good day for sang. Avoid contact with unclean things today: garbage, blood, etc. The 29th is of course a Dharmapala day, but this month, the Rigpa Calendar has that pegged for tomorrow (Friday the 24th April), because of the double day mentioned earlier this week. Therefore, the 28th that arises today (according to one system of calculation, as published in the Rigpa Calendar because of the double day) is a baden, or very bad day for raising prayer flags. Confused yet? Note that the calendar used by Rigpa is the same as the Men-Tsee-Khang Calendar, which is to be regarded as authoritative in some senses; however, the calendar I am using, which is the combined Chinese and Kalachakra calendar, is no less authoritative, so who ya gonna' call?

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Note from Someone Pretending to Do Retreat: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Sometimes I think that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and a few others are the only hope for Tibetan Buddhism in the 21st century. It is merely a maybe-not-so-useful feeling I have. Here is something that he published just a few days ago on his Siddhartha's Intent website: "A Short Note From Someone Pretending to Do Retreat."

Last month yet another great master, Kyabjé Penor Rinpoche, passed into paranirvana. What a loss for the world! And what a loss for those of us who have a connection with him! For me, his passing has brought home the troubling realization that, while many great masters are still alive and with us, from the point of view of our own impure perceptions, they are no longer young, and sometimes appear to be quite frail. This worrying reality should inspire in all of us a real sense of urgency. 

During the past few years, I myself have noticed that, quite suddenly, many of my friends are being attacked by terminal diseases, like breast cancer and brain tumours. Although I know I shouldn't be surprised, I always am because I have such a tenuous acquaintance with the concept of impermanence. 

Actually, people all over the world are dying every second, yet it's only recently that I've started noticing it happening to people I know personally, and every time one of my friends dies, a big part of me always asks, "Why is this happening to me? To us?" Eventually, of course, I remember that death is simply one inevitable aspect of being human. Then I feel foolish for not having seen that, for me and everyone of my age, such losses are unavoidable; that, in fact, as we get older, we will have to face the deaths of those we love more and more frequently. 

What is the human body, after all? Little more than a bunch of pathetically fragile components that have been cobbled together without the proper glue or strong enough nails. Is it any wonder that, sooner or later, we all fall apart? Yet, every time it happens, our ignorant minds are constantly surprised by death and illness, and everything that goes with it. 

Over the years there have been so many tragic deaths, but the most tragic of all is the death of someone young. Personally, I am always saddest when someone younger than I am dies, and I think that for almost all human beings, the idea that young people die is somehow unacceptable and unfair--this is how we think. In reality, though, death doesn't have any preferences; it doesn't strike according to the age of its victim. And as Buddhists, we've been told about the uncertainty of death so often, we really can't complain that we haven't been warned--Shantideva alone repeatedly dedicated whole chapters to the subject. Nevertheless, we still complain--it happens all the time. 

So, what is purpose of this message? For those of you who are "over the hill", like myself, please take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and Guru, Deva and Dakini, because we all need protection from bad health and all manner of disasters. After all, who knows what's in store for any of us? 

I'd also like to emphasize that one of the main causes of our weakness and vulnerability is the sheer weight of our karmic debt, and in order to repay and clarify these debts it is important to practise Riwo Sangchö

Of course, when you practice--whichever practice it is that you like to do, Refuge, Bodhicitta, Riwo Sangchö, whatever--always take a good look at your motivation. Doing any kind of spiritual practice because you think it will ensure a long life--perhaps even that you'll live for ever--is like trying to freeze a bubble of soap in time; it's just not possible. 

All you can do is practise with the wish that you remain alive long enough to become better acquainted with the dharma. Even one second longer in such a life is extremely precious. Ultimately, of course, we should say prayers and do practice in the hope that one day we will be free from the agony of time, and from the agony of the separation of all the transitory elements that, in our deluded minds, we have pieced together so convincingly. Most of us are so lost in our delusions that we actually believe them to be permanent, and when the illusion we've created reveals itself in its true colours, we suffer the most unbearable agonies. And it is from this kind of delusion that, ultimately, we need to free ourselves. 

A short note from someone pretending to do retreat. 

Bir, 12 April 2009

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Zambala: Largest Buddhist Retailers in the World

Front entrance to the Taipei store. Through these doors have passed just about every lama to have ever visited Taiwan. (Note: If you click that link, watch out for the Amazing Vomiting Mongoose.) 

The Zambala firm are the largest stockists of Tibetan Buddhist supports and supplies in the world. It does not matter if you are a solo practitioner in need of a single butter lamp, or a monastery in need of 10,000 butter lamps: these are the people to contact. They have three floors of merchandise in Taiwan (pictured here), huge warehouses in India and Nepal, and their own warehouse-sized retail center in Alhambra, California. Their clients include the Dalai Lama, the Gyalwa Karmapa, and just about everyone else.

What many people do not realize is that Zambala puts 50% of everything they make into grants to temples and monasteries in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. For example: they are the largest single donors to several Tibean monasteries in India, and have sponsored numerous visits by lamas to Taiwan and the United States.

The quality of their products is excellent: like the "good old days." Not the tourist junk you see elsewhere.

I like the way these people do business, I like the way they give back, and I hope that if you need something, you will give them a visit.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 22, 2009

Today is lunar 28, Snake, Zon, Red 7. I can't tell you what to do, but if it was me, I'd give somebody a nice gift today.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Murdered Lama Reincarnated, Enthroned

Tulku Tsenyi Khentrul Tenzin Tseten Rinpoche, a nine-year-old boy, was enthroned earlier this month as the reincarnation of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso, the founder of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD).

Tenzin Tseten, was recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Lobsang Gyatso in 2006. He was born in Leh, in Jammu and Kashmir, on May 14, 2001. Lobsang Gyatso, 70, was murdered along with his two disciples in February 1997. He was a close confidante of the Dalai Lama.

“We came to know about five years ago that a boy in a remote village in Leh knows about his past life. Our interaction with the boy affirms our belief that the slain monk has been reborn,” one the Dalai Lama's spokesmen said.

A large number of officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile and representatives of various monasteries attended the coronation ceremony at Tsuglagkhang, the main temple at McLeodgang.

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Top Ten Signs This is the Kaliyuga

Number 10: There is apparently a site cataloging what they like to call "Dharma Burgers," without, it seems, recognizing that they, themselves, are a "Dharma Burger."

Number 9: There are practicing Buddhists in Bhutan who think the guys at "Smackdown" are for real.

Number 8: There are practicing Buddhists in England who think the guys at Pathgate are for real.

Number 7: The Kali Yuga officially began on January 23, 3102 BCE, and is scheduled to last for either 2,000 or 432,000 years: nobody can agree which is which.

Number 6: See here.

Number 5: And now see here.

Number 4: Mickey Buddha.

Number 3: The Jerry Springer Show.

Number 2: The Buddhist counterpart to the Jerry Springer Show.

Number 1: Brooklyn hairdresser and "singer songwriter": Alyce Zeoli

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Hellbound and Happy About It

"[O]ne should be beware. Average people, blind with the cataracts of dimwittedness, not only have a heap of defiled, perverted behavior, but even produce proofs and charts about it, and present it as wonderful subject matter."
--Jigme Lingpa, Dancing Moon in the Water

I must confess, when I first heard that people were setting mantras to music, my initial reaction was one of horror. However, since I always strive to be open-minded about things, to the extent of letting them prove themselves, I decided to withhold judgment until all the evidence was presented.

The first things I heard were those horrible bubblegum mantras. During this period I lived in a Chinese household, and the lady of that house -- bless her heart -- brought this stuff home and proceeded to play it 24 hours a day. I do not know who makes these recordings, nor do I understand how, because they all seem computer-generated.  I have highly eclectic musical tastes. I can listen to Chinese classical opera, Italian grand opera, Cambodian ghost music, Sonny Boy Williamson, Merle Haggard, and Jackson Browne. I can listen to almost everything, but two things I have decided not to hear: rap music and bubblegum mantras.

There are silences so perfect that they are insulted by music, but there is no music so perfect that it can be insulted by silence. In a very gross sense, mantra, while certainly inclusive of music, is not music but perfect silence. I use the word "silence" in this latter sentence in the evocative context of silence of the spheres: the resonance of deep space. Mantra is, after all, what space sounds like. Mantra is also what space feels like. All sound is mantra, but not all mantra is sound.

Oh, wow, man... maybe mantra is like some sort of organizing energy (little new age joke here). Well, if it is, you better be able to sing, right?

Some people argue, "you can't break mantra." That could be true, and if it is, then this truth is not delimited by mantra, but extends to all forms of sonics. If it may be said that mantra cannot be defiled because of its very nature, then it would be equally true that culturally specific and highly individual decisions about "good" and "bad" language are completely unnecessary. That would be a real eye-opener, now wouldn't it?

Close the eyes of the children.

Anyway, I stumbled along thinking that mantras set to music are a wrong idea, and I waited to hear music set to mantras. My wait was rewarded around 1996, with Lama Gyurme and his collaboration with Jean-Philippe Rykiel; the latter a real musician, as distinct from a machine. I played their rendition of the Medicine Buddha mantra 24 hours a day for over a year. I think it is profoundly beautiful, and I also think "music" has nothing to do with its beauty. Close on the heels of Lama Gyurme came Yungchen Lhamo, and again, the spirituality of the artist made all the difference. Sheer beauty.

Yet, as beautiful as it is, we should not be lulled into relaxing our vigilance. In Tibet, cruel hunters used to play flutes in order to captivate deer. We should ask ourselves: what is the net effect of mantra set to music?

"The behavior of ghosts and harmers is weird." --Jigme Lingpa.

That is one study. Here is quite another, which comes to us courtesy of the Buddha Pests. Their teacher has "released her album," and they now wax ecstatic (these are actual quotes):

"It is like [name tenderly deleted so as to not frighten livestock] is giving all of us a whole new way of practicing while we wrestle with the traditional transliteration of Tibetan and Sanskrit - or worse, some of us may feel dry and empty from more culturally 'unaccessible' protocols and traditions!"

Damn! Those pesky, dry sadhanas again! They give me split ends! Put on the dance mix!

"And the rest of the world is invited to join in because these are Universal Truths. The Cult of Compassion if you will- All can join in. Those of us with commitments will still chip away at the beautiful traditional chants and melodies - but yippie-kaya-hooo that we can supplement with this blues fest full of mantra!"

The phrase "blues fest full of mantra" is one that I have finally lived long enough to hear used in a sentence. However, to outdo himself, our breathless reviewer adds (and I am not kidding):

"Hrih... hrih... hrih... PHET. Yeah. No that is the dharma shisizzle!"

"Personally, I now feel that I have both a "formal" chanting practice, the Chimed Sog Thig (Or any of our pujas) or I can pop my mp3 player on my head ... with my simple earbuds while I commute to work and experience my practice in the "easily digestible" form of music that comes from my culture and speaks to my heart and mind, and stays in my mind all day long. Both are emanations of Mandarava's aspirations - one a bit more formal than the other - but both pack a whallop!"

Of course, this is very funny, but it is also very, very sad. These people have deceived themselves so thoroughly, they cannot even entertain the slightest notion that what they do is terribly wrong. They call it "guru devotion," hellbound and happy to be traveling in company. Well, the dog's tooth, and all that....

You know, sometimes it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. Still, I cannot resist the temptation:

"Now I'm gonna' kick it with Machig Labdron, gonna' get my thug on with a new kinda' tune, gonna spit my flow with the Chodpa rap, put a whole new meanin' on peel yo' cap. Yah, peel yo' cap, yah, peel yo' cap, gonna' save sentient beings when ya peel yo' cap...."

(drum solo here)

Just my opinion, but somebody needs to get over to America really, really fast, and straighten out this mess.

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Short Prayer for Swift Rebirth of Penor Rinpoche



As Written by H.E. Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

(Short Version)


You are the crown jewel of five hundred scholars,




The great scholar Vimalamitra, who has taken birth once again;




You who has no rivals in spreading the heart essence of the teachings;




I pray to Drubwang Padma Norbu;




Hold us with your compassion




Through the swift rebirth of your reincarnated supreme emanation!



The first four lines an original prayer composed by Khenchen Ngagi Wangmo, and the last two lines were verbally added by H.E. Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche on 28th March 2009 over the phone as a prayer for the swift rebirth of His Holiness Padma Norbu Rinpoche.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 21, 2009

Today is the lunar 27th: a Dragon, Zin, White 6. I wouldn't hang prayer flags if I were you. Good for construction projects, bad for lawsuits, and watch out for traffic tickets. Good day for a haircut. Note that the very popular Rigpa Calendar has this as lunar 26th, because they've doubled the 25th this month. This is one of those situations where you can't say "right or wrong," because they're using one system and I'm using another. Today is the anniversary of Taranatha.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

His Holiness, Our Holiness

Did you see the hat on that lama? Oy vey!

Who started using Catholic titles for Tibetan lamas? 

Where can I find him or her?

We need to have a little talk.

In Catholicism, a pope is called "His Holiness," or "Your Holiness." A cardinal is "His Eminence," or "Your Eminence," but you have to add "Cardinal" in there, as in "His Eminence Cardinal So-and-So." Archbishops and bishops are referred to as "The Most Reverend," and "Your Excellency," without distinction. Well, that's a disappointment. Why bother to be an archbishop if you don't get your own special form of address? Beneath bishops, you have a whole mess of monsignors, right reverends, very reverends, and very right reverends, but who cares about them?

Nowadays we call the Dalai Lama "His Holiness." The Gyalwa Karmapa also gets an H.H., as do Sakya Trizin, and a whole busload of Nyingmapa. I guess they are all popes.

We've also taken to calling tulkus "His Eminence." Does that mean that tulkus are cardinals? If they are cardinals, do they have a college and elect popes?

Lately, I've seen some Buddhist priests calling themselves "Reverend." Well, that begs the question: whatever shall we do about the rights, verys, very rights, and mosts? Switch 'em into Venerables? Hmm... venerable, right venerable, very venerable, very right venerable, most venerable: I can't say I haven't seen it, and neither can you.

Like everybody else, I've struggled with this nonsense. On the one hand, we wish to give no offense to the legion of well-meaning idiots who think medieval Catholic titles bubbled in blood are just the thing to put a shine on Buddhist priests. On the other hand, there is something vaguely disgusting about the practice. I mean to say, what's wrong with using our own forms of address?

I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. 

I just realized that I'm channeling Andy Rooney.

Rabbi Tenpa

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 20, 2009

Today is lunar 26th, a good day for haircuts. Today is a Rabbit, Gin, Yellow 5. The only hope today is to practice. Note that the ever-popular Rigpa Calendar has today as a doubled 25th.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Anita Mui and Karmapa Light

Anita Mui's last will and testament is the big news around here. The wildly popular singer and actress (think Asian Madonna) died in 2003, at age 40, leaving an estate currently valued at over 100 million (HKD, or a bit under USD 13 million). 

The bulk of Ah Mui's wealth was left to the New Horizon Buddhist Association, which promotes Tibetan Buddhism (Karma Kagyu).  Ah Mui's mother (seen below) hotly contested the will, the whole mess went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Mummy just lost, getting only HKD 70,000 (less than USD 10,000) a month for nail money. She better move to Shenzhen. Nobody I know can live on that in Hong Kong.

The not-afraid-to-fight-in-court New Horizon Buddhist Association is the Hong Kong front organization for the 17th Karmapa. 

No, not the 17th Karmapa, but the other Karmapa: the one pictured below, who is frequently seen in public with the Sharmapa. Unless Anita's mum has big joss with the judiciary, it seems like one game is over, and another about to begin.

I just love Hong Kong. 

Always have, always will.

Ever since I dated Roslyn Chan at university, I harbored a secret wish to write for one of the tabloids here. With this post (dead actress, legal scandal, two Karmapas), I have now officially crossed that off the Bucket List.

If you want to see me while I'm in town, try looking here.

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Karmapa's Dream Flag and Kelvin-Helmholtz

We all know the history. One early summer day in 1980, at Boulder, Colorado, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa called a talented young seamstress named Deborah Luscomb into his sitting room at Marpa House and showed her three colored pencil sketches for what became the "Karmapa's Dream Flag," or Namkhyen Gyaldar. He dreamed that wherever this flag is flown, the Dharma will flourish. 

I firmly believe this is so. 

I believe every Buddhist in the world should fly this flag.

Here is a photograph of the so-called billow clouds that are formed by Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, when horizontal layers of air brush each other at different velocities. Click here for enlightened discussion of the matter.

UPDATED: The ever-precise Tashi Mannox has posted a useful article on the correct execution of the Karmapa's design: here.

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Animated Vajra Tent

There is a potentially helpful animation of the protective tent (bsrung gur) from Khenpo Chemchok's commentary to the Rigdzin Dupa you might want to visit. While you are there, click the outlinks and (if you have not already done so) introduce yourself to one of the web's finest resources: the Rigpawiki.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Daily Tibetan Astrology: April 19, 2009

Today is the lunar 25th, Dakini Day. Today is Tiger, Kham, Green 4. Today is mixed for medical activities, but is the best day this month for offerings to the Nagas.

See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: An Introduction

I have long thought to do daily notices in the context of Tibetan astrology, but it isn't as easy as it seems. Tibetan astrology being as it is, these notices can be as brief as a sentence or run to several pages in length. There is also the matter of which flavor of Tibetan astrology to employ. I have been struggling with the best way to approach this for some time, and now I have decided to try an experiment.

Every day for the next week or so, I'll auto-post a notice at 12:01 a.m. (Hong Kong time), and we will see how it is received. As a basis, we're going to reckon the days according to the Chinese calendrical system, and we will draw inferences according to the generally expressed conventions of Sangs-rgyas rGya-mtsho's Vaidurya dKar-po. Why? Desi Rinpoche's White Beryl is perhaps the best all around study of 'bying-rtsis, or method of the elements, to be found in the Tibetan language. This is also known as Chinese (black) astrology, or nag-rtsis, as distinct from dkar-rtsis, or Indian (white) astrology. By the way: the colors "black" and "white" refer to the color of clothes, and nothing more.

At the outset, you may with some justification wonder why I am using the Chinese system to calculate the days, and then the Tibetanized Chinese system to draw the inferences. Can this be done? Should this be done? What happened to the Indians?

Through the years, I have come to realize that everyone has his or her own methods of doing things. For example: some current Tibetan astrologers in India use the Chinese methods to calculate days and the Kalachakra system to draw inferences. I cannot say that either of us are right or wrong: these are just technical or personal preferences.

Anyway, we'll try to have some fun with this. The search title will be in the format "Daily Tibetan Astrology: Month, Day, Year," and there will be a link back to this post. I will warn you in advance that some of our information will not agree with information published elsewhere. Again, this won't be an issue of "right or wrong," but will be a matter of preference. The main thing is that we have worked out the daily parkha (trigrams) and the daily mewa (magic numbers) for you, and you can thus (for example) easily consult a copy of Philippe Cornu's book, Tibetan Astrology, for further information.

A personal note: The various forms of Asian astrology and divination have been my hobby since I was a child. I used to love going to the Yau Ma Tei fortunetellers with my amah, who visited them every week on her way to the Jade Market over on Kowloon side. I have kept up this interest for over fifty years, and it is something I do not regret. Even today, my happiness is to visit the various Tin Hau temples, and of course my favorite is the one on Temple Street that I visited as a boy. It is the one you see in all the movies. Above is one over in Causeway Bay that I also like. It is tucked up a side street, on a little hill. Hardly anyone comes here anymore.

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Tibetan Diagrammatic Mantras

I am really fond of things like this. Over at Himalayan Art Resources, they have notice of what they call "diagrammatic prayers," which I suppose conveys the idea. The example, above, is from the entrance to the Dzongsar Institute (now the Deer Park Institute). The trick is that they can be read in any direction, and still remain sensible. Would that we could do the same, eh?  Hereabouts (and that would be Taiwan), you can buy little cards like this, and people use them to ward off secret arrows, posting them like mirrors. Visit Zambala at No. 104, Sec. 2, Min-Sheng East Road, Taipei 104, or call 866-2-2100-1919 to see if they're in stock.

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National Poetry Month

Under the "Gee, didn't know that" heading: April is National Poetry Month. I am actually very happy to learn America has such a month, and equally pleased to find it is April. Now I can associate April with something besides Easter and taxes.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gonkar Gyatso's Masterpiece

Gongkar Gyatso is a Tibetan visual artist living in London, who has the most amazing sense of humor. The series of self-portraits, above, takes us from Tibet, to the Red Guard Era, to India, and finally, today. I think this is a masterpiece. Really, we need to start collecting this fellow's works.

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Yellow Scrolls

In Austria, there is a gifted gentleman named Georg Fischer, who is truly devoted to Guru Rinpoche, and who has invested many years to the study of dakini language, as revealed in terma scrolls. 

In this world, there is nobody quite like Mr. Fischer. Note to alert editors and publishers: a book by this gentleman is a smart idea.

I would urge you to visit his site, Dakiniscripts, and his related site on Lantsha. These are very valuable resources, unique in every way, and may be regarded as authoritative. 

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