Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Spanish painter Luis Ricardo Falero's 1878 "Sorcieres qui vont au Sabbat," also known as "Departure of the Witches." Endlessly replicating clouds of bewitchingly sensual ladies, who are not always as they seem, is not exactly unknown imagery in our tradition. Seems that Falero (1851-1896) repeatedly explored this theme throughout his short life and career, eventually arriving at his idealized "red witch" in 1880:

Hmmm.... now where did I hear about nude, red, sky travelers who are goddesses of enchantment? Seems to be a definite thread running through Falero's work, doesn't it?

Falero didn't live very long. One fine day, the sky-going ladies came to fetch him, as is their custom.  He died in London, aged 45. However, he was definitely on to something, don't you think?

Anyway... that is our spooky Hallowe'en story for you... whispered 'round the campfire as October makes its exit. For a much more interesting Hallowe'en story, click here.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 31, 2009

Chinese 13th, M-T-K 13th. Tiger, Kham, White 1. Hallowe'en. Astrological considerations argue in favor of taking the conservative path today, so if you're going to the Hooker's Ball, be sure to wear lots of glitter. Skillful actions will be successful, as will travels to the east or west. Good day to make offerings. Beware of destructive gambling and hasty marriage, not necessarily in that order, and not all that different. It is always difficult to say goodbye to another October, but as we know, impermanence is the name of the game, and attachment is the cause of the pain. We do have Lha Bab Duchen to look forward to in a few days, so start making preparations now. How about nyungne this time, instead of the usual material stuff? Or, how about nyungne and the usual material stuff? Lha Bab Duchen is baden this year, so that cuts out refreshing the prayer flags. With that exception, why not have at it in grand style? Cause some books to be printed, some stupas to be built, or send around a little sunshine to all the various good causes. What are you saving for... Christmas?

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Where Is Lake Dhanakosha?

Lake Dhanakosha is always right in front of you. However, this post is not about that Lake Dhanakosha. This post is about whether or not there is a historical Lake Dhanakosha, belonging to Indrabhuti's kingdom, and whether or not it can be found in the northwest of Uddiyana, i.e. Swat.

You see, I am one of those people who believes that Uddiyana literally existed, and that Padmasambhava -- about whom we have an extremely large corpus of reliable historical information -- was quite literally born in the center of a lake there.

After all, the same people who recorded the elements of Padmasambhava's life story also recorded his teachings. Since his teachings have directly led to the liberation of countless individuals in every century since, how can these sources be deemed unreliable?

Be that as it may...

For sheer beauty, my money is on Lake Godur, pictured above. This is at an altitude of 12,500 feet,  near Kalam, which is arguably to the northwest of the lower Swat Valley. Below, is how it appears from space, courtesy of Google Earth. You can "fly" there by entering, and then go nosing around, to see what else you can find. If you do, you will soon discover no shortage of candidates in the region: some of the most majestic lakes in the world can be found there.

Our interest naturally stems from the Where-Is-Uddiyana? dialogue raised over at the world-famous Tibeto-Logic blog, where researchers rush in and scholars fear to tread. Such interest is, I think, justified because this region of such importance to the history of Vajrayana Buddhism will soon be lost for evermore -- utterly laid waste by Radio Mullahs and their barbaric minions.

The idyllic beauty of the North West Frontier Province is really unrivaled, save perhaps by certain spots in North America. You find immaculate, glacial lakes, flower-strewn high meadows, and everywhere, a heavenly interplay between earth and sky. Surely, there is no better candidate for Indrabhuti's earthly paradise anywhere else in the region.

The Pakistani tourism officials will argue that Lake Dhanakosha is more likely Kachura Lake, where they have built Shangrila Resort Skardu. If you try to visit there for the purposes of Buddhist tourism, chances are good you will meet with the perception of challenges to your peaceful enjoyment of the scenic wonders.

Reading the brochures -- if it were strictly up to me -- I would skip Skardu, and go rough it in the Buner Valley -- closer to the ancient charnel ground of Goher Abad. Click that last link, scan read carefully, and be treated to the world's most singular tourism pitch.

Otherwise, this last part won't make much sense:

All the red witches I roll with really enjoy old graveyards, throwing granny off a cliff, cobras on killer mountains, and robbing archaeological sites. Toss in a political kidnapping, a couple of AK-47s, and the possibilities for a long-term relationship, and like Alexander the Great, I might never want to leave.

Well, that solves the question of where to go for Halloween next year.

Relieved to hear it, are you?

Or, are you just glad to see me?

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 30, 2009

Chinese 12th, M-T-K 12th. Ox, Khen, Red 9. Where did October go? Stop spending money today, or you won't have enough for Lha Bab Duchen on November 9th. There are numerous expenses between now and then. This is a day to guard your mouth, particularly when meeting important people, but watch your speech where others are concerned regardless of their status.

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cause and Effect: The War in Uddiyana

World-class researcher and reluctant scholar, Dr. Dan from Tibet O' Logic (that's the Irish version), has again graced the blogsphere's pixels with notice of Uddiyana -- a point of departure, really, as all world-class researchers are wont to claim -- provocatively entitled "Swat's Good Feng-shui." He takes particular notice of Ron Davidson's work on the theme, and appears to agree with Davidson that Swat = Uddiyana = Swat. By the way: the above photograph is interesting because it documents the speed at which events are taking place. Something that stood for thousands of years came to ruin within five short years.

Inevitably, Dr. Dan has been forced to take notice of religious desecration there, which apart from outraging all civilized people (make that civilly outraging all people), has raised the issue of cause and effect. After all, had the Taliban not gone about blowing up Buddhas, the lads in the below picture would not be sporting about in their off-road vehicles, blowing up the Taliban.

As these words are being written, the President of the United States is reportedly agonizing over whether or not he should send more troops to Afghanistan. The outcome of that decision will weigh heavily in Uddiyana, and it could be the factor that decides whether or not Buddhist cultural treasures in the region continue to exist.

In Dr. Dan's article, you will find links to information on the fate of the Swat Museum, seen above, and its priceless collections. With all due respect for regional sensitivities, I don't think this should be left up to Maulana Fazlullah's partisans. 

Maulana Fazlullah has brought misery and pain to the birthplace of Padmasambhava, and has inflicted hatred upon other human beings. He is the man who caused the destruction documented in the above photographs. 

As it happens, he is a deeply religious man who believes he is doing the right thing.

It might seem easy to feel anger toward him, but that doesn't help anything. Actually, if you understand cause and effect, you will feel deeply sorry for him. Similarly, one might be tempted to believe that if this fellow gets knocked off, it will somehow improve the situation. It won't. The man has followers because he speaks to their inner needs.

Again, as this is being written, the President of the United States is readying himself to sign legislation that enables us to offer money to individual members of the Taliban, in exchange for them switching sides. If this were about money, maybe that would help.

Alas, this is not about money. Maulana Fazlullah does not give people money to join the cause, yet those who do join are ready to fight and die at his command.

So, you ask... if we can't kill the leaders or buy the followers, what is left? Fortified villages? Green Berets? A hearts and minds thing? Sorry to say that won't work either. That cake has already been baked. Similarly, I don't hold out a lot of promise for police actions in the region, although that is what we will probably wind up doing.

Really, in the last analysis, the only thing we can truly depend on is cause and effect. As to the issue of whether or not we should speed that along... well, that is a deeper study of the human condition than I am prepared to make in this post. 

War is a terrible thing.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 29, 2009

Chinese 11th, M-T-K 11th. Mouse, Dwa, White 8. Today is a good day to discover hidden treasure, and you can take that as literally or figuratively as you wish. Strangely enough, today is not so good for the horizontal mambo, so hold off the bliss-emptiness until the stroke of midnight. Not a bad day for sang

If you are a professional thief, today is your day.

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: October 28; November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tallest Statue in India Nears Completion

This statue of Maitreya, photographed recently in Ladakh, is said to be the tallest in India, at 105 feet. It is scheduled for completion within the next nine months. Note the bamboo scaffolding and the remote location. Imagine what we could do in America, if we even cared enough to try.

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To Be Carefully Read and Remembered

I do not know where the following article first appeared. I have seen it, or things very much like it, in several places. Regardless, I wish it were published everywhere, and I have published it here because I believe it needs to be carefully examined.

This, of course, is by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and I believe the article he refers to in his text is the one by Tara Carreon -- a former Gyaltrul Rinpoche camp follower -- although it might as well refer to any one of the dozen other articles of similar content that have popped up here and there.

The overt issue is whether or not Buddhism as formerly practiced in Tibet can successfully morph into Buddhism as formerly practiced in Tibet but now practiced in America.

This is quite a different matter from Buddhism as actually practiced in America, which in the main, consists of wandering around like a zombie, with a vacant, meaningless smile upon one's greying face, and occasionally pausing to raise a stink about something, "Because I'm an engaged Buddhist!"

When it comes to religion, Americans are a bellicose people, you know? We don't just beat our witches over here, we burn 'em!

The covert issue is how much bullshit want-to-be American Buddhists are willing to accept from lamas and each other, before there is a culturally-specific mood swing of epic proportion, and the whole fantasy suffers a meltdown. You know the old Zen thing? First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is? Well, in America, first we ignore you, then we idolize you, then we light you up on the front page and call you bad names.

Through the years, I have often found it amusing that Americans, who generally despise anything that smacks of state religion, have gravitated toward the mother of all state religions. One can just feel the backlash brewing.

Nevertheless -- and this might surprise you -- I think the concept of "American" Buddhism as formerly practiced in Tibet is ridiculous. You don't see that nonsense in America's Thai temples. You don't see it in America's Korean temples. You don't see it in America's Japanese temples. You don't see it in America's Vietnamese temples.

You only see it in America's Zen Buddhist temples, on rare occasion some Chinese Buddhist temples in the polycultural areas (the easternmost hutong), and you see it to perfection in the Tibetan Buddhist "centers."

Why is that?  Vertical marketing by East Coast Buddhist media? The tyranny of language?

There is no shortage of lamas available. I think we ought to throw the gates wide, and let them all in, with carte blanche to do as they please. We ought to spend a fortune on translators, but in contrast, I think American "cultural interpreters" ought to be run out of town on a rail. Why trifle with the road company when you can see the show on Broadway? I saw an item once; an interview with the editor of an ""Buddhist" magazine of all things. This person basically admitted that because she couldn't cut it with Dudjom Rinpoche, she ran back to America to take teachings from some Jewish guy in New York! So, this is the experience that is informing Buddhist media in this country? Mighty shallow, don't you think?

We should also be very clear about what "American" Buddhism really means. This is code for what I call OENAB: Obnoxiously Ethnocentric North American Buddhists. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of Buddhists in America are Asian. When people talk about "American" Buddhism, they are not talking about them.

Anyway, now you've heard me rant, so lets see what the eminently more qualified ranter, Khyentse Rinpoche, has to say:


A friend of mine from New York recently sent me an e-mail article titled 'Is Tibetan Buddhism working in the west?' Although my immediate reaction was somewhat defensive, I have to admit that the author made several worthwhile points. It might appear futile for me to add yet another point of view to this seemingly endless debate, but long before modern civilization celebrated free speech, the Buddha stressed respect for reasoning, and emphasized that we should examine a path rather than following it blindly. Yet, one can’t help noticing that even in this so called "modern" age, blind faith is not only alive but kicking, even to the extent of people giving up their lives just because some priest has guaranteed their passage to heaven. It is not only important for us to exercise this freedom to examine the path and its authority, but we must also watch out for the cultural baggage that accompanies it. How much of this culture does one have to buy into? Does being a westerner mean that one lacks the attributes to be a Buddhist? Or is it the case that the "gurus" have to compromise their teachings to fit in to the west?

For years, Tibetan lamas have won the hearts and minds of many in the west, mainly because of the sophisticated wisdom of the Buddha that they embody, but also because many of them appear gentle and easily amused. The fact that they are an endangered species helps too, and there is always a handful of genuine masters that can always be put up as window dressing. But the initial infatuation is coming to an end; moreover, some westerners are beginning to realize that there is a big difference between Buddhism and Tibetan culture.

As societal attitudes change, aided by modern media, the scrutiny of public figures and scepticism towards so-called spiritual paths has intensified. For the first time, Tibetans in general and lamas in particular have been forced to savour the bittersweet taste of free society. For some, it’s becoming a painful realization that popularity and success come at a price. Also, reluctantly, Tibetans are accepting that attempts to impose what they see as a superior way of living are not working. But like many in the East, Tibetans still clutch firmly to all of their culture as the ultimate answer to everything, including some of it that they could beneficially do without. As if that were not enough, many have insisted that their western followers adopt the whole cultural package along with Buddhism. It is this hotchpotch of Tibetan culture and Buddhism that many are having a hard time digesting.

Even basic Buddhist teachings such as refuge are now being taken theistically because of inadequate explanation. When we chant prayers like "I take refuge in the Buddha," we barely mention – and we therefore ignore - its essential meanings such as knowing that one’s ultimate nature is the Buddha. Given this, it is little wonder that the author of the article refers to the Gurus and Sangha as her "captors" instead of her liberators. Because lamas have the role of bringing the Dharma to West, they have a bigger responsibility for the teachings than western students who are interested but unfamiliar with them. However, instead of making the teachings accessible, the Tibetans have created a huge divide with westerners through a combination of their superiority complex, their fundamental lack of "respect" towards Westerners and an inadequate interest in western thinking. The classic Buddhist analogy of patient, doctor and treatment states that for different patients with different problems, doctors should apply the appropriate cures. Yet if Tibetan lamas ridicule the culture and habits of their western students as a "total waste of time," how will the remedy ever take effect? Are they really suggesting that westerners should be given the same teachings as illiterate Tibetan nomads? This lack of respect towards westerners by Tibetans is not something recent; they have a long-held assumption that westerners are barbaric. Even before 1959, many visitors to Tibet were denied entry simply because they were foreigners. One could even argue that Tibetans themselves are mostly to blame for the loss of their country because of their extreme xenophobia, and their disdain and rejection of everything foreign as unholy. Despite this, many westerners are charmed by Tibetan hospitality, politeness and friendliness, little knowing that they originate more from social obligation than sincerity. Behind most of those smiling faces, there is still the underlying reality that you are a westerner. The few smiles that are sincere could well originate with the hope that you could be a sponsor or, more recently, to help obtain a green card. 

Another of the author’s remarks, which can’t be dismissed, is that "the lamas’ complaint is so familiar that it invokes a yawn." Besides seeing the western pursuit of Dharma as "superficial and fickle," Tibetans regard it as merely testing the waters, forgetting that this analytical attitude is encouraged by the Buddha himself. The more you examine Buddhism, the more you will discover its greatness.

Moreover, for Tibetans to label westerners as "materialistic" is more than a little ironical, since material pursuit has become one of the top priorities among Tibetans in general and certain lamas in particular. Big Tibetan settlements compete over everything from the largest monasteries to the latest and most prestigious brands of car. If some high lamas were just to sell their gold and silver teacup holders, it could feed hundreds of starving Ethiopians for days. 

It is true that Tibetans think that westerners "shop for Dharma," and they can’t keep the tantric teachings secret, but are they to blame if the "lamas themselves turned the Dharma into a travelling show," including performances such as the sand mandala and the lama dances.

It would be better if we could discover all these downfalls of the Tibetans sooner rather than later. Because otherwise we might become disillusioned and that might be a reason for giving up the Dharma. But detecting these downfalls is no easy task. Generations of experience in being hypocritical have left lamas rather subtle and sophisticated. One example is how many westerners fall for the almost annoying theatre of the lamas’ humility, little seeing that behind the curtain is a fierce fight for who gets the highest throne. It has gone to the extent of some lamas being willing to sit at the same level or higher than their own teachers. This manoeuvring becomes especially dramatic when the occasion involves a large crowd, and even more so if there are potential big donors present, especially those from Taiwan who seem to judge the value of lamas solely by their rank or how many letters "H" precede their name.

The image of Gautama with a begging bowl and bare feet walking humbly on the streets of Maghada seems to have become a mere myth. The lamas’ influence and dominance in Tibet have not only "weakened" many secular aspects of Tibetan life such as art, music and literature, in which the lamas have little interest, but in some cases degraded the Dharma as well.

If it were not for Buddhism’s fundamental view of non-theism, the rule of the more narrow- minded lamas could be as tyrannical as that of the Taliban.

Despite their emphasis on an ecumenical attitude, many lamas encourage sectarianism by guarding their Tibetan disciples possessively and discouraging them from studying teachings from other traditions. Of course, they have a convenient excuse: their students will become too confused if they do this. Thus many Tibetan students from one school have absolutely no idea of the other traditions; but that doesn’t seem to stop them slandering the others. As if it were not enough that they are doing this with Tibetans, the lamas have also coached westerners in this sectarian game and they have been shockingly successful. They have also jealously guarded their Dharma centres in the west, although many are merely vehicles to generate financial support for the lamas and their Monasteries back home. Supporting those westerners who are genuinely pursuing the Dharma, or facilitating their studies, is not their primary interest. 

So, is Tibetan Buddhism ever going to "work" in the "barbaric" west? Of course it will. The fact that Buddhism could be imported and flourish in then - barbaric Tibet proves that despite the many misdemeanours of its personalities and its alien culture, Buddhism can and does still work for all kinds of nationalities, genders and cultural backgrounds. Discarding Buddhism, as the author seems to have done, merely because of the misbehaviour of a few Tibetans or their seemingly "complex and colourful way of life" does not seem wise.

It is important to remember that it took many decades and generations of courage and devotion to firmly establish Buddhism among Tibetans. Why should we expect that it would be any different in the west? 

Moreover, measuring the value of Dharma from a materialist perspective or judging it with the arrogance of a so-called objective view is dangerous. It may be obvious that planes fly and boats don’t sink, but who is to say whether a person is enlightened or not? Similarly, we should be cautious when comparing social systems. The author’s comment that the "social governance of the U.S." is "far superior to that of King Trisong Detsun’s" is ill judged. During his reign, the U.S. had yet to massacre thousands of Native Americans, let alone have a sense of "social governance." By contrast, King Trisong had the vision to see the social value of Buddhism. He brought it to Tibet from India, a country with which Tibet has little in common, and despite countless hardships such as hostility from the sacrifice loving Bon religion. Were it not for his initiative, Tibet might have adopted the bloodthirsty life style of the local tribes or the so-called civilisation of sycophantic Confucianism from neighbouring China.

Furthermore, by asserting that the West has "a very good understanding of what it means to be a Bodhisattva" and comparing this with concepts such as "humanitarianism" or "social activism," the author is completely missing the point. The aspiration of a Bodhisattva transcends mere sympathy for "needy" or "helpless" beings. Having that kind of compassion invariably leads one to become co-dependent, insecure and eventually egoistic, because one ends up defining oneself by the extent to which one has helped. By contrast, Bodhisattvas are not attached to their acts of help or the result. Their aim is to liberate beings from the traps of life and the myth of freedom.

So one might wonder how should a Bodhisattva behave? Gentle? Serene? Humble? Ascetic? It may be easy to condemn the lamas’ materialistic misdemeanours but, believe it or not, it is even easier to fall prey to their seemingly wholesome simplicity. Such hypocrisy is a universal masquerade. I can’t help but feeling utterly hypocritical on many occasions, as I can easily see myself as the type of lama the author was disillusioned by. Despite having written this, I know that I will not give up any of my perks, whether high thrones, branded shoes, or even 49 Rolls Royce automobiles if someone gave them to me.

It may appear sacrilegious and corrupt to see supposedly renunciant lamas dwelling in luxury and enjoying every imaginable privilege. Similarly it doesn’t look right when a supposedly compassionate and skilful master manifests as tyrannical and narrow-minded. But one must be aware that an appearance of simple living can be deceptive. It may sound ironical but just as some would find it hard to give up worldly goods, other could be frantically worried about losing their carefully constructed image of being a simple, renunciant and couldn’t care less crazy wisdom guy. Isn’t it fruitless and painful if one forgoes worldly pleasures just to keep up an image of humility and simplicity? Not only is one not advancing on the spiritual path, but also in the process, one is missing out on a lot of worldly delight. Given this, we should not condemn the few lamas or practitioners who are seemingly worldly, if when it comes to benefiting beings, they display little or no selfishness. We should venerate and emulate their absolute indifference towards others’ opinions, such as praise for their simplicity or scandal at their worldliness, and their lack of concern about gaining disciples by being humble or losing them for misbehaviour. At least we should admire them for not being hypocritical. Unlike them I feel that I am far from overcoming this hypocrisy of false humility and attaining a genuine indifference. For me, renunciation, humility and non-worldliness are still the guiding principles for my path, but not because I have seen the futility of worldly life. It is only because I am a "Tibetan Buddhist lama", and this is what the masses think it is right for a lama to do. And what people think still seems to matter to me. Yet, no matter how often we judge, it is always in vain. This is not to say that being judgmental is morally or politically incorrect, but simply that subjectivity is at the very core of all judgement.
— D.J. Khyentse

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 28, 2009

Chinese 10th, M-T-K 10th. Pig, Khon, Red 7. This is  Guru Rinpoche Day. This is also baden, so no prayer flags. Additionally, this is a zin phung day, so again... we are not joking.... watch the earth element.

By the way --- Blogger has been experiencing some service issues over the past couple of days, so if we appear to go off the air, rest assured that there is probably only a glitch or two.

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: October 28; November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yee Haw

Seems to me, that here a while back, some lowdown sidewinders were makin' smart remarks about people who wear Western hats, a' callin' 'em "gyalpos" and suchlike.

Well, looks like the Trail Boss has pretty well settled that little dust up. I hear Stetson is 'a comin' out with a model called "His Holiness."

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Gyalwa Karmapa XVI (1924-1981)

Today is the anniversary of the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje (b. Derge, 1924 d. Chicago, 1981). There are no words to describe the great blessing of his presence in this world.

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Big Trouble In Bhutan

According to Bhutanese law enforcement sources, over 1,100 chortens and lhakhang have been burglarized during the past seven years. Apparently, the thieves steal and sell the tsa-tsas, vases, images and so forth. In one recent case, the mastermind of a chorten burglary ring was found to be a retired soldier, who also dabbled in stolen ivory, rhino horn, and dzi: all obviously bound for the Chinese market, so let us be clear about what is actually happening.

According to Bhutanese astrologers, this is just one more sign of the origin of troubles that have afflicted Bhutan in 2009, and are likely to continue into 2010. The elements have gone out of balance there, with major earthquakes, fires, windstorms, and torrential rains.

Tshugla Lopon Samten Dorje, principal of the Pangrezampa School of Astrology, in Thimphu, directly stated, "Chortens and lhakhangs are built for certain reasons at particular locations. When they are desecrated and torn down, misfortunes will ensue."

He added that environmental offenses are another reason for natural calamities. "Hills and mountains are abodes of guardian deities, gods and goddesses. When their homes are desecrated for human comfort, they abandon us to confront the wrath of nature."

“The wrath of the perturbed protecting deities is powerful and destructive,” he said. "It is our deeds and actions that shape the state of the world we inhabit. Calamities such as fire, earthquake, flood, storm and diseases,  are a portent of collective misfortune, according to the scriptures."

Astrologically speaking, 2009 and 2010 are not the best, with trouble for spiritual figures, earthquakes, political problems, and epidemic diseases strongly indicated. In Bhutan, the astrologers are recommending lhabsang, soelkha, rabney, and sangcho be offered to appease the deities.

The idea comes to me that practices of the Twenty-One Taras will also be extraordinarily helpful. I will just tell you in advance that 2010 -- the sixty year return of the Iron Tiger -- is not going to be any picnic.

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Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 27, 2009

Chinese 9th, M-T-K 9th. Dog, Li, White 6. This is the anniversary of the Sixteenth Karmapa (1924-1981). For those of you who knew him, nothing more need be said about how to spend today. For those of you who didn't, please spend today with care and wisdom.

Today is the 9th day of the 9th month of 2009, but really... really... who knows what year this actually is?

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: October 28; November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Daily Tibetan Astrology: October 26, 2009

Chinese 8th, M-T-K 8th. Bird, Zon, Yellow 5. Second of the duplicated days. Also the 8th, so Tara and Medicine Buddha are emphasized.

Published every day at 00:01 港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2009, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here. The Ox Year baden senpo (bad days to raise prayer flags) this year (2009) are: October 28; November 9, 23, 24; December 5, 20, and next year (2010) are: January 1, 12, 16, 28; February 8. Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Daily Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Terton Kunzang Dechen Lingpa: A Moving Account

The other day, we published a post about Terton Kunzang Dechen Lingpa, and his son, Dungse Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche. This was illustrated with a larger version of the photograph you see at left, and a number of people wrote in to say how much they enjoyed that photograph.

One reader, in particular, privately wrote what struck me as a  moving account of how that picture came to be taken. I have decided to publish his remarks here, albeit anonymously, because I do not want to embarrass him, or paint him with guilt by association with Black Tenpa of the Mojave. Nevertheless, those of you "in the know" will probably recognize this famous lotsawa by his writing style. I am told that the Mossad has a whole section devoted to writing style recognition, so if you don't figure out who this is, you can always call Tel Aviv and I am certain they'll be only too happy to drop whatever it is they are doing in order to assist you.

In all events, herewith our anonymous, famous lotsawa's comments. I am not ashamed to tell you that certain passages herein rather uncharacteristically caused me to shed tears:

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That photo was taken by Dr. Hershoff, Rinpoche's physician at the time, in a Dharma-patron's backyard in Woodstock New York in the summer of 2001. Thanks to the good doctor's quick-witted antics and endearingly broken Tibetan, Rinpoche was happy to assume whatever pose or mood was requested of him, so  the essence of the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava were captured on 35 mm film in the space of a half-hour or less.

Later when Rinpoche was relaxing in a lawn chair, he said to a few students gathered around him: "You don't realize this, but I am actually Guru Rinpoche and you are his twenty-five disciples. I have reached the stage of exhaustion of phenomena (cho nyi zepa). In truth there is for me no form, no sensation, no perception, no karmic formation, no consciousness, no form, no smell, no sense consciousness or object of sense consciousness and so forth; there is no self or other and no distinction of 'Buddhas' and 'sentient beings'; everything remains in the naturally perfect state of pure equality. From the depths of my heart I wish there were some way you could all be made to understand the truth in this, but you do not see it."

Then Rinpoche went silent and tears fell from his eyes.

Normally stories like this are not supposed to be shared publicly, but I thought it might provide additional inspiration if Tenpa's faithful words in praise of Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche and his son, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche, were corroborated.

In other circumstances Kunzang Dechen Lingpa Rinpoche was extremely humble and would always introduce himself to new American audiences by declaring himself to be utterly devoid of qualities. Many times I heard him say that he never attended school and had not so much as a tutor to learn the alphabet. Orphaned at the age of five, he learned to read by looking over the shoulders of other children while they recited their lessons, or of lamas while they performed pujas.

By the blessing of Guru Rinpoche--whom Rinpoche beheld in visions many times even as young child due to his intense, overwhelming devotion--he not only learned to read and write, he became naturally realized without studying with a human teacher. Later, with the encouragement of his uncle who was a monastery abbot, he began to record Termas. In his late teens or early twenties, for several months Rinpoche did menial work at Mindroling in order to receive the Rinchen Terdzo empowerments from the previous Shechen Gyaltsab.

Still unsure of the validity of his Terma, he visited Dujom Rinpoche, presented his Ter and received confirmation of their authenticity. After receiving a few empowerments and brief instructions for practice from Dudjom Rinpoche, he went into retreat to practice them.

As I recall Rinpoche saying, though he wished to do so, he could not become a close disciple of a famous lama because he had no material wealth, no education, no social connections and no mundane skills to speak of. Rinpoche often said that the reason he drew many disciples to himself, even though he never intended to do so and "in spite of having no social status, no reputation and no qualities", was because of the "small glimmer" of bodhicitta and compassion that others could see, and found attractive in him.

For these reasons and especially because of his unfathomable devotion, Rinpoche's main teacher was always Guru Padmasambhava, who taught  him in the course of many dreams and visions. Otherwise, before leaving Tibet, Rinpoche spent much time in retreat and lived hand-to-mouth. On one occasion I listened while Rinpoche recounted some of his memoirs for a documentary film maker, where he divulged a few details of his practices and experiences, for instance how those saved his life while practicing in the high mountains, when a massive earthquake occurred that killed several tens of thousands of people. As the film interview ended Rinpoche quickly added: "To be honest, this is just a small fragment of my outer namtar. My  inner and secret namtars are inconceivable; were I to recount them, they would never be finished." As the filmmaker was not a practicing Buddhist and would not have understood what "inner" and "secret namtars" were, I suspect Rinpoche mentioned this as gift to inspire faith in one or two disciples that were present.

I once asked Rinpoche what his ter-skal or "Terma allotment" was in his present birth. Without hesitation he replied, "Were it not for the limiting circumstances of this life, such as karmically connected disciples, and especially because of my health situation, there would be about one hundred and twenty-five volumes." When asked about what sorts of Termas remained unrevealed, Rinpoche said, in effect, "anything and everything". There was practically no deity or type of practice that Rinpoche could not reveal, provided the circumstances were propitious. Specifically I recall him mentioning unique, never-before-seen inner yogas of rtsa-lung and thabs-lam; mo-thabs (divination)--phra-mo or mirror divination in particular; "eight volumes, one for each of the eight accomplishment-deities of transmitted precepts (sgrub-pa bka'-brgyad)"; as well as texts on medicine and astrology. Those would have been just a small fraction of what Rinpoche could not reveal in his last emanation.

In spite of his poor health, when requested by an American disciple to reveal a medium-length practice of Manjushri, Rinpoche consented immediately and worked intermittently over the course of two or three months during which time he was several times at the brink of death due to pneumonia and his heart condition. He also nearly went blind as a side-effect of his heart medicine but Dr. Hershoff intervened just in time. I observed Rinpoche writing several Termas. He wrote everything in an Indian school-childs composition book on ruled paper--his poems, dreams as well as some Ter. The Termas I saw there were written in flawless cursive handwriting, straight from enlightened mind to paper, without a single word crossed out. He also revealed a Garuda practice, at the request of a disciple in Los Angeles. I personally photocopied that material, some thirty or forty pages of manuscript, including special practices (las-sbyor) for medicinal preparations, and many fine-print pith instructions interspersed with a complicated liturgy. All was written down without a single edit, except for minor punctuation.

In his Ter and personal writings, in spite of having no education, Rinpoche's mastery of poetics and composition was flawless. Most Tibetan lamas and Tulkus cannot write that well even after decades of immersion and association with great scholars and spiritual masters--much less reveal Terma.

Truly Kunzang Dechen Lingpa and his revelations of Terma were, and are,  most timely expressions of Guru Rinpoche's kindness for beings living in these dark and difficult times. If anyone has faith in Rinpoche's lineage, by all means one should make a connection with Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche.

The teaching and traveling Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche does for Healing Chod and other Dharma activities is extremely difficult and stressful at times for him. The group spends five or six months a year away from home, in a foreign country, completely dependent on the faith and generosity of people that oftentimes have little understanding of the subject of Buddhism. They must constantly bear in mind the external objective of their travels--fundraising to complete the monastery and support the community--when in fact they would rather be only practicing Dharma. Few things are more stressful for a Dharma practitioner than to have to focus on money and material resources rather than Dharma itself. While it is enjoyable for Americans to spectate at Dharma teachings or be healed by sleeping two whole days in a Healing Chod, I wonder how many of us realize how difficult it is for Rinpoche to deal with this whole business?

Against his personal inclinations which are those of pure Dharma practitioner, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche has visited America out of selfless devotion to the Dharma and to benefit beings--especially by completing the Zangdokpalri Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, according to his father's visions in which he received Guru Rinpoche's command to construct the monastery.

At the end of their recent trip to Mexico, Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche and his entourage were stopped at the airport by Mexican customs when it was discovered they were carrying cash -- their Mexican earnings plus a bundle of dollars offered to them in America. In spite of not knowing Spanish, Rinpoche argued and resisted for more than two hours as the Mexican police tried to extort ten thousand dollars. Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche told them straightforwardly, "I won't give you anything. More than one hundred people depend on me in India. This money belongs to them, for spiritual purposes, and not to me. You can't have it." Finally the police let them board the plane without paying a single bribe. Travelling the globe to do Healing Chod is not much fun.

Now that Zangdokpalri is nearly ready for consecration, it is not guaranteed that Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche will return to the Americas unless there is a strong aspiration on the part of practitioners here. Moreover, the visa situation for monks and nuns travelling from India to the U.S. has become very restrictive; the long-term visas of the Zangdokpalri monks, nuns and yogis have mostly run out and in most cases are not likely to be renewed. Religious worker visas to the U.S. are nearly impossible to come by for anyone from an 'Oriental' country, or with any shade of brown skin for that matter. By all means we should seek to connect with Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche and other great teachers, while the opportunity exists -- it won't be there forever."

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So, that is what our correspondent had to say, and although my knowledge of these affairs is sorely limited, I could not agree with him more. As mentioned in our previous post, I have been studying Kunzang Dechen Lingpa's writings for a little more than two years now, and I find them breathtakingly beautiful at every turn. His poetic "voice" is at once distinguishable from other tertons, yet really beyond comparison. He writes as a best friend would write -- really, an unsurpassed best friend, sending you heartfelt, very pithy advice on the quickest and best way to get from here to here.

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Guide to Locations for Cultivating Samadhi

From Lotsawa House -- yet another reason to support their work -- this translation of Longchenpa's Guide to Locations for Cultivating Samadhi:

On mountaintops, in secluded forests and on islands and the like,
Places which are agreeable to the mind and well suited to the season,
Cultivate tranquil samadhi, which is single-pointed and unwavering—
Clear light, which is free from the slightest conceptual elaboration.

This is achieved naturally when three pure factors come together:
The ideal location, individual and Dharma to be practised.

First of all, the location must be one that is secluded and agreeable,
Somewhere conducive to spiritual practice in the different seasons.

In summer, meditate in cooler dwellings and cooler locations,
In places near to glaciers or on mountaintops and the like,
In simple dwellings made out of reeds, bamboo or straw.

In the autumn, adjust your diet, your clothing, and your conduct,
And stay in a region and residence of moderate temperature,
Such as a forest or a mountainside or a building made of stone.

In winter, stay somewhere warmer at a lower altitude,
Such as a forest, a rocky cave or a hollow in the earth,
And adjust your diet, clothing, bedding and the rest.

In the spring, stay in the mountains or on the edges of a forest,
On a deserted island or in buildings with mild and even temperature,
With diet, clothing and conduct all suitably attuned—this is crucially important.

There is an important interconnection between outer and inner,
So keep to inspiring and secluded places which you find uplifting.

High among the mountains the mind becomes clear and expansive,
Ideal for refreshing mental dullness and for practising the generation phase.

Snowy regions help to make samadhi clear and awareness bright and lucid,
So for cultivating vipashyana they make ideal places with the fewest obstacles.

Forests bring stillness of mind and help us to develop mental stability,
So they are ideal places for cultivating shamatha with a sense of ease.

Below rocky cliffs we can feel a vivid sense of impermanence and disenchantment,
Clear and inspired, helping us to achieve the union of shamatha and vipashyana.

On the banks of a river, our attention becomes well focused,
And the wish to escape samsara comes rapidly and afresh.

Charnel grounds are powerful places for swift accomplishment,
Ideal for the generation or completion phases, it is said.

Villages, markets, empty houses, solitary trees and the like,
Which are frequented by humans and non-human demons,
Are distracting for beginners and can bring many obstacles,
But for stable practitioners, they are a support, regarded as supreme.

Temples and shrines, inhabited by gyalpo and gongpo spirits,
Can disturb the mind and incite thoughts of anger and aversion.

Caverns in the earth and such places, haunted by the senmo demonesses,
Cause passionate desire to arise and bring excessive dullness and agitation.

Solitary trees and other places, which are inhabited by mamos and dakinis,
As well as boulders and mountain spurs, where the mutsen and theu'rang reside,
Contribute, it is believed, to mental turmoil and bring all manner of obstacles.

The lands of outcastes, nagas, nyen, and local spirits,
By the lakeside, or in meadows, forests and such places,
Adorned with beautiful flowers, plants and trees,
Are pleasant enough at first, but later prove disruptive.

In short, all the areas and dwelling places that seem agreeable at first,
But not so once you come to know them, are sites of lesser accomplishment.
Whereas those which seem frightening and unpleasant at first,
But prove agreeable once you have grown accustomed to them,
Are powerfully transformative, bringing great accomplishments without obstacle.
And everywhere else in between is neutral, neither beneficial nor harmful.

As our minds are affected by the places in which we stay,
This can make our practice grow stronger or make it weaker,
So it is said that to examine locations is of crucial importance.

Moreover, there are four types of place based on the four activities:
Peaceful places, where mind naturally becomes focused and still,
Expansive places, delighting the mind, which are awesome and inspiring,
Magnetizing places, where mind feels captivated and develops attachment,
And wrathful places, where mind is disturbed by feelings of fear and dread.
Further divisions can be made, countless and beyond measure,
But in this context, for samadhi, peaceful places are the best,
And so, fearing an excess of words, I will elaborate no further.

In such a peaceful place, the meditation dwelling should be in solitude,
As this will suit the development of concentration in the mind.
The ideal dwelling is one that is open at the sides and has a clear view.

For nighttime yoga, practise inside a circular ‘dark house’,
In a high place, and in the middle of the central chamber,
With your pillow to the north, lying down in the posture of nirvana.

The location for practising the yoga of light during the daytime,
Should be mild in temperature and should have an entrance
With a broad, unobstructed view onto glaciers, waterfalls, forests or valleys,
And the vast and open sky, so that mind becomes clear and bright.

When cultivating shamatha, a solitary hut surrounded by a fence
Is the ideal place for stillness of mind naturally to arise.
For vipashyana, it is important to have a clear, inspiring view,
And to be constantly cheerful and well attuned to the seasons.

Low-lying and shaded areas, such as forests and ravines,
Are ideal for practising shamatha, whereas higher regions,
Such as among snowy mountains, are ideal for vipashyana—
It is important that you know these different specifications.

To put it simply, any region or actual dwelling place for retreat,
In which renunciation and disenchantment arise, attention is well focused,
And samadhi grows in strength—any such place of virtuous activity—
Is said to be the equal of the sacred site of the heart of awakening.
Whereas any place in which virtues decline, mental afflictions increase,
And one is overcome by distractions and the affairs of this life,
Is a demonic haunt of evil actions, only to be avoided by the wise.

Since these points were taught by Padmasambhava,
They should be learned by all who wish for liberation.

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