Friday, April 30, 2010

Lesson From Another Time

Everybody remembers the famous "T.D. Latz" photo. Nobody remembers the money fluttering away in the wind.

People from Cholon were throwing those pastel Samsonite two-suiter suitcases over the walls, literally stuffed with money, and the Marine Guards were throwing them back. Every so often, one of the suitcases would burst open, and the money would fly around in the air. 

Nobody tried to grab it. 

Money did not matter anymore.

They wanted refuge.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

What the Mojave Cross Means to Tibetan Buddhists

Follow this one carefully.

In 1934, a group of veterans erect a Christian cross on a remote rock outcropping in the Mojave Desert named Sunrise Rock.

Decades pass, and Sunrise Rock is incorporated into what subsequently becomes the Mojave National Preserve, i.e. public land.

More time passes, and a retired National Park Service employee named Frank Buono decides to sue to have the Christian symbol removed from public land.

The case becomes politically contentious, as cases involving veterans and Christians often do, so to keep the peace, Congressman Jerry Lewis -- and this not the one who is regarded as a genius in France -- arranges for Congress to transfer the ground where the cross stands to private ownership.

The courts reject this solution and order that the cross be removed.

The United States Supreme Court has now overturned the lower court's invalidation of the sale and order of removal, using language that is extremely helpful to Buddhists.

Why is that, you ask?

Because of the Lost Stupa of Albuquerque, I answer.

The National Park Service also snatched up a Tibetan Buddhist stupa, and I tend to think we want it back. We'll take the stupa and the ground under the stupa for $1.00, please, and thank you very much.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled,  let the veterans have their cross, let the Buddhists have their stupa, and please... somebody... go slap a muzzle on Smokey the Bear.

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Xi Wangmu and Tibetan Medicine

We do not know precisely how or when medicine, as a formal discipline, was first practiced in the region of the world we now call Tibet, so we can only speculate. Tibet’s earliest physician was likely a shaman: what the Indians called gSan-wa-pa—secret ones. The oral traditions of Tibetan medicine, as we now understand it, probably began when the shamanic role became institutionalized in ancient medical traditions later associated with the tribal religion of Bön. We cannot be certain, but indigenous myth suggests this may have occurred some 3,800 years ago, well before the time of Buddha, in a kingdom called Zhang-zhung, centered on Manasarowar in far western Tibet.

These ancient traditions are, in one view, traceable back through Macedonia, to Persia, and to Mesopotamia, and may represent later synthesis with an eastward-moving transmission of ancient Greek medicine, as it assimilated traditions in the path of Alexander the Great. Among other means, we arrive at this assumption by comparative study of the mythologies associated with Himalayan medicine, ethnolinguistic study of medical terminology, and by ethnobotanical investigation of the early materia medica.

There is also compelling, contextual evidence that the Bön were indeed not indigenous to Tibet, and may be a foreign tribe originating in Persia. Then again, it may be that the Bön are indeed the original Tibetans in the way that Indians are the original Americans. In spite of centuries of investigation, and accounts of the Bön themselves, we still do not know who they really were, or are, and for this the blame lays squarely on the Tibetan monarchy. “Bön” is at once a people, a belief system, and the elements of a belief system. I hesitate to say this, but I sometimes think the fate that befell Buddhist Tibet at the hands of Communist China is in karmic consequence of the fate that befell the Bön at the hands of Buddhist Tibet. I have always yearned to examine Bön in its original state, devoid of Buddhist influence, but unfortunately, this is impossible.

Beyond these assumptions, we know very little of medicine in Tibet’s protohistory. Yet, we do know that a well-developed, indigenous form of medicine existed as early as 127 CE, distinguished from other ancient medicines by its extensive materia medica and use of surgery. One early regional name for Tibet was Men-Jong, or the “Land of Medicines,” and there was a Palace of Medicinal Plants in the Yarlung Valley, patronized by local kings. Artifacts of this tradition exist to the present, in the ancient names of some of the Tibetan medicinal botanicals. As an example: the Tibetan name for tinospora sinensis is sle-tres, said to originate in the ancient Bön language, thus indicating use of this herb may date back to c. 800 BCE.

According to Western scholarship, the earliest systematic medicine in Tibet realistically dates to circa 350-307 BCE and is known as Upper or Western Tibetan Medicine. Perhaps this date will be revised backward, as new records continue to be unearthed and translated.

The system is established as Bön with substantial Greco-Arabic influence, and first codified in three texts entitled Multicolored Collection of a Hundred Thousand Methods of Curing, White Collection of a Hundred Thousand Medical Cures, and Black Collection of a Hundred Thousand Medical Cures (dPyad ‘bum khra bo, sMan ‘bum dkar po, and sMan ‘bum nag po). These, in turn, are claimed by Bön-pos as the origin of the Tibetan rGyud bZhi [Four Treatises].

A Shaanxi tomb rubbing showing Xi Wangmu wearing her sheng crown, 
with the rabbits pounding medicine, and a three-legged raven nearby.

We also know Tibet’s early tribes were renowned for medicaments and mystics. As an example, the Daoist Golden Mother of the West, Xi Wangmu (西王母), noted in China’s Zhou dynasty (r. 1001-952 BCE), was according to some accounts an actual Tibetan shamaness famous for her longevity prescriptions. Records of a meeting between this woman and King Mu were discovered in 281 CE, and she was regarded by the early Daoists as the author of the legendary Ssu-t’ung-san longevity formula.

So, who was Xi Wangmu? Hsia, Veith and Geertsma, The Essentials of Medicine in Ancient China and Japan: Yasuyori Tamba’s Ishimpo. Part Two. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), p. 6-7, identify her as the matriarchal chieftain of what they call the Tso-Ngong-Bo tribe, which they translate as "Blue Sea."

Because we do not know what transliteration scheme they employ, we cannot dissect this. gTso-snon-po could mean Blue Lady. gSo-snon-po could mean Blue Physician. mTsho-snon-po is Blue Lake, or Lake Kokonor. gSto is the name of a tribe, so in theory this could be Sto-snon-po.

We regret we cannot trace this tribe with precision. This could be the gTso, one of the ‘bangs-rus-drug group, or the 6 clans of royal lineage. This could also be the sTong, hailing from the area the Sui Chinese knew as the Land of Women, or what the Han Chinese generally called a Ti Ch’iang tribe. In any case, the area is around the upper Nyag-chu River, well to the east of Zhang-zhung. If you want to pick up the trail, you can visit Ancient Tibet: Research Materials from the Yeshe De Project (Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1986).

Lately, Max Dashu has given us a treasure trove with his Xi Wangmu, the shamanic great goddess of China, an online resource wherein he pulls together everything he can find of her origins and history. As he points out, the first notice of a "western mother" is found thirty-three centuries ago. Maybe this points us to a race origin, but after thirty-three centuries, who knows?

When your Chinese amala says, "Eat your peaches! They're good for you!" she has thirty-three centuries to draw upon and quite possibly, a Tibetan ancestor.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Telo Tulku's Dilemma: Russia Denies Dalai Lama Visa

The Russians are not making life easy for Philadelphia-born Kalmyk Supreme Lama, Telo Tulku Rinpoche, and the predominantly Buddhist vassal state of Kalmykia.

Russian authorities have declined a request by the Kalmykia Buddhist Association to grant Russian entry visa to the Dalai Lama.

The Kalmyk Supreme Lama said he has received a letter from Moscow saying that "the Dalai Lama's visit to Russia would be taken by Beijing especially sensitively in the current year marking a jubilee of China's and our common victory in WWII."
What common victory? Didn't we pay for that?

The letter also says that the possibility of the Dalai Lama's pastoral visit to Russia could be considered later, as soon as there are signs that tensions in his relations with the Chinese official authorities lessen.

"Although this refusal is disappointing, we will not stop but will continue working in this direction. We hope that His Holiness' pastoral visit to Russia will take place anyway," he said.

Plainly, Moscow does not understand what it means to take on a guy from South Philly. Those who fail to learn from history...

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekly Tibetan Astrology: April 26 - May 2, 2010

NOTE: This is a good week to send or exchange gifts, make donations, and so forth. There may be further, significant geological, political, or other upsets this week. It is possible we will see the death of a celebrated person this week. There is an indication of an outrage of some sort.

April 26, 2010 - Chinese 13th, M-T-K 13th. Tiger, Li, White 1. Mixed messages today. Small spats can be smoothed over with token gifts. Large arguments are better left alone.

April 27, 2010 - Chinese 14th, M-T-K 14th. Rabbit, Khon, Black 2. Not a good day for weddings. We may see military action proximate to this day. We may see further obstacles from the elements.

April 28, 2010 - Chinese 16th, M-T-K 15th. Snake, Khen, Green 4. Note lunar 15th omitted in Chinese practice. Today we commemorate Buddha's teaching of the Kalachakra Tantra. There is a powerful, pivotal, and most unusual sequence of energies proximate to today. Concentrate on good works and avoid negativity at all costs.

April 29, 2010 - Chinese 17th, M-T-K 16th. Horse, Kham, Yellow 5. Today is baden, so no prayer flags. Today is the anniversary of the Terton Mingyur Dorje. Today is also nyi nak.

April 30, 2010 - Chinese 18th, M-T-K 17th. Sheep, Gin, White 6. Today is zin phung. I reserve the right not to discuss what I see for today. This is the 35th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon.

May 1, 2010 -  Chinese 19th, M-T-K 18th. Monkey, Zin, Red 7. Today is observed as the anniversary of the founding of the Chagpori medical school at Lhasa, and an important day for Tibetan doctors everywhere. Moderately favorable day. Today is the 136th Running for the Roses: the Kentucky Derby. As a Monkey day, today is favorable for gamblers, so invoke the local deities and bet the farm. Lookin' At Lucky with track odds of 2:1 is the current favorite to win, and Sidneys Candy at 3:1 is also a strong attraction. Everybody and his brother with a hot three year old wants some of the magic Mine That Bird gave last year (and do I love that horse) but lightning doesn't strike twice. I am sort of looking at 10:1 Ice Box, to show, but watch the odds move as the beards get down. The weather will be muggy in Louisville on Saturday, and that horse likes muggy weather. Don't you just love DTBA? UPDATE: After we published Washington Post suggested an exacta box on Lookin' At Lucky and Ice Box, but you heard it here first. POST-RACE UPDATE: As predicted, Ice Box ran in the money, but they kept the brakes on too long. Lookin' At Lucky doesn't like the rain.

May 2, 2010 - Chinese 20th, M-T-K 19th. Bird, Zon, White 8. Today's energies are at opposition with each other.

Naga observations for the third month: Four good days and several bad days this month. The four very good (lunar) days are 5, 22, 23, and 25. The particularly bad (lunar) days are 4, 6, 8, 13, 15, 16, 18, 28.

Consult our extended discussion of 2010 astrology by clicking here.

Published every Monday at 00:01 香港時間 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 2010, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here.  Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Weekly Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Letter from Thrangu Rinpoche to Monks of Thrangu Monastery

We have been struck by an earthquake in our homeland and in particular at our Thrangu Monastery. The monastic college, retreat center, temple, and dormitories have all been destroyed. Many monks were killed. Many others have been injured and faced with great hardship. Despite this, when we comfort ourselves, we must remember that no one did anything to harm us, nor did we do anything wrong. Instead this is just the way the world is—it is a natural disaster. You are all sad and upset, but instead of wallowing in grief, pray to the Three Jewels. Make good aspiration prayers. Dedicate your virtue to those who have passed to nirvana or died. Doing this will be very good.

When I first heard the news yesterday, I immediately informed the Gyalwang Karmapa and Tai Situ Rinpoche. Both of them developed bodhichitta, recited prayers, and performed purification rituals. His Eminence Situ Rinpoche also performed the Thousand Offerings and many other virtuous rituals. They recited many prayers of aspiration and offering refuge, and so we have received their words of blessing.

A terrible thing has of course happened to those who passed away, but if they had died in another place, it would have been difficult to get such great masters like the Gyalwang Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche to recite prayers on their behalf. In this great disaster, not only did these masters recite prayers, they also regard them with their eyes of wisdom. This is a great fortune, and so all of you please think of this from a broader perspective.

This is of course a terrible event for us, but as the Bhagavan Buddha taught in the True Dharma, the characteristic of this samsaric world is that the end of birth is death, the end of meeting is parting, the end of gathering is using up, and the end of building is falling down. There is nothing that will not meet one of these four ends, he said. This is just the way this world of ours naturally is. This is nothing that anyone else has done to cause us problems, nor is there anything that someone has done wrong to cause this. It just happened naturally. Thus the most important thing is to go for refuge and make aspiration and dedication prayers; it is important to think about this from a wider perspective and do positive acts.

Although I would like to come there, it is a long way and I am old, so I am not able to come immediately. However, I will do as many prayers and aspirations as I can. The monastery has been destroyed, but in general, sometimes things wax, and sometimes they wane. Since this is just the characteristic of samsara, if we do not let ourselves get discouraged, it is not necessarily bad. We and others just need to do the best we can.

I have told the lamas at my overseas centers that they absolutely must go to see the situation, help recite prayers and aspirations for the deceased, and help care for the sick and injured. I have also asked them to examine the damaged monastery buildings and to do their best to work together with you until the monastery has been rebuilt. This is important, so I would like to ask all of you to cooperate with them in looking at the buildings, meeting with them, and accompanying them. Please make a connection with them. My own thought is that we will do whatever is best for the future. I cannot blame you for being sad and grieving now, but I do ask you to please look from a wider perspective and give yourselves courage.

----- Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

This incredibly moving letter says everything that needs to be said. If you want to help this situation, please visit this link for further information.

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The King of Aspirations: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct

I prostrate to the noble youthful Manjushri

I prostrate to all lions among humans,
As many as appear, excepting none,
In the three times in worlds of ten directions
Sincerely with my body, speech, and mind.

With the power of this prayer for excellent conduct,
I fully prostrate to all victors with
As many bodies as atoms in all realms
With all the victors right before my mind.

Upon one atom are as many buddhas
As atoms in the midst of bodhisattvas.
I thus imagine that victorious ones
Completely fill the entire dharma expanse.

With sounds from oceans of melodious traits
I extol the qualities of all the victors,
Whose oceans of praiseworthiness will never
Run dry, and praise all of the sugatas.

I make an offering to these victors of
The best of flowers and the finest garlands,
Cymbals and ointments, the best parasols,
The best of lamps, and incense the most fine.

I also make an offering to these victors
Of the best robes, the finest fragrances,
And powders in heaps equal to Mount Meru,
Arranged in the most sublime of displays.

I also imagine offering to all victors
That which is vast and unsurpassable.
I offer and bow to the victors with
The power of faith in excellent conduct.
Under the influence of desire, hatred,
And ignorance, I have committed wrongs
Using my body, speech, and also mind—
I confess each and every one of them.

And I rejoice in all that is the merit
Of all the victors and the buddhas’ children,
Of the self-buddhas, learners, and non-learners,
Of all the wanderers of the ten directions.

I request all those guardians who have
Wakened to buddhahood and found detachment—
The lamps of the worlds of the ten directions—
To turn the Wheel that cannot be surpassed.

With my palms joined, I supplicate all those
Who wish to demonstrate nirvana to stay
As many aeons as atoms in the realms
To aid and bring well-being to all wanderers.

I dedicate to enlightenment whatever
Slight merit I have gathered from prostrating,
And offering, confessing, and rejoicing,
Requesting, and from making supplications.

I offer to the buddhas of the past
And those who dwell in worlds in ten directions.
May those yet to appear fulfill their wishes
And swiftly awaken to enlightenment.
May every world in any of the ten
Directions become vast, completely pure,
And filled with bodhisattvas and with victors
Who’ve gone beneath the lordly Bodhi Tree.
May all the beings there are in ten directions
Be free of illness and be happy always.
May all the aims in Dharma of all beings
Be in harmony; may their hopes be fulfilled.

May I perform the conduct of awakening
And in all realms remember my past lives.
Upon my death and rebirth in all lives,
May I go forth and be fully renounced.

Following all the victors, may I train,
And bring excellent conduct to perfection.
May I act with pure, stainless discipline
That never lapses and is free of faults.

May I teach Dharma in every single language—
The language of the gods, the tongue of nagas,
The tongues of yakshas, kumbandhas, and humans,
And all the languages that beings speak.

May I be gentle, strive in paramitas,
And may I never forget bodhichitta.
May I completely purify all wrongs
Without exception that are obscurations.

Free from afflictions, karma, and the works
Of maras, may I act in every realm,
Like a lotus to which water does not cling,
Unhindered like the sun and moon in space.

I’ll act to fully quell the suffering
Of lower realms and bring all beings to joy.
I’ll act to benefit all beings throughout
The reaches of the realms and the directions.

I’ll work in harmony with beings’ conduct
And bring enlightened conduct to perfection.
I’ll teach the Dharma of this excellent conduct
And act in all the aeons of the future.

Always may I associate with those
Who act in harmony with my own conduct.
In body, speech, and mind may we behave
As one in conduct and in aspirations.

And may I always meet those spiritual friends
Who have the wish to bring me benefit
By teaching conduct that is excellent.
I’ll never do anything to disappoint.

I’ll always look directly at the victors,
Protectors in the midst of bodhisattvas,
And I will make vast offerings to them
In every future aeon, never discouraged.

I shall retain the Dharma of the victors,
Illumine everywhere awakened conduct,
And purify excellent conduct, too.
I shall act thus in every future aeon.

Cycling through all existences, may I
Gain merit and wisdom inexhaustible
And be a bottomless store of all means, prajñā,
Samadhi, emancipations, and good traits.

Upon one atom in as many realms
As atoms there are inconceivable
Buddhas surrounded by the bodhisattvas.
Beholding them, I’ll act for awakening.

Just so, in all directions, none excepted,
On a hair tip are oceans of the realms
Of oceans of the buddhas of three times—
I’ll enter these and act for oceans of aeons.

I’ll always enter in the buddhas’ speech,
Of which one tone has oceans of great traits,
The pure melodic tones of all buddhas
That are just as all beings are inclined.

I enter also through the strength of mind
Those tones of the speech inexhaustible
Of all victorious ones who do appear
In the three times and turn the Wheel of Dharma.
Through just one single instant I will enter
All of the aeons that are yet to come.
I’ll enter and act in all aeons of
The three times in a fraction of a second.

And in a single instant I shall view
The lions among humans of three times.
I’ll always enter their sphere through the power
Of the emancipation of illusions.

Upon a single atom I’ll produce
The arrays of all the realms of the three times.
In all directions thus, without exception,
I’ll enter the arrays of buddha realms.

I’ll go into the presence of all those
Who will be lamps of the world in the future,
Who will become enlightened, turn the Wheel,
And demonstrate nirvana’s final peace.

Through the power of miracles, swift everywhere;
The power of vehicles to every gate;
The power of conduct, every quality;
The power of love, pervasive everywhere;

The power of merit, virtue everywhere;
The power of pristine wisdom, free of attachment;
The powers of wisdom, means, and of samadhi,
I shall achieve the powers of awakening.

I’ll purify the power of karma fully,
Destroy forever the power of the afflictions,
Make powerless the maras’ powers, and
Perfect all powers of excellent conduct.

I’ll purify completely oceans of realms,
And liberate completely oceans of beings.
I will completely see the oceans of Dharma,
And totally realize the oceans of wisdom.

I’ll purify completely oceans of conduct,
Perfect completely oceans of aspirations,
Offer completely to the oceans of buddhas,
And act for oceans of aeons undiscouraged.

I shall awaken through excellent conduct
And perfect fully all without exception
The special aspirations of the victors
Of the three times for the awakened conduct.

I fully dedicate all of this virtue
That I may act comparably to him,
The wise, the finest son of all the buddhas
Who’s called Samantabhadra by his name.

Just as the Good Wise One makes dedications
For a pure body, pure speech, and pure mind,
For purity of conduct and pure realms,
Just so may I be comparable to him.

To perform excellent conduct, good in all,
I’ll act upon Manjushri’s aspirations.
Never discouraged, in all future aeons,
I’ll complete all these deeds without exception.

May I have conduct beyond any measure
And qualities, too, that cannot be measured.
Dwelling in conduct that’s immeasurable,
I’ll know their each and every emanation.

As far as to the ends of the blue sky,
As far as to the ends of sentient beings,
Until the end of karma and afflictions,
Thus far the ends are of my aspirations.

Though one might give the realms of ten directions
Adorned with precious jewelry to the victors,
Or give the best divine and human pleasures
For aeons equal to atoms in all realms,

If someone hears this king of dedications
One single time, develops faith, and feels
A longing for supreme enlightenment,
That is the most supreme, exalted merit.

Someone who makes this prayer for excellent conduct
Is one who will abandon lower realms,
Is one who will abandon harmful friends,
Is one who will see Amitabha soon.

They’ll gain well what they need, live easily;
They will be welcome in this human life.
Before a long time passes they themselves
Shall also be just like Samantabhadra.

If those who under the power of not knowing
Have done one of the five heinous misdeeds
Recite this prayer for excellent conduct,
It quickly will be fully purified.

They will have pristine wisdom, beauty, signs,
A good complexion, and good family.
Invincible to maras and non-Buddhists,
In all three worlds they will be given offerings.
They will soon go to the great Bodhi Tree.
Once there, they’ll sit to benefit all beings,
Defeat all maras and their hordes, awaken
To enlightenment, and turn the Wheel of Dharma.

If one should memorize or teach or write
This aspiration for excellent conduct,
Only the Buddha knows how that will ripen—
Don’t doubt that it’s supreme enlightenment.

The brave Manjushri knows things as they are,
As does in the same way Samantabhadra.
I fully dedicate all of these virtues
That I might train and follow their example.

All the victorious ones of the three times
Acclaim this dedication as supreme.
With this, then, I completely dedicate
All of this virtue to excellent conduct.

When I come to the moment of my death,
My obscurations all will be dispelled.
I shall see Amitabha right before me
And go to the realm of Sukhavati.

Once I have gone there, may these aspirations
All become manifest in their entirety.
I will fulfill them all without exception—
As long as worlds exist, I will help beings!

In that fine, joyous mandala of the Victor,
I’ll take birth in a beautiful, great lotus.
I also will receive a prophecy
Directly from the victor Amitabha.

When I’ve received the prophecy from him,
I will help many sentient beings in
The ten directions through my mental powers
With many billions of emanations.

May any little merit I have gathered
By thus aspiring for excellent conduct
Make all the virtuous aspirations of
All beings come true within a single instant.

Through the incomparable infinite merit
Thus gained through dedicating excellent conduct,
May beings engulfed in floods of suffering
Achieve the supreme realm of Amitabha!

May this supreme, great king of aspirations
Bring benefit to all infinite wanderers,
Fulfilling this text Samantabhadra adorns—
May all the places in lower realms be emptied!

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A Temptation Called Freedom

Not a whole lot I can say. Get used to moving forward?

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Marble Stupas

 “Even one who dreams of a stupa like that, or sees it from afar, or hears the sound  of its bells or hears of it being built, will have all their karma, such as that of the five  limitless actions, and all their obscurations purified; they will be continually protected and cared for by the tathagatas; they will attain the totally genuine path to unsurpassable, true perfect enlightenment.

Following our Long, Long Stupa Story, we received a number of inquiries from people wanting to know more about the marble stupas we mentioned. They are quite beautiful, you know? Above is Sogyal Rinpoche's white marble stupa installation at Lerab Ling, in France, done in 2006. If I am not mistaken, this was one of the first to be done with the modular marble construction method. 

The people who deserve credit for this like to be known as Dharma Sanctuary, and work with an associated operation Clear Light Fields. Maybe I have that backwards, but you get the idea. If you want an absolutely fascinating look at how marble stupa construction has evolved, be sure to visit their pages. They have provided a wealth of authoritative information to inspire stupa builders everywhere, and they are foremost in the field. If you want to buy a marble stupa, and you want it done right the first time, these are the people to see.

Dharma Sanctuary, in turn, buys their stupas from Trieu Viet Co., Ltd., 515 Le Van Hien Street, Ngu Hanh Son District, Da Nang. The factotum, Le Cong Huan, in Da Nang, knows more about the practical aspects of manufacturing marble stupas to hard tolerances than anybody else in South East Asia.

They are not cheap. To give you an idea of what is involved, consider the following:
The small size is $10,000 each.  The larger is $72,000  the intermediate sizes which are 7'6" tall, and 10 feet tall are $25,000 and $45,000 respectively.  All the hollow chambers with dividing slabs are included, as are the bronze crowns which are gold plated. You would need to order the tsok shing separately. As an example, for the larger size they are $3200.  There is a freight charge of $2500 for a set of eight small or a single large. Then there are some custom broker, freight forwarder fees, (nominal, like a few hundred)  Of course you will have transport cost from Long Beach to your location. You would need a small crane present to unload.
The Vietnamese stupas are the highest possible quality products of their type, and if you fancy going this route, I feel very confident you will get what you pay for.

In my own case, because of my preference for the roughly three foot scale, I was faced with an unusual set of problems. It seems a paradox, but as a manufacturing and engineering issue, it is actually more difficult to produce a stupa at that scale than at the larger sizes. The components tend to shatter out on the pointing machines. They have to be worked very slowly, and they are more difficult to polish.

The best indigenous marble in Viet-Nam is now strictly controlled for environmental reasons, so even getting the material presents a problem. Normally, they drag Guanxi white marble down from China, which adds to the cost.

The folks at Dharma Sanctuary could not help. They work at the 5', 7'6", 10' and 15' scale, but do not offer any solution at 3' scale. Just as an aside, this is because they are operating to the definitive proportions according to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. When we spoke to Viet-Nam directly, they were willing to try, but made no guarantees. They also wanted $2,500 a pop for the Guanxi white.

Well, so much for the Smaller Dragon.

The Larger Dragon has a history of doing the impossible with marble that runs back well over 1,000 years. In Viet-Nam, the marble carving industry at Da Nang was driven by two factors: proximity to raw material, and proximity to the center of imperial demand, at Hue, to the north. In Beijing, that equation became simplified. They were at the center of imperial demand, and they didn't care how far they had to move raw material. Logistics did not matter to them.

So, when I turned to Beijing, they were able to provide exactly what I wanted in Guanxi white, at a fraction of the cost Viet-Nam was quoting. You will, at this point, ask me, "Well, who did you use," and the answer is, there are over 100 shops in China that have made or are currently making marble stupas for domestic consumption, so the best thing to do is just go there and look around. The Chinese manufacturers are so adept, they will actually farm out pieces to a number of different shops.

There is a caveat. With Dharma Sanctuary, or directly with the Vietnamese manufacturer (if you are ordering outside the United States) you can write a check, sit back, and forget about it. With China, as anybody who does business there knows only too well, you better have a QC person right on the spot to keep down the mischief. This is true no matter if you buy marble, shoes, pottery, or what have you.

The stupas I like have six (or more) components, so you fill them in stages. They are drilled for the tsokshing. If you have all the tsa tsa, zung, and so forth ready and waiting, these stupas can go together with lightning speed. They do not come with umbrellas (crowns), and for those, you have to go to Lhasa, on Copper Street, where they have been making them for centuries.

Logistics is the next issue. You see above, where they are quoting $2,500 for a set of eight 5' stupas from Viet-Nam? Plus fees, fees, fees? From China, using indigenous resources and a little networking, you can move that same weight for around $700, DDP to the door, end of story. Tell you the truth, even UPS can work a few miracles in that regard.

Poured or injected concrete stupas are fine, but much more expensive in the long run. I do not think they will last as long as marble stupas. Guanxi white marble surfaces start to show age at around 300 years. We know this because the Chinese have detailed observations of the material going back centuries. So, around 300 years from now you might have to seal the surfaces with epoxy, or whatever they have 300 years from now, to cut down abrasion from wind-blown particles, pollution etching, and who knows what else.

These stupas are heavy, so a main issue is the foundation. You cannot just set them on the ground. As seen in the photo, above, Sogyal Rinpoche and the Rigpa sangha went with reinforced concrete block. This, of course, is on a traditionally prepared base. Under most circumstances, the soil would have to be removed to at least waist level, sifted back in to remove impurities, and rammed down. You could then proceed as tradition demands, up the point of a master foundation, with the rebar coming up and through the block. The alternative is to pour solid reinforced concrete into forms, but that raises costs tremendously. Concrete blocks are $0.97 each almost everywhere.

I have done a study of how stupas fail. I find that the first failure is usually the spire. Normally, the last thing to fail is the foundation. However, when I examined photos of the stupas destroyed in the recent earthquake, I saw they were failing at the base. A number of these stupas were situated for geomantic purposes, so one imagines they were built to take a punch. If you live in an earthquake zone, you might want to take reinforced, impregnated concrete into consideration. The people who can help you there are the people who build communications towers, such as cell tower sites. They have all the engineering data you need.

There have now been enough stupas built in the United States, using various approaches, that we are beginning to develop a corpus of lessons learned. A few of the poured concrete types are beginning to develop problems, and some are beginning to fail. I am not an engineer, but I talked to some engineers who told me this is because poured concrete is not the best way to build stupas. This runs contrary to assumption, but this is what they said.

One of the interesting lessons learned from the recent earthquake was the older stupas tended to  survive and stay intact, whereas the newer stupas failed. The older stupas did not employ concrete. The newer stupas do employ concrete. We'll see how that develops.

Well, I hope this helps you. I am not in the business of selling stupas, so this is about as far as we can go.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dalai Lama's Prayer for Quick Return of Lati Rinpoche

Prayer for the Quick Return of Kyabjé Lati Rinpoché 
O peerless savior and supreme Teacher, Shuddhodhana’s son,
O the seventeen masters and adepts, Nagarjuna and Asanga, and so on,
O Dipamkara as well as sovereign father Tsongkhapa,
Gloriously appear here today to grant auspiciousness.
On the great path leading to the heart of Enlightenment,
You’ve traversed by means of the perfect threefold discipline,
And have enhanced ever higher the realizations of enlightened qualities
O glorious Guru, we offer our supplications at your feet.
Pray return gloriously to propagate the teaching of Lobsang,
By tying well the sash of monastic disciplinary precepts,
And, generating the altruistic intention to free all beings,
Engage in the tantric yogas of the two stages.
Think of the unbearable pain of the sentient beings
Who’re enveloped in the forces of five degenerations;
And to open wide the lotus grove of the Buddha’s teaching,
May your reincarnation appear soon as a source of merit for us.

The students of Lati Labrang, the entire assembly of Ganden Shartse Monastery, Trijang Labrang, Zong Labrang, Lochen Labrang, the entire assembly of Spiti Key Monastery and Spiti Drakar Monastery, Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling Center-Singapore, Gaden Shartse Phende Lekshe Ling Center-Malaysia, Gaden Shartse Buddhist Center-Taiwan, Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargye Ling Center-USA, Ganden Shartse Education Committee, Gaden Shartse Phukhang Khangtsen, and Gaden Shartse Thepo Khangtsen approached me with a request to compose a prayer for the quick return of the late Lati Rinpoche. As I have had close association with this authentic spiritual teacher for over fifty years and have enjoyed a bond of pure faith and commitment, I have written this aspiration prayer. May the aims of this aspiration be fulfilled as prayed for. 

      This was composed by the Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on the 5th day of the 3rd month in the seventeenth Rabjung cycle of the Tibetan calendar, namely, on 19, April, 2010.
Translated by Thupten Jinpa, a humble student of the late Kyabje Lati Rinpoché. May the sun of H.E Lati Rinpoché’s reincarnation shine soon.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Vajra Song Recognizing Mind as the Guru

Here is an absolutely beautiful translation by Kalu Rinpoche's student Ken McLeod. Be sure to visit his site for other translations, done with equal grace.

The Vajra Song
Recognizing Mind as the Guru
by Kyer-gong-pa
(, 1154-1217) 

Guru bodhicitta namami
The gurus who point out mind itself are like no one else:
They are done with their own needs and have taken on the needs of others.
Their awareness is limitless, their compassion universal.
To my kind and gracious gurus I bow.

Yes, gurus do point out how things are,
But the guru who is natural being is within.
Mind that is my guru, here is how you are:

You have no genesis: you are just naturally present.
Misfortune doesn't hurt you; correctives don't affect you;
You don't come or go; you don't change with time;
And I cannot say you exist or don't exist.

I can't see, hear, taste, smell or touch you:
You are not a thing, yet you are the source of all experience.
Try as I may, there's nothing I can point to and say, "That's you!"
But when I sit and don't look for you, you are present in everything.

You are not subject to conditioning, good or bad.
Finer than everything, you don't attach to anything.
Not being a thing, you are the basis of everything.
Free from reasoning, you arise clearly when I don't reason.

Because you aren't anywhere, you arise as anything anywhere.
Yet you don't belong to any one place.
So, while you are not anything I can point to,
You are my guru!

What is your spiritual history? Here it is:

Because distance doesn't apply to you,
You are present in every being.
Because of your pure intentions,
Every being belongs to your family.

Because of your great compassion,
Every being is originally placed in full awakening.
Because of your powerful actions,
You engage and master everything in samsara and nirvana.

Because change doesn't apply to you,
Even when I look at things the wrong way, what is true is still right there.
You've never gone away for a moment.
And yet, though a long-time companion, everyone has trouble seeing you.

Because death doesn't touch you,
You've always been the constant watchman: that's amazing!

Oh, mind that is my guru,
I meet you by recognizing what I am.
I pray to you by letting go of doubt and hesitation.
I revere you by letting go and settling naturally.

I serve you by resting continuously in the nature of things.
I provide you with food by resting without strain in empty clarity.
I provide you with drink by knowing attention and distraction make no difference.
I clothe you by knowing appearance and sound as enchantments.

I seat you on the cushion of non-reactive ecstasy.
I crown you with what has always been there but cannot be found.
I give you offerings by not doing anything with what arises.

Past, present, and future--you always live
In the sanctuary of total knowing that holds no identity.
Attended by no preference for samsara or nirvana,
You are constantly giving higher instruction in experience.

How amazing you are, mind that is my guru!
Again, how kind you are, supporting me with compassion!
How much energy you have from practice in earlier training!
How amazing you are--your compassion never ends!

When I turn to you in these ways,
Waves of energy wash through me.

Without running away, I stop going into samsara.
Without going anywhere, I arrive at buddhahood.
I understand that no experience is good or bad.
The difference between buddhas and ordinary beings is direct knowing.
When I know directly exactly how mind is
And the knowing is full and present, that is buddha.
What one can do then can't be described in words.

When I look outside, a guru may teach, but this is what happens:
Because I don't know mind itself directly,
I take what is not as what is.
Chasing the past, I fall into old habits and pain.
That's called ordinary being.

Now, let me be my own watchman.
As for samsara, I don't chase what is past, I don't let what has happened bother me.
A big effort is not to generate a nirvana:
I rest in mind itself and do nothing.

I cannot identify mind itself as this or that.
It arises as I refine this wonderful not knowing.
And this understanding is fulfilling.

Here's how I know it is fulfilling.
Emptiness is just there: I don't need to hunt for the dimension of truth.
Whatever appears just arises: I don't need to block the dimension of form.
Mind itself is free as it is: I don't need to control the three dimensions of being.

Samsara is destroyed at its root: I don't need to discard anything.
My mind is buddha: I don't need to hope for anything.
It's always been this way: I don't need to cultivate anything.
Isn't this is a better way to work?

If contemplatives who look at mind without distraction
Are free from the mind that looks, what's the problem?
If deep meditators who continuously meditate on no separation
Release what meditates, what's the problem?

If practitioners who constantly practice with awakening energy
Understand the natural presence of no practice, what's the problem?
If truth masters who carefully guard against managing mind
Do away with mind itself, what's the problem?

I have studied with many capable gurus:
Each guru has given me his or her own advice.
All advice comes down to one point--mind.
So, mind that is my guru,
I look at you, listen to you, and seek your instruction again and again.

I pray to the seven kind and gracious gurus, (1),
I praise them, give them offerings, and ask for their energy.
By doing so, I know directly that mind is the guru.
Because this knowing arises internally,
When I see writings that contradict or conflict with my experience:
I consider the meaning, not the words.

This song is the babbling of a crazy man.
I don't ask anyone to pardon it.
No pardon, and don't offer me anything for it either.

  1. This line probably refers to the first seven gurus of the Shangpa lineage: Vajradhara, Niguma, Sukhasiddhi, Maitrepa, Rahula, Chungpo Naljor, and Mochokpa.

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