Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekly Tibetan Astrology: August 30 - September 5, 2010

NOTE: Know those scenes in the old movies where the clock spins around, and pages of the calendar fall off the wall? Blink your eyes, and this year will be done. Next week, we'll slip into the eighth lunar month. Meanwhile, the finishing touches on the seventh lunar month are painted in muddy shades of gray -- well, all except for that army of coal black cats crossing every road for miles around.

Oh, yeah... and that red smoke on the landing zone. Only way to handle that is to take all anger out of your heart, and take your time in a hurry. Of course, that is assuming you aren't smart enough to avoid the whole mess in the first place.

I cannot say, from a pure astrological perspective, that this week will be without disturbance. There are some extremely negative energies struggling to jump up (maybe explode is a better word) and cause misery. There is fatigue, and money is pouring out like water. Upstarts and usurpers are planning to launch their own brand of mischief.  The elements are not cooperating: natural disaster is fomenting geopolitical instability. Thugs and terror go hand in hand. Enemies are at the gates. Here, unfortunately, is where the Tiger year begins to show its stripes.

Scary, huh?

Well, I am reminded of that old joke about the Buddhist. His wife left him, but he worked with it, and everything turned out fine. His parents passed away, and crooked lawyers stole his entire inheritance, but he managed it beautifully. Laid low with disease, he transformed the poisons and came back better than ever before. Transcending all adverse appearances, his practice was as strong as strong can be.

Then, in a stroke of misfortune, he won a hundred million in the national lottery, and his life went straight to hell.

Time to cowboy up. Anybody can ride the tame ones.

August 30, 2010 - Chinese 21st, M-T-K 21st. Dog, Li, Blue 3. Today is zin phung. This is a classic "blue Monday." Negative energies today portend discord and difficulty of every stripe and variety. Save it for tomorrow. Make naga offerings. Bad day for travel.

August 31, 2010 - Chinese 22nd, M-T-K 22nd. Pig, Khon, Green 4. There will be a tendency to worry, and micro-manage, but actually, if you leave all that aside, you might be able to achieve something today. Make naga offerings. Good day for travel.

September 1, 2010 - Chinese 23rd, M-T-K 23rd. Mouse, Dwa, Yellow 5. Bye bye, August. Hello, September. You can start the month on a successful note, but not without cost. That cost may be high. Exercise caution in all things today. Beware of thieves.

September 2, 2010 - Chinese 24th, M-T-K 24th. Ox, Khen, White 6. Negative energies abound today. The best lion tamer knows when it is time to head back to the jungle, and leave the circus to the clowns. Avoid speaking ill of others on this day. Bad day for litigation.

September 3, 2010 - Chinese 25th, M-T-K  25th. Tiger, Kham, Red 7. Dakini Day. Surprises possible. Avoid belligerence. Some earth-fire to earth-water action today.

September 4, 2010 -  Chinese 26th, M-T-K 26th. Rabbit, Gin, White 8. This could turn out to be an extremely stressful day in some parts of the world. Vajrakilaya helps. Avoid conflict.

September 5, 2010 - Chinese 27th, M-T-K 27th. Dragon, Zin, Red 9. Today is nyi nak. Despite this gloomy news, there is an undercurrent of positive energy. Nevertheless, don't discount what is happening. Today is zin phung and yan kwong, with a clear fire-fire.

Naga observations for the seventh  month: Good days are lunar 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 23, 29. Bad days are 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16.

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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Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Could Care Less" Doesn't Mean Careless

I came across a most interesting and amusing interview of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche by somebody named Andrew Cohen. It is entitled "Real Gurus 'Couldn't care less:' The dilemma of an Eastern master in a postmodern world." This dates from about four years ago. I imagine many people have already seen this, but it was news to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. Here are a couple of passages:

And you said that the teacher who “crushes your pride and makes this worldly life completely miserable is something that you ask for. He is the assassin, he is the man or woman whom you have hired to completely dismantle you.”

DZONGSAR: You may not realize that's what you're doing, but that's the idea—to dismantle everything: your identity, everything. And it's not like dismantling one big habit. It changes. Let's say today I would like to be stroked. Then a teacher should not stroke me. Or maybe today I would like to be beaten. Then maybe I should be stroked. So that's why this is actually beyond abuse and not abuse. If somebody bites you or beats you and handcuffs you, that's a kind of abuse, isn't it? But what I'm talking about is ultimate abuse. At the same time, abuse phenomena only exist if you are still clinging to transitory phenomena as permanent and real. If you don't, there is nothing to be abused. But that's difficult, really difficult.
COHEN: In that case, the teacher's work would be done.

DZONGSAR: Yes, of course. But the kind of student we're talking about doesn't exist. And that kind of teacher doesn't exist, either. Teachers don't have that kind of courage. I don't have it. I may be a teacher, but I don't have that kind of courage because I love my reputation. Who wants to be referred to as an abuser? I don't. I am a sycophant. I try to go along with what people think. If people think a teacher should shave his head, wear something maroon, walk gently, eat only vegetarian food, be so-called serene, then I'm very tempted to do that. Rajneesh had the guts to have ninety-three Rolls Royces. I call it guts. One Rolls Royce is one thing. Even two or three—but ninety-three is guts! And I don't have the guts, the confidence. I like Rajneesh very much. I like him much better than Krishnamurti. Many of his words are quite good, and I can see why the Westerners would like him."

--- --- ---

Biting, beating, and handcuffing. Sounds kinky. He left out the part about bail bonds and lawyers. Note to Dzongsar Khyentse: watch what you say at interviews. It will be introduced at trial to show predisposition and prior intent.

--- --- ---

People read these things in the slick magazines, or they hear these things in safe, public forums with the lights on, and they think, "O.K., why not?" But, when it comes up behind you in the dark alley of your expectations and blackjacks you over the head, there is always all sorts of disingenuously surprised whining. Ego doesn't like to be dismantled, and in this society, ego has a number of ways to prevent this from happening --up to and including a call to 911, and some tearful, revisionist history sobbed out to a donutasaurus with a radio on his shoulder.

Rub this lamp the wrong way, and out pops the genie, except this genie doesn't grant wishes. Oh, no. Ego Genie starts right in name-calling, and is a lying, ball-kicking, back-stabbing, gutter fighter of the worst possible kind. Ego Genie screams when it dies, and the screams are the most obscene things you have ever seen or heard.

Thanks, but I think it will take a lot more than somebody else's statue.
If teachers are chargeable with abuse, I think students should be accountable for demonic hypocrisy. To avoid being dismantled, students will try bribery and seduction, and when that doesn't work, battery and sedition. Some I have encountered are the sort who kill their parents, and then say, "Have mercy on me, I'm an orphan."
Anyway, who cares?

One of the best bulletins I have ever read on the teacher-student dynamic in the context of Vajrayana is the aforementioned interview, and I wish everyone would print it out and paste it on the wall, right next to the mirror.
"If you really want to know who I am, you have to be as absolutely empty as I am. Then two mirrors will be facing each other, and only emptiness will be mirrored. Infinite emptiness will be mirrored: two mirrors facing each other. But if you have some idea, then you will see your own idea in me."

-- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, 1931-1990

I don't know how well Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche knew or didn't know Rajneesh, or how well he knows or doesn't know the story of how and why the United States government, in all its power and might, so completely dropped a courthouse on the guru that you could not even see the ruby slippers.

But, that's not why I bring it up.

There is an exquisite distance between "could care less," and "careless." The distance is occupied by a rough-house razor witch. The witch is the extent to which you understand that -- no matter who you think you are -- your acts -- regardless of their intention -- are still subject to the laws of cause and effect. The witch has a two-edged spell, and the spell is the extent to which you are willing and able to accept the results of your actions. Notice I say "accept," and not "manage," as between these two is where the confusion arises. Whether the witch is a good witch or a bad witch, whether the spell is beneficent or evil, is strictly up to your vow.

Not the vow you make in front of the illusion of statues.

Not the vow you make in front of the illusion of preceptors.

But, that other vow... the one that makes itself, over and over again.

Strange, isn't it, that the most difficult thing to hold from the study of compassion is simple kindness? Strange, aren't they, the whispers in the illusion of samsara, telling us what is and isn't necessary? So strange, isn't it, the damage we do to each other with the best of all possible intentions? Strange, when we try to manage that which is inherently unmanageable, instead of just accepting the movie as a movie.

Tell the truth... you never laughed or cried at the movies?

Laughed one minute and cried the next?

The flickering screen could care less who are the actors and who are the audience.

It just carefully reflects the projected light.

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Just Another Desert Rainbow

You can leave anytime you want. There is nothing holding you here but you. Seems like you have convinced yourself otherwise, but I assure you: if there is a door -- and I am not convinced there is -- then it is an always-open door in an ever-empty room with no walls.

I took the above photograph a couple of days ago, while I was sitting out in the middle of nowhere. A very great poet -- Gary Snyder to be exact, while I was sitting in the middle of somewhere -- once explained to me that there is a danger in taking photographs like this. He said that in time, you will come to remember only the photograph, and forget the actual event.

The reasons why we stay the way we stay are like the poet's dangerous pictures.

We think that fulfillment of our desires are so very important. We hang on to our beautiful clothes, and our cars, our homes, and our families -- and sure enough, in time, we remember only the photograph, and forget the actual event.

Maybe that is why the pain stays bearable as long as it does.

We keep submerging it in the picture of an old dream.

The years burn like a bookmaker's notes. We change sizes, and the clothes don't fit. The buttons fall off, and the seams split. The moths eat them, and the rats gnaw our shoes. The cars break down, and wind up in the weeds, out in back of the garage. The houses are like stage sets: they change for every scene, and you can put your hand through the walls. The lovers, spouses, and children... well, pick up a cell phone from ten years ago,  or an old address book, and see how many numbers are still in service.

Causes and conditions are unreliable companions. They whisper, across your shoulder, but when you turn around to see them, they are gone. In the day, in the desert, you swim in mirages, while at night the bushes come alive, and dance.

The replacement for life we live instead of living our lives is just another desert rainbow.

Always a little out of reach.

That, right there, ought to tell you something.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

This Is A Photograph of Buddha

Namo! To the Dharmakaya Wisdom Mother, Awareness and Emptiness,
Primordially perfected, I take refuge.
The sentient beings of the six realms are actually Buddhas;
In order to awaken this true nature, I generate bodhichitta.

--Refuge preliminary from a terma of Kunzang Dechen Lingpa

Above, is a photograph of Buddha.

This may come as a shock to those of us who are accustomed to visualizing Buddha as an idealized, serenely smiling, one dimensional image in a painting. Most of us see Buddha the way we have been taught to see Buddha by such paintings, or even sculpture, and the carefully diagrammed visualizations in the sadhana texts.

But, when we see an actual image of Buddha, most of us do not recognize what we are seeing. 

We think we see a starving native, in Africa: too weak to stand, crawling on the ground. A wretched, disease infested human, dragging himself away to die. 

All sorts of useless ideas and emotions suddenly arise. For example: we may think in terms of food, or medical attention. We may think of some humanitarian movement, or political change. We may become saddened to the point of tears -- we call that "feeling compassion" -- or we may become angry at the causes and conditions attendant on this poor, crawling human's obvious circumstance.

If one million of us look at this photograph of Buddha, maybe 999,999 of us will saturate our brushes from that palette of ideations.

But, one of us -- or, at least, hopefully one of us -- will actually see.

Upon actually seeing, perhaps we can form the very firm intention to proceed in the best possible way; to proceed in a way that does not involve temporal solutions, tears, angers, causes, separations into "them" and "us," or all the rest of the delusions that produced this delusion in the first place.

You cannot save the world by saving the world. This is 2010, and there are all sorts of resources available for the Buddha in the photograph above. There are hundreds of international organizations, bundles of money, air drops of supplies, aid without borders, mothers with continually bleeding hearts, courageous workers, courteous diplomats, noble statesmen, brave generals, willing soldiers, generous donors --- these have been around for decades, they are around now, but somewhere in this world, somewhere at this very moment, Buddha is still crawling on the ground.

This Buddha has not heard the elegant dharma talks we have heard. This Buddha has not smelled the exquisite fragrances of the costly incense that we burn. This Buddha will never experience the opportunities we have experienced -- and really, if he did, it wouldn't make very much difference at all.

Spend much time practicing today?

Maybe tomorrow, eh?

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Outlaw Rabbits Take On Texas

A 1968 city ordinance in Houston makes it illegal to keep a rabbit within 100 feet of the nearest residence. restaurant, church, school, or other human habitation. This means that if you keep a rabbit -- the third most popular house pet in the United States -- in your home and your home is less than 100 feet from your neighbor, you are in for trouble.

At least that is the way it played out for one Houston resident, who got three separate citations -- one for each of her rabbits -- when the animal police happened to see them playing in her front yard.

After a storm of righteous protest reached elected officials, Houston's Bureau of Animal Control and Regulation did some fancy stepping, issuing this statement through a spokesman: 
"We definitely intend to revise the ordinance to reflect the change in personal taste and personal behavior in regard to rabbits. Times change, and we've got to catch up."
Better smile when you say that, pardner.

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Desert Tidbits: Water Air-Lift to Save Wild Burros

It is hitting 110F before high noon out in the Mojave, and the wild burros are feeling the pain. An alert rancher spotted fifty-six of them, dead from dehydration, their bodies clogging Fenner Springs, which is actually inside a old mine shaft, over in Piute Mountain Wilderness. Apparently, the spring had gone dry. 

The thirteen who remained -- seen above -- were in dire straits. So, the rancher called BLM, and a water air-lift was organized. So far, they have set up troughs and flown in about 5,000 gallons. The county also trucked in 750 gallons.
The crew in the photo will probably be rounded up at some point, taken out to the Ridgecrest Regional Wild Horse and Burro Corrals,  and put up for adoption. Burros aren't bad critters to have around, so if you are interested in adopting one, you can click that link and find out how to get started.

I am interested in this, and am thinking to go up to Ridgecrest once I get a trailer. You know...  I have been looking around for a good, used, single or double horse trailer for a while now, and you would think they are easy to find, but for some reason they don't come on the market all that often anymore. You can get big ones easy enough, but the small ones are tough to find.

And, as long as there is room for rumination, I should note that Fenner Springs is named after Fenner, California, which was a terminal for the Wells Fargo stage lines. Fenner, California, in turn, was named after James Fenner, the Governor of Rhode Island. As to how a stage stop in the Mojave Desert came to be named after a governor in Rhode Island -- well, the desert is a strange place, and that's about all I can say. In that map, above, you see Goff's Road, which is the road to Goff's Depot, California, home of the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association. All these little railroad towns -- they call them the "Alphabet Towns" -- more or less died in 1931, when they were by-passed by Route 66

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brand New Sun

Someday, a brand new sun will be born in your sky. This only lasts for an instant, but if you let the light shine through, there might even be a rainbow.
"All that is has me -- universal creativity, pure and total presence -- as its root. How things appear is my being. How things arise is my manifestation. Sounds and words heard are my messages, expressed in sounds and words. All the capacities, forms, and pristine awareness's of the Buddhas; the bodies of sentient beings, their habituations, and so forth; all environments and their inhabitants, life forms, and experiences -- are the primordial state of pure and total presence."
Longchenpa wrote that, and of course it was beautifully written, and of course it is a good thing to remember. But, even this -- the imputation of its verity, the imputation of its beauty, the imputation of its meaning -- will evaporate when the new sun is born. 

The thing is not to go looking. Maybe the thing is to just wait out the intermission, without developing any opinions: no thumbs up, no thumbs down. 

When suns explode open at birth, there may be thunderbolts thrown to the ground. Due to imprints, you may encounter long-deceased relations -- your father, your mother -- but, when such moments come -- as they inevitably will -- there is no longer any reason to make sense of such things.
"Without understanding me -- the creativity of the universe -- but investigating the phenomena that I manifest, you perceive everything dualistically due to your attachment and longing. Impermanent, apparitional things will fade away. They are aimless, like a blind man. Accustom yourself to this non-dual reality where the duality of mind, and that which appears before mind, is like a dream."
So, if you see thunderbolts being hurled from the center of an exploding orb of light, or if you are miraculously reunited with absent loved ones, or if your motion picture is interrupted by another motion picture -- equally enchanting, equally false -- just forget them: or, more to the point, let them dissolve naturally, as  naturally they shall, in the preterite present expressions of your being.

What of this past you believe predicates this present you believe you perceive? Does it have any substance at all? Is this sun rising, or setting? This time you believe you have occupied, now occupy, and will occupy --- where is it? What is it?
"All that is experienced and your own mind is the unique primary reality. They cannot be conceptualized according to the cause and effect systems of thought. Investigate your mind's real nature, so that your pure and total presence will actually shine forth."
Someday, a brand new sun will be born in your sky. Whether you say, "Now, I have come to the moment of death," or say instead that you have come to another moment of life -- these are just adornments along a heart-stream of effortlessly compassionate intention, and this "mind" upon which you lavish so much effort really has no place to stand.
"The state of pure and total presence is the clear light, the pure fact of awareness, non-conceptual ever-fresh awareness; whereas mind is the motivating factor of samsara: pervasive conceptualization."
Sailing in the Jewel Ship, Longchenpa spoke to the sky.

Such riches as have been given to us beggar the imagination.  Such luxury, and splendor, accompanies us as to stir the envy of kings. We are everywhere bathed in divine light, which dissolves into us, as we dissolve into essence, and reside continuously in the space beyond source and ambience, where there is no longer any striving.

As children, we lay in summer fields and gazed at ever-changing clouds. We believed the clouds assumed the shapes of fantasy, and said to each other, "Look! There is a dragon!" or, "See here! A lion!" In the easy grace of childhood, we did not keep the dragons and lions for very long. We allowed the winds to dissipate the clouds, as they might, leaving only the sky.

Like Longchenpa, indivisibly, we spoke to the sky: the teacher of the teacher,  in the dream of a brand new sun being born.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pakistan: Where Is Our Compassion Now?

Pakistan, which arguably contains, somewhere within its borders, the ancient polity of Oddiyana, has been devastated by floods. So, to put that another way, the modern place many scholars reckon as inclusive of the ancient birthplace of Padmasambhava, has been laid to ruin by the water element.

The Christian Science Monitor reports: 
"The floods have killed nearly 1,600 people, left more than 4 million homeless, and in some fashion affected 20 million. Relating the situation in Pakistan to other high-profile natural disasters and conflicts, Oxfam’s humanitarian director, Jane Cocking, told journalists that this is 'a single, long event which has the scale of the tsunami, the devastation of Haiti, and the complexity of the Middle East.' "
But, for Pakistan, attention has been slow in coming. Some are of the opinion this is due to generalized compassion fatigue when it comes to Muslim nations -- which Pakistan most certainly is.

My own opinion is, "so what?" Whether these are Buddhists, Muslims, or people of any other faith, should not become any sort of yardstick by which we measure "how we ought to feel." These are human beings, just like us, and they are in a terrible situation right now.

I could have illustrated this brief post with a picture of devastation, of water-ravaged lands, and distressed refugees. I have chosen an image of Padmasambhava instead.

His mercy knows no limits, and neither should ours.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Gem Medicines

Sand, from a Japanese beach, greatly magnified -- a sapphire crystal.
This image is from Gary Greenberg's remarkable book, A Grain of Sand.

As mentioned previously, I am off on an extended jaunt, and that is why DTBA is a bit sparse these days. Sorry for that, but one cannot spend all of one's time sitting in front of the computer. Hogwarts is out for summer holiday.

Specifically, I am off hunting minerals, which is something I have learned to enjoy, and this may help to explain the theme of today's post: a brief rumination on an exhausting subject. Actually, I was also inspired by Malcolm Smith's comments to last week's Malas: Tibetan Prayer Beads post -- done about the same time I kicked over a boulder and found this strange little universe:

So, then...

Gems are of three categories: (1) human gems, (2) divine gems, and (3) the gems of bodhisattvas.

The gems of humans emit white, yellow, red, blue, and green light and have seven qualities. Their color purifies; they dispel the antagonistic effects of poisons, spirits, darkness, and swelling; they relieve the suffering of fevers, and they fulfill wishes. 

Divine gems share these seven qualities and also are incapable of loss, are lightweight, are perfectly pure, and have the ability to speak. 

The gems of bodhisattvas share the foregoing eleven qualities and further, enable the bodhisattva to see the death and rebirth of others. They also enable the bodhisattva to see the time of the ultimate liberation of others, and teach in various ways appropriate to the listener.

That is from memory... but, for the life of me, I can't remember the source. When you remember the text but forget the source, it is as if you have forgotten everything.

See the man at the left of the picture? This is not a trick photograph.

Closer to hand, we have Desi Sangye Gyatso Rinpoche's Mirror of Beryl, with the following, provocative passage:
"In the tantra it says, 'With gems there is nothing that cannot be dispelled.' They are the best remedy for the 404 kinds of illness, especially dual and complex disorders such as poisoning. They lengthen life and restore youth. Merely by wearing them on the body, you are protected from violent storms, hail, and weapons, and from the eight types of spirits. When made use of they close the door to birth in the lower realms."
This passage can be a little bit misleading -- you can take it to refer to gems, or you can take it to refer to gem pills, rinchen rilbu -- and we will come back to this in a moment. Meanwhile, we now have the door open to discuss gem medicines -- which in the context of Tibetan traditional medicine are associated with the potency of that which is precious (inclusive of precious metals in refined form), and also having a certain indirect overlap into that which possesses the potency of stones, and of earth.

A substantial portion of Tibetan traditional medicine is based upon Ayurvedic medicine. I think we all understand this. Ayurvedic medicine, in turn, makes use of gems as healing substances, based in part on their astrological characteristics, but more narrowly based on their color, or quite specifically, the wavelength of emitted light -- a building block, as it were, of the ancient science of healing by chemiluminescence, or so it seems to me. Nevertheless, the gems used in Ayurveda are nine, corresponding to the seven planets, plus Rahu and Ketu, and these are:
  1. Ruby (Sun)
  2. Pearl (Moon)
  3. Red Coral (Mars)
  4. Emerald (Mercury)
  5. Yellow Sapphire (Jupiter)
  6. Diamond (Venus)
  7. Blue Sapphire (Saturn)
  8. Hessonite (Rahu)
  9. Chrysoberyl (Ketu)
This, I hasten to clarify, is the strict Ayurvedic enumeration as laid out in the received literature. According to the Sushruta Samhita, "They are possessed of sacred prophylactic virtues, and  bring good luck to men who wear them, and cleanse their wearers from all impurities." The Tibetans whack the subject up a bit differently, but not by much.

Now, associated with each of these is an absolutely enormous body of myth, folklore, and superstition, sufficient to bore one to tears. I know this, because I have cried over this subject for more than fifty years, having been attracted to the study as a child. 

Just as an example, the "pearls" in the above list are not necessarily the aquatic pearls with which we are familiar. Rather, they are a bewildering variety of mutig, or bezoars, inclusive of "pearls" found in plants, snake's heads, and so forth. The ancient Arabs believed the very best kind to come from the heart of a deer that had been fed on poisonous snakes. In the photograph above, you see purported "red cobra pearls." There are firms in Indonesia that specialize in such things, if you are interested, but I cannot promise that the snake "pearls" (sometimes costing thousands of dollars) will be devoid of all oils.

Being merciful by nature, I will spare you all the rest of the tedium, and "cut to the chase," as they say in the motion picture industry.

The gems mentioned are either worn, burned to ash, tinctured, or crushed and combined with other substances, then made into pills. If worn, they are worn on specific fingers, set in specific metals. Burning to ash is done to remove toxic properties, and to enable ingestion by mouth. Tincturing is done by soaking the gem in various liquids for various periods of time. Crushing and combining with other substances forms the basis of the Tibetan rinchen rilbu, mentioned above. 

These rinchen rilbu, or "precious pills" are thought by most Tibetan doctors to originate with Nagarjuna, although their introduction to Tibet is usually credited to Padmasambhava -- a sort of fusion between vedic medicine and siddha medicine. If you want to chew around on that, you can read Michael Lee Walter's 1980 Indiana University doctoral thesis, The Role of Alchemy and Medicine In Indo-Tibetan Tantrism, which is noteworthy for a Hogwarts-style translation of Jigme Lingpa ("The Essence of the Vessel, an Elixir which obtains for One the Life of a Magician.") You can find this little beauty on line, by clicking here, but don't everybody click at once and crash the server.

Getting back to Desi Rinpoche, we find that by the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, gem medicines had deteriorated into a base practice:
"Many past nobles and high lamas ... tried to make gem pills. However, they only used up to a maximum of eighty-three different medicines, they used the water in which rare gems had been soaked, and girls born in the tiger year were suddenly being killed [for substances, such as bile, to be used as ingredients], and so the process became tainted by crime."
The Fifth Dalai Lama put a stop to all of this by offering up his treasure house -- Desi Rinpoche tells us all about this in glowing terms -- and  also went on a collecting tour, during which he received other treasures -- even some from the Emperor of China. These were used as the basis for large-scale manufacture of rinchen rilbu according to proper methods. 

I want to note parenthetically, that the Fifth Dalai Lama's gem medicines achieved lasting reknown in Asia, and even occupied the attentions of Chairman Mao. Mao believed -- and he was partially correct -- that stores of these medicines were kept hidden from light, deep in the basement of the Potala. He believed that these conferred immortality. 

As an aside: This is my friend, "Mr. Tan," who believes he was struck blind when, 
as a senior PLA officer, he "saw things he shouldn't have seen," beneath the Potala.
He is an interesting man. All of his life, he has been haunted by a dream he had when
he was a child. He dreamed that he was standing by a river, when a golden dragon
appeared with a pearl upon its head. He grasped the pearl, but fell into the river,
whereupon he awoke from the dream. He grew up and became a military officer
occupied with scientific intelligence matters. He woke up blind one morning, in
Tibet, and no doctor since has been able to tell him why. The only time he is able
to "see" anything -- and this is only brief flashes of light -- is when he takes
rinchen chagril chenmo (the "Iron Pill"), which does on a weekly basis.

When Tibet was invaded, Mao dispatched a special team to obtain these medicines -- as it happens, I personally know two members of that team, both of whom had direct access to the Chairman, and operated under his personal orders. 

Chagpori ("Iron Hill") as it appears today.

I have discussed this matter at length with them, to the extent that I am convinced they believe their account is true. They tell me that such stores were indeed kept, but they were kept in the basement of Chagpori, where they were destroyed by artillery fire, when Chagpori was shelled to rubble. What they did manage to find at the Potala was sent by personal courier directly to Chairman Mao, as a matter of very high priority.

But, we digress....

The question on every Western-educated, chronically-ill, medical skeptic's mind is, "How does this stuff work?" 

I really don't know. 

Gem medicines were created by highly evolved beings, drawing upon the transcendent knowledge of Great Space: they are a gift to mankind from the mind of the Buddhas of all times and directions. I am just an ordinary person, losing my memory, so it is impossible for me to answer such questions.

However, there are three elements of information you may wish to employ to formulate your own intelligence.

First, gem medicines must be kept in the dark until ingested.

Second, scientists in Austria have discovered that gem medicines -- in essence -- turn into light once ingested. You can see an informed discussion of this in the documentary film Das Wissen vom Heilen (1996, releaszed in English as The Knowledge of Healing), including interviews with the scientists involved.

Third, chemoluminescence is quite simply "cold light," or the emission of light with limited emission of heat in result of a chemical reaction.

So, like the man says -- if I want to teach you about a square, and I tell you about three corners, you really should be able to figure out the fourth all by yourself.


As I have already reported elsewhere, I came across an old adit the other day. From the looks of the place, the miners were a little on the reckless side. Holes bored everywhere; single blasts up and out. Shoddy work with the dynamite. 

So, I was just poking around when I turned over some of the larger blast fragments -- around the size of bowling balls -- and saw the strange treasure depicted in the second photo from the top, above. You can't see it very well from the photo -- I am not a skilled photographer -- but there is a universe inside. 

That darker botryoidal habit you see to the right of the interior is actually a dark, ruby red. 

Sitting there, looking at this, caused me to think that if you take all the gems ever polished and set into jewelry, and if you take all the mineral specimens in the museums of the world -- if you take all the precious and semi-precious gems known to mankind from the beginning of time -- all of these would not equal the smallest fraction of the smallest part of what lies undiscovered. 

And this is all around us, all the time. 

So.... the next time you are wondering what to offer, you can just offer up all of this hidden treasure -- an offering equal to a galaxy, really. Indeed, looking at the micro-photograph of sand, with which we began this post, one is reminded of this verse from The Discourse of the Holy Doctrine of the White Lotus, as quoted by Chatral Rinpoche:
    All who build a stupa of this nature to the Victorious Ones out of sand and brick or who even just pile up sand and dust to that end, who in due fashion or even as simple child's play build a refuge from suffering and even those who simply heap up sand as a support of offering to the Victorious Ones- all such persons will attain enlightenment.

Where are we, if not in buddhafields?

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Weekly Tibetan Astrology: August 23 - August 29, 2010

NOTE: According to the Phugpa system calendars, this week's elements are all about earth and water. Nobody wants to think about more landslides or flooding, but with zin phung early in the week, the possibility is definitely there. This, of course, is but one interpretation. The other interpretation is that this week could be a joyous one (the water-earth or earth-water combination being reckoned as auspicious). I like to keep things positive, don't you? So, lets go with the good stuff this week, and if geological excitation arises --- well, we'll deal with that, too. Actually, I am seeing an undercurrent of material increase this week, and we all know the way to make sure that happens, right? Open up those pockets, and practice some material generosity. 

August 23, 2010 - Chinese 14th, M-T-K 14th. Rabbit, Khon, Yellow 5.  Duplicated day in Chinese practice. There might be some good news today, but it will definitely be accompanied by perspiration. Don't think too much: just be happy. Travel not so good today. Stay out of the water and don't disturb the earth.

August 24, 2010 - Chinese 15th, M-T-K 15th. Dragon, Dwa, White 6. Amitabha Buddha Day. Full moon. Today is zin phung. Today is also sojong. This is an important day for Tibetan doctors, being the anniversary of Trapa Ngonshe's discovery of the Four Medical Tantras. That aside, there are extremely negative energies associated with today -- all of which point to weakening. Travel not good today, but if you must, then travel to the east could be accomplished. Avoid arguments.

August 25, 2010 - Chinese 16th, M-T-K 16th. Snake, Khen, Red 7. Today is baden, so no prayer flags. You might get a nice surprise today. Generally positive energies. If you've been sick, today is a good day to stand up and see the sky, but don't go or stay upstairs.  Travel north, east, or west, is not so good. Go vegetarian today.

August 26, 2010 - Chinese 17th, M-T-K 17th. Horse, Kham, White 8. Don't engage in risky business today. Gather your resources and conserve your energy. Not a good day for haircuts. Stay away from the water. Not a bad day for sang.

August 27, 2010 - Chinese 18th, M-T-K  18th. Sheep, Gin, Red 9. Joyful increase is entirely possible, but avoid risks or questionable situations. Good day to clean up the house. Vajrakilaya helps today. Accept gifts, but avoid purchases. Dzambala also good today.

August 28, 2010 -  Chinese 19th, M-T-K Monkey, Zin, White 1. Good day for the family. Give your loved one some flowers, and take the kids someplace amusing -- but keep your eye on them at all costs: don't let them run off alone. Good day to plant trees. Not a bad day for marriage.

August 29, 2010 - Chinese 20th, M-T-K 20th. Bird, Zon, Black 2.  Mixed messages today. Increase possible, but with some opposition. You are likely to be worn out. Stick close to home and clear obstacles. Don't go out at night.

Naga observations for the seventh  month: Good days are lunar 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 23, 29. Bad days are 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16.

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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Friday, August 20, 2010

Lineage of Schemes

"Pigs and fishes are the least intelligent of all animals and therefore the most difficult to influence. The force of inner truth must grow great indeed before its influence can extend to such creatures. In dealing with persons as intractable and as difficult to influence as a pig or a fish, the whole secret of success depends on finding the right way of approach. One must first rid oneself of all prejudice and, so to speak, let the psyche of the other person act on one without restraint."

--Richard Whilhelm translation of the I Ching
(emphasis added)

She was born in New York as Alyce Louise Zeoli. The family moved away so her stepfather could find work. In Florida, a high school counselor recognized disordered thinking, and she was sent to Dr. Ronald Shellow, a psychiatrist, with whom she engaged in three years' worth of therapy. I do not know that she managed to graduate from either the school or the therapy. She moved away from home. She began her career as "Alyce Louise Perry," and when that didn't work, "Alyce Louise Mulloy." Later -- much later -- she would be "Alyce Louise Jones," and she would persuade one of her students to change her name to "Alyce Louise."

She came to live in a farmhouse near Asheville, North Carolina, where she never stopped doing psychedelic drugs, and circa 1968, reported having "strange dreams."

We all knew a hundred just like her.

Her root guru, if indeed she may be said to have one at all, is the late "Reverend" Jim Goure (var. Gore), of the Black Mountain Light Center, in Black Mountain, North Carolina (now the U R Light Center). She affords him no respect whatsoever; keeps no pictures of him upon her altar, and pretends not to recognize his name. This is, in some respects, a pity -- because spiritually speaking, this is where she comes from. Hillbilly hoodoo, spiritual salad bowl, we-are-all-light speaking.

Jim Goure (left), died in December 1986.
From Goure, she learned the charismatic tricks of the New Age trade, and -- fueled by copious amounts of cheap bourbon and marijuana -- began "channeling" a being she named "Santu," another one she named "Andor," and the prophet Jeremiah. Her claims became ludicrous. She was Mary Magdalene. She was the ruler of a distant galaxy. We all knew each other in another lifetime when I was queen this, you were king that: he was the prince, she was the princess.

"Alyce Mulloy" and North Carolina weren't working, so she became "Catherine Burroughs," and moved to Maryland, beginning a twenty-four hour prayer vigil in the basement of her home, using prayers composed by Jim Goure. She also began raking in money from the credulous: cleansing spirits, blessing money, selling hex candles, and all the other traditional profit centers of the gypsy fortuneteller's repertoire. By 1985, she was successful enough to form something she called the "Center for Discovery and New Life," and bought herself a mansion.

She went looking for that which the otherwise undistinguished mutt nouveau riche always so desperately need.

A pedigree.

This came in 1987, when she was recognized as "Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo," by the late Penor Rinpoche, head of the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School. Along the way, she also acquired (from her husband) the title "Jetsunma," and that is the name she is best known by today.

There have been persistent rumors and even outright accusations that Penor Rinpoche was somehow influenced by money to recognize Alyce Zeoli as a tulku. As nobody has ever been able to come up with any evidence to support these allegations, they remain only that: allegations. The matter is what it has always been: an inexplicably strange aberration in the history of the Nyingma School -- one on a par with Penor Rinpoche's other, equally controversial recognitions, and one that generates more questions than it answers.

However, it is certain that what began as a warm friendship in the late 1980s, had substantially cooled by the late 1990s, and by the time of Penor Rinpoche's death in 2009, the two were so estranged he openly warned prospective students against her.

When he died this past March, she did not even bother to attend his funeral.

The hot then cold aspect of Alyce's relationship with Penor Rinpoche is, in essence, the story of her life. It is the story of every relationship or friendship she has ever had. It is the pattern she cannot break -- the biggest single obstacle to her completion as a human being, and the lighthouse of her affliction.

On or about a date certain in August 2007 -- I believe it was two years ago today -- I began receiving email communication from Konchog Norbu (Thomas Fry), who was then in Mongolia. Fry commented favorably on my writing ability, and also posted comments in the online forum known as E-Sangha.

Subsequently, we began exchanging correspondence about diverse matters relating to the Dharma, Mongolia, and so forth.

There came a time, during the course and scope of this exchange, when Fry mentioned to me that his teacher, Alyce Zeoli, was in some distress. He stated that he had given my email address to Zeoli's close personal attendant, and former sexual partner, Elizabeth (Alana) Elgin.

Then, Alana Elgin herself contacted me, on September 8, 2007. Thereafter, she continued contact, stating that Alyce was in considerable distress and needed help. I made inquiry as to the nature of this distress, and received a number of detailed replies, inclusive of the admission that Alyce was under psychiatric care, heavily medicated, and drinking:

I continued to exchange emails with Alana, and these messages, which were read aloud to Alyce, ultimately resulted in a telephone call from Alyce on October 21, 2007, which lasted upward of an hour and a half. During this conversation, Alyce begged me to help her -- at times crying and sobbing -- asking over and over again that I come to visit her in Arizona.

Akhon Lhamo Rinpoche, the emanation of Mandarava, told me that her life was out of control.

Alyce had her daughter make matching sweatshirts for us.
So, that is how it began. I went off to meet her, in company with one of Penor Rinpoche's former attendants -- a ten-year resident of the apartment next to his at Namdroling Monastery in India.

I arrived at her farm in rural Arizona -- grandiosely called "Dakini Valley" but actually the poorly maintained remnant of an old cattle ranch -- in response to a cry for help, and was presented with a "Gringo Rinpoche's Lonely Hearts Club" sweatshirt. In its way, that sweatshirt was all I needed to see. This seductive little gesture, coupled with the history she had offered, and the observations of those closest to her, led me to an opinion that has not wavered since.

It became my opinion that Alyce suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, described by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), as follows:
While a person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day. These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse. Distortions in cognition and sense of self can lead to frequent changes in long-term goals, career plans, jobs, friendships, gender identity, and values. Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, empty, and have little idea who they are. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone.
People with BPD often have highly unstable patterns of social relationships. While they can develop intense but stormy attachments, their attitudes towards family, friends, and loved ones may suddenly shift from idealization (great admiration and love) to devaluation (intense anger and dislike). Thus, they may form an immediate attachment and idealize the other person, but when a slight separation or conflict occurs, they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all. Even with family members, individuals with BPD are highly sensitive to rejection, reacting with anger and distress to such mild separations as a vacation, a business trip, or a sudden change in plans. These fears of abandonment seem to be related to difficulties feeling emotionally connected to important persons when they are physically absent, leaving the individual with BPD feeling lost and perhaps worthless. Suicide threats and attempts may occur along with anger at perceived abandonment and disappointments.
People with BPD exhibit other impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, binge eating and risky sex. BPD often occurs together with other psychiatric problems, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other personality disorders.
This describes Alyce better than I ever could: it is in fact a complete description from which she strives to hide. It is the origin of the lineage of schemes her mental illness forces her to perpetrate in order to defend herself from self-discovery. There is no aspect of this diagnosis that does not fit her her like a glove. There is no aspect of this diagnosis that she will not fight to the death to rationalize or deny. There is no person with whom she has had contact who has not, in one way or another, been damaged or disappointed by her lineage of schemes. Since she has established herself as a lama, that list unfortunately includes her students.
When Alyce looks back at my visit to her ranch, she conveniently ignores the reason why I came, or that an independent observer from Namdroling accompanied me. When Alyce looks back at her subsequent, repeated invitations for me to come visit Sedona, she cannot be honest with herself. In keeping with her lineage of schemes, Alyce has now been forced to invent an alternative history for these events: one in which she was misunderstood; one in which she was abandoned; one in which she was deceived; one in which she is blameless; one in which she is queen; one in which she is victimized.

Perhaps it is because the guilt and shame of knowing that her position was gained by guile and guile only forces her to seek value in herself by devaluing others. Her own feelings of worthlessness cause her to demean others. Her own feelings of isolation lead her to isolate others.

Excerpt from a "song" by Alyce

But, somewhere -- somewhere hidden -- she knows the truth, and the truth is so uncomfortable it makes her withdraw her breath: a sharp intake of pain.

She is losing her grip.

In the great and terrible Church of Cognitive Dissonance that her illness created, the faithful are restless: no longer able to rationalize their disconfirmed expectancy. Although she frantically tries to create new Bad Daddies to hate -- new Hitlers, new "enemies of the faith," new rallying points for her lineage of schemes -- the exhausted victims of her disorder are privately beginning to question the extremely wide gulf between what she says and what she actually does. When the answers to those questions are slow in coming, then one-by-one, people are beginning to leave.

The evidence is in the letters that arrived here, and continue to arrive here.

Although distinguished by different use of language, they all basically say the same thing.

They say "thank you for helping my teacher."

They say "please help me."

"Mandarva" wants to "consort," as New Years' Eve approaches.
Her proposal follows the visit to "Dakini Valley." Her latest ramblings
suggest that she feels unloved -- still looking for Vito Cassara?

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Weekly Tibetan Astrology: August 16 - August 22, 2010

NOTE: Last week was no prize. This week makes up for everything. Well, it could make up for everything, if we could possibly avoid fiddling with the dials and switches. You will note there is no mention of geological or environmental issues in this week's report. Do not take this to mean that such issues are absent; only that we are looking in other directions this week... trying to put out an upbeat message, and pump up the energy. What am I really trying to say? Well, like that line from Men In Black: "There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they Do... Not... Know about it!"

August 16, 2010 - Chinese 8th, M-T-K 7th. Bird, Khen, White 8. If battles start up today, which they might, then you have a good chance to emerge the winner. However, every battle is ultimately a battle with one's self, so who wins what? Good day to make important requests. Avoid crowds. Not a bad day for sang, but since it is a Monday, not an ideal day either. Not bad for travel.

August 17, 2010 - Chinese 9th, M-T-K 8th. Dog, Kham, Red 9. Tara Day. Medicine Buddha Day. Today is zin phung. This is a good day for jewel offerings. Generally a day of increase. Don't cut or wash your hair today, no matter what anybody tells you. Grand day for blacksmiths. Whatever you do today, do it yourself. No naga offerings today.

August 18, 2010 - Chinese 10th, M-T-K 9th. Pig, Gin, White 1. Drubjor. Whatever needs to get done, this is the day to do it. Call this "Lucky Wednesday" if it makes you happy. To guarantee success, emphasize Vajrakilaya, and handle the naga portfolio with care -- no offerings, mind you. Travel is highly favorable.

August 19, 2010 - Chinese 11th, M-T-K 10th. Mouse, Zin, Black 2.  Guru Rinpoche Day. From a strict astrological viewpoint, this is what you call your classic "negative energy" day, which we suppose somehow relates to yesterday, which was a classic "positive" energy day. If you can free yourself from this dualistic thinking, then who cares what day it is? From a spiritual viewpoint, whatever that is, today is auspicious -- but not for naga offerings.

August 20, 2010 - Chinese 12th, M-T-K  11th. Ox, Zon, Blue 3. A good day all around, but let go of the reins, and don't make any quick moves. Let this day unfold as it wishes, and you will be rewarded for your detached patience. Naga offerings possible.

August 21, 2010 -  Chinese 13th, M-T-K 12th. Tiger, Li, Green 4. This is a powerful and positive day all the way around. In particular, this is a good day to get out. Travel east or west is favorable.

August 22, 2010 - Chinese 14th, M-T-K 13th. Rabbit, Khon, Yellow 5.  Hello, all you Virgos! Oops! Was that too insensitive? This day may not be to anyone's liking.

Naga observations for the seventh  month: Good days are lunar 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 23, 29. Bad days are 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16.

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, August 15, 2010

Toga, Toga, Toga

There's a scene in the motion picture Animal House, where one of the characters, "Eric 'Otter' Stratton," is defending the riotous behavior of his renegade fraternity before the Student Council. He says:

"But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!"

This is known as "argument ad hominem," from the Latin, "against the man." You fallaciously attack the opponent instead of responding to the matter at hand.

It is a tactic that guilty children use to defend themselves on the playground.

Rather more venomously, it is a tactic that cults often use to defend themselves against criticism.

I want you to keep Otter in mind if you should come across reactionary flack from the subjects of the following public protest.

I make this protest because I have been troubling over the concluding passage in Dzongsar Khyentse's excellent book, What Makes You Not A Buddhist:

"You cannot kill so much as one insect, let alone a human being. And if you happen to learn of an individual Buddhist or a group that is doing so, then as a Buddhist you must protest and condemn them. If you keep silent, you are not only not discouraging them, you are basically one of them. You are not a Buddhist."

"Protest," and "condemn" are strong words. Ordinarily, I protest getting out of bed in the morning, and I condemn my habitual tendency to see the world in terms of dualistic thinking. However, here we have a lama I hold in the very highest esteem, and he has seen fit to conclude one of the best books on Buddhism ever written in the English language with a clear directive: a clear exhortation to act.

So, as much as it pains me to do so, I take this directive to heart, and tell you that I wrote equally strong words to Alyce Zeoli (she calls herself "Jetsunma"), and members of an organization called Kunzang Palyul Choling, which has a reputation as the Animal House of dharma centers, when I learned of their habitual practice of killing insects:

"What would you say if I told you that you spend more money killing insects and handling waste than you send to H.H. Penor Rinpoche and the seat of your lineage? It seems that this is, in fact, precisely what you do."
It is easy enough to check. The vendors are Senate Termite Control, 8656 Dakota Drive, Gaithersburg, Maryland, John Seek Septic Tank Pumping of Laytonville, Maryland, and Titus Trash of Dickerson, Maryland.

This is a disgusting circumstance, made even more disgusting when one realizes this is done with donated money; hence, the negativity associated with their acts even devolves upon the otherwise unwitting donors who support such activity.

This is not the first time someone has protested against KPC's violent nature, nor is it the first time their killing ways have been condemned. These are people who patently just don't know what it means to be Buddhist:

"[Gyaltrul Rinpoche] had been horrified to learn from Kunzang Lama, one of Penor Rinpoche’s attendants, that electric bug zappers were being used on temple grounds. “But we’re Buddhists! We can’t kill!” he’d said. Jetsunma had prayer flags put next to the zappers–as a way to offset the bad karma from killing the insects–but one night it was discovered that the electric cord had been cut."

The above is a quotation from Martha Sherrill's highly regarded investigative report on the KPC cult, The Buddha From Brooklyn, which I commend to your attention. What is even more troubling is that it describes events in 1988... yet here, twenty years later, the practice continues.

The smallest part of the tiniest realization that comes through the most basic, even superficial practice of Buddhism is that we don't kill. Through their own acts, not the acts of others, Alyce Zeoli and Kunzang Palyul Choling have shown the depth of their clouded ignorance, and have thoroughly disgraced and shamed H.H. Penor Rinpoche and the lineage he represents.

UPDATE - 22 March 2009

Here, in their own words, is the KPC response. Not only do they admit to the practice of regularly killing insects, but they also seek to justify their conduct:
If I did not see this with my own eyes, I would not believe it possible. Mark my words: this arrogant hellishness will lead to health problems for His Holiness Penor Rinpoche.

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Malas: Tibetan Prayer Beads

Garuda Trading, in Cornwall, has these beads from Wu Tai Shan.

In Lieutenant-Colonel Laurence Austine Waddell's 1895 book The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, he makes mention of the manufacture of prayer beads at Wu Tai Shan, in China, for sale to the Tibetan market. He writes, "These beads are manufactured wholesale by machinery at the temple... ."

Indeed, it has been ever thus. The beads are made in something called a "bead mill." The material is drilled, cut into cubes, the corners are roughed off, and then these blanks are placed in circular mills which gradually machine them to size. They then put them in polishing drums, not unlike the polishing drums used to make Tibetan medicine. Even today, if you go to Wu Tai Shan (looking for Manjushri), you will pass by thousands of prayer beads for sale, made from every substance under the sun.

Lt. Col. Waddell's book, in 1895, was the first Western resource on the topic

So, like everything else, prayer beads are a fun subject with which to occupy your attention from time to time, and they have spawned their own body of myth and lore that is diverting to consider. The Dalai Lama's official website used to have a nice article on the subject, but I see they have taken it down in favor of more political content.

Recently, in another medium, a friend of mine noted that lapis-lazuli beads are used for the Medicine Buddha mantra, so this naturally sparked some interest in which material goes with which mantras.

I cannot pretend to any authority in this matter, so I will just pass along what I have heard. I will leave it to you to conduct your own inquiries.

I have heard that red sandalwood is favored for Hayagriva. Coral is also used for Hayagriva, as it is for Padmasambhava, and by some people for Vajrayogini, Red Tara,  Kurukulle and so forth. Actually, red carnelians are the best for Kurukulle, but you don't often see these done nicely. The coral sets are very expensive: the good ones start at around $2,500 and go up from there. I think $3,000 is the average going price these days. I know an Indian coral dealer in Southern California, and I asked her if these prices were legitimate. She said that the coral fancied by the Tibetans is inferior to other sorts which are less expensive, but since fashion is fashion, the prices are reasonable.

For Manjushri, and certain of the deities associated with wealth, one sees beads of amber, hessonite, which is a kind of honey-colored garnet, topaz, and tiger's eye. It is widely reported that the Dalai Lama uses a tiger's eye mala, and indeed he has one. Actually, he has many different malas. The last time I saw him (2009), he had a simple bodhi seed mala. In any event, tiger's eye is just a chatoyant chalcedony, and the very best kind is a sort of blue and gold. The common ones are brown. The reddish ones are heat treated.

Tarthang Rinpoche's mala is made of goldstone. He acquired it in India, just before he came to America. Goldstone is actually octahedral crystals of copper dispersed in glass, using a process invented in the seventeenth century, in Venice. 

For Tara, many people fancy turquoise, malachite, or even jade. For White Tara, you can choose pearls, which are also sometimes suitable for Chenrezig. Some people prefer white conch for Chenrezig. However, Chenrezig's thoroughly well-established mala is always of crystal. The lead crystal ones are usually inexpensive. The rock crystal ones can be very expensive. For the Medicine Buddha, there is lapis, as we have mentioned, but there is also aquamarine (blue beryl), and blue quartz (dumortierite quartz).

In Waddell's book, he states, "There is no rosary formed of finger-bones, as has been sometimes stated." Actually, there are. The fingers of great Yamantaka practitioners were sometimes made into disc-like beads. These are so rare as to be almost non-existent. You also find them of skull bone, and so forth. Naturally, these are associated with wrathful deities. You often find rudraksha used for this purpose as well. Sometimes, snake spines are used for particular rituals.

Lotus seeds are good for White Mahakala, as are bodhi seeds or even six-lobed rudraksha. You can also use ivory, although a good quality, pre-ban ivory mala will cost in the range of $500 these days.

There is an enormous body of superstition associated with malas, and you can get some of the flavor of this by clicking here. Sort of a "step on a crack and you'll break Mother's back" level of superstition. However, the properties and powers of the various minerals and materials are not superstition; rather, these are rooted in Vedic expression, thousands of years old, codifying the wisdom of highly enlightened beings.

Many Tibetan malas have counters of silver, or even gold. These tend to get in the way, so usually you only see lay people use these.

In most of the prisons in Tibet, malas are not allowed, so the prisoners make them of knotted bits of string. If these are found, punishment often ensues. Therefore, a method of using the fingers is preferred. You visualize each finger as being divided into four sections. Starting with your right thumb, you count across both hands and back again. This gives you a count of eighty. Next, you count across both hands and back, but this time only count one for each finger, not four. This brings you up to one hundred.

This is very, very "handy" to know, if you are on a three-year retreat and the mala breaks.

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