Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dzi Beads

Many people have written to ask about these beads. Yes, it is true, they are listed in the materia medica of Tibetan traditional medicine. No, they are not petrified worms from outer space. They are etched agates, ultimately of Mesopotamian origin. You can find authoritative information about them in Etched Carnelian Beads by Horace Beck (1933), Etched Beads in India by M.G. Dikshit (1949), and Etched Beads and dZi Beads by Peter Francis, Jr.

The best place to buy them is in the pawnshops in Lhasa.

What should you pay, and what are they worth?

I have no idea.

Many years ago, Tarthang Rinpoche and I were dead broke, and the landlady was adamant: we either paid up or else. We were sitting around, more or less stunned by poverty, trying to find ways to raise the rent. Finally, he sighed, went upstairs to his trunk, and came back with a solid gold spoon, a complete Tibetan saddle, and a single Dzi bead. "What do you think we could get for these?" he asked, triumphantly.

"Well," I opined, "we will surely get something for the spoon, and we might get something for the saddle, but the bead won't even get us on the bus."

Buying these beads is worse than buying jade. Jade has no price. What is worth $5.00 to me might be worth $5,000.00 to you, and vice-versa.

Do Tibetans really value these beads?

Yes, they really do.

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991) wore these beads on a necklace.

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