Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mahakala Amulet and the Dog's Tooth



So, to the accompaniment of much shock and outrage -- some of it rather highly placed -- there is a Taiwanese guy selling these "Mahakala amulets" for USD $997.00 (only), and it is what it is, know what I mean?

If you bought one, and things aren't going so good, I have a better one I will give you for free, but you have to come here to pick it up in person. I really want to meet you, and so do my rabbits.

Now, this $997.00 (only) amulet has already started exercising, because it set me to thinking about the old story of the dog's tooth. I'm sure you've heard this one a thousand times, but it never hurts to hear it once more:

An elderly Tibetan widow's son became quite a celebrated trader with India, which in the context of the time and place means it should be understood he was something like Bill Gates.

The widow tells her son, "All my life, I worked and sacrificed for you, and now I have just one wish: I want to practice the Dharma, and I therefore want you to acquire a relic of the Buddha that I can place on my altar and worship accordingly."

So, the son goes back and forth to India a few times, and during the press of business he seems to continually forget his mother's request. In the story, the son is sort of a lousy guy, and I am willing to bet we all know somebody very much like him. Maybe we see this person in the mirror from time to time?

Anyway, the day comes when the widow confronts her son and proceeds to lay on the guilt: "So, let me tell you something, Mr. Rich Trader With India, Too Busy for His Mother," she says. "Not to pressure you or anything, but the next time you come back from India without a relic of the Buddha for me, I will kill myself in front of your big, fancy house!"

The son goes off to India, takes a few lunches, does what he does, and is almost back home when he remembers his mother's words. He also remembers she is probably driven enough to deliver on her threat, so he begins searching around for something to placate her.

By the side of the road, he finds a dog's skull, so he gets down and pulls one of the teeth, which he wraps in silk brocade. Upon arriving home, he presents this to his mother, saying: "Here, my beloved Mother, is the Buddha's tooth!"

Here is a case of gilt for guilt, but the story doesn't end there.

The old woman has a beautiful altar constructed, and she places the tooth thereon with great ceremony. She performs prostrations to the tooth, addresses prayers to the tooth, makes offerings to the tooth, and meditates upon the tooth.

Upon her death, in result of her virtuous actions in support of her beliefs, she achieved whatever it is that everybody thought she achieved. When the story is told, it is said she achieved "realization."

To offer additional commentary on the moral to this story would be excruciating in the face of self-evidence. What does rise in the mind, however, is a philosophical dialogue about the dog's tooth and the $997.00 (only) amulet.

On the one hand, the tendency would be to shout "fake!" and decry the amulet; a proposition based entirely upon the price and the perceived status, or lack thereof, of the seller. Then again, the image is of Mahakala, and any representation of Mahakala is, by very definition, Mahakala, so what is fake about that?

I once had an interesting experience along these lines. When I was a teenager, my teacher asked me to produce some amulets of a very particular sort, so I proceeded to make several thousands.

Because I knew what they were, I started having reservations, so I went to him and asked, "Are you sure you want me doing this?"

"What's the problem now?" he wearily replied.

"Well, it is just that I don't feel like I'm able to create these properly because I'm not in a very good frame of mind," I answered.

"They create themselves," he said.

"But, I can't bless them," I persisted.

"They bless themselves," he said.

"But, I never had an empowerment to do this, " I still persisted.

"The empowerment is already present," he replied.

"Well, I don't feel very good about this," I grumbled.

"How you feel doesn't matter," he said, "so stop whining and go make some more."

I don't know how useful it is to think about such things, but it beats going out in the snow, fretting about what is or is not happening at National Taiwan Normal University. Say... do they have a National Taiwan Abnormal University?


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8 reader comments:

sortofbunny said...

>I really want to meet you, and so do my rabbits.<

Well, there's a hook if I ever read one.

TENPA said...

I think the rabbits have 24 karats (ahem) carrots in mind

Yiyu said...

Those rabbits wouldn't happen to have a bridge in Brooklyn they want to sell now would they?

Yes, we do have a National Abnormal University. It's in Hualien.

TENPA said...

No, but they have some really splendid ducks swimming in that pond over there....

Makes sense it would be Hualien. On Ta Tung Street, right?

sortofbunny said...

Are you saying your rabbits are gold-diggers?

TENPA said...

They are precious treasures come to this realm to benefit all beings by their mere presence.

sortofbunny said...

Understood. I am chastised by the words of Chatral Rinpoche and only ask to withdraw. My playfulness as a dakini meets my unworthiness as a practitoner. As I am unable to practice in solitary for the remainder of my life, I can only hope to do no damage.

TENPA said...

Well, there are other things you will be doing in solitary for the rest of your life, so make those your practice.