Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Thing About Ting

Above: The Chinese "longevity" motif Tibetan offering bowl.

They call those offering bowls you see "ting," and I have heard several explanations for this, some more credible than others. According to one, "ting" refers to the bell-like sound of the metal used to make the bowls, as in, "ping your thing to make it ting." 

That feels like a Nepali border merchant's explanation me, and since the promise of profit is being extended, you can probably find a Tibetan to agree. 

So, make yourself happy: the bowls go "ting," and so do the "tingsha," and yes, we have most excellent Tibetan singing bowls that you may use for diverse, arcane, occult, and healing purposes to stimulate your chakras and pimp your Qi. We have all sizes here in the back, at affordable prices of course, but the one you are holding is really special. It was owned by a very high lama who is selling it to raise money for medicine to give sick monks at his monastery, and I am sorry... this price cannot be negotiated.

"Well... I won't buy it then."

"But sir, why wouldn't you?"

"Send it back and tell him to use it to heal the sick monks."

"You are very clever, sir, but the lamas are unselfish men. They cannot use this power for themselves, they only use it to help others."

"You're not bad yourself, but if you want me to carry that out of this shop...."

"Oh, no sir... we will carry it for you, as far as you would wish."

More likely, ting is a Chinese loan word, and yes, there are Chinese loan words in the Tibetan language. In fact, they loaned quite a few, and in 1950 they came to get them back.

About 45 years ago, I got a set of the sort they've been making for the past 400 years. I got it from a memorably lovely woman named Faith, who had hair down to her ankles. If she kept going, by now she must be carrying it around behind her in a little wagon. I paid her USD $20 for the set, and you can go get the exact same set online right now for around USD $25, so we are not talking sterling silver. We are in fact talking what used to be called "german silver," which is an alloy of copper and nickel: something else we owe to the Chinese. 

The day before yesterday I dragged them out, and of course they were tarnished; in some cases encrusted with lime scale and verdigris. 

So, I set out to polish them.

I wanted them polished quickly, so I tried a few chemical solutions to cut the labor. 

None were definitive, so I fired up a Dremel with an itsy-bitsy wire brush. This cut the scale, but left tiny scratches.

I got a hard felt wheel and some jeweler's rouge, and set to polishing out the scratches. To get traces of the rouge dissolved, I went back to the chemicals.

What was I doing?

Was I trying to get these 45-year-old bowls back to their original state?


Now, isn't this just like what many of us experience with respect to our abortive practices of wanna-be dzogchen, whatever that is?

(Saw that coming, did you?)

First, we have shiny new bowls. We use these bowls to make shiny new offerings. In the process, we think our offerings become impure, and our bowls dirty. So, we set out to clean them. We try to restore them to their original state. Except, that state does not exist as a past event. The only "truth" of the bowls per se is right this very minute. 

Nevertheless, we whack those bowls with this and that. We apply this and that. We use this thing and that thing to clean this ting and that ting.

(Wow! This analogy stuff is fun. And useful, too. Give you time to think about what you're going to have for dinner.)

The truth is that the bowls are constantly in their original state. 

I cannot find Faith, even assuming she wishes to be found. I cannot go back to that clear-eyed boy who thought she was beautiful, and consequently paid too much for her lousy Chinese alloy bowls. I cannot reproduce the scent of sandalwood from her hair. I cannot replace the gold wash on the inside of those bowls. That was then? This is now?

This is all originally perfect, magic display.

That bowl is just a bowl, it is not my life. If I want, I can chuck that goddamn bowl in the dumpster and go buy another one. Maybe I will meet another girl, with another name. Maybe she will be a skinhead with swastika tattoos. Maybe then I can explore the indivisibility of the girl and the bowl and the moonlight.

This is now.

Unh.... gee, Buddha... I went out and got these bowls, and I made sure everything was really clean, and... unh... I'm giving this stuff to you, and.... unh... unh... well, unh....

Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum... I smell the blood of Christiandom.

If everything is originally pure, and if it is only our mental imputations that create demarcation between pure and impure, and if it is true that the deity is not separate, then it is equally true that none of this bullshit is in any way, shape, or form necessary to come to a fundamental understanding of the uncontaminated nature of our own mind.

No bleeding sores. No Madonna's face in the beer stain on the barstool. No Tarn-X (doesn't work), no Brasso (works a little better), no Dremel (works pretty damn good), no itsy-bitsy wire wheel (leaves scratches), no hard felt (fighting to re-take a hill we already fought for), and no jeweler's rouge (like mi'lady's rouge, it covers imperfections). 

Once upon a time, I made offering bowls out of milk cartons, and they worked just fine. When I was done, I threw them away. When are people going to realize? This isn't the Christian religion, and we aren't a bunch of Catholics.

This stuff is just endless. 

I'm all worn out. 

Who gives a shit?

No Buddha is sitting somewhere making decisions about you, so why are you sitting somewhere making decisions about Buddha?

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2 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Rinpoche. "Tings" like this are why we need you.

Anonymous said...