Sunday, August 02, 2009

Carving Mani Stones

If you spend any time at all in the region, you will undoubtedly encounter Tibetan Buddhism's gift to the visual environment.

Mani stones are ubiquitous, made no less so by the volumes of belief that accompany their manufacture. If you carve six stones, it is believed to add years to your life. They are also a "remedy" found in the divination texts, on the order of, "to avert this (or accelerate that) carve mani stones." Some people carve them to alleviate grief; some to express joy. They are quite simply everywhere.

The stones begin as seen below. You simply inscribe the outline of that which you wish to carve. Then you remove surrounding material. Seen here is "OM MANI PADME HUM HRI."

Below is a set of homemade tools and a suitable rock for carving.

Below is the set to have if, inspired by this post, you plan to make a career out of carving mani stones. There is actually a company in the United States that still makes these.

You can get these kits from the sculpture stores, or direct from Trow and Holden, which has been making them in Barre, Vermont since 1870 (currently about USD $190. for a set). Sets come in two types: the soft stone set or the hard stone set. Get the hard stone set, but get it with the round hammer.

If you study Trow and Holden's online catalog, you'll see that they give contrary advice -- saying to use the annealed "soft" hammer instead, for greater control when lettering. I believe they are referring to incised lettering, as distinct from the relief lettering seen in mani stones. The hammers are inexpensive (around USD $30.), so maybe get one of each, in the one pound weight.

Mani stones can be incredibly elaborate. If you do a Google Images on "mani stones," you will see thousands of examples. You will also see that many people don't stop with the carving, but splash on the paint, as well.

Out in the desert, we say that when you start painting the rocks, it is time to see the headshrinker -- or come visit the Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar blog, which I like to think is every bit as helpful. Know why? Well... consider that this is what the Dalai Lama might say about all of this:

"Whatever good or bad things appear to us seem to exist from the side of those objects. How do they exist? If they exist from the side of the object, then, contemplating the basis of imputation...we should see whether it is the object in question or not. Let us take for example a physical object and examine its shape, color and so on to see if that object is to be found anywhere among those attributes. If we do so, we find nothing that is the object in question. If we take a person as an example, and inspect the individual aggregates that are the bases of designation of a person, we find that none of them is the person. In that way we recognize that the imputed object is not to be found upon investigation.

"Then if we contemplate how things appear to the mind, we see that they seem to exist from the side of the object, without dependence upon anything else. But when they are sought analytically, they are not found. They do exist, for they can help or harm us. But when pondering the manner in which they exist, we find no basis for the assumption that they exist from the side of the object. Thus, they exist by the power of subjective convention, by the power of designation.

"When pondering the nature of existence, we find that entities are not found upon seeking them analytically. So they exist by means of conventional, conceptual designation. They do undeniably exist. But as long as they do not exist independently, from their own side, they must exist by the power of subjective convention. There is no alternative. An entity exists due to its being designated upon something that is not it."

---H.H. the Dalai Lama XIV,
Transcendent Wisdom

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