Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Stones and Flowers

The avuncular monk in the above photograph is found at the Nalanda Monastery Art Workshop, in France. Everyone knows that if you want the finest tsa-tsa molds in the world, you turn to Nalanda, where they have raised the art of tsa-tsa mold-making to a science.

Since I have a boatload of stupas to fill -- quite literally a boatload -- I set about to order molds from Nalanda, where they indeed make the best. Ordinarily, this is a straightforward thing -- one selects the molds one wishes and then one waits.

And waits.

We are dealing with Buddhists, yes, but we are also dealing with France, no? I have lived in France. I have more than one dear friend who lives in France. I even have a dear friend who is French and lives in France. By the time this little project came to fruition, nearly all our French resources had been thrown into the fray.

Since we have several hundred thousand tsa-tsa to make, I wanted what is called a "gang mold." I know somebody is making them, because I have seen photographs of them in actual use. Unfortunately, I cannot not find anyone willing to impart the secret of how to acquire them: some obscurity about the "good life" keeps getting in the way. I therefore sought to commission Nalanda to make some for me.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Well, for reasons that I still do not understand, it wasn't easy at all. Such a thing had never been done! We started negotiations last summer, and we threw a little money at the problem, and the result of our effort arrived today -- two highly prized molds, one medium and one large: for making tsa-tsa one at a time. Gang molds? They're still thinking about it... pondering the implications... having  earnest discussions  in sidewalk cafes... shrugging... you know... being French.

The quality of materials and workmanship is exquisite, and if you need this sort of thing, begin your journey by clicking here. I do not say that it will be (1) simple, (2) efficient, or (3) service oriented.

I do say the craftsmanship will be impeccable -- and exactly the way they want it to be.

As for me, I am going to make two exemplars, and then send them to a dental laboratory, to see if my elusive dream of a gang mold may yet come true. I am stubborn. Maybe a little French, n'est-ce pas?

And, speaking of stupas... archaeological studies on very early and ruined stupas clearly indicate that the practice of "filling" them is relatively recent (in archaeological terms). I could be wrong, but I also seem to think that the practice is geocentric, i.e. the product of specific regions.

I find this interesting, and right in line with Chatral Rinpoche's remarks on building stupas, which I find very sane when taken in contrast to some other remarks on the same topic. I particularly like his quotation from The Discourse of the Holy Doctrine of the White Lotus:
    "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."

Similarly, regarding the benefit of making offerings, The Discourse Requested by King Prasenajit states:
    "Those who [merely] whitewash a stupa to the Lord of Victors, will attain long life in the pure realms of gods and men, freedom from all illness of body and mind, complete freedom from suffering, eternal happiness and great wealth."
It is useful to keep the broad view in mind, lest one get lost in the micro-management that inevitably seems to accompany stupa building these days. It is almost as if they are built in fear, instead of  allowed to flower in joy and devotion.

In part, I think this comes from mistaken notions of eternalism that are constantly trying to infect Buddhism -- particularly in the West, where eternalism is a cultural infection, i.e. something we are virtually born with, philosophically speaking.

I have this idea that if one were to make a lifelong study of stupas -- just stupas -- it could serve to return Buddhism to a pristine state, devoid of eternalism, and eternalism's by-product, which is of course fearfulness.

For example: we might eventually learn to understand that at one fictitious moment, a fictitious group of fictitious people fictitiously got together and agreed, "Yes, this is how we ought to make stupas," only to be supplanted by some other fictitious moment, group, and agreement that stated, "No, this is how we ought to make stupas." This has often happened, and you could even say that it is continuously happening.

If you want to see this beautifully dissected and explained, read Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's Cascading Waterfall of Nectar, where he deconstructs eternalism quite thoroughly -- I was going to say he deconstructs eternalism once and for all, but that smacks of eternalism.

I have many, many, many times said that stupas are always available to us, and we do not build them so much as we simply start seeing them. I have been roundly criticized for that view, and you know, I could be wrong. However, right or wrong, that is my view. When I travel around, I often see stupas in places where some might argue there are no stupas.

 Stupa parts being uncrated.

Because of eternalism (with maybe a little materialism thrown in for seasoning) you often hear "it can't be done." You also hear of numerous obstacles, and you usually hear this from people who are attempting to "own" or "control" what is otherwise a perfectly natural process -- trying to make things more complicated than they actually are, so they can turn around and "solve" a problem that doesn't exist. This is ridiculous.

 Still more stupa parts being uncrated.

Everybody knows there sometimes seem to be external obstacles, internal obstacles, and secret obstacles. Maybe we are traveling up a mountain to do something, and somebody has cut down a tree to block the road. Maybe we don't have the physical ability to remove that tree. Maybe the whole reason we are traveling up the mountain is somehow the product of poisoned thinking. If we tear into these obstacles in reverse order, i.e. by removing the secret obstacles, then it is likely the inner and outer obstacles will resolve themselves in some fashion. Maybe the trip up the mountain will no longer be necessary.

Whenever we attempt what we consider to be "great works," we are usually confronted with one or all of the three varieties of obstacle, and we then count this as a struggle to overcome something in order to achieve something else. It is worth considering if that approach itself is an obstacle. I don't know that it is. I don't know that it isn't. I am just suggesting that it is worth considering. Maybe if we concentrate on cutting the root, we won't have to worry about trees in the road.

Or gang molds.

Maybe gang molds are an exercise in fear. Maybe it is a better thing to make the tsa-tsas one at a time, with some sort of seriousness, than to just knock them out in assembly-line fashion. I  don't know that it is. I don't know that it isn't. I am just suggesting that it is worth considering. Maybe if we get just one thing right, everything else falls into place.

Anyway... we are doing stupas and so forth over here, and we had a relaxed and enjoyable holiday. Now, we have an interesting surprise in the works -- think of it as a gift -- after which the Iron Tiger will make his appearance, and we can move on to other things, leaving you to your own devices.

While all that is taking form, I want you to stop and very seriously ask yourself if your practice, whatever it is, and your various and sundry spiritual credit card accumulations, whatever they are, proceed from a wish to benefit others, or fear.

For example -- suppose you are the greedy type, and you heard that Dzambala is the "god of wealth." You went to an empowerment by Big Name Rinpoche, and now you are doing the practice and so forth.


Are you doing the practice because you are afraid of what will happen if you don't? Conversely, are you doing the practice because of what you hope will happen if you do?

That is an exhausting way to go through life -- always these battles, these milestones, these pyrrhic victories over this or that, these alarms and emergencies, these campaigns and appeals, these gang mold tsa-tsas -- these stupas that cannot be built.

Like Σίσυφος, we are rolling the stones up the hill, over and over again.

The spring flowers, on the other hand, just come up from the bulbs.

Stones and flowers.

Offer them to each other.

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10 reader comments:

GK Sandoval said...

I love stupas! I'm absolutely fascinated by them, given my interest in architecture and Dharma. I've built a few of own stupas to generate merit for projects, usually on Buddha Days and eclipses to get the maximum possible merit. Also, just for the pure meditative aspect of putting one together:

The photograph of the person with the aloha shirt and the gang mold, was that taken at the Maui Dharma Center? I was there in 2006 when they were in the middle of construction. I was residing at one of the local hostels and left my copy of the Sanghata Sutra in Sanskrit in the care of the resident lama. I left the island for O'ahu and actually left the sutra there when I returned to the mainland. A friend retrieved it for me after the stupa was completed. Strange. :)

Flowers said...

Nice blog. Like your creativity and appreciate the art of making stone flowers. It was nice going through your blog.

Anonymous said...

Why not make that gang mold yourself? Just make some tsa-tsas with that Nalanda mold, place them in a suitable box and pour the silicon. Some light thinking is required, especially if you need to make a two-piece mold like in the gang mold-picture.

Instructions for making a silicon mould are all over the net, e.g.

-Konchog N.

Anonymous said...

Hi, love the pictures, but would like a little more info if possible? you say more stupa parts waiting to be unpacked. If they really are the outer parts of a stupa who made them, have you a link. That would be a great help in my owm stupa endeavours, many thanks nat

ryan said...

Hi, may I know where can we get Tsatsa molds? Please help....desperately need for Dharma works

TENPA said...

Anonymous said...

I have used the "gang" mold several years ago in the making tsa tsas for a stupa in Crestone, CO. You can contact the Pundarika Foundation to see if they can help you find the molds.

ryan said...

sorry for the late reply, Tenpa....still i havent get any reply from Nalanda....

TENPA said...

Ryan, that is absolutely normal for them.

Anonymous said...

hi, do you know where I can get the mold of stupa which on the photo in your post