Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Locking the Stable After the Horse Already Gone

Once upon a time there was a prince, much beloved by his father and mother, the king and queen. He excelled in all matters save one, and this was knowledge of the nature of his own mind. This defect in his education troubled the king and queen, and they resolved to correct the situation.

At the edge of the kingdom there lived a magician of no small ability. So, one fine day the king and queen took the prince to the magician's house, where they were immediately welcomed by the magician himself. He listened with interest as the king and queen explained their concerns, and then he addressed the prince himself.

"What is it that you enjoy more than any other thing in the world?" he asked the prince.

After thinking a moment, the prince replied, "I enjoy riding horses."

"Then excuse me a moment," responded the magician. "And, while I am gone, watch the calendar and the clock on the wall." He then left the room.

The request seemed eccentric, but the prince did as requested. The calendar showed the date and the clock showed the time. It was February 26th at 12:01 p.m..

In a few moments, the magician called from outside the house, "Come and see! Come and see!"

The king, queen, and prince exited the house to encounter the magician leading the most beautiful horse anyone had ever seen. The qualities of this horse surpassed the finest horses in the kingdom, and the prince was immediately enthralled.

"Go ahead," said the magician to the prince. "Get on and ride."

The prince eagerly mounted the horse and immediately he did so, the horse took off at a gallop, running as if it had wings. The prince was filled with exhilaration, as the horse ran over hill and dale, field and meadow, flying like the wind. Together, the prince and the horse traveled for how long they knew not, until suddenly, without warning, the horse pulled up short.

The prince went flying over the horse's head and hit the ground with a crash, knocked unconscious by the fall.

He awoke to a vision of loveliness: a girl his own age, so beautiful that she seemed like an angel. She kneeled tenderly beside him as he lay on the ground, caressing his forehead, whispering in a beautiful voice that everything would be fine.

"But, who are you?" asked the prince.

"Oh, I am the princess of the kingdom hereabouts," she replied. "Let me take you to our castle, so that you can meet my father and mother."

Forgetting all about his horse, the prince followed the princess to her castle, and there met her parents. He was begged to stay as a guest, and a beautiful room was decorated especially to his taste. Shortly, when the attraction between the prince and princess became undeniable, an engagement was announced, and not long after, a magnificent wedding was held in the castle. Amid great pomp and circumstance, and in an incredible display of wealth and luxury, the prince and princess were wed.

They were given enlarged quarters in the castle, and there they spent many a happy day, enjoying one another's company.

One day, when the princess was absent on an errand elsewhere in the castle, the prince took to gazing out the window, and suddenly he spied his wonderful horse. It came to him that he had not ridden since the day he met the princess, and he became somewhat nostalgic. Therefore, he left the castle and walked up to his horse.

Immediately he mounted the horse, all was exactly as it had been before. The horse took off at a gallop, running as if it had wings. The prince was filled with exhilaration, as the horse ran over hill and dale, field and meadow, flying like the wind. Together, the prince and the horse traveled for how long they knew not, until suddenly, without warning, the horse pulled up short.

The prince went flying over the horse's head and hit the ground with a crash, knocked unconscious by the fall.

He awoke in the magician's room, surrounded by the magician, his mother, and his father. The calendar showed the date and the clock showed the time. It was February 26th at 12:02 p.m..

"So tell me," asked the magician. "Did you enjoy the ride?"

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time and the Trungpa Tattoo

More, along the "this is a strange world" line:

This tattoo of the Eleventh Trungpa Tulku adorns the arm of Jake La Botz, a musician and motion picture personality, as seen here in a "Rambo" movie. So, now the Gelupa have Richard Gere, the Nyingmapa have Steven Seagal, and the Kargyudpa have Jake La Botz. We are still waiting on word from the Sakyapa.

By the way: if you fancy Buddhist tattoos -- and some people do -- the Worst Horse has a feature you can check.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Every Shaman Knows

Centuries ago, the pre-Buddhist Bon religion described a circumstance where, disgusted by the actions of humans, the creatures of the air brought disease to humans. You see this explicitly in the Bon medicine rituals. In later times, Desi Rinpoche also described this and similar sequences in his famous medical treatises, particularly describing what he called the "diseases of the future."

Yesterday, BBC began reporting the results of an important study which proves the value of the old Buddhist and Bon commentaries. This study underscores the vital role Buddhism must play in the coming decades, if these unfortunate trends are to be reversed. Tenpa Rinpoche said: "No other spiritually cohesive yet truly international group in the world exists to forestall environmental disaster. The power of engaged Buddhism to create change is without question, and if brought to bear on these problems will be decisive."

We reprint the BBC story below:

A detailed map highlighting the world's hotspots for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) has been released.

It uses data spanning 65 years and shows the majority of these new diseases come from wildlife.

Scientists say conservation efforts that reduce conflicts between humans and animals could play a key role in limiting future outbreaks.

Writing in Nature, they said their map revealed that global anti-EID resources had been poorly allocated in the past.

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the US-based University of Georgia and Columbia University's Earth Institute analysed 335 emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004.

They then used computer models to see if the outbreaks correlated with human population density or changes, latitude, rainfall or wildlife biodiversity.

Finally, the data was plotted on to maps to reveal the "hotspots" around the globe.

Healthy environment

"Our analysis highlights the critical importance of conservation work," said co-author Dr Kate Jones, a research fellow for ZSL.

"Conserving areas rich in biodiversity from development may be an important means of preventing the emergence of new diseases."

The researchers found that 60% of EID events were caused by "non-human animal" sources.

They add that 71% of these outbreaks were "caused by pathogens with a wildlife source".

Among the examples listed by the team was the emergence of Nipah virus in Malaysia and the Sars outbreak in China.

Others included the H5N1 strain of bird flu, Ebola and West Nile virus.

The number of events that originated from wild animals had increased significantly over time, they warned.

"This supports the suggestion that zoonotic EIDs represents an increasing and very significant threat to global health," the paper's authors wrote.

They added that it also highlighted the need to understand the factors that lead to increased contact between wildlife and humans.

"We are crowding wildlife into ever smaller areas, and human population is increasing," explained Dr Marc Levy, a global change expert at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

"Where those two things meet, that is the recipe for something crossing over."

He added that the main sources were mammals that were most closely related to humans.

'Missing the point'

While some pathogens may be picked up while hunting or by accident, others - such as Nipah virus - are transmitted to humans from wild animals via livestock.

Because humans had not evolved resistance to these EIDS, the scientists said that the results could be "extraordinarily lethal".

The main hotspots were located in low latitude regions, like South Asia and South-East Asia, which were not the financial focus of global funds to prevent the spread of EIDs.

"The world's public health resources are misallocated," opined co-author Peter Daszak, executive director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine at the US-based Wildlife Trust.

"Most are focused on richer countries that can afford surveillance, but most of the hotspots are in developing countries.

"If you look at the high-impact diseases of the future, we're missing the point."

However, Dr Dazak said that the maps were the first to offer a prediction of where the next new disease could emerge.

His colleague, Dr John Gittleman from the University of Georgia's Odum School of Ecology, described the data-set as a "seminal moment in how we study emerging diseases".

"Our study has shown that bringing ecological sciences and public health together can advance the field in a dramatic ways," he observed.

The researchers said that the priority should be to set up "smart surveillance" measures in the hotspots identified on the map.

Dr Daszak explained that logistically straightforward bio-security measures, such as screening people who come into contact with wild birds and mammals in the hotspot areas, could halt the "next Aids or Sars before it happened".

"It simply follows the old adage that prevention is better, and cheaper, than finding a cure.

"If we continue to ignore this important preventative measure, then human populations will continue to be at risk from pandemic diseases," Dr Daszak warned.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chotrul Duchen Is Today

We pray that in the year to come, everything is in accord with your wishes.

Today is an incredibly auspicious day to support the work of Buddhist organizations,
and perhaps you will permit us to suggest that you start your journey here.

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Chotrul Duchen


Thank you so very much to the many people who have written with expressions of love, advice, and concern. We deeply appreciate the incredible "reader loyalty" this site enjoys, and we have tried to adapt to changing circumstances in a way that benefits everyone. Tomorrow is Chotrul Duchen, when positive or negative actions will be multiplied 10,001,000 times: 10,000,000 times because it is Chotrul Duchen, and 1,000 extra because of the eclipse. Take some time for mantras, sadhanas, good works, and generous donations to your lama. We are always praying for your happiness.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lama Boy: Crank That

This is a strange world:

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kyabje Dodrupchen Rinpoche

Chorten Gonpa, on the outskirts of Gangtok, is the main seat of the Fourth Dodrupchen Rinpoche, holder of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage. Since tomorrow is the anniversary of the First Dodrupchen Rinpoche, this would be an auspicious moment to mention the following:

Now it is possible for you to arrange prayers for loved ones (or yourself), performed by the monks of this monastery. For example, this is where you can have prayers done for someone who is ill, or in crisis. This is where you can have prayers done for prosperity in the New Year. There are quite a number of possibilities.

There is a on-line interface, where you can make these arrangements immediately. Access the interface by clicking: here.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

A Busy Week Ahead

We have a busy and glorious week ahead of us. On Tuesday the 19th, we celebrate the anniversary of the First Dodrupchen, Jigme Trinle Ozer, foremost student of Jigme Lingpa. On Wednesday the 20th, we celebrate the anniversary of Jetsun Milarepa. The main event comes on Thursday, February 21: Chotrul Duchen, together with the anniversary of the birth of Garab Dorje, and the anniversary of Marpa the Translator -- this accompanied by a total lunar eclipse. On this day, the effects of positive or negative actions are multiplied by 10,001,000 times, so this is a most excellent day for large offerings, mantra accumulations, tsog, and so forth. Tenpa Rinpoche always liked to release small creatures on this day.

What do you think? Why don't all Buddhists, everywhere in the world, just take the day off and engage in meritorious activities?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

It Doesn't Yurt To Laugh

Word reaches us that the Kunzang Palyul Choling sangha may be going into the ger business, shipping in authentic Mongolian gers (or yurts, if you like that better) by the container load, direct from (where else) Mongolia. We'll know more, and when we do, we'll post the details here. Now, what is the difference between "ger" and "yurt," you ask? I gather that yurt is the Russian word for ger, and since nobody in Mongolia likes the Russians very much anymore, the use of that word is considered inappropriate. How to pronounce ger? I need a little help with that. Is it ger as in "here comes the bear, grr?" Is it ger as is "here comes Richard Gere?"

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tom Lantos: Pray for Our Friend

He went from Holocaust survivor, to U.S. Congressman, to personal friend of His Holiness. We learn with sadness that Representative Tom Lantos has passed away. Please remember him in your prayers.

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Spielberg True to Conscience

Spielberg has resigned his role in the 2008 Olympics because of China's abysmal human rights practices.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Soft Thunder, for Tenpa Rinpoche

Son of the Lake Born,
Instructed by Dakinis,
Imbued with spontaneous wisdom
Forever Playful, among cloud banks of merit
along the mysterious metaphor
of your river sky.

In a lifetime of secret activity
you gave us this one day
of purity without beginning,
and gently opened the
unobstructed ocean of your heart

Nobody who was there
will ever forget
how you reflected every aspiration
with loving kindness,
granted a thousand different wishes,
and called the earth and sky to witness.

After you magnetized
you tranquilized,
quieting the uncertain crowd,
erasing all doubts
by the mantra of your voice.

All elements in harmony,
all beings in synchronicity,
spontaneously correct activity
self-arising for the benefit of us all.

Until even the smallest among us
knew, yes, we knew,
what a siddha looks like
when he removes his disguise:
Tulku Urgyan Tenpa Rinpoche,
there is no other like you
in this world.

Lord of space,
Source of refuge,
Master of three times,
Father of miracles,
Everlasting protector:
I feel you in my heart
like soft thunder
from a far away mountain.

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Kudung Schedule: H.H. Mindrolling Trichen XI


The general public may offer respects to Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche's Kudung beginning from the 10th day of the 1st month (Saturday, 16th February). The Kudung will be ceremonially conducted to the shrineroom at 09:30 in the morning following which the general public may offer their respects and supplicate Kyabje Rinpoche to ceaselessly nurture and guide us in this and all future lifetimes.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Update on Death of Mindrolling Trichen

As of late last night, we were told His Holiness remains perfectly, in thug dam.

Here is the complete text of the official announcement from Mindrolling Monastery:

The crown ornament of the Nyingma School, Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Jurme Kunzang Wangyal, remained in order to benefit beings for 78 years. On the losar morning of the Earth Mouse Year, Kyabje Rinpoche bestowed his blessings upon the entire sangha of monks and nuns of Mindrolling and all the fortunate devoted ones who came for audience that morning.

At 7:00 in the evening of the 3rd day of the 1st month of Miracles, without even the slightest discomfort, with a face even more radiant than before, and with a smiling countenance, Kyabje Rinpoche gazed lovingly at all those surrounding him. Then, with the aspect of resting, Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Jurme Kunzang Wangyal displayed the final activity of transferring his enlightened intention to another realm, in order to turn the minds of those to be tamed towards the dharma.

Kyabje Minling Trichen Rinpoche is in thug dam, the meditative samadhi of luminosity, and therefore none may offer respects to the Kudung at the moment. Once the thug dam is complete, the general public will be informed and may offer their respects to the Kudung at the Mindrolling Monastery.

With hearts united in devotion, the entire sangha of Mindrolling is performing all the ceremonies for Kyabje Rinpoche's parinirvana.

At present, the Mindrolling Monastery is performing the Minling Dorsem, Nara Dongtru and Thugje Chenpo ceremonies. Each ceremony is being performed at Mindrolling in three different shrinerooms by hundred monks in each shrineroom. Kyabje Sakya Trizin will be presiding over the 3rd day ritual on the 12th of February and will lead the kha-chö drubchö or the Vajrayogini sadhana.

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Iron Knot Ranch

New Mexico's Iron Knot Ranch is one of those jewels that stays hidden until one day, it emerges and begins to shine. We encourage you to visit the site and be pleasantly surprised by their extensive activity for the benefit of all sentient beings.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Death of H.H. Mindrolling Trichen XI

His Holiness the Eleventh Mindrolling Trichen, Supreme Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism withdrew his vision of this world on the third day of the first month of the lunar year (yesterday).

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Festival of A Thousand Lights and Flowers

The Western extended sangha attached to Tulku Akhon Lhamo sponsored a Losar event, inspired by Tenpa Tulku, called the "Festival of A Thousand Lights and Flowers," which next year will be called "Festival of Ten Thousand Lights and Flowers." Presumably, the year after it will be "Festival of One Hundred Thousand Lights and Flowers." Here is a brief video of the event. For those of you who have only recently become acquainted with Tenpa Tulku, or for those of you who are still disposed to entertain uncertainties, then please understand several hundred witnesses could, if they were consciously able to give voice to what only their hearts accept, explain that on this day there came a shining expression of the smallest part of Tenpa Tulku's heart.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Buddhist Response to Global Warming

In this morning's mail comes notice from the Zangdokpalri Foundation of an extremely important new web site treating the topic of Buddhism's approach to ecological issues.

We highly commend this site --which is really a call to action-- to your attention. You will find significant interviews with Dudjom Rinpoche, Sangye Pema Zhepa (above) Dzongsar Khyentse, H.H. Karmapa, and H.H. Dalai Lama, among others.

In some respects, this is one of the first expositions of "new" Buddhism, or "engaged Buddhism" to emerge in the 21st century. Please, take a moment and visit this site. This is an issue where the Dharma is destined to take a leading role.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Year of the Rat

Happy New Year!
This is the Male (Positive) Earth Rat Year. The Mewa of this year is One White, so this is a good year for Avalokiteshvara practice. Even though the external element of this year is earth, the internal element is fire from the sky, or lightning. The La, or spirit element is metal, the Sok, or life force element is water, the Lu, or bodily energy is fire, the Wang thang, or power element is earth, and the Lung ta, or wind horse element is wood. Beginning today and for the remainder of the month, the benefits of practice are multiplied 100,000 times. Today, the first day of the first lunar month, there is also an annular solar eclipse, so the effects of positive or negative actions are multiplied an additional 10,000 times. Note that there is also a lunar eclipse on February 21 this year, with a multiplication factor of 1,000, and that this coincides with Chotrul Duchen, so effects are multiplied an additional 10 million times! All in all, this is an unusually GREAT month for practice or retreat!

If you want to spend the first day of the new year learning something, visit one of our all-time favourite sites, Tibeto-Logic, and learn the story behind the story behind the story. He is inviting everyone to share pictures and reports of "how I spent Losar." We are still spending Losar, but will send something in due course.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tibetan New Year


This site will be closing down (no new posts) for a couple of days in order to celebrate Losar (Thursday, February 7, 2008 -- in my ethnic tradition, Tet). In the meantime, we here reprint a commentary on Losar from Namgyal Monastery (personal monastery of H.H. the Dalai Lama). This year just passing has been very sad in many respects, but now we have expectations that the coming year -- Earth Mouse -- will be better. The Lunar New Year was always Tenpa Rinpoche's favorite holiday (well, that and Halloween), and I know that wherever he is, his prayers are with us all.

Update: A loyal correspondent writes, "Don't forget the Mongolian New Year! Tsagaan Sar (White Month) begins on February 8."

The word Losar is a Tibetan word for New Year. LO means year and SAR means new.

The celebration of Losar can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet. During the period when Tibetans practiced the Bon religion, every winter a spiritual ceremony was held, in which people offered large quantities of incense to appease the local spirits, deities and protectors. This religious festival later evolved into an annual Buddhist festival which is believed to have originated during the reign of Pude Gungyal, the ninth King of Tibet. The festival is said to have begun when an old woman named Belma introduced the measurement of time based on the phases of the moon. This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers' festival. It was during this period that the arts of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building bridges were first introduced in Tibet. The ceremonies which were instituted to celebrate these new capabilities can be recognized as precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the rudiments of the science of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer's festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year's festival.

The calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is the day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve. On that day the monasteries do a protector deities' puja (a special kind of ritual) and begin preparations for the Losar celebrations. The custom that day is to make special noodle called guthuk. It is made of nine different ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. Also, dough balls are given out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. The ingredients one finds hidden in one's dough ball are supposed to be a lighthearted comment on one's character. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative. If white-colored ingredients like salt, wool or rice are inside the dough it is considered a good sign. If a person finds coal in the dough it has much the same meaning as finding coal in one's Christmas stocking; it means you have a "black heart".

The last day of the year is a time to clean and prepare for the approaching New Year. In the monasteries it is a day of preparations. The finest decorations are put up and elaborate offerings are made of called "Lama Losar". In the early dawn of this day, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a sacrificial cake (Tse- tor) on top of the main temple (Potala in Tibet) to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. Led by the Dalai Lama, the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, reincarnated monks, government officials and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer their contemplative prayers, while the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo. After the completion of this ceremony, all assemble in the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony. Seated on his or her respective cushions, everyone exchanges the traditional greeting, "Tashi delek".

In order to wish the His Holiness the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated long-life pills (tse-ril) made out of roasted barley dough are offered to him by the representatives of the three great monasteries, the two Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes. And two senior monks stage a debate on Buddhist philosophy, and conclude their debate with an auspicious recitation composed especially for the event, in which the whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is first briefly reviewed. A request is made to His Holiness and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in samsara in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony of the day then concludes with a ceremonial farewell to the His Holiness, who then retires to his palace.

The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar (gyal-po lo-sar) because officially the day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness and his government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries, such as representatives of China, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and other foreign visitors.

Then from the third day onwards, the people and monks begin to celebrate and enjoy the festive season. In Tibet before the Chinese came, Losar had been celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India today we celebrate for three days, and in America we have minimized it to one day. In this way the three days of the New Year celebration officially concludes.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Today is Gutor: the day to cast out the negativities of the old year. Usually, today will be spent with Vajrakilaya, the Black Hat dance, burning tormas, skeleton dancers, and so forth.

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Vatican Needs Exorcists CNN Reports

CNN is reporting that the Vatican seeks new exorcists to handle the demand. In an interview with 83 year old Father Gabrielle Amorth, the Vatican's top exorcist, CNN reports that the Pope is encouraging bishops to appoint new exorcists to dance with devils.

If the Vatican is willing to consider sub-contracting, the Nyingma School will be happy to oblige.

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Tibetan New Year: What To Do for Losar


People have many questions about how to observe the lunar new year. Be comforted by the knowledge that even in Asia, there is extensive regional variation. In Tibet, even neighboring provinces have differing traditions. Here are some suggestions from our friends at KTC Monastery in Upstate New York:

Traditionally, Tibetans see Losar as an opportunity to create auspicious conditions for the coming year and to remove hindrances and obstacles.

To symbolize making a fresh start and eliminating obstacles from the previous year, clean your house/center before Losar. The day before is the traditional day for pre-Losar cleaning. If you don’t have time to clean your whole house, just clean your altar and freshen all offerings.

To create auspicious connections with good health, long life, prosperity and abundance, offer fruit, cookies, candies, etc. on an attractive plate on your altar. It is also traditional to offer potted fresh green grass—this is sold in the grocery store as “kitty grass” (Note: usually this is barley sprouts). Grass symbolizes a long healthy life. Another traditional offering is tea and dresi (sweet rice). You can offer a cup of tea and bowl of dresi on your altar and then have some yourself.

On Losar day, if possible wear new clothing. Light the candles on your altar and offer a kata (white scarf). Recite any long life prayers for the lamas that you know, chant a sadhana such as White Mahakala, Tara, or Chenrezi if you know one, make aspiration prayers for the new year and dedicate the merit. (Note: you can search this blog to download our White Mahakala or Chenrezig resources).

Dresi Recipe:
Make white rice as usual, but a little dryer (use a little less water). When cooked add some butter and sugar (according to your taste) and small amount of saffron water (water that has had a few strands of saffron added to it until it is dark). Mix in golden raisins. You can soften the raisins ahead of time by soaking them in hot water for 15-20 minutes.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

No Rocket Science

If it is true that China's promise to improve its human rights record was a condition of its selection to host the Olympics, then China is quite obviously incapable of keeping that promise. As H.H. the Dalai Lama pointed out, and as anyone with an objective eye can see, China's record in that regard has actually worsened in the run-up to the Olympics.

So, the question now becomes: what price, if any, will China pay for lying to the world? Here, in our humble little corner of the 'net, we believe that China rightfully reckons it won't pay any price at all. However, the Dalai Lama has clearly put the green light on expressing our feelings about the Tibetan issue, so maybe... just maybe... the Olympics will include a new event this year:


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Those Who Forget History

Excerpted from Reins of Liberation: Geopolitics and Ethnopolitics of China, Central Asia and the Asia Pacific, by Xiaoyuan Liu. Full text available here.

Having constituted one of the Qing Empire’s ethnopolitical constituencies, Tibet was claimed by successive regimes of the Republic period only nominally. Prior to 1949, the CCP had little influence in Tibet. In his youth, Mao had advocated “assistance to the self-government and self-determination of Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Qinghai”. But he changed his mind shortly after the CCP was organized under Comintern guidance in the 1920s. He then believed that Tibet was under the influence of British imperialism and its self-determination could only benefit the British.[8] By the time of China’s war against Japan, the CCP had already shelved the slogan of national self-determination and began to promote unity between the Han and all “minority nationalities” within the territory of the Republic of China. In 1949, the CCP victory was marked not only by its defeat of the GMD but also by its success in abolishing separatist movements in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. For a moment Tibet became the sole ethnic frontier still estranged from Beijing. CCP leaders immediately set out to change this.

In early 1950, He Long, commander of the Southwest Military District, encouraged the advance troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to enter Tibet with these words: “You must be resolved to go to Tibet and become the first ancestors of the Han people in Tibet.” These words reflected a general sense of unfamiliarity with Tibet among CCP cadres.[9] Yet, although leaders of the New China chose to view the PLA’s advance into Tibet as an unprecedented feat, they were actually renewing an unfinished business of recovering “administrative power” in Tibet initiated by the Qing government at the beginning of the century. The CCP’s initial strategy was also a perfect copy of the GMD’s unfulfilled orientation toward Tibet — “virtuous affection preceded by power coercion” (de hua wei fu). In October 1950, the PLA occupied Tibet’s doorway in the east, Chamdo, and thus put into effect a scheme that the GMD had only theorized.

CCP implementation of the historical agenda initiated by the late Qing and GMD regimes is indicative of the fact that China was at last emerging from the dark valley of continuous decline of recent centuries. Taking advantage of the greatest achievement of the GMD regime’s diplomatic success in gaining international recognition of China’s officially claimed territorial domain, the CCP was able to wield coherent state power within China’s political borders. In the Cold War era, the PLA’s march into Tibet was termed “aggression” in the West, but “liberation” in China. But in view of the policy continuity between China’s central governments since the Qing, Tibet’s incorporation into the PRC in the mid-20th century was not simply a one-act play in the wake of the establishment of communist ideology and socialist system in China. In this episode two much longer historical threads converged. One was China’s century-long evolution into a national state under Western pressure and influence; another was the readjustment of Asia’s geostrategic relations caused by the two world wars and the rise of revolutionary movements in Eurasia. These developments caused the great powers to retreat from China’s peripheries, with the result that those “gray areas” between China’s domestic and foreign affairs, such as Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang, began to assume new significance in a resurgent China as well as in regional perspective.

Nevertheless, Beijing was unable to immediately complete its claims to sovereignty over Tibet. Political scientists define sovereignty as a compound conception, consisting of the state’s effective domestic authority and its legitimate international status and rights.[10] Historically, in a given national history, these elements are not necessarily achieved simultaneously. In the early PRC, the new Chinese government did not fully achieve the domestic aspect of sovereignty in Tibet. Having detached itself from China’s political authority for nearly four decades, Lhasa had no intention of changing the status quo. Another serious obstacle was the mutual exclusiveness between the Dalai Lama-centered sociopolitical system of Tibet and the political culture of “New Democracy” promoted by Beijing. In the early years of the PRC, Beijing hewed to a moderate course toward minority nationalities in general and Tibet in particular.

Before the PLA entered Tibet, the Lhasa regime strived to maintain Tibet’s existence outside Chinese authority. The only concession that it was willing to make was to have a tanyue (secular sponsor-religious teacher) relationship with the Chinese government. Conversely, Beijing’s goal in Tibet, as in the rest of China, was for the PLA to occupy Tibet and “reform Tibet into a people’s democracy.”[11] The battle of Chamdo left no room for even a slim hope that Lhasa could resist the PLA with armed force. The negotiations in the next few months eventually produced an “Agreement between the People’s Central Government and the Local Tibetan Government on the Measures of Peaceful Liberation of Tibet,” signed in Beijing on May 23, 1951. The seventeen-point agreement constituted a compromise between change and continuity. Through these measures, the central government in Beijing achieved territorial and diplomatic sovereignty over Tibet and abolished Tibet’s de facto separation from China. The Chinese empire’s historic “loose rein” policy toward frontier “dependencies” was thereby relegated to history and Tibet’s own “nationalizing” effort was crushed. Thus, the PRC basically restored the territorial domain of the Qing Empire except for Outer Mongolia and Taiwan, but in the form of a modern “geo-body.”[12]

Yet the agreement did not genuinely accomplish Beijing’s goal of “recovering administrative power” in Tibet. In granting the Tibetan people the “right to exercise regional nationality self-government,” the agreement pledged not to change the current political system of Tibet. An implicit contradiction between these seemingly congruent contents could be understood only in the recent historical context of Inner Mongolia, the only region in China at the time where Beijing administered through “regional nationality self-government” while exercising important elements of central authority as in other Chinese provinces. Therefore, the no-change pledge in the 1951 agreement reflected Beijing’s recognition of the wisdom of the late Qing’s policy of limiting central authority in light of regional ethnopolitical and ethnocultural conditions. There was however an important difference between the CCP and the Manchus: Whereas the Manchus intended to maintain their authority over a stable, layered multiethnic enterprise, the CCP made concessions over “domestic sovereignty” only temporarily for the sake of achieving Lhasa’s submission to China’s territorial and diplomatic sovereignty.

Potala Palace in Lhasa

In these years the only change in the original structure of Tibet was the presence of the PLA. The Tibetan government retained most of its functions. Beijing had no official administrative office in Lhasa. Its connection with Lhasa was mainly maintained by Zhang Jingwu, who traveled frequently in his dual capacity as director of the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and the Central Committee’s representative in Tibet. Even the CCP’s lower-level organizations under the Tibet Working Committee had to operate in the name of the PLA.[13] This situation was reminiscent of the CCP’s experience in the pre-1949 years in dispatching military work teams to the GMD-controlled “white areas.” Thus, in the early years of the PRC, despite the seventeen-point agreement, Tibet remained the only area in which the Chinese government was unable to exercise domestic sovereignty.

The so-called “paradox of state power” depicts a phenomenon in which the unilateral strengthening of state power may proportionally weaken its effectiveness at the societal level. That is, the effectiveness of state power can be enhanced only through coordination with society. This means both the state’s avoidance of arbitrary behaviors and society’s active participation in policy making. A policy enforced solely with state violence nullifies social participation and is consequently ineffective in the constructive sense.[14] In 1951 Tibet’s incorporation into the PRC without undue difficulties reflected the degree of effectiveness of China’s new government. Beijing’s military-political operations (battle of Chamdo + negotiations for the seventeen-point agreement) had roots in Chinese statecraft of “inducement with both benevolence and power” (en wei bing zhong). Viewed from the premise of “paradox of state power,” the 1951 reconciliation between Beijing and Lhasa indicates that the Tibetans were by no means passive in arranging the seventeen-point agreement. In reality they actively participated in fashioning the first “one country, two systems” of the PRC.

Yet, because the Inner Mongolia model, which was an ethnopolitical mechanism for Beijing to exercise central authority, paved the way for the multiethnic system of the PRC, the Tibet model of 1951 with its much higher level of autonomy had slim chance to succeed.[15] In the final analysis, the “one country, two systems” in Tibet in the 1950s could not become a stable state mechanism of the PRC because Beijing and Lhasa represented two forces that would prove utterly incompatible in terms of ideology and political goals. Beijing’s pursuit of complete sovereignty would eventually lead to an attempt to “Inner Mongolize” Tibet. Conversely, Lhasa did not give up the goal of maximum autonomy. Ideologically, the Tibetans followed their religion and gurus as guides in the incarnate cycles. The CCP on the other hand was committed to thoroughly reforming Tibetan society and synchronizing the land of snow with socialist China. Indeed the PLA marched into Tibet under a slogan of “carrying the revolution to the end” and with a goal of “liberating” the Tibetan people from the “feudal” system of Tibet. The CCP was not the first to attempt to “reform” Tibet. Both the Qing government in the 1900s and various regimes of the Republic period made efforts or showed intentions of reforming the Tibetan society.[16] Evidently, although their concepts of reforms for Tibet differed, the late Qing court, the GMD, and the CCP shared the goal of transforming the Tibetan theocratic system.

Actually, the CCP approach to revolution was such that confrontation between Beijing and Lhasa did not happen right away. The CCP approach differed from that of the Qing and GMD governments in seeking to start its revolution from the bottom of the society. It viewed “mass basis” as the precondition for policy implementations. This created a contradiction in Beijing’s Tibet policy from the onset. On the one hand, more than the Qing and GMD regimes the CCP leadership stressed materialization of the central government’s authority in Tibet through meaningful reforms. On the other, also more than its two predecessors, the CCP was sensitive to the social obstacles to reforms in Tibet. The CCP believed that the wide popular support it enjoyed in China was the precondition for the “liberation” of China in 1949 and legitimized the PRC. Yet after the seventeen-point agreement was concluded, Mao realized that the “material basis” and “mass basis” for implementing the agreement did not exist in Tibet. Beijing was superior militarily, but it was weaker than the Tibetan authorities in “social influence.”[17] For the CCP, the difficulty in promoting its policies in Tibet was not limited to the lack of Han masses in the region. An even greater obstacle was the tenacious spiritual tie between the Tibetan masses and the Tibetan theocracy. In Mao’s words, “They [Tibetan people] have a much stronger belief in Dalai and in local headmen than in us. . . . They support their leaders absolutely, and hold them sacred and inviolable.” In 1954 the United Front Department of the CCP held a three-month conference in Beijing on Tibet. It concluded that in Tibet “the superstructure of the feudal serfdom is a theocratic dictatorship by the clergy and autocrats. Today it rules the Tibetan nation and can still represent the Tibetan nation. . . . Thus our various policies in the Tibetan region have necessarily to serve the most important task of winning over the Dalai clique.”[18] In a word, CCP leaders recognized the need for a policy of inter-ethnic cooperation. This policy of patience involved working with the upper strata of the Tibetan society and postponing mobilizing the masses in class struggle.

Beijing’s “Dalai line” collapsed after the Lhasa incident of March 1959. But the seeds of change were sown throughout the 1950s. The delicate inter-ethnic collaboration in Tibet was then replaced by intense class struggles. Although the status quo of Tibet proper was temporarily maintained, in the mid-1950s the CCP began pushing reforms in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Xikang, and Sichuan (Amdo and Kham to the Tibetans). These reforms provoked local resistance. In the face of PLA attack, members of the resistance movement retreated into Tibet. The spillover seriously undermined the fragile political balance in Tibet, and eventually contributed to the Lhasa incident of March 1959. Melvyn Goldstein’s research further reveals that the extremist tendencies of the hardliners within the Lhasa regime and among CCP officials in Tibet eliminated any chance for a stable compromise between Beijing and Lhasa.[19]

Dalai Lama (r.) and Panchen Lama flank Mao Zedong
in Beijing, 1959

From Beijing’s perspective, the 1951 arrangements served the purpose of ushering Tibet gradually toward its socialist transformation and for transition to the central government’s complete “domestic sovereignty.” There is evidence that as early as in 1956 and 1957 leaders in Beijing were quite optimistic and started to encourage its Tibetan Working Committee to initiate reforms in Tibet. Yet when full-scale preparations for reforms caused strong objections among the Tibetan aristocracy, Beijing ordered the working committee to beat a speedy retreat. At the same time Beijing promised Tibetan leaders that there would be “no reforms for the next six years.” In response, opponents of reform raised a demand for “no reforms for ever” and asked all Han to leave Tibet. About two months prior to the Lhasa incident, Mao apparently had lost patience with the “Dalai line.” Now he held that “a general showdown will be necessary.” Noting the presence of rebels in the Lhasa area, Mao pointed out that this was a good thing “because now war can be used to solve the problem.”[20] Such thinking clearly jettisoned the one country-two systems formula.

Its military superiority was always the CCP’s strongest asset in dealing with the Tibetan question. After the battle of Chamdo, Beijing prioritized the peaceful political approach to integrating Tibet. Following the Lhasa incident of 1959, the PLA quickly suppressed the Tibetan rebellion. Yet the ensuing reforms were a far cry from Beijing’s hopes to achieve inter-ethnic cooperation in Tibet. The earlier orientation, as described by Deng Xiaoping, was “not to agitate so-called class struggles within minority nationalities by outsiders” and “not to carry out reforms by outsiders.” That stance, which apparently took account of the “paradox of state power,” had been superceded by 1959.

In 1959, an immediate historical result of the Lhasa incident was to sever the connection between CCP Tibet policy and Qing practices. From that moment, differences between ethnopolitical cultures no longer restrained Beijing. The completion of China’s domestic sovereignty with the extension of its power to Tibet would have enormous impact internationally.

Interestingly, the ideological and military conflicts of the Cold War era notwithstanding, the most important significance of Beijing’s Tibet policy in global perspective was to make China a more “Western-like” actor in international relations. Among the consequences of the events in Tibet from 1951 to 1959 was to shed China, as an international-political entity, of vestiges of the by-gone empire. Such an effect could also have been achieved through Tibetan independence, but that has not, of course, come to pass.

Since China’s territorial and political reintegration after 1949 was presided by the CCP and took place in the Cold War, a dual paradox occurred: the further Beijing advanced its anti-Western ideology and developed its revolutionary social system in China, the more complete PRC domestic sovereignty became and thus the closer the PRC came to the West in normative terms; at the same time, the more closely the PRC resembled Western “nation-states” in its international behavior, the more Beijing’s foreign policies targeted the Western bloc centered on the United States as enemies. Akira Iriye’s “power and culture” analysis of Japan’s international experience may shed light on this paradox: In the late 19th century, Japan rose during the era of imperialism, and its subscription to the prevalent international relations culture of the time eventually led to its power confrontation with the West.[21] In the mid-20th century, the PRC learned to stand on its feet in an era of the Cold War, and it could not exempt itself from the conventions of the age. Therefore, in 1949 the CCP’s “leaning to one side” was probably historically inevitable, but its leaning to the Soviet side was a choice of the moment. The PRC’s alliance with the Soviet bloc in the early Cold war was surely a challenge to the West. It should not, however, be understood as a reversion to China’s historic convergence with the norms of international relations.

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Politics of Reincarnation

(This article was published in a re-edited form in Jane’s Intelligence Review as an analysis of the implications of the Dalai Lama’s recent statements on the question of how his immediate successor will be chosen. What follows is the original text of the article.

Elliot Sperling

It is somewhat unusual for an incarnate Tibetan lama to reincarnate prior to his passing, to emanate into another body, so to speak. There are instances in Tibetan history where that is said to have been the case, but they are not all that common. Thus, when the present Dalai Lama, now 72 years old, announced during a visit to Japan in November that he might very well choose his successor while he was still alive he stirred up a good deal of talk among Tibetans. But he did not stop there. A referendum on the succession, a popular election of the Dalai Lama: these too have been mentioned by him as possible ways of choosing his successor. In further remarks in December, he acknowledged that he and his exile government actually had come to no real decision about any specific method for managing the search for and recognition of the next Dalai Lama. Coming months after the September 1st adoption of strict new governmental controls over the recognition of incarnations by China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs, and years after it became known that China was specifically preparing to manage the selection process of the next Dalai Lama on its own terms, the Dalai Lama’s indefinite response about exactly how his successor would be chosen reflects the continuing flat footedness of his exile administration in the face of a concerted and skillful Chinese diplomatic strategy that has not simply marginalized and isolated the Tibetan issue, but has done so through the nimble manipulation of the Dalai Lama himself.

China’s intentions regarding the next Dalai Lama have been known for over a decade, long enough for the Tibetan leader and his exile government to have formulated a clear and decisive plan for the succession. That they still remain undecided about how specifically to counter China’s plans at this late stage is symptomatic of the almost wholly reactive nature of their strategy towards China. And this is essentially what China has counted on from the Dalai Lama: having successfully sized up his strengths and weaknesses and those of his officials, and their administration, China has long remained several steps ahead of them at almost every stage.

While all this may seem like a muddle over so much arcane religious ritual, it represents an important step—indeed, perhaps the penultimate step—in the larger Chinese policy for dealing with the Tibet issue. And it follows logically from China’s success in undermining any effective claims by Tibetans and Tibet supporters that Tibet was and by rights ought to be an independent state, by extending the unambiguous recognition of its authority in Tibet to the selection process for the Dalai Lama.

Although no government recognizes Tibet as an independent state, there has long lingered in the international air a sense that China’s presence in Tibet has not been wholly legitimate. This position has always had a strong foundation in arguments drawn from the historical record or from the principles of human rights and self-determination. At the same time, assertions by Chinese officials that Tibet has always been by rights an inalienable part of China have long tended to be regarded as little more than boilerplate. Given the prospect of the Tibet issue bringing pressure to bear against China—especially after a series of anti-China demonstrations in Lhasa in the late 1980s and the Dalai Lama’s elevation to the ranks of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in 1989—China set out to find and use a better—no doubt the best,—spokesman against Tibetan independence: the Dalai Lama himself. Where many people had for decades considered the Tibetan struggle to be a national struggle for independence, the Dalai Lama had actually given up on Tibetan independence in the early 1970s. But only in 1988 did he publicly announce that he was seeking a solution to the Tibet issue that would maintain Tibet as a part of China, albeit with what he later came to describe as “real autonomy.” Still, the facts of the Tibet case, as well as popular Tibetan sentiment, worked to maintain the Tibet issue, perceived internationally as a nationalist issue, as a visible thorn in China’s side.

Playing upon the Dalai Lama’s political naiveté and his desperation to resolve the Tibet issue, China acted to insure that the Tibetan position lost its legitimacy by patiently and shrewdly insisting that he be more and more vocal about accepting Tibet as a part of China. What ensued over the 1990s and into the present decade was clever and effective statecraft. With every pronouncement from the Dalai Lama articulating his opposition to an independent Tibet China countered that he was insincere and actually seeking disguised independence. It demanded louder and repeated declarations from the Dalai Lama that indeed he wasn’t pursuing such a path. And he obliged, reiterating to presidents and prime ministers that he wanted only autonomy, not independence, all the while explaining to the international press that China’s insistence on his repeated affirmations was the result of the Chinese leadership’s lack of understanding of his position. On the face of it this is laughable. With thousands of people in China’s nationality affairs commission and ministry of foreign affairs one can be certain that China parses every word of his: China knows what the meaning of the word “is” is when it comes to the Dalai Lama. The lack of understanding comes from his side, where he presides over an exile bureaucracy with no equivalent resources or expertise in Chinese politics. And they have let the Chinese foreign policy establishment run rings around them.

Having taken the major step of ceding Tibet’s independence (and in 1997 going so far as to describe independence for Tibet as “a disaster”), the Dalai Lama is in a difficult position. He and his circle have imposed their idea of a Tibet within China on the larger Tibetan exile community by dint of his place as a religious leader possessed of transcendent wisdom. In the face of dissenting exile intellectuals and activists who for years have pointed out the total ineffectiveness of this policy, the Dalai Lama’s political establishment has had no choice but to buttress itself with the Tibetan leader’s esoteric religious authority. Admitting that the dissenters have had better insight into the state of affairs than the Dalai Lama is something his political circle (and he himself) cannot do. They have become effectively wedded to the position that Tibet’s proper place is in China, a position they have held for more than three decades. The Dalai Lama is trapped and China, having played its hand exceedingly well and gotten what it wanted, understands that the game is effectively over. As if to underscore this state of affairs, with no reciprocity from China on the horizon the Dalai Lama has further scaled back his position: he now seeks only cultural rights relating to religion and language and calls upon Tibetan exiles to refrain from demonstrations and other activities that would embarrass the Chinese government or people. But China neither needs nor wants the Dalai Lama back within its borders, as any settlement with him would entail. His presence in Tibet would be volatile and any agreement reached with him now, when he’s at an advanced age, could only be temporary.

And this naturally leads back to the question of the Dalai Lama’s successor. Having skillfully managed the larger political issue of Tibet to its advantage, China is now biding its time and preparing for the Dalai Lama’s passing, at which point it will oversee the recognition, training and education of his successor. The Chinese government had trial runs with two other Tibetan incarnations: the Karma-pa, who was recognized in 1992 and the Panchen Lama, who was recognized in 1995. Both cases were problematic. In the former, in spite of state-mandated political education the young lama ultimately opted to flee Tibet for India, where he is close to the Dalai Lama. In the latter, a candidate was first recognized by the Dalai Lama (also in 1995) and then placed incommunicado by an angered Chinese government, which then orchestrated a hasty and coerced recognition of an alternate child who is considered illegitimate by most Tibetans. In spite of these embarrassments, the case of the Panchen Lama demonstrated to the Chinese government’s satisfaction that it could maintain adequate control over the reincarnation process even in the face of widespread Tibetan hostility to its choice. The selection of the next Dalai Lama is therefore just a matter of time as far as the Chinese government is concerned.

The failure of the Dalai Lama to have come up with a well-formulated and considered response to China’s announcement about new measures for the recognition of religious incarnations—an announcement whose coming was long expected and whose primary target was no mystery—is but one more demonstration of China’s ability to consistently outmaneuver him. It has used him adroitly to defuse questions of legitimacy regarding Tibet’s incorporation into the PRC and now it is working to ensure that he will be no effective obstacle to the further consolidation of its position in his homeland. And not just in this lifetime.

The writer is a professor at the Indiana University, and has authored: "Tibet," in John Block Friedman and Kristen Mossler Figg, eds., Medieval Trade, Travel, and Explorations: An Encyclopedia (New York, 2000); "Exile and Dissent: The Historical and Cultural Context," in Tibet Since 1950, (New York, 2000); and "Awe and Submission: A Tibetan Aristocrat at the Court of Qianlong," International Review of History, 20 (1998).

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