Friday, December 31, 2010

Khenpo Appey Yönten Zangpo, 1927 - 2010

Khenpo Appey Yönten Zangpo, devoted student of the great Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, founder of the Sakya College at Mussoorie, and revered tutor of Sogyal Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and numerous others, has passed away in Nepal, 28 December 2010.


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Walls After the Castle

It can be shown that six situations are causes for alarm:
It is alarming when you do not know what is permitted or proscribed by the vows you uphold,
despite the many years that have passed since you took monastic ordination.
It is alarming when you still need to learn what is virtuous or harmful,
despite the many years that have passed since you entered the doorway of the dharma.
It is alarming when you are no closer to training in the development of bodhicitta,
despite the many years that have passed since you began practicing the Mahayana.
It is alarming when you have no inclination to put the teachings into practice,
despite the many years that have passed since you began listening to and contemplating them.
It is alarming when you have not experienced signs of meditative warmth or given rise to enlightened qualities,
despite the many years that have passed in your pursuit of meditation.
It is alarming when you have not overcome your obvious fixations and confusion,
despite the many years that have passed since you supposedly came to understand the view.
Such circumstances, which can be likened to laying a foundation and erecting walls after the castle has already been built, are quite astounding.
Once you become aware of them, you might want to laugh out loud, but on further reflection you will be saddened, so rely on holy masters and strive to listen to, contemplate, and meditate on spiritual teachings.

[The year 2010 has but a few hours left, and many folks are taking account, making resolutions, and generally dealing with impermanence. Shall we leave the old year with a few words from Longchenpa? This is from The Precious Treasury of Pith Instructions.]

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heard It On the Grapevine

"And I say, 'Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.' And he says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

We already know... the sight of this tulku gossiping with a large marmot is fifty-fifty for a put up job, but it has already gone viral in Buddhist circles. By the time you read this, numerous eyewitnesses will have published their accounts of who, what, where, when, and why. There will be a folksong, a Facebook page, a fight club on Twitter, and a movie deal.

Looks like East Tibet in the background of this photo and if it is, that marmot is taking a chance. The genus of ground squirrels -- be they marmots, gophers, or what have you -- are not well liked in the region. The Tibetan ponies break their ankles in the burrow holes, throwing the riders, who break their necks.

Still, it will be nice if we discover the photograph is legitimate. Maybe then, we'll be able to fill in the blanks on the conversation.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Time and True Love

Seattle sculptress Tip Toland's "Milk for the Butter Thief," 2008.

As we get older, our perception of time changes considerably. 

When we are young, a year feels like a long time. When we are thirty, that same year appears to pass more quickly. When we reach fifty, a year seems like a couple of months. When we cross sixty, years become moments.

Slippery sand, through the greedy throat of the relentless hour-glass.

When I was sixteen, my teacher tried to explain this to me. As an intellectual proposition, I understood him well enough. But, time itself lulled me into a false sense of security. I wasted a lot of life, thinking that the abundance of hours I perceived would go on forever. Although I kept his words in mind, the real teaching awaited experience.  

When Paul McCartney was sixteen, he wrote a song entitled, "When I'm Sixty-Four:"
"Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
When I'm sixty-four?"
Aging is one of the features of conditioned existence that we experience as suffering. Our bodies begin to change, and falter. Those we have loved begin to die away. 

Our memories become like noisy neighbors, fighting in the upstairs apartment. For a while, they scream and throw things. Then, before disappearing into desultory silence, they reconcile with squeaking springs, and thumping headboards. It becomes so repetitious you make a conscious effort to move away. Later, if some caprice takes you down that old street, the building is already torn down.

If you navigate by landmarks, the day will arrive when you become lost. 

Silken skin that once you loved to caress will become old cotton, and you will lose your way. The seemingly endless mischief in sky blue eyes will fade to cornflowers, colorful for just one season. The perfume that mixed with perspiration -- the scent you longed for, the scent you could pick out of a thousand miles of wind -- will give way to the hot oils of torn ligaments and aching joints. Shining brocade that catches the light and quickens the pulse will become worn wool.

You will search in vain for a familiar face along a bewildering hall of mirrors.

The next time someone says, "I love you," take them to a warehouse where the old are discarded. Look directly into all the faces, look directly into all the eyes, and do not draw away if anyone still has the strength to take your hand.

Look directly into your own heart, and ask yourself -- very fearlessly -- if you really understand time and true love.


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Practicing With the Sky

If you are happy practicing with the sky,
Clouds are the sky's magical creations.
Be the sky itself.

If you are happy practicing with the sun and moon,
Planets and stars are their magical creations.
Be the sun and moon.

If you are happy practicing with the mountain,
Grass and trees are the mountain's magical creations.
Be the mountain itself.

If you are happy practicing with the ocean,
Waves are the ocean's magical creations.
Be the ocean itself.

If you are happy practicing with mind,
Thoughts are the mind's magical creations.
Be mind itself. 

(Milarepa's advice to Lady Paldarboom.)


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Monday, December 27, 2010

Weekly Tibetan Astrology: December 27, 2010 - January 2, 2011

Note: There is a definite feminine energy attached to this week, so keep that in mind if your inclination is to keep such things in mind. Definitely a week to take things easy, with nice indications for a weekend getaway proximate to New Year's Eve. I think this week's watchword is "leisurely," as in leisurely travel, dining, or what have you.  Leisurely meditation isn't bad either. -- in fact, it is the very best. What did Tilopa say?
Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don't try to figure anything out.
Don't try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest. 
There are also numerous year-end mini-retreat opportunities at the various centers, and special observances. By all means, if you can, avail yourself of those opportunities. Another theme this week is "offerings." Offerings to local and earth spirits are definitely indicated (but nagas are so-so, and positively no-no on the lunar 28th). Elaborate offerings for the last Dakini Day of 2010 are encouraged. By the way: for those of you still young and optimistic enough to think in such terms, "love" is in the air.

December 27, 2010 - Chinese 22nd, M-T-K 22nd. Pig, Khon, Red 7. Today is zin phung. Mixed signals. Dramatic increase is possible, and some joy, but there is a clear risk of danger. All good things possible, some obstacles probable. Collect firewood, but leave the fire for another day. You understand? Not bad for travel.

December 28, 2010 - Chinese 23rd, M-T-K 23rd. Mouse, Dwa, White 8. A lucky day, particularly for ladies and children. Treat the lady in your life to the day spa, or join her at the yoga studio. A good day to rejuvenate. Also, some of you have been waiting to pop the question, and today is definitely the day. Travel to the East is favorable. Take care with other directions.

December 29, 2010 - Chinese 24th, M-T-K 24th. Ox, Khen, Red 9. Didn't get what you wanted for Christmas? Today is your second chance, but avoid spending too much -- exchanges are better. Avoid disagreements or speaking ill of others. No bad for travel.

December 30, 2010 - Chinese 26th, M-T-K 25th. Rabbit, Gin, Black 2. Note omitted day in Chinese practice. Dakini Day. Make offerings more extensive than usual. Take it slow, and don't try to micro-manage. If you must travel today, don't rush, and you'll actually enjoy yourself for a change. Avoid night travel. Good day for Vajrakilaya.

December 31, 2010 - Chinese 27th, M-T-K 26th. Dragon, Zin, Blue 3. Not bad for travel, but avoid strife. Actually, today is rather lucky in many respects, but you really should avoid going out and getting loaded. If you and a special someone want to check in someplace genteel for the holiday, and have nice things sent up to the room, this is definitely the day. Above all, keep it real. I'm thinking Tremezzo, at Lake Como; definitely not Bellagio, on the Strip. Think of the money you'll save off-season. Better still? Take her (or him) for a weekend practice retreat.

January 1, 2011 - Chinese 28th, M-T-K 27th. Snake, Zon, Green 4.  New Year's Day. Today is zin phung. Astrologically speaking, an auspicious day with which to begin 2011. You will overcome all obstacles, and you will accomplish what you set out to do. South is the lucky direction. Make small gifts to others. Avoid parties or get-togethers. Keep this day in the close family: operate on an intimate scale. By the way -- if you are easily amused, you can walk out the door at 11:11 on 1-1-11 and really be the One (the numerals add up to 8, as distinct from walking out at 1:11, when the numerals would add up to 7: the "ghost number.")

January 2, 2011 - Chinese 29th, M-T-K 28th. Horse, Li, Yellow 5. Partial solar eclipse coming next week, so be prepared. Worry and strife may cloud your mountain, so try to remember all things are impermanent. The get-togethers you avoided yesterday seem possible today. By the way -- this is probably a good time to remind everyone that we have two eleventh months this year, i.e. the second eleventh month is an intercalary month, and here it comes next week. So, this means we will have a repeat of the whole nine omens, ten omens, anniversary this, anniversary that days, with the caveat that formal observance is confined to the first eleventh month. And this means what to us? Well, it means that, on certain levels, we nod at the repeat performance. However, since this intercalary eleventh month corresponds to the actual eleventh Kalachakra month, the energies still demand respect, and on that basis we will take due notice of the impacted events in the weeks to come.

Naga observations for the eleventh month. The best offering days are the 1st, 9th, and 21st lunar. Don't make offerings on the 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 15th, 16th, 19th, or 28th.

Consult our extended discussion of 2010 astrology by clicking here. Consult our extended discussion of 2011 astrology by clicking here.

Published every Monday at 00:01 香港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2010, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here.  Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Weekly Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Season's Greetings 2010

Extending very best wishes of the Holiday Season to our thousands of readers, the world over. May you know peace and prosperity. At Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, we are always praying for your happiness.


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Friday, December 24, 2010

Dudjom Rinpoche's Anniversary

Today, 24 December 2010, we mark the anniversary of Dudjom Rinpoche (1904 - 1987), the representative of Padmasambhava.

The Chariot of Joy and Good Fortune
"An Aspiration Prayer to Journey to the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain"
Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje

Self-manifested pure appearance, vajra space of supreme bliss,

spontanesouly arisen Akanishta, the dance of interwoven magical displays,

the most excellent ocean of infinite buddha-realms.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

At the summit of the delightful imperial mountain of rubies,

a tiered palace of jewelled domes,

superb and wondrous in its beautiful design.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

Amid pastures and sandalwood forests,

fresh grassy regions of turquoise gems and multi-colored lotus blossoms,

with smiling pollen hearts, boasting their youthful laughter.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

With rivers of amrita moistened with camphor-scented water

cascading delightfully and swirling into pools

in which youthful dancers frolic and move this way and that.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

From the lattice openings of the rainbow pavillion,

a sprinkling rain of flowers falls like garlands of atoms

in which great heroes sport in their dance of bliss.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

With most excellent abundances of numerous sense qualities,

clouds of dakinis, most beautiful and lavishly adorned,

spread endlessly into the upper reaches of the sky.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

At the center of the ranked assembly of gathered knowledge-holders,

the supreme victor, Pema Jyungnay,

universally proclaims the lion's magnificent sound of the profound secret (Atiyoga).

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

Saying, "I am the essence of all buddhas",

with the incomparable power of knowledge, love and wisdom,

he undertakes to tame accordingly the various kinds of endless beings.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

When this limitless treasury, an ocean of noble qualities,

is merely remembered, one is established in that realm

which bears the splendor and blessings of the wheel of wondrous activity.

May I be born at the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.

At this very moment, traveling instantaneously

to the beautiful city of Lotus Light, the pure realm of space,

in accordance with the example of your liberation, the accomplishment of the two benefits according to one's wishes,

may I become as you, incomparable Guru!

This prayer of aspiration is the long form of "Copper Colored Mountain Prayer" and was written from the heart with a saddened and heartfelt mind by the old father, Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, as a support for the journey of the noble woman, Dekyong Yeshe Wangmo, to the pure realm of Lotus Light. Auspiciousness!

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Medicine Buddha App

Need something last-minute for the Buddhist on your gift list this season? Never fear: Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar has a digital Tibetan Buddhist solution.

It is amusing to consider how many Buddhists use the Jesus Phone. Most of us have one, or we're anxiously waiting to get one -- just as soon as they're available on a carrier that actually works and doesn't charge an arm and a leg -- you hear that, Verizon?

Anyway, now there is a Medicine Buddha app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. You can listen to the ritual in Tibetan, while you read along in English or Tibetan, take your pick. It is great, it is free, and you know you are going to stop reading this and download it immediately.

This is from Buddhist Apps, where they have already developed things like the Songs of Milarepa app, and the Daily Buddhist Prayers app -- this last one, in particular, at USD $1.99 is really a superb value. You get basic daily prayers in Wylie transliteration, an English translation, and then the audio feature gives you word by word guidance. Visit their site to learn all about them, and get the links. 

You will also want to take a moment to thank David Lee Lerner (1964 - 2010), who initiated and funded the Medicine Buddha app prior to his death. Because of his act, the app is provided free to everyone, and has already touched thousands of lives.


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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tilopa's Pith Instructions on Mahamudra

There is an interesting site, where they have several different versions of Tilopa's Ganges Mahamudra, translated by Ken McLeod, Trungpa Rinpoche, Keith Dowman, Garma C.C. Chang, Lama Yeshe Gyamtso, Karl Brunnholzl, Rodney Devenish, and Lex Hixon. As an example of the richness, here is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's version:

Homage to the Co-emergent Wisdom!
Mahamudra cannot be shown;
But for you who are devoted to the guru, who have mastered the ascetic practices
And are forbearant in suffering, intelligent Naropa,
Take this to heart, my fortunate student.
Look at the nature of the world,
Impermanent like a mirage or dream;
Even the mirage or dream does not exist.
Therefore, develop renunciation and abandon worldly activities.
Renounce servants and kin, causes of passion and aggression.
Meditate alone in the forest, in retreats, in solitary places.
Remain in the state of non-meditation.
If you attain non-attainment, then you have attained mahamudra.
The dharma of samsara is petty, causing passion and aggression.
The things we have created have no substance; therefore, seek the substance of the ultimate.
The dharma of mind cannot see the meaning of transcendent mind.
The dharma of action cannot discover the meaning of non-action.
If you would attain the realization of transcendent mind and non-action,
Then cut the root of mind and let consciousness remain naked.
Let the polluted waters of mental activities clear.
Do not seek to stop projections, but let them come to rest of themselves.
If there is no rejection or accepting, then you are liberated in the mahamudra.
When trees grow leaves and branches,
If you cut the roots, the many leaves and branches wither.
Likewise, if you cut the root of mind,
The various mental activities will subside.
The darkness that has collected in thousands of kalpas
One torch will dispel.
Likewise, one moment’s experience of luminous mind
Will dissolve the veil of karmic impurities.
Men of lesser intelligence who cannot grasp this,
Concentrate your awareness and focus on the breath.
Through different eye-gazes and concentration practices,
Discipline your mind until it rests naturally.
If you perceive space,
The fixed ideas of center and boundary dissolve.
Likewise, if mind perceives mind,
All mental activities will cease, you will remain in a state of non-thought,
And you will realize the supreme bodhi-citta.
Vapors arising from the earth become clouds and then vanish into the sky;
It is not known where the clouds go when they have dissolved.
Likewise, the waves of thoughts derived from the mind
Dissolve when mind perceives mind.
Space has neither color nor shape;
It is changeless, it is not tinged by black or white.
Likewise, luminous mind has neither color nor shape;
It is not tinged by black or white, virtue or vice.
The sun’s pure and brilliant essence
Cannot be dimmed by the darkness that endures for a thousand kalpas.
Likewise, the luminous essence of mind
Cannot be dimmed by the long kalpas of samsara.
Though it may be said that space is empty,
Space cannot be described.
Likewise, though it may be said that mind is luminous,
Naming it does not prove that is exists.
Space is completely without locality.
Likewise, mahamudra mind dwells nowhere.
Without change, rest loose in the primordial state;
There is no doubt that your bonds will loosen.
The essence of mind is like space;
Therefore, there is nothing which it does not encompass.
Let the movements of the body ease into genuineness,
Cease your idle chatter, let your speech become an echo,
Have no mind, but see the dharma of the leap.
The body, like a hollow bamboo, has no substance.
Mind is like the essence of space, having no place for thoughts.
Rest loose your mind; neither hold it nor permit it to wander.
If mind has no aim, it is mahamudra.
Accomplishing this is the attainment of supreme enlightenment.
The nature of mind is luminous, without object of perception.
You will discover the path of Buddha when there is no path of meditation.
By meditating on non-meditation you will attain the supreme bodhi.
This is the king of views-it transcends fixing and holding.
This is the king of meditations-without wandering mind.
This is the king of actions-without effort.
When there is no hope or fear, you have realized the goal.
The unborn alaya is without habits and veils.
Rest mind in the unborn essence; make no distinctions between meditation and post-meditation.
When projections exhaust the dharma of mind,
One attains the king of views, free from all limitations.
Boundless and deep is the supreme king of meditations.
Effortless self-existence is the supreme king of actions.
Hopeless self-existence is the supreme king of the fruition.
In the beginning mind is like a turbulent river.
In the middle it is like the River Ganges, flowing slowly.
In the end it is like the confluence of all rivers, like the meeting of mother and son.
The followers of Tantra, the Prajnaparamita,
The Vinaya, the Sutras, and other religions-
All these, by their texts and philosophical dogmas,
Will not see the luminous mahamudra.
Having no mind, without desires,
Self-quieted, self-existing,
It is like a wave of water.
Luminosity is veiled only by the rising of desire.
The real vow of samaya is broken by thinking in terms of precepts.
If you neither dwell, perceive, nor stray from the ultimate,
Then you are a holy practitioner, the torch which illuminates darkness.
If you are without desire, if you do not dwell in extremes,
You will see the dharmas of all the teachings.
If you strive in this endeavor, you will free yourself from samsaric imprisonment.
If you meditate in this way, you will burn the veil of karmic impurities.
Therefore, you are known as "The Torch of the Doctrine."
Even ignorant people who are not devoted to this teaching
Could be saved by you from constantly drowning in the river of samsara.
It is a pity that beings endure such suffering in the lower realms.
Those who would free themselves from suffering should seek a wise guru.
Being possessed by the adhishthana [blessing], one’s mind will be freed.
If you seek a karma mudra, then the wisdom of the joy of union and emptiness will arise.
The union of skillful means and knowledge brings blessings.
Bring it down and give rise to the mandala.
Deliver it to the places and distribute it throughout the body.
If there is no desire involved, then the union of joy and emptiness will arise.
Gain long life, without white hairs, and you will wax like the moon.
Become radiant, and your strength will be perfect.
Having speedily achieved the relative siddhis, one should seek the absolute siddhis.
May this pointed instruction in mahamudra remain in the hearts of fortunate beings.

Oral instructions on Mahamudra given by Sri Tilopa to Naropa at the banks of the Ganges River. Translated from the Sanskrit into Tibetan by Chokyi Lodro Marpa the Translator. English translation by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in The Myth of Freedom.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"You told your tales with pictures,
I tried to make it seem good:
I borrowed the heart of a preacher,
And believed as hard as I could.
You don't know how much I worked there,
You don't know the risk I took;
You hardly, hardly saw me,
With the mirror 'round my neck."
                         Sophie Hunger

Individually, we die from a myriad of causes. We fall off horses, or smash up motorcycles. We eat something we should not eat, or kiss somebody we should not kiss. We develop heart disease, we develop cancer, and we have strokes. We become so emotionally distressed that we kill ourselves. Somebody stops a bullet; somebody else meets a knife. All lessons of history unlearned, we seem doomed to repeat the sterile equation of kill or be killed. Sometimes you hear that man has no natural enemies, but that is not true. Man's natural enemy is himself.
If you want to have some good, clean, Buddhist fun, read  actuarial tables, and you will see how much longer, on national average, you are expected to last. Mind you, this is only a statistical approximation. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody.
Collectively, on a systemic, or species-wide basis -- setting aside war and misadventure -- precious human existence is cut short by imbalances in the five elements. When the reaper swings the sickle, cutting us down like cornstalks in autumn, the agents are five elements in uproar. We die by the thousands in earthquakes, fires, floods, storms, and the inner, epidemic imbalances of moisture, cold, and heat that manifest as disease.
Thinley Norbu Rinpoche wrote an entire book on the subject, dissecting it in great detail. The book, entitled Magic Dance: The Display of the Self-Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis, should be regarded as definitive.
Regardless, somewhere along the line, surrounded by death, we invented symbolic death as a means to understand actual death.

Shamans have been deconstructing this for thousands of years, everywhere on this earth shamans have ever danced their remarkably similar dances. In all times and places, shamans are beating the drum, and disintegrating. They are no longer accepting or rejecting fluent membership in basic spaciousness. They are flying past the glowing lights, through the passages in the net. They are carrying no compass but the fearless need to find, and pacify, an ultimate cause; using mind to restore a necessary balance.

So, of course, a very long time ago, there were shamans in Tibet. They drummed themselves to atoms, and recognized atoms as emptiness. Their sounds were vibrant sounds. Their colors were vibrant colors. Their winds were gross, subtle, and infinite in number. Their flames burnt brightly.

In 1055, the flame took human form in a woman known as Machig Lapdron: her name means "Unique Mother Torch of Lap." Her normally expected iconography is as you see immediately above. She appears less frequently as you see in the photograph with which we begin this post. I thought you should see her both ways. Thangkas and so forth are not wanted posters, you know? They are more like composite drawings, taking clues from several different witnesses. Sometimes they are crazy dangerous, like cartoons. If you expect things to look the way you expect them to look, you will miss the point that things look the way they arise.

Machig Labdron is of course famous for synthesizing the practice of Mahamudra gChod, or "annihilating the concept of 'I'." According to some authorities -- notably Chogyal Namkhai Norbu -- her gChod was developed by combining shamanism with Dzogchen. His idea makes sense, and you can see why he would think that way. Shamans regularly disintegrate themselves to empty pieces, so it seems a very small step to cooking, and offering these pieces. Really, maybe the only difference might be the context in which one offers these pieces -- the spiritual framework is otherwise actually quite similar.
"I think social equality between men and women is less important than realizing the equality between samsara and nirvana which, after all, is the only true way to engender a genuine understanding of equality." -- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
In recent years, there has been a tendency to regard Machig Labdron as some sort of feminist, and to regard gChod as a singularly feminist practice. Such ideas do an enormous disservice to both Machig Labdron's spiritual stature, and the practice with which she is credited:
  • As a historical figure, she was a direct emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal. 
  • The very essence of Mahamudra gChod is to do away with notions such as gender identity. 
By dropping all pretenses, and to tame beings, Machig Labdron was able to display liberation in one lifetime, in one body, and to thereafter continuously incarnate and emanate at will. Indeed, one such emanation has even quite legitimately been recognized in a Westerner: Joan Ewing, better known as Lama Tsultrim Allione.

The historical Machig Labdron's principal social achievement had nothing to do with her imputed status as a woman; rather, it had to do with her status as a Tibetan. After the institutional Buddhists tormented the indigenous shamans into submission -- thereby indelibly marking Bon with Buddhism, and (depending on who is telling the story) generating the karma for eventual eradication of Tibetan culture -- tribunals came into being for determining what was and was not "authentic" Buddhist practice. During her lifetime, only those teachings that originated in India were considered authentic Buddhism. The idea that there could be such a thing as indigenous Buddhist teachings originating in Tibet was quite controversial.

Indeed, when Machig Labdron began to teach, she was so controversial that a delegation was sent from India. Over a period of time, she was tested and examined. According to one source:
"Word of the widespread practice of Mahāmudra Chö in Tibet and Nepal was first viewed in India with great scepticism. A delegation of ācāryas was sent from Bodh Gayā to Tibet to test Machig Labrön and her teaching resulted in the acceptance of Mahāmudrā Chö as a valid and authentic Mahāyāna tradition. Thereafter its practice spread even to India."
So, in a way -- if you wanted to engage in flashy oversimplification -- you could call Machig Labdron the "Mother of Tibetan Buddhism," in the sense that it is she who comes up with the first Buddhist teachings to originate in Tibet.

In general, every gChod practitioner understands that the practice proceeds on three levels: outer, inner, and secret. The outer, or external aspect consists of going to remote, or otherwise frightening places, alone. This is usually described with reference to charnel grounds, but it can really be any place that is inhabited with spirits. The internal aspect is to heat and offer one's own body as food to the spirits -- demons, actually -- and the transformation of this offering into a state of non-conceptual awareness. It is not the offering alone that is transformed; rather, it is you, the offering, and the recipients -- all three transform into non-conceptual awareness. The secret aspect is simply cutting through dualistic clinging to the concept of an "I," or ego, and exorcising the demons this ego produces.

Contrast this with the elements of shamanism, as seen everywhere. These consist of symbolic death, dispersal and resurrection; an ability to fly to, and then fluently empathize with, the spirit world, whether in descent or ascent; a special relationship with fire, inclusive of autothermy; the ability to enlist the animal realm, either by assuming or usurping animal form, and the power of invisibility, i.e. mastery of the covert and clandestine.
"If we do not practice Dharma but only talk continuously without faith about our teacher, his teachings, his empowerments, our practice, our retreats, making a Dharma shopping list, then our impure minds become constipated and we get dharmarhoids which is disrespectful to the true Dharma practitioner and to pure Dharma." -- Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

So, there are are some parallels, and these parallels lend credence to Chogyal Namkhai Norbu's assertions, but these parallels are not what I find interesting. What I find interesting is that Machig Labdron's practice comes to fore some two centuries after Padmasambhava arrived in Tibet. The scale of the thing invites comparison.

In the West -- where we are perpetually in a ridiculous hurry -- there is always all sorts of agony surrounding the transplantation of Buddhism as it was practiced in Tibet, and what we might expect in terms of precisely when that process will be complete. Some of us seem to be interested in this notion of completion because we want to launch something peculiarly Western. In America, you get slapped with this meme all the time.

I have always felt that the answer to the question of "when," is "not in your lifetime." So many of us suffer from impatience that we forget our lives are ephemeral. As it stands, this whole escapade with Tibetan Buddhism is only about fifty years old, and those of us who came in at the beginning of the scene are now exiting the theater. I do not know that we should be expecting anything at all. Well, maybe one thing...

In some respects, our time resonates with the interval between Padmasambhava's departure and Machig Labdron's flourish. We have our little tribunals and inquisitions, but even those are beginning to quiver. The generation of lamas educated in pre-1959 Tibet is disappearing like breath on a mirror. I do not know who it is that might be able to summon the same authority they are able to summon.

Like gChod, Tibetan Buddhism has been cut asunder, and is being cooked and offered up in pieces.

In a very few more years, those educated in Tibet will be gone, and one imagines there will be some who feel themselves thus at liberty to make up any sort of nonsense that pops into their heads. They will call it "American Buddhism." Who will stop them? We already see some of this happening.

When we consider such events, we often miss the point that we have no underlying, sympathetic spiritual tradition -- beyond a dim and imperfect memory of the Native American tradition -- upon which to found any sort of meaningful assimilation. Is New Age hocus-pocus and blathering on about crystals and power vortexes a suitable matrix? Is there anything present that can support liberation, and if so, what evidence do we have?

You know, at my old house, I had a rather splendid orchard in the backyard. This orchard was about twenty years old, and I spent a great deal of time studying its ways. I had a plum tree there, and through the years, it became the subject of numerous experiments. The cuttings of many different sorts of plum trees were grafted on to the trunk, and I had purple plums, and white plums, and so forth, all growing on the same tree. But, the thing of it was -- this is the lesson I learned, and the point I want to make -- you could not predict the outcome of any given season. This tree gave up its hybrid fruit in eccentric fashion.

The neighboring trees, which were not grafted and were thus true to their species, gave predictable results.

As time goes by, Machig Lapdron's story, and the practice identified with her story, will become  increasingly more important to the West. Hopefully, we will begin to see her not as some romanticized figure, distorted in the mirror where we preen ourselves, but we will see her as she actually was. Maybe we will understand that every aspect of her activity flowed naturally, from her accomplishment -- not some abstract status that somebody gave her, but real accomplishment -- and thus informed by spontaneously arising, timeless awareness, she was able to pass along the clues illuminating pervasive wisdom to which we now rather childishly aspire.

Genuine efficacy is a fundamental measure of value.

Like they say, show beats tell every time.
"Caught in your headlights
I had to close my eyes
Caught in your headlights
I had so little time
Caught in your headlights
I couldn't turn back
I was never myself
I was you
I forgot."
Sophie Hunger

To this point, we have examined similarities, but it is equally important to consider differences. The difference between shamanism and pure Dharma occurs in the areas of (1) view, (2) function, and (3) underlying intention:

"The Bon-po's view of existence considered that the boundaries between the heavens, the intermediate world, and the lower world of the demons -- between men and gods and between men and the dead -- could be broached by shaman priests." -- Tarthang Tulku
So, plainly, this view does not conceive gods and demons are projections; rather, it deals with them as concrete realities. Boundaries are broached, but they are not collapsed. This is done in service to kings, and patrons, so the underlying intention to benefit beings is case specific.

Bodhicitta is not a philosophical construct, or a mere idea, but an absolutely natural and universally present fact of human existence. Where Bodhicitta is acknowledged and accounted for, there you can witness pure Dharma.Where Bodhicitta is not acknowledged, and we are at the same time divorced from space -- considering, for example, heaven's artificial boundaries as actual boundaries to be manipulated -- then we have shut the gate on pure Dharma and driven away.

Conceiving of Buddhist spiritual practice as a struggle between dialectic opposites shuts the gate on pure Dharma and drives away. Grafting wisdom's all-encompassing insights onto a holographic tree, hoping for instant fruit salad, shuts the gate on pure Dharma and drives away.

Drive away. Put the top down, and turn on the radio. Turn it up loud. Step on the accelerator.

Tearing around the countryside with the radio blasting frightens the birds and beasts so terribly that they begin to show their wrathful aspect. When you see these aspects, it is suddenly you who becomes frightened. Maybe you call to mind something like Hitchcock's The Birds. Maybe your pet suddenly bites your hand. Maybe you dream of a huge garuda, snatching you up in talons of meteorite iron, tearing you to shreds with his meteorite beak.

It is suddenly you who desperately questions the subtle darkness you secretly inhabit -- the smokey world where you secretly hide.

So, you stop the car, turn off the radio, get out, and begin to walk toward whatever light you think you see.

Caught in the headlights, every demon is hungry. Every demon wants fast food, and here you are... well and truly arrived at the drive-in.

How to feed them is still under discussion, but what to feed them.... this, I think, is already on the menu.

The Unhappy Meal.


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Monday, December 20, 2010

Prayer for the Eclipse and Solstice

The Prayer of Kungtuzangpo

The Primordial Buddha Samantabhadra


Everything - appearance and existence, samsara and nirvana -
Has a single Ground, Yet two paths and two fruitions,
And magically displays as Awareness or unawareness.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer, may all beings become Buddhas,
Completely perfected in the abode of the Dharmadhatu.

The Ground of all is uncompounded,
And the self-arising Great Expanse, beyond expression,
Has neither the name 'samsara' nor 'nirvana'.
Realizing just this, you are a Buddha;
Not realizing this, you are a being wandering in samsara.

I pray that all you beings of the three realms
May realize the true meaning of the inexpressible Ground.
I, Kungtuzangpo, have realized the truth of this Ground,
Free from cause and condition,
Which is just this self-arising Awareness.

It is unstained by outer expression and inner thought,
Affirmation or denial, and is not defiled
By the darkness of unmindfulness.
Thus this self-manifesting display is free from defects.

I, Kungtuzangpo, abide as Intrinsic Awareness.
Even though the three realms were to be destroyed, there is no fear.

There is no attachment to the five desirable qualities of sense objects.
In self-arising consciousness, free of thoughts,
There is neither solid form nor the five poisons.
In the unceasing clarity of Awareness,
Singular in essence, there yet arises the display of the five wisdoms.

From the ripening of these five wisdoms,
The five original Buddha families emerge,
And through the expanse of their wisdom
The forty-two peaceful Buddhas appear.
Through the arising power of the five wisdoms
The sixty wrathful Herukas manifest.
Thus the Ground Awareness is never mistaken or wrong.

I, Kungtuzangpo, am the original Buddha of all,
And through this prayer of mine
May all you beings who wander in the three realms of samsara
Realize this self-arising Awareness,
And may your great wisdom spontaneously increase!

My emanations will continuously manifest
In billions of unimaginable ways,
Appearing in forms to help you beings who can be trained.

From the beginning you beings are deluded
Because you do not recognize the Awareness of the Ground.
Beings thus unmindful of what occurs is delusion-
The very state of unawareness and the cause of going astray.

From this delusive state comes a sudden fainting away
And then a subtle consciousness of wavering fear.
From that wavering there arises a separation of self
And the perception of others as enemies.

Gradually the tendency of separation strengthens,
And from this the circle of samsara begins.
Then the emotions of the five poisons develop-
The actions of these emotions are endless.

You beings lack awareness because you are unmindful,
And this is the basis of your going astray.
Through my prayer, may all you beings recognize your Intrinsic Awareness!

Innate unawareness means unmindfulness and distraction.
Imputing unawareness means dualistic thoughts towards self and others.
Both kinds of unawareness are the basis for the delusion of all beings.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer
May all you beings wandering in samsara
Clear away the dark fog of unmindfulness,
Clear away the clinging thoughts of duality!
May you recognize your own Intrinsic Awareness!

Dualistic thoughts create doubt.
From subtle attachment to this dualistic turn of mind
Dualistic tendencies become stronger and thicker.

Food, wealth, clothes, home, and friends,
The five objects of the senses, and your beloved family-
All these things cause torment by creating longing and desire.
These are all worldly delusions; the activities of grasping and clinging are endless.

When the fruition of attachment ripens, you are born as a hungry ghost,
Tormented by coveting and desiring, miserable, starving and thirsty.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer may all you desirous and lustful beings
Who have attachments, neither reject longing desires,
Nor accept attachment to desires.

Let your consciousness relax in its own natural state,
Then your Awareness will be able to hold its own.
May you achieve the wisdom of perfect discernment!

When external objects appear, the subtle consciousness of fear will arise.
From this fear, the habit of anger becomes stronger and stronger.
Finally, hostility comes causing violence and murder.
When the fruition of this anger ripens, you will suffer in hell by boiling and burning.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer, you beings of the six realms,
When strong anger arises for you, neither reject nor accept it.
Instead relax in the natural state and achieve the wisdom of clarity!

When your mind becomes full of pride
There will arise thoughts of competition and humiliation.
As this pride become stronger and stronger,
You will experience the suffering of quarrels and abuse.

When the fruition of this karma ripens, you will be born in the God Realms
And experience the suffering of change and falling to lower rebirths.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer, may you beings who develop pride,
Let your consciousness relax in the natural state.
Then your Awareness will be able to hold its own.
May you achieve the wisdom of equanimity!

By increasing the habit of duality, by praising yourself and denigrating others,
Your competitive mind will lead you to jealousy and fighting,
And you will be born in the Jealous God Realm, where there is much killing and injury.
From the result of that killing, you will fall into the Hell Realm.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer, when jealousy and competitive thoughts arise,
Do not grasp them as enemies.
Just relax in ease, then consciousness can hold its own natural state.
May you achieve the wisdom of unobstructed action!

By being distracted, careless and unmindful,
You beings will become dull, foggy and forgetful.
By being unconscious and lazy, you will increase your ignorance
And the fruition of this ignorance will be to wander helplessly in the Animal Realm.

Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer,
May you beings who have fallen into the dark pit of ignorance
Shine the light of mindfulness and thereby achieve wisdom free from thought.

All you beings of the three realms are actually identical to Buddhas, the Ground of all.
But your misunderstanding of the Ground causes you to go astray,
So you act without aim.
The six karmic actions are a delusion, like a dream.

I am the Primordial Buddha here to train the six kinds of beings
Through all my manifestations.
Through Kungtuzangpo's prayer may all you beings without exception
Attain enlightenment in the state of Dharmadhatu.

Ah Ho!
Hereafter, whenever a very powerful yogin
With his or her Awareness radiant and free from delusion
Recites this very powerful prayer, then all who hear it
Will achieve enlightenment within three lifetimes.

During a solar or lunar eclipse, during an earthquake, or when the earth rumbles,
At the solstices or the new year, you should visualize Kungtuzangpo.
And if you pray loudly so all can hear,
Then beings of the three realms will be gradually liberated from suffering,
Through the prayer of the yogin and will finally achieve enlightenment.

This prayer was taken from the ninth chapter of the Dzogchen Teachings of the Gongpa Zangthal the Northern Treasures discovered by the Terton Rigdzin Godem.

On the fifteenth day of the seventh Tibetan month in the year of the Sheep (1991) this prayer was translated by the Venerable Bhaka Tulku Rinpoche in Berkeley, California, assisted by Lunpo Urgyan Thondup.

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Because you yourself are the divine mandala,
naturally manifest to yourself,
Do not offer worship to the deity,
for if you worship you will be fettered by it…
Do not renounce samsara, for if you renounce it,
you will not attain buddhahood.
Because the Buddha is not elsewhere
he is naught but awareness itself.
Samsara is not elsewhere;
all is gathered within your own mind.
Do not practice conditioned fundamental virtues,
for if you do you will be fettered by them.
Renounce conditioned fundamental virtues,
such as building stūpas and temples.
There is no end to contrived doctrines,
but by leaving them they will end.
Not renouncing the yoga of abandoning deeds,
should you renounce deeds, you will become a tathāgata.
So it is that you must know the path
of the authentic buddhas in everything.
A day flares for a moment when it is new; it flares for a moment when it dies. The sun brings shadows and dreams in equal measure.

Between dawn and dusk, any benevolent vision of this world that we, like the sun, illuminate with compassionate activity seems useful. But still, we should consider this as illusory, volatile, and impermanent. The fictitious merit we accrue, and dedicate to fictitious beings is subject to exhaustion: it rises and falls. All our plans are naught but stored tears. 

The stupas will crumble, and the temples will fall to dust. 

This we know, or will certainly come to know, in the due course of the demonstration of the days.

In this circumstance, the supreme act of altruism seems to arise when mind sees mind. 

Since most of us regard coming to know the nature of mind for the hypothetical benefit of all  hypothetical sentient beings as downright difficult -- if not with apathy, then with indolence -- we enter into diplomacy with what we call our "kindness." Rather than go for broke, we pick and choose chapters from the Big Book of Conditioned Fundamental Virtues. We do this between puppy love and a broken heart. We scatter this amongst birth, school, marriage, job, divorce, hospital, and croak pile. Today, we'll do this; tomorrow, we'll do that. This requires an enormous outpouring of energy, yet offers only momentary satisfaction. Before we know it, stupas are crumbling, temples are decaying, and we are all used up.

This seems so wasteful.

The nature of mind remains unchanged regardless of what one does or does not do.

Consider the difference between watching a movie, and becoming a movie producer. Consider the difference between mindful practice, and stagecraft.

To create and sustain illusion requires constituent decision-making, and component acts. Most people consider that it requires imagination, but that is not necessarily the case. As every schooled playwright or screenwriter already knows, there are only thirty-six possible dramatic situations. Every human circumstance can be thus categorized and anticipated. In Hollywood, for example, all the major motion picture studios actually use computer programs to evaluate and construct scripts. They plug in the characters, and the machines do the work.

How could it be otherwise? All phenomena arise from a cause.

It does not matter whether one is producing a tragedy, a comedy, a romance, a whodunit, or a war movie.

One produces with the expectation of gain.

The money that one gains will be spent. The accolades that one gathers will be forgotten. But, the benefit of just watching?

The benefit of watching is simply to know the movie is a movie.

While it is good to appreciate stagecraft, it is better to not become too wrapped up in that appreciation. There is no injunction against enjoying the production -- laughing at the funny parts, crying at the sad parts -- but, when you leave the theater, you do not need to bring the script with you.

There was a wonderful sunset but it is over now.


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Weekly Tibetan Astrology: December 20 - December 26, 2010

Note: There is an old Chinese saying -- could be T'ang, could be older, but it feels like T'ang -- taken from poetical norms, and we can translate this -- more or less a gloss -- as "So red it is purple." When my friend, the seal carver in Shenzhen, was carving this on the side of a seal for me, he remarked, "When a thing reaches its fullest expression, it is done becoming, and must of necessity change." Pretty interesting seal carver, eh? This jumps to mind because I was thinking about the Violet Shining Seer.

The biggest story in this week of big stories is a total lunar eclipse coincident to the Winter Solstice. The event is not unprecedented: the last such occurrence took place in 1638, the year of the Earth Tiger.

For the Western Hemisphere, the eclipse will  begin on Dec. 21 at 12:29 a.m. EST (9:29 p.m. PST on Dec. 20) as the moon begins to enter Earth's outer, or penumbral, shadow. This total lunar eclipse lasts 72 minutes from start to finish. Changes in the moon's appearance will begin about 45 minutes into the event, when a slight shading becomes evident on the upper left portion of the moon's disk.  The entire eclipse will be visible from all of North and South America, the northern and western parts of Europe, and a small part of northeast Asia, including Korea and much of Japan. In terms of North America, we'll have to wait until 2014 to see another total lunar eclipse quite so clearly. It will also be visible from the North Island of New Zealand and Hawaii. We all know that positive or negative actions are multiplied by a factor of one thousand during this event.

"So red it is purple."

So, what does this all mean? Well, Rahu -- the master of deceivers and poisons -- swallows the moon this week, so what else can we say? Break out the offerings of lead and hessonite? (If you want to go that route, you should have done it yesterday, on Sunday.) In terms of the impact on the year -- and here I will resort to strict Vedic terms -- it does not get much worse. The year is being pounded by a troublesome Mercury-Ketu circumstance to begin with, and Rahu is entwined with both Mercury and Ketu. The interpretation could be that Rahu, the malefic, will imprint them both, and in context, this is not a good thing at all.

That is the quick and dirty assumption. To be more precise, the eclipse will occur with the Southern or descending node Ketu in the sidereal zodiac sign Gemini, and the ascending node Rahu in Sagittarius. According to Vedic astrology, this is severe for those who have sidereal Gemini or Sagittarius rising or Gemini or Sagittarius as moon sign. You will recall that we also had meteors in Gemini last week.

On the world stage, this week marks the beginning of a period of extreme tension and sudden events. 
The last total lunar eclipse was in 2008, coincident to Chotrul Duchen. Far from being the auspicious event one might suppose, this heralded the advent of an extremely negative, and manipulative force that has been spreading havoc ever since. Perhaps you will recall that in our general remarks for 2010, we referred to what might with equal measure of grace and truth be called "spiritual warfare." As a practical issue, this has presented as sectarian strife and internecine wrangling that approach sheer madness. With this week's eclipse, either one of two things is going to happen: a chapter will close, or another chapter will open before the first chapter is concluded. You can accept that in general terms as one episode gets finished, and another episode begins in result of the first. I'll "Americanize" that as, "what goes around comes around."
What we may singularly wish to recall, at this point, is Padmasambhava's subjugation of Rahu, and the special relationship of Rahu to particular lineages and traditions. Like everything else, there are those who feel the need to make claims and those who do not. Plotters and schemers abound, for plots are the hallmark of the envious. We can promise significant developments in this area. What we cannot promise is that the developments will be to universal acclaim. Stars have indeed fallen from the sky. The meaning of this will become clear to stubborn individuals and groups alike. I truly hope that ongoing discord can be solved by diplomatic means, but perhaps that awaits next year. The death of a top diplomat, proximate to last week's meteor shower, was no small sign. The death of pilgrims to Maratika cave was no small sign. There have been other signs. There will be more signs.

In a strange way, since this falls on the solstice, we can think of this eclipse as the shadow of things to come in 2011, the Year of the Iron Rabbit. Why do I say this? To an extent, the Winter Solstice puts a "lock" on certain spirits that will become active once the Summer Solstice rolls around. In the interval, and absent the caprice of spirits, the window of throwing karmas comes to fore, unimpeded by the influence of artificiality, or contrivance. Since much of 2011 will be spent undoing that which commenced in 2010, or at least coping with the results of 2010, I find this interesting. Anyway -- the book is open, and here we go. Consult our general remarks for 2011.

On the bright side, highly developed practitioners will experience the rapid evaporation of obstacles. Theoretically, this can include being immediately transported to the Glorious Copper Colored Mountain, so always keep in mind that anything is possible. There is a difference between change and transformation. One is reversible; the other is not.

Bottom line? The great Sino-Tibetan and Indo-Tibetan astrologers did not like this sort of scenario -- traditionally, it points to great instability of rule. The effects of this eclipse will be felt well into 2011, significantly impacting 2011's normally expected peaceful energies, while many "reds" will "turn purple." The Iron Tiger starts to bite and claw now, and this will extend until at least the February - March time frame. Certain consequences will be felt until the summer. Here, then, is the appropriate prayer for this event.

By the way -- the next time this happens, 21 December 2094, I won't be around in the present format, and chances are, neither will you. However, the above-linked prayer will still be reverberating, so make it heart-felt -- and for the benefit of all sentient beings.

December 20, 2010 - Chinese 15th, M-T-K 14th. Dragon, Dwa, Red 9. Generally favorable energies, so make the most of daylight hours. Watch out when evening rolls around. Avoid travel.

December 21, 2010 - Chinese 16th, M-T-K 15th. Snake, Khen, White 1. Winter Solstice. Total Lunar Eclipse. Today is zin phung. Hello Capricorn. Rapid events, including the possibility of extremes. Today's guiding word is "sudden." Abrupt reversals possible. Violence probable. Avoid travel. If you spend one entire day at practice this year, make this the day, and make it motivated by intense compassion. If, on the other hand, you are by nature wicked, then go gambling. Either way, you will receive a message.

December 22, 2010 - Chinese 17th, M-T-K 16th. Horse, Kham, Black 2. Enemies may reach the gate. Fear should be replaced by confident practice on this day. Travel possible, but absolutely avoid traveling at night.

December 23, 2010 - Chinese 18th, M-T-K 17th. Sheep, Gin, Blue 3. This can be a useful and successful day. Good day for Vajrakilaya practice.

December 24, 2010 - Chinese 19th, M-T-K 18th. Monkey, Zin, Green 4. Dudjom Rinpoche's Anniversary. Those of us who knew him definitely miss him -- not to gossip, but a good friend of mine once quoted Tarthang Rinpoche as saying, "When Dudjom Rinpoche passed away, all the ngakpas' heads were cut off." Regardless, please understand that he is always with us, even if we are sometimes a little cloudy from the neck up. Today is yan kwong. Unfavorable energies. Governments experience stress. Possible geological upset. Beware of thieves.

December 25, 2010 - Chinese 20th, M-T-K 20th. Bird, Zon, Yellow 5.  Christmas. Note omitted day in Tibetan practice. Enjoy yourself.

December 26, 2010 - Chinese 21st, M-T-K 21st. Dog, Li, White 6. Extremely unfavorable energies, quickly mitigated if you stay home.

Naga observations for the eleventh month. The best offering days are the 1st, 9th, and 21st lunar. Don't make offerings on the 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 15th, 16th, 19th, or 28th.

Consult our extended discussion of 2010 astrology by clicking here. Consult our extended discussion of 2011 astrology by clicking here.

Published every Monday at 00:01 香港時間 but written in advance and auto-posted. See our Introduction to Daily Tibetan Astrology for background information. If you know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can get information about your positive and negative days by clicking here. If you don't know the symbolic animal of your birth year, you can obtain that information by clicking here. For specific information about the astrology of 2010, inclusive of elements, earth spirits, and so forth, please consult our extended discussion by clicking here.  Click here for Hong Kong Observatory conversion tables. Weekly Tibetan Astrology copyright (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brief Notice of Book Reviews

From time to time we publish book reviews, and I want to take just a moment to explain how that all comes about. On any given day, we normally have at least one or two books being delivered, so in consequence, I have a backlog of about 100 books waiting to be read. Since a large library is an excuse to go off on tangents, it is likely that some of those waiting volumes will be waiting a good long while.

Nevertheless, when we do eventually find a book that we like -- and when we think you would like it as well -- then we sometimes give it a little write-up, and give you a link to the publisher or bookseller. We do this without regard to precisely when the book was published, i.e., we do not concentrate solely on "new" books, at the expense of "old" books.

We do not get kick-backs or anything like that -- we're not Amazon "affiliates" nor do we wish to be -- and we do not get review copies from publishers. Every book we review is a book we have paid for, at full-bore retail, just like you.

There are four main publishers of English-language dharma books -- Shambhala, Wisdom, Dharma Publishing, and Snow Lion -- and they dominate the marketplace, the former more so than the latter. Certain of these publishers maintain some sort of print periodical, and all maintain intertwined relationships with various online media. So, what happens is -- more often than not -- they wind up cleverly reviewing their own books. I believe Dharma Publishing is the only outfit that doesn't engage in the practice, so in consequence, you see them woefully under-reviewed in the media that are controlled by other publishers.  I do not want to be any more specific than that, because I think we all realize this has been going on for some considerable time.

I don't want to criticize these publishers -- I have been in and out of publishing many times throughout the whole of my life, and well understand how difficult it is to survive and flourish in a niche market with a well-established ceiling, smack-dab in the middle of the digital age. Nevertheless, I think readers deserve to read reviews that are not written by somebody's marketing department, tame author, or house pundit. Don't you agree?

So, I think we will try to do more reviews, and with this thought in mind, I want to invite everyone to submit their book reviews for publication here. Just please make it a book you have purchased, and please make sure you write independent of any incestuous  affiliation with a publishing firm.

We have an extremely large readership -- much, much greater than you might suppose -- and our readers tend to value our advice. I have been told that when we publish a link, it can drive an enormous amount of paying traffic, and I see this is possible when I study our out-click reports. Why don't we harness that power, and start to break the intellectual stranglehold that finite publishing has on the books we enjoy? I mention this because I would really like to see books that are published by centers, independent publishers, and small operations. These are the publishers I particularly want to encourage, and these are publishers that captive media pushes off the shelves.

If we are able to express what we really want to see -- as distinct from sitting back and accepting what a small cabal thinks we should see -- then we can drive the editorial decisions in better directions. You know, speaking very personally, if I see another icky self-help, self-improvement cut and paste job masquerading as Buddhism, I will probably toss my cookies. There are a lot of really skilled translators and scholars sitting around on their hands, slowly starving to death, because the publishers make more money selling sizzle than steak. We can turn that around.
Fair enough?


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Saturday, December 18, 2010

No Cruelty In the Name of Love

Whenever I see someone beat an animal, I do not become angry at them, or want to punish them, because those are exactly the thoughts they are experiencing. 

Whenever I see someone otherwise being cruel to an animal, I do not think of harming the person in any way, because the thought of harm is exactly what they are experiencing. 

Instead, I try to cultivate thoughts of kindness, understanding, patience, and forgiveness toward the person, for that is exactly what they are lacking. 

With those thoughts in mind, you can fearlessly enter any situation, and quickly bring peace. 

You may not believe this, but I have found through experience that it is true.


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E Gene Smith (1936 - 2010)

E. Gene Smith, the man who did more than any other person on the face of the planet to save the written knowledge of Tibet, has died.

There is not a lama anywhere, of any generation, who does not owe him a debt of gratitude.

He passed away at approximately 4:00 P.M. on Thursday, 16 December 2010, and was immediately attended by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche.

In the old days, he ran PL-480 operations for the Library of Congress Office in India, and he always found ways to funnel assistance. Later, of course, he became famous for founding the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, which now holds the largest collection of Tibetan books outside of Tibet.

Dr. Smith was an early mentor to many, including Kyabje Tarthang Rinpoche, and a great inspiration to me. I first met him when I was seventeen years old, and he remained a force in my life ever since. He was the first person Tarthang Rinpoche introduced me to, when we were trying to figure out how to republish Tibetan books, back in the 1960s. Of course, nobody had any money, and it was really such a desperate situation. But, somehow, and I think it was around 1963 or thereabouts, he was able to get help to Tarthang Rinpoche, who had started the Dharma Mudranalaya press, and was trying to do publishing at Varanasi. It wasn't just about saving the books for the older generation. There were young people who would be needing them, so there was always this great sense of urgency. There were so few people in the West who even knew of the problem, much less understood or cared, but he understood... he really understood... he really cared... and he spent his entire life on it. I want to tell you, that in the 1960s, he was the only person who gave us the time of day. There was never a single occasion in all the years since when he would not stop whatever he was doing and help with this or that question, or situation. He is actually the person who, during a 2006 telephone conversation, suggested that I name this blog "Digital" Tibetan Buddhist Altar. I tell you, I feel his loss so deeply.

Please, take a few moments and watch this trailer for the Digital Dharma documentary. It will help you understand who he was, and what he meant to all of us....

I will update this as more information becomes available. Quite frankly, right now I wish only to say prayers for him.

This was a great man, and I want to say that I loved and respected him enormously.


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