Monday, April 30, 2012

Ba Muoi Seven

So, this is the thirty-seventh anniversary of "Black April," the fall (or liberation) of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), and like everything else, much depends on your point of view. 

For some of us, that point of view is carved in pretty deep. Like the man says, "all gave some, and some gave all."

Many, many prayers today.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Shower of Blessings in America

According to the Western calendar, today, April 27, 2012, marks the 43rd anniversary of the first-ever performance of the Shower of Blessings in the United States, under the direction of the immaculate Lord of Refuge, Kyabje Tarthang Rinpoche. The puja has been performed twice monthly ever since, without interruption. So, this equates to the 10th day of the 3rd Tibetan month, which this year falls on Tuesday, May 1st -- this coming Tuesday. So, wherever you are, please join me at 6:00 P.M. local time for a special celebration.

May it be auspicious!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Karmapa Charges Dropped

Indian news sources this morning are reporting that all charges against His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa have been dropped by Himachal Pradesh prosecutors, and he has been completely exonerated of any misconduct.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dalai Lama Bestows Yamantaka Initiation in California

An unprecedented and historic event took place over two days -- Friday, April 20th, and Saturday, April 21, 2012 -- when His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama bestowed the complete Highest Yoga Tantra Initiation of the Solitary Hero, Yamantaka, at Long Beach, California.

The well-organized event was sponsored by Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargye Ling, of Long Beach, at a total cost in excess of USD $300,000. Additionally, the organizers presented all initiates with a splendidly-produced practice book of some 230 pages, together with a cabinet photograph of His Holiness and practice supports.

This two-day initiation, which included a lengthy commentary on the work of the Seventh Dalai Lama, was followed by an open talk, attended by a sold-out crowd of over 10,000 people (yes -- including everybody's favorite vajra brother, Richard Gere).

The initiation was originally scheduled for April 2011, but because of logistics issues, had to be rescheduled. Congratulations to GSTDL for following through, regardless of the illusion of obstacles.

His Holiness gave Bodhisattva Vows and Tantric Vows to all initiates, took all the time necessary to present the practice in full detail, and required very serious, life-long tantric commitments.

What glorious, great fortune!

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shenphen Rinpoche Assaulted: Hospitalized

Shenphen Rinpoche has been attacked by two assailants in Slovenia, and is hospitalized at this hour with multiple knife wounds, and a concussion.

This marks the second time the French-born lama has been assaulted. The first occasion, a year ago, ended with two assailants promising, "We will see you again." The current incident saw Rinpoche being stabbed, knocked out with a piece of wood, and then, as he lay unconscious, a knife used to make a symbolic cut across his throat.

His sangha requests prayers, and earnestly wishes a thorough police investigation.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Old Love

Just the other day, I received a letter from an old friend. I had not heard from her in almost fifty years, but that does not mean she was forgotten. I had a photograph of her, and another picture in my mind. I remember once, up in the hills, we held each other so tenderly. We sat upon a stone beneath a flowering branch, and she kissed me. It was the spring I was seventeen. When I read her letter, I looked in the mirror, but the old man who looked back at me did not match the pictures I had of her. 

So, then -- impermanence. 

The generation of Westerners fortunate enough to rejoin Vajrayana when it crossed the Tibetan border is now beginning to die off.  For me, as I am sure for you, it is like watching the aging of an old love. Ordinarily, we would say a thing like that is "bittersweet," except I do not know there is any bitterness or sweetness to be found. 

Dust, more likely. 

A dusty thing, neither bitter nor sweet.

If you venture a touch, it will crumble beneath your fingers.

Dust to dust.

Of the now-dying generation, what can we say? Can we cling to our memory of them, as they were when we both embodied youth, and then just let them drift away? Or do we owe them a greater tribute -- a debt, even -- for the years of their lives devoted to establishing Vajrayana in the West?

I am particularly interested in the answer to that question as it applies to the people who built the largest Nyingma temple complex in the world, outside of Tibet: the authentic Seat of the Nyingma Lineage in the United States of America -- Odiyan Retreat Center: the Copper Mountain Mandala in Northern California.

Here is no dust-to-dust love. I will not say that it is permanent, but I will rejoice in its suchness. Here, a small group of people have dedicated their entire lives to an inspired vision of beauty, constancy, space, and purpose.

Here is no love-of-a-lover love. But, my... what an absolutely stunning expression of devotion! People look at these photographs and remark in wonder, "This is in America?" Yes, it is. Here, with a richness - inside, outside, and secretly - that indelibly expresses the unselfish love of them that did the building.

Here is a gift from the people of our time to those who come after -- done in respectful acknowledgment of tragic events in Tibet during the last half of the twentieth century. Not since the days of the Twenty-five Disciples has the world seen such a profound gift -- product of a lineage of love that is not invested singly, but in all sentient beings.

Unique, perhaps, among all the Western sanghas, one only rarely hears the names of particular individuals associated with this sanctuary. There is no clamor to take credit, no personal authorship, no "signing," no ego, and no flourish. All the merit, without exception, is dedicated to the welfare of beings.

It is important to understand that this work was accomplished by the now-living representatives of a lineage that begins with Samantabhadra, and remains unbroken to the present day. This is unique in all the world. That these individuals should be Westerners is a testimony to what we might term "larger design;" something we might well recognize as the limitless potential of our status as human beings.

The Nyingma Trust

The Nyingma Trust's mission statement is brief and to the point:
"To sustain our community of Dharma practitioners, protecting their health and safety, and to support and honor their commitment to focus on the vision of Tarthang Rinpoche and the Nyingma lineage."
These people live very simply, with no personal luxuries. They receive no salaries or other financial support whatsoever. Since 1969, members of a core group have contributed their entire lives, fortunes, and energies to the security of the Vajra Guru's lineage. 

Don't you think we at least owe them a little peace of mind concerning such matters as health care, old age assistance, standard of living, nourishment, and relaxation?

I am told by people who assess such things that over the past six years, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar has developed the largest regular readership of any nominally "Buddhist" blog in the world -- even with imitators, we still have a readership in the hundreds of thousands with page views in the millions.

From the bottom of my heart, I am now asking each and every one of our readers to contact Nyingma Trust and find out how you can help. Whether your personal resources are large or small -- whether, indeed, you cleave to the Nyingma lineage or not -- please pay tribute to the absolutely incredible achievement of this dedicated group of individuals.

If only for this...

So that, ten thousand years from now, those who come upon our bones -- metaphorically speaking -- will say, "Oh! Those people loved each other!"

And still others will say, "The better love never dies."


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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Corralling Coral

We begin, innocently enough, with the idea to lay hold of some beads, in order to make garlands for someone special. 

She likes red. 

It says so, right there, in the Aryatarakurukullakalpa

It says a good many other things, besides,  so while we are planning the garlands, we think to string a mala or two, just to be comprehensive.

As it turns out, we are thinking way too small.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Tibetans and coral.

We cannot pretend to know just how and when the custom of wearing coral was introduced to Tibet. Informed speculation would credit Muslim traders, along the old Silk Route. In that regard, it is interesting to note that the principal coral dealers in Tibet for the past couple of centuries at least have always been Chinese Muslims. 

Regardless who is responsible, coral caught on with a vengeance.

Ahmad ibn Yusuf Al Tifaschi's Azhar al Afkarfi Djawahir al Ahdjar "Best Thoughts on the Best of Stones," written in about 1243 C.E., informs us --
"Coral is found in a place called Marsa al Kharaz in the sea of Africa [Tunisia]. It is also found in the sea of Europe [Mediterranean], but most of it comes from Marsa al Karaz, from where it is brought to the East, Yemen, India, and all countries. In no other place are larger, bigger, or better quantities found."
Upon further study, we learn that coral from Africa was taken to Alexandria, which was then a center of the gem trade. There, after polishing, coral acquired a value "three times" its wholesale cost at source.

This is important, because it helps us identify the probable first sources of coral introduced to Tibet -- at least according to thirteenth century observation -- which, in turn, tells us how the Tibetan traffic developed.

If it were usual to refer, with pride, to our gems as they seem to be, we might say, "Wow! Nice carbon he gave you," or, "I just love that aluminum oxide!" People would know we were talking about diamonds, and rubies, respectively. In the case of coral, we would be proud of our calcium carbonate, as expressed by the skeletal remains of marine animals called coral polyps; having a trigonal crystal structure, a hardness of 3 on the Mohs scale, a specific gravity of 2.68, and a refractive index of 1.49 to 1.66.

Our thirteenth century Arab friend wrote, "Coral resembles a mineral in its body and resembles a plant in its soul." He did not seem to know that coral involved a living being, although he did suspect this about sponges for example, saying, "Likewise, some animals are formed in the water that belong midway between the animal and the mineral worlds... ."

The "living being" aspect of coral -- among other, political and sociological motivations -- now has some young Tibetan ecologists up in arms. They are struggling to start a "Quit Coral" movement. Right off the bat, they are encountering resistance from Western ecologists, who point out that coral reefs are dying not because of harvesting, but because of pollution. Indeed, all the past, present, and future coral in Tibet does not equal one day's worth of the poison pouring into the world's waters -- maybe not even one minute's worth.

Further, coral achieves its color by means of intracellular endosymbionts. It is ocean warming that is responsible for what are known as "mass coral bleaching events," where red coral suddenly turns white. So, the worldwide shortage of red coral is not due to any Tibetan cultural preferences, but to global warming, and a variety of other environmental factors. "Bleaching" is seen in the foreground, below, with normal coral in the background.

Generally, when we speak about the cultural, or socio-economic aspects of coral, it is red coral of which we speak. For example: Although coral is called out by name in the Aryatarakurukullakalpa, it is arguably the coral's red color that is involved, as distinct from coral's component status as calcium carbonate.

As red coral becomes rare, then of course, people begin to find ways of counterfeiting. Using calcium and other materials, the Gilson firm, in France, has come up with a laboratory-made simulation that seems quite close to the real thing. The hardness is about 3.5, and the refractive index is 1.55: right in the middle of natural coral's range. Both Gilson coral and real coral react the same way to acids, but Gilson gives a brownish streak on the testing plate, whereas genuine coral leaves white.

There are also numbers of other ways to simulate the real thing. Red coral improves with exposure to certain oils, so soaking white coral with dyed oils is a common method. Barium sulfate with plastic has been used, giving a refractive index of 1.58, a specific gravity of 2.33, and a hardness of about 3. Dyed marble is also seen, as is dyed howlite, glass, and all sorts of other things. Most of what we see coming out of China these days is dyed -- with greater or lesser scientific control -- white coral. With the cheap grades, sometimes the color literally peels off. The better grades are color enhanced pink coral from Japan. It would take a national forensic laboratory to identify all of the many dyes being used.

So, what does the "real thing" cost? The above mala went off at auction in Australia for USD $1,850, despite being what most would consider a "got up" item of recent provenance.

Here is a splendid example, sold on the London market by Garuda Trading. Correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to recall this went for around USD $4,700. They have a few others in the USD $2,000 range, but not for long. In the United States, Potalagate also has a few, at USD $3,200 to $4,400.

Finally -- and as a favor to loyal readers of DTBA -- here is an absolute bargain at USD $1,500, currently available on eBay (again, really not for long). If I had any money left, I would buy this one myself. Since a hospital bill came in the mail today, I will let the dream evaporate naturally.

Which brings us back to the issue of color versus constituent. According to text, our particular friend will also accept lotus seed beads (make that red lotus seeds), and even rock crystal beads. It isn't spelled out explicitly, but I also suspect rubies might be acceptable.

You could argue -- and many have -- that mantra is mantra and plastic beads are fine. I have been in situations when all I had were knotted strings, or my fingers. Nobody kicked me off the wavelength.

But, part of the energy surrounding such matters is, quite simply, taking the time, trouble, and care to search out specifics. If you are able to do this, your world becomes immediately larger: more things become possible. This is something that seems difficult to explain, yet is easily experienced in practice. I suppose we are once more talking about the relationship we try to cultivate with what we regard as the sacred aspect of our lives. Perhaps that could be more properly stated in terms of "steps" we take in the process of cultivation -- until we come to realize that "sacred" is without definite aspect.

Which is not to say that it is without the possibility of multiple aspect. Take medicinal coral for example.

Once we open up to such possibility, we come to gain a certain confidence -- a certain stability. We do not decorate "idols" in Buddhism. Instead, we sharpen an environment. This acts both as cause and condition. There are no "gods" demanding this or that substance. Instead, there are landmarks, along well worn paths.

So, something about coral today.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012


So, it happened that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche passed away, twenty-five years ago today, and we all have our memories. 

Some younger lamas, and other people, have encouraged me to spend time with those memories, because they feel tremendously inspired by Rinpoche's example. You know, we always tend to speak in terms of what he accomplished for the West, but his influence on Tibetans was equal if not greater.

To serve such interest there are his sangha's Chronicle Project, amid numerous other venues, and you can find these simply by entering the name "Trungpa" in Google.

I do not think any stories I might tell are all that important. Rather, I prefer to honor him by trying to follow the instructions he gave me, which of course, are not mine alone.

Everything Rinpoche said and did was an instruction. 


So, today, twenty-five years after... here is one of his instructions, given to us all:
"You should appreciate yourself, respect yourself, and let go of doubt and embarrassment so that you can proclaim goodness and basic sanity for the benefit of others. The self-existing energy that comes from letting go is called windhorse in the Shambhala teachings. Wind is the energy of basic goodness, strong, exuberant, and brilliant. At the same time, basic goodness can be ridden, or employed in your life, which is the principle of the horse. When you contact the energy of windhorse, you can naturally let go of worrying about your own state of mind and you begin to think of others. If you are unable to let go of your selfishness, you might freeze windhorse into ice."
So, that is really very good, isn't it?

You have to thaw what you thought.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

U.S. Senate Supports Tibet

A resolution introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) expressing concern about the situation in Tibet and support for the Tibetan people unanimously passed the Senate.

“The Senate has sent a clear message to the Tibetan people: we stand in solidarity with you as you strive to preserve your culture and practice your faith freely,” said Senator Feinstein. “The time has come for China to heed this message and end its repressive policies in Tibet. His Holiness has consistently made it clear that he does not support independence for Tibet, but rather a meaningful cultural and religious autonomy within the People’s Republic of China.”

“Last year, Tibetans around the world participated in a free, fair, competitive election for the political leadership of their government in exile,” said Senator Lieberman. “This resolution recognizes the importance of this historic vote, which resulted in the election of an exceptionally talented and impressive new Prime Minister or Kalon Tripa, Dr. Lobsang Sangay. Unfortunately, at the same time that Tibetans outside China have been making inspiring progress towards democracy, Tibetans inside China are suffering from increased repression and persecution—causing at least 19 Tibetans to immolate themselves in protest. This is a critical moment for the Senate to reaffirm that the treatment of Tibetans in China and denial of fundamental human rights there is a source of deep concern for the United States.”

The resolution:
  • Mourns the death of Tibetans who have self-immolated and deplores the repressive policies targeting Tibetans;
  • Calls on the People’s Republic of China to suspend implementation of religious control regulations, reassess religious and security policies implemented in Tibet, and resume a dialogue with Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama;
  • Calls on the People’s Republic of China to release all persons that have been arbitrarily detained; to cease the intimidation, harassment and detention of peaceful protestors; and to allow unrestricted access to journalists, foreign diplomats, and international organizations to Tibet;
  • Commends His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his decision to devolve his political power in favor of a democratic system;
  • Congratulates Tibetans living in exile for holding, on March 20, 2011, a competitive, multi-candidate election that was free, fair, and met international electoral standards; and
  • Reaffirms the unwavering friendship between the people of the United States and the people of Tibet.

In 1978, Feinstein (then mayor of San Francisco) hosted the Dalai Lama to San Francisco, and in the 1990s carried three letters to President Jiang Zemin from the Dalai Lama requesting a face-to-face meeting.

“It is my fervent hope that passage of this resolution will convince China to engage the Dalai Lama through dialogue and negotiation on addressing the legitimate grievances of all Tibetans,” Senator Feinstein added.

In addition to Senators Feinstein and Lieberman, the resolution was cosponsored by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

"Expression of Freedom"

The Inexhaustible Source of Refuge, the Great Tenga Rinpoche, remains in thugdam at this hour, his posture unchanged. His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, who has watched the situation very closely, remarked yesterday, "Usually when someone dies, we are sad, but what Rinpoche is doing, it is simply expression of freedom."

His Holiness has advised that, during this time, people should perform the Eighth Karmapa's Four Session Guru Yoga, and the prayer, "Calling the Lama From Afar," by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye.

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