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Profoundly human: body, speech and mind

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — observing a certain universality across traditions ]
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Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche BSM
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is a teacher in the Bon tradition,
the native religion of Tibet

Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, a high lama of the Tibetan Buddhist Karma Kagyu lineage, has this to say:

The nature of all ritual is that symbolic devices are used to create a certain mental attitude. When we offer our body, speech, and mind, we do this though a system of gestures that create that particular meaning. But if the ritual is not based on an understanding of emptiness, then it lacks meaning, and the symbolic gestures could cause confusion.

In Tibetan Buddhism, body, speech, and mind are known as the three vajras — variously translated as diamonds or lightning bolts. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, another Karma Kagyu teacher, explained:

Buddha-Nature is present just as the shining sun is present in the sky. It is indivisible from the Three Vajras [i.e. the Buddha’s Body, Speech and Mind] of the awakened state, which do not perish or change.

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In Arab circles, there’s a formal greeting known as the Salaam, in which to quote Desmond Morris, Bodytalks: A World Guide to Gestures:

Salaam

The hand touches the chest, then the lips, then the centre of the forehead. The action ends with a forward flourish of the hand and is often accompanied by a bow of the head. [ .. ] This is the full version of the salaam, including all three elements. Its message is ‘I give you my heart, my soul and my head.

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In the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, we are told to make a triple sign of the cross at Mass:

At Mass when the reading of the Gospel begins, we place the sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and hearts and pray, “May the Lord be in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts.” Lips, minds, and hearts—these symbolize three kinds of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. These modes of prayer include formal and informal paths, personal and communal expressions, popular piety, and the liturgical prayer of the Church.

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Oh, and Gandhi taught:

Gandhi thought word deed4

**

There’s something profoundly human going on here.

Contemplative Fire

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two poems, one from Thomas Merton, one from today ]
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About an hour ago I posted Economics as if spirit matters most, with a DoubleQuote drawing a parallel between Zen Buddhist monastic tradition and that of the Desert Fathers of the Church.

Here’s another Buddhist / Christian juxtaposition, this time in the form of excerpts from two longer poems about fires — one of which, the Soberanes wildfire between Carmel and Big Sur, is still raging as we speak:

SPEC DQ contemplative fire

**

Anam Thubten is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, and it is his Sweetwater Sanctuary retreat that was destroyed in the Soberanes fire. Thomas Merton was a Catholic Trappist monk, and the barn that burned was at his home monastery, the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsamani in Kentucky.

Both poems are worth readong in full.

Sources:

  • Anam Thubten, Dancing With Nature’s Wrath
  • Thomas Merton, Elegy for the Monastery Barn
  • Destructive Witnesses: JW, IS, Saudis, Brits, Byzantines

    Thursday, June 30th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — religions taking other religions apart, stone by stone, image by image, song by song ]
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    Some recently converted Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have destroyed the altars of indigenous Otomi people in Mexico, an anthopologist has stated:

    Assailants have damaged an ancient Otomi Indian religious site in Mexico, toppling stone structures used as altars, breaking carved stones and scattering offerings of flowers, fruit and paintings at the remote mountain shrine known as Mayonihka or Mexico Chiquito. [ .. ]

    “I don’t know what religion they belong to, but they destroyed several images that were there,” said Daniel Garcia, the municipal secretary of the nearby township of San Bartolo Tutotepec. “The thing is, there are some religions that don’t believe in using idols.”

    Luis Perez Lugo, a professor at the University of Chapingo, visited the site in May and talked to residents of a nearby hamlet, El Pinal, whose residents said they had carried out the attack.

    “I was there, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they had done it,” Perez Lugo said, noting some were recent converts to the religion who used to go to the site for Otomi ceremonies.

    See upper panel, below:

    JWs and IS destroy sacred sites

    In the lower panel, above, we see a detail from a National Geographic listing of sites attacked by the Islamic State. Three quick notes:

  • the JWs, if they were JWs, were recent converts; converts often have a zeal all their own
  • the IS, like the Taliban at Bamiyan, destroys ancient religious sites even if no longer in use
  • see Saudi Arabia Bulldozes Over Its Heritage for threats to Muhammad‘s birthplace & tomb
  • **

    Why?

    You already know this, but for the record — because Scripture:

    DQ 600 Graven Images

    In the upper panel, Jewish and Christian scriptures — from the Jewish Ten Commandments in Exodus, and St Paul‘s address to the Athenians, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.

    In the lower panel — a hard-line contemporary Islamic commentary, citing two ahadith.

    **

    So it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and hard-line Muslim literalists who approve of the destruction of monuments to false gods, is that what this means?

    They are not alone. In the upper panel, below, recent news of the Chinese — avowed atheists — continuing their attacks on Tibetan Buddhism, this time by mandating the dismantling of Buddhism’s largest monastic university at Larung Gar:

    DQ 600 Larung Gar Glastonbury

    In the lower panel, above, we see some of what remains of the great Abbey of Glastonbury, torn down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.

    Glastonbury has strong associations with Arthurian and Christian traditions:

    William Blake’s dramatic poem ‘Jerusalem’ familiar nowadays as an inspirational hymn, draws on the myth that Christ himself may have visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea and ‘walked on England’s mountains green’.

    The Gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy follower of Christ who buried Christ’s body in his own tomb after the Crucifixion.

    In the Middle Ages Joseph became connected with the Arthurian romances of Britain. He first features in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, written in the twelfth century, as the Keeper of the Holy Grail. He receives the Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper) from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain.

    Later Arthurian legends elaborated this story and introduced the idea that Joseph himself travelled to Britain, bringing the Holy Grail with him and then burying it in a secret place, said to have been just below the Tor at the entrance to the underworld. The spring at what is known as Chalice Well is believed to flow from there. In their quests King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table searched for the Grail.

    Glastonbury retains its place in English hearts to this day, albeit in contemporary guise — it is the Yasgur’s Farm of England’s ongoing Woodstock — mud, sex, drugs, rock and all — the yearly Glastonbury Festival

    It is also — in the form of Blake‘s hymn “And did those feet in ancient time” — a part of such ceremonial events as the Last Night of the Proms — and Royal Weddings:

    But more on Blake’s poem — known as Jerusalem, and taken from his preface to Milton a Poem — in an upcoming post, Creek willing.

    **

    Finally, what an exceptionally lovely early DoubleQUote is this, returning us to the topic of sacred places and images and their destruction:

    Clasm_Chludov

    What we have here is a page from the Chludov Psalter — ask Wikipedia for that what means, I only just ran across it in the course of writing this piece — but it’s a 9th century Byzantine prayer book, illuminated with illustrations attacking the iconoclasts — those Christians who wanted to destroy icons and other Christian images for reasons not dissimilar ton those of the Taliban.

    Wikipedia, Chludov Psalter:

    In the illustration to the right, the miniaturist illustrated the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink” with a picture of a soldier offering Christ vinegar on a sponge attached to a pole. Below is a picture of the last Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian rubbing out a painting of Christ with a similar sponge attached to a pole.

    Let’s take a closer look:

    Clasm_Chludov_detail_9th_century

    Both verbally and visually, then, we have a direct comparison of the Roman soldier mocking the dying Christ, and the icon-hating Patriarch erasing Christ’s image from a wall.. And they call him the Grammarian!

    But let’s proceed:

    John is caricatured, here as on other pages, with untidy straight hair sticking out in all directions, which was considered ridiculous by the elegant Byzantines.

    No punks, apparently, these Byzantines!

    And the coup de grâce? House the sacred book in a state museum..

    Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.

    It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum.

    No monks will sing from it there..

    **

    Sources:

  • The Guardian, Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of damaging Otomi religious site in Mexico
  • National Geographic, Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed
  • The American Muslim, Saudi Destruction of Muslim Historical Sites
  • Islam Question and Answer, Obligation to destroy idols
  • Lion’s Roar, China to displace 5,000 Tibetan Buddhist monastics
  • Why I suspect I’d make a lousy Tibetan Buddhist meditator

    Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — where the blind spot of aphantasia meets the beauty of Avalokiteshvara ]
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    Tablet DQ 600 Avalokiteshvara & the aphantasic

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    Perhaps sadly, perhaps not, I suffer from aphantasia.

    It’s a great relief, actually, to have found someone who doesn’t laugh at me when I say I can’t visualize — a researcher, no less, Prof. Adam Zeman, with a paper on the topic in Cortex.

    I have tried on occasion to find metaphors for my condition. The best way to explain what does happen when someone asks me to visualize something is to say I can see it “as if painted in water on glass” — or “as if it’s behind me, out of sight, but I can remember roughly what it was like when I last looked.”

    Sources:

  • Lion’s Roar, Developing Pure Perception Through Visualization
  • BBC Science news, Aphantasia: A life without mental images
  • University of Exeter, Can’t count sheep? You could have aphantasia
  • Adam Zeman, Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia
  • Theology for artists and musicians, Buddhist & Christian

    Monday, April 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — with side-trips to China, ancient and modern ]
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    The-Bach-Window-Saint-Tho-007
    Bach window in the Thomaskirsche, Leipzig, where Bach was Cantor

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    The Dalai Lama has a fascinating article out about reincarnating lamas (“tulkus”) which has direct relevance to discussions of what happens when he died — whether he decides to reincarnate as a new Dalai Lama, whether the Chinese decide to do it for him, etc.

    I learned a lot — but the piece that really caught my eye was this:

    The Emanation Body is three-fold: a) the Supreme Emanation Body like Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, who manifested the twelve deeds of a Buddha such as being born in the place he chose and so forth; b) the Artistic Emanation Body which serves others by appearing as craftsmen, artists and so on; and c) the Incarnate Emanation Body, according to which Buddhas appear in various forms such as human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees to help sentient beings.

    I love the ontology that gives us “human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, and trees” and which reminds me of Borges‘ scheme, allegedly derived from a Chinese encyclopedia, The Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge, for the classification of animals:

    In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

    **

    But really, that’s a bonus.

    It’s the inclusion of “craftsmen, artists and so on” as being potentially Artistic Emanation Bodies of Buddha that gets me. I see it as a viable counterbalance to the current emphasis in the west — and in the westifying east — on STEM topics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as the ultimate desirables in education.

    And for what it’s worth, the idea is not without comparative equivalents. July 28 is the commemoration, in the Episcopalian Calendar of Saints, of “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers” — while the Lutherans on the same day commemorate “Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750; Heinrich Schütz, 1672; George Frederick Handel, 1759; musicians”.

    From a set of Episcopalian lectionary readings:

    Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness: Thou gavest to thy musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Henry Purcell grace to show forth thy glory in their music. May we also be moved to sound out thy praises as a foretaste of thy eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    Arthur Waley, in his slim volume on Li Po, puts a somewhat ironic spin on the idea, telling us:

    It was commonly believed that immortals who had misbehaved in Heaven were as punishment banished to live on earth for a fixed time, there they figured as wayward and extraordinary human beings. They were what was called ‘Ministers Abroad of the Thirty-Six Emperors of Heaven.’

    Falling, drunk, into the Yellow River while attempting to kiss the moon would appear to qualify one for this honorific.

    **

    Not to worry, btw. According to an announcement issued yesterday:

    The Tibetan spiritual leader told a group of abbots not to worry as he is in good health and still has recurring dreams indicating that he will live for at least 113 years.


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