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    Monday, April 19, 2010

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama Eager to Visit Earthquake Affected Area


    As I mentioned briefly soon after I heard the news, I was deeply saddened by the effects of the devastating earthquake in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Tibetan: Kyigudo) of Qinghai Province which resulted in the tragic loss of many lives, a great number of injured and severe loss of property. Because of the physical distance between us, at present I am unable to comfort those directly affected, but I would like them to know I am praying for them. 

    I commend the monastic community, young people and many other individuals from nearby areas for their good neighbourly support and assistance to the families of those who have lost everything. May your exemplary compassion continue to grow. This kind of voluntary work in the service of others really puts the bodhisattva aspiration into practice.

    I also applaud the Chinese authorities for visiting the affected areas, especially Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who has not only personally offered comfort to the affected communities, but has also overseen the relief work. I am very appreciative too that the media have been free to report on the tragedy and its aftermath.

    In 2008, when a similar earthquake struck Sichuan, Chinese central and local government leaders and auxiliary authorities took great pains to provide relief, allow free access to the media, as well as clearing the way for international relief agencies to provide assistance as required. I applauded these positive moves then and appeal for such ease of access on this occasion too.

    The Tibetan community in exile would like to offer whatever support and assistance it can towards the relief work. We hope to be able to do this through the proper and appropriate channels as soon as possible.

    When Sichuan was rocked by an earthquake two years ago, I wished to visit the affected areas to pray and comfort the people there, but I was unable to do so. However, when Taiwan was struck by a typhoon last year, I was able to visit the affected families and pray with them for those who had perished in that disaster. In providing some solace to the people concerned, I was happy to be able to do something useful.

    This time the location of the earthquake, Kyigudo (Chinese: Yushu), lies in Qinghai Province, which happens to be where both the late Panchen Lama and I were born. To fulfill the wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort.

    In conclusion, I appeal to governments, international aid organisations and other agencies to extend whatever assistance they can to enable the families of those devastated by this tragedy to rebuild their lives. At the same time, I also call on the survivors of this catastrophe to recognise what has happened as the workings of karma and to transform this adversity into something positive, keeping their hopes up and meeting setbacks with courage as they struggle to restore what they have lost. Once again, I pray for those who have lost their lives as well as for the well being of those who have survived.

    DALAI LAMA

    17 April 2010

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    An Appeal from the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa on Behalf of Victims of the Xinghai Earthquake


     

    The large earthquake in Yushu County, Xinghai Province, has caused great loss of life and injured many people. To date the death toll has risen above 1000 and the number of those severely injured has also risen above 1000. In total, more than 10,000 people have been injured.

    When I heard this tragic news, I was very saddened at the loss, and began immediately to offer prayers for those who have been affected by this incident, both those who have lost their lives and the survivors. May those who have died be freed from the bardo state of terror and suffering of such an unexpected death, and be reborn in the pure lands or a higher realm. May the survivors who have undergone the suffering of loss of relatives and friends and the trauma of losing their homes be comforted and find relief. May they receive the emergency help they need as soon as possible, and be able to rebuild their lives. I will pray ceaselessly for this.

    I request the monasteries of the different schools and devotees, near and far, to offer the following prayers: the Guru Rinpoche Prayers Barchey Lamsel, Sampa Lhundrub and Sampa Nyurdrub; the Wangdu Soldeb composed by Mipham Rinpoche; recitation of the mantras of Chenresig and Heyagriva; recitation of the saddhanas of the Medicine Buddha, Amitabha Buddha and Akshobhya Buddha; night-long recitation of The Twenty-One Praises of Tara.

    In addition, I would ask everyone to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the relief work. I have instructed the Karmapa Foundation in America to donate $200,000 for immediate aid for the victims of this disaster and to help with the task of rebuilding. I have called on all Buddhists and compassionate people to pray sincerely for the victims of this earthquake, and to do their best, according to each one’s capacity, to become involved or sponsor different kinds of relief activity so that it will be effective.

    Death and impermanence is an integral part of life. When this kind of disaster strikes, may the power of the natural goodness within all of us provide physical and mental comfort and the courage to start anew.
    When you are happy, dedicate that happiness to all beings, so that happiness may pervade the sky.  When you suffer, you are bearing the suffering of all beings. May the ocean of suffering become dry completely.

                                                                                 17th Gyalwang Karmapa,
                                                                                 Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
                                                                                 17th April, 2010


    China survivors cremate their dead

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Water Bowl Offerings

    For this entry I’m going to explain one way to make water bowl offerings. There are many ways to do this practice, this is just is the way I do it.

    Water bowl offering is a simple way to start your day or any meditation session. I think it helps me generate the mind of Bodhicitta, the desire to quickly attain enlightenment so as to be of the greatest possible benefit for others, which is really the whole point of Buddhist practice.  Its said that water bowl offerings were introduced to Tibet by the great scholar Atisha in the 10th century CE. So you can see this is a very traditional practice but its also one that fits easily into the modern world.

    There is a seven bowl offering and also an eight bowl offering practice. I’m going to talk about the seven bowl offering. Type tibetan water bowls into Google and you’ll find dozens of merchants who sell them.

    Let’s talk about the water. Its just plain cool tap water. One of the main benefits of this practice is to transform greed into generosity.  In order to make an offering wholeheartedly, with none of that "gee I kinda wish I hadn't given you that" kind of remorse is to give something that one has little attachment to.  Since water is inexpensive and plentiful I'm able to offer it with no attachment.

    Some people make a strong cup of tea made from saffron or turmeric and then add this to the water. If your bowls are clear this gives a very nice effect. Since my bowls are copper, I skip that. The main thing to visualize as you’re filling the pitcher, is to imagine the water is of the nature of heavenly soma, the food of the sentient beings in the God realm.

    When not in use, the bowls are left inverted on the shrine. This is because leaving an empty upright bowl on the shrine is like refusing to fill the Buddha’s begging bowl as he made his daily rounds.

    So to begin I start by taking refuge and then turn the bowls upright and leave them stacked. I then begin filling the top bowl. When pouring the water you need to be mindful. Pour the water first in a gentle stream, then increasing the rate and then trailing off to a gentle stream again. If you’re familiar with the nine fold cleansing breath that can be done before starting a prayer or mantra you’ll remember that the exhalation breath starts out soft, then becomes strong then trails off as the lungs become empty.  As you pour the water repeat the mantra, OM AH HUM which refers to enlightened body, speech and mind.

    The other thing to be mindful about is that one should try to fill the first bowl almost to the rim leaving a gap about the width of one grain of barley between the rim and the surface of the water.  If your floor is uneven (like mine) just do the best you can.
    Take this top bowl and then pour almost all of the water into the second bowl. Put the first bowl to the right and then fill the third bowl using the second bowl. Continue like this until all seven bowls have water in them and are laid out in a straight row. If your shrine is small just arrange the bowls neatly. Be sure to place each bowl about the width of a barley grain apart from each other.

    Now fill each bowl almost to the rim, using water from the pitcher, again repeating the mantra OM AH HUM as each bowl is filled.

    Finally one dedicates the merit of this offering, but first I want to talk about what to do with this water after the ritual is done.  As I said, this is a good ritual to start the day. At the end of the day typically you pour the water back into the pitcher starting with the bowl on the right and drying the bowl with a clean cloth. As you clean the bowl, imagine that you are removing your own and others obscurations that prevent you from realizing your own and other’s Buddha nature.  I like to always have some kind of offering on the shrine, so I often light a candle once the bowls are empty and leave it burning over night.  Use common sense about leaving a flame unattended.  More than a few monasteries have burnt down due to unattended butter lamps.

    The water can be used to water your plants, put it into your pet’s water bowl, a bird bath or even poured down the drain as a last resort. Whatever you end up doing, make the aspiration that this water will be the cause of enlightenment for all who come in contact with it.

    This was only a very quick overview of water bowl offerings. There are many layers of symbolism that I haven’t touched on and numerous other rituals that incorporate water bowls. I’m just a lazy Dharma student so I have only presented the barest outline. Talk to a qualified lama for more information.

    So after filling all the bowls it is time to dedicate the merit of this offering for the benefit of all sentient beings. Imagine all the sentient beings - your parents, your friends, your enemies, animals, each and everyone who has been your kind mother in countless lifetimes before - now gathered around making this offering with you and making this prayer...

                       By this merit, may all attain omniscience
                       And defeat the enemy, wrong doing.
                       From the stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness and death
                       From the ocean of existence, may all beings be free!


    The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, by Robert Beer has an excellent article on water bowl offerings.
    Ven. Thubten Chodron's book Guided Meditations on The Stages of the Path contains instructions on water bowl offerings.
    Advice from Lama Zopa can be found here.
    You can make "imaginary offerings" with virtual water too.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    First hack

    The blog was hacked last week.  Specifically the links for Bodhicitta Sangha and the Office of HH the Dalai Lama were tampered with so as to be inoperable and the link to MN Pug Rescue was changed so as to direct the user to a malware site.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Shadow Tibet

    For a concise review of some of the main evidence of Tibet's long history as an independent nation as well as informed updates on the continuing struggle of the Tibetan rangzen movement see Jamyang Norbu's blog "Shadow Tibet"
    Norbu's blog takes a rather dim view of the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach of seeking "true autonomy" with the PRC. The entry detailing the Lhasa uprising of 1959 was also a good read. The blog is not all politics though. The entry on the Losar cookie the khapsay was also something I had never come across before.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Tiger the Buddhist

    Today Tiger Woods gave a press conference, of sorts, where he apologized (again) for his infidelity.  You can read the statement here.  I thought the most interesting thing he said was,
    I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.
    Although he has publicly spoken about his Buddhist upbringing before it was sort of a tepid endorsement, "I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces. I don't believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws."

    For him to talk about Buddhism today took some guts.  His corporate sponsorships are at risk.  And when you think about it, how many of the corporate big-wigs that will decide if he keeps those sponsorships or ever gets any new ones are Buddhists?  And how many are Christians of the Brit Hume variety?  As Max Kellerman, of HBO Sports said on the Rachel Maddow Show today, "In this country, if you're just saying what you think people want you to say, you have to kow-tow to Jesus, and he didn't do that."  Max gets 10 brownie points for one of the most visually striking religious metaphors I've heard in a long time.  I hope Tiger takes some comfort in the Buddha's teaching that there is no Karma so negative that it can't be purified.
    Do not think a small sin will not return in your future lives.
    Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container,
    The little sins that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm you.
    Do not think a small virtue will not return in your future lives.
    Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container,
    The little virtues that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm you.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    There is no beer in Nirvana ...

    Buddhist monks in Thailand, have been building a temple complex from empty beer bottles.  Known as Wat Lan Kuad or 'the Temple of a Million Bottles', located in Sisaket province near the Cambodian border.  Of course alcohol, for lay and monastics, was strongly discouraged by the Buddha, so I don't know if this is exactly "kosher".

    The overall effect is beautiful and yet kitschy at the same time.  You can see more photos here and read more about it here.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    "Ithaca" (1911) by CP Cavafy

    When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

    pray that the road is long,

    full of adventure, full of knowledge…

    visit many Egyptian cities,

    to learn and learn from scholars.

    Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

    To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

    But do not hurry the voyage at all.

    It is better to let it last for many years;

    and to anchor at the island when you are old,

    rich with all you have gained on the way,

    not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

    Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.


    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    The Dzogchen Protectors, pt. 3

    45. Ekajati (Tibetan: ral chig ma)


    The name Ekajati literally means "one whose hair is arranged in single braid." Ekajati is most often portrayed as a ferocious goddess, her awesomeness being emphasized by the pronounced and only eye in the center of the forehead.
    Ekajati is also known as Ugra-Tara, 'ugra,' meaning wrathful in Sanskrit. She is believed to be the most powerful goddess in the Vajrayana pantheon, and merely listening to the chants of her mantra destroys all obstacles.  From her mouth, a single fang protrudes. She has only one drooping breast hanging down chest, and her hips are covered with a tiger-skin. A long necklace of severed human heads adorns her body.

    In her right hand she waves an impaled and upright human corpse. A female wolf is sometimes portrayed as her messenger. Ekajati stands in the 'pratyalidha' or warrior pose (familiar to those who have practiced Hatha Yoga).  She also functions as guardian of mantras - preventing them from being disclosed to those unworthy to use them, and ensuring that those who have been empowered to use them do so for appropriate purposes. She guards mantras in a more general sense as well by preventing them from losing their power and efficacy or from being lost altogether.



    A protector of the Dzogchen teachings who was bound under oath by Guru Padmasambhava. He is depicted riding upon a goat (snow lion?) and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

    47. Lhamo Ngen Nema ?

    48. Yodronma

    A female deity associated with a system of mirror divination (in the west referred to as “skrying”)
    Mirror Divination is known as "Ta" in Tibetan. Ta means, "that which is coming forward very clearly." Mirror divination uses a mirror (usually made of brass, silver or glass) to reflect back to the seer images or words in response to a question. In order to be able to 'see' in the mirror, one needs to have 'special eyes' which are either inherited from one's parents, or is a natural talent carried over from one's previous lives. After many intensive retreats under the guidance of a qualified master, these natural abilities are further developed and refined.
    There are three levels of mirror divination. First, one develops the ability to see shapes, colors and images the mirror. A text must be consulted to interpret the meaning of these signs. This is the most common form of mirror divination used today. With further development, one begins to see letters, words and complete sentences on the surface of the mirror. The practitioner writes down the words verbatim, and gives this message to the questioner. Finally, there is no need for the mirror. The practitioner automatically 'knows' what the questions are and the answers arise spontaneously in his/her mind.

    The Dzogchen Protectors, pt. 2

    43. Gonpo Maning (Tib. “The Wise Eunuch”)

    http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/mahakala/2/

    This manifestation of Mahakala is one of the eight guardian deities of the Nyingmapas. He holds a fresh and throbbing human heart in his left hand, and also a garland strung with the same organs. The term maning used in Mahakala's name here means “genderless” or “without genitals”. It has also been translated as “hermaphrodite” or “eunuch”.

    In the Mahakala Tantra he is described as the form by which the sufferings of sentient beings are removed. Images of this deity are placed in the entrances to many monasteries with Mahakala on the left as one enters and Ganesha on the right.


    Like all manifestations of Mahakala He is adorned with a crown of five skulls: This crown represents the transmutation of the five negative afflictions of human nature into positive virtues. Thus:

    Ignorance transforms into the wisdom of reality.

    Pride becomes the wisdom of sameness.

    Attachment becomes the wisdom of discernment.

    Jealousy becomes the wisdom of accomplishment.

    Anger becomes mirror like wisdom

    44. Rahula (Tib. barba chen po, “The Great Flaming One”)

    http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/%27bar_ba_chen_po

    http://www.astrologycom.com/nodes.html

    Rahula (not to confused with mortal son of Shakyamuni with the same name) is depicted as dark blue with a raven head as one of his nine. He has a face in his belly the mouth of which swallows up the moon or sun during eclipses. He is a wrathful deity and one of the eight highest protector deities and who rules over a class of gza demons.

    In Jyotish (Vedic) astrology two "planets" called Rahu and Ketu are thought to play a role in eclipses. In Western astrology, these are referred to as the north and south nodes of the moon. In fact, these are not "planets" but mark the intersection of the apparent path of the Moon through the elliptic of the Sun. These nodes are also referred to as the Dragon's Head (the North Node) and the Dragon’s Tail (the south node) . The northern node corresponds to Rahu.

    Rahu represents an individual’s karmic objectives in this lifetime. It points the way towards soul growth and evolution. The sign holding the Dragon's Head reveals the flavor of an individual’s karma in this lifetime, while its house placement shows the area of life in which the person needs to develop, or become conscious of the particular karmic influences operating in the present lifetime.

    Jyotish astrology considers both nodes to be markedly unfortunate, due to their karmic, instinctive and unconscious nature, with Rahu being the worse. After all, in the pursuit of liberation, "good" karma is just as binding as "bad" karma—and more seductive.


    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    The Dzogchen Protectors

    42. Tseringma

    http://www2.bremen.de/info/nepal////Gallery-3/Misc/12-11/Tseringma-0.htm

    The Himalayan goddess Tseringma “Auspicious Lady of Long Life” and her four sisters represent the formidable spiritual power held in the towering peaks of that range. She is typically portrayed holding a vajra and the long-life vase and riding a blue-eyed lion with red and gold mane and tail.

    In the eighth century, Padmasambhava was said to have tamed these mountain goddesses by demonstrating for them the supremacy of the Buddha Dharma, with its teaching of wisdom and love holding the spiritual key to the purpose of divine as well as human life.

    In the eleventh century, they confronted the great yogi Milarepa as they put him to the test of his principles to see whether he was motivated by wisdom and altruism or by selfish ambition. When he finally responded to their aggressive attacks by offering his own body as a sacrifice to nourish them, they were persuaded of his authenticity and renewed their pledge to protect the Dharma and its practitioners.

    Her four sisters with their typical attributes are:

    Tingeyalzunma,“Fair Lady of the Blue Face” riding a wild ass and offering a mirror and a banner;

    Miyo Longzunma “Immutable Fair Lady of Heaven” riding a tiger and offering a mongoose and a dish of food;

    Jeuben Drinzunma “Crowned Lady of Good Voice” riding a mule and offering a sack and a wish-granting jewel; and

    Degar Drozunma “Fair Lady of Virtue and Action” riding a dragon and holding a snake and a bundle of shrubs, possibly as the offering for increasing livestock.



    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    The Dharma Protectors, pt.2

    38. Vishuddha Heruka
    http://rywikki.tsadra.org/index.php/Vishuddha Mind

    The heruka of the vajra buddha family and the tantric teachings connected to that wrathful diety. Often the name refers to a single practice involving complex mandalas with numerous deities.

    "Vishuddha" is also the Sanskrit name of the fifth, or throat chakra.

    39. Dechen Gyelmo "Queen of Great Bliss"
    A wrathful form of the dakini Yeshe Tsogyal.


    mandala of Dechen Gyelmo

    38. Vajrakilya

    http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/Vajrakilaya

    One of the main yidams of the Nyingma School belonging to the Eight Sadhana Teachings. Many transmission lineages for Vajrakila exist. The various Vajrakila teachings are practiced widely among the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya schools. In early times there were some disputes about the authenticity of the Vajrakila practices. These doubts were laid to rest when the great Sakya Pandita , kun dga' rgyal mtshan (1182-1251) found a fragment of the Sanskrit original of the Vajrakila Root Tantra, the rdo rje phur pa rtsa ba'i rgyud kyi dum bu or “Vajrakilayamulatantrakhanda”, in the library of Samye monastery. In the margins of this text were notes that supposedly indicated that the text had belonged to Guru Padmasambhava himself.


    41. Lion Faced Dakini (tib.:sen-ge’i gdong ma or Senge-dong-chen; Skt.

    Simhamukha)


    Simhamukha, (lit. “Lion-faced”) is regarded as one of the principal fierce manifestations of Padmasambhava. As such, she is connected with many ceremonies of the Dzogchen tradition. A fierce dakini, she is also one of the Bardo female deities.


    Out of the immensity of the dharmadhatu, the mother of all the Buddhas You arise as chief of all the innumerable Dakinis, with your magical power and shakti pulverising obstructing spirits-Homage to the Dakini Senge Dongma.

    Guhyasamaja Tantra, “The King of the Tantras”


    Simhamukha is usually depicted as dark blue, maroon, or a wine-colored lioness associated with the direction East. As she is Simhavaktra too, this deity is also an attendant of Palden Lhamo, in which case she is depicted as carrying both a kapala and a kartrika.


    Tuesday, January 26, 2010


    The Dharma Protectors of the Longchen Nyingtik Refuge Tree



    36.  Takyung Barwa
    A wrathful deity form of Guru Rinpoche

    37.  Vajra Heruka Skt. “Thunderbolt blood drinker”


    Vajra-Heruka is the wrathful manifestation of the Buddha Vajrasattva Aksobhya and his consort Vajrsa-Krodhesvari. They preside over the eastern quarter of the wrathful deity mandala. The term "heruka" indicates the terrific or powerful form of the deity. Herukas are represented with the wings of the mythical Garuda bird that is the destroyer of serpent demons. The presence of Garuda's wings on a heruka deity symbolizes his power to overcome evil.







    38.Vishuddha Heruka

    The heruka of the vajra family or the tantric teachings connected to that wrathful deity. One of the Eight Sadhana Teachings of the Nyingma School.  (Eight Sadhana Teachings [sgrub pa bka' brgyad]. Eight chief yidam deities of Mahayoga and their corresponding tantras and sadhanas that were transmitted to Guru Rinpoche by the eight vidyadharas (Indian): Manjushri Body, Lotus Speech, Vishuddha Mind, Nectar Quality, Kilaya Activity, Liberating Sorcery of Mother Deities, Maledictory Fierce Mantra, and Mundane Worship. Often the name refers to a single practice involving complex mandalas with numerous deities.)

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    One of the Butterflies

    One of the Butterflies

    by W. S. Merwin
    The trouble with pleasure is the timing
    it can overtake me without warning
    and be gone before I know it is here
    it can stand facing me unrecognized
    while I am remembering somewhere else
    in another age or someone not seen
    for years and never to be seen again
    in this world and it seems that I cherish
    only now a joy I was not aware of
    when it was here although it remains
    out of reach and will not be caught or named
    or called back and if I could make it stay
    as I want to it would turn to pain.

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Calling the Buddha from afar

    I once asked my teacher, Khenpo Sherab Sangpo which was better, to make actual or imaginary offerings.  He replied, "I can't say."

    While I frequently criticize the Chinese Communist party for their dictatorial regime in China and their outrageous attempts to regulate the recognition of tulkus and their genocidal emigration policy there does seem to be (from my very limited view here in the US) a resurgence in an interest in Buddhism in China.

    Consider the Golden Buddha Phone. With a price tag of over $1700, this does not seem like an item the average monk or nun could afford.
    Golden Buddha cell phone with genuine jade, pearl powder lacquer and 24k gold plated finish. This is the single best phone for the successful business woman that wants to announce her elite status to the world.

    The virtual prayer hall with e-offerings allows you to give a prayer and digital offering to all the important Buddha Illuminati including;
    1. Sakyamuni
    2. Maitreya
    3. Bhaisajya
    4. Amitabha
    5. Manjusri
    6. Samantabhadra
    7. Kwan-yin

    Hmmm.  Well that's one kind of offering.  To order your virtual prayer hall, see China Vision's web site.

    Calculating Losar

    Losar falls on Februrary 14th, 2010 this year on the Gregorian calendar.

    Losar is the Tibetan word for "new year." Lo means "year, age"; sar means "new, fresh". Losar is the most important holiday in Tibet. Despite its importance, few Westerners
    understand how its date is calculated. This post will give a brief overview of the Tibetan calendar and how the date for Losar is arrived at.

    The Tibetan calendar is luni-solar. That is to say, it is a calendar that indicates both the Moon phase and the position of the Sun. The Tibetan calendar also incorporates Chinese and Vedic elements. This post will deal with the Chinese elements.

    Like many of the oldest calendar systems, the first of each month coincides with the New Moon on the Tibetan and Chinese calendars. Various important religious observances are then celebrated a set number of days from this occurrence (for example, Guru Rinpoche Day is always the tenth day of the lunar month).

    The Chinese and Tibetan calendars also use solar calculations in order to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. This means that the Tibetans and the Chinese strive to have the New Year occur near a chosen point on the elliptic (the apparent path of the sun through the sky, a circle labeled from 0° to 360°) and the first day of the New Year also coinciding with the New Moon.

    Various strategies are used to make sure the new moon and the first of the month occur on the same day. The solar year (365.24 days) is eleven days longer than the  lunar year (29.5 days per lunar cycle x 12 months = 354 days in a lunar year). Therefore, on the Tibetan calendar, days are added (“extra days” tsi lhag-pa) or occasionally subtracted (“skip-days” tsi chad-pa) from a given month so that the first of the month always coincides with the New Moon. This is the reason why one will occasionally see on a Tibetan calendar the days numbered 12, 12, 13 and so on. Approximately every 30 months an additional “leap month” will also be inserted into the calendar. The repeated day or month is generally considered inauspicious and therefore important activities should not start at these times.

    Before considering how Losar is calculated, first we need to look at the Chinese agricultural calendar. Most people are aware of the Tibetan and Chinese zodiacs, where each year
    is said to be under the influence of one of the five elements and one of twelve animal signs. In addition, in China, each individual year is also divided into 24 jiéqì. The term jiéqì is usually translated as "solar terms" (lit. Nodes of Weather). The beginning of each jiéqì is the point on the ecliptic where the Sun reaches one of twenty-four equally spaced intervals positioned every fifteen degrees (by convention, the Spring Equinox is considered 0° on the elliptic).

    Ecliptic                    Translation         Approx.Gregorian date
    315°  lichun            start of Spring               February 4
    330°  yǔshuǐ           rain water                      February 19
    345°  qǐzh               awakening of insects    March 5
    0°      chunfen         spring equinox              March 21
    15°    qīngmíng       bright and clear            April 5
    30°    gǔyǔ              grain rains                    April 20
    45°    lìxià               start of summer            May 6
    60°    xiǎomǎn        grain full (plump)          May 21
    75°    mángzhòng   beard of grain              June 6
    90°    xiàzhì             summer extreme         June 21
    105°  xiǎoshǔ         minor heat                    July 7
    120°  dàshǔ            major heat                    July 23
    135°  lìqiū               limit of heat                   August 7
    150°  chùshǔ          white dew                     August 23
    165°  báilù              central divide of          September 8
                                   autumn
    180°  qiūfēn            cold dew                     September 21
    195°  hánlù             decent of frost              October 8
    210°  shuāngjiàng   start of winter              October 23
    225°  lìdōng             minor snow                 November 7
    240°  xiǎoxuě          major snow                 November 22
    255°  dàxuě            winter extreme           December 7
    270°  dōngzhì         winter solstice            December 21
    285°  xiǎohán         minor cold                     January 6
    300°  dàhán            major cold                    January 20

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_calendar

    In order to keep the lunar monthly calendar in sync with the position of the sun, Chinese New Year is calculated from the second New Moon following the jiéqì of dōngzhì (Winter
    Solstice 270°)

    While researching the origin of Losar, I noticed that many authors stated that Losar is the first New Moon after February 4th. So this got me thinking, what’s so special about February 4th? After pondering this for a while I checked to see how February 4th corresponds with the solar
    terms. Lo and behold, lichun falls on or about February 4th. So Losar is the first New Moon after the Sun enters 315° (incidentally 315° = 15° Aquarius on the Western zodiac).

    Various explanations are given as to why this particular point in the year was chosen to mark the New Year. One of the more widely repeated explanations is that it commemorates the anniversary of the victory of the Mongolian army, under Chingas Khan, over the Chinese
    Song dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan dynasty in 1215 ce. The Mongol led Yuan dynasty became an important patron of Tibetan Buddhism with Sakyapa lamas acting as secular advisors and spiritual preceptors to the imperial court in Beijing. So it may be that the Tibetans chose this date to mark the New Year as a way of honoring their patrons. To this day, the majority of Mongolians practice Vajrayanna Buddhism.

    To calculate Losar for yourself go to: http://www.khaldea.com/ephemcenter.shtml and look to see when the Sun reaches 315° (15° Aquarius ) for any given year. Next, go to:
    http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/moonphases.html and determine the date for the first New Moon after the Sun has entered 315° for a given year. Finally, for a list of Losar dates over the last century, go to: http://www.olnagazur.org/tsagan.html

    You will see that the dates for the first new moon after the Sun enters 315° and Losar agree, ALMOST. So why the discrepancy?

    The Dalai Lama's astrologers are calculating the date of the New Moon from their location in the Eastern Hemisphere. Frequently the day of the New Moon at that longitude will differ by up to a day compared to persons spotting the New Moon in the Western Hemisphere (this is why it is important to enter the location you are observing from in the moon calculator web site cited above). BUT, you will also see various Tibetan calendars that mark Losar as one day, and another Tibetan calendar states that Losar is the day after. So why is this?

    Besides New Moon discrepancy, further complicating the matter is that there are two major calendars in use in Tibet. These are called the P'hukluk and Tsurluk calendars. The Gelupgas, Sakypas, Ningmapas and most of the Kagupa sects use the P'hukluk calendar. The Karma Kagu sect, on the other hand, uses the Tsurluk calendar. For a brief description of the difference between these two, see: http://www.nitartha.org/calendar_traditions.html

    I have no real insight into why the P'hukluk and Tsurluk calendars differ. My impression is that the difference arises from somewhat different interpretations of the Kalacharkra Sutra, but that is beyond me.

    If you bought a Tibetan calendar this year published by Nirantha you’ll see that they use the Tsurluk calendar to calculate various important holidays. If you bought a calendar published by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition you’ll see that they used the P’hukluk calendar to calculate holidays.

    So, as they say in Tibet, "A different lama, a different teaching", and maybe we can add, "and a different date for Losar". Anyways, may Losar bring you happiness and the causes of happiness, and may you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

    For more information on Tibetan astrology and the Tibetan calendar see:
    “Tibetan Astro Science”, by Jampa Kalsang, published by Tibet Domani, 2000, Rome
    “Eastern Systems for Western Astrologers: An Anthology”, ed. By Thomas Moore, Ch. 4, “Tibetan Astrology” by Michael Erlwine, published by Weiser, 1997, York Beach Maine
    http://earlytibet.com/2008/11/28/the-golden-turtle/
    "A modern attempt to reform the Tibetan calendar" 
    www.math.uu.se/~svante/papers/calendars/tibet.pdf

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Thantong Gyalpo and "worldly" dharma

    Over at Digital Buddhist Altar there was recently posted a Tibetan earthquake protection amulet with little explanation.


    I recognized the image (sans center yantra) from Trainings in Compassion, translated and edited by Tyler Dewar, a collection of texts on Avalokiteshrva.  The book contains a sadhana of Chenrezig authored by the Tibetan polymath Thantong Gyalpo (1385–1464 or 1361–1485).
    Thongten's skin was said to be the color of "wet liver" and he generally paid little heed to his appearance.  Thangtong Gyalpo began his career in engineering when he was refused ferry passage on the grounds of his eccentric appearance. This experience served as a catalyst and he consequently embarked on a campaign to build bridges and ferry crossings.

    His first endeavor was in 1430 at the Chusul River where, with the assistance of two blacksmiths, he forged iron - said to be "the thickness of an eight year-old boy's arm"- into chain links, with which he attempted to span the river.

    The project was beset with problems, and more funding was required. Drawing upon the traditions of the itinerant religious storytellers of his time, Thangtong Gyalpo formed the first operatic troupe in Tibet. The troupe performed and raised the necessary funds to complete the project. Thangtong Gyalpo and his troupe of seven beautiful sisters then toured Tibet, raising money to construct a reputed 58 iron chain bridges (some sources say 108), numerous ferry crossing stations and countless chortens (stupas) in Tibet, Bhutan and China.  Thongtong Gyalpo was said to be motivated in his work by the desire to enable pilgrims to more easily reach shrines and other holy places.

    What's striking to me is his commitment to the (seemingly) very un-buddhist occupations of engineering and theater.   Repeatedly I have come across advice encouraging practitioners to turn away from worldly pursuits and to focus exclusively on meditation.  Yet here is a yogi putting on operas and building amazing bridges, some of which still exist today.  On the other hand, its also said that if one's view is high enough, one's behavior does not always need to conform to usual standards.                         
    Chorten constructed by Thongtong Gyalpo
    near Paro, Bhutan 

    I wonder where my blogging falls on this continuum?  

    Besides his building and artistic skills, he is said to have stayed in his mother's womb until age 60 and then lived to be 125 (that's 60 years in the womb and 65 outside).  He attained the rainbow body by meditating on Chenrezig.  Pictures of some of his bridges and a biographical sketch can be found here.  His sadhana of Chenrezig can be found here. Because this is the 21st century, the yogi has a Facebook page.

    The famous Dege printing house in Kham has a web site where you can see a wood block impression of Thantong Gyalpo here as well as an impression of the earthquake amulet here.  Be sure to check out the other amazing woodblock prints.  The site is often down, but well worth checking back.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Longchen Nyingtik Yidam Deities


    33.  Mahakuruna /Avolokiteshvra  (Mahakuruna, Skt. “Great Compassion”)
    see “Eight close sons of the Buddha” above.

    34. Yamantaka

    Yamantaka (gshin rje gshed). A wrathful form of Manjushri, representing wisdom that subdues death. “Yamantaka” means 'Slayer of Yama'  who is the Lord of Death.

    35. Hayagriva

    Hayagriva (rta mgrin). Hayagriva or, "horse-necked one," is a primary emanation of Avalokiteshvara., Hayagriva is the archetypal fierce, dynamic manifestation of Avalokiteshvara's undying compassion. The Bodhisattva's compassion transforms into a fierce energy that compels one to overcome internal obstacles and subdue outer hindrances

    The most distinguishing characteristic of Hayagriva is the representation of a horse's head above his own. Frequently, as many as three horse's heads are depicted. This is particularly common in multiple-headed representations of the deity.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future

    30. Kashyapa
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kassapa_Buddha
    In Buddhist tradition, Kashyapa (Kassapa, Pali; Tibetan: Osung) is the name of a Buddha, prior to the historical Buddha. Most of the details of his life mirror those of Shakyamuni Buddha, e.g. born of high cast royal family, attained enlightenment under a banyan tree, etc. Kashyapa is said to have died at the age of two thousand years.


    31. Shakyamuni Buddha
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha
    Siddhartha Gautama (Sanskrit; Pali: Siddhāttha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from ancient India and the historical founder of Buddhism. Buddhists universally recognize him as the Supreme Buddha of our age. The time of his birth and death are uncertain: a majority of 20th century historians date his lifetime from circa 563 BCE to 483 BCE, while some more recent scholars have suggested dates around 410 or 400 BCE for his death. Other historians have not yet accepted this alternative chronology.

                                                                     Maitreya


    32. Maitreya
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitreya_Buddha
    The name Maitreya or Metteyya is derived from the word maitri (Sanskrit) or mettā (Pali) meaning "loving-kindness", which is in turn derived from the noun mitra (Pali) in the sense of "friend". Maitreya Bodhisattva is the future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology. Maitreya is a Bodhisattva who Buddhists in general believe will eventually appear on earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure Dharma. Maitreya Bodhisattva will be the successor of the historic Shakyamuni Buddha. He is predicted to be a “world-ruler”, uniting those over whom he rules. Maitreya’s coming will occur after the teachings of the current Buddha Shakyamuni are no longer taught and are completely forgotten. Maitreya is predicted to attain Bodhi in seven days (which is the minimum period), by virtue of his many lives of preparation for Buddhahood (similar to those reported in the Jataka stories of Shakyamuni Buddha).

    Maitreya’s coming is characterized by a number of physical events. The oceans are predicted to decrease in size, allowing Maitreya to traverse them freely. This event will also allow the unveiling of the “true” dharma to the people, in turn allowing the construction of a new world.

    In Mahayana schools, Maitreya is traditionally said to have revealed the Five Treatises of Maitreya through Asanga. These important texts are the basis of the Madhyamaka and Yogachara tradition and constitute the majority of the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

    (THIS IS REALLY WHAT SCIENTOLGISTS BELIEVE! L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Dianetics and Scientology, suggested he was "Metteya" [Maitreya] in the 1955 poem “Hymn of Asia”. Hubbard’s editors indicated, in the book's preface, specific physical characteristics said to be outlined -- in unnamed Sanskrit sources -- as properties of the coming Maitreya; properties which Hubbard's appearance reportedly aligned with.)

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    Eight Supreme Ones of the Hinayana Sangha, pt.2

    4. Rahula
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahula

    Rahula (534 BC–?;) was the only son of Siddhartha Gautama, later to become the Buddha. This Pali and Sanskrit name translates roughly as "chain" or "chained one," an interesting philosophical contrast to Buddha, "the awakened one." It can also be translated as obstacle or fetter. Although Rahula was parted from his father when Siddhartha began his life as a monk, Rahula, according to several Buddhist sutras, eventually came to be a part of his father's new-founded religious order.

    5. Aniruddha Skt. "unobstructed, ungovernable"
    http://web.singnet.com.sg/~sidneys/disciples.htm

    Aniruddha was one of the Shakya princes. He became blind one day for not sleeping, so he came to listen to Buddha's teachings. Eventually he gained Enlightenment and obtained the powers of the Heavenly Eye, i.e. he could even see into the heavens. He was one of the seven Shakya princes who became disciples of the Buddha.

    6. Kashyapa
    http://web.singnet.com.sg/~sidneys/disciples.htm

    The most handsome disciple of Buddha who resembled the Buddha in look. Because of his similarity in appearance to the Buddha, he became a forest monk to avoid being mistaken as teacher. Legend said cremation of Buddha could not take place for 7 days, as funeral pyres could not ignite. Upon Kashyapa’s return from the forest, the fire automatically ignited.

    7.Subhuti
    http://web.singnet.com.sg/~sidneys/disciples.htm

    When Subhuti was born, all the treasures and belongings of the family disappeared. A fortune teller explained that this was an auspicious sign and that Subhuti would become wise in the realization of emptiness. The Buddha praised Subhuti as the foremost in realizing emptiness.

    http://tibetanaltar.blogspot.com/2009/11/poster-post.html