Yes, I’ve return to Gran’s house, for this 3rd – but not final – tour of duty. My parents tuned up Gran’s ’97 Chevy and brought it up to Nor Cal for me. Excellent for me. That cuts down on present and future ride sharing / begging. Although Hugh tells me if I ever want to sail up to Vancouver from California, on a rich person’s 40′ superyacht, as crew, he knows someone that moves such boats around for fun and profit.
Mutti got Gran her first shot of the Moderna vaccine Feb 2. The pharmacy pre-scheduled her 2nd dose that day. So, really blessed. I know so many people who have had so much trouble trying to get a vaccine. In Gran’s county, Latinos are 66% of cases, and 42% of deaths. Whites are 24% of cases and 44% of deaths. Asians make up 3% of cases, but 8% of deaths. So here, being really old and White or Asian, means you really need a vaccine so as not to die. I know that probably upends some expectations. But that’s how it is here.
Anyway, reactions to the vaccine? Yes. Day 2, a pale pink band about 3″ wide around injection site, kind of hurt. Day 4, bright red, hot to the touch, puffed up about 1/4 inch. By Day 6 is started to go away. By day 8 it was back to pale pink band. Day 9 almost gone. But Day 10? Holy moly. It grew to about 4″ around the site and turned bright red again. By day 13 it was fading again. Currently it looks sort of tan, and still 4″ around the site involved. Mutti called her doctor. Apparently this kind of reaction is a common thing.
Gran said it didn’t matter. It’s worth it. She signed up for V-Safe as well, to make sure the CDC gets the data it needs. Doing her part for research on the over 90 group. She gets her next shot March 2. I’m thinking we’ll ask for it in the other arm. Her neighbor got the same shot, and ended up laid out with 105 degree fever, hand tremors, headache, extreme tiredness…not great. Gran’s doctor says that’s the sort of reaction you might get with the 2nd dose. I haven’t heard anything like that about 1st does of vaccine shots from the CDC so … I dunno.
I probably won’t be able to get a vaccine till May, but more likely Sept. I’m not sure if they’ll booster people in Sept that got the vaccine in Feb, like my Gran. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. I’m hopeful mass vaccines will have the US in a better place by Sept. But I’m not lying to myself. Containment is hard when people are actively pro-death by covid in many states. There’s a whole world out that will likely be contending with covid still. There will be a 4th and final tour for me here. And that’s okay.
The Significant Other is still whittering away up north. His folks are still in residence. The Netherlands extended their lockdown to March 2. Then a giant snow storm hit Amsterdam and shut down the airport. His mother said she’d had it. La Mere says they are staying till their permission to remain runs out in April. And what La Mere decides, Le Pape agrees to. So, my cats are still being held hostage, er, cared for at their luxury condo. How long that arrangement will last now that I’m not their to provide additional litter box cleaning and kitty entertainment? I’m not sure.
Mutti didn’t look so frazzled when she left, but she did leave the house, the laundry, and Gran’s taxes in a bit of a state. More fun for me! Minka and the squirrels were glad to see the back of her. A bit sad for me though. I’m really proud of my mother. Because she was finally proud of herself, for getting through, and being resilient. She doesn’t like So Cal. She doesn’t like the heat, the earthquakes, the droughts, the monsoonal rains, the high winds, the constant fire danger. She calls is living in a siege mentality. I understand. It’s not the place for everyone.
My mother’s a strong person, but strong and pandemic strong are horses of a different color to be sure. She was sorely tested at the end of January. After just one rain storm early in the season, she’d been living week after week through the drought/fire danger. Then suddenly it was over 90 for a week. High fire danger. Then there followed 3 days of winds 60+ mph with gusts of 90. Extreme fire danger. Then she saw the wind had torn 50 shingles off the roof. And this is where she dug deep and got pandemic strong.
In the 2 nice days that followed, Mutti took off work and spent 8 hrs a day, on the roof, getting covered in Henry’s black rubberized mastic and re-setting new shingles. She only had those 2 days because on the evening of day 3 it was going to rain, monsoonally. So, after 2 days of maddness on the roof, she pulled on the gum boots and spent day 3 soaking and placing the heavy, wet, dirty, Quick Dams and putting out rainsheets and buckets. Then 2″ of rain fell in 24hr period, meaning lots of going out and emptying buckets in the cold rain. Then, the skies cleared and she spent a day cleaning everything up and putting everything away again.
At which point, she collapsed in a heap. Nevertheless, she had bested So Cal at its worst. She felt proud of herself for that. She always had this idea of having “runaway” from So Cal, to a better life. But after this she realised, she hadn’t run. She was tough enough. She could have stayed and bested it. She just didn’t want to. She chose to leave and make a better life elsewhere. It’s funny the images we have of ourselves (and others). How we carry around old ideas about ourselves that were either never true or we’ve long outgrown.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. This, and idea of an authentic self vs an adaptive self. If you don’t quite follow, I’ll try to nutshell it. You are you, the nice guy. Till you are sent to war. Then you kill a lot of people. You adapt to survive. But when the war ends, do you fully return to your authentic “nice guy” self? Is it possible? Or do you struggle with your identity? Can you accept what happened and try to integrate it into a now larger picture of yourself? Doesn’t have to be war, could be cancer, job loss, a million things.
Normally, you don’t remain in the adaptive, survivor, self mode. The crisis that created the adaptive self ends eventually. You go back to “normal.” That’s the idea anyway. That’s what people think. But it’s not always 100% true. You might get stuck in adaptive mode. Life goes back to normal, you don’t and can’t figure out how to. For most people, it’s a process. What happened, and why, what you did as a response…. It gets processed. It all becomes integrated into one’s authentic self. If that doesn’t happen, it’s almost impossible to get out of adaptive mode and move back toward an authentic self.
Even when we aren’t forced into change, temporary adaptive change, like having to use crutches because you broke your leg skiing, your authentic self changes — if you want it to. You learn (stay on the lower slopes), you grow (I don’t need to panic in an avalanche), you authentically change (maybe ski joring next year). We humans love to adapt ourselves for no reason at all other than its novelty. But usually those changes are still in keeping with our authentic self. Adrenaline junkies don’t stop skiing to take up golf. They take up base jumping. It’s a very curious thing, trying to sort out what’s authentic about ourselves.
I think about this a lot more since I started watching Resident Alien with the wonderful Alan Tudyk (the entire cast is wonderful). The show is a study in authentic vs adaptive selves, and how they meld, or don’t. Almost every character in the show is hiding all or part of their authentic self. The boy, Max, who struggles to get people to believe he authentically sees an alien. The alien, Harry, who struggles to remain authentically alien, in the face of having to adapt to becoming a version of the authentic Harry human in order to survive. I haven’t read the Dark Horse comic this tv series is based on, I don’t know where it’s all going, but I’m along for the ride.
I’m going to throw out some thoughts about Resident Alien plotlines now. Feel free to skip down to the next section if you don’t want to hear them. The boy who sees the alien (though no one believes him), and the alien who knows the boy sees him have the only “real” (based on reality) relationship here. They can only be authentically themselves when they are with each other. I’m guessing they become friends — of a sort. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. At some point the boy and the alien will probably have to save each other from the government’s agents.
I’m also guessing, since the RA mentioned the existence of other aliens, there are other aliens. Those aliens might not want humans destroyed. Maybe because of research they do here, or maybe they retire here, or may it’s just a good place for hiding out? At any rate, this could create drama. The RA never says why his species thinks humanity has to die. And with humanity gone, are other aliens moving in? We don’t know. Destruction typically has purpose. You don’t plow up a field for the heck of it.
Then of course, there is the original sin. The murder of the town doctor, Sam. The episodes so far keep glossing over this, but the only person who could have committed Sam’s murder, because of the technical nature of it (poison gas, closed lab), is Dr Van der speigle, the very person whose identity the RA has assumed. As to the real motive for the murder by the real Dr V? I couldn’t say. BTW, Van Der Spiegle, roughly means from in the mirror, in Dutch.
Anyway, back to authentic vs adaptive. During my last tour I told you about the SO painting my white car a charcoal color, instead of white (as it was), or green (his preferred color), or black (the EU popular color), or grey (the Canadian popular color). I speculated that he was threading the needle to please his parents and the Canadians. I speculated he was not being authentic, but adaptive. So I asked him about it. And he said….
He painted it that color because that way I would never be lost in a snow bank and die. Um…what? He reminded me of the “vivid horror tales” I’d told him. Um… what? About all the people who vanish every year in So Cal by going off the road at night and into a dense brush-covered canyon and are never found for years. Uh, okay. I don’t remember them as vivid horror tales, more like cautionary tales of why you drive safely in canyons, but …. I could see his point.
“But, why that color?” I asked. “Why not any other color, bright orange, sunny yellow?” He said, “What color do you think it is?” I really couldn’t say. Sexy charcoal with mica flecks is what I think he wanted to hear. I shrugged and shook my head. He looked a little perturbed. “I had it painted your favorite thing color.” My favorite thing color? I admit to being obviously perplexed at that point. “The night sky.” he said in exasperation. “Because you love the dark night.”
Oh My God. Until he said it, I hadn’t seen it. After he said it? It was so glaringly obvious. Crap. He didn’t choose that color out of his adaptive self. He chose it out of his authentic self. The kind, loving, generous self I’ve always known him to be didn’t want me dying a horrible death. His authentic self wanted to give me the gift of something rare and beautiful that my authentic self would cherish.
The problem wasn’t with him at all. It was with me. Although, it wasn’t with me either. My authentic self always asks questions. And my authentic self loves him, and therefore always wants him to be his true self. Not held back by me, his family, my family, the community we live in, nothing. In my authentic love for him, I completely missed his authentic love for me. It was kind of like a bad O’Henry story. Which I mentioned, and then we both laughed. Authentically.
All’s well that ends well. And the Friday love song confirms it.
In conversation with Mutti on Monday, she asked “Should I report X [a person in Gran’s neighborhood] to the FBI. Um….., I said, “Tell me more?” I know the neighborhood in a way Mutti does not. So, yes, the people one block over, who still keep their Trump/ Pence 2020 and Trump Law & Order election signs on their lawn, dedicated GOP, but not domestic terrorists. I wasn’t sure what to say about X. X lives a couple blocks away but I knew immediately who she was talking about.
X put a flagpole on the front lawn. A giant flag pole. And then put up a yellow Gadsden flag. A big flag. It’s been there for at least 3 years. Mutti said she noticed the flag was gone the Sunday (Jan 3) after New Years. It hasn’t been back since. And too, the house has been all dark. And all the cars are parked there, as if they are away. Um…. “Tell me more?”
On Friday, a brand new American flag appeared on the pole. But the house is still dark, the cars haven’t moved. It’s still like that today. She thought perhaps X, and his flag, had gone off to attend the Capitol Insurrection. I told her if X and X’s Gadsden flag had been at the Capitol, and was still not returned therefrom, X was likely “visiting” with the FBI already.
Don’t get me wrong, if I thought X and X’s Gadsden had been at the Capitol, fled afterwards immediately, returned home and rehung the Gadsden? I’d have phoned up the FBI tip line myself. But at this point, it seems to be taking care of itself. It’s not like X has ever tried to hide X’s viewpoint. Hence the flagpole in the front yard. Everyone knows. If X’s actual neighbors, who know X personally, want to report X….so be it.
I’m frankly less concerned at this point with Gadsden wavers — who got so frightened by what happened they had to pivot and call someone 5K miles away to run out, buy an actual American flag, and hang it up at their house — than I am with the leaders of insurrections. But before I get to them, I want to talk about Mike Pence.
I consider Mike fully complicit in what happened. He’s Enabler In Chief. Did he do the right thing and certify Biden’s win? Of course. What choice did he have if he wanted to keep his political career going and at the same time get rid of his 2024 competition [the current POTUS]? This was the first tile he had to knock over to get POTUS45 out of his way. As for the 25th Amendment? No, he won’t do it. Because that would leave the POTUS free to run again. That would tank his 2024. So, no 25th. Again, politically, he’s thinking of 2024. He has to get rid completely of the POTUS. That means impeachment and conviction. That’s Mike’s end goal.
If you’re thinking Holy @! It’s just politics. The big set piece is constructing his political narrative in a way to win over all of the POTUS’s White Evangelical Christian base. And this is where things get fun. I suspect, very soon, there’s going to be a pivot in the WEC camp. It’ll be lead by WEC pastors who’ve been friendly to Mike since the year naught. They’ll say they’ve heard from God. They’ll move the WECs away from the POTUS as Cyrus narrative, to a “POTUS as Saul and VP Pence as David” narrative.
The Cyrus narrative worked great, for getting the POTUS installed. But it’s hard to maintain now. But if pastors start casting the POTUS as Saul, God’s chosen but flawed leader, who eventually is abandoned by God, then encircled by Israel’s enemies and commits suicide (along with his son Jonathan, thus ending any possible family succession)? Oh yeah, that’s a keeper for so many reasons.
Pence is already the classic David. To WECs, he’s at the court of Saul, but not at all like Saul (he’s exactly like Saul, but that’s another story). And of course, since the Capitol Insurrection? When the POTUS tried to goad his followers into killing Pence for him? It’s the same narrative as in the Bible when Saul tries to kill David. It can’t get any more on the nose. It won’t take a biblical scholar to make this jump. For Pence, it’s a way to blame everything on a scapegoat and not take any blame himself.
I don’t think POTUS45 will commit suicide. If he lands in jail, then yes maybe. But actual suicide doesn’t matter. For the WEC contingent, the Democrats impeaching and convicting the failed POTUS, a second time, will be viewed as “Saul” being “surrounded by God’s/America’s enemies.” Once convicted, the POTUS and his family will be political toast. But, here’s the good part, to all those WECs. God will have used “God’s enemies” to bring down God’s failed chosen one. Their own hands didn’t bring Saul down. So, in their view, they’re not to blame for anything (except, you know, choosing Saul over God).
So all the WECs and Pence will still be morally clean once the POTUS is gone. Pence is now free rise, “as God always intended.” But let’s not beat around the bush here. While all this is great for Pence, the reality is, these WEC leaders desperately need Pence. They have to pivot hard for Pence as David because they need to keep their own power in tact. After a suitable day or two of the rending of cloth and tears, those WEC leaders will need a new reason for their continued existence. One which allows them to claim their failure (backing the failed POTUS45) was really a God-ordained win.
Pivoting to Pence as David, allows them to save face. They can continue on and rebuild, with Pence. Nothing has to change for them – nothing. And what’s the GOP’s role in all this? Well, as the WEC core pivots to Pence, it pivots away from POTUS45. This frees up the traditional GOP in the house and senate, to land on POTUS45 like a ton of bricks. They are free to impeach and convict with impunity. They can proceed to wall off and purge out the POTUS-loyal among them. They can restructure the party to lock the fringe loyalists out of the RNC and out of GOP primaries.
That’s how I think this will play out in the core WEC circles. It’s a narrative that works for everyone, except of course the loyalist extremists wanting to overthrow the government. So…..
…back to the Capitol Insurrection….I want to be clear here, because the news media hasn’t actually touched on this. What happened on Jan 6, didn’t start on Jan 6. And I’m not talking about the months of GOP pot stirring to get extremists stirred up. No, no, no. I’m talking about the staging prep for and ramping up of the insurrectionists which culminated on Jan 6. But all that started Jan 2nd, and really up ticked on Jan 5th, right on the National Mall, all in plain view. To understand thing, all you have to do is read the rally permits. Which I did. And I hope the FBI did.
You can find these at the brief outline of the rallies Washingtonian article by Andrew Beaujon. This includes Scribd links to the full permits. You should look at every security person/groups name, every speaker listed, every bit of these permits. They tell you a @load about what was going on. But I’ll try and nutshell it all for you here.
The ginning up of people begins with the Rally to Revival. Staging for this event began at 5 am on Jan 5th and was to be over and ended at 11:59 pm that day. Trucks and equipment for the event, including “security,” are running around all that time. They provide their own security. Their own. Look at the list of names of the speakers (some of which are misspelled — Robert Stone, actually Roger Stone). Look at what they are talking about during their rally.
If the FBI really wanted to find suspects, they should be combing through these speakers networks and mailing lists. Because it goes to reason the speakers’ followers came to see them speak. Duh.
Several news sites showed a clip of people going up the Capitol steps dressed in military regalia, in an organized chain (above, red blocks), and asked: “Who are these people?” I would direct your attention to the speaker named Robert Patrick Lewis, head of the 1st Amendment Praetorians. Don’t know what he does? He brings together former military, former cops, and intelligence veterans and trains them to protect the 1st Amendment. Uh…yeah.
So when people say, “These people forming a chain looked trained.” Uh …. yeah. One would expect his trained, by military, police, intelligence and then by him, followers to be there to hear him speak. Anyone at the FBI talking to them?
You know who else spoke there at that same rally? Congresswoman Lauren Boebert. And, the following day, Jan 6th, after the Secret Service told everyone hiding and under siege (including Boebert) not to text or call anyone, Boebert texted out “The Speaker’s been removed from the chambers.” Alerting the people who wished to kill the Speaker to search elsewhere. I’m pretty sure that’s conspiracy to attempted murder.
Now have a look at the second permitted event for Jan 5th. The Silent Majority, but not your grandparents SM. They list one speaker, for 500 people? Pretty small for a majority. Nevertheless, the SM are permitted there from Jan 5 at 10 am till Jan 6 at 7 pm. That’s their permit. Two days of rally speeches? For 500 people? And during those 2 days, they set up and break down on both. So trucks and equipment moving around both days without any questions asked. For 500 people?
But here’s the fun part, the security, as written, from the permit:
LL.Volunteers and Staff: All, staff, volunteers and, exhibitors involved with the activation will be issued some form of identification. Permittee has indicated that volunteers will be identified by Silent Majority hats and black jackets and will help maintain order among your participants.
NPS permit 20-0271
Now take a look at this picture from the NYT below. It was taken Jan 6th from a video entitled: ‘They Got a Officer!’: How a Mob Dragged and Beat Police at the Capitol. Have a look at the cowboy hat to the officer’s right (your left). See the fellow in the nice black jacket. See the logo on it? It’s the rising star and logo of the Silent Majority. Looks awfully like one of those SM volunteers just there to help maintain order, is doing something quite different.
Perhaps the FBI could ask for list of the SM’s “security volunteers”?
Now we come to the final permit, for the Women for America First’s Jan 6th rally. The big POTUS finale rally. The permit states 5K will attend, but at the last minute, like the day before, this was amended to 30K! Set up for this rally began Saturday Jan 2 at 6:30 am. So, 4 days to set up. 4 days of trucks and equipment moving around with privately provided security again
The permit for this really extends to 8 pm on Friday Jan 8. Seriously? 4 days to set up and 2 days to break down? This doesn’t sound right at all. My sense of this extended period to Jan 8th is that in some twisted vision of Rudy Giuliani’s legal world, the POTUS was convinced that if Biden wasn’t certified by Jan 6th at midnight, somehow “to save the country” the POTUS would automatically be declared winner (like Bush v Gore) by the SCOTUS Jan 7, and get another 4 years? I’m guessing here. But it’s probably close to that based on Giuliani’s weird phone call asking Tuberville to stall.
I’m also guessing a major desired outcome of the rally was violence, to get some blood shed, so the POTUS could then be seen and heard to send in the national guard and declare himself the “law and order” guy. Dictators typically rise to power by saying “You need me to keep order.” I think, the more dead bodies that day, the better to the POTUS. And it didn’t really matter to him whose bodies those were.
Remember, he’s a reality tv guy. Brought to power by the Touched by An Angel people. What’s better tv for his ginned-up, angry, at-home watching base than killing people live on tv? It’s good tv. It’s spectacle. It’s giving red meat, in the form of murdered people, to his base. Kill his own? Sure, they’re martyrs. Kill lawmakers? Sure, they’re traitors. Then he’d call in the troops and say “See, I’m law and order. You need me.”
I’m sorry if this shocks. It’s just how it is for people like the POTUS, people who view themselves and their lives through their media stream. The rallies, the people attending them, they’re all about him. They’re connected, all a part of his show. The organizers and speakers are all his subalterns. They prepped his/their followers into a frenzy at their own rallies and then handed them off to the POTUS for his rally so he could then aim the berserkers and set them loose on live tv. It’s a logical pattern of concerted action. It’s co-conspirator behavior.
How much planning to storm the Capitol was going on at these rallies, and during the setups and breakdowns? Who all was involved? I couldn’t tell you. But I imagine the best place for leaders to finalize plans and launch an attack is always on-site and within striking distance of a target – so leaders can watch. The idea that any of what happened on Jan 6th was spontaneous violence? Absurd. People were engaged, trained, and released hell-bent a targeted violent attack, by leaders who picked the target. The US Capitol and anyone in it.
We’ll know more in a few months. The FBI has over 70K tips to follow already. As for lack of briefings? You don’t want to brief a large group of all lawmakers, when it’s very apparent many lawmakers in your audience were actively involved and would seek to use your information to shield themselves and their insurrectionist friends. So, consider the FBI etc silence all part of the dance.
Mutti reports the current covid rate in Gran’s area is 1:100, one in one hundred people has tested positive for covid. A large fairground is opening to give vaccinations, but so far, only to those in 1A group. Which doesn’t include Gran. Which is totally stupid, because people over 90 have the highest death rates and when hospitals decide to “triage” people out of care, it’s the very old they send home to die. Anyone 70+ should all be 1A. At least then they’ll have a chance to live.
And a friend in LA got a US Treasury Economic Impact card, which had an exp date of 1/24 and instructions to hold onto it. Apparently the US Treasury expects the second GOP-caused market crash to severely impact the economy and well being of the millions for at least4 years. And, apparently, the US Treasury also expects that more stimulus will be issued over the coming 4 yearsto combat it.
This is the state of America now. All because of 4 years of unrelenting bananas leadership of the GOP and POTUS45. All I can hope is this is the year we finally decide to finish the Reconstruction. The attack on the Capitol could not have happened if white supremacy had been killed off 150 years ago, as it should have been. Had GOP members of Congress died on Jan 6th, it would have been at the hands of the very people they had courted for votes by suggesting their extremist, violent, hate-filled world view had merit and then made policy.
It still appalls me that only when the GOP membership is about to die at the hands of their own party members, whom they stoked into violence, do they finally give a crap about extremist Christian white nationalist violence against people. They don’t care about this same violence, which they stoked and stoked and stoked, that’s been falling on everyone else for the last 5 years.
They just care about what happened to them, that day. And even during that horrible day, they still can’t bring themselves to give a crap about anyone but themselves and do the right thing. Like wear a mask in a crowded room. And after that horrible day? Still can’t lower a flag to half-mast right away for the policeman who died defending them. Still can’t flat out vote to impeach and convict their authoritarian leader who tried to assassinate them. Wow.
Jan 20th? You can’t get here soon enough for me. Jan 20 is also, Bodhi Day. The Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, experienced enlightenment, also known as bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali. And National Cheese Lover’s Day. Hmm…a little chanting, and then we’ll watch Joe get sworn in over some festive fondue, and a dry white white – because it’s Dry January still. That’s what the means right? Drink only dry wines?
I’m off WP posting till after Valentine’s now. I promised the Significant Other. See you on the other side!
Friends contacted me a lot over the past couple days, from all over the world, expressing sympathy and asking how I was. As if an attempted coup d’etat was somehow an illness. It was weird. But it made me think. In a way, we can see America’s, democracy’s, enduring strengths and yet to be addressed weaknesses in terms of “life threatening disease” events.
In the body, when an infected area is discovered, it’s walled off by the healthy tissue around it. Eventually, it either heals or, if left to fester, develops into a large bulge, an abscess. WHen things get bad enough, the abscess explodes spraying disgusting pus and stench everywhere (watch any episode of Dr Pol).
On Capitol Hill, we saw a group of deeply deluded people, walled off by democratic elections. This infected group might have recovered if the salve of truth was applied by a doctor they trusted. But alas, no. It was instead constantly poked and prodded (and asked for money) because this doctor was himself a fraud, a mere medicine show, and felt he would benefit from increasing their sickness. And at last, this infection, festering over a few months, frenzied into an eruption and spewed forth for all to see and smell the stench there of.
I am deeply saddend by the loss of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who fought and was murdered for our democracy — by fellow his citizens at the direction of the POTUS, the POTUS’s cabinet and appointees, and supporting members of Congress. It is my profound hope that he is honored with a funeral that includes lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda. It’s the least he deserves. If I were his family, wrongful death civil suits against the POTUS, his family, administration, Sen Hawley & Sen Cruz, the RNC and Rep Louie Gohmert Jr.
But, returning to our metaphor, the body cannot heal unless the pus is expelled. And to be sure there will be no deeper infection, no re-infection, such a wound must be cleaned out, disinfected, allowed to drain and very often antibiotics must be administered to help the body’s natural immune system beat back a deadly disease that left unchecked might kill the person.
What is true of human bodies, is true also of political bodies. Some countries may mock. Authoritarians may tweet with glee. But the US problem did not stem from democracy, but from lack thereof. It stemmed from a foreign bacteria, authoritarianism, trying to inject itself into our body politic. The reaction of the body was swift, from day one. The white blood cells of journalism and informed protest leapt up. The democratic American body politic has been fighting off the infection of authoritarianism for 4 years.
I think it’s been tremendously hard for the US but it’s been good too. Never before have we been so forced to confront our inequality, our injustice, our social, economic, political, educational, health care, etc reality. Never before have been so forced to admit there is danger within our gates. That authoritarians have made a home, their policies given a genuine welcome, in one of our major political parties. The cure, of course is more, greater democracy. Our failure here has been allowing some to benefit while others are left behind.
We are one people. To remain so, we need one standard of living, healthcare, education, justice for all. We have all seen what republican authoritarianism does. In a year, 350K dead, millions unemployed, homeless, without health care or education, or cleaning running water, with health care workers in trash bags, but 58 new billionaires. And that’s just what they did at home. Their abuse of our democratic allies, in favor of anti-democratic authoritarians, and their desire to destroy our very planet, all humanity’s existence, to trigger the return of Jesus and make a profit till he gets here, is a whole other story.
You cannot cure a sickness until you see it, and admit the sickness exists within you. Now, everyone can see it. Now, no one can deny reality. Although it was interesting to watch to newly resigned former POTUS spokesperson Alyssa Farah claim on Andrea Mitchell’s show today that the female insurrectionist who was shot and killed while storming the Capitol was “good people.” I guess she still, even now, wants to be rehired by some POTUS-supporting GOP candidate next week.
I pity the former service member who was so deluded by the GOP, so sick from self-indoctrination via social media, FOX news, rallies, etc, that she traveled 5K miles, away from her loving family, because she was hell bent on overthrowing democracy in America. But I cannot say, however much I might wish to for her family’s sake, that in her dying moment, committing insurrection at the direction of an authoritarian attempting a coup d’etat, she was “good people.” [Still using the Charlottesville Defense]
To those who lived and walked away, that isn’t the same as getting away with it. It isn’t hard for the FBI to see who came into DC by train, bus, air travel before the rally and left after. It isn’t hard to check DC area hotel reservations. I’m sure that the FBI will pull google/apple phone location services info. Then of course, all that posting and streaming on social media. It will not be hard to discover all those who were there and are now….
Well, I suppose, if we tell the truth unvarnished…they are now all co-conspirators in a murder of a federal police officer. That’s murder with special circumstances. Every person who was there at the Capitol, is now a murderer. That’s how it works. You walked into the bank with people intent on robbing it, because that was your intent too. It doesn’t matter that someone brought a gun you didn’t know about. Or that they pulled the trigger and they murdered the teller. You’re now a co-conspirator.
Legally, you get the same punishment as the murderer. My guess is, many people who were there, now wish they had been more on the anti-death penalty side of things. My advice, if you were there, is turn yourself in to the nearest FBI office. Take your phone and your media account passwords and show them everything. Tell them everything. Maybe there will be deal for you. Maybe you’ll get parole, someday.
To those who wish to claim “I was lied to. I was in a cult.” Indeed yes. I agree. And I’m glad you’ve been awakened. But I’m not sure a diminished capacity defense will stand up. That is one of the problems with political / religious motivations taken to extremes. But the US has never shown mercy to misled people. Young American teenage girls who got sucked into Al-Queda via social, who media became brides of “freedom fighters” at 16, and mothers/widows/refugees at 18? No, no. The US didn’t want them or their children back on US soil, even if they were now awakened and repentant. And their crimes, were all done overseas.
One doubts grown Christian American men and women, on American soil, who attacked the beating heart of American democracy, our Capitol, who entered and destroyed and murdered a peace officer, who were bent on derailing the most secure, legitimate, most actively participated in election in American history, will be accorded more mercy. This is sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. You got used. You were betrayed by the POTUS and the GOP. I understand. But the measure you meted out for others, no mercy, will now be meted out to you.
This brings me to Christians extremists. I’m sure this term disquiets you, but you saw them there, on the Capitol steps, with their co-conspirators, waving large “Jesus Saves” signs. Or dressed in skeleton masks holding Bibles, prop-like, the same as their cult leader did a few months back.
I certainly understand that these “once upon a time” Christians, have been totally consumed now by a political cult. But let’s not forget it was a cult their Christian leaders indoctrinated them into. Leaders who wanted political power preached authoritarian propaganda from their pulpits and media outlets. They directed their flock to vote for the very antithesis of Jesus’s values. They held maskless rallies during the pandemic in their churches for love of a false god. The great salvation for them stopped being Jesus years ago.
Is there actually any daylight between an Osama Bin Laden and the current POTUS? I think not. Both used religion to create insurrection to gain for themselves and their family/friends riches and power. Both are authoritarians who couldn’t care less about their followers or the faith they abuse. And the religious leaders bowing down to such men are no better. Venial, petty, grasping, greedy, lustful, angry, drunk on their own egos. If people turn away from Christianity in droves in the US, we should not be surprised. This propaganda parody of Christianity is an abomination.
Which brings me at long last to the members of Congress. What to do about the infection there? Well, The Guardian has provided a handy list of coup d’etat co-conspirators. I’m not sure it’s a complete list but it looks to be. It’s alpha by the state they serve. Which senators objected to certify Biden as president?
Senators challenging the certified results in Arizona and Pennsylvania
Objected to both (5)
Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)
Roger Marshall (R-KS)
Joshua Hawley (R-MO)
Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Objected to one (3)
Rick Scott (R-FL)
John Kennedy (R-LA)
Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)
Which US representatives objected to certify Biden as president?
Representatives challenging the certified results in Arizona and Pennsylvania
Objected to both (120)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Mike Rogers (R-AL)
Mo Brooks (R-AL)
Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Jerry Carl Jr. (R-AL)
Felix Moore (R-AL)
Rick Crawford (R-AR)
Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)
Ken Calvert (R-CA)
Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Devin Nunes (R-CA)
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)
Mike Garcia (R-CA)
Jay Obernolte (R-CA)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Lauren Boebert (R-CO)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Bill Posey (R-FL)
Daniel Webster (R-FL)
Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
Neal Dunn (R-FL)
John Rutherford (R-FL)
Brian Mast (R-FL)
Gregory Steube (R-FL)
Katherine Cammack (R-FL)
Scott Franklin (R-FL)
Byron Donalds (R-FL)
Carlos Giménez (R-FL)
Buddy Carter (R-GA)
Jody Hice (R-GA)
Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)
Rick Allen (R-GA)
Andrew Clyde (R-GA)
Marjorie Greene (R-GA)
Russ Fulcher (R-ID)
Mike Bost (R-IL)
Mary Miller (R-IL)
Jackie Walorski (R-IN)
Jim Banks (R-IN)
James Baird (R-IN)
Ron Estes (R-KS)
Tracey Mann (R-KS)
Hal Rogers (R-KY)
Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Clay Higgins (R-LA)
Mike Johnson (R-LA)
Andy Harris (R-MD)
Tim Walberg (R-MI)
Jack Bergman (R-MI)
Lisa McClain (R-MI)
Jim Hagedorn (R-MN)
Michelle Fischbach (R-MN)
Sam Graves (R-MO)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)
Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
Billy Long (R-MO)
Jason Smith (R-MO)
Steven Palazzo (R-MS)
Trent Kelly (R-MS)
Michael Guest (R-MS)
Matthew Rosendale Sr. (R-MT)
Richard Hudson (R-NC)
David Rouzer (R-NC)
Ted Budd (R-NC)
Dan Bishop (R-NC)
David Cawthorn (R-NC)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ)
Stella Herrell (R-NM)
Lee Zeldin (R-NY)
Chris Jacobs (R-NY)
Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)
Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Bill Johnson (R-OH)
Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
Warren Davidson (R-OH)
Tom Cole (R-OK)
Frank Lucas (R-OK)
Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)
Kevin Hern (R-OK)
Stephanie Bice (R-OK)
Mike Kelly (R-PA)
Scott Perry (R-PA)
John Joyce (R-PA)
Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA)
Joe Wilson (R-SC)
Jeff Duncan (R-SC)
Tom Rice (R-SC)
Ralph Norman Jr. (R-SC)
William Timmons (R-SC)
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)
Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)
Tim Burchett (R-TN)
John Rose (R-TN)
Mark Green (R-TN)
Diana Harshbarger (R-TN)
Michael Burgess (R-TX)
John Carter (R-TX)
Pete Sessions (R-TX)
Louie Gohmert Jr. (R-TX)
Randy Weber (R-TX)
Roger Williams (R-TX)
Brian Babin (R-TX)
Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
Michael Cloud (R-TX)
Lance Gooden (R-TX)
Ron Wright (R-TX)
Patrick Fallon (R-TX)
August Pfluger II (R-TX)
Ronny Jackson (R-TX)
Troy Nehls (R-TX)
Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
Ben Cline (R-VA)
Robert Good (R-VA)
Thomas Tiffany (R-WI)
Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI)
Carol Miller (R-WV)
The remedy provided by law for members of Congress is called Censure and Expulsion. Reprimand exists but is hardly fitting for a coup attempt. A Censured member is forbidden to hold any important place in Congress, such as Speaker or Head of the Judicial Committee. In effect, they will never be power players. Expulsion means they are removed from Congress and cannot again ever hold office there. I’d strip them of their federal pensions, health care, and security details as well.
I would say C&E is the best option for the Senate and the House. Each chamber holds its own C&E votes on its own members. There would need to be new elections for these opened seats. And I’ve no objection to new Republicans being in those seats, if that’s what people want to vote for after seeing the Capitol attacked by Republicans because Republican members of Congress and a Republican POTUS and his administration told them to and then had withheld the National Guard [a la Chris Christie, Bridgegate].
I think the people in districts where members are expelled deserve to make what new choice they will. I don’t care who it is they send back to Congress. I just don’t think any currently elected members who are insurrectionists, who clearly hate democracy and the republic on which it stands, who only care about kissing the POTUS’s ring and clinging to power so they can continue to profit from the country’s destruction, should be allowed to remain in Congress. Just saying.
As for any American cabinet member or VP? I would have expected them to use the 25th Amendment literally after certifying the vote. Sadly, no “committed to America” Americans have ever existed in the current cabinet. De Vos and Chao were like rats on a sinking ship yesterday. They couldn’t avoid doing the right thing fast enough. And the VP? He is currently in hiding from because voters of his own party, who apparently have been convinced by the POTUS that the VP should die – by hanging. Lynching a white man can now be seen as an option by these “good folks.” Imagine that. A macabre step toward racial equality?
As for the POTUS, of course he should have resigned yesterday. He didn’t. No surprise. He should be impeached. The problem there is a full 2/3 of GOP House members and 1/4 of GOP senators are on the record pro-authoritarian anti-democracy insurrectionists. I don’t see other, normal, Republicans forcing them to vote to impeach, by threat of censure and expulsion. But it may not matter. The GOP is being swallowed alive by the sinkhole of its own making at this point, the POTUS. The life history of the POTUS has been he drags down to destruction everything he’s involved in. I guess in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
Not passively accepting evil. Protesting against it. Don’t worry, friends. We have faced many trials, but we have persevered, and we will finish the work. America will reach a higher, better level of democracy, because as Americans we dare to confront what is wrong and are willing to work together to put it right.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany in our house. It’s always Jan 5, irregardless (yes, ir-regardless) of the Church calendar. Sometimes we do presents then because it’s the feast of the arrival of the 3 Kings, who brought presents. I wasn’t expecting presents this year, but there they were when I woke up, nestled around the nativity. It was quite the haul 6 Stillman & Birn coldpress sketchbooks for the months I’m travelling, 5 pair of Mutts.com socks, 4 Pentel drafting pencils, 3 pots of vegan buttercream icing, 2 tubs of bag balm (1 for me, 1 for the pets feet/noses), and a 15.7% Zin from the home county.
Also included, a Rhodia Goalbook (5A dot grid). The Significant Other said a weekly Leuchtturm1917 Bullet Journal planner was probably not the best idea for my 2021, given I was going on 2 more tours of duty in So Cal, and the year was basically a write off before it’d begun. (Dutch honesty can be quite bracing.) He was right of course. On the other hand, his year apparently would require a Hobinichi Techo!
Weirdly he bought the all Japanese version. He doesn’t speak Japanese. He said he was hoping it’d push him to think outside the box, maybe learn Japanese (or, maybe he just waited too long to order the English one?). Either way, we popped the Zin open at dinner and spent the evening having fun with grids, rulers, washi tape, tabs, and color pens and talking about our different planning styles, which may sound utterly crackers. But one might need to come from a Germanic or Asian background to understand the concept of peace (ie, the illusion of control) through planning.
Having had to deal this last year with Gran using all “on the fly” planning, which I’m fine with for myself alone, I’m trying to be a little more of a planner in 2021. But lazy planning. For instance, I riffed on AmandaRachLee for January. Having goals, rather than plans? That’s probably better. I need the flexibility. I might make it to Easter, or even May Day, with a few goals getting accomplished, if I don’t plan. Planning might lead to overwhelm.
And on that note, at this point, if you wish to avoid the last of the Buddhist stuff, which you might find overwhelming by now, you can “joyscroll” (my newly minted 2021 word) down to the cheerful picture of the orange slices.
The following is basically a guilt-gift post.
I see La Mere twice a week when I drop off her groceries. I always bring a couple of her dishes, from the recipes she gave me, prep-ed to go into the ovens. We let them bake while I clean their condo and play with my cats. Then we try the dishes together, sometimes with Le Pape, and I get “tweaks.” Not critiques, just adjustments to the recipe if needed. The leftovers go home to the Significant Other, who never has any comments but “I love this!”
Dining with La Mere one day, she said, “I wish I had more to teach you.” She gestured to her family history written in cuisine on the table before us. “My grandmother would never share her best recipes.” It’s always sad when people die before their important knowledge or secrets go un-transmitted. “Maybe she thought you’d discover her secrets, on your own, down the road?” I replied, trying to sound positive. “Why must I first reinvent a wheel to travel down this road?” she asked. I had to admit, she had a point.
I thought it would be fun, especially for any Buddhist folks, if I left some things about the WT for people to figure out on their own, down the road. But now, I’ve come to think that was an error. It can take a long time for lost knowledge to be discovered again. If it ever is. And the preservation of knowledge was the whole impetus for the Rime movement. So, today I tell you all I know. So you have a wheel, which you can hopefully keep turning, and which may someday take you where you need to go.
In the world of Tibetan Buddhist thought and symbolism, I’m not a person of high learning nor was I ever privy to deep secrets. And that’s as it should be. I’m Jonathan Pangborn. I got my miracle and went back to my life. I’m not embarrassed to own that. WT, Tibetan Buddhism, and I, we’re all still tight. And maybe for me, turning back, was what was supposed to happen. After all, without Jason Pangborn, how would Stephen Strange have found his path?
I’m sharing things I know/suspect/think about this artwork. It’s not all that can be seen or known. It’s just what I seen and know. Hopefully this helps someone, someday, see and know more, and gets them further down their own path. You never know. Ok, so, that said….As an artist, I deal in the illusory world. I know a portrait of Vigee-Le Brun, is not Vigee-Le Brun, even if Vigee Le Brun painted it. It’s an illusion. It’s shape and shadow, light and color masquerading. It’s a version of reality.
Art can be seen as magic, in a way. But it’s magic I understand, which to me is the definition of science. Art is also a magic I practice. I’m versed in it. Because I can understand and work this type of ‘magic,” when I really stop to look at art I can sometimes see understand messages artists leave behind that casual viewers miss and figure out how the spell was cast. (It drives my friends mad. I have to go to museums alone now.)
I’m far less versed in Tibetan Buddhism. This can be a difficulty. Each sect has its own way of describing things, the same things. If I look at a Kagyu or Sakya or Gelug artwork, I understand it less because my background in Nyingma. Though the main symbols are the same for all sects, the nuances can be different. A Gelug friend once stared talking about the 3 doors. I said “The 3 Doors? What 3 doors?” After a bit of discussion, I realised the Nyingma call them the 3 gates.
Sure, gates and doors are similar. But also really different. I don’t speak Tibetan. Maybe in the sutras, the same word is used in Tibetan or Sanskrit. Maybe the problem is a variance in the English translation. But maybe not. Maybe the 2 sects actually look at the same thing slightly differently. And if that’s so, you have genuine worldview and philosophical differences because what lies behind a door is always way different than what lies beyond a gate.
Anyway, all that to say, I think the WT above is a Nyingma piece of art that was given to a Sakya mind incarnation (JK Wangpo) of a Nyingma lama (Jigme Lingpa). I may be 100% wrong but, for purposes of this post, that’s my viewpoint. I’m a good artist, but I’m not a trained thangka painter. My view on the art and symbolism is limited. You should feel free to question my views and substitute your own better informed ones.
So, let’s jump off the cliff and start with this: although WT appears to be a meditational support thangka, and it is that, it’s also something very different.
In the world of thangka there are 2D representations of 3D (or more D) worlds. The picture you see just above is a standard Kalachakra mandala. I’m sure you knew that. But it’s also a 2D version of a 3D world. To “see” the 3D world, you have to mentally pull it up from it’s center point. If you do that, it looks more like what it actually is. This image below is the 3D world which the 2D thangka art represents. Definitely a bit easier to mentally walk around in for us.
Long before the modern Western world had an inkling of cosmology, physics, and multi-dimensional universes, people in India, China and Tibet were actively working through these ideas, these realities. I don’t claim to understand the life of an atom or its sub-particles. But I know they exist. I can barely grasp the world of the tiny tardigrades (waterbears) that can live, and love, even in the vacuum of space. But I know they are real. As for the world of the mycelium? Way beyond my understanding – even though it’s a real world, that I’m a part of.
These are worlds within our very world. And we still know little to nothing about them, except that they exist. What of the worlds beyond? It’s humanity’s essential nature to seek out truth, wisdom, to explore reality. A Native American tells people there’s a dragon under the mountain, you can’t go or dig around there, you’ll die. People do go and dig, and find radioactive uranium ore, which can kill you. So, does the dragon exist? Do Buddhas exist? Are they an ancient scientific stand-ins for energies we don’t know how to name?
People were flushing toilets indoors, in their homes, in the Indus Valley in 2500BC. But, that knowledge was lost. It took a long while for us to get back to that level of knowledge. Ancient knowledge isn’t something we should….pooh-pooh. It’s a base to build on. Thankgas are loaded with ancient knowledge about the world, the cosmos, physics. But you have to be willing to accept that’s trye, and to look with an open mind. Otherwise, you miss some really intriguing ideas, questions, answers, etc.
Ok, back the 3D world. When you look at the Kalachakra mandala, and mentally pull it up into 3D, into your reality, you see something completely different. You’re no longer living in 2D Flatland. Flatland exits, we can see it, but it’s not our world and its inhabitants cannot grasp our world. Our world is 3D (Fatland?). This same sort of thing is going on with the White Tara. Her thangka is a 2D Flatland version of something that’s real and powerful in the 3D world, a stupa (chorten in Tibetan). And it’s a very specific type of stupa, a Dharmakaya (Enlightenment) stupa.
This kind of stupa is supposed to lead you to enlightenment just by looking at it. And you can see why in the photo above. If you know the language it speaks, the language of shapes, the first elemental language we grasp as children, and the language of Buddhism, you can work out how to get from step 1 (Samsara) to step 7 (enlightenment). Why do so many Tibetan Buddhists have epiphanies when they pull up in front of our specific WT thankga? Because it’s speaking to them at subconscious level, using shape. In the deep recesses of their minds, it’s recognized for what it is, an enlightenment stupa.
An enlightenment stupa has a specific shape, which you can see above. It’s shape contains the 5 wisdoms and 5 elements. It basically binds the power of the natural world to the spiritual world, so to speak. One could say, that’s a bit of magic (science). I can’t say it’s not. The Nyingma have always been okay with that sort of thing. If it freaks you out…remember Tesla knew a world of wireless communication was possible, long before it happened. Some people freaked out and called it magic, or worse madness and impossible folly. Today we live in Tesla’s world.
If you look at WT below, the outside is square. Inside that square is a circle. Inside that circle, if you pull up from the top 3 leafs, the bottom 3 jewels and the 2 side clouds, you get the 3D, 4 sided triangle. If you pull up again, the rings outside WT become the parasol. Her lotus sits on top of the parasol. You then have the moon seat, under Tara. The moon becomes the sun. And Tara herself becomes the jewel. All the parts of the enlightenment stupa are there in 3D. Pretty cool, right?
Now I’ll show you how the artist discretely added all the extra bits. You can think of the 4 corners of the square as the 4 Noble Truths. Then, as you look up the central axis, you see the 3 jewels (the common refuge). Straight up above the 3 jewels, you see the root of the lotus. Here’s where things get kind of Nyingma. Nyingma has also an uncommon refuge, called the 3 roots. See the 3 leaves at the root of the lotus? I think they represent the uncommon, 3 roots, refuge: lama, yidam, dakini.
Heading up from the root, look at the leaves under, supporting/surrounding the lotus flower. We have 4 distinct groups, each with 3 leaves. These are the 4 Immeasurables. See the 7 large flowers around WT? These are the 7 Elements of Enlightenment around the bumpa. Remember when we counted the mountains? The 8 mountains you can actually see? These represent the 8-fold path. The 13 leaf groups around the upper part of rainbow ring? There are the 13 bhumis you’d find on the triangular spire.
So now you see all it, right? And now, it’s understandable to you that this is an enlightenment stupa. And now you know why Tibetan Buddhists have so many epiphanies looking at or asking this WT for help. Also, I hope you also notice that this artist really is beating you over the head with the message that this WT practice will lead you to enlightenment. And again, I do not know what “this” WT practice is/was. Maybe it’s in the Longchen Nyingthig? That’s Nyingma. Maybe it’s something to do with the Chakrasamvara Tantra? That’s Sarma. I don’t know. Me, as a small potatoes practitioner? I do small potatoes WT practice, with this WT support, and hope for the best.
Okay, something else you should know about stupas or chortens. They always have something in the center (in the bumpa) that makes them powerful. You can think of a chorten like an altar if you’re Catholic or a mezuzah if you’re Jewish. There’s something inside that gives off power. Typically the object is completely encased, shielded, hidden from view. In the Catholic world, we use a relic. Maybe it’s a saint’s tooth or bones. Buddhists use body parts also. Sometimes though, as with the Jewish example, a manuscript or sutra text is in the bumpa. So you can use a 3D object of power or a 2D object of power.
Obviously you can’t put a 3D object in a 2D painting. And there’s another problem. If you put the entire 2D object in a 2D painting, you’ve fully exposed the object of power. That’s a no, no. Powerful things are powerful. There’s a reason nuclear power plant’s have shielded cores. So, what to do, what to do? Well, you could do what the artist here did, that is, put in a very powerful, but very well-concealed (maybe 3% visible) symbol. And leave it to the viewer to recognize the tiny tip of the symbol for the whole iceberg.
Can you guess which is the visible part of the symbol on WT?
Remember that necklace I obsessed over and told you about? That upper necklace, that triangle with a dot? If you take that triangle with a dot, and you use it as the center triangle….. You can work the symbol out from there using other pictorial markers the artist gives you. I’ll spare you the agony. You end up with a Sri Yantra, in which WT sits. Sri Yantra is the visual representation of the Indian Goddess Sri Lalita or Tripura Sundari, the beauty of the 3 worlds. Interesting, right?
Ok, now you’re probably thinking, “Sure, I see the WT thangka is maybe less a thangka and more a powerful enlightement stupa. But what does Buddhism have to do with this Indian Goddess? Or yantra? Can you prove this further?” Really? I tell you all this and ….Sigh… okay, I’ll try. But remember, tiny scratch the surface knowledge here. Remember way back when I first counted all the green leaves and told you there were 64? I think this is for the 64 Dakinis. I’m not going into it here, but you can read the post.
People think of Tibetan Buddhism as Tibetan. Fair enough. It’s become Tibetan. But it’s roots are still Indian. Buddha was from India. Guru Padmasambhava was Indian. Princess Mandarava, Guru Padmasambhava’s first consort, was Indian. Mandy often gets written out of the stories, but Guru P. had two main consorts. First was Mandarava and second as Yeshe Tsogyal. In Tibet, it’s all about Yeshe Tsogyal. It makes people forget just how deep Tibetan Buddhism’s Indian roots run.
In the painting above, the artist clearly didn’t forget. Have a look at Devi (note the 3 eyes) on which is superimposed Yogini Chakra, a wheel of the 64 Yoginis. Devi is shown with weapons including a pistol as attributes of power. She is standing on a prostrate male figure. The painting portrays the Yoginis as aspects of Devi rather than as separate semi-divine beings. But remember, in India, a dakini, is a yogini, is a real woman. Real woman = real powerful aspect of the divine goddess.
In Buddhist Tibet the tradition of very powerful, very human, female adepts and Buddhist teachers that are fully equal to the men continues to be understood. But not as widely as it should be. Sadly many people hear “dakini” and think of little sparkly naked fairy ladies who help men become realised and that’s because of a lot of the thangka art that goes in that direction. I get the deeper meaning. I get that women practitioners were often marginalized and ended up in weird places (like charnel grounds) to be left in peace to practice. And I get that they were also objectified. Yeshe Tsogal was given to Guru P. Given, as property. Mandy at least chose the Dharma and Guru P.
Just saying, maybe it’s time artists revisit this visual trope?
Uh….where was I? The 64 leaves? Oh yeah, right. Since 64 is the number of dakinis there are said to be, maybe the hidden implication is we have a hidden retinue of 64 dakini with the hidden Sri Lalita? That’s a speculation. I find it really interesting there are so many layers of “objects of power” from so many sources hidden in one art work. It’s kind of wild. The only thing I can think of that might account for it is … If I am Jigme Lingpa, and my goal is to save a lot of old Buddhist teachings from a lot of different sources, but these teachings are currently considered outre or even heretical, I might need a thangka to both hide this knowledge from some but still transmit or reflect it to others in the present/future.
So, objects of power have power hidden within them. But what gets hidden within them is always the choice of the creator. So asking, “why were all these different objects put into one art work?” is a valid question. Also, it’s important to ask about purpose. One object is enough to give something power, for one purpose. Think, Staff of the Living Tribunal, maybe. If that helps you out. But needing multiple objects of power? Clearly this is to extend power beyond just the one, to the many. Sorry, coming to the edge of my brain’s abilities now. Perhaps, if your purpose is generating enough power to save a lot of different types of wisdom, not just one type, you need to draw down on a a lot of different objects of power?
I don’t think, but again I don’t know, that this is an attempt to “draw power from the dark side,” for all you Marvel U fans. I don’t think it’s an attempt to subjugate and use the power of other systems to support a single type of Buddhism. The sense I get from this art is it’s creating a continuum. Maybe it’s some kind of grand unification (for all you theoretical physicists out there)? I don’t think I can say more, because I just don’t know. Objects of power activate only under the right conditions. Think, the Cloak of Levitation, maybe. If that helps you out. Whatever is going on here, I don’t possess the right conditions.
Coming back to the yantra. Bon and Tibetan Buddhism both use yantra a lot. There are many types of yantra. They all serve different purposes. Usually they have accompanying rituals to attract good fortune or to avert obstacles and misfortune. Does the yantra hidden in WT have a ritual accompanying it? I dunno. Yantra diagrams are considered a ritual object, but they’re common. In fact, they’re often carved into blocks to make woodblock prints. There’s no reason to hide a yantra in Tibet. So why are we hiding the WT’s yantra? I dunno. What’s the yantra’s purpose? I suspect it invests the stupa/image with additional/universal power. Maybe its presence and what it invokes is akin to invoking all the Avengers in once place? But … I dunno.
If you’re thinking, “So does she know anything?” Remember, I started down this road looking to just buy a new WT thangka. And then I found this WT. And that made me think of my old, now dead, lama and my old, now broken, sangha. And so I started out to do a re-creation of this WT for an offering, as my “do something good, forward-thinking, positive energy, get through this period of covid” project. I wasn’t looking for answers. And I only ever asked one question. My question was “What’s important about this artwork?”
I wanted to know what the original artist or creator, and/or the person who commissioned it, was thinking. I wanted to be sure all the important elements they’d included were elements I correctly restored. I didn’t realise that one question would set off an avalanche of others. I expected multiple layers of meaning. That’s typical in Tibetan Buddhism. I didn’t expect this many layers. So, if you find any of my ponderings unclear or unsatisfying, I get it. But if you need solid answers, it’s up to you to ask better questions of informed Buddhists.
Coming back to the WT as a meditation support….. Again, starting at the bottom, you have the 3 Jewels (common refuge), the 3 Roots (uncommon refuge), and the 4 Immeasurables. When you do a practice, this is the order you do it in. I think you could read the 2 puff clouds as the 2 Truths (relative and ultimate). The 7 flowers (2 outer and 5 inner flowers) are possibly a reference to the 7 Limb/Branch Practice, which begins with prostrations and ends with dedication of merit (possibly the 2 outer flowers?). In between the 5 inner flowers (maybe a reminder of the 5 wisdoms?) there are 6 spaces in which there are leaves, so maybe the 6 Paramitas?
I dunno. I don’t know the exact sadhana here. I’m making a general stab at it based on general WT practices. I can’t tell you about the 36 lotus leaves. I know 36 x 3 = 108. Maybe there’s some meaning there. There are 3 longevity deities, WT, Amitayus Buddha, and Ushnishavijaya. Maybe that’s being impled? A common Nyingma WT practice includes Green Tara and Bhrikuti Tara as supporting cast, 3 Taras. Maybe that’s implied?
An important thing to consider is that unlike many other WT images, Amitayus isn’t an ornament on her crown. He has never been an ornament on this WT. She just has flowers on her crown. And that may mean something when combined with the fact that this WT is not like other WTs. She’s not hunched over. It could be, that she’s sitting erect because while outwardly she’s WT alone, maybe on the inner level she’s supposed to be the Yum, in a Yum-Yab? In this case, the Yab figure is invisible. You’re supposed to know it’s there by the clues the artist left. Again, hidden in plain sight.
I would think the Yab, the consort, would be Avalokiteshvara, but in his red form. And the other name for this form of Avalokiteshvara is Lord of the Dance. Which brings us back to the whole Shakti/Shiva conversation we had because Shiva’s name is …Lord of the Dance. So, again, there’s all sorts of levels happening here — none of which I’m privy to. ChimePhakmeNyingtik, is a practice I spoke about before, which has WT with a consort in Yum-Yab. Maybe the inner practice of this WT is/was something similar to that? Maybe a precursor?
It’s rare to see a yum-yab, a male figure in the lap of a female figure. But WT is one of the few female deities that’s known to be shown this way in a few practices. It’s rare to see WT depicted sitting erect. But this WT is sitting erect. You could easily imagine the yab in her lap. Is this what’s going on? I don’t know. I’m just saying, the shoes fit. There’s a case to made. This could be what’s going here. The artist here is really into encoding things into the picture. Maybe there’s a secret level beyond this as well? But I wouldn’t know enough to even speculate about that.
So I’ll move one to things that I can speculate about. About the other flowers on the WT… I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know enough to do so. The half lotuses are 14 petals each. I don’t know of anything connected to 14. In Tibetan culture 13 is a very auspicious, lucky, even holy number. I’d understand if they each had 13 petals. But…I count 14. I can’t think of any Buddhist reference to 14, or put together 28. Not saying there isn’t one. Just that I don’t know.
The two champaka are 9 petals on the left and 11 on the right. In Tibet 9 has a meaning. It’s “all.” If you say 9 people, you mean all people. Everyone. It can also mean much. This is similar to the meaning 9 had to ancient Han Chinese. Han used it to mean endless, much or uncertain. I don’t know the association with 11. The Datura flowers are blurry but seem to be 9 flowers on the left and 7 on the right. Again, meaning? I dunno. I can’t tell how many petals are on the Ashoka. Maybe 12 large petals?
Like I said, I only know so much. I’m telling you, “I know this WT is a map, but you need Shelly Oberon to read it to you.” I only got this far because after I received the WT empowerment from Lama Samten, my mind opened up a bit. When I would meditate before the WT thangka, I started to realise there were things in the thangka that I saw, but I hadn’t really “seen” before. So, that’s what I mean about purposefully taking empowerments. I had a WT practice. I was already empowered to do it. I took the empowerment to deepen my connection with WT to find answers to my question. And….here we are.
Other things in the WT? The two boats, one with blue people and one with red clothed people. I think that’s supposed to represent two types of practitioners, lay and monastic. Nyingma sanghas have both as a feature. But they may be representative of the sutra and mantra teachings, sailing toward the empty teachings – the 3 small, decreasing in size, clouds that appear to be rolling in from the right, on the surface of the lake, just below the lotus.
In Nyingma tradition you have 3 main teachings (that each break into a further 3, making the total 9 yanas: the 3, outer/sutra, inner/tantra and secret/empty teachings. So maybe the clouds are 3 within the secret/empty teachings? The Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga (Dzogchen)? If one is sailing toward those 3 teachings, that would explain the decreasing cloud size as they head towards White Tara. The final tiny cloud being Atiyoga/ Dzogchen.
I think the clouds could have another meaning. But I’m not sure. Because the 3 clouds are rolling toward WT, and she as 3 silk ends blowing up into the air, it seems like the viewer is supposed to infer something from that. The clouds and the silks are both having to do with air movement. But I can’t say more than that. I think the 3 rising silk ends are supposed to be the Trikaya. The secret refuge (Dharamakaya, sambogkaya, and nirmanakaya). Maybe. If you “read up” into from the bottom of the picture, you have the 3 jewels, up to the 3 roots, up to the 3 kayas. And maybe that reminds the viewer practitioner of the 3 vajras/gates (doors)?
Like I said, I don’t know. I haven’t got the chops to fully decode this. This White Tara is complex. She’s clearly meant to be, intentionally. Come for the long life, stay for the enlightenment? I wish I could tell you more, but it’s beyond me. My guess is some higher-power lamas could tell you everything about it in New York minute. They wouldn’t, but they could. You gotta earn that knowledge. You have to prove you’re worthy of holding that knowledge. And it has to be clear this is the right knowledge for you. That it’s what you need for your life. Not all knowledge is good for all people. And all that is just as it should be.
Anyway, now I’ll tell you a few other fun things. Consider them part of the E-ticket ride. First off, the shape of the WT’s rainbow rings combined with the lotus and it’s stalk, looks a lot like a wenge wood hook and ring for a Zen monk’s kesa robes. Not to get all Chinese and Zen again, but… yeah. It’s interesting that within the Zen monk’s ring, hidden behind WT’s moon, is the 9th mountain where the Zen temple resides. That’s another reference, to another sort of power. It’s keeping within the theme of encompassing a lot of different views. That’s all I’m saying.
If you like Green Tara? Her blue lotus has been known in Egypt since Pharonic times as a means of getting high. Temples used it in their rites. After people got high on blue lotus and had visions? They were given wine, which combined with the blue lotus created a depressant and brought them down. So, stories of drunken orgies in temples? Possibly a misunderstanding of those devout people having religious visions and then coming down. Which is not to say drugs and an alcohol were never abused in Ancient Egypt (or elsewhere). And it tells you a little something about Green Tara that you definitely can’t say about White Tara.
I’ll also say this about GT. It’s my opinion that the Nepali princess was Bhrikuti Tara. I think Green Tara is probably a Uyghur Tara from the north. Uyghur people used to be Buddhists. They had a very powerful kingdom about the 7th-9th centuries, equal to the Tang. They left behind a lot of paintings that heavily feature green as a color. The area they controlled later came under Mongol control (also Buddhists) and the Uyghur became Muslim. Anyway…given Tibetan directional color, looking at the Taras this way makes more sense. Yellow in the south, Green in the north.
I think in the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s WT long life practice, he was Nyingma, which features Green and Bhrikuti Taras as supporting figures to WT, we get a sense Uyghur (later Mongol) and Nepali Buddhism, supporting a more Chinese/Tibetan Buddhism. And, yes, because you’re already thinking it, if this White Tara had a more advanced form of practice, featuring a consort, who would be Red, you’d have E,W, N, S. And if one imagines, Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo, the blue, cosmic Buddha), overhead, you’re back to the 5 directions, and 5 elements, bound to the 5 wisdoms.
Ok, the Cintamani? Had a chat with a geologist friend over those. Apparently, these are what’s called Impactites. They’re bits of meteor that hit the earth. The black ones are tektites, found all over Indochina. The red ones are heavy in iron ore and as they rust get that reddish color. She said additional kinds were Libyan Glass, a kind of yellow green glass, made of superheated sand from when the burning meteor struck. And there’s something called a pallasite, which is really cool. Anyway, cintamani? Yes, they really did fall from the heavens. And they really did have “unearthly” qualities. But it’s all explainable by science. Which brings me back to science, proto, pseudo, and all points in between.
In some ways, what we see in old paintings that we don’t understand is often actually old science, at a time when science and religion were blended up in a very different way. It’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Only in our case, we’re King Arthur and the Tibetans are the Yankee. We look at Tibetan art and try to decrypt a language that’s explaining a reality we can’t really grasp. It doesn’t make sense to us. But it’s not because Tibetans were crazy or wrong. It’s an advanced representation of a reality we aren’t privy to (or able to) understand.
It reminds me of when my German teacher (easy A) was trying to teach her child to talk. She showed him an orange, and said “orange.” Then a basket ball, and said “orange.” Then she pointed to a pot vase, and said “orange.” Each time, the child dutifully said “orange” and nodded. (Typical German child.) Then they went out on errands, and he began pointing at things and saying “Orange!” But nothing he pointed at was orange. It was only then my teacher realised that we humans innately prioritize shape over color. Everything she’d told her boy was orange was also round.
If you have a look at the mural above, it probably looks really weird. But take a step back. What do you actually see? You see people experimenting with light, bounced off water, and shone through crystals (which throw up rainbows of prismatic light). The Tibetan text on the 18th c mural which explains the “experiment” is from the 15th c. So, 200 years before Sir Isaac Newton’s poking himself in the eye, light experiments. They are asking questions about the nature of reality, seeking understanding about the world, the cosmos, the origins of life, it’s meaning, and finding answers that become “religion.”
But Buddhism was never anything but a scientific look at the personal psychology of suffering, that grew into a philosophy, that took off into various (scientific) directions in a variety far flung places.
In Tibet, we have a culture using mandalas, flat 2D representations, to mentally play with abstract ideas of 3D (and beyond) worlds. That White Tara can be pulled out to 3D vertically, is impressive. That it can also be pulled out into 3D pulling horizontally and you get something completely different? Damn. That’s some serious math, geometry, special conceptualization, etc. There are Ds hidden within Ds. You can dismiss Tibetan lamas chanting in colorful robes if you like, but you can’t deny they have a special way of looking at the cosmos. So, yeah, I want to know more about how those people see the world(s) we share that I only understand in the smallest part.
I’m a science fan. But I’m also religion fan. You can be both. Both require an open mind, a spirit of inquiry, and a lot of humility — because being wrong a lot is par for both courses. I only noticed the hidden chorten in White Tara because, a) I took the empowerment, and b) as an artist I’m used to nonverbal communication, ideas conveyed in shape/color/space. As an artist, I understood I was looking at an image that was trying to say something. But it took an empowerment from someone more knowledgeable and more meditation for me to make the mental leap across space/time, to grasp the thankga/chorten’s language and a small bit of what it was trying to say.
Was it worth it? Hell, yeah. I’m not embarrassed to ask for help when I need it. To seek it out, even from sources others find odd. Science, religion, life, they are all collaborative efforts. If the pandemic has taught you nothing else, you should have learned that. That we’re all on this planet together. If we don’t pull together, the world as we know it can quickly fall apart. Anyway, that’s all I got. Off to my my nativity scene, and one last candle lit before Baby Jesus for the world. Maybe today, the world will have an epiphany. I hope so anyway.
We didn’t do presents at Christmas. I haven’t worked since last summer. We all agreed, Christmas presents could be given, but no money could be spent buying them. All in all, I think I got the best of the presents. Live entertainment! I’ve really missed that. In winter there’s the symphony, ballet, opera, theatre, caroling, concerts, comedy clubs….but not this year. So….
After dinner Christmas Eve at the condo, the Significant Other sat me down on the couch with the cats. La Mere sat down at her spinet piano and began to play carols by candlelight. The SO and Le Pape vanished behind the drawn curtains of the small sunroom. Eventually, a hand appeared from behind the curtain, and gave the thumbs up.
La Mere wrapped up her carol, switched on the CD player, then rushed to join me on the couch. Some singing of a decidedly non-Christmasy nature began to pour forth from the speakers. The sunroom curtains whipped opened dramatically, and ….. I suddenly understood. All those 5am Zoom calls to Europe the SO and Le Pape did? That for some reason had to be done at the empty downtown office, even though everyone was under orders by Public Health to be working from home? They were likely not legit.
Full costumes were worn — including down pillow stuffing and a stick-on mustache. They were brilliant. Live entertainment, at last! White goose down feathers kept escaping Ollie’s fat suit. Which sent the cats into a frenzy of swatting and pouncing around them. I laughed till I cried. The dance was followed by them actually singing the whole song, with La Mere accompanying them. It was wonderful. I can now say I’ve danced the tango jiggle, with a Texas Tommy wiggle, with both Laurel and Hardy. And that my Ollie, I will add for the record, is a surprisingly good yodeler.
Three more days and I’m out of quarantine, again. There are no big plans in the works, that I know of. Our provincial stay-at-home lockdown was extended till the Feast of the Epiphany. Because the Significant Other’s parents are considered part of our household bubble, we’ll continue to see them. La Mere is scheduled to come over to help me go through all our Christmas stuff, divy it up and decorate. First here then at theirs. I’m sure there will be outdoor light stringing, weather permitting, by the SO and Le Pape. I might make apple turnovers from the crop that came in from our tree this year.
Things are working out well in general. Le Pape is sleeping noon till 8pm, then he’s “at work or home.” La Mere was asked by her company to take some graveyard hours no one wanted, but it is perfect for someone on Pacific Time. They see “just enough” of each other, she said. And of course the SO and Le Pape escape to the office now and then, around 5 am, for necessary “stuff.” After which, they end up at having breakfast/dinner at ours, or with LaMere at hers. In her spare time, La Mere said she wanted me to help her convert all her special secret recipes into English, so I’d have them to cook for and teach to the SO, “in case.”
I interpret this request to mean a crash course in BeNeFranc (Not BeNeLux) cooking/baking will ensue at Chez La Mere’s. Fine by me. I’ll see my cats. After a long talk, our cats (along with the Peleton Bike and Mirror, thank God) were removed from my habitations to the SO’s folks’ new condo. They’re on loan, and living it up, at the new condo. They love having 24/7 awake “humans on tap” to nap with and zoom calls to roam through. I get daily proof of “their lux” life pics and Google Nest Hub calls. Still, it’s a 4th floor condo with a balcony. I worry. They’ll come home when La Mere and Le Pape go.
The SO is happy his folks opted to stay. Christmas with family. Rates of new cases are about the same in both places. But the SO remains convinced, long plane ride home post-US thanksgiving might have been the death of them. I can’t say I totally disagree. They may be here till Spring. Mutti says Gran is doing well, and Minka. She’s finding work/caregiving balance “tough but okay” since she rearranged her schedule. She’s a bit concerned by the laissez-faire attitude toward plague in So Cal, but she feels safe at home. Da and Hugh are both fine – though Christmas decorating got a bit excessive. No one died. But minor electrocution, and there’s a finger splint and a chimney repair involved.
Anyway, probably time to step up my WT practice on behalf of “others.” I talked about practice last week, but I thought I’d talk a little more about my practice this week. And keep in mind, I have been doing this awhile, and this is mypractice. Your practice is going to be your practice. It’ll be different and that’s as it should be. Ok, that stipulated, I try to do a basic 20 minute sitting, follow the breath, meditation every day, and then WT practice. But sometimes it’s just 5 min. Or I don’t get to it at all. Brutal honestly here.
The first stage of the path is getting control of your brain by learning to calmly abide as thoughts arise. What does that mean? Imagine it’s very windy outside your house. You pull up a chair and sit looking out. You’re not out there in the storm, but you see it, you hear it, you’re vividly aware of it. That’s how I think of “follow the breath” mediation. It’s creating a safe calm space where you can realise you are not your thoughts, and you don’t have to lived ruled by every arising. A lot of people live 24/7 in a mental windstorm.
I’ve been doing this kind of meditation for years and years. But this is the beginning point, not the end. Once you have open space in your mind, you can begin to explore the nature of reality itself. Ultimately, looking for reality, is true end of any tradition you might follow. Have a read of John 17:20-23. It’s Jesus on “oneness” and interconnectedness (interdependence?) with God. John is a Gnostic gospel. It’s riddled with not very “hidden” meaning about the nature of God and reality that resonates strongly with Buddhism.
Many Gnostic texts deal with illusion and enlightenment, and not concepts of sin and repentance. It’s how Gnosticism came to be considered a heresy. It’s not. A lot of times, though, the most important or powerful teachings of a faith or philosophy, are the ones authorities fear most. So those ideas are persecuted, and to persist, they become hidden. They wrap themselves up in the current orthodoxy and wait. Nyingma teachings are basically a hidden form of Chan (Zen). Read the first couple preview chapters of Sam Van Schaik’s, Approaching the Great Perfection, if you want to know why and how they ended up hidden.
The use of yidams in mediation is to discover the nature of the mind. They have other purposes too, but when you dissolve the yidam, you are left with emptiness. It’s about allowing the mind to rest in that natural state, it’s essence. That’s the center of the Tootsie-pop. Listen to Patrul Rinpoche
The nature of mind, empty and clear in its essence, May dawn to everyone just as it dawns to a single person. Ask those who know and it will become clear. Consult the wise and understanding will follow. Free yourself from any doubt, and practice.
White Tara is my yidam. Everyone has a wisdom deity they connect to. I do a WT practice every day. She’s a long life deity. In the beginning, I was young and didn’t want to die. But I did actually want to know reality, the essence of the mind too. Now I’m older, I’d be okay with dying now. But I’d still like to live longer to become enlightened. In the world of vajrayana, a yidam practice is maintained by, minimum, saying the mantra 21 times a day. If you can do a short practice, much better. Full practice, best. But …. life. So, yeah, sometimes WT mantra 21 times is it.
Do I have an altar? I have some IKEA shelving in my studio. One of them has an incense burner on it, a pair of candles, and tingsha bells. Sometimes I put flowers there too. But the only picture I have on that shelf is one of Jesus. Remember, I’m a Christian. Jesus is my guru/teacher/master. But I’m not against people having an altar loaded with pictures meaningful to them. You do you. For me, it’s a Christian altar. But it’s still really about the same things, remember the Gospel of John.
I have my WT thangka picture on a wall, behind the door, and I use it for practices. There are lots of different yidams in Buddhism. Pick one that’s right for you. If WT isn’t “the one,” but you feel unwell or fear the pandemic, I’ll give you a few others, fit for purpose, to check out further down. Do I practice a lot? Over time, I broke a mala that was strung on braided metal wire coated in plastic. Every time the bead was counted, it moved, and wore infinitesimally first on the plastic, then on the wire, till its metal strands wore and broke.
I have a wood mala I use a lot. It was rough wood when I got it. Over time and with use, rubbing by fingers, oil in the skin, the beads have turned smooth, dark, and glossy. It’s a good metaphor for the power of practice and the transformation of the mind. I’ve re-strung it twice. I still consider myself a lazy practitioner. I doubt any lama would call me a serious practitioner. Most would find me frustrating as hell.
My mala has counters placed 21 beads from the head/guru bead at the bottom. So if I’m doing mantra, I know when I hit 21. Most Tibetan Buddhists have these counters. The two I use without counters have built-in larger or different counter beads. I’m not big into counting these days.
Okay, back to practice. In practice, whatever practice I do, I try to be guided by the 3 Noble Principles of Longchenpa: “Begin with bodhichitta, do the main practice without concepts, conclude by dedicating the merit. These, together and complete, are the three vital supports for progressing on the path to liberation.”
He’s talking about the three things that make the difference between a practice being a means of temporary relaxation, peace, and bliss, and a practice being a powerful means of personal enlightenment and the enlightenment of others.
Good in the beginning: arousing bodhichitta as a skilful means to ensure that your practice becomes a source of merit for the future.
Good in the middle: maintaining the view of the nature of mind, the attitude of non-grasping free from conceptualization, that secures the practice so that the merit cannot be destroyed by circumstances.
Good in the end: sealing the practice properly by dedicating the merit, which will ensure that it continually grows ever greater.
On a full practice, there would be nostril breathing first. That’s covering the left nostril with a finger and breathing in through the right, then covering the right nostril and blowing the air out the left nostril. Three time each side. And then what’s called vase breathing. Taking in a full breath, imagining the air is filled with light, then expelling it and imagining it as dark, filled with all the impurities that were in the body. Three times. (If you’re thinking “clearing the channels?” Yes.) Then I sit.
From a state of calm, I might do Calling the Lama from Afar, just once, and just the short bit: Lama khyeno, lama khyeno, drinchen tsawai, lama khyeno. It’s got many versions. I’m basically invoking and considering all my teachers, back to Padmasambhava. All the people who have patiently taught me over the years, decades. I say 21 vajra guru mantras. Then I sit.
After those preliminaries, it’s a “typical” WT. Take refuge (Refuge prayer). Generate bodhichitta (Four Immeasurables). I say the emptiness mantra, Om Svabhava Shuddo Sarva Dharma Svabhava Shuddo Ham. (Om, all dharmas are pure by nature; I am pure by nature.) Some “emptiness” mediation. Visualize White Tara. Recite mantra. Dissolve. Rest in view mediation. Close by dedicating the merit.
I do things based on how I was taught. It’s a very simple practice. You’ll find all kinds of practices, short, long, simple, complex, etc, with all sorts of additions, subtractions, or changes. None of it is right or wrong. It’s just different. There are many ways to practice effectively. It just depends on your tradition and what you’re practicing. All practices are effective if you do them, and if you do them with the right motivation.
If you really want to dazzling detail on WT practice, Healing and Self-Healing Through White Tara by Kyabje Gehlek Rimpoche (Gelug). 172 pgs. It’s an unrestricted text. For safety sake, only do a basic practice anyone can do or the practice you were given permission to do by your lama. I found the short teaching on “saying no” to a lama excellent, really relevant, and good for anyone heading into Tibetan Buddhism (But yes, he did a tiny bit of victim blaming. It was 1990s.).
If you’re thinking “damn, it’s all just too much.” I get it. Relax and consider the advice of Patrul Rinpoche
Use the time of your life. Develop your inner happiness. Recognize the impermanence of all outer pleasure. Live as a Yogi. Do your spiritual practices. Work as a Bodhisattva for a happy world. Become an Amitabha, a Buddha of love and light. Turn your world into the paradise Sukhavati, by unfolding the enlightenment energy within you. Search for a spiritual master, who knows the goal of enlightenment. Change your world into a place of grace, by understanding all the phenomena as spiritual exercises. Dedicate your actions to the benefit of all beings. Send all beings light. Live for the happiness of all beings. So you get the energy of light.
Rinpoche, Patrul (2001), Die Worte meines vollendeten Lehrers, Arbor Verlag.
In English her name is Noble Lady of Mountain Retreat, Clothed in Leaves, Who Removes Contagious Diseases. I think it means her mountain is clothed in leaves, but I’ve seen pictures that have her clothed in leaves. RLG’s picture is also way above. That’s her in traditional, Skaya style. She’s a slightly wrathful version of WT, said to be saffron peachy orange, because that’s how white skin looks when you’re slightly angry. One eye shoots out sun rays, blasting epidemics, the other sends out moon rays, healing people of all sickenss the epidemic caused.
(The Kagyu see RLG a little differently, and use her Sanskrit name and mantra. But it’s the same Tara, #20. This is a great example of how practices can be really different, yet essentially them same. I would call this version, super kick ass.)
If you don’t “connect” with either WT or RLG, there are other excellent choices during the current “foxhole” season. Maybe you need a male deity to connect with in this time of trouble? That’s cool. There is a form of Amitabha called Amitayus, Infinite Life. Click the link to find a short practice. anyone can do He is a popular long life deity and many WT images show Amitayus as a tiny red figure at her crown. He even features sometimes in her sadhanas. So, Amyitaus? Excellent choice.
And of course, there is Medicine Buddha. Click the link to find a short practice anyone can do. Medicine Buddha, he’s blue, has always been a go to for anyone sick. Probably more widely used than WT. Certainly more widely taught. He is perfect to invoke these days. Remember, you can practice any of these, WT, RLG, Amitayus, or Medicine Buddha, for yourself, a loved one who is ill, your community, or even for all those sentient beings who are sick and suffering the world.
Okay, on to happier things. I’m going to update you on my White Tara re-creation project. I’m continuing to work on it, but I have other projects to get on with while I’m home. Betty Grable for the Significant Other, re-organizing my kitchen for my personal sanity, etc, ad infinitum. Also, the re-creation needs a little fermentation time I think. Any kind of creative work eventually needs down time.
Wonderful artist and remarkable art educator Marshall Vandruff says:
One reason people have artist’s block is because they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period, creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.
I think he’s right. I don’t have artist’s block right now, but I don’t want it either. I need to spend more time sitting with White Tara in a non-art context, in it’s intended use context as a mediation support, if the art is ever to be “right.” I’m still discovering “hidden in plain sight” teachings. It’s just an amazing piece of religious art. Also, I have realizations while doing WT mediation. Such as, I realized I should add the “typical” general’s insignia to the offering pile. It might well have been there once. It’s hard to tell because the offering pile is messy. But given it’s 2020, and this is a new thangka, and people are used to seeing the insignia in a certain form now, I need to put that in to maintain the integrity of the message.
I did manage to finish some rough mock ups. For the “something” beyond the outer ring, I’ve come to accept that I can’t recreate what I don’t know was there in the first place. I’m probably going to go with flowers and/or clouds, maybe some streams of white or rainbow light from the top bottom and side points (if you do a WT practice, you know what I mean).
As for that outer ring that was so damaged by the lower right corner? I might leave that one area with less ornamentation, just as a reminder of what happened, of the years of hiding and damage, and of all the people who bent over backwards, who literally risked their lives, just to save this White Tara. I want to honor all that.
And the four empty corners? I decided, in the end, they needed to reflect the history of the period in which the piece was created, the artistic spirit of the piece, and the religious nature of this particular version of WT. I decided also they needed to speak, in an appropriate way, to modern people about WT’s purview as well as to the vision of those Rime JK’s who became the caretakers of this piece.
It took a lot of meditating upon. Eventually I got to a solution.
I would put a rabbit moon, maybe in Tibetan clouds, on the top left corner with some stars, and a pair of cranes flying over a sun in the top right corner. It’s typical to find a sun and moon at the top of a thangka. Generally they’re small features, but I’m riffing Lukhang and in 2020, it’s important to emphasize that we are a part of the natural world, interconnected. Care of, love for, compassion toward all of nature, more than ever, needs to be at the forefront our thoughts and actions.
The Great 5th Dalai Lama (the Nyingma) had a rabbit moon mural in his Lukhang temple. A temple of Dzogchen secrets. You can read about the temple and see the secret murals now. They’re all online. So my rabbit moon? That’s a connection to the current Dalai Lama, who is Gelug, to Dzogchen, and to the Nyingma. But the rabbit moon is also associated with longevity in China which fits well with WT. And, there’s a Buddhist story about how the rabbit came to be depicted in the moon.
In the Buddhist version, Indra (yes, the Hindu god, just go with it) takes the form of a mendicant trying to learn about Buddhism. He comes across some animals that offer him their food. Each animal is able to offer him something, but the rabbit has no food to offer. In his generosity, the rabbit throws himself on the fire as a self-sacrifice. Because it’s what the Buddha would do. And the rabbit is the Buddha (in a previous incarnation, before he was the Buddha).
Indra however stops the fire from burning the bunny’s biscuits by making the flames cool, thus the rabbit is saved. He then praises the little rabbit’s generosity and draws the rabbit’s image on the moon so everyone will remember the rabbit’s nobility and act of generosity for as long as the moon exists. And yes, you’re right. I couldn’t pass an opportunity to self-reference in the art and leave a clue I (Indra) was there.
I’m going to confess here, that I shamelessly lifted a few things for my roughs from Robert Beer’s Handbook of Tibetan Buddist Symbols. British author and artist Robert Beer is a wonderful, contemporary thangka painter. He’s been at it since the 1970s. Since much Tibetan thangka art imagery is “borrowed,” I felt like it was in keeping with the tradition. There isn’t really an idea of copyrighted images within the field of iconography or Asian art, and even so I’m riffing and mixing it up, to create a personal piece of devotional art.
Cranes and deer are common in Tibet and China. They are associated with longevity and immortality in both China and Tibet. There are Tibetan and Chinese styles of drawing these animals. But their meaning is the same. Using Tibetan red deer (near extinct) and black-necked crane (vulnerable species) seemed to fit well with the WT longevity aspect, the Rime outlook, and the crossover Chinese influence extant in the artwork. (If you want to know more about Endangered Animals of Tibet, this report is from 2005. But still has lots of good information. Only 55 pgs. With a few mall B&W pictures.)
I put the deer on the bottom left corner, facing WT’s extended hand. I also added a flowing stream with the deer because that’s often a feature in longevity paintings. So for now, the bottom left and upper right corners has symbols that read more long life in meaning. While the bottom right and upper left has symbols that read more religious in meaning.
On the bottom right corner, I went out of the box with a Tibetan Blue Bear, a rare morph of the endangered Tibetan Brown Bear. It looks more black, but so black it’s bluish. Use of a bear is nt as weird as you might think, trust me. The bear does have history with Buddhism. It’s considered to be a form the Buddha took in one of his past lives.
But I admit, the bear is a very rare as an animal found on Tibetan thankga. It’s used as a means of transport for a wrathful protector, Kshetrapala. It’s found with Damchen Garwa Nagpo in the retinue of Nyingma protector, Dorje Legpa. And Damchen has a bear as one of his animal allies /messengers. That’s about it. Very marginal use of Bears.
Much of the extant vajrayana bear imagery is super wrathful. Most Tibetan Buddhist artists I suspect maybe had never seen a bear. So, because none of the thangka bears I could findlooked at all like bears, I had to work on that. Admittedly the bear was the most difficult. It had to look real, but also be stylized to fit the existing artwork. I worked from images of peaceful living Tibetan bears. So handsome!
How I came to use the bear as a symbol began with a story about Milarepa appearing to his disciples as a black bear. Milarepa went up into the mountains to mediate. He was gone quite a while, so his disciples figured he was probably due for a “health and wellness” visit. They went up the mountain but were frightened off when they saw a large black bear coming from Milarepa’s cave.
They ran back down the mountain, feeling terribly sad, and thinking Milarepa had been killed by the bear. Eventually they went up again, to collect their beloved teacher’s remains from the bear’s cave. When they arrived, it was just in time to see the bear going into the cave and transforming into Milarepa. Yep, Milarepa was fine. Apparently had a bit of shape-shifting shamanism going on there?
The bear is revered for its solitary, monastic life and cave dwelling, so very similar to great teachers like Milarepa (and Jigme Lingpa). Given that JK Wangpo (a Sakya) was an incarnation of Jigme Lingpa (a Nyingma), and revered as Milarepa himself (a Kagyu saint- who was also a murderer, like St Paul), I thought, using a new symbol, the bear, to represent all three, to represent Rime, was a good choice. It invokes their memories and connection to WT and the Rime movement.
And too, the bear serves as another conservation message. People need to stop killing precious Tibetan bears! No matter what their color. Bears get poached for traditional medicine, same as elephants and rhino. It’s truly horrific and awful. Currently there’s not even been a census of the bears in Tibet. No one is looking out for them, noticing if they’re being murdered. Tibet needs to take action.
WT, help those Rime bears, Please. Western zoological societies? You could use a TBB breeding conservation program.
The Tibetan blue bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus) is actually subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) found in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. It is also called the Himalayan blue bear, Himalayan snow bear, Tibetan brown bear, or horse bear. In Tibetan, it is called Dom gyamuk. One of the rarest subspecies of bear in the world, the blue bear is rarely sighted in the wild. The blue bear is known in the West only through a small number of fur and bone samples. It was first classified in 1854.
The Tibetan Brown Bear is considered medium sized, for bears. It has shaggy, dark brown to black fur, with a cream to cinnamon face, and a white collar that broadens from the shoulders to the chest. The ears are small but covered with long black fur. That’s omething I tried to capture, but I’m still working on it.
I get that I’m completely “breaking” with thangka tradition by creating a brand new piece of iconography, but again, this WT is a brand new artwork, even though it’s are-creation. It’s a truly Rime WT. And ultimately, it’s an offering for healing and brand new rebirth for my former sangha. It’s motivated by nothing but good heart intentions. Also, there is no current Tibetan thangka symbol for Rime, as there are symbols for other sects.
Gelug are Tigers. I know that one. It’s on a lot of thangkas. The only real animal of the 4. I’m guessing: Nyingma are Garuda (because the garuda kings also have sex with women and use magic?); Kagyu are Snow Lions(?); Sakya are Dragons(?). These are known in Tibet as the Animals of the 4 Directions. The Wind Horse is that weird 5th direction – center/space. I guess I could have used the Wind Horse but it’s already a loaded symbol in Tibetan culture. I think it’s time, after over 200 years, that Rime had a symbol all its own.
I kept the purple background at the top and the green background at the bottom. It’s what was there. It felt important to try to keep to the artist’s original color scheme as much as possible. My hope is that the finished work would meet with the approval of the original artist or owner and that whatever intent was purposely buried within the art, remains in tact, for the benefit of those who are wise or enlightened enough to discern it. And that’s not me.
So, that’s where things are today. I need to do more WT mediation, keep refining and experimenting. Noodling, is what architectural preservationist and all around inspiration Brett Waterman would say. But, that’s it for now for discussions of White Tara and Buddhism. I hope some of you are less frightened of Buddhists in general and Tibetan Buddhists in particular now. Maybe a few of you have even found comfort and healing in meditation, the Buddhist view of death, or White Tara practice during this terrible time. If so, I rejoice.
I may post a picture of the finished WT thangka someday, but that may take many months. I’ll maybe be around on twitter now and then for the next couple months. I’ll definitely be back in California in February, barring….who knows what. I’m not sure I’ll return to posting then. Or what I’d post about. We’ll see. In the meanwhile, Merry Christmas to all.
Yes, still a Christian. Still a follower of and believer in Jesus Christ. Still planning on just one life, well-lived, and going to be with God.
Christianity allows me to think critically about Buddhism. Buddhism allows me to think critically about Christianity. I’m grateful for both. But as it is written in the Scriptures, a leopardess cannot change her spots.
Not even a snow leopardess.
If you’re at a loss for giving this year?
A $1 scratcher with a hand-written note in a card, can go a long way toward brightening a lonely neighbor’s dark winter.
A $1 for museums, botanic gardens, newspapers, and wikipedia, can keep them delighting and informing us online while in lockdown.
And of course, $1 can fill little mangers in local shelters/rescues, zoos, aquariums, and wildlife parks to lighten little hearts till we meet again some sunny day.
Much to everyone’s relief, including my own, I can tell you this is my penultimate post for this tour of duty. As I’m currently sitting in my basement, having some tea, and watching a few “fancy” mice go about their business — I’m minding them for someone — I thought I’d wrap up a few of the looser ends.
Shortly after my last post, around Friday lunchtime, my Da broke into tears and begged me not to fly back to BC. Mutti, seeing my Da cry, flew into full on “protector mode” and started to lecture me, me!, about personal selfishness and public health. Gran got very agitated and, at that point, I realised all my work to get her BP stable was about to go out the window. So I said,”Da can drive me home, if Hugh will drive me to the border, and I’lld walk across.”
“Really?” sniffed my Da. I nodded. He right away called Hugh, who is always up for adventure and feels himself indebted to my family (he’s totally not). “I can’t wait!” said Hugh, “This’ll be fantastic!” Then Da started crying again, and hugged me so hard I felt a rib crack. So, we bid adieu to Gran and Mutti and drove up to my parents’ on Saturday afternoon. And Sunday, after the WT empowerment, we started the long drive north.
I arrived about the time I would have landed anyway. The SO was waiting, with my helmet, leathers, and rain gear. I suited up. We hugged it out, awkwardly, given were both in virtual hazmat suits. And we were on our way. I arrived home to a warm welcome, a lovely feast, and a nice soft bed. I heard later Hugh arrived home on Cloud 9, having had a “big adventure,” and now armed with a story to dine out on (on Zoom), for the coming holidays.
Upstairs, there’s assorted sounds. La Mere is packing up stuff to take to the new condo. They negotiated to take the condo with the staging furniture that was in it. We told her, take anything you need from ours. We can get it back later. So linens, kitchen utensils, toilet paper, my best silver, china and glassware, assorted books from our library, Christmas decor, all the things that make a place a home. I did draw the line at her catnapping Poirot, though.
The SO tells me there’s been discussions about moving the main HQ to Canada and leaving the EU office a satellite. The reverse of how it’s been. I’m not sure it will come to anything. I’d feel bad if people lost their jobs in the EU because of the move. I guess it could be a “in name only” move for now and then they’d transition things over a long period of time. I’m trying not to ask, for now. Even though he has broad shoulders, I’d worry about added stress on the SO.
Coming back to White Tara practice. It’s really a visualization technique. All of vajrayana Buddhism’s higher practices are built on visualizations. Some are basic, some are really elaborate. Centuries before Western science understood visualization could help produce changes in people (including medically verifiable cures), Tibetan Buddhists were using visualization to produce changes in people. They are masters of this tech. We may not understand how it all works, at a granular level, scientifically, but it does work.
I suppose, if you want to talk physical health, you could call visualization a placebo, and maybe it is. You can read a good article on The Power of Placebo by Stephanie Anderson Witmer (no relation), in Sept 2020’s Yoga Journal. Today, now, there’s no cure for covid, or long-haul covid (post covid damage), or a myriad of other things. If I were sick, and thought using a simple visualization could help my body (or my mind) make me better, I wouldn’t care what you called it, I’d try it.
Pick any divine being you hold dear. There are over 10,000 saints in just the Roman Catholic heavens. Don’t like saints? That’s cool. How about a non-divine being such as a mountain or the sea? Maybe an animal such as a tiger or bunny. Find something that has the kind of energy you feel you need and draw down on that. You’re practice is about you. The most important thing about a practice is that you do it. Study is good, but practice alone gets you there. You don’t become a great anything by thinking about it.
Sometimes I look at the mountains and use “mountain stable” as a mantra while following the breath. Sometimes I look at my tabletop fountain and use “fountain stable,” recognizing that the strength of pressure from within holds this formless substance in a wavering form, and that water itself is strong enough to carve the hardest mountains and pound them into sand. I may feel weak and wavering, blown by every wind, but I can hold my true shape, through the strength of my practice, and turn my weakness into my strength.
HH the Dalai Lama gave a 3-day WT empowerment (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) in 2012, for the Great 5th Dalai Lama’s WT sadhana. It’s considered a simple practice for practicing Tibetan Buddhists, but you wouldn’t want to use it as a beginner. That said, I really recommend having a listen anyway. He talks about how to take refuge as a Christian, Muslim, atheist, etc. These WT lectures to have lots of helpful info.
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Kagyu, has a WT sadhana that is way over anyone’s head if you’re not a Buddhist working under a lama and haven’t been doing visualizations a while. You should never generate yourself as a yidam without receiving instruction on how to do so and an empowerment from a lama. Seriously.
JK Wangpo, Rime/Sakya, was known for the Chimé Pakmé Nyingtik(The Heart Essence of the Sublime Lady [ie White Tara] of Immortality) a longevity practice he “discovered” in 1855. (You can see a great thangka related to this practice here. It’s the yum-yab, where the male consort is sitting in WT’s lap.) It’s hardcore vajrayana Buddhist stuff. It wouldn’t help you/me/Joe/Jane Average. We aren’t “there” yet. So, we don’t need it now. It’d be like giving a Maserati to a teen who just got his/her driver’s license. It wouldn’t end well.
I did the empowerment of WT last Sunday with Lama Samten of the Paramita Centre. It was 2 hrs over Zoom on Sunday. About 350 people attended from all over the world. It was great. A perfect start to WT practice for anyone, including the “Buddhist curious.” If you were there too, it’s pretty much what empowerments are like. My lama spoke perfect English, with a British accent. Most lamas don’t. There’s usually a translator (and English isn’t always their first language either) to help with more difficult Tibetan concept words if nothing else. HH always has a translator on hand, and his English is very good.
I didn’t need the empowerment. I already had a WT empowerment. But it’s good to have additional empowerments sometimes. I did this empowerment because I felt like I needed to increase my merit and WT connection before doing anymore work on the WT thangka re-creation. It was a auspicious time for me to receive it. WT is important to me. Tibetan Buddhism is important to me, even as a Christian. It’s a way for me to better know “God,” to understand reality, to become enlightened.
Okay, I want to clear up some stuff I said a while ago about the second Jamyang Khentsye, Chokyi Lodro, since he’s also really important to me. It is true that JK Chokyi Lodro had his monks whipped 300-400 times for infractions, instead of the merciful monastic 100 (108?). But what you need to understand is, that at that time in Tibet, it was standard for criminals receive 300-700 lashes for basic crimes. So 300 lashes sounds terrible today. In the lived historical context? Very harsh for a monastic, but actually on the most merciful side for real life.
If you don’t believe me, and why should you, you can have a read through of the 1909 book “Three Years in Tibet” by Japanese Buddhist priest Ekai Kawaguchi. It’s free on Gutenberrg. Kawaguchi mentions the public punishments in Tibet at that time. He was there. He saw daily life there. I believe him. You should too. Kawaguchi also has some interesting comments about the Nyingma founder saint Padmasambhava (pictured below).
Kawaguchi got in a heated debate with Serab Gyaltsan, his Tibetan writing and language instructor, about Padmasambhava, the Nyingma lineage founder. I quote here:
There is in existence to this day in Tibet a sect of Buḍḍhists which believes in a teaching originated by a priest whose name may be translated into “born of the lotus flower” (Padma Sambhava) or Padma Chungne in Tibetan, and whom they regard as their savior and as Buḍḍha incarnate. His teaching is a sort of parody on Buḍḍhism proper, and an attempt to sanctify the sexual relations of humankind, explaining and interpreting all the important passages and tenets in the sacred Text from a sensual standpoint.
Indeed, Padma’s own life was simply his teachings translated into actual practice, for he lived with eight women whom he called his wives, drank intoxicants to his heart’s content, and fed freely on animal food. Now in the Tibetan rhetoric in which I took lessons under Serab Gyaltsan I found this lewd and detestable teaching largely incorporated, and it was on this account that hot disputes not unfrequently arose between my instructor and myself.
Chap 9 “Beautiful Tsarang and Dirty Tsarangese,” pg 54.
The book goes on to say they actually got into a physical fight about this. Um, yeah. Buddhist debates often get heated, much like Jewish debates, but they don’t typically end in violence. It’s usually mutual laughter and back slapping over who made the better argument.
So, anyway, this description of Padmasambhava, by a non-Tibetan, very devout Buddhist, is quite telling. I bring it up is to point out that Nyingma thought and practice has always been not well understood, even by other Buddhists. Tantric sex as means to enlightenment just completely baffles a lot of people. It really shouldn’t. If I can nutshell it, HH the Dalai Lama states: “In the path of Dzogchen nothing needs to be abandoned… the subtle mind of Clear Light can be recognized within all experience.”
However, Buddhists take a bodhisattva vow. Summed up it means: be responsible with your freedom so as to assist (not screw up) all other sentient beings on the path to enlightenment. Milarepa (Kagyu founder) told his disciple, Gampopa, “Even when your view becomes as vast as space, still behave in accordance with human custom. And even though you may have achieved the final result, still assiduously accumulate merit even in the smallest things.” Regardless if one has reached the ultimate state, they still need to pay attention to human customs, consider how good people behave in the world and do accordingly.
St Paul said this same thing to early Christians. You’re free in Christ. But don’t abuse your freedom. Don’t use it in such a way as to destroys the faith of others. It’s a universal truth. When people ignore this truth…. bad things tend to happen to them. It doesn’t mean don’t challenge people. Don’t question things. Don’t push for change. It means don’t be arrogant about your attainments or abuse your freedoms.
The Bible talks frequently about “pagan” cults, especially cults wherein people have sex. Part of that is just anti-woman, because these cults usually had priestesses. But most of it was because it “exalted” a god(dess) other than Yahweh. It was never because what the cults were practicing didn’t work. Never assume any religion and its practices were suppressed because they didn’t work. Typically they’re suppressed because, on some level, they do work, and that threatens the status quo of those who sit on the current thrones of power.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3)? Eve ate the fruit to become wise. They ate the fruit and became like God, knowing good and evil. It was the becoming wise, like God, that upset God and got them tossed from ignorance and “paradise.” Ditto the story of the Tower of Bable (Genesis 11). God sews broad division among people through switching up their languages because they, “the created,” were working together and nothing would impossible for them. They would have reached the heavens and “become like us,” the creators. They were stopped from becoming like God.
One of the weirdest things about Judaism, I think, and it carried over to Christian belief is this “don’t try to become wise like God” vibe. It’s the opposite of Buddhism. But actual Christianity, I’m talking the teachings of Jesus, are filled with exhortations to “know” God fully, to become like God. I really find the teachings of Jesus more in line with the teachings of the Buddha. As a Christian, I’m told to know, discover, explore, seek. And that’s what I do. And that’s how I ended up … a snow leopard prowling around Tibet.
You may not get Tantric Buddhism (or using sex as a tool of liberation), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. For the record, no, tantric sex is not a tool I ever used. I never felt the need frankly. It’s a high-level practice. As a practitioner, I’m very minor leagues. Such practices require a spiritual consort. My SO has no interest in going there. For many reasons, it’s not a practice I’d engage with, it’s but an important and productive practice for some and I’d never stop other committed people in responsible engaging in it. Many are the paths to wisdom.
The problems happen, I think, when religions start to codify paths, while forgetting intentions. Buddhism starts out as this idea of “enlightenment exists and everyone can experience it.” But it over time becomes this weird collection of hurdles (that are impossible for all women and most men to climb) created and governed by an “elite male” power structure to weed everyone out but the “special few” men. And this is true of every religion. So don’t write me.
This “educated, open-minded” Japanese Buddhist priest making this harsh assessment in 1909 is actually coming from a viewpoint that’s way tipped toward mistaking the “path” additions of men for the original intention of Buddha. In Kawaguchi’s mind, drinking, eating meat, being married and having sex….all hold you back. So, if you’re not a monk, nun, or priest, forget it. In reality….that’s all horse puckey. None of those things hold anyone back from enlightenment. It’s like saying you need a car. No you can take a subway or the bus, walk, ride a bike or horse, skate, ski, surf, dance, ….
Catholic Christianity suffers from this same kind of thinking. Jesus said in John, his work was finished — before he got to the cross (John 17:5)! He said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:4) Knowing is not a big ask. Then Jesus made common, plain-spoken, person of color, Simon Peter — the young married man with a wife, mother-in-law, and kids, who ran a fishing business with Andrew, his brother – the foundation of his church. Peter is pretty far removed from aged celibate white, European Latin-speaking popes! (Pope Francis at least had a job — as a laboratory scientist! — before joining the church.)
So, I get the point other Buddhist traditions are trying to make, and how people might think vajrayana Buddhism, and especially the Nyingma sect, hasn’t grown much from it’s supposedly slutty, sybaritic, scholarly lacking origins. But that’s actually way far from the truth. Nyingma have great (non-lazy, but certainly lay) scholars, and great teaching centers (lots of it online right now); and very wonderful teachings, of which the Longchen Nyingthig is a path to enlightenment. All Buddhist sects, are fingers on the same hand.
Sometimes big ideas, like total freedom, are too big for some people to grasp. And other people who feel threatened try to shut them down. We Americans fought an entire war over an obvious truth, freedom belongs to black people just as as much as to white people. We’re still fighting over the fact women are free. If you don’t think so, watch some episodes of Maude (Gran likes 1970s tv). It’s 40 years ago, and we’re still hashing through these same issues, which should be non-issues by now.
Sometimes people espousing and promoting ideas like freedom and equality end up getting killed – even if they do it in the most respectful way possible. A good example of that would be Jesus. Another might be, on the Buddhist side of things, the 6th Dalai Lama. And I’m actually amazed the Tibetan Buddhist lama/saint Drupka Kunley that went to Bhutan wasn’t killed. Ditto Nyingma teacher great Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798), who gave us the Longchen Nyingthig.
Jigme Lingpa wasn’t killed, but as soon as he died? The Sakya who felt their power slipping at the court of Dege (Derge?), because the king had died and that left the queen as regent over the young prince, and the queen was a follower of Nyingma teacher Jigme Lingpa… Well, there you are. Nyingma blood bath. (Yep, always the women getting involved in Nyingma to get free, always the men in power feeling threatened and trying to shut them down. Much like early Christianity.)
I do want to pause here to say, in the best Karmic tradition, Jigme Lingpa’s next incarnation, what’s called his “mind” incarnation, was ….. wait for iiiiiit – Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo! The Rime movement guy, head of the Sakya monastery. The guy who spent his life saving Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and other rare teachings from the persecutions of the Gelug. Yep, what goes around, comes around.
I’m also going to stop here and tell you the lama who kicked off the Rime movement? That was Jigme Lingpa. So the WT I’ve been talking about and working on? It actually might have originally been created for and belonged to Jigme Lingpa. Such a thangka would have been passed down to JK Wangpo because he was the mind incarnation of Jigme Lingpa. I can’t prove this, but given the power of our WT thangka, it’s Rime weirdness, and it’s known history, I believe it started its life as Jigme Lingpa’s WT practice support.
Back to my original thought…. I also understand that sometimes what seems like a person with a big idea is really a small person talking big to get a leg over or rob someone blind. And we all know people who are stuck in religious (and political) cults with bad leaders like that. This kind thing happens in Nyingma more than other sects. That’s why I generally refer people to the Sakya or Kagyu or Gelug, even though I’m Nyingma.
Nyingma, as a sect, isn’t regulated by a head the way other sects are, so it can have these wild hare problems. His Holiness the Dalai Lama tried to get the Nyingma a bit more orderly, by appointing a head, in the 1960s. And it was fine for a while, but then the heads started popping off. One lama died 5 years after his appointment, age 78. The next head died 1 year after his appointment, age 92. The next chosen (wisely) declined to take the job. The next who took the job died 3 years after his appointment, age 94.
At this point, it was unanimously decided that the internal administration would revolve between the head lamas of the six principle Nyingma monasteries – Kathok, Zogchen, Shechen, Mindrolling, Dorje Drak and Palyul. Representatives would be appointed for three-year terms at the annual Nyingma Monlam. The first lama appointed head, died 10 months later. The second appointed declined shortly after for health reasons. Until finally, this year the lama chosen said…..
He had concerns about how the continued appointment of a “head of the tradition.” You can’t undo a head every 3 yrs, it’s problematic. It’s like having multiple rotating living popes. Sechen Rabjam Rinpoche suggested to the representatives that the position of “head of Nyingma tradition” be abandoned, and instead selected representatives from each monastery would sit on a “Nyingma Monlam Committee,” which would look after the welfare of the tradition.
So that’s where things stand today. The Nyingma tradition is decentralized with individual monastery administration decisions often made by the community of the lamas together with senior sangha members. It’s not a Roman Catholic model now, it’s more …. Congregationalist? And that makes sense. The Nyingmapa are historically characterized and distinguished by this decentralization and by their general wider political disinterest.
In other words, Nyingma, as I said in an earlier post, aren’t like other sects. Which can be good, but also bad. Nyingma monasteries and sanghas, and wider communities, consist of a blend of monastics, ngagpa householders, and yogins. That’s good. They are free to do their own thing. Also good. But it also means when a Nyingma rinpoche hangs out a shingle, you never know what the quality of the teaching is going to be. There’s no “licensing” board. You have to do your homework and check their credentials, and even then….as in my lama’s case, crazy can always later occur.
All the sects are ultimately the same. They are trying to help people to the same end. I quote Swami Vivekananda:
The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the Gelug, but you can’t go wrong with Gelug. The Dalai Lama is Gelug. I like him a lot. I respect him tremendously. He’s a wonderful teacher. I often feel sad that he is stuck with the unhappy duty of protecting the dharma and the vajrayana tradition from….well, people like my lama.
I tend to recommend Kagyu and Sakya to most people. I see Kagyu as practice oriented. If you’re the person that sets a budget/diet/exercise plan and sticks to it? Kagyu. I see Sakya as social oriented. If you went to BLM marches, phone-banked for Biden, get involved in things to make the world a better place? Sakya. I see Gelug as thought oriented. If you like research, theorizing, compiling data, drilling down? Gelug. If you see yourself as every day people, just folks, or are artsy, or an “out of the box” thinker? Nyingma.
It’s just my take on things. But truly, wherever you start, try to become as well-rounded as you can, seek out many teachers, read many books by many Buddhist people of many traditions. Become Rime. If you only ever play to your strengths, you’ll never overcome your weaknesses.
But I digress. My teacher was Nyingma, his teacher JK Chokyi Lodro was Sakya/Rime, his predecessor was JK Wangpo was an incarnation of a Nyingma, but a Sayka leader, an expert on Kagyu and founder of the Rime movement. The whole point of Rime, I feel, is finding what’s good and what works for you on your journey to enlightenment, but at the same time not taking a dump on what’s good and what works for others.
I get Kawaguchi’s “outsider” POV about Padmasambhava. I really do. But I understand Serab Gyaltsan’s “insider” anger as well. I take Serab’s side. I don’t think I’d punch a Zen priest over it, but… I do love Padmasambhava. Actually, in reading that passage, I just felt bad for Kawaguchi. He couldn’t see he was blinded by an elitist (celibate vs sexual), nationalist (clean Japanese vs dirty Tibetans), moral superiority that caused him to miss out on what vajrayana had to offer — even though he’d made huge efforts to come to Tibet to study vajrayana!
Anyway, I’m wrapping up here for today. The fancy mice are becoming agitated. Poirot has come to say “hello” and “you look delicious.” I’m going to have to put his curious royal feline fluffy pants back in the kitchen – with La Mere. After a good cuddle, on the couch, far away from the fancy mice – and far away from La Mere.
It’s been a good Thanksgiving. We did all our traditional Thanksgiving things, feasting, hanging Christmas lights (in 35 mph winds), setting up the baby Jesus’s nativity. It’s been normal, with the exception of my Significant Other not being here. Still, even a semblance of normal is a wonderful thing. It’s a feeling of standing above the sea of fog, just for a bit. But of course the stuff below the fog is still there. You can’t really pretend it’s not.
Monday, I get to rise above it all. Well, a lot of it. I’ll at least be back in a normal, modern, democratic first world country with a great public health care system. Things will as good as opposed to as bad as it can be under the circumstances. I decided not to take much with me. Just essentials and my WT stuff in a 18″ cardboard mailing tube. It all fits in a small, backpack carry on. It negates the burdens of taking baggage.
I thought I’d be seeing La Mere (the mother/chef) and Le Pape (the head/boss) only for a few hours. But, apparently, after my testy convo with the SO about flying, and BC upgrading their covid restrictions to California-like levels last week, and the realization that “home” would just be more of the same, his parents reconsidered returning to Europe. They’ve rebooked their flight to mid January. However, they won’t be staying on with us.
Apparently a “company” decision was taken that, in light of the pandemic, the company should, right now immediately, have a pied–à–terre in the city where the North America headquarters resides, as they do in the EU. Wire transfers ensued. My feeling is La Mere is enjoying her stay and Le Pape, who spoke of touring Canada by bike next summer, needs more quite space to do his work remotely, and on EU hours.
In addition to condo buying “for the company,” a new car was also purchased “for the company” — leasing was deemed not as practical anymore. I’m told La Mere wanted a Hyundai Sonata (to dash around town) but Le Pere wanted a Honda CR-V (to stick a bike rack on). A compromise was reached when La Mere was offered final pick on the condo (the larger, more upscale one, of course) and minor decorator services.
I’m told the new place (like the new car!) is very white. It has “some fine views,” and plenty of space to work, play, and live. They move out of ours Dec 8, provided it’s ready and the “stay at home” order expires. So for now, they will remain a joyous part of our tiny pandemic pod/bubble. And I guess that means, for my first night out, provided the “stay at home” order expires Dec 7, I’ll get to go to a house warming and see somewhere new!
The SO is picking me up from the airport on his bike. He said he wanted to be able to hug me when I arrive, whilst in his covid-protective motorcycle kit, with masks and helmets on. He said he wanted my warm body next to his and my arms around him, even if it’s just once, for the duration of the ride home, before I go into my 2-week quarantine. Gosh, golly! I got choked up. But it may have been too much hot buttered rum-cider.
Since I’m going home shortly, I’m going finish up with WT today. At least as far as talking about the WT thangka’s imagery and meaning. I’ll be posting a couple more Buddhist-y thoughts from quarantine — after a long nap, some cat snuggling, and some injudicious indoor doggy go-fetch. I want to be honest here, of the WT things I know, they don’t all fit in single post. I’m giving you outlines, and points to ponder. And too, there’s plenty I just don’t know.
So, off we go. White Tara practices are mainly done to achieve long-life, alleviate illness, or remove obstacles that are indicative of an untimely death. Thangkas of WT are also frequently commissioned specifically for those purposes but sometimes for a deceased relative or friend to create circumstances for that person to have an auspicious rebirth. Two very different thangka types, but both serious stuff, right?
Given how life and death, “high stakes” WT practices are, and how important a dignitary WT is in the Buddhist pantheon, you’d be wise to wonder “what is going on with all the images of her that are pretty much soft porn girlie nudes rather than important queen-like woman goddess?” It’s a valid question. I’ll circle back to that answer later, I promise. For now…
Let’s hit the “stock” items and talk about the “specialty” goings on hidden in them. In the case of WT, a stock item we haven’t talked about is her 7 eyes. She always has seven bow-shaped eyes, three eyes on her face representing the perfection of her body, speech and mind, two eyes in her palms and two in her foot soles symbolizing the “Four Immeasurables” — love (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity (uppekha).
Never forget, Tibetan Buddhism loves to count things and assign deeper meanings to those things (numbers, colors, shapes, objects, etc).
A specialty I want to put up is that WT’s hair and make-up are in Tang Dynasty style. We can tell that from the style of her brows and lips, not to mention her hairband full of flowers and ribbons. The Tang Dynasty (618 CE – 907 CE) was/is considered the height of China’s artistic development. Tang influence was vast in its time. This dynasty coincided with the great Buddhist expansion in China, so Tang art forms/styles became/remain a huge influence in Buddhist art across Asia.
A set of stock items found not only on this WT, but many deity thangkas, is the 13 marks of a sambhogakaya. These “marks” are 5 silk garments and 8 pieces of gold jewelry (5+8=13). How artists style or count these 13 is open to some interpretation. For instance, some say there has to be a garment with 5 colors, a rainbow-stripe item, as you see that on the knees of the skirt of the topless WT above. Our WT artists goes in its own direction regarding the 5 colors.
Our WT is white. That seems to satisfy our artist. No clothing on her is white. Her main clothes are blue (top) and red (skirt, with blue trim). Her scarf is blue (and is formed by the ends of her sleeves, or is separate and arising from under her thighs, depending on how you see it). Her silk belt is green. All the garments and WT are decorated with yellow gold. In essence, all 5 colors are there. But it’s a different approach.
If you’re asking what this difference it means, well, I think we have to consider last Friday’s discussion about the innermost rings: the red, white and blue rings. Maybe, again, our artist is make a statement about foundational Tibetan Buddhism (red/west), intersecting with Chinese Buddhism (white/east), cloaked in primordial Buddha stillness (blue/cosmic/central). Maybe.
In WT visualizations, practitioners are often instructed to visualize a white Om, at her forehead chakra, red Ah at her throat chakra, and a blue Hum at her heart chakra. Red, white and blue. If you look closely at her longer necklace, it has larger round blue stones, flanked by tiny red ones. Given the sparse use of jewels (only 7 in total including the red square in her short necklace), the number, color, shape all probably mean something.
Also, it’s difficult to ignore the more tantric reference (red: menstrual blood, female, wisdom, solar channel; whit:, semen, male, compassion lunar channel; blue: consciousness, universal, awareness, lunar channel). Seated as she is in lotus pose, the up turned triangle her lower body forms is a yantra for male. The down turned triangle her upper body forms is a yantra for female. We’ll come back to this.
Probably good to remember that while our WT was owned by a Rime lama, it wasn’t necessarily created for him. We don’t know what practice, if any, was ever associated with our WT thangka or if the Rime lama even knew that practice. We only know JK Wangpo valued this particular WT, and even so, he went on to create his own WT thangka and practice later on. Our WT might represent a lot of strains of thinking, or it might lean heavily towards one, or it might represent only one. We have to speculate. We don’t know.
In Tibet they say there are outer, inner and secret teachings. That’s a minimum of 3 levels of symbolism (each with levels within!). In some respects, the WT, the central yidam, can be regarded as the secret level. The thangka has a background, an outer teaching (ours is lost), an infield within the rainbow rings, an inner teaching, and a sacred center area, a secret teaching. Mantras are considered part of the secret. The “initiated” receive the deity’s mantra. But the mantra is not the whole secret. Think… tootsie pop.
The amount of symbolism on/in a “meditational support” thangka can get head spinning. I’m going to give you just a little example about symbolism here. Remember when we talked about the 36-petal lotus that our White Tara, dressed in a red skirt, sits on? The ancient Tibetan Kingdom of Guge (Purang-Guge), now long gone now, had a Red Temple and a White Temple, each supported by 36 pillars. Symbolism connection? I dunno what it is. But I have to wonder.
The level of cross-pollination of teachings going on in 17th, 18th, and 19th century Tibet was vast. Using Guge as an example again, Guge was of the Gelug sect in the 15th and 16th centuries. But in the early 17th century, 1624, Portuguese Jesuits arrived. Guge’s court was open to this “new” teaching. The Catholics were allowed to set up a church. Lots of people from the royal court joined.
This of course upset the established order, including the pro-Christian king’s brother, who was head Buddhist Lama of the kingdom. Buddhists felt their power slipping. Some Buddhist military leaders in Guge turned on the king. The king’s brother sold him out, and the open-minded ruler fell in 1630. Christians all got the boot by 1640. But there it is, Western European, Catholic Christianity circulating teachings in Tibet.
In 1680, the Great 5th Dalia Lama, the Nyingma one, had had enough of free-thinking Guge. He sent an army which crushed the kingdom. Legend says only about 200 people survived. (And yeah, on-going sectarian violence, just like today, not very enlightened.) Guge turned into a ghost town. But its repeated diasporas over the century meant all kinds of knowledge, including knowledge of Christ, was moving around Tibet.
upper garment (blue with gold pattern, check, check)
long scarf (blue, with gold pattern, check, check)
belt (green with gold pattern, check, check)
lower garment (red with gold pattern, blue hem trim, check, check)
The headband is a bit tricky. It’s actually always 2 different colors, because it’s 2-sided. Because of how it’s twisted, you only see the red by WT’sface. But check out the tail end over her right shoulder. You’ll see it’s actually blue on one side and red on the other. The headband and the floral crown are separate things.
The floral crown is flowers on a gold band. The ends of the gold band can actually be seen on either side of WT’s neck among her black hair. It’s quite simple. It’s a simple crown fit for the yidam of a Buddhist practitioner wanting to be enlightened. But simple doesn’t mean without meaning.
The 5 flowers are meant to be something. The center is one yellow, maybe a champaka. The 2 outside ones are definitely champaka. The other two are small, red flowers. They’ve been given 3 large leaves so that they look like upward pointing triangles (yantra for male) with a red center dot. There are also leaves, foliage by each of the yellow flowers. They seem to be in sets of 3, like the one sitting just above the central flower on WT’s crown.
The 5 flowers could be 5 directions, 5 element, 5 chakras of the subtle body. However, the most common reading here is always as a reference to the 5 Buddhas, implying the 5 types of wisdom transmute the 5 types of poison (delusion) we face. The poisons of ignorance, desire, aversion, jealousy, and pride, are transmuted by all-pervading, discriminating, mirror-like, all-accomplishing, and equaniminous wisdoms.
So, again, numbers, symbols, meanings.
I want to point up WT’s blue silk scarf because it’s important. You probablyt looked at it and went, “scarf.” But it has weird properties. It’s floating, like her red headband. Her top isn’t floating. Her skirt isn’t floating. Her belt ties aren’t floating. Where’s the wind coming from? On either side of her of body only? In a spiraling column or channel because the ends are moving in a spiral up?
Not only are the ends floating, all the visible ends are pointing up and to the same direction. On other thangkas, all the ends point toward the deity. Oversight on the artist’s part? I doubt it. Not this artist. There are left and right half lotus, each with the same number of petals, 14. Mirror images of each other.
So what is going on with the scarf, and headband, and the air? It’s probably not the same thing causing the slight ripples on the water below her. In fact our 3 little clouds on the water below are blowing toward WT from the direction opposite the direction her 2 scarf ends and 1 headband end are pointing. Is this reference to breathing practices?
gold crown (check, tiara-like gold band with flowers)
earrings (check, note the long danglers resting on her shoulders)
short necklace (check)
two long necklaces – a medium and a long. (nope, only one.)
rings (check, you need toe rings to her foot jewelry to stay in place).
Variation can happen in how things are counted, especially with necklaces and rings. Our artists seems to have decided rings (as on toes) plus a short and a long necklace, is 3, and with the other items, that’s the correct 13. The medium length necklace is left off.
Frequently, as on the Chenrezig image above, because he has two hands in prayer position at his heart, artists forget to put in the medium length necklace on him. (Chenrezig is Avalokiteshvara, in the Tibetan language. The Dalai Lama is said to be Chenrezig’s 47th incarnation.) Only people really looking would ever notice, or care.
Coming back to WT, our artist could have made the 2 necklace choice for an entirely different reason. And it might have to do with whatever practice was/is associated with this particular WT thangka. If you look at where the 7 chakras are and then look at our WT, you notice right away, the 7 chakras are marked out on WT.
The yellow flower on the sahasrar. The 3rd eye on the anja. The 3 conch marks on the visuddha. The large necklace on the anahata. The 3 up pointing arrow/rib lines at the manipura. The smaller necklace at the svadisthana. And the gold flower framed between her heels and belt right on the muladhara.
Keep in mind, Hindu Indian thought and practice, which preceded and was incorporated into Indian Buddhist thought and practice, always influenced Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice. So, we’re entering the realm of yoga now. And there is such a thing as Tibetan yoga, or trul khor (the magical movements) or yantra yoga or The 5 Rites (yup, 5 again). And that’s very much tied up with Dzogchen, the Nyingma sect’s highest teachings.
If you do yoga, you probably already know about chakras. You know pranayama practices are about controlling the breath, the life force (the silk scarf?). You’ve probably heard about kundalini yoga, which is the practice of moving the subtle body energy around in specific ways with a goal of attaining enlightenment. All these ideas and practices carried over into Tibetan Buddhism.
I want to be clear, Tibetan Buddhism views these things in their own unique way. Every religion has it’s own ideas about what’s going, and it’s own ideas about what the goal is. It’s a bit like the blind men describing the elephant. They’re all touching the same elephant. No one is right, or wrong. It’s just everyone is trying to figure it out and each group has its own path that has been found to work for them.
I’ve never done Tibetan yoga for religious purposes. I did try kum nye, which is the medical therapeutic purpose movement-based practice. It was actually helpful. I do Iyengar yoga and pranyama (I even do nidra yoga now and then). I see a lot of crossover. If you do yoga you understand that while it may be just an exercise form to you, it can also be a path to enlightenment if you choose.
Anyway, in Buddhism, getting out of the endless cycle of rebirth comes with enlightenment. So, enlightenment as a goal can be for the sake of enlightenment itself, or it can be enlightenment for the sake of salvation. As a Christian, I had the salvation bit covered. I was curious about enlightenment, but really I just wanted to be well. So, I’m in a weird third category I guess.
Even if your goal is “just” enlightenment, like all true paths, the higher paths can be quicker, but much they take more concentrated effort and are more fraught with dangers. Like headstand. You probably don’t want (and physically can’t) start there. A good teacher wouldn’t let you. The same is true for high tantra paths.
You don’t take that mountain without a qualified teacher (a guide who knows the way), a solid practice (you’re warm clothes and staff) and a deep understanding of what you’re doing and why (intimate knowledge of snow and snow shoes) or you could literally drive yourself crazy. There are excellent lower paths, safer paths, they can take around the mountain, to the same destination, they just take a bit longer.
It has to be said again, not everyone has the same goal. You have to figure out your goal. You may not know your goal, because you don’t even know what’s out there to attain. But once you start down a path, you find out from others what’s a reachable goal, your goal gets clearer, or maybe changes completely. And that’s okay.
Rainbow body? Travel to other planes of existence? All very cool, but honestly not of interest to me. Seeing the world with luminous awareness? Attaining buddhahood? Sounds like fun a physics thing. Nice, but then what? As a Christian, focusing on living a life of love and service, here and now is a worthy goal to me. Perpetual bodhisattva. That’s me.
If you want a fuller picture about how Tibetan Buddhism views the body, and energy, and all that, you might get a copy of Robert Beer’s “The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols” and read Appendix Four: The Channel Wheel System. Robert is Gelug, I think. He’s a deeply learned Buddhist thangka artist. You can’t do better than his clear, concise 6-page discourse on the matter. It’s a great book full of fun stuff!
Heading off into yantra now. I’m going to bring up the very strange shape of Tara’s necklaces, especially the large one. I kept thinking I’d seen it before. Then I realised. It’s a yantra symbol. Above is the WT’s yantra. Look at the inverted triangle, with the little dot in it. Now look at WT’s necklace. Inverted triangle with a little square.
Now look at the little tail dangling down from WT’s necklace. I wondered about that too, till it finally hit me. Because Tibetan Buddhism is influenced by Indian Hinduism and tantra, I had to cast an eye in those directions. When I did, I ended up thinking, “Gee, this a lingam (square/round) and yoni (inverted triangle with dangle) I’m looking at.”
Lingamand yoni are often represented together, symbolizing the eternal process of creation and regeneration as well as the indivisibility of masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and action, immanence and transcendence. It’s about moving energy through the body (and sex). Again. We’re back to the same idea, in a slightly different expression.
Sure, it sounds weird, but, WT’s necklace is also over her heart chakra. The Bana lingam (one of 3 lingams in the body according to yoga) is located at the level of the heart chakra. This lingam represents the inner guru, that lucid awareness or inner compass that inspires us in every step along our spiritual path. It’s a symbol of consciousness, that witnesses energy/skillful means, which here is the power of devotion from the heart.
So, devoted students can access their own conscious awareness through ardent devotion? Is that the message? Or one message, of many here. I really don’t know, but this artist seems to be signaling the same message, in a number of different forms here. I don’t know why the artist is using multiple forms, but Rime? I’m guessing.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention, of the 3 lingams that yoga references as being in the body, through which the kundalinishakti, subtle energy, moves and brings us to enlightement, the itara lingam is marked by WT’s third eye in her forehead, and the svayambhu lingam is marked by a gold flower, between WT’s heels and framed by her belt ties.
Moving on. Since were were talking about Avalokiteshvara anyway…. There’s a version of Avalokiteshvara that’s called Chintamani lokeshvara, ie, the wish-fulfilling lord of the world. In this form, he stands under a wish-fulfilling tree full of jewels shaped, peacocky leaves.
See the leaf-shape pendants hanging off WT’s hoop earrings? That’s probably a reference to Avalokiteshvara, who is another manifestation of Amitabha. But that’s a rabbit hole, I’m not going down. I’m just pointing it out. Many times this leaf shape appears on deity jewelry, see the yab-yum above. Check out the bracelets.
White Tara is Chintamani chakra Tara, ie, the wish-fulfilling wheel Tara. Avalokiteshvara is Chintamani lokeshvara, ie, the wish-fulfilling lord of the world. So, some crossover and emphasis by the artist on the wish-fulfilling aspect of WT for sure. And just to be clear, WT’s jewelry, has ball finials, not leaf shaped ones on them. What does that mean?
Would you be surprised if I told you the jewelry is all on major groupings of acupressure points?
White Tara always sits in lotus-posture on a white disc in the center of a white lotus. Artistically you need the light pink to pick out and show detail on the white. Some artists used pale blue (so, a bit grey-blue) to do the picking out. This is how we came to have, today, all pink or all blue lotus petals. What started as a necessary artistic convention, began to skew the religion in people’s minds till people began to incorporate the artist’s mere necessity as a religious fact. Hold that thought as we continue.
Tara is always depicted as beautiful, peaceful, graceful and youthful like a sixteen-year-old. Ok, so….16 years old. Let’s talk about that. Tibetan medical texts say girls are sexually mature at 12 (and boys at 16). Which makes a girl’s 16 then, equal to 30 today? Average life expectancy in 1951 in Tibet was 35 years. So 16? Sure young, but also average middle age even in the 20th century. Probably 16 as fully mature was even more true in the 18th or 19th century when I think this WT thangka was made.
Tara is always said to have with full breasts, although our painting looks like it was done by someone that’s never seen a breast, full or otherwise. However, those breasts hide a secret. Look closely at what the outline of her left breast and hand form. It’s a crescent moon. The symbol of male/skilful means (or method). And the right breast then becomes the sun. The symbol of female/wisdom. Pretty neat.
Expanding on the breasts, look how the stem of the utpala, symbol of enlightenment, comes out of WT’s cleavage. The artist is sending a super clear message. I find it sort of interesting you have the inverted triangle of the necklace pointing down and the up triangle markings on the solar plexus. Male/female. With the sun/moon breasts in between. And utpala stem swirling through and up.
It’s always mentioned Tara has a narrow waist. The WT thankga here shows an abnormally narrow waist, positively death defying. But she also has very clear up angle (triangle) markings as rib marks on the solar plexus, indicating a person with strong ascetic bent, by this I mean habit of fasting. This is not to say WT fasts, but I think it’s a recognition of real serious (female) practitioners, who would be fasting periodically.
Tara is always shown smiling and her face radiant and white like a full moon. The moon face is the most attractive type of face in China. Makes sense. Part of her long blue-black hair is bound up into a slightly askew double topknot (which is a bodhisattva style). The other half hangs loosely down her shoulders and back. It’s not the perfect, elaborate hairstyle of a royal. It’s the hairstyle of a serious practitioner.
Although it probably gets overlooked, you need to look. Our WT has a full top on (though it is not tied up). She is not actually bare breasted and half naked. WT as a female Buddha is not really someone I can take seriously in many thangka, especially the modern ones. So, how did we get to WT as semi-nude, young girl dripping with jewels and very much a male viewer’s sexual fantasy?
Well, as we’ve talked about before, there was a belief that if an artist gave an image more jewels, the artist and the owner of the thangka would get richer. So artists making religious art that had as its purpose helping them/their patrons achieve wealth was a real thing.
We’ve talked about her being 16, which today is young. But when texts were written, not so much. So partially, the “young” is a mistake based on evolution in health care. Tara should be, in actual modern equivalent, 30 probably. Youthfully mature, not underage. Check male deity descriptions, I doubt they ever use the word “young” there.
The WT thangka shows a slender, even ascetic version of a woman. She’s certainly not voluptuous (in terms of curvy). But modern sadhanas use of word “voluptuous,” a wholly sexualized term one could never use on a male deity. This word “voluptuous” as a key instruction of how to visualize WT. “Voluptuous” might be a mistranslation for well-proportioned or pleasing or some word you could use for a male deity too, but … male translators?
I honestly think the nudity has to do with the commercialization of thangkas and degenerate foreign influence. I’m thinking thangkas being painted for more secular reasons, as exotic art white “Christian” British civil servants and soldiers could leer at, but still insist was not porn but just art. Read The Queen’s Daughters in India by Elizabeth Andrew & Katharine Bushnell, MD. from 1899. It’s only 59 pages, but it makes clear the degenerate bit.
There’s a lot of nudity in Indian art. Make sense, it’s a warm country. The body is nothing to be ashamed of. And Buddhism is an import from India, so it’s natural there would be an artistic influence imported as well. On the other hand, Buddhism was also, simultaneously imported from China. So it’s natural there would be an artistic influence imported from there as well. Neither of those are noxious influences. But they’re not wholly benign either.
That Chinese influence is something we’ve been talking about. I already mentioned the Tang art influences. And of course, we have Indian flowers, chakras, and yantra. But it’s important to remember that Tibet blended these schools of religious thought and religious art with its own native religion and art to speak its own truth in its own way. What I’m asking you to think about is how, as one’s world expands through trade, one’s thinking and art sometimes changes – and not always in a good ways.
India, Nepal and China were trading directly with Tibet. For centuries, the British Empire’s trade network included trading with India, Nepal and China. The British desperately wanted to trade with Tibet directly, but Tibet wouldn’t have it. When things didn’t work out, there was a failed British invasion of Tibet in 1904. Thank God for high mountains with treacherous passes.
Nevertheless, we have to accept the British presence in the region from 1757 to 1948. European contact with China dates back to 1300, British contact from 1793 officially, but unofficially a least two centuries earlier. We know Western missionaries (Jesuits) were wandering about Tibet in 1624, and China in 1582, and in India in 1542. Western influences were surrounding Tibet, creeping around within Tibet. They had to be influencing existing indigenous religious, social, artistic, cultural, and economic norms.
My sense is, powerful female figures like Tara over time became diminished as a result of Western Christian anti-female influence in the region. I think there’s a reason that today’s Tara has her head demurely bowed, her body bent — as if she’s servant. I think there’s a sexist reason modern Tara isn’t always shown with all chakravartin insignia before her, appearing as one vested with chakravartin authority.
Tara should sit erect, like a male Buddha, in lotus pose. Our old White Tara does that. If you look at the modern pic of Chenrezig, way above, and then our old WT, you see they are both the same. They are artistically invested with the same qualities. They wear the same upper garment. They sit the same way. They have the same head shape. That’s not true of Chenrezig compared to the “topless” Tara. She’s an older Tara, but she seems diminished, perhaps by an artist who has been “western white Christian” gender-bias influenced.
Determining the impact of Western Christian, anti-woman, anti woman with authority, culture on Tibetan culture is not something I’ve made a huge study of so think as you wish. But in the art of China, you see more female moon-round white faces. European more female egg-shape white faces. Chinese women, straight standing. European women, bent from their corsets. The classic white European artistic stock female parts, unfortunately, all show up in Tibetan most powerful female deity thangkas.
It’s true that when artists begin making commercial art for foreigners, it corrupts their traditional art forms and over time starts to impact traditional religious views. That’s the power of art. Suddenly the white lotus is pink or blue and not white at all. But it doesn’t mean all artists do it. Or that every branch of a religion accepts this kind of foreign “creep.” You tend to get two kinds of images for a period of time, one that’s religious, one that’s commercial.
Lamas used to be the primary painters of most thangkas. Because they were religious objects used for religious purposes. Now most thangkas are made by professional artists. People who make a living selling art to other people – any people, of any culture and any religion. Tourist trade stuff. Religious thangkas are a minority of what’s being purposefully commissioned. And I’m not saying this is wrong. It just is. People gotta eat.
Tourists are encouraged to buy thangkas to support the local artists. And lamas are ok with that. It’s a modern world. HH the Dalai Lama gives teachings and empowerments online now. HH moves with the times. An old lama publically objected to HH doing this a few years back, got smacked down pretty quick, and publically repented. And now, in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, we can see why HH was right about going online!
There’s no blame here. We all grow up with toxic ideas about everything, race, politics, class, religion, gender, even our own gender. There used to be lots of lamas that would tell a woman, you have to be reborn a man to reach enlightenment, in your next life. So be a good woman (by the male culture’s definition) now and maybe you’ll get your chance later. Sound familiar?
My lama said that was horse puckey. Human being is a human … being. Enlightenment fully possible for woman. Modern thinker. But people are often so enmeshed in their culture (or trying to hang on to what they think still is culture in the face of a world passing them by) they don’t even understand their thinking has nothing to do with preserving their culture and is actually way out of sink with logic or reality.
Remember the dog opening the box to get the treat vs the toddler? Everyone is like that toddler in some respect. Very few people slow down and ask “why do I do this?” or “why do I think this?” My lama was not a progressive, he just questioned his mindset, honestly, and realised there was no logic to “enlightenment” sex discrimination. He still got upset if you stepped over, instead of around, a sacred text or wore a mala as a fashion statement. But he in those instances he was upset for legit and rational reasons.
In fact, my lama was once asked if the Dalai Lama might be reborn a woman. He said, “No reason why not, a white, western woman — from a family that practiced Tibetan Buddhism.” So a white German woman could be the next incarnation of Chenrezig. A Nepali girl born in Australia in 1997 might be the new Panchen Lama. And this brings to mind how far many minds have yet to go.
To my lama, a woman might be the next incarnation of His Holiness, and a man might be an incarnation of Machig Labdron. The idea that only men are incarnations of men/male deities and women are incarnations of women/female deities was a non-starter to him. To most men though, that’s still kinda “out there.” And the idea that those incarnations as well might be a different color? orientation? nationality?
Yes, even some very great and good enlightened folks have a long way to go still. But as for me, I’m done. Namaste. I have other things to be getting on with soon. Advent calendars to buy. Chocolate to eat. Planes to catch. Anything else you want to know about White Tara, you’ll have to go and ask her. It’s what I did. She’s sure to answer. Reminder: online White Tara Empowerment this Sunday. Everyone welcome.
My Gran and I were watching the local news Monday. A chirpy young female reporter asked a white middle-aged man waiting in long foodbank line for a Thanksgiving basket, what he was thankful for. There was a long pause. He looked at her smiling face and said, “I lost my job months ago. My wife is still working, but her hours were severely cut down.” She went on smiling, and cut to the studio.
I looked at my Gran and said, “He’s alive.” Gran said, “And he’s not sick.” I said, “He had a job, so he might be getting UI.” Gran said, “He has a wife.” I said, “She’s still working.” Gran said, “He has a happy dog.” (It was in the car with him). I said, “He has a car.” Gran said, “And it has gas.” I said, “He’s got access to food.” Gran said, “He must have a home to cook it in.” I nodded.
After a long pause, while the anchors bantered about covid fatigue, my Gran said, “I’ll bet you really want to go home.” I felt some tears slide down my face. I shook my head and brushed them away. “That’s the worst part. No matter where I am or who I’m with, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.” “That happens to people sometimes,” my Gran replied, “in a war.”
I thought about Frodo, back at the Shire. There, but not there. He eventually sailed into the West. Last time I checked, covid had shut down cruises, not that Viking sails to the Undying Lands. And anyway, the war wasn’t over for me. The ring was still hanging around my neck. Doing damage, not just to me but everyone, the whole world.
I looked at my Gran, 90+ years and many wars won. “So,” I said, “how do people recover?” Gran thought for a moment, “They just decide home is wherever they are, and family is whomever they’re with, till the war ends. Then they find a nice spot and build themselves a new life.”
She was right.
What was essentially was “wrong” with me was all in my mind, in how I looked at my situation. Much like the man and his dog. The man was unhappy. His dog was not. His dog was bouncing around the car, happy to be out, traveling with his favorite person, in a line full of smells of delicious food. People really are way less intelligent than animals.
Humans have problems leaving behind mindsets that are incorrect, irrelevant or outdated. Animals don’t. “What, no food here today?” Okay. Move on or starve. I was resisting the fact “the covid war” was still raging, 11 months later. I long accepted “the war” existed, but the holidays at war was new battle. I had to accept that, and move forward, find new ways to fight the enemy, and always keep in mind that when it’s over, I get the privilege of building myself a new life.
If you think arriving at such acceptance is easy, ask yourself how hard it was for you to accept necessary changes, to accommodate saving your own life, or the lives of those you care for, during the pandemic. I’m guessing it was really, really hard at first. I’m guessing as time wore on, it got easier. Maybe you almost reached some kind of acceptance or balance eventually.
But now, with the holidays, having to face a new set of “firsts” again? I’m guessing today, while some of you are forced to prep a turkey, or side dish, or pie or side dish, for the first time, on your own, maybe without the guiding presence of a special loved, who might have passed too soon this year, today seems incredibly hard or sad. Or both.
Hang in there. There is an end in sight. Remember all the folks on the frontlines, duking it out with covid, risking their lives to save others, while you are home, safe, eating a meal and maybe watching a heart-warming movie or the Ravens pick the bones of the Steelers. What you do these next few days might be the most important thing you ever do. You’re helping the whole nation, by staying safe, and staying home, alone.
I get to be “home-ish” with immediate family this year. They arrive in a few hours. It’s great gift, but it’s only happening because there’s no safer option. My Da has to come down with my mother. Mutti has to take over 24/7 caregiving my Gran, because I need a break. Da has to drive me to the airport so Mutti can stay with Gran and so I don’t have added risk by sitting an in a public transport to the airport for an hour or more. I have to fly home because there isn’t any other option.
My parents (and Hugh, who lives with them still), have been quarantining for 2 weeks and were covid tested before this trip. I have been virtually living in quarantine 24/7 for months, given Gran is 90+ and that’s what it takes to keep her safe. I go out in a mask, once a week, for 1 hr, for mail and groceries. That’s it. We’re being as safe as we can.
When I see other people who are traveling for the holiday just because they can, and they want to? I despair of them. I get so angry. I have to stop and remember they are victims of war too. Victims of bad government, misinformation propaganda, and sometimes just the stupidity of youth.
I recall to mind the Dalai Lama told about the lama that was 18 years in a Chinese prison/re-education camp. His Holiness asked him, “We’re you ever scared you might abandon your faith?” The wizened old lama said, “Oh yes, many times. I feared I might lose my compassion — for the Chinese.”
Don’t let covid win. Don’t give aid and comfort to the enemy. Do the right thing now, for a better future soon. Can’t be with your usual family? Make some time for getting out in nature. Make a new family, like Snow did.
Virtually reach out a hand to an old friend. Take the initiative, make the call/tweet/post/email. Even if they don’t answer, it’ll show on their phone/feed you were there, you thought of them, and cared enough to do something.
Maybe have a look through your brain box and tear down a few mindsets your family left you that are past their sell-by date and kind of stinking things up for you.
Try a little time with a good book, good art, good music, or just looking out your window. Find some tail-wagging joy in the day. Roll in a pile of leaves. Put on a really ugly sweater and dance. Get some paper, tape, and scissors and decorate your window.
Think about all the good in your life, all the good in the world, and what a wonderful world it is. Above all, make a little time tomorrow to be truly from the heart thankful for something.
I only have a couple more weeks before I pass through the final bardo. I think I’ve accomplished the one goal I had when I arrived, the reason I was summoned, get my Gran stable. Thanks to Lisnopril and good dosage titration…yeah we’re there. I feel good about that. Good for her, good for Mutti, really good for the Significant Other!
There was a spot of bother about my re-birth in the Pure Land this week. I have a post-Thanksgiving return flight all booked. It’s all planned out. My Da drives Mutti down, we all have T-day and the weekend. Monday, crack of dawn, Da dumps me at LAX, then he goes back to Gran’s for a last breakfast before driving home alone. All sounds good.
But with all the warnings not fly now, the SO is not wild about my travel plans, even with a cloth covered N-95 mask, gloves, and safety goggles. I want to get home ASAP to start quarantine right away. I don’t want to lose more precious days with the SO. I understand the feelings, he’s thinking safety first. I just feel differently.
In 2020, I’ve been home 4 months. If I throw in December, 5 months. If 2021 turns out like I think it will, best case scenario, I’m going to be home 8.5 months. If I have to come back in Sept 2021 because that’s how long it takes to get a vaccine in the US? I could lose 3 more months and be home only 5.5 months. It’s been a long, long time, and I’m tired of being at the front. I want to go home.
I reminded the SO that his “decades older than me” parents were flying home, 12 hrs with multiple airline-required mask changes every 3 hrs. My flight was under 3 hrs. Was he telling his folks to drive across Canada and take a ship to Europe? Did he really expect me to drive 20 hrs, 1,200 miles, in winter, in Gran’s 1999 Chevy that hasn’t been 7 miles from the house in years?
His response was deafening silence. I could tell he was probably turning over a response. Before it came, La Mere in the background began talking to him, in French. I heard her take his phone from him. “He had to go.” she said in a bubbly tone. I bet. Off to have a scream in the backyard?
“We are bottling the beer we made.” This was news. “You’re making beer?” “Did we not tell you?” “No, wedid not.” “I guess we forgot.” Apparently Le Pape bought a beer-making kit online to while away the time during the newest provincial lockdown. Things had now reached the stage where liquid was being poured into bottles and then it was into the closet for a couple of weeks.
She said they were going to open the brews the day I got home. I thought we’d miss each other, but apparently, they leave the afternoon of the day I arrive. Because I arrive in the morning, I’ll get home and be able to have lunch with them — from behind my glass door. But still, a fest a la La Mere! Yum.
She said it was good I was flying, so we could all be together, however briefly. “N’est-ce pas?” she called to her son. “Bien sûr.”came the frosty response. It was not a happy ending, but not all endings are. I felt bad. The SO is not a churl. Just the opposite. But there was nothing I could do. If I had a better car, I would attempt the drive. But I don’t.
And that was that. I accepted reality and moved on. What he did, I dunno. I began to pull out the Thanksgiving décor. Clean the house. Tidy the garden. Get in a couple weeks worth of food and supplies. And generally ready up for the coming caregiver hand-off. Too, after all that beer talk, I had to call ’round to see if I could find a nice turkey-appropriate tripel (a type of brewski) for Da.
So, since we’re talking libations, we’re walk through the WT offerings today. You thought I’d forget, didn’t you? But first, before we break camp and travel on, I need to go back to the botany. After meditating on WT and before tuning in to Joel Osteen last Sunday….yeah, I’m complicated …. I had an epiphany. I had never counted all those pesky ambiguous green leaves in the rings or the WT’s lotus seat petals.
Turns out, out artist gives us, not 64 lotus petals, but 64 lotus leaves (msotly in groups of 3) surrounding Tara. And with that, I’m even more convinced we are meant to view this work as a mandala. (If you want a great free read on the art of mandalas, Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism.) Which makes the odd stuff around the rim, hidden under the corner paint, almost certainly some type of stylized fire.
Keep in mind, too, that mandalas are designed to pass on secret knowledge. So this also explains why the WT is so full of strange secrets. Speaking of which, The actual lotus seat of WT is made up 6 sections of 6 petals, so 36. If you add in the 8 full leaves on the utpala, you get 8+36+64 or 108. And the two tiny odd shape oval leaves off the utpala, make a perfect reference to the 2 counters you find on every 108 bead Tibetan Buddhist mala.
Okay, so moving on. Almost every thangka has an offering pile somewhere on it. There’s a wide variety of offerings that can be made. Most folks – and this includes most Buddhist folks — have no idea what these offerings are, let alone what they mean, because they do have meaning.
What ends up in an offering pile depends on what/who is being depicted and the artist creating the thankga. Take a look at the offering pile, front and center, at the bottom of the WT thankga below. Difficult to see, I know, but …. I’ll help you out.
What’s on the WT thangka is almost identical to what’s on the Amitabha thangka example a few paragraphs above. And that should tell you something right away. The kind of offering Amitabha deserves or warrants is equal to the kind of offering WT deserves or warrants — in the artist’s view.
On the scale of important deities, Amitabha falls just below the Buddha himself in many people’s view. He’s hugely popular. In the artist’s estimation, going by the offerings, WT is way up there, equal to the likes of Amitabha. High indeed. Okay, so just what are the offerings shown on the WT thangka?
Starting at the left, here’s what I think I see:
round queen’s earrings,
red coral (wheel),
triple-eyed gem (flaming jewel), in vase.
a general’s insignia (as a trefoil cloud)
Unicorn (rhino) horn,
square minster’s earrings,
lots of red and black cintamani
In the list, there are 7 items in bold. These 7 represent a grouping called the “insignia of the chakravartin.” A chakravarti is said, in Hindu or Buddhist lore, to be a virtuous universal king who rules all of the great continents of earth. I once heard a Tibetan lama say a woman could never be a chakravarti. Uh….. I think the artist here disagrees. I know I do.
The 7 items in the list signify or reflect what a great king would have. A queen, chariots, elephants (war and peace machines), a general (with soldiers), an octagonal magical gem (often interpreted as a religion, ie, Buddhism), a cavalry (again, horses as war and peace machines), and a prime minister.
When you see these 7 items on a thangka, there’s a “master of the universe” vibe going on. Or in this case, mistress of the universe. Trained Buddhist thangka artists would know when to use these items. Other artists….not so much. Way to judge the religious quality of a thangka on the fly? Check the offerings to see if they’re appropriate.
Chakra means wheel. The chakravarti is the wheel king. It’s the idea of a king that rules the whole world (a wheel in itself) with peace (which some interpret as the wheel of dharma). Since the chakravarti is virtuous, 7 miracle treasures appear. I’m not going to name all these, rabbit holes, not important now, just know they’re not the same as the 7 insignia. (And that people everywhere just really like the number 7.)
Included in the 7 miracle treasures is something I will tell you about because it’s important. It is a large wheel spinning (the chakraratnaya) that appears in the sky. The king and his entire army (all the horses, chariots, soldiers, and elephants) can then travel anywhere within the spinning wheel in the sky. Think about how big the spinning wheel in the sky has to be to carry an entire army.
Anyway…The king travels all over the world — in his airborne spinning wheel — and teaches all other kings how to rule with peace. (Ashoka is considered a chakravarti.) The king can even travel to the lower heaven (i.e., other) realms with the power of chakraratnaya if he so chooses. I know, I know, you don’t care. You just want to talk about the flying wheel. Okay, fine.
Yes, I know, it sounds a lot like a high-tech space cruiser from a sci-fi flm. I’m not disagreeing. Buried in many ancient religious texts (the book of Ezekiel in the Bible for instance) and art are often conceptual understandings of scientific things we’re still at the edge of realizing today. It’s why so many physicists, cosmologists, engineers, artists, and scientists like reading ancient texts. There’s a heck of a lot in there.
Coming back to WT, the wish-fulfilling wheel. It’s really undeniable she’s been placed in a wheel by our artist. The 5 rings around her person are not, I don’t think, to be read as a wheel. They may represent the 5 elements of the natural world, over which she has power. If I asked you to name the color and the element it means, being from the West you would likely say:
Yellow = …gold? metal (actually in China: earth; actually in India, Sanskrit: earth)
Green = earth (wood; air)
Blue = water (water; space)
Red = fire (fire; fire)
White = air (metal; water)
They may also represent directions, aka 4 corners of the world, the universe. The way it’s seen in Tibetan Buddhism is the 5 female Buddhas, who are consorts of 5 Buddhas and these 5 Buddhas/colors also represent directions:
Yellow = Water (Mamaki, consort of Ratnasambhava; South)
Green = Air/wind (Green Tara, consort of Amoghasiddhi; North)
Blue = Earth (Buddhalochana, consort of Akoshbhya; the motionless center of the universe)
Red = Fire (Pandaravasini, consort of Amitabha; West)
White = Space (White Tara, consort of Vairochana; East)
It’s entirely possible there’s also a “secret” meaning going on in the inner rings (and the outer rings too) which we haven’t talked about. If you look closely, there is a thin black line just outside the dark blue line. It’s on the inner rings and the outer rings. Typically on a mandala the rings are, reading from outside to inside, flames, vajras, then lotus petals.
A black line is sometimes found between the flame line and the vajra line. It represents an ash (cremation) line. When bad things try to enter the sacred world of the mandala, from the material world, the outer flames of the mandala burn it into black ash. And even that purified ash is locked out of the deity’s realm by the adamantine blue cosmic vajra line.
The blue vajra line, or vajra circle, acts like an all-encompassing shield. It designates/creates the “safe space” within which all negative forces are kept away from the “residence” of the deity. Typically there’s a ring of lotus petals (64) after the vajra line. But our 64 leaf/petals are stuck around the WT’s inner rings. And even that’s not as unusual as the fact our WT has the charnel and vajra line combo a second time, on the inner rings. What might this mean?
I think we could be talking about two realms/levels of protection. A WT protected realm apart from the real world, but also apart from WT’s own pure realm. An intermediary place, a world under her care. Possibly the monastic world. This would explain the monks on a boat on the lake within the Pure Realm. But perhaps also, equally, given the second boat with blue everyday fisherman next to the monks’ boat, a realm in which WT’s average Tibetan devotee practitioners also reside.
There may also be an inner meaning to the inner rings, which lie within the 64 leaves, ie, the sacred space. If the yellow (south) and green (north) lines are outside the second charnel line, it might be saying “yes, Indian Buddhism, Monglian Buddhism, good” but less pure. Once inside the second charnel line we have the red (west/Tibet- possibly nyingma) and the white (east/Chinese- possibly Zen/chan) Buddhism. The line of pure sky between the red and white lines can be read as the pure awareness that are central to the highest teachings of Dzogchen/Mahamudra and Zen.
Back to WT and the wheel. The word “wheel” is right in her title. White Tara, the wish-fulfilling wheel. Is she the chakraratnaya, the vehicle, that gets us to enlightenment? Possibly. If you read some of the more advanced sadhana‘s, there’s a lot going on with wheels there.
Chakravartin is a unique word. Figuratively it’s meaning is “whose wheels are moving,” in the sense of “whose chariot is rolling everywhere without obstruction.” (Sounds a lot like the eyes of God, 2 Chronicles 16:9.) It can also be interpreted as instrumental: “through whom the wheel is moving.” And WT sadhanas tend to feature wheels moving through her.
The Tibetan word translates as “monarch who controls by means of a wheel.” This makes me think the artist is trying to say WT is a chakravarti, and through her (as a yidam) the unobstructed wheel moves/turns and we can gain a long life, remove obstructions, and attain enlightenment. She’s the virtuous peaceful royal owner/master of a remarkable vehicle, and she can take you anywhere.
This is just my take on it. You don’t have to accept it. You probably shouldn’t. I’m a Christian, a lazy Nyingma with Rime bent, and my Root Lama literally died on the lam, a criminal outcast and a public disgrace. If you’re really interested, please, seek out a fully qualified, lineage-approved lama, or read a book on the matter — preferably by a Kagyu or a Sakya or Gelug.
I listen to many different teachers. It’s okay for people to tell me what they think, it’s just not okay for people to tell me what to think. I’ll make up my own mind, thanks. And that’s probably why I was drawn to Nyingma. You have to be a little bit crazy, independent, artistic, or outside the box. If that’s not you, that’s great too. There’s a vajrayana that’s just right for you.
Ok, I’m going to “wheel back” to the three natural things in the chakravartin offering pile: Elephant tusk, unicorn tusk, and coral. Elephant tusk clearly speaks to a powerful army, but also to a culture that appreciates the arts, literature, and scientific knowledge. Ivory as a substrate for art, writing, medicine are all part and parcel of Asian culture.
The unicorn tusk is actually a deer antler. Deer antler had medicinal uses – mainly as an aid to male virility. Deer antler is protective, for the deer. It also falls off and regrows, which makes it a symbol of regeneration or immortality. You can also use antler the way you use tusk, in art. People ask how did a deer antler became associated with unicorns. I’ll show you.
When you look on the WT’s offerings, you see that weird coat-hook shape to the unicorn horn is not weird at all. It’s a single deer antler, which has a shorter bottom part and a longer top part. As time passed, and global trade expanded, modern artists began to think the horn was a rhino horn because they no longer understood what they were looking at on the old thangkas.
Please, stop killing rhinos and elephants! Rhino horn has no place on a Tibetan thangka. Rhino horns belong on living rhinos. Period. As for elephants? Destroying an elephant in the ancient world was like destroying the best tractor, best tank, best auto you ever could own. They would never kill an elephant. Kill an elephant just for it’s ivory?! Dear God, how heartless and utterly stupid could such a person be?
Moving on to the red or precious coral. The coral is said to be a wheel, and you might say it’s the wheel of a chakravarti king’s chariots. Chariot wheels get pretty red in bloody battles. Sure, why not? It’s among the chakrvartin insignia after all. But in this WT thangka, the artist when out of his/her way to stylize the coral to be a swastika. This is an ancient symbol for wheel-like things, and nothing to do with nazis.
It’s use here is as a representation. In Indian belief, it represents the sun, which is a red, eternal, chakra. Chinese Daoists would see it as a symbol of eternity. Bonpo would view it and think eternal and unchanging. For Tibetan Buddhists it’s a symbol for the earth, eternally stable and indestructible. In all views, it’s a shorthand for eternal. So it makes sense on a WT thangka.
Alright, let’s talk some other objects. The two conch shells, the mirror, the general’s cloud scepter and the red and black cintamani. We’ll start with the right turning white conch shells. The “spiritual” conch is always right turning. Natural conch turns left. An auspicious blast of a conch (a traditional battle horn) is said to scare off evil spirits and creatures, and avert disasters. Makes sense, you see a bear, make a loud noise, it runs away.
Buddhists think of the conch as a symbol of proclaiming the dharma. One of 32 signs of Buddha’s body is his conch-like voice, ie it really carries, booming through the all directions of space. In iconography, you see 3 curved conch-like lines on his throat to indicate this. If you look on the WT thangka, you’ll see she has such lines on her throat, too.
I don’t know why there are 2 conch shown on the thangka here. One proclaiming wisdom, one scaring off evil? But I can tell you white conch are associated with the Brahmin (priestly) cast in Hinduism. The highest caste, responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge. And that the conch is regarded as 1 of the 8 auspicious symbols in Tibet.
The mirror (melong) is a standard in Buddhist iconography. Symbol of emptiness, or pure awareness, reflecting everything but attached to nothing. But in Tibet mirrors are also used for divination and diagnosing and treating illnesses. HH the Dalai Lama has an oracle who uses a mirror, and wears it as breastplate.
The office of the Dalai Lama has had an oracle attached (the Nechung Oracle) since the Great Fifth Dalai Lama (yep, a Nyingma), started the tradition in the 17th century. And in case you forgot, his stint in office is overlaps the possible time frame of this WT thangka’s creation.
The melong aren’t standard mirrors. They’re convex. It often has a gold back with an inscribed circle and what looks like 4 dots within the circle. The 4 dots represent the 4 directions. The convex, external side, reflects bad energy and bad spirits away from the wearer, dispersing them in the 4 directions. Ingenious. The concave side faces the wearer’s body and this allows positive energy to be focused into the body.
It’s also said the melong can ‘house’ the spirits and deities the practitioner uses. So when you see a melong, in the offering pile, and you see the convex (dots) side pointed at the viewer, it means the deity is facing the mirror’s concave side. Any negative energy coming from you is being deflected away. Any good energy from the yidam is being focused back on her.
But WT is sitting in front of a moon disc, and the moon reflects light, so that it bounces back. Therefore, just as the sun’s light reflects off the moon towards earth, all of the WT’s good energy is blown back onto her and the moon behind her, which throws it all forward directly to you, the viewer. Clever science. I love this kind of nerdy stuff!
In traditional Tibetan medical usage, the reflection of the sick person is used in diagnosis and treatment. Water can be poured over the reflection of the person (or object) reflected in the mirror as a blessing or purification. Also water may be placed within it for blessing. (Yep, like holy water in a font. I went there.) I really can’t tell if this is a plain mirror (Buddhist reference) or a melong (more Bon). Either could work. I personally think it’s a melong.
Okay, now we come to those little black and red round balls that you might have mistaken for fruit. They’re philosopher stones or cintamani. They denote wisdom, compassion, and virtue. Thankgas usually use multicolor cintamani, like Amitabha’s pile above. For some reason, this artist went black and red. I suspect I know why.
Cintamnai are thought to originally be bits of meteorites, so black and red does make some sense. But “realism” is not the reason. It’s about hats. And politics. In Tibetan Buddhism, like Catholicism, men like their unusual, colorful hats. You can see one type of hat on the conch-blowing men above. You can read about the multiplicity of hats here on the Himalayan Art website.
In the case of this WT thangka, there are only red and back cintamani because Nyingma are the Red Hat sect, and Sakya and Kagyu are the Black Hat sects. The fact that Rime is a reaction against the Gelug, the Yellow Hat sect, is why the offering pile is devoid of yellow cintamini, or even any yellow tinged color like orange or green. It’s an artistic way of saying pure Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu only, no Gelug here. (Damn, that’s cold.)
There are also exactly 9 cintamani of each color. The 9 yanas are a path to enlightenment within the Nyingma tradition. I expect that the artist used 9 red ones to convey the nine yanas. As for the 9 black? Possibly the artist was trying to saying “the black hat teaching are also equally a full path to enlightenment.”
The top set of cintamani, known as the “three jewels.” (People love the number 3, also.) They represent the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. That is the Buddha, his noble teachings, and all the buddhist travelers walking the path with you. You’ll notice the three jewels have flames surrounding them. The flames are symbolic of the burning away of false desires and ignorance, giving way to enlightenment.
You’ll also notice they look really phallic. I can’t say there’s not an association here. Read the linked article. So, I’d also like to pause here to point up that the phallus-friendly lama saint of Bhutan, actually came from Tibet. I’d also bet money this lama saint was a Nyingma. Just saying.
When you read the article link, remember this was over 5 centuries ago but Tibetan Buddhism hasn’t really changed. Tantra exists to enlighten you. But there’s a fragile cultural-religious line between “ancient means of freeing people of useless or outmoded ways of thinking and conventions” and modern abuse. If modern western students and teachers aren’t really clear about their intentions and actions…. those students get hurt, their teachers end up criminals on the lam, and needless disgrace befalls the precious dharma.
Okay, back to the offerings. The very top jewel in the flaming triple-gem group is supposed to be the chakravartin’s super powerful 8-faceted jewel. Each facet implies a different magical property of the jewel. The properties are:
1) It cools when the days are hot,
2) warms when the days are cold,
3) illuminates the darkness of night, so luminous it can light the path of his army by night)
4) causes rain to fall or a spring to appear when one is thirsty,
5) it brings to fruition what ever the bearer desires,
6) it heals emotional afflictions,
7) cures all of the diseases of those who are in its range of its light and
8) lastly, prevents untimely death as in parents passing on before children.
In the WT thangka, the flaming jewels seem to arise out of a vase or bowl. No, I don’t think that the bowl is a sexual reference to a woman, but you never know. Could be. I can’t for sure say it’s not.
Finally we have the general’s insignia aka the trefoil (which looks like one of those British weather report cloud). The insignia, which you can see on the Amitabha thangka, looks like two epaulets, one white, one gold. Actually, they go on the general’s helmet, front and center. Often crossed, like 4 petal flower (or yeah, a swastika). It’s a common symbol used in modern thangka for the general’s insignia.
However, this is an old WT thangka we’re working with and much like what happened with the unicorn horn changing over time into the rhino horn because the knowledge base was lost or misunderstood, there’s a bit of that going on here too. Today, the trefoil is seen as a Tibetan form of a vajra (scepter), and a riff on the Chinese ruyi (literally “as you wish”) or cloud scepter.
However, what it really is a fungus (mushroom). In ancient China, where this symbol came from, it’s the fungus of immortality. It shows up all over Chinese art, and art featuring traditional Chinese gods and goddess. The name of the fungus ruyi is a homophone that means “as you wish” or “according to your heart’s desire.” When you see this symbol with other symbols, such as a bat for long life, it means, “May you be granted long life.”
The ruyi (of which the fungus is only a homophone) is actually a traditional Chinese two-edged short jian, sword. The blade is around 21 inches. The ruyi fungus is placed the sword hilt for the meaning – “may your wish to kill all your enemies” happen. It’s a close quarters, hack and stab, weapon. I’ve also heard this type of sword called “The General’s Friend.” The Chinese god of war carries one.
In other words, the trefoil’s meaning is deeply military, not monarchy. It’s use on the old thangka is as the general’s insignia. This is why there are no epaulet-like things shown. Symbols have the meaning a group imputes to it. Ours is a Chinese-influenced artist using symbols in a Chinese way. Modern people interpret the trefoil as the triple gem or a vajra scepter. And that’s ok. It’s just not what’s going on here in this thangka, given its context.
Even if you viewed the trefoil as a cut down monarch’s scepter. There’s an implication of authority, but it’s cut down. It’s not full ruler status, which still makes the trefoil perfect to use for a general. And let’s not forget that for a long time in Ancient China, rulership was passed between warlord generals, who were not really kings or emperors.
Not to get into the weeds about clouds again but the development of the ruyi cloud scepter, which has the “as you wish” meaning, lines up with a general’s wishes, which are the same as a ruler’s, to be obeyed and granted. No surprise that over time, a warlord general’s short ruyi sword became stylized into a scepter for decidedly not war-lordy kings who wanted to “look tough.”
Finally, I want to bring up the artist’s use of size, in this case scale and quantity, as a means of expressing the artist’s intended meaning. When you look at the overall offering pile, it stands out that the flaming jewels and the 2 conch shells are huge, compared to say the elephant and unicorn tusks. I’d say the same goes for the vast central pile of only read and black cintamani.
It seems the artist wishes to de-emphasize the wrathful (the military items) as WT is a peaceful deity. But increase emphasis on the healing/teaching items and their meaning. And this makes sense on a WT mandala, which is a source of teaching and healing.
Thee emphasis reads to me,
1) “Hey, listen! Hey, look!” (the large conches), “I’m presenting you the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha” (the flaming triple-gem).
2) “Right here are all the pure wisdom teachings of the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu in one place/practice” (the pile of black and red cintamani).
3) And, “This all wise, all powerful, compassionate Buddha (the 7 chakravartin insignia) is here to dispel evil influences and illness, and realise your Buddha nature” (coral and melong).
This week I wandered through the backyard, placing nuts and seeds at various “stations” for the birds and squirrels and wondered if they saw me as a god. Every day, they wait for the patio curtains to open. Then the yard comes alive with squirrels bouncing through tree limbs, titmice, jays, and wrens singing from the bushes, crows squawking on the fence, and assorted juncos and doves crashing ungracefully onto the lawn.
Then they wait for the sacred cat to be released. Minka always goes out first, while I tend to other things. They find her completely innocuous, which she is. She always goes to the side fence to look for the neighbor cat, to chat. All the wildlife then wait for me to appear. Sometimes I might have to make an early call, and find a young squirrel knocking with trepidation on the patio door, much to her mother’s chagrin.
I always appear in my same hat, workshirt and gumboots, carry my same bowls, and place things in the same spots on the “wish-fulfilling trees” before grasping the “great teal snake” (the hose) and causing water to gush forth from its mouth into birdbaths and bowls. The squirrels are wary, and dash up the trees out of reach, but they don’t fear me. Young creatures of all sort are deposited in the yard like a sort of nursery so mums might go about their business.
Sometimes the crows get pushy and I have to appear in my “wrathful aspect,” ie, without my hat, waving the crows off with a stern look and my workshirt. I wonder how much like a rabbit or alligator lizard I must seem to God. Or how skewed my view of God — who biblically speaking is not even male or singular — must be. It was coming in from such heavenly ponderings, that I found my SO calling and myself quickly returned to more earthly thoughts.
A month from today, I will be home again, post-quarantine, and in his arms! I asked him to get me some Clayboard (by Ampersand). It’s said Clayboard allows acrylics to dry matte not glossy. I thought about all the other options, hot press illustration board and inks, vellum paper and gouaches, even pastels on pastel paper (maybe someday I’ll try it)…but at the end of the day, it’s going to get experimental.
I’d like to use Chromacolour paint. It’s probably the only Western paint that has the same qualities and range of use traditional Tibetan paint does. But it’s from the UK, and I’m not sure if I can get it. Tibetan paint is not Western paint, just as Tibetan grounds are not Western grounds. In Tibet they use distemper. I could make my own distemper paints, but no. Just no.
Inks could certainly work, but they have a less thankga feeling. Gouaches are used a lot in the West for thangkas, but they don’t thin that well. Pastels probably give the most “distemper” quality finish. But long term, it’d be problematic. Pigment rich color pencils such as Prismacolors, could work too. If you’re interested in thangka painting and want to take an online class, Carmen Mesink of the Netherlands does them.
I sent my tracing files up north this week so the SO could print them off at scale. Saves me carrying them around. I figure it might take a month or two to make all the pesky design decisions. I have to rough out about 7 different background corner mockups at this point. Ahg! But patience is a virtue.
In babbling on about mockups and hidden borders to the SO, there came a pause in the conversation. He said something about his mother poking around in my studio and finding a large self-portrait of “an unusual nature.” I knew where this was going.
Just for a lark, it’s not finished yet, but it’s on my to do list, I was painting myself as Betty Grable in her famous poster. You know, as one does. A little risque memento for the SO to have, while I’m away in future. Because given Covid-Suck-It-19, I’m going to be away much of 2021.
I figured he could hang it on the back of our bedroom door and look at it during the long lonely nights when I’m not there. As GI’s past have done with Betty. Extra points if you noticed Betty’s sexy little gold anklet.
I said: Did you see it? He said: No, I didn’t. I said: Good. It’s not finished yet. He said: Valentine’s Day? I said: Yes, you can do an at-length comparison then. He said: Okay. Then he rang off and sent me this video below.
So moving on … back?… over?… to my WT project. Today I’m taking you on a walk through more stuff hidden in plain sight and I’m going to haver (Scottish word) about mountains and flowers. Put your good boots on, it’s a long walk. But not 1000 miles, and eventually we will fall down at WT’s door. I promise.
Last week I was talking about Zen influence. I’m sure some of you were thinking, “No, sorry. I just can’t see it.” That’s just it, I think you can see it. I think we’re meant to see it. The artist built it into the picture, in a kind of code. You just have to know what you’re looking at. No, this is not like QAnon. The artist meant the people looking at her/his work to fully, clearly understand what was being shown.
So, last week I mentioned the Pure Land and how the artist might have riffed on the hills and waters of Yamdrok Lake. And I still think that’s a valid way to see this work. But this week let’s start by hiking ourselves into WT’s Pure Land and counting the mountain peaks that are there. So stroll on through, do a survey, and let me know what you get.
If you said 8 peaks, you’d be forgiven. But what about the peak you can’t see that rises behind White Tara, only the side slopes of which we can see? In reality, there are 9 peaks. They’re sacred peaks. Not unlike Christianity, which also has sacred peaks: Mt Sinai, Mt Carmel, Mt of Olives, Temple Mount, Golgotha/Skull Hill, etc.
In Chinese culture, there are 9 sacred peaks: 5 Daoist and 4 Buddhist. The tallest peak is Emei Shan, home to the top Zen temple in Western China. Emei Shan represents the West. It’s the western most peak, and even at 3,100 meters (10,000 ft) it’s still only a foothill of the chain of high mountains flowing west into Tibet. There’s been a Buddhist temple on Emei Shan since the first century CE.
Emei Shan is regarded as the “home” of Samantabhadra. I’m not going further into the weeds here (but Samantabhadra is an important figure in Tibetan Buddhism in general and the Nyingma school in particular). What’s important here is, when you look at WT, is that you’re looking West at Emei Shan, toward Tibet, and the home of Samantabhadra. But remember too, that WT, the Chinese princess, is looking East, to her homeland.
I don’t know why an artist from Tibet would bother to put the 9 sacred peaks of China in a thangka, and paint them in traditional Chinese painting style and color and manner, and have you the viewer looking at WT, knowing right behind her heart was Mt Emei, the Zen center, unless he/she was trained by a Chinese artist and understood Zen and was making a statement about Zen-Vajrayana crossover.
Alright, while we’re up here, let’s take a walk in the clouds. We have cumulus congestus on the north (right) and south (left) sides peaking up from behind the mountains. These clouds are found up to around 6,000m (20,000 ft) so they’re common in Tibet. They tend to occur in an unstable atmosphere where a lot of atmospheric convection is going on. In other words, when your mind is not still, you’re unstable, and stuff come up.
From this development stage, they get enormously bigger, the mature stage, and way more unstable, till at last they blow up in a spectacular display of lightening, hail, and downpours. At which point, they’re energy is spent and they dissipate. Fascinating, right? Sure, but what do they mean? Well, I think there’s an obvious meaning, no matter how big and loud and spectacular, ultimately they vanish. Because they too were empty.
But in Buddhism clouds are replete with meaning. The most common is that clouds, however big and powerful, are just passing, and in their passing they obscuring the pure sky. But the pure sky is still there. So clouds are often a metaphor for the clear awareness which remains untouched and intact despite the passing clouds. It’s similar to the oft-used Buddhist mirror metaphor.
Zen talks about drifting clouds, and flowing water. This is a lesson on attachment and impermanence. And we see this lesson graphically (and talked about it last week) with the 3 clouds drifting on the far horizon of WT’s flowing lake. In China these large thunderheads are considered “auspicious.” They represent heaven and have an association with good fortune (a shower of luck?).
Whoever painted this WT thangka chose to use Chinese-style clouds. And now I’m going to get really arty and specific. If you look very carefully at the clouds, they are tinted a pale blue violet with a light gold edge. You might be tempted to think, water damage. Nope. Intention. This is a T’ang period (c 900 CE) style of cloud painting called chin pi shan shui (gold, and blue-and-green landscape painting).
You can read about it in the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, (pg 218) first published in 1679, with a complete edition published in 1701, and a Shanghai edition in 1887. It was a popular book. 20 editions. I’m sure any artist coming from China would have known about it, seen it, used it or owned it. Including whoever created this WT thangka. I imagine it’s been kicking around Tibet since its first print run.
What I don’t see in this WT thangka are Tibetan style clouds, which are beautiful, but look stylistically and colorwise very different. Tibetan clouds always have tails to indicate they are fast moving. Sometimes billowing clouds are used in Tibetan art as symbolic of Mahamudra: the union of compassion and wisdom — the ultimate realization of one’s true nature.
Mahamudra is a Kagyu teaching. Simplifying greatly here, Mahamudra is to the Kagyu, what Dzogchen is to the Nyingma. Different name, same thing. I think, given we are talking about art found at a Rime center, at a Sakya monastery, where there was also a strong Kagyu presence, this type of billowing Chinese cloud should be no great surprise.
What are they supposed to symbolize though? Perhaps one thing or many things, depending on who looks at it.
Coming back to earth now to do a little botanical research — heads out of the clouds please! Just like Christianity has botanical references: the lily, the rose, the palm branch, etc., so does Buddhism. There are 5 major flowers you might see on a Tibetan Buddhist thangka.
The Sacred Lotus (100% real but shown with some mythic attributes),
the Ashoka (100% mythical),
the Champaka (100% real),
the Utpala (100% real or 100% mythical, but often shown with peony or lotus flowers’ stylistic elements), and
the Datura (100% real).
I’ll start with the sacred lotus, a real plant, Nelumbo nucifera. They call WT lotus-born, I’m sure you can see why. This means pure. WT is born of a white lotus. Lots of artists fail at the gate on this attribute. I’m sure there are some sadhanas out there that make this mistake as well. Life imitating the mistakes of art.
She sits on a petals-up lotus, which indicates she’s a peaceful deity, on a white moon cushion, which indicates skillful means or method. She is wisdom, seated on skilful means. In Tibetan Buddhism, women are wisdom, men are compassion/skillful means. It’s the reverse of Western thought where women are often deemed compassionate and men wise.
Lotus flowers are truly amazing plants. Individual lotus plants have been documented to live over 1,000 years. They can even revive themselves after a long period of dormancy. A 1,300 year old lotus seed was successfully germinated. Needless to say, the lotus (and thus WT, who is sitting on a lotus seed head cushion) is associated with having a long life and also regeneration after a period of dormancy (illness).
Thousands of years ago, people in India noticed the lotus was self-cleaning. Today we understand the science of it, and call it the lotus effect. The lotus produces a coating that makes it hyperhydrophobic (super water repellant). Dirt and water don’t stick. They just roll off. And isn’t that what you want as a Buddhist? For all the dirt to roll off so there’s just pure mind?
In one of the more freaky lotus plant facts, their flowers thermo-regulate, like mammals. So, they make a good analogy for people and the mind. They grow out of the mud, all that mental junk, samsara, but nothing sticks to it. They only grow in quite, almost still, waters. So if you’re mind isn’t still, no stainless lotus blossom. When they rise up above the water, they turn to the sun (the dharma) and bloom, the flower becomes a metaphor for enlightenment.
For purposes of not chasing wild hares, Lotus like to grow in 1-8 ft of water, at temps of 73F to 81F, usually April to September is their growing season. They’re summer flowers. So as we look at the thangka scene, it’s a scene meant to convey a perpetual summer. The mountains are green, that lake is calm, the sky is blue, the thunderheads are rolling away. Perfect lotus/enlightenment conditions.
What you may not have noticed, if you’re not into botany, is that the lotus leaves are all wrong. In the real world, lotus leaves are round. The lotus leaves (and foliage) our artist uses, I think, are a stylistic thing. They are, botanically speaking, a bit of a cross between a peony (spring, beauty, wealth, talent, intelligence associations in China) leaf and a chrysanthemum (autumn, long life & health associations in China) leaf.
It’s a “sacred” lotus with a goddess on it, so it has to be in some way different from a real sacred lotus. In the leaves I guess is how the artist makes that distinction. But I think the artist may be trying to say something as well with this leaf choice and I’m just not as up to scratch on my “shrubby” Tibetan Buddhist iconography as I should be.
If you look on either side of WT’s arms, you’ll see lotus flowers in the ring around her. Interestingly, these side lotuses are shown partly open, their centers can’t be seen. This usually is taken to mean mean enlightenment is beyond ordinary sight. Seen, but not seen. On the other hand, if WT herself is to be taken to be the center of the lotus….She is enlightenment, or a way to it.
Lotuses comes in different colors. The color matters. It signifies something. In this case, it’s a white lotus (even though it has touches of pink) and a white lotus represents mental purity and spiritual perfection. This lotus is also a reference to the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important to Mahayana Buddhism and the Pure Land School of thought.
Amitabha is at the center of Pure Land Buddhist thought, and you can read about it here. It’s an easy BBC read. I’m not taking you there. But you should go and know. He comes up a lot in WT thangkas.
Leaving lotus land behind, take a peak at the flower directly above WT’s head. It’s a fictional flower called an ashoka. In Tibetan Buddhism there’s a trinity of holy flowers: lotus, ashoka, champaca. The ashoka is deeply associate with Amitabha (and with Amitabha — we’re circling back to the Pure Land, super popular with Chinese Buddhists) and a real-life king named Ashoka.
Ashoka was a great warrior that led his people to freedom and ultimately became their king. He was king over a vast and diverse empire. Unlike most kings, Ashoka put his people’s welfare and interests above his own. He promoted Buddhism but he insisted on religious tolerance, teaching his people that they could each learn from another’s religion. How Rime! How Enlightenment!
It’s said that when Amitabha heard about the deeds of Ashoka on behalf of liberating people, physically and spiritually, he wept a tear. That tear fell and sprouted into the ashoka flower. (Yes, lots of tears turning into things in Buddhism.) So when we see the ashoka flower, it’s a reference to Amitabha and to the possibility of using our power to attain spiritual freedom from things that enslave the soul.
In some WT thangkas you’ll see a tiny red Amitabha painted up top in the center of WT’s crown. In this WT thangka, the artist subtly references Amitabha, and all that he means, by placing the akosha flower above her head. You’ll also see a little red square on the center of her necklace. That too is likely an Amitabha reference.
Small, carved red gemstone amulets of Amitabha placed in necklaces are still being made today. For the record, I think it’s unfair, possibly racist, to call these amulets. Catholic Christians call the same things “medals.” But you get what I mean, amulets/medals. It’s a human universal to carry talismans.
Money for nothing, I also have issues with saying Buddhists have mantras but Christians have prayers. The Hail Mary is a mantra. It’s a group of words repeated over and over. Jesus gave an example of how to pray in the Our Father. His followers today repeat it over and over. It’s become a mantra. It stopped being a prayer after Jesus said it.
And Jesus specifically said, “Don’t pray by repeating words/prayers over and over.” So…if you’re using the Lord’s Pray as a mantra, admit it to yourself, and use it as such. If you intend to pray to God, they way Jesus said you should, just let rip and pray from your heart.
Moving on to the large yellow-orange flowers in between the ashoka and the lotuses, on the outside of the inner rings, these are champaka (champaca, champ flowers). There are real champaca trees. It’s a good timber tree. The real flowers are very fragrant. The flowers are used to make incense. The myth says the champaca flowers are from a wish-fulfilling tree that confers love, compassion and beauty.
People will wear a champaca in their hair, but only one, because they have such a strong smell. If you look closely at White Tara’s hair band, at the very top center, you’ll see, that’s a champaca flower I think. I’m also going to point out, while I’m there, the grey spot in the middle of the flower was probably, maybe, gilded at one time.
I suspect, but I can’t prove it, that where you see grey-blue on her earring pendants, and her necklace, and that spot at the center of her hair champaka, all had gilt. If those spots were gilt, and one put a butter lamp in front of her, her face would light up. Gilding is used still today on thangka. I don’t know how to gild, but I might try to give it a go.
Coming back to the inner ring, to the pink flowers between the lotuses and the ashoka, those mounded flowers are datura metel. This flower has been know in India for a long time, it’s called Hindu Datura sometimes. It arrived in India prior to the 4th century CE, even though it’s native to South America.
There’s been some discussion of how it ended up in India and China and everywhere, but we can only say humans moved it from point A to point B long before Western Europeans got around to naming it in 1753. Why would humans bother transporting it? Well, it does have hallucinogenic properties. Many religions used it, sparingly (because it will kill you, your pets, etc) for accessing the mind through visions, some of which could be terrifying.
Datura in Tibetan Buddhism is tied to wrathful deities. You’ve probably seen wrathful deities on thangkas. Think of them this way, you’re house is being broken into, do you want a lap dog Pekingese or lion-killing Chow- Chow with you? Same is true for your spiritual house. In vajrayana, your Pekingese can become a Chow-Chow. Like Bruce Wayne can be Batman.
This Vajrakilaya above is a typical wrathful deity. Pretty scary. Look above his head and you’ll see Samantabhadra, the dark blue guy, in union with his consort. Vajarkilaya is thought of an aspect of Samatabhadra, a universal Buddha connected to Tibet.
Now look below. This is Vajrasatta. It’s the exact same deity as Vajarkilaya, but this is his peaceful aspect. Vajrasatva practices are common to all of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and are used both to purify obscurations so students can progress beyond Ngondro practices. Vajrasatva practice is an essential element of Tibetan Buddhist practice.
For a Christian comparison, you might think, Jesus the Good Shepherd is Jesus guy with the whip clearing the money changers out of the temple. You might see those two different pictures of Jesus and think, “That’s the same guy? Really?” Yeah, just different aspects. Depending on what you need, you might feel a connection to or need for one aspect over another. And that feeling or need might change over time.
In vajrayana Buddhism, WT has a wrathful aspect. It’s Palden Lhamo, the protectoress of Tibet. You can read about her on the link (awesome original Star Trek, Cpt. Kirk reference). There’s a lot of discussion about protector vs wrathful deity, it’s way over our heads. I’m going to simplify. I think the artist is using the datura flowers intentionally. He/she wants us thinking about WT as protector and subtly invokes the idea of Palden Lhamo.
Last week we talked about how the WT image, which uses the rainbow aureole, the hallmark of WT in her protector aspect, also has a violet ring to further emphasis this. And we talked about how WT was used for protection by fleeing Tibetans. Now this week we see here in the art, also, is the datura flower, connected to wrathful deities and protectors.
Okay. Finally we come to the utpala. The flower, in WT’s left hand, is not a lotus, but an utpala flower. It’s a fictional flower, but it’s thought by some to be a waterlily, Nymphaeaceae. The uptala can have a few variations. Sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s pink. Different traditions use different colors and different Taras can be found pictured with different color utpala.
Most frequently, you see WT with a pink utpala, and Green Tara with a blue utpala. As time went on, many artists moved to having WT holding a white lotus. No idea why. Our artist here did not use a lotus. We know this because we can see the pointy petal lotus our artist uses in the WT’s ring. Here, our artist stylized the utpala to be peony-like. The leaves on the stem seem are very peony-like, not like the other vegetation our artist used.
I think, but it’s hard to see even on the light table, that this is a standard (for WT) 16-petal utpala. In many depictions there is, from the same stem in WT’s hand, a seed pod pointing toward Tara’s ear and a flower bud pointing up from the top stem, as well as the utpala flower full blown. This represents past, present, and future. I can just see those details in the image on the light table.
Well, my feet hurt. I’ll halt the trek here and we can make camp on the shores of this lovely lake for the week. Only 500 miles more to go. If you didn’t get today’s headliner pun…. It’s a Zen/Chan saying attributed to Master Linji, founder of the Rinzai sect. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Here’s what it means.