Archive | December 2020

Have yourself a *very* little Christmas, now. Please.

Woolly Hare - Picture of Exotic Travel, Leh - Tripadvisor
Tibetan Woolly Hare. Don’t worry, she’s toasty.

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.

Black-necked cranes of Tibet. (Photo courtesy:

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 my practice. 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.

White Tara, so many more secrets here. You can print this up 16″ x 20″ and try to find them if you want.

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.

Self-Liberating Meditation: A Profound Method for Attaining Enlightenment according to the Ultimate Great Perfection

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.

My mala collection.

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.
The rishi’s of Ancient India, mural at Lukhang. Red sun, yellow rabbit moon.

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.
Nyingma, modern but still devotional image, of 20th Tara.

While some lamas are requesting simple WT practice for the pandemic, and sending out “micro” practices. Maybe White Tara just isn’t “you.” I get it. There’s a thing called the 21 Praises to Tara. Every Buddhist knows it. This praise details 21 special emanations of Tara, each with a special purview. (There’s even one for protection from zombies, seriously.) Maybe you’ll connect with the more kick-ass 20th Tara, RLG, Ritö Loma Gyönma? Her purview is pandemics.

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.

You don’t need any initiation or empowerment to do RLG practice. Lamas area asking people to do it. If you want a short lung for RLG, here. A very simple practice can be found here: Tara of the Mountain Retreat, Clothed in Leaves. There’s even a short Facebook live online practice every Tue morning. And you can find loads of RLG resources, including:

20th Tara Concise Sadhana (Guided Practice) – PDF »
20th Tara Mantra Wheel – PDF »
TAM Seed Syllable – PDF »
20th Tara Coloring Page – PDF »
20th Tara Mantra and Visualization – PDF »

(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.

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New upper left corner — Lukhang riffed yellow Rabbit moon in progress. Extra points if you noticed the secret bat hidden in the stars.

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.

Marshall Vandruff

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.

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New upper right corner — Double cranes flying over a red sun. It’ll be red, eventually.

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.

A Thousand Cranes Take Flight |
Deer and crane often hang out together in real life.

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.

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New lower left corner — Stag deer, in green landscape with water feature.

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.

Tibetan Red deer. Love the eye, love the face.

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!

Tibetan blue bear – Bear Conservation
Tibetan Blue Bear.

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.

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New lower right corner — 1st draft, Bear with conch-shape rock formation cave entrance.

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. 

Tibetan blue bears - Album on Imgur
Cuteness overload!

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.

Rough color mock up of left side.
Rough color mock up of the right side.

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.

Nativity Christmas Religious Cards | Current Catalog
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

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.

Snow leopard in Afghanistan.jpg
Hmm, where did you say that tasty woolly hare was?

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.

Do what good you can for any being you can. There is not act of kindness to small that cannot change the world for another.

I leave my Christian friends this final gift. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

From 2019, but it means way more this year.

This entry was posted on December 11, 2020.

A Little Light Mousekeeping

Why Do Mice Make Good Pets?
Breakfast ready yet?

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.

Visualize away. Use a mala, don’t use one. Up to you.

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.

If you want to basically visualize White Tara, pouring forth life and healing to you, and repeating the basic universally known, so not secret, Tara mantra, Om tara tuttare ture soha, that’s ok. You don’t need an empowerment for a simple WT Practice. You can find a simple WT Practice and all you need to know to get started doing it here, at Buddha Weekly. (Click on Simple WT Practice). And I’m not pushing Tibetan Buddhism here. You could do the visualize Jesus the Divine Mercy, streaming rays of life and healing into you and recite the DM chaplet.

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.

If you want to gain a deeper understanding of WT practice for a long life, do read the full Buddha Weekly post online. If you want to know what a WT sadhana for anyone is like, check out Nyingma Khenpo Sherab Sangpo’s practice text. Or read this short one by JK Chokyi Lodro, who also wrote a short prayer, which is pretty sweet. Understand that, just as with the Blessed Virgin Mary, if you feel drawn to WT, it’s always okay to reach out to her. It’s about your heart’s intention.

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.

One of the greats, Tenzin Palmo, teaching on basic meditation.

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.

Ekai Kawaguchi in 1899

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).

Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche's condensed "all teachings into one — which is  concise and easy to practice"at the time of death: as requested by Lady  Tsogyal - Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation
Looking a bit Sorcerer’s Apprentice here.

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.

Rome Beauty Apple Trees For Sale Online | The Tree Center
Seriously, take an apple. Take a few.

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.)

Al Bundy - Wikipedia
Seriously, Al Bundy could have been Simon Peter.

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, possibly done while he was alive.

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. 24Pcs Large Antique Bronze Skeleton Keys Rustic Key for Wedding  Decoration Favor, Necklace Pendants, Jewelry Making
Ok, which key is to your past/present/future door?

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…..

Why Did Pope Benedict XVI Resign? - Biography
Two popes, no waiting?

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.

Pema Chodron – Buddhist Teacher & Author | WHOLE UNIVERSE
Pema Chodron, author of When Things Fall Apart. She would know, student of Chogyam Trungpa. Highly recommend her book Tonglen.

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.

The Battle for Moral Superiority | Rick Manelius
Oh yeah, nationalism plays a role too.

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.

Cat poop parasite controls minds early -- and permanently, study finds
Just try to relax, Mr Tibbles, as I massage that migraine tension away.

This entry was posted on December 4, 2020.