A Journey in Ladakh – H3a Reading Group Review, 8 February 2012

A Journey in Ladakh, Encounters with Buddhism
By Andrew Harvey

Andrew Harvey wrote A Journey in Ladakh in 1983, two years after his visit to this most remote corner of India, on the border of Tibet.

“Even the most blemished readers will feel they could improve their spirituality without really trying if they spent more time in Ladakh”.
Martin Amis

“When he started waxing poetic on the mountains or the light at high altitude, I knew exactly what he meant, but felt nothing of what he was probably feeling”
Amazon reviewer

Born in Southern India in 1952, Andrew Harvey became interested in Buddhism when he was at Oxford in the early 1970s.   At the beginning of the book Harvey explains what he found attractive about Buddhism:

  •  Buddhism’s “ calm and radical analysis of desire”
  • “Its rejection of all the self-dramatising intensities by which (Harvey) lived”
  • “The promise of a possible, strong and unsentimental serenity”

 

A little later, after his meeting with the old woman Oracle, he reveals more about his attraction to Buddhism:

“part of my love for Eastern philosophy had been a desire to  have done with (his) inner violence once and for all”

At the age of 25, he decided to leave Oxford and return to India for a year.   He wrote:

“I felt frustrated by my life and the limitations of my poetry, its obsession with irony and suffering, its largely unremitting anger and hopelessness”

Armed with a little knowledge of Ladakhi and Hindi, in July 1981he headed for Leh, the capital city of Ladakh.   He stayed there for about 8 weeks, moving around in a 60 km radius of Leh and meeting a troupe of characters which could be straight out of the – as yet unmade – film Carry on up the Karma:

  • his first guide Ahmet, Leh’s answer to Bodrum’s indefatigable “hello boys”;
  • Dilip the successful businessman and  desperate older Brahmin having a last throw of the salvation dice and his down to earth, voice of humanity wife Meneesha;
  •  Hans, visiting professor of psychology from New York and self styled “academic voyeur;
  • Loti, westernised Tibetan, failed monk, former partner of an American woman, father of her child and, for the author, marijuana smoking partner;
  • Jam Yang, the failed, drunk  Tulku, scratching  a living as a disenchanted guide;
  • the colourful, delightfully wicked blasphemous antique dealer, George Perec;
  • the “fluent, witty, precise, vain” Charles, Swiss Buddhist, Ladakhi art expert
  • And we should not forget the author’s sometime translator, guide and occasional mentor Nawang Tsering[1].

However the person to have the most profound effect on the author was of course Thuksey Rinpoche (last syllable rhymes with “hay”), indeed this meeting forms the heart of the book and perhaps the start of Andrew Harvey’s career as “a renowned and distinguished mystical scholar, Rumi translator and explicator, poet, novelist, spiritual teacher and writer, and architect of Sacred Activism”.[2]

Like many of the books we have read recently, this one worked on several levels.  On one level, it was a travel book, taking us to the remote state of Ladakh, a place that few of us had even heard of.  At another level, it was a book about the Buddhist faith, giving us insights into the beliefs and practices of this ancient religion and its links to Western philosophical thought.   Finally, it was a deeply personal account of one man’s journey of spiritual growth and fulfilment.

Bringing the three elements of the book together, one of the blurbs on the most recent edition describes the book as Harvey’s “spiritual travelogue” and notes that his “spiritual journey is connected at every point by the geographical[3]”.

THE BOOK AS A TRAVEL GUIDE

For some of us, the parts of the book which really shone were the “travelogue” elements. Andrew Harvey wrote poetry at Oxford and his origins as a poet become most evident when he is striving to describe the scenery, the culture and the people of Ladakh.  His accounts of the various festivals and rituals are exceptionally good and more than make up for the absence of the guide book photographs which travel writers love to include. He is extremely good at conjuring up the colour, the excitement and the texture of the culture he is observing.

However, this enthusiasm for the places he sees and the people he meets is not without risk, as he discusses at one point in the book.  One of the themes that the author returns to from time to time is the threat to Ladakhi culture and beliefs from the incursion of the West with its alien values and concepts.    One of the dilemmas facing Andrew Harvey in writing the book was that he was, in his words, “appropriating” the customs, life, beliefs of the Ladakhi people for his book and risking the very destruction of their way of life that he wants to protect

There is a cruel irony therefore in the fact that he does a very good job of making this remote and traditional place very attractive to the adventurous traveller.

As evidence of how successful he and those that followed him have been in depicting Ladakh, have a look at the website http://www.leh-ladakh.com/ladakh-fairs-festivals.html for the “entertainments” on offer.   There is even a Nawang Tsering shop in Leh http://khagta.photoshelter.com/image/I0000F.Wipq4FxBg

There is nothing new in sensationalising this part of the world.   If the word of our local hero Herodotus is to be believed, Ladakh was the Land of Wonderful Ants – nearly the size of dogs – that threw up gold as they built their nests.   No wonder people flocked to pay a visit.

One minor criticism we made of the book was the absence of a glossary.   A book about a remote, relatively untainted corner of India;   about a culture totally unfamiliar to most outsiders; about  Buddhism, one of the world’s more esoteric religions – no surprise then that we all felt a glossary would have eased our own journey through the book.    (A brief glossary is attached below).

At the level of travelogue, one member summed up our feelings when she said that she had enjoyed the book because it was as a gateway to a place so completely different from anywhere she had ever known.

She also said she was pleased to have read this book because it related to an area “just over the mountains” from the main setting of Greg Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea” which we read as a group last year.

THE BOOK AS GUIDE TO BUDDHISM & RELATED PHILOSOPHIES[4]

The group found the coverage of Buddhism in the book both enlightening and also rather daunting at times.   At the beginning of the book, some of the group felt that they had only the vaguest of notions of what Buddhism was about and what Buddhists believe.

We felt that our knowledge was now marginally better than before, having read the book.  We discovered a faith that rooted in humankind, with no God[5], no notion of an everlasting soul, but with a belief in a constant striving for perfection by each person for the whole of created life, which sees the oneness of the whole universe, with the ultimate goal of  ending the cycle of rebirth by achieving the state of Nirvana.

In one of the more comprehensible passages in the book, the message of Buddhism seems to encompass:

  • Transience  of all things
  • We should not take ourselves too seriously
  • There is little ultimate truth in grief or misery
  • Real wisdom is in joy, real wisdom in happiness[6]
  • The true wisdom is that of the Buddha
  • The end of Buddhism is to be freed from a false perception of the Self
  • To understand that there is Nothing and No-one is also to understand that one is in Everything and Everyone, that there is no death no pain, no separation.

There seems to be a message of hope behind the beliefs of Buddhism, particularly where it diverges from other world religions in placing Man at the centre of its doctrine:

(Buddhists) “do not believe that man is a flawed animal;  we believe that he is capable of perfection.   Buddhists do not believe in God, they believe in man and the transforming powers within man”

We were struck by the fact that, whilst of the surface,  Buddhism is  represented as a religion which purports to be simple but which in fact is extremely complicated and difficult for Westerners to understand.   Most of us felt confused by the notion of the ultimate goal of Buddhism being the End of Ego, the End of Self, and the achievement of Sunyata (Nothingness).   The Rinpoche says

“But what remains when everything falls away?  Nothing, Emptiness, Sunyata.  There is no real Self    There is no final identity.  No God, No Soul, No Absolute.  Only Sunyata”.

And a little later:

“To be freed from a false sense of the Self is the end of Buddhism;  to realise that there is nothing and no-one is also to understand that one is in everything and everyone, that there is no death, no fear, no pain, no separation”.

None of us could reconcile the exhortation for Buddhists to be compassionate to all creatures with the need to strive for an end of Self, for an end of Ego. In the absence of a Self, of an Ego, who or what is going to be compassionate?   Even more bemusing was the idea that one character was meditating on what he claimed were “16 types of Nothingness”.

On the whole, however,  we all agreed that Buddhism seemed to be a very human centric religion; it seemed to us to understand human beings, with all their failings, better than some other religions.   We felt too Buddhism felt less like a book of rules and more based on human beings, their needs and feelings.   One member pointed out the idea, expressed by the Rinpoche that

“Everyone and everything is Buddha…..it is not a question of becoming it is a question of uncovering what you really are”

In its focus on human beings, it also seems to be a religion which encourages people to have a sense of humour and not to take themselves too seriously.    For some of the characters populating the book, there seemed to be no conflict between focussing on the most profound, abstract, spiritual thoughts at one moment and a little later drinking the local alcoholic liquor, joking, smoking marijuana and even “visiting” neighbours’ wives when their husbands were away.

For one member of the group, some of the underlying ideas of Buddhism reminded him of some of the areas he covered when studying Western Philosophy as a student.  It came as a surprise to him that ideas he associated with the rationalist philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries could trace their origins back beyond Greek philosophy to Buddha in the 5th century BCE.

For example, one of the elements of Buddhism which he recognised was the philosophical notion that the world might be merely a construct of the human mind.   After all, the argument goes, our route to the world is through our senses.   Since our senses can deceive us at times (our perception of heat/cold is relative, injury or drugs can alter our sensory states, colour awareness can vary) should we rely on them to tell us about the world?

We know too that other sentient creatures perceive the world differently.   For a dog, whilst her colour awareness is believed to be rather more limited than our own, her sense of smell is about a thousand times more sensitive.   A customs officer may suspect we are trying to get round the law but it takes a dog to confirm it. If our senses are unreliable, we cannot be certain that the world is as we perceive it.

(For those interested in dogs, their colour perception and heightened olfactory talents  see http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Do_dogs_see_in_color_or_black_and_white and http://knol.google.com/k/canine-senses-how-dogs-smell# ).

Consideration of these differences, either natural or artificially created, make philosophers very cautious about claiming the world is as we perceive it.   It might be totally different and we have no way of knowing.

Buddhism claims that ultimately everything is a construct of our minds but where it gets complicated is that Buddhism includes Self in this analysis.   Ultimately Buddhism seeks to deny the Self.

“To understand Emptiness (Sunyata) is to understand that everything is contingent, that all things arise contingently, that nothing has absolute reality, only a present, contingent reality”.

 

“To understand that all connections are of the mind, all notions of Selfhood or Personality are fictitious created by the mind for its own purposes, for the purposes of the Ego, which itself is a fiction.”

The 17th century rationalist philosopher, Rene Descartes, recognising that the senses are fallible, set about doubting the existence of anything that depended on the senses.   After all, he said, all that I see could be a dream or the work of an evil demon.   This methodology came to be known as Cartesian scepticism.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartesian_doubt .

Eventually, this led him to conclude that he could be sure of only one thing = I think therefore I am (the famous cogito ergo sum conclusion).  For more on this see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_ergo_sum .

Buddhism from nearly 2,500 year ago got there first, and goes even further by denying even the “I” (the thinker) that is doing the thinking here.

This relates to another major philosophical problem that Descartes tackled, the  so-called Mind-Body problem.   Philosophers down the ages have wrestled with the traditional dualism recognised by many religious people.   For centuries man has been thought to consist of Body and Soul;  the two are deemed to be fundamentally different:   the first transitory and the second eternal, the first corporeal, physical, and the second, non-corporeal, non- physical.   The mind-body problem revolves around how these two relate to each other.    Buddhism seems to say that ultimately the “my” here is an illusion, created by our mind as another way of making sense of the structure of the world.      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind-body_dichotomy  for more detail on this area.   

Discussion of the features of Buddhism lead us on to wonder about the origins of religion generally and in particular to wonder why it was that, in the great expanse of human history, the major religions of the world came into existence within a relatively short  time frame.   Just taking a few examples, Hinduism is regarded as the oldest, and although some elements can be traced back further, as a religion it goes back only a few thousand years.  Buddhism dates from the 6th century BCE[7].    Judaism (the root of the three Abrahamic religions) goes back to 3,500 BCE.  Christianity dates from the 1st century CE and Islam from the 7th century CE.

Reading the book recalled for some members their first interest in Buddhism and the culture of this area.  One member recalled reading as a youngster Cyril Hoskins’ book “The Third Eye” and how it encouraged her to find out more about what was going in Tibet.  It also encouraged her to learn more about other religions and how they contribute to one’s own growth and completion.   One quotation she shared with us resonated with the group, especially after reading Andrew Harvey’s book:

“Eastern thought can be just as rational, liberal, realist, and cynical, as Western; Western thought can be just as mystical, authoritarian, relativist, and obscure as Eastern.[8].

One of the characters in the book made an interesting point about the relationship between East and Western thought.    Charles says

“An absorption in Eastern thought has not meant a negation of the West, but a discovery of the West’s buried and defaced spiritual identity.

“There are differences, he continued, sometimes very radical differences between East and West.   But I know now that there is a dialogue possible between the truths of East and West”.

We discussed the various attitudes demonstrated in the book towards western values and western ideals.   The secular members in the book saw the West in idealised terms, envying and coveting the material advantages of the west.   It was a sad indictment of the consumerism of the west, how consumerism destroys all it touches.

According to the young Drukchen Rinpoche

“Westerners do not believe in being Western as much as Easterners do.  They want the cars and the money and the sex.  But western youth has “suffered being western” and from that suffering they have grown clearer, sadder, more truthful, more “searching”.

He is reflecting a view that the author had encountered earlier, expounded by one of the “young Casanovas with Brylcreamed hair” in Leh market, who dreams of “doing nothing and driving a long red sports car in California”.   But he bemoans his fate:

“I have to spend all the winter getting frozen in Kuklu trying to cheat the villagers there out of bells and bowls and spoons and turquoise necklaces so I can come and cheat the old German ladies here.  No one lives liked this in America do they?”

Little does he know! Western capitalist system is closer to his own life style than he can ever imagine.

However, the Drukchen Rinpoche was optimistic about the growth of Buddhism, especially in the West where he felt there was a hunger for an escape from materialism and consumerism. And yet he counsels Andrew Harvey not to stay in Ladakh:

“Those who reject the materialism of the West, who despite it …. Are in danger of refusing to look at it, they are in danger of not being responsible to the facts of life as it is live and must be lived today.

But so many westerners who find solace in the East are coming to have their Egos healed…. but the East is not a large convalescent room where Westerners can play at being spiritual”.

THE BOOK AS AN ACCOUNT OF ANDREW HARVEY’S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

Some of us found ourselves wondering if the Drukchen Rinpoche’s  observation was deliberately targeted at Andrew Harvey.   Reviews of the book seem fairly divided on the degree to which this book really recalled the author’s spiritual journey.

Certainly for some of us the book recalled the 1970s when it was still fashionable to head East ‘to find oneself’, or at the very least ‘the secret of life’.   Incidentally, this fascinating voyage of discovery often started in the famous Pudding Shop[9] in Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet district!

A number of us felt Andrew Harvey came across very much as a product of his time, apparently disillusioned by the west and its corrupt values and in search of an ill-defined “something”.

However, the cynics amongst us wondered whether there “something” was more to do with finding material for a book rather than any spiritual enlightenment.   The book was written (against the advice of his agent) a couple of years after the experience and yet the writing goes into very specific detail, for example, making direct quotations from conversations, often at a very abstruse level.   Was he taking careful notes for later use or was he simply blessed with a great memory?

Also we wondered about his ready ability to communicate with everyone he met.   He does say he had “a little Ladakhi” but he is doing instantaneous translation of very difficult concepts from the first day he arrived in Leh.

One member felt that the book read as a work of fiction, noting that despite all his arcane conversations with those he met, the author never really seemed to establish any real relationships with anyone.   Others agreed there was something of the detached “interviewer” about him.

Another felt that he was somehow “attitudinising” – sounding like he imagined a seeker after truth ought to sound whilst not actually being committed to the task.  Several of us wondered how he supported himself whilst he was there, or was he supported by those he met on the way.

Another member couldn’t decide whether some of the (for him) “over the top” purple prose sprang from the poet in Andrew Harvey being unable to express his deepest and most profound feelings in any other way……. or whether it masked a void at the centre of his experiences in Ladakh.

The following passage, for example, sounds good, but what is it actually telling us?

“In the new transparance of my mind, i find that everything – the roar of the river, the bird-call, the harvesters singing – in the same sound, the same ringing sound, only in different registers, different intensities.   Even the rocks are ringing to this sound, even the small stones I can see dully shining at the edge of the water, even the tuft of moss and sheep droppings to my right.   My breath is that sound also, and my heartbeat, and the brush and creak of my body as I stir”.

But the book does have some more down-to-earth insights, such as advice on travelling by bus in that part of the world:

“A lesson that riding on a Ladakhi bus has to teach you is to give in, to surrender.   There is no point in being impatient, gritting your teeth, praying that the bus will go, cursing the driver operatically, wishing you were back in England or America, exchanging bitter conspiratorial asides with fellow Europeans – you just have to give in, to accept everything without hope or reserve.   There is nothing else you can do without going crazy.   And once you have given in, you begin to enjoy it”

Here is a lesson we could all learn perhaps when dealing with officious “jacks-in-office” anywhere.

It was interesting in the new Afterword, which he wrote nearly 20 years after his journey, he mentions how he proudly told the Rinpoche that he had written a book about him – and how the Rinpoche was not at all impressed.   It rather sounded as though the book was more important than the spiritual journey.

It was also interesting in the Afterword that he seemed to be less impressed by what he had experienced nearly 20 years before, giving a mild rebuke to the Dalai Lama for apparently homophobic remarks he claimed he made (Andrew Harvey is gay so this would be particularly significant for him), his apparent endorsement of a nuclear India, and citing scandal and the patriarchal bias of much of Tibetan civilisation and the limitations of their misogyny and elitism.   It all seems a lifetime away from the starry-eyed neophyte and his unforgettable life-changing experiences from 1979..or was it 1981?

As his web page proclaims, a lot has happened to Andrew Harvey since his Ladakh visit.  He seems to have been busy sampling a whole range of religious and mystical phenomena, meeting Indian sages and saints, “collaborating with Sogyal Rinpoche and Patrick Gaffney in the writing of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying ….. undertaking  a ten-year-long exploration and explication of Rumi and Sufi mysticism”.

Now the author has become a mystic himself, he is the Founder Director of the Institute of Sacred Activism, following his delivery of  his vision of the contemporary crisis now confronting us in today’s world and its potential solution in what he has termed “Sacred Activism,”.  He sees this as “the culmination of his life’s work”. “This extraordinary occasion (the revelation of his vision of Sacred Activism) was made into a documentary film by the Hartley Film Foundation and is available on DVD.   He also has a spiritual counselling practice in Chicago and is available for spiritual direction via phone”.

Overall, the group enjoyed reading a Journey in Ladakh, especially for what they were able to learn about this part of the world and about Buddhism.

 


[1] There’s a continuity question about Nwang Tsering.  We meet him when the author helps him translate some folk songs. The work is hurried because Nwang Tsering is” flying off the next day for two months”.   And yet a couple of weeks later Nwang is reintroduced to us, as though we have never met, when he becomes the author’s translator for the rest of the story

[2] The description of Andrew Harvey on his own website

[3] New York Times Book Review

[5] “The Buddha never wanted to be treated as a Special Being.   Everyone is Buddha, everything is Buddha.   We each of us contain heaven and hell, ignorance and nirvana”

[6] Conversely several of us were attracted by the Ladakhi saying “The greatest courage is the courage to be happy”

[7] BCE Before Common Era or Before Current Era or Before Christian Era;  likewise CE = Common Era, Current Era or Christian Era

[8] Ian Morris  ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pudding_Shop http://www.puddingshop.com/Pudding_Shopx.html

GLOSSARY


AVALOKITESHVARA

Buddha Avalokiteshvara, the Compassion Buddha, is the embodiment of the universal compassion of all enlightened beings. By relying upon him, we naturally increase our own compassion.

His first two hands hold a jewel, symbolizing his own enlightenment; his second left hand holds a white lotus flower, symbolizing his complete purity of body, speech and mind; and his second right hand holds a crystal mala, symbolizing that he can free all living beings from samsara.

BUDDHA

Enlightened or Awakened.   Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. The word Buddha is a title for the first awakened being in an era. In most Buddhist traditions, Siddharth Gautam is regarded as the Supreme Buddha of our age, “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.” Siddhārtha Gautama may also be referred to as Gautama Buddha or as Śākyamuni (“Sage of the Śākyas“). The Buddha found a Middle Way that ameliorated the extreme asceticism found in the Sramana religions.

The time of Gautama’s birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as c. 563 BCE to 483 BCE, but more recent opinion dates his death to between 486 and 483 BCE or, according to some, between 411 and 400 BCE.

BENARES

Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Benaras is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 320 kilometres (199 mi) southeast of state capital Lucknow. It is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of the Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi. Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath located near Varanasi (Kashi).

People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, “the city of learning”, and “the oldest living city on planet earth.   

DHARAMSALA

A building devoted to religious or charitable purposes, especially a rest home for travellers

DHARMA

Law or natural law.   Also behaviour considered necessary for maintenance or natural order of things.

DZO

A dzo is a hybrid of yak and domestic cattle. The word dzo technically refers to a male hybrid, while a female is known as a dzomo or zhom. Alternative Romanizations of the Tibetan names include zho and zo. In Mongolian it is called khainag .    There is also the English language portmanteau term of yakow; a combination of the words yak and cow, though this is rarely used.

GOMPA

Gompa and ling are Buddhist ecclesiastical fortifications of learning, lineage and sadhana (that may be understood as a conflation of a fortification, a monastery or nunnery, and a university (Sanskrit: vihara)), located in Tibet, India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Their design and interior details vary from region to region, however, all follow a general sacred geometrical mandala design of a central prayer hall containing a Buddha murti or thangka, benches for the monks or nuns to engage in prayer or meditation and attached living accommodation. The gompa or ling may also be accompanied by any number of stupas. They are a tradition in Ladakh.

KALI YUGA

Kali Yuga is the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Indian scriptures. The other ages are Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga. The duration and chronological starting point in human history of Kali Yuga has given rise to different evaluations and interpretations. According to one of them, the Surya Siddhanta, Kali Yuga began at midnight (00:00) on 18 February 3102 BCE in the proleptic Julian calendar, or 23 January 3102 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. This date is also considered by many Hindus to be the day that Krishna left Earth to return to his abode.

Most interpreters of Hindu scriptures believe that Earth is currently in Kali Yuga. Many authorities such as Swami Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda believe that it is now Dvapara Yuga. Many others like Aurbindo Ghosh have stated that Kali Yuga is now over. The Kali Yuga is sometimes thought to last 432,000 years, although other durations have been proposed.

Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga, which is referred to as the Dark Age because in it people are as far away as possible from God. Hinduism often symbolically represents morality (dharma) as a bull. In Satya Yuga, the first stage of development, the bull has four legs, but in each age morality is reduced by one quarter. By the age of Kali, morality is reduced to only a quarter of that of the golden age, so that the bull of Dharma has only one leg.

Kali Yuga is associated with the apocalyptic demon Kali, not to be confused with the goddess Kālī (read as Kaalee) (these are unrelated words in the Sanskrit language). The “Kali” of Kali Yuga means “strife, discord, quarrel, or contention.”

KARMA

Karma in Indian religions is the concept of “action” or “deed”, understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect (i.e., the cycle called saṃsāra) originating in ancient India and treated in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh philosophies.  There is good and bad karma. In one tradition it can’t be altered, in another it can be altered.

MANDALA

A pattern made of colour earth on a marble circle;  a symbol of the universe, varying a little but having an enclosing circle, usual images of deities, and a tendency to arrange in fours, used as an aid to religious meditation

 


 

NIRVANA

The cessation of individual existence – the state to which a Buddhist aspires as the best available

“OM MANI PADME HUM”

“Praise to the Jewel at the Heart of the Lotus”.   Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect — it is often carved into stones, like the one pictured above, and placed where people can see them.

Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

PRAYER WHEEL

A prayer wheel is a cylindrical “wheel” on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

SAMSARA

The cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound

SANGHA

(1)    Monastic sangha refers to ordained Buddhist monks or Nuns

(2)    Refers to all Buddhists

SUNYATA

Emptiness, nothingness – the ultimate aim of meditation


 

TANTRA

Tantra (Sanskrit: “loom, warp”; hence “principle, system, doctrine”), anglicised tantricism or tantrism or tantram, is the name scholars give to an inter-religious spiritual movement that arose in medieval India, expressed in scriptures (called “Tantras“).

An important characteristic of this movement was that it is a radically positive, world-embracing vision of the whole of reality as an expression of a joyous Divine Consciousness. Tantric spiritual practices and rituals aim to bring about an inner realization of this truth, bringing freedom from ignorance and rebirth in the process.    The Tantric Way or Way of Acceptance is the route to enlightenment working with all energies and powers of living, using them all, transforming all into wisdom.   It is said to be hardest (but also the fastest) route to Nirvana.

Though it is not the case with most Tantric practices, in some schools of “left-handed” Tantra (Vamachara), ritual sexual practice is employed as a way of entering into the underlying processes and structure of the universe.

TULKU

In Tibetan Buddhism, a tulku is a particular high-ranking lama (e.g., the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, the Karmapa) who can choose the manner of his (or her) rebirth. Normally the lama would be reincarnated as a human, and of the same sex as his (or her) predecessor. In contrast to a tulku, all other sentient beings including other lamas, have no choice as to the manner of their rebirth.   In addition to choosing the manner of their rebirth, tulkus are able, on their deathbed, to make known the place of their next birth.

Currently, there are over two thousand tulkus known, although in Tibet before the Chinese invasion there were probably a few thousand. Each tulku has a distinct lineage of rebirths. For example, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is held to be the reincarnation of each of the previous thirteen Dalai Lamas of Tibet, who are in turn considered to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig, Bodhisattva of Compassion, holder of the White Lotus.[1] The vast majority of tulkus (and lamas) are men, although some are women.

THUKSEY RINPOCHE (1916 – 1983)

Head Lama. Rinpoche means Diamond. His full name means the Thuksey whose heart is a sun

 

TANKA

Tanka is a Tibetan religious painting on a scroll hung as a banner in temples and carried in processions

VAJRA (DORJES)

Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. As a material device, the vajra is a ritual object, a short metal weapon—originally a kind of fist-iron like Japanese yawara—that has the symbolic nature of a diamond (it can cut any substance but not be cut itself) and that of the thunderbolt (irresistible force).

The vajra is believed to represent firmness of spirit and spiritual power.[4] It is a ritual tool or spiritual implement which is symbolically used by Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, all of which are traditions of Dharma. Because of its symbolic importance, the vajra spread along with Indian religion and culture to other parts of Asia. It was used as both a weapon and a symbol in Nepal, India, Tibet, Bhutan, Siam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, China, Korea and Japan.

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