Two Mahāmudrā teachers. From a small 14th-century painting once in the Jucker Collection, presently in the collection of the Rubin Museum. Vairocanarakṣita, an important Indian teacher from Orissa, best known for his single-handed translations of Dohā (‘couplet’) songs of the Mahāsiddhas, is on your left, with Padampa on your right. They are identified beyond any possibility for doubt by inscriptions on the reverse side of the painting. Padampa's name is given as Dampa Gyagar Nagpo ('Holy Black Indian' —for this name, look here, on p. 32). For the full picture, look here.
I would like to dedicate today's brief blog, along with the paper linked to it, to both Martin Luther King Day, which was yesterday, and to the inauguration of the first ever African American (or as people my age will probably continue forever to say with pride and respect, disregarding the latest demands of the logo-therapists [those who believe in the theory that changes in reality are brought about by changes in terminology], black) president, which has taken place today. Like some others, I'm sure, I'm a little too old, world-weary and cynical to be a true believer in all that rhetoric of 'hope' and 'change' repeated so often in the pre-election campaign. Nonetheless I've been in an unusually optimistic mood these last few days. Even I can't make myself so cynical as to say that hope is unjustified. What is President Obama's book called, The Audacity of Hope? I see real possibilities that a black head of state — and yes, even one with faults and the ability to make mistakes — might go very far to heal the racial divide in the U.S. Racism is hardly a U.S. monopoly, but its long and shameful history of black slavery and subsequent exploitation and discrimination has practically defined the term for the rest of the globe. And beyond the U.S. borders, we can hope (and if you prefer, pray) that the Obama presidency will be instrumental in bringing richly deserved and long overdue peace to the Middle East. With peace, equality, personal growth and understanding, everyone benefits. Partisanship, chauvinism, hostility, discrimination? We know what they bring all too well.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Yes indeed!
It may be audacious of me to imagine the attached paper will make people think about things that so far haven't much entered into the minds of those with interests in Tibet; I mean in particular the academic Tibetologists. Although limited to a particular locale at only one point in Tibetan history, it raises issues of ethnic identity and conflict on various levels. I hope it can lead to some rethinking and creative solutions to some old problems, even if I haven't been able to propose very much along those lines. Because it is somewhat technical, I only recommend it to people engaged in Tibetan Studies, or to those who have been following the previous blogs and articles on Padampa. I tried to make things clear/er, but it isn't for beginners. If you think you want to read more, press here to get started. Meanwhile, whether you feel like reading it or not, remember to be thankful for air and other simple gifts.
Warmly recommended reading:
Janice D. Willis, Dreaming Me — Black, Baptist and Buddhist: An African American Woman's Spiritual Journey, was first published in 2001 by Riverhead Books. The author is a professor at Wesleyan University. Written in a clear style, this book should prove appealing to practically everyone I know. Sorry, but I loaned my copy to my sister, and don't expect to see it again any time soon. Here is the kind of commercial link I don't usually like to give.
President Obama neglected to mention Buddhists in his Inaugural acceptance speech. I don't think it means anything, and won't make an issue of it. But Buddhism has over time achieved a high public profile in the U.S. (here's proof if any were needed), and probably deserves mentioning as much as those he did mention:
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth..."
One country — guess which one — felt free to edit out (to censor) parts of his speech that endangered their susceptible citizens.
I would also like to point out the website “Rainbow Dharma,” and particularly this page, "Black Buddha: Bringing the Tradition Home." The interviewee, with the Tibetan name Choyin Rangdrol (this could be approximately translated, “The Realm of Dharmas Self-Liberated”), is a teacher of the Tibetan Nyingmapa school active in the area of Oakland, California. I don't know much in particular about him or his teaching activities, but I'd like to learn more. My favorite quotes: "The suffering is on both sides!" and "...being human is enough, and the rest is a footnote."
Essential reading on Padampa iconography: Rob Linrothe, Strengthening the Roots: An Indian Yogi in Early Drigung Paintings of Ladakh and Zangskar, Orientations, vol. vol. 38, no. 4 (May 2007), pp. 65-71.
Are you wondering what the Tibetan "Obama" has to say these days? If so, walk on over to "High Peaks Pure Earth" blog and have a look at this.
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Quotes of the day
Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
— Rev. Martin Luther King
These things are old.
These things are true.
— Barack Hussein Obama,
President of the U.S.
Full moon over the rotunda of the Capital Building
in Washington DC on January 10, 2009