Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Losar eCard

What makes this year different from other years?

By now it would appear that the movement to give up Losar — Tibetan New Year — celebrations has gained considerable momentum among Tibetans everywhere.  Some may see contradictions in today's blog, or even reactionary impulses. I fail to see any. Losar observances will without doubt be carried out in every Tibetan home this year more or less as they always have been.  The very idea that there won't be any Losar is, let's admit it, a little bit like calling off Christmas in a Christian community. Not very likely. But I think what we are going to see this year are less of the public 'celebratory' parts of Losar than usual.  The simple reason is the grief of the previous year (unless you've been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, you'll know its reasons). For more on the problems with New Year this year, read this blog by Agam's Gecko. The news from Lhasa and eastern Tibet in recent days is disheartening. Don't think for a moment that anything about the Tibet situation has been resolved. Not at all. When Beijing isn't displaying its anxiety, it's indulging in denial. And if you have questions about what Tibetan New Year is, or in more ordinary times would be, there might be a few answers in this post from last year.

If you have Tibetan friends, why not send them a Losar eCard on or before the new moon of February 25th? I wasn't able to get my Tibetan fonts to work together with photoshop, but perhaps you will have more success with that. If you would like to add your own message to the card, download this uninscribed version by double-clicking and sliding it onto your computer desktop

Then import it into Photoshop and see what you can do with it. Or take your own photo of an ox-like creature if you don't think highly of mine. I know a lot of you have been searching the internet in vain in hopes of finding Losar eCards. I know. I have my sources.  

But now that I look, I see there are a couple of ready-made cards for the Earth Ox over at "Tibet Cafe." Never mind. I spoke too soon. It happens.

If your Tibetan friends are living a place without fast internet connections, do them a favor and print your cards out on photo paper and drop them in the mail.  If you act quickly there may still be time.

This Losar will begin the 23rd year of the 17th rabjung.  Some have developed the custom to number the year from the first year in the reign of the first Tibetan Emperor Nyatritsenpo.  They would call it the year 2136. If you have read this far, consider this to be my Losar eCard to you this year. We'll just leave it without any labels, or call it Tea-Coloured Light.  Let's say its rays symbolize hope in all its audacity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Black Bodhisattvas

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.

For more remarkable artworks featuring Padampa, see this link (second figure from your left; that's Virūpa on your far right... identifications for all four figures, see Linrothe's article, p. 69) and this one, too.  A small collection of Padampa  artworks are here.

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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
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