Friday, April 27, 2007

In Celebration of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: Parades!

Dustin' off the mitts after a bit of climbin'.

Oh I am missing my Jazzfest these days!

Although my experience of parades and religious processions of various sorts in Nepal cannot compare to what I've witnessed (and done) on the streets of New Orleans during the magnificent celebration of the pre-Lent carnival anticipating Mardi Gras, two parades last week reminded me of the fun of getting out in the street, maybe a little drunk, to beat some drums and yell and throw things at God for whatever reason, in whatever form, may it be Bacchus or Rato Macchendranath or the Buddha.


Shot taken from my balcony looking north towards the Kathmandu Valley. A line of about five hundred Newari villagers from nearby Baregaon coming to make offerings to the images of the Buddha in our monastery. The villagers have recently erected a new stupa (reliquary mound built as a basis for worship for future practitioners), and to commemorate the great even they walked on an all-day long procession to all of the surrounding villages to have darshan (holy vision) of the images of the Buddhas and other dieties and to make offerings to gain merit.

The local lovelies: Newar women wearing their traditional black saris.

Beat them drums! The wicker tray on the ground is the pile of offered rice, coins, food, candy, candles, incense, etc. given by the villagers in circuit.


The chariot of the red Karunamaya (popularly known as Rato Macchendranath).

The wheels of the chariot go round and round... slowly, some days not at all. When Karunamaya comes to your neighborhood, it is important for your family to provide a feast for all visitors (friends and relatives from other places), and to generally party. I dropped by the large family of some Newar Dharma friends of mine, and was forced to eat a plate of 6 kinds of blessed food from a ritual and then a 10 course feast tray. If I hadn't been vegetarian, it would have been a 14 course meal!

Ganesh, the obstacle clearer, is probably the most ubiquitous deity dwelling in the Kathmandu Valley, and here he is (as is common) enshrined on the streetside in the form of a rock that resembles an elephant head.

A local village low-caste girl (who I mistook as a boy at first) waiting by the pile of offered food as the offering procession goes by. She patiently sat there until the monks gave her some of the food, and she happily skipped away. A beautiful but hardened face for the young age.

Here the great chariot has run amok into the neighborhood homes, and a crane is pulling it loose from the roof. The locals won't fix the chariot until it falls completely over (which is as dangerous as it sounds, people die in this festival all the time), so it is still marooned in Jyatha Bahal as far as I know, inching along as the locals heave on the massive ropes, taking windows and watertanks with it.

A lovely stupa in pastel colors, near the Sundhara (Golden Waterspout) in Jyatha Bahal, Patan.

Every festival has its vendor of gaudy Chinese toys! This guy is probably wearing all white as he is in mourning for one of his parents.


Living in the monastery has truly tested my personal boundaries. I thought living with my brothers in a New Orleans Mid-city shotgun house was bad. I no longer have any privacy at all. The little monks come in my room whenever they like (I can't lock it as they have to come through to gain access to the roof). They take small things as they like (vitamins, incense, lighters, matches, water bottles, candles, clippers, razors, etc., which can be aggravating at times. I can't blame them, though. They share everything and don't realize that everyone doesn't always share everything. Anyway, a few of the monks found my camera and had some fun, about which I didn't discover until uploading the photos on the computer. Luckily for us, they took a couple of good ones, including this glamour photo of Rabjam, age 14.

The monk Ratna Mangalam, one of my best English students, teaching one of the new monks from Ilam, Nepal, how to read the Tibetan script.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Illustrious Lama Tsering Wangdu Norbu Rinpoche of Langkor

In honor of today being the tenth day of the Lunar Calendar, ie. ten days after the new moon (tsewa gye, dasami), I am offering today's post to one of my gurus, Lama Wangdu.

Lama Wangdu's biography has been collected by Dharma brother Joshua Waldman, a fellow University of Wisconsin Year Abroad in Nepal alum, and can be uploaded for free at

I took this photo the day before yesterday at an obstacle clearing/ purification ritual performed at the director of the Passage Project's house (the non-profit experiential education program that I work for), to drive out negative forces from the area.

He is from Langkor in South Central Tibet, although he now lives near the great stupa Boudhanath. He is one of the very few lineage holders of the teachings of Phadampa Sangye, the Pacification of Suffering Lineage. As on other important days in the Lunar Calendar (10th, 15th, 25th, etc.) he holds chod offering rituals at his monastery. Being from nearby the birthplace of Macig Lapdron, and having received and accomplished the expansive and profound lineage of chod with the illustrious master Naptra Rinpoche, his performance of chod is well known as very powerful and effective.

We are happy that his lineage continues to spread with ease around Nepal and the rest of the world, as he is associated with centers all over the globe, especially in the USA, at Nityananda in Portland Oregon (which I had the pleasure of visiting last year) and with Rudra Press, which offers some awesome audio/visual media of Lama Wangdu teaching and performing chod.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Excerpts from my translation work

When I have some free time in the afternoons (which seems seldom) I pick up a Tibetan text that I have been slowly translating for the last 2 years. It is a commentary by a nineteenth century Khampa Nyingma Lama nicknamed Chokyi Dragpa, on the Preliminary Practices of the , a set of progressive meditation techniques designed to prepare and acquaint the mind for future Tantric meditation practice. The Longchen Nyingthig is a treasure revealed by the All Knowing Jigme Lingpa, whose portrait is below.

Sections of the prose and poetic inserts are very beautiful and profound in the original Tibetan. Unfortunately I don't have the facility in English to render it in as compelling a way as the author does, but I thought it could be of some interest. Most of what I'm working on is already in English in a translation of a different commentary by Paltrul Rinpoche, the Kunsang Lama'i Shelung, popularly known as the Words of My Perfect Teacher.

from section one of the General Preliminaries, The Difficulty of Finding the Freedoms and Advantages:

There is a technique for protecting your mind from afflictive emotions. As stated in Entering the Conduct:

"With the rope of continuous mindfulness,
If you bind the elephant of mind,
All fears will become nonexistent,
And all virtues will come into your hands."

Your mind is like an elephant or a horse laden with goods, and that mindfulness which observes the virtuous mind of faith and so forth, is like a rope and a post stake. The introspection, which is that which analyzes whether or not you are abiding in the state of that virtuous mind, functions like a shepherd and maintains constant mindful conscientiousness without distraction. Thus, even from holy gurus on down, in order to not be distracted by anything other than their own virtuous mind, having established the body of compassion out of the dharmakaya, they say "I supplicate, look upon me with your wisdom eyes!"

From section two of the General Preliminaries, Mediation on Impermanence:

There are many conditions for death: death through meeting epilepsy, death from being chronically bed-ridden, death by food-poisoning, falling into an abyss, being killed with weapons, and so forth. The time of death cannot be ascertained, like a butter-lamp flickering in the wind, or like baby birds on a tree branch. Thus, after you lay down at night you cannot measure whether or not you will have the causes for waking up the next day. Although you are here this year, there is no certainty about whether or not you will be here next year. Sooner or later, without exception, having abandoned this life you will arrive in the very next world.

From section four of the General Preliminaries, the Faults of Cyclic Existence:

Even in the abodes of the higher realms of gods and men there is not happiness. As said in the Sutra on the Application of Mindfulness,

"Even the very peak of cyclic existence,
Is not a time of happiness."

And also by the Protector Maitreya,

"There is no happiness in the five migrations,
As there is no pleasant smells in an unclean house."

People have the three great root sufferings; the four great rivers of suffering of birth, old-age, sickness and death; the suffering of the apprehension about meeting with enemies; the suffering of apprehension about being separated from loving friends; the suffering of coming down upon the undesirable; and the suffering of not coming right down on top of what is desired.

As it says in the Treasury of Oral Instructions (by Longchen Rabjam),

"Attachment to land and mansions is the iron house of hell,
Children and spouses are a thicket of leaves of swords,
Ornaments and fancy clothing are like blazing tongues of flame,
Food and drink are hammers of burning iron,
Slaves and such are wagers of hell,
Violent anger and fights are like hailstorms of glowing embers,
Act to know the places that destroy virtue and goodness."

From section five of the General Preliminaries, the Way of Relying on a Teacher:

Also, when you rely upon a lama qualified in the meaning and gain experience according to the scriptural explanations on each of the restraints of individual liberation, the enlightenment mind, or mantra; the blessings of the guru and your faith, combined with perseverance, will come together like the meeting of an iron hook and a ring. It will deliver you to the far shore of cyclic existence.
On the other hand, there does not exist a method of deliverance (like being delivered to the far side of a river by a boat or like being not killed by weapons and spared) by the guru to the far shore of cyclic existence that does not necessitate abandoning negative deeds and practicing virtue. If it were that way, since the buddhas look upon all sentient beings with love as their children, they would simultaneously liberate all sentient beings equal to the sky in amount, and would not leave any in the situation of cyclic existence. Since it is said that even the Buddha Shakyamuni did not have a hairs worth of difference regarding his thoughts of compassion and love towards both Devadatta and Rahula, and if compassionate blessings alone could cause liberation, then it would not have been possible for Devadatta to go to the hells. Since that is the case, it is important to gain experience in the way that the Buddha, the guru and the virtuous spiritual friend says. Our Teacher [the Buddha] said, "I have shown you the path of liberation, liberation depends on you; be diligent."

Basically he's saying that your guru will not (cannot) liberate you. You have to work to attain enlightenment yourself. So train train train!

For those interested in the wonderful world of Tibetan translations and translating, check the rich House of the Lotsawa

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Reminder: Death and Impermanence

This has been a week of death. I heard that today was a national day of mourning at home. My heart and prayers go out to all those affected at VT this week, and to the Nepali families of the four Nepali UN contractors killed in Afganistan. Everything that is born must die. Although that sounds obvious and trite, how much a difference if we pay attention and remember!

Childhood friend and fellow Troop 10 Eagle Scout, Tommy Robinson, should be emerging from the intermediate state between death and rebirth these days. Traditional theories of reincarnation teach that most normal beings spend about 49 days in the intermediate state. He will be missed.

But, with death, comes birth...

And after winter, spring has come to Chapagaon!

...which gives us roses, as well.

Props to Shyam Karki for his photos of Chapagaon, the red rose, and the soaking wet Nepali baby.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy Nepali New Year! Nepalko Nayabarsha Subhakamana!

I've been in Chapagaon at the monastery there for most of the last two weeks. My schedule has been pretty ideal, except that I sleep a little too much I guess. I've been teaching English every morning to the 3rd grade monks, and attending the 2nd grade Tibetan class with them as a student. I'm thinking I can skip up to the 3rd grade class after a few weeks. Back into Kathmandu for the day, for the internet, some lemonade and a few international phone calls, all luxuries unavailable in the village.

Last week brought us the Nepali New Year, welcome to year 2064 of the Bikram Samvat Calandar! I saw it in with some Patan friends with a short pilgrimage:

Actual New Year was spent in Patan, hanging out with some monks friends:

An old temple, in the Shikara style (I think) on a busy street corner. Children play all over it, the motorcycles zip by, and every morning early, before we're out for school or work, neighborhood devotees will come by for some quiet puja to greet the day.

Even in the middle of a city, busy and crowded, dusty and noisy, sometimes if you remember you can look up and catch an awesome display of cloud psychedelia over the skyline.

From the City to the Cheap Showiness of Nature:

After getting up at 5:30am at the Gompa in Patan (south of Kathmandu) to make ritual offerings (ganacakra) to the liberator-ess Arya Tara Bodhisattva, we caught a bus to the base of Shivapuri, the forested mountain north of Kathmandu and hiked up to Nagi Gompa, a nunnery I have blogged about before. The next morning we rose at 4am (not my idea) to head up the mountain to try to again make ritual offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas in the holy site Baghdwar.

At the peak of the Shivapuri mountain, one of the 4 holy mountains that surround the Nepal Mandala (the Kathmandu Valley perceived as a abode of the Bodhisatva...), with a monk from Nangchen, who now lives at the White Monastery in Boudha. For an amazing glimpse into the land of Nangchen in Kham, Tibet, one of the strongholds of the BuddhaDharma in Tibet for hundreds of years, the birthplace of Tulku Orgyen Rinpoche, one of many realized masters of the last century from Nangchen, check out the book Blazing Splendor. This is the best book about Buddhism I've read this year.


The source of the Bagmati river, after the New Year festival which saw thousands of pilgrims and holiday pleasure seekers (what's the difference, sometimes?).

Offering light to the water spout at Bagdwar.

A local Buddhist tantric practitioner (ngagpa) cleaning out the accumulated offerings of flowers, rice, incense and candles from the Bagdwar spout, the source of the holy Bagmati river in Kathmandu. In South Asia, rivers are very holy for their function of purification, so their sources are even holier, often conceived of as the actual abodes of gods, goddesses and Bodhisatvas.

Second ritual feast offering in two days performed with the Newar friends from Patan, Jyatha Bahal, the sangha at the Padmavarna Mahayana Mahabihar. This group is one of the focuses of my research, because they have completely integrated Tibetan teachings into their traditional style of Newari Buddhism, and they are dedicated practitioners, especially of the SIX PERFECTIONS in daily life.

The main image of the historical Buddha of our age, the Buddha Sakyamuni, in the old hermitage at Bagdwar, near the Shivapuri peak.

Typical offerings to the above statue of Buddha Sakyamuni. Obviously devotees don't actually believe that the statue is going to spend the money or eat the food in a physical sense, but some things are considered auspicious to offer (because they are useful to us, they please the five senses, they are valuable), so by giving them up to the representation of enlightenment it both creates an enormous amount of merit and plants the future seed of enlightenment in our mindstream. The money will be used for the benefit of the hermitage.


We took a side hike from the Bagdwar hermitage near the peak of Shivapuri mountain to have darshan (holy viewing) of Tara. The Newar Dharma brothers and sisters are here straining to see the image of Tara that is naturally emergent from the rock. This site, the confluence of two streams, is the site where Tara first revealed herself and her practice in Kathmandu. See Todd Lewis' Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal for the story.

A photo from below of the "rangjung drolma" or "swayambhu tara," which means "self-arisen Tara." According to tradition, there is an image of Tara on this face of this rock overhang which emerged naturally.

Can you see her now that I've circled the head? Tara is the female Buddha, whose compassionate action is liberation from negative circumstances. For this reason her practice is associated with removing obstacles, specifically those to long-life.

A more traditional portrait of the Bodhisatva the Noble Tara.

A more modern, sexy version of Tara... yeah...


My close monk friend Sakya trying one of the many suitable meditation caves on the Shivapuri mountainside out for a minute.

And finally, your cute monk picture of the week! Oh, the age old game of grab-ass is certainly universal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dentistry Revisted in Bungmati

Welcome to the old Nepal, open the door to Bungmati dental fun, below!


The famous (in the Kathmandu Valley) village of Bungmati, home of the compassionate Karunamaya (Rato Matsyendranath, a form of Lokeshwar or Avalokitesvara) who brought rain to Kathmandu back in the day. Still honored with the largest and most important festival here, which marks the beginning of the monsoon every year. This festival is in Patan next week, where I hope to hang out with some local friends to check it out.

A typical Newar style chaitya (more generally known as stupa, a reliquary mound) in Bungamati village.

Above chaitya from a different view, funny how much different everything is from a new perspective. I wonder if our consciousness stream works that way too? Whaddya say, Dignaga?


A local Newar i Bungmati getting his teeth looked at by Alice from Singapore.

I gave my camera to some cute local kids to play with, like I do sometimes with the monks in Chapagaon. My Olympus is made extra durable, so I'm not afraid of it getting broken. I myself have dropped it on rocks in Tibet from about 4 feet up and not a (big) scratch. I've learned that although a lot of the shots are worthless that they take (fingers over the lens, etc), many of them are great and uninhibited, and reflect a great amount of fun.

This local peasant farmer has the most badass Mardi Gras party skirt ever.

One of the very few non-Newari locals that came to the dental camp.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The annual Ngagso Drupchen at the White Gompa

The great boudhanath stupa on the fullmoon night last week.

On the run as usual, not much time for a post, but here's some shots from the annual Ngagso (Mending of Broken Tantric Committments) Drupchen at the White Gompa (Monastery) in Boudhanath. A Drupchen is a nine day 24-hour puja (prayer ritual), and carries great blessings.


Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, the abbot of the White Gompa, giving out ngondrup (blessed substances) to the crowd at the end of the drupchen.

Phagchog Rinpoche and Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche amidst the crowd.

Phagchog Rinpoche giving blessings and looking cool.

His Eminence the Tsikye Chokling Rinpoche.

The Vajra Master Chokling Rinpoche giving out blessings to the assembled crowd at the last day of the nine day ceremonies.

A monk from the white monastery in ritual costume, performing a small puja on the last day of the drupchen.


The crowd of thousands at the White Monastery receiving blessings at the end of the Drupchen.

Another shot of the crowd with the White Gompa in the background. Those in attendance consisted of many Tibetans, Nepalis (Newars, Tamangs, Manangis, Nupripas, Yolmopas, Mugumpas, and many more people of the Himalayan border region with Tibet), and Westerners of all flavours.