Guru Rinpoche – Padmasambhava

•April 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Padmasambhava

HUM! In the northwest of the land of Oddiyana,
In the heart of a lotus flower,
Endowed with the most marvelous attainments,
You are renowned as The Lotus Born,
Surrounded by many hosts of dakinis.
Following in your footsteps,
I pray to you: Come, inspire me with your blessing!

OM AH HUNG VAJRA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG

Book Review: The Life of Milarepa by Tsangnyön Heruka

•April 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment
16th century Tibetan thangka depicting Marpa (1012-1096) on the left and Milarepa (1052-1135) on the right. For more information, see Himalayan Art: Teacher (Lama) - Marpa Chokyi Lodro.

16th century Tibetan thangka depicting Marpa (1012-1096) on the left and Milarepa (1052-1135) on the right. For more information, see Himalayan Art: Teacher (Lama) – Marpa Chokyi Lodro.

Quintman, Andrew (trans.).  Tsangnyön Heruka. The Life of Milarepa. Penguin Classics Edition, Penguin Group USA, New York, New York, 2010.

“I would like to see you draped in a fine cloak and mounted upon a horse with your stirrups slashing the throats of our hated enemies. Such will not come to pass; yet success is still possible by means of treachery. So I would like you to train to become an expert in black magic, curses, and casting hail. Then you should destroy all those who inflicted misery on us, villagers and countrymen beginning with your uncle and aunt, cutting off their family lines for nine generations…Son, if you return without showing signs of black magic in our region, I, your old mother, will kill myself right in front of you.”

Such were the powerful words of Milarepa’s – then known as Töpaga (“delightful to hear) – mother Nyangtsa Kargyen, when she encouraged her son to undertake the study of sorcery that would allow them to get revenge on the family members who had wronged and betrayed them. Born into a life of wealth and privilege, the death of his father Mila Sherab Gyaltsen saw Töpaga’s family descend into despair when the greedy actions of his aunt and uncle cast them into degradation and extreme poverty. His rightful inheritance stolen and his family publicly humiliated, Töpaga begins his powerful career studying black magic with two powerful teachers, unleashing a curse so powerful it toppled his aunt and uncle’s house, murdering 35 people. To top it off, he conjured a hailstorm strong enough to obliterate the fields of grain the village needed to survive. Although his mother was beyond pleased at the vengeance unleashed upon their enemies, Töpaga felt great remorse, and ultimately turned his thoughts towards the study of dharma. And so began the transformation of Töpaga the black sorceror into Milarepa, Tibet’s greatest poet-yogi and saint, under the tutelage of Marpa the Translator, founder of the Kagyu School and student of Naropa. Written in a first-person, flashback perspective, Milarepa tells the story of his life and deeds in response to questions put to him by his disciples, who wish him to share his story for the benefit of all beings and as an inspiration to practise dharma.

Composed in 1488 by Tsangnyön Heruka (the “Madman of Tsang”), The Life of Milarepa is considered one of the most important works of Tibetan literature both from a literary and hagiographical standpoint. Translated into several languages in many different editions, it is both an engaging biography as well as a contemplative work, telling not only the story of Milarepa’s life and activities but also imparting Buddhist views of karma, samsara, morality, ethics, and living. Andrew Quintman’s translation is fast-paced and enthralling, making this edition highly accessible and very readable, even for those not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism or Buddhism in general. An excellent introduction by both Quintman and Donald S. Lopez Jr. provides background on Buddhism in the 11th and 12th centuries (when Milarepa was practising), as well as biographical information on Tsangnyön Heruka and an overview of Milarepa’s life. Also included is an appendix covering Tibetan terms as well as a glossary of Buddhist terminology.

Of note is the depiction of the powerful guru-disciple relationship between Marpa and Milarepa; in Tibetan Buddhism one relies on the guru as spiritual friend and guide on the path to liberation, and such is the strong bond between them that Marpa and Milarepa regard each other as father and son. While initially coming across as cruel and abusive to Milarepa – beating him, depriving him of necessities, forcing him to resort to begging, and setting him to impossible tasks – it becomes clear that Marpa’s actions are designed to help purify Milarepa’s compounded negative karma. Throughout the rest of the text Milarepa will offer praise to his guru Marpa (“I bow at the feet of kind Marpa…”) prior to reciting his poetry and songs, through which he imparts teachings and realisations. By relying properly on his guru, Milarepa is ultimately able to achieve liberation in a single lifetime, as evidenced by the signs and wonders described at the time of his parinirvana.

I would definitely recommend Quintman’s translation as one of the most engaging and readable versions available. In closing, I share Tsangnyön Heruka’s final wish for readers of this work:

May it bring great happiness and benefit to the teachings and to sentient beings until life’s round (samsara) is emptied.

Buddha Shakyamuni Day (3/30/14)

•March 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

buddha

To the founder, the endowed transcendent destroyer, the one gone beyond, the foe destroyer, the completely perfected, fully awakened being, perfect in knowledge and in good conduct, Sugata, knower of the world, supreme guide of human beings to be tamed, teacher of gods and human beings; to you, the completely and fully awakened one, the endowed transcendent destroyer, the glorious conqueror, the subduer of the Shakya clan, I prostrate, make offerings, and go for refuge.

TADYATHA OM MUNI MUNI MAHAMUNIYE SOHA

Нар

•March 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Photo by Sunna Blalock, 3/25/14.

Photo by Sunna Blalock, 3/25/14.

Nothing like seeing the promise of springtime sun in a late winter haze!

Fake Buddha Quotes? Real Buddhist Quotes!

•March 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

There are so many memes floating around Facebook and other social media sites which purportedly have quotes from the Buddha and/or supposedly represent Buddhist philosophy, worldview, etc. Unfortunately, many of these memes are not only not quoting Buddha – they’re either attributing quotes from modern Buddhists (such as Robert Thurman or Thích Nhất Hạnh) to Buddha (best case scenario), or they’re using quotes from New Age and self-help writers (worst case scenario). Gandhi and Einstein have also been getting wrongfully attributed. Welcome to the internets!

An excellent catalogue of fake Buddha and fake Buddhist quotes can be found here: Fake Buddha Quotes. While the sentiments expressed in many of these statements are positive and uplifting, wrongfully attributing quotes not only means someone isn’t getting proper credit, it can also create confusion regarding Buddhism. It’s not that hard to find good Buddhist quotes for more spiritually-minded memes. Here’s a meme I made with a quote from The Dhammapada.

buddaquote

Have you got a meme with a real Buddhist quote to share?

And lest anyone think I’m lacking humour – this is one of my favourite memes:

YoloBuddhist

Зөөлөн эгшигт – Manjusri

•March 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Зөөлөн эгшигт - Manjusri.

Зөөлөн эгшигт – Manjusri.

This past weekend I took part in the celebrations at The Kadampa Center (FPMT-affiliated) in Raleigh, NC marking the Day of Miracles. The Day of Miracles (can also be referred to as The Display of Miracles) marks the time when leading figures associated with India’s six main philosophical schools challenged the Buddha to display his miraculous powers. This Buddha did over the course of fifteen days, thus defeating his opponents and inspiring many to follow the Dharma. As one of the Four Great Festivals which relate to the life of the Buddha it is also an extremely auspicious day, where the effects of positive and negative actions are multiplied 10 million times, so it is a very good time to do prayers and practises, visit temples, make offerings, and circumnambulate stupas and other holy sites/objects. In addition, the first fifteen days of the New Year (which began for me March 2nd) is the Monlam Chenmo, or Great Prayer Festival, which was established by Lama Je Tsongkhapa (founder of the tradition I follow, Gelug) in 1409. The festival closes with the Day of Miracles.

I attended the Tara puja on the evening of 3/15 and the Medicine Buddha puja the afternoon of 3/16, which closed out the day-long festivites beginning at 6:30am. I also took part on 3/16 in a group reading of the Golden Light Sutra. It was wonderful to have had the opportunity to participate in such precious and beneficial activities. I made offerings, prostrations, and did many circumnambulations of the center’s stupa.

It was also a wonderful inspiration for me to deepen my studies and re-commit to my practises, which is why Manjusri is my featured image today. It is common to recite Manjusri’s mantra before beginning study, debate, etc. of Dharma texts as it helps with the increase of one’s wisdom, memory retention, and understanding.

OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHEE DHEE DHEE!

Ерөөл

•March 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Alligator Rock Trail, Kanawha State Forest, WV. Photo by Sunna Blalock 3/9/14.

Alligator Rock Trail, Kanawha State Forest, WV. Photo by Sunna Blalock 3/9/14.

We spent our Sunday hiking trails in Kanawha State Forest – Davis Creek, Alligator Rock, Tea Berry Rock – and along the way, erected some small stone shrines as offerings to the local mountain spirits.

 
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