(Yuthok Yönten Gönpo the Younger, the King of Doctors. While he is typically remembered as one of the founding figures of Sowa Rigpa or Tibetan traditional medicine, he was also a great and accomplished non-celibate tantric yogi and ngakpa. Exquisite painting by Anna Artemyeva)
An interview I did two weeks ago with Giordiano Bruno translator Scott Gosnell for his Start-up Geometry podcast is now up for listening on Scott’s podcast website Bottle Rocket Science.
I feel deeply flattered and overrated considering that my interview follows that of far more accomplished scholar Alan Wallace, but I am nonetheless happy to be in good virtual company (do yourself a favour and listen to Alan as well!). In my interview I talked a bit about my research with Tibetan Buddhist non-celibate tantric specialists or ngakpa, and also delved a little into issues surrounding the globalization of Tibetan esotericism as well as the links between Tibetan tantra and Tibetan traditional medicine. I hope you find it interesting or useful and that the things I said weren’t too boring or stupid. As always I’m probably not going to listen to this edited version, so please do tell me your thoughts! དགེའོ།
I realized that I forgot to post a link to the interview I did with Gordon White for his Rune Soup podcast a few months ago here on the blog. Gordon and I had some trouble finding a strong enough internet connection when I was in South Africa to do the interview and I eventually ended up having to sneak into an empty lecture theatre late at night at the University of Cape Town with the help of an old friend and plug my laptop into a stray Ethernet cable to get good enough wifi to proceed (my thanks to said friend for the help and for getting a bemused pizza guy to show up at one point halfway through the interview).
Some happy news. Recently, I produced some English translations of commentaries written in Tibetan by Dr Nida Chenagtsang on the special Ati Yoga (Dzogchen) instructions of the Yuthok Nyingthig, the cycle of comprehensive tantric Buddhist teachings associated with Tibetan medicine and connected with Yuthok, the father and chief systematizer of Tibetan medicine who is said to have achieved full liberation in one life and to have dissolved into rainbow light at his death. These translations have now been combined with supplementary material to create a new book, ‘Mirror of Light: A Commentary on Yuthok’s Ati Yoga’ which will be published by SKY Press on the 9th of November 2016.
(Pema Chinnjor, the current kalon of the Chorig Lekhung, or minister of the Religion and Culture Department of the Central Tibetan Administration in exile)
Below is a translation I made of part of a recent article by Dondup Tashi that appeared on the Tibetan news site Tibettimes.net on the 25th of March 2016, which deals with concerns about the fact that the majority of students in the reconstituted Tibetan monasteries in exile are now not in fact ethnic Tibetans, but are Buddhists of Himalayan descent. While in recent decades sarjorpas, or new arrivals from Tibet (i.e. Tibetans typically born and raised in occupied Tibet, who have come to live in Tibetan exile communities more recently), have made up the primary demographic in the exile monasteries, things have now changed. Continue reading →
(The 11th century yogi Milarepa, in his retreat cave. He appears here in his iconic emaciated, green-tinged form that was brought about by subsisting on a diet of nettle soup)
I tend to read pop science pieces on neurological/psychiatric conditions with interest, as I’m sure most cultural and medical anthropologists do. I’m versed in neither neuro-anthropology nor neuro-theology but I do often find myself wondering about the broader social, historical, economic, and political landscapes through, in, and in spite of which specific bio-medical conditions emerge. It’s probably far too reductive and glib to characterize the cases below as merely examples of a contemporary willingness to ‘neurologize’ sicknesses of society. Still, while I’m not about to advocate for a hard-line social constructivist take on these kinds of ‘bizarre’ neurological conditions, I do think it can be interesting to reflect on contemporary psychiatric disorders and discourse in parallel to, and against religious vocabularies. Continue reading →
For many centuries and up until the present day, Buddhist ascetics have used contemplation of their body and its transformation into a rapidly disintegrating corpse as a sobering exercise – as a practice that reconfigures their relationship to their sense of self and deepens their appreciation of impermanence. In some cases, meditators have even visited charnel grounds and cremation sites where they have observed corpses directly to amplify their reflections. Not all of us have such opportunities. Continue reading →
I was recently looking through the Jataka Tales, that sizable collection of fables about the previous incarnations of the Buddha and his close disciples, when I came across one story, called ‘Jewel-Throat’, which you could call a queer, Buddhist version of ‘The Little Mermaid’. In this story about the relationship between a naga or snake-spirit king and two ascetic brothers, homoeroticism and homosexual love appear incidentally as obstacles to ascetic attainment. The story’s vivid account of homosexual spirit-love with reptile-people raises a number of points. Continue reading →