Evil Dukpas, ‘Woke’ TV Reboots, and Dreams of Tibet: On the Blavatskyisms of Twin Peaks

black lodge

(Agent Cooper with the dwarf-spirit or ‘Man from Another Place’ in the Black Lodge, in Twin Peaks)

The twenty-five-year-in-the-making third season of cult series Twin Peaks has just piloted and sue me, but I have not yet watched all of the first two seasons of the show – my Dad who, aside from having worms was also into gimmick tees before they were like, even a thing, was a major fan of the series though, and he used to wear a shirt that said ‘I killed Laura Palmer’ when the show was running, so I recognize that I have very little excuse here.

i killed laura.jpg

(I guess my Dad’s t-shirt was cool, but clearly not as cool as this bro’s ‘I Killed Laura Palmer’ HOODIE. If you’re going to publicly confess to murder, I guess it makes sense to wear a hoodie?)

Still, even though I have not seen all of the show I AM well aware that the plot of Season 2 in particular is chock-full of references to Tibetan Buddhism and Native American religion as filtered through the muddy glass of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical imagination. It is well known that Twin Peaks’ writer Mark Frost is fascinated by Theosophy and the clips below from Season 2 offers a prime example of his Blavatsky fanboying. Appearing in a recording, Windom Earle, Agent Cooper’s former mentor, rants about the ‘evil sorcerers called Dukpas’ who tap into the sinister power of the ‘Black Lodge’ – the dark dimension out of time and almost out of space that is a key plot device in Twin Peaks – for their twisted enrichment. (As I will discuss at length below, the word ‘Dukpa’ ultimately derives from འབྲུག་པ or ‘brug pa which, meaning ‘Dragon’ in Tibetan, refers to both a particular sub-lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the country of Bhutan).

Continue reading

Depersonalization Disorder and Living Corpses: Psychiatry, Religion, and Alienation

milarepa emaciated

(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

Science Explaining or Science-splaining? Neurologists take on Sleep Paralysis, OOBEs, and Demon Dominatrices

(Images detailing different forms of sleep paralysis with spiritual causes from the website http://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org)

A while back Vice published this piece reflecting on Rodney Ascher’s documentary cum horror film about people’s experiences of sleep paralysis. Over the course of my life I’ve experienced sleep paralysis/terrifying ‘waking’ night visitations several times. I think the link between so-called sleeping disorders and phenomena like out-of-body-experience, spirit visitation and alien abduction is compelling, and the idea of learning to relate to the experience and its attendant beings differently is interesting and sounds very sensible to me. That said, I’m wary of reductive explanations – after all I’ve experienced out-of-body and menacing spirit encounters just as often if not more so without any associated sleep paralysis. Continue reading

A Tibetan Ghost Story: How Three Chod-pas Tamed a Female ‘Harm-Giver’

chodpa

The following is a rough translation of a spooky Tibetan story that was shared on the popular Tibetan-medium site Khabdha. I hope you will read it and be careful the next time you are practicing yoga in the wilderness.

Besides being quite chilling and engaging, the story is also noteworthy for other reasons. It reminds us for one, how Tibetan Buddhist yoga is a lot more human thigh-bone trumpet and visions of demons than Lulu Lemon, coconut water and gym memberships, and points to the awe and fear with which the Tibetan practice of Chöd – particularly in its solitary, and itinerant iterations – continues to be held. On another level, with its descriptions of the three brothers’ divvying up of familial and religious duties it also provides insight somewhat more indirectly into ngakpas’ time-management strategies, and the everyday familial, socio-economic dimensions of Tibetan yogic practice. Enjoy!

A story of how three Chodpa exorcists tamed a female ‘Harm-Giver’ or local land spirit (gnod sbyin mo) – By Tenpai Nyima Continue reading

Lama Wangdu and the Boogaboogabooga Mantra

lama wangdu fire puja

For my friends who practice Tibetan Buddhism, and especially Chöd (གཅོད), this is quite a remarkable image. So remarkable, I even made a collage for you!

The Tibetan Lama featured on the right is Lama Wangdu. The photograph of the fire apparition on the upper left was taken by someone called Natalia Makeeva during a ritual service conducted byLama Wangdu at his temple in Boudhnath, Kathmandu, Nepal in 2011. The apparition is supposed to have appeared after Lama Wangdu cast ritual offering substances into the fire. The apparition bears a striking resemblance to the Tibetan female tantric saint who originated one of Lama Wangdu‘s Chöd practice lineages, the great 11th century yogini Machik Ladrönma (pictured bottom left). Continue reading