Tantra and Transparency, or Cultural Contradictions and Today’s Tibetan Buddhist Wizard

white-and-red-robes.jpg

Here’s my second piece for Savage Minds, and the first of the four-part guest-blogger series I did during October last year.

This essay offers a brief overview of my current dissertation research project on ngakpa and ngakpa lineages in exile and outside of Tibet. I tried to make this piece a useful summary of some of the dimensions of ngakpa/ma histories, orientations, practices, and lineages that I thought were of interest, especially for an anthropological audience perhaps less familiar with Tibetan societies and Vajrayana. 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

The Meditation on the Two Brandos

brando

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