(Crushed marble sculptural installation ‘Flying Dakini’ 2014, by artist Agnes Arellano)
The other day I got sucked into a Facebook comment thread which got me thinking about the connection between translation strategies and the ways that practitioners think about and actually practice religious texts. To give you a little context, the thread was about spirit conjuration procedures and offering practices as found in Western magical traditions, and as the discussion unfolded I found myself reflecting upon the way that certain key technical terms often found in Tibetan sadhanas or tantric ritual manuals have been translated into English.
Translation is a double-edged process – to translate a thing involves both drawing it near and holding it apart. Depending on the circumstances, understanding can arise as much from domesticating a term in a target language as it can from choosing to hold onto a word’s strangeness through a literal translation. What is lost and gained, for example, when we translate the Sanskrit Dakini/Tibetan Khandroma – a tantric goddess – with a loaded Judeo-Christian-Islamic term like angel, and what is obscured, what is illuminated when we opt for say, a literal translation of the Tibetan term (khandroma, mkha’ ‘gro ma) ‘femalesky-goer’? Continue reading →
Elaborate ritual procedures are a hallmark of Indo-Tibetan tantra. Tantric rites are often long and complex. Ceremonies typically involve multiple parts or stages, replete with lengthy chanted liturgies, extensive visualizations and gestures, and the making of both physical and imagined offerings. The ability to memorize such procedures, and to properly and elegantly execute the intricate choreographies of body posture and movement, recited mantras, and imagined forms which they require, is crucial to tantric expertise. Large-scale and extended rituals which involve a lot of people, ritual trappings, and processes are important in Tibetan Buddhist contexts and are conducted frequently. Yet the prevalence of externally elaborate ritual performances should not be taken to mean that smaller, quicker and more ‘internal’ rites are not also a vital part of Tibetan ritual specialists’ work. Continue reading →
(Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Guru Padmasambhava surrounded by his own mantra, and the mantra of Dependent Origination)
In an earlier post, I mentioned Dr Nida Chenagtsang’s new book on the subject of mantra healing, which was written with Yeshe Drolma and published in December of last year by the Beijing People’s Press. The book, whose full title is “The Science of Interdependent Connection Mantra Healing’ (rten ‘brel sngags bcos thabs kyi rig pa), is a significant achievement. While there is no small number of mantra collections (sngags ‘bum) and tantric grimoires (sngags kyi be’u bum) within Tibetan literary tradition, these are, by and large, books of mantras and magical rituals, and not books about them. Dr Nida’s 339 page volume is thus ground-breaking. It represents one of the first Tibetan language treatments of its kind, in which a native practitioner and scholar of Tibetan traditional medicine and tantric ritual provides a general overview of mantra healing in theory and practice, and supplies a fuller range of interpretive frameworks and historical context for Tibetan approaches to mantra use. Continue reading →
I just found out through a chance appearance on my Facebook feed that another friend and lover of mine in Denver passed away six months ago (it wasn’t that long ago that I learned that another friend and lover of mine in Denver, John, passed away as well – you can see my memorial to him and my conflicted reflections on public mourning and Facebook here). Somehow I missed this news entirely, no doubt because I’ve been away abroad doing other things. A friend of Sammy’s just posted on his wall saying that she had dreamed of him appearing in the back of a car. She’d asked him how it was he could be there, and he’d replied, “I’m everywhere”. I went to his page, realizing I’d not seen sign of him in ages, only to discover that he had taken his own life in July of last year at the age of 31.
Sammy came up in conversation only a day or two ago, while I was talking with my friend Ella who’s my current travelling partner in Rajasthan. I told Ella a story about an unusual experience that I once shared with Sammy that has always stuck with me. When I told it to her I made a mental note to reach out to Sammy to find out how he was, and to ask him if he’d mind recounting his version of events to me for comparison. I now realize this won’t be possible in the way that I had hoped.
Yesterday I found out that one of my friends and ex-lovers in Denver, John passed away. What a strange thing it is to be able to publicly tag a dead person on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about doing so, and about discussing John’s death at all. John wasn’t always a big talker. I doubt I wrote as much to him on here in the time we were friends and while he was alive as I am now. I don’t know what to think about virtual mourning. The whole narcissistic architecture of Facebook seems kind of gross in the face of death. The platform has none of the intimacy of a quiet, fleshy memorial, and I’m not sure yet what the social-ritual function of likes may be when it comes to honoring the departed. But John’s Facebook page has already become a space of commemoration Continue reading →
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 →