Monday, July 13, 2009
one of the things about the nyingma organization in berkeley was that there were a lot of crackpots in senior positions, mainly because they'd simply outlasted more sane folks in the organization. these were folks who wouldn't have lasted 15minutes out in the real world but there at the nyingma institute, they were the walking bosses.
i remember one of the work study students, the lovely canadian shauna, telling me that one of these nuts had told her she wasn't allowed to look at thangkas(tibetan holy art)that depicted the wrathful deities. "why not?," she asked. "because the wrathful deities are fierce disruptive powers & you need to be balanced," was the reply. as far as shauna knew, this person, who was a boss at yeshe de(the text perservation part of the organization), knew what she was talking about. she made the wrathful deities sound like satan. shauna would go through absurd physical contortions to avoid looking at the thangkas.
this can get a little convoluted but suffice it to say this nutjob was wrong. the wrathful deities represent that part of the teaching that strike out most strongly against the things that prevent smooth progress along the path to enlightenment, kind of like the burning bush or even the "thou shall nots..." of the 10
commandments. in other words, they're here to help not harm our practice. if they weren't important, they wouldn't have been represented & wouldn't have had whole practices built around them. the dalai lama gives the kalachakra initiation many many times a year to an open public. he feels a wrathful deity is needed during times like these.
the tibetan version of buddhism is pretty much the roman catholic version of buddhism, certainly compared to the austerity of zen. there is high ritual & an emphasis on the highly sensual nature of the world(colors, smells, sounds). i think that's what draws so many crackpots to it. so many of the folks i met at nyingma were lapsed catholics or southern baptist speaking-in-tongues loons. had our great lama, tarthung tulku, not given these folks a place to hide from the world, they'd be handling snakes or shooting abortion doctors.
i've been thinking about what an insular nutty world the nyingma organization is lately because ann & i have found another very legit sangha(community)out here on our island. ann & i had already seen the discrepancy between the crazed oddball rules of, say, the nyingma institute's celebration of the birth of the great lotsawa longchenpa &, oh say, the concurrent celebration held at bodhgaya. the wacky western version was all silence & rigid posture & timelines & posturing. the one in bodhgaya had none of that. don't even get me started about the fear & dread & avoidance of the odiyan(the actual alleged "monastic" part of the nyingma organization) community's "celebration."
i remember chokyi nyima rinpoche speaking at the nyingma institute. he said chanting was a good thing because if you were chanting you couldn't be saying anything bad about others or the world in general. i try to live by that but, you know, i am a westerner & it's hard NOT to say bad things sometimes. i will say that ann just did a weekend practice at the new sangha based on the wrathful deity hayagriva. the pictures give you a good idea of the space of the ceremony but it also marks off another difference between the nyingma organization & the new folks. you'd NEVER EVER be allowed to take pics during a ceremony but beyond that you wouldn't be allowed to take pics of sacred space.
in the pics, you see on the right, a large statue of padmasambhava(one of the founders of tibetan buddhism)&, on the left, a large statue of shakyamuni, the historical buddha. in between, i think, is a statue of the great nyingma-pa thinker, longchenpa. in the top picture, you can see His Eminence, Terton Namkha Drimed Rabjam Rinpoche leading the empowerment.