I Go To See the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

In April 1991, I drove up to Santa Maria to rendezvous with my friend and business associate George Hoole. The next day we were going to go to the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) to see the 14th Dalai Lama give a talk. My attendance at this talk cost me a great deal: Driving up the San Marcos Pass on State Route 154 in second gear, I burned out the engine of my 1985 Mitsubishi Montero. That was just the beginning of my problems with the Mitsubishi, which lasted another four years before being T-boned by an elderly woman who was afraid of being late to a doctor appointment.

Although I knew my visit was going to cost me dearly, I remembered the Dalai Lama’s talk with great fondness. It is the only time I ever saw one of the world’s great religious leaders in person. I have read several of his books since then and realize that he is a living treasure. When he passes on, which can be any time now, the world will be without a man of his spiritual stature. Of course, the Chinese will be delighted: They will simply choose their own Dalai Lama. Will the exiled Tibetans in Dharamshala, India choose their own candidate? Who knows?

Present at UCSB when George Hoole and I were there was the late Spalding Gray, author of Swimming to Cambodia, who did an interview with the Dalai Lama which was published by Tricycle. In that interview, the following appeared:

Do you ever entertain the distractions, invite them into your meditation and let all of these women in bikini bathing suits that you must see here out by the pool come into your meditation? As a monk, I have to avoid that experience, even in my dreams, due to daily practice. Sometimes in my dreams there are women. And in some cases fighting or quarreling with someone. When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, “I am monk.” So that is one reason I usually call myself a simple Buddhist monk. That’s why I never feel “I am the Dalai Lama.” I only feel “I am a monk.” I should not indulge, even in dreams, in women with a seductive appearance. Immediately I realize I’m a monk. Then sometimes in my dreams I see fighting with a gun or a knife, and again I immediately realize “I am a monk, I should not do this.” This kind of mindfulness is one of the important practices that I do the whole day long. Then your particular point, about beautiful things or men, women, things that attract: the analytical meditation counters that attachment.

For example, the sexual desire. It is very important to analyze, “what is the real benefit?” The appearance of a beautiful face or a beautiful body—as many scriptures describe—no matter how beautiful, they essentially decompose into a skeleton. When we penetrate to its human flesh and bones, there is no beauty, is there? A couple in a sexual experience is happy for that moment. Then very soon trouble begins.

I can see that if I ever wanted to achieve enlightenment, I have a long way to go.

 

Fending Off the Wrathful Deities

Another Eastern Holy Book I Forgot to Mention Yesterday

Memory is like that. You write about the importance of A and B in your life, and then you realize you have left out C. In addition to the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching, the other work of Eastern wisdom you have totally forgotten is The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In many ways, it’s he most important of the three. The Christians have their Hell, the Jews their Sheol, the Muslims their Jahannam … but for the Tantric Buddhists of Tibet, Hell was a way station on the road to rebirth.

When one died, one entered an in-between state known as the Bardo. The goal for a Tibetan was to prepare oneself to be assailed by wrathful deities. By expressing fear at this confrontation, the departed soul was delivered over for rebirth. The wrathful deities are, in a way, like the ghosts in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: They were there only for Scrooge’s benefit.

According to the Buddhist Weekly, one of the worst of the wrathful deities was Palden Lhamo, illustrated above:

With a world-shaking cry the figure, now blue black, starts to its feet… The giant figure pounds forward, wild hair streaming upward, tied around with snakes. The massive body, nearly naked, girt only in a tiger-skin, wears skulls—pretty, staring skulls—as jewels. Snake-enwreathed, fang-mouthed, three eyes glaring bloodshot from an awesome face, he marches onward bellowing challenge…

The goal in Tantric Buddhism is not heaven, of which there is no sign in the religion, but annihilation. That is the only true nirvana. To be reborn is a defeat of sorts.

In many ways—even before one dies—one is always fending off wrathful deities, be they Trump or one’s boss or one’s wife. In many ways, fending off the wrathful deities is not only important after one’s death, but also during one’s life.

 

 

Dunhuang

Bodhisattva and Guardian God

Bodhisattva and Guardian God

It is over a thousand years ago. Caravans with goods from Europe and the Middle East are about to enter China, right near where the Great Wall sputters to an end near Mogao and Dunhuang. There, at an oasis wedged between the sand dunes of the Lop Desert and the Qilian Mountains, is a series of caves which have been hollowed out and converted into Buddhist temples.

Although Buddhism was the predominant religion of the time, works have been found among Dunhuang’s treasures that included scrolls about Christianity and Judaism, not to mention the oldest printed work on the planet, a scroll of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra.

Notice the western edge of the Great Wall in the map below.

Dunhuang Is Located North of Tibet in Chinese Turkestan

Dunhuang Is Located North of Tibet in Chinese Turkestan

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is running a major exhibit of items from Dunhuang and replicas of the most impressive Buddhist temple caves, including 3-D images. Today, when we visited, the Dunhuang exhibit halls were thronged primarily with Chinese tourists. Still, it was the most interesting of the traveling exhibits now at the Getty Center. Fortunately, the caves at Dunhuang have not been vandalized by jihadist thugs such as were the giant Buddhist sculptures at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

We tend not to think much about the Silk Road, because it was so thoroughly shut down by Western European naval exploration and the new markets that were created by it. But as long ago as the Roman Empire, silk and spices and other goods from the East were being traded to Europe via camels on the Silk Road that extended from China to the Middle East.