Friday, October 30, 2009

The Chinese Government & Google Blogs

The Chinese Government and Google have a dispute over which news feeds Google provides over its internet Blog service. Subsequently Google Blogs, which the SRG and HAR websites use, are blocked in China.

There are too many people in China using the SRG site to have it hobbled by international politics. Several different options will be looked at before deciding on a remedy. This blog accessibility problem will be a priority for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wutaishan Mountain with Luding Khenpo

The SRG has had no recent updates because I am still away in China. Currently I am at Wutaishan Mountain the most holy location for the bodhisattva/deity Manjushri in China.

Luding Khenpo is also here and we spent the day along with a small group of students touring the main sites on the valley floor in the morning. In the afternoon we climbed the stairs to one temple to see a shrine presenting all five forms of Manjushri associated with each of the five peaks. The concept of five Manjushri forms and five peaks is said in the Tibetan tradition to be created by Chogyal Pagpa the preceptor to Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty. It is also said that Chogyal Pagpa was physically involved with the construction of the main stupa at Wutaishan.

Google blogs are not generally accessible in China and I won't be able to post images until I return to Hong Kong or New York on Friday. Don't ask me how I was able to post this entry. The internet has many country roads and back alleys.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Road Again!

I'm off to Beijing China in the morning. There are two back to back art and archeology conferences that I am attending along with the opening of a new Tibetology institute attached to the Palace Museum (Forbidden City). As internet and time permits I will try and post content to the SRG website.

There are numerous sites that are special for the Sakya Tradition. The side temples of the Aniko Stupa in Beijing follow a Sakya iconography, namely the Marpo Kor Sum of the Thirteen Golden Dharmas. There is also rumoured to be a Mahakala Temple built at the time of Chogyal Pagpa and the Nepalese (Newar) artist Aniko. The central image was Panjarnata Mahakala the principal Buddhist protector of the Mongol Khans (and the Sakya Tradition) from the time of Kublai Khan. The giant, bigger than life size, sculpture is said to have disappeared during the Boxer Revolution in about 1900 but the temple is still standing although not open to the public. I heard that it is just outside of the Palace Museum at the south-west corner. I will try and visit this location and take some photos of the architectural structure. If the rumours are true it is possible that it was erected at the time of Chogyal Pagpa and perhaps under his direction.

To learn more about Buddhist and Tibetan art see the Beijing Quick Guide.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Small Navigation Change on the SRG Home Page

I have made a small navigation change on the SRG Home Page. The Blog, titled 'News/Updates/Blog' has been moved up from under RESOURCES to the first item under INTRODUCTION. The idea is to give a higher profile to the most active and changing part of the web site.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Visual Models for Arapachana Manjushri (Part 2: Variations)

There are four basic forms of Manjushri that are either called Arapachana by name or use the Arapachana syllables as the principal mantra for the deity. The first (1) is Arapachana, orange in colour, sometimes white. He holds a sword in the right hand and the stem of an utpala flower supporting the Prajnaparamita text in the left. The second (2) form is Manjushri associated with a famous Sanskrit praise, orange in colour. The third (3) form is Arapachana, white in colour, sometimes orange, with the two hands holding the stems of two utpala flowers supporting a sword and text. The fourth (4), Vidyadhara Pitika (not shown here), is similar to the second form except white in colour and with the left leg pendant.

All forms of Arapachana Manjushri are peaceful in appearance. There are also many other forms of Manjushri that are peaceful but do not use the Name Arapachana or the arapachana mantra. Also, not all forms of Manjushri are peaceful. The principal examples of semi-wrathful and wrathful appearance are Black Manjushri as semi and then the many forms of Vajrabhairava, Krishna Yamari, Rakta Yamari and Manjushri Nagaraksha.

On the illustrated example page provided above there are four additional images of Manjushri related to Arapachana. These are found on a mandala painting of Vagishvari Dharmadhatu. The painting depicts twenty-three peaceful forms of Manjushri, three wrathful forms known as Yamari, and three mandalas in total.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Visual Models for Arapachana Manjushri (Part 1: Background)

Manjushri is a very important 'general' Tantric meditation in the Sakya Tradition. Manjushri was important for the Five Holy Superiors of the Sakya School - the five early founders (jetsun gongma nga). He was especially important for both Sachen Kunga Nyingpo and Sakya Pandita. Both of these teachers had visions of Manjushri. Sachen heard the profound Mind Training teaching called the Separation from the Four Attachments directly from Manjushri during a six month Arapachana retreat. Sakya Pandita was even regarded as an early Tibetan emanation of Manjushri, while Sapan himself considered his own teacher, Dragpa Gyaltsen, to be Manjushri. Sapan was later to be included as the first of the Three Manjushris of Tibet along with Longchenpa Drime Ozer and Je Tsongkapa Lobsang Dragpa.

Sakya Pandita wrote a four line praise to Dragpa Gyaltsen addressing him as Manjunatha - the Lord Manjushri. However, this praise was not used or directed towards Dragpa Gyaltsen by Sakya Pandita's students but rather directed to Sakya Pandita himself who had become even more famous as a Manjushri emanation. Even today in the Sakya School this is the main praise/prayer addressed to Sapan.

"With wide eyes perceiving all things,
And compassionately achieving the good of all beings;
Having power performing acts beyond thought.
Guru Manjunata, to your feet I bow my head."
(Written by Sakya Pandita).

Padmasambhava made predictions about the rise of the Sakya Tradition and the holy location of the large patch of white earth at the place known as 'sakya.' Later, Jowo Atisha also made predictions when seeing the famous 'sakya' location and elaborated by saying that in the future there would be an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani and many Manjushri emanations arising from this geographic location. In Tibet the Sakya School also became known as the Manjushri Tradition. Generally, all male members of the Khon family, the hereditary leaders of the Sakya School, are each regarded as Manjushri emanations.

The three main Manjushri practices in Sakya are the (1) Arapachana (orange or white), (2) White (Sita) and (3) Black (Krishna) Manjushris. The function of the first two Manjushris is in the generation of knowledge, memory and ultimately the two forms of wisdom, prajna (sherab) and jnana (yeshe). Black Manjushri, included in the Thirteen Golden Dharmas, is for removing serious obstacles, hindrances, sickness and disease not curable or alleviated through other means.

The Arapachana form of Manjushri has a small number of different variations along with an orange version and a white version. The white form appears to be the original colour for Arapachana. It is not clear when or why the orange form developed and became the more popular form of the deity. There is the practice of the single deity and then there is the Mandala of Five Deities - Manjushri at the center surrounded by four accompanying figures. Even though Arapachana is classified as both a Kriya and Charya Tantra practice there is early evidence from the Bari Gyatsa of Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drag that there were Perfection Stage (dzog rim) practices used to accompany the Generation Stage (kye rim) Deity Yoga. Perfection Stage techniques were generally a unique practice and characteristic of the Anuttaryoga Classification of Buddhist Tantra. The Sakya Tradition classifies the Manjushri Root Tantra, Manjushri Mulakalpa, as a Charya Tantra. (See a short essay on Tantra Classification).

The significant physical characteristics of Arapachana are the blue sword of wisdom held upraised in the right hand and the Prajnaparamita supported on an utpala blossom held in the left hand. Some forms of Arapachana describe him with the two hands in the Dharma Teaching gesture at the heart while holding the stems of two blue utpala flowers supporting the wisdom sword and Prajnaparamita book. The blue utpala flower is not a lotus. It is thought by some Western experts to be a blue lily flower.

Older archaic forms of Manjushri, depicted in painting and sculpture, place the Prajnaparamita text held to the heart in the left hand. A good example of the archaic form is the sculpture belonging to the late Dezhung Rinpoche Tenpai Nyima, previously belonging to Ngagwang Legpa Rinpoche. This form is also most often seen in early Indian, Kashmiri and Tibetan sculpture. Since the 15th or 16th centuries this variation is rarely described in the liturgical or practice manuals. See a brief explanation of the iconographic features of Arapachana. However, the most common and iconic form of Manjushri is when he is depicted holding the wisdom sword upraised to the sky, ready to cleave, symbolically severing the roots of ignorance. This is the form of the deity that is commonly practiced by the teachers of the past and the students and practitioners of today. The most special and profound practice is called the Sakya Uncommon Orange Arapachana Manjushri.

My favorite image of the deity which was also the form I was first introduced to many years ago was published by the London Buddhist Society (shown above). I am not sure who owns the actual painting, possibly the Society or perhaps the V & A Museum in London. The image here is a scan from the old folding note card. I believe what is well depicted here is the most important characteristic of the Arapachana form. That characteristic is the subtle right twist in the body created from the raising of the right arm holding the sword of wisdom. When this twist which occurs naturally is not depicted then the result is a very stiff and unnatural looking form (try it yourself while looking in the mirror). A big part of the charm of Arapachana is this youthful dexterity and suppleness described as a characteristic of the Indian deva and devi (gods and goddesses) forms found in classical Indian literature - a basis for Buddhsit Tantric texts. An important epithet for Manjushri is kumara, meaning youthful, Kumara Manjushri, or Kumarabhuta Arapachana Manjushri.

Manjushri Resources:
Manjushri Main Page on HAR
Manjushri Outline Page on HAR
Manjushri Tantra Classifications on HAR
Exhibition: Wutaishan, Pilgrimage to Five Peak Mountain
Wutaishan, Pilgrimage to the Five Peaked Mountain (
Origins of Manjushri
Manjushri Bibliography

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Where Does Sakya Fit in the Classifications of Tibetan Buddhism

Where does the Sakya Tradition and where do Sakya practitioners fit in the classification systems of Tibetan Buddhism? View the new page on the Himalayan Art Resources website to see the four main classification systems. Sakyas, like all of the other traditions, are unique. What is not generally known about the Sakya tradition is that early on they were known as the Nyingma Sarma, or the New Nyingma Tradition. The Sakya name and Sakya portion of the tradition refers to the location of the first temple in Central Western Tibet and the new Tantras coming from India in the 11th century. The actual individuals responsible for creating this temple and promoting these new Tantras from India were members of the Khon family which is one of the oldest recorded families in Tibet. Originally Bonpo, they became Buddhist in the 8th century, and disciples of Padmasambhava. They especially practiced the Eight Pronouncement Deities of the Nyingma Tradition. From the 11th century onwards they maintained both the old Nyingma practices, particularly the Vajrakila and the Samputa, along with the new Tantras from India and Kashmir such as the Hevajra, Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja, Kalachakra, and many others. The Sakya Tradition is a very early mixture of old and new Tibetan Buddhist practice lineages yet maintaining the distinct nature, practice and philosophic view of each of these traditions.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Visual Models of the Various Forms of Manjushri

Well, so far nobody has any other suggestions for visual models than what I have already put forth. Tomorrow I will present several different forms of Manjushri. Arapachana and Black Manjushri have the same body posture so I will offer my preferred choices for those. White Manjushri is an interesting form because it is so often confused with White Tara, White Prajnaparamita and Lokeshvara. There are some very good examples of White Manjushri to be found in the different collections.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Visual Models for Practice: Vajrayogini

Vajrayogini is one of the easier deities to find good images for. My favourite, in most cases, is an Eastern Tibetan painting, HAR #290, likely based on the Dege Parkhang block print of the same subject. It belongs to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. The full composition of the painting has Khyentse Wangpo at the top left (our left) and Loter Wangpo on the right. The painting is clear, with clean lines, and a reasonably well formed body. The subject is not an easy form to create with the head looking up to the sky and the body twisted to the left side. It is one of the more unusual of the Vajrayogini postures.

There are other good forms such as HAR #61139. The posture of this Yogini is a little more standard. Paintings like HAR #81541 are great as well because they have all of the lineage teachers portrayed above and the two other yoginis from the Marmo Korsum at the sides. This is not so unusual to see. However, this painting is particularly nice because it has the Sakya Trizin at the bottom left corner along with his son and seated in the right corner is his wife. The first of these paintings belongs to a private collection in New York State and the second belongs to a private collection in Washington, D.C.

Painting HAR #98956 is also quite good unfortunately we do not have a large image that we can look at. The form of the deity is well balanced. It has a shape similar to the painting of HAR #290 as shown above. This painting belongs to the Hahn Cultural Foundation in Seoul, Korea.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Visual Models for Practice

What are the best visual models for the different Sakya Generation Stage (kye rim) practices? This has always been an interest of mine ever since I first began to learn of Deity Yoga, also called Generation Stage Yoga. What do you think the best images are to model personal practice after?

I will offer two candidates, the first is Bhutadamara Vajrapani from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Of all the forms of Bhutadamara as a central figure this one appears to me to be the most animate, the most correct proportionally, and the most visually pleasing. Many of the forms don't quite look right. A common problem with many Bhutadamara paintings is that the two main arms extending to the sides are often too short. That is not an issue here. However, in this Natural History Museum image the left hand holding the vajra lasso seems more upraised than usual, but that is fine. There is nothing iconographically wrong with this. The Dege Parkhang line drawing of Bhutadamara is close in form to the image above but just doesn't have the animation and life that the Natural History painting has.

Why is Bhutadamara important in the Sakya tradition? This form of Vajrapani is described in chapter two of the Vajrapanjara Tantra, an exclusive explanatory Tantra to the Hevajra Root Tantra in Two Sections. Vajrapani with four arms is a special deity method for removing obstacles at the outset of Tantric practice and most specifically for practitioners of Shri Hevajra. In the Sakya Tradition any serious practice of Hevajra would be framed within the Lamdre system. Bhutadamara therefore is an essential practice for Lamdre and a required retreat, a minimum of one month in duration, prior to embarking on a six month Hevajra retreat. Again, within the Sakya Tradition Bhutadamara is generally recommended as an uncommon preliminary practice prior to other retreats and serious endevours such as Chakrasamvra, Vajrayogini and the other complex Anuttarayoga meditation practices.

Bhutadamara is not commonly depicted as a central figure in a painting. He is more often included amongst the secondary figures surrounding either Shri Hevajra or Panjaranata Mahakala in one of those two more popular painted compositions.

View all Bhutadamara images.

For practices other than Hevajra it is also suitable to do the practice and retreat of Nila Achala, blue in colour, and in a kneeling posture [see Outline Page]. Lobpon Sonam Tsemo wrote a long commentary on the practice of Nila Achala which is considered definitive even in these later times.

My second candidate for the best visual form, at the risk of being accused of cheating, is a Hevajra Torma Offering depiction in the Rubin Museum of Art. The reason it could be considered cheating is because it is the only one that I know of that exists. Even Sakya Lamas have been surprised when they see the image for the first time. It is not common to paint the front visualization for the Hevajra Torma ritual. The painting is extremely clear in its detail. When reading the Tibetan text and looking at the image at the same time everything in the iconography makes sense. The text was definitely the basis for the composition.

These are my two choices that I offer up as being the best visual models for those two specific subjects in Deity Yoga meditation. Do you have better examples? Do you have other visual forms you think should be highlighted, compared and discussed?