October 15, 2014
Father Thomas Merton and Chatral Rinpoche in Darjeeling, 1968
Thomas Merton in the Himalayas, An Interview with Harold Talbott
Excerpt from Tricycle: the Buddhist Review, Summer, 1992
In his best selling biography, the Seven Storey Mountain (published in 1948), Thomas Merton tells of his conversion to Catholicism and subsequent entry into Our Lady of Gehtsemani, A Cistercian abbey in Kentucky. to a world savaged by war, Merton’s embrace of a Christian life was made all the more authentic by his Cambridge-educated intellect, stunning candor, and the New York street humor he acquired while attending Columbia University.
Single handedly, he restored credibility to the very possibility of contemplative virtue which had long been denigrated by liberal intellectuals and traditional Christians alike. His was a voice of sanity, filled with sacred wonder, and replete with inquiry and contradiction.
Merton appreciated perspectives refined by their distance from the society and considered them essential to maintaining the health of the community. (more…)
June 12, 2014
from Chapter 9 of Fearless in Tibet
DISCOVERING THE WISH-FULFILLING JEWEL GURU STATUE
Drikok Encampment, Eastern Tibet
Year of the Earth Ox to the Iron Hare, 1889–1891
In Tertön Sogyal’s 35th year, he revealed a guidebook to the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Guru Statue, which stated, “Just as the veins of the body converge at the heart, go to the auspicious cave in the remote area of Derge where there are seven stone steps. You will see unmistakably, on the rock wall, an eight-spoked wheel. In the middle of the wheel there will be dakini script. There, behind, look for the extraordinarily blessed statue that liberates any individual who is fortunate to lay eyes upon it.”
The guide also instructed Tertön Sogyal about the astrologically appropriate date for revelation, the number of disciples who should accompany him, and the purification rituals to conduct, all of which needed to come together perfectly for the treasure revelation. The guidebook concluded, “When Guru Padmasambhava hid this statue, he entrusted it to Rahula and the naga treasure guardian named Jeweled Goddess. These two guardians will watch over the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel Guru Statue for many centuries. (more…)
May 27, 2014
Today is the publication date for 'Fearless in Tibet: The Life of the Mystic Tertön Sogyal' and I bow in gratitude to the many masters who have blessed the project, and especially Sogyal Rinpoche and Khenpo Jikme Phuntsok. May the aspirations of the masters be spontaneously fulfilled!
I'll be speaking at Tibet House in New York tomorrow, May 28th at 7 pm, and then in Washington DC at the International Campaign for Tibet on May 29th at 6:30 pm. Then I take the book to the West Coast. Full dates are above; click on EVENTS.
May 21, 2014
Except from Chapter 19 of “Fearless in Tibet: The Life of the Mystic Tertön Sogyal”
Jentsa and Xining, Northeastern Tibet
Year of the Water Ox to the Wood Tiger, 1913–1914
One chilly morning, Tertön Sogyal told his host he needed to go to Nyenbo Dzari Lake to conduct a ritual. Alak Gurong and a few of his attendants and monks saddled the horses and they left straightaway. Arriving at the high mountain lake known for its medicinal qualities, the group made camp while Tertön Sogyal began a ceremonial offering of beer and juniper smoke to the tellurian spirits and treasure guardians. He instructed everyone to leave him alone and told them to walk to the center of the frozen lake and to break open a large hole. When they returned, he told them to stay at the campsite; he then walked to the center of the lake. No sooner had Tertön Sogyal arrived at the hole than he dove headfirst into the frigid water. The group ran to save Tertön Sogyal from certain hypothermia. But they could see nothing when they looked into the cold water. They did not know what to do. Worried and anxious, some began to cry. Minutes seemed like hours.
“What have we done?”
“Our refuge has died.”
As if a lion were roaring, Tertön Sogyal emerged from the lake with a rush of wind. He held in his right hand a Buddha statue and in his left hand a bejeweled treasure casket (more…)
May 19, 2014
Extract from "Fearless in Tibet: The Life of the Mystic Tertön Sogyal"
Tertön Sogyal, with his wife and son and attendants, had crossed the Yellow River watershed and entered Golok. This gigantic landscape swallows travelers in dust storms and wind that can knock a sturdy Tibetan horse flat to the ground. Tertön Sogyal relied upon the treasure guardians to show the route. They steered the reins past the southern turnoff toward Kandze and ventured due east across the highland ranges with its rolling golden grasslands that extended as far as the eye could see. As they entered the sparsely populated region of southern Golok, the number of flat-roofed, stone-stacked houses in any village was no more than a dozen. Corn and barley sheaves hung among drying chilies from the three-story houses with the ubiquitous Tibetan mastiffs guarding the perimeter from sand foxes and wolves. Above the riverbanks where the barley terraces were planted, nomad children and women ran after Tertön Sogyal seeking his blessing, their devotion inspired by his tantric attire and nest of hair. In the high mountain meadows and pastures of rhododendron shrubs, and along the river basins, Tertön Sogyal’s caravan passed herds of yaks numbering in the thousands, tended by nomads.
This was the first time Tertön Sogyal had come to Golok, a region that rivaled Nyarong in its reputation of rugged nomads and roaming bandits. When locals camped for the night in Golok, horses were picketed under strong guard and men slept with their boots laced and their weapons at hand. (more…)
May 14, 2014
Part 2 of SORCERER’S ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON THE DALAI LAMA from 'Fearless in Tibet'
When the Dalai Lama was 24 years old, he began having recurring ominous dreams. He consulted Tertön Sogyal, who interpreted the dreams as life threatening and suggested antidotes and rituals to drive away the source of the aggression. The Nechung Oracle began to warn of similar dangers to the Dalai Lama’s life. A new menace had emerged. While the Oracle often gave cryptic allegories in his counsel, on this occasion he stated plainly that measures needed to be taken to protect the Dalai Lama.
The Nechung Oracle most often delivered his prophecies and advice to the Dalai Lama and government ministers in formal ceremonies. With the Dalai Lama presiding on a throne and the officials arranged by rank, the Oracle’s medium would enter the temple in a meditative state, waiting to become possessed. As the assembly chanted invocation verses, the medium’s ritual brocade robes and circular chest plate, weighing more than 100 pounds, were securely fastened. When Nechung entered the medium’s body, the monk stomped and jerked in wrathful dances as a massive helmet-crown that weighed more than 30 pounds was tied to his head. As he hissed and jumped, (more…)
May 13, 2014
Extract from "Fearless in Tibet"
SORCERER’S ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON THE DALAI LAMA (Part 1)
Lhasa, Central Tibet Year of the Earth Pig, 1899
In 1886, when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was 11 years old, Demo became Tibet’s regent. Demo was the head of the Tengyeling Monastery, and its estate was the largest and most powerful in Lhasa at the time. Demo served the young Dalai Lama well, and thanks to his position, his monastery increased its already substantial wealth. In the Wood Sheep year (1895), Demo stepped aside and the Dalai Lama was enthroned as the spiritual and political ruler of Tibet. Many in Demo’s court were not pleased with their loss of power. In particular, Norbu Tsering, Demo’s nephew and manager of the Tengyeling estate, was distressed at the sudden reduction in Tengyeling’s political clout after the Dalai Lama ascended to the throne.
The wealth of Tengyeling in the late 1800s was a testament to Norbu Tsering’s proficiency in worldly ways. He not only employed (more…)
May 9, 2014
Extract from Chapter 8 of "Fearless in Tibet"
OFFICIAL SUMMONS FROM THE DALAI LAMA
Drikok Encampment, Eastern Tibet
Year of the Earth Rat to the Earth Ox, 1888–1889
Accounts of Tertön Sogyal’s spiritual power spread throughout eastern Tibet to the marketplace and teahouses of Lhasa. Devout pilgrims arriving in central Tibet from Kham told of the emerging treasure revealer from Nyarong who was pulling termas out of granite and appearing in different villages at the same time. Traders brought stories of Tertön Sogyal’s blessed talismans that safeguarded them from the dangers of robbers and the punishing hailstorms. Even the monks and teachers in Lhasa at the great monastic universities of Sera, Drepung, and Ganden began hearing about Tertön Sogyal.
At the beginning of the Earth Rat year (1888), a messenger on horseback was dispatched from the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace in Lhasa to eastern Tibet with a message for Tertön Sogyal. The horseman found (more…)
May 7, 2014
extract from Kyoto Journal, Issue 78: Time Out On The Inward Journey
by Matteo Pistono
Winter 2004, Year of the Wood Monkey
Cave That Delights the Senses, Near the Jewel Cliff of Tsadra, Eastern Tibet
When Padmasambhava began to give the vajrayana teachings in Tibet in the eighth century, one of the first instructions to his “heart disciples” was the phurba-dagger practice of the deity Vajrakilaya. One cycle of the Vajrakilaya teach¬ings that was hidden at that time is known as The Razor of the Innermost Essence. Nearly two volumes of Padmasambhava’s instructions are found in The Razor treasure, which include complex rituals believed to remove obstacles to one’s spiritual development, to thwart attack by enemy invaders, and importantly, to protect the Dalai Lama. In the autumn of 1895, Tertön Sogyal received the mnemonic key to The Razor treasure at a remote cave in eastern Tibet. Within a decade after being written in liturgies, the rituals found within The Razor were em¬ployed in the nation’s spiritual defense.
In the first months of 2004, Antonio, an Italian scholar with whom I had traveled across Tibet on numerous occasions, and I were in the vicinity where Tertön Sogyal had received the key for The Razor. Antonio and I had met years before while we both were traveling near Serthar, and after a month of grueling travel from Golok to Lhasa—where on two occasions, we had to get out of our transport and hike a wide detour around the police check posts undetected, (more…)
May 7, 2014
Matteo Pistono’s new book, Fearless in Tibet, a biography of the great 19th century mystic Terton Sogyal, could just as easily be called Fearless in Writing.
Until the very recent past, Tibetan biographies have been strictly hagiographic in tone and content. The readership was confined to accomplished practitioners of tantric Buddhism and the books were penned in a pre-20th century timeframe, in which empirical science played no role. Buddhist manifestations of magic neither contradicted nor compromised Tibetan readers’ experience of the “real” world. Tibetans simply lived in an atmosphere of the marvelous. If someone was said to have super-human origins or skills, no one jumped through hoops to embrace the notion. A biographer’s emphasis was on the subject’s inner journey, not the dates and place-names of his or her outer life, which was regarded as mundane, if not irrelevant.
It is no easy task, then, for a Western writer with a Western readership to bridge that cultural gap, to bring to life the story of a highly realized Buddhist master – to explore the tantric’s spiritual achievement while also folding into the narrative Terton Sogyal’s political significance.
Matteo Pistono has done precisely this.
His biography not only accurately identifies Terton Sogyal as one of the diplomatic lightning rods of his time – replete with Sogyal’s profoundly crucial relationship with the 13th Dalai Lama (more…)