Fujisan's Kyareng

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cham; The Tibetan Religious Dances

Cham is a sacred dance unique to Tibetan religious culture. It is practiced and performed by the monks of almost all the monasteries of the five major schools of Tibetan religious orders on special auspicious events. Given the scarcity of material on this aspect of Tibetan religious culture, I thought it prudent to share what little I could grasp of cham in Bonpo settlement in Dolanji.

Although, written records are scarce about the origin of cham, the fact that some of these dances involve the manifestation of the ancient mountain gods and goddesses fortify the explanation that the dance has its origin in Bon, the native religion of Tibet. The dances, especially performed during the Year end and the New Year are sacred dance rituals by the deities of the religious order to ward off evils of the year and to bless the people with good health and prosperity in the coming new year.

The masks, costumes, and the movement of the performers may look similar, but it differs among the religious schools. The performers represent the great saints and the guardian deities of the respective schools. These dances are performed during the religious festivals, birth anniversary of the founding teachers, 29th day of the Tibetan yearend, New Year etc.

The dances, however, are not performed or viewed for entertainment purpose; they are revered and observed as an essential annual sacred event where the people and the deities of the land congregate to fortify, and to harmonize the cosmic and spiritual energy between them and the land. Ancient kings have had these sacred dances performed during the enthronement with a purpose of notifying the deities, receiving their blessing, and establishing harmony with the deities of the land to enhance, and to seek legitimacy to their secular authority to rule,(tib:ngathang,wanthang).

In 2009, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to participate in the Cham event of the Menriling Bon monastery in Dolanji. It was performed on 29th day of the 12th Month of Tibetan calendar (tib: nyishu-gu) at the monastery ground. The whole set of dance was known as "Sherab Gucham", Nine dances of wisdom.

People sat around the ground in groups and in families. It was a sunny day with a clear blue sky. In the center was a sangbum (a conical cement structure, where fire is made with the sang materials to purify the environment). Dried junipers, and sang materials (herbs and incenses) was burning inside the sangbum sending cloud of holy aromatic smoke in the sky. With the powerful blare of dungchen, a long brass trumpet, and the intermittent clash of cymbals, the performers dancing to the music of dungchen and cymbals descended majestically from the monastery's staircase to the ground in pairs.

In Sherab gucham, there are ten main performers as follows:

The first to appear from the monastery were Sigyal and Mijig, they were in blue mask. They came one after another. Sipa Gyalmo, mother of the universe, is the main protector deity of Bon religion.

The next came two in red mask, they were Tsenhorpa and Apije. This Tsenhorpa could be Tsengod Hurpa or different, both of them are Bon deities.

The third two in white mask were Gyalpo Nyibang Se and his consort Menmo.

The fourth one in blue mask was Gyalpo Zamnyon, emanation of Zambhala, deity of wealth and prosperity. One in white mask was Gyalpo Shetra, he is said to be the protector deity of Menri monastery.

The fifth two without mask were Dragseng and Targo. Dragpa Senge in a monk-like attire is said to be the emanation of some Kagyu lama in a spirit form. Targo Gegan has a round circular hat (of Shanak type). He is the eldest of the seven brothers of Targo, mountains spirit, popularly known as Targo chedun rog-gye, five brothers and eight comrades of Targo. It is said that the Targo Gegan received his Genyen dhompa (religious ethical vow) from the Lord Shenrab Miwo, the founder of the Bon religion.

After the completion of the main cham dance, Dhogpa, a ritual to expel the evils and to block bad lucks was conducted. This was followed by a Dro, a group dance by the deities to celebrate the victory of good over the evils. I was told that by evils, here we have to understand it as the five mental delusions of ours - attachment, pride, ignorance, anger, and jealousy.

Dro dance is followed by Meri dance, a dance of fire-mountain. The meri dance was done in a crisscrossed way; in fact, an intricate maze of symbolic fire-mountain was woven through dance to confuse the evils from coming back to the region. I was told that when practicing this dance, performers have to dip the sole of their shoes in water, to verify that their dance steps were correct to form the required illustration of fire-mountain.

After the meri-dance, the deities retired to the inner sanctum of the monastery just like the way they came out. The monks, who performed the cham dance had to do shagpa (expatiation, seeking forgiveness) after the ceremony in the monastery. This shagpa is done to expiate to the deities for any disrespect conducted during the ceremony, and to all the sentient beings, who might have been adversely affected because of the ceremony.

Then came the blessing and the Jethag (Je means bad spell, thag means thread or rope)ritual. His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, the Chief spiritual leader of the Bon community blessed the crowd and performed Jethag rites. Two thin strings in red and blue colors were passed to the whole gatherings around the ground, so that everyone was connected through the two strings rolled on their ring fingers. Menri Trizin walked around the gathering and cut the connecting strings, so that the people are left with two strings on their ring fingers. This signifies the release from the Jethag of Lhasin degye [spell-thread of the eight malignant spirits], and the five mental delusions(tib:Nyonmong gi dug nga).

A long queue leading to the Trizin was formed, who stood near the sangbum with a Chabtrue vase with his attendants. The vase contained scared water to cleanse the people of all impurities. People threw their strings in the Lu-basin, Menri Trizin conducted chabtrue ritual, sprinkling of water over the devotees for purification. The lu-basin along with the dhogpa, the people's strings, and the drops of chabtrue water were later thrown far away from the monastery's precinct.

While the monks were performing the shagpa inside the monastery, the general public performed Lhagyal ceremony at the ground. Lhagyal ceremony is a typical Tibetan ceremony done at the end of a religious or social gathering to pray for the victory of good over evils, by offering Tsampa in the air and shouting 'ki ki so so lhagyalo'. This was how Sherab gucham was performed on Feb 23, 2009 at Dolanji.

1.Jadhur Sonam Sangpo, a former Bon deputy to the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile.
2.Rene de Nebsesky – Wojkowitz, Tibetan Religious Dances, Paljor Publications, New Delhi, 1997

Monday, June 13, 2011

Kalachakra Washington DC 2011

His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be giving his 31st Kalachakra teaching in Washington DC in the month of July. There are people who are in dilemma as to whether they should participate in the teachings or not because of their meager knowledge in the field. To them I say - if you have a pure good motivation, you should do so.

Kalachakra deity, Viswamata [Yabyum]

Brief Introduction to Buddhism and Kalachakra Teachings

It is a common knowledge that all beings, including the small insects, desire happiness and avoid sufferings. In the process of finding true happiness, we are often confronted with sufferings. Lord Buddha taught us to contemplate on the cause of sufferings, so that we can avoid it and uproot it, and achieve eternal happiness – Nirvana and Buddhahood.

According to the Buddhist law of causality and interdependency, what we are right now is because of our past Karma, what we will be in our next life depends on what we do in this life. Negative karma, and deeds born out of our mental delusion are the cause of our sufferings. Therefore, our mental delusion caused by – Ignorance, attachment, pride, anger and jealousy are the main cause of our sufferings.

Lord Buddha taught us the way to overcome this delusion and achieve ultimate peace in the form of enlightenment. The practice involves cultivating the three higher trainings of self-discipline, meditative concentration, and the wisdom understanding emptiness. Buddha's teaching can be interpreted, practiced and understood from two major yanas, vehicles – Hinayana and Mahayana, thegmen and thegchen.

Hinayana, the lesser vehicle is Theravada Buddhism. Here the practitioners practice to overcome the mental delusion and gain insight into the ultimate nature of emptiness to achieve Nirvana for themselves.

Mahayana, the greater vehicle, can be further divided into – Paramitayana and Vajrayana. mDo and bsNags. In Paramitayana, the practitioners, besides practicing what the Hinayanist practice, they cultivate Boddhicitta mind to achieve Buddhahood to help all the sentient beings.

Vajrayana or Tantrayana, is esoteric form of Buddhism. Besides the Sutra practice, it involves Tantra also. The wisdom that realizes the profound emptiness is same in Paramitayana and Vajrayana, differences lies in the methods. Vajrayana adopt methods, which involves practice of deity yoga – meditating on oneself as having an aspect of similar to that of a Form body. This practice is divided into four classes - Kirya, Charya, Yoga and Anuttara Yoga.

Kalachakra teachings belong to the highest yoga tantra class of Anuttara Yoga, where the Kalachakra deity Viswamata is meditated upon and visualized. Buddha taught the Kalachakra tantra at Shri Dhanyakataka, in South India at the behest of Suchandra, the first kalkin of mystical kingdom of Shambhala. The teachings prospered in Shambhala and came back to India and spread to Tibet only around 10th century. From the time of Dro Lotsawa, Buton Rinchen Druppa to Tsongkappa, Kalachakra empowerment was passed on from one Tibetan master to another successively, in this way we have His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one of the lineage holders to this day to give us the teachings.

Tantras are sacred secret teachings usually taught only to a few accomplished practitioners. Kalachakra teachings, although is one of the highest yoga tantra, it is given to a vast congregation of public of all spiritual caliber. According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,

"Certainly, not everyone who attends will have a sufficient inner basis to receive the full benefits of the initiation, but it is believed that anyone attending with a positive attitude will establish and strengthen positive karmic instincts."

It is said that the merit of participating and receiving Kalachakra teachings differs from person to person according to their level of spiritual understanding and motivation. For accomplished practitioners, this is a chance to receive the full initiation to practice the tantra, for those who have fair understanding of the practice, the teachings present a good opportunity to reconfirm and invigorate their understanding. For those who don't know much about the teachings, it provides a karmic seed to receive and practice the teachings.

In all the above cases, the most important requirement to receive the teachings is the participants' altruistic motivation to benefit whole sentient beings. Therefore, motive behind receiving the teachings should be very pure and magnanimous. As for the world peace, it is to be noted that the power and blessing from the assembly of a great multitude all driven by pure altruistic motivation is bound to influence and generate a conducive force and environment to build a peaceful world without war and violence.

It can also be said that the participations in Kalachakra teachings enables the participants to pray and to sow a karmic seed to get reborn in the mystical land of Shambhala to further their practice of the teachings.


1. The Practice of Kalachakra by Glenn Mullin, Snowlion Publications, 1991
2. Kalachakra Initiations by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama.com 2011
3. The Kalachakra Initiation by D.R. Prodan, 1993

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

Last year I came across this manga 'Buddha" by Osamu Tezuka, I found it very interesting and lively. It is also very revealing, it talks about many things about Buddha's life and times, some of which we have not heard and are not usually found in Buddhist literatures. Osamu Tezuka [1928-89] is a well-known Manga writer in Japan; he could not have concocted the story without any reliable background facts to corroborate his story.

The manga became very popular around the world. This year anime-movie 'Osamu Tezuka's Buddha – The Great Departure' directed by Kozo Morishita has also come up. While I found the book interesting, I have not yet seen the movie. But the book tells us many things, though interesting, authenticity of some episodes and characters are doubtful. If it is fiction, then Osamu is not doing justice to the great master and the times, and to the history.

To cite one example, the story tells us of an interesting episode about a woman in Siddhartha's life, and how ultimately Siddhartha parted from her and married with Yashodhara. It was depicted in the manga that around that time, evils of the caste system were at its height. Low caste people were greatly discriminated and oppressed. But these low caste people have grouped themselves and mastered the art of fighting – wrestling, sword, bows, horse riding etc. to fight the injustices. Migaila, a young beautiful woman was one among them. She and Siddhartha were in love.

King Suddhodhana arranged Siddhartha's marriage with Yashodhara from a royal clan. Not wanting to be tied to nuptial noose so early, and to procastinate the marriage, Siddhartha asks his father that a duel should be arranged among the princes and contenders, and the winner should have Yashodhara as his wife. King Suddhodhana, though not very sure of his weakling son, was impressed about his courage to abide by the custom. So, the announcement was made for the duel.

When Migaila heard about this contest, she participates in the duel disguised as a young warrior. She secretly sneaks into the palace and meets Siddhartha, together they make a plan. Adopting various tricks, the plan was to have Migaila and Siddhartha come to the final contest, where Siddhartha will lose to Migaila. Rigging and matching fixing comes in. Everything goes as planned, but at the last phase when she and Siddhartha were feigning contest, her identity gets exposed. When the King comes to know that she and Siddhartha had been courting, he was wild with rage and sentences her to death.

The prince, on hearing that his beloved has received death sentence, he beg his father to spare her life. Suddhodhana agrees on a term that if Siddhartha agree to marry with Yashodhara, Migaila's life will be spared. Siddhartha agree to this term, but he was shocked to hear later that his father has had his men take out the eyes of Migaila and banished her.

Characters like, Chapra, Bandaka, General Budai of Kosala are very interesting. One thing I can tell the readers is that if you start reading the book, it will not let you go off until you have finished the last page. The way Osamu Tezuka tells the story in Manga is something all the cartoonists and storytellers should learn. I hope to see the movie in the near future.