TIBETAN BUDDHIST TEXTS, BELIEFS AND SYMBOLS

TIBETAN BUDDHIST TEXTS

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Mahakala
The Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the Bible is the Kangyur. Dealing with the historical Buddha, it consists of 108 volumes, each with about a 1000 pages. Thirteen of the volumes deal with monastic discipline and conduct. There are an additional 208 volumes of commentary (the Tengyur).

Tibetan prayer books and manuscripts are written on bark paper pressed between lacquered silk and bound in silk brocade. The inscriptions are often written in Sanskrit and the pages are printed with woodblocks. Some volumes weigh 50 pounds. Before bark paper was introduced, Tibetans wrote on the smooth shoulder bones of a goats.

Many monks spend a good portion of their time printing Buddhist texts and hanging the paper on trees to dry. Often, the monks don't know what the prints say. Homeowners like to buy inscription to hang over their doors to keep thieves and demons away.

Among the 200,000 hardwood printing blocks at the Balong Lamasery in Sichuan are texts on astronomy, geography, music, medicine and Buddhist classics. Balong also contains the world's only copy of the history of Indian Buddhism.

Texts are still printed the traditional way at the Dege Printing House in Dege, Sichuan. Built between 1729 and 1750, this three-story wooden structure stores 80 percent of the Tibetan literary culture, and produces a wide range texts for monasteries, libraries, study centers and Tibetan colleges, which people from all over Tibet come to pick up. More than 210,000 hand-craved wooden blocks, some of which were carved in the 16th century, are stored there. The Dege Printing House is regarded as a sacred site. Pilgrims seek it out and walk clockwise around it with prayer wheels in their hand.

About 100 monks work there. All the work is done by hand. There are no machines or even electric lighting. Blocks made in the 17th and 18th century are still used to make texts that have as many as 30,050 pages ( making four copies of this text takes three weeks). Describing the work done at the Monastery, Peter Hessler wrote in the New York Times, "One of the workers spreads the bright red ink on a wood block while the other presses the paper. They work quickly, printing a page every four seconds."

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF BUDDHISM IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HISTORY OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHISM SECTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHISM TEXT, BELIEFS, GODS, SYMBOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN BUDDHIST OBJECTS, RITUALS AND TEMPLES Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MONKS AND LAMAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN MONASTERIES AND PILGRIMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; BON RELIGION, CATHOLICS AND ASTROLOGY IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; RELIGIOUS REPRESSION IN TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMAS Factsanddetails.com/China ; PRESENT DALAI LAMA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA’s CURRENT LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; PANCHEN LAMAS AND LAMA CONTROVERSIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; KARMAPA LAMA Factsanddetails.com/China

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Tantric God Tara
Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Tibetan Buddhism: ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Tibetan Buddhist archives sacred-texts.com ; Buddha.net list of Tibetan Buddhism sources buddhanet.net ; Tibetan Buddhist Meditation tricycle.org/magazine/tibetan-buddhist-meditation ; Gray, David B. (Apr 2016). "Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. oxfordre.com/religion ; Wikipedia article on Tibetan Buddhism Wikipedia ; Shambhala.com. larges publisher of Tibetan Buddhist Books shambhala.com ; tbrc.org ; Tibetan Philosophy, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu/tibetan ; Book: Tibetan Buddhism by L. Austine Waddell

Tibetan History: Tibetan History Timeline haiweitrails.com ; Friends of Tibet friends-of-tibet.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Nations site historyofnations.net ; Chinese Government site on Tibetan History xinhuanet.com ; Book: Tibetan Civilization by Rolf Alfred Stein. Robert Thurman, a friend of the Dalai Lama and professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University, is regarded the preeminent scholar on Tibet in the United States. Tibet Under China: Tibet China Conflict PDF file eastwestcenter.org ; Tibet and China, Two Distinct Views Chinese Government’s Take on Tibetan History ; index-china.com; Book: The Dragon in the Land of Snows by Tsering Shakya (Random House, 1998) is a first rate book on the history of Tibet under Chinese occupation. Links in this Website: TIBETAN HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBET UNDER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Websites and Sources on Tibet: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/ Wikipedia Wikipedia Tibetan Resources phayul.com ; Open Directory dmoz.org/Regional/Asia/China/Tibet/ ; Snow Lion Publications (books on Tibet) snowlionpub.com ; Photos Tibet Photo Gallery Tibet Gallery Terra Nomada Terra Nomada ; Tibetan Cultural Sites: Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture tibetanculture.org ; Tibet Trip tibettrip.com ; Tibetan Cultural Region Directory kotan.org ; Tibetan Studies and Tibet Research: Tibetan Resources on The Web (Columbia University C.V. Starr East Asian Library ) columbia.edu ; Tibetan and Himalayan Libray thlib.org Digital Himalaya ; digitalhimalaya.com ; Tibetan Studies Maps WWW Virtual Library ciolek.com/WWWVL-TibetanStudies ; Center for Research of Tibet case.edu ; Center for Advanced Tibetan Studies amnyemachen.org ; Tibetan Studies resources blog tibetan-studies-resources.blogspot.com ; News, Electronic Journals ciolek.com/WWWVLPages

Tibetan Buddhist Beliefs

Tibetan Buddhism is far less philosophical and pacifist and far more earthy and superstitious than many people think. Tibetan Buddhists believe in gods and spirits, multiple heavens and horrible hells and many things that most people would describe as magic and mystical. Tibetan Buddhists believe in reincarnation, although not in the sense of an irreducible self passing from body to body. They describe a dying candle lighting a new one; one’s essence passes on.

Tibetan Buddhists believed that the power of Buddha can experienced through statues and other images of Buddha. They also believe many different aspects of Buddha are reincarnated over and over as human beings.

Tibetan Buddhism encourages lamas to counsel students individually while Chinese Buddhism puts more emphasis on teaching monks in groups in monasteries.

The Dalai Lama often argues that Tibetan Buddhism is pragmatic and universal. He told Smithsonian magazine: "Buddhism is not theotic. It is heavily dependent on logic and reason. However, we also accept the value of nirvana. So there is a common language between persons of strong faith and Buddhism. I believe that the different religions, different philosophies, different systems and ideologies were all meant for human benefit.”

“While the ultimate goal of Buddhism is nirvana, our immediate goal is worldly benefit. As Buddhists, we have a deep interest in society, community. Our continual investigations for the worldly benefit of Man rely on observation and logic...If scientific reasoning proves something different from our scriptures, we accept the proof rather than scriptures. The human mind is the real creator."

Tibetans consider snow-cover mountains to be holy sites, life-giving forces. Shambala is Tibetan Buddhism’s earthly paradise where there is no war and no suffering, where people live in peace and harmony through meditation and self-discipline. It is said to be beyond the Himalayas at the base a crystal mountains, where people have been untouched by the corrupting influences of the outside word. The Shambala story is reportedly one of inspirations for the Shangri la utopia conceived by James Hilton in his book Lost Horizon .

Tibetan Buddhism and Tantrism

Tantrism is sometimes regarded as one of the three major sects of Buddhism along with Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. Originally from India, it is a highly ritualistic religion that combines beliefs in magic and esoteric philosophy and emphasizes mystic symbols, sacred chants, and other esoteric devotional techniques. It is usually associated with Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.

Tantric Buddhism is often called Vajrayana ("thunderbolt vehicle"). In Tibet, it is heavily influenced by the ancient Bon religion,which used shaman to dispel demons and appease the gods, and incorporates a number of mudras ("ritual postures"), mantras ("sacred speech"), yantras ("sacred art") and secret initiation rites. Most of the ritual objects and images of deities used in Tibetan Buddhism are derived from Tantrism. The techniques are generally not written down but passed orally from master to student.

Tantrism emerged around A.D. 600 and was based on texts known as Tantras. It put forth the idea that all human states and conditions, even one traditionally regarded as polluting,, were connected and things such as desire and wrath could be viewed as being on the same plane with love and righteousness.

Tantrism is seen by some as a complex union of Hinduism and Buddhism: incorporating different offshoots of each religion with folk religious beliefs and combing Hindu gods with Buddhist theology. One religious text described Tantrism as “Buddhist and Hindu hierarchies converted to create rigid social organizational patterns” that merge “erotic Hindu ideas....static and authoritative Buddhist teachings...Hindu patterns of individual paths to enlightenment” and “Buddhist notions of the power of many.”

See Hinduism

Tantric Techniques

Tantric Buddhists believe that anyone willing to pursue a regimen of ritual-intensive discipline can reach enlightenment now, and in the process benefit all other creatures, which is the ultimate goal. To achieve enlightenment special tools are needed. These include items that can be touched, held or worn . These tools are not intended to be art works that are mediated upon. Rather they are seen as objects that contact turns into a two-way power sources, with devotees injecting the objects with power and that objects returning the power with an extra punch to the devotee. The power exchange goes back and forth in a way that is referred to as the “Circle of Bliss.”

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According to followers of Buddhist Tantrism the Buddha left behind some special esoteric techniques, known as Tantra (Gyu), to a small group of his disciples with the understanding that if these techniques were followed they could achieve nirvana (enlightenment) and become a bodhisattvas much more quickly than if they followed conventional methods.The techniques often involve identification with a tutelary deity through deep meditation and recitation of deity’s mantra, the most well-known of which is “om mani padem hum,” the mantra of Chenresig (Avalokiteshvara). The process is enhanced by the use of yogic techniques that may include sexual acts. Masters of Tantric methods can not only visualize a deity in all its forms but can visualize it in a three-dimensional mandala world and absorb its terma (“reveled” words or writings).

Tantric objects include bells to wake up slumbering minds, prayer wheels and mandalas. New York Times Art critic Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “the function and meaning of mandalas and other their such objects can be fully explained only in an interpretive calculus of prodigious complexity, one ultimately accessible only to initiates.”

Describing a 15th century mandala made by Newar artists at a Tibetan monastery, art critic Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times, “it offers a labyrinthine, circles-within-squared topographic charts of heaven and hell, bristling with tiny sprits and monsters. A Tantric teacher, a guru, who knows the image, with its pitfalls and high places, will lead the committed student on a pilgrims progress to the mandala’s center...There twin deities, male and female, are locked in an amorous embrace. The male is named Chakrasamvara, the female, Vajravarahi. Their intertwined bodies are the “The Circle of Bliss.” Separately they represent the forces of wisdom and compassion; enlightenment is their union.”

Kalachakra

The Kalachakra is an 11-day Tibetan Buddhist ritual. One such ritual for world peace presided over by the Dalai Lama drew 10,000 people to Washington in July 2011.

Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote: “The word kalachakra means cycles of time, and the Kalachakra system presents three such cycles---external, internal and alternative. The external and internal cycles deal with time as we normally know it, while the alternative cycles are practices for gaining liberation from these two. The structures of the external and internal cycles are analogous, similar to the parallel between macrocosm and microcosm discussed in Western philosophy. This means that the same laws that govern a universe also pertain to atoms, the body and our experience of life. The practices of the alternative cycles also follow this structure so as to allow us to engage with and surmount these forces in an efficient manner. Such mimicking is, in fact, one of the distinguishing features of the anuttarayoga tantra method. [Source: The Berzin Archives, Dr. Alexander Berzin]

Time, in Buddhism, is defined as a measurement of change. For example, a month is the measurement of change involved either externally in the moon circling the earth or internally in a woman going from one menstruation to the next. Such changes are cyclical in that the pattern repeats, although the events of each cycle are not completely identical. Normally the passage of time exercises a debilitating effect. As we age, our sight, hearing, memory and physical strength gradually weaken and eventually we die.

In short, the external and internal cycles of time delineate samsara---uncontrollably recurring rebirth, fraught with problems and difficulties. These cycles are driven by impulses of energy, known in the Kalachakra system as "winds of karma." Karma is a force intimately connected with mind and arises due to confusion about reality. Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Within this context, individual karmic potentials, at the appropriate juncture in each being's internal cycles---namely after each death---give rise to the impulse to take rebirth in a specific environment with a particular body.

Liberation from Cycles of Time

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Sakaymuni
The alternative cycles of time entail a graded series of meditative practices of anuttarayoga tantra, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. They serve not only as an alternative to the external and internal cycles, but as a way to gain liberation from them. The possibility of gaining liberation from time, however, does not imply that time does not actually exist or that someone can live and benefit others outside of time. Time, as a measurement of change, also occurs as a measure of the cycles of actions of a Buddha. Liberation from time means ridding ourselves of the confusion, and its instincts, that repeatedly give rise to the impulses, or karma, that render us at the mercy of the ravages of time. Once free, we are no longer adversely affected by external winter darkness, eclipses, wars and so on that periodically recur. Nor are we restricted by the type of body that is under the control of periodic biological forces, such as hunger, sexual urges, tiredness or aging. As a result of the full understanding of reality, it becomes possible, instead, to generate cycles of forms that benefit others beyond any limitations imposed by time.

The process begins with the Kalachakra initiation. Properly empowered, we engage in generation and then complete stage meditation practice in the form of the Buddha-figure called Kalachakra. Through these two stages, we access and utilize the subtlest level of our mind to see reality. Remaining continually focused on reality with it eliminates forever confusion and its instincts, thus bringing liberation from the external and internal cycles of time. This is possible because our basis tantra, our individual clear light mind, underlies each moment of experience and, like time, it has no end. Once our subtlest mind is freed from the deepest cause giving rise to the impulses of energy that perpetuate cycles of time and bondage to them, it gives rise, instead, to the bodies of a Buddha, in the form of Kalachakra.

Shambhala

Since Shambhala plays a prominent role in the Kalachakra system, most people are curious to know what Shambhala actually is and where it is located, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. It is undoubtedly from a distortion of the name "Shambhala" that the Western romantic writer James Hilton has derived the myth of Shangri-la---a hidden paradise on Earth. Although there may be a place in this world representative of Shambhala, that is not the actual fabled land. Shambhala cannot be found on this planet or even in some distant world. It is, however, a human realm in which everything is conducive for spiritual practice, particularly of Kalachakra.

Meditation masters have written guidebooks, in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, for reaching Shambhala. They describe the journey as a physical one only up to a certain point. The sojourner must subsequently repeat millions of mantras and other special practices in order to arrive at the final goal. The journey to Shambhala, then, is primarily a spiritual one. The aim of receiving Kalachakra initiation is not to reach or be reborn in Shambhala, but, like all other mahayana, or "vast vehicle" Buddhist practices, is to gain enlightenment here and now for the benefit of all. The empowerment plants the seeds enabling us to reach this goal and helps purify some of the grosser internal obstacles that would prevent its attainment.

Before entering tantric practice, we need to understand that at least the grossest levels of our projections do not refer to anything real. No one is a born loser and no relation is doomed to failure. Such understanding comes from an outlook on reality, or "correct view" of voidness, corresponding to at least one of the mahayana systems of philosophical tenets Buddha taught---chittamatra or one of the several madhyamaka ones. According to these systems, not only ourselves, but everything is devoid of existing in fantasized ways. The particular systems differ primarily according to the level of subtlety of fantasy they address.

As further preparation for tantra, faith and confidence are needed in the tantric methods in general, and particularly in those of its highest class, anuttarayoga, as constituting the most efficient and effective means for attaining enlightenment. Anyone having this confident belief, the frame of mind of the three principal paths and a background in lam-rim is called a "proper vessel" for receiving the Kalachakra empowerment. We must judge for ourselves if we are sufficiently prepared.

Kalachakra Initiation

The initiation process spans several days, with the first day being a preparation ceremony, followed by usually two or three days of actual empowerment, Dr. Alexander Berzin wrote. The most important part of the initial procedures is taking refuge and the bodhisattva and tantric vows. Without all three, we cannot actually receive empowerment, although we may witness it and derive great benefit. The empowerment itself involves a complex procedure of imagining ourselves transforming into a series of special forms, entering the mandala of the Buddha-figure Kalachakra, and experiencing in it a sequence of purifications and the awakening and enhancing of potentials for future success in the practice. The mandala is an enormous multistoried palace, in and around which are 722 figures, including a principal couple in the center. The master conferring the empowerment simultaneously appears as all these figures, not just as the central one. Thus, throughout the process we visualize ourselves, our teacher and our surroundings in a very special way.

The steps of the initiation are extremely intricate and, without familiarity, the visualizations involved can be quite perplexing. But if, as a proper vessel, we take the vows with full sincerity and at least feel, with strong faith, that all the visualizations are actually occurring, we can be confident that we are receiving the empowerment. With this basis secured, the next step is seeking further instruction and then trying, as sincerely as possible, to travel the full path to enlightenment as presented in the Kalachakra Tantra.

Tibetan Buddhist Symbols

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Wind horse
Symbols from Tibetan Buddhism include: 1) the white elephant, an auspicious symbol associated with royalty and wealth; 2) the precious jewel, also known as ju-I ("as your desire"), representing wealth sufficient enough to satisfy a man's needs and desires. 3) Swastikas that point clockwise are Buddhist; those that point counter-clockwise are Bon.

The Four Harmonious Brothers are often found painted on the walls of entrances to monasteries. Symbolizing harmony with nature, they are comprised of a bird on top of rabbit which is on top of a monkey on an elephant. The sun and moon and ying-and-yang-like motifs are painted on houses. They symbolize the complementary opposites: wisdom and compassion.

The wind horse (longa) is the main symbol found on prayer flags. It is famed for its ability to run like the wind. On his back he carries the Three Jewels of Buddhism---the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. The Kalachakra seal is likened with Kalachakra meditation deity and is also associated with the Dalai Lama. The queen, the minister and the general are common symbols that are indispensable aids to the king.

Tibetans consider the peacock to be an auspicious bird. The movement of its tail is associated with the way men tie their robes around their waists Tibetan dance movements have names such as “The peacocks wingspread” and “the drinking peacock.”

The most auspicious number to Tibetan Buddhists is 108. It is the number of books in the Tibetan Buddhist scripture, the number of beads in prayer necklace and the number of braids in a woman's traditional hair do. Praying 108 times is regarded as particularly meritorious because it “disturbs passions” of “mankind’s delusions” cited in Buddhist scripture. The number 108 is auspicious because it is a product of 9 x 4 x 3, with 9, 4 and 3 being auspicious numbers.

Ladders are painted on rocks around many monasteries, bridges and other places to symbolize the descent of Buddha Sakyamuni from the heaven back to the earth. It is said that the Buddha left for heaven at the age of 41, having ascended to the Heaven of Thirty-Three (Trayastrimsa) in order to give teachings to benefit the gods in the desire realms and to repay the kindness of his mother by liberating her from Samsara. He was exhorted by his follower and representative Maugalyayana to return, and after a long debate managed to return. This is considered to be one of the eight great deeds of the Buddha. He returned to earth by a special triple ladder prepared by Viswakarma, the god of machines.

Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism

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Eight Auspicious Symbols
The Eight Auspicious Symbols are associated with gifts made to Buddha upon his enlightenment. The first four are: 1) the Precious Parasol (symbolizing protective powers of the Buddhist doctrine, it is usually placed over Buddha images to protect them from evil spirits); 2) the White Conch Shell (symbolizing the propagation of the Buddhist doctrine, blown to signal prayer time and celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment and the potential of all humans for enlightenment); 3) the Golden Fishes (representing abundance, felicity and liberation from the Wheel of Life); and 4) the Lotus Flower (symbolizing purity and compassion of Buddha because it is a beautiful thing that rises from muddy waters).

The other Eight Auspicious Symbols are: 5) the Banner of Victory (marking the victory of Buddhist wisdom over ignorance and the expulsion of all worries); 6) the Knot of Eternity (representing the eternal, intertwined passage of time, harmony, love and unity); 7) the Vase of Great Treasures (containing the jewels of enlightenment, the water of eternity and votive offerings to the deities); and 8) the Wheel of Law (representing the Eightfold Path to salvation and the movement of Buddhist laws). Also known as the Wheel of Dharma, the Wheel of Law turns 12 times, three times for each of the Four Noble Truths.

Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life

The walls or entrances of Buddhist monasteries and pagodas are often decorated with "Wheels of Life," paintings representing principals of Buddhism. They are complex, image-filled paintings that aim to show viewers how desire imprisons us in a world of suffering and rebirth and that the mind is only a delusion.

The three cardinal sins---passion and delusion (represented by a cock), hatred (a snake), and greed and stupidity (a pig)---are often situated at the center of the wheel. The wheel is turned by Yama, the Lord of Death, who represents the limitations of existence. At the bottom of the wheel are hot and cold hells and a scale used to measure good and bad karma one has accumulated in one’s lifetime.

In the ring outside the center are the 8 or 12 karma formations, which contain the victims of bad karma (black background) on the left and the beneficiaries of good karma (white background) on the right. In the next ring are the six spheres of existence; then the twelve links in the chain of causation, culminating in the search for truth; and finally in the outer most ring are symbols depicting impermanence or death.

The six spheres of existence are; 1) the realm of the gods, a transitory place where happiness rises above suffering; 2) the realm of the asuras (jealous gods), where creatures of all sorts fight over fruit on the wishing tree and have to be reminded by Buddha to stay on the path; 3) the realm of the pretas (the hungry ghosts), the home of grotesque figures who have given into greed and can’t eat because their throats are too narrow; 4) the hells, where creatures with cold hearts and anger live in misery; 5) the realm of the animals, a place of ignorance, lethargy and apathy; and 6) the realm of the humans, characterized by birth, old age, disease, sickness and death.

The twelve links in the chain of causation features: 1) a blind woman (symbolizing ignorance); 2) a potter (unconscious of will); 3) a monkey (consciousness); 4) men in a boat (self-consciousness); 5) house (the five senses); 6) lovers (attachment); 7) a man with an arrow in his eye (feeling); 9) people drinking (desire); 10) a figure grasping fruit from a tree (greed); 11) pregnancy (birth); and 12) a man with a corpse (death).

The wheel of law or the wheel of Dharma represents Dharma, the cosmos and the concept of karma. The central wheel is symbolic of Buddha’s teachings which set the wheel of dharma in motion.

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Wheel of life

Animal Symbols in Tibetan Buddhism

The Four Dignities refers to four animals with important symbolic meaning in Tibetan Buddhism: 1) the Garuda, 2) the Sky Dragon, 3) the Snow Lion and 4) the Tiger. They are often seen in the corners of Tibetan prayer flags, accompanying the Wind Horse. They represent the qualities and attitudes necessarily developed on the spiritual path to enlightenment. These are qualities such as awareness, vast vision, confidence, joy, humility and power.

The garuda and the dragon have their origin in Indian and Chinese mythology, respectively. However, regarding the origin of the animals as a tetrad, "neither written nor oral explanations exist anywhere" with the exception of a thirteenth-century manuscript called "The Appearance of the Little Black-Headed Man" (dBu nag mi'u dra chag), and in that case a yak is substituted for the snow lion, which had not yet emerged as the national symbol of Tibet. In the text, a nyen (mountain spirit) kills his son-in-law, Khri-to, who is the primeval human man, in a misguided attempt to avenge his daughter. The nyen then is made to see his mistake by a mediator and compensates Khri-to's six sons with the gift of the tiger, yak, garuda, dragon, goat, and dog. The first four brothers then launch an exhibition to kill robbers who were also involved with their mother's death, and each of their four animals then becomes a personal drala ("protective warrior spirit") to one of the four brothers. The brothers who received the goat and dog choose not to participate, and their animals therefore do not become drala. Each of the brothers represents one of the six primitive Tibetan clans (bod mi'u gdung drug), with which their respective animals also become associated. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The four animals (with the snow lion replacing the yak) also recur frequently in the Epic of King Gesar and sometimes Gesar and his horse are depicted with the dignities in place of the windhorse. In this context the snow lion, garuda and dragon represent the Ling community from which Gesar comes, while the tiger represents the family of the Tagrong Gesar's paternal uncle.

Meanings of Colors in Tibetan Buddhism

All of the colors used in Tibetan art and its rituals holds specific meanings. There are five main colors that are known as pancha-varna in Sanskrit, which means The Five Pure Lights. Each color represents a state of mind, a celestial Buddha, a body part, a part of the mantra word Hum or a natural element. It is believed that by meditating on the individual colors, which contain their respective essences and are associated with a particular buddha or bodhisattva, spiritual transformations can be achieved. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org, June 3, 2014 <>]

Blue is associated space are represents purity and healing. Akshobhya is the Buddha of this color. Ears are the body part that is represented by the color blue. Air is the element that accompanies this color. It is believed, when meditating on this color, anger can be transformed into wisdom.

White is associated with air and is the color of learning and knowledge in Buddhism. It is represented by the Buddha Vairocana. The eyes are associated with white. White is in the elemental group water. If meditated upon, white can cut the delusion of ignorance and turn it into the wisdom of reality.

Red is associated with fire and is related to life force and preservation. The Buddha Amitabha is depicted with a red body in Tibetan art. The part of the body associated with this color is the tongue. Fire is the natural element complementary to the color red. In Buddhism, meditating on the color red transforms the delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment.

Green is associated with water and is the color of balance and harmony. Amoghasiddhi is the Buddha of the color green. The head is the body part that is associated with this color. Green represents nature. Meditate on this color to transform jealousy into the wisdom of accomplishment.

Yellow is associated with with earth and symbolizes rootedness and renunciation. Buddha Ratnasambhava is associated with yellow. The nose is represented by this color. Earth is the element that accompanies the color yellow. Yellow transforms pride into wisdom of sameness when visualized in meditation.

The Five Pure Lights are often seen in Mandala and Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags which you can see everywhere if you make a tour to Tibet. The colors may vary, but there is always a set of five. In addition to this, there is the Buddhist concept of the "rainbow body. The rainbow body is a concept in Tibetan Buddhism when everything begins to transform into pure light. It is said to be the highest state attainable in the realm of samsara before the "clear light" of Nirvana. As the spectrum contains within itself all possible manifestations of light, and thus of color, the rainbow body signifies the awakening of the inner self to the complete reservoir of terrestrial knowledge that it is possible to access before stepping over the threshold to the state of Nirvana. Understandably, when depicted in the visual arts, due to the profusion of colors, the result is spectacularly unique.

Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center opened its library, with 12,000 works, at the Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, China, in October. Archivists plan to scan the texts digitally. Painted to resemble a lamasery, the library contains thousands of travelogues, biographies and medical treatises that bear only a passing resemblance to Western-style books. Most were printed using hand-carved wood blocks, and their unbound pages are contained between boards, then wrapped in brightly colored fabric. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, February 15, 2014 ^/^]

“The books are displayed horizontally behind glass doors, giving the reading rooms the feel of a museum. The texts are a treasure-trove for scholars seeking to trace the evolution of dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, from the origins of Buddhism in India in the fifth century B.C. to its flowering in Tibet, China and Mongolia. ^/^

“Leonard van der Kuijp, a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Harvard, said many of the newly discovered works were the only known versions. He said recent finds had yielded forgotten details about a wife of Kublai Khan, the 13th-century Mongolian ruler who founded the Yuan dynasty in China, and the journeys of a 19th-century Tibetan statesman who traveled from Lhasa to call on the Qing dynasty emperor in Beijing. “There is a magical trajectory in many of these works, which fill the gaps in Indian and Chinese intellectual history,” Professor van der Kuijp said. “It’s like a larger mosaic with missing pieces that are slowly being filled in.” ^/^

“Under ideal circumstances, the collection might have ended up in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, which is 1,200 miles from Chengdu, but government policies that require a permit for non-Chinese visitors and onerous restrictions on foreign journalists seeking to travel to the region would have interfered with Mr. Smith’s goal of making the books freely available to scholars from around the world. He chose the Southwest University for Nationalities because it drew a large number of ethnic Tibetans; while Chengdu’s population is overwhelmingly Han, it also has a significant Tibetan community. The city is also not far from traditionally Tibetan settlements to the north and west that dot the mountains rising toward the Tibetan plateau. As part of the arrangement, Mr. Smith’s institute, based in Cambridge, Mass., provides salaries for the four archivists who spend their days scanning and cataloging texts that can be read free online. They aim to digitize the world’s known treasury of Tibetan literature within a decade.” ^/^

Image Sources: Kalachakranet.org and Simha.com except Texts, Wason collection, and Wheel of Life, Library of Congress.

Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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