Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mongolia | Shambhala | New Book

I just received word from Andrei Znamenski that his book Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia will be coming out in June. It can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.
Amazon Product Description:
Many know of Shambhala, the Tibetan Buddhist legendary land of spiritual bliss popularized by the film, Shangri-La. But few may know of the role Shambhala played in Russian geopolitics in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the only one on the subject, Andrei Znamenski’s book presents a wholly different glimpse of early Soviet history both erudite and fascinating. Using archival sources and memoirs, he explores how spiritual adventurers, revolutionaries, and nationalists West and East exploited Shambhala to promote their fanatical schemes, focusing on the Bolshevik attempt to use Mongol-Tibetan prophecies to railroad Communism into inner Asia. We meet such characters as Gleb Bokii, the Bolshevik secret police commissar who tried to use Buddhist techniques to conjure the ideal human; and Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who, driven by his otherworldly Master and blackmailed by the Bolshevik secret police, posed as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to unleash religious war in Tibet. We also learn of clandestine activities of the Bolsheviks from the Mongol-Tibetan Section of the Communist International who took over Mongolia and then, dressed as lama pilgrims, tried to set Tibet ablaze; and of their opponent, Ja-Lama, an “avenging lama” fond of spilling blood during his tantra rituals.

Professor Znamenski also told me that he has dug up some new information about the The Notorious Ja Lama which should shed some additional light on the career of the enigmatic adventurer. 

Some real heavyweights have coughed up very laudatory pre-publication reviews, including Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, author of The Occult Roots of Nazism and Black Sun, a copy of which I have my Scriptorium:
Red Shambhala enters a maze of intrigue with a colourful cast of Bolshevik secret police officers, spies, occultists, Mongolian warlords and Buddhist monks. Andrei Znamenski shows how Soviet Communists in the 1920s sought geopolitical influence over Mongolia and Tibet, projecting their world revolution onto ancient messianic prophecies amongst Inner Asian tribesmen. Inspired by the myth of hidden sages directing the world's destiny, the Roerichs add visionary adventure amid the great game of competing powers, England, Russia, China, for mastery of the East. A first-rate espionage story, all from recently opened Soviet archives.
From all this I gather that Professor Znamenski will present some material about The Roerichs which you may not learn about at the Roerich Museum here in Ulaan Baatar. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

Also, See The Video. If I am not mistaken, in this video is a photo of the Shambhala Thangka (see 1:57 of the video) which I acquired in Darjeeling a few years ago. This thangka can now be seen in the Lam Rim Temple here in Ulaan Baatar. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Spring Equinox

Here in Mongolia the Spring Equinox occurred at 7:21 this morning. Sunrise was at 6:55 am and sunrise at 7:06 pm, making for a day of 12 hours and 11 minutes. In theory day and night are supposed to be equal but this does not always work out in fact. Tomorrow the day will be 3 minutes and 29 seconds longer, so we have rounded the corner and are on our way to summer. Next big event is the Summer Solstice on June 22. As usual I will be celebrating the Solstice at the Summit of Bogd Khan Uul
Summit of Bogd Khan Uul (see Enlargement)
The exact moment of the Solstice is at 1:16 am on the 22nd, so you might want to consider spending the night on the summit. See you there. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan | Super Moon!

As most of you lunar-oriented people know there is not only a Full Moon but also a Super Moon coming on March 19. The Full Moon actually occurs here in Zaisan at 2:10 a.m. on the morning of the 20th, rising at  6:47 p.m. on the 19th and setting at  6:38 a.m the next morning. What makes this a Super Moon is that on the night of March 19–20 the moon will be at its closest point to Earth in 18 years—a mere  221,566.68 miles away from our own beloved orb. 

Some commentators believe the Super Moon will trigger vast floods, earthquakes, tidal surges, and volcanic activity. We have already had vast floods in Australia and killer quakes in Japan, but expect worse, much worse, according to these people. Of course some scientists have Pooh-Poohed the Idea

I will be viewing the Super Moon from my usual observatory, the summit of Zaisan Tolgoi. 
 The Summit of Zaisan Tolgoi (Noblemen’s Hill)

Bird’s Eye View of Zaisan  Tolgoi, summit visible at center, bottom. See Enlargement
Zaisan Tolgoi (bottom, center) in summer, with Ulaan Baatar beyond. See Enlargement.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tibet | Takten Damcho Ling | Taranatha

I posted previously on The Great Stupa of Jonang and Dölpopa. A couple of miles down the side valley in which the stupa is located, fronting on the main valley of the Tsangpo River, is the monastery of Takten Damcho Ling, founded by the famous historian and Kalachakra practitioner Taranatha, the Previous Incarnation of Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. 
The lower section of the Takten Damcho Ling complex, with the Tsangpo River in the distance
Another view of the lower part of the complex. 

Taranatha (1575–1634) was, at least within the Jonang tradition, thought be an incarnation of Kunga Drölchok, who like Dölpopa had been born in what is now Nepal. Also like Dôlpopa,  Kunga Drölchok was first a follower of the Sakya sect. He eventually received the Jonang transmission of the Kalachakra Tantra and other Jonang teachings. Later he was asked to head the Jonang sect. After he died, Taranatha become leader of the Jonangpa. In the words of Cyrus Stearns, author of The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen:
In the history of the Jonang tradition, Taranatha is second in importance to Dölpopa himself. He is responsible for the short-lived Jonang renaissance in Tsang and Central Tibet during the late sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, and the widespread revitalization of the shentong theory in particular. 
He was one of the last great translators of Sanskrit tantric texts into Tibetan and was an incredibly prolific writer himself. His History of Buddhism in India and The Origin of Tara Tantra are still in print today. 

Takten Damcho Ling was established by Taranatha in 1615 with funds provided by the Tsang ruler Desi Puntsok Nyamgyal (the monastery is also known as Puntsok Ling). When it was finally completed in 1628 it was the largest Jonang monastery in Tibet, boasting of a large college, sixteen temples, and a printing press. Some 10,000 monks were said to live in the monastery and the surrounding area. According to monks there today many of the temples were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Currently eight of the temples are in use. The monastery also has a small guesthouse where I stayed when I visited. There are no other tourist facilities in the area.
Lower part of Takten Damcho Ling looking up toward the upper ruins
Ruins of upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling
Upper part of Takten Damcho Ling

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | New Puerh Tea

I just received a shipment of tea from my supplier in Yunnan Province, China. The market has apparently recovered from the Puerh Tea Crash of 2009 and 2010 turned out to be a pretty good year for Puerh. I bought four cakes of the new 2010 Puerh tea, three of the classic “7592” recipe and one Hai Lang Hao ªAs You Like It” cake, all from the famous Menghai Tea Factory. These four cakes I will lay down in My Tea Cave (see bottom of linked post) for further aging. By 2020 they should be perfect. I can only hope that by that time the earth is still spinning as usual on its axis and that I myself have not transmigrated. For immediate drinking I bought one cake of six year old (2005) Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh Tea.
“7592” cakes top; Hai Lang Hao ªAs You Like It”, bottom left; 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min” (Golden Treasure), bottom right.
A cake of six-year old Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh
Leaf detail of 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min (Golden Treasure) Puerh
I rinsed the 2005 Jin Se Zhen Min tea leaves for ten seconds, discarded that water, and then infused the leaves for one minute.
First one minute infusion of Jin Se Zhen Min
First infusion. Note the lovely orangish-yellow color.
A second infusion of two minutes resulted in this gorgeous reddish-orange tea, indicative of a perfectly aged six year-old Puerh. The taste was slightly tannic and smooth as Khotan Silk.
This grade of Puerh is good for at least five or six more infusions. Indeed, when you taste Puerh Tea on Maliandao Tea Street in Beijing the tea ladies usually make ten infusions from each sample so you can experience the entire range of color and taste of the tea before you decide if you want to buy it. Puerh tea, by the way, is renowned in China as a blood and kidney cleanser and women believe it clears their complexions. It also counteracts the effects of overeating and over-indulgence in alcohol. Most important, however, it is a delicious and spiritually uplifting beverage. Louche Coffee Drinkers would do well to sample its benefits. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan | Ninth of the Nine Nines | Ерийн дулаан болно

The ninth and last of the Nine-Nines—nine periods of nine days each, each period marked by some description of winter weather—begins today, March 3. This last Nine is Ерийн дулаан болно: “the time when warm weather starts,” signaling the end of winter. We did have a warm spell, with temperatures reaching 32º F / 0º C last week, but the nights have remained cold; at 8:30 this morning it was 20 below 0º F / –29º C. But in the afternoons my finely tuned olfactory organs detect a whiff of spring in the air . . . Remember the Spring Equinox occurs on March 21 at 7:21 a.m. UB time. I will probably retire to the summit of Öndör Gegeenii Uul for the occasion. See you there.
The Birth of Spring: Equinox at Stonehenge

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tibet | Great Stupa of Jonang | Dölpopa

The Buddha from Dolpo, Revised and Expanded: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Tsadra Foundation)
The book was of special interest to me because Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen was one of the most famous residents of Jonang Monastery in Tibet, which I had the pleasure of visiting when I was doing research on Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Taranatha (1575–1634), the Previous Incarnation of Zanabazar, founded the monastery of Takten Damchö Ling not from Dölpopa’s Jonang Monastery and Zanabazar almost certainly visited both sites during his Visits to Tibet

Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (དོལ་པོ་པ་ཤེས་རབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་; Döl-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan) was born in 1292 in the Dölpo region of what is now Nepal. He is more commonly known simply as Dölpopa, the “Man from Dölpo”. He was the founder of the Jonang Sect, later suppressed by the more politically powerful Gelug Sect to which the Dalai Lamas have belonged. He was also the first major proponent of the so-called Shentong View, an important stream of Tibetan philosophical thought which continues to have staunch adherents down to the Present Day:
"Zhentong," (gzhan stong, "shentong") "extrinsic emptiness" or "other-emptiness" is a view of how the ultimate nature of reality is free from or empty of everything "other" than its absolute nature. In other words, a zhentong view understands how one's own enlightened essence is empty of everything false in superficial relative reality. Zhentong as a view for meditation practice regards relative reality as empty of its own intrinsic existence. This emptiness of inherent substance or "rangtong" is considered to be solely the nature of relative reality while ultimate reality is understood to be empty of everything other than itself. Accordingly, transient tangible experiences remain devoid of inherent substance as the boundless luminous nucleus of Buddhahood within all beings remains intangible and invariant.
The meditation caves in the cliffs above Jonang Monastery were reportedly used by Padmasambhava, the 8th century Nyingma master who introduced tantric Buddhism from India into Tibet. A monastery was flourishing on the site by the time Dölpopa arrived there for the first time in 1321. In 1326 he was officially installed as the head of the monastery, taking the place of Yönton Gyatso, who had also been Dölpopa’s teacher. A year later Yönton Gyatso transmigrated. In his honor Dölpopa decided to built an enormous stupa. The first attempt in 1329 failed when the entire structure collapsed during construction. Undaunted, he began construction of an even bigger stupa on a different site. As word of the project spread artisans and laborers from all parts of Tibet flocked to the site and soon donations of gold, silver, copper, tea, silk, and much else poured in from all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. More on the Great Stupa

The design of the stupa was based on descriptions of the Glorious Stupa of the Planets given in the Stainless Light, a commentary on the Kalachakra Tantra, which according to legend had first been expounded by the Buddha himself. (As you may know the current Dalai Lama is giving a Kalachakra Initiation in Washington, DC, July 6–16, 2011.) According to tradition, the Stainless Light had been written by Pundarika, the Second Kalkin King of Shambhala. Dölpopa apparently believed that he was a reincarnation of Pundarika and claimed to have visited Shambhala by visionary means.
The Jonang Stupa today
The fourth floor of the stupa reportedly once held statues of the 25 Kalkin Kings of Shambhala. I could find no trace of them when I was there. 
Another view of the Jonang Stupa
On the hillside above the stupa can be seen Dölpopa’s personal residence, known as Dewachen. Above Dewachen can be seen meditation huts and openings to caves, perhaps the meditation caves used by Padmasambhava.
Dewachen, red building, lower center
When Tsarchen Losel Gyatso, one of the great Sakya sect tantric masters of the sixteenth century and also a follower of various Jonang tenets, visited Jonang in 1539, he noted:
The next morning we visited the great Stupa That Liberates on Sight, the temple of the lineage of the Six-branch Yoga, and so forth. When I gazed from afar at the hermitages, my mind went out to them and I was enthralled. A distinctly vivid pure vision dawned in the center of my heart and I thought, “The early excellent masters established a continuous meditation center on a site such as this. Placing many people on the path of liberation, their way of life was so amazing and incredible. When will we also practice for enlightenment in an isolated site such as this?” 
Also see a transcript of a talk, The Legacy of the Jonangpa by Michael Sheehy at the Great Stupa of Jonang in Tibet on July 17, 2009.