Lama Tharchin Rinpoche's Passing

[Letter from the Aro Lineage Lamas:]

Dear apprentices of the Confederate Sanghas of Aro,

This is an extremely sad time for the gö kar chang lo’i dé – and for us personally. It is with the deepest regret that we have to inform you of the passing of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche. He was a dear friend of ours. He was also a great inspiration and support to us. We have known him since 1990. He has visited our home in Penarth and we have shared many joyful meals together at Pema ’ö-Sel Ling.

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Automata in Tibetan Buddhism (&c.)

The American Academy of Religion has a Call for Papers for the Tibetan section of its 2012 meeting.

Among the more intriguing topics:

  • Systems of Religious Education in Tibet (monastic and ngakpa)
  • Religious Propaganda in Contemporary Tibet
  • Agents and Automata: On the Life of Animate and Inanimate Objects

Whoa!  That last one certainly caught my eye, since I was an artificial intelligence guy in my previous life. "Agents and Automata" is straight-up AI jargon; and what has that to do with Tibetan Buddhism?

New Research: Tantric Buddhism, the Dark Age, and Their Relevance to Contemporary Tibet and the West

I earlier wrote for this site about the 9th-10th century Tibetan ‘Dark Age’  (http://ngakpa-update.org/causes-and-characteristics-dark-age-tibet).  I find this period fascinating both because it is still rather obscure and mysterious, and because whatever that time was like it clearly was not—perhaps not at all—like the popular Tibetan mythical history of the country’s distant past.

The Causes and Characteristics of the Dark Age in Tibet

I have been researching Buddhist history for several years, and will summarize here what I believe to be the most likely narrative regarding the social, political, and religious history that led to the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ of Tibet. All of the information here comes from academic sources; I will not resort to footnotes at this time but will publish this material later in a more complete form.

Jacob Dalton: Dark Age audio

Tibet’s “Dark Age” was perhaps the high point for the ngakpa tradition, and may have important implications for Buddhism’s future. Jacob Dalton has done some of the most interesting research on non-monastic Tantric practice in the Dark Age.

A talk he gave on the subject two years ago is available as a “webcast” (online audio recording/podcast). (Click on the speaker icon on the linked page to listen.)

His title was “Rethinking Tibet’s Dark Age: Demons, Tantras, and the Formation of Tibetan Buddhism.” From the talk description:

Traditional accounts have obscured the more positive aspects of the period. Freed from the watchful eyes of the imperial court and the monastic orthodoxy, Tibetans of the late ninth and tenth centuries were able to make Buddhism their own. The themes, the imagery, and the strategies they developed during these inchoate years formed the cultural foundations upon which Tibetan Buddhism would be built. Only by excavating these foundations and shedding some light on this “dark age” can we gain a clear appreciation of the Tibetan adaptation of Buddhism.

A contemporary gö kar chang lo terma

Antonio Terrone recently completed a most interesting PhD thesis on the current status of the gö kar chang lo’i dé (gos dkar lcang lo’i sde—ngakpas) in Kham and Golok (eastern parts of the culturally-Tibetan region).

Aspects of particular interest are the revelation of new termas that establish the authenticity of the gos dkar lcang lo tradition, and the political relationship of yogic Nyingma with the Chinese authority.

An abstract of the thesis is available online. I haven’t obtained a copy of the full work (titled Bya rog prog zhu: The Raven Crest. The Life and Teachings of Bde chen 'od gsal rdo rje Treasure Revealer of Contemporary Tibet). I hope the author will make a book version available soon.

The Dark Age and Buddhism’s future

Tibet’s “Dark Age,” more than a thousand years ago, may be acutely relevant to the future of Buddhism. History suggests an answer to the question “can Buddhism be successful when monks are scarce or absent?”

Some prominent Western Buddhists argue that the reason Buddhism in the West is “not working” (in their opinion) is that we do not have strong monastic institutions. They suggest that Buddhism has never succeeded anywhere without monks as the core of the religion.

That is almost true—but the Tibetan Dark Age may be a revealing exception.

The Life of Yol mo bsTan 'Dzin Nor Bu: Research into the Ngakpa Tradition and its View and Symbolic Presentation

Yol mo bsTan 'Dzin Nor Bu was a Tantirka (ngakpa) in the early 17th century in Tibet.  Recognized as the third Yol mo tulku, he was closely associate with the Chang (byang) Ter lineage, one of the six main lineages in the Nyingma School.  Benjamin Bogin's 2005 PhD thesis at the University of Michigan includes research, analysis and translation of his nam thar and other writings, and explores important issues surrounding the 'monk/nun vs. ngakpa/ngakma'  question within Tibetan culture. 

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