Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Foreigner's Gift

The Foreigner's Gift by Fouad Ajami

Sometimes time passes by between one post and the next. For one thing I have been reading. And have just finished reading Fouad Ajami's The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq . Okay more on Iraq. The more I learn about Iraq, the more disquiet I feel about the whole project. Before I go further here is the outline type review found at

"The fall of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime brought the first glimpse of freedom for Iraq and unleashed elation, resentment, and chaos. On the one hand, there is hope: the Iraqi people have their first chance at independence. On the other hand, there is despair: the country is exploding with violent sectarian and political power struggles. Through it all, Iraq has remained an enigma to much of the world. What is it about this country that makes for such a seemingly intractable situation? How did Iraq's particular history lead to its present circumstances? And what can we fear or hope for in the coming years?

Fouad Ajami, one of the world's foremost authorities on Middle Eastern politics, offers a brilliant, illuminating, and lyrical portrait of the ongoing struggle for Iraq and of the American encounter with that volatile Arab land. Ajami situates the current unrest within the context of Iraq's recent history of dictatorship and its rich, diverse cultural heritage. He applies his incisive political commentary, his broad and deep historical view, his mastery of the Arabic language and Arabic sources, and his lustrous prose to every aspect of his subject, wresting a coherent, fascinating, and textured picture from the media storm of fragmented information.

In the few years after the Iraq war began, Ajami made many trips to that country and met Iraqis of all ethnicities, religions, politics, and regions. Looking beneath the familiar media images of Iraq and the war, Ajami visits with individuals representing the breadth of Iraq's populace, from Sunni leaders and Shia clerics to Kurdish politicians and poets, Iraqi policemen, and ordinary people voting for the first time in their lives. He also hears from American soldiers on the ground, and the result of all his encounters is an astonishing portrayal of a land that has emerged as a crucial battleground between American power and the wider forces of Arab religious and political extremism."

This is a fascinating book. Prof. Ajami has a distinctly different prose style which spirals around a subject; that is starts around the edges of a subject and then circles inward. It is not unlike the spirals on the book cover of Islamic tile art. It takes awhile to get used to, but he illuminates much in his own way.

He actually sees some good thing coming out of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And he brings an unique perspective being a Shia Muslim of Lebanese descent.

The gift supplied by the 'Foreigners' is in this case, the removal of Saddam and the bringing of democracy to Iraq.

The thing is events since I even recently read this book, has already overtaken the somewhat hopeful prognostications of Mr. Ajami.

For example here is what Mortimer Zuckerman in the Oct. 15th issue of US News and World Report says about the undertaking in a opinion piece entiltled, " A Sad Litany of Failures. And I will quote just two paragraphs:

"Nobody was entitled to think the Iraq venture would be roses all the way, given that Saddam Hussein had repressed Iraqis for three decades, depriving the nation of a cadre of local leaders like, say, Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But we had a vision of what might have been achieved. It would not be too much to say it was a noble vision, but it was not one grounded in the hard reality of a fractured, multiethnic society. Saddam held his citizens down by brutality and cunning, not giving religious leaders a key role, as we did, yet subtly balancing religious rivalries one against the other. Shiites account for some 60 percent of Iraq's population, and for them democracy means empowerment. But the Sunnis, who had dominated under Saddam for so long, were never going to accept minority status, and the Kurds were not going to accept anything less than de facto sovereignty, which they obtained after the 1991 Gulf War.

Occupiers. Alas, whatever chances we may have had to overcome these difficulties have been torpedoed by the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration in managing postwar Iraq. Senior officials from the president on down ignored warnings that we might win the war and lose the peace. Gen. Tommy Franks won the battle for Baghdad but seemed to feel that planning for the postwar period was someone else's job. But whose? We sent an inept group of operatives to run Iraq, often appointed because of their political leanings. Whatever support we originally enjoyed there we began to lose when we allowed criminals to rampage. Then the Americans, fabled for their can-do efficiency, failed again and again to deliver electricity, water, and, most critically, security. Today, the violence is estimated by one account to have cost more than 600,000 Iraqis their lives. "

What I notice hasn't been mentioned is that this October has not only been the worst month for Americans this year, it has been the worse since November 2004. The situation has worsened. Much of the territory in Iraq is really controlled by either Sunni or Shia militias now. Our troops will be lucky to get out of there, with even some semblence of government and order restored. And there is no guarantee, that even if US forces stayed there until 2016, that the day after all US troops are gone, all hell might break loose again. Indeed, the hell on earth scenario is already happening for this corner of our planet.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

at IronKnot Ranch, April 2001

I recently substantially added to the biography of Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche over at Wikipedia . And added the photo above which I took I believe April 5th, 2001 at IronKnot Ranch in New Mexico. I am going to go ahead an add to this blog, what I wrote, because I know over time, the bio at Wikipedia will get edited, and I fear 'dumbed' down or keel-hauled. To elaborate I don't like to see valid information subtracted from an article, just because someone doing an edit doesn't like the information presented. Okay . Here goes. It will make a huge post, but hopefully it will be of some benefit:
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H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (August 12, 1930-Nov. 22, 2002) is a renowned teacher of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. He was renowned in the West for his teachings, and also for his melodic chanting voice, his artistry as a sculptor and painter, his limitless compassion, and his sense of humor . He was the source of treasured Nyingma lineage transmissions for the thousands of people whom he taught in North and South America, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

He was born in the Tromtar region of Kham [Eastern Tibet] in 1930. His father was Sera Kharpo, who was actually a lama in the Gelugpa sect. His mother was Dawa Drolma, who was widely considered to be an emanation of Tara, and had a profound influence on her son's spiritual life.

By the time he was three years old he was recognized as the incarnation of the previous Chagdud Tulku, and soon thereafter traveled to Temp'hel Gonpa, a monastery about two or three days by horseback from Tromtar. As he recounts in his autobiography, The Lord Of The Dance:

“For the next seven years, until I went into three year retreat at the age of eleven, my life would alternate between periods of strict discipline in which my every move would be under the surveillance of my tutors and interludes in which my suppressed energies would explode. Throughout, I had many visions, many clairvoyant experiences, many extraordinary dreams, and within these, I sometimes had glimpses of absolute open awareness.”

After this retreat he received numerous teachings, empowerments, and oral transmissions, from various spiritual masters. One of them, Sechen Rabjam Rinpoche, told him that Tara meditation would be one of his major practices. In 1945 shortly after completing his first three year retreat he went to see His Holiness Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche. From Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche he received the Rinchen Tangyud empowerments, and caught his first glimpse of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who was attending the empowerments. By 1946 he entered his second three year retreat, this time under the guidance of the Tromge Trungpa Rinpoche. Near the conclusion of this retreat, the death of Tromge Trungpa forced him to leave before its completion. He then returned to Chagdud Gonpa in Nyagrong, and after staying there for awhile, proceeded on a pilgrimage to Lhasa with an entourage of monks.

He then did an extended retreat at Samye, the monastery built by Guru Padmasambhava, and afterwards attended empowerments given by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche,who would become a main teacher as well as a source of spiritual inspiration for him. After this in 1957 he stayed for a year in Lhasa, Tibet, in the same household as Khenpo Dorje, whom he regarded as his root lama.

During 1958, his last year in Tibet, Chagdud Tulku was advised to marry in order that he would have a companion and helper in the unsettled times to come. He later wed Karma Drolma, the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Kongpo. Later on in exile in India, they would have a son and a daughter, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche and Dawa Lhamo Tromge.

Following Tibet's invasion by China in 1959, Chagdud Tulku escaped along with Khenpo Dorje to India, after enduring hunger, and many close calls, where it looked like they would not make it out. His route took him through Padma Kod region of Tibet, and his party came out from there into the Nagaland area of India.In India Rinpoche lived in a number of Tibetan refugee resettlement camps - Kalimpong, Orissa, Dalhousie, Bir, and Delhi. He practiced Tibetan medicine , and was much in demand as his fellow refugees had trouble coping with the heat, and subtropical diseases found in India.

A year or two after his arrival in India, Rinpoche entered a retreat in Tso Pema, a lake sacred to Guru Rinpoche, located near the city of Mandi in Himachal Pradesh. At this location he met Jangchub Dorje, a primary disciple of Apong Terton and a lineage holder of this great treasure revealer's Red Tara cycle. Jangchub Dorje gave him empowerments for the Red Tara cycle, and then he re-entered into retreat and signs of accomplishment in the practices came very swiftly. Later, when he began teaching in the West, Red Tara sadhana would become the meditation most extensively practiced by his Western students. While he was living in Bir, circumstances there gradually led to an estrangement with Karma Drolma, and eventually they separated.

After giving a teaching in Kulu Manali, the Dalai Lama extended an invitation for Rinpoche to go to the United States and teach, contingent upon him getting a visa. It was at this time that he moved to Delhi, and lived in Majnukatilla, a TibetanCamp on the banks of the Jamuna river. The process of trying to get a visa went on for three years, and was ultimately unsuccessful. During this time period he met his first Western students, but he also caught malaria and nearly died, and was saved by an Indian doctor who finally made the correct diagnosis of what was ailing him.

In the fall of 1977 empowerment cycles were given in Kathmandu, Nepal by H.H. Dudjom Rimpoche in order to propagate the sacred lineages to a new generation. Chagdud Tulku decided to travel there in order to receive all the empowerments of the Dudjom treasures from Dudjom Rimpoche. Hundreds of tulkus, scholars, yogis and lay practitioners gathered at Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche's monastery for these empowerments. About his experience he says this in his autobiography:

“ During my stay in Nepal I received empowerments and oral transmissions for all the treasures he had discovered in this life and in his previous life as Dudjom Lingpa. It was a wealth of practices whose splendor is unsurpassed, and deep within me I formed the aspiration to offer this transmission to others through empowerment and teaching.”

While attending them Chagdud Tulku met and older lama from Western Tibet, Lama Ladakh Nono, who was known for doing mirror divinations. He subsequently did a mirror divination for Chagdud and told him he should go to the West and benefit many people there by teaching the Dharma. He also predicted that a Western woman would come into his life and that this would be good.

He continued to stay in Nepal on into 1978 in order to attend a new series of empowerments in the Choling Tesar cycle given by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche. It was while attending one of these empowerments, that a Western woman , Jane Dedman, approached Chagdud Rinpoche with the offering of a white scarf and a jar of honey. Afterwards he invited her to lunch, and shortly after this he gave her some teachings. A month or so later he accepted her offer to serve as his attendant in retreat after the empowerments. This retreat lasted for several months, after which Dudjom Rinpoche among other things suggested Chagdud go to America to teach.

After many months of waiting he was finally granted a visa and landed in San Francisco on Oct. 24, 1979. Shortly after this, he married Jane in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The early years of his teaching in the Americas was spent in Eugene, and Cottage Grove Oregon. In 1983, at the request of his
students, he established Chagdud Gonpa Foundation.He soon ordained his first lama, a Western woman named Inge Sandvoss, as Lama Yeshe Zangmo.

Additionally in the time period of 1980 through 1987 he gave many teachings and invited many other renowned Lamas such as Dudjom Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and Kyabje Penor Rinpoche to Oregon where they bestowed many empowerments and teachings. He also helped set up Padma Publications which eventually published his two books: The Lord of the Dance, and Gates to Buddhist Practice. Padma Publications also, with the assistance of Richard Baron began the monumental task of translating from Tibetan into English, Longchenpas Seven Treasuries , of which three volumes have been published to date.

In 1987 he returned to Tibet for the first time since 1959. He traveled to Kham, visiting the three monasteries of his youth ,and actually bestowed empowerments to the monastic staff there. His son, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche, traveled with him to Tibet and the next year immigrated to the United States, entering a three-year retreat a few months after his arrival.
Then in 1988 after land was acquired in the Trinity Alps of Northern California, the main seat of Chagdud Gonpa Foundation was created there as Rigzin Ling. It was here that Chagdud Tulku offered the empowerments and oral transmissions of the Dudjom Treasures in 1991, and several years later, of the supreme dzogchen cycle, Nyingt'hig Yabzhi.

In 1992 he received an invitation to teach in Brazil and he would become a pioneer insofar as spreading the Dharma in South America. Throughout the 1990s he maintained an extensive teaching schedule, put many of his senior students into three year retreats, and helping to establish many Chagdud Gonpa centers throughout the Western Hemisphere. These include, more than 38 Dharma centers under Chagdud Tulku's supervision and inspiration, in America, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Switzerland and
Australia. The best known are Rigzin Ling in Junction City, California and Khadro Ling, his main center in Três Coroas, Brazil.

In all his teachings he was known for stressing pure motivation in doing spiritual practice. He once wrote, "In the course of my Buddhist training, I have received teachings on many philosophical topics and meditative methods. Of all teachings, I find none more important than pure motivation. If I had to leave only one legacy to my students, it would be the wisdom of pure motivation. If I were to be known by one title, it would be the 'motivation lama.'"

In this context ‘pure motivation’ means the cultivation of bodhicitta , which is the enlightened intent of doing practice for the benefit of oneself, and all other sentient beings.

In 1995 he moved to Khadro Ling, in Río Grande do Sul, Brazil, and it became the main seat of his Dharmic activities, for the rest of his life. In 1996 the first Brazilian Dzogchen retreat took place at Khadro Ling and a large Guru Rinpoche statue was created there. In the next few years, he traveled in South America, giving teachings in Uruguay, Argentina, and
Chile, in addition to different parts of Brazil. He also continued to travel to his centers in the United States, and made frequent visits to Nepal, a return to Chagdud Gompa in eastern Tibet and a visit to mainland China. During this same time period, in addition to leading Drubchens and month long Dzogchen retreats, he also trained his students in the sacred arts of
sculpture and painting, as well as ritual dance, chanting, and music.

In 1998, construction began on the lha khang (temple) of Khadro Ling. In July 1998, the empowerments of the Taksham Treasures were bestowed by Terton Namkhai Drimed in the still incomplete temple. This temple was followed by an enormous prayer wheel project, perhaps the largest in the Western Hemisphere, then eight magnificent stupas, and a monumental statue of Akshobhya Buddha. In the same period, in Parping, Nepal, Rinpoche built a new retreat center where eight people began training
according to the Kat'hog tradition under Kyabje Getse Tulku.

While Chagdud Rinpoche kept up a tremendous amount of Dharmic actvity, in the last few years of his life he was somewhat slowed down by diabetes, and in 1997, he entered a clinic and was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. In the last year of his life Rinpoche's body began to sabotage his outer activities. He tired more easily, and travel became difficult. In 2002, he cancelled a trip to the United States, which had been scheduled for October, and instead entered strict retreat.

In the last week of his life, he concluded this retreat on Tuesday, November 12th , worked with a student artist to complete a statue of Amitabha, talked with many of his students, and led a training in p'howa (transference of consciousness at the moment of death) for more than two hundred people. He continued teaching with great vigor until about 9 pm on Saturday night
November 16th. Then on Sunday morning of the 17th, at about 4:15 a.m., Brazilian daylight time, he suffered massive heart failure while sitting up in bed.

After this Rinpoche remained in a state of meditation for almost six full days.The ability to remain in meditation after the breath stops is known as (t'hug dam).His son Tulku Jigme Rinpoche described this in a release to the Brazilian press:

“After his last breath, my father remained in a state of meditation foralmost six full days that prevented the usual deterioration of hisbody. The ability to remain in a state of meditation after the breath stops iswell-known among great Tibetan masters, but circumstances have rarelyallowed it to occur in the West. Chagdud Rinpoche remained sitting ina natural, lifelike meditation posture, with little visible change ofcolor or expression. During that time, no one touched his body.

Until the sixth day, Friday, November 22rd, Rinpoche showed no physical signs that his meditation had ended. In the interim we were inconstant consultation with a lawyer and other officials about local customs and regulations. Friday midday, his meditation ended and his mind
separated from his body. Within hours, his appearance changed. He took on the signs typical of those occurring within the first 24 hours of death.”

Afterwards his ku dun (the physical body) was flown to Kathmandu, Nepal, and to the retreat center in Parping. During the forty-nine days that followed, Getse Tulku Rinpoche and Jigme Tromge Rinpoche led ceremonies in Parping,to purify inauspicious circumstances to Rinpoche's rebirth and to generate great merit through offerings and practice.

A year later on the full moon of December 8, 2003, Rinpoche's cremation was held on Jigme Rinpoche's land in Parping, with Kyabje Mogtza Rinpoche, one of the highest lamas of Kat'hog Gonpa, serving as Vajra Master. Hundreds of Rinpoche's students gathered, to mourn the loss of his direct physical presence, and made prayers and offerings for his eventual rebirth.

His wife Chagdud Khadro and his son Jigme Tromge Rinpoche continue to teach and carry on Chagdud's many projects and practices.

Monday, October 09, 2006

something I read

Well, haven't posted for a while. Actually I have had several posts brewing in my brain, but just haven't got round to putting any together.

Politics right now predominate, but some are being covered so extensively now, I see no need to add to that fray at the moment.

Meanwhile I started reading Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece by Robert D. Kaplan and came across this passage which I shall quote:

"For those who in Kazantzaki's words, "squander their lives" with the Tigress, (the White Goddess), the great events of life come from the books, rather than the people, one comes across. Some books show us a new world, others vindicate our own experience. Books can lead you astray, they can ruin you, they can deliver you from the strictures of your environment. Because some are so important one remembers perfectly the circumstances in which one found them , and read them.

You don't find the books that change your life by accident. One finds them the way a ragpicker finds something useful in the garbage, or the way a hunter accidentally encounters his prey. The enterprise demands vigilance, says the philospher Walter Benjamin: it takes practice to lose one's way in a city in order to discover something important about it."

I just started reading it, and am already enjoying it. I recommend it.

Here is a initial description from the inside flap cover to give you an idea of what it is about:

"In Mediterranean Winter, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Balkan Ghosts and Eastward to Tartary, relives an austere, haunting journey he took as a youth through the off-season Mediterranean. The awnings are rolled up and the other tourists are gone, so the damp, cold weather takes him back to the 1950s and earlier - - - a golden, intensely personal age of tourism.

Decades ago, Kaplan voyaged from North Africa to Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece, luxuriating in the radical freedom of youth, unaccountable to time because there was always time to make up for a mistake. He recalls that journey in this Persian miniature of a book, less to look inward into his own past than to look outward in order to dissect the process of learning through travel, in which a succession of new landscapes can lead to books and artwork never before encountered."