Tibet – History of Tragedy

A documentary titled Tibet – History of Tragedy outlines the history of Tibet during the 20th Century. This film will give you an overview of the social and political conflict behind the story told in Windhorse Warrior.

The documentary comes in four parts on YouTube:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Shambhala Warriors

A Shambhala warrior, like a windhorse warrior, is a metaphor for the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is any person who has aroused the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. She or he strives to fearlessly alleviate the suffering of others by acting out of compassion while filled with insight into the radical inter-existence of all phenomenon. This kind of warrior engages in a battle that is not between the good guys and the bad guys – because ‘the line between good and evil runs through the landscape of every heart’ – but is dedicated to dismantling the weapons of separation and destruction that are mind-made.

Below is a short talk by Joanna Macy describing what her teacher, Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, told her about the Kingdom of Shambhala and Shambhala warriors.

Janna Macy (born May 2, 1929), is an environmental activist, author, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. She is the author of eight books. (Wikipedia)

Windhorse Warrior

My novel has been published by Niyogi Books India!

Description

Screenshot 2018-10-25 17.20.45

Windhorse Warrior offers an inside look at the struggles and aspirations of the Tibetan people during the 1950s. It is a tale that weaves together the politics of occupation and resistance, an other-worldly romance between a Chinese communist and an educated Tibetan woman, and the soaring vision of the Tibetan spiritual heart.

Chuang Wei Ming, a young zealot from Shanghai, arrives in Lithang—on the eastern Tibetan plateau—with a mission to prepare the people for Maoism but soon outgrows its limiting worldview. Chuang falls in love with the beautiful and intelligent Dechen, who introduces him to the richness of Tibetan Buddhism. Palden Rinpoche, Dechen’s spiritual teacher, includes Chuang in their plan for a general spiritual awakening based on the Legend of King Gesar of Ling. Together, they pursue a pure communism infused with Buddhist teachings to create an ‘enlightened society’.

This is a story that extends beyond the decade in which it is set. Its message is true today in the global context of oppression and disparity, fake news, and injustice. Those who believe in a just and beautiful world will find themselves longing for an ‘enlightened society’ filled with spiritually awakened women and men, free to pursue their true potential and eager to enrich the lives of others.

Availability

I have 100 books for sale locally now. Books will not be readily available in the US until next spring. By then you should be able to buy one from Amazon or order through your local bookstore at $25.00 for hardcover. It will eventually be available in paperback and as an ebook (Kindle). A photo of the cover is below. Go to the Book page for details on purchasing a copy.

Read it and write a review on Goodreads.com.

Or ask questions and make comments below.

 

Tibetan Nomads in the City

Here is song from a young Tibetan lamenting what is happening to the once freely roaming nomads of the high Tibetan Plateau. More and more Tibetans are forced to live in crowded cities where they feel cut off from their way of life and their spiritual roots. Lobsang Nyima sings in the traditional Tibetan style.

The lyrics were written by Menlha Kyab and an English translation is below:

The sky was bluer than turquoise
From the mountain peaks I came
The buildings are taller than steep mountains
In this city where I am left
The buildings are taller than steep mountains
In this city where I am left

The true path is covered in dust
People’s minds are driven by the rush
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The vast expanse of my love
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The vast expanse of my love
Is lost in this city

The true path is covered in dust
People’s minds are driven by the rush
Although the city is bustle and noise
There is no one to be trusted

The city of electricity
The path is a painting of a rainbow

Yet there is no bridge for the mind
In this great ocean of samsara
Yet there is no bridge for the mind
In this great ocean of samsara

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Accompanying the white-tailed vulture
This mind has slipped out of its den
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city
The cloud that is whiter than yogurt
Is lost in this city

Translation by High Peaks Pure Earth

Windhorse Warrior

The synopsis for a manuscript I have completed is below:

Windhorse Warrior

by Richard Friedericks

wangdu_horse1 film

One sweltering summer morning in Shanghai, China in 1947,  a young student named Chuang Wei Ming discovers his girlfriend taking part in a communist protest march against the Nationalists.  He watches horrified as she is murdered by a squad of Nationalist soldiers.  Her martyrdom nudges him to find out about her passion for communism.

Three years later Chuang volunteers to take communism to Tibet.  Coincidentally assigned to Lithang on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau, he finds the Tibetan relatives of his Shanghai girlfriend.  He persuades the family to turn over their ancestral land to the farmers working on their land.  Together they form a successful cooperative that captures the imagination of several surrounding communities.  The Chinese Communist Party is not appreciative of Chuang’s methods which honors the will of the local people and upholds their traditional culture and religion.  Management of the cooperative is, instead, given to Tenzin, a young Tibetan eager to do the will of the Party.

Chuang turns his attention to another community and meets a lama with a dream of reviving the ‘enlightened society’ of the legendary King Gesar.  Chuang jumps at the chance to use the lama’s clout with the people to further his own mission.  But Chuang’s ideals are challenged by the lama’s apprentice Dechen, the twin sister of his Shanghai girlfriend.  As their relationship develops, Dechen’s ideas, rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, enrich Chuang’s understanding of a truly enlightened society and help him to recognize the spiritual purpose of life.

Tenzin, who wants to marry Dechen, is jealous of Chuang and has him arrested for kidnapping Dechen.  Chuang’s rescue leads to injuries that nearly kill him.  During his convalescence he enters the world of King Gesar through a shamanic trance.  When he recovers, Chuang is able to recite the story of Gesar which marks him as a fully integrated member of Tibetan culture.  Chuang, Dechen and the lama now implement a plan to promote an enlightened society through spiritual renewal, social reforms and non-violent resistance to the Party’s dictatorial control of the people.

Deng, the local Commander of the People’s Liberation Army and Communist Party representative, issues an ultimatum: the people must voluntarily choose the ‘Red Road’ of Communism or the ‘Black Road’ will result.  Chuang suggests another road; the Golden Way of an enlightened society.  In keeping with the legend of King Gesar, a horse race is proposed to which Commander Deng agrees.  The winner will choose which road the people will follow and marry Dechen.  Deng believes he can rig the race in Tenzin’s favor and impose the Red Road.  But Chuang enters the race in disguise and wins.  His mission and dreams fulfilled, Chuang takes Dechen’s hand and together they invite the people to unite and walk the Golden Way to an enlightened society that honors spiritual as well as material abundance.

Tenzin, recovering from defeat and pressured to please Commander Deng, takes aim at Chuang with a pistol.  Dechen is shot instead and dies in Chuang’s arms just as her sister died in Shanghai.

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I am currently seeking a publisher.  The manuscript is 120,000 words with maps, character list and translations of Tibetan words.

Does Meditation have a Goal?

What are we dealing with in meditation and what is the ‘goal’?

The goal of meditation is happiness. What we are dealing with are the obstacles we buy into that prevent us from finding happiness. Actually, there is a very thin film separating us from happiness but we seldom pierce it to experience the bliss described by mystics of all religious traditions.

Through identification with thoughts and feelings, with the constructs of the ego, we shield ourselves from the happiness we so desperately want. We believe this constantly changing, insubstantial person formed by our interaction with other constantly changing, insubstantial people is where we will find happiness. We believe that this person I have become and will continue becoming is the real me and that other people are just as real as I am.

Trungpa

Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who came to the West in the 1960’s, describes the defenses we put up to resist finding our true happiness.

“Consciousness consists of emotions and irregular thought patterns, all of which taken together form the different fantasy worlds with which we occupy ourselves. These fantasy worlds are referred to in the scriptures as the “six realms”. The emotions are the highlights of ego, the generals of ego’s army; subconscious thought, day-dreams and other thoughts connect one highlight to another. So thoughts form ego’s army and are constantly in motion, constantly busy. Our thoughts are neurotic in the sense that they are irregular, changing direction all the time and overlapping one another. We continually jump from one thought to the next, from spiritual thoughts to sexual fantasies to money matters to domestic thoughts and so on. The whole development of the five skandhas –ignorance/form, feeling, impulse/perception, concept and consciousness–is an attempt on our part to shield ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality.”

Trungpa describes our situation further:

airplane-above-the-clouds-hd-wallpaper-placecom-a-e-ibackgroundz

“When we fly in an airplane above the clouds, we realize that the sun is always shining even when it is cloudy and rainy below. In the same way, when we cease to hold on to our identity, our ego, we begin to see that the nonexistence of ego is a powerful, real, and indestructible state of being. We realize that, like the sun, it is a continuous situation which does not wax or wane. That state of being is called vajra nature.”

Like rising above the clouds into the brightness of sunshine there are people who have ‘parted the veil’ or ‘pierced the film’ into that realm of happiness, that state of everlasting bliss. Trungpa calls it our vajra (diamond) nature because it is our indestructible, eternal nature. It is always there above the cloud-covering of our thoughts and emotions. The surprisingly few people who have experienced their vajra nature, also called Buddha nature or Christ consciousness, belong to every religious tradition; there are the Christian mystics, Hindu mahayogis, Buddhist bodhisattvas, Moslem sufis, realized souls, and enlightened beings of every part of the world and every age.

Through meditation we learn to see how insubstantial our thoughts and emotions really are. By practicing the simple action of letting go, of returning to the experience of being in the present moment without drifting along with the programs of the ego, we prepare and make ourselves available for the experience of happiness. And, as the mystics have repeatedly discovered, it is possible to not only glimpse but to enter into and even constantly maintain the experience of happiness. What they have discovered is love; that happiness is to love and to experience love.

If it is love, something we already know gives us happiness, then why don’t we practice love? Why do we allow our egos to confuse and cloud our lives? Why can’t we love and be in love all the time? Good question!

So, meditate and find out; ask the question, live the answer. Love all!

The Nine Stages of Mental Development

Shamatha, which means calm, is the practice of meditation to develop the ability to focus the mind in single-pointed concentration. This is practiced as a pre-requisite for mindfulness or insight meditations. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition this practices is described as a nine stage progression beautifully depicted in this thangka showing a monk chasing and finally capturing an elephant. 9-stages-samatha-meditation The elephant is being led by a monkey. The monkey represents distractions. How well we know this scenario! This is ordinary mind or conventional mind mired in the Babylon Matrix (Jonathan Zap). But through study of the writings of Wisdom Teachers and mediation practice, the monk is able to capture and subdue the elephant. Gradually both the monkey and the elephant turn white representing the meditator’s ability to maintain the power of concentration.

Stages three and four represents the meditator’s ability to fix and hold his or her concentration steady. The meditator has lassoed the elephant and gradually the monkey, elephant and even a rabbit turn and look at the meditator to indicate that distractions acknowledge who is in charge.

In stages five and six the meditator begins to lead the elephant and the monkey of distraction follows the mind rather than leading it. The mind is controlled; the meditator uses a goad to discipline the elephant. The rabbit disappears and the mind is finally pacified.

In the seventh stage the monkey leaves the elephant and stands behind the meditator and pays homage.  In stage eight the meditator is in complete control. Single-pointed concentration is achieved.

The ninth is the stage of mental absorption. Perfect equanimity is found and the path has ended. The elephant rests beside the meditator who sits at ease. Now out of the meditator’s heart streams a rainbow like ray.

Stages ten and eleven represent crossing over into mental bliss. The meditator rides the elephant along the rainbow path into the perfection of the transcendent realm and returns bearing the sword of Wisdom. Samsara’s root is severed by the union of shamatha and vipashyana or insight meditation with emptiness as the object of contemplation. Aware of pure awareness, the meditator is now equipped with Compassion and Wisdom to guide others on the path to enlightenment. Ox Herding In the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition this concept is illustrated through the Ten Ox Herding images by Master Kakuan in 12th Century China. There is a similar progression to the pictures to depict levels of realization.

The meditator (1) searches for the ox, (2) sees the tracks and follows them until (3) the ox is discovered in its hiding place. Once the ox is captured (4), the meditator is able to lead (5) and (6) then ride it back home. (7) Once home, the meditator achieves perfect concentration in non-duality (8). The next step, according to the Chan tradition is to realize the underlying, unshakeable unity of the cosmos (9); there is no separation between created (samsara) and uncreated reality (nirvana). Once realized, (10) the meditator returns to the marketplace. His Compassion compels him to help others on the path to enlightenment by offering his Wisdom.

The difference between the Tibetan and Chan illustrations reflects the cultural orientations of each rather than significant differences in the path or outcome. The Tibetan thangka, a sacred painting on cloth, is colorful and highly mythological while the Chan has an earthy pastoral flavor. Of course, there are no elephants in Tibet – nor in China – but Tibetan Buddhism was highly influenced by Indian culture. The Ox Herding pictures on the other hand demonstrate the Chinese orientation to nature beautifully and simply represented in ink drawings.

Both of these are examples of sacred or visionary art created for the purpose of teaching or clarifying the path of spiritual development. (See previous post: The Mission of Art.) Sacred art is purposeful and often uses high levels of logic as it in these illustrations. At the same time it is visionary and uses archetypal images from the realm of myth. Sacred art at its best is a union of logos and mythos.

Belief or Practice

Bowl

A Tibetan Singing Bowl

From the Spiritual Practices class blog of September 8, 2013:

“It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice.” – Cynthia Bourgeault

Doing rather than just believing; and, in the context of spiritual practices, doing something the right way has its correlation with playing tennis. I can believe that practicing tennis will improve my game, but only by actually doing it over and over again do I really improve. And a belief – such as wearing a lucky t-shirt – may not be the reason I win a game whereas learning to change my backhand swing could make a big difference. Even a right belief, like believing in my tennis trainer’s advice, isn’t really enough to help me win the game; I need to really practice the new swing until it comes naturally in my game.

Related to the two words in the quote above are two that we have looked at in class – soteriological and sophiological. If a way of thinking is soteriological, it acknowledges that we are all sinful and that we need to be saved from our unfortunate condition – usually by a Savior who is outside of ourselves. We believe in a Savior and through this belief we are saved. This is right belief; believe the right things while the only practice is usually trying to be ‘good.’

If we are sophiological, we believe in the possibility of transformation; rather than being sinful people we are ignorant of our true identity. This transformation requires doing something, practicing a way of changing our mistaken identification with our lower nature so that we awaken to our true inner nature. This approach to life suggests that there are others who have become transformed by the recovery of their true identity and they can show us how to do as they were able to do. The path they describe requires right spiritual practices such as meditation.

Whether we are Christian or not most of us are familiar with an image or idea of the Kingdom of Heaven. We know that Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. But what did it really mean to him?

Wisdom Jesus

We have been led to believe (soteriologically) that the Kingdom of Heaven is place you go when you die – if you have been good! What Jesus said was the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘within or among you’ (that it is here) and it is ‘at hand’ (that it is now). This implies that the Kingdom of Heaven is something like a “quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it”. (Wisdom Jesus, C. Bourgeault, p 30)

This more sophiological interpretation of Jesus’ declaration suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is a state of consciousness rather than a place you go; it is a place you ‘come from’ as in state of mind/heart. Jesus used the Kingdom of Heaven as a metaphor for ‘non dual consciousness’ or ‘unitive consciousness;’ an awareness that sees no separation between God and humans, nor between you and me. Instead it sees that we are all one. It sees the underlying unity beyond our ego-driven separation-mentality. It transcends. It is the result of spiritual transformation or as Jesus said, of being ‘born again.’

We have learned that through a practice of mindfulness we can develop a state of mind that is spacious and ’empty’ – and rings like a Tibetan ‘singing’ bowl in the analogy I demonstrated in class. As you will recall, the bowl represents your life. It is beautifully crafter and designed to ring true. If you stuff it full with ‘the things of this world,’ it only makes a dull thud when struck. But if you develop a state of mind that is spacious, that does not cling to the ‘things’ of your life, there is plenty of room inside the bowl – like Dr. Who’s Tardis – and it will ring true.

tardisThe ‘things’ in your life remain, but you ‘hold’ them within a spaciousness that allows your true identity to ring forth. This is achieved by practicing being in the present moment and observing the contents of our hearts and minds rather than identifying with them and letting them carry us away from our true selves. In this way we begin to see, to identify with the underlying unity of all things. We begin to transcend our ordinary consciousness and transform our minds and hearts; we develop the capacity for compassion (see R. Davidson) as we begin to see others ‘as ourselves’ (meaning literally, the same Being as myself, no separation).

Whether we are religious or not, all of us have many beliefs that we don’t put into practice. We may believe that being involved in service activities will help change the world, or being environmentally aware will reverse global warming but how often do we actually practice these good intentions? Perhaps it is because we don’t have a practice that generates the capacity for compassion – for seeing someone as my own self in the sense that we are the same universal Being.

One thing we probably all agree to believe is that we need a more compassionately oriented world. That will come from individual people developing the capacity for compassion and selflessness. We want to create ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ on earth but we can’t do that by believing in it, we need to do it by practicing it – by entering the state of non-dual consciousness that Wisdom Teachers, like Jesus, have always prescribed. We need a practice of mindfulness that transforms our consciousness so we can help others transform their consciousness, too.

Cultivating Compassion

I teach a class called Spiritual Practices of the East at an international school in Hong Kong. It is for juniors or seniors at the High School level. It’s main focus is meditation and includes both the neuroscience of meditation and the study of Wisdom Teachers who have promoted meditation throughout the ages. This blog post is the first of several I will write for the class and I have copied it here with minor alterations. Students have added insightful comments to the class blog which are not included in this public version.

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From the class blog of September 4, 2013:

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 11.06.06 AM

Pema Chodron is a Tibetan Buddhist nun who has written many books on compassion and the Buddhist way of living. I get a regular email with great quotes. Today’s quote struck me because it resonates with our class discussion today. Here’s what she said:

“Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us. The trick to doing this is to stay with emotional distress without tightening into aversion; to let fear soften us rather than harden into resistance. We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering.”

The I Ching hexagrams we got in class in response to our question “how should we proceed with learning about spiritual practices?” indicated we should take a risk with meditation. What sort of risk does this imply?

I think it implies taking the risk of finding out what we are really like inside. What motivates me? What triggers my negative emotions? Do I manage to observe them arising and keep them from taking over? Can I cultivate positive emotions, positive attitudes?

What Pema Chodron is talking about is “feeding the good wolf” – from the illustration in class today of the Cherokee Indian grandfather’s story told to his grandson.

When, in meditation, we notice negative thoughts arising how do we deal with them?

We can cut them off – as in ‘let go’ of them as soon as we notice them. Or, as Pema suggests, we can confront them. Sometimes it is better to confront them instead of letting them go because once we face them, acknowledge them, we can experience them in a new, aware way. Instead of running away from them  or trying to deny them, we will see them for what they really are and they will cease to hold any power over us.

Instead of cultivating these negative emotions we can train ourselves to cultivate positive aspirations such as compassion – like the bodhisattva vow which says we should strive for the freedom from suffering for all beings as we strive for our own freedom.

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TrinitySince writing the above for the class I have had further thoughts. Cynthia Bourgeault‘s new book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, suggests a third factor – a reconciling or mediating force. I have not completely digested this book yet but I think I get the general principle of the law of three.

What Pema Chodron suggests is this third way – or from a Buddhist perspective, a middle way – of dealing with thoughts and feelings. 1) We can let them take over our minds and emotions; 2) we can cut them off, suppress or deny them; or 3) we can confront or reconcile them – actually acknowledging them as they are while seeing where they come from.

The third way frees us from their power over us. By doing this we can “soften” our fears and replace them with aspirations for freedom from suffering in ourselves and in all others. This naturally cultivates the capacity for compassion.

Windhorse Rising

This blog started out about learning, then took a turn toward issues around Tibet and I haven’t written anything here for over a year. In the meantime I’ve stared another blog – an experiment – an online writing project called “Windhorse Rising“.

The online novel will unfold chapter by chapter with graphics, audio and video with the aim of building a readership.

The story takes place in the 1950’s when communism was just getting started among the people of the Tibetan highlands. One of the main characters is an idealistic Chinese Communist Party member zealously trying to bring liberation to the people he is growing to love. He is opposed – gently, but firmly – by a group of people who want to revitalize Tibetan heritage and spiritual values through the performance of folk opera and the story of King Gesar.

Begin reading the story and watch it unfold. I hope you’ll enjoy it.