Tag Archives: Tibetan Buddhism

THE LOST SECRET OF IMMORTALITY by Barclay Powers

Lost Secrets

I’ve been taking some classes on a particular branch of Gnosticism and went in search of a book to help me see “the forest through the trees.” Certain things that were being taught on the transmutation of energy and enlightenment started to feel restrictive and I wondered how other spiritual traditions approached the subject. Author Barclay Powers has a BS in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and has studied meditation, yoga, and martial arts for over thirty years. His book allowed me to gaze across several Eastern traditions while confirming almost everything Gnosticism outlined.

Photo: Mark Donoher

Photo: Mark Donoher

Once upon a time, the secrets of the East were tightly restricted to advanced followers of personal lineages. That has all changed with new translations of ancient texts and a proliferation of skilled teachers. The internet itself can even act as a guru. Ancient wisdom is available from India, China, Egypt, Tibet, Japan, and eastern and western alchemy. Powers sees a paradigm shift coming. Science is now looking at states of mind through brain imaging and he feels science will eventually look at the phenomena of the “rainbow body”* (the dissolving of the body into pure energy). When that happens, the world has the potential to change and manifest the best of humanity resulting in a global Bodhisattva* civilization.

 

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

 

As we wait for science to catch up, individual practitioners all over the world are taking up techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, gi gong, kundalini awakening, and the internal martial arts. All of the methods begin in the body and ultimately unite the body, soul, and spirit. Instead of a psychological transformation, Powers is talking about a physiological process that spans traditions. The ultimate freedom of enlightenment is found when the individual transcends birth and death, as well as time and space. The bulk of the book is devoted to examining Indian (Kundalini), Chinese (Tao), and Tibetan (Tantra) teachings for their similarities of energetic enlightenment. This was a good book for getting an overview of the systems of enlightenment. I enjoyed learning more about Taoist philosophy and the difference between the internal and external martial arts. The book could be expanded to include more about western mysticism and the Kabbalah, but those are not Powers’ areas of expertise. This is probably not a book for someone without burning questions about the nature of reality and enlightenment. For the novice, these practices will, at times, be shocking. They are meant to be having spent a millennia being well guarded by the masters of many traditions.

Photo: Joe Mabel

Photo: Joe Mabel

*Rainbow body- a phenomena well-recorded in the East, especially when a great spiritual teacher dies

*Bodhisattva- someone who postpones full Enlightenment to return to help others: the ultimate expression of compassion

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ENTER TO WIN A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK

snow scene

TreeHouse Arts is running a contest through July 10th (Th.). Enter with a poem about snow. Winner’s poem will be published on their site. Good luck!

http://treehousearts.me/2014/07/05/part-iii-summer-reading-giveaway-and-haiku-contest/

Into the Land of Snows

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WHAT IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIE TO FIND OUT?

    THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD

Tibetan Book of the Dead

In 1927 American anthropologist, Walter Evans-Wentz published a bestseller he called The Tibetan Book of the Dead taking his lead from the Edwardian fascination with all things Egyptian. Only five years earlier Howard Carter had discovered King Tut’s tomb. Evans- Wentz’s book or subsequent translations can be found in most bookstores and the original has never gone out of print. During the rebellious Hippie days, the book was re-interpreted by Timothy Leary at Harvard to guide and justify the use of LSD. How can an eighth century Buddhist text still capture our imagination? Simple really. It might just hold the key to what happens after death.

Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup & Walter Evans-Wentz, circa 1919

Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup & Walter Evans-Wentz, circa 1919

Not that this book will ever really be mainstream. How could it be in a society perpetually captivated by youth and the denial of death? Americans do not talk about death. It is taboo. People die in hospitals and nursing homes, and we like it that way. As a society, we are all about acquiring stuff and death has its upside. Maybe we’ll inherit something. That’s probably about as deep as it goes. We muddle through funerals and try very hard to get back to normal. It is the odd fellow who contemplates his own death. So if you are a typical American, this is where you go look for something ego-comforting and fluffy elsewhere on the web.

Ah, but what if you’re not typical. Come closer because we are about to examine the origin of a mysterious text and answer some questions about what happens to you when you die.

PADMASAMBHAVA, wall painting in Bhutan, Baldiri, 2007

PADMASAMBHAVA, wall painting in Bhutan, Baldiri, 2007

Sometime in the eighth century the famous Indian saint, Padmasambhava entered Tibet. Today he is known for converting the indigenous demonic spirits of Tibet to Buddhism, doing healings, and producing miracles. He also wrote a funerary text which he called Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State. Some scholars have called it the first how-to book, but today we  know it as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Upon reflection, Padmasambhava felt he couldn’t release the book to a population of newly created Buddhists. He hid the book keeping it safe for future generations. Six hundred years later, treasure revealer (terton), Karma Lingpa had a vision and was able to recover the manuscript.

The book is a guide for what happens to your consciousness as it passes from this life to the next. Reading it before death allows for preparation and familiarization with the process.

For, at this singular opportunity, you could

attain the everlasting bliss (of nirvana).

     So now is (certainly) not the time to sit idly,

     But, starting with (the reflection on) death, you

should bring your practice to completion.

In Tibet, the text is read for the dead by monks during a forty-nine day transition period. After encountering the light (similar to what NDE survivors report), the deceased is faced with three bardo states. Each phase offers the opportunity for liberation (enlightenment). Rare individuals who have been well-prepared avoid subsequent phases having mastered the understanding of consciousness, avoid rebirth, and become enlightened. Others pass through the bardo stages where various peaceful and terrifying beings appear arriving at the third which concerns itself with rebirth. A person’s karma then directs rebirth into one of six realms. The human realm (although not the most comfortable) is considered to be the best because it offers the possibility of eventual enlightenment. The deceased has the ability to choose his parents and the best situation for the next incarnation.

Zhi Khro Bardo Thodol: Mandala associated with The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Zhi Khro Bardo Thodol: Mandala associated with The Tibetan Book of the Dead

The value of The Tibetan Book of the Dead does not lie in its vivid descriptions of the entities the deceased meets along the way because those can be viewed as cultural constructions. Interestingly enough though, it might explain why Christians meet Jesus or Muslims meet Mohammed as reported in near-death accounts. The bardos are constructions of the mind, self-generated, and culturally dependent. You can only create what you are familiar with and what scares you the most. So the value of this profound and lyrical text is an overall familiarization with the process of death as a transition of consciousness. From the Tibetan standpoint, death doesn’t have to be a scary unknown. It is knowable and everyone can prepare for it. What would it be like to live a life not fearing death? How would our world change?

Watch a History Channel Documentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead:

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ermcc6iDqQA

FOR MORE:

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Pilgrims of the Clear Light- Biography of Walter Evans-Wentz by Ken Winkler

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ENTER TO WIN FREE COPY OF INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS

IM000011.JPG

In the last couple of months, I’ve been happy to welcome many new blog readers and to celebrate I’m inviting everyone to enter to win a free, ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Into the Land of Snows. All you have to do is leave a comment below to be entered. There are a couple of rules, though. I’m only going to be able to mail to a location in the US. Comments will close midnight (MT) on Wednesday, March 13th (2013). I will conduct a random drawing at that point and notify the winner. Enter only once. Just to have a theme, I’m requesting you comment on something about spring or summer. Here in Colorado, March is usually our snowiest month so spring often feels like it’ll never arrive. To start us off, I’ll post a comment so no one feels awkward to be the first to post.

Mar 14th: Thanks to everyone who entered. The winner is Augusta! Augusta- I’ve posted a notice on your blog but if you happen to see this first, congratulations. Please email me at himalayaspencerellis@yahoo.com. I’ll need your address to ship the book.

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THE LINE BETWEEN FACT & FICTION

tantra

Since the release of INTO THE LAND OF SNOWS, there have been some questions concerning what’s real and not real in the book. From the perspective of this being a book whose main theme concerns defining that very line, it’s a somewhat amusing question. I concern myself with it because I’ve heard some people dismiss the book as fantasy. But that’s not the whole story.

The book is set in the magical Himalayas surrounded by a rich cultural tradition. In such a place, my job as author was relatively easy. I chose concepts and ideas already present there to create a story around an American teenager. I made up very little.

Now as to the facts.

1. Locations- The map at the beginning of the book accurately depicts the placement of real locations Blake would visit along his route, had Blake actually gone there. But the careful reader will notice that about half way through the book, Blake continues his journey, but the map stops. This is because Blake has left the material reality of our world. An alternate reality opens up for him to fully experience the magic and potential for enlightenment.

2. Mallory& Irvine- The story of these climbers disappearing into legend while on the Third Step is true. The camera Mallory carried that day is still missing. We don’t know (for sure) who summited Everest first, although Hillary is officially credited with it.

3. Yetis- These animals/beings remain a mystery. Sherpa culture recognizes different kinds of yetis. I took great liberty with the Tantric yidam concept.

4. Baian-Kara-Ula Mountains- There are legends of star people and an origination story. As late as the 1950s, stories of the Chinese gathering evidence in the region exist.

5. Chakra points- There are many different systems. Tibetans usually depict 5 while Indian schools generally have 7. Research by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama revealed the heart chakra produced measurable physical light.

6. Singing Bowls- Are used for healing.

7. Lung-gom-pa/Tumo/Yidam- Are Tantric practices.

8. Birds- The sneaky placement of rare birds in the region was my invention and homage to HH. The 16th Karmapa, who loved birds.

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MONKS’ BRAINS ARE DIFFERENT

With the Mind & Life Institute kicking off its international symposia in Denver today, I thought it might be interesting to look back on some of the work this group and others who study contemplative traditions have found.  A member of one of my yahoo groups recently posted an article from the Wall Street Journal (How Thinking Can Change the Brain, Jan. 2007) which helped remind me of some of the discoveries in the last few decades dealing with the emerging field of neuroscience called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the godsend that allows the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience including thinking. Nowadays we take this as a given. But once upon a time, not very long ago, the Dalai Lama asked a bunch of scientists if the mind might be able to affect the brain (the actual material entity). A brain surgeon told His Holiness that was impossible. Such downward causation from the mental to the physical was not possible.  Don’t you just love science! So wrong- but this would take a series of experiments to knock the surgeon on his butt.  You can find those and read about them, but my real interest is in the monks and what they can tell us. So let’s fast forward.

Since the 1990s Tibetan monks have been studied to see if their contemplative practice or mental training produces lasting changes in the brain.  The monks were wired to record brain wave activity while entering a state of contemplation focusing on compassion and loving kindness.  Gamma signals began rising and kept rising.  Even between sessions, the monks’ gamma waves remained high.  The more hours of meditation training achieved, the stronger and more lasting the gamma signal.  It supplied Prof. Davidson at UCSF with the evidence he’d been seeking.  Mental training can produce enduring brain traits.  So the conclusion for me, is that we should try to keep an open mind about things and not jump to conclusions about what we think the world is or how we think it should behave. We know far less than we think we do, and arrogance and close mindedness will not be allies in the quest for truth (or Truth, if you like).

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