Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Common In Tibet

Tibet is referred to by magical names such as Shangri-la and Shambhala, and is truly miraculous from our perspective, but not for the Tibetans. The Tibetans, who developed and established a science of mind in their culture, from the time Buddhism came to Tibet 1300 years ago, analyze and understand the causes and conditions for the different states of consciousness and phenomena. Phenomena do not exist independently. Therefore, every common phenomenon in Tibet that I will describe, has its own causes and conditions.

Tibetans are very practical. If certain causes and conditions cause suffering, these need to be analyzed and abandoned. If other causes and conditions bring happiness, these should be adopted and practiced. The conceptualization of happiness needs to change in a well thought out manner - what brings ostensible happiness does not bring lasting happiness. Within an instant, or several instants, momentary pleasures become sources of dissatisfaction and suffering. Altruism, generosity, patience, honesty, a life in accordance with moral values, bring lasting happiness and genuine inner peace of mind. Honestly looking inward, combined with applying logic, can bring release from mental suffering.

Common In Tibet

Thukdam, rainbow body, tulkus, tummo, srok-rlung (say: sok-loong), are common in Tibet. What are these?

Thukdam is a state which a spiritual teacher remains in for several days following death, when the mind has not yet disconnected from the body. In this profound meditative mental state, known as "the clear light" state, the body does not decay. A Tibetan lama remained in thukdam for 18 days and was examined by three teams of scientists, with the latest and most advanced neuroscientific equipment. When the consciousness detaches from the body, there are clearly recognizable signs, such as red moisture appearing in the nose and the head going limp. Thukdam is common in Tibet. When I was in Lhasa, a monk from Drepung Monastery remained
in thukdam for 11 days.

The Tibetans believe that we Westerners bury too quickly. The consciousness of a person who has not trained his mind at all will disconnect immediately from the body. Rituals for the dead are very important in Tibet. During the 2008 massacre in Tibet the Chinese took bodies to incinerators outside the city to burn them... There are four kinds of "burial" in Tibet: earth, water, fire and sky burial. Here is a Tibetan sky burial:

A very beautiful, unique and interesting film about Tibetan funeral rituals, with a narrative by Leonard Cohen,  is "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" (Part 1, 45 minutes).

Tibetan Book of the Dead Part 2

The rainbow body is an actual biological phenomenon, observed by thousands of people in the course of the 1300 years since Buddhism arrived in Tibet.  The rainbow body is a well-known and common phenomenon in Tibet. Sometimes, when a spiritual practitioner dies, in the days following his death, rainbows of light are emitted from his body. Over the course of about a week, the body gradually shrinks, until only hair and nails are left, and sometimes not even those.

A spiritual teacher told us about his teacher, who, before his death, asked his students to cover his body with an orange cloth and not to touch the body for a week. During the week, as the students recited prayers beside the body, they watched the body gradually shrink until it disappeared completely. The teacher was present at the event. Another teacher told us about an old woman who went off to a cave to meditate for several months. Every day her meal was brought to her. One day she asked not to bring her food for a week. After a week, she was found dead, with rainbows of light being emitted from her body. It is said that the rainbow body is especially common among ordinary spiritual practitioners, not famous spiritual teachers, but people that no one had noticed the depth of their spiritual practice until their death.

Sometimes, when a spiritual teacher dies, a full circular rainbow appears in the sky. I witnessed this phenomenon during the Lhasa massacre in March 2008.

The tulku tradition is a uniquely Tibetan tradition that was established several hundred years ago. This is the tradition of finding the reincarnation of the spiritual teacher about a year or two after his (or her) death. The tulku tradition has been documented in several films, including "The Unmistaken Child" by Nati Beretz and "My Reincarnation," about the spiritual teacher Namkai Norbu Rinpoche's son, who is half Italian. The phenomenon was described in the feature film, "The Little Buddha," about an America boy who was recognized as a tulku by Tibetan lamas. A Tibetan tulku can be born anywhere in the world, among any people or culture. The Karmapa was the first tulku in Tibet. Today, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th in the Karmapa lineage. The Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation in the lineage of the Dalai Lamas. The birth of a tulku is usually accompanied by signs, such as the parents' dreams, appearances of birds or animals before the birth and other special signs. Various methods exist for the correct recognition of tulkus. When spiritual teachers write their biographies, they often describe their previous reincarnations. Women can also be tulkus.

"The Unmistaken Child" by Nati Beretz (trailer):

"My Reincarnation" by Jennifer Fox (trailer):

"Little Buddha":

Tummo is an advanced meditative practice in which Tibetan monks and nuns raise their body temperature. In the snowy mountains of the Himalaya, monks and nuns hold tummo contests, in which a series of wet sheets are placed on the practitioner, and whoever dries the most sheets is the winner. Tummo has been studied at Dr. Benson's Harvard University laboratory:

Srok-rlung and rlung
, trance states arising from intensive meditation are common in Tibet, especially in monasteries. Srok-rlung and rlung are always treated properly in Tibet and "no one stays that way." I have written more about rlung and srok-rlung in the last post, Trance and Mental Health.

The Tibetans, world experts on the mind, have been collaborating with neuroscientists for about 25 years. Mental illness is rare in Tibet. However, thukdam, rainbow body, tulkus, tummo and rlung are common in Tibet. There is much to learn from the Tibetans. One doesn't need to be Buddhist in order to benefit from the wisdom of the Tibetans. Tibetans respect all cultures, appreciate cultural diversity and recognize the value of the many religions of the world. Tibetans are generally patient, non-judgemental, accepting, and warm hearted people - of course not all. Bodhisattvas, spiritual practitioners with an altruistic and compassionate outlook, are common in Tibet. The only way to develop inner peace of mind is by practicing ethics as a foundation and basis. If one wants to learn from the Tibetans, one should approach with a sincere, egoless and nonjudgemental attitude.

Blessings for happiness and truthfulness :)

Published in Hebrew August 8, 2012 and a featured blog post on the home page of The Marker Café.

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