Tibetan Traditions

The poignancy is that these traditions are endangered, soon to become extinct.  Like the beauty of a sunset.  You can feel it in the exuberance of a Tibetan dance, or the melodious all of a mountain song, or the special colors from a Tibetan artist’s life.

I want you to know that the songs and tales herein aren’t mine.  They’re from Nima and Tibetans of his ilk, from ones who know that in so many ways they are the last Tibetan people.  Those last ones will leave the world with the final word on what “Tibetan”
is.  Even if certain hands-off policies prevent immediate extinction of the labeled ethnicities of Western China, the gravity pull of modern life presents a death threat to the lives and cultures of nomads and subsistence farmers, the traditional Tibetans.

Born into this reality, Nima’s efforts are towards attaining a modern Tibetan identity.  This is a part of the story of his paintings.  You are reading a book of
stories about those paintings.  The on-going talk is the tale of what gave rise to or was touched by those paintings.  If everyone who ever stopped and stared could also choose to leave a few of their words behind, what a story it could be!

Tibetan reality was something I was intensely curious about.  The glimpses I gleaned from reading books by or about Tibetans left me puzzled.  To give just one example, Trungpa Rinpoche states that “the wrathful deities represent hope and the peaceful deities represent fear.”  How could this be.  In my world there was no hope to be found in fear, that source of mental and psychic paralysis which blocked out hope.  In my world the
peaceful entities or states of mind were what offered hope – hope of forgiveness, hope that I could be accepted notwithstanding my various obvious faults.  It was inconceivable to me that wrathful states could be taken as offering room for negotiation, manipulation,
getting one’s way, while the implacability of peace offered, by contrast, no way out except to obey.  After living with Tibetans for some years, I had to admit that I never encountered a Tibetan who willingly assented when ordered to do something, that a request for
obedience was a truly threatening event for these people.  I further began to realize that the Tibetans I had met would never back down from a fight, even if they were sure to lose
it.  If they were sure to lose a fight they would bring in reinforcements but would never run off.  Wrath and aggression were not matters to be afraid of in the Tibetan psychic vocabulary. As this realization dawned on me I began to see how easily a Tibetan
could be misunderstood.

Tibetans have painted enlightenment for as long as there have been paints and something to paint on.  Robert A. F. Thurman, a life-long student of this, wrote a description in page 15 his Introduction to Worlds of Transformation, published in 1999 by Tibet House, New York.  He said:

“Enlightenment art serves as a precious window into the new dimensions in the world revealed to the enlightened awareness.  It is not merely religious or sacred art in the modern sense of revealing a segregated, personal reality, rationally unreal though emotionally idealized and spiritually beautiful.  Enlightenment art, intriguingly like the nonfigural and surreal modern and contemporary art, aims to reveal what is more real than the mundane, routine reality, namely, the ultimate reality as fully understood in enlightenment and the relative reality as transformed by enlightened persons…. Due to the sense that even icons are by extension part of the actual emanation body of buddhahood, Tibetans feel that the icons they paint embody the living presence of enlightened beings.”

Nima never told me his paintings were anybody’s “living presence.”  However, as I watched him paint, it seemed that the thought processes started in his painting would surely lead to enlightenment.


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The Relative I didn’t know

I had known my husband for more than five years before we were married, but the skeletons in his closet did not emerge until another two years after that.  It was his brother who told me most of the story of the tulku in the family.  My husband hadn’t met him either.

As I fell asleep last night I was thinking about this mysterious member of the family I didn’t know as well as I imatined.  Was that what did it?

He showed up last night n a dream.  The words he left me were serious and
inspiringly simple and here they are:

the dances of youth for youth to play, their function is to entertain.

sit and be entertained.  Your role is
different now.

Your job is
to bless them on their way.

Join us as
an elder now and invisibly support them.

They need
you as much as you love them.”

I said, “Thank you, Elder, Living Legend, I am honored by your words.”

He smiled
at me.  I saw the smile though I still
hadn’t spotted the speaker’s face.

He said, “this
is the power of speech; use it well and honor with your word.

You have already noticed my sons, smiling youth in bright costumes and leather straps
embedded with amber round their heads: their forms are lovely, watch and bless
them with appreciative eyes.”

“I will”, I said.

“I am telling you this as I see in your heart that you love their dance and would
share in their joy.

Bless from the heart, share with the hands, take joy in what you see, and never forget to honor with your words.

At this the wise old relative faded out of my mind, leaving me honored by the gift of his

I was just returning my consciousness to my room when he returned, as I began mumbling my mantra, inspired in the wake of his departure.
Suddenly he said, “There’s something more.  The pieces of what I just said to you, others have said and others have heard.  Your job is to put it all together with life, to show people how those words work fully merged with life.  This is the import of the merger images in Nima’s paintings.

Bless from the heart

Share with the hands,

Take joy in what you see

And never forget

To honor with your words.


Those words are ancient teaching.  Show people how to infuse them in life.  That will bring your life to life, and will also bring their lives to life.  When they become your life, the teachings themselves are brought to life.

With this, I promise you strength, the vajra strength you seek.  Never again will a blessing from your mouth fail.

Then like a wisp of smoke, he disappeared.  I thought he was gone.

But no, just changed to an odd white light that melted my forehead,

And as I was pondering that, a light appeared differently, rosy at my mouth, where words come out,

And while I was pondering that, a turquoise light softly bathed my chest.

It was so different from what I used to think the “OM, AH, HUM” (Nirmanakaya-Sambhogakaya-Dharmakaya) blessing of lights should be, it was an hour or more before I made the connection with the words of that blessing I had read so many times before.

I thought to myself, Those words and lights are the blessing of all I’ve been and done.

Those words and lights I’ll keep at my pillow where they can keep me warm.

I sat there feeling a joyful flooding outward from my heart,

And a grace.  This year’s Thanksgiving has a very superior start.



The Shadow of the Holy One

I saw his smile without seeing his face.


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tales of adventures beyond belief are hidden in the centuries old glaciers
mountain air has a light almost too clear to bear

My brother-in-law Nima Dorje was born into the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of China.  His father is a member of the extremely powerful Pabalankalilangjye family, hereditary rulers of Western Kham, the land whose political and cultural center is Chamdo. The family now is largely in exodus, in Dharamsala.  I have not met that part
of the family.

Nima’s father joined the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army in the 1950′s and as a result was rewarded with many long years in jail because of his heritage. Nima Dorje therefore grew up in jail.

The jail was in a remote village, and Nima’s father, a natural leader for all of his life, was a worker in this jail, following his imprisonment there for the crime of being born into the Tibetan gentry.  Nima grew up doing farm work and listening to the stories of the intellectuals and once wealthy businessmen imprisoned for their non-proletarian backgrounds.  He was mentally fed, from very early years, a diet of Taoist philosophy and Communist ideals.  The Taoists were put in jail for thinking that they knew more than the average farmer.  Nima took all of this in.  He studied hard with the only teachers available during that time – the prisoners. There was no opportunity for Nima
to go to college.  After middle school the available job was as prison warden.
In 1978 Nima took on the job of warden over his childhood friends and teachers.

This is the start of a story of an utterly remarkable man.  The rest of the story is in the book, along withmuch commentary about his paintings, and some of the Tibetan philosophies implied in, or adding energy to those paintings.

It turned out to be through Nima, rather than through my husband, that I learned of the culture I had married into.

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le Rousseau

I took a longish walk through the reeds today.  They are tall, some almost 20 feet tall.  They swayed and whispered in the wind and I had an odd daydream as I walked along, that I was on my way home after an arduous battle.  The reeds to my left bowed to me in waves as I walked.  Nobody else bows to me, so I thanked the reeds for their bowing, remembering something that someone once told me, that bowing honors the one who bows.  Those reeds must be very honorable, as they bowed up and down constantly, like Tibetan prostrators on the road to Lhasa.

In my dream I was living in some dusty place centuries ago, coming back from some battle that I barely knew the reason for and did not care about anyway.  All I knew was that I had done my job and was exhausted.  Something or someone was bowing at the side of the road I was on.  Maybe it was reeds; it could have been people.  I was too tired to tell.  There was whispering in the air, and I could not make out the words.  The sunshine was very bright and I thought that same line, bowing honors the one who bows.  I recalled that the bowing is a good thing because it was good for those bowing.  I was too tired to connect the bows to me and possibly it was just reeds bowing, nothing personal, just a good practice happening at the time I was there.

It does not matter who bows.  It is good if someone or something shows appreciation with a bow.  Showing respect is a good attitude and the reeds were not doing anything wrong by bowing.  Appreciation is not the norm in this world, and I was happy for the appreciation of the reeds, improving their own karma (if they have any) by bowing repeatedly in the wind.  It occurred to me that the afternoon’s “appreciation” may well be the most appreciation I will ever get.  Certainly the number of reeds bowing today was enormous.

A guest left today, expressing appreciation as he departed.  I told him to come visit again soon.  He meant it and I meant it.  However, neither of us bowed.

Today’s bowing was a more private event, between me and the reeds, out under the sky.  I felt honored to be in the presence of those constantly bowing reeds.  There was nothing half-hearted about them.  I felt honored to be in the wind, and it made me think of the mountain winds I had known in the West of China.

Appreciation from a reed or a tree is whole-hearted, more than honeyed words you sometimes hear from people.  I was glad to have passed by the whispering reeds today.

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welcome to my first book

It is history, it is heart rending, it is the story of my search for happiness, a search that woke up the happiness, and when I didn’t find it, it found me!

Human nature has her own form of welcoming us to an understanding. It is as quiet as the small quiet voice of reason (or is it beyond reason?) that murmurs deep within us, even though we sometimes shut it out. There are many deep truths in nature, and the flow of nature itself is an even deeper, wordless truth. I know that this is the foundation for the story, but putting that into words is the trick.

The stories in The Entertainer is the Charm are what I remember from that time in my life.  Most of them were started the day they happened.  I kept a journal.  I have filled the book with those stories and massaged them, describing and lingering over them in a way similar to the way I lived them then, trying to tease as much out of them as I can. The stories are fun to tell, even if they focus only on that part of those times that can be put into words. If they also reflect those bigger, wordless truths, they are more valuable to me.

The poetic nuance counts, and the pictures created for the words to describe are important, as are the action, the sound of the dialog and all the other parts of the experience of reading the book. But there needs to be something more.

Stories have to change a reader, or they aren’t worth much. The change can be sneaky, like gossiping with friends who change your mood quicker than anyone can believe it and long before you realize it, though sometimes with warmth and comradeship and softening of the sourness of idea.

A good book is full stories. Even if they are all true stories, they are just stories. My stories are of learning how to deal with kids, to deal with an unfamiliar culture, to deal with responsibilities that that were personal from the start, personal in the crunch when I was challenged beyond my ability, and personal at the parting, the sad parting.

I hope you like the stories. I dove into them with all I could muster.  That’s the way to wright, and how could there be any other way to live?

Dundru and Archie kicking up their heels

dancing stage at Highland Gale

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