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Life Arts    H4'ed 10/18/15

Tantra, Mantra, Yantra and Tibet -- Where Imperialism and Spirituality Collide

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As I said, devoted practice to tantric principles leads to individuation, the opposite of imperial institutionalization.

Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha ~ the Heart Sutra, meaning "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, enlightened, so be it."

China recently enacted laws essentially taking over Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and instituting government officials at the few remaining monasteries, seeking instead to turn monasteries into propaganda centers for Chinese Communist philosophy. China also recently enacted a law attempting to limit Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation without government permission, and claiming the right to decide who is the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Self-immolation, the act of public self-sacrifice as a desperate form of protest.

In reality, the Chinese involvement in Tibet was no short of a military takeover. In October 1950, China's People's Liberation Army entered Tibet, defeating minor resistance from the Tibetan army, killing countless Tibetans, destroying thousands of monasteries. And China has remade the nation of Tibet as theirs ever since. Some Tibetans, cornered by rigid oppression, have resorted to self-immolation -- the act of public self-sacrifice -- in order to call attention to the corruption and gentrification of their culture. Many have set themselves on fire to raise awareness of their exploitation and cultural elimination, in the most desperate form of protest we have seen in modern history.

Traditionally, Tibet is a land of indigenous integration; the mountainous crossroads of Asia. Tibet was a spiritual nation, one of tantra and sharing, where many spent their entire lives dedicated to the spiritual journey and those around them supported them. This contrasts starkly to societies throughout most of the world today, that selfishly pursue materialistic and competitive goals, where assisting the spiritual development of others let alone following one's own spiritual path are not primary considerations for most people; and in some cultures, like our own, derided.

The Dalai Lama -- literally translated as "Ocean Guru" -- the spiritual leader of Tibet is not chosen but rather found through spiritual predictions and tests concerning his lineage, not through familial heritage but through reincarnation. A custodian of wisdom, each Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the great spiritual teacher, Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, identified in 1935 by a member of the Tibetan monastery in a vision that led to his discovery.

Despite losing his homeland and despite his people being dispersed, and worse, the Dalai Lama remains positive, for even though Tibetan Buddhism is being restricted in Tibet by the encroaching imperialism of China it has been freed to the world. Its teaching, philosophies, tantras, mantras yantras and mudras have struck a chord of resonance with spiritual seekers the world over. One reason, among many, is that Buddhism holds the distinction of being the only established religion that does not claim to define the creator of life (known variously as God, Allah etc.) nor offer access to the creator through any "one true faith" -- a ridiculous notion when one considers the common origins of religions and theologies. Distinguishing it from other religions, Buddhism is built on philosophies of life and enlightenment, not authorship of life itself. The central figure in Buddhism, both traditional (Theravada) and Tibetan, is not a creator but a philosopher, a bodhisattva, a being of bodhi (enlightenment) and universal compassion. Its teachings can therefore be accessed without submission to the "higher" external power extolled by other religious doctrines, but through the exploration of consciousness and being. This is where the gurus and teachers become an invaluable part of the process.

The idea of an "ocean guru" might be at first confusing, especially from the mountains of Tibet. However the ocean symbolizes consciousness, the ethereal force everywhere of which we are but a drop -- though within us is an ocean unto ourselves. It represents our interconnection -- the tantric element that binds all aspects of life. This idea also reminds me of aspects of many meditations, Buddhist and otherwise, where one imagines being a conduit of compassion, ultimately visualizing that compassionate energy eventually crossing the oceans. One way I learned this is to meditate and imagine that your loving presence emanates and extends across the oceans. Begin with imagining the removal of suffering and instilling happiness to all sentient beings thirty miles beyond you, then three hundred miles, then throughout your continent, then across the ocean nearest you, then all oceans and then the whole world, and beyond. In order to really benefit from any meditation and meditative movement it's important to include such compassionate thinking in your practice.

Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo ~ meaning "I call upon the Divine Wisdom and bow to this Wisdom."

In Tibet and across much of Asia, reincarnation is considered to be a fact that science cannot yet explain, a simple process of spiritual evolution. There are numerous instances of children knowing information which could indeed be explained in no other way but reincarnation and remembering past life experience, as well as other "extraordinary" psychic powers. Locating the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama always requires psychic predictions of sorts. No other communist or democratic nation in the world has upheld such spiritual transition of power in modern times, or perhaps ever.

Most all national and imperial institutions keep power in the family or transfer it through another form of oligarchy, rather than through spiritual transition. Almost all national institutions act primarily to maintain and obtain power, resulting in war states, buffer states and ever-changing borders. The U.S. doctrine and history of perpetual war is a perfect example. Nations frequently act out of fear of loss as well as striving for potential gains. China took over Tibet when England left India and Tibet no longer was useful as a buffer state. Until then, Tibetans walked or rode horses wherever they went, respecting a prophecy which stated that, when the wheel comes to Tibet the nation would fall -- a prophecy that was fulfilled. China took over Tibet like so many other nations have taken over so many other spiritual places; like England took over India, and the European nations took over the indigenous tribal cultures around the entire world. Through centuries of colonialism, imperial nations have decimated not just the sovereignty and cultural identity of nations like Tibet, but also the spiritual heritage and wisdom on which they were built.


Tibet is an incredibly rich cultural fusion. It is a place of mountain isolation and alternatively a place of integration at the crossroads, where it's said your hand in the sun can burn while your other hand in the shade is frostbitten. Great Indian gurus travelled to China via Tibet and likewise great Chinese philosophers and physicians went to India via Tibet. Even the legendary Mongolian armies came to Tibet as did people from the Muslim world and throughout Asia. Tibet is the Himalayan roof of the world and to a large extent, it was the center of the ancient world.

When Buddhism reached the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet from India, it was integrated with ideas in the shamanistic Bonn religion, the prominent form of worship in Tibet. In Tibet the indigenous Bonn ideas, Buddhism, some Hindu beliefs, some Taoist and Chinese influences and other cultural philosophies were all variously merged together and fused into Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, like all Buddhism, is based on compassion for all sentient beings and embraces many esoteric philosophies and practices of legendary mountain yogis.

Instead of passively allowing the decimation of this ancient and enlightened culture, it is our duty in the West to stand up and uphold its sovereignty, to learn from its traditions and respect its ancient teachings; not only because it is the right thing to do, but because of what Tibet and its philosophy and history represents, as humanity itself stands at the crossroads between imperialism and spirituality.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu ~ meaning "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all."

To learn more, visit The International Campaign for Tibet website.

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Ethan Indigo Smith is the son of a farmer and nurse who was later adopted by artists. Ethan was raised in Maine, Manhattan, and Mendocino, California. Ethan has traveled the world and has been employed as a Private Detective, a dishwasher, a (more...)

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