Tuesday 29 November 2011

I can't get no. . .

. . . satisfaction.  Well, not when trying to engage in fundraising anyway.  Like a home sick polynesian, I'm always left longing for Somoa (some-moa donations, that is. . . and yes I will keep making puns like that until we reach our target).  Still, with 8 of the 50 calligraphies sold at the special display-rate on Friday and some kind gifts last night, we've already raised £1,000.  In addition to calligraphies themselves there was quite an interest in some calligraphy t-shirts which we had made up for the evening (£10 plus postage - e-mail sncd.treasurer@gmail.com with your postal address & shirt sizes for full details):
They carry the seed syllable Hung - symbol of Padmasambhava and Yeshé Tsogyel.  On Friday night Ngak'chang Rinpoche explained how the tulip bulb brushes are manipulated in order to create both very fine and very thick lines in a single brush stroke, as you can see in the sweeping curves of the Hung on the t-shirt:
Well, we had a select crowd at the talk.  As far as I am aware this is the first time Ngak'chang Rinpoche has ever given a public talk on Tibetan Calligraphy.  It was delightful to learn on the evening that one of the attendees who had come to Aro Ling via the online Membership programme was being accepted as an Apprentice.  Another had been coming to Aro Ling for a year and asking about calligraphy.  It did mean the evening was pretty Apprentice-heavy in terms of numbers, and I'm kicking myself a bit when looking back about the audience mix.  As Yanni pointed out, people who want to learn about calligraphy aren't necessarily the same people who might be inclined to buy them as part of a charity fund raiser - worth bearing in mind for the future - but nonetheless the talk was great and there were loads of questions.  

Also, Rinpoche has actually found a way to raise the funds for Drala Jong.

He explained that the last time he attempted to use calligraphies for fund raising was in about 1989, when Chhi'med Rig'dzin Rinpoche was visiting Britain, and had terrible toothache.  The dental work required was going to cost £400, but Ngak'chang Rinpoche didn't have the money to give him.  Instead he came up with the idea that he might draw calligraphy circles for Chhi'med Rig'dzin Rinpoche might write interesting things on, which could then be sold.  In the end they sold for £800 (£1,700 in today's money) - covering the expenses and also a donation to Chhi'med Rig'dzin Rinpoche.  At the end of it, Ngak'chang Rinpoche was able to keep just one of those calligraphies, for his toils.  Rinpoche would be loathe to lose that work, but has said that for a good cause (the best of Nyingma causes) he would part with it.  For £500,000.  So, if you would like to own the last surviving piece of cooperative calligraphic art by Ngak'chang Rinpoche and his root teacher Chhi'med Rig'dzin Rinpoche, bids start at half a million pounds. . .

. . . or if that isn't quite what you and your bank manager had in mind, why not buy a t-shirt (above).

Sunday 20 November 2011

Calligraphies - the Scorpion Seal

With the work of Ngak'chang Rinpoche, the calligraphy is not simply a brush-and-ink drawing.  Each piece carries seals and signatures, in unique combinations.  The most easily recognisable perhaps is the seal of scorpion is found in Tibetan calligraphy on the works of both Trungpa Rinpoche (see here) and some of the work of Ngak'chang Rinpoche.  Robert Beer describes the 'black Indian scorpion [as] a potent symbol of destructive malice' but of course within Buddhist Vajrayana the scorpion (Tib. sdig-pa) symbol is a transformative one, and Ngak'chang Rinpoche writes:

'The seal stamped in black is the scorpion which is used as the symbol of the Tantrika. The scorpion is symbolic of the power of transformation as the scorpion is known as the most dangerous and destructive creature. Because every aspect of duality—no matter how viciously deranged—remains undivided from the nondual state, even the most horrific states of mind can be transformed.'

In fact, the Tantric community of ngakpas and ngakmas, naljorpas and naljormas (collectively called the go-kar-chang-lo'i-de), owe the continuity of their tradition to the power of the scorpion, as this famous tale reveals:

'When in the ninth century, King Langdarma and his hostile ministers set about to suppress the Indian Buddhist teachings and to close the Buddhist monasteries such as Samye, he summoned the Tantric master Nubchen Sangye Yeshe and his disciples into his presence, although all of them were not Buddhist monks but rather Tantrikas (sngags-pa). The arrogant king challenged Nubchen, inquiring, "And what power do you have?"  "Just observe the power I can manifest merely from the reciting of mantras!" Nubchen replied and raised his right hand in the threatening gesture of tarjini-mudra.

Instantly, in the sky above the Tantric sorcerer, the king saw nine giant scorpions appear, each the size of a wild yak. The king was terrified at this vision. So he promptly promised not to harm the white-robbed Buddhist Tantrikas and to refrain from disrobing and exiling them as he had done with the maroon-robbed Buddhist monks. Then Nubchen pointed again into the sky with a threatening gesture, and lightning flashed from heaven, shattering into pieces a nearby boulder.

Doubly terrified, the king vowed, "I will not in any way harm you or your white-robed followers!" and he ordered that his prisoners be released. because of the mighty magical powers of this Tantrika Nubchen, the anti-Buddhist king could not destroy the esoteric teachings of the Mahayoga Tantras nor their white-robbed practitioners, the Ngakpas (sngags-pa, one who uses mantras.) Subsequently, this Tantric Order of Nyingmapa Buddhists has flourished among the Tibetans until this day.'

(From The Golden Letters - John Myrddin Reynolds)

In fact Padmasambhava himself is described as receiving the transmission of phurba practice - a practice almost synonymous with the go-kar-chang-lo'i-de - via the medium of 'a gigantic scorpion with nine heads, eighteen pincers and twenty seven eyes' which unearthed the phurba gterma - the heads of the scorpion being symbolic of the nine vehicles of the Nyingma Buddhist tradition, and the scorpion's sting equated with the tip of the phurba itself.

Ngak'chang Rinpoche reserves the scorpion stamp for the most dramatic and dynamic calligraphies he creates.  There will be an opportunity to ask about this and the other seals used in the creation of calligraphies at the talk on Friday 25th November, at Aro Ling in Bristol.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Tibetan Calligraphy

As next Friday's charity calligraphy sale at Aro Ling approaches, our thoughts are turning to focus fully on this modern art form (and of course to the sale itself).  Written words are sacred in Tibet because they carry the knowledge of liberation.  The scripts Ngak'chang Rinpoche uses are u'med and u-chen, and originate in part from the ancient script Lha-bab-yig-ge - meaning 'script symbols from the sky expanse'.

Trungpa Rinpoche is credited with being the first Tibetan Lama to work with calligraphy in this spontaneous style.  Examples of his work are relatively hard to come by but some examples can be found on the internet. 

Trungpa Rinpoche worked with both Tibetan and English script, as you can see here:

The second is from the weblink above, and is from Trungpa Rinpoche's Elegance series - titled 'Elegance overcomes aggression'.  His works are in the stewardship of the Shambhala organisation, but alas he passed away in 1987. His direct line of work did not end however, and is continued through the Sakyong.

Tai Situ Rinpoche also known to work with calligraphy and can be seen in the above clip, but the pool of artists working in this way within Buddhist Vajrayana is limited at present, and the art form in this context is in its infancy.. 

I myself have never even attempted to create a calligraphy. However it is still possible even for an ignoramus like me to be  appreciate the variety of approaches that can be seen in this clip. Even in the brief video here one can see themes reflected in the work of Ngak'chang Rinpoche and his students. I am particularly fascinated by the different effects that can be created, the different brushes, and even something so simple as seeing the different ways of holding the brush.  Next Friday Ngak'chang Rinpoche will be talking about some of these different approaches, stylistics, and in particular his own approach.  There will be ample opportunity to ask about the how- and why- of brush type, choice of ink, brush loading, the choice of paper, as well as the meaning of the calligraphies themselves, the ink spots and the seals and signatures that each work bears.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday 12 November 2011

Mad as a snake

Well, things are building up nicely to the next main fundraising event on Friday 25th November at Aro Ling.

The calligraphies have arrived for the exhibition, talk and sale in a fortnight's time.  There are 15 different calligraphies, each of which has been specially commissioned in support of the fund raising appeal, as well as a set of 5 calligraphies of the syllable Hung.  Several of the sangha were here at our place last night, and the desire-to-acquire inspired.  In fact early pledges to support this fund raiser mean that at least 4 calligraphies will sell within moments of the doors of Aro Ling opening on the 25th - all from admirer's of Ngak'chang Rinpoche's art, and the Drala Jong project as a whole.  This means the day has paid all its costs and is already £150 to the good even before the exhibition starts.  Over all we hope to raise £6,000 from this fund raiser - and in the process we aim to give pleasure to all who come to the free talk and display (recommended donation £5 - all proceeds to the appeal. . .).

On the day we'll also have copies of the yojohnnycowpunk CD on sale, which has already raised £80 at time of writing, and also several select Raechel's Risible Rabbits items, which has also raised about twice that amount - both since last weekend alone.  Lama Bar-ché Dorje, who is just starting to learn the art of calligraphy, has also donated some of his early small scale practice pieces (which read 'Gar-tak') on offer for a mere £20 each, so there will be an opportunity for everyone to fully satisfy their acquisitive inclinations on the day, regardless of the depths of their pockets.

All told, this means year to date in 2011 we've raised nearly £4,000 for the appeal, most of which has come since we tickled this Blog into life a few months ago.  Will we make five figures, by the end of the year?  We shall see.

Of course the kindness of donors and fund raisers, large and small, is impossible to repay - whether for the Drala Jong project, supporting the existing Aro Ling centre, or any of the other works of our charity Sang-ngak-chö-dzong.  Still, I wonder what HH Dud'jom Rinpoche (who directed the creation of the charity) or Kyabjé Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche (who directed us to establish a retreat centre) would have said if they had heard of Naljorma Rin'dzin 'Mad as a snake' Pamo's efforts, running the Bristol Green Man Marathon (check this link as it has footage of the inestimable Chris Bloor on it) ALL FORTY FIVE MILES OF IT.  Indeed as well as qualifying as a woodwose (and would a wose by any other name smell as sweet?) Rin'dzin win's this Blog's entirely unofficial mad-as-a-snake award for not only running the whole marathon (and raising over £1,000 for the Aro Ling centre as a result) but actually stopping near the end and running back a couple of miles before re-running the same leg of the trip.  She is the only person we know of to run 48.6 miles of a 45 mile run.  Actually, she likes to pretend that she dropped her phone on the route and went back for it, but we know truthfully that 45 miles just wasn't tough enough for that Pamo.

That feat (and those feet) is of course remarkable - but any and all fund raising is remarkable.  If, like Rig'dzin Palden Tashi, we could find just 1,900 remarkable dagger wielding fund raisers, and they raised just £222 each, we'd be able to establish Drala Jong.  Small is beautiful, and anyone, regardless of their knowledge, experience, and personal bank balance can make a difference.  From selling  unwanted books on Amazon, to donating art works and music for sale, to garage sales, to sponsored runs, sponsored sits, promise auctions, or just tapping up friends to give a contribution (how about 22 friends to give a tenner each) we can and we shall establish Drala Jong. 

All we need to do is think positive.  If you think that Drala Jong will be there, it will be there

Just avoid the negative waves, that's my advice. And I have a friend who tends to agree.. . .

So, on that note - how about working out how to raise £222.  Think you can do it?  I do.

All the best


Monday 7 November 2011

Ræchel's Ridiculously Risible Rabbits

As there are only 47 shopping days until Christmas - if you are considering buying presents ~ or know someone who might be ~ you might like to look at Ræchel's Ridiculously Risible Rabbits

All profits from the sales of Ræchel's Ridiculously Risible rabbits calendars and artwork will go towards the Drala Jong Retreat centre appeal. These delightful images were created by Ræchel Togden (age 8)

The Risible Rabbits Calendar can be obtained from : http://www.lulu.com/product/calendar/rćchels-ridiculously-risible-rabbits-calendar-2012/18549035

You can also obtain mugs, postcards and posters from the art shop: (in many different countries!): http://www.zazzle.co.uk/arobooksworldwide, http://www.zazzle.com/arobooksworldwide, ... and many other places besides. Calendars and mugs soon available in Aro Ling, Bristol http://aro-ling.org/


Sunday 6 November 2011

Drala Jong Radio presents yojohnnycowpunk

Forget J-Lo we've got that 'yojo' mojo here at Drala Jong Radio.  yojohnnycowpunk has been good enough to donate some CDs for sale by the Drala Jong appeal.

yojohnnycowpunk's page on Who's who reads: 'Ever since yojohnnycowpunk was a young boy playing air guitar in front of his bedroom mirror surrounded by the sounds, pictures and slabs of vinyl of his musical heroes, he dreamt of releasing a notable recording of his own songs. Something that he could hold in his hands and feel proud of. Although he couldn't at that point even play a real guitar, hero worship and adulation seemed just a step away. Fast forward 20 years through a deep and unremitting love-affair with the guitar that survived near-digit amputation and a long stint on the road with no money and no 6-stringed friend, the debut and self-titled yojohnnycowpunk album hits the streets to wild and unrestrained enthusiasm from a tiny pocket of family, friends and pets. 10 tracks of unique cowpunk tunes full of love mayhem and samsaric madness.'

The recommended donation is £9.99 - but I'm afraid the CDs are only ENTIRELY EXCELLENT IN ALL RESPECTS so we are willing to force ourselves to accept donations of up to £999.

Send Paypal donations to sncd.treasurer@gmail.com and mark them 'yojohnnycowpunk' and we'll be in touch to arrange mailing you a copy.

Am I partisan - well, yes I am.  Am I feeling particularly mercenary this morning -  well, yes I am indeed.  So, for those of you who trust me not one whit (and why wouldn't that be you) try this:

Or, if that's not enough for you, how about a bit of this instead, for a change of tempo (and yes, that's YOU he's singing about - so presumably that's you singing back to him.  Nice voice):