Sunday, 14 August 2011

Oracles and Demons of Tibet (Resources part 3)

Oracles and Demons of Tibet by Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz contains comprehensive depictions of a range of namkhas, the yidams and protectors with which they are associated, and their various applications. It has a full chapter dedicated to 'Thread-crosses and thread-cross ceremonies' as well as a range of other references. This single source has the greatest breadth of material describing the practice that is easily available. It's strength as a work is also somewhat of a weakness, because it reads like a catalogue of textual imagery and iconography - so much so that fellow Tibetologists have often jested that the author's ultimate crime was to take interesting material and turn it into a boring academic work. (His supposed 'criminality' was that he had revealed the secrets of Dharma Protectors - he died tragically young, shortly after finishing this work, and a Tutankhamun-like curse was said to follow this 'terrible act'). In fact the writing is fairly dull - but does provide a flavour of the variety of namkha that can be created.

Be it a catalogue, it worth noting it is a well referenced caalogue and thus if anyone wishes to obtain a springboard for academic investigation into the primary and secondary sources about a range of Mahayoga practices this is a great starting point (although a working knowledge of Tibetan, German and French would be useful).

In terms of this Blog, Oracles & Demons flags a number of items that are noteworthy:

- the thread-cross constructs (mDos, in Nebesky-Wojkowitz' terms) are generally highly complex. The term mDos applies to the full structure, which can often include a base, whereas nam mKha' describes the individual thread-crosses around this central structure. Because in the Aro gTér Mahayoga is approached from the basis of Dzogchen View, the symbolic activity in Aro gTér Mahayoga is in relative terms minimalist. In the basic form of Ogyen Rig-nga namkha practice a single namkha is created - hence the slightly different focus on terminology.

Complexity is possible however. Lama Rig'dzin Dorje has overseen the creation of the most complex Aro gTér namkha although a comparison with the Tara namkha (see an earlier post) shows even this is relatively simple in design

- the term thread-cross seems to have been adopted from use in other anthropological studies around the world, where similar symbolic practices are found (including in South Africa, Peru, Australia, Sweden, and throughout the Himalayas including Naga tribe, Siberian Shamanic and Bön practice). Perhaps for this reason the academics never thought to investigate why the term nam mKha' was used for the crosses themselves. I will define namkha later in this series

- Oracles & Demons is the first work to distinguish between the outer, physical practice, and an inner, visualised practice, as well as alluding to the interaction between them. Again, we'll look at this later in the series

- finally, Oracles & Demons describes clearly that to release the potency of a completed namkha, it is necessary to destroy it, either through breaking it or burning it. This effectuates the practice, and in the Aro gTér this effectuation is achieved most commonly through a fire ceremony - jin sreg (sbying sreg)

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