May 3, 2010

The thangka of Vajradhara’s place in Boulder’s Dorje Dzong. ~ Clarke Warren

December 3, 2007

To: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche; President of Shambhala Mr. Richard Reoch; the Board of Directors of Shambhala International; the Office of Practice and Study of Shambhala International; Directors of the Boulder Shambhala Center; The Noble Sangha.

From: Clarke Warren

Re: The thangka of Vajradhara residing in Dorje Dzong, Boulder, Colorado.

I would like to respectfully chime in a bit about the future of the grand thangka of Vajradhara residing in the shrine room of Dorje Dzong in Boulder, Colorado.  I do not presuppose that the continuing presence of this exceedingly important thangka in its place is threatened; none-the-less, there seems to be the possibility this could happen in light of new shrine prescriptions for the Shambhala Intl. organizational mandala.

Please find below three considerations I have presented with regard to this issue.

I. The first is a summary of the reasons I believe the thangka of Vajradhara is so precious, powerful and integral to the foundations of the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s seminal work in establishing Vajrayana Buddhism in the West, and to the continuity of the lineage of Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa and the Vajrayana teachings in the world, particularly in its transmission to the West.

II. The second is supporting background and observations derived from my thirteen years living, teaching and practicing Buddhism in Nepal and Sikkim, from my travels and observations in many parts of the Buddhist world, and from my more general knowledge of Vajrayana view and the crucial role of sacred art therein.

III. Concluding Appeal.

I. The Background and Vital Importance of the Thangka of Vajradhara of Dorje Dzong.

When the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche first came to Boulder in 1970, upon moving into his house up Four Mile Canyon, the first thing he did, rather excitedly, was to have the large thangka of Amitayus, presented to him as a gift by the Queen Mother of Bhutan, mounted on the wall above the shrine in his living room. This then became the first shrine room for the budding Karma Dzong Community. From the very first, the importance of sacred art, and of a thangka, was dramatically demonstrated by the Vidyadhara himself.

A few years later, the Vidyadhara commissioned his close friend, the renowned thangka painting master Sherap Palden, to come to Boulder and paint what was to become the central focal point for the Dorje Dzong Shrine Room. This was the grand thangka of Vajradhara, the Primordial Buddha. As Dorje Dzong was then the epicenter of the mandala of all the Vidyadhara’s activities, this thangka was indeed the central focal point in sacred art for the entire constellation of the Vidyadhara’s and Vajradhatu’s/Shambhala International’s activities.

The months of accomplishing the creation of the Vajradhara thangka were also the occasion for many American assistants to be initiated into the creation of sacred Tibetan art.  This legacy has resulted in the many further creations and manifestations of sacred art and  architecture accomplished by this first generation of Western Dharma artists, such as the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya and all its sacred art, the three-dimensional Mandala of Chakrasamvara, the Kudung Stupa of the Vidyadhara, the many thangkas that have complemented and expressed the Vidyadhara’s Buddhist and Shambhala teachings, and so many other proliferations. The creation of this thangka was indeed an ignition point and landmark in the birth of Dharma Art and Dharma artists in the West.

The Vidyadhara’s regard for the central role of sacred art was then echoed in so many directions and styles, traditional and contemporary; Tibetan, Japanese, Chinese and Western. Through all of this, Vajradhara (as the thangka in Dorje Dzong) was an unwobbling pivot, and “first dot in space.”  It has been a portal, true to Vajradhara’s primordial iconic role, between the Absolute, Alpha Pure and the Spontaneous Presence and creativity of the establishment of the Dharma in the West. It is a crucial window and link, also, between the ancestral and vital living lineages of the Asian Dharma and the rising of the Sun of Dharma in the Western world.

There was wisdom, skill means and purpose in the creation and exact placement of the Vajradhara thangka where it has then resided for many years.  There are so many testaments to its enduring inspiration, power, and presence.  It is a living legacy of Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and of so many seminal events which have transpired in its presence.  In brief, it is itself a transmission of Dharma and lineage.  And of course, from the sacred outlook view, it is, as Dorje Chang/Vajradhara, the Vidyadhara himself.

We owe it to our own and future generations of practitioners to pass on the power and blessings of the thangka of Vajradhara which sits royally in its mandala palace of Dorje Dzong. It was created by the great master thangka painter, Sherap Palden, a close and trusted friend of the Vidyadhara, who knew exactly how to portray the image so that it would be a highly suitable vehicle for the blessings and lineage it would carry. It was also, primarily, created by the aspiration, command and consecration of the Vidyadhara. The thangka of Vajradhara also bears the indelible “Great Seal” of the Karmapa, in the form of his actual handprint sealed on the back of the thangka. It was further empowered by so many great teachers, and through so many abhishekas and teachings, and it embodies and dispenses all those blessings. This thangka is Mahamudra itself, along with Great Natural Perfection!

I. Background On The Crucial Role Which Sacred Art Has In The Transmission of the Dharma

“From likeness to reality, the example of image and sign becomes the wisdom of profound meaning. So it is with the likeness of a sacred image to the realization of the wisdom it represents,embodies and evokes.” *

Having lived in Buddhist Asia for the last thirteen years, sacred art has become both a focal point of my own interests and a searing presence in my experience of the power of lineage blessings and sacred world.  In Vajrayana teachings and culture, sacred images are regarded as Nirmanakaya manifestations, and play a central role in the embodiment and transmission of wisdom and realization.  They often surpass by far their minimal definition as “representations”. Some are capable of talking! Some remark that they are indeed excellent likeness of themselves! Some let human beings know exactly where they want to be! Some contain and dispense termas!

Many are termas! And in one way or another, they always teach the Dharma. Even if just gazed upon by uninformed visitors, such images can convey something profound. A central image of Mahamudra Awareness is “like a child gazing at the fresco in a temple”. Sacred images properly executed and blessed have their own powerful authentic presence, their own precise and efficacious skillful means, and their own Bodhisattva activity.

In the monasteries and temples of India, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, and the entire Buddhist world, sacred images have been an integral part of carrying on traditions, inspiring practitioners, protecting the Dharma, and embodying as well and dispensing lineage blessings.  Such images are created with great and precise mastery, blessed thoroughly through ritual and by great enlightened masters, further empowered by practice and devotion, and are the source of endless inspiration, encouragement, and awakening. There are so many stories about the Buddha Activities of images. They span the generations. The enduring presence of such sacred images is as powerful as enduring lineages, enduring Tulku lines, and perpetual Buddhanature. The thangka of Vajradhara in Dorje Dzong is in this supreme class of Dharmic embodiment.

In Asia, such Nirmanakaya manifestations in sacred art are regarded and treated as such, and preserved and revered (in place) for centuries. Their contribution to the enduring transmission of Dharma is indelible.

It is also the case that the uniqueness and particular power of individual temples and monasteries as embodied in each place’s unique heritage of sacred art is preserved and honored, rather than replaced by a uniform template being prescribed for, say, all the temples of a particular lineage. If you look at the temples of Asia, each has unique features, and is powerful in its uniqueness, while nonetheless also embodying basic shrine forms and carrying the main iconic referents of each temple’s larger lineage.

For instance, even though the most powerful and revered image in all of Tibet, the Jo Rinpoche image enshrined in the Jokhang of Lhasa, is a paramount destination for all Tibetan pilgrims and a primary focal point of the spiritual life and heritage of Tibet, there was never any suggestion in Tibetan history that the same statue should be duplicated and placed elsewhere around Tibet. The Jo Rinpoche is utterly unique and particularly powerful where it is and of itself. Its exact placement was precisely and inextricably part of its profound purpose, and it formed a central foundation for the spread of Dharma in the Tibetan world. At the same time, the Jo Rinpoche and Jokhang were at the heart of a collective body of 108 temples simultaneously yet each uniquely constructed to ensure the success of the dawning of Dharma in the Tibetan world.  This crucial placement and strategic design is echoed in so many powerful places and images of the Buddhist world. The Vajradhara of Dorje Dzong, I propose, is the Jo Rinpoche of the West!

In addition, such images have the power to magnetize more and more Dharma, teachers, practitioners, practice, siddhi, “glory, fame, good fortune, and all great and vast enjoyments.”

III. Concluding Appeal

“All component things are impermanent”, as is said. Yet it is not the place of practitioners (or the Red Guard!) to add carelessly to this already quite natural impermanence. All will eventually be consumed by the kalpa-ending fire.  And eventually all practitioners cross over the threshold into formless Suchness. Yet within the framework of impermanent Relative Truth, the Absolute Truth is able to convey itself through sacred images, inspiring and liberating countless sentient beings. In this case, the Absolute and Relative, formlessness and form, can said to be inseparable.

I understand that the prescription for shrine format being disseminated by Shambhala Intl. is in the spirit of coalescing all the centers into a unified approach and expression.  This may be more applicable to centers where there is not such a pronounced history and presence of particular sacred art such as there is at Dorje Dzong, although there may be other instances of such history and presence of powerful sacred art at other places which should also be considered. Dorje Dzong is a very special case nonetheless.  Please contemplate its unique and enduring situation as a foundation and power place for Buddhadharma in the West.

Please consider these observations and consider this plea, echoed by many others, to preserve in place the grand thangka of Vajradhara as the principle shrine object and focal point of Dorje Dzong. Dorje Dzong has a unique and pivotal place in our mandala, and this enduring significance and power deserves beyond measure to be continued.  In this way, please help to continue the legacy, power and lineage blessings of the great Siddha and Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and of the blessings of the Mahamudra and Ati lineages, by sustaining and continuing the presence of the Great Vajradhara of Dorje Dzong.

Respectfully yours in the Changeless Nature

Clarke D. Warren / Jampa Senge

E-mail; [email protected]

* From “Presentation of an Image of Lord Manjushri to the Department of Religious Studies, Naropa University”, May 31, 2001.

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