Emails: Tibetan Buddhism – ‘Bon’ or ‘Bad’ Blessing? (21.10.2021)

Dear Adrian

My turn to quiz your brain. This was left behind on the door of my new apartment. Blessing or curse? Any idea? I know it is not Ch’an …

Tibetan Prayer Flag

Dear Gillian

Richard Hunn was the expert in this field. No one in Europe could hold a light to his linguistic abilities. However, I am edging toward either Om Mani Padme Hum or Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padme Hum – both in praise of the Buddha the the ‘lotus flower’ (padme) and the ‘pearl of wisdom’ (mani) – and in the latter case, in praise of Padmasambhava, the Indian monk who took Buddhism to Tibet. If it happens to be a ‘curse’, then it would be from the indigenous ‘Bon’ religion of Tibet disguised as a Buddhist-blessing – but somehow I think this kind of chicanery might be beyond poor Andre!

Typical Tibetan Iconology

After enlarging and fiddling with photographic settings on my Huawei mobile – your ‘going away’ or ‘welcoming’ present looks Tibetan – and I would assume protective – originating from within the Tibetan Tantric tradition (as opposed to the distinct Chinese ‘Tantric’ tradition). Incidentally, the Shaolin Temple in Henan does possess similar deities and protective Buddhas – possibly because Bodhidharma came from India via Tibet before settling in China (c. 520 CE). All are definitely not agreed on this, however, as many assume Bodhidharma came via the South Sea and Guangdong route, (whilst the CPC decides this tie-breaker by gravitating toward the idea that he is a figment of the imagination of the masses conjured-up from the ‘ignorance’ inherent within the feudal system). Geography, travel agents and the ‘fog of religion’ aside for a moment, the walls of Shaolin also depict brown and yellow skinned monks practicing gongfu together (c. 16th century – ‘Ming’). When I was traversing the Buddhist Temples of South China (way back in the 20th century), I would often come across at least ‘eighteen’ statues (distributed around the boundary of the temple grounds ‘protectively’ looking outwards) depicting various men (and sometimes women) all believed to have been enlightened beings living in India during the time of the historical Buddha (as his direct disciples. The exact number can be more or less (usually between ‘ten’ and ‘sixteen’ – but occasionally as high as ‘thirty-six’), but tends to stabilise around ‘Eighteen’. Whilst in Hong Kong in 1999, I was taught ‘Eighteen Arahant’ Boxing (十八羅漢拳 – Shi Ba Lou Han Quan) – a style of gongfu said to be ‘Indian’ in origin and which was preserved and practiced in the Southern Shaolin Temple situated in Fujian province (a direct sister-temple of the Shaolin Temple in Henan now destroyed). It is a form of Longfist stylised so that each movement (or set of movements) is believed to relate to one or more of the ‘Eighteen Arahants’. ‘Arahants Emerges from a Cave’ is one of my favourites!

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