Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life

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9781558592186: Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life
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With a foreword by the Dalai Lama, this remarkable volume presents an intimate, Family of Man like portrait of Tibet and its people.

According to Tibetan belief, existence is an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and in this exquisitely illustrated volume authors Carroll Dunham and Ian Baker take us through the Tibetan wheel of life, from birth and childhood through adolescence and midlife to old age and death. We meet a pregnant woman who is married to four brothers. She dreams of turquoise a sure sign that she will give birth to a boy. Ten year old Tulku Ralo yawns as he sits on a grand throne blessing the reverent throng who flock to him; it is not easy being a god child. The pilgrimage of a family to Lhasa takes several years, for they cover the entire distance by prostrating the length of their bodies across the earth, surrendering to the primordial ground from which all Buddhas have arisen.

Set against Tibet's staggeringly beautiful mountain landscapes, as well as against the ongoing struggle of the Tibetans to win independence from China, Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life portrays the many faces of an earthy yet devout people steeped in a rich heritage. Includes a foreward by The Dalai Lama.

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About the Author:

A native of Santa Fe, Thomas Kelly has lived in Nepal since 1978. Formerly a Peace Corps volunteer and CARE program officer, he has been a professional photographer since 1985. His books include The Hidden Himalayas and Kathmandu: City on the Edge of the World, and his work has appeared in such magazines as Natural History, Smithsonian, and the French and German editions of Geo.

An anthropologist, educator, and documentary film maker, Carroll Dunham is the author of The Hidden Himalayas. Her films include Strange Relations (an episode in the PBS Millenium series), A Bride for Four Brothers (National Geographic), and The Dragon Bride (BBC). The director of Sojourn Nepal, a school in Kathmandu, she lives in Nepal with her six Tibetan foster children.

Ian Baker, a writer, photographer, and educator, lives in Kathmandu, where he develops and directs college programs in Nepalese and Tibetan studies. A student of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tantric tradition, he has spent long periods of time in remote parts of the Himalayas and has studied with many of the great masters whose lives are described in this book.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Foreword

When I meet people in different parts of the world, I am always reminded that as human beings we are all basically alike. The journey from birth to death is something we all share in common, regardless of how differently we choose to live our lives. For Tibetans, this human life is considered a rare and precious opportunity. Buddha said the chance for human life is as rare as a one eyed turtle surfacing its head through the hole of a single oxen yoke floating in a vast ocean. From a Buddhist point of view, among the many realms into which we may be born, only as human beings can we develop the qualities of wisdom and compassion that liberate us from deluded existence. To waste even a moment of our precious lives on destructive or self centered concerns is considered by Tibetans a falling away from our innermost human nature.

We have all been born on this earth as part of one great human family, and from the very beginning our entire existence has been linked with human love and affection. Birth occurs because of the attraction between a man and a woman. When that passion is refined and made selfless it becomes compassion, such as exists between a mother and her child. From a Buddhist perspective, at one time or another all beings have been our mothers. By reflecting in this way, our selfish and aggressive tendencies will naturally subside, giving birth to our intrinsic Buddha Nature.

Buddha in Sanskrit means "to be awake," "to be fully conscious." Since beginningless time our intrinsic Buddha nature has been obscured by the forces of ignorance, greed, and aggression, as symbolized by the pig, the rooster, and the snake depicted in the center of Tibetan paintings of the Wheel of Life. These negative forces of the mind obscure our limitless inborn potential and are the root cause of our frustrating transmigrations through cyclic existence. By cultivating basic love and kindness, however, we can overcome these inner afflictions and develop happiness and peace not only within ourselves but also among other beings.

The Buddha likened consciousness to an ox cart carving deep grooves in the monsoon mud. By the time of the dry season, or another life, when the same ox cart (or consciousness) comes around again on its accustomed track, its wheels will naturally slip into the ruts it created the previous summer, only this time the ruts have become deeper and more entrenched. Our challenge in each lifetime is to abandon these ruts of narrow minded habit and, with insight and compassion, forge a new path that leaves no karmic trail. Through developing this innate potential, the wheel of Samsara, or suffering, becomes the wheel of Nirvana, or enlightenment.

But I feel that if day to day you lead a good life, honestly, with love, with compassion, with selflessness, then it will automatically contribute to the attainment of Nirvana. Like the lotus which thrives in mud, the potential for realization grows in the rich soil of our everyday lives. Abstract concepts that are not grounded in this earth, in our own human experience, can never bear fruit.

For more than twelve hundred years the highest ideals of Tibetan civilization have been to emulate the awakened qualities of the Buddha and to strive in freeing all beings from suffering and cyclic existence. To achieve this goal the Tibetan people have evolved a unique and complex culture both earthy and sublime. Although we may not have advanced far technologically, in terms of the development of the mind we are quite rich.

Tibetans are not a politically large and powerful people; we have no great material assets. But our internal resources, found in our way of life, our culture, and our spiritual traditions, have helped us, even in the face of great hardship and suffering, to follow the path of peace and to find comfort in the pursuit of love and compassion. As surely as we are born we will die. But how we choose to live our lives, what seeds of karma we sow through our actions and our thoughts, will determine our state of mind at the moment of death and in the life that follows. If we have lived our lives developing basic human kindness we can be at peace with those around us, and external problems will not trouble us overmuch. Then even death, like birth itself, can be welcomed as a rare and precious opportunity to grow beyond our current limitations.

Iconographically, the wheel of life portrays the tendencies and diverse possibilities within samsaric existence. Just as meditating on the wheel of life can help the viewer to see his or her own life with greater clarity, reflecting on the diverse qualities of different cultures can help us to view our own societies from a larger perspective. The present volume introduces Tibetan culture as a journey from life until death addressing themes that as human beings we all share in common. This book does not present the Tibetan way of life as something to be either embraced or rejected, but offers a way of understanding the Tibetans better as a people. Looking at the world as others see it and sharing in their thoughts and reflections is itself an act of compassion. Through compassion we develop greater empathy and appreciation for the other beings with whom we share life on this small planet.

By sharing our differing beliefs and unique insights we can enrich each other: not by emulating each others way of life, but by opening ourselves to other points of view. Within the fascinating range of human cultures and languages, individual likes and dislikes, our basic nature is essentially the same. In our diverse ways we all share the same dreams of achieving happiness and overcoming suffering. It's my sincere hope that the images and voices of the Tibetan people contained in this book may help to spark interest in the Tibetan way of life and the ideals to which it aspires.

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet

January 29, 1993

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