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Update on the Siddhartha School


8th May 2012

Dear Sangha members

Sincere thanks to all of you who have provided ongoing support and interest in The Siddhartha School (TSS) project and a special big thank you to all those who over the past seven years have donated funds and working hours. It has been a long journey with much enthusiasm, learning, creativity and hard work from the numerous and generous contributors.

As many of you are aware, we have been seeking to establish the school on a beautiful rural property in Lindendale near Lismore. This property had originally been built as a health centre in the 1980’s and the building modifications required to transform it into a small school did not appear to be substantial. However we recently received from Lismore Council the response to our Development Application (DA) to operate a school on this site. There are 48 conditions of consent for our DA. Unfortunately, Council’s requirements are beyond what we had expected and are extremely prohibitive, with estimated costs for road works alone in the vicinity of $400,000.  This would bring the total spend to open the school at this site to approximately $800,000. Consequently the Board has made the reluctant decision not to continue with this site.

Since this decision we have been considering other options and have finally decided not to proceed at this time with the school. Below is a statement from Dzongasr Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.

“For whom it may concern:

As a Buddhist we emphasise so much on motivation practice, “it is the thought that counts” as it is said. Many of you with best of your motivation tried to establish this school over the past few years. Some of you have put in money, time and energy but there are times in our lives we have to accept certain things are not meant to be – at least for now. And I think our school seems to be one of those. So I here regretfully have to express that it is much more prudent to not tangle ourselves with this project anymore. But I am also very happy to say and remind all of us that everything that we have done is not wasted and not only on the motivational level. We have learned a lot and we have produced so many ideas, which can be useful another time and another place, and I am very sure they will be put into use.”
March 2012

The Board of TSS offers sincere gratitude for the patience and generosity of all the people who have donated funds and energy to the school project. Funds remaining will be forwarded to Khyentse Foundation educational projects, as requested by Rinpoche. Any enquiries should be directed to Simon Thomas at

With our very best wishes,

The Board of The Siddhartha School


Vajradhara Gompa


What a time it was….

Amid inclement weather and the prospect of sloshing around in gum boots, some 200 students gathered within Vajradhara Gonpa’s misty surrounds, to mark the end of the second three year retreat.

Under Rinpoche’s guidance, the retreatants offered a Tsok Bum. For those unfamiliar with Tibetan terms, this means the offering of 100,000 feast offerings. The Tsok Bum, was a perfect example of the power of the Vajrayana. With Rinpoche’s presence and teaching, and with the retreatants elegantly engaging in the ritual we slip-streamed, into a world that is indeed sacred. The warmth and cooperation amongst participants, happily engaging in karma yoga, before, during and after the retreat, a delight. Inspired no doubt, by the tireless staff and volunteers who have held the retreat together. This is what Sangha can be.

This time together concluded on the 17 March 2012 when the retreat boundary was officially opened to applause and cheers. As swiftly as we gathered we dispersed. In the following weeks, the retreatants too, travelled back to their homes in Germany, Hong Kong, USA and UK, whilst the Australians are considering, can they leave the beautiful Northern Rivers or is Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne beckoning? Now back in our ‘normal lives’ a memory and taste of something profound lingers……

It was a very poignant time for many of us, as it was the last event to be held at the Gonpa. Yes, the Gonpa is to be sold.

Paula Yacoub

Photos Cielo Croci























































The birth of Vajradhara Gonpa

There were six great pillars enclosing the sky
in the auspicious place below the mountain peak
above the valley,
near the source of the spring.

It had rained for days,
it was muddy,
and a hard walk up the mountain.

The clouds moved through the pillars
and the lama performed a smoke offering –
gathering green medicinal leaves –
requesting the use of the space
from the invisible beings who live here.

And the smoke merged with the clouds
and coloured the space between the pillars
and the temple was created.
Di Cousens




Thoughts on Vajradhara Gonpa March 2012

An incomplete work by Cielo Croci

Photos Jerry Epps

The circus is over

this fact

we’ve all known

and now is the time

for us all

to go home

But I feel that inside us

Is a pain

that does burn

That maybe

this time

we may never return.

The fire

that warmed

this place


has gone cold

because this place

that was free

is now

bought and sold

The day

it has come

that we all tried to stall


money and time

has made fools of us all

You’re anxious and stressed


your feeling upset

Because you still

haven’t found

what your looking for yet.

You feel there are

still things

that need to be said,

ideas to be written


words to be read.

You feel distressed

at the fact

that you just can’t hold on


your slipping and falling

till the feeling is gone

You feel

empty and worthless

as thin as a ghost

At the thought

that you’ re losing


may mean the most.

Your fighting

against it

with heavy resistance

the idea

of losing a part

of your very existence.

That no matter

how you think


no matter what you do

you’re letting go

of something

that is precious to you.

Your letting go

of a place

Where you sit on the floor


listen to all

that you heard before

but overlooked

a hundred times or more.

This place

is a signpost

For the life that we’re leading

With the only drug

in the world

To stop our brains

from bleeding.

And whether

you’ve given your heart,

your soul

to this place

Or whether this visit

Is your first


only taste

Its absence

may cut your mind

like a knife


this place is the high

you’ll be chasing

all your life.


you feel in your soul

That you just need a place


they won’t laugh

at your life

or your clothes

or your face.

It reminds you

that the world

Ain’t got you licked


that you can still get up

No matter

how much your kicked.

You need

That place in the sky

That will just help you cope

That spot on the earth

That just gives you hope.

But at the end of the day

Hope is just a word

That maybe they said

and maybe you heard

But you still feel

as if

you need it


And that

if you don’t have it

Then you’re going to be


But these feelings

of hope

And of pleasure

and thrill

Are no more

in this place


In a hundred dollar bill,

Or in a winter’s night chill

Or in an ecstacy pill

Or in the thoughts of we should

Or we won’t or we will

Or a light summer breeze

Or In a firm piece of bread

Or In a person you heard

Or a book that you read

The feeling of joy

of love

and of trust

you just need

to see

lives inside us

So the feelings

you have

When you’re atop this hill

Are now yours to keep

So go

where you will

Fear not the removal

of this book

from your shelf

for you can find

these same feelings

in almost anything else.

Its up to you


To take up your search

You have lost

this temple

but you can find a new church.

There may be those of you

Who feel I’m insane


that drinking champagne

from a mug

Is not

quite the same

But those limitations

They come

from your mind

If you throw them


A new place

you may find.

And don’t worry

about the people

You won’t see

every night

We’ll all meet


on our  journey

to the light.

And besides,

we’re just children

and mothers and fathers

and lovers and fighters

and veterans and martyrs

Law breakers,

Drug takers

Beauty seekers,

Truth finders




and Steiners

So do not feel


Be consumed

not in strife

We’re all


small pieces

of the big picture of life

So go out

and smile

and just sit on the ground

and take in the trees

and the buildings

and sounds

Just be sure to remember

This all doesn’t last


has become


just as now

will soon pass

So pack up your bags

Stitch up your soul

Give back

what you’ve borrowed


replace what you stole

For now is the time

when we all have to leave

But don’t worry,


Be calm,

and breathe.

Cafe Conversation

Tara Di

An Interview with Tara Di
By Kelly Roberts

When I was asked if I would interview Tara for the Art Issue of the Gentle Voice, I have to admit, I was deeply excited and happy. It was about time that people heard what she had to say about her art and the topic of Thangka painting. I have had the great fortune to know Tara for many years. I have watched her closely ~ developing into the absolutely stunning Thangka painter that she is today. I remember when she showed me one of her first paintings it vibrated with so much magic, presence and movement. I was so moved, speechless, tears fell. Amazing. It truly felt as if she had brought the deity to life right before my very eyes. This particular deity continued to haunt me for days and now still does years later ~ bringing so much presence into my practice. Over the years she has developed this skill to a place where even a non-dharmic person is incredibly touched by her paintings. Of course anyone who knows Tara will not be surprised to hear that she adamantly refuses to take a compliment.

When I told her that the Gentle Voice had asked if I would interview her, her immediate reaction was an adamant “NO – I am not a traditional Thangka painter. There are many others who are much better than me that they could interview.” I wasn’t going to give up. I had to assure Tara that Gentle Voice had Rinpoche’s support to do the interview and only then did she consent. Rinpoche has mentioned many times over the years how he feels she is amongst the most accomplished painters he knows.
It’s actually an amazing accomplishment to get her to speak so openly and profoundly about her art. It is a true gift to all of us. I am so happy to be able to share her in this way. We met for a “cappuccino and chocolate”, at the local “Bliss Cafe” in downtown Crestone, Colorado where we both live. It was a lively and laughing conversation most of which I have included here:


Kelly: So tell me how you first became inspired to become a Thangka painter?

Tara: When I was about 16, I decided to go on an adventure for the summer to Nepal , not yet as a Buddhist but more to have an adventure. The day I arrived was the day I found out Trungpa Rinpoche had only months to live. So – suddenly the journey switched for me. I realised I had a connection to Buddhism, and the various adolescent activities I had hoped to pursue as an unsupervised teenager in a foreign country no longer held much allure.

Tara's colours

Shortly after I arrived, someone said, “Oh you draw ! There is this Thangka painter – you should meet him.” It wasn’t something that I had even thought of. Soon after that I was introduced to this painter who lived with Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. His name was Jamyang Gyatso – he was such an incredible person and Thangka painter. He lived in this tiny little shack in front of Rinpoche’s house with his mom, and sometimes his sister and brother. The second I met him and saw one of his Thangkas I knew that this was where I wanted to be. It just made me incredibly happy to sit there in this small room with him and paint. I loved being in Rinpoche’s space as well, and although I didn’t get to see him often, I was quite awestruck and enamoured. I ended up staying in Nepal for a few years.

My painting teacher’s demeanour was so much different than anything I had seen in the West. There seemed to be no ego or arrogance or anything related to the fact that he was doing these amazing things. This was so inspiring. He was naturally so utterly egoless, humble and devoted.

He would get guidance from Thinley Norbu Rinpoche on how to paint the faces and maybe other aspects of the paintings he did. He was one of Rinpoche’s personal painters and also his student. He had studied traditional Thangka painting , but what made his Thangkas so special was that the paintings felt very alive.

Coming from a Western painting background, this was so intriguing. It seemed this was not something you could capture from training. Something vast and magical shined through his paintings. That was a real teaching for me.

K: Its kind of cool to hear this because this is actually my favorite thing about your paintings. I have always felt that the special thing about your Thangkas is that you capture the essence of that particular deity. There is so much of the energy of the deity coming out and also so much movement. The deity is so alive – it’s so amazing to me how you do this. He must have been a good teacher!

K: You keep telling me again and again how you’re not a “traditional” Thangka painter. In fact you didn’t even want to do this interview because you felt you didn’t represent properly the tradition of Thangka painting. Personally, one of my favorite things about your Thangkas is that they are not traditional. When you say that about yourself what do you mean ?

T: There are many schools of Thangka painting. Normally when you study with a teacher, you take on their style and follow the specific rules of that tradition. The iconography, the sacred geometry or proportions of the deity and there are also the colours and landscape elements that vary from tradition to tradition. It might vary from teacher to teacher but it was my understanding that I should study for 7 years.

So while I still try to honour the tigse (the traditional proportions) and the iconography I have started to play with some of the landscape elements and some of the colours. I also think despite my attempts to let go of the western training, it seeps in …I have definitely reinterpreted colours a bit, because of my preferences , and also the vast array of pigments that are now available. I still use mostly mineral pigments, but I mix them and continue to experiment with that, and also with the landscape elements, animals, robes, and jewellery. I’m trying to use colours and shapes that feel natural and right but also honour the tradition, which I feel is what brings the blessings and life force to the painting.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche seems to encourage me to do this sometimes… and so I am playing with it, but its also a little scary because I don’t want to be disrespectful to what I have learned. I feel it is so important to understand the tradition fully before you divert from that tradition. Yet I am definitely still a student in this regard, I actually don’t know nearly enough to know which boundaries not to cross.

Korwa Dondruk by Tara Di

K: So tell me more about how Rinpoche (Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche) has been working with you with regards to your Thangka painting? You tell me that he sometimes pushes you beyond your comfort level. Can you say more about that?

T: In the beginning Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche asked me to do a painting for him, which was quite thrilling. It was the first Thangka I did for somebody. It took me forever to finish it – I don’t even remember how many years. This was about 20 years ago. I never thought I would do Thangka painting for a living. I assumed I would do it for happiness, on the side. Then, after I just had my daughter, Maya and hadn’t yet finished art school, Khyentse Rinpoche scolded me for not painting Thangkas. The initial scolding was surprising to me because I never would have had the confidence to take such a leap. Especially as I was still something of a beginner, and was nowhere close to completing the traditional length of study.

It also seemed a funny thing to do because Rinpoche has also scolded me for being impractical. I can’t really think of a more impractical livelihood, unless I measure livelihood not financially, but in terms of more long-term benefits, such as supporting sanity and reminding me of the Dharma, and maybe hopefully, if someone connects to it, supporting someone’s practice.

I feel a little funny saying he pushes me, because that’s just my version… But each painting I do pushes me, and it always feels far beyond my skills and capabilities. It is very much like jumping off a cliff . I try to get instructions from Rinpoche, but often its just a few profound words, and often ones that really challenge my preconceptions. I always want lengthy elaborate details, so I don’t ruin it! But definitely his words have influenced me utterly….

Sometimes he will make little suggestions like, “make this lotus more life-like or put a champagne bottle in the offerings” or sometimes just hearing him talk about dharma or deities or art or anything, serves as inspiration.

Longchenpa By Tara Di

K: Following along that line, tell me about what inspires you in your art?

T: Probably ultimately the Dharma, and the yearning to be free, and of course the living embodiments of the deites, all the amazing Lineage Teachers. I think in the beginning, it was being around Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, my teacher Jamyang Gyatso and his mom – they were embodiments of this joy and purity. When I was young, art was joyful and innocent. When I started to study more formally, with western art – it felt like western art wasn’t cultivating areas of my being that I wanted to cultivate. I loved the idea of offering something to people that gave them joy. What was so profound about Thangka painting was it did feel as though you were offering your heart out. Remember these deities are symbols of everyone’s inherent nature, and so it isn’t your personal self-expression but it is something more universal. The forms and rules aren’t my invention and it feels very much like if I don’t let go enough and surrender to the tradition, it doesn’t flow through. So there is a balance with letting that happen but allowing my flavour in too. Also, painting for someone feels very reciprocal ~ I’m making a painting for them but it’s also their faith and devotion and trust in the path that would make them want one in the first place. That is really inspiring and I appreciate it a lot.

K: I know that most of the people who will be reading this interview will be artists as well as dharma practitioners. How do you mix dharma and art?

T: I think it’s just the same as dharma and life going together. It feels more genuine to be raw and present, to try to be awake, to offer that to the painting, but of course I get lost too, constantly, and so that’s just the aspiration…to be present, to come back again and again…

K: I agree with that. I feel this awareness really comes through in your painting.

K: So…. you have a SMALL reputation of someone who takes a long time to paint a Thangka. For those out there who don’t know you as well as I do – How many hours would you say you spend a day painting?

T: It really depends on my outer circumstances but in general, these days I would say ideally a minimum of 8-12 hours, 7 days a week unless I have to stop to clean or shop or something.

K: So you spend pretty much your every waking hour painting – even late into the wee hours of the morning?

T:I have been told to “speed up” so I’m trying to do that now. So until I figure it out I’m trying to just immerse myself in it. I am still trying to understand this because I feel the paintings do have a life of their own and. I can’t push that. At the same time, clearly I see so much letting go in myself that needs to happen, and so probably my slowness is a manifestation of that… there’s always so much more to let go of. Ideally I isolate myself and I paint as much as I can without going cross-eyed. If the spell of the painting gets broken for me by outer circumstances, its hard to come back, but I aspire to become stronger, so my outer circumstances don’t have such an effect. I’m trying to speed up by being more confident and more present and yet at the same time not fall into habits with them. If I just followed a formula they would be easier to do and faster. It’s such a balance of outer and inner elements.

Gesar by Tara Di

K: I get so frustrated sometimes knowing how much time you spend on your thangkas and knowing that some artists out there can spend one day painting one painting and ask for $10,000 for it. Its so frustrating that there can’t be a way to value the amount of time, energy and talent that is put into your painting. I feel you should be paid SO much more for the original artwork and then sell lots of prints so that your time and energy can be monetarily rewarded. Do you think it’s worth it to work so very hard for the relatively small monetary reward?

T: It’s hard to live in this world where you have to think about things like money and putting values on your work. It’s painful and awkward. I don’t like having to talk to people about money and to charge people when doing it in the first place seems to be part of a different set of ideals. I do feel profoundly rich in being able to do something like this and get paid for it. I am thrilled that people even ask me. I feel so lucky. I just haven’t found the balance of how to do this and also have a good livelihood. In some ways it’s so crazy, I still don’t know if it makes any kind of sense. I’m always prepared for it all to fall apart and to have to get a job at McDonalds! I do have my own obstacles that I have to work out with regards to the livelihood part of it. It’s never been my strength. I am not practical and this is a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t imagine anything else in the world that I could possibly do. It so nice that there is a place for this crazy Thangka painter in this modern world! So I feel so fortunate that I have found a way to stay alive and do this.

K: So I’ve been dying to ask you… when you say Rinpoche scolded you – what did he actually say?

T: He kind of said something like: “Because you’re too insecure, you are not painting Thangkas and I have to pay other people to do it.”

K: I am so glad you listened to him! Do you have some advice you would like to give others who are inspired to become Thangka painters?

T: I think it can be a very profound discipline…. its wonderful for people who have no artistic background because as it is a craft in some sense, anyone can learn it. A lot of my friends who paint really beautiful Thangkas never drew or painted before this. Just having the openness to surrender to the form completely, and devotion to dharma, their work is beautiful and full of heart as well as technically amazing. There is the Tsering Art School in Nepal (at Shechen), Cynthia Moku in the US who is a wonderful painter and teacher at Naropa Institute. An other amazing teacher is Ngodrup Rongae in Manali. I think he has a school as well. There are many many more living masters. For someone who has artistic training, I love how Thangka painting reaches something much bigger and deeper than “self ” expression. There is so much freedom in that. The many boundaries and the lineage of this tradition seem to serve as reminders to let go of oneself ~ which is what we all aspire to do. I think all art forms can support that, with the right intention.


Tara Di


If you would like to buy prints of Tara’s work or if you would like to commission a piece from her, please contact her directly at Watch this space for her new website address!

The Artists Role

Slip quietly into non duality

This issue of Gentle Voice is titled ‘Art Unlimited’ and there are a multitude of different forms of art: drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, computer generated art, digital graphics, pop art, minimal art, performance art, street art, indigenous art, architecture, music, dance, film, photography, the art of conversation, the art of seduction and so on…!  Types of art are as varied as media, subject matter and technology allow.


Maree: [M]  Emma Walker, one of Australia’s most respected young artists says, “The creative process is not a straight forward one.  There is no exact recipe that can be followed to produce a consistent result.  Each artist comes with unique inner workings and personal history that creates their own individual approach.  For this reason, the variety of outcomes is limitless”.…. In your view, what is integral to the work of the artist?

Rinpoche: [R] I really like that actually. I think she is very right. It is limitless and that’s so good. It is so good but also because of its limitlessness it’s also frustrating.


M: What genre of art do you most identify with and why?

R: I’m supposed to identify myself with the art of being able to become useless but the temptation to be useful is just so strong. The temptation to have some kind of purpose in life is so strong because of lack of renunciation and all that – it’s just not possible but that’s what I should be identifying. Other than that, I guess the most tangible and visible so far is the art of filmmaking that I have been exploring and recently I am actually picking up on drawing. I really like drawing.


M: From your perspective what is the purest form of art?

R: You know communication with people is so, so, so difficult. Even the notion that we actually did communicate with somebody is only in your own imagination and for that matter even miss communication. In my mind I think that I am talking to you and you are listening to me and I think you are listening to what I say and that’s about the only thing I have to settle with. In my mind I think that you can see the same fake flowers from Hong Kong as I see (Rinpoche points to a bowl of flowers on the table) but actually who knows, most probably you never see what I see and I never see what you see. So the purest art is actually the closest and the most successful way of being able to convey the message and portray or demonstrate what I see – to you. To me that is the purest art.


M: Do you think art in its purest form is spontaneous or premeditated?

R: I actually think both. I like premeditated art because after all we human beings are more capable of mimicking. Spontaneous is very difficult. Many times we just make believe that we are being spontaneous. Of course, I think the aspiration to be spontaneous is quite important other wise we become too corrupted. And I think, as I was saying earlier, the purest form of art is based on being able to communicate. I think children do that, they force adults to think like them even for a split moment, that’s quite a success and they do it kind of spontaneously.


M: Most artists seem to be suffering, searching; tortured souls and many of your students are artistic. Can you explain the link between spirituality and the artist?

R: I think it is connected to what I said earlier. My ideal art should be able to be useless. Art, music, romance, and poetry, all of this is the closest thing that we have that is spiritual in this materialist world. I mean, scientists, mathematicians they are all bound and limited by logic and measurement and all of that but suddenly a scientist can fall in love and when they fall in love logic doesn’t make any sense and nothing makes sense but at the same time also everything makes sense. Everything that logically doesn’t make sense makes sense. I think without many of the artists realising that as soon as you try to be a good artist the war between uselessness and usefulness begins. This is maybe bothering people and I think it is good.


M: What similarities do you think there are between a meditative state and creating a work of art?

R: It can be similar, because in meditation there is no meditation such as keeping a notebook next to you, write it down and record everything. Whatever comes, especially in Buddhism, you are supposed to shrug off, no hope, no fear, no jotting it down. I guess if an artist can do that I think they become much more creative because they don’t get stuck with one idea.

By Ani Lodro Palmo

M: Sand Mandalas, Kseniya Simonova’s Sand Animation, Ice Sculptures – for instance – are transient art. Do you think that ephemeral art is a higher form of artistic expression because in the end what is created is destroyed?

R: I think that’s a very good idea. The idea is good but nowadays everything has become so commercialised. It would be so good if somebody made a really amazing Sand Mandala or an Ice Castle without any audience and the manufacturing date or expiry date is never known. These days even the renunciation of a person is recorded and made a big who-ha about it. If somebody renounces the world then it will be publicised. Not the best thing to do is it?


M: In your view what role does the artist have in society today?

R: To create harmony. Definitely. Harmony is so important.


M: And how does an artist achieve that?

R: To really make people realise their own potential and their own weakness, both, through whatever medium they are using. Not just entertainment, not just through creating distractions but to really make you believe.


M: When you visit small galleries in London, Paris and New York and view the work of young emerging artists – what do you think of their art?

R: I am so bad with these because I am not really trained, I don’t know especially the modern arts. I am still trying and learning to appreciate it.


M: What about Impressionist artists? Are there any paintings or Old Masters that you admire?

R: Oh they are amazing, just mind-boggling. Amazing!


M: Any particular artist or artwork that you really admire?

R: Many, many Russian artists. The ones in Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Wow! The works there are just amazing.


M: Do you think artists can enhance their skills at art schools or do you think it is preferable for artistic skills to emerge without any formal training?

R: Both. I think artists  isolate themselves too much from the rest of the world.

I would like to say that I wish many artists should try to become politicians. That’s what is lacking.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche with Maree Tenzin at Khyentse Labrang in Bir, India. Dec. 2011


Expressing Truth

Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche No. 47, oil on paper

Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche

By Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche

“For me, painting is a means to express the truth one discovers through meditation. The essential practice of meditation is to allow the mind to express itself freely without fear or judgment. In each moment of awareness we encounter impressions of the outer world through our sense perceptions as well as our inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When we are able to let this incredible array of experience be, without trying to reject what we fear or pull in what we are attracted to—when we relax into experience without trying to manipulate it in any way—we have a complete experience of mind, naked and unaltered. Painting, when it is free of such notions as beauty and ugliness or should and shouldn’t, can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the unfabricated nature of their own mind.”

Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche

Link to Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche talk Integrating Art and Wisdom

No. 47, oil on paper By Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche

by Dzigar Kontrol Rinpoche

Dissolving the External Display

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche (1931-2011)

By Jakob Leschly

Sublime artists always give energy to others through their art. When they die, they do not leave ordinary inert substance art as a lifeless remainder, but their pure spiritual power lives in their art for the benefit of others.
Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche – a.k.a. Dungsey Rinpoche, “precious heart son” – passed away on Tuesday, December 27, 2011, in Palm Desert, California. He was 80 years old, and is survived by three daughters and four sons, the eldest of which is Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.

Rinpoche was the eldest heart son of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987), and was regarded as the incarnation of Tertön Trimey (1881-1924), the life in which he was born as the son of the first Dudjom Rinpoche, Traktung Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904). Rinpoche was also regarded as the re-embodiment of Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363), “The Great Omniscient One’ the Nyingma master who gathered and transmitted the oral and rediscovered lineages of the Great Perfection teachings.

Thinley Norbu Rinpoche completed his training under his father, and continued to study extensively with several great masters at the Mindroling monastery in Central Tibet. In the wake of the Tibetan exodus, Rinpoche taught and spread Dudjom Rinpoche’s treasure teaching in Bhutan, and in the late 1970s he travelled to the West where he continued to live and teach until his passing.

It’s impossible to describe the infinite qualities of a sublime being. Conventionally one could say Thinley Norbu Rinpoche was an extraordinarily powerful, wise, and engaging presence. Elegant and sophisticated, he had an intensely personal way of relating to whomever he met. He possessed a great sense of humour, and a profound love of art and beauty. At all times he effortlessly displayed enlightenment and the qualities of the teaching, and for those students fortunate enough to spend time with him, he was fully committed in guiding them in every aspect of the path. In Rinpoche’s sangha, children were always included with Rinpoche being very attentive to even the minutest aspect of their education, empowering and guiding them in cultivating joy, peace, and values.

Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche leaves behind him a rich legacy of sublime Buddhist instruction. He wrote beautifully in both Tibetan and English, conveying the Buddhist teaching with a clear sense of his audience, and with a playful grasp of imagery and language. Rinpoche challenged both the religious bent of traditional Asian cultures, as well as the nihilist assumptions of modern culture. His numerous published works provide both a clear foundational understanding, as well as the more profound and subtle instructions of Buddhist view and practice.

Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche will be cremated in Bhutan on March 3rd. As Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche and other lamas have stated, with the passing of a sublime being, we no longer should externalise him or her, but mingle with their wisdom.

In the crystal mirror theatre of Awareness Mind the supreme artist performs his magical displays, but rare is the clear insight audience capable of viewing this wisdom.

From Magic Dance – Thinley Norbu Rinpoche


The Display of the Self-Nature of the Five Wisdom Dakinis

by Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche


Five Wisdom Sisters,
If we do not complement you,
you become five witches,
making us ill and bringing us suffering.
Because we cannot banish you,
always our fate depends on you.

Five Wisdom Sisters,
If we do complement you,
you become five angels,
making us healthy and bringing us happiness.
Because we cannot separate from you,
always our fate depends on you.

Five Wisdom Sisters,
Nothing can be done without depending on your mood.
Farmers cannot grow their crops,
Politicians cannot rule their countries,
Engineers cannot work their machines,
Doctors cannot heal their patients,
Scientists cannot do their research,
Philosophers cannot make their logic,
Artists cannot create their art,
without depending on your mood.

Five Wisdom Sisters,
Nothing can be known without depending on your grace.
Tibetan lamas cannot chant with cool highland habit,
Indian gurus cannot sing with warm lowland habit,
Japanese roshis cannot sit with dark cushion habit,
Muslim sheikhs cannot dance with bright robed habit,
Jewish rabbis cannot pray with soft-voiced habit
Without depending on your grace.

Five Wisdom Sisters,
Even the most mysterious miracles cannot occur without complementing your purity.
Buddha Shakyamuni cannot rest with tranquil gaze of his lotus eyes
underneath the Bodhi tree,
Guru Padmasambhava cannot play magically with countless sky-walking dakinis,
Lord Jesus cannot walk weightlessly across the water,
Prophet Moses cannot see the radiantly burning bush,
Brahmin Saraha-pa cannot straighten arrows,
singing wisdom hymns with his arrow-maker girl,
Crazy saint Tilopa cannot eat fish and torture Naropa,
Greatest yogi Milarepa cannot remain in his cave, singing and accepting hardships
Without complementing your purity.

You are so patient.
Whoever wants to stay,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot stay.
Whoever wants to go,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot go.
Whoever wants to taste or touch,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot taste or touch.
Whatever our actions,
You are always supporting
Patiently without complaining.
But we ignorant beings are always ungrateful,
Stepping on you,

Calling you Earth.
You are so constant.
Whoever wants to be purified,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot be purified.
Whoever wants to quench their thirst,
If you don’t exist,

Cannot quench their thirst.
Whoever wants to hear,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot hear
Whatever our actions,
You are always flowing
Ceaselessly without complaining.
But we desiring beings
Are always ungrateful,
Splashing you,

Calling you Water.
You are so clear.
Whoever wants to fight,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot fight.
Whoever wants to love,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot love.
Whoever wants to see,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot see.
Whatever our actions,
You are always glowing
Unobscuredly without complaining.
But we proud beings
Are always ungrateful
Smothering you,

Calling you Fire.
You are so light.
Whoever wants to rise,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot rise.
Whoever wants to move,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot move.
Whoever wants to smell,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot smell.
Whatever our actions,
You are always moving
Weightlessly without complaining.
But we envious beings
Are always ungrateful,
Fanning you,

Calling you Air.
You are so open.
Whoever wants to exist,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot exist.
Whoever doesn’t want to exist,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot cease to exist.
Whoever wants to know phenomena,
If you don’t exist,
Cannot know phenomena.
Whatever our actions,
You are always welcoming
Spaciously without complaining.
But we ignorant beings
Are always ungrateful,
Emptying you,

Calling you Space.
You are our undemanding slave,
Tirelessly serving us,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings to fulfill our worldly wishes.
You are our powerful queen,
Seductively conquering us,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings,
Into desirable qualities.
You are our Wisdom Dakini,
Effortlessly guiding us with your magic dance,
From ordinary beings to sublime beings,
Into desireless qualities.
And so,
I want to introduce you.

Cosmic Dance Mandala from Tharpaling Monastery Bumthang














Please read A Message from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Thinley Norbu Rinpoche’s paranivarna


Authentic Study

the lineage

Excerpts of an interview with Charlotte Davis by Paul Ferguson
Nov 2011


How did you come to study thangka painting?

I decided to study thangka painting when I was coming to the end of my studies at art school in Australia. I didn’t feel so attracted to the contemporary art world, dominated at the school I went to by Post-Modern theory and wanted to study thangka painting so that I could combine my interest in Buddhism with my interest in art. I asked one of my teachers whether he knew of anywhere I could study and he told me about the Tsering Art School, which had just started. I joined the school in April 1998 and ended up staying for the next 6 ½ years, completing the training and also working for the school.


Guru Rinpoche, 2000 By Charlotte Davis

How did your appreciation/attraction grow for thangkas once you decided to make the switch?

Although I didn’t initially have a great attraction for thangka painting as a style, after arriving at the school and becoming familiar with the Karma Gadri style, I have really grown to love and admire this tradition. I find the colours and spacious landscapes very appealing. I also find it somewhat more naturalistic than some of the Tibetan traditions, especially in the landscape, in that softer Chinese-influenced style very beautiful and uplifting. In terms of the process, I also really loved the feeling of just being a vessel for the art form, and going through a process that was probably more in line with pre-modern European art and the apprentice model. I never had any feeling that I was being limited in my creativity either. There are still many choices that are made by the artist and different artists have different styles, without in any way necessarily breaking the rules of the tradition. My main inspiration was our teacher, Konchog Lhadrepa, not just in his obvious genius as an artist, but his personal qualities of warmth, wisdom and humour as well as depth of devotion, humility and hard work, showing his strength and example as a person and practitioner.


It sounds like you got in on the ground floor for Tsering Art school when it was just opening. Could you tell me a bit about how those early days of the school were for you?

The school had already been running for two years while the art school building was being built. I just very quickly felt at home. It was quite scary of course to leave all that was familiar to me, and there were some big learning curves in terms the cultural differences, the food and so on. But I was very touched by people’s kindness and the aspects of softness and simplicity of the culture and people (combined with a lot of toughness!). Pretty soon Konchog asked me to help with some of the administrative work for the school, especially where English was needed. I was really delighted to be able to be able to practise some “karma yoga” in this way. I think having something outside of studies to occupy myself with in this way also helped to feel at home.

In terms of the discipline of study, certainly six hours sitting cross-legged with a slate or board on your lap is pretty painful for the knees! But it was good training for sitting practice. The daily schedule is rigorous, but I got used to it and found it a good support. So I really just became immersed in life at the school and then there was the Boudhanath Stupa just a few minutes away and being able to observe and slowly become a part of the life of the monastery and school. Being woken up in the morning by the chanting of the small monks below the school, the endless bells, for meals and classes. The life was tough, spare, and full of heart.


Hayagriva, 2001 By Charlotte Davis

Do you still use the same materials in which you were trained or have you experimented more? What have you discovered through either method? I know it might be hard to find certain materials outside Nepal such as the gold.

I experimented a bit with the last thangka I did, using acrylic on canvas, although we also experimented quite a lot at the art school anyway. The school has developed a method of painting with acrylic paints that match the traditional colours and texture very authentically. Practically speaking it being more hard-wearing and durable in humid environments and easier to apply. Konchog’s approach is not particularly ‘precious’, when it comes to the materials needing to be of stone pigments etc, which I like in the sense of this being a living tradition and not feeling the need to do everything exactly as it was in the past, for it to be considered ‘authentic’. This is an issue for many indigenous cultures, for their artforms to still be accepted outside of the domain of the museums as a living tradition that can adapt to the times in terms of materials available.

From my understanding, the authenticity of the art lies in the training and the motivation. At Tsering Art School we learn Karma Gadri tradition, so important to really learn the style and methods of that tradition and to adhere by it, but once a student graduates, it comes down to the individual artist’s interest and nowadays many artists want to create their own style. As long as the proportions and iconography are correct and the inner understanding of the purpose and meaning of the art is there, it is still authentic in that sense. But the understanding of what each tradition consists of is eroding. Even though my own knowledge is still pretty limited, I do know enough now to see that many times, even on art websites and books, thangkas are incorrectly designated “Karma Gadri” or “Menri” etc. I was fortunate to have had time with Konchog where he pointed out many differences and it made me appreciate that it would be very difficult for art scholars to be able to make those distinctions. Konchog could say something like: “Oh this is a thangka painted in the Karma Gadri tradition, but by a Menri artist”. Or “this is Karma Gadri, but the clouds are Menri!

Another thing I think sometimes misunderstood is that the quality of the work is really defined mostly by the quality of the drawing, much more than the technical perfection of the colour-work. This is because, along with the consecration once the thangka is complete, the blessing of the work comes through the correct proportions, as outlined in the tantras. This is also really the basis of the aesthetic beauty of the work as well.



You are also a student of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. How do find your thangka practice relates to your other Buddhist practices under this lama?

It does relate to the Buddhist trainings we receive in basic ways as a lot of patience, discipline, and diligence is required to really progress in this form (having said that, I don’t claim to be an adept myself as, lacking in these qualities, I keep allowing myself to be distracted by other activities!). In fact it can be shown to be a practice of all six paramitas. Of course, it is also a practice of shamata meditation, as any practice of concentration could be said to be, but in this case the object of concentration is a dharma image so there is a direct relationship there with the practice of meditative concentration.

Then, as we are usually depicting deities and Buddhas for visualisation practice, it does relate directly to sadhana practice. In the teachings we receive from the manual written by the Principle Konchog Lhadrepa, the direct relationship between thangka painting and the practice of kyerim or development stage and dzogrim, completion stage, is explained, I think this is a unique teaching, in the sense that it has not previously been written down and explained so clearly. I have been attempting to write down these instructions in English for the non-Tibetan students, to be published later this year. I think this will be very helpful for people practising thangka painting. It also includes a special sadhana for artists to use during the process of their painting, which was written by a great master from the Drikung Kagyu tradition. So our art practice relates directly to the sadhana practice and especially the practice of visualisation.

Regarding your question about relating it more directly to my practice under my specific gurus, is that I can make an offering to my teacher of a work of art, which is something that has felt very meaningful for me as a practice of guru devotion. I feel that the image that my teachers choose to have me paint often relates in subtle ways to confirming something specific about my own path and connections as well, but that is quite personal, so I’d rather not be more specific about that. The other thing of course, is that I can paint an image of whatever deity I am practising and been empowered for under that teacher, so it does relate very much to our own practice under the guidance of our lamas.


Jigme Lingpa, 2010 By Charlotte Davis

What do you hope to see develop in the preservation of this art-form in regards to both its creation as well as its use within Buddhist communities?

I think there is a lot that is happening to preserve the art form as a living tradition. There are western Buddhists like ourselves training in this artform and in the communities from which these traditions come from. I think that schools like Tsering Art School play an important role in the sense that its main focus is not just to preserve the artistic tradition but to convey it from the context of Buddhist practice. I have also heard that the Karma Gadri tradition is again flourishing in Tibet. In terms of its use in Buddhist communities, many of our graduates from the local Buddhist communities have gone on to paint temples for monasteries and individuals. I think the main thing is that there are teachers who are very experienced and well trained who are able to pass this on authentically to others.

One thing I would like to see is greater education in the West amongst Buddhist practitioners in the appreciation of the importance of the sacred Buddhist arts for the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism. The commissioning of thangkas is an accumulation of merit and of course making offerings to these images and statues, once consecrated is also a great accumulation of merit. The study of the sacred arts is actually one of the five disciplines of a bodhisattva, so traditionally it has been greatly appreciated and in fact it could be said that the continuation of this tradition is intrinsically entwined with the continuation of the dharma itself, as these images are used as a support for practice and to depict the lineages of practice and so on.

It seems to me that the digital age could threaten this appreciation somewhat. If people only wish to save money by getting reproductions, eventually the role of the artist will lack support and there will be fewer artists with the knowledge and skills to keep this going. Thankfully in the East at least there is still enough appreciation of the role of the sacred arts to keep the traditions going.



The Tsering Art School and Rabsel Thangka Studio

Artists working at this studio are all authentically trained graduates from the six year painting course at Shechen Monastery’s Tsering Art School in Nepal

Tsering Art School

Thangkas are used by Vajrayana Buddhist practitioners to assist the meditator in clearly visualising their meditation deity. Commissioning a thangka painting is also regarded as a way of generating spiritual merit.

The Tsering Art School, housed in the grounds of Shechen Monastery in Nepal, is part of the Dilgo Khyentse Fellowship. It was established by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche in 1996 in response to the urgent need for young artists to be able to receive a complete and thorough training in a pure and authentic lineage of thangka painting. At this time he requested Konchog Lhadrepa to teach. Konchog is a humble and devoted practitioner and master thangka painter who received training under the guidance of a master thangka painter from Rumtek, at the request of his guru Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The artists have been trained under the expert guidance of Konchog Lhadrepa and his senior disciples in a lineage of painting from eastern Tibet called Karma Gadri, which is famous its spacious landscapes and transparent hues. The training has been given within the proper context of Buddhist practice.

The Lineage

The Rabsel Thangka Studio was initially formed for some of the graduate students to fulfill a large thangka painting project for Shechen Monastery, with generous sponsorship from the Rubin Foundation from the USA. The studio is now broadening its scope, with more graduate artists joining to help fulfill commissions from around the world.

The school also makes an annual art calendar with Western and Tibetan dates, quality Shechen Incense products, traditional ritual tailored items and embroidered and appliqué thangkas as well as wooden tormas.

To enquire about study or to commission a thangka, please contact Lobsang Dolma on or visit the website at

Art as Celebration of Unlimited Reality

Lhatsun Namkha Jigme – ShechenB

By Jakob Leschly

One of the things we need to remember about Buddhist art, and perhaps sacred art in general, is that it is not situated within a fragmented world view. The familiar split we in the modern world more or less consciously subscribe to, a three-way divorce between science, ethics, and art, does not generally apply to sacred art. Sacred art expresses undiluted reality, reality properly seen, and as such it represents knowledge and insight, which again has an immensely constructive role in providing vision and values – the key ingredients in a good life, as well as in the case of Buddhism, the foundation for enlightenment. While the poverty of a world that has separated beauty from truth and moral direction is increasingly palpable, one can still appreciate the brilliance of the cultures that have not fallen prey to such bad science.

Modern Optics

The sacred as a realistic perspective on our experience is almost a contradiction in the modern world, where the sacred is often constructed as part of the great and soothing myths or narratives that are anything but realistic. But then again, the modern view of reality is quite different from most other cultures. The modern world’s view on reality is founded on an amputated science that excludes consciousness and spirit from observable matter, with real science exclusively operating with so-called objective knowledge – data and information exclusively established on the basis on what can be measured and empirically verified. Anything beyond that is problematic; anything that has to do with what we really live for is a grey zone. Go figure it out yourself – don’t come looking for wisdom in the hallowed halls of Stanford, Cambridge or Leiden!

In our modern culture, the real issues of our existence – those of our heart and mind – are traditionally the domains of ethics and religion. Sadly, for the modern believer in science, ethics are generally regarded as something impossibly relative, and religion is seen as founded on impossible fairy tales. Ethics and religion appear to have little to do with reasoning. And far from both science and religion, art has retreated to a neighbourhood that celebrates human creativity without any particular allegiance to either of the former two. At times a guru, at times an entertainer, at times a rebel, art generally has no pretence of representing more than fragments of human reality. The source of its inspiration is indeed often beauty and love, but also just as often confusion and suffering.


The Context of Sacred Reality

Sacred art, or the art of awakening, as we find it in Buddhism, and in numerous other sacred art traditions, is founded on a holistic vision that unites science with religion as the path that enables the awakening to reality. Science as truth and valid knowledge is key in Buddhism. We could translate the Sanskrit term for Buddhism, Dharma, as the study or law of reality. So a Buddhist studies to acquire a vision or grasp of reality, and the practice of Dharma is appreciated as eliminating confusion and dogma and unveiling what is undeceiving and valid. The Dharma is embraced not through blind faith or belief, but rather on the basis of a decisive critique of the deluded assumptions about reality that inevitably lead to suffering. Sacred art is based on liberation from delusion, and an unlimited vision of reality. Such vision reflects accurate knowledge of reality, and accurate knowledge of what leads to happiness and liberation. Such science is wisdom, and, being the domain of the sage, not the scientist, she is happily married to both ethical practice and the joy of artistic expression.

Liberation and enlightenment has inspired an immense production of art that celebrates its immanence and validity. In that enlightenment is regarded as pinnacle of life’s potential, Buddhist art everywhere celebrates this vision in paintings, sculptures, architecture, and calligraphy, flower-arranging, not to mention empty space – the gap that allows us to appreciate both space and the content of space. While the Sutra traditions, particularly Zen, celebrate the nature of wisdom through the beauty of uncluttered space, the Tantric traditions celebrate the inseparability of wisdom and its manifest qualities, reflected in an immense wealth of vivid and powerful sacred art, that also includes music, dance, and sensuality.

Engaging with the Sacred

Sacred art is not objectified and passively beheld as is common in our cultural practice of viewing art. Sacred art is seen as speaking to, or invoking, an inner heritage of what is profound and real, and so its real value is not in the external support – the piece of art itself. The experience of being touched profoundly by what is intuited as real can be called blessing, and as such the piece of art is not merely observed, but is seen as something that we interact or connect with. It touches us and provides us with the relief of recognising an inner wealth that lies beyond the stranglehold of our self-imposed limitation – samsara. For that reason, sacred art in Buddhism is sometimes viewed as a nirmanakaya, or physical manifestation of enlightenment.

Buddhist cultures, and other cultures that live with a sacred vision, do not celebrate their art through merely placing them in museums or galleries; sacred art is celebrated everywhere: in the streets, in the temples, in the hills, in the fields, in workplaces and homes, rendering immanent the sacred that is innate to all life, and providing a possibility of doing so. The sacred is celebrated with innumerable offerings, such as flowers, incense, light, song, poetry, and in the best case – a non-dual appreciation of the sacred within.

In front of sacred art, one does not dwell on some perceived gap between the sacred and one self, but extends a gesture of appreciation and connects with the sacred, or buddha nature, through bowing down and making offerings. In Indian and Tibetan temples, the shrine consists of two aspects: first, the support for the sacred – statues, books, objects, and secondly the place where the offerings are placed. A shrine is not a static institution, but is lively interacted with through honouring the support of the sacred through bowing, and through making offerings. These practices are generally done first thing in the morning, and they are continued throughout the day.

Vision of Life

We can see this practice of connecting with a greater vision of reality in cultures that have so far been untouched by the modern practice of leaving the primary concern of all life – happiness – to being a random private project that is inevitably subject to subjective confusion. In almost any other culture beside that of modernity, sacred art permeates all fabrics of societies with a vibrant way of connecting with, and celebrating, that which is real, and that which brings, on one hand the conditions for temporary and ordinary happiness and, on the other hand, liberation and enlightenment.

Disclaimer: the author apologises for any irritation or discomfort brought on by this article. Raised in the simple-minded cult of modern western rationality, he has had to de-program himself from numerous kinds of blind faith, assumptions, and dogma, and only gradually has the brilliant logic, vision, and liberation of innumerable Buddhist masters been able to penetrate his traumatised mind and heart, and resuscitate a minimal degree of natural sanity. A work in progress, his journey has unceasingly been inspired by the immense luminous beauty and power of traditional Tibetan art.

Lhatsun Namkha Jigme - from Shechen Archives

Of Courtesan Songs and Sanskrit Sutras


by Vidya Rao

There was always music in the house when I was growing up. My mother loved music, and though she was not a professional singer, she sang all the time in her strong, pure voice. She would listen to all the great singers who came to perform in the town where I grew up; I would go with her. Sometimes I would doze half way through those all-night events, when singer followed great singer, until the first rays of dawn, when we would all go home, sleepy and replete with all that we had heard.

There was one kind of song that particularly entranced me. Very rarely was it sung, very few people sang it, and when it was heard at all, it was always only at the end of a concert. Light, lilting songs of love and separation and yearning, their cadences stayed with me long after we went home, back to our ordinary lives. I learnt that those songs were called Thumri and I learnt that most people I met and spoke with considered them less than appropriate.  Some years later, more worldly-wise now, I understood why. Thumri had, only a few years before this, been the exclusive preserve of the courtesan singers. In a recently independent, rapidly modernising India attempting to reclaim and reinterpret its past, Thumri —erotic, associated with the courtesan singers and the feudal courts of the nineteenth century—was considered highly problematic, and certainly not something a young middle class girl should be wanting to learn! Middle class women had only very recently entered the world of music as listeners, students and performers. When they did enter this world, it was generally to study, and perform the more respectable ‘male’ forms like khayal and dhrupad. These styles are formal, more structured, less emotional and certainly less focused on the erotic. Many years later, a grown woman now, I was fortunate to find a guru who taught me Thumri. And that is what , as a professional singer, I generally perform.

Deer Park Sarasvati Photo Raymond Steiner

I began learning music when I was seven. Like all young women of the time whose parents were broadminded enough to allow them music lessons, I too began with training in khayal singing. Simultaneously, at school—the Krishnamurti Foundation-run Rishi Valley—I learnt Sanskrit chanting. I remember those morning assemblies at school when we would chant verses from the Vedas and the Upanishads, a practice that has also stayed with me over the years. The three-note structure, typical of vedic chanting brings a quietness and meditative quality into one’s being. The texts themselves are exquisite reminders of the Teachings that, by articulating in my own voice every day, I am able to bring into my life in a kind of embodied way.

But equally, Sanskrit chanting also lends a gravitas, resonance and depth to the voice. It is also, as I understand it a kind of articulated breath-work, or pranayam. So not only does this chanting create a sense of calm abiding, but it is also excellent exercise for the voice. Moreover, the structure of Sanskrit with its long compound words filled with consonant clusters poses a contrast to the elongated vowel sounds typical of Thumri. The practice of enunciating Sanskrit poses both a challenge and an opportunity to engage with a very different sound-linguistic structure, which again, I believe lends tone and texture to the voice. I still begin the morning with silent meditation followed by chanting of Sanskrit verses from both Buddhist and Hindu texts.

My growing interest in Buddhism—an interest that began in my school days– led me to teachings by several masters, and especially by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I would long to be able to offer my music to him, and to place it in the service of the dharma. Miraculously, one day, several years ago, Lama Doboom Tulku Rimpoche of New Delhi’s Tibet House asked me to chant sutras in Sanskrit on the morning of Buddha Jayanti, the day of Buddha’s birth. It was a lovely morning in May, unusually cool for that time of year. A small group of practitioners met in Delhi’s lovely Buddha Jayanti park before the statue of the Buddha which has been presented to the people of India by His Holiness. We meditated against the background of chirping birds and the laughter of children picnicking on the grass. Verses from the Buddhist texts were chanted in different languages like Pali and Japanese. I recited verses in Sanskrit. We meditated again, and then shared a welcome breakfast, before going back to our busy lives. After that auspicious day, I was fortunate to be asked to recite sutras in Sanskrit on many occasions, and several times in the presence of His Holiness too.

Then one day, again quite miraculously, I was asked by Prashant Verma, now Director of the Deer Park Institute in India to chant sutras at the inauguration of a monastery at Bir in Himachal Pradesh and in the presence of His Holiness. That was my first meeting with Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche, and the beginning too of what I believe is a life-long connection with Rimpoche, and with the Deer Park Institute. It was with Rimpoche’s encouragement that I undertook to record the album Dharma Nada for the Deer Park Institute.

Vidya Rao

How, one might ask, do I reconcile these two aspects of my musical life– the singing of an erotic courtesan form like Thumri, and of the austere, structured Buddhist chants. Thumri, as a form, is set squarely in the everyday world, secular, earthy, and calculated to evoke desire. On the other hand, the Buddhist sutras encode the abstract and highly philosophical teachings on bodhichitta, wisdom and method and especially, emptiness. Yet for me, it is precisely the dance of these two forms and philosophical ways of being in the world that I believe gives me a balance that allows me to live in this world. To engage with it deeply, and yet not be swamped by its bewildering experiences, to begin perhaps to understand the brilliance and vibrancy of beloved form as essentially, and equally belovedly, empty. I believe that if I had to make do with only one of these musical spaces, I would be, as the sutras say, a bird with only one wing— and I need both these wings to fly. Living and working with these two very different musical forms, I am able to play hide and seek with form and emptiness, recognising that both have their place, both are precious, and an understanding of both is essential.


A book review of Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi

Legendary singer, Naina Devi was born into a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family in the early years of the twentieth century. A childhood replete with music, dance, theatre and social reform gave way to the grandeur and seclusion of the life of a young queen of the Kapurthala royal family of Punjab. Despite seventeen years of silence necessitated by the norms of a royal household, she came back to music and a glorious career as a singer, arts-administrator, teacher and patron, after the tragic death of her husband.

Heart to Heart, traces Naina Devi’s incredible story as she told it to her disciple, Vidya Rao. Naina Devi’s story traces the changes in the world of Indian classical music, women singers and women in Indian society over the last century. Learning seena-ba-seena, heart to heart, in a seamless blend of music and life-lessons, Rao imbibed not just a knowledge of her chosen form, Thumri, but a sense of the very being of her teacher.

The evocative narrative weaves back and forth between historical record and memory, past and present, and between  Naina Devi’s voice and Rao’s own. It illuminates the power and beauty of music, the lives of these two women and of many others, of courage, pain, joy and love, and of the deep bond between Rao and her beloved Guru.


Engaging Sarasvati


By Douglas Mills

In Buddhism, Shri Sarasvati Devi is the consort of Manjushri. She is also closely associated with Prajñaparamita, Shri Devi, Vasudhari, Maha Devi and Durga Ekajati.

There is a temple near Bir in Himachal Pradesh with a statue of Maha Devi Durga Sarasvati which is over 500 years old. See pictures.

Fresco portraying Sarasvati, Mahadevi and Durga Photo Douglas Mills

500 year old statue of Mahadevi Photo Douglas Mills

View back to Bir from temple Photo Douglas Mills







































There are many praises and sadhanas of Sarasvati in sanskrit and tibetan in both the oral and revealed treasure lineages.
One may find sadhanas to Sarasvati in the collection of sadhanas of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and the collected treasures of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo practiced a form of Manjushri and Sarasvati riding on a blue lion.

See how she is depicted in the original sanskrit :

Hymn to Shri Sarasvati.

Your manifestations thoroughly destroy the afflictions like the scent of the jasmine flower,

your appearance radiantly beautiful, shining protector

sublimely playing a beautifully adorned vina,

your body brilliant white, seated in lotus asana.

Your sacred resonance streams forth as auspicious

offerings and praises to the devas, a celebratory proclamation of purity.

Sovereign Bhagavati Sarasvati, entirely dispelling, without remainder, any lack of discernment.

I offer this hymn of praise to Sarasvati, the mighty patron of knowledge, the lotus eyed one,

wisdom taking form, distinguished queen, the very embodiment of awareness.


Her activity is described in the sadhana text as follows:
Excerpts from the sadhana called ‘The Melodic Tambura’.

Homage to You, the shining essence of resonance, the Svarasvati.

Svarasvati, Nada Bhava, (the origin of vibration),
the Devi of speech who has mastery over all resonance,
resting in emptiness,
the origin of all eloquent exposition and the tambura, care for me.

In order to fulfill one’s aspirations for the attainment of sublime intelligence and the very quintessence of resonance,
this play of the descent of supreme liberation of the vajra devi Sarasvati is set forth….

Bhagavati Vakk’ishvari, queen of speech,
through the power of my heart of devotion,
from the entire abundance of seed syllables,
blossoms this hymn of praise as an offering to your ears.

Knowing myriads of poetry,
an effortless waterfall of praises imbibes the waves of your youthful beauty.
You are the ocean of engagement,
brimming with the limitless discernment of the Jinas.

Born from unity, elegant queen of sentient beings who traverses the sky,
holding the appearance of the moon’s reflection,
light of the moon like the conch and kunda flower,
your appearance moistens a hundred answers with the vase that emanates joyous amrita,
the medicine that dispels the disease of the gradations of existence.

Beautifying like the petals of the utpala come your joyous,
lightning quick, playful glances from the corner of your eyes,
the flush of your cheeks displays the intoxication of faith,
your raga of intelligence clarifys any enquiry whatsoever.

Your lips, the lushness of bimpa petals, the very rasa of reality,
your teeth a garland of white moon pillars
and the embrace of your dancelike display of ripening knowledge
is fully supported by this effulgence. ….

Another excerpt from a sadhana called The Secret Practice of Red Sarasvati With Five Deities:

To the queen of all primordial wisdom, the devi who demonstrates the embodiment of intelligence,
bestowing superior memory and understanding, Vajra Sarasvati, my head is at your feet.

Provisional translations by Douglas Mills.

Sarasvati Photos Janine Schulz and Noa Jones

It Takes Two


Robert Spellman

Rinpoche with Robert Photo Emily Crow

Artistic practice and meditation practice make fine companions. They are mutually complementary, one illuminating what may not be apparent in the other. This interplay is useful in exposing deception, perception’s twisted sister. Drawing a simple object enhances our ability to see while simultaneously revealing how inaccurately we see. Meditation practice stabilizes the mind while simultaneously revealing how skittish the mind is. In my classes at Naropa University I recommend alternating between sessions of meditation and sessions of drawing. It is only a matter of time before the two meet, like long lost twins separated at birth.

February 5, 2012

Pewter Pitcher By Robert Spellman


Persimmon By Robert Spellman

Immateriality – intention as Art

immateriality love

Raphael Zimmerman

In the near future there will be widely recognised art forms that need no longer be object based. One could think of them as pure intention, conscious actions, interrelations, or perhaps communication. Their expanded levels of awareness could be described as “Intention being the forth dimension” or simply as Immateriality, extending our collective consciousness as well as our collective experience -making entire new dimensions (of) our own.

Despite their previous ‘non-existence’, these new dimensions are emerging into ever more popular conscious existence, not least through our participation in virtual cyber worlds and via artists deliberately creating within the freshly recognised fields of Social Sculpture and Immateriality to mention but a few.

In the beginning these consciousness expansions took the form of mental enhancement and mind training techniques fostered by the New Age Rebellion meeting with Eastern spirituality and not least through the effects of recreational mind-altering drugs combined with art and music.

Today’s Immateriality then, is becoming a valid and important art form because through its’ appreciation we are widening our self-awareness both individually and collectively. Becoming ever more aware, we enrich reality, take greater responsibility and realise more of the creative beings we are.

As Joseph Beuys said: “Each and everyone here is an artist.” Being Beuys, he was already further along the track – was already proclaiming these new fields of experience as politicised realms from where to consciously radiate out into different environments.

Art today is no longer just about imagery, or even abstract ideas, but more subtly, about greater self awareness alongside a newly linked super-awareness á la Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘third step’ in human consciousness evolution known as Noosphere.


Immateriality - Love By Raphael Zimmerman

Mixing Yin and Yang By Rapheal Zimmerman

Looking at Abstract Art Can Be Like Listening to Music By Rapheal Zimmerman

Joy By Rapheal Zimmerman

Chipping Away

Lotus by the Lake

Fiona White

Already an artist, Fiona got a yearning to learn how to carve stone so she did a course in the north west of Ireland. While on the course she went on a Buddhist meditation retreat in the southwest and was slowly more drawn into Buddhism. Through this, she came across mani stones. It seemed a natural progression to start carving them and bring together stone work and meditation. While carving the first mani stone she met Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and since then she has been on many trips to Bir in India, learning what she can. Carving when she can. Fiona has a commitment to carve 100 mani stones.

The benefit of mani stones is manifold. The mantras on the stone play and interact with the elements. It is said that they have the same energy, power and blessings as the Buddha they represent. And so, in the same way as chanting the mantra, creating and looking at them, has the power to heal and transform the mind. When they are out in the open, it is like they radiate the mantra and all the energy within it

Here are some beautiful examples of Traditional Mani stones , Fiona’s work and a link to her website with a video of her beautiful studio and environment in Ireland.

Mani mantra, Photo Fiona White

Mani wall, Chokling Gompa, Bir, Photo Fiona white

Vajra Guru Mantra, Photo Fiona White

Lotus by the Lake, Photos Fiona white

The Meditative Art of Integration

Sparshe By Caterina De Re

By Caterina De Re

“It is not that there is a particular line or tradition of art that comprises ‘dharma art’,” says Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche. “It can be abstract painting, Western painting, Eastern painting, it can be music, dance, football, skiing or anything; so long as the motivation is not polluted by negative emotions, it is dharma art.”

A surprisingly large number of interdisciplinary artists engage Buddhism. Many are dharma practitioners while others are not. I believe it very important to acknowledge artists who are not spiritually inclined and yet create stunning works reflecting altruism, generosity, mindfulness, compassion and wisdom. Over the last 25 years I have been training in meditation and the process to bring art and spiritual practice together is ongoing work. Mentorship with Pauline Oliveros paved a path for me to get into the skin of being an artist and validated the importance of meditation in the creative process.

Neuroplasticity and Art Performance

Sparshe was one body of work focused on the meditating body and mind. Initially it was presented as an installation performance piece with multiple video projections including one on my meditating body. Red satin fabric and meditation cushions covered the floor for viewers. I composed a soundscape from processed field recordings of pilgrimage and my own voice.

I was a subject for brain studies and meditation at Rutgers University and so was able to incorporate into my work fMRI scans of my brain. Performing meditation while bathed in imagery that included the landscape of my meditating mind was an exciting context given my interest in neuroplasticity.

The Art of Improvisation and Spontaneity

Trungpa Rinpoche said to Allen Ginsberg, “Why don’t you do like the great poets do, like Milarepa? … Why don’t you make poems up on the stage? … Don’t you trust your own mind?”

Vocal improvisation is my forte. For a time I was focused on transforming compelling industrial spaces into eclectic collaborative events that honored place, American history, spiritual power places and my own personal Buddhist pilgrimage. One memorable multi-media performance I created was The Gasholder Stupa. It was a structured improvisation with pre-worked pieces (like videos) but a lot of the performative action was created “on the spot”.

Upstate New York has no lack of impressive Victorian buildings but the Troy Gasholder Building stands unique for its huge resonant acoustic space. There was never a full rehearsal and the entire crew came together for the first time about an hour before the show opened. The Gasholder Stupa’s success I attribute to the heartfelt support of my extremely proficient and gifted collaborators. It was a most attentive in-the-moment practice. I still marvel at the all the connections that occurred at the right time with the right folk. The Gasholder Stupa was a crazy confluence of diverse elements like music, dance, video projections, and just as diverse themes like Victorian history, Tiffany glass, spoofing, a Tibetan horn and jazz cornet duel – even a space station mission.

Another example of trusting spontaneity was a video piece, Seven Minutes. It features Linda Montano whose art practice utilizes endurance, focus and spirituality. In Montano’s work, art and life boundaries evaporate. Her seven-year performance where each year focused on a chakra is iconic in performing art history. We had engaged in many discussions about meditation, leading me to create this video. The parameter was seven minutes and filmed in a single take. Montano’s art/life patterning the chakras I find masterfully eloquent and my editing process incorporated the colors.


Working as an artist is for me a practice that constantly challenges one’s habitual states. Improvisation stretches boundaries and by its nature a process that refines awareness and openness in the spacial environment. It is refreshingly “healing” and like most avant-garde shakes up your preconceived ideas, assists opening the mind and heart, and embraces all possibilities.

Sparshe by Caterina De Re Photo Kyra Garrigue


Caterina De Re is an interdisciplinary artist using experimental vocals, improvisation, performance, video and collaboration. Performing internationally as a vocalist, she has collaborated with renown improvisers & sound-makers including Pauline Oliveros, Peter Kowald, Dennis Rea, Michael Pestel and Strafe FR. She is the first Australian to gain certification in Deep Listening – the practice of Oliveros.

Given her extraordinary vocal range, she has a particular affinity with birdsong and performed at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and at Central Park Tropical Aviary in Manhattan. With Butoh master, Taketeru Kudo, she participated in a performance series devised by Michael Pestel called “Stray Birds”.

Caterina’s interest in Tibetan Buddhist epistemology is evident in her work with performance, electronic art and scholarship. While in Tibet, India and Nepal, she sonically and visually mapped spaces of spiritual activity that was later used in performances and compositions. She is particularly interested in the synthesis of Tibetan buddhist practice with contemporary art, especially with new media technologies in performance. For two graduate degrees this has been her field of specialization.


The Gasholder Stupa
Seven minutes

Creating a Space of Love


 While Drawing Portraits By Claudia Bueler 2011

Part 1

Art is a wonderful way to learn how to relate to people suffering from dementia. In observing elderly people during their creative process and later watching the results (aesthetics and perspective), we learn about their behaviour, their manner of perception, and the ways they handle their mental gaps. Being unable to cure the illness, we would ideally wish to be able to improve their attitude and the sensitivity of their interaction between generations: social caretakers, relatives and children and amongst the patients themselves.

As known in eastern art schools, meditation takes part of the creative process: before we even start with the art we are about to do, we sit. We generate a special moment of awareness, we feel the creative flow and we experience an empty space out of which art can be born.

Line drawing By Claudia Bueler

According to Chögyam Trungpa, having a specific intention and following a goal in art is already a form of aggression. But our minds are constantly chasing after goals, and so normally does the artist ; his result proves his skills and shows both his expression and what he wants to insinuate. In the spiritual approach to art you learn to empty yourself from the goal, from hope and fear.

Having worked with elderly people with dementia many times I noticed, that the persons seem to be able to feel whether I am chasing after a goal in working with them. I also noticed, that when I meditate before starting the creative dialogue it makes a huge difference for the encounter to happen.

People with dementia are usually not able to connect any information. The past and the future can´t be reasonably thought of any more. Consequently they are unable to follow a goal, but live very much in the present moment and can be in a state without thoughts for many minutes. There they forget about goals or conditions. A person who is willing to enjoy the present moment together with them helps them to feel safe. In this very moment we generate an open space for the aimless state of the artist before he takes up the brush.

When I am working with elderly people I draw their portraits. It takes me about an hour to finish a drawing. In this time I practice Tonglen as much as possible. Practising while I’m drawing seems the best preparation for my everyday work with elderly people with dementia. I noticed that it is easier to hold the concentration of the practice, when I meditate in the morning. The demented people seem to feel the difference as well; a feeling of mildness or loving kindness fills the space between the model and myself.


Part 2

In the second phase of the art project the drawings provide a template, which is consequently colored individually in the group. I call this setting “open atelier”, because it is open for everybody and, for dementia sufferers, there is no time limit.

The interest in looking at the portraits is strikingly high. Even people with very advanced dementia lean forward or stretch out their hands towards the portraits, and look at them for a long time. In general, we know little about the visual functions of old people with dementia.  The question, “What do you see when you look at this drawing?” is usually answered with “I don’t know.” It is better to wait patiently until activity can be seen in the old person’s eye movements. It is a matter of not asking questions that are loaded with expectation. Again it´s about letting go off goals.


Line drawing by Claudia Bueler coloured by dementia patient

In creative work, it sometimes happens that you don’t think about what you are doing and simply relinquish yourself to an internally determined direction. If you find this moment together with a dementia sufferer, there is a good chance that he or she will let themselves be carried into the process. These creative moments bring us on. The careful, intensive and extended (over a few days) work on a portrait mobilises the functions of the working memory. The senses are active and they interconnect. Associations are made. Conversations that arise now can contain clues to, or directly express, the things that move the people involved. “The Creative Flow” is as if the artist were being borne by a stream, spontaneously, effortlessly. If these conditions are simultaneously met, they forget all their concerns and even forget themselves as something separate from what was happening, and they become a part of something greater. This description comes very close to the feeling into which we in the creative group and the dementia sufferers can release ourselves together. If we switch our gaze from the so-called “deficits” of dementia across to what is possible, this atmosphere can emerge and be enjoyed. With dementia sufferers, we get to know the unpredictability and abundance of the moment. Together we experience what a transformative power the moment can have.


The spiritual seeker may wonder, why to enter into this process for demented people could be good. As we are looking for the gap, we might find it ironical to seek moments of reconnection for demented. I find that the very process of coming and going, of disconnection and reconnection is a mutual learning process. We still looking for ways to understand a dementia sufferer so that we gain abilities to create a better environment for them and learn to handle their states of being stuck in tears and negativity. It is our deep wish to be able to at least guide the suffering persons out of their momentary state, so that they have a chance to stay peaceful in this weird illness state of no thoughts. It might be an openness to love too, who knows?


Line drawing by Claudia Bueler coloured by dementia patient

In the moment in which I see that the person reading a portrait has re-awakened the motive force , I offer them paint and a brush, and assistance to help them pursue the desire to paint. The first questions before they reach for paint, “Would you like to paint, too?” or “Which colour fits with this?” can also be distractions, and that is why it is important to focus the attention on the line drawing, allowing painting to take place as if it were secondary. The reach for paint usually happens on impulse rather than after consideration. It is only in exceptional cases that people colour their own portraits; it is more usual that a portrait becomes their own only through the use of paint. The emphasis here is on the manner of painting, the brushstrokes, the selection of the picture and the duration of their focus and action, not on the choice of colour or the recognisability of the image.

After the end of the “open atelier”, there is an exhibition opening. The participants are present. In formulating the presentation, I take care to engage with the pictures in a lively way. The result is not the artistic development of an individual, but the representation of the group of dementia sufferers. I call it “A Mirror to the Encounter”. In this mirror, each encounter with the members of the group appears in its individual light and every project has its own dynamic, its own characteristic features. Originally, the presentation was conceived as an exhibition solely for the participants in order to strengthen the bonds within the group and to honour the individual participants. It is now organized as a public event.

The “Artecura Project with Portraits”, especially, delivers a contribution to the understanding of dementia and promotes dialogue with the relatives. The “art” that has been produced in this creative process deepens the general understanding for the demented person. All the faces, all the portraits, are very present to the observer. They say, “Look at me. I am here. I have a face.”