Traditional Art – Buddhist Thangka

 

Very likely one of the oldest Buddist symbols, the Wheel of Life is a popular theme in traditional Tibetan Buddhist art and it is known as the Thangka. Historically this highly skilled art form is commissioned for both spiritual and mundane matters, such as aiding the sick,  or to gain merit during commemoration of religious events.

At one time, Buddhist monks used to draw beautiful and complex mandalas on the ground, using colored sand. Once the Mandala was completed, it was removed as conclusion of the ritual, a strong symbol of the impermanence of reality.

 

patan Temple Katmandu

 

 

 

 

One of our treasured artistic possessions from a trip to Bhaktapur, in Nepal, is a Tibetan Buddhist Thankgka painted on silk, pictured below.

 

Buudhist art Apologies for the reflection on the image.

 

Thangkas are painted by the monks themselves, and the art form demands great mastery over drawing, as well as a high understanding of the geometric and iconographic principles within this style of traditional art.

Lamas and pilgrims would carry them in ceremonial processions and Thangkas were hung in monasteries as a way to display Buddhist teachings, in pictorial form.

Certain pictorial elements are outlined in 24 carat gold and are still considered an important method for studying and preserving the religion, history, culture and traditions of the Himalyan countries of Tibet, India and Nepal.

Here you can see the painstaking and long hours needed to produce this work of art:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YyptY72-rk]

What do the Symbols Mean?

This art form is highly formalized typically seen as four or five concentric rings, or their symbolic equivalents, depicting the realms of existence associated with the journey towards enlightenment.

 

  • In the central ring, you will often find the intertwined images of a pig, a rooster, and a snake which symbolically depict the three “kleshas,” (mental states affecting actions), being ignorance, greed and aggression, called Samsara. These three states characterize the world of suffering and dissatisfaction.The snake and bird can be seen coming out of the mouth of the pig, indicating that anger and attachment arise from ignorance. At the same time the snake and the bird grasp the tail of the pig, indicating that they both promote even greater ignorance.

 

  • Half of the second ring depicts light, showing contented people moving upwards to higher states, possibly to the higher realms whilst the remaining half-circle, (usually dark), shows people in a miserable state being led downwards to lower states, or realms. These images represent karma, the law of cause and effect. The light half-circle indicates people experiencing the results of positive actions, the dark indicating negative action.

Propelled by their karma, beings take rebirth in the six realms of Samsara, as shown in the next ring.

 

  • The outer rim of the wheel is often divided into twelve section.  Whilst the three inner layers display the three poisons that lead to karma, and the suffering of the six realms, the twelve links in the outer rim show how this can happen. This is reference to cause and effect, or karma, over several lifetimes, demonstrating our current life and how our past lives and our present action influence us and our future.
  • The outer area contains decorative floral motifs and mythical animals, which were elements introduced into Buddhist painting in the mid – twentieth century by Newar artists of the Kathmandu valley.

 

 

  • Surrounding the wheel is either Mara, the fearsome demon who tempted Buddha, or Lord ‘Yama’, the Lord of Death, with his tiger skin hanging beneath the wheel, (indicating fearsome- ness), and it is he, who holds the wheel of life in his hands. Regardless of which figure is depicted, it represents impermanence and the transient nature of existence; everything within this wheel is constantly changing. The four limbs, (that clutch the wheel) symbolize the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

By contemplating on the twelve sections of the outer ring, one gains greater insight into karma and this insight enables us to begin to unravel our habitual way of thinking and reacting.

  • The twelve outer sections, paired with their corresponding symbols, are:

lack of knowledgea blind person, often walking, or a person peering out

constructive volitional activitya potter shaping a vessel or vessels

consciousnessa man or a monkey grasping a fruit

name and form (constituent elements of mental and physical existence) – two men afloat in a boat

six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind) – a dwelling with six windows

contactlovers consorting, kissing, or entwined

painan arrow to the eye

thirsta drinker receiving drink

graspinga man or a monkey picking fruit

coming to bea couple engaged in intercourse, a standing, leaping, or reflective person***

being bornwoman giving birth

old age and deathcorpse being carried

*** The images of the couple lying together in a sexual union, we were told, was never intended to be pornographic, but rather to excite and increase the potency of fertility, especially for males! Devotees consider all creation begins with the sacred union of male and female energies. To experience the pure creative passion between man and woman they believe; to know unconditional love, is to manifest the body, mind, and spirit of a Buddha.

Something traditional to Ponder About

Advertisements

Ways to Reduce Stress

xanthostemon chrysanthus

Tell a friend you have taken up bead meditation and said ‘friend’ may suddenly look askance, thinking you have gone ‘weird. ‘ But being in touch with your inner ‘flower child,’ can have untold benefits in combating  stress and potentially improving daily life, memory, concentration and overall well-being.

I was introduced to bead meditation some years via after my yoga class, and have to say that I experienced many benefits of a daily five-minute practice. But lately, I have been too busy, too rushed to continue my practice. And now, as I face a stressful time in my life, I have once again turned to Bead meditation.

The practice can be done anyway and or anytime, as long as you can do it uninterrupted. Carry the beads in your bag and you can practise in those few minutes of down time, where you might be ordinarily checking social media on your phone, or whilst waiting in the car for someone, waiting for a bus/train, last thing before bed, even in the loo! For me, it seems to work best first thing in the morning, when I know that I should get up soon, but don’t want to, just yet.

meditation

 

Benefits I have enjoyed from Bead Meditation

  • Sense of Calm
  • Less anxiety
  • More control in crisis or stressful situations
  • Lower Blood pressure
  • More sustained attention span and improvement in effortless single focus concentration
  • Relaxed start to the day
  • Distractions from run-away thoughts or self-destructive negative thinking
  • Increased sense of compassion and empathy
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved sense of well-being & self-esteem

The secret seems to be in keeping the mind busy on a single activity, and in doing so, worry and stress can not seep into your consciousness.  The mind will try to wander and intrusive thoughts will tug at you, and  if this happens, gently bring it back to the task at hand (sorry no pun intended there) Do this as often as you need.

“The mind is harder to control than the wind”, it was said. So now, not only can the mind be quieted by having something to do, the movement of your fingers on the beads, gives the body something to do and allows the body to feel more content and relaxed.

Prayer beads have a similar purpose, however this is more to do with religious devotion and counting prayers, which is not within my realm to recommend or discuss here. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation techniques such as this, emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.

flowers

Wiki tells us, “Most of the ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using some type of prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation.[125][126][127] Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread.[125][126] The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads.[128] Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala, which is counted as 100, with an extra 8 there to compensate for missed beads.[128] The Muslim mishbaha has 99 beads. Specific meditations of each religion may be different.”

Method

Start with the head bead ( the one that is large and different) and start chanting a mantra of choice ( samples shown below), and with each repetition, move your fingers along to the next bead, and repeat, until you are completely round the circle. If you have time, reverse and do the same back to the head bead again. This depends on how quickly or how slowly you chant the mantra. Choose a mantra that speaks to you.

You only have to say the mantra loud enough for you to hear. It is not necessary to sing it, or say it loudly. Don’t worry so much about your breathing technique; it is not so important in this form of meditation.

Mantras

The eternal wisdom contained in the yoga texts explains that a ‘mantra’ is a spiritual sound vibration that purifies one’s consciousness and brings about ever-increasing spiritual insight and happiness. When performed as a group, you can really feel that vibration!!

 

  • Gauranga
  • Nityananda
  • Om Hari Om
  • Gopala
  • Govinda
  • Chaitanya Nityananda Gaurhari
  • Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana
  • Haribol Nitagaur Nitaigaur Haribol
  • Madana Mohana Murari
  • Haribol Haribol Haribol

waterlilly - Copy

The following passage, from Wiki illuminates the scientific basis for claiming health benefits of meditation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation

Scientific Evidence to Support Benefits

 A study of college students by Oman et al. (2008) found that meditation may produce physiological benefits by changing neurological processes. This finding was supported by an expert panel at the National Institutes of Health. The practice of meditation has also been linked with various favourable outcomes that include: “effective functioning, including academic performance, concentration, perceptual sensitivity, reaction time, memory, self-control, empathy, and self-esteem.”(Oman et al., 2008, pg. 570) In their evaluation of the effects of two meditation-based programs they were able to conclude that meditating had stress reducing effects and cogitation, and also increased forgiveness. (Oman et al., 2008)

Li Chuan Chu (2009), found that meditation enhances overall psychological health and preserves a positive attitude towards stress. (Chu, 2009)

Mindfulness Meditation has now entered the health care domain because of evidence suggesting a positive correlation between the practice and emotional and physical health.

Examples of such benefits include: reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, pain, elevated blood pressure, etc. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that those who meditated approximately half an hour per day during an eight week period reported that at the end of the period, they were better able to act in a state of awareness and observation. Respondents also said they felt non-judgmental. (Harvard’s Women’s Health Watch, 2011)

“Meditation as Medicine” (American Academy of Neurology) [150] cites scientific evidence from various studies which claim that meditation can increase attention span, sharpen focus, improve memory, and dull the perception of pain.

A review of scientific studies identified relaxation, concentration, an altered state of awareness, a suspension of logical thought and the maintenance of a self-observing attitude as the behavioral components of meditation;[67] it is accompanied by a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body that alter metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain activation.[46][152]

Meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction. Meditation has also been studied specifically for its effects on stress.

 

Some people feel meditation is an alien concept and take it like they would a bitter pill, while others embrace it wholeheartedly. Are they the less stressed?

It will be something I shall ponder about what you make of it.

schnauzer at beach

 

Smart phones – as dangerous as Poker/slot machines?

Slow Tech by Joe Kraus The effects of Smart phone technology on our future lives.

“The ability of our brains to pay attention to anything will be lost”

The more we multi-task, the worse we get at it!

Average of text messages sent by teenage girls a month: 4000

Changes to our brain. The long term attention, contemplative, thinking part of our brain atrophies or dies, whilst the fast thinking distractible part of our brain is stimulated to grow :
Result: Decline in creativity and insight
Intolerance of, or feeling anxious when bored
Decline in manners or consideration or attention to others

Solution:
Take a break as smart phones are here to stay and are helpful when the matter is urgent.
by:
1. Taking a walk without your phone, practise meditation, just “be”
2. Have some phone/technology down time ( one day/evening a week) Joe Kraus claims your level of focus will be much better afterwards.

Related Article:

http://ladida555.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/i-have-an-issue-with-smartphones/comment-page-1/#comment-415

Something to ponder about.

Therapeutic Hunger – when it is good not to finish all on your plate!

Interesting concept we can all adopt.

Abridged from:

http://bhardwazbhardwaz.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/therapeutic-hunger-necessary-for-good-health/comment-page-2/#comment-382

Therapeutic Hunger: Habitual Mindless eating to Mindful eatingDSC00905

Therapeutic Hunger: Necessary for good health

I want to coin this term “Therapeutic Hunger” (TH), to differentiate it from the hunger that is associated with problem issues like famine, poverty and eating disorders.

“Therapeutic Hunger” (TH) is residual hunger that is still left when we don’t eat stomach full.  When we finish meals, and have eaten just the right quantity of food, that we don’t feel full. This sweet hunger is very therapeutic, as it helps optimise digestion, proper absorption of nutrients, and enough space for elimination of waste.

TH is a signal for body organs to more efficiently. Our body parts have evolved to work in such a way, so as to conserve energy. They will not perform any unnecessary work. So when there is plenty of food supply, they don’t need to extract nutrients most efficiently or digest fully. Also abdomen is like a food processor, when filled over the limit it can’t process food very well. It needs space to digest the food.

Thus if we make it a habit to always eat just the amount of food, so as to leave some “Therapeutic Hunger” (TH). It will improve health by controlling weight, digesting food, absorbing nutrients. It seems hard in the beginning, but later it feels good like sweet hunger. That remaining hunger is a very good feeling, and one can enjoy various tastes of the foods, digestion and good health.

Now a days, when we are used to eating on fixed time and fixed amounts. We have time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The serving sizes are also more or less fixed, as suggested by food recipes. Even the most weight loss programs suggest the size of meals. Instead of habit of eating at fixed times, and fixed quantities, we should build or senses to eat when we are hungry and the right amount for individual need. Dependence on stimulating agents like coffee, team, alcohol, tobacco etc. also doesn’t help. These substances mask our senses and we slowly lose control.

  • Always leave some space for food to process, and digest. No over eating.
  • Enhance your senses, move from habitual Mindless eating to Mindful eating.
  • Food is just one channel of life force, there are others. Don’t ignore other forces that sustain life – breathing, sun, and other cosmic energies. When you eat less, body will automatically draw more from other life forces.