Sunday, August 28, 2011

Freedom is a Two-Edged Sword and other essays

Book Review: Freedom is A Two-Edged Sword – and other essays by John Whiteside Parsons – The Oriflamme 1 – edited by Cameron and Hymenaeus Beta (Ordo Templi Orientis /Falcon Press 1989)

I found this book to be surprisingly awesome. Parsons showed great insight, elegance, and passion in his writing. His untimely death at age 38 struck down a great thinker, mage, and rocket scientist. His ideas in these essays are clear, concise, and often fascinating, showing great philosophical inquiry and insight into the human condition in terms of psychology, anthropology, mythology, politics, and sociology.

The first essay is called “Freedom is a Two-Edged sword” and this can be seen as a scathing yet profound foray into the nature and function of human society. This essay was first written in 1946 with the final version in 1950 so very early post WWII. Here he mentions the influence, problems, and manifestations of ideologies and policies of Communism, Fascism, undue persecution of dissent, anti-sexual society, and male-dominated society. His answer to such malfunctioning ideas is what he seems to declare as a ‘Philosophy of Liberalism.’ This is not at all liberalism as seen today in the weary politics of liberal vs. conservative, but a more general philosophy about the necessity of the freedom of the individual as the foundation of a sane and functional society.

Parsons gives a great many passionate and memorable (quotable) statements in these essays and I will share quite a few in this review. He refers to the principle of liberalism as a heresy to the previous ‘slavery’ to the Church and State that was required of the ordinary people. He refers to the U.S. Constitution for the key parts of this principle –“that all men were created equal, and endowed with inalienable rights.” He notes that those who seek authority, such as religious groups, often seek to suppress rights and censor things like art and freedom of speech.

“Freedom is a two-edged sword of which one edge is liberty and the other responsibility, on which both edges are exceedingly sharp;”

“Now since all tyrannies are based on dogmas, that is, on fundamental statements of absolute fact, and since all dogmas are based on lies, it behooves us first to seek for truth, and freedom will not be far away. And the truth is that we know nothing.”

He also points out the important distinction between belief and truth regarding the nature of reality. Based on observations of reality he deduced the following principles:

“1. Whatever the universe is, we are either all or part of it, by virtue of our consciousness. But we do not know which.

 2. No philosophy, theory, religion, or system of thought can be absolute and infallible. They are relative only. One man’s opinion is just as good as another’s.

 3. There is no absolute justification for emphasizing one individual theory or way of life over another.

4. Every man has the right to his own opinion and his own way of life. There is no system of human thought which can successfully refute this thesis.”

He notes that science is a tool but is ill-conceived as a means to portray absolute truths.

He examines the notions of freedom and slavery in terms of a basic code of human rights that goes farther than the American Bill of Rights. In his vision he includes “freedom from persecution on moral, political, economic, racial, social, or religious grounds.” One may perhaps object to the moral objection but it should be seen that ‘moral’ is more or less a dogmatic term and is very often attached to dogmatic ideologies. Parsons’ code echoes some of what is seen in Liber Oz, a Thelemic declaration of ‘magickal rights.’ Indeed Parsons’ essays do give the impression of being poignant commentaries on the philosophical and practical aspects of Aleister Crowley’s Law of Thelema – typically expressed as – Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will. –

Parsons makes it key that the rights of the individual are of utmost importance and that the foremost responsibility of the state is to protect those rights. Any situation that does not conform to that statement is likely one of oppression and irresponsibility. He notes the pseudo-liberalism and the persecution of so-called communist sympathizers at the time as examples.

“If we are to achieve a democracy, the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of states must be openly defined and ardently defended.”

“Tumultuous developments in science and society demand a new clarity of thought, a reexamination and a reenactment of principles. It is not sufficient that a principle is sacred because it is timeworn. It must be examined, tried, and tested in the fires of our new needs.”

He sums up the key point by saying that “the liberty of the individual is the foundation of civilization.” Liberty and responsibility in balance make stable a society. The main function of the state is to protect the rights of the individual. All other functions are subordinate. He shuns the extremism of the proletariat, the Church, the Reich, the positivist (who advocates submitting to authority), and the reactionary. There is much more here going into the rights and responsibilities of various factions of society such as labor, religion, the state, and various political groups. He notes that that the principles of Liberalism inspired the American Revolution but not the French Revolution or the rise of Fascism in Germany. He also makes an interesting comment about reifying the principles of Liberalism through time:

“Liberalism must be inspired with new life with each new generation. It must be reconstituted, restored and reaffirmed, lest in a moment of quiescence, the carrion eaters close in.”

In today’s world we see the promotion of Democracy as an ideal – recently in the revolutions in the Middle East. But really this is, or at least should be (according to Parsons and deeper common sense) the promotion of this form of Liberalism. When the rights of the individual are exalted and the state is sworn to protect them – we have state-guarded human rights and well-defined statutes against oppression and corruption. He also addresses indoctrination by Church and State as authoritarian and non-liberal.

Sex in the context of religion and society is examined. Parsons displays interest in the Gnostic forms of Christianity where he identifies the Holy Ghost with the feminine Sophia. Through the Hebrew formula of Tetragrammaton, or the name of God as Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, he notes the flexible gender and age position of God as it was perhaps originally intended to be in this system. He sees that as a good biological basis for religion rather than the patriarchal leanings of the Church as an institution.

“Sex worship and sex symbolism are the basis of all the world’s religions. Sex has been the source of the power of the organized Christian Church. Sex and sex neurosis are fundamental factors in the attitude of modern men. These three factors give a place of prime importance to the liberal examination of society.”

He makes note of the pretenses, shame, and hypocrisy that surround sex (and still do 60 years later) and makes the obvious observation that this is psychologically unhealthy. He traces the origin of the neurotic oppression of this biological urge to the deliberate control mechanisms of the Christian Church. (One may even see this in old songs of Celtic lore where women killed their illegitimate babies in order to avoid being shamed and to keep their maiden status – but really the examples are obvious and numerous and this oppression is the real shame). He notes other horrible effects of this – as denying contraception, sex education, education about sex hygiene and venereal diseases, and divorce. He notes that this increases suffering and aids in promoting secret abortions and the spread of these debilitating and fatal diseases. He calls this the “charity of the church.” Indeed around this time, though before I was born, I had a great aunt that was quite beautiful in the pictures. She died during the performance of a secret abortion. She had even planned to marry the father but at that time the shame of getting pregnant before the church sanctioned matrimony was very great. I wonder how many similar stories occurred through time. For this and many, many other reasons I think – freedom of sexual expression – is very important to the world of humans. The legacy of this attitude of control of sex is censorship, although this has been much relaxed in certain genres today. Parsons also notes some psychological aspects of the sex taboo such as the notion that parents can become jealous of the unrepressed sexual attitudes of their children.

“The concept that sex in art, religion, literature, and life is subject to criminal law is based on the superstitious religious-sexual taboo.” I read recently in a New York Times article that certain spokesmen for the Catholic Church were trying to blame the child-priest sex abuse scandals on the 60’s liberal attitude toward sex. That is probably the biggest crock of shit I have ever heard as it is well known among psychological professionals that pedophilia is based on control and has little to do with open experimentation. This behavior was simply abuse using one’s trusted position as leverage.

“Modern man must recognize the source and nature of his sexual taboos and destroy them at their source. Only thus can he achieve sanity in sex, and, through this, sanity in all living.”

“We must emphatically and positively deny that love is criminal and that the body is indecent. We must affirm the beauty, the dignity, the humor and the joyousness of sex.”

“The ancients, being simple and without original sin, saw God in the act of love. And therein they saw a great mystery, a sacrament revealing the bounty and the beauty of the force that made men and the stars. And thus they worshipped.”
     “Poor ignorant old pagans – how we have progressed. We see a dirty joke.
     “And from this horrible and sordid joke only woman herself can redeem us. She who has been its ignominious butt, the target of malice and arrogance, the target of masculine inferiority and guilt, she alone can redeem us from our crucifixion and castration.”
     “Only woman, of and by herself, can strike through the foolish frustration of the advertisers’ ideal, and rise, her strong, free splendid self, to take her place in the sun as an individual, a companion, a mate fit for and demanding no less than a true man.”
     “Let there be an end to inhibition and an end to pretense. Let us discover what we are, and be what we are, honestly and unashamedly.”

Parsons even suggests that sexual frustration may have a hand in things like ethnic hatreds and the proliferation of war.

“It is only in the unobstructed exercise of the sexual function, by a generation trained from youth in contraception and the techniques of love, that it will be possible to come to a mature social relation.”

He sees that purpose of religion as attaining an identity with a greater power in order to share the omnipotence and immortality. He seems to advocate the notion that the god- force is internal rather than external and separate and to this end he says that the highest form of wisdom is to know ourselves.

“Nothing is of its nature evil, and nothing is of its nature good. Evil is only excess, good is simply balance. All things are subject to abuse, all things are susceptible to beneficial use. And balance does not consist in denial, or excess of indulgence. Balance can only be obtained by exceeding. These are the powers in man’s nature so tremendous that they can only be balanced by an ultimate self-expression.”

“Science, which seeks to know, and art, which seeks to interpret, are two forms of love, which is the only available way of worship, and that these two greatest expressions of the human spirit should be subservient to religion, politics, nationalism, and war is the craziest blasphemy that has been perpetuated on the race.”

“The battle for freedom is not fought alone on the great fronts. It is fought in every home, in every community, in every state in the world. It is in the mind and heart of every man.”
     “Where there is an artist or scientists struggling to express his dream, to be true to himself, where there is an underprivileged man, an exploited worker, a bond slave of the military, a man bullied by unions or harried by dictators there is the battle for freedom. Where there is a child intimidated, a woman enslaved, where the ignorant and credulous are exploited by religion, there is the fight. And where a boy and a girl are hunted and hounded because they love, draw the sword there.” (From other statements about labor rights it is clear that Parsons is not against unions – only ‘bullying by unions). 

Parsons stands up openly for the complete rights of oppressed minorities and women. He mentions the right of women to fair wages. He also advocates openly here for the rights of homosexuals. All this should be seen as fairly radical for 1950.

A chapter is devoted to inspire a new form of uninhibited woman as our redeemer. He examines men’s relationship to woman as mother, as wife, and as lover. The Thelemic deity form of Babalon, based very loosely on the Whore of Babylon, Mother of Abominations, from biblical writings – yet altered significantly, indeed reversed to a supremely exalted position – There is a whole mysticism, mythology, and magickal formula based on Babalon as the necessary mother, wife, and lover of the mage who transcends into spiritual awakening. Parsons was said to have done a magickal rite called ‘the Babalon Working’ which sought to bring about a ‘magickal child’ likely through the techniques of sexual magick. He also wrote ‘The Book of Babalon’ of which only fragments remain – one produced here. Babalon is symbolic of the ideal of Understanding and so it is woman as Understanding that is to be the redeemer. As in most of these essays the passionate words often veer into the poetic:

“Woman, priestess of the irrational world! Irrational, but enormously important, and how deadly because it is unadmitted and denied.”

“Woman, put up unworthy weapons. Put up malice and poison, false frigidity and false stupidity. Draw the sword, the two-edged sword of freedom, and call for a man to meet you in fair combat, a man fit for your husband, fit father for your eagle brood.”
     “Call upon him, test him by the sword and he will be worthy of you. For you two are the archetypes of the new race.”

The next essay is called “On Magick” and suggests that science, religion, medicine, philosophy, and art all have their origin in magick and that magick is not only embedded in our collective psyche as the mythical realms but also in each one of us individually as our relationship to life and the world. In describing magick in modern scientific as well as thelemic philosophical terms he says that:

“The experimental animistic basis of magick is a general field theory which regards the individual as a network (field) of forces interacting in and directly related to a similar cosmic network (field) which includes the total universe. (From certain viewpoints these two fields are regarded as identical). It is therefore a postulate of magick that ever man and every woman is a star. {this statement comes from Crowley’s Liber Al – the Book of the Law}. In magical terminology certain aggregate categories or clusters of forces in a field are termed gods, angels, elementals, or demons. Such terminology may be reasonably applied to a partiality of consciousness (point of view or state of mind), a city, a culture, an era, a star cluster or nebula, providing that proper definition follows.”

Parsons elaborates on this in an essay about general field where he notes that the human intellect evolved enough so that it could regulate instinct, which itself regulates our  survival urges. He says that when a conflict occurs that cannot be regulated by instinct or intellect it is projected as a symbol and a sort of religion develops around this symbol of unresolved conflict – or what seems to me – mystery. He goes on to describe various mythic archetypal symbols such as dying god and other male and female archetypes and their psychological consequences. Perhaps he was influenced by Jung in this regard but in any case it is fascinating stuff.

He goes on to note the law of similars used alike in homeopathy as in sympathetic magic and the law of bipolarity which he compares to the Newtonian 2nd law of thermodynamics.

“Since each single individual is regarded as a potential total universe it is therefore essential that each achieve total consciousness in experience by the expression of his will in all the ways of love. This leads to the second postulate of magick which is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, “Love is the law, love under will.” It is therefore the function of magick to lead each individual to the realization and expression of his total self on all the planes of being and experience.”

“In its absolute basis magick is a passion and a discipline which relates to the mystery of love, and through which man is capable of attaining to any ultimate knowledge of love of himself, his fellow man, and the universe in all its aspects.”
     “In its relative and applied basis, which is the root of all secret traditions of mankind, magick relates to the sacrament of sex and the mystery of the creative will.”
     Magick has been defined as the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. This is true if it is postulated that the ultimate object of this change is the attainment of harmony and balance in understanding and love.”

“It may be stated that magick is the method of training individuals towards total consciousness by the stimulation of various centers of the mind and by cultivation of field thinking. The object of this training is the manifestation of initiated leadership towards a more conscious, better integrated, and more interesting and significant social culture. In short the object of magick is the unfoldment of the individual in all the ways of love; and the enlightenment of society to accept all the commitments of this unfoldment as the necessary conditions of progress.”

He goes on to describe the notions of the aeons of the Mother (Isis), the Father (Osiris), and the Son (Horus) much as Crowley originally described them. He notes that our fear and hatred of the demon mother archetype promoted by the corrupt Osirian patriarchal religions has made in imbalance in our psyche.

His essay on the Laws of Ego is fascinating as well as he notes that the ego arises on the psychological need to be loved. He notes how the ego is formulated and developed by parents and society in its customs and conventions. The goal is to obtain love, approval, and security. Indeed the death of the ego and the rebirth of the more refined human is a key to several esoteric traditions including Thelema and Tantra. In the Thelemic scenario it is from the womb of Babalon that the refined mage emerges. He describes the nature of love in terms of the Thelemic formula -1+1 =0 or 2=0. In this sense Love is the union of separation. This union creates a third which is similar to the parents yet different. This is the creative formula in nature and is magickally termed IAO or Isis-Apophis(Horus)-Osiris.

His essay on the Origin of Religion is again fascinating. He notes ideas that religion may have developed as a child first relates to a parent as al all-powerful provider of necessities and comforts. But also he suggests it is our own potential to grow in understanding. Again he notes the formulas IAO and IHVH, and the surprising regularity of myth and styles of relating to mystery of various peoples as having similar unresolved psychological issues inherent in most humans.

He has two short essays on the Gnostic Creed and the Gnostic Doctrine which convey God as the union of the Son of God (Christ) and the Daughter of God as Sophia. Sophia is equated to the Holy Ghost. This should be considered a reformed version of Gnosticism since what I have examined of it keeps the Sophia with the notion of some ‘original sin’ in that she is integrated with the undesirable darkness that is to be removed to get to the purity of light.

In his essays about – The Witchcraft – he sees the hidden esoteric traditions of man as the keepers of a long persecuted nature cult that persists because it is in tune with the rhythms of nature and our natural functions, urges, and longings.

“We are on the side of freedom, of love, of joy and laughter and divine drunkeness. Therefore our name is Babalon.”

He also notes the rebellious, or Luciferian aspect. In several of his essays he hints at a delicate balance between the individual and society, or groups of humans. Being a part of organizations is good to a point until it becomes contaminated and one retreats back into individuality – and vice versa. It is Lucifer as symbol of rebellion that has the ability to withdraw from and weaken corrupt or otherwise tainted societies or organizations.

Parsons makes the important observation that the current ‘forms’ of western society are inadequate to deal with the forces of the human psyche and so we have psychological problems perpetrated and exacerbated by society itself. He expresses often the necessity of a less dogmatic approach, a more flexible paradigm – with framework dogma as non-absolute guiding principles. In fact, the idea of general and flexible principles subject to interpretation of each individual situation is not technically dogmatic at all.

He describes our desire to know ourselves, others, and God as some of our basic needs which our society is not well designed to fill.

Next is an essay on the magickal weapons: the Cup, the Sword, and the Crux Ansata (Ankh). Here he equates them to the IAO formula where the Cup is the woman Babalon, the Sword is the solar-phallic fire, and the ankh is the child of their union. The ankh represents going (as in the sandal which it resembles) and going may represent going through time as do children of parents. This also may be equated to the Gnostic Father, Son, and Holy Ghost formula. In the Thelemic Gnosticism it is Babalon that carries the Cup as Holy Graal which contains the blood of the saints. Parsons sees the Christian doctrine of immaculate conception as a blasphemy against nature and a denial and degradation of women and her awesome powers. So here the creative formula of natural conception is venerated as the creative formula of nature itself.

“ BABALON. It is she who reigns in the heart of every woman and who is the desire of every man. Therefore I say, Invoke Her!”

“Envision her, this mighty woman – this goddess- this “circle of stars of whom our Father is but the younger brother.”

“The transcendent and quixotic paradox that Hell is also paradise pertains only to the Heroic.”  He notes here that the hell of this form involves submission to convention and that it is the archetype as Hero that is often first rebellious in order to overcome the ordeals.

“The heroic ideal is the aspiration to transcend limitations – by love and understanding, by passion and violence, by will and discipline, by all and any means that will achieve the knowledge and liberation of the total self.”

There is a very short essay that outlines the magical symbolism of the Nordic/Germanic Nibelunglied in terms of Wagners Ring Cycle. Rhinemaidens are equated with passions. I think he is suggesting that love as unresolved ego conflicts are repressed so that the power can be gained (through an asceticism of sorts?) to attain the Rhinegold. But the gold is cursed so the quest is in vain. Perhaps if the love was not repressed there would have been way less tragedy and love would have been seen as the real Rhinegold. At leats that is what I think he is suggesting.

The last essay is called the Star of Babalon and her he notes that the adept must undertake the Hero’s Journey to the Underworld, to the unknown self , like Tammuz (Dumuzi), Moses, Arthur, and many others in order to arise transformed. The beautiful great and terrible mother as Babalon, as Kali, as Ereshkigal, as Lilith, as Venus, and many others must be met and experienced and one must offer all to her in an alchemy of love, the comfort of mother, the lust of Pan, and every conception of love. If one can give all of self to other then the ego will have been slain and the new Self can arise.

This is a stellar book with passionate, precise, and well contemplated philosophical ideas. It is book to be studied and pondered over for its accurate treatment of society, the human condition, and magickal symbolism. Read this instead of Nietzche. It is more profound and applicable. The only complaint I have is that the book binding was poorly done and this was corroborated by someone else who owns it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability

Book Review: Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability 
by Greg Horn (Freedom Press 2006)

This is a cool book that gives one many ideas about becoming more green. Many of these we have already implemented and some have become more mainstream in the five years since this book has been published – but certainly not enough as many people here and now are literally decades behind even in this age of internet and multi-media. There were even some ideas that had slipped past us as far as dangers and ways of lessening dangers.

After reading this book one is likely to be impacted by the statistical data on the sheer numbers and amounts of toxic or potential toxic chemicals with which we come into contact every day. We are still transitioning ever too slowly from the golden age of marketplace poisons and the cancer and disease which has well seemed to accompany them. There are toxic or potentially toxic substances deliberately put in our food, cosmetics, personal hygiene products, cleaners, paints, industrial products, building materials, furniture, car interiors, and many other products with which we interface.

Becoming green is accepting a new paradigm, a new way of relating with the things human manufacture. Sustainability is a philosophy that considers the future. Sustainability, or sustainable development, has been defined by the World Commission on the Environment and Development as, “the ability of humanity to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability as a philosophy was influenced by Native American  notions of impacts on future generations, by the mid-nineteenth century transcendentalist movement of Thoreau and Emerson, and by more modern environmental philosophers like John Muir – but also from the indigenous peoples of the world who seem to have a closer and more reciprocal relationship with nature.

The author was once a CEO of General Nutrition (GNC) and now heads a smaller natural foods and supplements company. He gives the Top Ten things can do to get started in becoming more sustainable as: 1) eating organic, 2) going carbon zero – which means calculating ones carbon footprint and buying renewable resource energy to offset one’s deficit – ah that one costs money, 3) recycling, 4) denying disposables, 5) switching to natural personal care, 6) using natural lawn care, 7) cleaning green, 8) filtering your tap water, 9) increasing energy efficiency, 10) staying informed.

The first section includes sustainable eating and drinking practices. His suggestions for a sustainable diet are: 1) buy organic whenever possible, 2) be careful of fish, 3) eat low on the food chain, 4) filter your water, 5) reduce sugar and sodas, 6) cut fried and processed foods, 7) change your cup – to paper or a mug instead of disposable styrofoam or plastic.

Another important piece of information is the Top Ten foods to buy organic: meat, dairy products, fish, berries, salad crops, mushrooms, root crops, bananas, waxed fruit, and coffee and tea.

Filtering of water helps get rid of chlorine, fluoride, arsenic, lead, and aluminum among other things. Bottled water bottles (and many flexible plastics) contain phthalates which leach into the water especially if warmed. Phthalates are well-known to disrupt hormonal systems and are known as ‘estrogenic endocrine disrupters.’ This can lead to early puberty and reproductive malfunctions in young females and lower sperm counts, decreased sex drive and feminizing effects in young men. Phthalates are apparently in many other products as well. Studies show that most bottled water is not better than most tap water and is less regulated than tap water. The author suggests filtering water with something like the common (Brita) charcoal filters and carrying water in a stainless steel water bottle. Reducing intake of processed sugar, sodas, and flour can be quite healthful. Many studies link highly processed sugars such as high fructose corn syrup with diabetes and obesity. Fried food is also linked to health problems. Fried foods soak up highly heated oils which makes them harder to digest. Belly fat and clogged arteries can be a result. Most white flour, white pasta, and white rice has had the essential nutrients removed so that it can be stored longer. Processed foods are treated with heat and chemicals to give them a longer shelf life. Along with the bad bacteria that are killed are also good bacteria and beneficial enzymes – so the food value of processed food is much lower. Trans fats in the form of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are very strongly linked to heart disease. A few decades ago it was thought that their longer storage life kept them healthier as they could be stored a long time without going rancid. I remember my grandparents always touting ‘oleo’ (partially-hydrogenated oil/trans fat) over butter as healthier. But my grandfather developed heart problems and eventually died from his heart disease and I believe this stuff may have been a major culprit. It is now discouraged in many foods and actually outlawed in some areas. None the less I do still seen it in many products. It is allowed up to 0.5 gm and still able to be labeled no trans fats. Some products such as Little Debbie snacks and the Tofuti fake cream cheese contain large quantities of it. Much of it now has been replaced with palm oil which is not ideal but much healthier. The author notes that many canned vegetables have had nutrients cooked out of them with the exception of tomatoes and beans. Carrots are also healthy cooked.

Other suggestions are to never heat food in any plastic in a microwave and avoid heated stuff in styrofoam since the styrene in it is a probable carcinogen. Unfortunately this is not always possible for some of us – especially travelers. The convenience and extremely poor quality of gas station and fast foods is basically killing people – the very people that must work and travel often. I have been waiting for many years for better quality food in these venues. There are things one can buy but the choices are still quite limited.

Covered next are products humans put on their bodies – sunscreen, clothing, dry-cleaning, person care and hygiene products, shower and bath water, and even feminine hygiene products. Organic cotton clothing has been available for a while and can even be found at places like WalMart for very cheap. Organic bedding and sheets are also available. Buying organic clothing helps farmland since cotton is one of the most pesticide and herbicide laden crops. Children’s clothing – especially infants – are typically treated with fire retardants (as are mattresses- required by law –and furniture). Fire retardants contain polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and related chemicals which are linked to brain and thyroid problems. This chemical is now in most water supplies as well. Disposable diapers contain polyethylene dyes and fragrances which may be mildly harmful and small amounts of dioxin – a known carcinogen and endocrine disrupter. There are now available chemical and dioxin-free diapers. Apparently, disposable diapers are the 3rd most common item in landfills. There are now also flushable disposable liners that can keep the crap out of the landfills and let it be neutralized better in sewage and septic systems. Dry cleaners are apparently very toxic but I guess now there are some ‘green’ ones coming on-line.

Other personal care products that can be potentially toxic are shampoos, toothpastes, mouthwashes, skin products, deodorants, hair sprays, hair dyes, sunscreens, tampons, and cosmetics. In all these products there are safer ones available, although usually at a significantly higher cost. Common dangerous chemicals in these products include: triclosan - a bactericide commonly in deodorant that can cause liver damage), phthalates -also labeled as DBP and DEHP , DEA and TEA – often given linked to other ingredients such as cocamide-DEA (these can interact with other ingredients forming carcinogenic nitrosamines), formaldehyde - a bactericide/preservative often listed as quaternium 15 which releases formaldehyde. (found in hair spray, mascara, and many other products and associated with nerve damage, allergies, and possibly cancer), bronopol - a dangerous pesticide chemical found in bug repellants, dimethyl dimethyl hydantoin – a microbe killer found in soaps, baby wipes, shampoos, and sunscreens, parabens – known toxin possibly linked to breast cancer, aluminum – in deodorants and like triclosan absorbed easily through the skin especially on women through shaving nicks. fluoride – said to be toxic at more than the 4 parts per million commonly added to drinking water. There are many more chemicals. Cosmetics tend to be very toxic, especially lipstick – which women typically end up swallowing. According to a study in Glamour magazine it was estimated that a typical woman swallows 4 to 9 pounds of lipstick in her life. Perfumes and aftershaves are often full of petrochemicals – and most of them smell utterly horrible in my opinion. The author also suggests filtering shower and bath water as he notes that the heat makes the chemicals and chlorine in the water more volatile and easier to be absorbed into the body. He gives an experiment where one breaks off a piece of garlic clove and rubs it on the bottom of one’s foot and says within 15 minutes you will taste garlic in your mouth – that is if you don’t believe the stuff that touches your skin is being absorbed.

He gives seven sustainable steps for the home: 1) conserve by increasing efficiency, 2) recycle, 3) clean green, 4) furnish for health, 5) breathe easier, 6) say “no” to disposables, 7) green your yard.

Suggestions for increasing energy efficiency include: sealing cracks (but also keeping good ventilation), turning down the thermostat a little (or up in summer), turning off lights and unplugging unused appliances, conserving water, getting rid of plastics – especially cups, using recycled paper, and buying - Energy Star – appliances. As far as recycling – most places now have it or you can still separate and take it. There are now places where you can take used motor oil and places like Lowes take used up rechargeable batteries, CFLs, and plastic bags. Used postal packages can also be recycled. Computers can also be recycled. In fact people discard many things that can be recycled strictly out of laziness and convenience. In some ways overcoming the inconvenience and laziness is both noble and patriotic although I admit I am guilty of that laziness at times.

The author also gives many suggestions for alternatives in the book – both stuff one can make or blend themselves and companies that make green products. For green cleaning he recommends lemon juice, white vinegar, borax, baking soda, vegetable-based liquid soap, and washing soda. Most of the time this stuff works just as well or at least one can use it for the easy stuff. He notes that all-purpose cleaners contain things like chlorinated phosphates, complex phosphates, dry bleach, kerosene, petroleum-based surfactants, sodium bromide, glycol ether, Stoddard solvent, EDTA, and naphtha. All of these are toxic or potentially toxic. Hand dishwashing detergents and laundry soaps and products, glass cleaners, and disinfectants/anti-bacterials can also contain some of these chemicals. The anti-bacterial soaps are known to get into the water supply in significant amounts and there is a worry that bacteria will develop more and more immunity to them.

Furniture made out of press board and particle board typically contains formaldehyde in the glues which outgases over time as the glues decompose. Paints and other products are full of dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) although there are now available paints with lower amounts and some with none. Synthetic materials in curtains and carpets are also full of chemicals that outgas as are the glues and other formaldehyde-containing building materials. He recommends removing carpets which I heartily recommend as well. Many people, including the author, apparently suffer from “sick building syndrome,” also known as  “multiple chemical sensitivity “(MCS).

“The EPA says indoor air pollution is the nation’s number one environmental health problem. They estimate that indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.”  The author suggest several strategies: 1) ventilation and air filtration, filters such as an activated carbon filter system in certain rooms, cleaning houseplants like aloe vera, philodendron, spider plant, and ficus (and many others) that absorb airborn contaminants into their leaves through photosynthesis, checking for radon gas – commonly associated with black shale outcrops near one’s basement, and use of a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum.

He suggests using less and less of disposable plastic products and plastic bags. Rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones are also a good option. Organic gardening is also a very sensible option and these gardens can be every bit as good and better as those laden with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.

There is a chapter on sustainable building and retrofitting. The author recommends insulating for efficiency, using sustainable building materials, and utilizing fans, awnings, and good windows. Designing for the climate is important. He recommends using water-based adhesives and grout sealers, using non-glue connections on PVC pipe, using caulks without mineral spirits, avoiding toxic joint compound, avoiding formaldehyde-urea foam insulation and rigid polystyrene insulation. He says fiberglass insulation is dangerous during installation but less toxic overall. He recommends an insulation called Icynene. There is a discussion of solar and wind energy systems. These have come even further in the last five years. He also recommends getting organic mattresses or futons and de-chlorinating the water by filtration. He also gives a method to heat up the house full tilt for 1 – 4 days with all people and pets out. This is done to ‘bake out’ the outgasing materials especially with new construction. They say new chemical odors should be gone after this.  

Next are general suggestions for thinking sustainably like living near work, keeping energy efficiency by reducing waste, buying local, keeping vehicles tuned for efficiency, buying natural electricity and incorporating renewable energy, and buying hybrid and electric vehicles. One no-brainer is to use compact fluorescent light bulbs – they last over 10 times as long and use way less energy and save landfill space. Solar hot water heating attic fans, battery and cell phone chargers, landscape lights, and flashlights are an affordable reality now. There is some info on ways to increase fuel mileage like replacing air filters on time and keeping tires inflated. There is a discussion of alternative fuels such as ethanol (E85) but he correctly notes that ethanol is very problematic and even though there are slightly less emissions with ethanol, there are many other problems and potential problems with it on a large scale that make it quite non-sustainable as a widespread fuel. Bio-diesel and natural gas, and newer possibilities like ‘green gasoline’ in development may be better alternatives.

Green investment, green technological development, and green politics are also discussed. Andres Edwards, author of “The Sustainability Revolution” noted that the second wave of business sustainability is the movement from basic sustainability to “ecological, economic, and social responsibility.”  Edwards also writes that, “The ecological, economic, and equity components of sustainability are no longer viewed as competing but rather as complementary.” It seems we are seeing some of this now as sustainable products and practices become more widespread and mainstream. One of the most important practices that has economic potential is simply reducing waste and increasing efficiency. Green is now cool and expected to a certain extent. It is now popular to the point we are competing to see who is the greener, for better or worse.

This is a great book to see what you may have missed in greening your habits. There is far to go in getting the regular folk to get on board. I try in little ways but people are stubborn in their ways and seem not to easily accept change. But if we are smart and well-informed on the statistics and comparisons perhaps we can convince them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

Book Review: Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer with Katherine Dreyer  (Fireside 2004)

This is a really cool book for anyone who runs. I found it to be informative and since taking up running a few years ago I can say that over the last few months I have adopted the techniques with great success. Dreyer has discovered a healthy, non-injury, relaxing, and mindful approach to running that works on several levels.
Dreyer practices Tai Chi and has managed to apply principles and methods from Tai Chi into running technique and I and probably many others are grateful. Having hurt myself running on more than a few occasions – I can say that the added mindfulness to technique can help prevent injury and keep slight injuries from getting worse.

The author compares Chi running to popular forms of ‘power running’ and suggests his method is better suited to preventing injuries. Apparently, injuries are very common to runners and I have experienced some injury as well due to both inadequate technique and inadequate shoes. These have both been corrected successfully. Part of the Chi running technique is to learn to relax while running, both mentally and physically relaxing the muscles – particularly the lower legs. A key part of the method, as in Tai Chi, is to run from your center, using the core muscles of the body more and the leg muscles less. One technique is to practice noting one’s perceived effort level (PEL) which refers to the amount of exertion one senses from oneself. This, of course, changes due to many variables such as speed, stress, illness level, stress level, amount of sleep, recent food, etc. The idea is to decrease your PEL by removing energy blocks in the body by: “maintaining good posture; keeping your joints open and loose; and making sure your muscles are relaxed and not holding any tension.” All this amounts to more focus, more mindfulness during running and it does make a difference. It really doesn’t have to be strenuous and it doesn’t have to hurt. Chi running makes efficient use of gravity by having the runner lean forward, yet straight (like a ski jumper) and fall into the step. To speed up one leans more and vice versa to slow down. One also lets the feet swing back a little on the stride instead of reaching forward. There are many exercises in the book to train these techniques. One works not so much on gaining speed or distance but in perfecting one’s form.

Dreyer gives the five Key Principles of Chi running as follows:

1) Cotton and Steel – Gather to your center (center is like steel, arms/legs soft like cotton)
2) Gradual Progress – the step-by-step approach
3) The Pyramid – the small is supported by the large (let big muscles/core do big work)
4) Balance in Motion – Equal Balance and Complementary Balance (balance effort and movement in all six directions for efficiency and for comfort)
5) Non-identification – Getting yourself out of the way (move with nature, go with the flow, be intuitive)

Next he gives – The Four Chi Skills:

1) Focusing your Mind – run mindfully. He talks here about the relationship between focused mind and responsive body. This mind-body integration is called having y’chi.

2) Body Sensing: High-Speed Access – this is the action of feeling what is happening within the body. He says to listen, assess, and adjust to what you sense. (I have come across body sensing practices in yoga, Buddhism, martial arts, Egyptian practices, and generic relaxation techniques)

3) Breathing: Tapping into Your Chi – early in running or any aerobic activity one’s aerobic capacity is lower until the muscles in the lungs adapt. He suggests long and slow distance running to best effect this change. Breathing from the lower lungs is a neccesity. After running regularly for a while the increase in breath capacity is quite noticeable. Another suggestion regarding breathing that I found very useful is to inhale on three steps and exhale on three steps. This matches the 85-90 RPM – or steps per minute he recommends as a pace.

4) Relaxation: The Path of Least Resistance – eliminate unnecessary effort. If it is not necessary it is wasteful. Relax what is relaxable. This also increases comfort and lowers perceived effort level (PEL).

Posture is a big part of the technique. Having upper body straight, landing the feet in a straight line like running on a tight rope (reduces possibility for shin splints and knee problems), and lifting up/tilting the pelvis with the lower abs are recommended.

He refers to the lean forward as gravity-assisted running. More lean (and longer stride) is more speed even at the same RPM (steps per minute). This seems to work well. Leaning is hinged from the ankles. The feet are just picked up rather than incorporating a lot of pushing off and pulling with the feet and lower legs. He says that the upper legs should do more work than the lower legs. One is instructed to swing the legs a little to the rear rather than forwards when lifting the feet. One should also focus on landing in the middle of the foot and in striking the ground lightly. There are many exercises given in the book on such things as learning how to lean, learning how to land lightly, bending the knees instead of picking them up, how best to swing the arms for efficiency and comfort, keeping the lower legs relaxed, pre-run stretching warm-ups, etc.

One is encouraged to practice a technique or two on every run to make them more habitual. This has worked for me. I have also noticed that simply having something to practice and return to mindfully helps alleviate boredom a little, as do taking in the sights. Increased breath and comfort allows me to practice mantras while running and to think about things if I like rather than simply suffer and struggle through it. These principles apply not only to running but to any exercise activity and indeed to any life activity.

Softening and relaxing the hips, the neck, and the shoulders are also recommended. Even looking around is encouraged to avoid being too stiff. He also recommends soaking in a warm tub after running as a way to heal and rejuvenate the muscles. Other recommendations are to avoiding eating before running (I can vouch for that one), have enough fluids in you or take some on a long run (water and/or electrolytes), and to always stretch a little after a run.

As far as training he gives a three tiered pyramid with form as the foundational bottom, then distance, then speed at the top. He gives ideas for upgrading at the right time but recommends keeping it gradual. He goes through the differences of productive discomfort and non-productive discomfort. This is rather intuitive but can be the difference between progress and injury. He suggests using the body scan to discern the difference.

There are sections which give suggestions for uphill running and downhill running. For uphill running it is suggested that the lean is slightly increased to match the hill but that one runs a little sideways up trading off occasionally with either foot in front. This seems to help a little with both comfort and tiredness as I suspect it is more efficient/economic. Downhill running mainly involves keeping the body relaxed – especially the lower legs which are taxed on downhill runs. There is a section on running in different terrains and environments. I have found that running on grass and non-paved ground can be relaxing on the feet as he also suggests but one also has to be more careful about the perils of uneven ground and more mindful. I admit I am intrigued by the recent interest in barefoot running but I am not sure if I wanna pay that much for shoes!

There is a good section on shoes – when to buy new ones, what to look for, etc. In my own miserliness I hurt my hip by running way to long on a cheap pair of worn out shoes. After waiting a while for it to heal I finally found and bought a good pair of running shoes and the problem seems to have gone away. Indeed he suggests that after about 4 months (or more depending on how much one runs) one should be able to sense any new body pains and buy new shoes. He says to look for flexibility near the toes and never to wear tight shoes.

He gives a chapter on getting the most chi from food. He gives his own version of the food pyramid which is sensible and applies the chi-running principles to diet. Fruits, vegetables, and grains make up the big foundation of his pyramid followed up by nuts, legumes, seeds, and dairy, then by meat, fish, eggs, and finally the top mere 3% with treats. This is fairly sensible in my estimation. He suggests that organic, fresh, and local foods will have more chi to impart. He suggests eating at regular times – for efficiency of digestion and eating mindfully – for maximum enjoyment, and to eat more of what you need and less of merely what you want. He notes some of the differences of running outside and running on a treadmill. He says that treadmill running is a little less of a workout and it can be harder on the ankles. He also notes that it is difficult to lean on the treadmill. He suggests tilting the machine to more of an incline and running at a slower pace – as a means to increase lean and reduce impact to the lower legs.

The author notes that, “A spiritual teacher once gave me a great definition of relaxation. He said, “Relaxation is the absence of unnecessary effort.”

For me this is a great book that has really helped in my enjoyment of running. The best indicator that I was doing something right with technique came one day when I was running along and passed a boy of about 4 years old on a training-wheeled bicycle. He said loudly and excitedly, “Hey jogger dude!” It was then that I knew that I got the technique at least somewhat since I am being perceived (by the sharp natural intuition of a child) as an archetypal jogger. It felt good. Running can be fun and rewarding but it can also be dangerous due to many ways of getting injured. When I first ran may calves hurt. But after about 2 or 3 runs that went away never to return so I guess that was an instance of ‘productive discomfort.’ This is a great book that any runner would do well to read and practice. I am so happy to have read it and to practice it!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Origin of Tara Tantra

Book Review: The Origin of Tara Tantra  by Jo Nang Taranatha – transl and edited by David Templeman – orig  1604 (Library of Tibetan Works and Archives 1981)

Taranatha was a famous Tibetan lama, writer, and historian who collected much information in particular about Indian Buddhism in periods before, during, and after it was brought to Tibet. His books are valuable in that there is very little detailed information about lineages and stories for some of these periods. He may or may not have traveled to India in his time – most scholars consider that he did not – but his teachers or their teachers before may have done so and collected and preserved this lore, and made records of lineages and stories. Taranatha was the last famous practitioner of the Jo Nang sect of Tibetan Buddhism that was taken over  and absorbed into the Gelug sect to suppress its political ties and possibly as well its outdated and somewhat heretical view of emptiness. (Although there are legends that the Jo Nang sect remained hidden and some lineages claim to be a continuation – even the famed Theosophist Madame Blavatski claimed to have a connection to the Jonangpas)

In the Vajrayana tradition there are many stories of great dharma practitioners meant to preserve lore but also to inspire future practitioners. These stories are called Nam Thar, or spiritual biographies in Tibet. Many of them contain magical tales along mythological lines. This style is particular to the Tantric tradition. Some are records of practitioners who have mastered the meditative practices of particular tantras – such is this one – the Arising of Tara Tantra – and the signs of their accomplishment and their enlightened deeds afterward. Taranatha was known to paint an overly rosy and optimistic picture of a thriving and spreading Buddhism – even in India where it had been declining significantly for over 400 years. This was likely a mechanism to inspire his students and students of the future. His texts are among the few that I have seen that describe Buddhist interactions with the Muslim Turuskas (Turks) and Garloks (apparently a specific tribe of Muslim Turks). There are also a few accounts of conflicts between what he called Singhalese Sravaka monks of the Sendhapa sect and those of the Mahayana – where the Singhala Sravakas burned Mahayana images – especially tantric sculptures. In one story a Sendhapa monk calls on Tara fearing retribution form the tantric king for destroying temple goods and she saves him by hiding him. Tara is foremost the champion of the Mahayana but is said not to distinguish among beings in need of protection.

The story of Tara begins with the story of a very long ago Buddha called Dundunbhisvara who was honored by a princess called “Moon of Wisdom.” She is said to have made offerings for millions of years when Bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment) found her. Some monks suggested that she should pray to be reborn as a man to better practice. To this she then replied,

“In this life there is no distinction as ‘male’ and ‘female’, neither of ‘self-identify’, a ‘person’ nor any perception (of such), and therefore attachment to ideas of ‘male’ and ‘female’ is quite worthless. Weak-minded worldlings are always deluded by this.” And she vowed, “There are many who wish to gain enlightenment in a man’s form, and there are but few who wish to work for the welfare of sentient beings in a female form. Therefore may I, in a female body, work for the welfare of beings right until Samsara has been emptied.” 

For another several million years it is said that she perfected a meditation, or samadhi, called ‘saving all sentient beings’ where every morning and evening she would save beings from paths leading to their further suffering. After this the Buddha Dundunbhisvara conferred on her the name of ‘Saviouress’, or ‘Goddess Tara.’

“Then in the aeon of Vibuddha known as ‘very vast’, she vowed in the presence of Tathagatha Amoghasiddhi to preserve and defend from all harm all the sentient beings in the profound vastness of the ten directions. Seated in the equanimity of the meditation known as ‘completely subduing all demons’ daily, for 95 aeons, she established the minds of one billion and 10,000 million beings in deep meditation. Each night, too, in her capacity as Mistress of Kamadeva’s Realm she vanquished 10 million and 100,000 demons. Thus she became garlanded with the names of ‘Saviouress’, ‘Mainstay’, ‘Swift One’ and ‘Herione.’”

I found it interesting – reading from the great notes section of this book – that Tara as Red Tara (of Semi-wrathful Overpowering Activities)  - as the Indian Goddess Kurukulla is said to be evening mate to Kamadeva, the Indian god of desire and love, very similar to Eros and Cupid of the classical traditions. Kurukule is known as Mistress of Enchantments and is a patron of love magic. Both she and Kama carry bows and arrows – though in her case it is a bow and arrow of lotus flowers and she also carries the noose and the hook of compassion – to catch beings in order to save them from suffering. Anyway in this guise Tara could even be said to be in a sense  the daughter-in-law of The Goddess of Love Venus/Aphrodite who is mother to Eros/Cupid/Kama.

There is another legend recounted where Tara is born from the heart of the Great Compassion Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara after he (as the monk ‘Radiant Pure Light’) receives a blessing of ‘the Great Rays of Compassion’ from all the Buddhas of the 10 directions. So in that sense she was born at the same time he was born as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Here she came to protect beings from the eight and sixteen fears.

Other stories are given of her deeds and in various ‘aeons’ such as the following:

“Then in the aeon called Asangka, when all the Tathagathas of the 10 directions had consecrated her, she became the Mother who produces all the Buddhas. All that happened a beginningless time ago.”

In this very aeon it is said that countless buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, nagas, yaksas, and others gathered around the limitless center (axis mundi) where Arya Avalokitesvara intones the Tara Tantra and Mantra 10 million times.

Next are recounted various legends of the origin of the Tantric Tradition – where the tantras taught by various buddhas in various realms were gathered and guarded by Vajrapani – the Lord of Secrets, and stored in the realm of the wealth-lord Yaksha Vaisravana. Vajrapani in this account is said to have appeared as King Indrabhuti (of the land of Oddiyana – now Pakistan) to propagate the tantras. According to most Buddhist legends this is where the tantras first appear to humans. Another legend here says that 300 years after the passing of Buddha Shakyamuni – so around 150 B.C. – there spontaneously appeared the Mahayana Avatamsaka Sutra. The various classes of tantra - Kriya, Carya, Yoga, and Annutara – arose as well at this time period when apparently manifestations of Manjusri, Vajrasattva, Vajrapani, and other beings were occurring.

Next is a discourse of stories and legends of Tara protecting those who call on her from the 16 fears: Fears of enemies, lions, elephants, fire, poisonous snakes, brigands, prison walls, ocean waves, flesh-eating ogres, leprosy, mischief of Indra’s angels – the gandharvas, poverty, losing relatives, royal punishment, vajra missiles, and ruination of one’s aims. There are also the Eight Great Fears which are said to have outer and inner manifestations: 1) drowning or water = craving or attachment, 2) thieves = wrong or false views, 3) lions = pride, 4) snakes = envy or jealousy, 5) fire = hatred or anger, 6) spirits or flesh-eating demons = doubt, 7) captivity or imprisonment = avarice, 8) elephants = delusion or ignorance --- (from Rigpa Shedra website)  In these stories various statues and temples of Tara in various Indian lands gained the lore of various miracles – not so unlike those of the Virgin Mary in the last few centuries – but different for sure.

Another legend tells of the Acarya Hayapala who through one-pointed meditation was able to travel to Oddiyana and bring back various tantras – recalling them to a written form with full explanations where before they were in this area just incomplete oral traditions. These tantras were: 1) the Arising of Tara Tantra, 2) Candamaharosana Tantra 3) Tantra of Vajrapani 4) Tantra known as – Producing of Heruka from Oneself.

Several and various lineages are recounted in this book - virtually all from India – but several that later made it to Tibet. Taranatha also mentions several texts – many now lost – where these lineages are recounted. A siddha named Suryagupta is said to have composed various texts, mandala rituals, and sadhanas of accomplishment, associated with this Tara Tantra. I am not sure if these are still practiced. I do know that several of the Tara sadhanas I have practiced are termas, often gong ter, or mind treasures – from the mystical terma tradition where many sadhana texts were said to be hidden by Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyel, and a few others – and later discovered by magical tertons, or ‘treasure finders’  - often said to spontaneously appear from their minds.

Taranatha gives an account presumably from a text called, “The Accounts of the Succession of Acaryas of Yore” (arcaryas are great teachers) – where is given acounts of the eight Arcaryas being protected from the Eight Fears. These Acaryas overcome various difficulties through Tara’s help.

Another section gives accounts of unaccomplished practitioners who encounter magical and miraculous experiences and realizations under the influence of Tara.

Taranatha notes a period of decline during the 900’s A.D. when Buddhism did not have the support of the kings and so it is said there were less who gained the siddhis – due to less passing on and practicing of the techniques. There is a legend at this time that a great Tantra collection was sealed and hidden in a charnel ground. This collection was said to include: Tantras of Sri Heruka, Mahakala, Arising of Tara, Candamaharosana, Cathu-pitha-karmavali, and fragments of Siddhas Invocations of Divinities, and many other fragments. He also goes through some legends in this time period of the Mahasiddha Tilopa (Tillipa) who after attaining siddhi powers was able to travel to the mystical land of Uddiyana and encounter a “bluish-green girl” who transformed into Tara and taught him the Arising of Tara Tantra. Tilopa was progenitor for many lineages – often being said to have attained instruction directly from Buddha Vajradhara (a.k.a. the Tantric Budhha). He was the first human in the famed Kagyu lineage that spread to Tibet through Marpa and next in that line was the famed Tibetan Yogi Milarepa. He is also associated along with his students with the rise of the Cakrasamvara Tantra as well as the Hevajra Tantra. Some accounts of Dipankara (the famed Atisa are given) but since these are available elsewhere he gives accounts of a few of Dipankara’s students. Dipankara was well known as a monk but also as a  tantric practitioner of Tara in particular. His student Madhyamasimha became a priest to the King of Kasmir and was able to keep Buddhism in power for a while even in the presence of the Persian Turuskas. Although there are stories of the various Turk and Garlog Kings being subdued by Buddhist siddhas and promising not to harm Buddhists – history shows that eventually Buddhism pretty much declined to nothing in India although there is great acknowledgement among the Hindus of his accomplishments and teachings and he is regarded by many as the 9th avatar of Vishnu. There is one story where the deity Padma-Nartesvara (Lotus Lord of Dance) was invoked to subdue Muslims who were destroying Buddhist images and icons. This deity is apparently very similar to Shiva as Nagaraja – the King of Dance – and may represent a conjoined Buddhist-Hindu battle of magic against the invading and by now well-established Muslim empires. Buddhists were much more disparaged by the Muslims as they did not have a supreme god as some Hindus did and so were thought to be non-monotheistic and idol-worshipping pagans.

Taranatha also calls Origin of Tara Tantra – the profound King of the Mother Tantras. The feats of many Indian siddhas are recounted in this book and so it is valuable as history in a vast time period where little detailed written history is available. Taranatha notes that he received instruction in this tantra from his guru and from the works of the Mahasiddha Santipada who wrote elucidations about this tantra. Again, the notes given by the translator in this book are invaluable and compare different accounts of various siddhas and their time periods and accomplishments.

Finally there is an appendix with the most beloved – Homage to the 21 Forms of Tara.
I found it to be a particularly nice translation. One can gather by reading this homage that Tara is a Goddess of Benevolence who protects through both peaceful and wrathful means. Below are the first two homages:

“OM! (I pay) Homage to you, Noble and Holy Tara!
Homage to you Tara, O swift and courageous One,
Whose very eyes flicker like lightning, Thou
Born from the open flower of the lotus-face
Of the protector of the triple world.”

“Homage to You whose face is filled
With a hundred autumn moons,
O Thou who glows with a delicate light
Of a thousand assembled stars.”

I think Taranatha’s books offer a unique perspective into the Buddhist tradition. I have heard slightly different versions of some of these stories from Tibetan lamas and have also heard teachings that came originally from texts written by Lama Taranatha.