Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mysterious Over Momo: Book Discussion

                                                     Mysteries over Momo                        
           I am humbled to be part of D.C's elite Tibetan book club, and here is a snapshot of our last Friday discussion.

Who have thought, that the discussion of a serious subject as the Institute of Tibetan reincarnation and Chinese emperor would turn into such a fantastic night of fun and learning?

Primarily it was all set into motion with the generous hospitality by our gracious host Tashing and Tsering la. I was throw off completely when I step into their door and see everyone inside was busy like bees surrounding the countertop in making Momos, kneading the flour, mixing the ingredients, flattening the dough and styling the Momos one by one while engrossed in chitchat and with occasional rapturous laugh. It was a love of labor. It was a party!

Momos, (steamed dumpling), a traditional Tibetan delicacy, that is known for its laborious process, is a great feast for all because of its mouthwatering delicious taste. With a great sense of comradeship and fraternity, everyone is comfortably and pleasantly involved in all that take place in the house. Except few newer faces, the familiarly of all others put everyone at ease and home.

So at the backdrop of this, we met Friday, June 17  for our monthly book discussion on "The Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China: A Political History of the Tibetan institution of Reincarnation. By  Peter Schwieger 2015, Columbia University Press.

No sooner the food was ready, around 8:00 pm. We start to self-serve the steaming juicy momos with mouth stinging spicy chilly with a delicious veg platter, a feast for the eye and palate. 

As we dine and wine, our hostess Tsering la led the book discussion with the sharing of an insightful piece by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on reincarnation. This supplementary reading along with another interesting perspective shared by a Living Buddha as tulkus are known from YouTube video set the stage to dig into our proposed book for discussion.

The moderator has created a friendly and conducive environment for everyone to share their thoughts, whether they have read the book or none. This allows everyone to enjoy a moment of complete freedom to express their thoughts without reservation and any sense of inhibition.  As the wine and Momo warmed us up, everyone is apparently bubbling with ideas and questions. The discussion revolving around the Institute of reincarnation was very focused and matured. Everyone's intellectual caliber and inquiry into this subject are remarkably sound mainly based on critical thinking and analytical reasoning.

Our discussion attempt to answer the following questions that the book also explored:

How did the political role of tulku position develop? What was its nature in various circumstances? and how did the Emperor of China try to influence this role? Overall, we realize at the heart of this history is the relationship between the Dalai Lama (and their regents) and the emperor of China?

With examples from the book as a pointer for discussion, some shared anecdotal examples of ludicrous nature on the folly and abuse of the reincarnation Institute, and the Tulkus. Except that the difference is just in the nuance, everyone has more or less the same attitude, belief, and faith in reincarnations system. The questions, concerns and comments are very pointed and at time blunt and straightforward.

The wit, sarcasm and humor injected generously by our members during the discussions make the discourse light-hearted without losing the essence of the meaning.

From the conversation, it becomes clear to us that the Institute of reincarnation is unique to the Tibetan Buddhism. The identification, selection and installation of reincarnated are ridden with mystery and mysticism. Except little noticeable reincarnation, such as the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, and Karmapa, all other Tulkus are susceptible to abuse, cronyism, and nepotism during the selection process. As Tulkus is a social position of the privileged class with entitlement to wealth, inheritance and power.

The club members are particularly intrigued by the reference to a description of how to father a trulku in what is known as "treasure literature." Everyone was curious and got interested in acquiring that knowledge, but alas this was a mere temptation, and nothing was fully revealed, even when we passed well over midnight.

If we take history seriously, the Chinese Emperor deserves credit for popularizing the Institute of Tibetan reincarnation. The priest-patron relationship and its impact are fully shown in the following statement: 

"From the time Qing emperors began enforcing their sovereignty over Tibet in the early part of the eighteen century right up to the end of the nineteenth century; essentially none of the Dalai Lama exercised any political power of his own. But in their efforts to attain social and political stability, the Qing emperors had fashioned the Dalai Lama into the sacred head of the Ganden Podrang government, and thus inadvertently helped promote the image of Tibet as a country guided by the incarnations of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. When after more than two centuries the institution of the Dalai Lama was occupied once again the Charismatic personalities, this image had become such a strong force in Tibetan politics that the new Chinese government could no longer control it". (p.221)

My apologies, if you couldn't bear with my rumbling nonsensically, but I could not pass up in noting down the memorable night of fun and merriment and learning we had from the book discussion. Whenever there is Momos and Mosas I will miss it, so looking forward to the next discussion on certain articles that Yangkyi la will recommend. Cheers.