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Aug. 17 2010 — 5:07 am | 87 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Blessed by the phallus on a Himalayan pilgrimage

Everyone loves to go for a picnic in Bhutan.

The Divine Madman

Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who came to Bhutan from Tibet, was a great Buddhist saint who used the phallus as a 'medium' to subdue and discipline the malevolent spirits.

The young do not feel intruded when the old tag along with packed lunches. The old have no qualms about sharing high school jokes with their grandchildren as the pines and the cypresses shade their walk to the picnic.

They carry packed lunches in wooden tiffins and tea in Chinese-made flasks with pictures of scary dragons. Picnics are for everyone, as the destination is a monastery.

National dress is mandatory in Bhutan to enter religious sites. So, men can be seen in a Scottish-styled knee-length robe (gho) and women wearing a highly colorful and intricately designed ankle-length dress (kira).

If the climb to the monastery is too inaccessible, then the gho and the kira are stuffed into a backpack along with the lunch.

The picnickers wear jeans, jackets and sneakers and listen to Curt Cobain or Britney Spears from their ear plugs. Some mobile phones scream out loud FM stations playing local Dzongkha songs.

Chimi Lhakhang will not seem far away as you climb up to the monastery enjoying the blend of music, nature and the gurgle of River Punatsangchhu.

Tourists who come to this 14th Century monastery, drive up the hill and have to stop by the rice fields. Then it’s a leisurely walk until the complex wood work on the roof become clearer.

But the first time I went there, I took a different route from the northern side. It was a walk up from Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, till the culvert on the road from were you could see the monastery of the Divine Madman who subdued demons and women with his enormous phallus.


Then we descend to the banks of the river, walk alongside it till we reach the foot of the monastery hill.

The climb uphill was always punctuated by the stories about the maverick saint, whose blessings the local females and tourists seek to become pregnant. The walk would become smoother with the stories and chants about him.

Here is a smooth prayer, which the saint had apparently taught:

The mind of a Bodhisattva is smooth,
The talk of self-seekers is smoother,
But the thighs of a virgin are smoother than silk:
That is the teaching on the Three Smooth Things.
Women in the group would giggle as the men would further be inspired and continue churning out more outrageous ones.

The divine thunderbolt

Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who came to Bhutan from Tibet, was a great Buddhist saint who used the phallus as a ‘medium’ to subdue and discipline the malevolent spirits. The use of phallus was also intended to free up the social inhibitions enforced by the established values.

The blessing of the phallus kept in the monastery is considered sacred especially to barren women. And once they give birth, the child, male or female, is named after the saint, Kuenley.

The phallus of the saint is drawn on walls of houses across the country and one cannot miss it or avoid it.

Elsewhere it would seem scandalous, but that’s what makes Bhutan different and makes even a picnic spiritually satisfying.

I no longer stay near the temple. Almost 70 kilometers away, I stay in the capital of Bhutan now. But I have been there, a couple of times after on taxis and motorbikes.

In the last week of August, I had the opportunity to talk about the temple to a small group of students pursuing a Masters degree in cultural psychology.

We had a lively discussion for about two hours, but I didn’t recite this centuries old Drukpa Kuenley son:

The bed is the workshop of sex,
And should be wide and comfortable;
The knee is the messenger of sex,
And should be sent up in advance

Jul. 31 2010 — 12:46 pm | 78 views | 1 recommendations | 2 comments

Adding to goodbye porn: my first ‘list’ post on TrueSlant’s last day

Never think of a list post on the day you are out from the site you were writing. From day one, start mulling all story ideas as lists of three, seven,  ten, twelve,best, worst etc…

Are you an exotic writer? Non-American ‘isms’ that can grab eyeballs from your remote locations include Communism(Marxism), Buddhism, Talibanism etc…

If you are writing from queer corners of the third world pepper your posts with names that resemble The Dalai Lama or of any beard-donning-gun-totting Khan or Mohammed.

Even if you do not have any porn-related subject to write you can co(i)n new third-world themes as poverty porn, ethnic porn, religious porn etc…

Season your writing with outbursts like fuck and asshole: I assure, you won’t have to quit all fucked-up. (btw I am using the words for the first and the last time on T/S. But I have unsuccessfully attempted sex-related posts)

When you start writing for a site, confirm whether you would be paid or not. If you are complacent, you will end up not writing enough like me (and becoming lazy and not focusing on increasing  number of views or comments) or will remain unpaid till you are graciously kicked out.

The 1 H that follows the 5 Ws is hits not how.

You can follow me at:

Read my old T/S posts and upcoming pieces at http://grossblogalhappiness.wordpress.com/

I twitter regularly http://twitter.com/abytharakan

I am on facebook http://www.facebook.com/abytharakan

I am a consultant with http://www.businessbhutan.bt/:  the only financial newspaper from Himalayan Bhutan, the world’s youngest democracy.

Very soon I will start writing for http://futurechallenges.org/web/guest/about

Acknowledgments: For all wonderful friends in Bhutan and elsewhere who read my T/S page, for Coates who gave me a space here.

Jun. 25 2010 — 10:14 am | 297 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Portland paper wanted to report Gore’s masseuse sex story three years back

You may ask why I am so interested in Al Gore. I am not American. I am not married, forget divorcing after 40 years of living together.

You see, it’s just this climate change thing. Because to get the voice of a third world country to be heard in the international media, there should be frequent bomb blasts, bad English or melting glaciers.

And thanks to Uncle Gore, his climate change documentary has helped a lot of people understand climate change in my part of the world.

Since we learnt global warming through him, we have also started asking why Gore couldn’t bore (sorry bear) the marriage with Tipper.

Thus, the interest in him.

But unfortunately, I have not been able to access the National Enquirer story about the massage therapist who accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2006 in a Portland hotel room.

When I searched the story, Internet Explorer said I cannot access this story in my country.

And then I bumped across this Salon article which said the Portland Tribune got a tip  about the incident and followed the story for a year, but couldn’t publish it because the story didn’t couldn’t keep up with the paper’s “standards of journalistic responsibility.”

Using a combination of sources and shoe leather, the Tribune spent a year tracking down the alleged victim, reaching out to associates of hers and of Gore, and learning about their habits and their accounts of the evening in question. The paper went so far as to take out ads on Craigslist searching for more potential victims in other cities that Gore had visited. But in the end, the Tribune could not put together a story that met its standards of journalistic responsibility.

“The truth is we very much wanted to report the story on Al Gore,” said Mark Garber, 54, executive editor of the Tribune, a 60,000-circulation free weekly that also publishes news every day online. “We worked on it for a year so that we could report the story. There’s nothing we would have liked more.” Salon reported.

May. 27 2010 — 5:42 am | 95 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The True/Slant voice from distant Himalayas

I write from a place where you get a broadsheet  newspaper only a day or two after it is published from neighboring India. The newspaper industry in this Buddhist Kingdom of around  700,000 people is small. We have two daily tabloid-size newspapers and four weeklies.

Cinema in Thimphu

Image via Wikipedia

But this country, which had its first national elections for a democratic parliament in 2008 after 100 years of royal rule is important geopolitically.

Wedged between the worlds biggest markets, India and China, this country of deep ravines and dense forests, prides of a development philosophy called Gross National Happiness.

Economists like Joseph Stiglitz are deeply engaging with the idea as a workable alternative for the Wall Street driven capitalistic model.

Though rich in natural resources, Bhutan has pledged in it’s Constitution signed with golden ink  by the  30-year-old Oxford-educated monarch, that 60% of the country will be forests for all times to come.

Bhutan is also a global warming touchstone, thanks to the fast melting glaciers that feed its economic power houses, hydro power power projects.

Due to its isolated nature, the international media has been portraying  Bhutan as a shy Shangri-La and the last bastion of Tantric Buddhism after the fall of Tibet. Much of the coverage has been too romanticized and sometimes is even  filled with lies, like the award-winning Washington Post correspondent who wrote that yaks wait for a signal from the traffic policeman in capital Thimphu.

Foreign correspondents fly in for a day or two, churn out a feel-good story, and leave. My urge to write for an international audience was encouraged by the way this region, including my country, India, has been represented in the international media.

Edward Said has written about how Muslims of the Middle East were often depicted as filthy-rich oil sheikhs or terrorists. But no one has substantially studied about how Buddhists are being depicted as one-dimensional saints who smile 24/7 and cannot come to grips with modern ways of life (read democracy, banking, English language etc).

True/Slant has provided me an opportunity to present this region as honestly as possible without bordering on the exotica, but at the same time write stuff that interests this site’s audience. I am not a paid writer here, so I am not worried about what happens to me when True/Slant enters the Forbes fold. This Daily Finance piece  by T/S Contributor Jeff Bercovici sounded interesting, reflecting the fear of many other writers here.

True/Slant, the blogging platform for journalists and other experts, is in for a major overhaul underits new owner, Forbes Media. Lewis Dvorkin, founder of the former and newly appointed chief product officer of the latter, previewed some of the changes in store during a Wednesday morning conference call with True/Slant contributors. (There are 300 or so, including me.)

Dvorkin was careful to say that it’s still early days and there remains much to be determined, but the overall thrust is pretty much what you would expect: A lot of the True/Slant content that doesn’t fall intoForbes’ areas of focus — business, investing, economics, government, health care, etc. — will likely disappear, and the writers who produce it will either need to find new topics to write about or new outlets to write for. “Forbesis different than True/Slant,” Dvorkin said. “There are a lot of things they don’t do. They don’t cover ice skating [for example].”

“More Directed, More Focused, More Angled”

All T/S bloggers will be kept on and paid through June, but during that time, Dvorkin andForbeswill determine which ones to keep and which to drop. Niche blogs in areas outsideForbes’ ken — such as, say,a fan blog about a single football team in the NFL’s smallest media market– are likely to go, but so are those blogs whose focus is too nonspecific. “Moving forward, the generalists’ role … would not be the best way to go,” Dvorkin said. “A lot of the pages will be more directed, more focused, more angled.

In a humane touch, those writers who aren’t invited to stay on will have the option of migrating their archives onto a new WordPress blog with technical assistance from True/Slant. See full article from DailyFinance:http://srph.it/9pjHNn

Even T/S has the power to generate the same insecurity that traditional media layoffs created. In such times, you return to the music of the evening pines. Maybe that’s why people love to read about Shangri-La.

From outside my window, I can see a riot of colors as the first spring flowers are still in bloom.  An evening rain has cleared the sky, a few reluctant clouds still hang from mountain tops like a sulking child. Today is full moon and Buddha Parinirvana, Lord Buddha’s birthday. People, young and old, dressed in their best attire are returning home after visiting monasteries. Life is Good!!!

May. 21 2010 — 3:06 am | 882 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Will Dalai Lama’s Embrace Of Marxism Help Where Hollywood Failed?

The current Dalai Lama (left), as a young adult, meets with Mao Zedong (right) at the National Peoples Congress in 1954. Five years later the Dalai Lama would flee. A meeting between the two offices has not occurred since. (AP Photo)

This week, the Dalai Lama told a Manhattan gathering that he is a “Marxist”, half-a-century after he fled his homeland of Tibet, following occupation by Chinese Communists.

“Still I am a Marxist,” the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said in New York, where he arrived with an entourage of robed monks and a heavy security detail to give a series of paid public lectures.

Marxism has “moral ethics, whereas capitalism is only how to make profits”, the Dalai Lama, 74, said, reported ABC News.

But taking a middle path, the world’s most famous Buddhist monk did not forget to credit the Chinese version of capitalism.

Capitalism “brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people’s living standards improved”, he said.

But will his love affair with Marx help the cause of thousands of Tibetan refugees expecting to go back home one day?

After his exile, the Dalai Lama has followed a policy of traveling to capitals of Western European countries and to the United States to garner support for the cause. Hollywood stars like Richard Gere are his followers. But tinsel town’s sympathy has only proved counterproductive, Historian Patrick French who wrote Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land said at the first Indo-Bhutan literary festival in Thimphu on Wednesday.

“They (Tibetan refugees) thought popular pressure could sway the Chinese,” he said.

In a 2008 March op-ed in the New York Times Patrick French wrote:

The International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington, is now a more powerful and effective force on global opinion than the Dalai Lama’s outfit in northern India. The European and American pro-Tibet organizations are the tail that wags the dog of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

These groups hate criticism almost as much as the Chinese government does. Some use questionable information. For example, the Free Tibet Campaign in London (of which I am a former director) and other groups have long claimed that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese since they invaded in 1950. However, after scouring the archives in Dharamsala while researching my book on Tibet, I found that there was no evidence to support that figure. The question that Nancy Pelosi and celebrity advocates like Richard Gere ought to answer is this: Have the actions of the Western pro-Tibet lobby over the last 20 years brought a single benefit to the Tibetans who live inside Tibet, and if not, why continue with a failed strategy?

Patrick French said the Dalai Lama “should have closed down the Hollywood strategy a decade ago and focused on back-channel diplomacy with Beijing.”

An ethnic Tibetan friend tells me that it would not be a good idea for the Dalai Lama to call himself a Marxist. “He may be trying to say that he has no ideological clash with the Chinese government, but people may not understand it.”

The Dalai Lama’s love affair with Marxism is not a new thing. For the September 27, 1999, issue of the Time magazine, he wrote:

Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.

Instead, the Chinese communists brought Tibet a so-called “liberation.” These people were not implementing true Marxist policy. If they had been, national boundaries would not be important to them. They would have worried about helping humanity. Instead, the Chinese communists carried out aggression and suppression in Tibet. Whenever there was opposition, it was simply crushed. They started destroying monasteries and killing and arresting lamas.

The Dalai Lama’s Buddhist position of accepting the goodness in everything has not really worked well in dealing with the Chinese. Apart from enthralling a handful of hip, new-agey Marxists in the West, his comments cannot be expected to help the Tibetans unless he starts talking of raw, real politics.

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    About Me

    It all started by dropping newspapers at doorsteps on chilly mornings riding a bicycle that broke down often.

    Newspaper-years later, now I ride a two-decade old motorbike to office and spend late nights banging my head over subject-verb agreement and perfect headlines.

    The bicycle owner was a school-going teenager from a below-the-sea-level village in southern India. The motorbike owner works in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between giants, India and China.

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    Contributor Since: December 2009