28 May 2010

A common question

āṃḥ Buddhist TattooI've lost count of the number of times I've been asked about one particular bīja or akṣara. In Roman it is: āṃḥ. It seems that one particular version of this has captured the imagination of people browsing the web (see left). I'm not clear where the original came from, but it may be attributable to tattoo artist Andy Shou.

In my opinion this letter is not particularly well done, the lines are somewhat skewed - it is probably a design rather than calligraphy and therefore lacks the proper proportions and the connectedness that comes from a practised hand.

I have some basic info on this figure on my letter 'a' page.

The story is that in the Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra, one of two centrally important Tantric Texts for the Japanese Shingon School of Buddhism, the four basic variations on the letter a (ie a ā aṃ aḥ) are linked to the four stages of practice: bodhi, carya, saṃbodhi, nirvaṇa. The combined elements of all four letters give the figure in question and represent the culmination of Buddhist practice. It also stands for Mahāvairocana, the Dharmakāya Buddha as he appears in the Garbhadhātu Maṇḍala.

I've done a fresh calligraphy in my current style for this blog entry.

26 May 2010

Calligraphy Article

Smashing Magazine has published an article called "The Beauty Of Typography: Writing Systems And Calligraphy Of The World" that includes a section on Devanāgarī and Tibetan writing and uses an image from visiblemantra.org to illustrate the Tibetan script (it's actually the Tibetan Machine Uni font, but I laid it out, and typed it).

Thanks to Samudradaka of circular cube webdesign who alerted me to this. And to Vitaly at Smashing Magazine for creating a link to visiblemantra.org when I pointed out the image had been taken without permission or credit.

20 May 2010

Random Mantras on the Internet

I get a lot of questions about mantras. They fall into a few different categories. One is the person who wants a "translation" of a mantra so they can understand what it "means", with the implication that they want to take up, or have already taken up, the practice of chanting the mantra without a teacher or guide.
In my opinion a mantra on its own is not much good. A magic spell has 'power' whether you understand it or not. I don't think mantras are like this. Just finding a mantra on the internet and chanting it is of doubtful benefit. If you absolutely must do it, then go for something simple with lot's written about it by a range of well known and well qualified people. You are not so special, or in such a unique situation, that the oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ mantra won't suit you fine.

If you don't feel you understand a mantra then don't use it. If there is no one you can ask about it, face to face, then it's probably not the practice for you. Translating a mantra often just trivialises it, and misses the point. Find a teacher. If there are no Buddhists in your area then try http://www.wildmind.org/.

My website is a resource for practitioners and I don't recommend using it as a sweet shop for collecting mantras, or for choosing mantras at random. I think all Buddhist practices require regular contact with more experienced practitioners.

Don't cheat yourself. 
Mantras are not magic spells. 
Find a teacher. 
This is my advice.

04 May 2010

The Om Team

I came across this report on the physics of oṃ in the Guardian, written by Mark Abrahams who is also the editor of the annals of improbable research. Apparently these guys are getting their papers into peer reviewed journals. The surprise goes further when one reads the paper and discovers that the editor allowed it through without correcting the English! I never get such an easy ride! Perhaps in computing they don't care so much about grammar? Having looked through their paper I think it is fair to conclude that several days practice chanting leads to more regular articulation of mantras. This is what their results show, though their conclusions go somewhat beyond this.

02 May 2010

Virtual Vinod

There are only a few people in the world able to spot the mistakes I make and Vinod is one of them! He regularly writes in to point out typos.

I have been using his script converter for a year or so now and find it incredibly useful. Vinod has just upgraded his website and added almost a dozen scripts to his converter. This means that we can input in any 19 Indic scripts (including several versions of Romanisation) and output any of the others.

In addition there are a wealth of other resources - essays, translations and calligraphy.

The main website is here: http://www.virtualvinodh.com/
The script converter is here: http://www.virtualvinodh.com/aksharamukha