Tibet of the Mind

Tibet – a dream, an ideal, and a model:
our formation and interpretation

Tibet has always been contradictorily sensed within the European cultural environment. For Europeans Tibetan culture was long unavailable, magic and incomprehensible. The first travellers (Olrich of Pordenone, Marco Polo, Wilhelm of Rubruk, …) portrayed Tibetans as praying servants and Tibetan ‘Lamaism’ as a trashy and degenerated religion and the devil’s creation. This picture more or less prevailed in Europe until the end of the 19th century. In 1875 another extreme emerged in the perception of Tibetan culture and spirituality. At that time, Russian emigrant H. P. Blavatská established the Theosophical Society in New York. The doctrine and system of this society was allegedly created under the direction of ‘Tibetan mahatmas’, who telepathically let Mrs. Blavatská in on the secret Tibetan teaching. Since then Tibet has become a ‘lost paradise’, an idealized fount of wisdom, which has the power to save all of Europe. After the First World War massacres, the ideas of this ‘kingdom of spirit’ deepened. Alexandra David-Néel, dressed up like a beggar woman and made a journey to Lhasa. At the same time, a surrealist group asked the Dalai Lama in an open letter to save the European spirit. And when in 1957 a mystification novel ‘The Third Eye’ by Lobsang Rampa was published, Europeans strengthened their belief that Tibet is a place through which astral worlds travel, the monks levitate and exceptional mysteries take place on every corner. This myth is apparent in the European esoteric literature to this day.

Ironically, Europe did not witness a balance in the evaluation of Tibetan culture and various forms of Tibetan Buddhism until 1949, when Tibet was occupied by China and the majority of Tibetan intellectuals and clerical masters exiled. Therefore the Tibetan tragedy has one positive consequence: ‘the spread of Vajrayana learning to the West’. Tibet and its thinking has become a permanent part of the European cultural heritage ever since.

In 1959 (this date is symbolical for this project) the spiritual leader, Dalai Lama Tändzin Gjamccho, left Tibet in the middle of the night. He left to Dharamsala, India, which the wise man Pawo Rinpoche had foreseen. A couple days before the Dalai Lama’s escape he said: “… Dharma may one day disappear from Tibet but only to be widespread all over the world.” In France, the United States, Scotland and other places many meditation centres and monasteries for people from the West have been established. As a part of the alternative culture and the 1960s movement many intellectuals found a spiritual anchor in Tibetan Buddhism, on the basis of which they started to build new systems of values. Psychologists, artists, biologists, film-makers, and architects found inspiration in introspective and psychosomatic techniques of Vajrayana. The Beat Generation poets became the students of significant Tibetan Lamas and leading experts of cognitive sciences met with the Dalai Lama regularly. It was an unwritten duty of the leading representatives of counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s to travel to India, Nepal or at least practice some type of Buddhist meditation.

In 1989 the 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became the most popular person on the planet. His books and speeches were published and the circulation of his pieces reached a million. The translations of the most secret spiritual teaching became bestsellers. Tibetan Buddhism was presented in the media including newspapers, magazines and even Hollywood and it became a true phenomenon. The wave influenced, though only superficially, all classes of European and American population.

It is not the intention of this introduction to analyze why Tibetan Buddhism and certain features of Tibetan culture had such a deep impact on western thinking. Can this ‘success’ of Buddhism be understood in the context of the postmodern crisis of values? Or is it because Buddhism is the ‘spirituality for laics’ as Dalai Lama constantly points out? Or are we full of tales of abstract morality and ‘wisdom’? Or does it offer concrete techniques and methods which provide turning to ourselves and thus to both individual and collective happiness? Was it really Tibetan Buddhism which revived universal responsibility and sympathy in the western society? Do hidden expectations or its tolerance to our ‘sins’ play a role in accepting Tibetan Buddhism? Is it true that the encounter of Buddhism with the western culture was “the most important event of the 20th century” as Arnold Toynbee stated? What was its influence on aesthetics, art, and philosophy? Has Buddhism helped us with reflexion and transformation of our collective phobias and anxieties? What can Tibet give us for the future? Is Tibetan culture created by a similar imagination? Many questions remain. Our project “Tibet of the Mind” attempts to find the answers but we would prefer if the participants of the festival found the answers themselves. As there are many questions to which no definitive answers exist.

In order to keep at least some Tibetan spiritual inspiration for the future we have to leave the perpetual and uncritical perception of this phenomenon. In many respects Tibet is for many of us only “…the Tibet of the mind, the faint ancient empire where the thoughts become concrete and dreams can be lived.” As any other culture, Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism naturally have some dark layers too. Unless we are aware of these ‘shadows’ our ideals will be gradually receding and the entire inspirational power of “Tibet of the Mind” will vanish as another postmodern humming and the inspirational personality of Dalai Lama or Gautama Buddha himself transforms into another Santa Claus with a huge stomach. In Tibet, this non-reflected side is represented by some esoteric rituals, Bonist and shaman traditions, some gods, and ritual objects, but mostly by the everyday life of Tibetans. The realistic view emerges through a more critical approach to history, which, from certain viewpoints, is as problematic as any other national history. The project “Tibet of the Mind” desires to reflect and open this aspect as well.

The project “Tibet of the Mind” aspires to be another wave of the Far Eastern mission to the West. We are convinced that today’s world currently accepts differences and that each tradition has the ability to include other traditions. Thanks to this phenomenon, we can peek inside the roots of our own tradition through a distant Tibetan culture. Quoting the words of Martin Heidegger: “Not only our own but also the foreign must be studied.”

Ivo Hucl

Project Duration: March 5th, 2009 – May 5th, 2009

(On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 14th Dalai Lama’s exile)
The Gallery of the New Town Hall in Prague (March 5th – April 5th)
West Bohemian Museum in Pilsen (April 5th – May 5th)

Organizers:

Potala, o.s.
Horovo nám. 3
180 00 Praha 8
www.potala.cz
potala@potala.cz

Bezejmenná čajovna (Nameless Teahouse)
Šťáhlavice 63
332 04 Šťáhlavy
www.bezejmenna.name
bezejmenna@volny.cz

Project Curators:

PhDr. Zuzana Ondomišiová, Potala, telephone: 775 156 886

Ivo Hucl, Bezejmenná cajovna, telephone: 723 406 787

Production:
Lucie Šafaříková, telephone: 723 949 993, e-mail: safarikova.l@volny.cz

Co-Organizer:
City District Praha 2 / New Town Hall (gallery)
Novoměstská radnice, příspěvková organizace (New Town Hall, allowance organization)
Karlovo nám. 1/23
120 00 Praha 2
Director: Bc. Gabriela Kolářová, telephone - office: 224 948 229
director@novomestskaradnice.cz

Programme

Exhibition:

Tibet of the Mind (ritual, sacral and artistic objects) – Zuzana Ondomišiová, Potala, o.s. (CR)
Wooden Buddha Statues – Náprstek Museum (CR)
Eternal Body – Miroslav Páral (CR)
Free Objects – Ivan Jelínek (CR, USA)
Dark Nets – Zen Perry (Australia)
Light Installations – Marie Jirásková (CR)
Meditation through Drawing – Jirí Kornatovský (CR)
Recycle for Tibet – Dáša Štrosová (CR)
Faces Behind the Wall – Jindrich Štreit (CR) - photo
Tibet (the 1950s) – J.Vaniš – J. Sís (CR) - photo
F. Drtikol (CR) – paintings
Tibet through Czech Eyes – photographs, video sequences, and paintings, not only by Czech photographers, painters, etc. but also by other significant adventurers in the areas of Tibetan culture.
Auction of photographs (paintings) to support Tibetans and their culture

Performances:

Monk Rituals (Cham – ritual dance or sand Mandala Making)
Alternative: artistic performance (Tibetan dancers)

Lectures and Seminars:

(Always on scheduled days, e.g. twice a week)
The Origin of Buddhist Art – Lama Donall Creedon (Scotland)
From Ancient Greece to India – Lama Donall Creedon (Scotland)
Tibetan Buddhism and Europe – Fredéric Lenoir (France)
Christianity and Buddhism – Tomáš Halík (CR)
Bonism – Dan Berounský (CR)
The Traditional Life of Tibetans in Today’s Tibet – Zuzana Ondomišiová (CR)
Hidden Tibet – Martin Slobodník (Slovakia)
Discovering Tibet – Josef Kolmaš (CR)
Sogyal Rinpoche – The Book of Life and Death (France)
Denis Eysseric (Dondub) (France)
Cross-Branch Workshops

Films, Concerts, Theatre, Performances:

The Message of Tibetans – Arnaud Desjardins (France) film
Tibet – Buchty a Loutky / Cakes and Puppets theatre group (CR) theatre
Imre Thorman and Michael Thalmann (Switzerland) Butoh dance
Liao I-wu – Slaughter (China) scenic presentation of the monumental poem
Covertly in Tibet – Jezza Neuman (48 min., GB) film
Tibet: The Cry of the Snow Lion – Tom Pinzet (104min., USA) film
The Chronicle of Tragedy – Ludovic Seggara (56 min. France) film
Buddha’s Lost Children – Mark Verkerk (97 min., Denmark) film
Thin Ice – Helean Berthas (57 min., Sweden) film

Other Accompanying Programmes:

Teahouse / tea exhibition
- Degustation of Himalayan tea
- Degustation of traditional Tibetan meals

Presentation of Czech non-profit organizations engaged in Tibetan and Himalayan cultures.

Presentation of the basic literature in Czech and publishers who have a long-term focus on this theme.

Catalogue of the exhibition / preparation