Tuesday, October 03, 2006

change of address!

Hi all, The Milarepa Land Trust has grown, and so we have moved to a more official web space:


Please do visit us in Second Life. Thanks for your interest.

Tenzin Tuque

Saturday, November 19, 2005

One Tibetan Hermitage, Strip Club Attached

[above, Tenzin inspects the roof of neighbouring Barbie Club, a popular escort club and strip joint in Second Life]

Our world is rife with unusual confluence and connection. At this very moment in Tibet, for example, one of the greatest temples of yogic instruction, the Lukhang, sits quietly a go-kart track and amusement park, just around the corner from the Potala Palace. And in Second Life, one of the metaverse's busiest escort services sits next to the Tibetan power place of Terdrom, a site inspired after the real-life hotsprings and nunnery north of Lhasa.

Well, it had to happen sometime. Hookers and monks are neighbours. [update: sadly, this temple location was moved back to Drak Yerpa in Zoe; conditions in the sim, extreme lag for example created by strippers, escorts and customers made it nearly impossible to operate a site in that location]

In RL, Terdrom is a remote mountain enclave about a half-day drive north of Lhasa. Its natural hotsprings -- mineral springs that magically bubble from a gravel riverbed -- go back to the 8th century, the early days of Buddhism in Tibet, when the great Indian teacher, Guru Rinpoche, tamed local demons and gifted the hotsprings to aspiring pilgrims, monks and nuns, "promising that their waters would cure every ailment of the body."

Back in SL, you get the Barbie Club thrown in for free. Perched above the waterfront hermitage in Refugio, patrons and working girls occasionally wander down to Terdrom's snowy waterfront and wonder at it all. Tibetan teachings and chanting on the audio stream do nothing if not confuse a freshly-serviced john who's tumbled down the steep hill and into Terdrom's purification waters.

[above, lotus meditation at Terdrom, in the shadow of Barbie]

More than a few people have wondered, why bother with Buddhism in Second Life? After all, malls, casinos and nightclubs do dominate the landscape -- hardly sacred terrain. But this confluence of desire, consciousness and imagination seems almost too perfect to ignore.

All those little green dots on the Second Life map, each represents a singular consciousness. We're all flying about, not too unlike the arhats, adepts and bodhisattvas depicted in so many ancient Buddhist paintings, all highly-realized beings who can fly, withstand cold, not require sleep or food and/or conjure spells and various magical objects at will. (All mundane powers in the face of enlightenment, which is the supreme accomplishment, as traditional texts note.)

Even with all its griefers and kink, Second Life might well embody core Buddhist teachings about how consciousness is not singular, that avatars are as real a phenomenon of one's mind as anything else. Each green dot on the SL world map is a bundle of memories, aspirations, desires, an emanation of our real-life selves. Put another way, Second Lifers are often surprised at how much of their real-life (RL) selves winds up out there on the grid, making friends, enemies, lovers, cyber-sexing, building, destroying, exploring, searching. This kind of extension of self into virtual worlds -- sometimes profoundly invested in virtual life, if the emotion on display in SL's discussion forums is any indication -- poses questions, not so much about the melding of machine and mind, but about our waking assumptions about identity and everyday existence.

Do Second Life's avatars and sims pose some kind of new mental yoga that might help to broaden and dissolve assumed truths about real life? Tantric adepts and siddahs from the 4th century onward have tried to break down innate, mundane ideas about reality and consciousness, all in an effort to fully realize our inherent potential.

Put yet another way, is playing Second Life a subtle,unfocusedd form of meditation? Can the very architecture of advanced on-line gaming potentially benefit its denizens, simply by allowing people to dissolve themselves into on-line worlds?

I have no idea how to begin answering these questions. But I do recall a favourite quote from the late Kalu Rinpoche, a great lama from Eastern Tibet who spent his last days teaching and founding dharma centres in the West:
"It is quite truly said in the Vajrayana tradition that the deeper the dharma, the deeper the negativity that we encounter in our practice." [from The Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism, Snow Lion Press]

Spiritual progress can be a messy business; anyone who says otherwise is probably selling you something. Again, it all comes back to some of the unlikely connections found within the landscape of Second Life's metaverse: strippers and griefers and other denizens of SL's sketchier realms are not only fellow travelerss, but emissaries from our own consciousness, the darker corners of mind that nevertheless possess great energy and potential for realization. The tantric path, the Vajrayana, is filled with images of demons, sexual consort, wrathful Buddhas and such. Second Life often gets a bad rap for distilling essential and sometimes flawed human energies -- and in-world Buddhists sometimes get hassled for being there -- but it is probably as real and accessible a version of un-edited, unvarnished mind as one can find online. In other words, SL is like a mandala -- a three-dimensional otherwordly abode -- not for deities or buddhas, but for our inherent buddhanature, as obscured as it may be at times.

So we build temples within this landscape to celebrate and remind ourselves of said potential, just as generations past explored uncharted terrain in RL, and we see what happens next...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What is the Milarepa Land Trust?

[above, Drak Yerpa, Tibet, upper reaches, 1999]

About the Milarepa Land Trust

We're a non-profit group dedicated to the development of Buddhist sites and content across Second Life. With homage to the 1000-year tradition of Indo-Tibetan teachers and their lineages, we build and manage temples, hermitages and other forms of rich content that are intended to engage Second Lifers with an expansive virtual experience, based on real-life sites and teachings.

As in RL, fidelity and respect to dharma (Bhuddist teachings) is paramount. We do not role-play as geshes (learned monks with degrees from established tantric colleges ), rinpoches or proffer teachings beyond what we're individually able to provide in good conscience as lay practioners. That said, everyone in Buddhism is still a student at some level. We're not here to evangelize or cloister true-believers. Besides, that's boring!

Instead, the starting point is this: Everyone, yes everyone, has that a grain of perfection -- a fully-realized, enlightened Buddha -- within them, and our development of Second Life content reflects the essential optimism of core dharma teachings. So weather we attempt to re-build of an 8th century temple or launch a few monks sky-diving, the focus ultimately remains on this expansive vision, one that regards human potential with near-limitless possibility. (Heck, you can fly in SL, survive hunger, cold, fire, rez objects at will -- your in-world avatar already emulates the temporal abilities of a highly-realized yogi or yogini...)

Current Milarepa locations include:

  • Drak Yerpa Tibetan Hermitage, Zoe

  • HQ for the Milarepa Land Trust, a mountain retreat of Tibet's greatest masters just outside of Lhasa (attached photo above is from Drak Yerpa's upper reaches). Also, check the yoga ashram 250m above the ground!

  • Drolma Lhakhang Temple, Wakeley

  • A Green Tara Temple from the 11th century, the uniquely well-preserved abode of Atisha in Tibet and refuge of Green Tara's compassion and healing teachings in SL

    [above, Drolma Lhakhang in SL]

  • Medicine Buddha college and refuge, SupportforHealing

  • In partnership with SL pioneers Support For Healing, we are attempting to build and staff a simple mountain temple that serves SFH members and offers refuge to all!

    There are also many Milarepa stupas in other locales across Second Life. Thanks to all who support our work!

    If you would like to host a stupa or monastery on your own land, we can deliver and build from RL specs. Our focus is Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, but we look forward to collaborating on Chinese and Mongolian projects -- the sacred Chinese Island of Puto Shan, Mongolia's remote monastery of Baldan Baraivan, obscure but important cave sites across the Himalayas. Tenzin Tuque and other SLers have been there and are attempting to bring these sublime, powerful and inspiring places to Second Life.

    We accept both land and tier donations. In fact, if you are a monthly paid member and either do not own land or have spare tier capacity to lend, we would most welcome any contributions!

    You can also volunteer. Are you a skilled builder with Buddhist sympathies? Are you a bad-ass scripter or animator who can't resist a good thanga? Come work with us to create what hasn't been done before -- visualizations, ambient sound sculptures, experiments with all the building tools SL has to offer. Again, contact Tenzin Tuque in-world about collaborations and commissions.

    Finally, please join the Drak Yerpa group in SL for future updates and event notices. Or, for non-joiners of all persuasions, there is this very blog, Flying Monks: http://flyingmonks.blogspot.com/

    Tashi Delek!

    Tenzin Tuque
    Milarepa Land Trust

    Friday, October 21, 2005

    New Temple in Second Life!

    Drolma Lhakhang
    A Green Tara Temple and former refuge of Atisha, one of Tibet's greatest teachers.
    Founded in 1055, but currently under construction.

    At Free Tibet, secondlife://Wakeley/28/ 69

    Atisha (982-1054 A.D.) was an Indian Buddhist master who helped revive Buddhism in Tibet, a period often known as the 11th century renaissance, a time when the great foundations for Tibetan Buddism were laid. Atisha spent the last 12 years of his life in Tibet and much of it at or near Drolma Lhakhang, about 45 minute's drive south-west of Lhasa, where the great teacher died in 1054.

    So sacred and unique is this temple is that the Indian government managed to persuade China not to destroy or deface the site during the cultural revolution of the 1960s, one of the very few Tibetan religious locales that escaped the epic destruction of Mao Zedong's campaign within Tibet. In RL, it is a modest structure, but imbued with enough energy and 11th century artwork that pilgrims continue to assemble inside its dingy, dark spaces.

    The devotional focus of this temple is Green Tara (Drolma), who has been described as the mother of all buddahs and had a particularly strong connection to Atisha.
    "Followers of Green Tara believe that her special powers will help overcome dangers, fears, and anxieties, and that she will grant wishes. She is also believed to help one cross over from danger to safety or from suffering to happiness. Her femininity imbues her with soft and compassionate feelings, and she acts very quickly and directly as a savioress. Representing active compassion, she is particularly worshipped for her ability to overcome the most difficult situations."

    Her mantra, to be repeated as much as possible by the devoted practitioner, goes like this:

    For now, Tibet's King Songsten Gampo (6l7-698 A.D.) sits on the main altar. He's the construction supervisor.

    Thanks to Free Tibet for land hosting this build. Join the Drak Yerpa Group in SL for future in-world updates.