Thursday, September 10, 2009

The history and significance of the Lu

. Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tibetan Buddhism encompasses the confluence of Buddhism and certain religions of the Himalayas, which arrived in Tibet from India in the late 8th century. At that time, Indian Buddhism incorporated Hindu tantric and yogic practices with the classical doctrines of Buddha acknowledging two paths to enlightenment: one path involved the sutra practice based on wisdom, morality and concentration; the other path, which became the cornerstone of Tibetan spirituality involved the practice of sutra teachings with techniques of Hindu yoga and tantra.

Bon religion is the earliest tradition of Tibet. Although the increasing patronage of Buddhism led to its gradual discouragement, persecution and banishment, thanks to the persistent devotion of Drenpa Namkha (9th century) and Shenchen Kunga (10th century), Tibet’s indigenous religion was not abandoned to oblivion re-establishing its position alongside Buddhism in Tibet.

Natively shamanistic, Bon is mostly concerned with personal state of mind that the spirits in general and aims at bringing the selves in indirect communication with other spirits. To find harmony, the person needs to cultivate the ‘heartmind’ that allows harmony and insight into the spiritual world, including own spirits.

One of the most significant elements in Bon religion is the serpent spirit known as the Lu. The Lu, also known as Naga or Klu, is a form of mythical serpentine creature that appears as human or snake or in a combination of the two with a human torso and a coiled snake tail. The Lu inhabits the underworld, mainly in oceans, lakes and streams, but also in rocks and boulders.

The Bon religion perspective on the importance of the Lu is seen on the supernatural powers attributed to this spirit. Bon religion shamans believe that unseen forces are as numerous as the ones people can see anywhere in the nature, in every forest, tree, or house, big or small creatures, important or humble that from time to time may appear to humans in the form of visions or dreams.

All these creatures are believed to be Gods, extremely powerful, who can control the lives of humans and all the forces of the universe. Therefore, human happiness and liberation is bound to the well-being of these creatures in all spheres of existence. Cutting trees, building a house or digging a part of land upsets the Lu, which then will try to equate the illegitimate use of land and natural resources with stealing of the personal possessions of the humans. In the battle between the Lu and the human being, the weaker human will endure great hardships that may lead to death; the stronger Lu will react with rage and strike back at the human offenders, inflicting catastrophes, diseases and death. The important element is that the Lu will strike back at any human, even at innocent people, who may fall ill with leprosy and epidemics.

Humans are mostly vulnerable to the Lu when their luck is low because their weakness is immediately evident to other creatures. The shamans of the Bon religion, in order to prevent any harm associated to bad luck, hang strings of various prayer flags that bear the image of a horse as it is believed that the ‘wind horse’ (Lung-ta) is the symbol of good luck.

Another way to bring good luck is to practice a shamanistic ritual that is based on the Tashi Sojong sutra. This ritual involves the offering of conical-shaped cakes, known as tormas, to satisfy the Lu. The tormas have first been blessed by mantras to ensure their purification from ordinariness and meditational stabilization. The idea is to offer gifts to the Lu in exchange of using its land. The motivation of the shaman is driven by compassion and the purpose of the ritual is beneficial, especially as the shaman knows that the human accumulates negative karma by upsetting the Lu. Therefore, the ritual is performed with the purpose of transferring the consciousness of the human being Lu to another sphere where it will cause less or no harm to other beings. However, the ritual is not always successful as there are cases that the Lu may inhabit in a particular place that it doesn’t want to abandon for any reason.

The Lu is also pleased with vase-offering rituals in exchange of relieving humans from drought and other misfortunes. Because the Lu is believed to like fragrant smells, vase-offerings are filled with a variety of blessed cereals and precious metals and are placed in lakes where the Lu is known to inhabit.

According to Bon religion and Tibetan Buddhism in general, as humans cannot survive without building or some form of land exploitation, they only to keep the Lu satisfied is to perform peaceful, powerful, increasing or wrathful rituals, depending on tradition. However, the Lu is not strictly known as a malicious spirit. It can also be benevolent provided it is respected.

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