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Aug 04
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Near to the Heart, Part Two

In part two of this interview with the founder of Surmang Foundation, Lee Weingrad shares with us some of the keys to his fascination with the Forbidden City.

roof-1028263__340ST: Let’s turn from Surmang for a moment, to focus on the talk you’ll be giving about the Forbidden City. I understand that you have visited this place more than fifteen times! What is about this place it that keeps you coming back?

LW: Drala. Or in Chinese, wu shen 武神, feng shen 風神, shui long 水龍, tian long 天龍. There are others.

Emperor Yung LoST: What can you tell us about Yung Lo in relationship to the Forbidden City?

Ming Emperor Yung Lo built the Forbidden City. He restored the Grand Canal, and set sail with a fleet of 3000 merchant ships. He was the patron of Jingdezhen, which was the center of porcelain making at that time in the eastern world. Yung Lo invited the fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa, to Beijing. He was proclaimed a Chakravartin by Deshinshegpa (universal emperor), received the transmission of the Surmang Nyengyud, and gave Karmapa Deshin Shegpa the Black Crown we see today as a key symbol and sign of the Karmapas. Elegant Ming aesthetics, second only in Chinese art to the Tang period in the 7th century, were a natural outcome of his activities.

ST: In what way is the Forbidden City considered to be a Taoist mandala?

In every way. In its colors, its use of directions, and in its feng shui. Taoism (or Daoism in Chinese pinyin) is the drala-access route for China, much as Shinto is for Japan.


The Forbidden City

ST: How does this place connect with other aspects of the Tibetan tradition? With the 5th Karmapa?

The Ming Dynasty was the only Han Chinese dynasty after the Song. After that, the Yuan Dynasty was the conquering of China by the Mongols –Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and others. Remember the line in the Sadhana of Mahamudra, “subjugate the viciousness of the Mongol Emperor”? The Yuan Dynasty was not a happy time for Tibet.

The last one, the Qing, was the conquering of China by the Manchus. In all three dynasties the court was the patron of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact under the Qings, Gelugpa Dharma became the state religion, which started a political drama with Tibet that is still playing out today.

There was something about Yung Lo that was vast and at the same time authentic. The only people I’ve met like that were HH Karmapa XVI and Chogyam Trungpa. Yung Lo was able to unify China, to be a patron of the Kagyu lineage, to be the patron of an encyclopedia, and at the same time he could keep the threatening horse-people/nomadics (Mongols, Tibetans, Khazaks, Manchurians) pacified. He was able to bring peace to a country of peaceful farmers–China, at that time a nation of 75 million.

ST: In what ways does the Forbidden City manifest the traditions of warriorship, werma and drala?

LW: In 25 words or less? I’m afraid that answer will have to wait until the talk!

Editor’s note: for more information about the Surmang Foundation, or to make a contribution, visit their website.

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1 response to “ Near to the Heart, Part Two ”
  1. Arthur Ramsay
    Aug 4, 2016

    As you will know Yung-Lo is not always held in such high regard. In the BBC documentary “Secrets of the Forbidden City” released in 2008 prior to the Beijing Olympics he is portrayed as an evil tyrant. Perhaps we should not believe everything we are told that fits Tibetan political mythology.

    Editor’s note: this comment has been edited; it originally included extensive material from an article copyrighted by another publication.

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