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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb book, a REAL MUST for those intrested in art, 16 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
A book about a secret room. Superb paintings with much liveliness and beauty. It is a joy that one can see and experience what should normally remain hidden for the public: a painted insrtuction on how to attain enlightenment through "dogchen" practice (=Tibetan yoga) and all the states of mind to become a fully enlightened Buddha. The texts are transscribed in Tibetan and Enlish. The captions of text by his holiness the Dalai Lama are inspiring, even if you are an atheist. Those are words of compassion and belief in kindness of mankind. Even better is the way the fotography is done. The murals as a whole picture and afterwards, details. Indeed this is a haven of beautiful art made out of a belief and therefore so full of expression and force. A book to look in and read - to be inspired and to make you dream. Have a look at the pictures they show you here on this site and I am sure you will buy the book and have as much pleasure looking in it as I do.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to become a siddha, 18 Dec. 2010
In Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, just below the Potala Palace where the Dalai Lamas used to dwell, there is a small temple known as the Lukhang. It's built on a lake island and is used for worship of nagas (a kind of snake-spirits).

The temple also has a secret top floor...

The upper room of the Lukhang temple is decorated with mysterious mural paintings. These paintings were used by the Dalai Lamas as objects of meditation and contemplation. However, they were kept secret from ordinary believers. The temple was erected during the 17th century, but nobody knows exactly when the paintings were made. The present Dalai Lama never had the opportunity to see them in person, but he's familiar with their symbolism.

"The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple" by Ian Baker and Thomas Laird is a colourful book showing and analyzing the wall paintings in some detail. The two authors are obviously supportive of Tibetan Buddhism, and it's not clear how they convinced the Chinese authorities to grant them access to the temple. The Dalai Lama himself has written the foreword to their book, and much of the interpretation is presumably based on his teachings.

In many ways, the book is thus propaganda for Tibetan Buddhism, and it has a typically Western tendency to interpret the more mythological parts figuratively. Thus, nagas are said to symbolize the forces of nature, while (of course) Buddhists and Hindus tend to see them as real, supernatural beings. Even "the rainbow body", a supernatural and luminous body attained by accomplished masters after their physical death, is interpreted symbolically.

Despite this, "The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple" is nevertheless quite interesting, and gives a glimpse of Tibetan religion usually not talked about in Western media. The upper room of the Lukhang temple was apparently use for a secret practice known as Dzogchen, a kind of meditation supposedly leading to instant Buddhahood. The practice seems to have included meditation on hallucinatory visions induced by sensory deprivation, and was considered extremely dangerous. The authors point out that Dzogchen was associated with the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which was persecuted by the dominant Geluk sect of the Dalai Lamas. Yet, an inner group of Geluk-pas nevertheless practiced Dzogchen in secret, including some of the Dalai Lamas themselves! Other secret practices included ritual sex with a female consort. The aim was to become a siddha, a perfected master who has reached complete enlightenment and attained supernatural powers. The siddhas are said to be masters of compassion, leading other creatures to liberation. At their deaths, they attain the previously mentioned "rainbow body".

The various stages in this esoteric process to enlightenment are pictured on the temple walls. My initial reaction on seeing the mural paintings was that they are truly bizarre. The characters (mostly men, by the way) all look "stoned" or "high". Perhaps they are meant to look that way. The most humorous part of the book is a statement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, laughingly denying that he ever had ritual sex!

I guess he'll never be a siddha, then.

"The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple" is interesting both as a (admittedly partisan) look at Tibetan religion, and as a travelogue about the distant land of Tibet. One star off for the allegorizing of the nagas, though.
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The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet
The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet by Thomas Laird (Paperback - 19 Sept. 2011)
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