Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tibetan books in Chinese media

The Chinese public relations campaign to influence Western views about Tibet includes--among headlines such as "Tibetans enjoy full religious freedom" and "Tibetan culture well preserved"--a couple of stories about Tibetan books and texts.

One video report from Xinhua Net shows the creation of a "Family Museum" to house a multi-volume Tibetan Buddhist classic after years of storage.

In another, Xinhua "China News" describes efforts to build "the largest stone sutra pagoda in Tibet" on Mount Chakpori opposite the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

With a small mallet in one hand and a chisel in another, nine youngsters, sitting or squatting under a large piece of broken gray cloth shelter, are engraving lines of Tibetan sutra "Kangyur" into the stone slates. Less than 20 meters ahead is the pagoda, which is not yet completed after 14 years of construction, but embodies all their piety and faith to Buddha.

Tokdan Dawa Rinpoche, the sponsor of the pagoda, is sitting, with his legs crossed, on a carpet nearby the simple workshop, chanting sutras as throngs of devotees, with prayer wheels in hand, bowed to him and passed by, heading for the pagoda to pray along a dusty path.

As a tradition for centuries, Tibetan Buddhism believers engrave the sutras and Buddha images on stones as a way to keep the classics. It is also believed that the engravers, called "duoduo" in Tibetan, are able to achieve more happiness in their next lives through the toil of inscribing.

... usually a full set of Kangyur sutra includes 108 parts, each of which is written on a book of 200 to 400 pages. The engravers have finished inscribing the sutra and more than one million of stone slates piled into a 13-floor pagoda of more than 30 meters high.

... More than 100 engravers -- some from sophisticated stone-engraving families and some novices -- have volunteered to help build the pagoda. Most of them have worked here for five to six years though their pay for a whole-page Kangyur sutra is only 10 yuan (1.46 U.S. dollars).

... However, the beginning is always difficult.

As Zhoigar could not read, she just copied what she saw on the sutra book onto the stone.

"The characters were no more than some magic patterns to me at that time," recalled Zhoigar. "It also happened a lot that I had my fingers injured by the engraving tools, but the worst was that I wasted a lot of stone plates because of my mistakes, which made me cry a lot."

The tears are paid back after eight years of practicing. Zhoigar now can finish the engraving of an average of 20 stone slates every day at a speed of one Tibetan character in less than one second. She has also become a teacher for the newcomers.

"The more sutras I have engraved into the stones, the more Buddhism teachings I have engraved in my mind, which is far more important than how much money I have earned," said Zhoigar.

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