A rare view of the Jonangpa school in modern Tibet:
This rare, very brief view of a Jonangpa (Jonang school) Agni-Hottri fire rite is taken from a two (+) hour long video, and more than 70 mgp photo-studies, made recently on the border between Kham (East Tibet, ie Szechuan) and Amdo (North Tibet, or Qinghai province) in China.
The Jonang school of Tibetan Buddhism is famous for its teachings on the Kalacakra, (which deeply influenced Gelugpa- Dalai Lama Buddhism), its doctrines on “Shentong” emptiness (which were opposed by the Dalai Lama – Gelugpa), and political ties with the descendants of Chinghis Khan in Mongolia, during the reign of the “Great Fifth” Dalai Lama. The Jonang school and its monasteries were suppressed by the 5th dalai Lama, for the last two reasons, and their monasteries ether taken over or destroyed, and the school suppressed.
At least, so scholars thought, until recently, when more than 5000 Jonang monks and nuns, with functioning temples, monasteries, and schools for educating children and preserving Tibetan culture, were found along the Kham-Amdo border.
The Agni-Hottri fire rite pictured here is being performed by a Jonangpa “Tulku” living Buddha, for devout Chinese believers in (Tibetan) Buddhism, many of whom are “Party” members, but who also support rituals for releasing the deceased from Buddhist/Daoist purgatory, prayers for blessing and prosperity, and all the other things that people pray for throughout the modern world, where, Ethologists assure us, “atheism” is dying out for lack of offspring, and religious belief, rituals, festivals, an customs, are experiencing growth and rebirth.
There are in all 12 (plus 3) Agni-Hottri (Goma) fires burning by the riverside, below the temple where the Jonang monks are chanting a simplified version of the Fire Offering. Bags, rather than spoonfuls, of rice, flour, petitions written on paper, and hundreds of pounds of Dri butter are being burned in the fire ritual. (N.b., the Dri is a female Yak; not even in Tibet do bulls/male yaks give milk or butter).
Though Ethology as a science predicts “lower, submissive, vulnerable” (LSV) human behavior/gestures of worship, from societies that have evolved from “Kingly” or “royal” political origins, here the monks are seen to be quite familiar, even friendly with the Buddhist, Darmapala (fierce protectors), and Yidam (peaceful protectors) images, whom they are summoning, and “burning away” in the fires. The people as well, both Han Chinese, and local Tibetans, students, “child” monks, are equally at home, watching the fire ritual.
The Gelugpa were upset with Jonangpa spiritual teachers, because Jonang holds that the Absolute, non-worded, non-conceptual Transcendent is “experienced” as present, when all images, judgments, desires (even for perfection) are burned away.
The Agni-Hottri in its Sagya format can be seen each June, at Gyantse, on the first day before the sacred “Cham” dances are performed, for Buddha’s birthday (Sagadawa). During the Cham sacred dances, masked dancers portraying the “darmapala” cut up and destroy Shiva’s Lingam, the source of suffering and war in the world of unenlightened humans. (The Lingam is fashioned from zampa barley flour, or sheep intestines). Darmapala do not display LSV behavior. The people who watch are seen to be happy as well. These forms of Tibetan practice are rarely seen in the “West.”