Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Dance Of Phurpa (普巴舞)

There are many forms of phurpa, phurba or phurbu but only two types are used in Tibetan Buddhist rituals. The one with a horse neck is the Hayagriva phurpa and the ones with three faces are the Vajrakila phurbas. Some phurpa also come in pairs representing the father and mother deities. However, the Gelug traditions (Yellow Sect) is forbidden to possess a phurpa as I was told.

If you have attended a Buddhist ritual led by a Longchen Nyingthig tradition Rinpoche, then you will notice the Rinpoche will take up a phurpa and wield it in the air before the start of the ceremony proper.

This yielding of phurpa is a short form of phurpa dance meant to chase away obstacle makers (ghosts, demons, earthbound spirits etc.) that could disturb participants; and also to pin down participants' ego selves (我执).

Unfortunately for majority of us, most visiting Rinpoches would not reveal to us about more phurpa rituals; instead they tend to ask for donations more to bring back to their monasteries. 

The phurpa dance proper is not practiced in traditional monastic traditions. Instead, this dance is mainly practised by hermits in Himalayan regions far away from big monasteries.

There is no set movements of phurpa dance and the patterns vary according to traditions. The dance step could be that of one step forward and one step back; or it could be of free movements. Among all those phurpa dance movements, one thing in common is that the dancers would hold one or two phurpas in their hands.

There are many purposes for performing phurpa dances:

Space clearing/cleaning

Same as with the vajra dances (金刚舞) that we probably know, phurpa dance is used to chase away evil spirits of an area so that these evil ones will not disturb the ritual proper. Some guru said that the phurpa dance is more hostile towards spirits and only a few qualified persons can perform this type of exorcism ritual.

Bridging the gap of Maha-yoga and Adi-yoga (The Great Perfection)

In Longchen Nyingthig tradition, a phurpa is a very special tool to achieve enlightenment. A symbolic phurpa is used to nail our consciousness into the center or Dharmakaya (universe) when a practitioner experiences his dying process.

Unfortunately, the training in Maha-yoga mainly concentrated on the thought-form formation of Yidam (deity) body. This thought-form body is contrary to the teaching of Buddha, so a supplementary exercise is devised to make the practitioners to drop their ego state that formed through years of lengthy and intensive visualizations.

Only a selected few people are chosen to follow Adi-yoga normally in the number of 8 to 10. So said, the first step for a guru to see if a student is willing to progress further is to ask his students to spend one week in the wilderness to perform phurpa dance.

In this type of dance training, the practitioners are asked to dance till exhaustion and fall onto the ground. After that they will be asked to make phurpa posture and maintain that posture over a period of time until fatigue.

During certain interval in the training, the guru would suddenly approach his student and asks: "What do you see now!?"

If the student gave the answer fit that of an enlightened person, then he is allowed to further the Adi-yoga or now Dzongchen training.

This form of training is the same as the Zen (禅) training in Chinese Buddhism except that the training is more systematic. The downfall of Zen Buddhism in later years is that most of the words have become tongue in cheek manner. So, the essence of Zen is lost in Chinese Buddhism but the technique remains hidden in Dzongchen traditions.

Of course, Dzongchen teachings are not suitable for everyone. Out of 10 people, perhaps only one or none will move on to a higher stage.

Thinking of practising Dzongchen outside of Himalayan regions, possible but this remains to be a very difficult dream unfortunately speaking.

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