With the work of Ngak’chang Rinpoche, the calligraphy is not simply a brush-and-ink drawing. Each piece carries seals and signatures, in unique combinations. The most easily recognisable perhaps is the seal of scorpion is found in Tibetan calligraphy on the works of both Trungpa Rinpoche (see here) and some of the work of Ngak’chang Rinpoche. Robert Beer describes the ‘black Indian scorpion [as] a potent symbol of destructive malice’ but of course within Buddhist Vajrayana the scorpion (Tib. sdig-pa) symbol is a transformative one, and Ngak’chang Rinpoche writes:
‘The seal stamped in black is the scorpion which is used as the symbol of the Tantrika. The scorpion is symbolic of the power of transformation as the scorpion is known as the most dangerous and destructive creature. Because every aspect of duality—no matter how viciously deranged—remains undivided from the nondual state, even the most horrific states of mind can be transformed.’
In fact, the Tantric community of ngakpas and ngakmas, naljorpas and naljormas (collectively called the go-kar-chang-lo’i-de), owe the continuity of their tradition to the power of the scorpion, as this famous tale reveals:
‘When in the ninth century, King Langdarma and his hostile ministers set about to suppress the Indian Buddhist teachings and to close the Buddhist monasteries such as Samye, he summoned the Tantric master Nubchen Sangye Yeshe and his disciples into his presence, although all of them were not Buddhist monks but rather Tantrikas (sngags-pa). The arrogant king challenged Nubchen, inquiring, “And what power do you have?” “Just observe the power I can manifest merely from the reciting of mantras!” Nubchen replied and raised his right hand in the threatening gesture of tarjini-mudra.
Instantly, in the sky above the Tantric sorcerer, the king saw nine giant scorpions appear, each the size of a wild yak. The king was terrified at this vision. So he promptly promised not to harm the white-robbed Buddhist Tantrikas and to refrain from disrobing and exiling them as he had done with the maroon-robbed Buddhist monks. Then Nubchen pointed again into the sky with a threatening gesture, and lightning flashed from heaven, shattering into pieces a nearby boulder.
Doubly terrified, the king vowed, “I will not in any way harm you or your white-robed followers!” and he ordered that his prisoners be released. because of the mighty magical powers of this Tantrika Nubchen, the anti-Buddhist king could not destroy the esoteric teachings of the Mahayoga Tantras nor their white-robbed practitioners, the Ngakpas (sngags-pa, one who uses mantras.) Subsequently, this Tantric Order of Nyingmapa Buddhists has flourished among the Tibetans until this day.’
In fact Padmasambhava himself is described as receiving the transmission of phurba practice – a practice almost synonymous with the go-kar-chang-lo’i-de – via the medium of ‘a gigantic scorpion with nine heads, eighteen pincers and twenty seven eyes’ which unearthed the phurba gterma – the heads of the scorpion being symbolic of the nine vehicles of the Nyingma Buddhist tradition, and the scorpion’s sting equated with the tip of the phurba itself.
Ngak’chang Rinpoche reserves the scorpion stamp for the most dramatic and dynamic calligraphies he creates. There will be an opportunity to ask about this and the other seals used in the creation of calligraphies at the talk on Friday 25th November, at Aro Ling in Bristol.