The precious Dharma Craft of Ritual implement making — empowering an ancient practice: Interview Rigdzin Pema Tuthob (pictorial)

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    One virtuous Dharma activity that benefits many beings is the sacred art of creating genuine (not mass-produced) Tibetan Buddhist ritual art — although it is increasingly rare.

    It is difficult to find patient artisans willing to dedicate years to building not only the metalworking skills but the precise requirements of ritual craft. One such rare craftsperson is Rigdzin Pema Tuthob (Platon Viaznikovtsev) of Natsog Dorje, who not only dedicated his life to the practice — he revived many terma ritual implement traditions.

    Buddha Weekly Detail work on the Simhamuka Buddhism
    Intricate metal work is only the beginning of the many requirements for creating ritual craft objects. The practitioners must have empowerment and should be crafted with ritual, mantra and intention. In this image the intricate work on a Simhamukha phurba statue.


    In our first interview with Natsog Dorje, they explained why hand-crafted ritual craft is rare and precious, which can’t be replicated in a “factory” environment:

    “The creation of such objects have specific requirements. The main one is that the craft master should be a practitioner, and have four complete initiations of inner tantras; He must know exactly all the details of the object and their meaning. Otherwise, he will certainly make mistakes; During the creation, it is necessary to do practice, chant mantras, visualize and perform ritual actions.”

    Terma 9 pronged bell dorje
    Beautiful hand-crafted 9-pronged bell and dorje to terma, created by Natsog Dorje.


    We first profiled Natsog Dorje in the context of meteoric ritual implements — they were one of the few who had access to meteoric metals for their craft — but have continued to follow their work. We thought it was time for a “revisit” with the master artists at Natsog Dorje.

    Why authentic ritual objects are important


    The tradition of the craft is that if you use an authentic ritual object, it will connect you with all the wisdom beings of the lineage who have used it before you. If you use a replica, it will connect you only with the beings of the world.

    Rigdzin Tuthob explained: “The ritual objects that we create are not just replicas of ancient models. We strive to recreate the blessing and power of the original by using traditional methods, materials and designs. We also add our own special touches to each piece.” Many of these ritual pieces are used today by Tibetan lamas and teachers, specifically for ritual and ceremonial purposes.


    Buddha Weekly Finished Mandala Buddhism
    Special mega-project of phurbas for an elaborate Vajrakilaya mandala commissioned by Gangteng Tullku Rinpoche. Grigoriy Smirnov photo, used with permission.


    Natsog Dorje’s mission is “to create ritual objects that embody the blessings of lineage masters and wisdom beings, and to empower practitioners to connect with these blessings in their own practice…. Our main sources of mentors and blessings are great teachers as Rigdzin Namkha Gyatso Rinpoche, Terchen Kyabje Namkha Drime Rabjam Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche and Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche… Our workshop began with the project of Kyabje Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, who asked us to create a mandala of 131 phurbas with meteorite iron blades for drubchen.”


    Mandala ritual
    Finished phurbas to Terma from Natsog Dorje being ritually assembled into the Vajrakilaya Mandala Gangteng Tulk Rinpoche. Grigoriy Smirnov photo, used with permission of Natsog Dorje.

    Their work includes replicas of traditional Tibetan Buddhist ritual objects and original designs inspired by their teachers and the natural world. All of their pieces are handmade using traditional methods, materials, and designs.

    Don’t miss the special project photos and description below for the amazing Simhamukha painted statue below the interview.

    Interview with Rigdzin Pema Tuthob


    BW Question: Since we last spoke you opened an online store with a lot of beautiful new works. But you remain a master craft work shop. You still do custom orders?


    “Yes, we opened an online store because we decided that it would be easier and more convenient for many people to search and buy our products. Because Facebook was clearly not enough. Nevertheless, of course, we continue to make custom orders, and this is a very important part of our work.”

    Working on Simhamukha project
    Custom work remains a main area of practice for the Natsog Dorje workshop.
    BW Question: I know you still have / sell your meteoric phurbas and vajras. What inspired you to offer the mix of steel and meteoric. Is this a way of helping more people enjoy the benefits of meteoric metal?} Is that a mix of steel and meteoric?


    “Well, first of all, because our supplies of the meteorite have come to an end, and it is no longer possible to buy it. All this resource is practically exhausted. However, we certainly have quite a few small pieces left, which we manage with ordinary steel and make phurbas blades. From the point of view of the Vajrayana tradition, such blades are no worse than purely meteor blades, but they are more accessible to people because they cost less. In ancient times, they did just that, because meteorites were found rarely and in small quantities. So soon, when all phurbas with pure meteorite blades are sold, only phurbas from this alloy will remain.”


    Buddha Weekly Phurbas Buddhism
    Purbhas correctly hand crafted with ritual and mantras — some with meteoric materials — remains an important part of Natsog Dorje’s work.


    BW Question: Can you walk us through a project you are especially proud of?

    “I can’t say that there is any project that I am especially proud of. I guess I’m especially pleased with this phurba.”

    Buddha Weekly Phurba highlighted Buddhism scaled
    The purbha mentioned as a favorite of Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche.

    “Because it was especially appreciated by Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche. We didn’t do it for him, but after Rinpoche took this phurba to inspect, he never gave it back to us. He said that it was the best and most authentic phurba he had ever seen and if money could buy it, he would buy it. Here it must be said that Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche has all the ritual objects of only the highest quality that can be obtained in this world. And for me, this lama is the most authoritative of all. And if he says something, then it is true.”

    BW Question: You seem to do more and more statue-like projects. I assume these are special commissions; your main focus is ritual objects to terma and tradition.


    “Yes, when we receive some order for a special statue, it is a great joy for us. This is very interesting work. Here I must say that our goal is to do what no one does and what is impossible to find, at least in good quality and without errors. Therefore, the main focus of our activities on such things. There are many forms of deities from terma images of which do not exist so far. Also, the tradition of making khatwangas simply no longer exists, and such things cannot be found. And to revive this is our main task.”

    Buddha Weekly Meteoric khatvanga project Natsog Dorje Buddhism
    Reviving the lost art of Khatvanaga ritual objects. A meteoric ritual object created by Natsog Dorje.
    BW Question: Please tell us about your jewelry. We didn’t talk about that last time. You have some beautiful pieces there, mostly silver.

    “As for jewelry, here it must be said that my sangyum Tashi Lhamo is mainly engaged in these. And the main idea here is to create jewelry that also has a deep and important meaning. So far there are not so many of them, but we will develop this direction in the future.”

    Buddha Weekly Jewelry in silver by Natsog Dorje Buddhism
    Silver jewelry hand-crafted by Natsog Dorje.
    BW Question: I always think of you in terms of traditional Phurbas, but you have a thriving collection of vajras and bells, kartikas and even khatvangas. Are these mostly custom, or are these lines you plan to keep in your shop for some time?

    “That’s a good question. The fact is that all these items have one thing in common. These are all objects of samaya. All these items should be kept by the one who received the initiation. However, how can this be done if these items are simply impossible to find and no one makes them? We would like to correct this situation. Therefore, of course, phurbas, and khavangas, and kartikas, and vajras with bells and other things will always be in our store, and our assortment will be constantly replenished.”

    Buddha Weekly Tashi Lhamo detailing statue Buddhism
    Incredible detail works on a custom project at Natsog Dorje.
    BW Question: What is the most popular of your ritual objects?

    “At the moment, our vajra and bell sets are the most popular product. This is exactly what practicing yogi can do without, and it’s hard to find better than ours at the moment.”

    Buddha Weekly Meteorite vajra Buddhism
    A very special all-meteoric iron vajra (dorje) created at Natsog Dorje.


    BW Question: I previously asked you about teachers, etc, but if there’s anything new to add since then, please, let me know or comment on whatever else you think will interest our readers.


    “I would also like to say about one project. I am planning to write a book about the ritual objects and paraphernalia of the practice of the Vajra Vehicle of the Secret Mantra. I have collected a very large amount of material on this over the years. The book will be richly illustrated, will be quite detailed. Since knowledge on this topic is definitely not enough, it is contradictory and difficult to access. The main problem is that this project requires a lot of time and sponsorship. All this I still lack. However, I hope that in the future this issue will be resolved positively.”


    Buddha Weekly Giant Phurba statue commissioned from Natsog Dorje Buddhism
    Giant Phurba Statue commissioned from Natsog Dorje in progress.

    Project – Red Simhamukha, terma of terton Longsal Nyingpo

    Project: Painted statue of Red Simhamukha from terma of terton Longsal Nyingpo. Materials – brass, meteorite. Size – 33 cm. The special request of Chagdud Khadro.


    Unpainted ritual object Simhamukha Presenting the final ritual object Painting the all important eyes simhamukha Painting the thankga art details on statue Simhamukha Detail work on the Simhamuka Simlhamukha base Wax molding simha mukha project Working on Simhamukha project Creating the original clay mold Simhamuka phurba statue finished

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    Lee Kane

    Author | Buddha Weekly

    Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
    Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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